Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Location (location, location!)

I think new couples should ask each other right off the bat where they want to live in the future. On the dancefloor if need be. "Hey, do you come here often? And would you prefer a flat in the city or a country house?" Because, people, it is a Big Issue. When you're still in the hazy golden phase of your relationship you think you could live anywhere and, as long as your beloved were there, everything would be fine and dandy. You're not thinking clearly. You're not thinking about is it in a good school district? Or will the roads be accessible if it snows? Or is there a bakery in the town?

I know I've talked about it before. And bugged my friends about it. And my mom. And my husband, too, of course. But it's still an issue. That thorny question of where we will live. One day when we have sufficient incomes to buy, that is. We're already compromising now living in between our jobs. And renting. But Remi's always made it clear that he hates the city. And even a small city such as where we currently live is the object of his hate. His dream is the smallest of small towns. But said small town is far from job opportunities for me, far from shops, hospitals. I honestly have a hard time seeing myself living there. And that's where the problem begins.

I suggest the word "compromise" again. As in, somewhere between our current town and his place of business. Which would likely mean more driving for me, that's true, but not as much as if we lived in said small village. But we don't seem to be speaking the same language, be it in French or English. We're hitting a brick wall and it's not that of our hypothetical new home.

Where you live does matter. As an expat I'm already uprooted in every sense of the word. I guess I'm a bit picky about where I want to plant myself again. But I have a right to say that this place pleases me and this one doesn't. And sure, when I watch a documentary about poor Philipinos living under bridges and in cemeteries, I'm ashamed I ever complain about not having a garden or wanting a real bedside table. But does that mean I should never give my opinion at all? Accept anything knowing I probably won't be emotionally happy there? I'm not trying to be down on my husband here. Nor air my dirty laundry. I'm just trying to work out what I want and where I want to be. So, bloggers, advice is welcome.

What are the "musts" on your living place list?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Seven things


So Crystal kindly tagged/nominated me for this little award. Aw, shucks! I'm getting all verklempt. If I understand the concept correctly (you know I am getting on in years), I'm supposed to link back to my pal. Then tell you seven things you might not know about me. And nominate a few others to do the same! So here we go.

1. I don't sleep so well. Even though I love sleep, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night, even when Juliette doesn't wake me! Then I start thinking of all the things I shouldn't: job worries, life worries, anything. My friend Caro says she often does the same so I know I'm not alone, but I wish I could turn my brain off sometimes!

2. I love blue things. Like my blue-themed kitchen. And blue glass bottles (my mom collects these, too). My bedroom was creamy light blue in my mom's house and I just adored the delicacy of it. Now we're renting an apartment and everything's white, but I hope we'll get to paint our own rooms one day!

3. I suffer from redhead-envy. My hair is something of a strawberry blonde, or what the French call "blonde vénitienne". It was redder when I was younger. But when I see a confirmed redhead on TV I'm generally quite jealous and wish my hair were darker. My most recent object of envy was the new Dr. Who sidekick, Amy Pond, with her lovely tresses. I have even dyed my hair once in my life with one of those quick wash treatments to make it flashier. But it only lasted a wash or two.

4. I love finding good deals at the thrift store. Most of my pants come from there. I now find it very hard to pay more than 15 euros (or dollars for that matter) for something if I know I can get it for 4.50 at the second-hand store.

5. On the subject of clothes, I've got some stuff I'd consider flashy or trendy but sometimes I'm hesitant to actually wear it. I feel a bit self-conscious even if I think I look decent in them. But I'm slowly breaking out of that and wearing the red coat Remi got me a few Christmases ago. I've also got plenty of skirts and dresses but even when the weather's warm I generally just wear pants.

6. I can be outrageously campy. I like to sing Tom Jones' songs in a swingy voice. Try it and I think you'll agree it's extremely liberating. It's not unuuusual to be loved by anyone...Or how about this one: she's a lady, whoahoooo, she's a lady!

7. I was a real study geek in high school and college. On a typical Saturday night I was in my dorm room studying for next week's organic chemistry test while the rest of the world was out on a date. Some good it's done me because I'm not a doctor of chemical engineer.

Now I'd like to tag Jessamyn, and no, there's no nepotism going on here.
And a new blog I recently discovered, The Many Colors of Happiness.

