Archive for December, 2009

enough already!

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

So this might make me a bit strange, but I am not entirely opposed to an inbox filled with e-mails from retailers. They’re like catalogs. Only not as good. A catalog you can flip through, dog-ear, tear apart. But since I’m living where Pottery Barn and Talbots and Lands End cannot fill my mailbox with suggestions, they fill my inbox instead. But, honestly, enough is enough.

Another serious advantage to the catalog is it costs money. Money to produce, to print, to mail. So they come only every so often. Emails are quite another story. Since November 17, Lands End has sent me 36 emails. Often, two in a single day. Nobody needs that many sweaters or pairs of cords or jackets. Thirty-three emails told me I could get free shipping. Which I cannot because my orders are all shipped overseas. Fourteen touted 25% off. Ten boasted of 40% off. Four told me all outerwear is half off. Thirty percent off got a measly two mentions.

And that’s just Lands End. They are the worst. But there are others: JJill wanted me to know 17 things, Talbots 18, J Crew sent 30 emails and, and combined sent me 33 notices about stuff I didn’t want to buy.

I told, Borders and Zappos to keep their offers to themselves. I had to tell the NY Times multiple times I’d changed my mind about getting their weekly books email.

I probably shouldn’t do things like sign up to get a cookie recipe a day from FoodTV. Especially since my family only eats sugar cookies so any other recipe is a waste. (But very low calorie, when you figure I look at them but don’t bake or eat them.)

And I just can’t bring myself to sever ties with everyone. Oh, I should. They’ll just find me again. Like Celebrity Cruises did. I’ve never cruised with them. Or Disneyland Paris. I’m never going back there. Ever. (If I can help it.) Just Me Music has recently sent me 4 emails. I don’t want that. I don’t even know who they are or who sold them my email address. Ryanair is constantly trying to trick me into believing I can fly somewhere worth going for 1 Pound. Ha. And who are you, Shady Creek Winery? If I were ever to go to Michigan City, IN, I don’t think it would be to go to a winery. (Ok, I just unsubscribed from that one.)

I guess at least I don’t have to figure out where to recycle all these ads.

I’m so sorry, Mom.

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Five years ago today, we tried to celebrate my mom’s birthday with a sad little piece of a cake that the oncology nurse brought to her room. I don’t remember any of us taking as much as a bite of it. Happy birthday wishes didn’t seem right, either. Because five years ago today for her birthday, my mom got the world’s worst gift: the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Five years ago today was the last time my mom marked a birthday. She never saw her next one. I’ve remembered every one since. First with depression then with just plain tears then by lashing out at my family and then by trying to ignore it by spending the day with friends burying myself in anything busy.

This year, I’m giving her the one gift I wish I could have given her while she was still alive. This year, I’m finally able to forgive her for the six months that followed that birthday.

I didn’t realize it until recently. But I was really, really mad at her. I never talked about it or dealt with it because I didn’t even realize it was there. Until a couple of months ago… when Patrick Swayze died.

From the day it was announced that Patrick Swayze had pancreatic cancer, I was on his death watch. It was the first headline I scanned for every morning on the internet. Often, it was the last thing I’d look for before going to bed. And in the hours in between, I seethed at the way he was living with his diagnosis.

A few days after his death, I was sitting on a balcony in Italy sipping wine with a friend who’d been there with me throughout my mom being sick. I asked her if she’d heard about Patrick Swayze, since she was on vacation when the news broke. “Yes,” she said. “And I was thinking you could write a book: ‘When I Stopped Hating Patrick Swayze.’ Let me know when it’s done.”

I came back home and couldn’t stop thinking about what she said. A book about when I stopped hating Patrick Swayze. But to me it seemed like an impossible challenge, because it would mean having to stop hating him in the first place. And I didn’t see that ever happening.

So I sat down and wrote out all the reasons why I did hate him. Every picture of him at a basketball game or smoking a cigarette or working or smiling with his wife… every mention of how he was beating the odds… going to work… doing well… it all chipped away at me and made me hate him more and more.

I left it at that. A single chapter book about my burning hatred for a man I’d never met. A man who had to have suffered just as much as my mom, but made it a suffering I didn’t have to watch play out for the world to see.

