Sunday, October 21, 2012

Huit Cent Quatre-Vingt et Un Jours a Sceaux (881 Days in Sceaux)

First, my health update.  The leg is perfectly fine now.  No injury to the tendon -- it was under duress due to the swelling in the area.  Running is back to normal, though now interrupted by jet lag recovery.

Re-reading books on technical topics often brings new information and clarity. Running is a technical topic. I have been using my low heart rate target as a workout average target. Re-reading the book, I realized that my heart rate target is to be the MAXIMUM, and I am to work from that heart rate and 10 bpm below that number. I was progressing, but not as well as I had hoped, and the book explains that a sustained breaching of the target will retard my results. With all the hills I have to run, it means incorporating a lot of walking -- for now. Theory states (and the guy who wrote the book has trained many Ironman champions and scores of triathletes) that in time, I will run the hills without exceeding the target HR.

I went to Houston on business a couple of days after my last posting.  I was "back home" for almost two weeks.  It was great being back with family -- Pam and I watched Brady and Anna Belle (our grandchildren) for five days while mommy and daddy were out of town on a business trip (OK, I worked during the days, so Pam did the bulk of the "watching").  We had fun with the kids, they are so endearing, but also recognize the reasons why it is best have children when one is young.

The business trip was quite productive, but very busy as it involved multiple meetings with different groups.  I find myself surprised now as to how much time is lost driving in Houston from one meeting to another.  I worked there for 18 years, of course, and such travel was just a part of its fabric.  Now, coming back into it, I see it in a different perspective.

Another perspective has struck me as I travel back to the USA -- the freshness and rawness of "The New World".  There is a certain charm about the ages-old places in Europe; I am not suggesting otherwise.  Pragmatically, however, centuries-old cities and towns (way older than our nation!) have led to infrastructures so very, very dated, and too expensive to completely re-vamp and re-tool.  Those tiny streets are there because tearing down old, even utilitarian, buildings involves too much expense, for example.  There are hard limits as to what can be done.  Outside the core of such cities and towns, newer ideas on planning and infrastructure are employed.  This works well in the greater metro areas of the larger cities, but most of the small towns seem stuck in the 18th century.  On the contrary, coming back to the USA, and especially the western USA, SPACE is the first thing one notices, then the newness of everything, then the planning of communities.  Believe it or not, it just seems more well-ordered.  It evokes a sense of possibilities and new adventures.  Do not get me wrong, I love visiting various places here in France and Europe, and meeting what few I have the opportunity to engage -- it is fresh to me, in that moment.  But I also know, the Lord willing, that should I return in 20 years, things will not have changed much at all; there is a loss in the sense of dynamism.

I do not know how many of you ever watched the movie "The Neverending Story".  "The Nothingness" threatens to overtake the world of Fantasia, and the little boy reading the book is Fantasia's only real hope.  October in the Ile-de-France is like The Nothingness overtaking Fantasia.  The sunshine is gone, gray and rain dominate the days.  By the end of this month, we will already be down to less than 10 hours of "sun" each day.  We are at 10:28 hours of sun now (sunrise 8:21 to sunset 18:49), and lose about 3.5 minutes a day.  I know the sunshine has gone to Morocco, and it will be back sometime around April.

Fortunately, I return to the USA for more business next weekend, and will be there almost three weeks.  While this wrecks my sleep patterns, drinking in the sun will be nice, as well as the additional time with Pam, the girls, the family, and friends.

A bientot,


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Huit Cent Soixante Jours a Sceaux (860 days in Sceaux)

OK, when I said I was going to do better, I did not mean almost a month between posts!  I meant "better" better!  Oh well, as Walt Disney said, "Keep moving forward".  We will do a little reverse order on this one, just for the sake of mental gymnastics.

This weekend has beautiful weather, but it remains boring and depressing.  Why?  I cannot go out into the sun for a nice long walk.  I have an injury to rest, and I have just reached the age that I accept the reality that my injury will heal faster if I let it rest.  Seriously though, matters could have been worse.  Details follow, in edited excerpts to family.

I suffered a little pain in my right shin muscle while running in Avignon (around the wall of the old city).  There was a spot of very uneven ground, and though I did not twist an ankle, I felt a pull on the shin.  It got tighter as the day went on, including yesterday.  I massaged it a bit, noticed a little edema, reminded myself to hydrate better...

I ran just over 8 miles this past Tuesday, with mild discomfort from the same area -- to be expected from a strained muscle, but did not hurt enough to force me to alter my gait.  It was a good run.  When I showered, I noticed the area was red.  This was not a strained muscle or tendon.  I did some quick checking on the Internet, and determined it was either thrombosis or a bacterial infection under the skin.  Both recommended immediate visit to the doctor.

