May 31, 2008

Stats: a prologue

Posted in Exploring, Travel tagged , , , , at 11:22 pm by Lauren

Days of walking in the French mountains: 5

Distance travelled: 107 km/66.5 miles

Total hours of walking: approximately 35

Pictures taken: 315 (Montpellier and hiking)

Blisters formed: 10+ (combined four feet)

Hours of sleep we’re about to get tonight: A LOT

Look forward to further posts with pictures about our trip to Montpellier (3 days) and hiking through the midi-Pyrenees (5 days).

Unbelievably enough, we only have 30 days left in France!


May 20, 2008

Accidental retrospective

Posted in Daily life, family tagged , at 12:39 am by Lauren

I was preparing some pictures of Allen and I for my adorable niece tonight, and I got a kick out of the pictures of us from the past year. Here we are looking all fresh-faced and young at the end of October 2007. (We’re both officially in our late twenties now! Ah, how time flies. Haha.)


And strangely, this picture of me with ALL THESE FRECKLES was only taken two weeks before. (Suspicious!)


Then here we are in February at AOC. We’re looking a bit worn, maybe a little awkward at taking pictures in restaurants.


The end of March sees us looking and feeling a bit more comfortable, if perhaps also more FREEZING COLD. (Could we be bundled up more? My memory says, “Why weren’t you??”)


And by the end of April, we’d not a care in the world, and we were much more at ease. What will the end of May bring? Or for that matter, the end of June?


By the way, Katie, my niece, is hysterical. We talked on the phone last night, and she would yell, “Hi Tonton Allen!” (She says it like “Toto” or “Todo,” which is sweet.) And then I’d say, “This isn’t Tonton Allen, it’s Aunt Lauren.” And then she’d say, “Nooooo.” Like, “You are crazy, lady, because I know I’m talking to my uncle, so just admit it.” So then she’d yell it more insistently: “HI TONTON ALLEN!” Ha!

Here’s a picture of the little darling. She’s 19 months old now! I stole it from Stephanie’s blog, just because I’m not sure she wants me linking everyone to her baby blog. I’ll be asking.

And this is one of our favorite Katie pictures. She dressed up as Ripley for Halloween! (She’s 12 months old here.)

I bet you totally get why we’ve been bummed to be away from her so long!

May 16, 2008

The length of a year

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , at 11:49 am by Lauren

A year is too long…

To be away from your baby niece.

To live in an apartment without a proper kitchen and a bed on stilts.

To be unable to have a regular job (especially for my American sensibilities of needing to be “productive” all the time).

To say something stupid every single time you interact with another human.

To put up with the dollar-euro exchange rate (which is devaluing our sole salary).

A year is not long enough…

To establish a proper social life in a foreign country.

To see everything in Paris.

To get to the level of fluency in French I’d like to be.

To forget where home is, or was, and to reassign its location.

To try all of the amazing restaurants in Paris.

A year is perfect…

To make a few great friends (specifically, Mimi & Jack and Antoine & Typhaine).

To figure out your favorite bakery and try 75% of the food in it.

To brush up on French enough that it’s not completely embarrassing.

To have a few people around the neighborhood recognize you and say hello, and to run into friends on the street.

To appreciate a city you weren’t in love with when you moved.

May, month of holidays

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , at 11:35 am by Lauren

At my school in DC, the teachers would murmur among themselves in May and June, “Don’t make your decision about coming back at the end of the school year.” Contract renewal is an emotionally charged process anyway (reviewing all the good and bad of the past year), without doing it during a completely abnormal atmosphere. Classes on taking a field trip every week, children miss school at the drop of a hat, and teachers’ nerves wear thin in the heat. Ideally, when your contract comes in May, you already know if you’re going to sign it or not.

