jeudi 31 décembre 2009
New Year's is my least favorite holiday. Want to know why?

Reason #1: Exhausting
What worse way to cap off a long year, and especially the holiday season, than by taking your sick, festivitied-out body, stuffing it into some little get-up and uncomfortable shoes, dragging it out into the cold winter weather complete with icy sidewalks, plying it with alcohol and staying out into the wee hours of the morning, just to scream and yell "Happy New Year!" at some random moment of the evening?

Here's my idea of how to celebrate the end of a year-
1) Sleep in.
2) Wake up, eat a croissant and drink a cappuccino, watch some mindless tv show
3) Go for a massage
4) Come back, take a nap
5) Wake up, take a hot bath and drink some tea while reading some trashy novel
6) Order a pizza, open a bottle of champagne, submit to your husband's requests to watch Gladiator or The Last Samuri, zonk out on the couch around 10:30 pm, wake up around 12:30 am, mumble "Happy New Year", stumble to bed, zonk out in bed.

I mean really, doesn't that sound much better?

Reason #2: Pointless
Really, what is the point of celebrating when each hour another time zone does the same thing? (And don't even get me started on time zones.)

Reason #3: Random
Who ever decided that each new year started between 11:59:59 December 31st and 12:00:00 January 1st in the first place?
Why not on the day of the winter solstice, which would make a bit more sense?

I love numbers. But not arbitrary ones such as what year it is. I like my numbers to have absolute, pure, and certain values.
It may be year 2009 here, but other calendars have entirely different years (though not used much anymore) and it is year 2009 from what? If 2009 is completely random, then so is 2010, and the moment that it is considered to pass from one to the other is totally random too.

Reason #4: Everything I dislike
Here are the things I really dislike: Staying up late. Loud music. Big crowds. Lots of people I don't know.
Here is what defines New Year's: Staying up late. Loud music. Big crowds. Lots of people I don't know.

Reason #5: Inexact
If I am going to go through all this trouble (Staying up late. Loud music. Big crowds. Lots of people I don't know.) then I want to be darn sure that the moment that everyone is counting down to, then screaming Happy New Year IS EXACTLY THE MOMENT that the New Year begins. I guess it is the Engineer in me. No, I don't want to be 3 seconds off. I want to know the exact moment that 2010 starts. And if it is the exact moment, then it should be the same moment all over the world, not depending on what time zone you are in.

I can't know the exact moment? Well, then I might as well go to bed and not obsess over it.

Here is my list of holidays, from favorite to least favorite:
1) Thanksgiving and 4th of July, tied for first. Too bad neither of these are celebrated in France.
3) Christmas
4) Easter
5) May Day
6) Halloween
7) Bastille Day
8) All those other holidays (ie Thank goodness I have off from work!)
President's Day, Columbus Day, VE Day, Armistice, All Saint's Day, etc.
9) Arbor Day
10) New Year's

Yes, even Arbor Day ranks higher on my list than New Year's.
Get my point?

Tonight I am taking my anti-social, obsessive-compulsive, exhausted self and going to bed early, spending New Year's day at my in-laws for another 8-hour eating session.

That being said, Happy New Year Everyone!

samedi 26 décembre 2009
Days spent together in Strasbourg: 3
Hours late of Alain's train: 5
Time spent in Christmas market: way too much
Temperature: -10°C
Pretzels eaten in a week: 20
Museums visited: 2 (Museum of Strasbourg and Alsatian Museum)
Boat rides: 1
Restaurants walked out of: 1
Restaurants asked to leave to free up table after check has been paid: 1
Number of buildings decorated with stuffed animals: about 100
Money spent on presents: way too much
Suitcase handles broken on TGV back to Marseille: 1
Emergency stops to buy more warm clothes: 2 (ear muffs and tights)
Emergency stops to go to the bathroom: 1
Emergency stops just to warm up: 2
Trips to pharmacy for cold medicine: 1
Glasses of beer drunk: 5
Glasses of beer considered to be good: 0
Times we had to go to hotel reception to get something fixed in our room: 2 (burned out lightbulb, freezing cold shower water)
Times we had to ask people entering restaurant to please close the door because they were letting the freezing cold air inside while they were dithering: 10
Movies seen: 1 (2012)
Average time of going to bed: 11:30 pm
Average time of waking up: 9:00 am
Time had: very good
lundi 14 décembre 2009
When : Saturday night, 23:45
Where : Marseille, on the landing outside our apartment
Who : An American in Provence and one Nutty Frenchman
Situation : Locked out of their apartment, and really needing to use the bathroom
Why : Key stuck in very old lock
Agravating circumstances : leaving on the train in six hours for Strasbourg

Yep, Alain and I were locked out of our own apartment Saturday night. We had been out to dinner with some of the other people from Alain's karate club, up in Pelissane, and left after dinner was over at around 10:30 to return to Marseille. Figured I would wait until we got home to use the toilet, wasn't that urgent right?
Well, an hour later it was getting urgent.
Park (in a totally illegal spot, the only kind available after about 19h in marseille) sprinted back to our apartment, where Alain put the key in one of the five locks (yes, we have five but only use three) and...
The key had twisted, making it impossible to pull it out or turn it.
What to do?
Panicing, we head over to the McDonald's on the corner (this McDonalds has served us well in our times of bathroom need, like when we didn't have a toilet for a weekend due to replacing it with a new one).
Bought a soda, used the facilities and debated what to do next. We could head to his parents' house for the night, waking them up in the middle of the night, but my train was leaving at 7:40 the next morning, with all my stuff inside the apartment (and not quite finished packing either I might add).
We decided to call information. Anti-cellphone people that we are, we had to find a payphone (not easy nowadays, there are fewer and fewer payphones around). There happened to be one right across from the McDonalds, so we called information and were put through to a 24 hour locksmith. We gave him our name and address and he said he would be there in about 30 minutes, and it would be at least 200€. I was just hoping that the door wouldn't have to be broken down- sure to wake all the neighbors (and our neighbor would probably call the police on us) plus, as nothing is standard size, we would have to have another specially made. We headed back to the apartment to wait. I waited down by the building entrance while he went back up to try again to get in.
About five minutes later, he comes running down, tells me that he managed to open the door, and is about to sprint out to the payphone when I call after him "Why don't we just use the phone in our apartment then?" He turns around and runs back up. We get in (after all these years of moaning about this apartment, it sures feels different after you are locked out of your own home) and he dials the number given by information. Hello, we just called about the lock... Aren't you a locksmith? Oh. Sorry for waking you.
Call information again, get the (correct) number for the locksmith, call him again, tell him that we managed to get in and don't need his services anymore.... He was rather annoyed, which I suppose is understandable, and hung up.
Went to sleep a little before 1, for five whole hours of sleep.
Got to the train station at 7 am for my train that leaves at 7:40. Alain was teasing me about being so early, but I told him "you never know with the SNCF". Indeed, a few minutes later, my train completely disappeared from the sign. One minute it was there, showing as "on time", next minute, nothing, like it never existed.
We quickly asked one of the agents what happened, and she said "Oh, it has been canceled due to a strike." what else is new?!
We quick ran over to a train leaving at 7:10 going by Lyon as well (which is the one that I usually take) and I managed to hop on board, without having the correct ticket and without validating (composté) my ticket.
Managed to sit behind two families with young children who had portable DVD players with "the Lion King" showing to keep their kids entertained, without headphones of course. Really, the last thing I want to hear at 7:30 am on a sunday morning after five hours of sleep is
Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama Nants ingonyama bagithi babaSithi uhhmm ingonyamaIngonyamaSiyo Nqoba IngonyamaIngonyama nengw' enamabala!!!!!


Honestly. Some people have no respect for others. Please readers, if you have children, I understand that you want/desperately need to keep them entertained. But do you really want your fellow passengers contemplating throwing you/your kid/the portable DVD player out the window of the TGV?
Thank you.
lundi 7 décembre 2009

Here are the muffins I made on Sunday.

2 ripe bananas and several cups of maple syrup, and they come out tasting like banana bread in muffin form, with no hint of maple syrup. (though I did put a sugar-maple syrup glaze on some, as you can see). Used up almost a whole bottle of maple syrup, which is darn expensive and hard to find here, so that was a waste.

Alain's comment?

"Is it like, the stuff from the nose?"

No dear, that's mushed banana inside.

Ah well, it wasn't a hit with him. He keeps asking for blueberry and I keep telling him I can't FIND any blueberries at this time of the year, not even frozen.

In other news, thank you all for your comments about my blog. Is the text readable? I am afraid it might be hard to see on the background.
dimanche 6 décembre 2009
Last weekend we went over to my in-laws'. They have three olive trees, and my father-in-law was in the process of de-oliving them.

He said that it takes him about three days per tree, working alone.

