Thursday, December 30, 2010

Les Deux Alps

Tuesday we boarded and skied, but the weather was dreary and we bit off more than we could chew slope-wise speaking. We went all of the way to the top, which meant 2 hours of non-stop skiing to get back down to civilization. It was fun but exhausting! On Wednesday, we chose better runs and the sun was shining! It was my very favorite ski day. EVER.

Here are David and I, ready to tackle a challenging but do-able slope:

And here are the boys and I at the same spot. The photo does not capture the beauty of the mountains, it was absolutely breath-taking! And yes, Graham is making a "gopher" face. He can be silly, that way.

A view from the lift:

We only budgeted for two ski days this week. We will spend the rest of our week at the Gite working puzzles, playing games, and sight-seeing in the area.

We will be blessed with two more days in the same ski area next week, when we (all four) attend a GEM-Kids conference at Camp des Cimes. David and I are chaperoning/cooking/leading worship and the boys are participating as missionary kids...and helping to lead worship as well.

I am off to buy groceries for the rest of the week, delighted that I am not sore or hobbling, because we really skied hard the past two days!

Monday, December 27, 2010


I cannot believe that I am going to post this because my father (the safety engineer) is going to think that his daughter learned nothing from his training. Sorry, Dad! We really blew it this time, and by God's grace, I am living to write about it. And yes, we learned our lesson.

David made it clear to us that he did not want to be driving in the dark on the narrow twisty turny roads up into the alps in questionable weather; thus, he mandated that we would begin our 6 hour trek at 9 a.m. Given all resources (GPS, google maps, and our experience in traveling the bulk of this route in the past) our estimated time of arrival, with stops for lunch, etc, would be 4 p.m.--an hour before sunset. We packed early in the morning and left our apartment right on schedule.

Les Vacances in France are revered and highly celebrated. We knew that. What we did not know is that the number of vehicles on the road the day after Christmas would cause slowing and intermittent stopping along the auto route. As we saw the clock tick towards 4 p.m., we realized that we were not going to get to our Gite before dark. In retrospect, that is the moment that I should have called the Gite owner, explained our delay, and asked her to hold our space, but not expect us until the following morning. And then I should have called a hotel down in the valley or made some other plans for the night. This morning we all agreed that THAT is what we should have done. Hind sight. 20/20.

Instead, I called the Gite owner, told her that we would be arriving late, and we forged on ahead. At the foot of the mountain at 7 p.m., we stopped for some groceries, called the Gite owner again, and estimated an arrival time of 8 p.m. She inquired about our journey, asked if perhaps we had had car trouble, and I explained that it was simply vacation traffic that had slowed us down.

Then, at 7 p.m., in the pitch black of night, with no street lights, we began our ascent up the mountain. We had not eaten since lunch, we were exhausted from our journey thus far, and we had no business attempting such a feat. In our defense, at that point we did not yet know exactly what we would face ahead.

About halfway up the mountain, we discovered the roads were covered with frozen snow and ice. The best pavement was found dead center of the two-lane road, so we drove in the middle and prayed we would not meet any on-coming traffic. The road was literally carved out of the side of the mountain, and we were not sure if was better or worse that we could not see the cliffs to which we clung. When we passed a car that appeared stuck, we began to wonder if we should turn back. The problem was, the icy road was so narrow that there was not enough room to turn the car around. So we trudged ahead in first gear.

At this point Chandler was praying silently with his eyes tightly shut, and Graham and I had been forbidden to speak. It seems my gasping and his doomsday proclamations were not helping our fearless (okay TOTALLY FREAKED OUT) driver. As we rounded yet another hairpin turn, our GPS noted that we were 1.4 km from our destination. Feeling hopeful, David slowed down to let a truck pass, and first gear couldn't hold on. The car died.

The motor easily roared back to life, but the tires were unable to produce any forward motion. Putting the car in reverse, David slowly backed (BACKED!) the car 250 feet around the turn to a flatter area where we could get some traction. Did I mention the ICE? How about the CLIFFS? And the total LACK of light? (I know, Dad. I am really sorry!)

Once again in first gear, we made a run. Once again we hit ice and killed the car. Once again we backed down. David decided to make one more attempt up, and then, if that didn't work, he would figure out how to turn around and go back down the mountain. We prayed. We prayed like we have never prayed before. And slowly, slowly we made it past the slick spot and up to our Gite. Alive.

David is the safest driver I know, but even he agrees that we should NEVER have started up that mountain in the dark in winter. And we will never do it again. But I will say that it was one car trip this family will not forget.

I took this photo as we drove back down this morning, just to give you an idea of the road we were on last night.

This is the little village of Besse.

And here is a picture in our Gite.

Tomorrow, we will ski.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day

The sun is shining, and our day has been filled with joy! We started by opening our stockings while savoring David's homemade cinnamon rolls. Since both sets of parents were quite generous, our tiny trees were graced with a bounty of gifts. We feel completely blessed.

Even Jack got a toy, and he was rather taken with it.

As for gifts from David and I, there were none. We took a family vote, and decided that this year adventure would trump toys. Instead of blowing our Christmas budget on "Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh," we booked a Gite (cottage) in the Alps! Our family Christmas present is a ski trip, and we leave bright and early tomorrow morning for a week in the French Alps. As I speak David is taking inventory on gloves and goggles. Stay tuned for photos from the slopes, our Christmas has just BEGUN to be celebrated!

