Thursday, December 29, 2016

A winter's tale

The glitter and gold of Christmas is slipping away.  I try to find comfort in winter's beauty.

The black lace of bare branches.

Humble pansies that hunker down in the cold.

Dried hydrangea petals that cling to the branches like faded beauty queens.

Foggy walks.

And sunny walks in parkas.

Frosty leaves.

And fluffy white tufted fruits.

Wild rose hips to brighten naked branches.

 And so many reasons to have a nice cup of tea.

Happy holidays and happy winter to one and all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My wish

Upstairs there are shreiks and laughter as I write this.  My daughter is playing with her two friends. Of course there have been minor disputes, two against one, one against two.  Three's a crowd kind of thing.  But not one of their skirmishes has been anything serious.  Certainly nothing about their different skin colors or religious origins.

My daughter is half-French and half-American, blonde-haired and blue-eyed.  Her little girl friend is Muslim, of Tunisian descent, with dark curly hair.  The little boy is half-Chinese and half-French.  The only time they have ever talked about religion was when Juliette and the girl both said that Santa Claus was in heaven.  There is some skepticism about Santa himself.  That is as close to theology as they have ever gotten.

I wish they could stay as blissfully ignorant about things as they are today.  At eight years old they are united by play, by the pursuit of fun.  They are not divided by their differences.  They don't even care. 

I have a wish this Christmas season.  And for beyond that time.  It's the same wish I've expressed after each terrorist attack.  And now I have that same wish after this election.  A wish for kindness, peace and understanding between cultures.  

There is ugly proof that hate is on the rise.  Towards anyone with darker skin, different origins, a head scarf, different sexual orientation.  And even if I am none of these things, I feel their pain.  And I don't want my America to be a hateful place.

I may not live there anymore, and of course, even in France there are racial issues and prejudice.  Extreme right parties are gaining in popularity over here.

But I continue to believe, perhaps a little naïvely, that peace and harmony are possible.  And that it begins in each simple interaction we have with our fellow human beings.  A warm smile, an extended hand, an honest conversation among people with different views and backgrounds.

I don't claim to be perfect.  I succumb to stereotypes sometimes like everyone else.  But I am hopeful when I see my little girl jump with glee to see her friends even if they aren't exactly like her.

Let us see again with our childish hearts the potential in our neighbors and strangers on the street.  Let us see past appearances and see inside to that which is essential.  

So like the song says. Let there be peace on earth.  Let it begin with me.  And you.

Friday, November 11, 2016

When politics resemble high school

To me this election wasn't about political parties.  (Trump used to identify himself as a Democrat.)  It surely wasn't about God (God doesn't decide elections or football games or exam results for that matter.)   It wasn't even so much about policy choices. 

This election was about something much deeper and yet superficial at the same time: high school.

I thought high school was over.  I thought we'd outgrown the petty remarks about people's appearance and social status or excluding those who are different.  But more than once during this election, I've felt like it was high school all over again. 

Early on it started to remind me of that film Election, where Reese Witherspoon is the goody-two-shoes who feels she is a shoe-in for class president and has to face off with the school jock.   Like Witherspoon's character, Clinton was the hard-working, intellectual type who wasn't necessarily well-liked by her fellow students.  She ate, breathed and lived the election. 

That's perhaps where the similarities end.  The football player in the movie, unlike Trump, could barely make his speech.  But people still voted for him to stick it to the girl and have a new face. 

The sophomoric humor displayed by Trump in this election, his admittedly "locker room talk" seemed to win certain people over.  Like the kids in the playground who laugh when the bully taunts their classmates.  If it did create an uneasiness in some of his supporters, they seemed to overlook it in their zeal for a new kid. 

Early on he made fun of fellow Republican candidate Cruz's wife's appearance, saying that his (Trump's) women were more beautiful.  He called Hillary "nasty."  Why not go back to kindergarten and say she's smelly, too and "liar, liar, pants on fire".  His attitude toward immigrants, and even Muslims who are already American citizens, certainly did not exude openness. 

These are soundbytes, I know.  But they echo back to the kind of high school banter and bullying that we all heard on the bus ride back home.  In gym class, and yes, the locker room.  And it's unbefitting for any presidential candidate. 

Hillary is anything but Miss Congeniality, and that was perhaps part of her downfall.  She's the nerdy girl that people are tired of seeing raise her hand with the answer all the time.  And Trump's the loose-talking guy who makes people laugh.  But the presidential election shouldn't be like high school. 

The things we might have laughed at in high school and that we still do in a Judd Apatow film, shouldn't be lauded or excused in a president-elect.  Maybe, like the characters in Apatow's film Knocked Up, Trump will step up to the plate, prove he is more than the class clown who gets the laughs.  Maybe.  

In the meantime, a lot of us are feeling like high school lessons were never learned.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Going, growing, gone!

"It can come around 8 or 8 and a half years old," the pediatrician told me after he had examined Juliette.  It took me a split-second to realize what he meant.  "It" was the p-word.  Puberty.  I wanted to shoot him a dirty look.  Not that.  Not yet.

