Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Arrival of Our Fellow Traveller

FT, ready for her first big journey home from the hospital.  This time, 
at the Grand-winny's insistence (and thanks to her generosity), we took a cab.

          I'm sure y'all are sick of me apologizing for my negligence in posting for various and sundry reasons, so I'm going to cut you a break this time and not apologize one little bit for not updating my blog in a timely manner.  If you hadn't heard (or guessed from the title of this post), I've been a little busy recovering from the act of moving a person from Chateau Uterus out into this fair, French world of ours.  It's been an exciting, terrifying, overwhelming, and totally awesome twelve days.  Here's how it went down:

        Two Thursdays ago (what, my baby is almost two weeks old!?  Who authorized this?), I woke up with a bad backache.  As I've had back pain throughout the last four months of my pregnancy, I didn't want to jump to conclusions based on that alone.  Besides, I was all set to have a mommy date with a new friend of mine up at a boulangerie in Sceaux and I didn't want to be a flake and ditch her.  We had a nice, leisurely morning chatting about baby stuff and eating pain au chocolat.  I even mentioned the back pain to her; she said that might mean that I would be ready to move bebe along in a few days time.  I was still utterly skeptical.  My mother, the "grand-winny" (since she says "grandmere" makes her sound like a horse), was set to arrive the next morning for a two week stay and we had both spent the last month or so stressing that little FT would decide not to appear in time for her visit.  So going into labor on the eve of her arrival was really just too good to be true.  But by the time I got back to the apartment a little after lunchtime, I began to strongly suspect that there were games afoot.
         Luckily for us, this happened to be the day that they shut down the power at AH's lab, so he was home from work chilling out.  We had actually made grand plans to go up to the city and enjoy what we assumed would be our last evening alone as a couple for quite some time.  When I walked in the front door of our apartment, I told him that I wasn't quite sure that was a plan we could stick with.
         Still not wanting to rush off to the hospital only to be told to go home, I spent the afternoon relaxing, took a bath, sent AH off to the grocery to stock up on supplies.  By 6, I had come to the point where I knew I was not going to be able to cope on my own, which was the point at which my midwife told me I should go to the hospital.  And then impatience, panic, and lingering skepticism that the baby could really be coming right on her American due date, caused me to make a very silly decision.  

AH: Do you want me to call for the ambulance? [We had been planning on using a private ambulance service, which would cost 100 euros but which would be reimbursed, assuming the hospital staff wrote us a prescription].
Me: No, I don't want to wait, and I don't want to run the risk of showing up at the hospital only to have them tell us I'm not far enough along, and then be out 100 euros. Let's just take public transportation.

Why, why, why?  Why did I think this was a good idea?  Because if I was in doubt that I was in labor while curled up on my bed moaning at home, trying to keep a poker face amongst the hundreds of other commuters taking the RER home from work at rush hour removed all doubt from my mind.  By the time we arrived at Institut Mutualiste Montsouris, I no longer had any illusion that I would be able to rely on the hypnosis techniques I had been using as a naptime soundtrack over the past few weeks to get through the contractions.  Here is an approximation of the initial exchange between the attending midwife (who spoke English, Praise Jesus) and myself:

Midwife:  Good evening!  How are you feeling?
Midwife: Let's check to see if you're in labor first.  *Pause, checky check of the ladyparts.*  You are only two centimeters dilated.  You will need to wait a few hours for an epidural.

Me, between contractions, about the receive the promised epidural.

