Saturday, October 10, 2015

This is what happens when I try to speak French

Part of a conversation while driving home from the dog park this morning:

Me: "Je pourrais ça imaginer." (I could that imagine.)
Alex: "Non, c'est 'Je pourrais imaginer ça.'" (I could imagine that.)
Me: "Oh."

2 minutes later:

Me: "Je peux expliquer tout!" (I can explain everything!)
Alex: "Non, c'est 'Je peux tout expliquer.'" (I can everything explain.)
Me: *commence rampage*

This is why I hate French.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fox's Scream Queens: Unrelenting Garbage, or Diamond in the Trash?

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I am not a fan of the horror genre, for the simple reason that I am easily frightened. I am one of those people who cover their own eyes during scary or graphically violent movie scenes; I am not only very impressionable and easily influenced, but I also have vivid dreams, which is a terrible combination for a horror movie audience.

However, in an attempt to expand my horizons (aka Alex talked me into it), I recently watched the first two episodes of the new show "Scream Queens" (FOX). And, much to my surprise, I really liked it! Let me break it down.

Merits:

1) I love the nearly-all-female cast. This passes the Bechtel test in the very first scene, which is rare for modern entertainment. In fact, the first 6 minutes goes without even a mention of any male character (broken only by the naming of a male goat). Granted, pretty much all of the female characters are total caricatures, but then, so are all the male characters.
2) It is ridiculous. I love how every single line of dialogue, camera shot, background, motive, and costume is a complete mockery of the setting and characters. It's some of the best parody I've ever seen; the absurdity that coats every scene is made even better by the earnest actions and reactions of the characters. Without it, the show would fall painfully flat, but imbued with the never-ending ridiculousness, it is thoroughly enjoyable.
3) Funniest death scene ever. I will give a minor spoiler here - Chanel #2 has the best death scene I have ever witnessed. I laughed out loud before and during her death, which actually disturbs me to some degree, but it was just too silly not to. It's about halfway through the first episode, so I encourage you to watch until at least that point before you come to any conclusions.
4) Jamie Lee Curtis. "I'm going to barf on your face unless you get out of here." 'Nuff said.

Faults:

1) Bad language. I realize that I sound like my grandma now, but really...calling other women "slits" and "gashes" is about as gross as you can get. I know that it's part of the characterization of Chanel et al, but still...it's icky. Ew.
2) A lot of things are offensive. Yes, this whole show is about a self-obsessed, privileged, doesn't-have-a-soul while girl, but still...I was uncomfortable more than a couple times. I can't tell whether they're trying to push the envelope of societal taboos or just trying to shock viewers for ratings' sake.

Overall, in spite of its baser facets, I actually have to recommend this show, as long as you go in knowing that it's going to be hilarious and disgusting at the same time. Its amazing sense of humor won me over, in spite of not being the type of show I would normally watch.

If you want a good laugh *and* are old enough to tell satire from serious drama, check it out!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Homemade bread, attempt #1

In my efforts to remain occupied during the day, plus a desire to eat fewer additives and processed food, I decided that I would try to bake a loaf of bread. My success with cookies and financiers gave me a confidence in my baking skills, and I found a "super easy" bread recipe on Jamie Oliver's website. So I bought a package of flour, some yeast, and went to town.

Flour water everywhere - bread FAIL

As you can see above, the results were less than successful. I "broke the walls of the well," as Jamie so simply warns one against doing, and lo, my efforts were rendered for naught within about 5 minutes of beginning. Better luck next time I guess!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Thoughts on feminism

I'm going to out myself: I am a feminist. Few things rankle me more than mansplaining, workplace biases against women, and when I pay but the cashier hands the change to my boyfriend. (Seriously, the change thing happens way too often. That's MY money, you moron!! *deep calming breath*)

Thanks to Facebook, I came across a comic strip on everyday feminism and I had a strong reaction to it. It's entitled "Why Saying 'It's My Choice' Doesn't Necessarily Make Your Choice Feminist" and, in a nutshell, it argues that the fact that you made a choice (like whether or not to wear lipstick, which is the focus of the comic) isn't feminist; it's the reason behind the choice that matters. As the editors state in the introduction, “…is every choice we make inherently feminist – or are we influenced by misogyny?”