Juliette was on the papered exam table, legs stretched out straight in front of her.  The curls that fall down her back are still blond even if the roots are getting darker.  I noticed a few particularly long toe nails on her bare feet and felt a bit ashamed.  She still doesn't like cutting her toe nails but will do it by herself when prompted.  There she was sitting in her aqua colored girls' briefs, straight up and down figure like nearly all the girls her age.  So why was the doctor bringing this up already?

In fact he didn't mean specifically for her, but he meant that today it is possible to have early cases.  Or at least one sign, such as some body hair, that comes a year or two before the real change.  (If snark is a sign, then we are in trouble.)

And though I chatted with him about the phenomenon (due to environmental factors, it seems) what I really wanted to do was put my hands over my ears and sing, la la la until he changed the subject. 

I had seen a few documentaries or TV news reports on it.  The images of a six-year old who had the beginning of cleavage haunted me for weeks after.  Or an eight-year old who had to have painful injections to suppress a very early case of development.  Is it from plastics that we heat?  For a while now I have tried to be extra careful not to heat things in plastic in the microwave, though occasionally I do it.  When she was a baby the bottles were BPA-free.  Was it pesticides in our water, in our food?  I don't always buy organic food or spring water, and we are often in Remi's greenhouse which certainly has residues of chemicals no matter how careful we are.  As if there weren't enough reasons for parents to stress and feel guilty, here was another one looming down on us. 

Maybe it is my own memories of growing up and the mixed emotions of adolescence that are giving me pause.  I know how tough it can be for girls especially, and I dread her having to go through those sometimes painful physical and emotional changes. 

That night I paid close attention to her way of talking and playing.  She still likes Playmobil, good!  She is obsessed with Chica Vampiro which features a Columbian teen turned most girls between 6 and 11 in France.  She often sighs and snarks...bad.  She still giggles like mad when I make her Ken doll do something silly- good.

Let's face it, she is a little girl but she won't stay little forever.  Maybe the big bad years of hormones and more intense eye-rolling are postponed for now, but I can't run and hide.  All I can do is hope and pray that lines of communication will stay open and that she will turn into a bright, kind, healthy adult.

In the meantime, I can thank the well-meaning doctor for reminding of one thing:  to hold on to those "little girl" moments we share now and cherish her for who she is today.  And hopefully I have a few good years to get used to the idea that she'll soon be obsessing over real boys instead of ones on tv.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Summer '16 in review, pop song version

This year I almost feel like I didn't have a summer.  Cue the violin music.  I moved, which took up so much time.  We only took a few days here and there to do a few day trips while my family came to visit.  I am not feeling sorry for myself.  Ok, a little.  It's just that, I feel like summer came and went without me enjoying it to the fullest.

Of course, we knew this summer would be a transitional one.  Moving is such a big event and it takes a lot out of you (still is!).  So, here's a little summer in review for you, brought to you by a few summer hits that kept me going through all the packing, unpacking and cleaning...
This is what you came for (Rihanna)
Yes, this is what WE came for.  A house.  It was our big summer project.  We'd been waiting for over three years to have a place of our own.  And so the summer of sacrifice was for this reward.  But there is always that "be careful what you wish for" backlash.  With a bigger house comes more to clean, suprise repairs, and, of course, a house payment.  Adjustments, transitions, deep breaths!
Making our mark on the new place. 
Cheap Thrills (Sia)
The opening lines of this one were practically my summer anthem.  "Come on, come on, turn the radio on."  I have never listened to the radio at home as much as I did this summer.  When I say home I also mean the old apartment, too.  Without my favorite pop radio station, I might have nearly gone crazy as we scrubbed the grease off my old kitchen floor.  And re-painted the walls.  And then painted the walls in our new place. When Juliette hears some of those pop songs now, she says it reminds her of when we cleaned.  And she sometimes even asks me to turn the channel.
Cleaning the apartment floor.  Mommy's little helper.

Cake by the Ocean (DNCE)
I don't believe I ate cake by the ocean this summer. But we did get away for a day trip with my mom in August to a local beach. And we had a picnic and I did eat an ice cream the North Sea.  It wouldn't be summer without toes in the sand!
Beach trip and ...check!

We don't talk anymore (Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez)
We don't talk anymore, except about the house... Typically, like most couples, Remi and I tend to have animated conversations about home decorating now, or the most urgent repairs we need to make given our small disposable income. And what I knew before is still true today: having a house doesn't make everything hunky-dory.  It just makes your life a little bit more comfortable, but also more complicated.
To buy or not to buy.  Ikea visits and decorating, oh my!
 So as fall wiggles its way in, I'll try to look back on the summer of '16 as a busy but essential one.  Full of memories and singing along with the radio and elbow grease and family visits.  And a disturbing number of Justin Bieber songs that I actually liked.

Friday, July 15, 2016


heart, hands, shadow, butterfly

I'm tired of this. I'm tired of waking up to messages from family and friends asking if I'm alright.  Again.  It's not that I don't appreciate the concern.  I do, and it touches me deeply.  It's the reason I get these messages that bothers me.  I'm tired of the unthinkable happening over and over.  I'm tired of waking up to a world where innocent people are killed.  I'm tired of a world where families go out to watch fireworks and come home with huge aching holes in their hearts.

I watched the fireworks, too, this year.  But not in Nice. Far from it.  In northern France on a night so brisk we wore jackets and I wore a scarf.  On July 13th, not the 14th.  This is perhaps the last year we'll watch fireworks from this location since we are moving.  Where we live now we literally just walk downstairs and have pretty darn good places in our parking lot. 

