Boo!

We are approaching the end of the first week of the first school holiday over here in France.  The kids get two weeks off around Halloween time (now), and the next is for Christmas time.  Having Célénie and Louis-Auguste at home has been fun because we get to go to the movies, eat lunch with cousins, sleep in (I like this one), have play-dates with friends (them, not me although I do have friends here–I swear), oh and we get to create a Halloween costume from scratch!!!!

OK now you should be aware: I don’t even know how to use an iron.  So when Célénie asked me to help her create a dress from large sheets of velvet fabric I was a little scared. Louis-Auguste to the rescue: he has a knack for sewing–future designer? Perhaps…

So I provided the ideas–“creative visions” if you will–and he did the hard labor; we made a great team.  After a few pricked fingers, some frustration and a lot of orange and black fabric, I have to say we did a pretty good job!  There are some tweaks to be made before Sunday–one sleeve is a bit larger (and uglier) than the other–but other than that it’s a success.

If you’re wondering what she is being I must admit, I am right there with you!  First I thought it was an elf–she ordered prosthetic elf ears that arrived yesterday.  BUT she also ordered vampire teeth…oh and GIANT black wings!  They are literally bigger than my back and very heavy.  I can’t imagine she will actually be able to wear them–she is so tiny! But we will see.  So yeah, I have no clue what all of that will create in the end.

Louis-Auguste’s costume was a bit easier: he ordered it online and it came today (no assembly required, thank God).  Instead of telling you I’ll just post pictures after Sunday –that way you can guess what the elf-vampire-princess is too!

All of this Halloween hype is not typical France.  You won’t find Halloween candy in stores, no isles filled with costumes (we made ours, remember?!), and really, not many people do anything for the Night of the Living Dead.  My neighbor at home would be horrified by this!  Her Halloween spirit, and the decorations that cover her house are enough for the whole street (it’s the excuse my mom has for decorating for “Harvest” and not for “Halloween”)

But I am not really bothered by the lack of Halloween here.  It was never a favorite of mine–I take after my mom on that one 🙂  But I LOVE fall and pumpkins and the changing leaves and Thanksgiving (I realize there is no hope for this holiday in France) so when the kids wanted to carve some pumpkins I was happy.  I was ready to go to a pumpkin patch and make a day of it–that didn’t happen.  Instead Bruno (one of the workers at the winery) came over with some pumpkins which we gutted (Bruno wanted the inside for soup/pie) and Louis-Auguste carved a face in one.

OK not a big deal, but I wasn’t ending this pumpkin carving without doing my favorite thing: baking the seeds!  The kids had never heard of this so pressure was on to make a yummy snack.  Of course it didn’t turn out like I had planned (cooking here hasn’t been going too great so far).  My idea was to make half with salt and half with sugar–The Duband children have sweet tooths!  If I knew how to cover them with chocolate I would’ve!  So I figured out the conversion between celsius and fahrenheit–YGG (for my mason street girls) and lit the oven.  No but literally, I had to use a lighter for this oven and it took a few tries and a lot of stinky gas smell (don’t worry I waited between attempts for the air to clear–I wasn’t going to blow anybody up!)  After a while I smelled something else…BURNING!  Awesome, I hadn’t taken into account that sugar and salt don’t cook the same.  Needless to say, the sugar ones were black as the night when I pulled out the tray. OOPS! But we enjoyed the salt ones (I like them better anyways) and actually Louis-Auguste bravely tried the sugar ones.  He didn’t seem to be bothered by the charcoal flavor that was added.

So maybe I didn’t successfully bring Halloween to Chevanne but I still have 3 days in which to redeem myself. Maybe I will find a really awesome costume to wear? Any ideas?

