Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The reluctant earlybird is up again

It's 4 am, and as usual, I can't get back to sleep. It happened Sunday night, too, and I thought I'd just sweat it and lay in bed until I fell asleep again. I was so tired, but I couldn't relax enough mentally to fall back asleep. That was a night of agony. I've got some energy right now, so why not write? I'd rather do this than suffer in my bed.

My lucky rock has guided me to a new friend. She's a fellow dogwalker in the neighborhood, and though she's walked her dog with John and Leo, I've never actually talked to her before. I ran into her yesterday while walking Leo and we had a very nice chat. I invited her to a ladies' luncheon I'm organizing and to another event, and she was thrilled. She's Serbian, was raised in Moscow, and lived in the center of France in a small town until moving to Paris three years ago. As many expats know, it's hard to make friends in Paris, so I'm glad I'm able to hook her up.

Having a dog can help you meet people, but the French dog people are not the same as American dog people. American dog people are often very friendly and laid-back. French dog people could be friendly, but usually they're so uptight because they're worried that your dog is going to eat theirs, especially if your dog is big like mine and off-leash, which sometimes Leo is (he's a rare dog that can actually handle this freedom and not do something stupid like run into the street -- okay, he did it once, but only once in Paris).

Having a kid opens a lot of doors to friend-making, especially if your kid is old enough to go to school.

I'm having a brain-freeze now because I'm so tired, so I think I'll try to go back to bed. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

First snowball fight in Paris

We took the long way to the pet store yesterday. For some reason, instead of taking line 3 near our house, we took a longer uphill walk towards the Arc de Triomphe to line 1. At the beginning, Maylin was disappointed to find that the snow had stopped falling. "Where's the snow?" Then, gradually, there were tiny slowflakes...quickly followed by bigger clumps. Maylin was so excited! She refused to wear her gloves so she could catch the snowflakes. How could I deny her this pleasure? She would catch a snowflake, laugh, and say, "it tickles!" We were lucky that I made my navigational error because it allowed us to discover a vacant space that was covered with a beautiful one-inch layer of clean snow, facing the Arc. Maylin admired her footprints and handprints after we ran around in the snow, hand in hand. Our playing progressed to snow throwing, then actual snowball-making. We took turns chasing each other, hurling our precious snowballs at each other. Maylin's never played with snow before -- what a wonderful memory this will be for her. I hope she'll remember.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Snow in November? In Paris??

Snow is rare in Paris. Last February, we saw snow here. I didn't realize it was so unusual until I saw people's camera flashes going off from their apartment windows on Boulevard Pereire. Today, for about twenty minutes around 10 am, we had innumerable beautiful, big clumps of snow floating down so gracefully -- I felt giddy like a school girl! It was like getting Christmas early this year! Maylin caught onto my excitement and she jumped onto me to give me a happy hug. Omigosh! Maylin just yelled out, "BIG!" I looked out the window to see the snow return with renewed ferver. Wow. It sends me back to my Minnesota roots.

Okay, I promised Maylin I'd take her to the pet store at Bercy Village to check out the rabbits. Gotta go! Have a great day!

Friday, November 25, 2005

On a painting rampage

Maylin took a rare nap yesterday afternoon and I finally had some time to express myself on canvas. I used to think that it was too expensive a hobby, but I bought all my acrylic paints on sale in the States, and discovered cheap canvases in the discount boutiques here (only five euros for 15.5 inches x 19.5 inches -- quite a bit bigger than the monitor you're staring at now).

With all my supplies on hand, no training -- only my inspiration from the painters I just met, I went crazy-expressionistic! Anyone can paint something abstract, right? No rules, right? That liberty is delicious. I just squeezed out an incredible amount of paint and went wild! One painting I deliberately started out with a pattern, but it was all symbolic. In the end, I blurred it all out with white paint while most of the other colors were still wet. What a cool mix of color! It was quite a rush. If I'm brave enough sometime, I will post photos of these creations. I'm even too scared to really show them to John, who went to art school. What am I scared of? John's a very practical guy -- he's a designer. Design is beauty and function. What I was doing had no function, and probably to many people, no beauty. I know he won't criticize, and he's always very supportive in everything I do, but I don't want him to think I'm wasting my time. You know, he's probably totally okay with this. I'll just have to show him, and see what he really feels.

Office supply observations

Here's another thing you have to get used to when you move over here. Office supplies. In America, you assume that the whole world is going by the American standards when it comes to...everything. Alas, the rest of the world is of an independent mind. And in France, we have 8.5 x 14, not 8.5 x 11, paper, we have two-ring binders (not three-ring), and we don't have manila envelopes -- they're packing paper-brown. What does "manila" mean anyways?

So imagine the implications. This disparity can cause a filing fiasco in your home office. If you had letter-size boxes for filing before, toss'em. You have to get legal-size now. You'll need a new system for your bills if you were putting them into three-ring binders. Three-ring binders don't exist here! Go buy some new binders and a new hole-punch. As for those large envelopes, I personally like the brown ones. Most of them are lighter, slightly glossy, and come with a subtle music-manuscript design (fine parallel lines grouped in fives).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

O sleep, why dost thou leave me?

