texas, our texas, all hail the mighty state!

Today we ran into an old friend while we were out and about, a guy we haven’t seen in several years. We chatted for a few minutes and then he asked, “What’s it like to be back?”

That is a really, really hard question to answer. When you live in a different culture you are constantly aware of how much you don’t fit. Don’t get me wrong – there are/were many aspects of French culture that I identified with, that felt natural to me. I love the way they respect privacy. I love the way they take friendship seriously. I love the way they linger over meals and conversations. I love the way they spend they whole day in the park, doing nothing, just enjoying life. I love the way that, as far as I can tell, very few French women ever fix their hair. (Seriously! There are a ton of people there with uber-curly hair and they sort of just let it fro out, huge and poofy. Our French teacher looked very, very similar to Professor Trelawney.) I love that there are so many stores devoted entirely to bread and pastries. I love they way they’re unhurried, un-busy, not over-scheduled. But even among all those things that just felt right, I was always an outsider. And I thought when I came “home” that everything would be fixed.

At first I thought it was. I told Jake that coming back was like coming home from work and changing from your business casual into your favorite jeans. But after a little time passed I realized that wasn’t the case. It was more like trying on some jeans and thinking, “Hey! These make my butt look good” and buying them only to realize later that you can’t sit down in them. “Home” doesn’t feel like it fits anymore, either. The familiar is nice but at the same time it’s not really comforting…and sometimes, it isn’t even nice at all. Maybe that is the sentence you serve for living cross-culturally – you can never truly fit anywhere again.

It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


By which I mean, I have not vanished into thin air. I have, however, made some major changes in my geographical location and have now been on the blessed soil of the United States of America – specifically, the hallowed state of Texas – for one whole month. I now have the mommy badge of making an international flight with an infant and also the badge of coping with baby jet lag.

So, we are currently staying in a guest house through Thanksgiving…we have a car (and insurance!)…and are busy putting things from France in storage, and getting things out of storage we will need for our extended Indiana visit, and rearranging it all to go back into storage. Oh, and introducing the most wonderful little boy to all of our friends and family here, and going to showers and getting cute stuff for him. I have happily eaten Chick-fil-A a few times (and have to admit, I am sadly disappointed in their decision to use canola oil for the fries…much less tasty and probably not really helpful to people with severe nut allergies) and love clipping coupons (and using them!) again. I also got free jeans at the Gap, which is awesome since all I had were maternity jeans. So, things are going pretty well so far. I mean of course there are “issues” as with any culture change but in a lot of ways it feels like coming home and taking off your business casual stuff to put on your comfy sweats. I don’t like how loud people are, I don’t like how overbearing sales associates can be, I don’t like how busy everyone is, and I don’t like talking about personal stuff with people I don’t really know…but I didn’t like any of that stuff before we left. It’s just magnified now.

So, basically…I’m back. Back in the States, and hopefully back online. Just been working through how the me I am now fits in (or not) with what I had before France.

In which I regale you with tales of our traveling woes.

Yesterday, our day began after a refreshing 3 hours of sleep.  We were supposed to arrive in Dallas around 2 pm, so we anticipated a relaxed afternoon with family, a delicious home-cooked dinner, and an early bedtime, so we stayed up late watching a movie with our quadmates and cleaning our apartment.  We caught a bus to the airport at 6:30 and were pleased when they failed to put our one overweight bag on the scale and went ahead and tagged it.

It was our one stroke of luck for the entire day.

Our first flight was from Richmond to Philadelphia, and yes, that is in the wrong direction.  Thankfully our layover wasn’t too long and we lined up promptly at the gate as they started boarding.  As I handed my boarding pass to the attendant, they said I would be the last passenger allowed on and unfortunately, Jake was behind me.  Weight restrictions had been implemented due to visibility conditions in Dallas.  I stepped aside, inwardly grumbling about the lady I had just graciously allowed to shoulder me aside.  They let 2 more individuals on the plane anyway.  We trekked across the airport, which is the most poorly designed airport in the U.S., to find the service desk, where we waited in line for a long time and had the joy of seeing Santa walk by, and where they were eventually able to schedule us on a later flight to Atlanta and then a very late flight into Dallas arriving after 11 pm.  Visions of my delicious dinner evaporated.  We accepted it, as the lady claimed it was the best she could do.  They also gave us vouchers for a different trip, which we will most likely not be able to use since we are moving out of the country soon and even if we weren’t they’re for $200 each – and I don’t know if you’ve checked airfare recently but there’s not much in that price range.  Also they’re not transferable, so we can’t even give them to someone else.  We acquired lunch, although the place Jake wanted to get his lunch from wouldn’t accept the vouchers, and ate before boarding our plane to Atlanta – a regional jet, even though Pennsylvania and Georgia aren’t in the same region unless we are talking about hemispheres.  As we waited to find our seats, the announcement was made that the overhead bins were full and we would have to short-check our carry-ons.  We surrendered our two carry-ons – one for Jake, one for me – because they would be delivered to the gate.

