Friday, March 20, 2015

To Buy a Bit of Sun on an Overcast Day

And just like that the sun is gone and we are all bundled up and skittering about once more. But without fail, les marchés still open and offer up ideas for meals and treats and dreams. I am quite sure this fruit did not come from Normandy, but nevertheless, I bought a kilo of strawberries that were delicious and tasted like sunny days.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Springtime Arrives in Normandy!



Oh, we have never anticipated spring like this before! It was a long, dark, coooold winter but springtime has arrived and the sun-breaks and roadside daffodils are leaving us rhapsodic. 

Fishing season has just begun, as well, and we must acquire that fishing license for Peter. Turn left out the gate, down past the miniature ponies (affectionately named Hoss and Voss), wave bonjour to Madame Lucienne, and at the creek you arrive. Perfect place for a young man to fish ... and a trailing sister to gather more daffodils ...

Monday, March 16, 2015

So be truly glad ...

I used to think I wasn't a fan of change. But then, so many of my best decisions have elicited massive life alterations.

Perhaps I actually like change. I do like new perspectives and experiences. What I seem to be realizing is that change isn't really the issue ... it's the uncertainty that precedes it.

I perceive uncertainty as a loss of security. A free-fall of expectations and understanding. A crooked finger beckoning one through a worm-hole of disaster ...

These last months we've been tetering on the edge of more uncertainty. Despite a track-record of God's abundant provision, I found myself swirling in mental firestorm of worst-case scenarios. And to fan the flames, there have been multiple needs that have arisen requiring me to ask for help. As in, I literally cannot do this on my own. It's an uncomfortable sensation, especially when you know that you can't level the scales because you have virtually nothing to offer in return ... but more neediness.

 However. This last week, I received two meaty "you can do it" emails from friends, a care-package in the mail, an extravagant offer for assistance "on the ground," and invitation for dinner that was generous beyond description. People reaching out to meet my needs and serve our family without asking for anything in return.

And I said "yes, please" to all of them.

That dinner? At the home of some friends that we've only known since just before Christmas, but their continual kindness and generosity has put our friendship on the fast-track. They are intelligent, fascinating, curious and exceedingly intuitive about what would bless us.

 After they offered a lovely aperitif, we were introduced to "La Raclette." Using a little grill with a broiler on the underside, you toast up slices of raclette cheese in a little dish and then proceed to accompany it with all measures of coldcuts, dried meats, potatoes, and delights such as an endive salad made with pear, walnuts, and roquefort cheese. 

 Oh. And I haven't a photo, but there was a dish called a pissaladière, which is basically a savory tart on homemade bread dough with a topping of onions sauteed in butter and olive oil and anchovies, and after cutting into squares, topped with a Greek black olive. I so get the culinary use of anchovies now. It took the flavors to a whole new level.

I considered sliding the plateful into my purse.

And then there was dessert. An un-pictured apple crumble to honor our American roots (but was frankly better than a lot of crumble I've had in the States) and also the above snapshot of caneléis.  Just ever-so-slightly-custardy in the center and the exterior, a crown of caramelized delight.

I definitely should have brought a bigger purse.

 Afterwards we enjoyed the sun-breaks for a walk in the nearby park and more conversation. The men discussed all things WWII and global politics with great delight and the ladies and kids delighted in our own version of pleasant conversation and discovery. (My friend laughed when she discovered Jane's braids were "French braids." They call them "African braids." Say what?!)

I am constantly fighting against the rage of uncertainty. And change, even good change, is rarely easy. And it is still so uncomfortable being the "needy people."

But all of these elements are bringing us experiences and challenges ... and people ... that leave me feeling incredibly honored.

Being needy, requires uncertain circumstances ... and opens up skyline of possibilities to be blessed in ways otherwise fully unachievable. And in that, the hope of being used, somehow, in spite of my deficiencies, as a blessing in return.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, 
even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 
I Peter 1:6

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Jane Goes to a Birthday Party

Jane was invited to a birthday party today. They played cache-cache and who doesn't love hide-and-seek. Especially when you can hide behind a giant mill-stone.

