Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day 3 and the month long birthday

In my family we believe that your birthday isn't over until you've gotten your last gift. Which means that mine is definitely not over.

Beth took me out for an amazing meal at Wild Honey. And while the freak-show tense manager was irritating, the food was excellent.

And then we went to the parfumerie Miller-Harris where Nancy spent hours with us, explaining perfumes, helping us and guiding us, "Don't rub your wrists together after applying scent - it crushes it. It changes the journey."

That particular journey ended with tea and perfect cupcakes with candied rose petals on top of the perfect buttercream icing.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Day 2 and the quartier

While I could write paragraphs about what Dr. Woo said, "You are clever and I believe you think too much," and what Dr. Woo did (needles, massage), I must move on to Sunday.

I slept in, I breakfasted. We started with a walk to a French cafe in Beth's neighborhood where I actually used my French with the waiter who was struggling to understand our English. And ended at the cinema to buy tickets to Australia (liked it) where I used my French with the guy from the Congo selling us the tickets.

In between the French stuff, we went to the grocery store, which I really like to do in foreign countries because you learn all kinds of interesting things.

What did I learn? That groceries are WAY cheaper here than in France. Radically cheaper. And that the food industry here has got a serious racket set up. Their expiration dates are pure folly. If you heed them, what you save on the cheap groceries, you spend on buying more cheap groceries because you can't eat anything you bought two days before.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Day 1 and Dr. Woo

Friday doesn't count, I arrived in the evening.

So the London tales will start with Saturday.

Which started with perfect brunch and ended with amazing pizza.

And in between there was Dr. Woo. Acupuncteur extraordinaire.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

London calling

So, I made it. Travel delays and no music made for a looooong trip, but I am here.

My posts will probably be short for the next week. I am using a laptop with a German keyboard. Which, of course, can´t be the same as a French or American keyboard. See that apostrophy I used? Not even a real one. I think it´s an accent.

Hey, this morning I saw a fox in the garden.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Le goût de l'effort

The taste of effort. And I don't mean sweat.

Although I think we would translate that as the taste for effort. Do you have it? And I don't mean the kind of effort that is actually struggle and resistance poorly disguised as I'm-doing-my-best. I mean rising to the challenge effort. The kind that makes you enjoy the fact that sometimes it isn't easy to get what you want. Being required to make that effort, to give of your self, means you've finally discovered something that deserves the kind of effort you rarely use - the one that costs you something.

So here's my question - when was the last time you had to strive for something? When was the last time you found something that was absolutely worth the effort?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Solstice with me

It is winter.

Which is not a transitional season like autumn or spring. Winter is a destination season. The cellar of the year. A time when you bring into the basement what you've evaluated and sorted out during the heavy justice of fall. To preserve it and keep it safe from the cold.

Darkness dominates and we live muffled and huddled lives. And those of us who like winter, do so both because of and in spite of that.

I had a winter dream last night. In it I saw a lake, pure and clean and cold, sitting upon the heavens, the light shining right through the surface of the water. I watched it all from my cellar window.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just ask

Sometimes, some things require outside help. You get to a point, a place, where you realize that you are up against something that you cannot, no matter how much you try, resolve. Re solve, odd, the re part I mean, because that would imply you've been to this place before. And maybe you have. Most unsolvable things are not new, are they? They're remnants, reminders, remainders of other unsolvables. Things you worked with and around, but never through.

That place is nowhere you want to stay, despite its familiarity, despite how long you've been there and how many times you've been foolish enough to come back - you do realize places like these are of your own making. And even despite the inevitable discomfort associated with leaving it, with leaving anything familiar.

And so you call for outside help. You gather your courage and say the words, out loud, that make going back impossible.

It is a gracious hour, one you have longed for just as naturally as you have feared it.

And in that gracious hour - the darkest hour of the darkest day - you feel yourself, usually so lion-like, led, lamb-like, into the innocence of surrender. You cannot know yet what will remain. But you feel the quiet sense of truth brush past.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Up in the air

I survived the weekend. Burned and tired - of stirring, chopping, spreading, packaging.

And then I had a dream.

I was sitting in a field, nothing in sight but hills in the distance. And I was trying to put a beautiful pink rose back together. I had all the petals in my lap and I attempted to carefully arrange them back into a rose.

I finally gave up. I threw the petals up in the air and let the wind deal with them. Some stayed right with me, landing back in my outstretched hands or at my feet, and others were carried off to the hills.

I love pink roses more than any others.

What's your favorite color rose?

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's that time of year again

The time of year when I can't say no.

There will be a Christmas market at the boys' school next Thursday and Friday.

Which means I'll be spending the entire weekend in the kitchen.

By Sunday evening, the candy thermometer and I will be best friends and I'll have two or three sugar burns on my hands and there will be 20 jars of salted butter caramel and 80 sachets of caramels, toffee, truffles and whatever else I can come up with.

You wish you had my social life, don't you?

Not being able to say no used to be a lot more fun than this.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's really cold here

But I'm definitely not complaining. It just helps explain why these pictures I took of the lights they put up for my birthday Christmas are a little blurry. No gloves and freezing hands don't improve picture quality.

That said, you get the picture.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pick a lane

It was beautiful here this weekend. Cold and sunny. I worked at the café, I cleaned and organized my house - some but not enough - is it ever? And I wrote. I've got this writing gig, just a couple of items a month. But it's a start. And I like it. I'll tell you more about when/if I start to feel a little bit more at home with the idea.

In other news, I had to buy a damn washing machine because my stupid old washing machine was the thing that made the electricity go out last week. Ends up that 10 years was all it could handle. I shouldn't complain, it lasted 10 years and never once broke down. And it washed endless loads of little boy clothes (read: very dirty) for 8 of those 10 years.

The good news is that I have a nice, new washing machine. The bad news is that I hadn't really included buying a washing machine in December's budget. What with Christmas and the trip to London.

The other good news is that if the washing machine had broken down before I bought the London tickets, I wouldn't have bought them. Which means I would've spent the week after Christmas at home alone staring at my new washing machine instead of seeing Beth in London. Which would not have been good. So we'll say that the timing of the whole washing machine thing was as it should be.

So which is your favorite lane? Right or left? Fast or slow?

Friday, December 05, 2008

When the boys are away...

I do not eat the same way.

Dinner tonight:

Half a camembert and pine nuts, roasted, on baby salad greens. A big glass of thick, dark red wine.

Dessert tonight:

Apples sautéed with salted butter, honey, and ginger.


I got:

Flowers from students.

Cakes from students.

A birthday lunch.

Flowers from friends.

It was a long, deep, exhale of a birthday, a week-long sigh. I've always been a sigher, but not the exasperated kind of sigher. They're usually contented sighs or peaceful sighs or contemplative sighs or I'm so sleepy sighs or I miss that sighs.

I miss certainty, even the illusionary kind.

What do you miss?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lights on, lights off

It's actually my birthday week. Because one day just isn't enough.

I had a very small gathering at home on Saturday evening. Monday was the real birthday, but I mostly just worked. Tuesday was a beautifully timed acupuncture appointment and then coffee. Friday is a birthday lunch. And then, of course, lovely blog birthday wishes and messages on my answering machine and emails.

My birthday present to myself? A eurostar ticket to London for the week after Christmas. To spend a week with a friend I've had for nearly 20 years, since Wilmington.

The light thing?

Well, Laval is one of those cities with a major Christmas light thing. Saturday evening they turned the lights on with big music and fireworks.

I, of course, told the boys that they were really turning them on for my birthday.

Lights off, well, my very old house and its very old electrical system seem to not be getting along well tonight. The power keeps going off. I've unplugged and called the electrician and followed his instructions and currently have lights and hot water. I'm under strict instructions not to use the washing machine or the dryer or the dishwasher.

He must not know I have two boys.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

December 1st is my birthday

How's that for a very subtle ploy to get attention?

I'm posting tonight because I won't have time tomorrow, classes all day and kids' stuff after that. I promised the boys we would bake a cake.

This will be the second hard birthday I've had in a row, for reasons too numerous to discuss. But I will say that none of them even have to do with how old I am. I've shelved that issue and will, perhaps, get to it some other year.

Know what I want for my birthday?

Rainbows and unicorns and lines in the sand that spell out a message that will make me smile until my next birthday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Child logic:

Learn new rule, apply new rule everywhere.

Before I get started, I must tell you, I saw another rainbow yesterday. An early birthday gift.

So. We were at Laurent's café this weekend. Boy2 burped. A big, fat, loud burp. He did not close his mouth. He did not cover his mouth. He's five, I know, but still.

He was immediately told to keep his mouth closed during such activities and to put his hand in front of it.

He said, "Oh, just like when I cough."

Exactly. Just like when you cough.

He jumped to his feet. With the appropriate gestures to illustrate his point, he then said, "Then I guess I should put my hand behind my butt when I poot."

What do you say to that?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

With my week, I will

1. remember that lost is not forgotten.

2. pester everyone about my birthday next Monday. Because, as much as my age might freak me out, I just love birthdays. Mine and boys' especially.

3. get organized. No, really.

4. remember the rainbow I saw on Friday afternoon whenever I get sad this week. It was really beautiful and whisper faint and so briefly there I was probably the only person who saw it.

What will you do?

