Sunday, July 31, 2011


Actually, that's true.

Why, Yes....

...though I think I'd say a Tea Party member....

Saturday, July 30, 2011


You see so little humor involving the word gastroenterologist, these days.... pity.


When we got the Venza, the plan was that we'd lease it until next year, then buy it (we did this because the cost of a new car, in the same year as the France trip, was prohibitive). Well, that's still the plan -- but now we're starting to think that we might immediately swap the car for a minivan again. The reason: We like the Venza, but its got some irritating flaws. None of them are major, but collectively - well...

Not to say that there isn't much to like about the car. There certainly is. For example -

Audio - XM Radio, excellent speaker system, Bluetooth for the phone (and audio, if our phones supported that)
Power drivers seat with lumbar support
Power sunroof in front, static sunroof in back
Auto dimming headlights; auto-dimming rear view mirror
Windows - all windows are power down/power up
4 cylinder engine has decent mileage, decent acceleration
Excellent turning radius, stopping distance
Seats four very comfortably, five pretty comfortably
Looks - it's a sharp-looking vehicle. I see it and think I'm glad that we own that.

It's just the nits that, after a while, add up --
- The radio controls are difficult to read in anything but dim light or darkness
- Color. Turns out that white really does show dirty easily. Boy, does it ever.
- Cruise control - - I have to peer over the steering wheel to see if cruise control is engaged (the indicator is at the very bottom of the speedometer). And if we hit a hard bump, it forgets its setting (has to do with whether 'traction control' is engaged)
- Maintenance nag screens - Toyota loves to nag about maintenance. (The Prius does it, too.) When the Venza needs maintenance, it puts up a display on the main screen, right where it normally shows temperature controls, that won't. go. away. But - no 'low fuel' chime. (Light, yes; chime, no. You have to notice that it's lit. )
- High window sill - it's probably safer, yes - but to use an ATM, I have to raise the seat all the way up!
- Storage in front is clunky. They tried, but ...not so great
- Storage in back - spacious, yes, but only two grocery bag hooks (the minivan had six or seven), and one weak light. (Guys, if you're marketing to boomers, we like lots of light. We just don't want to admit it.)
- Space - we find, to our surprise, that we miss the overall space of the minivan. Space between the seats, space between the rows, three rows of seating. We thought heck, we don't need to carry seven people! We're not hauling tons of stuff! But we miss it. And sometimes -- as in, this coming summer -- we do need to be able to do exactly that!

Basically, we were a little to eager to move from the minivan stage to the the kids in college stage. Some of those things that bother us are, admittedly, problems of the idle rich. But that problem with trying to read the radio screen is an ongoing irritant, and all of the others cause dammit! moments.

Will we swap? Truthfully, probably not. We'll think about the built-up equity that we'd lose, the automatic loss of value from new to one year old, and we'll probably keep it. But we'll certainly think about it.

Naval Budget

In light of recent Congressional activities to cut the military budget, Naval authorities are looking for ways to generate revenue from their aging fleet.

Found here.


Going to a college tour, where the primary focus is the awesome extracurricular activities, is like going on a vacation to a beautiful city where you, personally, don't have to work that day.

I hate and despise the classic 'retirement commununity' - shuffleboard, anyone? Wow, a Guy Lombardo retrospective! Tony Bennet's in town! Hey, there's a special on stool softeners! - but if I ever found one that was 'college without (most of) the classes' -- I'd check it out.

Which makes me think: which colleges are redefining themselves to be attractive to multiple generations? Bet some are, for sure - heck, I recall reading about just that sort of effort, twenty years ago. Just got to keep the Silver Sneakers people away from the hip-hoppers...

Friday, July 29, 2011

College Visit

First college visit completed. A long ways away -- five hours, each way; next week, one that's eight hours each way. (Groan!)

But the college -- Kent State, Ohio -- was awesome. I know, it's tradition to grumble when I went to college, we didn't have any of this fancy.... but O.M.G. They had amazing stuff. Of course, in a sense, it didn't matter, as the things that amazed me had very little to do with the business of education -- the gym (pools, tracks, huge workout centers, all of that), the student center (events every week, on campus and off, freebies littering the landscape) , the twenty-six (yes, really) different places to eat on campus, the student dorm rooms -- but still. O. M. G.

Told my wife Tell the kid, she's enlisting. I'm taking that school money and going myself!

Thursday, July 28, 2011


From an article about dress codes and nightclubs:

“You get guys in from L.A., they think a brunch is a brunch,” Mr. Koch said. “We have to say,
‘Look, dude, this isn’t what you think it is.’
You can’t rock a T-shirt here unless you’re a rock star.”

