Paris, je t’aime

​I am back, with 22 students, two co-chaperones, and our tour manager, B. He is a Frenchie, originally from Basque Country, but a Parisian for the past 10 years. He owns his own tour company, was a political science major, speaks several languages, with English as the first language he studied in school. He spent time in Atlanta when he was in high school. He is incredibly organized, relates well to the kiddos (he is much closer their age than I am!), stays calm, and has a great sense of humor. He would be a great teacher. 

The weather has been magnifique- warm, sunny, no rain. I will stop at that for fear of jinxing our luck. I want to stay on the good side of the weather gods. 

My co-chaperones keep me sane. KR is the epitome of enthusiasm. Her eyes sparkle. 


She counts the kiddos. She asks great questions- she and B are are presently discussing the beginnings of the First Republic in France as we leave Paris on the way to Normandy for the day. She is our serious photographer and is in charge of posting photos to our tumblr account. AP is our tech guru. He tweets and posts live videos. And is a problem solver. I snagged him for the trip after a cancelled connecting flight in NYC on the way home a couple of years ago. He spent spring break in Paris visiting the family of a former advisee. He flew along with my group. Bless his heart. He did not know what he was getting himself into, did he? These two are making me look good back home. 


My favorite meal so far? Our picnic in the Jardins du Luxembourg. Nothing fancy. Des sandwichs à emporter from Brioche Doré across the street from the entrance. Un champêtre- bread with seeds, jambon sec, Cantal cheese, tomato jam, and roquette lettuce. 


And of course un petit dessert. Un moelleux. Soft chocolate cake. 


We shared. I didn’t eat the whole slice. Really, I didn’t.  I had my three helpers.  KR shared her tarte au citron. 

Was it the sandwich? Was it my fellow picnickers? Was it the setting? Every memorable meal is a combination of the three, n’est-ce pas?

Bon appétit, mes amis. Time to photograph the sleeping kids. And AP. Chut!

This & That: March 2017 Edition

dirty-dishes

Dirty dishes?  This is a great photo because this is all I had to dirty in order to make two loaves of banana bread this fine Sunday morning.  I found a new recipe, located the overripe bananas that the Ex-Ex had stashed on top of the refrigerator (the man detests messy countertops), and stirred up something that is still baking and smells heavenly.  Excuse me for a minute– the oven timer is beeping.

banana-bread

Voilà.

So, random stuff this morning.

Kennedy, the cutest baby in the world continues to grow.  She is almost two weeks old. Gramma and Granddad are totally in love.  As are Mommy and Daddy.  Seven pounds of perfection.  Pretend Daughter #1 just gave birth yesterday to a bundle of baby boy.  I am thinking arranged marriage.

kennedywaving

I am preparing for my annual student trip to France.  This will be my 30th anniversary trip. How the heck did that happen, I wonder?  Anyway, the checklists are growing, but I am crossing off as much as I am adding.  I think.  I have 22 kiddos and 2 other teachers going with me this year.  Delta began offering a non-stop flight to Paris from my hometown airport last May and, although this crop of kids cannot fully appreciate it, they are so lucky.  I will be a much happier traveler which means they will, too.  No running through airports to catch a connecting flight that may or may not have left already.  (I have been known to beg for the doors to be opened to let us on.)  We leave on Thursday.  Paris, Normandy D-Day sites, including a tour and wreath ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery, a visit with our pen pals at the Collège Anne-Marie Javouhey in Senlis, a macaron-making lesson at L’Atelier des Gâteaux for part of the group, éclair-making at La Cuisine Paris for others, and a tour of the Stade de France for a small group of boys.  And the usual sites in Paris– the Louvre, Notre-Dame, the Musée d’Orsay, Sacré Coeur and Montmartre.  Throw in some crêpes, Berthillon ice cream, macarons from Ladurée and Pierre Hermé, and shopping at Galeries Lafayette and Monoprix while in Paris, course. Falafel in the Marais, strolling along the Seine, a boatride on the river, gliding under the Pont Alexandre III and Le Pont Neuf, making wishes under the Napoléon bridge,  finding at least a couple of passages to wander through, a trip to the top of the Eiffel, bien sûr. Then Avignon bound on the TGV.  The Palais des Papes and perhaps the Pont du Gard on the way to Arles, “my” French town.  Only two nights there unfortunately, but two is better than one or none.  A morning drive through the Camargue on the way to Aigues Mortes, a visit to a salt-harvesting facility (a first for me), and a few hours at the Arles Saturday market before heading back to Paris.  I will get to see all of my favorite Frenchies while I am in France.  My heart is happy at the thought of this.  Time to drag my suitcase out of the closet where it has been since January and start filling it. Sticking to my list, of course. Hahaha- I am a terrible packer.

What have I been reading lately?  I just finished this one.

swann

I am in love with Henry Swann.  This is Charles Salzberg‘s latest in a series featuring Swann.  Charles and I are email pals.  I hope/dream about/would love to attend his writers’ workshop in NYC someday.

I get daily emails from BookBub offering up inexpensive (and sometimes free) books for my Kindle.  I am reading Blackbird Fly by Lise McClendon right now.  It is the first in a series about the Bennett Sisters.  This one features Merle, whose husband has just died, leaving her a pile of debts, a unknown mistress and daughter, and a house in France.  I cannot put it down (translation:  I have stayed up way too late the last two nights reading) because Merle is a believable character.  A 50 year old, intelligent, non-glamourous woman whose life takes quite a turn after her husband dies of a heart attack at his desk. And before you even wonder, yes, I have downloaded the next three books in the series.  I am addicted to authors that way.

