Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Round and Round We Go

The in-laws left yesterday so it was back to "normal'" at the B&B, thus screaming kids, screaming mom, singing dog, and mountains of dirty laundry. Ah, the joys of consistency!

By some bizarre freak of nature, I was able to get everyone up and out early enough to get to the English-speaking playgroup. This group has been meeting most Wednesday mornings for several years and I credit the various members that have come and gone with saving my sanity on many occasions.

There we were this morning, me and one other "old timer" with a couple of new moms and their kids. There at the same park that we've been destroying since before Mini-Husband was potty trained, experiencing the same joy at speaking English in really loud voices, the same joy at finding a mini-oasis of cultural similarities with women from various parts of the US and Britain. Once again, consistency.

We've had lots of people spending time with the group over the years. I miss so many of them that have already left. I also have to admit, I'm tired and not sure I can deal with the realities of making friends with the new ones. They all seem lovely and wonderful, but I hate the thought of them leaving already. (This before I've even invited them over for coffee.)

There are tons of books and stories out there about people who spend 3 or 5 years living abroad and then they go home but not a lot is said by those of us still here. Those of us who are living this "I'm-not-really-from-here-but-I-LIVE-here" thing all the time, by choice. Yes, it's wacky and annoying to live in a foreign language, a foreign land, but it does become "the norm," as far as norms can be.

There is a side of me that wonders if I'm just a wee bit jealous of these new folks. Everything is ahead of them here, all the frustrations, all the joys of being an expat. All of it is new to them. I know they won't believe me yet, but there is something wonderful about having an obvious enemy to focus on, that horrible inability to speak French. It makes your day to day living an adventure and your goal is clear: survive.

But six years, what's my goal now? What am I hoping to gain from this life in French? Six years and three kids later, where am I? What am I hoping to gain from this experience? What do I want to be when I grow up?

Just goes to show that the same questions in life can exist in all languages and in all places, regardless if you are from here or there or have been here a while or not.

Survive. Survive.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Which One Of You Wants to Call Social Services?

Grandma and Grand-dad arrived at our house last week and things have been on the go ever since. Between entertaining them and trying to keep the kids from jumping on their bed at 6 in the morning, hectic is just about the only word that fits.

This weekend we also had several special events that needed to be graced by our presence as well, one being the annual Back To School party and the other being a photography exposition about the American West.We got a note from one of the members of the town council that since I'm the only American living in the village, it was imperative that I come and join them for the official opening of the expo.

The fact that all the pictures were going to be of places where I had camped and acted like a crazy twenty year old oh so many years ago, made me worried that I would start bawling for my youth in front of not-so-total strangers (and total strangers) who already think I'm mad. Luckily for me, I held it together and manged to only whimper silently under my breath.

The opening toast was scheduled for 11:30am so between changing Rosebud's nappy and yelling at the rest of the tribe to find their shoes, it was about 11:38am when I yelled at Hubster that I was heading on over to the expo. He, at this point, was just getting out of the shower and his parents were meandering around the downstairs, waiting for their chance to use the potty.

When Hubster arrived at the expo about 15 minutes after me, the drinks had been served and the photographer had started his spiel about Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. The kids were running around between the photos and Bubba-Love was cringing in fear from having just had a right telling off from Grandma Francaise over tearing pages in library books. I didn't see my in-laws arrive with Hubster, so I figured they had decided not to come in the end.

Who could blame them, really? Trying to carry on a conversation in a room full of French people, talking about places that for some reason cause their daughter-in-law to cry was enough to scare Hubster, I can't even imagine what it would have done to them. After about 45 minutes or so, I rounded up the tribe and headed back to the house, leaving Hubster to discuss the importance of good stone walls with two members of the village council.

I got back to the house only to realize that Hubster had locked the front door.

"ARGRAAAA. Why did he lock the door?!?"

And then it dawned on me.

Where were my in-laws?

