Monday, February 27, 2006

Crash II: the Bathroom Explosion

Calvin Klein Truth Perfume + Ceramic Tile Floor = the Best-Smelling Bathroom in Paris



Friday, February 24, 2006

In Good Hands

My father in law is an insurance agent. And he's great. When something happens, say a car accident, he's the guy you want to talk to. He doesn't make you feel stupid, treat you like it is all your fault, or make the situation any more stressful. In fact, he calms you down, treats you like it can happen to anyone (he'll say 'because it can'), and generally make you really, really glad he's on your side.

Last week, I got a letter from MAAF Assurances. We had paid for a "civil insurance" policy with them when we first arrived. This is obligatory in France, but not expensive. I guess if you accidentally trip someone on the street and they knock all their teeth out when they fall, this is the insurance that covers that kind of thing. Well, this letter said that I had "consistently paid my bill in the past" but that one was overdue and I needed to send payment right away.

This was odd, because we paid when we bought it, and have never received a bill in the mail from their company. Ever.

So I have been trying to go in to talk to them, but with sickness, doctor appointments, other important errands, and long lines in the office the last time I stopped in, it didn't happen until today. I was nervous. Dealing with functionnaires in France always makes me nervous.

I walked in, and a young man motioned me over, while he finished what he was doing. There was no one waiting, and he quickly cleaned up his papers and asked what I needed. I explained the situation, and he looked up our file on the computer. He explained what had happened when we first came in, and that we were supposed to come to him with our social security card when we got it.

I explained the issues we had with health insurance here, since Dr. B is on a fellowship that doesn't include the wife in the French health system. (Don't write to me about it--I've had hundreds of people tell me this is just not possible in France, but I assure you, it is.) I explained about the insurance we found that was set up for this type of situation, through another company. This insurance deal was created by a man who had the same problem when he worked as a scientist in France, with a fellowship that did not offer coverage to his wife. He used his Nobel Prize money to do it when he won, years later, to give an option to other scientists with this same problem.

The agent, bless his heart, then said the one thing, the very thing that immediately calmed me, took away my fears, and made me believe in the inherent goodness of man.

    Do not, whatever you do, do not pay this bill.

Hallelujah! I think this is the first time someone in France has told me not only did I not have to pay extra, I didn't have to pay at all! Whoopie! He told me to bring in my information from the other company, and he'll take care of it, whenever I have time. And he made a note on our file so I wouldn't get any more scary letters.

Insurance agents. Now they deserve some sort of Nobel prize of their own.


Thursday, February 23, 2006

If You Sprinkle

Paris has an interesting aspect that, frankly, kind of shocked me when we first moved here. I admit that even now, after 6 months, I still find it absolutely abhorrent. The fact is, men regularly urinate in the street, right in front of God and everybody.

Now you may say that this is OK, because the homeless don't always have a place to go. Fine, I agree completely, but if so, they can be discreet about it. And anyway, it's not always the homeless. I've seen well-dressed businessmen in suits and silk ties set down their expensive leather briefcases to "water the wall", just steps from the very busy Place d'Italie. In winter it is disgusting, but in summer it can make me down right nauseous.

Earlier this month, the city of Paris passed a law that made all the coin-operated street toilettes gratuit, or free to use, in order to address this problem, and in hopes that the amount they would have earned from the toilets will be returned in reduced street-cleaning costs. These toilets are small little rooms, with a toilet and a running stream of water and soap to wash your hands, and are automatically power-washed after each user. They are set up all around the city, and can be very convenient when needed.

The problem is getting people to walk the half block out of their way to use them. Yesterday morning, as I walked down the stairs to the metro platform, a man was relieving himself, right there at the bottom of the stairs.

That's it. I thought. I am tired of ignoring this.

"Les toilettes sont gratuits!" I followed this with an audible "Hmpf!" that often punctuates Parisian speech.

Everyone on the platform turned to see the situation. I walked quickly away from him, hoping he wouldn't come harrass me. I am not hard to pick out of a crowd, being one of the few tallish, über-pale, blonde women in Paris. (Many people assume I am not American--Swedish or Norwegian is usually what they guess.)

Just then, the train came. I walked purposely to a car further down, rather than the one that I knew would be right next to the stair of the station I was going to. I got on the car, and was delighted to see an empty strapontin (fold down seat). I settled in, pulled out my book, and began to read. Just as the doors were about to close, he climbed into my car. He stood a few feet away, barely able to stand upright, and the car began to fill with his odeur nauséabonde. I continued to read, hoping he was actually too drunk to start anything with me.

At the next stop, I left the car, and ducked into my original choice. It was full, of course, but I was able to wrap my arm around a pole and continue reading, standing up, until we reached my stop, nearly 20 minutes later.

A small price to pay.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What's for Dinner?

Today was my "long day" with the girls--Wednesdays they don't have school, so they take pottery classes in the center of Paris. They do make up for it though, as school lasts from 8:30 until 4:30 every other day, and they attend every other Saturday morning until noon as well. However, after we eat lunch with their music teacher, and they have their music lessons, we have many hours together, from the time I pick them up at noon until their parents arrive, between 7 and 8 PM.

Thanks to the new birthday gift of a Gameboy Advance, I had lots of time to knit, read, write letters and listen to music today. What I didn't have was time to plan was dinner for tonight. Thankfully, Dr. B is pretty easy when it comes to stuff like that, so I stopped at the local boulangerie on my way to catch the bus, grabbed two baguettes aux céréales (thankfully they had some left) and headed home. Dr. B had taken care of Lucy's daily walk #2 (of 3), and was hungry and ready to eat.