I'm not a big fireworks person.  Either they are too loud or make me hyperemotional. Big events do that to me.  But this year I vowed to enjoy it, since we are lucky to have this view one more time.  Juliette was antsy because the noise worried her.  Even before it started she was prancing around nervously and I had to tell her to settle down as a few odd cars were driving into the lot.  But she finally settled when the show began and I held her in my lap.  I even put my hands in her hoodie pockets to warm them and held her close. 

I wondered how many more fireworks she would let me hug her tightly like this.  When she got a bit heavy I passed her to Remi so he could enjoy some snuggle time, too.  I noticed he rocked her slightly and put his chin on the top of her head like I had.  The show was great, the music was fun and moving.  We had stars in our eyes, as the expression goes.  It was a lovely moment.

But last night what should have been a lovely moment for thousands turned into a nightmare I can't even imagine.  It turned into the worst night of their lives.  And I can't even bear to watch the news stories of grieving parents and family who lost their little ones or their mom and dad, cousin, neighbor on what was supposed to be a celebration. 

So I am tired, like I know you are, too, of waking up to more bad news.  To a knot in my stomach, to stinging eyes, trying to brace myself for another horrific event.  I am tired of holding back tears at work and having to pray yet again for so many victims.  I am tired of trying to understand why they hate us, or, if it is just a completely deranged individual, why he wanted to take down so many innocents with him.  I am tired of trying to pick up the pieces and keep going.  I am tired of evil winning too many battles.  And I have no answers. I'm just sick of it.

But as my friend Caroline said, somehow, life goes on.  As I watch the breeze whip my curtains around on a sunny day and the light hit my flowers, I will try to remember it's summer.  I will try to live and love and be careful.  And I will keep praying, even if I wonder if it does any good.  And I will hug my little girl as long as I can.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sense of place

My current 'hood
I really should be packing instead of blogging.  I have packed maybe a grand total of ten boxes (and that is probably being generous).  I probably have about 10,000 boxes to pack (give or take a thousand).  Not to mention just sorting through stuff before packing, like throwing away old clothes, shredding and recycling old bills I do not need to keep.  But somehow in my mind the work is compressed and could, potentially, be finished in a day.  Yeah, right. 

But this week I have been in that strange limbo world.  I am still living in my apartment but we have the keys to the new house.  We spent a good part of last weekend there doing some painting in Juliette's room.  And we couldn't bring ourselves to leave the lush garden and go back to the reality of packing. 

It is more than a physical limbo that I am in though.  This week was rather emotional having the last day of Juliette's school.  Somehow I found myself tearing up more than her.  We have both made good friends there, her with the kids, me with the parents.  And, as it always is, you don't know what you've got till it's gone.  Now I'm realizing how quaint and fairly well-run her  current school is.  It's not perfect, but the teachers have been good and kind.  Her new school will be much smaller with doubled classes (two grade levels in one class) and we hope she'll be happy there and that the quality of the education will be good.

Even though the move is just across town, to a suburb about ten minutes away, I find myself already getting nostalgic about the scenery in my current neighborhood.  I take a look at the white stone houses of downtown, the ornate details on doors and cobbled streets and realize these types of walks will be rarer now.  The proximity to the town's squares will no longer be on foot for me but now necessitate a bus or car ride.  I will have a slightly longer commute into work, Remi a shorter one. 

But we will have a garden, and that is a dream come true. And three bedrooms and much more storage to spread out all the junk we have accumulated during ten years (!) of marriage.  And the knowledge that our money is going to something that will one day truly belong to us (and not the bank). 

These are arguments that have very little weight with Juliette, who has been giving us a hard time since the reality of moving sunk in a few months ago.  Not seeing her friends on a nearly-daily basis as now is weighing on her.  One day she even started crying, which got me crying, too.  We try to tell her she will make friends easily, and that we had to do the same at certain times in our childhood. 

I can't really blame her.  When you're a child, your friends are your world.  School is your world.  And as my mom reminded me, she has only known this apartment in her life.  Things will be changing for all of us.  Hopefully in a few months we will all be on the same page about everything and each making friends and acquaintances in our new town.  But keeping up with the old ones, too.  Because moving doesn't have to mean forgetting. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

When good friends go

A few years ago an expat friend went back to the US.  Her husband's work mission had ended.  I felt sad to see her go, and I wrote a post about it.  I talked about how there were the expats who stayed, like me, and those who were destined to go back to their home countries, 24/7 supermarkets and friendly customer service.  But I took the post down after a day because I felt bad putting my friends into categories like that.

But here I am today facing much the same situation.  A dear friend is going back to Canada with her family. I've known her four years and we've had great talks, sometimes commiserating, sometimes missing our home cultures, sometimes revelling in our new culture.  Our kids played together and spoke Frenglish.  We drank countless cups of tea together and enjoyed conversations about motherhood, travel and anything and everything.  But those face-to-face conversations will become few and far between now. I know going back is the best thing for her and her family.  But the selfish part of me wishes she could stay.