Alain was busy working on the car, so I took a bucket and headed out to enjoy the late November sun.

(not the best picture of me, but oh well)

Spent a couple of hours picking olives off this tree. It was quite de-stressing in fact, the sun, the quiet, ripping all those little buggers off the branches, and hearing them plop into the bucket. Once I turned over the bucket, so it wasn't quite as fun re-picking them all up off the ground, but oh well.

Makes me want to buy some baby olive trees in pots, so that maybe by the time we have land to plant them, they are olive-producing. Wouldn't want too many trees though. After a few days of picking olives, it would get tiring real fast.
samedi 5 décembre 2009
One of Alain's fondest memories of the United States is...

The muffins in the IBM cafeteria.

The last time we were in the US, Christmas 2008, I bought a 6-cup silicone muffin pan and a book of Muffin recipes (it came as a set).

Finally got around to trying some of the muffin recipes.

Last week it was "Raspberry-White Chocolate".
Took in 12 to my work, and they disappeared quite quickly, though everyone kept thanking me for the "gateau". No! It's not a gateau you silly French! It's a muffin! ("Moo-ffeen" in french.)

This weekend I am going to try "Banana-Maple".
I can see that the 6-muffin pan will be largely insufficient and need to invest in more regular size, mini, and large muffin pans.

Gotta keep my Frenchman happy.

As requested, here is the recipe:

Raspberry and White Chocolate Muffins:
For 12 regular size muffins
1 cup of white chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1.5 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
confectioner's sugar, for dusting

Preheat over to 400F (200C).
Grease muffin pan or use muffin cups (or silicone tray)
Melt half the chocolate chips and butter
Combine flour, sugar, and remaining chocolate chips
Combine eggs, milk, and butter/melted chocolate in other bowl, then pour into first.
Pour in raspberries
Spoon batter into muffin molds, bake about 20 minutes until golden brown.
Dust with confectioner's sugar if desired.

I must say I didn't use white chocolate chips, impossible to find here.
Just bought a bar of white cooking chocolate, broke it up into bits.

Turned out very good!
dimanche 29 novembre 2009

Last week I realized that yet another part of our car was broken (oh the joys of parking in Marseille).
Monday morning it was the left-side mirror that got broken off, then Friday it was one of the back lights.
On Saturday, we made a trip to the junkyard to see what we could find. I had never been to one before, so didn't really know what to expect. There actually weren't many cars sitting there, and they were mostly still intact. Alain joked "We had better be careful, we might come back and find that someone has mistaken our car for one of the junkyard cars."
We went in and told them what we needed, and as luck had it, there was another Fiat Bravo with the same lights. Got the right-rear light set for 45€. Felt strange, like we were cannablizing another poor car.
We went over to Alain's parents, and Alain and his dad fixed it up. Also needed to fix the reservoir for the windshield wiper liquid (it leaks and so is completely empty about a day after filling it up) and glue back a strip on the left side.
Not sure it is actually worth it to buy a less-old considerably better-shape car as it will still be parked in Marseille and we still don't have a garage....
lundi 23 novembre 2009
The day after my birthday, we invited all of Alain's family over to see our apartment and for cake. We didn't tell (warn) them that my parents were here, so I think it was a surprise for some of them, not so much for others.

We had two cakes, a chocolate one (mix that my mom brought from the US) with chocolate icing (also from the US) and a black forest cake that my mother-in-law bought from Carrefour, plus a bottle of champagne left over from our wedding, that was well past its drink-by date.

Alain's sister Lucy managed to get both kids IN the car and TO Marseille, which is quite a feat.
Plus Alain's aunt and parents, so there were quite a few of us. We pulled out the extension for the table and managed to all crowd around.

Lucy left around 4:30, headed back to Toulon before it got too late. Alain's parents and aunt stayed until about 9. They were all impressed with the fact that the apartment was finally (more or less) finished.

All in all, a pretty great birthday party.

Does he look like he knows what he is doing?

Alain with his neices, who just adore him. Well, Manon (right) does and I am sure Anna will too.
Alain seems to understand kids in a way I don't.
I have no idea how to keep them entertained. I can't even play with dolls for goodness sake. I just sorta wave them around aimlessly.
I can't get around the fact that they are NOT mini-adults.
And yes, blogger messed up my template. Guess I will have to fiddle with this one now.
dimanche 22 novembre 2009
On Armistice day, my parents, Alain, and I went to go visit Aigues Mortes. We managed to get on the road at around 9, and it took us about an hour and a half to drive there, up past Salon de Provence and Arles. Drove past the restaurant we went to when we went to Stes. Maries de la Mer two years ago, where a woman changed her baby on the table in front of everyone (dad's comment "It wasn't just wet!")

We parked in the nearly empty parking lot and walked around town. Saw the main square Place St. Louis, visited the church Notre Dame des Sablons, tried to walk around the ramparts, but they were closed as it was a holiday. It's a holiday, i.e. a day tourists are likely to be free to come. Let's close!

We saw the outside of the Chapelle des Pénitents Gris, then had a coffee.

Walked around some more, then had lunch at a small restaurant near the square. At around 3 we had run out of things to do, so drove home. Too bad the ramparts were closed.

Bought one of those poorly-translated guide books to the town, you know, the kind like "Nîmes" in French, English, Italian, German, and Spanish with a few pictures and stories for about 5€.

Reading it, I know exactly how it is written in the French version, due to some funny phrasing and not-quite-the-same-in-English metaphores.

All in all, a nice little side trip, but I certainly wouldn't want to live there. Every summer, invaded by touristes, all the rest of the year, nothing to do.

Plus, the houses "intra-muros" are dang expensive and I am sure come with all sorts of rules of what you can and cannot do. Wonder what everyone does for a living there.
samedi 7 novembre 2009
Last Friday, (October 30th) a large package arrived in my mailbox. I couldn't figure out what it was. I hadn't ordered anything (that I remembered). Then I looked at the return address and knew-
it was from Jess from Presto Manifesto who sent me a mysterious prize for winning her blog competition.

Opened it up, and what did I find? A large package of candy corn!

Perfect for Halloween. I don't think I have eaten candy corn in years.
Thanks Jess!
vendredi 6 novembre 2009
you buy something from Sephora and get "premiér rides" (first wrinkles cream) samples.
Today is my birthday. The big 3-0.
Sure have changed in a decade.

When I turned 20, I was at military school and certainly didn't think that in 10 years I would be living in France and worse! married to a Frenchman.
When I turned 10, I was in elementary school in South America and certainly didn't think that in 10 years I would be going to a military school.
When I turned 0, I was in Virginia, and certainly didn't think anything other than "Wah!"

For kicks, here is one of my early pictures, living in Germany

Got home from work Thursday night and who was there?

Not ONE but TWO parental units who had flown over from the US for a surprise. They had planned it all with Alain and he picked them up from the airport on Thursday. They will be here for about two weeks.

Tomorrow, Saturday, most of Alain's family is coming over, to see our apartment and for a mini-party for me. Mom and Dad's visit will be a surprise.
samedi 31 octobre 2009
Well, we went to his parent's house for lunch and managed to eek out the non-grandchildren pictures from their computer.

This is a motorcycle, and it is THE motorcycle:

And here is one happy camper :

lundi 26 octobre 2009
A few weeks ago, when we rode Alain's new (used) shiny green Kawasaki to his parents, his mother took some pictures of it and Alain on it. I asked her to email me the photos so that I could post them here and this is what I got.

Apparently, his mom couldn't figure out how to send the motorcycle pictures so sent this instead.

As far as I can tell, it is 7 month old frenchwoman in the making, otherwise known as our new niece Anna.
I know that it is all that grandparents can think about, but still...
dimanche 25 octobre 2009
What does yours taste like?

Had another fun Sunday with the SNCF.
Got on the TGV this morning in Strasbourg and arrived in Marseille a little after 3 pm. Seven hours is a little long for a TGV between Strasbourg and Marseille don't you think? That's because between Strasbourg and Lyon there are no high-speed tracks, so the TGV has to run at the speed of a regular train. That is, pretty darn slow. Takes about five hours from Strasbourg to Lyon, then two from Lyon to Marseille, where it can go faster.

I have discovered that:
I like riding on trains (in theory)
I just hate everyone on them (in practice).
I cannot stand the ringing cell phones, people listening to music WITHOUT the headphones, people watching DVDs without the headphones (a few years ago on the TGV from Lyon I politely asked a girl to please put the headphones on so that I didn't have to listen to Mission Impossible 2. She got all huffy but finally did. I don't know, is that too much to ask?)