Monday, November 17, 2008

We had chocolate fondue for dessert

So all must be right with the world. Tart clementine sections and crisp apples slices dipped in smooth, warm chocolate can only signal harmony. And yet.

I didn't really have dinner first, just a glass of wine with cheese and dried sausage slices and thyme-parmesan crackers (yes, homemade) while skyping with Meg, one of my beloved shadow sisters and a dear, sweet, beautiful friend. She's one of the many, many reasons I miss Seattle so much. (Lorraine. Audrey. Tanya. The mist. The views. The lakes. The coffee. The restaurants. The I'm home feeling.)

The boys did, have dinner, I mean - chicken and rice soup (yes, of course, also homemade).

Back to harmony.

This past week has been so difficult and so easy, so breath catchingly hard and so flowy smooth all at once that my only hope of survival was chocolate fondue.

For those of you out there who think I'm just freaking out about my approaching birthday (two weeks from today), think again.

And no, to those same people, it's not going to get a whole lot worse between now and then.

I'll eat chocolate fondue every night if I have to.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Another Paris weekend

Do I sound blasée? Because I'm totally not. I'm thrilled. I haven't left Laval since my last weekend in Paris which must have been in March. So it's well past time.

I will take the fast train and walk along busy streets. I will drink coffee and wine and maybe champagne. I might eat, depending on my mood. And I will see if St. Anthony doesn't think maybe a few of my lost things can be found this weekend away. That would be nice.

What will your weekend be made of?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What I believe

I believe most of the rainbows I see are signs.

I believe St. Anthony helps me find things.

I believe my 2008 will make beautiful sense to me one day.

I believe I must be where I'm supposed to be because here I am.

I believe the man who was supposed to win the election won the election.

What do you believe?

Republicans I love, I don't want to hear it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Spoken but left unsaid

There are some truths that are more easily heard from a shadow sister in a dream. Or from a stranger over a glass of champagne in front of the fire at a chateau. Or from a ladybug meandering on the organza that covers the night table in the bedroom at the chateau.

Truths we want to believe, long to believe, even manage briefly to believe when we stop dragging around the past or reaching for the future.

Truths made of soft steel that warm you even as you feel their cold.

Truths, once heard, that change everything, forever. For good.

What's true for you?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lay your hands on me

In the past 36 hours, I've seen an acupuncturist, an energy therapist, a massage therapist, and an osteopath.

Which is to say that I've been unblocked, re-energized, relaxed, and realigned.

Short term results: very tired.

Long term: too early to tell.

I did all of this, saw all those people, well, partially because I've been meaning to but never get around to it and the boys are away until tomorrow and I didn't have any classes yesterday or today so it was logistically possible. But really, it's because I was feeling stuck in the worst possible way and I figured if I could get the inside unstuck the outside might follow.

You know what I'm talking about.

As within, so without.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lost piece and peace

France and I used to have a good relationship. I liked her, she liked me. We got along well. I realize now, of course, (isn't that always the way?) that our relationship worked so well because I had molded myself around her. Which, as any foreigner knows, you have to do - at least to a certain extent - otherwise, well, you know.

Problem is, I molded a little bit too much. So now I've got to unmold (hard work, by the way) and then renegotiate our relationship.

I'm not too concerned, she's more flexible than she appears, and, hopefully, so am I.

In the meantime, St. Anthony.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Signs and transitions

There's a street sign in France that's round and has a diagonal slash on it. In the upper half 1-15 is written and 15-31 in the lower half. And it tells you that you're on a street where parking is allowed on the left side for the first half of the month and on the right side for the second half. Cars are supposed to be switched to the appropriate side on the last day between 8 and 10 pm or something along those lines. I don't remember all the details. I took the written driver's license test here when I was pregnant with Boy1, who will be 8 in a few days.

Anyway, I have to drive on a street with that parking system every day on my way to work. Which is fine, it's a perfectly functional street. For 20 days out of the month. The other 10? Not so much.

It's that whole transition problem.

From the 15th to the 20th, there are cars parked on both sides of the street. As well as from the last day of the month until the 5th of the following month. Which would be perfectly acceptable if it were a street wide enough to accommodate parking on both sides, which it is not, which is why it sports that sign in the first place.

I'm not complaining, I weave that street 10 days a month, just like the rest of the people who drive on it. I'm just noticing.

We see signs but we don't always heed them. Because transitions require effort.

So we ignore for as long as we can and then we just do what needs to be done.

I've asked this before but I'll ask it again, how well do you transition?

Friday, October 17, 2008

The things I'll never know

1. Why I've come to feel like even more of a foreigner here this year than I ever have before.

2. How overtones become undertones. And the opposite.

3. Why violet ice cream tastes so amazing and lavender ice cream tastes like soap.

4. Why it's so hard to do things that are good for you and so easy to do things that are not.

What will you never know?

Please, no politics.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Dodge this

Or we could also call this random.

1. Two more rainbows followed last friday's. Which means that St. Anthony thinks I've lost several things.

2. I've voted and sent off my ballot. The overseas American population votes fairly predictably. Military populations usually vote Republican and expat populations usually vote Democrat. I think I read somewhere that expat ballots got 'lost' 4 years ago. Of course, the military ballots were safely delivered and counted 3 times.

3. I really am going to get back to regular blogging. Starting Monday. It's my almost mid-October resolution.

4. I mentioned to a friend what a friend mentioned to me - Jung said that whatever you've stuck in a box and haven't dealt with becomes problematic after 35. So I'm currently trying to imagine these boxes I've got as lovely Christmas presents and not the time bombs in pretty wrapping that they really are.

5. Esquiver. To dodge or avoid.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Chasing my tail

I've been absent lately. In so many ways. I'd say that my life feels like it is not my own, but that would sound like I was denying responsibility. Which I am not. I'm taking full responsibility - maybe that's why it doesn't feel like my own. I had no idea I was capable of creating such a huge mess.

And I keep waiting to turn a corner but the corner seems to be backing up as I get closer to it. That's weird.

I still haven't blogged about the award. Which I'm currently not feeling like I deserve. Which I will do this weekend, I swear. I mean blog about it, not deserve it.

In the meantime.

I was sitting here at the computer feeling junky and then I looked out the window and saw a huge perfect rainbow. Which made me smile because rainbows really don't belong to October and they certain don't belong to this moment.

Maybe St. Anthony thinks I've lost something. I'm sure he's right. Think he'll find it for me even if I don't know what it is I've lost?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The thing is

I have some real things to blog about. Not the least of which is a very cool blog award I was given on Friday. From a very cool blogger (Uh -Oh Spaghettios). And an interesting encounter this weekend with a very old and interesting woman. And then the typical charming children things and then the bounty of fruits and vegetables from gardens I've been given lately.

But in order for me to be able to do any of that or, really, anything else at all, the whole ass kicking roller coaster thing has really got to stop.

My mother has lit a candle, which will help.

But on today, the first day of fall, I could really use some good equinox vibes.

So, if you've got any on hand and to spare, please send them my way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A first

Because there must always be one.

I am to be published this month. Although it's not really my work, not as I would have imagined it.

It's a translation of some prose I had accepted to work with in one way and ended up working with in an entirely different way. But, as the author and I agreed - and said in that jinx kind of way - my work with that text was written to be otherwise.

As I said, it's a translation. Which is hilarious if you know me. I have so many issues with translation. I, obviously, see the utility of translation. But it's so complicated and so multi-layered. And, despite what you might think, the more comfortable you are in the second language, the harder it actually is to translate. Because you feel how close the perfect word is. You know how near to the truth you can get. And accepting anything less is like eating aluminum foil. It hurts your teeth.

And as much as I believe in and live everyday the quantifiable and qualifiable and reassuringly mathematical aspects of language, when you translate something that, in its original language has the power to move you or whisper to you or take you somewhere else, you are confronted with everything about language that is just the opposite.

Its unqualifiable color, its unquantifiable aura, its unmathematical harmony. Very hazy, all that. And I don't usually spend much time in hazy.

A hinge time

Une periode charnière.

Charnière - Hinge

Let's start with tangible.

A jointed or flexible device that allows the turning or pivoting of a part, such as a door or lid, on a stationary frame.

And let's finish with less so.

A point or circumstance on which subsequent events depend.

I'll just come out and say it. I don't like hinge times. They're hard. All that pivoting or turning, being jointed or flexible on something stationary is difficult, even in the best of times.

In the worst of times, it's quite nearly superhuman. Which is how you feel, no doubt, when hinge time is over.

Either that or like a piece of gum that's been chewed up and spit out.

What are you hinging upon?

Monday, September 15, 2008

The locks I follow

I'm living, again, in a river town. I haven't only lived in river towns but almost. And where there haven't been rivers, there's been water and always locks nearby.

You might be thinking, so what? And you might have a valid point.

But it doesn't feel like that. They are something to me. Not like friends I chose, but like family members that came with the territory. I currently live two blocks from locks, I walk or drive by them everyday. And when I'm paying attention to where I am and not where I'm going, they tell me things.

Things about that effort made to bring two elements together in a way that facilitates, allows even, the flow - the passage - being able to wholly and with integrity (and by that I mean not splitting apart or tipping over) move from one of those elements to the other, finding safety in the mix.

Again, so what?

Well, from where I'm standing, it looks like the physics of Temperance. Not temperance as in self-restraint. But Temperance as in the blending or synthesis of opposites. High mixed with low. Hard mixed with soft.