I do have a doctor here, who signed for my medical approval to run the half-marathon in March.  I had to wait four hours to get in, and the doctor determined it was mostly likely the bacterial infection.  I am on an antibiotics regime for 14 days (currently on day 5), and getting 7 days of injections to thin the blood to prevent thrombosis from the clearing of the infection.  Yes, the doctor thoroughly inspected the area for "access", inspecting my feet (I have not run fully barefoot in a few weeks), and she could find no source point -- my hygiene is good.

After only 3 days of antibiotics, the redness has reduced.  The regime will continue, however.

We did an ultrasound on the affected area, and found no sign of abscess, but evidence of edema -- caused by the trauma of that one bad step I described at the beginning of the original e-mail.

The tendon itself is in tension, with the swelling around it forcing that state.  You can actually feel the tendon vibrate a bit when extend my toes or pull them back.  Running is out for awhile.  It was not running too much, or the wrong way, but one bad step...

I had to, at doctor's orders ("I am your captain", she said.  I then reminded her there is a song of similar name by Grand Funk Railroad), get blood tests done yesterday.  The clinic for drawing the blood opens at 0800 on Saturdays, and it opened exactly on time.  I was the first of about 20 to go in.  They verified my information, and in two minutes I was in having blood drawn.  Less than 10 minutes later, I was out the door.  Did I mention my doctor is the only one of these people who speaks English?  I had to do the ultrasound and blood test trips in French, and my French is not good.  I simply ask, "Parlez-vous anglais?"  (Do you speak English), and when they indicate they do not, I reply, "Je ne parle pas francais tres bien, patientez, s'il vous plait" (I do not speak French very well, be patient, please).  We managed to get everything done.

The leg continues to improve with the rest, and it is very good news that it is not a bacterial issue, which would have been far more serious.  I appreciate my doctor here, and the interest and concern and genuine care she has provided, including working me into her busy schedule, yet never making me feel she was hurried.

As I mentioned earlier, I went to Avignon last weekend.  Avignon is a beautiful city, and the old part the city is surrounded by its medieval wall. Avignon is known as the city of the Popes. It is an old, beautiful, vibrant city.  The old wall is still intact around the old part of the city, which made for a nice 5km run.  I stayed in a hotel in the heart of the city, which had been renovated to modern rooms by replacing the wall which faced an old alley and blending the new section as part of a new garden area for relaxing and dining.  You can see pictures of Avignon and the some of the hotel here.

I visited the surrounding areas (all part of the Rhone river valley -- the Rhone passes the old city of Avignon), including Chateauneuf-de-Pape (the world renowned wine region) and "Les Gorges de l'Ardeche" -- The Gorges of the Ardeche river.  The vineyards were full and ready for harvest, backdropped by the Alps, and the gorges were rugged and beautiful, with the still, deep Ardeche adding a welcoming calm at each bend.

Two weekends before last, I traveled to Perpignan to witness the vendange -- the harvesting of the grapes.  The regions around Perpignan, really, from the Spanish border to almost Nice, is simply full of vineyards.  It reminds one of the vast agricultural region of the San Joaquin Valley in California.  Much of it is harvested by hand, predominately local French of all ages, but mostly young, who avail themselves to a local labor cooperative, which in turn works out the scheduling of harvesting teams with the owners of the vineyards.  The vendage is about a two month effort.  Some vineyards have terrain which can accommodate machine harvesting, but the bulk of it is still done the old way.  I was able to lend a hand in harvesting a 100 meters row of 65 year old Carignan vines.  It is hard work, and everyone associated with the winery is involved in this "sweat equity" portion of the business.  For my hard work (really, my contribution was nothing), I drove on down to Banyuls-sur-Mer for a lunch overlooking the Mediterranean.  I really enjoy southern France, all of it, from Spain to the Rhone valley.  It is the place of the sun for France, and the people are friendly, speak more slowly (which really helps me), and have a more easy-going view of life, not unlike the American South.

So this catches me up, and on Wednesday I fly to Texas for business, but of course I get to stay with the family at Chateau Puckett a rue Moulin de Hickory...

a bientot!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Huit cent trente deux jours a Sceaux (832 days in Sceaux)

I know, it is been a long time since I have blogged. Since the end of February, if you are counting. It is not as though nothing has happened between now and then, but I confess my motivation has been lacking. And I think this has much to do with the loading at work and the stress of living in a foreign country – even one as nice as France.

All of that aside, however, as I feel the juices flowing again, and I will continue to blog and chronicle my life here in France. Rather than take you through week by week since my last blog, I thought I would do it in two sections: Spring and Summer. I will give you month by month highlights of each. And as September signals the beginning of autumn in France, I promise to do a better job of keeping up-to-date.