For now, I have chicken to roast and a tarte aux pommes to bake--our first Christmas dinner in France. Love to all, and hopes that your Christmas is filled with the joy that comes from knowing that the SAVIOR has been born. He is our hope.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No Letter Yet

I usually write a Christmas Letter, but I haven't gotten around to it yet this year. Since I would be e-mailing the letter, I suppose its not too late. I just don't know what to write. I guess in writing a blog, I feel as though I've already said all there is to say about our year. On the other hand, I love the nice neat "wrap-up" that a Christmas letter brings to a year.

If I were to write one (and I still might) I think it would begin something like this:

Just over 2000 years ago, eternity was swaddled and placed in a manger. The baby Jesus was in the very place that God wanted Him to be, and yet, He was so very far from his heavenly home. I have come to think of Christmas as a time when families come together, but on the first Christmas, families were more scattered than gathered. Mary and Joseph were traveling, the shepherds were working, and I think the angles were doing a little of both. We, too, are sure that we are in the very place that God wants us to be, and yet, we are so very far from home.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Evening with New Friends

Last night we spent the evening with new friends, and we were so profoundly blessed. But let me back up....

Back in September David and I joined a community choir. While we love to sing, our reason for joining had much more to do with the COMMUNITY part of the deal than the CHOIR part. Being new in town, we were looking for a place to practice our French and make some friends.

On our very first night, a fellow tenor asked David what he did for a living. David replied, "I am a pastor and a pilot." He said "pastor" because missionary would have been WAY too hard to explain. The man looked directly at David and said, "Being a pilot, that is very interesting. Being a pastor, not so much." And that was our first conversation with Bernard.

We continue to go to choir, and little by little, our ability to converse has grown. We still stumble over our sentences, but we comprehend most of what is said--which makes us a pair of really good listeners. We ask a few painfully produced questions, and then we let people talk.

But until this past weekend, we have not had anything more than passing conversations with anyone in our choir. We exchange pleasantries, comment on the weather, share what we did last weekend...that kind of thing. This is partly because the majority of our time at choir practice is spent practicing. And, of course, because getting to know people just takes time.

So on Wednesday, when we received an e-mail from Bernard and his wife inviting us to their home for dinner on Saturday night, we were delighted. This was the first time that David and I have been invited into the home of a French family; but, it is the reason we came to France...because we LOVE French people. Because God LOVES French people. And we have loved them for a long time from a distance, but finally, finally, we got the chance to begin to love them up close and personally.

And loving them is not very hard at all, because they are absolutely wonderful people. When we arrived at their home, we were pleased to see that one other couple from the choir had also been invited. We were greeted at the door in the way that friends in France greet each other--with bises--or light kisses on each cheek. Women greet each other this way and men and women greet each other this way. Men, unless father and son or some other VERY close relation, greet each other with a hand shake. I LOVE the "bis," and could think of no greater start to the evening than getting to kiss four new friends. David is still getting used to the "bis," but his sense of propriety urges him on, and he graciously doles out the "bises" when social etiquette demands them, as was the case last night.

Next we were ushered into the living room, where the cork was popped on a bottle of champagne. Six delicate glasses were sparkling with bubbles when Bernard lifted his glass to toast new friends. Next our gracious hostess brought piping hot appetizers from the oven--puffed pastries with various fillings--and offered them around. And then the conversation began in the most normal way imaginable, "What do you do?"

David explained that he was a pilot and told about the opportunities that he has to fly once he gets a handle on the French language. The question continued around the circle: I explained what I had done as grant writer for the Red Cross, we learned that both men were Information Technology Engineers, that one woman was a nuclear scientist, and that our hostess was a house wife (also an amazing cook and an accomplished artist...but those things came out later in the evening). And then Bernard came back to David and asked, "But didn't you say that you were also a pastor?" Ah, so he hadn't forgotten. "Well," David explained, "we do also plan to work with local protestant churches, helping them to plant other churches. So yes, I have two jobs to do in France." And then that was the end of that conversation.

We moved to the dinner table, where our first course of bread and salad was served. The salad consisted of endive, some kind of cheese, some pear, some walnuts, and a wonderfully light but flavorful dressing. The conversation turned to food and stayed there for much of the meal. American fast food was berated, but all expressed love for Americans in general. They even said that French spoken with an "American accent" is "charming." Who knew?

After the salad, the main course was served. I ate (and LOVED) something that I have never had before, but hope to have again: Fois Gras! It was served warm with a side of warm pear slices, and everything was rich with butter. A white wine was now opened, and small glasses were poured--it was a perfect compliment. I took full advantage of the French practice of mopping one's plate with a crust of bread, so as to get every drop of flavor!

Next came the cheese course. Six varieties of cheese were served: soft, hard, mild, strong, every texture and potency was available. A red wine was served with the cheese. Lest you be concerned about the alcohol consumption, let me assure you that quantities were small. The wine is served to compliment the meal and to enhance flavors. Though all six adults were served, neither the white wine nor the red wine bottle was emptied.

