Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The last blog entry of 2008! I'd be tempted to make it long and meaningful, but I only have about five minutes in which to write it. So, I'm settling for short and superficial.

Time is short because I've spent most of my day out running errands in an ice storm (great idea , I know) and cleaning the house. And now I have to go jump in the car again and drive UP the mountain (which is NOT the way to be going in bad weather) to go help get ready for tonight's New Years Eve party.

Yes, we got invited to a party and yes, we are actually going. JP and I are neither of us much for partying, but figured that if we ever want to start really fitting in, it would be best not to reject kindly meant invitations. Even if the event involved is a bit (or maybe huge) pain in the neck.

Tonight's event is a sort of do-it-yourself party. A small number of local families have gotten together, rented a community party hall and planned a huge, French-style meal. I wasn't in on the planning stage, but had to go along last night to do the shopping. The five of us stormed through a local supermarket, piling carts with oysters, smoked salmon, shrimp, paté, terrine, and other goodies, not to mention wine, wine and more wine.

This afternoon, the five of us are supposed to meet down at the hall to start cooking and to prepare the tables. Then we rush back home, get dressed up, gather up our families and go back up to the hall. Once there, some people will be eating and dancing while other people will be serving food and fussing around in the kitchen.

As you may have guessed, I am an "other people".

And then tomorrow morning, we "other people" have to be back at the hall to clean up everything.

The fact that the party is for families is nice. I wouldn't care to be leaving the kids and the MIL at home.

But still, it is an awful lot of work. And once again, it's women using their "vacation" time to provide hours of unpaid labour that will go unrecognised by everyone...

Bitter? Moi? Mais non...
Have a nice New Year's Eve.
I'll see you in 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Was the light fixture from Hell worth all the trouble?

Well, JP and I ended up liking it very much. But then maybe that's just due to some Stockholm Syndrome-type reaction. You know- bonding with and showing loyalty to the source of your terror and misery......
But here it is.

My MIL says it's gorgeous. "Like something in the Chateau de Versailles" and that's a direct quote. She doesn't know the top bits are plastic, though. Not much plastic in Louis XIV trappings and accoutrements, I'm thinking. Just a guess.

The Lamp not actually in it's permanent spot. We needed a light in this hallway, so JP popped it in, despite the fact that it's a bit over-dramatic for a small upstairs corridor full of books. Eventually, it will hang in the central stairwell, which is over two stories high. Should look good there.

Oh. It's snowing. Again!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My faithful reader friends, I think we've known each other long enough that I can share some of my most deeply-held spiritual beliefs with you: There IS a Hell. I am probably going there. And it is VERY much like Ikea.
It is not air conditioned and it is populated by demons, so in these respects it is unlike the popular chain of furniture stores.
But I'm pretty sure that the major punishment doled out in Hell is Satan himself handing you a huge carton full of plywood and mutated-looking hardware with a command to make an attractive and functional armoire.
And when the armoire is done, he gives you a desk to assemble.
And when that is finished, he gives you THIS:

and says "Make an elaborate light fixture. Now. Or else it's the Lake of Eternal Fire for you, young lady."

And when you ask for instructions, he hands you a tiny ripped bit of paper with a miniscule diagram on it. Like this: Oh wait, this isn't Hell. This isn't Satan's do-it-yourself project. It's my husband's. I hasten to add that other than his penchant for Ikea-style torture, my spouse bears no resemblance to the Prince of Darkness whatsoever. Not that I didn't call him Bad Names when I saw the pile of metal rods, glass plates, plastic disks and mysterious bits of wire that were supposed to be made into something suitable for hanging in our home.

Just before we left Ouagadougou, JP insisted on taking me to visit some light fixture "shops" near the palace of the Moro Naaba. The quotation marks denote the fact that the "shops' were three metal-roofed shacks about eight feet square. Each one contained hundreds of lights and lamps and also, it seemed, hundreds of employees. There was no room to move in these places, they were so full of people fulfilling no discernable function.

Why were we here? JP had taken it into his head that we HAD to buy some lights to take back to France for our admittedly spartan house. I didn't really see WHY we needed to buy over-priced lamps made by Chinese prisoners and imported to Africa, but he insisted. So, we chose one, an elaborate three-level confection of crystal drops, engraved glass panels and blown-glass rods.

We told the multitudinous personnel that we would be travelling with the item, so they proposed to give us one still in its box. Only a little assembly required and voila! Instant sino-african elegance chez vous. What a good idea!

Of course, the idea looked far less good six months later when we finally got the box from our moving continer and opened it up. We dumped the contents on the dining room table and were confronted with hundreds of bits of metal, glass and wire. The "crystal" drops turned out to be plastic. And the "instructions" turned out to be a three inch square of torn paper with a mysterious diagram on it.

It looked hopeless.

It WAS hopeless.

But guess what? We DID it!

Check this space tomorrow for photos.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Crazed degus nipping at your hands...

What a scene it was. Mallory was in transports of pure joy over her Christmas gift- a Chilean Degu. She was SO happy and proud that she just HAD to show it to her Grandmere. But Grandmere is 80 years old, so instead of having her go upstairs to see Leon the Degu, she put him in a little plastic transport box and brought him down to the living room.
And he just looked SO cute that she couldn't resist opening the lid of the carrier, just a bit. And little Leon just couldn't resist sitting up and poking his head over the top. And when he saw the wide open spaces, he decided to make a break for it. He LEAPED out of the cage and scrambled across the floor like a mad thing.
Chaos ensued.
The kids grabbed the two cats (great rat-hunters both), pushed them out the door and slammed it. No one had any idea of where the degu had gone, except Alexa who SWORE she'd seen him scuttle under the Christmas tree. So, we poked and shook the tree till every needle was off it.
No degu.
We looked everywhere.
Mallory wept.
In my mind, I concocted Plan B: I'd let the cats in. I figured that I could probably get the degu away from them before they actually managed to decapitate him. (Decapitating rats was sort of our cats' hobby back in Africa)

But before I could clear the room and implement my risky scheme, Mallory spotted Leon behind the couch!! Valentine stationed herself at one end with a blanket, I was at the other end with a towel. I had the other kids blocking the archway that leads to the reading room.
I was sure we'd get him...but he scrambled under the couch, then right over Severin's legs and behind a bookcase.
We pulled the bookcase away and almost had him, but he scrambled right over Severin again and headed back towards the couch.
At this point, Severin had really had enough of being jumped on by a "rat".

In the end, it was Alexa that captured Leon. She's very agile, that child. And for some reason, he didn't bite her. He sure bit me when I picked him up to stuff him back into his box. I think he somehow sensed my Plan B and was punishing me for even thinking such a horrible thing...

So, that was our Christmas Day excitement. I hope that yours is more calm than mine and features fewer (as in ZERO) small, biting, scrambling, escaped rodents...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How on EARTH could I have written a post about Christmas in France and NOT mention the "Bûche de Noël"?! I think it's against the law here to have a holiday meal without one of these special yule log shaped cakes.

At this time of year, every bakery and supermaket in the country is jam-packed full of the tasty treats. And everyone buys one to enjoy on Christmas Day.

Except me. Yup. As you all probably know from reading my blog, it would be against everything I stand for to do things the easy and logical way.

It is, in fact, the very essence of BurkinaMom-ness, to bake a very thin sponge cake in a jelly roll pan, roll up the hot cake in a sugar-covered tea towel, let it cool, carefully unroll the fragile cake, spread on a cream filling, roll it all up again, cover it with cocoa buttercream frosting, and then disguise it all as a gaudily decorated piece of firewood.

It's all very fiddly, but a fun way to kill a few hours, if you enjoy cooking. Here's the recipe I used, if you want to give it a go.

