Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tough Day

Tough day.

I don't have the energy to relay all the gory details, but I will give you some hints about the struggles we faced today.

First, let me inform you that French is one of two known languages in which there is no translation for the word "efficient."

Second, married people who must learn a language together should always get the exact same grade on every single test.

Third, teenagers who speak English but are learning French in a French school should not be required to take Spanish as an elective.

Fourth, there are no Lucky Charms in France.

Fifth, there are WAY TOO MANY pronouns in France.

And finally, someone told my son he looks like Justin Bieber.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ceci et Cela

We have another test tomorrow. We have a test every Monday. I think I have to study twice as much as David to do as well as he does on the tests. Not fair. And it turns out we have ended up in the same class--which is good in some ways and challenging in others. I don't mean to be competitive, but I can't help it. Mostly I just want to learn French well, but a teeny tiny part of me wants to learn it BETTER than David. Isn't that sick? You ought to stop right now and pray for me.

And while you're at it, would you pray for the boys, too? Tomorrow I am throwing them to the wolves. Not literally, of course, but figuratively, as tomorrow they begin their journey into the French educational system. I am (as usual) more nervous than they are. Still, neither boy seems excited about the prospect. They are resolved, though not optimistic. We are all confident that God has us in this place for this time, and we trust that He will work all things together for our good and His glory. But at the moment a valley looms long and dark before us. We need an extra awareness of the Good Shepherd's presence as we take these next daunting steps.

Today we went to a church that is walking distance from our apartment. It was a good experience, and I think we will settle in there for the rest of the year. David even stood and introduced us when they asked first-time visitors to do so and then looked pointedly at us. He did it all in French. I was impressed. Then they started asking questions, and he looked like a deer in headlights. He simply apologized for not knowing much French. They were sympathetic and let him sit down. I think that was when we decided we would stay at this church for the rest of the year--because then we will never have to introduce ourselves again! One couple (I think the pastor and his wife, though I am not entirely sure) promised to invite us to their home. Wouldn't that be nice? I hope they do.

I have been enjoying the community choir that I joined. I sit next to a woman with bright orange hair. Her name is Christine, and she is both kind AND uninhibited about correcting my French...which I like. We happen to be working on Handel's Messiah, which is, as you know, in English. Our other piece is in Latin. I hope some day we sing a French song, but I don't think I'll hold my breath. The conductor is a young-ish talented woman who can sing all four parts. I don't know her name. The only down side to the choir is its rehearsal time: 8:45 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. on Mondays. I can hardly get out of bed on Tuesday mornings, but I think the experience is worth the loss of sleep. I rarely sleep anyways.

David and I got caught in a rainstorm walking home from the boulangerie last Thursday. I thought it was romantic. He thought it was annoying. I had just learned how to say "It's raining" in French, and sang "Je chante sous la pluie!" all the way home. He was not amused. Nevertheless, he managed to keep the bread dry and crispy, which I greatly appreciated. Have I mentioned how much we love the bread? What about the chaussons aux pommes? Have I mentioned the chaussons aux pommes? Literally that means "slippers of apples." At the bakery, chaussons aux pommes are amazing apple filled pastries that are (sort-of) shaped like slippers, thus the name. We love them, rain or shine. No, we adore them. Nous adorons les chaussons aux pommes.

And even though the food is wonderful here, we are starting to miss some things from home. Things like Lucky Charms, JIF peanut butter, and good Mexican food. We have attempted to make nachos, but they aren't the same. The only salsa available is a 3 ounce jar of Old El Paso brand. I'm not kidding. There is no such thing as sour cream here, but crème fraîche is a decent substitute. Jalapenos are completely scarce and you would not believe what I have to pay for cheddar cheese, which is imported from Great Britain. All this to say, I'd kill for a hot, fresh fajita.

