Thursday, February 25, 2010


I like to be in movement. I like to help. I like to be productive. It's perhaps due to my Protestant upbringing, or simply a restless nature, or a bit of the girl scout in me.

In any case, if there are walls to sand, walls to paint, boards to nail, floors to polish, a garden to rake or weed, you can count on me.

And so, this being winter vacation, my close friend Martine is here again working on her eco-home that I photographed back in October/November. Most of the woodworking is finished, and these past two weeks we've been finishing the dry wall in the kitchen and the downstairs' den. We taped the gaps, plastered and sanded and plastered and sanded for four days last week (talking all the while as girlfriends will, my Itunes shuffle playing away to keep us motivated).

Today, I had a full day to offer as my kids are in school and I can put off a few differently productive projects till next week. So, I showed up ready to take the paint brush and roller and help as I could. I came complete with a batch of spiced/raisin and toasted almond rice that I'd made up the night before (rice cooker in hand), my tunes, and my willing arms.

The first coat of the kitchen is done, and a good chunk of the den. Not happy with the results atop the plaster/board/tape Martine had opted to put up strips of fiber glass as a uniform painting surface. So before I was able to paint, we finished a number of these strips. Fascinating. I'd never imagined that you could use fiber glass in such a way. I associate it with patching boats, and itchy bottoms if you sit atop it without a towel beneath you.

Always something to learn in this life.

I've no new photos... white walls aren't particularly exciting to document.

Now, if only Martine were here full time and could help me paint Jonas' room and work in my garden...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just to keep me on my toes

I do believe I've just lived a cliché... or at least, a scene out of a movie.

I removed all my belongings last week, right? I'd finally had enough and did the act that actually resonated and startled. I then went back on Sunday, strong and present and received the two importers. I then said salût and went back to my life in Avignon, to gather strength, to find more translating jobs, to be with my friends, my kids, etc.,

And, Tuesday morning, I received an SMS -- Tu me manques, je veux te voir. That I'd not seen the one the night before perhaps strung out the tension.

And so I responded, Ah bon, quand? où?

And he responded, this morning. Okay I said.

And so, concessions made, much discussed (or not), we shall try again.

What is it about leaving someone and being strong and clear doing so that makes him turn around and come chasing after you?

I'm amused, pleased, a bit hesitant, but willing to be serious and make it work... I trust the yoyoing is over for the relative futre.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Felting Lady

La dame au feutrage

I've a wonderful friend who has talents aplenty. In particular I adore the silk and felted wool scarves she makes. They are vibrant and delicate, warm and elegant, and full of whimsy.

Felting is actually one of those arts that Waldorf schools seem to call to. Be it in Australia or here, Switzerland or Germany, skilled felters emerge from this nourishing environment. The nourishment is mutual. At Christmas fairs, and occasionally at our "portes ouvertes" open house days, there's a stand to sell the handiwork made by parents and teachers collaborating over tea and cookies.

Sylvie, however, is an act unto herself. If you find what she does marvelous (as I do) you can write to her in English or French at She lives just outside Avignon, but can easily send photos and ship to wherever.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Shall the wine finally be sold on American soil?

Well, I spent yesterday at the winery. Yes, in the beginning it was awkward, but hey, business is business and I've been working for a while to increase the awareness of JP's wines to the American public. So, when two very interesting importers are available to come visit and taste, well, I'm going to be there and make sure that it all goes smoothly.

And so it did. JP had gotten the house in order and prepared the wines. I brought a quiche and bread to nourish he who needed it before the next rendezvous in Montpellier.

Our first visitor was an importer/distributor from Boston who works throughout the New England area. He specializes in French and Italian wines and impressed us immediately with his timely arrival, his compliments for my directions, and his superb French. It is not everyday that we meet an American whose French surpasses mine! Son of a diplomat, educated in North Africa, and with a great sense of humor, he knows his French wines and tremendously impressed JP. He also knows his market and told us that though he's sold more wine in the past year, his income has gone down, not much, but nonetheless a bit. So, the conclusion is that wines in the 10$ range are the easiest to sell at the moment, and that ours would be just a touch above this. I believe he liked our classic red Tradition 2009. Will he take this further? I'm not sure. But for all of you who might be able to purchase the wine in your neighborhood (anywhere in New England) should you be so inspired, you could send an email to Hugh MacPhail at Idealwines... just a wee note, nothing overwhelming.

