Monday, December 26, 2011

Early Christmas present

   I had originally wanted to post something before Christmas, cause wishing everyone a Merry Christmas on the 26th just doesn't seem logical. However, I received an early present from Santa that kept me a 'little occupied' the last few days. What was it, you ask?? A car, a puppy, a new camera...(those all flowed off the tongue a little too easily I might add). Nope, Santa brought me a shiny brand new ......calcul. Sounds elegant huh? Well it's not, it's a kidney stone. For those who have had personal experiences with one, there is no need to explain, but for those who haven't, consider yourselves very lucky. Since I am trying to forget the experience as quick as possible, I will go into little detail of the last few days in hopes that I, myself, will forget faster. As I reflect on it now, I consider myself to be very fortunate because of these 3 things : Fatiha-my dear friend and translator for the night, drugs (lots 'o drugs), and Shaun. Now needing a translator may not be in the obvious 'me being an american living in France' kind of way so let me elaborate. I truly believe that a translator is needed even when you are in your own country. Don't know if this happens just to me (please say it ain't so) but when in pain or sick, I often say stupid things, things like, " I just wish to die" or "can they just put me to sleep". So as you see, a translator is not neccesarily needed to directly translate that into french, they are often needed to filter out the stupid things said in the heat of the moment. Of course I really didn't want to die or be put to sleep, what am I a dog?  So Fatiha kindly translated " I just wish to die" into " she is still in some pain, do you have anything else to give her?" Followed by translating " can they just put me to sleep?" into " she wishes to feel a little more tired, is there anything you have to help her rest comfortably?"  Having her there was priceless, with out her, I am sure I would still be there making even more stupid statements and embarassing all Americans. The drugs, self explanatory. They helped.... a lot...period. Yes, they made me sick but were worth every part of it. Last but not least, I am very thankful for Shaun. Now this all happened while Shaun was on the road so he couldn't do as much as he would of liked, or at least I am hoping thats what he was thinking. (You never know with Shaun and his poker face). He made my last night in the hospital bearable by bringing me fresh clothes, snacks and things to keep me occupied while I waited to meet my new 'Christmas gift'. After 36 hours in the hospital, my little friend arrived Christmas morning and we were free to leave shortly after to salvage what was left of the day. Turns out we didn't skip a beat. There was enough time to have our turkey dinner and watch all the NBA games.  The optimists out there would say that the passing of the stone on Christmas morning was a gift because I was able to still spend some part of Christmas at home. I look at it as the best gift of all would of been never to receive it in the first place. Me, never been much of an optimist, more of a realist. But what I can tell you is my New Year's resolution will be to DRINK MORE WATER. Happy Holidays!!!

Please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors on this post, as I am still in a mini-fog from the medicine.

