Tuesday, May 31, 2011

If these walls could talk

What do my house and the objects around it say about me?

That when I defrost the freezer compartment it's a good opportunity to chill the wine.

That my husband thinks if he leaves the cookie package in the cupboard long enough, the cookies might regenerate themselves from the crumbs. To be fair, I'm guilty of this myself (but not as often).

That I like to make bouquets out of the leftovers my husband has from his job (this one came from wedding leftovers).

That somebody around here is learning to use the potty. We still have to prompt her to do it. The stickers are a reward. And she likes to put her stickers on top of each other.

That there's competition for the fleece blanket. (To be honest I had to get her to repose for this one because when I went off to get the camera, of course she had moved!)

That I'm obsessive about my window boxes. I love the hanging type plants. I prefer a mix of colors rather than just red geraniums.

And what do your houses/apartments say about you?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sweet sounds

When I first got to France I found some of the French music a bit too soft for my tastes. (This is not to say there aren't some rockin' French bands...) But I guess I've come to appreciate the softer side sometimes as well.

Take a listen to this song (C'est bientôt la fin) from the musical Mozart Opera Rock. It's really one of the most uplifting melodies I've heard in a while. Remi spotted the lyrics: "mets du fard sur tes idées pâles" (put some blush on your pale ideas). The images in the video mix modern day Paris with the characters from the past. Something about it all just kind of makes me happy about living in France. (Don't worry, I'll be back to complaining any moment now). Can't get it to be in its own youtube screen so you'll have to do it old school. PS: there might be an add before the song.



Saturday, May 21, 2011

Baby's got new shoes

I can't resist another video. There's a lot of mumbling in here, so bear with it. She's mostly talking about the cat and his eating habits. And then she twirls her foot at the end to show you her shoe.

Bilingual update: she still speaks a lot of English with me and Remi (as she knows he understands both). There are just some phrases she continues to say in French even around me, like "c'est quoi?" (what is it?) or "donne" (give), "il est où?" (where is it?). There is some Frenglish at times, phrases that start in one language and finish in another: like, "Il est où my sock?"

There are some funny things she's still getting the hang of, like "my" which often becomes "mine". Like, "that's mine book". And she'll often say, "where are we over there?" when we're going to a new place.

She's definitely got that toddler tunnel vision of thinking that if she asks something enough times I will give in. When we pull into the parking lot of our apartment she often starts asking sweetly (and incessantly), "play in the grass, please?!"

It's still amazing for me to compare what she was like just a year ago. Zero to three (she'll turn three in July) have flown by. We visited her school Thursday and got a glimpse of he fun playrooms there. She couldn't sit still in my lap during our meeting with the principal. Let's hope my little Juju won't be a troublemaker. Mostly I hope she'll enjoy herself and the teacher will treasure her as much as I do.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Everybody loves a scandal

This week in France we've been bombarded with news about the International Monetary Fund and potential Socialist Party presidential candidate who is charged with rape. I swear his face kept coming in my mind Monday as I tried to fall asleep. I know it's been big news in the US, too, but in France it's like they're almost taking it personally.

The unspoken feeling is that this politician, respected for his work, but already known to play around, is being "subjected" to the "rough" US justice system. The journalists kept saying it was shocking to see Dominique Strauss-Kahn taken out of the police station in handcuffs or looking so haggard in front of the judge in his arraignment hearing. The next day the French journalists corrected themselves and said, it's just a bit different compared to the French system.

About the situation as a whole, I swear they even used the word "tragedy". And they meant more for this man's career or the French political scene. Later they got criticized by women's rights groups for not talking enough about the alledged victim.

I suppose I can see where the French are coming from. It is shocking to see someone who had so much power and influence being treated like a common criminal. But if it's proven that he is really guilty, that's what he is. And I remember how they showed Michael Jackson's mugshot, or Lindsay Lohan during her court appearances. That's just the way we do it in the US. There aren't so many special privileges in court for celebrities. (Although he is being treated differently in prison, it appears.)

He is however, innocent till proven guilty. My students Monday had a doubt about whether we had this system in the US, but I said yes, of course. I also taught them timely words like "to be charged with a crime", "to be convicted", "to plead not guilty." They said, on the one hand it is a shame that someone who is intellectually brilliant may no longer be on the economic scene. He apparently was one of the only folks really getting some European countries out of their debt situations. But none of that matters if in the end he is proven to be a sexual psychopath.