I have let this comic and its argument rumble around inside me for a week or so, and I can see the illustrator’s point, which I understand thusly: that some choices made by women are greatly influenced by outside factors, and are ultimately made in order to conform to a male-oriented societal expectation. Therefore, if we call any one choice that a woman makes a “feminist” choice without examining the external pressures that affected that choice, we fail to acknowledge the pressure to conform, and thereby validate it.

So yes, if someone starts wearing makeup because of one too many “you look tired” comments, I can see how that choice was influenced by an expectation to look a certain way in the workplace (or in society at large). I get it. A woman making the choice to start wearing makeup in this context would NOT call this a “feminist” choice. Does that then mean, however, that the woman in the office (or, more realistically, cubicle) next to hers is also NOT making a “feminist” choice of her own if she has worn makeup since she was a teenager?

There are so many societal expectations of women that I think it would be hard to pin down a lot of individual choices as being a woman’s own in the way the comic suggests. Women are told to be thin but healthy, pretty but not unapproachable, sexy but not a “slut” or a “tease,” demure but available, fun but serious, kind and nurturing but not a doormat, assertive but not bossy or a bitch, mothers but still fuckable, etc…the list is depressingly long. (Or in shorthand, as my good friend Melissa used to say, “Lady in the parlor, whore in the bedroom!”)

My point is, any woman trying to openly be herself will inevitably fall either into or outside of (or both at the same time!) all of the insanely contradictory expectations society holds for women. Therefore, if we are going to judge the motive behind each and every choice that a woman makes, are we not placing her into or outside of these categories without her having a say in the matter?  And are we then not also judging every woman as either “enlightened” or “tool of the patriarchy” at the same time? Aren’t women taught to feel guilty and be ashamed of themselves too much already? What does the term “feminist choice” even mean if a woman is told she can’t use it as she wishes?

Yes, it sucks that women have these expectations and pressures put upon them in the first place, but I don’t think it helps to point fingers at women who choose to meet – or happen to fall into! – these expectations and label them as something other than/less than “real feminists.” I think the better choice would be to stop calling any choice “feminist,” and allow women to live their lives without fear of being policed, judged, influenced, or labeled by anyone other than themselves.

After all, as Lily Allen so eloquently puts it, “It’s hard out here for a bitch!”

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Big Brother vs. American politics: the truth hurts

I was watching a Frontline episode the other day (Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA) when I was struck by how much the politics of Congress resembles the politics of Big Brother (a very guilty pleasure of yours truly). Here's what I came up with.


Big Brother:
A reality/competition TV show wherein a group of "HouseGuests" are isolated in a house under constant surveillance by cameras and microphones. The goal of this competition is to win the grand prize of $500,000. Each HouseGuest tries to compete for Head of Household, which grants them immunity for the week and the power to choose who is in danger of being "evicted" from the house and thereby losing the game. However, the HoH must also work with the rest of the HouseGuests to vote out the target he or she has chosen, so the power of HoH is somewhat limited. HouseGuests are also not allowed to be HoH two weeks in a row.

This show is also a kind of social experiment, as a "diverse" group of Americans with differing backgrounds and beliefs are forced to live together, confronting their differences and finding similarities in order to work together to further their own position in the game. The actual demography of the group is fairly typical, however, with bikini-wearing, thin, attractive white women and young white men making up the majority of the population.

Add two more (thin attractive bikini-wearing) white women and a white man and this is the cast for the season.
There's also a "swimsuit" photo available for all cast members...seriously.


Congress:
A portion of the American government wherein a group of "Representatives" and "Senators" are isolated in Washington, DC under constant surveillance by the media. The goal of each member is to win re-election, thereby securing an annual salary of (at least) $174,000, as well as a lifelong pension for which they are eligible after 5 years of service. Many of these members of Congress tries to compete for the office of President of the United States, which grants them immunity from and the power to choose the direction of the country. However, the President must also work with Congress to pass the laws he or she wants, so the power of the Presidency is somewhat limited. The President is also not allowed more than two terms in office.

