Friday, December 31, 2010

If only the fun would never end

So we've got exactly another week here and I'm getting that inevitable grey feeling about going back to France. I knew that it would creep up on me as it always does. And though I'll be glad to see my cat and coworkers, there will be that time of transition. Because, let's face it, things are just a lot of fun here. No doubt if I really lived here again and had to work and deal with traffic and exorbitant health care costs it would be different. Or would it? I would at least be able to see my family more frequently and that makes a big difference. But I shouldn't go down that path 'cause for the time being it's not an option. And besides, we really have been blessed to have gotten here safely (yet more flights were cancelled last week and at one point there was so much snow on the roof of a Paris airport terminal that it had to be evacuated!) and to have three weeks to enjoy ourselves.

In the meantime we're making great memories to nurture us through the next long stretch when we'll be apart from the US contingent of the family. Plus doing some much needed catching up on Americana. Here are a few highlights:

Hanging out with my old high school girlfriends (who are all moms themselves now). It's cool how we can all connect to each other on new levels now. We remember why we got along before even though we've all changed.

Last minute Christmas shopping at Wal-Mart and Target.

Making sugar cookies with baby, Jess and my mom. Juliette's first experience with cookie cutters: a test in patience for us all but it was good fun anyway.

Snow on Christmas Day and the day after! We so rarely get snow in Alabama that really sticks, and it's even rarer on Christmas. How perfect that we got it for our visit.

Nice visits with my uncle and aunt and her little dog Bella. Currently visiting my sis down at her place.

Great eats at home and out, including but not limited to:

California rolls (so much better when enjoyed with my family)
square doughnuts and Krispy Kreme doughnuts (not at the same time)
Chinese buffet
Italian at The Olive Garden
Oreo balls (divine concoction made from crushed Oreos, cream cheese then dipped in chocolate)
Grandma's corn dressing and Sunny's sweet potato casserole
Mom's pecan tartelettes...

I could go on but I might exceed your daily calorie allowance just writing about it all.

But mostly we've just been catching up on each other, like this quiet reading moment with my grandma. That's what we came here for anyway.

Tonight we're going to spend a low key New Year's (that's the way I like it!) at my sister's house. Probably won't update again till I'm back in France (sniff). Happy New Year's to everyone and safe travels to those of you going back yourselves.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

International transit

I love the feeling of waking up in my mother's home again. That first morning back, my eyes sensed the light coming through the blinds around six (about two hours earlier than in higher latitude France). I heard a bird chirping and, my favorite of all, the distant sound of the freight train honking at a railway passage. Home. The features of the house that I've been keeping fresh in my mind's eye and through periodic Skype visits is there to greet me again. The familiar creak in the floor here, the sound of the hook and eye latch on the door.

Yes, we're settling in quite nicely and thanking our lucky stars we got here without too many hitches. Apparently the snowstorms back in Paris have stranded thousands of travelers, some even having to spend a night in the airport there. I can only imagine their frustration as all they want is to get home (or in some cases to their tropical travel destination). The morning we left our city had a nice blanket of it and the train to Paris was a bit delayed. But luckily that didn't cause any problems catching our flight. It was starting to snow at our scheduled take-off time so the plane had to be de-iced. This led to us getting off late.

Luckily the ten and half-hour plane ride went better than I had thought, but Juliette still had a bit of trouble adjusting to the idea that she couldn't "get down," something she asks me all the time. There were some touch and go moments of her screaming "no." Luckily I had befriended the eight-year old girl who was flying alone in the row beside us and she helped me entertain Juliette a few times. But it's only fair since I had let the girl play with my iPod. And we both agreed that it was just a shame that our flight didn't have individual video systems (what's up with that, Delta?).

(Can you tell we are happy?!)

But all's well that ends well. We caught our connecting flight despite our delay and arrived safe and sound. We're still resting up a bit but the jet-lag hasn't been so bad this time. The weather's lovely, sunny and not so chilly. Everyone's enjoying seeing Juliette and her funny antics. I might be blogging less over these next few weeks but I'm sure you'll understand why. So if I don't post again for a while, have a warm and cozy holiday!

I'll leave you with some Christmasy music from my favorite program.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like...Siberia?

Well, not today actually. Now most of the snow has melted and been replaced by a monotonous rain. But we had a good bit of white stuff this week, including a rather blustery snowfall yesterday. Juliette enjoyed thrashing about in it, but of course I was there to remind her not to get her gloves soggy.

Of course we snapped a few photos:

And we're getting into the Christmas spirit. Today is Saint Nicholas' Day, something celebrated in countries like Belgium, Holland and Germany. Since my mom spent a few years of her childhood in Germany, it's a tradition she gave to our family. So as Juliette has been a fairly good child, St. Nick put some candy in the boots that we left out last night.

We've decorated half of our dining table as the Christmas corner, complete with tabletop tree and mini snow globe and cowboy snowman and Santa. We didn't go all out with a real tree since we'll be leaving in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS FOR THE US. Juliette refers to Santa as "(s)tannah claw". We'll see how she reacts to the real thing next week at the day care Christmas show. This will be our third and last year to go to this event as next Christmas she'll be in official pre-school.

Still lots to do before we take that big plane to America. And once we get there we'll just be happy to see family and friends. And do everything. And nothing at all. Still a bit hard to believe I'm going back after a year and a half. I'm afraid it will go by too fast, but that just means I'll try to enjoy every minute of it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

28 months and so much to do and say

Here Juliette shows us the latest Babycise moves. Faux snapping (that's me doing the snapping, folks) and spinning. Lots of spinning. Amazingly she's not dizzy after all that.

But she also likes quiet times like making a pie crust with mom. This one is so easy (er, easy as pie?!) and you don't even have to roll it out. Just take about 100g of butter or margarine (that's a bit less than half a cup), a cup of water (in France I use one of those mustard glasses for the cup), and melt it in a saucepan. Then add two cups of flour to your mixture (remove from heat). Mix well and pat it into a buttered pie pan. It's not necessary to cook it before adding your pie ingredients, but you can.

Language-wise she's still quite the little mimic. She likes to say "whatcha doin'?" and I realize I must really sound like an Italian New Yorker when I say it if her accent is anything to go by! And as she looks through the toy book, she'll say "we got that!" even for some toys we don't really have. And we're teaching her how to say Alabama, that place where we'll be going in a few short weeks. Except it comes out more like "Ala-gramma", maybe because she associates my grandma with it?

Potty trainig is quite the adventure, especially since after successfully doing it a few times, she's not into it anymore. If I ask her if she wants to sit on it she'll say, "non, pas ça" or "no, not that" in French. So to get a more polite response I'm teaching her to say "no, thank you."

But despite the tantrums (there are still some) and meals she doesn't always finish, most of the time she's a perfectly precious half-pint human.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shades of grey

Or gray, as you like it. In my family we seem to prefer grey with an "e" because it seems more British and cosmpolitan. But anyway you spell it, the color is still the same. In France the weather forecasters (usually very well-dressed ladies in their fifties) will announce "grisaille" (pronounced greez-ey-ya) or grey weather, in an apologetic way. The word itself is just icky. And that's what we've been experiencing quite a lot these past two weeks. This part of France is rather blessed with greyness. A few sunny days scattered here and there to buoy us up just a little. To remind us what it's like to not have to turn on the lights at 10 a.m. or 3 in the afternoon. Just a patch of blue can be enough to remind us there is life beyond blah-ness.

