Thursday, December 29, 2011

Homebody vacation



First things first, a little holiday video for the Juju fans.

So it's Thursday and I've been dutifully ticking off things on my to-do list. Napping, check (though not every day). Baking, check, some sugar cookies with a super easy recipe from the Net. Light cleaning/organizing, check. A bit of the bookshelf and throwing out old magazines. Still not that energetic about complete apartment overhaul. Sleeping past six, er, not working out so well. Juliette seems to be an early bird, and has been for the past few months. We can't seem to sleep past six thirty around here. Is she conditioned to wake up knowing cartoons are on? Remind me to send hate mail to the TV channels. But, on the other hand, it does force me to get going. And generally I laze around eating breakfast, drinking tea and watching a bit of TV with Juju or checking my email. It's nice to look at the clock and realize I don't have anywhere to rush off to.

Remi's been working all week though getting some heating problems worked out at the greenhouse and taking advantage of the relatively mild weather to get ahead on things. Kind of a shame since this is my only week off till June. But to be honest it does give me time to get ahead on some home stuff and studying. And though I'm loving my time with Juju, who, incidentally, seems to be speaking more English this week, too much alone time makes me introspective. Only seeing the odd cashier or administrative person is not social enough for me. I've seen my Facebook checking increase sickeningly and my worries about school and life in general go up too. I guess it's normal that I'm taking stock of things half way into my studies. Luckily I'm doing ok grade-wise, but I find myself worrying about the future and finances, of course. And I think knowing my family is all together over in the US does kind of pull on me this time of year. Even though I've been able to vicariously live through their holiday plans via email and Skype, it's just not quite the same. Little sigh of homesickness!

Anyhoo, I'm sure I'll be wishing I could get back even the greyer moments of this week once I'm back in school and complaining of the workload! This break was needed, and I'm enjoying it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Finally!

I've been waiting for this date for so long! A whole week off, after nearly four intense months of school, punctuated by just two days off in November. The only thing is I'm afraid I won't take advantage of my time, that it will go by too fast, that I won't be rested enough for all that's to come after my break...

Whoah, there horsies... let's take a deep breath and try to enjoy this week instead of fretting about the post-break work. I'd like to be that care-free kind of person. The only thing is I know we've got an exam coming up the week we get back then two more in the weeks after that. I'll have to do some studying but I must vow not to go overboard. Maybe I should make a to-do list with fun and relaxing stuff that I also need to do. So, here we go:
  • take naps
  • bake cookies
  • play with Juliette
  • take walks
  • watch movies
  • sleep past six a.m.
  • get apartment organized (oops, that sounds a bit like work); let's change that to "light cleaning"
  • call family and catch up on their fun holiday plans...
Yep, it's gonna be hard for me this year compared to last when I spent a glorious three weeks state-side. I keep getting that flood of holiday memories of all the fun things we did last year, imagining the tastes and sights and sounds of America. I'm missing home and homeland something awful but I guess I've got plenty of distractions here with school. And it does get a little easier to spend Christmas in France now that Juliette is here.

She's much more aware of the holiday season this year. She still doesn't like Santa. Apparently she cried when he came to her school last week. And same reaction when we saw him at the supermarket giving out candy. When I ask her what she wants him to bring her, she just says, "no". When I tell her to look at the TV cause Santa's on, she says "no".

She hasn't been hastling us too much about opening presents but she occasionally asks about them. For now she's more into the box (typical!) that aunt Jessy's presents came in, and popping the bubble wrap.

Catki likes it, too. Ooh, scary cat eyes.


Here she is answering questions about the tree and decorations:




So, merry Christmas to you, dear readers, and let's all try to get some rest this holiday season.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

How NOT to make a gingerbread house

My first attempt at a gingerbread house was quickly abandoned as I realized the icing recipe I had used was way too liquidy. I didn't have much powdered sugar so I found a recipe that didn't call for much, and the result was not what I wanted.

I call it the Gingerbread Crack House. Remi calls it a bunker or ghetto.

So today I bought more powdered sugar and used a proper recipe:

320 g powdered sugar
2 egg whites
Mix till glossy.
Spoon into a ziploc and close. Cut small hole in a corner.

The results were better, but still not stellar. Even if all I had to get right was the icing since I was using some Speculoos gingerbread cookies that I'd bought. I ended up using a bit of a cardboard box to "glue" my cookies onto and make it more stable. Remi helped out and made a roof. Then it was the fun part, decorating and eating bits of icing and candy.


We have moved out of the ghetto and into a middle-class fixer-upper.

It is still nothing to compare to the stuff you can find on the Internet.

Like this version of the house from the animated film Up. That's amazing!

Martha Stewart I will never be. But I don't think she tried to make gingerbread houses with a three year-old and full-time studies. Maybe so, though, and she did run a successful business. Oh, and spend time in prison for insider trading. I guess I'll content myself with being me after all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sick day

I'm spending some unexpected quality time with my little one today. She woke up with high fever and as I knew Remi was supposed to be planting in a village all day, he couldn't take her to the doctor. So Juju and I were off to the GP, who ironically I'd tried to get an appointment with yesterday as her cold was lingering. But he was absent, as was the pediatrician. But we got seen quickly today and as it seems the cold has gone into what he calls a super-infection in her bronchial tubes, we left with a prescription for antibiotics in hand.

She fell asleep in my arms on the couch and stayed asleep as I shifted her on to the pillows. I couldn't resist taking a picture of my sleepy red-cheeked baby.


She hardly ate a thing for lunch and now she's sleeping again. I hope this fever goes down soon. I always feel so bad when her colds seem to have gone too far. It's such a fine line between trying to let her fight it off with her own defenses and needing a bit of help from meds. This was one case where she really needed it.

I was almost relieved to have a day at home with her though, relatively guilt-free because she obviously needed to stay home. As I said in my last post, it's hard for me to sit still lately, but I need to. And I enjoyed holding my feverish girl in my lap, even though I know she's feeling weak.

I guess sometimes I'm a bit like Hermione in Harry Potter, the girl in the class who has already started making notecards for the next exam and likes to respond to the teachers' questions. But, believe me, I don't know everything. Sometimes I'm downright slow. But I've got this study-bug tendency. It's hard for me to know when I've studied enough. Things will start slacking off soon though (only to crank back up again in January with mega exams!).

I keep wanting to go all out on Christmas decorations, despite my lack of time. I'm gonna start decorating next weekend and maybe even make a gingerbread house (how did yours turn out, Amber?). And decorate those plain stockings I got super cheap at Target last year when I was back home (mega sniff sniff that I'm not going back this year...). But I don't know if I'll have so much time. Maybe I just need to make time for those fun soul-filling activities.

Got Juliette an advent calendar that has a nativity scene on it to teach her a bit about the real meaning of Christmas. There are little chocolates behind each door. This morning she asked me: "Baby Jesus got chocolate?" Oh, dear. I guess these things get mixed up in a child's mind.

