Saturday, April 23, 2011

The day that will live in infamy

Thursday evening, a sunny Canterbury tavern. These two pints are for my dad and me. And they are well-deserved after the day we had spent. (For the record mine is a slightly alcoholic pear cider (yummy), dad's an ale.)

Flash back in time to about four hours earlier. The scene of the crime (insert Law and Order bump-bump music here) was this peaceful medicinal garden on the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral. Or should I say formerly peaceful?

The victims, these mild-mannered visitors who seemed to be posing for some picture. I think they were part of a church choir.

The suspect (no, we know it was her!), this nearly three-year old who only moments before was singing and delighting visitors.

Until all he** broke loose. I had the bright idea to let her down to run around this lovely garden a bit. Which she did in the way only toddlers can, sprinting from her and there freely, grinning ear to ear. But we couldn't stay there forever. And she started darting under a little fence (the one seen on the right in this picture) and I feared she would get out of my reach. So I gently asked her to come on back and walk another way.

That's when she started screaming "no". And thrashing about. And turning wildly and slapping me if I tried to get close. Her hysterical screams breaking the calm of the gorgeous April day.

The choir crowd I'm sure was looking over and smirking or muttering, why can't they control that child. We tried everything in the book. From gently holding her arms back, to taking her into a quiet corner to calm her down, to a little pop on her leg to rouse her back into reality. And let me say I'm the type who reserves this for very bad moments indeed or when she's put herself into harm.

Nothing worked. We tried to put her back in her stroller (and it did take the two of us) but she started banging her head on the bar of the stroller. So I tried all of the above again. Finally I picked up my pride off the grass and held my squirming demon child and started walking. I motioned for dad to follow with the stroller. And we walked out of the courtyard and finally got her into her stroller and left the grounds. We're probably banished for life. She kept whimpering all the way back to the hotel.

And so over our pints and good English dinner, I asked my dad if I had ever had a tantrum that bad when I was a kid. He said yes, but luckily he didn't gloat. So this is your revenge day? I asked. Because earlier we'd been saying that one day Juliette would have a child and know what it was like to bear this kind of tantrum in public.

But seriously, people, I'm starting to think we've got a problem here. You know I love her to death, but when she's acting like this, frankly, I dislike her. And I'm mortally embarassed. It's one thing when she acts up at home and I can put her in her room. But in public, that's not possible. And she disturbs the peace and there's nothing I can do but leave.

Of course, afterwards she calms down, mutters sorry and things slowly go back to normal. But in the heat of it, nobody is happy.

Just before we left Dover to return to France, we saw a mom holding her screaming boy in the park. My dad and I exchanged glances. But we didn't judge her. We'd been there ourselves just a few hours before.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dad's visit

Oops, Mega-oops
There was a bit of a snafu at the beginning of dad's visit. I had asked my friend Caroline if she could pick him up at the train station as I was working at the time his train was to get in. But I said I wasn't positive he would get that train. I wasn't clear enough though and Caro thought I was going to call her once I heard that my dad had indeed landed. Only my dad's cell phone wasn't working when he touched down. In the end he got his train, but no one was there to pick him up. No hard feelings if you're reading this, Caro. It wouldn't be the first time I get into trouble thinking people can read my mind. Remi can attest to that. But all's well that ends well. Seasoned traveller that he is, my dad remembered the way to my place (though he didn't have the key). He rested in a park in the mild weather until I got home (er, about four and a half hours after his train got in).

I'm dreaming of sleep!

Juliette would decide to go wacky in her sleep when dad arrived. Waking and crying like she was in a nightmare. Virtually inconsolable. Then the cat started jumping on the door handle of the hall to get into our part of the house! Two or three nights of horrible sleep for everybody until we finally, begrudgingly, put the cat in the living room with dad. Catki sleeps on the couch with him or goes on to the balcony, and things are quieter.