She and I were both nervous about the event today. Because, obviously ... it would be in French. Which, obviously ... meant we'd have to talk to people ... in French.

But we went. And the hostess was very gracious and warm and understanding. 

And it was in a village called Silly-en-Gouffern. How fantastic is that name?!

And much like back home, the girls laughed and played. They opened gifts and had a simple, beautiful, homemade cake that was nothing short of perfection.

When it was concluded, we were both tired. But it was worth it. And it has become one more thing to look to each other and reply: "We did it!"

And that makes me very happy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Late Night Worries and Cranky Indignation

Last night Pops wanted to go to sleep. My body did too ... but my brain would not comply.

"You know I have to process verbally," I reminded him. "I have to unload some of the detritus that is clogging up my brain." He sighed with understanding, head on the pillow, staring straight up at the ceiling while I proceeded to impale him with worries, anxieties, deep-set fears, and unnecessary minutia.

At some point he fell asleep, perhaps lulled by my soothing and comforting words of low-grade hysteria. Since I wasn't actually mad at him, I didn't have it in me to jab an elbow into his ribs and proceed to flop and huff in martyrdom. Standard procedure. You know the drill.

So I was left alone with my noisy brain, swirling in thought-tornadoes, mocking my attempt to demand order. The digital clock read "00:23." Blast it. Why can't it just say "12:23." Stupid 24-hour clock. Stupid France making me remember that when someone says "dix-sept heure quarante-cinq" it is 17h45, which is really just 5:45pm. Stupid brain for taking so long to be able to mentally translate and constantly leaving me standing like an addled fluff head.

Pfft.

I didn't know what to do next. I had some really good indignation whipped up, but I was definitely too lazy to leave bed. My feet were warm and all.

So I grabbed some paper and a pen. Scratch that. A pen was next to me, but I spied the pad of paper just out of my reach. Naturally, I entered into some I-still-won't-leave-the-bed acrobatics and hand-walked myself three-feet across the floor, bum high in the air, and did a twisty-lunge that should only be attempted by people at least 15 years younger than myself. But I got the paper. And my feet stayed warm under the covers.

I look to my left. Pops slept through all of that? Pfft.

Armed with paper, pen, a crick in my back and my fiery vexation, I set to work on what I do so very well:

Make a list.

And did I ever make a list. A list of every. single. thing that was flapping about in my beautiful mind-palace/thought-tornado. It didn't matter how big (Children's well-being at school), or how small (Find out the name of that cheese that was so good),  or how worthy (Prioritize quiet-time and prayer), or how unpalatable (Call for plumber again because the septic system still wafts the perfume of eau d'rotting-vegetable-baby-diaper-soured-garbage-decomposing-poop-sludge).

And can I just say? I was awesome at it. I filled up a page before the clock could blink stupid 00:30-o'clock at me. I was on fire. I wrote and wrote and listed and wrote ... until I ran out of crazy and realized I was bored ... and started looking at Pinterest on my phone.

I looked to my right. Stupid 00:56 o'clock.

And I went to sleep ...


I woke up this morning and the list was still there. And I was still concerned about all the things on my list. And am still in a-swirl about how I am going to manage everything. But I spit in the eye of my thought-storm by making it submit to my lists. Somehow, having all of my crazy on paper makes me feel like I don't have to keep it afloat in my brain. Anyone else like this?

I think I have crossed off 3 things from my list of 427,000 today. And our bathroom still smells like poop. And I prayed some, but not enough this morning. And the children are still on vacation and seem well-enough right now. And I still don't know the name of that cheese.

And that is my day today. And it's okay. And I plan on watching Downton Abbey tonight, eating chocolate, complaining that I ate too much chocolate ... and then going right to sleep. (At 22h30 stupid-o'clock.) Amen.

