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.