Friday, December 30, 2011

Thursday 12/29: Still Resting…and, Post #100!

Today I woke up at 10am so I could be awake when Marie-Pierre came to pick up the key to Chantal’s house, so she could clean over there. When I came downstairs, I found that Boogie had chewed up the other slipper and had spread chunks of it all over the living room floor. Charming animal. Sigh…

Every day I check on the Asian Hornet (Frelon Asiatique), which is sitting—captured in a glass—outside on the table in the backyard. Candice found it crawling in the upstairs hallway on Monday, and I captured it and left it outside. Apparently they’re taking over France and they’re really bad because they are destroying the native bee population. Also, they are really poisonous and their stings can be deadly. Eek. I have no idea how it got into the house! I just hope there aren’t more of them…

Photos: I got the pics from the internet, but my hornet looks just like this. It's freaky. I would NOT have it on my hand.

It’s enormous, probably 1 1/2 inches long and really chunky. And it looks evil! So, I’m just observing it and hoping it’ll die soon. It hasn't yet...

After breakfast, I took the dogs on a long walk and I was lucky enough to have sun! I sat down twice during the walk to rest and admire the beautiful forest—it was really nice with the sun shining through! It’s a different kind of forest than in Oregon…here it’s a lot more bare in winter. We made it back to the house just as the first drops of rain started to fall!

I had leftover gnocchi for lunch and then headed up to bed to rest (still sick…) and read (the second Hunger Games book). I skyped with Jessie again, because she had to cancel her ticket (due to airport transfer confusions) and we needed to find another flight. I think I might have found one, but it’s not confirmed yet. She’s still coming for sure, though!

When I went down to feed the dogs their dinner, I discover that—despite taking them on walks and letting them outside every few hours—Boogie peed on the floor and all over the blanket where she sleeps. Greeeat. So, I had to put that in the laundry and clean it all up. I just don’t get it.

Maria and I got to skype for a while, which was lovely! I cannot believe she’ll be here in 4 days! Craaazy exciting!

Today I got a beautiful Christmas card from Aunt Sally and Uncle Ed!

Wednesday 12/28: A Day of Rest.

Despite being really tired when I got into bed last night, I couldn’t help myself from opening “The Hunger Games,” which I had started the night before… It’s just so good—you can’t put it down! Well, I read until 1:30am.

I slept in until 11:30am, got up and had some breakfast, went over to feed the cat, then crawled back into bed again. I spent the day reading, skyping, replying to emails, etc. Just relaxing, drinking lots of tea, and blowing my nose pretty much constantly. And letting the dogs in and out of the house. Boogie is pretty much awful. Last night she chewed up one of the slippers that my host family had lent to Candice for her stay. And Boogie has been eating the cat’s poo out of the litter box, which means I keep having to sweep up the litter that she spills all over the floor. In addition to all that, every time I go upstairs, Boogie goes up on the couch (which she knows is not allowed) and as soon as I come down the stairs, she is leaping to get off. Which proves that she knows she’s not allowed to be up there, but continues to do it even though I yell at her every time. And now she’s started coming upstairs, which she also knows is not allowed. It’s exhausting—especially compared to Dunja who is for the most part calm and well-behaved. I’m really looking forward to Boogie leaving on Friday.

Over skype, I helped Jessie find a ticket from Seattle to Bordeaux! She’s coming from April 2nd-May 1st!! I’m beyond excited!! :)

Then I stayed up late again, skyping for hours with Brigid and then finishing The Hunger Games around 3:15am!

I got a letter from Mark and Christmas card from Candy and from Anna!

Photo: The back of my bedroom door... covered in beautiful Christmas cards!

Tuesday 12/27: Gnocchi and Friends!

We got to sleep in this morning and after having the rest of the pancakes for breakfast, we walked over to feed the cat and then to buy a baguette. We packed a lunch and some snacks for Candice and then hung out until it was time for her to catch the train. She just made the train—it was pulling up as we got to the platform! It was sad to see her go…I wish I hadn’t been sick the whole time she was here! It’s a bummer that we are so far away from each other—it literally takes all day just to get to the other person’s town, which means weekend trips aren’t really an option. Anyways, Candice is off to Barcelona to meet up with some friends from the US in a few days and spend New Years partying!!