This group of elected officials with differing beliefs, who "represent" the populations they serve, are forced to confront their differences and find similarities in order to work together to pass laws governing the country, while also jockeying for the most airtime on the TV network of their choice, collecting money from lobbyists, and furthering their own position in the existing power structure. The actual demography of the group is overwhelmingly white and male; 74% of the Senate is white men, and 60% of the House is white men, compared to 31% white men in America overall. Additionally, 50.8% of congressmen and congresswomen are worth over $1,000,000, compared to all of America, where the median net worth is $44,900. The average age is 57 in the House and 61 in the Senate; the average age in all of America is 36.8 years old. (In fact, Sen. Lindsay Graham and Sen. John McCain have both admitted to never sending an email. Interesting.)

Damn, that's a lot of white dudes.

So it seems to me that Congress is just one big game of Big Brother, except the difference is that when Congress competes for power and money, it's the nation and its people who lose.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Bowling date night

Alex and I went bowling a couple weeks ago at the one bowling alley we could find, and we had a great time! However, I will say that the Lyonnais don't seem to understand bowling etiquette very well. Someone (i.e. ME) needs to educate them on the proper, polite way to engage in this entertaining activity.

1. Do not hog the balls.
As you can see, every single lane in the alley was FULL of bowling balls. That is why, when I was searching for a ball to use, I had about 2 at the end of each lane to choose from. There were so many balls in these lanes that the balls they were using couldn't come all the way out of the return - they were blocked by the balls already there! PEOPLE: if you're not using a ball, bring it to the stands at the end of the lanes. They are there for a very good reason.

2. Do not impinge on another bowler's turn.
These gentlemen who were using the lane next to us had no respect for the other bowlers around them. Not only would they take pictures and videos of themselves bowling (masters of the game they were not, by the way), meaning that they were taking up space in front of the surrounding lanes, but they would also approach just as I or Alex were pre- to mid-throw. So impolite. We ended up getting in a rhythm of just waiting for them to go before us, so we weren't interrupted during our turn.

So I guess I only have two points, which doesn't really necessitate using a list format, but it just felt right so I'm sticking with it. At the end of the day we still had a good time - we both got some good throws in too! - so I would definitely go back. Although I wish I could guarantee that a 9 pound ball would be waiting for me. I'd rather not go hunting through every lane in the place.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New hobby: retro hair!

So it appears that I have developed a new hobby over here, which was born while skipping French class last Thursday. (It just takes so many of my 24 hours of free time every day to learn this language... ;-) haha!) I watched hours of YouTube videos of ladies creating various "retro" and "vintage" looks via hair and makeup, and now I'm hooked! Of course, it's slow going for now, since I have not ever tried to do much with my hair, but I feel like the learning curve won't be too harsh. I submit the following evidence:
A front "pompadour" bump with high ponytail

First (successful) attempt of "bumper bangs" - rolled forward to the forehead - with a cute flower hair clip
I haven't been able to create a victory roll yet, but it's on the list! Go retro or go home!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

It's the little things

I've been back in Lyon now for 2 1/2 weeks since my visit to Minnesota in March, and I've realized the silliest thing: I miss drip coffee. Seriously, out of everything I had in my house, that's what I find myself missing the most.

TV? I can stream most of the shows I like on my computer. Speaking English? It's a biggie, but I speak it at home and with my friends at school, and I'm hardly out chatting with natives all day. My truck? She would be impossible to park anywhere here. Nope, it's good old-fashioned drip coffee, and I think I know why it stings so much.

