Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm back and giving this another try ONLY because I talked to my mom on the phone last night (plain old phone-no Skype. SO primitive!). She patiently pointed out to me that Germany is chock-full of people that use German keyboards and they all mostly ok. Really. No reports of mass keyboard-induced insanity are flooding in from the place. So, it only stands to reason that with a bit of time and courage, I too could master the dreaded beast.
And so I have, pretty much.
Thanks, mom!
I'm not saying that this is quick or fun, but I'm managing. And it sure beats being out of touch with all my cyber friends! Thanks so much for the messages of sympathy and support. Your comments, as Garrison Keillor says of Powdermilk Biscuits, "give shy persons the strength they need to get up and do what needs to be done". (Replace the word "shy" with "fearful of German keyboards and very slow, elderly computers" and it fits perfectly.)

The main news to report around here is that we have SNOW! It started in the night as the rain pattering on the roof above my bed suddenly went silent. It was 3am and I thought, "It must be snowing." Then I thought "OMG! I forgot to shut off the water to the outside faucet! It's going to freeze and burst!" This dreadful idea was enough to send me rocketing out of my bed and out into the snowy night wearing my pyjamas. I went down into the cellar and got the water turned off. That was the easy part. I still needed to drain out the upper part of the pipe. This involved kneeling in the snow beside the house, pushing over a large cement drain cover and reaching down into the dark, damp depths to open a spigot at the base of the pipe.
In the light of day in fine weather, this is not an impressively difficult task. But at 3am in a snowstorm, it takes on a certain epic grandeur.
In my opinion.
I guess maybe you had to be there....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I am writing this post on a German laptop, so forgive any errors. The letters are all scrambled and it IS SO SO SO PAINFUL!!!!! bbbAND THE UPPER AND LOWERCASE LETTERS pop in and out WITHOUT NOTICE.


Due to a crazy error on the part of Orange (our internet "server") we have had no internet at home for the last nine days and it will not return until December 11! And considering the fact that this computer is driving me mad, I sincerely doubt Ill be posting much>

I will certainly post the recipe, biut not very soon>>

How can German people stand this torture!!!!!?
NOTHING is where it should be
Poor me. Poor blog.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This month, I’ve got a favorite season, pod cast, food, a website, song, tv show …
November Top 10 List
1. Fall- Nine years in the relatively invariable climate of West Africa gifted me with a mad love for seasons. These days, put me in a temperate zone and whatever season I’m in is my favorite, just because I know it will all change in just the course of a few months.
So, right now it’s autumn in the Haute Savoie and all I can say is: gorgeous.

2. A Way With Words- I want Martha and Grant to come visit me, tell me interesting stuff and be my bestest friends 4ever. Is that creepy? Is it inappropriate to feel so strongly about two public radio hosts that I’ve never met? Probably, but I’m powerless against the charms of their hour-long show that examines all the oddities and foibles of the English language. I laugh and learn something new every week. If you are curious about English slang, grammar, old sayings, word origins, regional dialects, family expressions, and just speaking and writing well, this is the go-to program…

3. Burkina-style Peanut Sauce - This is the national dish of Burkina Faso. Cooking it brings my four kids down to the kitchen saying « Smells like Ouagadougou !». It also has the advantage of impressing guests, as most people have never eaten it before- especially not an authentic version. You need: chicken broth, tomato paste, Maggi seasoning cube (but use it appropriately!!) , peanut oil, chicken (thighs work best), vegetables (for sure cabbage, also sweet potatoes and green beans. Eggplant, potatoes, and carrots are also good) You also need a bunch of peanut butter- preferably one made specifically for African dishes. Skippy or Jiff won’t work. Fresh-ground stuff from a health food store would do nicely.
All of this is assembled into a sauce and then usually served with tô. But rice works, too. If this sounds tasty, leave me a note in the comments section and I’ll give details on the recipe so you can make it at home…a bit of Burkina chez vous.

