There are people in life who are givers. And there are those who are takers. That's a little simplistic, but it's true, no? Humans tend to be one or the other.
We all know people who thrill us with unexpected things--flowers or emails or baubles. Things that made them think of you. Things for no reason. Things for a reason. Things that are fancy, things that are cheap. Either way, it makes the heart leap a little. It is something to be thought of, to be gifted with something--big or small.
And then there are those who take the most expensive thing on the menu or have an extra cocktail or two, yet insist on not troubling the table to do anything but split the bill. There are those who surely read the lengthy missive you sent, advising them about a city or giving them business advice, yet must be too busy enjoying their holiday or starting their business to craft a response--even one so simple as "thank you." Or those who hang out repeatedly, doling out the witty banter without doling out so much as a centime for the wine they must assume mitotically keeps your cabinets full.
Worse perhaps are "givers" who expect things in return, even if they don't admit it to themselves. These are people who tally all the tits to make sure they get their tats. But there's also a worrying and waste of energy involved in giving something to someone and then waiting to see how he or she will "repay" you. A true gift is free, the only expectation is the let-go. Because if you give something in expectation of the glory you will get in return, well, then you deserve to be let down.
I am a reformed taker, and a reforming tit-for-tat-er (despite having the most wonderfully generous parents as examples). I am learning that it can feel better to give something away, even if there's a risk the person you give it to won't treasure it as much as you would or as you would hope or expect of him/her. It's weird because I am a treasurer (a hoarder, of sorts), who keeps everything, probably because most all of my things are special to me and have stories behind them (even if it's just that I got it on major sale--who doesn't like that story?). Things are more special when they were given to me by someone dear--or even better when made by that person. And because I treasure these things so, I should be especially thrilled at the idea of giving things to other people--because I know how dear these things, too, could become. But yet there is still a small pull, a little nag that makes me wonder if *I'm* not the best appreciator of one thing or another... so much so that it makes me want to keep it for myself. It's like I am looking out for the best interests of the thing itself. What? It's a damn thing. It doesn't care.
I think of times I was really down (after a surgery) and my friends sent me something so lovely and thoughtful and I cried because I felt so cared for and thought of. Or when, after the same surgery, friends of my mom's stopped by and brought me little things to cheer me up, and these things got me out of bed to say "thank you" and enjoy some much needed company. Or when I sent out a desperate email for some advice or a Skype session that was promptly attended to; those responses saved me. Or I think of times when I didn't realize I was a little down (like recently) and, lo, there's a package on its way from the States. Or when I was just excited to have someone here for the weekend, but then she showed up with luscious treats (and flowers like BOOM!) that I never would have splurged on for myself. Or when someone squirreled away things from the States (even if they were crazy things like a giant candy thermometer and deodorant) in her nearly overweight suitcase (OK, it was way more than just these two things) for me without a complaint. Or when someone spotted me when my credit card was refused, even if it was for a pair of fancy shoes. Or when someone not only drew or painted something special, but had it framed, too. Or when someone had photos made because she knew I missed seeing all of the action firsthand. Or when someone booked a last-minute jaunt to my hometown (in the midst of locust swarms) so we could catch up for a couple of days before I had to go back to Europe. And these things, some of which are in my drawers or around my neck or on my walls or in my wardrobe and some of which have expired, they are all still with me. These moments of receipt, they are all part of me.
I am writing all of this today because the package finally came. The package that was supposed to show up a couple of weeks ago, the package that DHL told me was likely going to be returned to sender, back across the ocean. And just then, when I thought it was gone, it showed up. And I was overwhelmed at what a thoughtful and sweet friend I have. Like most all of my friends, she is pretty incredible. This one, she is a giver. Perhaps the ultimate giver. If there were a competition of thoughtful and giving people, I'm pretty sure my girl would take it, she's that good. Many of my other friends also know her, and I'm certain that if I entered her in this made-up competition, they'd have their money behind her, too. She's also one of the goofiest, smartest, good-at-her-job (and not at all a snotty fashion lady, though she certainly talks and walks it), passionate, and caring people I know. If I could give you one thing right now, it would be to have a friend like her. But you know what? This one's mine. And I'm gonna be stingy about it.
