Saturday, December 31, 2005

My need to create

I create because I have to. If I don't, I become grumpy, depressed, and generally, unpleasant. I am the happiest, truest Caroline when I have the opportunity (and I take it) to paint, make jewelry, write in my blog, make books with Maylin...make anything, visible and permanent. I get joy out of cooking, but the fruits of your labor disappear with the last mouthful. For me, cooking is not half as satisfying as writing.

I love seeing my creations afterwards. The process of creation is still the best part, but the actual thing that you make is evidence of your existence. I think that at least at one point in my life, probably during high school, I worried about leaving the planet without having contributed anything worthwhile. What will people remember me for?

I wrote some pretty cool term papers then, and did a very original two-part senior project. I don't remember what other people did, but I wrote a dramatic monologue, recorded it, and then accompanied the recording on guitar with some melancholy arpeggios in front of an audience. I also wrote a piece for piano and voice which I performed. That was a great time for me.

My teen years were especially creative when I was still living in Los Banos with my parents. In my computer programming class, I would finish my assignment early and write these random, wacky short stories (which were saved onto 5 1/4" floppy disks -- now lost). I was really into being random, because that was the only way I could ensure complete originality. I was also really into being original -- but I was always like that.

My freshman year, I found myself a winner of several prizes in the county writing festival. I won a first prize for my short story, a first prize for a poem, a second prize for a humorous poem, and the sweepstakes prize for winning the most out of anyone. The best deal of it all was getting my work published in the festival book.

[Happy 2006 everybody! At this very moment, we have gone into the new year. My soundtrack is the screaming of the drunks and the small-scale fireworks outside, and the tunes of Macarena and YMCA in the party apartment above.]

At the age of 9 or 10 in Minnesota, I won an honorable mention in a local writing contest. We were to write an essay entitled something like, "Life in America in the Year 2000." I wrote something entertaining about pizza and aliens which somehow earned me the chance to read my winning essay on the radio. It was so exciting. It was great to miss a morning of school and be the envy of all my classmates!

I remember writing since the age of 5. I wrote my first short story at home. It was "The Girl, the Ghost, and the Hospital" if I recall correctly. I remember asking my mom how to spell "hospital" and "helicopter."

It's good to be writing again after a dryspell since the end of freshman year in college. College was good at squeezing the last bit of creative juice from me. I was using all my energy to memorize equations, figure out chemical reactions, write dry, analytical papers. And college was where the criticizing voices in my head were born. They were usually saying, "that's not good enough," which made me either not start or never finish any creative projects. I somehow managed to write two songs for voice and piano, but only the music -- none of my own lyrics.

Okay, I'm going to bed now, really. I thought I was going to bed two hours ago, but look at me. This morning, I felt like I had enough to write for an entire day, and I did. I just ran out of time.

Quiet family time

John took most of this past week off from work, and it's just been precious. We didn't have the energy to take a road trip as John had originally envisioned, but I think it was even better to just stay at home and be lazy. It's been a long time since we've had some quiet time together as a family. This was just the best -- reading together, watching movies together, playing together, eating meals together at the table.

I have let the house get into a terrible mess, but I've had a blast spending my tidying time playing with Maylin instead. She's "cooked" meals for me, performed medical examinations on me with her new doctor's kit, played "store" while we swapped cashier and customer roles, built a castle with me out of blocks for her little plastic elephants and dinosaurs...it's fun. I love to play. I will never let the kid in me grow old.

John has been making an effort to communicate with me more this vacation, and I've welcomed it with open arms. I am so happy. After Maylin goes to bed, we talk and laugh. Laughter has been one of the reliable glues in our relationship. I almost couldn't believe it last night when he talked to me using, "I feel...," and "my feelings are..." Here is the man I love. He's come back.

Perhaps the sweetest moment this vacation was when Maylin fell asleep in John's arms on the couch. She's usually falling asleep on me and it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy, but it was really special to see her drift off to dreamland in her father's embrace.

Maylin and I are co-authors

Maylin and I have written two books together in the past two days. I first ask if she wants to write a book, and once she says "yes," I ask her for some characters. I type up the story on the computer, print the text, draw the pictures, and then we color the pictures together. It's a great creative partnership. My drawings are pretty amateurish (and I'm too lazy to scan), so here is just the text from each little 10-page book.

Horse and Pig
by Maylin and Caroline Armitage
December 30, 2005

Once upon a time, there was a happy pig and a grumpy horse.

The happy pig ate everything. The grumpy horse was left with just a few crumbs.

The grumpy horse was very grumpy. He called in the rooster to resolve the situation.

The rooster suggested that they eat from separate troughs.

That worked until the happy pig realized he could eat out of the horse's trough after he was done with his.

The grumpy horse was very, VERY grumpy now. The rooster was called in again.

The rooster said that the pig and horse should live in separate pens in the barnyard.

The pig became very lonely eating by himself in his corner of the barnyard. He was no longer happy.

The pig promised not to eat the horse's food anymore if they could stay together and be friends again.

The horse liked that idea. The happy horse and the happy pig lived happily ever after.

THE END

Horse and Rabbit
by Maylin and Caroline Armitage
December 31, 2005

Once upon a time, one a beautiful farm, there lived two good friends, the rabbit and the horse.

Once spring day, the rabbit noticed some delicious flowers in the garden and started eating them.

Everyday, the rabbit would eat more flowers. The horse didn't like this one bit. But he never said a word.

The rabbit continued eating the flowers, day after day. Each day, the horse got madder, and madder, and madder.

After ten days of frustration and ager, the horse BLEW UP! I mean, he was so upset that he said some very mean words to rabbit.

The two animals refused to talk to each other for weeks. Until the rooster was called in.

The rooster asked what the problem was. The horse said that the rabbit had been eating the garden flowers for ten whole days and that this was angering him.

The rooster asked the horse, "Why didn't you tell the rabbit on the first day that his eating the flowers was upsetting you?" The horse didn't know what to say.

The rooster continued. "It would have been best to let the rabbit know how you felt before your anger grew big enough to distance you from your friend."

