Tuesday, December 23, 2014

'Twas two days before Christmas

'Twas two days before Christmas
When all through my house
My pantries were full
But my cat had no mouse

The tree was all bright
With Ikea balls and lights
Presents underneath
For all to shake and see

My family was here
The gift the most dear
Santa could come or go
I would still be a-glow.

Just a few cookies to make
A few dishes to bake
Cozy comfort just fine
And to all a blessed time!

My sincere holiday wishes to you all.  May we all try to remember how much we have and be mindful of those facing a difficult holiday this year.  Love, Milam

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What kind of Disney princess are you?

If you have a little girl between the ages of 2 and 12, you probably know a thing or two about Disney princesses.  Though my six-year old is luckily not the kind to watch a DVD fifty times in a row, I've seen the latest Disney offerings enough times to get a good idea of each princess's personality.  And as a modern woman, I have to say, go, girls!

The past six or seven years have especially brought us some very refreshing and not bubble-headed heroines for young girls to look up to.  The latest films, starting from Tangled's Rapunzel up to Frozen's liberated sisters, have some great qualities to offer girls.  Here's my take on what your or your child's preference might say about you or her.

1. Blonde, but certainly not naïve.  That's our Rapunzel from Tangled.  When I first saw the trailer for this film, especially when her would-be love interest Flynn tries to woo her with his "smolder" and fails miserably, I knew we were entering a new era of Disney girls.  Don't let her incredibly long hair fool you, she's not into appearance and is up for adventure.  She certainly won't take crap from boys, and she's got a frying pan to prove it.  She is highly talented, not just for baking and arts, but charting stars and reading.  She's wily enough to make a deal with the theiving Flynn to take her to the castle and stands up to her "mother."  I wonder how many feminists saw the symbolism of Flynn cutting her hair at the end to free her from the witch's grasp and the fact that her hair turned a very non-princessy brown afterwards.

So if you like Rapunzel: you are, plucky, independent, and willing to strike off of the beaten path, even if you might have qualms in the beginning.  You are a romantic at heart, but you are able to put boys in their place!

2. A fiery and stubborn redhead.  Merida in Brave is quite a departure for Disney.  She's Scottish, with a thick accent, the first princess (to my knowledge) who doesn't have an American twang.  She never shows cleavage and she likes to practice with her bow and arrow more than sewing and more traditional lady-like activities.  She balks when her father, the king, wants her to marry someone from another tribe to form an alliance with their kingdom.  And when a competetion is set up to see which of her suitors is the best at getting his arrow in the bulls-eye, none come as close as she does with her own arrow.  So she proclaims that she has the right to her own hand!  How's that for post-modern feminism!  At the end of the film she is still unmarried and the kingdom is still at peace.

If Merida's your fave: you are probably a non-conformist, sporty and dreamy at the same time, and certainly not dependent on boys for your happiness.

3. The Frozen sisters, certainly not a heart of glass.  There are two girls to consider in this tale.  Anna is at first glance the more traditional princess, interested in finding her prince charming.  She has the meet cute with a visiting prince, Hans, but he turns out to be a real cad.  She ends up with the "fixer-upper" Kristoff, who is more genuine though definitely less polished.  Anna has all the hallmarks of the new Disney heroines, brave, bright and clear-eyed, but she let her heart fool her in the beginning.

Elsa, the older princess, has no love interest in the movie at all. She's an unwilling career girl, you might say, what with her ability to freeze everything with one touch.  She has to come to terms with her curse and in the end accept herself for what she is.  Girls across the planet have responded resoundingly to Elsa's call for liberation and breaking out of the mold imposed on her, as see in the song Let it Go.  Just type Let it Go on youtube to see a kazillion girls (mine included) doing their rendition.  With Elsa we see that the presence of a prince or even a love story is not necessary to her winning the hearts of little girls.

Anna fans: you embrace your girly side but have a heart of gold.  Family ties are the most important thing for you.

Elsa fans: you love the feel of the brisk wind on your face and the power you are learning to master.  You are stronger than you thought.   Boys will come later.