Ah, as I write this, the sun is peaking through. Today's half and half. Something to be thankful for on this week of Thanksgiving. Even though I know I'm going home in less than a month (!!!), I always miss my fam on Thanksgiving. I just know I'm missing out on coziness and good food. But mom sent me some goodies again so I guess I'll rustle up some stuff to get in the spirit. And truly, I do have so much to be thankful for. As for the weather, I'll just have to try to do as the folks around here do (or at least what they like to say): put the sun in my heart since it's not always in the sky. Good advice no matter where you live.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The US, as seen in the movies

I've been away from the US (besides the occasional trips home) for eight years. And since Juliette was born, visits to the movie theater have been rare (er, once in the last two and a half years). Even before that we didn't go to the movies that often. The result is that I'm totally out of it when it comes to knowing about recent movies. Sometimes we'll catch them here, dubbed, with some weird French title. But recently more stuff comes to us in English. And we seem to be getting the cable channels for a preview week. So we've been catching up (ok, just a fraction of the eight years). And I find that I have started to see the US differently after all that time away. I also have to be careful not to fall into the stereotypes that the films could give me about my home country.

For example: all cops are beefy, courageous types who have hearts of gold. Like the one in 12 Rounds. In this story, an Irish terrorist sets up a series of twelve, duh, challenges to torture the cop who was sort of responsible for said terrorist's girlfriend's accidental death. Enjoyed seeing New Orleans featured in this film since it's a place I've visited. Was the film at all realistic? Probably not. Did I fall asleep at about the 9th round? Yeah, but that's a problem I have with action films, plus I was cozy on the couch. It was a typical guy movie, I told Remi. No, it's a typical American film, he corrected me. No, no, I protested, they're not all like that. You're right, he said, there's also the romantic comedy.

Which brings me to the second stereotype: people in America have great, funny extended families and hook up with their soulmates after meet-cute situations. Like in, oops, don't know the English name, here it's Coup de Foudre à Rhode Island (Love at first sight in Rhode Island). Ok, thanks Internet, it's Dan in Real Life. I actually enjoyed this one. Yes, it was slapstick at times, but it was good fun and Steve Carrel can make me laugh even when he's just raising an eyebrow. Also liked his realationship (albeit dysfunctional) with his daughters. As far as romcoms go (is that the word, Jess?), it wasn't too sappy.

Going back to the action film genre, we could get the impression that Americans like saving the world. Or are the only ones capable of doing so. That's what the overly-sensitive Frenchies like to point out. But I say, if you're making a movie, you're probably going to put people of your own nationality in it. No offense to the others. We do seem to excel in this type of film, from a dollars earned point of view. Independence Day, Terminator (John Connor is American). Speaking of the Terminator, as Remi drops everything one of the four films is on, I'm getting to know every detail of the saga. It really is a very well-composed sotry.

But sometimes indie films are more my speed. Like Little Miss Sunshine and Sunshine Cleaning (just a coincidence that they both have "sunshine" in the name). The latter is a dark comedy (the sisters start a crime-scene cleaning company). But just hearing the sarcastic banter between the sisters reminded me of how fun and casual our US English can be. I felt more American after watching it, more connected to my language and country.

While we're on the subject of entertainment, check out my sister's blog for her fun and insightful TV and movie reviews. In the meantime, I think I'll microwave some popcorn and see what's on. As long as it's in English, I'll probably give it a try.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Twinkle vs. hiccups

You got it. Another rendition of Twinkle twinkle, little star, but interrupted by hiccups. Couldn't resist posting this one. Of course, this little girl is too techno-savvy and knows that soon after I take pictures or videos, she gets to see them. So that cut short the singing. I'm dedicating this one to Karine's little girl Louise, another budding Twinkle, twinkle, little star singer!

Friday, November 12, 2010

For goodness sake

Anne of Green Gable fans may remember the part where Anne muses about what she would choose if she could only choose one of the following: to be incredibly smart or beautiful or angelically good (correct me if I'm wrong). If my memory serves, she knows she should choose to be good, but her vanity would like to be smart and beautiful, too. Wouldn't we all. I'm not trying to be preachy here, rather seeking a little guidance myself. I think a lot lately about how to be a good person. And a recent discussion with a friend showed me it crosses her mind a lot, too.

In our world where we are constantly bombarded with ways to take better care of the planet, being good has taken on a whole new meaning. A trip to the supermarket can be a real headache. According to whatever alarmist documentary I've just seen, I need to worry about things like which fruits and veggies are really in season (cause otherwise they're transported from South America and have a huge carbon footprint). And does it have palm oil in it, cause in some countries they're destroying the native forests to plant huge palm plantations. Not to mention it's not good for your health. And what about the Fairtrade products that support the workers' well-being? That plastic garden table? Well, it's using up our oil supply and was probably produced in China so used up energy coming here.

But in the end, doing all those things doesn't really scratch the surface on being good. Sure, it can be important, but the guy who litters on the sidewalk then buys a homeless man a three-course meal is a better person than the environmentalist who never buys out of season veggies. Or is he? Modern life ain't so easy. But I'm more often bothered by the feeling that I'm not doing enough for my fellow man. I see the tragedies on TV, families torn apart or decimated, children sickened by cancer, people living out of their cars, and I wonder what I really can do. Besides just donating at Christmas or the food drive at the grocery store. It's not enough just to say I care and say my heart goes out to these people. If I'm not part of the solution, am I part of the problem? It's all well and good to say I feel for these poor folks, then to go on obsessing about traffic and my own budget.

I'm not saying I'm going to start living every moment down at the local food shelter, but I know that I need to do more. So what to do? I suppose I could start by being thankful for that all that I have. It really is "another day for you and me in paradise" to quote (oh, forgive me) Phil Collins. So less complaining! Less wasting of food! And more compassion.

Would appreciate knowing how others feel about this subject. Peace out!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All the news that's fit to post about

Fall has fallen
Well, if we can say spring has sprung, why not? This week has been just gorgeous in terms of fall color. I feel like I'm driving around in a fairy land with all those brilliant yellows and oranges around me. And I love how the leaves carpet the grass under the trees like confetti. I must teach Juliette how to shuffle her feet in the leaves, a very important life skill. Of course, I just want to snap pictures all the time to capture these amazing colors, but I know it would never do it justice. This time is brief, ephemeral. I'll try to capture it in my mind's eye instead.

Costume time

Juliette was some kind of panther/leopard for Halloween. I made her some cat ears which she wore, oh, about ten minutes. Just enough time for me to take pictures. I had a few colleagues over for tea and Karine brought her own little Halloweeners over to help us eat candy and cupcakes.

I'm lovin' it
Ah, a quick trip to McDonald's! We enjoyed a little family outing at the Golden Arches this week. Frankly, we don't go very often, so it's always an event. Juliette says "shopping" when she sees McDonald's because she associates them with shopping centers. This time she also uttered her first "McDonnells"-like word. Oh, it brought a shiver to my American heart. Or was that the coronary coming on? Just kidding! A little finger-licking sauce now and then is no big deal. And since being out at a restaurant at night is so rare for Remi and I, it almost felt like a date.