And I, as un-temperant as I am, have managed to live my whole life next to them. I was born to a father who built them, have always lived in places where I could see them, and now, am a neighbor to them.

Does this mean I'm getting closer to Temperance or just that I'm destined to live in water towns?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bedtime stories

I missed you this weekend my baby.

I missed you too Mama.

I love you so much.

How much?

To the moon and back, to all the stars and back, three laps around the whole universe and back, to all the other galaxies and back and then still some more.

Well, me, I love you 10 times around the university.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Look at me being all proactive

Remember the redevance audiovisuelle? It's the television tax you pay here every September. It actually comes on the same form as the taxe d'habitation which is a municipal renter's tax. I haven't received the form yet but I'm hopeful there will be a big box where I can put a big X to indicate that I don't have a television and will, therefore, not be paying the stupid television tax.

Apparently when you claim not to have a tv, and I say claim because when you tell people here you don't have a tv they look at you like you've got to be kidding, the television tax people threaten to inspect your home, looking for secret widescreen television hiding places.

How will I respond to such threats? Come on over, I'll say, chat with my kids, they'll tell you ALL about not having a tv. And then I'll tell you all about it too. How nice it is to see that buffet in the family room covered with plants instead of electronic equipment. How nice it is to have silence be the only background noise covering my children's voices.

I must be fair, the boys have actually adjusted quite well. They've taken to spending hours on end outside in our little front yard, inventing endless battles between dinosaurs and dragons, and doing whatever one does with duel master cards.

Oh and hey, speaking of taxes, it was pointed out to me, while I was heartily bitching about the Republican Party, that I should zip it until I paid my back taxes in the US. Ha! I've looked into it and the good news is I only have to file for the past 6 years and during that time, believe me, I was either pregnant at home or with a toddler at home or working vaguely part-time and earning way under the tax exclusion limits. So, I've called Paris, I've asked for the forms and I'm going to officialize myself. So I can officially continue bitching about the Republican Party. I am so looking forward to that.

Monday, September 08, 2008

My list of things to do

or not to do this week:

1. Talk less. Seriously, you would not BELIEVE the kinds of trouble I get myself into by just speaking my mind too often. Note to self: everything doesn't need to be said. No, really.

2. Avoid drama at all costs. Seriously, you would not BELIEVE the kinds of drama I get myself into by, again, speaking my mind too often.

3. Get some work done. Seriously, you would not BELIEVE how completely not in the groove I am. I blame it on the trouble and the drama. No time left.

4. Avoid getting ass kicked by life, again. Seriously, you would not BELIEVE how many times I've had my ass kicked in the past 9 months. This at least has nothing to do with the speaking my mind thing. Between the repeated ass-kicking and the broken nose and the bruised forehead (you know, from banging it up against the wall endlessly), 2008 has left a serious mark on me. I'm very curious to see what kind of shape I'll be in by year's end. My guess? Either very good or very bad.

5. Yoga, everyday. My wrist is finally better. Guess what? Sometimes waiting works.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Random bilingual info

1. At dinner tonight (pasta with chicken breast, julienned vegetables, cream and goat cheese sauce - dessert was white peaches with chocolate allspice ganache) Boy1 said dinner was excellent despite the way it smelled. What do you mean, I asked him. He said, "Come on Mama, smell me this." Which is a direct (and funny) translation of sens-moi ça.

2. Boy1 has taken to using funky question formations like "Mama, is it we're going to eat chocolate sorbet?" Which is a direct translation of est-ce qu'on va manger du sorbet au chocolat?

3. Jertta brings up a good point. And she's a mind-reader. She's been on my mind for the past couple of days and voilà, here she is, on my blog making interesting comments. Anyway, about her point (see comments on last post). She may be right. I must be fair, the teacher in question was very pleasant and polite and tried very hard to frame her request so as not to offend. And I wasn't offended, just unyielding. And honestly, the people, teachers and parents alike, have been very nice at this school, very positive and interested in the whole bilingual thing. But, I have to agree with Jertta, most of the time I feel that people like me despite the fact that I'm American and never because of it. Americans who read this who don't live in abroad (because those of you who do or have lived abroad probably know exactly what I'm talking about): don't get offended. It's just that we don't have the best image in the world, for a variety of reasons, some justified and some not. And your stereotypically badly behaved American tourist certainly doesn't help things. You know the kind I'm talking about. The kind who doesn't travel to discover. But to reassure himself that everything really is better back home.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

So much for making a good impression

Today was the first day back to school for the boys. Boy1 is in CE2, which is the grade they're in when they're 8 or going to be 8 before the end of the calendar year. And Boy2 is in Grande Section, which is what they're in when they're 5 or going to be 5. So maybe kindergarten. Anyway, same school but different classrooms and teachers and all that. Plus the whole school supply thing which is incredible here. Ballpoint pens, blue and black and green and red for Boy1, each with a different purpose, a fountain pen, compass, right angle, ruler, colored pencils, markers, pencil sharpener, white board with markers, mechanical pencil, regular pencils, mutliple notebooks and binders and plastified sheet covers and I'm leaving some things out. Of course, everything had to be labeled with his name. Boy2's list was much shorter, but he still had one.

When I went to pick them up for lunch, Boy2's teacher asked to speak with me. That's never good on the first day of school. She tried to nicely preface things, but I saw where she was going long before she got there. We completely respect your choice to raise your children bilingually, we understand how important it is to you...BUT. I cut her off about a second after the but, which I didn't used to do. Interrupting is so constant here, I fear I've picked up the habit. Anyway, no matter how she framed it, you realize, Madame, it's for me, it's so when you pick him up and ask him what he did or how his day went, I'm included in the exchange, so there is a transition, if you will, from school to home. Call it whatever you want, what she was asking me to do was speak in French to my child, which I simply refuse to do. The thing is with bilingual kids, in many cases, if they see an open window to speak the majority language all the time, they will. And all of the research on bilingualism bears that out. I tried to explain that to her, reassured her that I would be attentive to the school to home transition, that Boy2 and I would translate our exchanges to her if they had anything to do with what went on at school that day. She looked doubtful and I probably looked like a militant.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The President's coming

Not the soon to be lame duck, the other one, the French one. He's coming to Laval this evening. How do I know? By keeping myself well-informed? Yeah, right. Reading the newspaper? Nope, can't find a good one. Watching the news? Nope, my television is dead. Seriously. So broken it's officially dead. I'm thrilled. The boys are beyond despondent. News on the internet? Nope, I use my computer time for much more frivolous things.

I know because mon quartier est bouclé. My neighborhood is nearly sealed off and it's overrun with stern looking CRS guys.

Don't ask me what he's doing here, I have no idea (see above paragraph).

I'll tell you tomorrow if I hear about it in a café. That's my real method of staying informed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


There have been suggestions - recommendations that I need to cultivate some of that.

Like rising up out of the pit was before it, it's on my list of things to do.

These days, however, I'm cooking. Pastry cream for chocolate eclairs and mischief meringues and lemon buttermilk sorbet and chocolate sorbet and peaches with balsamic vinegar for rare duck breast.

La temperance will follow, washed down with champagne.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Seriously, don't people have better things to do?

So, I'm in Nantes. Briefly. For 24 hours. Mostly to drop Boy1 off at his grandparents' house. And also to buy a few things at Ikea for the redone kitchen (a bar stool, a basket and a thing I have no name for), for my bed (a surmatelas, whatever that is because it's firm which I love but it's still lacking give, which I don't), and for the office (a wheeled multi-drawer thing to put the printer on and a chair cushion because the chair is this weird weave thing that hurts the back of my thighs if I'm not dressed. Yes, gasp, I occasionally blog in my panties. Go ahead, friends and family, try to get that image out of your head.) And a mirror for the bathroom. And a small table for the phone in the dining room to replace the wrought iron thing I've been using that really belongs outside with plants on it. And that's it. I didn't get anything that wasn't on my list. And as everyone knows, that's a big deal at Ikea.

But what I don't get is why half of France was at the Nantes Ikea this afternoon. It's summer. It wasn't raining. It was a nice, sunny day, if slightly chilly for August. There was no sale, there was no reason. And yet, it was packed. It was a nightmare. Everyone with their yellow bags and their pushycart things. Except for me. I had a blue Ikea bag that I bought (60 cents) the last time I went to Ikea. WHICH SOMEONE STOLE FROM ME TODAY. Can you imagine? Can you imagine shopping at Ikea, picking out furniture or a new kitchen or whatever and actually being lame enough to steal a 60 cent bag?

I assure you, I'm not upset about the bag. I was over it as soon as I realized it had been stolen. Because really, I have a lot of big bags and the Ikea one is actually too big and I just put the mirror and the cushion in the basket and all the other stuff came in those flat boxes (some assembly required). So they actually did me a favor, getting rid of that useless bag for me.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

L'état de l'attente

Waiting. The waiting state. As opposed to the desperate longing state. Maybe a bridge to a state of grace. We'll see.

I can't do yoga. I haven't really been able to do yoga for 2 weeks. I did something to my left wrist, funked it up a little, ignored it and did yoga anyway for a week. Bad idea. It moved beyond funky into not really utilisable. Which sucks because yoga's become something I love doing. So I'm forced to wait.

Oddly, or interestingly, enough, that's not the only thing I'm forced to wait for these days.