As for my own little girl, she also likes Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but certainly favors Elsa lately.  I'm partial to Rapunzel myself.  What about you?  I'm curious to see how this new generation of girls will take on adolescence with such brave role models.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Embracing your inner Pop Princess

Sometimes I'm unabashedly pop.  I like all kinds of music, from folk to country to a bit of old-school rap and classical.  But I always come back to pop/rock.  And sometimes a little Selena Gomez and Britney to sing-along to and make up your own ridiculous videos to in your head is just plain fun.  I regularly croon along to old Cibo Matto songs in my car, the English-Japanese pop from the late 90s.  Or I get cathartic with pseudo bad girl Katy Perry when I sing along to Roar.

Pop is changing though, getting mellow and deeper, sometimes, so I sing along with the earthy and ethereal Lorde on Royals.  Or those dippers and downers with the lovely Broken Bells songs.  Then there is the French artist Calogero who sings about more serious subjects. In his newest one he tells the true story of a young guy being killed in his neighborhood basically for looking at someone the wrong way.  

There is indeed some fine and fun French pop out there, too.  Check out the Frenglish in this R&B tune by French singer Indila.  Can you spot the English words? 

Or the funnily named Cats on Trees, with their slightly melancholy Sirens Call.

Maybe music purists would snub their noses at some of these songs.  Maybe in a few years I'll wonder what I saw (or heard) in these songs.  But if they perk me up on a Monday drive into work or on a grey autumn day, then where's the harm?  In fact, they nourish the soul, get me moving and humming.  So it's all good!

What is your musical weakness that you might not always admit to everyone?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The book I wanted to hate

An American mom living in Paris wrote a book praising French parenting.  I wanted to hate this book.  

I had suffered (and I do mean suffered) from the endless overt and covert criticisms from my nanny, my in-laws and my own husband about how I was raising my, err, our child.  These weren’t always outright criticisms.  Some were nudges and insinuations, like from the nanny-  that I would  become a slave to my child because I responded too much to her when she was a toddler (I did overall truly love our nanny, don’t get me wrong).  Or, similarly, that Juliette’s toddler tantrums were because I didn’t say “no” enough to her when she was a baby (from my MIL).  

Product DetailsSo a book by one of my fellow countrywomen saying that French parents were right (!) did not sit well with me from the get-go.  But Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman surprised me.  Or maybe it didn’t surprise me that much.  Because her story (except the part about having twin boys after her first daughter!) was eerily similar to mine.  Granted, I don’t live in Paris and I’m not a jet-setting author (yet, hee hee ;) but her reactions to the French parenting and day care experience mirrored my own.

She had me at “Me, too.”
First of all, I couldn’t help but like this girl.  She was admittedly neurotic and felt a bit alienated by certain aspects of French society, just like me.  She put into words some things I’d instinctively felt.  Like how Anglophone women bond with mirroring, saying “me, too” about all the things they have in common, whereas it is sometimes hard to strike up conversations with French parents at the playground (I do, though).   She was married to a foreigner, but less foreign than mine, because her husband is British.  But she too had that natural desire to please and win over everyone she met, including her rather discreet in-laws.

An ounce (or a pound) of truth
So once she’d convinced me that we were on the same wavelength, I was much more inclined to listen to her.  And what she said rang true most of the time.  Like her, I had noticed that French parents have a set of expressions and boundaries they seem to impose rather naturally.  This is the famous cadre she mentions a lot.  A cadre is a frame, and her theory, which is backed up by careful observation, is that French parents establish this from the beginning by saying things like: 

“You don’t have the right to do that” (take a candy without asking, for example).  There is a nuance between this and “You can’t” which is more restrictive.  You don’t have the right implies it’s a rule we didn’t necessarily make ourselves but must respect.

“Wait.”  Of course, Anglo parents say this, too.  But maybe not firmly enough, she says.  And “wait” is a better alternative to constant “nos”.  

“Deux minutes” or “two minutes.” Similar to “wait”, a French parent or Juliette’s teachers, would say this, especially if a kid interrupted an adult conversation.  It implies the adults have the right to finish first, but the child will be listened to after.

