Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Games People Play

During our STAYcation, we've played a lot of games. One of our family favorites is Settlers of Catan. We play with the Knights and Cities expansion set. I am the family Settlers of Catan Champion, though the guys are all very competitive. This week, I've won two games and David won one (barely!)--not that I'm counting or anything.

Are you kidding me?!? Of course I'm counting! I'm a little competitive. Well actually, I'm a lot competitive. We've heard that my sister tends to be the Catan Champ at her house, and my kids keep hoping to one day see a match between myself and their Aunt Keri. Maybe someday....

Another family favorite is a game called Dominion that was given to us last Christmas by my sister Barbara. It is a super fun strategy game, and unlike Catan, which takes about 2 hours to play, we can play a game of Dominion in 20-30 minutes. The great thing about Dominion is it can be a very different game every time you play, requiring different strategies. David and Graham have been dominating the Dominion games this week, much to my chagrin.

We also like to play a card game called Hand and Foot. Graham typically wins Hand and Foot at our house. Lest you begin to feel sorry for Chandler, let me assure you that he is almost as competitive as I am, and he can beat us all at any of these games from time to time. But his forte is video games, where he kills us all without even breaking a sweat.

We also have an unwritten rule that Chandler has to set up and clean up all family games. Somehow he doesn't see this as a chore; but a privilege! 

What do you play?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Noah's Ark Baby Blanket

I completed the plum shawl that I was knitting--the biggest knitting project I've done yet! I'll post a picture of it when it gets cool enough to wear it!

In the meantime, I kept my hands busy with this crochet project whilst watching the Olympics! It's for a baby boy due to be born this fall.

Normally I try to find free patterns on the Internet, but when I found this pattern I was willing to pay the $5-6 dollars that it cost to download. The original pattern did not include the squid and the lion. I added those myself.

Sure hope baby boy likes it! I'm making a hat and booties to match.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Today we toured the château at Chenonceau--which is about 45 minutes from Loches, on the Cher river. It is my favorite château in France, but of course, I've only seen nine or ten of them. Elegantly designed, richly furnished, and uniquely situated, it is no wonder that kings and queens sought to own it for centuries.

The château is built across the river, and every room affords breathtaking views of the Loire valley. It is unbelievably enchanting.

In addition to the phenomenal architecture and well-maintained period furnishings, every room in Chenonceau boasts fresh, fragrant floral arrangements.

But even MORE amazing than the floral arrangements is the fact that ALL of the flowers are grown on site, in a farm that has been operating since the 16th century. The farm also has vegetables, which are used for the meals that are served in the restaurant that is located on the grounds! 

Most châteaux have formal, manicured gardens, as does Chenonceau. But this is the first château I've seen with working gardens. My dad would LOVE this! I find it absolutely wonderful.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Clos Lucé

Tomorrow David and I will celebrate TWENTY years of marriage! Count them--20 years!

We can hardly believe it ourselves.

We are celebrating all week--having a STAYcation of sorts. You know, staying home, but acting like tourists. We are off work this week and taking time to discover many of the great places in our own backyard.


Today we toured Clos Lucé, which is the small château where Leonardo DiVinci spent the final years of his life. He was asked to come to France by François I, who was a big fan of all things Italian, but especially the renaissance genius.

At Clos Lucé they have actually created many of DiVinci's inventions using his drawings and the instructions in his notebooks.

They say DiVinci imagined many machines that were not realized until 400 years after his death. Above is the machine gun that he designed.

Gemma threw up during our 40 minute drive to Clos Lucé, and then a single pigeon managed to poop  on both Graham and Chandler in one fell swoop. Despite all that, we enjoyed our visit.

The gardens were magnificent! Flowers were in full bloom, the sun was shining, and we took our time strolling across bridges that were designed by DiVinci himself.