If I were a highly evolved person, I'd see the wisdom in all this waiting. I'd see the gift of clarity in all this limbo. Like Julie, I'd see that events and timing and plans are much more gracefully laid out when I'm not operating under the illusion that I'm the one eventing and timing and planning what will be my new world. I'd see that having to wait makes you take responsibility for what you get. That it makes sure you've got your eyes wide open so you see what you get when you get it. So you don't wake up in the middle of it and wonder where it came from.

How do you wait?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The plot thickens. Or thins. Or something like that.

Remember Mary Kleyweg? Remember all the posts I've written about her?

Well. Here's another.

Dear Witness Protection Management People,

Are you aware that Mary's apparently alive and back in Seattle and part of a writer's group? (That's just so Mary, isn't it?) Did you make sure all the bad guys were locked up or whatever before you let her resume her real identity?

Or is this all just an elaborate test to see if people are still interested?

Oh dear, I'm not being very discreet about all of this, am I?

Google her name and see for yourselves.

See? This is what happens to people who don't finish their therapy. They blog indiscreetly about things.

Yours truly,


Hey Mary, if you ever google your own name and stumble upon this - I hope you're well. You were cool. I'm sure you still are. The next ladybug/rainbow/four leaf clover I see will be for you.

Monday, August 04, 2008

On getting what you ask for

A few months ago during a hard week on a very hard day, I asked for some flowers. I was walking down the street and I asked, out loud, for some flowers. I wasn't talking to anyone, although to passers-by I must have looked like I was talking to myself. Anyway, I asked not for a little johnny-jump-up (although I love those) or a tea rose or cornflower on my path along my day. I asked for a huge on purpose bouquet of flowers, kind of like I might have asked for a rainbow from time to time. A huge bouquet of flowers out of nowhere to let me know that I would make it through that hard day during that hard week.

The day wore on, no deliveries to my door, no florists phoning me up to get directions to my house. At 10:30 that night, I checked my email. And I had one email with an attached file. It was a beautiful painting of a vase full of ranunculuses (ranunculi?) from a very unexpected source. I got my huge bouquet of flowers.

Last week, on an odd day during a very odd week, I asked for something else. A good luck something else. I was walking to lunch and I asked for a good luck something or other. A 4 leaf clover or a ladybug or unicorn or something like that. I haven't found a 4 leaf clover in over a decade and I never see ladybugs here. People who don't live in the city center tell me they have them but I haven't ever seen a ladybug in Laval. Of course, that evening, in my bathroom on the linen bag that I keep girl stuff in, I saw a ladybug. We chatted for a minute and then I brought her outside to the rosebush covered with aphids.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I don't even want to know

It's been an odd week.

First, there's been the whole no kid thing. Then there's been the whole restaurant thing. I swear, I've eaten at my house maybe twice this week. Well, aside from breakfast, which I always have at my house. Mostly white peaches because they're in season and they're amazing. 3 or so, peeled and sliced. Eaten with a coffee with a spoonful of ganache because white peaches prefer mochas to lattes. Who knew? Anyway, I keep running (gently) into various people I haven't seen in a while and they keep saying, 'Hey, let's have lunch/dinner,' and I follow.

Then there's the whole kitchen thing. A friend, and a new friend, and some friends of theirs are at my house right now, being whimsical fairy like and overwhelmingly generous and transforming my very sad kitchen into something bright and cheerful. I'm not even allowed to return home until 4:30 because apparently all that iridescent fairy magic would blind me - kind of like the eclipse - you can't look directly at it and all that.

And then there's the odd piece of advice from the oddest source. I informed someone of some recent changes in my life. Someone actually said, 'Nicole, keep a stiff upper lip.' Really, what else does one do with an upper lip?

And then there's the whole sweet thing. The universe is being very, very sweet to me this week. Not that it's usually mean but you know, sometimes lessons are given with shoves or pushes or elbows in the ribs. This week? Not at all. Starting with the mechanic and ending with the most hilarious scheduling comedy of errors (but not really, apparently) I've ever encountered, I've been taught things, brought around to truths with the gentleness of butterfly kisses and cool whispers.

Why? I don't know.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Also the way to do it

a.k.a. forces at work

Apparently I wasn't meant to go to Vannes this weekend.

That's right. No chocolats, no macarons. Which both seem ridiculous when you sit them next to the fact that I didn't get to see the boys and haven't seen them in 9 days. And won't for another 3. A weekend completely devoid of sweetness. Good thing I drank vats of champagne friday evening - I must have been cosmically aware that my sorrows would need to be glazed over. That said, the champagne would've been better saturday night because really, hangovers don't glaze much of anything.


It was 11 a.m. saturday morning. I had just left Laval and was headed for the highway. Then a weird red light (weird because I had never seen that light before) came on in my car. It wasn't for fuel levels or oil even. Just this really menacing red light. I pulled off and turned down a small, dusty country road. I turned on my hazards and popped the hood and tried to imagine what I could do with anything under that hood. Aside from check the oil, not much, it turns out. About 30 seconds later, a car drives by. The car stops, a young man gets out and says, "Ma'am, do you need some help?" I explain about the menacing red light and the mysterious universe under the hood. He goes back to his car and gets a BIG tool box. I ask him if he knows anything about cars. He says he's a mechanic. He does some stuff under the hood and then calls an auto supply shop and asks if they have a part and they do and then he drives me to get the part, which cost me 15€. Then we go back to the car and he changes the part (the temperature guage or something like that which indicates to the ventilator thing when the motor is too hot and it needs to turn on or something like that) and he says 'Have a nice day, Ma'am,' and goes on his way.

Despite the fact that it was fixed I still couldn't go, it had gotten way overheated. So I went back home and felt hungover and sorry for myself (those go REALLY well together).

I'm better now.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Off and running

First stop - the chateau for an evening of wine and Americans, both of which I will enjoy.

Second stop - Vannes for the weekend to see the boys, who are away for two weeks (!!). While I am there I will most definitely toss my wishes into the sea (gulf actually) for safe keeping, and I will also buy some chocolats and macarons at Guerlais et Chartier (25, place des Lices in Vannes) because they're honestly some of the best I've ever had. But I won't buy very many because...I'm reasonable? No, they're just expensive. When you walk into the shop, you feel like you're walking into a very posh jewelry store - it's got that hushed and precious feeling to it. And actually, the chocolates and macarons are displayed like jewels. And for a moment, while you're eating them, you think they are jewels. The macaron au caramel au beurre salé tastes like melted gold should taste. And the dark chocolate with mint ganache tastes like a chocolate-covered liquid diamond would taste. Oh and the coulis de framboise like a mouthful of puréed rubies.

I'll stop here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The way to do it

I'm back at the chateau for a few days.

I had a project today - help my friend clean out and organize her dressing room, which was kind of a mess.

I decided the best way to handle it was to take everything out and go through it before putting back the selected items. But that's not really the important part. The most important part was having the right tools. Boxes? Bags? No. Nothing like that. It was coffee and then alcohol and then sugar. So the morning's efforts were sustained by coffees, the afternoons's by a trip to the French version of Goodwill where I found two beautiful chairs for 20€, the evening's by many glasses of champagne, and the late evening's by a big bowl of the sorbets I made for the occasion -chocolate and coconut - becaue one is just not enough.

Cleaning should always be this fun.

Monday, July 21, 2008

How I know I'm in my 30's

I don't go bar hopping. I go chateau hopping.

Yesterday I went to dinner at one chateau and slept at another. Both with four turrets.

I also drank cognac. It wasn't the first time but it had been a long time and I had forgotten how much it tastes like what I've always imagined caramel colored lighter fluid would taste like.

My ideas about cognac may have something to do with why I don't have my very own chateau.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When dogs don't make cats

When you have kids, you hope for the best, obviously. You hope they'll inherit your good traits, physical or otherwise, certainly none of your bad ones.

Never in a million years would I have wanted for Boy1 to be as hypersensitive as me. And I never would've wished for Boy2 to be as literal as me. I was just kind of hoping they'd both get good grades in school and like math.

But, as the saying goes, les chiens ne font pas les chats.

On the upside, they both like math. Their favorite 'game' to play is math flash cards.

I cannot imagine what kind of mother would convince her kids that math flash cards were a game.

Or that playing that game in said mother's favorite café every morning is a normal school vacation activity.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Prise de la Bastille et ma prise de tête

It's a holiday weekend here. Today's Bastille Day. I'll be going to a party at a chateau this evening and I won't have to cook any food all day. Life's interesting that way sometimes.

My brain-searing headache is back, which is why I've been posting so little. But I'm planning on giving my headache the silent treatment, hopefully that'll do the trick. Why the headache? The jaw. No, not from talking too much. Probably from not talking enough. Or not about the right things. Or something like that.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Let them make cake

Don't ask me what happened last week, I'm not really sure. It was the last week of school for the boys and I had a lot of work hours (I've got another Quality guy - and you know what that means) and chocolate covered toffee to make for 10 (teachers and assistants) at the boys' school and I don't even remember what else.

So, to celebrate the start of summer vacation and as part of our mini 4th of July party (just me and the boys and a batch of fried chicken [homemade]), the boys each baked and decorated a cake. And, as usual, the were totally moderate when it came to the decorations. I made chocolate frosting, which the applied liberally. Then they wanted to color something so I made a batch of buttercream frosting and they colored it and piped it on. And then, of course, sprinkling things was absolutely necessary. So they sprinkled.

