He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dear Carrefour,

Dear Carrefour,
I have a few requests if you would indulge me.  They're quite simple, or at least they seem simple enough to this western mom.  I understand that absolutely none of these things will happen, but I guarantee that I will feel much better after this much needed rant.  So here are my requests in no particular order.  

1.  PLEASE stop stocking the aisles at the absolute busiest time of the shopping day!  Why oh why is this not logical?  And it's not just that you stock the aisles at this time.  It's the massive wooden loading carts positioned square in the middle of the aisles and the workers who would rather stare you down than move out of the way for you!!  And if it's not hard enough that the wooden pallets are in the way, then all the cardboard wrapping is thrown into the aisle (and often left there) once the items are on the shelf making it virtually impossible to pass.  I guarantee you that stocking at a different time of day would make for happier customers.  

2.  On a similar note, maybe you could post some sort of sign directing groups of people who seem to have not seen each other in ages to the food court of the mall where there is plenty of seating and standing room.  It would be much more convenient for those of us who are actually trying to reach the items on the shelves in front of which they are congregating and flat out refusing to move.  Maybe they aren't aware of the wide variety of other places available to them in the mall for visiting?

3.  Fix your carts.  I am thoroughly convinced that there is not one single cart in your entire fleet of shopping carts that pushes in a straight line.  And it's not just that they won't push in a straight line.  It's like they are somehow magically wired to do the exact opposite and somehow fight against EVER going in a straight line.   And (see picture below), when you replace your carts (which I'm certain you will do since I asked and I'm sure that customer service is one of your #1 priorities...), would you please get the kind that have a shelf under the actual cart part for items like bulk paper towels, toilet paper and large cases of milk?  That would be oh so nice so that said items don't cause my entire cart to overflow and virtually not be able to fit anything else.  And yes, I am fully aware that you have recently actually replaced your carts.  When I realized about a year ago that all the carts were new, I actually did a little happy dance when I was choosing one of the new shiny carts.  And then I pushed it.  And tried another one.  And pushed it.  Darn!  I must keep getting the old ones.  Nope.  None of the carts push straight.  None. Of. Them.  Please replace them again.  

(because when they are this loaded up, they are quite heavy, and I'm quite certain that they way my body has to contort in order to get them around the corners of the aisles make me look beyond ridiculous, and believe me when I tell you, I don't need much help in looking ridiculous...)

4.  Speaking of the items bought in bulk- if you are going to sell items in bulk, like cases of milk for example, would you please price them in such a way that does not require the cashier to rip open the cardboard casing and remove individual items in order to scan them.  This very much counteracts the convenience of buying in bulk when I can no longer get the item from my car to the sidewalk, from the sidewalk to the doorstep, then from my doorstep into my kitchen- BECAUSE YOU HAVE RIPPED OPEN THE PACKAGING!!!   Please stop it.

5.  This one may seem a little petty as it relates to one particular product on your shelves and it is not a problem that is unique to your store.  However, because I can, I am directing my rant about honey in your direction.  Why oh why is it so hard to sell honey in a squirt container and not in a glass jar with a screw on lid?  We like honey.  We use a lot of honey.  We also have a lot of kids who like to eat honey.  As the mom of 4 kids I would like them to be able to serve themselves honey on their toast, sandwiches, yogurt or in their smoothies.  However, honey and glass jars with screw on lids is an absolutely horrible combination, as I'm sure any mom of small people will tell you!  It gets on the side of the jar and on the side of the lid.  It drips on the counter and all over little fingers.  Please, for the sake of all the (western) moms out there who are less than coordinated (that would be me), please sell more squirt-able honey.

6.  Let's talk about organizing the lines at the deli, cheese, nut/spice/dried fruit and meat counters.   You know what, never mind.  I've lived in this part of the world long enough to know that there is no point in even going there!

Thank you for your attention to these matters, in what I'm sure will be a timely and appropriate response.

One culturally stressed out mom

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Because life is, of course, ALL about the food...