Again, I thank my lucky stars, because one of his favorite meals is the easiest thing in the world.

Soup and sandwiches.

Or, the Parisian version...

Soup, bread, all the cheeses in the fridge and maybe some sliced deli ham, if there is any. Pickles if we want to get crazy.

Am I lucky, or what?

So now I am off to join him for daily walk #3, voluntarily and happily.

Life's good.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Cheezbooga, cheezbooga, cheezbooga, Fries!

Sunday dawned, rainy and dreary, but Dr. B and I really needed to get out of the house. With me being sick, and him working on application after application, neither of us had seen the light of day for a while. We decided to take the 7 line of the metro up to the Marais district, as a friend had told us some stores and restaurants were open in that area. We walked around, fighting over the umbrella the whole time (note to self: bring 2 next time) and wandered through the charming streets, looking in shop windows, and getting very, very wet.

We decided to stop in a café to warm up. We chose one set back a bit (with the charming name of "Le Café"--I'm not kidding) . The café was trendily decorated, with red chandeliers, big gold mirrors, and lots of red and black. The servers were clad in black tops and jeans, and were having a blast, talking and laughing and joking with each other. We looked for a table for two. Unfortunately, all tables for 2 were right next to tables with smokers. We grudgingly chose one near the window, next to a man who appeared to be nearly done with his cigarette.

We ordered coffees, and waited for him to finish, hoping we'd soon be able to breathe free and clear.

No dice. Dude was a chain smoker. Even while eating his burger with cheese, bacon, thousand island dressing, (*Update: and a mostly raw egg, on the burger) and fries, he smoked.

We quickly finished our coffee. Dr. B was sick of being wet and miserable, so on the walk out, I suggested we look for the bookstore I found the other day on the Left Bank, and then stop into the Anglo Pub/Microbrewery/Restaurant, the Frog. There are several versions in Paris, and others around France and in Spain. I knew the idea of a pint of microbrewed beer would cheer him up.

We took the metro, and came up for air at St. Michel. We took off on foot, walking through the touristy but picteuresque areas of the Latin Quarter.

After walking in circles for about 45 minutes, we gave up on finding the bookstore. It was Sunday, anyway, we figured, and they probably weren't open. We were getting hungry, however, so following my crack directional skills, we hunted for the frog.

Another 45 minutes later, Dr. B had had it with my crack directional skills. We decided to walk to Shakespeare and Co. to pick up a copy of FUSAC, the regular French/Anglo publication that the Frog advertised in regularly. Unfortunately, there was no address listed, just a metro stop. We started walking again.I had the brilliant idea to descend to the metro, and go directly to the stop listed. I figured we'd be there, enjoying a pint and some "chips", within minutes. Upon exiting at St. Germain-des-Prés, we circled the area, looking for "The Frog and Princess".

For another 45 minutes.

At this point, I was so low on blood sugar I was woozy, and Dr. B was starting to loose steam as well. I stopped into a hotel to ask directions. The manager didn't know of the place, but did have a yellow pages, and eventually we found it, just 2 blocks from where we were (of course, we had walked past it at least twice during our travels.)

As we entered, we both automatically spoke French to the host. While we were perusing the menu, however, we heard the bartender and waitstaff speaking English. It was decorated much like a place at home, in Wisconsin, with wooden chairs and floors, sports on the bigscreen TV, and shiny stainless-steel beer tanks in the back. The first item on the menu grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go.

Bacon Cheeseburger with Pub Fries.


We ordered, and soon were enjoying their home brew while waiting for our food. (For Madisonites--I'd compare theirs with JT's, but not as good as Capital or the Dane.) We laughed as the bartender and servers let out a roar of joy after a soccer goal, while we watched the french couples at the nearby tables nearly fall off their chairs from shock. It was almost like being home again.

The burger was really good, not great, but close enough. The pub chips were not up to the Bubba Fries at Jordan's Big 10 (I call them "crack fries" because once you have one bite, you cannot stop ever in your life for wanting those fries), but they were very good, close enough. The waitress wasn't American, she was English, but she let us speak English to her the whole time.

We figured since we had skipped lunch, we could indulge in dessert. I ordered the brownie with vanilla ice cream, while Dr. B went for his ultimate favorite, pecan pie. It was good, not great, but close enough.

So, for a few hours, on a rainy Sunday in Paris, we went home. Since it took 6 months for us to get there, I don't feel guilty. Sometimes, it's just nice to go somewhere where you feel good, a little more like yourself. Not perfect, but close enough.


Friday, February 17, 2006

I'm not dead...

I've been sick. I know I must have been vraiment malade when I received an e-card from my sister that said, "you haven't blogged since Tuesday--you really are sick!" Today, however, I am finally feeling a little better. I'm probably at 68%, which isn't half bad.

The last three days have been spent not making the bed, getting dressed by the crack of 3:30, eating citrus fruit (OK, yes, and cookies), drinking juice and tea, and watching the clock for the time when I could again take the horrible tasting medicine prescribed to me on Wednesday by the doctor for the pain. (Side note: French medical people--coatings are good on pills! Please coat!) My throat felt as if I had drunk boiling water, and every time I swallowed it hurt. A lot. Plus, I had a lovely sinus infection. Great. The doctor was a fill-in, as every doc in the office was on vacation, and she was kept very busy. Her phone rang at least 14 times during my examination, and she filled up the schedule all the way through Saturday while I was there. She examined me, told me I had a "gros rhume", and wrote out a prescription for three different medications. That translates as big or fat cold. So, yes, I had a big, fat cold.

It did make me feel good that she complimented me on my french, telling me it was very good for someone who's only been here 5 months, and was much better than her English. If I had any energy I would have done a happy dance, but all I could manage was a smile and a "Merci."

