Tuesday, December 30, 2014

.PARIS - the most affordable address in Paris

The city site states

and: "Since June 4th 2014, 100 ambassadors have been the trailblazers of .paris: during six months, these brands, institutions, associations, businesses, start-ups, bloggers selected by the City of Paris will be using their .paris web address exclusively. 

Starting December 2, 2014, all those who love Paris will be able to get their own .paris domain name! Anyone with a geographic, cultural or emotional link with Paris can apply for a domain name under the .paris extension through an accredited registrar. 

A new page in the history of Paris is being written."

When I saw this ad I got excited and immediately thought it would be cool to have this as an address. I also thought "what a cool gift idea for my niece, named Paris" and got her two domains. While she won't be using them right away, at least I've secured them for her. And, as we know, oftentimes, the early bird get the good domain worm...er...address.

Grumpy bird

Oh i'm in such a grumpy bird mood! Not feeling festive this year at all and can't wait for the holidays to be over. "merry christmas" "happy new year" bah humbug! I know I need to just get into focusing on gratitude...and helping others...but if I can't express myself here then where could/should I?

I think it's a combination of not being able to "go home" for the holidays for three years, not having been back in the states for almost two years, not seeing family in Paris for about the same amount of time (or longer), and the general Parisian attitudes are all bringin' me down.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas? Ou Pas?

My husband has a way of posing questions to our son. He'll ask, "do you want to ______, ou pas" The "ou pas" means, "or not." My son will either answer in the affirmative, or instead of saying "non" (well, he is French), he'll say "ou pas." It's kinda cute.

This year I braced myself for the typical French Christmas, which entails a big festive dinner on Christmas Eve and then opening presents. It's seven years I've experienced this and yet it still seems to destabilize me.

I think it goes deeper than just cultural differences. Of course, there is family history involved. For instance, my mother-in-law's house has three floors (four floors if you're counting "US-style"). There is a staircase in the middle of the house and there is one room on each side for every floor. People in this family retreat to their rooms, doors closed, until a repas when everyone descends and comes together for the meal.

This feels really alienating for me. I grew up in a house where, for better or worse, we were forced together a lot. There were times I shared my room with my sister, and sometimes it was also with my step-sisters. My mother always directed me to include my step-sisters and so I am used to spending holidays doing things with a lot of people. Being alone in my room for the entire day and just coming together for meals feels strange.

Another aspect to living in France is that, as I've read about and experienced, that the French can tend to treat foreigners like a chair. I don't mind it for an event here, or a meeting there. I sat quietly trying for a whole year at each A.P.E. (PTA) meeting just reciting to myself, "I am just a chair. I am just the chair. Just the chair." It helped so I didn't get upset thinking "why am I here?" and "why do I bother?" I was able to practice my French by listening to the ladies speak fast and try to see if I could keep track of the subjects.

However, after seven years with my family, it's hard to accept that it feels like I am still just a chair. I don't know if it's a French-thing, or if it's this family's-thing. So, after seven years of trying to participate, trying to acknowledge, trying to be noticed, I decided "why bother" and just acted like the chair, and treated them like chairs too. We're all just chairs in the room. When someone came in, I didn't look up and acknowledge them if I was reading, just as when I would enter (or exit) a room, no one looked up or said anything to me.

Meals at the table were the same. In the past I tried really hard to follow the conversation, keep eye contact with whomever was speaking and even sometimes try to interject a word here or there. I'd often pester my poor husband asking to confirm what I just heard, or how did the conversation jump from heating to the Tete à Claques

This year I just gave up. Stared at my plate and concentrated on my son, who was thankfully sitting next to me. It felt odd. Very odd. Because I normally enjoy people and I enjoy being able to be a part of a dinner party. But when no one talks to me, no one asks any questions, and it's been seven years like this...I really felt like just giving up. From an observers point of view, it's basically an opportunity for my sister-in-law's family (her, her husband, their daughters) to interact with my brother-in-law and mother-in-law. Even my poor husband seems kept at an arms-length distance. I find the whole thing very strange.

After dinner I got my son ready for bed, it was already past his bedtime and the family moved upstairs to the salon (living room) to open presents.

Christmas morning we opened gifts just the three of us, snacking on scones I'd made for us to snack on. My son opened his gifts and then said, "on va à Paris?" (we go to Paris?) My husband was a bit sad--I was surprised. We didn't press him but did inquire, "why do you want to go back right now?" We couldn't tell if it was because he didn't feel comfortable there (like me) or if he didn't want to open all the boxes, only to have to pack it all up again (a hassle). Either way, we left the next day.

Normally my in-law family wakes up late and just loafs around reading on Christmas day. This year my sister-in-law and her family rose early, breakfasted, showered and left by 9:00 AM. They were all heading to Scotland on Christmas day. This departure added to the feeling that Christmas was over. 

The fact that "the family" celebrates Christmas the night before, coupled with the largest contingent leaving Christmas morning, made (for me) our small family celebration (my husband, son and I) feel like we were strangers in a strange home. This is what I mean by ou pas for our Christmas.

