Archive for August, 2009

pounds… dollars… euros… how confusing

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

My head is absolutely spinning from spending the last couple of days researching our Christmas vacation. I know, I know. I’m not going to get any sympathy from anyone about how hard it is to find a place to stay to ski in the French Alps. I don’t want your pity. But your calculator might be handy.

Bill and I try to stay in France for our ski vacations so that Kaitlyn can take all her lessons with the ESF — the French national ski school. That way the curriculum is standard no matter where we go. Last year she earned her “snowflake” badge and that means something to the next ski instructor she’ll have.

French ski resorts are very popular destinations for the British. So much so that a lot of the prices are quoted in Pounds Sterling. Just when I thought I’d managed to sort of keep up with the ever changing Euro and be able to estimate the conversion into Dollars… now it’s the Pound. And to make the comparison more fair, Bill tries to convert from Pounds to Euros… which really only confuses me even more.

Then you have to decide: hotel? chalet? catered chalet? Again, I know not a soul out there is going to say “ohh… your life is so hard!” Fine. You look at these websites and try to make sense of them. Some list the prices by the person by the day. Some by the week. Some for the whole place by either the day or the week. Not all of them bother to tell you how they’re breaking down the prices… so you can just assume. Which can be an expensive guessing game. Not that I’ve gotten far enough to actually hand out a credit card number to any of these people yet.

I’ve written to a handful looking for an actual quote. I haven’t heard back from any of them yet. Sure, it’s Sunday. But, come on! Christmas is only 4 months away. I need to get this taken care of!

you want me to what?

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Opening the mail here is always a roll of the dice. Will it be something I wanted to receive? No, it will be bills. Will I understand the bill I’ve received? Not if there is anything other than a total that appears in the ballpark of what I expected. This is probably why I only even check the mail once a week, unless I’m expecting a package.

This morning I finally felt clear-headed enough to deal with the mail that arrived while we were in the US. It really wasn’t much. Gone three weeks and I had about 10 pieces of mail to deal with. Most of them just got filed away or put on the stack of stuff to shred.

Among the things I had to set aside to actually do something about: the explanation of benefits from the insurance company regarding my crown. They paid zero on the temporary crown, saying that it “Does not meet frequency requirements of the plan.” Frequency requirements? For a crown put into a fractured tooth??? Am I supposed to have this problem more often? It’s the first time I’ve ever made such a claim, so I don’t think it’s too frequent an issue. Is it? Now I have to decide if it’s worth the hassle of calling United Healthcare or not. I usually get really mad at those people and yell at them, so it may not be worth the spike in blood pressure.

The other matter I really can’t ignore is a series of two letters from the electric company. The first, dated 31 July, tells me that the meter reader could not get to our meter because of “lavande et abeillles.” Lavender and bees. Two things which go together, by the way. What do they think I’m going to do about this? Get rid of the lavender? Even if it was my plant to exterminate, I wouldn’t. I rather relish living in the one small area of the world where “real” lavender grows. And it doesn’t need me to do anything to it to survive: a serious plus given my amazing ability to kill a plant just by considering buying it and bringing it home. The lavender may be the only thing left living in our entire yard other than the weeds which have pretty much taken over.

And as for the issue of the bees: no kidding. I’ve been saying for nearly three years now that this house is a freakish magnet to stinging insects. This year I’ve simply been happy that they (mostly) aren’t coming inside… since we had the pompiers (firefighters) come out and kill the wasps who’d set up shop in our roof. (I hope just saying the problem has lessoned doesn’t jinx it.) I noticed on a walk earlier this summer that there is a bee-keeper down the street from us. That combined with the lavender and the house’s bizarre appeal to them means there ain’t nothing I can or will do about the bees. Period. The end.

