Sunday, November 30, 2008

A few days ago, JP and I were browsing around a local used furniture shop when this caught my eye:

Well, it would, wouldn't it? Who could resist? Have you ever seen the like?

And only 800 Euros for the whole amazing set: a sofa, two chairs and matching coffee table! That works out to less than 100 euros per camel.
But JP refused to buy it for me.

He's so mean...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I guess I'm thankful Thanksgiving is so restful?

It's kind of lame, but all I can think of right now. I'm desperately trying to put a good spin on what could be considered my most depressing holiday of 2009 to date.

It's not that I'm not happy to be back in France and thankful for many, many things, but last year's Thanksgiving back in Ouaga was so strange and funny and packed with good friends...

And, well, this year is kind of a contrast. Instead of 23 good friends packed into my living room enjoying a feast, there was just me and the kids nibbling away at my attempt at a mildy festive meal.

JP is in Paris for work and my few American friends in the area are too far away to just pop over on a Thursday night. Everyone has been at work all day and have to be there again early tomorrow morning. Not conducive to a holiday soirée

Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself. Just a bit.

But suddenly the weekend is promising better things! My lovely friend Lisa just now sent me an email. She and her daughter will be coming down from Switzerland on Sunday for a visit! Yay! We'll do a Thanksgiving meal then.

Now, all I have to do is find a turkey, which might be tricky. All the turkeys around here are being fattened for a Christmas demise. And I guess the farmers are planning to feed them on milkshakes and french fries from now until December 25, because they are still looking very slim at this point in time.

Be that as it may, tomorrow's task will be to hunt down possible poultry options.

I should spend tomorrow unpacking boxes all day, but tracking down a turkey sounds far more appealing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Today I am having a nice day, doing nice things for my (need I say it?)nice, deserving self! I had a long put-off, much-needed visit to the doctor. This was followed by a stop to make an appointment to get my contact lenses replaced and then a quick stop by the estheticienne to make an appointment for eyebrow waxing and other painfully satisfying activities. Then this positive flurry of self-pampering was followed by a stop at the hairdresser. I walked in the door and they said they had a spot open right away and sat me right down. I guess I looked like an emergency case. (Bad hair is considered an emergency in France)
As you can see in the new pic I have up, it's now layered, but with a stylishly sleek fringe at the front. Trés chic? Well, maybe not. But at least now I don't look like I have a dead, elderly badger perched on top of my head. And that's something.

The twins have seen my new hairstyle and seem to both like it. "You're beautiful, Mommy!" Mallory gasped. But then after a good look at it she added doubtfully "But that doesn't look like work hair."
I guess she's gotten too used to me running around the house sporting a bedraggled pony tail..

So far today, I have not unpacked a single box. I am just pottering around, doing whatever takes my fancy. I read a bit earlier on and now I'm planning a bit of emailing and general internet time-wasting. Bliss!!

I haven't had such a nice day in ages. I'm loving life in France and keeping very busy, but I seem to be getting very shabby and neglected as a result.
Enough of that!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I'm back. Not that I'm by any means done cleaning up the big mess that is currently making my life miserable, but I am finally feeling like I don't have to spend every waking moment dealing with it.
Monday morning looked like this:

There was a thick fog that made it impossible to see even a few meters ahead. This made it tricky for the moving truck from Lyon to find our house. But it did.

I'm still not sure whether I am happy or sad that the truck didn't zoom right past our house and on back to Lyon to dump everything in a landfill.
I mean, we lived just fine without this stuff for nearly five months, right?

But then I started unpacking, and there were the photo albums, my sewing machine, my books and all the other things that I truly have been missing and needing.

On the other hand, there is one big problem. Or rather, a small problem: our house. It's too tiny to hold everything. So, we were obliged to leave half of the stuff out in the garage.

This means that J. Lo can't be in the gargage (I'm talking about my new car here, not the popular singer that recently had twins. It would be mean to make a new mom sleep in a garage in the French Alps in the winter, don't you think?)

So, I have been unpacking thousands of books, toys, articles of clothing, etc. All the organising and running up and down three flights of stairs has been exhausting. And the last thing I needed was this:

Three guys with big machines turned up extremely early Wednesday morning and started digging up the driveway. It's loud, it's muddy, it makes the walls vibrate and it's all chez moi.

Even better, yesterday I couldn't get out the door:

To be strictly fair, I have to admit that we asked for it. We have been trying for months to get someone to come and fix the rocky, muddy, deeply rutted lane that we have been very liberally calling "driveway".
So, they finally showed up. Careful what you ask for...