Quick coffee and banana bread break…

bread-and-coffee

Another book at the top of my list– dear darling Pat Conroy‘s final novel, published posthumously.  A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life.  Says Amazon:

Final words and heartfelt remembrances from bestselling author Pat Conroy take center stage in this winning nonfiction collection, supplemented by touching pieces from Conroy’s many friends.

I’ve loved Pat’s writing since I picked up The Great Santini years ago. I even talked the Ex-Ex into reading it and he never reads fiction.  However, so much of Pat’s life is wrapped up in his writing, that it’s not really fiction.  We have both read all of his novels, ending with The Death of Santini.  Santini was Pat’s dad.  Thank you for the recommendation, Miss Anna T!

I am not really a shopper.  I loathe trying on clothes.  This week, however, I happened upon two bargains.

#1

Pale pink linen from Chico’s.  My favorite color.  I was at The Stock Exchange, a consignment shop in Chapel Hill, and it caught my eye. It was already on sale, I had a $10 gift certificate from my last shopping adventure there, so I ended up spending $1.63. Can’t wait to wear it.

#2

Navy blue and white polka dots from Crown and Ivy at Belk’s.  I am normally a black dress/pants/skirt/sweater kind of girl, but this caught my eye.  I have a thing for polka dots.  Once again, on sale.  Around $10.  Go me.  I look forward to wearing it with jeans in Paris.  Très chic, n’est-ce pas?

Lo and behold, I just found out, thanks to a text from the BFF and CBS Sunday Morning, that berets are back in style!  I have never worn one, but I think I may change that. Being the snob that I can be, though, it will have to be one made in France, the traditional way.  Laulhere is the gold standard in France, it seems. Perhaps Bertrand, our French ACIS tour manager will be able to help and give advice…

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(photo: CBS News)

My goal for Lent this year–  place one item of clothing into a bag for each day of Lent. This will be given to The Salvation Army after Easter.  Admit it.  Most of us have way too much.  There are many out there without enough.

Enough randomness for this morning.  I will leave you with yesterday’s photo of Granddad and Granddaughter.

granddad

As I wrote yesterday on my Facebook page:

I love this photo. The beginning of a very important bond. My Papa was a major influence in my life from my birth to his death. I was lucky to live next door and spend many hours with him.

New life.  New beginnings.  New love.

Easy Sunday Morning Banana Bread

adapted from Simply Recipes

makes 1 loaf, 4 x 8

  • 2 to 3 very ripe bananas, peeled
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I also used rum flavoring)
  • 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour (I added about 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to the flour)
  • I sprinkled turbinado sugar on top to give it a crunchy finish

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), and butter a 4×8-inch loaf pan.

2 In a mixing bowl, mash the ripe bananas with a fork until completely smooth. Stir the melted butter into the mashed bananas.

3 Mix in the baking soda and salt. Stir in the sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla extract. Mix in the flour.

4 Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour at 350°F (175°C), or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. (Mine was completely done at 50 minutes.  Be sure to test and not overbake.)

5 Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack. Remove the banana bread from the pan. Slice and serve.

 

Bon appétit.  Bon dimanche.  Have a lovely week.  Be kind.  Be brave. Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Or even better.

Love at first sight

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I can be a bit cynical.  Oui, moi.  But love at first sight does exist.  It’s the love you feel the first time you hold your child.  Actually, this may be the purest form of love.  I felt it twice. And I have now fallen totally in love with my beautiful granddaughter.  Yes, I am a grandmother/grand-mère/mamie/grandma/grammy/mimi/whatever she wants to call me. This little angel came into the world at 7lb 7oz not quite a week ago. And she has stolen our hearts.

Not many moms go into the hospital to deliver a baby knowing what’s in store. We all have a basic plan, be it breathing or epidurals, but it just doesn’t always go the way we plan. This bundle’s arrival ended in a C-section after her mommy labored, labored, and labored some more.  As a result, she has a perfectly shaped head.

sleeping

Mommy is mending, Daddy is doing all he can to keep his girls happy and comfortable, and I (to be named at a later date) am totally in love.  She is loved by many.  Can you be loved by too many people?  Absolutely not.

Life will never be the same.  That’s the wonderful news.

I plan to be a Cookie Jar Grand-mère.  My own Grandma Bell had a Humpty-Dumpty cookie jar.  It’s funny, I do not remember her ever baking cookies.  Coconut layer cakes and banana fritters… oh my goodness yes.  But I remember that cookie jar.  Papa Bell would buy what we Crumbcrushers called Fuzzy Cookies- coconut marshmallow concoctions.

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This is the closest image I could find to match the memory in my head.  A cookie bottom, squishy marshmallow covered in coconut.  Pink and white.  I doubt these cookies ever made it into the cookie jar.  They were consumed too quickly.

I googled Humpty Dumpty cookie jars to find out if one is out there waiting for me.  Oh, one is, but at antique collector prices.  I don’t know who got Grandma’s after she gave up housekeeping.  Pas moi, sadly.  Maybe someday I will come across one (even a knock-off) in a thrift shop.  Once can hope, right?

