Thursday, July 5, 2018

Another year, another country

July third- my 9 year anniversary abroad.  A day I like to stop and reflect on the past year and look forward to the next.

A year ago today, I was living in Guatemala, counting down the days to my wedding.   Yesterday, I sat in a car dealership office in France, signing paperwork with my husband to buy a car to commute to my new teaching job that starts the end of August.  A lot has changed in a year.

This year was full of joy.  Marriage is good.  It's really good.  I think especially after 2+ years of long distance I really appreciate the little things- meals together every day, lazy Saturday afternoons, chatting while we both do chores in the kitchen.  I find it deeply satisfying to share life with each other.

This year was rewarding as far as language growth goes.  I've gone from deer-in-the-headlights stage (French person: (how it sounds to me) "sgsodjfkjadjsaoijgsjglk" Me (in my head) "how many words was that? Do I have to respond? Was that a question, or were they maybe just commenting on the weather? Oh no, they're still looking at me. Maybe try the smile and nod trick) to buying vegetables at the market stage ("one kilo of tomatoes and a green lettuce please. Thank you")  to  writing my first essay in French (a one page piece on the pros and cons of television that probably sounds like it was written by a middle-schooler, but hey, that's better than a 3 year old, which is where I was a few months ago). I'm amazed at how far I've come in one year.

This year wasn't without its frustrations though.  What looked, on paper, like a simple, straight forward process for me to get residency here turned into a 6 month long paperwork marathon with piles of documents needed from the US, Romania and France.  While that's done now, more paperwork still looms ahead of me since even simple things like opening a bank account are less straight forward when you're an American living in France.

I'm looking forward to the next year.  I'll be working at a bilingual school teaching second and third grade come September.  While both of us working from home (and me only working part time) was a really nice way to start married life together, it's also isolating in a new place where I don't know anyone.  So, I'm excited to have coworkers and routines and frequent authentic chances to use French. Hopefully my French improves even faster when I use it to talk to coworkers daily, and try to understand children who are too excited about something to remember to speak English.  I'm also excited about the possibilities that having a car opens up. There are so many beautiful places it's hard to reach without a car. 

I'm also a little nervous about next year- going back into the classroom full time after leaving it behind 8 years ago leaves me with a lot of mixed feelings.  I love teaching, and children. But I also loved being involved at a level beyond the classroom, at having leadership opportunities with adults, and a broader range of influence, and I'm sad to leave that behind, at least for now.  I also remember how exhausting teaching can be, and wonder how having a full time job will change the rhythms that Cristian and I have gotten used to in our life together.

I imagine next July 3rd will find me still in France, finishing up my first year of teaching at a new school, nearly fluent in French, and with all my paperwork wrapped up.  But I also have a feeling there might be surprises in store that I have no way of imagining now. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Spring Soliloquy

I am a child of the forest and the field.
I grew, toes dipped in cold streams,
dandelion crown upon my head
black walnuts in my pocket.

My feet were not made for shoes.
I sought the hidden places,
knew the taste of lemon clover,
violet, mint, and bitter acorn

Grown, walls contain me.
In voluntary exile
I stare at walls and screens
But a sliver of blue seen through my window calls my name

I escape down dirt paths to nowhere.
Bathed is solitude
immersed in birdsong
I am renewed.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Adventures in French Cooking

Galette Complete 
Before moving to France, I'd been telling people that  I was excited about 3 things (besides the obvious of finally getting to be with Cristian daily)- wine, cheese, and baguettes, in no particular order.  My kitchen, once I was settled in, had much the same ingredients as before, except now with the addition of a rotating cast of cheeses, a couple of bottles of wine always on hand, and a few times a week a crunchy fresh baguette.  But slowly, surely, some more changes started to sneak in.

Poulet rôti épicé and Galettes de pomme de terre 
It all started with the artichoke.  I kept seeing them at the grocery store, looking for al the world like a normal vegetable nestled between the broccoli and the carrots.  Except, I was pretty sure I'd never eaten one other than as artichoke hearts from a jar.  On a whim, I picked one up and decided I would learn how to cook it.  As I paged through the French recipe book my Aunt gave me at my shower, I realized that this was maybe a bit more complicated than your average veggie, but finally figured something out and found the end result surprisingly satisfying.

