Sunday, June 07, 2015

Life's Grand Adventure

I have been keeping a secret for nearly two years now. Well, my husband and I have. We'd started considering moving back to the USA for quite some time but each time we brought up the topic the timing just didn't seem right for me.

At first I felt "I hadn't been in France long enough yet to get to know it, enjoy it, before I just turn around again."

Then there were other reasons where it just didn't seem right.

Then, in the Spring of 2013 life began taking on new directions. My husband's work relocated from filming in Bordeaux (exteriors) and Paris (interiors) to everything being filmed in the South of France. Due to internal politics, we decided to stay in Paris until we knew the show would continue into its 10th season without being cancelled suddenly.

Also, in France, children go to a pre-school/kindergarten called Maternelle and it's a very big part of French life. It's not mandatory but I would say 99.9999999% children go for all three years. My son started in the French Maternelle and we didn't feel like moving him before the 3rd year only to possibly have to move again. I know everyone says children adapt, but if I didn't have to do it, I didn't want to.

So, we stayed put for my son to start his third year in Maternelle (Kindergarten year). My husband began commuting to the South of France for work. Before, when the show (Section de Recherches) filmed in Bordeaux/Paris he was rarely in Bordeaux (one time) and would be on the Paris set for one week, but home at night. Starting in about June 2014, he began going to Grasse for about 3-weeks at a pop, including weekends. The first few times he left for such a stint I was frazzled. The 5-week stint with no visit was a real humdinger! Now, I'm used to it. Although, as a happily married couple, living like we're separated feels odd sometimes. And of course, I won't know fully what it means to our son until maybe years later.

Well the show is going well but we still have this vision of moving back to the States. We've discussed it for five years. But where to go? NYC, or even the tri-state region, seemed out of the question. We both wanted to have space. Have a house. A place where our son could ride his bike without fear of busy city streets. Get a dog again. S-p-a-c-e... And, having lived in cities for 25 years, I too was feeling like it might be nice to get out of a city.

Looking further North we considered Boston but other than my father and step-mother (and her daughter's children) we didn't have much connection. I'd done some Cocktails with Courtney events there, but it wasn't a city we felt any real pull towards...

We thought about New Orleans. I have a lot of Pulitzer cousins there. It's where my grandfather came from. Well, he was born in St. Louis but his 11 other brothers and sisters were all born in either White Castle or NOLA. But other than a lot of 2nd cousins, and the fact that NOLA is truly an amazing example of a start-up city turning itself around after Hurricane Katrina, we had some reservations.

The Research Triangle, Charlotte, and Greensboro, NC were also all places we considered as, once again, I have family in all these areas as well. While we felt we could find jobs, once again we felt that after the initial novelty of the "French family" moving in, my sister, her children, and other cousins would quickly get busy back in their lives and in reality we might not have that family interaction we were seeking.

The last place I ever considered living was where my mother and step-father moved to in 1984: Tucson, AZ. I lived there one difficult year in High School after a wrenching custody battle. Always considering myself an East Coast girl, a New Yorker, and someone who loves green grass, trees, forests, fields, and all that comes from a childhood in Upstate New York, Tucson always felt the most foreign place to me.

And yet, it began looking like the best option. My mother was retired and I know would be able to help with things like school pickups, babysitting, etc. And, coincidentally my (French) husband has a cousin from his (Belgium) mother's side who lives 20 minutes from my mother's home. This cousin, coincidentally, is also a Tucson public school teacher (like my mother). And, she has three sons, all close in age to my son. We felt if he wouldn't have any siblings, at least he could grow up knowing cousins around his age. (All other cousins are older and "into their own things.")

Thinking about taking two Frenchmen to Tucson I did a quick search on "French in Tucson," not expecting much considering it's a one-hour drive to the Mexican border. However, low-and-behold there is an International School with a French section. The fact that my son could continue his French studies, while beginning to learn English, in a creative, encouraging, 0% tolerance of bullying, school was the near selling point.

Choosing to live closer to one parent over another is always something I think COD (children of divorce) always deal with. It feels like a sticky subject. And it is.

And yet, this time the move is under very different circumstances.

And so here we are: 30 days from departure. I sit surrounded by boxes and toys that my son pulls out of boxes. The pangs of sadness are sharper these past few days.

Paris has become my home. I've lived here seven years. I grew into a couple here. I grew into becoming a mother here. I struggled, I fought, I resisted, I changed, I adapted, I thrived here. I feel fully a part of French society today. Being a mother in France will do that, if you speak the language, get involved, volunteer, engage, and participate in your French life as much as you can. And I have.