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(image from chasingadventureorg.ipage.org)

I did make cookies for the now mom while she was still a mom-to-be.  She said there is no such thing as too many chocolate chips in chocolate chip cookies.

dough

The dough was pretty tasty.

prebake-best

As were the finished products.

baked

Someday, I will have a little helper helping me make cookies…

Mimi’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes 4 dozen (depending on the size you want them!)

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur’s)

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 eggs, at room temperature

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, if desired

Fleur de sel or other flaky salt, to finish, if desired

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Whisk to combine. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugars at medium speed of mixer until creamy.  Add vanilla.  Add eggs, one at a time, on low speed until thoroughly combined.

Gradually mix in dry ingredients, in thirds, until combined.  (Towards the end, I usually switch over to a wooden spoon to finish the mixing because the dough is thick.)  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using).

Cover the dough and refrigerate for at least one hour.  (I often leave mine overnight.)

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375˚F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop by teaspoonfuls (I use a small scoop) onto the baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt, if desired.

Bake 8-1/2 to 11 minutes, depending on how soft or crunchy you like your cookies.  I find that cookies baked for about 9 minutes will be crunchy on the outside, but still soft on the inside.  Cool for about 5 minutes and then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.  Eat a warm one, just to make sure they are pass the test, though.

Bon appétit!  Here’s to falling in love, babies, cookies, and all grandmothers!

 

 

 

 

Green with envy/Verte de jalousie

green-guy

I know, I know.  Red and pink are supposed to be the colors now.  Valentine’s Day approaches. And I love hearts, flowers, and good dark chocolate.  Oh!  And don’t forget champagne. However, I am seeing green.  First, an author sent me an email asking me to review his book about living in Provence.  I jumped at that chance and the book is in the mail as I type this up.  More about that very soon since I will devour the book tout de suite.  (And I am thinking about offering a giveaway…) Next, Mme P from Pujaut sent me a link to a very funny AMERICAN stand-up comedian speaking FRENCH like a Français and making JOKES in French.  My jokes in English aren’t all that funny (just ask my students), but joking around and making people laugh in French?  Pas moi.  Pas possible.  This character, Sebastian Marx, has been living in France for 10 years.  I’ve been studying the language for 40+ years.  Ah oui, I’ve lived there a couple of times for a few months.  Voilà la différence.  It is indeed what I tell the kiddos and their parents.  We teachers cannot make you fluent.  We can stuff/cram/beat vocabulary and verbs into your darling little heads, but you can only become fluent by living the language.  C’est vrai.  And I never stop dreaming of moving over and doing just that once again.  Am I just a big romantic?  Do I put France and French up on a pedestal the way some of my French friends claim?  While I contemplate that for a few more minutes, watch this video of Sebastian and see what you think.  Funny guy.

If you don’t understand, maybe it’s time for you to move to France and learn French…  Just a suggestion.  We could start a commune.  And pledge to only speak French.  And cook good food.  And listen to good music.  And grow lavender.  And drink rosé year round.  And invite all of our new Frenchie friends over for apéritif. And hang our laundry outside to dry.  To heck with clothes dryers.  And ask everyone we meet “Ça va?” 

It’s just a thought worth thinking and daydreaming about.  So, I think that I will go do just that while whipping up some tapenade à la Fanny.  Oui, chef!

tapenade

Tapenade à la Fanny

2 cans of black olives, pitted
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced (remove the skin and the germ)
Olive oil
5-6 anchovy filets (without the oil)
2 tsp. capers

Put all ingredients in a food processor and mix. Do not over process.  Add enough olive oil to obtain the proper consistency.

If you want to read (or reread) about the wonderful time I had hosting Fanny and Olivier at my house, click here.

Bon appétit and Happy Février!  Keep eating and laughing. And daydreaming.

Hearts Part Deux

goat-cheese

I was just going to go back and edit the last post.  Really, I was.  Why should I make you read a whole new post?  Hearts Part Deux?  Seriously?  What’s up with that? Well, here’s what.  What about all of the expressions that we use that have to do with hearts?

A huge heartfelt thanks to all who contributed to this list!  Someone I recently met (from Chicago aka a Yankee) asked if we (Southerners) really say “Bless your heart.”  Duh.  Of course.  We learn that one in the crib.

  • broken heart
  • heat of gold
  • absence makes the heart grow fonder
  • heartwarming
  • hearty meal
  • hard-hearted
  • good-hearted
  • warms the cockles of my heart
  • I don’t have the heart to…
  • bless his/her heart
  • heartless
  • heartache
  • home is where the heart is
  • cold hands, warm heart
  • emptier than a banker’s heart
  • blame it on my head and not on my heart
  • I wear my heart on my sleeve (oh, man, did Daddy ever accuse me of this!)
  • be there in a heartbeat
  • have a heart
  • young at heart
  • you will always be in my heart
  • heartfelt apologies
  • mal au coeur
  • loin des yeux, loin du coeur

My take on it?  Love begins with yourself.  After all, you are what you have left at the end of the day.  You have to be your own best friend.  Watch Hallmark movies all you want. Personally, I love the happy, heartwarming endings.  Who doesn’t?  Deep down inside. Bless your heart if you don’t.