Et cetera, et cetera.  AH was a total champ throughout the three hours between the time we checked in and the time that the epidural was finally administered (at 10:18, not that I was checking or anything), breathing with me, and allowing me to slowly destroy his sweater.  While preparing to give the promised Sweet Nectar of Life, the anesthesiologist asked what we would be naming her; when I said "Jospehine," she replied, "Ah, comme la copine de Napoleon!".  AH replied, "Oui, et Josephine Baker."   The woman totally deadpanned back to my pasty white husband, "well, I hope she's not black." 
             And after that epidural kicked in, things were considerably easier and just before 3, I was told that it was time to start actively evicting her.  Another doctor came in to help the sage femme while AH (still in his street clothes- he was never given scrubs, or even told to wash his hands, something we didn't think about until much later) stayed up and mostly away from the business end of things.  Between pushes, the doctor and midwife chatted to me to help me relax.  One of them started telling me about her upcoming trip to New York, and how excited she was to eat all of that American food.  And so, with thoughts of cheesecake all mixed up with those final moments of curiosity about what color hair our baby would have, with one final push Miss Josephine made her entrance into the world.  AH said his first thought was that she looked like Gollum (she was rather blue and scrunchy, with long, sharp fingernails).  I was simply in shock that the bawling, living, breathing creature curled up and screaming on my chest had been a stowaway passenger in my body for nine months.  But here she was; the little girl I'd been waiting not just nine months, but most of my life for.  And after her Gollum-ness had abated (after she was cleaned off and got some color to her when she began breathing), I couldn't help but marvel at the thick dark hair that clearly came from her dad, and the little button nose that I strongly suspect comes from me.  But most of all, she looks like her.  And she is perfect.  And we are so, so happy.

Home again, home again, piggely-jig.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Prego in Paris

I woke up this morning to the realization, "Holy sh*t.  This time next month, I will have a baby."  For a little while there, we were concerned that it would be any day now (see last post), but at Monday's doctor's appointment, AH and I were told that our little Fellow Traveler does not seem to be in any sort of rush to travel anywhere any time soon (her feet are too comfortable being all up in my rib cage's business, I suppose).  

So while it's unlikely that she is going to drop at any moment, it's still time to face the fact that my pregnancy (and any chance of a good night's sleep for quite some time) is rapidly approaching its end-time (aka BABYPOCAPLYPSE).  And so while I am still in a fully preggers state, it behooves me to reflect on the ups and downs of a pregnancy experienced in the City of Light.  I must say, overall, that baby-cooking on this side of the pond has proved to be more of a bonus than a drawback, although only time (and subsequent babies, cooked back on U.S. soil- domestic products, if you will) will tell.

1. Having to walk everywhere.  

Upside: I fully credit my total reliance on public transportation and lack of car for my surprisingly low weight gain (surprising for me, when normally I just need to look at a milkshake to gain 5 pounds.  Not that that keeps me from drinking milkshakes, mind you).  Extra credit goes to the suburban bus system which, as opposed to the city metros, is about as reliable as a meth-head babysitter.  Twice (so far) have I been dropped off in the middle of nowhere because there was a change to the normal bus route noted only by a small paper sign.  Good thing I no longer believe in uncomfortable shoes.

Downside: I now have the back of an exploited former child gymnast.  I have to wear a support belt ("the kind that big, burly men wear when they're moving furniture," says my mom) to prevent shooting pains in my right leg and lower back every time I take a step.  Bah.

2. Food 

Upside: If I had my way, I would weigh about 250 pounds right now.  Seriously, I have spent my second and third trimester just ITCHING to stuff my face full of anything and everything that makes Americans fat.  Duncan Heines cake with canned frosting.  Church lady casseroles.  Dirty Frank's (always.  This is a need that cannot be satisfied).  Tortilla chips covered in refried beans, cheese, and jalapenos.  For the last six months, I would have given one of my pinky toes for the chance to eat something deep-fried and wrapped in bacon.  But apart from my two weeks in the States back in May, France and its skepticism of the wonders of the deep fryer have kept my eating habits just barely on the right side of sane.  And I can't complain about the pastries.


3. Free Healthcare

Upside:  AH and I haven't paid a dime since my 5th month of pregnancy.  Our hospital is pretty awesome, too, so it's not like we can sigh and say, "well, you get what you pay for."  I'm not worried that having this child is going to cripple us financially for the foreseeable future.  The government actually put a sizable chunk of change into our bank account, just as a "hey, a baby that could grow into an adult worker that will pay taxes towards supporting our aging population!  Continue doing that, please!" sort of gift.

Downside: When we get to one, I'll let you know.

4. Doing everything in a language I don't speak very well

Upside: Um, it makes me a stronger person?  I at least understand "poussez"?

Downside:  For those of you ladies who have already been through all the joys of pooping a squirming watermelon-sized object out of your lady hole, you know that ramping up to labor can be scary and inspire all sorts of fear and doubt.  Now imagine that, with the exception of your English-speaking doctor and midwife, every medical person that you encounter speaks with all the clarity of the Swedish Chef.  So, in essence: not having a flipping clue about what to expect piled on top of all of the normal anxieties about labor.