As he set off I received a phone call and helped direct our next visitor to the winery. GPS isn't very useful in these parts unfortunately. Seth or Salamanzar is co-owner of the Wine Authorities store in Durham, North Carolina devoted to small estate wines at reasonable prices. He particularly likes organic/bio-dynamic and was delighted that we are. He had a rendezvous just 45 minutes later in Montpellier, so not having a lot of time to chew the fat we got right down to the tasting immediately upon his arrival. Serious, present, interested, we went through the full range. We discussed the red Vin de Pays in 3Litre bag-in-box, the rosé ditto, and the two top reds. He was very interested in all the wines, and pleased with their price ranges. Apparently North Carolina (or the triangle area) hasn't been too hard hit by the economic crisis. Fascinating and good news for us. So, for those of you in this area (Teresa! Dorette!) do feel free to whisper a word into Seth's ear and perhaps you'll have some lovely Domaine Cabanis to purchase in the near future.

The ViniSud Wine Fair in Montpellier is what drew these men to the neighborhood at this time of the year. Happily, I was able to piggy-back on their presence and get them out to taste and visit. Definitely a strategy to work in the future as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Back to Normal

You know life is getting back to normal when your kids are throwing slippers at each other in the kitchen, your dog has his favorite toy (a formerly lovely stuffed wolf), quiche is in the oven, salad on the table, wood burning in the stove. Yes, this is relative normalcy.

These past two weeks weren't. The kids were with their dad -- something that always throws me, much as it can also be a relief. And I was on my own. JP was off to Bolivia and I did my thing of going to friend to friend, to help on the house renovations at Martine's, to share a meal with Mireille, to spend the night and watch films with P. Had the weather not been miserable -- fiercely cold winds that rendered my house impossible to heat, pouring rain -- I would have been in my garden, but, with such a world outside my door, I headed out to alternate spaces.

I also did what I suppose is less than normal in that I wanted direction. Talking to girlfriends helps with that, right? So, I started off with Monica and a reading of my cards. According to her, it's quite clear that this winter has been pretty hard for me, but, that perhaps around Easter things would get better. She also read that perhaps I'd meet someone else this summer (one can always hope) and that in general projects and plans will become loosened and move if not towards fruition, at least in a more positive direction.

Then, P did my astrological chart in depth. We corrected my time of birth from just after midnight to 11pm which does rather change everything. Taurus sun and Capricorn rising (rather than Aquarius). Hmmm. She saw elements about my parents, elements about my education, what I've done, and where I'm going. And most importantly, a level of being true to myself. Apparently there's a clear reason for my shift from work/career/shining in the spotlight to my preference for being with my boys, baking bread, tending the hearth, the garden, my friendships... I shan't be the career woman my mother was and my sister still is, I'm far more focused inwards. I tried. Coming from my family of over-achievers one can't help but do so. But somewhere along the line I was derailed, or I hopped off the treadmill... choose your metaphor.

Only problem of course is coping financially in all this. But that too will sort itself out. I've a few more translations to work through, possibilities of others, and suggestions for getting a more active teaching gig going. All these being jobs that don't stress too much, and which don't involve me heart and soul. I would never have thought that would please me, but right now... Yes.

Amidst all this soul-searching, questing and more I made the decision to remove all my belongings from a certain winery. Yup. That which was put in motion this fall, then stopped, then started, is off again. And friends are sending me to read many a self-help book by Carolyn Myss (re: self esteem), Richard Moss, The Mandala of Being, and other useful tomes to get my head and heart back in me, stronger, clearer.

Of course it isn't all settled as yet. I return tomorrow to said winery to receive two US importers and to talk. Though the latter is something I dread. Haven't we said it all a thousand times now? It will likely be all the same old things all over again, and truly, hearing that I'm not loved enough to invest further, that my requests are too much, etc., etc., I'm not sure I really am up for it. But hey, I've rarely run away from a trying discussion. More likely to run right into it. So I'll be there, perhaps without bells on my toes, but standing straight, eyes mostly clear.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why Choose France?

Beyond the food and wine and the weather... why choose France? What is the lure of this European country that so stands apart from others? Why have I and so many visited and then settled here. Why have French ex-pats living in the new world returned?

A dear friend came to dinner the other day and expressed quite eloquently why she chose to return to the country of her birth. She had been living in comfort in Australia, enjoying the great weather, the super friendly people, the beach a hop away, tennis daily... She'd built a business there, had an income... but when the choice needed to be made she returned to France.