Then one day while I was vacuuming, it hit me. None of those things made me hate Patrick Swayze. Every one of those things made me hate my own mother. Because every one of those things was something I didn’t see her do after her diagnosis. And if he could do them… why couldn’t she? If Patrick Swayze could get up and go to work, why couldn’t she just take a shower? If Patrick Swayze could go to a basketball game, why couldn’t she just come downstairs and enjoy a tv show with me? If Patrick Swayze could take a private jet to his chemo, why couldn’t she just ride there in the car without bending over to put her head on the dashboard and moaning in pain? I didn’t see Patrick Swayze’s family having to lug around a bucket in which he could vomit everywhere they went. I didn’t see Patrick Swayze’s family cringing at dinner because they could hear him in the next room, throwing up the two bites he’d managed to choke down minutes earlier. I didn’t see Patrick Swayze just lying in his bed staring out into the hallway at his family as they tried to just pretend there wasn’t this dying person in the house.

And when I realized all those things, an amazing thing happened. I stopped hating both of them. I still hate pancreatic cancer. It is a horrible, horrible thing. Some people are lucky enough to still have a few months of a sort-of normal existence after learning they have it. Those are the lucky ones. If you can ever use the word lucky when you’re describing someone who’s just been handed a death sentence. Others find out so late that the explanation for why they can’t sit up without excruciating pain gives them license to just lay down and stay that way.

I suddenly understood, standing there crying giant tears in my living room, that my mom was in the second group. She’d been sick for months and was trying not to admit it to anyone. By the time someone figured out what was wrong with her, she’d already been fighting for a long time. I just didn’t see that part of it. And once she found out it was pancreatic cancer, she tried the best she could. If she could have helped me plant flowers or watched a tv show with me or gone to the store or played a game or held her granddaughter (she couldn’t; it hurt too much) or sat with us at dinner without getting sick… she would have. I know she would have. She did what she could. She held on as long as she could. And my only hope now is that she forgives me for not seeing that until now.

The thing I said made me hate Patrick Swayze the most was that he didn’t raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. Of the suffering. The pain. The torture living through it and the torture watching a loved one waste away until they are barely more than a skeleton and finally pass away. But that wasn’t his job. That’s the job of anyone touched… no… smacked by pancreatic cancer. It’s up to each of us to do what we can… whatever that is… big or small… to one day put a stop to this disease’s one-sided battle. Until then, the one thing we cannot let it take from us is our love… and respect… for those who fight it.

I love you, Mom. I miss you.

c’est practique… bien sur! (si on est american)

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

This morning I heard an ad on the radio that, to me, exemplifies the biggest difference between the French and the Americans. (This is, of course, setting aside my amazement at actually having understood the ad in the first place.)

It was an ad for Carrefour. The giant, wretched answer in Europe to Walmart. It has everything at one point or another, but not all at the same time. See Tabasco on the shelf? Buy a bunch; they may not carry it after today. Need to replace a school supply half way through the year? Too bad. That stuff is only well stocked in August. If your child’s backpack breaks in January, you’ll find yourself at a speciality luggage store to replace it. Bras – they have ‘em. Bread – fresh baked or “American style sandwich.” Got it. Sauerkraut? Fresh made… but not always and not on a set schedule. Whole fish staring you down? Check. Entire lambs minus their wool and heads propped up in the meat case? Check. Sometimes. Surly checkers who sit down to do their jobs, don’t bag your stuff and turn getting price checks into serious ordeals? Never in short supply of those. Cell phones… refrigerators… coffee makers…. trash bags…. bikes…. toys… books… windshield wiper cleaner stuff…. fresh cut flowers… bedding… lights…. produce… cakes… beer… wine…. check, check and check.

Convenient hours? That’s debate able. It’s open earlier than most stores, simply by being open before 9:30 in the morning. It’s open later by staying open past 7:30. (It’s open till like 9 on Fridays. Maybe even 9:30) Need milk, bread or a waffle iron on Sunday? Too bad, you should have thought ahead.

Stores here aren’t open on Sundays. You can dash to the small market in your village for the bread and milk. The bakery is probably open. Both will close by lunchtime. And then, you’re on your own.

Laws are easing up. Stores are now allowed to be open on more Sundays than before. (It used to be only around Christmas and the start of the school year.) Not that I’ve seen a rush to make the change. No more stores are open now on Sundays than before. Well, this month is the exception because it’s Christmas time. And that’s what the commercial I heard was about. The Carrefours in the Grenoble area being open on Sundays. All day on the next couple of Sundays.