The second letter from the electric company was dated 3 August. I guess they weren’t going to wait long for my response to the initial one. This second one tells me that I need to read the meter and call them with the information. Which I confirmed thanks to Google translate… it seemed too crazy to me for a company to wait only three days before throwing in the towel and saying “just do it yourself.” But they did. That, of course, was 19 days ago and no subsequent notice or warning has arrived. I suppose that’s because it’s August and no one has been in the office since the 3rd to bother worrying about it.

I guess I need to tell Bill that it is now his job to (1) figure out where the meter is, (2) get past the lavender and bees to read it (3) figure out what number(s) they want off it, and (4) beg someone at the office to make the call to relay that information. I’ll call and make dinner reservations. I’ll call the doctor and make an appointment. I’ll call and order pizza. I have even pretty much gotten past my fear of calling the water heater company to have them come out. I even called and ordered heating fuel to be delivered. But there is no way I’m calling this probably automated line to rattle off a series of numbers. Not gonna happen. 

splish splash

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Going to the town pool here is always an experience. Today was no different.

I’d hesitated to go because Kaitlyn is so terribly jet lagged. She woke up around 3 or 3:30 this morning and I wasn’t sure that the pool was the right way to spend the afternoon. Not that the fresh air, sunshine and exercise isn’t good. But a cranky 6 year old at a public pool where we only barely understand what’s going on…. that’s life on the edge.

Kaitlyn packed her own little bag of things to take to the pool: her suit, some lip gloss, a plastic bottle of lemonade. I can’t get out of the American habit of just tossing my suit on under my shorts and a t-shirt. Kaitlyn apparently prefers the French way of doing things. She took her bag into one of the changing rooms to get into her suit. She wouldn’t let me go in with her. That was fine; I stood right outside. But after a couple of minutes she started shrieking and crying for my help. But she’d locked the door and couldn’t calm down long enough to unlock it. For a brief moment, I considered just putting her back in the car and heading home right then. Well, right then as soon as I could get her out of that dressing room. But she eventually figured out which knob to turn which way and got the door open. She had collected herself by then so I dismissed any thoughts of leaving.

The temperature outside was about 33 Celsius. And the pool was about that Fahrenheit. It was cold. Really, really cold. I ventured in to about my waist but that was the most I could muster. I knew somewhere in my head that if I just got all wet, it would be better. But I couldn’t do it.

Kaitlyn begged me to stay in the water and play… which partially defeats the purpose of going to the pool which is for her to have a chance to play with other kids and not just me. She can play with me all day at home. Finally some little boy started playing some variation of tag with her. I was off the hook so I crept back to my towel and lousy book plucked from a big bag of books dumped upon me by another American. They’re in English so every so often I pull one out and try to read it. But usually that’s the thing: they aren’t very good.

Anyway, this boy started splashing Kaitlyn and she didn’t like that. I could hear her yelling “Arret! Arret!” Everyone could hear. Apparently, except this little boy; he would not leave her alone. Finally his mother (I assume) came over and dragged him out of the pool yelling at him that the little girl had told him to stop. I pointed out to Kaitlyn that she’d managed to get the kid in trouble and all she had to say was “will you play with me?” Not what I was going for.

After a while, the little boy ventured back and he and Kaitlyn again started to play. Minus any splashing. But he chased her endlessly. I could tell that she was getting frustrated by it. Which takes nerve. She finally came and sat on her towel by me and said “I think that boy is in love with me.” I told her it’s because she’s cute. “I have to figure out how to not be cute. I think it was the two lip glosses I put on.”

The public pool in our town is nice because there is a baby pool…. a giant very deep pool for real swimming and the high dive…. and a small pool. It’s bigger than a baby pool but smaller than a backyard pool. At the deepest spot, Kaitlyn can easily touch the bottom. It’s great. She can swim and I can sit on my towel and watch. The problem with the small pool is that all the teenagers like to hang out in it. I guess they get tired of clinging to the edges of the big pool, since there is no spot in that pool where anyone other than the Jolly Green Giant can touch the bottom. Today a group of teenage boys came over and got on each others shoulders for a lovely game of chicken… or whatever it’s called. They didn’t care that there were smaller kids in the pool. I walked over and suggested Kaitlyn avoid them. A few minutes later I looked up from my book and realized she was not only not avoiding them…. she was pushing on them trying to help knock them over. She laughed and thought that was great fun. I was relieved to see the teenagers didn’t seem bothered by the little girl trying to take part in their game; so I let it go. But the lifeguard, who never seems to be paying attention to any running or shoving or horseplay, went over and told Kaitlyn not to push. (I asked Kaitlyn what she said.) Mind you, the lifeguard did not go tell the teenagers not to play their game in the kids’ pool.