So if you're game girls, let's hear your seven things...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Proof!

A while back I wrote about my own Internet addiction. Turns out I wasn't that far from the truth. This scientist studied what happened when she asked college students not to use their cell phones or Internet for 24 hours (a REALLY long time). They had to keep a journal about how they felt and many used terms that one would associate with addiction and seemed to have some real withdrawal type symptoms.



What's funny is that on the CNN site you can also recommend the video via your Facebook account and here I am blogging about it. But I kind of agree with what they say at the end, that we do need to make sure there are moments of the day we are NOT connected (except for when you're reading my blog, of course) and are really interacting. I bet this lady is also sponsoring that unitasking seminar...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Try to remember

There's a coffee commercial here where they use this song with the words, "Try to remember when life was so tender." As spring warms things up and the days are longer, I remember a bit more easily what I enjoy about France. I think of my first spring here and my first visit to Paris in April of that year with my sister and Remi. When every new sensation in this country was wondrous. Nearly nine years later I've still got some "beefs" with this country, namely about professional opportunities for foreigners and sometimes about what I'd call some French "stodgy-ness", but I'll try to focus on those tender moments.

And to help do that, here are some pictures from a Saturday stroll with Juliette that show some of my favorite things around town in this season.


Not many trees have their leaves yet. I'm a sucker for interlacing branches and the sky was just beginning to clear after an overcast morning.


A cool but scary door with those bare vine branches around it. To add to my door photo collection.


Along with this one. Love the oval window above it.


Nice crusty bread in a bakery. I do love the bakeries here.


Daffodils and white grape hyacinths in front a florist's shop.


Lovely facades.


Market day. Maybe a bit early for good tomatoes but I love looking at all the gorgeous colors.


Juliette giving me her pleading to hold the digital camera on the way home.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Multitasking is hazardous to your health AKA How I've ruined many a meal

The following is a true story. Mealtime, my apartment last night. I had the zuchinni, turkey and shallots simmering. Juliette seemed to be content in the living room. So I start kneading the bread. Don't mistake me for Martha Stewart. It's actually pure laziness that has me making bread. By buying the packs that are meant for the breadmaker machines but doing it by hand myself, I don't have to go to the bakery or store when I realize we're all out of bread. It really doesn't take that long to measure out the flour that's already got the yeast incorporated inside then add water, stir (Juju helps with that), then knead. Except that it's so very sticky and my hands are very gooey during this process.

It was at this precise moment that Juliette decided to disconnect the Flip Camera that was charging via the computer. I didn't want her messing with it so came into the living room with my doughy hands and tried to direct her to another "toy". The digital camera. Technology is the new pacifier. Besides, I had the feeling she was going into tantrum mode. So I directed her to turn on the camera by touching the little button, but explaining how to get in view mode so she could scroll through the pictures was more difficult. I was pointing to the appropriate buttons with my dough-caked fingers. We got it all figured out though and I went back to check on the simmering food. Decided to add some herbes de Provence, basically a mix of dried thyme, to the zuchinni/turkey mix. But I didn't want to wash my hands because I would lose all the dough on them. So I (stupidly) added the herbs with my clumsy hands and so the dosing was a bit heavy. Not to mention this would give us the sensation of eating food that's been rolled in sawdust.

All this to say that trying to do two or three things at once is sometimes counterproductive. My French driving teacher told me that if you try to do two things at once while driving you'll certainly screw one of them up. And in our increasingly multitasking world, I wonder if we're becoming more absent-minded and if sometimes quality is sacrificed. How many meals have been compromised because I thought I could check my email while the pasta cooked. Only to have overcooked pasta. Who knew 7 minutes went by so fast? I'm starting to use the timer more now...

But as a parent you have to multitask anyway. Get the carrots steaming then give the baby her bath while they're cooking. Drive and fish out baby's stuffed animal out of the bag to stop her whining in the backseat. Eat your own dinner while creating new distractions to make your child eat her own. It never stops.

And computers really do tempt us to multitask anyway, with the multiple tabs you can open in your navigator and screens you can toggle back and forth to. The danger is forgetting why we originally went online or turned on the computer in the first place.

