Callaghan is designing clowns and I don’t know what to do.

Heading into off-season at the amusement parks, Callaghan’s evenings of late have been filled with lots of freelance work. He hung onto a few of his European amusement park clients when he accepted his position as a motorcycle designer, because why not? It’s feast or famine in that industry. He’d only be swamped a few months out of the year.

Now that American Halloween hype has started to gain traction in France, French theme parks want a piece of it in a more major way. So they’ve asked Callaghan to design some clown attractions… because you can’t have spooky, ooky Halloween décor without clowns, of course. If there’s one thing the French have picked up on in their Halloween education, it’s that clowns are essential elements of the fear factor.

Even better, some of this Halloween-inspired design will remain a permanent fixture, so visitors can enjoy the park’s creepy side no matter when they go. Here’s Callaghan’s first design, a rough draft of a horror fun-house-type attraction (with mirrors inside):


Clown mirror house of horror (original design by Callaghan)

Clown mirror house of horror (original design by Callaghan)


You have to have clowns with wide open mouths as entrances, you know.

And there will be more. Oh yes. I’m already imagining waking up at night, shuffling into the kitchen for a glass of water, and noticing a dim screen-light casting vague shadows on the wall. I see that it’s coming from Callaghan’s office. I go in and find that his computer has turned itself on. The clown file is displayed, and it’s flickering.

Thanks, Parc St. Paul. And Festyland (You mean FESTY THE CLOWN-land, I said to Callaghan when he told me the park’s name), and thank you, Parc du Bocasse.

Here’s a draft of his Parc du Bocasse poster, featuring the bee mascot he’s been creating for years:


Buzzy (the bee) the Vampire (original art by Callaghan)

Buzzy (the bee) the Vampire (original art by Callaghan)


He loved my idea of designing a vampire version of the bee. Buzzy the Vampire is made of awesome because Callaghan’s art is kick-ass. It’s great no matter the subject. Even clowns.

My Top 8 Favorite Things about living in France.

A friend of a friend is planning to move to France. My friend asked if I’d share my insights about living there, and I thought I’d share some of those things here, too… because, I realized, that’s something I haven’t done that might be interesting or helpful to someone, in some way.

So I gave it some thought and came up with a list of my top eight favorite things about living in France. These are, of course, my own, personal top favorites, based on my own experiences. Others may have had different experiences. These were the things that made a difference to me or impacted me in some way, big or small, and helped to make life in France an enjoyable experience.

Also! These are things in addition to the wonderful people I met while I lived in France… the dear friends I made there, the many memorable experiences I had with Callaghan’s family, and so on.


1). Hospitality.


Typical French hospitality looks like this.

Typical French hospitality looks like this.


Everyone I met in France was gracious and hospitable in their own homes. They commonly ask you over for apéritif or coffee (by “coffee,” I mean espresso… very strong espresso), and if you show up at someone’s house, you will be served something or another (usually coffee).


2). Bread.


Our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

Our favorite boulangerie in Nice.


Some of the bread inside of our favorite boulangerie in Nice.

Some of the bread inside of our favorite boulangerie in Nice.


As you know, I love bread. There is a boulangerie (bakery) on every corner in France, it seems, and inside each one, there are freshly baked baguettes that are simply sublime. Pain de Campagne is my favorite, but I love all of the breads I’ve tried. In France, making bread is an art form. Some boulangeries make better bread than others, but even the mediocre French breads at bakery chain stores are fabulous and incomparable to breads I’ve had in the States!


3). Socca.


Socca (regional food, Nice)

Socca (regional food, Nice)


Socca is a signature food of Nice, a popular local street food. It consists of chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt, and pepper stirred into a batter and traditionally cooked on a copper plate in a wood oven. After it’s cooked, it’s broken up into pieces in the pan and served in a pile. Thinking of it brings back fond memories for me, since we lived in Nice half the time we lived in France. Should you ever visit Nice, you should try it. According to Callaghan, niçoise fishermen used to eat socca because it’s cheap. It’s still cheap.


4). Cell phone affordability.


Orange, one of the major cell phone service providers in France

Orange, one of the major cell phone service providers in France


Speaking of cheap, cell phone service is one thing about life in France I definitely miss. In France, your monthly cell phone bill comes out to roughly $20.00, flat… and that includes unlimited everything (texting and calling, including calls to the U.S., South America, Asia, etc.)


5). No tipping.


The euros I still had when we moved back here, an ATM receipt, and my coin purse.

The euros I still had when we moved back here, an ATM receipt, and my coin purse.


(“Je suis à sεc” translates as “I’m broke.” The “E” looks the way it does because that’s the euro sign.)

There’s no expectation of tipping for either goods or services in France. This is convenient. (There’s also a flip side to this, but we shall not go into it, as this is a positive list.) In restaurants, tips are included in the checks, for instance. Unlike here in the States, employees in service industries aren’t paid minimally with the assumption that tips will supplement their take-home pay. The amount you’re charged is the amount you pay, period.


6). TGV (Train Grande Vitesse).


 Gare de Nice, the TGV station in Nice

Gare de Nice, the TGV station in Nice


The TGV is my favorite way to travel between regions in France. The train is super fast, as indicated in its name, and it’s quiet, smooth, clean, and comfortable. It’s also affordable – from Nice to Paris, for example, tickets range from 19 to 36 euro (the higher price is for 1st class). There’s a café car where you can purchase beverages, light meals, snacks, and candy. You can charge your laptop and other devices on the train, and there’s plenty of legroom. The TGV is the way to go when traveling from one part of the country to another!


7). La fnac.


An old plastic bag from one of my many purchases at la fnac.

An old plastic bag from one of my many purchases at la fnac.


This one really is personal to me. I’m putting la fnac on the list because it’s my favorite store in France. La fnac is a big, multi-level bookstore, and I could (and often did) spend hours on end there. My favorite area is the café, which is kind of reminiscent of the restaurants in IKEA, but larger. You can get food or beverages there and station yourself at a table and stay there indefinitely with their free wi-fi. I loved spending time there! I bought my first Reacher novel at the la fnac in Nice and read half of it in one afternoon sitting in the café.


8). Art and history.


Musée International de la Chaussure in Romans-sur-Isère

Musée International de la Chaussure in Romans-sur-Isère


Living in France is like living in a gigantic museum.

Even villages in more remote regions are rich in history and filled with art and architecture that I found to be breathtaking. Romans-sur-Isère (near where we lived), for instance, is famous for having been the home of the factory of Charles Jourdan, one of the first houses of Haute Couture shoes, if not THE first. This museum, Musée International de la Chaussure in Romans-sur-Isère, has to be one of the most comprehensive museums of shoes in the world. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it so much since I’m not especially interested in shoes, but it’s amazing how viewing and reading about shoes through the ages unfolds as a detailed history lesson in human culture.

Then there are places such as:


Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval in Hauterives (between Valence and Lyon)

Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval in Hauterives (between Valence and Lyon)


Between 1879 and 1912, facteur Cheval (“facteur” is a mailman) collected rocks while delivering mail, and he used them to build this little palace in an obscure village between Valence and Lyon. It’s made mainly out of lime, mortar, and cement, and it’s unlike anything I’d seen. I’m including this little gem here to show that there’s art literally everywhere you go in France.

This concludes my list of favorite aspects of life in France. It would be interesting to see other’s favorite things!

Body Combat in da club.

We were thankful that we could fit two Body Combat classes into our schedule while we were in France last week. We went on Sunday and on Wednesday.

As I may have mentioned before, our friend Chantal’s gym, FitLane, is like the 24 Hour Fitness or LA Fitness of the French Riviera in that it’s a popular gym with multiple locations. Last time we were there, we did Body Combat at one of the Cannes locations. This time, we did one each at two locations in Villeneuve-Loubet.

I wasn’t planning to write about it, but guys. I would be doing you a great disservice in keeping this experience to myself, because should you ever find yourselves in the south of France and you decide to jump into a Body Combat class, you need to know in advance in case you land at this particular location in Villeneuve-Loubet. (I emphasize that because the other Villeneuve-Loubet location had been pretty standard.)

Wednesday evening last week, for the second time in a week, I entered the Twilight Zone.

Just when you thought that deserted hospital in Antibes was strange enough…


"WELCOME TO BODY COMBAT. No, we are NOT turning on the lights."

“WELCOME TO BODY COMBAT. No, we are NOT turning on the lights.”


The Body Combat room was blacked-out dark except for thousands of tiny, colorful lights moving frenetically all over the floor, in the air and on the walls.


Body Combat IN DA CLUB.

Body Combat IN DA CLUB.



Needless to say, this is not a Power Ranger-friendly Body Combat situation.

I might have asked for confirmation that I was in the right place had the room not been outfitted with this handy tell-tale stage for the instructor:


Body Combat up next, bitches

Body Combat up next, bitches


…and if Chantal hadn’t been standing there going, “See, I told you!” (Love you girl!)

Chantal had tried to warn me beforehand. I just didn’t get it until I saw it. Even then, I couldn’t believe it. When I looked into the room, I turned to Chantal as I thought, For sure they’re going to turn on some kind of light when class starts?

Chantal was laughing.

Callaghan was also laughing, sitting comfortably at his little table outside of the room. He was not participating in the class. He was laughing at my pain.

I entered the room with Chantal and stood still, holding the side of my head against the instant dizziness as I tried to make sense of my surroundings in the dark. I’m night-blind without glasses, so it was just a frenzy of wildly moving dots of colored lights, the room awash with chaos over its inky nonexistence.

“Don’t look at the floor,” Chantal advised. “That’s the only way I can do it.”

Of course I looked down. The floor was a bottomless black sea alive with ethereal, multi-colored, round flying fishes.

I held onto hope, still incredulous that the instructor would teach in such darkness and confusion. The room was a spinning disco ball in outer space. I couldn’t stand still without my head swaying inside my skull. I’m supposed to orient and balance myself in this HOW?

The only mirror at the front of the room was about 15 feet away from the front row, tucked in a dark corner next to and behind the stage. I use my reflection as a tool in Body Combat, and I stand in the front row so I can see it clearly. In this room, I might as well have been looking at a black wall.

“This is why I usually don’t come to this location,” Chantal said as I quietly went to work on my mental game.

Because it was a mental game. The challenges here were dramatic; I had to turn the circumstances to my advantage. What if I ever have to use my skills on the street at night? It would be dark, and the darkness might include random, flashing lights or some other kind of sensory chaos. In the darkness, I started to see how this change of training environment could work in my favor. This was good. It was certainly better than dwelling on how the room looked like an 80’s nightclub hooked up and procreated with the blackbox theatre/iStage we have at work.

I enjoy a good challenge. I made it through the class without falling over or throwing up, and I got in an amazing workout! For some reason, I worked harder than usual in that environment of simultaneous sensory deprivation and overload. Rawr.

Dust mites. (So the house in France wasn’t possessed, after all.)

As I was making the bed yesterday morning, I thought of an article I’d read last week about how beds contain dust mites that eat dead human skin cells. Before you go imagining harmless balls of fluff that collect on the floor under your bed, like I mistakenly did at first, let me clarify that dust mites are alive, outfitted with multiple legs and a mouth that looks like a vagina, and not to be confused with dust bunnies. The article is called “Scientists Tell You Why Making Your Bed Is Disgusting – And Bad for Your Health,” and it was helpfully posted to my Facebook feed by one of my many helpful friends. I wish I could remember who it was. If it was you, thank you.

I read the article and it stuck with me because it’s all about how making your bed enables these vile little beasts to do their dirty work. The article reveals, as indicated in its title, that making your bed may not be the healthiest thing to do.

In her article, Ms. Harper reports that “each bed contains more than a million Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus – the scientific name for dust mites.”

Somehow this surprised me, but I guess everything alive has to have a scientific name.

“…feeding off of your dead skin cells and pooping (yes, pooping) out an allergen that can trigger asthma-like symptoms.”


Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, aka dust mite.

Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, aka dust mite.


Apparently, dust mites can’t do their things in an unmade bed because an unmade bed is exposed to daylight and circulating air, which are lethal for dust mites.

Dust mites are basically microscopic vampires who can only thrive in the dark. Exposure to daylight kills them. A bed that’s made is their coffin. At night, they feed on your biological matter.

(Okay, they’re not pure vampires, since vampires feed on living blood while dust mites prefer dead skin cells. They’re more of a hiding, creeping vampire-vulture hybrid.)

These findings aren’t new. Ms. Harper explains that the research she references was published in 2006. Then she recounts other research findings that suggest a correlation between making the bed and better mental health, including benefits such as lower stress and higher productivity. She points out that we have to decide which is more important to us: the mental well-being that comes with making the bed, or the knowledge that by not making the bed, we’re destroying the carnivorous creatures who feed on our dead, discarded skin cells at night.