Kaitlyn and her playmate resumed their game of running (well, walking quickly because I told her if she ran, we’d go home) around the outside of the pool and jumping in only to get out and do it all again. Then her friend made a horrible mistake. She was taking what he considered too much time and so he pushed her in. She cried. His mother came over to me for a report and I sputtered out something that roughly said he’d pushed her. She spanked him right then and dragged him off. Eventually, she dragged the boy back to Kaitlyn and made him apologize. Then she told me that he doesn’t really speak French and he had been talking to Kaitlyn the whole time in Spanish. Just Kaitlyn’s luck. I’m trying to get her to use her French to make friends and she finds the one kid there who spoke neither French nor English. I’d have ended up in tears, too.

So it wasn’t exactly the happy afternoon I’d hoped for. But it wasn’t quite as disastrous as I’d feared it could have been. Either way, she stayed awake. Maybe she’ll finally sleep through the night tonight!

can… barely… keep… my… eyes… open

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

We’ve made the trip from the US to France before. Kaitlyn’s done it four times. And this fourth time has been whatever the opposite of a charm is. A curse, I suppose.

Jet lag is never easy. But normally when we arrive, she’s got school the next day and I just make her get up and go and while her teacher and classmates may suffer for it, she turns her schedule around toute de suite. It works like, well, like a charm. I manage to stay awake unpacking, getting groceries, doing laundry. Sure, we’re in bed at 8pm, but that’s not so bad. Not like this time.

This time around, Kaitlyn has managed to keep on California time. Late night California time to boot. She’s been waking up at 3am then napping all afternoon. Yesterday she fell asleep at 2. I managed to wake her up around 4 so we could go get a quick bunny tutorial for this weekend’s latest round of pet-sitting. Back home just after 5, she was back out on the couch I think before she even sat all the way down. And she was out. Cold. Dead to the world. Absolutely could not be awakened. Not for dinner. Not for Bill coming home. She woke up on her own around 9. And she was up. Wide awake. I stayed up with her (mostly to keep her from bothering Bill and because she kept pestering me)… until 9 this morning.

At some point in the middle of the night (2? 4? 5:30? 7????) I decided that there is an up side to this serious case of jet lag. There has to be. Here’s what I came up with:

I now know that I can still pull an all-nighter other than when I’m in an airplane. I didn’t even drink any coffee to get it done. OK, I did eat a few spoons-full of whipped cream.

Being awake in the middle of the night means that you can lay around and accomplish absolutely nothing and not feel one bit of guilt about it. I was awake(ish) but I did not put in any laundry, unload the dishwasher, read (that would have put me right to sleep anyway), tidy up, clean. Nothing of the sort.

I got to Sling to programming worth watching. Well, maybe “worth watching” is a stretch. But I did get to just turn on HGTV and mindlessly watch whatever drivel was on. Normally when I’m awake, HGTV is showing infomercials… because normally when I’m awake it’s the middle of the night in LA. This time, I was awake during prime time. Alright, it’s a fairly lame benefit, but it’s still making the list.

