Archive for March, 2007

What Gives?

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Around noon today the sun was out, the sky was blue, I had on a t-shirt and sweatpants and the windows were open… I even sat outside at our patio table to do my French homework while Kaitlyn played in the yard.

                        Now it is nearly 7pm. There are about 3 inches of snow on the ground.

                        Bill is beaming saying how beautiful it is. Bah. I am ready for spring.

There’s our Kaitlyn… somewhere!

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

Kaitlyn performed in her first school concert tonight.

                        I didn’t get to see her. Oh, I was there. I just couldn’t see a darn thing. The whole school performed at the church down the street. The little kids went first. They didn’t stand on the steps or the pulpit… I thought maybe it was some rule of the church’s. You know, like only the priest can stand above the first step. I tried to sort of look around the people in front of me, but we were too far back in the sanctuary for it to matter. Bill tip toed up the aisle to take a few pictures. In them, Kaitlyn appears to be sort of doing her own thing anyway, not so much going along with the group. Seems about right.

                        Three or four groups of the littlest kids sang or danced or banged on sticks or whatever. They all sang too quietly to be heard. And unless you were in the front row or standing in the aisle, you couldn’t see anything.

                        Then the bigger kids got up. And they filed neatly onto the steps. So they could be seen. I’m still trying to figure this out… the four and five year olds stood on the same level as the pews so that no one could see them. The older, bigger kids stood on the steps to make it easier to see (and consequently hear) them. HHHHmmm…… something the little kids’ music teacher might want to consider next time. As if that wasn’t annoying enough, when the bigger kids got up there, all their parents STOOD UP to see them. Uh, hello. The little kids’ parents all just squirmed and craned our necks and tried to politely sneak a peak at our children. The kids who were standing in clear view… their parents just stood up wherever they were. Frustrating. Someone please tell me… is this French or is this just the way parents are at school performances? Because I may need to buy some stilts or something.

Hats Off!

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

So, what if you get your haircut and no one says anything? Does that mean it is such a subtle change they just think you finally bothered to brush your hair, which isn’t something polite to point out. “Hey, you finally took a comb to that rats nest on your head!” Or does it mean it is so hideous that to even say “oh, you got your hair cut” would be to draw attention to a horrible mistake?

                        Today, I got so sick of my gray hairs and so sick of my just lie-there-and-look-like-I’ve-given-up hair that I went and got it colored and cut. In French, no less! I threw caution to the wind… I didn’t bother to go to the place I went before… I marched right into the place where I took Kaitlyn for her haircut and announced “je voudrais un couleur et coupe, sil vous plait.” Two and a half hours later I was sending a text message to Bill warning him that while I am pleased with the outcome, he may not be. Was that a little passive aggressive of me?

                    What happened in between ranged from boredom to happiness to shear terror.

                    Explaining that I don’t want gray hair was easy enough… I could point to the abundance of it all over my head. There was a color book with little wisps of fake hair and I easily settled on the color called cafe. Seemed oh, so appropriate. The hairdresser stopped her mixing to come out and tell me something in fast French; I had no idea what she was saying. I recognized the word blanc and finally just said “oui” so she would just go back to what she’d been doing. Then she came out and started glopping the glop on my hair… and it was white. For a few seconds, I actually feared that I had just agreed to let her dye all of my hair white. I started to think of ways to cover my head: hats, wigs. But then I realized that made no sense. I had clearly said “pas gris” and pointed at my roots. Once I had calmed myself down, the stuff on my head was starting to turn brown. She must have been trying to warn me that it starts out white but not to panic. Wish I’d understood her!

                    Then came the trim. Well, it started as a trim. I thought maybe it would be best to get this woman on my side, so to speak. So after repeating “un peu” a dozen times, I figured I’d let her weigh in on the mental battle I’ve been having with myself… return to wearing bangs or leave my big ol’ forehead exposed. I asked “Vous pensez….” then sort of moved my hair across my forehead to act out bangs. She was thrilled and started talking more fast French. When I had my patented blank stare on she grabbed a magazine and showed me a picture. I thought we were just agreeing on how the bangs look. Nope. We were agreeing on the entire hair cut. Cut being the operative word. Her scissors started flying and chunks of hair were sent sailing through the air. I felt like I was in a bad dream sequence from Scrubs. Then I started to think of ways to cover my head: hats, wigs. Pretty soon the hair stopped flying and the assistant was shown the picture and told to dry my hair like that. Then the hairdresser went over to the other customer, who was French, and fired up her scissors over there.. sending her hair flying. I watched that woman in the mirror. She had a look of terror in her eyes as she watched the bits of hair soar all around her. I suspect it is the same look I’d had probably since sitting down. But, voila, when my hair was dry not only did it look pretty much just like the picture, it looked good. A little shorter than I’d intended when I went in, but I left happy.