They didn’t make it.

I always assumed that carry-ons were safe from the looming danger of being lost, but apparently it is possible.  The airline, by the way, with the abysmally low intelligence and competence that allowed them to LOSE CARRY-ONS was U.S. Airways, and also the same airline that bumped us and put 2 different people on instead.  Rather than delivering our bags to the gate as promised, they took them to the baggage claim in Atlanta.  Obviously we couldn’t go get them, because we had to stay behind security.  We were promised the bags would be delivered to Delta, the airline that saved the day by providing a way, any way, to Dallas.  We were supposed to have a 7 hour layover in Atlanta, but on the departure/arrival screens we noticed several earlier flights to Dallas so we checked in and asked for standby tickets, which were granted.  We could leave 2 whole hours earlier!  Maybe.  The Delta guy we talked to said our bags may be on the standby flight or possibly our scheduled flight, but they should arrive in DFW that evening.  We ran into a few people who had been at training with us, who got to have a leisurely morning and flew straight to Atlanta rather than the roundabout method we employed, and struck up conversations with people around who were having similar travel days.

Anxiously we waited and miraculously, we were assigned seats!  We made our way onto the plane and sat next to a slightly drunk, very disgruntled guy.  At least he was the funny drunk/disgruntled sort.  A while after we were seated the people standing in the aisle began murmuring and looking around for an attendant because there were no more empty seats.  I tightened my seat belt because THEY WERE NOT GOING TO TAKE ME OFF.  Two attendants came over and tried to figure out what was going on.  They kicked off some pilots but all the other passengers still standing after that had to leave.  All the hullabaloo over “We have a problem.  We have too many people and not enough seats” delayed us about half an hour, and by then the taxi-ing space was overcrowded and we got to sit around for another half hour.

Finally we took off.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, because almost everyone on that flight had experienced some of the same troubles.  We made it to Dallas and were greeted by my dad and sister, and no baggage.  Delta said they had no record of our carry-ons that got misplaced, and they also looked up our checked bags which made the flight from Philadelphia to Dallas and U.S. Airways didn’t have those checked in either.  Jake went with my dad to go look at their desk while my sister and I waited for the next Atlanta-DFW flight (the flight we were originally scheduled to be on) to come in – just 15 minutes later.  The carry-ons didn’t show up, which was totally awesome because everything we had with us that was irreplaceable was in those bags, but fortunately Dad & Jake located our checked bags, which U.S. Air had neglected to scan in.  We filed a claim with Delta, which didn’t make sense to me since they had nothing to do with the loss but said they would handle it.

It was after midnight at this point.  Hunger strikes around midnight, so we stopped at Whataburger for some tasty breakfast items.  Unfortunately they had to begin making a fresh, from scratch batch of gravy for Jake’s order so that took forever.  We got home, dragged the big heavy bags in, ate, and fell into bed exhausted.

And yes, we could have driven with all of our possessions intact in the amount of time it took us to fly and have all our really important stuff strewn about the country.

Um…did I do that right?

OK this happened last week, but today I have a good internet signal so I can write about it.  Last weekend Scott & Mentanna asked if some of their friends could stay with us, so as not to be in the path of Gustav.  We have an extra room, so we said sure.  And began frantically cleaning the extra room, because it has been my running headquarters for several weeks now and before that was sort of “storage” for anything else that didn’t have a place, so walking from the door to the back corner required acrobatic ability that would turn Nastia green with envy.

I am always nervous about being a hostess, because my family did not do much “entertaining” while I was growing up and I’m really not sure what to do.  I mean, I know to put clean sheets on the bed and hide the junk that was previously strewn about, but that’s about all.  I forget that Jake & I are weird, so we never have ice in the freezer and we only get a few Spanish stations on our TV.  Of course I think of things a bit too late (would you like ice?  Oh wait, we don’t have any…I invited French people to my home and didn’t even bother to attempt to procure some coffee for them, what kind of idiot am I?), but in reality I think it turns out OK.  I have a sound roof on a house that is not in the direct path of a major storm, and at the time that was the most important thing.  When I invite people over for dinner, we may not have ice for drinks (oh wait…forgot those too…we almost always drink water…) or side items, but the entree is decent and the plates are clean.

Anyway, Mikael and Alice just moved to Lafayette, Louisiana from Paris (the real one, not the one in Texas).  Mikael is teaching French in an elementary school.  They had only been here 3 or 4 weeks when they had to evacuate because of Gustav.  It was really neat to talk to them about the differences in our cultures, and I think we were able to help each other a bit – we explained why you would want to call it a rooster instead of a cock, they told us to prepare to eat a lot of pork (we are mainly poultry eaters).  We told them to make sure they experience Chick-fil-A on their tour of American fast food, they told us to not expect any hamburgers in France.  They sampled authentic Tex-Mex, tasted homemade ice cream at my family’s Labor Day celebration, and explored Ft. Worth and Dallas (although Jake & I were lame at giving them pointers, because we are homebodies and also very boring).

