(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Friday, March 26, 2010

and now. for something a little different...

well, I commented about this on Facebook a while back...but since it seems to be all over the news in the states lately ...

kid's nutrition and school lunches. I came across a great blog while I was stuck in bed, sick, last week.

(Yes I'm pretty much out of bed now and back with the living. Although still coughing, still tiring easily ... I'm on the mend).

An anonymous school teacher and mom made the decision to eat lunch in her school's cafeteria EVERY day and then blog about it. It is entitled "Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project". She's anon because she seems convinced she is a "whistleblower" and her position would be at risk if her project were discovered. Wow. She's basically just snapping a daily photo, describing what's on offer (very diplomatically) and hosting the occasional guest blogger. And letting readers form conclusions.

The abysmal offerings and grim reports led me to think a bit about my own kid's lunch experiences at their bilingual school in Berkeley (the east bay French American school) which did not have a lunch program...but did have a garden program. And then to remember my kids' description of school lunches for the 3 weeks they visited France. Multi-course meals with entrés, main dish, cheese and desserts.

So I surfed a bit to see what I could find about France's lunches. I found an interesting article by Time Magazine about France's Nursery School Gourmets. Apparently, in Paris anyway, there is even an accompanying supplement to the school lunch outlining recommended complementary meals for dinner.

In France, food and dining are valued. School lunch menus reflect components that define French dining in general. Four- to five-course meals normal and are served over a lunch period of an hour and a half. School lunch menus are highly detailed and posted at the school every Monday and online. Parents pay for the lunches and if they can't, children are still provided the meal. The variety on the menus is impressive and here's a fact: no single meal is repeated over the 32 school days in the period, and every meal includes a starter, salad, main course, cheese plate and dessert. I'm told it is served on real plates, too, not styro trays with sporks.

You just HAVE to click over to the blog above and get a first hand glimpse of what our kids are served. Not to mention the fact that they often don't receive a large enough serving to leave feeling satisfied, even if the food is crap. The pictures alone tell the story.

I googled the 'restauration scolaire' for the Dordogne (school menu for my region) and I'd like to share a few sample menus from this week ... (here's the link)

Avocado salad with citrus
Mushroom Risotto
Fromage blanc with fruits

Shredded beet salad with black radishes
Braised fish filet with lemon butter and chives
Panier de tartiflette (this is a baked pastry wrapping sauteed veggies, ham & cheese)

Cukes & beet salad
Chicken cutlet with sauce normandy
Carrots Vichy
Pont l'eveque (cheese)
Fruit tart

Duck mousse in brioche
Paupiette of fish
Steamed potatoes and broccoli

Of course, they are also offered fresh bread and water with their meal. Now I can just hear everyone saying ... American kids won't eat that. But the question is ... why?

Kids mirror what they see. What they're taught. Using information presented. Yes, my kids didn't have a school lunch program. But in Kindergarten and beyond, they had a garden program. Each class had a tiny plot and they grew veggies and then after they were ready to harvest, they prepared things to eat with them. They saw food that didn't come from a freezer bin or vending machine. Alice Waters, of Chez Panisse fame, has launched numerous efforts in an attempt to improve American eating habits. one of them is The Edible Schoolyard, an organic garden project for a public middle school in Berkeley where students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting and preparing seasonal produce. Her daughter Fanny attended school with my kids, maybe she got some of her inspiration there?

Hopefully, you know that Michelle Obama is championing children's health and reducing childhood obesity. Her lofty goal is to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation. She's launched the Let's Move Project and is advocating other governmental actions. Like reaffirming the Childhood Nutrition Act which includes increasing the budget for each school lunch by a whopping 6¢ a meal (instead of the desired $1). wow. But anyway, her ideas are outlined here. And who hasn't seen the first family fooling around in the White House garden? (free material for Randal..ha)

This seems to also be the point of Jamie Oliver's new TV program in the states ... judging from reactions I've seen, he's pissed a few people off...and I know, I know celebucrap can be irritating but apparently the UK witnessed some big changes after he did a similar effort there. The school lunch system got a big boost of cash and other changes are underway. Here's an interesting NYT article on the subjects of Jamie and the 1st Lady.