Making coffee was a ritual every morning: first, turn on the kettle; next, get out a mug, a filter, and my single-cup filter holder; then choose a coffee (so many options!! vanilla, hazelnut, pumpkin pie, cinnamon bun...the list goes on for days); then, once the water was ready, wait for the magic to happen before sitting down with a steaming mug of delicious coffee.
WHY oh WHY did I not bring this with me?!
I still have coffee over here, of course, but it's a very different experience. Now there is a machine that does everything for me; all I do is place a little coffee pad in the jowls of the coffee maker and press two buttons. The entire process takes about a minute and a half, if that long, and for some reason, I don't appreciate the speed at all. Not to mention that now I drink my coffee unflavored (aside from "black coffee" flavor, that is) in tiny espresso cups.
My new frenemy
So it turns out that it really is the little things that have started creeping up on me. I certainly wasn't expecting my morning coffee to be an issue. If anyone wants to send me a filter holder and a pound of ground coffee (anything flavored - it can be on clearance at Target for all I care), don't hesitate!

Do I look like I should be drinking out of a cup this dainty?

UPDATE: Look what Alex brought home last night! Along with a pack of filters! I ordered some chocolate truffle-flavored ground coffee on Amazon.fr and it should arrive sometime next week. :-)
Look at that steaming mug of joe...I can't wait!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Month 1: Top 5 Wins and Fails

I've been in France for a month now, and in our apartment for a little over two weeks, so I thought a summary of both the highlights and lowlights so far would be in order. I present: Top 5 Wins and Fails of January-February 2015.

These moules were a definite WIN
#1: French language: WIN
I'm happy to report that (according to Alex et al) my French is improving already! I can understand way more of what is being said than when I arrived, and I'm piecing together more complex sentences for myself too. It's so much more interesting learning French here, with native speakers (no offense to my former teachers at SLP or AHS), while being surrounded by the language on a daily basis. It feels like a real win every time I can translate a sentence, or even just a fast food ad, in my head. I would especially like to be able to interact with the greater environs of Lyon and its inhabitants without stuttering through incomplete, fever dream-esque sentences. A girl can dream, right?

#2: French class: FAIL
Now, all that being said, what was I thinking, signing up for 2.5 hours of French class that starts at 9:30 am, Monday-Friday?! AND THEN, another 1.5 hours in the afternoon?! I paid for 10 days of classes, today is day number 7, and I've gone 5 times so far. Yeah, not the best use of my Euros. Especially knowing that I had trouble motivating myself to go to Normandale twice a week for just an hour and a half... The phrase "Know Thyself" comes to mind, and it's exhorted for a reason. I'm definitely switching to afternoon/part-time/evening classes instead of pretending that I'm motivated enough to commute to school every morning.

#3: Food: WIN
Okay, I expected this to be a win before I got here, but MAN I love the food! Everything from moules-frites (above) to poutine and a "menu prestige" that Alex cooked (below) - I love it all! At this moment we have 3 different cheeses in the fridge, and I'm not talking about a selection of low-fat mozzarella sticks - we got chevre, roquefort, and a dry cow's milk cheese. As for dining out, the options are overwhelming. We ate ramen at a wonderful Japanese restaurant a couple streets over, burgers with bacon and French cheeses at a place down the block from there, and salmon and lamb at a little bistro that is run entirely by the owner (food prep, service, payment, everything) and only opens for 2 hours of lunch service each day. We are living in a food paradise, and I'm so lucky that Alex can cook a helluva meal too. In other words: what else could I possibly ask for?

Poutine with pork and BBQ sauce at Frites Alors!
The proud chef in his kitchen






















The full menu: lobster soufflé, chicken in sauce, canelé de Bordeaux, champagne, and a bottle of red wine
#4: Homesickness: FAIL
I gotta be honest: I miss my friends and my dog!!!! Like, SOOOOO much!!! We just got internet yesterday, so now I can finally Skype again, but it's been a rough couple of weeks with just texting and a phone call here and there. (Note to my Mpls peeps - see you in a month!) And I do really love our little house, but it will be way better when there are four paws clicking around the place. I've been pointing out every dog that I see (sometimes in stores which is awesome) and I even bought a little German Shepherd statuette that I insisted on keeping on the coffee table.
My temporary solution
#5: Settling in: WIN
I'm extremely pleased with how easy it has been to make our home "ours" (pics to come when it's less messy) and I feel like I'm becoming a real resident of Villeurbanne/Lyon. I have my very own transit card (I love you, metro!), a loyalty card at the nearby Casino supermarket, a French phone number, and we have our names on the mailbox. We also went to an English-speaking meetup at an Irish pub last week where we met two Americans and a Scot. Yay for making new friends!
It's official
So, all in all, there have been challenges along the way, but things are headed in the right direction. I think I need to find a new French school, go shopping (for both pleasure and language practice), and most importantly, work on my patience. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will be a new life abroad!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chez nous à Villeurbanne


