30 August 2006
Un pot d’amitié
Last night was wonderful. Now that you’ve taken a second to get your minds out of the gutter, I’ll explain. Last night I had friends over for dinner—MY friends. MY French friends. This is a first.

See, I’ve had friends over for dinner before. Vi and Crispy have been kind enough, in the past, to actually do the transatlantic thing (well, Vi kinda stuck around) and we’ve had wonderful food and great conversation. Vi has even graced us with her presence on a few occasions since making the leap of faith. There endeth the list of MY friends who have been over. Every birthday I’ve celebrated in France, every Thanksgiving, every other get-together, our table has be encircled by Marc’s friends. Granted, many of them I count as friends now, but, well, they’re not Mine mine, you know?

Back in the day, when I taught English to a bunch of unmotivated adults who would rather have been anywhere else, I had one of my students ask me to do a translation for the tourist office in Joinville. I did it, for free, and can honestly say it’s one of the brighter moves I’ve made since moving here. It led to other translation jobs, some of which were paid VERY well. I was eventually asked to join the board at the Office de Tourisme and was immediately voted in as secretary. It’s been my life-line at times.

I am guaranteed one night out a month without screaming monkeys or moody husbands to grate on my nerves. I get to meet all kinds of interesting people, and I have learned so much about where I live now that I feel, at times, like a walking history book, albeit one with a heck of a lot of pages torn out. I get to argue politics, help solve problems and offer an insight to the projects we have in our little town that only an étrangère could. Most importantly, I am appreciated. It’s a lovely feeling.

The person I credit with this opportunity is the husband of the old student, a wonderful guy (who happens to be very nice to look at as well) by the name of Yves. He’s the one who pushed to have me brought on board, and ever since, he’s been like a mentor to me—explaining all the little ins and outs of Joinville, the politics that play in our little group, and, now that I seem to have my feet planted, he’s the one who really works to get me involved in as many projects as I can possibly juggle without loosing that tiny fragile piece of gray matter I call a brain.

Last night, I invited Yves and his family over for dinner. His wife, my former student, is one of those ‘you can’t help but love her’ people, so unlike the stereotypical French women I’m used to. She’s open, she’s warm, she’s friendly. She’s also tiny and fairly pretty, which is reason enough to hate her, but somehow I can’t. I mean, this is the woman who insists I leave my kids at her house when I have shopping to do so I can do so in peace—and also have place in the shopping cart to put something other than one bottle of water and a pack of tampons. She rocks. Now if I could just get her to pay for those groceries…

I digress.

They brought along their daughter, who I have been kind of tutoring in English. This girl is the best student in Joinville—a bit of news I picked up from the group of teachers Marc sings with, so I guess it has to be true, and I've hardly been any help to her at all, other than trying to improve her accent. She’s driven, she’s smart, and she calls Diderot and Hugo and Zola 'light reading'. She also speaks English as well as her mom, or almost, so our Welshman was well provided for.

Everyone showed up fashionably late—Yves had a rough day at the office—and after the tour of the nightmare house where the words “my poor Doris” were uttered more times than I care to think about, we tucked in for an evening of food, wine, and chat. Lots of chat. And lots of wine, too—at least for our Welshman (had a bit of a hangover this morning, poor guy).

I made a fairly good, quasi-American meal of steak, twice-baked potatoes, and asparagus bundles wrapped in bacon (like you do with the green beans Squish—yummy indeed) with an apple crumble for dessert. They didn’t leave much, so I guess it was OK. Marc made us a really good pot of coffee (he does a better job of that than I do, even though we do everything exactly the same…I think) and we talked until after midnight.

We TALKED. My God, it’s been so good to get a big fat dose of Adult Conversation. It’s like a drug. I’ve been on a high all day from it. We talked and talked and talked about everything and nothing. We compared points of view, joked about stereotypes and even at one point, burst into song (well, Mr. Welshy did at least, but he was working on the dregs of the armagnac at that point, so I guess that explains things).

This morning I woke up feeling more at home than ever. Maybe I’m sprouting roots after all.
posted by Doc at 19:25 | Permalink | 0 comments
29 August 2006
The price of real estate
Yesterday was a dull rainy day. The skies were lead gray, all day. The rain never stopped, although it teased us every now and then by slowing. We usually got drenched right afterwards--a calm before the storn kind of thing.

Mr. W and I set out for La Ferme de Navarin, a monument from the battle for Champagne and ossuary holding the remains of 10,000 men--most of whom were never identified. Behind the monument is a large patch of land that has not been touched in the almost ninety years since the war ended. It is home to a bunch of rabbits now, some of whom came out long enough to see who was walking among them.