Bundle up out there and enoy some cocoa. Until next time...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving week and weird pains

I made my Thanksgiving meal two days after. I've had to adapt my traditions while in France. Strangely, the French still haven't made it an official holiday here! I always feel a pinch in my heart as I trod off to work (or school this year) when I know my fellow Americans are preparing (or waiting for) scrumptious meals. So my tradition has become calling or writing my family and getting them to tell me what they're eating. My mouth generally waters just to hear words like honey-roasted ham and Sister Shubert's rolls (delicious yeasty rolls).

So on my side of the pond I made French-fried onion coated chicken filets (using the can of imported fried onions from mom: crush the fried onions, add an egg, coat chicken, bake at 400°F 20 minutes), potatoes, green beans and a pineapple cobbler thingey (again using a mix my mom had sent me). It was yummy and did make me feel linked to my country. I taught Juliette to say Happy Thanksgiving and tried to explain what the holiday meant, in three-year old terms. I think I understand why immigrants can be so tied to their home country's traditions. It's a way to keep their identity alive, to affirm their origins.

In other news I've been suffering from some excruciating joint pain. A few weeks ago Juliette was diagnosed with Fifth's Disease, which is a virus which causes a strange red rash on the arms, legs and cheeks. She was so bright red I thought I had burned her in the bath and we took her to the ER. The overworked doc from Romania ('cause there aren't enough French docs, it seems), said it was viral and a fever might rear its ugly head soon. But she was fine and the rash finally subsided.

But last Sunday it was my turn to get the rash and when I woke the next morning I felt like I was about 75 due to my creaky joints. If this is old age, it's not fun, people. Then during gym class I tripped (on my own foot!) and fell down and of course used my wrists to break the fall. (The fall was not due to the joint pain buy my eternal clumsiness. I broke my pinky in middle school trying to catch a football with all my fingers pointing out.) During the night I couldn't feel my fingers and the pain was intense. I figured I had a hairline fracture or something, and hauled myself to the ER the next morning, but the x-ray showed nothing. The pain continued, especially in the night, and my GP confirmed that all this was due to the virus, in fact. In adults joint pain is quite common. Reading a few forums on the Internet showed me that some people suffer from this pain quite a long time after the inital virus. As in years. I really hope that's not the case for me!

In other news, school is as intense as ever. Lots of exams coming up and a French paper which I must finalize. Two people in my class are seriously thinking of stopping. We're all rather frazzled and tired. This program tries to cram two years of courses into one. We have on average 38 hours a week of lessons, then you need to do some exercises and not fall behind on studying when you're at home. A night off for me is when I study on the couch instead of at the table. Last night I had such a raging a headache that I really did take the night off though. And it was nice.

Sometimes I find myself wishing this school year would hurry up and finish. But then I realize that also means Juliette's three-year old self will be finishing, too. And I already feel like I haven't gotten to appreciate my time with her this year. Sometimes she's the last little one at the after-school care when I pick her up at 6:10. I try to cherish my time with her, but I'm sometimes distracted by all I must do home and house-work-wise. But I do love the cute things she says, and I'll note a few before I forget.:
"Peek it on" instead of "keep it on" regarding her little undershirts. She's a bit obsessed with them. And also her cardigans 'cause she's learning to button things.
"Can we do Christmas when we get home?" because they're starting to make ornaments at school.
"Mommy, we're gonna take you to the doctor," when I showed her my own rash.
"The moon is broken," when she saw a quarter moon one night.

She does say a lot more things in French now, which is normal since she's hearing so much at school. Sometimes she'll go on in French mode with me and I try to get her to go back to English. Other nights she's more spontaneously English. I guess I can't force it.

In other words, we're just doing the best we can on all fronts, taking it one step at a time. What more can you do?

Warm Thanksgiving wishes to you all!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The same old song

(Almost) all the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey
And I've been for a walk on an autumn's day
I'd be safe and warm
If I was in AL
Alabama dreamin'
On such an autumn's day!

Fall seems to make me more nostalgic for my home country. This season in general makes me turn inward, as if I'm mentally huddling down, hugging my scarf next to my face. In the evening I'm content more than ever to be a homebody as I pull the curtains on a prematurely dark world. And in the day I study the afternoon light that seems more intense, even if there's less of it, and it makes me think of the sunbeams in my mom's kitchen at this time of year. Maybe it's also Thanksgiving and Christmas coming around the corner. And fall was definitely my favorite season in AL, a respite from the stifling heat, as I'm sure I've said before.

I've been wishing I could teleport myself back to those places I know so well, to make a batch of cookies in that kitchen, to hug the necks of the people I'm missing. But school will keep me busy for the next eight months, so dreams of a cozy day back home are put on hold. But we've been trying to create our own coziness on this side of the pond. Making banana muffins (and I put a square of chocolate in the middle of each muffin before cooking them to give them a little kick!) and taking a few walks in foggy forests. Here are a few pics.

So I lied. Not all the leaves are brown. I love seeing a spot of color on a grey day.



So there are some sunny days! This is me being artsy taking my picture in a mirror. Remi got me this red coat two Christmases ago. I never would have picked it out myself, but now I say, why not. And putting on red on a dull grey day makes me feel immediately warmer.


Do you see what's wrong with this picture? In fact this is not a real store but just a big piece of fabric with the image of a storefront airbrushed on it. Took it near my school.

There's nothing like a chocolate iPhone to warm you up on a chilly day.

So, school has been nothing short of insane in terms of work load. I've come to the conclusion I just can't learn everything, so I'm trying to just prioritize. Almost done with the communication project for French which has really eaten up a lot of time. And I mean a lot. Then there's the research paper for French. And then all the scientific subjects which are, duh, very important. We've been doing lots of labs that analyze food products, like measuring the acidity in a Coca-Cola or the sugar content in milk. And in microbiology we've been given an unknown bacterial strain we must identify by doing a whole bunch of tests. Interesting but lots of work and I hope I'll remember it all for the exams and the lab exams which I'm totally dreading. That's where they give you a protocol and you must do it in four hours while teachers watch you! Can you say stress?

Juliette's a handful but then she'll say something so cute and cock her head to one side that I'll forgive her for all her cranky moments. She's getting into all the cartoons we can watch on the Disney channel in English. Did you know they changed the Mickey Mouse song? It's by They Might Be Giants and just as stick-in-your-heady as the old one. And now she's crept up into my lap and is asking if she can watch Elmo, please? Guess that's my cue to sign off!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What's going on

Time for an update on my last two weeks:

Ever had that exam nightmare where you were late? In my case it wasn't a nightmare but I seriously thought about pinching myself to make myself wake up. My normal route to school had a roadblock for some reason I still don't know. And I wasn't quite sure how to get around it and ended up getting monumentally lost. On the morning of my statistics exam which was supposed to be at 8:05. Can you say panic? I made it 30 minutes late only to find that my classmates weren't in the regular room. I frantically searched and asked admin folks where they might be and finally found them. Luckily the professor let me in and even gave me extra time to finish. Verdict's still out on the test which we all found rather tricky. Will get the grade in November.