So I am not the first to say it, but being an expat means facing these moments.  It means goodbyes and hellos and Skype sessions and international air transit that isn't always as glamorous as it seems.  It means meeting new expats, welcoming them, getting to know them, and wishing them well if/when they go back. When you are my kind of expat, the kind who is here for the long-haul, you have to get used to it.  You know people will come into your lives and enrich you and then they will go on to continue their journey elsewhere.  And that you have to continue your own journey.

But as my other fellow expats have told me, the ones who are probably staying a good long while like me, we've (still) got each other.  And if there is one thing being an expat has taught me, it's that distance doesn't mean that friendships and relationships with family will dwindle and fade away.  You may have to work a little harder at it, be more creative, but good friends stay good no matter which time zone they are in.

So bon voyage to my expat friends!  I know your wanderlust will bring you back in our neck of the woods sooner than you think.  And as they say in French, "ce n'est qu'un au revoir!" (We're just saying, "see you later/soon"!)

I'd like to dedicate this post to all my friends, near and far, coming and going and staying. You are all dear to me!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Five ways Netflix can change your life

I know I am preaching to the choir here.  I know that most of you have had Netflix from the get-go, as well as Apple TV and throw in a little premium channels via AT&T or what-have-you.  But as you know I resisted jumping on the Netflix bandwagon for a while, mostly just in the interest of saving pennies.  Even streaming seemed out of bounds for me since our laptop is getting on in years.  And don't even think about dowloading, cause I think it would just make my computer explode (plus there are those pesky legal aspects).  Résultat: I am pretty behind on all movies and TV shows from the last decade and then some. 

But then there was that magical day my mom was visiting and we realized that you can watch Netflix on two screens.  And in minutes, we saw the happy red logo in that now familiar font appear on our very own TV!  We didn't know it then but our life was about to change in so many little and big ways.  You think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.

1. And God said, let there be Netflix, and there was peace.  No sacrilege intended, but sometimes it seems like a God-given gift to be able to watch what you want, when you want.  Not to mention, there is actually less grumbling when it comes to choosing a program.  Instead of channel-surfing and then forgetting what seemed interesting, Remi and I look at each other after dinner and say, Breaking Bad or Misfits?  It is that simple.  Less fighting, less eye-rolling at his choice of yet another action film with "Ahh-nold" or Sly Stallone.  Or both in the same film.  Remi is probably glad he doesn't have to watch as many British period pieces as on those rare occasions I won the remote before. 

2. Family movie night just got easier. In the same way, when the weekend rolls around, our new habit is looking on Juliette's kid-friendly profile and choosing an animated film or a live-action family film.  Knowing it is on the family profile means it shouldn't have bad language or compromising situations that are tricky to explain to her.  Just don't stray from the family categories or you could wind up watching Butter with a seven-year old and having to explain why that stripper is dressed like that.

3. More interesting water cooler conversations.  Now I can finally talk about some of those shows out there everyone is buzzing about.  Except that, lo and behold, not everyone out there has seen them either.  But at least now I can potentially watch The Walking Dead or Orphan Black, one day, when I've caught up on my current series.

4. Examining gray areas, explaining the intricacies of character profiles.  Everyone's an armchair, or should I say, sofa psychiatrist now.  Spend a while binge-watching and you think you're inside the character's head.  It's a nice distraction from your own problems to wonder if it was really necessary for Walt to start making crystal meth.  Or to compare your parenting techniques to those on Modern Family and realize you're not doing so bad. 

5.  English-language version, it's good to have you back!  Ok, granted this is one expats will appreciate, but after watching a lot of dubbed movies and series, Netflix guarantees you the original language version for all those US and British shows.  No more hit and miss wondering if the French channel is offering that blockbuster in VO (version originale).  Music to my ears, finally.  And great for Juliette to work on her English vocab and Remi as well. 

So maybe Netflix isn't the most earth-shattering of products, but in its own way, it has made life a little easier and certainly more pleasant.  And I just don't think I could live without it now.  Don't even mention such a blasphemous thing in my house unless you want to get hit over the head with the remote!

PS: this post was not sponsored by Netflix, but they are welcome to pay me if they want.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Once I was seven years old

No doubt you've heard this song.  The chorus gets stuck in my head, and the fact that my girl is seven surely makes it stick even harder.  To hear it sung is a reminder of this age, precious and alert at the same time.  Maybe like me, you remember being seven.  It was a happy time, before middle school taunts and high school drama and all the rest of it.

Once I was seven-years old, and I loved my second grade teacher.  I still remember her name: Mrs. Auprin.  She was pregnant and I asked my mom where babies came from.  After much dogging, she finally gave me a pretty approximate explanation about hugging that satisfied my seven-year old brain.  I remember my teacher putting a shoe box up high on a shelf to teach us about resisting temptation and our conscience.  There was a bag of popcorn in there that we eventually popped for the class, I suppose. 

Seven is waking up to the world but still firmly in childhood innocence for most kids.  The tooth fairy and santa still had their place in my world back then.  School was fun and life was good. Homework was either non-existent or finished quickly.  Play was my biggest priority.