Love, Bises, and one more Pfft. For good measure.
xoxo
A.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Trip to Belgium and Kitchen Supplies


The kids are on winter vacance and we just returned from a quick trip to Bruges, Belgium. A quick trip to Belgium! I am still in awe that in four hours we can be in a completely different country, different language, different architecture and food and culture.

Speaking of, the brilliant Belgians speak their native Flemish-Dutch, English, French and typically some German. And they do it beauuutifully. I was so impressed. We didn't even bother with our sloppy French because everyone spoke English so flawlessly. (And that element alone made the vacation fun!)

Unfortunately, I managed to forget my camera, but I did take some snaps on my phone that I hope to cull through shortly. In the meantime, I am set to go tidy the kitchen after a impressive baking session by the girls. I am equipped with a few fun supplies we picked up at "Dille & Kamille." Oh goodness, the girls and I were enraptured!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

An Anniversary and a Lunch Together: French Style

As, I've mentioned before, I really don't need a huge fuss in order to celebrate special occasions. However, I am a firm believer in celebrations in general! It's good to recognize another year accomplished, goal met, moment passed. 

Today we are celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary! Every year feels like an accomplishment to be proud of and to be thankful for. We've had our bumps and bruises to get us where we are and I don't take it for granted that we have shared another year together. 

To mark our event, we decided that an anniversary lunch was in order. It is lovely to have children old enough to be home alone for a period of time. But of course, we still must review and make the children recite the "emergency procedures" (Option 1: Run next door to Madame Lucienne's and she'll come help. Don't worry about your French. Option 2: Call the emergency number and they'll figure out there is a problem. Don't worry about your French. It's like Lassie. Bark frantically enough and they'll follow you to the problem.). 

This afternoon, we drove downtown to a little Brasserie that serves a very reasonable and delicious 3-course déjeuner (lunch) as standard fare. I love that three courses for lunch is a normal thing, even out in the French countryside. Very often, French restaurants will have a pre-assembled lunch menu. You have an option for each course and they are all designed to fit with each other. The first course is called the entrée (Their version of our "appetizer." Who knows why we call the main dish an "entrée." It's an "entry" into the meal.) Next is the "plat" (main dish) and then the dessert. Sometimes wine is included, other times it is an add-on. Un café is always encouraged at the end of the meal.

The courses are brought out one at a time, giving you ample opportunity to relax into the experience and strike up some great conversations with your lunch partner. Take your time! You are never hustled out to make room for the next diners. It is assumed that the table is yours for the whole of the lunch service. (Perhaps this is why reservations, even for lunch, are recommended.) It will be a beautiful, well-prepared meal, that will leave you satisfied and, in our experience, costs no more than an lunch out in the States. 

Our lunch was delightful and on the way home, we passed a floral shop and my mister bought some roses for his gal. Are you like me? Do simple things like a lunch out and handful of flowers make your heart sing? Do you prefer to keep it even more simple than this? Do you like a big splash? Do you celebrate some years but not others? Would you like to try a French-style lunch or does it sound like a fussy hassle? 

Celebrations are so personal and unique. We all have to find our own rhythm for these occasions. But today ... I am happy to be celebrating by enjoying the day with Pops ... and having a fully belly to boot!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Out for a Walk

Recently, we had a break in the frigid temps and we set out for a family walk. I must say, countryside walks are good for the soul.

And as idyllic as it was, we've just got to dork it up a bit. 'Cause that's how we roll.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

To Take Time

Time and how it is spent is an interesting thing. As a generalization, it seems everyone needs more of it and ... if you've already exited childhood ... find it to be racing by.

And even though I would say this holds true in France, I do find the idea of "busy equals productive" to be a rather peculiar concept here. This is not to say people do not work hard here or lead busy lives. They do. But there is an idea that being too busy is really just a bad idea in general. "It's not good for your health!" I hear often. "One must take the time to enjoy life and beauty. To rest and taste and appreciate."