Thanks to Flare, I had Season one of Dark Angel to keep me company. Lucy seems to also be fighting something, as she has been rather docile and non-demanding in the walk department. She also had gooey eyes, so maybe she caught a cold from me. Can dogs do that?

Anyway, I woke up today at noon feeling well enough to shower, grocery shop, and take Lucy around the block. That took from noon until about 7:10, so you can see that I wasn't up to usual form. However, while at the grocery store, I decided to buy some endive, because it seems like there is a lot of it lately, and people are buying it, and I had never had it.

A new adventure! I hurried to check my "La Bible de Cuisine" for a recipe.

The recipe was for 6, and called for 18 endive. 18! I only had 2. Oh well, I figured, I'll just make some green beans too, and it will be fine.

I followed the recipe (well, mostly--I didn't have any parsley) and waited for those 30 minutes of cooking time to be up.

We sat down to dinner. Everything looked wonderful.

    La Carte
    Turkey cutlets with white wine and chive sauce (from a packet--sshh! don't tell.)
    Green Beans
    Braised Endive with butter and fresh lemon juice
    Baguette Meunière

    Salad with Balsamic vinaigrette

    Caramel Mousse (with salted butter! I am a rebel!!!)

    Decaf Espresso

We dug into the first course. The green beans were, well, green beans. The turkey was delicious! And then, I sliced off a bit of the tip of my endive half.

Bitter. Bitter, with sour (lemon), sweet (sugar), and savory (butter, salt and pepper.)

But mainly, bitter.

I'm not big on endive.

I'm glad I only bought 2.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Joyeuse St.-Valentin!

Dear Readers,

Sending my love and hugs from Paris!

Plans for our own celebration this year are a little different, but definitely more meaningful to us. Dr. B had a special request for dinner.

No, we aren't making reservations at some fancy-shmancy 4-star restaurant. We're not taking a cruise on a Bateau Mouche down the Seine. There won't be any 5-course picnics beneath the Eiffel Tower.

He wanted Sloppy Joes at home.


Our care package from the best sister-in-law in the world included a package of McCormick/Schilling Sloppy Joe seasoning, which is our favorite, and Dr. B said he'd rather have BBQ's and corn chips for dinner than the finest steak money could buy.

Isn't he just the cutest?

For his valentine surprise (which he kind of already knows about) I sought out a new experience. I took the 27 bus into the 6th arrondissement, and walked to the San Francisco Book Shop at 17Rue de Monsieur le Prince. It's a second-hand book store that only stocks books en Englais. During the time I was in there, at least 3 people came in asking for French books. The clerk, a young American guy (with limited French) struggled to figure out what they were really asking for before informing them that no, they didn't have any books in French. And no, they don't have any French translations of books that used to be in English. An English woman came in looking for a certain book, and asked if it would be stocked "back here where all the used books are." He answered, "They're all used books. This is a used book shop." I think he gets tired of saying that all day!

Many of you have probably heard of the famous Shakespeare and Co., the well-known Parisian English book store right next to the Seine. I've been there a few times, but honestly haven't been impressed with their selection. I did buy a book there once, a brand new one (because they stock some new things, too, but at full price) and from the attitude of the clerk, my guess was that most people buy books there just to say they bought it there. They have a stamp they will stamp the book with, if you want. The SF book shop was quite different. The shelves were loaded double-deep with books, and there were stacks waist-high all over the floor. It was organized about as best as it could be, for a tiny little shop with books stacked to the ceiling. There were books of every type you could think of (including cook books, pulp fiction, children's books, sheet music, DVD's and bandes-désinées (comics). Jazz was playing over the clerk's Macintosh (KPLU from the Public section of iTunes Radio), and the door kept jingling with new people entering the shop. It is obviously a popular place, though not well-known outside of Paris.

I was able to find three books for Dr. B for Valentine's Day, in a matter of just a few minutes. Their selection was very good, and the prices were very reasonable. The clerk made a recommendation, and then asked me to let him know what I thought of it after I'd read it. He is apparently quite used to people becoming regulars, once they've found it.

I'm glad I found it. And I plan to become one of those regulars.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Four is the Loveliest Number

That Kat is getting really into these memes. She keeps tagging me! I gotta get her started reading some other blogs so she can tag some others, too. Kat--look at my sidebar! There are a bunch of links. Go wild!

But, nonetheless, I have been expecting this one, as it is currently making the rounds of the blogosphere. So, here you go.

Four jobs you have had in your life: (I won't do most recent--I'll do most interesting/diverse. Most recent is just lots of Band Director positions.)

"On Drive Through" at McDonald's (this was considered very good as I was moved there within a few weeks of starting. Only the fast and smart get put on drive through, and usually only after working there a long time. I lasted 3 whole months at Mickey D's. I will say it is a very hard job--at least if you had managers like we did who would force you to clean toilets if you stopped moving for a millisecond--so be nice to McWorkers! And I only eat there when forced--I am not a fan, and this was way before Supersize Me came out. However, I will admit that the pants are very flattering to the heinie.

French Tutor at the University of North Dakota

Woodwind Coach for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO)

Band Director for Overture Band Programs (which I helped found) at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Parish School and St. Francis Xavier Catholic School (in and around Madison WI) Hi Kids! (waves frantically)

I have also taught music at these schools: Hillsboro Elementary and High School, Grand Forks Century, East Grand Forks Central Middle School, Riverside, Valley and Southpoint Elementary Schools, High Point Christian, St. Peter's, St. Michael's. These do not count the multitude of schools I taught at while substitute teaching or during my student teaching experiences. I could go on for weeks.