I finally escaped to the dining car, where I could spread out my things and be relatively more peaceful. Honestly, when I make my reservation, why can't I choose "Sleep or Read a Book Wagon" instead of "Annoying Businessmen on Cellphones Wagon" "Screaming Infant Wagon" or "Teenagers with an Ipod Wagon"? I can choose which class, window or aisle, and upper or lower deck, why not other criteria?
Sure people come into the "dining" wagon and talk on their cellphones but there it doesn't bother me, mainly because that is where you are supposed to talk on your cellphone.

Anyway, I was working on my laptop (brand new, bright, shiny, and non beer smelling/tasting) when the train went around a curve and an open beer can slid across the counter, hit the edge of my laptop, and fell over, spilling beer onto the keyboard. Luckily I had a box of Kleenex nearby and was able to quickly mop up most of it. He apologized quite profusely and it didn't seem to be harmed but I was still rather cross.
I guess I shouldn't have been working in the food and drink area, but seriously it is impossible to work anywhere else. Well, in second class at least. Certainly first class has more space but certainly no plugs to plug in electrical items. I was informed that I could go in the toilets to plug it in, but the idea didn't excite me.

Arrived in Marseille and saw hordes of police in full riot gear in strategic points around the train station. Was wondering what was going on, then saw the signs that the Marseille-Paris match was canceled. Got stopped by four French people, all wearing L'Olympique de Marseille scarves, who asked me how to get to the Vieux Port from the Gare St. Charles. I explained to them that they could either go down and take the subway two stops or else could just walk down the hill from the train station, turn right at the McDonald's on the Canebiere and go straight and they would be there in 5 minutes. They thanked me and walked off. It was one of those situations where you don't think anything of it at the time but then wonder later "What is wrong with this picture?"
Blonde américaine tells four french OM supporters how to get from the Gare St. Charles to the Vieux Port of Marseille.
Isn't that something that should be inate for all OM supporters? Along with pastis, boullaibaise, les calanques, Notre Dame de la Garde, le Vieux Port, pétanque, and the Canebière?

Got home exhausted and am spending the rest of the day doing laundry and trying to calm my raging headache before heading back in to work tomorrow. Oh yeah, and wondering how I am going to explain the fact that my laptop reeks of beer.
samedi 24 octobre 2009
Cette cohérence a peut-être été fragilisée par la modification que la loi du 29 octobre 2007 de "lutte contre la contrefaçon" a apporté à l'article L. 615-3 du Code de la Propriété intellectuelle, pour lui faire énonce que "toute personne ayant qualité pour agir en contrefaçon peut saisir en référé la juridiction civile compétente afin de voir ordonner (...)". La jurisprudence va-t-elle privilégier la constation du fait que l'article L. 614-9 du Code de la Propriété intellectuelle n'inclut toujours pas l'article L. 615-3 du même code dans la définition qu'il donne de la protection provisoire, pour en tirer la consequence que sont irrecevables des demandes en référé formées sur le fondement d'une demande de brevet européen et donc maintenir l'ancienne jurisprudence? Va-t-elle au contraire privilégier la constatation du fait qu'aux termes du nouvel article L. 615-3 du Code de la Propriété intellectuelle, la demande en référé peut être formée par "toute personne ayant qualité pour agir en contrefaçon", et, retenant de l'article L. 615-4 du même code qu'il reconnaît au titulaire de la demande de brevet qualité pour agir puisqu'il énonce que le tribunal peut être "saisi d'une action en contrefaçon sur le fondement d'une demande de brevet", va-t-elle en tirer la conséquence que le référé est maintenant ouvert au titulaire de la demande de brevet? Elle ne devrait, dans cette voie, pas s'arrêter au fait que l'article L. 615-2 du Code de la Propriété intellectuelle énonce que c'est "le propriétaire du brevet [ou le bénéficiaire d'un droit d'exploitation] qui exerce l'action en contrefaçon", alors que cet article L. 615-2 (d'ailleurs non visé dans la protection provisiore définie par l'article L. 614-9 du même code qui au contraire renvoie à l'article L. 615-4 précité) s'intéresse, non pas à l'état du titre, mais à la qualité de celui qui l'invoque.

Shoot Me Now.

thank you.
lundi 12 octobre 2009
After several weekends of hauling and organizing (after several years of painting and sanding and scrubbing and dewallpapering and tiling and and and..)
Our apartment is livable!
Wouldn't drop dead in shame if people stopped by unexpectedly!
We actually have space!
Everything is pretty much
1) off the floor, and
2) shoved away somewhere
which are pretty huge accomplishments.
Now we don't have any excuses to NOT have people over.
What am I to do?!

We invited a couple over Saturday, but that morning they called and said that she (six months pregnant) isn't supposed to ride in a car and could we come over there instead?
Yes, our last childless friend couple has bitten the dust. It's over. We now officially have zero non-pregnant/non-ankle-biter-possessing friends.
(That's not true Alain yells from the other room. He knows a guy at work who has a girlfriend who is not pregnant. Okay, I stand corrected. One guy whom we never hang out with vs. ten couples that do. That's it. Seriously. What's wrong with you people?)

Anyway, Alain passed his motorcycle license and bought a motorcycle. A Kawasaki-green ER6N, 650 cc. For weeks all I heard was "Maybe I should get a bicylindre en ligne ou peut-être un quatre cylindre, mais je ne sais pas, un bi-cylindre a plus de couple à 7000 tours, mais un tri-cylindre consomme moins d'essence. Qu'est ce que tu en pense? " motorcycles motorcyles motorcycles motorcycles.

Silly me. I thought once he actually bought the darn thing we could talk about something else, but now its "Oh she is so beautiful...." We are talking about your motorcycle and not another woman right!?
We bought this motorcycle, a 2008 model with 15000 km from a guy here in Marseille. Alain has had it for almost a week now and is so happy he might just burst.

He is happier than a Frenchman in a vat of wine, but buying it wasn't easy. I went to La Poste in Aix to get a bank check. After waiting in line for about half an hour, I get to the front and am perfunctorily told that I cannot, under any circumstances, get a bank check from them. Why not? Because they are not my Bureau de Rattachement.

No amount of arguing would change her mind. I told Alain he would have to go the next morning to La Poste near our apartment. He went, and guess what?
(All you Americans in France know what is coming, but for everyone else....)
Yep. No way were we getting our money. Sure glad it wasn't life or death. Though I am sure that if it was life or death and I went back to La Poste in in Aix I would be told that no, I can't have the money for the emergency heart operation for my dying child who must be operated on today or else she will die, because it's not my Bureau de Rattachement!!!!!
Anyway, his parents were able to get a bank check from their account (not LA POSTE!) and we then wrote them a regular check.
What a pain. thanks La Poste, you keep on giving us a kick in the pants.
Guess I learned my lesson- can't count on them.
We are changing banks, I swear it.

(Mom and Dad, stop reading now. thanks)
Anyway, we rode the famous motorcycle on Sunday to go visit his family. I was a bit (lot) nervous about going on the interstate, as I had never ridden on the interstate on a motorcycle before.
Let's just say, I don't think I will be doing it much.

(I said stop reading mom and dad!)
It was incredibly windy- we were going about 100-110 km/hour and I just wanted to close my eyes until we reached his parent's or got hit by a crazy French driver who just CANT STAND the fact that we aren't going at least 10 km over the speed limit so they absolutely must cut us off as they overtake us, whichever comes first.

(I told you not to read mom and dad.)
Anyway, still alive, and more worried than ever about him driving to karate and back twice a week, though I do actually believe him now when he tells me it is actually safer to have a more powerful motorcycle rather than his 125 cc bike that looks like a real motorcycle and sounds like a real motorcycle and smells like a real motorcycle and tastes like a real motorcycle but only goes 100 km/hour max, making the crazy French drivers think that he can actually accelerate and get out of danger (ie them giving him all of 10 cm clearance as they pass him on a curve) when he can't.
So anyway.

Two things, that took an unbelievably long time (apartment, almost three years, motorcycle license a year and a half) finished.
Sometimes I wonder what we are going to do with our weekends (especially now that all our friends are busy changing diapers) but then I remember:

Not finished: my law course and Alain's 2nd doctoral thesis
Well, not quite another PhD (what is he doing, collecting them?!) but pretty close- it is for him to have his own students, and, oh yeah, Pepe's constant questioning of when are we going to join the ranks of exhausted parenthood. Like we don't already have enough to do? We have a year reprieve at least (in his mind), that is one plus I guess. Back to my books of Patent Case Law, which would be dull in any language, but in French I want to pull my teeth out just to pass the time.
See you in July!
dimanche 4 octobre 2009
After my last post about Alain's progress with our kitchen during his August vacation
see: Everything but the...

(before, when we moved in)

He installed the sink the next day. It looks great but I am now officially paranoid about actually cooking in the kitchen. I don't want to get water on the wood countertop (which is protected by several layers of resin, but still).

Plus, our kitchen was built for Swedish giants.
It is really really high.