There are many recipes for this cake out there on the internet, so be careful if you don't use mine and go looking around on your own. One of them I read even specified that besides a jelly roll pan and a mixer, you would also need to have on hand "an oiled broom handle suspended between 2 chair backs and newspapers on the floor" ???!! I didn't even have the courage to go to page two and find out what the heck the oiled broom handle was for.

Frankly, it was kind of scary.

The recipe I recommend is a fairly easy one and requires no chairs, lengths of wood or floor protection.

So, my cake is ready, as are the mashed potatoes. Valentine peeled about 12lbs yesterday and certainly deserves the very nice gifts she will be getting tomorrow morning.

My mother in law will be here soon. JP and the twins drove up to Lorraine yesterday to pick her up. They'll be here tonight in time for a French-style Christmas supper of smoked salmon, boudin, oysters and other fancy but easy to prepare foods.

Then we'll head off the the church at about 9pm. Valentine is in the Christmas pageant, so we have to get there a bit early. She plays the part of a busy mother trying to finish her Christmas preparations. Guess it's one of those new-fangled, hyper-realistic, non-traditional Christmas shows....

Enjoy your Christmas Eve, friends.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas is almost here and I'm sure many of you out there would like to know how we prepare for the holidays here in France.
You don't?

Well, too bad. It's today's scheduled Blog Topic here at "Burkinamom in France".

So, with no further ado, here it is: Noël in France

First of all, you decorate the exterior of your home or apartment balcony with twinkling lights. This is a relatively new thing. When I lived in France 10 years ago, Christmas lights were hard to find and very, very expensive. Now they are ubiquitous and only very expensive. I don't know why they cost so much more here than in most of the world. They are exactly the same plastic ropes of lights that you buy at the Walmart back in the USA, but here they are quite pricey. (This is true of most things here and the fact certainly deserves its own post one day)..

You put up your lights as best you can. In some cases, this is not very well. I think this is because while in the USA or Canada you probably helped your dad put up the lights when you were a kid, here there is no inter-generational knowledge to be passed on. It's all new. A particularly inept display on one home in our village prompted Alexa to remark "I think they made their blind grandma put up the lights." Cruel, but apt.

Besides the lights, you MUST have your plastic Santa dangling on a rope from a window. Other bloggers living in France have also posted bemused ramblings puzzling over WHY these decorations are so popular. For some reason, hanging from a balcony or window on nearly every dwelling is a plastic Santa "climbing" a rope, presumably to get in and leave gifts. At least, that's probably the concept. In reality, the things tend to look kind of sad or scary. The sad ones seem like they are desperately scared of falling (Help meeeee!!! they seem to be silently screaming, kind of putting a damper on any festive holiday feelings.) . The scary, leering ones look like they are breaking into your home to sexually molest your cat.

So, now your creepy Santa is hanging out the window. You are ready to get your Christmas tree! And if you live in the French Alps, what better way to get a tree than to hike up into the hills above your home and chop one down? So, that's just what we did. JP and a couple of our kids bundled up and set off through the knee-deep snow to find the perfect tree.
Which they did.
Perfect for re-enacting touching scenes from A Charlie Brown Christmas, that is.

The branches were few and sparse and the whole thing was more of an S-shape, rather than the traditional triangular pine configuration that most people favor in a Christmas tree.

So, the wise person goes out and buys a nice tree (Go to Botanic. They have good ones. Very reasonably priced). After it's decorated , you then put up your Nativity scene. This goes under or at least very near to the tree. If you don't have a wooden stable for your figures, you can easily buy "rock paper"- a sort of textured thick brownish paper that can easily be crumpled up to create a nice looking cave for the Holy Family and their well-wishers. (helpful hint: use tape to anchor everything down and prevent tragic paper "earthquakes".) Don't forget to put baby Jesus aside in a safe place. He can't go in his manger until Christmas Day.(Another helpful hint: DON'T forget where you put Baby Jesus. This is awkward and disappointing for all involved)

Of course, you need to have some gifts to go under the tree. But here in France, people tend not to go overboard. As things are so expensive here, folks just don't have the same buying power and disposable income as they do in the USA.

But one thing they do spend a fortune on is the FOOD. It is the focus of both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations. Yes, the toy aisles are crowded, but not nearly as mobbed as the seafood counter where people line up to buy their smoked salmon, caviar, oysters, coquilles saint jacques and other necessities.

Not that this means that the typical French person kills themselves cooking up a storm on Christmas. Many people buy ready-made most of the dishes they will serve! This is quite a sensible approach, if somewhat expensive.
The supermarket advertisements in France right now are full of offers of "Christmas menus". In general, they offer a per-head price for a pre-prepared, three or four course holiday meal.
I have one flyer right here in front of me, so I can give you some specific examples. I find them facinating. It's so NOT what you eat on Christmas back in Nebraska (or Burkina):

Delicious Menu: Foie Gras (duck), Shrimp casserole, broccolli mousse, duck with chestnut and hazelnut sauce, potato puffs.
14.50 euros per person

Exquisite Menu: foie Gras, seafood cassrole with mushrooms, fish with hollandaise sauce, pasta and julienne vegetables, veal medallions with autumn sauce, bordeaux wine.
18.90 euros per person

Supreme Menu: Appetiser trio (salmon and seafood), Foie gras with apple and quince chutney, fish and scallops in vegetable sauce, Capon in suterne sauce with polenta and truffles, champagne
25,90 euros per person.

And these are just the menus offered by our local, completely non-elegant supermarket!
So, the house is decorated, the tree is up, the fridge is full of food and everyone is in a festive mood. Except for the cats. They look worried...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

This is a picture I took of JP, Severin and Mallory in our back yard last weekend.
More snow has fallen since.
Lots more.

I nearly constantly can be heard singing "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It snow" in an effort to convince myself that snow is really nice.
It's sort of working, but the kids are perhaps a bit tired of hearing the same two songs over and over again....

And yes it is a big change from Africa.
Thank you for asking.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

And I thought I'd never have a good word to say for soon-to-be-NOT President George Bush.

But here's one: Nimble!

Did you SEE how he dodged out of the way of the flying Iraqi shoes? He's pretty darn spry!

I guess that's why he's called a lame "duck" president...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We've had a houseguest this weekend. He's a Burkinabé aquaintance of JP and he's in France for the first time. He might never come back, either. He seems very creeped out by the snow and cold. (Well, I guess we are too, but we'll have to learn to put up with it...)

Besides getting lights on the house, putting the Christmas tree up and doing the hostess thing, I also found time this weekend to go to a concert.
That's right.
I actually did something that kept me up past 10pm. What a concept!
It was the Christmas concert of the local "School of Rock". We knew lots of kids in the bands, so I took Valentine and Severin and we made an evening of it. Dinner was served as the various groups performed Beatles' songs, mostly. It was the theme of the evening.
But some bands did opt for other material. One group of teens did some ACDC. The singer had a good voice, but lacked presence and conviction. "Highway to Hell" sounded more like "Highway to a Tea Party in a Quiet Suburb".

But it was a very entertaining evening and a fun way to spend time with my older kids.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Yesterday when I climbed into the car to begin the day's long list of errands, I turned on the radio. It was tuned to Radio 74, the only station anywhere near here broadcasting in English. Not that I can't stand to listen to the French stations. In fact, Radio 74 is deeply annoying on many levels. They have some extremely conservative religious programming that makes my brain hurt. Also, the announcer (the only one they have) is a bit of a right-wing conspiracy nut. He finally bugged me enough to write in when he jumped on the "Obama was born in Kenya" bandwagon full of sour grapes. Enough already!

But somehow, even all this is not enough to drive me away completely. Sometimes hearing a bit of English is soothing. And they play nice Christmas music in December. And for a while there was even the very entertaining Doctor Laura Show. They yanked it back off the air pretty quickly, though. I think she wasn't conservative enough to suit the station.