And topped it all off with a strawberry.

Actually, when you think about it, everything should be topped off with a strawberry.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Out of control

Today was the braderie in Laval. It's like a big sidewalk sale, shops bring out stuff they haven't been able to sell since 1994 and try to talk someone into thinking it's a bargin. I saw some clothes that, if you'd just buy them now and wait 20 years, would look fabulous as vintage pieces. But for now they just look very early 90's. Anyway, I didn't have the boys this morning so I was out on the streets looking for the rare find at 8:30. What I really wanted was clothes or shoes. What I was determined not to buy was kitchen equipment. What I ended up buying was kitchen equipment.

A pretty red ceramic fluted tart pan to replace the one I broke last week. Funny story. I was doing too many things at once. Boy1 was in the kitchen doing his homework so I was listening to him read. Boy2 and I were playing catch, he was in the hall that leads to the kitchen. I was making swedish meatballs (so fluffy!) and had just baked an apple and salted butter caramel tart. I took the tart out of the oven and put it on one of the gas burners. Which should've been off because I'd finished making the caramel 5 minutes before. But wasn't because when I took the caramel off the burner to add the butter and the cream, I forgot to turn it off. So, five minutes later I heard a crack and smelled burning and discovered I had ruined a beautiful tart and broken a tart pan.

A chocolate fondue set. Yes, I already have a full fondue set but it's way too big to use for chocolate unless I'm cooking for 8. This one is just perfect. It's red and has a little stainless steel candle holder thing and has matching picks. So I think all the chocolate bases have been covered.

For dessert tonight we had nectarines and pears and miniature butter cookies to dip into our all-spice chocolate fondue.

The only one in the house not happy about this purchase is the tablecloth.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What the....?

So, I was walking home from my favorite café a couple of days ago and this is what I saw.

First, a horse and buggy. Being driven (does one drive a horse and buggy?) down a small street a couple of blocks from mine by a very salt of the earth looking 70ish year old man. Not far from where I saw the nun coming out of the bar.

Two minutes later, a beautifully restored 68 VW Bettle, driven by a nun of indeterminate age. Like most nuns.

Two minutes later and now just a block from my house, a big black Hummer. Driven by a young, show-offy Italian (his look screamed Italy and his license plates confirmed it).

He bumped into 2 side view mirrors on his way down the street.

I'm not sure what any of that means, but I'm certain it's significant.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's in your database?

Yesterday I spent the day teaching English to some people who work for a large company in the north of the department. In a town I'd never been to, never even heard of actually. I got the information on the class about a week ago, over the phone, but just the basics, names of the participants, levels, what they wanted to work on and where the company is located.

But all week long I haven't been able to remember the name of that town. In your native language you have a whole ocean of possible names of places. Like if I told you my grandmothers lived in Raeford and Astoria or that one of Beth's grandmother's lived in Rockford, these names would sound perfectly reasonable to you, even if you'd never heard of them before.

But in a foreign language, there's nothing for names to hook on to. Nothing that sounds kind of similar or that you heard someone mention 15 years ago.

So I spent the week calling that town, Gorron, everything that starts with G and ends with N. Goulon, Goudon, Goudron, Gordon, Gobon. The third one means blacktop or tar, which would be an unfortunate name for a town.

Now that I've been to Gorron, population 3000, and seen (only the outside) its bright pink tatoo shop, I'll never make that mistake again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My new toy

Is a whipper. Or a siphon or whatever you call it.

You know, one of these things. Because you can never have too much nice kitchen equipment.

So far, I've only used it to make eggless chocolate mousse (basically just whole cream, cocoa, melted chocolate and sugar) and strawberry yogurt cream (whole cream, whole plain yogurt [I used sheep], strawberry purée and sugar).

It's all very fluffy and sweet and pretty. The chocolate mousse tastes very good on coffee. And fruit. And my index finger when I go to the fridge 'supposedly' to get something else, like water. The strawberry cream tastes good on those things too, except for the coffee, although I think it probably would. I just haven't tried it there.

I can apparently also make fruit espumas and avocado mousses and foie gras foams. If I can get beyond the chocolate mousse stage. Which is looking doubtful at this point.

Between the chocolate sorbet and the ganache and now the mousse, chocolate has become something of a theme lately. Wonder what that means?

Crise de foi? Or crise de foie?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On things predictable

Prévisible. Predictable. Although I kind of like the French word better - things which can be pre-seen as opposed to pre-said.

I was sitting in the dining room looking out the window and I saw a very large truck driving down my street. You know, my street, my little one way street that has parking spots on both sides running along the sidewalk, my little street that a fool driving a Hummer would have a very hard time getting down, my little street that ends at another even littler street that runs perpendicular to mine and is cobblestone. And the truck? It was one of the those big huge trucks 18 wheels or something like that.

So as I watched the truck drive down I thought, "I should really go out there and tell him to back up now, he'll never make it around the obligatory corner at the end of the street." But it was morning and I was lazy and I thought he'd probably dismiss me with a "I know what I'm doing lady," kind of thing so I just stayed put. And waited. And as pre-seen, a few minutes later, I heard the beep-beep-beep announcing his return, tail end first.

Question for the day: what is the difference between pre-seen and pre-said?

Monday, June 16, 2008

In your eyes

Un oeil, des yeux, un regard, un coup d'oeil. An eye, eyes, a look, a glance. Do not ask me why the plural of eye looks nothing like the singular, I have no idea. Some linguistic quirk that, no doubt, took root in logic a long time ago but is so far from home that now it just looks quirky.

I witnessed an interesting conversation about those things recently. A group of people talking about reading people and reading their eyes and things to be seen there. Boy2, as we know, keeps good things in his. Boy1, I would say, has a whole world in his. That group of people said a few things about mine but I think they were drunk on the nice weather.

So here's the question for the day: when we look in your eyes, what do we see?

In mine? Blue-green and some yellow flecks. That's it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

La Maison

My home away from home. Seriously, when I go there I do feel like I'm at home. And at least half the people I see there I know and half of those I know because I met them there. And Laurent, the owner, is sweet and kind and gives me real hugs when I look like I need one. You know, because the French don't hug. They kiss. Can't have it all. Anyway, chances are, if I'm not at my house, I'm here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

These days

I walk through the halls of my house and my life and nothing, really nothing, is how it was. Or even how I thought it would be. It's not bad, well, some of it is, but mostly it's just not what I expected. And some things, some of the really bad things, even as I stand in the very middle of them, resist me. Or I resist them. Whatever. Despite all the evidence, the things and I, we resist and we do not believe what we see.

There should be more words for things, in the generic sense.

Like in French.

Un truc, une chose, un machin, un j'en passe.

A thing, a thing, a thing, a thingy-thing...

Friday, June 06, 2008


I just got back from my favorite café. And on the walk home I saw a nun, dressed in full habit, cream colored, with the hair thing and the cream colored rosary dangling, walk out of the bar up the street. A star for the day for the person who comes up with the most creative and holy reason for her to be in the bar. My guess is she was having a cup of coffee or using the restroom but neither of those is creative or holy.

Just after the nun in the bar (sounds like the beginning of a bad joke) I heard a rooster doing his rooster thing. (Another beginning of another bad joke.) No, really, at 10:00 am in the city center of Laval, a few blocks from my house, I heard cock-a-doodle-do.

Know what French roosters say? Cocqorico.

I wonder how his neighbors feel about that.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Forget the bed, let's talk about the bathtub

I was talking with a friend the other day. A French friend. And we were talking about movies and then actors. And then commericals with actors in them. And then hot actors. And then sex with hot actors. That last sentence is going to get me some weird referrals from Google.

I mentioned, in reference to one or another hot actor that there was an expression in English from my youth (the 90's) that was appropriate - I wouldn't kick him/her out of bed. Friend laughed and said they had a similar one in French, Je ne le ferais pas dormir dans la baignoire. I wouldn't make him sleep in the bathtub. I like that.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The bed and the nose

Does this count as a real post?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Secret planning and clever tricking

I'm not one to battle with kids about food. Eat it, don't eat it, whatever. But my kitchen isn't a restaurant so there is only what I put on the table, no but-I-don't-like-green-beans-so-make-me-something-else allowed chez Nicole. But I have to draw the line sometimes, somewhere. So today I bought some fresh ravioli from the Italian deli and Boy2 tried and didn't like them. Which I can accept. His solution was to skip straight to the sliced pears with warm allspice and chocolate ganache that were waiting on the counter. My solution was to offer a ham sandwich first so he wouldn't go back to school hungry. No, no, no. He actually started to throw a fit-like thing. So he was banned from the kitchen until he could manage himself a little better.

He came back a few minutes later, ready, he told me, to eat every bite of his ham sandwich. He sat down and started. I went downstairs to deal with laundry. He called me a few minutes later: I ate all my sandwich, every bite, now can I have the rest of the pears? Yes, of course, I said. He ate them all and licked the bowl. I brought the boys back to school. I came back and started cleaning up the kitchen. As I moved the chairs back from the table to sweep the floor, there were major remnants of a ham sandwich under Boy2's.

Now, the thing you must know about Boy2, his name is Raphaël. And, as my mother pointed out once his character started to reveal itself, in the story about the Archangel he was named after, he doesn't reveal himself to be an angel until the very end.