Anyway, our dishwasher arrived the week after our return from Bretagne, and was installed just fine. Took us awhile to figure out how to use it, (turns out that those power ball things are not actually the "Sel" that is needed).

It turns out that the King of Dishes is reluctant to use the darn thing.
I thought he would be all over it, but no. I have to forcibly remind him "Put the dishes in the dishwasher."

Our cooking/eating habits are, for the moment, incompatible with the use of a dishwasher. It seems that when you do the dishes by hand, there are about two of everything (plates, cutlery, glasses) that are in constant rotation and never actually make it from the drying rack back to the cupboard. Now we actually have to use all of our plates/knives/forks/etc. before the dishwasher gets run. Ah well. I'm sure we will adjust.

So, I am now officially calling it..

The Apartment Renovation from H--- is Finished!

Three years and many fights later, we are ready to move on.

Now to the annoying part of getting rid of all the extra building stuff and organizing. Maybe we can actually start living now.

It is amazing how much actual space we have when three room's worth of stuff isn't shoved into the living room + sacks of concrete and bits and pieces of wood and boxes of broken tiles and power tools and all the rest.

We made several trips with carloads of stuff to Alain's parent's house, so they were less than pleased to come back from two months in Bretagne and find their garage overflowing with stuff.
samedi 26 septembre 2009

So, anybody want to guess what mystery city I am in? First one to guess (one guess per person)

gets a postcard from where I am. (Please try to contain your excitement.)

If nobody gets it this time, I will post another picture the next time I come here.
samedi 19 septembre 2009
The World's Happiest Dog lives in our building during the summers.
It is true.
This dog, a yellow labish sort of gal, makes me smile every time I see her.

Apparently, she belongs to my neighbor's son, who has a restaurant on the beach here in Marseille. I call her "Bonjour" to myself, but I don't think that is her name. I call her this because once I asked her owner what his name is, and he said "Bonjour". During the off-season, Bonjour lives with him on the beach, but I guess during the tourist season there is just way too much excitement (kids! frisbees! kites! ice cream cones! doggy brain overload!) that she is sent to stay with his dad.

I usually only see her when she is being taken out for her walk, but you can tell that every furry fiber on her body is just vibrating with excitement, and that she is thinking something pretty much along the lines of "Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy.............." And that's about it.

Sometimes I feel like asking my neighbor if I can keep her for a few days. It would be nice to have someone around who thinks I am the world's greatest human being just for giving her some water to drink. Strangely, Alain doesn't seem to think that.

It must be nice to be a dog. Don't have to worry about passing an International Law Class in French, that's for sure.
vendredi 18 septembre 2009
It seems to me that most people, as a general rule, don't like hearing about other people's dreams. Let's face it- your dreams are only really interesting and make sense to you.

Ex-boyfriend showed up at your work in a chicken suit?
Yeah, that means absolutely nothing to me.

But I think I probably have the most boring dreams in the world.

I dream about Patents.

Like I don't get enough of it from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm five to six days a week.
I really like my job, but it's like my brain is continuing to churn to try and figure out how all the laws and stuff fit together. At any one time I have a mixture of French, European, International, and US law bouncing around in my head, sometimes colliding into each other.

For example, what is the only country in the world that has a first-to-invent system instead of a first-to-file system? (ie the invention belongs to the first person to conceive of it instead of the first one to file for a patent)
No, for once France isn't being different just to be different. It's the United States (way to go USA. Like the whole imperial system vs. metric system isn't screwy enough)
So all these different systems have different laws, and how they mesh together can really do your head in.

And NO there is no such thing as a worldwide patent. Doesn't exist people. I'm still trying to convince my father-in-law of this. You can file an international patent application, but then it gets divided up into individual patent applications for the countries that you want. And just because you get a patent in one country, it doesn't mean squat in all the other countries.
And you haven't really lived until you have cried due to frustration over a patent for goodness sake.
All of this gets worse before exams.

Okay, first a little background before I explain a dream I had before the USPTO exam:
Once a patent application has been filed, it is (in most countries) examined in order to determine whether it is a) properly described and claimed b) new c) non-obvious and d) industrially applicable.

With me so far?
Okay, it gets more complicated. Actually, a lot more complicated, but I am trying not to bore all my readers away.

In the US, there are different statutes of prior-art material that can be used to show that the invention of the application is not new or obvious. For example, if it was published by another before the application was filed by the inventor. One of these is the

MPEP (Manual of Patent Examining Procedure) 102e:
If the invention was described in (1) an application for patent, published under section 122(b), by another filed in the United States before the invention by the applicant for patent or (2) a patent granted on an application for patent by another filed in the United States before the invention by the applicant for patent, except that an international application filed under the treaty defined in section 351(a) shall have the effects for the purposes of this subsection of an application filed in the United States only if the international application designated the United States and was published under Article 21(2) of such treaty in the English language.
for some examples, see
The Official Link

Asleep yet?

Okay, here is an actual dream of mine:
I was dreaming about different dates and different priority claims for a patent application, filed in various countries and languages, and trying to work out the applicable 102e date.
- Was it filed in the US before or after November 29, 2000 (the critical date)?
- Was it published in English by the World Intellectual Property Organization?
- Does it claim the priority of a foreign application filed before Nov. 29th?
- What is the earliest effective date?

That's it. Just dates and different facts and figures. Woohoo! Actually, it was studying the examples in the link above that got this into my head, so my subconscious was in overdrive with all the different options, published in English before Nov. 29th, not published in English and not designating the United States, etc.

So here is a challenge for anyone interested:

- An international patent application is filed in France in French on Nov. 6th 2000

- The patent application is published by the international bureau in French on May 6th 2002

- The patent application enters the US National Phase on May 6th 2003

- The patent application is granted on December 6th 2004

By what date is it applicable as prior art against another US patent application? Whoever gets it correctly will get their name in big glittery letters on my blog. And in order to win, you can't just pick a date and hope to get lucky. You have to say which example it is based on of the examples in the link above.

Pretty exciting huh? You too could be a super-cool Patent Agent!

jeudi 17 septembre 2009
I have made an amazing scientific discovery. I call it: "Megan's Time-Energy Discontinuum"

T = E^-1
wherein T = Time and E = Energy
In short, time is the inverse of energy, and energy is the inverse of time.

Ever hear of the time-space continuum?
Here is the wikipedia site:

What does all this mean you wonder?

Simple: if I have the time to do something, then I don't have the energy. Likewise, if I have the energy to do something, then I don't have the time.

Concrete examples:
I have the energy to mop my floor around 2 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. However, I am at work when this happens, so I don't have the time.
I have the time to mop my floor around 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon. However, after a 45-50 hour workweek + spending all Saturday morning shopping for groceries, running errands, waiting in line at La Poste, etc. I don't have the energy. All I have the energy for is a three-hour PASSED OUT ON THE COUCH major nap session.
See? Time-Energy discontinuum.

I don't think this time-energy discontinuum will go away in the near future. Maybe once we retire. At which point, there will most likely be a (time*energy) - health discontinuum. Yay for the rat race!

Found out, in true French Bureaucratic fashion, that I have been accepted to the program and will be starting next week. Still haven't received the official papers and it starts less than a week.

I demand to be cited as the original discoverer of this Time-Energy Discontinuum for all future scientific articles.

vendredi 11 septembre 2009
On day two of our stay in Bretagne, after rolling out of bed around 9:30 or so (a first for me, I usually wake up much earlier than that, even on vacation) Alain's parents, Alain and I hit the road to drive to Lorient to see his cousin B. and his girlfriend S. who had a baby boy in March. He was quite cute, and is just starting to "eat". (see picture)
We hadn't seen them since our wedding, so it was good to be able to see them again. They have a great duplex apartment, and I turn green with envy everytime I think about how much they paid for it (about 2/3rds of what we paid for ours in Marseille).

We had a late lunch then went for a walk along the seashore, then it was late so we stayed for dinner, then left around 10 pm, getting back to Alain's grandmother's house a little before midnight.

Don't have much to say about Lorient, but it seems like a cute little city. My guidebook says that it has a little over 60,000 inhabitants and that it was almost completely destroyed during WWII. The books says that Lorient is the second biggest port of France for fishing, merchandise, and for pleasure cruises, but I don't really know how they came to this conclusion. Oh, and every year there is an Interceltic Festival for two weeks in August, which seems like it would be fun to go to. Once.

mardi 8 septembre 2009
Moi for a day!
I interrupt my Bretagne series to tell you about my trip to Paris yesterday.
I had to go up for my work, for an Entretien d'admission for a program I am hoping to get into.
I took the TGV from Marseille, leaving at 7:30 am. The TGV was rather full, I guess all those people who do weekly commutes up to Paris- leaving Monday morning and coming back Friday night.
Tried to sleep/study/read on the train but couldn't manage to do any of it.

