Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bonne Année

Ok, so when I said Tuesday, I actually meant next Tuesday. Happy Birthday Zeb and Happy New Year everyone...

Sunday, December 24, 2006


I'll be back to regular blogging on Tuesday. Until then - Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. And I don't mean that in a smart-assy pc kind of way. I just mean it. Enjoy the friends and family and food and gifts and candle-lit church services and starry nights and caramel pecan rolls and whatever else this weekend will hold for you. Friends and family: You may or may not have been sent or received a card. In any case, I have sent you my love.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


I made my first fondue this weekend.

A friend from college, Alecia, and I used to go out for fondue at a restaurant in Wilmington about once a month. I have great memories of those fondue nights, both of the fondues which varied from classic to original, and of Alecia.

My mother-in-law makes fondue bourgignon sometimes. Which is very hot grape seed oil in the fondue pot and choice cubes of uncooked beef to dip and fry. Served with a variety of sauces. Very good.

Anyway, I got a fondue pot for my birthday. So I made a regular cheese fondue - 300 grams of comté, 300 grams of emmenthal, and 300 grams of beaufort. A half a bottle of a vin blanc from Savoie. But the bread was key. The baker's wife looked surprised at my choices, I think she must be more of a traditionalist when it comes to appropriate breads for fondue. My choices included olive bread, chorizo bread, bacon and hazelnut flute, and smoked salmon flute. We also dipped cubes of garlic sausage and saucisson sec. Amazing.

But the most wonderful part of the whole meal? Well, it was shared with Zeb's (my oldest brother) wife and daughter, D and C, who came for a surprise visit to cheer us up. Everyday Boy2 says, "You stay here, right?" While Boy1 declared the visit made him very happy, he could not help adding that it would be much better if they could stay through Christmas. He had no thoughts for my brother and nephew who would then have to spend Christmas without wife/mother and sister.

An excellent meal, all the way around.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fire or smoke?

This is a magical time of year for me. The season of my birthday, the season for taking stock and deciding what I'll bring down to the cellar that is my winter. Actually, fall and winter are my favorite seasons. The days are short, the nights are cold, twilight is heavyhanded and magic is in the air. At least it is for me. I know there are those of you who feel it in the spring and summer, seasons I can only survive, at best.

A long time ago, I had an alchemist's dream. I was very young, I didn't even know what an alchemist was at the time. But it was a very striking dream and I've always treasured it. I didn't analyse it, why bother. But I did wonder about it.

And then there's the whole princess thing. I'm not claiming any past life experience, this life is certainly enough, but there are some medieval themes floating around. Oh, like that street I was on this summer in Concarneau. Anyway.

Magical does not necessarily mean easy. On the contrary, I'd even say. Dragons abound. Speaking of, I'd like to know, what's in the belly of your dragon?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Shadow siblings

I have two shadow sisters, Meghan and Tanya. I'm not sure why I call them that, although I'm sure that's what they are. And I don't remember where I first heard that phrase. Maybe from Mary Kleyweg, the still-famous disappered therapist. Regardless.

I don't see them very often, in real life. The last time I saw Tanya was in 1994 or 95 in San Francisco. We just had time for dinner and heavy conversation. The last time I saw Meg was in 1999, on my last (sniff, sniff, weep, weep) trip to Seattle. I stayed with her for a few nights and when I left she gave me her buckwheat pillow. Which has since been vomitted on by Boy1, rendering it unusable. But I'll never forget my first bucky or the person who gave it to me.

Anyway, despite the distance and poor email habits (mine), I still feel close to them. Because every once in a while, they visit me in my dreams and tell me something really important. Which is why I call them shadow sisters. Last night Meg showed up and, after listening to me bitch for a long time, she hugged me and said, "Nicole, stop complaining and get it together." I can't think of a more important message.

So here's my question - who's your shadow sibling?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It must be genetic

The first time it happened I thought it was a fluke. How could I not? I was 17, in France for the first time. I was staying with a family. They had friends over who had a twelve year old boy. It was late, I took a bath before going bed. As I stood up to get out of the bathtub, the twelve year old opened the door. He didn't look shocked or even curious. He sighed, I kid you not, and said, "Ah, quelle beauté." I had no particular illusions about his judgement, I think he would've said the same about anyone with breasts and pubic hair. But his statement did surprise me. What aplomb! What nonchalance. At 12, sex and beauty and love (because, of course, the next day he swore he would love me forever) were already high on his list of priorities.

I've seen it over and over again. These guys just come up with this stuff naturally. Half of it, mind you, would be classified as harassement or sexism or political incorrectness in the US, but that's a whole other issue. I personally believe that political correctness has done much more harm than good. But anyway. At work this morning a student made a comment to me, which I'm not even going to post because it doesn't matter and some of you would be shocked and really, that's not the point. The point is, he made it in the most natural and inoffensive way.

I'm friends with French women and men. I swear they don't teach it to their boys. Which leads me to believe it's just a French genetic thing. Which I realize, as a theory, would not hold up under any scientific scrutiny. But it is what it is. The ability to see sex and beauty everywhere. Maybe it's the naked woman on the yogurt commercials, I don't know.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Hope reborn

I'm married to a smoker. Those who knew me pre-Husband might find this unbelievable. Believe me, I even find it unbelievable sometimes.

In the beginning, I wasn't thinking about the rest of my life. And then when I was thinking about the rest of my life, I certainly wasn't thinking he would be smoking for the rest of my life. And then came the milestones that I hoped would motivate him. We got married. I got pregnant with Boy1. Boy1 was born. Boy1 turned one. Husband turned 30. Boy1 turned two. I got pregnant with Boy2. Boy2 was born and turned one and then two. Husband turned 35. Boys are now 6 and 3, Husband will be 36 in January and still nothing.

My attitude over the years has gone from indulgent to compassionate to frustrated to pissed off. Seriously, I CANNOT believe he still smokes. That said, I don't nag or plead or even talk about it very much other than to say, "I cannot believe you still smoke."

He doesn't smoke in the house. He's on the terrace to smoke, even in the rain. I have no sympathy. He gets colds and they last for weeks on end. I have no sympathy. Some residual compassion, perhaps, because I know it totally sucks to have to quit.

Up until this weekend, I had no sympathy and basically, no hope. He tried to stop once, a few years ago, and totally ruined our vacation. He hates the fact that he smokes, he feels totally enslaved to cigarettes, and, most importantly, powerless to change. Anyway, this weekend, I was reading an article in the newspaper about new medications and mentioned that there would be a new anti-tabacco drug on the market here in January. He snatched, literally, that newspaper right out of my hands. I now have hope.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Forgotten or unknown

I bought a beautiful calendar for my goddaughter for Christmas. It's the kind of calendar I would've loved at her age (7), or even now.

It's called Princesses oubliées ou inconnues. Princesses forgotten or unknown. The illustrations are taken from a book of the same title that I would've bought for her but it's only in French and I didn't want her to feel frustrated (she's American and monolingual for the time being).

Anyway, the illustrations are amazing and the names are incredible. There's the Quarter Moon Princess, the Jungle Princess, the Sand Princess, the Night Princess, and many others. And looking at the calendar I started thinking about my own princess status. It's been a long-running joke between my eldest brother and me. He's called me princess for a long time, but in a tone that says that princess and brat are interchangeable. But what I really believe is that he saw what had long been lost and forgotten.

Which Princess are you?

I'm the Moss Rose Princess.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The weight of believing

Husband and I rented a dvd one evening last week. The movie was sort of whatever and left me feeling about the same way that the book had. But that's not the point. The point is that at one point during the film there was a preacher man preaching and praying at a gathering that was not church-like in any way. Or even religious in any way. Husband looked at me and said, "It must be hard to believe in God in the United States. It must be..." And he paused because he couldn't find exactly the right word. Which I then provided. "Heavy." "Yes, exactly, heavy."

It was strange. I sort of said it without thinking about it, it just kind of popped out. But it felt very true as it popped.

In France you get a sort of feeling about religiousness which is different, of course, from believing, but let's pretend it's not for a minute. The whole religious and even believing thing here seems more pragmatic at the very least and certainly more private. Aside from maybe going to Mass, there's just no ostentatiousness to it in a way that is comparable to the US.

At home, religiousness, at least the religiousness I was exposed to (and BELIEVE ME it was A LOT -I nearly choked several times and it almost cured me of ever believing anything, let alone Believing), was not pragmatic in the least. On the contrary, the harder and more ridiculous it made everyday life, the better. It could be a Protestant thing, the Catholics I know here (which is basically everyone) and at home (about half) seem to live comfortably with their religion, although that could be because I was raised in a Protestant faith and the grass is always greener. Although there is the whole Catholic guilt thing everyone talks about, which you tend to hear a lot at home and almost never here. If you're a Protestant and feel offended by my remarks, sorry, no offense meant. Just telling it like it seemed to be. Ditto for the Catholics. Love you all regardless.

I suppose some would say heavy is good. Faith shouldn't be easy, religion shouldn't be light. Serious stuff - eternity and hell and all that. But shouldn't believing in your god make you feel better, not worse? Open your mind to the world, not close it? Make you feel compassion for more people, not fewer? And shouldn't the weight of it all be determined by the believer, not the dictators of religiousness?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Scamming already (at 3)

You pretty much know going into parenthood that you'll have shortcomings and failures. Sometimes they are expected and even predictable and other times they take you by suprise. This afternoon after school and after snack and after homework, Boy1 decided to write his grandmother a Christmas card. He's very upset about the fact that she won't be with us in France this year, for the first time ever (for him). Anyway, he set up his work area with all the necessary equipment. He came back into the family room where I was playing slapjack with Boy2. He asked me to write the letter while he dictated what he wanted to say. I had to do this because he doesn't know how to read or write in English yet - he's just learning how to do both this year in French. So, I wrote, or printed actually because my handwriting is not very textbook anymore, the letter. I told him he could write it in cursive himself. He went back to work and I went back to slapping jacks.