I suppose I shouldn't like things like this bother me.

Oh, Say....

From a collection found here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


You know how the commercials are sometimes the best part of the Super Bowl? Well, this might get me to watch regular games....


Today is essentially the first day in six weeks when we don't have to look after somebody, or when somebody wasn't looking after us. It's the first day when we aren't getting back from a come see this place/thing trip, or planning on going on one. Except that tomorrow we are going on a two day come see this college trip, and we'll have another one in a week.

My daughter's going to do color guard for her final year. Okay, I guess. If I'm lucky, I'll get to see the combined color guards doing things at break time like the Electric Slide and Cotton Eyed Joe, en masse. I do truly love that. Their uninhibited grace in cool.

Three weeks of only occasionally using French, and I'm already starting to lose it. So I'm redoing level 3 of Rosetta Stone. And, my weekly classes start again, middle of August.


Well, she's gone. At least, we left her with the crew in the parking lot. Given that the guy organizing things tends to run late, there is every chance she's still there. But she's on her way home. She is very eager to get home. About the most excited I've seen here since she arrived.

As for us, we're -- neutral. We liked having her, but, perhaps, it could have been better. Next time we contemplate doing this will likely be in two years. As I've said, I'm not sure that we will.

One funny thing: they give the kids little US flags to hold in a picture. Then the guy took a movie, and said say something! One of the kids said Vive la France!

I liked it.

Last Day

We must be suckers.

Because for all we felt about is this kid being straight with us, we realized, last night, that we're going to miss her anyway. All she had to do was get just a little choked up at the small parting gift we gave her, and we thought awww......

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cosi Uno

I mentioned having meals at two restaurants in Jersey City.

One, for breakfast, was Cosi. Okay, it wasn't all that cosy -- the AC wasn't on, and it was hot and sticky inside. But man, the food! I had a Squagel (their square bagel). I'd travel long distances for one.

And the other, for dinner, was Pizzeria Uno. We all had something different, and we all liked what we had.

Both are chains, and neither one's around here. That's excellent news for local restaurants. If they were here? Half the local places would shut down.

Up Yours, Boehner

Found here.


Just read a brief article about high speed trains, and Republican statements that implementation'll cost way more than projected. I believe them. Projects always cost 30-50% more than stated, and not rarely even 100% more. But I don't believe that's a reason not to do it. At least, not a definitive reason.

My brief experience with high speed rail, in France, made me think it's worthwhile. Expensive to ride, yes. But convenient as all get out? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

Monday, July 25, 2011



Found here

It's For You



This morning, in the middle of a thunderstorm, my internet service goes out. Well, hell.

Five minutes later, the French guest says she wants to call home, to arrange pickup in Paris. No prob. do you make an international call? Well, I guess we ask... ask the phone company? Dial zero on the house phone, get Verizon. Chirpy recorded voice. Am I calling about this phone number? Well, then, what number AM I calling about? I'm not. Press Three for Other. I press three. Is this for a FiOS problem? Well, hell, I don't know. Press Three for Other. I press three again. Is this new service? No. Fixing a problem? No. After a couple of minutes of this, I say the hell with this. Normally, I'd just do a web search for info, but theat option is out. Now what? Oh, wait. We still have some paper phone books stacked in the closet. First one just tells me how to make long distance calls.Second one doesn't have any info at all. Third one -- ah, the third one says that I have to dial 011 to get out of the US, then 33 for France, then the local number. Okay, now we're cookin'.

We dial the 01133 and the ten digit French number. This number is not in service. What? We try it again. Still nada. Well, wait. The number she has starts with a 04. And the example in the phone book mentions that the city code for Lyon, where we're calling, is 4. You need all ten digits for dialing INSIDE France, but what if you don't need the two digit prefix when calling internationally? So we try it. Nope. Okay, what about just ditching the zero? Didn't we have to do something like that to make the rented French cell phones work? So we try it.

And it works.

A half hour later, I call the dealer to schedule an appointment for maintenance on a car. Then I call my wife -- because, when you lose web access, you lose intstant messenger access - and she says But that's the day we're supposed to go on a road trip for a college visit, she says . Which isn't on my calendar. So I call back and reschedule it, and then I call her back. Here's the new date. And she says...ok. With that tone that means That isn't a good day, either. So we're going to need to reschedule again.