And yet, here we go. Here we go, go, go on an adventure! (sorry: living with a toddler will do this to you!)

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Postcard from Paris (trois)

Bus, car and truck traffic a mess on all points leading to Alma Marceau. The King of Spain is in town. No notices on buses, metros or websites alerting people to use other forms of transportation (or find alternate routes). (For example my bus stopped at Alma Marceau and didn't cross the Seine to points East and South). 

Calling to organize a party for my son I also see they advertise ateliers for 50 euros. I ask for information about this, thinking i could save myself 150 euros (the cost of the anniversary is 200 euros). The woman on the line will not answer my question. Every single time I ask a question about the atelier, she answers with information for the birthday party. I don't even tell her it's a "going away" party because I fear, knowing the French, that she could very possbily refuse to do the animation for a number of reasons (we only do birthdays, we don't do parties for n'import quel raison, etc. etc. etc.)

And, most importantly, navigating the French codes while trying to help my son with bullying from his "friends" at school. My husband, while also feeling pain at this situation, gives the typical French response of, "we should let him learn to defend himself." My American friends give the "go talk to the parents, write a letter to the Principal, buy anti-bullying books and give them to the school!"  Sigh.

Monday, June 01, 2015

"Do you want a Coke?"

Here's a little entry I wrote in my son's journal...

May 27

It was a weird day because we went to the Unicef store to buy you the little blue car that you nearly shoplifted at Romain's birthday party. :?  We were 15 mins early so we waited in front. I noticed a homeless man across the street living in a kind of "Autolib" glass house. He waved but I looked away. Then I realized he may get your attention and I didn't want to say "don't wave to the homeless man" and get into a discussion on avoiding strangers, but he waved at you and you smiled and waved back before I could get you distracted again. I told you not to wave at strangers and to try not to look over at him again. "We don't wave to strangers" and "we don't know if they are nice people or not." (or something like that). Well within about 1 minute I catch him out of the corner of my eye moving, and then I watch him ambling quicker and quicker across the street directly to us, waiving and smiling. "Oh God, oh God" I just keep repeating. Thinking to myself "I hope this isn't going to go badly," as I clutch my large Louie (Louis Vuitton) bag close to my chest. He comes up smiling, extending his hand and says, tu veux un Coke? Over and over again. He tries to shake my hand but I am trying to avoid it and am just simply smiling and shaking my head saying Non. Non, merci... Then he reaches for your hand and (cause you're a nice boy) you extend your hand and shake his. So then he offers his hand to me and I'm not going to be rude so I shake it. I just keep saying Non to the Cokes and eventually he smiles and turns and leaves. (sigh). Now we have a longer discussion on how/why not to engage with strangers, and that you NEVER, EVER go with a stranger for a Coke, a candy, or a puppy. For n'importe quelle raison.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Postcards from Paris (deux)

Today when waiting to pick my son up from school there was a nanny who apparently yelled at a little boy in her charge to not do something. It seems he must've gone ahead and done it and she reprimanded him or said something, leading him to go prostrate in the middle of the sidewalk, tears streaming down his face as he uttered silent sobs of pain.

One of the mothers looked at the boy, and then at the nanny and said, "he's crying." The nanny said, basically, "I don't care. He didn't listen. Don't pick him up. Don't interfere." The mother, and many others now were all watching and all empathizing with this boy...and the mother who wanted to help him. She went a second time to pick him up...he was in the middle of the sidewalk and there were a lot of people coming and going and arriving at the school. 

The nanny yelled again saying "leave him there. He has to learn." The other mother (a friend of mine) has been looking at me and all I can do is give the French pursed-lips "I don't know what to say" kind of expression. I am not going to get involved. This is definitely out of my territory and I know this is a situation that I definitely do not have all the cultural codes and finesse to deal with. (Although there are other times when I don't care and go about asserting myself, codes my bum!)

Finally the other mother can't take it anymore and to, I would say, everyone except the nanny's relief, she picks up the boy who then just stands there and shuffles his way to the nanny who reprimands him again.

Thankfully the double-doors of the school opened up at that instant so no one had to feel more uncomfortable than we already did. (Another very French thing.)     

Postcards from Paris (un)

We know a family who live nearby and sometimes offer to drive us to school (a 10-minute walk). I have done this a few times and find it so upsetting I now decline. A few days ago the we were leaving our home the same time as this family and after being offered a ride twice, and declined twice, I tried to continue walking with my son, enjoying the slightly fresh late May morning air.