I don't know about you, but when we travel, one of our favorite things is all of the new and amazing foods we get to try.  Jason has been known to say a time or two, that it really doesn't matter WHAT we do on vacation, as long as it is built around good food.  Now, we were not on vacation all summer- there was a lot of work built into our travel schedule, but we did manage to find plenty of time to enjoy the local cuisine whenever we could.

We were super excited about spending lots of time in France, because, well, it's France.   From Paris to the beautiful chateaus in the Loire valley to the southern coast to the rolling countryside filled with farms and vineyards to the lavender fields and sunflower fields in the Luberon to the majestic Alps,  there are few places within the country that are not simply breathtaking in very unique ways.  And then there's the food...

If you have never experienced the culinary delight of buying a fresh baked baguette from the neighborhood boulangerie and breaking off the end to munch while you walk home with it tucked under your arm, then. well,  I'm truly sorry.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

We didn't just get to experience French cuisine this summer.  We enjoyed a very wide variety in all the places we visited.

We introduced Anabelle to pain au chocolate- a scrumptious French pastry with strips of dark chocolate down the middle.  
(she was a fan!)

Personally, my favorite boulangerie treat (aside from the fresh baked baguettes) is the almond croissant.  Simply divine- a buttery croissant willed with some sort of almond creamy stuffing and topped with powder sugar.  There's also a chocolate almond croissant.  To. die. for.  

Speaking of pastries, for Maddie's 13th birthday, in lieu of a cake, we all picked out pastries from the bakery- yummy!

 I think the lemon tart was the favorite, although Anabelle did quite enjoy the "chocolate hotdog" otherwise known as an eclair. 

I said we experienced French cuisine, and I should probably clarify that our family of 6 experienced the low budget side (if that's possible) of French cuisine, which equals crepes, crepes and more crepes...  Totally fine by us!  

Naomi and Anabelle loved their jelly crepes!

And of course we had the classic Nutella and butter, lemon and sugar crepes while wandering the streets of Paris, but I can't seem to find those pictures...

We enjoyed salty crepes as well.  The girls loved the ham and cheese, and Jason and I got a bit more adventurous.  He tried smoked salmon and cream and the one below is spinach and cream with mushrooms and onions and a fried egg to top it off.  So yummy!

As part of our low budget dining experience, we frequented boulangeries for fresh baguette sandwiches or pizzas or mini quiches.  It was hard to convince Anabelle that she couldn't have "chocolate hot dogs" for every meal...

It's all just so tempting....

Below is probably Jason's favorite baguette sandwich.  Pan fried camembert cheese (otherwise known as stinky cheese to the sane members of our family- more on his cheese obsession later) on a baguette with lettuce, tomato and dijon.  


We had several on the road picnics that involved baguettes, cheese and ham.  What else is there after all?

With the many North Africans living in France, we were also able to have some scrumptious Moroccan couscous.  

There's a bowl of couscous, a big plate of meat and a huge dish of vegetable sauce- all to go on top of the couscous.  

I cannot begin to remember what these things were called- some sort of fried won ton type thing on steroids stuffed with shrimp, egg and a creamy cheese.  

Our travels to Spain introduced us to some yummy foods as well.  Some familiar, some not so much.        The girls were thrilled that our first meal out was tex-mex.  I know, I know, not Spanish cuisine but it was yummy!  And this little hole in the wall restaurant in Madrid was too cute.  Anabelle was thrilled with the pink chairs and pink walls...

 Somehow I managed not to get a picture of the churros- basically fried dough that you dip in a hot pudding-like chocolate.  What's not to like, right?!  

In Barcelona, some friends took us out for tapas, and I am not going to remember what any of these were called but they were amazingly yummy.  Let's just say that it's a good thing Jason and I were carb/sugar free for 6 weeks before this trip because we definitely made up for it, almost in one sitting!

First they brought out huge pieces of "grilled bread" along with tomatoes and whole garlic cloves.  

The idea was that you take the whole tomatoes, slice them along with sliced garlic cloves and just rub it all into the bread.  Maddie was in heaven!

Then there were more massive pieces of bread with melted cheese and country style ham hidden underneath.

Also, these little pieces of deep fried goodness.  I'm pretty sure they said it was mashed potatoes, mixed with bits of ham and cheese.  Carb load anyone?

