staying at home

August 19th, 2010

Kaitlyn’s off to school today… her first full day of school here. And now I am officially a stay at home mom. A woman without a job, nevermind a career. Ok, I haven’t worked in more than four years. That is besides the point. Just a month after I stopped working, we started the process of moving to France. And I couldn’t work there. Even if I’d wanted to. So I never really thought of myself as a stay at home mom. More of a displaced worker, on a long sabatical of insane proportions.

Now? Now I’m a stay at home mom.

I made the beds. Cleaned the kitchen. Even washed the windows. Went to Zumba. Turned away a little girl who came to see Kaitlyn who looked like she thought I was lying when I said Kaitlyn was at school. (“But my school hasn’t started yet.” Well, goodie for your school, kid.) Swore to the exterminator that normally there are those annoying little red bugs (clover mites) in my bathroom but that they got the memo that he was coming today and all went elsewhere. Looked at fabric for curtains and, naturally, prefer the one that is $31 a yard. (When you need 18 yards, that’s rather a lot.) Goofed off on Facebook. Finally put some pictures that have been sitting around in little piles for weeks in envelopes (and addressed the envelopes).

Seriously? This is what a stay at home mom does?

No wonder scrapbooking and crafts are so popular.

in the bag… and the bag… and that one… and that one

June 14th, 2010

I am going to have to find a bag boy at Kroger who seems to have a brain and isn’t going to quit anytime soon, make him my favorite and train him to bag my groceries my way. Because otherwise, the manager will get tired of hearing me complain.

It’s hard to explain because it’s kinda hard to even understand myself, but going to Kroger yesterday was, well, fun. I don’t know what other word to use for it. I went without a plan and left with a cart full of food for three dinners and lunches and breakfasts. It was all easy to find. It was all the brands I’m used to. I found raclette cheese (note to self for winter). There was a pile of fresh corn. Bagels. Cream cheese. Sour cream. I could go on and on.

But then, I got to the checkout lane. No, that isn’t fair. The checkout itself was fine. It was the bagger that nearly made me scream.

I had two of my big Carrefour shopping bags with me. I knew it wasn’t enough for everything I was buying, but I knew it would make a dent. Besides, they are the only ones I have with me right now. I handed them to the cashier. She handed them to the bagger. And next time I looked over at him, he was stuffing the bigger bag with all of the jars I was buying. And he was searching through my things for more. I said “Hey! I know that bag holds a lot, but I do have to pick it up. See… you can put light items on top.” And I demonstrated by finding a loaf of bread and placing it on top.

Then he opened the second bag and started to put a six-pack of water in it. “NO! That doesn’t have to go in any bag.” He just sort of stared at me. Before he had a chance to try, I added “the beer doesn’t need a bag, either.” Idiot.

I have to say, this boy does not seem to take constructive criticism well. Because after he filled that second bag of mine, he made a joke of using the plastic bags. He put two items in each bag. A couple of bags were graced with one thing. One thing? Then he loaded my cart by putting those bags on top of the bigger bags… smashing down the bread I’d clearly shown him goes on top of the bag.

I don’t normally complain. No, really, I don’t. But now that I can do it, I’m not going to keep quiet anymore. On the way out, I saw a manager. I stopped and told her about the lousy bagger inside. I didn’t even tell her about his effort to dislocate my shoulder with the over-stuffed bag. I just told her about the under-stuffed plastic bags. She said that is not how they’re told to load the bags. (I’d hope not.) She marched in there to find him and, I hope, tell him off.

Just wait till my things get here and I go to the store with my insulated bags for cold items.

last sleepless night… in the house

May 17th, 2010

This is our last night sleeping in our house here in France. It feels weird. For months I’ve been imagining this moment. It’s both anti-climatic and wildly stressful.