Talk to your child and she will understand
Citing a famous French child psychologist, Françoise Dolto, she says we must explain things to children and they will understand, even as babies.  With the famous “you don’t have the right to do that” expression, French parents often give a brief but confident explanation of why we can’t touch a certain thing.  It implies, Druckerman writes, that children are rational beings capable of understanding.  Not sure that this would defuse a tantrum, but I find that now, especially, if I explain things to Juliette before an outing, she will assimilate it much better.  To be fair, I think Dr. Spock said basically the same thing.

Taste it
This is definitely part of French culture.  Kids at the school cafeteria all have to at least taste each dish.  That way they can decide if they like it or not.  I have witnessed with my own eyes that Juliette is more apt to eat beets in vinaigrette or pears because she tried these at school.  We do tend to eat in courses in my house, too, and serving grated carrots in vinaigrette as a starter ensures she gets some veggies.  

I said I didn’t hate this book.  I didn’t say I agreed with every little thing.  I can identify with Druckerman’s experience and she fairly accurately summarizes the French parenting philosophy.  But I have also seen parents who don’t follow these unspoken rules.  I have seen an idiot who pulled his little boy’s pants down in the supermarket parking lot to whip him hard several times.  I have seen my share of grocery store melt-downs.  And parents who feed their kids junk.  I don’t think I’m as enamored with French parenting or schooling as this author.  I think there’s a slight “children must be seen not heard” phenomenon at work in France that irks me a bit.  American parents cherish, maybe too much sometimes, a child’s freedom of expression.  But that’s not always a bad thing.  And French kids may be more well-behaved in restaurants in general (Druckerman’s pet example), but they are not perfect.  And American adults turn out pretty polite and friendly, despite or because of (you be the judge) a slightly more indulgent upbringing.  

I may unconsciously use some of these French expressions and philosophies now in my parenting style.  But you’ll still find me on the floor playing Lego during a friend’s party (not the whole evening) with my kid and letting her have the occasional snack between meals or one piece of candy (ok two!) after school.  Cause you can take me out of America, but you can’t take the American out of me.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stop the world- I want to get off!

I guess I've always been a worrier.  But I thought I was getting better lately.  It seemed I was stressing less for the little things and taking stuff in stride more.  Maybe even hitting my stride and not obsessing over things at work, and being able to say, I can do this, I've done it before.  And though that's still true to an extent, somehow lately I'm questioning everything. 

In talking with other folks who are 40 and around that age, I see it's pretty common to start re-evaluating things at this age.  It's just a number, but it does symbolize a bit of a turning point.  Sort of a halfway mark at which we feel we must readjust things that have gone off course.  And so I find myself constantly questioning myself about my career, my family life, Juliette's education, every little thing. 

I've never been one to make decisions lightly, but now it seems to weigh on me more.  Deciding on the course of my life elicits a sort of tidal pool in my stomach.  It is truly a physical sensation and not a particularly pleasant one.  And that's where I feel like crying out, stop, stop, I need a moment!

That's when I try to keep things in perspective.  I remind myself that the little decisions I make in my life will not have that much of an impact on the world.  But they would impact my happiness and that of those around me.  In the end, does it matter so much if I do a job that is quite different from the one I set out to do?  Or that I am not a perfect homemaker with a gleaming house?  Or that I live in a rented apartment and really haven't got it all figured out yet?  What exactly is "having it all figured out" anyway? 

Yes, my friends, these are thorny rhetorical questions.  But they sometimes keep me up at night (not the one about a clean house, mind you).  And I'm desperately trying to breathe in and breathe out and relax.  Coping strategies welcome!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Seedless or seedful

agriculture,closeups,close-ups,farming,food,Fotolia,fresh,fruits,gardens,grapes,grapevines,growing,grows,harvest,nature,organic,Photographs,plants,vegetation,vineyardsThe main difference between France and America can be summed up with one tiny example, no bigger than the top part of your thumb.  So small and yet so significant: the seedless grape.  You can find seedless grapes in France, but they are not the norm.  In fact, most supermarkets don’t even carry them.  But in the US you are hard pressed to find grapes with seeds. 