I've also found it funny that if I go on the CNN site I can read the criminal report in English in all the gory details, details that I haven't heard on the French news so far (at least not on prime time).

And it does make me smile a bit that the US is now accusing the French press of being too lax with this man, just kind of ignoring the fact that he was a womanizer and probably harassing female journalists over the years. Part of me finds it a great comeuppance for the French society that has maybe been a bit too, "aww, don't make a big fuss, he's just keen on the ladies". The Latin lover attitude has taken a beating this week!

Despite all the information we've been getting, 57% of the French think it's a conspiracy against this man. That he was set up by his opponents. It crossed my mind, too, but the more I hear about the victim, I'm starting to doubt it.

At any rate, it's kind of amusing to see how my country and my adopted one are reacting to all this.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let me be frank

Author's Note: I'd published this Thursday night but Blogger had problems and removed posts published after a certain time of day Wednesday. Along with some comments, too! Sorry, Jennet and Deirdre. I did publish your comments on Abba-Mania but they disappeared. Also Crystal who had already commented on this post before it got wiped. Here's what I could piece back together from my post, as some of it was saved in draft form.

The French are known for being frank. Well, actually, no offense, but they're known for being rude. I'm starting to wonder if it's really just that they are brutally honest. And they think it's probably for your own good. Constructive criticism gone a bit too far. I'm sure I've told you already that Google in the Silicon Valley likes hiring Frenchies because they're not afraid to give their opinion and shake up things a bit. While this may be great in a creative environment like Google, it's not always welcome in my living room.

Picture it: last week after I'd prepared turkey burritos and plain cous cous that got way too sticky (I've got starchy food issues, sometimes. Maybe I should see a specialist.). While I was munching down on my tex-mex, saying, in Crystal style, love me some mild spicy food, I casually asked Remi what he thought of the meal. Not exceptional, he answered. I'm sure he could tell by the frown/raised eyebrow/evil stare down that his answer wasn't going down well. So he explained that he's not too fond of Mexican food.

Fair enough. But where I come from (smiley, friendly US of A), we would have said things differently. Like, well, it's not bad, but a bit spicy for me. Call it sugar-coating, if you like. But I, for one, like sugar. It helps the medicine go down (sing it with me, Mary Poppins fans: medicine go dooooown).

And it got me to thinking that perhaps his response was perfectly fine for a French marriage where each is used to this kind of honest exchange. Where talking about and criticizing food is a national passion (French food recently got UNESCO World Heritage Status). But in a mixed marriage like mine, it opens up worlds of misunderstandings and hurt feelings (on my side at least). I tried to tell him that, in a non-confrontational way, but it really bummed me out last week. I'm not trying to make this a husband-bashing post, (if I'd written it last week you could have felt the anger spittle on your side of the screen). But I'm wondering how many other cultural differences like this we'll keep discovering. And maybe others in mixed relationships like myself have some advice on how to deal with these things. We might discover world peace along the way. Who knows how many international conflicts could have been avoided if we'd just known that the smirk from the opponent was NOT an invitation to warfare.

Like Rodney King said back in the day, can't we all just get along?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Abba-mania, toddler style

The surviving members of Abba have got nothing to worry about. They can keep collecting their royalties over the next few decades, because it seems their music appeals to the new generation just as much as to the kids from the 70s and 80s.

Note: no toddlers or stuffed bunnies were harmed in the making of this video.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


In case you've got rhubarb growing in your garden (or in my case, my mother-in-law sent a huge sack of the stalks home with Remi), here's a how-to guide for cooking them up.

1. Cut off the ends of the stalks. Here you see both uncut and cut to give you an idea.

2. Peel off some of the fibers by taking a knife and pulling up a bit of the ends. However, online I saw that not all methods call for this. I think it helps get some of the stringiness off though.

3. Cut up into pieces of about an inch or two long. Rinse once before cooking. Add water to cover the pieces and heat on high.