I walked home, feeling really tired and sick. It was 1pm and I had 9 people coming to my house for dinner at 7pm. I had made a list, but I still had to go shopping and make all the food…and clean up the house. I was feeling super overwhelmed and I just wanted to go curl up in my bed and sleep. When I thought about biking all the way to the store and then trying to get all the groceries back in my backpack, I just couldn’t do it. So, I decided that it was the moment for me to try driving the stick shift. I hadn’t driven it since last week when Ralf showed me for the first time. So, I drove about 5 times around the block, stopping and re-starting for practice. Then I figured it was now or never, so I took as many of the back roads as possible to get to the store. My plan was to just stay in 1st or 2nd, but when another car got behind me, I felt really guilty for driving so slow, and I managed to shift into 3rd—no problem! In any case, I got to and from the store (even parking between two cars!) without stalling!!! I was shaking and my heart was racing on the way there, but on the way back I was feeling pretty good. Whew!

When I came home, I immediately put on the bread dough and made the dessert (a rich chocolate torte….aka “Austin’s Amazing Chocolate Dessert”—a recipe from my cousin’s fiancé) because it had to chill for a few hours. Then I took the dogs out for a walk because they hadn’t had a walk in a few days and they really needed one. I definitely didn’t though—I was feeling a bit woozy and would have preferred to take a nap. Oh well. When I got back, I started peeling the potatoes for gnocchi. I had originally thought that I would make lasagna, but then I couldn’t find ricotta or cottage cheese…and I didn’t really want to start substituting with cheeses I didn’t know. So, I decided on gnocchi!

I made the dough and then spooned out some of it onto the counter to knead it with a bunch of flour until it was the right texture to roll it, cut off chunks, and make them into little gnocchi.

Photo: Technically this picture is from the time I made gnocchi in Angers...but I was too busy this time to take a picture! This picture is about half as much as I made this time!!

I rolled the bread dough out and made it into pesto bread, popping it into the semi-working oven to cook for ages. Then I started cooking the gnocchi while continuing to make more of them. And then there was the salad! Needless to say, I was doing a hundred things at once and 7pm was rapidly approaching. Well, it came and went. At 7:15, Bruno showed up (with a bag of wine and other drinks) and saw that I was still covered in flour and working on dinner… he said that since he was the first one anyways, he would just come back in 20 mins or so. I was happy to agree because I knew I could get everything done faster if I wasn’t trying to entertain at the same time. At 7:30pm, when I was done with the gnocchi and finishing up the salad, Isabelle, Laureline, and Laureline’s husband showed up! Isabelle had brought me a long-stem rose, which was really fancily wrapped from the florist in town! Laureline brought be a bag with a box of chocolates and some organic green tea! I was so surprised—how sweet of them! It was good that there were three of them, so I could finish up in the kitchen before joining them to chat in the living room. Soon after, Hélène and Pablo arrived. Hélène had made the appetizers, which was really nice because I don’t think I could possibly have finished in time if I’d been making those as well! The other teachers had offered to help, but I turned them all down because I wanted to make my pesto bread and gnocchi…I guess I could have had one of them bring salad, but it wasn’t really a big deal! Soon Bruno came back with Françoise, his wife. We just sat around chatting and finally Valérie arrived! It was so fun just hanging out, drinking champagne and nibbling on veggies and dips.

Around 9pm, since Claude still hadn’t arrived, I figured that she had forgotten and decided we’d just have dinner. It went really well—the food turned out great and there was a good flow of conversation the whole time. I really enjoyed myself, despite feeling ready to collapse onto the floor and go to sleep…

Photos: Dinnertime! :)

The dessert turned out great and forgot to offer coffee, but then again, I probably wouldn’t know how to make it anyways. Too bad. We hung out until midnight and then Hélène and Valérie stayed to help me clean up. After they went home, I still had to go feed the cat at Chantal’s house. As I walked home at 12:30pm, I thought I was going to just pass out in the street. But, at the same time, I was really pleased with how well the dinner had went—and how fun it was to hang out with them all! And I had an email this evening from Claude, who apologized for forgetting--she had all her family home and there was a lot going on, so it slipped her mind. I can understand.

