Tag Archives: France

team mossot

20130201-113324.jpg

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.

20130201-113400.jpg

20130201-113418.jpg

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:

20130201-113343.jpg

Advertisements

life plans

20130120-230028.jpg

20130120-230059.jpg

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.

20130120-230119.jpg

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.

20130120-230656.jpg

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?

20130120-230013.jpg

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.

20130120-230136.jpg

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.

20130120-230151.jpg

classe de mer – update

20120601-232814.jpg

Well, the Classe de Mer trip has finally come and gone.  For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, you can read back through to figure it out yourselves:  start by reading this, then read this, then this and finally this.  Put down the Soduku and consider it your daily mental exercise to put the pieces together.

As a teaser, I’ll give you the very short story:  the school takes the kids away for a week every year, with no parent chaperones allowed, only teachers, and somehow everyone comes back alive.  How that happens is a mystery to me.

I’m not exactly sure what would possess an elementary school teacher to take away a class of kids for five days, but as a parent, I fully support this program.  I am such an enthusiastic supporter of this program, in fact, that I took all that enthusiasm and crammed it on to a train and headed to Paris for two nights with Tim during the Classe de Mer trip.  I will be the first to admit that my ensiasm for this program knows no bounds.

This year the school headed to a small town called Sables d’Olonne on the west coast of France for a week at the beach.  Here are the raw facts about the trip:

  • there was a 5.5 hour bus trip to get there
  • there were sailing lessons (too chilly to surf)
  • there was a visit to a shell museum
  • there was a visit to ‘les marais salants’ where they make French sea salt (‘fleur de sel’)
  • also included was a visit to a zoo

The only minor drama in the lead up to this trip was the fact that I put Eamon on the wrong bus to start things off the morning that the trip started and there was chaos as the teachers scrambled to find me.  After all, it was 6am and completely dark out.

Aside from my trip to Paris, the highlight of the Class de Mer trip were the postcards the kids sent home.  A couple of days after they arrived back in Fontainebleau, we got an envelope with two postcards inside.  The front of the postcards were the standard tourist fare, but the backs were outstanding.

Here is what Eamon’s said:

Chers parents

Je m’amuse bien et vous me manquez.

Eamon

20120601-232637.jpg

This roughly translates to “I’m having fun and I miss you.” When I read it, I said, “Aawwwwww.  Did you miss me?” Eamon’s response:  “No I didn’t miss you at all.  The teachers made me write that.”

Ouch.

Then I read Owen’s postcard.  It read (in English):

Dear Mom + Dad,

It is so fun.  Can you make an extension for me to stay?  I do not miss you at all!!!! Today, “Wednesday” we went sailing I was the driver of the boat.  I got a room of two with Diego Eamon had to sleep with the cps.  We got a great view of the sea and the lake!!!! We have got to come back here.  It is a cool beach town with lots of little shops and Big WAVES.

Love Owen XOXOOXXXOOO

20120601-232732.jpg

When I asked him about his postcard, he said, “I really didn’t miss you at all.  See that ‘do not’ on the postcard that I underlined in red?  I really meant it.”

Truth be told, when I was sitting at a cafe in Paris, O &E weren’t the first things on my mind either.  Sometimes a little separation is a good thing.

This was the view from the apartment we rented in Paris:

20120602-000431.jpg

france has changed me

20120416-121204.jpg

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.

20120430-231534.jpg

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.  

20120416-122253.jpg

rebranding ourselves

When you’re living abroad and the distance between you and your place of citizenship is separated by an ocean, its easy to feel like a perpetual tourist. I don’t know about you, but having grown up in a heavily trafficked tourist area, I don’t always have the highest opinion of tourists.  Now I am one.  Nearly every single day.

The funny thing about tourists on Cape Cod, especially the ones from Canada, is that they could be easily identified by their tiny speedo bathing suits.  Now that we are living in a land of tiny speedo bathing suits, we are the outcasts.  It kind of hurts.

If there is one invention that reduces my perpetual tourist anxiety it’s the iPhone. Don’t know where you’re going? Keep that giant map in your pocket and pull out your iPhone.  Don’t know where to eat?  iPhone will tell you what’s near you.  And don’t get me going on my new love of instagram……  The iPhone helps me feel better about myself every day.  I’ve even started to call it “My Pocket Shrink.”  I’m sure Steve Jobs would be proud that his technology has had such an impact.

And although we rarely know where we’re going, we’ve decided to call ourselves adventurers rather than tourists.  It has less of a sting to it.

20110824-062213.jpg

warning

Living in a rental property seems strange.  Tim & I have owned a home for the last 10+ years and for all those years we spent most of our off work time on a house/property related project.  We’d fit in fun around that, but most weekends you could find at least one of us with a paintbrush, shovel or hammer in hand at any given moment.  Now, in France, in a house we don’t own, we have no obligation to do anything related to the house except to change the lightbulbs (which can be a challenge of its own, since French lightbulbs are strangely hard to change).

When we moved in, the landlord said that he was going to have a handyman come by to do some jobs to make things a little bit better at our new house.  A handyman that’s not named Tim and/or Steph?  Bring it.

There was a spot in the bathroom in the shower/tub area that needed immediate attention, so about a month after we moved in, the handyman showed up to deal with the moldy part near the shower head.  Prior to this handyman’s work, we had a moldy but passable French ‘shower’ with the hand-held nozzle stuck on to the wall with this bar-like contraption that it snapped on to.  At that point, you could (somewhat) comfortably stand in the shower and linger a bit, your only worry being how to minimize the amount of water going on to the floor, since we don’t have a proper shower curtain, only a French half-glass wall.  After the handyman’s work, we had a mold-less tiled shower wall with no mounting bar, just the traditional French hand-held shower.

Owen, who just recently recognized the difference between clean vs. dirty (except in the case of his underwear), was immediately perturbed. Since he had only recently found the joy of standing in a hot shower, he was now at a crossroads – how to relax in the shower while holding the nozzle over your head and worrying about how much water you’re spraying on the floor……… Obviously, not so relaxing.

If we had been at our house in VT and faced with a similar problem, Tim (or I) would have channeled our inner Bob Vila and drilled through the nicely/newly tiled wall to mount the bar to hang the shower nozzle. But…..this is not our house.  That, and we didn’t bring a drill.

So, now we are left with a very traditional hand-held shower and a half-glass wall. Very French.

Occasionally, Owie will start to complain about this situation and it always turns into one of my “Despicable Me’s Mother” moments.  I usually end of saying something like, “I feel so bad that you are being forced to take a shower in a sub-standard bathroom in France!  Where is the justice in the world!?!?”

All of this hubbub with the shower has really diminished the number of showers being taken in our house.  However, instead of focusing on how stinky everyone is, I have chosen to focus on the great benefit to the planet, since we are saving so much water.  I am also trying to ignore the fact that Eamon’s hair is about 4 shades darker than usual, since his showering went from infrequent to impossible.  And for those of you planning a visit to France, you have been warned.

20110804-105904.jpg