Saturday, December 30, 2006

More recipes to come

Friends have been asking for recipes of mine, so I will try to post them shortly. If you're looking for a particular recipe, just use the search engine at the top of the screen.

Recipes to come:
- my Ohio Thanksgiving mashed potatoes (my best)
- roasted tomato tart (borrowed from a good friend)
- olive tapenade
- roasted red pepper and eggplant quiche
- crepes
- and more!

I will most likely revise just a little bit my simple roasted red pepper soup recipe (my most requested recipe).

Free Mozart sheet music online!

This is the good stuff! The Mozarteum in Salzburg has scanned the entire opus, I think, of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's music. You can brush up on your German or choose to read the site in English. I might print out some four-hand piano duets since I've misplaced my own book. Anyone want to play?

http://dme.mozarteum.at/mambo/index.php

Caroline's delicious and easy cake accident

I had a lucky accident when revisiting my old gateau moelleux recipe recently. I left out the butter! I was very scared of the result, but it turned out to be a deliciously moist sponge cake! And now that I've researched the American equivalent for one "sachet de levure chimique," you Americans will have more success with this now! (Other cooking conversions at: http://www.beyond.fr/food/convert.html. An English-French dictionary of food terms is also linked to that page.)

3 eggs
10 tablespoons sugar
10 tablespoons flour (plus about an extra two for dusting pan)
10 tablespoons milk
a little over 2 teaspoons of baking powder (or one sachet of levure chimique)
half cup of orange juice (I prefer flash-pasteurized, no pulp)

Preheat oven to 356 degrees F (180 degrees C). Prepare a square or round cake pan by greasing interior with a little butter and dusting with about a couple tablespoons of flour (bottom and sides). In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer. Add sugar, mix. Start boiling milk in pan on stove. Once you see the milk begin to boil, toss flour and baking powder into bowl. Mix quickly. Milk will be frothing very high in the pan. Add milk to ingredients, mix quickly. Pour into cake pan and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and pour orange juice slowly and evenly over top. Cool to room temperature (or refrigerate) before serving.

[Note: Basis of recipe found at http://www.linternaute.com/femmes/cuisine/recette/305946/1089259993/gateau_moelleux_pommes_poires.shtml.shtml]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

No holiday dieting required!

Wow, for some reason, despite the fact that I haven't been going to the gym regularly for several weeks and that I have been eating more Christmas desserts than necessary, I am down to the goal weight that I set for myself privately in August. Now I remember the original reason for getting in shape. I certainly wanted to get pregnant again (let's cross our fingers) but didn't want to do it while I was still hanging onto the extra weight from the previous pregnancies. I knew it would be impossible to lose later. Why not work my butt off (figuratively and literally) now instead of working four times as hard later? I think if I was still in the States I might not feel as much pressure to stay in shape. Subconsciously, or maybe more often consciously, there's a need here in Paris to "keep up" with everyone else's flat tummies and slim thighs.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas. I gotta go, but can't wait to tell you about my latest passion of cooking for crowds.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Not really Christmas-y, but...

I think this is a great image. Yesterday, Maylin was in a fantastic mood. I was busy in the kitchen when she called to have me look at her. She had one of my dishcloths around her like a cape. While she shouted out in a low, boomy voice "I'm Batman! I'm Batman!" she ran through our narrow corridor towards me, jumped over Leo's rope toy (Batman flying), and continued to speed towards me until she was right in front of me. Big smiles. I could sense Maylin's feeling of power and her sheer enjoyment. I'm so glad she's not entirely a girly-girl.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Like babies?


baby feet 2
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Yes? Then you'll love my newest set of photos on flickr. I had a gorgeous little subject visit me for several hours yesterday. I think you'll fall in love with her just as I have. Unfortunately, my apartment was very dark that day (as are most of these winter days), and I didn't want to use flash (I don't prefer it in general since I don't have the right equipment now, and I didn't want the poor baby to go blind) so I made some of the photos black and white, where grainy-ness is okay. Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

So much to write about, too little time

Hey, I'm still here in magical Paris. So much to tell you...I want to go more in depth, but that'll have to be later. Now, you just get some bullet points.

- Fish/La Boissonerie (6th arrondissement): not your typical seafood restaurant, delicious, light, great wine, reasonable prices, good service, a favorite of Anglophones
- La Derniere Goutte (6th): wine shop owned by Fish restaurant founder, an American; will stop by for wine tasting some Saturday
- went to a club for the first time in ten years; danced for two hours straight
- Hotel d'Aubusson (6th): has bar with live jazz (free entry) every Friday and Saturday night; great service; an opulent smoking room with grand fireplace
- didn't go to gym last week because not feeling great; might not go often this week in order to catch up with friends; back into routine in January, I hope
- volunteered to sell cheese at a Christmas market to help out a friend; stay tuned for more cheese adventures
- Maylin's teacher was really excited to tell me that Maylin spoke to her again and sang songs with the group (Maylin reports having sung "Jingle Bells" in French -- wonder what the lyrics are?)
- adopted two large black beetles after returning from Ohio; Maylin named them Mr. Black and Mr. Black; John named them John and Paul
- goldfish Nemo still alive (in January, will be one year anniversary of his arrival)
- still don't feel like singing opera again
- I think I might be able to get Maylin into ballet in January -- she no longer shows interest in studying cello
- Maylin can write her name all by herself!
- Maylin knows nearly the whole alphabet; she writes almost as often as she draws
- finally discovered some great second-hand clothing stores in Paris (2-3 euros per item)
- frantically making Christmas decorations for tree since all we have is a few metallic balls and a string of lights
- am still reading "On Beauty" by Zadie Smith (trudging slowly because of limited time); enjoying it once I got past being totally jealous of the author who has written three other novels, I believe, and is a year younger than me! when was the last time I was jealous?

Have a merry little Christmas! Sorry for not e-mailing, but hoping to catch up in the new year!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Happy Holidays to everyone!

I'm trying to get Christmas cards out but have had quite an adventure with photo printing today (future blog entry), so who knows if they'll actually happen? At least you can see the whole family (minus Leo -- oops, I forgot) online thanks to the timer on my camera. Tripod would've been nice -- gotta ask Santa for that one. Have a great holiday season. Stay healthy! I'm starting to feel a slight fever coming on...ooh, need some more vitamin C.

Thanks for all your love and support throughout the years. Friends and family -- that's all that really matters, isn't it. Keep in touch!

Mademoiselle Butterfly

Yesterday was the Christmas party for kids at John's office. First, Maylin enjoyed the talents of the balloon man and a magician. Then she got to shake Santa's hand, and even managed to pat him on the back when he turned around. She was anxious to get her present (all employees' children get this wonderful benefit -- parents choose from a catalog) -- a little produce stand, complete with plastic fruits and veggies, a basket, and a shopping cart. But maybe she was most excited about getting her face painted at the end by a wonderful artist. Maylin waited so quietly in line after three other children, and then sat beautifully still for the face painter. I was stunned by Maylin's serene beauty.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A prolific little artist

Maylin is drawing like there's no tomorrow. She makes at least two to three drawings per day and has been posting most of them up on the wall. She is done with her bedroom walls, has filled a large space in the dining room, and is working on the kitchen (since the fridge is completely covered). I have little doubt that she will become an artist or designer someday. Her favorite theme is the family portrait with stick figures of Mommy, Daddy, Maylin, and Leo -- often with a sun and a flower or tree. Not too long ago she also included strawberries. She continues doing abstract work with fanciful shapes, but she also likes to do monsters. Photos of her work to come!

Beautiful French out of the mouth of babes

I cut my daughter’s hair this weekend and was curious today if her classmates noticed. One of her girlfriends indeed asked if she went to a hair salon, and Maylin told me that she replied, “Non, ma maman a fait ça à la maison.”

Last week, Maylin’s teacher gave a glowing report of her work. I am so proud of Maylin! “La maitresse” said that Maylin understood everything in French, was very obedient, and did her work very carefully and conscientiously (unlike most of the students in the class). The teacher was very excited to tell me that Maylin, who is probably the shyest student she has ever encountered, actually said three words to her! Maylin had a scratch on her face (from dog Leo) and was asked if her boo-boo happened at school or at home. “À la maison” (at home) was her answer. It’s amazing how three little words can bring so much joy to a teacher.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Simple roasted red pepper soup

What do you do when you buy four red peppers? Well, this time I decided to roast them. Makes them super-sweet and oh so flavorful. Then I thought I could make a pasta sauce with it. I've done that before (very nice), but I wanted to do something different, so I blended them instead, added some hot chicken broth, and voila! A beautiful, elegant, delicious soup. Can't be easier than this! Here's my recipe:

Roasted red pepper soup (serves 2-3)

4 red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
salt
pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven at 400 degrees F. Slice red peppers into thin strips. Place in bowl. Toss with some salt, pepper, and about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil. Spread evenly on large baking sheet. Roast for 30-40 minutes. Three-quarters of the way through cooking, rearrange the peppers a little on the sheet. Remove after baking, blend in food processor or blender, and transfer to a bowl (or a saucepan if you want to keep it warm on the stove). Bring chicken broth to boiling on the stove or in the microwave (why not?). Add to blended peppers and whisk until of uniform consistency. Season to taste (not necessary if you seasoned properly in the beginning). You're done!