Arrived in Paris a little before 11, and managed to figure out how to get a Metro ticket. I decided to just buy a one-day zone 1-2 pass for 5€ and not have to worry about it. It probably would have been cheaper to buy a one-use ticket each time, but such a hassle. Plus, I didn't know if I would be pressed for time later.

I got on the RER A line and got off at Aubers, where I was going to be meeting one of my colleagues for lunch. He hadn't arrived yet, was taking the train in from St. Cloud, so I decided to walk around a bit, and walked towards the Gare St. Lazare. On the way, I passed a Printemps Paris store, so I went in and looked for a bit at all the expensive displays.

I was a bit offended actually because in their window displays they had stuffed animals (and no, not like teddy bears, like tigers and lions that had been shot and stuffed) and they were dressed up with accessories, like had a purse hanging from their neck and hair clips attached to their ears. I thought it was rather disrespectful to the animals. I didn't have my camera with me- I thought about bringing it, but had enough stuff to carry/worry about. Anyway, in the Printemps store there was a new display for the Yves Saint Laurent perfume Parisienne that is all over the magazines now. Qui est Parisienne? I guess the idea is that every woman can be a Parisienne if you wear this perfume! I toyed with the idea of buying a bottle to commemorate my trip, but I didn't really like the scent that much and for goodness sake I have enough perfumes already, so I didn't.

Walked over to Gare St. Lazare and still had some time to kill, so I found a Starbucks and went in. This is the first Starbucks I have been in France. I found their menu a bit more subdued than in the US, but still managed to have a Caramel Macchiato or something like that. It was good but very expensive- 4.50€ for a small size. Or perhaps I am just out of touch with current US Starbuck's prices.

Met my colleague (well, that is rather pretentious of me- he is a partner of my company) and we went to lunch at Hippopotamus, a steak restaurant. I wasn't very hungry, I had had some McDonald's breakfast on the train (not that great, I might add) and nervous, so I just ordered a salad, most of which I wasn't able to finish.
At 1 we said goodbye and he took the train to return to St. Cloud, and I got back on the Metro to head for my entretien.

I think an advanced degree in Paris Transportation must be required to figure out the Paris public transportation system. My goodness. Tons of different lines going every which way, plus the trains, tramways, buses, subway, and then the different zones...

I got off at my stop, Marx Dormoy at the Rue de la Chapelle in the 18th arrondisement. Not the best part of town I imagine. I walked to the meeting site and went in. There were about 40 other candidates for this program, and I am guessing about 40 more the next day. It was mostly men; I would say 30 men and 10 women or so. I didn't mingle much; I am not a good mingler, even in English. Plus I know the minute I open my mouth I'm going to get "Oh where are you from?" "Why are you here?" etc. I don't mind per se, but at the time I was nervous and just wanted to think about the interview.

At 2 the interview started, and they introduced the professors and explained a bit about the program, then gave us a little test (all in French) and 1 hour to complete it.
After the 1 hour, they collected the papers, and we were divided among the professors, who called us in, one by one, to discuss our papers.

Turns out I did so-so. I did a few things wrong, but then did some others well. I don't think anyone did it perfectly (if so, no real point in going to the program is there?) and I answered the questions that he posed me afterwards well. I think he was impressed by my professional/educational background and the fact that I passed the US exam. I think there is a bit of concern that the French might be too difficult for me, but we shall see.
I should know whether I am accepted or not by the end of the week. I was done with my interview around 4:15, so I walked back and took the metro back to Gare du Lyon, arriving around 5 pm. I was hoping that I would arrive in time to exchange my ticket (originally for 7:30) and catch the 5:15 TGV to Marseille. I was able to exchange it, and left Paris at 5:30. I went up to dining car (though calling it a "dining" car is a bit of a stretch- more like "Snacks, Coffee, Soda and Wine Car") and ordered a coke (3.40€ ouch). But it was worth it because I spent the next two hours looking out the panoramic window and enjoying the view.
Here is what I saw on the return trip:
1 Nuclear Power Plant
16 Windmills
510,564 cows
Got into Marseille at 8:30 and Alain came to meet me at the train station. Actually, he didn't really need to, but I originally thought I would be getting in at 10:30, at which time I wouldn't want to go back to our apartment by myself.
I was exhausted from my trip.

All in all, Paris: nice city, has its good parts and bad parts, but I wouldn't want to live there year-round or work there. Marseille, at about 1 million inhabitants, is large enough (even too large sometimes) for me. Maybe once we are retired I would like to have a small apartment in Paris and spend a few months per year there, go to all the museums and cultural events, then leave after a few months and return to the country.

But somehow, the catch phrase "Qui est Marseillaise?" probably wouldn't sell a lot of perfumes.
dimanche 6 septembre 2009
Alain and I decided to go to Bretagne for a week at the end of August. This is the first time we have gone in four years. The first time we went it was August 2005, a month after I had arrived. That time, we drove there and back, all 14-15 hours each way, completing the trip in one day.

This time, we decided to fly. Luckily, Ryanair now offers daily flights from Marseille to Brest, and we able to get round-trip tickets for 140€ each, which is about the price it would cost to drive there when you consider the cost of gas, tolls, meals, and especially if we decided to rent a hotel room, plus the extra milage on our 200K+ km car with not-so-good brakes.

So I booked the tickets in July, hoping that Alain would be done with the kitchen by the last week of August. (he was)

It was our first experience flying with low-cost airlines. Though definitely bare-bones, it turned out okay. His parents drove to Bretagne in July, so we were able to send a suitcase full of clothes with them, saving us from having to pay the checked-luggage fee. The only other fee was the cost of the shuttle from Gare St. Charles in Marseille to the airport in Marignane, a total of 34€ for both of us, round-trip.
I dutifully printed out our boarding passes ahead of time, but then neglected to actually read them.

Arrived at the airport, went through security, waited in the line to get on the plane and when we got to the front of the line, I was informed that I could not board because I didn't have the visa check stamp on my ticket. OH DRAT. Quick back through security, waited anxiously in the passport control line, got fed up after the woman in front of me took 5+ minutes to talk to the Ryanair person, then finally just accosted another man behind the counter who said "I don't do that" "I'm going to miss my flight unless you stamp my ticket." (grumble. Brief glance at passport. Stamp on ticket.) "Next time read the ticket." This very complicated process - look at passport, look at ticket to make sure names match, stamp - couldn't be done anywhere else? Heavens no!

Back through security and back to the end of the line of the people STILL waiting to get on board. As we were practically the last ones to board, there were no longer any seats together available, but it wasn't a big deal. I sat next to an elderly woman who kept turning on her cellphone (did you not hear the message 'turn OFF your cell phones'?!) who then swore loudly when we had a slightly rough landing. Managed to resist buying anything on the plane, though the flight attendants sure do peddle the goods hard.

After deboarding, we met Alain's parents and drove half an hour from the airport in Guipavas to where his grandmother lives. The temperature was about half that in Marseille- when we left it was 36°, and in Bretagne it was about 18°. Sure glad I packed tons of shorts and t-shirts! I lived in my jeans and long-sleeved shirts all week long, didn't once put on shorts.
I have a sort-of "If you build it, he will come" mentality to packing. If I pack only warm-weather clothes, it will be nice and sunny, right? Wrong.

Had a late lunch, then I was about to take a nap when Alain's aunt, uncle, and cousin arrived. We chatted for a few hours, then they left and we had dinner and went to bed. I was exhausted because I hadn't slept well the night before, plus we had gotten up early to leave for the airport, plus the stress of flying.
dimanche 30 août 2009
Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by numbers, especially their relations with each other.
For example, riding up the ski lift I would watch the chairs going by, and noticing the number of each one, try to find the highest number, or find the chair with the number of my birthdate, or count how many there were, or whatever.

Riding in the car during interminable car trips, I would watch the mile markers on the highway go by. I would often remember exactly how many miles we had to go in Kansas, or count how many minutes before passing each mile marker.

Driving home from work, I have divided up the last 5 km of my route (the slowest part) into nine different sections, and then I count how many minutes it takes me to get through each section, and then sing to myself
2-1-2-3-1-1-1-1-4 (or however minutes each section took).

