Tag Archives: Emmaus

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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me & j

J. Peterman and I go WAY back.  For those of you who have no idea who J. Peterman is, think back to the Seinfeld days……….  Remember the company Elaine worked for and her ridiculous boss?  That’s J. Peterman.

To give you a clear picture of myself during my formative years, I will let you in on a little secret.  I had a major pre-Seinfeld obsession with the J. Peterman Company and catalogue.  I loved the travel stories in the catalogue and I even loved the fact that you couldn’t really tell what you would get if you chose to order something, since all the images were sketches and not pictures.  It was almost as if you didn’t really need to know what it looked like, since it was assured to be cool just because it was in the catalogue.

I’m not going to lie, I spent hours of my life reading and rereading the stories presented in this catalogue over the years.  I also had a dream that someday I would be the person traveling around the world, finding these cool things and writing these stories.  I loved J. before he was a joke on Seinfeld.

But I guess you know, that my dream of life with J. Peterman (or at least a job with the J. Peterman Company) was not realized.

Fast forward to my present life.  Sadly, once J. Peterman hit the big time with Seinfeld we fell out of touch.  I didn’t wait with bated breath for his correspondence to me. I just gave up on him.  I moved on.

In the meantime, I went to college, got married, had kids and moved to France, without giving J. Peterman a thought.

While in France, I’ve accomplished many things including finding the best junk shop in all of France.  You may recognize it from some older posts – it’s called Emmaüs Brie.  This summer, while shopping at Emmaüs with a friend from the US (hiya Tami!), I spotted something that looked very interesting.  It seemed to be a miniature apple press used to make apple cider.  Although it was out of my cheap skate junk price range, it looked so interesting I had a hard time passing it by.

After we walked by it, I started thinking about the party potential of this mini apple press.  Imagine a party where I buy a bazillion apples and I set up this press and I get the kids to stand around and press cider all night to entertain themselves……….  Sounds like a good party to me.

When I mentioned my party idea offhandedly to Owen, he was hooked.  He’s the only person I know who loves a party more than me.  He wanted that press BADLY.  He even offered up some of his own hard-earned cash to get me to buy it.  And I’m a total sucker for random objects, so I did.

That day, we left Emmaus with the cutest little apple press you’ve ever seen.

A week or so later, I bought a bunch of apples and we gave our press a try.  To say that it was hard to press apples with this thing would be an understatement.  We spent a couple of hours in the blazing sun with it and ended up with a half cup of apple juice that we all had to share.  I had planned to write this great blog post about it, but since our pressing had a bitter end, I filed it away as a hopeless case.

Here we were, when our optimism was still in tact:

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So what does this have to do with J. Peterman?  I’ll tell you.  I recently started thinking about J. again and pondering why we’d lost touch so many years ago.  So I did what any jilted ex would do and I googled him and found out that he’s still in business, selling dreams with his sketched clothing.  And since I’m also a sucker for nostalgia, I asked to receive a catalogue in the mail to relive the old times.  Once I ordered the catalogue J. also asked me if I’d like to receive email updates from him and I replied, “Of course!”

When the first catalogue came, I was seriously transported back in time.  It was as if nothing had changed between us.  He’s still writing about exotic locations and selling expensive clothing and I’m still soaking it up like a school girl.  I read the catalog 3 time the first day it came and I even considered buying a long velvet dress worn by a Russian baroness that J. Peterman met in a smoky bar.  I wish I were joking.

But here is the proof that you can’t mess with destiny.  Just the other day as I was reading an email from J. Peterman,  imagine my surprise when I saw this pop up:

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And here is what I realized:

a) that thing is a grape press, not an apple press (not sure how I missed this, since we live in the country of wine)

and

b) my fate is clearly entwined with J’s after all.

After all these years, he might finally appreciate me for what I bring to our relationship.  Namely, my strength for finding good junk.

i am the beholder

There is a great place for junk I’ve found which is not too far from our house.  It’s called Emmaus Brie and it seems to be epi-center of French junk – set on an old farm property.  If you live in VT, it’s very similar to ReSOURCE and if you don’t live in VT, think of the Salvation Army, with a training program for it’s workers. In this case it’s workers are formerly homeless or drug addicted individuals who are learning appliance repair and retail skills while working at the farm.

So what seems like a common concept in the US is considered very innovative here.  Since the government structure is so different here, the concept of “charity” is also different.  There are not so many worthy causes to support here and a LOT less non-profits looking for funding.  I think part of the reason for this is that the government provides so much more to it’s citizens (great healthcare, great maternity leave, discounts on train/bus tickets for families, and the list goes on……)

Here is a sample of what is offered to women around the birth of a child:

France offers all women workers a paid, job -protected maternity leave six weeks before and 10 weeks after the births of the first two children, eight weeks before and 18 weeks after the birth of the third child, 34 weeks (12 prenatally) for twins and 42 weeks (24 prenatally) for triplets or more. Maternity leave, pre and postnatally, is mandatory. 

At the end of maternity leave, the mother or father can take parental leave until the child reaches the age of three, with entitlement to re-integration into the previous or a similar job. Parents receive a parental leave allowance if they interrupt their employment, totally.

See what I mean?  Nice.

Sorry for the tangent.  So what’s the big deal about Emmaus Brie in particular? Apparently Emmaus is an international organization working on 4 continents to help formerly homeless people in need.  All of the profits from this organization go back to supporting it’s mission.  It’s also the best place I’ve found to buy some quality French junk that I can feel especially good about.

So here’s the scene:

It’s Sunday afternoon and Tim decides to take the kids for a bike ride.  Hmmm. What should I do?  I guess I’ll take a drive to Emmaus Brie to support their cause. After I arrive, I walk into the first part of the glassware section and what is sitting on the top of a pile of French dishes?

Here it is:

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A lovely mint condition souvenir from someone’s trip to my home turf.  What are the chances? Ok, maybe the chances are good that someone from this area has visited the popular US tourist destination of Cape Cod, but I still think it’s amazing that I found this.

I had no choice but to buy it.  Only €.50 later it was mine.

When I got home, I was so excited about my plate, I pulled it out of the bag proudly.  Tim’s first reaction?  “It’s cool that it’s from Cape Cod, but don’t you think it’s pretty ugly?”

Apparently beauty lies  in the eye of the beholder.