Archive for December, 2006

Extra large… my butt!

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

Weekend after weekend, Bill has been dragging Kaitlyn and I to the car, stuffing us in and driving to some path just past an almost-shabby looking hotel on the route to Chamrousse. He’d heard that if you took that path, you’d get to a waterfall. So we tried. The third Sunday in a row he proposed making the trek, I think I burst into tears. That’s the only waterfall he’s seen so far.

A few days later I decided that maybe part of my reluctance to hike is that I simply do not look the part. Forget my perfect pear -shaped figure. No, no, the clothes. Like Ted in Curious George, I knew I needed to dress for the role of “avid hiker.” He got a yellow suit with a matching hat. (the new khaki)

I knew just the place to make my transformation. A store called Decathlon.

See, this very strange thing happens to me when I go into a store like Decathlon. With absolutely no experience or ability, I become 98% convinced that I am actually athletic. I think that with the right shoes and a new outfit, I can hike or bike or ski or play tennis. (Ok, I can play tennis sort of, which is more than I can say for those other things) So once I went in, I just knew that some hiking clothes would actually give me the ability and desire to hike with Bill.

I got black fleece pants, a mint green fleece top and a paprika colored jacket. All in the largest size I could find. I didn’t get the really cool hiking pants with pockets that would have carried my cell phone and id and cash (you never know when you’ll find a place to shop)… the biggest size I could find of those was a French XL.. marked US 12. Looking at them, I just knew they weren’t even going to be a 12. I didn’t buy the hiking boots I found. I should have. Ironically, it’s hard to find my small size here.

That was a couple of weeks ago. And for a couple of weeks, my hiking clothes have sat in my super cool bag from Decathlon (it’s nylon and tucks into a little plastic ball you can easily drop into your purse). I’ve been afraid to try them on.

This afternoon I thought, hey, I bet those fleece pants are comfortable for just sitting around the house. So I dumped my hiking attire out of the cool bag and pulled them on. Barely. For a country filled with pastries, bread, cheese and wine they don’t need big clothes. This means I am actually going to have to GO HIKING in order to even fit into the small hiking clothes masquerading as big huge hiking clothes I bought without looking like a sausage. Yumm… sausage….

just call me Grinch

Friday, December 15th, 2006

Shopping ten days before Christmas in Grenoble comes complete with all the same thrills as in the United States.

Traffic crawled along outside the mall. Bon chance finding a parking place once you get into the lot. Lines to pay for stuff wound through the stores like giant worms, only slightly more unappealing than the lines to wait for the free wrapping offered at each store. Some stores had up signs letting you know that they’ll be open the next two Sundays for your shopping joy. Normally, nothing is open here on Sundays except for the Petit Casino and you have to get to that before noon. (To make up for it, it doesn’t open till 3pm on Monday!)

I was so proud to have done most of my shopping for Kaitlyn weeks ago. I got my packages off to the United States on Monday. So what on earth dragged me to the mall after my French lesson today? Bill. I need to get something for Bill.

Now I’m thinking to myself, how hard can it be to find a really cool gift? I mean, after all, we are in France, for heaven’s sake. Ok. We’re in a house in France with little to no storage, so anything that needs kept somewhere is a bad idea. There’s no real display area so anything to just put out and look out is another bad idea. Wall space is taken up by the massive windows that allow us the lovely view of the valley, so anything to hang is still another bad idea. A couple of weeks ago I saw some neat looking signs in French, they wouldn’t take up much space. But I didn’t know what they meant and didn’t feel like pulling my big dictionary out to translate. (Yes, I carry a big dictionary with me everywhere. And, yes, then I complain about how heavy my purse is.)

Normally, I give Bill clothes for Christmas. Sure, it’s boring. But I never said I was interesting. Anyway, he said he needed new shirts. So that is why I was at the mall. For shirts.

There are only four men’s stores in the mall here. I don’t count Foot Locker or the electronics stores in that. Clothing stores. They had shirts. Purple. Black. Red. And shiny. Yes, shiny. I found one that wasn’t shiny. It looked like a tuxedo shirt. It was ridiculous. I’m sure I’ll see someone wearing it next week at Carrefour.

I hope Land’s End delivers to France for his birthday next month!

Hair’s to You

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

I’ve heard the horror stories. I didn’t want to just become another wild tale, passed from ISE to ISE. (Like the story of the woman who was confident she could communicate her desire to have two inches cut off her hair and ended up with two inches of  hair)  But I had to do it. I had to get my hair done.