Today I got a letter from Chelsea, a package from Papa and my own family’s Christmas newsletter… always good to find out what one’s been doing during the year! :p

Monday 12/26: Bordeaux, Arcachon, and the DUNE DU PYLA!!!

Today was a great day, but really really exhausting! We were up at 8am to get ready before being picked up at 9am by Hélène (a teacher from the school). We stopped to pick up Pablo, and then headed towards Bordeaux. I tried really hard to stay awake, but I have such a hard time when I’m in the car… So, of course, I dozed off occasionally. When we arrived, we found a place to park on a little back street and Hélène expertly squeezed the car into the spot. From there, we set off on foot to explore the city. Hélène had lived in Bordeaux 15 years ago when she was going to University, but she hadn’t been back since! She kept exclaiming about how much nicer the city is now that they have put in a new tram system and made many of the inner streets car-free. It’s much nicer walking around when you don’t have the noise or pollution from cars going by!

Most of the buildings are white brick, which is really beautiful (some how it made me think of the buildings in London or Bath). The only issue is when there’s a lot of pollution, the white bricks become a grimy black…so, they have been cleaning the buildings and some of them look just great! Others…not so much.

Photo: Reminds me of England...

Another thing they’ve added is a lovely big path along the river and several nice plazas with water features. We were really grateful for the weather—sunny and blue skies! We weren’t quite prepared for how cold it would be, but in the sun it wasn’t too bad.

After we walked by the river, we headed back into the little, winding streets in town, lined with unique old buildings. It was completely decorated for Christmas and I imagine that it is gorgeous at nighttime!

For lunch we stopped at a restaurant and actually went inside to sit down—mostly so we could warm up! It was a good lunch—I had the only vegetarian item on the menu: shell pasta with roasted veggies in a tomato sauce. Afterwards, Candice and I split a delicious “moelleux au chocolat” which was like a little, rounded chocolate cake with gushy, melty chocolate inside. So delicious! And it was served with a little scoop of caramel ice cream. Mmmm!

After lunch we walked over to see the cathedral (which is party clean and partly not) and the bell tower (which was built separate to the cathedral because they didn’t want the vibrations from the bell to shake the cathedral…).

Photo: The bell tower

Photo: Candice in front of the cathedral, which is partially cleaned...

Around 3:30pm, Hélène offered to take us over to the coast so we could visit the Dune du Pyla (or Pilat…they don’t seem to be able to make up their minds on the spelling because even the signs are all different) and the town of Arcachon. Yes, I slept on the way there.

We got to the dune just before sunset and we climbed up. I assume it’s because it’s winter, but there weren’t any stairs this time… which makes it a real workout to get all the way up! It’s the tallest dune in Europe: over 100 meters! Whew!

Photo: At the top!

The view from the top is breathtaking! The Landes forest stretches out as far as you can see to the East and the ocean stretches as far as you can see to the West! We sat at the top, just taking in the beauty…until Candice and my feet started getting really numb. We had taken our shoes off to climb up and the sand was super cold! So, we figured that it would be time to head back down (plus it was close to sunset and we still wanted to see Arcachon). Running down the Dune is one of my favorite things to do. In the world. I have visited it three times now and it’s such an incredible feeling.

Previous visits to the Dune!

<-- Photo: Me in 2006

Photo -->: Candice, Me, & Maria in 2009

My dream is to one day go paragliding off the Dune, but unfortunately they don’t do that in the wintertime. :( In any case, I fully enjoyed the run—leaping and grinning all the way down! I think Hélène and Pablo were somewhat surprised…..not Candice, she was right behind me! More Dune-y info?:

Arcachon is a lovely town on the coast (and right near the Dune) that became a popular place for sick rich people to go to get better. Many people sent their sick children there as well and there are loads of fancy houses that were used as “hospitals” for those people. It looks different than many towns around here because it has so many separate houses (or mansions) and not so many of the apartments/houses that share walls.