Why?  My two cents worth: in France they like for things to be difficult.  The harder the better.   Passing your high school exam in France is a rite of passage because it involves about a week’s worth of tests, including oral ones.  Learning to drive is nothing short of an ordeal, with a tricky written test called “le code” and a 35 minute driving test that potentially involves parallel parking.  Not to mention that getting an exam date can take months!  

It sometimes seems that life in France is a series of hurdles and tests to be passed at nearly every turn. Maybe people like to suffer or at least whine about it afterwards.  Don’t even get me started on anything involving the government administration.  I spent my time in the civil servant equivalent of hell each time I had to get my foreign visa renewed before I actually got married here.  

Meanwhile, back in the US of A, we seem to pride ourselves on the exact opposite.  Convenience is our motto.  That’s why we invented convenience stores.  And Lunchables and pharmacies that are actually open on Sundays.  And drive-through doughnut shops!  And, oh, yeah, we sell seedless grapes!  Because why would you want to spend all that time spitting out seeds (or like some French people do, actually swallowing them), when you can just enjoy the sweetness more simply.  For Americans, this just seems to be a given.  And it makes feeding kids a heck of a lot simpler.  
To be honest, I will admit the taste of the grapes here is different, heartier, richer.  Perhaps the breeding to get seedless grapes has indeed made the flavor more standardized in the US.  But as I said, it really does epitomize for me how radically different these two cultures can be.  The French system isn’t all bad.  The idea of slow food (actually an Italian concept) vs. fast food and taking your time to enjoy and savor is a worthy one.  But sometimes I wish the French would lighten up a bit.  Life doesn’t have to be so hard and tortured.  Strangely enough there is a French expression about having a problem, in which the word for a pit or seed is used to signify a problem: on a eu un pépin.  Literally, we had a seed.  

Maybe it’s all part of a “toughen up” approach the French favor.  Suffering to build character?  When Juliette got her booster shot last month, I expected the doctor to pull out stuffed animals and reward her with a cute band-aid.  Instead he told her to wrap her arms in a certain way and that I was to hold her still.  He instructed her not to look but she did anyway, and he said neutrally but firmly, well, too bad for you.  There she was looking so fragile with her blonde curls over her bare shoulders, and suddenly big fat tears were dropping down her red cheeks.  The doctor, who is actually a really nice man, said she cried because she had looked.  Then he put a bit of cotton and a non-descript piece of medical tape on the spot.  And that was that.  

I guess I like a bit more sugar-coating in my seedless life.  I expect sympathetic smiles and reassuring words from health care workers and waiters who are happy to see me in their seating zone.  I’m American like that.  And no matter how long I live in this seedful country, I will always be a little surprised and very nostalgic for my more convenient and comfortable homeland.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Let kids be kids

It's been a month now and we're all getting back to the school rhythm.  I say "we" because it has been a transition for Remi and me as well.  Our bubbly first grader comes home with three little notebooks on average, one of which has her homework assignment glued inside each day. 

They've recently been saying on French tv that it is actually forbidden to give written homework to young children.  That doesn't stop her teacher or the thousands of others in this country from doing it though.  Granted, for Juliette's age they are short exercises like writing the word "chat" two times.  In cursive, mind you!  But for a playful kid that age, sitting still long enough to do it properly is a real feat.

Last year when I learned they'd be learning to write in cursive in kindergarten (totally skipping lowercase letters, it seems), I started preparing my virtual soapbox to stand on.  It just seemed ridiculous that they insisted on teaching kids to do loops and connecting letters when they are still struggling to hold a pencil properly.  But when I asked other French people, they saw no probem with it.  It's important for reading, they all insisted.  Never mind that most books are written in print, not cursive, but whatever.

So far, so good though.  After some shaky first weeks when she rushed through her work, we seem to be instilling a bit of patience in her for the writing and we've been helping her to sound the syllables out.  As her teacher said, each child will get there, but at his or her own pace.

It is still strange to find myself in the role of taskmaster for homework.  I remember when I arrived in France and lived with a host family where there was an 11-year old boy.  The father seemed so stern and sometimes downright mean about the homework.  Maybe it was the French attitude, or just this father.  But these last few weeks I found myself getting frustrated with Juliette when she wouldn't settle down to look over her words with me.  Maybe my own perfectionist school tendencies were taking over.  Or, like Remi, I feared the school system might not be effective enough.