There is a lot of political discussion of late about whether France should allow commerce on Sundays. Of course, everything except the restaurants close at lunch time, no matter what the day. (From noon to two, you should be eating and resting!) But for the most part, everything is closed on Sundays. Grocery stores, shops, pharmacies, libraries, and often, even the restaurants! At first, we would forget, and find ourselves trying to run errands or pop into the grocery on Sunday. Nope! Plan ahead!

It seems the French are in a great debate as to whether to keep this time-old tradition, Sunday as a rest day, intact. Certainly, there are economic implications to having the entire country shut down one full-day a week. And yes, it isn't always convenient. But can I say ... I like it! It keeps our family together and forces us to slooow down. There is no dashing out for milk or hairspray or a part to fix the bathroom drain. We read. Take walks. Tidy up the house. Play games. Talk. And if you do venture out, what do you see? Families! Families out and about together.

In a lot of ways, France can seem as if she exists several decades in the past. But really ... isn't that part of her charm? Isn't that why we are so entranced by her? For me, even in the inconvenience, the answer is a decided, oui!

So how about you? Would you like your little universe to shut down for a day? Would it drive you crazy?

**Isn't this photo of Pops and Jane rather magical? It was taken from inside the Musée d'Orsay, a former train station in Paris that has since been turned into an art museum. It's in a fantastic location, has a stunning collection of impressionist art, and is so much more approachable than the behemoth that is the magnificent Louvre. (Plus, you won't wait in a line all day!)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bonjour et Bisous, Bisous!

Photo of the sunrise through the car window, on a recent trip to Versailles

This weekend we went to a New Year's Fête in our tiny, tiny village. Not only did our next door neighbor invited us ... she is the village mayor! She has a few cows, some chickens, and a dog. Her French is rather hard for me to understand (my issue, not hers), but has a kindness in her eyes that makes me feel right at home.

I knew we needed to participate in this community event. (Plus, they were serving more galette pastries, hot chocolate and mulled wine. Well, okay!) It would be a small, but respectful gesture on our part. But, wow. It was intimidating walking into the village's salle de fête (a party or community room ... it seems every village, no matter how small, has one for it's inhabitants to gather).

Steeling ourselves for a social event all in French, we entered into the salle containing perhaps 60 or so people in all? And, as customary, you give everyone bises. You know, the kiss on each cheek thing. At one point I had to chasten myself to stop grinning like an idiot. I was so tickled by the mass bises-ing. And everyone gives a bise to everyone. Including children. And if you are thinking this might take awhile, you would be right. You may not have picked up their name or where they live or if they have a farm or just a house ... but you've given and received bises!

So, the whole bises thing (pronounced beez). I'm no expert, but I get asked a lot of questions about it. There is also the bisou (bee-zoo), which as I understand it, is appropriate for family, kids, or really good friends. It's the same thing, but one would call it giving bises or bisous depending on your level of familiarity or the age of the person. (Much like the pronouns "vous" vs. "tu" ... but that's a whole other conversation.)

It is used as a greeting in most every situation unless it is professional, or if for some reason it would be awkward ... which follows a confusing code of unspoken conduct. So if you see a friend? Bisous. For sure. If you are being introduced to a friend's friend ... bises. If you are meeting the entire village's inhabitants? Bisous for the people you know and the children and bises for everyone else. (Remember, it's essentially the same thing and I will now just use the terms interchangeably.) If you are greeting your 75 year-old grammar teacher? You do not give bises. That would be weird and freak her out. You know this because you did it once and will never do it again.

And what does the bise/bisou consist of? It's cheeks touching and making a brief kissing sound in the air. Cheeks touch, no lip contact. And it's not the goofy, affected Beverly Hills air-kissing thing. Because that's dumb. And for some reason, I always have this feeling that I might topple over while giving les bisous and tend to put my hand on someone's shoulder or waist. I'm pretty sure that's weird. People seem to keep their hands to themselves. I'm working on it.

Typically, you offer the right cheek first and then do the left. In the north, where we are, it's just the two bisous, one on each cheek. The further south you go, they add more. I've seen three, but I'm told it can go up to four-bises a person (right, left, right, left)! And if you goof and offer the left cheek first, everyone works with it but it's weird and you kind of smack faces a bit.