They waved as they drove by and then pulled over onto the oncoming traffic lane and parked. The father opened his door and the backseat door and once again, smiling, offered to drive us. I felt so uncomfortable at this point, having thrice declined and now he's parked in the street nearly blocking traffic.

I hurry around to the passenger side, with a huge bag carrying the DVD player we are donating to the school in front of me. 

My son scrambles into the backseat and I then spend the next five minutes repeatedly asking for the seatbelt and "where is the seatbelt" and "can you get the seatbelt..." The other two children are sitting in their carseats unattached. The father is busy trying to talk to me as an adult about various topics and all I want to do is get the seatbelt on my son.

We've had this experience before, as I've mentioned. The father laughs and says, "oh it's not that long a's just a short's not necessary for the short trips." This is a common thing I've seen in this neighborhood of privilege. Mamans and Papas piling toddlers and youngsters into Mini Coopers, Fiat 500s (original and new versions), Porsches (original and SUV versions) and other small cars. It's like a way to cling to their childhood, or to continue the tradition of their upbringing (the French Way), or demonstrate this act of civil disobedience (which the French LOVE to perform in a variety of ways).

Either way, I find it unsettling and I've told my son we will not be riding with them again because it's not safe. Thankfully I have a son who seems to err on the side of caution too. Of course I am well aware he could make up for all this in his later years, but I'll take any cautiousness I can get! :) 

Empty Room

Looking inside
I see a vast grey space
little bubbles of matter
Larger oval veins
all floating, all alone.
The desire to see a little one
filling up
the space
overtakes all other thoughts.
His home is empty.
I want another one.
There should be a baby there.

My most private womanly home
used to be a nightclub for parties.
Now, having sheltered, nurtured and grown
a Being,
it craves another.
My home is rich, clean, ready for a guest.
Waiting, waiting,
Never to be occupied again.

Perhaps it was just his home
will only be his home forever.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Citizen Simon

A few weeks ago I was at one of our local parks with my son and father. My son commented on how ALL of the equipment in the park was tagged with graffiti. It looked like it had been done relatively recently and it really, really looks awful. It's especially "insulting" because the city had just replaced ALL of the equipment in the park just a year or two ago. (Perhaps I should be grateful it took 2 years to get graffitied?)

He said the "old kids" did this and it doesn't look nice and is dirty. He told me to take pictures of all of it, pointing out each side of each jeux for me to photograph and said we would send a letter to the police.

Today I printed out the pictures and my son dictated the letter to his papa. Then we had him write it in his handwriting and his father addressed the envelope to the Mairie (mayor). I like how he also mentioned an "actionable item" for the "old kids" to clean up the park. ;)

I'm so proud of raising a little boy who cares about his environment and is civic-minded. He picks up trash on the streets, beaches, elsewhere (within reason). And he notices how a minority can ruin a place with their "bad behavior" for the majority. And I am just so pleased that he now has a mind to take it to the next level by taking correct actions!

Here is his letter, and the "evidence."

J- 57. Ascension Day at St. George's

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day? Meh...

It's really weird - such a disconnect - to see all these Mother's Day facebook posts when the reality I'm living in (my life in France), it's not a holiday (yet). MD is in a few weeks, I guess, in France. I don't even know. I feel bummed I didn't get out a ton of pics and #tbt photos and gush over my mother... and then there's my step-mom and mother-in-law (but she's over here anyway)... I guess it's akin to when there was that study on how people can get depressed looking at everyone's "wonderful life" posts... For me it was just another sunday, and in fact, quite a long one (too long for S)... I guess it feels weird because I didn't celebrate MD yesterday. We celebrate it whenever it is in France, because we're in France and my husband and son are French. This is just one of those moments when I feel really disconnected from my family, friends and culture, and sad.

However, if I want to focus on the positive - I know I was a great mother to my son this weekend, and in general! And that I know, like Christmas, I really don't ever want my son to feel the commercial  pressure to have to do moremoremore. I don't want him to feel obligated to do anything. I want to foster in him the sense of showing you care about people everyday, not just on Hallmark-designated holidays.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

My day: Surprises around every corner

Coming out of a turbulent week, I'd found myself waking up to this classic bright view...

I continued down the street when my eye was filled with blue...

Only to glance up to see horses leaping into clouds...

When my nose carried me back to my grandmother's garden...

The canopy of green leafy trees wafting sweet pink chestnut was a visual and olfactory treat...

