Thursday, December 4, 2014

Simple Bread That Even the French Approve Of

Our daily bread; this is the one I make almost every day. I use a bread machine, but you can knead it by hand, I'll give the directions for that method too. It is simply perfect warm with butter to be eaten with your soup.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

                                         Martinmas Lantern-Making:

                                        Valentine turned 13, Happy Birthday, Dearest!
                   Not quite French patisserie, but made with love:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Vegan Stuffing Recipe...or What do I do With the Leftovers?

Portabella Stuffing Stuffed Mushrooms

 Happy Post-Thanksgiving Day to the Americans here and abroad. I hope each and every one of you was privileged with a lovely family dinner...and all the holiday entails. Now what to do with the leftovers? Turkey is easy; freeze it and feed it to the kids in sandwiches for the next three weeks, but the dressing won't keep. Here is my recipe for both dressing and a dish to make today special.

Portabella Stuffing Stuffed Mushrooms

Friday, November 7, 2014

From Homeschool to College, Part 2

So, what are college admissions officers searching for in a candidate? What would they see as desirable in a non-traditional applicant's portfolio?

This was my research assignment as I battled with words, memory and with my own inclination to get a bit warm and fuzzy and nostalgic, looking back over all the wonderful years of living with my daughter and watching her grow and become herself. How do you capture that? Is that even what is needed in the situation?

With her brother, during a moment of camaraderie; 

Here are the results, straight from the horse's mouth (though what truck a horse would have with college is beyond me):

1) Academic: an applicant will need to somehow convey the fact that they are college-ready. This could be through teacher narratives about what was studied, reading lists (saved!), information on curriculum used (hmmm), and copies of papers written or projects completed.

From Princeton's website:

"We understand that for many home schooled students there is not as clear a distinction between academic and non-academic activities as there might be for students in a traditional high school.

The Day the Books Fit

The Day the Books Fit is a new holiday in our family. I know so, because I declared it on October 22, as I slid the last remaining volume onto a shelf, with room to spare and TWO free shelves for library books. The dog promptly took a nap in the sun spot on the bottom of these. This is a really big, wondrous deal. No more searching high and low; either for a book or for a place to put it away. No more piles of books in too many corners and on flat surfaces. And the shear accomplishment of what turned out to be a serious project. Not only are there now enough bookshelves, but there is also an extra bedroom in a third of what used to be our playroom/classroom.

Here is what it looked like during the divide and paint phase:

And here is the bookshelf: (dang it, someone left Balzac and Murderous Maths where they should not be... just when you think you've got it all figured out!) And, if you see one that belongs to you on the far left shelf, second one from the top, that's because the gnome is guarding the shelf of "books that belong to other people." Please stop in for a cup of tea and recover your missing volume.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

How to Cook a Chicken


1 chicken

First: find the chicken. You will not find this bird in your local supermarket. Seek out a farmer, either at the farmer's market, through a co-op or through word of mouth.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hamburgers and Fries at Our House

As I wait for the fries to be done frying and the boys to finish grilling the hamburgers, I thought about how our favorite (though naughty) meal is also a very simple one to make from real food. It is so simple that I have time to jot this down while it is all cooking. Here is my top secret recipe for hamburgers, and my French husband's recipe for French fries (of course).

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Soup to Astonish

A Soup to Astonish

This will taste like the best, creamiest tomato soup you have ever served, but it really contains an extra ingredient that makes it that way, just don't tell anyone until after they've tasted it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beauty, and Learning to Appreciate It

In the interest of training our eyes, minds and hearts to recognize what is beautiful; a painting, great music, a well-crafted speech, architecture, as well as a desire to take advantage of events in our community, I have made a resolution to say "yes" more often to invitations and opportunities. Within reason. There are, after all, meals to be cooked and little people to tend to. What I have mostly stopped doing, is coercing those who are not interested into coming along. It makes for a more peaceable, enjoyable experience, and they are old enough to pursue their own interests without me.

Prompted by a friend who was away this past year and had made the same resolution, I was inspired to catalog the wealth of the past month in terms of what we have seen and learned:

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mama Fitness: Don't Stop: Pain or No Pain!

Advice from the doctors when wondering what to do about pain, be it joint, muscle, tendon: keep exercising! Really. See here: When it's OK to Run Hurt.

I had heard this from my GP and also from a rheumatologist, who says even if I have arthritis in my foot, knees and elbow, the best counsel she can give me is to keep going with my weight lifting, walking and biking, "at least 60 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week." Yes, ma'am.

As my elbow bit the dust badly two weeks ago, I had my doubts. I added painting the walls to my list of activities, when it already hurt to knit, elbow was so stiff and sore it kept me awake at night and kept me from straightening my arm or even picking up the car keys without pain. I asked the teacher after class yesterday about modifications in Body Pump and CX Works (my latest add-on to classes). She told me to lighten up, to use free-weights instead of the bar or tube when it helped, drop all weight if need be and just do the movements, but she did not say to stay home and sleep an extra hour.

I think I was sort of hoping she would say to go home and sleep an extra hour. But not deep down.

I went back this morning, followed all of her advice, and I felt BETTER after my morning workout.