One startling fact that is being broadcast via Jamie Oliver's show is that this is the first generation of American kids that is not expected to live as long as their parents. Think on that for a bit and tell me if improving eating habits is important or not.

Oh. and which one would you rather eat? (photos of recent, real school lunches from the U.S. and France, credited to anon blogger mentioned above and Deborah Madison, local foods advocate).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

fabulous discovery!

today, trolling about the internet while coughing in bed and watching CSPAN ... I stumbled across a treasure trove of information, gorgeously organized on a new-to-me blog by another American woman in France. Paris to be exact. I'm sure there are lots of very interesting articles. This one I found because David Lebovitz (another recently discovered blog) wrote a snippet about a restaurant in Paris, a comment there led me to Foreign Parts.

She has written a series of 5 articles addressing the differences between the U.S. and France in regards to Health Care and Taxes. She not only beautifully illustrates these differences, but debunks many long-held theories re: socialized medicine, the tax impact of a gov't involved system, etc. etc. What an eye opener and very clearly presented.

I don't know enough to have done the research myself...I've shared a few updates re: my personal experiences...But trust me, she's done such a good job that any of you remotely interested in said subject MUST read her articles.

This link will take you to the 5th article and if you scroll down just a bit, you'll see links to posts 1-4.

Very well done indeed, Ms. J. A. Getzlaff. I look forward to reading more. And I think your blog will inspire me to be a bit more serious about my own writing and research. So very thorough you are!

Friday, March 19, 2010

doctor visit

so, pretty much without warning, my cold or flu returned with a vengeance early Monday morning. I awoke with a sore throat. At first I thought it might be because I smoked a couple of cigs Sunday but no...by afternoon, my fever, sneeze, coughs were in full bloom.

I decided to wait and see how it progressed. I hoped because I had been sick before maybe this was just a few leftovers. Tuesday was my date for the eye doctor, but coincidentally ... the doctor rescheduled due to a personal emergency. Frankly, I didn't feel like going anyway.

I'm not sure, but maybe it is being American and dealing with that crap health system...I seem ingrained to just try and ride things out. Health care providers make it so difficult and unappealing to see a doctor that even those that have coverage don't always get the best of care ... it is often just too much work. But when an earache also developed.... I caed.

Wednesday morning, after a night of coughing and general malaise...(and rather testy commentary from Jean-Yves)...I called the doctor. I was given an appointment for the afternoon. Simple as that, even though my doctor is on maternity leave... I arrived and waited about 30-40 minutes to be seen. The waiting room held 3 folks in front of me. The doctor was profusely apologetic as I entered! I, on the other hand, was just thankful and impressed to not have been sent to some emergency room or clinic somewhere.

She examined me, chatted and also gave me a referral for another minor situation I had been meaning to make an appointment for (skin related, if you must know...nosy articles... heh heh). I paid my 22€, 21€ of which will be reimbursed due to my mutuelle.

She gave me 2 prescriptions and I went on to the pharmacie. I have yet to receive my plastic card, but my pharmacie just gathered my paper cards, looked me up in the system, registered me and handed me a bag with my drugs. I thought for sure I would have to pay and then be reimbursed, but no. Not a penny!

Today, the doctor phoned for a brief follow-up.

She had also helpfully suggested I call on my Carte Vitale since I couldn't remember if I sent in a photo or not. If not, that is the reason for the delay.

I started the antibiotics last night, but had a horrible night of coughing with a very painful throat and chest. When she called, she said that hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

I started back on the Fervex because it helps me sleep.

I'm still kind of in shock and yet overwhelmingly grateful regarding my health care. I earn it through my residency status where I pay into the system according to French laws. I also think, given my positive experiences, I'll be more inclined to use the system due to its ease. In more cynical lands, this is considered a bad thing. Here, "c'est normal" to use your docteur to support your good health.