Anyway, there I was, listening to some nice Christmas carols, when suddenly there was a publicity spot for language courses- apparently from the "brutal truth" school of advertising. While some ads try to flatter us (Because you're worth it) or blatantly appeal to patriotism (Keep America Rolling!), here was a shameless ploy to take advantage of insecurity, alienation and unhappiness.

A severe British schoolteacher voice asked impatiently: "Tired of being a monolingual simpleton?"

I have to admit, it kind of grabs one's attention. And I imagine if one actually is an anglophone monolingual (let's not say simpleton, shall we?) person living in France or Switzerland and feeling a bit isolated, the ad is even more riveting. It's the kind of ad that comes after the weak, going for the throats of the caribou at the back of the herd -the spindly ones with low self-esteem and few language skills.

This fun and easy advertising concept is easily applied to other businesses, of course:
"Sick of being an unattractive eyesore?" (plastic surgery)
"Had enough of being an uneducated cretin?" (higher education)
"Fed up with being an illiterate moron?" (bookstores)
"Entirely ashamed of being a tiresome, manipulative wanker?" (psychological help for people involved in the advertising business...)

Monday, December 08, 2008

I am shrinking.

That's what I thought, anyway. After spending years as a tall person, I suddenly felt like a freakish dwarf.

Maybe I'm not getting enough calcium, I thought. Maybe my back is hunched over like the St. Louis Gateway Arch!

So, this morning I measured myself to be sure. I stood in the hallway, against the torn wallpaper (that's scheduled to be re-done soon) and had Valentine make a big black mark on the wall.

Holding the tape measure up to it, I could easily read "5 feet 7 inches".

So, I hadn't shrunk, which was good to know.

How could I feel so short when I'm vastly taller than the typical French female? The average French woman is just over 5 feet 3 inches tall and 137.6 pounds. I'm a Clydesdale grazing in a herd of minature ponies.

Then I had an idea. I called Severin away from his breakfast cereal. "I'm going to measure you guys. Stand here!" I ordered.

He looked down and patted my head tolerantly as he went by. I made a mark for him and then one for Valentine. When JP saw what we were doing, he came over and had me make a mark for him too.

At this point, the source of my self-image problem became crystal clear: Valentine (age 15) is 5 feet 9 inches!! Severin (age 12) is 5 feet 11 inches !!!??? My husband is 6' 2".

And at the rate the twins are growing, they'll be taller than I am within a few years as well.

The only family members shorter than me will be the cats!

When I went online just before blogging, I looked at various sites that will give a prediction of your child's eventual adult height. I tried this one, which seemed like it would be more accurate because it not only asks for the child's current height and weight, but also takes into account the height of the parents.

It announced that Severin will likely be around 6 feet 5 inches by age 21.

So, it looks like I'm going to go from feeling a "bit short" to feeling microscopic...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Greetings from the snowy French Alps.
I haven't blogged all week because JP has been in Marseille for a conference. Maybe you don't see the connection. I know that JP found it mystifying when I tried to explain it to him...

My days, you see, go something like this when JP is away:
At 6am I sit bolt upright, eyes suddenly wide open and panicked. Why the panic? Well, you'd panic too if you were roused from a sound sleep by angry mutant insects making loud, threatening noises right beside your head. I feel like I've woken up in the middle of one of those 1970's eco-horror films, where all of nature ( the scary unfluffy members mostly- though there were exceptions) rises up against the ecological damage mankind has done and unites to wipe out all the offending humans.

As you may have guessed, I don't actually wake up to thousands of killer locusts and crickets climbing into my bed to end my planet-destroying days . It's an alarm clock set on "forest sounds".
I'd always longed for one of those cool alarm clocks- the kind that wake you up to your choice of soothing forest sounds, calming ocean waves, or gently pattering raindrops. So, when we got to France and I needed to buy an alarm clock, that's what I bought. But, being me, I bought the least expensive one I could find. I am both a cheapskate and an idiot who has made her bed and is now waking up in it to the most unpleasant sounds you can imagine. The "gentle rain " sounds more like the static on the radio between stations. And the "calming ocean" sounds almost the same, but with a tinge of "fingernails on chalkboard" thrown in.

Luckily, I usually don't have to choose between any of these less than pleasant choices. This is because JP always wakes up at about 4:30 am. No alarm clock except for his very accurate internal one. He then goes to his computer and gets to work. No blogging, no aimless internet surfing: the man works. Then, at about 6am, he goes downstairs and turns on the lights in the rooms of our two eldest kids, who need to get up.
I hear him going down the stairs, which is enough to get me up and hobbling across the room.

But when JP is gone, I have to resort to the dreaded alarm clock. And since I dislike insects so much, I figure that the creepy "forest sounds" setting will get me out of bed faster than anything. Those bugs sound scary. Srsly. They are loud, they are angry and they are coming for me, which enough to get anyone out of bed fast.
Sadly, if there were actually justice-seeking insects after me, I would have little chance of escaping. Back in September, I hurt my left foot in an excercise-related incident . (And they say excercise is good for you. Bah.) I haven't written about it until now because I found it deeply embarrassing. Stuff that seems ok to mention when you're twenty often seems like an unbearable admisssion after you hit 40. You hate to bring it up because it makes you sound like a pathetic old person who is slowly (or perhaps rapidly) falling apart, complaining constantly about her health problems as she does so.

But I finally decided that it's ok to be an old person. It's inevitable. There are so many signs now that I can't ignore them: I refuse to wear uncomfortable clothes. I don't even own a pair of uncomfortable, fashionable shoes. I wear hats when I'm cold, with no thought for my "hairstyle". I think people in films curse too much and should keep their clothes on. And now my feet hurt and I'm letting everyone know it.
All of which, my teenagers assure me, means that I am just a (tottering) step away from "easy listening" music and long evenings down at the Elks Hall for Bingo Nite.

So when JP is not home the alarm goes off and I hobble over to my bathroom followed by Cleo the Cat Who Thinks She's a Dog. I try to shut the door behind me, but it never closes completely because the door is broken. (One of the thousands of things destroyed, damaged and generally messed up by the lovely people that rented our house for two years.) Cleo always manages to bat the door open with her paw and comes in to spend some "quality time " with me. I think, in her eyes, she's providing a service. You never know when someone might, right in the middle of taking a shower, have an urgent need to pet a cat. So, she sits there, staring at me the whole time I'm getting ready. It's a bit disconcerting.

After that, I hop down the stairs and turn on the lights for the older kids. Then I hop down another flight of stairs and go to the kitchen to get the fire going. As the house is big and fuel oil expensive, we try to keep the woodstove going during the day. It's a bit of a pain, but I like it. It makes me feel very "Little Maison on the Prairie". (I loved the books. The TV show gave me conflicted feelings and will no doubt be the subject of a future blog post)

I get out the breakfast things, prepare Alexa's meds for the day and generally potter around in the kitchen until the kids come down. Then we chat and go over homework.
Lately Severin has been learning the part of Sganarelle in Moliere's "Le Médecin malgré lui ", so I read Martine's part as we sit in front of the fire and he eats his cereal. I'm pretty good at it because Valentine also had to learn a part in this exact same play two years ago. In fact, this play is so ubiquitous that even the twins are studying the thing this year and they're only in 5th grade! You'd think it was the only play ever written in the French language. And what a strange choice, as it's filled with sex one part, Sganarelle (a fake doctor) tries to give a woman he fancies an enema (?!) in order to get her naked. How is the teacher explaining that to a bunch of 10 year olds? If they were only reading the play, she could skip the worst bits, but they are going to see the play performed this month...