Like myself, the education of her children, both social and academic, is too important to be left to chance or to others. For the time that they are her responsibility, it is a main factor in where and how she lives.

And so as we and friends were conversing around the fire, a lovely glass of wine in hand, nibblies on the table between us, she let drop into conversation the following lines:

Je tiens à une culture du débat; à une culture de l'intellecte; à une culture d'exigeance.

She returned to France to secure for her children the education, both social and academic, that she felt would best prepare them to live their lives -- wherever they may choose to live in the future. And here, in France, they would be encouraged to express themselves, to argue, to debate, to have opinions. They would be in a world that demands that they push themselves academically to succeed, to not settle for alright or okay.

As a child of academically advanced parents, living just outside New York, I was certainly pushed in my studies, encouraged and driven. So this is a value that I carry in me from my own culture and family and I do my best to convey it to my offspring. However, the culture of debate, of discussion, of arriving at your opinions through heated arguments... this is something I have cultivated since I arrived on French soil. I do believe I was more willing to be bland when I was younger. Certainly I was politically apathetic and rather horrifyingly ignorant. "I don't know" and "whatever" were more common to my vocabulary than "I believe" and "I insist."

Upon my arrival in France it was soon quite clear that the French are aware of and informed about American politics. They have opinions and express them. And if before them I was less knowledgeable than they about my own country and its recent history... Well, suffice to say that I am proud enough to inform myself and remedy my ignorance when faced with such a situation. And so, I read, I learn, I think, I care and I express myself.

Would I have done so to the same extent had I stayed in the US? I just don't know. To a certain extent no doubt. The US has lived through very interesting times (to quote Chuang tzu if I'm not mistaken) in the past two decades. I can't deny being a person who cares and who reads the NYTimes since high school. However, it wasn't till I lived in France that I jumped from the Arts and Leisure section to the Opinions and Editorials...

That France and the French in general prize the intellect. Yes, I appreciate this. The most daily evidence of this social value is the art of conversation. Witty, sensitive, attuned to others, liberally sprinkled with references to politics, literature, cinema, history, song, public radio debates...

Still in operation here is the carefully designed table and social get-together. When invited to my friend's wedding years ago, we were just two amongst over a hundred, but it was clear that the table placements had been carefully thought through and we were with individuals we had much in common with, and with whom we were able to enjoy a marvelous evening of varied subjects.

The conversation is a living entity to be enlivened, encouraged, spread throughout the table. Monologues are discouraged. Sensivity to your neighbor is prized, but the forcefully expressed opinions of one who's drunk a bit much are not undesirable.

As I often told my French language students: the French will not ask you personal questions, however, they do love discussing sex, religion and politics. These being traditionally taboo at the WASP tables of my youth, I find this unceasingly entertaining when I am proven to have spoken truly again and again and again. Unfailingly, one of these directions (or all three) will be the chosen spark for a dinner table discussion. These do have the virtue of not excluding others, as in general, we do all have opinions on them that could be expressed. (A tête à tête is another matter). You can thus understand perhaps, why we sit from 8pm till Midnight over the many courses, wines, and coffee, perhaps topped off with a cognac. When pursuing subjects of this nature, a simple hour just isn't enough.

And so, we are back to why one would choose to live in France. It all converges at the dinner table. And, if we follow that thought to its natural extension, there's sense in the family dinner sans TV, with multiple courses, shared by all. But I do believe I've already gone into this... No?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

chocolate delights

Okay, so, it's vacation, I'm hanging out in the house (fearful of the strong winds outside), writing, editing, working on the computer, but also hosting 8 year old Jonas and his best friend. After feeding them a simple lunch of pasta and sauce and some grated carrots like a good mom, I became (as often is the case) tempted by the idea of a snack for them.

But, I've not gone shopping for a bit, and it was a classic situation of what can I make with the ingredients I have in the house?

Two eggs
no butter, but a 1/3 cup of palm oil (in its natural bar form, solid at room temperature)
1/2 a cooked sweet potato
chocolate (a staple, right?) in this case 3/4 of a bar of 200g

So, I can't make classic brownies - not enough eggs
nor am I making a buttery concoction
and it would be nice to use up this sweet potato...

So, the following was produced, and you know, the kids are in heaven! I'm documenting this as quickly as possible, while the approx. quantities are still in my memory.