So yesterday morning I was making the bed while re-thinking what I was doing, hesitating for the first time. After some serious consideration, I decided that for me, the benefits of making the bed outweigh the benefits of not making the bed.

See, I was hardwired to make my bed every day before I joined the Army. When you join the Army, if you’re not already hardwired to make your bed every day, you come out programmed to do so, and I’m talking bounce-a-quarter-off-the bed kind of programming. For me, the consequences of not making the bed would be more disquieting than the consequences of turning the bed into a hovel for skin-devouring dust mites, but it’s not a sense of threat that propels me to continue making the bed. It’s more of a reflex, more like how it feels wrong to put on your right sock first if you’ve always put your left one on first. It’s a deeply ingrained habit. To stop making the bed would mean putting forth effort to break the habit, and it would challenge my mental health to see the bed all messy and unmade every day. (Not to mention that our unmade bed would end up covered in cat fur.)

It wouldn’t be worth it, especially since we live in the hot, dry desert, where our dust mite problem is minimal compared to other places we’ve lived. As stated in this other article I found, “…if the humidity is under forty percent dust mites don’t live well so that is why parts of the southwest don’t suffer from this problem.”

I now know that the raging skin problems I’d endured while living in France were probably due to dust mites. That second article also states: “Some people will have an allergic rash reaction of eczema. This is similar to the situation with food allergies: Some people get respiratory types of reactions and others will deal with the problem via their skin by having a rash response.”

Mystery solved.

In France, I suffered constantly with horrible, rash-like outbreaks all over my body, front and back, from my feet to my legs to my torso to my arms. Callaghan never had anything. It was an infuriating mystery, and we couldn’t solve it. While the problem persisted on the French Riviera (when we were there, it was more often overcast and rainy than bright and sunny, and being on the coast, it was never dry), it was much worse when we were up in la Région Rhône-Alpes.

We figured I was having a reaction to some kind of insect. I’m severely allergic to insect bites; they wreak 10+ times the havoc on my skin than on Callaghan’s, so it would make sense that if we had dust mites in our always-made bed in the perpetually dark, damp wilderness of our little mountain abode, I would have this reaction, and Callaghan would not. I’d often wake up with one or several itchy bumps that would erupt into a horrible rash that would burn and itch uncontrollably. If I’d scratch the slightest little bit – even lightly – bruises would form.

All of it vanished once we moved back to the States and the sunny, arid Southwest.

I was going to supply a photo here (one of many) of the strange bumps, scabs and bruises that I constantly had all over my body, but I decided to spare your eyeballs because “what has been seen cannot be unseen,” as we all know. (You’re welcome.)

The Spirit Animal Question (and my hair needs a cut)

Ever since I heard someone say that their spirit animal was Jackie Chan, I’ve been trying to figure out what mine is.

I used to think that my spirit animal was the wild horse, but that ended when I moved to France and found myself living with the presence of a gigantic horse that was on our land there. He wasn’t wild, but I think he was there to show me the error of my previous thinking and the extent of the unhorsey quality of my spirit. I still love the vision of running, wild horses… it’s just that the reality of being near a horse is different for me, I guess.

Exhibit A:


Clearly, I'm taken aback here. Also, this was taken in April (2013), and I remember how cold it was. I'm wearing a thick sweater under that jacket.

Clearly, I’m taken aback here. Also, this was taken in April (2013), and I remember how cold it was. I’m wearing a thick sweater under that jacket.


Look at the body language here! I’m not at ease. I’m smiling a little, but I’m leaning away from the horse, rather than toward him. He was a nice horse, though.

There was also a donkey there, and that was a totally different story. I adored that donkey. We called him Buddy.


Buddy! We often gave him treats. Here's Callaghan feeding him an apple.

Buddy! We often gave him treats. Here’s Callaghan feeding him an apple.


Our neighbor put a sign on the gate that proclaimed “Âne Mechant” (“Mean Donkey”), which we didn’t understand. That donkey was an absolute sweetheart.

Anyway, spirit animals. I’ve taken online quizzes that ALL tell me that my spirit animal is a wolf, but somehow, that doesn’t seem right. Something of the feline persuasion would make sense, but if anything, I feel more like an honorary cat due to being a cat mom. There’s a difference between being an animal and having that animal as a spirit animal. I can relate to the Wrah-Wrah better than I can relate to most people, but I don’t feel that I’m being led through life by a cat.

Okay! Different subject, since I came across this picture as I was going through my pictures from France in search of the horse and the donkey:


Me with short emo hair in France.

Me with short emo hair in France.


…and I do need to get my hair cut. Here’s a selfie I took by the elevator at work yesterday, specifically to see the length of my hair:


What is this length...

What is this length…


I’m not going to cut my hair short again, but I’m considering going for longish bangs, and maybe some long layers.

On that note, I’m off to get ready for work. Have a great day, guys!

Ronnie James has a new nickname: Cat Squared (he has 81 lives, apparently)

I wanted to thank you all again for thinking of us and taking part in our journey to better health for Ronnie James with your kind well-wishes and interest in his story. I didn’t mean to tease in my last post. I just didn’t have much time for writing last week! Also, I wanted to talk to our doctor again before I sat down to scribble this out.

This is the short story:  Ronnie James was sick and gradually dying when we rescued him in the fall of 2012, but we didn’t know anything was wrong until he started coughing about 11 months ago. We now know that he’s been evading death for years, somehow surviving a thing that would have killed most mammals. We are in awe of him.


Ronnie James, Sunday night, 4/12/2015. Angel kitty with his halo of lights!

Ronnie James, Sunday night, 4/12/2015. Angel kitty with his halo of lights!


The detailed story goes like this:

In the operating room on Friday, April 3, Dr. M, our surgeon, opened up Ronnie James and found his left cranial lung lobe in a state of semi-decay; he said it almost looked like it was “rotting” in his chest. The mysterious mass seen on the CT scan turned out to be a mushroom-shaped (“pedunculated”) object that oozed a “weird, thick mucus-like material” when the stem broke off.

Dr. M tried to describe what he saw in the center of the mass, but he couldn’t quite find the words. I got the impression that he’d never seen anything like it before.

He told me, “It looks like it might be something of an infectious nature,” but he seemed to be baffled. He suggested that the mass might be a remnant of an old infection that Ronnie James’ body had tried to wall off. As he spoke, I envisioned an oyster protecting itself from grains of sand by coating the foreign material with its own bodily secretions.

But the bulbous, sickly pearl inside Ronnie James almost killed him. At first, its point of origin wasn’t obvious; it appeared to be attached to the bottom of the left cranial lung lobe. Actually, it seems to have grown off of one of the bronchi, clogging it and causing the lobe to collapse and consolidate. It’s possible that the mass ultimately caused blockage of Ronnie James’ thoracic duct, either directly or indirectly, as it was on the same (left) side. We’re hoping that this was the case, because if it was, then it answers the question of “What caused his chylothorax?”

Chylothorax, the filling up of the chest cavity with chyle, was the chronic issue we were aiming to fix, the problem we had to solve in order to save Ronnie James’ life. If the mass was causing it, well, problem solved! The mass is gone now.

Our surgeon said, “Until the labs come back, we can’t rule out cancer. I’ll tell you what, though… this doesn’t look like any cancer I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what this is.”

All along, Ronnie James’ labs have consistently tested negative for cancer. Dr. M had to say that he couldn’t rule out cancer until the labs came back, but the fact was, no one really thought that it was cancer.

Whatever it was, it was weird.

The weirdest thing was that standing before our kitty’s exposed insides, Dr. M and his team were still more or less flummoxed. Nothing was adding up or making sense, but he went ahead with the planned lung lobectomy, which was absolutely what had to be done, and removed “the entire mass and left cranial lung lobe as well as a small amount of an adherent adjacent lung lobe.” Samples of everything were sent to the lab for analyses and cultures.

While Dr. M was working in Ronnie James’ chest cavity, he also did an ultrasound on the second, smaller mass the CT scan had detected in Ronnie James’ neck.


Ronnie James' left cranial lung lobe, part of an adjacent lobe, and the mass were removed. The mass seemed to stem from one of his bronchi.

Ronnie James’ left cranial lung lobe, part of an adjacent lobe, and the mass were removed. The mass seemed to stem from one of his bronchi.


When the lab results came back a few days later, they showed that the inside of the lung mass was comprised of fat necrosis (dead fat). Necrotizing tissues and edema were also found throughout the lung lobe. There was “scattered mineralization.” We were indeed looking at decaying organic matter and an old infection, an infection with a history… and it was chronic.

Considering all of this, it’s miraculous that we didn’t lose Ronnie James to something like sepsis or cardiac arrest. Other than his intermittent episodes of coughing and his more recent bouts of prolonged lethargy, he had seemed just fine. He’d initially been diagnosed with asthma, which he may or may not actually have.

But what could have caused Ronnie James’ ancient infection? He’d tested negative for Valley Fever. He’s been an indoor cat since we’ve had him, anyway. We couldn’t stop thinking about it… we were faced with a medical mystery that had to be solved so we could take the best next steps toward complete recovery. It was maddening. What could have wreaked all this havoc in Ronnie James’ pleural cavity?

Then we thought back to the first time we ever took Ronnie James to the vet, when we were still living in France, and we remembered the cause of that problem. It was the Chenille Processionnaire, and it explains everything.


Chenille Processionnaire, or Pine Processionary.

Chenille Processionnaire, or Pine Processionary.


In October 2012, soon after we adopted 8-year-old Ronnie James from an impoverished woman in Montélimar in southeastern France, we noticed that he was having trouble eating. We took him to the veterinary clinic closest to us, which was down in Bourg de Péage. (In France, our home-base was in the Alpes, about 100 miles from the recent plane crash. I’m sorry to be able to use the location of that awful event as a point of reference, but there it is.) We thought that dental problems might be causing him pain, but when the vet opened his mouth, he simply remarked that Ronnie James had experienced some sort of contact with a Chenille Processionnaire (“Pine Processionary” in English), a venomous caterpillar common in southern France. The tip of Ronnie James’ tongue had been “burnt off,” and it was this disability that impeded his eating. Our vet immediately recognized the characteristic chenille processionnaire damage to Ronnie James’ tongue; there was no question about it.

I’d never heard of anything like it. The Pine Processionary doesn’t exist in the United States. According to Wikipedia, it’s only found in southern Europe and in parts of Asia and Africa.

From what we can understand, animals such as dogs and cats are harmed by this caterpillar either because of poisoning from its venom, or because of an allergic reaction to it, or both, in any case being potentially – even often – fatal. Incidentally, I found some disturbing images of dog and cat tongues either burned, like Ronnie James’ tongue, or amputated at the tip (due to contact with this caterpillar).


Les Chenilles Processionnaires (Pine Processionary caterpillars) are often seen traveling end-to-end. They're common where we lived in the Alpes and all over the French Riviera.

Les Chenilles Processionnaires (Pine Processionary caterpillars) are often seen traveling end-to-end. They’re common where we lived in the Alpes and all over the French Riviera.


The caterpillar’s venom is released when its tiny hairs break off, or when the caterpillar ejects the hairs in self-defense. The toxins are in the hairs. Dogs and cats suffer when they have direct interaction with the caterpillar, or when they come into contact with pine needles or other organic matter on which the caterpillar’s hairs had fallen. Ronnie James could have licked the caterpillar, or he could have stepped on the hairs while walking around outside, or, more likely, knowing him, he might have played with the caterpillar with his paws, batting it around. Whether he walked on the hairs or played with the caterpillar, the toxic hairs would have stuck to his paws (they stick to whatever they touch), and Ronnie James’ tongue would have been burned when he went to lick his paws, as cats do.

At the same time, a venomous hair or two could have traveled down into Ronnie James’ lungs.

It happens. It happens to dogs and cats who roam outside in areas infested with the Pine Processionary.

Dr. M, who had (along with the rest of his surgical team) noticed the unusual damage to Ronnie James’ tongue when they were prepping him for surgery, agrees that more than likely, this is what happened to him. Though we didn’t witness the caterpillar encounter, we can all look at the evidence before us and do the math. In this case, 2 + 2 = Pine Processionary caterpillar damage in the Wrah-Wrah’s lungs. It would also account for the smaller mass found in his neck, lodged in his throat area, as the way that was presenting also matched the type of damage that could be done by the Pine Processionary.

Everything we can see points to this caterpillar.

Two things are for sure: Ronnie James survived an inordinately long time after his encounter with the caterpillar, and he was certainly dying by the time the surgeon removed the dead lung and surrounding infected areas. And we’re not finished yet. One of his lab cultures came back positive; the infection is alive.


One for the “WTF, Nature?” archives, if you ask me.