Monday, December 19, 2011


      Part of the benefits of living in Toulon is the close proximity to other cities.  We are about 35 miles east of Marseilles, 75 miles west of Cannes, 85 miles west of Nice and 102 miles west of Monaco, with most of those miles being on the highway.  Our highways in France are nothing like the big ones back in the US, with most of them being just two lanes.  Occassionaly, you get stuck behind a semi or a farmer, but it is mostly smooth sailing.  We have come to the conclusion that the french learned that the left lane is only used for passing, which leaves us with the left lanes all to ourselves.  Since Shaun only has 1 practice a day and often has a few days off after a game, we try to get out and see as much as possible in our region.  With these great cities being so close, we make a few 'day-trips' but not as often as you would think. First off, we have tolls on our highways in the south. As soon as you get on the autoroute, your credit card starts smoking. To Nice and back, it is over 25($32) euros in tolls. Then you add in gas. We understand it is all relative, but we laugh sometimes thinking about ourselves scoffing at the gas going up to $3.80 in Atlanta a few years ago. Here, it is close to $8 a gallon, (yes, Harp you read that right, $8). Fortunately our car is diesel, since regular gas is more expensive.  Then, you have the speed cameras..... ah, the speed cameras. Very rarely will you see police/cops on the highway enforcing the speed limit. In fact, I can pretty much count on one hand how many times I have actually seen one in the last 8 years. You see, here in France, the police all ride the same car. Sure, it's probably better for environment etc...blah blah, but it is not uncommon to see a small French police car with at least 4 cops packed inside doing their best 'barrel of monkeys' impression. So, if they actually needed to pull someone over and arrest them, where would that person sit?  And on whose lap?  Wonder what the criteria is for determining that? Back to the speed, on most major highways, there are speed cameras off to the side.   Not only is it clearly marked, but there is a sign a few hundred yards ahead to warn you that there is a speed camera coming up. Seems a little contradictory, doesn't it? Kind of like the police planning a big drug raid for a saturday but 'stopping' by on friday to give them a 'heads-up', I mean who would be stupid enough to stick around until saturday and get caught...? Ummmm, well Shaun and I have received 3 tickets in the last 5 years. See, the timing is like this. You are driving (most likely talking too) and see the first sign that there is a speed camera approaching, so you slow down (stop talking and focus). Some time passes,  you (begin talking again) and look down at your speedometer and think to yourself, 'why am I going this slow?' You speed up, and flash, you just received a ticket. Pretty clever little system they got themselves, huh?
Warning sign
Actual speed camera

Look closely, you will see 4 cops in there..

       However, if there is one city worth all that trouble, it is Nice. Often times, we head to Nice on a sunday to walk on the boardwalk, relax and eat. The boardwalk, or the Promenade des Anglais, runs along the beach for miles and miles in the heart of Nice. It is lined with cafes and little restaurants, benches for relaxing and gazing out at the ocean, and is very active with runners, cyclists and rollerbladers. I always dreamed of having my 'regular' running route be on the Promenade.  For now, I will have to settle for down past the Veterinarian's office in Toulon up to the local Pharmacy and back...something tells me that it's not the same. Just opposite the boardwalk and 'inside' the city are many squares that host flower and antique markets by day, then restuarant's outdoor seating by night. There is a certain energy in Nice. There is something so intriguing about a beautifully architectural city lying 40 yards from the Mediterranean Sea. We have been at all times of the year, and it has something different to offer each time. The last time we went while the weather was still 'beach weather', we rented bikes and strolled up and down the promenade for hours just cruising and people watching. Each time we go, we 'stumble' upon something new that we hadn't seen before. That is the beauty of Nice, you never know what you might find there.
 Architecture in Nice, market and sunset view of the Promenade

Tony, Allyson, Shaun and I on our rent-a-bikes.
A rare 'pearl' we found while people watching..

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Planes, automobiles and trains

