'Tis the season to be...busy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How on EARTH is it already mid-November?! And how did my first day of work suddenly turn into a month later?! I so wish I could just stop time for a bit, take a deep breath and reflect on what is now my reality. I see pictures of my new nephew that I still have yet to meet and can't believe he's already transformed from being a pink, wrinkly newborn to a completely cognizant infant. Not to mention that my other nephews are growing at lightning-speed like weeds in the summer without regard for their aging Auntie who's scared they won't recognize her soon.

And now Thanksgiving is upon us - less than a week away - and my built-in nostalgia-sensors are at full-strength. Since I can't make it home again this year for the family feast fest, we decided to host it chez nous once again to keep the tradition alive (at least one more year - I'm swearing that I'll be celebrating in the motherland next year). We've ordered the 17-pound turkey (fingers crossed it actually arrives), stocked up on the essentials for cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole and mashed potatoes, and we're planning to clear out the living room this week to make space for all the food and friends we're anticipating.

To help with the organization, we took a trip to Ikea this weekend and came home with more than we set out to get, including a poinsettia and some red garland. The holidays are already upon us and it's freaking me out! I've never felt so unprepared for the season before - it's like my brain is busting at the seams with thoughts of turkeys, Christmas gifts, new year's eve celebrations, knitting projects, grocery lists, and what I'm going to wear to work tomorrow. When did I become an adult? And when can I go back to letting someone else take care of all that stuff again?

I know what my mom will be saying right about now - something about how great it is to be an adult, to grow a family and continue the traditions. She'd also probably mention that I should just take it one day at a time, or in this case at least, one holiday at a time. I guess I just tend to get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the to-do, it's hard to stop and check-in to reality for a second and cherish what it's really about.

One thing's for sure, when the temps drop and the holidays start rolling through, my stomach starts craving all things wintry and warm. On those rare evenings when I've found myself with some spare energy, I've taken to the kitchen to feed my cravings. And usually, that means something that I've been missing from my mom or Aunt Janie's kitchen - like soups and stews and Spanish rice. My most recent craving-killer was something my mom used to cook for us that I know her mom cooked for her when the air was extra chilly and squash season was in full swing. It's a simply soupy dish called calabaza con pollo, and it's all I could think about eating for more than a week straight. But, no recipe I found was exactly what I was looking for, so I noted the spices and concocted my own recipe along with my mom's recipe for Spanish rice and came up with one of the best dishes I've ever made. One thing I'm very thankful for is having a mom who's always known how to balance her time between work and family, and who, growing up, always managed to put a hot meal in front of us despite her hectic life. It's always difficult to be away from my family during the holidays, but I'm happy for the simple memories of family meals that I'm able to recreate from so far away.

Calabaza con pollo

2 chicken breasts, cubed
1 zucchini, sliced or diced
1 onion
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tomato paste/concentrate
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Season chicken with salt and pepper and saute in a deep skillet with the olive oil until cooked through.

Add onion and saute for 2 minutes, until translucent. Add zucchini and saute for another minute or 2. Add remaining ingredients, cover the pan and leave it to simmer on the stove (mid-low heat) for about 15 minutes.

Serve over Spanish rice and eat with tortillas (we had some corn tortillas that I brought back from Texas and could only have been happier if they'd been my mom's homemade flour tortillas).

* Also, I remember this dish being served with corn from time to time, but we didn't have a can lying around so I left it out.

First day fabulousness

Monday, October 19, 2009

I wore 4-inch heels on my first day of work and I surprisingly didn't regret it. It might have had something to do with my adrenaline pushing at full speed for most of the day, but I'm sure it helped that I was spending my entire day working in one of the most luxurious offices in Paris for the finest luxury goods company in the world. Without going into too much detail, I will say that I really lucked out with my job search, and I could not have dreamed up a better place to kick off my career in Paris - French-style.

I'm not going to lie - my new job (assisting a team in a financial capacity) is no walk in the park, but I'm so thrilled to be back in the saddle again, with looming deadlines and major responsibilities. From the moment I walked in the door, I felt the pressure of expectation that I had been so dearly missing and longing for these past several months. My colleagues put me straight to work...in French, bien sûr, leaving me no time to stop and ponder the subjunctive or consider synonyms for my overused adjectives. Like I said: no walk in the park. But, I surprisingly soaked it all up, understood every last preposition as if my life depended on it, and came to the conclusion that I'm really going to like my new job.

I've never been so happy to be so insanely busy in my life. It feels great to be challenged; to know that even though I'm good at something now, I'm probably going to be great at it soon. Really, the only time I felt remotely inadequate was when I took a tour of the floor and had to meet (read: make small-talk) with everyone else. I'm waiting (impatiently) for my professional communication skills to improve, but I'm proud to have already made it this far.

I've still got a long way to go, I know. For the moment, though, I'm ecstatic! And, after putting in a nearly 10-hour day, I came home to a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of the most delicious champagne I've ever tasted. Then, I was treated to a three-course meal at my favorite restaurant in Paris (and the same one that we dined at after our wedding). Gui definitely knows how to celebrate new beginnings!

I will say, though, that getting into a new routine that involves early evenings and even earlier mornings is not going to be so easy for me. I've been so used to going to bed and getting up at my own leisure, that waking up before it's daylight is not such an easy transition. So, I'm off to get some rest before another exciting and busy day commences. Tomorrow I'm looking forward to digging my feet into the pile of work that I've gotten myself into, but I think I'm going to give my heels a rest and maybe sport a pair of stylish flats instead.

Funny how it all works out.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I feel like it's the first day of school tomorrow. I've been running around the apartment getting my paperwork and supplies ready, my bag packed and picking out an outfit for what will be my first day of work in nearly two years. And I am SO excited!

To backtrack a bit, I had a really successful interview with that French speaking recruiter a couple of weeks ago. She sent me on to interview with the company she was recruiting for that same week. It was a terrifying experience.

By this time, I had been sick with what was probably laryngitis or strep-throat for more than a week and my sexy-phone-operator voice and coughing fits did not make it any easier to interview in a language I'm still struggling to speak. I met with the human resources director for the company and found myself having an incredibly hard time understanding her. At one point, my focus during the interview seemed to shift from highlighting my qualifications to stifling my persistent coughs. As I sat in her corner office with a perfectly centered view of the world's most famous radio tower, I realized that this was my chance to get my foot in the door, and I was scared I was letting it get away because of a stupid cough. A few minutes into what was becoming a train wreck of an interview, she excused herself from the conversation to read through what the recruiter had sent her detailing my qualifications and requirements. I used those precious few minutes to gather my thoughts and come up with a way to get back on track with the interview.

When she returned to continue the Q&A with me, I did everything I could to assure her that I was well qualified for the job, that I was ready to continue my career, and that I would be a great fit with the company. She seemed mostly pleased with what I had to say and eventually asked me to sit down with the person whose position I was interviewing for to get more details about the job. This time it was in English, and I have to say that I felt rather confident when she said she'd be in touch, which is why it was so surprising to me when a week passed by and I hadn't heard a thing. Not a "yes" or a "no" or a "we're still thinking it over" - rien.

I thought back about what could've gone wrong; about my qualifications and French speaking skills; about my fumbled interview with the HR director. And, I convinced myself that I was just not cut out for the job.

Then, the next day, someone calls me late in the evening from the same company but from an entirely different department. She explains that her boss received my CV from HR and wanted to see me the next day for a job in their department. I was baffled about who this person was, why they wanted to see me so soon and what type of position they were recruiting for. Up until this point, I'd been dealing entirely with the recruiter and I started wondering if this phone call was even legit. Despite not having much time to prepare for the interview - especially for one that's for a mystery job in a mystery department - I got myself up the next morning, put on my suit and heels, and made my way to the fanciest street in Paris to see what was going on.

