Tag Archives: life

Playing in the Kitchen

Stoney really liked the Catalonian “tortillas.” So much so, that he tried a hand at making his own. No recipe, just playing.

potato and onion mixture, chopped

potato and onion mixture, chopped

I think he got remarkably close to our Barcelonan breakfast.

Stoney's first onion potato tortilla.

Stoney’s first onion potato tortilla.

He added some spices, but it still wasn’t quite as flavorful as the real thing. Next time we’ll experiment some more. It isn’t real pretty, but it looks a lot like the one in Spain.

My slice of tortilla with toasted baguette and a drizzle of olive oil.

My slice of tortilla with toasted baguette and a drizzle of olive oil.

The next morning I tried a new scone flavor I had been considering: pumpkin scone with maple glaze. It is very lightly pumpkin, because I have to use the fresh pumpkin, rather than the canned puree.

We almost ate them all before I remembered to take a photo!

We almost ate them all before I remembered to take a photo!

I do think my favorite meal to cook is breakfast!

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Weather in Toulouse?

I was recently told that this has been a very unusually wet winter for southern France. What a relief! With a light rain soaking everything yet another day, having had only two or three recently with some sunshine, I am glad to know this is not the normal state of things. The knowing doesn’t make it sunnier right now, though.

The little river behind my house is full, dark, and fast.

The little river behind my house is full, dark, and fast.

At least SOMEbody is appreciating the weather!

At least SOMEbody is appreciating the weather!

A neighboring ville’s little river is featured here by another expat blogger.

Even the snow here has been wet. We’ve had one real snow day. Or, well, snow morning, really. It was barely cold enough to give us snow overnight. (Sorry, frozen fellow Kansans).

Snowy driveway

Snowy jardin.

This stuff was soaking wet and heavy. Apparently some areas actually lost power because of it. Also, I am informed by my French teacher (I think. I was informed in French, so there is plenty of room for misunderstanding.) that snow isn’t called wet or dry here. She was dumbfounded that one would call snow wet when it is so obviously water. OF COURSE it’s wet! Trying to explain what one means by this phrase is nearly impossible with a limited vocabulary. But the fact that by 9 am it was already slushy mush on the pavement is testimony to its wetness. We have had many more dry snows in Wichita recently, where the snow is so dry you can’t even pack together a snowball. Here, snow is just snow apparently.

The weight of our dusting of snow pulling down the branches here.

The weight of our dusting of snow pulling down the branches here.

By the time we left for church at 10 am, most of the snow had melted off the streets (especially good since they don’t much do anything about snow here). By the time we left church after noon, it was mostly gone. So there you go: snow in Toulouse. Most of the winter I have enjoyed temps above freezing; a really nice change from Wichita, which at least visited temps below 0 degrees FARENHEIT almost every year, and occasionally camped in that temperature-range for some time.

Maybe next year will be more like the sunny south of France.

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The Beauty of Clean Drinking Water

Public clean water fountains may be in the French villes, but I just haven’t run across them yet. And of course, public drinking fountains abound in the states, although folks might look at you funny if you brought up your jug and attempted to fill it there. But what struck me in Catalonia was how beautiful the public drinking fountains were. I captured two, but when we go to Barcelona in January, I plan to add to my collection, if they continue to prove to be works of art.

An unprepossessing, yet charming fountain, a little like a chess pawn.

Much more elaborate, in the tony seaside town of Roses, not far from the marina.

And while we are here in Roses, I just have to mention our lunch. We enjoyed a wonderful meal at a seaside cafe beside the marina.

We ate protected from the wind by plastic windows rolled down around the patio. Theo’s curry is on the way.

And afterward we had some amazing Italian gelato at a spot down the boardwalk.

I guess its never too cold or windy for gelato.

I also have the MOST FUN photo of Theo mimicking one of three adorable ice cream-eating toddlers in a huge photo on the wall, but was strictly forbidden from posting it. Such a disappointment! It makes me happy every time I see it, but you will just have to imagine the fun antics of a family at Roses.

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Transformation and Aging

When I turned 40, I felt like life was clipping along at a rather high rate of speed. So much of my life was beyond my control, dictated by other forces. I had two teenagers, I was homeschooling two children, and the younger of the two was just beginning to be suspected of dyslexia with its added load of chaos. I had a presence at two schools, and I think that began the second year of really trying to get TeenMOPS rolling, which was a monster of an undertaking. I wanted to be available in my daily life to breathe grace into the lives of friends, neighbors and acquaintances, but I didn’t seem to have the ownership of my time to even stop and take cookies to a neighbor moving out, telling her I’d miss her. This was bad, and I didn’t want to continue in the fast lane the rest of my life. I needed something to change; maybe me to change.

Not a flattering photo, but of me in Texas, 40 years old, re-evaluating my life.

