Fur Babies

Sept 2013

If you know us, you know about Chloe. Many of you know that in June Chloe was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed not long after. We still miss her. She (the box of her ashes) is on top of the bookshelf, because I wasn’t quite ready to bury her in my parents’ backyard per the original plan.

The house felt really empty without her to greet us, so I started looking for new pets. I love Siamese. I started looking; then I stopped. Prices ranged from €150 upwards of €1,000 for a kitten. Ridiculous! There is an animal adoption group in Grenoble, called Cosa Animalia, which posts photos of kittens for adoption. A grew up in a dog family, so he’s never had kittens. He looked at the pictures and picked out an adorable little fluff ball and I found my Siamese.

The fluff ball was gone by the time we visited her foster family. At a different house, the Siamese let me pick him up and started purring immediately. He had a little black and white friend, who was not as friendly toward us, but let himself be pet by the owner. Andy and I talked. I wanted a pair of kittens so that they would have each other to play with and these two were already living together, so we knew for sure that they’d get along.

We adopted.

The first week was tough. The Siamese spent the first night exploring. He took to the house and us just fine. The black and white one – not so much. He spent the first night in the garbage can and most of the first week under the couch. (Our garbage drawer doesn’t seal in the back to make space for the sink pipes.) He ran from us, but very much wanted to be with the Siamese. Going to the vet for vaccinations and de-worming was traumatic for everyone. Then very randomly, Sunday night the kittens were chasing each other around and the black and white one stopped by the table to talk to us.

At that point we decided it was time to give them names. When we were looking for two Siamese, A wanted to name them PV and NRT – a science joke that he loved explaining. We, however, did not get matching cats, so it didn’t work as well. A went through a long suggestion list, but found his choice in the letter Bs. Bert and Ernie. That was it.

Ernie (Ernesto) is the Siamese. He’s a solid cat – full of muscle and he moves like a panther. He loves his people and purrs all the time. He gets into everything at ground level and he begs. He even tried to climb my leg when I opened a can of tuna. When we took the kittens home, the man gave us a piece of raw chicken and a can of tuna. It’s very obvious that this is what they were used to eating.  Not in our house.

Bert (Bertrand) is a much smaller cat. The adoption coordinator claims they’re brothers, but Bert is lighter, smaller, and more delicate. Sometimes we feel the need to protect him because Ernie seems like he is bullying Bert. Bert likes to get up. Those shelves in the kitchen, he’s always in them. He loves to have his head scratched, but does better when he’s half asleep. He still spends quite a bit of time under the coffee table, but doesn’t run with the same abject fear as when he arrived. It took a second, but now he likes us, most of the time.

Those are our babies. They love tuna water, crinkle balls, and chasing each other around the house. They eat an astounding amount and sleep with us at night. A has been won over. He’s always going to be a dog person, but the kittens aren’t so bad.


Jan 2014

Above is the post that I wrote, but never posted, last September. Some things have changed since then.

The largest is that on her third trip to the vet, we discovered that Bert is a girl. On Ernie, it’s obvious because his balls are black and the fur around them is cream. Bert is all black in that area and we’d never bothered to check. Ernie had already learned his name and we were attached to the pair, so she became Roberta (or Bertramina, depending who you ask.) She’s a cat; it doesn’t actually make a difference.  What is very interesting is the way our language has changed just because she’s a girl. Andy calls Ernie partner, but Bert is sweetheart. We’re both a little more protective if we think Ernie is playing too roughly. It’s weird. They’re just cats, but I can see how people inadvertently treat their children differently by gender.

The kittens got fixed in November. I’m pretty sure that Ernie only got a vasectomy; he only had one stitch and still has a ball sac. Bert had more stitches and there was one incision spot on each side of her body. I think they only removed her ovaries. Andy learned, when he stopped to pick them up, that in French after sterilization, they are cats, not kittens. I don’t care what the French say, for now, they’re still babies.

They still get into everything. There’s an open cabinet in the shower and Bert loves to sleep in the towels. Sometimes Ernie is in there too. They have figured out how to open the closet door and love to be up on those shelves. Bert likes to sleep on Andy’s stack of t-shirts. They share bad habits. I’m pretty sure that Ernie taught Bert how fun it is to shred soft paper: toilet paper, paper towels, napkins – nothing is safe.

Both of the kittens have gotten friendlier. Ernie can be quite demanding when he wants attention; he has no problem jumping into our laps or those of visitors. Bert likes to be pet, sometimes, but rarely wants to be picked up. She prefers Andy to me and will snuggle under the covers with him. Andy has taken to them. They bonded especially well the week I was in the States and they had each other. It took a little time, but we’ve settled into a happy little family.

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I realized over the holidays exactly how long it’s been since I’ve blogged: a close family member didn’t know that we have cats. Therefore, as one does at the New Year, I have resolved. In addition to the yearly standards of eating less and exercising more, I resolve to pass a DELF, to floss, and to blog. I have a list of things we did and saw in 2013 and even stretching back to 2012. You may see some of those topics come up, but for the most part I’m going to try to keep up with what’s going on now.

Short updates on what has happened since August.

