Monthly Archives: April 2012

france has changed me

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Here’s a good story for you:  When I was a young child, we had a cat named Mittens.  Although I loved that cat, I had terrible allergies and eventually my parents made the decision to give the cat away to alleviate my need for weekly allergy shots.  My parents knew that I would be heartbroken, so they gave the cat away without telling me and they decided to wait until I noticed that the cat was gone to talk to me about the need to do so.

My mother walked around on pins and needles for a day, and then a couple, waiting for me to notice that the cat was gone.  I didn’t notice.  In fact, it took me TWO WEEKS to notice that the cat was gone.  By the time I finally realized it (when a friend was visiting and asked to see my cat), any amount of anguish my parents felt about their decision, was erased by the amount of time it took me to realize the cat was missing.  In fact, when I was finally told that my cat was gone and I broke down in tears, my parents laughed in my face.  I kid you not.

As an adult, I don’t really have any major problem with cats – as long as they’re owned by other people.  I’m a dog girl, plain and simple.  Since we moved to France and had to leave our dog in the US (heartbreaking), I’ve had a recurring dream that I would find a little stray French mutt that needed a good home.  No dice, sadly.  Since French dogs are treated very well, it would be extremely difficult to find a stray.  Cats on the other hand are a dime a dozen around here.  They roam the backyards walking along all the walls that separate the backyards and fight with each other at night.  Since we’ve moved in here, we’ve had the distinct feeling that if they chose to all gang up on us, we would be dead meat.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, a small scruffy looking cat walked up to me in my back yard as I was hanging out.  This is unusual because most cats here are not friendly at all and despite being surrounded by hundreds of cats, I had yet to have a meaningful interaction with one.  I petted it and that was pretty much all I planned to do.  Until it started meowing at me and it appeared to be hungry.  So I did what any person would do in the face of a starving, scruffy cat.  I gave it some milk.  And that, my friends, should be the end of the story.  But of course, it isn’t.

The next thing I knew, the kids came outside to see the scruffy cat and Owen went next door to tell our elderly cat-loving neighbor, Mme Mossot, the woman who rescued the kittens from our yard in the fall, that we found a friendly cat for her to take in.  When he came back from her house, he was carrying a big bag of cat food.

Shit.

Apparently our elderly friend recently took in two more friendly strays and was completely maxed out.

We fed him for a day and then Owen asked the big question, “Can we please keep him?  PLEASE?”  My response was, “We may be able to keep him if he lives outside in our yard and never, EVER, comes in our house.”  As an adult, I’ve been tested for allergies and it would appear I have outgrown my cat allergies, but I’ve always used it as a good excuse never to get a cat when my kids would ask.  It’s been kind of a little secret between me and my allergist.

But there are only so many chilly nights a dog lover can watch a scruffy cat sleep under a bush in the yard and not start to feel slightly insensitive.  Especially when the kids are saying things like, “He’s FREEZING to death out there!” or “How would you feel if you didn’t have a home?” or better yet, “How would you feel if somebody made you sleep under a bush every night when SHE got to sleep in a warm and cozy bed in a house?”  My kids are nothing if not persistent.

Even though my kids have compared me to Despicable Me’s Mother in the past and they know I have no love of cats, they were starting to wear me down, especially because they could see that I had no allergic reaction when the cat was around me.  But what really sealed the deal was Mme Mossot.  She showed up at our house to say “thank you” for caring for this scruffy cat and she told me all about her crusade to help homeless cats in town.  She nearly broke my heart with her stories of saving cats and I’ve witnessed her magic as she wrangled the wild kittens and found them a good home.  While she was over at our house, she stared calling our nameless cat “Justin” in homage to her favorite old cat who had died.  I was arguing to name him “Dog,” but I was out voted.  Justin he is.

I really think living in France has made me lose a bit of my mind.  I never thought I would own a cat, and you better believe that I would never have named my cat Justin – it’s a little too similar to the other famous Justin for my taste.  Just so you know, his name sounds MUCH better when you say it in French.  It sounds something like:

JUSE-ta

About the last person I wanted to tell about our cat was my mother.  I was hoping to keep it a secret until her next visit, but unfortunately for me, Owen was so excited, he had to get on the phone to tell her all about him.  When my mother heard that we now owned a cat named Justin, she had to rehash the Mittens story for me (AGAIN!) and then she proceeded to laugh her ass off.  Luckily she couldn’t laugh in my face, since we’re separated by a very big ocean.