One key milestone for me during my stay in Paris was running in the half marathon of Paris. Two other colleagues and I signed up for this event, which occurred in early March. The day was completely overcast, and temperatures were in the mid-40s, which is perfect for running long distances. The winter had been hard, as noted in previous blogs, and training opportunities were scarce. I thought I would be traveling on business during the time of the half marathon, and had not put a lot of additional effort into preparation. My business travel was subsequently canceled, I decided to keep my commitment to run in the half marathon event with my colleagues. I knew I wasn't completely ready for this event, but on the other hand, how bad could it be? A half marathon is 13.1 miles, and I had run 10 miles on several occasions. Race day came.

I must say, there's more to running in such an event than meets the eye. Over 30,000 people signed up to run in this event. They broke us into stages, based on our own estimated times of completion. This meant that I was running with only 8000 of my closest friends. It was a very well conducted event, and I have no complaints about any aspect of the event. We jogged about a quarter of a mile to the starting line, with our electronically activated numbers signaling our time as we cross the start line. It was all too easy to get caught up in what everybody else was doing. I feel like I'm a generally relaxed runner, which is important for long-distance running. Any extra tension you carry, you carry a long way, and it eventually consumes you. I still have some work to do to be a fully relaxed runner, and I'm making progress. This day, however, my weaknesses were exposed. I ran tense. By the time I got halfway through the race, my legs felt completely beaten up. I never had that feeling, at least not in the previous 12 months. I did not run my race, I did not run the way I normally run, I lost focus. There's a lot to be learned in this experience. It was a good experience, though my performance was very disappointing to me. So often, in life, we learn most from our failures.

March was not a complete bust. For the end of March, the daughter of my best friend Jack came for a visit, along with her boyfriend. Rachel and Daniel were excellent guests. I enjoyed spending time with them. I was reminded of this scene from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" when Sean Connery's character told Harrison Ford's character, his son, "you left, just when you are getting interesting". We all struggle raising teenagers, and about the time we can breathe again and began to enjoy them, they move on with their lives, and we do not see them nearly enough. Jack and I talked about raising children almost daily for as long as I can remember. He knows the struggles I had with my girls, and I know the struggles that he had with his three girls and one boy. But spending a few days with Rachel and Daniel, made me realize the struggles are always worth it, that our labors were not in vain, and they do turn into wonderful people. Rachel and Daniel stayed a few days as a part of their European tour. While they visited all the key tourist attractions of Paris, they said they enjoyed their time in Sceaux a great deal, because it was far more relaxed, it gave them a much different flavor for France. I cannot agree more. After Sceaux, they went on down to the region of France known as Northern Catalonia, near Spain, for a couple days before heading off to Switzerland and Germany.


April began with the exit of Rachel and Daniel, and it was largely an uneventful month for me, except for the fact that I turned 55. It is not as though I did not expect this day to come eventually, but I find it hard to imagine that I'm really that old. I certainly do not feel it. I'm a stronger today than when I was 18 or 20, I can run further than I've ever run in my life, I still get excited about learning new things, and I still refuse to quit trying to make things better, even when they appear hopelessly broken.

Just prior to my birthday, I was at a geophysics workshops for Schlumberger in Cambridge, England. Before returning to Paris, I invited a colleague and his daughter to come to Paris with me. They had planned to stay in London for a few extra days, but when I offered Paris as an alternative, his daughter won. She got to see Paris, and I had someone with whom to enjoy my birthday dinner. We went to a little restaurant in Sceaux, one that had just opened the previous year. The food was exquisite, and the service was excellent. They don't see many Americans out here, and were anxious to practice their own English, just as I was anxious to continue in my struggles with French. Everything worked out.


May was a quiet month, it is also a bit of a laughable month for expatriates in France. There are something on the order of five national holidays in May, making it nearly impossible to have any continuity of work. On these national holidays, our offices are basically on lockdown. One cannot go and work in his office even if he was the president of the company. Our administrative assistants have to constantly remind us of these office closures. I did take advantage of one such closure, and visited the castle at Chenonceau. This was my first official trip into the Loire Valley, which is a valley filled with castles along the Loire and the Cher rivers. France has a beautiful countryside, and it should not be missed.