I did indeed get up and make those sugar cookies.  I left the butter out to come to room temperature so that when I got up it would be soft.  What a satisfying feeling.  Rolling out the dough.  Dipping the cookie cutters into the soft sweetness.  Sprinkling some color onto the colorless dough.  Smelling sugar and vanilla all through the house.  Pulling the tray out of the oven and letting the cookies cool just a couple of minutes before transferring them to the cooling rack. The ladies at the retirement home loved them.  We left the extras on the table near the piano.  Enjoy them, ladies and gentlemen.  I will be back!  We will sing.  We will dance, partner or not.  We will look at photos of your youth and remember the amazing things you did.  The tennis championships you won.  The children you birthed and raised.  The trips you took. Or the ones that you couldn’t take because you had an unfortunate accident. Save me a corner room overlooking the lake and near the dining room and fireplace.  But, until then, I still have stuff I want (need?) to do.

 

girlies

chloe

Thanks for putting up with us, Chloe.  Take good care of your mistress. She needs you more than you know.

Need a song to sing along with?  How about Waylon Jennings’ Good Hearted Woman.

Bon appétit to all.  Live every single day as if it were your last.  You never know what’s around the corner. The dear sweet ladies at Golden Pond taught me that today. And the amazing I-cannot-put-it-down book I am currently reading, The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg.  And I am three years older than the heroine of the story…  Do you have a green bowl?

Hearts

window-stuff

I have a thing for hearts.  I probably have since the first time I exchanged valentines with my classmates in elementary school.  Back in the day when we decorated white paper bags and left them out for our classmates to slip a little card in at some point leading up to the Big Day.  I wish I still had every one of those cards so that I could pull them out and try to recapture that innocent little heart-loving girl.  Some would be from classmates who are no longer alive.  Some would be from classmates who moved away and I never saw again. And some would be from little kids whom I do not even remember.   Many of them would be from the classmates I saw this past summer at our 40th high school reunion.

The little girl in me wants to find the best valentines and mail them to my dearest friends. I think I will find some drawn by Sandra Boynton.

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image from: http://bookimagecollective.blogspot.com/2012/04/sandra-boynton.html

How can your heart not feel happy just looking at this little guy?   I’ve been a fan of hers since we decorated Son #1’s nursery with a border of her characters.

Or maybe I will make my own from the photo above.  That’s my kitchen window, holding some of my memories.

Recent heart photos taken in Paris–

Christmas tree hearts in downtown Durham–

I don’t set out looking for hearts to photograph.  They just somehow find me.

I remember listening to Neil Young on FM radio at night in I don’t know what year singing Heart of Gold.  (Google tells me that it was recorded in 1971 with James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt singing back up and hit the top of the charts in 1972.)  9th grade.  That was a few broken hearts ago. I found this version performed at Farm Aid in Raleigh in 2014. I should have been in that audience.  Enjoy.  Sing along with Neil if you want.

Now, I think that I will make some heart-shaped sugar cookies using a recipe I’ve been using for years.  It is from a cookbook I was given as a wedding present, Springfield Cookery. My Papa Bell was a Quaker and Springfield Friends Meeting in High Point, NC is the family church.  The first Meeting for worship was held there in 1773.

Rolled Sugar Cookies

Marilyn Hipps (Mrs. Richard)

1/2 cup butter (softened)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar

2 beaten eggs

1 tablespoon milk

2-1/2 cups sifted flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream the butter until soft; add vanilla.  Gradually add the sugar and cream until light and fluffy.  Sift dry ingredients together.  Combine eggs and milk and stir into creamed mixture.  Add half the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Add the remaining and mix well.  Chill dough at least one hour.  Roll a little more than 1/8-inch thick on well floured surface.  Cut with floured 3/4-inch round cookie cutter.  (I will use a heart-shaped one, of course.) Sprinkle with additional sugar. Place on baking sheet (lined with parchment paper) and bake in hot oven (400˚F) until only lightly browned. (6-8 minutes) Remove from pan while warm.  Cool on rack.  2-1/2 dozen.

tights

LuLaRoe leggings from Elizabeth Sayles Bland’s Facebook on-line boutique

Bon appétit to all who are near and dear to my heart. Je vous aime.

Puppies, kittens, and Paris

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I am tired of news.  I refuse to watch it or read it.  It only makes me grumpy and grouchy. And anyone who knows me knows that I am neither very often.  Life is too short.  And in the words of Jacques Prévert, my favorite French poet, “Later will be too late.  Our life is now.”  That’s my translation, not an “official” one.  It works for me.  I haven’t felt like blogging or being creative and I need to shake that.  So, I am back in the saddle.  A great way to start feeling happy is to look at puppies.

Let’s start with Buddha.  He is Son #1 and Daughter-in-Law’s pup.  The only dog I’ve ever met who pouts.  I admit that I am not really a dog person (much to the chagrin of every single relative of mine), but Buddha is a love.  He doesn’t smell stinky.  He loves my boy.  He doesn’t aggravate my cat.  He rarely barks.

buddha

And how about Max?  He belongs to my Cuz and I bet he is just a little bit spoiled! Adorable.

max

Finally, siblings recently adopted by friends…

Molly

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Maggie Mae

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Now, it’s time for kittens.  Callie is ours.  She is sleeping next to me right now.  Studiously ignoring me, of course.  We’ve had her for about 9 years.  Her brother passed away last spring.  She is good company, doesn’t make messes, sleeps on my feet, hides in the bathroom when we have company, especially those with dogs, and is generally pretty darned content.  This is her “I am bored with you” look.

callie

My French girlfriends love cats, too.  Madame M has Tao.  A very Zen cat.  Looks pretty comfy, n’est-ce pas?

