Saturday, May 29, 2010

The girliest post ever

Calling all girls. Or metrosexual men who actually use skin care products. I'm about to run out of my supermarket-bought Nivea night cream and I think it's time for me to invest in a new skin care regime. My face just doesn't seem to have the elasticity of those younger days now that I'm 36! Despite religious use of my Laroche Posay sunscreen, I can tell that stress and fatigue are catching up with me.

Back in March I went for a facial, kindly paid for by my husband as his Valentine's Day present to me. (Yes, I know! He's become quite the expert gift-giver under my tutelage.) I was treated to an hour and a half of skin pampering. One cream after another, eyebrow reshaping (that was extra), blackhead removal with a specialized tool, steaming, masking, massaging. I lost count of how many products she used on my skin. But it did feel softer after all that pampering. And even though my eyebrows stayed reddish and stingy for a while, I might have even looked a little less tired.

At the end of the facial when I was stuck in the chair with a heavy mask on my face, the lady, who was also the shop owner, asked if I minded responding to a little survey. What could I say as I was not going anywhere anyway. So she asked me all sorts of questions about what products I used to clean my skin, take off my make-up, anti-wrinkle cream, foundation. I could see where she was going with all this but I kept responding in all honesty and feeling quite "naked" about my hodge-podge regime. One product from the pharmacy, another from the supermarket, barely anything in the same range. So it was no surprise that she told me it might be good to think about using one product line and that spending about 40 euros a month on your skin products was reasonable. Hmm. What do you gals think?

So send me your beauty secrets or favorite product lines. I've got some birthday money to spend, and this could be a good purchase to really take care of me.

PS: I'm hoping to find something without paraben as the media says this is yet another cancerous thing. It's in most of my stuff already so I've probably had quite a bit of exposure thus far.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A big fat French wedding

When I hear that one of Remi’s friends is getting married, my first reaction is happiness that they’ve found that special someone and are ready to commit to them. My second reaction is usually a groan because we’ll probably be invited to the blessed event that will last until 3 or 4 in the morning. And I really hate staying up late. Or rather, I hate that feeling like I’ve been run over by a semi the next day because I’m lacking sleep.

So you can understand why a few days before the wedding, I was secretly hoping bride or groom would get major cold feet and call the whole thing off. Or a massive stomach bug that would have them stuck in bed. (Let me say they’re both lovely people and I really do wish them the best!) I was also nervous because since we couldn’t find a babysitter we’d be bringing our not even two-year-old along with us. I had no idea if she would be able to sleep or what the set-up would be. To add just a bit more spice to the whole situation, Remi would be working the day after. So at one point there was talk of us getting a hotel the night of the wedding then driving back to his parents’ the day after so he could work and I could walk around like a zombie chasing JuJu. Luckily in the end we just decided to drive directly back to our town, a two-hour drive, so at least I could just sleep in Sunday!

So here are the highlights or our French wedding experience:

7:30 pm. We arrived at the reception site, a complex of lovely old buildings in the countryside, where bride and groom and guests were still milling about outside for the champagne and hors d’oeuvres. After four minutes of shyness, Juliette discovered her legs and wanted to walk/run everywhere, more or less, mostly less, holding my or Remi’s hand. She only slowed down slightly when she met another toddler or baby. Yes, that was my child screaming as I picked her up when it was time for a group picture which took excruciatingly long. Yes, that was her again screaming when I had to remind her not to walk behind the serving tables.

8:30 pm. We made our way to the reception hall and luckily met up with other friends who had a baby. They were going to put him in one of the hotel rooms of the complex where a friend was staying that night. So we could safely have Juliette sleeping in her playpen in a controlled access area and not just next to the dance floor. Phew.

Juliette took her bottle as we discovered the menu for the night’s meal and admired the skewered bread. My mouth started watering as I learned what we’d be eating…

9:30 pm. I put Juliette up in the room where she didn’t protest at all. Then I went back downstairs to see the cute appetizer that had been set at my place at the table. It was what they called a medaillion, a tiny piece, of lobster in a buttery sauce. Remi and I started making conversation with our tablemates. They were all interested to know what I thought of France and where the heck Alabama was. (I gave them the pat answers about how France is far from my family and that’s tough to deal with.)