"You're right," said the horse. The horse apologized to the rabbit for saying mean things to him, and the rabbit apologized for eating the flowers. They were good friends once more.

THE END

I especially like this second story because it's about a communication problem that affects many people, including me. I love children's books that enlighten children and adults alike.

Some thoughts on New Year's Eve

Maylin and I have both been under the weather the past couple of days. She vomited a little last night (this is a girl who has never vomited, but since I pointed out this fact a few days ago, it had to happen), had a fever that went away on its own, and I've had little physical energy and just feel like sleeping all the time. So unfortunately, we'll be missing out on a big New Year's Eve party. John will be going on our behalf. I don't mind at all -- Maylin's sleeping already, I'm going to write as much as I can (because I feel like I can write for forever right now), and I'll go to bed early.

Today is our fourth-year anniversary. John and I didn't have anything else planned for the special day, nor did we get each other presents -- the Christmas ones will have to do. This is typical for us. We don't usually plan anything special for "special" days. I grew up in a household with little or no celebration of birthdays and anniversaries. C'est normal pour moi.

Anniversaries are good for having you reflect on how the relationship's been going. That reminds me, when I meet up with newlyweds who mention a first anniversary or something, I naively open my big mouth and ask, "So...how has the first year been? How do you find married life? Marriage treating you well?" It really is too personal, too intimate to ask about the state of one's marriage, but I've asked it more than once in my life. I'm just a naturally curious person. Not nosey, just genuinely curious.

How do these poor people answer my question? A few minutes of silence, maybe an attempt to dodge the subject, maybe just an "ok." The general feeling I get from these people is not elation, not stars in the eyes. Not a lot of us have read guidebooks on marriage (we probably should) before getting married, but we probably all knew that marriage wasn't going to be like peaches and cream. It's more like a creme brulee -- basically pretty good but soft and vulnerable on the inside, and on the outside, crispy and slightly burnt. The less sugar on the top before the torching, the more fragile that sugary layer is. More sugar, more durable. The sugar may be how much love is in the relationship. The torching may be some tough time you've gone through together. We'll all get a little burnt, but those torchings do make the relationship stronger. Who knew that my favorite dessert would become an excellent metaphor for marriage.

Speaking of creme brulee, I had to send one back while we were down in Aix-en-Provence this past summer. The top was way too burnt for my taste. I could only swallow one or two bites before I called for the waiter. They were very nice to bring me an improved creme brulee -- the young chef even checked with me if I liked it better. In my shyer, pre-Paris days, I would not have sent back a dish. I'm glad I'm bolder now -- it means I'm not going to waste good money on a ruined dinner. Of course, I will not send a dish back if I mistakenly ordered something. At that same restaurant, I ordered some fried fish as an appetizer. Expecting some nice and crispy battered chunks or filets, I got a large mound of teeny-tiny sea critters looking at me. They were fried, they were fish, but they weren't a very appetizing appetizer. My loss.

While we're on the topic of food...I'm quite amused whenever an American restaurant alters their menu to cater to their host country. I smile when I see the Pizza Hut poster in the metro advertising tartiflette! No, it's not a pizza, but you could probably turn it into a pizza. I always thought tartiflette was a traditional dish of potatoes, bacon or ham, and reblocheron cheese served in the winter, but according to Wikibooks online, it was created in the 1980s to help increase the sales of this particularly smelly, runny cheese. This cheese is actually fantastic (if you buy it from a cheese shop, NOT from the supermarket), and even better in the rich, flavorful tartiflette. I guess Pizza Hut turned this dish into a pizza topping.

Here's the link to more info and a recipe for tartiflette from Wikibooks:
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cookbook:Tartiflette

Uh oh, major wave of fatigue hitting me. I guess this is "au revoir" for now. Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Mission Impossible: change Taiwanese dollars to euros

Earlier this week, John wanted to change the Taiwanese dollars we had left over from our October trip. Actually, he wanted to do it himself months ago, but I kept telling him that I'd do it because I knew where to go. I never did it. So, as a family, we went to the main branch of our bank, where I was sure we'd be able to exchange our foreign currency. I had done it with other currencies before.

The grand building is situated not far from the Opera House. While John and Maylin sat comfortably in a leather chair, I waited in line for at least twenty minutes...to find out that the bank couldn't perform this simple transaction. The teller did not know why she couldn't do it -- she just couldn't. I asked her where we might go. She suggested one of the change bureaus near the touristy area of Place de l'Opera. We went to a reputable-looking one, and they were willing to exchange all sorts of obscure currencies from Sri Lanka and Tanzania, but not from Taiwan! I felt like I had some contagious disease or something. No one wanted to touch my Taiwanese dollars. Once again, I requested some advice from the agent. She suggested we try the Banque de France.

When we got home, John looked up the contact information for Banque de France. I called the local branch. No answer on a weekday in the early afternoon. Crazy. I called the main branch. No, they don't exchange Taiwanese dollars. The bank founded by Napoleon in 1800 can't even do this simple favor? Hmmm...what do we do now?

I've been looking online for places in Paris to go, but I found that the only places that might bring us success are the change bureaus located in some hostels. Might not be worth traipsing around the entire city in this cold. I think I'll save those dollars for a special occasion instead.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Our second Christmas in France

This was a very special Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, we drove to our friends' country home in Normandy with Leo, Maylin, overnight bags, and lots of presents, in time for my first cheese fondue lunch. It was incredibly rich, but also incredibly delicious. The fondue was followed by a delightful salad with walnuts and mustard-balsamic vinaigrette. Every French Christmas meal must be finished off with a buche de Noel for dessert. This is often a light roll-cake decorated to look like a log. Ours was beautiful with slices of mandarin orange, little foil-wrapped "presents." and a mini-Santa. It was as delicious as it was beautiful with a mandarin orange mousse inside.