For a more classy soup, I would push the blended peppers through a sieve to remove the skins before adding the broth. I'm sure you could make many variations on this basic soup by adding a fresh herb (choose wisely) to the roasted peppers before blending, or by adding cream for a richer soup. Instead of cream, you could add some olive oil as a lighter option. But in fact, the soup tastes delicious without any extra lipids.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Jumping jacks throw French women for a loop

Now I have firsthand experience of this strange phenomenon I heard of through an expat friend. The jumping jack-stumper. Once in a blue moon, one of the gym teachers will toss in a few jumping jacks into the mix during an exercise class, throwing off 85% of the French women completely. They stand there dumbfounded rolling their eyes and putting their hands on their hips with the expression of "do you expect us to do that?"

Okay, jumping jacks may come second nature to the rest of us, but only because we grew up doing it in school. I have memories of everyone standing next to their desks doing jumping jacks, cherry-picking (stretching upward right?), and touching our toes. If our teachers were smart, we didn't perform this pleasant ritual right after lunch.

Anyways, if you can imagine yourself as a space alien, watching someone do jumping jacks, you'd think, what kind of drug are these people on? In fact, maybe you'd be intimidated by people waving their arms AND legs up and down at a clip and feel threatened enough to take out your XWQBK%$# Phaser Gun Model 200XT.

I think if the gym instructors just took the time to teach a proper jumping jack we wouldn't have a room full of people feeling like idiots. In slow motion, ladies. WHILE JUMPING, bring arms over your head as legs come into a wide stance. Afterwards, WHILE JUMPING, bring arms to sides and legs together simultaneously. No, it's not that hard, as long as you remember to jump -- but when do adults ever jump these days? Something that comes so naturally to children, may be almost impossible to fathom for adults. So here's a note to French public education officials: start injecting jumping jacks into the daily school routine or you're going to fall behind the rest of the world!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Size 7 to size 2 in 12 weeks!

No, it's not a caption to some poorly taken before and after photos of a woman who went through the latest fad diet. This really happened to me! I've been wearing my new size 2 corduroys and jeans for the last five weeks so I could have told you earlier, but I wanted to make sure I truly did get back down to a size 2, with the test being my old, postnatal jeans (can you imagine I was thinner before Maylin? I've forgotten what that's like). Previously I was too scared to try them on, but to my relief, they went on without my sucking in my belly.

On my birthday, July 28th, I was seriously a size 7. After three pregnancies, it's no wonder. I don't think I looked really overweight by American standards, but by Parisian standards, I was a little pudgy around the middle, rear, and thighs. First week of August I started working out to my exercise videos at home and eating lighter. I had filling breakfasts (peanut butter and banana sandwich on one slice of whole wheat bread or two fried eggs and a yogurt), eliminated most of my white carbohydrates (and didn't miss them much fortunately -- what, no baguette anymore???), and kept snacks out of the house except for nuts, popcorn (to air-pop), fruit and yogurt. Lunch and dinner usually consisted of a meat or fish and veggies. Desserts were only off-limits if I was full after eating the main course. I would stave off hunger pangs in between meals with a banana, and then go on to another fruit or drink water if I still felt hungry. To this day, I have stuck to this regime.

I go to the gym on the average of 5-6 hours a week and am very conscientious about my exercising. It's very disappointing to see people make the effort to go the gym but then do the exercises half-heartedly. I'm thinking, what's the point then? In my weight-training classes, I continue challenging myself by lifting more weight each visit. In my dance classes, I fill each movement with as much energy I can muster. In my bodysculpting (I call them "torture") classes, I don't let myself give up even when half of the class has. I extend my body as fully as possible, to the point of mild discomfort, in my stretching classes. "No pain, no gain" is partially true. To challenge your body, you need to experience some amount of discomfort, but I do not believe in pushing yourself to the point of inflicting pain on yourself which I think may be an 80s way of thought because John sometimes works out to the point of nausea. For me, that's too far. It's important though to know how differently your body feels when it's being challenged from when it's not.

I haven't lost a lot of weight (eight pounds in four months) but I think it's because of gained muscle mass. My muscles have never looked better! My forearms, strangely enough, are the shapeliest they've ever been (I've never noticed them before). And everything's nice and firm, just the way my husband likes it.

No, my body will never look like the one I had in college (darn), but at least I'm fit, healthy, and full of the energy I should have always had. This winter so far I have not been seriously sick (unlike the last ten-plus winters -- knock on wood), I can function at nearly peak levels with even five hours of sleep (I try to sleep at least seven), and I'm in a better mood for my family because of this newfound energy. I can be the best mom and wife possible now!

A personal best: one book a week

I can't believe it. I just can't believe it. I've never read this much in my life! Maybe it's peer pressure. I have to keep up with my friends, who seem to all be avid readers. I have piles of books in the house begging to be read. Read me, read me, they call. But the piles get taller and taller as I accumulate books from a rummage sale in the eleventh arrondissement, a book swap that I organized with some expat friends, and weekly book relays among my school-mommy friends.

I don't mind having a whole bunch of unread books around. My habitat has always been like that. I've always been a book collector whose reading pace has never caught up with her collecting pace.

Reading is inspiring, uplifting, entertaining, enlightening. I love it. And even more importantly, I am able to experience different styles of writing and am learning to distinguish the good from the bad and the just plain ugly. This is part of my schooling required for writing a book sometime in the future.

I've just recently learned that the most highly recommended books are the ones that are humorous or are "page-turners." Their recommenders say the same words all the time -- doesn't matter who it is: "It's really funny," or "I couldn't put it down." Those books are the ones that are truly entertaining. But they're not always the ones that are the best written. The most impactful book I've read so far (I'm just about to start Zadie Smith's book, On Beauty, tonight, so I can't include her in the race) is still "Beloved" by Toni Morrison. It's so beautifully written -- elegant, poetic. But I don't feel comfortable recommending it to people because it can be a real downer. It's the strength of the protagonist that inspires me, that makes me realize that if she can survive what she went through (even though she's fictional), I should be grateful for what I have and make the most out of my life and the gifts I've been given. Hmm...I was reading this book about the same time I started turning my life around, taking control of it by exercising regularly, eating better, taking daily vitamins, helping friends, hanging with friends, and doing fun, worthwhile projects. So maybe this book really did have a profound effect on me, or was it just coincidence?

I'm ashamed to say I haven't been reading any books in French, aside from Maylin's bedtime stories which require me to translate Petit Ours Brun (Little Brown Bear), Babar, and Barbapapa, just to name a few. Well actually, yesterday, I did do some French reading outside of bedtime, but they were still children's books. Maylin dragged me to the children's book section of FNAC and I ended up doing translations for over an hour and a half, probably to the astonishment of the eavesdropping French patrons. Who knew there were so many children's books in English at this store? Non, ca n'existe pas! It's just me, nearly getting a headache from trying to make heads-or-tails of several unfamiliar colloquialisms. Fortunately, Maylin didn't notice when I just skipped over those parts nonchalantly.

Monday, December 04, 2006

My little beauty


My little beauty
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Doesn't Maylin look like a doll? I took this photo at the National U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, a few days before Thanksgiving with my brand-new 85mm lens. Doesn't it do great work? I decided to upgrade from my 50mm which was perfect for me in the beginning (it's super in the bright summer sun) but I felt I needed more when I found I wasn't too happy with its autofocus in low light and its sometimes rough bokeh (blurry backgrounds). I still have a lot to learn with my camera and this lens as I had little success in some very low light situations, such as Thanksgiving and other family visits (why didn't I use my point-and-shoot modes? kicking myself really hard now). What a pity. Anyways, check out my museum photos on my flickr site. I'm pretty proud of these.

In the mood for romantic music

I bought Disney's Little Mermaid animated film on DVD last month and discovered an amazing short animation in the special features section of the DVD. It's a beautifully-done version of Hans Christian Andersen's moving tale, The Little Match Girl. It's set appropriately to the third movement of Alexander Borodin's String Quartet No. 2 in D major. This touching 5-minute film and equally touching musical piece combine masterfully to produce tears in my eyes everytime. I discovered that I happened to have the exact same musical performance done by the Emerson String Quartet on CD. If you're interested, it's on the Deutsch Grammophon label along with Dvorak's amazing "American" Quartet (which I've played before) and Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1. The entire CD is stunning. The Emerson String Quartet is one of the best ensembles around with numerous recordings under their belt.

I recently acquired a CD that I had been looking for for a few years. I'm sure it was readily available, but I didn't know the title, only the performer, Jacqueline du Pre, a brilliant British cellist who was in the middle of a stellar musical career in the 60s-early 70s when her abilities began deteriorating after her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. I was introduced to her by the young cellist whom I was supposed to accompany on piano at a recital, but I ended up succumbing to my old habit of inadvertently double-booking myself and had to back out. Anyways, this CD is put out by EMI Classics and has a recital of the most romantic short pieces written/arranged for cello. The Delius cello concerto is also included, but it didn't impress me. If you want some romantic, slow evening music, I would highly recommend this album. The recital pieces include: Maria Theresia von Paradis' Sicilienne, Robert Schumann's Three Fantasy Pieces, Mendelssohn's Song without Words in D, Gabriel Faure's Elegie in C minor (my fave), and the somewhat overplayed The Swan from Camille Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals.

Another highly romantic recording from my collection is a very inexpensive CBS Great Performances CD with Leonard Berstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. It contains: Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, op.11, Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and Fantasia on "Greensleeves," a movement from Tchaikovsky's first string quartet (on the first CD mentioned, also), and the Adagietto movement from Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor (with a slightly overdone final cadence). Warning: This CD might be a little schmalzy for trained musicians, but great for amateur ears.

If you're in the mood for romantic piano, you can't go wrong with Chopin's Nocturnes. Unfortunately, I've played them so many times that their romance has worn off for me, but if you're not familiar with them, you'll discover some gems. Some Brahms Intermezzos will hit the spot, too. My favorite is No. 2 in A major, opus 118.