It wouldn't be spring without...
Another childhood illness. Juliette ended up having conjunctivitis Monday and as I figured the sitter wouldn't want that in her house, I asked dad if he could watch Juju in the morning. I got an appointment with the doctor at midday and now she's got her treatment under way. Dad is quite helpful holding her while I give her the nose spray, or vice versa. She's almost to the point of not crying. Which is more than I can say for last Sunday...

The mother of all tantrums

That would be the day Juliette decided to say no to every l-i-t-t-l-e thing in the world. And cry and whine and turn her body in every direction. It broke the calm of our Sunday walk along this charming canal in the Somme. I'm sure the fishermen nearby were angry that she was scaring off the fish. I've never seen that girl cry and pout so much in one day. But I'm reluctant to pop her behind just when she's irritated, and it's hard to find a good time-out place in the outdoors. I'm getting used to the stares we get in stores when she goes all Exorcist on us. Could it be that she's turned into a bad child? We're still working on the discipline. Here you see her posing charmingly just before the bottom fell out.

Off to England

So we'll try a ferry-crossing and trip to Dover/Canterbury tomorrow with the dadster and Juju. A quick day and a half to soak up some English culture, tea and jolly accents. More later.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A day in the life

Last Sunday I brought my camera along to take pictures of the garden. But of course I couldn't resist snapping some of Juliette. Most of the time it's hard to get her to stand still. And when I take a look at what I've shot her hat is covering most of her face.

But I keep on snapping away and sometimes, despite the sun nearly obliterating my view of the screen, I get some good ones.

Here you see her "house" made of a big cardboard box that we cut a door and shutters out of. It suits her fine so I don't think we'll be spending 200 euros on some plastic thing anytime soon. Though a cute wood cabin might be nice one day.

The oilseed rape plants are in flower. That's the plant used to make canola oil. The farmers who've got fields around Remi's greenhouses decided to plant that this year. Of course we had to take advantage of all that gorgeous yellow for some photo ops!

Next to her French grandma's border of bulbs (and she still wouldn't let go of her juice bottle).

Washing the garden chairs with papa.

"Driving" the car as we loaded it up to go to great grandpa's.

Putting her special stuffed animal in a mini-chair at great grandpa's house.

Dozing in the car on the ride home (since she didn't really nap correctly in the afternoon). All in a day's work for a toddler.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Plant post

Every year I vow to make the flower garden at my in-laws into something more than the weed-infested patchwork that it is. And every year I end up falling far short of what I want to do. This area has been my pet project for about seven years. Remi had already planted some trees and perennials there before I came to France. One of my first summers here we created a little pebble path at my suggestion. When I say "we" did it, I should specify that he did 90% of the hard digging and hauling and I helped spread the pebbles and got us water to drink.

Since then, every year I add a few perennial plants or put some seed-grown annuals to create summer color. And though it is starting to fill up with plants, some of them are growing a bit too much (vinca, you know I'm talking to you), others not enough (black monkey grass, you are so slow!). And let's face it, as I mentioned last year, watching a toddler properly requires ALL my attention, so there are some limits as to what I can get done in this garden.

Some things are successes like the peony plant that has come back every year and has a good number of buds on it this year (will post photos when it's in bloom). The daffodils are multiplying nicely. You can see Juliette standing next to the lambs' ear plants (Stachys byzantina). Back in the days that I would peruse gardening books in the US, I became enchanted with the common name of this one. It's true the pale green leaves are soft and fuzzy. It has spikes of small light purple flowers in the summer. It can get a bit invasive though.

A new addition is the Cornus alba "sibirica", with its characteristic red brances which make our grey winters a bit less dull. I've been wanting one of these for a while, and the good thing about having a garden center owner for a husband is that I can take plants at will from his stock!

My goal is to have it looking something like an English border garden and to one day (!) put tags on everything so that Remi's clients could walk through and be informed about cool plants.