Four movies you would watch over and over:
Le Divorce
Gone With the Wind (I've also read the book 5 times. It's long!)
Any of the Harry Potter movies (but especially #3. I wish I could turn into a dog sometimes!)
Pride and Prejudice (the A&E version that's really long with Colin Firth. I love Colin Firth.)

Four places you have lived:
West St. Paul, Minnesota
Fargo, North Dakota (and no, I don't talk like they do in the movie)
Madison, Wisconsin
Paris, France

Four TV shows you love to watch: I'll do American ones, because I hardly ever watch TV here.
Monk (season 1 especially)
Sex and the City
CSI (I prefer the original, but will watch all three. However, I think Horatio is really, really irritating. Love Callie Duquesne.)
What Not to Wear

Four places you have been on vacation:
New Orleans, Louisiana (4 times)
Saarbrücken/Essen/Kaiserslautern/Dusseldorf/Köln, Germany
Madrid/Segovia, Spain
Laguna Beach, California (we were only there a day. I didn't like LA, but this little town was just charming and beautiful.)

Four websites I visit daily: there are a lot more than four, but I'll keep it brief.

The Superficial (for celebrity gossip in a mean and nasty way)
The BBC World Service (for news en englais)
Le Monde (pour les nouvelles in french)
Manolo's Shoe Blog (because though I don't have the moneys, I also loves the shoes!)

Four of my favorite foods:
Pickles (the cucumber version, dill or cornichons. I enjoy the 14-day Virginia Chunk, but do not like the Bread and Butter variety. Favorite US Jarred brand are Milwaukee Midget Kosher Dills. The french ones are highly addictive as well. Love also to make my own. The ones my mom made when I was little were the best ever.)
Panang Curry with Chicken and steamed rice from Thai Orchid in Madison
Bananas Foster Häagen Dazs Ice Cream (yeah, baby! Bananas, caramel, rum flavored ribbon, good vanilla--it doesn't get any better than this.)
Crème Brulée (with real vanilla bean, please. And yes, I love to crack the top, just like Amélie.)

Four places I would rather be right now:
Talking with my Mom (if God allowed visits to Heaven with a return trip back to Earth)
Visiting my family
Shopping with an unlimited charge card paid for by someone else who really didn't mind at all
Our own home that was spacious, comfortable, well-equipped and clean while not costing more than we're paying in rent for our teeny Parisian apartment.

Four Bloggers you are tagging
OK, just 'cause it says I have to...

Kylie, Sammy, Flare and AussieLass.


Sunday, February 12, 2006

Lethal Material

After nearly 6 months in Paris plus numerous months in the states, several perfume spritzes (her favorite), repeated washings of the cover, and even attempted washing of the actual bed itself, it was time to admit that Lucy's bed could be considered a toxic substance in some countries.

The smell, when it was "fluffed" to her specifications, was enough to bring tears to your eyes. It was time to say bye-bye to the bed.

I looked around, and France did not disappoint, as its dog beds run just about as expensive as human beds. Unless, of course, your dog is tiny and dainty and cute, as many Parisian dogs are. Lucy is cute, but no one would ever say she is tiny or dainty.

An IKEA trip had been planned with Flare and Kylie, so I did a bit of planning and looked for large dog beds on their website. I was in luck! They had one that was not only large, it was actually larger than hers is now, with a snazzy black and white spotted cover. Plus, at 40 euros, it was a price I could swallow.

We headed out there, meeting at the fountains at St. Michel for our IKEA date. We bought tickets to head all the way out to the store, which is near Charles de Gaulle airport. We rode the train, then a bus, and finally walked through the doors. Anyone who's been to IKEA knows this is not usually a quick trip. We walked and looked for a good 3 hours before having lunch (Meatballs! Yay!) and then headed back out to the store to actually pick up the items we wanted.

I found the dog bed section, found the card with the right price, but the Lucy-sized bed was nowhere in sight. They had the little version, and a different bed that never would have fit, and that was it.

I sought a person to help, but the only one I could find was a maintenance man. He dutifully looked, but couldn't help me. However, he used his walkie-talkie to call someone who could.

She came over to help us and immediately got sidetracked by a woman wearing calf-high boots with 4-inch spike heels, a lacy pink and purple camisole and a fake fur jacket who had some incredibly pressing questions she had to ask about the cat bed she was buying. We waited, trying to be patient, until the IKEA person we had called for could help us.

"I want to buy this dog bed. (Pointing to the one hanging on the wall.) I can't find them here. Do you know where they are?"

"I don't know. Aren't they here?"

"No. Do you see them? I can't find them. That's why I called you."

"Oh. Huh. I'll check."

She headed to the nearest computer, found out the information, and came back.

"We have 7 in stock."

"Where are they?"

"I don't know."

"Can I have that one? (indicating the one hanging on the wall.)"

"No. That is the sample. There are seven. I don't know where they are. You can look."

She shot a parting "Sorry" over her shoulder as she walked away.


So, we searched. High and low and in between--everywhere that we could think of, but there were no dog beds. As a last resort, I picked up a foam mattress sized for a crib that had a cloth cover (washable). The top was like an egg crate, and it felt pretty comfy to met when I laid it down on the concrete floor and "test slept" it for Lucy. It was only 13 euros, so I figured it would do until we could find something else.

I brought it home, and Dr. B put it in Miss Lucy's bed frame (AKA the crate).

She walked onto the new bed. Turned around, and began to scratch. Trying and trying, desperately trying, to fluff the slab of foam into a cozy nest.

It didn't work.