Trying to take a nap the other day, my mind was whirring away, with different numbers in my head.
45. Now if I flip that, that is 54. Nine numbers apart.
Let's see. If I take 24, then it is 18 apart from 42. Huh. a multiple of nine.
Let's see, then if I take the second number 4, and then subtract the first number 2, then multiply that by nine and then add that to the first number (24) I get 42. Interesting. So the difference between the two numbers is the multiple by which 9 must be multiplied, then the sum added to the first number to get its reverse.
Now wait a minute, what if it is a number with the second number less than the first, like 51? Let's see, 1-5=-4. -4 times 9 = -36, which when added to 51 equals 15. Cool!
Okay, time to go to sleep.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to figure this out, but it is just to give you an idea of the strange things that wander through my mind. I was anxious to get home and verify my theory, so I wrote up an Excel spreadsheet. It works. Try it. Amaze your friends with your amazing math skills.
Just be sure you can add for example 36 and 27 in your head.
It even tecnically works for numbers such as the following:
9: 09 + (9-0)*9 = 9 + 81 = 90
44: 44 + (4-4)*9= 44 + 0 = 44

Now, this being said, the French number system really gets on my nerves. I mean honestly, who came up with the names for their numbers (70-99)?!
99 = four twenties, a ten, and a nine
what a mouthful.
Here is my new French numbering system:
40= quarante
50= cinquante
60= soixante
70= septante
80= huitante
90= neuffante
99= neuffante-neuf.
So much better!
jeudi 20 août 2009
Last week, as part of my self-torture plan, I went to the Bureau de Proximité of the Mairie here in Marseille to get the file to start the long arduous process of obtaining my French nationality. I figured that as I had just spent weeks photocopying every single electricity bill, bank statement, and tax receipt received since moving here in order to get my 10-year card, that while I had all this organized and scanned that I might as well take the next step.

Little did I know that France has some new and exciting hoops to jump through. Ready for this?
Hoop #1) Are your parents married (to each other, still)? Yes?
Okay. We need a translated official copy (with Apostille) of their marriage certificate.
- Um, my parents got married in Thailand. Super, I can already tell this is going to be a barrel of fun.

Hoop #2) We need a translated apostille official copy of your police record. - Um, I've lived in four different countries and in three different states. Do you really need a note from the German government that I wasn't wreaking too much havoc at the age of 3?

Hoop #3) We need a translated (obviously because Name is way too hard to figure out) apostille official copy of your birth certificate.
- This one I rather figured but I have to get a minor spelling error corrected first. It is already incorrect on our Livret de Famille/Acte de Mariage

Hoop #4) Copies of your diplomas.
- As any American knows, a US diploma is not a regular A4 sheet of paper. Oh no. These babies are frickin' huge, the better to be framed and hung in your office. I am hoping they will accept official transcripts.

Hoop #5) A statement from the Treasury that you have paid all your taxes.
- Ah yes. I see what is important to La Republique Française.

Hoop #6) A copy of your entire acte de vente, buying your property. All 50 pages of it.
- I'm sure they will just look at the first page to check the names and address and the last page to check the signature and that is it.

Once I have all this stuff, plus the all important Electricity Bill (good grief you would think that the EDF bills were issued by God for all the importance the French attribute to them) and tax receipts of course, I have to call the Mairie to have an appointment to hand in my file. Then they will supposedly have it reviewed within 6 months, and call me in to the Prefecture for an interview and then make their decision. I think 6 months is a bit (extremely) optimistic.

Anybody want to guess how much all of this (ordering of certified copies, get the Apostilles, paying for translations, etc) will cost me? I am guessing 1000€.
A few things I have learned from living in France:
a) always get official records corrected as soon as possible after you notice the error, because it is a pain to get it corrected later
b) always order about 50 copies of every thing while you are at it- most of the fee comes from them looking up the file and sending it to you, the copy itself is usually only a few dollars
c) same with translating- the main cost is the time the translator spends, so get about 10 official copies of your birth certificate translated into whatever language you need
d) scan everything and save it on several different hard disks

I am sure this process is as complicated for other countries as well, I am not complaining too much.
At least here there doesn't seem to be as much, or any, visiting of our home to see if we are living together, separate interviews, etc. like there is in the US.

Sigh. So maybe a year from now I will be an official Frenchie. How strange.
If I can even get my file turned in before December I think it will be going well. I guess I can't actually get the nationality until we have been married four years, but hopefully by next May they will be close to deciding. Oh, and another thing I found funny- I was told that once I get my décret de naturalisation they will issue me a new birth certificate, so I will literally be born again as a Frenchwoman. :)
dimanche 16 août 2009
I think I've about had it with this city.
It was good, especially the first year I was here, to live in a big city where I could get around easily, go to my French courses, meet other foreigners, go to the US Consulate, Prefecture, (on a bi-weekly basis) doctor's appointments, etc. easily.
But now? Over it.

The problem? Alain really likes Marseille.
He thinks it is great to be able to go to museums, movies, the beach, and all the rest. Me too. The only thing wrong with that is- we never do any of that stuff! I guess partly because our life the past three years has been:
Apartment Work Apartment Work Apartment, that we haven't gotten out much, but basically right now pretty much all this city is for me is:
1) hard to find parking
2) traffic jams coming home from work, and
3) dirty.
For the past few years, City Hall has invested a lot of money trying to improve Marseille and Marseille's image- hiring more street cleaners, putting up signs with things like "I am proud of my city- I keep it clean." Yeah right. After all this campaigning and probably hundreds of thousands of euros spent, the most I can say is slightly less dog poop and a smidge less trash. Woohoo.

People toss candy wrappers out their car windows, drop their soda cans as they are walking down the street, and don't even get me started on cigarette butts. Even INSIDE our building we have people who drop their cigarettes in the entranceway and on the stairs. Who cares? It's not chez eux. The cleaning lady (who comes once a week or less) will clean it up.
No wonder tourists avoid it like the plague and prefer to go visit cities like Aix, Avignon, Arles. Even the cruise ships that stop here, the visitors seem to either make a beeline for a day in Paris or else go visit the countryside.

When you ask someone who loves Marseille exactly why they love Marseille, you will most likely get an answer along these lines: "The sea!" "The Calanques!" "The islands!" In short, the things that the Marseillais themselves have nothing to do with.
Marseille has been elected the European Capital of Culture for the year 2013. This should be interesting folks.
The thing is, that the city could be really nice if it would just be a whole lot cleaner- there are nice neighborhoods, nice restaurants and stores, lively markets, museums, an opera, and all the rest. It is also true that there are some very nice areas- places we couldn't afford after a century of saving. But in general, it pretty much averages out to cesspool.
Perhaps I will feel a bit differently once we are able to start enjoying life a bit more.
samedi 15 août 2009

Kitchen Sink.

Alain has spent the first two weeks of August working on his Honey Do list:
Number 1) Finish the kitchen!
Number 2) See number one!
Number 3) What, you still haven't finished the kitchen yet?
Number 4) What are you doing looking at number 4 on the list if number 1 isn't done yet?!
And so forth.

(removed old sink and moved washer ->)

This is something that he has been waiting to have a significant block of time before attacking.

We had long ago replaced the water heater, changed the gas pipes, removed the ugly glass and metal monstrosity above the stove, removed the incredibly ugly wallpaper, repainted, and installed the cabinets. *ALL* that remained was to add some more plugs (our apartment was built in a time when they could not figure out why anyone would need more than one plug in each bedroom, and a maximum of two in the kitchen), move the piping around, and install the new sink and a dishwasher.

Back when we bought the kitchen elements (from IKEA, where else?) in Nov. 2007, we also bought the sink, coutertop, and a door for the dishwasher. We were planning on having one of those integratable ones, where you put a door on the front that looks like the rest of your cabinets.

Anyway, all of that has been sitting in our apartment, shifted from one room to the other from time to time.

As Alain has all of August off, he decided to tackle it this month. He installed three new plugs on one side of the kitchen and three on the other.

Electricity + Water = Yay!

We removed the disgusting old sink (which is now sitting in the small bedroom) and have been without a kitchen sink for almost two weeks now. I thought not having a shower was difficult but in a way this is almost more difficult. And am getting tired of washing the dishes in a bucket. Anyway.

We paid (400€ ouch) a plumber to come and move the piping around because it wasn't in the right place for what we wanted to do. As our apartment was built before there were standard sizes (and certainly nothing is straight) we had to do quite a balancing act to be able to get a dishwasher+sink+washer+stove in the area we have.

After much measuring, we finally decided that we would not be able to put a dishwasher of 60 cm wide in the space next to the sink (so now we have an extra door that will go in his parent's magical attic). We decided that we would have to go with a dishwasher of 45 cm wide.

Last Saturday we went to some hardware stores, bought some boards to rest the countertop on, and some bricks for him to build a small wall between the washer and the stove to support the other side of the countertop. This past week he mounted the boards/walls and got annoyed with me when each time I came home from work I went straight to the kitchen to see how much he had progressed. Not that I didn't think he was working fast enough, it was just interesting to see how it changes from day to day.

He cut the board, going through about 3 saw blades and filling the apartment with smoke- luckily nobody called the fire department, though it is a bit unsettling to think that our apartment could really be on fire and none of the neighbors would notice/react.