In an effort to burn off some of those calories, we took a walk to a nearby farm (our friends asked for some firewood in exchange for a good bottle of wine). This farm was the real thing. There was so much to take in -- homemade mud stalls with tin roofs for the sixteen rather dirty milk cows chained to their troughs but happily munching on their dinner, a bunch of sheep and a little lamb in another stall, chickens running around freely, three little, old, half-blind dogs fenced in their own pens barking madly at our dog Leo, and a ten-foot tall steaming, but sweet-smelling, compost pile right in the middle of the muddy barnyard. Leo had fun chasing the chickens as I met the 80 year-old couple who owned the farm. These friendly people lived in a very modest, small farmhouse, and had their 50 year-old son and some other men run the farm for them. The very worn clothing on these hard-working farmers showed us how difficult farm life must be -- large holes in their hats, threads broken all over their shirts. Our hosting friend explained that in month of March life for these people would be even more difficult with the EU milk standards being put into place. Small farmers will be out of business because they cannot perform the costly retrofit to meet the new standards. Only operations of 3000 cows and more will be able to survive. This is so sad for these French farmers who have worked the same way for generations.

We continued on our walk to see the ponies of another neighbor. This neighbor has a luxurious, modern stall for her horses and those of her clients. The ponies were outside, and Ninja -- the smallest and cutest -- was free to roam. Maylin wanted to ride on Ninja so badly but she had to wait her turn. When it was her turn, she screamed and cried. Luckily I was there to interpret. She didn't want to ride alone. She wanted to ride with her friend, the six year-old son of our hosts. I think Maylin was in heaven on that little pony's back.

At the house, we prepared a feast of tarama canape (smoked salmon spread on toast), smoked salmon platter with langostines (prawn-sized lobster-like creatures), risotto with mussels, stir-fried vegetables, a shrimp and shitake mushroom stirfry, fried fish, and steamed scallops. It was quite a feast.

Sometime during the food preparation, we sang Christmas carols by the fire. I played the piano and the others sang off of the song sheets I had lovingly prepared the night before (I still couldn't sing because my voice was out).

After dinner, we talked in front of the fire until three in the morning. Of course, the kids were in bed much earlier -- otherwise Santa wasn't going to come.

Maylin woke up around 8:30 am and started talking out loud to me. She still wanted to cuddle and didn't understand the whole present thing yet. The two boys probably were awakened by Maylin and came to get us to take us downstairs. They started looking for their presents and before I knew it, they had started opening presents to their mother's dismay as she came down the stairs later. So, we had to pause the present-opening to prepare breakfast and wake up everybody else.

The pacing of the present-opening was very good afterwards. We took turns opening gifts and ooh-ed and ahh-ed. Maylin got her requested doctor's kit, kid-sized doctor's scrubs, knight's helmet and sword (safe plastic), and a remote-controlled car among other things. John gave me a cool Swiss-designed watch, and I gave him a gargantuan book of Leonardo da Vinci's complete drawings and paintings.

That evening, we went to another friend's house for Christmas dinner, which I will have to elaborate on later. I'm about to pass out here right here on the keyboard. Just really tired!

Hope you all had a good Christmas, too. Happy New Year!

For a good laugh, try cancelling your French cable subscription

We decided recently to get rid of our French cable TV. We actually already can have cable through our high-speed internet plan (cable and internet for one monthly fee) which we signed up for after we naively signed up for a cable-only plan and paid for the accompanying cable box. There weren't any problems with this service -- we just want to watch less TV now (we were hardly watching TV anyways -- this is more for Maylin's benefit).

So, here's how to do it, if you ever find yourself in the same situation.

Step 1: Examine your cable contract and accompanying papers and guides. Find no information regarding cancelling your subscription.

Step 2: Locate web address and visit site. Find absolutely no information regarding cancelling your subscription.

Step 3: Make dreaded toll phone call to cable company. Discover a surprisingly friendly service agent. She tells you that you can't cancel over the phone. You must write a letter to an address, which she spells out slowly because you're still learning French. She says something about the cancellation not going into effect for two months after receipt of the letter and that there's a forty euro cancellation fee. Smile to yourself.

Step 4: Try to verify address on the internet because you're not sure of your French. Discover numerous websites of non-profit legal organizations formed expressly to protect consumers from bad service companies like your cable company. You find many complaints against your cable company and laugh your head off. You realize that simply sending a cancellation letter doesn't mean the cancellation will actually happen. You also find addresses differing from the one given to you.

Step 5: Type letter to cable company. Research online how to write a formal letter in French. Cut and paste your letter, print it, and mail it certified the same day (to the original address offered).

Step 6: E-mail copy of letter to personal bank officer to ensure that the cable company doesn't take automatic payments from your bank account anymore.

Step 7: Foresee an imminent legal battle not unlike those of many others before you.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Eclectic christmas caroling

On Thursday, we hosted an evening of food, wine, music, and merriment. We had about fifteen people there, which seemed just right. I put up Christmas lights and John lit some candles. With these minor adjustments plus our major furniture rearrangement which enlarged the living space considerably, our apartment had transformed into a romantic, holiday party palace!

The Christmas caroling session was the brainchild of my school friend and myself. She played the piano, and instead of singing, I played the violin (my singing voice is still gone, but is slowly coming back in pieces). Fortunately, I had two singer friends there to help lead the singing, but they had quite a task ahead of them because we were doing French, German, English, and American carols! Some carols involved singing in two or more languages:

Stille Nacht/Silent Night (German and English)
O Tannenbaum/O Christmas Tree (German, English, French)
Adeste Fideles/O Come All Ye Faithful (Latin and English)

We had two French carols, including one called "Entre le boeuf et l'ane gris" (enter the beef and the grey donkey). It's not about the Christmas meal, believe me. I'm not sure why "beef" was used instead of "cattle."

Half of our songs were in German because my piano friend is half-German and had a nice book of German carols. These songs were not completely lost because my singer friends can pronounce German, and my French teacher speaks German, too. I believe she recognized most, if not all, of them.

Out of all the international carols, "Jingle Bells" seemed to be the most famous. Everyone sang the refrain with much gusto -- or was that the wine singing?

[Addition made 12.31.05:
I was later told that our dog Leo joined in some howling during "Silent Night." We aren't sure if he was howling because he wanted to sing or because he couldn't stand John's singing.]

Bonnes Fetes!