Note: everything that worked was the result of memory, and paper, and just messing around. Not in using slick stuff like the net and the cloud. Which, in a nutshell, is why I don't trust 'the cloud'. Because sometimes, things break. Things you rely on. Things that the masters of the universe say everyone should use. But sometimes, maybe not. Because sometimes, the luddites are right.

Jersey City

We went to New York City over the weekend (very hot; we're going to have to stop doing that). We had a good idea that was manifested less than terrifically.

The good idea was, we'd park and stay overnight in Jersey City, which is just across the water from NYC. We were going to take the PATH subway over to Manhattan, walk around, go back, drive home.

Turns out Jersey City is in the midst of a massive gentrification project. It's quite incredible. You drive through slums, decaying buildings, all the signs of a dying city. Then you cross a block, and you encounter shiny new office buildings, wide open spaces, a glistening light-rail train passing multiple new hotels. Quite nice.

Not perfect, though. The fine people doing the planning made the main street broad and wide, but it didn't seem to occur to them that you'd want to stop -- the only public parking we saw was attached to a mall, and they appeared to charge for it. Which we might have been willing to do, had it not been two long blocks from the main drag. Also, the reason that the Candlewood Suites is less expensive than the Westin, Mariott, etc is: it's about four blocks from that main area. On a hot day, you've got to drive. See above: no available parking. Also, this was the only hotel I've ever seen which has a gated entrance and a gated exit. On final exit, you need a token from the desk to be able to get out. The reason for the gating appears to be that JC has a bit of a crime problem -- we saw multiple houses with grates and grilles all around the house. Little fortresses.

But if you stay in, say, the Westin, then the PATH station is right across the street. We do it again, that's what we're doing.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Annie and Ansel

During a very hot day in New York City (though not as torrid as yesterday, when, I swear, the copper was melting off the Statue of Liberty), my daughter found a book in Rizzoli's on the photography of Annie Liebowitz. My daughter enjoys photography; one of her great sorrows was that we made her forgo a semester of photography so that her other semeester wouldn't be overburdened.

All the way home, she pored over the book. And when she got home, she said Annie Liebowitz is a god. Of photography.

Pretty good, I agreed. Though perhaps I'd say goddess. By the way, ever heard of Ansel Adams?

She had not.

Equally talented. More a landscape guy, but equally talented.

She's going to check him out.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Arrogant Trivia

We were watching a saved episode of Covert Affairs the other night. At one point, the heroine is at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, listening to an announcer say that the TGV to Charles De Gaulle airport was leaving.

I turned to my wife. "We've been there, at that station. We took that train. It's not a TGV. It's the subway."

Guess the TGV sounded better?


There are tree houses....and then there's Treepoint's Trillium.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I think that Eureka has jumped the shark. Or perhaps the real writers are still on vacation. Whatever the reason, the first two episodes have been dumb. Well, the first, and part of the second -- that one did have a couple of interesting ideas. But mostly --

Eureka's on the verge of no longer being on my -must-see-immediately- list.

I'm sure that they're aghast at the propect.

La Kid

Counting down the last week of the French guest's residence.

Nothing today; tomorrow she makes Steak Tartare for us (I'm nervous about that, as I'm a well-done meat kind of guy). Saturday we go to New York, staying overnight (in New Jersey; NYC would surely break the bank). She wants to do some shopping at Abercrombie (Me: We have a local branch, you know. Her: Oh, no, no, no.), Aeropostale , and the M&M store (her father wants a T Shirt or something like that. Though I find myself wondering if it's really her boyfriend who wants it). A stop at Rizzoli, because I love that bookstore, and I'll be damned if I am going to New York City without stopping by. Oh, and getting a hot dog from a street vendor. Nasty, overpriced, and I love them. On Monday there is a picnic for the French kids, Tuesday she packs and we take her out to dinner, and Wednesday she leaves. We're not in a hurry for that, but we're kind of ready. I'm sure she is.

Oddly, we find that seeing that she really liked the Baltimore Aquarium makes us feel better about her. Why that is, I have no idea.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


My daughter is contemplating entering the military after high school.

At first, she wanted to go to the Air Force Academy, but determined that her grades, though good, were not good enough. Now she's thinking about looking at colleges with a decent ROTC program. She said that she didn't want to go into the Army, or the Navy, but today, when I told her that she'd gotten a call from a local Navy recruiter, she returned the call, and ended up going over to spend about an hour talking to him. As part of that, she took a preliminary qualifying test. Passing is 50. Max is 100. She got a 94, and therefore got the recruiters sudden attention. He said things to her like You would have to take a three hour examination, but if you pass that, you could qualify for some of our most difficult programs. Like what? she asked. Like working with our nuclear program. Very challenging. Initial signing bonus of $15,000 for a five to six year committment; reenlistment bonuses above $50,000.