This just in...
My cat's insane. Ok, it's no news flash, 'cause I've known it for a while. He is always hungry and despite my new technique of spraying water at him when he scratches the cabinet for food, he still meows his head off when I approach the kitchen. At any time of the day! Watch for my new book: When Bad Cats Happen to Good People, in finer bookstores everywhere.

I'll be home for...
Yes, start crooning those sappy Christmas songs. I made my reservations to go back HOME for Christmas. So it'll be Juliette's first Christmas in the US, Remi's second. I'm so looking forward to seeing family and friends that honestly I don't need one present under the tree. Only downside: hearing all those Christmas songs everytime we step into any store. It's a small price to pay, I suppose.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

chocolate to die for

Run, don't walk, to the supermarket to get the ingredients for this moelleux au chocolat (I guess we'd call it a moist and gooey chocolate cake, but in this case it's muffins). So easy to make and so decadent! Choco-holics will adore it.

Ingredients for six muffins:
125 g (4.4 oz) dark chocolate (chocolat noir à 70%) plus 6 squares (basically a bar of 200g (7 oz) and keep six squares for later))
125 g butter or margarine (a little more than half a cup)
some butter to grease the muffin tins
2 eggs plus 2 yolks
50 g sugar (1/4 cup)
40 g flour (1/3 cup)
6 aluminum muffin liners (or just butter the tray really well)

1. Preheat oven to thermostat 6/7 or 200°C (little less than 400°F).
2. In a glass bowl, place the 125g of chocolate, broken into pieces and the butter. Place in bain marie (a saucepan with bowling water on the stove top) until chocolate all melted.
3. In a big mixing bowl, mix the eggs and yolks with the sugar, then add the flour and mix. Add the chocolate butter mixture with a spatula.
4. Pour the mixture in the buttered muffin liners in the trays and stick a chocolate square in each one in the middle.
5. Heat about 10 minutes. Take out of their muffin liners and eat while it's still warm and melty.

(I know this picture is fuzzy, but you can still see that warm chocolatey goodness.)


Friday, October 29, 2010


Because you need to see a dancing Euro-baby. Because this definitely is her European side coming out!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Snippets of my life

This post has no real theme. It's just bits and pieces of what's going on. I'm getting a bit more adjusted to fall. I'm trying to see the positive aspects. Like cozying up on the couch under a blanket with Juliette to read some books. Or having a real excuse for this homebody girl to stay inside. Like today. It's gray, rainy, windy, perfect reason to stay in and putter. Which I generally do anyway. I'm getting into making bread. Just need a little time to knead it and let it rise and then you've got nice warm bread.

But I'm still apprehensive about the gloomy months ahead. Dreading the time change next weekend when it will be dark by 5:30 and over the next month, even earlier. That's why I think I'll be spending, oh, the next four months in this little number when I'm at home.

A blanket with sleeves. I might never leave the house.

At least I'm appreciating my dryer even more now that it would take ages to dry stuff outside. What a joy it is for me to clean out the lint filter. Sadly, I'm not kidding at all when I say that. And I honestly don't iron nearly as much as I did!

Meanwhile, Little Miss Juju's been a real rascal. She's taken to pushing the 20-month-old around at the sitter's even if he hasn't provoked her at all. I don't want my daughter to become the neighborhood bully. I've seen it with my own eyes though. One Monday morning she just coldly pushed his shoulder instead of smiling and saying hello. Let's hope it's just a phase. Like her refusing just about everything we put in front of her at mealtimes lately.

She's also proving that kids have more fun with the box than what's inside (Murphy's baby law #7).

And that there's no use buying real toys when she'll just use normal objects, like this thermometer which is being used as a phone. Check out how complex this conversation is! I think she hears the sitter on the phone quite a bit...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reporting from a war zone

I feel like a war-time journalist sending out updates from shell-shocked France. Since I last wrote, the situation's only gotten more intense. Yesterday in my group lesson we talked about the strikes and how the refineries have stopped production. One lady said semi-dramatically that her tank was empty. Thus followed a short silence as if she'd said she only had a week to live. One of my colleague's students cancelled her lesson because she had no gas and couldn't drive the 30 minutes to the center. She had to walk to work and was lucky she was able to. I've seen yet more lines at gas stations and there are moments when there are so many cars that they stick out in the intersection or roundabout and create more traffic problems.

This morning as I tried to drive to work I noticed things were much slower than usual. No wonder! The union members and their truck-driving buddies were blocking entry to my town and seriously choking exit, too. Instead of three lanes to exit the town, they'd bottlenecked it to one. I saw the driver in front of me roll down his window to take the union flyer from the protesters on the side of the road. I felt like shooting them a bird but thought better of it. They might have attacked my car. Instead I just tried to drive forward. But one of the guys walked out in front of my car and said to his buddies, "Hey, she didn't take a flyer." So grudgingly I rolled down my window and took the paper with a hasty "merci" and drove off.

Once at work my student and I talked about the situation. As a higher level manager, he wasn't keen on strikes and his own business meeting had been cancelled since most of the participants couldn't make it due to transport problems. My coworkers and I grunted our complaints about how these folks were sometimes preventing us from working and making money. It's fine if they want to strike and not get paid, but they shouldn't block us from making a living.

On the way back home I chose to go through the small towns. But access back on to the main road was blocked by the police (gendarmes) at one point and at another we were totally stuck on the entrance ramp. I started wishing I could back up and to my delight I saw the motorists behind me were doing just that. So we all started backing up on the ramp, totally illegal, but frankly it felt good to escape the traffic jam and beat the protesters for once. Of course, I did use up more precious gas with all this backtracking but I avoided the parking lot that was the "expressway".

Yesterday the high schoolers kicked it up a notch, too. The high school in front of the babysitter's was turning into a combat zone. As I took Juliette to the door in her pale pink quilted parka, I held her a bit more closely than usual, eyeing the students across the road who were throwing down a few firecrackers. They started knocking over garbage cans and walking on the road to block drivers. After dropping baby off I drove the other way to avoid their shenanigans. I passed a garbage can that had obviously been burned and that the city workers were cleaning up.

I know this is the country that stormed the Bastille and had a revolution. But I think they had better reason way back then (uh, poverty, famine, yeah, I get that). Now they seem to strike like it's their birthright. I wouldn't grudge them their right to protest but only if I can still live my life! Their freedom should end where ours begins. But they don't see it that way. They're just angry at this retirement plan and in general wanting to show their disapproval of the current government. Can't they find a way to do that which doesn't bring the country to a standstill?!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wallowing vs. action

Wallowing usually wins that fight. At least for a while. Instead of complaining about my situation I know I should try and change it. Should do, but...
It takes me a few months or years or decades to get off my duff and do something but I get there eventually.

So thanks to the readers who tried to comfort me after my pity-party-post. I know I shouldn't reach out for sympathy like that but let's face it, there are times I'm just not so sunny. I suppose my blog often represents who I want to be. The sunnier moments where I'm enjoying life and reflecting and pausing. But there are a lot of gray days, too, which aren't always easy to get through. It helps to know I'm not the only one though. Thank you, blog community!