If you had asked Allen in April whether he’d be willing to move back to Paris next year, I doubt you would have received a positive response. Working in a foreign language is taxing, the long-term threat of French taxes is financially terrifying, and then there’s the whole question of having friends. But April is gone, and so are all the months before it, and May has arrived. Now whole phrases are coming out of his mouth with words like, “If we move back to Paris…”

What has changed? May is here! I’m partial to May anyway, but May in Paris is particularly nice. In fact, I think this is what the crooners mean when they refer to springtime in Paris. They couldn’t be fantasizing about April. My records aren’t detailed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had at least five minutes of rain every day between January and the end of April. But on May 1, France’s equivalent of Labor Day, Allen enjoyed his sunny day off work. And on May 2, we went to Grenoble and basked in the sunshine there. When we returned, the sun was firmly planted in the sky. In fact, we hadn’t seen a stitch of rain in all of May until yesterday’s downpour (relieving the heat a little). Today it’s back to gorgeous.

May is also the month of holidays. In fact, there are three major holidays (read: days off from work) within the first two weeks: May 1, May 8, and May 12. Looking at a calendar, you’ll find that two of those fall on Thursdays and the last on a Monday. Unlike Americans, who move holidays arbitrarily to a Monday or a Friday, French take whatever day it is off of work. You may scoff, “No long weekends, then.” But the French do us one better. They “fait le pont.” That is, they create a bridge between the day off and the weekend by taking another day off! So Allen had the following days off already this month: May 1 and May 2 (four day weekend), May 8 and May 9 and May 12 (five day weekend). No wonder he’s entertaining the idea of moving back to France soon!

I don’t know what the end result will be – it may turn out you just shouldn’t make a decision about coming back to France during the lovely month of May. I recently met an American couple who shared that they too left France because of an exhausting job situation. But when they returned to the States, they realized that living in France was worth the job for them. So they suggested that we would probably know once we got back to the States whether we’d want to move back to France. And since we don’t have a whole lot of choice in our location these days, we plan on just enjoying France in May in the meantime.


Posted in Exploring, Travel tagged , , , at 12:24 am by Lauren

In the spirit of the unphotographed doony, I bring you two pictures taken in Grenoble (La Tronche, actually) in the sunny month of May. And I ask you this:

What’s wrong with this picture?

And this one?

Weird Tour of Grenoble, if you ask me. 🙂

Mountains? Sun? Yes, please to Grenoble.

Posted in Exploring, Food, Travel tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:20 am by Lauren

I stepped off the train in Grenoble, took in the mountains in every direction and the warmth of the sun, and I was ready to stay.

“You know how every time you visit Paris, you say you kind of wish you lived there? I’m feeling that way about Grenoble with these mountains!” I said to Elizabeth when she arrived at the station. Then we were off, to actually explore the town so I could further solidify my feeling of being happy to be somewhere smaller and warmer than Paris.

We had to stop periodically for me to take photos, starting at the dandelion fountain (which would be entirely unsuitable for me to have pushed Jenna in). (Grenoble had several lovely fountains though.)


Some form of cement was invented in Grenoble, and in the excitement, all the buildings were plastered with it, erasing original facades and eschewing past architectural standards. Still, the washes of color on the cemented buildings hold their own charm.


We lunched at a creperie, with bowls of cider to wash our crepes down. Then we walked right out of Grenoble to La Tronche, where Elizabeth lives with a host family.


We’d have more time to savor the view later; the three of us almost immediately headed out in search of other views on a hike up to La Bastille, the fortifications above Grenoble.


I’d say we found them. After our descent from the Bastille, we ate a basic but tasty dinner (including a vinaigre de noix in our salad dressing, which Allen and I ran out and bought for use at home). And we may have played some cards. (Did you guess that?)

On Saturday, we walked into town to catch the bus to Le Sappey for more hiking! We ran a few errands – vin de noix (an aperitif made from wine and walnuts, a bottle of which will be crossing international borders with me soon), sunscreen, lunch provisions – and caught the incredibly affordable regional bus in front of the museum. Steps off of the bus in our destination, this was our view.

Unfortunately, I was feeling under the weather (Allen jinxed my good health a few weeks before, resulting in strep and then a sore throat/head cold), and I’m going to use that as the excuse for my very slow walking and my stopping every 20 yards. (I might be being generous with myself.) Fortunately, there were plenty of sights to enjoy during our frequent rests. It’s possible that I even stopped to breath under the ruse of taking a picture.