He got her attention.

We tossed some cold water on it -- talk with colleges first, life as an officer tends to be better than life as an enlisted person, recruiters lie,possible future bonuses can vanish, trust nothing that isn't on paper with your name attached, know what you're getting into, don't rush into anything, keep your options open. You've got plenty of time.

I hadn't planned for her to begin her independent life quite so soon. I had thought college, first couple of years living at home while she gets basic credits, then perhaps moving away....and ROTC, or OTS.... Enlisted? Yeah, thats okay, I guess - it's what I did, later becoming an officer, and that turned out okay - but for MY daughter? Well... maybe not. She's smarter than I was, then. She can do better. Still, didn't we always say she should live her own life?

This is coming at me a little fast. I want her to slow down for her.... but also for me.

Monday, July 18, 2011


I like the Forvo site. I will frequently pronounce English words on it for people who speak other languages, and I've used it to learn how native French speakers say words. (It's not always the way that Rosetta Stone does it. Frequently, yes. Always, no.)

So when a couple of users asked me to say a couple of phrases instead of an individual word -- like central nervous system -- I said sure, no problem. Nice to be recognized. Except that they apparently have rules, and one of them is that you can't add phrases. Okay, fine. I can understand that. But I think I wish they'd said that, up front. To which the answer is likely We did. Its in the Terms and Conditions. You remember, you agreed to it.

So it's ironic that I found this, this morning, here.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

La Fille Francaise

My wife and I were just talking quietly about the French girl who's with us this week, and will be for about ten more days. We've got kind of mixed feelings about her.

When we think about those feelings, we're sort of like the people in the sixties who would start to admit that they really didn't care for black people, then abruptly stop and say something like but some of my best friends are black, of course... Our feeling is that we really don't like this girl. But that's not quite right. We do like her. We just don't like her.

It's not that we don't think she's nice enough. She is. It's that we have the subtle feeling that the person we see every day isn't exactly the person she really is . She's hiding something. It's probably nothing awful, but there's something. Like when we found out that despite the solemn statement on her application that she didn't smoke, which included the stern notice that if she did, she promised not to smoke while she was here, she does smoke, fairly often. Okay, it happens. But I noticed that she's made some comments on Facebook, to friends, which basically say that she's finding this experience not to her liking. She doesn't say she hates it, or doesn't like us, or anything like that. It's more that she doesn't say she likes anything. When she does mention something, she's a little mocking about it -- which, from the responses, tends to be how her friends act. They mock each other, they say fucking this and fucking that. I asked her if they drink, and she said yes. Too much? Sometimes. You, too? .... Yeah. Okay, they're teens. Don't draw major conclusions from it. But the result is, we think that she's putting on just a bit of an act. She's not the enthusiastic I just want to come to America and get better at English kid we thought we were getting. And though the result is that we get someone who's closer to what we'd want than the reality probably is, it also means that we think so what does she really want? Does she really like this? Is there something that she's wishing we would do? Now, we had some of those feelings last year, with the kid we so liked (and still do). We weren't always sure if we were communicating, if she was happy, if we were missing any cues. But we got past it. We bonded so much, we went and visited her family! Stayed with them! With her, there wasn't any pretense. What you saw was what you got. With this one.... not quite.

I asked my wife if (purely aside from the fact that we have other plans, anyway, for next summer) - if, based on this kid, would we host again, and she said, probably not. Which is kind of my feeling, too. Oddly enough, we both think that if the current had been the first kid we'd ever hosted, we'd have done it again, but with lower expectations; if the actual first kid then arrived, we'd have been pleasantly surprised. But the bar was set so high, with the actual first kid, this current one would have had to be damn near perfect to make us happy. And she is likeable. Just not as likeable. So, again? Um...probably not.

Maybe we'll mellow.


I love it when you try to do something perfectly reasonable, but perfectly illegal, like trying to make US-purchased Samsung DVD-VR375 play a France-purchased DVD, and you find sites that say Oh, it's easy to unlock so it'll play DVDs from other regions, just do this, this, this, and sometimes PRAHblum! ...

and it won't unlock. And therefore won't play the DVD you paid for. The only thing better is when you see comments like Well, whydja buy that POS anyway, this one is MUCH better! Noob!

Goddamn greedy companies.


