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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Birthdays and traveling

Oh, I have so much catching up to do with my blog. First things first, we’ve been celebrating birthdays around here. Today was Remi’s. I bought him a session at the same beauty salon where he gave me the facial, but his is for a relaxing massage. Will make him some chocolate chip cookies tomorrow (with Tollhouse chips and American brown sugar).

And Thursday was Juliette’s second birthday. We gave her a rocking crib for her baby doll and she shrieked with delight when she saw it in the living room. She also tried to climb in it, and I think we’ll need to dissuade her a few times again. She had Skype sessions with Grandpa (Baca) and also Mameelin and Grandma the Great. Then there was cake and attempts to blow out her big number two candle. She smiled as I sang Happy Birthday and then dug in heartily into that cake. Didn’t finish it all but this could also be because it was time for her evening bottle.

Our little two-year-old knows so many things about the world already. She sings along with some of the commercial jingles on TV, tries to say “bonjour” and “ça va? (how are you?) to strangers in the grocery store. She sticks her little hand in the cabinet whenever I have it open and looks for cookies. Will take the camembert to her daddy when I tell her so. Shouts out “doggy” or “chien” when she sees one out and about. Her vocabulary is increasing by leaps and bounds, but she still says a lot of things that sound like jibberish, but serious jibberish, mind you. There are a good number of English words and phrases, like “get down”, “plee” for “please”, “where are you?” all slurred together as we play peek-a-boo with the chair, “nap”, “leg”, “mouse”… But there are also lots of French phrases, which at times still seem to be “winning”. As long as she can still understand me and my family and speak some English, I suppose we’re doing well.

Speaking of Shakespeare’s tongue, we visited his homeland during our week off. After much hemming and hawing, Remi and I decided to do a two-day trip to Dover and Canterbury. We drove over a little more than an hour to Calais, then took the ferry to Dover. It was such a breath of fresh air for me to be in my own language again and there are definitely lots of similarities between English and American cultures. I’m admittedly prejudiced but sometimes the British did seem more open and casual. Like the teens who were happily making faces and sticking out their tongues playfully at Juliette. That’s never happened to me in France. The French like to say the English are so reserved, but sometimes I find it the opposite. No offense to any Frenchies reading. It was kind of liberating to know I could go into any shop and make myself totally understood. And what fun to see some of the brands I know from the US also on the British shelves.

So here are a few of the trip highlights in words and pictures:

Canterbury Cathedral, duh! Can’t go to Canterbury without seeing it. History tidbit: this is where Thomas Beckett was assasinated. The pilgrims of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales came to this place, too (flashback to British Lit class). But on the day we went they were doing the graduation ceremony for the University of Kent students. You can see a few in their gowns at the bottom of the pic. They were even giving an honorary diploma to Orlando Bloom (no, we didn’t see him). Unfortunately we couldn’t go into some parts of the cathedral because of the ceremony.

But before we visited the cathedral we just had to make a stop at Starbucks for a mocha frappuccino and carrot cake. Here’s the view from said coffee house, which is right next to the cathedral.

Posing with the cute post box.

I think this sign says it all.

The gardens along the river were quite lovely, too.

What English town would be complete without a pub or two?

Dover is less picturesque than Canterbury but still quite fun to go into little shops and experience that English touch. We had an English breakfast complete with divine mild sausages, bacon, hash browns, eggs, boiled tomatoes ( it was that or baked beans) and toast.

Beachfront buildings there. This area was nice but some parts of the town were a bit on the shabby side.

British schoolkids visiting Dover Castle. They all had some touch of teal in their uniforms. They were all carrying their sack lunches and more or less listening to the middle-aged guide who seemed a bit exasperated.

One last view of Dover taken from the castle.

Tea time, so divine. Little biscuits with butter and jam. I had to squeeze it in before our ferry ride home.

Brilliant sun on the English Channel as we came home (reluctantly in my case). We ate overpriced fish and chips on the boat. Strangely it came with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for dessert.

Some great memories, and once our bank accounts recover from the exchange rate, maybe we’ll think about another trip next year.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My house elf and I

Sometimes I feel like Juliette is a house elf. In reference to the little creatures in Harry Potter who are probably just about her height, have huge eyes and dream of having a sock thrown their way. Because that means they are free from their masters. I think this because for a while (and she’s not completely out of the phase), she was wild about taking socks or pairs of underwear off the drying rack and putting them around her neck. It didn’t matter that they were still wet, she had to put a slew of them on her. It must be part of her trying to dress herself and be more independent.

She also likes putting things on her head in general. Like bloomers or handkerchiefs. I think I gave her the idea for the latter. She looks so cute with stuff on her head. I think she must be a “hat person”. Put something on her head, even just a handkerchief, and it transforms her from rumble tumble baby to Bohemian princess baby.

Another similarity with the house elf is her sometimes willingness to help out with little chores. Because she sees me doing it so much she has learned to put up the laundry on the rack, too (not sooo much now with the dryer, but from time to time). Though if I don’t watch her the result is not always what I’m looking for. She’s still into using the dustpan, though I discourage her since it is dirty. And when she feels like it, she’ll actually help clean up her toys (usually after a few stern warnings and visits to the corner).

Yes, the terrible twos are around the corner for my house elf. Dr. Spock says it’s a bit of a misnomer because two can be a wonderful age of discovery and fun as this little person develops. And it’s true that I find myself reminiscing as I go to bed about what she’s done that day, even if there were lots of tantrums. The words she tried to say, the laughs and smiles. I love to see her stretch that little body when I wake her up on weekday mornings. She’s still small but her size belies her already very strong personality. This house elf knows what she wants and how to play with her masters/parents.

