Monday, June 29, 2009


The long and winding road that leads to ice cream and TV on a hot, sunny, Sunday in the Auvergne.

It was only when our 15 year old friend offered to carry him that things improved. Three years old and already understanding that the world looks better when in the arms of a beautiful woman.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Courant d'Air

I can't handle hot. Anything above about 82°F and I'm a mess. My hair goes crazy frizzy, I start sweating like mad, and the chub rub between my thighs becomes unbearable. No, give me a nice winter storm and -30°F temps and I'll be just fine.

That's why as soon as it starts warming up around here, I open all the windows of the house and let the air flow through. We get a nice breeze from the south west and I love to watch the curtains in the bedroom fluttering in the wind, propelling the smells of outside in. Ah, cow manure, dog poop, and the occasional hint of magnolia. Life in the country. Bliss.

And of course, once again, I'm horrifying my nearest neighbours, especially Grandma Française. Not only should the windows be shut, but the shutters as well to keep the light and heat out of the house. And goodness me, Dig! Are you letting Whoopsie be near that courant d'air? "Mon Dieu!"

My other neighbour had a fit when I went out to great her at the gate the other day. There was a good wind blowing and I popped outside with Whoopsie bundled in my arms and she nearly plowed me over rushing to get us back into the house. "Oh my! The poor baby! You've got to keep her out of the courant d'air!" Bear in mind, it's June and was about 70°F outside.

I'm frightened to tell them that Whoops actually sleeps right under our ceiling fan. Some nights it's not just a courant but a full on tornado of wind blowing right on over her. So far, she doesn't seem to be suffering any ill effects but I'm going to watch my step around my neighbours, just in case.

Didn't help matters that I came across Grandma Française in the grocery store when I was wearing Whoops tied on to me in the scarf. So now not only is Grandma Française worried I'm exposing the baby to hurricane like wind forces, I'm now carrying the baby around in such a way that either her legs will be squished, she'll suffocate or her head will fall off.

It's in moments like this that I try to emulate the penguins at the end of Madagascar. "Smile and wave boys, smile and wave."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'm From The Other Side, You Know.

Nine years ago today, I boarded a plane that whisked me away to the other side of the pond. I had no idea how long I'd stay on this side or even what would become of me, but it was an adventure and you all know how much I like adventures.

Funny how much of my life is now focused on explaining my people to the people I live near. It's as if having a walking, talking American around them is the chance to finally understand if everything the French see on TV is really true.

"Is everyone really so fat over there?"

"Does everyone live in such big houses?"

"Nothing happens in the middle of the country, right?"

God forbid, they start asking about "The Experts: Miami" or "C.S.I." I haven't a clue if a crime lab is really like that. But I can tell them with conviction that my attorney sister has never inspected a crime scene with a cotton swab.

It's weird finally admitting to myself that I am an expat and most likely will be for the rest of my life. It's fun, it's entertaining, but there are moments when I just wish I knew my own culture still. Things have changed dramatically in the US during the last 9 years and sometimes I feel very far from the source. Even when I go back, sometimes I'm shocked at what's changed while I've been here.

I'm from there, but not anymore. I've been outside the major cultural forming events these last years and though I understand what's happened, I've missed the undercurrents explaining the "whys." I'm looking in, hoping I haven't been left behind.

That being said, you can't have it both ways. What I've missed out on not being there, I've gained by being here.

Being a long term expat is more than just learning about the food, language, or day to day idiosyncrasies of your new home. It's about learning how to remain yourself, the self you became a long time ago elsewhere, while evolving under a new sky.

What I didn't realize when I moved to Europe, was that I had inadvertantly gotten a job as a junior diplomat. See, for a lot of people in France, I am the only American they've ever going to met. So regardless that I'll never speak French like a native or understand the attraction to foods made from odd animal parts, it's up to me, horrible grammar and all, to babble about chez moi way over there, across the sea.

Even though I'm not living in the loop, it's up to me to show them who an American can be and explain that life over there isn't at all like what you see on TV. And I have to admit, this is one of the best jobs I've ever had.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fête de la Musique

If it wasn't for the fact that we were all bundled up in fleece and wool, it would have been a fabulous weekend. Hubster made huge progress on our backyard wall and the kids actually were nice to each other for 17 minutes Saturday morning.

This past weekend was also the Fête de la Musique. This idea, started back in 1982, coincides with the summer solstice and basically celebrates all that is good about being outside, dancing, singing, and making noise. Sometimes the noise is good and sometimes it's not, but what matters is that everyone is out enjoying the sounds they are making. All over France, in the big cities and little villages, there are people out playing all kinds of instruments and all kinds of music. I can't tell you how excited the hippy in me gets.