After that, we continued up the road a short way to the American monument at Blanc Mont, where we were unsuccessful in our attempts to dodge the rain drops. After visiting the monument, and taking a much-needed smoky-treat break, I plotted our course for Verdun, trying to find the roads that would take us past the monuments and battlefields we were out to see.

I'm not exactly sure where we passed from one front to another. The trip took about an hour, and in that time we passed at least one monument every five minutes, I don't know how many battlefields, and five villages that were razed completely during The Great War. Villages--Razed. There were signs "you are entering what was X village", otherwise, nothing. Everything was gone.

We arrived at Verdun just before lunch and got the maps and directions we needed. Verdun itself is actually a nice town. I was surprised. I'm not sure what I was expecting...maybe something a lot more modern? We found a nice restaurant where both the owner/barman and the waiter were very gay, but in that distinguished older gentleman kind of way. When we arrived the place was fairly empty. It quickly filled up and as it did, the two gentlemen's good mood went south. We had pretty good service, due I think, to my telling the barman we weren't in a hurry. Funnily he managed to take care of us before the others complaining about not having time. Maybe I should try that more often?

After filling our tummies with mussels and salmon and shrimp and steak and cheese and lemon mousse, we struck off in the rain for the car, and the object of our quest--the battlefields of Verdun.

Mr. W's father's middle name is Verdun, apparently given to him by his father in remembrance for this field. He was more than a little curious, as was I, to find out whet happened there. Up, up, up the hill we went, passing signs for this fort, that fort, numerous cemeteries, more monuments to specific units, armored holes in the ground--preserved with a quiet dignity that seemed to underscore the reason for their existence. We stopped at the Monument of Verdun--a museum where the battle was explained in detail—gory detail at times. ("Arrived tree days ago with three companies of men...34 are left alive, and those are half crazy...Please advise...)

We then climbed back into the car and continued up the hill to another cemetary and the largest ossuary I have ever seen in my life. The graves that make up the lawn of this monument are beautifully kept and each has a single red rose bush planted at the foot of its cross. The rain kept falling, and I'm sure the views on a clear day are spectacular.
The ground, ninety years later, still has a surreal look to it. Nature has taken over, and the forest that was decimated during the war has come back. Nothing though can take away the scars from this battle. It's something I can't quite capture with the camera, this look of vegetation covered pain.

300,000 men died in the Battle for Verdun. Three. Hundred. Thousand. I look at my family and feel I owe them a debt I'll never be able to pay.
posted by Doc at 09:52 | Permalink | 1 comments
28 August 2006
On the road again
Today I am leaving my kids and husband and running away wth Mr. Welshman. No, that that kind of running away. We're taking the day off and going sight-seeing, probably in the rain, along the road to Verdun. This is something I got a glimpse of when Squishy visited lo those several months ago and I really want to go back. He're hoping it won't rain on us, and that if I need to pee, the restrooms will be open. Pictures and gory details another day...
posted by Doc at 06:54 | Permalink | 0 comments
27 August 2006
Sunday is boring
So forgive my slight understatement, but damn. There’s absolutely nothing going on here today. Marc’s taken the day off—due in no small part to the lack of normal weather. (When is the damn rain and shit going to stop. You’d think we live in Brittany the way things are here.) The Welshman is sitting in a chair flipping through the four hundred satellite channels and finding absolutely nothing to watch. He’s got the benefit of speaking four languages and still, nothing at all interesting can be found (except four the five minutes we had of Oggy et les Cafards which we happened to stumble across). The Monkeys are both sleeping peacefully for a change—probably because their father is here and they are genetically programmed to make me look like a total ass for complaining about how terrible they can sometimes be—rotten monkeys the pair of ‘em. And me? Hell, I have managed to do A LOT of things, including laundry, cleaning not only the toilet but the shower as well and washing the Mad Mobile Midget’s walker seat thing that is IMPOSSIBLE to remove without a doctorate in fucking engineering.

Speaking of which, why is it that kids’ things need to be so complicated? No one is capable of strapping either of our kids into their car seats, or of folding one of their strollers. And the travel beds? Forget it. Folks want to help us when they can and then find out the help they thought they wanted to provide is just beyond them. Things are too complicated.

Tangent finished. We were talking about me and boredom. I’m bored. I’ve played around with blooger (notice I managed to add Haloscan without too much problem—here’s hoping it works…) to the point of giving myself a headache. This is becoming more of a damn addiction than I though possible—I’ve even gone without cigarettes because of this blasted thing. I even vacuumed today, which is probably more of a statement of just how bored I am than anything else. I VACUUMED. This is serious boredom.