It was supposed to be done by Thurday night, but the Departmental authorities ruined any chance of that. When the digging was all done and the guys had laid down the first truckload of gravel at the street end of the drive, the Departmental jerks came by for a nice visit. They informed us that the driveway entrance had to be ENTIRELY re-done. (it's a long story) And that in turn meant the whole ramp had to be re-graded to avoid it being crazily steep.

Resigned, the guys carefully scraped off all the gravel, set it aside and started digging again. Friday night arrived and it still wasn't all done.

So, the guys will be back Monday morning with their gravel truck and steamroller.

Then maybe when they're done they can help me open and unpack boxes...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It arrives tomorrow!!! The 20 foot-long metal box containing all our suff from Burkina Faso will be delivered here to our home in the French Alps.

It was only supposed to take two months for our things to make the trip from Ouagadougou by rail to the port in Dakar, onto a container vessel , to a warehouse in Marseille, to Lyon and finally to our home near Geneva. But here it is, nearly five months later...

I will be SO happy to see again my: books, sewing machine, electronic keyboard, sheet music, dvds, cds, scrapbooks, blankets, cast iron griddle, armchairs, loveseat, step for aerobics, nightstands, lamps, Christmas tree ornaments, bookshelves, carpets, and sugar-free Jello (hope it's still good...)

JP has been desperate for important books and papers that he needs for teaching.
The twins await with impatience Severin's old Pokemon card collection that he promised to pass on to them as soon as it arrives.
Valentine misses her books most

So, if I don't blog for a couple of days, you'll know why. There is going to be mad organisation and shifting going on around here. Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I was just doing my daily news check on the internet when I found this headline at the BBC:
Dozens die in Burkina Faso crash
The article begins with this:
At least 60 people have been killed in a collision between a passenger bus and a goods lorry in the west African country of Burkina Faso.
The two vehicles caught fire after the crash and many people were trapped inside the bus, a local official told AFP news agency.
The accident happened before dawn near the town of Boromo, 167km (105 miles) west of the capital, Ouagadougou.

It has also been picked up by Reuters and other news services.

I'm always alert for Burkina in the news, but the news is seldom good...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guess what??
I got a prize!! I am a "Kreativ Blogger". Yay me and thanks Oreneta for the kind thought!
One of the responsibilities that comes with the prize is making a list of three things that make me happy. It's kind of tough to only name three, but here are the ones I picked:
1. Learning/doing something new. Plastering a wall, running a small library, creating a blog, playing WoW (more on that another day!)- I am really happiest when I am having a new experience and aquiring a new skill.
2. France. Burkina Faso was nice, but it was never really home. I could never, not for one moment kid myself and imagine that I was "chez moi". I was always the outsider, the sore thumb sticking out. I could never just blend in and be a normal person going about a normal day's work. But in France, I can. I can be part of the scenery. And lovely scenery it is.
3. Books!!!
The second responsibility is to pass on the award to six deserving bloggers. My choices lean towards blogs with great writing because that's what I'm looking for when I read a blog. I'm not looking for photos, craft ideas or recipes. I'm all about the writing. So, none of my picks are blogs that are "Kreativ" because they teach you how to make a cute toilet paper roll holder out of old egg cartons, cotton balls and pine cones.
The award goes to:
1. Leena at some sort of bird. She is a lovely and dynamic young woman who lived in Burkina and worked with me at Papiers du Sahel. Now she's at university in Canada. Creative? Heck yes! Shes' a vegetarian yoga teacher and shares recipes as well as general insights. What's not to love?
2. Framericaine is a seemingly tireless blogger over at Halfway to France. She's always got great photos and even better writing. She does all those long, thoughtful, analytical pieces that I wish I were writing. So, she's another lucky recipient of the award.
3.More really excellent writing is to be had over at chitlins & camembert. What Amy really deserves is that book contract she's hoping for. But all I've got is this virtual award. Sorry.
4. Reb is writing up a storm over at Uh Oh Spaghettios. She's a skilled writer and often makes me laugh. And besides writing, she's a fellow house renovator/ do-it-yourselfer and we all know that that takes lots of "kreativity" as well as a certain amount of crazy optimism. So, the fourth award goes to Reb.
5. Pardon My French is another blog deserving of a shout-out and a nice little pink and green award to display. It's the saga of a US expat mom and has interesting, creative posts.
6. The final award has to go to Valentine at My So-Called Life in Africa. She may be my daughter, but I know excellent writing when I read it. She's funny, insightful and just amazing. Tragically, she hasn't blogged since JULY! I'm hoping the award will motivate her (at least, it gives her an obvious subject to post about!) and get her blogging again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I like coffee very much, but I'm not addicted to caffeine. Which is really lucky, because we recently went for a couple of weeks with none in the house.