I'm not happy about how I behaved over these few days, but I felt it was my best defense. It was definitely a defense--I wasn't feeling a l'aise (comfortable) but I also wasn't feeling mean. I think it was a symbolic throwing my hands up. I don't like being so closed-off and silent. I prefer, nay, I LOVE being A PART of something, being a part of a family activity, being a part of the conversations and events. But I've felt so not-a part for so long, I just didn't have the energy this year to make the effort only to have nothing in return. 

Either way, I'm glad my son was the one who spoke up and as a result we got to pack up and leave 1 day earlier. As we were walking out my MIL began talking about us visiting over the school Winter Holiday, just one month away. I can't even begin to think about it! Plus I'd rather go somewhere warm, or have some of my family visit (another topic!).

When we got home Simon saw the gifts I'd bought and left under the tree, and the filled stockings, for when he comes home. He yelled with joy and was so excited he ran over and began tearing open all his new gifts. NOW all the boxes were being opened, multiple toys half built and everything strewn about. Now it felt like Christmas. Safe. Happy. Comfortable. Home.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The French Poste sucks .com

There are days when I feel Federal systems and institutions are working smoothly. I'm pleased with the fact that okay--I live in the 21st Century and modern-life is working well.

Yesterday was not one of those days. 

We are spending Christmas in Le Havre at my Mother-in-Law's. Well, technically we are in a quaint village just on the Northern border of Le Havre, Sainte Adresse. My mother, who should be a poster-child for Hallmark, sent all her gifts for myself, my husband and our son to my MIL's several weeks ago. My mother buys cards for everyone's birthday, anniversaries and holidays for the whole month, a month in advance. She signs them and gets my step-father to sign them too. She gets them in the envelopes, puts the date on which she needs to mail them in the stamp corner, and then leaves them in the "letter/key" box by the garage door to mail when they're supposed to go.

So, I knew she made an extra effort to get all our Christmas gifts to us at this "new" address.  

On December 23 a Postal Carrier left a notice at MIL's that they passed by. My husband and I went to the post office after 11:00 on December 24. The ladies working said there were no packages. The carriers who have the packages stopped by but only dropped off all the lettres recommandées (registered letters). They said, "Check back on Friday after 11am." 

Now, I know I'm not the most important person to the French postal system, and how are they supposed to know what's a Christmas gift from a grandmother ("important") and what's just a "regular" package. 

But this development was really super frustrating. This was one of those moments where it just was a series of "innocent" events that spiraled into my feeling that our modern world and systems were in a big failure! I know there are more important things in life, and I know my son will not want for gifts...but I also know my mother makes a huge effort to have these gifts arrive EARLY and so I was really disappointed.

Of course, for me, Christmas is not about gifts. It's about sharing time with family. And of course, there is the whole "Jesus is the reason for the season" aspect. I just felt bad for my mother...and so we'll head on over to la poste on Friday and present the presents in Paris (with all the other gifts I'd left for my son "from Santa"!)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Zizi sexuel!

Zizi sexuel (wee-wee sex) (If you can't tell, I am blushing from behind the screen.) This is the name of an expo that's being held at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris. Not only is this an entire expo on sexuality for young people, but there's also a component where the schools organize field trips to the Cité to learn more about sexuality. It's the second time I've seen it in Paris, and it's got a controversy following it.

Themes the expo explores and give children are around the essential value of love, intimacy, the mystery of love, the anatomy of a man and woman, the "secret" of puberty, masturbation, consensual sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and equality between men and woman.

One of the more controversial aspects is a section on breaking gender stereotypes by telling boys and girls, "you can choose your gender." Just because you were born one, you can choose to be another.

This program is hotly debated and contested by major right-wing associations. While France proudly claims it's a laïc state (secular state), it is also, traditionally, a very Catholic country. I have to say, for such a secular state, I've never seen so many major official holidays also be major Catholic ones. For example: all schools have a two-weeks holiday for Toussaint (All Saint's Day). It's quite incredible. And the largest demonstrations I've seen over the past year, by the largest traditional Catholic association MANIF Pour Tous, have been anti-gay-marriage and, well, basically anti-anything if it isn't about just a man, a woman, and their children together.

The extreme-right Association SOS Education got 30,000 signatures to protest what's being exhibited  at Zizi sexuel claiming, among other things, that the expo is pointless, that this 1/2-day field trip should not be used for this sort of subject and masturbation should not be taught to children.

Controversy aside, I've never seen an entire expo devoted to helping children explore and learn about their changing bodies and the universe of topics stemming from these changes. I think if it's approached thoughtfully and carefully by parents, it could be a great moment to expose this part of growing up to their children. It seems a good way to take control of a topic that can normally get out-of-control quickly with so much exposure on social media and by peers.

Using a famous French cartoon character, Tifeuf, the cartoonist Zep creates visuals that reminded me of the books I'd been given when I was starting puberty: Where Did I Come From? and What's Happening To Me? The site itself is colorful and features the same cartoon characters from the pub (publicity) in different stories explaining about being in love, puberty, making love, making a baby, and "open your eye" to the dangers of certain predators. I'm quite curious about the flip-books they offer for sale (also available on the internet) demonstrating "the kiss/making love," "puberty" (boy and girl versions), and "tits / sperm"!