When David and I came to France to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, we did not know that we would also celebrate 18, 19, 20 and beyond in this country. But God did!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ticket Trouble

The first time I traveled long-distance by train in France, I had my mother with me. We arrived at the station at 7:45 a.m. for an 8:05 departure. Since I had purchased our tickets on-line, I had to retrieve them from the automated kiosk. But when I entered my reservation number, the message "No itinerary found" flashed back at me. I decided to try a different route, and I put my ATM card in the appropriate slot. "There is no itinerary associated with this card" stared back at me from the screen. In French of course. Hmmmm. It was now 7:53. I decided to go to the ticketing office to see if a real-live un-automated person might be able to help. Unfortunately, there was a large crowd gathered just outside of the ticketing office, which was pitch black inside. A sticker on the window promised an 8 a.m.opening.

David was still with us, and he and devised a plan. I would queue up for the machine that gives out the numbered tickets that establish your "place" in line--a system which is found in every French business office. David, on the other hand, would break all protocol and head directly to the man at the counter--ticketless (gasp), and throw himself at the official's mercy.

Against all odds, the ticketing office opened promptly at 8. I battled the crowds for my number, while David stealthily bee-lined for the agent. He explained our dilemma, and voilà, had our tickets in hand two minutes later. My mom and I were comfortable in our seats as the train pulled out of the station.

Lesson? Do not use an American debit card to purchase train tickets on the Internet because the automated machines only recognize European cards.

We have traveled by train many times since that fateful morning last October. We feel like professionals at the whole system--never a hiccup. Until this week.

I was on my way to spend a few days with some dear friends who live just north of Paris. My train left at 6:19 a.m.; David dropped me at the station at 6:05. All the yellow automated machines we in use, but a purple one was available. I put in my FRENCH debit card, and received the "No itinerary is associated with this card" message. Oh bother. I tried the reference number route--no dice. At this point I notice that ALL of the yellow machines are suddenly available, and thinking that perhaps there is a difference, I go and repeat my efforts there. I have the same sad results.

It is now 6:13. Happily, I see that the ticketing office is already opened! Sadly, I see that there are about 20 people in line. I begin to wonder if all the machines are broken. What to do? At the end of my myself, I prayed. Yes, I know. I should have started there, but I often wait until I am frantic to pray. Just to keep things exciting.

Lord, I know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting different results. But since I know I don't have a shot at getting through that line in 6 5minutes, can you please give me a hand? If in this half-asleep state, I am somehow pressing the wrong buttons, have mercy!

And then I slipped my card in one more time. Suddenly an itinerary flashed before me, and since I had purchased round trip tickets and I wanted my return ticket as well, I  quickly pressed the "print all" button at the bottom of the screen. Next moment, I see the message "Printing 7 Tickets."

I am Sister Maria in the Reverend Mother's office. "Yes, I love children tickets, but SEVEN?!?!"

I glance at the giant clock. 6:16.What I had not realized is that I had asked the machine to print ALL of the tickets associated with my debit card. It turns out that since I had already purchased tickets for some other upcoming trips, all of them were now being printed. I guess that's because "print all" means, you know, print all.

It appears I've hit the ticket jackpot, as ticket after ticket spills from the machine. 6:17, the final ticket falls.

Shuffling through them to find the one I need to validate, I hurry towards the platform. Praying my gratitude as I go.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Off the Shelf

For years I have been keeping a list of the books that I read--that list was found by clicking on the stack of books that is pictured on my side bar. Today, that's changed.

I am no longer just going to list the books that I read, I am going to start reviewing them. From now on, when you click on the stack of books you will be redirected to my new blog, called Off the Shelf!

I have also joined up as an associate at, so that if you read about a book on my blog and decide to go and purchase it from Amazon, I will receive a small commission. This means that if you (like me) are a book-a-holic, you can support a missionary while feeding your habit.

I hope you check it out.

In the mean time, things here at Four for France will remain pretty much the same.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thy Will be Done

David and I just finished teaching a series on the Lord's Prayer. For this reason, I have been thinking about prayer a lot lately. In particular, I have been contemplating the phrase, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done."

I wonder, do I pray "thy will be done" prayers or "my will be done" prayers?

Am I imploring God to order the world according to my good pleasure? Do I presume to know the best outcome for any given situation? Have I based my faith on whether or not God responds favorably to my requests? In short, is God my great big vending machine in the sky who is expected to toss down goodies whenever I stick a token prayer in the slot?