By the way, you don't need to have a partner to feel romantic. I think I've felt the most romantic when I was single -- particularly in high school when my hormones were raging and unrequited love was the norm (my being self-cloistered in an all-girls school).

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Paris dog poop shuffle

Here’s what you’ve all been waiting for…the choreography to a brand-new dance called the “dog poop shuffle.” It doesn’t work that well in the States (especially in Salt Lake City, Utah, and mostly definitely all the way in Singapore) because you need some requisite props, but I guess you could use your imagination. Okay, here we go!

1. Start with feet together on the sidewalk at the beginning of a block, standing in an upright position.
2. Walk forward with great care, always scanning ahead for unsightly obstructions. Keep a steady beat.
3. If you approach the obstruction with enough time, swerve around or step over it (with grace). For the more physically fit, jump over with knees towards your chest.
4. If you notice the annoyance last-minute, stop all forward momentum and hop on one foot away from the annoyance.
5. If you’ve succeeded in passing the obstacle without dirtying your shoes, do a full, 360 degree turn on your heel and clap your hands together.
6. If you foolishly dirtied your shoes (you’ll have to do better next time), perform the “stiff-legged scrape” which involves straightening the knee on the maligned side and dragging the sole of your dirty shoe along the ground for four beats. Hop on the clean foot, while lifting the dirty foot behind you. Take a glance at the sole. If it’s still soiled, repeat the “stiff-legged scrape” for another four beats. If the bottom of your shoe is clean, but there are remains behind your heel or between the heel and the ball of the foot, move towards the curb to perform the “pump” which entails attaching the tainted portion of the shoe to the curb’s edge and doing an up-and-down, pumping motion. If you are lucky enough to be blessed with a puddle of rainwater alongside the curb, I would recommend the “swish.” I’ll let you figure that one out.
7. Repeat these steps until you have reached the end of the block. Dancers with pristine feet are allowed to carry out a handless backflip at this point. Others can slump their shoulders forward and drop their heads, in shame.

NOTES: Perform this choreography with extreme caution in these cases.
(1) During or after rain: ground is extremely slippery and obstructions start spreading outwards covering more area, requiring you to make larger movements.
(2) Autumn: the golden and brown leaves provide good camouflage for the offenders – therefore, increase awareness!
(3) Rainy autumn day: avoid if possible.
(4) Nighttime: ditto.

Be a puppy

[Written offline November 30 due to internet problems.]

I was coming back from the gym today and passed by a Schnauzer puppy on a happy exploration with his owner. The curious guy had a light, cheerful step with a bit of puppy floppiness. I immediately realized that as of late, I am very much like a puppy. But I think I’m off-leash. I have this youthful joy (especially after exercising) these days, and I am becoming more and more curious. I’ve always been curious about people, but now it’s also extending towards things and activities. I think it’s a big part of the process of transforming into an artist. Curiosity and appreciation of the little things go hand-in-hand. This morning, going down the stairs of the gym, I noticed for the first time that one of the dark wooden handrails had some beautiful in-lay work in a lighter-colored wood. Nestled diamond-shapes every few inches with a simple, thin, sliver-of-a-border running along both edges of the railing. I ran my hand appreciatively along this artwork – I could feel how difficult this project was. It was not the finest handiwork I’ve seen, but the person who did it definitely took some care in making it.

I don’t feel comfortable calling myself an artist yet, but I’m glad other people consider me so. This is definitely where I was meant to be. In an artist’s shoes. My youth held all the clues. I was constantly creating – trying to be truly original in my art projects. I even sometimes turned in homework in unconventional formats. For example, in high school, I turned in my algebra II assignments in origami form, or pop-up, or with little doors that opened to reveal the solutions to my problems. For a Future Business Leaders of America conference, I stayed up late one night designing 3-D name tags with spaceships or rockets (I can’t remember which) jumping out (there was some cheesy theme I was working with, like “Reach for the Stars”). Highly unconventional.

And now to add another thing to my creative platter. I’m going to learn how to draw better. I like to do simple cartoon figures and animals, but I’m stumped with drawing them at an angle. Well, I could use help at all angles actually. I’m going to order some cartooning books from amazon.fr. I can’t wait!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

75 views on flickr.com!

Maylin and I do many art projects together. This is the result of one of them. Polymer clay is great -- it's non-toxic and you can bake it to harden it. I prefer to use Sculpey, but the Fimo brand is available worldwide. I can't believe seventy-five people took a look at my one-inch high pig on flickr.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Foreign in the U.S.A.

I felt so at home with John's family in Ohio during our Thanksgiving vacation there. It was such a wonderful time -- getting to know one another better, laughing, cooking, eating, making music, playing with the kids. I wish we could have stayed a little longer. Being with family is good. There's a certain kind of warmth that you can't get anywhere else. It must be all that love in the air.

Stepping out of the coziness of family and home to go shopping or eat in a restaurant sometimes felt like stepping into foreign territory. I've been in France so long I've forgotten how things go in the States. For example, in the airport restaurants, it was a bit startling to hear the service employees calling their clients, "honey," a way too familiar term for France, where we have to use the polite "vous" form for all verb conjugations when talking with someone we don't know. Using the familiar "tu" form is just plain rude unless you're talking to a friend, a family member (with the exception of certain elders), or children. "Honey" is more on a "tu" level, or maybe lower.

The shopping experience really made me feel "etrange" (foreign). First of all, at the supermarket, I automatically started bagging my groceries and realized later that the cashier or bagger usually does that. Doesn't hurt to help out though, right? I always feel funny anyways when someone is doing something for me that I could easily do myself. Even before I went to France. I always tried to avoid having my groceries taken to my car by an employee, except for when I had really heavy items like fifty-pound bags of dog food.

At Target (no, pronouncing it "tar-jhay" doesn't make it French, contrary to popular belief), I removed my cart from its line of nestled siblings from the wrong direction (I forgot that the carts run from the outside to the inside in places like Target and Wal-Mart allowing access to the cart from the interior of the store) and felt discombobulated when it came to paying with a credit card. Slide it through, follow screen instructions, sign paper. In France, most people use a debit card or cash, and our card machines are different where you actually insert your card and type in your PIN.

I'm also having trouble recognizing cars now, when I used to be really in tune with the domestic and import car industry in the States (at one point in high school, I wanted to become a car designer). I'm familiar with most French models of Citroen, Peugeot, and Renault. But ask me to recognize the more recent models Japanese and American cars? I'd be at a loss.

Geez, I couldn't even recognize my preferred facial cleanser by Clearasil (unavailable in France)! They completely changed their look from a bold blue to mostly white. I was happy to notice, though, that Jif peanut butter (ca n'existe pas en France) looks the same as ever.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Back from Turkeyland!

Maylin and I flew out to Ohio to spend time with John's family for Thanksgiving. And we finally saw John for the first time in three weeks! He flew in from the West Coast after his North America work trip was done. It was good to be back together again.

Sorry to be offline for so long, but I will fill you in on our trip later!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Is it a postcard, or is it Caroline's photo?

Taken from the Centre Pompidou. Click on the "my photos" link for more of my latest photos.

Coffee, juice, water, and...

I was on my way out of the gym this morning (did I tell you I'm going back again today?) when I paused to set down my bag so I could put on my jacket. I took a look around and saw next to me a glass-doored case with cool drinks for sale, a coffee vending machine, and a slender, free-standing, plexiglass billboard about my height. Upon closer inspection, it wasn't just a billboard. It was a cologne dispenser! Isn't that just perfect? All those sweaty, smelly guys coming out from their workout can press a little button and enjoy a free spritz of Armani as they rush out to meet the world of sensitive noses. Have you seen these in the States?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

First, ask the right question

I went to the Centre Pompidou today to see the Robert Rauschenberg exhibit with Maylin. Now I remember why I usually don't take her to museums these days. If you like a whirlwind tour of art, take my four year-old daughter with you. If you want to savor each piece and actually have time to think about it, don't take her along. Oh well. I think she liked some of it, but she was pretty antsy. I should have gone straight to the Rauschenberg instead of going to another exhibit beforehand and the museum's main bookstore.

At the bookstore, I had a truly French experience. I was trying to return an art book I had bought on the 29th of September. I went back last month to return it, but ran into a closed museum due to the social demonstration out in front. So I tried again today and was soooo disappointed to find out they didn't do returns. Not at all! There was nothing on the receipt about this. Well, I was just about to leave huffy and puffy when I realized I could ask if they did exchanges. To my surprise, they did! Geez, if I hadn't asked the right question, I would have been stuck with my expensive, not-so-good art book. This is the way in France. Sometimes, people in the service industry will not volunteer information to help you out -- you have to just expect this. And you have to know what to ask.

The employee told me to go pick out the books first and then he would do the exchange. It was Maylin's lucky day -- she got to pick out two, very nice books. When I went back to the guy, he looked at the receipt and muttered (to himself and to his colleague) loud enough for me to hear that the book was sold over a month ago. I was thinking, he better not penalize me for that -- that's not written on the receipt either!

Fortunately, the exchange went smoothly, but I was a bit put out when he refused to return my smile after the transaction was completed. Ooh -- it's times like these when I wish I was in the States again, pronto!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Are you a long-lost friend of mine?

If so, please see my profile, and click on the e-mail button to contact me. Most likely, I want to reconnect with you, but have just lost your contact information. Out of curiosity (maybe a little loneliness for some strange reason?), I checked my site meter and noticed I have at least one visitor from Indonesia and one from Sweden. I have missing friends who may still be residing there. If you are those missing people or have any information regarding their whereabouts, please contact me! (Okay, now I'm purposely starting to sound like "America's Most Wanted.")