The hours rolled by along with the other courses. An entrĂ©e of sole and little langoustines (some type of shrimp) in a sweet sauce with finely cut vegetables. The main course was a very nice cut of beef with what appeared to be a small slice of foie gras on top, though I didn’t eat that, as the meat was rich enough. And a sauce apparently made with truffles, but I’m no connoisseur to really know the difference. Of course, followed by cheese, nicely presented on a platter with a shot glass of cider.

In between there were a few events to pay tribute to the bride and groom like a slide show of pictures of them as kids and up to the present. A song sung by a group of their friends. We continued chatting with our new acquaintances. I noticed how husbands and wives are on their best behavior at weddings. All decked out in their finest, remembering their own wedding memories, you’d never guess how much they bicker over who’s going to do the dishes or why there is dirty laundry in every corner. At least that’s my own case!

1:00 a.m. And then there was the pouring of champagne over a tower of glasses by the bride and groom and my favorite part- dessert! Lucky for me there were loads of strawberry desserts and also some very chocolately things. Sorry, didn’t take any pictures of those this time. The couple christened the dance floor with a traditional waltz (Remi and I did this too at our wedding, and I think our lack of practice, er, none at all, really showed). It was followed by some songs that Remi and I didn’t deem danceable. Then we ventured out to do that French favorite, the “rock” something like a rockabilly dance style that involves lots of hand turning and spinning. Neither of us is formally trained in this and I mostly just follow Remi’s lead. Of course they would start playing the really cool music just as we were leaving, like Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head.

2:30 a.m. We scooped Juliette up and started our long drive back home. Fell into bed at 5 and went to sleep thinking as far as big fat French weddings go, this one wasn’t so bad. But I think I’ll need a year to recover till the next one.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stress and success

I felt like I was catching the final episode of a series I’d missed all season. I was plunged into a cast of characters (and they were characters) who were biting their nails and rehearsing what they were going to say. I was waiting to have my session with the jury for the “teacher thingey” I’ve alluded to a few times on the blog. In fact it’s what’s called a VAE here in France, a process whereby you can validate your experience gained during a job and get the diploma that goes with it. In my case it’s a diploma for teaching adults. While I had prepared two reports about my experience as a teacher, these students in the center had been going to classes for nine months to learn how to teach. They weren’t teachers yet but all had some skill that they wanted to teach: logistics, sales, transport, nursing assistant. They came from all walks of life and ranged in age from mid-twenties to late forties.

They were all friendly and chatty people. Stress can do that to you, make you chatty. And it seems some were eager to tell their story or worries to a new sympathetic ear like mine. There was the pale blonde, 40ish, who was stressing big time. She used to work in a photography shop and now wanted to teach sales techniques. Or the tanned and fit man from the sunny south of France, once director of a supermarket. He was now having to rethink his career, presumably after a lay-off, and the only program he’d found was here in the predominantly gray north of France. And there was the 30ish lady with dark curly hair and light blue eye-shadow who had her license for driving buses and now wanted to teach others that skill. She was the kind of tactile person who touched your arm ever-so-lightly as she talked and made you feel as if she’d known you forever.

Something in all those people’s faces and earnest talk made me root for them. I don’t know if they passed or not, but it seems life had thrown them all some curve-balls and they were just trying to get back in the game. Personal problems or lay-offs or work injuries had forced them to find new career paths. Like so many folks these days, they were just doing the best they could with a less than great situation.

As for me, my journey with the teacher thingey ended on a positive note. The jury awarded me the diploma and said they’d enjoyed talking with me. But it doesn’t really change much for me on a daily basis. At least my experience as an English teacher for nearly seven years now (gasp) has been recognized. I can also say all those Saturday afternoons I sacrificed Juliette’s naptime to check over docs instead of blog or clean or nap myself did pay off.

