Archive for February, 2009

making a getaway

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Bill’s back on the phone with me. Now he’s walked out of the office and gotten a ride with a friend’s husband who drove down to rescue his wife.

He says they can’t drive out because of the fires. It’s the union burning the tires. When I think to myself “how can I save my job?” burning tires is the first thing that pops into my head.

He says the students are just there to enjoy the party. I guess students everywhere can turn anything into a party.

I hope they get out. I hope the syndicate (union) doesn’t attack the Americans in the big BMW trying to escape. And hopefully no one will burn Bill’s car overnight. Heck, maybe they will and we can finally get a big enough one for vacations.

locked in the office

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Just as I walked in the door from picking Kaitlyn up from school, my phone rang. The caller ID showed it was Bill and I was worried; he never leaves work this early. Even if he’s sick. He called to say the office was being “evacuated,” everyone had to go. For their safety.

I knew there was going to be some kind of protest/demonstration outside the plant today. I assumed it had something to do with Cat trying to lay people off. (Which it hasn’t been able to do yet here because of the labor laws… even though it’s slashed 20,000 jobs in the US.)

I knew that the protest/demonstration involved burning tires at some point today.

But when Bill called and said they were being sent home because more students were expected to show up and they were all being cleared out of the building… it started to worry me.

And the worrying got worse when he called back five minutes later to say now he’s locked in. Because the fires in the street are too big.

I told him to stop wearing things with the Cat logo on them.

This isn’t a good thing.

fromage milk shake?

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

You can get a milkshake in France. But I don’t think they quite understand what it’s supposed to be.

We first discovered that milkshakes are available at McDonalds. Which makes sense, since despite the tiny coffees is still basically an American fast food place. We discovered this because Kaitlyn wanted one. Bill tried it and said it was pretty good. I ordered her one the other day as her reward for behaving and actually trying during her French lesson. I watched them make it. Ok, they didn’t make anything. The girl stuck a cup under the soft serve machine and pushed a button to turn the soft serve into soft serve diarrhea. That’s what they handed over as a milkshake. Gross.

Then today I noticed a recipe inside our package of Laughing Cow soft cheese triangles. (Just like you can get at home) It’s a recipe for what it says is a milk shake. You should be able to find these things in the US:

200 grams strawberries
50 grams strawberry candies (Tagada to be specific. I had to google it to find out what it is)
4 portions of Laughing Cow soft cheese.
1/2 liter of milk

Put it all in a mixer and blend. Pour into glasses and decorate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

On top???? Anyone with any milkshake knowledge realizes that the ice cream is a vital ingredient INSIDE the shake. Not outside it. That’s like making a martini with the vermouth on the side.

Remember: martinis and milkshakes should not be ordered here. (They can’t make an American martini, either. To them a martini is a nasty Italian wine liquor.) And on the same note: baguettes and escargot are probably best left to the French.

Turns out… Maybe I don’t like French food…

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Kaitlyn spent the night at a friend’s house tonight (school vacation is still going on), so Bill and I got to go out for a grown-up dinner.

I called at lunchtime and managed to get a reservation at a restaurant several people have just raved about. The restaurant’s listing in my Grenoble Restaurant guide includes a full-page picture of seared scallops. Scallops. MMMM….. That was all I could think about all day long.

We got there and I anxiously opened the menu to find that the scallops are part of a menu that I didn’t want. (Restaurants in France group everything into menus…. which include several choices for each course… generally an appetizer… main dish or two…. cheese and dessert or cheese or dessert) Anyway, the menu that included the scallops included no appetizer I wanted, plus a cheese course and a dessert course. It was just too much.

“Order it a la carte.” Bill said. I had nearly settled on ordering just the scallops… no appetizer… and then maybe having dessert.

But when the waitress came to the table, I stunned myself and ordered off a different menu. The appetizer was some kind of cauliflower mousse with “perles de mer.” “Don’t do that.” Bill warned. He was right. It arrived at the table… a glass filled with the white puree mousse and generously topped with a pile of little orange fish eggs. I’ve always heard that caviar just tastes salty. So I tried a bite. It tastes like seawater mixed with fish. Nasty. I tried to pick at it but finally gave up, knowing that the waitress would want to know why I hadn’t eaten it. Which she did. I told her it was too strong for me. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped really hard that I’d like my main dish: fish. What was I thinking? It came out and looked ok… if you ignored the shiny skin it was cooked in. I hate when they do it. But at least it didn’t come out with its head still on or something completely horrifying like that. I peeled off the skin and tried the fish. It was ok. Not bad. Not really good. Just…. ok. Bill was over on his side of the table ooh-ing and aaah-ing over his scallops. After I’d made my ordering debacle, he ordered exactly what he wanted… a la carte. He gave me one of his scallops to try. I really did make a horrible ordering mistake.