We walked around the downtown (and Hélène bought us a snack of a Bordeaux region specialty—a canelé, which has a custard-y center and a caramelized outside…mmm!) and saw the beautiful colors of the sunset over the ocean!

Photo: Canelés

Photo: Sunset in Arcachon

Then we headed back to Tyrosse (about 2 hours) and, not surprisingly, Pablo, Candice, and I all fell asleep for most of the ride!

Photo: Sunset as we were driving home

We were all really appreciative to Hélène for such a fun day! It isn’t possible to take a train to the Dune, so it’s likely that we wouldn’t have been able to visit there if not for her! And she’s so much fun!!

Tonight Candice and I sat by the fire drinking tea to warm up. Then we had dinner and just hung out before heading to bed somewhat earlier than normal!

If you're interested, check out Candice's blog! She has much nicer quality pictures! :P

Today I got a package of Swiss chocolates from Uncle Jim and Aunt Heidi! YUM!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday 12/25: Joyeux Noël!

When my alarm went off at 9:10am today, “I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter! Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutters and threw up..…
the sash.” (I love the throw up line…) And what did I see? A thick layer of frost that was covering the outdoors, making the roofs seem frosted! The sun was shining and the air was freezing cold and so fresh. I just stood there, staring out at the beauty. Happy Christmas!

Despite being glad that it’s Christmas, I’m STILL sick. :( But, I was determined to make the best of it and I bundled up so Candice and I could go to Christmas Mass at the church (we stopped on the way to feel Chantal’s cat because they’re out of town). It was pretty full, but 90% of the people were probably over the age of 70—I only spotted 5 little kids. Apparently there are lots of Catholics in France, but very few are practicing. The Mass was basically the same as in the US, but it was fun to hear the Christmas carols translated into French. We also sang some traditional French carols, like “Il est né le divin enfant.” After Mass, we went to look at the nativity scene they had made in the church and it was really cool because the surrounding village was Tyrosse! They’d make miniatures of several of the prominent buildings in town! Cute!

On our way home, we stopped at a boulangerie to get a baguette (they stay open until noon so people can be sure to get their baguettes and bûches de noël). When we got home, Candice and I made a big breakfast: pancakes with lots of different toppings (including whipped cream!), a fruit salad (including kiwis, which are grown locally), and baguette with brebis (the local sheep’s cheese)…for Candice, who is addicted to it! The sad part about being sick, though, is that I can’t really taste much. Sometimes I can taste a little bit, but not very well. What a bummer!

Candice and I each had one present under our Christmas (palm) Tree…I gave her some chocolate and a handmade bracelet and my mom had sent me a present, which I had saved to unwrap this morning. It was the coolest present EVER! She had written a whole story (with wonderful illustrations) about my childhood dolls and stuffed animals! It was a sequel to the adventures she had written about them when I went on a trip alone to visit my East Coast family when I was six. But this time, the story took place in…France! What fun! I spent the afternoon curled up on the couch, drinking tea and reading my story! I love it so much!!

Around 3pm, Louis (Philippe’s son) dropped off Boogie, Chantal and Philippe’s dog. I am taking care of her until Friday, while their family is in Paris. She’s a real jumper and she’s not well behaved like Dunja…so it’s going to be a bit of a challenge with the two of them. Oh well, I really wanted to help out in any way that I could since they have been so kind to me.

Later this afternoon, Candice and I swapped teaching ideas and I showed her some of the worksheets I’ve made for my classes. Then we caught up on emails and skyped/called our families.

Instead of having a traditional Christmas dinner, we opted for Mexican! Both of us miss eating Mexican food, so we decided it’d be a good time to make some! However, the guacamole was so spicy, Candice and I were downing water and ended up adding a little bit of plain yogurt to tone it down! Candice claims she was just trying to help me clean out my sinuses…

This evening we chatted and spent a lot of time calling/skyping our families. We had our little pieces of bûche de Noël that we had purchased yesterday at the pâtisserie…unfortunately they were really disappointing! They weren’t a good texture and (so Candice informs me) they didn’t even have a very good flavor! Laaame. Oh well, at least we tried!