I saw a French comedian saying that "unitasking" was in. Maybe it's not so far from the truth. Will there soon be seminars for overwhelmed executives where you check your smartphone at the door? And they'll have sessions called "Baking an apple pie from scratch." They'll use a real cookbook instead of a cooking website to find the recipe. And nobody will check their email while the pie cooks. Hmm, doesn't sound like it's for me.

Monday, March 14, 2011

We're not in Kansas anymore (or Alabama for that matter)

As I said in my last post, those "bad days" of mine are really just an accumulation of annoyances. Nothing serious (luckily). I try (and try again) to keep it all in perspective. But I can't always get it through my thick skull that my current problems are just little flies to be buzzed away. Last week I found myself swatting one of those problems around and getting myself into a fluster. I'm feeling calmer about it now so I'll share the pros and cons with you.

We're soon going to be leaving the cozy world of the babysitter and enter the puppy-eat-puppy world of pre-school. It's not an obligation in France but since the sitter we have is part of an association that only takes children until the age of 3, we have to find an option come September. So I called the town hall to find out what pre-school we're zoned for. Then I asked the pharmacists at my local pharmacy about it as they both have young children. They had some less than glowing things to say about this particular school in terms of its education level. One pharmacist switched her child to private school and found he was learning more there. The other option is to ask the town hall that an exception be made and Juliette could go to the other school not far from us which apparently has a better reputation. But also a huge number of students per class 'cause everyone wants their child to go to it!

So I did as I always do in these types of situations. I asked everyone around me for advice. The sitter said, well, you know those first years are very important. Remi said the same. But I went to public schools for part of my education and have always had faith in them. I know there are some with problems but I don't like the idea of mixing them all in the same label. My mom and aunt teach in what are considered at risk schools and I know they are both excellent teachers. It's not that the teachers are "bad" in "low" schools. It's that they've got maybe more difficulties to work with than teachers in upper-class neighborhoods where the parents are super-involved. And that no matter how hard the teachers try, some kids have got hardships that are going to affect their schooling.

Ok, I'll step off my soapbox, but my democratic ideals make me feel strongly about this. I basically gave Remi the same speech, to which he replied, but this isn't America. Oh, and don't I know it. He is French and has lived here all his life, so maybe he does know a bit of what he's talking about. Maybe some public schools in France are less than stellar. Maybe the public schools go on strike more (that one is true, I know). But I know plenty of my students who send their kids to public schools and are satisfied. Public doesn't equal low quality.

And though private may be in Juliette's future if we found that her middle or high school was really in poor shape or had problems with violence, I don't necessarily like the idea of putting her in a crowd we can't compete with so early in life. Call it the anti-snob in me but I worry (already) that she'd be mixing with les enfants des riches, kids whose parents can offer them fabulous vacations in the summer, autumn and winter. Things we just can't do. But then again, that's the way life is. If she doesn't learn it at school, she'll learn it later in life.

And then I rail against the idea that private is inherently better. Maybe the schools do have more money and fewer kids per class, but that doesn't mean the education is in fact higher quality. And I don't like the idea that a good education is only reserved for those who can pay for it. Doesn't this destroy our idea of public education and education for one and all? Oops, I guess I put that soapbox up too quickly.

And so at not even three years old, our child is already facing reality. That life is not always fair. That the differences of inequality have already started. But for now at least, she'll be a public school girl with parents who invest their time in her education. And that's the best start in life we can give her.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Milam's horrible, no good, very bad day

*Disclaimer*: I published this post before I'd really watched the news today. The title is in reference to a children's book. Of course, in light of all the real tragedies in the world today (earthquakes, tsunamis), I know my own little day is nothing in comparison. Please don't take it too seriously. And my heart goes out to all those really suffering today.

File this under days like these...Yesterday (especially the evening) was one frustrating moment after another. First of all it was a frankly weird work day (driving to a lesson for a lady who it turns out is on maternity leave) and nearly not having any voice anyway (lingering sinus crud after my cold). Then picking up Juliette and doing the grocery shopping. Have you tried not using your voice with a toddler? Not possible when you must constantly say things to distract her from a tantrum, like ooh, look at that baby over there or, please don't unhook the strap on the shopping cart 'cause you might fall out.