Well, I suppose I'd better get back to my past participles and weather-related vocabulary list. I can almost talk about the weather in any season in French. That has to count for something.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

La Cuisine

It has been a bit hectic trying to move into our apartment and keep up with our studies. Nevertheless, we are getting settled one room at a time. The kitchen was our highest priority since we knew that having our utensils and cookware available would make meal preparations not only possible, but enjoyable.

When we first saw this apartment, I detested these shelves. Upon closer evaluation, I realized that these shelves are indispensable, as there is simply no other place to store my pots and pans. So even though this set up looks like a display from Williams-Sonoma, it is working quite well for us. And I am thankful they are red--my favorite color!

Do you see that tiny little refrigerator? It has got to be half of the size of my fridge at home. We are making it work, but it sure does change the way I shop. I guess it is a good thing that there is no Costco in France.

The dining room is in an entirely different part of the apartment, which is fairly standard for French homes. Many families will put a small table in a kitchen this size for breakfast and informal meals, but we tend to eat breakfast on the go, and we eat the remaining meals at our table in the dining room.

If we ever get our pictures hung I'll post some photos of the rest of the apartment, which, by the way, is almost the same word in French, but has a slightly different spelling: l'appartement. I lost half a point on a test last week for spelling it wrong--though it would have been right in English. Dommage!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Today it was my turn to give the "meditation" or devotional in our weekly classroom chapel time. It was Chandler's turn to read the scripture. I asked him to read Matthew 18:1-4, and then I shared the following. It is in VERY elementary French, and I bet you anglophones can figure most of it out--especially if you read the passage first.

By the way, would you believe I was nervous? I have not felt nervous speaking in front of large crowds in over 10 years. Today, in front of 10 classmates and one teacher, my heart was pounding, my hands were shaking, and I think there were beads of sweat on my brow. Crazy, huh? It's a whole new world!

Les verset que Chandler a lus sont très importants pour moi aujourd’hui, parce que en France je suis comme un enfant. Je ne connais pas la langue. Je ne connais pas les villes. Je ne connais pas les traditions. Je suis comme un enfant!

Aux États-Unis, je suis professeur. En France, je suis étudiante.

Aux États-Unis, je suis chef. En France, je suis élève.

Aux États-Unis, je suis une personne qui parle. En France, je suis auditrice. J’ écoute, comme un enfant.

Peut-être j’apprends à parler le Français, mais plus important, je change pour devenir comme un enfant. Peut-être, c’est la première leçon pour moi. Je veux être comme un enfant. Bonne élève. Humble. Enjouée. Pleine d’espoir.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Getting Comfortable, but not TOO Comfortable

It's Sunday afternoon and I have just finished mon goûter. I had my usual: a strong cup of coffee with half of a hazelnut Milka bar. We've been in France for 8 weeks, and our life is starting to move with a rhythm that is somewhat predictable. We have goûter at 4 p.m. We know that a load of laundry in our washer/dryer combo will take three hours. We know that we will buy and eat a baguette every day. We know how to get four people in and out of one shower in time for school each morning. And we expect to do a minimum of two hours worth of homework each night.

If I were to compare my life now to my life at this same time last year, I would struggle to find similarities. Then I worked two different jobs, now I am a full time student. Then we lived on half an acre in a four bedroom house, now we live in a two bedroom apartment. Then none of us worried about how to order food in a restaurant, now we all practice our orders with each other before we dare to attempt them with the server. And we still get it wrong.

Then I think I might have even described myself as capable. Now, I am a rather helpless. I am needy. I continually find myself without any means of accomplishing that which I desire to do. It is humbling, to say the least. And you know what? I LOVE IT! I can almost feel myself growing. Everyday I understand a little bit more of the language. Everyday I feel a little bit more at-home in the culture. Everyday I depend a little bit more on my Jesus. Like I should have all along.

Mostly, I feel so deeply privileged to be in this place. Yes, geographically, but also emotionally, spiritually, and even mentally. I think, perhaps, I had been stagnating just bit back home. I was TOO comfortable, if you know what I mean. Sometimes I need a good "shake-down" to remind me of what really matters, and to keep me moving forward.