Not only am I bored, but I am now too uninspired to find anything to combat the boredom. Technically I could go do something interesting like making a fabulous meal for tonight, but we’ve got enough left-overs to finish. I could, again technically, re-glue the bit of wallpaper Muppet was kind enough to rip up, but I rather like the way it curls around on itself. No, I’m just going to stay bored. It’s a good feeling. I’ve missed it.
posted by Doc at 18:09 | Permalink | 0 comments
commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.
posted by Doc at 16:37 | Permalink | 0 comments
26 August 2006
Let’s play the Family Feud!
Well, the war has officially started, and no, I’m not the cause. Hell, I’m not even involved.

Marc’s uncle and his father are doing battle over the house across the street. Or rather, Marc’s uncle is being a schmuck—a big fat baby schmuck. They both belong to an association that makes Champagne, but they can’t quite call it Champagne given the legal aspects of the appellation contrôlée. This might change soon, and our guys are fairly well placed to earn the right to call their sparkling wine Champagne—the historical precedent exists (grapes from Gudmont were used by Champagne houses in Epernay and Reims in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), the wine they make follows the strict controls imposed on Champagne makers, and the quality of the wine they make is fairly high. All the proper papers have been filled in in triplicate and turned over to the proper committees and now they’re just waiting for a response. No one’s expecting news any time soon. This is France after all, the land where red tape is an art form.

In the meantime, Marc’s uncle wants to convert the garage/workshop/Champagne cellar/stable for the sheep in winter into something that looks more like a wine-maker’s workshop than it currently does. Their little group has met and decided this is a good idea, but no plans were made. Marc’s uncle, not the most patient of people, has taken it upon himself to start, NOW.

Yesterday he started his project by cleaning out the part of the garage where the sheep are usually kept. As the place used to be a stable for the cows back when Marc’s parents first got married, there’s a trench cut into the floor for just this purpose. You push everything into the trench and then out the hole in the wall in the back. This is just what he did. Easy, right?

Except that right under that hole in the wall is my in-laws’ compost heap. You chuck your stuff on the pile on the right, it gets composted. The resulting soil is piled up on the left. It’s in this pile my MIL starts her rose clippings and raises the flowers for her garden. It’s also this pile that sits right under the hole in the wall.

So Daniel chucked out all the stuff from the sheep pen, without separating the hay from the straw from the manure. All of it got pushed through the hole, and he then turned his attention to other things. Hey, that’s how he is.

So my FIL, ever the patient, non-confrontational person that he is, told him to go clean up the crap he tossed on to my MIL’s flowers. Apparently a heated discussion ensued, and my FIL forbade Daniel from touching anything in that part of the building.

Well, the building belongs to my FIL—he lets Daniel and the rest of the wine boys (he’s one too) use it to make and store the Champagne. Daniel, for his part, lets his brother and Marc use his hangar to keep the tractors in and the workshop attached to it.

So this morning, Daniel shows up at our house. Marc was gone, so I got to deal with him alone. Lovely. So, as he is forbidden from entering the building across the street—which is his interpretation of “don’t touch my sheep shit”, Marc’s dad is now forbidden from entering the hangar or the workshop. We’re supposed to keep the place locked up at all times so my FIL can’t get in. Whatever.

I have no idea where this is going, but it is actually funny to see Marc’s uncle cross the street when he walks in front of the house. He refuses to talk to Marc’s dad, or anyone else for that matter, unless he absolutely has to (I have the distinct honor of being considered a neutral party for the moment). He’s not causing us any problems with the farm for now, although I expect if things don’t get straightened out soon that may be a possibility.

Kids, eh?
posted by Doc at 16:36 | Permalink | 1 comments
24 August 2006
This is why he'll never be gentle...
Here's a sweet kiss for his sister--she's less than thrilled.
Do you see the look of PURE JOY on her face? He's strangling her and she's happy...
Do you see the futility of it all?
posted by Doc at 11:03 | Permalink | 4 comments
23 August 2006
Nothing from nothing leaves nothing
Nothing is a word that has a very special meaning in our house. Nothing is what Marc wants to do all day. Nothing is, apparently, all I do.