And just to make us all feel better we had grilled veggies too...

And then there was this.  A cone.  Filled with ham.  Country ham.  Nothing more needs to be said...

 And back to France we went.  We took a few days vacation and had our own kitchen to cook in.  Maddie was going through withdrawal at that point having not been able to bake all summer.  

 Some folks at our hotel directed us to a local farm for fresh produce.  We followed the signs quite literally into the barn...

...and stocked up on fresh produce.

Jason and I were THRILLED to find yellow squash- something we can't get here.  

Naomi and Maddie layered it up with tomatoes, onions and cheese and it was the perfect dinner.  

We also used our morning baguettes to make bread pudding and made fresh peach sauce to go along. 

Our next stop was in a mountain refuge just outside of Albertville in the Alps.  The food was described as "simple and basic" by our hosts, but we loved it.  

This was some sort of concoction with day old country bread, ham, mushrooms, raclette cheese and a fried egg.  Yes please!

 For dessert, we had a choice of fresh raspberry and blueberry tart....

(which is what the sane ones among us chose...)

Or a plate of cheese.  Very. Stinky.  Cheese.  
He was very happy!

The next morning, breakfast was a bit more "simple".  Chocolate cereal (brown bowl) and hot chocolate (white bowl).  Who knew you were supposed to drink your hot morning beverage in a bowl?  Live and learn!  

Maybe it's so you can gulp it down faster because you are frigid from taking an ice cold shower when it's 45 degrees outside.  When we asked whether or not there was hot water, our hosts shrugged and said, "Non, c'est la montagne"  (No, it's the mountains).  To which we wanted to say, "that's exactly why you need hot water!".  

Back in Paris, we discovered Chipotle!  Yes, yes we did.  We were in Paris and we ate at an American chain.  

And we did it twice...

Our next stop took us to Belgium where we discovered all sorts of amazing food.  Apparently, we discovered that we are way out of the loop to not know what Speculoos is- basically cookie paste made of these yummy Belgian cookies.  It seems it's most recently hit the American radar due to Trader Joes, but we went to this little cookie shop in Brussels that has been around since the early 1800s where these cookies originated.  

Here's a picture of some of the original cookie molds.  

Anabelle's long eyelashes got us all a free cookie.  To me, the cookies are yummy- I don't honestly get all the hype about the cookie paste....

We were informed by our hosts that fries (NOT French fries apparently), originated in Belgium.  News to me!  The girls were thrilled to hear we would be having fries for lunch.  Yep, just fries.  

We're told what makes them so good is they are first parboiled and then double fried.  

With this yummy spicy sauce they served with the fries.  Think thousand island with a kick.  Jason got a little crazy and got his topped with onions and two kinds of sauce.  

Next on our culinary journey was Belgian waffles.  Because of course.  Thankfully we walked about 4 miles between the fries for lunch and the waffles for afternoon snack...

These waffles were completely not what I expected.   Very thick and cake-like with huge chunks of crystallized sugar baked in.  Top it with chocolate and/or cream and you're set!

Our last bit of Belgian cuisine involved chocolate of course.  Our friends took us to a chocolate outlet, where you can literally taste as much of absolutely anything as you would like.  

I'm pretty sure there will be a Belgian chocolate outlet in heaven.  

In Amsterdam, we enjoyed these little mini pancake yummies - profitjes.  Overflowing with powdered sugar and butter.  What's not to love?! 

The next morning we went out for Dutch pancakes.  Abbey and Maddie shared a sweet and a savory.  Their sweet (below) was topped with cherries and cream and their savory was bacon and apple.  

Naomi had strawberries and cream.  

Anabelle was more interested in the merry-go-round built into the middle of the restaurant...

The last leg of our trip brought us to England where we enjoyed cream tea.  

And, of course, cream tea is not just the tea but the scones and clotted cream and jam that go along with it...

While the food was amazing, even better was the conversation around the food and the relationships that were started and built upon as we traveled and enjoyed some of what each country had to offer.  

Now that we're home and back to real life, it's looking like there's going to be a lot less carbs and sugar and a lot more green smoothies...

Bottoms up!

