Friday, September 29, 2006

It wasn't my school.

He wasn't my principal.

But he was an educator, like me.

He cared about kids, like I do.

He dedicated his life to trying his best to bring them up right.

What is this world coming to?


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Quarter Note

Mrs. B the Band Director:

"OK, everyone! Now that we've learned how to play your very first note on the trombone and the euphonium, let's use our "too-too tonguing" and try the notes in #2! These notes are called Quarter Notes. Quarter Notes get one beat each. What does a quarter note look like?"

Note: Expected Answer is "it's colored in, with a stick attached."

Sam the Euphonium player:

"A Golf Club!"


Monday, September 25, 2006

Coming Soon...

A new blog/blog title/name/whateveryacallit. And a new design. Promise. In the works. Be patient!

An end to this 6-day (and counting) migraine. I hope. I'm running out of medecine, and our new insurance doesn't kick in until the 1st of October, so I'm hoping for an end to this, soon. If it's still going by then, I'm going to need morphine. Oy.

Payday. Puh-leeeeeeeeze!!! Amazing, how expensive moving is, even when it's "paid for". Yeah, whatever.

A new knitting project. I just got some yarn, and had my first American Yarn Store experience. It was mind-blowing!!! No french yarn, but yarn from everywhere else on this planet, including Manos del Uraguy, every kind of Alpaca, and many yarns only sold from cones--that they spin themselves! Made the Bon Marché look like the Mauvais Marché. I made a simple, economical choice, and now have 4 skeins of Cascade 220 in a lovely shade of smoky blue (the color that looks best on me of all colors in the spectrum) that will become some sort of shawly/stoley/warm wrappy thing. And I'll sit in the new garage-sale oak rocker that is sitting proudly in our new living room. I can't wait to get started!

Positive vibes going out to Kyliemac for her spider-munch saga, and to my cousin Amanda and her husband Chad, who are in the military in Iraq. Please keep them in your thoughts, and thank you.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Un Emigré à Madison

On Monday night, I got a surprise call from my Awesome Aunt Brenda, the emergency room nurse, who was in town for a health-care conference, and happened to have a night free. (OK, she bowed out of a boring reception on the off chance that we'd be able to hook up. She's cool like that.) I picked her up at her hotel on the west side, and she insisted on hearing "all about France" in the car, as I attempted to make it across town without too many manual transmission mistakes. (I did pretty well; only stalled out once.) We talked about culture, food, and of course, politics, and compared some of the interesting similarities and differences between the two countries. She was especially interested to hear about the issues of racism in France, and wanted to know what some of the reasons were that there is such a disparity between ethnic groups in both of our countries.

After walking Lucy, we headed over to the Weary Traveler Freehouse, and continued our conversation with Dr. B, who was waiting there, having an after-class glass of wine with his friend and mentor. After Marc left, I hailed the waiter, and ordered wine for us to enjoy with our dinner.

"Excuse me, could we get three glasses of Côte du Rhône, please?"

The waiter looked surprised, agreed, and said, "you have an excellent accent!"

I smiled, and said over my shoulder, "Well, we just got back from a year in Paris...", feeling quite smug and cosmopolitan, I admit.

"Great!" he said, and rushed off to put in our order, his frizzy hair bobbing out underneath his trendy trucker hat.

We continued to discuss the issues of the day, our President, the Middle East, energy issues, and Brenda's daughter Amanda (my cousin) and son-in-law, Chad, who are in Iraq as we speak. As we ate our incredibly delicious meal (Madison plug: go to the Weary Traveler--it's great!!! end of plug), we never lacked for subjects of conversation, as is the norm when we're with Brenda.

As we were finishing, the waiter came over again, and asked how we had liked living in France. We told him we loved it, and were pleased to find a few cheeses from France at the Willy Street Co-Op, a few blocks away. "Oh, you should really check out Whole Foods. They have a very good selection," he said, and listed a few of his favorites, mentioning that the cheeses were seasonal, so you needed to return regularly and watch their stock.

"Where are you from?" I asked, having a hard time placing his accent myself.

"Oh!" he said, "France!"

"Really!?!" I was quite surprised. He didn't have the French je ne sais quoi that I had grown accustomed to; or at least, it was hidden behind his über-cool thrift-store plaid shirt. "Do you like it here? Why did you leave?"