The older kids go off at 6:50. I get the little ones up at 7 and they leave for school at 8. Then I (finally!) get to drink a cup of coffee in front of the TV: CNN, BBC, CNBC, Skynews. I can't resist. I haven't had a TV station in English in my home for 20 years.

After that I start attacking the day's long list of things to get done: laundry, houscleaning, and unpacking endless boxes. And, of course, hauling in the firewood, going grocery shopping, doctors appointments, assorted errands, going to the post office, taking the cats to the vet , etc
The twins come back at 11:30 for a quick lunch. Then they're back out the door at 1:00 and I realise that I've not even finished half of the things on my list of the day's chores. I spend the afternoon just like the morning, but when the twins get back home at 4:30, I spend time with them and oversee homework. By the time that's done, it's time to make dinner.

The older kids get home at about 6:30pm and we eat at about 7. Afterwards, the kids clear the table, wash the dishes, dry them and put them away. All these tasks are governed by The Schedule posted in the kitchen. To preserve my sanity and teach them about how responsible people live, I drew up this list of chores back in July. It divides up and rotates some of the basic household work between all family members. (I have to say that I highly recommend this for all families! There's no arguements and no complaints about chores. Everything is fairly shared and written down for all to see. And it's then not the parents' job to make anyone do anything. It is simply each person's responsibility to check the schedule and do their part. Sheer brilliance.)

After the dinner things are cleaned up and put away, it's 8:20pm- time for the kids' favorite soap opera. (I would just like to say that it is NOT my fault that my kids love "Plus Belle la Vie". It's all my MIL's doing.) When JP is home, it is at this point that I slip upstairs and blog for an hour or so. It's my prime writing time: the kids are happily watching their program with their dad by their side. He sort of shares his attention between the program and whatever book he's reading at the moment. Knowing that everyone is happy and in good company, I'm content to do my own thing up here in the office.
But here's the strange part, the thing JP thinks is freaky: I don't like to have the kids downstairs watching thier show all alone without a parent. I can't say why. I just feel not good being up here in the office writing while they are down two floors watching TV. I don't really like the show, so all I do when I'm there is sit in the living room and read my book of the moment. But I like to be there. And that's why I haven't been blogging.

Of course, I could write later on in the night. But after the TV show, I always read to the kids (which even my eldest (age 15) still loves) and that takes a while.
Then I get them all to bed with hugs, etc and follow this with a quick tour of the house, tidying, making sure the shutters are closed and locking up. By the time I'm done, I find I have just about enough energy to check my emails and have a quick look at the day's news on the internet.

And that, friends, is my excuse. Sorry it is such a long one. It's a week's worth of pent-up blog energy...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A few days ago, JP and I were browsing around a local used furniture shop when this caught my eye:

Well, it would, wouldn't it? Who could resist? Have you ever seen the like?

And only 800 Euros for the whole amazing set: a sofa, two chairs and matching coffee table! That works out to less than 100 euros per camel.
But JP refused to buy it for me.

He's so mean...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I guess I'm thankful Thanksgiving is so restful?

It's kind of lame, but all I can think of right now. I'm desperately trying to put a good spin on what could be considered my most depressing holiday of 2009 to date.

It's not that I'm not happy to be back in France and thankful for many, many things, but last year's Thanksgiving back in Ouaga was so strange and funny and packed with good friends...

And, well, this year is kind of a contrast. Instead of 23 good friends packed into my living room enjoying a feast, there was just me and the kids nibbling away at my attempt at a mildy festive meal.

JP is in Paris for work and my few American friends in the area are too far away to just pop over on a Thursday night. Everyone has been at work all day and have to be there again early tomorrow morning. Not conducive to a holiday soirée

Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself. Just a bit.

But suddenly the weekend is promising better things! My lovely friend Lisa just now sent me an email. She and her daughter will be coming down from Switzerland on Sunday for a visit! Yay! We'll do a Thanksgiving meal then.

Now, all I have to do is find a turkey, which might be tricky. All the turkeys around here are being fattened for a Christmas demise. And I guess the farmers are planning to feed them on milkshakes and french fries from now until December 25, because they are still looking very slim at this point in time.

Be that as it may, tomorrow's task will be to hunt down possible poultry options.

I should spend tomorrow unpacking boxes all day, but tracking down a turkey sounds far more appealing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Today I am having a nice day, doing nice things for my (need I say it?)nice, deserving self! I had a long put-off, much-needed visit to the doctor. This was followed by a stop to make an appointment to get my contact lenses replaced and then a quick stop by the estheticienne to make an appointment for eyebrow waxing and other painfully satisfying activities. Then this positive flurry of self-pampering was followed by a stop at the hairdresser. I walked in the door and they said they had a spot open right away and sat me right down. I guess I looked like an emergency case. (Bad hair is considered an emergency in France)
As you can see in the new pic I have up, it's now layered, but with a stylishly sleek fringe at the front. Trés chic? Well, maybe not. But at least now I don't look like I have a dead, elderly badger perched on top of my head. And that's something.

The twins have seen my new hairstyle and seem to both like it. "You're beautiful, Mommy!" Mallory gasped. But then after a good look at it she added doubtfully "But that doesn't look like work hair."
I guess she's gotten too used to me running around the house sporting a bedraggled pony tail..

So far today, I have not unpacked a single box. I am just pottering around, doing whatever takes my fancy. I read a bit earlier on and now I'm planning a bit of emailing and general internet time-wasting. Bliss!!

I haven't had such a nice day in ages. I'm loving life in France and keeping very busy, but I seem to be getting very shabby and neglected as a result.
Enough of that!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I'm back. Not that I'm by any means done cleaning up the big mess that is currently making my life miserable, but I am finally feeling like I don't have to spend every waking moment dealing with it.
Monday morning looked like this:

There was a thick fog that made it impossible to see even a few meters ahead. This made it tricky for the moving truck from Lyon to find our house. But it did.

I'm still not sure whether I am happy or sad that the truck didn't zoom right past our house and on back to Lyon to dump everything in a landfill.
I mean, we lived just fine without this stuff for nearly five months, right?

But then I started unpacking, and there were the photo albums, my sewing machine, my books and all the other things that I truly have been missing and needing.

On the other hand, there is one big problem. Or rather, a small problem: our house. It's too tiny to hold everything. So, we were obliged to leave half of the stuff out in the garage.

This means that J. Lo can't be in the gargage (I'm talking about my new car here, not the popular singer that recently had twins. It would be mean to make a new mom sleep in a garage in the French Alps in the winter, don't you think?)

So, I have been unpacking thousands of books, toys, articles of clothing, etc. All the organising and running up and down three flights of stairs has been exhausting. And the last thing I needed was this:

Three guys with big machines turned up extremely early Wednesday morning and started digging up the driveway. It's loud, it's muddy, it makes the walls vibrate and it's all chez moi.

Even better, yesterday I couldn't get out the door:

To be strictly fair, I have to admit that we asked for it. We have been trying for months to get someone to come and fix the rocky, muddy, deeply rutted lane that we have been very liberally calling "driveway".
So, they finally showed up. Careful what you ask for...

It was supposed to be done by Thurday night, but the Departmental authorities ruined any chance of that. When the digging was all done and the guys had laid down the first truckload of gravel at the street end of the drive, the Departmental jerks came by for a nice visit. They informed us that the driveway entrance had to be ENTIRELY re-done. (it's a long story) And that in turn meant the whole ramp had to be re-graded to avoid it being crazily steep.

Resigned, the guys carefully scraped off all the gravel, set it aside and started digging again. Friday night arrived and it still wasn't all done.

So, the guys will be back Monday morning with their gravel truck and steamroller.

Then maybe when they're done they can help me open and unpack boxes...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It arrives tomorrow!!! The 20 foot-long metal box containing all our suff from Burkina Faso will be delivered here to our home in the French Alps.