Included with the above were the basics below:

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

I melted my 60% chocolate bar with the palm oil in a pan on the wood stove
Meantime I mashed the sweet potato (about 1/3 cup all told) with the two eggs, adding in the 1/2 cup of sugar. It wasn't completely pureed, but the lumps were small enough to be lost in the batter.
I then let the chocolate mixture cool a bit before adding it to the eggs, along with the vanilla and salt. I then whisked in the flour and baking powder.

The kids requested muffins. So, I poured the batter into my molds, and Jonas was then inspired to top them all off with mini-chocolate chips.

Not even 10 minutes later, in my 175C/385F oven (convection) the delights were puffed up. I turned off the oven and waited a moment before removing them. They are fragile, but moist and yummy.

Yield - 14 muffins. Enough for two little boys and their mommy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Empty nest syndrome?

Okay, it's a bit early. After all, my boys are still young and I'm more often in the position of being a full-time (or nearly) mom, than dealing with time on my hands. But it is just different, other, a jolt if you will, to be alone in my house. It is not unpleasant. But, it is a shift.

Last night and today it is just me and Filou. So, what did I do? I watched girlie movies, a modern romance followed by Mansfield Park. Then I read a chapter of a glorious adventure novel I've already read, but it is so good... For anyone who knows Dorothy Dunnett, I am sure you will agree. All her novels are worthy of multiple reads. And with this slothful behavior (or indulgent or?) I was asleep pretty late. No glorious sunrise this morning. I slept through it even without a curtain over my East-facing window.

I've an impeccably trained (ha!) dog who never bothers me in the morning (amazing ability to hold it till I actually get up and let him out -- never an accident discovered). Add to this the quiet neighborhood and, yes, no kids. Wow.

It's hard to get moving when the outside stimulus is removed. I did, but, ever so slowly. PJs till 11... Tea in hand and some of my toasted corn bread (American genes surfacing again) I went back to bed and worked on my various texts. The weather outside was not helping matters: gray, rain, drips, yuck.

I downloaded more movies -- I'm on a roll. It's that end of winter media crunch. Many a year I spent overdosing on movies or the Friends' series, or the Making of The Lord of the Rings late winter. It's that time of year when tourism work is non-existent (though I could put more updates on the web site), the world is dark, the weather uninspiring... I've finished all the books I received for Christmas and the New Yorker is just not looking as interesting as it normally does. And so it is the season for screen time. I'll get over it, but at the moment, I'm browsing ITunes like an addict.

Once actually dressed and out of bed -- yes I did eventually do this. I motored through the day: housekeeping, filling the wood pile, vaccuuming, sending a sample bottle of JP's VdPays wine to Norway, and yes, more writing. I did stick in a lovely long walk, amidst the drizzle and drips of this gray and rainy day.

So, all things relative, it's not as slothful a day as it might have been. Those Puritan roots are just too strong for me.

Onward to a lovely evening out with a fellow blogger.

Crêpes and Such

As I browse amongst my friends' blogs on France I realize I neglected to mention la Chandeleur, or the mid-winter celebration marking the slow return of the sun. It is always fêted with piles of crêpes.

As I do my research into this celebration, I learn its pagan and Celtic roots: amidst the many references of Latin and Roman times, is one to a Northern European tradition of chandelours, or the equivalent of the American groundhog day but in favor of watching the behavior of the bear as he creeps out from hibernation as an indicator of the length of winter, ours meaning bear. The imagery is rather marvelous, no?

Then there is the day of Brigid or Imbolc the 1st of February, linked to the Celts, and a day of candles, or chandelles, bringing purification and fertility to the land before the spring plantings.

As generally happened, the Christian church chose the dates already on the celebration calendar to position a festival of their choosing. In this case it became the day to mark Jesus' presentation at the Temple, and the purification of the Virgin Mary. Thus, the use of blessed candels is approved, and all is made right. He who brings a lit candle all the way home from church without it being snuffed out by the cold wind will not die this year.

Celui qui la rapporte chez lui allumée
Pour sûr ne mourra pas dans l’année

However, those crêpes which persist as the layman's symbol are rich in imagery: the round disk of the sun, the golden possibilities of a good harvest, lay away the first made and the year will be bountiful, flip it with your right hand with agility and perfection while holding a gold piece in your left and your luck will be assured throughout the year...

