Archive for November, 2007

bbbbbbbbbbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! argh!

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

I got back from the store to discover that it takes more than a couple of hours for this house to go from freezing to warm. So I decided to try to start a fire.

Now, the homeowner has a big pile of firewood. Which he keeps at the bottom of a steep slope, in the middle of the yard, up against the fence. There’s no good way to get to it when there isn’t snow on the ground and no possible way to access it when there is.

I looked in the fireplace and realized there was some wood that we never finished burning last winter. I opened the fireplace door, put in some fire starters and noticed a dead wasp just where the door had been. Creepy. Then his leg stretched. Like he was waking up from a long winter’s nap. So I did what any paranoid person would do in the same circumstance. I quickly lit the fire starter blocks and shut the door… then watched the wasp wake up and wander toward the fire where he eventually met his probably painful demise. Cruel. But he was gone. Then again, so was my fire. Hmmm… need more wood.

I scoured the basement for scrap wood. Found just one piece that didn’t appear to have paint on it. I went outside to confirm my inability to reach the snow-covered firewood pile. Check. But I did find a log on the patio. It will do.

Still, no luck with the fire. I finally figured out that every time I shut the glass door, the fire went out. So I called Bill in England to ask how to open the flue. (If he’s going to be sent away for long periods of time, I’m going to call him in the middle of his work day with these stupid questions.) While on the phone with him I followed his instructions, opened the flue then stumbled around the room screaming into his ear. A wasp had fallen onto my head before he flew off to the big window. Here it is, minus one degrees with snow on the ground and I’ve got wasps in the house. I’m just so darn lucky. Oh, I also have a small fire.

the long wait

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Waiting. And waiting. And waiting. In the cold.

The repair man said he’d be here between 9:30 and 11:30 this morning. I haven’t even gone to the bathroom this whole time so that when he gets here, I’ll be able to let him in. I unpacked, which took forever because every few minutes I thought I heard a car and ran to the window to look. But nothing.

Finally, I had to go get Kaitlyn from school for lunch. After double-checking a verb conjugation, I left a note on the door saying I’d be back by noon. Then I rushed down the hill to the school. Two people offered to have Kaitlyn and I over for lunch. I turned them down, too paranoid to be away from the house for one minute longer than necessary. Besides, my note didn’t say anything about eating lunch. And I am not going to have to wait another day because I missed the guy who was late showing up in the first place.

At home, Kaitlyn and I were arguing about how you cannot wear a skimpy tutu in a house that’s barely above freezing when the phone rang. It was the repairman looking for directions. I struggle with French on the phone, but I have practiced giving directions. Although I don’t know how to say my house is at the top of the street. So I told him “Allez haut… haut.. haut… et voila!” (Go high… high… high… and voila) In case I’d somehow tricked him into thinking I can speak French, he was sure then that I cannot. I didn’t care… he was on the way.

Moments later when I was trying to pull some tights onto Kaitlyn (who had changed into a party dress, but at least it’s warm) the bell rang. “Je suis arrive!” That was fast. I led him to the basement where he poked around the water heater. Normally, I’d have stayed to watch and perhaps dechipher what was wrong, but I had to rush back upstairs to feed Kaitlyn lunch before she needs to be back at school. I only had about ten minutes. And that’s pretty much how long it took the guy to fix the problem. He tried to show me what was wrong, but I have no idea what he said or meant. When Bill gets home this weekend, I’ll have to try to re-create the pointing to see if he can figure it out.

I took Kaitlyn back to school with only a small amount of convincing (had to promise playtime in the snow later) and I hit the grocery store.

Back to School

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Kaitlyn told me she didn’t want to go to school today. I’m sure she doesn’t. She has to be tired. Amazingly, after napping for a couple of hours yesterday, she fell asleep at 9 last night. I fell asleep not long after. Then at 3:20am, she was up asking for a glass of milk. I made my way downstairs in a strange, dark house… got the milk… and put her back in bed. She wanted to snuggle and I was too exhausted to force the issue of her sleeping in her own spot. Besides, I didn’t want her to create a fuss and wake up our hosts. But she didn’t fall back asleep for what had to be hours. I heard the recycling truck go by. It stops at our house around 5am. So I figure we were up for at least two hours before finally dozing back off.