It was only supposed to take two months for our things to make the trip from Ouagadougou by rail to the port in Dakar, onto a container vessel , to a warehouse in Marseille, to Lyon and finally to our home near Geneva. But here it is, nearly five months later...

I will be SO happy to see again my: books, sewing machine, electronic keyboard, sheet music, dvds, cds, scrapbooks, blankets, cast iron griddle, armchairs, loveseat, step for aerobics, nightstands, lamps, Christmas tree ornaments, bookshelves, carpets, and sugar-free Jello (hope it's still good...)

JP has been desperate for important books and papers that he needs for teaching.
The twins await with impatience Severin's old Pokemon card collection that he promised to pass on to them as soon as it arrives.
Valentine misses her books most

So, if I don't blog for a couple of days, you'll know why. There is going to be mad organisation and shifting going on around here. Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I was just doing my daily news check on the internet when I found this headline at the BBC:
Dozens die in Burkina Faso crash
The article begins with this:
At least 60 people have been killed in a collision between a passenger bus and a goods lorry in the west African country of Burkina Faso.
The two vehicles caught fire after the crash and many people were trapped inside the bus, a local official told AFP news agency.
The accident happened before dawn near the town of Boromo, 167km (105 miles) west of the capital, Ouagadougou.

It has also been picked up by Reuters and other news services.

I'm always alert for Burkina in the news, but the news is seldom good...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guess what??
I got a prize!! I am a "Kreativ Blogger". Yay me and thanks Oreneta for the kind thought!
One of the responsibilities that comes with the prize is making a list of three things that make me happy. It's kind of tough to only name three, but here are the ones I picked:
1. Learning/doing something new. Plastering a wall, running a small library, creating a blog, playing WoW (more on that another day!)- I am really happiest when I am having a new experience and aquiring a new skill.
2. France. Burkina Faso was nice, but it was never really home. I could never, not for one moment kid myself and imagine that I was "chez moi". I was always the outsider, the sore thumb sticking out. I could never just blend in and be a normal person going about a normal day's work. But in France, I can. I can be part of the scenery. And lovely scenery it is.
3. Books!!!
The second responsibility is to pass on the award to six deserving bloggers. My choices lean towards blogs with great writing because that's what I'm looking for when I read a blog. I'm not looking for photos, craft ideas or recipes. I'm all about the writing. So, none of my picks are blogs that are "Kreativ" because they teach you how to make a cute toilet paper roll holder out of old egg cartons, cotton balls and pine cones.
The award goes to:
1. Leena at some sort of bird. She is a lovely and dynamic young woman who lived in Burkina and worked with me at Papiers du Sahel. Now she's at university in Canada. Creative? Heck yes! Shes' a vegetarian yoga teacher and shares recipes as well as general insights. What's not to love?
2. Framericaine is a seemingly tireless blogger over at Halfway to France. She's always got great photos and even better writing. She does all those long, thoughtful, analytical pieces that I wish I were writing. So, she's another lucky recipient of the award.
3.More really excellent writing is to be had over at chitlins & camembert. What Amy really deserves is that book contract she's hoping for. But all I've got is this virtual award. Sorry.
4. Reb is writing up a storm over at Uh Oh Spaghettios. She's a skilled writer and often makes me laugh. And besides writing, she's a fellow house renovator/ do-it-yourselfer and we all know that that takes lots of "kreativity" as well as a certain amount of crazy optimism. So, the fourth award goes to Reb.
5. Pardon My French is another blog deserving of a shout-out and a nice little pink and green award to display. It's the saga of a US expat mom and has interesting, creative posts.
6. The final award has to go to Valentine at My So-Called Life in Africa. She may be my daughter, but I know excellent writing when I read it. She's funny, insightful and just amazing. Tragically, she hasn't blogged since JULY! I'm hoping the award will motivate her (at least, it gives her an obvious subject to post about!) and get her blogging again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I like coffee very much, but I'm not addicted to caffeine. Which is really lucky, because we recently went for a couple of weeks with none in the house.

Because I was too overwhelmed with guilt to buy any. I'd go into the store, look at the coffee and then go back home without.

And why is that?

It's because shopping in France is is so impossibly complicated. Back in Ouagadougou, my weekly trip to Marina Market was not always very effective, but at least it was easy: If it's what you need and you can afford it, you buy it. End of story.
The only real downside was when, for example, they would be completely out of butter for weeks at a time. Or certains items would be priced so high that it was out of the question to buy them. Frozen fish sticks at 15 euros a box were just not an option.

The latter factor acted as a natural control on the system. For example, in Marina Market you could find tomatos imported from France for several euros per kilo. But just outside the door, you'd find the locally grown stuff for just a few cents per kilo. Imported stuff was ALWAYS more expensive than local stuff. So, buying local was always cheaper and directly supported Burkinabé people.

There was no organic produce, so that was a non-issue.

See? Easy.

But NOW I'm in France. The supermarkets are all 20 times the size of Marina market and full of choices.

First off, there's organic vs non-organic. Organic is ALWAYS more expensive than non-organic. So, you have to decide if the product is worth the sometimes very large price difference. Very quickly, I decided that it was worth it to pay more, especially for dairy products and produce. For other things, like lentils for example, the price difference is so huge that buying organic seems crazy. But each choice involves a calculation.
See? Complicated.

Then you have to worry about the fair trade issue. I am all about helping the developing world develop properly...
But what about "buy local"? Aren't you supposed to buy stuff produced close to where you live to prevent the pollution and energy wastage involved in transportation and provide local jobs?

So, there I am, standing in front of the apples in the supermarché. There are about 10 different kinds, which is already overwhelming. (Back in Ouaga, I'd go to the fruit and veg ladies outside Marina Market and they'd have maybe a choice between red delicious and golden delicious from South Africa.) Do I want Reine de reinette? Boskoop, Chantecler? The prices are all pretty similar. Oh wait. These Fuji's are only 2.50 a kilo while the others are 2.70.... But hang on... Another look tells me that the Fuji's are imported from freaking New Zealand, while the other, more expensive apples are all from France. In fact, the Reine de reinettes are from the Haute Savoie.
Can somebody tell me how it is possible that apples flown to France all the way from New Zealand can be cheaper than apples grown just a few miles away? It just makes no sense.

My mind boggled a bit, but I dealt with the apple situation, always buying local stuff. But coffee? That's a lot harder. No fields of coffee growing on the flanks of Mont Blanc. So, no easy answer there.

I'd scuttle around in front of the endless rows of foil coffee packets with a big question mark over my head, reading the labels: Here's one that's organic, but it's not fair trade. Oh -here's one that's fair trade, but it's from Guatamala. Shouldn't I be trying to support local people and reduce carbon emissions?'s one that's roasted and packaged in our region of France. But it's not fair trade or organic and not 100% arabica. Yuck.
And hey! What about recycled packaging? Shouldn't I be looking for that, too?

My brain would be overloaded within minutes and I'd shuffle away, discouraged and coffee-less.

I spent WEEKS reading coffee packages, puzzling and musing.

Until finally, last week, I found it!! I was so excited as I unpacked the groceries at home. I grabbed the coffee package and waved it in front of JP.

"Do you know what this IS!" I said forcefully. Ok, I was probably screaming, a bit.

"It would" he ventured cautiously.

"Coffee? Coffee? This just isn't just coffee! This is the salvation of the environment and all of humanity in one small package!!!! Look!! Just look!!! It provides a fair wage to Peruvian peasants!!!! It's certified organic!! No pesticides or chemical fertilizers!! It's roasted and packaged in the Haute Savoie, providing local jobs !!! PLUS the packaging is 100% recycled AND it's all arabica. I did it!! I found the coffee!!! You see????"