That's all that I can think of for the moment.  But now I need to go and shovel some chocolate ice cream into my pie hole before AH comes home, hopefully to the sight of me cooking baked couscous with spinach ("look!  Look how much I love our baby!").  Depending on FT's willingness to vacate my premises, the next blog post may come from me, or it may be AH writing a guest entry with what I'm sure will be an epic birth story (I promise, no gory details, and DEFINITELY no video).  Now think good thoughts for the three of us, and go eat something wrapped in bacon for me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Medically Enforced Nesting

Hello, friends.  I would LOVE to tell you that my recent absence has been due to my being too busy lounging seaside, eating bouillabaisse and being generally too fabulous to possibly sit down and write a blog entry.  But alas, this is not the case.  Last Tuesday, as AH and I were all ready to depart the next day for one final baby-free jaunt to the south of France, the sage-femme at my hospital appointment discovered that there were signs that little FT was trying to make a break for it (I don't think she liked the idea that we were going on a beach vacation without her).  So back into the drawer with the maternity swimsuit, and two weeks of modified bed rest for me.  There you have it: I haven't been too busy, I've been too boring.

Sidenote: I had a conversation with a visiting friend just yesterday about how I do NOT want this to slowly evolve into a mommy blog, and yet...that is pretty much what has been occupying my time.  So if you are one of those people who has installed the Baby Blocker facebook app, you might not want to read any further on this post (and, if you're so baby-adverse that you've enlisted technology to replace pictures of babies with pictures of kittens on a social networking site, please reevaluate your own incessant facebook posts concerning your dog/latest workout/how much you hate timeline).

At least AH and I weren't actually all that put out by the change of plans.  We were able to turn our train tickets into vouchers so that we can plan a vacation for a later date (so FT will get the beach time she so clearly is gunning for, the manipulative little scamp), and only had to pay for the first night of our hotel room.  And it turns out that all AH really wanted to do with his time off was relax and breath for a bit (he's still coming down from all the stress of finishing his PhD while working as a post-doc in another country).  As for me, I'm not one of those people who can't stand to be idle; I kind of dig it, to be honest.  The past week and a half has been like being on a sick day where you're not actually sick: movies in bed, trashy novels, multiple naps a day (hey, if I have to be in bed, I might as well make good use of that time, yes?  Besides, if she's anything like me as a child, I fully anticipate not sleeping again until FT heads off to university).  Also, Marseilles was probably not the place to be this past week anyway since AH and I, in our infinite luck and wisdom, scheduled a vacation to the south that happened to fall over the four days of unbearably hot weather that we've had this summer in France (yes, feel free to hate on us just a bit, all ye crispy Stateside dwellers).  As I am currently a large, unwieldy baby oven, pushing through other hot, crowded tourists to get to my tiny bit of sand seems that it would not have been nearly as appealing as what I did, which was lay like a sweaty beached whale in bed with a fan blowing directly on me, consuming gazpacho practically through an IV drip and watching many episodes of "Modern Family" (oh that Phil, what a hoot!).

Probably the best part of medically enforced confinement has been all sorts of additional nesting time:  AH bleached all of the used baby books that we snagged from the "free" shelf at the library, baby clothes were sorted and organized, and the hospital suitcase was packed (which is intense, since the average hospital stay for a new mom in a French hospital is five days). And, perhaps most exciting, the IKEA crib arrived on Friday, and AH owned that bitch like he was Michael Phelps and the crib was a pool.  The entire process took all of 30 minutes, most of which was taken up by AH documenting every little moment on my camera.  Behold, the triumph, the tragedy, the assembly:

The box arrives; the challenge is issued.

"Instructions? We don't need no stinkin' instructions!"

Perhaps if the directions had been followed, these helpless 
creatures could have avoided this fate.

Punishment is swift and just.

In my sorrow and shame, I hide behind the baby poster.

Then things get back on track.  You can tell by seriousface.

Look, I was allowed to screw in one bolt!  Yay for equality!

The finished product.  I'm fairly certain that this crib will not cause death.

