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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reflections on our Trip into Paris

 My mama has now been returned to the States and we do sorely miss her. She's a dream guest. A dream mother, for that matter.

But now we have many happy memories. Including the trip to Paris that Jane and I took to pick Grammy up. We decided to incorporate it into a slightly-belated birthday trip for Jane (less "things" more experiences, are our goals whilst here!). We left La Cressonnière a day early and took the train into the city for a grand adventure. (In the interest of honesty, I was so nervous to take the train in for the first time and navigate around Paris! After I do things once, I feel much more confident ... but boy, I did have the jitters this first time around!)

We stayed in a very reasonable hotel directly across the street from the Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter. A short metro or cab ride from Gare Montparnasse with an incredible amount of tourist delights within easy access. Recommended without hesitation.

Jane is a marvelous traveler. She is easy-going, willing to find interest and joy in everything, and cute as a bug (if I do say so myself). We spent the day in search of the best pastry shop (Gerard Mulot - amazing), walking through the grounds of the Louvre and the adjoining Jardin des Tuileries, and seeing two different movies being shot. Fascinating!

And knowing Jane's love for animals and insects, we stopped at Deyrolle, a taxidermy shop of epic proportions. It's free entrance and a marvel!


 The next morning, full with anticipation of Grammy's arrival, we walked over the Seine to see Notre Dame de Paris. (Did you know that the de Paris is a pretty important part of the name here? Notre Dame is a university in the States, Notre Dame de Paris is a cathedral in France!)


And sometimes we just stopped and watched the city.

And by the time we returned back to the hotel, Grammy had arrived! She was shockingly full of vim and vigor and we stashed her bags and set off to stretch her legs. A quick walk over to the Jardin du Luxembourg, we found an older gentlemen selling freshly roasted chestnuts.

How can one not buy hot chestnuts to eat in Paris?

And floating on clouds of happiness because we were all together, we gloried in the beauty of Paris in the fall and the time to be spent in the weeks ahead.

Even though my heart, once again, is missing the presence of my mama ... I am so grateful for the time we had the chance to "travel" together! This whole experience is a rather grand one, and to be doing it alongside my dear ones is such a treat.

Until you return, Mama!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Birthdays, Expectations, and Feeling Loved

Yesterday was my birthday. I never really know how to feel about birthdays. I don't really mind being another year older, I don't think it is that. Perhaps it is expectation? Or wanting to to not have expectations (i.e. disappointments) for the day? Does the day function differently even though there is still life to be attended to? How does one field the recognition of a day of self? Is it just me or can it feel a bit disconcerting?

Yesterday was my birthday. I am thirty-eight. I have my husband, my children, we are living in France and my mother is here for a visit. It has been a magnificently wacky year and I am grateful beyond measure. Nothing else needed!

But that said, whether I like to admit it or not ... it does feel awfully nice to have loved ones sending notes and saying kind things. For breakfast to be prepared and admonishments administered (no, you may not help clear the table!). And even for a gift or two to be received.

Last night, after a day of exploring Bayeux, I settled into a surprise birthday evening that made me marvel. Shooed away from the kitchen with instructions to "dress fancy," I sat down to a meal planned and prepared by my daughter, Lucette, and her fine sibling sous chefs. Jane added some ambience with end-of-season cuttings from the garden, Peter assembled a perfectly crackling fire, and we ate and shared and loved.

What's more ... they were all so pleased to do this for me.

I don't need fancy. I really don't. Some grocery store flowers and birthday sandwiches on paper plates suit me just fine. But I was humbled, this birthday. To be loved and celebrated so intentionally ... for the effort to be made on my account ... I stopped feeling discomfited and just felt loved.

**As a side note, during dessert I was also re-gifted a favored card that hosts a battery-operated mustache and sings Happy Birthday. Peter and Pops decided I couldn't really want to keep it and decided it would be much more fun to artfully place it in the smoldering embers of the fire while activated. It then proceeded to explode, rocketing coals and sparks and sending all of the women in to shrieks of terror and the boys into giggle fits of glee. Every fancy dinner needs some entertainment.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Some Adventuring Together


Oh, it has been so utterly marvelous to have day after day with my mother here. Not only do we get the simple pleasures of breakfasts together and evening fireside chats in our jammies, we get to do some adventuring together.

This past weekend we journeyed to the north to see Mont St-Michel. What a stunning sight.

I can't express how privileged I feel to be having these experiences with my family and, in this case, to be sharing them with my mama. Our days here are not always easy nor comfortable, yet they are so worth it. 

There are times I feel stretched beyond my limit, but goodness. Look where were we are.

And my mama? She is here just loving us, feeding into us, cheering us on, affirming us, and experiencing life with us. I love every moment of her presence. 

So, so grateful.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My Mama Comes for a Visit!


No time for posting ... just enjoying time with ma mère. It's been heavenly.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Countryside and Unbounded Freedom


Fresh back from a trip across the Channel. Countryside, family time, exploring, adventures, perils, ... speaking English. Glorious.


In uncheckt shadows of green brown, and grey
Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene
-The Mores, John Clare

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lucette Makes Friends for Us All

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.
Psalm 68:9

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Teenage Boy and His Woodpile

 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.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Different Pace, A Different Way

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?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Church, Quiche, and Learning to Share

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.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Immigration Appointments, Underpants, and Stamps in our Passports

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.