"I love Madison. I first came here about 8 years ago, to visit a friend, and came back as soon as I could. It's a great town. I had to get out of France. I couldn't go anywhere there. The racism."

Brenda looked shocked. "Racism?" she asked, "but... you're not... I mean..."

"Yeah," he said. "My father is Algerian. I had nothing but trouble there. No jobs, stopped all the time by the police for no reason, no chance. Here, I am just a guy. I am me. I can work, I can be myself, people don't stare at me with hatred, and I can just be happy. There, though I am French, I am still Algerian. I was born and raised in France, but it doesn't matter. I will always be discriminated against. I hate it. I never want to go back."

He told us of his experiences during the aftermath of September 11th, when he was forced to leave the US. "I went to St. Martin, in the French West Indies, because it's officially France, but it's not. People there are much more laid back, not nearly as racist. And I waited. I wanted to come back here. I like it here. People treat me with respect. They don't assume I am bad because my eyes are black, my skin is a little darker and my hair is black and curly."

"They still stop me," he continued, "every time I go home. Police. They pull me over for no reason, and they take my ID. Since my first name is English, my mom chose an English surname for me, and my last name doesn't necessarily sound Algerian, though it is, they think my ID is fake and I stole it. Every time. I am so tired of it. So tired of being treated like I am not good enough."

"But I like it here. I have a degree from the culinary school, and I have lots of education--I was here on a lot of student visas. Just kept going to school! Now I work here, bartending and serving, spend time with my friends, and just live my life."

He invited us to come back, and offerred to help us practice our french with him whenever we liked.

"I'm behind the bar Monday, Wednesday and Sunday," he said, smiling, "and I play a lot of French music-- house, rock, folk and lots of other stuff."

As we drove home from dropping Brenda back at her hotel, Dr. B and I discussed our new acquaintance. We both were glad that our "take" on the racial tensions in France was pretty much in agreement with Cedric's view of his homeland, and we decided to take his advice and head to Whole Foods soon for some fromage français.

"He is definitely a french man, though," said Dr. B, as he was pulling into our street.

"Why?" I asked.

"He may have invited both of us to come practice our french with him, but it was pretty clear that he was meaning you, pretty lady."


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jealous? Angry? Shocked?

Gas price: $2.53/gallon (WI has $.52 tax/gallon)
Number of gallons needed to fill tank: approximately 12.
Cost of gas: about 31 bucks.

Number of miles driven on that tank (mixture of city and highway):



I love my Honda Civic Hybrid.

(PS: I went solo on the stick after 3 lessons. So far, no accidents, no engines left behind me, and only a few honks. I figured, if I can survive a year in Paris speaking Parisian french, I can learn how to drive a stick shift. It no longer scares me, much anyway. I actually think it's kind of fun.)

Photo from Ours is a darker gray, but I couldn't find a photo of that color.



We have internet, at home. And wireless. Amazing how it felt like the stone age when I don't have instant connection to the rest of the world, where just a few years ago (OK, maybe 15?) I didn't even have an email account. But, we are back up, and I'll slowly be catching up on my blogs, emails, comments, etc. and maybe I'll finally decide on a new name for my new blog. I love being Mrs. B, but there is more to me than that, after all. I'm waiting for the inspiration to hit me.

School/Work is going very well, and I'm getting organized, little by little. The kids are fantastic, and my friend is a great teacher, so they are enthusiastic, prepared and good musicians--it's kind of like stepping back into my own shoes (not to toot my own horn...) It makes it very fun and with much less stress than it could have been.

I'm still on the search for good bread (yes, I've enjoyed Madison Sourdough's multigrain, BTW--I wish they made baguettes!), but due to the tightness of my pants (I guess all that Parisian walking did add up), I am on the "More Broccoli, Less Bread" Diet. Not exactly Low-Carb or Zone (that was just exhausting, frankly), but more of an effort than I had to make in Paris.

We are slowly accumlating the important things (a new bed for Lucy in the living room, which she loves (she's a bit spoiled), and a salad spinner to replace the one we must have tossed in a moment of insanity--Dr. B splurged on the OXO one, and it is sweet!), but still have yet to find the toaster oven. (Oh well, no need to toast broccoli.)