And here it is with the bedding provided by my maman.  At last, victory has been achieved!

     While of course AH and I enjoyed our time together assembling things for little FT, every properly sorted onesie, every burp cloth, every sanitized bottle is a reminder that she will be here sooner than we know.  And, realtalk guys, we are scared sh*tless.  But hey, nobody knows what they're doing with a newborn, right?  And besides, with a dad who can conquer IKEA furniture like it's nothing, how could this kid possibly go wrong?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Home is Where the Fromager is

Now that the bed has been fixed and most of my clothes have found their way into drawers (except all the dresses that I know will not fit my postpartum badonkadonk anytime soon- those are stashed away in a suitcase so that the sight of them won't depress me), AH and I are really settling down into a quiet, peaceful life out in the suburbs.  Except that our suburb, Sceaux (pronounced "So," although I sometimes say "Skoax" just to annoy AH), is more like the village in the opening sequence of Beauty and the Beast than the manicured lawns and giant Mercedes SUV's of the suburbs I'm generally accustomed to in the good ol'  US of A.  This is the footpath leading from the train station down into our neighborhood:

The owners of the houses on the left maintain the garden growing along the right; I much prefer this to the graffiti that typically sprouts up along next to trains.  And check it:

Grapevines.  Just in case you forgot you were in France.  I wonder how much these grapes have to struggle?

Another sign of our contentment with village life, behold, our new Saturday morning ritual:

We take a stroll down this adorable little pedestrian street at the top of the hill, picking delectable fruit from stalls as we go (that we pay for, obviously- I've also seen Aladdin, and I don't want my hand cut off with a machete).  There are plenty of adorable little stores in which to window shop, and even a liquor store that, much to AH's delight (and my personal torment) sells decent bourbon, along with excellent boulangeries, chocolate shops, an Alsacien charcuterie (think lots of sausage and flammenkeuche), and a fromager.  It's a wonderful family atmosphere with people pushing strollers and walking dogs on leashes.  And yeah, that's another thing: you can tell we're not in Paris anymore, Toto, because the dogs are, by and large, actual dogs, not the yippy, puntable monstrosities one sees in tiny little dogs sweaters everywhere in Paris.  Just look at this fellow:

I'm pretty sure that someone could ride that creature into combat.  But he was perfectly pleasant and receptive to snorgles, much to my utter delight.

After hitting the marche, AH and I stroll down a bit further...

Nope, not Versailles.  This was taken in the beautiful Parc de Sceaux, which is a lot like Versailles except: 1) free, 2) a 10 minute walk as opposed to a 45 minute train ride away, and 3) not completely swarming with people.  Seriously.  Gorgeous fountains? Check.  Chateau?

Affirmative.  Grand canal?

Indeedily do.  General green lushness as far as the eye can see?

Yuppers.  I've even heard rumors of sheep.  I'll investigate and report back, I promise.  After all, there's nothing quite like a good, fluffy sheepy.

If we're going to eat lunch out, we typically eat at a little brasserie right across from the square from this adorable little church.  The view is lovely, the food is tasty, and the waiters don't seem to mind the strange American lady who insists on ordering her food sans salade (doctor's orders, I swear!).  And then we get to head back to my favorite part of Sceaux, our own humble abode:

This right here, my friends, is the site of the Hunger Games-induced stupor in which I've languished the last few days.  Although I have occasionally made it out into the kitchen:

See that?  COUNTER-SPACE!  And a real oven!  I swear, there's nothing quite as soothing to the soul as the sound of NPR and the freedom to dice vegetables in comfort and peace.  Little FT is finally on a diet that contains a little more variety than pasta, risotto, stir-fry, and chili.  She has rewarded me by attempting to break free of my womb via my ribcage.  I fear that feeding her much better will lead to full-out mutiny.  But never fear, AH's solution for Hulk-baby and cranky mama came in the best possible form:

Waffles with peach compote and vanilla ice-cream, peaches courtesy of the marche and ice-cream courtesy of the fact that we have a real freezer and not some BS little freezer drawer that mostly functions by eating all of the frozen vegetables I would put in there with all the best intentions.  