The field trips for the classes don't start until CM1 (Fourth Grade), which is a little young, but then again, kids these days seem to be exposed to more than we were in our youth and experiment earlier. I am hoping I have a few more years before I need to get into this stuff with my 5-year old...although he already has a girlfriend who caresses his neck, arms, cheeks...and gives him kisses. (uh oh!)

The site has an English-language feature but sorry there is no info on Zizi sexuel en anglais.

Osons La France!

I spied this subway advertisement a week ago and it caught my eye. It's an advertisement for an event at the Grand Palais and is apparently for a "new French revolution."

I'm noticing more and more various efforts France (or various organizations that represent France) are making to get behind tech, new tech, startups, internet, web, digital and social media.

Their ad says: "We like We participate." I guess the metro (RATP) participates in that they get people to the event...other than that, perhaps it is also their way of saying they support all the new innovations out there that they can use.

Either way, it's good to see these signs. Signs of acceptance, moving forward, moving. Motion!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

High Heels

When I was in my 20s in New York City I used to wear high heels. I could go everywhere in them. I even ran in them when I needed to. Then I began wear flats to work and changing into heels at the office. When I rode my bike to work, for a about two years or so, I went back to braving high heels all day. I didn't have the hard concrete pounding of the commute and could manage the soft carpeting of the office. I was like most every other woman in NYC. We'd wear comfortable walking shoes, sneakers or flats, and then change into heels once we'd gotten to our desired location. If we were going out for the night, we might wear heels since we knew we'd be taking taxis to and fro.

Then I moved to Paris. Wow! These women really wear high heels like nobody's business. They were heels all day long, commuting, running errands, taking their prodigy to schools and well into the night. The thing that also impressed me was that not only are they hoofin' it around on city sidewalks, but that a good part of this belle ville is covered in cobblestones and brick. The way they navigated cracks and crevices and not turning an ankle REALLY impressed me.

After about six years in this town I decided I wanted to try and dress more pretty like all my French counterparts. These women really dress every day! I began purchasing some high heels again. And I'd venture out for short walks, little by little to get back into the swing of things.

Well, yesterday I had a day full of running around and one of the rendezvous included an interview with a company that really impressed me. I figured my high heel boots might be up for the challenge.

I tottered out, walking about a good 10 minutes up-hill to my first appointment, a lunch date. About 3 minutes into the venture I was cursing myself thinking "why did I do this" "go home and change" "you're ridiculous Courtney, you'll never make it" "i'll have to buy a pair of flats somewhere along the way..." etc etc etc.

Resting my already-weary pieds for an hour was good--the next leg of my journey included hoofing it out to a metro, bus, more walking and then two more buses with A LOT of walking in between.

After about an hour of running this one errand and getting to my interview, I'd recovered and was in full "I'm a vrai Frenchwoman" able to walk all day in my heels. I felt like such a grown-up.

By the time I got home at 16h00 (4:00 PM) I was grateful to rest for 10 minutes, and change into my high-heel sneakers (another French-woman must-have) to go pick my son up from school!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Weekend and Monday festivities

This was a busy weekend with S's nativity play rehearsal on Saturday at 10am and then the church service Sunday at 10h30. He didn't get to rest in much: usually we like to have very mellow and laid-back Saturday mornings for him.

I will say he did great in the little play. He really got into the role of being an angel and flapping his wings for the rehearsal when there were just two children. Sunday there were about 12 so it was harder to run around and "fly" like an angel. Plus he had a wardrobe malfunction and held his arm up straight to keep the wings "balanced." My little trooper. He's such an angel. Truly!

[ It reminds me of his first performance as a clown in his Petit Section end of the year show. The rubber elastic broke so his little hat wouldn't stay on his head. He was so sad and so distressed about it. He wanted to try and fix it, he concentrated on fixing it, but the show went on and he just faded further and further into the background looking more and more sad. IT WAS SO SAD! :( ]

This time he was a trooper though. But he still looked exhausted and bummed out that his wings didn't stay on. (stupid plastic cords!)

I did my best to get him home quickly after each event so he could rest for his big show on Monday too.


Monday night was Simon's class' chorale performance. I got him home and fed him two hot-dogs and pringles (I know: a model example for a meal). We got dressed in our fancy clothes and headed back out in the night towards school. He picked out his outfit himself. He wanted to wear his fancy suit pants and vest that his Grammy got him as part of his Easter outfit, a white shirt and his fancy silk red-and-white striped bow-tie. He doesn't have any dress shoes for the moment so he wore his patent black "Flash McQueen" sneakers. A sharp-lookin' little fellow if I may say so myself!

I forgot the performance was in his classroom and we went directly into the preau (hall) where two other smaller sections were performing their Christmas songs. The place was packed! Simon snuck in and sat down in front with his friends who had younger siblings performing in the show.

I looked around. How were they going to clear out these hundreds of parents and children in time for our show? Plus there were cookies and drinks spread out on tables. This was going to take a typical chaotic moment into a new stratosphere for me.