"Yankee Group has long claimed that to drive customer experience transformation vendors must transform their solutions to respond to market demand and build intelligent, real-time and event-driven software systems that improve customer experience and enhance operational efficiency by bringing network, billing and policy and customer management into an single intelligent framework."

I think that's pretty clear, don't you? Holy hell. Found here.

Let's try to rewrite it.

"At Yankee Group, we've believed for quite some time that in order to be successful, software companies have to change how their products can be used by customers. The products must be designed elegantly and thoughtfully, so that they work well individually as well as together. The products must have certain characteristics. They must be intelligent, which means that they respond to the customer's needs - one size does not fit all. They must work real-time, which means that they do what the customer needs immediately -- the customer doesn't have to wait. And the products must be event-driven. (We don't have a good definition for that; like pornography, we know it when we see it.) "


Dancing Terrorists

Friday, July 15, 2011


I'm a little bemused by the availability of WiFi at Starbucks. It doesn't make sense to me for a company to supply a resource which results in having their table space being taken up for long periods of time by people who aren't contributing, proportionately, to the company's income. Milking one coffee for an hour doesn't hack it.

During slack periods, it doesn't matter, of course. And I have to admit that part of my ire is due to the fact that the local Starbucks has two comfortable chairs; the last four times we went (over the course of about two months), the same woman was in one of them with her laptop open. Tonight, the other one had a woman in it, too, and two guys were hunched over laptops, taking up one long table, with a third sitting outside but with his laptop plugged in, inside. That doesn't seem right to me.

I've heard of some places that turn off their WiFi during peak periods, and others that kill the power to sockets near the tables, too. I think that's the right way to go. Or, perhaps, limit long-term use to the less desirable locations in the place. Because otherwise, the message is clear: want the comfy chair? Stay at home.
Found at Calm Blue Oceans.


Found here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Good Time Charley

I've never quite gotten motorcycles. I understand some of the appeal, but to me they're the loser in a comparison with safety.

Today, I took our guest to the Harley Davidson plant where they build the bikes. I was, shall we say, outnumbered by people who believe in Harley Davidson. Intently. The gift shop sells all sorts of things with the Harley logo. I think that if it occurred to them, they'd sell colostomy bags with the Harley emblem.

Not to say that the factory tour wasn't mildly interesting -- it was about the same as the tour I got to take of the GM Hydramatic Transmission plant, decades ago. Which is to say, massive, noisy, and full of hulking machines. But a little of that goes a long way. Five minutes into it, I really wanted to ask questions that they would have found rude, such as --

What is a Softail, anyway?

Does Custom Vehicle Operations mean 'these are hand built; the others are mass produced?" and, if so, are the CVOs better in some way?

Why, if the original company was one guy named Harley and three guys named Davidson, isn't the company called Davidson-Harley?

But I doubted they'd answer.


Titles from my Google Reader queue:

Michele Bachmann and Fellow Republicans Throw Weight into “Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act”

Repealing Light Bulb Efficiency Standards Would Cost Americans $12.5 Billion

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


"Critics don't get Palin's appeal:
The only thing standing in Palin's path is "the hysterical level of character assassination that prevails on the Left," says John Sexton in Verum Serum. And she can overcome that. The Right hated Hillary Clinton, but she won her Senate seat, because "a lot of voters don't believe the negatives," or don't care. And as with Hillary, tons of people connect with Palin "on an emotional, almost spiritual level" — and they think she has "the right enemies."

Found here.


There was a time when I thought I was well-informed about the details of the health care bill. Not any more.

This morning, I was in a bookstore, and heard an elderly man muttering that "Obamacare is terrible, costs too much, can't use Medicare.....hope the Republicans get in, vote all that stuff out'. I thought Well, wait a minute, thats not right....

Okay, fine,
I asked myself. Exactly how is it wrong? Just one or two points... Take your time....


Cat, Caught

Yesterday we left the French guest alone in the house for a while. This morning, I read her Facebook page. She mentioned that she had accidentally let the cat out when she went outside for a smoke, and it took her half an hour to find it again. She didn't say anything to us about it. On the one hand, she didn't need to, and it would have been difficult for her to say in in English. On the other....

My wife bets that that isn't going to happen again.

As for me, I think You know I can read your posts on Facebook....don't you?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some Teachers...

...are cooler than others. Found here.


Our French guest - the one whose parents own a restaurant in Lyon -- just asked for the recipe for the quesadillas that I made tonight.

Ahem. Well, okay....

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I read this morning that Boehner didn't do a budget compromise. I wondered "Is this good?"

And I hate to say it, but my first thought was If it makes Boehner look impotent, yes. If it makes Obama look impotent, no.