A couple of minutes later, he comes back in, agitated, borderline upset. Why is I capitalized if there is a comma after Grandma? I told him it's because it's after the opening address of the letter. He went away again.

He came back seconds later, tears in his eyes, is this an I like an L or an i but big? And of course all of this was in English but with French letter pronunciation. It was a conversation doomed from the start. I left my HEAPING pile of cards and went to see (literally) what the problem was.

It's an I, then why is it big? Because it's always big in English. So write it in French. But the letter's in English. Then write it with French letters (which are of course the same but at this point he's talking about style). I CAN'T.

Why not? Boy1 asks this question with true desperation in his voice. When I explain to him that we learn a somewhat different style of cursive in the US, the tears fall. His final line, "Then I guess you just can't help me."

When I got back to the family room and slapjack, I had like 6 cards in my pile. I looked at Boy2. He shrugged and said, "What, Mama? I don't know."

Friday, December 01, 2006

How's that for appropriate?

I've always had a flair for embarassing myself or others. Saying the wrong thing in front of the wrong people - that kind of thing.

Like the time when I used a really and I mean REALLY bad word in French at a dinner party with in-laws and soon-to-be in-law's of in-laws. One of the guests asked me if I had started looking for my wedding dress and when I said yes, wanted to know what styles I was thinking of. I jokingly replied something with a plunging neckline and miniskirt length. The word I used to say very very very short (for those of you who speak French, I said ras-la-...) is an extremely vulgar word. But I had never seen it written and didn't know it could be broken down into nasty parts. Anyway. Total silence at the table. Then Husband (Fiancé at that point) said, "Sometimes Nicole learns words without really learning what they mean." Everyone then started laughing and it was fine but still.

Last weekend when Husband's parents were here we all watched a film together on saturday night after the boys were in bed. For some reason (related to the film I think) we started talking about stupid bets. And before I think about, I'm telling them about the time in college (I was only 17 so give me a break) when, on a bet, I opened the door for a delivery guy topless. Completely topless. After I finish telling the story I look over at Husband who is looking at me with a look that said, all at once, wish I had been there, you crack me up, and why on earth would you tell that story in front of my parents you goof.

Here's hoping the next 20 years will be as interesting as the last 20.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Several things

Today is quite possibly one of the most beautiful days ever. It's cold, a couple of degrees beyond brisk, and foggy, but not too much - my absolute favorite kind of day. I'm hoping it will be like this tomorrow too since it's my birthday tomorrow and I'd like the world to comply with my grand plans.

And don't go wishing me a happy birthday and all that. I'm entering into my late 30's tomorrow, which feels kind of funky. Like I need more funk this fall.

The crows that stand on my face each night while I'm sleeping to leave their prints have started to invite friends and really, I think that's just rude.

Boy1 has told me he's had it with school. It's "interesting and all that" but he's tired of it. Shall I tell him he has at least 11 years left?

Boy2 gets miffed if we call him anything but Spiderman.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What's up with that?

I left the United States 9 years ago. That's a long time in some ways and a very short time in others. Regardless. In that time, some things have changed for the better and some for the worse. Television has gotten both better and worse, and I know you know exactly what I mean. The country has had to live through what will some day be referred to as the Very Bad W Bush Years. (You're free to disagree with me but I don't want to hear about it. I've very closed-minded that way.) You can get a soy mocha at just about any coffee shop, even in a small city in the midwest. No comments about the midwest, please, I'm from there. But feel free to comment about soy milk if you feel like it. I'm very open-minded that way.

Anyway, telephone lines have clearly taken a turn for the worse. I have 3 friends, and you know who you are, who have the most evil phone system ever. I suppose it's great for you to be able to filter out the riff-raff, the telemarketers, the scammers, the stalkers and the prank callers. But take it from me, being on the other end of it totally bites.

I called one of you last week. The evil phone voice told me I was not recognized by the system. Then EPV told me I needed to enter a code, but you can't do that from overseas. Then EPV told me to press 2 if I wanted to try to get through the acceptance process anyway. I said my name after the beep. EPV announced my name several times. But I was not accepted. You, my friend, were not home. But instead of letting me leave a message like any other CIVILIZED phone voice, EPV told me to get lost. She used more polite words than those, but the message conveyed was definitely get lost. Of course, I was charged international phone rates for this abuse and I didn't even get to leave a message. You didn't even know I called and was thinking about you.

Progress, schmogress.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Here we go again

Boy1 started speaking early in both languages. At about 3, he spoke both languages very well. And we were totally surprised when he started to stutter, about 2 months after Boy2 was born. At the time we consulted our parenting books, most of which said that many children have a stammering phase between 3 and 4 and that it usually passes. So we waited. It got worse, much worse, and then, slowly went away. Mostly. I have an aquaintance who is a speech therapist (she's bilingual and her expertise is stuttering) and after spending an afternoon at the park with us, she recommended that we take him to see a speech therapist. Which we did. He confirmed a stutter (though light) and they have spent 30 minutes together weekly for the past year. Boy1's stutter is long gone, and more recently they've been working on some pronunciation issues, which have also been resolved. His last session was last week.

From my aquaintance I have learned a few things about stuttering. One of which is that it is much more common amongst bilingual children than their monolingual coutnerparts. They don't really know why, but most assume that the constant switching from one language to the next along with the already established linguistic and cognitive stages of childhood development are the perfect cocktail for developing a stutter.

Two weeks ago, just one week before Boy1 finished his sessions, Boy2 started to stammer. Usually on the first word of a sentence, or at least the first word of a new idea. When I went to pick Boy1 up from his session last week, I mentioned it to Mr. B. He smiled and said, great timing, I'll keep the slot open, although you never know, it may go away on it's own, it's not a real stutter at this point. Wait and see.

Where have I heard that before?

Monday, November 27, 2006

How's that for funny?

Gas caps. I've never really given them much thought. I don't believe I've ever lost one, or at least not in the past 10 years. My car (a Fiat) has a cap that can only be removed and replaced with the car key so you can't really lose it. Husband's car (a Ford - I know, I know) has a cap that's attached by a squiggly cord so you can't really lose his either. Who knew that we actually needed to progress beyond that?

Because apparently, we do. I have a client who works for a company that is developing a gas tank that doesn't have a cap. He's a very nice guy, the classes are enjoyable, and as a bonus, I'm learning all kinds of useless (for me) technical automotive jargon.

I've also learned that the particular capless system my client has developed is not exploitable in the US. Why, one might ask. Well, the country that pollutes more than any other country on the planet has stricter permeation standards than Europe. Kind of funny, don't you think? So, the permeation thing, from what I gather, is about the allowable amount of toxicity that can permeate the material of the capless system. We talked about the ridiculousness of such a situation and then we laughed, because, really, what else can you do?

Which is not to say that I think it's a bad thing to have strict permeation standards. Au contraire, I think we should all be very strict about toxic permeation levels, in all areas of life.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It's all about me

Every year, or at least every year since 1996 or something like that, the city of Laval decorates the city center and all streets leading to it for Christmas. I mean REALLY decorates.

You know that crazy neighbor you have who puts up as many lights as his/her house can hold? Or maybe you are that crazy neighbor. Anyway, that's what Laval is like. It's positively laden with Christmas lights.

They choose a theme each year, and the main bridge downtown is the peak of light-ladening frenzy. They actually have to start putting the lights up in September because there are so many of them. They don't turn them on until the last weekend of November or first weekend of December, depending on the calendar. Since my birthday is December 1st, I usually tell the boys they're lighting them to help us celebrate my birthday. I think Boy1 no longer believes my lies.

They'll be turning them on this weekend, saturday night at about 8:00, with fireworks. The theme this year is Monsieur Ubu, who I do not know. He's some famous character of some famous Laval-born writer, Alfred Jarry, or something along those lines. Anyway, if you get a chance, I think the city of Laval website has video and pictures of my birthday party the light lighting celebration.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ah, l'aide juridictionnelle

Husband is currently on strike. Not as we speak. But on thursday he and many other lawyers will refuse to participate in trials. They've been doing this every thursday for the past month and will continue to do so until the system of aide juridictionelle is revised.

Aide juridictionnelle is governmental financial aid for people with limited revenue who need legal help. Of any sort. Well, maybe not the frivolous sort, which is not very popular here, but all the other sorts.

Legal fees are all lawyers earn here. There's no getting 33% of damages or anything like that. And the problem with the legal aid is that the fees are ridiculously low. A typical case of wrongful termination might take 15 hours of work (which includes everything, including trial time) and the legal aid pay scale estimates that all wrongufl termination cases takes 3. So the lawyer is paid €150 (50 an hour). Which is not to say that the lawyers want to determine it themselves, which could obviously lead to scams. They just want the hourly rate to be increased.

The reasoning behind the system is that everyone should have access to legal council, and not just if they're accused of something. Wrongful termination, workman's comp, property disputes, they can receive aid for that too. The aid is to help pay for the legal fees involved in something like that. Can you imagine? They government actually GIVES people money to sue someone. Incredible.

Friday, November 17, 2006

In today's news

I had an appointment in a village about 20 miles from Laval, in the middle of the mayennais countryside. It was a perfect day for it - it's chilly, the sun's in and out of the clouds, the leaves are colorful. And I saw a heron standing in a field. He winked at me.

In other news, Ségolène Royal has won the Socialist Party Primary. Which is very interesting. She's got some very atypical things to say about typical PS topics. For someone on the left, she's pretty rightesque about things like the (catastrophic) 35-hour work week, for example. Right and left are different here, much less about 'moral' issues (like abortion) and much more about economic and social ones. Thankfully, they leave religion and other muddy waters out of the already very muddy arena of politics.

And finally, last night I made a loaf of ciambella with raisins and lemon zest. I had a big slice this morning with coffee for breakfast. Best breakfast I've had in a long time.

Lorraine has requested the ciambella recipe. This is loosely taken from one of Marcella Hazan's cookbooks.