Last night we went to Ikea, bought a faucet, and then went to the discount appliance place and decided on a dishwasher, 45 cm wide. They will deliver it in about two weeks. We could have brought it to our apartment ourselves, but decided not to trouble with it for now- besides, with everything in the middle at the moment, there would be no place to put it. Better to wait for Alain to install the countertop, sink, and cabinet doors and then just put the dishwasher in place once it arrives. He has one more week to finish.

This is turning out to be an unexpectedly expensive month for us: new dishwasher, paying for plumber, paying to get the car fixed, plus taxes. Yikes. At least the taxes were less than we predicted because we got some reductions for the new windows and water heater that we installed.
vendredi 7 août 2009
She has been in France now for two years. Her part-time 5-month contract did not turn into a full-time offer, so she continued to search, month after fruitless month, for a job. She was, quite frankly, astounded that she was not snapped up right away, especially as there are many small, medium, and large businesses in the area with her specialty. When her Frenchman told her that it might be very difficult for her to find a job in France, she nodded and said "Yes, I understand"; while secretly thinking to herself "I've never had a problem finding a job before, why wouldn't they snatch up an English speaking person with a Master's?"
Only to find that while the French might lament to each other their deplorable English skills in private, in the business world they are quite offended that their speaking and writing skills are not up to snuff and that a native English speaking person might actually be able to speak and write English better. In short, they feel threatened and firmly close the door.
At the end of October, they bought their first property, and moved in the first half of November, only to be quickly confronted with major renovations.
A few weeks before Christmas, they pulled out the bathtub, and she (very naively) thought that it would only take a week or so to re-do, it should be done before they leave for the US for Christmas.
In the US, they spend an interesting two weeks snow-bound with family, but at the end, she isn't too eager to return to France- spending all day at home, in a messy apartment with no shower, trying to find a job, depressed, and having serious thoughts about killing the neighbor's dog.
She has joined a "Club de Jeunes Diplômés" whose aim is to use networking and informational interviews to try and make contacts. The idea is to contact companies that you are interested, and not say that you are looking for a job, but just that you would like to find out more about what they do, and ask to have a 30 minute discussion with someone from their company who does what you are interested in. Then, if they say okay, you go (with several copies of your resume) talk to the person, find out more about what they do, and try to find out (at the end) whether they are hiring and, if not, whether they know anyone else who is.
She scores a few interviews this way, but once she goes to them she suspects they accepted because they (youngish Frenchman) thought it would be amusing to meet une américaine.
At the end of February, she finally gets a job offer- Project Manager for an industrial company, something she has no clue about, but will take anything at this point, as it isn't teaching English to rugrats.
The first few (days, weeks, months) are very hard. She hasn't "worked" in the proper sense of the term for almost two years, and never in an industrial environment and never all in a foreign language. Plus a few train strikes added in that double the commute time and stress, and the months pass very very slowly.
The bathroom is finally finished, so she can take actual showers now, instead of taking them at the gym near her work.
Her Frenchman is going to spend August working on the apartment, as usual, and since the factory is closing for a week, she is going to stay home and help him.
She keeps sending out resumes, hoping for something else, even though, as her Frenchman reminds her, it pays well and many people would be very happy to have it, given the unemployment rate. She remembers how long it took her to find a job and how depressed she was, and agrees.
mardi 4 août 2009
For several months now, I have been stumped as far as what to write to the Prefecture for my "lettre de un-motivation" so as to obtain my 10-year carte de sejour. Since many of you have likely already done this, please help me out. (funny or serious suggestions accepted).
Since the French are absolutely enamoured with modèles de lettre, here we go:
Monsieur le Préfet,
I am requesting, by the present, a 10-year residency card because _____(1)________. I want to continue living in this great nation because _____(2)________. In fact, nothing would _____(3)________ than to spend the rest of my days _____(4)________. My three favorite things about France are ______(5)_______, ______(6)_______, and ______(7)_______. I have contributed ______(8)_______ to the overall well-being and advancement of this country, and forever renounce _____(9)________. If you don't give me my 10-year card I will _____(10)________.
Je vous prie d'agréer, Monsieur le Préfet, l'expression de mes salutations respectueuses.
An American in Provence
dimanche 2 août 2009
Saturday morning, while Alain was preparing the small bedroom for painting, I decided to make a quick trip to IKEA to pick up some more baskets to arrange things in. Now that we are (finally! knock on wood!) getting towards the end of our Odyssey, we will need to start actually arranging things. While it was fun stepping over piles of stuff on the floor for a year, now we are going to start putting the junk away. Too bad we don't actually have a storage space in the basement...

But that's another story, and one I don't particularly want to think about right now. Or ever.

So we decided to buy 4 more of a medium-sized basket that we had previously bought to put next to our couch to hold my sewing items, magazines, blanket, etc.

I left for IKEA at little after 9, planning on getting there early in order to get in and out as quickly as possible before the hordes descend. I got there, went through the mandatory route through the top of the store (living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, etc), went downstairs and went through the self-service section (cooking supplies, linens, bathroom items, lights, paintings, kid's toys) all the way to the end where they store the decorative items (plants, candles, baskets). Got to the basket section, and all that was left was one large basket. I asked a worker what had happened to the others, and he said that they had been put on sale and that there were no more left. What a bummer! I left and returned to Marseille. I decided to call the other store right near Marseille (there are two in this area, we live about in the middle between them but usually prefer to go to the first one as it is easier to get on/off the autoroute and it doesn't have the Parking Garage from Hell). Except that I forgot that many national chains are no longer posting the individual telephone numbers of their stores- you have to call a central (toll) number for information. While I was at the store, I should have asked the guy to call the other store and find out for me.

I called and waited for about 15 minutes before finally getting through to someone. I just wanted to ask if the other store, La Valentine, had any more of these baskets in stock. After much hemming and hawing and several euros added to my phone bill, I got a firm "Je ne sais pas". So I got back in the car and headed off. By this time it was getting towards noon, so I knew it would be much more difficult to get in and out of the store. However, this time I was able to slip in to the bottom part, without having to go through the entire store. There were tons of baskets left! I picked out four medium ones, paid (39€ each), stuffed them into the backseat (just barely) and headed back towards Marseille, getting completely lost and finally taking an entirely new route back home.

We painted them white, using the spray gun, after Alain finished painting the bedroom white. Now they are drying and don't look too bad. Going to fill them up and put them on top of the armoire in our medium bedroom.
samedi 25 juillet 2009
She has now been in France for exactly one year.
She and her frenchman have been married for almost TWO WHOLE MONTHS now, and she still gets a secret thrill from being called Mrs. or saying "my husband".
Her French courses are now over, and most of the friends she made have left to return to their home countries, as they were only in France for a year to be a fille au pair.
She and her frenchman have signed an agreement to buy an apartment, and plan to move in November.
She still doesn't have a job, but desperately searches the internet when she gets a chance. She has signed up with the local job search agencies. She is uneligible for unemployment, big surprise, but is able to benefit from their courses on how to write a resume, how to write a cover letter, etc.
She is also working 10 hours per week for five months, May to September, from home for a company that does technology watch. She hopes that it will turn into a full-time job once the five-month contract is over. It would consist of traveling to different conferences all over Europe, meeting with different people, talking about new technology, then writing up reports.
She spends the weekdays at home alone, sitting in front of the fan, hauling their laundry to the laundromat, lugging groceries up three flights of stairs, and going to see one of her friends for lunch every Friday. On the weekends they go to visit his family or nearby monuments and museums, which they actually have time to do since they don't have an apartment to renovate. In August, they will be going to Italy for their honeymoon.
She is starting to feel comfortable in France, and not quite so homesick.
mercredi 22 juillet 2009
A hot summer day in the south of France. At the Marseille Provence airport, one tired 25-year old American woman arrives, after a long trip Denver-Frankfurt-Marseille. She has quit her job, given up her apartment, sold her car, given many of her possessions to her friends or else to a benefit garage sale, sent 15 boxes of junk (whoops, very precious items such as clothes and books) from Virginia to France by boat, obtained a student visa for France, attended several family weddings/reunions, and said many goodbyes.
She hasn't seen, for exactly six months, her reason for going through all this rigamarole.
She gets off the plane, gets her luggage, and goes out to meet her Frenchman. He is waiting there, one red rose in hand. After a somewhat teary reunion, they drag her luggage out to the parking lot and proceed to shove it all into his smallish French car, where another red rose is waiting. They drive to Marseille where he has rented an apartment. Once arrived in Marseille, they double park and hurriedly drag suitcase after suitcase up three flights of stairs, toss them into the apartment (where another red rose is waiting), then go back down to try and find a parking spot. That evening he cooks her a special dinner and then she goes to bed early, waking up in the middle of the night to throw up. Most likely not due to the special dinner, but just traveling, nervousness, and anxiety.
The next few days she is quite exhausted and suffering from jet lag, so the days pass in a wiltering blur. He is still working until the beginning of August, so she spends her time unpacking and exploring the area. One afternoon, sitting in a park reading a book, she is approached by Random Frenchman who quite quickly realizes she doesn't understand a word he is saying and is therefore the perfect candidate for lame pick-up attempts. He says that they should go back to his apartment so that she can meet his family and that they can all talk in English together. She politely refuses. He insists. She moves away.
The boxes sent by boat begin to arrive, so again with the double parking and hauling box after box up three flights of stairs in the July heat. The only problem is that they don't have much furniture, so the stuff pretty much stays in the boxes for the moment.
On the weekend, they go visit his family and make many trips to local furniture stores (IKEA! Castorama! BUT!). She met his family in May 2004 when they visited France for two weeks. Although they are very nice and welcoming, hours spent trying to understand what everyone is saying leave her exhausted with raging headaches. Plus hours spent trying to pick out not too expensive furniture that won't be too difficult to fit in their smallish French car and then dragged up three flights of stairs in the July heat is quite exhausting.
They can't wait for August, when he will be on vacation and they can start looking for wedding reception sites and a trip to Bretagne to meet his other grandmother, whom he hasn't seen in four years.
All in all, an interesting first few weeks in her new country.
jeudi 16 juillet 2009
Most of you probably don't know this, but Alain has his PhD.
In what? Physics.
What is his research on? Stuff.
I am pretty sure he is the smartest person I know.
He has as a goal "Win Nobel Prize".