So, Dr. B and I spent most of today unstuffing her old bed (which I'm pretty sure we deserve a medal for), washing the liner and cover in really, really hot water with lots of bleach, and ripping the foam mattress into 40 billion little tiny pieces. We will stuff the new bed with the fresh foam and hope she likes it.

Yep. That's us. Completely and utterly puppy-whipped.

PS. Her other blankets and toys went into the wash as well, and unfortunately it appears that her favorite toy, "Piggy" (the pig) is now on her last legs (of which she has a total of two.) She is now a weird puce color with purple ears and nose, and her stitching is starting to unravel.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Tagged: I Saw You Crying at the Movies...

So Kat tagged me with her very first meme tag. I am so proud!

So the meme is as such: we choose 3-5 movies that always make us cry, post pictures here (preferrably ones that are a little hard to identify, to get you thinking) and link them to a database so you can see what the movies are.

Now, this proved a bit of a delimma for me.

You see, I am officially what is known as a "Bawl Baby."

Yes, I cry at the drop of a hat.

Long Distance Commercial? Pass the tissues, please.

ABC After School Special? Sobbing.

That old Mormon TV commercial with the dog that packs his suitcase because the kids are too busy playing Atari? Every time, man, every time.

I even used to cry every Christmas when they'd play the Folgers commercial--you know the one. Where Pete surprises everyone by coming home and gets there really early and makes coffee and little sister comes down (what was her name?) and he tells her "Ssshhh!" and the wonderful aroma wafts up the staircase and wakes them all up?

Yep, even that one. Every year.

So it was hard, and I have to say I am a little bit embarrassed by the choices, but these are the ones that make me cry. And by cry I mean sob until my ab muscles hurt, I can't breathe for snot interference, and I use all the tissues in the house and have to resort to winding toilet paper around my hand and bringing it out to the DVD player.

Here you go. Read 'em and weep.

And now to tag. Hmm. Many of my blogger buddies are really super busy with life stuff right now, so I'll tag Flare and Kylie because I think they are only somewhat super busy and also Bohemian Mama because I know she will read this and it just might get her to post more often.

Have fun!


Can you tell I'm on vacation?

Some of the things accomplished today: 15:06 PM Paris time

    *Opened care package sent by awesome sister in law.

    *Read "People" from care package

    *While eating Hershey's Miniatures.

    *Read email and blogs.

    *Drank coffee, ate bowl of muesli with yogurt mixed into it.

    *Considered writing fan letter to David Sedaris, due to the fact that I missed hearing him last night at the Village Voice Bookshop (which I am quite bummed I didn't know about earlier.)

    *Wondered if a 32-year old writing a fan letter to a writer who lives only minutes away from her was just too lame for words. (Don't want to be considered a stalker. But one letter isn't stalking, is it?)

    *Remembered that the only fan letter I ever wrote was to "Mouth" from the Goonies. I thought he was cute. He never answered. Gave up on celebrities-as-friends from that point on. Pleased to see his career went nowhere and now he is on shows like "The Surreal Life 4,086."

    *Ate more Hershey's miniatures.

    *Talked to Dr. B on the phone. We're invited tonight for a drink with his work friend in the Marais. Should be enjoyable.

    *Downloaded several photos of self, family and friends into an online facial features reader to find out which celebrities we most looked like.

    *Decided that my photo which brought up both Isabella Rosselini and Donald Rumsfeld was just too weird to be believed.

    *Questioned whether or not to delete the photo from my hard drive.

    *Questioned whether Isabella Rosselini looks like Donald Rumsfeld.

    *Ichatted with Flare.

    *Was invited for knitting afternoon.

    *Freaked out because nothing real has been accomplished today.

    *Cleaned the bathroom.

    *Made the bed.

    *Swept the apartment.

    *Considered getting dressed so I can leave to knit and chat in person.

And here I am.
Writing this instead.
Still in my pajamas
and a bit shaky from all the sugar.



Cloud of Words

Bohemian Mama showed me this really cool site where a computer will make a word cloud from the words on your blog. They can print them as T-shirts, too. But I don't know--I still follow the old adage (from the movie, P.C.U.)

What is this? You're going to wear the shirt of the band you're going to see? Don't be that guy..

But it's kind of cool to see what words I use a lot, and put together like they did. I love that "Lucy" follows "Love". And "better big"--proves that diets are not for me, right?

Here's mine. En rouge, bien sur.

Kind of sums it all up, doesn't it?


Tuesday, February 07, 2006


When we first arrived in France, I felt prepared. After all, I had studied French from 8th grade on, earned a spot in the top 3 of the National French Exam in my state three years running, had minored in French in college (plus testing out of 2 classes with my prior knowledge) and I had been practicing since we found out we were coming, about 9 months. I was ready.

Then I got off the plane.

WHAM. (Sound of reality hitting me.)

What the? Hey, wait a... but I thought...Huh?

The reality was much different than the dream. The basics I had worked great in a classroom in the Midwest, but when faced with trying to set up phone and internet service, dealing with people asking if you wanted your bread "tranché" or not, and desperately begging someone, anyone to give me a bank account because I promise I really, really will pay my bills--well, let's just say it was harder than I thought it would be.

The idea of leaving our apartment and actually having to face people and carry on a conversation that was important, like paying an electric bill or ordering pork chops at the butcher, sent me into a sweat.

That, combined with the seemingly never-ending Summer of 2005 and the lack of air-conditioning, created a lot of sweat.

And I mean A LOT.

Just having to answer a question made it spring from my forehead like Old Faithful.

Ordering dinner? Drip, drip, drip down the small of my back.

Asking for reimbursement when my metro ticket didn't work? T-shirt is soaked and I look like I am trying out for "Girls Gone Wild--Paris, September 2005."