It was during the cheese course that Bernard declared to me, "You are not a true American!"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

He explained that Americans do not like all of the French cheeses, but he noticed that I was clearly enjoying each one. Ohhh, and I did. I was, however, exercising a little restraint, because I knew that a true French dinner takes marathon-like endurance, and we were not yet at the finish line. Dessert was still coming.

Chocolat mousse and a tarte au sucre. MMMmmmmm.

Finally, we moved back to the living room for tea and coffee, where the conversation moved from "places we have been" to "places we must go" to "holiday plans." As it dawned on our hosts that we only plan to live in this area for our year of language school, they seemed truly disappointed. They began to discuss ways for David and I to continue singing in their choir even after we move to another town. They even offered us a room in their home for the night of rehearsals if we would drive down, and I don't think they were kidding.

After gathering coats and another full round of bises, we walked though the snow back to our car. It was 1 a.m. Much to our surprise, we had spent five hours getting acquainted with new friends. It was a "Tangible Kingdom" kind of evening, and we are truly, truly thankful.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Good News, Bad News

Good News: 2 more days of school and then we will officially be on our Christmas break!

Bad News: This week we have finals. We have already taken exams in grammar, written expression, written comprehension, and oral comprehension. We have the oral expression exam tomorrow. In college we called this "dead" week, and "dead" is a pretty accurate description of how I feel just about now.

Good News: One of the tests has already been graded... the grammar test...and I got 96/100!

Bad News: I can diagram/conjugate/analyze French sentences much better than I can speak them.

Good News: Tis the season of peppermint bark!

Bad News: I cannot find a single Candy Cane ANYWHERE! How in the world am I supposed to make peppermint bark without candy canes?

Good News: I have baked Christmas cookies, ginger snaps, and snickerdoodles to satisfy our holiday hankerings.

Bad News: There is no substitute for peppermint bark.

Good News: I regularly receive e-mails in French. This is good news because it means that we are actually beginning to have a LIFE here. And so far, none of the French e-mails have been junk mail.

Bad News: Sometimes I don't fully understand the e-mails that I receive in French.

Good News: Last weekend, between warm-ups, rehearsals, and our actual concerts, David and I had some time to get better acquainted with the other choristers. We have been really hoping to make friends with our fellow "Villains."

Bad News: We were so stinking tired from the concerts and prepping for our final exams that we missed choir practice on Monday night. (Aside: Seriously, who rehearses the day AFTER two back to back concerts, anyways? Les Villains de Massy, that's who. They are singing maniacs!)

Good News: Today I received an e-mail (in French) from a couple who sings in our choir. They have invited us to their house for dinner on Saturday night. Truly, it was one of my happiest moments thus far in France.

Good News: We can go!

Bad News: I did not start my Christmas shopping until today. Nor have I started a Christmas letter. Nor do we have a Christmas Tree.

Good News: I finished my Christmas shopping today.

Bad News: Still no letter and no tree.

Good News: We are generally optimistic about our first Christmas abroad.

Bad News: We had a family "melt-down" on Monday, during which I said a lot of ugly things. I was sure that Christmas was ruined.

Good News: We were all over it by Monday night. Grace is a very good thing.

Bad News: We are still a bit lonely.

Good News: We are having a Christmas Party for our class on Friday. Many of them are a bit lonely too. Hoping to bless, encourage, and love on those who are far from ALL family. At least we have each other--some of our classmates are single women who will not be going home for Christmas.

Bad News: We won't have a Christmas tree for the party. Well truthfully, I have three small fake ones up, but I mean we won't have a REAL Christmas tree.

Good News: We won't have a Christmas tree for the party. Which means there may actually be enough room for all the people that we have invited. Truly, we do not have a place to put a Christmas tree. BUT, next time I am apartment hunting in France, a place for a Christmas tree will be on my list of non-negotiables.

Bad News: Graham is sick AGAIN.

Good News: The rest of us seem to be avoiding the bug this time.

Bad News: We seem to be allergic to every laundry detergent that we have tried in France. I miss TIDE.

Good News: We have not run out of options for laundry detergent yet. Bought a new kind today. Here's hoping.

Bad News: It is getting late, and seeing as I have a test tomorrow, I best get to bed.

Good News: I have been sleeping soundly ALL week, except for last night, when I had a dream that Chandler was being deported.

So, what's your news?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Les Villains de Massy

The community choir that David and I sing with is called "Les Villains de Massy" and the word "villain" means the same thing in French that it means in English. We do not know how the Villains got their name but we suspect that it has to do with their rehearsal schedule, which is rigorous to say the least. Anyways, we had our Christmas concerts this weekend, and I thought we would share a couple of songs that we sang. It was the first time that one of our children took a video while we performed. Talk about your role reversals! I think Chandler did a pretty darn good job too. Perhaps we'll hand the camera over more often.

Our concerts were in very old churches and they were open to the community. We had one on Saturday night and another on Sunday afternoon, and both were absolutely packed out. Though David and I did not know a soul, we suspect that the crowd was full of our choir members' friends and families.