We had a lot of fun hanging out with them…and now we have our first French friends!  Without even leaving the house!

P.S. You can see a pictures here, but the text is in French so good luck.  I hope they said nice things about us…

I’ve always wanted to be a tidy, organized person.  I hope my mom doesn’t read that, she has often informed me of my slobbish habits and could never believe I don’t enjoy clutter.  She would probably die from laughter.  But periodically I get the urge to organize, and I spend all my free time organizing until I’m done.  And then it goes to pot, until my next frenzied attempts to get all my stuff into some kind of order.  Lately I have been really wanting to get my house organized, because now I am a wife and part of being a wife (in my non-politically correct opinion, anyway) is creating a comfortable atmosphere at home – which can’t really happen amidst piles of papers and books, no matter how much I love them.

But this time I want it to be different.  This time I want it to last.  And the only way to do that is to get rid of stuff.  FlyLady says you can’t organize clutter, and it’s true.  So I have set about the daunting task…and have come to realize that I have a lot of stuff.  Worse, I love my stuff.  I get emotionally attached to it.  Little trinkets that someone gave me when I was 8 become a symbol of their love for me – I can’t throw it out!  It will hurt so-and-so’s feelings if I get rid of that whatchamacallit they gave me years back, because they will think I don’t appreciate their gift!  When I was little I couldn’t bear to get rid of any of my stuffed animals because it would hurt their feelings.  I knew in my head that they were inanimate objects but in my heart, I felt I was betraying their trust.  (I admit I still have a few special ones hidden at my parents’ house.)  My mom got me new pajamas, lovely soft ones, when I had chicken pox, because I had a horrible case of them and everything else was torture.  (I am not exaggerating.  I had them EVERYWHERE, including internally – under eyelids, in my throat, and other places it would be horrible to have chicken pox and inappropriate to discuss on the internet.)  I kept those pajamas as long as I possibly could…getting rid of them, even after I’d long outgrown them, was heartwrenching.

Why do I love my stuff so much?  I wouldn’t even really describe myself as materialistic – I’m not trendy, I don’t drool over cute shoes, I hate shopping.  But the stuff I already own…different story.  I have tons of papers I will probably never get to read – but they have information on them, I loooooove information.  And I might need to know those facts someday!  I have scraps of various materials, because what if I ever become crafty?  Never mind that I have had nary a crafty day in my life.  I have more clothes than I can wear, because oh!  That one has been a trusty, faithful shirt since I was 10 (I am not joking) and I looooove it!  This one is so soft, I loooove it!  I haven’t worn this in ages, but Mom made it for me and you just don’t get rid of things like that!  I have 4 coats and a bunch of sweaters, even though I live in Texas, because it actually gets cold once every 10 years and I would hate to go buy sweaters when I have perfectly good ones right here, wouldn’t it be just awful to waste money like that?

What?!  How can you be emotionally attached to ITEMS, which don’t even have emotions?  But getting rid of them makes me feel like I’m getting rid of part of myself, or getting rid of whoever gave it to me.  I don’t even know where I learned to think like that; my mom is the least sentimental person I know.  I would have no remnants of my childhood if an aunt hadn’t salvaged them from the Goodwill sack and stored them for me.

So, I begin a process of reform.  I’m trying to follow FlyLady’s system, which involves slowly building cleaning/decluttering routines into your life, and using little 15-minute increments to get things done.  This is good for me.  I was taught if you’re going to do something, you should do it right – so I put off doing something because I don’t have the time to completely declutter my house, or deep clean every square inch all at once.  But I have already found that I get a lot more done when I use those extra minutes on my lunch break or on the phone to be constructive around the house rather than sitting on my bum.  I just keep reminding myself that I didn’t accumulate all this in one day, so it’s ok if it takes longer than one day to clear it all out.

But I’m not getting rid of any books.  I draw the line there.

Every summer, which means about 9 months out of the year, I wonder what possessed human beings to populate the great land known as Texas.  The heat – relentless, overpowering, merciless – kills people every summer.  I’m not exaggerating.  I wish I were.  The only reason more people don’t die is air conditioning, which obviously wasn’t such a lifesaver back in covered wagon days.

But in spring…I know why they set up camp here.

How could you not want to live here?  Views like that make you think anything is possible, even fresh starts.  Especially when the weather is awesome, which it always is for 2-4 weeks, conveniently at the same time as the bluebonnets and other wildflowers.

Of course one or two months later they were cursing the gods.  Also I would like to note that, due to the DFW area being pretty much paved, I see views like that in between various highways, so I have to use my imagination.  But Texas wildflowers…there’s just nothing like it.


*Note: I jacked these pictures off the internet.  But they are from Texas.