4. Cake Wrecks: Many thanks are owed to Joy and a few other readers that led me to this endlessly fascinating blog that documents the worst in professional cake decorating. Today, for example, it features a birthday cake that is « ornamented » with a pile of dead leaves on top of the icing. Not marzipan foliage, mind you, but actual dead, rotting leaves. Must be seen to be believed, really… Go check it out and consider it your « Cake Tuesday » offering from me.

5. I Gotta Feeling- I don’t usually get popular songs stuck in my head. My strange brain tends to add only oddities to my inner soundtrack. For example, when a pal burned me a cd with a song in on it about trapped miners committing cannibalism, I was humming it for days. And a more recent brain-worm tune for me has been the old hymn « In the Sweet By and By ». So, I’m not generally a Black Eyed Peas-ish kind of person. But when I took the kids to the cinema a few weeks back, I ended up wearing funny glasses, listening to talking guinea pigs wishing I were in the next room over watching Surrogates . But that was only appropriate for my older kids and, so I was keeping the twins company as they enjoyed G-Force. It turned out to be tolerably cute, as I am rather fond of guinea pigs. So, now the song I Gotta Feeling (prominently featured in the film) makes me think of secret agent rodents speeding down the highway in over-sized hamster balls and I smile… Plus, this is the only song that I know the words to that has the phrase "mazel tov" in it.

6. Glee- I’d seen it mentioned a few times on the web by bloggers I like, so I downloaded the first episode of the series. Then, I settled down with my three daughters to watch it. It’s kind of like High School Musical, right?
It’s clever, scorchingly mean, amazingly funny and SO not for 11 year olds. So, the twins don’t get to watch, but Tya and I are enjoying it. As someone who was in the school music scene back in high school, I find it particularly enjoyable. I think Tya likes it because the world of a US high school looks so exotic to her…there’s no cheerleaders or swing choirs in French lycées- not ever. Quelle idée!

7. Asphalt- Maybe it smells a bit dreadful, but it is still my favorite paving material for the month of November. As I write this, a team of eight men is outside my house, putting the finishing touches on our newly-paved driveway and parking area! It’s actually fascinating to watch (to me, anyway…but then, I don’t get out much) and I just spent an hour leaning out of Tya’s bedroom window, watching them work. JP was teasing me, saying that only old men like to stand around and watch construction projects. I begged to differ. Small boys like to, as well.
By Friday, it will all be cooled, hardened, and ready to drive on. Yippee!

8. The Nation- a brilliant magazine that keeps me in touch with US politics and helps me not be (too much of) an idiot.

9. The Annemasse Conservatory of Music- It’s a small school run by the city of Annemasse, just about a 20 minute drive from my house. In September, I joined the choral group there and am really enjoying it. It’s not just the singing itself and the nice new friends I‘ve made- it’s the whole ambiance of the place. It’s heavenly to be in a building full of nothing but musicians who are busy learning and improving. Very inspiring.

10. Top 10 Lists- They are so very appealing. Make one and you automatically feel organized and authoritative. The only problem is that, while 10 is a nice, round number, it can be hard to come up with that many good items….

Monday, November 16, 2009

I was just putting the lasagne in the oven to bake when Mallory wandered into the kitchen, peering sadly into the small box of cat treats we'd bought just the day before.

"There's hardly any Dreamies left, mom! What happened to them?"

I set the timer and started to answer "I don't know, Mallory. I didn't ..."

I was interrupted in mid-phrase as JP joined us in the kitchen and announced in an injured voice:
" Those new snacks you bought really don't taste very good, you know!"

Mystery solved.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

JP had a meeting in Switzerland late yesterday and then slept at the home of some friends . He wasn't too thrilled by the idea, which mystified me. . . and he was mystified by my mystification.
"I like to sleep at home in my own bed. Is that so strange?"

Well, maybe not if you put it that way. But if someone offered to make me dinner and then, on top of that, give me a whole bed to myself, I'd be thrilled.

I typically spend the night perched on the edge of our small bed. I often dream that I'm falling off a cliff or being pushed out a window, which is not really conducive to a restful night of sleep.