Nothing consists of getting the two monkeys out of bed. Carrying two wriggling, hungry, screeching animals down a flight of stairs without dropping either of them or falling is a whole lot of nothing that requires a lot of balance—something I lack. Nothing then means warming and mixing two bottles—one with formula and one with chocolate milk. Nothing sometimes has to stretch it’s prowess to include not mixing the two up (not always easy because nothing also sometimes means getting up several times during the night to soothe one or the other or even both monkeys back to sleep after a nightmare). After the bellies are full, nothing is changing diapers, dressing bodies that would rather be naked and, in the case of the older monkey, convincing him to sit on the potty long enough for a positive result—anywhere from five seconds to half a hour depending on needs and distractions. Nothing then becomes finding something to amuse the monkeys. Nothing can be as simple as putting the younger monkey in the walker and giving the older monkey a book or as complicated as nuclear physics. Sometimes nothing means beating my head against the wall because sometimes none of these things works.

Nothing is also trying to get the laundry from the washer to the dryer and from the bathroom floor to the washer, Nothing is cooking food that is good and nutritious (because while I could live on processed food alone, it’s not something I want Muppet getting used to). Nothing is cooking lunch and feeding a seven month old and keeping a toddler from burning the house down all at once. Nothing is trying to correctly align the time the noon meal starts with that microsecond where the older monkey decides it’s okay to sit and eat and with that precious moment his father comes home for the same reason.

Nothing sometimes means clearing the table and doing the dishes, though not always. Sometimes nothing gets a hand in this department.

After lunch, nothing means changing more diapers, sometimes changing clothes again—eating can be messy business, and getting not-very-tired monkeys ready for a much needed (by me at least) nap. Once that’s done, nothing is going back upstairs every ten minutes to put the older monkey back in his crib because he didn’t earn the nickname of Houdini without reason. Nothing means having his cries, tears, and even his screams grate my nerves raw. Nothing is keeping my cool and not super-gluing his mouth shut and his butt to the bed.

Nothing is feeding the younger monkey again and again and again, because she’s never full(y satisfied). Nothing is changing her again and again and again because what goes in must come out. Nothing is trying to get her to sleep at nap time and not meal time so she’ll sleep through the night and not wake up hungry because her feeding schedule is all out of whack.

Nothing is finding time to go pee alone, extracting the older monkey from his perch on the window sill, prying the keys he’s collected from their hiding place and used to drill holes in the wall, and sweeping up the dust from that fun activity. Nothing is finding a safe hiding place for the keys because nowhere is unreachable now.

Nothing is not falling over the walker, the potty, the boots, shoes, blocks, trucks and various other clutter one accumulates as a parent and that has no real home because there’s NO MORE ROOM. Nothing is trying to shove these things in a hole made by other things so the clutter only shifts from floor to wall to box to floor to wall to box to….you get the picture?

Nothing is running after a monkey who is not only capable of opening the door and escaping, but also of finding the key to and unlocking said door. Nothing is trying to keep enough clothes on him so he’s not taken in for indecent exposure when he succeeds. Nothing is changing those clothes when the potty was too far away from his current interest to make the effort to be a Big Boy.

Nothing is asking sixty times every hour “do you have to go potty?”, being patient enough to go from the plastic potty to the big toilet and back seven times in three minutes so potty training can be a fruitful exercise and not one of complete blockage, rinsing the plastic potty when things go OK, and scrubbing it when things go better. Nothing sometimes means not puking when things go really well.

Nothing is holding your tongue because the older monkey is learning how to talk at an enormous rate and little ears have big mouths. Nothing is actually filling in the gaps in his vocabulary with real words, deciphering what ever “qozngozoehgnbbndf eh” means because his inability to say what he wants is frustrating to him and a leading cause of his temper tantrums. Nothing is dealing with those tantrums in a way that neither glorifies them or prolongs them or allows them to turn into a moment of self-abuse—hearing a toddler’s head bang on the floor in anger hurts me about as much as it hurts the toddler.

Nothing is taking care of all the bo-bos, boo-boos and ouchies, the fevers, stomach aches and teething problems. It’s knowing who gets what drug and when and how. Nothing is never forgetting a dose.

Nothing is a never-ending stream of conversations about tractors, motorcycles, peepee, caca, don’t touch that, no really, please do not touch that again, do you want a spanking, please go play in traffic, don’t do that to your sister, did you go caca, do I need to change your diaper, close that door, no you can’t have the key, wow what a big caca, bravo! and other gibberish that means absolutely nothing to anyone who has neither a toddler nor an infant around them all the damn time.

Nothing is fixing dinner with a screaming baby attached to one hip because she has decided that that is the very moment she needs to be held and cuddled and with a whining toddler attached to the other thigh because he has decided that that is the very moment he needs to try to knock you off balance so you can fall to the floor and play horse.