While we're on the subject of tests, you must mark everything in ink. Even math tests! You can have your scrap paper but must transfer the official answers to the real test and in ink. Here again the professor was kind to me, knowing I'm not always aware of the school procedures in France, but he said next time write it all in ink. It's kind of security measure so the student can't later claim their pencilled-in answers were smudged or changed, he said.

School has had its ups and downs. Though some days I feel really on my game and congratulate myself for getting an in-class exercise right, other times I'm lost or not concentrating. Overall things are going ok, and I continue to enjoy most of what I'm learning. I'm still glad I did this and now when I hear of another person thinking about going back to school, I encourage them wholeheartedly. Even fictional characters like Allison Dubois on Medium*, contemplating going back to law school. I say, go, girl, you can do it, it'll be tough, but you'll get there.

But I'm a bit disappointed sometimes in the immaturity of my classmates. Granted, most are much younger than me. Maybe their immaturity is rubbing off on me, in fact. I don't know why I get involved in their silly games sometimes and get bent out of shape or feel like defending people when there is maybe some injustice going on. Maybe I'm more like Lynette on Desperate Housewives** than I think. Then in the end I decide neutrality is the best way to go. The others in the class say I'm the "momma" because I seem to try and take care of them. But I'm doing this thing for myself, not to get lost in interpersonal dramas.

Speaking of momma-ness, that's been hard-going too. Or rather, a week ago it was, but this week's been better. Juliette had some amazingly long and hard tantrums a week ago and I seriously felt exhausted by school and then her antics. I felt like I was losing it. Luckily this week every evening she was sweet and cuddly, with some of the usual whininess, but nothing like that one day she practically wouldn't let me put her in the carseat. I've spent lots of good quality time with her this weekend. Stayed at home today, Sunday, because of my head cold, while Remi hauled in mums for All Saints' Day which is approaching. I know not all my Sundays will be like this, so I'm enjoying it, lazy afternoon naps and baking to boot! So until next time, hope you all are having some lovely fall weekends. Know I'm thinking of you all even if I don't email or read your blogs as much as I used to. Air kisses to you all.

*Ah, Medium. Finally getting the last season, and in English. And can I just say- Joe Dubois?! So, yes, you know, husband of the year, and indescribably yummy in his sleepware...
**And people say my mom is a bit like Lynette, too, so maybe it's genetic. I've got more fire in me than I thought.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Heard it all before, but it bears repeating

I know I'm gonna sound like a broken record this year. Too much to do for school, not enough time with the family. And though Remi is having to deal with sometimes feeling single when I go back to the room and study while he watches evening TV, it's just harder to explain that this year mommy's rather busy to a three-year old. And there are times, many times, when I feel rather sad to have only seen my little one five minutes or not at all in the morning before dashing off. Mondays seem to be tougher on me as I remember the quality time we spent together on the weekend, and I realize I'll have so little time with her on weeknights. Even though I know so many working moms deal with this, I sometimes feel like complaining.

And it seems that Juliette's own school experience is taking a toll on her. She still seems to like it enough, especially lunchtime and eating at the cafeteria. We've noticed her speaking French more clearly now when she "faux-talks" on the phone. And she's speaking more and more French with Remi's family. Still English with me but I can hear a bit more French creep in. Sometimes it makes me twinge a little in that I feel like I'm "losing" her. It's silly, I know, because obviously she is half-French and lives here and must speak that language!

She also acts up a bit more at home. "No" has always been one of her favorite words, but she can yell it with such ferocity now and for the silliest things. Her teacher says she's quite well-behaved at school but that kids sometimes need to "let it all out" at home. It's been tough dealing with tantrums at the end of the day when all I want is to have fun with her. I sometimes even tell her, as she writhes on the floor, that mommy is sad when Juliette isn't happy. Then her screams turn more to sobs and she'll say "make mommy sad" in a guilty wail. I hope I'm not giving her a complex, but I did read that you should explain things to toddlers.

But I try to focus on the good times, like singing songs on the bed after school.



Meanwhile, I've found an internship for my training program. Will be at a company that we'll call Pasta Place in the microbiology lab. At least that's one less thing to worry about. That will be in January, for a seven-week period. I got home early from the interview and didn't think it worthwhile to drive back to school for an hour and a half of English class (what with the price of gas and all, too). So of course I rushed to Blogger to update! Now I'm gonna make some chocolate chip cookies with white chocolate bits before I go pick up Juliette from school at the official end of the school day.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

September is...

September is watching the vines start to turn red (and getting a bit blue that chilly fall's around the corner).

September is trying to appreciate my new surroundings at school (since I have to spend more than eight hours a day there anyway) and walking up three flights of stairs to my classroom. (By the way, I did sign up for P.E., and badminton it is. I'm still as bad as I used to be, but hopefully I'll get an A for effort?!)


And adapting to bathrooms that are both for men and women. You can see that the sign is for Monsieur et Madame. I hate having to avert my head in case a guy is using a urinal. And sometimes I dream of installing those Japanese style toilets that make a white noise to mask any user noises.



September is getting used to the school routine for Juliette, too. And making the most of my evening time with her. It still stays light till about eight. Here she is looking too precious in the red sailor dress her French grandma brought her back from vacation.



September is the first strike at Juliette's school. Three weeks into the school year and we get a pink flyer telling us next Tuesday all three of the teachers at her pre-school are heeding the "call to strike" because teaching jobs are to be cut according to the federal budget. Let's hope this strike thing isn't going to last too long. Luckily Remi's mom can watch her this time.

And September is realizing that this school thing is very time-consuming and often bad-mood-inducing for me. Lack of sleep, lack of family time compared to what I used to have. And the realization that this is just the beginning!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hanging in there

This was the week I was dreading. Juliette's first day of school was Monday and my school is now in its more intense mode of four different subjects per day. Not to mention that now that the main summer vacation period is over there is more traffic on the road. Damn all those extra cars on the road. Why couldn't they just stay on vacation?

But we're surviving. Juliette seems to be adapting well to school. The first day she only cried when she realized Remi and I were leaving. Otherwise she was eager to play with the toys in her new classroom. But it pulled on my heartstrings to see her little face break into tears. And to know I had to let her handle it on her own. That's part of growing up. And, yes, to answer the question you're all wondering, I did cry a little, too. Just before while we were waiting outside the school to go in. But I was able to dry my tears pretty quickly.

In front of our apartment on the first day of school.

Waiting outside her school.


When I picked her up at the end of the day she yelled out "Mommy" and ran into my arms. The first thing she said was "new friends!" That's what I'd told her she'd make at school, so I was happy to hear it. The teacher said she is "adorable", which in French can also has the connotation of well-behaved. At least I think so. The after-school care ladies have been complimentary of JuJu, too. I hope she continues to be a good girl!

As for my school, things seem to be going so much faster now. The good news is that I like what I'm learning, especially now that we're having more lessons in biology and microbiology. Luckily I have learned most of this stuff before (though in some cases it's been a good, oh, 17 years ago!). Statistics really scared me at first when I realized I didn't get it as fast as the others. The bad news is I've never had a math brain, and with age, those neurons need some extra training. I've been redoing some of the exercises, and it's becoming clearer now. I still think I'll throw everyone I know (and that includes you, blogger friends) a party if I get a passing grade in this class!