Lapin a la moutarde
Next were the endives.  These intriguing, lettuce like veggies started appearing at the market in late fall and everyone seemed to be buying them.  I just had to know what made them special, so I did some digging and found a French cooking blog, in English, with an endive recipe.  Endives au gratin was added to our dinner menu for the week and I was hooked.

Now it's my newest hobby- experimenting with French cooking.  Sometimes the recipes are fast and simple like galette complete- a slice of ham, some shredded cheese, and an egg on store bought crepes. Others are more complex like lapin a la moutarde (rabbit in mustard sauce).  We've found some definite winners (mascarpone stuffed chicken breasts, anyone?) and some things we'll probably never repeat (celeriac- no matter how you slice it, dice it, and cook it, I'm just not a fan of this strange gnarly root vegetable), but I've really enjoyed expanding my culinary repertoire.  Now, the question is, what to put on the menu for next week, and who's coming over for dinner?

Tarte fine 

Crème de chou-fleur

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Oh Christmas Tree!

As December inched nearer I had one overwhelming question- where could I buy a Christmas tree in France?

Out to do grocery shopping on one of the first days in December, I discovered an unexpected answer to my question: At the grocery store!  There they were, from baby trees to full ceiling height beauties, in a little shack built specially for them, nestled in amongst the carrots and onions.

I wanted to get one right then and there, but Cristian convinced me that walking home with all our groceries and a tree would be a little more than we could manage, so I reluctantly agreed to wait. 

Finally the day rolled around to choose a tree. It's not quite as exciting when they're already packaged in net bags and there's no comparing to be done, but it does make it a whole lot faster.  We carried it home across town, Cristian balancing the tree over his shoulder, and me hefting the half log with a hole drilled in it, its complimentary tree stand, on my hip. 

Despite my concern at the lack of water with a log instead of the tree stands I grew up with, our tree has held up just fine all season long.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Draw near

Once, a perfect snowflake caught on mittened hands. Breath held to stop its melting. Wonder. Marvel. Joy.

I find myself caught off guard by  beauty this time of year- my town transformed by twinkling lights, the smell of cloves and ginger, the words to a carol, ringing truer than ever.

And the wonder invites me to be still.  To come close and look carefully. To let awe and joy sink into my soul until I've memorized the moment.

And in a time where faith and hope can be buried under the grey contradictions life brings, I'm glad for these little moments of beauty, reminding me that this heart, this quiet, awestruck, admiration of beauty, is the heart I should bring to the center of Christmas, the heart that Mary had.

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:19

So this Christmas, I'm letting cookies and lights and snowflakes remind me what faith can feel like.  I want to draw near to the one in the manger, wonder at the Word become flesh, marvel at the beauty of God with us.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The new ordinary

My windows have shutters.  Not the ornamental kinds I'm used to on American houses, but real, functioning wooden shutters.  I open them each morning, shuffling out in slippers stuck into sandals, or, on wet and cold days, just reaching out the window as far as I can, trying to push the shutter flat against the wall.  When I do go outside, the latches still make me smile, diminutive soldiers who hold our shutters open all day long.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Happy Anniversary to me

July third- a day for looking back, and looking ahead.  For the past 8 years, I've chosen this day, the one I originally left the States, to reflect on this international journey I've been taking.

And it seems even more appropriate than usual to pause and reflect, since this July 3rd finds me on the threshold- today, more than any year before, I'm poised for a momentous life change.   I'm excited and impatient to start my new life, alongside my new husband, in a new country (and to learn yet another new language).  I'm counting down the moments: forty eight more days until I marry my best friend.

But at the same time, I am deeply thankful for my experiences here the past year, and finding the leaving bitter sweet. I'm treasuring the moments: twelve more days in this country I've called home for the past 2 years.

This has been such a fulfilling year: I got engaged, saw work projects more successful than I could have imagined, finally developed a sense of community in Pana, deepening friendships and making new friends.  I hosted Thanksgiving and Easter dinner here in Pana, spent Christmas in Romania with Cristian and my soon to be in-laws, visited Tikal with a friend, went camping with family back home, and spent 2 months with my Aunt and Uncle as neighbors.

As I look forward to the next year, I'm full of anticipation.  I imagine next July will find us in France, and I hope it finds me gainfully employed and chattering away in French.  But whatever I'm doing, and wherever I happen to be next July, I expect to have grown in new ways, and I expect to be happy.