To glance up a little further down and see soft a billowy pillowy... 

Directly across from the (back) entrance to our nation's presidential home...

And more color, flowers coaxing me down the path, coaxing me into a calmer, happier place...

And a little old-fashioned but still very much in use protection in this day and way...

And even some untamed patches amidst manicured splendor, like the lovers in love's exquisiteness...

All carried me softly, like my love's strong embrace, continuing to remind me of God's care above all. 

Friday, March 06, 2015

Spanking laws under scrutiny

France is a country where spanking is still common, and there are no laws against it. Until now.

It's true this aspect of culture is not only common, but accepted. I've seen my own amount of physical violence against children in Paris since living here: There was the boy being pulled by his ear along the sidewalk by his mother. There were the smacks on the bottoms seen multiple times in the local parks.

And then there is the verbal aspect which I find equally alarming:
* A mother's response to when her little girl fell down: "well what did you do that for?"
* A mother's statement to a little girl when face-to-knee to an old man on the sidewalk: "watch out so you don't upset the monsieur."
* A nanny's threat to a little boy who fell down so hard on his ribcage that he was screaming in pain, "if you don't calm down I'm taking you home."

One time my son fell down the stairs in my mother-in-law's house. I was right behind him. He was holding the railing so he was able to stop himself quickly. My MIL came out of her room and started laughing at him. Because she's perhaps been aware of my mothering style being totally different from hers, she caught herself and quickly tried to also express concern for him. It was shocking to hear her initial reaction, but it was heartening to hear her shift.

Each time I express my disbelief-alarm-concern at these incidents my husband will quickly respond with "it's in the culture, darling. It's always been like that." He admits if he didn't live with me and have my influence, he'd react the same way towards his son as he was treated.

I see this as a cultural thing, but I also see other young French mothers (perhaps a minority) who are sensitive and gentle with their children. We have proof that the only lesson physical violence teaches children is that this is the only, acceptable form of self-expression. Hurt children hurt children. Hurt children grow up into hurt adults, who hurt (inwards and outwards). Stopping the cycle starts now with treating our children, but also our contemporaries with loving kindness and gentleness.

Here's the Connexion article with more details.
Image compliments of Capital Koala.
and another new article on how the majority of French are against the ban.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Bullying at "Maternelle" (Preschool)

Our son told us at dinner that 1 boy spit in his face and another slapped his face and kicked him in the stomach. :((((( The violence in this neighborhood of "privileged" bourgeois is shocking... I think his school needs to re-read this:

This isn't the first time we're hearing about this too. My husband was informed about it at the Parent-Teacher night and one of my son's friend's mother told us of her son being verbally harassed.

We live in a neighborhood of many wealthy, privileged "bourgeois" people and I feel like this is an extension of the "I am untouchable" attitude I see rampant with the adults. They park wherever they want, whenever (at all hours) with no regard of legal parking places, bus lanes, delivery trucks. They run red lights or disregard traffic rules because "they are more important" or in a rush. One man we know has a fake handicap sign he puts in his car so he can park illegally right in front of his apartment. It's just "me first" everywhere I go in this neighborhood.

And the kids at school just replicate what they see or learn. Their actions have no consequences. It's very disturbing.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Boys Weekend Freedom!?

It's kind of funny how predictable the sexes can be. I just left my husband and son in Normandy for a few days. It's only the second time my son and I have been away from each other for a few days and I was nervous leaving him. So far he seems he hasn't been upset, but he could be holding it all inside like he did the last time a year ago.

Unlike French families, we eat dinner on the early side and my son is in bed (or nearly) at 7:00 PM.

So you can imagine my reaction when I, sitting in my pajamas in Paris, ready to call my son for a "good-night" call got a text from my husband saying he was thinking of taking our son over to a friend's house for a visit.

Taking our son out for several more hours of visiting, pushing his bedtime back two hours, to me, is a mistake. I believe children need (and crave) routine.

This act is kind of remarkable in its utter French lifestyle approach, and just hours after I left.

Of course, I can hear all the arguments, "it's just one night," "he's on holiday," "let them have fun," "let them try something different," "let your husband manage it..."

And yet, our son didn't go to sleep till 8:40 PM the night before due to a long afternoon at the same friend's, so taking him there again at 7:00 PM seems like a major mistake in my opinion.