This Friday we had our first lab class and it was funny to see all my classmates in their white lab coats and imagine them working one day in this field. Immediately everyone seemed more serious, even if it was just due to appearances. We only got a run-through of the safety procedures in the lab. But the teacher also took a sample of yogurt and put it on a microscope slide and showed us that there were indeed live active cultures of bacteria in there. Pretty cool.

View from my classroom. Red tiled roofs all around.

Of course, it's tough trying to study on the weekends when Juliette is not keen to nap. I get nervous that I'm not going to be able to pull this year off. I'm doing my best, and things are obviously different when you go back to school as a mom. My home life is not the same as it was when I first got my degrees in the U.S. Boy, is it different. When the bell rings at my school at 5:30 I'm off to my car and ready to be my "mom" self again. I generally can't get back to my notes till 9 or 9:15 at night. And if I try to read in the bedroom I'll often nod off. This year is a challenge. I knew that. But if I can make it, I'll be proud. Just about ten more months to go!

PS: Quick blogger poll. Should I take PE (physical education)? It's an option but any points I get over 10 (out of 20) will help my overall average. If I don't take it I have two extra hours to study at school per week. But maybe I need a bit of exercise to be more effective?!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

School girl

Lately all Juliette can talk about is school. Pre-school, in fact, but for her it is "'cool.". As in, "I'm going to 'cool.". Or " I want to go to 'cool. But it's closed today.". Even though she really doesn't know what school is, it seems like a happening place with all the hype we've been giving it.

For example, she knows she's got to be potty-trained to go to school. It's a rather pesky requirement here in France, and one that has nearly driven us nuts. Luckily when my mom was here we got Juju more into the habit of wearing underwear and learning to hold it in. Now she'll look at me earnestly and repeat what we've been saying to her: "I'm a big girl now. I wear underwear.". And if she sees me getting dressed she'll say that I'm a big girl, too, since I wear them, too. However, (FYI: TMI alert) she requests a diaper for number two. The doctor said this is a form of being trained in 30% of kids.

She's still not sure about napping in school, and if I say she can bring her stuffed animal for naptime she says she doesn't want him to get dirty.

I think she is going to like being with other kids and having so many activities. We're curious to see how her language development will go since we don't really hear her speaking French at home except in an occasional exchange with her baby dolls or when she pretends to be on the phone. The babysitter assures us Juliette does speak French. Strangely though she's even shy to use it with her French grandmother. It could be because Remi and I are there and we both represent English to her. Or that Remi's mom uses some English words. I caught Juliette saying "What the (h)eck is that?" the other day so her English slang is coming along nicely.

She's got her Tinkerbell backpack (which she sometimes wears out on our outings). Here you can see her showing it off. (When she says "talk like a little girl, Mommy," she means speak French. She has noticed I speaker higher in French and one time told me to stop talking like a little girl!)




She'll be in before- and after-school care since Remi and I will both have longer days this year. As I've said before this is going to be a busy year for us all. And with my school as well, Remi says he'll have two students at home.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quick and dirty tiramisu

I've noticed lots of recipes call themselves tiramisus even if they don't have mascarpone or coffee. Basically it has come to mean anything with a cream base and layered. I'm good with that. I also love how you can type in the ingredients you happen to have at home into Google and find a recipe. That's what I did yesterday with gingerbread and raspberries and got some inspiration for my own recipe. Which I had to share with you!

Juliette and I picked some raspberries in the morning at this farm near our place. I'm a real sucker for these kinds of places. And I think it's a pretty good price, too, or at least not more than you'd pay in the store.

So, here we go:
  • Take some of your raspberries and mash them up with a fork. Add sugar to taste.
  • Crumble up some gingerbread (or any other cake or cookie you have around. Why not Oreos? Mmmm.)
  • Take 250 grams of mascarpone (that's about 9 ounces) and beat with some liquid cream and sugar. I used about 10 cl (about 3.5 ounces) of crème liquide (15%) and sugar to taste. This is to lighten the mascarpone a bit. Plus, I'm a bit wary of using raw eggs in recipes as most of the real tiramisu ones called for. This is a nice alternative.

Now's the fun part. Take your ingredients and start layering to your delight.



I put the gingerbread bits at the bottom of my glass, then the crushed raspberries, then a nice dollop of the mascarpone. And a few raspberries on top for decoration.




Chill in the fridge an hour or two if you can wait that long, because I find that the raspberry mixture blends in with the gingerbread flavor that way.

And enjoy!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Only one more week

So here I am at the halfway point of my school break. Trying to enjoy the time that's left and a little bit anxious about what's ahead. As I write this it's a beautiful but windy blue sky with puffy clouds. I've just napped about forty-five minutes while Juliette naps. I'm praying she continues to bless me with my lovely afternoon naps for a good part of this year, because I'm going to need that time to study.

As I mentioned, my French teacher told us to really chill during this break. But I feel the need to review a little in chemistry (nomenclature and being able to assess why a chemical product is dangerous) as this is where I'm rather rusty. Trust me though, I haven't been doing it every day nor four hours a day.

Mostly in the two weeks before my break we had chemistry classes, a few on lab analysis, the general principles, and lots of English and French (that's with the pop star teacher, who is incidentally very good at his job). I'm going to have to write a report in French (this year's general theme is money), and we've been reading some texts in class about the theme, too. Let me tell you that reading Karl Marx is difficult in English, so imagine doing it in French. But in general, I'm enjoying things, though sometimes freaking out at all the work that awaits me. Like a community service project?! What does that have to do with working in a lab? Absolutely nothing but it's part of the program.

English has been ok, though a bit odd. The teacher is cool about the fact that I'm already a native speaker. We were in the language lab all week as we have to practice understanding oral comprehension for their test at the end. It is frankly weird to be on the other side of the desk and be taking notes on what the person calling wanted in the telephone conversation. The very same type of exercises I gave my students before! We haven't done much speaking yet. It is a class of ten or eleven and it's harder to let everyone have a chance to talk, I suppose. Of course, the subject is not difficult for me (duh!), but I'll just have to not get tripped up on questions that are simple because I'm trying to make them complicated.

English classes aside, it is still strange to be in an all-French environment all day. I can honestly say there are times I miss chatting with my colleagues in English and being able to shoot the breeze with students. At school I feel a bit more self-conscious about what I say, because I know they could spot the fact that I'm not always at ease with the language. I also appreciate speaking English at home with Juliette and Remi even more now.

But luckily the cameraderie between the classmates (only about 14 of us) is good, and that makes the time pass quickly. One girl who tried med school in France told me it's not the same at all. Here you can start med school pre-requisite studies without taking any type of exam (as opposed to the MCAT in the US). And because there is such fierce competition to make it through the first year, those who are repeating it will make noise when the professor says something very important in class. That way first years can't hear it and are almost doomed to fail the exam. I was just shocked to hear that. It sounds like such a cruel system. Yet another difference between France and the US regarding education.