Perhaps I should take my cue from the French, who when they've had enough, just get out in the street and protest! That's what I call action, though I don't always approve of their methods or even the reasons they strike. This time it seems to be a doozy though. Case in point: I just went by the gas station only to find that there was no unleaded in the pump I was at. There was a fairly hefty line of cars for a Friday afternoon at 3. At the second station they had unleaded but again there was a longer wait than usual. I did have half a tank myself but I figure better be safe than sorry.

Why? Because some of the French refineries have been disrupted or stopped production.

Why? Because the French are mad as hell and aren't gonna take it anymore.

Ok, why are they mad again? Because the government had the gall to suggest increasing the retirement age. To age 62 according to this CNN report, but I've heard it could be higher. I like to tease my students and tell that in the US it's already much higher! And so this is the fourth time since school started that there has been a national strike day: trains, schools, etc. And now the refinery workers are participating. And the high schoolers are protesting, too, even though they're far from retirement age.

If I can't drive to work because of this thing (and therefore lose money), I think I'll go on strike myself! Wait, that doesn't make sense. Who cares, it's the French attitude.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Momma said there'd be days like these

Do you ever feel like you're stuck in the spin cycle of the wash? Being beaten up by that pair of sneakers in there, too? Sometimes you just can't win. Feeling like every little administrative gaffe at work is your fault, that your students aren't responding to you or aren't progressing quickly enough. And at home it seems like you and your husband aren't even speaking the same language. And I'm not talking about the language barrier. Yeah, I guess I've been having one of those days or weeks or two weeks. Now the baby is screaming in her crib 'cause her precious "Dou-dou" stuffed animal was left at the sitter's. Not to mention that she didn't get her normal nap as they had to go to the daycare for the monthly doctor's visit and she just couldn't make herself nap earlier than usual.

And to top it all off, most days lately (strangely not today), I start feeling bodily tired around 3:30 or 4 pm. Must be the change in seasons catching up with me.

So besides just hopping on a plane for home for an extended vacation in mid-October, I'm not sure what to do to get out of this funk. Suggestions welcome.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

When life gives you pumpkins...

...make pumpkin pie. Four of them. And two pumpkin cakes. And there was still enough to fill three tupperware containers. It was a very big pumpkin. Check it out for yourself in these photos. Who doesn't love a good pumpkin photo? We think it was about 40 pounds. Remi kindly peeled, cut and supervised the cooking process and even helped me out a bit with the pie preparation.

For those wanting to make pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, it's pretty easy. The prep is the longest part. Cut the pumpkin into slices and peel. Scoop out the seeds. We cook it in a pressure cooker in the steam basket. About 15 to 20 minutes when it's fully steaming or so that you can stick a knife through the pumpkin flesh easily. I mash the pumpkin a bit and drain off some of the excess water. Then you can use the traditional pumpkin pie recipes like this one. Instead of evaporated milk, I use crème liquide (20 cl). However you can get evaporated milk here (lait concentré). If your mom doesn't send you pumpkin pie spice from the US like mine, then just cinammon will do, or splurge and by all the individual spices.

I guess autumn brings out the baker in me. Gray days need a little sugary pick-me up. Juliette's getting into helping me stir the batter, a dangerous operation sometimes but I'm pleased to have my little baker girl beside me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

To read when you are 25

Dear Juliette,

By now you've heard the story about the time I accidentally locked you in the car about a million times. You probably used it as ammunition during those rebellious adolescent years (please tell me they weren't so bad!), as in, yeah, mom, remember when you locked me in the car, so please let me go out with my friends this Saturday?

But please know that I really am sorry it happened and of course I was worried about my little angel. To be fair, though, you did have your fair share of blame in the incident. If you hadn't pushed the lock button on the keys I'd let you hold (mistake!) as I strapped you in your car seat, then it wouldn't have happened. Then again, if I'd unlocked the car right away instead of throwing my keys on the seat before I closed the passgener door, it wouldn't have happened either. But that's why it's called an accident. And luckily for us it ended happily. But not without a little anxiety.

Of course, I called your dad right away who hopped in his car to drive 30 minutes to the babysitter's house, where we were parked right in front. But as I wasn't 100% sure where the spare key was in the apartment, I couldn't tell him to look for it himself. I then called the insurance company, but of course my insurance papers were in the locked car. They were able to look up my policy but in fact we weren't covered for locksmith services. I guess my mind was sort of on slow-motion. I really didn't know what to do and in what order. I even tried to get you to stretch your little hand and open the passenger door lock, but it was too far. Then to do it with your foot. You'd already taken those little white shoes off, as you were so fond of doing, and you did put your foot where I asked you, smiling all the time. But pushing it up with your stockinged foot proved difficult. And you didn't seem to understand my interest in this new game. I even took my shoe off and tried to demonstrate what I wanted you to do on the other side of the car window, but to no avail. You did your best honey.

At least you weren't panicking in there, but this would have to happen on one of those rare Indian summer days where we'd gotten to the mid-70s and it was sunny. I started worrying about you getting warm in there as I had on my car ride home. But there were no windows open for you, of course. So let's say 30 minutes into this thing I decided to call a locksmith anyway. By the time papa would get there and I went back to the apartment it could be getting really too warm in there. Oh no, were you looking a bit listless, or just bored? Your cheeks were rather pink and your blond hair started sticking to your forehead because of the sweating. Yes, the locksmith was the right thing to do.

Of course, he got there two minutes after Remi arrived and I had already set off to the apartment for the spare keys, just in case. It would have to be rush hour and I was stuck in accordeon traffic getting back to our place. I ran up and found the keys in a flash, ran back down and drove back in more traffic. I didn't put the air on even though it was stuffy because I was thinking of you in that closed car. And praying that everything worked out ok.

When I got back to the sitter's all was well. I paid the locksmith thirty euros for his fine work and went into check on you inside the sitter's. You were bouncing around happily in the playpen with the younger baby. Cheeks still red but not in the least disturbed by your recent misadventure. Tata'd given you orange Fanta to cool you down, so maybe that's why you were hyper.

So once again, know how much you mean to me and that I really did (and do) try to do my best for you. And if you have a little one day and do something silly like me, I won't laugh at all.

Love, Mom

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A month of Sundays

I've never quite known what to make of this expression. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? It depends on the Sunday, if you ask me. There are those Sundays where we have absolutely no agenda, Remi's not working, we sleep in as long as baby lets us. Those can be nice. There are those Sundays in spring when we spend all day at his parents' business/home so Juliette and I can see him. Tiring to be there all day and have my own stuff waiting for me at home. And in the "off season" like now, there are some Sundays where we spend at least part of the day with his family for a meal.

Last Sunday fell into that last category. And as we sat in his grandad's dining room turning on and off the light depending on the semi-gloomy weather outside, I realized that there are a lot of patterns in these Sunday gatherings. Of course, it's structured around the meal, which this time started with big shrimp as an appetizer. His grandad had asked me to chill the champagne or champagne-like sparkling wine before-hand. Remi's dad poured a tiny bit of blackberry liqueur into each glass to add the flavor while Remi kindly deshelled my shrimp. We clinked our glasses, each person clinking with the others individually, as is the French way. Juliette always joins in with her plastic sippy cup and wants to keep going long after we've finished.

