Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Life goes on

I try to be the kind of person who keeps things in perspective, as you've seen from my blog before.  But like everybody, I can get bogged down in the details and thinking about what I don't have instead of what I have. 

So I'll just take a moment to go into bummer mode but then I'll pick myself back up again.  As you may remember from a while back, there was talk of us getting a house.  I didn't want to put a picture up because I didn't want to jinx things. Turns out that didn't really matter 'cause last week we learned the house deal didn't go through, 'cause the bank was skittish about Remi's company having some professional loans at the same time.  It's kind of a bummer because part of me had already projected us in the house and enjoying a garden.

But oh well.  There are definitely bigger tragedies out there.   I just had to turn on the news this week to see people who lost their homes in Oklahoma, or worse, lost family members. 

I will turn to new dreams, travelling, making my current home cozy and flowery.  And things will be ok. 

When I was a young teen my mom rented a movie called My Life as a Dog (watch out for some nudity in the trailer).  It was Swedish before Swedish was cool.  It was about a little boy missing his family and constantly saying, "it could be worse.  I could be that dog stuck up in a satellite who'll never come back to earth."  The quote became something of a catchphrase in our house, even to this day.  And it really should sum up things about life on earth. 

It could be worse, so cherish what you have.  Every day.  The little things like the warmth of the sun on your arm after days of rain.  Or seeing fuzzy ducklings at the pond.  Or my little girl's hugs. 

What are your standbys when life gets you down?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

When I grow old

I would have said when I grow up, but I guess at 39 I already am grown up.  On the outside, at least.  Today I was in the pharmacy and heard a woman asking the pharmacist for directions.  I detected a slight accent and the way she'd say "OK" to confirm what the man said made me think she was an English speaker.  I left the store before her but waited a second or two outside to say hello as she came out (stalking, again, I know!).  In French I asked her what languages she spoke and when she said English and that she was American I told her I'd thought so! 

She had a youthful face with just a few laugh lines around the eyes, pleasant features and a nice neutral US accent.  Perhaps she was in her 50s but only her mid-length grey hair gave it away.  She was staying in France for 8 weeks and spoke nearly perfect French.  She would end up in Toulouse (the bottom of France) whereas my town is in the top.  She had a nice camera with her and was off to take pictures in our local fine arts museum.

And as I continued on my way on this nippy but sunny May morning, I had the strongest urge to follow her on her adventure or have ones like that myself.  Just calmly travelling along and snapping pictures.  It would be a nice way to retire.

And so as I continued my errands this Wednesday morning (still not much work this week), I made use of my smartphone to take some pictures around town.  My little mini-tour.

Hidden treasures: this glowing yellow courtyard behind imposing blue doors.

A closer look.

I staged this cobblestone picture with my foot.  But the dirty reality is that there is a cigarette butt in the picture.  And reality it is.  France even recently talked about tackling this problem because it's really polluting the soil and water table.

Rooftops and blue skies.

A cozy courtyard.

He's got his head in the clouds.

Now that's an inviting entry way!  Love wisteria, love blue doors.

Would love to bury my head in this flower bed of white myositis (I think) and tulips.

Hope you've enjoyed this little trip.  May you satisfy the wanderlust in your hearts today, be it on the other side of the world or in your own backyard.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Bringing up "Bi" babies

Bilingual, that is.  The other day my Canadian friend came over for a playdate with her two kids.  I met this family less than a year ago in the park when I heard them speaking English.  The kids' Sesame Street rain slickers showed me once again that they weren't from around here.  The first time her little girl came over, Remi and I gushed at how she sunk her plump little hands into Catki's fur and said "fluffy!" in her pipsqueak voice.  Juliette spoke English already of course, but it was funny to hear another little tike on our balcony saying things that were so typical of my language. 

But this time when the nearly five and three and a half year-olds stopped by to see Juliette, they tended to communicate in... French?!  The Canadian mom and I kept saying, "You guys, you all speak English, ya know?  You can speak English together!"  They eventually went back and forth, lingusitically speaking, playing hide and seek and saying "Ready or not, here I come!"  But this pre-school crowd spent a lot of time as if they were on their school recess playground, saying, "T'es vilain, toi!" (you're naughty!).