If they hadn't come with Hubster, did they go out for a walk? How did they get past the dogs without a fight? Why did they lock the door?

Confused, I went to the basement door which, luckily, I had forgotten to lock. As I ran up the stairs and towards the front door, I saw my father-in-law fighting with the latch, trying to open the door.

"What are you doing there?" I asked.

"We were waiting for you," he replied.

"But, I thought you were coming with Hubster?"

"He's in the shower, isn't he?" piped up my mother-in-law from the lounge.

At this point, she joins us in the hallway, coat on and ready to go.

"But, the expo is over," I said sheepishly, realizing that they must have been sitting in the lounge, LOCKED IN, for the last 45 minutes.

With that, Hubster arrived back at the house.

"Where you been?" he asked his parents.

"Here. Waiting for you," they replied.

"But, I thought you were with Dig," he said. "She said she was going ahead with the kids."

"Kids, Hubster. I went with the kids."

"You know, I thought I saw him walking up the street," exclaimed my mother-in-law while pointing at Hubster.

As you can imagine, both Hubster and I are now being ever so careful about taking a full head count before leaving the house. We've also made sure to put a key in Grand-dad's pocket JUST IN CASE.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

She Hasn't Forgotten Me

It's been a while since I've had the chance to see Miss Snootie at the Marie. I haven't had a reason to head in there until this morning when I was running an errand for a friend.

"Did you get my message to come see me," she asked.

"Um, no," I replied. "Did you leave it on my voice mail?"

"No," she said as she started rummaging through the filing cabinet behind her. "I had told several people to tell you to come see me."

Instant flashback to those moments just before Sister Catherine would start yelling at me back in grade school and I would try not to throw up.

"You've made an error."

At this point she found the file she was looking for and heaved it onto the desk.

OH GOD. I thought. What did I do? Was it the dogs? The annex? Did we forget to pay our taxes?

She glared at me and said, "you've overpaid the cantine. Twice. Don't do it again."

Like a puppy with it's tail between my legs, I grabbed the cancelled check and meekly said thank you and quickly left, glad not to have been sent the corner for the rest of the morning.

Amazing how this woman can make all my hair stand on end. Who needs to run a marathon when just a conversation with her has the same cardio-vascular effect on my body?

The beauty of time passing and yet some things never change.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Power of a Word

And so I'll try to explain...

It was a couple of years ago when I bought that painting in a local consignment shop. I was browsing through the pictures when it caught my eye. The colours in the landscape were a perfect fit with the shades I had just painted in the TV room. I think I paid about 5 or 10 euros for it, took it home and sat it on the floor by the fireplace.

Several weeks later, I finally got around to hanging it up. Clumsily I nailed a hook to the wall and then grabbed the painting. As I fumbled with the cord on the back, I realized there was something written up in the corner. A small word, written in capital letters.


Suddenly, this landscape painting that I liked became almost toxic to touch. The plumes that I took for trees, I now saw as bomb blasts. The white clouds were really smoke from the canons. The reds, blood and earth. And the faces, I see two now, watching from behind it all.

That one small little word changed everything about the picture.

I asked you what you thought about this painting because I, myself, am not sure what to do with it.

It scares me to look at it for too long. I start hearing the sounds of war and when I think about the people who have lost their lives in battles like these and unlike these, my heart aches and I feel that there will be no end to any tears I shed.

Living where we are, it's possible this was painted by someone who actually lived through the bombings of WWII. Perhaps even someone who saw first hand the combat, the death, the pain that that war caused. It's possible they used this canvas to get those images out of their head, to release the chaos going on in there. For this reason alone, perhaps I should keep it hanging up.

So tell me, I need to know, is it still beautiful, this painting?

Friday, September 11, 2009

What Do You See?

Today, my lovely readers, I want you to stop and think. I want you to open your artistic side and tell me in words what a picture tells you.

Go on, take a good look at this painting. How does it make you feel? Do you like it? Do you not like it? Does it do anything for you? What do you think it's about?