I’ve gone through each room in the house at least once, trolling for trash. Tossing scraps of paper that I have no idea why they were kept. Pitching socks without mates. Getting rid of expired medicine I hauled over from the US then never really needed and expired foods that had been dumped on, er, given to us by those who left before us. I vowed not to be that person showing up at someone’s house with a bag full of unopened boxes of crepe mix and canned tomatoes. Yet here I am unable to throw that stuff away. (I found someone who claims to be a willing recipient.) I admit: you’d be hard pressed to look in any of our rooms and say “hey, this was clearly cleaned out by someone trying to get ready to move a really long distance.” The bookshelf next to me still sports piles of books and cd’s spilling over the edges of the shelves. Yes, it makes me love my Kindle all that much more. And, yes, I even got rid of books. Piles and piles of books. I probably could have gotten rid of even more. There are packets of travel plans put together for trips already taken that I just can’t seem to part with. Artwork of Kaitlyn’s that I can’t get rid of, stuffed into a paper sorter on my desk. I’m yet to figure out just which cables need to get crammed into my bulging carry on bag. And I know I’m running out of time. We check into the temporary housing tomorrow. A day ahead of the movers, so I can wash sheets and towels rather than pack them dirty. Even though I’m likely to wash them again on the other side of the ocean so they don’t smell like the cardboard box they’ll spend the next 35-50 days in.

I’m so worried that in all of my sorting and tossing and cramming, I’ll somehow forget to pack something in the luggage that we really need. Travel itineraries and passports are already in the carry-on bag. I suppose this fear stems from going to buy a house without a checkbook… in a city without a branch of my bank. (I’ve packed two checkbooks this time.) I have two active to-do lists. Yet I lie in bed at night unable to sleep… more and more things that need done whirring in my head. Things I don’t even remember when I wake up in the morning. Which makes it even more frustrating. Maybe it was important!

I don’t think Bill is sleeping very well, either. He’s done a lot of the heavy lifting for the organizing. He’s moved everything that doesn’t get packed into the basement. Oh, wait, except the vacuum sitting here. (Note to self: add to to-do list carrying vacuum downstairs for Bill.) He cleaned out the garage and confirmed that there is, indeed, a floor in it. He sold most of our stuff and schleped it all to the office to pass out to the buyers. I’m assuming he also collected the money but at this point just getting rid of the stuff is valuable enough to me. He is even leaving work early tomorrow to come home (after Kaitlyn’s back to school from lunch) to take apart the computers and disconnect the tv. He waited till the very last minute because he didn’t want to cause distress among the tv-addicted in the household. (I’m not sure if that addicted one is Kaitlyn or if it’s me.)

Kaitlyn hasn’t fallen asleep before about 10pm in weeks. Last week I blamed the jet lag. But now I think she’s got just as much spinning in her head as I do in mine. Maybe she isn’t lying there thinking of all the things she’s yet to get done. I worry that instead she’s lying there thinking of all the things she’s nervous about.

Today when I picked her up from school she had an invitation to a birthday party in her backpack. She was so thrilled. She wanted to know if she could go. I opened the invitation, figuring the party would be just a few days away. No one here hands out invitations more than a week in advance, and even that much notice is rare. I was worried I wouldn’t have time to get a gift. Instead, I was stuck delivering the news that the party will take place in three weeks. After we’ve left. Kaitlyn didn’t just cry. She sobbed. She clung to me and just sobbed. It broke my heart. It was all I could do not to cry right there along with her on the sidewalk outside school. But I know that one of us is supposed to be the support. And I’m really fairly certain that it’s me. It took a long time to get her settled down enough to even get her into the back seat of the car. Because I didn’t want to just drive home with her crying her eyes out in the back of the car. The first time I got her settled down, she asked if a friend could spend the night tomorrow night. My answer was not what she wanted to hear — no… after tonight we’re living at a hotel. Once she stopped crying enough to go home, she asked about the hotel. Where is it? (downtown) How far is it? (about 30 minutes) Will she still go to school? (yes) Which school? (the same one she’s always gone to)

Once we got home, she started crying again. I asked her if all these tears were about the party. No. She’s scared that she won’t make any friends in America. This is a child who talks to everyone under 5 feet tall everywhere she goes. Restaurants, the hotel, playgrounds, parks, stores. She may hide behind me when she’s introduced to an adult, but among other kids she’s a model of self-confidence and friendliness. I told her I have to make new friends, too. And I don’t get to go to work or school to meet people and make those friends. That might be about the time I gave in and joined her in the tears.

not this buyer’s market

April 29th, 2010

When we found out we were being relocated to Peoria this spring, we thought it couldn’t have come at a better time: the midst of a buyers market. Sales are down, inventory has been sitting for months (even years). Prices have to drop like rocks to get anything sold.

