a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...

she likes: making kites, dancing in the rain, adventures, little-while friends, letters, whole-leaf tea, crayons, bare feet, jumping in rivers/streams/creeks/waterfalls, language, catching the clock as it changes numbers, sleepovers, trains (big or small), cuddling & waking up before the sun rises, among other random things.

oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

all i want for christmas is... 100% organic cotton undies & socks

Holy moly underwear and socks are expensive!!!!

Rémy had an appointment at the dermatologist the other day to get some moles checked out before we leave France and full medical coverage (don't worry, they're all normal - it was just to take advantage of our awesome insurance before we don't have it anymore) and he discovered that he has a severe and highly contagious bout of Athlete's foot. His feet had been itchy (mostly at night) but this had been going on for a while and we hadn't really thought much of it.

Well, it turns out it's super contagious and super annoying to get rid of. Since it's a fungus it can lie dormant in old socks for weeks on end and then sprout up suddenly one humid night when there's a full moon. Gross? Yes. Annoying? It is decidedly so. Rémy has to wash his feet with a special antiseptic gel and put on special medicated lotion and powder and we can't be sure it's 100% gone for 15 days.

Then there's the whole sock business. If Rémy wants to keep his socks (and since we share socks it becomes if WE want to keep OUR socks, any of them...) we have to wash them daily (all of them, not just the ones we wear) and powder them daily with some special powder and keep them in sealed plastic bags when we are not wearing them. And we have to do this every day FOR THIRTY DAYS. Now I don't know about you, but that seems like a helluva lot of work just to have clean socks. Since all we own is a shit-ton of really old socks (some dating back probably to the 80's) and we will be leaving our apartment in 16 days and the country in 27, we made the executive decision to throw away all of our socks and buy new ones. (We did briefly consider donating them, but then realized that would be rather sadistic.)

It gets worse.

The genus of fungus that causes Athlete's foot, Trichophyton, also causes another annoying and painfully itchy condition sometimes known as "dhobi itch", more commonly known by the lovely name "jock itch". It is exactly what you think it is. How does fungus from the feet get to the groin? Well, just think about how you dry yourself off with a towel. And then think about using the same towel for a few days, and sharing it with someone who secretly has Athlete's foot.

Yes, you guessed it, I am the unlucky one. I have jock itch.

Don't worry, I'll spare you the details on how I have to cure my little problem. But what it comes down to is that we also have to throw out all of our underwear and replace them with new, total clean & fungus-free 100% cotton underwear.

So today I throw all of our old socks & undies in a giant sack and go out in search of new 100% cotton socks & undies, preferably organic since cotton uses an absurdly high percentage of the world's pesticides/insecticides. (Cotton covers 2.5% of the world's cultivated lands but uses 16% of the world's insecticides - that's more than ANY other crop!!!)

First of all, the green movement is still in the very very early stages here in France so it took me forever to find what I wanted, and when I did it was exorbitantly expensive. I almost had a stroke when the lady told me my total and I had to ask her again to make sure I wasn't hallucinating: 120 worth of plain cotton socks & undies. And I only bought 21 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of slippers, 7 pairs of undies and 3 pairs of tights/leggings. I guess it comes out to only 364 per item, but it still seems freaking ridiculous.

In light of this crisis I have come up with some rather renegade New Years Resolutions that I have taken a vow to follow with the utmost seriousness:
- I will take much better care of my socks and my undies from here on out.
- I will wash them in a timely manner.
- I will make sure that each sock is with his mate at all times.
- I will not leave them balled up covered in dust bunnies under the bed or dresser.
- I will cherish each moment my toesies are warm and snug, and
- I promise to try not to wear tights too often to give my jock area some breathing room.

On that lovely note, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year & to all a Good Night!!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

shampoo shampoo

I got shampoo in my eyes in the shower this morning which was less uncomfortable than I would have thought, and while washing out my eye I unexpectedly burst out laughing at a childhood memory that came flooding back.

I remember one day back when my sister Rose was just a baby and we used to take baths together my mom bought Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo.  For whatever reason she informed me that it was "tear free". She of course just wanted to get my hair clean; I, on the other hand, thought it was miracle shampoo.  So much so that I didn't even squirm when it came time to rinse my hair.

I remember later that day falling down. Maybe I scraped my knee or my elbow or stubbed my toe; maybe I drew blood or maybe I didn't. That part's irrelevant. What I remember most is crying. And crying and crying and crying. Not because it actually hurt so bad. But because I was terribly shocked & startled & incredibly deceived that after using the tear-free shampoo, I actually could.

Friday, November 26, 2010

le bon coin

Pour faciliter les choses, voilà ce qu'on vend sur Le Bon Coin. On préfère vendre aux amis/connaissances, donc n'hésitez-pas à nous dire ce que vous voulez.

Merci de nous contacter à lescoutarel@gmail.com s'il y a quelque choses qui vous intéresse.

Enceintes KENWOOD.

Radiocassette PHILIPS.

Imprimante Hewlett Packard Laser Jet 4.

Puzzles variés.

Bougeoir en pierre.

2 tabourets de bar.

Chevalet en bois.

Homme en bois.

Main en bois.


Service de table Art Déco.

Théière en fonte bleue.

Machine à pain FUNIX.

Six assiettes, bordure rouge.

Deux pichets d'eau.

Grand plat en terre cuite.

Deux plats en verre.

Brumisateur d'huile.

Boules de Noel.

Déco de Noel à suspendre.

Trois plats en céramique.

Protections de rollers.

Didgeridoo Bamboo.

Tenture Arbre de Vie.

Monocycle QU-AX Luxus.

Rollers UKAN M70.

Cadres photos.

Mixeur Moulinex.

Machine à gaufre.

Livre Terre d'Insectes.

BDs variées.

Twilight Saga en anglais (4 tomes).

Livres de jeux/enigmes.

Livres variés - anglais.

Livres variés - anglais.

Mangas variés.

Livre Les Plans au Cinéma.

Livre En Siberie.

Livres variés (français).

Livres variés (voyage).

Livres Bernard WERBER (cycle des dieux).

Le code de la route.

Guides officiels FINAL FANTASY IX &; X.

Arrested Development (en français) saison 1.

Livres variés - informatique.

Dictionnaires variés.

Livres variés - Yoga/Zen. 

Massue jonglage - set de 3.

Flotteur piscine.

Jeu d'échecs en bois.

Petite boîte en bois.

Jeux variés.

Hochet pingouin.

Trépied DYNEX: 10 euros.

Étagères en bois: 5 euros pour les deux.

Frigo FAR F 2240 A.

Ordinateur SONY. 

Machine à laver.

Canapé futon: 15 euros.

Mancala en bois.

Carte du monde: 5 euros.


Cadres photo variés.

Four Moulinex Activys.

Étagère noire.

Fer à repasser.

Accessoires pour perceuse.

Étagère bois pliable.

Carnet de dessin.

Rouleau à pâtisserie.

Grand parapluie multicolore.

Table basse en verre.

Deux albums photo.


Bureau en bois.

Bouilloire électrique.

Meuble salle de bain Allibert.