"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad.  Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun." 
Ecclesiastes 8:15

Thursday, August 21, 2014

3 less obvious reasons for language learning

As I'm praying through how to throw the "language learning" plate up into the air this fall with all the other spinning plates I already have going, I've been thinking a lot about my motivation for doing so.  

Language learning is not a new thing for me.  Having lived overseas for over 12 years it's definitely something I've done, and done again  (and again and again and....).  You get the idea.  It's not a new concept and with some languages (like Arabic), it's really never done.  There is always something new you can learn.  I posted HERE several years ago about the humility required for learning a new language, especially as an adult.  All this to say, this is a block I've been around several times.  So many times in fact that I am often dizzy when I think of all the hours I've invested in language and how precious little I actually have to show for it!  Maybe someday soon that will change!

So this post is meant as a pep talk of sorts- to myself:  a reminder to look back on when I'm frustrated and just wanting to throw up my hands and give up,  and hopefully an encouragement to others who are also on the language learning journey.

Obviously, when you move to a foreign country with a different culture, there are plenty of obvious reasons for studying the language of your new home- getting directions, grocery shopping, knowing basic greetings to name a few.  Those aren't the reasons I want to focus on.  As I've prayed through jumping back into language learning, here are 3 less obvious reasons that God has impressed upon my heart.  These are somewhat personal to my situation, but I hope that principles from each can encourage others.  I know in the weeks and months ahead as I jump back into language learning, I will be coming back to this list to remind myself why I'm doing what I'm doing!

1.  Learning language helps me to be me.  Huh?  One of the biggest challenges in studying a foreign language is that, for a season, you are hopelessly unable to truly express your heart in the language you are learning.  You truly go all the way back to preschool level.  This is one of the reasons I've heard many language learners with young kids say how much they love taking their kids to the playground.  You get to interact with people who you can sort of understand and can be encouraged when they can understand your very basic sentences:  what's your name?  go there.  give me that.  throw the ball.  come here.  It's a great place to start!  But it's simply a place to start.  Eventually you become frustrated again because as an adult language learner, well, you're not a preschooler and you have deeper things that you want to express, more important topics that you want to talk about.

When asked why I want to continue to study a language when I can already pretty well get myself around in that language and when so many people in the place where we live actually speak English, I've realized that it's because I want to be able to really be me in Arabic.  And right now I can't.  I can't joke around with people (well at least in a way that makes sense...), I can't talk about the deep heart level issues that really define me and more importantly, that define the people I am seeking to become friends with.  And yes, many of them can switch to English, but then, often the reverse becomes true for them.  Now THEY aren't truly being themselves and truly expressing their heart issues.  It's a constant lesson in humility for sure.

I've heard it said that it's hard for your true personality to come out in your second language and I'm finding that to be true.  In a situation where I might normally be empathetic or able to offer advice or simply be a good listener and cry with a friend, I'm often so busy trying to process what is being said that too much time passes and the moment is gone.  Or worse, I find myself nodding and agreeing with something because I think I'm understanding context clues and it turns out it's not actually something I would nod and agree with at all!  It's hardest, I think, in a group setting where I'd love to be talking and laughing and joking with a group of ladies and I'm mostly following their conversations, but not at a quick enough pace to join in and talk myself.  This is where I think the perceived personality change comes in.  You find yourself labeled as quiet or shy when that is not at all the case- your brain is just having to work too hard to process everything that's happening around you!

As language learners, we often face an identity crisis of sorts.  I don't think I realized, before I started studying a foreign language, how much of my identity, I wrapped up in my accomplishments whether professionally or simply as a wife and mother.  Countless times in the process of studying Arabic (and French for that matter), I've wanted to throw my arms up and say,  "I'm smart in English!  I know stuff!  I'm a registered nurse, I take care of sick moms and babies!  I organize my home and the activities of 4 active people and I teach them about life.  I'm smart!  I know stuff!"  So as I enter this season of Arabic study, I'm praying to get to the point in Arabic where when I speak, I'll be able to be myself and maybe, as an added bonus,  I'll sound like I know stuff, but, on the other hand, I'm also praying that I'll approach language learning with the knowledge that my only true identity can be found in Christ, not in how much I actually know.  It's a delicate balance.