Just make sure there’s an endless supply of socks and washcloths and we’ll be ok.

"Shufflin'" on a summer afternoon

Birds flying high
You know how I feel
Sun in the sky
You know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by
You know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me..
And I'm feeling good

Those were the words that my iPod "chose" for me on a recent weekday afternoon as I set out for a stroll in the urban park. It was Muse's slinky version of the old classic. How did Apple's shuffle feature know that it was a perfect blue sky day and the sun was warming my arms to just the right temperature?

I was killing time during the two hours between my lessons in the client's company. It would have been silly to drive back to the center anyway. So I ate my puny sack lunch in the park and then wanted to explore the neighborhood a bit. For two years I've been driving to this place and just admiring the old brick bourgeois houses from my car.

I picked a good day to do it. Kaolin's Partons Vite came on and the happy-go-lucky "la la la" went well with my light gait. The park had a few visitors, a young teen biking and talking on his cell phone, a mom and her two young girls. But the city was already quieter than normal.

We're in the summer vacation period in France where at any given moment it seems like a third of the people are off. With five weeks per year (or eight (!) if you work at a company that has compensation time and a good union to negotiate for you), most French folks take two to three weeks in the summer. Which makes for a much more pleasant drive to work and a quicker visit to the supermarket for those of us who are "left behind". Personally it makes me already feel like I'm off to have less people around.

So it now was the juilletistes' turn to go to the beach or wherever. Yes, les vacances are so sacrées here that there are even specific names for those who take their vacation in July (juilletiste) or August (aoûtiste).

As for my own vacation, I'm half juilletiste, half aoûtiste. Taking next week as there will be so few classes. And one week in August since my company closes anyway. Not sure if I'll really get away anywhere next week though as Remi keeps saying something about needing to borrow a neighbor's tractor to clean up a field for the chyrsanthemums. But I'm determined to do something vacation-like.

I continued my walk up the boulevards and started feeling thirsty. But wasn't that my plan all along? To eat my meager lunch then splurge on a soda? Outkast's Hey Ya accompanied me. I looked for a café or bakery but there were only two gas stations, one across from the other. BP was out 'cause I don't think I need to give those guys any more money considering what they're doing to my gulf coast. So I paid more than I should have for a white chocolate Lion bar (think very crunchy nougaty with white chocolate coating, a bit too hard for my taste) and started my walk back to the company. So in the end my love for chocolate won over my thirst.

As I still had time to kill (two hours is long, people), I sat down on a park bench again and did a little people-watching. Then I mosied on back to the company for my afternoon lesson, rested by my mini-vacation within my work day. All in all a pretty pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cleanliness and phone girl

What I really love is to take my little pink washcloth and wipe a surface down. And this cheesy background music from the A-Team so inspires me.

Since I still don't have a cell phone, this digital thermometer will do. I'm talking to my babysitter and saying "yeah yeah" to show her I'm listening.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

All good things...

...must come to an end. And so it was with my mom and sister's visit. A generous two weeks that spread before us on that Saturday that they arrived. Which still seemed substantial at the mid-way point as we thought of the projects and visits we had left to do. But which had gone by pretty fast all the same as we ate our last dinner together (mom's chicken enchiladas with Frenchy ingredients) the Saturday before their departure.

But I can't complain (not too much). I was spoiled this year with family visits. My dad in April, then mom and Jess. It helped me get through the busy times when Remi was working hard and coming home late. Now that has slowed down a bit. He was able to drive us to the Normandy coast for our two-day excursion. We'd thought about doing a longer trip as I had succeeded in getting Thursday and Friday off, and there was Saturday, but with a nearly two-year-old, less is more. We soon discovered that she wasn't into road trips and that it was hard to give her the opportunity to nap while traipsing around cute touristic towns. So we kept it short, a quick stop in Etrétat, with its stark cliff structure and pretty town center.

(I paid that sea gull to pose.)

Then Honfleur,the port town, where each street seems more picture-perfect than the one before. It was from this town that Champlain set sail on the journey that led him to found/colonize Quebec (any help from knowledgeable Canadians would be appreciated here).

And even though it was sometimes a bit warm, and more often than not Remi and I were bickering (a euphemism for growling) about the GPS or other totally non-important stuff, I was pleased to be on a road trip with the fam. Like when we stopped at the over-priced gas station on the toll highway and loaded up on goodies. If I squinted a bit I could imagine we were buying Cheez-its and Reeses Pieces at the Citgo. And those fun moments like listening to Allison Kraus on mom's iPod and trying to entertain Juliette with anything we could!

Mom and Jess also participated in the International Home Make-over while here. These two weekend warriors took on the task of making my kitchen more functional. You can see that before there was a puny piece of wood protecting the wall from grease splashes and the toaster and bread box took up precious counter space.

But look at it now! The Ikea black rod has created storage too and a nifty paper towel dispenser.

And the kitchen cart (put together by Remi and Jessy) can now house the toaster and breadbox thus freeing up the counter space.

Oh, they helped out in so many ways and I thank them for it. Plus they are so good at doing the dishes, just like dad did when he was here. So now Remi and I have got to fend for ourselves again and try to enjoy the rest of our summer. By French standards it's just beginning as school gets out this week for les petits français. I'm taking the week of July 12th off but we're not sure what we'll do. There are plenty of lovely things to see around here, though short road trips seem to be in order based on our recent experience with Juju. Or I could always tackle making the rest of the apartment more functional. I know a Swedish furniture store that can make it happen...