From this was born my 50 Before 50. I wanted to set in print, where it could take on form and potentially life, some of my true priorities. The expressions of those priorities made sense at the time, and I have achieved some in every category, albeit allowing for some flexibility of interpretation:

a closer relationship to God When I became a group leader for Bible Study Fellowship, I took that over a Kay Arthur Bible study (#31). With the required homiletics, I felt it was just as rigorous, and I know I learned just as much from my time in God’s Word.  As a Day Women’s Group leader, I also attended a BSF retreat with my group, and I counted that as a women’s retreat (#27). It certainly achieved the spiritual and relational goals intended. I haven’t memorized the verses, though (#32), which makes me kind of sad, because I invested time trying not to lose the ones I already have instead, and haven’t been completely successful at that.

a closer relationship to my family I am unsure how successful this one has been, but I ticked things off the list nonetheless. I did develop a habit of celebrating even the little victories of my children (#41), thus becoming a more positive, less critical parent. More could be done, though. And some of the items intended to build memories to savor in the future were done with family members, so also serving this goal. I attended my first opera (#24) with my older daughter, which became one of several we enjoyed our experience together so much. I made tiramasu (#8) with my husband, and it was fun together. But Stoney and I never did succeed in making time together for another dance class (#13), I never made time to take the girls to the Hill Country to stay in the Barn(#12), and Theo and I never made it to Mount Rushmore (#40) even after we moved to Kansas, when it would have been much closer to do so. I doubt I’ll squeeze that one in now.

improvements in my own character I’ve thrown out a lot of things I’m not using, and even simplified enough to trim things I was, but didn’t need to (#5). I got up enough courage to donate platelets (#35) and repeated several times more. I maintained a strength and weights program until my injury late this spring (#39), and I ran a 5K (#10), but I had lots of improvement goals that haven’t been met.

goals I need to help my kids achieve Well, I graduated the first three kids from high school, so that’s something (#s16, 36 &37). You might say it should have been on their goal lists, but getting kids through school requires a lot of coaching from parents! And I’m still on track to graduate a child from college (#17), this coming August in fact.

have fun and make memories That’s what most of the rest of the list was for. Some I achieved; many I didn’t. I think the most important ones have been checked off, though.

I just recently turned 47. Now, with time running out, I look over my list and wonder not only if these things are achievable now (any whales in this part of the Atlantic?), but are they even desirable now? My list doesn’t really show it, but these last seven years have been transforming; I am not the woman I was that short time ago. I thought God had already brought me through so much, changed me so much, but I could not have guessed how much more he had in store. My priorities haven’t changed, but are these remaining goals how I still want to achieve them? I’m definitely getting older, and my perspective of what is important is changing. Probably my physical abilities, too!  Do these goals still make sense?

In France at 47.

I’m thinking…no. Especially not in the light of my current circumstances! Most years of my remaining fourth decade are going to be spent right here in Europe. I need an addendum to my list! I’ll be prayerfully considering what I don’t want to leave France without doing, keeping in mind my priorities, and adding a priority: serve others more than myself. And I am willing to hear suggestions as well. When I get my addendum, I’ll add it to the 50 page and link it.

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The Genesis of a Craving Satisfied

Lately I’ve been craving…scones. Not biscuits, mind you, which are certainly wonderful in their flakey, fluffy soda-y-ness. Scones. I think it may be the result of the infusion of British accents several times a week: English, Irish, and New Zealanders.

So anyway, Theo and I gave in yesterday and baked up a batch, but kind of like my grandmother would have made, had she ever made scones, which I doubt. It’s the French ingredients, see. We started with my basic scone recipe, American-style, which means the measurements are by volume, not weight. European recipes mostly don’t use cups and teaspoons, but I brought my own kitchen measuring devices.

Whipped cream melting off my fresh-from-the-oven scone.

So…we mixed three cups flour (and I finally found some I am SURE is the equivalent of all-purpose), some salt, 5 teaspoons of baking powder (lavure chimique), and 1/2 cup of sugar together, and cut in my best guess of a 1/2 cup of butter. I can’t eyeball a stick, because butter comes in these rectangular slabs. And they are marked by the gram, not the tablespoon, not the fraction of a cup. I felt I was totally channeling my grandma, watching the texture of the dough, trying to get something almost like coarse sand, rather than tapoica, like I would for pie. Theo beat an egg into a cup of cream (the tiny little bottle of cream is actually creme entiere, which is one of several kinds of little bottles with the word creme on them, and was my best guess to be heavy cream), and we barely worked that into our dough.