It turns out that the job is quite different from the one to which I previously applied, but it's slightly more intriguing. I met with the entire team that same day, and I was really surprised at how perfectly matched I seemed to be for the opening in their team. They must've been equally surprised because they offered me the job less than two hours after I bounced out of their office with a grin on my face.

I still don't know why my CV was passed along or what became of the other job, but I'm chocking it all up to fate. It amazes me how all of the pieces just fell into place, and I'm so astonished at how incredibly well my new job suits me (despite the fact that it's mostly in French, bien sûr). Tomorrow's my first day, and I might end up hating or loving my time there, but I've got to say that I've always put my faith in fate and it would seem that it has yet to ever steer me wrong.

I can speak French?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It's nearly 5 a.m. and I can't sleep. Besides the fact that I "may be coming down with something," my mind is going at full speed, churning with French adjectives while my stomach does a similar dance as it moves from queasiness to fluttering over my conflicted feelings of hunger and excited anticipation. You see, I haven't been completely open about what's been going on in my life lately mostly because what's been going on seemed so mundane, boring and depressing. Ever since I returned to Paris, I've been struggling to find my way out of a big, messy confusion over what comes next. I think I'm at one of those profound moments in my life where I need to make some big decisions about the direction I want to take, and I haven't been very successful with sorting through my thoughts adequately, nor eloquently. But, within a matter of hours, it seems, some things happened that gave me the boost I've needed towards regaining the composure and confidence I'd lost in all my messy introspection.

I didn't mention this before, mostly because I was scared of the possibility of failure and then the subsequent explanation of failure I'd have to provide, but the day after I flew back to Paris, I interviewed for a part-time office job that I had learned about through a friend while on vacation. It was for a short-term contract that started in mid-September and ended just before Christmas, and it was right up my alley both in terms of my expected career path and timeline. It also seemed like a job that would provide the perfect scenario for our situation: by the time Gui received his green card, my work contract would be expired and we'd pack up our things and make our move to the US, all the while, I'm working and we're saving a bit of money for the big move. Well...I didn't get the job. And, although the rejection had nothing to do with my qualifications (so I was explained), I was very discouraged and demoralized after receiving it.

I spent some time afterward rethinking everything - pondering my life and its meaning, my career path and its direction, and analyzing every step I'd taken that had gotten me to this point: jobless and insecure. My apathy reached the point where it was rubbing off on Gui, and for a few days I convinced myself that perhaps I was tainted goods, no longer cut-out for the real working world in which I was once a fearless contributor.

However, having amazing friends and family, as I do, my apathy was greeted more and more with reassurance and faith, and I was convinced to pick myself up, shake myself off and get back to hitting the pavement. So, I worked on my CV and for the past week or so, I checked Paris job-banks daily - sometimes twice or thrice daily - for any job that caught my interest. At first, I was a bit disappointed with my search - it seemed every job that appealed to me and matched my qualifications required a fully bilingual candidate. And, although my French skills are far beyond what they were when I did this whole job-search thing the first time around, I'm still far from fluent (oh, how naive I was way back when I thought 6 months would be enough time to master the French language). Still, I sent my CV and lettre de motivation out to the few posts I found requiring an English-speaker, and I hoped for the best. After a few days, I started getting anxious about the lack of responses, but I trudged on with my daily routine of scouring the web for anything at all enticing to my newly-determined self. Then, on Wednesday, I received a late-afternoon phone call from a company I'd submitted my profile to last week for a job I wasn't exactly head-over-heels for, but still curious about. They asked me a few questions relating to my schedule preference, my education and background and my salary requirements. Then, they asked me to come in for an interview today. I was stoked about the interview, if not equally so about the possibility of a job, but there are a few things about the position that make it less than ideal. The most notable is that it's a part-time job with no possibility of ever becoming full-time. Nonetheless, I regained a bit of lost confidence from receiving the call and went about my day. Then, just before bed on Wednesday, Gui and I were talking about how the job-hunt was going, and I decided to open up my computer to get his feedback about some postings I'd seen earlier in the day. We came across an interesting ad that I hadn't seen before for a position that really intrigued me. I was a little worried about sending in an application since the job was posted back in mid-September, but I got over it and stayed up until after 1 a.m. fine-tuning my CV and LOM before clicking the send button. To my surprise, I awoke this morning to find I had missed a call from the job's recruiter, who was contacting me not more than 10 hours after I'd submitted my application. But, as refreshing as it was to be contacted so quickly, I was less than charmed about returning a call to the very French-speaking recruiter. After replaying the message about five times to catch all the details, I jotted down a few things to say in French, took a deep breath and pressed talk.

My call was answered and after explaining who I was and why I was calling, I politely asked if it would be OK to continue the interview in English. I knew that asking to do this could jeopardize my candidacy, but I explained that although I can understand and speak quite a bit of French, I don't feel like I can adequately express myself in a professional manner. To my surprise, my request was met with the explanation that although the job would be conducted almost entirely in English, working and living in France requires that I learn the language, so it would be to my benefit to continue in French. This was followed by a reassurance that my niveau of French seemed quite impressive, so much that I shouldn't be worried about not being able to express myself. And, with that, I pulled up my theoretical boot-straps and impressed even myself with how competently I was able to articulate my qualifications and communicate my interest in the job. When it was all done, I had secured an interview and could barely recall that the whole thing had been done in a language I thought I barely knew. I was thrilled!

I'm not sure if things will go as well for me during the interview, but I've accepted the fate of both possible outcomes. I realize that this could end with another rejection and then the admittance of said rejection, but really, I'm fine with that - it's just life. More than anything, I'm taking away from this small success a renewed positive perspective about what lies ahead. I feel like I've awakened my inner businesswoman and reminded myself of my worth. Knowing that the direction I'm taking demands confidence, optimism and above all, patience should help me stay on track and endure the inevitable bumps I'll come upon while navigating down this road. Wish me luck!

And...we're back!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It was a rough ride home and I came back to Paris more than 30 pounds lighter than I left Dallas (damn you, Air France for your crazy expensive and restrictive luggage allowances!). I decidedly and emphatically hate trans-Atlantic travel. But, man, is it good to be back home! There's something to be said about one's own bedroom. It's not like my time in the States was anything less than spectacularly comfortable (we had our own bedroom and bathroom for more than an entire month), but it's the whole living-out-of-luggage and using travel-size toiletries thing that gets old fast. And after nearly two months of bouncing around from here to there, it feels good to be back in the saddle of my everyday life.

And Paris. Lovely Paris. I'm so glad I came back when I did: when summer is winding down and autumn is but an arm's-length away. This is my favorite time in Paris. At home, we restocked the fridge, gave our place a good scrub, opened the windows and let the late summer breeze air the place out. I've managed to reunite with some missed faces and catch-up on what's been buzzing around the city while I've been AWOL. Yesterday, we took to the Marais to see a friend's artwork on display at the Galerie Thuillier, then spent the rest of the day meeting up with like-minded friends soaking up the perfect Paris day. We even caught up with the techno parade running down boulevard Saint Germain for a few minutes of people watching and leg-shaking. I think I finally understand the French obsession with techno music - even the most rhythmically-challenged person can keep the beat.