Tapis de sol bambou.


Quatre chaises.

Sèche cheveux CALOR: 15 euros.

Réchaud de camping MSR: 5 euros.

Caméscope SONY HC9: 680 euros.

Télescope MIZAR 150/750 + 4 oculaires: 300 euros.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I had my first experience ever with a chiropractor yesterday, and let's just say it was nothing I have ever experienced before.

I've been having this crazy hip/butt pain for about three weeks that just keeps getting worse. Everyone here in France has been telling me, "Go see a chiropractor! It will change your life!" I had many excuses not to. A) I hate cracking joints, or knuckles or backs. I hate it, with a passion, and my idea of a chiropractor was sort of like a kid's view of a dentist -a scary man that uses crazy tools to crack your bones. B) I was pretty sure it was muscular and thought that issue should be addressed before moving on to bones (although I do recognize they are all connected, that was just my excuse...) C) Chiropractors are not covered by most insurance here, so I used money as an excuse (although it turns out our insurance is really awesome and it is covered, so that quickly turned into a moot point). D) The idea of some old creeper massaging my butt was a bit of a turnoff, which I was able to use to convince Rémy not to call a few times. E) Most waiting lists were over a month long.

But the pain got more and more unbearable and when it became debilitating that's where I drew the line. Fine, Rémy, call your stupid chiropractor.

So I was quite surprised when I walked in to my appointment yesterday and was greeted by a young woman who could not be much older than me. She was smiley and friendly and we chatted for a bit before she told me to strip down & lie on a massage table. I tried to relax as I prepared for pain & cracking, but no pain & cracking were to be had. Instead... well, it was weird.

I have always been a fan of anatomy. It find it sincerely and thoroughly fascinating and is one of my weird random passions. I have quite a few anatomy books lying around and I love knowing how my body moves, during yoga for example. But this, this was movement I could not understand. She would lightly press certain spots all over my body, poking and prodding and caressing and what felt like snapping her fingers over my skin. Then sometimes she would pull my arm or leg a bit, sometimes she would poke at my butt cheek. Sometimes it felt like she sort of was giving a massage, but more like someone who has never given a massage before and doesn't particularly like physical contact, so it doesn't feel very good & doesn't last very long. And it threw me off. I was not sure how to relax because I had no idea what was going on. I could not possibly fathom how by touching my forehead she could tell if my spine was aligned or not. It felt like a very serious eight or nine-year-old girl was trying to play doctor on my back.

After forty-five minutes of this intense touching, she told me to stand up and then bend over and touch my toes. I still had searing pain in my hip when I reached my toes, but ohmygod I touched my toes!!! It had been weeks since I had been able to bend over at all!!! She told me I had tension in my right lower back and left shoulder and that it created a triangle of pressure and tension that caused my hip to go out of whack. So she realigned my spine and my pelvis and told me to take it easy for a few days while my spine figured itself out. My hip is inflamed, but once the inflammation goes down, there should be no reason it doesn't heal itself, she explained.

I went home feeling drugged, like after a full body massage, and promptly laid down in Savasana to help let my body process what had just happened. I tried to take it easy, and it's true: there was less pain. I tried to sleep on my back the whole night, and we moved our mattress to the floor so it would be a bit more solid, and amazingly woke up this morning almost pain free!!!

There's still a little hint of pain, and I can tell if I overwork it it will just cramp up again and start hurting like crazy. So I'm taking it slow. Again. Another two to three days of rest. Of me being a blob. And then (hopefully) I will be able to do physical activity again!! I cannot wait to work up a good sweat!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

immigration - an honest look at the immigration process for one franco-american couple


It's complicated. It takes a LOT of time. It costs a LOT of money. And more than anything else, it uses a LOT of paper!!

Me immigrating to France took a lot of time and frustration considering we were never 100% in the know as to what was going on, what was being demanded of me, what the process would be like. This was in large part because the process was constantly changing. Since I have been in France the laws regarding immigration have been changed many times. Which is complicated in itself, but even more so when you have started the immigration process before said laws, and thus must continue your own request following the old protocols.

That being said, our decision to move to the United States to found a family &a start our adult lives (careers and houses and all that) took a while for me to accept because, well, let's face it, mostly because I didn't want to have to deal with the stress of all that paperwork and red tape yet again.

Coming to France it was technically me responsible for all of the paperwork. I was petitioning my right to stay on French territory as the spouse of a French citizen. Of course Rémy helped loads during the whole process, but essentially all the pressure was on me. Us going back to the States meant that I, yet again, was responsible for all of the paperwork. I was petitioning my right as a U.S. citizen to bring my spouse with me to live in my country of origin. Oh joy. Luckily for everyone in the process I have a bit of an OCD syndrome concerning paperwork, lists and important legal documents.

So this time, in order to spare us the stress (emotionally, financially and time-wise) with the whole moving-to-France immigration process, Rémy & I decided to take a different approach. This time we decided to listen to the sage advice of our dear friend, Ashley, in regards to the planning process for her wedding:

"It's supposed to be one of the best, most influential moments of your life," she told me one day. "It's supposed to be fun. As soon as you stop enjoying the process and it starts getting stressful, that's when it's time to stop. Put the to-do lists away for another day and just remember to breathe. Take it a day at a time."

Very wise advice, indeed. And while deeming applying for a spousal green card "fun" might be a stretch for most, we tried to keep in mind at all times the fun & excitement moving to the States represented for us. We tried to keep the bigger picture in mind.

While it was neither the shortest nor the most facile process of my life, I will give the U.S. credit for this: the process for applying for permanent resident status in the States is extremely straightforward. Everything is laid out for you in letters and lists. The U.S. Department of State and U.S. Embassy in Paris websites concerning petitioning for immediate relative immigration are incredibly thorough and well laid-out. They leave no room for guessing or last-minute changes, as was often the case on the French side. They are honest with you, straight-forward and to the point. I have to say compared to dealing with the préfecture or the mairie here in Clermont it was a breath of fresh air.

The process for us was a bit different than the process for most people, as there is a specific department set up in the Embassy in Paris that receives married couples just like us who consist of 1 (one) American citizen and 1 (one) French citizen, who wish to move to the United States. The process is thus both shorter and longer. Shorter because a few of the steps most people take are combined into one; it can be longer because many documents need to be obtained in the US and then sent to France and because not everyone is blessed with a lawyer for a father (and can therefore make it through stacks of documents that are neither exciting nor explicit - most documents resemble the directions for filling out tax returns; mind-bogglingly confusing at best).