But for now at least, this garden is mostly a mix of haphazard choices. Filling spaces with the odd perennials and trying to win the war against the ugly thistle plants and stinging nettles. Before Juliette came into our lives I would painstakingly paint a leaf or two of those weeds with Roundup and let the herbicide do its thing. But now I don't use any chemicals in this garden and just use my arm power to pull things up. It's not always so succesful but sometimes parking myself in a sunny corner and weeding is a nice way to spend an hour (while Juliette naps safely indoors).

But I'll never get all those weeds. I suppose, like all things in (my) life, I'm going to have to accept this garden with its imperfections.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April brings...

...not so many showers, actually. It's been unseasonably warm and deliciously sunny. Most people aren't complaining considering how sun-starved we usually are here. But my husband's worried the pansies will spring up too much and get gangly which is not good for sales. Plus he does have to water an awful lot in the greenhouses. Juju and I are enjoying lovely strolls though.

...U.S. taxes. I'm really not sure if I should even bother doing them considering my income is always below the limit that would require me to pay taxes. But I do it anyway, generally the week before (uh, that would be right about now). Maybe I like to feel connected to my fellow Americans so I go through the inane process of filing that 1040 all the same. Any other US expats know if we really are supposed to do it?

...a visit from my dad! It's becoming an annual tradition to see him in April, and we're certainly looking forward to it. I'll still be working most of his visit but things might slow down a bit as the school holidays are approaching. We hope to get away for a little sightseeing, maybe even a ferry ride over to England as our plans got spoiled last time by that pesky volcanic dust cloud! Juliette will get to connect to another US relative and converse in English with someone besides me!

...a probable visit to the vet for Cat-ki. He's due for a vaccine and lately he's been peeing in the hall or by the tub or in the tub a time or two during the week. I'm tired of cleaning it up. Plus he's packed on the pounds (again) since we've started leaving his food bowl filled instead of giving him four meals a day. His constant whining was driving us crazy. I'm sure we'll get a talking to from the vet but she doesn't have to live with him!

...Glee, finaLee! Officially it started running in late March, but I didn't realize it till last weekend. I've watched some episodes now in English (!) and I'm hooked. My mom and sister have only been telling me about it for a year and a half. I knew it must be good if they like it but before I would have had to go on streaming sites that make my computer just get a migraine.

...and April has already brought a girls' nights out. Sitting in a terrace café with a kir (chilled white wine with a touch of raspberry liqueur for me) with the girls under a gorgeous blue evening sky! And giggling like school girls over Italian food. I may be married but I will always need my girlfriends for a bit of that giddy fun that only girls can understand!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A little person lives here

A little person lives here.

And her toys cover every surface.

Her little shoes line the walls (these are only about half of them).

I'm a giant next to her. For she can make a feast at the end table.

And because she's little she can get away with wearing candy-striped tights and hats with cat ears.

She can play endlessly with bouillon cubes.

But is equally at ease with her mommy's toys.

A little person lives here, but she's growing every day.

One day she'll be a big girl. One day she'll move away.

But for now she lets me share her world. And my life will forever be better because of my little girl.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What you should know about France

First of all, thanks to my readers for your advice and sympathy about my last post. I knew I could count on you guys to help me out. Still nothing resolved on the living front, but we're still talking.

Meanwhile, I'm taking a leaf from Oneika's blog. Here's what the guidebooks don't always tell you about one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.

1. Some of those stereotypes are true. I have seen folks carrying baguettes as they bike back home. I have seen old guys wearing berets. The French are obsessed with food. They do dress pretty well (sweatpants in the grocery store are rare). Some (not all) think deoderant is optional. Note to you guys: rethink that one.

2. Saying goodbye can take forever. There are so many polite expressions that sometimes I think it will never end as I try to leave the babysitter's or even just the baker's. There's au revoir, of course, which is basically goodbye. But then they'll add bonne journée (have a good day). And I say merci (thanks). And then they say à demain (see you tomorrow) or à bientôt (see you soon). And sometimes I get lost and start saying au revoir again.