     Shaun's team had a game this past weekend on the road. Most of you already know, but if you don't, we live in Toulon. As you can see on the map, Toulon is right on the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France, also known as the French Riviera or Cote d'azur. Well, if you look at the map again, directly east of Paris is a city called Strasbourg. I have never been there but I have heard that Strasbourg is a beautiful city right on the German border with a Christmas market that is known all throughout Europe. They also have a basketball team, the same team Shaun played this last Saturday night.  I initially planned on going since I could see the Christmas market, or I mean Shaun's game, and then if I had time, maybe shoot over to the Christmas market after cheering my heart out at the game...that sounds better, did I redeem myself? So Shaun asked the front office staff the travel details of the trip so maybe I could coincide my trip with theirs. No one seemed to know the exact details of the trip, which in hindsight should of been a big warning sign. However, since this season has been full of ups and downs, we have decided to not jump to any conclusions and only believe the things we see, so we figured the front office maybe 'forgot' the travel itinerary. As the trip crept closer, rumors spread that the team was going to leave the day of the game. Again, these were rumors so we just ignored them, besides, going from Toulon to Strasbourg is pretty much a cross country trip here in France, or an up country trip in this case. Sure enough, to 'save' money and not stay an extra night in a hotel, the team was going to leave Saturday am for a game that night. Besides, the front office said all the hotels were booked. Now, this a team that after going to the play-offs last year and qualifying for a European tournament is just fighting to stay in the first division. This is the same team that has had 4 of their 'main' players pick up and leave due to, ummm I don't know, not getting paid, better offers, and shady stuff that you usually hear about in Greece,  not in France. So to give the team the best chance to win, the front office decided to have the players  meet on Saturday morning at 7am at the gym, then take a flight from Toulon to Paris. But wait, if you refer to the map once again, Paris is not really close to Strasbourg. Aren't there flights from Toulon to Strasbourg one might ask? Well according to the front office, 'yes there are flights, but they were all booked'. I can understand that, since the schedule was made just last week right?...No, it wasn't? Oh, it was made over the summer.  Just for your info, that was the conversation that went on inside my head and I'm sure many of the players' also.  So, we have covered the 'trains' part of the title. Now, onto the automobiles. So from the Paris airport, the team took taxis (automobiles) to the train station. From there, they took a 2 hour and 45 minute train ride to Strasbourg and arrived at 3pm. So all in all,  it took 8 hours to get from Toulon to Strasbourg. The team arrived fresh as can be.....and lost by 30 something. 16 hours later, they did the whole trip all over again in reverse.
   When I had learned of the travel itinerary, I had decided not to make the trip. However, I did do some last minute research and found many flights and hotels rooms available. To rub salt in the wounds, the 'espoir/youth' team that plays before the 'pros'---I use the word 'pros'  lightly, flew from Toulon to Paris. No taxis, no trains. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the son of the club president is the youth team coach? The many things that make you go hmmmm here. Anywhoo, since we did not get to see the Christmas market/ marche de noel in Strasbourg, we/you will have to settle for some pictures we found on the internet.

Marche de Noel

  Also, this is my favorite Christmas commercial. I always annoy Shaun when it comes on because it puts me in this trance-like state...there is something mesmerizing about a Christmas carol sung in French though. Check it out...

Monday, December 12, 2011


The happy couple
et encore..
Dumb dumb du-dumb...any guesses? No, not calling you all dumb just trying to set the mood here.... Yes, those are supposed to be the spellings of the sounds of wedding bells, if that makes sense. A few months back, my wonderful mother met and equally wonderful man, if that's possible, named Randy. And after a speedy courtship, not everybody waits 6 years like we did (if you are really silent, you can actually hear Shaun's eyes rolling at the mention of 6 years) , they decided to make it official and get married. Now, our phonecalls and emails go unanswered for a few days because they are out having the time of thier lives and we couldn't be happier for them. While we couldn't make the ceremony,  commute would of been a little tough for us, we are really excited to be able to spend some quality time with both of them. Oh and another bonus.... Randy also has 3 children so I now have some half-siblings...gotta start working on that 'sharing' concept....better late than never.
Mom and Randy in front of their Christmas tree, just kidding, Happy Holidays from the Hotel Del Coronado

Mom, Randy and Pierce

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It's that time.....

Our tree..

