January 30, 2008

What I did instead

Posted in Daily life tagged , , at 1:33 am by Lauren

I actually had a social engagement this evening. I even thought to myself, “I’ll have something to blog about!” The two mothers I babysit for three days a week have a girl’s night every now and then, and though they only invited me because I was standing around as they discussed it, I jumped at the opportunity to go along. Alas, it was cancelled. Neither of their husbands could get home in time to watch the babies while we went to an 8 pm movie showing blocks from their houses. (When one mom called to tell me this, I thought, “Should I offer to babysit?” I thought that might send the wrong message though – or indicate that they had.)

Instead, I went home, surprising Allen who’d thought he’d see me next on Wednesday morning. We watched a movie (No Country for Old Men – really creepy and disturbing!), and I logged several hours of work on my new pet project: my resume.

Okay, I know it’s boring. I’m living in the City of Lights, and I’ve lived on cereal for a week, and I’m writing my resume instead of wandering the Seine with a tall handsome French man. (Fortunately, I’m married to one, in case I do come to my senses and want to take an evening walk.) But it some ways it’s exciting. I have not had an electronic resume since September 2006, when our house was broken into and our computer stolen. Of course, that also means a lot of updates to add my teaching job, graduate education, presentations at conferences… It’s been satisfying to see how far I’ve come in the past couple of years.

Still, it’s no moonlit stroll under the sparkling Eiffel Tower. I’ll work on that for you all.

January 27, 2008

Mussels from Brussels

Posted in Food tagged , , at 5:51 pm by Lauren

This afternoon Allen and I met our friend Ann at Leon in the 6th. Leon is a chain of Belgian mussel restaurants, and we were in the mood for some moules frites! Allen and I opted for the Menu Leon, a huge tub of mussels (800 g), fries on the side, and a choice of desserts (creme brulee for me and a gaufre with powdered sugar for Allen). All that for 16.60 euros – not terrible. We chose moules a la mariniere, which is the basic white wine and garlic treatment, but Leon offers at least 15 different types of preparations. The service was very good, and I got a laugh out of watching the waiter play games with the below 10-year-old crowd (and there were many of them) at his tables.

We visited the Leon location in the 6th arrondissement, but this chain is all over town. It might be a good choice for tourists (who like mussels of course) during lunch time because they have a 11.50 euro menu that includes mussels, fries, and dessert.

We spent about two hours with Ann, but didn’t realize how long our lunch had been until we got home! That’s French eating for you! We were very glad to have gotten out to enjoy the nice weather today and to catch up with Ann, who we hadn’t seen since before Christmas. We’re hoping to enjoy Paris’ restaurants more often this spring, so stay tuned for more culinary adventures in the City of Lights!

January 25, 2008

Baby talk – in English, please

Posted in Babysitting, Daily life, Les français tagged , , , , at 1:28 am by Lauren

While I’m on the topic of babies, I’ve got a bit more to say. Actually, what I have to say applies more generally to my language experience in France this year.

When we first decided to move to France, I was motivated by two goals. 1) I would become more active and thus become more fit (as I did when I lived in Montpellier). 2) I would speak French constantly and improve my language skills to the point of fluency – finally (as I did not do when I lived in Montpellier).

I looked back to my time in Montpellier as a measure for what my time in Paris might be. During my (wonderful) ten months in Montpellier, two major things happened for me. I lost thirty pounds just by integrating walking into my daily routine and left there in the best shape of my life. And I made some of the best friendships of my life with other Americans. It was a high point in those two arenas.

And yes, my French did improve. It improved a lot while I was there. I have always been a reluctant speaker, excelling instead in the other domains of language. But my French improved so much in Montpellier, that when I had to take an oral exam in Medieval History, I not only passed but the professor thought I was European.

Still, I left Montpellier with no French friends except the family whose children I’d tutored. My social French use was not what it could have been, to say the least. So when I knew I’d be coming to Paris, I just knew I’d make French friends and fearlessly plunge into the world of spoken French.

This is where the babies come back in. My job is to play with babies. (My other job is to speak English to French girls.) Because English-speaking babysitters get paid significantly more (almost $5 an hour more), my job is to play with English-speaking babies. So not only am I speaking English, I’m speaking it with beings that can’t talk back! (Or maybe: So not only am I speaking to babies, but I’m speaking to them in English! I’m not sure which is more appalling for the state of my French.) I circulate in an English-speaking bubble.

We have a few French-speaking friends but don’t see them more than once a month. My exchange partner (see – I am trying) and I meet once a week, but she’s busy with exams right now, and we switch off between English and French.

It has always been very hard for me to put myself out there. Though I may come off as confident and social in my adulthood, inside I still feel like the awkward 13-year-old starting middle school in a new district. (For the record, I made one friend that year. One friend. The whole year. And it’s because she talked to me.) So the question becomes: how do you make new friends when you have no social circle to draw from? (No school, not even work?) I plan on getting another exchange partner or two and keeping my eyes open for classes or groups. My French-speaking year isn’t over yet!