But I'm trying to take the advice in the title of this post.  Let kids be kids.  Big homework and more important assignments will come later.  Now is still play-time and about having fun.  She still loves swinging in the park and with our Indian summer, we're trying to get in some playground time after school.  Besides, with a headstrong girl like mine, the more I push, the more she'll push back.  So we're all learning to walk that tightrope of firmness and flexibility.

Whoever said it got easier when they started school?  Not me!  

Friday, August 29, 2014

Little Big Girl

Next Tuesday Juliette starts the equivalent of first grade.  In France it's called CP, for cours préparatoire.  I thought her first year of pre-school was going to be tough on me.  Seeing my little three-year old (at that time) go to school turned out to not be as excruciating as I had imagined (though my eyes did get moist!).  Now she's an old hat at this school thing.  But first grade is in a different school and now she'll be rubbing shoulders with much bigger kids.

Little one looking quite the star!
I'm already worrying about her attitude changing.  Lately she seems to be six going on 13 in terms of her tone.  I know it's just her age and that other kids in this age group are starting to backtalk and complain about not making decisions in their lives.  But it makes me think that the true teen years and especially the tween years are not far off.

I guess every generation says it, but kids do seem to be growing up super fast these days.  Blame it on TV, technology, our own attitudes, whatever.  Sometimes it seems childhood ends at 10 and girls face more pressure in terms of body image.  Seven-year olds worrying about their weight is not unheard of nowadays.  And I want to hold on to my little one as much, and as long, as I can.

So I cherish those hugs around my neck, though sometimes they pull my hair.  I smile to myself when she says hilarious things like, wouldn't it be cool if kids were born before the parents?  And I hope we've still got some good years of playing with her toys, if only because she's got so many of them! I'm relieved she still likes Disney shows and riding carousels. And I'll try to face every new challenge, and every inch she grows with courage and by being grateful that she's in my world.

Happy back to school time to parents, teachers, and of course, kids, all around!

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Are you like me sometimes, are you desperately caught up in your own head dramas?  You know that you should think about how lucky you are compared to 3/4's of the world's population, but you still find yourself obsessing about finding the right cushion for a chair or feeling bummed when there's nothing good on tv.  Or staring at the circles under your eyes all the while making critical remarks in your head about how that lady looks rather trashy in her ultra short skirt.  Yes, we all do it.  Maybe Mother Theresa never did, but we can't all be her. 

I'm not perfect.  I'll never be a saint.  I fall off the "goodness" wagon quite often.  I'm not talking about alcohol but trying to be a kind, uncritical, live by the golden rule kind of person. 

And I go on the Internet way too much.

But sometimes that's a good thing.  Because, guess what, sometimes surfing Facebook and checking your email over your morning coffee is more productive than you'd imagine.  Dare I say, even a source of inspiration.

I found two such gems this week thanks to a FB friend and my mom.  The FB one is by another mommy blogger (who is much more wildly successful than me, not that I'm jealous or anything ;) .  And in her post she reminds us in fact to be a lot more grateful with what we have.  But she does it in a graceful and not in your face way.  Take a look

My mom passes lots of cool things along to me, and this week she sent a nice link to Kid President giving us advice on "Twenty Things We Should Say More Often".  And it's true.  And this kid is so naturally funny and happy despite having a bone disorder that could make his life a bit more miserable than your average kid. 

And even chillin' on the couch can lead to some inspiration if you're watching the right stuff!  Remi happened upon this lovely little movie that really warmed my heart with its fresh take on love and rebuilding yourself.  It's a bittersweet film called La Délicatesse with the actress from Amélie.  I love the quirky Swedish guy's characer in this.

So maybe I'm not completely on the path of eternal optimism and continual acts of kindness.  But I know where to look for inspiration.

What's inspired you lately?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Comfort in a foreign land

Sounds a bit like a movie title, but in fact it's part of a blog hop created by the very imaginative and thoughtful author of EnglishGirlCanadianMan.  That is her expat theme of the week and I thought I'd put my two cents in.  See her lovely motto below.