Alright, no more school talk now! More rest, home projects and baking (and light studying now and then)!


Friday, August 5, 2011

Beef- it's what's for dinner

Anybody remember that old ad? In my case, it's true because I bought an insane amount of beef from the butcher's today. It's one of those embarassing foreigner moments that I thought was behind me after nearly nine years in France. Like the time I thought the waitress hadn't yet given the chef our order because she'd left the ticket on the table. So I asked if I could change and in fact she was a bit put out because they'd already started preparing the meal. Or, different country but same dilemma, in Holland when I thought I was walking into a regular café. When I asked if they were serving, the lady looked at me strangely and said no, despite the presence of other "customers". The only thing I can figure out was that it was in fact kind of a homeless shelter.

But apparently even knowing the language well doesn't mean you'll glide through every situation. Like today when I decided to check out the "hard discount" supermarket. Or as the French say, "ahrd diss-KOONT". Yes, they sometimes inexplicably use English terms for stuff. Then when you ask them what a "discount" means in English class, they don't know.

For those of you who don't know the concept, this type of supermarket is a no-frills place where the food is supposed to be quite cheap, in part because they don't spend much money at all on ads on TV, they don't play music in the store, and the merchandise is just put on fairly basic shelving. You don't find too many brands either. I checked out ALDI today, which I think you can also find in the US. There I was all proud of myself to get out of the store for only about 42 euros minus most of the meat. There was an in-house butcher for that. So I stood in line and waited my turn to ask about beef for a beer stew recipe (carbonnade) I've been wanting to try.

I'd written down the quantity of meat needed (1.5 kilograms) and the cuts that could be used. But I couldn't find my list right away and just mentioned the recipe and amount I needed. The saleswoman suggested the "gîte" meat, and I said, ok. Someone in the back started cutting it and then she brought it out and weighed it. It was 1.8 kg in fact, and as I saw the price per kilo come up, my eyes literally popped out of my head. 25 euros! Yikes. I mentioned that this looked like a lot of meat, and she volunteered to remove some. At first I said, no, then I said, on second thought, yes, please. So she brought it down to 1.2 kg and 18 euros.

Even though I did work in a lab and should feel at ease with metric, I guess I had a brain fart today. Because 1.2 kilos is a bout 2.6 pounds. That's a lot of beef, people! Even for a big recipe for six people (which is apparently the number of people my recipe can serve, if I'd looked more closely). But I'm also going to blame it on not knowing all these cuts of meat (gîte à la noix is in fact top rump) and the fact that the price wasn't displayed in front of me when she suggested this particular kind.

Luckily, after nine years, I take these things a little more in stride (despite a brief urge to run to the car and cry). Even when I heard the saleswoman ask her boss discreetly if it was ok that they were putting back some meat, I thought, well, better that I do this than end up with a colossal amount of meat in my freezer. In the end I think I'll just freeze half and prepare the other half for three people.

And next time I will certainly ask the price before!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beach Trip 2011

So now I've got two weeks to enjoy not being in school. I've only been in my program a month and I can't say it's been overly intense, but I still need a break. The French teacher (who incidentally looks like a pop star, with his long hair and very tanned skin- I'll catch you all up on school stuff later) recommended we really try and relax during these two weeks and not study, since when we come back, and especially in September, things will start piling up.

Though I can't fully take that advice, I did empty out the backpack I've been using for school and filled it with towels, sunscreen, toys to keep Juliette occupied, snacks, and we headed to... the beach! I'd told Remi that once we saw a hot weather day coming up we'd make a run for it (since these past two and a half weeks have been very UNsummer-like). We chose well. Monday and Tuesday were balmier than usual. This time around we didn't have to keep jackets on when we walked the beach.

Juju got into sand castles (or "crackers," as she calls them) this time around.

Being carried by papa because, "I don't want to get 'mine' feet dirty!"

We stayed over one night in a hotel and Tuesday we went back to the beach in the morning and in the afternoon we checked out a garden. All was going well till I told Juliette to stop running around like a crazy girl and stick by us. And Tantrum Girl reared her ugly head again. Seems like we can't go without one major meltdown during our excursions. I once again had to steer her out of the garden kicking and screaming in her stroller. I'm totally over this part of the Troublesome Threes.

Happy family. Little did we know what would be in store for the afternoon (dramatic music...)


Moments before the tantrum. In a peaceful patch of wildflowers. She always picks such lovely places to go berserk.

Picture taken by Juju. The abbey I didn't get to see since she went wild. I told Remi to go on and visit without us (as to avoid a second meltdown indoors).

But, despite all the toddler drama, I did enjoy myself. I had a lovely walk on the beach, soaking up the sounds and sights and smells. I tried to memorize the moment to go back to when life gets hectic. And I'm sure I'll be thinking back fondly of these two days come November when the skies are dull and school's weighing me down. Summer memories are delicious.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What I've noticed- school stuff

In my very brief experience in my school (just sevenish days so far), I've noticed a few things that I find funny. For example...

*Three out of the twelve students have rulers that they use to underline important things while taking notes. Remi was looking at my notes as I reviewed them in front of the TV one night and he said, oh, that reminds me of my messy notes at the end of the semester when I was in a hurry. Well, my notes weren't that messy but I hadn't used a ruler to underline headings. So the next day I used a ruler just to see what it was like, and it does make things look very neat. But I'm not going to be obsessive about it. The idea is to retain what the teacher said, not to make a beautiful page that could be put in the next textbook edition.

*Some teachers give small dictations. Though the economics teacher is a live wire and likes to digress on topics, he also has parts of his lesson where he dictates a paragraph of Very Important Information. We're all there writing furiously and trying to absorb the meaning at the same time. I suppose it's like the teacher writing important things on the board, but it feels strange to be doing a dictation at my age. So scholarly.

*French students are more casual than you'd think. Forget the image of the French fashion-conscious person. I've noticed that some of my fellow students often wear the exact same outfit two or three days in a row. Actually, this is a French thing. Whereas I might wear the same pants a few times in a week, I generally always have different shirts. I guess there's nothing wrong with recycling your outfits as long as they're clean, but it's just that in the US people would say, hey, didn't you wear that yesterday?

*No ostentation religious symbols are allowed in public schools. I give the Algerian girl a lift to the tramway station and I noticed she'd put on her head scarf as we approached the stop. But she doesn't wear it in school. I asked her why and she said because it's forbidden in school. I'd forgotten they'd passed this law a few years back. In this girl's case it's not a burka or anything as restrictive as that. Black or colored head scarfs in fact. And she dresses pretty much normally, jeans and tops, the occasional more ethnic style shirt and pants suit. Frankly I don't see a problem with her wearing her scarf, but I know the idea behind this law was to help women not be forced to wear it by overbearing husbands or fathers.

*Foreign diplomas = big fat zero. Never mind that I have a Master's degree in the US (and I'm not bragging there, because it's been so long I'm not even sure what it was in). None of the courses I took back home will transfer so I must take all the courses in the new training program. I don't mind as I need the review anyway, and some of it is new material for me. But even English is not exempt. So next week I'll be having English classes every morning. On the bright side of things, I guess it'll boost my average.