That's the title of a Handel aria. It's after five in the morning, and I've been up for almost two hours. If I get woken up for any reason after 2 am, I cannot get back to sleep without much difficulty. My body's tired, but my brain wakes up immediately -- it starts planning out my immediate future like errands to do the next day, weekend plans, etc. Many months ago, a friend suggested that I write everything down in a notebook with the lights off. But even with the lights off, my brain is fully turned on. I'll probably be able to sleep again in about forty minutes, but not now. If anyone has any ideas for this chronic problem of mine, let me know. It's actually kind of nice to have this peace and quiet to write, but I really do need my sleep. I'm someone who needs eight hours of sleep a night. I can still function with less, but that was quite impossible in the past. If you want to be able to do more on less sleep, let me suggest motherhood to you.

[Note: After I posted this, I spent half-an-hour making a beautiful glass-bead necklace. Yes, this is what you can do at six in the morning!]

New regime

I know I don't have a weight problem, but it's always good to stay fit and eat healthier, right? Well, since John and I had gained some weight in September going into October, we decided to eat lighter and become more active. After coming back from Taiwan, I grilled fish and steamed vegetables and brown rice for about two weeks. I lost four pounds and the pudginess around my middle! Now, we can eat a little heavier once in awhile, like have sausage sandwiches for lunch or pan-fried duck breasts (with the skin on) for dinner (magrets de canard), but our staple is usually salmon and veggies. I've eliminated most white carbohydrates, and I'm definitely feeling a difference in energy level because of it. Also, if I feel hungry, I eat fruit -- usually a banana. I try not to skip breakfast either so I don't end up stuffing myself at lunch. At the moment, I'm at my lowest weight in 3-4 years. It might not be obvious to most people, but now I know I'm not cramming myself into my jeans on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, I never got into the habit of jogging, but I'm walking faster now when I'm rambling about the neighborhood and city. I try to avoid elevators and escalators, and when I take the stairs, I sometimes take them two at a time. My dentist's receptionist was shocked when I hiked up six flights of stairs to my appointment --I beat the elevator, too.

Mommy, hug me

Maylin has been especially loving these past two weeks. Lots of hugs throughout the day. Feel the love! I'm enjoying my time with her so much. I've decided to keep her home for Tuesday and Thursday afternoons because it's too much trouble to bring her back to school for just two hours, it's not required, and I want to spend more time with my little girl. Lots of non-working French moms do it, too. Wednesdays she doesn't have school, so we have the whole day together. Some Saturday mornings, she has school, but it's not required so I haven't been taking her then either. I'd rather sleep in a little bit and make pancakes or French toast together. When I was three, I don't think I even went to preschool. Poor thing, I don't think she likes it all that much -- she always says she wants to be at home with Mommy, but I think it'll get better when she makes more friends. I think she's even adjusting better to the school cafeteria when she goes on Mondays and Fridays. She doesn't come home starving like she used to. To appease her tummy right away, I greet her everyday when I pick her up with a banana -- to the envy of many other kids. I never thought a banana could garner so much attention on a walk home from school.

Super-easy, super-moist cake recipe

Even if you've never baked before, this is a really easy, really delicious dessert to whip up for unexpected guests. I've translated the recipe from the link on the right and changed it a little bit (because I didn't have some of the required

Gateau moeulleux

10 tablespoons sugar
10 tablespoons flour
10 tablespoons milk
3 eggs
2/3 cup melted butter
1-2 teaspoons baking powder (tell me what's the best amount -- I'm using the pre-measured French envelope of baking powder)
1/2-3/4 cup of orange juice (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Butter and flour a cakepan (I prefer a springform pan) or line a cakepan with parchment paper. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs (use an electric mixer for all your mixing). Add sugar, mix quickly just until homogeneous. Add flour and baking powder. Boil the milk in a small saucepan, then add to mixture while mixing. Add melted butter, mix quickly just until homogeneous. Pour into prepared cakepan. Bake for 20-30 minutes (ovens vary). It will be done when an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Take out cake, and gently pour orange juice over entire surface of cake. Let cool a little bit and serve! Tastes good fridge-cold, too.


Omit orange juice and try one of the following:

1) One tablespoon of rum added to mixture before baking.
2) Add two diced and peeled pears and/or two dice and peeled apples to the mixture before baking.
3) Do (2) and add pear or apple liquor.
4) Be creative!

Lucky rock

One of my school mom-friends invited me to a jewelry showing in someone's grand, classical Parisian apartment. This was the jewelry designer's first show. She's also a mom from the same school -- with two kids attending. So, she only works at night -- often 4-5 hours in one stretch. Hearing her talk about her work was very inspiring. She was very excited and passionate -- especially about this special stone that she's used in some of her pieces. Turquoise from Israel. It's not the light blue turquoise that you associate with Native American Indian jewelry. This turquoise is a deep green with complicated swirls of black and other tones. It's stunning. The designer did a good job telling stories about dear friends whose dreams came true after wearing her jewelry with these special stones, but alas (maybe because her English isn't that good -- she's from mainland China), she didn't seem to understand when my friend and I were asking if we could buy some of these amazing stones. She seemed to dodge our question twice, and we just assumed that she didn't have anymore. My friend and I went off to browse, and finally came up with a plan to buy the only piece with the turquoise -- a pair of earrings. But neither of us have pierced ears for the same reason. We decided to buy the pair together and each take one earring (and decide how to wear it later).