Oh well. Truly nothing I can do from here. I am sure he's going to have a good time. I'm sure he's going to be fine. Sure he's going to bed late two nights in a row (later and later each night). Sure he's going to wake up at 6:45 - 7:00 am tomorrow like usual. He'll be tired. Et alors? (And so?)

I guess it's obvious I'm upset not just at the disregard? defiance? of "my" rules, but perhaps it's also a bit of "oh so they get to go have fun and I'm the rule-setting sergeant?" Maybe I feel bad because I feel as if "they" are all up there, laughing at my rules as they shed all established structure the instant I'm out of sight. Maybe I'm just upset my husband couldn't keep our son on his schedule but fell "victim" to perhaps the larger French society pressures up there? I don't know. I'm trying to let go... But that's hard for this mother! :)

Vive le boys weekend?!?!!!!?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Diner Entre Les Filles (Girls Night In)

About a week ago I had the pleasure of being invited to dinner at one of my few French friend's home. Living in Paris for seven years I now know not to show up too early, (i.e. "on time" in America).

Last time I arrived 20 minutes after the start-time. Too late, it seemed. This night, I arrived five minutes after the start-time. Too early. When guides to living in France recommend arriving 10 minutes after the start, they really mean 10 minutes. While I knew this, I just didn't plan it accurately. My friend greeted me and then left me in the living room while she took a phone call. I waited watching the goldfish till all the other ladies arrived "on time" (10 minutes after the start).

The apero (cocktail hour) lasted about 1 1/2 hours as eight woman shared a bottle of champagne, talking about our children, the school, languages, and other pleasant topics.  Moving from the salon (living room) to the salle a manger (dining room) our conversation switched to the ever-important "which is the best boulangerie" (bakery) and "which type of bread is best at each one." (Now I know.) :)

My friend regaled us with a delicious Pot-au-feu, a traditional French dish that was perfect on this cold night. For dessert we were treated to an Apple and Pear Crumble with fruit direct from her home in Normandy. (If that doesn't get more authentic, I don't know what does!)

The evening of conviviality continued--a full-on experience français--listening and speaking in French, eating classic dishes and luxuriating in the pleasure of having nice French friends and living in this city, this country.

7th (arrondissement) Heaven: cafe, umbrellas and lettres

Living in Paris it's not unusual for friends and family to ask me for recommendations on where to eat and what to do. Obviously Paris is full of great suggestions in both categories. My only problem is that, since moving here, I've become a bit of a stay-at-home mom homebody (*not all moms are homebodies) and don't get out and about as much as I did as a NYC single-gal.

Having a school-age son has begun to change that. (I'm getting out more.) We get out to museums together and earlier this week one of my few French friends, Sophie, invited me to lunch. I met her near her workplace and was already swooning over the gorgeous quartier. There's the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits...
...and then just a few doors down an umbrella shop unlike any I've ever seen before. I've passed this shop in a moving vehicle (bus/taxi) many times, always wanting to peer inside. And wow--it is GORGEOUS!

After reuniting with Sophie, we wind ourselves around several small streets lined with even smaller sidewalks turning into one of those tiny passages revealing its treasures within, as is typical in Paris.

Stepping inside this charming little bistro we were immediately greeted by two friendly American voices chirping out "Hi!" "Hi!" We sat down at one of the 2-top bar-stool tables. Salivating as I eyeballed the entire menu I knew this was one of those places I'd have to revisit since every dish looked as delicious as the next.

I settled on one of the "pies," which looked like a house-specialty. Noting they also have "luck and money" dishes (Hoppin' John, which I religiously make every New Year's Day), I knew I was in good Southern cooking hands here! The owners hail from Charleston, South Carolina and greet everyone in English, but quickly accommodate the French speakers in fluent français. As the backside of their business card says, "Everything we serve is made in house. All meats, cheeses and most vegetables are free range & organic, or better." (What's 'better'?!) "Its not political; its just the right thing to do. We believe food should be made by people (not machines); that animals deserve decent lives, and farmers deserve to make a fair living. We hope you think so too." 

The friendly, over-apologetic American character was in full-bloom with one of the owners, saying "sorry" as she brings bread over to a table (as if she wasn't fast enough), and when there is some other souci (worry). It was refreshing, I'll admit.