The village sponsored a concert on Saturday night, so I wandered up there with Mini-Husband and The Princess after my other two children were safely tucked in bed. Some people there asked if Hubster was 'babysitting' to which I pointed out that fathers do not 'babysit' their own children. Fathers let the mothers escape the house without those small accessories so that said mothers don't implode. And thank God for that.

Unfortunately, Saturday night was down right cold here in the Auvergne so when the rain started to fall, the band getting ready to play, covered the bongo drums and made a hasty retreat to the beverage tent. We hung around for a bit, Mini-Husband and The Princess running and playing with some of their buddies, while I chatted with the village party crowd. Finally, the band gave up and loaded everything back into a battered old Renault and split. The rest of us drank the rosé that was left and turned up the car stereo in my neighbour's Volkswagen. All in all, not what was planned, but an enjoyable evening all the same.

Here's hoping that the rest of the summer turns out a little warmer than it started and that the good vibes from an old CD player keep everyone dancing and full of joy straight on till I can send them back to school in September.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The End of Year Spectac

Since Mini-Husband started school way back at the tender age of 2.5, we've been going to the end of year show, or spectacle as it's called in French. A funny word for me since I think of something "spectacular" as being something extraordinary or out of this world. Unfortunately for the budding talent in the village, the annual show is rarely that.

I think that's what makes this yearly ritual so endearing, the whole world over. A chance to see your little pride and joy up on stage, singing or dancing their hearts out. Or, in some cases, crying their eyes out. The two hours we sit though, watching all those kids mumble around, become magical ego boosters for us when our own progeny look so darn cute up there, tears or not, during the brief few minutes of their song.

I also like that fact that every year we get a chance to see all those other parents who's kids we know, but we never find time to get the families together. Early on, I know a lot of them were curious to know Mini-Husband's family, les anglais. (Or rather, les americans according to Mini-Husband's last family census.) Then The Princess joined in. And then Bubba-Love appeared on the scene. And yesterday it was fun getting the village's opinion on who Whoops looks like. I'm sure some of the other families didn't think we'd still be living here 6 years later, much less single handedly repopulating the village.

I never understand the words to the songs they sing and I hate that I can't just jump in and clap my hands to an old traditional tune, since I haven't a clue what the lyrics are. But I do enjoy watching my kids singing along, their friends beside them, waving to Hubster and I at the back of the hall. Who cares that this is all happening in French. This is life with kids anywhere. The rituals are the same be it in England, Idaho or France.

Of course, I'm just glad our parents association likes selling glasses of wine when the whole thing is finally over. You can admit it. We win with that one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Passing the Blame

As I sat nursing Whoops on the couch, Bubba-Love came over to me with the most distressed look on his face. Between deep sighs and pouts he said,

"Mommy, look what Bastian did to me."

Bastian? He hadn't seen Bastian since last week. What the heck?

"What's wrong, sweetie?"

At which point, Bubba-Love held out his arm to me, wrist side up, and pointed to the blue area just under his palm.

"Look. It's all bruised and blue, " he said with tears forming in his eyes. "Bastian pushed me, I fell down and I got a bruise!"

I reached over and kissed his little wrist and watched as he jumped down from the couch and sprinted back over to the TV room. No worse for wear and now completely "cured."

Poor Bastian. Poor kid is miles away, minding his own business, yet being blamed for something I'm pretty sure he didn't do, i.e. putting veins in Bubba-Love's arm.

Remind me to watch this one closely when he's a teenager.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Nosey Nanny

It's a strange thing this love we have for our dogs and our desire to incorporate them fully into family life. We want to believe that they understand love and know not to be rough or horrible to the little people that share their garden. But the truth is, we hear stories all the time about dogs who seem to attack without provocation and end up causing terrible injuries or even death. The dogs are dogs and we have to always keep that in mind.

Yet, there are moments when I wonder if they 'get it' better than we give them credit for.

I remember way back when, to the time when Mini-Husband was just a little peanut, and I'd sit on my bed with him, giving him his bottle. The whole time I'd sit there, I'd be surrounded and protected by my big furry Luna. It was as if she was keeping check on me, making sure that I didn't hurt the little guy. She had a maternal streak, that beautiful dog, and I loved watching how fascinated she was by my baby.

They say you shouldn't trust any dog with children and I do agree, but there were moments when I sat with Luna and Mini-Husband that I didn't wonder if she would have knocked me for six if she felt he was being threatened by me or my actions.