The champagne must have been strong last week 'cause when I stood up to get something in the kitchen for Juju I could really feel the effects. It's funny how a little bubbly can really get your mind lolling and your mouth talking. Like a few weeks ago when his family started talking about how Ethnic Group A or B is always like that and they'll never change. My family-in-law can be very kind and intelligent, but we just don't see eye-to-eye on race relations. No amount of my playing the meek devil's advocate can change their minds. But the champagne made me speak a little more easily as I went on my spiel, which I really do believe: that you have to treat people as individuals and that just because a person is of a certain ethnic group, it doesn't mean they're thieves or wife-beaters or whatever. Not that I'm perfect myself or always open-minded and free of stereotypes. Champagne or not, it still fell on deaf ears, but at least I said it.

Once Juliette finished up her meal, stuff I'd prepared at home and some of the meat Remi's mom had cooked up, I put her to bed in Dédé's room. Out in the dining room the meal continued with pintade or guinea fowl. Basically like chicken but maybe a heartier taste. And mashed potatoes and spinach from their garden. If I'm not watching or my reflexes are dulled (see paragraph above re: champagne), I can't fight off Remi's huge servings on my plate. Which puts me in the embarassing situation of having to finish what he gave me (though sometimes I don't). So I plodded along with my honking portions, generally the last to finish anyway.

While eating my Popeye portion of spinach, I asked his mom how she'd prepared it. Ah, food, a much safer topic anyway. His mom is a pretty good cook and they've introduced me to some new foods like some vegetables called bettes (Swiss chard) and black radish (only black on the outside) and of course, the famous patty-pan squash.

And then it was the cheese course, where here again I was coaxed to eat big portions and had to fight off offers for second helpings. Then dessert, this time a pie made with applesauce filling. Here again we talked about how his mom had made it, by using a special presse-purée (apparently called a potato ricer) to smash the apples. The advantage of this being there's no need to peel the apples before-hand as the apparatus just smears the peel off and you can remove it.

Dessert is always the moment when Dédé trots out his famous joke as he looks at me and says, "Vous n'aimez pas ça?" (You don't like that?) For Dédé knows I have a sweet tooth. So now I've started saying the same thing to him, as he downs his pastries pretty rapidly, too. And you'd be surprised the types of jokes an 85-year-old is capable of telling in mixed company. I guess age is liberating or he's always been a bit naughty? There's the riddle about why the hair on your head gets white where elsewhere it might not? Something about color staying where there was pleasure. If you're blushing, imagine how I feel. I generally just smile weakly and pray he doesn't continue or ask me if I truly got it.

By this point we'd been sitting there for at least two hours and the digestion process started to get to me. I commanded my eyes to stay open so I wouldn't seem rude nodding off in my pie.

On to coffee, thankfully, but here I'm always left out. For the moment I'm not a coffee drinker, though I've started taking a bit of coffee milk when I must start at 8 during the week. Everytime Dédé asks if I want some and marvels that I don't drink the "only" caffeinated after-meal drink he could imagine. All in good fun, it is, but again, here his family will never understand that a nice cup of tea is lovely, too. They generally make some kind of "yuck" sound and matching expression when I say that tea is good. Or they think it's only for when you're sick. It's never stocked in their house but sometimes I bring my own tea bag so I'll feel like part of the hot beverage club.

And another Sunday came to a close, our bellies filled, family time duly respected, cooking traditions learned. Apparently his mom was listening attentively, because later in the week Remi came home with a brand new presse purée she'd picked up for me and some Swiss chard from the garden. Anybody got a good recipe for that?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Since we last spoke...

...I'd say there's not much news here. September is giving us one of those glorious blue sky days with the perfect warmth and sunshine. The type of day we were seriously lacking for most of August. Ironically it's the last day of summer and tomorrow's supposed to start getting rainy, as if on cue. I'm finding it harder to get up in the morning, as are my colleagues, and I'm convinced that the fact that the sun doesn't rise till 7:30 lately has something to do with it. Work's picking up, but still light enough to leave me some holes in my schedule. Each time I see a lovely afternoon I feel compelled to take Juliette out and take advantage of it. As if it could be our last lovely day for who knows how long.

Meanwhile Juliette's been her cute and sometimes exasperating self. Here she's posing quite nicely with a yellow flower. I bet nobody can guess what it is!

She's still very keen on Elmo but is polite enough to say "Elmo, please," when she wants me to go to the Sesame Street Channel on the Internet. BEP fans will enjoy this clip of singing with the Sesame Street gang. And I know mom will love this one of Jason Bateman explaining what comfort is. I have to say I enjoy watching old and new SS clips. They are really quite clever and it tickles me to death when Juliette starts talking back to the screen and repeating things.

Last week marked my eighth year anniversary of my arrival in France. Each year it gets a little scarier to realize how long I've been here. Especially if I think about all my friends back home who in general are in slightly more comfortable situations while I'm in the low-salary and not always foreigner-friendly country of France. But let's be positive (oh, I'll try)! In these last eight years I've:

*learned to drive a stick shift and learned the French driving code (phew!)
*learned to speak better French than the few phrases I knew back in 2002
*learned that French people have a strange way of telling you you're wrong and that you probably shouldn't take it too seriously or you'll be wounded every two minutes (still working on that)

But enough about me. I came across and old British women's magazine from 2003 and even though it's only seven years old, you'll find that the celebrities have gone through some major changes, too:

Ben Affleck and JLO were still a couple. Now he's with Jennifer Garner and has two kids.

Tom Cruise was still with Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman was still single after their divorce.

Winona Ryder had shown up in court in 2002 for shoplifting. Has anyone heard from her since?

Madonna was still married to Guy Ritchie and living in London.

Renée Zellweger had recently broken up with George Clooney and was with the White Stripes guy. Now apparently it's Bradley Cooper. People were already talking about her weight ups and way downs.

Britney Spears had just split with Justin Timberlake. No kids yet.

So there you go. You can always count on celebrities and their crazy lives to make your own feel a bit more sane.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Move over, Mariah

Here's the newest singing sensation from this side of the Atlantic. JuJu, the Franco-American toddler sings her medley of English and French nursery rhymes. But don't ask her to come back for an encore. She's got some coloring to do and she might make that whiny sound.

So did you catch those tunes? A little "Are you sleeping?" and "Bateau," a French one she learned at day care. She starts in on "Dansons la capucine" also there. Then "Twinkle, Twinkle", and "Itsy bitsy spider" which turns into "Tourner moulin", one where you also make some hand movements. These are the moments that make being a mom all worth-while!

Friday, September 3, 2010


A recent conversation in my household:

Me: Did you throw my burnt sponge away?
Remi: Yes. It was dead.
Me: But I was going to take a picture of it for my blog.
Remi: I don't think it's just the sponge I should have thrown away...

Let's go back in time to last Tuesday evening. Yes, my sponge got burnt because (I'll let you decide):

A. We had nothing else to eat and I thought about cooking it up.
B. Juliette learned to play with matches.
C. I was disinfecting it in the microwave.
D. Charcoal makes a great dish detergent.