Happy holidays! We'll be going to a friend's country home today, Christmas Eve, and spend the night there. Maylin will have a marvelous time playing with her two boy friends. And how magical it will be for her -- the decorated Christmas tree, the log burning in the big fireplace, singing Christmas carols, and presents! We'll also be having a traditional French seven fish dinner -- shellfish included!

Thank you for your loving e-mails regarding my mild depression the other day. I'm totally better now (I didn't even need to cry), but the communication with John is definitely a work in progress. I'll let you know how it goes.

Bon Noel et Bonne annee!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why?

I just checked my e-mail and saw a picture of a friend's newborn baby. This is a good friend of mine in the States and this is her second child. I should be feeling very happy for her, but now I just feel sadness and a twinge of jealousy. I guess I don't really have to ask myself why I'm feeling this way. I would have been six months pregnant right now. It hurts to think about it.

This might be a good time to walk Leo in the brisk morning air -- to be alone with all my less than positive thoughts. Lately, I've been worried about my lack of real communication with John. I'm making an effort, but nothing seems to be happening. He's never been the one to talk about his feelings, and now, I find myself totally inept at getting him to open up. I'll have to try harder. Do any of you married people sometimes feel distanced like this from your partner?

I think I need a good cry.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

J'ai perdue ma voix!

I lost my voice! Fortunately, it was right after my opera group's little performance at my apartment. One day, I'm singing beautifully, the next day, I can't make a sound louder than a whisper. Amazing.

It's a bad time to get sick. It's probably one of the most social weeks for me. A good friend of mine from Berkeley has been staying with us for the week, we had the concert chez moi and a reception afterwards, I hosted my friend's farewell lunch here today with about ten ladies, and Thursday night we'll have about twenty people over for caroling (some of my friends and some of my pianist friend's friends). I'm supposed to be singing French and German carols with her accompanying me, and then leading the singing of the American/English carols. I hope my voice recovers soon! Backup plans include other people leading the singing, or my playing the violin.

I've wanted to blog the last few days, but I've been really tired. Going to bed around 10 pm and getting up around 9 am or later. It's not eleven hours of sleep I'm getting though. I've still got my sleeping problem. Maylin woke me up three times last night and it was really hard getting back to sleep after the first awakening.

Ideas for future blogs:
- the French classical concert audience
- my plans for Opera Sans Frontieres
- realizing your dreams by first writing them down (reprise)
- Maylin's a future actor
- rearranging the furniture and how it affects my well-being (fengshui)
- returning to the child I was (writing, drawing, dancing on the table, acting out Disney read-along tapes...)

I'm going to bed now and I'm going to try to drag Maylin with me. By the way, today was the first time she volunteered to go out and play with someone without Mommy or Daddy. She's taken quite a liking to our house guest.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A star is born on Korean TV

You won't believe what happened on Wednesday. I took my friend to a little local restaurant to have lunch. I go there almost once a week (it's good and very reasonably priced and it's just about a block away). The chef is Korean and had studied at the Cordon Bleu. He's always very happy to see me, we chat a little, and his servers are always very nice, too.

This was a very special meal because there was a camera crew from a Korean television channel (I should've asked if they were showing this in Korea or France). I was asked if it was okay if they spoke to me a bit and filmed us. Fine! Who doesn't want to be on TV?

We were given kimpap (sp?), a Korean version of sushi with rice and pickled vegetables, and I was asked to comment on its flavor. The question was proposed in very poor English and I thought it'd be better for the both of us to speak in French. I tried very hard to come up with something intelligent, but I just said it tasted sweet and that the flavors were subtle. The group of guys sitting next to us were put in the same situation and they did exactly what was expected of them -- "C'est bon!" with much gusto.

The server kept calling me a "star." I thought that was funny.

The crew filmed us for a good part of our meal, and even included the parts of my feeding Maylin, who was sitting on my lap. The camera would move away from us abruptly whenever she spat something out -- like a piece of beef she didn't like, or rice that was too hot. No problem -- they can just edit that out.

It was too bad there weren't that many diners during that lunch. Just three small parties, including us. If I was the chef, I would have invited all my friends to lunch the day of the filming.

It was a fun lunch -- I felt totally relaxed and happy in front of the cameras. Tune into your local Korean channel sometime. Maybe you'll see me smiling, and Maylin spitting something out of her mouth!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Found pre-blog journal entry (October 9, 2004)

12:14 am

Tried falling asleep with Maylin tonight, but as usual, whenever I put my head down, my private little monologue begins. I wish I could just automatically put my thoughts on paper or onto the computer as they come into my head, but instead, I have to get out of my cozy bed and rethink my thoughts and type them in one by one into the computer.

Well, I still have the dream of becoming a writer. And I will be a published writer someday. Now, I’m going to accumulate memories, thoughts, and feelings, and get them written down in some form or another for now, and then maybe come back to them later. I have several ideas for short essays. I will compile a longer list later.

- “Matteo” at the Jardin des Tuileries
- Watching people-watchers (e.g. watching man watching pretty lady)
- Art gallery owner gives me his number in metro
- Mastering the art of Parisian dog-walking
[copied from a sent e-mail: "I'm
getting used to this unspoken rule of Parisien
dog-owners. If you see another dog, take your dog
across the street or start going in the opposite
direction. Anything to avoid the other dog. It's
either they don't trust your dog, or they don't trust
theirs. And I think it's usually the latter. These
little nippy dogs are the worst. And their owners
aren't that great either."]
- Mastering the art of walking around Parisian dog poop
- Parisian mommies dressing up their daughters in the classic style (dress or skirt, sometimes without tights, in cold weather!)
- Parisian mommies assisting their daughters in relieving themselves in public parks
- Ou sont les toilettes? (or “Public toilets? not a priority for the Parisians”)
- Body odor (standing underneath it in an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower and other experiences)

I need to remember to carry a little notebook so I can jot down my ideas anytime. Sometimes I see something really quirky or cool, and I think I’ll remember it for later. But guess what? I can’t remember.