Now, hit the comment button and tell me what you are thinking. I promise to explain.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Don't Panic! I Speak English!

I have to admit I have a really horrible addiction. It's accosting people in public places, just because they speak English. I've got to find a way to stop doing this. Go cold turkey, find a 12-step program, something before I get put on to some list published by the local police department.

It's just so hard not to accost a stranger when there I am, comparing prices on undershirts, when low and behold I hear a word said almost as I would say it. A magical lyrical cadence of phrases that I understand without having to think about it. Words that dance into my head and I just get it.

The joy of understanding conversation without having to think about it is almost like when you smell something baking that reminds you of home or your grandma's house or your favourite meal. The memories and the sensations fill you and you can't help but get all nostalgic as you inhale the aromas that you love. I'm like this with English.

Hence why I was shaking like I had just downed four lattes when I heard the little lady in front of me talking about Derbyshire. I've never been to Derbyshire (I don't think) but I wanted to pretend that I had just so I could talk to her. All I could think of was Tess of the d'Ubervilles and wondered if maybe this woman had read the book too. It's set in Derbyshire, isn't it? I didn't care. I just wanted to talk to her. To tell her I was one of them too. Tell her that I spoke English! Look at me! Talk to me! In English!

Finally, I blurted out in a voice much louder than I would have liked to use, "ARE YOU ENGLISH? I'M AMERICAN."

Now, saying this in any other English speaking country would have seen said English lady high tailing her tookus away from me as far as her sensible shoes could carry her. Here, she practically hugged me.

In the 10 minutes we chatted, I learned that she's from Lancashire originally (like my father-in-law) and her children live in London. They've been living in the Auvergne for several years and she thinks Rosebud is beautiful. She's also told me that she meets up with some other Anglo-Francophones on Tuesday mornings and if I want to join them, I'm more than welcome.

I could smell the scones as we stood there.

I speak French now after our 6 years here and I have friends around me that I enjoy being with. They forgive me my grammatical errors and find my accent adorable. I'm good with that. It's part of the expat experience and my daily life. For this woman who always danced to the beat of her own drummer, living abroad gives me a rhythm I thrive on.

But I'll admit, that as much as I love being one of the odd ones out in a foreign land, I'll never stop being so happy as I am when I stumble on other people for my 12-step program.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Newest Olympic Sport

There is a reason I only wash the cushion covers once a season.

I know, that sounds down right disgusting, but you know what? It's about all I can handle with these suckers.

First, you pull them off and feathers go everywhere. Everywhere into all the other crap that has been calling the back of the sofa home since the last time you tried to do this.

Then you drag them down to the basement and wrestle them into the machine and pray like Mother Theresa that they won't break the washer while going through the spin cycle.

You then have to haul these massive wet things that cling to you like wet sail cloth out of that teeny tiny machine and find a place to hang them to dry.

There in comes the moment of truth that you well and truly failed geometry because trying to find a way for all the corners and parts of that multi-layered chair shaped cover to dry is near impossible. Who chose these things?!?

Finally, after carefully removing the covers from whatever scaffold you've hung them on, you need to then dodge the dog-poop mined garden to get them back in the house with out a smudge.

And then you have to put them back on.

Feathers going everywhere as you do some sort of bizarre European yoga with each cushion, pushing and pulling knowing GOSH DARN WELL that these cushions came out of these covers JUST THIS MORNING.

Finally, you get them back as they should be only to realize that you've gotten blood all over them from where you banged your finger on the zipper. At this point, ready to kill the next child that asks you what are doing and can you stop and get me some juice, you thank GOD that these covers have two sides.

There's no way I'll be doing this again before Christmas unless someone throws up all over them. And I mean ALL OVER THEM.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sweet FA

I have to admit that these last 48 hours I have done absolutely nothing.


Except unload the dish washer. Once.

I don't know if it's the lack of noise in the house or just that I don't have any witnesses to the slothdom I'm living, but these last two days have been near bliss for an inherently lazy person like me.