We started getting the paperwork together early 2010 and planned on heading up to the embassy to petition in April, although we ended up not making it until the first week of July. This was in part because the only time the embassy is open to receiving these documents is between 9:00 and 10:00am on Friday mornings. Meaning both Rémy & I had to have two full days off of work (including a Friday, which is hard to ask for). I was petitioning for immediate relative immigration classification as an American citizen who has been continuously, legally resident in France for at least the six months prior to petitioning. Whew, it's quite a mouthful, I know. For this first part of the process I was required to submit the following documents:

- U.S. citizen (me) and family member beneficiary (Rémy) passports
- U.S. citizen petitioner's (my) titre de séjour (my own green card equivalent here in France) as proof of six months of continuous, legal residence in France
- Two passport-sized photos of the U.S. citizen petitioner (me) and the beneficiary (Rémy)
-Proof of relationship: marriage certificate or copie l'integrale de l'acte de mariage
-Completed forms I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) and G-325A (Biographic Information) for the beneficiary (Rémy)
- Completed form G-325A for the U.S. Citizen petitioner (me)
-Completed form DS-230 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) for the beneficiary (Rémy)
- Petitioning fee in U.S. dollars, cash only, $355 (*NOTE* The fee has since gone up to $420, but can now be paid in either dollars or euros, in cash or by credit card.)

We went to Paris, we showed up at the embassy at 8:30, we were in the waiting room with a numbered ticket by 9:00, and we were quite possibly the only couple petitioning this particular case that morning, or at least most certainly the first called, and we didn't get called to a window until 9:50am!!! Considering they stop taking petitions at 10:00am sharp, we were quite nervous for those fifty minutes sitting in the waiting room.

When we were called we turned in all of our documents to a very kind French woman who was impressed by our organization (apparently many people show up at the embassy without even having printed off the proper forms and who wish to move to the States the following week; this boggles my mind quite literally, and makes me understand the frustrations of these poor desk clerks, dealing with paperwork and rushed, impolite people all day) and then had a quick interview with another woman, this time American, who asked us questions in English about why we wanted to move to the States. It went well and we returned to Clermont eager to receive letters from the Embassy as to whether we could continue in our request.

The letters came, and with them list after list of paperwork we would need to hand in at our next interview. We were required to prepare all documents, and once we had them ALL at hand to sign and send a form to the Embassy stating that we were ready for our medical exam and final interview. The documents required this time were:

- The appointment letter we received.
- Completed form DS-230, part II (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration)
- Passport of beneficiary (Rémy), valid for six months beyond our intended date of entry to the USA
- Visa fees ranging from $379 - $819 per person, payable in US dollars, euros or by credit card (it turned out the fees for us were $404)
- 2 color photos, measuring two square inches, with the head between 1in - 1 3/8in and the eye level between 1 1/8in - 1 3/8in from the bottom of the photo
- Birth certificate for the beneficiary, less than three months old.
- Police certificate for each applicant aged 16 years and over, including France and any other country where applicant has lived for more than 12 months after the age of 16; less than three months old.
- Court and prison records, if applicable.
- Military records, if applicable.
- Marriage certificate; less than three months old.
- UNOPENED medical exam results.
- A "Chronopost" envelope, 2kg with completed return delivery address.
- Evidence of financial support:
    - Completed form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) and supporting documents including but not limited to: copies of tax returns or W-2s for the past three years, a notarized letter of employment, proof of assets
(Since I have not had income in the US for the past three years since I have been living in France I had to have a co-sponsor also fill out these forms, along with a copy of their passport to prove they are indeed a U.S. citizen. We were very very lucky that my dad offered to fill this role for us and are very grateful to both his and my step-mom Jill's help in the whole process.)
- Original documents that establish a relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary for presentation to the consular officer; this includes, but is not limited to plane tickets, photos and correspondence in the form of letters or emails.

We spent a few months collecting all the documents we needed and then sent in the form saying we were ready.

We received our official letter for our final interview and blocked out November 16-19 on our schedules for paperwork. Rémy's parents were generous enough to let us use their car to drive up to Paris, and we couch surfed with some old friends who live near Gare de l'Est while we were there.

Wednesday was Rémy's official medical exam. It was a whole day ordeal. We first showed up at the office of one of the three doctors in all of France who can do these exams, all of whom are in Paris, of course. We turned in some paperwork (proof of vaccinations, medical history, etc) and they gave us some more paperwork. Then it was off to get his blood drawn at one lab (to make sure he doesn't have AIDS); then to get his lungs x-rayed at another lab (to make sure he doesn't have tuberculosis); then to the pharmacy to buy the vaccinations he would have to get to be able to come to the States; and then back to the doctor's office for his full-on medical exam + vaccinations. It went pretty well, as well as hanging out at the doctor's and getting poked & prodded & shots and all that can be. He wrote out his report of Rémy's health and gave it to us in a sealed envelope to present at the embassy during our interview. We paid the 170 euro fee for the visit and left.

Thursday was the big day. We showed up at the embassy almost an hour early. We went through the extensive security measures, worse than airport security. They even made me try my chapstick to make sure there weren't any Alias-like tricks up my sleeve. We took our numbered ticket & sat waiting. Our appointment was at 1:00pm and we got called up around 1:15. A nice French lady explained to us how to pay our fee and told us to sit back down & wait some more once that was over.

We paid (the man inspected every dollar bill to make sure it was real - understandable since they were dollars we took out of our French bank and had thus never actually been in circulation) and then sat back down to wait patiently.

The same lady called us up again to turn in all of our documents. Surprisingly, some of the ones I thought would be the most important (like my dad's W2s) she glanced at quickly and then handed back to me. She made some comments about how it must be nice having a lawyer for a dad at times like these and we politely laughed. She took Rémy's fingerprints and then asked if she had forgotten anything.

I hadn't been too sure what we were supposed to bring to "establish a relationship", and we had printed off about a hundred or so pictures of us throughout our years together, as well as a few lovey-dovey emails and other small tokens of our love for each other. The star I bought for him a few years ago for his birthday, the hearts I left all over the house with things I love about him marked on each one when I had to go back to the States the first time my visa was up, love poems. I asked her if she wanted any of that proof and she looked at me and laughed. "Honey," she said. "If we had had any doubt about your relationship, we wouldn't have asked you to a second interview!"

A mix of relief and embarrassment (how could I have been so crass? did I really think they would be checking up on our "love", stalking us on Facebook or searching for potential blogs? how truman-show of me) flowed through me and we were asked to sit down again and wait to be called for the interview portion.

The same lady who had interviewed us on the first visit back in July called us up to another window. She took Rémy's fingerprints yet again, and then slid the last page of form DS-230 through the window and told Rémy that by signing the form, he swore that everything in the form was true. Rémy, adorable Rémy, misunderstood and thought that he was supposed to swear out loud that the form was true while signing it. It was quite cute.

She asked him if he had a job in the States yet, he said no. She asked me if I had a job in the States yet, I said maybe. And that was it! "Alright, well you should receive your envelope with your visa in it within 7-10 days," she said. That's it?!?? We both stared at each other, incredulous. We had spent the past few weeks preparing for all the possible questions they might ask him. And that was it. She asked us if we had any questions for her.

"How do we know if I've been approved?" Rémy asked.

She rummaged through all the papers on her desk. "Everything in your file looks fine to me," she said. She looked over her glasses at us. "Unless, of course, there's something I should know about that you haven't told me..." We shook our heads. "Well, then I guess you know when you get the envelope," she said. "Have a nice day."

We left Thursday evening to drive back to Clermont and were beyond relieved that the initial stress was over. Now it was just a waiting game until our papers arrived.