Until next time, study hard, dudes. And if you're not a student, then relax and cherish the moment!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nearly three

I think I've always enjoyed three-year olds. They are fun creatures. Delightful, despite their continuing tendency to have a tantrum or two. Little pint-sized humans that giggle and dance and say biggish sentences in their unbelievably small voices. I enjoy Juliette at this age (not that I didn't before). I like teaching her about the world and seeing how she processes it. And how she repeats things she hears me saying, mannerism and all.

Tuesday morning we didn't have a lesson at my school (hard to find teachers who aren't on vacation in July, I think), and I was happy to spend the time with Juju. I'm more conscious of appreciating my time with her now that I have less of it. So it was off to the bakery for a loaf of bread and a pain au chocolat that we shared on the way to the the little playground nestled in the trees. We were alone there except for some teen girl who kept sending texts on her phone. I tried to teach Juliette how to pump her legs as she was swinging. We've still got work to do but she did like repeating "up and bend" as she swung. That look of pure joy on her face as she went up and down, leaning her head back to look at the leaves above is just priceless. I swung beside her and looked up at the trees, too. Being at the playground in the cool of the morning and staring up at the sky brought me back to my own childhood and similar, blurry memories. When the air is fresh and life seems limitless. Oh, to be three again, not a worry in the world.

She's also entering that DVD mania stage. While my mom was here she bought a few pre-birthday gifts for Juliette of some DVDs that will play on our French-bought system. (Ones from the US have to be played on the computer.) So now my little one often asks for Pinnocchio or Nemo or Chim-chiminey (Mary Poppins) and Strawberry Shortcake (the older ones, thank you. The new CG characters remind of Manga girls or preteens who hang out at the mall. But that's just me. No, it isn't, check out this like-minded blogger!). It's amazing how she can get so absorbed in these, though her attention span is still short and she will take her Dora book at the same time. We can watch all these DVDs in English by the way.

She's definitely more little girl than baby now. Longer body, of course. Much more hair than this time last year, often curly. The sitter wonders if she'll be taller than me when she grows up. Juliette looks at clothes in the shops and says "That's cute," and again I know that comes frome me. She's also a little Monkish: if she sees dirt on the floor, she'll tell me to "clean it up!" I can't tell you how tickled I am to hear her saying so many things in English at home. It helps that Remi is willing to converse in English with her, too.


So an early happy birthday to my little one! May three be a great year for us all!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

First week

I'm trying out the BlogWriter app on my iPod. No wifi at school but I can type it and publish later. School's ok so far. The other ten students are nice. I'm not the oldest, but a good number of my fellow students are 24. I've had classes in computer technology and economics. Today we've started learning about the new labelling system for chemicals in the lab.

It's weird to be back in a school environment. I think I'm enjoying it but I'm afraid to be hasty. I feel that this was a good decision because I find the subjects interesting for the most part. A nice moment was eating lunch in the grass with the others. Reminded me of my college days. I'm trying to remember that I'm lucky to have the opportunity to go back to school.

Of course, it's a transition for me. I wish I could get home earlier. I try to make the most of my few hours with Juju in the evening. I can feel I'm missing her already. My curly-topped girl is such a joy to me. I think she knows it. Remi takes her in the morning and he's helping out with some more chores since my home time is more limited.

We've just got to hang on for this year.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Brave or crazy? You be the judge.

Ah, travelling with a nearly three-year old. No one said it would be easy. And it wasn't. Though there were moments things went swimmingly (potty-training is doing much better, thank you), there were others where we wanted to sink into the earth (tantrum in the otherwise peaceful water lily gardens at Giverny). Well, we survived."We" being Remi and I and my mom, who has been here visiting for the past two weeks. And, let's face it, it's not so easy on Juliette either. Being confined to a car for a road trip, having nap times shortened or skipped, sleeping in hotel rooms. Or more like not sleeping because she was really disoriented by the new environment.

But we saw some beautiful things and I think it's always important to see how much you can adapt with a child. Maybe we should have been doing more travelling with her from the start, but money and time limited us on that.

Anyway, here are some pictures to wet your appetite!


Totally copying Crystal here, we went to Giverny, to see the charming country house and lovely gardens of Monet. I loved seeing the view he had from his bedroom.

My mom and Juliette in the gardens. Before the tantrum.

Giverny is only about an hour from the city of Rouen. It's got a lovely downtown, including this gorgeous old clock (le gros horloge), a cathedral and charming architecture reminiscent of Alsace with the half-timbered houses. It's also the city where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, for you history buffs.

Then we spent an evening in Mers-les-Bains and the next day took some windy walks in Fort Mahon beach before heading back to our home base. Wouldn't you know it, the day after it was hot and sunny at the beach. Oh, well.


As usual, it's been great having family around. I tell mom I feel like I have a clone- another person who thinks quite like me and has the same instincts as me (as in prepping for dinner and doing the dishes, a godsend). When my dad was here it was quite the same. My mom's been a tremendous help around the house and has also helped me out on some home projects.

But as I speak she's flying back home. Two weeks went by quickly, as we knew they would. I find myself dreaming, as she does, too, that we only lived down the road. Or even just five hours by car would be better than our current situation. It's tougher this time because with my back-to-school situation (that would be in two days, people, yikes!), I'm not 100% sure when I'll see my family next. I guess I'll do my best to hold on to all the great memories we made on this trip and know that we're simply on the long waiting side of "see you next time."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Me against the world

This post is an abrupt about face from my last happily dapply one. Today I'm writing you from the bottom of the dark damp pit that is anger, depression and alienation. Hello, my old friends. It hasn't been so long, after all?

The cause: the total misunderstanding that stemmed from one of Juliette's tantrums. Monday she tried to slap me as I was putting her in her high chair for her snack (which she didn't want). I immediately picked her wriggling body up and put her in the playpen in Remi's room (we were at his parents') and told her to calm down. I didn't hit her back. To me that seemed illogical to say, don't hit mommy, then for me to spank her. It seemed contrary to the message I wanted to send, that hitting is wrong.

Of course, she started wailing. She knew she was being punished. She started getting hysterical. So I went back in there and tried to talk to her and at one point did give her leg a little slap to bring her back to reason. But she continued howling. Remi heard about the whole situation from his parents and later said I should have spanked her right away. The insinuation was that I was coming off as weak and not in control of my daughter in the first place as she tried to hit me.

This of course is wrong. I know from reading parents' forums online that toddlers hitting their parents or others is quite common and part of this phase of their life where they "test" things out. It is important to react, I'm not denying that. And I did react, immediately, by putting her in time out. This is where I apparently differ from just about all French people. Because since said situation, Remi has been telling me that so and so agree with him that spanking would have been the best solution right away.