We’re so proud of Ronnie James. He’s been such a good sport throughout this ordeal, and he did extremely well in surgery. Everyone was surprised when he didn’t need oxygen therapy to transition out of anesthesia, as dogs and cats typically do after surgery. He started breathing on his own again as soon as they unhooked him! We credit this bit of badassery to the fact that the Wrah-Wrah had long since learned to get along without that nasty old lung.

So that’s what happened. Years ago, Ronnie James inhaled or ingested toxins from a caterpillar. And to think that I’d blamed myself for bringing him here, back when we thought he’d developed asthma from being in the dusty desert! The whole time, he’d been suffering the effects of an environmental hazard that doesn’t even exist in North America. I can’t believe we brought this demon caterpillar venom back from France with us, embedded in the Wrah-Wrah’s lungs. That was more baggage from France than we’d bargained for.

Now that we know the root of the problem, we have a better idea of what to do for Ronnie James. We’re going after the remaining infection with an aggressive, extended course of antibiotics. We’re also continuing him on his asthma treatments, as he’d shown slight improvement on them (the steroid inhaler was helping to hold the infection at bay, and the bronchial dilator inhaler was helping to open up his airways).

Tomorrow, the Wrah-Wrah goes back to Dr. M to have his stitches removed, and he’ll be checked for need of further thoracentesis (chest tapping/draining). We were cautioned that it wouldn’t be unusual for him to need to have his chest drained one or two more times following the surgery. Our hope is that after a month or so, he’ll no longer have to deal with chylothorax and all the treatments it necessitates.

We’ve had a couple of scary episodes with coughing and vomiting in the last few days, but he checked out fine at the hospital; the episodes aren’t surprising given that his insides are adjusting to the changes, and he’s still recovering. Overall, the Wrah-Wrah continues to do much better. He’s happy and more active now than we’ve ever seen him. He is exponentially better, in fact. He’s next-level Wrah-Wrah!

A happy kitty is a kitty without dead lung tissue rotting in his chest with a weird, bulbous, rotting-fat-filled mass. We still have a long road ahead of us; Ronnie James’ long-term prognosis depends on how he responds to treatment from this point on. Anything can happen, but we’re optimistic!


Sleepy Ronnie James. He just woke up from his evening nap. (4/13/15)

Sleepy Ronnie James. He just woke up from his evening nap. (4/13/15)

What I’m Digging Right Now – March Favorites

Update: Ronnie James has been home since Sunday night! This week we’re helping him to recover from his surgery here at home, and we’re waiting for lab results to come back. We should know everything by Friday, so I’ll post a detailed update then, for anyone who’s interested!

Somehow, March dragged. March aspired to be the Texas of this (albeit still very young) year… it feels like we drove and drove, and it seemed to never end. Some of it was amazing. Some of it was depressing. Much of it was great fun, and a lot of it was eye-opening, too.

It’s interesting how March going on forever makes the year, itself, seem long, and to be honest, I have to say that time creeping along like this bewilders me a little. Our sense of time is supposed to accelerate the older we get, a phenomenon I was experiencing normally up until this year. It’s interesting how circumstances in our lives can alter this perception.

Now that we’ve finally arrived at April, it’s time to look back at that long month and pick out a few “little things” that stood out. I never go deep in these lists and talk about the people who bless our lives and make the world a better place for being in it. These lists are for talking about mostly superficial things, the cheap thrills, so to speak!

And the winners are… starting with food…

1). Blackberries from Target.

These blackberries. THESE.

These blackberries. THESE.

This is a weird one, I know. For whatever reason, the blackberries at the Target near us (Tempe Marketplace on Rio Salado) are the best. No other blackberries compare, and I don’t even want to know why. I’ll just enjoy them while we can!

2). Justin’s classic all-natural peanut butter.

Justin's classic all-natural peanut butter

Justin’s classic all-natural peanut butter

Callaghan brought this home for me one day, and I’m loving it. I’ve been a huge fan of Justin’s dark chocolate peanut-butter cups for a couple of years, but I’d never tried other Justin’s products before now!

3). Snyder’s of Hanover peanut butter pretzel sandwiches.

Snyder's of Hanover peanut butter pretzel sandwiches.

Snyder’s of Hanover peanut butter pretzel sandwiches.

You know how it is. Sometimes, you just have to run downstairs in the middle of the afternoon and get yourself something kind of dirty to munch on from the corner store. These peanut butter pretzel sandwiches were my processed food guilty pleasure in March. There’re not entirely terrible for you, either, as it turns out! I mean, they’re not as junky as junk food can be. If you appreciate peanut butter as much as I do, you might need these in your life.

Moving on to non-edible things…

4). Acure Night Cream.

Acure Night Cream

Acure Night Cream

I got this cream when I’d used up my old one, as I’d planned. It’s the night-time counterpart to the Acure day cream I’ve been using with respect to my New Year’s resolution to stop buying personal care products and cosmetics tested on animals. This is a good, hydrating night cream, and other than its strong herbal scent, which I don’t care for, I like it a lot. It has a nourishing feel to it, and my skin feels dewy (for lack of a better word) in the morning. However, because of that strong fragrance, I don’t think my search for the perfect, affordable cruelty-free night cream is over… my next one will be from another brand. I like this one enough to return to it if future selections don’t perform as well, and obviously I like it enough to include it here as a monthly favorite, but at the same time, I’ll be happy to find one that equals it without the clinging, almost medicinal herbal scent!

5). L’Université Nice Sophia Antipolis hat and mug.

Mug and hat from my friend in Nice who works at L’Université Nice Sophia Antipolis.

Mug and hat from my friend in Nice who works at L’Université Nice Sophia Antipolis.

When we went to France, a friend surprised me with a mug and a hat from the University in Nice where she works. Merci, Matita! L’Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, represent! I love stuff like this. I thought it would be fun to send her the same from Arizona State University. Now there’s an honorary Sun Devil working à l’UNS.

6). Body Combat in France.

And thanks to our friend Chantal, there was that Body Combat class in Cannes we got to do while we were down south! I have to rave about it again, because I enjoyed it so much, and it’s at the top of my March favorites list. That was our only workout in about 10 days, and we didn’t waste it. We went full-on beast mode, as usual… or, to steal a phrase from our friend Sarah, beast à la mode!

7). Bag – K by Kookai (black satchel).

I don’t know what I like better, this bag or the story behind it. In the weeks before we went to France, Callaghan became obsessed with the idea that thieves in Paris were going to sneak up behind me with scissors and cut the strap of the bag I was using at the time. “You need to get a little backpack with a strong strap,” he insisted.

I had no idea where this notion came from. I’d been in Paris five times before, and all that ever happened to me was an ill-attempted “dropped jewelry” scam. (That one where someone comes up with a bracelet or something else shiny, quickly drops it in front of you when she thinks you’re not looking, and makes a big deal picking it up and bringing it to you to ask if it’s yours while her partner hustles up to rip you off during the “distraction.” The two who tried it on me weren’t good at it. They were laughable. I’d give their performance a 4 on a scale of 1-10. Needless to say, it didn’t work.)

But Callaghan thought that my cross-body bag strap would get cut, so I found a small backpack-style bag with a zipper that ran down the length of the straps so you could use it either single-strapped or doubled. I thought the quality was good. It was from Marshall’s. I think it was a Steve Madden, or something like that. Anyway, long story short, the whole bag fell apart three days after we got to France. I mean, the zipper broke and the straps came apart from the bag itself, so, being a backpack, it was rendered unwearable.

I trotted around the French Riviera with the bag in my arms, like a baby, then switched to the only other thing I had: a large and awkward purple and pink vinyl Kenzo perfume bag that one of Callaghan’s relatives in Paris had given us to transport the bottle of champagne she was sending down south with us to Callaghan’s Dad. It was annoying and uncomfortable. I wanted to avoid getting a new bag, but once we got back to Paris, I gave up on that idea and went looking for one.

Luckily, we were staying in Montmartre, where you can walk to any place you might need. Case in point: Callaghan and I were dreading going to the f*cking Champs-Élysées* just because I needed a bag, but lo! There was a La Halle aux chaussures et maroquinerie down the street from our hotel, and I didn’t have to look further. There were five bags I really liked, and it was hard to choose! I decided on this:

K by Kookai bag

K by Kookai bag

It’s just an unstructured satchel-type style with a long strap option, which I don’t use, but somehow, I like the bag a lot. Actually, I think it’s the red lining that I really like… and it was totally affordable. WIN.

*We like to jokingly call it “the f*cking Champs-Élysées,” but honestly? I wish they could move L’Arc de Triomphe out of there and set it somewhere less commercial and insane.

So after that long story, I’ll let the images speak for themselves in the rest of this post!

8). House of Cards, season three (T.V. series)

Oh, the lies… the plays… the dares! Now we wait a year to see what happens next.

9). The Following, season three (T.V. series)

WAIT – who’s doing the following, and who’s being followed? I love how you never know who’s who in this series. This season of The Following grabbed us by the throat in a way that last season didn’t, and we enjoyed last season! It’s always great when a good series gets even better, and it’s probably a good thing that the return of Hannibal was pushed back to June, or it’d be serial killer overload in our entertainment schedule up in here.

10). “Rico” (Episode 8 of Better Call Saul)

Scene from "Rico," episode 8 (Better Call Saul)

Scene from “Rico,” episode 8 (Better Call Saul)

Have you ever watched the credits roll after an hour and said to yourself, “Self, that right there was a really good episode of television?” That was “Rico” for me, though honestly, this first season of Better Call Saul has been getting increasingly more compelling and impressive. I find myself dazzled by the unexpected depth and complexity of the protagonist, and by the development of his character, as well. Then there’s the writing of these episodes. Superb!

Those were my picks for March. Now let’s get on with April!

Final picture post from France!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We’re back in the Land of AZ.

We landed in Phoenix late on Saturday night after a weird layover in Washington D.C.; the power had gone out in the terminals at the Washington-Dulles airport. We waited on the plane until a bus came to take us to the main terminal… and by “us,” I mean not just everyone on our flight, but everyone on ALL the incoming flights… and from there, all of the connecting flights were delayed, also due to the ripple effect of the power outage. In the end, though, we were only two hours late getting home. Not bad!

So believe it or not, that was my sixth trip to Paris – seven if you count the Paris part of last week’s agenda as two separate trips (we stayed in the same hotel in Montmartre before and after the Côte d’Azur) – and I still haven’t visited Jim Morrison. It was my decision. At the last minute, I suggested skipping it because we had very little time, and I didn’t want to go to le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise just to see one grave. I would have wanted to also visit the likes of Chopin, Victor Hugo, Edith Piaf, etc., and for that we would need a good half-day, at least. But we’ll be back, and it’s really kind of funny… my Extreme First-World Problem is still my Extreme First-World Problem.

Since we didn’t go to le Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, we were able to take our time moseying around Montmartre, where we were staying. It was the perfect way to spend the day. We had some errands to run, and it was great to just be relaxed and enjoy our favorite quartier in Paris without rushing around. (Montmartre is actually one of my favorite neighborhoods in the entire world.) We also got to enjoy having dinner with a friend of mine who lives there, and that was delightful.

Overall, our week in France was the opposite of relaxing, as we were generally crazy busy up until that last day in Paris. We averaged zero to three hours of sleep per night, and by the end, we were seeing double from sleep deprivation. But it was hella fun. Great times with family and friends!

One thing that struck us, though, was how the mood in France has grown even darker in the short time we’ve been gone… dark as in ominous, kind of, and spooky. The general feeling in the country is different than when we lived there, and we haven’t even been gone for two years. We saw a trio of heavily armed soldiers stalking the picturesque little streets of Vieux Nice, for instance… a surreal sight, and one I never would have imagined there before. We noticed police officers standing expectantly with their police dogs in the Metro stations in Paris. When we lived in France, I never saw police officers at all… just the random gendarmerie… now, they’re everywhere, their presence presumably connected to the “Je Suis Charlie” signs we also saw posted widely from Paris to Nice. And there are the new ebola information/warning posters prominently displayed at Charles de Gaulle airport.

On a lighter note, I’ll share another smattering of pics from our last days there….

From la Côte d’Azur:


A street in Châteauneuf de Grasse.

A street in Châteauneuf de Grasse.


Our favorite boulangerie in Nice. BEST PAN BAGNAT IN TOWN, hands-down.

Our favorite boulangerie in Nice. BEST PAN BAGNAT IN TOWN, hands-down.


Some of the bread inside the best boulangerie in Nice.

Some of the bread inside the best boulangerie in Nice.


An artist's gallery in le Vieux Nice.

An artist’s gallery in le Vieux Nice.


Socca - a traditional food in Nice.

Socca – a traditional food in Nice.


With friends at the Big Ben pub in Nice.

With friends at the Big Ben pub in Nice.


We had lunch with Callaghan's Grandparents and Dad in le Port de St. Laurent du Var.

We had lunch with Callaghan’s Grandparents and Dad in le Port de St. Laurent du Var.