Real cheese in the fridge, a bed that is holding together admirably, an AH that comes home and makes me dessert, and an FT that is starting to make her opinions known as often as possible.  So far, life out in the country is pretty good...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Beach Holiday on the Right Bank

Guess when this picture was taken.  Go on, I dare you:

June.  JUNE.  It was hailing here in June.  We've only been consistently breaking 70 here for about a week now; I've spent more time in a rain coat and (much bedraggled) jeans this summer than anyone south of Alaska should be forced to.  But the weather has decided to make amends by skipping straight from low 60's and rainy to mid-high 80's and perfectly sunny.  And so, in honor of summer FINALLY deciding to make an appearance, I think it only appropriate to muse upon that strangest and most unique of Parisian summer traditions, the Paris Plage.  Luckily for those of us who find ourselves Ile-de-France-bound, I have not misspelled "plague;" "plage" is the French word for beach.  (That would be a pretty terrible summer tradition: punish all those in Paris too poor to leave the city for holiday by releasing some form of deadly biological agent via rats.  That would not be nearly as fun).  

"But Allison!," you cry in protest.  "Paris is not on a coast!  What beach could you possibly mean?".  To which I answer, "This one that they invented, bitches":

City officials shut down the busy road that runs along the right bank of the Seine, import a bunch of sand from Normandy, and turn the highway into a beach complete with ice cream vendors, street performers,  palm trees, beach umbrellas, and of course, several miles of tightly packed locals and tourists sizzling like rotisserie chickens, offering up their bodies to the sun gods.  

To be clear: this is not something that I enjoy on a personal level in any way.  For me, the Paris Plage is essentially everything that I hate about the beach (hot, crowded, and sandy with overpriced snacks) without the one thing that made me crazy enough to book a holiday to the south of France for mid-August: the chance to swim in the ocean. (Oddly enough, there are no signs posted warning people away from swimming in the Seine.  I think the assumption is that if you are bonkers enough to try it, then your subsequent absence from the human race might not be such bad thing).  And yet I returned this year (with an equally sun-allergic friend; we were quite the sight, him in long sleeves and khakis, me in a sun hat and carrying a parasol) out of a heavy sense of obligation.  As the wise philosopher Carrie Bradshaw once said, "if you see a sign that says 'two-headed snake,' you pull over." And when you live in a city where they shut down a major highway to set up an elaborate fake beach along the banks of their filthy, filthy river, you pull over.  

Seriously, the whole thing is just so stinkin' French.  One of the things that I adore about life in France is that July/August holidays are expected and are practically sacrosanct.  Whole businesses shut down for months at a time; we have been provided with a schedule from the city hall of which boulangeries and other businesses will be open in our area so that we are not left breadless (quel horreur!).  AH is feeling elated and a bit indulgent to be taking 2 days off for our excursion to Marseilles (on top of the week that he is forced to take in August because they shut down his place of work because everyone is expected to be on holiday), while his French co-workers are blithely talking about the five or six week vacations that they have planned.  Contrast this to my time working my first out-of-college big girl job at a telecommunications company where I was a glorified robot monkey, verifying and sending through paper work.  During the whole winter holiday season, I was given exactly two days off: Christmas day and New Year's day.  When we encountered level 2 snow emergencies, I was required to risk life and limb and drive into work because I was considered "essential personnel"  (again, see: glorified robot monkey).  And my experience at Unnamed Telecommunications Company does not seem to be atypical for an American worker, especially in "These Trying Economic Times" when the general expectation seems to be that you should be licking boots and be grateful if it means that you receive a steady paycheck.  So needless to say, the attitude that it's not just acceptable for workers to take it easy in the summer, it's actually expected, has been a marvelous adjustment to make (other than the times that my favorite bakery is closed and I'm forced to make do with sub-par baguettes).  

Furthermore, it's not only the rich that are expected to take time to flee to their villas in Provence; this expectation of a leisurely summer is an attitude that hangs like an especially shady beach umbrella over the whole city.  And so for me, the Paris Plage is not only a strange carnival spectacle in its own right but also a physical embodiment of the importance of leisure and enjoyment in France: everyone is entitled to be on a beach somewhere, whether it's along the Mediterranean, the Atlantic or, in a pinch for the cash-strapped, the Seine.  