As does still happen on occasion, my American roots overwhelm my French persona and I am more in tune to Presidents' Day and the fall Jewish holidays (I am a former New Yorker) than to the French holiday calendar. And so, it was my children who announced to me as we drove home from school on February 2 that it was crêpe day and thus my other offers of other snackfoods were swept from the table.

Happily, these children are pre-teens and children of cooks all, thus with but a bit of guidance from me (I made the pâte à crêpe, batter, and cut it with water as I really didn't want to see all the milk I'd just gotten at the farm Sunday be used up by Tuesday afternoon!)they attacked the project with gusto.

I also suggested -- remembering a past crêpe event this fall -- that they put their small ladelful of batter in the pan, swirl and then pour out the extra into the mixing bowl, to ensure thin crêpes, even if this method leaves a bit of a tail on the crêpe.

Stacks of crêpes were made for their afternoon snack. But then, it didn't stop there. Carnival was slated for Thursday at school and the older classes were to bring in ten crêpes each as their contribution (for Jonas' class the request was fruit juice and home made cakes). Thus the project was repeated Wednesday night.

Being the mom I am... I was fine with them cooking and using all my utensils, but... I draw the line at being the clean-up slave. With more than a bit of nudging, I was able to get them to clean up the stove top of cooked-on drips, and their pans, bowls, whisks, spatulas, etc., The floor was my job. No one's perfect.

And as I do so, I remember the canon about the Jour de Chandeleur that we sang during my Steiner/Waldorf training... if only I could grasp than the first line in my head.

Our crêpe batter for a very large pile:

La Pâte à Crêpe

3 eggs
enough flour whisked in to make a paste
1/4 cup of water whisked in to thin the paste
more flour till thick again
milk slowly whisked in till thinned to a batter texture
now switch to water and keep adding till you've a light cream texture
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
and optionally: a 1/4 teaspoon vanilla or a scrape of a vanilla bean

Ideally you have a short sided crêpe pan, but if not, a non-stick frying pan will do. We do rub it with a bit of butter on a paper towl nonetheless, get it hot and pour in a ladel of batter. Swirl around to cover the bottom and pour out the excess. With practice you'll get the size of your ladelful just right and no longer need to pour out the excess, improving the overall look of your crêpe.

Cook till it starts to bubble up with air from below, flip with style or with a spatula. Let cook a couple seconds on the reverse side and flip out onto a plate. Continue.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bedside Readings

This winter I've been working my way through Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Joan Gussow's This Organic Life.

They are inspiring, but daunting, examples of what I would like to be able to do but am not sure I'm completely capable of putting into place. Self-sufficiency, growing your own food, raising chickens and turkeys, patronizing the local markets and farms, keeping to a healthy, local diet respectful of the food chain, the environment, and yourself.

From Barbara Kingsolver I wonder if I could raise turkeys? Learning to eviscerate them, pluck them, etc., doesn't particularly phase me, I'd be more worried about the abundance of hawks I see in the neighborhood feasting upon them before myself. However would the food needed to keep them going be more expensive than themselves in the end? I create lots of good scraps -- which have been going into the compost -- but I've not a huge garden, nor funds for lots of feed corn (which I'd want organic in any case, right?) and there are quite a number of dogs in the area...

Joan Gussow goes on quite a bit about her success with sweet potatoes. And yes, I love these too. Could I manage to plant them when the ground is 70 degrees F and keep them in a back room at 60 degrees afterward? Am I sufficiently organized to do this alone?

At this point I've a strawberry patch, some garlic planted I hope for the spring, some lettuce plants, my herbs, and hopes to clear some more of the back garden to plant more this spring. However, as I rent my home every summer, it's not easy to plan a vegetable garden when you'll not be here.

At JP's? But that's pretty iffy, and I'm not there that much and so wouldn't be able to truly care for it.

What I seek is coherence, balance, investment, ownership, pleasure, nourishment, enrichment for my children and myself... And the fun of trying something, discovering how.

I'll see what I'm capable of. Before me I've a couple weeks of down time. The kids are with Erick, JP away, and my garden is staring me in the face. If not now, when?

Sun in my room

This is a magical moment of the year. When school vacation begins, we are still awaking in the dark, moving a bit zombie-like as we scramble to get ready for school, warm up the house, get out the door.

During these two weeks of winter break, the sun catches up with us. These past three mornings the internal clock has me up at 7, and low and behold, the sun is coming to join me. Brilliant orange skies flood into my little bedroom window to the East.

Jonas sat upright mesmerized yesterday. And this morning, I was quite blinded by the orange ball itself, right within my view.