And from Paris:


One of hundreds of  cafés...

One of hundreds of cafés…


Pointing the way to le Sacré-Coeur - my second-favorite monument (after la Tour Eiffel)

Pointing the way to le Sacré-Coeur – my second-favorite monument (after la Tour Eiffel)


Le Sacré-Coeur. Beautiful Roman-Byzantyne architecture on the hill of Montmartre.

Le Sacré-Coeur. Beautiful Roman-Byzantyne architecture on the hill of Montmartre.


Bronze sculpture on le Sacré-Coeur.

Bronze sculpture on le Sacré-Coeur.


Gargoyle on le Sacré-Coeur.

Gargoyle on le Sacré-Coeur.


More gargoyles on le Sacré-Coeur...

More gargoyles on le Sacré-Coeur…


View of Paris from the hill of Montmartre.

View of Paris from the hill of Montmartre.


Parisian street art like this is becoming more and more common. Love it!

Parisian street art like this is becoming more and more common. Love it!


Walking in Montmartre...

Walking in Montmartre…


French flag at the Metro station on Boulevard Barbès.

French flag at the Metro station on Boulevard Barbès.


Hot chocolate at café la Virgule in Montmartre.

Hot chocolate at café la Virgule in Montmartre.


And here’s a selection of some of our pastry indulgences (!!):


Galette des Rois... actually, a "Pithivier," according to Callaghan. The traditional King's Cakes are this, but thinner... quite different from the King Cakes Americans have at Mardi Gras.

Galette des Rois… actually, a “Pithivier,” according to Callaghan. The traditional King’s Cakes are this, but thinner… quite different from the King Cakes Americans have at Mardi Gras.


Une Madeleine au Nutella at the SNCF (train) station.

Une Madeleine au Nutella at the SNCF (train) station.


Tarte au citron

Tarte au citron





And then we went home. I took a picture of the signage that greeted us at baggage claim. Welcome to Phoenix!


It was 77 degrees when we landed at 10:20pm Saturday night... and it's going to be 90 today!

It was 77 degrees when we landed at 10:20pm Saturday night… and it’s going to be 90 today!


Happy Tuesday, All! =)

Body Combat en Français!

My triceps are sore today, and I love it!!

Perhaps the best thing about Les Mills International is the “International” part. It means that their classes are held in 20+ countries, so it’s feasible to get in your usual workout even when you’re traveling overseas. Thanks to our friend Chantal, we were able to do Body Combat with her at her gym yesterday. She got the passes for us in advance, and we found a Thursday 6:30pm session at her gym’s Cannes location (she usually goes to the one near her in Villeneuve-Loubet). It fit into our schedules perfectly.


Well isn't that convenient!!

Well isn’t that convenient!!


I didn’t know what to expect going in. Would the instructor teach the class in French or in English? If in French, would I understand the martial arts-specific terminology in the commands? I didn’t think so. Callaghan, who usually prefers to be in the back, graciously agreed to stand near me so I could look over and see what he was doing if I got lost. I stood in the center of the second row, between two people in the front row, so I could see myself in the mirror. Callaghan stood behind me and to the left. Chantal took a place next to him, directly behind me.

Here’s kind of how it went:

1). The instructor did, indeed, teach the whole class in French. (I learned a new word, “crochet,” which means “hook.” Makes sense.)

2). He started out explaining that he was substituting for the regular person. He wasn’t the usual instructor, so he was new to everyone, not just to us.

3). Unlike in Arizona, Callaghan was the only guy in the class.

4). Some of the tracks were familiar, while others totally weren’t! And that was good. There was some music I’d never heard, and moves we hadn’t done in class before. Those were probably older tracks.

5). The instructor was high-octane and clearly trained in martial arts.

6). There was a T.V. with a running loop of fitness footage that Callaghan said was distracting him.

7). Today, I feel it in my upper body. 10 days is a long time to go without working out when you’re used to going 3x/week!

It was fantastic, and it felt AMAZING to work out again after ten days of nothing (lots of walking and impromptu fake Parkour in Paris notwithstanding).

On that note, I’ll leave you with a few pics:


I took some of these brochures for souvenirs.

I took some of these brochures for souvenirs.


The group fitness schedule is posted on the classroom window, like at our gym. Unlike our gym, though, it's packed with classes.

The group fitness schedule is posted on the classroom window, like at our gym. Unlike our gym, though, it’s packed with classes.


The vending machine at FitLane is all Evian water, except for two rows of snacks at the top. Something you'd never find in an American vending machine: Madeleines. There's no junk food in our gym in Arizona, at all... just energy drinks, protein shakes and water.

The vending machine at FitLane is all Evian water, except for two rows of snacks at the top. Something you’d never find in an American vending machine: Madeleines. There’s no junk food in our gym in Arizona, at all… just energy drinks, protein shakes and water.


A last look on our way out. Au revoir, FitLane!

A last look on our way out. Au revoir, FitLane!


Happy Friday, All! =)

Greetings from France! I’ve got some pictures.

We spent the last two days in Paris doing what we always do in Paris – running around the city, dragging our luggage up and down the Metro stairs, racing through the stations (with and without luggage), jumping walls and running again to just barely leap onto waiting trains. It occurred to me, as I was jumping a wall after Callaghan in the Metro two nights ago, that Parkour was invented by a French guy. Perhaps he was inspired by similar action-intense negotiations of the Metro stations, running after trains in Paris!

We love Paris, and we had a great time visiting with relatives and friends. Plus, it was beautiful and sunny on one of the days, so for the first time, I got to see Paris in the sun against a blue sky. It was fabulous.

Now we’re on the French Riviera, visiting more friends and Callaghan’s immediate family. (He was born in Paris, but grew up down here.) This morning we caught an early TGV to Cannes, and the five-hour train ride gave me an opportunity to sleep a little as well as to resize some pics for today’s post.

Here’s a smattering of random images from the last two days:


Glacière is a stop on the Metro. We thought it was funny to see the sign next to a ski ad ("Glacière" translates to "ice chest.")

Glacière is a stop on the Metro. We thought it was funny to see the sign next to a ski ad (“Glacière” translates to “ice chest.”)


Another pic from the Metro. Not even France is safe from the 50 Shades.

Another pic from the Metro. Not even France is safe from the 50 Shades.


The view from our hotel window.

The view from our hotel window.


...and a nearby abandoned shoe.

…and a nearby abandoned shoe.


Here's an interesting little new car: a Smart Car-looking, single person electric Renault.

Here’s an interesting little new car: a Smart Car-looking, single person electric Renault.


A random storefront that caught my eye...

A random storefront that caught my eye…


Back in the Metro! An ad for an architecture exhibition.

Back in the Metro! An ad for an architecture exhibition.


In our usual selfie pose. We're on the train again, en route to visit relatives.

In our usual selfie pose. We’re on the train again, en route to visit relatives.


Our queen! Long live La Tour Eiffel!

Our queen! Long live La Tour Eiffel!


Back at the Metro - but this pic is to show that it'd been a sunny day!

Back at the Metro – but this pic is to show that it’d been a sunny day!


Poster ad - again, in a Metro station - for a street artist exhibit at the Espace Dali.

Poster ad – again, in a Metro station – for a street artist exhibit at the Espace Dali.


Paris graffiti, with love.

Paris graffiti, with love.


Charlie Hebdo at the news stand, still going strong!

Charlie Hebdo at the news stand, still going strong!


This sweet little girl was on our train to Cannes this morning. Her Mommy said I could take her picture. I love French Bulldogs.

This sweet little girl was on our train to Cannes this morning. Her Mommy said I could take her picture. I love French Bulldogs.


Notice the absence of Jim Morrison’s grave. That would be because we still haven’t gone, as circumstances didn’t allow for it… but we’re heading back to Paris on Friday, and you know we’re going to Parkour our way to that cemetery the minute we get off the train.

Also not pictured is the group of police officers standing around expectantly in one of the Metro stations, an incongruous sight compared to what I’m used to here. I’ve never seen the cops just hanging around like that in France before. I wanted to snap a picture, but I didn’t think they’d appreciate it, so I held back.

I hope you’re having a great week!

I vetted these dill pickles so you wouldn’t have to.

First things first… happy birthday to Callaghan, my excellent partner in crime and goofball extraordinaire!

Welcome to a new week in my little life, where the superficial issue du jour concerns… pickles. Dill pickles. Naturally, I thought, Who better to commiserate with me than everyone who reads this blog? 

Dill pickles, which I’ve always loved, were one of many foods that stoked my gustatory homesickness while I lived in France. No matter where we went in that beautiful country, I couldn’t find any dills, and the more I couldn’t find them, the more I wanted them. There seems to be only one kind of pickle over there; the French cornichon is more tart than sour, and its dominant flavor is more tarragon than dill. Unfortunately, I dislike the flavor of tarragon. I missed the kosher dill pickles I’d taken for granted in the States. (Come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing any kind of Jewish food in France, including bagels. I’d searched for bagels in vain, too.)

Since I grew up in a house that had a jar of Claussen pickles permanently installed in the refrigerator, Claussen had been my favorite brand of mass-produced dill pickles. But now, I read food labels, so now, I have problems with not only Claussen, but all the dill pickles, apparently.

This brings me to Exhibit A:


The current dill pickle situation at our house.

The current dill pickle situation at our house.


These are the jars of dill pickles in our refrigerator right now. Yes. There are four different brands of pickles because that’s how many times it took for me to remember to read the damn labels in the store, before buying them. That’s how not used to reading pickle jar labels I’d been. Now that chemicals are a food group in and of themselves, you have to read ALL the labels. My innocence has been destroyed.

Let’s break it down from left to right, looking at the ingredients lists’ highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be):

1). Claussen Kosher Dill Wholes. What’s wrong with them: High Fructose Corn Syrup, “natural flavor.” Major problem: “Dill” does not appear on the ingredients label.

–The words “Contains less than 2% of” prefaces the part of the list that begins with “High Fructose Corn Syrup,” but as far as I’m concerned, HFCS is HFCS, and I strenuously avoid it. I might eat other kinds of junk, but I’m selective about the junk I eat, and one thing I don’t do is cross the HFCS line, ever, if I can possibly help it. It’s basically a poison that causes a chemical chain reaction in your body that leads to visceral belly fat. Want to know how it is that I’m 46 and I eat my fair share of junk and I have minimal belly fat? I avoid HFCS. (Okay, I also work out 4x/week, drink tons of water, avoid alcohol, get as much sleep as I can, and eat more healthy stuff than junk, but still, avoiding HFCS is key.)

–I read somewhere that “natural flavor” comes from either an insect or a gland in the nether regions of a non-human mammal. Either way, pickles with “natural flavor” instead of dill = gross pickles.

Number of ingredients: 13, and this is another issue for me. I’d prefer fewer ingredients on my dill pickle jar label, thanks!

2). Trader Joe’s Kosher Dill Pickles. What’s wrong with them: “Natural flavorings (dill, garlic).” There it is again! Natural flavor. These pickles are slightly better than the Claussen brand because the word “dill” does appear on the ingredients label…

–However, “dill” is merely sub-listed as a parenthetical ingredient after “natural flavoring,” which says to me that “natural flavoring” either includes other things that aren’t explicitly mentioned, OR the “natural flavoring” components are made to imitate the flavors of dill and garlic. Imposters.

–If dill and garlic are actual ingredients, then why not just list them as actual ingredients? SUSPICIOUS.

Number of ingredients: 9 (counting “natural flavoring” as one).

3). Vlasic Kosher Dill Spears. What’s wrong with them: “Natural flavor” (!) and “yellow 5.”

–Again, no dill in the dill pickles. WTF. The telling factor here is the label on the side that boasts “Classic Dill TASTE” – the “taste” written just like that, all in caps. Not real dill, just the taste of dill. At least they’re honest.

–Yellow 5 in pickles? SUSPICIOUS AND SCARY.

Number of ingredients: 8… and 50% of them are chemicals and “natural flavors.” Welcome to the pickle graveyard, Vlasic.

Finally, we arrive at my favorite:

4). Don Hermann & Sons Kosher Dill Pickles (“cloudy brine assures fresh packed.”). What’s wrong with them: Nothing seems to be wrong with these pickles, health-wise.  Also, they’re scrumptious. In a blind taste test conducted by Callaghan, I liked these the best by far.

–The only eyebrow-raising ingredient is the first one. It’s “pickles,” which throws me off because why not “cucumbers” as the first, main ingredient (like the Claussen and Vlasic), or “gherkins” (like the Trader Joe’s)? How can you use something as an ingredient that is itself? Don’t you have to start with naked cucumbers or gherkins? I’m confused. But we’re going to give Don Hermann & Sons the benefit of the doubt and assume they mean naked cucumbers or gherkins.