I’m out. Not another good thing about jet lag comes to mind. It’s now 4 in the afternoon. I need to go make sure Kaitlyn hasn’t slipped back into dreamland. I am starting to nod off at my desk… so it’s back to all those chores I didn’t do in the middle of the night… because you cannot fall asleep while scrubbing the kitchen counters or picking up Polly Pocket crap. By the way… thanks to Bill who spread Kool Aid all over the counter tops while he did his part of the unpacking…. one of the packets opened in transit… and I could barely get the pink tint off the counter tops. Next time you spill Kool Aid I recommend you not leave it sitting. Even if you are jet lagged.

ready to go

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

We leave tomorrow to go home to France. Or to go back to France, as Bill puts it. You’d think that coming back to the US the third time as we approach our third anniversary as ex-pats would be easier than the last two trips back. At least that’s what I expected. But, it turns out, I was wrong.

At first, I caught myself noticing when I heard someone else speaking English. Then I’d remind myself that everyone around me was doing so. Or I’d find myself practicing what I was going to say to a clerk in a store. Then I’d remind myself I don’t have to speak French and I don’t have to practice what I’ll say in English. I can completely wing it and be just fine.

I skipped the trips to Starbucks. Maybe just because it was so hot. Maybe because now that I’ve found them in Europe, the thrill of loading up on the chai tea latte has worn off. Sure, I have to drive nearly 2 hours at home to get one, but it’s still possible. Kaitlyn loves Starbucks; I could probably even drag her along and she wouldn’t complain. (much)

I didn’t load up on books at the bookstore. I looked at a lot but I can order them with free shipping on And I do still have two big shopping bags filled with trashy novels a friend passed along to me after they’d been passed along to her. So if I get really desperate for something to read, I have plenty.

I did lay on the couch at night and watch tv. Or turn on HGTV while getting ready. Just because. Sure, I can use the Slingbox (when it’s working, which it is allegedly doing again). But to just leisurely turn it on and not have it be a bunch of infomercials because of the time difference… that’s a plus.

We went to some movies, since we’d be able to understand them. None were really that great, but it was still nice to be able to go and not have to spend the entire 90 minutes concentrating just to follow the plot. It simply turns out that sometimes the plot isn’t really worth following.

We spent lots of time and money shopping. I like being able to buy clothes that I know I can put in the dryer. I hate that about the clothes in France. None of them can be put in the dryer. Not that I fit in the clothes there but Kaitlyn does. She should now have an overflowing dresser.

The one place we went that made me really miss living in the United States was the library. It was just so…. comfortable. The familiar stacks of books… the desks with the little lamps…. the reading room by the magazines with big comfy chairs and couches. We missed all the children’s programs. Kaitlyn’s too old for the story times anyway. But to spend an hour watching her pick books off the shelves and reading them…… that made me really miss home.

Tomorrow we get on the plane and go home. Back to where I can’t understand the radio or the tv. Back to where I have to think really hard just to talk to my daughter’s teacher. Back to where the public pool is filled with strange rituals that are completely ordinary to the natives. Back to where sweet corn and good beef just don’t exist. Back to where I’m still trying to make friends. Where I’m still trying to figure out just what to do with myself. But as long as Bill and Kaitlyn there, it’s home. No matter where it is. Home.

my desert vacation. in august

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

Palm Springs is not a destination most people would put on their calendar for August. But we did. When asked why the answer was pretty simple, really. It’s free. We’re staying at my Dad’s place. So all we have to pay for is food. And the shopping. Good thing there isn’t even a very good mall near here or we’d really be in trouble. Amazingly, our credit card has only been stopped once by the bank.

To tell the truth… a vacation in the desert in the middle of summer isn’t that bad.

First of all: how hot is it everywhere else right now? Friends have been complaining about heat in the upper 90’s or low 100’s. And that’s with drippy thick humidity. Sure, it’s topped 100 every day…. 110 some…. but the humidity is about the same as in the oven. Yes. Hot is hot. At some point, it doesn’t matter anymore. But the lack of humidity does make a difference. We still sweat. But it’s better. A little.

Secondly: things aren’t very crowded.