English Girl Canadian Man

I've been in France for nearly 12 years now.  One of the questions my students often ask me when they learn I'm American is how often I go back home (though they usually mangle the grammar and say something like "you go back how long?") or if I miss my family.  To which I reply with a somewhat forced smile, once a year if I can, every year and a half if money is tight.  And, yes, of course I miss my family.

After 12 years I suppose I'm getting a little better with the distance, and I'd say that since I've had a child, I feel like I've got a little bit of America in my living room with me.  But there are certainly still moments when a joke I tell in French falls flat or my six-year old announces to me that she's decided she's just gonna speak French now (luckily she hasn't kept good on that one, but she's definitely conversing a lot more with me in French, sigh!).  And then I feel a bit alone indeed.

So what can I do?  Like Holly said on her blog, a nice cup of tea with friends is one of my go to remedies.  I'm absolutely spoiled to have stumbled upon some great friends here in France, both expats and natives, who are in the same mindset as me and are eager to gather for a cuppa.  It always lifts my spirits.  Muffins and cakes certainly don't hurt!

Watch something in English.  Luckily we now have the option to watch a lot of US and British programs in English now.  Hearing the real voices and humor is a bit like music to my soul.

Speaking of music, I couldn't live without it.  If someone asked me to choose between losing my sight or hearing, I know the logical answer would be hearing, because it's perhaps less debilitating.  But without music, I think I'd be even more insane than I am.  A good song is like meditation to me.  Like this sweet one by Marie-Pierre Arthur.  It's a French one.

Getting my hands dirty.  Be it with some gardening or painting a simple butterfly with Juliette, using my hands can calm me.

Baking and cooking.  I've always loved baked goods, but I'm getting more into cooking in general.  Experimenting with recipes and enjoying the end results is satisfying.

addiction,calories,barre de chocolat,noir,délicieux,desserts,fotolia,tentations,emballagesAll things chocolate.  Two little squares of dark chocolate can make the world all better.  Make that four squares!

Communication!  In all forms!  Reaching out to people, via FB, the blog, a text message or Skype, makes me feel connected.

Reading. Getting lost in a good book (I mostly read in English lately) can help me forget about my problems for a while and fall asleep faster. Reading a fun botanical mystery my mom sent me now, The Water Lily Cross.

Nature. Like Holly, I love enjoying the simple pleasures of hikes and just listening to the wind in the trees.  Or a lovely blue sky.

What do you find comfort in?

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Vacation State of Mind

I put the start of a sentence on Facebook (yeah, I know, I am still battling that addiction) and asked friends to complete it:

"August is..."

Most people said "hot", which is not the case in my current location, where we barely ever hit 85°F.  Others talked about back to school.  But for most French residents, it's still about vacation or at least a slower pace of life due to all the other folks being away. 

You almost have to experience it to believe it. That eeriness when you drive to work and feel like you're practically the only person on the road.  How places like supermarkets and intersections just seem quieter.  The next two weeks there will only be two instead of five teachers at my company.  That's gonna be super quiet...

But that's ok, because I like having August to myself.  I feel like I'm still on vacation and can get some home projects done when I'm not actually working.

Besides, I did have a nice longish week in the mountains in July.  It's funny how when I told my family in the US I'd be gone a week, they said, "Wow, a whole week!" while most French people said, "Oh, just a week?"  I even took to replying that I'd be gone "une petite semaine" ("a little week") to French people, but would sometimes hastily add that I also had the last week of August (since Juliette's daycare is inexplicably closed that week). 

Ah, French people bask in their five weeks off and can't conceive of having less.  Americans can't conceive of five luxurious weeks and make the most of their two to three weeks. 

That must be why the French have truly got vacationing down to an art.  Packing up a million household items if they're going camping, leaving at midnight sometimes to avoid traffic and heat, carting three-month olds anywhere including in high altitude. 