When you greet a child they will always offer you a cheek. Just one bisou for children (I think it turns into two about middle-school age?). It's a respect thing and even the toddlers will come up to you and just stand there with their cheek in the air until you get your act together and bend down for a slightly-goopy bisou. (Because, come on, they are little and they goop on everything.)

All of Lucette's friends (6th grade) give each other bisous when they greet each other. All of Peter's peers typically handshake. But if any of them greeted an adult ... bisous. And the men? Oh gosh. I don't know. Lots of bises still, but I think if they were at all unsure, a handshake is totally acceptable. But men and women? Bises for sure. Saying goodbye to your the husband of your friend? Bises. It's not weird, it's just normal.

{Sidenote. Want a sure-fire way to freak a French person out? Hug them. It's super weird and creepy to them. A hug is considered far more intimate than a bise, because bodies are touching. Which when you consider it, it actually makes a lot of sense. I'm not even sure there is even a French word for hug. I think it might be embrasser ... you know, to "embrace." In short, there is no informal hugging and it doesn't matter that you are an American. You will just oook them out. Promise.}

Sometimes I think we get the "deer in the headlights" look when we aren't sure to bise or not to bise. But people are quite understanding and handshakes are okay, especially if they realize you are a foreigner. But honestly, I am finding it a very charming custom.

We had a lovely time at the party. They began by listing all of the major events of the year (who got married, whose farm was doing what, some sort of an installation of a toilet (??), and the big introduction, name by name, to the wacky American family who moved into La Cressonnière. And then we had the galettes. And hot chocolate. And mulled wine.

Peter's piece of galette had the "favor" in it (a little ceramic figurine) so he got to wear a paper crown. And 13 year-old boys looooove to wear paper crowns at foreign-language parties! Woohoo! People were very kind and patient to us as we hacked out conversation in atrocious French and they said things like ... "Vous parlez très bien!" Which we totally were not "speaking really well," but that's okay too. 

We were informed of when the next fête would be and warm farewell wishes exchanged. And then off we trotted ... after, of course, giving the goodbye bises!

**Post-note. If you are learning French, you might be tempted to stick an "er" on the end and say Baiser (beh-zay). Don't. It used to mean kiss. It doesn't now. It's become a naughty word. Just stay away from it. Fa-far away.

**Post-post-note. Want to see a funny video on La Bise? It has one "ahem" moment, and it's in French ... but it's still rather funny.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Trip Into Paris and Expat Thoughts


Pops and Me on top of the Arc de Triumph

Before Christmas, we took a family train trip into Paris. In less than two hours, we are in the middle of one of the grandest cities in the world. It is a privilege that makes me marvel. I utterly adore being able to be in such an environment. 

And it is important to remind myself (ourselves) of elements such as these. Because much of our days are just straight-up challenging. And as a mother, challenging not just for myself ... but worrying over all that my kids are experiencing. Are the "Paris" moments enough? Enough to make all of the daily difficulties worth it? 

Lucette and Jane, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance

Before we even left the States, Pops and I did some reading up on the stages of Expatriate-hood. It's a very real thing for people transplanted out of their native environment and into a new. Language, culture, geography, food, shopping, driving, social communication, homesickness ... all of these things come into play. But like many things in life, knowing it and experiencing it are different beasts.

We've now been here for 5 months. We get lots of well-meaning questions like, "So, are you guys fluent yet?" Oh mercy. So. Far. From It. It's almost demoralizing how far from fluent we are. Even though we can step back and see marked progress from when we arrived, it's just still super difficult.

In front of the Hôtel De Ville, deciding to land-skate, because the lines were too long for ice-skating. 

Now, can I interject to say ... we're okay! Life isn't falling apart at the seams and we aren't caressing maps of the States and weeping to the melancholy sounds of Kenny G. But. It has to be okay for it to still be hard for us. We aren't acclimated yet, a "groove" doesn't exist, we are confused all the time ... and we are choosing, as a family, to be good with that. 