Still not convinced that the Paris Plage is an apt symbol of ultimate Frenchness?  Then let me leave you with a mental picture of what I saw yesterday in the sand: a man in his early-mid sixties, heavily tanned, hairy as a graying gorilla, wearing nothing but a pair of speedos, sandals, and a beret.  I wanted to nominate this man to be France's mascot.  

So even if you're stuck in an office this summer with no vacance in sight, at least take a tip from the French and turn wherever you live into its own holiday destination: beach chairs, a sunny backyard, a cold tasty beverage and some sweet tunes should do the trick.  And if you do it in a speedo, please send pictures.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Soldes: A Retrospective of My Life In France as Told Through Retail

Alas, I doubt Karl Lagerbear here ever went on sale, otherwise he might have been mine.

              Many moons ago (well, a year and a half ago.  I'm still having trouble with metric conversions, let alone time-to-moon conversions), not long after my arrival in France, I discovered the first of many clues that France and Ohio are not, in fact, the same thing at all.  Having been forewarned that one does not enter a store simply to browse, I was alerted to the exception to that rule: you are more than free to enter a store without explicit intent to buy during the soldes, or sales.  The Sales, I asked?  I come from a land where, yes, there is a slight rhythm to the retail cycle (there is a definite "off season" to certain items, thus how I managed to get almost all of my fancy high school dance dresses for less than $20), but there was always a sale rack somewhere in the store, it's just a matter of heading straight for the back and ignoring everything hung up in an orderly fashion on hangers.  But not so in France: there is an actual law regulating when retailers can offer items at a discount.  Thus, a whole  year's worth of bargain shopping must be cut down into two 5-week segments, one in January, and one in July.  
            Back in the day (so, more moons than the moons that have happened since I've been in France), I used to classify certain periods of my life based on what play was happening roughly around that time (for example, the beginning of my junior year of college, when my romance with AH was just coming into full bloom, will always have the soundtrack of the big Cole Porter musical I was in at the time).  Monday, coming home with my arms full of (still outrageously expensive) baby clothes, I had a startling revelation: I could do something similar with my life in France by looking back on the four soldes I've experience since I've been here.  So according to this theory, my expat life could be divided thusly:

January 2011
           Fresh off the boat (plane) and even more clueless than I am now (if that can be believed).  We were nomadic for most of that sale season, but had managed to find our first apartment at Cite Universitaire toward the end of the month.  With AH off battling the Hobbit Hill and playing with lasers during the day, I was forcing myself to get out and about and explore the city.  And what better motivator to do that than shopping?  The problem was that I had absolutely no idea where to go: this was the days before my sister directed me to all the wonders of BHV and the Marais (yes, embarassingly enough, it took a New Yorker to point out Paris' great shopping district), and Paris isn't really known for it's malls (except Les Halles, which...*shudder*).  But hey, I was in Europe! H&M is Dutch (or Swedish or Norwegian, or somewhere cold and full of blondes)!  So I googled the nearest H&M, and hopped onto a metro.  Friends, this is how fresh off the plane I was: this was my first time ever using a metro (I had only used the RER up until that point), because I remember being so proud of myself for doing it all by myself without AH.  Seriously, you'd think I had mastered hang-gliding or something.  But anyway, off to the H&M on Rue de Rennes I went.  
             The trip was mostly uneventful with the exception of two discoveries.  The first was that, while it is typically annoying to be possessed of more junk in the proverbial trunk than the average Parisian, it means that I (and others of my size-ilk) make out like bandits during the sales: all of the 0-6 clothes are gone the first week, whereas size 12 ladies get their leisurely pick of the good stuff right up until the end (by which time the discounts have usually increased, thus ensuring maximum cheapness).  Bomb diggity.  The other discovery was that apparently putting a skirt on over your jeans in the aisles when the line for the cabines is really unreasonably long will earn you one patented French Disapproving Glare, as well as a tongue-lashing.  At the time I was mortified and defensive.  Now, I think fondly back on that bitchy salesman, as he was really just doing his part to break me into the peculiarities of French culture.

Erin and I at Thanksgiving dinner at church, long after our shopping spree, obvi.