June was a fun month, because the family came to visit. Pam, Michelle, Megan, Brady, and Anna Belle all came to stay with me in France. We had a great time, beginning with a trip to Euro Disney and having dinner with all the characters at Mickey's Café. I held a reception for them at the apartment, inviting a handful of French friends when we had met during our initial move into the apartment. Everyone had a great time. We then got on the high-speed train and went to the south of France, to my favorite region of Northern Catalonia. I was able to get hotel rooms right on the beach, and we enjoyed the advantage of early summer. Europeans usually vacation in July and August, so June is a "get ready" month in the vacation spots. There were not many tourists, so no long lines, and no long waits. And of course, the proprietors were excited to have customers, especially a big group of American customers. We spent several days in the South of France before boarding the train to return to Paris. Megan and I did a walking tour of Paris, where she got the sample her first escargot. After the kids and the girls returned to the USA, Pam and I took a little excursion to Switzerland. We spent our time in the Interlaken region. We got to explore some small villages, enjoy the comfort of a secluded cabin at the hotel where we stayed, and traveled to the top of the Schlithorn for breakfast. The restaurant on top of the Schlithorn was featured in the movie "Her Majesty's Secret Service", a James Bond movie. I did not realize that movie was from the very late 60s, it does not seem that long ago. One of the things we enjoyed was sitting in a restaurant in Interlaken and watching the paragliders land. This is apparently a very active sport around the Alps, and we sat on the terrace of the restaurant with front row seats to the action.

After the family returned to the USA, there was one more event in June: the farewell dinner to our VP of personnel. He was moving to take any position in Rio de Janeiro. He is a very outgoing individual, and the standard operating procedure would be to take him and his wife to a fancy restaurant with the staff. He is not, however, very standard, and I mean that in a very good way. He decided to host his own farewell dinner with a cookout at his house. Moreover, our interoffice band was invited to play. Our band has three guitar players and one bass player. We're still looking for drummer. The name of our band is Group 7, which is a failure code in our operations manual. It means "equipment not at fault". I'll let you think about that one…


It seems that Europe has been under cloud cover since before Christmas, and that includes the so-called spring and summer months. I was glad to be going to Texas in early July to complete some testing on a new piece of equipment. I thought to myself, "sunshine, sunshine, sunshine, and some heat… I will finally taste some summer". I was wrong. I was in Texas for two weeks, and experienced 11 days of rain and three days of cloudy weather. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see the sun again. Although it was a busy time for work, it was still nice to be home and be with family in our familiar settings. The time there did not last long enough, and I had to return to France for work. I did manage to squeeze in healthy portions of Tex-Mex, and Mick and I did 26 miles of road work during my stay, most of the barefoot (for both of us).

I continued my running once I returned to France. I did almost no running in June with the family here. Beginning with the running in July in Texas, I have been doing low heart rate running. Which means I keep my heart rate totally in the aerobic zone throughout the run. This is supposed to build what they call an "aerobic base" for distance running. Initially, the running pace is very slow, but it is supposed to gradually increase over several months. I will be following this regime through the rest of the year. I set a goal of running 80 miles in July, but only made 71 miles. I am seeing some improvement in my aerobic fitness and pace improvement.


August is an interesting time to be near Paris, as it seems the entire region evacuates. In the town of Sceaux, a blind man could cross the street at any time of day without any fear of being hit by car or bus. I waited at the bus stop one morning, sometime between seven o'clock and seven thirty, and for one or two minutes there was not a single car, truck, or vehicle of any fashion on the main street. People tell me that August is the only time it is easy to find parking in Paris. But keep in mind, at least half of the restaurants and shops are closed. People will close up their businesses for the entire month.

One Sunday morning I ran from where I live all the way into Paris to the statue of Thomas Jefferson. This is a run of 10 miles. It was a beautiful, cloudless day (a rare event), and I began walking back toward the train stop that would take me back to Sceaux. I saw a café opening up, and decided, "I never pause and enjoy Paris when I do these runs, and it is a supremely quiet and beautiful morning, why am I in such a hurry?". I stopped at the café and enjoyed two cups of coffee and an omelette. It was an enjoyable experience, but one not to be repeated very often: breakfast was $25. Everything is expensive in Paris, but it was still the right thing to do.

I intensified my running in August, recording a personal best of 102 miles for the month. I set a goal to run at least 84 miles a month for the next 12 months. This will give me 1000 miles in a year. It will be an interesting journey.

Pam and I also celebrated 33 years of marriage in August. It seems like a long time when you say it, but it has been so full that it is hard to imagine so much time has passed. Having an ocean between us is not without its challenges, and we both look forward to this season being over, and beginning a new one together.

I'll do a better job of staying in touch, thanks for coming along.

a bientot,


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Six Cents Quarante Deux Jours a Sceaux (642 Days in Sceaux)

This week was both productive and full of events. It was productive at work, as there was time to focus on a variety of tasks needing my attention, and there was almost no interruption from seemingly random places. It was full of events, I actually entertained guests twice this week, which is more than I normally do in a quarter or even half a year.