Upon saying farewell to my friend and promising to get together with the jewelry designer for coffee in a few weeks (I found a kindred spirit in her), I had a feeling of elation and enlightenment. I'm often happy, but this happiness was so pure and gave me so much confidence -- I felt like I was walking on air on the way back home. (John thinks this is what women feel when they buy new jewelry.) I was disappointed to find that the feeling disappeared once I entered my apartment, but I still felt good about making a new friend.

Earlier in the week, I had bought a leather cord for a future, unknown jewelry project -- and here was the perfect project. I turned the earring into a pendant and slipped it onto the cord and made a simple necklace.

I wore it the next day and met some really cool Americans at the Great Canadian, a sports bar near Place St. Michel facing the Seine. John and I were there to watch the Big Game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the University of Michigan Wolverines on a big flatscreen. It was an exciting game -- but it was especially nice to have a Michigan fan and his friend to chat with. John gets so into these games that we don't have too much communication going on between the two of us. We all had some awesome burgers and were transported to North America. Speaking English the entire evening, and bumping into other American college football fans really made us feel like we were in the States again. Once in awhile, I'd be brought back to the reality of my environment when the Europeans cheered for their soccer teams at another screen. Buckeyes scored first, but the Wolverines slowly pulled ahead of us, and with some perfectly executed plays in the last few minutes, we beat Michigan! John bought two rounds of Jack Daniels for our new, slightly sullen, friends.

The following day, I don't think I wore my turquoise, but I still had the magic with me. We were invited to a brunch in the sixteenth arrondissement and met two fascinating painters! They had brought their precocious four and a half year-old son along, too. The delicious, elegant brunch was followed by a long walk with our dogs in the Bois de Boulogne. I enjoyed talking about many different things with our new friends -- people with a real passion who are successfully making a living at it! This evening, we intend to go to one of their openings in a gallery. John and I are very eager to get involved in the Paris art scene. It's so interesting and exciting!

On Monday, I didn't wear my lucky rock, but yet the magic was there. I found the right ballet class for me! A patient, understanding teacher, warm and sympathetic classmates (including two other newcomers), and a balanced workout made for a perfect learning environment. No one spoke a word of French, but this'll be good for me. For a couple days after the class, I've had a really sore butt, but that's a good sign, too.

What's so lucky about all this, you say? Well, I have wanted to meet new people, and then with the stone, they came in droves! Oh, I know it's all psychological. Sometimes, I feel like I'm lacking real confidence, and the rock just gave me a little extra boost. I've been less inhibited -- even conversing with people on the metro now. This should make life more interesting.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Salad mystery

Before 11 am today, I was waiting in the checkout line at one of our local supermarkets, Monoprix, when I noticed that the attractive young man in the black suit at the front of the line had three plastic shopping bags full of bagged salad! It seemed unusual to me, especially because he wasn't purchasing anything else! And he bought only greens! No shredded red cabbage or carrot, no cucumber, no tomato. Could this mean that he's stocking up on all his food needs for the week? He was rather thin. Is he having a salad party? Maybe he has to make a large salad for a potluck, but that's very un-French. Is he feeding a very large pet rabbit? This may always remain a mystery to me.

Someone's frustrated with my French

Once in awhile, I'll need some type of service over the phone which will require me to speak and understand perfect French, which I will not claim that I have yet. This happened recently when I had to buy concert tickets over the phone (the theater's website was not making ticket purchases possible online). I thought, "if I can buy airplane tickets by phone, I can surely by concert tickets." That's not necessarily true.

I thought it'd be a simple matter of explaining which seats I wanted for which price, and I'd be on my way. I was trying to ask for the side seats that were closest to the center, but the service agent didn't think that was possible. She kept repeating something that I didn't understand, and I kept repeating what I wanted. She suggested I come over to the theater in the afternoon to look at the seating chart. I told her I saw the seating chart online already and that it wasn't possible for me to go to the theater the same day. We were both calm and cool, but I think she was losing patience with me. I asked her if there was someone who spoke English (last resort), and she told me, "ne quittez pas" ("hold on"). I waited for a few moments, and then got a busy signal. Is that the equivalent of her cutting me off or did she just transfer me to the English-speaking agent whose line was busy? It certainly was an effective way of getting me off her back, though.

Turns out that the website was back up after the phone incident, and I purchased the tickets with the ultimate ease. Ahhhh...sometimes there is peace in the lack of human interaction.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

First ballet class in Paris

I took the line 1 metro train from the Arc de Triomphe to the Marais yesterday. I love the Marais -- a very charming, old neighborhood with cool boutiques, delicious gelato, and cheap falafel sandwiches. I walked down Rue du Temple for the first time and discovered several shops selling beads at very affordable prices -- probably wholesale since they mostly sell in bulk ("gros" or "demi-gros"). Costumes for belly-dancing and African folk art can also be found at wholesale prices on this street. It was all so interesting and different that I couldn't help smiling to myself.