Now I'm not entirely against the occasional mild spanking but I'm totally against it becoming a routine way to punish. My pediatrician is in fact against it all together. It seems to me to be the easy way out for parents. No need to explain and reason with the child. Just the threat of the hand. It's not the only way to discipline your child, that's what I want to shout out! A child also needs to understand why what they did was wrong, to learn to say sorry, to realize during their time out that what they did has landed them in isolation.

It's just starting to get to me big time that I'm always (or nearly so) in the minority when it comes to parenting views around here. No one takes me seriously when I say that when a child doesn't want to eat that yelling at them and giving them the uneaten beans from lunch at snack time is NOT the right approach. Ok, I get frustrated like the next parent and get testy when I see Juliette pick at her food. But I'm trying to find the best way to get her interested in food without dunking her head in the bowl. (Rest assured, that's never happened).

And now it's the entire French population who seems to think that the parent who doesn't spank tout de suite (right away) is coming off as weak (see this article which does show there might be some cultural background for this). And will probably have a demon child at the age of 15. There was talk of having an anti-spanking law here (as in Sweden), but most people scoffed at the idea.

If I have to repeat it ten times a day, I will. I am NOT a weak parent. I'm not a perfect one, but I don't let my child walk all over me either. And I'm sure she'll grow up to be a sweet and lovely person, despite her toddler tantrums.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This time of year

These are the glorious days. Like Thursday when I didn't mind that much driving an hour to one of my client's because the sky was gorgeous with cottony clouds. And my favorite UB40 song, their version of Here I am Baby, set the mood for my ride back (yet another hour) as I enjoyed rolling green farmland, complete with the odd cow.

Spring does that to me. Makes my heart sing. Even though today as I write this we've got grey weather and rain clouds in the distance, I don't mind, because I know the garden will be getting some more of that much needed rain.

Speaking of the garden and all things flowery, this time of year is absolutely gorgeous in Remi's greenhouse. Everything seems to be at peak bloom and there are still enough flowers on the benches to create waves of color everywhere you look. After a while I even get blasé about how beautiful it is.

Of course, just as Remi's parents did when he was a toddler, I have to take pictures of Juliette in all this glory. Whether she likes it or not.

Marigolds on the left, Jujuflower in the middle, begonias on the right.


Petunias right behind her, geraniums in the background. Her trusty "Doudou" bunny in her hand.


Took this picture using the timer function so it took me about five tries and Juliette did NOT understand the concept of sitting still while I fiddled with the camera. Blue lobelia flowers (my all-time favorite) and bidens, I think, the yellow ones.

In the garden patch I tend to at his parents' place, things are blooming quite nicely, too. I particularly like this combination of Lychnis coronaria, Nepeta and a rose bush. I can only take the credit for planting the Lychnis myself.

Lychnis have the fuschia flowers, Nepeta light purple, then the rose bush.

The days are long this time of year. The sun doesn't set till around 10 and we're approaching summer solstice in about a week. I love being able to go out on my balcony and water at 10 at night and still see everything clearly. It's true we have more energy when the sun's out with us. I daresay I even don't mind sooo much getting up early when it's already bright. Winter is a whole different story, and I'm already dreading it.

Maybe I'm also accutely aware of how these next three weeks are my last bit of "freedom" before my training starts. I'm trying to appreciate the time I've still got to putter and walk to the park with Juliette without worrying too much about studying. My mom will be coming a week from today (yeah!), and I know we'll have a blast. Once she leaves I'll plunge into my program, but for now I'll keep focusing on enjoying every moment.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Blissfully ignorant... and a bit scared

Starting in July things are gonna change around here. I've been given financing to go back to school for a year. To study what? Stuff I kind of already know: biology/chemistry/lab techniques. But especially the latter I really haven't practiced in eight years. And it's been eating at me to not really use my US degrees here in France. I don't know that this program will open all the doors to me. But I feel it's better to do something than nothing (or to just whine). So in less than a month (yikes!), I'll be back in school, probably pulling my hair out trying to remember things that were simple to me when I was 18. Which was more than half a lifetime ago for me.

For now I can only imagine what the training will really be like (hence the blissfully ignorant part). I've been trying to review some things on my own, but I fear it won't be enough. Luckily most of my classes will be with other adults who are going back to school also (but some of them have had access to an official review session that my funding doesn't pay for).

Nevertheless I'm a little worried and scared about the whole thing. For several reasons:

*I'll be earning less money for a year. Even though tuition is paid (a good thing), my salary will not be at the same level it is now. Can you say sacrifices? Can you say tightening an already tight budget? I haven't been sleeping well just thinking about it all these past months.

*I'll have to really work! As in study my butt off. Which I don't know if I can do so easily since I'll still have to take care of Juju a good bit of the time. There might be weekends where Remi can help more, but I have a hard time imagining next spring when he works seven days a week and I need to cram for biochemistry.

*The training is pretty much eight hours a day, except Fridays when I think I'll finish a bit earlier. So Juliette will have to be in before and after-school care. And either spend some Wednesdays with Remi's mom or in the daycare. Because French kids don't go to school on Wednesdays. That's not so easy for working (or studying) moms to handle. I think the fact that I'll be seeing her less eats the most at me. I've been super lucky to be able to spend some afternoons or parts of mornings with her due to my weird work schedule (read: not many classes sometimes). But that will change. Remi will take her to before-school care in the morning, and I'll pick her up hopefully around 6:20. It'll be a long day for all of us.

But I'll have to bring out that famous adapting ability I'm not so good at. The transition won't be easy, but hopefully after a few months time we'll all find our rhythm. And it is, of course, for a good cause.

So I might be blogging less come July and reading your blogs less(though I'll sneak in a post or two, because I think I'll still need this outlet). But I know you'll understand. Ok, back to a bit of light reviewing (until I nod off...)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

If these walls could talk

What do my house and the objects around it say about me?

That when I defrost the freezer compartment it's a good opportunity to chill the wine.


That my husband thinks if he leaves the cookie package in the cupboard long enough, the cookies might regenerate themselves from the crumbs. To be fair, I'm guilty of this myself (but not as often).


That I like to make bouquets out of the leftovers my husband has from his job (this one came from wedding leftovers).


That somebody around here is learning to use the potty. We still have to prompt her to do it. The stickers are a reward. And she likes to put her stickers on top of each other.


That there's competition for the fleece blanket. (To be honest I had to get her to repose for this one because when I went off to get the camera, of course she had moved!)


That I'm obsessive about my window boxes. I love the hanging type plants. I prefer a mix of colors rather than just red geraniums.


And what do your houses/apartments say about you?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sweet sounds

When I first got to France I found some of the French music a bit too soft for my tastes. (This is not to say there aren't some rockin' French bands...) But I guess I've come to appreciate the softer side sometimes as well.

Take a listen to this song (C'est bientôt la fin) from the musical Mozart Opera Rock. It's really one of the most uplifting melodies I've heard in a while. Remi spotted the lyrics: "mets du fard sur tes idées pâles" (put some blush on your pale ideas). The images in the video mix modern day Paris with the characters from the past. Something about it all just kind of makes me happy about living in France. (Don't worry, I'll be back to complaining any moment now). Can't get it to be in its own youtube screen so you'll have to do it old school. PS: there might be an add before the song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS1SGkWoHec&feature=youtu.be

Enjoy.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Baby's got new shoes

I can't resist another video. There's a lot of mumbling in here, so bear with it. She's mostly talking about the cat and his eating habits. And then she twirls her foot at the end to show you her shoe.