Anyways, we’ve been living in France for over 6 months and I’m already feeling like a Parisian. It really helps that my language acquisition is coming along. The last few weeks have been really encouraging. I’m understanding phone calls, salespeople, etc. Sometimes I have to ask them to repeat, but I definitely get it by the second time. And I’m starting to have enough vocabulary and grammar to be able to communicate what I need. It’s so refreshing to not have to feel like a sweaty mess after every interaction in French. For almost 6 months, it was pretty nerve-racking for me having to speak up. Because I am a perfectionist. And with a limited vocabulary, there’s not much you can do, but fret, and sweat, and I could always feel my brow and the area above my upper lip get moist.

John’s been gone for 2 1/2 weeks, but will be back in a few days. Maylin and I have been doing pretty well, considering we have both been sick at different times with different illnesses. Today, we had a grand time! She is sooo good. We walked Leo in the morning as usual, and then went to McDonald’s for the first time in France and had a happy meal! She sat for over an hour in the high chair and ate her fries quietly but happily. Didn’t want anything else. Fries and water. So content. Then, we went to the park for awhile. It sits on an island in the middle of the big boulevard that crosses our street. That’s Boulevard Pereire. We went to the portion that has a kid-sized train. It had been closed for a few days for “neutralization.” I had no idea what that meant before, but I have a suspicion that that means they disinfected the area. Anyways, Maylin just loves trains, and loved commanding me to sit next her on these tiny seats on the train. She had her chocolate-dipped cookie snack on the train, and then we were ready to head home. We both konked out for almost 2 hours, and then it was time to walk Leo. She helped me hold his leash, which is always so adorable. But most of the time, she wanted me to hold her. I don’t blame her. How cozy is that?

In the evening, I was craving Vietnamese pho, but when Maylin and I got to our neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant, I noticed that they didn’t serve it on the menu. I was bitterly disappointed. I knew we’d find another restaurant, but I knew I had to give up my pho idea. We ended up eating Italian at San Remo on Place Pereire. Maylin was great for the hour and a half we were there. She said she wanted salad, so I ordered it but ended up having to eat it all myself. She wanted pasta, too, but she ate very little of it. It was a little on the peppery side. Maylin was impressed by the strawberry slices on the panna cotta, but she ended up just playing with the dessert. I ate most of it before she was able to turn the rest into a very unappetizing white and red mass. Thank goodness. She probably wouldn’t have made it through then entire dinner if I hadn’t brought her little toys. Crayons would’ve been a good idea, too.

Okay, this is a good place to stop. How refreshing to write everything so quickly! Don’t know if I can go back to longhand, though I do like the feel of a pen gliding across paper. But, I have become awfully impatient, ever since Maylin started sleeping less and less (after her newborn baby days) and I found I had little time to myself. So, I bid you farewell, journal. Until the next time.

12:55 am

Found pre-blog journal entry (October 10, 2004)

About a week ago one evening, Maylin said the f-word about 5 times in a row, to my shock and amusement. The next morning, I discovered she was trying to say "fork." I was quick to correct her and she was quick to learn! Thank goodness!

Maylin’s learning colors and letters without my even trying! She’s fascinated! She can say pink, blue, red, and green, with her favorite being blue. She loves the letter M, and had a letter field day when we were at McDonald’s.

There’s something about McDonald’s that makes kids happy and calm, as John says. She sat still for an hour and a half eating her fries. They were pretty cold by the end, but she was still quite content! The McDonald’s we went to, at Porte de Champerret, strangely enough, had no kids in it! Only the yuppie crowd. Very strange.

Maylin takes Leo to the vet

Leo needed his shots updated and his leg examined -- he's been licking a small area on his leg until he created a little bald spot. Maylin didn't have school today, so I asked her if she wanted to take Leo to the doctor. She wanted to take him right away, but when I called the vet, I found we'd have to wait three and a half hours. Maylin was not pleased. She put on her nasty face, and demanded, "I want to take Leo to the doctor NOW!"

Somehow, I was able to distract her for those hours, and finally, we walked around the corner to the vet's office. Pretty convenient. When the vet was ready to see Leo, we walked into the office, and Maylin sat down by herself in a chair while I helped the vet and her assistant move Leo up onto the table -- no easy feat since Leo is about a hundred pounds. Leo was the perfect patient. After the exam and shots, I talked to Maylin about his good behavior, hoping Leo would serve as a good example for when she has to go to the doctor herself. "See, Maylin? No screaming, and no crying."

Maylin was completely silent and nearly completely expressionless the entire visit. And as I expected, the sticker that was offered to her had to be passed to her through me. She will very rarely accept a gift directly from a stranger, or even an acquaintance. I have to be the intermediary.

When she gets her requested doctor's kit for Christmas, she can practice being a vet or doctor whenever she wants. I'm hoping all that role-playing will make any future doctor's visits for her much more pleasant.

Opera Sans Frontieres

That's the name of my small group of singers -- one soprano (besides myself), two mezzo-sopranos, and one bass. Since May, we've been rehearsing various opera duets and trios at my apartment for two hours a week. In September, I decided that we should have a concert to get us more focused. And this weekend, we're having a little "Works in Progress" concert at my place. I was hoping I wouldn't have to call it that, but our pianist and bass have been struggling a bit and the concert isn't going to be as polished as I'd like.

It's quite a nice group of people. We all get along and no one has a huge ego or is oversensitive, as many singers are. We support each other, and there's enough trust that everyone is free to make helpful comments.

Directing and coaching have come quite naturally to me. And it's really fun for me, too. I've directed children's choirs in the past, so I'm good at fixing any musical problems and running a rehearsal efficiently. What I didn't realize before is that I have a lot of good intuition about staging and acting. I'll make a suggestion or comment, listen to myself and think, "Wow, I said that? Not bad." I'm not sure which is more fun -- acting myself, or helping other people act. I admit, I still probably have a lot to learn about staging, but it's a good start so far.

We are working on getting a booking at a venue for a July concert. This will be a true test of what we can do. I think the group has a lot of potential -- and as long as everyone stays focused and I stay organized, I think the concert could be fantastic! Actually, we need some personnel changes, too, including finding a tenor, but I'll deal with that after our upcoming concert.

Idea for the day: Google a long-lost friend, locate his/her e-mail address, and send a message!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Goodbye, Insecurities!