I, however, was not born with vacationing in my genes.  And though my adopted country is rubbing off on me in the strangest of ways, I don't know that I am totally at ease during my vacation.  Like one of my favorite authors, Sally Vickers, says in several of her books, life is lived forwards but often enjoyed and understood backwards.  Vacations seem to be the same.  Try as I might to truly appreciate the moment, it seems I reminisce the week after and kick myself for not enjoying it even more.  During the vacation I let little things get to me: hubby's grumpiness or Juliette's whines.  Afterwards, I don't totally forget it, but my mind goes back to the misty walk on a hillcrest or the soothing green of the conifers surrounding our vacation village.

Maybe like this picture, strangely fuzzy from the misty weather, vacation memories become mottled, hazed over with what we want to remember. 

At any rate I am thankful to have had the opportunity to get away and see some beautiful landscapes, a big breath of fresh air in more ways than one.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

It's a flag thing

Last week two big things happened.  It was July 4th, Independence Day for Americans, and France played against Germany in the World Cup, having reached the round of 16.  Which means that my apartment window sported an American flag and that some of my neighbors and local stores got their French flags out.
The local supermarket showing its colors.

Americans are flag-proud, maybe too much so, according to other countries.  But at least we aren't ashamed of showing it off.  Any old excuse is good, national holidays, of course, but also just because we feel like it.  Remi is always amazed at how many houses have flags outside in my mom's neighborhood back home. 

But France is another story.  Besides July 14th, Bastille Day, and some holidays celebrating war victories, you would be hard-pressed to find people flying "le tricolor" (as their flag has three colors).  Except when their football (er, soccer) team is doing particularly well.  To me this seems like the French only proudly display their flag when sports teams are winning.

Since France got eliminated from the World Cup, life is getting back to normal, and most flags have disappeared from people's balconies and yards.  But I snapped a few pics before they took them down.

I fluttered lonely as a flag.
I asked a student of mine why French people weren't so keen on flag-waving and she had an interesting take on it.  She said maybe people associate the flag with the French Revolution and more recently, with the Front National political party. This party is extremely right wing and at times anti-foreigner, and their logo happens to have a design similar to the French flag.  So, my student reasoned, flag-bearing can be associated with nationalism.  

Oh, dear, sometimes I think the French need to take it easy a bit!  But then again, the Germans don't always like singing their anthem, as it brings back some bad memories from WWII.  Each country has their own cultural baggage, like the Confederate flag in the US.

One good thing, Juliette can support both of her nationalities at the same time with
this dress!

How do you feel about your country's flag?  Is it common to fly it at any time of the year?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

More reasons you know you've been in France too long (summer edition)

Frightening but true, summer time seems to bring out the latent French person in me.  I hear myself thinking or saying things that are oh so français that I might need to check the nationality on my passport again. So in addition to those normal French-isms we expats can experience, here's a quick list to see how French one can become once June 21st rolls around.

1. You can't stop thinking about your vacation and you know about everyone else's holiday plans down to the last detail.  Blame it on the generous five weeks a year holiday plan in this country.  The French are obsessed with vacations.  But it's even more apparent in the summer.  Some folks routinely spend two or three weeks in the south of France.  Once June rolls around people can't concentrate on much else. 

2. Any excuse is perfect for eating outside or in a sidewalk café.  We are lucky to have a balcony to eat on when we feel like it and the weather is behaving.  And when I walk through the main squares in my town on a nice evening, I see crowds of diners outside eating as if it is their birthright.  It is sort of a way of life in the warm months around here.

3. Apéro!  Along with eating outside, summer rhymes with cocktails, or apéro.  This is also a sacred tradition around here.  There are many variations but it generally consists of a glass of rosé or your favorite cocktail or cold drink with chips and salty snacks. It's just a great excuse to get together and snack and drink (in moderation!).  Our 70ish year old neighbor even said we should come by for "apéro" some time!

Check out this campy scene from the French movie Camping.  Warning, guy in speedo!

4.  You put off any serious plans till September.  Cause, really, what's the point? Some companies close in August completely.  How do they expect us to get any work done?  I hear my students who are looking for a job say they'll just relax now that summer is here and start seriously looking in September.  And they're right.  Even job ads dry up in the summer.