As I alluded to last week, my oldest daughter turned 30 on Tuesday. I really feel too young to have a daughter of that age. At the same time, I find it hard to believe that so many years have passed with her. The day she came into the world is as fresh to me as yesterday. That little girl who would cry each day as I went to work now has her own little boy and little girl for whom to care. I am proud of the woman she has become, and glad that she is both happy and content in her life. Happy birthday, Michelle.

When I got to work Wednesday morning, I saw a most unusual e-mail message from one of our vice presidents: "would it be okay if we had a jam session at your house tonight?" Normally, one might consider it short notice to have someone invite themselves to one's house on the day of. But the truth be known, I have no real social schedules, except to come home, fix something to eat, watch a little TV or play guitar, and then go to bed. There are three of us in this guitar band, a term that is used very loosely. We would like a bass player and a drummer, but not having them give us time to focus on the guitar work. The boys came over, I plenty of French cheese and bread which they like, I heated up a frozen paella, and we play guitar for three or four hours. Our set list includes Like a Rolling Stone, Mustang Sally, Bang a Gong, Sweet Virginia, and a couple other songs that we throw in for fun.

The director of our research center in Russia visited the office on Thursday and Friday. We had some business to discuss, and we get along pretty well. He came to Chez Mark on Friday night. We had a very traditional, yet simple French meal: a baguette, five kinds of cheeses, and dried sausage. We talked for a few hours as we ate, and then he left to catch up with his parents live in France, just outside of Paris. I have several projects with which I am involved concerning his group, and I will be making multiple trips to Moscow this year.

My running moved to a new level this week, although it was not a faster level. I've mentioned earlier about the Maffetone method, the idea of running at a very low heart rate, on the low side of the aerobic zone as normally calculated. It is difficult to do, because you must run slowly, and maintain good running form. The idea is to build up the aerobic capacity of your muscles. He calls this building an aerobic base. It drives me crazy to run as slow as I must run in order to stay in the heart rate zone. I took this craziness to a new level this weekend. I ran to the Eiffel Tower and beyond. Depending on which GPS and mapping system I use, I ran either 13.22 miles or 13.86 miles. Especially for the last couple of miles, it was very hard to keep the heart rate in the zone. I did this in preparation for the Paris half marathon next Sunday. Though I have been working to build my aerobic base for only two weeks, I hope to see some benefit from this effort during the run next weekend. And yes, the distance I ran yesterday is the furthest I've ever run in my life (although it would be hard for me to call what I was doing the last three or 4 miles actually "running"). Nonetheless, all of this is good for me, and it would be hard to have a more picturesque urban environment in which to run.

My beloved Kentucky Wildcats played Vanderbilt at noon on Saturday, which would be 6 PM my time. I was excited, as usually the games are not available here until 3 AM. Murphy's Law being what it is, I began have Internet problems and was unable to watch the game. I had to follow the game over my cell phone via Johns Clay's twitter account. Thank you John, it was nice to go to bed knowing the Cats had prevailed. When I got up this morning, I still had Internet issues, although the box indicated that the Internet was fine. None of my devices could access the Internet, however. I turned off the box for several minutes, or until I cooked an omelette and ate it, however long that was. I turned the box back on, and the Internet was working, and what should be on ESPN America? The Kentucky Wildcats playing the Vanderbilt Commodores. It was the last 10 minutes of the game, and although I already knew the outcome, I enjoyed watching every second of that remained.

I still haven't decided to where I should go to take a long weekend, but I am trying to couple it with the running clinic. I think my form needs more work, and I need an experienced instructor and coach to observe and help me correct my flaws. I need to check out visiting a running clinic in Ireland again, at least there were not be much of a language barrier, unless they begin to speak Gaelic…

Thanks for coming along, a bientot.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Six Cents Trente Cinq Jours a Sceaux (635 Days in Sceaux)

This week was not quite chaotic, not helter-skelter, but topsy-turvy in its own right.

It seems that the consulate of India really wants to make it difficult for people to visit their country. As I was preparing for my trip to India, China, and Japan, I knew the visa for India would take 10 business days. It was that way when I went last year. But now, rules have changed. They no longer accept the internationally accepted dimensions for the passport photo. I had to go to the consulate to get the photo taken. We were then informed that after my visa had been granted, before its final release to me, I had to go for an interview. The interview would then be evaluated and I should expect my visa to be finally approved within 48 hours of the interview. We're no longer talking 10 business days, but something more like 15 business days to get a visa to India. As a result of these machinations, I had to cancel my trip. Well, I missed the chance to go to China, but I also miss the opportunity for two weeks of jet lag followed by two weeks of recovery…

Today is a brilliantly sunny day in Sceaux. The temperatures are just above freezing, but this is February, and February is a winter month. While we have had very cold weather this winter, we've also had much more sunshine than we did last year. Somehow, the cold is easier to bear when you can see the sun. Looking at our extended forecast, it looks like we will dip below freezing next week, and then begin the slow climb to early springtime temperatures. I am looking forward to spring.