As for my questions about why we weigh more in America, I found a super blog post here; DoctorMama, confirming much of what I've suspected and going into more depth on the topic.

Don't let pain or lack of results that the scale can measure keep you from getting out and staying active. You will feel better with each extra step you take, each 2lb.weight you pick up. I promise. And if you don't feel better right away, be patient with yourself. You will. Go slowly, and if that fails, go more slowly, but don't stop, don't ever give up.

Mama Fitness...or This Stinks. Rants and Raves.

Attitude is everything, dah-ling. Yes, quite, and this morning, I am happy for the cool weather, a healthy family and a warm home. So much for the grateful list, I could go on, life is wonderful.

My gut and butt are another matter. This is not the happy weight-loss success story you were hoping to hear. Go to one of those skinny magazines for that. Not that I despise my looks. I love the second takes I get from people when I tell them I have five children. I don't look so bad for a mother of many, and two of them teenagers. I am more fit than I was a year ago, without a doubt. However, bottom line: I have NOT been successful at losing weight and keeping it off. There are fat molecules in the air. My thyroid is off-whack, and maybe I just like sugar more than I should. Burp.

This is a post on the topic of weight in America, by a brilliant writer friend, who, in case you get bored with my posts, has a magical way with words that enthralls and makes you want to read everything she's ever written:
How to Live in LA

Post-European Vacation Update:

I did not gain weight in France. Yee-haw. Not an accomplishment and not a disaster.

Total weight loss in the past year, that stayed off: 9lbs.  I had done away with 6.5 more...but read on.

In France, Italy and Germany, I ate tons of duck, french fries, mushrooms and cheese,  drank too much wine on a daily basis, never said no to chocolate or ice cream, and did not see the inside of a gym even once. I did walk a lot. Still...

I have been back home for a month. I've been to my class at the Y faithfully 3-5 times a week, biked or walked on the days in between and have gained 4 lbs. I have not had one single bite of foie gras nor the merest sip of champagne. I'm not devastated, just mad.

What is making the difference? I wonder if it is never needing to walk anywhere, ever here? Do those daily jaunts across the street to pick up bread and maybe 3 times a week downtown; a half-hour walk and back matter so much? Is it drinking coffee black in Europe as opposed to sugar and almond-milk enriched here? Is it simply not spending as much time outside, in fresh air, which was the norm for 2 months? (Which meant you walked more, which in turn burns more calories?)

My thyroid is practically non-functioning, according to the latest tests. But then, I've noticed all of those symptoms for years, now the blood-work simply matches the reality. So, can't really blame that anymore than I could before.

It's not the fat molecules in the air. My husband, who did not leave his office during the day to walk downtown or even get bread, came home with an extra 12 lbs. He has lost 5 already. Skunk.

Tips and comments welcome...but maybe not if you are a guy, who has never had to lose more than a pound or two in your life. We love you, but you probably don't get us. 

P.S. Last statement does not apply if your resumé includes training Cher, Shailene Woodley or Ann Hathaway.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

France and Interior Design

Over the years in France, I have admired many different ways of making a home beautiful, elegant, inviting and warm. I was also born to parents with a fabulous sense of style and the work ethic to make it happen. The French are so good at this art! From France, I have posted photos of places that were prepared for us with love by relatives; 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seasons: It's Autumn Because...I Said So

I woke this morning to a smell that made me smile and dig down under the down comforter for another minute...the heat came on in the night. The smell? It is the first time warm air pushes through the vents; hot dust. With the thermostat set to "automatic", this means it had to get pretty dang chilly for the house to cool down enough to under 63. Yippee. It's fall.

Through the years, we have had many discussions about when you can say it is the next season. We live in a part of the world where there are four definite seasons, and they never, according to good sense and observation, (or me), begin on the calendar date set for them. 

Some of the children (and husband) like to believe in the calendar date in, even if it is 102 degrees in the shade on June 2nd, it is NOT summer. Since daily walks have always been a part of our rhythm, I taught them to look, to listen, to feel the temperature on their skin. Seeing the first returning robin in February was a sign that spring was coming. Not needing a winter coat even in the house is spring in Iowa. (We call them sleepers or big, fat bathrobes inside, same thing.) 

Jumping over the Beltane fires, celebrating our Gaelic ancestry and the return of life, is spring:

Being able to plant outside without fear of frost means it's getting very close to summer. June 21st means summer solstice, the position of the sun and the length of the days. Summer is hot, too hot for jeans and long-sleeves. If it's hot, it's summer. If you can go to the beach and still be hot, it's summer:

And as for autumn, the one that sneaks up on you in some ways, but in others is not so subtle...autumn starts with more leaves than just the August ones falling, a nip in the wind, candles at dinner, and then, bahm! you are freezing your tushy off when you walk outside in the morning and back to t-shirts in the afternoon. The wicked, bad ragweed along the bike path has wilted over-night. Then one day, long sleeves in the afternoon too, the kids put on fleeces of their own accord, and the heat comes on. That's early fall, when the sun can shine brilliantly, but a hat feels nice:

Late fall, we all know; pumpkins and hay rides and winter coats. It's early fall that is the elusive (it can and will warm up, then cool back down again) and lovely seasonal miracle. Autumn is the season that makes me glad to live in the Midwest again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Eagle Point Park: A History Lesson, A Family Picnic and A Fascinating Legend; thank you, Ben, my littlest brother, for the photo!