                Je n’ai pas besoin d’un chapeau ou d’une perruque!

oh la la, what’ on tv?

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Today I woke up with a migraine. I knew it would happen sooner or later. Mostly because I haven’t yet bothered to go fill the prescription for migraine medicine that the doctor here gave me.

                        Getting Kaitlyn ready for school was particularly challenging. Every time she cried, it made the throbbing in my eye throb all the harder. She was tired this morning so she was cranky this morning so there were a few tearful episodes. I finally got her dressed and fed and got her to school. She told me she wanted to paint, not loud enough I thought for anyone to really hear her. But then the teacher assistant leaned down and asked Kaitlyn in French if she wanted to paint and Kaitlyn shook her head yes. So there is some amount of understanding going on there. Fortunately, she was thrilled to paint, so she trotted off with Madame Victoria and waved au revoir to me and that was that.

                        At the pharmacy the owner helped me. He speaks English. I was willing to do the entire transaction in French but I was relieved not to have to, since my head already hurt. Thinking may have caused an actual melt down. The doctor had warned me that the migraine pills are expensive… but so far nothing in the French medical system has really been pricey. The prescription was about 55 Euros. Ok, that is a little high. But I bet that migraine medicine in the US with a co-pay isn’t much better, if at all. Besides, they all know that your head hurts so bad that you’d pay anything your credit card would approve just to make it stop.

                        Back at home, I made a cup of tea. Because tea seems like what you should drink when you don’t feel well. I took the medicine. I discovered the joy of living in a house with shutters over nearly every window. I left them shut and it kept the house dim and cool… the way you want a house to be when your eyeball feels like some one is trying to scoop it out of your head with a dull spoon.

                        Anyway, I figured I needed to just rest while waiting to see if the 55 Euro medicine would work. The doctor warned me that sometimes it doesn’t work the first time you use it. And you are supposed to take it at the first sign of pain, which was last night around 7:30. The time the pharmacy closes. So my procrastination put my recovery at risk.

                        To achieve that rest, I sipped my tea and settled in on the couch with the remote. It seemed like a good time to actually dial through the dozens of channels we do get to see if any of them other than the obvious ones are in English. (The obvious ones are CNN International, CNBC Europe, BBC World and Sky TV. I used to watch news all day long, every day. Now, I’d like to watch SOMETHING ELSE!)

                        Let’s see…. we have a German woman doing “yardwork” in a very short skirt… yardwork requires a lot of bending over… that’s accompanied by a lot of phone numbers on the bottom…. ok… more phone numbers with what looks like a description of a woman desperate for a date… in German…. ah… here’s some phone numbers with a woman talking on the phone and rubbing her bare boobs with her hands… close up on the boobs, mind you…. in German…. the Algerian parliament or legislature or town council…. they are dressed… some Italian guys speaking Italian at a restaurant in New York… Martha Stewart dubbed into I’m not sure what language…. Cuba Tv…. Al Jezeera in Arabic…. and Al Jezeera in English. I stopped on BBC World. At least it was a show highlighting gadgets from a gadget convention instead of news.

                            The medicine worked. I think I saw that entire gadget show. The next thing I knew it was two hours later. I feel sorta dazed and confused, but not in pain. My eye is starting to throb again, but if I take another pill now I’m afraid I’ll be too groggy to figure out how to get to the school to pick Kaitlyn up this afternoon. Maybe Bill can stop at the pizza truck for dinner and I can just pass out right after we eat.

Spring Forward

Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Last night, we changed our clocks. Jumped forward. Sprang ahead. Lost an hour of sleep. Kaitlyn’s kiddie magazine which we subscribe to to help us learn French says “Ce week-end, on change l’heure sur les reveils.” Literally, that means “This weekend, one changes the hour on the alarm clocks.” That’s sort of a more honest way of putting it than “spring ahead.” Spring ahead sounds so, well, cheery.