You know me well enough to realize it was C. Just another in a series of mishaps that can only happen to yours truly. But to be fair, I was (loosely) following instructions from a magazine tidbit about disinfecting your kitchen sponges. And since I do often notice that my sponges get that not-so-fresh smell after a while, I thought, why not. They said to rinse it and put some liquid detergent on it and microwave it 3 minutes. Ok, so I think I did it more like four and I smelled some smoke so stopped the timer. And used my metal tongs to take it out then doused it in the sink. It was never on fire, just charred. So that's the last time I follow seemingly good tips from magazines. From now on I'll just boil it. Or buy a new one.

But the above conversation between my hubby and me highlights an even deeper problem. The need to report ridiculous things on my blog. There, I'm doing it again! As I looked down at the burnt sponge in my sink, a smile started creeping over my face. This would make for a good post, I thought. Are there any other bloggers out there who are living this "I blog, therefore I am" kind of thought pattern? Always projecting ourselves onto the screen, always writing a phrase to sum up what we're living? Maybe I was always a bit like this, having a penchant for noting down my thoughts or writing running commentaries in my head. Sometimes I can't fully enjoy the moment unadulterated (like when I'm basking in the sun and watching ducks paddle by) because I'm thinking about how I might write about it.

Such is a blogger's fate. Stay tuned for more riveting burnt sponge moments.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Juliette's Time Capsule- 25 months

Me at 25 months. Well, what to say? I'm a babbling blondie who gets into everything my mommy doesn't want me to. And speaking of her, I usually call her "mommy" but some days after being at the sitter's, it's more "maman" (the French way). Papa is papa and when he's not there I say "papa work". Catki is still Catki and most of the time I like to lay my head on his fur but not when he sits on my Hello Kitty chair. Then I get mad and say "No, Catki!" Or when he gets on the counter in the kitchen (all the time), I say, "Get down, Catki."

One of my favorite games lately is called "nap." I like to climb onto mommy and papa's bed by pulling out the under bed drawer to use as a step. I know to take my shoes off when I'm on the bed, so I say "Shoes" and mommy helps me get them off. Or if they're these white ones which I wish I could wear everyday, I can usually get them off myself. So to play "nap" you basically just roll around the bed and giggle and sometimes you pull the blanket or sheet over your head. Mommy loves to do that.

Other games I like to play are "coworing" (coloring) and it's a good thing grandma in the US got me washable crayons and markers, 'cause sometimes mommy gets a little agitated if I color on furniture or walls.

My favorite TV shows and movies: Wonder Pets and The Tigger Movie (on DVD), Elmo stuff (on Youtube) and Pocoyo (a Spanish-made computer-generated cartoon shown on French TV.) For Wonder Pets I like to sing along, and I can say "wonner pets", "teamwork" and "serious" (more like seewius) which are in the songs. Ming Ming the duck is my favorite.

As for food, I don't always want it when they want me to eat it. But I'm eating a bit better. Pasta is always nice. And ham. And chicken. Green beans, peas, tomatoes. Mom's chicken curry and rice is ok, too. Yogurts and applesauce and peaches and of course cookies and chocolate. Keep that chocolate coming. So good. When mommy goes to the bakery I always ask for "brehh" afterwards and she gives me a little piece. I also like pain au chocolat, and when they get those little sacks from the bakery, I know there's good stuff in them. (Mommy says: this video's long, but I'm still learning how to use my FlipVideo software and couldn't quite figure out how to cut it without deleting the file...)

Speaking of brehh, when we've got some dried pieces we feed the ducks. I love to go see them and if mom lets me, I get down and walk around a bit. Of course, I get angry when she wants me to get back in the stroller so sometimes she gives me a cookie and I go a bit more willingly.

My favorite books are the Wonder Pets in Italy, Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What do you see? and The Baby Colors book. I don't know my colors yet, but "yellow" is a nice word to say.

Soon I'll be the biggest kid at the sitter's, since Thibaud and Hugo are going to school. I'm not sure what that is, but there seems to be a lot of hubub about it. As for me, I won't go there till I'm three, mommy says. I think that's a long way away. So I'm fine doing my own thing till then.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Summer in bloom

Before launching into the theme of my post, thanks to all those who commented so kindly on my last post. I suppose I was really needing a bit of advice/sympathy, and it helped me to know I wasn't the only one feeling those pangs of homesickness and worry about the future. I guess there are just going to be moments when it's tough, and you try to refocus and find reasons to keep on going. And as I've read on some other expat blogs lately, focusing on your next trip home or good things and plans in your adopted country can help with that.

So way back when I mentioned doing some photo-themed posts. And as summer only has a month to go (and judging by today's weather, sort of ominous clouds, maybe it's over!), I better post now before the title is out of date. So here are some photos fleuries (flowery photographs) from my summer travels and from around my own town:

Roses in Etrétat, Normandy.

Geraniums in Honfleur, Normandy.

Hydrangeas in an overgrown garden in Le Crotoy, bay town of Picardie.

And growing in funny places in Dover.

Oh, and how'd a baby picture get in there? Oh, but there are flowers hanging over the rail! Taken in St. Valéry sur Somme.

One of the shady houses in my favorite courtyards in my own town.

Hopefully there will be some more sunny days before big bad autumn sets in so we can enjoy these flowers a bit longer. "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may..."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mixed emotions

We spent Thursday at Remi’s granddad’s place. Since his parents are on holiday and his granddad no longer drives, we try to make sure we have a meal with his him every week (salmon, rice and green beans this time). Plus Remi had some garden clean-up he wanted to do for him. So we made a day of it and brought Juliette along, too.

"Je suis au jardin." (I'm in the garden. Dédé's message to any who might come by while he's not inside.)

The weather was really lovely, except for a bit of a nip in the air in the morning. All the better to enjoy some of that country life. I do like letting Juliette get to move about more freely in her great-granddad’s courtyard and discover the joys of lady bugs crawling over her hand and saying “bye bye, chicken” to the errant hen that was in his garden. I get to enjoy the more simple pleasures of picking a few flowers to fill a glass for Dédé’s (that’s what Remi called him when he was little) table and collecting some windfall apples and plums from the trees on his property.

But these days in the country always lead to a bit of tension between Remi and me. He’d love for us to live out in the country, maybe even in the village where his granddad lives. I’m not totally against country living, but I just don’t want to have to drive an enormous amount to get to a decent job. And considering I’m only part-time at two jobs which sometimes equals full-time even in the bigger city where we live now, I don’t have very high hopes for the far out country. I’m not an adamant city mouse, but I did grow up in the very well-equipped suburbs of the biggest city in my state (Birmingham, Alabama), with over a million people in the metro area. Which has one of the finest medical centers in the country, I’d like to add. And now in my current city in France, I live within a five- to fifteen-minute walk from pharmacies, doctors and fairly well-stocked grocery stores. I adore not having to take my car to do some of these errands. But I know that the country can be peaceful on a fine summer’s day. I too would love a little garden patch to let my little one run around in.

This day with Dédé scratched at another little situation, too. Though I enjoy spending time with his family, I often get a pinch of regret that I can’t spend as much time with my own. There I was making a meal for Remi’s granddad, listening to his old stories (the ones he’s repeated already, but I listen to politely anyway). And I was wishing I could spend as much time with my grandma back home, turning 79 this Wednesday (early birthday shout-out!). When I told this to Remi the next day, he said “sorry” in such a sincere way that it made me feel even sadder.

