I am so proud of Lucette and the friendship choices she has been making here. Such a worry and prayer of mine! She has two close girlfriends that are kind, gentle, and so very patient with the language gap. I think this says a lot about their character!
This last weekend we went to meet the family of one of the girls. Such a dear, friendly family and ... the parents speak fantastic English! I couldn't believe how utterly easy the communication was and how comfortable I felt.
Yesterday, the mom swung by La Cressonnière with a quick delivery (nobody swings by, it's a total effort to drive out here and always thoughtful when someone does!). She brought a pumpkin, a head of lettuce and some eggs, all freshly gathered from her farm and garden. I was all fluttery with joy.
Gorgeous and privileged as it is, sometimes the days and trials of life here are very wearying. But then I stop and realize we are becoming established and continuing to make connections. It really feels like extravagant provision.
You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance.
There are a lot of great things about having a teenage son. For starters ... he stacks wood.
We are told it gets might chilly here in the winters and running the oil radiators all of the time is just too spendy. No bother. We have two fireplaces we can use, Monsieur Durand who delivers by tractor, and a boy who likes to take ownership over the whole process.
He thought it was funny that I wanted to take photos of a wood pile.
Why, my son! Both you and the wood pile are a thing of beauty!
But hark! What thought dost appear?
Yes, the time-piece has been consulted and it is time for lunch.
We'll finish the rest later. Woodpiles can wait and mealtimes are not to be missed.
To be honest, I've never really considered myself a "city-girl," as I always picture that term applying to some New York sophisticate, or some such thing. But really, having never lived in the countryside before, I am finding that I am a little bit more city than I thought.
The spiders and mice are a continual surprise to me. And a few weeks back, I was chatting on the phone outside and a bat swooped down over my head nearly sent me into apoplectic shock. However, in spite of my ninny-outburts, I quite enjoy passing the days here. Perhaps it is the countryside, perhaps it is France, but I find the pace slower here. I like that very much.
To be clear, it's not to say there isn't as much to do. Au contraire! There is plenty to be mindful of and that requires attention. But somehow, life here is both busy and slow. There is work to be done, but less rushing about. I like smiling at the cows on our way to school in the morning (Did you know French cows respond to Bonjour and not Hello? It's true!). I'm rather fond of putting on my rubber boots to go retrieve the laundry from the line because the ground is getting a bit sloppy. And it's such a nice problem to wonder what do do with all the walnuts that fell from the treehouse.
There is regular family life and housekeeping to be done, to be sure. I'm still consistently behind in accomplishing about 423 things on my to-do list. But here, time often is less frenetic in the accomplishing. It's spent setting and checking mice traps, wondering how to arrange the purchase of eggs and milk from the farm next door, watching the weather to know when to do a load of laundry so it can still dry outside, and planning on a Saturday of family walnut cracking with some hot apple cider.
In my old house (which I did love dearly!) we didn't have mice, laundry was dried in the machine at any time of day and there were too many things to do on a Saturday to just sit around cracking walnuts. It's not that I think one way is better than another, I really don't! But it is enlightening to me to experience a different pace, a different way.
*What have you learned from the different places you've lived? Have you taken habits and lessons from one environment and applied it to another? Was it successful?
Did you know that church people and food go hand in hand? They do. What's more, church people are often very good gardeners ... and if they have been reading their Bible, they are generous too! (Wink, wink!)
We have found a lovely little church to attend full of British expats. It's about a 45 minute drive from La Cressonnière, but it's no bother. Meeting every other Sunday in a little church rebuilt after the war, a small cluster of us meet together for worship, fellowship and to share in a message together. Very simple, casual, low-pressure, welcoming. And they have gardens.
We were last gifted with a bounty of cherry tomatoes (picked that morning!) that were the sweetest, brightest flavored tomatoes I've ever tasted. We ate some plain but we also whipped up a quiche for an afternoon brunch.
And when I say whipped up, I do mean it. The groceries here sell pre-made crusts here that are all buttery and flaky goodness. There are about 20 different options that I am still discerning the difference between, but so far ... all a 2 euros well spent!