I got the name of a hairdresser in Grenoble who speaks English. Now, at home, merely speaking English is not enough of a qualification for me to pay you to do my hair. They speak English at Super Cuts, but that doesn’t mean I’m going there. Although now that I think about it, speaking the same language hasn’t always resulted in me getting the hairstyle I was after…

Today, language was the only qualification.

I was on time (bizarre for me), but she wasn’t. That gave me time to sit and stare at her book of hair color samples. Hmm… there’s bright blue.. no… stark black.. nope… beet red… no, thank you… I finally found a couple of colors that looked like something that would not make me cry. We had a little consultation, I emphasized that I don’t want to see any gray, and that was that.

I tried not to look too alarmed when she started putting the goop on my hair. The goop was approximately the color of mustard mixed with ketchup on a paper plate. Heavy on the mustard. She glopped it all on, piled my mustard stained hair on top of my head and put me under a heating thingie. There were magazines in English to flip through (nice change!) and good coffee and chocolate. Still, there was that concoction stewing on my head.

After rinsing, my hair looked normal. I was still leery, since wet hair can hide a lot.

She offered to cut it. I insisted I only need a trim, I’m growing it all out to be one length. She said that would look good with my kind of hair. Then she trimmed it… just the tiniest bit. She even had me look at the clippings on the floor to confirm just how little she’d taken off.

Her assistant dried my hair. And as she labored around my head, it was becoming clear: this wasn’t a bad experience. This was a good experience. The color is perfect. The cut is just what I wanted. It looks good… if I do say so myself.

I have her card, if you’re interested.

Corn Flake wreaths

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

I’ve filled my calendar with teas and children’s Christmas parties… if there is an ex-pat group in Grenoble, I think I’ve found it. Ok, I’ve found two. And I’ve joined both.

Monday, I went to a morning tea at the group that conducts all its meetings in both English and French. Since I’m new, I had the thrill of introducing myself. Easy enough. Then she said “now in francais?” Uh, yea. Ok, you can’t scare me, you native French speakers. I gave the same little introduction speech in French. The room buzzed… “you speak so well”… “you’ve had French lessons before!” Nope. Now, all I said was that I am Mandy, I live in St Martin d’Uriage with my husband and daughter and I am American. (Je m’appelle Mandy. J’habite a St Martin d’Uriage avec mon mari et notre fille. Je suis Americanne.) It isn’t like I gave a speech on the importance of world peace. Still, it was a great confidence booster.

Today, I went to an afternoon tea put on by the other group, which does everything in English. There are still French members, ex-ex-pats who want to practice their English. And a lot of Brits.

I was asked to bring along some kind of American food to share. I had a brainstorm yesterday at Carrefour when I saw the “genunie” Corn Flakes. Marshmallow Christmas wreaths like my grandma used to make. I have never had such an overwhelming reaction to a food I’ve taken anywhere. Here in the land of fois gras (it’s the season), escargot and scary cheeses, I spent my time at the tea fielding questions about those wreaths. How do you make them? (melt marshmallows in butter, put in cereal, form into wreaths) Can I have the recipie? (google it!) What region of the United States is this from? (region?) How did you make it green? (food coloring) What an incredible ice breaker that turned out to be! When I got home, I finally tasted one. It was good, but somehow French marshmallows really are not exactly the same as American ones. Still, they were pretty tasty.

Sunday we’re going to a children’s Christmas party put on by the same group. I’m brining pb+j sandwiches I plan to cut into Christmas shapes with cookie cutters. We’ll see how that goes over…

Oh Christmas tree…

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

It seemed like this was the weekend to either go through with it or forget it for this year… buying a Christmas tree. We’d seen them for sale at the marche de noel in Grenoble, so we knew live trees are available. All we had to do was find them.

No problem. I’d spied some at my favorite garden/decorating store.

We headed out after breakfast to get our tree. Ok, so heading out after breakfast for us means heading out at 11:45am. At least it was better than yesterday, we were in the car headed off the mountain before noon. As we made the descent I said “uh, I hope this place doesn’t close at noon for lunch.” I still cannot get used to the fact that stores here close for two hours at lunchtime. I understand the small stores that do it. But not the big stores. Not three weeks before Christmas! We got to the store at 12:10. Twenty minutes to tree shop before lunch.

We knew we didn’t want a big tree. No way to get it home. We wandered around, chased Kaitlyn, and settled in on one group we liked. Now, if you had told me at 11:45 this morning that I was going to buy a flocked Christmas tree, I’d have laughed at you. But there I was, at 12:20, picking out a flocked tree. Hey, they’re nice. Much nicer than flocked trees I’ve seen in the US. Mind you, we still had our limits. Definitely, no red or purple flocked trees were coming home with us… no matter what Kaitlyn said she liked.