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Maylin's teacher is concerned

Yesterday, Maylin's teacher gave me a surprising report. Remember I brought birthday cake to her class before vacation? Remember the teacher telling me she didn't eat her piece of cake? Well, after a week and a half of vacation, she found that piece wedged in a corner of the classroom. I'm sure it didn't look too pretty. She said Maylin wouldn't say anything about hiding it, but she understands that maybe she was too embarrassed to throw it away -- after all, her Mommy made it.

Maylin's teacher was actually more concerned about her not communicating to her. She never breathes a word to her, and rarely speaks French with the other children. She gravitates towards one of her English-speaking friends for the majority of the classtime. Her teacher said Maylin seemed to understand French, but wanted some evidence that she could speak it. And she really wants to get to know her better -- she's fascinated by the creative mind who makes beautiful drawings everyday. Maylin's teacher knows she's shy, but she really wants me to try something.

I suggested having more playdates with French children, which may encourage to speak more French, but I really don't think it's going to make her less shy around adults. I don't believe you can make someone less shy. I was very timid up until high school. But it wasn't until college when I really opened up. That was a matter of will. The summer before I started my freshman year of college, I made up my mind to be the talkative, outgoing person I always wanted to be. And it worked. I'm just going to let Maylin take her time. I can't change her personality.

Battle of the wills: getting dressed in the morning

Maylin is very particular about her clothes. VERY particular. Yesterday, she was very much opposed to wearing the thicker jacket I was suggesting to her since it was really cold out. Too cold for her favorite coat -- a very thin, bright pink, strawberry-adorned raincoat. She liked this newer jacket before -- in fact, she picked it out herself on the way down to Barcelona last spring. It's purple (her favorite color to wear), but now it seems that its bulkiness is off-putting to her. "It's too puffy," was the explanation she gave me for not wanting to wear it. Of course, she protested in the apartment getting ready for school, and she protested nearly all the way to school. Which means, she wasn't wearing a jacket outside until she gave in.

This is what it looked like. I was walking a few feet ahead of Maylin, refusing to carry her jacket. Maylin was bawling behind me with tears streaming down her face, begging me to take her jacket. I continued persuading her to get it on. She continued refusing, even though she was probably freezing in her light cotton sweater with just a tanktop underneath. So, I had to bring in the ominous possibility of her getting seriously sick, requiring her to make a visit to the hospital. The choice I gave her: hospital or jacket. We were just a block away from school when she finally chose to wear the jacket. Sheesh. Can you just imagine what it's going to be like when she's a teenager? I'm going to have my hands full.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Stream of consciousness poem

I bought some pens today after all (!) of ours either disappeared or ran out of ink! I might have found a favorite after trying many -- it's the Pilot V Signpen. It felt so good writing with it that these words just tumbled out of it and I had to keep getting more paper until my pen was done. The poem is very strange and somewhat meaningless, but if you read it aloud with your own pauses and punctuation, you might discover a pretty cool, very complicated rhythm. You might have to read it a couple times to find the right rhythm for you. I find it very musical!

Note: Don't get freaked out. This was a stream of consciousness exercise. It's just what came to my mind quickly. I didn't give myself time to really think about it. I kept my pen moving and stopped only a couple of times.

Read it aloud:

Dipple dapple bubble
snapple crisp crack crumble
cake inside slick slender soupish things
are round found underground
never mind the yolk-stained furniture
I care for not my make-up
stand down sit away afar
in ebony stones stipple stapple
the old man's bone is home to me
where eskimos' elk eat antlers
cold in morning sunshine calculating
every morsel of energy
enveloping the nostril of heaven and life
nook knocking helplessly help me
mind the shoes in apartment B
is behind number four the door is
black binder happy free enough to
cook my dinner on a frightened pan where mold sneaks
and finds a hiding place in light dark
freakish delight I play under
ashtrays alimony bridges broken
where water crinkles lightly towards some forgotten moon
where Martians understand their mortality and
forgive the dying sun my heart is smudged
drudgery dredged unlike holidays gone mad
I flick a memory into apricot shores
open bars and tasteless cigar ash open the cola
and smother with smores my open chest there wounded
mighty bound Christian sound
flood the pre-emptive acts of cobras combative
caring of nothing really just give me fronds
and I'll give you strawberry blonde
shakes me up and ties me down don't shiver until I arrive
you silly goat who smite my metallic dangle my dogged danger
my malignant smile who cares if this makes sense or not I,
said the ant who whispered a slobberish grin please cancel
my subscription again cross the name tick the mark I don't know
anymore wonder why my sockets are emptying themselves
fire in fire out crash the movie stoned in line whatever suits
the cat in the gray suit it smells forgone are the days of
injury helicopters and microscopic melon balls carry me down
to Mama's pasture milk the cow and cash the fairy
she has teeth more than one worth saving separate pawns
in white syrup savor no more cabbages and crawdads simple
crawl towards icicles rainballs and precipices
stuttle glisses grumpy gizzards
fly onto pregnant ground fearless
animal counting one two three
artichokes in harmony fourths fifths
all perfect in perfection
I hear I sound I holler hoo ha! ay caramba!
smashing squashy squishy things under my feet
feel my toes squeak squander all his pay on
bubblegum dreams and ice cream wishes paradise is near
pounce on it my friend my punky antelope friend
who flights upon sighting marigolds honeydew pancake rhythm
oh my soul
oh my handkerchief dropped into yellow water
hold my hand it's going to hurt my melancholy angel
just hush and hear mingling marmalade lardons pardon me
but is this your ape oh yes why thank you but he's changed
he's Henry he's hardened into taffy candy listen I know
who killed the mockingbird ding dong
the witch is dead fine here you take the jelly spoon
and tap the egg don't you'll scare him give me that
you finish bronzing that banana and I'll pierce the naughty neighbor
once and for all and just so you know
money doesn't grow on lizard skin
but if you licked it I'd like it much more
my candle's out find a match with matching gloves
and handbag hold this watch my fingers they are glowing red
innocent kiss my mouth you deranged hippo of yesteryear suck on
monster wax and ceiling paint I understand now
the misery your pain your filthy underwear dismissed from preschool
can't you see what's happening no you're too late take the bottle
and smash the bag the floor will cackle slowly mumble forth
where crepes and bugs collide au revoir

***

I felt very relaxed after I wrote this. As if I had done some meditation. Try it sometime. It's fun, too.

Free at last

Maylin's finally back in school after a week and a half of vacation, some illness, and Mommy full-time. We had lots of fun together (when she recovered from her feverish days and restless nights) making little books and clay animals, but Mommy really needed a break, especially since Daddy's been traveling for work. So this morning, I finally got into my routine again -- drop off Maylin at school, walk Leo, take two classes at the gym...and now I'm free!!!

I felt good after my gym classes today (BodyPump which is weight-training and BodyBalance which is tai-chi/yoga/Pilates), but I was REALLY excited when my order came in from the French Amazon.com (amazon.fr). It's a new book by Bill Buford entitled, "Heat." He's a New Yorker writer who had the envious opportunity to train in the kitchen of a three-star restaurant, an amateur among pros. I just love memoirs. I can't wait to experience what he experienced, without having to really experience it myself. If I had the chance, would I work in a professional kitchen? I think it'd be so much fun. As long as I wouldn't have to do it forever.

Some books I've read recently that I think will appeal to everybody include "Freakonomics" and "Blink." They'll really change the way you think about things -- and they're real page-turners. Hard to put down! You'll learn about why drug dealers still live with their mothers, and how one man can predict whether a marriage will succeed or fail with 90% accuracy, just by listening to a couple's conversation for fifteen minutes. Fascinating stuff.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Maylin writes!

Last weekend, Maylin finally took some interest in learning how to write her name! She could already write a few letters (very few) and often mimicked writing her name on the tops of her drawings (with letter-like, almost cursive characters), but she often refused to be taught by me. Last Saturday, when she sat down and started writing some letters on her own with obvious joy, I took the opportunity to teach her to write her name, and mine, and John's, and Leo's! We were both screaming with joy after we finished each name. I would write one letter in the simplest way possible, instructing Maylin to draw "sticks" and "bellies", and she would take her turn with relaxed concentration and much interest! It really was a lot like drawing, so I think that's why the process appealed to her.

Soon afterwards, I suggested to Maylin that we write a letter to Santa. So letter-by-letter, word-by-word, she followed me along, drafting a fine letter to the round, jolly fellow.

Dear Santa,

I want rollerskates and a store.

Maylin

Don't worry, the "store" is more of a plastic produce stand and shopping cart. John's company is already taking care of that. (More on that later.)

She was very proud of herself, and Mom and Dad were, too!

Today, she continued her enthusiasm by writing a little book. Mommy loves making little books, so I invited her to join along. I folded some 8.5x11 paper in half lengthwise, cut along the crease, folded the pieces in half to make the book, and "bound" it by drawing some kitchen string along the inner fold, bringing the two ends to the center of the outer spine, and tying them together simply. Maylin drew some lovely figures, mostly of Mommy and Maylin, and wrote her own words with her newly learned letters. A little frightening how she came up with "WAR" on the back cover of her booklet. I told her that that's what is said, and she told me that it actually read, "Don't fight in a war." Another page coincidentally says "NO AMO," which could be interpreted as "no ammo" or "no amor/love." Is there a little pacifist in the making here?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Addicted to flickr!

Now you can enjoy nearly daily updates to my photo site at flickr. I don't know how long I can keep up all this activity on my site, but I've had a bit of time on my hands since I've been tied up at home with my sick Maylin. She's much better now, but she had some lingering low-grade fevers which were remedied by cool, wet towels applied to her skin (she abhors medication and I'm not willing to put up the fight anymore -- she's too strong). Fortunately, no more temperature for her, but outdoors, if you want to speak of temperature...brrr! We had such a glorious October -- so nice and warm and sunny, perfect for the tourists -- and now, come November 1st, we've got wind and cold and the need for hot chocolate and wool coats!