Place the crust in the pan, beat some eggs, crème crue (oh, how will I ever live without you again??), salt, pepper, and whatever else you might have. In our case, some fresh spinach, a bit of goat cheese, and church tomatoes! Place in crust, bake, eat.
It was so good, I can't even say. If you come for a visit, I'll make some for you. But, I better read my Bible first, because lately ... I haven't been big on sharing.
These last nine months have been full of more events, hurdles, impossibilities and accomplishments than I have ever experienced. Taken as a collective, all that we've done to get here seems like a Herculean task ... but I suppose, it really has been just one task as a time.
And today we checked off another huge task from our have-to-do list. Immigration appointments! I have been dreading this. It seemed enough that we had already run the gauntlet of visa applications, as we do have the official seal in our passports. But apparently, the French government wants to have another appointment with any grown-ups once you get here and gift you with another seal for your passport. Naturally, this involves more paperwork and documentation and complicated requests in French that you only think you might understand.
After filing our "we have arrived" paperwork just weeks after we entered the country, we received a packet of confusing letters from OFII telling us of our pre-assigned appointments. So today was the day. Drive up to Caen, appointments, get back before the children let out from school. Bleesh.
First up, a medical check. France seems very concerned about tuberculosis. (Is this still a thing in westernized countries??) After bumbling about in reception for a bit we managed our way down to radiology where we had chest x-rays taken. Turns out we don't have tuberculosis. Hurrah! Next, we went to a waiting room full of nervous foreigners and sweated together in a small stuffy room for an hour.
When Pops and I were finally called back together for the remainder of our exams, we experienced the most bizarre medical appointment ever. Let's just say apparently a French eye-exam consists of spending some time hanging out in your underwear pronouncing letters in French while a kindly older doctor with massive amounts of chest hair sprouting from his white coat points at letters with a stick from across the room. As an added challenge, you get to multi-task by also casting eye-daggers at Pops because he will be in giggle-fits over the whole thing. There's more to the story but that's all your gonna get unless you have my phone number and I already know some dirt on you.
Nevertheless, apparently France thinks we are healthy enough to continue to live here and we were given our approved paperwork. As we were driving over to our final appointment, we were a bundle of nerves, for we were going to be over an hour late and lunchtime was imminent. We all know that French lunches are serious business and everything shuts down for 2 hours. We made it with minutes to spare and they graciously let us in, cranked us through the final paperwork and put some more fancy stamps in our passports. Hallelujah! One more task accomplished.
If you were praying for us, thank you. We did it, we are done, and we are once again fully clothed. And these are all very good things. Vive la France! *Do you have any bizarre stories that come to mind? Please do share and make me feel better about myself.
Le vélo lives at La Cressonnière. She's a happy little gal, but when I was talking with her, she mentioned ... she doesn't have a name. I think she would very much like one. Any suggestions for a proper French name for my friend?
*ps- Lucette and Jane have friends with the most adorable names. Astrid, Augustine, Peraline, Juliette ... and doubly beautiful when said with a French accent! *pps- It's so curious how our American "ear" can't make sense of certain sounds. It took Lucette two weeks to figure out Peraline's name. Perhaps because of the sounds and that they are unfamiliar names? Today I was helping out at school and I asked an 8 year-old boy in Jane's class what his name was. I swear it sounded like "Grandpa" with a French twist. Like "Gharahndpa." He repeated and I tried about five times. I don't think I ever got it right because he sweetly changed the topic and told me the only English phrase he knew: "Donkey Kong." *ppps- Later in the day I found out Grandpa's name. It was Benjamin. Well, for heaven's sake.
I snapped a little shot on my phone of the main street of our downtown area. I think it actually gets more charming as you move in a little further towards the church ... but I have been so touched by all of the flag buntings that I see flying on houses and at the entry to this marketplace. Did you notice the nationalities? With the 70 year anniversary of World War II this last summer, there are tributes everywhere.