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And Bigoudi.  We’ve spent a few nights together in the south of France Chez Fanny.  A loyal America-loving feline.  I like her choice in college basketball allegiances.  Of course, I may have played a small part in that…  BTW, a bigoudi is a hair curler in French.  In case you were wondering.

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For the Paris part.  This time last week, I had just returned from a six-day trip to La Ville Lumière made possible by ACIS, the company I use for my student trips.  It was cold.  The Siberian wind blew in one day.  It was a bit rainy.  I got lost a couple of times looking for Lafayette.  The heat didn’t work very well in my hotel room. But who cares about any of that?  I WAS IN PARIS.  I met some amazing teachers.  My roommate, from Venezuela by way of Wisconsin, was a bundle of energy.

I found three first-timers who allowed me to show them some of my favorite Parisian spots, including Place du Tertre in Montmartre. Merci, mes nouveaux amis!

montmartre

I ate some of my favorite foods– foie gras, fromage, soupe à l’oignon, croque madame

And some sweets, of course.  Pain perdu, macarons et chocolat.

A glass of wine at a couple of my favorite cafés, as well as champagne at the Eiffel Tower.

Speaking of La Grande Dame, I added a few more photos to the hundreds (thousands?) that I already have.

I climbed the steps of Notre Dame to say hello to the chimera and gargoyles.  I lit a candle for Mme Buchanan, my high school French teacher.

The crèche in Notre Dame was made with santons from Arles.  An unexpected blessing.

I visited with Vincent at the Musée d’Orsay. Sad to say, Starry Night over the Rhône is not there at the moment.  It must be out and about in another exhibit. Well, as a matter of fact, Google just told me that it is in Ontario until January 29 when it will make its way back to Paris.  By mid-March, I hope.

There are so many statues to admire at the Orsay, as well.

Just strolling the streets, I found beauty at every turn.  The Panthéon.  L’Opéra Garnier. Ile Saint Louis. Sacré Coeur. Sainte Chapelle. Trocadéro. A random rose still alive in winter.

A real highlight was to have dinner at Mary Claude’s apartment in the 16e arrondissement. This is a new addition to the ACIS offerings for travelers.  They work with VizEat, a company that pairs eaters with cookers/hosts and hostesses.  Mary Claude (in the white shirt) could not have been more gracious.

mc-claire-and-bouchra

She fed us exceptionally well.  Leek tart, charcuterie, soup for starters–

Risotto and chicken for our main dishes–

truffle-risotto

Du fromage?  But of course!  I took it upon myself to give the others a lesson in cheese cutting (always respect the form!)–

and Galette des Rois for dessert.

marie-claude

When I had a chance to talk to Mary Claude, in between courses, I asked about the soup (I didn’t take a photo…) and the risotto.  The soup was butternut, made with chestnuts.  I peeked in the kitchen to get a look at her food processor.

food-processor

I am very fond of risotto.  This was probably the best I’ve ever eaten.  I wanted to know her secret.  At first, she told me that it was “just” risotto.  But I knew better, so I brought the conversation back to the risotto after learning about the soup.  Look closely–

truffle-risotto

Those brown specks?  Truffles.  And truffle oil in the initial preparation stage.  Aha!  Not “just” risotto.  The earthiness of truffles + the creaminess of the rice = a perfect marriage of flavors.

It was a wonderful trip.  It will keep me going for the next few weeks.  I will return in six weeks with 22 8th graders.

La vie est belle.  

notre-dame

And, by the way, I finally found General Lafayette.  Tucked away in the back corner of the Picpus Cemetery.  Winter hours 2-4 pm.  12e arrondissement.  Did you know his real name was Gilbert de Motier?  I did not.

lafayette

Bon appétit, old and new friends.  May you see beauty wherever you are.  

What I am crushing on right now

When I wore a black dress with white polka dots last fall, one of the young (and dare I say handsome) teachers at school said he was “crushing on my dress.”  Ever since then I have wanted to use that expression.  So, here goes.

What am I crushing on right now?

#1  My great nephew Caleb’s photos– he showed me a few of them when I visited at Christmas and I asked him to send some to me.  He has quite an eye for beauty, n’est-ce pas?   Here are some of my favorites:

And last, but by no means least, Max, Caleb’s mom/my niece’s dog-

max

Keeping taking photos, Caleb!

#2  My new mascara–  Am I vain?  Oui.  I do not leave my house with mascara.  I search high and low for just the right one.  Waterproof is a must sometimes, but it is so hard to remove.  Lancôme’s Hypnôse Drama does not cause raccoon eyes and it washes off easily at the end of the day.  Merci, Lancôme.

mascara

#3 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer– I just finished reading it last night (actually early this morning) and cannot stop thinking about it.  It is a story told in letters about a writer who decides to go to Guernsey to interview people about the German occupation of their island during WWII.  It’s a subject I am very interested in, but I didn’t know anything about this book until I saw it on a list of must-read stories.  I fell in love with Juliet.  You will, too.

#4 Balsam Range’s latest album, Mountain Voodoo— I have loved this band of bluegrass musical magicians since Sister Moo and I heard Buddy Melton sing at a barbecue festival in Asheville, NC about 10 years ago.  The group was formed in 2007 in Haywood County and has been winning awards ever since.  I go to hear them whenever possible, most recently at the American Tobacco campus in downtown Durham last June.