Because I was too overwhelmed with guilt to buy any. I'd go into the store, look at the coffee and then go back home without.

And why is that?

It's because shopping in France is is so impossibly complicated. Back in Ouagadougou, my weekly trip to Marina Market was not always very effective, but at least it was easy: If it's what you need and you can afford it, you buy it. End of story.
The only real downside was when, for example, they would be completely out of butter for weeks at a time. Or certains items would be priced so high that it was out of the question to buy them. Frozen fish sticks at 15 euros a box were just not an option.

The latter factor acted as a natural control on the system. For example, in Marina Market you could find tomatos imported from France for several euros per kilo. But just outside the door, you'd find the locally grown stuff for just a few cents per kilo. Imported stuff was ALWAYS more expensive than local stuff. So, buying local was always cheaper and directly supported Burkinabé people.

There was no organic produce, so that was a non-issue.

See? Easy.

But NOW I'm in France. The supermarkets are all 20 times the size of Marina market and full of choices.

First off, there's organic vs non-organic. Organic is ALWAYS more expensive than non-organic. So, you have to decide if the product is worth the sometimes very large price difference. Very quickly, I decided that it was worth it to pay more, especially for dairy products and produce. For other things, like lentils for example, the price difference is so huge that buying organic seems crazy. But each choice involves a calculation.
See? Complicated.

Then you have to worry about the fair trade issue. I am all about helping the developing world develop properly...
But what about "buy local"? Aren't you supposed to buy stuff produced close to where you live to prevent the pollution and energy wastage involved in transportation and provide local jobs?

So, there I am, standing in front of the apples in the supermarché. There are about 10 different kinds, which is already overwhelming. (Back in Ouaga, I'd go to the fruit and veg ladies outside Marina Market and they'd have maybe a choice between red delicious and golden delicious from South Africa.) Do I want Reine de reinette? Boskoop, Chantecler? The prices are all pretty similar. Oh wait. These Fuji's are only 2.50 a kilo while the others are 2.70.... But hang on... Another look tells me that the Fuji's are imported from freaking New Zealand, while the other, more expensive apples are all from France. In fact, the Reine de reinettes are from the Haute Savoie.
Can somebody tell me how it is possible that apples flown to France all the way from New Zealand can be cheaper than apples grown just a few miles away? It just makes no sense.

My mind boggled a bit, but I dealt with the apple situation, always buying local stuff. But coffee? That's a lot harder. No fields of coffee growing on the flanks of Mont Blanc. So, no easy answer there.

I'd scuttle around in front of the endless rows of foil coffee packets with a big question mark over my head, reading the labels: Here's one that's organic, but it's not fair trade. Oh -here's one that's fair trade, but it's from Guatamala. Shouldn't I be trying to support local people and reduce carbon emissions?'s one that's roasted and packaged in our region of France. But it's not fair trade or organic and not 100% arabica. Yuck.
And hey! What about recycled packaging? Shouldn't I be looking for that, too?

My brain would be overloaded within minutes and I'd shuffle away, discouraged and coffee-less.

I spent WEEKS reading coffee packages, puzzling and musing.

Until finally, last week, I found it!! I was so excited as I unpacked the groceries at home. I grabbed the coffee package and waved it in front of JP.

"Do you know what this IS!" I said forcefully. Ok, I was probably screaming, a bit.

"It would" he ventured cautiously.

"Coffee? Coffee? This just isn't just coffee! This is the salvation of the environment and all of humanity in one small package!!!! Look!! Just look!!! It provides a fair wage to Peruvian peasants!!!! It's certified organic!! No pesticides or chemical fertilizers!! It's roasted and packaged in the Haute Savoie, providing local jobs !!! PLUS the packaging is 100% recycled AND it's all arabica. I did it!! I found the coffee!!! You see????"

"Yes. I see that you bought coffee." JP answered in a soothing, but somewhat distracted voice. I think he was wondering if we had any Valium in the house that he could crush up and slip into my next cup...
So, we finally have coffee in the house again. And you see why I am so excited about it.
In French, organic is "bio" and all certified organic products are marked with an easily recognisable "AB" symbol that stands for "agriculture biologique".
In the photo I laid out a few of the many "AB" products that I buy regularly: herbal teas, pasta, bread flour, etc...
I'm also very careful about milk and eggs (which we eat lots of). Just recently, I finally found local, organic eggs laid by free-range chickens who are only fed vegetable products and are allowed to lay their eggs "en paille", that is, in straw nests. They sound like happy chickens.
And I'm glad to facilitate their joy.
But all of this makes shopping in France exhausting and mind-bending.
And now I need to end this blog entry and go... to the supermarché.
But maybe first I'll go see if JP found any Valium...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Today's question is multiple choice.
Here it is:

Halloween is a) a charming holiday full of fun for les enfants
b) yet another boot of American cultural imperialism stomping on and mercilessly crushing the French windpipe of national pride?