And I met some interesting people along the way who showed me that motivation and hard work are some of the best qualities we humans can develop. Good luck to those folks I met, wherever you are.

The littlest BEP

Dear Fergie and the gang,

I sent you my first audition tape a while back where I bopped along to I gotta feeling. But I guess you all are busy so you haven't gotten back to me. But I think you're really gone love my newest video. Here you can see me singing and dancing along to Rock that Bolly. At leat I think those are the words. Then there's that part about "Ima ima" that is really nice, too. FYI, my schedule is pretty much open, so I could go on tour with you if you're looking for back-up singers.

Keep it cool, JuJu

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Virtual cake and the slippery slope to 40

I haven't blogged in ages. I literally haven't had a minute lately. Between working on my teacher diploma thingey, prep for lessons, actual working/driving, maintaing the house and baby in something of a clean state, well, you get the picture. And if I do what I'm really supposed to be doing, I never do what I want to do, i.e. blog. As my Aunt Jane sent in a recent forward (thanks for that one), sometimes we just need to stop and take time for those "moments" instead of checking off chores on our perpetual to-do list. So here's a moment for me and my blog!

Before I forget, let me wish my other fellow Tauruses a happy birthday. Marnie, the same day as me, Ilona, Becca and Crystal, Emma, too, if memory serves. You go, girls! Did I forget anyone? Ever since I was little I've associated this day with mild spring weather (or tornadoes, when you're in Alabama) and strawberry cakes. My mom often made me cakes with lovely whipped frosting and strawberries on top. I've kept up the tradition here in France, teaching Remi that I'm a "berry" girl. Strawberry, raspberry, cherries, red currants...they all make my mouth water in anticipation of that perfect mix of tart and sweet.

So as a day-before-my-birthday present to myself, I bought these luscious bavaroises aux fruits rouges. A raspberry mousse filling surrounded by a thin layer of cake, topped with some lovely berries. And Remi bought me a similar type cake for my real birthday. This time it was a charlotte, same mousse filling basically but surrounded by lady fingers with a delicate sugar coating. He got the baker to write "Happy Birthday" in English on the almond paste "card". And he bought a decadent chocolate cake, too, as he was worried the charlotte wouldn't be enough for all five of us at lunch.

And finally a little post-birthday cake was had with Ilona (fellow Taurus) just this week. Yet another delicate cake with a faux strawberry made of white chocolate on top.

Yes, I was spoiled in terms of cakes and presents and even the weather (in France at least) was gorgeous- warm and sunny. It was all so lovely it almost made me forget that I'm now the big 3-6. I know most of you reading this will say 36 is still young. But doesn't that "still" imply that I won't be young forever? I went through some similar feelings last year when I turned 35. Now the scales have tipped and I'm on the less fun side of that mini-landmark. Approaching the big 4-0. I'm in good company though- so many actors and singers who are still (there's that word again) considered happening, are in my age group. But it still doesn't take the sting out of some of these frightening thoughts:

* I'm twice as old as a high school senior. Remi sometimes jokes (at least I hope he's joking) that he could trade me in for two 18-year-olds.

* I started college half a lifetime ago. The memories of moving into my dorm room and discovering the deep thoughts of English lit and sunny afternoons on the campus green don't seem so far off. But they are. When I go back to my alma mater I notice my professors have aged or retired. But I've aged, too.

* The Red Hot Chili Peppers song Under the Bridge is over 18 years old. How come those guys don't seem old? Last I heard they were still dating high school seniors themselves.

* At 36 I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Or what I might sort of want to be is nearly impossible in France or at least in my limited area. And by most standards I'm in fact already grown up. But is a girl who owns (and frequently wears) Elmo socks really in danger of being called and adult?

Well, I've got a whole year to ponder these questions. And four more years before the real panic of mid-life crisis comes. What's with our obsessions with round numbers anyway? And didn't I hear that 40 is the new 30? So 36 is the new 26! Good news like that deserves a piece of cake. Preferably with strawberries.