2.  Language/cultural learning gives staying power  This relates a bit to the need to be able to really be myself.  In my experience and in talking to many folks who have lived overseas for a significant period of time,  it seems that those who are most successful and have the most positive experiences, are those who are fully invested in the cultures in which they live.  They have local friends that they can look to for emotional support, help in cultural problem solving and day to day living questions.  In this day and age, it is far too easy for the connectivity provided by social media to let friends who are thousands of miles away be our "go to" when life gets tough.  That's ok to an extent.  It's important to have folks we always know we can count on, but at the same time, I feel like it can be a crutch to actually digging in and fully investing in the communities where God has placed us.  One of my prayers for new friends coming overseas early on is always for a heart level local friend.  And yes, this takes a deeper level of language learning.

I feel like this concept is also true for families as a whole.  When kids see mom and dad fully connecting with life around them, they are much more likely to want to do the same.  Kids who are thriving in their second cultures seem to do so when they are most fulling experiencing that culture.  This can be hard for parents because sometimes it might require us to make decisions that just might break our own rules.  Called to homeschool?  Might have to sacrifice that for a season so kids can be in a school that exposes them to the language their family is learning..  8:00 PM bedtime?  Maybe not if the culture you live in comes alive at 10 PM.  So how does all this relate to language learning?  It's these decisions that we make as individuals or as families that effect our ability to fully absorb the language and culture around us that will truly make a different on the days when we're just ready to throw in the towel.  Remember God called you to this place (I'm preaching to myself here!) and is fully aware of your families needs and dynamics- trust Him with these details!  When things get tough, and we want to retreat into our comfort bubble and surround ourselves with what's safe and known, we're far less likely to want to jump on the next plane to the US if we have invested in the language and the culture around us, and our safe place involves local friends, those who we can converse with in their heart language so that our hearts are more fully understood.  It's far easier to not just survive but thrive in the place where you are called to serve, if you are able to connect on an emotional level with locals around you.  Complicated?  Definitely!  Worth the sacrifice?  Undoubtedly!

3.  Language learning enables me to be a better "stay home mom"  Again, huh?  Ok, so maybe it's better to say that language learning enables me to better fulfill my calling as a wife and mom.  It may seem a bit counterintuitive to say that language learning and being a "stay home mom"  can go hand in hand.  I think the two can co-exist but a season of sacrifice is definitely required.  To fully and effectively study the Arabic language, if you have small children, there will undoubtedly be a season of childcare, or house help or whatever the case may be for each family.  In our stint overseas, I've had to remind myself time and again, that God called us as a family and will therefore meet our families needs while enabling us to do the tasks He's called us to.  It was heart-wrenching to drop my 4 year old off day in and day out at a French school where she understood not a word and stubbornly refused to even try to make friends so that I could go to language classes.  Looking back was it worth it?  Yep, and I would even do it again.  Why?  Because God told me to do it and lovingly told me to trust Him with her.  Now, 10 years later, we all laugh about it, and she has a very solid foundation in French.  Of course, each family's situation is unique, however what I've learned is to look at things in seasons.  Yes, God has called me to be a stay home mom, to be the primary care-giver for my children, and yes, he's also called me to a life overseas where, to be most effective, I need to study the language and culture at a pretty in-depth level.  How do these 2 things coincide?  I must regularly trust Him with the details of that.  There may be a season where I am in class and my girls are in school and/or childcare.  For another season I might can study at home and juggle our other family needs around that.

For me, being a stay home mom means that I (along with Jason) am the primary caregiver for my girls and we are the primary sources for meeting their emotional, spiritual and developmental needs.  This is a precious calling and I don't take it lightly.  Planting our family overseas is also a calling and learning to communicate and function effectively in this culture is part of that calling.  Sometimes there is a tension between these two callings, but I think it's a healthy tension.  Teaching our girls to embrace other cultures and learn something beyond their comfort zone is so important in giving them a heart for the nations.  Being called to be their mom and being called to this life overseas, means that I must teach them by example how important language learning is.  If I want them to learn how to be "all in" in the place where God has placed us, what better way to do than by placing value on the ability to communicate at a heart level with those we live among.   Discipling them by making them a part of our ministry as a family;  explaining that mom is studying Arabic so that our family can more effectively fulfill our calling here in this place; choosing school situations that expose them to more language and culture and therefore putting in more hours at home to stay caught up in English; all of these things are things I can do as mom to teach the value of language learning.  In this season of my life, I am so amazingly thankful that God is showing me how language learning is something that helps me fulfill my role as mom.  Isn't that just like Him, to know just what my heart needs?!

" Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving."  
Colossians 3:23

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mom scores!

 I'm sure you'd agree that road trips with all 4 kids across a foreign country would typically not be the ideal time for risk taking when it comes to accommodations.   So when 9 PM the night before we left for a drive across France found me having not even begun to pack, barely halfway through the wash and sitting in front of my computer with absolutely no idea where we would stay the next night,  I did what any sane person would do and reserved 2 rooms at the nearest Ibis (budget hotel in France) just off the interstate and that was that.

Or not..

I've always wanted to stay in some type of farm house in the French countryside, and I just couldn't let this opportunity pass up without seeing if there was something, anything out there that we might could take advantage of during this portion of our trip.  I started searching B&B sites and sent several inquiries to see if there was any availability.  I got several quick responses back reminding me that this was peak summer season and they were very sorry that they could not accommodate us.  However, there was one place that was available and not only available but actually cheaper than 2 hotel rooms and a meal for our clan and I just couldn't pass it up.  

My sweet husband was understandably skeptical.  In my eagerness to find "the perfect spot" in the past I may have led us astray a time or two.  The most memorable was after Jason's second surgery just after he was diagnosed with cancer.  My parents had agreed to come keep 15 month old Abbey, so Jason and I could get away for the weekend before his chemotherapy started.  We were heading to New Orleans and a friend that I worked with suggested a B&B "close to" the French Quarter that she described as "quaint and full of character".  I even refused an offer from my mom's sister who knows New Orleans very well to make us reservations at her favorite, quite reputable spot and went with the unknown B&B.  Umm, suffice it to say that her definition of "quant" was quite different than mine and although it was definitely "full of character" it was somewhere along the lines of The Shining meets Norman Bates in Psycho and was very much NOT the "character" we were looking for in our weekend get away.  We checked in, walked to our room, turned right back around and headed back to the "front desk" (which was anything but).  I totally played the "my husband has cancer card and this hotel is not at all what we had in mind", asked for our money back and we found a Quality Inn a few blocks over.  Alls well that ends well though (meaning we did not become the latest New Orleans murder stats in some weird, creepy old hotel), but this is why I tell you that Jason was somewhat skeptical....  

Anyway, I just had a gut feeling, woman's intuition if you will, that this was THE place.  New Orleans incident aside, my gut feelings are usually pretty spot on.  So anyway, I booked it and the next morning we hit the road.  

The farmhouse was northwest of Lyon about 30-45 minutes off the main road.  Unfortunately about the time we exited the autoroute, the rain started and it got amazingly foggy and we really couldn't see much around us.  We could see enough to know that the countryside was absolutely beautiful and full of more green than any of us had seen in a long time.  

I didn't get a lot of pictures of the outside due to the rain but here are a few....

The view was amazing.  It was so amazingly quiet and peaceful. 

Although the outside was beautiful, our room was definitely our favorite part as a family.  

It was a loft style room, that was perfect for us.

The upstairs was segmented into 2 "rooms".  You can barely see Jason and Anabelle in the background below playing with legos that were in a hand painted trunk and available for play.  There were also hand painted table and chairs and stuffed animals.

 So much character in this little space!

Our window opened out into the lovely countryside.  Perfect spot for a good read or sisterly chats....

The next morning we were treated by our hosts Nicole and Gerard to a traditional French farmhouse breakfast including butter and yogurt from a nearby farm, and fresh bread and homemade jams from the local produce.  

We had a few hours that morning to relax but all in all not near enough time!

I think we were all thrilled this time that I took a risk and went with the unknown...

We all hope that one day we'll have a chance to visit Aux 3 Sapins again!  As my girls said, "Mom you really scored with this one!"