Monthly Archives: April 2008

How Clementine Came to Be, In Narrative

My posts have been a bit less frequent this week due to the fact that Franck’s computer has “rendu l’âme” (equivalent to “given up the ghost”) and every time I have Clem down for a nap and want to use mine he is on it. The gall. There is nothing that makes me as fractious and twitchy as having to share my computer.

It also means I haven’t been able to continue writing my “Antique Tour” posts as planned. Boo hiss.

However, we have a new computer for him arriving from Canada this weekend, so we can now see the light at the end of the computer-sharing tunnel.

And in the meantime I am going to post some pieces of writing that I have been putting down for Clem so that one day she can read about how she came to be, and how she narrowly missed NOT coming to be, seeing as her mother was all geared up to go and spend a year in Belgium rather than in France…

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If I was to go all the way back to the very beginning, I guess you could argue that my French pregnancy really started with the fifteen minutes I spent in a stuffy Canadian hotel room with five elderly Rotarians.

They were all men, they all had a file on me in front of them, and they were all peppering me with questions. This was it – the panel interview at the annual District Rotary Conference – otherwise known as the final hurdle before being sent off to Belgium for a year as a Rotary Youth Scholar.

I’d been duly informed by last year’s students, known as “The Incoming’s”, that this interview was somewhat of a formality. The truly inappropriate candidates should have been weeded out already, so unless I made a huge debacle of it I basically had my exchange to Belgium in the bag.

I remember pretty much everything about that moment when my life swung on its axis, like the fact that all the men were wearing polyester pants. I was the last interview of the day and the hotel room was stuffy, probably more from the sweat of all the candidates who had been grilled before me than the unseasonably warm Spring weather.

I reflected that polyester, which I knew from working at a women’s clothing store all through high school didn’t breathe, would be getting rather itchy by now. The Rotarians had scrounged up a fan from the hotel staff, but it was old and noisy and didn’t seem to be cooling things down much. There was a lot of squirming in chairs.

They had begun with the easy stuff – hobbies, my academic record, what I had enjoyed about the Rotary conference thusfar – but then they began to throw the hard balls.

“So what were your motivations for wanting to be a Rotary Youth Scholar?” A bespectacled Polyester Pant wiped his brow.

The truth ran fleetingly through my mind; finding a way to get to Europe, where I could drink lots of wine and fall in love with a European man. But this isn’t what I told the Polyester Pants. I was a child who had been introduced to Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” at age 9, so I did what I had been taught to do; told the Rotarians exactly what I knew they wanted to hear.

“I have always been interested in other cultures,” I began my prepared speech with judiciously calibrated enthusiasm. “I would just love the opportunity to go to a foreign country and learn everything I can about a different way of living. Also, I have always liked meeting new people. I am very proud of being a Canadian I would relish the opportunity to educate them about Canada.”

They Polyester Pants bobbed their heads, seemingly quite satisfied with my answer, or perhaps nodding off to sleep. As for me, my thoughts meandered over to the subject of European men again. I was sure that they had to be more promising than the boys in my high school, who across the board seemed to display a shocking lack of appreciation for the voluptuous, intellectual type of girl; in other words, me.

To be continued…

In Praise Of Drugs

It is all too easy, especially here in France where we are surrounded by thousands of years of history, to dream about how life must have been so much better in the past. The piled stone walls of my village have been known to make me hearken back to a time when days were all about collecting eggs and tending to your vines while the evenings were spent in joyous bonhomie with fellow villagers gathering together around a humongous stone fireplace.

Yesterday made me recant such hogwash.

As many readers know, yesterday for me was spent in Dijon having all manner of unpleasant exploratory GI exams performed. Several times during the course of the day I was forced to recognize how lucky I am to be living in the 21st Century. The one main reason for this; the drugs.

In France, even as recently as a generation ago, drugs were used sparingly or not at all during medical procedures. My father-in-law André who grew up in Beaune had his tonsils removed on the kitchen table without so much as a whiff of ether. The only thing the doctor brought to make the procedure easier were straps to tie his patient down.

Yesterday was a vivid illustration of just how far things have evolved. Shortly after checking into the clinic I was presented with two rosy Xanax pills to calm my nerves. This is standard procedure apparently, as the lady sharing my room got the same pre-op cocktail.

Even though I resist the temptation (and let me tell you, some days it is mighty powerful) to resort to anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals on a regular basis, they were heartily welcome yesterday.

And then there’s the miracle of general anesthetic. Shortly after I was rolled into the OR in a pleasant Xanax haze they inserted a little needle in my hand and the anesthetist said, “OK, things are going to start to look blurry soon, then it will be time for un petit do-do (a little nap).”

Nothing looks blurry yet, I remember thinking. Maybe it’s not wor………

Lovely black oblivion.

I woke up in Recovery having a dream about Camille and her favorite pony Abricot from the local pony club, feeling a bit spacey but remarkably refreshed.