One of these songs, Tantum Ergo, is in Latin. I love it, but I have no idea what the words mean and I am pretty sure that I now speak Latin with a French accent. The other song, Blanche Neige, in in French. I do not think it is really a Christmas song, though it does mention angels. The title means "white snow" but snow is not mentioned at all in the song, nor is the color white. The words were written by a soldier in World War I while he was in the trenches.

Have a listen, if you like. If you receive my posts via e-mail, you will have to click here to get to my blog, and then press "play" on the videos.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Parent-Teacher Conference

This week we had our first parent teacher conferences in France. Our kids are absolutely amazing...which we already knew. But it is nice to know that their awesomeness is acknowledged cross-culturally.

First, a little background. We have learned that the "norm" in French schools is to correct anything short of perfection, while seldom (or never) affirming anything well done. It is essentially impossible to receive 100% on anything--it may even be illegal to award a student a perfect score. Everything in France is graded out of 20 possible points, and it is quite normal for the majority of a class to receive between 7 and 14 points out of 20 on a test. We were even warned about this trend in our language school, as such scores can be the norm for our classes as well. The reason is that approximately 3 or 4 questions on every test are about information that has NEVER been covered in class and another 3 or 4 questions are about rare and/or random information that may have been referred to casually ONCE in class.

On one of the first math tests that Graham took he earned 10/20, which happened to be the second highest grade in the class. A fact that the teacher then used to shame all of the other students, saying something like, "This young man, who hardly knows any French, has done better than most of you on this test!" Graham would have liked to have vanished.

So you can imagine how impressed we were when Chandler came home with a math test a few weeks ago on which he had earned a score of 19/20. As we looked closer, we noticed that he actually got all of the problems correct. The teacher deducted a point because he neglected to place some parentheses in a section of his work. I realize that in math sometimes the parentheses are essential, but in this instance, that was not the case. Also, even though Chandler earned the highest grade in the class, the only comment that the teacher wrote on the page was a criticism of his handwriting.

Are you beginning to understand what we are dealing with? School has been a tremendous challenge, and I am impressed with the courage, integrity, and perseverance that our boys demonstrate each and everyday. As for their schedules, they spend about 8 hours a week in a class that teaches French as a second language, and the rest of their day integrated into the regular classes. They have math, science, art, music, and p.e. In French. All day.

Since Graham and Chan are in the special "French as a Second Language Class," instead of receiving report cards, we were invited to a parent-teacher conference to hear how our boys were doing in their classes. The conference was in French, of course, but between the two of us, David and I think that we understood everything. The teacher who met with us is the one who teaches their French class.

Basically, the first thing that she told us what that she is required to have these conferences with the parents of her students, but she really does not have anything to say to us. (Translation: there is nothing she needs to correct, chide, or reprimand in our boys; therefore, since the French do not ever speak positively about students, she had nothing to say.) She continued by saying that as of January, she wanted Chandler out of her class. (Translation: Chandler's French has progressed to the point that he no longer needs her class.) Next she told us that in order to ensure that Graham is prepared for the Lycée, she would like to keep him in her class for a few hours each week. (Translation: see the next paragraph, or two, or three. This is going to take a lot of explaining....)

Graham is in troisième, or third grade. In the French system, sixth grade is the same as sixth grade in the U.S., but from there they count DOWN instead of up. Okay, stick with me here, I promise I have a point. The equivalent of Junior High in France is called "Collège" and it goes from sixième (U.S. sixth grade) to troisieme (U.S. ninth grade). The troisième grade is VERY important, because after troisième, a student is either sent to trade school OR to "Lycée", which is the university preparatory track. At the Lycée, students complete deuxième, première, and terminale--which is the U.S. equivalent of sophomore, junior, and senior years. Anyways, during triosième (Graham's current grade level), students must demonstrate a certain aptitude level in either Math or French in order to be selected to go to Lycée.


So. Graham has been worried that he was going to be sent to trade school next year because 1.) He has NO grades in French because he is not in the mainline track for French yet and 2.) His Math grades don't seem all that great to him--even though by French standards they are pretty darn good! One of the challenges in math is that in France students sometimes must write out justifications for their answers (in French, of course) and so even when the boys understand the math and can work the problems, it is very difficult for them to explain how they arrived at the answer.

Okay, now back to the conference. The teacher said that she wanted to keep Graham in her class for a few hours each week so that he is prepared for Lycée. At this point I asked, "Is Graham already selected for Lycée? Because he has been very concerned that he was going to be sent to trade school, based on his grades." She smiled at me, and said, "Tell Graham not to worry. His math teacher and I will get to make the decision, and we both have already agreed that Graham is definitely going to Lycée. But he will need stronger French to survive next year, and that is why I want to keep him in my class a little while longer. Chandler has all of next year to build his French skills to prepare for Lycée, but Graham needs to be ready by the end of this year."

After that, the teacher went on to say that both boys have positive attitudes and that they are serious students. Finally, she asked how long David and I had been studying French, and when we told her that we had just began in September, she complimented us on our progress.

All in all, we left feeling like we have the two most amazing children on the face of the earth. Yes, of course we had to read between the lines. But in France, when a teacher tells you that she has nothing to say to you, I promise you, that is the BEST thing that she could possibly say.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's beginning

to look

a lot



everywhere I go!