I shifted the placement of my bed this year, to benefit from a view of trees rather than the neighbor's wall. It was JP's suggestion, and a good one.

For too many months now it has been dark, gray, misty. At last the sun is back. And with it unbelievable clouds of dust are visible in my room! mmm just a little reminder that I need to pull out the vaccuum up here and not just down in the more 'public' rooms?

For the moment, the timing is perfect: light and orange glory about 7AM, the sun itself just before 8. However, much as I love the light, I also love to sleep. T'is possible I'll have to start contemplating getting a curtain next week!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A reorganized household

Just before Christmas it was mutually decided that my pre-teen girls would return to their parents' homes during the week, newly able to carpool with neighbors. I am thus now a den mother to four boys, rather than to six pre-teens. It all got shuffled around. At first we were a bit dismayed and out of sorts, but very quickly a new balance of personalities and personal needs fell into place. For the moment, the girls have not been replaced, and, it's turning out to be a blessing in disguise.

Leo and Mael -- our two that had been paying court to our 13 year old girl, and who'd often had their feelings toyed with by her -- have now joined forces. Leo came down from his shared room with Jonas, and Mael came up from his shared room with Gaetan, and now they share what had been the girls' room (and before that my living room, but that's ancient history at this point).

With two fewer bodies in the house, the raucus games of hide and seek have dissipated, to be replaced with far more card games, juggling, more attention to homework, and miracle of miracles, night-time reading! At least for Leo and Mael. Gaetan is just not a reader, but he has enough homework to keep him up till late at night.

My internat de garçons, boys' boarding house, is remarkably calm, free of spats and -- dare I say it? shall I jinx myself? -- relaxing.

I spent the fall in an intense tither, coping with the multiple personalities, clashes, snits, spats, mini-explosions, petulant appetites and crises emotionnelles. Too many Saturday afternoons were spent simply exhausted, sleeping as long as I was permitted (three hours was perfect) to simply recuperate from the effort.

And now? Well, I've fewer funds. The girls' boarding fees were going directly to pay my boys' school fees. Thus with these no longer coming in, I'll be scrounging a bit more than I would have liked. But I have much more head time to myself, time to contemplate getting that part-time job, time to write, and, with this new constellation of bodies, I can even go out an evening during the week and know they'll be okay.

I guess I should just accept that I'm a mom of boys. Having not had my little girl, I'm not too experienced on that front. Interesting.

Knocked about by une Rhûme

Well, after an autumn filled with stress and fatigue, but remarkably free of colds, the flu, tummy upsets, etc., I seem to have been felled by a nasty one. Oh it's passing, so I shouldn't complain too much. But three nights of minimal sleep, the painful sinus passages, either dripping or completely blocked up, just feeling yucky. I could have easily and pleasurably skipped this moment of bed-rest and enforced slow-down.

Yesterday I made use of my bedrest by working on the memoir proposal, re-working texts, re-orgaizing, cropping, re-wording, filling in. The perfect project for this winter vacation when the boys will be mostly with their father and JP is far away in Bolivia. I treasure the time for myself, and perhaps being sick was just the thing I needed to sit still and get to work.

The boys have been lovely -- all four. Thursday after all my backing and forthing between school, the speech and writing therapist, handball, etc., and before that at the winery helping with the last minute things JP needed to do before his departure (I already sick) I just wanted to collapse. So they handled their own dinner, dishes, etc., and I was able to do just that.

Goodness I'm grateful. Last night and this morning as well Leo and Jonas both have been dears. Jojo got his room clean (had to, or we weren't going to Avatar...) and after our VO 3D version of this film (my head pounding near migraine territory at the end) they happily took care of their own dinner, helped with dishes and permitted me to yet again crash early.

Today, I'm almost human. Housekeeping was shared amongst us (they did the bathroom, kitchen table after breakfast and brought their stuff up off the stairwell). I vaccuumed the downstairs, made desserts, corn bread, washed salad, did the shopping, etc., for guests tonight and tomorrow.

Truly, being sick and out of sorts was not on the program this week! But at least some extra rest was possible.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Carnival at the Waldorf School!

All the school's a play... or at least the entire school is in costume playing their respective roles. Jonas' class was inspired by their reading of the Fables of La Fontaine. Jonas, when nudged by one of his best friends, agreed to be the tortoise -- which somehow seems fitting for his personality. Throughout his class there were pairs of animals: a lion and a mouse, an ant and a cicada, a fox and a crow, a city rat and his cousin the country rat, a rooster, a cat and a...