8 tablespoons butter melted
4 cups spelt flour (or you can use regular but honestly the spelt gives it a little extra something)
1/2 cup brown sugar (although white sugar is ok if you don't have any brown)
2 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
a big pinch of salt
Zest of at least one lemon
1/4 cup rice milk (you can use any kind of milk you want)
lots of raisins
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375°. Butter and flour a baking sheet (unless it's non-stick)

Put flour in a large bowl. Add sugar, butter, cream of tartar, soda, salt, lemon zest, raisins and milk. Mix. Add 1 whole egg and the white of the second. Reserve some of the yolk of the second egg for an egg wash and add the rest to the dough. Mix well.

Put onto work surface and knead for a few minutes.

Shape dough into a large sausage roll about 2 inches thick, and make it into a ring. Pinch the ends together to close. Brush with the reserved yolk mixed with a little water and score a few times with a knife.

Bake for 35 minutes. Once cooled, wrap in foil or store in a tin cookie box, but do not refrigerate. It tastes even better the next day.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tante Nicole

I've always liked my name. I've never wanted to change it or have it shortened into a nickname. I've never answered to Nicki but I was called Nic a lot during undergrad, mostly by the people I worked with in a restaurant. I wrote Nic on my tickets because it was faster than writing Nicole and it stuck. No one here calls me Nic - it sounds just like nique which is a bad word for a loving act.

Anyway, Nicole is a French name. But I'm the only Nicole in my age group here, or anything even near my age group. Everyone has a tante Nicole, and they're usually around 60 years old. Sometimes people look surprised when they hear my name, it's like meeting a 30 year old in the US whose name is Hilda or something like that. It's just a little odd.

I bring all this up because I've been watching the 5th and final season of Alias. Although I'm only half-heartedly watching in because it's in French and I'm so not into Alias in French. I'm thinking Husband should get me Season 5 for Christmas and maybe Seasons 1 and 2 of Grey's Anatomy too. Anyway, no snide comments about Alias please. I've always loved tv shows where pretty women kick ass, ever since I was little. Wonder Woman, Charlie's Angels, Buffy, Alias. So, on the last season of Alias there is a French woman, a young French woman whose name (in the show) is Renée. The possibility of finding a 28 year old French woman named Renée is absolutely nil. Elodie (her real name), Céline, Sandrine, Chyrstelle, Aurélie - those are the names of young French women today. The French names we think of (Michelle, Renée, Colette, etc) are actually the names that were popular among French immigrants in the US and are quite common among the 60 - 65 year old set.

Names apparently ride waves of popularity. Am I ahead of my time or behind it?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Even though you can't see me, believe me, I'm scowling.

I'm in a foul, black, evil mood. It started on Monday and I'm not sure what it's all about and honestly, I don't want to talk about it , spewing negativity is just not my thing. You'd do best to just carry on.

Anyway, Lorraine (Here's the thing over on the links list) is coming to France in 2008. And that's just about the coolest thing ever. I love visits. Maybe that's part of the problem. I need more visits.

Sometimes living in a foreign country is the most freeing thing ever. And other times it's like a lead blanket. It's a lead blanket week.

On top of everything, Charlie (Highland Dreams, also over on your right) is visiting my mother's home state of North Carolina this week. And he's writing all about his travels (he lives on a strange island somewhere most of the time) and reading it is making me miss home even more. Even the bad stuff. And the silly stuff. And the inexplicably American stuff.

I haven't been home in nearly 4 years and I think that's just too long.

I wouldn't move back - it's not that. I guess you just have to go home sometimes to resourcify your roots. So I suppose that's it. My roots are feeling groundless and sourceless this week. Time for a touch-up.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Like a virgin

One of my current employers has asked me to provide a document from the Casier Judiciaire HQ in Nantes certifying the virgin status of my judiciary file (un casier judiciaire vièrge). Written proof I'm a judiciary virgin, or at least, virtuous in the eyes of Justice.

Because apparently, without said document, I'm unfit to teach in a private establishment, according to the public inspector's rules (government inspector of private institutions). Never mind that I've been teaching on and off for 10 years in public establishments and have never had to prove my judiciary virginity. Apparently you don't have to be virtuous when you work for the government. Who would've thought.

I should receive the document next week. I feel like a better teacher already.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What's your soul state today?

Mine's unsettled right now but transitioning into something better. It'll be a good state to live in by the end of the week. (I can think of some other states that will be better for living now too. Nice elections.)

Ah, l'état d'âme.

Different from a state of mind or an emotional state, the state of the soul is certainly not given enough press in English. Maybe we pretend that souls don't have states, they just are what they are. Or maybe we don't talk about it specifically because we don't have special words for it. Like l'état d'âme.

Quite honestly, I don't like much the way we use those words in French. They're usually used negatively to describe someone's capriciousness and/or egocentricity and rarely to mean what they really do mean. For example, "I don't have time for his états d'âme." Of course, I use it literally and never negatively because I just think it's such a perfect expression.

So back to my question. What's your soul state today?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Yeah right.

In a couple of weeks, I have to teach part of an intensive English training week for a business woman finance person. She's also the mother of a boy in Boy1's first grade class. She's very nice and smart and successful and all that. She needs to improve her English quickly and there are 3 of us who will be helping her accomplish that over a period of 5 days, 9 hours a day. I'm only doing a little bit. But the bit I'm doing, I learned yesterday, has a troubling title.

Module Interculturel.

Because, let's face it, the longer I live here, the more I'm convinced that there is really no science to intercultural communication. The best you can do is go for damage control.

There are loads of books out there, and I've read many of them, that can explain and give reasons and background and whatever else. But the fact is, when you're trying to feel understood, none of any of that really helps, it just makes you feel better afterwards.

So what on earth am I going to teach this woman for 8 hours about intercultural communication? Here's my course outline.

1. Don't stand too close to Americans, we need more personal space than most French people when talking face to face.

2. Don't interupt Americans. It's considered rude and it is interpreted as a sign that you are not interested in what we have to say.

3. Expect long answers. The French often ask questions symbolically - to show interest in maintaining the flow of conversation, and, therefore, don't expect long answers. Americans, on the other hand, ask questions to get the entire answer, and therefore, answer accordingly.

Of course, these are generalizations and are probably not true for half the people I know. Which means that they may not always be useful suggestions or even accurate.

So, there are the first 3 minutes of the course. Wow, I am SO worth my salary.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Whose hick are you?

Cars in France are registered within the département where the owner of the vehicle resides. Each department has it's own 2 digit number, which is used for administrative purposes, including license plates and postal codes. The code for la Mayenne, the department I live in, is 53. All 5 digit postal codes within the department begin with 53. Laval, being the préfecture of the department is 53000, for example. On license plates, the last two digits are the department code. Although this may not last - a Europe thing.

Anyway, this weekend I was in Nantes with the kids. I left early friday after my 8:30 class. The boys and I stayed with Husband's parents and had a lovely weekend. I neither cooked nor cleaned, my idea of a very lovely weekend. I drank much coffee in my favorite cafés in Nantes, Les Flesselles and La Petite Epicerie.

While driving around in extremely hazardous downtown Nantes (so much road construction going on and rerouting of traffic it was dizzying), I noticed that the 44 (the Loire-Atlantique - Nantes' department) cars were giving me a lot of space. Strange.

Husband and I discussed. It's a hick thing. Everyone knows that people from Mayenne are hicks. And of course, drive badly. Oh, like the Mayennais think of the Sartois? I asked. (La Sarthe - an agricultural department to the east of la Mayenne). Yes. And it would appear that there is even a hick pecking order.

For the 44's, the real hicks are the 49 (Maine et Loire - the department of Angers).
For the 49's the real hicks are the 53's (Mayenne)
For the 53's the real hicks are the 72's (Sarthe).
Of course, for a Parisien, a 44 is a real hick.

Everyone is someone's hick. Husband thinks that Parisiens must be Londoner's hicks and Londoners, New York's. But we're not sure.

So back to my question, whose hick are you?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Ah, les pauvres

Legal Alien (Gladly Suffering Fools over on the link list, which I swear I'm going to update very soon because I read some great blogs that aren't up there) made a comment a couple of days ago in reference to my remark about the very well known and throughly documented French language learning deficiency gene.

Ask nearly any French person if they speak a foreign language and you get a repsonse along the lines of "Well, I've studied English for 8 (or 9 or 10!) years but you know the French suck at foreign languages."

And actually, to be fair, most of them don't have a level of ease in English that should correspond to the number of hours spent in English class, but it's not their fault. Until university, languages are not taught to be spoken. Seriously. Communication is not the goal. Writing, translation, and lofty literary texts have been the cornerstones of language pedagogy here for years. Centuries, even. Although recent times has seen a serious wateringing down of the lofty thing. I believe a waste of paper book by Mary Higgins Clark was actually on last year's required reading list.

Those who go to university get a slightly more practical version of English, depending on what their main course of study is. And people who go into fields where English is necessary (especially those who study in specialized universities or private colleges) finally get language classes like they should be, more or less.

Then everyone enters the work world and some of that everyone need English to work. Those who got some good instruction after high school get by. And those who didn't, well, they sign up for private lessons at the Chamber of Commerce or a private language school and start all over again, all the time thinking the reason they don't speak it well is because they suck. Poor things.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

La Toussaint

It's All Saints' Day today. Nearly everything is closed, although I did manage to find an open café. Along the river there are flower merchants selling chrysanthemums and heather to people planning on visiting the cemetary. I'm not sure why it must be those flowers we put on gravesites - maybe they're the only ones that will last in November weather.

On a recent visit to Husband's sister's grave, I saw a strange notice on the tombstone nearby. It said that as the plot fees hadn't been renewed, the family had a certain amount of time to contact the administration before 'action' would be taken.

I asked Husband what kind of action could possibly be taken.

I shouldn't have asked.