Number of ingredients: 5. Only five ingredients! “Pickles (?), salt, dill, garlic, pickling spices.” Okay, so “pickling spices” could include a hundred different varieties, and if I’m going to be super nit-picky, I’d be more annoyed by the vagueness there. But I’m biased by how incredibly good these pickles are, and also by the absence of vinegar, which indicates that the pickles are naturally fermented.

Don Hermann & Sons. These dill pickles are as good as you’re going to get short of making your own or getting some via bartering with an Amish farmer.


Ironically, the virtues of these pickles also make them unworkable for me. The problem with these delicious dill pickles is that you can’t them take anywhere, unless you don’t mind the whole world knowing that you have them. I tried bringing one to work one day, and it turned into a fiasco.

Packing up my food that morning, I put one of these pickles in a small Ziploc bag, making sure that it was sealed tight. The bag went into one of my cloth lunch bags, and that went into another, similar cloth lunch bag… so I left home with a tripled-bagged pickle, among other things. When I got to work, I put the whole shebang in the corner of my office, as usual.

All morning, all I could smell was the garlicky dill pickle. It was a good smell, but it was absolutely not a smell I wanted in my office. This isn’t going to work, I thought to myself. Must move the pickle. I took the cloth bag that contained the Ziploc’d pickle and put it in the communal refrigerator. But then I remembered how the scent of the pickles hit me in the face when I opened the refrigerator door at home that morning, and as I was working, I kept thinking of that.

Eventually, guilt drove me back to the communal kitchen. I opened the refrigerator door, and sure enough, the boisterous pickle smell rushed out. I took the pickle outside and put it in the trash because I didn’t know what to do with it at that point. Not only was there nowhere to store it in a courteous way, but by then, I was also convinced that if I ate the pickle, I’d smell like it for the rest of the day.

Thus, I still can’t have dill pickles… while I’m at work. I’m keeping the delicious Don Hermann & Sons pickles for weekend enjoyment. The other three jars will go to a food bank.

La Fin.

My Shoe Anti-Rhapsody.

The weekend turned out to be good because I escaped having to shop for “nice” shoes, a task I’d been avoiding. I spared myself with the realization that if I need to dress up (I am capable of cleaning up kind of nicely, when I want to), I have several options that look perfectly okay with ankle boots. I can wear boots with tights and a knee-length or longer skirt or dress, and no one would look twice at a simple black ankle boot if it’s not dirty or scuffed, right?

It happens that there’s an upcoming event whose dress code is “cocktail attire.” I’m pretty sure I can get away with short boots, though.

I’m not sure where my aversion to wearing dressy shoes comes from, because I haven’t always had it. There was a time that I didn’t mind wearing them, and I often wore them to work. The heels couldn’t be more than three inches high, though, and even that was pushing it! I was never comfortable walking in heels.

As a result of wearing heels on a semi-regular basis, I now have a bunion on my left foot, and it looks like I might be developing one on my right foot. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self anything at all, it would be, “Don’t wear high heels, even if they’re not really high. They’re not worth it.”

(It seems that one way or another, women end up mutilating their bodies whether they’re aware of it or not. I mean, aside from the drastic differential in damage and degree of pain and severity, how is the practice of Chinese foot-binding any different than modern women wearing high heels regularly over an extended period of time? Both are done for the sake of fashion and in compliance with current beauty standards, and they have the same effect in the end: deformed feet.)

Anyway, I haven’t worn high-heeled footwear on a regular basis since 2009. I did thrift some kind-of-high wedge sandals in Texas, but I only wore them twice, and only for a few hours each time.

Since shopping for dressy shoes means fashion, it also pretty much means high heels, and since, to me, trying on high heels is only slightly less fun than getting invasive dental surgery, I’ve come up with every excuse to avoid the whole business.

My (admittedly) halfhearted attempts to find “nice” shoes usually end in failure. One day in the summer of 2012, I wandered into a shoe boutique in Nice, France (where we were pretty much living at the time). The shoes were mostly trendy and some combination of glamorous, provocative, strappy, studded, or colorful… and they were mostly high-heeled. Many were high-heeled with platforms. I was supposed to be looking for shoes for a special occasion, but I ended up getting some converse knock-offs I found hidden in the back corner, high above and out of reach… I had to ask the shoe guy to get down a pair in size 38.5 (my European shoe size). The shoes were casual, but they were made of metallic material and faux patent leather, so that made them special occasion converse knock-offs, right? My reasoning was lame, and I knew it. I bought them anyway.

In their defense, those flimsy, blingy black and silver converse-inspired shoes were pretty comfortable. I spent the rest of the summer power-walking through Nice in them. I still have them:


Brand unknown. It just says "sport" on the metal plaques at the tops of the laces.

Brand unknown. It just says “sport” on the metal plaques at the tops of the laces.


“Never say ‘can’t’,” but… I can’t walk in high heels, and I don’t care.

Also when we were still living in France, we visited Los Angeles for a week, and once again, I went shopping for dressy shoes. This was in September, at the end of that same summer. We had an event in Berlin coming up in November, and I was running out of time. I had to find some shoes! I finally found a pair of black velvet-like wedges at a mall shoe shop. Of all the shoes I tried on, those were the most walking-friendly ones in my price range.

Fast-forward to November: I wore the shoes from the hotel in Berlin to the convention center, and I only made it half-way down the street. Luckily, it just so happened that my comfy, reliable old cowgirl boots were stashed in my backpack. (Yes, I wore a backpack with my dressy outfit.) Cowgirl boots aren’t exactly formal footwear, but they’re better than barefoot at a convention center event. My excuse was going to be that I was an inappropriately casual American who didn’t know any better. If there’s a stereotype about Americans wearing casual western boots at semi-formal events, I’m afraid I helped to propagate it. Sorry, not sorry.

Shoes. If “perfectly okay” is good enough, they’re perfect as far as I’m concerned!

Pieces of Elvis, and other… packages.

In the last year, Callaghan’s drawings have taken a turn for the dimensional. Using ink on a particular type of plastic sheeting as his medium, he’ll do a drawing in parts, cutting everything out, applying color, and then positioning the parts like puzzle pieces, overlapping them in some places and gluing it all together. He gives the resulting “assemblage drawing” a kind of 3-D effect by stacking layers of small pieces of the plastic and strategically placing them beneath various components of the picture, creating differing heights throughout.

He did a brilliant portrait of my parents using this method, as well as my Valentine’s Day red roses and a stunning tribute to French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, among others.


My Valentine's Day roses

My Valentine’s Day roses


But allow me to arrive at the point, lest you think this post is nothing more than a shameless plug for my husband’s art!

Callaghan recently completed and submitted his designs for the 2015 Carnaval of Nice float competition, an annual project of considerable effort and magnitude that takes place in the spring of each year. As I’ve mentioned here before, the Carnaval team creates its parade floats based on the themed designs of the winning drawings. This year, Callaghan employed his new assemblage-drawing method, which meant that when he called me into his studio to check out his progress, I often only saw parts of the completed pictures.

He started with the King (there’s always a King and Queen of Carnaval leading the float parade). He dressed the King as Elvis, since the theme of Carnaval 2015 is “La Musique.”

He drew a few pieces of the King, cut them out, and then called me in to show me his work.

“Oh, cool… Elvis is coming along nicely!” I commented. Then my vision focused on the pieces of the unfinished Elvis and my brain made a connection (as it does sometimes, eventually). “Wait… is that his package?” I asked.

“Hell yeah it’s his package!” Callaghan declared. “Tight white pants.”


Pieces of Elvis.

Pieces of Elvis.


Of course it’s normal. It’s just that, for one thing, I was surprised because Callaghan doesn’t usually draw male genitalia. Also, when you see a floating leg sans torso, an exaggerated crotch bulge acquires an identity of its own. “Elvis the Pelvis,” I guess, right?

A few weeks later, Callaghan started to work on the L’aigle Niçois (“Eagle of Nice”), another important standing character in the parade, since the Eagle is the symbol/mascot of the city of Nice. Again, he called me in to view his progress.

“No way,” I said, cracking up. He’d drawn the Eagle’s lower half like this:


Pieces of Eagle.

Pieces of Eagle.


“That eagle… it has an actual camel hump! Hahaha!”

I could see the point where Elvis was concerned, but the eagle? Quite a package, indeed. I guess that’s one way to wrap up a big project!

Well aren’t I just the Fashionista’s Fashionista.

Two things that always attract me when I’m browsing through retail clothing racks:

1). Anything gray.

2). Anything featuring the Eiffel Tower.

(Which is actually an appropriate combination, considering that I’ve never seen Paris when it wasn’t cold, gray and raining… even in June.)

But I mean, I love the color gray, as you likely already know if you’ve been reading here for a while. Gray is to me what sparkly things are to my inner four-year-old, and the Eiffel Tower is my all-time favorite monument… so when the Eiffel Tower lights up and gets on with her sparklicious self late at night, my inner four-year-old and I float away on an invisible carpet woven of delight-bordering-on-euphoria. Many a time I’ve waited, shivering, on a chair at an outdoor café under the black Paris night sky, warming my icy hands on a cup of hot chocolate while staring at the Eiffel Tower. When she finally starts sparkling, it feels like she’s sparkling just for me, because I’d been staring at her so hard. (Speaking of hot chocolate, if you ever visit the Louvre, I recommend that you go upstairs to the Café Richelieu and treat yourself to a cup on the lovely terrace overlooking the pyramid. The hot chocolate at the Café Richelieu is decadence redefined.)

“Yeah, and I know why,” Callaghan said when we were talking about my Eiffel Tower obsession love. This was last week.

“Why?” I wanted to know what he thought he knew about me.

“It’s obvious! The Eiffel Tower is a phallic symbol.” He looked pleased with himself as he said it.

But his words gave me pause.

“Um… the Eiffel Tower is a girl,” I said. La Tour Eiffel.” Was I really pointing this out to my French husband?

I’d never seen the Eiffel Tower as phallic, or otherwise male in any respect. She’s a she. She’s elegant and strong and magnificent, and if I come across an article of clothing depicting her, I’ll usually at least contemplate buying it if it’s in the realm of possibility.

So when Chantal was visiting from France (she left on Saturday) for a couple of weeks and we went browsing through Ross one day, it wasn’t surprising that I walked out with another Eiffel Tower shirt, thus prompting the Eiffel Tower conversation with Callaghan, who was ever so surprised when I got home and showed him my purchase. I reasoned that I didn’t yet have a sleeveless Eiffel Tower t-shirt, so it made sense to get this one. Plus, it was all of $6.99 (who doesn’t love Ross), and the graphic is in shades of gray. Triple win!

On Wednesday evening, I came home from work, threw the Eiffel Tower shirt on over a sports bra and shorts and headed out to Boot Camp class at the gym. Because the Eiffel Tower – who is a girl – kicks ass.

Here’s the Eiffel Tower waiting for class to start:


At Boot Camp class with the Eiffel Tower.

At Boot Camp class with the Eiffel Tower.


Later, I snapped some pics wearing the shirt with a couple of different attitudes, because this particular Eiffel Tower asks for it. Also, it’s been months since my last silly “picture of me in a t-shirt” post (inside joke), so why not go ahead and derp my way through a couple with the Eiffel Tower?


The Eiffel Tower, "And your point is?" style.

The Eiffel Tower, “And your point is?” style.


The Eiffel Tower, '80's Billy Idol style.

The Eiffel Tower, ’80’s Billy Idol style.


Happy Friday, all! =)

The Plot Thickens.

Last spring, I wrote about how the City of Nice chose a Frenchman’s drawing featuring a practically naked, obese woman to represent the United States in a parade float for their annual world-famous Carnaval celebration. The drawing was, shall we say, handily fleshed out with stereotypes of cavalier gluttony and general tackiness in a rather simple and tasteless mockery. This is an image that matches a popular French conception of Americans. Just to make sure there was no mistaking the float’s nationality, the artist put a Statue of Liberty crown on the woman’s head, a bottle of Coke in the hand of her upraised torch-bearing arm, and stood her atop a gigantic cheeseburger.

Here’s the winning illustration:


The fat woman on a cheeseburger pedestal towers over the first astronaut to land on the moon.

The fat woman on a cheeseburger pedestal towers over the first astronaut to land on the moon.


Here’s the whole drawing:


"C'est L'Amerique!" - all kinds of America.

“C’est L’Amerique!” – all kinds of America.


Callaghan, who was raised in Nice and carries dual (French-American) citizenship, was also taken aback by the selection of that drawing.

Now, a year later, the City of Nice seems to be having some sort of identity crisis, the main symptom being its 2014 “Greetings to Nice” poster campaign featuring a variety of images of its inhabitants… a self-promotional campaign that blew up in the faces of its creators when an article came out busting them for using… wait for it… photos of Americans.

So much for municipal pride.