In review: Les Petits Mouchoirs

So last night I went to the cinéma again. This time the movie was not based on a book I had already read so the pressure was on: was I going to understand it? Would I sit there for 2 hours with a “concentration headache” (thinking in another language is hard work)? When everyone laughed would I get the joke?  There have been a few times when I have encountered this.  Jokes can be hard to follow (in French that is, hope we are all on the same page here).  And when you are the only one with a straight–or confused face, it can be a bit awkward!  To add to my own stream of worries, everyone around me was asking if I was going to comprehend the movie.  Uhhh I know as much as you people do about the future;  All I could say was “j’espère!”

I could count the things I knew about the film on one hand:

1. It was a new release which had received a lot of good press so far.

2. Marion Cotillard was in it (Absolutely love her–evident in my current Facebook photo)

3. The story centered around a group of friends going on vacation and the problems that surpass between them.

So the lights dimmed and the trailers began–they didnt run as many as we do, but that’s so American: to do things over and above.  Come movie theater fashion, we had some popcorn to share amongst the four of us (Juliette, Léone, Liz and myself) but unlike the United States this popcorn was not doused in butter and salt. Nope, instead it was covered in sticky, sweet sugar!  That was a shock when I blindly took some from the bag and to be honest it kind of didn’t do the trick for me (I’ve never been a big fan of Kettle Cooked popcorn, which is what I would compare this to).

But there was no time for me to eat popcorn anyways–too loud when you chew it and I had to try to hear everything going on in this film.  Luckily this didn’t end up being as hard as I thought!  I am even more proud to say I understood it, comprehended it, and LOVED it!  Proof of this: I laughed with the sinners and cried with the saints…

No but seriously, I laughed at the jokes (There was a lot to laugh about; especially François Cluzet’s character), understood the relationships between each character (deep and complicated) and yes, I even cried (as did most of the theater) towards the end.  All in all it was a great French film by Guillaume Canet that I recommend to anyone! I hope I can buy the DVD some day (maybe there will even be English subtitles for my American friends to enjoy with me).  And for now, those friends can at least enjoy the great soundtrack–most of which was English.

Bon Anniversaire

So this morning, at about 9am, I wandered down to la cave (winery) for la casse croûte.  This is basically a mid morning meal, or snack if you will, that the workers at the Domaine participate in.  Basically: eat, drink, be merry before returning to the day’s work, which–bonus–is making wine!  The first time I joined everyone (mostly men I might add) for this ritual David told me that my future husband should be a wine maker; no argument there!  If its acceptable to indulge in wine and cheese at 9am when you’re husband makes the wine, then sign me up!

This morning we had wine (duh), bread, cheese, foie gras, coffee, and special flan cake for David’s birthday. Good Lord, I knew I was near Lyon–the capital of gastronomy (la capitale de gastronomie), but WOW! Food is such a big deal here and I don’t think my jeans can take it much longer–winemaker’s wife or not!

But for today, it was David’s birthday, so that was a good enough excuse for me to sacrifice my waist line and mange le casse croûte like a man.

j’ai fait une betise

Tonight Célénie and I had to get dinner started–alone!  Louis-Auguste and David were driving home from Dijon and it was already getting late (Wednesdays are VERY busy in this household). So David called–this conversation was interesting in itself with him trying to speak English and me trying to respond in French that “I think I understand what you’re saying…”

The Mission:  Put the left over lasagna in the oven–I could handle that.  Start the deep fryer outside–Célénie took care of this (with her dad’s help over the phone).  Get the chicken from the freezer and thaw two pieces–we were making chicken nuggets tonight.

So we went downstairs (together of course because it is dark and scary) and searched the freezer.  I had never looked in this freezer before–this was really the first time I was in charge of the cuisine here in Chevannes–but it was almost totally filled with meat.