Apparently, graveyard space is tight. It's small country, for years everyone was against cremation, there are graves dating back centuries, people keep dying, etc. Before, you could buy a plot forever. Now you lease one, for blocks of time, for minimal fees. 25 years, 40 years, 50 years... After which, you renew, or someone in the family does. If no one renews, despite efforts to contact said family by mail, phone, and the notice on the tombstone, eventually (like 2 years later), the grave is DUG UP, the tombstone is TAKEN AWAY, and the remains are DEPOSITED into a MASS GRAVE for those who have been forgotten.

I suppose I'm being melodramatic, as usual, but that just seems awful.

Friends and family, take note, please have my remains incinerated and throw the ashes into the Atlantic, so no 'action' will ever have to be taken and so I can always be in between my two homes.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I take it all back

I've spent the past week being grumpy about my BTS students. Anyone who asks me about my students gets variations on the theme of not that great. They seem passive to me, unwilling to take responsibility for what they need to learn and what is necessary to progress. They complain about the homework (too much and too hard), they complain about the work we do in class (ditto), and they complain about the supposed French genetic language learning deficiency (yeah right), which all translates into the ever-irritating oh-poor-us syndrome.

Imagine my surprise when, after a cruel listening comprehension exercise, one of the students said, "Hey, I did ok on that. I've learned more English in three weeks with you than I did during my four years in high school." Banished all my grump.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Party #2 and surprising myself

Yesteday was Boy1's family birthday party. Husband's parents, sister and brother-in-law (with their 3 kids), and Husband's cousin V and her husband A (and their two boys, the oldest is my godson) came for the day. Boy1 got a magnetic dart board, a small pinball machine, and a small pool table. His room looks like a pub for short people.

I cooked a lot. And while planning the menu it seemed simple and saturday I worked in the kitchen preparing things that could be done in advance. So how it is that my poor mother-in-law slaved by my side all sunday morning, I cannot say.

-bagna caôda (hot olive oil with anchovies and garlic) with crudités and country baguette for dipping
-tuna mousse with breadsticks
-lemon and pecorino crackers

main course
-daube de boeuf (which is similar to a boeuf bourgignon but with different wine, orange zest, nutmeg, onions and carrots)
-cream and sheep cheese stuffed potatoes

-Normandy apple tart (which is a regular apple tart minus the jam glaze plus an egg yolk, cream, and brown sugar base) for the adults
-Sour cream fudge cake decorated with m&m's (at Boy1's request) for the kids

A few comments about the meal:

At the last minute, I had doubts about the tart, it looked like it had too many apples and not enough cream. So during just before serving it I made a batch of salted butter caramel and poured a couple of tablespoons on top of the tart slices. It was really good.

The cake was served a couple of hours after the tart and ended up being for the adults and the kids.

During preparation of the breadsticks and crackers, my mother-in-law said, "You do realize, don't you, that you can buy these instead of making them yourself?"

People were VERY hesitant to taste the bagna caôda. Husband, of course, showed everyone that it was safe to eat. After tasting it the first time, everyone invariably sounded very surprised when they said, "Hey, that's really good."

Daube is also a slang word meaning crap. At the end of the main course someone of course had to say, "Your daube is not a daube."

I had originally planned to make a lemon tart instead of an apple one, of course. But friday night, a friend with many apple trees gave me a lot of apples. So I decided to move forward into the unknown land of two desserts without one of them being lemon if the other one is chocolate.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Party #1 and the extraordinary healing powers of pez

Tomorrow is Boy1's 6th birthday. He's got 4 friends from new school coming over at 3. Not really sure what I'll be doing with them. I've bought a pumpkin for each so they'll be able to carve - or at least design and I'll carve - I don't want any drama. Most French kids (and certainly all of these kids) have never carved a pumpkin - or eaten a pumpkin pie, for that matter. So I'm hoping they'll find it interesting.

I'm also making caramel corn, so I'm going to let them make their own caramel corn balls or disks or whatever. Also a new thing for French kids, who are used to sweet popcorn, but just with sugar, not with caramel.

Boy1 really wanted me to make corn dogs and onion rings for everyone but I vetoed that. I've got in-laws for the weekend and 14 people for the family birthday dinner on sunday. I'll be spending enough time in the kitchen as it is. Happily, but still, I told him not to push his luck.

This afternoon in the car Boy1 started to talk about Christmas. I've been getting him used to the idea that my mother won't be able to come this year, although he swears when he asks her on the phone she says she doesn't know yet. Anyway, he said, "Can you imagine how horrible it will be for me if Grandma can't come for Christmas? What will I do without her here?"

I empathized. He moped for 30 seconds and then said, "I know what we can do to feel better. We'll both eat a lot of pez. That will help us be less sad about missing Grandma so much."

There you have it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Answer me this

Why are the bad guys in American movies always killed at the end? Why can't they just go to jail?

Why do French movies always have lame endings? Amélie being a rare exception.

Why did Boy2 start saying 4 the day after I posted about the fact that he never says it?

Why did I agree to throw Boy1 two birthday parties?

Why does Boy2 look so sweet when he's being such a brat?

Why can't I filter out background noise? It's like a hammer in my ears that drives me to madness.

Why do I always end up making something lemon and something chocolate whenever I have to make two desserts?

Why do my 6 and 3 year old boys still have cradle cap, since they're both long out of the cradle?

Why do I miss Seattle so much? It's just a place.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


I usually do ok in the kitchen. Sometimes quite well, others less, but nearly always, at least ok.

I planned last night's dinner at the last minute, which is not how I usually do things. I always have a menu for the week, all the necessary ingredients and all that. But I wasn't in the mood for the meal I had planned for last night and I had a couple of spare duck thighs in the fridge. So I decided to cook those with some shallots and potatoes and apples and raspberry vinegar. Excellent ingredients and I usually know how to cook, so what could go wrong? Well, I'm not sure. But it was nasty. I'm suprised anyone ate it. Seriously. The apples melted (I put them in too early), the potatoes weren't tender enough (too late) but they somehow mangaged to render the sauce really starchy. Yuck. The thighs shrunk down to half their size, the skin wasn't crispy in the least (took the lid off too late), and the vinegar just tasted vinegary and not saucy.

I'm supposed to be making mustard-crusted chicken tonight, but I'm feeling pretty chicken myself. I may just order Indian take-out.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ah, les vacances scolaires

Just about every six weeks or so, another school vacation hits. Kids start school here the first week of September. And now, just a short time later, or at least that's what it feels like to me, it's time for Autumn Break. Tomorrow is the last day of school until November 6th.

The theory is that the kids are tired and need a break. Never mind that lightening the load all year round might take care of that problem. But whatever.

Then they'll go back to school for 6 more weeks and it'll be time for Christmas Break. Then again until Winter Break mid-February, then another in April. The stretch between Easter Break and the end of school (July 3rd or something like that) is a bit longer, but May is studded with holiday upon holiday so three-day weekends abound.

None of this really mattered to me while I wasn't working. Now it's another story. I'm beginning to think all these vacations are actually a clever way to fill up the Municipal Treasury. Because what do you do with the kids when you work and there's no school? If you're lucky, you can send them to mamie and papy's house for a while. If you're not, you've got a limited number of choices. Activity day camps are available in smaller villages. In a town like Laval, there are big day care centers for bigger kids with activities and cafeterias and stuff like that. But how does sending them there help then get over the intense fatigue they're all experiencing? Beats me.

Our boys will be shuffled around between grandparents' house (Boy1), a friend's house (one morning while I have class) , the library at the Husband's firm to watch a dvd while Husband works (another morning) and the drop in day care center he went to last year on occasion (Boy2 when Boy1 is away). Not restful for anyone, particualrly me, as I will spend most of the time they're being shuffled feeling guilty. Vacation my ass.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What would life be without 4?

When Boy1 was little and just starting to speak both languages, he mixed things up sometimes. He never said 'that' in sentences like 'Papa told me that I could have some more cake.' He would say "Papa told me que I could have some more cake." The que is easier to pronounce, I figured he'd figure it out eventually, which he did, when he was about 3 1/2. He also never said 'for' and used the French pour instead, although never at the beginning of a sentence. So he would say, 'for me!' if I asked him who the first crêpe was for. But he always said things like, "This book is pour you." I'm sure it was all very logical and systematic in his head. And again, after a while, he figured it out. Interestingly enough, when learning to count in English, he always skipped four. 1,2,3,5,6, all the way up to 10, but never including a four, and never substituting anything for it. Four didn't exist. Poor four.

Boy2 is three. His English is quite good and much more advanced than his French. He says things like, "I already peed!" "My pillow belongs here!" and "Of course you can have a hug." And my favorite, "You can't touch my cookie Mama. Because I said so, and I mean it!"

But, just like Boy1, he always leaves the 'four' out when counting. And he always says pour when it's not found in a sentence initial position. What is up with that? Is there something inherently objectionable in the words for/four? I am a great believer in the wisdom of children's intuitions so I guess there must be.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ah, la pièce montée

I visited a blog yesterday, jintrinsique, and saw some pictures of wedding cakes. Which got me thinking about my wedding cake, which was just about the ugliest wedding cake EVER.

The traditional French wedding cake is a pièce montée. Cream puffs are piled together in a cone shape, about 2 ft. high at least. The puff mass is then decorated with pieces of nougatine and candied almonds and then the whole thing is coated with a sugar glaze that hardens, holding everything in place and adding crunch.

I like cream puffs as much as anybody. And I never say no to nougatine, who could? But I did not want a pièce montée. I was getting married in France but I didn't want it to be too French - I am American. I, probably like many little girls, have adored wedding cakes for as long as I can remember. I loved the big white kind they made when I was growing up, with lots of white frosting (no doubt made from hydrogenated fat and sugar) and those big frosting roses. Then people started to get creative and wedding cakes got better. I loved the pretty lemon curd filled ones, and the coconut groom's cakes, and the avant-garde chocolate ones. I tried to talk to bakers here about it. They were all stuck in the white cake phase, having seen too many episodes of bad American daytime television. None of them had ever made anything particular for a wedding other than a pièce montée.