Our little town here was hit by bombs so severely that 90% of the town was destroyed as the Allied Forces were forced to attack the German occupation. The photos I've seen are so sobering. And certainly, I think of my own Grandfather Stone and his experience.
I had my first language exchange/chat yesterday with a French woman, as we both want to work on our language skills with a native speaker. (Incidentally, her English is far better than my French and she is very patient!) She was surprised to hear that often, Americans think the French don't like us.
Pourquoi? She asked, surprised. She proceeded to talk about Americans as the friends of the French and told me a few stories of her family during the war. This is Normandy. And these events were not that long ago.
Many of the buildings had to be rebuilt from the ground up, some restored expertly, and others have been fabulously patched and mortared back together. We love to drive around and point out buildings that show new and creative stonework that managed to salvage original structures.
But even though the events of the past are not at all forgotten, a resiliency and pride are notable. To see flowers blooming and a monument erected at the spot the tanks first rolled through ... Wow.
We have yet to get to the D-day beaches. Have any of you been? Any tips or things we should definitely do or see? If you have never been, like me, what would you be most curious about?
We all know that quality and freshness go hand in hand. So first thing, when you need to buy a corsage from a 9 year-old treehouse entrepreneur, make sure that all blossoms have been picked within 24 hours and have been stored in a cool place, like her mother's refrigerator.
Next, you need to ask yourself, does the floral artist really take care in her craft? Does she have a vision? Does she keep a broom in her treehouse to signal an attention to detail and a tidy workspace? Does she look darling in her sundress and wear a contented smile?
If you find yourself answering yes to all these questions, proceed with confidence.
To begin, ring the bell at the establishment to let your florist know you are interested in her wares. She'll lean over from her ledge and give you a thumbs-up. You may now climb the ladder to begin the selection process.
As you are browsing, feel free to ask for recommendations in the assembling of your corsage. For instance, for a mere 20 centièmes more, you can add a sprig of greenery that will really make the whole bouquet come together.
Once the assembly is complete, she'll wait patiently for you when you realize you forgot your money in all the excitement. When you are ready, just drop the fee in the bucket.
She'll haul up her cash to her boutique and lower back down the most beautiful corsage you ever could have hoped for.
And for free of charge, award you with a beaming smile to boot.
The corsage can be worn or placed any number of places. However, behind the ear is always a good choice and will even stay put during a rousing game of badminton.
Without a doubt, you will find that this is the best purchase you've made in ages.
When I have emailed, FaceTimed and Skyped with my dear ones, inevitably, the question will be asked: "What is different?" or "What do you love about being there?" Of course, there are many, many things to drone on about, but I always feel compelled to share about one very critical thing: The Yogurt Aisle. (Capitalization mandatory.)
So, the French are serious about their yogurt. It's called yaourt and it seems to rival the baguette in the importance of daily consumption. (Well, okay, nothing beats the baguette here, but it's close!) When you go to the marché, there is a full, double-sided aisle fully loaded with yogurt.
I've been wanting to take some photos (just with my phone) for weeks now, but the aisle is always so busy ... I just felt too creepy taking photos. So I came first thing this morning, right after they opened the store. (9:00am. Nothing is open before 9:00am except ... the boulangerie, where you can buy baguettes. Of course.) And even still, I had to circle a bit until it was relatively empty and pretend to be looking at my phone for something very important. Click. Click-Click. (I don't know why I feel so embarrassed! I wouldn't care at all, back in the States...)
So let's break it down. On the left you have primarily the natural, unsweetened, and not-excessively-sweet-good-for-breakfast yogurts. Mixed in you'll find some crème and some yogurt-like cheeses. Judging by the amount of these yogurts I see it people's carts, I'm pretty sure they have it for breakfast just about everyday. And maybe lunch. And some of it goes in sauces. And baked goods. And as a topping.
On the right it's all dessert yogurts. I don't even know how to describe it. As Pops said, "It's like a parade of every kind of dairy deliciousness you could imagine..."