And just because I am loving this does not mean it is easy. I happen to like a challenge. Hard stuff inspires me. We have moments of extreme frustration, downright irritation, and even perspiration. I cry. Graham gets defensive. David retreats. Chandler pouts.

And then we pray.

And God sends His light.

And we realize that we are ready to climb the next mountain. That's the part I love. I love that when we get to the very end of all that we have and we can't even help each other, God faithfully gives us each what we need.

Oh to discover the secret of staying in this place of grace with Him! While I am thankful for some of the routines that are helping us integrate into France, I do not want to go back to a place of self-sufficiency, whether real or just imagined. I want to stay dependent on Him. Helpless. Needy. That's the stuff that real strength is made of!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Which is Whose?

When we get home from school, we each place our books on the table. Can you guess which pile belongs to whom? This post might give you hint.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Castles

Last week we visited two castles, both of which were less than an hour's drive from our home. On Wednesday, our day off of school, we studied for about three hours in the morning, and then we went to Château de Dourdan in the afternoon. Built in 1220, this castle is known for its state of the art defensive systems.

Here you can see the (now empty) formidable moat. This photo also shows that the Château de Dourdan sits smack dab in the middle of a town which seems to have grown up around it.

This is Chandler at the ruins of one of the original towers. Château de Dourdan is a rustic castle, equipped with dungeons and medieval weaponry. Coder boys--we bought you a Christmas present at this castle, and both Graham and Chan think it looks like something they themselves would enjoy, but I am not giving you any more hints.

All throughout the castle there are slit-like openings which were designed for archers, as Chandler demonstrates below.

On Sunday after church we toured the Château de Fontainbleau. Evidence of this castle dates back to 1137, but it has been enlarged and remodeled many times since then.

This is the grand ballroom, where I begged Graham to waltz with me. He was much too dignified to dance with his silly mom, but he finally acquiesced to a photo.

Have you ever seen a real live throne? This was a first for me. It is the only throne room in all of France that is still outfitted with its original furniture, and we found it quite regal indeed! Napoleon himself ordained that this room was to be kept as it is, and I, for one, am grateful.

The Château de Fontainbleau is resplendent with glorious antiques and extravagant furnishings.

After touring the castle we stopped for gôuter, where David and I split a delicious little tarte aux pommes.

We finished the day with a delightful stroll through the expansive garden. Is there anything better? I think days like these just might be little tastes of heaven.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fête des Associations

On Saturday the town of Massy had its annual Fête des Associations. This event is a fair-like gathering where all the local clubs and interest groups have booths to promote their hobbies and recruit new members. We were encouraged by our school to go to this event and sign up for something as a way to get involved in our community and (more to the point) to practice our French in real-life situations.

None of us thought we would find anything of interest, and all of us were pleasantly surprised.

As of next week, two of us will be singing in a classical choir, three of us will be learning archery, and one of us will be taking cello lessons. Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Les Solutions

So, I think I did okay on my test today. How did you do on yours? Let's find out. I'll trust you to correct your own answers.

1. Typically, the French plan to spend what percentage of their income on food?

When we were looking for housing, one real-estate agent told us that the income requirements on most rentals are very strict because it is assumed the French will spend about 40% of their income on food. I did a little Internet research to verify this information and found figures from 18%-25%--however these numbers pertained to a family's GROCERY budget. Perhaps the 40% figure quoted by the agent correlated to BOTH groceries and dining out. Je ne sias pas. One thing seems clear from my research, the French spend more on food than Americans, who on average dedicate 10% of their income to food. The French spend more money on food, but they weigh less. Consider that next time you are tempted to settle for fast food!

2. We were without hot water for how long this week?

We spent 36 hours without hot water. Why? I have no idea. The power was on, but the water was cold. I felt like I was in a third-world country or something. I think that makes me a bona fide missionary!