But, the more I tried, the more I listened, the easier it got. I could ask for help from my resident experts (age 8 and 10). Pretty soon, things were getting easier. I could hear new things, new ways of phrasing, and know what they meant without having to ask them to repeat themselves. I could walk into a new situation without having to prepare by removing two or three layers of clothing, just in case. I started getting smiles from shop clerks, and cheerful "Bonjour, Madame!"'s from the shops I most often frequented.

Today, the old dread came back.

The new coffeepot we bought on Saturday cracked. It was kind of a weird, freak thing--it cracked in a swirl pattern on the bottom, never actually breaking through the pot, but I wasn't willing to take a chance of broken glass in our coffee, or having it shatter while filled with hot liquid. I still had the "Darty Contrat de Confiance". It promised that if anything went wrong, they would fix it. However, the last time I had trouble with a Darty purchase, it didn't quite work that way.

I was a little nervous.

It took a few minutes, and a few caramels, to screw up the courage to walk to Darty, which is conveniently located just minutes from our apartment at the Centre Commerciale (mall) Italie 2. I took the pot out of the bag, handed the contract to the customer service representative, and explained the problem.

He got quiet.

I repeated that it really wasn't my fault, that it must be a problem with the glass.

He asked me for my name. Then my address, phone number, etc.

I answered him, hoping that it wasn't so he could send a squad of goons to beat me senseless for daring to ask for a new pot for my cafetière.

He tappity-tapped into his computer. Looked at me out of the corner of his eye. Tappity-tapped some more.

Then, quick as a wink, turned on his heel and ran back to the stockroom.

He brought back a new coffeemaker. I said I just wanted the pot. He said, "Of course. That's what I was going to give you."

After opening the box, he drew out the new pot, with it's cardboard around it, and handed it to me. "Is that alright?"

"Yes! Yes, it's perfect! Thank you!"

He smiled.

"Thank you. Have a good day. Good Bye!"

I couldn't believe it.

Barely a drop. OK, one or two but not much. I made it. I did it!!!

I was so elated, I did a little window shopping before heading back. (OK, I probably would have anyway, elated or not. I'm just like that.)

I stopped into Celio*, a men's clothing store where I have found many things for Dr. B. They are having the French Soldes (big biannual sales) plus they are clearancing out before remodeling the store, so I found a shirt and sweater for Dr. B that were very fetching, his style and inexpensive. When I went up to pay, I was happy to see the salesman who had helped us in the past. He enjoyed speaking English with us, so I always say hello when I see him.

"Hi!" He said.

"Hi! How are you?"

"Fine, thank you. And you? I be on vacation soon."

"I see that. When do you close?"

"Mars. Um. March eleven. Eleventh. It was supposed to be tomorrow but... but they... they move... the date."

Then he does a little fake fanning of his face and says, "Oof. It hot."

I just smiled.

Full circle. Feels good.


Rebel Caramel

The French love food.

I don't think this is something anyone who has ever been here, or even read about life in France, can deny.

They are passionate about food. France, the country, produces much of the food that feeds Europe, and can easily produce enough food, and enough varieties of food, to feed itself. France doesn't rely on anyone else to feed them--they are self-sufficient.

When I go to the grocery store, it is always an interesting trip. There are new things to discover, new varieties to try, and it's the one kind of shopping I can do where I don't end up breaking the bank. Food is reasonably priced here, and the quality is far superior to what I found in the US at the grocery store. I love to check out little cheese shops, butcher shops, street markets, and boutiques devoted to a certain type of food product. Unlike American specialty shops, they are not always more expensive. In fact, the meat from the butcher is not only better, but is also competitively priced.

The french don't use a lot of preservatives in their food, use few additives, and don't add colorants to make it look a certain way. They have laws forbidding some preservatives and colorings (which is probably why I couldn't get my cherry chapstick here), and their culture is used to shopping for food every day, or every two days, in order to have food that is fresh, natural and delcious.

They are also very particular about the ingredients. In purchasing something, you will find that the package could tell you a lot about where the food was produced, by whom, with which variety of animal, where exactly on the body of the animal and even how it was fed or slaughtered. You'll know which type of butter from which village, which variety of apple from which orchard with origins from which part of the world, which King or Queen or Saint preferred which food or inspired the variety, and even where the salt came from that they added, whether it be from the Guérand or Fleur de Sel or what have you.

I have had discussions with French people about the difference between salted and unsalted butter. From what I can gather, the average French person eats unsalted butter, and it's considered a little unusual to prefer the salted kind. Not weird, just a little surprising, maybe a little rebellious.

This reminded me of a time back in Wisconsin, when a friend opened our fridge to get out the butter and margarine (Dr. B is lactose-intolerant) for supper. This friend remarked on the unsalted butter ("sweet butter") I had in the fridge, and asked why on earth I would want unsalted butter, as most Americans eat salted butter, and many don't even know there is butter that comes without. I replied that I use it also for baking, and like to know how much salt I add so the recipe comes out right.

Here in France, I buy margarine for Dr. B (when I have asked where it is, people often didn't know what it was, until I asked where the butter and "tartine" (spread) was.) For myself, I buy butter. I just like the way it tastes better, and according to my last physical my cholesterol level was "great" (doctor's words, not mine) so I don't worry too much about it. I started with the unsalted, but on my multigrain baguette I do like a little salt, so have switched. I am still in the exploring phase of finding the brand and type of salt I prefer.

Yesterday, Dr. B was busy at work, and his boss came in with some caramels for him to try. Her husband had bought them that weekend while on a trip somewhere in France.

After he ate one, she said, "So? What do you think? Do you like them?"