Flash forward 35 years.  I've got my own seven-year old whose praises and quirks I've already sung for this age.  But I feel a sort of urgency to say how lovely it is to have this little person (who comes up to about my heart, height-wise) wrap her thin arms around me and say, I love you, mommy.  Can't get enough of it.  Never will be able to.  I keep fearing adolescence breathe its ugly sighs down on me and I sometimes want to suspend time at seven. 
Once she was seven-years old.  And she still is for two months.  And she loves to sing Katy Perry songs.  She devours comic books and Netflix and plays a little less with Barbie and Playmobil.  Her friends are her world and she wonders about marrying her best little male friend and begs me to ask her questions about their future life together.  She still loves to swing on her swingset and cuddle.  She wants to pick out her clothes more than before. 

But I can't ask her to stay seven forever, just as my parents couldn't freeze time for me either.  She is meant to go through all the stages, and I will find something beautiful and worthy in each one.  And maybe one day she will look back at seven and say, once I was seven-years old, and it was a happy year.  I guess that's the best I can hope for!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Starry, starry night

stars, galaxy, sky, night, dark, evening, trees, silhouette, space, nature 
I wish I could say I took this picture.  I didn't, but I did see a sky full of stars very much like this last weekend at 3:30 am.  Juliette had come to my tent to ask to go the bathroom, and considering it was nearly freezing, I had no inclination to get out my crappy knock-off Android cell phone and snap a pic.  We did spend a few frigid moments star-gazing.  It's true you can see so much more outside of the bright city lights.  That was just one of the things I learned last weekend on my first ever camping trip as an accompanying adult with the scouts.

I love nature but I have to say I was not very keen on camping and helping (with four other parents) watch a group of 14 scout boys and girls.  Luckily it was not completely roughing it since we pitched our tents on the soccer field of a private high school.  There were bathrooms a short walk from our camping site (but strangely no sinks).  But it was definitely a new experience for me, and, possibly, good blog fodder.  And, no, that's not the only reason I agreed to do it!  Here are a few of my observations during my 28 hours in Scoutville.

1. French kids aren't perfect either.  Phew!  They may be less tantrumy in general, according to some, but I can tell you first-hand that some of the seven and eight-year olds I came in contact with had their moments of whining, pouting and not listening to instructions.  Great, it's not just mine!

2. French parents really do stress less!  I did observe less franticness when some of the accompanying brothers and sisters who were much younger wandered about and did their thing.  I would have been following my kid like a hawk in case she touched a stinging nettle, but I found the other moms and dads would glance over occaisonally and intervene if necessary.  But they didn't hover around their kids like I would at that age. 

3. You cannot sleep outside when it's 33°F.  When I told people I was going camping and that it was supposed to be a cold weekend, they would laugh and tell me, scouts never cancel.  And they didn't.  And there was literally frost on our tents the next morning.  The other parents and I complained we could not get warm at all at night. This was despite wearing my coat to bed. That is certainly something I don't want to relive.  The kids at least had the body heat of the other kids to keep them slightly warmer. 

4. The two-second tents take 15 minutes to refold.  I learned how to pitch the official scout tents.  Well, I watched and helped, but don't ask me to do it on my own.  My personal tent is the kind you open and that pops into place by itself.  Folding it back is another story, and as my husband was working that weekend, it took four men to put it back in place for me.

5. Kids have way more energy than adults.  The older scouts who organized the events had the younger ones participating in assemblies till nearly 10 pm.  After four hours of sports and relays, they did another hour of the French equivalent of dodge-ball.  I was ready for bed at nine, myself.

6. Teenagers are not all bad.  As this weekend included scouts of all ages, I saw how the older ones interacted.  It was refreshing to see teens organizing events and working together, enforcing the fair play spirit (and, by the way, French people use the term "fair play" straight from English) and helping younger kids.  It gave me hope for the future! 

7.  A hot shower heals everything.  I was glad to be back home and become human again with a nice shower and clean clothes.  Oh, and a two-hour nap helps, too. 

So I suppose if they ask me again in the future, I could help out on another camping adventure.  But only if I can bring a portable radiator, just in case it dips below freezing again.  Anyway, that's the scout motto, right?  Toujours prêt- always ready!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I don't like the new normal

airport, airplanes, hanger, terminal, window, beams, lights, man, shadow, black and whiteAllow me to indulge in some stream of consciousness rambling today.  My head has been filled with it since Tuesday when Europe suffered from another cruel and random attack.  This time it was in Brussels on a spring day that started out with promising blue skies.  Last November it was on an exceptionally mild evening when terrace cafés were filling up.  And in 2001 it was another brilliantly blue sky day in September in Manhattan.  There is no rhyme or reason.  There never is.  Just people in the wrong place at the wronng time and other people who are totally misguided and brainwashed.

So running through my mind this time (like the other times) are thoughts like these:

Why do they hate us?  We don't hate them.

When will this end?

Is it safe to travel?  Is it safe to walk outside?

Is that ambulance siren I hear something to be afraid of?

What did those poor people think in the moments after the bombs exploded?

What can we do to stop this?

How can you kill innocent people like this?

And again: why do they hate us?

They were basically the same questions we all asked ourselves in 2001.  Sadly, not much has changed.  Sadly, we aren't that much safer.  And I keep thinking, it's a scary new world.  A brave new world.  But I don't feel that brave.  And I realize this must be a little what people felt like living under occupied France during WWII.  They didn't choose to be "under siege" or to live with the constant threat of danger.  But they had to live with it.  As do we.