With the cancellation of my trip to Asia, it looks like my first half marathon run is now on. I have a lot of road work to do between now and then. I'm trying to build up my muscular aerobic base, and this requires special technique in training, as I have described earlier. I am hopeful that even these two weeks of training will benefit my performance in the half marathon. I'm not a fast runner, and I have no delusions of great speed, I just want to feel good after the run.

My oldest daughter turns 30 next week. It is incredible to me. My memories of the day she was brought into the world are so close to me I could touch them. I'm very proud of the woman she has become. I am blessed.

We have travel restrictions at the office now, which means I will likely be here in France for at least the next six weeks. I do have guests coming at the end of March, but between now and then, I think I need to plan a little trip of my own. Morocco is always nice; I have lots of friends in Romania; I could participate in a running clinic in Ireland (I've never been to Ireland); maybe Italy or Spain?

Thanks for coming along, a bientot,


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Six Cents Vingt Sept Jours a Sceaux (627 Days in Sceaux)

This has been a wild week. That is not to say it has been a good week, just a wild one…

Monday started the week as Monday's often do, with its fair share of being Monday. The biggest thing for me was the final preparations for a global webcast I was to give my team the next day. Getting all the data correct, building up the PowerPoint presentation so that it flows well, making sure the message is concise and clear and accurate, and at the same time meeting the fires that erupted throughout the day. I arrived at the office early on Tuesday, having decided to make a few tweaks to the presentation I'd labored over the day before (as everyone else does). And I delivered the first webcast to Europe, Africa, and Asia that morning. The rest of the day went normally until 4 PM, when it was time to do the webcast for the Americas. Again, everything went well, message delivered, the troops exhorted, and it was time to go home.

As you may know, and if you did not realize, I am here without a car. I'm close enough to the office to either walk or take a bus, which I have been doing since I moved into the apartment in May of 2010. It has been a cold winter here, especially the last couple of weeks, and for the foreseeable couple of weeks. They tell me it has been the coldest winter since 1985. Temperatures range from the mid teens Fahrenheit to the upper 20s Fahrenheit. For those of you more familiar with the Celsius scale, -10 C to -2C. I felt very cold going to the bus that afternoon, and never warmed up while on the bus. The coldness persisted for the 8 min. walk back to the apartment, and I was developing a bit of post nasal drip. Things only got worse from there. I went through about a half a box of Kleenex that night, so very tired and weaker as I went to work in the morning. I did not make it until noon. I went home, feeling tired, head completely pressured up, and cold to my bones. When I got home, I put on the long underwear I put on the long T-shirt, I put on the heavy socks, and got into bed with all the covers on top. I shivered and shaked for the next 2 to 3 hours. The body could not get warm, or feel warm. After that episode, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I knew I needed to hydrate and eat something. I do pretty good job of keeping track of my hydration, and soup was the only thing that I could think about eating. Now please keep in mind, I am all but a feral male, so when I say the word "soup", we are talking about a packet of stuff in boiling water. I know, not really the high nutrition of the real stuff, but it is what I had. I was able to go back to sleep until the fever came. Ironically, the body still felt very cold.

I will not bore you with further details, except to say that the next day I was getting better. I forced myself to stay awake through the afternoon until my normal bedtime, but then I found it impossible to fall asleep for the whole night, leaving me completely exhausted for Friday. I needed another day of rest and recuperation. It has been years since I've missed more than two days of work in a row due to illness. And I really hate being caged up by being sick. I'm not into medicines, I've seen the adverse toll they have taken on family members. I believe we are fearfully and wonderfully made by an omniscient creator God. I believe he has given our bodies the tools that it needs to survive these common maladies. If anything, we simply need to facilitate the body to let it do what it was designed to do. Rest is an underrated ally in our fight against illnesses.

Today is Saturday, the rest is paying off. The head is still a bit stuffy, but it is on the mend. Tomorrow, I will try to run. The very cold weather and my upcoming travel will cut into my training time substantially, and I do not think I will be ready for the Paris half marathon in early March. I'm disappointed, but I have greater training goals in mind, and will run it next year, the Lord willing.

Thanks for coming along, I will share more later…


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Six Cents Vingt et Un Jours a Sceaux, B (621 Days in Sceaux, B)

OK, I know this has been a "machine gun" delivery of blog updates, but it seems I just have stuff to share...