Ah, partisanship.

Friday, July 08, 2011


I'm not a big fan of cute animal photographs, but most of these are pretty good.

Day One

Or should I say Jour Une?

The French exchange student has been here for a day. I like her, but I'm not quite sure what to make of her.

On Facebook, she's a semi-boisterous party girl with lots of friends who likes to get real close to cute boys.
On her application to come here, she's someone who doesn't smoke.
In person, she's fairly quiet. And she smokes a lot.

It's a little bit of a challenge not to compare her to the kid last year, whom we obviously liked a great deal, and whose family we now like, too. (And its a measure of my personal insecurity that four days after they said they want to come to visit us here next year, I can think I think they like us, though I'm not really sure. )

This kid -- well, she takes some effort. It's not the English, which she actually speaks fairly well. It's not that she comes from a fairly large city, so we wonder how bored she might feel here in the country (and the implied challenge: do we need to keep her entertained?) And its not the Facebook image, though seeing her post something like Fuck, I passed my test, we gotta have a party when I get back makes me think a little less of her. (You couldn't just say you're happy you passed? Maybe not.) It's not even the smoking, though we don't like that; we're not here to change her life. (Though what we'll do when she runs out of cigarettes, we're not sure. Probably a modified version of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.) Even if she did offer my daughter a cigarette (she turned it down) or mentioned that she knows people her age or younger that have sex regularly (my daughter does, too; at least, they say they do) or do drugs (ditto).

There's just something about her that makes me think that the kid we see is a little wilder, a little looser than she appears to be. She's not scamming us....exactly. Just appearing to be more of a straight arrow than she really is. Like make sure she doesn't get the chance to have anything alcoholic at that graduation party tomorrow; she might overdo it. We have no reason to think she will; but she might.

Its an interesting experience.


It's always a joy to be at home when your daughter decides that today is Snarky Day.

It's particularly fun when it's the first full day of your guest student's residency. Fortunately, she is still asleep.


Found here.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


The new girl is here. She's... promising.

Her English is better than we'd expected it would be. Talk long enough, and she begins to have to flail around for words, but right off the bat, for short answers, she can handle things. Sometimes, she's faking it (just as I did with French); you'll ask her a question, and she'll say Yes, when that answer doesn't fit at all. But much of the time, she can work her way through a sentence. Knowing French helps, about half the time, as when she was trying to say that she likes the buildings in Paris, and all she could say was batiments.

She's very fit. Apparently, she plays handball competitively, to the point where she's been on a national team, playing France against the outre-mers, and against other countries. I asked if she wanted to play in the Olympics, and she didn't understand the question, but when I asked if she wanted to play on a team against other countries, she nodded vigorously.

She said that she eats pretty much anything, but it was clear at dinner that she'd never encountered a burrito before. On the other hand, she knew exactly what to do with the Belgian chocolate ice cream.

So - so far, so good.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Baggage. We've all got some. And some is better than others.

When we took our trip, I used as a carryon bag a shabby old satchel that my mother'd had for years. Thin, plastic-like material, no internal pouches, four outside ones. I found myself repeatedly burrowing through layers of stuff, looking - where did that pen fall to? Is my passport in this pouch? Damn, I wish I didn't have to open this pouch in public just to see whats in there!

So I came up with a list of what I think a carry-on ought to have. Not traveling much, I doubt we'll buy one any time soon, and if we do, I'm not goign to want to spend the big bucks to get a bag that has all of this. But, here's my thoughts:

1) handles -- two, padded, with a small Velcro strip to optionally bind them together. (Our bag had a thick strip that took about five seconds to peel back. Way too much when all you want is to get in there quickly.)
2) pouches - multiple, different sizes; each with a flap to allow access into the main bag compartment, and each with the ability to be(optionally) sealed shut so that you have to go into the main compartment to unseal it. (This is so that you don't have an easily-opened pouch where someone else can get at it).
3) Clear compartment -- one pouch with a clear wall so that you can see whats in there, for the things you want to find quickly. (So THATS where my passport is!)
4) Zipper handles are big, as is the zipper track itself.
5) Multiple inside pouches, each with a flap to keep small things each in their own place.
6) Velcro loops to hold that camera, water bottle, bulky item.
7) Exterior of rip resistant ballistic nylon.

I think that'll do it.


And so....

Now that we're back, I am slowly trying to figure out where I should spend my time.