July 2011 
                     Starting to get the hang of things (sort of).  This was a time in my life when I learned the lesson that has been crucial to my survival during my time abroad: the trick isn't necessarily knowing what's going on, but knowing who to ask what the heck is going on.By this time I'd begun working teaching theater camps with Erin, the woman who was fast becoming a very good friend.  In addition to all other ways that she is wonderful, she also knows where a girl with a serious sundress fetish and limited income can go to get her fix.  Thus one day after class, she opened my eyes to the delightful world of C&A, the only store in Paris even kind of resembling a Kohl's.  I don't know that AH was ever allowed to see those receipts.

January 2012
          Erin and I continue our tradition of hitting the soldes, but alas a slight wrench has been thrown into our plans: I am about 4 weeks pregnant, and only AH and I are any the wiser about the occupied state of my womb.  I kick around the idea telling Erin, but as we haven't even yet had the chance to tell our parents that we'll soon have a Fellow Traveler, I decide to keep mum.  Which, if you know me, is EXCRUCIATING.  Seriously, I am the world's worst secret keeper of my own secrets; that's probably why I don't really have any.  And so we go through Monoprix, Erin modelling all sorts of adorable sundresses, me trying only trying on muumuu-like pieces.  I can see the good friend dilemma going through Erin's head: do I tell her that shapeless sack is doing nothing for her, or do I merely try to direct her towards garments that actually have a waist?  I mumble some lame excuse about, "well, maybe I'll be pregnant by the summer," but this is still clearly not excuse enough for the tents I am dragging into the dressing room with me.  I decide to forgo dress shopping all together and settle on a roomy green coat.
           I'm being wildly restrained (by my usual standards) until we get to BHV.  And this is when I make a decision that still slightly baffles me.  Not long before I discovered I was pregnant, I took a good hard look at my wardrobe and realized that, in the few short years since college, it had become so  darn practical (by which I mean, it was full of things that I would be able to wear to work or to church without anyone calling child services on me).  This was unacceptable: I was 25, goshdarnit, surely I would have occasion to wear an impractically low-cut dress sometime in the near future!  I kept an eye out, but when would such a dress finally decide to appear?  That's right, friend.  4 weeks into my pregnancy.  
I kept the dress just long enough to take pictures of myself in it.  Anyway, AH didn't much care for it; 
he said it made me look like I have the chest of a 12-year-old boy.

And so, did I maturely say to myself, "not only will you not be able to zip yourself into this much longer, you're about to be someone's mother; now really is the time to start PUTTING IT AWAY."  Clearly not.  Thus that particular soldes (as well as that dress, which eventually was given a happy home by Erin) will always remind me of that time in my early pregnancy when I was still delusional and telling myself, "hey, I'll be a hip young mom who can totally leave baby at home and go out till the wee hours of the morning wearing what is essentially a sequined gynecological smock!".  Oh, silly, silly Allison.

July 2012
            Yeah, I've given up that ghost.  And it's ok: I've made the marvelous discovery that the pregnancy wardrobe is much more comfy that the mid-20's clubbing wardrobe (seriously, maternity jeans: all the comfort of sweat pants while still getting to look like you actually care.  Why do normal jeans have zippers?  I am not looking forward to making the transition back).  And so the past few weeks I've been happily hitting up the big baby store, Aubert, in Paris with soon-to-be Auntie Erin, as well as another expecting mama friend (with twins!  I do not envy her stroller decision).  I've also been trolling the Carrefour and Monoprix out near my new digs, looking for a suitable shoe-rack (I know, life in the suburbs is KRAZEE!).  But while introducing expecting mama friend to the wonders of C&A (look, the circle is complete!), I did wander over to the accessories department while she was in the dressing room.  I may not have any more illusions about sexy dresses, but I could treat myself to a flashy ring or a new necklace, right?  Except that, first of all, I need more jewelry like I need a hole in the head.  Secondly, little FT has tainted even my love of shiny things: I couldn't look at the earrings without thinking about how much it will hurt when she decides to yank on them, nor could I look at the necklaces without imagining her yanking on the chain and breaking it (apparently, in all my paranoid fantasies my baby is the Hulk).  So sigh, no new goodies for mom.  But on the plus side, hey:

Um, these come with matching bloomers.  Who can say that about their Sexy Dress?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Expat Survey: The Oregonian