I ran today, at -8C (18F), the coldest temperature at which I have every run.  Obviously, I did not have a heart attack, and nothing is frost-bitten.  I tried something new today, something to which I was introduced by a colleague at work.  It is known as "The Maffetone Method", a method of training, and very successful training as evidenced by champion triathletes, which says controlling the heart rate during training is the key to endurance development.  I am reading his book "The Big Book of Endurance Training", and you can find out more about him at  

He starts with a well-researched formula for assigning one's aerobic heart rate: 180 - Age.  It is that simple.  There are a few caveats, four to be exact, and with that my target is 125-130 bpm maximum.  That, my friends, is low.  I normally run a 10:00 to 10:30 per mile, and have several miles logged at 9:20 or better.  I had to slow to 14-15 minutes per mile (yes, you read that correctly) to stay in the aerobic window.  Maffetone says that by training at this heart rate, I will gradually run faster and further at the same heart rate (which would be dead-lock-cinch easy way to run).  By running at the aerobic level, the muscles are developing more efficient means of processing oxygen, and therefor speed is a by product of muscle stamina, and not heart rate capacity.  Or something like that.  Got to admit, I did not breath hard at all, and I went super slow, I kept my heartbeat below 130.  I ran a total of 8km (5 miles).  I will keep doing this, as this guy is the guru of endurance training.  I will see if I can run faster with the same heart effort.  I do have a half marathon in four weeks....

As you know, I am a minimalist/barefoot runner, though not barefoot at all this time of year.  I have a pair of Vibram Five Fingers ( that I use for temperatures below freezing.  The model is called Flow, and has a slightly thicker sole and neoprene uppers, and they worked well enough today.  The feet are still a bit cold, but not freezing and numb, as I ran in snow the whole way today.

(I supplied the links above for your convenience; I am not compensated in any way)

Today is Super Sunday, the game comes on at midnight CET here.  The NY Giants have too many connections to the South and my beloved SEC to not pull for them to win.

A bientot (again),


Six Cents Vingt et Un Jours a Sceaux (621 Days in Sceaux)

Woke up today to snow, our first of the year.  The temperature was -9C/16F/264K/475R (I want you to understand the temperature in your preferred scale).  The snow gently and quiet falls here; the Ile-de-France is not known for violent weather (it is not known for great weather, either).  The coffee tastes extra good this morning, and the fresh snow offers a change of pace.  The sun is supposed to peek through tomorrow, but until then, I will sit back and enjoy the winter blanket...

A bientot,


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Six Cents Dix Huit Jours a Sceaux (618 days in Sceaux)

OK, I am breaking the pattern of waiting at least a week between posts...

Remember what I wrote yesterday?  You know, "live, learn, engineer"?  OK, a little more on that.  I noticed a couple of weeks ago how nasty my electric kettle had become.  You may not know it, but the water in Paris is VERY calcitic.  I mean it is HARD.  You do not know if you are being showered or sand blasted!

My electric kettle, a key component in the crafting of my morning coffee -- yes, I used the word "crafted", as Pam will tell you, and Shelby will affirm, it is more than simply "made" -- was looking pretty crusty.  I hand grind my coffee beans fresh each morning, because I have found that electric grinders, no matter what style, either grind the coffee unevenly and.or burn the beans too much by the mere friction of the process.  Besides, my grandson helps me hand grind, which is a worthwhile by-product of going "old school" on the coffee preparation.  

Well, I told you before I went "old school" on the toilet using bleach, and after a few scrubbing encounters on my kettle, which heats water to a boil faster than you can name the capital of your state, I went old school on cleaning again.  I went to good old Monoprix and found some white vinegar.  I have used this miracle cleaner before, but now it was really going to be tested.  The stainless steel of the kettle, and even its black plastic components were almost completely white -- OK, maybe just a strong shade of gray -- with calcite.  I mixed a 50-50 blend of the white vinegar and water -- all the kettle could possibly hold -- and let it stand for 45 minutes.  I poured it out.  The kettle looked completely new.  The cheap white vinegar had done what the expensive cleaners (like AJAX) could not even begin to address.  "Old school" is seldom a bad way to go, IMHO.

All that calcite experience prompted me to buy one of those "new school" Brita water pitchers, and I can finally drink a glass of water here without cringing or adding G2.  The coffee is better, too...

a bientot,


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Six Cent Dix Sept Jours a Sceaux (617 Days in Sceaux)

It has been a long time since I've updated. Christmas vacation family back in Texas with my family, we rented a beach house and had a family reunion with my side of the family. It was a wonderful time, a great time to reconnect. We had not done such a thing in almost 10 years. We all decided that we will not wait that long before we do it again.