Granted, I did have the most horrible of nuit blanche last night courtesy of Rosebud who decided that eating every two hours is a wonderful thing. Hence why today, I'm feeling like I'm back on Love Boat. (Ted's drinks are still crap, by the way.) Typhon decided to help out a bit and ran up to the boulangerie for me between his Gregorian chanting lessons.

What a good dog.

The only real contact I've had with the outside world was a good long conversation with my friend from kindergarten, The A, who lives in London.

The parallels in our lives are beoynd anything that we could have imagined back when we were sporting pig tails in Miss Apple's class in Maryland. The ultimate irony being that she too has an English husband and therefore is the best person to commiserate when I want to bitch about Hubster. Yesterday, for example, we were trying to understand just what exactly it means when our spouses respond to any of our long involved questions with the word, "quite." Perhaps this is really why my head is spinning today.

This morning I did manage to chat with a few moms at school in a blundering version of Franglais before stumbling back home and into bed. Snuggling with Rosebud and walking through the hallways of my mind has eased the rocking ship just a wee bit.

There's a parent's meeting at school tonight so I suppose I should go shower and put on some clean clothes before heading up to get the tribe. Wonder if the kids will recognize me...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

And They're Off

And so another school year starts. This time for Bubba-Love as well. He walked right into the classroom, pushed past the teacher and staked out his spot on the playmat. Don't think I even got a kiss off the kid before I left.

Amazing how fast they grow. And how quiet the house is today.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Flotsam and Jetsam

I dreamt I shaved my head last night. I was bald as a cue ball and looking ever so glamorous and rockstar like. This morning, I realized that even though the idea is tempting, since I'm shedding out the equivalent of two full heads of hair each day, I'm not sure the Sinead O'Conner look is for me. I've gone radical before but shaving my head might actually give people the proof that I've gone over the edge.

Not that going over the edge is a bad thing. I think I actually fell off of it about 2 weeks ago. I was in the grocery store with all four of the tribe when I just decided to leap. I saw a gleam of light in the gise of a free give-away over by the nappies and figured if I could just jump over the display of baby soaps and hide amongst the wipes, I'd be good to go. Unfortunately, I only cleared the bottom part of the display and was soon trounced upon by three people who looked exactly like Hubster. Not to mention being pummeled by store security as well. But I got my free trial pack of dry toast crackers all the same. Go Dig!

Since that little episode, I've been trying to reassure myself that going over the edge is really a lot more common than most people think. And I have found proof of this. It's called "Other People's Blogs."

There are some really wacked out people out there. More wacked than I am and more creative in dealing with the insanities of life. For example, one blogger I found is gearing up for what seems to be a yearly festival of critters created from vegetables and baked goods. She also talks a lot about drinking gin so I think I may have found a soul mate but since I don't speak Belgian, I'm not sure yet.

There are other blogs that try to give a nice spin on things, some that try and make us stay-at-home types feel less alone, blogs that rip into politics and policy with angry teeth and foaming mouths, blogs that say a multitude of things with no words, and then there are the blogs of those who've upped sticks and left town without really knowing why.

With all these people writing about their lives, it's as though blogs are those messages in bottles that The Police sang about years ago:

Walked out this morning,
don't believe what I saw
Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone at being alone
Hundred billion castaways, looking for a home

All in all, reading other people's words have made me appreciate my own. My story is not unique. There are other expats in France, there are other Anglo/American families living in strange places, other stay-at-home moms that write better than I do, and *gasp* even other people with nutty sled dogs like our own.

But when I put my message, covered with dog fur and peanut butter, into an empty bottle of Badoulin and cast out there, I'm seeing it floating over the seas and into the hands of those who need to know that this crazy Birth Control Bed & Breakfast is a safe shore. Yes, I've gone over the edge, but I'm not alone and all the other jumpers are welcome here.

Writing about this life as I live it makes it all easier to laugh at. Without having to shave my head.