Sometimes, I think this would be a good time to get real on cooking and baking - nothing absurd, just good at baking bread, maybe crepes. Learn to cook a couple of things that I don't know how to cook now. I admit, I didn't really like the food in France (others did, me, not so much). The food in the host family's house was tasty if unusual; the food in restaurants....hmmm. But I said I wanted to be exposed to different kinds of food, and that happened. It reminded me that there's more worth cooking than the fifteen or twenty things I know how to do.

Sometimes, I think that I ought to get back into exercising. As a result of all the walking that we did, I actually lost a few pounds in France; I'd like to continue that. I had hired a woman to work as a personal trainer, but that didn't work out so well. So I think well, I can just do it myself, ignoring for the moment my willingness to cut myself slack when it comes to exercise. What I consider exercise, a trainer would consider getting warmed up. No kidding. So I think I ought to do more of that.

Sometimes, I think that I ought to continue to study French pretty often -- not as intensively as I did, before the trip, but pretty often. Two or three hours a week. I don't want to lose what I so laboriously acquired (kind of the reverse of my weight, where I don't what to reacquire what I so laboriously lost). Plus, I want to improve. I like speaking another language. I and the host wife promised we'd talk to each other on Skype every so often, and I'd like that, as much to keep in contact as for her to practice English and for me to practice French.

Sometimes, I think I ought to start reading down that list of books whose names I noted when I was spending most of my free time studying. I don't do as much reading as I'd like to, and the list was a way of saying once that I have time.... Well, now, I do.

So where to start?


Found here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Some Details About The Trip

My daughter and I flew from Dulles (near Washington) to Paris, leaving at 11:00 PM and arriving at about noon the next day. Half of that is the time difference, and half the flight time. Going through customs and immigration was a snap. Customs, both here and in France, seems to worry more about people coming into the country who are citizens than those who aren't. Makes no sense to me. Coming back, my daughter noted that where we have food places near the waiting zones, they have Hermes, Givenchy, perfume. Yeah, I noted. But try to find a water fountain!

As soon as we came through the doors from the customs area, our friend came right up to us with a big smile and did the double-cheek kiss thing. This startled me. Not that I didn't know about it, but my impression had been this was something reserved for someone you knew well. I wasn't sure about the protocol -- some things suggested that it was more a 'kiss in the air' than a kiss on the cheek; some said it was just one side, both if you knew the person well, and three (!) if you really liked them. And do they even do it with Americans? Apparently, yes. Pretty cool.

She took us through the airport (which I learned they pronounce Shar D'Gau); it's enormous (and this was just the Air France terminal). Her van was squeezed into a tiny parking spot where even the minicars that are common there would feel a bit snug. And we were off. Almost immediately, I learned that my glib plan (Oh, I'll just rent a car at the airport; the autoroute goes right to the airport!) would not have hacked it. Yes, it does go almost all the way to the airport (not the autoroute, itself, but highway, yeah). What the plan did not take into account was that the French are for the most part intense drivers. Its not exactly a road rally out there; it's not exactly not, either. You hear every so often of drivers from small towns in the midwest who get trapped in the left lane on an LA freeway, unable to get off? That'd have been me.

It's a four hour drive from Paris to where they lived. We stopped once at a roadside convenience store to pick up snacks. It was my first experience being surrounded by people who spoke French fluently. (Even at the airport, there were more people like me than like them.) It was a bit intimidating, hearing all that gutteral and rolling vowels. On the way down, I tried talking to her, piecing questions carefully. You wait long time airport for me, my daughter? There were plenty of times when she glanced at me, puzzled, and I thought Look at the road! Look at the road!

When we got to her house, I was mildly surprised to find that it looked nothing like what I thought it would, based on Google Earth. (In fact, I just looked again, and it still doesn't look like I thought it would.) Inside, it was more like what we'd consider a second home, with a moderately large kitchen, a broad hallway, a living room (large fireplace, aquarium, doors out to the yard), and a dining room. I was going to say that it was a beautiful dining room, but truthfully, it was all beautiful to me. I liked it. If a house can look friendly, theirs did. My daughter and I were pretty tired, so we lugged our baggage upstairs (she took my bag, that had to be half her size and weight, with ease), and we went to bed.

Next morning, we got up around 9. She was already up, puttering around in the kitchen, and asked if I wanted coffee. She put out a cereal-sized bowl - oh, cereal? I can handle cereal -- and poured the coffee into it. Turned out that this was how they usually had coffee in the morning. Then they pulled out a couple of loaves of (what else) French bread, a whole bunch of jelly, butter, jam, etc - and that was breakfast. Over time, they'd occasionally have cereal -- in fact, they made a point of buying a box of cereal that my daughter liked; I'm not sure it was the first time that Count Chocula was in their house, but it might have been -- but no eggs, no meats. And no croissants, either, which surprised me. I thought the French always ate those for breakfast. Or some kind of pastry, at least.