Something ‘Bout That Suitcase is my current favorite.  Probably because mine is sitting in the corner of my bedroom waiting patiently to be filled with the stuff I will need for six days in Paris.

suitcase

#5  The direct non-stop flight I will take from RDU-CDG later this week.  That’s right, step on in Raleigh, step off in Paris.  Merci mille fois, Delta.  Je vous aime.  The first time I packed my suitcase to go to Paris (and to get on a airplane) was in September of 1978.  I flew from Johnson City, TN to New York to Orly airport in Paris.  I do not remember much about the flight except that it was a charter. Many trips later, I still get excited.

#6  The stories of Sean Dietrich aka Sean of the South—  I’ve written about him before and I continue to love him more with each and every story I read.  I follow him on Facebook and start my day with his daily storytelling.  He has recently started to tell them by video as well.  Go ahead, click on the link and read a story for yourself.  See if you don’t feel better instantly.  While laughing and crying at the same time.

#7 An American in Paris— I just saw the play here in Durham with about 15 of my 8th graders, the BFF, some parents, and a couple I am especially fond of, Steve and Dani.  The Ex-Ex and I saw it on Broadway in July 2015 (I won a trip that included tickets to a show). The story is set in Paris at the end of WWII.  Gershwin music, dancing, beautiful costumes and scenery, love…

american-in-paris

I could go on and on, but I won’t.  I will leave the list with photos at seven.  I prefer sets of 14 for some reason so I will quickly list seven more.

#8  Snow days– I been given the gift of two of them this week so that I can get my grades and comments written before boarding that Delta jet.

#9  Our new sofa and “chair and a half”– the Ex-Ex and I gave them to each other for Christmas.  Blue.  Comfy.

#10  Bold Rock Blood Orange Cider– seasonal and I just got my hands on some.  Delicious.

#11  Sister Moo’s peanut butter fudge– so much for giving up sweets after Christmas since she sent a tin of it home with me.

#12  Hallmark movies on the weekend– sappy, yes, I know, but they always have happy endings.  One set in Paris will premier later this month.  Love Locks– the mayor of Paris may not like it, but I have a feeling I will.

#13  Bravelets bracelets– I have collected a few of them and love them.  The company donates a portion of each sale to a cause, 2.6 million dollars to date.

#14  The beautiful glass bird that EB gave me for Christmas– It’s a magpie.  The Chinese term for magpie means literally “bird of joy.”  And joy is what EB has brought to our family.

mantel

I texted Nephew Caleb to ask what his favorite food is and he came back with shrimp.  I am with you, Caleb. I could eat my weight in it (and probably have!).  Here’s one of my favorite ways to eat it.  This reminds me of summer at Sunset Beach…

Uncle Beano’s Frogmore Stew

In memory of Ben Philpott, the BFF’s brother and Frogmore chef extraordinaire

Shrimp
New Potatoes
Corn
Sausage (Chorizo, Andouille, hot Italian or some other spicy grind)
Limes
Lemons
Red Onion
Old Bay Seasoning
Hot Sauce
Minced Garlic
Allow 1/3 to ½ lbs of shrimp and one ear of corn per person. Cut corn in halves. Chop sausages to half inch or so. Cut potatoes in quarters.
Bring big pot of water to boil with slices of lime, lemon, and onion. Add minced garlic and a few jabbers of hot sauce (also some beer, if you like), and a few shakes of Old Bay. Add potatoes, corn and sausage. When potatoes are on verge of being done, add shrimp and cook for about 3-4 minutes until shrimps are done.
Spread on newspapers (the cooked food, that is), dust heavily with Old Bay, and serve with cocktail sauce, butter, or whatever moves you.

Bon appétit and here’s to talented nephews and crushing on stuff.

Snow 2017

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(photo taken by C. Bland)

2017 has barely begun and we have our first snow “storm.”  Well, okay, it is a blizzard for us here in the piedmont section of North Carolina.  The photo my sister-in-law sent is from the mountains where she lives.  I took a photo of her vélo at Thanksgiving and gave it to her in the form of a notecard for Christmas.

cindys-bike

She returned the favor this morning via Facebook.  It looks beautiful in the snow. Or sous la neige, as the French say.  Under the snow.

It’s the perfect day to stay in the house.  Read, straighten out and put away my messy Christmas wrappings, make a stack of the things I need to pack for my upcoming trip to Paris, charge camera batteries, make note of addresses for postcards, update birthdays in my calendar, and make gingerbread.

gingerbread

While doing some of that straightening, I came across some thank you notes written to me by students just before the winter break.  One of the math teachers at my school gives his students a point of extra credit if they write a note to one of their teachers.  (I am tearing up again just looking at them…)  They will be added to my Gratitude bulletin board when on Monday (IF we have school).  These notes are the reason I teach, why I am sure that I am doing exactly what I was meant to do with my life.  Sure, I teach French verb conjugations, try to brainwash middle schoolers into thinking that studying French is the most amazing part of their day, but that isn’t my most important job.