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colon update

Just found this picture from our trip to Amiens that I mentioned here.  I thought you might like to see a different angle of the giant colon and yes, those are polyps on the inside hanging down.  If this doesn’t make you schedule that colonoscopy, nothing will.  Just be thankful that your job isn’t to stand in this thing all day.

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a game of wiffley, anyone?

A few years ago in our neighborhood in Vermont, I threatened promised to plan a giant wiffleball game on a weekend in the summer.  I’m fairly certain most of my neighbors thought I was off my rocker.  No respectable adult spends a sunny summer afternoon throwing a plastic ball around and trying to hit it with a skinny yellow bat.  Luckily most of my friends are only minimally respectable adults.

That’s why, on a sunny day a couple of summers ago we had our first big wiffleball game.  Let’s just say that any minor skepticism about this seemed to melt away as we started pummeling that little white ball around and running the bases.  At one point, most of the kids had left the game to play on the jungle gym at the school field while the adults kept at it.  Was it fun?  A friend of mine pulled a massive muscle in her leg diving into second base and everyone from opposing teams started to trash talk each other on the field.  Oh yeah, it was fun.

The wiffleball tradition in our neighborhood in Vermont lives on, but we decided to take on an even bigger challenge – to bring wiffleball to France.  Once we knew we were moving, one of the first things in the shipping container was  a load of wiffleballs and some bats.  It took us a while to find a place to have the game, since most of the big spaces in France are filled up with things like chateaus, fountains and reflecting pools.

Finally, after a long search, we finally found the perfect site for a game and I sent out an email to all of our friends to see if they would like to meet up on the Monday after Easter for a game and a picnic.  Not a single person had ever heard of the game wiffleball and despite that, I had a huge response from the email.  Even more shocking was that not one person seemed to think I was off my rocker.   At least they didn’t mentioned it directly to my face.

The day of the game, the weather was rubbish.  It wasn’t rainy, but it was overcast, chilly and very windy.  My first thought was to postpone the game since wiffleball is best played on a sunny, warmish day but when I called my friend to gauge her opinion she said, “CANCEL THE GAME?!? You can’t cancel the game!  Everyone is coming and I even made a cake!”  These new friends of mine are even more hardcore than me.

After everyone showed up at the field, we made an attempt to explain the game, which it turns out is similar to a game played in the UK called rounders.  Similar but not the same.  We decided that we should just start to play and work throughout the details as they came up.

What happened next was sheer chaos.  People were running with the bats in hand, they weren’t touching the bases and sometimes they were passing each other or doubling up on the bases.  It was like a mix of every bat and ball sport you’ve ever seen, with a little bit of Philadelphia Kickball thrown in.  Soon everybody was saying that they really loved playing “wiffley,” which meant that, in addition to a set of new rules, the game also got a new name.  And it was fun.  Really fun.

Luckily there were no pulled muscles, but there was an enormous amount of trash talking, which in my opinion, is the indicator of a great day out at the ballpark.

When is the last time you played wiffleball?  You might want to give it another chance.  I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

Some of you may be interested to know that the tradition of playing marbles at recess is still alive and well in France.  

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something strange in amiens

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While we were in Amiens, France for a short stay a couple of weeks ago (at our two star hotel) we saw many things.  After the giant cathedral in the center of town, by far the most amazing thing we saw was a giant, blow-up colon in the middle of the street.

We first saw it in the early evening walking to dinner.  It was giant and bright pink and it snaked down the center of the street like a gargantuan pink slug.  For a moment it felt like the set of a 1960s horror film, only this thing wasn’t fighting Godzilla.  It actually took us a few minutes standing there staring at it to figure out what it was.  The point is that ‘a giant colon’ is not the first thing that jumps into your mind when you’re trying to identify an enormous object in the middle of the street in a small French city.

It appeared that the colon was part of a health fair and although it was possible to walk through it, it was closed for the night.  During dinner, the kids could not stop talking about the giant colon and how they really wanted to go in it the next day.  Not exactly the best dinner conversation – especially when you’re eating squid.  Eew.

On our way back through town we had to pass the giant colon again and at this point we saw a dude strumming a guitar move aside the barrier and walk slowly through the giant colon while strumming some Bob Dylan.  He continued to strum in the colon until he was chased out by a security guard.  I did have to wonder aloud about the job satisfaction level of a security detail in which you were tasked with protecting a giant colon from Bob Dylan strumming hippies throughout the night.