Eagle Point Park; the fish pond. This and the park's buildings were built during the Great Depression, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated the WPA or Works Progress Administration, which funded projects around the United States to help create jobs for unemployed workers. The site had been chosen earlier and named for the legend of Eagle Point. Here it is; a noble story: 
According to the Encyclopedia of Dubuque, the naming of the hill has its roots in 1828-29, when an eagle's nest was found in a tree near Dryden, N.Y. The tree was cut down and the eaglets captured.
A local merchant raised one of the eaglets and gave it to a silversmith. The silversmith banded the eagle with an inscription and set it free. A Native American, hunting along a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, shot the eagle, but he was startled by the silver band, having never seen one before. As news of the eagle spread, the bluff upon which it was shot became known as Eagle Point.
The name of the park, sadly, coincided with the demise of the eagle in Iowa. A nesting pair reported in Jasper County in 1905 would be the last active nest in our state until 1977, when one was spotted in Allamakee County. Since then, eagles have thrived. Once again, eagles are a common sight in and around Eagle Point.
The architect chosen for the project was a visionary; Alfred Caldwell, who created prairie-style structures, in harmony with the land and the natural terrain. The limestone used is native to the area; all of the cliffs and bluffs surrounding the Mississippi here are of limestone. 

As a child, I suppose, picnicking at Eagle Point ruined my appreciation for any other park. The rest of them were just so...tiny and blah. I did love Swiss Valley, because we could go creek stomping...when my mother wasn't looking! 

Thank you, again, my fabulous family, for coming together and getting the next generation out to the park, at least once a year!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Man and Animal Unit: Cheetahs of the Kalahari -- National Geographic

We have begun our "Man and Animal" block, as it is known in Waldorf/Steiner schools. We learn all about animals and humans and more for the 7th grader, and visit the zoo as many times as we can. Of course, I woke up to storms and rain, so our daily dose of beautiful National Geographic photos may be our only source for the big mammals today, here it is for you to see, (you will have to click on the link below):
Pictures: Cheetahs of the Kalahari -- National Geographic

Friday, September 5, 2014

First Week Back to Lessons at Home

From the first week and our first poem of the year: "Cargoes" by John Masefield, a "quinquereme." Poem taken from A Journey in Time Through Verse and Rhyme, by Heather Thomas, our Waldorf-inspired go-to poetry book for all grade levels.

This particular illustration is from my oh-so-reluctant daughter who claimed she "can't draw". I chose hers to show how even the most reticent person can find the art inside of them. I hope she remembers the lesson as an encouraging, pleasant one, proving that no one has a license to beauty and art.

Breakfast; when you are facing a full morning of work, it is good to be well-nourished. A morning favorite for Charles; hash browns, eggs and toast:

This week's focus was a math review and getting settled into our routine again. For the three youngest, this means beginning the day together with a poem and seated work; art, math, writing, interspersed with walks or trampoline time. Cate, the college-bound, is usually at the dining room table working on her online classes or ACT prep.

For math, for my 7th-grader, I use Making Math Meaningful, by Jamie York. The Bookstore at Rudolf Steiner College, the above (non-sponsored) links, is a wonderful store with excellent service, where I can find almost anything Waldorf or Steiner. They will even look on their shelves to see if there is a slightly damaged copy they can sell for a little less when you call. Valentine, 12, and I are also reading and working through Life of Fred, Geometry, by Stanley F. Schmidt, a book we borrowed from the library, but which is available through Rainbow Resource. The younger two are reviewing skills with their Miquon pages, also available at Rainbow Resource, and having fun with lessons from Dorothy Harrer's Math Lessons for Elementary Grades and Melisa Neilson's Waldorf Math Grades 1-5. None of these links are sponsored, I am just trying to make it simple to find resources.

However, before beginning again with "school", we first had a summer, whole-family get-together. It started at my parents' house under thunder storms, but ended, as planned and hoped-for, at Eagle Point Park, overlooking the Mississippi from high above on the bluffs. (The picnic might have been rained-out, and eaten at a table inside, but s'mores were obligatory once we reached the park):

                                                          The Mighty, Muddy, Mississippi:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Homeschool to College: How To, Part 1

The time has come. Cate, 17, is ready to apply to college and figure out how it will be paid for. Daunting!

That is what I wrote when I first began this article, back in July. I had no idea. I am home now, and have been working unremittingly on lesson plans and college admissions. It is time to take a break and blog a bit about it all.

I am publishing our research here and will have a continuous input of information as we pursue our task this year...and next, as Duncan will be in the same boat next school year, and they are two very unique individuals.

May I say, that in our family, our children are encouraged to pursue what they believe is their true calling. Do I sometimes whistle a bit when they are listening? Sure. 