So we stopped and walked and stopped and picked the path back up.

After we finished our loop above the villages (some of them seemed to be just a cluster of houses), we had an ice cream in Le Sappey. Elizabeth opted for chartreuse ice cream, flavored by a liquor that is named after the mountains we were in. (I’d follow suit the next day, when I realized the ice cream wasn’t as strong as the liquor. I think my fear was legitimate; at Berthillon, the liquor-flavored ice cream is every bit as strong as the liquor in it. Ask Alan and Dave!)

We had hours to spare before we caught the bus back down the mountain, so we wandered a bit before settling down in the lush grass. The bright sun pierced through my poor translucent eyelids; I covered my eyes. We spent a pleasant hour thus, with occasional appreciative glances at the scenery.

The bus came with a minor scare in the form of engine troubles and sticky braking mechanisms. Elizabeth pointed out the distance to La Tronche. We’d walked farther in a day before. But the bus came through, and we rolled into Grenoble just before supper time, which we spent sipping vin de noix and eating gratin dauphinois in Elizabeth’s backyard.

We knew we’d have to leave on Sunday, but that didn’t mean we were going to waste an entire day of sunshine fretting about it. We were in town around noon, and we chose a likely restaurant with outdoor seating. Elizabeth and I availed ourselves of the 17 euro menu, indulging in a kir chataigne as aperitif. (A kir is a very French thing to order, and if you do, you’ll have a nice cool glass of white wine with creme cassis in it. But in this case, we had a chestnut-flavored liquor or syrup, which I found really delicious.) Our menu started with an appetizer of goat cheese and sun dried tomato on a cassis-studded bread with a light salad. We both enjoyed a basic steak of some unmemorable sort. Meanwhile, Allen munched on andouille sausage with thick French fries.

And then there was dessert. When we’d ordered, Elizabeth attempted to order the walnut tart, but they were out. So we both ordered the only other option – the doony avec glace au chocolat et au tiramisu. I’m basically okay with anything including chocolate ice cream and tiramisu, so I didn’t worry too much that I didn’t know what a doony was. When our doonies arrived, I had a good laugh though. (I’m still laughing.) On the plate, sitting atop artful drizzles of chocolate and caramel, was a donut with chocolate frosting, with a small scoop of ice cream nestled in the donut hole. Doony indeed. I only wish I’d taken a picture before biting into that donut with a spoon.

After I ate a donut with utensils, we wandered around town, scoping out the local parks (Jardin des Plantes and others) for a spot to sit. We opted for a shady area with a miniature train circling it. We munched on local strawberries we’d bought at the market that morning.

After a while we decided to walk a bit more, and the heat inspired an ice cream stop. I had chartreuse, and Allen had walnut, both very Grenoble. We made our way to the Italian section of town, across the river, as we licked our ice creams before they melted in the sun.

Elizabeth led us halfway up the climb to the Bastille from town, a cobbled path that afforded more views over the city.

Then Elizabeth remembered the chapel in the Musee Dauphinois, so we ducked inside to take a look. The chapel was closed for a concert, so we wandered through the cloister and found ourselves outside on the terraces.

Once again, the grass became our lounge, and the music from the concert wafted into the tranquil terrace of the former convent. Elizabeth started with the visible evidence of an idea, rustled around in the grass, and came up with a four-leafed clover.

Too soon, someone came around to say the museum was closing, and we slung our bags on our shoulders and marched back down to town. We sat at a cafe with a bar Elizabeth likes and sipped cold drinks in the sun. I took these pictures of Allen and Elizabeth, just living the life of leisure that is French cafe culture.

They looked so cool that I was deluded into thinking Allen should take a picture of me, too, so I could put all three of them together somewhere and be really glad that Elizabeth’s badass side had rubbed off on us.

Obviously, my vision will go unrealized. Still, as we finished our drinks and later as we headed to the train station, I felt an intense satisfaction from our day in the sun and our hikes in the open air of the mountains around Grenoble. What luck would the four-leaf clover bring us that we hadn’t already enjoyed all weekend?