All I can say is, thank goodness there are people in the world who really get excited by the movement of atoms and nucleation of crystallized ions and all that baloney.

His two favorite things to do on a weekend morning:
1) Go to his motorcycle classes
2) Sit at the table and do pages and pages of equations, chemical formulas, phase diagrams, and sketches of silicon lattice structures.
My two favorite things to do on a weekend morning:
1) Nothing
2) Drink coffee and eat a croissant.

I keep a pile of scrap paper ready for when he is overcome by an urge to calculate the second derivative of a logarithmic equation so as to better understand the movement of electrons in a phase 2 silicon-germanium structures, or some other such nonsense. The problem is that afterwards we have pages and pages of unintelligible scribblings sitting around the living room that I don't know what to do with. I'm scared to throw them away, in case the next E=mc^2 is in there, but if ever he does want to find a particular page again, it will be quite difficult as there is no rhyme or reason to them. I just smoosh them up into a pile once a week or so and throw them in a cabinet.

Occasionally he will ask me something along the lines of "Do you remember the thermodynamic coefficient for the transition of a solid state amorphous quantum dot?"
Honey, first of all, it's 8:30 on a Sunday morning. Second, I studied that stuff like 8 years ago. And third, I haven't had my cappuccino yet. Can you check back in a few hours once I have had time to wake up and flip through some old text books?

At any given time, our living room table has one of the following books sitting on it:
- Fundamentals of Microsystems Packaging
- Electronic Materials and Devices
- Introduction to Conventional Transmisson Electron Microscopy
- Crystallography
- Transmission Electron Microscopy and Diffractometry of Materials
- Introduction to Statistic Thermodynamics
- Hybrid Microelectronics Handbook
- High Resolution Focused Ion Beams
- Physical Metallurgy for Engineers
(most of these are mine by the way, and I paid a boatload to have them sent here from the US)

I get a kick out of him because he will be busy doing equations and then look up and ask me stuff like "What's eight times six?" Um, that I think I know the answer to!
Lately I have had to ban math equations while we are eating dinner. I can just see me in about ten years telling our kids "Why can't you complain about having to eat your broccoli like a normal kid instead of doing math during dinner? Stop it right now!"

I have tried to teach him that when well-meaning relatives ask him how his research is going, they don't want the 45 minute PhD-defense version. They want the dumbed-down 5 minute version. When their eyes start to glaze over and cross alternatively and their responses consist of 'umm?' 'hmmm.' 'hmmm?' 'uh huh' and 'uh?' that means that the most they are understanding are the the's and's and I's.

He usually asks me to correct his scientific articles. Mostly the grammar and spelling, but also to see if the article is understandable. After five years of doing this, I have discovered that it is pretty much like a Scientific MadLibs.
Want to sound like you too have a PhD in Physics? Are you a researcher stuck for ideas? No problem!
Just do the following (all words/phrases taken from his articles):

noun1: Transition, Diffusion, Control, Segregation, Separation, Influence, Morphological evolution, Auger spectroscopy, Crystallization, Epitaxial growth, Fickian diffusion, Surfactant mediated growth, Biaxial stress, Thermodeposition
preposition: of, in, on, from, to, within, across, after, among, at, below, between, by, into, near, upon
adjective: amorphous, anomalous, self-assembled, crystallized
noun2: silicon, germanium, SiGe, atom, ion, electron, dopant, islands, Si(001), Si1-xGex/Si(001) substrate, grain boundaries, atom sites, heterostructures, quantum dot, thin films, lattice, nucleation sites
verb: using, during, trapping, implanting, growing, measuring

Then put them in the following order:
noun1 preposition adjective noun2 verb noun2 preposition noun2
For example:
- Transition from anomalous silicon islands during epitaxial growth of SiGe heterostructures
- Segregation of self-assembled germanium islands using Fickian diffusion of grain boundaries
- Morphological evolution within amorphous Si(001) measuring electrons within thin films
- Auger spectroscopy on crystallized quantum dots trapping nucleation sites

See? There is nothing to it! You don't need to have a PhD to do this.

Try it and give me, in the comments section, your best Scientific MadLibs Journal Article Title!
mardi 14 juillet 2009
Alain and I went to San Remo, Italy for a long weekend.
This was our third time going. The first time was in August 2006 for our "honeymoon", the second time was in August 2008 (posts 1 2 3 4). We didn't go in 2007 because Alain spent the month of August working on the apartment and I took a week off to remove wallpaper. Oh that was fun.
Anyway, back to our trip.

We left Thursday night, after work, a bit later than we had planned (lots of last-minute packing and checking the car) but finally got on the road at about 8. I drove for the first hour and a half, until we got to Cannes at around 9:30. We stopped at a rest stop overlooking the bay of Cannes and had our sandwiches. (Another "is this really my life? Am I really in the South of France, overlooking Cannes, on my way to the Italian Riviera for vacation?" moment)

Alain then took over driving, which was good because I still can't see very well at night (because of my eye operation- I am going to demand a prescription for glass for driving next time I see my eye doctor). The highway between Nice and San Remo is filled with tunnels, which were all having work done, meaning that we kept going from bright spotlights to pitch black. Also, the Italians seem to have invented a trick for barrelling down the highways at night. Every 30 seconds or so, they flash their bright lights to see whether anything is in their way, drive at top speed for as far as they could see, then flash their brights again. Not fun for everyone else.
We finally arrived in San Remo at about 11 pm, brought everything in, and went to bed.

The next morning we got up at around 9, went to the grocer y store, then headed up into the mountains. It was a bit of an overcast day, and rained off and on. We arrived in Triora, a small village perched in the mountains, had lunch, wandered around a bit, then bought some cheese and bread. We followed some signs pointing to a chapel, only to discover it was a ruin from 1390. We took a different road back, driving through towns such as Castel Vittorio, Apricale, and Perinaldo, finally getting back to San Remo around 6 pm. We had a very Italian meal of pasta, pesto, olive oil, cheese, Chianti wine, then headed to the center of town for ice cream. Came back and fell asleep, exhausted, around 10:30.

On Saturday we again woke up around 9:30, went to the market, marvelled at the plethora of fake designer items for sale, stopped at an internet cafe to check email and have a cappuccino, then went back home for lunch. Alain had to check his email in order to find out whether he had to be back in Marseille to work on Monday or whether we could stay an extra day or two. Answer yes- had to work Monday and Tuesday. Bummer.

In the afternoon, a nap because we were so plum tuckered out from doing not much, then went rollerblading along the coast, then stopped for a quick sunbathe/swim around 6pm, followed by another pasta dinner and ice cream, bed at about 10 pm.

On Sunday, we again woke up around 9:30, went to the beach, and found out that yes, an hour or two in the mid-day July Italian Riviera sun will turn your skin a color no human skin is meant to be. Lunch, another nap (doing nothing all day long is really exhausting), then cleaned the house and packed up our things. We hit the road at around 6:30, got back to Marseille at 9:30 pm.

All in all, a good little break. I could have stayed another day or two. Usually by the end of our time in San Remo, we are both ready to leave and come back to civilization- the kind that has showers and microwaves. But this time was a bit too short. I would have liked to go rollerblading a few more times, and lie on the beach more. If we had stayed longer, I wouldn't have tried to cram four day's worth of sunbathing into one sunburnt hour. Ah well. Back to the grind.

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