We've been fairly mellow about introducing Whoopsie to the three current furry residents of the house. We've let them sniff her, smell her clothes, and even lick her a little bit, trying to help them understand that if they are gentle with Whoops, that's ok and good.

I sat with Whoops and the dogs on the steps in front of the house yesterday, enjoying the calmness of the afternoon. She started fussing a little and immediately, 6 furry ears tuned in. Typhon didn't seem too worried. He looked up at us, wondered if he'd get a tickle under the chin, and then flomped back down on the cold stone. Anouk heard Whoopsie's cries but seemed more interested in what Typhon and Abaka were doing to pay any attention to the little human.

It was Abaka who nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Every time Whoops cried, Abaka would twitch her ears and roll her head from side to side, trying to figure out this sound. She came right up to Whoopsie, went nose to nose and sniffed that little baby so gently. She sat down next to us and if Anouk hadn't have scared her off, I'm sure Abaka would have been happy to lick any traces of left over milk from Whoopsie's face, hands, or neck.

I'm not sure Abaka has a maternal streak, but she sure does have a gentle curiosity that is endearing. Granted, this is the same dog that has killed two chickens and a bird, so I'm not going to give her a chance to babysit anytime soon, but I am happy to let her come and be close to Whoops and me. She reminds me of another furry friend who I loved and who loved my baby.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Random Rants

*I need a bucket. A bucket with a lid. You'd think any one of these major flippin' stores over here would have one. Nooooooo. Buckets, yes. All kinds of buckets. Blue ones, grey ones, ones that wring out your mop. Not a single one with a lid. I finally Googled "buckets" (or "seau" for those of you keeping score at home) and their matching happy lids only to find out that what I'm looking for might cost about 11 euros. 11 euros. FOR A BUCKET? WITH A LID? Of course, Hubster would probably like to tell you all how I spent 11 euros on a sock box. Which, I agree sounds excessive. But it's a really cute sox box. One that matches the colour scheme in the guest room! And it's not just a sox box, it's an accessory! Heck, that bucket is just for dirty nappies! No comparison!

*Yesterday, the kids and I had the ever so fun experience of trying to get Whoopsie's passport photos taken. Someone tell me please, is it really that important that this baby of 5 weeks needs to have her eyes open and her head held straight up, with no sign of the magician mama who's doing various Kung Fu moves trying to hold the baby in the right position? 8 shots later and I think we have one that might work. Cross your fingers.

*The tribe is currently enthralled with the song, Hallelujah, and have taken to singing it at all times around the house, in the car, on the way to school, in the shower, and in the garden as loud as they possibly can. They've been inspired by this clip and I have to admit, who can blame them. The New Guitar Heroes, as this foursome is called, has fast become a favourite with all of us. And the best part, when they ask if they are dead, I can happily say, "no."

*And a quote that is sticking with me this week as I struggle with my role as a post-partum goddess: "I'm not a big fat panda. I'm THE big fat panda."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What's Yours is Mine and That Goes for the Lansinoh Too

The most incredible thing has happened Chez Nous. Turns out Hubster and I are suffering from the same injury. Wanna guess what that might be?

Bruised liver from too much wine and whiskey? Nope.

Sprained ankle from tripping over "Cars" toys in the TV room? Wrong again.

And since I don't think you'll ever guess, I'm just going to go ahead and tell you.

But first, I should explain something. See, Hubster rocks. Why? Because when this man makes a commitment to something, he does it. Hence why on Friday night he was outside in a raging thunder and lightening storm running the annual 5K race in the big city.

Any other person might have bagged it and used the weather as a great excuse, but Hubster had told his co-workers, several of whom were running the race as well, that he'd be there. Regardless of the fact that he hasn't run a lick since doing this race last year. In fact, he was on a mission not to train at all, just to see how it all turned out.

Well, it turned out sort of ok. He finished the race better than expected and proudly harassed those race bagging co-workers Monday at work. The only down side is that he was beyond sopping wet during the whole 5K. He jokes it might have been better to swim the course than run it. I swear, four days later, his shoes still have not dried out.

So, how did he get injured, the inquiring mind wants to know?

Well, thanks to the rain, poor Hubster has that lovely condition that new moms (and old moms with new babies) get all the time. Sore nipples. Wearing that wet shirt for 5K caused his poor little buds to get rubbed all the wrong way and he's now sporting a couple of red, sore and scabby ta-tas. Lucky for him, Whoops has been working me over in a similar way for the last 5 weeks so the magic ointment is already in the house.