Nothing is teaching the same lessons over and over and over again, especially that one about doing things gently. It’s soothing the hurts he’s caused his sister when he wasn’t gentle enough.

Nothing is tickle fighting, playing ball, hugging and kissing, giggling and laughing, hopping and jumping, hiding and seeking, peeking and booing. It is loving the two wildest monkeys on the planet. It is having their unconditional love in return.

Today, I did nothing. What did you do?
posted by Doc at 14:21 | Permalink | 3 comments
22 August 2006
I guess I owe you a beer, Sam
KEEE Riste it can get frustrating changing things around. MSN was like kindergarten compared to this place. Of course, it was also a lot more limiting as well, and Blooger just feels so much more spacious by comparison. I’m still lost most of the time, but hopefully I figure things out quickly—providing the monkeys and the Mr. Man Thing and the Welshman all allow me to do so, especially the one mentioned in the middle. We’re currently at war again—but that’s a story for another day.

It’s been really nice having feed-back from old friends and new friends and folks I never knew I had the honor of writing for. My old home had a stat counter built in and I often wondered who was running it up. Now I know—sort of. Speaking of stat counters, can anyone clue me in? I’m so lost… (update: nevermind, i figured it out)

Mr. Welshy is currently painting his days away at the evil sister-in-law’s house. He feels bad about this for some reason. We’re feeding him and housing him so he can paint our place and he’s stuck over there being useful of all things. The sad part is that our house remains untouched for now. We can’t do anything until after the expert passes on the 7th of September and gives us his official opinion of things or else we run the risk of being stuck with things the way they are. NEVER build a house in France. Mr. W has offered to come back after he over-winters at his home in Spain to help if we’re ready. He mentioned March or April and then smugly asked if things’ll be ready by then. I didn’t know how to answer that, smugly or otherwise—no one knows. Please hand me the Prozac.

Muppet is a talking storm these days. He’s picking up words like crazy. His current favorite topics of discussion are motorcycles and farm equipment. He can tell you anything you want to know about les motos including all the gear you need to go along with them. And the farm equipment! Sunday you’d have thought the boy had died and gone to heaven! With close to 500 tractors at his disposal, plus all the other equipment on hand, he was in ecstasy. The best part of all that was the tractors were every color of the rainbow so we were able to exercise the part of the brain where he stores that information. Counting is out for the moment, though. But hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? He’s also becoming a social animal. He had such a good time playing with all the kids there and took every opportunity we gave him to initiate contact. He loves people. And he’s got this thing for girls. Look out world!

Piglet just won’t stop growing. She’s a bright one, too. And easy. I don’t know what happened to the screaming demon and I honestly don’t care, so long as it continues to stay away. She’s terrorizing the house now in her walker. When her brother is riding around on his tricycle, she’s sure to be about a yard behind him running into everything in her path. I can already see what nightmares I have to look forward to when she’s self-mobile. Please hand me some more Prozac. She’s walking now if we hold her hands and yesterday, finally, after much struggle and frustration, SAT UP ON HER OWN. What happened to my baby?

Does anyone out there know when these damn flies are going to go away? They are driving me absolfuckalutely nuts. We’ve already destroyed one fly swatter and are currently hacking away at two more. We kill about fifty a day and it never seems to make a dent in their numbers. What a stupid idea it is to live in the country with all the pretty cows and sheep so close to home.

I need to go self-medicate…heavily.
posted by Doc at 15:07 | Permalink | 10 comments
21 August 2006
Wow, here I am, over here on Blogger now. Why the big move? It’s been in the works for a while. I wanted to move blogs the same time I moved house, figured a big clear out would do me a lot of good, right? But the house thing just keeps getting put off and put off. Besides that, someone keeps sending me hate mail because Firefox hates MSN, and vice-versa. So, here I am.

Shit’s looking rather plain at the moment, and will continue to do so until I figure out how to use this thing like I should and can find a decent template that makes me happy. I’ll get there. I’m just lazy.

So, here’s where I was yesterday. The farm boys did it! They broke (smashed) the old French simultaneous plowing record. Woohoo. I wish I were a bit more enthusiastic about it. I actually was yesterday, and even this morning, but someone decided it would be a good idea to get on my nerves and things have gone progressively south since then. (I will just say that seeing 464 tractors plus two teams of horses all ready to plow a field is really more impressive than you’d first think—sadly one of those tractors didn’t start and didn’t count towards the record, but hey, c’est la vie.)
posted by Doc at 17:32 | Permalink | 11 comments