Thursday, February 16, 2012

Emotional Rollercoaster

I know between all the members of my family, and the number of days we’ve been living here in France we have been on quite an emotional rollercoaster. There have been bursts of ups & downs for us all spread throughout these past 7 weeks, but I’ve never felt them so keenly as today – and only my own. One minute I’m happy and excited and enjoying the day, the next I am feeling so down & lonely I could burst into tears at any minute. I want to go home! Those are the words echoing through my head this afternoon. Usually taking the dogs for a walk in the park makes me feel great, but today it only enhanced my loneliness. It’s hard being without S during the week. It’s hard not having any girlfriends to call to go out with. It’s hard spending so much time with only myself as company. I’m not used to it. I’m normally a very social person who gets a lot of energy from being around others.

It’s just one of those days when I’m wondering what on earth I’m doing here in this foreign place – what is the point of all this? This house is not my house. My family and friends are not just a phone call or quick trip away. This language is not mine. It’s so hard to get even the simplest of tasks done – I have a package to pick up at the post office, but it takes so much energy to figure out how to get there, where to park, what to say when I get there, etc. that it’s hard to get motivated to go. I had to work up a ton of courage yesterday just to go to the butcher to try and get the cut of meat I wanted. The learning curve is so steep that I’m afraid I’m never going to be able to get up it.

I know it’s just a bad day (for whatever reason), and this will pass, but as of right now I just want to go home!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Really? We packed that?

That phrase had been uttered often in the last couple of days. Apparently I was planning on becoming a master baker here in France (though I don’t bake much at home), and thought that we would be throwing lots of parties (how many platters do I really need?)!

Our stuff finally arrived here at our house from the States on Thursday Feb 7th. First the rental company had to come and clear away all our rental stuff (7am – 9:30am), and then the relocation movers came & started unloading onto our front porch/verandah/deck (whatever you call it!). They had to bring 3 smaller trucks as there was no way the big container could fit down our very narrow streets. They would unload 1 truck outside, move all that stuff inside, then repeat the process with the next truck. It all went much more smoothly than I had expected. It only got hectic when they would all approach me asking “where does this go” one after the other. Often I had no idea where anything was to go! 
 Empty family room/dining area after rental stuff gone...
 Empty master bedroom...

I would try to unpack boxes as we went along, focusing on the kitchen area. Getting the kitchen sorted out was my first priority along with getting our King and Queen beds set up so we would have somewhere to sleep that night. S finally made it home from the US around 2:00pm and could start helping out then – felt very good to have someone else with me. I was lucky enough to be able to lean on a couple of friends to get R&C to and from school so we didn’t have to worry about being able to get out of the driveway to get to school!

The 6 guys worked hard and fast as it was freezing cold outside - literally. I felt so bad for them, and for me as the house kept getting colder and colder as many of the doors had to be left open to move things in. But at least I could stand in front of a space heater and try to warm up. Two of the men spoke decent English so we were able to communicate which was good. They were very nice and hard-working – they even shared some of their pizza lunch with me. I should have bought them lunch! I was so distracted, food was the last thing on my mind. At the end of the 1st day, the trucks were mostly empty, our 2 beds were put together and we were surrounded by boxes.
 Family room/dining room full of stuff...
 Master bedroom - at least the bed is there!

Thursday was also La Chandeleur or Crêpe Day here in France. It was originally a religious holiday, but now it is a day to eat crêpes! I can get behind that kind of holiday. You are supposed to make them at home, hold a coin in your writing hand, and flip the crepe in the pan with your other hand (for good fortune) but since our kitchen was full of boxes, it was a great excuse for us to visit one of our local crêperies. I was worried it might be popular due to the holiday, so I picked up the phone and made a reservation for the 4 of us. I was so proud – I spoke all in French, he spoke French back to me, and so it went and I had successfully made a complete phone call in French. Woo hoo! We went to Crêperie La Bonne Humeur near our train station and had a fun and delicious meal.

Friday Feb 8th, the movers showed up at 8:30am to start putting furniture together, unpacking boxes, etc. Man, oh man, we brought waaaaaay too much stuff. We all could barely put things where they were supposed to go as there were too many things in the way. Once the movers got my 2 kitchen hutches in their place, and the kitchen table, I could really go to town determining where on earth I was going to put all our kitchen stuff. Our kitchen is very tiny without much cabinet space, so we have to use the dining area (the hutches) to hold a lot of our stuff. I managed to fit most everything we use more often and sent the “special” items down to the basement. We are lucky that we have a large part of our basement that is actually finished with wardrobes and shelves built into 1 end of the room. There we can store all of our extra stuff – clothes that we don’t need, extra food items, serving platters, etc. The bad news was that out of the 16 pans I shipped over, only 5 will work on the induction cooktop that we have. I really wish I had been told ahead of time that the cooktop required special pans. Now I’ve got useless pans and I need to go buy a couple more. Good news is I need less room in the kitchen for pans!