Photo: Our pathetic bûches (and the photo refused to they're sideways)

Tomorrow we’re headed to Bordeaux with Hélène (Margot’s teacher), so it’s going to be a long day! Bonne nuit!

Saturday 12/24: Christmas Eve in France…

Ah, how lovely it is to sleep! I could probably have slept longer, but I didn’t want to waste my whole day, so I got up when my alarm went off at 11:30am. I walked over to Chantal’s house to feed her cat and it was really chilly outside! Finally it’s sunny, but it’s really cold! I’m glad, though, because it feels more like Christmas.

When I got home, I made scones for our brunch. Candice came down and we made a fruit salad as well and then enjoyed our feast! Due to my cold, however, I couldn’t really taste the food. That was tragic as we had clotted cream! Sigh…

Photo: Christmas Eve brunch!

Photo: Clotted. Cream.

After brunch, I moved all the furniture off the pool patio in the backyard and we walked on stilts! I went first to show her and managed to walk all the way around the pool (in some spots it’s only about a 1 ft gap) without falling in.

Photo: Candice learns to walk...

Then Candice got up and carefully took her first steps while holding on to my hands…it’s the weirdest feeling when you first start. It’s like re-learning how to walk! She did pretty well and managed to walk several times back and forth while holding on to the fence. She didn’t fall in the pool either, although at times it seriously looked that that might happen…

After tiring ourselves out on the stilts, we biked across town to the supermarket to buy groceries for dinner and for tomorrow’s dinner. We had a pretty good time wandering the store, looking for all the things we needed. The bike rides to and from were lovely (even if it was pretty chilly) as it was sunny and blue skies! On our way home, we stopped at a boulangerie to pick up a baguette for dinner.

Of course Dunja was very excited to see us when we got home and we figured that she deserved a walk after having been cooped up inside for most of the day. I enjoyed sharing my beautiful stroll though the nearby woods with Candice, even though the trees aren’t as colorful anymore. Dunja was beyond excited to be out sniffing everything.

When we got home, I starting a nice fire and we spent some time reading and drinking tea. We both skyped for a little while and then prepared our Christmas Eve dinner: baguette with pesto and mozzerella or brebis (sheep cheese) and a salad with tomatoes! A red and green themed dinner! :) I could taste it a little bit…

Photo: Candlelight dinner!

This evening we cozied up on the couch with bowls of vanilla ice cream, topped with cinnamon-baked apple slices and whipped cream and we watched “Miracle on 34th Street”—the classic one, of course!

And, so as to not part with tradition, I had to read “The Night Before Christmas”…
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday 12/23: Happy Birthday, Mark!!

When my alarm went off this morning, I still couldn’t breathe through my nose and my head felt like it was full of cotton. Ugh. I wanted to go right back to sleep, but we had plans for today!

Pablo arrived at 10am and we walked to the market so that Candice could us get some fruits and veggies while I rushed to the post office to mail something. We hurried back to the house and were picked up by Claude, a teacher from my school. She had invited the three of us to join her and two of her children who were headed to the lake in Hossegor (on the coast). The kids were going to run around the lake (5k) and Pablo joined them. However, I was feeling super crummy, so I decided to walk with Claude and Candice (who didn’t have running shoes). It was a lovely walk, but unfortunately there was so much fog that we couldn’t actually SEE the lake… I was very pleased that there were trashcans all along the path so I could dispose of the toilet paper I was using to empty my brains out through my nose.

When we’d finished our walk, we headed back to Claude’s house for lunch. She served galettes (wheat crêpes) with either cheese and ham or mushrooms for the first round and then she prepared custom ones for the second round. I had one with an egg and non-spicy salsa while almost everyone else had egg, cheese, and ham. It was lovely—we sat around talking and laughing. Three of Claude’s children were there: Jean (28 yrs), Maïté (26 yrs), and Anne (21 yrs) and they were all really friendly. Their family had done a lot of traveling (the parents lived in Africa for a while), so they were interested in comparing experiences, stereotypes, and traditions.