First of all, then, neither my husband nor I think that a four-year college immediately following high school is the only route to go. Myself, because I left the country as soon as I legally could. I put college on hold for a super fun year of staying with host families, hanging at the beach, hunting mushrooms in the forest, skiing the Pyrenees, attending formal balls and eating fabulous food, every. single. day. I have NO regrets about postponing college. I learned much about the world and the way it works in that year, and I came home psyched and ready for serious studying. My husband, because he was caught up in a system where that idea had never been in the cards for him. He had a certain high school diploma and a certain school followed that diploma. No holds, delays or breaks allowed. His family had been hosting exchange students from all over the world for ten years when we met. He also wonders what might have happened had he not gone on to the school he attended. What if he had been encouraged to choose a trade or another profession, what if he had had time to explore and think before starting another year of school?

Our children have different ideas; the eldest says that she has had a very long time to think, dream and make plans and that they now include college, pre-med even. The next one says he wants to "get through school with a degree so that he can then do what he really wants to do." So, the merry-go-round begins.

From the top: your child's dream is an Ivy League education? Here is what Harvard has to say about homeschool college admissions:

''Harvard University uses the same requirements for homeschoolers and traditional students. Harvard requires applicants to submit the results of either the SAT I or ACT standardized test and the results of three SAT II Subject Tests, which applicants may take in different subjects to demonstrate a mixture of academic interests.

"There is no single academic path we expect all students to follow," according to their Web site, "but the strongest applicants take the most rigorous secondary school curricula available to them. An ideal four-year preparatory program includes four years of English, with extensive practice in writing; four years of math; four years of science: biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course in one of these subjects; three years of history, including American and European history; and four years of one foreign language."

Traditional applicants can supply a letter from a teacher who knows them well and who has taught him or her in academic subjects (preferably in the final two years of secondary school.) However, McGrath Lewis says, "While we can make careful evaluations with required recommendations, we are happy to read helpful letters from people directly familiar with applicants' lives outside the classroom. Such letters are not necessary, however, and it is generally advisable to submit no more than two or three."

In addition to academic standing, Harvard is looking for well-rounded individuals who have participated in personal development outside the institution.

McGrath Lewis offers this advice: "Follow the passions you have and develop them. We are looking for non-academic criteria – maturity, social facility, and non-academic talents, which is the same range as for traditional students."

"It is not harder or easier for homeschoolers to get in. It is difficult for anyone to get in."

As a typical unschooler/homeschooler path, Cate has chosen to begin with some classes from a community college this year, while she is still completing high school. I believe, as of now, that getting her registered for a single class at the local community college will have proved itself more difficult than going to a "normal" college later. More on this option tomorrow.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Home Again...with Pending Posts on France

It is beyond good to be home, and yet, there are so many lingering thoughts, photos and events to chronicle, and so many things to do first. Sadly, the yard work, hair cuts and household organization, not to mention the extreme sport of homeschool planning with 3 weeks to go before the "start date," must come before writing. I will catch up soon, and add little bits of photos and info in the meantime.

Here is what "Country French Homes" looks like in the presence of 12 children...beyond gorgeous, despite us all visiting.

The Library...includes two window seat beds to the left:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Summer Schooling in France: Ocean

First confession: I do not love the beach. The ocean, though, is part of my very soul. I love the ocean, especially in the off-season, when I get it to myself. It is going to rip my heart out all over again to leave it. Think snow, sister, and how much you would miss that again...snow is good, and Christmas tree hunting in the snowy woods, and fires in the hearth with hot cocoa. Besides, you and sand will no longer be intimate buddies, yay, Iowa. Sorry, back to the beach.

As an educational tool; the seaside is matchless. Number one advantage; children WANT to be at the beach.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Boy's France

The two months here have meant different things to each of us, but I have not said much about the youngest two; Charles, 10 and Gael, 6, who just do boy stuff, like at home, but different.

Here are a few photos from their day to day here, starting with summer's favorite pastime, lucanus cervus, or stag beetles:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bordeaux...Friends Married to Frenchmen

Lucky for me, I have friends with such determination and powers of persuasion that I end up escaping for a minute (or a couple of days) to make the trip to see them all together each time I come. I met the first of them, Dede,

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Another part of my post, the most important part of all, was a tribute to friendship, love and kindness, without which there would be just an abyss of pretty and ugly.
Meeting up with my friend Katie in Mannheim, was the highlight of my days that week, (we must allow for Thierry being the main event of the whole trip.) It was so much fun to spend the only sunny day with her, exploring the gardens of Luisenpark and the rest of the town. Thank you for making the train trip there!

Germany: Heidelberg

Here is the town that somewhat drew a line through my previous musings on architecture and national character. Of course, Mannheim was largely bombed and rebuilt, whereas Heidelberg retains much of its original 16th-19th century construction. It is cute, and full of tourists, consequently. First, there is a castle;

Germany; Mannheim

I've started this post over twice now; first time; it needed rewriting. Second time; Blogger crashed. Third time, a charm?

The car trip itself was a door into a world I had forgotten existed; a long drive without children. There was yarn to knit,

Knitting and France

 If you stumbled upon this earlier; sorry! I was trying to write a little tribute to the following book:
French Girl Knits Accessories: Modern Designs for a Beautiful Life by Griffin-Grimes, Kristeen, from my Kindle, which I clearly lack the skills to use.