In August, we spent a long weekend in Brussels and adopted 2 adorable kittens. Brussels was great. Our bed and breakfast included bikes and we explored everywhere. Tourist hotspots included Manneken pis, the brewer’s museum, mini-Europe, and the Atomium. Other interesting spots were Cantillon Brewery – home of Gueze beer; the Parlamentarium – a museum about the EU; The Museum of the national bank of Belgium; and a DiVinci exhibit in the old stock exchange building.

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The kittens are huge, but still full of mischief. Andy named them Bert and Ernie back when a language barrier led us to believe that they were both boys. At Bert’s third vet visit, we learned that she is a she. We were attached to the names and Ernie had already learned his, so they stayed Bert and Ernie. I have a post about them that I started when they first arrived. Watch for that soon.


In September, we visited our Czech friends at their new home near Munich. We spent one day down at Neuschwanstein Castle on the Austrian border and another exploring the city center. Just spending the weekend in Dietersheim (area – 31.21 km2 / pop. 2,137) made me appreciate Grenoble so much more. We also went to Houston to celebrate a friend’s marriage. We used Friday to explore the Johnson space center before stopping in for barbeque at the groom’s family home. Several friends were in town for the event and it was really great to see everyone. At the end of the month, I started working.

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October was pretty quiet. I settled into having a job and ran day camp, which I actually much prefer to weekly lessons. I think Andy travelled some for work. The “Return from the Pastures” Festival in Annecy was the only remarkable thing we did. It was a day festival that showcased traditional Savoyard (a region in France) processes like log splitting, flour sifting, and cider making. There were traditional foods – meat, cheese, and potatoes; and traditional dancing in traditional costumes. The highlight of the day was the parade, during which, the animals were run through the streets reminiscent of when they used to be brought down from the summer pastures. There were no cages and very few leashes. They just herded the animals through the crowds. It was raining, but we stayed long enough to see the cows. “Les vaches et on y va,” was a common refrain.

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The first week of November found us in England mixing business and pleasure. There was a conference in Manchester, so we took the opportunity to visit some friends from Grenoble who had moved home. We spent the first weekend in the English countryside, walking the moors and warming up beside fireplaces in the pubs. I wandered Manchester for a few days while Andy learned about oil chemicals. We spend the second part of the week playing tourists in London and Windsor.

In London, we walked a lot and hit some of the most important spots: St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London (home to the crown jewels), the Tower Bridge (the one everyone thinks is the London Bridge), Trafalgar Square, and Picadilly Circus. Our day in Windsor, I wandered Eton College until I found out it’s a boys high school. Feeling slightly creepy, I crossed the bridge and window shopped in Windsor until Andy joined me to visit the palace. Later that evening, Andy brought me and a customer  to his favorite Indian place. It was excellent, definitely a higher-end experience than our Chicago favorite, hidden under the el tracks. The next day we visited the Tower of London. After that, as our Christmas present to ourselves, we saw Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre and went to a lovely dinner. On our last day in England, we spent the morning at the British Museum, which is worth a post or two all on its own. Andy’s cousin who is currently stationed in England met up with us there and we spent the rest of the day wandering around. Sunday dinner is quite a big deal and it took several tries before we found a pub for lunch.

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A few weeks later, we hosted our second Thanksgiving. Turkeys are hard to get and not cheap, so Andy made turkey breast in a borrowed slow cooker. We had all the traditional foods and it was a nice gathering. The actual weekend of Thanksgiving, we took the American holiday and did a mini-tour of southern France. We visited Avignon – home of the French popes; Arles – the once upon a time stomping ground of Vincent van Gogh; Antibes – on the Riviera, Picasso’s workshop there has been turned into a museum; Boit – where we spent an hour watching glass being blown; and Grasse – the perfume capital, also where I ate my first frog legs. It was a really nice little road trip and I can definitely see why the French Riviera and the Cote d’Azur are so popular.

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December came really quickly and unforeseen circumstances had me back in the States for most of the month. Andy joined me on the 18th and the 12 days of Christmas flew by. Though we’d originally blamed it on too much beer and kilbasa, Andy was sick for the first time since I’ve known him, making for a pretty miserable trip home. He’s taken a while to recover and had to miss New Year’s Eve. A visiting friend and I spent the evening at a low-key house party.

The friend has gone and we’ve both gone back to work. It’s been warm (50ish); Andy is back to riding his bike to work and I am climbing the Bastille regularly with a new friend. We have plans to go skiing this weekend, but, because of the weather, we’ll have to venture further and higher than anywhere we have been in the past. We’re settling in to a healthier and less hectic January. The rest of the month should be pretty quiet.

A working girl

Hello,  all. Welcome to fall. School has started back home and starts here next week.

Last you heard – I had gotten a job. This was always the plan, but having one is both exciting and terrifying. I’m going to be working with children. Yes, I’ve worked with kids before, but never this young. I know mom and mom do it every day. I’ve always shied away from kids much younger than 9ish. I’ll be teaching “Baby English” (3-4 yr-olds) starting at the end of September. Scary. I’ll also have some older kids, they’re not as scary.