The woman organizing the meal for the reception tried to understand. She consulted with the chef, they suggested a fraisier. Perfect! It's one of my all time favorite cakes. It's a vanilla genoise with strawberries and pastry cream in the cake or baked into the edges. I tried to describe how I wanted it to look. Apparently not very well.

When they brought it out, I could only laugh. Had I been a little more on edge, I would've cried. But I had already had my freakout crying session at the hair salon that morning, so laughing was the only option. Besides, I had just gotten married, my friends and family were with us, life was good.

There were four fraisiers, of various sizes, on a large aluminum foil covered board. A small plastic newlywed couple was stuck on top of one of the cakes. The organizer woman looked at me and said, "We tried to do just like you said." Yeah.

It was, without a doubt, the ugliest wedding cake I had ever seen. But, it was also the most delicious. Really amazing. The cake was not soggy, a risk with that kind of cake. It was a perfect balance between moist and firm. The strawberries were sweet and juicy. The pastry cream was light and vanilla-y. Even though it didn't look like it, it was the wedding cake of my dreams. I had two slices.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ah, la redevance audiovisuelle

Which is just a fancy name for television tax.

You know those PBS (Public Broadcasting System [public tv] for those of you residing outside the U.S.) fundraiser drive things? Well, the have something kind of like that here, but not really. We give 116€ a year to public television, although no one politely asks us if we want to, we just get the bill.

It came in the mail today, on a pretty pink and green and white form. It tells us that the money will be given to the public television channels, France 2, France 3, and la 5. Every household owning a television pays the same thing, regardless of the number of televisions you have. We only have one anyway, so it wouldn't make a difference. We didn't pay it for the first few years we lived together - in-laws gave us one of their televisions so we weren't on the tv tax collector person's master list. But they get you, one way or another. When we bought a vcr for our hand-me-down tv, they got us. When you buy any television accessories, the sale is recorded and your information is transmitted to the AV people.

No one seems to think much about it here, it's been like this for so long. I tend to kick up the dust every year when we get the bill. I do watch channel 2 occasionally, but they have commercials in between programs, which, to me, means it's a lot more private than public. But what do I know? I'm sure if I didn't get billed for it, I wouldn't give 116€ and then where would public television be? I'd answer that, but it would sound bitter.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ah, l'adaptation

When you live in a foreign country, you adapt. No matter how well you speak the language, no matter how much you look like a local, no matter how much about the culture you think you've learned, you never finish adapting.

It's not a linear process. More like a spiral one, with ins and outs and ups and downs. There are things you understand and others you don't and probably never will.

I'm not sure what it means to be in a constant state of adaptation. And I suppose I'm lucky to have the leisure to contemplate it. If I were a refugee or a clandestine worker in a foreign country, I'd have a lot more to worry about than the essence of adaptation and its effect on my state of mind.

I'm tired today. Tired of speaking a language that is not my own. Tired of switching between formal and informal address depending on who I'm with. Tired of not being entirely understood, and I don't mean my words.

But I think it's really because Boy1 had a nightmare about jellyfish last night and I didn't get enough sleep so I'm just plain tired.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ah, la crêpe

I love crêpes.

In the region where I live, (which is near Brittany - the holy land of crêpes), crêpes are always eaten with sweet toppings - as opposed to savory ones which are reserved for galettes, like a crêpes but made with buckwheat flour and more salt. At the market on saturdays, there is a man in a little trailer kitchen thing who sells big fat herb sausages wrapped in a hot galette.

Toppings for crêpes can include but are not limited to: nutella, melted dark chocolate, salted butter caramel sauce, jam, butter and sugar, honey, sautéed apples and vanilla ice cream, slivered almonds, and whipped cream.

At least 3 or 4 mornings a week the boys have crêpes with nutella for breakfast, but they are probably the only children in France to do so. Most kids have crêpes for snack or perhaps for dessert. I try to talk them into trying other toppings but for the time being they're stuck on nutella, although I have tricked them into an organic, less sweet version.

The best crêpe I've ever had EVER is at a little tiny (seriously, 6 tables) crêperie in Nantes, the Ker something or other. A few of you have been there with me and have tasted the crêpe I'm talking about. Melted dark chocolate, salted butter, and thin confit slices of orange.

I haven't actually gotten (not a word about my past participles choices cbw) around to making my own confit, although I should. But I do make caramel sauce and of course, crêpes.

Makes a lot or a few depending on how thin you make them.

1/2 cup flour (I use spelt but you can use regular)
1/2 cup milk (I use rice milk but you can use cow)
1/4 cup water
some salted butter, melted (something like 2 tablespoons)
2 eggs

Put everything together and whisk. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before making crêpes. I find a heatproof half spatula is best for turning them over if you're not comfortable flipping. Cook until golden on each side, however long that is.

Top with some of Lorraine's grape jam or some of my caramel.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ah, l'amour

Boy1's teacher informed me today at lunch time that Boy1 and his friend E are said to be in love. She and Boy1 apparently quite proudly informed the teacher that they were amoureux, and would no doubt be getting married as soon as possible. Boy1 will be 6 this month so we're not looking at caterers just yet.

On the way home I asked Boy1 about it. So, how do you feel about E? We're in love, he said.

What does that mean for you, to be in love?

Well Mama, why don't you tell me what it means to you and I'll either confirm or deny.

He seriously said that. Confirm or deny.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Friday musings

I started teaching my BTS students today. BTS is a 2-year degree with a specific expertise - often technical or businessy type things. The ones I have are either in sales, managerial assistance, human resources, or client negociations. They've all at least finished high school, and their ages range from 18-25. So, technically, they've all had about 9 years of English instruction.

9 years.

That's a lot, right? One would think so. One would also think their English would be pretty good. But the poor kids looked positively stricken during class today. This is going to be fun. And I'm not being sarcastic. By the way, if anyone out their needs to do research on EFL students, I've got 15 subjects ready for testing...

Anyway, this morning I had to leave for work before the boys left for school. Usually I leave after they're gone. Boy2 needed explanations. Where was I going? What was I going to do? Would I still be at school at 11:30 to pick them up for lunch?

I answered the questions. More questions were asked. What does that mean you help big kids learn to speak English? (I have to say big kids, otherwise it's papas and mamas for him, there is no in between at this point.)

I'm a teacher, I said. A teacher? Like ma Isabelle? (my Isabelle - Boy2's teacher). Yes, like your Isabelle. His eyes lit up. You're Mama and a teacher? Wow, how do you do that?

Um, I wing it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Integrate this; aka Integration does not equal assimilation

Answer this question honestly. And not as my friend or relative. Upon hearing foreigners of whatever variety speak a language other than English to their children or amongst themselves in a group, what is your reaction?

You don't have to answer in the comments, I was just wondering.

Yesterday I went to the shoe repair shop to have my very very very favorite boots fixed. I got them 10 years ago from a friend. We traded. I gave her a vintage black wool short-waisted jacket (that didn't suit my figure) and she gave me her brown American Eagle scrappy cowgirl boots (this was when American Eagle had not yet become whatever they are now). I wore the heels down last winter, the soles were peeling off, and the sides were lifting off the base. I took them in with the boys. I spoke, in French of course, to the shoe repair person who starting taking the boots apart before my very panicked eyes. He stopped and said, "It looks like I'd better wait until you leave. Your eyes are popping out of your head. Don't worry, they'll recover."

At some point the boys started asking me questions, in English of course, about when we were going to the park. After I answered them, in English of course, Mr. shoe repair person said, "Please reassure me and tell me they speak French too." I nearly took offense (shocking, I know), but I decided not to and stayed cool. "Of course they speak French, they live in France and their father is French. I would not live in a country and refuse to speak its language. But that doesn't mean I have to speak it to my kids. Integration, sir, does not equal assimilation."

But, actually, I think for a lot of people, it does.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Political correctness hits France, results suck

My children are enrolled in a Catholic school. It is technically considered private but today it was revealed to me how public it actually is.

In all fairness, it's not their fault. The system is such that if a private school wants financial support from the government, it is considered sous-contrat - under contract to the government, and therefore obliged to follow certain rules. The academic program set up by Education Nationale must be followed, a certain number of hours of school must take place, and instructors must be of a certain qualification. Nothing bad there.

In a small city like Laval, the schools don't have their own kitchens. The city of Laval makes the food for all the primary schools and delivers it daily. Each day, the boys' teachers tally the number of students who will be eating at the cafeteria the following day (a system of tickets I discussed in the chef de famille post) and within that total is a subtotal of muslim students. There are 3 in Boy1's class. Don't ask me why their parents have chosen a Catholic school, I have no idea. I have no problem with diversity in the classroom. I will admit I find it strange to see a mother with a headscarf come to pick her son up at St. Joseph's. But that's just evidence of my small-mindedness. Anyway, back to the food thing. The subtotal of muslim students receives, the following day, a specially prepared meal (no pork, for example, on days when it's on the menu). Again, no problem.

Here's my problem. The boys at at the cafeteria on Friday. What was on the menu? Braised pork roast. On a friday. So, the muslim students were given an alternative meal, but the Catholics, again, IN A CATHOLIC SCHOOL, were not. Many Catholics aren't strict about the no meat on fridays thing. But some are. And besides, it's the principle of the thing.

Wish me luck, I'm going to call City Hall right now.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A foody post

Friday was Boy2's third birthday. We had a small celebration for him that evening, just the four of us. The bigger event was yesterday, and it was still very moderate. There were 8 adults and 5 kids. I was feeling ambitious when I planned the menu last week, so we had cassoulet. Which was actually kind of fun to make.

I looked up lots of cassoulet recipes and decided to wing it. I soaked the white beans on friday night. Saturday morning, I browned onions, garlic, and giant slabs of bacon in a smidge of duck fat. To this was added a large quantity of the drained beans, homemade stock, and fresh thyme. This mixture cooked very slowly for hours.