3. The current transportation strike in France is the result of Sarkozy's suggestion that the retirement age be raised to what?

Right now public employees can retire at the age of 60. Sarkozy would like to raise the retirement age to 62, and that does not sit well with the French. Here a full-time work week is 35 hours, and the average worker gets 40 paid vacation days. Many offices both public and private, are completely closed for the entire month of August.

4. Don't even think about doing any official business during what hours of the day?

Most places close down for two hours at lunch time. That means that from 12 to 2 you cannot mail a package, make a deposit at the bank, or buy a birthday present.

5. The City of Massy, where we now live, spends what percent of its revenue on flowers?

Cities in France compete against each other in public floral displays. Many towns, including Massy, take this competition VERY seriously. This is why they spend a large portion of their revenue on flowers--up to 50% according to our school secretary. I DO wonder if that is because schools, roads, museums, etc. are paid for by their national government.

6. When going grocery shopping for multiple items, bring your own shopping bags, or else:

You will either have to purchase bags or juggle your stuff. There are varying qualities of bags available for purchase, and all of them are reasonably priced. We are already in the habit of taking our grocery bags with us into the store. Oh, and we must always bag our own groceries.

7. In France, the little hook just below the handle of your shopping cart is where you

I guess that one could hang whatever one wants on this hook, but based on my observations in the grocery store, its purpose is to hang one's baguettes. And oh how I LOVE this convention, because I really hate it when bread get squished in the bottom of a grocery cart. Also, if one wishes to use a large shopping cart, one must insert a one euro coin into a slot to release the cart. When the cart is returned, and relocked in the proper place, the euro coin is released and thereby "refunded." Needless to say, shopping carts in France are always returned to the proper place.

8. Goûter (pronounced GOO tay) is:

I will be having Goûter for the rest of my life. It is an afternoon snack, typically consisting of sweets. Served daily at about 4 p.m., it is often an occasion to gather with friends. On a normal day, when we come home from school, I help myself to some chocolate and a cup of coffee...Mon goûter.

9. At a formal French dinner, the cheese course would be served:

Cheese is served right before dessert. The typical French meal has six distinct courses with a proper chronology: L'entrée (hors d'oeuvre), le plat de r


sistance ( vegetables possibly served separately), le salade, le fromage, le dessert, and le caf


. For a more formal affair, one might be served l'ap


ritif (a cocktail) first, le poisson (fish) before the main dish, and le digestif (another beverage) at the very end in addition to the normal six courses.

10. On a French calendar, the first day of the week is:

Monday, which means that I am continually entering appointments into my electronic calendar on the wrong day, because I am so used to the week starting on Sunday!

Did you learn anything new? I think I am still learning something new about France everyday. Often, I am puzzled, frustrated, or bemused; yet, I still remain enamored with the enigma that is France.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Un Petit Test

Since I have a test tomorrow, I thought I'd give you a test, too. My test is on verb conjugations. Yours is a more general quiz about life in France. Some of the answers are verifiable and some are simply based on my personal experience. Nevertheless, I hope you discover something you did not already know about my new place of residence.

1. Typically, the French plan to spend what percentage of their income on food?

a.) 10%
b.) 20%
c.) 40%

2. We were without hot water for how long this week?

a.) 8 hours
b.) 24 hours
c.) 36 hours

3. The current transportation strike in France is the result of Sarkozy's suggestion that the retirement age be raised to what?

a.) 62
b.) 65
c.) 67

4. Don't even think about doing any official business during what hours of the day?

a.) 8 am -10 am
b.) 12 pm- 2 pm
c.) 5 pm-7 pm

5. The City of Massy, where we now live, spends what percent of its revenue on flowers?

a.) 30%
b.) 40%
c.) 50%

6. When going grocery shopping for multiple items, bring your own shopping bags, or else:

a.) You will not be allowed to purchase anything.
b.) You will have to purchase bags to carry your merchandise.
c.) You will have to juggle all of your merchandise in your hands all of the way to your car.