For dessert, Claude and Anne made crêpes (they’re made with white flour) and we could choose our own fillings. I had a nutella/strawberry jam crêpe and a honey/lemon juice crêpe…delicious!

After we’d talked for about two hours, Pablo showed us a slideshow of pictures from Argentina. Claude had requested that he bring some to show us, so he told us about the varying landscapes and climates in Argentina.

After over an hour, we realized that it would soon be getting dark and we wanted to show Candice the ocean! So, Claude took us to the coast in Labenne and we just spent 5 minutes there because it was really windy and cold.

Photo: The beach!

Afterwards she gave us a ride back to Tyrosse, where I hurried to skype with Mark (I was already late!) as it’s his birthday today! :)

This evening we decided to be lazy and just have pizza. We walked around the corner to the little pizzeria where we ordered two small take-out pizzas. We had a salad (with the stuff we’d bought at the market) and devoured our dinner! Tonight we talked, drank tea, ate Christmas goodies, and watched "500 Days of Summer."

I'm looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow!!

Thursday 12/22: “SPLAT!”

After going to sleep around 2:30am, I was very much asleep when my alarm went off at 11:30am! I slept like a log, but when I woke up I was still feeling sick and was really congested.
At 12:50, Candice and I hurried to the train station to catch the train to Bayonne. Upon arriving at the station, who did we find, but Pablo! And he was also headed to Bayonne. So, we figured that we’d hang out together (which also meant we had to speak French instead of English…)!

When we got to Bayonne, we visited the Christmas market again. This time we stopped at the Polish booth and Candice ended up buying a really pretty ring and I got a beautiful pair of earrings!

Photo: Santa and Mrs. Claus

Then we continued around the market and into town. After walking around until about 3pm, I was super hungry because I hadn’t eaten any breakfast this morning.
We searched for a sandwicherie and finally found one with vegetarian sandwiches!

Photo: Amazingly decorated gingerbread cookies

Photo: At the cloister

I munched as we continued walking around, visiting a church (Église St. André) on the other side of the river that I’d never seen before. We also discovered a Mexican restaurant—I can’t wait to go back and eat there!!

Pablo headed off at that point, and Candice and I went on a food spree! She was ready for lunch, so we stopped at a pâtisserie where she bought a slice fancy quiche and we got two mini gâteaux Bretons (one cherry, one cream) to take home for dessert tonight. Then we continued around town and found ourselves back at the Christmas market.
We just happened to notice a stand selling waffles…so we indulged! Each of us had a waffle with nutella and whipped cream, which they piled high!

Photo: Deliciousness!

Photo: Candice with giant waffle!

However, the waffles were warm and the whipped cream started to melt, causing it to become rather slippery… Candice wasn’t paying attention when her blob of whipped cream slipped right off the end of the waffle and landed on the ground with an incredible “SPLAT!” Bummer. I gave her some of mine… ;)

Photo: SPLAT.

Afterwards we still had a little bit of time before our train left, so I took her to the Irish store. I just happened to glance in the little refrigerated section (which I hadn’t previously done because I thought it was only drinks) and I discovered… CLOTTED CREAM! Yep, right there, all this time! So, of course, I bought it. We’ll be making scones in the near future…
We took the train back to Tyrosse and hurried to the bank and grocery store before they closed. After a quick dinner of green beans and tomato sauce, I started the fire and we sat right next to it, working on our computers, talking, and watching a junior cooking competition on TV. It was actually pretty amazing what these 9-11 year olds were capable of making!
Hopefully I’ll be able to sleep without really being able to breathe! My head is so congested!

These people were wandering the streets of Bayonne... we weren't sure what they were doing, but they were fairly entertaining!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday 12/21: Fun Times With Candice!