And I say to myself, not again.  Not another loss of innocent life, not another gaping black hole in our hearts.  Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Turkey.  They all matter, but somehow when it's a place you know, like Paris and Brussels in my case (we flew out of that airport in July), it hits home.  It's too close for comfort.

And when I see the photos of a few victims, a happy traveler about to embark on a vacation, or a fresh-faced student with his life before him, I say, what a waste.  And why them?  If God is watching all this, why doesn't he do something?  Send us a big message, Thou Shalt Not Kill! and I really mean it this time.

Too many questions and not many answers that can satisfy me or help me sleep soundly at night.

I can only pray for the grieving families and pray that peace comes soon.  And pray that we can go back to normal.  The old normal, please.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Five reasons a sick day is definitely not a waste of time

There's nothing like hearing your child call out at 5 a.m. to jolt you awake.  Even more so when she yells that she has just thrown up.  It sends your day into a tail-swing before it has even begun.  You go into the mom equivalent of auto-pilot mode.  Check that child is clean, get bucket, move child to bathroom, put her hair in a ponytail.  And your mind starts calculating like never before.  When should I text my boss to tell him I can't do the eight hours of lesson that are on my schedule today? Can any of my coworkers take said lessons and when should I text them?  It adds to the stress of having a sick child, though the child should be all that matters.

Such was my Wednesday last week.  And my Thursday, too, because although she seemed to be much better Wednesday evening, the next morning she was ill again.  And my mind raced again, scrambling to rearrange my day.  But after the initial stress of informing the boss and students, I started realizing, this was a bit of a blessing in disguise.  Here's why:

1.  Forced quality and down time.  Moms and dads today know that each day can feel like a race.  Wake up, get kids dressed and fed.  Take them to school then it's off to work or appointments ourselves.  Evenings are packed with homework, bath, dinner prep, and if we can squeeze in some playing and hugging, then we go to sleep happy.  Only to do it again the next day.  We live for the weekends when the pace is quieter, but those times can also be filled with trips to the library and grocery store, scout meetings, birthday parties and just general house cleaning.

So sometimes a sick day can be a gift.  As strange as that may sound, as hard as it is to see your little angel feverish and weak, all of a sudden, you are spending more time with them.

2.  Binge-watching.   Considering my little one was too weak to do much else, the TV was her best friend.  Last week when she was up to it, we watched a few films on Netflix (in addition to all the Littlest Pet Shops she consumed en masse).  The Chronicles of Narnia took us to the snowy forest and Princess Bride brought back memories for me and created some for Juliette.  Ella Enchanted was a fun, modern fairy tale which made us laugh.  And Snow Buddies satisfied Juliette's need for all things animal.

3.  Naps.  Need I say more?!  Like I need an excuse to nap.  Well, the guilty gene I carry does usually make me justify naps by extreme tiredness or illness.  That's just what we did both days she was under the weather.  We napped on the couch together in the afternoon (hey, moms woken at 5 need naps, too).  I can't get enough of watching my little (big) girl sleep.  Even when it is in a sickly state, it's always a marvel to see her dreaming face, to watch her little chest rise and fall rhythmically.  We both woke more refreshed.   

4.  Cuddle time.  Even though my seven-year old is still a rather cuddly child, on a sick day she may be more willing to hold my hand or let me play with her hair.  She needs more comforting so I get to give more comforting, too.  Pragmatic me is always anticipating the teen years when she will push away from my hugs, so I want to get in as many as I can now.

5. Putting off chores.  Since I was caretaking, I didn't feel so bad about not using my unexpected free time to reorganize closets or pantries.  Those thing can wait.  Mom duties called.  Childhood illnesses help put things in perspective and it gives me permission to just chill and be with my girl.  I'll admit I did sweep or put some laundry in the machine but that was about it. 

Thought I wouldn't wish any more sick days on anyone, sometimes they are little nuggets of time given back to us.  Kids grow up so fast, as everyone keeps saying, myself included.  I don't want to blink and miss it. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Things today's kids say that we never did

So old school now!
In an age where toddlers and tweens rack up debt from in-app purchases on their parents' iPads and phones, in an era where they think all screens should be tactile, it's no surprise their language has changed.  They easily master multiple interfaces, just like us, and throw techy words around as easily as they do cartoon superhero names.  They might not have their own Facebook accounts (thank God!), but they know how to "like" a post.  So, herewith a list of some the darndest things today's cuties say.

1. At breakfast (and before "good morning"): Can I watch something on your iPad?

2. Does grandma have Netflix?

3. Can you print me out something to color from the Internet?

4. Can I play on your phone?

5. Can you put this picture on Facebook?

6. Where's the "like a lot" button (on FB)?

7. What, only ten people "like" this photo of me?

8. Can I draw something (from a tutorial) on youtube?

9. Can I delete this photo?

10.  Before bedtime: Can I just play one more game on your phone/iPad?

Despite all the technology at their fingertips, there is still one thing they say that we did, too.  "I'm bored. I don't know what to do!"

Heaven help us when they become full-fledged teens!  What do your techy kids say often?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

'Cause I'm mad as heck and I'm probably not gonna take it anymore

It's hard to be a good girl.  It's hard to be mild-mannered.  The thing is, I don't really feel that I am mild-mannered.  People think I am but the chatter in my head is rather loud and sometimes  snarky or sneaky teases come out without me even thinking about it.  Not really passive-agressive.  Just the real me.