I waited outside and got misty-eyed thinking about how beautiful this experience is. How I'm so lucky to be able to be this boy's mother. And sad that his Papa wasn't there too to share in it...

...and in the beauty of life in all it's tragedy and comedy...

...and looked in at Simon as his crush was petting his hair, his neck, his shoulders. Her parents must be really affectionate in front of her a lot. :)

I spied people streaming in from the outside, but going directly upstairs. I thought, "huh." And I figured maybe I should see maybe his class is meeting first up there before coming down. I got upstairs and everyone was in the classroom, all rearranged for the party and all the children already up on the benches about to perform.

YIKES! I completely forgot the whole evening was taking place in his classroom! Yikes yikes yikes! I told the teacher we were in the preau (hall) and would be right up. I ran downstairs jingling all the way.

Jingling? Oh yes: I was wearing my jingle bell shoe-clip ons. ;)

I pushed passed the parents in the door and went up to Simon. My sweet little boy. Arranged his gloves together on top of his coat so they didn't get lost. I got his gloves, coat and back-pack and tapped him on the back. Simon! We have to go upstairs!

He got up and we raced together upstairs. I put him in the classroom as I hung up our coats. His uncle had already arrived and (despite my directions) went directly up to the class! I didn't want to sit all the way in the back with my brother-in-law (nothing personal!) because I wanted to get good pictures for my husband who was still working in the south of France and couldn't make it.

I squeezed myself between two mothers in the second row.

The concert began! Simon was AMAZING!!! He knew all the words, he enunciated very well, and he even had lots of hand gestures and moves that went along with the song, which only one other child did as well. (All the others kinda just stood there.)

My little boy. Such a perfect angel. Such a great little performer. Such a classy dresser. So sweet.

His uncle gave him a little present of a Playmobil Pirate and each child in the class got a paper Santa stocking with a toy. (He hasn't opened it yet but it appears to be a pretty candle in votive.)

What a festive weekend and start to our week!

Friday, December 12, 2014

It's not all gray skies ~ Life is Beautiful in Paris

I've been a bit of a Grumpy Bird these past few days but I've also been having some moments of pure pleasure, reminding me how much I love my life in France.

For instance, when my son and I go back and forth to school we stop and talk about the things we see along the way. And since he's been there for three years now, I know the other parents and the administrators well. Of course, it took three years for most people to become friendly with me, but I get it: French people take longer to become friends. [*This statement touches upon deep cultural roots, which I won't get into now, but if you'd like to read more I recommend this excellent book given to me by my step-father when I moved here: The Discovery of France.]

As a result, I now am invited to coffees, "sporty walks" (march sportif) as I call them and rendezvous in the parks with our children. It's really nice and also a good opportunity for me to practice my French, which I always need!

There is also, of course, the daily living. It's true many people still shop in the small commerçants to get their fruit, bread and meat. I was slightly terrified to enter these shops for a long time because I knew my French wasn't very good and I really didn't like the idea of going in and grunting. I wanted to full experience. Now I can safely and happily go into these shops and request what I'd like, sometimes even venturing into light pleasantries with the shop-people. I've even ventured into my fromagerie (cheese shop) and asked for recommendations on cheeses.

I love the quaintness of life here; the slower, more personal approach. (Of course, as I've posted before, there are days where it can push my buttons!)

And I ADORE, no matter what kind of mood I'm in, the old buildings. I've always appreciated Old. I love old buildings, older cars, older fashions, by-gone eras, older styles and manners, older ways of doing things, older people. So being in the epi-center of Old is very comfortable for me.

I love seeing how my son seems to have adopted this appreciation for old things. He notices and talks about when things are "old fashioned," as he says. And he seems to be drawn to those things. Heck, he likes to wear bow-ties! Of course, he's a modern little boy too and loves race cars and all modern toys too.

Normally I don't get down about the crummy weather that can be prevalent for most of the year in Paris. (Although this year seems to be affecting me more than others.) Sun, rain, cold, windy, gray...it's all okay. As long as I'm properly dressed for the temperature and elements I'm fine. I appreciate four seasons. I know we need gray, rainy days to help the crops and flowers grow. (Am thinking of a song right now....)

I love the efficiency of "blue card readers": the incredibly efficient payment system in nearly every shop in France. I wonder why the USA is so backwards and hasn't adopted this yet. And I love the digital clock-timers at the bus and metro stations telling you how long before the next bus/train. (Way ahead of NYC with this, which just adopted it a few years ago.)

I could go on... but that's it for this moment! Vive La France!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

American mom at French mini-tennis

more on this later...but for now... 

Okay, so. What can I say about this experience. It's kinda wild for me. To have to assist and "manage" 30 kids on a field trip tests my français on a whole new level. First of all, five-year olds of any culture  don't always listen, and especially so on field trips. So I get frustrated and then try and speak louder, or a new phrase, or more forcefully. I think this might make them laugh more--they certainly look at me funny.