And if you're wondering why I post less about Boy1, Gabriel, it's not because I love him less but because he has far fewer secret plans and clever tricks. And when he does, they show in his eyes in an instant.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Several things

1. As soon as my computer is fixed, I'm going to post a recent picture of myself so you can all see my World Famous Nose. Pre-break, of course.

2. They now sell Oreo's at the grocery store here. I was very excited about that. I liked them as a kid and thought my kids should at least try them. Verdict? Boy2 likes them and Boy1 doesn't because they don't taste like real chocolate.

3. And he's becoming an expert on real chocolate. I've taken to making big batches of chocolate ganache spiced with something - cinnamon or allspice or ginger - a couple of times a week and serving it warmed and poured over fresh fruit - this week strawberries, nectarines, pears and peaches - after most meals. It's either that or chocolate sorbet.

4. Did you know that a big fat tablespoon of chocolate ganache in your morning coffee makes the world seem like a peaceful wonderland?

5. I'm currently posting from an old laptap. Because the other computer is being repaired. Well, mostly cleaned. When the computer fixer guy took the side off, we both gasped. The dust! The hair! The little fan thingies were choking on me and my sloppy vacuming.

6. As if my World Famous Nose hadn't suffered enough, my hay fever is out of control and has degenerated into a horrible cold. First broken, barely healed, and now being blown every 12 seconds. You can feel sorry for me now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The nose job

Or we could also call this a great opportunity to use a fancy French word and impress French people with my vocabulary. The actual act in itself is known as pulling a Boy2.

See, ever since he's known how to walk he's done this thing. He walks and talks at the same time, rare multi-tasking for a male (sorry, couldn't resist). But he likes eye contact when he talks (seriously, sometimes he'll be telling me a story and if I look away, even for a second, he'll say, 'Mama, I can't see your eyes,') so if the person he's talking to is not walking with him, say, out of the room, he'll keep looking at said person and he'll keep walking and he'll usually slam into a door or a door handle or a door frame. There's a tube of arnica on every floor of my house.

So, last sunday, I was in Boy2's room, talking to him and walking out of his room at the same time and must have miscalculated where the door frame was because I slammed into it, left side of my nose first. Hard. Tears streaming down my face hard, not because I was crying but because apparently that's what happens when you break your nose. Who knew?

Right, the fancy word. Le chambranle. Which, if you go to google translate, means chambrale in English. Yeah, right. I think it actually means wooden door frame.

My nose is fine, small fracture, no black eyes. Just the bridge was colorful, blue and then yellow and now fading.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bad seed

I went to the acupuncturist's on friday. I love acupuncture. I've been going, off and on, for years and years. I started in Seattle. There's a school there, NIAOM, that has a clinic where interns treat you (under supervision, of course) and it was cheap so when I was in graduate school I started going once a week. And I kept that up for years. And then when I moved here I found an amazing acupuncturist in Nantes, Dr. Butat (in France acupuncturists have to be MD's) and I saw him every couple of weeks until I moved to Laval. Since I've been here, I've been less regular but still fairly consistent, particularly when I'm busy having my ass kicked by life.

So that's like 17 years of acupuncture. I've had a lot of needles in a lot of places, some more or less agreable than others. Kidney 1, middle of the sole of the foot. Ouch. Hurts bad, very bad. And then there are just the points that are jumpy on me, but you learn to deal with that. I've always trusted my acupuncturists and the treatments are always beneficial.

None of that has changed. But jeez. Friday, she put this thing on my ear lobe, up kind of high on the lobe, which corresponds to something important, no doubt, but I was having trouble with the pain so I forgot to ask. Seriously. She needled my ear but it fell out a couple of times so she said, "I'm going to put a little something that'll stay for a bit." I was thinking one of those little pellet things with the adhesive that you leave for a few days. Um, no. Which I should've figured out when she told me to take a deep breath. She pushed this THING (I think it's called a seed in English) hard into my lobe and now I look like I've got a new piercing.

Except that it hurts. When I move the phone to that ear, when I brush my hair, when I roll over to that side while I'm sleeping, and when I bump into things.

Speaking of bumping into things, did I tell you that I broke my nose last week?

Friday, May 23, 2008

What could I possibly respond to that?

Boy2 has something wrong with his right eye. It's probably a stye or pink eye or some other childhood eye thing. I noticed it this morning when he got up. After breakfast, I suggested eye drops.

"Mama, you can't put things in my eyes."

"They're not things, they're eye drops. They'll help your eye feel better."

"My eye feels fine and you can't put things in my eyes."

"Why not?"

"Because my eyes are a treasure."

"Who told you that?"

"Well, no one. I just know it."

"What makes them a treasure?"

"Good things are hidden and found there."

So here's my question for the day: where are your good things hidden and found?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More bedroom details

And still nothing slutty.

So, here's something interesting. The whole mattress and box spring world is a little different here. Different sizes, of course. My new bed, is, as mentioned earlier, 140 centimeters wide, which is the standard double bed here. Frames. I've never really seen bed frames like at home. Sometimes people just have a mattress and it's put on top of what they call a sommier à lattes, which is kind of like a frame but with horizontal slats of wood. Or some people buy a whole bed frame with a headboard and all that. I just wanted a regular box spring which I thought came with feet. Which I discovered is not the case.

Once the guys got everything into my room, I unwrapped it all and found that the box spring had no feet. But it did have four very nice holes where feet could be screwed in, if such feet could be found. I finally got dressed and dragged the boys to Leroy Merlin, which is our equivalent of Home Depot. But smaller. At least the one in Laval in smaller than any Home Depot I've ever seen. And there I found I whole little section devoted to bed feet. I found some I liked, not too short because I don't like beds that are too low, for reasons that vary. I brought them home and screwed them in (how intelligent is that? the holes are a universal bed feet hole size!) and put the bed on its feet and added the mattress. And realized that I'd gotten very tall feet and was now looking at a princess bed. Seriously, it's level with my upper thighs. Which is, it turns out, the ideal height for boys to run and jump on.

As for how the bed is, well, it's firmer than my last bed which is always good. It sleeps well although I'd say it lacks a little give. Don't we all?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How my bed got into my bedroom

So, I've got a new bed. I ordered it a few weeks ago.

Last wednesday at 8:00 a.m. my doorbell rang. I wasn't dressed yet but my sleeping attire wasn't shockingly slutty so I walked out and unlocked the gate. There was a man and his truck was behind him blocking the street. He said he was there to deliver my bed. Yeah! I shouted and then said, "Where's your partner?" He said he didn't have one, the bed wouldn't be that heavy. I must have looked doubtful or surprised because he reassured me, no problem. "Even up to the second floor (first for Europeans)?" His turn to look surprised. What did I mean upstairs? I explained that leaving it in my dining room wouldn't do much good and I certainly couldn't carry it upstairs myself.

So, I tried to be his partner. We tried to get the box spring up the staircase. And got stuck halfway there. We twisted and turned and acknowledged defeat.

Please understand, the pit is nothing like the cellar and I really wanted my new bed. In my room.

I left him holding the box spring in the entry and went in search of help - the strong masculine variety. I found a neighbor's son, 20, tall and strong looking and, most importantly, willing to help. Of course I was asking for help and gesticulating madly under his window so, really, what choice did he have?

Mover man and his new partner tried the box spring - staircase thing. Same results. At which point I'm thinking, St. Anthony, finder of lost things, you'll be required to find my sanity if I end up sleeping on a bed in the dining room.

The window was the only other option. As mover man started to move into impatience-I've-got-a-schedule-to-keep-land, I raced to the garage to get the ladder. We (mover man and I) climbed the ladder together with the box spring in hand and lifted it up just high enough for neighbor's son to grab the plastic wrapping and hold it while I climbed down the ladder and raced up the stairs, climbed onto the radiator to reach over the wrought iron scrolly things and grabbed the plastic and held it while mover man pushed higher, neighbor's son and I pulled as he pushed then we held on while mover man let go and raced up the stairs to take my place.

And then the fun began. They were both on the window sill with one foot on the radiator and had to flip the box spring to get it through the window (from the scrolly thing to the top of the window is 155 centimeters and the box spring is 140 centimeters wide). It took them about 5 minutes.

The mattress, on the other hand, made it up the stairs.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Out of a pit

of dust and despair I shall rise.

I swear.

No, really, it's totally on my list of things to do. The rising out of the pit thing.

And I'm going to post for real tomorrow. And it might even be funny.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Customer service, à la française

This is actually kind of funny. My friend Beth (the one who lives in Barcelona) is coming to visit me this weekend. It's another bridge weekend, in more ways than one. But mostly because the 8th is a holiday, lots of people are taking off the 9th and then monday the 12th is also a holiday (la Pentecôte).

Anyway. Beth is flying into Charles de Gaulle airport, taking a shuttle to downtown Paris and then taking the TGV to Laval. The SNCF, the French train company, has a website where you can purchase your tickets. Yeah, right.

Of course the SNCF knows that tourism is huge in France. It's a major market. So their website's all international looking, you can choose the language and everything. Again, yeah, right.

Because what Beth and I discovered today is that when you go through their whole deal and chose your dates (which they make you do twice for no obvious reason) and times all is well. But then they ask you where you'll be picking up the tickets. Beth is flying in on friday so she'll be picking up the tickets at the train station in Paris.