So, la rentrée has been pretty pleasant and painless and my moleskin is once again filling up with things to do (I've got a carte de sejour renewal coming up this month) and places to go (a close friend recently moved to Bordeaux, so a trip is in the works). Not to mention that there's the looming green card business to take care of for Gui and dates to be set for our impending return stateside. But it's nice to feel like life is carrying on after such a long hiatus. I'm happy to be home and right now, Paris is the only place I want to be!

On vacation

Friday, September 4, 2009

There have been a couple of times in the past few weeks when I sat down to update my blog, but gave up after trying and failing to gather all of my thoughts into one focused and understandable blog post. My mind has been going in every which way since I've been on vacation, and I hardly know where I am these days.

Being back in Austin has been so amazing, albeit completely exhausting. My original intention when coming back for my long visit (I've been here since the end of July, people!) was to catch up with family and friends, get reacquainted with my hometown and scout out the job market. And, I can say that I've done exactly what I'd intended to do during these past weeks, although with mixed results.

Getting back into the groove of the city took longer than I'd expected it to. When I first arrived, I felt really confused about where my place was here and what my feelings were about our impending return to Austin. But, slowly and surely I regained a bit of an identity with the city, identified where I fit in and remembered clearly why I want so badly to get back to this place (and no, it's not just for the food). While Gui was here with me, we reunited with friends, caught up on old times and fell back into the swing of life as if we were still locals. After Gui returned to France, I was unexpectedly (although gladly) asked to spend a week in Dallas, to help out with my newborn nephew. As happy as I was to spend some time bonding with baby Xavier, the week away from Austin put a bit of a kink into my job-hunting plans. I never intended to find a job during my time vacationing in Austin, but I wanted to test the waters, so to speak, and check out what kind of market I'd be diving into upon our return. I wasn't really able to do that while I was in Dallas, so when I returned to Austin last week, I was determined to make some progress. What I quickly discovered though, was that this city's job market is nothing like it used to be and I'd be going up against some stiff and brutal competition. Giving myself a week to square away solid leads was an unrealistic goal, so I made the decision to back off and forget about job search until Gui and I have a more concrete strategy and timeline for moving back.

Now, I know this sounds ridiculous, but being on vacation for so long has been a lot more difficult than I had imagined it could ever be. Thank goodness we're blessed with the most hospitable and loving friends anyone could ever dream of having. There's just no way we could have enjoyed our time here so much nor been more comfortable than we have been had they not been so extraordinary. What's been so exhausting for me, is the traveling I've had to do to see my family that doesn't live in Austin anymore. Being here for so long, I've found myself planning and playing as if I've already moved back. I started yoga classes again, reestablished some new and old favorite hot-spots and spent some time going up and down the aisles of my favorite grocery stores. I've reconnected. So, it's hard to imagine that this is my last weekend in town for a while; that after a short stint in Dallas and Kansas, I'll be back in Paris - back to my life and my home. I'm hoping, though, that by the time my plane takes off from DFW airport, I'll have a better sense of what's important to me now and what our next step will be. I'm hoping that my mind will be more settled and focused - aimed and locked in one, solid direction.

Fashionless in the fashion capital

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's crunch time and with only two full days left before we start vacationing, I'm scrambling to tie up some loose ends, organize our apartment and get everything packed in time for our Wednesday flight. In the midst of all this sorting and packing, I'm noticing a trend with my packing rationale, and I'm starting to realize how segregated my wardrobe is. Living in two different yet equally dashing cities has caused a multiple-personality disorder in my closet. It's interesting to see how how many articles of clothing I have hanging or folded that have never seen the light of a Paris day. And, it's crystal clear to me that my fashion sense is split up into two very distinct wardrobes.

My Paris wardrobe is so much younger, edgier and totally trendy. Black flats, low-heeled boots, tapered-leg jeans, tunics, and layering sweaters in monochromatic tones. Practical streetwear for my city-girl lifestyle. And my rain boots and umbrella are always within arms' reach in the likely event that the rain clouds roll through after a perfectly sun-drenched morning. Ah, Paris.

Contrastingly, my non-Paris wardrobe (or I suppose my Austin wardrobe) consists of flip-flops, multicolored tank-tops, strappy stilettos, pumps and sandals, tube-tops and patterned dresses. Anything that I can get an even tan in while running around during the day or be comfortable walking in from the parking garage to happy hour in the evening. Rarely is there a need for sweaters or boots, umbrellas or coats, yet a week's worth of swimsuits are always on hand should a spontaneous trip to the pool or lake be required.

Sifting through my "take" and "don't take" piles, it's pretty clear to see the lines that divide my two-faced wardrobe - comfort and color. Paris is a walking city, and that's pretty evident by the amount of flats and low-heels that I'm planning to leave behind while I'm vacationing in Austin. I thought I'd wean myself back into wearing longer talons by sporting a pair while out on the town last night, and man did I remember quickly why heels and Paris just don't mix! It's just as well, though because I seem to fit in well enough with the flat-shoe-sportin' boho crowd that I frequently find myself surrounded by. And, as funky as I consider my Parisian-leaning wardrobe to be, I find it's far less colorful than its American counterpart. I don't know why exactly, but I've somehow managed to steer far away from the festive hues while running through the rues. I'd like to think that it's a side-effect of the less-than-festive attitude I've adopted since becoming a resident of the "least friendly European city," but I'm pretty sure it's simply a case of wanting to fit in. Bright colors can get big stares here and I'm of the kind that favor blending in more than sticking out, so I tend to keep it neutral.

I'm excited about stepping back into my heels without the added worry of how far the walk will be to the metro, and I'm looking forward to going strapless once again without the added self-consciousness that comes from gawking, sleeve-wearing pedestrians. Paris may be the best-dressed city in Europe, but although I'd like to think that I contributed to that title, I'm pretty sure I stayed at home when they took that survey. So, I'm enthusiastically leaving comfy and drab behind for these next few weeks to remind myself what it feels like to be part of a fashionable world without paying mind to the typical concerns of a foot-traveler. Which, coincidentally, gives me another excuse to do some shoe-shopping.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Friday, July 17, 2009

I don't remember when it happened. I just remember being surprised at how real and perplexing my feelings were. How could it be that just when Gui and I start to get serious and down-to-business about our plans to move back to Texas, I begin to have emotional attachment issues with my current home? I suppose it was crazy for me to never consider that I'd be sad about leaving Paris; that I'd miss the place and people; that I'd be nostalgic about our impending departure. Well, I am.

Although nothing is set in stone, yet, there is a very real possibility that I could be employed before heading back from our upcoming Texas vacation, meaning that our far-flung plans to live back in Austin could be a reality before the year is over. We've started the paperwork for Gui's green card, and despite what we've read on websites and forums, the lovely lady at the consulate told us that we could have the answer to our petition in just a few months (given that we do and provide everything that we're asked to). 'Gotta hand it to us Americans for our efficiency.

Still, as the possibility of leaving Paris looms over me, I find myself feeling overwhelmingly conflicted about my sentimental feelings. This is not going to be as easy of a step to take as I had presumed, and that makes me both surprised and concerned. What if we're not making the right decision to move back now? What if we fall on our faces? What if I get there and realize I want to be back in Paris? Well, I don't really know the answers to any of these questions, but I suppose I'll never know without giving it a shot, right?

As far as my career goes, nothing would be better for me than to be back in the States where I can more easily gain more work experience and continue my education. Obviously, as far as my family is concerned, with two new nephews on the way this year, there's really no place like "home." But, it's knowing how enthusiastic and optimistic Gui is about moving back to Austin that puts it all into perspective and makes me realize that we really are making the right move despite my ambivalence. His willingness and excitement to leave the comfort of his home, family and friends to support my career and start a new life abroad really motivates me to make it work. And, man do I want to make it work!