But I digress. Check out my photos (click on the link in the right sidebar) and leave me some comments. Let me know what you think. I've added way too many sets/albums, but the photos are better organized that way. Sift through them on the right and view them as slideshow (as a set/album). You can see Maylin's artwork, my creations, portraits of our dog Leo, portraits of Maylin, photo shoots of my friends and their kids, and more!

Flickr is scary and amazing at the same time. If you click on "explore" and look for what flickr considers "interesting," you'll find some really inspiring, freaky, and just plain awesome photos. I'm not worthy! Now I know I have soooo much to learn regarding photography and toooo much equipment I need to buy. I totally want to set up a little studio in the apartment to do black and white portraits...and I'm dying to get a hold of a wide-angle lens!

This is too fun.

Sample of Maylin's artwork

Maylin's drawn several portraits of myself, and this is the most beautiful of the series. October 2006

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cantine conundrum solved?

Thanks for the e-mails regarding Maylin's eating habits at school. Here's an elaborated version of what I wrote in my comments section in reply to one of my readers:

The cafeteria food in France is fantastic. It might be too gourmet for Maylin, who prefers chow mein, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and scrambled eggs. At school they have fish served in special sauces, rabbit with mustard, couscous, fruit, tomatoes, and various "green stuff." Maylin's told me that she did actually eat fish and couscous, but probably in such minute amounts that it didn't count according to the cooking staff. But Maylin also has a history of eating the exotic -- duck feet, chicken butt, lobster, and smoked salmon.

In the cantine, they serve at least four courses and that may be too much for Maylin to finish in one hour. That's 15 minutes per course. They toss each unfinished course into the trash before they go onto the next course. Yeah, it's too fast for her, even if she is hungry which she probably is by lunchtime because she doesn't have breakfast at home (she's never hungry when she gets up -- like I was when I was a kid). At home, I'll leave all her food out for as long as it takes for her to finish it. Now do I have to teach her to eat faster?

I remember eating, or not eating, in the school cafeteria in first grade. I remember tossing out lots of food, hardly eating anything unless it was roast turkey and mashed potato day. I think I felt a little guilty, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. My appetite was always poor in childhood, even at home, but I think it was worse at school when the food was hardly palatable. And don't even talk about the milk! I hated milk at home, but the milk at school (even in the grades when I was able to bring lunch from home) was really disgusting. Sometimes it was on the warm side, sometimes it was past its "best by" date, and sometimes it was just plain foul -- like the time in third grade when my milk came out of the carton in chunks or curds or whatever you wanted to call the sour, solid stuff.

I think Maylin's appetite is better than mine was. But maybe I'm also a little bit more accommodating to her taste. I cook a meal for her, often separate from John's and mine. I'll be lucky these days if she wants to eat some of my fried rice or stirfry. Too often the only thing she wants is mac 'n' cheese, which I make from scratch (I haven't seen any Kraft Cheese-n-Macaroni here nor Annie's Homegrown Shells with the cute bunny on the box).

A great many of my memories of childhood involve some food dispute. The night before my sixth birthday (my mom planned a big party for me), at around 10 p.m., I was still sitting at the kitchen counter-peninsula, trying with all my might to finish my dinner. I was really too excited to eat. I sat there obediently for hours since 7 or 8 p.m. until my parents finally gave in and let me go to bed without finishing. At the party the next day, I couldn't even finish my catered McDonald's cheeseburger and was left alone at the table while all my friends went off to play the party games. Another time, I took several hours to finish dinner because my parents didn't realize that for an hour I had been gnawing unsuccessfully on a grisly piece of meat. I wasn't allowed to spit out food so I stuck with it until it was a tasteless gray mass. And how many times did I forgo my dinner to cry myself to sleep? Too many -- all due to a lack of appetite. It became my cross to bear for my entire childhood.

I probably found my appetite around puberty. And then, during my freshman year in college I added the well-known "Freshman Fifteen" to my pre-college weight of a measly eighty-five pounds. Thanks to limitless servings of curly fries, pancakes, fried chicken, and chicken-fried steak, the entire freshman class grew as individuals, literally.

But I digress. Though I do think history will repeat itself. Maylin will have a below-average appetite until the pimples arrive, and then there will be no holding her back.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Happy Birthday, Maylin!

My little girl turned four on Friday. And she has certainly proven this week that she is becoming a big girl. Maylin is a girl who knows what she wants. She told me exactly how she wanted her birthday. No friends -- just Mommy and Daddy. Earlier, she said she didn't want any presents either, but on Friday, she eagerly received her Mulan DVD and drum with drumsticks.

And just this week, she made a leap into the world of lying. Her first lie, on Monday I believe, was motivated by a strong need for dessert. We usually have this deal going where if she eats a peanut butter sandwich, she's allowed a chocolate sandwich afterwards (Nutella, actually, which is basically a smooth chocolate-hazelnut sauce). Her peanut butter sandwich disappeared faster than usual, but I didn't suspect anything when she proudly said that she had finished the sandwich and was ready for the chocolate one. About ten minutes later, after she had finished her sweet treat, I found the remains of a peanut butter sandwich in the bathroom wastebasket.

I think I came across a little too strong initially -- demanding if she knew that what she did was wrong. I wasn't yelling, but she could certainly hear the urgency in my voice. I wanted to know if she knew she had done two bad things -- lying and wasting food. Maylin nodded in the affirmative and then burst into tears in shame and went into her room. Shortly afterward, she came out completely calm -- no more crying, just damp cheeks. She said oh so sweetly, "I'm sorry, Mommy. I didn't mean to." I just melted in her sweetness. I was relieved that she realized she had made a mistake. We had a little discussion about why telling the truth was important and why it was bad to throw out food (especially when Mommy or the dog Leo could have finished it). She seemed to understand the lesson, so I thought it was all resolved. She wasn't going to lie again, right?

Except on Wednesday, after making Maylin's requested alphabet letter soup (Monoprix sells pasta letters now -- great for preschoolers) and my own lunch, I returned to the dining table and discovered that her soup bowl was missing! She wouldn't tell me where she put it so I began searching the rooms. We came to a standoff in my bedroom -- Maylin's arms outstretched, blocking the path to John's side of the bed. I wasn't in the mood to argue so I just settled on the bed and started reading a novel. I told her I would wait for her to show me the location of her bowl. She started crying. Maylin stayed a bit and when she realized I wasn't going to be doing any comforting, she gave up and eventually went to her room to finish her bawling. I resumed my quest for the bowl. On the floor, behind an old computer monitor that John wants to sell on eBay, I recovered the missing pasta and soup -- fortunately, completely intact (no soup or pasta outside of the bowl on the floor). This time, Maylin was able to remove her unwanted meal without lying, and without throwing food away. So, did she really do anything bad? Or is this just a sign of brilliance?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Let them eat enough cake

Maylin's teacher asked me last week if I wanted to have them celebrate Maylin's birthday before or after the Toussaint vacation (still don't know what Toussaint is, but this vacation is a week and a half long starting the last week of October), and if I wanted to bring a cake or candy...but it's optional. I was planning on bringing a cake and said I would bring it on Monday of this week.

Sunday evening came along, I put Maylin to bed at 9 pm, and then realized I hadn't baked anything yet! I wanted to bake chocolate cake but was overcome with fear when I looked in my fridge and cupboard and saw just enough butter and chocolate for two 8-inch one-layer cakes. Was two cakes enough for 25 children and a teacher? It would have to do. Should I make one rectangular cake instead? I opted for the round cakes because I thought slices would look bigger than little squares even if they were actually the same mass.

The butter and chocolate were enough for the cakes, but instead of doubling one recipe, I was forced to add one recipe to another (otherwise, I would have been short on either the butter or the chocolate). I added the ingredients of the two recipes together and then added extra leavening. Somehow, it worked, and they turned out beautifully.

So earlier that day, I was supposed to buy more chocolate and butter. I was supposed to buy drinks, too, but it was too late -- all the grocery stores were closed (except just now I'm realizing that there is a little epicerie owned by an Arab that opens until 11 pm but charges double the going rate of most products -- kicking myself). Shoot, they wouldn't be able to use the cute Dora the Explorer cups I found at Auchan, the hypermarche (super-supermarket) at La Defense. At least, they could use the cute Dora the Explorer napkins. To make up for the possibility of cake shortage, I tossed into the feed bag two large packages of Chinese rice crackers (salty and sweet) and a portion of store-bought speculoos cookies (kind of like gingersnaps).

Monday morning came along and Maylin started crying when I woke her up for school. She didn't want to go to school -- she didn't want to celebrate her birthday because people would look at her. Have you noticed? She's super-shy. Somehow I got her dressed and took her to school. Actually, John carried her and I carried the food. I presumed I would be able to enter the school with Maylin to bring up the goodies, but it turns out I could only leave it with the gardienne to take in. (Makes me a little suspicious when we're only allowed to go up to their classrooms once a month.)

When I came to pick Maylin up after school, everything turned out better than expected (except for her still not eating in the cantine, as reported by the gardienne, and for her not eating hardly any birthday cake, as reported by her teacher). Maylin reported that everybody ate cake and liked it, that five kids didn't want to eat the Chinese rice crackers, and that the kids asked their teacher if there were any drinks (the teacher said Maylin's mommy forgot -- I felt bad, but Maylin said the moms never brought drinks when there were other birthdays, so then I didn't feel quite so bad). She also told me that she was asked to take a piece of cake to the other teacher down the hall on a Dora napkin and that she wasn't shy. She spoke to her! Great improvement.