In the ad, one woman says “C’est practique!” And the other lady says “Oui! Tres, tres practique!” (It’s practical. Yes, very, very practical.) There’s the thing. That one little made-up conversation for the ad. They have to actually TELL people that being able to do shopping on a Sunday is practical. Can you imagine if all the major stores and malls in the US were closed on a Sunday? I remember one time many years ago Bill and I went to the mall on a weekend and were mad that it was closed. I think it was Easter Sunday. Now I cannot even imagine a store being open on a holiday like that. But if it were, it surely would be practique.

You sure it’s ok to eat that?

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

I gave Kaitlyn a choice of things to do this afternoon after her judo lesson: go downtown and get her bangs cut while I get my hair done or bake cookies and then let Mommy trim the bangs. She chose cookies and me with a pair of scissors yelling at her.

Kaitlyn loves baking cookies. I love baking cookies in a kitchen with enough counter space to use one’s mixing bowl and cookie sheet at the same time. I love baking cookies in a kitchen that has enough outlets that you don’t have to drag out an extension cord to plug in your mixer. And I also love baking cookies in a kitchen big enough for a stand mixer; hand mixers are for the birds! (Or people with much stronger arms than mine.)

Kaitlyn’s favorite part of baking cookies, aside from eating the dough, is decorating them. Decorating them usually consists of pouring thick layers of sprinkles on the cookies followed by me vacuuming the kitchen to get the pink and purple layer of sugar off the floor. Because I must not know how to use sprinkles and they never seem to want to stay on the cookies. Of course, that could be because of the sheer volume of colored sugar Kaitlyn uses.

Today I decided to try my hand at decorating the cookies with frosting. I’ve never managed to make it work. Maybe because I’ve never really followed a recipe. Today I actually found one intended for the very cookie recipe I was using. Easy: 3oz pasteurized eggs, vanilla and powdered sugar. I whipped it all up and, what do you know, it worked great. I may even have to invest in a decent pastry bag. But we did ok using little spoons meant for stirring espresso. Kaitlyn’s looked better than mine. And the sprinkles we used stayed (mostly) on the frosting. It was overall a huge success and an even bigger mess.

As I was cleaning it all up, I looked again at the recipe. “Pasteurized eggs.” Why would the recipe be so specific? Oh…. because you aren’t cooking the eggs. Just beating them silly. How would you know you’re using pasteurized eggs? Well, let me think. The eggs we get here often still have feather pieces stuck to them. And I don’t even want to think about what the other stuff is that’s on them. (Someone once asked me if I wash my eggs before I break them open. Wash them? No. But now I worry maybe I should be.) I’m usually annoying Bill because I spend a lot of time trying to pick the little brown specs of whatever-that-is from the egg after I’ve cracked it open. Today I tossed the first egg I broke open because it had so many specks of whatever floating in it, I deemed it unsalvageable and just threw it out.

So it’s a fairly good guess that our eggs are not pasteurized. And until now, I’ve never given it any thought. I mentioned it to Bill (as he was eating his saved portion of raw cookie dough, also sporting raw eggs). He pulled out the egg carton and we started reading. Laid by chickens kept in cages. Good till 20/12. Not a peep about pasteurization. Didn’t the French come up with it? You’d think they’d use it. But apparently not. Well, we’ve eaten enough cookie dough in the past 3+ years that if we were going to have some problem from the raw unpasteurized eggs, we’d have surely had it by now. Bon appetit!

excuse me… but I know something obvious I need to tell you

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

If you are sitting in your car (granted, parked on a sidewalk but that’s where people park here) and someone knocks on your window, it’s safe to say it’s a little scary. At the very least startling.

Tonight Kaitlyn and I were outside her AWANAS meeting when just that happened. I was paying no attention to what was going on outside my parked and turned off car because Kaitlyn and I were busy writing something. She had climbed into the front seat with me so we could accomplish our task. I nearly jumped out of my skin (or at least my coat) when I heard the sharp knocking on my window. My first thought was that someone was pissed I had parked in front of their house. Then I thought the old man standing outside my car was mad I was on the sidewalk… in a line of 4 or 5 cars. Then I thought, well it’s an old man and maybe he needs something. And even though I had no chance of really being able to offer help, I rolled down my window.