So, from the other side of the world, we started our house hunt online. We fell in love with houses. Got our hopes up. My husband started tracking prices and imagining a virtual free-fall. As our trip to find a house got closer, he talked of crazy low-ball offers and buying a house at tens of thousands below what the owner had dreamt of pocketing. He talked to someone who touted buying a house for 90 grand less than its original listing price. My husband started looking at more and more expensive houses, while our budget didn’t budge.

Then, houses on our “watch list” started to sell. Our realtor said no one was closing 90 grand below asking. No one. And the closer our trip got, the faster houses started to sell.

We finally arrived to find a house, armed with a list of 40 we wanted to see. The first house we looked at the first day was an instant favorite. By 8am the next morning, it was under contract. With someone else. I started to feel a wave of panic. By the time we headed out for day two of looking with the realtor, two houses we were scheduled to see were under contract. Sold. She didn’t think the looming end of the tax credit was the reason. She was just giddy with the idea that maybe it’s the beginning of the end of the real estate slump. For her that’s good. For us, that’s trouble.

We quickly narrowed our long list down to three favorites. But I was sick with worry that not one, not even two, but all three would be gone before we’d even had a chance to make an offer. And don’t even get me started down the path of worry about a bidding war. I mean, you’re not supposed to get into a bidding war in the midst of a buyers market. Are you?

After going through our favorite house three times, we were ready to go ahead and make an offer. The realtor asked if we wanted to sleep on it first. No way. It might be gone by morning. We came in with an offer $33,000 less than the listing price. Then we spent the evening jumping every time the phone in our hotel room rang.

Here’s how our negotiations went. We’d made our offer and asked for three changes in the house, too. The builder said ok to two of the three changes and dropped his price two grand. We were so excited he didn’t just reject us straight out, we jumped up 13 grand. Great negotiating skills. You can imagine where it went from there. He dropped a grand. We realized we were stupid and went up a grand. Back and forth, back and forth. Till he got to his bottom number, which wasn’t so very low. Seriously. It was 15 thousand below his original listing price. A far cry from 90. But he had us. We wanted the house. We caved.

That’s how a buyers market quickly becomes a seller’s market. When you find a house that even though you say you’re willing to walk away from… you don’t. He knew he had us. And I don’t think changing our negotiating would have led to a different deal.

Maybe our car negotiations will go better.

We’re here now! See ya!

April 20th, 2010

After three and a half years here, I have finally arrived. Finally a resident of our village.

Today at the pharmacy I’ve been going to on a far-too-regular basis ever since we moved here, I knew. The pharmacist made a point of coming over to me, greeting me, shaking my hand then asking me in very polite English how I am doing.

Figures that now we’re leaving.

perspective takes off

April 18th, 2010

This morning, I passed by a family taking a little boy out for a walk. He looked like he is about 4 years old. And they were all struggling to help him navigate with his crutches. He didn’t have a cast on. Those crutches appeared to be, sadly, a way of life for him.

That second that I drove past made me realize: the possibility of a trip to buy a house being postponed, of my moving timetable being threatened… it’s all just a nuisance. A bother. A pain. But manageable. And temporary. And for the first time since the volcano started stopping air travel in to, out of, and around Europe, I realized it is ok. I realized there’s a lot I have to be really, really thankful for. And the inconveniences in life are just that. Inconvenient.

Then, while I was standing outside soaking in my newfound perspective, I heard a plane overhead. A jet plane. I scanned the skies, desperate to see it, but couldn’t. And in that split second, my newfound perspective vanished.

I don’t like this, not one little bit (of ash)

April 17th, 2010

Every news website I check has the same lead:

A lingering volcanic ash plume forced extended no-fly restrictions over much of Europe on Saturday, as scientists warned that activity at a volcano in Iceland had increased and showed no sign of abating — a portent of more travel chaos to come.

No! No! No! No! NO!

We re-booked our house hunting trip to start a week ahead of the original schedule. So we now are supposed to be leaving a week from today. And “more travel chaos to come” does not ease my concerns that we’ll actually get there. Concern that is starting to give way to panic.

There are things I keep telling myself.

It’s a week away. Forecasters can’t forecast that far in advance with any great accuracy.

It could be worse. There are people currently stranded in places where they either have to pay for a hotel (if they can find one) or sleep at the airport. At least we’d be stranded at home.