As the clock ticked toward closing, one of the employees in the tree area came over to help us. I’m sure she instantly was sorry. I waved my arm around babbling “I want… one of these.” But I said it half in French and half in English. Then I showed her how the one we liked didn’t have a price tag. I’ve done that too many times at Carrefour to make that mistake again if I can help it because if you go to the cash register with an item without a price marked on it, heaven help you. The cashier will want to talk, ask you questions. Then she’ll roll her eyes when you don’t understand and she’ll pick up the phone and call her Aunt Betty to tell her about the stupid American in her line yet again, oh and can Betty please find out how much the little kid’s doctor kit costs? The tree lady found another one she deemed similar enough to use for a price quote. Trente cinq euros. Ok. I’ll take it. She put it in a big plastic bag and told me the store was closing. That confused me. I mean, I knew the store closed at 12:30. Was she telling me the store had already closed and I’d have to actually come back for my tree? We finally figured out, no, she just wanted me to go directly to the cashier, do not pass go, do not collect more items in my cart.

In the parking lot, there were rows of shoppers all trying to stuff trees into the backs of tiny European cars. Ours fit with half the backseat folded down. Kaitlyn got in and looked at her back seat companion and said “cool.”

The tree isn’t really much taller than Kaitlyn is. We’ve never had a tree that small. But figuring out where to put it was easy, since even I could pick it up and move it around. And you don’t put it in water. The bottom is stuck into a tree stump. If your tree is crooked, well you bought it that way with no chance of correcting it with a clever swivel of the stand. As we were moving it, we noticed a small tag on the top. Bill read it and we translated it to say: do not put lights on the Christmas tree you just bought and hauled home. In a country that doesn’t seem to put much of a priority on safety (no handrails on stairs, no smoke detectors, no gfci outlets) it seemed that if they bothered to put a warning on the tree the danger level must have been exceedingly high. So we were going to heed it. Bill said the led lights they sell here would be ok, they don’t heat up. And, hey, we noticed Carrefour was open for Christmas shoppers today.

Bill made the trip to Carrefour; I stayed home with a napping Kaitlyn. He went to not one but two Carrefours. Neither had any of the lights left. So we got fresh milk but no lights.

Kaitlyn helped us decorate the tiny tree and she had no problem reaching all the way to the top. Most of our ornaments are so heavy the branches they hang from sag. I never realized how many of those Hallmark ornaments that you plug into the light strand we have until today. They stayed in the box. When I opened the box of Mom’s ornaments , I couldn’t bring myself to put most of them out. It was still way too hard. Two years ago today I was on a plane to California to have my life altered in an irreversible way I never wanted it to be and I don’t need to have reminders dangling from my tree. Not yet. I’m not ready.

Bill got out his Christmas train and it now circles the little white tree. Often with Belle or Barbie along for the ride.

It’s kinda a sad tree. Small. No lights. It is so unlike any other tree Bill and I have had that it hardly seems like it should be ours… or like Christmas. Like everything else right now, it’s new and strange and we’ve tried to make it seem right by putting our things on it but it still just isn’t. Then again, sometimes I think that Christmas will never seem right to me again.

universal word?

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

Watching Sponge Bob Square Pants in German, we noticed they were after a coveted chocolate bar.  CHOCOLATE.  It’s a universal word!

Astra 2 28.2

Monday, December 4th, 2006

Astra 2 28.2

I need it. Bad.

That’s the satellite I need to get British Sky TV. Right now, we get free satellite tv. That includes the 5 French channels, which I do like having. I’m almost to the point where I can watch a cartoon and understand some of what’s being said. Although one drawback is no Saturday morning cartoons, since the kiddies are in school then. Well, most, not ours. Seemed mean to do to a three year old. (It isn’t required until they’re 5 or 6) And I do like to see what American shows they air with French language dubbed in: Ed, Friends, Dallas, TJ Hooker, Young and the Restless. I’m sure there’s more. I can do without the commercials. I do not understand the one with the woman who appears to have just returned home from running and she’s splashing water on her face saying over and over “Merci! Merci!” It’s an ad for, I think, the water company. “Thank you, water company, for providing me with the service for which I pay you each month?” Reminds me, I need to get that thank you note in the mail to the power company…

We get fewer channels in English than in French. CNN International… good for catching up on how poorly the dollar is faring against the Euro, Yen and Monopoly money. Sky TV out of Britain, keeps me up to date on the investigation into the death of the Russian spy 24/7. And BBC World, but I haven’t been able to get that to actually show up, so it’s hard to include it.