This morning I woke up at 6:55am so I could sneak downstairs and into the kitchen to skype with everyone at the 7th Annual Winter Ball. It was lovely to get to say hi to people I haven’t seen in ages and to see the beautiful (and familiar) decorations and watch a few dances. I even got to dance some of the last waltz with Brigid! :)

I went back to bed for about 2 1/2 hours before getting up to see off the Bergfelds! They said they would be leaving at 10:30am, so I got up at 10:15 to say goodbye…but they didn’t end up leaving until 11:15am. So, I just had breakfast and then hung around, trying to stay out of their way. When they left, Candice got up and we decided that as it was raining and I was still super exhausted (and sick), we would just hang around the house and relax all day. I requested that we not bother to even change out of pajamas.

It was a fun day—and nicely restful. We watched “Little Women” and drank tea. Then we just hung out and talked. We had some soup and zucchini loaf (what the French call “cake”—it’s not at all sweet, though. It’s more like bread with zucchini shreds and some cheese, etc.) for lunch and then just hung out for the afternoon.


In the early evening I skyped with Gabrielle while Candice skyped with her family. I had a really good talk with Gabrielle—it’s so nice to have her “nearby”… :p

Tonight we had dinner, made a fire (and tried roasting madeleines…with nutella), and watched “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I absolutely LOVE that movie!

Photo: Getting ready to try roasting madeleines!

Photo: Look at that grin of pleasure... clearly she's getting the idea that we should add nutella!

We also made pudding (from a German mix that only had instructions in German…which meant Candice had to type them into google translate so we could know what to do!) and ate it with some of the leftover baked apples! YUM!!

Photo: Candice translating the pudding instructions...

Today I got a Christmas card from Taylor and Tom!!! :)

Tuesday 12/20: Who Needs Sleep, Anyway?

Sleeeeeeeeepy. Last night was lots of fun, but I didn’t get much sleep… I ended up staying up until 2am after our Christmas party and then woke up at 4am to participate in Sinterklaas at home. However, it wasn’t until 4:30am that I found out the celebration wasn’t going to start until 5:30am. So, I tried to sleep for about 45 minutes before getting on skype. It was so so so much fun to be a part of the fun, despite the fact that I felt like a paraplegic because I had to be turned every time I wanted to see a different part of the room…

We finished at around 8:45am (my time) and I went back to sleep until 11am. I was extremely tired (and feeling rather sick—my head cold is getting worse), but I had been invited to lunch at Bruno’s house at noon. After getting ready (and writing them a Christmas card in what I hope was good French, but who knows…), I walked across town to where he lives. Bruno’s wife, Françoise, and his daughter, Marianne, were there, along with Pablo. We had a delicious lunch and sat around talking until 3:45pm! Françoise served a King’s Cake for dessert—it’s a cake that’s usually served in January, but I was happy to eat it now! It always has a little item in it and if it’s in your piece, you’re the King (or Queen) for the day! And you have to buy the next King’s Cake!

We spent a lot of time talking about teaching and differences between France, Argentina, and the US. I had a lot of fun and they are all really nice! Bruno and Françoise are going to come to the dinner I’m hosting on the 27th for the teachers! I just need to figure out what to make….

Bruno gave Pablo and I rides home and when I arrived, I discovered that I had received mail! A package of my favorite homemade cookies from Aunt Barbara (yay!!!!!!), a book and CD from Maria, and a letter from Tasha! Hurrah! So exciting!

Ralf asked if I was going to want to drive their car while they were gone and I had to explain that I really don’t know how to drive a stick shift. He then offered to teach me. Right then. So, we hopped in the car and I gave it a shot! Yep, I managed to drive around the block about a million times and I’m getting the hang of it! After about a half an hour, Ralf said that I could just keep practicing by myself while they were gone! I think that’s extremely trusting as the only other time (than the half hour today) that I’ve driven a stick shift was about 4 years ago and I was pretty crummy. In any case, my plan is to practice a lot over the vacation so that I will be good enough to drive out on “real” streets when Ralf gets home!