If you guessed b, that's right! You just won this big sack of tiny bags of Gummi Bears that I DIDN'T get to give away on Halloween night because no trick or treaters showed up. Nope. Not a one.

Now, ten years ago, when I last lived in France, I wouldn't have been surprised. Halloween was simply not on the holiday radar in France. Sure, a couple of stores at the new Etrembiere shopping mall tried a "top down" approach, advertising a few Halloween themed products. These had to be accompanied by a small brochure explaining what the heck Halloween was. I sure wish I'd saved the one I picked up all those years ago. It carefully explained how, for example, on Halloween night, Americans enjoy eating big bowls of hearty pumpkin soup. And it was chock-full of lots of other "information'. (For any non-Americans reading this, Halloween is NOT a holiday where one consumes healthy vegetable soups. You eat CANDY, lots of CANDY. And you use your pumpkin to make a jack-o-lantern, NOT dinner. )

Back then , I did some Halloween celebrating with my kids at home. We made decorations, carved a jack-o-lantern and Tya (who was the only one old enough to know what was going on) did trick or treating in the house. Yes, she got all dressed up, took a bag and knocked at the dining room door. I stood behind it and opened it with mock surprised each time, doling out pieces of candy. She was only 4 or 5 at the time and thought it was delightful, bless her little heart.

But there was no "Halloween awareness" in general in the community

So, when we arrived here in France recently, I had no expectations of anything being different. That's why I was very skeptical when the twins started coming home from school in October telling me that kids celebrate Halloween here! Right here in the Haute Savoie trick or treaking would be had!

I just couldn't quite wrap my mind around it. "Are you sure?" I'd ask.

They were sure. The other kids were all talking about it.

But when I went to the shops I saw very little evidence. No costumes in sight and only a couple of places with small displays of candy.

Then, the week before Halloween, I went to their school one afternoon to help out with the English lesson. (Note: The village council no longer is willing to pay for an English teacher to come in, so it has fallen upon the teacher to give the language lessons. This is HUGELY unreasonable, as the woman is already teaching a mixed class of 3rd/4th/5th graders in this little one-room school. And now she has to teach them all English, which she really doesn't speak very well. She sounds like a French person that has had a few years of English lessons (which is what she is) NOT an English teacher.)

This was the first time I'd come to help, so I didn't know what to expect but I had vaguely thought that the teacher would be directing the activity. I would just intervene from time to time, helping with pronunciation. But there was a basic misunderstanding, as she seemed to think that just being a native speaker of English must mean that you are a fully qualified English teacher.

I walked in and the teacher sat down and looked at me. The kids sat there and looked at me.

It was a real 'WTF' moment, if I may be honest and a bit vulgar.

Now, I'm not saying that I couldn't possibly teach English to a bunch of 8 to 10 year olds. But I had no idea what they'd been studying or what their general level was.

I ended up asking them simple questions, getting them to tell me what their ages were, their names, etc. I did my best. After a looooong half-hour of that, the teacher asked if I would explain, in French, the holiday of Halloween.
I talked about the origins of the holiday, its name, and some of the traditions. Of course, I haven't celebrated Halloween in the USA for about 20 years, so all I could really tell them was how it was for me as a child. Lots of family and friend in the USA had been telling me that the holiday has changed dramatically there. It's all for adults and all about drinking. Hardly any kids trick or treat now. But I didn't go into that. I talked about trick or treating, making jack-o-lanterns and wearing your costume to school.

Then the teacher said "You know, a few years ago, people here were crazy for Halloween."

I was surprised, to put it mildly. I thought I'd misunderstood.

"Really! The shops were full of costumes and candy. The children went trick or treating. Parents even sent notes to the school, asking what we would do to celebrate Halloween in class!"

It all got to be too much, in her opinion. It was beginning to replace Carnival! Quelle horreur!
Mais oui! The kids were dressing up and celebrating Halloween, but ignoring the traditional French holiday just before Lent. It was then the teacher's turn to get all nostalgic about the happy Carnival celebrations of her youth.