     For me, we are in the midst of the best part of the year, the holiday season. Don't get me wrong, I love all that the other seasons have to offer, warm weather, the beach, Valentine's Day (hint hint) but those all seem like so much more of a blur than right now. If Halloween kicks off the holidays in the US, it kind of sputters and hints something is to come here in France. I only found pumpkins the day before Halloween and you might find a brown leafy basket decorating a store front window with a ghost in it...cause that makes sense. It is still a very new 'holiday' here in France, however I can tell you it has come a long way since we have been here. Now, we only have 2 or 3 older teenagers showing up in regular clothes at our door asking for 'bon bons', they're getting there. So one can assume that in another 20 years, they will be where we were 10 years ago. That is the difference between the US and France. In the US, we seem to be more about the commercial part of holidays than the sentiments. While we recognize this, it is still tough to change. We may live here, but we are still Americans at heart.  I did find a pumpkin this year and carved it. By the next night it was mush so maybe they knew what they were doing all along.
     Thanksgiving is another stop on the holiday train for us. Every year we do a head count of the americans/semi-americans, and or players that look really really thin on Shaun's team and start planning how many people are going to be eating with us and what day we will do it.  Pretty sure I am not fooling anyone by saying we do the head count and planning but it is our blog so I will carry on. We usually have to postpone it to sunday since the team practices thursdays (you would be amazed at how many people from the US are suprised that they have practice on such an important holiday as Thanksgiving......hmmm). Since the team is a revolving door this year ( read... we have no idea who is actually on the team until practice starts) and no one appeared to be too skinny, it was just 4 of us.  Although there was not a cranberry in sight, it went great.  But, it's not always smooth sailing.  Last year,  I ordered a 10 kilo (22lb) turkey for the 10-11 people we were expecting and when I went to pick it up, I should of known something wasn't right by the signs I was getting. No one would look me in the eye and some even pretended not to understand my french, can you believe that!!??  For those of you who don't already know, the french are masters at not being able to understand you if your accent isn't just perfect. It is not until they repeat the word out loud, often times identical to how you had just said it, do they finally recognize it while making you look like a fool in the process.  Back to the story.  Finally, a brave soul in the back, yelled/mumbled out ,"It wasn't possible, sorry." This was after I confirmed a gazillion times and did many 'drive bys' just to make sure the store was still there. BUT they told me it was going to be alright and not to worry.  They couldn't get me a 9 kilo turkey but they could, wait for it, get me 3 smallers ones. To which I replied, " oh great, and will that be coming with 3 ovens too." You can't win 'em all over here, you got to pick and choose your battles and mine wasn't going to be over 3 small turkeys so we made it work.
Hot chocolate chalet
The chalets
     For Christmas, each city has their own little 'Christmas village' they put up usually in the center of the city. Normally, they consist of little chalets selling all sorts of regional trinkets and food, an ice skating rink, Christmas trees decorated and of course, Santa. While at Chez Feins, we have our tree up and already decorated by Thanksgiving, I swear I am part Griswold, they wait all the way until the beginning of December to put up the villages. The closer it is to Christmas, the more crowded they get so we decided to head over early and check them out. There really is nothing too special about each village. They all sell hot wine, which I buy every year and then feel a bit sick after drinking it, cheese, sausages, roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate, churros, flavored oils and crepes. For the most part, they are all pretty similiar...or so we thought. Our Marche de Noel in Toulon had something I have never seen at any other marche, or anywhere else for that matter. We had a guy dressed up as 'who knows what' with cats on his arms and head. He didn't do anything. He didn't sing. He didn't dance. He barely moved, and the worst part was, he only moved to motion that in order to take pictures of him, you had to give him a coin. We locked eyes and he could tell I wasn't going to pay, so I had to keep it movin' while trying to take the pictures...sorry.

Weird cat man
Our tree
Me with the hot wine..before feeling sick.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The 'Tony Parker' game.....

