Category Archives: france

team mossot

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I know that I’ve made no secret about my desire to find an elderly friend in France.  I also know I have written a few times about the elderly woman who lives next door to us, Mme Mossot, however I haven’t given her nearly enough time on the blog to accurately represent how important she has become in our lives in France.  If you don’t remember the stories about Mme Mossot, she’s our 85-year-old next door neighbor who first wrangled the wild kittens living in our garden and after that, she convinced us to adopt JJ (I just can’t bring myself to call him Justin), our massive French street cat.

The history of Mme Mossot is as long as her long life and I could write a two part book about her.  Part I of the book would be about her past life as an artist, an art journalist, an interior decorator, and an animal crusader.  Part II of the book would be about our interactions with Mme Mossot and it would read something like Tuesdays with Morrie, with a lot less death and a lot more quotes and advice. Mme. Mossot is a highly opinionated woman and although I love her for it, but I can guarantee that it’s much easier to be friends with her than to be related to her.

In the early fall, there was a special exhibition in Paris that Mme Mossot wanted to attend and I promised her that the kids and I would go with her.  The exhibit was at the Musee D’Orsay and it was called Misia.  Misia was the muse and benefactor to many famous artists in France in the early 1900s and this exhibit pulled together all the paintings of Misia made by all the famous painters she knew throughout the years.  

Since Mme Mossot lived in Paris most of her life she knows the city very well and when she told me it had been a couple of years since she had been to the Orsay, I believed her until we got to the door.  At that point, I suspected that it had been a little bit longer than a couple of years when she tried to show her French senior citizen’s card to the security people at the entrance of the museum as if it were the ticket desk.  She also tried to write a check at the desk to buy the tickets and although there is still an affinity for check-writing in France, the young man looked at her like she was from another planet.

Part of the reason that Mme Mossot was so interested in seeing the Misia exhibit was because her husband was the nephew of Pierre Bonnard, a famous French painter.  Bonnard was one of the primary painters at the Misia exhibit and when we entered, Mme Mossot started pointing out Bonnard paintings that she had seen before in her life at Bonnard’s house and at other shows of his.  It had always been clear to me that she has lived an exceptionally interesting life, but that day at the museum further reinforced my belief.  

The exhibit was great, and afterward Mme Mossot told us she’d like to take us out for gouter at the new restaurant that had opened at the Orsay.  Once we were seated at the restaurant, we scanned the menu and each ordered a dessert-type snack.  However, as soon as Mme Mossot’s ice cream arrived, she called the server back over to the table.  Apparently the menu had promised a praline cookie on the top of the ice cream, but when the ice cream arrived, the praline was nowhere to be found.  Mme Mossot complained to the server about “false advertising” the server gave her the classic French eye roll and told her they had run out of cookies.  After the server left, Mme Mossot told me that she was a “crusader for the tourists” in Paris who don’t know that they are being taken advantage of by the French and who don’t have the ability to speak up about it.

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Being a tourist can be hard, especially when you live in a foreign country and have a tendency to feel like a tourist all the time.  I’m just glad to know Mme Mossot’s got my back.    

Here is the picture of us in Paris that Mme Mossot took:

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life plans

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It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in France for almost two years and unfortunately, our time is approaching its end.  We were originally scheduled to be back in the US in February, but luckily for us, Tim was granted an extension until the summer so that the kids could finish the year of school and I could have more time to figure out what I’m going to do when I get back.  I’ve been thinking of my best options, so I just thought I’d share a few with you and get your input:

IDEA #1:  American Girl Doll Exporter

I’m not a girly girl and although I had my fair share of Barbies back in the day, I was a bit more interested Barbie’s VW van than her high heels.  Some things never change.  And no matter how many times I read, William’s Doll to my boys and told them I would buy them a doll if they wanted, the only doll that ever gained any traction with them was an antique Cabbage Patch Kid named Xavier that once belonged to my brother.  My kids are the apples that have not fallen far from the tree of me.

Just before Christmas, I was walking outside of school when I happened to overhear a mother say something about needing to find an American to help with a Christmas present.  I didn’t know this mother very well, but since I am both nosy and an American, I decided to butt in and offer my services, although I had absolutely no idea what she needed.  As it turns out, American Girl Dolls are not just popular in America – they are also popular in France and as I learned that day, impossible to buy here.  According to this mother, they are only available in the US; no international shipping, no purchasing through Amazon.fr, no access at all unless you are either on American soil or have a US shipping address.

A big thanks to my mother for getting involved in this situation since,  although I am American, I am living in France, which makes sending things by mail from the US exponentially more difficult.  Only an American would promise things on which she was unsure if she could actually deliver…….