Or, am I imploring God to order the world according to His good pleasure? Do I trust Him to know the best outcome for any given situation? Have I based my faith on the fact that God's incredible favor towards me was proven on the cross? In short, is God a loving father who is faithful to bless His children?

I don't know what God's will is for any specific circumstance, but I do know that God's will is always good, pleasing, and perfect.  (Romans 12:2)

Good. Pleasing. Perfect.

Why wouldn't I pray for that?

I suppose because I am usually looking for "quick, fun, and easy."

I ask God to make my life comfortable and neglect the possibility that discomfort could be His tool to change me; to make me more like Jesus. Jesus, who is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Do I think we shouldn't ask God for the things that we want? Of course not. Jesus did. In the Garden if Gethsemane, He begged God for a change of plans! He did not want to go to the cross. He asked God for another way even though He--of all people!-- knew that God would not answer that prayer in the affirmative. Jesus' example proves to me that God welcomes all of our requests.

But Jesus followed His request with the words, "not my will, but yours."

God's will was for Jesus to die. It was not quick, fun or easy. It was slow, painful and hard. It was also good, pleasing, and perfect.

We can ask for quick, fun, and easy. But will we accept a slow, painful, and hard answer? More importantly, will we trust that the hard answers can ultimately result in something good, pleasing, and perfect?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cultural Adaptation

Cultural adaptation--it ain't easy.

 I am American to my core, subject to an American way of thinking, an American way of dressing, and an American way of living. Here in the beautiful country of France, things that I have always taken for granted are no longer givens. I know I've been here for awhile, but cultural norms are deeply ingrained, and not easily abandoned. Consider these recent interactions:

Last week a French friend commented that I am always "bien coiffée"--which roughly translates, "well groomed." She went on to attribute this characteristic to the fact that I am an American and Americans shower every day. Yes, in the States most adults DO shower daily. Its "normal" there. Its "weird" here. And seeing as I work out every morning, its a habit that I am not likely to shake any time soon!

On another day, I burst into the yarn shop, and as the shop owner approached, I announced that I was looking for embroidery floss. She smiled patiently at me and said, "Bonjour Jennifer." After two years in this country I had just broken the most basic of the shopper's rules of engagement! I don't blow this one often anymore, but suddenly, whammo, there I was being a full-fledged efficient (read: ugly) American. I slowed myself down, smiled, and answered "Bonjour Nataile. Comment ça va ?" We exchanged pleasantries, and then, eventually, we got around to the purpose of my visit.

And  then there was the time when I wanted to buy ice. We were having Mexican food for dinner, and David offered to make margaritas. The only problem is that we don't have an ice maker nor do we have ice trays. Given that I am quite familiar with the grocery store, I was certain that they did not sell bags of ice. At the risk of sounding horribly strange, I went to the woman at the seafood counter--which is always packed with crushed ice--and asked if it would be possible to buy some ice. The woman looked at me as if I were from outer space, and said, "Why would you want to buy something that is free?" She disappeared for a moment and returned with about four cups of ice in a shopping bag. I was grateful, but still curious about how I could have possibly known where to get ice without having to ask the question. There are no signs telling people that they can get free ice from the seafood section. French people just know these things. If I were French, I would know them, too. But I am an American, through and through.

Just because I am an American doesn't mean that I am not trying to adapt. I AM trying! I am trying hard! But one does not learn the intricacies of another culture in days, weeks, or months.  It takes time and intention. I know we still have a long way to go; at the same time, I can certainly see some progress after being here for two years. We never forget to weigh our vegetables in the produce section, we greet everyone when we enter the waiting room at the doctor's office, and we no longer call out to each other in public places.

As for the "intention" part--I have recently read two books that I found VERY enlightening. The first was a book about France during the renaissance, called The Serpent and the Moon. After reading that book I have an appreciation for the French's distrust of organized religion, an understanding of their seeming tolerance of infidelity, and a respect for their approach to child-rearing. The second was a book called Cultural Misunderstandings, and it was written by a French anthropologist who has lived many years in the United States. The author compares French and American cultures in several different realms, such as friendship, marriage, response to minor accidents (such as spilling red wine on a friend's white carpeting), obtaining information, and telephone etiquette. It was an easy read, and though it is over 20 years old, I found it extremely insightful.