So, if all goes as planned, and things like the unemployment rate or sweltering hot summer don't cause us too much grief, we could be calling Austin home again in a few months, and that makes me squeal with delight! Even if it also means I'll be shedding some tears while bidding à bientôt to Paris.

My Maintenant

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Taking the cue from my sister, I've decided to pull myself back from my blogging hiatus with a summary post of what things are looking like 'round here these days. I hardly know where to start! The most notable difference in my life right now are my eating habits. Last week, I had all of my wisdom teeth removed during what I like to refer to as a nightmarish, hell-of-an-operation. My bottom teeth were impacted and, as the doctor confirmed, presented a few difficulties during the surgery. Beside the pain, puffy cheeks and complications from the surgery, the after-effects from the general anesthesia left me feeling like my mouth had been in a fight with Edward Scissorhands. I know time heals everything, and as I start to recover from the trauma caused by my everyday dental operation, I'm realizing how typical my experience really was. That's not to say I'd ever do anything like that again, but I find comfort in knowing I'm not the only one who suffered so horribly. Is that bad?

Puffy cheeks.

Gui and I are preparing for our big Texas trip coming up in about two weeks now. It's hard to know where to even begin planning such a long trip; I'll be gone for nearly two months and Gui's coming back after one month. Of course we have plans to see family, I've got my 10-year high school reunion to attend (yikes!), and we'll be making the rounds to see our friends and their families. But, I guess we're mostly looking forward to taking a peek at what our lives could be like living back in Austin. We've started the paperwork for Gui's green card, and I've been scouring the web for jobs and polishing my CV in preparation for the impending job-hunt. Until now, the idea of moving back had been more of a surreality than reality, but if all the chips fall into place as we hope, I could be starting a new job while I'm still on vacation. The job market is a vastly different place in Texas than it is in Paris, and that's something I'd sort of naively forgotten. Over dinner last night, we went over possible scenarios and tried to work out details for dilemmas we might find ourselves in, but it's just impossible to know how it will (or won't) all work out. We're resolved to go at it confidently, but aware of the reality of our situation and the possibility of disappointment.

So, these days, I'm spending my time recovering and planning, although I wish I was spending more time using the new sewing machine I purchased a couple of weeks ago.

It's nothing fancy, but it's got a European plug and I was hoping when I bought it that it would be the creative catalyst I feel is missing my from vie quotidienne. I still have a couple of weeks before vacation starts, though and I'm thinking I might be able to crank something out for one of my new nephews who are scheduled to arrive soon. And, can I just say how stokedI am for a family full of boys?!

The Air France flight is on my mind

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I can't stop thinking about the passengers on flight 447, about their families, their friends and loved ones who are trying to make sense of it all.

It just makes me feel so unbelievably sad.

And lucky, and slightly apprehensive.

Is it crazy that I'm still holding out hope that they might all be floating around the Atlantic on life boats waiting to be rescued? Crazy or not, I'm hoping and praying.

So, I've been thinking

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's hard to believe that Gui and I moved into our apartment just over a year ago; that last year we were organizing our new life as a married couple - running through the aisles of Ikea weekend after weekend, building and rebuilding furniture; that I was setting out into the unknown world that is Paris with no friends nor any idea of what my life would be like here. It's crazy how much can change in one year.

Paris has gone from being a confusing labyrinth of roundabouts to an easily navigable town wherein lie my regular hideouts, favorite patisseries and most-frequented shoe shops. I know where I can go if I need to pick out buttons for my latest knitting project, if I'm all out of baking soda or need to get a gift for out-of-town guests. Meeting friends or family for dinner in the middle of town is no longer a strenuous task and I know exactly how long it takes me to get from one stop on a metro line to another. Add into the mix a solid set of friendly faces that I regularly meet up with for coffee, picnics, drinks and dinner-parties, and there could hardly exist a better definition of home.

Yet, continuously fermenting in the back of my mind is the thought of returning to Austin, and it's because of that thought that I've never really embraced Paris as I really should have. The walls of our apartment are still bare because I'm hesitating to "homify" the place; our kitchen still lacks a mixer, real coffee maker and blender, and my clothes go un-hemmed for lack of a sewing machine because I'm resisting the urge to buy things I already have back in the US. I keep telling myself, "Oh, well, it's just a waste of money if I do that or buy this since we're going to move back to Texas anyway." And thus, my nostalgic feelings and homesickness settle in, making Paris feel less like home and more like an inconvenient place to be.

I think after settling into the reality of what I thought my life would be like here - exhausting French classes, more coat-wearing than flip-floppping, a tiny kitchen and even tinier bathroom, walking instead of driving, putting my career on permanent hold and taking out loans to stock-up on refried beans - I just kind of decided to give up on my efforts to make myself at home. So, it's weird now. I feel like I physically live here, but mentally see it as a mere means to an end. And who wants to live like that?

I think the epiphany came when I was at a book-signing for my favorite food blogger, David Lebovitz's latest new book. I was standing in W.H. Smith, flipping through his novel-style recipe book and realizing that I live in Paris. There I was, standing in a bookstore just in front of the Tuileries Garden, just off of Place de la Concorde, a mere 20 minutes from my apartment, waiting for friends to meet me after their day at work so that we could get our shiny, new books signed by a local author. We strolled through the neighborhood afterward for a quick drink and for one evening I really felt like I was in the place I was supposed to be. Maybe it had a little to do with the familiarity I felt when flipping through Lebovitz's book that cited familiar places and similar experiences, or maybe it was because I was in an English bookstore that reminded me of one back home, or maybe it was all the people I ran into - the friends and familiar faces that made it feel like the world is so small. However it came about, it started a series of thoughts about how I really live my life here, and I came to the realization that I've really been holding back.

Although it doesn't change much about our intention to move to Texas (which we're still planning to do in the next 4-8 months), changing my mentality about how I want to live here while we're still here (and when we return) really gives me a new perspective on how I spend my time each day. Holding back because of what might come is a silly way to pass the time, and I don't want to short-change myself from having a seriously amazing time living it up in gay Paree. I guess in short, what I wanted to say is, I'm getting a blender...and may be doing a little decorating, too.

This is just to say

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I love knitting, but I'm always feeling a little guilty for cheating on my dusty books with my fancy yarn and needles. Reading is more of an instant gratification than knitting is for me, as I'm very much a "product knitter" (as opposed to a "process knitter"). So I find myself more often choosing to get through a few chapters than a few rows knowing that I'll be more satisfied. I can usually knit a couple of rows while watching a movie or show, but it's more of a distraction to have the TV on than anything. I know lots of people download books to listen to, but I don't really have any desire to change the traditional way in which I currently read my books. So when Aimee recommended listening to talk-radio, I was all over it. I didn't realize how much I missed listening to my favorite talk-radio stations back home until I tapped into some NPR archives and started streaming morning radio shows from my hometown. It's a little luxury that I never knew I was missing since I've been living in the land of public transportation. Belting out wrong lyrics to my favorite songs in the privacy of my own car has always been a nostalgic point for me, but I really feel like I've stumbled upon a little slice of home after tuning in to talk-radio shows these past couple of days.