"Yes. I see that you bought coffee." JP answered in a soothing, but somewhat distracted voice. I think he was wondering if we had any Valium in the house that he could crush up and slip into my next cup...
So, we finally have coffee in the house again. And you see why I am so excited about it.
In French, organic is "bio" and all certified organic products are marked with an easily recognisable "AB" symbol that stands for "agriculture biologique".
In the photo I laid out a few of the many "AB" products that I buy regularly: herbal teas, pasta, bread flour, etc...
I'm also very careful about milk and eggs (which we eat lots of). Just recently, I finally found local, organic eggs laid by free-range chickens who are only fed vegetable products and are allowed to lay their eggs "en paille", that is, in straw nests. They sound like happy chickens.
And I'm glad to facilitate their joy.
But all of this makes shopping in France exhausting and mind-bending.
And now I need to end this blog entry and go... to the supermarché.
But maybe first I'll go see if JP found any Valium...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Today's question is multiple choice.
Here it is:

Halloween is a) a charming holiday full of fun for les enfants
b) yet another boot of American cultural imperialism stomping on and mercilessly crushing the French windpipe of national pride?

If you guessed b, that's right! You just won this big sack of tiny bags of Gummi Bears that I DIDN'T get to give away on Halloween night because no trick or treaters showed up. Nope. Not a one.

Now, ten years ago, when I last lived in France, I wouldn't have been surprised. Halloween was simply not on the holiday radar in France. Sure, a couple of stores at the new Etrembiere shopping mall tried a "top down" approach, advertising a few Halloween themed products. These had to be accompanied by a small brochure explaining what the heck Halloween was. I sure wish I'd saved the one I picked up all those years ago. It carefully explained how, for example, on Halloween night, Americans enjoy eating big bowls of hearty pumpkin soup. And it was chock-full of lots of other "information'. (For any non-Americans reading this, Halloween is NOT a holiday where one consumes healthy vegetable soups. You eat CANDY, lots of CANDY. And you use your pumpkin to make a jack-o-lantern, NOT dinner. )

Back then , I did some Halloween celebrating with my kids at home. We made decorations, carved a jack-o-lantern and Tya (who was the only one old enough to know what was going on) did trick or treating in the house. Yes, she got all dressed up, took a bag and knocked at the dining room door. I stood behind it and opened it with mock surprised each time, doling out pieces of candy. She was only 4 or 5 at the time and thought it was delightful, bless her little heart.

But there was no "Halloween awareness" in general in the community

So, when we arrived here in France recently, I had no expectations of anything being different. That's why I was very skeptical when the twins started coming home from school in October telling me that kids celebrate Halloween here! Right here in the Haute Savoie trick or treaking would be had!

I just couldn't quite wrap my mind around it. "Are you sure?" I'd ask.

They were sure. The other kids were all talking about it.

But when I went to the shops I saw very little evidence. No costumes in sight and only a couple of places with small displays of candy.

Then, the week before Halloween, I went to their school one afternoon to help out with the English lesson. (Note: The village council no longer is willing to pay for an English teacher to come in, so it has fallen upon the teacher to give the language lessons. This is HUGELY unreasonable, as the woman is already teaching a mixed class of 3rd/4th/5th graders in this little one-room school. And now she has to teach them all English, which she really doesn't speak very well. She sounds like a French person that has had a few years of English lessons (which is what she is) NOT an English teacher.)

This was the first time I'd come to help, so I didn't know what to expect but I had vaguely thought that the teacher would be directing the activity. I would just intervene from time to time, helping with pronunciation. But there was a basic misunderstanding, as she seemed to think that just being a native speaker of English must mean that you are a fully qualified English teacher.

I walked in and the teacher sat down and looked at me. The kids sat there and looked at me.

It was a real 'WTF' moment, if I may be honest and a bit vulgar.

Now, I'm not saying that I couldn't possibly teach English to a bunch of 8 to 10 year olds. But I had no idea what they'd been studying or what their general level was.

I ended up asking them simple questions, getting them to tell me what their ages were, their names, etc. I did my best. After a looooong half-hour of that, the teacher asked if I would explain, in French, the holiday of Halloween.
I talked about the origins of the holiday, its name, and some of the traditions. Of course, I haven't celebrated Halloween in the USA for about 20 years, so all I could really tell them was how it was for me as a child. Lots of family and friend in the USA had been telling me that the holiday has changed dramatically there. It's all for adults and all about drinking. Hardly any kids trick or treat now. But I didn't go into that. I talked about trick or treating, making jack-o-lanterns and wearing your costume to school.

Then the teacher said "You know, a few years ago, people here were crazy for Halloween."

I was surprised, to put it mildly. I thought I'd misunderstood.

"Really! The shops were full of costumes and candy. The children went trick or treating. Parents even sent notes to the school, asking what we would do to celebrate Halloween in class!"

It all got to be too much, in her opinion. It was beginning to replace Carnival! Quelle horreur!
Mais oui! The kids were dressing up and celebrating Halloween, but ignoring the traditional French holiday just before Lent. It was then the teacher's turn to get all nostalgic about the happy Carnival celebrations of her youth.

"Ah yes! We'd dress up in the afternoon and go from house to house. People would give us eggs and flour. Maybe sugar. Then we would all go to the rectory and the older children would make crepes for us. Such fun! A real French tradition"

Well gosh. The attractions of an entire sack full of candy really dim when you put it that way. Eggs and flour. Maybe sugar. Then you get a crepe.

Boy Howdy, you folks really know how to party!

Really, it was SO hard not to laugh.

Then she got to the heart of the matter. "Halloween was replacing our French traditions, so lots of people protested. Everything was getting too Americanized, people said. They wrote letters to the shops. They stopped the kids trick or treating and tried to get the focus back on Carnival. And it worked. Now hardly anyone celebates Halloween."

And a quick search on the internet confirms this. There was a short-lived vogue, but by November 2006 you start to find articles like "French press declares Halloween dead".

So all that talk the twins heard was more wishful thinking than reality. Some of the kids remembered trick or treating from a few years back and were hoping (wistfully, uselessly) for another crack at it.

I'm just glad that my kids have a legimate cultural right to Halloween, because Carnival is (sorry) extremely lame, as far as holidays for kids go.

But there's definitely a mean-spirited side to all this: People scared by increasing globalisation and "Americanisation" struck out at the easiest target. Maybe they can't punish governments or business leaders for the way things are going, but they can take candy from babies...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The tables have turned, finally! Gone are the days when random French people would come up to me, asking me why the USA did such bad things in the world and why we had such a clueless jerk as our president.

As if I knew. I sure never voted Republican.

But NOW the USA has a young, liberal, multi-racial President elected by a large margin because of his promises of profound change and France is stuck with a business-as-usual old, white reactionary.
As my kids would say: Sweet!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just when I begin to neglect my poor little blog, things start to get exciting. 'Exciting' being a relative term, of course. Bear in mind you are dealing with a woman that thinks it's 'exciting' to get a free bag full of back-issues of New Scientist magazine.

That said, I have to admit that tonight I am feeling like a member of a sacred sorority of bloggers. So, many thanks to La Fràmericaine and her kind attempt to make me feel like part of the club.

What did she do?

She invited me to play a game of 'blog tag'. That is, provide a blog entry telling six random things about myself that relatively few people know. So I couldn't write: "I lived in Africa for nine years", a fact all-too well-known by all who know me and read my blog.

And I am assuming she meant things that could be deemed potentially interesting.
Not things like: "I hate cockroaches". I mean, who doesn't?

There are rules. Aren't there always?

They are:
1. Link to the person who tagged you
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

I figure this should be a good distraction from worrying about how the election is going to turn out. JP is teasing me and making me nervous. It's GOT to be Obama, right?