I hate conflict.  I avoid it like I would walk around the dog poop you can find all around my neighborhood (which is another thing that bothers me, too!).  I generally bite my tongue rather than speak up, though I do speak up more than I used to.  But when you stifle all that conflict and anger, it has a way of building up and creeping out and sometimes you just know you're gonna bite the head off the next idiot who treats you unfairly or kindly.

A few cases in point that had me steaming but are now (mostly) behind me:

1. The nosy but silent neighbor.  Three Saturdays ago, just before my mom arrived, I had put an empty cardboard box by my dumpster.  No, I didn't break it down and stuff it obediently in the dumpster for recycling, though often I do.  Upon returning with my mom, her suitcases and my groceries, I found a type-written note in my mailbox.  It said something to the extent of:

Madame, In order to keep our residence clean, please break down the box that you placed at the foot of the bins this morning. 

It was unsigned but printed in red ink from a computer and dated.

The nerve! Someone had spied on me while I put my box out and didn't have the courage to even sign their name.  I was hopping mad and wanted to go investigating  but instead dutifully went out to  break down the box, which, lo and behold, was no longer there.  Maybe someone had use for it and took it?  Maybe the sneaky OCD sender couldn't bear seeing that box one more minute and broke it down herself...

The problem: This is just so small that it doesn't require a computer-printed letter.  I don't know who it is and can't talk to them about their silly actions.  Result: too many conversations in my head telling mystery neighbor off.

2. Holier than thou therapist.  I recently took J to a sort of speech pathologist upon the recommendation of her teacher since J confues her b's and d's while writing and some numbers are backwards.  Said therapist jumped off the handle at my husband for accidentally taking her pen the first time.  Then made a disappointed face when I said we wouldn't be coming while my mom was here.  And basically said I should stop J every time she made a mistake while writing even if it made her "contrary."

The problem: I should have told her right away this wasn't going to work out.  I thought about just trying one more session, but my mom suggested I just tell her we would be doing the therapy at home.  Which I did.  I have a problem with so-called "authority figures" who think they know best.  But I know a thing or two, too.  It is hard to tell people their method just doesn't fit yours, but if no one does, will they ever realize their mistakes?   Result: yet more practice conversations in my mind to tell her we wouldn't be coming back.  Luckily I got her voicemail so just left her a message.  At the end of which I told her to have a nice day.

3. My husband thinks dishes magically put themselves up.  And that wet balled up socks magically clean themselves in the hamper.  To be honest, he has made loads of progress in cleaning up stuff.  Mostly because I have explained how I hate having crap all over the place.  Correction: I can deal with some mess, but there is a limit.  And when he walks out the door half of the time having left his breakfast dishes and crumbs and milk stains on the table, I get a little frustrated.  Or when he makes no move to prepare dinner or even think of something, I get a bit fed up.

The problem: I work, too and need a hand at home.  I'm not his mom and shouldn't have to always ask for help or be the de facto person who cleans up.  Result: sometimes, like last night, I get fed up and leave him and Juliette to fend for themselves while I go to stretching class.  At least I felt relaxed for 45 minutes.  But mostly I just fume and explain for the umpteenth time that I need his help.  And talk to myself in the car on the way to work.

Well, thanks for listening while I got some things off my chest.  I'd love to hear what gets your goat, what bugs you to bits, what makes you hotter than a hornet.  And how do you deal with it?  Because people might start thinking I'm crazy if I keep talking to myself around town.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Six life lessons from Mr. Rogers

The other day the "ending" song of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood popped into my head.  It must be because Juliette watches a cartoon made by PBS which uses the same melody (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood).  And even after all these years, the lines seemed to come back to me so clearly (give or take a few words).  

It's such a good feeling
To know you're alive.
It's such a happy feeling:
You're growing inside.
And when you wake up ready to say,
"I think I'll make a snappy new day."
It's such a good feeling,
A very good feeling,
The feeling you know
You're alive.


And I realized that even at nearly 42 years old, these words ring very true and are frankly a good mantra.  It seems I am not the only one out there who is inspired by old Fred either.  Other bloggers have been inspired by him, too.

Say what you will about his obsession with cardigans and the 70s home decorations, Mr. Rogers was ahead of his time.  And he had a lot to teach us.

1.     We really are lucky to be alive.  These are the first lines of the song above and excellent ones to remember at any age.  We need only watch the nightly news to realize we are the lucky ones today.  We’ve got a roof over our heads (even if it is a rental), we’re healthy and absolutely spoiled compared to most of the world’s population.  How revolutionary that this simple message of counting your blessings was being sent out to young children by his show.  

2.     Keep work and home separate.  You know how he always took off his work jacket for one of his cardigans?  Then he took off his street shoes for his Keds.  By these simple acts, Mr. Rogers is shedding his work persona and getting cozy at home.  Today it’s increasingly difficult to keep work out of our home lives, with emails and texts which can arrive or be answered at any hour.  We should take a page from Fred’s book on this one.  Plus, cardigans ARE cool.