For dessert, I was not going to cheat myself out of something good again. I ordered the candied chestnut mousse. And loved every bite of it. The chestnut liquor they brought with the bill was good, too.

At least the meal ended on a good note.

I want to go back. And order a la carte.

Bill says he’d rather go someplace else.


so what’s on tv tonight?

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Today when we arrived for Kaitlyn’s French lesson, her teacher pointed out that he’d set out some local magazines for me to try to “read” while I waited. He knows I don’t get lessons anymore and he knows I need to keep practicing.

Reading a two week old magazine of current goings on in Grenoble isn’t exactly top of my list of ways to practice my French.

I called and made a dentist appointment for Kaitlyn, only having to ask the woman to repeat herself once. To me, that’s decent practice.

But when I’d accomplished that, I still had 55 minutes left to sit and wait. So in case the teacher quizzed me on the stupid tabloids, I flipped through. Nothing was interesting enough to really read. Until I got to the TV listings.

We can watch French tv. I mean, we get French channels on our television. But we cannot understand them, so we don’t bother trying. So I had no idea what we’ve been missing. Until now.

Thursday night at 22h45 (quarter till 11pm), you can catch “Il Etait une Fois…” which is the French title for “Enchanted.” Seems like a logical time for a kids movie to be on. If you can’t stay up that late, “Retour vers le Futur 2” is on at quarter till 9.

Let’s see… what else…

Sunday night is “Quand Harry Rencontre Sally.”

Sprinkled throughout the week is Bones, Sex and the City, NCIS.

I think my favorite listing is for the newsmagazine on Wednesday at 20h50. (8:50pm. Logical time for a show to start) “66 Minutes.”

notarized… so it’s got to be important

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Got a strange phone call last week. I nearly didn’t answer it because I didn’t recognize the number. It was a lawyer in Cary, NC. The people we sold our house to are trying to sell it and the title search turned up a problem with the deed from when we bought it from the builder. A page number on the map was wrong. Can we sign a simple form so they can proceed with the sale? Sure. But there is one little catch. We are in France. The woman gasped. “Now?” Yes. Now.

She emailed me the form and I started the thrilling task of tracking down a notary. Preferably who speaks English. Given that the document we’re signing is in English.

Turns out that finding one was easier than I’d anticipated.

This afternoon Bill and I went for our meeting with her. We signed the form. Showed her our French ID cards. She notarized the form. She said it was free. We hurried up and left before she changed her mind about the price.

Now all I have to do is mail the form back to the US.

The things that turn up are, well, strange.

Lessons learned in Paris

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

We just got home from 4 days in Paris. We decided to go there because we thought it would be easy. We thought it wouldn’t be crowded. We dared to even think it would be relaxing. I don’t know that it was any of those things.

Let’s just say it was a learning experience.

We learned you cannot turn your back on Kaitlyn for a second anymore. She thinks she’s so grown up and doesn’t wait for you. She got lost in a museum. Thankfully not the Louvre. And thankfully just long enough to scare us all. A lot. Unfortunately, not long enough for us to learn the lesson well because she got lost again a few days later in a store.

We learned you have to be pretty careful getting on and off the metro. Kaitlyn got smacked in the face by some guy getting off the metro. It was an accident and it took her till the next stop to realize she needed to cry about it. He did apologize, but he also did hit her hard enough to knock around an already loose tooth enough for some blood.

We learned that Cobblestones, huge drainage ruts and golf carts are a very bad combination. There was no blood but a huge scare at Versailles when Kaitlyn fell off the back of a golf cart. I’m guessing Marie Antoinette did not have the same problem. She wasn’t hurt but we were all very shaken. Kaitlyn already wasn’t especially enjoying her tour of the palace (we thought she would have) and the fall didn’t do anything to improve her outlook on it.

We learned that one really should read the information on a train platform before getting on the train. Going to Versailles, we hopped on a train as it was about to pull away only to realize once we were on it and it was moving that it was the wrong train. At least we made this realization before it got even to the next stop. Leaving Versailles, we sat on a train for 45 minutes while every other train in the station left because we “thought” we’d gotten on the one slated to leave first. Apparently, we didn’t.