Bienvenue chez nous

I must first admit that our petite maison is actually in a suburb of Lyon called Villeurbanne, not Lyon proper, BUT we are just 2 blocks north of the Lyon border. I think we're pretty well situated, suburban embarrassment notwithstanding, since we are 2 blocks from a supermarket and 3 blocks from the Charpennes metro station. (Which is only 4 stops away from the Hotel de Ville station, which is the heart of the city.) We decided to nickname it "the V-ban" as a rebranding effort so it sounds less like a suburb. Not sure if it impresses anyone else, but we like it!

We moved in on Monday, which was cold and rainy - the perfect weather for carrying one's worldly possessions into new accommodations - and have slowly been settling in. The new mattress we bought didn't seem to get too wet on the way inside, and since we had bigger fish to fry, I didn't bother using any brain power stressing about it.

In France, you buy your own appliances, even for a rental, so when we got here we had a sink and a water heater in the kitchen. And that's it. So please imagine my surprise when we unpacked our new stove/oven and I found this at the end of the electrical cord:

Guess it's not a plug-n-play situation. Please also note that I'm wearing gloves in my own kitchen because we didn't have heat yet - that first night with no heat was rather uncomfortable, as one might expect. We both slept in double socks, pants, two sweaters, and a scarf or hat. Good times.

On Tuesday, Alex had to go back to Grenoble for a dentist appointment, so I was left to my own devices. It was a productive day until I bought a bottle of wine, but I'll get to that later.

First the gas people came and turned on our service - whew! After that, I was able to figure out how to get the water heater going and the hot water flowing. The hot water is both for the faucets and the heating, so it was a pretty big deal. I first intuited that the thermostat needed new AAA batteries (which I luckily had in my backpack for some reason), before decoding the instructions for the water heater:

After a series of turning knobs and pressing buttons, voila! Heat!! I could strip down to just two layers of clothing instead if the three I had slept in! Major victory.

I assembled our IKEA kitchen table (victory) before heading to the supermarket, where I bought some basic provisions like bread, cheese, saucisson, and wine (victory). I also had a pleasant, if brief and extremely basic, conversation with the cashier (victory). Then I attempted to assemble the coffee table:
Yeah, it's not quite done. 3/4 victory. It was at this point last night - around 8 pm - that I pulled up a chair to the table, put a Community DVD on with my laptop, and poured myself a glass of wine. I felt like I earned a break for all the victories (partial or otherwise) I had racked up.

For the moment, I'm ignoring the pile of stuff that we don't have anywhere to put yet:

As well as the garden that needs some attention:

And I would be remiss not to mention the spider I encountered in the kitchen (bottle opener for perspective):

Alex did his part yesterday and returned with the rest of our clothes, some more provisions, and a French SIM card for me, so I finally have Internet on my phone again (major victory!). 

The next step is to open my own bank account. Apparently you need to bring proof of where you live, so that will have to wait until we get a utility bill or statement from our apartment agency. Cause who doesn't love the exchange of seemingly unnecessary paperwork to conduct basic personal business?

So, all in all, I feel like things are coming along. I have yet to attempt to shower though since I can't figure out how to expand the curtain rod we bought...my first to-do for today! Hopefully the productivity will continue!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

First week in Europe: Recap

It's been just a smidge over a week since I landed in France, to begin my ~11 month residency, so I thought I would post a quick recap of the impressions and thoughts I've had so far. I actually spent 6 days in Hamburg, Germany, visiting my sister's family, so I don't have many thoughts on the expat life in France...yet. However, I think the initial experiences I've had might be somewhat interesting. Food for thought, perhaps!