Of course, the food was D - E - L - I - C - I - O - U - S. I had the curried vegetables "pie" with quinoa salad and the chocolate & speculoos brownie (in a glass) for dessert. I "mmm'd" and "oooh'd" my way through each bite, fully aware of how healthy it was, in addition to its deliciousness. (Reservations are STRONGLY recommended!)
View back towards the street

Afterwards, I ventured into the umbrella shop, Alexandra Sojfer and oogled some more. My goodness if you ever wanted to see such finery, gorgeousness, exquisiteness and craftsmanship in an umbrella, I dare say Alexandra is your woman. One after another each umbrella charmed me as I lightly skimmed the handles, not daring to pick one up. The proprietress, and creator herself, was there, offering a cafe or juice, opening up model after model explaining the differences. "Do you want something against the sun or the rain?" "What color do you want?" Each time opening umbrellas in answer to my responses. Let me tell ya, as a $4 black bodega umbrella buyer from NYC, this was a whole new league! I didn't want to leave, but spying the starting price was about 540 I figured best to head on home and pray for no rain!  

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Fete of crepes, and Jesus!

For a laïc country, France certainly celebrates, honors, and respects religious holidays an awful lot. For example, the schools have two weeks off for Toussaint (All Saints Day), in addition to Noël (Christmas) and Pacques (Easter).

This year for my son's bake sale before the vacances Noël (Christmas vacation) my husband agreed to bake his famous cupcakes. The ladies at the cake stand were hawking the cakes with "gateaux Noël! (Christmas cakes). I found it even more amusing because the main hawker is Jewish and that she didn't say just gateaux (cakes). (Of course, I am familiar that lots of Jewish families have Christmas trees, but considering this was in a public school, I though they would be more religion-neutral.

For the same cake sale, the PTA ladies inquired if anyone had a holiday music CD and I was the only one who seemed to have one. I brought it to the school and they were playing this CD full of Christmas songs. The directrice (principal) came out of her office, however, to advance the CD forward when "Gloria in excelsis Deo" started playing. She said we couldn't play anything "religious."

And then this week, on Monday February 2nd, the schools (and France) celebrated La Chandeleur: a Christian festival commemorating Jesus' presentation in the Temple. The school menu didn't state "Chandeleur" but the menu was crepes for the main course, and a dessert caramel crepe.

That night for dinner my son asked his Papa if he could have a nutella crepe, and in a moment of inspiration, he made delicious dessert crepes for us all! (Definite advantage of this particular French husband! ;))

None of these observations bother me, I simply find it all very amusing and interesting for a country that's so proud of being laïc.

more info:

Here is the Charter of Laïcitie posted in the entrance of the school.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Childcare Papa-style

Today my son is home sick from school. After taking care of him in the morning and preparing our lunch, my husband took over for the afternoon.

I turned toward my desk and began my afternoon of reading and writing. I didn't object when he suggested a movie to our son, but a few hours later when I went in to check on them I found them parked in our bed watching various games on hubby's iPhone and computer alternatively. Considering it was 15-minutes before our son's dinnertime, I suggested he had had enough screen-time (morning cartoons, afternoon movie and now this) and perhaps it might be good to go look at some books or play a bit.

A few minutes later I hear some clanging and other "suspect" sounds in the kitchen. Thinking my husband left our son in his room and was actually preparing his dinner on time, I peeked inside to observe.  I open the door only to find a father-son duo preparing a chocolate cake!

I just have to laugh because sometimes the different approach to life by each gender is so obvious, so typical, so funny. And of course, so sweet!

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Recently reviewing old receipts, I picked up this one from my local cheese shop. I stared at it dreaming about the two delicious cheeses I'd bought.

Then I looked closer at the price per unit and was transported from my revery into that hallucinating state of "how much did I spend on cheese?!?"

The prices in parentheses are the amounts in francs, which are always on every receipt, an interesting feature and worthy of a commentary on its own.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Life in Paris: My Name is Luka

When I moved to Paris in 2007 my friends, family and acquaintances all exclaimed at one point or another something to the effect of "how wonderful!" "Life in Paris!" "I've always dreamed of living in Paris!"

And it is. It's a gorgeous city. It's beautiful. The architecture, the buildings, the parks, the restaurants, the cafes, the shops, the museums. It's all wonderful. I've truly adapted to my life in France and have come to love the full experience.

But what many people may not think about when they see pictures of shiny parquet floors, marble fireplaces, double "French-doors" opening out onto iron-work balconies, is that these beautiful old Haussmann buildings are not sound-proof.
In fact, at times it seems as if my walls, floors and ceilings (built in 1857) are all paper thin. For example, I can hear my upstairs neighbor's cell phone vibrate. I can hear pins (or other small-sized items) fall on the floor. Obviously they have no rugs on the floors. I hear them walking everywhere. (In my experience, French people don't take off their shoes and change into slippers when home.) My new upstairs neighbor (the one with the newborn) wears shoes all day long. Her partner rises early for work (5am - 6am), and they coucher tard (go to sleep late). The neighbor before had a toddler who ran everywhere when home from school until about 10:30 PM.