To our surprise, the doorbell rang early Monday morning. Who could possibly be sending us a package? A surprise Thanksgiving gift from family back home? Christmas presents even though we told everyone not to send us anything this year since we're basically selling everything we own?

Nope. It was our paperwork. Those embassy workers don't waste any time! Yes indeedy, not even two full business days after our interview in Paris, and we had Rémy's visa physically in our hands!!!!

The next and final step is entering the country. Even after everything we've done, they still have the right to refuse us entry into the States at the border if they find some reason to. We have a sealed envelope from the embassy that is to be opened exclusively by an immigration officer upon entry into the country. If he or she decides we can enter, Rémy's visa and entry stamp officially serve as his "green card" for the first year we are there. He won't receive his plastic card until sometime within that first year.

So there it is. All our long, complicated and sometimes drawn-out immigration process. It might not have been what anyone else would term "fun", but we are SO excited to start our new life in the States and cannot wait to see everyone in Washington State in January!!!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

november in paris

april in paris

a room with a view.

métro, boulot, dodo.




pretending to answer sophie calle.
the phone is broken. :(

in case she cares.

for erin.

that's right, 97 km from paris is a town called courtenay.

which even at 2am i was really excited about.

couch surfing

So Rémy & I have had quite a few surfers crash on our couch during our time together here in Clermont, from friends to acquaintances to complete strangers and it has always gone well. We both love receiving guests, meeting new people and taking people on local adventures. It's a great experience for both parties; both the couch surfers and those who own the couch get something positive out of it.

Some might like the fact that it's cheap, and it's true, it's cheaper than getting a hotel room. But for me, that has nothing to do with it. For me, getting a hotel room and eating in a restaurant around the corner and breakfast at the buffet in the lobby is not travel. Watching TV in your hotel room in Paris or checking your Facebook at an internet café in Prague is not stepping out of the box; of course these things aren't forbidden while on the road, but if that's all you do, you might as well save yourself the cost of a flight, order in Thai food and buy yourself a postcard of Bangkok instead. To me, travel is experiencing the culture, experiencing the day to day life of a city, walking the backstreets and eating in restaurants and drinking in pubs you might not know about if not by word of mouth from locals.

So these are the reasons we wanted to stay with C & E in Paris, who we had already hosted in Clermont earlier this year. Opening up a neighborhood I hadn't explored as much as others, the convenience of having a flat near a metro stop in the middle of all our ridiculously complicated immigration rendez-vous, and an opportunity to enjoy autumn in Paris for a few days one last time.

**** POST EDITED **** (Because I hadn't slept in four days and it was just whining.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

madame coutarel

In the beginning it was just a solution to having children in the States. What possible occupation could make me not regret leaving France before having my babies? France! The country where they essentially pay you to procreate! Up to two years maternity leave, five weeks paid vacation every year, free education; these are just a few of the many benefits to being a maman in France. So with our decision to move to the U.S. to found a family, what job could I have that would give me some of these benefits?


Although it obviously wouldn't be paid, with a little planning, popping a kid out at the end of the school year gives me a few months "maternity leave". Though the day starts earlier, it also ends earlier; I'd be able to make dinner and possibly be there afternoons. I'd be home on weekends. I'd have the same vacations as they do. I'd have summers off to go travel and explore with them. I hate teaching English, but French would be teaching something I don't loathe, so it's a compromise, I told myself. You can do this, I thought. Do it for your children.

Then I started looking at prospective schools and the excitement grew a little. I found a university that actually has a masters program in teaching French in secondary school, even though it's in Arizona, and for the first time in my life considered moving south. Arid & hot with no canopy of green is not generally my cup of tea. What did this desire mean? Nothing, I told myself. Just an exaggeration.

Then came the perusing of the flea markets. Old posters, children's books and encyclopedias in French, old black & white pictures of Paris. The pile grew. Not to decorate my home here in France, oh no. And not as decor for a future house in the States, either. I realized with a gasp! that all this collecting is for my future classroom.

Suddenly ideas and images come flooding in. I start making a list of things to buy before leaving the country. A magnetic map of the regions of France; a cloth calendar with seasons and weather and months and days of the week; a pop-up version of Le Petit Prince. I catch myself doing calculations - would it be cheaper to order thirty copies of Les Mis now and ship it with me, or to order them from the FNAC later from the States? I ask my French friends about their favorite French movies & books & muscial groups & tv shows, not because I want to know what they like but because I want ideas for potential classroom material.

Then come the questions. Is Le Père Noel est une Ordure appropriate cinema for high school students? If I expose them to popular French artists, do I need to censor the bad words? How does one put together a classroom trip to Europe? Will my students think I'm French?

Then the fantasies. My classroom walls are covered with old posters of regions of France. There are postcards with witty word games on the podium. On my desk there's a picture of Rémy & me in front of the Eiffel Tower. My calendar is pictures I've taken in Auvergne. There are plants everywhere, labeled in French (fougère, buis, pensée, oeillet). It's the end of the school year and my students are having a fête; they've made French specialties (crêpes & cheese & croissants, most likely) and are watching Amélie (subtitled in French, of course). The bell rings and my kids smile & laugh as they walk out of the classroom. "Bonnes vacances, Madame Coutarel!" they tell me as they leave. I smile as the door closes behind them, walk over to the chalkboard and start erasing another year's memories.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ah, yes, the post office.

Whoever says snailmail is dead has obviously not walked into any post office anywhere in the entire world very lately. What is it about those places? Seriously. I have been to post offices on four continents now, and never EVER have I walked into one where the overly ridiculously long line hasn't made me want to turn around and walk right out.

"Why is this?" you may ask yourself. "What is it about these places that just scream administrative hell?" Well, folks, there seem to be some underlying trends that apply to all mail facilities.

First of all, no matter how big the post office you are visiting may be, there are only ever two windows open, maximum. Even (and/or especially, depending on how you look at it) during the big holiday seasons. If you see a third employee approaching a closed window, do not get too excited, because either a) they have just forgotten something at their desk, or b) if they DO miraculously open, one of the first two windows will promptly close. This is not to say that post office workers do not deserve breaks or sometimes need to do other stuff that is not at a window, but rather brings up the question, "Why build so many windows in the first place?"

Secondly, the person in line in front of you will always, ALWAYS have some ridiculous business to take care of that is so complicated and takes so many forms and steps that you wonder if maybe stamps have become incredibly hard to come by these days. These transactions will take an eternity and will most likely require the post office worker to leave his/her desk for at least five minutes at a time, while either a) searching for a package somewhere, b) making photocopies of some obsolete form no one cares about, or c) going to ask another employee a question no one in the entire building knows the answer to.

When a window FINALLY opens up, and you approach it, you will most likely hesitate, because the employee behind the desk will be finishing up some paperwork, stamping said paperwork in five different colors and fonts and then filing said paperwork. You will do the "I'm still in line!" dance, rocking back and forth on your the balls of your feet, glancing obsessively between the person who has just moved up to take your place at the head of the line and the open-and-yet-oh-so-closed window you really want to walk up to.