In a cast-iron dutch oven, I browned more onions and garlic in duck fat, 5 duck confit thighs, 5 herb saucisses, 1 saucisse de Morteau (a huge cured sausage which is famous but I don't know why, although it was delicious), 1 saucisse de Montbéliard (also famous, also don't know why, also delicious), and of course, a giant l saucisson à l'ail (garlic sausage). I added tomato paste, a bottle of white wine, and 2 bay leaves. This mixture also cooked slowly for hours.

Sunday morning, the two were brought together with minimal splashing and staining of white shirts (why oh why wasn't I wearing my apron?). Then the happy couple cooked together slowly for 4 more hours.

The result was served with a kick-ass Bordeaux and garlic bread made with two baguette de campagne, chives from the yard, and Brittany rock salted butter.

Dessert was cake au citron and a chocolate chiffon cake which I layered and iced with whipped chocolate ganache.

Wish you could've been here to see him blow out his candles.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

How long are your sleeves?

Husband and I bickered this morning. Over, believe it or not, the weather. Well, actually, over weather-appropriate clothing. Which is silly because we'll never agree on the subject and we know that already. I guess it was just a booster shot kind of thing to confirm that perceptions had not changed.

Basically, Husband and I live in different weather systems. Strange, I know, given the fact that we live in the same place. And yet. On a day like today, where the temperature is about 66-68° F (so 20°c or something like that), I'm wearing short sleeves and Husband is wearing long sleeves. To a certain extent this could be attributed to physical activity - my days are filled with moving around quite a bit (dropping off the kids, going to get the kids, cleaning, walking to the coffee shop up the street, working not at a desk) and his are spent at a desk or sitting in a courtroom or perhaps driving somewhere to do one of the above. It is also probably attributed to the women who raised us. Husband's mother, who is a wonderful mother-in-law by the way, is nearly always cold. She's forever adjusting collars and suggesting scarves and zipping things all the way to choke level, particularly on her grandchildren. I have come to expect this and pay little attention. She has a sharp phobia of drafts and cool breezes and car air conditioners, believing fervently that they all lead to colds, sore throats, and coughs. My mother, on the other hand, likes a good draft, enjoys cool breezes and frequently uses her air conditioner. Then there's also the cultural thing - the French are very anti-draft in general and are often telling me to put on a scarf or a heavier coat. Americans tend to put on shorts as soon as possible and nearly everyone, except in moderate weathered places like Seattle, has an air conditioner and yet, Americans are no more subject to upper respiritory afflictions than the French.

Anyway, none of this should really cause any problems, and didn't, until we had kids. Now, during interseasonal weather like today's, we rarely agree on what the boys should be wearing. So, as a result of this morning's scene, they went to school with a short-sleeved shirt, topped with a cotton sweater, and a raincoat. Needless to say, when I picked them up for lunch, the raincoats were stuffed in my bag and the sweaters were around their waists. No harm done, but I do like to have the last word.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Coin this

Bilingual kids say funny stuff sometimes. They try to import /export expressions or vocabulary or even syntax from one language to the other. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes they come up with some really great words.

When Husband came home yesterday evening, Boy1 greeted him at the door with a hug and, "Papa, j'ai déjà fait mes devoirs. Je n'ai pas procrastiné ce soir." Papa, I've already done my homework. I didn't procrastinate tonight.

Great, except that procrastinate doesn't exist in French. You have to say something like put something off until later. There's no one word solution for it and I understand Boy1's frustration, I've often wanted to coin the verb in French myself. But I have never dared. Call me a linguistic chicken if you like.

The following is an excerpt from this afternoon's homework session.

Boy1, who is learning to read, was stuck on a syllable. I offered what I thought was subtle and unintrusive help. Boy1 didn't see things that way and he said, "Hush Mama, you're deconcentrating me."

Don't you hate it when people deconcentrate you?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Why I haven't been posting much...

I'm in a terrible funk and, as everyone knows, unfunking one's self is not easily done.

It might be because I can never be the chef de famille. But I doubt it. Or it might be because the house deal fell through. But I really don't think so. It could be because my house is a disaster area and I can't seem to get motivated to change that. Or it could be because I'm imagining Christmas without my mom here with us in France - for the first time in 7 years. She's doing fine and the operation went well, but I'm sure transatlantic travel would not be wise this year. And the idea of Christmas without my American family is hard to look at.

Having said that, I realize I have many things to be grateful for. Mom is recovering. Work is going to be fine. The kids are doing well in school. Boy1 has made a new friend at his new school - the first - Inès, who has taken him under her wing and I love her already for that. Since the house deal fell through, Husband's freaky stress level has dropped dramatically. I spoke to my father last night and I felt good afterwards. Husband and I are planning a trip home for next summer, July most likely. (So please come to Illinois to see us if you can.)

One more thing. There is no word in French for funk. How strange.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Chef de famille

I could've also called this post You've got to be kidding me, Tome Whatever.

I had to go to city hall to buy some tickets. The tickets are used for municipally sponsored activities and services, like the cafeteria at school, which, while a private school, serves meals prepared by the municipal cafeteria service. Anyway.

I have made a horrifying discovery. Thanks to city hall.

My value is variable. It depends, it would appear, on whether or not A MAN is around. And I'm not even kidding. Now, there are those of you who might say this is another case of Nicole willfully misunderstanding. And, who knows, you might be right.

So, I went to city hall. I asked for some tickets. I was asked to fill out a small piece of paper with some questions on it. Name, address, family equation (another post will explain this morsel of blah), and then the killer question. Who is the chef de famille. The head of the household. I asked the city hall worker person what on earth that was supposed to mean. Why, head of household, of course. You mean like who wears the pants? I asked in a slightly sarcastic tone. (Shocking, I know.) No, the real head of the household. I replied that we tended to run the family life as a team so I didn't really feel comfortable naming a chief. Ha! Not possible. A chief must be named on the ohsoimportant slip of paper. Fine, then, put me. Husband won't care. Oh, you're married? Yes, I replied. Well then, of course, it's your husband, she stated with finality. Let me type that again for you.

Well then, of course, it's your husband.

And if I were a single mother?

Then it would be you, madame.

So, let me summarize, I said to CHWP, if there's no man around, I can be the chief, but if there's a man around, he's automatically the chief.

Oui, madame.

I could take some comfort in the fact that being classified as family chief at city hall has absolutely no effect on anything anywhere. It's a meaningless classification of no legal value, as Husband was quick to assure me when I ranted told the story.

You've got to be kidding me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Une superstition juridique

This morning husband and I went to sign some something or other for the house we successfully bid on this week. Mr. Real Estate Agent Man read us the whole thing, explaining as he went various real estatey kind of information, including that we agree to buy the house in it's current state knowing that it may indeed have some hidden vices. Des vices cachées. Do you think it smokes or drinks or has too much sex?

Anyway, after having listening ohsoattentively to MREAM do his job, he asked us to sign the long document. And he asked us to write, to the left of our signature, lu et approuvé - bon pour accord. Which literally means, 'read and approuved - good for agreement'.

I am a lawyer's wife. I've learned a few things about the law over the years. One of the things I've learned is that the above formula has absolutely no legal value. The document is valid because of the signature and that's it. I mentioned this fact to MREAM and Husband confirmed what Miss Smarty Pants (that's me, in case you're not following) had said. And then Husband gave it's name. It's called superstition juridique. A judicial superstition. No legal value but apparently a lot of effect on the psychological state of involved parties.

Let me illustrate.

At the CCI (one of the places I'll be working - by the way, I managed to keep a few hours and good graces despite it all), I have to sign a work contract for each client's account. This week I had two new 20 hour contracts to sign. Which I did. On each is the request to precede signatures with the aforementioned formula. Which I did not do, because, why waste the ink. And it's a lot of words for nothing. No one on site noticed and the contracts were sent to HQ. And were sent back. Because I didn't put the good for agreement bs on there. The HQ administrators are evidently a psychologically fragile bunch. So I scribbled 'bite me, losers' to the left of my signature and gave them back. Superstitions graciously respected, they were accepted, of course.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

No matter how you slice it

Some things are still heartbreaking.

Yesterday, as I mentioned, the boys ate at the cafeteria. I picked Boy2 up at 1:00 and he came home for a nap. It was too late to bring Boy1 home, class starts at 1:30. While we were waiting for the bell to ring after school at 4:30, I talked to another mom. She told me that Boy1 was a little sad when she saw him on his way to the cafeteria. The bell rang and he walked out of his classroom. And when he spotted me, he had tears in his eyes that just stayed there and didn't fall. I hugged him and told him how happy I was to see him. I asked about the cafeteria. He said it was ok. He said he cried a little, because he had never been before and didn't know what to expect and was sad that he wouldn't see us all day long. I asked about the unshed tears in his eyes when he saw us. He said, "I was just so happy to see you. I couldn't believe how much I missed you."

Which, of course, brought tears to my eyes. Which, of course, were shed.

On the homefront, literally, we appear to have made an acceptable offer on the house without a guesthouse. Interesting.

On the workfront, I've been offered more hours at one place and am going to have to, consequently, burn some bridges at another place. Troubling.

Monday, September 11, 2006

La Cantine

Today was the first day the boys had to eat at the cafeteria. Boy2 cried a bit, but I don't think it was because of the food.

Today's menu was as follows:

First course - grated carrots with lemon vinaigrette
Second course - shepard's pie
Cheese course - a wedge of tome de savoie with baguette
Dessert - a plum and a pot de crème à la vanille

Not bad for a cafeteria meal.

Interestingly, it's la semaine du goût this week. Which I never really notice other than to hear it spoken of on the radio. I guess it's supposed to be a week where we are to be reminded to not fall into a food rut, to try new things, to strive for excellence in the foods we prepare, and appreciate quality. All of which are noble things to do.

Even more interesting, flavor week is ended (this weekend - because here the week starts on monday, not on sunday), by les journées du patrimoine. Two days a year, castles and manors and private parks (that are not open to the public) open for all to see and admire.