Is this what an expat’s life must be? To be thousands of miles away from the people you grew up with and only see them once a year, maybe twice if you’re lucky and finances permit? I knew it would be tough when I made the decision to come here eight years ago. But it’s still tough, sometimes bearable, sometimes not so much. And until I win the lottery and can travel back at my leisure, I don’t see how I can make it much better. Though I made the choice to be here, I am forever divided. On sunny summer days when we’re exploring lovely seaside towns or historic villages, I can be distracted; I can say I’m having fun. But I’m always thinking about writing the folks back home about it. It might seem silly to say I’m homesick after so long in France, but so it is. And no amount of medical research has found a cure for this “sickness” yet.

If any other expats, or those a bit far-out from their families in their own country, have some insight on this, I’m all ears.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And the winner is...

Well, the first three responses were quite right. Yes, Crystal, it is a gourd. Yes, mom, a type of squash. But Jennet has amazed me with her squash knowledge: the exact name is a patty-pan according to my online dictionary. It has a milder taste than zucchini and is nice served cold or room temperature in a vinaigrette (must be peeled and cooked, I should mention!). Remi's parents grow it in their garden.

As you can tell by my blogging frequency, I've got a bit more time on my hands lately. With an amazing two hours and 15 minutes of lessons this week, I guess I'm goofing off more often. If only I were paid for it...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Animal, vegetable or mineral?

A virtual prize to the first person who can give me the correct name of this thing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Adventures with Charlotte

I tried to cross off things on my to do list. I sort of organized the bookshelf (the messiest parts are better). I sort of organized the closet (again, the most urgent areas). And sort of put photos in albums (just didn't finish). And I sort of made a charlotte aux fraises, the French style strawberry shortcake. This being the Lazy Girl's Blog, I took the easy route and found a self-proclaimed easy recipe on the Internet. Instead of messing with the gelatine leaves and such, I tried this recipe which calls for plain yogurt (actually fromage frais, but plain yogurt would do it, too). I was petrified I wouldn't be able to get the thing out of the pan afterwards, but as you'll see below, it worked out ok. However, the lady fingers were a bit soggy from the yogurt seeping into them, so any ideas on how to avoid that would be helpful.

Here's a journey in pictures with the instructions as well for those willing to try.

1. Dip lady fingers (if they're the hard kind at least) into a bowl of milk that you've sweetened to taste. Dip quickly then start placing in your casserole dish which you've lined with aluminum foil (my dish is about 4 inches tall/10cm, but you could go a bit higher).

2. Now add sugar to taste to your fromage frais or plain yogurt. It calls for one kilogram which is a bit more than 35 ounces. You could also use vanilla which is already sweetened or why not strawberry, too. Put a layer of the yogurt in your casserole. Followed by a layer of sliced strawberries. Continue the layers. If your dish is big enough you can put a second layer of lady fingers in the middle.

3. Finish with a layer of lady fingers. Cover with a plate or alumnium foil and refrigerate over night or at least all day.

4. When ready to serve, put plate over the dish so that it will be on the flat side to receive the charlotte. Holding plate and dish together, turn it all over and set it down on the counter. Carefully remove casserole dish and then foil. And hopefully it will all stick together and look something like this.

Garnish with strawberries or whipped cream. Hmm, I just had an idea. Instead of yogurt, why not try whipped cream for the layers. Less soggy perhaps?

I want to try a real charlotte recipe soon. Or a tiramisu with rasberries. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Culinary racism: it could happen to you!

I accused my husband of being a culinary racist the other day. This was after I asked him, carefully concealing my enthusiasm/pride, if he'd enjoyed our meal. The one I'd (lovingly) prepared for him while making sure our beloved two-year-old didn't stick her fingers in sockets etc. It wasn't haute cuisine, but it was a nice mix of tasty food and I'd made an effort.

His reply, "Yes, it was simple, but good."

Ouch. This is not exactly a compliment coming from a French person. This is like telling your kindergartener that the drawing of rainbows and stick figures is no Da Vinci, but it's coming along.

Luckily I've been in France long enough, and around my husband long enough, I might add, that I don't burst into tears at these double-edged sword type "compliments". But it bugged me. And as we were drifting off to sleep that night I continued asking him about it. Not in a confrontational way (for once) but repeating neutrally that I'd taken the time to prepare this meal for him.

I even tried the "I-statements". As in, "I feel like you're making fun of me a bit when you say that." He swore he wasn't. I think the French food snob, er, I mean, expert in him couldn't help but comment on the complexity, or lack thereof, of the meal. I suppose it's genetic.

On the other hand, he can be downright territorial about the American desserts I make. He nearly pouted when I made chocolate chip cookies for his birthday when one of his friends was also there to sample them. Less for Remi, of course. And when I recently made madeleines, those delicate French scallop shaped cakes, he said, yes, but it's a French dessert. Since when am I not allowed to make French desserts?

Next time I'll just make hotdogs and brownies and maybe everybody will be happy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Beach and bay bums

Any vacation is a challenge to a sort-of perfectionist. You’re out of your comfort zone and have to accept that there will be moments that sinks won’t be handy to wash sticky hands or that your backpack will wrinkle up your jacket and the thing you most need will always be at the bottom of the sack. But when it’s a beach trip those challenges multiply! Sand and water come into the equation. On the other hand it’s a bit liberating to realize that’s just the way it is and that in fact going with the flow is the whole idea of holiday time. And luckily I’m not that OCD to let the little things get to me.

Such was the case Sunday when we had a little beach time in Fort Mahon. After slathering ourselves with sunscreen, we set Juliette down barefoot on the sand to let her splash around. But she’s become quite the dainty thing and doesn’t know what to think of the moist sand now. Her legs curled up rigidly against my hip as I tried to put her down- like magnets that were repelled by the sand’s opposite force. Little by little she agreed to walk on the sand. But this time she didn’t want to go into the puddles that the waves had formed. Instead she collected shells for the first time in her two-year life. I encouraged her to put her newfound shells in the half watermelon-shaped pockets of her dress. It’ll come out in the wash, I told myself. She’s only two once and there’s only one first time to pick up seashells.

Compare this video of her running with one from about the same time last year. What a difference a year makes. I think she's saying "wa-wa" for water and then something like buoy as I was telling her that's what the big yellow thing was.

The day before we hung out in the bay towns of Saint Valéry sur Somme and Le Crotoy. It was a bit rainy for most of the day, but we strolled around as best we could and checked out a few shops. The architecture in St. Valéry is so very picturesque. Took an old style steam train to get from one town to another. The next day we took a boat ride in the bay and were lucky enough to spot some of the gray seals that make their home there. I used Juliette’s booster chair belt to keep her attached to me on the boat for the moments we couldn’t keep her quiet in her stroller. Yes, mom, there were life jackets available.

Lest you start thinking we are rich to be on vacation so often, let me tell you otherwise! In fact we've only really been travelling a week total this summer if you add it all up. We just cut it into mini-trips of two days here and there. Kind of nice that way as it does spread out the fun. We're all too good at spending money. Wish we could find more ways to save.

So here are a few pics:
Where water and sky meet. Always so nourishing for the soul.

Very yellow shutters in a bed and breakfast in Le Crotoy.

Juliette in the light of the setting sun, with a bouquet of statice. It grows naturally at this boggy part of the bay.

Sunset on the bay.