As expected, priority #1 for the boys the next day was to go for a stroll in the colon.  When we neared the entrance to the giant colon, we were given a short quiz about general colon health with questions we were supposed to find the answers to on our way through it.  We grabbed the questionnaires and headed into the giant pink slug to learn more facts about colon health.  The only problem was that we were in sort of a rush, since we needed to check out of our hotel, so rather than working slowly through the questions and answers, I gave the kids the short version of the message.  Get a colonoscopy.  You may not want to do it, but you must.  Yes, it is a tiny camera in your bum.  Yes, it probably kind of hurts a bit, but you must do it.  End of story.

We were considered colon deadbeats by the time we got to the end of the exhibit because we hadn’t filled out any of the questionnaire.  A man approached us when he heard us speaking English and asked where we were from.  We explained that we were from the US, but were living in France and we apologized for not completing the exercise due to our short timeline.  That’s when I said, “Sorry we’re just rushing through, but we really HAD to come to see your giant colon.  It’s amazing!”  After that statement, we had a slightly awkward moment of silence.  I guess that’s the kind of thing that can happen often when you’re hanging around in a giant colon all day.

Although we hadn’t completed the exercise, the boys were each given tiny squeezable colons to take with them to impress upon them the need for good colon health.  For the drive home, I had to hear unending exclamations from the back seat of the car similar to this:

Owen:  Hey Ma!  I’m getting really big muscles in my arms by squeezing my colon.

Eamon:  Dad, stop slamming on the brakes!  My colon just fell under the seat.

Owen:  I can’t find my colon!  Have you seen it?

Eamon:  I love my colon!  It’s so cute!

I know that colon health is no laughing matter, but hey, you might as well have fun with the thought of a tiny camera up your bum as long as you can.

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2 star hotel

When we lived in Vermont, we had probably stayed overnight in a hotel with our kids less times than I could count on one hand.  In my opinion, staying in a hotel with young kids is ranked among the suckier things to spend your time doing.  You know how it is:  everyone sleeping in a confined space, no room to run/jump around, no screaming allowed, adults reading a book in bed with a flashlight so that nobody will wake up, etc.  However, now that our kids are older and especially because we’re in Europe, we’ve been more frequent hotel visitors.

Since price is always a factor, sometimes we get great hotels for great deals……………..and sometimes we end up staying in places that are more similar to The Happiness Hotel straight out of the Muppet Movie.  Recently, we took an overnight trip to a small town in northern France called Amiens and we rented a room at a hotel whose two main selling points were: 1) that it was cheap and 2) it was within walking distance to the train station.  Translation: if you are a European traveler who has not showered in weeks, you will think this place is pretty damn nice.  It even has hot water!

The ways that my kids talk about hotels, it’s like they have stayed in some pretty fancy places.  They often talk about the number of stars a hotel is given, since that’s the European standard (however, it is unclear to me who decides what ranking hotels deserve).  Not long ago, my kids started randomly talking about a hotel we had stayed at and how many stars it had.  I asked them what they thought would make a three or four star hotel.  They told me that a hotel that had a little fridge should always be a three star hotel and that a four star hotel would definitely have fuzzy bathrobes to wear.  We may have a team of future hotel reviewers on our hands here, friends.

When we rolled in to our hotel in Amiens, its ranking was no surprise at all.

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The kids said, “Wow, a two star hotel!”  When we entered and it smelled like old Chinese food, I was thinking it should have been given one star.  That was, until the kids saw an old school vending machine in the foyer and Eamon exclaimed, “They must have made a mistake on the sign!  This must be a three star hotel!  Look at the soda machine!”

To further boost the credibility of our two star hotel, the next day the kids discovered this in the lobby:

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I told them it was to shine their shoes and despite the fact that they were wearing sneakers, they decided to give it a try.  At that point, I started chatting with the desk clerk and the next thing I knew, the boys were using the shoe shine machine to clean the French dog shit off the bottoms of their shoes.  My apologies to future travelers staying at the Hotel Anzac intending to shine their shoes, who leave smelling like dog shit.

Later that day, when we were checking out Eamon said, “This is a really nice hotel…………especially for a two star hotel.”  I’m so glad their standards are low.  It’s much harder to be disappointed that way.