3. They do the "bises". These are the famous cheek kisses. They can be in the morning to say hello to colleagues (girls and girls kiss or girls and guys kiss; guys shake hands- see #5). Or to say goodbye at the end of a visit with relatives or a party. Another reason saying goodbye can be long. Imagine a party of 15. At the end you need to start kissing five minutes before you really want to leave. I prefer waving myself and sometimes I do that. The number of kisses depends on the region you live in and your familiarity with the person. In my region it's four. But sometimes we just do two. You're left in mid-air if you're expecting more and the other person stops. In Belgium I hear it's three. French companies thought of suspending the "bises" ritual during the H1N1 flu scare. Mine said, no, we won't let some potentially deadly flu virus stop us from kissing cheeks!

4. Bonjour (hello) is just about as laborious as goodbye. Don't forget to say it, of course. Many a time I've gone up to a salesperson and said, "Excusez-moi" and I start explaining my problem. They then say bonjour (hello). I don't know if they're chastizing me for not starting my sentence with hello or just making sure they get it in there. My mom was indeed chastized in the Charles de Gaulle airport because in her pride and haste to get out her French question she forgot bonjour. The baker got onto a young boy for forgetting to say it and just directly asking for his baguette. On dit bonjour d'abord, she said to him. We say bonjour first. By the way, salut (hi but it can also be bye) is very informal and generally not used the first time in a business situation.

5. If you're at work or school don't forget to shake hands after you've said bonjour (or kiss, see #3). I generally shake hands with all my students at the beginning and sometimes the end of a lesson. Not so good for disease transmission either. I even shake hands with my doctor. I hope he's washing between patients...

6. Dodge that poop. Amber hit the nail on the head or the poop on the... (no, I won't try to make a pun here). There is way too much dog poop on the sidewalk. For a country that prides itself on its beautiful cobbled streets and picturesque lanes, there are a whole bunch of people who really don't give a sh** where their dogs poop and don't bother to clean it up. My town has distributors with sacks and special areas in parks for pooping pups. There are even fines of 35 euros if you're caught not scooping. But I've gotten used to dodging, just like Amber, because most people have not gotten the message. Oh, and watch out for the dog urine puddles, too.

7. Men pee anywhere. While we're on the subject of bodily fluids, it seems that men here are totally uninhibited when nature calls. This is perhaps not just limited to French men. Remi will do it in an alley or on a brick wall. The gas stations don't always have restrooms here so men (and sometimes women) will just go where they can. I'm gonna start a campaign for more public restrooms, especially since my little one will hopefully soon be potty-trained. Frankly there are not lots of restroom and kid-friendly places in my town.

8. "No thank you" is confusing here. I remember one of my first awkward meals at Remi's parents' place when my French was still limited to about ten words. His mom offered me more of something and I said, non, merci. The equivalent of "no thanks" in English, I thought. She hesitated a bit and looked to Remi for confirmation. Here they often just say merci with a little hand movement to say "no thanks, I don't want anymore". So if you say "thanks", merci, and you do want more, they might think you don't! I'm still not sure I've got it right, come to think of it. Please correct me if I'm wrong!

9. If you want free water, ask for une carafe d'eau. This will save you in those pricey restaurants. If you just ask for water : de l'eau, you'll probably get a bottle of Evian and the bill to go with it. Une carafe d'eau is just a bottle of tap water and free.

10. If you go shopping here, don't forget a coin and your own sacks. To get a cart, you must insert a one-euro coin or a token that is the very same shape in the cart to free it from the rack. Some supermarkets don't give you plastic bags but they do sell them. It's always a good idea to have your own bags. I just put all my stuff in a rolling suitcase once I get to the car.

And that, my friends, should get you by for a while. If some of you are more versed in French than me and disagree with my translations, I'm happy to hear what you think.