He said, "Yes. They're good."


"And what?"

"Well, they are special caramels!"

"Special caramels? How are they special?"

"Well, they have salt in them. Salt!"


"Salt! Didn't you know, French caramels usually don't have salt!"

Wow. Well. Huh.

Amazing how rebellious these French are. Next thing you know, they'll get really wild and add some vanilla extract!

Storm the Bastille! There's salt in the caramels!


Monday, February 06, 2006

French Guests

The first few weeks we were in France, we lived at the guest house at Jeff's lab while we waited to get the necessary things set up for our apartment. The guest house worked sort of like a hotel--we paid to stay, but also had a kitchen and clothes washer to use. We would take Lucy for walks in the nearby area, which convinced us that this particular banlieue (suburb) was not the place for us. It was populated by many junk yards guarded by mangy, scary dogs, a large cemetary, and little or nothing to do besides go to the hardware store. Lucy got barked at by many a teeny, scruffy purebred who was very concerned with "guarding" his tiny yard.

However, on one of our walks, we met a sweet little dog by the name of Daysi who was fun to play with, snuggly and friendly. Her owner, a man named Jean-Claude, was very friendly and invited us over for coffee.

We went, and he and his wife invited us in, fed us dinner, and talked with us for hours. They were going on vacation the next day, and would be gone until after we moved into Paris. They were the friendliest French people we've met to date, and we gave them our address, as we didn't have a phone yet, and hoped we could get together in the future.

Well, OK, that's what I'd like to say we felt. Dr. B was a little suspicious. His French, at the time, was very limited, and mine was still stilted, so he wasn't quite sure that these people were not going to turn out to be serial killers or something. His imagination can get the best of him at times.

During their visit to Italy, they sent us a postcard, and after Christmas they sent a traditional French New Year's card. This time, they included a return address (I kept hunting online and in the phone book, but couldn't find their address) so I sent a reply.

On Saturday morning, Yveline called.

"Ronica? How are you?"

"Fine! Fine. And you?"

"Oh fine, yes. We are doing well. Did you have a good holiday?"

"Yes! Lovely. It was very nice. And you?"

"Yes. The grandchildren were here. It was nice."

"So you received my card?"

"Yes! Could we come and see you tomorrow? Around 2, 2:30?"

Whoa. Didn't expect that.

"Sure! Sounds nice!"

"Ok, we'll see you then!"

Dr. B was considerably freaked out.

"They're coming here? Oh, no. Oh no oh no oh no. I wanted to go to the museum, the Pompidou, and now we can't. Because these people we barely know are coming. And we'll have to speak French. The whole time. In my house--my sanctuary. I'll have to speak in French and I don't know if I can do it. But what do we really know about these people? Who are they? Why do they want to be friends with us? What if they are serial killers? Or robbers? Or something even weirder???"

"Jeff. We'll have coffee and a dessert and talk. That's it. Now calm down. I'll protect you. So will Lucy."

Dr. B's way of coping with nerves and fear is to remain in his pajamas and sit with his computer, basically doing nothing productive and pretending time does not exist.

Mine is to clean the entire apartment, top to bottom, get dressed and cleaned up and run errands, and make sure everything is ready.

As you can see, the two rarely meet. He gets irritated because I am doing all this stuff and I get irritated because he is not doing anything.

We compromised on Saturday. I didn't complain (much) and he helped take down laundry, fold it (I had to put it away, but that's not too bad), sweep, and he ran to the boulangerie (bakery) for me. I dusted, straightened up, mopped the floor, ran to buy groceries, a tarte to serve, and a new coffee maker. (I had broke our coffee pot by accident, and it was cheaper just to buy a whole new maker. I did put the old one in the recycling, though.)

That night, after dinner, I settled in to knit while he worked on his computer. After a while, he decided we would take a break and watch some old Dr. Who episodes.

Sunday, we went to get ready for our guests. We made the bed, set up the table in the main room (it folds out to be bigger, but there's no way to fit more than 2 people in our dinky kitchen) and put on the tablecloth I had brought from the US. We set out chairs, I got the coffee ready to brew, set out the plates, napkins, etc.

Then we waited.

2 o'clock.




Dr. B was getting nervous. He started picking at me. Complaining. He had to be irritated with something.

"You drive me nuts, you know. Getting ready for guests--you make it such a big deal! And always late at night, I mean, like you were cleaning and going crazy at 1 in the morning! You could pick a better time!"

"Um, honey? No, I did pick a better time. If you'll remember, I cleaned the house at 3 in the afternoon yesterday. By 8 I was watching Dr. Who with you and knitting. We went to bed before 1 AM."

"Oh. Well. You usually wait until late."

"Uh huh."



Dr. B was getting pretty antsy by this time.

"Oh NO! Now they'll come late, and stay for dinner! What will we do? We don't have food for 4 for dinner! (I had planned soup, bread and cheese.) What if they stay really long? I won't get any more work done. I have to work on my papers, I promised Claude, and I have only done a few minutes on them, like 20 minutes, maybe 1/2 hour..."

"No. You've worked about 3 hours on them already. All day, so far. Calm down. It will be fine. They won't stay all night."

He couldn't stand the waiting, so hooked up Lucy to take her for a little jaunt around the neighborhood.

A few minutes later, I hear him at the door.

"Honey! I am back, and I brought friends!"

So Jean-Claude, Evelyne, and their son Olivier were here. They greeted us with bisous (french cheek-kissing), and gave us a gift. Evelyne had brought a Tarte Tatin (a delicious apple tart) she had made that morning from apples from their garden. They apologized for being late, saying that traffic was horrible and their was some sort of protest going on, so streets were blocked off. Jean-Claude joked that they might have to sleep on our floor. Luckily, I don't think Jeff quite caught what he was saying, or he might have lost his marbles right then and there.