When we were up at 3:30, she did tell me that “at morning” she’d go to school and see her friends. Well, “at morning” came and she had a different story. (our hostess woke us up around 8:15 so I could go wait for the repairman)

Kaitlyn had some excuses handy for why she should stay home with me. Said she was scared. That’s what she says now for everything she doesn’t want to do. Then she told me no one likes her. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case, either. When I told her that her friend Sophia’s mom had said that she’d really missed Kaitlyn while we were gone, she perked up a bit. Finally, she agreed to go to school and see how it went. If it was horrible, she could stay home after lunch. I made the deal half-heartedly. I think that getting back into her routine is the best bet for beating jet lag. And I have too much to do for her to stay home.

Once we got to school, she seemed ok… no arguing in the parking lot or playground. When she went in the classroom, half a dozen little kids jumped up and yelled her name and greeted her. A little French girl whose name I don’t know but I’ve seen at ballet class threw her arms around Kaitlyn in a giant hug. She was fine.

bitter cold

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Boy, did Kaitlyn and I get a cold reception when we got home. The water heater conked out (again) and the house is freezing inside! Outside there’s snow on the ground and more falling. The snow isn’t sticking to much… until you get about two-thirds of the way up our street! I’m so chicken, even the three or so inches on the ground makes me nervous.

As soon as I walked in the house, I knew what the problem was. So I went downstairs and stared at the water heater. It’s on. But heating nothing. (The whole house is heated with hot water in the floors and in the radiators.) Luckily, the company the homeowner has a service contract with stuck their phone number on the front of it. (Given that this will be the third time they’re out for that thing in 5 months, I guess they realize their customers need their number quite handy!) In my best haven’t-had-to-speak-it-in-three-weeks French, I explained who I am (she found me in their computer) and what the problem was. The woman on the other end fired off some question I didn’t understand. So when she told me they cannot come today she said it very slowly and finished with “comprenez?” Oui. Tomorrow? She’ll have to call me back.

Kaitlyn and I snuggled up under two blankets and a comforter on the couch to nap and wait for the call. I figured we had at least until the end of her two hour lunch break before hearing anything, enough time for a decent rest. The woman who’d watched our house while we were gone felt guilty that she couldn’t fix the heat before we got home, so she rushed over two space heaters to add to our one. It was enough to make napping possible.

I woke up a few hours later but still hadn’t heard anything. So I called another friend who has lived here nearly 10 years and speaks much better French than I do. She called the water heater company for me to make sure I had indeed understood. I had. But the frazzled woman said they were overwhelmed and she was yet to wiggle me into their schedule.

We could probably stay here tonight with the heaters, fuzzy socks, fleece jackets, big blankets and hot cocoa. It’s no worse than the ice storm in Durham that left us without power for nearly a week. But without any hot water… well, that’s where I draw the line. As badly as I want to sleep in my own bed tonight, I really REALLY want a hot shower. Here, I cannot even get a lukewarm one. So I’m getting ready to pack yet another bag and drive to a friend’s house. At least the snow plow has cleared the road. And at least I don’t have to weigh the suitcase.


Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

If you have to take a long flight… take it on a Tuesday.

I admit… I was not looking forward to taking an international flight alone with Kaitlyn. But the flight from Raleigh to Newark wasn’t full and the flight to Geneva was practically empty! At one point I walked to the back of the plane to get some milk for Kaitlyn and nearly every row was occupied by a single adult, reclined across the two or three seats getting some actual plane sleep! That was more than I could say. Kaitlyn woke up a couple of hours into the flight and when I was finally tired enough to snooze (note to self: don’t order beer with dinner to relax then coffee afterwards. Duh.) she was wide awake. And she kept tapping me and saying “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy.” I managed to sleep for about an hour while she watched some tv. All in all, she is a very good traveler.

Oh, and how did my luggage fare at the weigh in? My big duffel bag was 5 pounds over. The women at the Continental counter tried to help me shuffle things around, but when I opened my food suitcase to reveal its tightly crammed contents, they had to admit defeat. I hate that I had to pay $50 for five stupid pounds. I guess if I’d worn those rain boots then I could have shifted stuff into that suitcase. Doh!

one last trip to Target!

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Maybe it was subliminal… or primal… this need to go to Target late at night. But tonight when I tried to cram all my grocery and Target goodies into my small suitcase and into the one a friend was trying to get me to take I realized I had no alternative. So we packed into the car and headed to Target. At 9:30 at night.

It was too late to get my chi tea latte from the Starbucks, but not too late to make crazy last minute purchases. Along with the necessary new suitcase, I bought rain boots for Kaitlyn, rain boots for myself and lipstick for Kaitlyn. (She went with me earlier today to the Estee Lauder counter where she insisted on trying on red lipstick then begged to have some. I know I spoil her, but I draw the line at $20 lipstick)

At last, everything fit. But those boots might have been a little too much; I could barely zip shut the suitcase I stuffed them into. Good thing Kaitlyn wants to wear hers on the plane. (I know I should just give in and wear mine, but I want to be at least a little comfortable) I weighed my food suitcases before leaving for the hotel. They are crammed to the gills but under the 50 lb limit. There’s no scale at the hotel. Wish me luck.

missing home?