Next door I have a young professional Chinese girl who is usually quiet, until her family comes to visit, all staying with her, and staying up till all hours chatting, for weeks at a time. The only reason why this is an issue is that my bedroom used to be part of her living room. The prior owner of my apartment bought half of his neighbor's living room to create another bedroom for him. What used to be two 1-bedroom apartments on the same floor, are now one 2-bedroom (ours) and one smaller 1-bedroom. You can also see the division because, before, each apartment had two balconies, but now we have three and she just has one. And, because the wall between my living room and bedroom is about 17 inches but is probably only about 4" between my bedroom and her living room. In fact, my headboard is probably literally lined up with her sofa. Unlike typical French families we (my husband, son, and I) all dine and sleep early. With this new setup, I may as well just go park myself on her sofa and try to sleep. It's nearly the same thing.

None of the above situations are impossible to deal with. They are nice enough people; they are simply living their lives and so I don't let it bother me too much.

The one that is hard to live with, however, is my downstairs neighbor. It's ironic that she complains we are too noisy, considering we wear slippers all the time, are in bed by about 8PM - 10PM and wake at a normal hour (7AM) and never have evening guests. But what I will mention, in light of this post, is the heartbreaking fighting that I hear nearly every night. While the baby's crying upstairs, and the next door neighbor is entertaining, this woman is screaming at her 7-year old son. I hear him screaming at her to stop, to shut up. I hear her badgering him over and over and over again. She berets him incessantly until he stops yelling back and just starts crying. I hear thunderous running, banging, crashing and thumping. One time he broke a lamp. We've heard her threats to send him to pension (boarding school isn't viewed the same in France like in England or the USA). Regardless of what's said, I can hear the anger, the hate, the frustration, the pain underneath it all.

I've tried to pray for this woman, her situation, the boy. I've tried to be friendly despite her rude treatment towards us. I've tried to reason with her or defend myself when she attacks me in the hallway. Once, about three years ago, I even called the French protective services for children because I was so alarmed by the violence I heard each night. Nothing has changed. And I fear nothing will.

It's just a reminder that not only in my building in Paris, but in thousands of buildings in this beautiful city, hundreds of thousands around this country, and millions around this world, are stories just like this and even worse. Broken lives in the midst of this fragile world...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bébé : French style

My upstairs neighbor has a new baby. It's her first. And, French style, they are letting this poor creature cry-it-out. I'm familiar with this style of parenting as I was informed of it by French nurses when I had my baby. I'm not a fan of this approach. It's painful to hear a newborn baby crying for an hour when, to me, its needs are simply not being met. :(

About a Boy

I'm reading a book called It's a Boy! by Michael Thompson and Teresa Barker. The book is broken down into chapters by age groups and includes all sorts of information on boys development emotionally, physiologically, socially, educationally, and more. I bought it before my son was born and read through the chapters that relate to his age.

I picked it up a few days ago and opened up to the Chapter titled: "Ready or Not, Here Comes School. Your son, Five to Seven." I started reading with some grim cynicism. Questions on whether or not my boy is ready for school are moot at this point. I did not have my choice (nearly 0.000000001%) on when I put my son into school. I live in France. In France, children go to school at the tender age of THREE! Granted, it's a preschool, of sorts. But in French terms, (by even American terms), it's a serious and very structured situation these children are put into.

Reading this chapter made me sad that I didn't have the option, really, to not put my child in school. My husband is French, I live in French society, this is what is done, what we did. He had a difficult first year. We knew it would be a shock: both his parents worked from home and he was never put into the other big French socialization system (the halte guarderie)(day care) until a year before school. Separation anxiety was a big issue for us.

Plus, being a bilingual little child, his language had not developed before he went to school. In fact, he really didn't speak until about a month before his first year of school ended. This did not go over well with his very old-school, very French, very brute teacher. We've heard from other French parents  that their children also did not bode well necessarily with this particular teacher.

In any case, the point is moot, as I said. Simon has been in school for three years now. I'm happy to report that after this first year he has thoroughly, totally, completely blossomed. He is fully fluent in French (and speaks English when he wants to in English-speaking situations). He is bright, happy, active. And, he is very social, popular with boys and girls. He's turning into a vrai Frenchman--coming home with typical French phrases and mannerisms. All truly adorable to witness!