To be fair, it's not JP that's the problem. If it was just us, we'd be fine. Cozy, maybe - but cozy is nice. The problem is our two cats. Though I've bought them specially made cushions from the pet shop labelled "cat bed", they seem to like our bed much better. And our room is up in the attic, so there's no door to shut them out. They sprawl in the center of the bed, pushing JP and I off to our respective edges.

And we can't get too mean when we try to shove them off as Mr. D, in particular, would have no qualms about taking his revenge. And I really don't fancy awaking up to a cat peeing on me, so we're pretty circumspect.

Last night, though, there really was a hope of me having the whole bed to myself. That afternoon, I'd had to take the cats to the vet. I'd shoved them in their respective cases (or "Boxes of Satan" in cat-talk) and took them to get their vaccinations updated. By the time we got home, neither of them were "speaking" to me. And that was fine. It had all been for their own good and, with any luck, they'd avoid me for at least another 12 hours- long enough for me to have the bed all to myself.

It worked just as I had hoped. They slept elsewhere and I had a peaceful night on my own, with no dreams of falling. Bliss!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I am happy to report that my optimism was not unfounded and all your good wishes for progress on the house have done some good. The people that are supposed to pave the driveway called today and promised to come next week and finish the job! Theoretically, on Tuesday the asphalt will be laid down...which means we will finally be able to call in the next group of people- the ones who are supposed to build the carport.

This is all very exciting, from my point of view, but let's move on. It is Tuesday, after all, and that means...

This one was NOT made by me. It was made by four adorable little girls. I had the twins and two of their pals bake a cake one day recently and then let them loose with my decorating equipment. I gave them a few helpful hints when asked, but mostly just sat back and let them go at it. It's a bit odd, but awfully cute...and certainly eye-catching. it is, in fact, just exactly the kind of cake a bunch of 10 and 11 year old girls would like, don't you think?

Below is the cake I ended up making for my friend last weekend. It may seem like a strange design choice, but allow me to explain: Monica just got a degree in geology and her thesis won a prize. I wanted to make her a congratulatory cake, but not a boring one. No flower sprays or fondant "diploma", please.

As her research involved measuring thousands of cave bear teeth, I made her a silly "cave bear" cake. She loved it and had a good laugh.

I can't post anymore cakes today, as I misplaced my cake album.
Hope i find it before next Tuesday...

Friday, November 06, 2009

I haven't posted for a few days and that's because I'm so optimistic. (See how I did that? How I turned a fault (laziness) into a virtue (a sunny outlook on life) Pretty slick, eh?)

Here's the deal: On Tuesday morning, a rep from the company we hired (last spring) to pave our driveway suddenly called and said the crew was ready to get started right away. In fact, if we were amenable, the guys would get going on it that very morning.

Were we ever amenable.
We were amenable with bells on, baby!

We'd pretty well resigned ourselves to a second winter of parking the car down by the road. Which is really no fun. Not only is it a long slog up to the house with groceries and such in hand, but the passing snowplows always manage to create a "Find the buried car" treasure hunt for us. So we were very excited that the job was finally going to get done.

When the crew arrived, I asked one of them how long it would take.
"All day today and maybe a bit tomorrow morning", I was told.
"Amazing!" I thought. And here's where we get to the crazy optimism part: I quickly took several "before" photos and planned to take "after" photos on Wednesday afternoon. Then I'd write a blogpost about the progress on our home renovation project and post the photos as well.

This was my plan-maybe not an exciting one to you, but it was mine.

The crew brought in a backhoe and steamroller and fussed around all day Tuesday, scraping gravel here, adding more there, then smooshing it all down with the steamroller. The house shook from cellar to attic all day long.

On Wednesday morning, I had my camera ready, waiting to see a truck full of asphalt pull up. Instead, at about 11am, the guys gave the house a final shake with the steamroller, packed up their stuff and came to say "au revoir".

That means "goodbye"", as in "we're leaving right now and you will never see us again, ever".