For those of you who have recently (or not so recently) moved to another city and had to make a whole new group of friends, how did it work out for you?

Maternity pants: Are they for everyone?

Posted in Babysitting tagged , , , at 1:02 am by Lauren

Lately, two of the women I babysit for have gone shopping on my watch and come back with new maternity pants – but they’re not pregnant. On my most recent visit, they sang the praises of maternity pants in an effort to convince me that I too should invest in a pair. Maternity pants are so comfortable! A woman’s body fluctuates so much within a given month. (Heck, within a given day!) The band of stretchy material across the stomach has a flattening effect.

That is all fine and good. Lord knows I could use a flattening effect across the middle. But it just seems like a letterpress invitation to speculation if I start buying and wearing maternity pants. Oh, probably no one would ever know – until I raised my hands over my head to reach something on a high shelf or wore a shirt that was too short.

Now, some speculation about whether I’m pregnant or not (I’m not, and don’t hold your breath just yet) is natural, I suppose. I mean, I’ve been married for a couple of years, and it appears that I adore children. I probably like “other people’s children” more than a whole lot of other people (parents or otherwise). (Right, Mom?) But the fact of the matter is, nobody would be speculating if I were a size 8. So until I’m so trim I don’t need to wear maternity pants, or until I’m actually pregnant, there will be no maternity pants for me.

(By the way, I do think about babies a lot. I mean, I’m around them at least three days a week. But I do the baby check pretty often: “So, does this make you feel like you want to have a baby?” The baby check has never yet come back positive. Anybody else do the baby check? I can’t help it. Like I said, I’m around babies a lot.)

January 24, 2008

Low budget television?

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , at 1:06 am by Lauren

Apparently, I am a spoiled American. This probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone else, but I myself am a little taken aback. I’m not usually the type of person who says, “Wow, my country does this so much better.” Hopefully that’s not exactly what I’m doing now.

What I mean to say is, I’ve been watching TV in French lately, and everything looks so low-budget. But it’s not just the French TV shows. The American shows look low-budget too. I mean, Ugly Betty, House, those crime shows – they all look very low-budget. It’s got to be something about the French cable transmission. It couldn’t be – oh no – that the American shows are dubbed and thus the sound and visuals aren’t in synch. Okay, I honestly did consider that option. But it’s something about the lighting and the color. If I were really curious, I’d research the differences between French and American TV transmission, but frankly, I’m happy to stick with my opinions on this one.

Sorry, France. You sure do know how to make a baguette though.

January 15, 2008

My mundane life – Paris or no Paris!

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , at 11:43 pm by Lauren

This post will be a little off the norm for me. I’ve been trying to post only when I had some big story to tell or to give a major update about my life (or pictures). But two things happen: I get stuck for days or weeks before I write about the bigger things, and I neglect the smaller things that happen when bigger things aren’t consuming me. (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bust might disagree.) So today I’m going to write about a few of the smaller (or are they – oh no! – less interesting?) things going on in my life.

First of all, we’re gearing up for a spring full of visitors. Starting in March, we’re expecting two a month! Let’s hope nobody gets hurt.

Allen’s been gone since the first, in the States for work and to visit his family. I’m jealous, though it was just me there visiting our abnormally talkative little niece. She calls him Todo, which stands for Tonton, which is diminutive for “ton oncle” or “your uncle” in French. Todo will be back on Thursday, January 17 – just a few more days!

Allen and I have both been tearing our hair about the renter situation in our house. One of our renters announced he was quitting his doctorate and moving back home. Oops. Know anyone who wants to rent a bedroom in a shared house in DC?

I am still walking as much as I can over here. I know that may seem boring to you, but walking is the most interesting part of my day. That’s right. It’s been raining a lot, meaning I have to take the metro one way to or from babysitting, but except for today, I’ve been able to walk at least one way. Each time I get to walk, it’s 2.25 miles, so usually I clock 4.5 miles a day, and it’s very fulfilling. I’ll have to find a way to keep this up when I get back to the States!

The twice-yearly soldes or sales have started in France. Unfortunately, we’re stockpiling euros to pay the electricity bill (which is coming this month for the past six months’ electricity usage!). No shopping triumphs just yet.

Finally, I’m considering starting a second blog in which I review every last thing I do in Paris – more of a travel review blog than a personal ramble like this one. I’m even thinking of starting a cross stitch blog. You may be surprised how much I have to say.

I think I’ll categorize this one under “Daily Life.”

January 13, 2008

Posting pictures, at last!