May 9, 2008

Just over seven weeks

Posted in Daily life, Exploring, Working tagged , , , at 10:18 pm by Lauren

We have seven weeks and two days left in Paris. As would be expected, we are in a haze of disbelief that the year has passed so quickly. They always do. 

Allen and I are having incredibly schizophrenic conversations about returning to the US. Although it is already May, and technically we’re flying back next month (!), Allen still doesn’t know what his next work assignment will be. The most likely option seems that he’ll be working on an extension of his current project, but from the US. That would be in Westchester, PA, though there’s some possibility of us living in the DC area and him going up several days a week. (Actually I think that one’s a strong possibility, which would be very positive for my job situation. It would be difficult for me to live in Pennsylvania until the end of September, as far as teaching positions go.) But if this project does extend, there’s also a chance we could return to Paris in the near future (likely January 2009). There are so many other options, and it’s all so unsure, that I won’t go on at length here with all of the possibilities. Allen’s boss said that we should consider the Northern Virginia area our home base until he tells us otherwise. You can imagine how that amuses me.

So, as I said, we’re having these schizophrenic conversations. One minute we’ll be discussing where we’d like to live when we return. (We intend to continue renting out our house because of the potential that Allen will get assigned elsewhere, and we’d have to go through the renting process again.) If we find out that we’ll be staying in the DC area on a longer term basis, we’re planning on looking at houses/condos in Virginia (probably back in Arlington). So we’ll spend hours on Long & Foster or craigslist debating the possibilities. Then the next topic of conversation will be what we’ll require of our new Paris apartment when we move back (number one: a kitchen!!!). Our current apartment is quaint and oh-so-perfectly located, but it has some serious flaws that you’d never think of unless you tried to live here. Then we’ll turn the conversation again to moving and staying home, which involves me talking about how I want to adopt two cats, and maybe we should adopt black cats because they’re more difficult for rescues to adopt out, or how maybe we should foster kittens for a local shelter…I can go on and on. And then we’ll be back to what neighborhood of Paris we’d like to look at, enumerating the markets, parks, and attractions around a given area. It’s exhausting – and frankly, it’s pointless.

Besides the constant chatter – the what-if this and what-if that about all possible situations – I do try to be pretty zen about it. I cannot control it, so there’s no use getting frustrated that I can’t really apply for jobs (during the ideal window for interviewing for next school year) or that Allen and I may spend some time apart while I finish my grad school this summer. And here my mother thinks I’m not flexible.

What I can control is what we do with the remainder of our time here. So I made a list. So far I’ve ticked off a visit to the Musee National du Moyen Age, buying and trying bread from Poilane (good, but the dense sourdough was a little hard for me to get through), and seeing China’s terra cotta warriors (temporarily on exhibit in Paris). Remaining are visits to: Musee des Egouts (Paris’ sewer system – I think we’ll go with Antoine and Typhaine), the bio (organic) market at Boulevard Raspail, the photo exhibit Des Parisiens sous l’Occupation, the Musee Marmotten and Giverny (Monet havens), and the Marche Parisien de la Creation. Oh and finishing the City Walks. (We had 24 done heading into Thursday, but after some serious forced marches, Allen and I have completed 7 in the past two days, and now we’ve only got 19 to go!) Which leads us back to my original point, which is: we only have seven more weeks in Paris.

Photo tour of Sarah’s last days

Posted in Exploring, Food, Visitors tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:25 pm by Lauren

As usual, I’m behind with some goings-on. I’d like to share some pictures from the last days of Sarah’s visit, April 22 and 23. Fortunately I had hardly any work to do, so I got to bum around with her the entire time.

We began with the Jardin des Plantes, or Paris’ botanical gardens, which I hadn’t visited since 2001 when our tour bus dropped us off for a 15 minute look. My favorite part was the Jardin Alpin, a sunken garden with narrow paths and plantings everywhere. It was an intimate change from the well-planned and perfectly-laid gardens elsewhere in Paris. Entering the garden by passing through a tunnel added to the feeling that you’d discovered this gorgeous place.


It even had a little pond with goldfish.


Exiting the back of the Jardin des Plantes we skirted the Mosquee de Paris.