And so we continue, like camels learning to swim. Slowly making headway into an environment that is not our own.

We carefully file away our failures and our successes, hoping that some day that which still sometimes feels foreign will finally become second nature. We walk that careful balance between holding to our heritage and giving ourselves permission to change. We learn what it means to die to ourselves on a whole new level--losing a piece of our identities along the way.

To this we have been called. Cultural adaptation. Its the toughest job I've ever loved.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

All About 'cha

My dear niece, Sarah, tagged me in one of those fun blog questionnaires. It works like this: I get to answer the questions and then at the end, I pass them along to some fellow blog writers. If you don't write a blog, I'd still love to know your responses! You can send them to me in a e-mail if you want. Because, well, inquiring minds want to know!

Here it goes:

1. What color are your socks right now?
I'm barefooted. But normally, (meaning, if I weren't too lazy to go get them), I'd be wearing pink, orange, and black striped slipper-socks. Actually I firmly believe that socks should be multicolored if at all possible. The brighter the better--which is the exact opposite of how I feel about anything worn above the knee. 

2. What are you listening to right now?
Video games, boys chatting, the toilet flushing, and my stomach growling.

3. What was the last thing you ate?
A golden delicious apple and some goat cheese.

4. Can you drive a stick shift?
Easy peasy. Dad made me learn on a stick shift. I actually prefer one. It makes driving more interesting.

5. Last person you spoke to on the phone?
Graham. He called me when I was on my to market to ask if I could get him a Monster.

6. How old are you today?
I am 41 years old today, same as yesterday. But in 1987 I was 16. That is a really weird question! Why does it specify 'today'? Today as opposed to when? Tomorrow? 

7. What is your favorite sport to watch?
Not handball. Or Judo. Those are two sports in the Olympics that the French show ad nauseum, and to the exclusion of more spectator-friendly sports like, say, gymnastics and tennis. But my favorite  sports to watch when the Olympics are not on are football (in the States) and football (in France)--which happen to be two very different sports.

8. What is your favorite drink?
Hot black tea, with milk and sugar. And water.

9. Have you ever dyed your hair?
Do highlights count?

10. What is your favorite food?
Today? This question (as opposed to the age question) should end with the word 'today!' My favorite food today is Caramel Magnum Bars. Yesterday it was David's homemade pizza. Tomorrow it will most likely be a sheep cheese.

11. Do you sing in the shower?
Not on purpose.

12. Favorite day of the year?
In the States, Thanksgiving is my favorite day because it includes three of my favorite things: family, food, and football. In France, I think I like Easter Monday the best. 

13. What is one place you want to visit?
One place I'd like to visit TODAY is my mama's house. I'd eat some of Dad's fresh grown veggies, sleep in a bed with sheets that were most likely dried outside on a clothesline, and beg for the right to work the crossword puzzle in the Sunday paper.

14. What was your favorite toy as a child?
Fisher Price Little People, aka my "Sallys." My favorite imaginary friend was Rover. Well, actually, he was my only imaginary friend. But thankfully, not my only friend.

15. What is your favorite season?

I really love each one! I love that God thought up the idea of seasons, and that the changes are both rhythmic and beautiful,  predictable and strange, connected and distinct.

Well that does it for me. Did you learn anything new? Would you like to join the fun?

I'd  like to tag my friend Peggy at Coffee at my Home, my friend Debbie at Everyday Blessings, and my niece Emily at A Bend in my Road.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Our Week in Headlines

I just have a second...Olympic Tennis is starting. Since I don't want to miss a moment, I'll give you the week's news in headlines, I'm sure you can fill in the blanks.

Noah's Ark in Yarn

The Automatic Sit

Une Prise du Sang

Fleas part II

Fundraising: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

Bagels by Graham

¿Habla usted español?

That about sums it up! Have a great weekend, and GO TEAM USA! ALLEZ France !