I think I left my coat of insecurity in the metro or something because I have decided to participate in an international singing competition in Paris! Four years ago, I put in an application for a little, local Berkeley music competition, and I completely chickened out with the excuse of pregnancy -- which was true, but I'm sure I could have still competed. I was scared to death. Now, I feel like, "What's there to lose? Go for it, girl!"

I'll be competing at the highest of three levels in the competition because that's the only level that performs for the public (I'd rather sing for an audience of music-lovers than just a panel of non-smiley judges), that has talent scouts present to recruit singers for festivals and concert series, and that awards cash prizes. I'd have a much better chance of getting a medal or a prize that I could brag about on my CV if I was going in at one of the lower levels, but I don't really care about my CV at this point.

I still have plenty of time to change my mind since the deadline for applying is in April, so please keep cheering me on. Don't let me back out of this one.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The North Korea bare electric wire the young this house it helps, song year charity music sliced raw fish

That title is a headline of a translated web page from Korean to English about a concert given by young Korean singers in Paris in 2004. I cannot make heads or "fishtails" of it. Can you?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A very happy day for Maylin

Maylin, the typically serious girl, was full of smiles yesterday! Wednesdays she doesn't have school, and since we didn't have a playdate or lunch planned, we had the whole day to ourselves. Originally, it was just going to be a quick trip to the Grands Magasins (large department stores) to see the decorated holiday windows, but it became a whole-day affair.

The Christmas window scene was really crazy. We arrived around 10:30 am, and everyone was already fighting for space around the windows. Each 10 foot-long window had a platform in front of it with stairs on either side for little ones to stand on. I wasn't aware that there was a rule on how to get on the platform, but I learned quickly that it's up on the left, and down on the right (there were so many people later on, that no one paid attention to that rule). It was mostly grandmas and grandpas taking the kids around.

Maylin saw over ten windows at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. The animated dolls and animals fascinated her -- she stared at the creatures quite solemnly and put on a nasty face whenever someone tried to push her. She did her share of pushing, too, which I had to stop.

The first window was odd with stuffed sock characters watching and cheering for a soccer game on a television set. One window had a 10 foot-tall freen giraffe with a moving head and green kangaroos (or were they large squirrels?) pampering it -- cleaning him with a big brush, etc. Another window, accompanied by Britney Spears music, had a blond doll ("princess") walking off a plane and dozens of Oui-Oui dolls fawning over it with cameras and microphones (Oui-Oui is a very popular computer-animated character on a TV show for toddlers and preschoolers). The "princess" was getting a pedicure and manicure in another window by pink poodles wearing short, black leather skirts. That was a very odd image, especially with a barely-recognizable dog-barking version of the Beatles' hit, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." In yet another window, the same doll was working out with tens of Babars who jumped on trampolines, played basketball, and took a mat workout class.

It was almost 11:30 when we entered Galeries Lafayette to find the toy department. Instead, we found a cafe where we had an early lunch. We hit the salad bar because Maylin wanted the shredded carrot (I guess they eat it at school a lot) and the hard-boiled eggs. Her plate of carrot and eggs cost almost four euros, and my salad plate, not much larger, cost almost five euros. My freshly-squeezed orange juice: 3,50 euros. With a small roll, our tiny lunch came out to thirteen euros. But we weren't paying for the food. We were paying for the view! We were facing the top of the beautiful Opera House, and I could see the Eiffel Tower directly from my seat.

Maylin's first smiles of the day were in this cafe. Since she didn't eat breakfast (she didn't want to), she was getting quite crabby, but the eggs seemed to fix everything! She ate nearly three eggs, and had a few bites of her carrot. Once I pointed out the Tower at the end of our meal, she wanted to go! I thought, "why not?" We took bus 42 all the way to the Eiffel Tower. I usually don't take the bus because it's slower than the metro, but if you want to have a gorgeous ride through several hot spots in Paris, I would recommend line 42. The Opera House, Place de la Madeleine, Place de la Concorde, Avenue Montaigne (where lots of the top designers have boutiques), the River Seine, and finally, la Tour Eiffel.

We got off the bus and started walking towards the tower. We had to stop because we found a huge pile of leaves and Maylin was so happy jumping on them. Big smiles! How could I stop her? After she stopped throwing the leaves, we found les toilettes and washed our hands.

We walked directly under the tower and saw that the lines to go up were really long, so we opted to buy some French fries to eat and share with the ducks. That pleased Maylin very much -- so much that I ate probably three fries, she ate about three, and the ducks and other birds ate all the rest! And then, she wanted more to feed them with! Time to distract!

There's a carousel near the tower, so I offered to take her there. She must have spotted someone with cotton candy because she started requesting something "pink." So, we took a break -- Maylin with her huge cotton candy, or "barbe a papa" (Daddy's beard), and moi, with a salty popcorn (you have the choice of salty or sweet). Maylin's cotton candy was bigger than my head and very unwieldy which made it difficult to eat. We had to dispose of half of it later, on the way to the...boat!

I thought it'd be fun to take Maylin on a boat ride along the Seine. It was free for her so why not? She loved going under the bridges, playing with the handheld audio guide, and eating the Clementines I brought along (they're like tangerines, but seedless and maybe even easier to peel -- a perfect food!). I was amused watching all the tourists clambering to get to the front of the boat to take pictures of Notre Dame. The tour director had to keep telling people to go back to their seats.

After the ride, I wanted to go home, but Maylin didn't want to. There wasn't a nearby metro station anyway. We walked across the Pont d'Iena towards the Palais de Challot and took the closest bus (line 72) -- it wasn't going anywhere near home, but oh well. I didn't feel like doing much walking. It was a great drive along the Seine -- we passed the Musee d'Orsay on the other side of the river, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Louvre...I spotted a pet store and Maylin immediately wanted to go there. Why not? We got off at the next stop, walked along the Quai, looked at old Paris postcards for sale, and made our way into La Merle Blanc.