3.     Your imagination is vital.  I loved when Mr. Rogers went to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to make the voices for King Friday and Henrietta Pussycat.  How cool was that to have a trolley in your living room that went to an imaginary world!  He reminded kids how essential imaginary play is.  I still value imaginary play today, with my daughter, and sometimes I use visualization exercises to calm myself as I go to sleep or get out of a funk.  By this focus on the imaginary, he was also encouraging creativity.  In our world of ready-made apps and games for kids, let us not forget a healthy dose of imagination.

4.    Talking about your feelings is key.  In some versions of the ending song, Mr. Rogers says something to the extent of “you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about/I will, too.”  But he also says we can choose to share our feelings, or not.  It’s still an important message today for us all.  Talking it out, sharing our emotions is the only way to hash things out.  He also reminds us simply that it’s ok to have feelings, that those feelings are our own.  

5.     Neighbors and friends make the world a better place. In the beginning theme song he says “it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” and “won’t you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?”  We need neighbors and friends like we need oxygen.  Without our circle of people and connections, we’d be lonely and down.  People with more friends and social contacts live longer, too.  Communication and sharing experiences helps kids and adults build a fuller life.  I know friend time sure helps me get through those tough moments.

6.     It’s in our hands to make it a “snappy new day”.  I like this idea of a snappy new day.  It sounds optimistic and fun.  It also sounds like I can snap out of a bad mood and it’s my choice.  That is a powerful message for anyone.  It’s about waking up with hope that today will be a good day and that we are the authors of our days.  

So as the winter doldrums set in, let’s make tomorrow a snappy one and hold friends and neighbors close to our hearts!  And don’t forget your cardigan.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why we cry when good rockers die

I will never forget hearing the opening chords to David Bowie’s  Little China Girl in front of a sidewalk café in my French town.  The twangy chords stopped me in my tracks.  A cover band was doing a damn good job on it, as they did on other 80s songs they played that night as well.  
It was 2008 and I was eight months pregnant and my friends Caro and Karine had invited me out for the annual fête de la musique, always held the first night of summer.  Remi was at a wedding that my very pregnant self didn’t want to attend.  So in the warm summer evening, my girlfriends and I walked the town and sampled the various concerts , but I wanted to stay on that street corner and dance all night.

It’s just one of many times David Bowie was part of my existence.  In the background or just to dance to.  

I didn’t cry when I heard David Bowie died.  But I was sad.  I was driving to work listening to the classic rock music station when I heard the news and I just felt bummed out.  The rest of the day I felt a little blue.  

I wasn’t the only one.  Facebook was covered with posts honoring his musical genius.  My mom wrote me an email titled “And then David Bowie died” as it was already a somewhat exasperating week for her.  I wouldn’t call it a full-blown depression but it was a blow to me and many others.

It might seem silly to “mourn” for rockers and celebrities I’ve never met.  But when we’ve heard their voices in our ears since our childhood, when their melodies have accompanied our parties and outdoor concerts, they are a part of us.  They write the soundtracks to our lives.  They make us dance, and they make us dream with their lyrics and videos.  

And somehow we feel they should always be with us.  After all, David Bowie’s songs were with me all my life.  And when these mythical rockers pass on, I am reminded of my own mortality.  If they can die, then we know we will too, one day.  These people may have seemed larger than life, but something as ugly and base as cancer can bring them down, too.  

The first rocker I remember dying was John Lennon.  I was just six but I remember the news reports.  I had been brought up on Beatles music by my parents.  I knew who he was.  The fact that he was gunned down so brutally made an impression on my young mind.  

Then there was Marvin Gaye when I was ten.  I knew his songs, and though I’m sure I didn’t get all the innuendo in Sexual Healing, I liked his music.  Again, I remember the tragic aspect, being killed by his father, and then the tribute songs after like Nightshift and What’s Going On.

Of course, it’s not just rockers passing on who affect me.  There was River Phoenix’s all-too early departure that rocked my mom and sister and me especially.  Still hard to believe someone so young left us tragically.

As a sophomore in college, I remember Kurt Cobain’s suicide and how it cast a strange atmosphere over my college campus.  I wasn’t a huge fan but I can still recall going to English lit class the day after and thinking about it.

More recently there was Heath Ledger’s death.  I was pregnant with Juliette and remember thinking it was such a shame that we wouldn’t be seeing his youthful, impish face in any new movies.  

George Harrison- another one felled by cancer.  Amy Winehouse- victim of her addiction.  Michael Jackson- dead in his wonderland from his overmedicated way of life.  Cory Montheith from Glee- overdose. 

And just last week, Alan Rickman, the soulful voice of the mild and constant suitor in Sense and Sensibility.  And now Glenn Frey from the Eagles.  

I just can’t take any more good guys leaving us.  After Remi’s grandad, a few French celebrities, and even one of my neighbors, January is turning out to be rather glum.  

But life goes on.  The music goes on.  Just this evening I heard Bowie’s Life on Mars as I drove home.  Hearing his voice again, it almost sent a chill through me.  His voice will always be with us.  It’s called his legacy, and as we keep on trudging along in our lives, there will be music and films to buoy us.  As another of my all-time favorite rockers, Neil Finn says, “a host of every day distractions/most of all it’s music taking me.” May there always be sweet music to lift me up.