I guess I'm still learning about giving, after all.
The other day, Virginie from HR was helping me with my French tax forms. I had filled out as much as I could beforehand so as not to waste more of her time than necessary. When she saw that I had checked "Madame" instead of "Mademoiselle", she sighed as she crossed it out saying, "You are 'mademoiselle.' You are not married."
"Yes, I said. But I'm old."
She laughed and said, "Yes. But you are still 'mademoiselle.'"
I'll TAKE it.
Today for some reason I didn't cross to the side of Vieille du Temple I usually take home. And I felt a smidge of excitement when I realized I was walking on the other side of the street. (It gets pretty exciting Chez Jode these days. The other side of the street... oh my!) A moment later, some wacko came up to me, spouting off that Michael Jackson was KILLED. And THEY. KNOW. (At first, my poor translation skills thought he was making fun of me looking like Michael Jackson in my leather pants... but then I got it.) I went home and promptly hit up the internet news to see if something new had come to light on MJ's death. But alas, the east side of the street is just cray.
We get out of work at 4 pm on Fridays. (Every Friday, not just in the summer. It's pretty great.) Last Friday as I was walking home, I came upon a couple with the most adorable King Charles Cavalier pup with a GIANT burgundy bow around its neck. Of course, I stalk-walked them, turning when they did, trying to get a photo without being seen, reveling in the profound happiness that a puppy both gives off and affords. I found myself just wanting to be around her, with her feathery paws and her bow and her looking up at them lovingly and her stiffing of everything like it was the first time she'd experienced it (because it likely was). And then I realized that I do this with ALL dogs--not just the cute puppas--because I don't have one. I just want to be near them... to walk by them, to sit by them on the subway. This is a special kind of crazy. Perhaps I belong on the other side of the street, after all.
I've been gluten-free for nearly 3 months now! I can't believe I put it off for so long because I've found that I'm really into the dietary self-discipline it brings. Despite having had not one but TWO stomach bugs (or one nasty stomach bug that reared its head twice in as many weeks, as my doctor suspects) AND a cold in the same timespan, I am generally feeling better being off the wheat/flour/bread/beer.
These are the benefits I note:
1. No post-meal bloating or embarrassing tummy tunes.
2. I have eaten more fruits and vegetables in the past 3 months than perhaps I did all of last year.
3. I have become more aware of what I eat and how it affects me. I am trying to eat more simply, to eat foods that are less processed and more natural. I am getting closer to my food.
4. I can still have all the wine I want! Beer, who needs ya?
5. I have lost 10 lbs. (This is not entirely good, as now I need to buy new jeans--something I haven't done in about 7 years. Maybe it's time to pull the trigger on this pair that I've been stalking for a while?)
6. As one who has a hard time making a decision when confronted with too many options on a menu (in a store..., in life generally...), I can now suss out the gluten-free offerings and relish the ease of my dinner decision almost being made for me! Also, I can always have a salad, and this has started making me happy. Go, salads!
7. Macarons. All the macarons I want!
That said, part of cutting out gluten was to boost my general immunity and it turns out I am just getting over a cold. But I think it probably takes longer than 3 months to truly take one's immunity to the next level. I was getting a cold nearly every other month so I had 4 healthy, cold-free months this time. If not eating gluten can help me to stretch the time between colds, then I am happy. Besides, I was running around like crazy, traveling, and stressed out over major life things. Sometimes a cold virus comes a-knockin' and there ain't nothing that can keep it out.
I spent this weekend cooking and even doing a little baking. It's never as much fun cooking for one, but that didn't stop me.
My first attempt at gluten-free baking: peanut butter-banana-chocolate chip cookies. Lo and behold, they are VEGAN, too. (That's like 10 extra points. Toward what, I don't know?) The recipe was quite simple, and the cookies were wonderful--moist and banana-y with a good crumb. I put half of the dough in the freezer to use later, but when I ran out of cookies this morning it was promptly dispatched to the oven for more cookies. Now that I've had these cookies, I realize I cannot be without.