I walked and walked, and then actually passed my destination and had to backtrack. The Centre de Danse du Marais didn't seem to have a sign in the front. I found the correct street number, walked through a dark corridor, and came upon the cobblestoned courtyard I had heard about. There was a closed cafe directly in front of me. I finally saw I sign for the dance center and entered through the glass doors, bought my "passport" for trying out five different classes, and went up to change my clothes. I found the women's dressing room which wasn't much of a room...and forget about privacy. In order to get to the studios named "Berlioz" and "Offenbach," you have to walk through this area. So a lot of traffic passes through -- men and women. The people dressing and undressing didn't seem to mind, so I followed suit. Get used to it -- you're in Europe.

The toilets were outside the dressing area in the hallway, but I couldn't locate the sinks. Perhaps they were behind a nearby door, but the door didn't seem accessible since the staircase coming down was blocking it! These old buildings are very odd.

I was a little worried about what to wear to class, but I knew that if I wore black, I'd fit in, and I was right. One woman was definitely the odd one out wearing a bright and shiny green leotard under her black shirt.

The people going into my class were older than I expected (mostly middle-aged or older), while the women heading into the other studio for their class were young, thin, and gorgeous. I was thinking what a paradise this would be for lots of men -- svelte young women undressing...you can't get sexier than this.

The class was entitled, "barre au sol contemporaine," which I assumed would be bar work with a modern, rather than classic, touch. We did indeed start at the bar, but since everyone else in the class was a regular, everyone got a space at the wall quickly --leaving me to the bars at the center of the room. I think I should have felt embarrassed, but fortunately I wasn't. I was all by myself, facing the wrong direction (I was on the wrong side of the bar), and struggling to keep pace. Even if the class was in English, I know I'd be struggling. Everyone seemed to know the routine and I was left in the dust. It was okay, though. I gave myself plenty of room for error since I was a new student (and haven't done ballet for about two years).

Soon, the bars were moved to the wall, and everyone got a mat and placed it on the floor. The rest of the hour and a half class was devoted to floor work. (I forgot that "sol" means "ground.") We did a little bit of classical "bar work" on our backs and on our sides (this really worked out my abdomen), but we also did some subtle hip, back, and shoulder movements (felt New-Agey to me), and some Middle Eastern or Indian dance moves sitting up. An interesting mix that didn't seem terribly physically intensive at the time, but this morning, I woke up with very sore abdominals and hips.

The teacher was very kind to me and helped me when I didn't have a proper position, was too tense, or was completely lost. This is supposed to be a well-known dance school, so I'm sure they get a lot of foreigners like me who need a little extra attention.

After class, I treated myself to a take-out falafel sandwich from Chez Marianne on Rue des Rosiers and ate while window-shopping.

Next week, I'll try another class which I hope will be more of a heart-pumping workout.

Little French girl

I want to tell you what Maylin's said in the last two days in French:
Salut ("hello")
C'est moi (incorrect, but common, grammar for "it's mine")
C'est magnifique ("it's magnificent!")
C'est fini ("it's done" -- like when she's finished a meal)
Pardon ("sorry" -- after she accidentally hurt me)
Attention ("careful")
Les petites ("the little ones" -- referring to her little toys)

I spoke to her in French a little yesterday, and though she responded in English, she understood everything I was saying! I'm so proud of my little girl. And she sounds so cute speaking French!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Return to Chopin

I hardly ever have the time to play piano for fun, but somehow I made time yesterday (it helps to have John keep Maylin out of my hair) to play a few etudes and nocturnes of Chopin. He's been in my subconscious ever since two people mentioned playing him. And I just bought a CD of his etudes played by the new Russian pianist, Nikolai Lugansky, whom I read about recently in the French mag, Telerama.

Frederic Chopin was a former passion of mine. In high school, he was at the top of my list. Passionate and showy -- perfect music for a very shy girl practicing the piano in the main lounge of her all-girls boarding school dorm. Adjacent to the lounge was the school cafeteria, so there was always lots of foot traffic. What better way to get attention than by playing the loud and fast "Revolutionary" Etude, that crazy left-hand workout? Or the forceful, agitated Prelude, Op. 28, No. 22, with its unrelenting forte-fortissimo octaves, always propelling forward?

(Note: Chopin is buried at the Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise in the 20th arrondissement. Haven't visited his tomb yet, but maybe I'll drop by sometime.)

I was also in love with that old piano. I can't remember the make or model, and it wasn't pretty nor in the best condition, but it had a beautiful tone and was very sensitive to my playing. I wish I could have bought the instrument after they turned the dorm into a science building while I was in college, but of course, at that time, I wasn't thinking of buying a grand piano. Back in the old days, I spent lots of time on that piano -- focusing all my teenage hormonal energy into those worn, pure ivory keys. Since it was in such a public place, I actually didn't get a lot of effective practicing done -- I always felt like I was on stage. I was performing for all the passersby, like a background pianist at Nordstrom's.