7. In France, the little hook just below the handle of your shopping cart is where you
a.) hook your dog's leash.
b.) hang your purse.
c.) hang your baguettes so that they do not get squished by other things in your cart.

8. Goûter (pronounced GOO tay) is:

a.) a common boy's name
b.) a horrible stomach condition
c.) an afternoon snack, typically something sweet

9. At a formal French dinner, the cheese course would be served:

a.) first
b.) between the main dish and the salad course
c.) just before dessert

10. On a French calendar, the first day of the week is:

a.) Monday
b.) Sunday
c.) Saturday

I'll give you the answers tomorrow!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Quiche for Lunch

Can you believe I have been in France for a month and have barely mentioned food? Both David and I love to cook, but being without our kitchen has introduced some challenges. We anxiously await the day that we can unpack our beloved KitchenAid mixer, our Henckel knives, and our pastry blender! Until then, we are making-do with the IKEA supplied kitchen in our temporary apartment.

In France, lunch tends to be a heavier meal than dinner--a custom to which we easily adapted, especially since the typical "lunch break" lasts for two luxurious hours! Feeling an itch to cook, but wanting to work primarily within the scope of supplies available, I chose to make a quiche for lunch today. I looked up a recipe on-line for some general proportions, and then I improvised.

I sautéed onions, leeks, and mushrooms and blanched some spinach to use in the filling. Then I mixed about 6 small eggs with a cup and a half of crème fraîche. I used shredded emmental for the cheese--two big handfuls. The crust, which I purchased pre-made from the refrigerator section of the local grocery store, was better by far than any pre-made crust I have ever bought in the states. I will never bother to make my own while in France.

A fruit salad was our choice of side dish, comprised of a nectarine, a mango, a pineapple, a banana, and some strawberries. I made a dressing for the fruit salad by mixing raw sugar, crème fraîche, and a few teaspoons of orange juice. But of course, it would've been fine without a dressing. It won't be long before these summer sweets are gone for winter.

And no French meal would be complete without bread. David purchased this baguette from the boulangerie across the street. It had just come out of the oven, and was still warm half an hour later when we sat down to lunch.

It would not be uncommon to have a glass of wine with such a lunch, but today we opted for water. So. What did you have for lunch?

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Today we started language school--well, it was more of an orientation day--but it felt like a beginning nonetheless. Everything was spoken in French and then translated into English. We were told that from tomorrow forward, English would not be permitted on the premises.

(Be sure to note my stylish new book bag, which is, I PROMISE, filled with my new French books! Someday I'll fill you in on my awesome new jeans.)

The boys will be in classes with us for the first month, while they await the beginning of their school year. Regular French students started school today, but the Adaptation Class (for non-French speaking students) does not begin until October 1--after all new students have been assessed for assimilation. So in Language school (to break up the trouble-makers), David and Graham are in one class, and Chandler and I are in another. I'm not saying who the trouble-makers are, but most who know us could probably guess. Anyways, this is my (and Chandler's) classroom-there are 7 students: 4 Americans, 1 German, and 2 Koreans. David and Graham's class also has 7 students, and we are very pleased with the small class sizes.

This morning began, as all mornings will, with chapel. An instructor read Psalm 23 and shared some thoughts. He taught us one word: "rien" which means nothing, as in the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall want for NOTHING. A profound thought in and of itself--God's word is powerful in every language. Then we sang a hymn in French, and while I only understood a fraction of the words, it was a familiar hymn to me, so singing it brought tears to my eyes. My God has met me here, and I am delighted to be with Him in this place.

Our language learning program will be intense. We will be challenged. We will struggle. We will flail. And we will grow--in more ways than one. I, for one, am so excited I can hardly stand it!

Oh, and by the way, David signed papers on an apartment today. We are scheduled to move in on September 15th and all four of us have peace and gratitude in our hearts. Details to come at a later date....