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

I’ve come to find out over the past few days that most people here seem to think that I’d rather not be living in France. That isn’t really the case. Yes, I’d rather that either I spoke French or they spoke English. It’s made it hard to answer the question “How’s it going? How is France?” because it seems that everyone wants to hear me carry on about how horrible it is… or how wonderful it is. I can’t do either. Just like living anywhere, it’s a mix. But while I tend to write about the struggles more than the triumphs (struggles are far more interesting), there are small victories in my days in Uriage. It is still filled with the unfamiliar and the frustrating. But it, in its own way, has started to feel like home.

I’m starting to make friends. (Bill pointed out to me months ago that neither of us are quick to make friends anywhere and that isn’t a fair yardstick of our “success” in France.)

As much as I’m looking forward to filling my suitcase tonight with mac n’ cheese and ranch dressing, I’m looking forward to shopping at the fruit and vegetable market.

I think I even miss the challenge of speaking French. To try to learn something so difficult is satisfying… when you manage to say the right thing and not when you tell the repairman he can take the elevator to your basement. But when I can actually answer a question I’m asked…. that feels really, really good.

I have had a grand time shopping at all the familiar stores. I think I’ve memorized the Pottery Barn catalog a friend gave me. (It was intended for plane reading, but I couldn’t wait) But I’m ready to go home.

just too far away

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

My bags are almost all packed for our trip across the country. Kaitlyn and I leave tomorrow for North Carolina… for a few days before going home. This time, this trip from LA seems harder. This time, France seems farther away than it did a year ago.

I don’t dislike living in France. I’m getting used to the whole language thing, and at least feel comfortable in most situations in which I find myself. I’ve started to make friends and so has Kaitlyn. Some of the things about the culture that are so different don’t seem so strange to me anymore. Like only drinking coffee at the end of your meal. And that’s one I didn’t think I’d ever adjust to. Or no school on Wednesdays. I’ve started to enjoy those days with Kaitlyn. Or stores being closed on Sundays. I like that family time. No errands, no days spent in the car driving from the grocery to the hardware store to the mall. Just time together. Even if that time is just hanging out, it’s still better.

The thing about France that is getting harder instead of easier, though, is the distance. For years and years, I’ve lived a plane ride from my family. But it was always in the same country. That plane ride could be made in a hurry (and has been). A phone call made even at the worst time of day wasn’t so bad… nothing like when your time zones put you 9 hours apart. I’ve always marveled at how close I’ve managed to stay to my family despite the physical separation. But this time when I get on the plane to head back toward home, that separation feels bigger. Those 9 hours seem so very far apart. The challenge lies with each side of the divide not to “mind the gap”… but to ignore it…. and to reach out as often as possible.

she spoke French

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

This morning, Kaitlyn was being her usual silly self and told me not to say “yes, yes” about something. We asked her why and she said because it means “goodbye.” Which didn’t make sense. So Bill asked her what does “no, no” means. She said “je ne sais pas.” I wonder how much French she knows…. I think it’s far more than she’s been letting on!

eating out… American style

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Waiting for a table at a restaurant is not something I’ve missed. But in case I had, today I got plenty of it.

This morning, we went to IHOP for breakfast. That’s a guaranteed wait. They said half-hour. More like an hour later, we got our table. Breakfast had turned into lunch… but I ordered a too-sweet breakfast anyway. Kaitlyn ordered a smiley face pancake and a basket of chicken and fries. I guess she figured out how to make it more of a brunch.

At dinner, the first place my brother’s family wanted to take us had a three hour wait. That’s crazy. That’s as long as Gilligan was supposed to be on that tour. The place we did go, again, claimed a 30 minute wait. After about 45 minutes, they told us they were just waiting for our table to clear. Then they called another big party. I’d had it. And a year’s worth of not being able to tell people what I think all came spewing out at the staff manning the hostess stand. It felt pretty good. Although I don’t know that it got us a table any faster.

Once we did get to order, we were served the reason Americans are struggling with their weight. The portions of everything was huge. Even the kids macaroni and cheese was enough for two adults. I ordered a “stuffed” baked potato and it was more than I could eat.

It was too long a wait and too much food, but the evening was ok. After all, when I ordered a beer the waiter questioned my age.