Since I was a good sightreader, I could play a wide vide variety of music off the sheet music -- accompanying my own and my friends' singing. Our choir music, Broadway musical tunes, hits from the 70s and 80s...it's so much fun to make music with your friends. That becomes a rarer thing once you become a professional musician. This week, I'll get together with a new friend of mine to make music for the first time together. She will be accompanying my violin playing on the piano. I just have to blow the dust off my violin strings and we'll be off playing Bach, my all-time favorite composer.

It's nearly 5 am! I woke up a little after three and couldn't go back to sleep. This is a recurring problem of mine. Readers, can you help?

Police on the Champs-Elysees

The Champs-Elysees is a 10-minute walk from our house. I was not aware until this morning that last night, the police were on guard there near the Arc de Triomphe after alerts on the internet and from text messages about a possible uprising during the Armistice weekend. Thank goodness nothing happened. We were safe at home anyways in our apartment watching John's Ohio State vs. Northwestern live football game on his laptop.

The Ohio State Buckeyes put the Northwestern Wildcats to shame, 48-7. Ouch. Next week is the Big Game -- Ohio State is big rivals with University of Michigan, and there's a possibility we may be able to see the game at a Canadian sports bar in the city. I guess that will have to count as our date for the week because we'll have to get a sitter. We've taken Maylin to sports bars in California to watch games, but in Europe, they really don't like having kids in the bars.

I went to bed early last night and missed the USC-Cal game (U.C. Berkeley is my alma mater) but we probably got blown out of the water since USC is number one right now. I believe it was in 2003 when John, Maylin, and I saw Cal actually beat high-ranking USC in a 3 or 4 overtime game! (That season, USC lost only to us, as I recall.) It was so exciting! We were watching most of the game at home when John thought it would be a good idea to walk to the stadium (10-15 minute walk) and climb up "tightwad hill" to see the rest of the amazing game. "Tightwad hill" is a very steep hill of dirt and Eucalyptus trees right behind Memorial Stadium. I was thinking the whole time, "why are we doing this?" as we climbed and slipped on this very steep and dusty slope with our large dog, Leo, and our baby in John's arms. We also somehow managed to carry up a cooler of beers, too. Among the numerous spectators (none of us had to pay a dime to watch the game from here), we wedged ourselves between a couple tree stumps so we wouldn't go sliding down the hill. Not the most savory place for a baby (beer all over and a faint whiff of pot), but it was an unforgettable time.

Breathing is everything

I've had two very successful voice lessons after the long summer vacation. I thought I would've forgotten everything I had learned prior to the break, but somehow everything seemed to come together! Now that I'm doing my new breathing technique correctly (I've improved my posture which has made the breathing more effective and more relaxed, and I don't let my ribcage collapse at the beginning of a phrase), many other singing problems have been resolved! I can now sing coloratura (lots of fast notes in succession usually sung on one vowel), find it easier to sing phrases that have lots of leaps up and down, and can sing through long phrases that I never thought were possible for me. This is quite an exciting breakthrough for me.

The breathing feels good, too. I used to have expansion in my abdomen mostly when I inhaled, but what I do now makes more sense to me. As I inhale, my ribcage (sides and back) expand and I know my lungs are filling to their capacity because I can really feel it now. My abdomen stays supple during the inhalation, and only engages as I exhale to help prevent my ribcage from collapsing. As I sing through a phrase, I imagine my ribcage expanding through the phrase -- that's been a very effective image for me.

A thing that I corrected on my own was my unconcious modification of my vowel during coloratura passages, which I think was a function of letting air escape unnecessarily. Keeping a constant vowel makes singing these passages much easier and lets me know I'm very likely using about the same amount of air for each note instead of wasting air by using too much on high notes.

I also learned that I was doing some of my articulation (the manner in which you sing each note, e.g. staccato is short and detached, marcato is detached but weighted, legato is smooth and connected) with my breath -- and that's wrong. All articulation is done by the larynx (in your throat), and I do believe I learned this in a vocal pedagogy class but I guess I wasn't practicing what I preached.

Since I'm no longer in any music groups where I just do singing, I've asked my teacher to help me find something to join. Wish for something good!

My apologies to all non-singers who might have found this blog entry rather boring.

She draws, too

I think Maylin is demonstrating some amazing drawing ability. Before she was limited to drawing people (Mr. Potato style -- big head, no real body), but this morning, she drew a truck and a car! She saw me draw a car, and she quickly caught on. Her circles come in handy as the body of the vehicle, then she adds some windows, and numerous wheels (until I told her that cars only had four). Just before her automobile frenzy, she drew me a couple ladybugs (oval figures with facial features and lots of legs all around) standing "on the street." Those were firsts, too.

We've also been painting together. I have my canvas on an easel, and I put her mini-canvas on a music stand. We stand alongside each other and paint whatever we like! She spends more of her painting time mixing her colors on a dinner plate. After, she covers her entire canvas with her new color.

