Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
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
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 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
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.
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.
We looked everywhere.
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
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
Thursday, December 18, 2008
More snow has fallen since.
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
Sunday, December 14, 2008
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.
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
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
Saturday, December 06, 2008
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 jokes...in 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...