Once we get the kids from the school to the bus, and verify all the seat belts are attached, we head on our way. Then we disembark and walk into the complex, climbing a set of stairs to arrive at our courts, specially set up for children's classes.

After we give them all a cookie, they run onto the court to greet their tennis professor. He gets them running around right away and then he has them organize into four groups. I am put in charge of one group.

Here's where the "fun" begins. I try and remind them the rules of the exercise (there are four games/exercises that they spend about 7 minutes on). One boy says "if you speak English we can't understand you."

Sigh. I wasn't speaking English. Ai ai ai... So I just say, "bon, tout le monde prêt?  Un, deux, trois partez!" They decide it's more fun to speak English instead and begin to count "1, 2, 3, GO!!!!" It's kind of a disaster and the prof comes over to remind them they're all supposed to be waiting further back to wait their turn.

As you can see from the video below (different exercise), the instant I try to exert some influence, set a rule, or instruct, it all goes downhill. I can't keep my French straight and blurt out 1/2 sentences in franglais, losing more and more control.

I turn and look at the other mother on the trip. She's chatting away with the maitress while their groups flounder at their exercises. No stress there.

Next I realize my hands and feet are freezing. I'm cold because I'm not running around. I start jumping up and down, clapping my hands, knowing I look like a fool but not caring anymore. I'm past all that.

Finally the happy moment arrives when we can all line up again and see the prof do his famous soufflé magique ("magic blow" is a bad translation but well...that's all I can offer).

Finally, another benefit of the day (aside from spending a fun moment with my son) was more walking in my day. I won't see this location on my days record too often! :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shopping in Paris. Quaintness vs Obtuseness.

This morning I went to the post office with the slip of paper the facteur leaves when s/he can't fit a package in your mailbox. The customer service rep said "you have to come back tomorrow," which was confusing because the paper indicates they couldn't leave the package and they will leave it at the post office for you to pick up next day. Oh well!

Yesterday I went to Marionnaud to pick up some facial creams I bought on their website. They said they couldn't look up the delivery based on my name. I had to return with the printout of the email. Ugh. (fail #1)

Then I figured since I was there I would take care of another issue that's been dangling for about a year. I asked a saleswoman to combine my two customer accounts into one, which a service rep told me I needed to do IN THE STORE because she couldn't over the phone. (fail #2)

After she goes in the back room, two sales reps told me they couldn't do it because none of their computers were working. (fail #3)

Today I went back to try and collect my creams. Success.

They got me the package and the salesgirl asked if I would like for her to open the box to be sure they are in a bon etat (good condition). I figured "why not, could be a good idea instead of finding out they shipped the wrong products and I'd have to go back a third time." Besides, my son was happily amusing himself reorganizing some makeup and testers in a display. :)

All's well. She's putting everything back and I tell her I don't need a shopping bag as I already have one that I can use. So I see her close everything back up in the shipping box. I think, "I don't need the box and all the shipping fluff. If she's giving me the box, I'll need their shopping bag after all." (At this point I just want to get out of the store.) So I say "after all, I will take the bag," figuring she'll put the box in the bag and we can go.

Nope. She now opens the box, takes out all the items, all the coupons, some more échantillons (samples), and put them loose in the shopping bag.

I don't feel like explaining it all to her, or having to deal with her confusion when I dump everything from their bag into my bag, so I just take their shopping bag with all the stuff and go. (wasteful)

Just another typical shopping moment in Paris! There are some days where I can deal with this quaint way of doing business and exchanges, with the sometimes obtuseness of it. But the last two days it just seemed all very inefficient.

Sweet smells of the season

My husband came home from his business trip and surprised me with two "simple" gifts. Between those, and the Christingles from last week's church service, our apartment is ripe with thick, spicy scents for us to luxuriate in!

I'm truly blessed with physical and spiritual luxuries!

SNCF - an eco solution

While I will not have any use for this service, I thought what one of the major French commuter railway lines is doing during travaux is an excellent example business-savvy, smart and ecological customer service.

The SNCF is doing construction on part of its rail line. And as a solution it is offering a payment system for people who utilize a carpool service.

The ad says you simply fill out your projected travel date and time, then offer your car up as a carpool option. When other people sign up to be in your carpool, you supply a code that's given and SNCF will pay you the price of that extra passenger.

Nifty. And practical for this holiday season!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

New day

Woke up feeling better about the non-Christmas (or rather, the not-my-idea-of Christmas) environment I'll be in the midst of.

There's a blue sky and I have a lot do to. Gonna get busy and write more about it all later!

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Nightmare Before Christmas - French style

The French typically celebrate Christmas the night before, that is, on the 24th of December. This means there is traditionally a big, festive meal followed by the opening of presents. I've been in France for six Christmas' during my seven years here. Five were held at my Mother-in-Law's and one year my husband managed to convince the family to come to our apartment on Christmas day (due to extenuating circumstances for his work). It was extremely dur (hard) to get them there too! (And one year we were able to luxuriate in the full-American Christmas experience at my mother's.)

