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.