I am very hesitant to post these notes.  It sounds as if I am trying to hold myself up above others and say “Look at me- I am such an amazing teacher.” Oh no.  I have so many self-doubts.  Am I teaching them what they need to know before they move on to French 3 and high school?  My lesson plans are not that exciting.  Why don’t I spend more time on them? (Because I do need to sleep at least 6 hours every night?)  Am I up-to-date on the latest research in language acquisition?  No.  I don’t even have a master’s degree.  I met with our head of school a few weeks ago and he was kind of surprised when I admitted that. I wish that I had done it right after I graduated, but then again, maybe I would have never found Durham Academy.  Am I just too old?  Have I become too old to know what adolescents are facing?  Am I too old-school? Do my younger colleagues look up to me or think that I should retire soon?  I am an expert at French 1, 2 and 3.  Teach AP?  Not on your life.  Am I fluent?  Yes, but I don’t know everything/enough.  I have nightmares where I cannot speak a word of French or every time I say a word with an “r” in it, I cannot for the life of me make the French “r.”  And everyone laughs.  I know that I am lucky- I teach in an independent school with motivated kids.  I can only hope that I do indeed make a difference in their lives.

But enough of my (abundant) insecurities.  The reason I was inspired to write this post is because I saw an article this morning written by a math teacher entitled “What even IS good teaching?”  I understood completely what the author was trying to say.  Thank you, Crazy Math Teacher Lady.  You ARE really really awesome.  I get it.

Here are some excerpts, unedited.  They are, after all,  middle schoolers and not 100% perfect…

“This year has really been fun.  Having you since 7th grade has been awesome.  I have learned so much about French and life.  You make learning French super fun.”

Merci, but I KNOW for a fact that it is not always super fun.  But thank you for sitting in the front row and making me want to be a better teacher. And for staying awake first thing in the morning even when I know you are exhausted (because I kept you out late at a performance of An American in Paris at the DPAC).

“We had the opportunity to write letters to different teachers in math.  You came right to my mind.  You are truly an influence and role model to me.  You love your students so much and it encourages me to work harder and do my best in your class.  Your  honestly like a mom to LW and me and I am so greatful for that.  I know that if I am having a bad day or just need to talk you will actually listen.”

Oui, I do love you.  That’s why I was Mme Grincheuse the other day when you and some of your pals decided to hang out after school, but no one knew you were there.  I am your mom while you are at school.  I take your well-being very seriously.

“Thank you for teaching me French this year!! Although, there have been slight hiccups along the way, this year has been very fun.  I may be riding on the B train right now I think that something has clicked and I am understanding the language more than ever.  I look forward to the France trip!”  P.S.  le beurre de cacahuète

The B train has good, comfortable seats, too.  Keep eating peanut butter and making me laugh out loud!

“I hope that you have an amazing holiday!  This is the time of year when you look back at what you are thankful for and appreciate.  I appreciate you as a teacher.  Your rigorous class always keeps me motivated and you always make me smile.  For the year and a half I have been in your class, you have taught me to how to be a mindful student.”

You are all a teacher could hope for in a student.  I have a feeling that you have always been mindful!  Your smile and quiet presence in my class are a gift.  I should be thanking you for making me look good.

“I have learned an unbeliveable amount of French in just a year and a half.  You always seem to care about your students and I will definitely remember you as a great teacher.”

And I will always remember you and how hard you have worked in my class. It hasn’t always been easy and I know that you have shed more than a few tears of frustration.  But you have stuck with it and now you are reaping the rewards.

“Thank you.  Thank you for all you have done.  While I may not be the best student in French, you have always made me feel important in the class.  You make everyone feel welcomed.  In 6th grade, I was new.  I had French class B period so it was one of the first things I experienced at DA.  In that class I never felt new.  I can’t imagine middle school without you teaching me.”

Well, thank YOU for making everyone in your class feel important.  I have noticed that you work with classmates who don’t have a partner.  I saw you walking around with new students at recess the first week of school.  You didn’t do it so that I would notice and praise you.  You did it because you sincerely wanted to.  Your beautiful smile is a daily gift to all.

“I wanted to thank you for the wonderful time I have had in your class.  You have made French class so much fun for me, in a way that inspires me to love learning.  I love how your class is so interactive and hands-on, and I never expected to have this much fun in a class, and I look forward to class every day.  You are a great teacher who knows when to be serious and when to be fun.  To be able to not only teach a language but to teach kids to love learning is a special quality.”

I am so glad you decided to come to my school this year.  We are the lucky ones. You make me laugh every single day.  And, although you are a very serious student and a worrier of the first order, you are able to laugh at yourself.

“Bonjour!! Merry Christmas.  Thank you for being the best French teacher ever.  You have made — and I not only better at French but just at being better people.”

Oh, how I will miss you and your smiling face at the end of this year.  French isn’t easy for you, but you come to class with a huge smile on your face every single day.  You are amazing.  Never, ever forget that.

So, how about one more beautiful mountain photo of snow.  And a biscuit recipe. Everyone loves biscuits, right?