4. Cook until you can poke the pieces with a knife. Drain.

5. Basically just mash it up/stir it up. Add plenty of sugar to taste. It's totally sour without sugar! Serve with a yummy brownie that I'll give you the recipe for another time.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bits and pieces

As promised, here's a picture of the peony plant in bloom. It doesn't last long. Luckily I snapped a picture on Easter day because the blooms are already fading.

And a few things I wanted to share from my trip to the UK that I haven't yet gotten around to. Like this toy display from Boots, the upscale drugstore. I'm a bit disappointed at this sexist marketing. I'm sure they meant well, but since when are scientific toys only for boys?! Click to enlarge and see for yourself.

Here's a bridge named after my sister. Although she spells her name with a "y".

If you find yourself in Canterbury one day, I highly recommend a tour on the river. Especially the one by the company where handsome young English lads (click on the link to check them out) row you around while telling charming stories about the city.

We also experienced some of that famous British politeness. While waiting in line in Poundland, a new cash register opened up in front of me but I didn't notice. The young guy behind me said, "do you want to go to that one?" in such a polite and non-imposing way. Frankly, I'd forgotten what it was like to be in a land where people don't push and shove. I realized with a bit of shame that I'd just gone ahead when the register had opened up the day before in the same shop, not even asking the lady in front of me if she wanted to take it. It's something I would have done in the US, perhaps. So maybe there's no clearcut rule on this but it does seem the Brits are much more polite about these types of things.

Hard to believe it's already been about two weeks since our trip! Dad's now safely back in the US. It was great seeing him and I was glad for the company since Remi's been working like a madman in the garden center. Juliette still asks sometimes if we're going to see grandpa when I pick her up. Hopefully next year! Until then we'll remember the fun we had and plan on our next set of adventures. My mom should be coming in June so that's something to look forward to!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hitting home

I must take time out to be a bit more serious in this post. At the risk of bumming you out, I feel it's important to talk about an event that has affected me, but more importantly thousands of people from my home state of Alabama. No doubt you saw the horrific images on the news last week of the damage that a massive system of extremely strong tornadoes created. When my clock radio woke me on Thursday, incidentally the day my dad was leaving, they announced the death toll, at that time about 50. Now it's officially over 200 with 400 still missing and probably feared dead.

This is another moment when living away from your home can be tough. Even though there are times I may feel downright European, I will always be true to my roots and any time I hear the name of my state on TV, my ears perk up. And though no wind came through my little city in France, I can still feel the force all the way from here.

I almost didn't want to go online and look at the images or watch the videos. But I knew I needed to. My mom sent me a link to a weather blog done by the weather man I grew up listening to. The videos of the destruction made tears roll down my face. Catki jumped up in my lap at that moment and I was comforted to pet his silky head absently as I looked at the aerial footage of neighborhoods that have been sadly reduced to splinters. I can't imagine how horrible the loss is for those people. A house is one thing, a family member can never be replaced though. There are too many sad stories that leave us feeling helpless.

I feel even more so being far away. As my sister said, it's survivor guilt. Somehow we feel guilty that we aren't affected. And we start to wonder why. Again, even if I'm not living there, I felt a twinge of guilt walking down the streets of my town on a deliciously sunny day, knowing that my apartment and family were safe, but so many others in my state were suffering. My US family, by the way, were luckily not touched either. Where they live was not as damaged though trees did fall down.

When you grow up in the south, you get used to the threat of tornadoes. At school we practice tornado drills in addition to fire drills. We would go into the hallway and basically get in a crash position, squatting on our knees, heads down, arms and hands covering our heads. I can remember many a time getting up close and personal with the school linoleum on these occasions. And as I'm a spring baby and that's often the worst season for tornadoes, there were a few birthdays we spent watching the weather or even heading down to the basement of huddling in the bathroom (supposedly the safest room of the house if you don't have a basement). It's not stuff to be messed with.

But we live with it, just as the Japanese and Californians do with the threat of earthquakes, and the coastal towns live with the ominous possibility of hurricanes. And so I'm reminded, once again, that life hangs by a thread and shouldn't be wasted on complaining about stupid things. Or that even though "there's hell on earth/ there's heaven, too/and not a second to lose" (Neil Finn, from the album Time on Earth). Maybe that, beside giving a donation, is the best way I can honor those who didn't make it or are grieving now.