Now that’s progress.

Now every time I start to get nostalgic for a simpler time, I will remind myself that back then there were no general anesthetics and no Xanax. Even if I was having my leg amputated a hundred years ago all I would have got was some eau de vie poured down my gullet and if I was lucky a scrap of leather to bite on. Call me a wimp if you will, but no number of joyous evenings gathered around the fireplace could make up for that.

La Maison de la Vieille Vigne – Antique Tour – finally!

Continuing on our little antiques house tour, we’ll go on to the cottage that we moved back over here to France to renovate in 2004 – La Maison de la Vieille Vigne.

This cottage has some important family history. Back in the days when it had no indoor plumbing and chickens pecking around on the dirt floor, Franck’s grandmother was good friends with the elderly couple who lived there. On the day Franck was born in Dijon, the one telephone in the village was manned by the village operator. She ran around the village trying to find Franck’s Mémé and Pépé to relay the exciting news and finally found them at what is now La Maison de la Vieille Vigne, having a lovely apéritif with the owners and their chickens.

So that’s where they were when they learned they had a grandson named Franck. I’m sure they never imagined that one day the house they were in would be renovated by that very same grandson and would have;

a) a floor
b) no chickens pecking around on it
c) indoor plumbing.

Like so many houses here in France, the house itself is somewhat of an antique. From what we could glean from neighbours it dates back to 1650 or thereabouts.

And before we even get on to the subject of the interior, one of my favorite old things at the cottage are the gorgeous old rose bushes out the front. They are hardy and almost bug less and give off a pure delicate smell that just isn’t duplicated by newer roses.

There’s two bushes of red roses;


And a beautiful yellow one;


And next time we’ll go past the divine scent of the rose bushes and step inside those turquoise shutters…

The Not-So-Glam Side of Managing Vacation Rentals

Most of the time I love what I do, and I do fully realize that I am very lucky to be doing it. However, this morning sorely tested that love. I finally got some work time scheduled (have to finally get further “Antique Tour” posts posted after all!) while Franck looked after Cleméntine. I don’t even attempt work while she is awake as I have learned the following equation through hard experience:

Trying To Work + Trying To Look After Baby = Insanity & Self-Loathing

So I sat down to try to make some headway in the terrifying miasma that is my email in-box, and I got an email from one set of clients;

– the bathroom heater in Magny was on when we arrived yesterday, and seems to be going full tilt. Is it broken?

Very good question. Asked Franck, as all thing electrical are His Department. Turns out Franck just turned on the heat yesterday so the guests wouldn’t arrive to a cold house. Emailed clients back to this effect as they are on vacation and it may be too early to phone, wishing all things in life were so quickly and easily resolved.

Five minutes later, got a phone call from another set of guests;

– can’t figure out how to change channels on satellite TV (true, this involves 2 clickers and has been known to befuddle me). Try to resolve this over the phone, but can’t as clicker confusion is too great. Franck dispatched over to La Vieille Vigne, but I console myself thinking at least it’s in the same village – shouldn’t take very long…

Franck gets back quickly and I start responding to my emails again. Ten minutes after he returns phone rings again, it is a distressed call from our cleaners in Beaune;

– the dishwasher seems to be plugged which is producing highly unpleasant smell. Can’t figure out how to unplug it…can Franck come? (Dishwashers are also His Department). So Franck has left again.

And Cleméntine should be waking up for her bottle in 5-4-3-2…oh, gotta go.

Charlotte Buffet’s Madeleines

Yesterday was Sunday and my last day of normal food, as I start my fun GI exam “prep” work as of this morning, which includes a really strict diet. Of all times in my life to cut out chocolate…anyway, yesterday I celebrated by finally succeeding at making delicious homemade madeleines – the ubiquitous french mini-cake.

I had tried a few times over the last few weeks but my madeleines didn’t hold a candle to my friend Charlotte’s. So finally on Saturday afternoon I went over to Charlotte’s for a madeleine lesson. Anyway, my madeleines weren’t exactly the same as Charlotte’s – probably explained by a different oven and a different madeleine tin, but they were pretty darn delicious.

Charlotte Buffet’s Madeleines

Ingredients:

-2 organic (non-treated) lemons
-200 grams of salted butter
-4 eggs
-200 grams of fine sugar
-225 grams of flour

Instructions:

– grate lemons for zest, set aside
– melt the butter on very low heat – make sure it doesn’t bubble
– break eggs into medium-sized bowl and then add sugar
– whisk vigorously, this is a VERY important step, with whisk until the mixture becomes pale in colour, about five minutes (your arm should really start to cramp up)
– add in lemon zest, whisk again
– add in flour, whisk until thoroughly mixed
– add in melted butter, whisk until thoroughly mixed

Pour batter into buttered madeleine tin which you should be able to find at any fancy cooking store. Cook at 190 degrees Celsius for about 10-20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool on a rack. Bon appetit!