A week of delicate feasting for the palate and stomach followed by two days of historical eye candy. What a perfect dessert.

Friday, September 08, 2006

La Vie Active

When I tell people here I'm going back to work, the most common response I get is about how nice it will be for me to get back into la vie active. Which makes me smirk because how is taking care of two kids not an active life? You might think I willfully misunderstand the remark. Which is possible.

I read a study once that quanitified total work hours (including childcare, food prep, errands, cleaning, chauffering, in addition to 'real' work) of women who fell into one of three categories. Worked outside the home part-time, worked outside the home full-time, had no job other than child and house care. The results showed that the worst possible situation for a woman to be in is part-time work.

As of this week, I am able to confirm this information.

When you work full-time, everyone says, oh you work full-time, let's help you out around the house, let's get a cleaning service, let's order dinner out tonight. When you are a stay-at-home-mom, you have a lot of work, it's true, and it's never-ending (at least that's what it seemed like to me), but your focus is in one spot. But when you work part-time, you really get the shaft. Everyone says, oh yeah, but you have time, you only work part-time. So you do everything you did when you weren't working outside the home and you do it in addition to the work you're now doing outside the home. And you can't even complain because you have the priviledge of not having to work full-time.

Active, schmative.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

L'école maternelle

Chose promise, chose dûe.

I don't really know if it's just glorified preschool or what. They all seem to think it's wonderful and so important to the development of kids. But I have my suspicions.

Homogeneity is so incredibly important here and I think the whole real school/preschool is really about getting them young. That sounds terrible and it's actually much more benign than that. Put simply, kids who do well in school here are kids who fit into the mold. Artistic, creative, and original thinkers CAN thrive, but the outlets for those qualities are not found at school. So if they get used to it starting at 3, the hope (I think) is that the fitting part will be easier.

I think it's also about l'égalité des chances. Like many, they haven't figured out that same doesn't mean equeal, but that's a whole other debate. Anyway, an institutionalized preschool, they say, helps to wipe out the differences between kids that may exist due to socioeconomic circumstances.

And mostly, I think it's about childcare solutions for families where both parents work. Although even in those families where there is a parent at home, all are anxious that their children start maternelle on schedule so they won't 'miss' anything.

Boy2's day goes something like this. At 8:30 Husband takes the boys to school. Boy2's class is large, 30 children, who are divided into 3 groups of 10, with one or two adults managing each group. The greeting activities are done together, then one group goes to the motricity room for physical play (balls, mats, etc.), another group goes to the art area (painting, drawing, etc) and another group stays in the classroom for music or storytelling or schoolish stuff. Then they all break at 10 for 20 minutes in the schoolyard for outside play with balls, bikes, and trees. Then they return inside and switch activities until Mama time at 11:30.

Days I work, he will eat at the cafeteria and I will pick him up at 1:15.

Amongst his classmates (gosh it's weird to call 3 year olds classmates), there are 16 who stay all day every day (although not wednesdays, as there is no school in pre or elementary), from 8:30 until 4:30. Amongst those 16, there are a few who arrive at 8 and don't leave until 6. That's a long-ass day.

By the way, I have a pounding headache and it's way too hot here again.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Etre Bilingue

I didn't respond to comments left on friday's post. But only because the topics deserve more time than a comment response. So today is about bilingualism and tomorrow about Maternelle.

Sarah, who has a very interesting blog about bilingualism and children (, asked about the boys'.

While in graduate school, I worked in a department where a woman from Quebec was a tenured professor. I saw an interview of her on tape, made to be used in basic level French classes during the francophonie unit. And I was very surprised by her attitude. Which was openly hostile (although in a very polite way) towards the 'omnipresence' of American culture. Up until then I had always thought of Quebec as sort of a happy francophone island. They wish. On an island it would be easier, perhaps, to manage the constant flow of all things anglophone. She actually used the word battle. How hard it was for francophone Canada to remain so.

I understand her attitude better now. Because I feel the same way. As I've mentioned before, when you're raising children in two cultures, you want them to feel at home where they live obviously. So Boy2 going to school earlier than I would like, in my ideal world, is fine, but spending too much time there, and therefore, in French, is not.

Yesterday, we went for a walk. Husband and a friend were walking futher ahead with the boys and I was trailing behind and talking with friend's wife. Boy1 ran back to see us and said, "Mama, Papa found some mûres!" "You mean blackberries? " I asked. "Yeah, Papa found some blackberries." Other than situations like that, where he's forgotten a word or never learned it, he never speaks French to me. He switches back and forth from one second to the next, depending on who he's talking to. When all four of us are together, the conversation is always in both, between the boys and me in English, between the boys and Husband in French and between Husband and me in French. Interestingly, the boys speak English to each other, which I am hoping will last. Boy2 is, for the time being, far more advanced in English than in French. He never uses French with me but he does use quite a bit of English with Husband. Which won't last - school will take care of that. They have three playmates who are native English speakers now, they don't live in Laval so we don't see them every week, but I try to arrange something a least once a month so they learn childhood English too, not just Mama English and Disney English. The goal being for them to be almost as comfortable in English as they are in French. Which is hard because French is omnipresent, obviously, on my little American island in Laval.

Friday, September 01, 2006

La Rentrée

Today was the Boys' first day of school. Boy1, who will be 6 in October, entered CP, the big deal grade where they learn to read. Boy2, who will be 3 this month, entered Petite Section, where they learn to be proper French citizens.

Just kidding.

No really though, they both did start school today. And Boy2, who is too little to be doing that kind of thing (according to moi), will be going as well. Because that's how it works here. When kids are three (and many of the kids in Boy2's class are barely 2 1/2) they go to school. Real school. Boy2's classroom is in the same establishment as Boy1's. Regular daycare is for children up to 3, at which point they all go to school.

I tried to do it my way with Boy1. I kept him at home until he was barely 3 1/2. I gave in for a couple of reasons. First, all the activites I had taken him to before were closed to kids over 3. Of course, because they're all in school. All the children his age he used to play with while I drank coffee and chatted and breastfed the new baby were, you guessed it, in school. He was the only child in Laval over three who was not in school. And people would go on and on about how he was missing out on all kinds of socialization and whatever. Which I really think is nonsense. But whatever. Let's just call it what it is, very cheap daycare (we will pay about $250 total this year - and it's a private school) in a scholastic setting. Although they do have a prettier name for it - La Maternelle.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Several Things

1. I have been without television, internet, and telephone service since tuesday evening. The television and internet privation was vaguely bearable. The phone thing, on the other hand, was more than I could stand. I use the phone a lot. I like the phone a lot. Foreigners like to use the phone a lot.

2. Boy1 said to me yesterday, 'I love you more than my heart can stand.'

3. I was tucking Boy2 into bed last night. I said, 'Goodnight my monkey.' We had just finished reading Hand Hand Fingers Thumb, which features many monkeys drumming on drums. And he said, 'I not monkey.' And then gave me his real name. I asked him what my name was. He said, 'Mama.' My other name, I suggested. 'Oh, Nicole.' I asked him what Husband's name was. 'Papa.' And his other name? 'Cheri.' Which tells you how often I call Husband sweety.

4. The phone line repair guy was here this afternoon trying to reestablish order and I stepped outside onto the sidewalk to answer a couple of questions and have a look at the mess. (Some tree and ivy trimming fellows got a little carried away and snipped through an important wire.) When I returned 5 mintues later, Boy1 was in tears, convinced I had abandonned him for life. It took 5 more minutes to calm him down. And 5 minutes after that, I had my life my phone line back.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Dans La Cuisine

Husband and I have recently begun our first house-hunting adventure. We, or maybe I should say I, know what we want. City center, 19th century or before, yard. That's about it, in terms of absolutely essential things. All of which make husband cringe because something in the suburbs built about 50 years ago would be a lot cheaper. But jeez, it's so nice that they have liveable city centers, and old houses are cool, and kids need a yard.

So we've visited a few houses. One was very nice but the first floor was really narrow. And entertaining is already really limited in the house we have now due to small spaces so I'd like to move on to something a little more accomodating in that sense. Another, my favorite so far, is charming, very nice first floor with lots of space, smallish bedrooms on the second and third floors, small but cute yard, 4 blocks from Boys' school. The downside, the bathroom needs some major work. A third, neither one of us really liked the house, but we both loved everything else about the place. A great yard, a guest house (!!), and a green house.

All the places we have seen have one very terrible thing in common. And it is something that seems to contradict one of the cornerstones of French culture. They love food and all things about food. And yet, the kitchens are ridiculously small. What is up with that? Why are all the kitchens here so small? Why? Why?

In all the years I have been here, I've seen two kitchens worth notice. One was in a château and one was in a hôtel particulier (a mansion). Nothing similar will fit into our budget so I'm left facing the reality that I'll probably never get my dream kitchen. All the other kitchens I've seen are like little food laboratories. You have everything you need to get the job done and no more. No corner benches, no desks, no window seats, no reason to stay once the job is done.

Maybe that's why. There was a time when guests were limited to certain rooms in France. They didn't go into the kitchen, they stayed in the living room or dining room or sitting room and that's it. Closest friends and family might have access to the guts of the house, but that's it. Socializing didn't happen in the kitchen. Which still baffles me because at home, correct me if I'm wrong, but, at a party, where does everyone end up hanging out? In the kitchen.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

M et Mme Massot

There is a heavenly place 4 blocks from my house. It is the bakery of the Massots. They make the best bread. EVER. Flutes (like a baguette but much thinner and smaller and softer crust) with chorizo. Flutes with bacon. Flutes with sharp emmenthal cheese. Hearty loaves with apples, hazelnuts, and raisins. Loaves with goat cheese and herbs. Loaves with pears and roquefort. Leavened baguettes, country baguettes, regular (although nothing about them is regular) baguettes. And my personal favorite, spelt loaf (épautre), more flavorful than wheat flour but not too whole grainy that makes you feel like you're eating rope.