I have realized that in the US, we usually say ‘yes’ then we say ‘no,’ whereas I’ve learned that the French generally start with ‘no’ and stick with it.

Could the exportation of these dolls be a career path for me?  Is it completely legit?  I’m pretty sure that the answers to those questions would be ‘no’ and ‘no’ again, but someone should consider this, since there is apparently an entire continent of girls here dying to take their dolls to the fake hairdresser.

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IDEA #2:  Nun Candy Exporter

For several summers of my childhood, my parents had a business that was located directly across the street from a penny candy store.  The people who opened it didn’t have many other customers than our gang of friends and since it was the 70s I’ve imagined since then that they were likely selling something else out of the back of the store to make ends meet.  But in those years, my love of pure sugar candy (not chocolate!) was born.

Within the first few months of living in France, Tim happened to stumble upon a small store in a very quaint town and when he came home, he said, “You MUST go there.  It will end up being your favorite store.  They have candy.”  Tim knows me well and when I did drive over there (the very next day), I found the perfect French version of my favorite childhood shop, but rather than selling candy dots, they were selling sucre d’orge.

Sucre d’orge is essentially barley candy made with the natural sugars of barley, rather than the corn syrup version of barley candy that is found in the US.  Sucre d’orge was originally made in the 17th century by Benedictine monks and it still shaped, as it originally was, in the shape of a triangle (or trinity).  I started calling it ‘Nun Candy’ because of its religious origins and when I eat it, I feel better about myself, which I’m pretty sure is what church is supposed to do for you, isn’t it?

Do we need religion as more of a topic of conversation in the US and would my business of bringing Nun Candy to the masses make the things better or worse?  You decide and let me know.

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IDEA #3:  Fondue Pot Exporter

I love fondue – cheese, oil, chocolate, I don’t care.  I love it all.

A few years before moving to France I really wanted to serve fondue on Christmas Eve and the only thing standing in my way (besides affordable Gruyère) was my flimsy enamel fondue pot.  Was my old dingy pot up to the task of being the proud receptacle for that special holiday meal?  Apparently not, since only moments into my search on eBay, I came across what I considered to be the Cadillac of all fondue pots, Le Creuset.

I became fixated on the Le Creuset pot and then I proceeded to spend an hour (or 8) trolling on eBay trying to win auction after auction, with no luck at all.   My dreams of melted cheese for Christmas were nearly dead.  I could never go back to my shabby pot and with only two weeks until Christmas, I decided to make one last effort at the pot of my dreams.

One night I stayed up until 1am (on a work night), waited until the very last moment (as advised by my friend), and placed a large bid – one that was way above the going price.  With only seconds to spare, the auction automatically went up and up, until the poor other schmuck bidding against me, ran out of time.  I finally won the fondue pot!  I will not divulge the price I paid that night, but it was well worth it, given that my other option was a nervous breakdown.  Mental health = priceless.

In any case, I received my bright orange fondue pot just in time for Christmas and we used it then and many times since.  In fact, we’ve used it so much since then, that it was the first thing I put in the box when we were having out stuff shipped over from the US.

Prior to our move, I was well aware of the French love of all things cheese, but I was not aware of the fact that the French treat fondue pots just like they do in the US – as stuff to be sold at yard sales and given to junk shops.  The main difference between the US and France in this case, is that while the Americans are getting rid of thin enamel pots at their yard sales, the French are getting rid of Le Creuset fondue pots.  SUPER JUNK SCORE!  Especially since my junk hunting skills are very sharp (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4).

My interest in fondue pots has gone from a holiday obsession to a virtual sickness, since all Le Creuset pots cast off by others are readily welcomed into my home.  At first I thought that I might need another pot or two, just in case I had a larger fondue party at some point.  And when I added a couple more, I thought I might be able to issue an invite to my extended family as well.  After two years here, I am nearly ready to invite my entire town in Vermont over for fondue, I have that many pots.  It is so hard to pass these things up, when I usually find them for less than 1€.  Yes, that does say 1 euro.  I’ve promised them to friends and family upon our return, but I think I may have a few left over…..

Should I stay in France and consider becoming a full-time fondue pot buyer and exporter?  Or should I just amass so many before I leave that I need another shipping container and then I can spend the rest of my life selling them on eBay?  Could it work as a career plan?

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IDEA #4:  Blogger

It seems like this could work if the following things were true:

  • Anyone beside my mother read my blog
  • I had real people making comments on my blog who were not related to me
  • I posted more than once every couple of weeks
  • I had some companies who would give me money to write this kind of drivel
  • I had some sort of cool contest or giveaway sponsored by some amazing company, or at least a big box store.

A likely career path?  Probably not.