Sunday, December 5, 2010


David is a BIG lover of traditions. If we do something twice, it is suddenly a "tradition" and we must do that very thing annually for the rest of our lives. Therefore, in our 18 Christmases together, we have accumulated a considerable number of traditions.

My kids always get chocolate advent calendars, we always have fondue on Christmas eve, David always makes cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, and no Christmas presents are ever put under our tree until AFTER the children have gone to bed on Christmas eve--a tradition born out of the unfortunate exploits of a curious pet in our early years.

My favorite tradition is actually one that I read about in a Family Fun magazine and adopted back when both of our boys were babies. The idea resonated with me because I found myself struggling with the consumerism that had seemed to take over Christmas. I love presents as much as the next person, but I didn't want them to become the overwhelming focus of our season.

The idea that I found in Family Fun was simple. The author suggested that each family member receive three gifts, based on the thee gifts of the magi. The gift that represents GOLD should be something the person really wants, an item of great personal value. The gift that represents MYRRH should be something that the person needs, like new snow boots, a tool, or a cooking utensil. The gift that represents FRANKINCENSE should be something that the family can enjoy together, such as a new board game or a favorite movie on DVD.

For the past 10 or 11 years we have embraced this tradition. Each member of our family gets three gifts. Period. And we all like it that way. We think very carefully about each item that we purchase. Nothing is bought in thoughtless haste.

And what about Santa? We love the Santa tradition--as a piece of Christmas--not as the main event. When our boys were very young we told them about the real St. Nick and the fun of giving gifts anonymously. We "play" Santa in our home...but only in the filling of stockings. Santa brings small goodies: hand warmers, chapstick, gum, and other such treats. And our kids have always known that it was a game. A wonderfully fun game that was started by a man who wanted to celebrate the birth of Jesus by blessing children.

And so this has been our tradition for gift-giving. Three gifts and a filled stocking--enough to honor the tradition of exchanging gifts without distracting us from the real meaning of Christmas.

And now that we are in France, I am sure we will add some new traditions to our routine. A special pastry perhaps? A new collection of carols? I can hardly wait to find out what we will do.

What is your favorite family tradition?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Encore: Christmas Caroling en Français

I think the video is working now. Scroll down or click here to view it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Caroling en Français

Today I went Christmas caroling at a local retirement home with a small group of students and faculty members from our language school. It was the perfect way to kick off the Christmas season.

As we caroled the classics, many of the residents sang along. Some conducted from their seats. One threw up.

After we sang one of the instructors from our school gave a lovely Gospel message. I realized it was the first time that I heard and understood the Gospel in French, and it brought tears of joy to my eyes.

Here is a video clip of one of our songs--which David made since his sore throat kept him from singing with us. The tune will be very familiar to you, but the words, bien sûr, are in French. If you receive my blog via e-mail, you will need to click here if you wish to view the video.

Monday, November 29, 2010


...for a place to call home,...

...for amazing friends, both near and far,....

...for a snowy day at Versailles,...

...for 15 years of David Graham!

Between Thanksgiving and Graham's birthday, I am full! Full of food, full of gratitude, and full of the joie de vivre!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

En Français

Si vous voulez, vous pouvez traduire ce message sur Google Translate.
(If you want, you can translate this on goolge translate. Click here, and then copy and paste the rest of the post. Just remember, while my French is not perfect, Google Translate is not perfect either:))

Parfois, je veux écrire en français. Je trouve que je pense en français plus en plus. Je crois que je rêve en Français, mais je n’est pas sûr parce que je ne me souviens pas de mes rêves. Mon français, c’est certain que ce n’est pas parfait. Oui. Je suis une debutante. Mais c’est un bon exercice pour moi. Donc, je veux éssayer.

Aujourd’hui David et moi, nous avons eu un gros test. Je pense que j’ai bien fait malgré ma petite rhume. Nous aimons bien les étudiants et les professeurs à l’ecole. Ils nous plaisent beaucoup. Ils sont intelligents et ils travaillent dur.

Demain matin je vais parler avec Caroline. Elle est ma première amie française. Chaque mercredi nous avons un rendez-vous. Nous nous parlons de beaucoup choses. C’est très bien pour moi, parce que c’est une conversation normale. Caroline est française, mais elle a assez de patience de parler avec moi. Elle est sympa.

Demain après-midi, notre famillie va aller au cinema pour la première fois en France. Nous allons regarder un film en anglais. Nous avons regardé deux films en français sur DVD. Vraiment, nous avons compris beaucoup. Pas tous, mais beaucoup.

Je suis très fatiguée car hier soir nous avons eu notre répétition de la chorale. C’est une bonne chorale et j’adore chanter. Mais je n’aime pas la répétition lundi soir jusqu’à 23 heures. C’est trop tard dans la soirée.

Je vais me coucher maintenant. Bonne nuit, mes amis.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Hopes

The holiday season is upon us, and while we continue to strictly forbid any Christmas movies or music until after Thanksgiving, a debate has surfaced in our home as to whether or not we will permit caroling after Thanksgiving occurs in the States; or, if we will postpone the debut of jingling any bells until after Sunday, November 28--the day on which we will be celebrating Thanksgiving here in France. Either way, we are all looking forward to our seasonal favorites.