In the pet store, we saw many puppies of all different breeds, several kitties, numerous birds (parrots, parrakeets, a cockatoo, cockatiels, chickens, and roosters...). and some goldfish. It was quite amazing how they were able to fit so many animals into such a small store. One employee who was cleaning the plexiglass cages was constantly trying to get past us in the narrow aisles. There was a nice employee who brought out some puppies and a kitten for us to pet, but Maylin was too shy around the young man and I had to pet the animals for her. Then, she wanted to buy a green plastic hedgehog dog toy for herself, but I was able to distract her somehow and we took a walk around the Christmas market outside the closed-for-renovation Samaritaine. I bought her some German spiced cookies covered with chocolate and that kept her happy while we looked at gallery windows and until we finally came across a metro station on Rue de Rivoli.

She fell asleep almost instantly and from then on, I had one of the biggest workouts of my life. I had to carry her through a station transfer, up and down several flights of stairs, and from the station home. She's so heavy now that I had to stop frequently to set her down on her feet so I could shift her to another shoulder. My triceps are very sore this morning from the repeated lifting.

Ironically, she was wide awake after I tried putting her into bed when we got home. She was in very good spirits and we recalled the happy events of the day. She said that her favorite moment was when she met Santa (Pere Noel) in front of the decorated windows. The big guy in the red suit shook her hand and simply said, "bonjour."

Maylin's separation anxiety

Well, my trip to London didn't seem to do Maylin any good. She's been very clingy, and throws a fit when I leave her home with her father on weekends to run errands. For a couple of weeks, we tried having John take her to school in the mornings, but she cries all the time. This morning, I took her myself, and she still cried. She was better off before London. Makes me feel a little guilty, but kids have to get used to not being with Mommy all the time, right?

John told me of a conversation they had on the way to school one morning.

MAYLIN: I need a hug. I want to hug Mommy.
(whimpers)
JOHN: Don't you like going to school, Maylin?
MAYLIN: (still whimpering) I'm just a baby.

Hmm...I guess she thinks she's too young for school. I didn't go to preschool until age four, I think. She's got one more week of school before Christmas vacation. She'll be fine.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Mumbling French

I experienced the mumbling yesterday, and some more today -- twice in an hour, on the same street. On the way to Champion, the only local supermarket that has a good supply of fresh salmon at a reasonable price, I walked past an older woman of possibly Middle Eastern descent begging for money. The man of unknown ethnic origin walking quickly behind me muttered in an exasperated manner about how she should get work as a cleaning lady. Have a little compassion. Maybe she's tried already and this is her last resort! Maybe she's got mental problems and can't hold a job. There are so many possibilities.

After my grocery run, laden with four packages of salmon and other necessities in my Jansport backpack (from college!) and my large reusable plastic bag that I take everywhere, I encountered a silent battle between an old lady with a rolling cart (she's out getting groceries, too) and a young woman with two small children and a baby in a stroller. There was not enough room for both parties to pass on the sidewalk because of the car on the street and the construction work blocking off some space on the building side. The old lady powered her way through, possibly oblivious to the situation. The young mother waited for her to pass and then uttered an unusually loud "merci" with a big, fake smile. I was walking in the same direction as the old woman, and I heard her muttering gruffly to herself for nearly a minute afterward.

In the U.S., the only time I heard people talking to themselves was when I was working in retail. Retail seems to do it to you. The employees who don't have much customer interaction, who are mostly stocking racks and shelves with product, have the highest tendency towards this activity. But even though I was a manager and had plenty of customer and employee interaction, I found I started talking to myself, too. Scary. Fortunately, that ceased once I stopped working in that type of environment.

And these days, you're never sure if someone's talking to herself or into a little headset hooked into a hidden mobile phone. All of a sudden, it seems like the world's full of wackos, but they're really just chatting on the phone.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Another Chinese-owned Japanese restaurant

John invited me to lunch today -- what a pleasant surprise! I went out to meet him at his office in Levallois, a nearby suburb of Paris (5 minute metro ride away), and we walked to the only Japanese restaurant in the vicinity. The decor was quite nice, with its dark, teak-colored walls...except for the fake wood floor, made out of textured brown plastic! Something you might see at Disneyland. I wouldn't have noticed the floor if I hadn't used the bathroom where the bright halogen lights highlighted the synthetic "sol."

I ordered the shrimp tempura, miso soup, and some salmon sashimi. John ordered the Napa cabbage salad, California rolls, and a variety of sushi. The miso soup was a bit bland, with not enough miso, and the tofu in it was a little sour -- not fresh! Normally I would complain, but it was only three little pieces of tofu. My three prawns for seven euros were very large, but the batter was not your typical tempura batter. Also, the first bite of shrimp, once the head was removed, was kind of mushy and didn't taste that fresh. The rest of the shrimp tasted okay. The salmon tasted great, but the slices were too thin. John's salad and California rolls were pretty good.

Our total came to 51 euros, including a small bottle of sparkling mineral water and two glasses of green tea. Pretty expensive, but typical for a so-so Japanese meal in Paris or its environs. I've asked around to see if any of the people I know could recommend a good Japanese restaurant, but it looks like it doesn't exist.

At least the service was good. I wasn't surprised when I heard the servers talking to each other Chinese. I don't think I've met any Japanese in Paris yet, except for the hordes of Japanese tourists pouring out of buses onto the Champs-Elysees to run into Versace. My friends and I have been accosted at least once by tourists begging us to buy a five-hundred euro purse or bag for them. There seems to be a limit to the number of Versace items each person can buy. It really surprises me that they would trust me, a perfect stranger, with all that cash. How do they know I'm not going to walk into the store, run to the back door, and take off?

The search for a short black skirt

I had to retire my faithful short black skirt a few weeks ago after it acquired a light stain that refuses to come out. John and I both are sentimentally attached to it -- we bought it in Vienna together a few years ago when I needed something to wear to the opera. So, sadly, I went out today to find a replacement -- a simple, straight, short black skirt (an inch or two above the knee).