Last night, while knitting, I was listening to a show Aimee had recommended called, "This American Life," and the topic of the latest broadcast was half-hearted apologies; it featured a story about a man who 40 years ago did some unethical things with dead bodies in the name of cryonics but still can't bring himself to admit his mistakes or offer a full-on apology. It was a pretty interesting story, and at the end of the show, they featured a related poem by William Carlos Williams which he supposedly wrote as a note for his wife to read. It's apparently an oft-spoofed poem, and I found myself thinking of so many ways in which I could apply its quasi-apologetic tone to my own life. So, I did, and I came up with a few spoofs of my own, one of which I'm sharing here:

This is Just to Say
by Misplaced Texan

I haven't done yesterday's dishes
or the laundry
that's been piling up all week

nor have I vacuumed
the floors that also
need a good wipe-down

Forgive me
it was sunny on my day off
and the green grass
so inviting
so plush

Joyeuses Fêtes de Paques!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I've got a few posts in the works (really!), but this has been an incredibly long week for me which left me with seriously no time to myself (I should actually be in bed right now, too). Nevertheless, Easter has always been a big celebration in my family - I'm pretty sure my mom was still making me an Easter basket no more than two years ago, and I recall a day of dyed eggs and egg-hunting last year - so, I'd like to at least wish everyone a happy one this year!

My friend, Deanna sent me this link that I found seriously funny, so maybe you will, too!

Easter 2008 (and the little faces I'll be missing this year):

This week, I'm feeling a little violated

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We got a call on Monday from our bank's anti-fraud department asking if we'd authorized a transaction at an ATM in Brazil. Uh, no. We still don't really know how our card information was stolen, but it was and it's really disturbing. I always hear and read about things like this happening to people - some high-tech thief installs a copying device at ATM machines and steals the card information from unsuspecting folks trying to take cash out, etc., etc. But, until now, I'd never been personally affected by such a scheme. We were really lucky that it wasn't a high-dollar transaction and that our bank alerted us and canceled the card before more damage could be done, but it still makes me feel absolutely violated. It also makes me rethink how we spend money and our dependence on our bankcard - I know that I'll be much more cautious and aware of who handles my card now and where we use it, even if I've always felt I was being cautious enough.

But, as if dealing with stolen credit cards isn't enough for a Monday, not long after hearing from the anti-fraud department, I found myself witness to what I've now come to understand was the SECOND robbery of an apartment in my building in a month. It was the middle of the day and a thunderous banging sounded in the stairwell just below my apartment. At first, I thought the neighbors were doing travaux again, but when the floorboards and walls of our apartment started shaking with each blow, I opened the front door to see what the heck was going on. Just as my door swung open, a woman was running up the stairs for the elevator; I know I startled her, but she nervously said bonjour and told me they were looking for someone as she let herself into the elevator and descended. I really didn't know what to think at this point, but I knew she wasn't alone because I had heard someone else running down the stairs. What's ridiculous is that I had no clue if this woman was one of our neighbors or just some strange person running through our building. It's just not common here to get to know your neighbors, to know when they're in our out and to look after things while they're gone like you do back in suburban America.

Still, the sound I had heard and the frantic demeanor of the woman made me uneasy, so I went downstairs to see if there was anything amiss. I saw bits of wood on the floor as I turned the corner of the staircase, and realized soon after that the door to the apartment below had been completely broken into. I'm not sure if a tool was used or someone kicked it in, but however they did it, they found their way past a big, heavy French-style door and into the empty apartment of an unsuspecting neighbor. I immediately called Gui to find out what I should do, but both of us were still really confused with the scenario. Perhaps it was a lover's quarrel, or maybe someone forgot their keys and was mad. Maybe that lady was our neighbor and she was off looking for whoever had damaged her door. We just didn't know what to think. I knocked on the door of the only neighbor I do know to get some advice, but she didn't answer. A couple of hours later, as more people returned from work and noticed the broken door, I went downstairs to give my account of what happened. Another neighbor had seen a man running downstairs the same time I saw the woman, but he didn't do anything, either because, like me, he had no idea what was going on.

What really disturbs me about this whole situation, though, is what I discovered today. I came home to find a sign on our building's front door warning us that someone in our building was not only burglarized this past Monday, but three Mondays ago as well (a different neighbor), yet no one bothered to tell us about the first incident until now. I know for a fact that if I had been informed of the previous burglary when I heard the sound coming from below my apartment, I would not have hesitated to call the police or even try to catch someone in the act. Not that I would have gone all "Texas-neighborhood-watch" on them (at least not in France), but maybe I could have done something! All I know is that I hope that whoever's making their robbery rounds in our building has gotten what they came for and won't be coming back again. I've never hesitated to defend myself and property and I don't imagine I'd pause to reflect should someone come and try to bang down my door.


Friday, March 6, 2009

I might be the only person in Paris who checks the weather forecast every single morning before getting dressed and occasionally in the evening before going to bed. It's something I've done for as long as I can remember, and it started when I was a kid in school. I'd wake up every morning, open the doors to my closet and holler down the hallway to my mom for the day's forecast. "Mom, do you know if it's going to be cold today?" Usually the response was, "it's chilly outside, but it's supposed to warm up later on this afternoon," which is about right for a typical day in Austin. I've always been one to dress for the weather; sweaters for chilly mornings, rain boots and jeans (but never shorts) for rainy days, flip-flops for sunny days (but never when it's cold outside), etc.

Dressing for the weather in Paris didn't come as easy as it had in Austin where you've got a pretty good chance that it's going to be the same weather each day as it was the day before. But, for a while now I've relied on the weather channel to keep me informed of what to expect, and I have to say it's been much more reliable than even Guillaume thought possible. Last week, our trusty source predicted a sunny and warm weekend, and we got it. Gui and I spent our Sunday soaking up the day's namesake rays and hopping from terrace to terrace in search of the warmest spots. It was a really lovely taste of what's to come soon, and I'm so glad we took full advantage of it before the predicted gray skies and cooler temps rolled in the next day.

Today is no exception to TWC's predictions - we've got sunny skies and cool temps, which one would hope will set the tone for weekend ahead. Unfortunately, it doesn't look promising for the next couple of days, and we've still got some wet weather to get through before what appears to be some warmer and sunnier days ahead next week. So, I'm going to go out and play before those Saturday clouds arrive! I hope you're getting some sun, too wherever you are!

Music Lover

Thursday, February 19, 2009

As a loud and proud Austinite, it's hard for me to admit that I've never really gotten into the live music scene. Besides a few shows to support friends' bands and some free gigs on campus, I've never really gone out of my way to buy tickets for a concert. I can probably count how many concerts I've gone to on one hand - most of them being big music events that I went to for free or that coincided with a road trip. I guess I never really saw the point in forking over 50 bucks to hear someone perform for an hour when I could listen to their music quite happily in my car or at home for as long as I liked. Which is why it's strange that recently, I've been getting the urge to see and hear live music. I guess lately I've been feeling like something is missing from my routine, and I think it has to do with the way I move around town. I'd always been exposed to music on a daily basis - singing in my car during my commute, streaming music at work, being spoiled with an unfathomable variety of daily live music - but, not having a car, an office job, or a city full of free live music venues has really limited my exposure. I'm learning how to change it up a bit, though - how to adapt to my current environment and find ways to integrate what's available to make me feel more musically alive.

Don't get me wrong, Paris is a magnificent place to hear music - it attracts so many musicians and artists to its historical venues year-round. It's just a different scene than I'm used to, and a bit more costly, too, which means I have to plan ahead and choose carefully the shows I see. I know that there's a really great jazz scene in Paris, but I haven't made much effort to discover it (mostly because Gui doesn't like jazz music). I recently saw that one of my favorite musicians is coming to town and snagged a seat to see her next week. I missed her when she came through Austin a couple of years back, so I'm glad I'll get to catch her while she tours through Europe.