But first, we WILL celebrate Thanksgiving. It is truly my favorite holiday, and it has been no small task figuring out how to celebrate it here in France. To begin, Thanksgiving is not a French holiday, so while all you stateside pilgrims are watching football and carving turkeys, we ex-pats will be going about business as usual. Its a normal school day for the the four of us, as is Friday. Therefore, as I just mentioned, we will feast on November 28th. We have invited some new but dear friends to celebrate with us, and since these friends are Dutch, it will be a first Thanksgiving for them.

Besides having to find a day to celebrate Thanksgiving, we also had the task of finding a turkey. I have heard that turkeys are sold in the supermarket around Christmas time, but they are not out now. So I went to my neighborhood butcher and asked if I could order a turkey. I mistakenly used the word dindon, which is a male turkey, only to learn that the French use the word dinde, or female turkey, when speaking of the edible bird. Despite my linguistic faux pas, the butcher knew what I wanted and he assured me that I could order one for the 28th of November. He then asked if I would like for him to cook the turkey. "Oh no," I told him, "I will cook the turkey."

Hours later I returned home, saw my teeny tiny oven, and smacked myself upside the head. What was I thinking?!? Of COURSE I would like for the butcher to cook the turkey. So I learned how to say, "I changed my mind" (J'ai changé d'avis) and I marched back up to butcher shop and asked him to cook my turkey. Its a good idea no matter how you slice it (ha ha) because not only do I lack the oven space to cook a turkey, I'm not sure I know how to cook one. My dad usually handles that part of the feast even when I am hosting the meal. Thus, thanks to a butcher who will cuire la dinde, the problem of the Thanksgiving turkey seems to be solved. I pick up a roasted Tom, or Thomasina as the case may be, at noon next Sunday. C'est parfait! Our guests arrive at 1 p.m.

As for the rest of the meal, there are still some loose ends. Libby's canned pumpkin n'exsite pas en France, and I'm not sure I am up to figuring out how to make a pumkin pie from scratch. I suppose good old Apple pie will have to do. Boxed bread cubes are also an anomaly, but given the abundance of fabulous bread, I think I will attempt stuffing from scratch. I plan to spend Wednesday--my day off of school--toasting bread cubes. Finally, Ambrosia salad, that old family favorite, will have to undergo some major modifications in order to make an appearance at a French Thanksgiving table. There are no marshmallows in France and I think canned fruit is illegal. I will do what I can with a fresh pineapple, fresh mandarins, fresh grapes, and crème fraîche, but it just won't be the same without the marshmallows.

Oh and I'm sure that the moment the last piece of pie is eaten we will be eagerly decking the halls of our cozy little apartment. We are a family that revels in the all wonders of Christmas, so here at chez Williamson we plan to put up a tree, hang our stockings, and savor the advent as much as always. But the culture shock experts have stressed the importance of planning carefully for that first Christmas abroad, as it is a notorious season for arousing a nasty bout of homesickness. So we have also begun to make some special arrangements for the holidays to ensure that our first French Christmas is both meaningful and memorable.

That's all I'll say about that just now. After all, Christmas is a great time for a few surprises.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I never get sick. At least I never used to get sick. But this first year abroad has our poor immune systems working hard at getting acquainted with all the French germs, and at the moment, our immune systems are taking a beating. The entire Williamson clan is malades. We are huddled in blankets and one-upping each other with sniffles and coughs, because while none of us feels great, all of us know that the most able-bodied of the bunch will get sidled with the care-taking duties.

I made Paula Deen's Homemade Chicken Noodle soup for dinner last night, but it merited no improvements. We are eating oranges (from Spain) and garlic (from Italy), drinking water, washing hands incessantly, and familiarizing ourselves with the French selection of cold medicines and words like mouchoirs (Kleenexes). Oh the joys of the foreign cold.

Perhaps the one redeeming quality of a full blown cold is the pleasure of indulging in guilt-free reading while one suffers. I mean, no one can be expected to conjugate verbs between sneezes. As my selection of novels in English is dwindling (I am reading my last one now), I am exploring the selection of books in our school's library that are labeled, "En Francais Facile" (in easy French). In the first one, La reine Margot, it has taken me about 3 days to read 5 pages; yet, somehow the process is enjoyable to me.

Well, I best get back to my tea and tissues. All this typing is taxing my joints. Feel free to send your prayers and sympathies our way!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


I am being de-constructed. As a result of reading the Tangible Kingdom, I have been reevaluating my approach to life and ministry, and I have come to the realization that I am being called in a new direction. I do not think that this new direction is "higher" or "better" or for the "more spiritually mature." I just think it is different. And I need to figure out what it means for me.

I have spent most of my adult life working in the church, both as a volunteer and as an employee. I loved every single minute that I gave to ministry. I thought that this was how God would always use me because I don't have the gift of evangelism. I thought only evangelists worked outside of the church walls. I am changing my mind on that one. Or God is changing my mind. Whichever.

Now I have the label "missionary." I really don't even know what that means. But from the time I set foot in this country I have felt a pressure, maybe even an expectation, to join all sorts of existing Christian circles in France. For some reason, I am resisting this pull. I think I need to get out of the holy huddle. I am feeling the pointed gaze of my Coach. He's asking me to get in the game.

