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.
mercredi 1 juillet 2009
Once in a while, usually on Sunday afternoons while I am putzing around the apartment looking for something to do other than clean while Alain either works on the apartment or naps on the couch, I get an urge to cook.

I decided to try my cinnamon bread recipe again.

For one of the earlier attempts, click here

Anyway, all was going well until I ran out of flour about halfway through. As it was a Sunday afternoon, all of the stores were closed. I decided to put French Neighborliness to the test, so I went across and knocked on our elderly neighbor's door. (She is the one that picks up our mail for us when we are away and because of whom I never worry about our apartment being broken into because she keeps a very good watch on the comings and goings in the stairwell.)
I asked if she by any chance had some flour she could lend me. She did and was more than happy to. I finished up my cinnamon bread (it actually rose this time! using real yeast helps!) and it didn't get too burnt. After cutting the recipe in half, I had three medium sized loaves. I decided to keep one for us, bring one in to my work, and give her the third. I went across the hallway and knocked but she had gone out, so I left it wrapped in aluminum and the rest of the flour in a plastic bag hanging from her doorknob.
Everyone at work appreciated my bread, or at least lied and said they did. Today I found this note in our mailbox. (names deleted)

It is nice to have good neighbors, even if they drive you nuts sometimes with their loud TVs.

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