                    I’d forgotten yesterday morning when I woke up that this was the annual weekend of lost sleep. That would have been nice to have remembered when in my am grog I told Bill to go skiing alone, but to sign Kaitlyn up for a Sunday lesson so we could all go. When I realized what I’d done, it was too late. He’d signed her up for the 9:30am class. And he was so proud, he’d managed to do it all in French. I couldn’t tell him I wasn’t going because of the clocks.

                    When the alarm rang this morning, it sure did seem early. But I got up (eventually) and got ready and poured some coffee down my throat (only one cup… there are not a lot of toilets on the ski slopes. Ok, there are none on the slopes, one at the bottom and it’s always wet because it’s one of those clever self-cleaning models. Wet and cold is not a good description of a toilet.) I glanced out the window and saw that we were in the clouds. Yuck. But I did sneak a peek on the internet and saw that UCLA won (I didn’t stay up to watch since we were going skiing) so I pulled on a UCLA sweatshirt over my other many layers of ski attire and got in the car.

                    Chamrousse wasn’t crowded. Which seemed weird. I thought maybe the rest of France refused to give up that hour of sleep. The ski resort was above the clouds. The sun was out, it was perfect.

                    Here’s the really weird part. I had a good time. I didn’t fall. I didn’t struggle an abnormal amount with the lifts. I think I may have even smiled while NOT snowplowing my way down the runs. Bill took a bunch of pictures of me. He has to do something while he’s waiting for me to catch up with him, I guess. You can’t tell in the pictures but I’m going really fast. For me. Sure, a few toddlers passed me. Sure, I didn’t actually pass anyone who wasn’t standing still. But it was fast for me. I took my ski instructors advice and looked up and ahead of me instead of down at my skis. What an amazing view.

                    Hard to believe we were skiing in the Alps this morning and lounging around watching a movie at home this afternoon. And enjoying every minute of both.

Road Trip to Annecy

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

There are just some things that you get to do in France that you simply would never be given the opportunity to do in the United States. Today I went on a factory tour at the Paccard Bell Factory. I had no idea what we’d actually get to see. We didn’t just get to see the bells being made… we actually felt the heat of the job.

                    After a movie (that would have been a better 3-D movie than the one at the Chartreuse distillery tour) and a brief explanation of how bells are made from a tour guide, our group headed into the foundry. There, there was a man in a silver heat-protective suit stirring white hot molten metal with a big wooden spoon. Every so often he’d toss a hand full or two of sand into the pot, sending sparks flying. And all that separated us from that guy and his work was a little piece of yellow tape… like crime scene tape minus the chalk outline of a body on the ground. We could feel the heat of the furnace and the hot metal. The sparks landed awfully close to our feet. But none of us dared take a step back, for fear of missing some of the spectacular show. After the master mixer deemed his brass soup ready, he and some others (also clad in the fire retardant silver suits) poured the liquid metal out of the mixing bowl (or whatever it’s called) into a container suspended by chains and pulleys from above… from that they poured the mix into bell molds. As the molds filled with the molten metal, one guy would take a stick and set a fire to a vent in the top of the mold. It burned so hot it was green and white. When that flame goes out, the mold is full. We watched them fill half a dozen molds.

                        Back inside the safer museum portion of the factory, our guide told us a little more about how they tune the bells, and just how specialized such a task is. (there are only 5 bell factories in the world that actually tune their bells) Then, it was time for the bell concert. I was kinda looking forward to it. I like bells. I love that song, the Carol of the Bells (when played by bells). In high school, I played in the church bell choir. But when the concert started, none of us knew just what to do. The bells started playing along with some pre-recorded music… then the tour guide picked up her microphone and started singing. Not one. Not two. Three songs. We clapped politely after each song. But, really, this made the 3-D movie of the monks seem, well, not silly. Mundane, even.

                        Before leaving, I had to stop at the little gift shop. There were some nice bigger bells, but they were several hundred euros each. I settled on a little handbell with a decent sound and something about Paccard written on it. On the way out, another woman said the guy behind the counter told her those bells aren’t even made at that factory. What a waste. Oh, well, now I have a good bell for playing Bunco or if I ever get sick and need to ring for attention.

                        Lunch was included in the day trip. We walked next door to a place I’d have never chosen from the outside. Inside we walked past what looked like a salad bar and an open charcoal pit on our way to the table. And on each table were skewers hanging at each table. I guess you are supposed to go spear some meat from the salad bar (it must really be a meat bar) then you grill it yourself. The women from Peoria said it’s just like some restaurant there where you cook your own meat. Doesn’t cooking your own meat sort of defeat the whole purpose of going out to eat?