While I was concentrating on the kitchen, Sean was concentrating on building all the furniture items that we had purchased at Ikea before we left. The relocation company brought the Ikea boxes over on the boat, but wouldn’t put them together since they hadn’t taken them apart. We bought bed frames and nightstands for both girls, a nightstand for me, 4 wardrobes…many French houses & apartments do not have closets, so you have to use wardrobes. One of the bigger bedrooms here actually has a big built-in closet but I decided I’d rather have my bedroom be the one downstairs with the bigger bathroom with walk-in shower. So we needed to buy a bunch of wardrobes to house all our clothes. Can you tell me why on earth I shipped over clothing and shoes that I haven’t worn in years? What was I thinking? I have a feeling I’ll be cleaning out these wardrobes over time…
 Took a break from unpacking to enjoy a beautiful sunset

Our exploring time has been cut short by all this moving-in stuff, but now that we are getting more settled, we’ll be able to be more free to get out there soon…
To keep you going:


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

To Eat or Not to Eat – that is definitely NOT the question!

Just where or what!

We often use eating to start the planning of our trips and excursions. "Where is there a good place to eat? OK, what can we see that is around that?" I know it’s not the normal way to be a tourist, but it serves us well. We often get to other parts of cities that we wouldn’t have seen if we had just stuck to the typical tourist destinations. When we are planning our jaunts into Paris, I always consult my Excel file of places to eat to find us a place to have lunch or dinner. There are times where we do wander around and stumble upon a restaurant, and there are times we are desperately hungry and all plans fly out the window. Flexibility is good, but I also find that having some key destination helps guide us. We love the search for a new, good restaurant.

Now I’m going to say something that I know is going to upset a lot of people. Some of you may have guessed by now, but I’m not a big French food eater. I know, I know. When I cook for myself (& kids by default) I tend to focus on quick, lowfat meals, and many French recipes do not lend themselves to those 2 descriptors. When eating out, we want to enjoy something tasty, enjoyable, and something we can recognize. I’m a slightly picky eater, and S is much worse than me, so our palates are a little limited. Add in my shellfish allergy, and it can cause trouble when trying to find some French food to eat. We don’t do much pork or veal, we like our beef cooked (French like it bloody & no matter how many times you send it back, you are bound to still have red/pink meat), we don’t do organs…the list goes on and on. So you see the limitations in going to eat at French restaurants. I love the yummy sauces, it's the protein items they put in them...

No, that's not chicken, that's sweetbreads

On top of our pickiness, there is another problem with heading out to eat French food. I hate to say this also, but many places to eat are not up to par with their food. Even the French will admit that the quality of many restaurants/cafes/brasseries have gone downhill. Yes, sometimes you will still get lucky just trying a random place, but often you do need to rely on the recommendations of others. And many of the good places can be hard to get into – you need to plan ahead and make reservations. We haven’t been good at that thus far, but will be making an effort to improve soon. One person made a comment that we liked – something to the effect of “French food is very deep but not very wide”. We have found this to be pretty true. While the quality of the dishes can vary greatly place by place, the actual selection of dishes offered can be very narrow. It’s amazing how so many French eating establishments offer the exact same dishes. How can every café in St. Germain have the house specialty of slow-cooked lamb shank in prunes? Now I know part of this depends on what type of restaurant you are in: Cafes offer certain foods, brasseries offer certain foods, etc., but I still would expect SOME variety on the menus. At least it gives you a sense of comfort knowing what to expect - if you find a dish you love, you can try it at many different places. And all those places just look so darn cute and French - how can you resist?

 OK, one thing we would like to know: what’s with the pig? The French loooooove the pig! They put jambon (ham) or lardon (bacon – but basically barely cooked so pieces of fat) on or in everything. We don’t eat ham, and like our bacon crispy, so that’s a challenge. There have been times when one of us has accidentally ordered the wrong item, and sure enough, the lardon is pretty tasty, but it’s a little too smoky and rich so a little goes a long way. And where the heck is the turkey? I know it’s not a native bird here, but surely they could introduce it! We miss turkey – especially R. Ham is just not the same. They do have Subway sandwich shops here & I’ve seen R’s eyes light up when we see one, but we have yet to stop in. I wonder if they will have a turkey sandwich for her? I know they offer Indian chicken sandwiches…

We have had some great meals and some ok meals. I don't think we've had a bad one since we moved here. I'm very thankful for all the blogs I read written by expats in France as that is where we get so many of our recommendations. If any of you have any as well, please send them our way. We have promised our friend to try and write some restaurant reviews, and we will definitely try. I just don’t want anyone to be disappointed by the number of non-French restaurants that we visit! And don’t worry, we will be adding traditional French ones to our repertoire – as long as they offer chicken and fish in addition to their sweetbreads and snails!