Also, just as a side note, because some have inquired. I am paying 30€ a month for a mutuelle. The more I think about it, the less I think I really needed it. Many French I know use only the government provided care. Their most important needs are covered fully (for instance, hospital, etc. is fully reimbursed). The mutuelle adds add'l reimbursement for your doctor visit. Everyone is reimbursed about 17€ for their visit (or really, pays 5€ and presents their card, the doctors are reimbursed the rest). The prescriptions are reduced. Eyeglasses and dental visits are partially reimbursed as well.

A mutuelle reimburses the difference between what the government has alloted for basic things like dr. visits, etc. Also, a policy will for instance, allow you to have a private hospital room or 2 bed room instead of maybe being in a room with 4 beds (completely covered by gov't). Or you can choose a private hospital or therapy clinic versus the public facility. So you get more frills and non-critical gaps filled. The more seriously ill you are, the more the government covers (because these life-threatening situations such diabetes, cancer, etc. are the most expensive). Also certain individuals with inability to pay are reimbursed 100%.

The coverage is regularly evaluated and I have heard some French bemoan the fact that certain things are no longer covered completely (like kinotherapy, etc.). The government sets the rates for all basic procedures. And this is where, if one has the need or desire for those things ... or maybe more frequently visits a doctor (like an older person) one would by the add'l policy.

But every resident in France qualifies for and receives a standard level of care that is extremely good and very efficient. I think I may have gone into overkill mode. This year, with the mutuelle, I intend to get new eyeglasses and catch up on deferred dental visits, etc.

But, other than this recent illness, in general I'm not sure if the extra money for the mutuelle is warranted unless those 'extras' are required.

I'm certainly no expert on either system, but overall it is simple to see all the many benefits to the patients and citizens.

Here are some links to articles on the system here. Another big difference between France and the U.S. is how they treat 'emergency' care. The French use doctors in emergency vehicles which are more fully equipped to not only assess and stabilize a patient on site (the US system with EMTs)... but can fully treat more scenarios to the point of sometimes avoiding the hospital altogether ... or get a patient on a treatment regime and straight to a hospital bed vs. an emergency room (another step in the process).

Business Week article

Another summary

Thursday, March 18, 2010

sorry folks...

I've had a relapse of illness and have just been too wiped out ... tired ... uninspired ... and burdened with coughing fits and fever to blog.

I have an appointment with the doctor this afternoon, hopefully it will result in some sort of miracle drug to get me back to the land of living ...

at which point I'll try and up my content appropriately to earn your forgiveness.... xx

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I have been SO cold all day, it is painful!

yes I have heat etc. but for some reason I just haven't been able to get warm ... hand and feet of ice. un peu de misére!

JY started a new project/client in Brantôme last Friday and we have been sharing morning coffee and lunch. so much is going on with mon monsieur and his spirits have been somewhat low. Not sleeping well hasn't helped him much. Monday, he brought his chainsaw and trimmed trees as well as cut up the big old pear tree that fell in the winter's storms. I spent the afternoon hauling and stacking wood, pruning up all the fallen branches and stacking them for kindling, and doing general yard cleanup. 3 hours of good exercise.

Yesterday, we decided to forego working...fired up 2 heaters in the kitchen and just hung out, surfed online, etc.

I made us a nice lunch with good wine and afterwards we started off for a walk around town that ended up being a 10+km hike in the hills for about 3 hours. (It was a bit warmer yesterday and the walking stirred our blood and body temps!). By the end of our 'balade', he was smiling and in better spirits. He returned home to his first good night's sleep in weeks. Bon! for both of us the activity and fresh air does wonders!

And today the temperature has dipped. The most activity I could muster up motivation for was washing my windows and vacuuming. I'm hoping after lunch I'll feel warmer? more energetic? and will boot my own butt back out to the garden to plant the lavender and hydrangeas I bought. and maybe mow the grass.

The sun seems to be peeking out but it is still so cold.....Jean-Yves made me a big fire plus we had some pineau de charente to try and kick-start some bloodwarming....