We learned that it doesn’t grow old telling people you meet waiting for a train to finally leave that we live in France.

We learned that sometimes an American meal isn’t everything you imagine it will be. The Hard Rock Cafe wasn’t as good as some we’ve been to, but I should have just ordered what I really wanted even if it was really bad for me. (nachos… yum) Kaitlyn got a shirt from there, so for her it was a successful evening. We later learned that reading about a restaurant in a tour book doesn’t mean you can eat there. Hoping for another chance at an American meal, we headed to the Planet Hollywood only to find out it no longer exists in Paris. Sadly, we found it out when we were rather hungry and pressed for time before having to catch our train home. Well, we were only pressed for time because we had to include a stop at the Disney Store in our day. Kaitlyn got to pick today’s activities: the Eiffel Tower and the Disney Store.

I think I finally learned how to really blend in on the metro. If I go back to Paris, I’m going to buy a paperback book in French to take with me. I’ll sit and pretend to read it on the metro. While listening to my iPod. That seems to be what all the French people do. Or maybe it’s just what people pretending they belong do. Either way, I’m in.

The most important lesson didn’t come until our last breakfast at the hotel. (Which I’m starting to learn is often really a waste, even if it does mean you can easily return to your room for a bathroom break before heading out) We met the family staying in the room above us. I resisted the urge to look at their feet and say “hey… your feet aren’t as big as elephants’!” because they turned out to be nice people. An American mom traveling alone with her two boys while her husband is “away.” They’re stationed at a military base in Germany. I didn’t ask where “away” is. I realized that some people’s problems are bigger than mine, when my problem is someone clomping around loudly over my head in a hotel room with a view of the Eiffel Tower where I’m enjoying a long weekend with my family… and no one is “away.”

I’m giving it all I’ve got, Captain!

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Just a year after it was installed, our stovetop has started acting funny. Sort of working… but sort of not. Sometimes it just refuses to work. (I could insert some snide remark here about how it’s simply French.) You turn it on to boil water and full blast is, well, too much effort. So you turn it down a notch. Then another. Then another. Until you have enough heat to cook some things but not enough to boil a pot of water for spaghetti. And if you’re lucky, you notice this problem before you’ve put the spaghetti in to cook.

The other night Bill used some voltage-meter that only an engineer would keep around the house and measured the output of one of our outlets. It was less than 200. Not what it’s supposed to be. We chalked up the finicky stove to an appliance simply not getting enough power to do it’s job.

Tonight was try two at spaghetti.

I turned on the stove… watched it for a while… all was fine…. so I went about doing other chores while waiting for the pot to boil. (We all know that you can’t watch the pot if you want it to boil.) I took towels out of the clothes dryer… folded them and put them away… went back to move the wet laundry from the washer to the dryer… turned it on… the noticed the stove blinking that it couldn’t boil that water. So I turned off the dryer. And the stove worked just fine.

Maybe if we lived in a house that’s a hundred years old it’d be easier to accept the idea that you cannot run two appliances at the same time. But the house is closer to three years old. And the idea that you cannot run two appliances at the same time is simply baffling.

going over vacation with a fine-toothed comb….

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

So I’m spending my evening sitting with pesticidal goop on my head… waiting for the timer to beep and the real fun to begin. Yes… Kaitlyn’s scratching wasn’t just a dry winter scalp. Once again I did not find the lice until they’d already created a rash on the back of her neck. After her bath I ran a lice comb through a couple of random spots and pulled out two bugs. They were so small I thought… or hoped…. they were dirt. But they moved. Dirt does not generally propel itself.

I made the unwelcome discovery just as Bill was leaving the office. He got to stop at the pharmacy to pick up two bottles of the lice-killing goop. They label it as shampoo… but goop is far more accurate.

I decided to just go ahead and treat myself right away this time. Just as a precaution. It fits right in with the loads of hot-water laundry I now have to do (and washers here heat their own water…. adding a good hour or more to the wash cycle), the fanatic vacuuming of furniture, the daily changing and washing of bed sheets and towels, the quarantining of stuffed animals she’s slept with to the freezer (we read that the bugs and their eggs cannot survive 48 hours in the freezer… which may be why I was so surprised they popped up in winter). Naturally, we leave for a long weekend in Paris in 36 hours or so. Nothing says vacation like combing through your daughter’s hair for lice eggs every night.

Off to change the sheets…..