I flew back to France, departing from Houston on January 1, 2012, and I arrived on January 2, 2012. The flight was uneventful, as all truly wonderful flights are, and yet I had mixed feelings as I landed. I know how dreary it can be here, during the months of January and February, and how cold it can get. I was not looking forward to long, dark weekends alone. I would be able to stay that sentence a little longer, as I was expecting guests within the week. One of Pam's friends had a daughter and her friend who were traveling through Europe, and wanted to pass through Paris and use Chez Mark as a staging point for further adventures. 

Immediately upon their arrival, or at least the next morning, I had the three of us on a high-speed train to Geneva, Switzerland. The French Alps are all my list of things to see, and they were interested in adding the French Alps to the list of things that they had seen. It was only a three-hour trip, conducted at over 200 miles an hour, and was very comfortable and very pleasant way to see the countryside. We found our hotel, which was right across the street from the train station, and did a quick walking tour of Geneva, which always leads you to the lake. Our target the next day was the town of Les Gets, a quintessential French Alpine ski village. Thanks to GPS and a rented car, we made the trip in about an hour and a half. The village was bustling with activity of skiers; they had just had a fresh 60 cm of snow. Laura and Shelby had never been on skis before in their lives. My plan was to learn to cross country ski, no instructor was available that day. We were not going to leave without skiing. We signed up for early afternoon lessons, and after an hour lessons we were off to the bunny slopes. The French love to ski, and are very accommodating in their ski schools, and train small children by the dozens. That was probably one of the most fun things to watch while we were there: lots of small children under 3 feet tall in full ski gear navigating the slopes. Yes, we were envious of their ease on skis. 

Our target for the second day was Mont Blanc, which required us to drive about an hour to the town of Chamonix. A big cloud was sitting on top of Mont Blanc, so the tram that would've taken us to the top was closed. The town of Chamonix had a very traditional Alpine center of town, including the bakery that served hot sandwiches and quiche. We did a lot of window shopping and dropped in on a few traditional shops to capture the ambiance.  Before we returned to Geneva, we stopped at the bakery again to get three piping hot baguettes to enjoy on the drive back. 

Despite the fact that I did not get to cross country ski, despite the fact we could not get the top of Mont Blanc, we did ski the French Alps, we had lunch in a café run by an Australian, and we thoroughly enjoyed a classic French bakery. That is not a bad weekend. Laura and Shelby were perfect guests, and it was nice to have somebody around as I transitioned into life in Sceaux again.

A couple of weeks after my guests departed, I was off to Scotland, Aberdeen specifically, for business. I had a rare experience: I flew to Aberdeen in the wintertime on a cloudless day. It was the first time I've been there when the sky was not overcast. The view of Aberdeen and the bay was beautiful. The daytime temperature was just above freezing at the nighttime low was just below freezing -- the humidity was 98%. I ran 3 miles to the office from the hotel and back, for a total of just over 6 miles, the next morning. It was a labored run, as my body never felt like it warmed up well, and the hills were not steep, but long. Nonetheless, it goes down as a good run. My meetings there were quite successful, and productive. Those of you who have ever conducted meetings know what a rare and satisfying feeling that is. It was nice to be in a country where communication was easy, and the accents and idioms were thoroughly enjoyed.

Sometime between Les Gets and Aberdeen, I discovered that Monoprix, my supermarket of choice, carried "paella in a bag". I had been buying little individual dinners of paella, and though they were completely edible, they were not quite as rich and tasty as a real paella. I decided to take a chance on "paella in a bag (a frozen bag, that is)" and bought some. Being a man, I did not read the instructions first, before I bought the bag. When I got home, I read the instructions which clearly stated that I could cook this in the microwave. I soon discovered I did not have a large enough bowl, nor any bowl that could endure the microwave for 6 minutes and not be too hot to handle when done. Not a problem, I thought, I will cook it in one of my Cuisinart stainless pans, or maybe a pot by the same maker. The instructions clearly said to use a nonstick pot, but I figured that was just a sneaky advertisement for Teflon. I successfully cooked the paella in my Cuisinart stainless pot. I spent the rest of the day scraping the bottom of the pot and wondered how soon I could get my hands on a new Teflon pot. Just to have options, I now not only have a Teflon pot big enough to handle a kilogram of paella, but I also have a couple of bowls that can be used in the microwave safely. Live, learn, engineer (the "paella in a bag" was excellent, BTW)

I am now preparing for a business trip to India and the Far East. I decided to make one trip to visit India, China, Indonesia, and Japan. I figure in this way, I only need to get over the jet lag once.

Thanks for coming along…

A bientot,