This wasn't technically a problem when my son was a newborn. For his first Christmas he was only 3-months old so he didn't know and he didn't care. Same thing for when he was two years old. Besides, we put him to bed at his normal time so he missed the whole thing anyway. When he was three years old we were in the USA and we were able to celebrate Christmas with my mother, step-father, sister and her family, all on Christmas morning, like most Americans.

This year it seems my French family is back to "Christmas as usual," which means the big dinner and presents on Christmas Eve. It bums me out that they couldn't hold off a few hours again this year. My son is just at that precious moment in his life where his world includes the magical, mystical Santa Claus (or as he says, Pere Noel). He is brimming with that joy, excitement, and love that only a little child can have in their early childhood that this lovable character can bring.

Last year he was just beginning to understand about this Pere Noel, and my husband and I were on pins and needles till the 11th hour (or, rather about 9:30 PM) if his family would open all their gifts at night and he/we'd be left celebrating our Christmas alone in the morning. Grandmere asked her granddaughters (all high-school aged) about opening presents, to which the eldest announced that she will open hers Christmas morning with Simon, logically. My husband and I sighed a huge sigh of relief quietly.

We really want that wonderful moment where everyone sees the excitement of all the pretty packages under the decorated tree. A moment to share with everyone where we can share the joy of GIVING and the joy in bringing DELIGHT to another.

So this year is causing me some angst. I wish my French family would consider the GIFT of WONDER that little children have about Christmas morning. But then, why am I trying to change an established French tradition and these people? I understand I'm asking seven adults to accommodate one little boy, but isn't the childhood innocence of one little boy worth it?

For me, Christmas is about giving, but not just about giving material gifts, but also about Jesus and all that he represents. Even if people could logically refute that he wasn't born on the 25th of December, the spirit of preserving this heritage is important to me. CHRISTmas is about Christ. And it is about Santa Claus for children. It's about Santa Claus and all he represents: joy, wonder, suspension of belief, and excitement. Both "characters" represent love and joy.

I can't change my French family's beliefs or traditions. I can't make them want to bring Jesus into this moment. I can't convince them of how much I'd prefer for everyone to share in that magical Christmas MORNING experience for one little boy and his parents. But I can do everything I can to create the perfect CHRISTmas morning and season for my son in other ways:
  • We go to church weekly. He's in our church's nativity play. I can set up the crèche for him to see in our home. I can talk about what Christmas means to me. I can share in his stories and imagination about Pere Noel. I can hide our version of his "Elf on a Shelf" in amusing places and have him fait des betises. I can bake yummy scones for us to share on Christmas morning. And I can be a loving mother, supporting everything my son dreams about, wishes for and expresses in his glorious, innocent childhood.
Et voila!

Online shopping angst: part 1

Online shopping in France can be simple like anywhere else, or it can be fear-inducing!

Today's example is with La Grand Recre. I have an account with my local store, but don't have an actual "carte fidelitie." I was trying out a new feature they began offering a few weeks ago where you can order online and then pick up in the store. Simple enough and very common in the USA.

However since I never got a fidelity card, I didn't know what my actual client number was to enter in my purchase order (for the eventual points one gets with purchase). (problem #1: no card given to clients for knowing their own client number)

So I called the main hotline number. They don't have this sort of information. It's stored locally at the store. (problem #2: no central database of client numbers)

I called my local store. The man who answered interrogated me when I asked if I could get my client number. "Mais Pourquoi?!" (But Why?!) He asked me at least three times in an increasingly hostile tone, as in "why would you, the client, ever want your Client Number? And if you do, it certainly must be for some evil, illicit reason?!" (problem #3: accusatory, aggressive salesperson)

Heart racing, I stammered the truth, praying that my answer will be satisfactory and that he won't scream at me or tell me "no you can't have it, madame, that's private information," "I'd like to purchase something online, on  your store on the internet, and I don't have my client number."

"Hold on."

Sounds of shuffling, someone walking..."bonjour"..., more walking, door opening, "clunk!"

A few seconds later he picks up the phone and we go though the process of finding my account number based on my last name. We run into confusion because I can never remember where I use my maiden name, married name or a jumble of combinations. :/  He finds my record finally and reads me my number

Enfin! Voila! Now I can go about my purchase!

* UPDATE: After I purchased the item I wanted to record my client number somewhere offline (like an excel file) for future use. Guess what? The client account number is NO WHERE on their site!!(problem #4: no full client information, ex. account number) 

* UPDATE #2: A week later I had to go into the store to retrieve said purchase. It was stored in the back room and I got to see the back office.

Sunday, December 07, 2014


Oops. Meant to post everyday but I guess I'll make my weekend posts ensemble... Yesterday was busy with getting our Christmas tree and decorating. This year Simon wanted a tree that was the same size as him. I was surprised because I thought he'd want a big one.

To give you an idea of the prices of Christmas trees in Paris, the florist on our corner sells them for this:
125 - 150 cm = 58 euros
150 - 175 cm = 75 euros

Meanwhile, two subway stops away, but still "walking distance" is a "cheap" grocery store Dia that sold 125 - 150 cm trees for 23 euros.

We debated the cost vs. carry quotient and decided to check a third grocery story just around the corner from us. Franprix sold the 125 - 150 cm trees for 26 euros. Deal! We paid a decent price and didn't have far to carry it. Perfect.