It’s out of my control.

Then I keep thinking: we need to buy a house. Our calendar is not wide open. We have movers scheduled to come pack up our things. We have given notice we’re moving out of this house. We have a trip planned to Ireland. We have bought those tickets. (and made other non-refundable plans there)

Then the worst thought of all: my God, what if we can’t get out of here? For months????

Ok, so that last thought is pretty unlikely. But it’s how I’m starting to feel. I mean you look at the maps of where this ash cloud is, and it isn’t even over France or Germany or Switzerland or Italy. Depending on the website. Skies here are beautiful and blue. Why is this shutting down airports all over the place? There’s got to be another way! Maybe we can take a ferry to Africa then find a plane from there to Chicago. This was not in the plan. I’m not enjoying this. Not one bit.

weekend regrets

April 16th, 2010

I hate the idea of living with regret. And I hate the idea of leaving France, regretting that there is someplace we didn’t go… didn’t see…. especially if it’s someplace nearby.

There are lots of places we wanted to go and just didn’t get to. Places that aren’t a quick drive away. Austria. Norway. Prague. Greece. I’m pretty pleased, it really isn’t that long a list.

Then there’s the list of places in France we haven’t gotten to. It’s longer: Provence in summer and for more than a day, Normandy, Brittany, the Loire Valley, the Dordogne. Those are places I wish we’d gone. Even though I know it wouldn’t be as magical as I imagine, right now I’m even wishing I’d just put Kaitlyn in the car and gone to Provence with her for the week. I mean, I can get to Provence in just a few hours. A villa.. wine.. olive trees… relaxing. I suppose watching travel shows about the region is probably not a healthy past time right now. I mean, I’m watching the show and thinking how lovely it sounds to sit outside at a cafe with a Pastis. I hate Pastis. Yet, here I am, pining away for one. I am kicking myself for not ordering the aoli special at the restaurant in Aix en Provence. I am thinking that I need to cook up a big pot of ratatouille and sit with a glass of wine and a fresh baguette to enjoy it. And, I suppose, maybe I will. It actually is something I’ve learned how to make.

I need to start to watch travel shows about places in the United States. To start to crave Chicago deep dish pizza, New Orleans creole, Seattle coffee. To long for long days spent exploring every corner of the Smithsonian.

I guess I have to be honest, I do regret not taking advantage of the chance for more weekend trips. But I also have to admit that Europe likely isn’t going anywhere. And in just 11 short years, Kaitlyn will be away at college and then maybe Bill and I can return for a leisurely, grown-up tour of Provence. Or wherever we chose.

at least she didn’t say Pop Tarts

April 14th, 2010

Today Kaitlyn and I played “what will you miss and what won’t you miss about France.” Kaitlyn doesn’t really talk much about moving in relation to France. She just talks about it in relation to living in America. Getting a dog (this is high on her list). How she wants to decorate her room (beach themed). How she wants to live close enough to school to roller skate there each morning (I’d like to see that last more than a day). Shopping at Target.

First, I asked Kaitlyn to just name five things she’ll miss. She named the Eiffel Tower then four of her friends. I’m not sure what to think of the fact that the Eiffel Tower topped her list, but it did. She seemed pretty satisfied with that list. Game over. So I offered up something I’ll miss then something I won’t. My deep observation went something like: “I’ll miss being able to go skiing for the day, but I won’t miss driving down our road that is too narrow for two cars to easily pass.” That was enough to get her started.

Now I know that Kaitlyn will miss eclairs. She really, really likes them. (But, she is looking forward to eating cinnamon rolls.) She will miss her school. But she won’t miss the library they walk to. She’ll miss snowboarding (I assured her she can take more lessons in the US, but it won’t be as easy as here). She’ll miss the park with the carousel. Our doctor. The steak hache. She had a hard time believing me when I said I predict she’ll miss the lunches served at the school canteen. The days of four course leisurely meals are drawing to a close for her. She finally said maybe I’m right. She won’t miss our house. Or our town, although I’m not sure why.