And there were those three ear-piercing scream-fests she had when she didn't get her way. Good news is I'm starting to feel less embarassed when it's my child who's screaming because really, what can I do? There are no "corners" to put her in. I sometimes turn the shopping cart around and pretend like I'm going to walk away, but of course, I can't. I tell her everyone's looking at her and that seems to make her cry more. I blow in her tear-stained face and she just gets annoyed. Sigh.

Once at home she wanted to try out her new potty seat that fits on the real toilet. But once she was on it she started touching everything she shouldn't, like the toilet brush and the toilet paper dispenser on the wall. Breathe in, breathe out. No pee pee this time but success is counted in the time she actually sits on the thing.

And the cat. A colleague recently told me that animals (including humans) are affected by the dusk time of day. We're a bit hyper and jumpy. Catki is living proof of that. After assaulting us when we got in for food, he promptly threw it up on the bamboo type rug. Then started meowing/yowling for more food. Again, I had to use my non-voice to try to shoo him away and allow me to cook in the kitchen. Seems like he wanted food three times in two hours or we couldn't get any peace. I felt like showing him the pointy end of the knife I was using to cut the potatoes. Rest assured, I didn't.

Seems like my bad day continued some today with me having to get a bit assertive with the repair technician on the phone about a repair that should have been done back in 2009 on Juliette's window.

Him: But you should have informed the agency when you moved in.
Me: But we didn't notice it in we moved in. (Note: we only discovered a few months after moving in.)
Him: But you could just be saying that.
Me: Sure, but I'm not just saying that.

Lucky for me I'm learning to talk back to snippy French people. And I think my "sexy" cold voice make me more convincing.

Better luck tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What a girl needs


Not to be confused with the similarly titled Christina Aguilera song (which I must admit I like). This post is actually more serious than that. As a mom to a little girl, I often think about what I need to give my daughter. I don't know how I would be if I had a son. But I think since Juliette and I are the same gender, I instinctively think a bit more about what tools a girl should have to get on in this world.

I think number one on my list would be confidence. Unfortunately for Juju, her mom is sorely lacking in this characteristic. There are some days when I do walk with confidence and speak firmly with the knowledge that I'm right about this or that. But at nearly 37, I've still got some confidence-building of my own to work on. So how to instill it in a 2 and a half year old? It's in the little things, I think. Like when we do a puzzle together I encourage her to try and try again. And to not get bent out of shape if it doesn't work the first time. I celebrate her successes, like matching two cards in Memory or nearly drawing the letter "J". And I can see her face light up with pride at those moments.

Also high up there on the list would be valuing her abilities. This is similar to confidence, but it's also about showing her that she's worth something because she can do things and figure things out, not just because she's a "pretty little girl". Even from her earliest days I found myself keeping some kind of mental tally about saying "pretty girl" and "smart girl." Of course, every girl likes to hear that she's pretty (and, all prejudice aside, I think she is). But it's just as important for her to hear that she's smart and capable. That she can be a beauty queen if she wants, but that her brain is important, too.

I'm not a flaming feminist (not that there's anything wrong with that), but I also want her to know she doesn't have to fit a set idea of what a girl should be. Hence my ranting about the "girl toys" that are all about cleaning. She can be impressed with the big trucks on the road and then ooh and aah about a baby doll. She can do both. When we read the toy catalogs together I try not to get fixated just on the doll pages with her. That said, if she wants Barbies later on, that's no problem.

But where's the dad in all this? Yes, he counts too. He counts a lot. I also try to make sure Remi is complimenting her on all her accomplishments and that they spend some of that precious quality time together. He's not around so much in the spring, but I encourage him to make his time count with her. There's a fine line to this because I don't want to be a nag but a girl's self-esteem is intricately linked to her dad. So if he's there for the bedtime story and she's sitting still on papa's lap, I feel like it's a good day for them both.

Maybe it's not essential but I hope she'll find an activity she can enjoy outside of school, be it something physical or more on the creative side. There again, it's hard for a parent not to push nor let the child bully them into doing a million after-school activities just because their friends are. But swimming or piano or whatever it may be will hopefully help a girl (or boy for that matter) develop most of the things I mentioned above, confidence and pride, especially.

As I've said before, I'm no super mom and I certainly don't have all the answers. But I'm trying to give my girl the best, just like any parent.