I'm just so glad that he and I can bond over such a thing. Who's says men don't understand?

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Least Favourite Thing to Do at 1am

I could feel the panic attack coming for the last couple of nights. Like an elephant wearing a pink frilly tutu, tip-toeing around a circus tent, I could see it. I knew it was there, waiting for the right moment to jump and twirl around me.

Of course, it did just that last night. There I sat in the semi-darkness nursing Whoops, thinking about Hubster's friend, Christine who was on the Air France flight, how insane the whole thing is, and voila. Off I go into the best panic attack about death that I've had in years.

Typically with my attacks, my head and heart ache with the questions and the tears, trying to understand, why all this? Surrounded in darkness, the depths of my questions seem endless. Not just what's happened to Christine during the accident, but where is SHE? What happens to that which makes us, us?

There I sit, tears streaming from my eyes, wondering why I have this intense love in my life if when die it just goes away to nothing. My Christian friends would tell me it doesn't. I want to believe that. But in the darkness, all I feel is lost, alone, and doomed.

I grabbed on to Hubster's arm so hard, I think I left a mark. I know he doesn't have the answers to all these scary questions, but he's here with me on this ridiculous adventure called life and the poor man sat there in the night, listening to me pour out all my fears.

"We're all going to die," he said. "And I have no idea what comes next. But just look at that little girl in your lap. You've got her and us now."

Cue more tears and a tighter grip, but he is right.

This morning, I feel like I actually said "hi" to that elephant. Better to acknowledge his presence than try to pretend he doesn't exist.

I don't like that pink tutu he's wearing and telling him that sure seems to have made me feel a wee bit better. Next time I see him lurking around, rather than hope he just disappears, I'm gonna invite him over and tell him what I think of his shoes as well.

So my large elephant friend...thanks for stopping by. But now, you'll forgive me. I've got things to do today. As the quote says, "get busy living, or get busy dying."

It may scare the crap outta me not knowing what happens next, but I love what I have going on right now. There is no question, I've made my choice.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Day I Dread at School

The B&B was like a scene from the Paris catwalk this morning. Clothes flying everywhere, models and designers fighting over colour schemes and the use of make-up. Hair gel left on the counter, sweaters and socks tried on and discarded. The debris left in the bathroom and bedrooms is mind boggling.

You see, today is that school day that I dread the most as a parent. Class picture day.

Bear in mind that I went to a nice Catholic school that gave us a fabulous uniform in green and gold to wear for every school picture until about 7th or 8th grade, at which point I fretted about what to wear for about two weeks before the dreaded day. I look back at those pictures only moderately horrified by my choice of outfit and super large hair. It was the 80s after all.

I think it's this fear of having my children look back at their pictures with horror that today becomes so stressful. Mini-Husband demanded this morning to wear a tie like his dad, which is great but so not good in terms of street cred with the other 7 year olds. Especially in this village where a tie is something made out of metal and used to hold walls together.

The Princess, on the other hand, somehow managed to find that make-up case Whoops gave her and so used various shades of blue and pink all over her eyes and cheeks before presenting herself to me at the breakfast table. I'm only hoping that the picture is this afternoon so there's time for that exotic colour combination to wear off. I have no hope for her hair.

The parent in me wants them to look fabulous, clean, and put together in these pictures. My beaming children, bright and shining. Little loves who look calm, well behaved and thoughtful.

The Dig I am realizes that the parent in me is smoking crack.

Who really cares what they look like in these pictures? This is how they dress and act these days and capturing that on film is wonderful. Stains on their t-shirts, peanut butter and jelly smeared on Mini-Husband's face, and The Princess dressed in various shades of pink, it's who they are. Plus, we need photos like these to tease the crap outta them when they grow up, right?

My mom is probably saying, "No! You can't tease them. They are so cute!" Which is true. But she also always said that I was cute in my pictures, which I know to be a bold face lie. I love you, mom, but you've been lying through your teeth for years.

I'm just grateful that my mom could see through all those scary outfits and love me still. Just as I love those two monkeys who will be smiling for posterity today, spaghetti stained clothes, spiky hair and all.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Back on the Bandwagon

With all this life and death happening around me and the fact that Miss Snootie from the marie drove past me last night in a cabriolet just like Hubster used to have (with the top down I might add,) I decided it was time to get back on the wagon and get some of this stress and worry out of my system. The wagon in this case being my treadmill.

I think the last time I ran on it was when I was about 17 weeks pregnant with Whoops. I shoved my pregnant body into my running clothes and attempted to do an easy jog. It sucked.