Two possible choices follow:
1) You decide to go for it and walk right up to the counter, even if the post office worker glances up at you with a cryptic glare which means either "go ahead, but this is gonna take a while" or "go to hell", at which point the window next to you will promptly open and the new head of the line will scurry over and start their own transaction before you even have time to blink.
2) You turn around and flash an apologetic look at the new head of the line, then look directly at your feet as you shuffle awkwardly backwards trying to reclaim your lost spot (as the rest of the line grumbles and stumbles unwillingly giving you a little wiggle room), at which point the quasi-open window's staff member will promptly put up their "please see next window" sign and make themselves suddenly absent.

These are post office facts of life, ladies and gentlemen, as unfortunate as that may be. Country, culture, and language may change, but there will always and forever be a line at the post office.

And that, my friends, is why you probably haven't gotten a letter from me in quite some time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

this is why i love my husband

I have always had some slightly disturbing OCD habits involving clocks. When I was younger my sisters and I invented a "game" (although for me it turned into more of an obsession) where we had to freeze in the exact position we were in any time we saw the time turn to a palendrome. So at 10:01 and then 11:11 and then 12:21 we'd be stuck in random positions throughout the house. My mom would walk into the kitchen, roll her eyes and navigate around our tiny bodies, frozen while pouring milk or drinking tea or opening the fridge.

Now I might pause for a few seconds, but it mostly just makes me smile or do a little dance of joy. And it is not just reserved for palendromes anymore. My bizarre fetish has extended to other little number games, too. My favorite of which is on the rare occasion when I catch a digital clock at 12:34.

So when I caught the clock doing just that the other day and did a little dance of triumph/joy, how surprisingly lovely that Rémy did not laugh hysterically at my weirdness but only smiled and added, "You can do better than that, you know..." I looked at him, puzzled. How? 12:34 is the only time that uses all four digits and is in order. I waited impatiently for his answer. He looked at me, possibly stunned that I couldn't figure it out on my own. "Wait until it shows 12:34 and 56 seconds," he replied.

My jaw dropped. Why had I never thought of that? I waited with increasing anticipation until the clock read 12:34:56 and just about keeled over with excitement. And my perfect husband just smiled and shook his head.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


So as I've said, I love Tuesdays because of the market. There are a few stands I love in particular from the region, including one that I discovered not too long ago, maybe a month or two ago, mostly because it's hidden behind some stands I'm not a huge fan of & rarely go home that way so I had somehow missed out.

Well, I try to buy a few things from each stand every time, help support the farmers I really like. One day the woman at this tiny stand says, "Oh! THAT's where you're from! You work at Botanic!" I was a bit surprised. Yes, I work there, but with the bajillion people I see every day, there is no way I remember every face, or if I do that I can place them.

So whadya know, she came into my store and recognized me and then placed my face the next time I came to her stand. So we got to chatting. She's a very passionate woman, very intriguing, and we came to talk about my life in France, that I'm from the States blah blah. She mentions that she has a daughter who would be interested in some private lessons in English, nothing fancy, just to help bring back the English she learned back in high school for her college courses. Now normally I say no immediately. I'm over teaching English, it's not my thing. I feel awkward about it. But for some reason that day I was in a particularly good mood and I said yes. And ever since, every Tuesday morning I go to the market & buy my local produce from the other vendors and then Marilyse comes over and we sit in the garden and read the Magic Schoolbus or Ramona Forever. We agreed on trade, which we both prefer, so for an hour or two of my time I get fresh local veggies. It's a pretty sweet deal, really.

And then last week she invited Rémy & me to her house in Tallende for lunch with her family and then an afternoon roaming their vast fields of fruits and veggies. That day was today and let's just say the day was as fabulous as it the whole affair has been serendipitous. Their house is french-ADORABLE in every possible sense. Lunch was fabulous of course, with fresh-picked produce made with lots of love. And LOTS of conversation. I learned an incredible amount about organic agriculture and agriculture in France in general.

Then it was off to the fields. I was left speechless. They work so hard and are so invested in organic as a lifestyle that it is hard to translate their passion onto paper with just these simple words. To them it is only logical to produce our food using methods that do not pollute our bodies and our earth, and the stories they tell of other agriculturists who grow "organic" produce just for the trend or because they can charge more with an organic label are quite frankly scary.

Favorite quote of the day, M. Martin talking about whether or not it's a profitable profession: "If all we end up with after a year of hard work is ten francs (of profit), hey, it's still ten francs! That means we're not in the hole, so it's a good year. In this world, or in any, you just have to stay positive."

The best part: I know exactly what they're growing so I can get excited as the season progresses. I cannot WAIT for their tomatoes, peppers, green beans, potatoes. Every Tuesday I will wake up giddy for more! It was an amazing experience and it makes me want to get to know more local farmers and see how their gardens grow. With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row?

We'll just see. :)

keep it raw,

...and here is the rest of it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

bob's juice bar & kitchen

Since happening randomly upon the bagel book & making delicious bagels all the time I have had this insane desire to go to Paris (which is very not chelsea due to my love-hate relationship with that ugly beautiful city). Why, you may ask? Why to check out the author's restaurants!

Considering Rémy & I both had to go to Paris for immigration paperwork, we used it as an opportunity to check out the veggie scene in the City of Love. We were happily blown away, which unfortunately now means we have the urge to go to Paris all the time.

Upon arriving at the first glimmerings of dawn on a smoggy Thursday morning, we headed downtown to check out the original shop, Bob's Juice Bar. We got there just as it was opening at 7:30am and the place was deserted save for us. First impressions: Generally groovy. Simple. One main table à la Old Town Café in Bellingham, meaning there's a possibility for chatting it up with other customers. A cactus & a guitar in the window. Shelves of books in both English & French & some pretty damn good ones, too. And a shelf full of paper bags of fresh local produce, which as I understood it could be purchased weekly as an easy way to eat local & in season, like we can at our farmer's market back home.

The guy behind the counter, a fellow Anglophone, was nice but not super chatty. Normal as he was busy opening shop. We ordered two smoothies & lemon poppyseed muffins which came directly out of the oven, moist & warm & oozing with deliciousness. Granted it has been a few years since I've eaten a muffin of any kind, at least since I've been living in France, but those muffins were literally heaven in my mouth. If I could order delivery to Clermont, I would do it every morning.

In the early afternoon we headed to Kitchen, the newest addition to "Bob"'s veggie/Paris scene, which does more lunch food/mealy type stuff than Bob's, which seems to be more breakfast-oriented. (Of course I was at Bob's in the early morning & Kitchen afternoon, so maybe these assumptions are false, I don't know.) First impressions: Packed, which means the food must be fab. Bigger than Bob's, with two long family-style tables. An electric guitar & a piano which rocks. Three or four employees, the type of people who smile at you and you just want to KNOW them, you know? Interesting people, intriguing, and I could say the same about the customers, too. AND, the cherry on top, "BOB" himself (Marc Grossman) greets us! We walk in carrying a Nalgene & he asks us who makes them, etc., interested because their water bottles are known to not leach chemicals into whatever liquid they're holding. We chat about his bagel book, about the states, about food in general. The guy chats up a storm & in the best way. He seems genuinely interested in what you have to say & he just has a presence about him that makes you smile. Chatting with one of the staff members we mentioned that we had been to Juice Bar that morning & she left us this nugget of wisdom: "Yeah, both are awesome but they have totally different vibes. People generally tend to stick with one or the other." It seems totally true. Juice Bar seems much more mellow, Kitchen very chatty & upbeat.