A most active role the teacher took in becoming herself the rooster (quite a magnificent one she was!). With some candy to pay their way, they went out into the school yard, transformed into a country fair, complete with gypsies and their caravans (the older classes) an organic cotton candy (here known as barbe à papa) stand, palm readers, tests and games of all sorts, snacks and drinks (provided by we parents) and oodles more. It was a day of fun for everyone.
At first I was worried that Jonas would be a bit odd about his chosen costume. We'd put it together as a four man project: I bought the paints and found the cardboard. I drew the oval and gave suggestions for mixing paints, designing the shape. And then Mael helped Jonas with the back shell, and an hour later or so I saw Leo out there helping him paint the front shell. His little hat had been made by himself in class alongside his friends who in most cases had ears or a mane to attach to it.

According to his teacher, he removed his cumbersome and mobility-limiting costume but once or twice for certain games, and then donned it again. I shouldn't be so surprised, he does know the tale, and of course in the end, though the rabbit/hare be faster, he wins the race.

When I recounted this day's events to JP he commented on the very clear differences between my two boys. If Jonas is happy being the tortoise, Leo is most definitely more akin to the hare. And, at least Jonas is quite okay with that.

Is winter on the way out?

Though today is chilly and damp, yesterday was glorious, as was in fact quite a number of days last week. The north wind barreling through brought the sunshine, and when it decided to stop gusting and knocking us about, it left us a magnificent few days to revel, wander, walk and awaken.

Where in other worlds the ground hog came out and looked at his shadow (which he did or didn't see, I'm afraid I've not been following the news...), here we are simply grateful to be in a land where an early February walk by the Rhône or amongst the leafless winter vines is a pleasurable possibility.

As usual, I do these walks accompanied by dogs. Filou is my faithful companion, greeting all and sundry who cross our paths, sniffing butts and snouts equally, leaping, barking, dashing after a runner or two, and then back to my side. Quite clearly, he's checking out the world around us, protecting me from possible predators, right? On the island we're joined by Saline, the large and lovely mutt of our neighbors who could be my second dog. And when at the winery, there is the new puppy who arrived on Christmas day, Perro. I suppose when one's human goes for a walk, it is a time for bounding joy. Don't you agree?

As we cross the Rhône into Avignon in the morning on our way to school, we are greeted -- for the first time in two months -- by the brilliantly orange disk of the sun, sitting just above a point somewhat to the south of the Pope's palace. It has moved back north from its furthest winter solstice position, but still has a ways to go.

And, as I so gratefully felt and absorbed, the sun is with us far later into the evening. Four thirty felt early to come home from what had started out as an hour's walk, and what easily became two. How to leave that light?

And it did not leave me, but left its mark. My cheeks are red from a touch of late winter sun burn, my lips chapped and sensitive. Ah well. It is all worth it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Winter Soup -- 'Chinese style'

Whenever I roast a chicken or a rabbit I toss the post-meal bones into a stock pot with a few herbs, perhaps an onion, cover them with water and make stock. With the wood stove going nearly non-stop, it serves as the perfect slow simmering spot to draw out the flavors from those bones over a twenty-four hour period.

Once I've my two to three cups of stock, I drain it through a sieve -- putting the scraps outside for Filou and his friends to devour. It is then ready to add to my kids' current favorite soup.

This is my cheap, nourishing winter meal.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots peeled and diced very small
one onion diced very small
1 quart of water
my chicken stock
one organic vegetable bouillon cube
a handful of frozen peas and/or corn
A package of Asian rice noodles
some soy sauce to taste

I drizzle the oil on the bottom of the stock pot, toss in the carrots and onions (or if I'm getting a bit daring, chopped leeks and cabbage, but I'm afraid my kids weren't too psyched to recognize these green bits in their soup this past time), lightly sweat these before covering with the liquid ingredients, adding in the bouillon cube and letting simmer till soft (about 30 minutes on my wood stove). I then add in the peas and/or corn and the rice noodles. When the rice noodles are tender, I check the flavor, add a bit of soy sauce and serve.

The kids get a kick out of mastering chop sticks. They already are fans of gomasio (sesame salt) and add it if needed to punch up the flavor.

The broth fills them up, as do the noodles. Warmed from within, homework and bed to follow come naturally on this dark winter's night.