We had decided on cinnamon scones, so I shook a pile of, I dunno, maybe a half teaspoon of cinnamon on the dough, then barely worked that in as well. This dough was turned onto a floured surface, and we put another half teaspoonful on the dough, floured the top, and folded the dough about four times. You really do NOT want to work the dough too much; the scones lose their tenderness. Also, the goal with the cinnamon is that some works through the whole dough, but some kind of clusters through it in ribbons.

We cut this dough pile in half, shaped the two halves into circles, then cut each into quarters. These were placed on an oiled cookie sheet and sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar. We baked them at 400 degrees F, which turns out to be 200 degrees C. I’m slowly adjusting to that French oven! I watched them closely, and it took about 10 minutes. I think they may be the best I’ve ever made.

I’m actually drooling again just looking!

It was amazing with a double cafe from my Senseo. And this morning Stoney and I chopped ripe French peaches (which are always amazing) and topped the scones with those. Crisp on the outside, tender inside, and just sweet enough. It’s enough to give you a British accent of your own!

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France: Home of the Wimpy Pests

Imagine sleeping all night with the cool evening breeze from your bedroom window caressing your face. The morning sun begins to light the sky, gently, slowly waking you, while doves coo outside your screenless window. You rise and walk to that window, stretching arms wide into the freshly rinsed air from the late night rain.

My fairy-tale bedroom window.

In every state I’ve ever lived in, this would not have the fairy tale-movie happy ending, where all the forest animals bring you coffee and toast in bed. In the states, you would peer at your newly wakened self in the mirror and gasp at the welts the mosquitos have raised all over your face. The opossum that entered through your window in the night scurries past your feet in terror, wondering how to get out. Mud dauber wasps have begun a nest in the corner of your ceiling, and is that a BAT? And this is if you live in a small enough or rural enough town that you can be sure, well, pretty sure, that no two-legged varmint has come and gone through that screenless open window.

But France can get pretty close to the fairy-tale vision. When I first asked the relo lady why the windows had no screens, and if it was because France has no bugs, she looked at me like I had grown a third eye. She told me that OF COURSE they have bugs. They live with them. I just could not get my head around it. The reason, see, is because she HAS NO IDEA. Yes, France has bugs. We are living with open windows, and every few days a fly wanders in. We bought fly swatters. Twice I have heard teeny, tiny little buzzing mosquitos, and once I think one bit me. A gnat was sort of hovering while I checked my email yesterday morning. Once a neighborhood cat tried to check us out. We get a few moths after dark when the lights are on, but folks, that’s pretty much it in the three weeks we’ve been living here. The relo lady has obviously never experienced American pests.

American mosquitos never, NEVER travel alone, and they are BIG suckers. You hear an American mosquito buzz, and you don’t look around wondering where it is; you’ll SEE it. American gnats travel in clouds, maybe even cloud BANKS. Yes, I have cleaned out wasp and mud dauber nests from inside houses, and that is houses WITH screens. And don’t get me started on the flies! And yes, you will find snakes, bats, and birds in houses in the States, despite our best attempts to seal them out. I have been visited by opossums, skunks, raccoons, and armadillos, and had the door to the porch been open, I am sure some of those visitors would have accepted the invitation. And I would genuinely feel unsafe sleeping with windows and sliding glass doors open in a comparably sized city back home. Or even unlocked.

Here, everyone is doing it. And I DID wake up this glorious morning to the mourning doves and the fresh, rain-swept breeze, and leaned out my open window to greet the day. Amazing!

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Need a Friend? Try the laundromat!

Last Saturday was laundry day. After so long at the hotel, we were desperately in need of some clothes washing. We had found a lavaterie automatique in Tournefeuille, so early in the morning we bagged up a couple of loads and headed over. The system is a little different, with a control panel for all the machines, including the one from which you buy deteregent. As Stoney and I were sorting through the French instructions, an older woman sitting, waiting for her own laundry, popped up and offered to help, in perfectly serviceable English. What a precious and enthusiastic guide she turned out to be!

I am calling this a God-appointment, though, as this friendly, bubbly woman of Dutch descent was delighted at the prospect of practicing her English, which is her least-used of her three pretty fluent languages. She insisted we come that afternoon for tea with her and her husband, a Frenchman who speaks only French and Dutch, so that we could have a little opportunity to practice our tiny store of French. She even had Stoney walk home with her to make sure we could find it, being new to the community and all.

Frankly, all afternoon as we banged furniture together, it seemed hard to believe someone we had met at the laundromat really wanted and expected us to show up in a few hours. It almost had that “axe-murderer-you-met-online” feel, you know? Except, not. But we grabbed a little bouquet of mini-carnations at the fluer-ist and arrived with offering in hand. My new-found friend was waiting at the corner to welcome us warmly, I think a little concerned that we would not find her. Her husband was so gracious as well, and they ushered us into their gate and a sheltered place in their garden, where a table had been placed, with chairs, and place settings for us all. She served us coffee actually, and tea for my tea-loving son (who loved the sugar cubes!), and orange juice as well. She offered little English cookies and chocolate cookies for Theo, and apricots, which I now suspect may have been from her own garden.