We got there late afternoon, not too long before closing maybe around 14:15 or 14:30 so we weren't trying to be choosy and opted for the "whatever you have left" menu, which turned out to be veggie guac burgers served on a bed of spinach with potato salad & coleslaw on the side. De-lish. Unfortunately Rémy was still healing from his bout of strep throat last week & was not feeling too hot, meaning I lucked out & basically got to eat twice.

We ended up going back the next day for lunch to try out more. Rémy had a pesto veggie burger & I had the gaspacho soup with a raw salad. Smoothies both days, both different, both fabulous. Plus on day two we met an awesome vegan couple from Indiana grâce à la table commune and spent a good hour or two swapping stories & working on Rémy's English! Both days the staff were fabulous, the kind that makes you want to stick around after closing & see what their lives outside of work are like; both days the food rocked, the kind that makes you want to eat there for lunch every day of your life, granted you lived in Paris & make a good chunk of change.

All in all, Coutarel & Coutarel give both resto's two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Thanks Marc for starting something epic & the staff for being awesome & we hope to see you again soon!


I love Tuesdays.

Simple as that. I always have Tuesdays off, there is the local farmer's market and I love chatting with all the local vendors. Plus today it is sunny but not too overbearingly hot AND I got three letters from very-loved friends on the other side of our beautiful globe! It would be impossible to not be in a good mood.

Sooooo much has happened in the last few weeks it's ridiculous. Sicknesses, papers in Paris, job offers. I have a lot to talk about, so I'm going to post it out and try to catch up.

Overall sentiments: it's summer & life is good!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

tuesday market

I am constantly amazed at how un-expensive it is to buy locally & organically grown produce. Tuesday morning is my market day. It's the day I always have off, and the day I love the most at the market because all four of my favorite local growers are there. I love it because I know all of the growers personally and know exactly where my food is coming from. The farthest away is a mere 30km from my front door!!! That's only 20 miles away!!! It is fresh, tastes amazing and is super cheap.

Voilà my steals for today, at a grand total of 14.17 euros:

3 liters of 100% apple juice, lettuce, radishes, garlic,
white turnips, cauliflower and 1 kg of fresh cherries

the cherries are delicious!!!

this is our fav apple juice ever.
we buy at least three liters a week,
one liter of which goes to make homemade popsicles!

I can't wait to make lunch & savour ever last bite, but even more than that I can't wait until next Tuesday when I get to do it all over again!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


It's a lose-lose situation in the stereotype world.

Rémy & I just subscribed to VegeMag, a French vegetarian magazine that costs way more than it should, but welcome to the world of vegetarianism in France, I guess. If you buy into being veggie as "la mode" it will cost you an arm & a leg here (as will buying organic just because it's trendy). But that is a whole other story.

I open it up and one of the main stories is how AMERICA is evil and we are the hugest consumers of animal products and how poorly we treat our animals etc etc. And two pages later there is a huge spread about how New York is a "vegan friendly" city, as opposed to big European cities like Paris.

Make up your mind, stereotypers!!!

Welcome to my world here. I am constantly judged by everyone I come across. Firstly because I was born on U.S. soil, which automatically means I consume 100 kilos (about 220 pounds) of meat a year, drive an SUV, take a bajillion vacations in my personal jet every year, am an avid consumer and if everyone lived like me we would need 5 planet earths.

So then I say, hold the phone, I'm vegan, I buy only local produce (I try to buy exclusively from my region but I refuse to buy outside of France), in season and organically grown/with respect for the environment, I don't own a car and go everywhere on my bicycle or on foot, I have a garden and recycle or compost almost all of my waste, I try to avoid buying anything with packaging and buy exclusively second-hand clothes. And then people think I'm a freak and I get judged for being this weird vegan-creature.

I am sick of telling people I do not eat 100 kilos of McDonald's every year and then one sentence later having to explain to them "what I can eat" as a vegan because apparently in France no animal products means starvation. I am sick of telling people I do not drive a 4x4 and then one sentence later explaining that it IS indeed possible to ride your bike everywhere, even when it rains or it's uphill.

Then again, I would definitely rather be judged for being vegan/eco-friendly (considering these are life choices I have personally made) than for my nationality.

So let's give y'all the breakdown of exactly my carbon footprint for the past six months:

Based on how I was living for this time period, if everyone lived like me, we’d need 1.4 earths.

My ecological footprint breaks down as:
Services: 27%
Mobility: 2%
Food: 26%
Shelter: 18%
Goods: 27%

To support my lifestyle it takes 2.9 global hectares of the earth’s productive area (7.2 tons of CO2).

Annually I consume 1.72 metric tons of CO2. (The average footprint for people in France is 6.20 metric tons ; The average for the industrial nations is about 11 metric tons ; The average worldwide carbon footprint is about 4 metric tons ; The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 metric tons.)

Boo-ya. Still have 0.4 of an earth to reduce and I'm not really sure how I can get it down much further but I sure as hell will try.

Go ahead, try it yourself!!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

recycled words

you taste like the rain.
the kind that pours down
in sheets
all around you
& leaves you wrinkled
like my grandmother/s hands.

the world
without you by my side
is a mere sandbox
in by backyard.
i can touch it
i can play
but it/s all pretend
without you there
to close the gaps
between my fingers
& keep the sand
from slipping out.

ex oh ex oh
but do you think you'll ever truly know?
my thoughts bounce off your body
& your voice electric
like the neon green of my 5th grade lunch box.
an explosion of colour & sound
like rain in clay pots
under my awning.

you stir things
that i no longer knew i had.

if i touch you
at night
it is only to make sure
you're still real.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Saturday, March 27, 2010

decisions decisions.

we've been doing a lot of thinking around here lately. about our lives. about the future. typical questions for those of us in our mid-twenties. trying to figure out where we want life to take us, or rather where we want to take our lives. and it feels like the pieces are coming together. they all fit, the pieces. and i dare say i quite like the picture they make.

the past few years have been spent planning and re-planning a voyage around the world on bicycle. it has been put on hold time and time again. money issues, diplomatic issues, visas, marriages, etc etc etc. we've had second thoughts, then third thoughts, we've changed our itinerary and our agenda more times that i care to think about. now i'm a strong believer in will power. i think if you really want something, generally you can acheive it. not necessarily without a fight, of course, but i truly believe anything is possible. so why can't we just get our shit together, hop on the saddle & ride off into the sunset? i think we've found the answer.

the will just wasn't there.

don't get me wrong. this trip will happen. a long voyage, to many countries, on bicycle. it just won't be happening now, or any time in the near future. in the future, yes, but long-term.