So whether you're a mom or not, a girl or not, what do you think is essential for a child growing up today?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Where did the day go?

Sometimes I'm ashamed at how a perfectly fine Saturday disappears and I have little to show for it. Today I've been up since 6:20 (thanks Juliette) but still I don't feel that I've been all that productive. Unless showering, doing the dishes and getting laundry done counts. Yes, I'm inclined to think it does, because if it's not something that can get done itself, then somebody's got to do it. And getting the non-perishable groceries out of the car and lunch on the table. But more often than not my Saturdays are a frantic mixture of email checks, blog checks, chocolate square breaks, light housework, some puzzles and reading with Juliette, bit of work prep but not that much, nap (for me!)...I could go on but the insignificance of it all is starting to make me question my existence. But Saturday is for relaxing, you say? I agree, and I'm still recovering a bit from my monster cold. But considering how little I do in the week lately, the weekend doesn't seem that much different.

And sometimes our modern life is made up of all these tasks that seem pointless but need to be done. Like going through all those digital photos from September 2009 and deciding which to print. This can take ages and to the careless observer may simply seem like I'm looking at pictures. But in reality it's like playing Memory and trying to remember which pictures look quite similar or are duplicates. Even though I arrange the photos by date for some reason they never seem to stay that way. Hence the time-consuming task. Similarly there's the cleaning out of the email in-box and deciding which messages must be kept.

But I guess if I'm blogging about this there must be a point, right? Not really. I guess I'm just trying to feel like I actually spend my days doing something. As an English teacher of adults sometimes I wonder if I'm really getting through to my students and there can be days I feel like I've just been shooting the breeze. Then I come home and interact with my child and spend too much time on the Internet. And get up the next day and do it all over again! Maybe I do need to cut back on the constant web checking, as Jennet suggested a while back. But you know what, sometimes I need to hear from people or read about other people to feel connected. Especially since my husband's working more lately and my own family is across the ocean. Justifying, I know.

Ok, so this post isn't a total waste (too late), here are the pictures- before and after- of Miss Juju's hair cut.

BEFORE


AFTER


What, you can't see it? In fact it was her first maintenance trim for split ends. Her sitter said I ought to give her a little clean-up and I had to admit the ends were getting kind of raggedy. She has a tendency to curl and it gets kind of fine. I was rather scared to do it myself but I think it will help it be a little neater now. First cut in her life. I saved the fine pieces in an envelope. So there, I was productive today!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Getting well

An average of four cups of hot tea a day.
What seemed like an eternity to take all my medicine in the morning and before bed.
An insane amount of Vicks Vaporub under my nose.
Generous helpings of chicken soup, Ritz crackers and Jello (my go-to sick foods).
About four and a half days of feeling like a Mack truck had hit me.
One sick day taken.

What does it all add up to? The big fat end of winter cold that wreaked havoc on me all weekend and Monday. I'm not sure what it was but my doctor said it was going down to the bronchial tubes. I was shivering with the fever. The pediatrician (for now Juju's got something akin to it) said my symptoms sounded like the flu. I'm crossing my fingers big time that Juliette's doesn't get as worn out as I was, but she's got the fever aspect.

Being sick is a weird place to be. You slow down because you have no choice. This time I was really zapped of energy and even something like giving Juliette a bath seemed to take an amazing amount of effort. Remi helped me out the best he could but he's got more work lately. Sunday he did all the essential cleaning and cooking and he's continued doing the dishes in the morning. After sleeping so poorly Sunday night I decided not to work Monday and my body thanked me for it. When Juliette napped, I did, too, and I felt like a new person.

Tuesday I went back into the real world, which seemed so bright and noisy compared to the quiet cocoon I'd been living in. I almost blinked to be sure I was in reality sitting there with my students as the lesson began. Was I really going to be able to lead and correct these folks with a coughing fit threatening to explode every minute? Luckily they were talkative and I got away with minimal intervention.

Now my appetite's coming back and I can do normal household tasks without getting too tired or weak. And I must concentrate on getting my little one through her own cold. I'm on my second sick day (but for her sake this time) this week. Remi couldn't stay home nor could his mom watch her this time. So another lesson lost for me but my little girl needed me. That's what moms (and sometimes dads, when they can) are for. Which is why they've got to keep their own strength up!