                        We didn’t cook our own. Since we had such a big group (it was a Sweet Home Grenoble outing), we were given a plate du jour. Sausage, cabbage and Gratin Daphinois. (creamy potatoes) I have mentioned my serious fear of French cheese. Sausage is in a similar category. You just can’t be sure what you’ll get… what kind of animal or what part of that animal it will be. I tried it. It was ok. I wouldn’t go out of my way to have it again. For dessert (because no French meal is complete without dessert) we got to go to a little buffet. I had a couple of chocolate things. That kinda made up for the sausage.

                        Before driving back to Grenoble, the group hit two stores. The first was an outlet for pottery from Provence. It was all very pretty but I didn’t buy anything. I guess I prefer that my purchases be mementos of time here, not just something picked up at an outlet store. Although I may go back! The second store had decorations that were similar to some I can find at a couple places here. So all I came home with was my not-a-real-Paccard-bell bell!

Jolly Good Time!

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Bill made it home from his first France-based business trip. He spent basically a day in the UK. When he got home he asked if we are going to join my brother during the London leg of his European adventure this summer. I said no, we can’t get to everything and decided not to do London. Bill now wants to go. Among the reasons? They speak English there. Yea, we knew that. But you forget how easy life is when you can open your mouth without fear of not being able to communicate and when you can read signs, menus and everything else you might come across in your travels. (elevators, advertisements, instructions…. you name it) I am yet to really get to experience the thrill of re-immersing in English. But apparently, it is grand. Maybe we’ll have to change our travel plans from Venice to London after all!

So alone and so far away

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

There are some days when I just feel so lonely. Like there’s no one to talk to; no one who I can truly relate to; no one who I can entirely be myself with. Today is one of those days. I don’t know why. It’s not really been any different than any other day.

                For all the things I fill my time with, there are still a lot of days when I have nothing more to do than feed myself and clean the house. Suddenly, the idea of making myself a sad little lunch and eating it while I watch BBC World (if the satellite is working in the snow) then doing the dishes and vacuuming is just more than I can take.

                And for as nice (yes, I’m sticking with that bland word) as all the people are who I’ve met here, I don’t think a single one would let the f-word slip into conversation… let alone dominate it. The idea that a year ago I spent many, many hours a day muttering, saying or screaming that word would leave them speechless. Let’s just say… I cannot totally relate to them. And vice versa.

                I often feel that the very things that have shaped me into the person I am are things that no one here would accept… let alone understand. So I keep a lot to myself. Which often means I feel like I am keeping to myself… and not really being myself.

                After picking Kaitlyn up from school, we were stopped by a funeral procession walking from the church to the graveyard. All I could do was sit in my car and cry and cry. Kaitlyn told me to be happy, but I just couldn’t. All I could think about was Mom. And the only person I felt I could talk to was Kaitlyn. Sad, really.

                There’s no one here I can really talk to about any of this. Because I feel like every move you make and every word you say is being judged. Because we’re all going through such a very surreal experience and the only measuring stick we have for ourselves is the others we can see and, naturally, each of us wants to measure ourselves as doing better than someone else.

                But here I sit, sniffling and crying. I don’t even know anymore what is wrong.

Il neige… beaucoup!

Monday, March 19th, 2007

Since getting home from the language exchange today, I’ve started to grow concerned about getting back out to get Kaitlyn from school this afternoon. I have been home about two and a half hours. And in that time, about 4 inches of snow has fallen. It was just starting to stick to things as I pulled into the driveway. Now, everything has a thick coating of white. And it isn’t stopping. It is forecast to keep snowing through Wednesday!

                Bill left this afternoon on his first business trip from here. Naturally. If it gets deep enough to need chains I hope we’re already home safely, because I can’t put the chains on my tires! I volunteered to bake cupcakes for Kaitlyn’s little church group tomorrow night. I hope I can deliver them.

                I hope the snow plow drivers plan to put in a little more than 35 hours this week!

Work to live, not live to work

Monday, March 19th, 2007

At the English-French language exchange today, I learned an interesting view on raising children.

                One of the French women told us that all her children still live at home. They are 21, 18 and 15. She has just one strict rule they must follow: no one is allowed to stay home on Saturday night. Unless they are having a party. She says they all work hard during the week and that it is a very important lesson to learn that the weekend is for having fun… not for working.

                That’s a lesson a lot of us could use. And one I hope we leave here having learned.