I recently saw a graph that marked out the stages of expatriate adjustment. We've barely arrived, so I don't have full perspective, but I'd say it seems pretty realistic. In a nutshell, there is the Honeymoon Stage (2-6 weeks ... weeks!), Culture Shock (6-8 months), Gradual Adjustment (1-2 years), Competency (2-4 years), and "Mastery" (5-7 years). 

Uh, yeah. We are 1.5 - 3.5 years away from Competency. Not mastery, competency.

 Lucette and Peter noticing something surprising (I can't even remember what!)

However, somehow seeing these statistics is oddly comforting. It would be strange for us to be any more comfortable or competent than we are. We are just a goofy American family fumbling through each day, happy to enjoy the beauty and magic of living here and trusting in the Lord to get us through all of the small, yet Herculean tasks of life ... like talking to the plumber when there is water leaking from the ceiling ... or figuring out French light bulbs ... or asking the butcher for a paper towel because the ham hock he gave you is dripping blood on your sleeve but he has to politely correct your grammar, have you repeat, and then go get a paper towel for you.

In front of Notre Dame de Paris

When we first got here, everything was so new and fascinating, it balanced out the smack-in-the-face of the language difficulties. It leveled out the feeling of having an invisible American flag above our heads, announcing the fact that we were weird and didn't fit in.

And I laugh now at thinking I spoke French "a little bit" when we moved here. Uh, no. I think I can speak about 10 times better now, and if someone asked me today if I speak French, I would chuckle and say, "hardly at all!" And those French school lunches! So exciting at first, and now it is balanced out with the mandatory "goopy cheese" and extreme suspicion over any dish with the word "tête" ("head") in it.


But we are also finding ourselves to be assimilating ever so slowly. When we first arrived, Pops announced, "I will not be wearing scarves." Um, yeah. He wears one every. single. day. I think he got three for Christmas.

In the above photo, Pops is in front of a Metro sign. Though he himself was, perhaps, in a bedraggled, tourist state, he declared he had found his "style icon." His style icon? Is this my husband talking? The man who thinks black athletic socks can take you from work, soccer, poolside, and then to a wedding?

Peter and Pops on the Pont de l'Archeveche, the "Love Lock Bridge" 

The children are navigating school and learning what to reserve their energy for and what to just not care about. We are learning how to rely on each other in new ways and support each other's deficiencies. A favorite meal time conversation starter is, "What embarrassing thing happened to you today?"

Sometimes I feel guilty about complaining or trotting out all of my "you won't believe this" stories. It is not lost on me that I am living the life I have literally dreamed of. Sure it's hard, but shoot. You're living in a farmhouse in France! How hard can it be? Get over it! 

But even when life is just as you would have it ... it can still be kick-in-the-bum hard, no?

Jane and I take a "selfie" while waiting for lunch

Yet here we are. In all it's glory. Indulge me, if you would, if sometimes I feel the need to unload. It's important for me to chronicle the joys and blessings, yet some of the beastly bits seem important too. Someday, we'll look back on this time and like stones of remembrance, recall all that God has done for us ... in all of our circumstances.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Je Suis Charlie and Shared Humanity

Oh, it's been a hard week in France. It has been 7 full days since the initial horror of the shootings in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The days of senseless regard for life continued on through Friday. Everywhere, even here in our Norman town, signs were posted. "Je suis Charlie" ... "I am Charlie." Instantly, this became a very personal event for France

These events have been devastating for the country. It's a very "9/11" feel here for the French. Of course, there is the loss of life and the shock, grief, and fear that follows. What has also been interesting to me is how much the circumstances and target of the violence, satirical political journalists, has utterly outraged the French. The issue of "liberté" is very deeply apart of their cultural DNA. As Americans, it can perhaps be hard to understand all of it, particularly associated with a rather intentionally-offensive magazine/publication. But this form of satirical commentary is centuries old for the French. (Ever remember seeing some of Marie Antoinette from the French Revolution? Even citizens who couldn't read had a chance to be a part of the thought and controversies of the day.) It was explained to me that part of how thoughts and freedom and ideas are expressed here ... whether you agree or not ... are very much linked to "cartoons" of the Charlie Hebdo's of France. 