"Lost" things are being found every day (clear glass party plates--located!) and we are starting to feel at home. We still have more boxes than we know what to do with, but there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and word has it that our french stuff was stuck in customs last week, which I hope means that it must be stateside, and we soon will be finding places for our new treasures, snuggling with our down comforter, taking pictures again and posting them on my Flickr, putting our clothes in drawers, knitting for winter and sewing new curtains from my Marché St. Pierre finds. And eventually (hopefully) hanging pictures on the walls and putting books in the new shelves we have to buy (there's always next month...)

Tonight, Dr. B made a pilgrimage to the west side for food and computer parts while I was eyeball-deep in scheduling, and came home with some french-type food treasures, so we enjoyed carottes rapées (with 2 types of french moutarde in the vinaigrette--homemade, of course), cornichons and a Côtes du Rhone rosé with dinner, and there rests an award-winning Wisconsin 5-year cheddar in the cheese drawer of the refrigerator.

Who says you can't have it all?

***Note: God has quite a sense of humor--they just started playing the Spice Girls' "If You Wanna Be My Lover" on the radio.

Yeah. So I guess this isn't heaven. Got it.

PS: Did you see this picture? I am so proud of her. She's going to be a great mom!


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Le Pain, il me manque.

In France, we took for granted that we could find decent bread just about anywhere we went. Some was worse than others, but we knew the places we liked, and even if they were closed, there was something at least passable within walking distance of our petit appartement.

When I was in college, I worked as a weekend baker at a bakery in North Dakota that made bread from dough prepared by French bakers, imported to the US. The flours were imported from France, and though it wasn't hand made (and thus of an inferior quality to the artisanal breads we so loved in France), it was still quite good. I loved shaping the breads, tucking the ends over to make the tips smooth, and slashing the tops with a razor blade before steaming them in the oven the owner had imported from France for the baking of the bread. The smell of the baking breads, and the crackling of the crusts as they cooled on the rack was enough to make up for the 4 AM reveille.

Upon arriving in the US again, we missed the bakeries more than we expected to. We searched for "good" bread, and again and again were disappointed with crusts that were either too soft or hard but not crisp, mie that was dense and cottony rather than light with chew and big, irregular holes, and the addition of herbs and flavors that seemed just too much. An olive oil and rosemary bread was like biting into an herb garden, filled with mattress stuffing. Not an appetizing combination.

I decided to stop into the "french" bakery in town, hoping I could find something passable. The breads I saw reminded me nothing of the boulangeries in Paris, and the case was loaded with heavy Wisconsin cookies, bars, bear claws and donuts. I saw multigrain breads in plastic sacks, and hoped that there would be some of my favorite, a multi-grain baguette, available.

"Do you make a multi-grain baguette?" I asked, hoping to see a rack of them hiding around the corner.

"A multi-grain baguette?" the clerk asked. "You can make multi-grain baguettes?"

"Yes. Well, they do in France. I love them; they're my favorite."

"Oh, I'll ask," she said, turning and catching the attention of one of the bakers.

"No, we don't make them now," she answered, "but I can do it, if you give me about a week's notice," she said, blowing the hair out of her eyes as she wiped her brow with the back of her arm.

A week's notice. A WEEK. What? How difficult is it to shape dough into the shape of a baguette? Unbelievable.

I thanked them politely, said no, and took the baguette she had cut in half and slipped into a paper bag for me.

I headed home, and we broke out the baguette for dinner, breaking the tip off to munch on while the sausage was sizzling in the pan.

"Yuck," said Dr. B. "Tastes like a hard hot-dog bun."

So much for "La Brioche".

I wonder how much it costs to FedEx a Baguette des Prés?


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bigger Pothole

I called this morning, to find out what was going on with our internet at home. I was hoping they could solve the problem for me, and I would be back to what I was used to in Paris in no time.

Unfortunately, the service rep said, "sorry, it's just bad where you are I guess. And Macs have weaker antennae anyway. We'll cancel it for you, as of now, and refund all your money."

Well, at least we got the money back.

So until next Saturday, I will be a regular at EVP café, and will not be prompt with comment publishing, responding, or cute stories. I start teaching tomorrow at 7:30 AM as well, so I will be busy!

Stay tuned...


Monday, September 04, 2006

The One Where We Get a New Car

When we moved to France, we had to sell our beloved 1997 Honda Accord. This car was my baby, and I just loved her. Her JVC CD player (stolen and replaced), her constant reliability, her "heather mist" paint job (that's a fancy word for beige. I have no idea where they came up with 'heather mist' for metallic beige. Isn't heather purple and green?) She was a wonderful car.