Afterwards I realized with a pinch of sadness that for our kids the opportunity to speak in English with other native speakers (or bilingual kids) wasn't the priority it was for the moms.  Whereas I will sometimes stalk other English speakers in the grocery store or watch mediocre TV just because I can get it in English, Juliette doesn't necessarily have the same burning desire.  And I am reminded that even though she can communicate perfectly with me in English and sometimes prefers her cartoons in English, she has TWO languages and TWO cultures.  Why should I imagine she will favor mine?

Our old pediatrician did say English would always hold a special place in her heart, as it is literally her mother tongue.  And the other day when I told her she had two languages, she said spontaneously she was only going to speak English.  Even at school, I asked?  Well, maybe a little French in school, she replied.  

The other day I read her  a book called J'ai deux pays dans mon coeur  ("I have two countries in my heart").  I said this was her case, with America and France.  She replied pragmatically that she had three countries in her tummy, Playmobil, Horsies and something else I can't remember.  I was too busy stifling my laughs. 

So I must once again accept that my little girl is her own person, with her own experiences which will shape her view of the world.  I will always be proud to have taught her English but I can't force anything on her.  And that's a lesson any mom, bilingual or not, can tell you.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When life gives you mushy bananas...

So instead of being a productive person on this, the first of my three days off, and do something like sort out Juliette's toys or clothes or clean the apartment, I decided to make muffins.  It is productive in that now I've used those overly ripe bananas AND created a semi-healthy snack.

This recipe is so easy that I have to share it!

Take three ripe bananas and mash them up.
Add two cups of flour
One cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
a bit less than 1/2 a cup of your favorite neutral vegetable oil

Mix well and fill muffin tins 2/3 with batter.
Place one chocolate square in each muffin center.  Press it down a bit.
Let your toddler go crazy with nonpareils (those cute little sprinkles!).  I just figured out that nonpareils are called that because it means "not the same" in French.  Because they're all different colors, I guess.  It can also mean "without equal", a little online digging has told me.  It took me ten years in France to make the connection even though I've spoken the language that long already.

They are ooey-gooey when still warm. A little zap in the microwave the next day brings back the melty magic.  Enjoy your virtual muffins.

Friday, May 3, 2013

I wish I could say things were better...

My dad came and we had a great time and some really nice weather to boot.  We had a lovely day trip to Ghent on an amazingly warm and sunny day. 

My birthday was probably on the warmest day of the year and we even ate on the balcony. 

We restored this little wooden chair I'd found by the dumpster.  Like the color?

It's always great to have visitors from home and feel like I am at home again.  To talk about old times and new times and discover new foods and places together.  I barely worked when he was here due to the abysmally low number of classes I've been getting lately. So on the upside I could spend more time with him.

But after the highs of his visit, now it's the lows of getting back to reality and my sort of confusing life here.  The fact that Remi works seven days a week and comes home tired and grumpy certainly doesn't help matters.  That I have so very little work now (the month of May alone has four public holidays this year, two of which are even consecutive and all of which are during the work week).  And thus so little pay! 

I know I try to be upbeat on this blog and focus on the little things in life that make me happy.  I'm not trying to get sympathy from my readers nor bring you all down.  But things could be better lately.  Sometimes this expat can still feel like a fish out of water on this side of the pond.  Underappreciated and misunderstood.  Or like I'm always swimming upstream (to take the metaphor a bit further, eh mom?).

This morning I chatted with two of the moms from Juliette's class in front of the school.  One is Tunisian and has three kids and went back to work last year.  She's tired and misses her kids.  The other is now looking for work after taking parental leave for her two kids.  They both said it's just so tough on women, having to juggle kids and work and husbands who generally just aren't as interested in their children's lives as we are.  I felt a little bit of comfort talking with them and knowing I wasn't alone.  Whether we work or not, full-time or not, we're all kind of "desperate housewives" looking for the rhyme and reason in our lives. 

And so on a lovely day in May, with the sun shining, I'm just trying to keep my head above water and remember what matters: family, friends, happiness and kindness.