Fast forward several months to today when I shoved my now post-partum body into my running clothes and attempted to do an easy jog. Except for feeling like a bouncing sausage, it didn't suck. And honestly, I feel much better about things.

The only draw back is that my treadmill has suffered a sort of "demotion" while I wasn't running on it. Before, I got to run while staring into the dining room wall, the treadmill well hidden behind the door. Now, the machine has found a new home in the cave.

Lucky girl I am, I get time to stare at a nice picture of a boat entering New York Harbour while pondering the need to dust off the jars of jam stocked in there. While plodding along today, I also found where I had stored my onions and potatoes from the garden last year. Yikes.

Even though it's a wee bit somber down there, running near the wine is nice and the noise from the washing machine really does set a good pace. Heck, beggars can't be choosers and I should just be happy that I get reception on the baby monitor.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Coming to Terms

There is an eerie calm around us these last couple of days, trying to deal with our everyday normal stuff while under the shock that one of Hubster's friends was aboard Air France Flight 447.

It seems impossible to me that she, a young woman of 29, could disappear like that. I can feel the panic attacks of "why" creeping up behind me, making it difficult to focus on anything. And I hardly knew her. I'm more worried about my Hubster. This was his friend, someone he knew well. Hubster is guarded with his emotions at times and I wish I knew what to say or do to make this situation all better. I feel the need to touch him, on his arm, his shoulder. A small contact when my words fail me.

The accident has me thinking about all the times I've travelled by plane. Jetting around the US for my former job, flying transatlantic with the kids, and the occasional little journey around Europe. There's a routine feeling to most of these trips. The waiting at the check in counter. The waiting in the departure lounge. Getting on board, finding your seat, and then hoping the person next to you either doesn't snore or won't mind having juice spilled on them by a toddler.

We sit on these planes and read our books, watch the movies, and just try and make the best of being stuck on a sardine can for hours. At times, it's been the best thing to have a solid 7 hour stretch of time in front me and then there are other times when the journey can't be over fast enough. I've been lucky though, because on most of my flights, I've had the chance to encounter such an amazing world of people.

-The handsome man next to me during my first and only trip in first class. This stranger who calmed me down during a landing in a storm, as he talked about music and The King Biscuit Flour Hour.

-The woman who sat next to me when I flew to England all by myself to start to rest of my life. I can still hear her laugh, twinkling with that British accent I found so charming and wonderful.

-I remember the kindness of the flight attendants when I flew to the States with Mini-Husband and The Princess. They helped me deal with those two toddlers and told me not to worry about it when one of them had a bit of an accident while sleeping.

-The man from Alaska who slept as much as I did on a flight to Salt Lake City.

-The nice guy travelling to Russia, the groups of high school kids heading to Washington or Paris or Seattle, the countless little kids who loved playing "kick-the-seat" and "peak-a-boo" behind me.

It's dawned on me that most of the time in our lives, the journeys are forgettable but the people on them are not.

I'd like to think that Hubster's friend had someone good next to her on that last flight. Unfortunately, that someone good will be missed as much as she will be. My thoughts are with them. Both of them. All of them. And those who are left behind.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Build A Birdhouse In Your Soul...Or Your Back Gate

Hubster has been very busy these past months working on the back garden. He's got a fence to put up, a stone wall to build, and loads of rubble to remove from where our old annex used to be. Luckily, he's had some great help from various guests at the B&B, notably Curtis (our brother-in-law) and our seriously tall German friend.

When Seriously Tall German friend was here, He and Hubster worked on putting in a proper back gate so that the constantly escaping husky trio might not be so constantly escaping. Which they aren't, except when Bubba-Love opens said gate and lets them run out...but I digress.

Once the gate was up, Hubster blocked a gap between the gate and the old annex wall with some cinder blocks as a temporary measure until he could actually get some time to build something more permanent. What he didn't realize was that in the process, he actually built the first high rise bird house in the village.

Yesterday afternoon, as we sat on our terrace, we heard the little "peep peeping" of baby birds from somewhere around us. We wondered as we watched the birds flying hither and there where the nest was. Low and behold, up to the gate swoops a little mama bird. She quickly ducked her head into one of the cement blocks on the fourth row down and disappeared.

A little while later, Hubster and I glanced in and saw the littlest residents of bird "wing" of the Birth Control Bed & Breakfast. I can imagine that if the birds have been able to line that cinder block with loads of Typhon's fur, those baby birds couldn't have asked for a better room.

Of course, this means Hubster is going to have to wait to start building the permanent wall there, at least until these little birds leave the nest. Too bad we can't use that excuse for the main residence.