All the trees are up (my little mini NYC tree, the 1st tree we had in Paris, and this one).

Then we made the Christmas cookies. There was a misunderstanding of tablespoons and teaspoons and then between baking powder and baking soda, so the first batch had to be thrown out.

Sunday we went to church for the Christingle service, which was quite nice and then to our new favorite restaurant for lunch. Bellies full, we hopped on our local bus #52 again to head home and make the Christmas cookies.

Here are all the pics: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk6La2eR

Friday, December 05, 2014


Why is the word "severe" in persevere? Is it always severe to persevere? Is it hard to push forward? Hard to continue when the odds are against you (or feel like they are)? I suppose to some extent, yes.

Yesterday I got some distressing news and I'm trying my best to persevere, to not be discouraged. Yes, I'll have more work to do. Yes, I have some work ahead of me. Some work that won't feel fun. And yet, I know once I've completed it--nay, even when I'm in the thick of it--I will feel that deep satisfaction of doing (did) a job well done. I went through the challenge and I came out the other side. As is always the case. As Robert Frost said, "The best way out is always through."

Other things of note today: I left the house without my glasses on. I didn't notice till we hit the street. Is that a good thing? I figured, "okay, why not go for it" and just continued on towards my son's school. Thankfully, I guess, my husband had the good sense to just head back upstairs and search for them. It could've been a fun experiment, especially considering I had a "sporty walk" lined up right after dropping off my son at school. But I suppose it's always better to see more clearly where one is going...(literally and figuratively)!

I think this reflects on the Order Muppet and Chaos Muppet. I love this theory! At first I thought, "Oh I'm an Order Muppet," all proud of myself. But then I realized I am probably a Chaos Muppet trapped in an Order Muppet body. And I think my husband is reverse. Which is, again, why I think things are working...

Online shopping: part 1a

Over the past weekend my husband and I tried to barrel through the majority of our holiday shopping.

Since we have a 5-year old son, a large part of our shopping was with a major toy retailer in France, La Grand Recre. Sadly, for a large part of the morning, their site was inaccessible.

Tough break during this holiday rush!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Just do it. Inspired.

Over the last week I've gotten quite a few "likes" in response to an article about me on the about.me website. The article is a nice one, if I may say so myself, and is more about my personal life since I had my wildly successful business in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Something's been shifting in me as a result. I think having this article, something professional, be out there is helping me close a gap between my professional and personal lives. Before I tried really hard to keep them separate. And this split served me for a while, but doesn't anymore.

Perhaps because I'm not living any sort of professional life at the moment. So I feel I have nothing to contribute to the world. My life is mostly consumed with my personal affairs: my son, his school, shopping, and other household administration tasks that any mother in Paris is confronted with.*

Having this article, and people's acceptance, approval, and admiration of it out there in the cyber sphere, is helping me touch into a validation, a self-esteem, an "hey-I-AM-awesome" cord I hadn't touched for a long time. Perhaps never. Because this time, this validation is for who I am today and not for what I've done.

And so, as a result, all of this is coming together to help me feel that inner, quiet confidence and strength to just keep doing what I do so well. To just keep going. To just DO.

To just write. And write. And write. (and to continue everything else I'm doing.)

So, I'm going to take a stab and commit to writing something every day here. Some snapshot into my life in Paris. Some glimpse into a struggle, into a conflict, into a victory, into a joy. Something. I've no idea where this is going to take me, but I'll trust I'm being guided by God, and buoyed by friends.

*I know I shouldn't end a sentence with "with" but I don't want to get hung up on this stuff yet.

Special Show and Tell

Tonight we skyped with Grandpa and we saw Charlie (a step-nephew). Grandpa was saying how Charlie is his helper. I know from other stories he is "helping" with hammering and all sorts of other construction projects. The same kind of work my father had me do when I was younger.

Watching this I felt that wisp of regret that my son isn't growing up getting to know his grandfather better, do projects with him, experience life with him, learn about life from him...to experience his zany, hard, practical way-of-life.

And then there are times I know God has us protected by having us be far away! Sometimes Grandpa can, unknowingly, create a life that feels dangerous. For example, Charlie, who now is 3 yrs. old said he wanted to show us his favorite knife. (His favorite knife?!). He went in the kitchen with Grandpa and came back with a knife I've known my whole life. Grandpa measured the blade and the blade itself is 8" (20 cm) long. It's old, it's a little rusty in parts. Ai ai ai! So he's wielding this knife around and then Grandpa and Ginny say it's time to put the knife away because Ginny is heard in the background getting upset her grandson is playing with knives. :) No wonder.

So Simon says he wants to show them something. So he goes into his room and searches for something impressive he can show them. I see him with his finger on his lip, pursed, as he's thinking what he could show them. He comes back with a (roller ink) pen of his Papa's. And he shows them this pen! So cute. And what a disparity. I'm glad his version of something special to show was a pen, and not a large, rusty knife. But I could tell, and felt a little bad, that he wished he had something more powerful and impressive. My father is a good man, but he's not always child-proof! ;)

Monday, December 01, 2014

It's nice to be popular

All throughout High School I wanted to be popular. Moving to a new school each year made it slightly challenging, but I did manage to succeed in this quest my final year at New Hartford High School.