After tea she showed us around her garden, which out back included a full-blown actual Garden, with vegetables and fruit trees and a grape vine. It was amazing how much they fit into a compact spot. They insisted it was not pretty, though, because they hadn’t had rain in weeks. Still, they managed to send us off with a half-dozen really delicious tomatoes. They were an incredibly charming couple. We would like to return the hospitality and invite them to a friendly game of boules with some homemade lemonade. I hope they accept!

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French roadsigns

I like them. They usually have detailed people photos illustrating the dangers. And they are very fond of the bar through a loop, even for “leaving” a town. I know I have left my ville when I see a slash through Tournefeuille. But the pointy-haired mustachioed man is my favorite.

I actually saw a sign with spray painted eyes added, but I had noticed the facial-hair resemblance well beforehand. I wish I had taken a photo of the altered sign, though, because I haven’t been able to find it again. There are just SO MANY. It’s as if my city is warning of giant moustaches on almost every corner.

The Toulouse suburbs  cultivate a ton of these to keep folks driving a little slower. Theoretically.

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…in which I plead the case for Boules as an Olympic Sport.

That’s right, sports fans: boules. What, you don’t know the game? Well, ahem, to be fair, neither did I until our new church invited us to a “friendly” tournament of boules (pronounced “bul”). I was quickly schooled in the essentials of this ubiquitous French sport, a very, very old game apparently loved by all Frenchmen, and by really old, patient Frenchmen in particular.

In the French version, or pétanque, players toss a little target ball the size of a big shooter marble down a long, hopefully flat and grassy rectangular area. Then, armed with little cannon balls that fit in your hand (maybe the size of a big orange or small grapefruit?), players take turns hefting the balls toward the target ball, in hopes of getting closest. Sort of like horseshoes or washers. But, like croquet, you can knock the other player’s ball away to take the closest spot yourself. You can also hit the little target ball and knock it closer to a teammate’s ball. Really, this little lawn game is a bit addictive, and definitely more compelling than it sounds. It seems to inspire an intensity in players that rivals the final swimming heats with Lochte and Phillips, the tension building as balls accumulate around the little target.

A boule has been thrown! Note Theo in the back (red shirt) with his boule in hand. This field was on a slope with sand and gravel, so I think I can be safe to say it was a challenging course.

The other end of the course, where many judges wait to call the closest, and coaches offer advice on where to aim. This was a blast, even in the failing light.

This was a close game! Overlooking Theo’s head, participants attempt to identify the winning boule.

As Wikipedia has it, this game is probably as old any other Olympic game, with origins in Greece and Rome. It’s egalitarian, so that any little country could take up the hefty metal balls and invest in a team. If ping-pong and mixed doubles badminton can still claim a spot on the medal roster, then why not boules? And in fact, there is an organization,  Confédération Mondiale des Sports de Boules, actually created for lobbying the Olympic committee to add boules, though unsuccessfully thus far.

I think I know what this sport needs to take over the edge to Olympic glory: wild outfits. Take curling, for instance. This IS an Olympic sport, and it’s even a relative of the game of boules. Why does it not live in the relative obscurity of boules? Obviously it must be the uniforms. Folks couldn’t stop talking about curling last winter Olympics in Vancouver, and part of it was thanks to Norway: these uniforms were the talk of the water cooler!

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All the World’s a Stage

Today we went into Toulouse city centre to sign up for all our telecommunications needs at Orange, the national communications company. Why Toulouse? Because that is where our relocation guide got us hooked up with a fairly fluent English speaker and prepared our contract to fit our needs for cable, internet, a landline phone for the house (required in France), and mobile phones for me and Theo. (Stoney has a corporate mobile). While there, we did some sightseeing. I love people-watching on the streets of Toulouse.

There were musicians, of course:

An organ grinder. He had lovely tunes. Doesn’t he seem focused?

This gentleman played a beautiful accordian, even if the photo is awful. He was one of two that really made the streets sound French.

There was also a young man in the plaza selling fresh squeezed orange juice from a cart. I know he wasn’t technically entertainment, but we found him highly entertaining. He got a lot of business from a wedding group that had recently left the city hall, or mairie, and was animated and helpful with them. We bought a glass from him, and when he asked where we were from, he responded to Stoney’s answer of “America” with “I’m from America, too! Where? It’s very big.” We told him, and he shared with us that he is from Chile. I laughed at the truth of that! He is my American brother from SOUTH America, Chile! He did spend a couple of years in Boston, though.

The beautiful and entertaining wedding party.

entertainment here

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