Most of you already know by now that the NBA lock out ended earlier this week and you even may have heard that many NBA players had gone overseas to play while the lock out was still going. Some players went to China, some went to Turkey, while others went back to their 'home' countries to play. As you could imagine, the lock out has had an effect on many things in the US, not just the players and owners. Parking companies, security companies, and a number of other smaller aspects were impacted by the lack of games earlier this season. As I said earlier, many of the foreign players in the NBA returned to play in leagues in their 'home' countries. Being 'French', Tony Parker decided to play for the team he is a part owner in over here in France, Asvel. Now the french have a habit of claiming people as their own when they succeed, but not so much when they perform not up to their standards. Tony was born in Belgium, so to me, I am pretty sure it makes him Belgian, but hey, what do I know?  My french is not perfect but I am pretty sure I heard many a Tony Parker-Eva Longoria -Affair and BELGIAN in the same sentences last year, so you be the judge. Back to basketball, so Shaun's team has struggled in the front office area of the, error in judgements, having a real hard time telling the truth know, the normal stuff in european basketball. Well, the front office all got together and thought that the Asvel game and the appearance of Tony Parker was going to fix all that. They advertised the game as a 'gala'- still trying to figure out what that means( might wear my prettiest dress to be prepared) and even bumped the price of tickets up from 5-10 euros a game to 3x that. They saw that every time a team played against Asvel, the game was sold out, so they were going to strike while the iron was hot. The longer the lock out continued the more the front office could feel, or even taste, the money from the game. Sales of tickets were up and they were even not giving players their extra tickets for friends and family that is in their contracts so they could sell those tickets and make that extra little money.( For those of you who don't know, guaranteed contracts in France often double as a coaster for their coffees or a starter for their evening fire.) We have even received phone calls from people, can't even say friends, asking for Tony Parker tickets. When Shaun says, " Oh, for the Asvel game?" They say, " No, for the Tony Parker game." So Shaun's team is playing Asvel this weekend...... cruel twist of fate.  6 days before the game, the lock out ends and the NBA'ers are gone.  Poof, no Tony Parker, poof, no Turiaf,  just the regular 'ol Asvel team. I'm sure some people who paid the extra money to see Tony Parker are upset, who knows,  might even hear a few Tony Parker and Belgian comments in the same sentence...This will be Shaun's first game back from injury, so for me, it is not the 'Tony Parker' game, it is the 'Shaun Fein Returns' game.

Last but not least.......

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Someone's birthday......


Exactly 13 years ago a little peanut was born, yes, I said 13. I will spell it out for you to emphasize the most important part of word thir-TEEN.  Did you get that Mick? A teenager, boy you are in trouble...... That little peanut is our beautiful and smart niece Jacklyn. Every day she suprises us with how grown up she has become. It is great living over in France, don't get me wrong, but these are the times that make you realize what you are missing. It seemed like only yesterday that Shaun received a call at 4 in the morning from Mickey saying they welcomed a beautiful baby girl named Jacklyn Collins Fein. Fast forward 6 years to us visiting the family in Martin, Tn and us watching Jack's softball game on a nasty windy cold spring day. Through out the game, Jacklyn needed to use the bathroom and since I was the only girl there, I would take her. The first few times, she was in and out and back to the field. But as it got colder, there seemed to be a direct correlation to her needing to use the bathroom and the weather getting worse. So on our 4th trip in 20 minutes, we walk into the bathroom and she shuts the door and turns around, gets into a batter's stance and I think to myself, 'ok, where is this going?'  She says to me, "I think I am gonna practice my swing in here." ( insert mature matter of fact voice) I was torn between getting warm, because she had a point... it was nice and toasty in the bathroom, and wanting Uncle Shaun to see her in action on the field. So we took a few practice swings, enought to get her warm ( I only wanted what was best for her) and then headed back out to the field. Although I knew it before, that really showed me she was my kind of girl. Fast forward another 6-7 years and now we get skype calls from Jacklyn just to 'catch up and see how we are doing' -her exact words (again with that mature matter of fact voice). Next thing you know, we are gonna blink and she is gonna be driving. But wait, that may be perfect timing because we have the shiniest (in some parts) green Jetta waiting in our car port for her 16th birthday. I'm sure all of you who are familiar with the 'green bean' see that last statement as more of a threat than a promise, but hey, what could be better than having a 'vintage' car as your first car?!? But back to Jack, we are extremely proud of her and all of her accomplishments. She continues to be a perfect student while playing sports and above all, is a really good person down to her soul. Wish we could be there to celebrate with you and we love you Jack!!! Who knows, we will probably get a skype call tonight on her birthday just to see how we are doing, cause that's just how Jack rolls.....
13 going on I said Mick, you're in trouble.
The crew last summer on the Cape after jumping off a bridge into the water. While Uncle Shaun was scared to do it, 12 1/2 year old Jack did it ....a few times.

Ty-fry on the cape, even he wanted to jump...