This is a beautiful book. The author has such a love for France

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Germany: Mannheim...and Ponderings on Travel

Who we are affects how we travel. I had only thought of this in the broadest of terms, as, years ago, I firmly believed that travel (and reading) were the best ways to broaden one's horizons. Then I met the former owner of our first house at the signing of the final papers. He was someone who had lived abroad and had nothing nice to say of the native population of the countries he had been in. He was also vulgar, inconsiderate AND stole the ladder leading up to the upper story of the old granary in front of our noses. Pah.

...And a Wedding! Vive les Mariés!

I think one major reason our trip came together this year was that Thierry made a promise to his God-daughter, Eve-Lise, to be there for her wedding on July 5th. "There" being France. There were not 36 solutions, as the French say, we needed to fly over.

Je crois bien qu'une des raison majeurs que notre voyage a enfin eu lieu, c'est que Thierry a promis à sa fieulle d'etre la lors de son mariage le 5 juillet. "La" voulait dire la France. Il n'y avait pas 36 solutions, il fallait qu'on prenne l'avion.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer Happenings in France

My little guy turned 7 days before we left. We decided celebrating in the US and in France would be the way to go. (This is mostly because the cakes here are so very delicious that it would be a shame to miss an occasion to have a French birthday cake by mere days.)

Gaël with his chocolate (layers of chocolate mousse and cake) cake:

La Vie Quotidienne/ Everyday Life in France...Sort Of

As I mentioned, there was a busy-ish sort of week here, and then another. Busy being relative. My sister and brother-in-law had waited our arrival to baptize my sweet little nephew, Remy. A baptism is an important event in France (not always religiously, but socially, very); weeks of preparation and planning go into it,

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rigny Castle

The sun came out...and I went on a tour of the grounds. I found the moat! It's still there, with little foot bridges. I also got a back view of the castle. This is really a little corner of heaven I thought I would share with you, a few more photos than the last post, a couple more details.

Life in "La Vieille France" or The France of Yesteryear

I had a week...and then another week, and today I am writing from here; on the other side of France and on our way to Germany in a few hours. I am a make-believe countess for two days and a night, in the Chateau de Rigny, a magical, fairy-tale place to stay and visit. The kiddies are with Thierry's family, and we are on a big ol' road trip, starting with a 9-hour drive and a night here:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mont-de-Marsan; our French Home, or Where are we?

A sweet little town of 30,000 people in the southwest of France; north of Spain, south of Bordeaux. The Atlantic ocean and beach is a 45-minute drive. We've had one memorable weekend there so far.

The important people here are our family members.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How to be a Good Tourist

Valentine's first comment as we looked around, a little dazed, a little lost, in Venice, was; "I hate looking like I'm a tourist."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Palazzo Ducale

This was the day we did our "official tourism"; first stop: The Doges Palace, or Palazzo Ducale in Place San Marco Square.

The Palazzo was built for the reigning duke, who was an elected official. His private apartments, as well as administrative space and all of the chambers where the various bodies of government met, were within the palace.The very first Doge of Venice was Doge Angelo Partecipazio

Venice; Favorites

Love the houses on the water:

Monday, June 23, 2014


This was the year for the twelve-year-old trip of my third child, Valentine, the one with the most Italian name, and fittingly, she had her heart set on Venice. To Venice we went. There is nowhere quite like the very place you have dreamed of visiting and are now staying, especially if it happens to be a place like Venezia.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Proof of a Slower Life

This sign struck me today. I was waiting in line with the rest of the people who had either rushed from work or procrastinated until the very last minute before stores closed for the night. I needed a few tomatoes and some yogurt for my solo dinner, and it was 6:55. Yes, grocery stores, along with jewelry stores, clothing stores and newspaper stands, all close at 7 here. And, even in a big ol' Leader Price, a large supermarket next door,they close down for a half day to take inventory, which translates the sign about word for word.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Charles: Down for the Count

French Adventures; the Hopital

Since I am lazily catching up from a lovely trip to Paris and prepping for one to Italy, I have yet to recount the ER room visit and subsequent surgery on day two of life in Mont-de-Marsan

Second day in les Landes; everyone and their brother, and their cousin, is at our house. They have all popped by this afternoon, with children, grandchildren, it is a beautiful day and there are 30 people in my front yard. Despite the fatigue pulling at my eyelids and each and every muscle from traveling for the past five days,  I can handle this. This same family has stocked my cupboards and refrigerator, so I smile and serve juice, mint syrup with water, muscat wine, port, pretzels, crackers. I break out my American candy stash for the kids. 

The only ones who declined to partake were the police officers..

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On Your Marks, Get Set, Chill

...and watch, from my chaise lounge, as my mother-in-law plays cards with the kids, my father-in-law wakes from his nap in his own chaise and takes out the sprinkler for the little ones to run through, and the others read a comic book or leaf through a magazine. This is life in the afternoon in the summertime here.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Toujours Paris

A few more snapshots of our brief time in the capital of romance and overnight forming of political parties and protests: (photographic credits and thanks go to Janice Vaillant and Duncan Chenus). Anywhere you see purple, it is a link that will give you, most likely, all or more than all of the info you ever wanted about the monument, neighborhood or statue from Wikipedia, in English.