Where did all this extra cake come from? 26 pieces? Incroyable! It almost felt like that New Testament parable about Jesus turning five loaves and two fish into enough food to feed four thousand people. It really was a miracle.

****

On Tuesday, Maylin was called into the principal's office to get her birthday present -- a tiny plastic pony (mimicking "My Little Pony") with mini hairbrush. It was cute and such a nice gesture. The principal, or "directrice," even said that Maylin spoke to her for the first time as she held my daughter's face lovingly. Aww, they do care. There's a strange dichotomy of personal/impersonal at school. The teachers and principal seem very nurturing with the children, and yet they tend to keep the parents at a distance. Parents are not allowed into the classroom area except for designated days once a month -- I think I've even been yelled at when I unknowingly broke the rule last year while trying to bring Maylin's "doudou" to her classroom (she had left her favorite stuffed animal at home and cried so hard she broke my heart).

Friday, October 20, 2006

Surprising Maylin news

Well, I talked to Maylin's teacher the other day and learned that Maylin never talks to her. She has glued herself onto one of her English-speaking classmates and communicates only with him, at least in class, in English. The teacher seemed a bit concerned about it, but otherwise, Maylin has been doing well at school.

The principal, or "directrice," summoned me over after school a few days ago and was very concerned about Maylin's eating habits at the school cafeteria -- or lack thereof. She told me Maylin eats nothing, day after day. Maylin does seem very hungry after school, but she doesn't look unhealthy at all or lack energy. Yesterday, I asked her if she ate chicken and potatoes, as posted on the school menu. She said she ate a little bit and then the "cooking lady threw it away." A friend proposed that perhaps Maylin's not eating fast enough. If anyone has any ideas or solutions, please let me know.

By the way, Maylin's teacher is warmer with me now. Eye contact and everything. Since we've talked a little bit, I think she's realized that I can communicate in French and am not going to bite her.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Grumpy old French men

The supermarket near Maylin's school is Champion. On Tuesdays, it opens at 8:30 am. I arrived early, just after dropping off Maylin. When the doors opened, three people out of nowhere somehow beat me to it. One of them was an older man, in his late 60's, who I recognized as a regular. Let's call him Monsieur X. He acted as if he deserved everyone's attention. M. X was running around like a chicken with his head cut off in his quest to find the right confiture, otherwise known as jam. He barged into the already very narrow aisle which was occupied by pallets of products needing to be stocked on the shelves immediately, an employee who was in the process of stocking, and myself. M. X stood right in front of the jams, oblivious to the poor Champion employee who was trying to juggle unwieldy packages of paper towels and cereal and get past him at the same time. Unfortunately, the staff member was stuck doing his balancing act while trying to advise a very flustered Monsieur X, who wanted help but didn't seem to want to listen to anyone either. Finally, Monsieur X grabbed what he thought was the right jar off of the shelf and bolted down the aisle. A minute later, he was back complaining that it was the wrong one. Another employee suggested, "Bonne Maman?" which is a very reputable company which makes delicious jams and cookies. Nope. Well, I didn't stay to see how his story panned out.

But, towards the end of my shopping trip, I ran into another crazed man, Monsieur Y. He was moving quickly up and down my aisle mumbling, "Ou est blah-blah-blah oiseaux?" Eventually, I realized he was looking for "des graines d'oiseaux," or birdseed. M. Y wasn't really talking to anyone and no one seemed to be paying him any attention, but I decided to help him out anyway. I took him over to the right shelf and brought down a box of birdseed for him. He looked at it blankly and walked off to ask an employee the location of the birdseed -- as if I didn't exist. (By the way, that's the worst insult you can give me.) "Next to that woman." Duh. I just pointed it out to him! I tried to be patient and offered him the box again. Gruffly, he said it wasn't the right one. It was supposed to be in a bag, not a box. No word of thanks. No smile. Monsieur Y just walked away as I stood there dumbly with birdseed in my hand. Fine. That's the last time I'm helping you again.

Last year, it was the year of grumpy old women. This year, grumpy old men are in season. C'est la vie.

Still here

I'm a busy, busy bee these days. I'm continuing to be a gym addict to the amusement of admiration of all my friends, doing lots of photography (check out my link "my photos"), and being very social. Just want to let you know we're all very healthy and happy. I will give you a real post soon, I hope, including some recipes for some yummy chocolate cakes I've made for some special people here. Wish I could make cake for all of you! -- all my love

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The real artist in the family

Lately, I've been encouraging Maylin to try learning a musical instrument or take a dance class, like I did as a young child. Little or no interest. She watched some kids practice martial arts, but she said she didn't want to do it herself. Maylin also sat quietly through my hour and fifteen minute yoga class but she had no desire to join us. What she does love is painting and drawing. She does seem to bring a lot more drawings home from school than the other children -- last year, too. One of her latest drawings even conjured up a bit of envy among some other moms.

I've always loved Maylin's artwork, but maybe it's more special than I realize. John adores her art, and never says anything about mine which makes me think, Geez, maybe Maylin IS a better artist than me. Yes, she is. I will take some photos of her work, and you can tell me what you think.

She definitely has some talent in the visual field. Have we already discovered her career path? Painter, illustrator, graphic designer, or architect? I say "architect" because she just built a really cool pirate ship with her Kapla blocks last night.

I definitely want to support Maylin in her main interest, but I would like to broaden her horizons, too. I typically ask for her input, but maybe I should just sign her up for a dance class, violin lessons, or karate. Or maybe I should just let her be for this year. She's still quite young. Not even four yet.

A passion rediscovered

In college, I didn't go to a lot of school dances because I was a bit of a nerd studying all the time, but I do remember that when I did go, I had an incredible time and couldn't stop dancing! I even won my dorm's dance contest one year. I have difficulty dancing to techno because it's too fast for me, but I love dancing to hip-hop (and maybe house and funk if I knew exactly what they were). My body just naturally moves well to hip-hop, which I find has a very sensual beat.

Anyways, I haven't gone clubbing since my summer experience in Taiwan ten years ago, and John doesn't seem to show much interest in dancing -- although once we had a fabulous time, just the two of us, dancing in our Berkeley courtyard under the moonlight. So today, ten years later, I took a BodyJam class at the gym which is supposed to be a melange of salsa, hip-hop, disco, funk, and techno. It was a marvelous time!

It was a small class, eight women, versus the twenty-plus faithful attendees of the BodyPump classes. The ladies were all very nice -- more smiley than most French women. These were women who were willing to step out of their comfort zone, have some fun, and burn a bunch of calories at the same time. Women willing to look a bit foolish if they messed up. We're not trying to look good -- just have a good time. I was fortunate enough to have a real dancer, probably another instructor, right in front of me. I don't know why she was participating in the class, but it was nice of her to show her support.

We did several short routines to different music, ranging from hip-hop to salsa to pop. Towards the end we were putting the routines together to make one long one, which challenged our brains. But I just really loved moving my body in a slightly familiar way. Nice to meet you again, body. I had forgotten you had all that in you.

I think I was doing pretty well in the class, keeping up and enjoying myself. I had an advantage over most of the other women because I've had some dance experience -- ballet and jazz. Classical and jazz dance is very different from popular dance, but what you carry over is good balance, an existing repertoire of movement, automatic synchronization between movement and music, and the mental ability to master a choreography. I certainly wasn't perfect, but I think I got more out of the class because I could complete the routines without much difficulty. It's like learning a musical instrument. Once you know all the notes, you can then begin to inject emotion and nuance which is where the real music-making begins.

I will surely take another BodyJam class in the near future, but now I'm thinking of even taking a real hip-hop class somewhere because I felt a real connection to the hip-hop as opposed to the other styles. I do still have a couple passes to the Centre de Danse du Marais and I'm sure they teach hip-hop over there, along with their ballet, modern, jazz, salsa, and yoga classes. Another adventure!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fun with French, part I

Shortly after we arrived in Paris, back in 2004, John developed a serious sinus infection. In the States, John never got sick. But how Paris has affected our health is another story. Anyways, he went to see the doctor, armed with a limited French vocabulary and an even more limited knowledge of pronunciation. To the practitioner's amusement, John calmly told her that a little monkey (instead of a little bit of blood) was coming out of his nose. He had inadvertently said "un petit singe" instead of "un peu de sang."

The other night, a friend informed us of how another subtle difference in pronunciation can twist your meaning a hundred-eighty degrees. In a restaurant, when new expats (and veterans) aren't able to catch the specials of the day careening off the tongue of their French waiter, they ask him to repeat himself. “Répétez, s’il vous plait.” But if you say “repétez” instead of “répétez” (note the differences in accents), pronouncing the first syllable like “ruh” instead of “ray” will result in asking the waiter to release some gas from his rear, again.

The French like to borrow American words. The most obvious are the ones with an “ing” ending, such as “parking” and “marketing.” Those are used correctly, but what about “shampooing”? “Shampooing” is not the act of washing your hair but the actual cleaning product – the shampoo. Even less creative is “apres-shampooing” (literally “after shampoo”) which is conditioner.

Would anyone else like to share some interesting French lingual tidbits?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Bumped

It's not been my week. Now I've been bumped from the list of parents who will be accompanying their child's class to a farm next week -- the first field trip of the year. I followed the same procedure as last year. Wait to be notified of the excursion in Maylin's little school communications notebook where important notices to parents are pasted, instead of the rather messy American model of looseleaf 8.5x11s everywhere. Circle "I will be available to accompany the class." Sign. I did not anticipate the competition coming from overzealous parents who apparently reserved their spots weeks ago (but we've only been in school for a month!). I knew about the date, which the teacher probably wasn't supposed to blurt out during the back-to-school meeting. I should have spoken up about my availability that day.