And of course, when you say you're picking the tickets up in France, you suddenly become a French speaker and are therefore sent to the French section of the site. Where you are required to go through the whole date and time giving deal again (yes, again, twice).

Forme sans fond?

Monday, May 05, 2008


Doesn't necessarily mean finding. As is evidenced by the data compiled by my site meter.

It's interesting to look at how people end up on your blog. Most of them come from places unknown but sometimes they come from searches. And often times, they only stay for a minute because they didn't find what they were looking for.

My favorite is, of course, the Mary Kleyweg search. Which comes up every once in a while.

Other favorites: wheat drawings (from an odd conversation with Boy1), baguette viennoise, some words may hide others, label things in my room in a foreign language, and La Maison Renaise.

Which, by the way is now called La Maison... and will be opening in its new location May 13th. I've been inside, it's going to be beautiful and it's even closer to my house now. And open on mondays. And open early in the morning.

No need to search for me, you know where I'll be.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Trèfle à quatre feuilles

When I was very young and even just younger, I was very lucky. I suppose I still am, just differently. Back then though, I was lucky in the good luck charm department. I found four leaf clovers all the time and once stumbled upon a ladybug nest, hundreds of them winking at me and wishing me luck for years and years to come.

Boy1 has apparently inherited the lucky gene. Yesterday was a hard day for him and he said the only thing that could help was a good luck charm. And he has somehow managed to find, in the past 24 hours, three 4 leaf clovers in our front yard. Those of you who have seen my yard can imagine how unlikely that is. My yard is smaller than your average American garage.

It hurt to have to tell him that all the four leaf clovers in the world can't change that which cannot be changed.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Memories, dreams, and reflections

Which is not my title, it's a book title. But I dabble in all three from time to time.

It is an odd time, many bridges to cross, all figurative. The month of May is like that in France. Tomorrow is a holiday, actually a double holiday. Labor Day and Acension Day. Labor Day is always May 1st but Acension Day isn't. Since it's a thursday, most people aren't working on friday and the boys don't have school. Same deal next week - May 8th is to celebrate the end of WWII and then monday is Pentecost, so a five day weekend with the bridge. Don't ask me how the economy stays afloat. I only know that paying off my student loans while the dollar is record low makes it so much more fun than before. SallieMae and US Department of Education, I'll see your criminally high interest rates and I'll raise you a kick-ass exchange rate.

As for dreams, well, Meghan, one of my shadow sisters, visited me in a dream last week. Blunt as always in my dreams, she told me I didn't belong here, where we were, in the dream. I was trying to go back, and you can't, she said as she kissed my cheek. So I woke up.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Something like an urban legend

So, there's been talk of an IKEA opening in Rennes. As a matter of fact, they've been talking about it for years. And then they started building it, or at least that's what everyone said. And they've been saying that for a while. Yesterday, internet searches, phone calls to friends who often go to Rennes and phone books revealed that, in fact, there is still no IKEA in Rennes. Will there ever be? Is it really under construction? Will everyone just have to keep going to the one in Nantes for years to come? I cannot say.

But I can say that I've learned a new word. L'arlésienne. Which comes from a short story by Alphonse Daudet. And which has come to mean an inexistent person or an overexistent person. Like what's his name in the Usual Suspects. Like the IKEA in Rennes.

I know, I know, IKEA isn't a person, but the one in Rennes is definitely both inexistent and overexistent.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ah, le mercredi

Wednesdays are funny in France. It's like a parenthetical notation in the sentence that is the rest of the week. Grade school children don't have school so you see them everywhere. Either with their mothers or grandparents or caregivers or in groups with adults from childcare centers being led around the city center. To the library, to the cinema, to the shops, to the bakery.

If someone mentions work schedules and says quatre/cinquième (4/5), chances are the one day off is wednesday. When a mother says she's returning to work, after a parental leave, for example, the first question everyone will ask her is: As-tu ton mercredi? Do you have your wednesday (off)? All the sports activites and music classes and pony clubs and whatever else are on wednesdays, which means most moms spend the day in the car.

I don't know quite how I feel about it. I like having a break in my work week, it's a day to catch up on papers I need to grade or lessons to plan. And it's nice for the kids to have a break too, their school days are really long, especially on the two days when they eat at the cafeteria. 8:30-4:30. That's 8 hours. It's organized well, recess happens twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon, but still. I sometimes wonder if they wouldn't do better in a system that had fewer hours everyday, including wednesday. It's been talked about occasionally here. But then everyone who has a job linked to the current schedule throws a fit. The teachers because they like the break to do the same things as me. The sports and activites people because they like to be able to do things all the same day. And then of course everyone starts tossing out the French classic: mais ça a toujours été comme ça. But it's always been that way.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Several things

Yes, this is going to be one of those posts.

1. I am fine. The boys are fine.

2. It's still not spring. They speak of it coming one day but I'm doubtful. There are, theoretically, blooming pink trees and magnolias have supposedly come and gone, but I've seen none of it. How could you? Too much rain and hail and wind and cold.

3. I did see, however, a beautiful rainbow on saturday afternoon. I didn't even bargain with any saints to get it. Others, on the other hand, are probably bargaining in my favor. Thank you, all of you.

4. I do not have a brain searing headache and I am not in a funk and neither of these states is a result of drugs, prescription or otherwise. These are things to be grateful for.

5. Can someone please pick me a theme song?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chart this

I probably don't have permission to post this, so please, no one report me to the Economist. I visit their website regularly and would be very sad if I were no longer a welcome guest. I tried to do it the legit way and it didn't work so I'm left to my own devices.

By the way, Falling short, it's their title, not mine.

Falling short

Apr 8th 2008

NORWAY is the most generous rich country, giving nearly 1% of its national income in foreign aid in 2007. Total net aid from the 22 countries of the OECD development assistance committee fell by over 8% to $103.7 billion as debt-relief payments tapered off. Each country gave an average of 0.45% of GDP, some way off the UN target of 0.7%. Only five countries achieved this. America, the biggest total donor, is miserly compared with most other countries.


This is, in part, what I was trying to get to the other day and didn't express clearly. How many of you have heard how much we give in foreign aid? Heard the government lament about how much we spend on helping other countries? Well, it's true, $21.8 billion is a lot of money, but no one who complains about how much we give ever mentions that proportionally, we actually do a lot less than many other countries. That's what I was trying to get to - we frame things, we gloss them over and we lie. Yes, yes, you're right, maybe everyone does.

Monday, April 14, 2008

On anchors and roots

Saturday was a strange day. More of the those ridiculous spring showers (of rain or hail depending on the mood of the skies) that come out of a cold nowhere and don't feel like spring at all. By 11:00 my house was oddly calm, the children had left for Nantes to stay for a week (school vacation again) and I had the whole day to do nothing or anything.

I spent most of the afternoon at La Maison... (anciennement La Maison Renaise), my favorite café/salon de thé. I lounged about and drank warm beverages and spoke with very interesting people. And one of the things we talked about was Laval. We talked about how this peculiar little city leaves its non-native residents, foreign or otherwise, feeling neither enracinés nor ancrés. Neither anchored nor rooted here. A woman I spoke with said that, after 21 years of living here, she still feels like we grow here like hot-house tomatoes, not the real ones that grow in ground. Despite friends and children and jobs and homes and cafés and all those other things that make you feel like you belong somewhere.

I haven't lived in that many places, only 8, and for lengths of time varying from 3 months to 16 years. But of those 8, this is the only one that has slipped through my fingers.

We agreed that it was not necessarily a bad thing. Like being a foreigner, being rootless and anchorless allows for a certain amount of detachment and, for me, freedom. I am a guest here, both privileged and limited.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bonjour tristesse

Did you know that melancholy used to be one of the seven deadly sins ? Melancholy? Really? Deadly?

They traded it in for sloth sometime during the 17th century.

So I got to thinking about melancholy. Being sad and gloomy. Is that really all that bad? And sometimes it isn’t even that. It’s more like pensive than gloomy. Like pensive with an edge. Edgy contemplation.

I did find an archaic definition that explains the sin aspect. It referred to sullenness and outbreaks of violent anger caused by black bile.

Now that sounds nasty. Black bile. Moral sludge generated by equal measures of sadness, anger, guilt and confusion. Sounds a lot like a crise de foi / foie. A liver crisis of faith. Or a faith crisis of the liver.

The solution for melancholy? Chocolate, I think. Soul salve. Not as good for the liver though. The solution for black bile? Equal measures of rainbows, unicorns, cotton candy and sand castles.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Something that makes my day

Or even my week.

Getting packages from friends and family. I honestly don't even care what's it the package. It's just like getting a sweet piece of home from someone who cares. It's so nice. We got three packages this week. One from Beth with ginger chews. Hot and sweet. Everything in life should be hot and sweet.

And then 2 (two!) packages from my brother and sister-in-law, with magazines and candy for the boys (they were thrilled - peanut butter cups are to them what ginger chews are to me), and even more ginger chews. Which Boy1 has now decided he likes. It's funny to watch him eat them. He always keeps a glass of water nearby.

So, friends and family and, thank you all for thinking of us and sending things from time to time.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Not Miss Météo

I'm not really into the weather. I don't monitor it, other than to decide which clothes to set out for the kids to wear to school.

I've never been particularly weather sensitive, other than to the heat. Over 75 and I start to melt.