For Valentine's Day, Gui bought us tickets to see John Legend perform in Paris on March 7th. This will likely be a much less intimate show than Rachael Yamagata's, but the place that he's playing is supposed to be really spectacular. I'm stoked! I was really surprised that he was able to get us tickets so close to the date, but then I discovered that not many people here know who John Legend is (well none of Gui's cousins or friends our age), which kind of hits home to my point about music being a bit of a different scene here than I'm used to. I'm sure there are loads of bands and artists that I just haven't heard of because they haven't gotten around to these parts yet.

So, I've been trying to find out what people have been listening to back home so I can keep up with what I might be missing out on being away from the Live Music Capital of the World. I'm still hoping that the summer will bring more opportunities to discover live music in Paris. When the weather's warmer and people are more cheery, I could see the City of Lights turning into a veritable music capital of its own. In the meantime, let me know what you've got in rotation in your car right now so I can catch up on the latest tunes while riding the metro.

Gettin' busy

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

So, I cut my hair. FINALLY. I'd been talking about getting my hair cut since I got to France nearly a year ago, but finding someone willing and able to work with my thick mane hasn't been an easy task. After a bad experience with an inexperienced stylist last summer, I was a little worried that I'd be unsatisfied once again with the hair salons of France. But, I got a good recommendation from a trusted source, and found myself feeling a few pounds lighter and a bit more stylish after a relatively short visit with a very talented stylist in 5eme arrondissement.

I really love it! It's still pretty long, too, but it seriously feels like over half of my hair is missing - which, for me, is a really good thing. It's a really practical cut for wearing bulky winter scarves and chunky knit hats, which is a must for all the trekking around Paris I've been doing recently. I haven't been doing anything too exciting, but I've managed to get out and about and check out a few shops and landmarks that I've been setting aside for later.

I've also been trying to regain my sense of domesticity lately. For a while there, I hadn't been in any sort of mood to cook, blog or create anything really. I even came down with a sort of "knitter's block" after finishing up my first cable project. Now, I'm slowly recovering and reacquiring my appetite for creativity - I'm catching up on the hoard of backlogged new items in my reader, searching for yummy things to bake and cook for dinner this week, and knitting more projects that I've been queuing up on Ravelry. This week, I've been invited to check out a choir to see if joining the group will be the right opportunity to focus on another long-lost "hobby" of mine - singing. I'm no Mariah Carey, but I've inherited my mom's love of singing to every song, every jingle that comes to my mind. I was in choir up until high school, and I remember being a relatively strong singer - even having the opportunity to sing backups at a SXSW show - but I never kept up with it. Hopefully, this will be a chance to rediscover my love of singing and share it with others who feel the same way about music.

So, things should be getting a little more interesting around here. Besides cooking, knitting, blogging and singing, I'll be working pretty soon, too. Next week, I'll start my first job in Paris at L'Oisive Thé, the tea salon owned by my friend Aimee. I'll only be working about 20-25 hours a week, but I'm really stoked about having a "day-job." The coolest thing about my new employment is that I'll be able to spend some of my days hanging out with Aimee - there's no doubt there will be lots of knit-talk and baking during the day, but I'm also banking on improving my French a bit. It couldn't come at a better time, either. I'm ready to have a regularly-scheduled gig to keep me occupied during the week, and spending it at a tea salon in the lovely Buttes aux Cailles just doesn't get any better, if you ask me.

My latest finished project - a striped beanie for Gui.

Renewing my outlook

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sometime between my last post and yesterday morning, Spring gave Paris a sneak preview. And, it was pretty sweet. It didn't last long, and we got a really great snowfall Saturday morning, as if to remind us of our cold reality. It was a welcome break nonetheless, and a sufficient reminder of how marvelous Paris is under blue skies and mild temps. I took the long way home when I could for those couple of days, and lingered about outside a little longer than usual, getting things done that had long been waiting to be checked off from my to-do list.

The foretelling weather and an encounter with a lovely Texas couple renewed the motivation that I had been recently lacking. Matt and Jen are living in Paris for one year, and hearing them talk about all the things they've done and seen since they arrived less than two months ago rekindled a sense of exploration that I realize had abandoned me far too soon. Plans to move to Texas are still in the works, and the reality that my current life in Paris has an undefined, yet still very real expiration date, is starting to hit me. How little I've done! Although Gui and I have every intention to someday return to settle in the city of lights, I don't want to leave this place before getting to know it better. And, I don't want to go back to Texas without first taking full and real advantage of living here.

So, this next week, I've booked myself some dates with the city. I plan to gallivant around with my fully-charged Navigo card, take in some art, music and shopping, with brief but many coffee and patisserie breaks and a few errands thrown in. And, with whatever free time I find from now on, my plan is to make the effort to use it productively. I even bought my very first portable music player to keep me company during the commute (no, I've never owned a walkman or Ipod of my own before), and all my favorites have been queued-up for the ride.

I'm realistic in my newfound goals to explore Paris, and I know that there will be days when leaving my apartment will be more effort than I'll be willing to make. But, I'm ready to reignite the energy and curiosity that I once felt from the possibilities of being in a new place, and I'm pretty determinted not to let a couple of off days diminish that.

It's still winter in Paris

Monday, February 2, 2009

I'm starting to think that this blog would be better served as a seasonal project. Let's face it, taking my hands out of the warmth of my coat pockets to grab my camera for a photo-op is just not going to happen right now. And going outdoors for anything but a quick trip to the grocery store is kind of out of the question, which hopefully explains my lack interesting posts of late. I never knew the consequences of changing seasons, having lived in Texas or Southern California for all of my life, where flip-flops are always an acceptable shoe to wear no matter the time of year. But, that's not how it flies here. How crazy to think that something as simple as a drop in temperature can make the difference between having a social life and not having one. I suppose it doesn't help that right now the core of my responsibilities are hinged on the stock levels of our kitchen and the tidiness of our apartment. (We'll have to see what happens once I start working.)

The weekend is usually more promising in the social department, though, and Gui and I typically spend the two days with family or old friends. This past Sunday, we made it out to Marcq again and spent the afternoon drinking champagne by a roaring fire before devouring a tajine for lunch. It's so nice to be out of Paris, if only for a few hours. The residence there is still up for sale, and there have been a few interested buyers coming 'round, but I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that Gui and I hit the lottery so we can buy it. It was bitingly cold on Sunday and before leaving Marcq, we talked about Monday's forecast for snow and ice. No doubt, Monday turned into a day of finishing up knitting projects at home.

A snowy Monday morning in Paris.

The thing is that once I'm outside, I'm good to go, so I just need something to kickstart me into motivating myself to leave the apartment. Something like a job or my craving for nachos, which is what's motivating me to get my butt out of the apartment and head for The Great Canadian Pub for dinner tonight. There really isn't anything better than the promise of a good meal to get me going.

Some pictures from Marcq
Don't let the sky fool you, it was an unbearably cold day.

Gui gathering some firewood.

Gui thinking he's a rough and rugged man for collecting such a big piece of wood.

I love this place.

Dinner conversation

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I hate to admit it, but I went outside yesterday for the first time since Monday. Gui's mom was coming over for dinner and I knew I would be getting everything ready from about noon because I'm kind of neurotic like that. Leaving the apartment was like coming outside after being swathed in a cocoon for a few days, curious but unsure of what the world would be like now. It reminded me of that movie, I Am Legend, when Will Smith has to stay in hiding all night long until the sun comes back up. Locking the door of the apartment, I felt hopeful that I'd be greeted by warm temps and flip-flop-wearing pedestrians. But, I wasn't. The first guy I ran into was wearing one of those Russian-style fur hats with ear flaps and an ankle-length coat. My hands immediately began to freeze, but I shoved them in my pocket, put my head down and trudged along to Franprix. It was about 10 degrees colder in the store, and my hands went completely numb as I tried to get everything on my list. Neither asparagus nor strawberries were available (madness!), so I had to come up with a new side and dessert dish for the evening. I settled on a salad and moelleux au chocolat (small molten lava cakes).