We drank coffee, ate, and talked for about 2 hours. Jeff was surprised that his French was good enough to follow the conversation and make himself understood, most of the time, anyway. He asked for a few words from me, but for the most part, he held his own.

They were very pleasant, kind and fun to talk with. Their son Olivier seemed very excited to meet some Americans, and took pictures of us with his cell phone. He loved Lucy, and said she reminded him of Rex, his dog who had just died recently. They invited us to come back to their place for a BBQ sometime, and said we are welcome anytime, just give them a ring, and that we should bring Lucy so she can play with Daysi.

And at 10 after 5, they said their goodbyes, gave us more bisous on the cheeks, and headed back to the banlieue of Vitry-sur-Seine.

Due to all the coffee and sugar, I was feeling a bit over-energized, so we went for a long walk through our arrondissment to burn it off. Jeff complimented me on how much my French has improved, and noted that he actually understood most of what was going on. He was still surprised that some random French family would want to be friends with us, but seemed more willing to accept that they weren't going to boil us for dinner or kidnap us or rob us blind, and thought that maybe, just maybe we could go out there and have a nice BBQ with them when it warms up a bit.

We're making progress. Little by little.

And the best part? Yveline left us the rest of the tarte.


I know what I'm having for breakfast.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Message from the Prairie

I just want to say how proud I am at this moment.

My Grandpa Carl and Grandma Sylvia got a computer. They are both in their 80's and are learning how to type and use a computer so they can send emails to all of us grandkids and read my blog.

It feels just like a hug all the way from North Dakota!

The best Groundhog's Day present I could ever get:

Dear Jeff Ronica Got your mesage We are doing fine here Im trying to leran
to run this thing \ Never typed in my life so im having my troubels glad to see were goue are
enjoying your life in france

Ill have to make this cause Opps shoud be short well i beet\ER




Best Invention Ever


Lucy loves them.

And they work! I used one today--it was necessary.


Thank you, Samantha! (I have the most thoughtful sister-in-law in the entire world.)


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Housewife Test

Yesterday, Dr. B finally got a chance to be "tested" using the Scanning Electron Microscope at work. This is a very difficult machine to use, and very expensive, but as he's had lots of training in the US and much experience, he had been very frustrated because he was not allowed to use it in France until he passed their test. He came home elated because he had not only passed, but got some great images as well.

To celebrate, we decided to go to the late movie, after finishing dinner (carrot salad, rotisserie chicken, potatoes with crème fraîche and butter, salad with homemade vinaigrette and fruity yogurt for dessert.) We saw "Good Night, and Good Luck".

We both really liked it. I was quite intrigued with the style of filming, the directing, the costuming, the sets--it really brought the story to life in an interesting way. The story itself was very apropos to what is going on right now in our country as well.

As we were walking home, during our discussion of McCarthyism, the US Constitution and Bill of Rights and the current state of american civil liberties, I remarked that I actually did love seeing men who dressed in nice shirts, ties and suits to go to work. Sometimes I wish we, as a society, hadn't adopted the "casual Friday" look. I admit it: I love pretty dresses.

When we got home, I went to get ready for bed. It was near midnight. I saw Dr. B's planned outfit hanging in the bathroom.

His shirt was a mess of wrinkles.

I asked, "Honey, isn't there something else you can wear? I haven't ironed this shirt yet."

"No, it's fine, don't worry."

"But it looks awful."

"Well, there's nothing else."

I didn't buy this one, because I recently ironed a bunch of shirts for him, but I knew better than to argue with him after midnight, as he would be the one getting up with the dog when she nosed him awake at 6 AM.

So, after midnight on a Tuesday Wednesday, I took out the ironing board (Lucy, terrified, jumped in bed with Dr. B) and ironed his clothes for the next day.

As he was attempting to wake me this morning, I was having the most horrible nightmare. It took me 20 minutes and 1/2 cup of coffee to fully come out of it.

I had been given a "Housewife Test" that was basically a book the size of a dictionary. The pages were thin and fragile, and reminded me of a type of paper we used to have when I was a kid, down near the typewriter, my Mom called "onion skin". On each page were between 12-15 questions for me to answer, some being "labs" that we had to do and attach. I remember the first lab had to do with cutting together butter, sugar and flour with two knives until the mixture formed "coarse crumbs." I was to live in a mobile home while completing it, with another woman for a roommate. (This was my friend J who teaches PE at SMG. She mostly sat on the couch drinking coffee, and didn't worry too much about the test.)

Now, this test is not a problem. I am good at tests. I can cut together pastry ingredients with two knives to form coarse crumbs with the best of them.

The problem was when the committee arrived, I realized that I had missed a section of the book about a centimeter thick, and was in the bathroom trying to cram the answers in while my roommate tried to stall them by offerring them coffee.

We had no homemade cookies, so I knew there was no way she would succeed. A cup of coffee and small talk only gives you so much time.

I attempted to run out the back to make it look like I had been out for the day. I still wasn't done with the test, and my answers, in pencil, were smudged and messy.

As I came in the back door, the committee leader ('Kitty' from That 70's Show) smiled sweetly and snatched the book out of my hand.

As this happened, Dr. B put a cup of coffee in my hand (did I mention that I can sleep sitting up?)

Moral of the Story: on Tuesday, instead of doing yoga and taking a long walk with Lucy through the area, I think I probably should have been ironing.

Or someday, when we are making more than a post-doc's salary, I will send his shirts out.

I kind of like that idea better.