Al Jazeera is on our list of channels. I haven’t watched it to know what language it is in. I think it would be interesting. Bill thinks I’m weird for wondering.

Pretty much, the other 873 channels we get are in German. German home shopping network, Bloomberg tv in German, God tv in German, German Nickelodeon. I’ve heard tales of some ISE children actually starting to speak German just from the German cartoons. I have enough trouble understanding everything Kaitlyn says in English and she’s probably not far from tossing some French in, so I really don’t need another language to decipher.

So, I am ready to break down and pay the price for German Sky television. (yes, to stop watching German tv, I find German Sky to get British tv. Europe, so confusing!) In teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy print in the online contract it says your satellite has to be able to get Astra 2 28.2 Click ok without checking and you’re out a boatload of money with no Disney channel to prove it. Bill says we get it… but only at about 50%…. do we do it? Help! I need someone from engineering!

marche de noel

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006

The Christmas season seems to have officially kicked off this weekend here in France. For weeks, each town has had lights strung up on poles… now they are actually turned on at night. And the Christmas markets have started. The big one around here is in Grenoble. It goes from now until Christmas eve.

Today, we headed out to the marche de Noel in St Martin d’Uriage.

The vendors and warm weather aside, there was something really charming about going to an event in our little town and running into person after person we know. Not all other ISE’s. (but mostly) Each stopped to say hello, offer a hand with some translating, an explanation for the tradition behind a food for sale.img_6301.jpg

What was for sale? A lot of jewelery. Lots of it. Apparently, beading has taken off in France. There were a few people with pottery. A couple of artists. Some scarves. I nearly bought Todd a beret. Some wooden toys. Cakes. Wine. Champagne. Cheese. A guy wandered around playing his accordion. (retirement possibility, Dad?)img_6293.jpg

Of course, Papa Noel was in attendance. He handed out traditional candies and oranges to the kids. To the kids who weren’t afraid of him. Kaitlyn clung to her daddy when Papa Noel came too close. She said he wasn’t her friend and she wanted nothing to do with that guy. Nothing at all. Ok. Hopefully she’ll get past her fear of Santa in time for our big Christmas trip to Colmar.img_6308.jpg

We did pick up a few things.

Kaitlyn stopped at the first toy seller she found. I told her she could pick out one thing. She looked very carefully at each thing and really took her time to decide. She finally picked her one thing: a wood snake made so it can slither.   img_6305.jpgimg_6295.jpgI guess she decided that the snake she made her granddad buy her in the Phoenix airport needed a friend.

I bought chestnuts from the booth run by Kaitlyn’s school. Couldn’t figure out why they were impossible to open, cold and hard as little rocks. Nasty things, really. Waste of two euros! Then some woman started blabbing on and on to me in French. All I could say was the old trusty “je ne comprends pas.”  img_6309.jpgShe sighed and switched to English. I’d walked away from the stand with the “example” chestnuts, not the ones that had been cooked. The woman at the stand had tried to chase me down to tell me, but I was too fast (first time for everything). No wonder they were so awful. She offered to walk back to the stand with me to exchange them for ones you could actually eat, but I’d just bought Kaitlyn a waffle she’d been begging for and thought if I delayed her consumption of that she’d be furious. I never did get back over to exchange those chestnuts, but at least I know they weren’t expecting me to eat what I’d gotten!

Kaitlyn was thrilled to have a waffle. We didn’t bring our waffle maker and we apparently really need to buy one. I knew she liked them but had no idea she’d miss them this much. We tried some frozen waffles last weekend. They were made in Belgium which made them genuine, if not good tasting, Belgium waffles.img_6267.jpg

One group was selling some cabbage soup, which I am told is very good. Bill didn’t want any because he isn’t big on cabbage. It smelled great, I should have just gotten some for myself. One of the people we ran into is from France… he said he was out at 7 this morning to buy his daily bread and saw them cooking the soup and just had to return for some. He says it’s a tradition to eat that soup after a long night of partying…. at 4 or 5 am after, say, New Year’s Eve, you break out the soup. Hhhhmm…. ok.

I didn’t leave with my soup or with roasted chestnuts… or even with bags of Christmas gifts. But I think I picked up a wee bit of Christmas spirit and a renewed adoration for our little town and the others who call it home-for-now.