But, it would have been cost-prohibitive to store her, no one we knew had room to store her for free, and we needed the money to move to France, so we sold her. (I admit to shedding a tear.)

Upon arriving back in the states, Dr. B rented an MPV to bring us from Chicago O'Hare to Madison. We used it to haul our 4 huge valises, Lucy and her extra-large travelling box, and our various carry-ons, clarinets, computers and whatnot. When we got the keys to our new place, we drove it to the storage unit to haul over a mattress for our first night in our new home. The next day, after trading it in for a Mazda 3 rental, we set out to see what we could find.

We both wanted to find a car that was as reliable as our Accord, suited our needs (nothing too big, but not a SmartCar either), was energy-efficient, reliable and affordable. It's easy to live car-free in Paris, but in the US? Not so much. A car really is a necessity.

We knew that hybrids had a really long waiting list, were more expensive, and never came in used, and since we needed something quick, we decided to head to the VW dealership to look at diesels. We thought we could probably handle a Golf or something similar, and went in to speak to the salesman to see what was available. He said there were no diesels available, and the soonest we could get one would be 3 to 4 months off. No chance of any used diesels, either--they'd all been snapped up like hotcakes. He took us in a "test drive" to show us the Rabbit, "on the way to the used lot."

Yeah, right.

He talked a good game, and nearly had us sold on the new VW Rabbit. The car was brilliant--impeccable design, amazing features--they thought of everything!

Except the gas mileage. A disappointing 27 mpg. Feh.

We took his card, his credit applications, and the Rabbit literature, and went to find lunch. "I don't know," I said. "It's a great car, but I don't think it's right. The gas mileage, it's not as good as we'd like. I think there's got to be something else out there."

"I don't think so," Dr. B answered. "VW is about as good as we're going to find, for what we want. I think this is just about our only option. I've researched it, on the web. There's so little available in America." He was also quite irritated with me for chatting "too familiarly" with the salesman--thinking that my little stories about when my mom bought a car were not appropriate to the situation. "You've got to stop that," he said. "We're just buying a car. It's not his job to listen to your stories about your mom's trunk space!"

"That is too his job!" I said. "It's what salesman do. Don't worry about it; it was fine." But he had enough--he didn't want to look anymore. He was resigned to buying a car that didn't live up to his own self-imposed specifications.

"Can we stop by Zimbrick?" I asked, "just check around a bit. I really don't think we'll find anything, but it doesn't hurt to look. We not buying anything today. But just look, a little."

We went to Zimbrick Honda. I vowed to be hard-nosed, tough, to not tell any cute stories. I was all business, and this salesman was NOT going to think he would sell a car to me. No sirree bob. I am one tough cookie, you better believe it.

The salesman took us around, showing us the new 2007 Civic. We climbed in for a test drive. It was much upgraded, and was nicer than our Accord had been. I liked it well enough, but Dr. B didn't. "I just don't like it," he said. "The nose, it goes too low. Reminds me of your sister's old car, what was it? A Grand Am? And the dashboard. It's too long. It makes the car seem too big. I am not comfortable with it. It's too 'space-age'."

I knew what this meant. He didn't like it for reasons understood only by him, and no convincing would work, no matter how logical it might be. The long nose had taken the Honda from the "possible" list to the "no way" list. Dr. B had already made up his mind that he was not going to be happy, so it was pointless, because the proverbial door was shut. We weren't going to find anything and that was all there was to it.

"We really wanted a hybrid," he told the salesman. "But those waiting lists are, like, six months long and we don't have that time. And now we can't get a diesel either, for at least 3 months. A huge gas-guzzling SUV is easy to find, but an energy-efficient car in the US? Not so easy."

"Oh, well, I did have a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid come in this week."

We nearly got whiplash and cracked our skulls together as we both whipped around in our seats to look at him.


We took a test-drive. Smooth, easy to drive. Comfortable. Clean, in great shape. 18,000 miles on it. No long space-age dashboard. Dark gray ("Magnesium") with a dark gray interior and black dashboard. CD player. Hidey-hole box to stash the iPod. Alarm system. Side-curtain airbags.

And the pièce de résistance? 51 miles per gallon on the highway. In town? 45.


Remember that part about "we won't buy a car today"? Yeah, scratch that.

And now, I learn to drive a stick shift. Be afraid. Be very afraid.