Everything managed to fall into place for the evening, and I think I'm getting better at hosting dinner. In the past, I always felt a bit of pressure to serve things the "French way," but I'm loosening up a bit more and realizing it's fine to be different. We broke in some new Mikasa glassware we got for Christmas, and dined well on roasted chicken, salade composée, gratin savoyarde, and a nice red wine. I decided that I really enjoy dinners like this - at a dinner table and with proper dinnerware - as Gui and I tend to be more casual when we're getting our grub on (read: eating on a serving tray in front of the TV).

While I was preparing the gravy, Gui let his mom know that we're seriously considering moving to Austin in a year or so. It's something we discussed during our last trip and we've been talking about it since. I'd always known that we'd move back to the States someday, but it was a surprise to hear Gui tell me he'd like to move there soon - like in a year. Of course, I'm ecstatic about the idea, but there's still loads of stuff to work out before we make any concrete plans. It's difficult for me to think about Gui leaving his family and friends because I know how hard it's been for me. Despite his overwhelming reassurances, I still feel like he'd really miss his home, and I don't want him to have any regrets or disappointments once we leave. I could tell his mom was sad when he mentioned it, a little surprised and slightly disappointed. It's hard not to feel like I'm taking her baby away from her.

But, we have a lot of time to work everything out and make some final decisions. These past couple of weeks, though, I've really enjoyed being back in Paris. Sure, Winter in Paris blows, but I've still managed to stay light-hearted and optimistic even through the dreariest days. I know that Spring and Summer are around the corner, and despite having been properly seduced by the charm of my hometown, I'll admit that I'm a little worried that Paris might win me over yet.

'Might as well blog since I can't sleep

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Talk about some writer's blogger's block! I don't know what's gotten into me these days, but every time I remind myself that I have a blog to keep up with, I feel less and less inspired to write anything. I have a couple of posts just lingering about in my draft box, composed of meaningless drivel and pointless remarks on trite, day-to-day encounters. It sucks to feel so uninspired, especially when there's been a lot of socializing going on around these parts lately. Perhaps my lack of inspiration is coming from my current state of disarray about the transition I'm making from student to graduate (of sorts). Classes are over, and my mind is in a sort of state of shock as it tries to come to terms with its newfound freedom. Now, instead of finding interest (or disinterest) in the smallest of things - like the gloomy weather or the last movie I saw, it's feeling a little overwhelmed with the bigger picture - like what in the heck am I supposed to do next, and how do I spend my days without spending all our money? But as those latter, more profound questions are neither here nor there, it seems pointless to waste an entire post on trying to answer them. Instead, let me talk about the fun times that I've been having around Paris.

Last Sunday, Gui and I spent the afternoon with his dad's side of his family at a birthday party for his great-aunt and great-uncle who were celebrating a combined 160 years of life. I remember meeting them for the first time at our wedding; they hugged me and kissed me like I was already family, and then spoke to me in rapid-fire French while I widened my eyes and grinned. Seeing them again this time was not any different, except that after saying only a word or two in French, they praised me on my progress. (How on earth could they know that I've progressed after only saying, "Bonjour, oui, très bien, merci. Et, vous?") Of course there was a six-course meal served, songs were performed by the sons and daughters of the hosts, and they even hired a theater group to perform a few scenes. It was unlike any birthday party I've ever attended, but it was really enjoyable. Gui's family are all incredibly generous and kind, and I'm finding myself easily opening up to them and feeling more and more a part of the family. It's a good feeling.

On Monday, I headed over to La Sorbonne to read an excerpt from a story and answer questions about it during my fifteen-minute oral exam. This part of the test counts for something like 30% of my final grade, but I was confident after the "très bien, Sarah" comment my professor gave me when it was all over. I breathed a sigh of relief, and went along with a few other relieved students to celebrate our accomplishment with a tasty lunch and casual conversation about how hard learning a new language (especially French) is. It was a really great way to end the semester, I thought, even if I never have the chance to see any of them again.

Of course Tuesday was spent watching the tides turn and our new president take office. Apparently, all of Paris was in search of a place to watch history being made, which left us stuck outside of an overcrowded bar and in search of a TV. We found hope in a kitshy, American diner that appeared like a neon beacon at the end of the same street as the bar. We arrived before the crowds and snagged a table front-and-center with a perfect view of the screen. Over fries, onion rings and mozzarella sticks, we watched it all unfold and then raised our glasses of red French table wine to toast to our new president. I doubt I'll be forgetting that moment anytime soon.

Wednesday nights are spent with the knitting group at L'Oisive Thé, and are designated "cook your own dinner, I'm going to knit" nights. (I don't think Gui minds, actually.) Since finishing my first scarf, I've become somewhat of an addict about knitting. I've spent hours and hours pouring over the Ravelry website, gushing at some the things people can make with a couple of needles and a ball of yarn. The possibilities are endless, which makes it so hard for me to choose what to tackle next. I'm realizing, though that it's not a cheap hobby to have and that a little investment is required to get started on the more rewarding projects. I recently ordered a set of Addi-click needles and am now anxiously awaiting their arrival so I can get started on some of those more challenging patterns. I'll admit that half of the fun is picking out patterns and choosing the yarn - I never knew there were so many choices!

I picked up some sale yarn on Thursday afternoon after a trip to the first cupcake boutique in Paris. Sam invited me to meet up with her, Leesa and Dawn to scope out Cupcakes & Co in the 11th arrondissement. I honestly didn't have very high expectations, so the cold, dense cupcake I dug into wasn't such a disappointment. The cupcakes were pretty, the frosting was tasty and made with true-blue Philly cream cheese, but the final product wasn't really worth raving about. I still had a good time and got some cheap yarn out of it, too!

This weekend turned out to be jam-packed with fun stuff with fun peeps. Gui and I checked out Slumdog Millionaire on Friday and loved it. I cried like a baby, of course, but totally dug the whole bollywood influence. The soundtrack will be mine! We finished off the night with a tex-mex dinner and a mosquito cocktail at El Rancho, which hit the spot. Saturday's lunch date with Juliet and Marc turned into an all-day event. We started out at Les Pâtes Vivantes (as usual, thank you, Mr. Lebovitz) for a [very] late lunch, and after being shooed out of there before we could have dessert, we headed over to Île Saint-Louis for some delicious Berthillon ice cream. We opted out of going bowling and decided to skip right on over to happy hour at one of our favorite bars in the 5th. Juliet introduced us to the best mojitos in Paris (and cheapest, too!) while she ran down a list of all the things she's lost to the streets or cabs or bars of the big city. There was some sort of blackout in the bar, so we downed our drinks and headed over to Belleville where we ended the eventful night in the company of old friends and preppy-dressed punk-rockers.

I managed to roll out of bed today in time to meet up for a 2 p.m. jazz brunch on the same street as the cupcake shop. It's the first time I've ever been to a buffet in Paris, and I'm pretty sure it won't be the last. There was a great variety of food (although not much in the form of traditional breakfast grub), bottomless OJ, wine, coffee and tea, and a slightly lacking, yet still delicious spread of desserts. The music wasn't without praise either, and I found the entire ambiance of the restaurant strikingly harmonious. It'll definitely be at the top of the list of places to take people visiting Paris in search of a good Sunday brunch. It's the closest I've seen in Paris to the real deal (although, it'd be nicer if they swapped out the bottomless wine for bottomless mimosas...or bloody marys).