We went to a water park on Saturday. I’d have to assume that’s the busiest day of the week. Only one slide had a significant wait. And I didn’t care because it sure wasn’t something I was going to go on anyway. The wave pool was like a mosh pit, but I bet it’s always the most packed spot anyway. We sprang on the money ($115!) for a private cabana. It was nice to have the guaranteed shade, a table to eat at, a waitress to fetch our overpriced food and beer, and the little misters keeping our table, chairs and food moist at all times. (What I mentioned above about humidity making it worse? Defying that logic, everyone here mists the air. Which makes it cooler. Go figure.) Soak City drained our wallets but it was fun. Ok, so maybe the wave pool made me sea sick. And even the slide I did go on scared me half to death. But it was a fun day with the family.

The other night at the movie theater, we were the only ones in there. Not just the only ones watching Julie & Julia. (And I can understand why) We were the only people not being paid to be there. The kid closing had to wait for our movie to end to lock up for the night. Is it funny that even though we had the place to ourselves, we sat all together in a clump? Because, it isn’t as if we talked during the movie. (that would have been rude) On an airplane if there are empty seats, people spread out. Yet we huddled together. There were a few more people last night for the earlier showing of G-Force. Not a lot. They seemed to be like us: people with kids looking for relief from the heat that didn’t involve the pool.

Now I do want to know why the people running the movie theaters feel the need to keep them cold enough to hang meat? Maybe if the theaters were sold out then all those people crammed together would raise the temperature noticeably, creating a need for the excessively cold a/c setting. But with a handful of people, all it was was, well, cold. We were all wearing shorts and t-shirts. We didn’t need the arctic blast. But, I guess our $10 each had to go to something.

Third of all: we’re doing things we might have otherwise not done. Like a children’s museum that’s only 5 minutes from the house but that we’ve never gone to. I didn’t even know it existed. I have to say… I think that charging $8 each to go into a museum intended entirely for a kid is a bit excessive. Kaitlyn loved it and that’s great. But the rest of us forked over our money to just watch her. We didn’t take part in any of the activities. Unless you count restocking her “groceries” purchased at the pretend “grocery store” as taking part. I count that as volunteering and generally museum volunteers get in for free.

Certainly, there are some things we are skipping this year. Like the Living Desert. Which is a big zoo. I’m betting that most of the animals spend their days hiding in the shade, not doing cute things for sweaty onlookers. Kaitlyn asked about going and we told her variations on it’s probably closed, the animals won’t be out anyway, and no way are we walking around in a place with no shade all day long. I think she got the idea; she stopped asking about it.

I also passed on playing a round of golf with my brother. He loves the game. Plays every chance he gets. I enjoy the occasional opportunity to swat at the ball and swear then go drink a beer. But not when it’s this hot out. I’ll skip straight to the beer part.

We also aren’t scoping out any parks for play opportunities. I don’t think there is a swing/slide material known to man that wouldn’t become dangerously hot in this sun. Today Granddad took Kaitlyn to the McDonalds play land for who knows how long. He said there were lots of kids there. It’s obviously a popular alternative to outdoor activities. I wonder if he sat drinking a hot cup of coffee while she played…..

There are some things we just can’t partake of because they are closed for August. Pilates classes at the neighborhood gym. I’d have actually done that. The little clubhouse that makes turkey sandwiches and burgers for golfers at lunchtime is closed. That’s normally a good place to go because you can get there in the golf cart, which Kaitlyn considers a bonus. (Tonight she wanted to take the golf cart to dinner.)

Some places seem to have summer hours, but so far they’ve been open when we’ve wanted to go. So that hasn’t really mattered much. Besides, we live in a place where most stores close for 2-3 hours for lunch, shut for the night by 7 and aren’t open at all on Sundays. So some slightly abbreviated hours pretty much go unnoticed by us.

Would I come back to the desert in August? Actually, I would. It’s been peaceful and relaxing. It hasn’t been significantly hotter than spending a week at the beach in Italy like last August. Heck, every place is sweltering under a heat wave right now anyway. And isn’t vacation really about spending time with your family hanging out?