I'm having guests for lunch on Sunday and I'm going to do an Indian feast of sorts. I'm planning lamb curry, kashmiri chicken, aloo gobi, raita, salad, naan and can't decide on dessert...found a wonderful recipe for cardamom and nut ice cream but in this glacial weather, don't know. maybe a simple fromage blanc with an interesting coulis. also need something fun for a starter. ideas?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

this ticks me off

and I don't care who knows it.

a number of "shopping services" are sprouting up in the region ... not the individual shopping sites like Amazon and eBay...

no, these are businesses ... mostly British from what I can garner, that are specializing in delivering groceries and the like from UK sources to customers in France.

yeah, free market and all of that. but it really pisses me off for some reason. I mean here they are, these ahem "expats" ... living here, benefiting from the positives that France has to offer (country lifestyle, inexpensive property rates, great health care) and pretty much shopping exclusively from outside the country.

Daily groceries. electronics. furniture. paint. do-it-yourself products. clothing. etcetera. this doesn't begin to address the exclusive mentality of using 'services' (building, maintenance, pubs, etc) owned by fellow expats vs. the locals.

I mean really? ASDA? Tesco? Sainsbury? Marks & Spencer? seriously?

it is no wonder so many French here in my area, anyway, have such a negative impression of the expat community.

don't even get me started on speaking French.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

another Saturday night and ...

another week under the belt ... got a little of this and a little of that going on.

Jean-Yves and I have spring fever and winter is on its way back (maybe another round of snow in the coming week!!) the minute the sun peeks out we drop everything and follow the rays ... as deceptive as they might be.

we chase rainbows and brainstorm and plot escapes and dream even bigger dreams, giggling as we conspire.

We had a truly disheartening lunch ... we were on our way to a favorite little café near the river in Perigueux when monsieur decided he craved "Thai" (HA, like that exists in Perigueux) and dragged me back to a pseudo-chinese/thai/suzy wan affair. To make matters worse, it was close to 2:00 and they serve buffet-style, consequently everything had been sitting there for awhile. Their 'nems' and 'spring rolls' were past their prime. Their gloppy sauces were congealing. There was one semi-tasty chicken dish (basically fried chicken pieces) and some noodles that were passable. There was a dry fried prawn dish that might have been okay when first it was served ... but had gone a bit damp and rubbery.

somebody needs to clue me in to the asian hole-in-the-wall, authentic restaurant that must exist in Perigueux. There is a sufficient number of Asian inhabitants to warrant that. The 2 I know of are industrialized, watered down messes with horribly cranky (asian) employees.

Afterwards, we died of thirst all afternoon, most likely due to the high salt and MSG content. erg.

then we went over to Decathlon (a sporting goods store) and tried on a million things for a thousand different sports and cracked ourselves up. purchased nary a stitch! on to another shoe store ... where for a millisecond I was aflutter, viewing the sign 'troisieme pair, 1€'... only to realize that I had no need nor budget for 3 pairs of new shoes ... even if the 3rd pair were only 1€! my how times have changed!

we then meandered through Grand Frais (the closest thing to Whole Foods in the French countryside ...), I bought some cilantro and lemongrass (!!) and then we shared a coffee and more laughs.

another day, JY brought lunch here ... heh heh ... we started with pickled pig's trotters, french style (!) ... continued with rabbit and cepes in creme sauce. I pitched in a salad and rice. After coffee, we hiked up in the hills behind Brantôme for about an hour or so... there are at least half a dozen well marked routes surrounding our village ... most with some fine views and all in the country air.

This week I've pretty much wrapped up garden clean-up in my big yard ... I've burned several huge piles of clippings. I planted four espaliered apple trees. I have lavender and hydrangeas to put in ... but I'm waiting a week or 2 in case the predicted snow arrives. I've also got potatoes to plant. JY started to rototill (tested the tiller to make sure it survived a winter partially exposed to the elements) and all systems are go to dig up this year's garden plot.

We're working on getting a little online shop up and running ... where I can post some of my favorite frenchy finds at good prices ... and maybe some furniture stuff for locals ... and who knows what else?

Today I biked 20km, spent 3 hours in upholstery class working on my chair, made a pot of chicken tikka masala ... and I'm still debating if music is on tonight's agenda.

I've got to be in the garden, on the bike, or doing some physical labor in the shop daily ... spring is just around the corner which means summer (and swimsuits) are not much further on the horizon....