It turns out that these guys were just the preparation crew. They were merely the scrapers and smooshers of driveway gravel. The actual paving team is a whole different group of guys...a bunch of people too busy, I guessed, to come to my house anytime soon.

I sighed and asked when I could hope to hear from the second team.
"Soon," said the crew chief as he started to climb into his Peugot truck.

Maybe he saw the glitter of tears in my eyes or maybe his heart had been softened by the nice cup of coffee JP had brought out to him the day before, but he stepped back down to reassure me:
"Really soon. They don't like to leave too much of a lag time between the preparation and the actual paving."
"But how soon exactly?" I couldn't help but ask.

"Like this" he said, holding out his right thumb and index to indicate a space about two inches long.

Hmm.... I know France uses the metric system, but centimeters don't measure time, do they? Or did I miss something? I wondered as he climbed into the white truck and drove off.

So, here I am, my driveway blocked off by a rope so nobody tries to drive up it and spoil all the hard work of the prep crew. I have no idea when this will be finished. And there's still the carport and a whole freaking room to build...

In all the "excitement" of Tuesday, I forgot to post my usual cake pics. I was reminded of this today as I searched the internet for cake ideas for tomorrow. I want to make a cake for a friend and, though I usually use my own designs, I felt the need of a bit of inspiration this time.

In my search, I came across a site that promises to show "cakes you can bake" and features pictures submitted by proud bakers.
I'd venture to say that just about anybody could make this cake:

I just don't know if you'd want to.

Another proud amateur cake decorator has a whole site of her own where she is showing off her efforts, including this "joke" cake for her boss. :

Is making people vomit considered a joke, really?

The baker even shares this helpful hint: if you slightly warm the Tootsie Roll candies, you can more easily stretch them into more realistic, poo-like forms.

Needless to say, I've given up my internet search for cake ideas today(too scary!) and will just go ahead like usual and design my own...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

We just had our best Halloween celebration ever. However, as is so often the case, "best ever" involved very little sleep and I'm pretty wrecked today. A few of the guests went home after the party, but most stayed over night.
So, I had 10 pretty wound up children and teens on my hands. I finally got everyone to settle down by 2am and then went to bed myself. But I was rudely awoken at 4:30.

You know how the laughter of children is supposed to be musical and enchanting? Well, at 4:30 am, after only two and a half hours of sleep, it is so NOT.

So, I'm kind of low-energy today. But I feel motivated to share a few fun photos of the great party we had.

At the head of this post is the rather cute jack-o-lantern cake I made. I used a hexagon cake tin and then trimmed it to shape. I'm sort of proud of the stem.
For the interior, I used a boxed mix from the USA: Red Velvet. It created quite a sensation when we cut the cake, as French people aren't used to seeing dark red cakes.

Below we have a creation of Mallory's- the ever-popular candy spider-web, complete with giant spider:

The kids and I made all the food and then Valentine had fun making funny labels for all the dishes. The tiny, croissant-wrapped hotdogs were labeled: Steamed Baby Mummies. tIf you look closely, you can see their tiny, mustard-dot eyes:

( As you can see on the sign, she wrote in French. I'm giving translations.) We also ate: Mashed Grasshoppers, Bat Paté Sandwiches, Baboon Brains, Roasted Witch Fingers, Griffin's Eyeballs, and Mini-kebabs of African Tiger Meat.
(That last one was a reference to the number of times people have said to Tya "OOH! You lived in Africa! Did you see many tigers?")
Tya even took the labels off all the drinks bottles and gave them names like "Human Blood: type AB" and " Artificially Flavored Toxic Snake Venom" . Nom!

The kids all thought the labels were brilliant.

Everyone was disguised, of course. Sev was a Goth Boy:
Mallory was supposed to be the Corpse Bridesmaid and Alexa was the Corpse Bride. The latter didn't let me get very spooky with her makeup, though. So she ended up not looking very "corpse":

Here's a bit of the general decor:
That's it for today. I have to go make dinner.
Then I might just go directly to bed...

I hope you all had a great Halloween (where applicable, of course).