I bought some beads to make some jewelry yesterday, and I let her help me string a bracelet. Her little graceful fingers are quite dextrous. I expected her to be dropping beads everywhere, but she was actually really stable!

What do you think? A little artist/designer in the making?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ever-expanding French vocabulary

Maylin is coming home with new French words everyday! It's mind-boggling! Latest discoveries include: le canard (duck), la pomme (apple), chocolat, pain au chocolat (like a croissant with some melted chocolate in the middle), and "voila" ("there it is").

First teeth cleaning in Paris

John and I have been fearful of seeing dentists in France for a long time. Partly because we're worried about language difficulties, and partly because we've heard some horror stories (they must have been so incredibly horrible because I can't remember the details!). So, for the last year and a half, we have crammed in dental appointments whenever we're in the States. Unfortunately, no one's been able to cure my recurring irritated gums which I've had since moving here. I've got nearly perfect dental health otherwise.

I finally went to a dentist in the eighth arrondissement who was referred to me by a fellow expat. Voila! The dentist is warm and friendly (very different from what I've heard of other dentists here) and speaks English (added bonus). Turns out he graduated from the dental school at USC (University of Southern California) in '68 after being in the Navy. (I didn't have time to ask him why a French guy would be in the U.S. Navy.) He was very happy to talk about his stay in the U.S., how he grew to love baseball (he knew the Dodgers' coach at the time) and how he had his first joint in Berkeley.

The visit was unusual from the very beginning. He was very professional and did not let on that he was warm and friendly until all the work was done. He put these huge sunglasses on me to protect my eyes from his very "agressif" lamp, which was actually a typical lamp in dentist's offices that they shine in your eyes when you recline. Then the teeth cleaning went super-fast! 10-15 minutes maybe? Less? The only part that was painful was the polishing. In the States, they put this blue toothpaste on your teeth and use a special electrical polisher that makes a whirring noise. In this dental office, they used something that felt like a sand blaster. Teeny-tiny particles were shot at my teeth with such force that my tender gums were unhappily bleeding afterwards. Never seen anything like that before. Instead of flossing my teeth, he used this electric gum stimulator -- which can actually only be found in the States. (He said later he could order one for me at the next dental conference with a professional discount.)

Doctors here love to prescribe stuff, and this one was no exception. I got a prescription for a lip balm (he noticed my lips were dry -- but what does this have to do with dental hygiene?), tiny brushes that look like pipe cleaners for cleaning under my permanent wire retainer (found behind my front lower teeth), a special paste for rubbing on my gums, and a medicinal mouthwash. I've never had a prescription from a dentist before in my life! I ended up paying twenty euros for all that stuff, two of which will be covered by Social Security, and the rest by my secondary insurance carrier. Yep, I paid 6 euros for lip balm.

Finally, he taught me yet another method for brushing my teeth. This is the third for me. When I was a kid, it was up and down, and side to side. In high school or college, a circular brushing motion was in vogue. Now, this French dentist tells me to spend 2-3 minutes slowly and gently stroking, from the gums towards the ends of the teeth. I do not have the patience for this new method, so I compromise and do a very slow, very gentle circular motion lasting 1-2 minutes. At least the dentist got across the slow and gentle part to me. He said that his female patients are the most efficient brushers, meaning we finish brushing in about 15 seconds. That sounds familiar.

He told me to call him in a week to let him know if his treatment was working on my gums. And I'm actually looking forward to my next visit in four months (not the recommended six months in the U.S.).

Bribery effective when poop training

Maylin's unfortunately had several accidents lately in her pants. I heard it's a phase that some children her age go through. I'm glad she's not alone. Still, it's a pain to have to keep washing her pants and I'm not going back to pull-ups. John's forced her to keep her pants off until she's done number 2 in the evening, but it's traumatic for Maylin. I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier, but I decided we'd bribe her with candy. I remind her throughout the day that if she poops her in potty, she'll get some candy afterwards. I started this yesterday, and she's already taken advantage of this deal three times! Candy works wonders! Just make sure you're not offering your kid candy on other occasions for no real reason. Maylin ate too much candy for her birthday and around Halloween, but now candy is pretty scarce in her life, aside from emergency situations and poop training!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Comments are back on!

I finally took some time to figure out just what this blog can do. I've discovered that I can moderate comments, which means I'll be able to read my comments, delete spam, and choose which ones to show. Plus, if you leave a comment, you will be asked to do a word verification, which should prevent automated systems from sending me spam. You now also have the ability to e-mail a blog posting of mine to a friend directly through this blog. Just click on the little envelope icon.

I'm going to make available an e-mail address if you want to interact with me that way. I'll post it on my profile soon, but here it is if you can't wait.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

My first weekend getaway

I have a very good high school friend who is living in London right now, but not for much longer (a week or two?), so I thought I'd go visit her before she moves back to the States. I imagined it would be easier if I went without John and Maylin, so I did it! It was my first time away from my family, and it was a little weird at first. What I noticed immediately was the occupation of my brain. All of a sudden, it was running on low. When traveling with Maylin, there's always something to think about. If she's bored, bring out the sticker books, markers and toys. If she's hungry, bring out the snacks. If she has to go to the bathroom, bring her portable little potty seat. There's always something.