i turned twenty-five this year. that's a quarter of a century. when i was younger, i always saw myself at twenty-five with one kid popped out and another bun in the oven. i never saw what i was doing, but the kids were very clearly there. and when confronted with the big question, the What do you want to DO with your life, who do you want to BE? the same answer has come up for a decade. Mommy. that's who i want to be. i want my babies and i want them now. i'm a modern woman, a strong feminist, who wants to be a stay-at-home mom. riddle me that.

a few years ago i would have gladly popped one out without thinking too much about the consequences. i wanted babies for me, not for them. i'm older now. i know that a baby turns into a kid turns into a teenager turns into an adult. i want to create a stable and loving environment for my children, opportunities to learn, to grow, to explore, to discover the beauties of this world. i want to be there when they get home from school and i want to be able to take them on vacations. hiking in the rockies, camping at national parks, swimming in the ocean. i don't want to be living in france and especially not in auvergne. visits to papi and mami, sure. but not for good.

the decisions started falling into place almost on their own.

we are starting paperwork to immigrate to the united states. i've spent the last five years trying to discover a place to call home, and in my travels across the globe i think i've found that the northwest has always been that place. washington state has always had my heart, from the very beginning. maybe it would have been easier if i had never left, but oh all the wonderful things i've seen since i've been gone. and now coming back it will feel just that much sweeter.

baby, i'm coming home.

we're going to settle down, i'm going to get my master's in teaching and become a high school french teacher like i've always known i would, and rémy's going to work on his english and try to get a job in a national or state park somewhere. doing something outdoors, for the environment. we are going to have a house, with a garden. tippen will have a nice big yard and maybe even some chickens to harrass. we'll make wine from our own vines and we'll make the cutest babies ever. and we'll live happily ever after until our kids are grown up enough to fly the coop and then we'll go on and explore this world through different eyes.

it's easier to sell your business and leave everything behind when you have something to begin with. we're too young right now. we have nothing to sell. nothing to leave behind. we're still moving forward.

and i am so damn excited.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

an experiment in housewivery: episode two

today started incredibly.

i woke from some rather sensual dreams (apparently i really really miss my hubby already) with a giant smile on my face that i just couldn't wipe off for most of the day. i felt fabulous. i felt confident. i felt strong and beautiful and capable of anything.

the very very first thing i did after waking up was to call one of the places i really would like to work to see if they had looked over my resume and if they were interested. surprisingly i was not nervous at all, my french came out like a dream and i found out the reason i haven't been called back yet is because the guy in charge of hiring hasn't been in but gets in tomorrow. splendid.

i ate breakfast in the sunshine through my kitchen window surrounded by the bajillion sprouting plants covering all surfaces of the room and was completely happy. i walked through the market then downtown to the library to return some books and decided that i've waited long enough. today was THE day to chop all my hair off.

and i did!!! this afternoon. and i was not afraid to tell them exactly what i wanted, even when i wasn't sure of the words, and i explained about locks of love and no one had ever heard of it before and there is no equivalent in france and they all seemed really impressed by it. i think it made the lady cutting my hair want to give me a really good haircut, too. she kept telling me "you're so courageous for doing this and for such a good cause!" hahah courageous to chop my hair off. i tried to explain i've wanted this for a while but i don't think they truly understood.

well she did a fantastic job and my shorter-than-shoulder-length hair is gorgeous!!! it suits me great. she even said she prefers me with short hair, which i take as a compliment because i damn well liked my long hair. the catch is rémy has ONLY ever known me with long hair. as is true with most of my friends, too. i mean, it's been, what... since my freshman year of college, so SIX years since i've had my hair short!! crazy. it feels fresh, it feels spring it feels right.

then there was trying to figure out if i can enter the masters program for teaching here in france. it seems ridiculously complicated but i'm confident i'll find a way.

and then i called grandpa and that's when my smile dropped. apparently he was really sick last night and didn't want to talk and that's not a good sign because he's going into surgery TOMORROW MORNING and if he's not feeling good and confident that can have a huge impact on the success of the operation. i'm really worried about him and wish i could be home and want to know what exactly happened last night and have been waiting for a call from my mother for about four hours now so i'm trying not to rip my hair out due to anxiety. not the best note to end the night on.

i just have to remember how amazing 95% of the day was and then worry about tomorrow tomorrow. it's going to be a hard and stressful one with the surgery and job stuff and no rémy to keep me calm, but i've invited my guys over to watch some arrested development and paint all afternoon so that should keep me distracted for the most part.

time for destress herbal tea, meditation and bed! i hope i sleep as well as i did last night!

...and here is the rest of it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

an experiment in housewivery: episode one

i walked my husband to the train station at approximately 04:30 this morning to send him off to paris for a week-long seminar for his work. now we were married in june, which i believe means we're still relative newlyweds, and this will be the longest time we've been apart since tying the knot. since i am currently unemployed and generally spend the time i am not trying to find a satisfying job that helps change the world by tending to my lovely hubby (i.e. cooking, cleaning, nagging & the like) it will be interesting to see how my sentiments of being separated from him for a whole work week play out as the week progresses. as the love of my life himself always says, why not?

day one:

watching the train pull away i teared up a little bit, but probably not enough that he saw from his window seat. (then again he is ridiculously nearsighted, almost to the point of being blind, so maybe he didn't even know he was looking at me anyway. no no, i joke. i'm pretty sure he had his glasses on.)

what is it with us women that makes us have horrifying visions all the time? seriously. i mean we wake up in the morning cuddling a gorgeous and sensitive man who whispers romantic sweet nothings in our ear with the winter sunlight shining through our dewey window and our first thought is "oh my god what if he gets into an accident today on his way to work and this is the last time i ever get to feel his tender embrace?!!" ahhh estrogen.

well these are the types of thoughts that were rushing into my head. the "it's pretty icy this morning, i hope his train doesn't derail" or "i hope there isn't an 8.8 earthquake in paris while he's up there" or "if any skinny french bitch tries to steal my man i'll hunt her down & jack bauer her ass" sort of thoughts. but mostly i thought about what a horrendous week this is already looking to be, really quite stressful, and how much harder it's going to be without him here to make everything seem so much better.

so i rode my bike home in the -3° weather, climbed back into bed just before the sky started to turn light, and when even tippen wouldn't agree to cuddle with me (not that he ever wants to cuddle when i do) i couldn't help but get in a good cry. at least now it's out of my way.

the rest of the day was spent studying medicinal plants, waiting for callbacks from jobs (which never happened), browsing random job search engines, thinking about starting training for a marathon, talking to a woman about the possibility of getting certified as a public school teacher in france (which was of absolutely no help whatsoever), grocery shopping, deciding and then subsequently deciding not to be a midwife and watching clips from last week's the daily show. not the most productive day of my life, but not the least productive either.

and now it's almost bedtime for someone who got up at 4am and i'm wondering what it's going to be like to sleep alone. i usually complain about rémy snoring, taking up all the space in the bed and/or almost pushing me off, stealing all the blanket and generating enough heat to power a small country. i'm thinking i'll be missing all that tonight, though. i'm feeling almost pms-y. like i could burst into tears for no reason and that i wouldn't change out of my pajamas for almost anything in the world. anything except having rémy back next to me, of course.