I knew I was immediately a non-favorite with Maylin's teacher when she completely ignored me at the end of that meeting even though I was waiting to speak to her, standing in front of her face. I didn't even do anything. Maybe that's my problem. I should have baked her cookies or something. Or brought her flowers. Yeah, right. I'm no brownnoser, but someone who may lose out to the brownnosers this year.

The day after I signed my name in the little book, I received a little note on brown paper from Maylin's teacher thanking profusely for volunteering to accompany but that there were no more spots. Why couldn't she tell me to my face right after school? I see her everyday. Maybe it's this aversion she has towards me.

I'll write a little note to the teacher expressing my interest in accompanying the next class field trip. Let's see what happens.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Scammed

Okay, this is going to be embarrassing for me, but hopefully my story will alert to you the dangers that are out there. I never thought of myself as completely naive and gullible before, but now I may change my tune.

Perhaps the con artist I encountered sensed my vulnerability through the windshield of his car, even though I thought I was feeling pretty strong and on top of the world. I had really pushed myself at my BodyPump class in yesterday morning, knowing I would be skipping out on BodyBalance afterwards in order to have time to get groceries, have lunch with a friend, and accompany her to a Home Depot-type store called Castorama near Clichy, a walk down from Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, before picking up our kids from school. I was very proud of myself, lifting more weight than I ever have for squats and lunges (total of 17.6 pounds). I also lifted that same amount over my head for many repetitions, and even used a two-kilo weight on my shoulder for side crunches which was totally optional.

I went home, took a shower, and dressed. Dressing is a little upsetting because I still can't fit into my old jeans, but I was feeling a bit better because the jeans I bought in the States that fit me perfectly in August are now three to four inches too big around the waist! My other options were gray pants with elastic wasteband or black pants with elastic wasteband. Neither of those would suffice if I wanted to feel mildly attractive that day. So I decided to wear my too-big jeans anyways. But to make it somewhat work is with a belt. I have a stupid "ceinture" that isn't really a belt at all because it is made out of some synthetic cloth and has two rings instead of a normal buckle. (It was included with some cheap pants I bought last year at Etam in the girls' section, made of the same material.) I'm trying not to buy a belt because I'm hoping I'll fit into my old jeans before it's absolutely necessary to hit the shops. Anyways, the belt takes a lot of effort -- sometimes it takes three times to get it to work. And even after I get it to work, after ten minutes of walking, my jeans still begin to sag in the front. Well, there's at least ten minutes of feeling attractive in there.

I wanted to wear my new soft pink sweater, but it was still kind of tight around my slimming waist, so I ended up wearing my form-fitting watermelon pink sweater which ended where my low-rise jeans began. Perfect. I looked pretty good, especially with my new abs and arms.

I slid into my sexy, but inexpensive, Payless ShoeSource heeled black sandals, and set off with my this-is-not-your-Grandma's-rolling cart to Champion to return the lightbulbs that I bought by mistake ("baionnet" instead of the screw-in "grande vis" -- but I could have goofed, too, by purchasing the "petite vis"), buy milk for my friend, and get some conditioner, fruit, fish, and bottled water. I forgot that it was Monday, meaning that many of our neighborhood shops were closed, at least for the morning. I walked all the way to Champion and then stood at the street corner for a minute thinking about my next step. Go to little G20 where the produce wasn't good, head to discount Ed where the fish wasn't good, opt for our neighborhood Franprix which didn't have any fish, or go to Monoprix which had everything but was a little out of the way? I glanced at my watch and decided I had time for Monoprix. I found everything I needed, including some great fresh halibut, and even got some admiring glances from both men and women. Well, one woman. And she was mostly admiring my really cheap sandals.

I was walking back in the drizzle, to which Parisians are all too accustomed. Most umbrellas only come out for the real downpours. I didn't carry one with me this time, but I didn't have an extra hand anyways. I didn't care. I was still warm and fuzzy from the admiration...which probably made me especially vulnerable when I was approached.

Young man in car pulls over to the curb to ask for directions. Or so I thought. He had a map in hand and was pointing to it. People are always asking for directions so I didn't hesitate to stop and help out. I like to help people. My other vulnerability to scams like these.

In Italian, he asked, "Do you speak Italian?" No. In English, he asked, "Do you speak English?" Yes. He spoke his English with a pretty convincing Italian accent. Scam Artist said he was coming from a fashion show at the Palais de Congres and had to be in Nice (on the Cote d'Azur) for another show in the evening. In my head I was thinking, I have no idea how he'd get there from here and I didn't have my map on me. And he only had a ratty old free map, probably from Printemps or Galeries Lafayette. But instead of asking for directions, he started rattling off his designer brand which I didn't recognize (but I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to high fashion) along with some other names. I only recognized Gucci. I was getting excited anyway. Ooh, I'm talking to one of THOSE people. Neat. He showed me his business card which looked legitimate, but which I thought was a little strange because it looked like he only had one and it was laminated. Scam Artist told me he spotted me because I was a small size and he wanted to give me some samples from the show. SA knew they would fit me. He took out a black leather coat and a camel suede jacket, both very neatly folded and packaged in a plastic sheath that had some Italian words printed on it and 2007-2008 along the edges. They also had their tags still on. He also brought out a little book of photos of models in outerwear similar to what he just showed me. I should have been suspicious at this point because the book was not professionally done. Later I realized they could have just been magazine clippings. Somehow he convinced me. He pointed to two pictures -- each pretty much matching his "gifts" to me.

SA said he did not pay for these samples. His company did. The leather coat was worth 2000 some-odd euros and the suede jacket was 1700 euros.

I did feel somewhat flattered to be singled out because of my physique to receive these amazing gifts. I never thought there would be a catch. Stupid (and vain) me. He explained he was in a rush to get down to Nice, a thousand kilometers away, but he was out of gas. SA pointed to his dash as he spoke. I couldn't get a good look at it to see if this was really the case -- I just believed him. He was that good.

SA also did a good job playing the ignorant Italian visitor. He had stopped in an illegal parking area to talk to me and thought he was disrupting traffic when he saw some cars slow to a stop beside him. SA asked if this was an okay spot to park. I said, not really. So he parked his car in the delivery zone (which is a little better) just on the other side of this one-way street. I had to lug my heavy cart down the curb to cross the street. I approached the driver's side to continue the conversation but he motioned for me to go to the other side. I should have been more than a little suspicious at this point. Why wasn't I? He was probably trying to shield his gas gauge from view.

I left my cart by the curb and walked over to the passenger side. He popped the door open and wanted me to sit in his car. No, I wasn't going to let that happen. At least I know to never sit in a stranger's car. He might take off and then I'd never be seen again. SA did not push me and said that Italians were direct and explained his culture (?) in a very Italianate way with hand-gesturing. I said I was American and I couldn't trust strangers. But it seems, I trusted him enough to continue talking to him.

Did SA ever directly ask me for the gas money? Not really. He said he needed money for two tanks of gas and was willing to take me to the gas station to fill up. He never precisely said he had no money, but he said he could give me the coat and jacket as a gift. I didn't want to get in his car, and I was running late and didn't want to walk all the way to the gas station near Porte Maillot. But I still wanted to help this guy, maybe because I wanted to believe his exciting story?

There was a point when maybe I could have easily walked away. I asked about the size of the coats. He said they were one size only, 36-38 (European), which is kind of a small-medium in France. That sounded a little big for me. And especially big for models in a fashion show. I should have been suspicious. I asked if he could show me the shoulder-width because that's about 75% of a perfect fit. He assured me and reassured me that they would fit. Why didn't I insist that he take them out of their plastic sheaths? Did I think I was getting an incredible deal even if they didn't fit? How did he talk his way out of it so easily?

SA said he could have the company pay me back in a few days. I could give him my address. And he'd give me his business card. Or I could e-mail him my address. SA then tossed the laminated card into the brown, handled plastic bag in which he had neatly put away the coats. He even invited me to Milan to have spaghetti. But I was not to tell his wife, C---, and he showed me his ring. I should have been suspicious again because the ring looked like a prize out of bubble gum machine. His story made me so blind. No, I wasn't attracted to him at all -- just his story, his alleged connection with the fashion world which has, to me, been a magical mystery. Maybe if I actually had a subscription to a fashion mag I'd know more about it, but I only let myself read those things at the doctor's office.

I always thought I was a good judge of character. I always thought I could tell a good actor from a bad actor. I always thought I could tell if someone was lying. I always thought I knew what people were really thinking when they were saying something else -- through their eyes. Now my world is upside-down. Ever since I emptied my wallet and went to the ATM to get more...for this complete stranger. I've never even lent money to a friend before. Why? Why? WHY???

He got the money and I got the coats. SA looked apologetically at me when he saw that my groceries had gotten all wet sitting in the rain. He looked really sorry about it. I smiled and said it was all right. I think I might have even said "good luck."

We went our separate ways. He drove off with my money, and I went home with my "gifts." At home, I didn't even let myself inspect the coats or the business card. I was late, and I thought, "Geez, I may have been duped, but I don't want to deal with it now."

I met up with my friend, excitedly told her my story, and kept pestering her for a verdict. Scam or no scam? She was excited, too, because she's much more into fashion than I am and has a friend who used to keep a fashion blog. But I couldn't recall the name of the designer SA supposedly worked for, and I couldn't even remember his "name." I wouldn't know the truth until I got back home from our tasty Vietnamese lunch and our jaunt in a do-it-yourself "magasin."