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Immediate Plan:

So, here’s my newest idea, in an attempt to get a couple more people to comment on this blog, I am sponsoring my own giveaway.  There is no Home Depot Gift Card and no iPad, but instead you can win something even better.  You can win a genuine ‘used’ Le Creuset fondue pot, straight from France and a very nice box of Nun Candy.  How’s that for my attempt at masquerading as a real blogger?

Here are the contest rules, made up by me as I’m writing this:

  1. You have to be willing to wait for your fondue pot/Nun Candy until the summer/early fall, since I will be happy to pay for shipping them to you, but not from France, only from Vermont once I get back there.
  2. You must live in the US (not sure I can afford international shipping on these things – heavy!).
  3. I can’t guarantee that your fondue pot will be orange, but I can guarantee that it will be nice.  It may or may not come with fondue forks, since nice forks aren’t as easy to find.  I can, however, guarantee that the Nun Candy will be tasty.
  4. In order to enter, you just need to make a comment on this blog about why you should win the fondue pot/Nun Candy and/or leave me career advice.
  5. The contest is open from now until my feet touch American soil in August.  How’s that for a large window of opportunity?
  6. To pick the winner I will use what all the other cool bloggers seem to do and put all the comments into that random number generator, so be sure to include you email address when you submit your comment (but don’t expect to hear from me for at least 6 months).  Either that, or I will do eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
  7. If you are a family member or friend who already knows he/she is getting a fondue pot, pretend that you’re someone else and leave a comment anyway.  I can use all the help I can get.
  8. Here’s another idea:  If you happen to win the fondue pot and you would rather take a road trip to Vermont to pick it up, I would be happy to treat you to a nice Vermont beer or two, while you’re in town.  Maybe you could film your road trip to Vermont on the quest for the French fondue pot and you could submit it to Sundance as an indie film?  Good idea, non?
  9. Since this contest is not sponsored by anyone but me, I reserve the right to make other rules for this contest if I realize that I’ve made a massive mistake in some way.

I promise, the winner of this contest will really get a fondue pot and some Nun Candy from me.

Good luck, Ma.

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blame it on france

Wow!  With a vacation this long from writing on this blog, you’d think I were living in France or something……….

So sorry for the long hiatus.

I promise to come back here and tell you some of my favorite stories from recent months involving all of the following:  shopping carts, nudist camps, Neuschwanstein Castle, birthday parties, elderly friends, wine sales, fondue pots, Liechtenstein, and sleeping in a VW bus.

Here are a few of my favorite snaps from the summer – lots more stories to come!

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donkey horror movie

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Here are some strange pictures and a strange birthday party story for you (yes, that is grass in his shirt):

Owen was invited to a birthday party the other day by a friend in his class. The classmate’s mother just told me the address and the party time, but she didn’t tell me anything about what was happening at the party. When we arrived at the address to find a donkey stable, I was a little curious. Although I was invited to stay at the party, I made up a big excuse about having something important to do and drove like hell out of there. For me: Donkeys + Birthday Cake = trouble.

When I returned to pick up Owen and his friend Diego from the party, they were not at the donkey stable, so I sat and waited. After about 15 minutes, I saw the gang of kids and the few parents who stayed, walking up a dirt road toward the car. When Owen saw me he started running and as soon as he got close to me he screamed, “That was like a donkey horror movie!”

Apparently, the family rented a donkey for a few hours to carry a birthday picnic into the forest and after they loaded up the donkey with bags of food and a cake, they set out for the walk. About halfway through the party and right after they had eaten the cake, a thunder-storm rolled in. A huge clap of thunder sent the donkey bolting into the forest, carrying all of the party supplies. What happened next was hilarious – especially if you weren’t a parent chaperoning the party.

When the thunder clapped and the donkey ran, the kids panicked and, according to Owen, they started running and screaming through the forest in absolute hysteria. Of course, this didn’t help the situation. Not sure the dark sky and heavy rain helped either. Evenutally, the parents got the kids under control and had a talk with them about remaining calm, but the donkey was long gone.

Since the group needed to get back, they started walking and eventually started seeing things on the trail that had fallen off the donkey’s back as it ran. The group followed the trail of party goods to a clearing where they eventually found the donkey comatose on the ground, too scared to move. After some coaxing, they were finally able to get the donkey up and the group realized that in his frenzy, he had torn the pack bags. When the group emerged from the forest, they were holding all of the party goods in their arms and the parents of the party boy looked fairly pissed.

Other than a huge scratch across Owen’s face right under his eye, there was no lasting damage from the donkey party, but the experience was accurately summed up by Diego as we drove home.

He said:

“I told my mother all morning I didn’t want to go to the party, but I really wanted to eat the cake, so I decided to go. After seeing that donkey, I know I should have stayed home.”