What makes this especially ridiculous is that the City of Nice made sure to announce that the folks in the images were “All Nice!” because last year it generated controversy when it used “different” (i.e. non-French) faces to represent itself in a similar campaign.

Feel free to check out the article here. (You can probably gather the general gist of it even if you can’t read French.)

Understandably, the phony campaign has outraged many people of Nice. When the ad copy claims that the creators specifically and exclusively “sought out people of Nice” for their poster images, it must be disheartening to realize that the images were actually harvested from the French version (copied and pasted from the original with a French search engine) of an American photo image bank (Thinkstock), and that none of the models used are even French, much less inhabitants of Nice.

We can’t decide if the people of Nice are more upset by the fact that they’ve been lied to, or by the fact that they’ve been represented by (gasp!) Americans.

On my part, the deception is disturbing not as a misled person of Nice, but as an American who witnessed the City of Nice’ selection of that questionable drawing for last year’s parade. My French isn’t perfect, but hypocrisy does not easily get lost in translation. In this case, it’s coming through loud and clear.

It was an irate Callaghan who brought the article to my attention.

“The City of Nice,” he grumbled as he hung up the phone with one of his friends on the French Rivera, “created a ‘Happy New Year’ greeting card for Nice using images of people from Nice, except they’re not, because the pictures were taken off an American photo bank website! It’s bullshit.”

Callaghan has often said to me that the French regard Americans with disdain and mock them because they secretly want to be them. I never knew what to think of that theory, but now the actions of the City of Nice are giving credence to it.

Americans. Make fun of them in public. Pretend to be them in private.

I’ll tell you what… if I was working on a promotional campaign for the City of Nice, I’d cover the posters with photos of pan bagnat (the traditional Niçoise tuna sandwich) and call it a day. It’s the best tuna sandwich in the world. That’s something to be proud of.


Happy New Year from the City of Nice!

Happy New Year from the City of Nice!


(The City of Nice Wishes You a Happy New Year 2014 original drawing by Callaghan. Text taken from the article.)

Dressed for Success

Well. A week from tomorrow, we move!

We spent most of the last week visiting friends and family. So for the second year in a row, we were on the French Riviera during the Cannes Film Festival, and for the second year in a row, it was raining and cold down there at the time. After we got back, I came across some online photos of attendees in their red carpet attire and shivered just looking at them, thinking of how I’d spent the last four days in layers of clothing over my jeans – t-shirt, sweater, jacket.

For instance:


The intrepid Emma Watson at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival

The intrepid Emma Watson at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival


You know how powerful the mind is? My first-hand knowledge of the weather where this picture was taken kills the adorableness for me. I’m distracted by wanting to wrap her up in something warm. I’m glad I didn’t see this picture while we were there, because if I had, I might have been overcome by the urge to rush over to her with a fur-lined cloak (of invisibility?) – such as it is that the weather triggers my maternal impulses.

Still, in a weird way, I admire these festival-goers. You’ve got to be some kind of a badass to deliberately go around dressed for summer when it feels like winter. It’s not like these people don’t have access to weather forecast reports. We knew what it was going to be like down there before we went – they must have known, too.

Here we are on the train coming home, all cozy and warm:


We got up at 5:00 in the morning to stumble onto this train from Cannes. It got us home in three hours! Awesome. I'm wearing the previous day's make-up (I don't usually go to sleep without removing it, but that night, I did), a ponytail elastic (which is a poor substitute for a hairbrush, but whatever), and you can't see it, but I'm clutching a Kit-Kat (candy bar) like it's the answer to life. Because at that moment, it was. And it was damn good.

We got up at 5:00 in the morning to stumble onto this train from Cannes. It got us home in three hours! Awesome. I’m wearing the previous day’s make-up (I don’t usually go to sleep without removing it, but that night, I did), a ponytail elastic (which is a poor substitute for a hairbrush, but whatever), and you can’t see it, but I’m clutching a Kit-Kat (candy bar) like it’s the answer to life. Because at that moment, it was. And it was damn good.




Spaces Where Things No Longer Reside

Though we’ve been busy with moving-related business, we did get to relax in Valence over the weekend while Chantal was here. It was nice. It was our last time hanging out in Valence, since we sold our truck yesterday and are now officially without wheels. Yes! We’ve made it to the stage where the “lasts” are piling up.


Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)


Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)

Saturday, 11 May 2013. Last time hanging out in Valence (while we live here in France, anyway)


So, the movers are coming today, and then we’re going back down to the French Riviera for (another!) last visit with family and friends before we leave. And after we get back, we’ll sit here in the forest with no car and no stuff and try to sell everything that’s not going with the movers today.  Or we might give stuff away, if people would be willing to come out to the boondocks to get it. Here’s a picture I took of our house when we went for a hike with Benedicte (when she came to visit) a few weeks ago:


Our little house! We live in the upper right corner of the building.

Our little house! We live in the upper right corner of the building.


Little House in the Rhone-Alpes! (Just imagine the accent circumflex over that “o.” I don’t have my French keyboard with me right now).

BEWARE – Serial Plan-Ruiner Running Amok in France

I can’t believe it’s already April. I can’t believe it’s already April fifth. The last time I wrote here, it was still March, and it doesn’t even seem that long ago! But there’s a lot of craziness going on right now. I’ll come back to that later because what I’m sharing with you right now is a story per Callaghan’s request. Last week, we went down to visit his family and friends on the French Riviera via covoiturage ride-sharing, and afterward, Callaghan was all, like, “YOU HAVE TO WRITE ABOUT THIS.” (The last time I wrote about covoiturage, I praised it for its entertainment value.)

This is our story about being epically late because of someone else.

The idea behind using covoiturage for transportation is that a driver can get you from Point A to Point B because he’s heading the direction you’re going. It’s basically hitch-hiking, but you organize the ride in advance, online. Passengers are picked up and dropped off at designated points along the way, and the whole thing is based on scheduling… if you’re driving south to Cannes and you want to make a little money, you post on the covoiturage site that you’ll be cruising through Valence at 2:20 in the afternoon. If anyone in the area wants to catch a ride, they can meet you there.

So this guy said. And we replied, “Sure! We’ll meet you in Valence at 2:20pm! We need to get to Cannes.” We chose that particular guy’s ride because the time he’d advertised was going to be perfect for getting us to the birthday celebration dinner on our agenda.

Maybe we brought the shenanigans upon ourselves when Callaghan pulled up the posted photo of the vehicle, and we laughed because it was a white van that looked like it should have the words “serial killer van” painted on the side in black block letters. And when we found the photo of the driver, we laughed again because he looked like he belonged with the van.  Do not laugh at the photos of your driver and his vehicle. He will know, and he will get his revenge.

As it turned out, the driver wasn’t hiding bodies in his van. But he was three hours late.

There were four passengers already in the van, and they were all alive. The front seat held a rat (in a cage) and a girl, who were not together. In the middle row sat a woman and a young guy – they weren’t together, either. Callaghan and I climbed in to sit in the back. (We were together. Ha!) We settled in and cracked open our iPad to watch Zombieland again, which seemed strangely apt for the circumstances.

“C’est le Magic Bus!” said the driver, whose name was Alex. Magic, indeed!

The first passenger to depart was Middle Seat Lady. Instead of dropping her off somewhere along the route, Alex exited the highway and meandered around to a specific bus stop in Le Teil. Callaghan was furious.

But since we still weren’t late enough, there was the second passenger drop-off. Front Seat Girl was moving back in with her mother. We exited the highway again and pulled right up to her mother’s doorstep in the middle of Aix en Provence.

This was now looking more like a limousine service than covoiturage. It was also looking like a house-moving service. And like a van with undead people in it. With a rat in a cage, and a driver who’d only gotten two hours of sleep the previous night (true story).

In Aix en Provence, Callaghan and I stood back on the sidewalk to stretch while Alex, the girl and her mother unloaded her things into the house.

The third passenger off the van was the rat, who had come down from Paris. This one was okay… Alex cruised into a rest area in Fréjus, where an old couple sat waiting in their car. (They had my sympathy, because by then, it was 10:30pm. I know I’d be annoyed if I had to sit on the side of the highway at night for five hours, waiting for someone to bring me my rat.)

And half an hour later, Alex took Middle Seat Guy to his stop in Mouans-Sartoux.

That left us. Callaghan, seething mad, asked the driver to drop us off in Grasse, instead of in Cannes, as planned. We’d missed our restaurant celebration, and we were by then entitled to our own special drop-off request. Plus, there was no one left to inconvenience, so it didn’t matter.

We got down there a total of five and a half hours late.

The next day, Callaghan checked the covoiturage website and found an explosion of negative driver reviews for Alex from the hapless passengers of the last two days. People were furious. For two days, from Normandy to Nice, Alex had plowed down through France in his white serial killer van, scooping people up anywhere from three to five hours late and pissing them off. There was only one good review, and that was from the girl he’d helped move to Aix en Provence. She was thrilled with the service she got – as well she should be, since she got personal door-to-door moving service for practically nothing!

I still think Alex might be a serial killer, though, since something about him did kind of set off my serial-killer-dar. Or maybe I was just imagining it because I’m watching The Following right now, and I’m obsessed.

14 Heures sur la Route – des photos

I can be a vainglorious beast when I have a camera in my hand. I mean, I can get overly serious about taking pictures. At least I recognize this distinction: You have your real photographers, both amateur and professional, people equip with raw talent, people who are visionary and intuitive with their cameras, hard-working and trained artists. Then you have people like me, the pointers-and-clickers. But I am quite the pointer-and-clicker, if I do say so!

All of this to say that yesterday we returned from a road trip (14 hours, total) through 7-8 départements to the center of France (to visit a friend), and here are pictures – a little bit of atmosphere from the passenger-in-the-moving-vehicle perspective.


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Visit to Catherine, February 2013


Coffee at McDonald’s. Camenbert burger, anyone?



1. A person who has withdrawn from society and lives a solitary existence; a recluse.


Yesterday, we went out. We had to. Our refrigerator contained the following:

Ketchup; mustard (2 kinds); pickles (2 kinds); mayonnaise; jam (2 kinds); butter; Omega-3 buttery spread; lemons (2); taco sauce (the last of my favorite kind, from the States); pure maple syrup (also from the States); soy milk; grapefruit juice; two open cans of cat food (2 kinds); and the requisite open container of baking soda stashed in the back.

As some wise person once said: “Man cannot live on condiments alone. Or on cat food. Or on baking soda.”

Honestly? Had we had a grain of coffee or a crust of bread, we wouldn’t have left the house. It was the lack of coffee and bread that did it. We had no choice.

We had to put on pants.

It might sound like I’m being facetious, but I’m really not. Isolation is a by-product of working from home in the wilderness, and being isolated makes us feel like who cares if we’re dressed or not.

Aside from the occasional appointment, we only emerge into society when we run out of food. It’s an event. We fire up the truck and lumber down through the woods to our gate and out onto the private road, stop to take the wheels off of 4 x 4 drive mode, then rumble by the mailboxes, wind around two pastures, wave as we pass the bee-keeper guy’s place, until we finally come to the clearing where the dumpsters sit clustered to the left with the “CAMPING” area across from them on the right. It’s there that the little road joins perpendicularly with the main road, which is still a nameless, no-sidewalk country road, but at least it appears on a map (I think) and it leads somewhere: small villages and Grenoble to the right, more small villages (including the one that’s our address) and Romans-sur-Isère to the left. We usually go left and do our shopping in Romans.

We make this excursion maybe once every 7-10 days. We load up the truck with our trash so we can drop it in the dumpsters when we get out to the “CAMPING” area at the main road.

When it’s cold, we put off going anywhere as long as we can because the fire doesn’t usually stay alive untended (except at night, when Callaghan banks it), and it’s kind of unpleasant to come home to a dead fire in a cold house.

This is what makes me cringe with shame: Ma Ingalls would absolutely not approve of our current habits. We have no excuse! The Ingalls family got dressed every day, even when they didn’t have plans to go to town. Ma Ingalls always changed into day-time clothes, and she made sure that her girls did, too, regardless of anything. If there was a violent blizzard outside continuously howling during the longest, hardest winter ever known to humankind, there they’d be, the Ingallses, ensconced in the house fully-dressed, functional and ready for unannounced guests. (If there was ever a day Ma said, to hell with it, I’ll hang out in my nightgown, I missed that part, even though I’ve read the entire “Little House” series – which I have in my possession – backwards and forwards like 20 times since I was seven years old.)

So I’ve been thinking that it might be a good idea to take a cue from Ma and start approaching each day as if there was a little civilization right here in our own house. We could behave as if there was a world humming with human life outside our door, instead of just the woods… as if there was a chance someone might come along and drop in for a visit. (When you finally find us and make it onto our land, you can only go so far before you have to stop and walk the rest of the way up to our house, because the wooded path is steep and muddy and rocky, and if your vehicle’s not a 4 x 4, it’s not going to make it.)