Our jazz entertainment.

Mise à jour

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Friday was my last day of French school. It's weird to think that it's already over, that I've been seriously studying this blasted language for over four months. I have mixed feelings about the last day. Part of me thinks that I've learned enough French to put into practice, but another part of me feels like I've only minimally progressed. I couldn't have been better instructed; in fact, my professor surpassed all of my expectations. I'll definitely recommend the courses to someone looking for professional French instruction, and I now understand why the school was so highly recommended to me. Still, I'm happy that it's over, and I'm looking forward to what comes next for me in Paris.

In other news, I've made progress on the health-coverage front. Today, I received my carte vitale, which means I can now get reimbursed for my medical visits [practically] right away instead of having to turn in paperwork and wait for the money to show up in my bank account. On top of that, today I picked up my new contacts and glasses from l'opticien, and I couldn't be happier. I was able to get two pairs of glasses - a light-weight titanium pair that I'll wear at home or when I'm looking for a lighter feel, and another more trendy pair of plastic frames that I'll wear when I don't feel like doing contacts. They also supplied me with a year-and-a-half's worth of disposable contact lenses and six bottles of contact solution. The last two bottles of regular, ol' contact solution I bought in Paris were 20 and 22€ each! Gui has a great insurance plan that will reimburse 100% of our costs, so I'm feeling really lucky about my new eyes. It's still a strange feeling for me to know that when I need to get glasses or contacts, I can just go and get 'em without having to call my health insurance and plan in advance how I'm going to pay for the eye-doctor's visit, frames, lenses and contacts. Next up is a trip to the dentist to see what's going on with this aching tooth I've noticed of late. After having good experiences with the eye doctor and opticien, and now that I have a nifty new carte vitale in my possession, getting my health shiz together is warranting more attention and less procrastination.

The titanium pair. I like how they look like they're barely there. They feel like it, too.

My trendy, little plastic ones. I tried on about 100 pair before finally settling on these. I wanted a different pair for every day of the week.

Happy Saint Guillaume Day!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

We don't celebrate saint days in the States - well, not on any grand scale that I'm aware of, anyway. But, in France, each day commemorates a saint, and if your name happens to be that of a saint, you can expect someone to wish you a happy saint's day. Today was Saint-Guillaume Day - or Saint William of Bourges Day, so Gui received a barrage of text messages and voicemails wishing him a bonne fête, which pretty much just wishes him a happy holiday. I find the whole French approach to religion strikingly oxymoronic, but I like the idea of having a commemorative "feastday" (as they describe on the catholic.org website) simply because you share the name of a saint. Who doesn't love feast days?

There isn't much to say about Saint Guillaume de Bourges except that he was a man who did lots of good things in his short life, like take care of the poor and less fortunate than him. However, I did note a couple of things of interest about him (well, to me, anyway). He performed 18 miracles in his life and 18 after. Not only is that just seriously impressive, but it is a pretty well-known fact that 18 is my lucky number. He was the canon (priest) of Paris at some point, but eventually decided to abandon the big city lifestyle for a more simple life in the north of France. I also find it pretty neato that he was canonized on May 17th, which just happens to be my birthday. Knowing all of this, I'd like to say that Saint Guillaume and I would be pretty solid pals if he were living now or had I been living back in the late 12th century. I'm quite content, still, with knowing that I'll be reminded of his goodness and grace every year that we celebrate his accomplishments via his modern-day namesake.

Goodbye sun, hello snow.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

We left Austin like a cheating man leaves his mistress in the night: reluctantly. Our hearts and stomachs were filled to the brim from all the things, people and places we had enjoyed. We ached to go back the moment we crossed into the next town, recalling all of the places we didn't have time to visit, all of the people we didn't spend enough time with, all of the things we just didn't do. I wiped a tear from my face before Gui could see it rolling over my cheeks, but I think he still sensed my sadness. On the bright side, we had one more day to spend with my mom, step-dad and brother in Dallas before heading back to France, so we were looking forward to that time to sort ourselves out before the long and emotional flight.

I spent the last day going through boxes of old clothes, pictures and junk - dusting off memories I'd completely forgotten about, sharing some of the fondest ones with Gui. How little I knew about how my life would turn out those short years ago! Most everything was sorted into a donation pile or the trash bin, as I decided once and for all to rid myself of the old tangibles I still held onto for emotional back-up. It's a strange thing being happily married and having more than a fair share of friends to keep my emotions in check. How lucky I've been to have such unwavering friendships.

Back in Austin, we fell back into the same, solid routines that had at one time seemed so trite, so banal. I haven't lived in that city for well over a year now, but nothing about it felt altered; not the shiny, new roads and overpasses, not the fancy new bar, not the tall and foreign buildings going up. It was an old pair of jeans, and for Gui, I perceived it was the same. He remarked more than once how much he missed the place; his eyes would glow when we'd ride down familiar roads, grab a beer on the terrace of our old neighborhood bar, or stop in at our favorite eateries for a small slice of heaven. He was home, too.

We tried to get as much time in with friends as we could, but 4 1/2 days is just not enough to see everyone and do everything. We were happy to have at least been able to see all the babies that we'd yet to meet, and spend some time with our adorable Oak Tree. My dad took us out to Lockhart for the best barbecue in Texas (though, I might venture to say it's the best in the world), and we spent a few hours hanging around his place, looking through photo albums, talking about cars and football. Our friends more than spoiled us with two steak-nights chez eux, but we only managed to squeeze in enough time to get through about 40% of our "list of places to eat while in Texas." 'Guess we'll have to go back soon for more.

Our vacation came to an end so quickly, and I'm finding that even the sun in Paris is slightly dimmer than it was in Texas. How far away everything seems! How cold and gray! How fast and sad! We flew into a snow-laden city, iced over, grey and dim. I'm still in a bit of a haze after the long, delayed flight - going through the motions of a well-known routine, but feeling hollow and metallic. Even the beaming Eiffel Tower floating in a sea of snow didn't warrant a double-take.

I feel a little bitterness towards Paris right now, but it's not Paris' fault. Austin is everything Paris could never be (would never want to be, I'd pressume), but it's everything that I love and miss while living here. It's home, it's food, it's warmth and love. It's sunny days spent at Woodrow's, drinking a hefeweizen in the dead middle of winter while everyone else goes through the winter blues. It's having a leisurely Sunday brunch with friends on a whim while everyone else struggles to find a decent restaurant in their town. It's scoring complimentary champagne from the bar owner because you come to your favorite bar each Saturday night, while everyone else is paying 15€ for a crappy cocktail.

But, Paris is where we live for now. Even though I'll continue to daydream about our recent vacation, it's time to get back to life - back to reality (yes, that's some Soul II Soul '80s backflashing for you).

Gui at Smitty's Market, Lockhart, Texas.

The pit at Smitty's.

Yum, barbecue on butcher paper, orange soda and Texas beer (NOT Bud Light, btw).



On our way out for NYE (I love these faces).

NYE at Péché, Austin, Texas. (Love these face, too!)


Our last day in Austin - hanging out at Woodrow's on Sixth (it was around 80 degrees).

Friends at Woodrow's.

Our last meal (mom's tostadas, spanish rice and "Josie's Enchiladas").

Flying over Paris yesterday afternoon.

Getting ready to land at CDG.

A sleepy Gui on the train from the airport.
TEXAS SARAH. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.