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(photo taken by H.H. Wise, near Spruce Pine, NC)

All-Purpose Biscuits Biscuits

Sam Sifton, New York Times

6-8 servings

2 c. all-purpose flour, more for dusting (I use King Arthur, non-bleached)

2 Tbsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)

1 scant Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

5 Tbsp. cold butter, unsalted (European-style, if possible– higher fat content)

1 c. whole milk (can substitute buttermilk)

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, sat and sugar in a large bowl.  (I use a whisk and skip the sifting.) Cut butter into pats and add to flour.  You can use a food processor and pulse 5-6 times or use a pastry cutter or even a fork.  (I have a pastry cutter and do it that way.)  Mixture should resemble rough crumbs.  If using a food processor, return dough to bowl.  Add milk and stir with a fork until it forms a rough ball.
  2. Turn dough onto a well-floured surface and pat it down into a rough triangle, about an inch thick.  Fold it over gently and pat it down again.  Cover dough loosely with a kitchen towel and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 425˚F.  Gently pat out the dough some more so that it makes a (roughly) 10 x 6 rectangle.  (You can keep it thicker if you want bigger, but fewer biscuits.)  Cut biscuits using a floured glass or biscuit cutter.  Do not twist the cutter when cutting- it crimps the edges and your biscuits will not rise as high. (I cut mine into squares, using a sharp floured knife.  I do not have to work the dough again, which can lead to a tougher biscuit.)
  4. Place biscuits onto a cookie sheet (I line mine with parchment paper) and bake until golden brown, 10-15 minutes.
  5. Serve hot with butter, honey, jam, or whatever your little heart desires.

biscuits

Bon appétit!  Stay warm!

“Whatever you are, be a good one.”   –Abraham Lincoln

Reflections

reflexion-of-tour

It is almost time to say Au revoir to 2016.  And Bonjour to 2017.  2016 had some tough days.  In life, though, that’s pretty much par for the course, n’est-ce pas?  That’s when we learn valuable lessons.  It’s when we learn to appreciate the whos and whats in our lives.  If we are smart.  And then we move on.  The sun comes up the next morning.  Sometimes it is difficult, if not downright nearly impossible, to let go of hurt feelings, guilt, anger, disappointment, fear– all of those emotions that can bring on a middle-of-the-night panic attack if we aren’t careful.  I know.  I’ve been there done that.  Learning to take deep breaths, forgiving myself as well as those I love, and remembering what is truly important takes practice.

Why is that those who know their days on earth are numbered teach us the best lessons? I hate to break it to you, but all of our days are numbered.  Somehow, though, those who live with it daily are the wisest. Chris Rosati.  The lessons I have learned from him.  Chris has ALS.  Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Tuesdays with Morrie. Since his diagnosis six years ago, he has taught so many of us how to be kinder human beings.  I saw Chris last night at The BIGG Holiday Mashup in downtown Durham.

bigg-mash-up

He was able to put in an appearance at the end of the show.  Dressed as Santa, in his wheelchair, speaking through a computer that is somehow miraculously connected to his eyes and types out his messages.  Many of his high school friends and classmates were in attendance so it ended up being a big wonderful funny class reunion-type event for me.  I taught so many of these “kids.” See, Chris, see what you are doing?  Bringing all of us together for the Big Idea for the Greater Good.  A lesson I promise to put into practice in 2017.

So, instead of reflecting backwards, I will reflect forwards.  Think of the all the potential that awaits us in 2017.  The BFF doesn’t like odd-numbered years, but I have assured her that the coming one will be filled with Goodness.  Kindness.  Pure joy.  Hmmm…. How do I know this?  Because I am in charge of how good, kind and joyous I will be.  And so are you. There are indeed many, many things that we cannot in any way, shape or form control.  Why focus on those?  Instead, let’s focus on what we can control.  Our own attitudes.  Our own behavior.  Terrorists will not keep me from traveling to my beloved France.  The political leadership in my own beloved state and country will not keep me from hoping that good will come from this somehow.  Because we can band together and “kill them with kindness” as Mama Mildred has been known to say.

My 2017 will include the following:

  • Kennedy’s birth.  My first grandbaby.  I already get teary-eyed just thinking about her.
  • Finding new ways to show kindness and helping others do the same.
  • Spending more time with my family, be they in Charlotte, Spruce Pine, Washington, Brevard, High Point or here in Durham.  I am incredibly lucky. My sons, a soon-to-be daughter-in-law, mama, sisters, in-laws, cousins all close by.
  • At least two trips to France.  January (20 days) and March (76 days).  Ah oui, I do indeed count it down.  Every time I board the plane it feels like the first time.
  • Showing my friends how much I love them.  I am lucky in this respect, too.  I have some amazing friends who love me no matter what.
  • Joie de vivre.  I am very fond of this French phrase.  Love of life.  Joy in living.  Ed the Head, used it in 2013 to describe me when he presented me with the Hershey Award. I laughed with him afterwards as I complimented his French pronunciation.  I vow here and now to show this joie much more often.
  • Self-improvement.  At home.  In the classroom with the kiddos and my colleagues. With me.  More walks, more quiet time, good books, good music, good food, more writing.

A good place to start.  And I think I will get a week’s head start on some of those.  Pourquoi pas?

I will leave you with a recipe to make immediately (or as soon as you can assemble the ingredients) and share as gifts and/or make for the family and friends who will come a-calling.  A big bowl of deliciousness.  I fell in love with them the first time I tasted them at a foreign language meeting.  Our Latin teacher is quite a cooker.  She shared the recipe.  Merci beaucoup, JL.

rosemary-pecans

Rosemary Pecans

1 pound unsalted pecans

2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp. dried

2 Tbsp. melted butter

2 tsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. cayenne or black pepper

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Spread nuts on baking sheet (I line mine with parchment paper.)  Bake 10-15 minutes- 15 minutes for crunchier nuts.

While the pecans are baking, combine all the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix together.  Add pecans while still hot and toss to coat.

Serve warm or cold.  Store in tightly closed container.

Bon appétit to all and to all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Here’s to 2017!