In Geneva


1) Je suis Charlie - The terrorist attack in Paris on the office of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo has been front and center since I arrived. The attack took place the day before I left the US, and when I landed in Lyon two days later, two of the suspects were still at large. Of course, everyone is united in grief and solidarity for the victims of the attacks; there are "Je suis Charlie" signs up in business windows here in Grenoble, the servers at a restaurant in Hamburg wore the phrase on their shirts, and there have been massive marches in Paris in support of the victims. When I first heard about the "Je suis Charlie" movement, I was behind it too - boo, terrorists!! amirite?? - but it turns out that was a very simplistic view of the issue. Now I'm hearing it framed as a freedom of speech issue, which is turning out to be a bit problematic for many people. The main issue, as I understand it, is the double standards afforded in regards to freedom of speech in this country and, to some degree, in much of the rest of Europe. For example, how is Charlie Hebdo's offensive content different from "hate speech," which 54 people not related to the attacks were arrested for? Or what does it mean when world leaders march together in Paris, while in their own countries certain speech is restricted? It's a complicated issue, and I don't claim to be able to explain (or even understand) it fully, but it has been quite the backdrop for my arrival.

2) Apartment search - The day I landed, Alex picked me up and we hit the ground running, visiting 4 apartments in Lyon that afternoon. We decided to apply for one in the 6th arrondisement, and surprise! We were accepted! I'll have photos later, natch, but for now I can tell you that it's a small townhouse-like apartment with two bedrooms, a bathtub (yesssss!), and even a tiny yard for the puppy dog. It's also close to the Charpennes metro stop, grocery stores, and within a 30 minute walk to the Parc de la Tête d'Or. I'm very excited and will have more info on Monday when we talk with the estate agent. The interesting thing about renting in France is that you must provide your own appliances. Yup - we get a sink and a water heater and that's it! So our shopping list includes a refrigerator, stove/oven, and washing machine... In addition to all the furniture we need.

3) Hamburg-Geneva, Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Ride-Sharing - This is an interesting tale. We flew from Geneva to Hamburg on Sunday and got a ride to the airport from Alex's dad. On the way back on Friday, however, we weren't so lucky, and had to find a way back to Grenoble from Geneva on our own. There is a bus service that we could take, but the tickets would have been 90 Euros for both of us. No thanks!! So instead, Alex pulled up a ride-sharing site, blablacar.fr, and looked for a ride for us from Geneva to Grenoble. We found someone leaving Geneva a couple hours after we landed (at around 3 pm), which wasn't ideal, but the total was only 25 Euros, so we booked it. We had to meet this guy at CERN, yes THAT CERN, the one that's going to create a black hole if they're not careful, because he was headed home to Grenoble and wasn't done with work until 5:15.
Yup, I was there

So we figured out how to take the Y bus from the airport to the CERN stop - a 30 minute ride that cost about 6 Euros each - before waiting outside of "Building 33" for our ride. The gentleman pulled up in his Prius and we all hopped in. We were stuck in traffic trying to get out of Geneva for at least an hour - no, I am not exaggerating - and you know what? I just happened to notice that we drove RIGHT PAST THE GENEVA AIRPORT. We had just taken a pointless, 12 Euro, waste-of-time round trip to CERN and back. Plus it was raining (see picture at bus stop) so I was also damp. We ended up getting dropped off at a bus stop outside of Grenoble around 7:45 that evening, waiting in the cold rain, until Alex's angel of a father appeared and picked us up. As you can imagine, I was thrilled. Oh, and did I mention that I already had a cold that began in Hamburg? So, after about 9 hours of travel that was only 1 1/2 hours of flight time, and involved way too much time lugging suitcases through the rain, I decided that I had better get used to not having a car of my own. Oh, and did I mention that Lyon has an airport of its own? #grateful #itsthesmallthings

4) Shampoo vs. conditioner - On a note so light it just might float away, I discovered that I don't need to use conditioner here. I don't know if the water is just super soft or what, but shampoo alone makes my hair soft and smooth. #thanksFrance

So there's the first 10 days in a very small nutshell. I'll continue to keep you posted!