Full of hope, I snapped open the bag and searched for the business card. It was nowhere to be found. Darn. I immediately knew I had been tricked. SA must have taken the card out when I was at the ATM. Now to look at the goods. Fake leather. Fake suede. They weren't even women's coats. They were both extra-large men's coats. Ouch.

To my surpise, I didn't get angry at myself. I lost a bit of money, but it was almost worth the adventure. I was paying for this odd form of entertainment. I got a little thrill for a moment. And I got a great story to blog.

I called my friend immediately and broke the news. She was sorry but couldn't wait to see the jackets.

For a minute, I debated whether or not to tell John. I was embarrassed. But no, I couldn't hide this from him. I told him at dinner and surprisingly, he wasn't mad. But then, he rarely gets mad. Actually, he didn't have much of a response at all, except for, "these things happen."

The sum of his speeding tickets through Brittany and Normandy in mid-August was about how much I gave to SA. We're kind of even in a weird sort of way.

I hope through my stupidity/ignorance/naivete none of you will make the same mistake. Be wary. Very wary. But let's give Scam Artist an Oscar.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Won't you be my neighbor?

During the summer, we got a new neighbor. I recall running into him in the foyer for the first time in June, I think, said the usual "bonjour" and he explained that he was a new resident. We chatted for a few more seconds -- which floor are you on, etc. -- and then I introduced myself. Big faux-pas. In France, you never give your name out to a stranger. Even if he lives in your building and might run into you everyday. (I don't know the names of most of the people who live in the building and they don't know who I am either.) So, there was a big uncomfortable pause after my introduction. Errr...uhhhh...he left me hanging. So I asked for his name just to balance things out and then we went our separate ways. Funny, I think I've only seen him once since our first strange meeting.

My other neighbors. There's an elderly couple on the fifth floor -- they're the ones who keep using the elevator and get trapped in there when it breaks down (at least 2-3 times a year?). There's a new family with an adorable baby. There's a family with two older children -- I see the girl all the time picking up baguettes for her family on Sunday morning. Her father I have only seen once. I don't think I've ever seen her mom. On the third floor you'll find our friends: French husband and Italian wife. Super-friendly. And on the second floor is a slender man with a boyish face and nice smile, often dressed in his slick grey suit. His current girlfriend is blond and super-thin. I run into her a lot in the stairwell and can always hear her comings and goings because she has a tiny jingle-bell on her keychain which used to make Leo think there was another dog in the "batiment." I spotted her in my BodyPump class this weekend and she was hardly lifting any weight. Everyone else had at least two kilos per side. I assume she doesn't want to add any muscle mass to that nearly stick figure of hers. Maybe she's a model.

Everyone says "bonjour" to one another, but I haven't witnessed a whole lot of conversation among neighbors. Our Italian friend, though, is so bubbly and is the only one I've seen carrying on a conversation with another resident.

Oh, I forgot about the dentist who lives across from me on the same floor. He is very formal and says, "Bonjour, Madame," with never a smile. Maybe his teeth are bad. :)

Stone face

In fifth grade, in my very first California school, I must have smiled a lot because my teacher always remarked about it. It was very nice, I should keep smiling, etc. Yes, I must have been happy at school, but you know, I had no other way of communicating since I was as shy as a snail.

I continued smiling, even as I grew out of my shyness finally in college. And later, I smiled at work, at my neighbors, anybody who crossed my path.

But in Paris, unfortunately, I've developed a locked jaw and stone face. It's not pretty, but it's just the right way to go. You fit in, you don't give anyone a wrong signal, and you don't look stupid (this last one I just learned about from an expat of seventeen years who has discussed the subject with her French friends).

I hope my smiling muscles will return when we go back to the States.

Freezer believer

When we first moved to Paris, I never used the freezer, except for making ice cubes and keeping frozen shrimp and Chinese dumplings ("raviolis" in French). I was lucky enough to have an American fridge/freezer, too, which meant I had twice the capacity of other Parisians, even though we brought over the smallest one we could find. I believed in fresh meat and produce, and wanted to give my family the healthiest and tastiest food possible. I'm a whole foods kind of cook. Few processed foods. I'll allow a can of diced tomatoes or a jar of pesto once in awhile and I won't feel guilty about it.

I think I started taking advantage of the freezer in June. Just for freezing fresh salmon because we were trying to eat less meat and more fish. And I was getting too lazy to go every other day to Champion, a supermarket on the outskirts of the neighborhood which has the best pre-packed fish in the area. And I wanted to avoid the markets where the male merchants can make you uncomfortable with their flirting or ogling. Maybe the French women are used to that, but I don't know if I'll ever get used to that.

I discovered frozen filets of halibut and sole, and found them to be quite good. Then I ventured into frozen vegetables which weren't bad either. I used to stress about meals because I often needed to run out for some forgotten ingredient. But now that my freezer is stocked up, I can whip up meals quickly and easily. They're not equal to fresh, unless you freeze your ingredients from their fresh state yourself.

Tonight, we had a simple, but yummy, meal of halibut steaks and peas. The halibut steaks found in the supermarket freezer are often found in individually sealed packets -- sliced into uniform pieces, approximately 3 x 4.5 x 0.75 inch. You don't even have to defrost them. Heat your pan well with some oil and butter, then add your fish, cooking them for about 3-4 minutes on each side. Half of the way through I added my sauce (which you could just as well add at the end) which was a reduction of butter, Dijon mustard, milk, onions (really lazy me used frozen slices this time), vermouth, salt, and freshly ground pepper. The fish browned beautifully in the butter. On the side we had frozen peas cooked on high in the microwave, covered, for three minutes. It was all delicious and required minimal effort (and zero prep time!). I don't think I would use frozen for dinner guests, but for us it was quite satisfactory.

And I'm just so happy I don't have to go to the store every other day anymore.

Goal met!

I did my ten classes this week but nearly killed myself yesterday doing it. BodyPump is already an intensive weight-training class, but if you follow that with BodyCombat, which I was trying for the first time, your body explodes. BodyCombat is kickboxing to music, with lots of bouncing around on your feet which I don't really like. I did like pushing myself though, but I felt a little weird playing the tough, combative persona, throwing my fists and elbows at imaginary enemies and performing Karate Kid-style jumpkicks. It's a choreographed routine with very little time for rest. A full cardio workout, it is nothing like the martial arts classes that go on beneath out floorboards. They're pretty quiet down there -- no loud music, quiet grappling -- rather church-like.

There were about 10 or 12 students in BodyCombat yesterday -- less than half of the BodyPump participants. In BodyPump, there are usually at least two or three men. In BodyCombat, there was just one guy and he happened to be behind me. Too bad he was a flabby, white-haired, halfway-bald, spectacled, middle-aged individual. Anyway, in the process of learning a part of the routine requiring some shuffling forward with a side stance, elbows against my body, fists up by my jawline, I developed a fear that he would run into me and pummel my back with a few punches while yelling, "Chaw, chaw, chaw!" I acquired that section pretty quickly.

My face was the color of ripe tomatoes and my heart was leaping out of my chest when the teacher announced that in the last five minutes of class we would be jumpkicking into a squat -- I simply could not fathom myself doing that for 32 repetitions. No thanks. I skipped out. I didn't feel like a wimp, though. No one else from the BodyPump stayed for this grueling course. No one's as crazy as me.

In the afternoon, when I desperately wanted to take a nap, I stupidly suggested to Maylin the idea of swimming. Of course, she was all for it. John was too busy setting up our new computer (can I recommend the latest iMac to you? its wonnnnderful!) so it was up to me to drag myself over to the public pool with her. Fortunately, the water did wake me up a bit, and we both had a wonderful time. I gave myself a two-hour limit and we left as scheduled, just as the deliciously warm water started losing its deliciousness.

That evening, when the three of us went to share an incredible dinner with friends at their apartment, I somehow ended up being the chirpiest of the bunch after having survived my most physically active day in the last ten years.

Wedding bells for Maylin?

Maylin told me a couple of weeks ago that she was married to one of her classmates (a favorite boy from last year who happened to be in her class again this year). I thought it was a cute idea then, but I never really inquired about it until today. I found out a great deal more than I expected.

She said her teacher had organized a mass wedding for her whole class at a church which had stairs and elevators leading up to big stained glass windows. All the girls wore white dresses with capes and the boys wore shirts with long pants. She had some difficulty recalling who got married to whom, but it seemed like a grand event with lots of food and dancing, with the dancing requiring a costume change into a blue dress.

I asked if there was any kissing involved -- nope, none whatsoever. Soon after, she got embarrassed by the whole thing and denied that it ever happened.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Identify all the French women in this room. (10 points)

Yesterday morning, I arrived five minutes early for my step class so I could get a good spot in the front. I chatted a little bit with the friendly Norwegian blond who I had formerly thought was a proud French woman until she turned around and said hello to me in cheery English the day before. I had heard her chatting beautifully in French earlier in the week with the other regulars.

It was 9:30 am now and time for the class to start. The teacher had not arrived yet, but three other gym-goers did. We all started chatting and discovered what an international bunch we were. These were women whom I would have assumed were French because they spoke fluently with no accents. But one woman was from Spain (living in France for twelve years) and the other two were from Kazakhstan. Fortunately, I don't have much of an accent either, so I was pretty much able to fit in.

I'm one of the few lucky Americans in Paris without an accent. Probably because I'm a musician (I suppose we're better at distinguishing subtleties in sound) and because I'm a classical singer -- a requirement being able to sing perfectly in German, Italian, French, and English without necessarily being a fluent speaker in those languages.

So anyways, where were the French ladies? Late, of course. It's just a way of life here.