On Sunday, we had the opportunity to join our French neighbors to eat a traditional New Year's galette and watch the Paris march take place. A march where near 2 million people were brought together in an act of unity. Walking, crying, even erupting into collective clapping and cheering ... together. 

Sitting there, in the living room of Madame L., watching the event unfold ... it was a moment in history and an experience I shall not soon forget. I was struck that even in our our grief, even in our differences, our shared humanity is such a deeply beautiful thing.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Reflections and a New Year

 We are enjoying the last vestiges of the holiday season. The tree (which came with the rootball!), decorated with dried orange slices, holly, and paper snowflakes, has been de-potted and is now living a happy life down by the creek.

These past weeks we have spent a lot of time in front of the fire together, staying warm and just "being." We've also used the time to make some touristy day-trips that we've been meaning to accomplish. Christmas sights in Paris, D-day Beaches, and even Versailles (brrr ... 2 hours waiting in 30+ degree temps! It was a bonding experience).

We've also been enjoying our gifts from each other. We kept it pretty simple this year, focusing on experiences and less stuff. As mentioned before, it's a practical approach, but also beautiful in its simplicity.

One gift I was rather excited to find was a print of the city we live in. Right in front of the church, our town still holds outdoor markets every Tuesday and Friday, so similar to as that depicted. I think our family will enjoy looking at this in years to come.

School is starting up on Monday, and the children are less than excited. I feel the same! It's hard to let go of these simple, quiet times together in exchange for days of challenge. But even though I want to fret and trouble over each little bump on our paths ... my desire for the new year is to worry less, pray more. And because I know how sick of my own problems I can become ... praying more for others in my time of anxieties. Gosh, it's good to not deal with myself all the time!

Have a blessed New Year and Bonne Année!

"... let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus." 
Hebrews 12:2


Friday, December 26, 2014

La Poésie de Noël


At school, the children in Jane's class work on memorizing a new poem each month. I'm amazed with Jane's increasing capacity. We still have to look up a lot of the words for meaning, but her pronunciation is incroyable! 

A Christmas poem from Jane to you!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Mistletoe on the Water Spigot


The children are home from school and Christmas Break officially has commenced. We are all most happy about this.

It feels rather significant to have made it to this season of rest and celebration. Our Christmas will be quiet this year. We shall miss our dear ones, to be sure, but two weeks of a virtually blank calendar seems like heaven. Fireside evenings, holiday food, festive lights, day-trips, and lazy mornings ... and just each other.

In this intensely nutty adventure we are on, we are also gifted with much more stillness than ever before. These days of extremes both stretch the muscles of our very being to a point of pain and exhaustion ... and then there is recovery in days heavy with joy and quiet.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

French Yogurt Wishes You Joyeuses Fêtes!

We have been trying to be very mindful of purchases here. Not only to watch the budget (oooh, it's expensive to live in EU!), but also because when we return home in the future, we have to get everything back home the way we came ... all on the plane! No moving crew or shipping containers here.

But. One thing I have become rather infatuated with is ... the terracotta yogurt cups. I've already mentioned what an art form yogurt is here, but oh these little glazed tubs have me. Thick, rich, seriously good yogurt made by La Fermière in little tubs that couldn't be any more delightful.

 And what did I find this last week at the market? Christmas pots! Oh the joy! My plan is to squirrel these purchases away into visitor's luggage with the promise to hold on to them for me! "We'll put you up in our farmhouse ... you bring home my yogurt pots." It's a good trade-off, no?

Any suggestions on how we should use these to decorate this season?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Simple Christmas Decorations: Orange Pomanders

Do you remember making orange pomanders as a child? I do, with fond memories. Such a fun, do-able craft that leaves you with something beautiful, smelling gorgeous ... and you don't have to pack up and store when you are all done enjoying them!