(You can find the recipe here. I am in love with this website already.)
Friday night's dinner was smoked pork sausage and potato-cabbage colcannon. I found the loveliest petite head of cabbage, which was perfectly sized for one. The outer leaves were a pale green, but inside it was yellow and filled with hardy sprouts and stalks that were the color of cauliflower. It was like a hybrid cabbage/brussels sprout/cauliflower veg, and it was perfectly everything for everybody (me).
Yesterday I was strolling around the Etienne Marcel/Rue Montorgueil area, availing myself of the lovely markets (and the cute boutiques on Rue Tiquetonne) when I found myself with arms full of asparagus, radishes, and the most charming grapefruit-sized heads of butter lettuce my eyes ever did see. (As I was washing them, I thought how darling these leafy babies were, all wrapped together like a hug. That's right, butter lettuce = a hug. [Washing lettuce makes me nuttier than usual, apparently.]) I grabbed some scallops and an ashy goat's cheese, and went home to get to it. The second picture doesn't do my dinner justice, so you can focus on the one of the bright salad with tomatoes and radishes and the aforementioned goat's cheese. But I assure you, the scallops were divine.
And look at these little radish mice! The produce cuteness don't quit!
A few years ago when B and I went to visit our friends Dana and Nate in North Carolina, we brought along this adorable stuffed bird to welcome their new baby boy. It turns out their older daughter was the one who really bonded with the "Jail Bird." Jail Bird became fast friends with Avonelle, who has crafted him bespoke outfits and clarified for the rest of us what makes him tick--who knew we both like the color red? (I think there's a black-and-white joke in there somewhere...) His beak may be a bit askew now, but let's celebrate how good the Jail Bird still looks after these years with Avie. It's evidence enough that love keeps us young.
You might recall my first visit to Versailles in February. As expected, going back in May was entirely different. The gardens were abloom, the outdoor statues were unwrapped, boats were on the lake, fountains sprang forth, and the crowds were bazonkers! This time, however, we booked a tour so that we could (a) avoid the entrance queue and (b) learn more about the daily lives of the fancies who lived there. Despite a train snafu and my consequent meltdown (it is a lot of responsibility to be the person in charge of transportation, bookings, directions and dammit was anyone else even looking at the board announcing the trains because a girl gets confused sometimes??), we made it with time to spare for our 9:30 am tour. (The "time to spare" part is really due to the French rule of scheduling so that every rendezvous starts at least 15 minutes after the appointed time. At work this rule usually sees me sitting in an empty conference room waiting for a meeting to start, but in this case it saved my post-meltdown rump.)
We toured the king's private apartments and the chapel. The tour started in the room where the king's dogs slept, so we were off on a good foot. We saw the private library, the private bedroom (where the XVI actually had all the trubs), the king's personal desk, the game room, and the toilet rooms. Having read Antonia Fraser's biography of Marie Antoinette and now that I am currently reading Nancy Mitford's take on Madame de Pompadour, I was pretty thrilled to see where the shizz actually went down, as it were. I was also thrilled to be away from the frenzy of tourists in the public areas. (If I wanted that kind of madness I'd go to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, thank you very much.) There were spots where the tour of the private areas nearly intersected with the public areas full of hoi polloi; I sighed and thanked the stars I was on the right side of the rope.
After our tour, we had a lackluster lunch outside. Let me clarify, the food was lackluster. The outside ambiance was great. The ladies I was with decided they didn't want to see the Grand or the Petite Trianon and thankfully I had already seen them so there was no protesting on my part (though I wouldn't have minded seeing what the animals were up to), and we were off.
This was the royal toilet...
until this technological wonder was installed.
The library, which had a hidden door made to look like bookshelves. What's a library without this detail, really?
A shoddy shot of the game room, which is kept with the shutters closed to give the effect of night. This is where Marie Antoinette gambled away the monies.
I felt pretty fancytimes to be able to enter the Royal Chapel while the rest of the public had to look from a distance. You can read more about the chapel here, so I'll just tell you that it was built by Louis XIV and is dedicated to Saint Louis (King Louis IX).
I was especially taken with decorative marble floor. Someday...