At lunch they set out fougasse, which is kind of like a French foccacia. Topped with feta and grilled tomatoes or bacon and goat cheese. They never sell sandwiches.

And then there's the sweet stuff. Baguette viennoise (which is only like a baguette in its shape - which makes sense because baguette really means wand, as in magic, which this bread is, by the way) with chocolate. Baguette viennoise with nouagtine. (Viennoise bread is kind of like brioche but less butter and more milk.) And of course the standards, pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant), brioche, brioche with chocolate, croissant, and pain au raisin. During the winter they make their own ginger bread loaves. And in the spring, lemon pound cake. On wednesdays, which children have off every week, they make chouquettes. I've talked about these before. Cream puffs without the cream and topped with little bits of rock sugar.

For the past month, M et Mme Massot have been on vacation.

But now they're back.

Made my day.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It's all in the tilt of the head

It' s the small things about a place that remind you that you're a foreigner.

So many things are the same no matter where you go. We all laugh and cry and eat and sleep and drink and love and learn. But.

Heads don't tilt the same no matter where you go.

I have always liked books. My book budget is ridiculous given my ridiculously low earnings. I reread 3 of Jane Austin's books for the millionth time this summer. And I enjoyed them as much as the first time. But going to book stores isn't as fun here as it is at home.

No cafés inside book stores, no couches, no magazines, no lounging. But most of all, it's the way you have to tilt your head here. Think about how you tilt your head to look at book titles on the spine of a book. You have to tilt it to the right. Titles read from top to bottom. Wouldn't you think that kind of thing would be universal? Well, it's not. In France, titles read from bottom to top, so you have to tilt your head to the left. Go ahead, give it a try. Not just a quick tilt. Stand up, imagine you're looking at a big shelf of books and you have to stand that way for a while. Head tilted to the left. Not very comfortable is it? Or perhaps my discomfort in this position has more to do with my inflexibility when it comes to books and the selling of than my neck.

This is a very literary country. Books are a big deal here. Prices are set and book stores are not allowed to sell them at any other price. Unless they're in the clearance bin and that can only happen after a fixed amount of time after the publishing date. A HUGE deal is made about the literary prizes, Prix Goncourt and the like, and every Monsieur Untel knows who the winners are every year. There are used book stores, but not as widely developed as at home and frankly, they buy books for silly sums. 10 cents a book kind of thing.

Then there's the whole book cover thing. As I mentioned in yesterday's comments in response to Eric, the French are crap when it comes to marketing. And their books are perfect evidence of that. Millions of books are sold here with NOTHING on the front or back cover other than the name of the author, title of the book, and publisher. They make sure you can't judge a book by its cover.

I should be able to see the merit of all these differences. But I can't.

See, I told you I was inflexible.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dangerous liasons

I recently bought some facial cleanser, actually cleansing milk, if you want the precise term. On the bottle was written

Visage et Yeux (Face and Eyes)

in case I had any doubts as to which body parts I was supposed to use it on.

Eye is a funny word in French. The singular is oeil and I can't even describe how to pronounce it and I don't want to bore anyone with phonetic symbols. Anyway, it's a funky word. Un oeil, l'oeil, le troisième oeil...

The plural is yeux. I know. Ridiculous. Completely illogical. That one is pronounced with an initial y as in yeah sound followed by a vowel we don't have in English. The x, like many final consonants in French, is silent. Because y is a y, if it is preceded by a consonant, that consonant is pronounced, even if it's usually silent. Bear with me.

For example, les yeux. The s in les is only pronounced if the following word begins with a vowel or a y or an unaspirated h. Don't ask. Anyway, yeux is nearly always used with an article in front of it. Des yeux or les yeux, or deux yeux bleus. Which means that it is always preceded by a [z] sound, because final s and x are both pronounced as [z] in cases like this. This process is called liason.

So, when I read the bottle, over and over, I couldn't imagine how in the heck to say it correctly. You can't put the [z] in just gratuitously, there's no article in sight. But you can't leave it out because it just sounds so strange. And you certainly can't liase the [t] because that sounds even stranger.

I asked a few native French speakers. Without leading them. I wrote down the phrase and asked how they would pronounce it. No one could give me a straight answer. None of them wanted to add the [z] because there was no article and no one wanted to pronounce without because it 'hurt their ears'. (Seriously, two people said that.)

Which made me wonder if the [z] hasn't become a part of the word yeux now. A silent partner, if you will. It's always there, even when there is no evidence of it's being there, other than the feeling of offness.

Who's your silent partner?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Heads up

My mom, who means the world to me and many people in her life, has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. While I am confident that she will recover quickly and completely, we could all use some help. So, those who pray, please say a prayer for her. And those who don't, good thoughts will work just as well. Someone once wrote that God/the Divine/Sage/Universe/Apple Fairy doesn't have the ego to care what name you use and I'm sure the love present in a prayer or a good thought is felt in the same way. Thanks to all.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Well that's not logical

And I do love logic. It's very reassuring, after unmelted footprints and the like. Anyway.

While we were on vacation I kept an eye out for interesting village names that would, of course, lead to interesting inhabitants of village names. And the day I saw Aigrefeuille-sur-Maine, I thought I had found a whopper. Not even, as Boy1 would say. Which is, I think, his version of As if, which he's probably never heard. He's actually taken to using that phrase with The Tone in my presence quite frequently. I suppose I'm going to have to do something about that one of these days, but I'm currently picking my battles, and that's not one of them.

For now, she said menacingly.

Back to Sourleaf on the Maine River. I looked it up on their website and it's nothing extraordinary. Aigrefeuillais, Aigrefeuillaise. The Maine doesn't figure into the equation like the sauté pans of the City of God sauté pans. Why? No one can tell me. They all just answer with that shruggy thing and say, "C'est comme ça." That's just the way it is. Whatever. I still wouldn't want to be known as sourleafy or sourleafesque or even sourleaved. Or would it be sourleafed?

I shouldn't be surprised. French can be logical and it can also be maddeningly illogical. Cheval, chevaux. Hôpital, hôpitaux. Carnaval, carnavaux? NON, carnavals. 3 girls are elles. 3 boys are ils. 3 girls and 1 boy are...ils. Majority and logic, despite all their claims of loving Descartes more than anything, do not rule here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tome 2 of things I've learned

1. It is possible to be too sad.

Yesterday, Boy2 and I took a nap together. He usually takes a nap on his own but he had dozed in the car on the way back and I was worried he wouldn't take one at all. So I offered to take one with him. He sweetly accepted. On the way to bed, he got a big splinter in his big toe. That I couldn't get out. I told him sleep was the only solution (I was REALLY tired). We got into bed and I said, "Do you want to snuggle for a while?" He looked at me with stricken eyes and said, "No, I'm too sad to snuggle."

2. It is possible to be too polite.

In the middle of said nap (which lasted 2 blissful hours), I woke up enough to roll over and sneeze quietly. Boy2 was curled up against me, his head against my shoulder. Without opening his eyes or even waking up, he whispered against my skin, "Bless you, Mama."

3. Road signs are sometimes very profound.

On the way to a historical theme park, I saw a sign on the highway that said:

Conduite souple.
J'économise et je pollue moins.

Which could be translated in two ways. One literal which I won't bother giving because it's not very interesting, although I am curious to know how one might define flexible driving. And the other:

Flexible behavoir.
I save and I pollute less.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Things I learned / ate / discovered on vacation

1. Nagging works. We were going to spend the day with relatives. Our boys can get a little rowdy when they spend the day with certain cousins. So, before arriving, I turned to Boys and said, 'Hey guys, what are the rules?" Boy2 took a deep breath and said in rapid succession, "No fussing, no hitting, no pushing, no fooling around, no whining, no bickering, no nothing! They managed to have fun anyway.

2. Weird conversations are just around any corner. While buying a vacuum cleaner (don't ask me why we had to do this on vacation), I asked a few questions to the small appliance salesperson about vacuum cleaner longevity. He said, 'Try not to suck things up with it." Isn't that the point?

3. The best butter cookies in the WORLD are made in Pont-Aven, which is also a beautiful little painters' city (Gaugin and many others lived there). Better than Lorna Doones (sp?), better than Scottish shortbread (sorry, Charlie), better than anything.

4. There is a walled city in Brittany I had been to before this vacation. Despite the fact that I had never been there. This isn't one of the those past life things, cause I'm not really buying that, and it's not one of those destiny thing, cause I'm not buying that either. All I can say is that walking down the cobblestone street, my feet were walking in my own footprints. Maybe it was the musicians playing dreamy Celtic stuff on one of the squares or maybe I visited this place in a dream, but, one way or another, my tracks had been left on the snow covering that ground and they never melted away.

Honey (s), I'm home!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Quelle prise de tête

In a recent conversation with a friend, Chimp, I said that, when it comes to books, I have to enjoy myself. I can no longer read things that aren't pleasurable in one way or another. Which is not to say that the topic can't be serious. I recently re-read Nickled and Dimed: on not getting by in America (imagine that title is underlined because I can't figure out how to do it), which is a great book, thoroughly enjoyable, but the topic is quite serious and the conclusions even more so.

Which got me thinking about what I don't like. Which is when a book or a movie or anything, really, is une prise de tête. Literally, a taking of the head. It can be a verb, prendre la tête. As in ça me prend la tête, that takes my head. Or reflexively, il se prend la tête. He takes his head.

All of which means something along the lines of complicated where it could be simple. Or making something important out of something that needn't or shouldn't be. Or taking my head hostage by using pseudo-intellectual wannabe highbrow blah as a weapon. Or taking one's self too seriously to a point where one's head becomes the center of a ridiculous universe.

We're going on vacation tomorrow. Which, I hope, will be sans prise de tête. Bonnes vacances!

Update: Nickle and Dimed: on not getting by in America. Look what Eric taught me. I can be taught.

Update 2: Lorraine just taught me how to make these nifty lines. Aren't they the greatest couple?