He leaned in and rattled off I have no idea what. I apologized for not speaking French very well and asked him if he could please repeat himself. He seemed annoyed and this time offered up his words of wisdom in broken English. It’s dangerous for a little girl to ride in the front seat and especially without a seat belt on.

Of course, I’d agree with his statement. But we were in a parked car. Going nowhere. And, besides, does this man pay any attention to what others are doing while actually driving? Big families and small cars mean someone has to sit in the front seat and it’s usually a kid not much older or bigger than Kaitlyn. Babies more often than not ride in the front seat. (Yes, most of the cars on the road pre-date air bags, but it still seems like a bad idea to put your baby in the front seat.) I saw one car that did earn a point for having the baby’s car seat in the back… but lost that point because the seat was like a giant bassinet with nothing that resembled a safety device. Yet this old man thought he’d point out to me the dangers of what I wasn’t in fact doing.

On the spot, I couldn’t think of a thing to say to the guy. I told him (in English) “but we aren’t going anywhere.” Like an hour later I thought of what might have been an acceptable answer in French. (That’s true if you’re moving but I’m sitting here.) I guess it just goes to show that old people everywhere think that living to a certain age gives them the right to tell others what to do. May I never do that. (Oh, wait, I already do)

we got up early for this?

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Four years ago, we went to the town’s Marche de Noel (Christmas outdoor market) and I thought it was just the most charming thing. Sure, I thought it was confusing; it was when I bought unroasted chestnuts by mistake. But I was, overall, enthralled with the market. The stuff for sale. The friendly little town all decked out to welcome the start of the holiday season. Pere Noel wandering around, handing out chocolates to the children.

This year we went to the town’s Marche de Noel and after a while I turned to Bill and whispered, “Is it just me, or is the marche really lame this year?” The vendors I’d hoped to see weren’t there. The ones who were there had stuff I didn’t want to buy. I didn’t even see a stand selling cocoa on this cold morning. Bill turned to me and said “It’s always been lame; you’re just noticing.”

Maybe. Maybe the novelty of living in the small French village along the route to the ski resort is wearing off. Maybe not maybe. Maybe it just plain has.

Nodding is a dangerous habit

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Since my French lessons ended a year ago, my French has really gone downhill. I don’t study it at all. Don’t try to learn new vocabulary. Don’t practice conjugating verbs. Don’t bother to look up where in a sentence the pronoun goes when you’re speaking in the past tense, even though it’s something I do actually wonder about. I don’t bother going to the French-English language exchange I’m invited to each week, even though it would be a huge help. I can make dinner reservations, read a menu enough to know what to order (and more importantly, not order), interact at the pharmacy and invite Kaitlyn’s friends over for lunch.

People tell me I speak French well. They are lying. I do not speak French well. I understand ok. Enough to generally respond, but not always. When a woman at the grocery store asked me what an item in my cart was, I did understand and could tell her. Except that it was yogurt and that is just one word I cannot pronounce. Basically, I survive. I do better than a tourist who has studied up before travel but not as well as I thought I’d do after living here more than three years. But I rarely speak French. I don’t really say anything to the other parents at school. Kaitlyn’s teacher doesn’t especially want to talk to me because she figures I won’t know what she’s saying. I don’t watch French tv. I didn’t sign up for tennis lessons this year because the French there wasn’t overly helpful (I already know left and right and that seemed to be about the only thing he said other than “hurry up,” which I also already know.)

This afternoon I went to an art/pottery sale. The woman who holds the sale each year is French. She knows some English but she says she’s too overwhelmed during her sale to be able to use it and sticks to French. I can appreciate that. Anyway, I was standing with her and another French woman. The artist was talking and talking in rapid French. When she finally stopped, the other woman turned to me and said “did you follow all that.” Honestly, I’d stopped even trying not far into the conversation. I got what I needed and let my mind wander. I said “no, not really.” And the woman said “but you were nodding as if you got it.” So now apparently I unconsciously nod in agreement even though I really have no idea what I’m nodding to. And since she said that to me, I’ve caught myself doing it. I don’t realize it, but I’m silently saying “oh, yes, you are speaking to me very quickly in French but I’m good, I get it, every word.” When what the nod is really saying is “well, on my way home I can stop and pick up some milk and still get to the school in time to get Kaitlyn and what should we have for dinner and I need to get the laundry done.”