Now when David told me on the phone “not the big, whole chicken” I didn’t know he actually meant there would be a head on this thing!  So when I stumbled across three frozen chickens with their heads still attached, I was a bit grossed out.  Next I came across two freezer bags of “lapin” (rabbit for non-Frenchies).  I of course was reading all the animal names out loud during our search and as I said, “Oh My God! Rabbit!” Célénie quickly told me to keep quiet;  her adorable pet LAPIN might hear us!  Too cute (hope these frozen animals were not part of his furry family  😦

Anyways, I finally found a bag with two pieces of chicken. We proceeded to thaw them upstairs, then I skinned them (gross) and cut them up into mini, bite-sized pieces for chicken nuggets.  I had seen David do all of this the week before, so I realized quickly that the end result was not going to be the same.  First of all there were bones, second there was a lot of stringy stuff, and third there was not a good way to cut off “chunks” of meat.  But I hadn’t seen any other frozen chickens (besides the ones with heads) so I just proceeded and crossed my fingers.

Well, I didn’t cross them hard enough because when the boys arrived they noticed a difference in the way my pieces looked.  FAIL!  I explained the way the chicken looked (pre-chopped) and that’s when we knew: J’AI FAIT UNE BETISE (I made a stupidity–literal translation). I had taken the thigh; I needed the breast.  The thigh would not cook well in the deep fryer and we would probably not enjoy the texture of it.

Of course David magically appeared with the chicken breasts (looked a lot more like what we used the last time), cut them up, and it was all OK–besides the fact that we ate around 9pm, but I’m sure there are worse things!  

French Tunes

I spend a lot of my day driving here and there with the kids.  Because of this, I listen to the radio A LOT!  At first I was just annoyed by the repetition of Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taio Cruz, and David Guetta.  I am not saying the over-played songs are now growing on me–I don’t think that happens.  But I am saying that between the mind numbing songs I have found some new jams too. Take a listen and add them to your playlists!

Plan B-She Said

Joyce Jonathan-Je ne sais pas

Hello- Martin Solveig & Dragonette

We no speak Americano

Grégoire-Danse

Christophe Mae-Je me Lâche (I am lucky enough to have his whole album in the car. Love it!!!)

some others: Mohombi, bumpy ride; Julian perretta, wonder why; Inna, déjà vu; Shakira, waka waka; Remady, give me a sign; K’naan/Fefe, waving flag (loved this song before but like it even more with Fefe); and how could I forget Bob Sinclar (Louis-Auguste likes him a lot/has a bunch of “Bob Sinclar” paraphernalia)

Time is Money

So my dad sent me to France with Traveler’s Checks. I appreciate it very much, the money that is, but I am thinking that nobody should be sending their kids to Europe (or anywhere) with these things.  The problem is that nobody wants to change them into usable monies. I had to ask three different banks if they changed such checks.  The first said the hour for such transaction had passed.  The next one said I should go to la poste and they would take my American Express Checks.  This was when I discovered the inconvenience of la Grève.

So one morning last week, after dropping Louis-Auguste at school, I waited an hour until La Poste opened.  Wasn’t such a bad thing–I brought my camera, ate one (or two) croissants, had a chocolat chaud in a new favorite restaurant, and window shopped a bit.  The unfortunate news was that when my hour was finally up, la poste did not accept my request.

Dammit, I hate these Travelers Checks.

So I left a bit annoyed and deterred about the whole thing.    As I hustled to find the fate of my car (I didn’t pay for my spot that day–refer to previous post), I passed a different bank.  I stood contemplating the idea of entering into yet another dead-end.  But I had waited an hour (now maybe an hour and a half) so what else was there to lose–I could however be gaining a larger chance of getting a parking ticket…

The result?  SUCCESS–changed my money, no ticket and some cool pictures to play with in Photoshop! Way to go me 🙂

Pump it, Pump it up

Woke up this morning, got in the car and VOILA–no gas!  Normally this is not an issue Chez Duband because there is literally a gas pump on their property. Actually, it’s right next to the car…convenience at it’s finest. But I had to get going this morning; Louis-Auguste and I were running late so I began the 40 minute drive into Dijon with the gas light already lit.  Sweet!