Heartbreaking NYC "Home Video"

Looking at a post from, I was compelled to watch this video, "Doin' Time in Times Square," by  Charlie Ahern. Filmed from his apartment window in Times Square, it took me about a week to get through it, due to other tasks I had to do, and its disturbing nature.

It's a compelling "view" on NYC life in the 80s and I was struck by a number of things:
- how today we are more or less the same in our violence
- how police don't just "amble" up to "peace disturbers" with the same casualness using just batons (not today's "guns-out-ablazin'" approach)
- and then of course the utter humanity of it: The lost souls. The hurt souls. The pain. The misdirected pain. The abuse of self and others...

I'm still gripped by the poor "boy" who was punched in the face rendering him unconscious... I wonder was he ever revived? Did it change the course of his life immeasurably? Did he turn from the life that took him into the middle of a fist-fight dead center in Times Square? Or did he continue further down a painful path as a result of his pain?

Of course, interspersing these graphic scenes with baby and toddler birthdays and family life, creates the contrast Charlie was going for: the life outside is heart wrenchingly sad.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Get me to the church on time...!

For the past two weeks, going to church felt a bit like a mouse in a maze. For two weeks since the Charlie Hebdo, and subsequent, attacks in Paris, we were met with roadblocks nearly at every turn. Looking at this map (complements of the metro station) gives a clear understanding of why it's probably the most well protected church in France! Not noted on this picture, but also in Sector E are the British and American Embassies and their Ambassador's residence.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Oh Chanel!

Yesterday I was walking down Avenue Montaigne...

Normally I just walk with my head turned sideways, eagerly taking in the latest in high fashion as I pass Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Fendi, Valentino and Ralph Lauren.

This day, though, I could not help but stop and backtrack after I'd whizzed by Chanel. I stopped to look at these remarkable diamond-encrusted watches. I couldn't believe my eyes. I even paused for a moment to actually consider what it would feel like to have one of these resting on my wrist.

In the past I wouldn't stop and gaze at such decadent finery because I knew one of those lovelies would never be in my future. Plus such as my life is, I think my practical side would refuse something like this, opting for a car or something more useful!

I took my time and looked at each one, imagining them on my neck, wrist, fingers... I suppose it was a bit of a Breakfast at Tiffany's opening scene moment...

And then I got to the end of the window, and like a child at Christmastime gazing at department store animated windows, my fantasy broke and I was back out on the street, albeit a very nice and pretty street!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Cold, chalky Paris

I know, I know everyone dreams of living in Paris, and it is a dream in many ways, but there are lots of idiosyncrasies that snap one out of the dream quickly.

Like my super drafty apartment and the exorbitant heating costs.

Or when I take a shower the water is so hard it feels like I'm washing with chalk.

Or a neighbor who, is having some sort of "emergency" and leaves a note this morning announcing they will be shutting off the building's water between 18h00 - 2100 (6pm - 9pm), right when everyone is coming home from work, preparing dinner and washing up for bed. Harrumph! (Thankfully I am home during the day so I have three large buckets as reserve.)

* Endnote: the suspect neighbor just rang to say the water's back on! Grateful for small miracles!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Saint James Inspiration

For Christmas I thought I'd ask my Mother-in-Law for this sweater:

For a number of reasons, I ended up with cash to buy the sweater online. Before buying, I looked more closely at the picture and when I saw the full sweater I realized it was much plainer, and less shapely, than I originally thought.

Upon more closer inspection at the detailing I began to think that I might be able to do something similar, cutting up a mariniere-style shirt. I took out some of my blue-and-white striped shirts and sweaters. Hmmm...nothing quite right. Then I thought about all the fabric swatches I had stored under my bed. I pulled them out and began laying them on an old Saint James sweater that I would use as my base.

This sweater was originally cream-colored but after a few food stains, I tried to dye it navy blue. That project didn't work out -- the sweater turned out a more slate blue. It was the perfect item ready for some "up-cycling!"

Among the scraps I found an old Jessica McClintock lacy shirt that I'd cut up and saved for a future project. I also pulled out all my old buttons and began the process of "which fabric" with "which buttons."

I'd come up with a combination that I was satisfied with and began sewing.

...And I'm happy to report I'm thrilled with the results! My son was very proud of me too...and gave me a big hug and little pat just before he started playing tennis with some soft "snowball" ornaments! Happy sewing and tennis tout le monde!