Don't worry. I haven't forgotten that I need the church. I haven't forgotten the command NOT to give up the habit of meeting together. I know that I need teaching, accountability, support, and a community of worship. I am not going to stop going to church. I AM going to stop JUST going to church.

I am feeling called to be with those who are on a journey towards God--those who may not even know that they are indeed on a journey. I want to be with people who are far from God. I want to allow people to experience the goodness and the love of God in the places that they live and work, and I want to stop expecting that one must dawn the doors of a church to get a glimpse of God's kingdom. I want to take the kingdom of God to the world.

I realize many of you are doing this now. You are living out your faith at work, in your communities, with your friends, everyday. I never denied my faith or hid what I believed. I just found myself spending the majority of my time with those who are like me. I found it comfortable to be with other Christians who didn't challenge my thinking or threaten my beliefs. And I made little effort to make friends or build relationships with those outside of my cozy little circle.

But God has busted me out of those cozy circles, and while I love and miss my wonderful friends at home, I think He is asking me not to run back to the safety of the holy huddle. A huddle which I found ready and willing to take me in here in France. A huddle of lovely, well-meaning people. A huddle of people who may be doing exactly what God has called them to do. A huddle of people that I love, but I am not called to serve.

Oh it would be so easy to link arms with these groups. I could be the Jenn in France that I have been in Spokane. And really, she wasn't that bad. Perhaps she was exactly who God wanted her to be in that place for that time. But that Jenn is not who God wants me to be in France. And so that Jenn is being de-constructed.

I am not sure who will be built in her place. I only know that God has a plan, and I am willing to become whatever He wants me to become in order to do that which He has called me to do.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Le Boucher--A Post that Every Vegetarian Will Hate

I have many deep and profound thoughts going through my head, but I have been unable to put them into words. So instead of waxing poetic, I will take you along with me on a trip through the meat department of our favorite grocery store. Here I can find pretty much all the varieties of meat that are found in the States, plus a few extras.

Boeuf is beef. Not too shocking, unless of course one is ordering in a restaurant, where beef ordered bien cuit or "well done" will be served red in the middle. The French idea of "medium rare" is when the edges are still pink. And if you'd rather eat your beef completely raw, you can. Just order the steak tartare, and you will receive something that looks like a slab of uncooked hamburger meat--commonly served with a raw egg on top. Steak tartare is sold in the grocery store. It must be a very easy dish to prepare. I can imagine the instructions. 1. Open Package 2. Place meat on plate 3. Serve.

Cheval is a type of meat that I have never seen in an American grocery store, but apparently the cheval sold in this store was raised just north of the U.S., in Canada. It grieves me to tell you that cheval is horse. Our French teacher tells us that it is her favorite meat and that it is very tender and very flavorful. I cannot bring myself to try it. Not yet. Maybe someday it will just be served to me, and I will eat it in ignorance, and then I will make a sound judgement. For now, I can only picture Black Beauty when I stroll past the cheval section. Poor Black Beauty.

Porc is, of course, pork. The porc section in France is huge. They have all the chops and roasts that I am accustomed to seeing. However, while I have been a lifelong fan of ham, I had no idea how many varieties of ham existed until I went grocery shopping in France. They have two or thee aisles dedicated to hams and sausages. I have only begun to sample the options, and I have not found a loser yet. And no, I do not think of Porky Pig when shopping for pork. And even if I did, it would not keep me from buying pork.

I have eaten veau de lait, or veal, but I have never prepared it. I also do not think that I have seen it in American grocery stores. Here veal has an entire section, and there are even different cuts of veal, which I did not even know existed. Do you cook veal? How do you prepare it? I might be able to bring myself to eat itty bitty baby cows.

My sisters kids have been raising sheep for the fair during the past few summers. Due to an illness that prevented said kids from going to the fair this year, that family has been eating a great deal of lamb this fall. Lamb, or agneau, is a fairly common dish in France. I plan to buy some next week to make a Shepherd's Pie. I do like lamb, but I have to work really hard at NOT picturing cute fluffy critters in order to enjoy eating it.

Poulet is chicken. In France, there is chicken, and then there is Bresse chicken. According to Wikipedia: The birds are highly valued for their rich, gamey depth of flavour, yet with fine, tender flesh and delicious, clean-flowing fat. Roughly 1.2 million are raised annually, but such is the demand inside France that few birds make it out of the country. As a premium product, they sell at a premium price: Poulet de Bresse command around 15 euro ($21) per kilo at fine food markets. I love to roast a chicken, and will one day bite the bullet and spend the big bucks for a Bresse chicken, just to see if it is worth all the hype. I'll let you know what I discover

I have only eaten duck--canard--once, and that was when I was 17 years old and traveling in China with my parents. We had Peking Duck, and it was horribly oily and I did not care for it. I have heard, however, that in France duck is quite lovely. I will give it another shot in a restaurant someday. If I like it, I may attempt it at home. Do you like duck?

Last but not least, there is the lapin. Last week I asked a young French woman what her favorite traditional French food was and she answered in an instant: Lapin. I am absolutely certain that I have never seen this meat in an American grocery store or even at an American butcher's shop. I would try this before I would try cheval, but it does challenge my sensibilities a wee bit. After all, I did once have a pet lapin. Do you know what it is?