Over the next few days, we went to a different place every day or couple of days - to an abbey, for one (Not an Eglise, she reminded me, more than once; Abbey!) which fascinated me. It included what was, and still is, essentially a vo-tech school -- in fact, her husband had gone there. We also went to a medieval hospice (about a hundred people were there; not too busy, I asked, and she said no - but next month, the tourists start. How many then? She shrugged. About eight or nine hundred a day; sometimes more. Wuff.) She tutored me on the name of the region. Boor-gohne-yuh! We went to a museum dedicated entirely to the care, feeding, slaughtering, and preparing of the Charollais beef cattle -- everything from the percentage of grain a steer needs at various ages, how to keep a steer from developing the muscle that can turn into tough meat, and how to tell your butcher which part of the steer you want (he will ask what you're planning on cooking --at least, he will if you live in France!) We drove through multiple small and not-so-small towns. We went to the hypermarche for groceries -- think Super WalMart, but on steroids; I seriously expected them to have cars for sale in there. I don't buy fresh food here, she said. Prices are good but the quality isn't. I buy local. (No helpful baggers, or even bags -- we brought the food out to the van still in the cart, and transferred it into collapsible crates she kept there. ) We even went to a farm where we visited a friend of the family who'd been over for dinner -- looking at the farm, I asked (some variant of) 'how many people work here?' He laughed and pointed to himself. Yes, I said, but how many overall? He laughed again. Seulement moi! Some machinery, yeah, but mostly by hand. How many steer do you have? He pointed to a field with three steer in it, and I thought well, I guess that's not so... and then he said the other hundred or so are in the other field. Ouch.

And of course, we got to meet her daughter again. Though for not-nearly-long-enough. Still, seeing her was easily as cool as seeing Paris, and that's saying something.

Some not-so-good did happen. We walked around the outside of the Louvre. Mid day, way hot sun: most guys without hats. Me, I started to get a little dizzy. Couldn't figure out how to flag down a taxi. Took the train back to the hotel.(Through the Paris Metro, by myself. Amazing that I'm not still there.) Along the way, my wallet was stolen. And returned, slightly lighter. Also, I, a notoriously pickly eater, did have some problems with the food - though in restaurants, not at home. (The wife of our hosts is a good cook, I think.) Perhaps most distressing, some pictures that I really wanted, from when we were saying goodbye to her daughter, didn't come out. Overexposed. Rats. I really wanted those pictures!

But that's about it. The rest of the trip was a delight.

Knowing the good and the bad, would I go again?

No doubt about it.


I mentioned in a response to a comment on an earlier post that our host's wife let me make crepes with her, using her trusty crepe pan. It had little dimples in it; never seen that before. I had asked her if her pan was non-stick, since I had seen her lightly oil it, and she seemed surprised, saying that of course it was non-stick. It would stick, otherwise, she said, as she swirled the batter.

So I was a little surprised, myself, to see this in a writeup about a crepe pan, on Amazon:

I am extremely pleased with the Le Creuset Crepe Pan. Readers should know this is a fairly authentic pan that would be found in Brittany, France where crepes originated. It is cast iron, without any non-stick coatings -- but a little bit of seasoning with oil just before use is perfect for the crepes not to stick. And, with this style of crepe pan you need to use a rake-type spreader (un rateau) that you see used in most French creperies -- this is not the type of crepe pan that you tilt to spread the batter. Also, it is important to get the pan fairly hot -- but what is great about cast iron is the even distribution of the heat. This is the way crepes should be made and was the way my Breton grandmother made them.

By the way, the crepes were great. With liquid chocolate, powdered chocolate, Nutella, two kinds of sugar... Tasty!


With others, found here.


It's difficult for me to summarize our trip to France. I suppose the simplest method would be to note that we are glad that we went, and that we would do it again without question.

There was much to like. Chief among this was the people with whom we stayed for the first ten days, and who accompanied us to Paris. They delighted me in a way that very few people ever have. They were open and friendly, going far, far out of their way to accomodate us. This is how well we got along with them: they have already begun plans to visit with us in our home for several weeks. And we are thrilled by this.

Additionally, the parts of the country that we saw are for the most part lovely. You understand quickly why Americans love the idea of retiring there. At least, until they see what the local prices are. But even then....

And we took a couple of pictures.