Notre Dame through the trees

Did I Not Warn You?

Locks of Love are Falling Down

And that bridge filled with padlocks I walked on last week has begun to collapse. Dang.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

French Truths...Delicieux

We had not been in France for 3 hours when it all came crashing back; in the very nicest way; France has perfected life as an art form. Details, time to talk, to eat, to care. Every person we have spent time with this past week has been generous in this way; naturally and not once glancing at their watch or time on their phone. First story:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Paris; More

Someone took 743 photos on my new camera in Paris...maybe my photography-loving son who conned me into letting him hold onto it for me. Here is more of who, what and where; friends, family, food and places in Paris.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


Plane, 5 train/metros and 7 million steps later...we arrived at our destination, 7 of us and 6 suitcases. Our lovely aunt and uncle whom we had never met agreed to host our whole family for 3 days. Their car only has two seats, so we gratefully headed to their house on foot and metro.

How we got there:

Scary, super-full metro with suitcases:

Feeling Illiterate and Unsophisticated in Sweden

First leg of journey: Scandinavian Airlines from Chicago to Stockholm. Just after the 4-hour car trip to Chicago, with my kind, indulgent father driving the 7 of us.

Culture shock; a language, or several maybe, that I can neither understand nor speak; not even a word! The Swedish airline stewardesses speak fluent English, and take good care of us. And so many blond heads in a row. Clearly, I am a mere provincial who has barely traveled outside of my comfort zone; English, Romance languages, a tiny bit of German. To my left was a good-natured man from Estonia, who spoke a few words of English; just enough to reassure me that the five noisy kids to his right were not a worry.

Upon arrival at the airport in Stockholm, one quickly separates the Americans from the rest of the Europeans; we are Americans, and they are dressed like chic, sleek and put-together fashion plates and do not look as though they had spent a single minute in flight. Ugh. 

The coolest play space ever was at this airport: Waldorfish-heaven. Here are some photos:

In Ze French Fridge...Gluten-Free Breakfast in France

My choices would be so flippin' fantastic if I could eat bread, croissants, chocolatines...with butter, real butter that tastes like butter, and my father-in-law's homemade jam. 

Up until today, there has been yogurt. Even at the hospital, I finagled my way

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Packing, Panicking and Playing with a New Camera

The suitcases are all laid out, ready to reception the goods. My closet has been cleaned out, sorted into "bring, leave and get rid of." And here are a few shots with the new camera that commemorates what will perhaps be our last big family trip together. Departure in 4 days.

Monday, May 12, 2014

How to Pack for Two Months and Seven People

First, accept the fact that you are nuts. Then move on. You've done this before and you can handle it. Most likely. Well, maybe have a cup of coffee to wake up or a glass of wine to relax and then move on. I'm alternating between the two.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Homeschooling in France-Take II!

Attention, world travelers, the last time the Academie Chenus took an airplane together, a volcano blew up and it took a crew and a village to get us to our destination, but it was a fabulous adventure. You might want to be particularly ready for thrills if you are traveling on May 29th...we leave for France again, the first time in four years and anything may happen.

We will be there for two months, with plans for a couple of days in Paris,

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Gift for Kitchen and Soul

A very thoughtful friend dropped off these treasures yesterday, knowing the delight they would bring me. Thank you! It is a collection of the many spices I need as I learn to cook Indian dishes. I am grateful to be trusted to make good use of these!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Best and Worst Homeschool News of the Week

Best: The Baldwin Project's Gateway to the Classics. 1) English for the fearless; "A band of strangers could not resist one of them in a brawl, assisted by his strong, blue-eyed wife...brandishing her vast and snowy arms-to deliver her fisticuffs, like bolts from the twisted strings of a catapult."    If you have ever used the free, online website, The Baldwin Project/Main Lesson, you know what a treasure it is of stories, books and histories from long ago. Now, there is more; 2) a catalog organized and searchable by author, title and topic, 2) e-books, with illustrations,  3) some on AUDIO! And...4) a way to group your own content in a bunch of different ways. With a click, I stored and classified a story under "lesson plans for Charles." A year's subscription, right now, is $49.95. The normal price will be $99.95.

Worst: you will have to scroll down to the next post for the photo. In this homeschooling house, we drink crazy, copious amounts of tea. We are always on the search for that perfect tea kettle, the one that will be our forever tea kettle. It has yet to be found. The latest specimen is below, from a mail-order catalog that promises "old-time quality." Hmph. It is exactly 16 months old. You cannot make it clean and shiny for all of the polishing products in the world. Nasty. The knob went missing some 8 months ago; the only way to pry off the lid is with finger nails through a kitchen towel. I had to turn on the kitchen fan this morning to ventilate the smell of burning flesh when I grabbed the handle after hearing a click. The hinges won't hold and it periodically falls over onto the side of the kettle. I thought it had slipped just then. Nope. Judging by the temperature, it had been closer to 10 minutes earlier.

Try the Gateway to the Classics, it is a much better deal for the dollar, and the cup of tea for all.

Pretty Awful Tea Kettle

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Valentine has always wanted to run into a store, ask the date, and shout "Yes! My time machine works!!!" (Something she once heard was on another person's list of "things to do before I die.")