Not yet seen in the grocery store, but often seen on menus in French restaurants are snails (escargot) and frog legs (cuisses de grenouille).

So, what's for dinner?

Saturday, November 6, 2010


No, I still don't have any pictures hung. But despite our bare walls, I decided to let you see the rest of our apartment. I had to stand in the corner of each room (where the unhung pictures are piled) in order to make it appear as if we have fully moved in.

Here is our cozy living room. The doors open to our small garden, which would be perfect for a small dog, which Graham and I are ready to go get today but which David is not yet convinced we need. David is usually right. But Jack, who has never been an "only pet" does behave as if he needs a little friend. I'm just sayin'!

Here you see our dining room, where the bare walls are so completely blaring I may actually get motivated to hang some pictures today. Or not. Again the doors open to our charming garden.

Our bedroom also has doors that open to a small garden, which is sort of like a back yard. A teeny tiny back yard. But a big enough back yard for a teeny tiny dog. By the way, if one were to be in the market for a small dog, what breed might you suggest to such a person? Not that I'm looking.

This is our laundry room, which is amazingly large considering the fact that our entire apartment consists 800 square feet. I love this space--we have room to store luggage, a place for the vacuum cleaner, and even a spot for Jack's litter. It's not pretty, but I can't imagine life without it.

I still have not shown you the boy's room (they were still sleeping when I took the rest of the pictures), our dressing room (imagine sharing a closet--with THREE boys) or our bathroom--which is actually two rooms because in France the toilet always gets its own room. It's no castle, but it almost feels like home to me. All it needs is a little dog.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Worship in the Alps

So here is a little sampler of one of our worship times. Warning: this is one of those videos that is mostly for the grandparents, and quite frankly it makes me feel rather self-conscious. But my boys all three, THEY ROCK!

It was fun to lead the worship. I also was grateful for the training, fellowship, food, and setting of this wonderful retreat. Much more later on what God has been showing us about His plans for us in France. Right now, seeing as our classes resume tomorrow, I best start doing that homework that I have postponed until the very last minute!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Camp des Cimes

Yesterday we drove down to the French Alps, where we have a retreat with the GEM France Team. Besides anticipating a great time of teaching, training, and renewal, we have also been preparing. We Williamsons are leading worship for the weekend.

The retreat officially begins tonight, so while we did spend a great deal of time on sound checks and rehearsals, we also took a break and drove up to the nearby ski resort for lunch.

It was one of those heart-stopping, white-knuckle drives that twists and turns. Much of the road was only wide enough for one car, but that didn't stop traffic from moving both ways. Our car clung to the sides of cliffs in stellar fashion and by the time we arrived in this charming town--Les Deux Alps--we had worked up quite an appetite.

Our lunch was so quintessentially French that it took us a full hour and a half to consume it. And yes, we ate outside! The weather was absolutely gorgeous, probably 52 degrees. We did see some skiers and there was snow up on the top, but the full resort doesn't open for another month.

The Fall colors were incredible and we were fully inspired for the evening of praise and worship that lies ahead.

But lest you believe that I am living in a world of pure beauty, let me remind you that every rose has its thorn. Our thorn...brace yourselves...was NOT pretty.

First, here is our cozy room. We are tucked high in a chalet, and I was happily making our beds when...

I spotted a black spot on my bed. I looked closer, and to my great dismay, I discovered that the small spot was...

rodent poop, or as one might say in French, le petit souris caca. I was told by the camp director that it was not rat poop, however, but "mountain squirrel." Whatever. As far as I am concerned, that is just a yodeling rodent. And while I am not fond of feces, I was more concerned about meeting its maker.

Oh, but I did finally get to sleep. In fact it was not furry thoughts that made sleep a challenge, but a noisy heater. Still, even a rough night's sleep is of little importance when you get to wake up to this:

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Louvre

This week and half of next week we are on "les vacances"--which means none of us have school. We took advantage of this wonderful break by spending Monday in Paris. To get there, we walked about half a kilometer from our apartment to nearest the train stop, hopped on a train, and arrived at Notre Dame 30 minutes later.

After hitting our favorite crepe stand for lunch, we decided to take the boys on their first visit to the Louvre. We began at Greek Sculptures:

Here I am with my VERY FAVORITE exhibit in the entire Museum. I have never studied art, and I had never seen a photo or even heard of this sculpture before seeing it in person. Yet, the first time I went to the Louvre--when I turned a corner and found myself face to face with Winged Victory, it literally took my breath away. I gasped, and then whispered to David in reverent tones, "What is that?" Though I had seen the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and countless other famous works of art that day, none had elicited an emotional response from me. For the first time in my life I understood the power of art.

Though Winged Victory is very famous, my first encounter with this sculpture changed that way the I explored the Louvre, or any museum for that matter. I no longer go looking for all the works that others have made famous. I now look for the works that stir me. Here are just a few of the paintings that caught my eye today. Some are wildly famous, others rather obscure, all of them moved me in one way or another.

There is something awesome about spending the day with masterpieces. I always leave feeling both bigger and smaller all at the same time. It was a lovely day, filled with beauty. My heart is filled with gratitude.