I admit I will miss the food, but not all of it. I will miss the roasted duck, the fresh vegetables prepared so well, the cafe gourmand, the fresh bread (even if it doesn’t last overnight). I will not so much miss snails, worrying that I’m going to accidentally buy horse meat instead of cow meat, goat cheese slathered on everything under the sun, or beef that’s so tough cutting it with a sharp knife is nearly impossible. (I am yet to understand the new trend toward grass fed beef in the US. I’ll have to try it to see if it’s really any good, because the grass fed beef here is horrible. Unless it’s a baby. The veal is great.) I will miss our butcher. Not only because he is cute, but because he is nice and helpful and his food is good.

I will miss the view of the mountains, when I’m not at home. I won’t miss driving off the mountain to go anywhere other than Kaitlyn’s school or the pharmacy. I will miss the pharmacists who seem to really care and take time to help us out. I will not miss having to keep my own prescriptions around to have refilled (not always successfully). I will miss the satisfaction when I tackle a task in French. I will not miss having to tackle tasks in French. I will not miss being apprehensive about answering my own phone, not understanding what’s said on the radio, feeling ripped off a lot of places just because I don’t speak the language well, and not knowing how to do the simplest of things (like take large trash to the dump… something I do need to figure out.)

I am looking forward to having a garbage disposal. Kaitlyn didn’t understand that one. I am looking forward to being able to go into any store and ask a question without practicing what I’m going to say the entire drive there. I am looking forward to being able to talk to Kaitlyn’s teacher without dragging a translator along. Heck, for that matter, I’m looking forward to understanding Kaitlyn’s homework. And to not trying to help her memorize poems. I’m looking forward to just being in the US. The Fourth of July. Sweet corn. I may even drag the family to the state fair this year.

Like Kaitlyn, I will miss my friends here. Being so far from everything you know forces you to let go of pride and learn to lean on others. To let them be your friend when they’re trying to. And I’ll miss that. Because sometimes we all probably need to do a little more leaning. And a little more holding each other up. No matter where we are.

please make a note of not being so rude

April 14th, 2010

Our world is filled with passwords. Everyone wants us to have one. Sure, there’s the bank and credit cards. I’ve also got passwords for Barbie.com (it would not let me choose “IhateBarbie” as my password), for Swiss Air, the News and Observer, iTunes, Facebook, my realtor’s website. I call Disney’s employee stock purchase line every April to ask for my password. (There’s always a long wait on hold, so I know I’m not alone) I even have one to log into Bill’s computer.

It is simply impossible to remember all these passwords. And it’s not for a lack of trying.

Sure, you can always jump through a few hoops to retrieve your password. Usually. Yesterday I tried to log onto a website I haven’t used in several years but couldn’t retrieve my password because the system emailed it to an old email address. I wrote and asked for help.

Honestly, I’m a little annoyed by the response I got. Yes, I was sent the obligatory temporary log-in and password that I can change to be more unforgettable. Fine. But included in the email was a curt line about not losing it this time. Alright, it actually said “please keep a record of this information for future reference.” Read between the lines and it says to me: “I don’t care if since the last time you logged into our website you watched your mother die, closed out her estate, decided your career path was all wrong, became a stay-at-home-mom, moved to another country. Don’t ask me again to do my job as webmaster and help you log into a website that has very little reason to be so dang secure as to require a log-in and password.”

Maybe I’m being a little harsh. Maybe yesterday she got flooded with nothing but requests from people who lost their passwords and changed their emails and had no other way to log onto the site. Maybe yesterday the latte machine at her Starbucks was broken so she was running on a little less caffeine than is optimal. Maybe yesterday she was feeling fat and had to change clothes several times while getting dressed for work. Maybe she had the epiphany that she just doesn’t like people or her job and dislikes being asked to do something that might interfere with Facebooking while at her desk.

I don’t know what the reason is. And you can come up with your own equally ridiculous list of why I let her response get under my skin. (Maybe I spent the day scanning dozens of documents to send to the movers for our international relocation. Yes. Maybe I spent time re-booking our entire house hunting trip. Yes. Maybe I woke up to find snow on the ground in mid-April. Yes. Maybe I simply wanted to log onto this website, pay my dues, and find out about the local group in the area where I’m moving. Yes, that too.)

I will eventually bother to log in and to change my password. I’ll even make a note of it. But I won’t promise that I won’t lose it. Or forget it. Or change my email address before the next time I ask that it be sent to me. And heaven help the next person who suggests I keep a record of it. No shit.