Dropped Louis-Auguste at school–sans accident (I should mention that no accident is an accomplishment from yesterday when I found it hard to drive properly during our commute. I literally ran into a curb and shortly after almost went into the wrong lane while turning. I really didn’t think Louis-Auguste’s friend who we carpool with would ever get into the car with me again! But I redeemed myself today…I hope).  I wished the boys a “bonne jounrnée” and I continued on to my school  (Friday I have classes 8-12 and 2-4).  Of course the road I usually park on had no open spots.  This particular road is free to park on, and being the penny pincher I am…

OK, OK maybe not “penny pincher” per say.  I am known to spend a fortune for nice bags and high heels but for things like parking, gas, toilet paper, etc etc, I refuse to pay more than necessary.  And in my mind the 3 euros on the next road was not worth it when I could pay nothing. So there!

On my second lap around the one-way street (I hate all the one-way roads and circular intersections in this city) I found a spot that I wiggled the MM (mom Mercedes) into.  Although the parking job was absolutely absurd, I think it was the first time I really looked like a French person–meaning my car was tilted with two tires on the curb and the front-end protruded quite a bit more than the back (“when in France…..”)

Oh, did you forget I have NO gas at all by this point?  That was a great surprise after my 8 hour day! But, I decided to take my chances yet again and I went to pick up Louis-Auguste before finding a gas station. To be honest, I was nervous to pump gas in France for the first time. I don’t know why–it’s all the same, but I still opted to have the 13-year-old with me…just in case.

Just my luck, the manifestations associated with the grève led to complete grid lock all around Dijon!  I did NOT want to break down in the middle of this mess. It was as if I was back at JMU last spring with the police in SWAT outfits trying to calm the crowds (of course the reasoning for the police was a bit more legit compared to that spring…).

But all in all we made it out of le centre ville and into a gas station where I pumped my very own gas in France–add it to the list people 🙂 Success!

C’est La France!

I have been here a little less than one month and today was the second grève (strike).  It’s a regular occurence in this country and when it happens lots of things are shut down.  Public transportation is slowed, teachers dont show up to class, financial institutions are closed….it’s not just one sector of jobs.

Last night as we tried to figure out the coordination of getting to Louis-Auguste’s school (many teachers participating in the strike) and my school (we will never have off), David explained a little about the grèves.  Basically France is in the process of changing the age of retirement.  This is very basic because everything was explained to me in French.  I do know that David’s friend Roman works for the public transit and he will be retiring at the age of 55! So crazy!  I am going to try to learn more about all of this, but for now all I am worried about is how it affects my day-to-day activities; like knowing what time Louis-Auguste would finish school today. I had to wait twice at the collège this afternoon because we didn’t know if he would finish at 1:45 or 2:45. Not a big deal though because it gave me time to shop 🙂

Fortunately for my wallet (there were about 4 pairs of shoes and 2 bags I wanted) I was unable to change the money I had to Euros….wonder why? I bet you can guess…

LA GRÈVE!!

But it never hurts to try things on,  although it might be difficult if you don’t know your European sizes.  Most things have multiple labels to assist les étrangers (foreigners).  I tried on some super cute trousers I’d been eyeing the week before–too tight. Wonder why???? (HINT: bread, cheese, abondance of desserts) I felt like Liz Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love when she was trying on extra-large jeans in Italy after eating her body weight in pasta. Maybe I am going through my “eat” phase right now?  If so I have some great things to look forward to this year 😉       {side note: went to see this movie in French the other night–way to go me! I was able to understand very well because I read the book. I recommend it to all the girls out there. Javier Bardem=not bad on the eyes}

But anyhow, the pants didn’t fit. So I tried shoes–also a fail.  When I asked the lady to help me find my European size she was astounded that I have a 10 in US.

“non, non. Pas dix”

“oui, dix. Regarde!” At which point I presented her with my foot.