Bilingual update: she still speaks a lot of English with me and Remi (as she knows he understands both). There are just some phrases she continues to say in French even around me, like "c'est quoi?" (what is it?) or "donne" (give), "il est où?" (where is it?). There is some Frenglish at times, phrases that start in one language and finish in another: like, "Il est où my sock?"

There are some funny things she's still getting the hang of, like "my" which often becomes "mine". Like, "that's mine book". And she'll often say, "where are we over there?" when we're going to a new place.

She's definitely got that toddler tunnel vision of thinking that if she asks something enough times I will give in. When we pull into the parking lot of our apartment she often starts asking sweetly (and incessantly), "play in the grass, please?!"

It's still amazing for me to compare what she was like just a year ago. Zero to three (she'll turn three in July) have flown by. We visited her school Thursday and got a glimpse of he fun playrooms there. She couldn't sit still in my lap during our meeting with the principal. Let's hope my little Juju won't be a troublemaker. Mostly I hope she'll enjoy herself and the teacher will treasure her as much as I do.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Everybody loves a scandal

This week in France we've been bombarded with news about the International Monetary Fund and potential Socialist Party presidential candidate who is charged with rape. I swear his face kept coming in my mind Monday as I tried to fall asleep. I know it's been big news in the US, too, but in France it's like they're almost taking it personally.

The unspoken feeling is that this politician, respected for his work, but already known to play around, is being "subjected" to the "rough" US justice system. The journalists kept saying it was shocking to see Dominique Strauss-Kahn taken out of the police station in handcuffs or looking so haggard in front of the judge in his arraignment hearing. The next day the French journalists corrected themselves and said, it's just a bit different compared to the French system.

About the situation as a whole, I swear they even used the word "tragedy". And they meant more for this man's career or the French political scene. Later they got criticized by women's rights groups for not talking enough about the alledged victim.

I suppose I can see where the French are coming from. It is shocking to see someone who had so much power and influence being treated like a common criminal. But if it's proven that he is really guilty, that's what he is. And I remember how they showed Michael Jackson's mugshot, or Lindsay Lohan during her court appearances. That's just the way we do it in the US. There aren't so many special privileges in court for celebrities. (Although he is being treated differently in prison, it appears.)

He is however, innocent till proven guilty. My students Monday had a doubt about whether we had this system in the US, but I said yes, of course. I also taught them timely words like "to be charged with a crime", "to be convicted", "to plead not guilty." They said, on the one hand it is a shame that someone who is intellectually brilliant may no longer be on the economic scene. He apparently was one of the only folks really getting some European countries out of their debt situations. But none of that matters if in the end he is proven to be a sexual psychopath.

I've also found it funny that if I go on the CNN site I can read the criminal report in English in all the gory details, details that I haven't heard on the French news so far (at least not on prime time).

And it does make me smile a bit that the US is now accusing the French press of being too lax with this man, just kind of ignoring the fact that he was a womanizer and probably harassing female journalists over the years. Part of me finds it a great comeuppance for the French society that has maybe been a bit too, "aww, don't make a big fuss, he's just keen on the ladies". The Latin lover attitude has taken a beating this week!

Despite all the information we've been getting, 57% of the French think it's a conspiracy against this man. That he was set up by his opponents. It crossed my mind, too, but the more I hear about the victim, I'm starting to doubt it.

At any rate, it's kind of amusing to see how my country and my adopted one are reacting to all this.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let me be frank

Author's Note: I'd published this Thursday night but Blogger had problems and removed posts published after a certain time of day Wednesday. Along with some comments, too! Sorry, Jennet and Deirdre. I did publish your comments on Abba-Mania but they disappeared. Also Crystal who had already commented on this post before it got wiped. Here's what I could piece back together from my post, as some of it was saved in draft form.

The French are known for being frank. Well, actually, no offense, but they're known for being rude. I'm starting to wonder if it's really just that they are brutally honest. And they think it's probably for your own good. Constructive criticism gone a bit too far. I'm sure I've told you already that Google in the Silicon Valley likes hiring Frenchies because they're not afraid to give their opinion and shake up things a bit. While this may be great in a creative environment like Google, it's not always welcome in my living room.

Picture it: last week after I'd prepared turkey burritos and plain cous cous that got way too sticky (I've got starchy food issues, sometimes. Maybe I should see a specialist.). While I was munching down on my tex-mex, saying, in Crystal style, love me some mild spicy food, I casually asked Remi what he thought of the meal. Not exceptional, he answered. I'm sure he could tell by the frown/raised eyebrow/evil stare down that his answer wasn't going down well. So he explained that he's not too fond of Mexican food.

Fair enough. But where I come from (smiley, friendly US of A), we would have said things differently. Like, well, it's not bad, but a bit spicy for me. Call it sugar-coating, if you like. But I, for one, like sugar. It helps the medicine go down (sing it with me, Mary Poppins fans: medicine go dooooown).

And it got me to thinking that perhaps his response was perfectly fine for a French marriage where each is used to this kind of honest exchange. Where talking about and criticizing food is a national passion (French food recently got UNESCO World Heritage Status). But in a mixed marriage like mine, it opens up worlds of misunderstandings and hurt feelings (on my side at least). I tried to tell him that, in a non-confrontational way, but it really bummed me out last week. I'm not trying to make this a husband-bashing post, (if I'd written it last week you could have felt the anger spittle on your side of the screen). But I'm wondering how many other cultural differences like this we'll keep discovering. And maybe others in mixed relationships like myself have some advice on how to deal with these things. We might discover world peace along the way. Who knows how many international conflicts could have been avoided if we'd just known that the smirk from the opponent was NOT an invitation to warfare.

Like Rodney King said back in the day, can't we all just get along?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Abba-mania, toddler style

The surviving members of Abba have got nothing to worry about. They can keep collecting their royalties over the next few decades, because it seems their music appeals to the new generation just as much as to the kids from the 70s and 80s.



Note: no toddlers or stuffed bunnies were harmed in the making of this video.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rhubarb!

In case you've got rhubarb growing in your garden (or in my case, my mother-in-law sent a huge sack of the stalks home with Remi), here's a how-to guide for cooking them up.

1. Cut off the ends of the stalks. Here you see both uncut and cut to give you an idea.



2. Peel off some of the fibers by taking a knife and pulling up a bit of the ends. However, online I saw that not all methods call for this. I think it helps get some of the stringiness off though.



3. Cut up into pieces of about an inch or two long. Rinse once before cooking. Add water to cover the pieces and heat on high.



4. Cook until you can poke the pieces with a knife. Drain.



5. Basically just mash it up/stir it up. Add plenty of sugar to taste. It's totally sour without sugar! Serve with a yummy brownie that I'll give you the recipe for another time.