On Thanksgiving Day this year, we had a gloriously sunny day. While still brisk, it was lovely to be outside. So with a bowl of oranges, toothpicks and cloves (whole, not ground!), we set to work.

The easiest way I've found is to poke a hole with a toothpick and then insert a whole clove. Pops and I were both reminiscing and laughing over doing this very activity as kids and both remarked at the lack of toothpicks in the venture and feeling so aggravated as each clove broke off and we ended up with really sorry looking pocked oranges. Use the toothpicks.

 
Another great thing about making these pomanders is the artistic license one can assume. Spiral, random, stripes, or the "royal orb" as we liked to christen the cross like pattern.

We approached the patterning pretty nonchalantly, but a quick Google search will give you tons of impressive ideas.

 And as mentioned, even Pops got in on the fun. But straight-up crafting is too pedantic for Pops. He had to work out the best clove/toothpick/orange/hand-movement methodology for maximum efficiency. (Notice the two-handed approach in the photo.)

 All in all, it was a really lovely family activity. Super simple, instant gratification. I am truly loving this kind of "natural" approach to holiday decorating this year. Necessary, since we don't have any of our stuff, but also a joy in its simplicity.

 We've set the tray-full on the living room coffee table and I think we are all pretty proud of them. Plus they smell so good! A fun way to start off the Christmas excitement.

*Have you ever tried this with ribbon? I think they could make good friend/neighbor gifts if made so you could hang them by a ribbon!

*I've also heard that you can let these pomanders dry naturally and they will stay scented for a year! 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thankful in France

We had a lovely little Thanksgiving this week. We had invited a couple from church, but the morning of, they fell ill and were not able to come. Sad for them, sad for us. But nevertheless, a full day at home (I let the kids skip school!) with good weather and excessive amounts of food is still a good day!

I had been told that whole turkeys are not available until mid-December here, but the boucherie could order one for me ... plucked, but with the head, feet, and innards intact. Uh non, merci. The butcher at my everyday market had a large cuisse de dinde, which is something like a turkey leg with the thigh. Sounds good to me.

He also insisted that I cook the turkey with marrons,  or chestnuts. Chestnuts are a big thing here. I bought a pre-shelled pack and just layered them under the turkey with some sliced carrots. Turned out lovely!

Incidentally, the butcher also gave me detailed instructions on how to cook it. Which honestly, I appreciate! I love how their job here is really their craft. They take it very seriously and want to send their goods off to a home that will cook it properly! He recommended rubbing it with butter not olive oil, seasoning with herbs and salt/pepper, and cooking for 1h15 on setting 6. (Not only is everything celsius here, but the ovens have single digit settings. Honestly, I just guessed on "setting 6" and it all seemed fine.)

At one point, I also thought the butcher was telling me I needed to cut the piece between the leg and the thigh at the joint. So, I just nodded my head and said, "oui." (Like I always do.) Apparently, he was asking me if I wanted him to do it for me, so after my "oui" he nods his head in approval, turns around, slaps the piece of meat on the cutting board and wields a cleaver the size of my face .. wham, wham! Done. Wow.

While at the grocery, I could not find yams/sweet potatoes, corn meal for cornbread (corn is feed for animals here, not people!), cranberries, or pumpkin. A challenge to make a traditional meal! However, we ended up accompanying the bird with mashed potatoes, gravy, fresh bread and roasted veggies. Jane made poached apples and pears (wow!), I made a pumpkin pie from a coveted can of tinned pumpkin my mother brought me, and Lucette made:

a triple layer chocolate cake with chocolate ganache frosting. Wowzas.

Most of the holidays here overlap some with American, but quite obviously, Thanksgiving isn't a on the French calendar. Such a shame really, because it is a truly lovely holiday, isn't it? Family, food, and thankfulness? Love it. It was rather strange to be here on this day, knowing we'd have to carve out our own version of the holiday instead of falling back on tradition. But truly, we have much to be thankful for.