A few decades later (ahem) I still feel that thrill when I find out I'm popular, as I just discovered when I got a notice from my new favorite site/app About.me.

I was recently honored to be interviewed by the lovely About.me Community Manager Eliana Arredondo and as a result, have a whole bunch of new fans. Of course, inner self-esteem comes from other deeper sources, but it's always nice to be liked and make new friends!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Website fail: Nice Tourism

It's nice to travel to Nice, but can be confusing when the websites aren't working well...

For example, I clicked on the Restaurants tab for "Nice Cuisine" (traditional cuisine for the area) and the page returned a search result with no listings.

I did not do a search, and yet the Restaurants page only brings up "no results" on it's page.

Fortunately, it's not hard to find a good "traditional cuisine" restaurant in this area! :)

Monday, November 10, 2014

jeanbouteille.fr = "I have 1 bottle"

Only available in one store, I hope this product/concept will spread quickly throughout France, and perhaps move Westward to the United States.

Called Jeanbouteille.fr, which stands for "I have 1 bottle" in French, the concept is where you can refill this specific bottle with wine, olive oil, vinegar,  juice, soda and beer.

 Not only using quality, bio, products, it's good for the environment by reusing glass bottles.

Okay jeanbouteille.fr, bougez vers nous!

Treasure Hunts a reality in France

As read in my favorite English newspaper in France, The Connexion, there are specific rules over ownership of hidden or buried treasures. Basically you are entitled to 1/2 of it with the owner (if it's not on your property). This article was prompted by a discovery of 16 bars and 600 coins builders found while working on a project. The value is €900,000. 

Not only is this good information, but I doubt we'd read these kinds of articles in a newspaper in the United States. So much of the USA is already dug up, stories of buried treasure I think must be at least 100 years old.

Friday, October 10, 2014

France Loves Entrepreneurs

The Ecole 42 has been leading the way in innovative education in France, and Friday, October 10th they showed they are leading the way in educating the public about the state of the start-up in France.

Those in attendance were privy to a pre-screening of an hour-long documentary on the state-of-the-startup and then three round tables discussing various themes.

The documentary, produced by Ecole 42 and BNP Paribas is one result of a "major" "We Love Entrepreneurs" campaign that is attempting a massive outreach in various cities and venues around France.

Largely a feel-good piece with encouraging statistics, it has testimonies from several French entrepreneurs and VCs who discussed the things we already know:
            * We live in a disruptive time
            * Major French firms are beginning (and have) invested in several startups
            * And, in the US there is still more ease with collaboration, ideas and financing, but France is trying to improve in this area.

The founder of Docker, who's based in SF, stated the world of startups has grown 42% between 2012-2013 and that today you don't have to go to England or the USA to startup a web company. Today there are incubators, a structure in France and a comprehension of the entrepreneur etat d'esprit!

I find it poignant that there is such a push on promoting "French Web," "French Tech," and the startup scene in Paris, because there is a lot of activity around these very topics, and because it seems that in past decades the majority of French web/tech startups went Westward in order to make that American dream happen. The French community in both New York and San Francisco/Silicon Valley have become especially vibrant over the last 10 years.

The first round table was on employment, salaries and attracting developers to French firms. Streamed live on Frenchweb.fr The panel had two people, perfect caricatures of an older, more traditional corporate guy (Pierre CANNET, founder Blue Search,1999) and a younger, scrappier guy who's grown up in this "new" era (UrbanLinker consultant "Janis").

The discussion started on how digital is growing, and that there is an interest in not just people with degrees but what they do offline, what are their passions. Early on, after Pierre spoke Janis retorted, "that's a very French mentality" setting us up for a lively discussion.

They spoke about how they cannot offer the same kinds of packages a US firm would offer a developer and that the salary is about 3x less. While speaking of "le plaisir de nuances" (the pleasure of nuances) they can offer recruits (free coffee, comfy sofas, colorful workspaces, ping-pong tables) they wondered if it was enough ("passé le pilule"). Is the amusing "esprit entrepreneur" enough compared with the cold, hard cash and exciting lifestyle promised by firms now based in NY/SF?

I enjoyed listening to the discussion but then had to duck out before questions to take my little budding entrepreneur/businessman/fireman/karate-champion to his karate class! 

See all the pics.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

New IT words in French

As part of the continuing tradition of maintaining the French language, the Journal Officiel published 18 French words that will now replace English IT words.

Among the words in the list:
imagette = thumbnail
dépannage = trouble-shooting
blogue = blog
arrière-guichet = back-office
cyberconférence = e-conference

Developed by linguists at the Ministry of Culture and Communication, approved by the French language authority, the Académie Français, they're only required to be used in official government documents. 

It's unlikely they'll be used except in those instances, considering in 2009 they adopted the terms ordiphone (or terminal de poche) for smartphones!

Here's the whole list.