Anyway, here are Six Random Things About Burkinamom:

1. When I was on that dig in Peru, I didn't eat the goat entrails. I pushed my plateful onto Mark (my professor) and HE had to eat them. I still feel a bit bad about that. But Miguelito (the ex-owner of the entrails) had been a pal of mine.

2. I love wearing polish on my toenails. I HATE it on my fingernails.

3. I detest lighthouses-this means actual lighthouses plus all pictures, figurines, coatracks, cd holders and decorative plaques featuring them. I don't know why. This cannot be traced to any traumatic event in my past that took plan in or aroudn a lighthouse. Unless it was in a past life...

4. I know how to crochet.

5. My first name is Beth. Not Elizabeth, just Beth. I hated this name from a young age and for years thought I'd MUCH rather be called 'Roxanne'.

6. I am not and have never been bored or lonely. I like people just fine, but also LOVE spending time alone, doing my own thing. Bliss!!

Good! Now I get to tag some people!

Chitlins and Camembert

Pardon My French

Oreneta Aground

Uh Oh Spaghettios

Stevie Guide

Done! Yes, there are only five, but I have a miserable cold and am heading off to bed. Even the lure of US election results can't tempt me to stay up tonight!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

There's still four days left before the kids go back to school. As usual, a holiday for the kids means absolutely no free time for mom. And that means the blog falls by the wayside, even though there is much to blog about.
On Thursday, for example, I drove the kids up to the canton of Fribourg in Switzerland. We visited the lovely walled village of Gruyeres. (Yes, like the cheese. )
But instead of visiting the cheese-making farm, we opted for the Nestle chocolate factory nearby. It involved a short tour and all the chocolate you cared to eat. Fun, but also a journey of self-discovery. You get to find out just how much self-discipline you have.
I have none, so no surprises there.

Another highlight of the day was the visit to the local castle.
Click on the link in the right sidebar to see the whole album of the visit.

Here's a picture I took of the snow we got here at home on Wednesday night. It's the view from our balcony.

I SO love living in France!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We have SNOW tonight!!!
Lots of it!
It looks like the Haute Savoie has decided to give us a first year back in France to remember.
It started out as a heavy rain all day long, but as night fell, the temperature dropped and huge, fluffy flakes began to fall. The kids immediately put on their winter gear and trooped outside to play. They threw their first-ever snowballs and made their inaugural snowman, complete with traditional carrot nose.

Mal, in particular, is thrilled to bits, to put it mildly. As she put her wet mittens on the radiator to dry, she turned to me, her big blue eyes shining and said: "This is the best day of my life!! Except for the day I was born. That was really great, too."

I was a bit surprised. She remembers that?

Full of surprises, that child.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

And here's Mal:

I just found this entertaining site that takes any portrait and matches the features with celebrity photos. Then you can make a nifty collage to show off your results. I couldn't resist showing off Al's.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yesterday, I did NOT plaster, stencil, paint, wax or do anything associated with home renovation. Instead, I went for a nice walk in the mountains.

It was lovely! It gave me that "The hills are alive with the Sound of Music" kind of feeling, though I did refrain from actually bursting into song.
Here are Mal, JP and Tya as we got ready to start our trek.

Here's Mal leading the way.

One of the main aims of our walk was mushroom hunting. Not that we are experts. In fact, we know NOTHING. But we have this nifty book that we always carry with us...

We found these really huge mushrooms, but decided they probably weren't edible. JP suggested trying them out on the cats, just to see, which did NOT amuse Mal AT ALL.

We picked some mushrooms off some dead trees that seemed to be pleurotes (a tasty variety), but I'll have to take them to the pharmacy tomorrow to have them checked. All the pharmacies around here have at least one pharmacist that is an expert at mushroom identification.

It's considered completely normal (and prudent) to go to the drugstore with your bag of mushrooms and get them sorted out.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I am very tired.

THIS is why:

Cristian the Romanian Handyman is working 11 hour days. Mine run towards +15 ....
We wouldn't have to work so hard if everything were going smoothly, but smooth is a distant dream these days.

Yesterday, we started putting wax on the 'decorative lime coating' in the living room After the first wall, I knew it was all wrong- there was way too much gray in the blue and it made me feel like I was shortly to be crushed to death in a crippled submarine at the bottom of the ocean.

And that's not how a person wants to feel in his or her own living room, is it?

So, I had to drive back to Leroy Merlin (the big DIY place in a nearby town) for the third time in as many days. I traded in the blue for an ochre color called "Pierre de France" (Stone of France). And my red stencil paint was exchanged for a light sienna shade.

Here's how it's looking:

I'm very pleased, but very, very tired.

And tomorrow promises to be another über-long day. I have to go back yet again to Leroy Merlin and exchange the baseboard paint I bought this morning. I had an entire coat of it applied and then realised that the color just wouldn't work with the Stone of France wall wax. It's so frustrating! If I could just get my act together, this would all be done in a jif.

Suffice it to say that I will not soon be hosting my own home decorating program on French TV.

And finally, some real news: Tya is back from Munich safe and sound, full of tales of adventure! I've been trying to persuade her that she has to write all about it in her blog, which hasn't seen any action since Africa. . .

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Great German Adventure seems to be coming along nicely.
At least, that's the official word from the school hotline dedicated to reassuring nervous persons such as myself. After punching through a series of menus and secret codes, the suffering parent gets to listen to a short message recorded by one of the accompanying teachers.
Yesterday's recording informed me that the bus got to Munich at about 8:30 am, after a long, rather uncomfortable all-night bus trip. After a quick breakfast in a café (Sorry. That would be Kaffeehaus) they got back on the bus and headed over to the famed BMW museum. (I will restrain myself from any further comments on the latter 'attraction'. You all know what I think).
The museum visit was followed by a picnic consisting of the sack lunches the kids had brought along from France. I am hoping it was not a sunny day, as a lunch that endures a long morning in a hot bus generally leads to food poisoning...

And as for the rest of us? Keeping busy, as usual. Especially me. Cristie the Romanian Handyman is back for an encore performance and the house is being transformed. And it needs it, as you can see from these photos. Warning: if you have a heart condition or are just particularly sensitive to scary home-improvement photos, please refrain from viewing the following material...

Not so bad, you are thinking?

Well, what about THIS? This wall is where the sewage from the septic tank leaked through. NOT for the faint-hearted.Here's yet another wall we're dealing with:

Wish us luck!

Monday, October 20, 2008

It's 9:45 pm here and Valentine will soon be boarding the bus to Munich! It's her class trip this year.
Gee! When I was 15, I was beyond thrilled by the occasional trip to Kansas City. That was a Big Deal.

Of course, in light of last week's discoveries regarding what those Germans are getting up to when they're not drinking beer, I'm not all THAT comfortable about her destination .
Why couldn't this year's trip be to Spain, the home of innocuous cooking programs?

But it's out of my hands. All I could do, after I made sure she had an alarm clock, slippers, snacks, toothpaste, her passport and sufficient clothing, was tell her : " If a man comes up to you and asks you if you'd like to make lots of money really quickly and easily, just say 'nein'. 'Kay?"

She just gave me that pitying "you're so weird" look that I seem to so often be the recipient of.

On the other hand, starring in German porn films was NOT on the list of planned activities that the school gave us.

So what items are on the schedule?

The BMW museum and Dachau concentration camp.

'The Ultimate Driving Machine' and 'Arbeit Macht Frei' .

An odd combination, to put it mildly.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Klingons read my blog??!!
It's the World Wide Web, not the Inter Galatic Web, isn't it?
I'm so confused..."