When I headed out to the Gare du Nord station on Saturday, I was so free I didn't know what to do with myself. I like to show up early for my departures, so I had a little over half-an-hour to kill. Went to find the bathroom and discovered McClean -- which I believe is not affiliated with McDonald's. The double glass doors leading into the sparkling clean restrooms read: urinals 60 centimes, toilets one euro. First of all, what ridiculously high prices! Why can't there be free public restrooms in this highly public area? And most places where you do have to pay don't charge more than 40 centimes. Secondly, the discrepancy in price between the urinals and toilets is purely sex discrimination in my eyes. If I could do it physically, I'd prefer to save 40 centimes and use the urinal. After having Maylin and nursing her in public, I've become less modest and wouldn't mind the reduction in privacy.

I took off for the nearest fast food restaurant. They usually have free restrooms. I passed the French version of a fast food restaurant called Quick (John thinks that the name refers to the speed at which their food passes through one's digestive system). Could have gone in there, but saw McDonald's not too far away. McDonald's always has free restrooms from my experience. When I got to the top of the stairs leading down to the restrooms, there was a security guard. Wasn't sure why he was there, but I went down. Great. I have to put in some unspecified amount of money or need to punch in a code. I went back up to ask the security guard about it. He said it cost one euro (!) to use, but at the same time, handed me a dummy euro to get in. So -- they can choose who they want to go into the restrooms. That security guard was practically the equivalent of a bouncer at a nightclub.

I try to avoid eating at McDonald's, but I was starving and the food was right there. I spent 3,20 euros on a McChicken sandwich and a cup of tap water, and looked for a seat. There were no free tables -- everyone seemed to be sharing tables. I sat across from someone who could've been homeless, but thankfully didn't smell homeless. He also had enough money to buy a Royal Bacon value meal. Next to me was a man of African descent talking on his cell phone, and kitty-corner from me were two 8 or 9 year-old boys discussing seriously their cards, maybe Pokemon. The kids and cell phone guy quickly left and were replaced by a young British couple who had beers along with their meals. Welcome to Europe! Yes, you can have alcohol with your Big Mac!

Made my way back leisurely to the Eurostar station, sat on the floor with other second-class passengers for 5 minutes (no lounges available for those going through Gate A), and then followed the herd to the train platform. Found my train car, found my seat, and made myself comfortable. I had an aisle seat, and the window seat was taken quickly by a young man after I settled down. I kept myself occupied while the train was still at rest -- writing in my journal, trying to sleep (I was exhausted from going out late the previous night), and trying to read (the sleeping wasn't happening). The train started and I looked out the window -- or what we had of a window. We had probably the seats with the worst visibility. I mentioned this to my row partner, and from then on, we talked animatedly until the very end of our three and a half-hour ride. We talked about his career, piano-playing, opera, Italy (he's an Italian-Brit), food, lifestyle -- we had a lot in common. Can you believe he paid 200 euros for a one-way ticket, and I paid 35 euros for practically the same seat?

My friend and her husband were waiting for me at the Waterloo station. Happy, happy! The last time we saw each other was in April, but since it was my first time in London and I was with John and Maylin, that was more of a sightseeing trip and I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time with my friend. This time, we could talk for hours...and hours. Friends like these are rare -- you're completely comfortable with each other, you can be yourself entirely. And anything we do, anywhere we go is fun, because we're simply together. We didn't do a lot of sightseeing (by my request), but we did go to the Tate Modern, saw the Broadway musical, The Producers (hilarious), watched a movie (Pride and Prejudice), and walked across Tower Bridge. I will miss her soooo much, but I know that the next time I see her, again it will be like no time has passed between us.

I'm quite tired right now and am going to try to go back to bed. Maylin woke me up at 4 am, and I wasn't able to get back to sleep. Blogging in the wee hours helps tire me enough to fall asleep. Bonne journee! "(Have a) good day!"

Friday, November 04, 2005

One hundred pages!

Thanks to your loyal readership I have written over a hundred pages (according to Microsoft Word) in my blog! I've got to celebrate! Let's get out the virtual champagne and make a toast -- to you, my readers, who have gently encouraged me to continue this exciting endeavor. Thank you!

Latest photos online

Here's the link to our Taiwan photos. Enjoy!


Bad water, a crazy music director, and a note for happy dog owners

It's been a slightly crazy day. We had the plumber over this morning to check on a bathroom sink problem and I happened to mention to him that we also had been having very low water pressure in our shower for a week. He tried cleaning our showerhead first with vinegar (a little embarrassing), but that didn't do any good. He did find that the plastic water regulator (?) inside the joint connecting the hose to the faucet was all caked up with minerals. It was a little disgusting how he removed the hardened red-brown debris. A little rinsing under the faucet, some banging on the sink...then he put his mouth on it, sucked on it, and blew through it. Ick! I wish I wasn't there to see that. Well, that did the trick. We have practically a new shower experience now. Also, I found out something that I didn't know before -- that the water in the apartment was not safe for drinking. Wonderful. I had read that Paris tap water was great. Not according to the plumber.