So here she is, dressed for her ballet photo shoot today, and she finally had her chance at a local drug store. Goof ball. She came in after me and ran out with glee in her heels.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Home Alone-Catching the Moment

Oh man. I am the only one in the house right now. The last time this happened must have been...I don't know. I remember a moment while in labor with Charles, who will be 10 in July, when my midwife told everyone to go on an outing and leave me to labor in peace...

I'm not even sure what to do with myself; I could clean up the school/playroom, or make dinner or finish the Easter egg I've been working on. Never mind, I see one of them coming up the driveway now...he's turning, leaving...gone!

Someday I will miss them all, but just now, I think I will turn on something 19th century-ish on Netflix and work on my egg.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

School During Holy Week

There is so much to look forward to and to prepare this week, and the weather, if super-cold, is at least mostly sunny...well, if we don't count the snowstorm on Monday...and we don't, except as a phenomenal display of nature's beauty, and nothing stayed on the ground. The bunny will get through.

New day, new hopes, new plans. This morning; handwriting and math, an outing to see The Lego Movie and pysanky egg dying this afternoon. If only someone had not dumped the yellow dye down the sink, sigh. We'll have to make do with orange, turquoise and green this year. The application of wax was begun last week, but it has been so busy that we did not get far. 

Yesterday was our weekly math class with the most amazing teacher. She comes with her daughter and works with my girls and one more; 4 different levels, sometimes all doing the same thing, sometimes working on their own with supervision and help. I had tried to keep up when they had a 6-week unit on principles of trigonometry and some triangle work...that's about all I could tell you on the topic. I tried, I did. I want to be an inspiration to my children, but they are, and always will be, a better version of humanity; smarter, stronger...and more importantly; younger!

My brain knows its own mind too well. It likes to read history, philosophy, knit, appreciate art and music, and take long walks. It has discovered an interest in physics and botany, but this, sadly, does not extend to linear equations.

In homeschooling, being authentic is vital. Anyone can teach the rudiments of what children need to become educated, but living one's passions takes guts and confidence. I have learned to do what I love and seek help for my weaker subjects. In any case, it makes living with me nicer, a non-negligible point, non?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mama Fitness: Advice from Down in the Thick of Things

1) DO NOT ask friends for dieting advice. Or at least not in a public, social network sort of a blog or FB, where what ever dumb idea you may have briefly had will forever brand you a crazy person. Be private in your inquiries, very private. Or take the risk of regretting it for all eternity. The person responsible for your health is you. A healthcare professional and one best friend is about all you need...and a way to make calorie-free, gluten-free, sugar-free donuts that taste the same as any normal, cake donut with chocolate frosting...or powdered sugar...

2) FORGET fad dieting. Common sense, statistics and all of my friends on FB will tell you; there is no better way to set yourself up for a re-gain of even more weight. I do not know if pursuing a low-calorie diet for a few weeks is a fad or a necessity. More research required.

3) HAVE A PLAN and stick with it. Premeditating the joy you will get from the food you have planned for each day IS a good thing, and allows for portion control, as you have just obtained all the pleasure you were expecting to get from that little bowl of yogurt. More would just be redundant. Go have a glass of water. Or something.

4) DO have someone with whom you can talk this over. If I blog, it is partially to encourage myself. My husband has incredible self-discipline when it comes to food. He also loves to eat. He is a great sympathizer for me in this journey. (Even though he has never been even 10lbs. overweight in his life.) You need girl friends too!

5) WINE, a word; I find that using this teeny tiny, two-ounce glass for a portion of wine makes life beautiful. If wine should be a forbidden item on my menu, then this little jewel is a treat. That might work for chocolate cake too; I'll have to dig up the kids' old tea set and try.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mama Fitness; Check-Up Day

So...I am in great shape. My doctor is very pleased; my glucose levels are down, the good cholesterol is up, my blood pressure is perfect. Yaaa me. Yet, I still weigh in 20lbs.heavier than 3 years ago. It is discouraging. It is ridiculous. It is perfectly vexatious. 

When I began this series on shaping up again post-baby years, post-40ish, I did not expect the initial weight-loss phase to last so long or be so difficult. I have a healthy lifestyle; fresh produce, lean, healthy proteins, hardly any grains, exercise 5-6 times a week. I think some weight-loss should naturally follow. 'Snot. I AM toned, strong, healthy. I am grateful. I do not want to put this good health in jeopardy for a smaller skirt size. I love working out, the buzz exercise gives you is better than, a fresh hair cut and a glass of wine. I not only take the stairs, I walk to the bakery and bike to the grocery store. My lifestyle is better. I am not essentially thinner.

I am considering a short-term, super low-calorie diet to kick start things. This is not my first choice, and it may not even end up being a choice at all, but two health-care providers; both a midwife and an MD, have suggested it may be an option I should look into.

Any experience with the HCG injection and very low-calorie diet? Here is the new protocol, post-Simmeons version of it:
There is good and bad all over the internet, as usual, but I know none of the participants personally. It would be one course, with a doctor and a plan; for food, for supervision, for long-term weight-loss.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cate and Lucy

Sunday Snapshot

A lot of people ask me, and I have had the same curiosity about your lives...what really happens in a typical day at your house?