I called my mom and talked until it was time to walk over to the train station to meet Candice!!!! She arrived around 7:50pm and we walked back through town, admiring the Christmas lights. After introducing her to my host family (I successfully figured out which twin was which, although I must admit that it was only because of the shirts they were wearing…), we headed upstairs to hang out until it was time for dinner. We got to have the leftover yule logs for dessert! YUM! I also let Catherine and Candice taste the cookies from my Aunt Barbara (which they loved) while we sat around talking in the evening.

Candice and I stayed up talking until about 1am… it’s so fun to have her here! I’m so glad we get to spend Christmas together!!

Tomorrow is the Winter Ball at home… it’s going to be so sad to miss it, as it is definitely one of the highlights of my year. But, at least I am planning to skype to say hello! (If the internet works in the basement…)

Monday 12/19: MARIA IS COMING TO VISIT!!!!

When I got on skype last night before going to sleep, Maria was online and she informed me that she is for sure going to Tanzania in January (to volunteer for 6 months teaching English) and she’s going to visit me on her way there!! I was so excited! I helped figure out some logistics (re: flights, trains, etc.), but I had so much trouble falling asleep. I didn’t get to sleep until about 2:30am and then I woke up several times during the night, finally skyping again with Maria at 7am to finalize the ticket. And she’s for sure arriving in Bordeaux on Jan 2nd! I’m so so thrilled! :D

I went back to sleep from about 8-11am and then spent some time finishing up my Christmas presents for the kids here. I also worked a lot on the 4 poems I was writing for Sinterklaas.

Margot and went over to the school to shoot hoops again, but this time a janitor came out of the building to tell us that we weren’t allowed to be in there. Oops. Well, we knew it wasn’t really allowed (we climbed over the small fence to get in there), but we were only playing basketball and we weren’t touching anything! Also, the Bergfelds (even Ralf) have been playing basketball there for years! Oh well, we just apologized and left. No big deal.

This afternoon I helped Catherine make the Christmas dinner for tonight’s celebration. I peeled tons of potatoes and apples so we could make mashed potatoes and baked sliced apples. They had boudin blanc (kinda like sausages) and I had a vegetarian version.

The guests arrived around 7:30pm and we had champagne and little appetizers and sat around talking before dinner.

Photo: Christmas dinner! (R-L: Ralf, Marie-Pierre, Louise, Isabelle, Alexandre, Chantal, Catherine)

Chantal and family were there (along with Philippe’s other son, Louis), Marie-Pierre (a friend of the Bergfelds who also cleans the house here) and her mother, Louise, and also Isabelle with her little baby, Alexandre. In total, 15 people!

Photo: The girls: Claire (with an amazing hairdo), Margot, and Jeanne

After a lovely candlelight dinner, we had “Bûches de Noel”—yule logs! One was chocolate-pear and the other was chocolate-blood orange! I preferred the orange, but they both were delicious!

Then we opened presents! It was fun—everyone was handing out presents and then, once everyone had theirs, we all opened them. I received a pair of brightly colored slippers from Catherine (because she thinks that I got sick because I walk around barefoot), a set of mini cookie cutters from Marie-Pierre, an ornament from the Deslus family (Chantal), a handmade bracelet from Jeanne, and a card from Pierre and Claire. Pretty exciting!!

The kids were all happy with the gifts I gave them (cool playing cards from the US—kindly sent to me by my mom—for Margot, Hugo, and Lucas, an English easy-reader “Little House” book for Claire, fabric markers and white shirts for Pierre, and a journal for Jeanne!).

Photo: Claire shows off her presents from me

Photo: Margot and her American playing cards!

I also gave a chocolate-orange to the Deslus and Berfeld families, candy canes to all the kids, homemade bracelets to the girls, and a Zits day-to-day calendar to Catherine! She’s really excited about that! I told her that now she has to show me the comics every morning instead of me showing her mine!

Photo: Lucas does a card trick with his American playing cards

Afterwards Catherine and I cleaned everything up and then I headed up to bed! What a wonderful evening!

Photo: My new slippers and bracelet!