And it's not just straight yogurt. It comes in multiple forms: mousse, crème brûlée, fruit compote, tiramisu, rice pudding, with meringue ... and in flavors that will make your brain explode just a little, every.single.time. (Fleur de sel caramel, chestnut mousse, apple tarte, caramel, dark chocolate pistachio, lemon zest ...)
And all kinds of yogurts come in the standard paper or plastic tubs, but often in darling glass jars or even petite terracotta pots (See above photo, middle and to the right). It's also worth noting that yogurts are typically smaller in size than American yogurts. A culinary French theme is definitely: Better to have a little bit of something exquisite than a ton of something subpar. I think this is an excellent philosophy that I will adopt as soon as I stop eating three at a time.
I'm told that everyone here eats a yogurt after dinner. And at school, the kids always have a yogurt as an option for dessert at lunchtime. So I pretty much take this as permission to eat yogurt all the time, anytime. (PS- Did I tell you I was off dairy and gluten for 10 months before we came to France? I think that might be against the law here. And I am very law abiding.)
So would you be as infatuated as me? Even if you aren't normally a yogurt fan, does this pique your interest? What would you go for first?
Have you ever cooked mussels before? I confess, before we went to Honfleur, I'd never really had a big bowlful much less prepared them. Somehow things in shells seem rather daunting. But les moules are a big thing here in Normandy. And when I was at the market the other day, I noticed all of the older women clucking about this giant pile of mussels. Curious, I held back and pretended I was looking at a jar of jam and watched how the scene played out.
On a giant platform, a massive amount of mussels were displayed on a bed of ice. The ladies would grab a plastic sack and with the provided metal scoop, fill up their bag with the amount they deemed appropriate. Tie off the sack, walk over to the fish man, and hand over the goods for him to weigh and determine the price.
It seemed easy enough. And turns out it was! I completely guessed on the amount needed and when the fish man asked me a follow-up question, I responded with c'est tout (meaning "that's all," my go to response when I have no clue) and he seemed content with that.
Back at home I did a little research on prep and simply spent about fifteen minutes at the sink rinsing, scrubbing off any bits or barnacles, and removing "beards." Sounds weird and gross but kind of like wet, briny corn-silk. No biggie. Grab, yank towards the hinge point, discard. And if any are chipped or don't close when you tap them, this means they aren't alive anymore and you should toss them. (I kind of forgot they were "live" and it was a little bananas to see them slowly open and shut!) Finally, I placed in a bowl of water, covered, and kept in the fridge 'til dinner.
When evening came and it was cookin' time, I loosely followed a recipe online. You can leave out the cream if you want, but I used Creme Crue Sineux (from our landlord's family farm!), and I used half wine and have (hard) cider, because that's another big thing here.
Honestly, it's about the easiest thing ever and it cooks in just under 10 minutes if they are small like these.
And when you take off the lid and they have all opened through some culinary magic, it's so exciting!
It's also exciting to eat with your fingers, pile up all the empty shells in an extra bowl, and eat lots of crusty bread to soak up the juices and make your belly extra happy.
So, have you cooked these before? Could you convince your kids that they aren't too creepy looking? What about oysters (I have no idea on this one!)? Do shellfish scare you? Do you have other kinds of recipes that are super simple, tasty, and fun to serve a family?
I have a feeling that someday we will look back on our stay here at La Cressonnière
and marvel. It would be hard not to. With that in mind, I'd like to
start posting on the maison itself. And where better to start? At the
front door of course ...
If I recall correctly, the door is near original to the house. It dates
to about 350 years ago! That means this door is older than the founding
of the country I was born in.
My landlord mentioned that a few of the front panels had to be replaced (note the difference in texture towards the bottom and right?), but that he was horrified at the suggestion that the whole door be replaced.
I couldn't agree more. While heavy, and a bit awkward ... and truly drafty (when winter comes, we'll cease use of it, stuffing batting in the cracks and hanging a curtain over the doorway), it brings me great delight to wrench the porte about and traipse over its threshold.
I'm quite certain a brand new door wouldn't have the same effect ...