All this went through my head this morning as I checked my blog stats that report on what other sites my readers are coming from and I came across this unfamiliar address that has been throwing lots of traffic my way:
And when I clicked on it, I read this:
Kaksikulttuurinen, mutta täysin länsimaalainen pari muutti Afrikkaan köyhään maahan ja asui siellä monia vuosia. Lapsiakin on. Nyt he tosin ovat jo muuttaneet takaisin Eurooppaan (jossa blogi saa jatkoa). Vaimo kirjoittaa perheen elämästä ja siitä, miten se kohtaa aivan erilaisen kulttuurin, joilloin perheestä tulee tavallaan kolmekultturinen.

Tosi mielenkiintoisia juttuja ja antavat näkökulmaa etenkin, jos suunnittelee muuttoa ulkomaille ja erilaisen kulttuurin keskelle tai jos kiinnostunut siitä, millaista afrikkalainen elämänmeno on. Sekä hyviä että huonoja puolia valoitetaan rehellisesti arki- ja juhlakokemusten kautta.

Kannattaa aloittaa vaikka sieltä blogin alkuajoilta

"I may not know much, but I know Klingon when I see it!", I thought to myself. And maybe in Next Generation everybody is all cozy and Best Friends Forever, but I remember back when they were the sworn enemies of the Federation. Curse them!

But of course, they are Finnish people, NOT Klingons. I figured that out from the little .fi at the end of the web address.
The Klingons use .ki, so they're pretty easy to confuse.

If it was Klingon, I'd probably have way better luck getting it translated. Babelfish doesn't even offer Finnish as an option. And when I finally found a site offering free Finnish to English, it gave me this:

Kaksikulttuurinen , only täysin länsimaalainen par migrate Africa köyhään maahan and asui there multiprocessing year. Lapsiakin is. Now they though ovat already muuttaneet back Europe ( where blogi may extension ). Wife print household elämästä and siitä , how it stricken clean otherwise culture joilloin perheestä tulee tavallaan kolmekultturinen. Ernest engrossing tale and allocating näkökulmaa especially , if suunnittelee migration abroad and otherwise culture in or if absorbed siitä millaista African elämänmeno is. Sekä much että wicked half-time valoitetaan squarely casual and juhlakokemusten via. Sponsor launch although there blogin alkuajoil

It didn't help much.

And though the phrases "ernest engrossing tale" and "squarely casual" are encouraging, "stricken clean" and "wicked half-time" have me worried.

Any Finnish speakers out there going to help me?

(Tuck? Are you reading this? Help!)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

This afternoon I had some "free" time that I could have spent blogging (or more likely doing laundry and stripping wallpaper).
Instead, I ended up helping out at our tiny village library.

"It's for the children" gets me every time.

"Library" is really too grand a name. It's just one small room on the ground floor of the old rectory near the village church. For years it was open to the public on Saturday mornings and a couple of times a week for the school. And it was all run by volunteers. These days, however, volunteers are hard to come by. Most people now have jobs that keep them busy.
So, the village library is no longer open on Saturdays and they are even hard-pressed to find people to keep it open one afternoon a week for the schoolchildren.

That's where I come in.

The woman who has been running the library has had a change of work schedule and can only come about once a month now. The twins' teacher told me this last week, looking all sad and wistful. "Such a shame, really, if the children can't go to the library. They so look forward to it. I don't suppose...?
And what could I say?
I would go against everything I stand for to be even indirectly implicated in something that would deprive children of books.
So, I said "Oui". Not that I was all that happy to go when the time came. I had a million things to do at home and was a bit peeved at the idea of spending two and a half hours at the library full of French books.
I was in no mood.

Grumbling incoherently, I climbed into the car, drove to the post office, mailed a box of cheese to a shepherd (long story) and then went to the library. The other volunteer was there waiting to show me what to do. Then she left.

And suddenly, there I was: Queen of the Village Library!
And of course, I loved it. The kids were adorable and I had great fun chatting with them about the books they were checking in and out.

I even used my long-dormant knowledge of the Dewey decimal system to help small children find the books they wanted. My favorite of the day was Luna, a funny little thing with huge eyes, even huger black-rimmed glasses and mad-scientist hair. She was very intense as she asked me "Madame, Do you have any books about God?"

I LOVED being the Library Lady and will definitely be spending more Thursdays there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A giant dish heaped high with a big serving of Trouble. That would be my new satellite dish.

When the Satellite Guy arrived on Wednesday, I was thrilled. After nine years in Africa with no TV channels to watch, soon we would have 20 - the free TNT channels on offer here in France. In most of the country, you can get them with a regular antenna. But here in the mountains, it's best to go with the satellite- so we were told by friends. So, I called up and made an appointment.

We had to wait for four weeks, but the Big Day finally arrived last Wednesday. Satellite Guy stuck one of those obnoxiously ubiquitous disks onto the side of our house, drilled a hole in the wall, strung a few wires across the living room and, as we say around here, voilà!- there were suddenly a multitude of free channels to enjoy!

When everything was hooked up, Satellite Guy took the new remote and patiently showed me the first 20 channels- There was Arte (lots of culture and good documentaries) and Gulli (a kids' channel).
Then he punched in a number. 544. There was CNN! In English!!
532. Sky News! In English!
How about 567? That's BBC World!
There were WAY more than 20 free channels!! There were hundreds!
Satellite Guy clicked past a few. Most seemed to be in Spanish, but even that seemed thrilling. Tya is taking Spanish at school! She could practise by watching tv! Satellite TV improves childrens' grades! Imagine that!

I wouldn't say I was euphoric at this point, but as my Brit pals might put it- I was pretty chuffed.

I wrote Satellite Guy a largish check, saw him out the door and then went off to make lunch. The kids were soon all home from school and after we ate, I announced that the TV was New and Improved. We then all trooped into the living room, where I proudly showed them how to turn on the decoder box and change the channels, just as Satellite Guy had shown me. They watched in awe as I clicked down the program list. It showed the current program on a little box in the right of the screen. Very High Tech for us folk recently arrived from Burkina!
I clicked past TF1, 2, 3, Canal+, 5, M6, Arte, Direct8, W9 and on down the list until I got to FranceO. After that, next on the list was Friends TV.

So JP says "What's Friends' TV?"
I said "I don't know".
And then I clicked "OK".
Suddenly all six of us: mom, dad, 15 year old daughter, 12 year old son and adorable 10 year old twins were all looking at a picture of a very buxom young lady. We could all tell she was extremely buxom because she had no shirt on.
And no pants, either.

Now, I have pretty good reflexes, honed by years of motherhood. As soon as I saw we had a sprawled naked strumpet on our hands,so to speak, I gave that remote a good, hard click. Which took us right to the next channel. Which featured yet another over-endowed, underclad blonde woman.
And the next click? Still more German porn.

Egads! hardly covered it!
What had I invited into my home?!

Further investigation (sans children!) revealed that channels 301 to 399 were almost all sites offering German porn. They each featured a photo of a naked young lady, cheesy background music and even cheesier voice-overs in German which no doubt invite the viewer to subscribe, amid all the panting and moaning.

The 400's seem to be mainly in Spanish. It mostly runs to cooking shows and soap operas. No Spanish porn on offer.

The 500's have several news channels in English. No English porn either.

I guess the German economy sustains itself by making quality cars and producing the majority of worlds' smut?

Right now I'm closely supervising TV time to prevent the kids from being scarred for life by an accidental click or an excess of curiosity. But early Wednesday, I'm having the satellite guy back to help me block the offending channels.

I originally thought we had about 300 free channels to watch. But as the vast majority of them are sleazy or Spanish, there are really only about 30. But that should be quite enough.

Then there's this:
TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn't time for it. ~Author Unknown, from New York Times, 1939

And everyone in these modern days says they're so very stressed and busy, busy, busy.

And how many people do you know that say they are "too busy" to read, but somehow have hours to spend watching television? I've certainly met many.

Maybe this TV thing wasn't such a great idea after all...