The thing to eat at the beach (but I'm not into it)- mussels. You pick out the little meaty part and make a nice pile of the shells aftewards. That's Remi's friend Vincent.

Posing with Remi's friends. Vincent's wife was checking out stores so not pictured.

I can't guarantee we won't be tempted by another day at the beach, considering it's only two hours away. But trust me, we'll be brown-bagging it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Internet Anonymous

Hi, my name is Milam and I’m addicted to the Internet.

And the virtual group says in unison: Hi Milam.

It started out in the mid-90s. It was a novelty thing and everybody was doing it. I thought I’d try it once or twice. Just a bit of email and checking out the rudimentary travel websites they had back then.

I made a great penfriend named Jennet who still keeps in touch today. My college even encouraged us to experiment with the new technology, giving us all user IDs and email accounts on their clunky old non-Windows based system.

It seemed innocent enough back then. I had no idea how addictive the stuff was. When I went on to grad school I couldn’t live without my AOL account. My heart started racing when I’d hear the high-pitched scratchy noise of the modem connecting. Now things are silent, like putting the menthol filters on cigarettes. That way we don’t realize just how often we’re connecting in a day.

My dependence grew when I met Remi. Internet was our main way of communicating what with the time difference and an ocean between us. A day without an email from him back then was cause for worry or nervous breakdown. We used MSN chat to “talk” since phoning would have been so expensive.

And now he often looks over to me in the evening as I write one last email to my mom or friends and he waves weakly and reminds me I’m married. To him. Not the computer.

I’ll admit I have a problem. I can’t resist a little email check before work, if I’ve got a free five minutes. Or on my lunch hour. And when I get home I sometimes juggle Juliette in my lap as we both fight for the keyboard (she often wins) to check yet again. Or I wait for her to be engrossed in some toys to check my work schedule online or upload a few pictures to friends and family.

I wait for precious moments of calm to update my blog. I feel the need to read other people’s blogs and follow their lives. While not always living my own. Now there’s Facebook, which I use sparingly. But it has its addictive charms,too.

But I don’t think I’m totally to blame. Don’t you think the big corporations out there are feeding our desires? Every product’s got a website, you can check your bank balance online, you can search for jobs and watch news videos. It all adds up to more screen time. More fingers tapping on the keyboard. Less looking out the window.

I don’t know that I can really kick this thing. It’s become my lifeline to communicate with the world. But maybe AOL and other websites should put a pop-up window on that says, “Warning: The Internet can cause you to lose all interest in everything else. “ It might save some lives. Or marriages…

Monday, August 2, 2010

Vacations- part two

I know I already spoke a bit about vacation time in France. But it's such a national preoccupation that I have to come back to it. Last Saturday was announced as "black" on the color-coded scale of traffic. Because everybody and their frère was taking the highway to the south of France to splash about in the French Riviera. Frankly you couldn't pay me to go down at this time of year. I don't really relish the idea of spending ten hours or more in a car in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Last night on the news they talked about the difficulty of finding fresh bread in August. It's really serious! So many shops close up because the majority of their customers are on vacation. So it's logical for them to close then, too. But if you have the misfortune to get sick in August, you'll probably find your general practicioner has gone south like all the other folks. In some of the companies my trainees work for there may only be two out of a department that usually bustles with 15 employees. Sometimes production closes for three weeks in August and maintenance crews come in to repair the machines. An American journalist has even written a book about what he deems the French obsession with vacations, Sacrées Vacances, and I have to agree with him a little. He says it can almost be stressful for the French to plan their vacations, especially since some have so many days per year.

So as half of France was driving to the beach, Remi and baby and I just took a brief drive to a nearby mine heap/mountain. Call us anticonformists. Oh, the turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean have got nothing on this place (smell the sarcasm). So under a brilliantly overcast sky, we walked around this old mine heap which has now been populated by whatever plant species that can survive there. As we climbed up, the views were fairly impressive. We could see surrounding fields and villages starting to grow smaller and smaller. Remi went to the very top, but Juliette and I stayed at a safer distance below.

But in fact I will be off next week, so I shouldn't mock the vacationing bunch so much. We will be enjoying a three-day weekend at a beach here in the North of France with some of Remi's friends. The weather might not get over 75°F but that's ok.

For the moment I'm just hanging out at home this week. Only three classes won't keep me that busy. Juliette will go to the sitter just in the morning for most days. It's a good thing I'm a homebody and can always find things to do here. I've got lots of projects and most of them begin with an "O". Like:

organize the closet,
organize the bookshelf,
organize the totally messy clothes cabinet in the bedroom...

You get the picture. Lately I've been finding myself resembling Monk more and more. Wanting things so tidy and organized. Every thing in its own place. My house is still far from this ideal, and I doubt it will be much cleaner at the end of August. But it's on my list anyway. Plus to do some cooking projects, like make a raspberry charlotte dessert myself (like what my birthday cake was). Oh, and get my Life in Order. That's always on my list but I never seem to be able to tick it off. No matter how many vacation days I could have...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Got this idea from the Femina magazine, a fairly well-done women's magazine which is included with the Sunday papers around here. They interviewed foreign women who now live in France and asked them a series of questions. As I read the article I found myself formulating my own answers.

So Q&A:

My history:
Alabama girl meets French guy while in Holland. Finds internship in France and decides to stay on. Married with a bébé and Cat-ki.

What's the most American quality I have?
Hmm, without sounding totally arrogant about my nationality, I really think there's an openess and casualness that we have and that I continue to carry with me. It's what I always noticed when I go back home, and have mentioned before, how folks in the airport start calling you "honey" and giving you conspiratorial winks and smiles and joking around. These things can happen in France, but it just seems rarer. So I'd say I like to create these kinds of encounters here. There, is that clear?

What's the most French quality I have?
Now that I've been living here nearly 8 years (scary!), I think I do appreciate the idea of taking your time and enjoying the little things. Take Sundays. Nearly nothing is open except a few supermarkets in the morning or a bakery or two. Which forces you to do other things like take walks. As annoying as the lack of open shops can be, I have started to enjoy this forced quiet time.

What my double identity adds to my personality?

That I can just as easily be pleased by fresh baguettes and frilly pastries as with a pack of easy-bake muffin mix from the US. Here's a picture from my local bakery, just to maintain my food obsessive photography motif. I think I try to take the best of each culture and enjoy it and create my own fusion. Plus there can be times that knowing two languages adds some new dimensions to either language.

What I want to pass on about my origins?

I'd like Juliette to know that she can do whatever she wants. In France it's not that you tell kids they can't do anything, but the school system is somewhat restrictive. I remember when I told my host family in France that I wanted to work in a botanical garden. They immediately started telling me this was a really tough job to get in France as it was often at a government level and you'd have to pass an exam, etc. Maybe, so, but I want my daughter to think beyond the restrictions. Maybe this is more of an American dream attitude?

A childhood memory:

So many, how can I choose? Playing fort in the woods with the kids that lived in my dad's neighborhood. Fourth of July at mom's house and fresh blueberries and all the fixin's. Playing legos with my sister.

My favorite smell from back home:

The smell after a hard rain, like a nice summer downpour.

Fellow expats or those who've simply transplanted from one state to another, I'd love to know your answers to this survey. So feel free to respond in a comment our on your own blog.