I checked out C&A, H&M, Zara, Printemps, Galerie Lafayette, Benetton, and Gap near the Opera House. The women's section in C&A seemed to be for older, larger women, so I left quickly. H&M and Zara are pretty trendy, so I couldn't anything simple there. The skirts this season are actually pretty ugly -- diagonal seams, ruffles, some mesh material, and below-the-knee. That stuff should have stayed on the runway. Printemps and Galerie Lafayette are huge department stores, so I thought the selection should probably be pretty good. They had really nice clothing there, but again, very trendy. The less trendy stuff, geared towards the older women, was really expensive. Benetton and Gap fashion is pretty straightforward and conservative, but no black skirts.

In the middle of my two-hour shopping trip, I stopped off at the ATM for some cash. While I was waiting in line, the attractive young man behind me was commenting on the problems the man in front of me at the ATM was having. At first, he was talking really softly and I couldn't tell if he was talking to me, someone behind him, or himself. Turns out he was trying to start a conversation with me, but when someone's mumbling in French, it's really hard to understand so I just listen and nod. It seemed like he was trying to be funny. At least I said "au revoir" and smiled after my transaction, and then took off to finish my quest.

I didn't succeed in finding the skirt, but I came home with two corduroy mini-skirts from Benetton, which I thought seemed more affordable than in the States. In general, I'm a pretty conservative dresser, but since coming here, I feel more comfortable wearing the low-cut shirts and the short skirts. You see other people doing it, so why can't I do it since my body's in pretty good shape right now. I'm anticipating that this time won't last long since we will start trying to get pregnant again soon.

If I have time later, I will continue my search in the Marais and other places where there are smaller boutiques. Wish me luck, or, if you live in France, pass along any recommendations if you have any. Thanks.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cooking fiend

I hosted two dinners in a row! Crazy me! They were both really fun, though. Great company. I cooked Chinese both nights, with a little help from Belleville where I bought some Chinese roast ducks and frozen dumplings to make potstickers. I also served white rice, soup (egg drop one night, shitake mushroom and vermicelli the other), and a vegetable (cucumber salad/Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce). My guests brought some wine and dessert. That works out pretty well.

I was strangely very tired most of today. I spent a good deal of the day in bed, sleeping or trying to sleep. I was exhausted! I don't think I had a hangover from the wine the night before. It's probably my body realizing how much sleep I've missed in the last week. I think I'll rest tomorrow, too.

I actually had lots of energy this past week. Oh yes, and then towards the end of the week, Maylin developed this bad cough which made me worry throughout the night, causing me to sleep very lightly. Maylin was very happy to miss two days of school. She looks completely normal except for her slightly runny nose and cough. She had a fun and very late night tonight -- playing with our guests and falling asleep around 11:30 pm! Maylin just kept resisting bedtime and wore out her father completely until he gave up.

Okay, time to sleep. Love to you all!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Hard lesson

In my last post, I offered some friendly advice:

[Don't forget to listen to your heart, and say "no" to others when necessary so you don't end up doing something you don't really want to do but that you might have done otherwise because you feel you should be nice or because you feel obligated in some way or other. Say "yes" to you first. Sounds selfish, but how else are you going to be happy? You deserve some happiness, too! Give it to yourself!]

It took me years to figure that out, and a few more years to do it consistently. It's probably the secret to my happiness. I've said "yes" to myself ever since I got settled here. One time, recently, I almost slipped up but caught myself. You really have to be aware of how you're really feeling about each decision you may make. Do I feel good saying "yes" to this party/job/favor? Sometimes, you might not even know if the decision was the healthy one for you until after the decision's been made. I often have psychosomatic symptoms show up when I'm about to do something I really don't want to do. I know myself better now, but I didn't know it before -- those headaches, fevers, that nausea...those were all signs of my not listening to my heart before committing to things that weren't going to make me happy. And why did I commit in the first place? It'll make so-and-so happy, it's good for my career, I need the money, it'll look good, that's what nice people do, it'll impress so-and-so...

Those are never good reasons because I never answered the most important question first, "Do I really want to do this? Will it make me happy?" I never even thought of that question when I was in my twenties and younger. Often, one of the first questions would be, "Will it make my parents happy?"

I'm older now, wiser, have my own mind -- it's a good feeling. I love being a thirty-something. It's funny that, even though I think I'm wiser, I'm really not using my brain in a more intellectual way. Instead of trying to rationalize things, I use my intuition, my gut feeling, when making decisions. My intuition's always been very good, but in the past, I didn't always listen to it. Pity.

I listen to my body, too. Eating tofu and certain vegetables makes my body feel good. Running and dancing make my body feel good. If I'm feeling run-down, exhausted, it means I've been making myself do too much and that I need to slow down, cut out some activities. I'm pretty balanced right now. And my immune system is the best it's been in years. I used to get sick quite frequently, but this time around, I've been pretty healthy (knock on wood). I hope I can continue to take good care of myself. You take care of yourself, too.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ladies lunching and lounging lazily

I had organized a ladies' luncheon at my place today, and it was interesting that though only one member of my original "Expat Wives Club" showed up, most of my new friends came. But it is a bit odd to host a lunch when you're expecting seven people and you only get four. I prepared an awful lot of food that John will have to enjoy for the days to come.

It was still a very nice lunch with such interesting people. I've found a special kinship with another mom from school. She is half-Chinese, half-German, but was raised in France mostly. She has two young boys, is a freelance marketing consultant, and is back to playing piano (we're starting to make music together now -- great fun). The other mom from school is Chinese, married to an Italian (whose first book is being made into a movie in Italy), has two kids, and is a jewelry designer who studied voice in college. My newest friend is a fellow dog-walker. A Serbian raised in Moscow and a speaker of seven languages, she is a gynecologist/ultrasound specialist who is taking painting and wine tasting classes. I know, you can't get more diverse than this! Funny -- not a French one in the bunch!

I am very exhausted now from waking up at 6 am without an alarm to prepare, clean, and cook for the lunch. My head hurts so it's time to go to bed.

Have a happy day! Reminder for the day: Don't forget to listen to your heart, and say "no" to others when necessary so you don't end up doing something you don't really want to do but that you might have done otherwise because you feel you should be nice or because you feel obligated in some way or other. Say "yes" to you first. Sounds selfish, but how else are you going to be happy? You deserve some happiness, too! Give it to yourself!