Yes! Sounds like a plan, and it’ll serve us well, I think. Because you know things have slipped out of control when you’re suddenly aware that “Do we need to put on pants?” is the operating question every morning. Thanks for the inspiration, Ma! We’ll try to do you proud. And we’ll hope that if someone does come to visit, it’s not Nellie Olsen.

Upside-Down in the Jungle

I spent yesterday sitting in my long-awaited Session d’Information Sur La Vie En France (“Life in France” course), Module 1. I did not learn how to do a champagne toast. Instead, the instructor covered different administrative sectors of the French government, both at the national and state levels.

The theme ran ruthlessly through every sub-topic: France is broke. There are cavernous deficits in all administrative areas. Consequently, people are getting less of everything while paying more and more into the system. Allocations are meager at every level. Unemployment is astronomical, which compounds the other problems. There also seems to be a massive epidemic of bureaucratic disorganization that, from what I could discern in class, is responsible for the slowing down of procedural undertakings for everyone – French and foreigners alike – by way of plain old interference. Processing of all administrative actions is slow. Very, very slow.

This brings to mind my favorite Callaghan quote to date:

“My sloth will not be like their sloth. My sloth will be a different sloth.”

Ezma the Sloth - created and drawn by Callaghan

Ezma the Sloth – created and drawn by Callaghan

Callaghan did not utter these words in the context of the French administration. The subject came up in a recent conversation about how the sloth he’d draw would be nothing like the other cartoon sloths out there… and the sloth he drew after that discussion was indeed his own. Another Callaghan original! We named her “Ezma,” after Bella’s daughter, Renesmee, in The Twilight Saga:  Breaking Dawn – Part 2, which we had the misfortune of seeing the other day.

Now that France’s painfully slow processes and extortion of money from French citizens have been officially noted in the classroom, Callaghan and I have elected Ezma as the face of the administration.

After all, as was also explained yesterday, the French enjoy freedom of expression as long as it’s not “slanderous or injurious”… and we don’t believe that using a sloth to represent the administration violates either of those stipulations, though I doubt President Hollande would appreciate a Zazzle shop carrying t-shirts imprinted with a Sloth replacing the noble Gallic Rooster as the French national emblem. It’s just as well, because I don’t think “Paresseux Gaulois” has the same ring to it as “Coq Gaulois,” even though “Coq Gaulois” sounds, to me, less like an emblem and more like a hearty poultry dish to be paired with a bold red wine.

But where the French administration is concerned, Callaghan has been outraged since the dinosaurs inhabited the earth, so Ezma the Sloth seems like an appropriate representative for it. This is a democracy, right? The people choose. Callaghan stormed to his desk and started on the new Ezma drawing immediately after reading my class notes. Cabernet Sauvignon, anyone?

You’re American. You Must Be Obese.

We got back from our latest trip to Nice last night. While we were there, we took the time to visit the maison de carnaval (“house of carnival”), the place where the majestic floats for Nice’s annual February carnival are made. We wanted to get a sneak peek at the construction progress because, like last year, several of Callaghan’s drawings were selected to appear as floats.

I have something to get off my chest, so I’m going to go ahead and dump it here.

(By the way: This is not about Callaghan!)

Let’s say you’re an artist. You decide to participate in a contest to come up with a series of original drawings on the theme of “The Five Continents,” depicting your visual interpretation of the corners of the world. (This refers to the non-American version of the world’s continents, hence five rather than seven.)

The competition is intimidating. You know that your drawings have to be absolutely inventive in order for the committee to select one or more of them; a prestigious carnival’s enormous, sophisticated floats will be based on the winning drawings.

So here you are, ready to go! The continent of North America lies before you, challenging you. There are many options, many things about this continent you can take and develop into creative ideas. You sit and think and soon find yourself rolling along an exhilarating wave of inspiration, creative idea after creative idea blooming up from the depths of your imagination. Your mind hums with anticipation; you can already feel the satisfaction of releasing the creative mojo from your brain, taking the images from your mind’s eye and transferring them to paper.

You unsheathe your drawing pencils. You’re inspired. You’re proud of yourself. For North America, you’ve decided, you’re going to focus on the United States. You’ll incorporate various elements into your drawing – elements that will represent America. One of these will be an American woman: She’ll be obese. She’ll be blond. She’ll be naked except for blue star pasties on her nipples and a tiny red and white striped bikini bottom. She’ll wear a gold crown. You’ll put her up on the back of a pink Cadillac. In her upraised hand, you’ll draw in a diet soda. She is a parody of the Statue of Liberty.

At the carnival’s home offices, the selection committee reviews the hundreds of entries submitted by talented artists. Next thing you know, you receive a letter of congratulations. Your drawing was selected! Your idea was so original, it beat out all the others. At the end of February, a pink Cadillac float representing America, complete with the ridiculous half-naked obese woman brandishing her diet soda, will drift along in the parade for all to admire. You’ll receive an award for your clever design at the end of the carnival’s run. Congratulations.

Here are the rhetorical questions this scenario begs in my mind: Is the world really so conditioned to viewing America this way that it can’t see the juvenile cruelty of ridiculing obese Americans? Can there be an acknowledgement of the difference between a successful satire and outright hostile social criticism hiding behind the guise of satire?

Dear Selection Committee: I don’t get it. I don’t get why you would taint the illustrious tradition of your annual carnival by selecting a drawing such as this. Shouldn’t you be setting high standards for carnival parades, rather than lowering them by perpetuating mean stereotypes through the pedantic representation of them in your floats?

Why reduce a country’s identity to a stereotype, anyway? America. Geographical wonders such as redwood forests, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the Great Lakes and Niagara falls. Specific, world-wide-recognized characters such as Elvis, Mickey Mouse, the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam. Places such as Hollywood and New York City. All of these emblems could be used as the basis of satire. Also worth considering is the tremendous cultural diversity among the American population.

America is nothing if not multi-cultural. The country grew up as a coming-together of people from all over the world, and those people brought their traditions that have both held pure and mixed together with others. It can be said that to be American is to be of mixed ethnicity; most Americans are “mutts.” I’ve known very few Americans who are 100% anything. It’s not like Europe, where it’s more predictable that people in Germany are of German ethnicity, people in France are of French ethnicity, people in Italy are of Italian ethnicity, etc. There is no such thing as an “American” ethnicity. America is unique in that it’s a country in which almost all of its citizens (the exception being Native Americans) can trace their ethnic roots back to their places of origin. “American” is a nationality, not an ethnicity. America is a collection of the world’s people.

How can anyone miss the greatness of this? When you really think about it, isn’t it a stunning concept? Isn’t it great, I mean truly great that a country such as America even exists?

What I’m trying to point out is that it’s kind of gratuitous to draw an obese white person and stick it on a float called “America” to represent its people. Clearly, the intent here is not to satirize. The intent is only to turn the subject into a laughing-stock for the amusement of the parade audience, most of which is not American.

Stereotypes can be negative or positive. Obesity is a negative American stereotype that suggests disapproval of not just a body condition, but a psychological one as well. Often, obesity is perceived as an attitude-oriented issue – one that can easily be changed if the person “really wants to.” It’s a complex stereotype, and it’s hostile: the obese are viewed negatively on different levels. This is why I’m feeling this drawing stretch beyond satire, and I have to wonder what the artist was thinking. Did he choose to portray obesity because it would be the easiest of the negative American stereotypes to draw? Or because it’s perceived to be the funniest? Or because it was just the first thing that occurred to him when he thought about America, so he went with it without bothering to search his mind for alternatives?

I saw this drawing, obviously. In my opinion, it’s not even that good. (I think I’m at least slightly qualified to make this judgment, since I live with Callaghan and I see the results of his considerable talent every day.) Regardless, if the decision to draw an obese person was made in bad taste, the decision to select the drawing out of hundreds was even worse.

I believe it would be possible to come up with ways to visually satirize America with the finesse required to also celebrate it – not just mock it. Intelligent, creative satire. I’m all for it.

We’re aware that obesity is an accelerating medical problem in America. But who is anyone to indict us, as a nation, for being “greedy” or “lazy” or “self-indulgent” (or whatever the perception may be) because of it?

Who is uglier – the obese American, or the person ridiculing him or her?

Beauty is on the Inside

Yesterday was the day “GYN” was written in my agenda. It would be my first Well-Woman exam in France. Callaghan and I got there on time, and the doctor called us in immediately. Shocking! This was a good sign. I was brimming with curiosity. How would this particular exam differ from those I’ve had in the States? All the medical exams I’ve had here so far have been different. We followed the doctor down the hall to his office. I was about to find out!

For starters, he couldn’t find my vagina.

Kidding! What really happened at first was that he couldn’t figure out why I was there, since I’d had everything removed except my vagina. Ovaries, tubes, uterus and cervix – the whole SHE-bang, gone. He had a good point. There’s nothing to find in a pelvic exam on a woman who’d evicted all of her reproductive organs from her pelvis. He asked a few questions for clarification purposes.

“My GYN in the States said I should still get a yearly check,” I explained.

The doctor gesticulated with his hands as he meandered through a long reply, but even with the sign language, I wasn’t sure I understood him.

“He says there’s nothing to do,” said Callaghan, cutting the response down to six words.

But the doctor got up and showed me to the examination area, anyway, while Callaghan remained seated in his plush green velvet 18th-century replica chair at the desk. The exam area was concealed behind an ornate Oriental screen. The doctor told me to undress completely, but he did not give me a paper gown. This omission flashed in my mind. What’s a pelvic exam without the crinkly, slippery paper gown? (Not that I missed it. I didn’t.) As I reposed on my back with my feet in the stirrups, I gazed above and bit my lip to keep from laughing as I recalled how a former GYN had tacked a poster of Tom Cruise on the ceiling above the exam table. It was supposed to help patients relax. I’m not making this up.

After the exam, I got dressed and joined Callaghan at the desk, wondering what the doctor would find to say about my non-existent girly parts.

“C’est bien,” he said. “Votre vagin est parfait.”

“Your vagina is perfect,” said Callaghan.

“That’s what I thought he said.”

“Well I already knew that your vagina was perfect.” He sounded like his intelligence had been insulted.

We burst out laughing. The doctor ignored us. He grabbed a large coffee-table book, set it down, spun it around, and opened it to display pictures of all kinds of vaginas, interior close-ups beautifully captured in gleaming full color. He enthusiastically used his pen to point out the different parts of vaginal anatomy. As he flipped through the vagina photographs, I suppressed the urge to ask him which one resembled mine. If mine is “perfect,” then why couldn’t it also be featured in a vagina photography book? There are models for all kinds of body parts (hand models, leg models, feet and teeth models). From what I understand, body-part modeling is lucrative, and the models take out insurance policies on said parts… celebrities too, sometimes, if they have a part that’s especially famous. Didn’t I read somewhere that Jennifer Lopez has an insurance policy out on her ass?

In any case, I have to say that this doctor was more thorough than any American one I’ve had, and the exam was only 34 euro (that’s without insurance). Girls, remember this if you ever visit France! You could squeeze in a Well-Woman appointment during your stay. It’ll probably be cheaper than going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, too.

Here’s Your Root Canal. Cream and Sugar?

This hen thing provides as much excitement as you can get living in the middle of nowhere, but I know it’s only exciting to me, so you have my promise that I won’t barrage you with hen updates – no one needs a blow-by-blow account of what I stick in the hen. This reassurance is brought to you by the fact that we went grocery shopping yesterday, and I can now report that there’s 155.00 euro in the hen. Okay, I’m done bragging about it. I just think it’s a good idea to stash things away. I never used to be like this. It probably began out of paranoia when I moved here and a bunch of things vanished in the shipping.

The other day, Callaghan and I were upstairs in la bergerie (a building for the shelter of sheep. We have the building, but not the sheep), looking for the long screws we’d bought specifically for the shower fixture in the house. We diligently searched the entire place until our fingers turned blue with cold. It’s colder in la bergerie than it is outside… I mean, meat freezer cold! Just before giving up, it occurred to us to peek inside the beat-up old antique metal dentist cabinet that Callaghan accidentally got from a dentist office in Antibes. (Yes, by accident. It’s long story.)

Dentist Cabinet

Dentist Cabinet

I’d always thought there was something creepy about this dentist cabinet. The cabinet’s wide, shallow drawers had come filled with all sorts of little instruments and drills – dentistry’s accoutrements of bygone times – that Callaghan had removed for use on various projects. It could be, we thought, that the missing screws had made their way into those empty drawers at some point.  Ghostly, pain-inflicting screws, I couldn’t help but think. I peered over Callaghan’s shoulder with a bit of trepidation; it wouldn’t have surprised me if the dentist cabinet turned out to hold supernatural properties, transforming everyday objects into tiny medieval torture instruments. Contents of its drawers were not to be trusted.