Along with appearing to understand what is happening when I have absolutely no idea what anyone is saying, another unpleasant but necessary survival skill that I've picked up during my time abroad is the ability to say goodbye to my nearest and dearest without completely losing it and going into a Ben and Jerry's coma of self-pity.  Alas, the latest dear friend to leave these fair shores is the irreplaceable Oregonian.  After two years working and studying in France, she has returned to her native land to take on the noble cause of looking after teenage girls in the foster care system.  I will miss too many things about her to name, but towards the top of the "Awesome Things About Oregonian" list is her unique perspective and wicked sense of humor.  Happily for me (and for you), she indulged me by agreeing to take a modified version of my Visitor's Survey (2 years is really too long to qualify as a visit) for your reading pleasure.  So without further adieu,  here are her responses to my nosy questions:

Me: So Oregonian, important things first.  What was your favorite thing to get at the boulangerie?
Oregonian: This raspberry nutella croissant that I only ever found at one boulangerie in the suburbs (L'Hay Les Roses) (I'm convinced that's what God did on the seventh day).

Me: Other than learning the language, what was the hardest thing about Paris to adjust to?
O: Ha. Resisting the urge to smile at everyone I pass on the street.  I love to talk and get to know people, so I had to learn not to say my name right away when I met someone (the French don't do that), and had to censor what I said.  For example, "Je dois faire pipi" (I have to pee) is not appropriate; it's better to say, "Je vais au toilette" (I'm going to the toilet).  I also had to learn to resist the urge to ask personal questions.  To me, personal questions is just part of conversating.  And I love to conversate and get to know people so that was a big adjustment.  Instead of talking about life stories, I had to learn to be content with speaking of the weather and politics.

Me: Do you anticipate any reverse culture shock returning to the States?
O: When I bump into people here in Oregon, I still say, "pardon" or "merci" when they move out of the way. Driving is something I've had to get used to again. Also, now I have to stop saying "noir" (black) when asked how I'd like my meat prepared. I can smile at boys now without them reading anything into it, and I don't have to fake my way through the "bisous." In fact, now I have to awkwardly turn what I thought was gonna be a bisous greeting into a side hug. And probably the biggest culture shock, the CHOCOLATE! After Cote d'or, milka, galler, and lindt, I just don't know that I can go back to Hershey's. (Well s'mores are the only exception to that)

Me:What was your favorite way to spend a Saturday in Paris?
O: Relaxing on the shore of the Seine River, while eating kebabs, and talking with a good friend.

Me: What will you not miss about Paris, not one little bit?
O: I realize I may upset every French person I know by saying this, but the cheese! I will not miss the cheese. I'd take Tillamook cheddar over any of the fancy, stinky french cheeses any day.

Me: Any French habits or phrases that you picked up that you anticipate becoming all the rage in Grant's Pass?
Me: "C'est chouette!" I've already started to make it cool, it's only just a matter of time before it goes state-wide. I've got my brother saying, "Mince!" and he's a pretty popular guy around these parts, so I'm sure it won't be too much longer till it also has taken over. Habits? hmm...any french habits that I'd like to take on myself...yea let me think about that, so don't think they'll be spreading to Oregon anytime soon.  

Me: How close was your time in Paris to the plot of the film "Moulin Rouge"?
O: Not even close! So glad my life is not that depressing! (Though, great music!)

Me: Wasn't French men talking to you on the metro just the best?
O: You know if I were still in Paris sitting on a crowded metro with my personal bubble being invaded by an all too cocky Frenchman who smells of body odor and cologne, I think I might have some negative things to say. But after being back in the land of pot-bellied, cart-hart-wearing, gun-toting, country men who the only communication they enjoy having with the opposite sex is, "Woman, get me a beer," or "Hand me the remote," I think I would have to say that I prefer the french charm over being valued for my abilities to open a beer can and cook chicken. (Disclaimer, a bit of an exaggeration, not all American guys are like that) 
Me: Any lasting life lessons from your time abroad that you feel compelled to share with us?

O: This quote sums it up: "Il faut aller loin pour comprendre ce qui est proche." Paulo Coelho "You must go far away to understand what is close." (rough translation)

Me: Your time in Paris in three words.  Go.
O: "A Movable Feast" (Ernest Hemingway was right).