5. You have an intense desire to clean your car inside and out.  This is intimately linked with the vacation time.  I just never seemed to notice Americans getting so gung ho about cleaning their car before heading off to the beach (since the car will just get sandy anyway).  The French, however, start vacuuming and cleaning with religious fervor come late June.  It's a telltale sign that your neighbor is about to leave for a few weeks.

Well, this list will only have five points since I'm already experiencing that summer laziness.  But I'll leave you with a few pics of us enjoying the long days of sunshine.

Juliette blowing bubbles at a British garden party.

Me and my shadow.
Sand pit and our shadows.
So enjoy summer and don't forget, apéro at my place!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Child of the 80s

No, I haven't forgotten I promised another installment of the musical odyssey of my life.  After Child of the 70s, here it is, folks, my tops from the 80s.

Picture it, little Milam with pony tails blissing out on her parents' big stereo system and requesting to listen to Hall and Oates (the album or cassette, I'm guessing).  Heard this song just yesterday in the car, and, as always, had to turn it up and start groovin'.

Come on, I dare you NOT to dance to that one.

In the 80s I was old enough to understand things, or think that I understood things.  Videos like this one by Adam Ant were a bit tantalizing though I couldn't necessarily put my finger on why.

This guy was like the precursor to Jame Franco sexiness!  But his video is positively tame compared to most today.

And while we're on the subject of Brits, Billy Idol had some raw energy that was fun to sing along to.  I remember being a wee bit scared by this video as a child.

But my ultimate British bad boy and first crush had to be Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran.  I clearly remember standing on my bed to give my poster of the band the occasional kiss.

The hair, the eyes, the camouflage make-up. Oh. Yeah.

Now that I think about it, the Brits were quite prominent on the 80s music scene.  Also love this funky one by Wham.

Man, I think I could go on all day.  The 80s were really my formative years, my musical awakening.  And there were indeed some great, memorable songs.

But the 80s were also the start of a life-long love affair with a particular New Zealand/Australian band.  Thanks to my aunt Jane and my mom, I heard the minor keys and alternatingly upbeat and melancholy sounds of Crowded House.  Their most well-known song is this one, but don't limit yourself to it.  Their range, and that of now solo artist Neil Finn is amazing.  These guys are really the soundtrack of my life.

Wow, so young!  This video is actually very beautifully-filmed as well.

After that little trip down memory lane, I can't help but smile.  I wonder if one day when I'm in a retirement home they'll put on cd's of 80s music the way they put on songs from the 50s at the nursing home now.  I think I'll be groovin' with my walker.

So I can't wait to hear your favorite 80s songs!

Friday, May 30, 2014

A not so lazy recipe

I call this Lazy Girl's blog because I feel like I'm kind of a lazy person.  That maybe I don't get off my duff as much as I should.  But perhaps that's also just a harsh opinion of myself.  Compared to my husband's highly-worked family, anybody would seem lazy.  And what's wrong with some good down-time on the couch with a book or some lazing about in the park?  These are moments that feed the soul and make us more than all work and no play dullards.

But speaking of feeding, this post is actually about a recipe.  And one that requires a tiny bit of effort compared to some of my go-to recipes.  Ok, not that much effort because this is still a lazy girl posting.  And true to my "lazy" self, this recipe was one I took from a magazine a few years ago and am just now getting around to trying. Please tell me I'm not the only one who does that!

Stuffed Round Zucchini

  • First wash three or four round zucchini.  Peel them to alternate the green peel with the light green flesh underneath.  Cook in boiling water for about 10 minutes.  Drain and let cool till you can handle them.  

  • Carefully cut the top of the zucchinito create a little hat for the presentation afterwards.  You don't need to cook the hat a second time.  

  • Scoop out the zucchiniflesh and separate out any seeds.  Dice the zucchiniflesh. 

  • Meanwhile sauté the meat of your choice, ground beef, turkey or sausage with shallots/onions, cherry tomatoes, according to your heart's desire. 

  • Mix the meat mixture with the diced zucchiniin the frying pan for a minute or two.

  • You can add some cream or tomato sauce or a soft cheese to the meat mixture and top with mozarella or grated cheese.  

  • Cook the stuffed zucchini in a pan in an oven preheated to 180°C or about 325°F.  Serve with rice or pasta.  Enjoy!