Information Highway: Gravel and Potholes

We have internet. It's this fabulous new plan, providing wireless internet to the city of Madison! It's such a great idea--you just sign up, and they allow you to jump on from your house, with no modem to deal with, no leasing of a livebox, no wires, no cables. It covers our area of town, and is spreading to the rest of the city in the future.

Fabulous except for one thing.

It's really, really, r e a l l y s l o w ......................

After the blazing speed fiber-optics of Paris, I have lost my patience. Not when it comes to waiting in line, which is an art in the city of light. Not when it comes to taking the time to walk 6 blocks to the hardware store, chat with the owner, and pet the resident dog before buying the 6 screws and one sink aerator we needed and walking home, rather than hopping in my car and driving miles to the outskirts of town to wander around a big box store, picking up many things I now 'have to have' and not being able to find what I needed anyway. Not when it comes to hanging my jeans to dry (though it may take four days) because I like them better when they are not tight when I put them on. (With towels and sheets, however, I will be wasteful and spoiled. It is such a joy to dry off with a soft, absorbent towel rather than a big piece of sandpaper.)

Paris has taught me patience. But when it comes to my internet patience? Gone. Gone with the Wind. Looooooong gone.

So for now, I am composing on TextEdit, and hoping and praying that the site eventually loads. In the meantime, thank you for your patience. We are shopping around for Blazing Internet, and just may have to sign up also for the dreaded American necessity, cable television, as a part of the deal. (No, I didn't miss it in France, and I do want to limit our TV watching, but there are some things that I really do enjoy zoning out in front of on occasion. I shouldn't have to feel guilty--I recycle, I compost, I use compact flourescent bulbs! Please don't begrudge me a little boob tube time--I promise to knit or fold laundry while I watch. Really. I'm a good girl!)

PS: Welcome to Louise! Happy Birthday! (Numéro Zéro!!!)


Saturday, September 02, 2006

New Name

I am trying desperately to come up with a terrifically clever, interesting, descriptive name to change my blog to (I'll leave this one, but a new one for the new country), and well, I'm stuck. I've had a few bursts of inspiration, but generally those domains are already taken (OK, at least the free versions are taken) by others who haven't posted in 3 years. (How annoying is that?!?) Being a not-so-tech-savvy person, I don't have any idea how to bogart their sites, so here I sit, still MrsBinParis but not in Paris.

What's a girl to do?

If you have any ideas for a super-fantastic blog address, please let me know. I'll be mulling this one over for a while, until the right one appears.

Until then, Mrs. B is in Madison. We just got internet at home, but it is Labor Day Weekend, so don't expect prolific things. My Inlaws are here, too, so we're busy being Mr's and Mrs's Fixits, unpacking crystal, hanging various hangable things, still wondering where the toaster oven is, polishing silver that's been tarnishing for a whole year and drinking wine on the porch while not being eaten by mosquitos. (This is Official Proof: Miracles do happen.)

So from my house to yours, have a lovely Labor Day, eat a burger and drink a cold one for me! And please, whatever you do, don't labor!


Friday, September 01, 2006

Home Sweet Home

We've arrived, safe and (at least physically) sound, and are surrounded by a sea of cartons, rediscovering our own possessions (it's like Christmas with each new box!) and hunting desperately for the toaster oven. Our house is absolutely perfect, with walk-in closets in each of the three bedrooms (for a house built over 90 years ago, that's amazing!), nicely painted by the architect owner, and with more kitchen cupboard space than I can fill (which in itself is amazing--I have soooooo much cooking paraphernalia.)

We've had many an adventure already since arriving, which I hope to chronicle soon, but until we get home internet, I'll be using my free time to unpack rather than manically checking my email every five minutes. I hope to be up and running soon, but until then, please be patient. It's coming!

A welcome addition to our group of friends arrived five weeks early (welcome, Baby Eva!), so my substitute position teaching for a friend will begin a little earlier than I expected (gulp!), and I will be back in the Band Director Boots as of next week.

But for now, we've found a local coffee house and coffee roaster only blocks from our home with lightening-fast internet, great espresso, and buttery croissants. It's even named Êtes-Vous Prêts? (Are You Ready?), so a little bit of France has followed me, all the way to Madison. Being Madison, though, the guy behind the counter is super-friendly, has long hair and a beard, and smiles as he hands you your steaming cup of muddy goodness (frankly, much better espresso than I ever found in la ville lumière.)

Welcome home!