I grew up in Illinois with the snow and the wind and the cold and the odd springs and hot, humid summers. And then I lived in North Carolina where it was, for about 4 months of the year, too hot for me. But I survived and didn't bitch about it too often. Then I moved to Seattle. Everyone bitches about Seattle weather. But I didn't. Ever. I loved Seattle weather. I loved the mist and the perfect (usually) mild summers and the moderate winters. And even the rain. It never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do. I never used an umbrella in Seattle. I didn't even own one.

And then I moved here.

And now, this year especially, I find myself feeling being somethinged by this ridiculous weather.

Les giboulées de mars. March showers. Although I find showers only hints at what giboulées really means. And believe me, I have pointed out to the skies that March is over.

In fact, it's weather chaos. Chaos linked to the passage from winter to spring. That transition from the quiet knowing that is winter to the necessary doing that is spring. Sunny every once in a while, cold, harsh wind with oddly timed showers of rain or hail or huge melting snowflakes like we had yesterday. No snow, not one flake, all winter long and then, on April 6th, it snows.

Perhaps I'm the one who got it wrong. Is it supposed to be necessary knowing and quiet doing? Either way, it feels like neither.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

On being firm

And I'm not talking about body parts.

I'm talking about being marked by firm determination.

About being bold and steady. About being intègre. Which I saw translated as just but that doesn't seem right. Whole seems better, as in being completely whole. Whatever that is.

About being résolu. Resolute.

In French, résolu is the past participle of the verb résoudre, to resolve. So how is resolute different from resolved? To resolve can mean to find a solution, to remove doubts, to cause to progress from dissonance to consonance, to render parts visible and distinct. How do you get from here to there? How do you separate the image parts visible and distinct? How do you make them whole? How do you give them back their integrity?

And why don't we have an adjective for intègre? Someone who is whole, true to himself. What is he?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Against the wind

I may be fooling myself. It wouldn't be the first time.

But I currently believe that there are times when the only solution to whatever ails is to be still and just let the world rearrange and reshape. To do anything else, to force anything, would just be counterproductive.

Last night at dinner, I learned a great new expression that perfectly illustrates my point.

Qui pisse contre le vent, se rince les dents.

He who pisses against the wind rinses his teeth.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Aren't people cool sometimes?

It was a normal day yesterday. A normal tuesday after a three day weekend. I worked in the morning and picked the boys up for lunch.

The house I live in is on a small street with sidewalks on both sides and parking places on both sides, parallel to the sidewalk. It's a one-way street in downtown Laval that runs north to south, one block east of the river.

I parked my car in one of the spots near the house, but next to the opposite sidewalk. Boy1 got out street side, looked both ways, and crossed. I got out on the sidewalk, undid Boy2's seatbelt and left the door open for him to get out. I went to the trunk to get out my briefcase and the bright yellow plastic crate I carry all my school stuff in. Yes, it's heavy and impractical but I haven't found a better solution. Suggestions are welcome.

I closed the trunk and Boy2 and I crossed the street together. We went inside and I fixed lunch. We ate pasta with sausage and tomato cream sauce and leftover chocolate torte with chocolate whipped cream, in case you're interested. Then the boys played and I cleaned up the kitchen and read a little and then it was time to go. We had spent about a hour and 15 minutes at home. We walked outside, I closed and locked the big iron gate and we all crossed the street. There was my car, as it had been left. Which was with the driver's side door wide open onto the sidewalk. It took up most of the sidewalk, there was barely enough room for someone to walk. I don't live on a busy street but I can be fairly certain that at least 20 people walked by my car and left it like that. No one took anything. And there's a lot to take in my car. Not of much value necessarily, but still. Three MAC lipsticks, a wooden finger rosary, three grocery store tokens, a thermos, 12 packets of kleenex, an umbrella that says merde, il pleut on it(a promotional gift from the radio station that interviews me sometimes), a winnie-the-pooh umbrella, 3 textbooks, and 3 clean cake pans, all in plain view of anyone who walked by.

Restores your faith in humanity, doesn't it?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ah, les profiteroles

Otherwise known as dessert bliss. And I'm not exaggerating. I ate some yesterday. We had Easter lunch at a restaurant. I'm cooking an Easter meal today (Easter monday is a holiday here) and I really didn't feel like cooking two Easter-worthy meals in a row. So, we ate at a restaurant. I had beef carpaccio. Yes, the former vegetarian now eats raw meat. But it's just so good. With paper thin shavings of parmesan on top.

Anyway. For dessert I got profiteroles. Which is probably one of my favorite desserts of all time. And one that I never make. Ever. Because it seems like a pain, although that doesn't always stop me.

Want to know why it's my favorite? Because it's complicated and simple at the same time. It's hot and cold at the same time. It's chocolate and vanilla at the same time. It's crunchy and smooth at the same time. It's so many things at once and no one thing dominates or loses its integrity. You have to respect that in a dessert.

Three choux pastries -cut in half and filled with vanilla ice cream, a pond of melted dark chocolate for them to bathe in, grilled slivered almonds sprinkled over all, for fun.

What's your favorite dessert?

Friday, March 21, 2008

And while I'm at it

I didn't respond to any of yesterday's comments but only because I wanted to respond in a post.

In response to frequent criticism about the United States, I guess I am forced to ask the question, "Why?" Why do we feel so criticized and why do we feel the need to defend?

I'd say we're criticized because we do a lot of things we shouldn't. Or we try to lie about why we're doing them. We frame them in pretty pictures of 'we're helping the whole world' instead of just admitting that, like many countries, WE'RE SELF-SERVING sometimes. I'm absolutely NOT saying that everything about our foreign policy is bad, nor am I saying that we are a horrible nation. But we're uncomfortable with the political incorrectness of being self-serving so we say we're doing what no one else has the money or troops or morals to do. It may be true about the funds and the troops but I don't believe the US has the corner on the moral market. I'd even go so far as to say we're pretty two-faced about a lot of things. The US is like that bitchy girl in high school that no one really liked but had to be friends with because she was so popular. And why didn't we like her? Because she couldn't be trusted. She was false about her motives, you could never really tell what she was after or when she would turn. You had the very distinct impression she was using you. Which she was.

I'd also say that people of other nations may feel the need to criticize us because we give the impression of being pretty light on the self-criticism and examination that is necessary sometimes to grow. Do we give the example of being a nation that has learned from its mistakes? Or from history? I'm not saying we don't, I'm just asking the question. Do we?

As for seeing the points of view of other countries, gosh, where to begin with that one? The European Union, with all its issues, is a union of 27 member countries. 27 different countries who actually manage, with admittedly more or less success, to see different points of view and work together. Which is not to say that I believe the United States incapable of lifting its head out of the ethnocentrism that has dominated for so long. On the contrary, I hope we will. I believe we can.

Part of the problem is that, as a nation, I believe that we behave like an adolescent, which, historically speaking, compared to many countries, we are. What does a typical teenager do? She doesn't listen to ANYONE and thinks she knows EVERYTHING.

Here's a question for the day: when was the last time the United States listened to anyone? When was the last time the United States admitted to not knowing everything?

And lastly, I'd like to mention Ali's comment. Oh my. Again, another where to start. If you haven't read the comment, here is part of it:

The other day the local paper did a story on gas prices, and interviewed a few people at the pump. I quote:

Faith Dansby, who was putting gas in her van at a Shell station on New Circle Road, said she is coping by trying to cut down on trips, such as getting her groceries once a week rather than making multiple runs.

"As Americans, we shouldn't have to go through this," she said.

And as Ali said, "I was flabbergasted at the statement I bolded up there. WHAT? I found it very narrow-minded, and yes, chauvinistic. What about the rest of the world?"

Ali also provided a link which gave stats on gas prices in other countries. Do you realize that in France we pay over $7 a gallon for gas? And in most other European countries it's over $8?

A little relativity is always good, it gives clarity to a perspective, it provides a reference point. Perhaps that is the problem. Where is our point of reference?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

So what is it?

This post might piss some people off. Just letting you know in advance. See, there I go, being all American and politically correct and not wanting to offend. Be offended if you feel like it.

What I'd like to know is what is it that makes us (Americans) display the level of patriotism that we do. I'm not picking on Beth (I love her and she's an amazing and loyal friend) when I point out that she commented that she was 'thrilled' to be an American. I think a lot of people would say the same thing. And then there's the whole flag thing. But I want to know WHY we say and do things like that.

I've been living away from the US for 11 years and I've never once heard anyone of any nationality other than American say something like that. Or seen a flag hanging in front of a house.

Today in class my students worked an on article from about Obama's speech from the other night and the race issue and we started talking about patriotism and related issues. I questioned them about their own patriotism. They said it was something they felt but didn't show unless it was a regional thing (think Corsica, Basque, Provencal, Breton etc). They also tried to distinguish (but couldn't) between the notions of being chauvin and patriotique.

Le chauvinisme est une manifestation excessive et agressive du patriotisme et/ou du nationalisme. Il est le reflet d'une admiration exagérée, voire trop exclusive, de son pays. (From French Wikpedia)

Chauvinisme is an excessive and aggressive form of patriotism or nationalism. It reflects an exaggerated or even exclusive admiration for one's country.

I think there's something there. I don't think we are patriotic, I think we are chauvin. To an extent that eliminates our capacity to see other points of view. A cultural egocentrism that gives us a serious kink in the neck.