I did have some work in July. My school offers day camp for two weeks of the summer holidays. I went from doing not very much to 2-a-day, 3-hours-each, mixed-age/level week-long classes. It was a little intense.

They turned out to be pretty fun. In the morning, classes had a theme; we did ancient Egypt and ancient Greece. These were less English themed than I’m used to. More like teaching a theme in simple English. There were lots of projects. For Egypt, we made sugar cube pyramids and Nutella mummies. For Greece, there were theater masks and pots.

painting pyramids   nutella mummies

The afternoon was less structured. The first week, I didn’t have to plan. The second, we did some simple science with soil and water- things like watching the dirt settle, adding drops to a full cup and surface tension. We did leaf rubbings, made bubbles, and they made boats (without me – we had a wedding to go to.)

All in all, day camp was fun, but exhausting. Regular classes start in a few weeks and I’ve already started planning. There will be fewer students in each class and they’re only an hour long. I expect the regular classes to be easier. I hope.

Summer hits stride

Hi, friends. There’s not really a lot going on, so here’s a short update on things.

A went to South Africa for work. There was one day for sight seeing. I suggested he post about it. We’ll see. Between an unexpected trip, work, and a general dislike of writing, it might be a while.

I got a job. I’m officially registered as an auto-entrepreneur and will be starting at a school in a little town over the river for day camps in July then regular classes in September. The school works with children, but also offers adult classes. I’ve worked with kids before, but this will be younger than normal. The adult classes, should they appear, will be business focused; also new.

We’ve got tickets home in July. A will be working. I’ll be around.

I’ve planted the tomatoes and basil. The romanesco died, I’m going to try again. We’ve been going to the market, which means fun vegetables. I missed it this passed weekend, but I’ve got big plans for some stuffed squash blossoms.

Throw in some regular bike rides and that’s about sums it up.



Sun, Shrimp, and Beer

Our final weekend in Brazil was spent in/ near Sao Paulo. This was A’s relaxation time and we spent one day on the beach in Santos. There was sun, shrimp, beer, and best of all – people watching. We went in the ocean, the Brazilians didn’t. It’s their autumn after all.  One thing I loved about Brazil is how comfortable the women seemed to be with their bodies. Every one was in a bikini, no matter their size or shape. I would have been quite self-conscious, especially because the Brazilian suits are quite literally half-assed.

I didn’t bring my camera to the beach; we were warned of how dangerous it can be. It wasn’t. Here are some courtesy of A’s friend and our Sao Paulo tour guide, Theo.

The next day we walked down to Ibirapuera Park. It’s huge, near the center of the city, and very obviously where people go to hang out on Sunday mornings. The streets were closed, but the whole place was full of walkers, bikers, and skaters. We start our visit at the Monumento às Bandieras (Monument to the Flags). It’s MASSIVE, but majestically so.

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From there we follow our city walks tour around the park to see the planetarium – complete with a working sundial. The Japanese Gardens were closed, but the ponds provided some bird watching. We stopped in the Afro-Brazilian Museum and wandered by the OCA (Exhibition Palace), The Auditorium, and the obelisk.

Next, Theo picked us up and we headed to lunch – to a famed Brazilian steak house to be exact. Churrascarias are a special treat in Brazil; Theo said the last time he’d been it had been his mother’s birthday. Naturally, dining with us also qualifies. A churrascaria specializes in never-ending, fire-roasted meat. Now, meat isn’t really my thing, but in addition to a never-ending meat parade, there was also a large salad and seafood based buffet. At the end of the meal, we were allowed to go back and see the roasting pit. One thing I that surprised me was discovering that each time a server brings his skewer back in to rotisserie a little longer, he rolls it in salt. That’s must be what makes it so delicious.

After lunch, we wandered the Japanese market. Apparently this area of town is only busy on Sundays. The next day we got up, checked out, and spent our last hours walking the length of Avenida Paulista – home to many TV towers, a couple of culture/art houses, a anticipatory Olympics museum, and a neat old  park.

That was the end of Brazil. For now. I’m sure A will be back for work and it is a big country, you know.

Iguazu Falls: Beyond words

Iguaçu Falls is one of the world’s wonders. The sheer size and volume is what makes it amazing. Both Brazil and Argentina have turned their side of the river into a national park. Walking through the Brazil side we saw several native fauna. One was the 88 butterfly, so named because of the pattern on its wings. The trail was also home to the coati and big signs prohibiting you from feeding them hamburgers. It’s obvious that they’re very used to people and really aren’t interested in them at all.

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The park on the Brazil side of the falls is a paved trail that looks across onto Argentina. The waterfalls start off as a beautiful series of fairly thin cascades, sometimes dropping to a pool before falling again to the river below. The farther you walk along the path, the bigger and more picturesque the falls become. Finally, you go down and down to the base of one of the widest and tallest drops. From here, you can walk out on platforms to the center. Imagine standing on the bridge looking at Splash Mountain. You will get wet. From there, you go up some steps then up an elevator to the top. Because we were on a sponsored trip, there was a cocktail half hour. We saw the sun set over the top of the falls and the moon rise over the river. It was absolutely beautiful.

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