Well said, Diego.

Below you can catch a glimpse of Owen’s favorite nighttime reading book. Also, not sure where in the world this would be “See on TV.”

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oh yes we did

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Let’s put it this way – it’s a 1987, that goes about 80km max (50mph) up hills, it has no power steering, and the steering wheel is as big as a large pizza.  I am in love.

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the very good and the somewhat sad

I know I’ve spent some time writing about the great French products that contribute to the high quality of life in France (think: wine, cheese, bread), but one thing I have spent less time talking about is the outstanding people who live here.

Fontainebleau and the surrounding villages, are a mishmash of French natives and many other people with interesting lives from around the world.  As well as learning many new things about France, we’re getting an education about many other places where our friends have lived (Happy Diamond Jubilee, Your Majesty!).  I’d like to think we’re teaching people something too – in fact, a friend here recently wrote me a text that said, “Just reading up on Vermont.  If the capital only as 7,500 people, where on earth do you guys live?”  I guess this proves that a place cannot be measured by the number of inhabitants alone.

Prior to moving here, I was at a stage in my life where I thought that it was somewhat difficult to make new friends.  It’s not that I was looking for new friends necessarily, but the opportunity didn’t arise very often that I had the time/energy to meet up with people I didn’t already know well.  But what I learned since living here is that I’ve still got it – as in, the ability to make new friends, which s lucky for me since this could be a very lonely place without some friends.

Our area in France is somewhat transitional by nature (people are here on short-term contracts, there is a rotating group of business school faculty, etc), but meeting new friends is made easier by the fact that people here welcome outsiders readily.  So that’s the good news.

The bad news is that because this place is fabulous but somewhat transitional, there is also a constant stream of people leaving.  And sometimes those leaving people have become friends of ours and watching them leave really sucks.

It’s hard to say goodbye to people we have known for only a short time, but with whom we feel so comfortable that it seems we’ve known them forever.  If there is one upside to our most recently relocated friends, this would be it:

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Meet Ollie, our temporary pet who we’re watching while our friends get settled into their new lives in Australia.  Ollie will be joining them there sometime in the near future, but until then, he’s living with us.

Oh, and he doesn’t really like cats all that much so Justin‘s reign as the king of our household is being threatened.  Welcome to life in a monarchy, little cat.  Here is Justin sitting on his throne, otherwise known as the bidet.  Nice.

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deuxième rando

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Umm……. I’m kind of not sure where the time is going here – it seems like it’s really flying by.

What seemed like a couple of weekends ago, but I now realize was over a month ago, we took our kids on the annual spring Rando.  Rando is short for randonne which means a long hike.  Each spring a giant Rando is organized as a day-long event with different walking routes for different ambition levels between three local chateaus.

Last year we participated in the short version of the Rando which involved walking from one chateau to another, having a picnic lunch, and then walking back.  Last year it was hot – so hot, in fact, that we ran out of water and ended up staggering across the finish line like we had emerged from the dessert.  Somehow after our parched schlepp, we did managed to find a beer table like a mirage in the dessert  – and ice cream for the kids.  These are my favorite kinds of mirages.

This year, we were determined to be more prepared and we were also determined to try a more challenging route, so we decided on the 17k route (that’s nearly 10.5 miles for my American friends).  Our kids are pretty good with long distances, as long as there are snacks involved, and despite the fact that a few of our friend thought we were insane, we decided to try it.  We did also managed to convince a few other friends to join us.  My motto “safety in numbers” works especially well in situations like this, since there is nothing that motivates a kid like another kid running ahead of them.  And, there is nothing that motivates an adult like being beaten by your kid.  It’s like Psych 101 in action.

Things were going pretty well until we came to the top of a large hill and saw a woman passed out laying on the side of the trail.  Luckily she was surrounded by other people and we were not first on the scene.  My ability to be calm in a crisis situation (especially when people are screaming in French) is admittedly not the best.

We were heavily armed with snacks and plenty of water, but unfortunately for us the weather was about 30 degrees cooler than last year, which made walking a long distance more like a slog and less like a frolic in the sunshine.  On our way, we passed the house where Django Reinhardt, the legendary jazz musician, lived in a small town called Samois-sur-Seine.  Although he died in 1953, I would imagine that Samois looked about the same then as it does today, and probably as it did even 100 years before that.

The good news is that we made it to the end of the Rando and we felt a good bit of pride as we took off our shoes and took a pause for a cold beverage.  There was a shocking lack of whining and next year the kids say that they want to do the 28K (17+ mile) route.  I’m not sure about that one.  I might need to put some beer in my backpack to get through it.

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