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...