Can be stored for several days in sealed Tupperware type container or cookie tin.

I’m still working on my antique tour – will be coming soon! In the meantime, feast on these;

More Antique Tours to Come

This has been a crazy week. I have not only been busy playing practical jokes, but on a less funny note I have also been organizing my GI exams that have been hanging over my head for a while now.

So next Thursday I will find myself back on the “billardagain (french slang for operating table, meaning “back on the pool table”) and for once I am very happy that they will be knocking me out with a general for the procedures. There are certain things one wants to remember in life (i.e. birth of one’s child), others not so much (i.e. thorough exploration of one’s intestines). However, as my little sister Jayne brightly pointed out, if I follow all the “prep” instructions to the letter I can definitively check off “Spring Cleaning” from my to-do list.

Nevertheless, I have been working on the continuation of my antique tour of the gites which will move on to La Maison de la Vieille Vigne next. I will be sure to post it as soon as humanly possible.

Thank You For Your Support

When concocting my April Fools prank I asked myself “what is the most far-fetched thing I can imagine happening right now?”

The answer “being pregnant again” popped into my head immediately. I know some people have back to back babies, even people who have had C-sections like me, but frankly now that I have my healthy baby girl, the last thing I want to to do is hop back on that roller coaster again.

However, what I didn’t count on was all the lovely supportive comments and emails I received before people began to pick up on the correlation between my announcement and the date. Not one person sent me an email along the lines of “ARE YOU EFFING CRAZY?!?!?” which shows how lucky I am to have such great family, friends, and blog readers. Merci Beaucoup.

Just had to share with you an email from my sister Suzanne, who was in on the joke, and was on the phone about it with my parents who are currently vacationing in Hawaii;

“Just was talking to mum about talking to dad (golfing) and she asked if you had added anything to your blog so I read it to her. Had her going for at least 1 minute of shock. I kept saying “look at the date, what date is it?” and she kept saying “that’s the baby’s due date?”. Finally I had to say – It’s April Fools! I think she’s still laughing. She thought it was hilarious, and is NOT going to tell Dad. Told her she had to be with him though, in case he has a stroke.”

I think anyone vacationing in Hawaii deserves to have their leg pulled a bit, don’t you?

April Fools!!! Or As They Say Here In France "Poisson d’avril!"

April Fools! Bwa hah hah hah (cue evil laugh). Sorry if I scared anyone (i.e. my parents).

Don’t bother sending me birth control documentation, as I’m not pregnant, not even a tiny bit. This is a rather good thing as Clem is not sleeping through the night yet and I believe a fourth C-section would be pretty dicey business.

More importantly though, did you fall for it?

And as for Carla BruniSarkozy…I really don’t know the truth on that one, but I hear rumblings that I may not be that far off base after all. Time will tell.

And for the benefit of my little sister Jayne (I let my sisters in on the joke, as they would have killed me otherwise) who wrote me in an email yesterday, “Don’t you mean “fish on the back”? My new friend Emilie (who is from Paris) was trying to explain to me that in France you put a fish on someone’s back for April Fool’s. Or something like that. It was the end of a long day I was confused…..”.

It’s true Jayne. Here in France April 1st is celebrated not by making outlandishly untrue claims such as yours truly, but by making paper fishes and sticking them on people’s backs without them noticing, hence the expression “poisson d’avril“.

The photo above is of two poissons that Charlotte made and stuck on my back this morning. The “without them noticing” part wasn’t exactly a roaring success as she not very subtly instructed me to “look somewhere else” as she affixed them to my jacket. However, being a mother I of course pretended to be blissfully unaware and wore them around for several hours, much to Charlotte and Camille’s overt giggling.

And for the benefit of Jayne and those history-buffs among you here is the best version I could find of the French “poisson d’avril” tradition;

In 1564, the King Charles IX decided the new year would commence on January 1st rather than April 1st as had been the case up until then. This, of course, moved the date of the traditional celebrations and present exchanges that typically marked the start of a new year.

Many French weren’t to chuffed about the King’s unilateral declaration (do I hear the seeds of Revolution being sown?) and to perpetuate doubt about the real start of the new year they – yet again with that endearing knack for shit disturbing – persisted in exchanging gifts on April 1st. These gifts quickly became farcical, because as we all know the French like nothing better than subversive humour.

The gifts were often food items as IPODs and Nintendo DSs were hard to come by in the Middle Ages. The beginning of April coincides with the end of Lent, so fish was usually much more easy to come by than meat. Throughout the 16th Century those gifts of real fish became gifts of fake fish to trick their neighbours. Ha Ha. Gotta love those medieval French pranksters.

Et Voilà! You’ve learned your new thing for today.

No joke.

French Baby Boom

It must be something in the air here in France. Carla Bruni IS pregnant. Also, here’s a confession…so am I.

We weren’t really planning it this way, but we just found out that in 8 months we’ll be having another one of these;