Then we wandered Rue Mouffetard, which feels medieval for its narrowness (and pedestrian-only designation in places).


We walked together to my tutoring (passing Allee du Seminaire, shown below).


Afterwards I ran into Sarah on the metro at Duroc! What a strange coincidence. We rounded out the night by having a drink with Antoine and Typhaine and strolling past Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame after dark.

The next day Sarah and I walked all over Haussmann’s creation. We tried to lunch at a Cameroonian restaurant (Sarah spent two years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon), but it was closed. We walked back from the far 11th to the Promenade Plantee, which was flowering beautifully (but the sky wasn’t playing along for photos). Then we searched for lunch elsewhere – at Rue de Rosiers, where everything was closed for Passover, at Marriage Freres where we got skittish about the price of a cup of tea, and finally at an Asian traiteur where we munched on roulades de printemps. In between we took a quick look at the ensignes (old signs that would hang over shops) and the Art Nouveau jewelry shop at Musee Carnavalet.

Next, we hopped on the metro and headed to the Champs-Elysees, home of another Laduree – and oh, the Arc de Triomphe and stuff. Whatever, back to the macarons. We admired the gorgeous lily-of-the-valley boxes for May.


And we gorged on macarons.


We also purchased what we liked to call “chocolate spaghetti” but which is actually a Mont Blanc. We held onto it for later. Then we walked to the Eiffel Tower, and the weather was suddenly clear and beautiful for perfect Parisian pictures.


After our little photo shoot (I think I said to Sarah, “After you’ve satisfied yourself with the Eiffel Tower” and then we were both like, “Ummmm…” Okay, who am I kidding – we laughed like American tourists.), we took the RER home and picked up Allen for dinner. We were concerned, however, that we hadn’t had enough desserts in one day. Oh no, that wasn’t it. We were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get Berthillon after dinner, and it was Sarah’s last day. So we stopped for ice cream first. Sadly, Berthillon itself was closed (school holidays), so our choices were slightly more limited. I got pineapple and caramel.

Then we climbed the hill towards the Pantheon, and more importantly L’Ecurie. We ate our ridiculously cheap (17 euros for entree, plat, dessert, plus a free glass of sangria with the menu and free glass of cognac with the bill) three course dinner in the dank (and intimate!) cellars of L’Ecurie, including another dessert of course. (Sadly, the chocolate mousse was not as good as the creme caramel, which they hadn’t made enough of that day.) The cognac burned us up inside, but we were pretty glad for that trou. (A digestif is sometimes called a trou, which means hole, because it burns right through what’s already in your stomach, and you can eat more! Or not feel fit to burst.) Why were we so glad? We still had the chocolate spaghetti from Laduree at home! 

Sadly, the chocolate spaghetti was a horrible disappointment. As Allen and Sarah will attest, I was really hoping it would be chewy. Instead it was…I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m terrible at identifying tastes. But it was a little soggy and mushy. The only redeeming portion was the meringue underneath. We threw away a good part of the most expensive pastry I’ve ever paid for half of. Boo. And boo too that we said goodbye to Sarah in the morning. We’ll always have Paris…

May 6, 2008

Pursuit of community

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , at 12:02 am by Lauren

I’ve always felt that one of the major disadvantages of living in a large city is the potential to lose a sense of community. People don’t interact with neighbors because they’re too busy or suspicious of others’ intentions – or they’re just not sure how.

Get involved!

But last year in Washington, DC, I took part in a possible antidote to the lack of community: Learn-a-Palooza. The idea is this: we all have something to learn from others, and we all have something to teach others. So why not pool our community’s resources in a day of workshops – a sort of celebration of our individual and communal strengths. This year’s Learn-A-Palooza is on Saturday, May 10 in Washington, DC. It’s not too late to sign up to teach, and if you just want to listen and learn, check out the list of free workshops and show up on Saturday!

Here’s Learn-A-Palooza’s official blurb:

Have you ever wanted to learn how to play African drums, change a bike tire, or fry a turkey? On May 10th, you’ll have a chance to do this all and more — for free!