I check my e-mail whenever I get a chance, and I received the weirdest message ever -- but it wasn't spam advertising porn sites or wheelchairs. It was a reply from the director of the opera group that I worked with this past year. I had written her some reasons why I wasn't planning on returning to her group, and she replied with her own version of what I was saying. In other words, SHE REWROTE MY MESSAGE FOR ME, including signing it, "Je t'embrasse, Caroline," a much more chummy version than my original, "Cordialement, Caroline." I don't think any normal person would do this. And I'm not trying to be mean, but some people are really just crazy. She might need some help. So, I had written my complaints to her, and she turned them all around, saying I had made some mistake in my message to her. According to my friends, my e-mail (in French) was perfectly clear.

She even wrote (from my point of view) a thank you to herself for thinking of me as a replacement for her at the keyboard at her husband's concert. First of all, she didn't think of me -- one of my friends recommended me. Second, I did all the work -- learning a whole concert's-worth of music in a couple of weeks -- and didn't get a thank-you. Lastly, I even loaned them my digital piano for the occasion because theirs was unplayable. Again, no thanks. I knew that this director wasn't good at communicating, especially listening, but this incident tops it all. She utterly refused to listen to what I was saying and took the liberty to rewrite the message that she thought I meant to write to her. Unbelievable. I don't think it's that she doesn't respect me or my other friends who've been treated similarly. She's just WACKO. So four of us have already decided to leave the group because of her strange behaviors (I have not mentioned the other things which will taint her image even further). She means to be nice, but she ends up being mean, let's put it that way. Anyways, we've got our own opera group going and it'll be a much better experience for all of us.

I checked the mail this morning and saw a note from the electric company, requesting entry on a particular date at a particular time to check the meter in the apartment. Nothing unusual -- I've received these before. But, with my improved French, I've realized how funny the message on the very bottom of the letter is. Here's a literal translation:

Information for happy dog owners:
Your companion is certainly not mean but he can have his heads when feeling aggressive. Also, I thank you for taking the precautions to avoid an eventual incident.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Personal essayist

I think I've discovered what kind of writer I'd like to be if I ever become published. A personal essayist. I know, might be strange to think that people might want to read about me, but people do (I found my hit counter finally and I've had almost 700 visitors since September!). And at least for now, I can't write about anything else besides myself and my family. I wrote fiction in my youth -- a story about a girl, a ghost, and a helicopter, at age 4 or 5, a super-short unfinished novel at age 8 (about ghosts again), and several short stories in junior high and high school -- some of which were published in a book that came out of the county writing contest (I won so many prizes that they gave me a sweepstakes prize!).

In high school, I wrote a lot of poetry, too. I was most inspired on the typewriter, not the computer, because of its instant feedback and very kinesthetic experience. I loved the click-clacking sound of the keys, the constant whirring of the electric motor (if there was one on the particular model I was using), and the feeling I got from pressing the keys down until there was a whack on the paper. I would compare it to playing on a grand piano versus playing on a electric keyboard with no action, or no resistance in the keys. The first experience can get me completely emotionally involved in the music because I can hear and feel the power of the instrument (and use it in many different ways), whereas the second just leaves me feeling dissatisfied and helpless because I really can't do much with it -- can't expect to be very expressive when the instrument's not sensitive enough to your touch to produce the right dynamics and articulation.

I'm going to start studying the great personal essayists and begin thinking about my writing a little more seriously. I'll start researching the publication process and MAYBE do some editing (this will be tough since I've always been a one-draft writer). I'm not going to rush myself, so don't expect to see anything in print soon. Just wish me luck.

Party weekend

We're not usually very social, but last Thursday was Maylin's birthday party -- with kids and their mommies, Friday we had a very fun dinner here with friends, Saturday we went to a themed costume Halloween party which got me wearing fishnet stockings and high heels, and John some Spandex shorts and boots, and Sunday we went over to the country home of some of our friends for dinner, sleepover, and a day of hanging out and hiking. It was all great! There was also lots of wine consumption, which I'm finding typical of expat life in Paris. John explained to me that the expats drink as much wine over one weekend as the French do over an entire week. We just cram it in at the end. Don't worry, I still haven't gotten drunk here -- just a little tipsy if I haven't eaten much beforehand.

Dog for hire

In Paris, little dogs are the norm. So, for the expats who miss having their big dogs around, our lovable furry friend Leo is a great substitute. Word's got around about how gentle, well-behaved, and loving he is. Now when we're planning our vacations and looking for people to watch Leo, there's a long list of takers. People love him so much that they have to share the time with him with other families while we're gone. And more recently, some are borrowing him even just for a sleepover and breakfast!

Nighttime disturbances

It's 6:26 am, and I haven't been able to sleep after waking up half an hour ago. Why? Our dog Leo, who has never had a problem before, is letting out these incredibly potent farts one after another...right under my nose. They are so disturbing and long-lasting that I cannot sleep. So, here I am!