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , at 3:16 pm by Lauren

If you look to the right of your screen, you should now see a box that says, “Pictures,” with a link to our pictures on Picasa. Finally! Everything’s up there now except the pictures we took in Scotland and the pictures Allen took before I arrived. This is a very exciting day for me (and was a very exciting late night yesterday)!

I started out with Flickr but wasn’t ready to upgrade with them as quickly as I needed to. It seemed like no time before I maxed out the number of pictures I could put up, and I hadn’t yet decided if I loved the site or not. A friend of mine uses Picasa (Google’s photo application), and they turned out to have a lot of storage. So all of my hundreds of pictures are up there now, without me having had to pay. However, I don’t think I can tag pictures like you can on Flickr.

Putting pictures on Picasa still took me a while. I wanted to caption everything (sheesh), and I began experimenting with their photo fixing tools. Now you know I’ve been cheating. Do most professional photographers tweak their photos? I’m just wondering how bad my original pictures are (not that I think they’re professional). I’ve become slightly addicted to the “Sharpen” effect. I like to be able to see the ripples in the water or the cracks in the stone wall. I just hope I’m not giving my photos a fake look by “perfecting” them too much.

So here is my question to you all: What tweaks or fixes do you do to photos before you share them with the world?

January 12, 2008

Back to work!

Posted in Babysitting tagged , at 9:22 pm by Lauren

Oops! I really thought that one of the mothers had told me she’d be on vacation until February 1. That is how I found myself very surprised at 1 pm on Monday to hear that she and her friend (the two moms with one-year-olds) wanted me to come by at 3 pm, our regular time. So, here I am, back to work already.

I can’t say it’s a bad thing. For one thing, Allen’s out of the country (in the States) until the 17th. For another thing, my original plans for today including saying goodbye to Elizabeth (check) and then sitting around all day in my pajamas without a shower so that my skin could rebuild some of its natural oils. I’ve been feeling very dry lately, if you must know.

Thursday I tutored Adrienne, and tomorrow I’m back to my regular schedule of English lessons with both girls. So, my two main jobs are back already. On the up side, I still don’t need to get up before 2 pm in the foreseeable future.

I also have a new opportunity. Natsumi’s mother recommended me to a friend who’d like to learn English. I agreed to talk to her, to at least find out what her goals would be and what her current level is. I’m a little terrified at the idea of teaching an adult though.

I expect to get back to babysitting in the evenings as soon as Mimi and Jack recover from New Year’s (just kidding!) and get the kids back in school and the creche. Then Noah and his mom come back around January 21, and then I’ll be a busy lady again.

Until then, feel free not to wake me before 2.

Arnold Schwarzenegger bust…sold?

Posted in Exploring tagged , , , at 9:22 pm by Lauren

I have a little joke with myself that I call my “Weird Tour of Paris.” The Weird Tour of Paris includes all of the really strange (or just unique) things I see in shop windows on my walks to work, and I enjoy sharing them with friends visiting the city.

But today, one of my Weird Tour landmarks disappeared. In the window of a comics shop that I pass, there has a been a bust of Arnold Schwarzenegger as long as I’ve been walking that path. I have never decided whether it is a life-sized bust or slightly smaller than life-size. It occurs to me that for all that Arnold looks like a very large man, he may actually have a small to average head. I think the bust may represent Arnold circa the Terminator movies; he has at least three bullet holes in his face and shoulder.

But now, Arnold is gone. So I have to ask: did someone buy the quasi-life-size bust of Arnold Schwarzenegger?

New Year’s Day: Recovery

Posted in Daily life, Exploring tagged , , , , , , at 9:22 pm by Lauren

The next day Elizabeth kindly woke me – a few times as I tried to snatch a little more sleep in between each knock on the door. We were downstairs around 2 pm, and it seemed that maybe people had just finished eating lunch. I couldn’t tell that there was anything to eat on the table, so we snuck into the kitchen and pilfered bags of cookies. We exited the kitchen by way of a back door, remembering that if we went through Mimi and Jack’s room, we’d hit the back stairwell and likely miss anyone while we snuck to our rooms. But we ran into Mimi, who then invited us to come sit in the conference room where her son Michael was coloring. (Shortly after Jack came in and asked why all the English speakers were hiding back there away from the French.) We munched our cookie lunch, and then agreed to go outside with their family as they went to go find the ducks. But what started as a duck-feeding expedition turned into a demonstration of how to throw rocks and sticks instead (to break ice in the moat).

After a while, Elizabeth and I broke away and wandered the outer limits of the chateau’s land in the other direction. We found a short wooded trail and enjoyed a very sunny and clear day by taking even more pictures. (These pictures, by the way, are currently and finally being added to Picasa, along with everything else we’ve taken in Paris and in Scotland. I hope to have them up shortly (so, March?).) And somehow, we frittered away the whole day, and it was 7 pm and time to return to the train station and to Paris.

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