"Ah yes! We'd dress up in the afternoon and go from house to house. People would give us eggs and flour. Maybe sugar. Then we would all go to the rectory and the older children would make crepes for us. Such fun! A real French tradition"

Well gosh. The attractions of an entire sack full of candy really dim when you put it that way. Eggs and flour. Maybe sugar. Then you get a crepe.

Boy Howdy, you folks really know how to party!

Really, it was SO hard not to laugh.

Then she got to the heart of the matter. "Halloween was replacing our French traditions, so lots of people protested. Everything was getting too Americanized, people said. They wrote letters to the shops. They stopped the kids trick or treating and tried to get the focus back on Carnival. And it worked. Now hardly anyone celebates Halloween."

And a quick search on the internet confirms this. There was a short-lived vogue, but by November 2006 you start to find articles like "French press declares Halloween dead".

So all that talk the twins heard was more wishful thinking than reality. Some of the kids remembered trick or treating from a few years back and were hoping (wistfully, uselessly) for another crack at it.

I'm just glad that my kids have a legimate cultural right to Halloween, because Carnival is (sorry) extremely lame, as far as holidays for kids go.

But there's definitely a mean-spirited side to all this: People scared by increasing globalisation and "Americanisation" struck out at the easiest target. Maybe they can't punish governments or business leaders for the way things are going, but they can take candy from babies...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The tables have turned, finally! Gone are the days when random French people would come up to me, asking me why the USA did such bad things in the world and why we had such a clueless jerk as our president.

As if I knew. I sure never voted Republican.

But NOW the USA has a young, liberal, multi-racial President elected by a large margin because of his promises of profound change and France is stuck with a business-as-usual old, white reactionary.
As my kids would say: Sweet!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just when I begin to neglect my poor little blog, things start to get exciting. 'Exciting' being a relative term, of course. Bear in mind you are dealing with a woman that thinks it's 'exciting' to get a free bag full of back-issues of New Scientist magazine.

That said, I have to admit that tonight I am feeling like a member of a sacred sorority of bloggers. So, many thanks to La Fràmericaine and her kind attempt to make me feel like part of the club.

What did she do?

She invited me to play a game of 'blog tag'. That is, provide a blog entry telling six random things about myself that relatively few people know. So I couldn't write: "I lived in Africa for nine years", a fact all-too well-known by all who know me and read my blog.

And I am assuming she meant things that could be deemed potentially interesting.
Not things like: "I hate cockroaches". I mean, who doesn't?

There are rules. Aren't there always?

They are:
1. Link to the person who tagged you
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

I figure this should be a good distraction from worrying about how the election is going to turn out. JP is teasing me and making me nervous. It's GOT to be Obama, right?

Anyway, here are Six Random Things About Burkinamom:

1. When I was on that dig in Peru, I didn't eat the goat entrails. I pushed my plateful onto Mark (my professor) and HE had to eat them. I still feel a bit bad about that. But Miguelito (the ex-owner of the entrails) had been a pal of mine.

2. I love wearing polish on my toenails. I HATE it on my fingernails.

3. I detest lighthouses-this means actual lighthouses plus all pictures, figurines, coatracks, cd holders and decorative plaques featuring them. I don't know why. This cannot be traced to any traumatic event in my past that took plan in or aroudn a lighthouse. Unless it was in a past life...

4. I know how to crochet.

5. My first name is Beth. Not Elizabeth, just Beth. I hated this name from a young age and for years thought I'd MUCH rather be called 'Roxanne'.

6. I am not and have never been bored or lonely. I like people just fine, but also LOVE spending time alone, doing my own thing. Bliss!!

Good! Now I get to tag some people!

Chitlins and Camembert

Pardon My French

Oreneta Aground

Uh Oh Spaghettios

Stevie Guide

Done! Yes, there are only five, but I have a miserable cold and am heading off to bed. Even the lure of US election results can't tempt me to stay up tonight!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

There's still four days left before the kids go back to school. As usual, a holiday for the kids means absolutely no free time for mom. And that means the blog falls by the wayside, even though there is much to blog about.
On Thursday, for example, I drove the kids up to the canton of Fribourg in Switzerland. We visited the lovely walled village of Gruyeres. (Yes, like the cheese. )
But instead of visiting the cheese-making farm, we opted for the Nestle chocolate factory nearby. It involved a short tour and all the chocolate you cared to eat. Fun, but also a journey of self-discovery. You get to find out just how much self-discipline you have.
I have none, so no surprises there.

Another highlight of the day was the visit to the local castle.
Click on the link in the right sidebar to see the whole album of the visit.

Here's a picture I took of the snow we got here at home on Wednesday night. It's the view from our balcony.

I SO love living in France!!