i'm hoping to get at least some sleep tonight, so it's time for herbal tea, dark chocolate and project runway. let's see if i can make it through day two without any tears!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

hidden treasure

the past few weeks have been spent preparing the garden for the coming planting season. all surfaces of the kitchen are currently covered with various young shoots; four varieties of tomatoes, yellow onions, leeks, broccoli, catnip, lavendar, oregano, thyme. and this week means the addition of many more. plus our usual household plants and sprouts means tippen has had many many opportunities to be a naughty little kitten. he's pretty cute so we usually forgive him.

then there's the preparation of the soil in the yard. we've decided to expand our garden this year. it's going to be about two to three times the size of what it was last year. this is partly because of our desire to know exactly where our food comes from. what better way to eat local and organic than from your own back yard? and also partly because we love gardening! but expanding also means eight to twenty-seven times more work!!!

for now we are laying new beds and turning the soil, adding our compost and making sure the beds are well aerated/moist. and part of digging up new beds is unearthing unknown territory. patches of grass that have been that way for years, decades even. and what i dig up has sometimes made me question the people who lived here before, has occasionally made me frown and has certainly made me smile.

when we dug our first bed last spring we were very surprised to find a very high quantity of
a) glass, and
b) red roof tiles.

now when i say high quantity, i mean high quantity. since digging the new beds i have become literally astounded at the amount of junk we have found in our dirt. we have found enough red ceramic shingles to roof at least one house, probably two. these are almost never fully intact, but they are large enough chunks to wonder how the heck they ever got into the dirt? was the back yard just littered with roof tiles and plates of glass and someone decided "hey, let's throw a ton of dirt on top and problem solved!"?

the glass is a mystery to me, too, because it's not just window glass or beer bottle glass. it is glass of EVERY imaginable color!! clear, of course, but also browns, greens, blues, hues of red, even something somewhere between an orange and a yellow. where did this glass come from? at the beginning i tried to pick out every piece of glass i ever saw glimmer in the winter sun, but this soon became exhausting! now i grab the medium to big sized pieces and any little pieces near my trowel, but don't go out of my way to search & rescue a tiny glimmer in the middle of the plot. it could be like finding the jackpot of all jackpots of beach glass, except dirt doesn't erode as quickly or efficiently as sand. these babies are sharp, trust me. you would not want your children digging in our dirt. even i won't dig in without gloves on anymore, which is too bad because feeling the dirt under your nails is one of the best parts of gardening in my opinion.

so why we find the things we find in the garden remains a mystery to me. but i'll keep digging and maybe someday i'll find an answer. hopefully i won't. it gives me somewhere for my mind to wander during all those hours of zen in the garden.

so here it is. a comprehensive list of every little treasure i have dug up in the garden so far:
- at least a small shopping cart full of red ceramic shingles
- glass (clear, green, brown, blue, red, orange/yellow)
- a rusty sardine tin from the 1920's
- two marbles (one standard size, one a mini and slightly chipped; both of the toothpaste variety, one white & brown, one white & orange/yellow)
- a whole series of what appears to be mini marble-sized balls of red metal, possibly copper or just super rusty. i have found at least twenty of these and have not yet figured out what they could be for. maybe something for the nutrient-content of the soil? i don't know.
- blocks of what appears to be home-made concrete, complete with cement, roof tiles, glass, old magazines/cardboard/paper, large rocks, pieces of scrap metal & nails. super safe, no?
- seven clothespins, some made of colored plastic (easter pink, yellow and blue), some made of wood
- a very rusty rather large nail
- plenty of cigarette butts
- occasional tippen poop
- a bit of trash

may the treasure hunt continue!!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

dear onionhead

please hang in there. i know you are a stubborn bastard and i know that it won't be too hard. not for you. so please, make it through this surgery and hang the hell on.

i need you there on my wedding day.


one third

i have officially completed one third of my list. to the t. as of today i have accomplished 33.333% of the stuff i set out to do 240 days ago.


Saturday, February 20, 2010


i find sculptures fascinating. not so much because of the end product, but because of the process. how someone can look at a hunk of rock and see venus de milo somewhere under all those layers, i find it absolutely incredible. how they slowly, patiently chip away at the unnecessary pieces. and what a violent image it is, too, no? hammering away, chunks of rock and sand and dust strewn about at the feet of the sculptor. and the artist's tools, are they not also found in the hands of vandals? used to demolish houses? used to crack through ice or smash in walls? slice, prick, perforate, penetrate, puncture, stab. these are not pretty verbs, but all of them apply to hammers and chisels and saws and drills. mallets, axes, and water erosion machinery.

it's a violent, violent process it seems.

and yet the end product is stunning, simply spectacular. how do they do it?

and how many of us look at something as magnificent as the west wind (above, by thomas r. gould) and see the hunk of plain marble that it used to be? or admiring a totem pole see the log it was carved from? or better yet, that single tree chosen somewhere deep within a whole forest?

i fear not many of us do.

for a long long time i felt my own life was being chipped away at. pieces of me broken off, parts i can never get back. and just thinking about it hurt. lately i've been seeing it from a different angle. i can't help looking at the rough, course, distorted image of who i am now and imagining the beautiful sculpture that is being revealed. i only hope i'll be finished before my time on this lovely earth is up.

i'll leave you with part of the opening monologue from shadowlands by william nicholson:

"we're like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. the blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. the suffering in the world is not the failure of god's love for us; it is that love in action. for believe me, this world that seems to us so substantial is no more than the shadowlands. real life has not begun yet."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

quarter century club

well, life sure has creeped up on me. i had forgotten how fast time flies when you actually have things on your schedule. and being employed has made me see how horrible i've gotten at time management.

and now all of a sudden my birthday has come and gone and i've realized how OLD i feel. or maybe old isn't the right word. i am well aware that twenty-five is not fifty or even thirty, but it's right around the corner! i am officially approaching thirty freaking years old and i have no idea what i am doing with my life!!! it's a scary concept.

but despite my backward/hippie/gypsy (as my grandpa would say) ways (as in the fact that i have little money, even less career, and no signs of either one coming to me anytime soon), looking back on the past few years i can see how much i have accomplished.

let's make a list, shall we?
- ran a marathon at 19
- graduated cum laude in four years with two bachelor degrees at 22
- lived/worked in taiwan
- moved to france (to work) at 22
- rode my bike to spain from central france at 23
- traveled around the entire US at 23/24 (visiting 32 states)
- married a frenchman at 24
- suceeded in the horrifying process that is immigration
- learned to grow my own food/maintain a garden
- learned to cook amazing stuff (homemade breads, homemade soy milk/tofu, homemade wines)
- sucessfully found a job in a foreign country
- started saving for future bike travel around the world

of course there are plenty of things i'd love to accomplish before i hit the three decade mark, but then again five years is quite a chunk of time when you really think about it. until then i guess i'll just keep following my heart and keep my mind open to life's little surprises and we'll see where in this beautiful world i end up!