Callaghan pulled open the top rusty drawer and found… six boxes of Nespresso capsules, cold and forgotten.



For Callaghan, it was like one of those cheesy fantasy movie scenes where someone opens the treasure chest or caldron or whatever and soft golden streams of light emerge to illuminate his face with the warm glow of unexpected wealth and knowledge. Here we’d been out of Nespresso for a month, and a haunted, cold dentist cabinet yawns open to reveal this stash. It was marvelous. For a person who lives and dies by coffee, Nespresso is crack. It had been heart-breaking to see Callaghan standing in the kitchen looking mournfully at the Nespresso machine as it started to collect dust from disuse.

So the next time we’re in need of something that can only be obtained via mail order because there’s no specialized boutique in Rhône-Alpes, we’ll look in la bergerie. That dentist cabinet seems to be a larger version of the hen, except I always know exactly what the hen holds. I guess this is why the dentist cabinet is more compelling. It’s one thing to stash things away for future use, but another thing entirely to stash it away, forget about it, and find it again, completely by accident and just when you need it the most.

I think I’ll let Callaghan make those discoveries himself, though. I’ll watch the pretty hen. He can watch the creepy dentist cabinet. Sounds like a fair deal to me.

How Do You Say: “I was all, like, whatever! They were, like, totally making out!” in French?

Last night, my computer warned me that I had 11% battery power remaining. “I’m running out of juice,” I said to Callaghan, who was lying next to me reading a Jack Reacher novel.

“Are you getting tired, Baby?”

“No, well maybe a little, but I mean my computer needs to be charged.”

“Oh I thought it was YOUR juice that was running low!”


“No! No! I didn’t mean it like that. I meant it in a way, like, your juice, you know?”

“Even more….” I couldn’t stop giggling. You had to be there.

“You’re crazy.”

Fair enough. But that’s beside the point.

The point – I mean, the thing this calls to mind – is that verbal exchanges like this exemplify why I don’t want to speak just French with him. It would be boring, and “boring” is not allowed. The “B” word goes against our marriage contract.

Callaghan lived in the States for a decade spanning his 20’s to 30’s; he thinks like an American, and he enjoys speaking American English. Since the nuances, tones, innuendos and linguistic flavors (along with expressions and slang) are what endow a language with its personality, and since the personality of our relationship is American, the character of our verbal communication would change if we were to speak only French with each other. The components of the French language’s personality don’t translate to American English, and vice versa. Even though Callaghan and I often have a good laugh over his English mistakes, our relationship wouldn’t really be us in French, no matter how fluent I get. That’s where the threat of boring would come in.

To put it simply: It would be tiresome trying to keep the joy of our conversations afloat without the American English dips and waves and tides that define our rapport.

While we see nothing wrong with conducting our relationship in English, it slows my progress in improving my French, which I, of course, should do. After all, I live here in France. The last thing I need is border patrol running after my ass to throw me out because I want to “press 2 for English” on the phone.

The crux of the matter is that we live in the wilderness in virtual isolation.

For Callaghan, living with me in isolation is like living in the States again.

For me, living with him in isolation makes me forget that I’m in France.

And for both of us, excursions out serve as reminders that I need to be more immersed in society (in order for French to come more naturally to me).

Thus, I’m happy to have the opportunity to take a French course, which the government will provide for free. Yes! Eight hours a day, three days a week, for three months, I’ll sit in a classroom with other foreigners, learning French with a teacher whose mission in life is to bring French-as-a-second-language people up to speed so we can get jobs. (Callaghan says this is a part of the government’s “secret plot to turn us into slaves like the rest of the French population.” But that’s neither here nor there.)

The more I think about it, the more pleased I am… I’m actually ecstatic and impatiently waiting for the letter that will tell me where and when to go.

Meanwhile, I’ll attend my Orientation to Life in France, where I’m assuming they’ll teach me the proper way to do a champagne toast. Can you believe it? I’ve been in this country for over a year, and they’re just now setting me up with French and champagne toasting lessons! Hey – maybe they’ll also teach me skills such as entering a French roundabout without getting killed!  Gee Willikers, Batman!

Wilson Rawls, Your Grave, Sir

“So where the red fur grows is where the fairies pee?” asked Callaghan suddenly while he was doing the dishes. I waited for the follow-up giggle. Silence. He was serious.

See? It’s a good thing he doesn’t mind my writing about him, because damn, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried, as the cliché goes. I like to write about things I can’t make up. I have more fun writing about things I can’t make up than things I can make up. (This is why I prefer to write creative non-fiction rather than fiction.)

“What did you want to know… where the red fur grows is where the fairies pee?” I asked, thinking maybe I’d misheard.

“That’s what YOU told me!”

“I did not tell you that.”

“Yes! You said where the red fur grows is –

“OH! You mean “where the red fern grows!”

“Yeah well that’s what you told me. There’s something that happens and then the red fern grows. I don’t remember what, but I thought the fairies peeing would be a good alternative.”

Oh my god. One thing I will never be in my marriage is bored.

“I’m not telling you,” I said. “You have to read the book.”

The Hen is Mightier Than the Sword

“I’m listening to this show, and the music is Harry Potter,” Callaghan just announced, ever diligent in reporting critical documentary details. He tells me these things absent-mindedly over his shoulder while he’s working and I’m sitting at my desk doing whatever. Since there’s no door between the main room (his desk) and the bedroom (my desk), we’re always in sight of each other. In fact, there are barely a few steps between us. That’s how small our house is. Very convenient for talking to each other. And for strangling each other, as the situation demands.

But I digress. My porcelain hen is sitting here next to me, and I wanted to tell you about it.

I noticed the hen (which turned out to be a bank) one night while walking with Callaghan down a small street in Nice; it was sitting in a shop window. I had no prior interest in hens, so I was maybe as surprised as he was when I went back the next day and bought it and unveiled it before his very eyes. For one thing, he couldn’t believe I’d found the shop again “against all odds,” since it was already dark when we strolled past it, and I didn’t even know where we were. (I couldn’t believe I’d found the shop again, either, since I’m directionally challenged and have been known to get lost on grounds I’ve stomped for 20 years. How I managed to navigate myself out of the woods with only a compass when I was in the Army remains a mystery.)

But I found the shop, and the hen was there, black with red flowers, and I couldn’t resist. This is what happens when you have too much time on your hands in Nice.



Since then, I’ve graciously taken it upon myself to be the hen’s guardian. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of obsessed. Every time I pay with cash, Callaghan looks over and says something along the lines of, “Hmm… you’re using paper money so you’ll get coins back. For the hen.” Or we’ll be at la boulangerie getting sandwiches and I’ll take out a 10 and he’ll be like, “Why are you paying with that when you have the exact amount in coins? Oh. Yeah.” It’s almost a joke between us, but it’s actually thrilling to me, coming from the States where real money doesn’t exist in coin form. Here in Europe, there are one and two-euro coins, so if you stick them in a piggy (hen) bank, they add up quickly. We come home from the store and I rush to the hen to deposit my high-value coins, and after four months, there’s already 124 euro in the hen! This cannot happen as easily with dollars in the States. It’s almost as fun as watching an hourglass.

Callaghan doesn’t seem to share my glee, but he will. It’s one of those he’ll thank me later things.

“So your idea of managing household finances is the hen,” he says to me one day.

“Yes. It’s for emergencies.”

“Okay, then let’s use the hen to stock up on water, in case the pipes freeze like they did last winter.”

“No… the hen is for real emergencies.”

“What kind of emergency are you talking about?”



“If the pipes do freeze again, we’ll need to use the hen to do our laundry at la laverie. We’ll need coins.”

“By then we’d be dead of thirst.”

“Parking, too.”

“Parking? How do you figure that’s an emergency?”

“We might need to pay for parking when we go to la laverie to do our emergency laundry.”


“I’m not kidding.”

“What is it about you and lau… oh, never mind.”

Okay. Maybe he has a point. But isn’t it true, in fact, that we used the hen for laundry once already? Last month, when we’d finally spilled enough coffee in bed and we wanted to wash our two large comforters before the coffee stains merged into one huge brown splotch and we needed super industrial-capacity washing machines to do the job? “See?” I’d said to Callaghan. I was trying not to gloat. “If it wasn’t for the hen, we wouldn’t be able to wash these comforters. We wouldn’t be able to park at la laverie, either.”

He couldn’t really argue with that. All he said was, “You’re right. The hen is powerful because it can do the laundry.”

SIKA BOOM-E Mousse Expansive

This morning, I was in the bathroom when Callaghan came in with a can of liquid Styrofoam, a product I never knew existed. The label on the can read: “SIKA BOOM-E Mousse Expansive.”

He started shaking it. He shook it vigorously for a long time using all of his upper-body strength, or so it seemed. “Let me guess… that needs to be shaken,” I said, observant as usual. He laughed. Why is he always laughing at me? This was the third time he’d laughed at me today. I can’t figure it out.

Anyway, then he began his task of spraying the Styrofoam along the wide crack that runs the length of the wall (where the tile floor meets the tile wall), and some vertically in the corner, too, where the walls meet perpendicularly. (There was an equally awesome crack that rose from the floor halfway up to the ceiling.) He explained that after about thirty minutes, the Styrofoam would expand and dry, filling the crack and blocking out the cold air that had been blasting in. I was fascinated.

“What happens if you accidentally swallow some – would the Styrofoam expand and kill you, or would your saliva and acids in your stomach prevent that from happening?”

“Uhh… ben…” (pronounced “bahhh”)

“…I mean, would it expand and blow up your stomach?”

“Yeah, you’d die. You don’t want to swallow it!”

Of course I wouldn’t swallow it. I already had this ghastly mental image of someone’s stomach exploding with a growing blob of Styrofoam, kind of like how a baby grows in the uterus, except that the uterus is specially designed to stretch with the growth of a baby, or, I guess, an expanding uterus-shaped blob of Styrofoam. Also, an expanded baby can exit the mom’s body by way of the vaginal canal, so the mom wouldn’t explode, anyway, whereas there’s no such escape route for a blob of Styrofoam lodged in the stomach.  You couldn’t even throw up the Styrofoam if you wanted to, for obvious reasons.

“Does the label warn against swallowing it?” I asked, very concerned. Callaghan examined the label. “No, it does not say ‘Do Not Eat’,” he answered.

Now it was my turn to laugh at him. I also laugh when he pronounces “focus” like “fuckus,” only he doesn’t say that word often enough for me to enjoy the hilarity of it.

Happy Hour at the Office of Le Docteur

I’ve studied many interesting specimens of humanity while sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms, but this one lady from Thursday’s appointment wins the prize for Best Walking Free Entertainment in a Medical Waiting Room.

These are the events as they transpired:

-The woman stumbled in on a boozy waft of cold air. She was older, maybe in her 60’s. It was 10:30 in the morning. “Bonjour,” she said to the whole room. (In France, it’s standard to greet a room when you walk in, probably even if no one’s there.)

-She weaved around the small coffee table to maneuver herself between it and me on her way to her final destination, which was the seat next to mine.

-As she went past, I looked up at her, made eye contact and smiled. This is the American equivalent of the verbal French room-greeting. (The French aren’t that familiar with the whole smiling at each other thing. I know this for a fact after conducting numerous experiments on random French people. It doesn’t stop me from smiling at them, though. I’m hard-wired that way.)

-My smile was met with a terrible scowl of doom. This woman was clearly in a bad mood.

-She sat down in the chair to my left. On the other side of me, Callaghan leaned in to whisper, “I can smell her from here.” He got away with this because he said it quietly and in English, plus the lady was plastered, so she probably wouldn’t have noticed, anyway.

-I resumed my activity of reading out loud from L’Express magazine and stopping at the end of each sentence to pester Callaghan for explanations of the bits I couldn’t figure out. (By the way, did you know that there’s a long line of women behind the famous Laurent-Perrier House of Champagne?)  

-Not ten minutes later, there was movement to my left. It was the drunk lady rising out of her seat like a large gray gull to loom over the table and swoop up a magazine.

-Before she sat back down, she opened her mouth in the direction of the woman sitting by the window and loudly complained about le docteur being late, jerking her elbows upward for emphasis. In her grating gull voice, this came out as WAWK WAWK WAWK

-Our end of the room clouded up with a fresh gust of alcohol breath. It didn’t smell like cough syrup, either.

-Callaghan and I looked at each other. Our eyes said, Can you believe it? It’s 10:30 in the morning and she comes in drunk, complaining about the doctor being late!

-She gave us two, maybe three more performances before we were called in. At least she changed it up slightly each time so there was some variation in the details.

Perhaps I should be kinder. I mean, it’s possible that she’s seeing the doctor because of alcoholism, which is an authentic disease. She made for an amusing wait, though! Still, I would have preferred to read about the Laurent-Perrier champagne sisters without the soundtrack.