I am in the role of observer today, as I recover from being ill, so from my corner of the sofa (not the one in the sun, it was taken over when I got up for a minute, so, the other sofa), I can tell you. Dad is doing dishes in the kitchen after our Sunday meal. Duncan is playing a new tune on the guitar, as Charles beats a drum to keep time. Gael is doing a slow, Native-American sort of marching dance around to the same beat. But a minute ago, the little guys were outside trying to fly a remote-control helicopter. Amazing that they did not even try it inside today.

The girls have done with their terrible bickering over who is going to clean what part of the shared bird cage and have gotten down to business. Puppy is in his bed, in the sun, looking out the window, just in case a squirrel should dare venture into his territory.

On the plate for later; lesson-planning. I've decided to make my own; horrors! worksheets for French and math for the rest of the year. I like our Spanish program, but I want the French to fit the particular needs of my family, and that's a hard bill to fit. Thierry will take the kids who want to go to the library, then to fly a kite.

I managed a picture in secret. I'll post it from my phone. Aah, and Cate has allowed me to take one of her with Lucy. Coming up.

Sunday Here

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tipi Completed

See former post. This has been a project long in the making. Charles and I had a real collaboration of ideas and labor. He can now decorate it in any way he wants...or not. He has spent the last two days in it and is proud of his efforts. Instructions coming tomorrow.

It's a French Onion Soup Day

...and fresh, homemade bread with a fire in the hearth. Outdoors is the scent of cold, wet and wood fire smoke from a chimney, one of the best smells in my whole little world. It will always remind me of life in a French village in the rainy winter season, of host families, then friends and neighbors, once upon a time.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Plato, Socrates and 6th Grade

Though my daughter is in 6th grade now officially, we took some time out to read aloud the last dialogue, Phaedo, of Socrates together, looking at the meaning in more depth than we had previously in 5th grade. In Waldorf education, each level is meant to build on the foundation you have built in the past, taking it to new levels and new places in each cycle.

Why did we choose to go back to the Greeks? Why, in order to better understand the Romans, of course! Valentine, 12, chose a project that highlighted the lives and features of 15 Greek/Roman gods and goddesses. She realized early on that the Roman gods were often a newer, renamed version of their Greek counter-parts.

Roman civilization borrowed so much from that of the conquered Greeks. Romans were smart that way; they adapted and adopted the culture of the peoples they overtook in order to better rule. Their law and forms were instilled everywhere they went, but the writings, beliefs and wisdom of the new part of the empire became enmeshed with what it meant to be Roman. Nowhere is this as true as with the Greeks.

Socrates was a precursor of so much that is part and parcel of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Many times in literature there is an explanation of how this or that "came about through the christianization of the world", but some of those very points can be found in the dialogs of Socrates. One example of that is the notion that suicide, as an idea, is immoral. In many cultures, it was viewed as an honorable way to redeem a failed life. Socrates disputes this, saying that we belong to the gods, they created us and we may not destroy their creation. Sound familiar?

The Waldorf sequencing of teaching makes sense as it follows a child's development. What makes sense in homeschooling, however, is knowing where your own child is in her journey and meeting her there. Build on the old wisdom, it has always been there and it will guide you to new places. Look around you and into your reading with new eyes each day. Have fun, this is childhood, a time for joy!

Native American Unit: Tipis and Walks in the Woods

This is what happens when you take a PTC to pick up some PVC for your Tipi:

And in this crazy, cold, snowy winter with Mama in a boot for my stupid foot, this was the first walk we took together in an eternity. Mrs.Thaw made an attempt at melting it all one day, but it is back down to 3 degrees again. Last week's warm weather bliss:

I have been in the throes of indecision concerning the tipi. Charles and I have researched the ways different peoples traveled and lived in tipis in times of yore in our block on Native Americans, and researched the ways different experts today recommend replicating one. I am not sure if he needs more authenticity or quicker results. Today will tell...there should be a tipi pic tomorrow. 

We searched high and low for poles this time. When we built a (very unsatisfactory) tipi for Valentine's third grade, we used bamboo poles that splintered while trying to drill holes and shortly afterward as well. Not fun. Not safe. 

Charles, Gael and I spent 2 interesting but grueling hours at the hardware store looking for poles. The only ones long enough were either poplar, at $12.95 a piece, or curtain rods, ranging from $17 to $59.95 per unit. We wanted 6 this time. Out of budget. Charles astutely suggested we give up and get PVC pipe. He knew it would not quite feel or look authentic, but he also knows, from multiple boffer-building sessions, that it is cheap, easy to saw and comes in 10-ft.lengths. 

For the "hide" we also spent hours exploring options. The craft store options were not the best (which was determined only after an hour of shopping with two young boys in a store full of...stuff), but the fabric store had just what we needed; fake leather and cheap. The craft store did, however, yield a whole section of "leather work" kits, and Gael went home with a neat moccasin kit that he badgered his siblings and I into making NOW, so he could feel like an Indian too. 

We shared a story and tea when we were all home and snug; a Hopi legend of the Warrior Maiden by Ellen Schecter.