Learn-a-Palooza DC is a first-of-its-kind community organized event happening on Saturday, May 10th, 2008. All day businesses, homes, and community centers in Adams Morgan, U St, Dupont, Columbia Heights, and Foggy Bottom and more will open their doors to hold short “workshops” on every topic under the sun — from “Intro to Mindfulness Meditation,” to “Beat the Sugar Blues,” to “Get Out of a Speeding Ticket,” to “Intro to Capoeira” to “Survival Skills Turkish Beginners,” to “Understanding Your Camera,” plus pool, knitting, juggling, and more.
OFFER a workshop — in your own space or someone else’s. Sign up at:

TAKE a workshop. Find the full class schedule at:

My experience with Learn-A-Palooza 2007

I taught two classes last year. I had just started out with Pampered Chef, and I wanted an opportunity to practice my cooking shows and to broaden my contact base. Since Learn-A-Palooza is free to participate in, I thought it would be a great chance to get the word out to an entirely different audience than I’d normally find.

The only venue I found with a kitchen was Clay Johnson’s house. Clay turned out to be one of the powerhouses behind Learn-A-Palooza, and I was very impressed with his activism. Basically the story he told was this: he had just started dating Rosalyn Lemieux and in trying to show his best side started outlining this idea about bringing the community together. Together the two of them fleshed out the idea, and she basically called him on it, “Let’s do this.” And the amazing thing is, they did. And he said they set it up so that the community organized it – signing up for classes, offering space for classes, etc. Now, that’s a very simplified (and biased, and hopefully properly remembered) version of the story, and I’m sure it doesn’t give credit to many other people who were involved in making the first ever Learn-A-Palooza a success. But what hit home for me is that they went beyond just making a change and actually did something. We need more people like that – we need to be like that.

I taught two classes – one with brunch recipes and one with appetizers. The brunch class had 8-10 participants, and we made pull-apart cinnamon muffins and a ham and cheese braid. Then we all munched! In between I had to go home, wash all my cookware, and cart it all back. For appetizers, I think something like 25 people crammed into Clay’s living room. (I was amazed.) It was quite an experience for me, and the first thing I did was cut my finger on the artichoke can when I was opening it. My hand wouldn’t stop bleeding, so I (somewhat aggressively) solicited volunteers from the audience to do my work for me. Those excellent sports helped make asiago crisps, spinach & artichoke dip, and Tex Mex chicken melts. Towards the end somebody saved the day with some spray that stopped the bleeding, but the work had pretty much been done by the community itself! We all snacked and chatted, and I was really pleased that I’d come out and braved teaching a class.

I also hung out for two of Clay’s classes (since they were also in the “venue” of his living room). So I learned three tricks to get someone to buy you a drink and learned some tips on frying a turkey. Some of you are saying, “Oh so that’s where you learned that trick with the water.” Genius trick. Let me know if you need me to “show” it to you when I get back to the States.

Why I wish I were in DC right now

Last year, I was bound and determined that I’d have our house as a venue this year. I thought it would be fun to teach a few classes but also give others a space to teach in. Plus we need to get people to Brookland and Brookland to the people! (Most of the classes take place in the Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, Columbia Heights, and Adams Morgan areas, but last year some classes were also near GW and at Dance Place in Brookland.)

I’m having fun thinking about what I would teach if I were in DC this year for Learn-A-Palooza. Let’s see. Maybe The Ins and Outs of Language Exchange Partnerships. Or here’s a good one: How to Pack Light and Pack Smart. Possibly even When in Paris, Order a Drink as the Parisians Do. Next year I hope I’ll have the know-how to teach Fostering a Litter of Kittens. Know what you would teach? If you’re in DC, sign up and do it!

And if I weren’t teaching, I’d be learning how to juggle, sharing ideas about using improv in teaching (one of my favorite classroom activities, but also great for trainings!), hearing more about eating local food, and getting tips on framing a canvas. The hardest thing is just deciding which workshops to attend!

I hope I’ve convinced you of how great an endeavor Learn-A-Palooza is! Leave me a note if you’re planning to go! Or drop in afterwards and share about your experience! I’m certainly sorry to be missing it this year.