Still couldn’t believe me as she proceeded to have me try size 38 and 39 in a very cute boot I might add (boots with a heel are the French staple).  It was a bit snug and I had to go get Louis-Auguste at school anyway so I left without confirming a size, but I will try again another day.  A day with out une grève perhaps.

VTT: very tough terrain!

I was invited by Juliette to go mountain biking (faire du VTT) today. I have to say that I was very excited to do a bit of physical activity–the overconsumption of baguette and cheese and wine is taking its toll on my figure ; )

We woke up early and got the bikes together. I borrowed David’s vélo (bike), casque (helmet), and des gants (gloves).  He also generously gave me padded biker shorts to wear over my own un-padded shorts.  At first I thought this wasn’t necessary.  First, I ride bikes a lot at home and never wear padded shorts–never been a problem.  Another reason for my  apprehension was the fact that this thing looked like a wrestling outfit–no joke!  Ultra-low scoop neck with shoulder straps and jammer shorts. BUT when in Rome (or France?!)…..

So I sported the oversized, VERY stylish biker onesie and packed the cars (there were about 8 of us).  We drove into Beaune (15 min south) and I’m thinking we will just park and find a route as a little group–nothing fancy.

Not the case.

There were seriously like 100 people waiting at this place where we paid 5€ to..well..I don’t really know what the money was about to be honest. They charted out a course for us and I guess some food was laid out for everyone….anyway:

Juliette, Mariné (Juliette’s friend), Oreille (cousin, not sure how to spell his name), and me chose the 35km course while the dad’s/uncles took the longer 50km trip.   Started out fine with some uphill roads past vineyards of the Côte d’Or.  The problem was that a thick fog covered the hills, so the scenery left much to be desired.  Little did I know the lack of visual appeal was the least of my worries:

I spent the next 3 1/2 hours on a bike (probably not properly set up for me due to the throbbing back I had throughout the whole ride) peddling UP hills. No, wait; up a mountain…a mountain with no downhills actually.  No downhills and very difficult, steep, many times slippery, muddy, tiny, winding (get the picture?) paths.  I fell more than 5 times, had to walk the bike 3 times, and thought I was going to fly over my handle bars the whole time!

But after finally reaching the end, and hobbling around (wrestling suit’s padding did NOT do it’s job) I was proud of my accomplishments.  Everyone who I have talked to this afternoon has told me, “c’est très dur” (that’s very hard). SO WAY TO GO ME!

Pesky Little Creatures

Ever wish you were a fly on the wall? I have to admit that I have wished this from time to time–to be able to drop in on a conversation or two. Nothing creepy, just an inconceivable idea…until recently. Being here in France I think I have become that little fly on the wall.  Sometimes I find myself sitting there at the kitchen table and conversations are going on all around me.  I sit there and pick up a word or two but I’m not yet fast enough with my French to put it all together for comprehension’s sake.  I don’t expect people to stop their conversations and translate for me, and I don’t want anyone to feel they have to create simple sentences or speak about or to me (basically I don’t want to be a burden). But there are times that I wish I could just know what’s going on and contribute more. I realize as I get better with French this will change, but for now I remain a fly on the wall.

Speaking of pesky animals, I brought one with me from the United States! It was earlier in the week and I was sitting in one of my classes when I picked up a strange scent.  A strange and unfortunately very familiar scent–one of a stink bug! I couldn’t possibly believe that the French were plagued with the nasty creatures I find in my bedroom at home.  I searched the area around my seat, didn’t find a thing, so I just let it go and continued with the lesson–all be it a but perturbed that I hadn’t escaped stink bugs during my move across the Atlantic.

A few days later I found the cause of the smell:  I was changing after my day and from my jeans fell a dead, gross, STINK BUG! Couldn’t believe it–the little critter must have snuck into my bag, curled up for a nap in my folded clothes , and then let his presence be known as he was suffocated in between my leg and my jeans. Gross!

Happy to know that the stink bug is not a native of France and hope that all the little bugs (me included) are gone from the walls-and my  jeans-soon 🙂