Monday, May 30, 2011

Bonne fête des mamans!

This must have been the reason he woke so frequently during the nights; Lauris had planned a wonderful weekend for the family! It was truly an appreciated, relaxing vacation for this maman. After a late night out due to the Clermont-Ferrand ASM vs. Toulouse rugby match (semi-finals, but sadly last years champions, ASM, will not be advancing to the finals this year against Montpellier) we managed to get on the road by nine Saturday morning. Heading south across the Millau viaduct we made good time to Montpellier, stopping for lunch in a park in La Grande-Motte. After a baguette with cheeses, charcuterie, tomatoes and lettuce we continued east along the Mediterranean until we reached Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer.

The town is named after the three saints Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe who are believed to be the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb after the resurrection of Christ. According to French legend, they either sailed or were cast adrift while sailing from Alexandria, Egypt after the Crucifixion of Christ, and came ashore here. The town is also a pilgrimage destination for Roma (Gypsies), who had gathered the previous weekend. Vincent van Gogh, Picasso and Ernest Hemingway are other celebrities that have spent time in the town, and more can be found about them as well as the world sailing speed records at the Wikipedia entry for Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

After a drive through town to gain a first impression we stopped by the hotel to check in and ended up staying for a bit to take a dip in the beautiful pool. Once back in town we went directly to les arènes, for a bullfight - not exactly a bull fight, but students of bullfighting learning the tricks of the trade. Interesting - especially seeing the bulls jump the first barrier several times, causing all the workers to jump into the arena to avoid the strategic bulls. The Camargue, of which Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the capital of, is known for its bulls, and one can watch the “guardians of the bulls,” dressed in traditional costume, put on shows of herding the bulls atop their white horses, which are also symbols of the area.


Roberts and Lauris watching the bull in action

We stopped for dinner at a place that caught our eye with colorful table settings and a big pan of seafood paella cooking outside. Afterward we strolled through the town, enjoying the crowds of shoppers on the main streets. At the center is a medieval church, and all around are little streets with restaurants, cafés, wine stores, art galleries and the obligatory t-shirt, postcard and tourist shops. Lauris and I got our feet wet in the Mediterranean for the first time in our lives, we 3 ate a 4-scoop ice cream cone, swung on the seaside playground’s swings, and in whole enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon/evening atmosphere.  Doctors should prescribe this type of weekend for relaxation!


Yum! Roberts tried the paella, I had the moules gratinee

With the last daylight we drove north into the Parc naturel régional de Camargue in search of flamingos and more of the white horses. The Camargue region is mostly delta between the Mediterranean sea, the Grand Rhône and the Petit Rhône to the west. The parc is ideal for waterfowl, and with dusk approaching there was an abundance to be seen. I recognized a few grebes, herons, ducks and one very large falcon (or other bird of prey). The white horses we found grazing on a private pasture, and we just had to brave the flies to snap a few photos.


Ūsiņš and the white horses

Back at the hotel, we ventured out from our room to see if the Racing Métro 92 vs. Montpellier rugby game was on in the bar, and instead found that the local band Solyfiesta, was providing the music for a private party in the seminar room off of the pool. The “Gypsy Kings” type music inspired a drink at the hotel bar, and as we sat in the lounge and enjoyed the atmosphere, the musicians emerged and came to the bar for a drink. Before we knew it, we were the recipients of a private concert of a song one of the men had written himself; très romantique!


Dipping our feet into the Mediterranean for the first time

The best meal of the weekend came the following morning, in the resort hotel. Possibly the best 10-Euro breakfast in the country? We ate poolside, buttery croissants drizzled in honey, fresh melon, big cups of steaming coffees and cappuccinos, begnets filled with chocolate and a variety of other homemade pastries and other delicacies. And because the pool looked so beautiful in the morning sun we changed into our suits and spent an hour on the cushy furniture poolside, abandoning our previous plans to head straight to the city. As Roberts noted, we were on relaxed, “Baja time.”

On the way into town I finally spotted some flamingoes up close. As far as I could tell, they are identical to the Florida flamingos, so we didn’t linger long. Of course by the time we hit town it was time for lunch, and a quick stop for moules avec frittes turned out to be just the thing. Our last planned activity was to take a boat trip aboard Les Quatre Maries II for a 1.5 hour tour of Le Petit Rhône. Seeing even more black bulls, white horses, egrets and a quick loop into the Mediterranean were a perfect finale to the trip, and after disembarking we made our way back to the car and headed home.


Famous Camargue bull and future matador

The drive south was a little over four hours, and although this trip is “do-able” in a weekend, I would suggest three days, which gives an extra day to visit Aigues-Mortes or just to spend on the beach. However, I am delighted we made the trip; I think I could get used to the Mediterranean pace of life!


Friday, May 27, 2011

Rain and shine, warm and cold

When I offered our apartment as the back-up spot for this Friday’s mom & baby club meeting, I figured the chances of getting rained out at Jardin Lecoq were miniscule; to my recollection in our six months here it has never rained on a meeting day. Regardless, yesterday evening I cleaned a bit, then checked the weather.  Although overcast and cold, the rain was supposed to hold off until the afternoon, and so we all agreed to meet at the Jardin unless raining.

This morning we awoke to sunshine, ate breakfast to sunshine, packed a bag to sunshine, but then emerged from the apartment to clouds! By the time we got to the park it was drizzling, and after meeting a couple of the other moms there, we all headed back home to meet the rest of the moms who had headed straight to our apartment due to the rain. Disorganized and harried describes my state of mind at this point! We attempted to contact all the mothers we could to let them know of the change, but due to lack of preparedness I believe we may have missed a few.

But where are all the babies? Only 4 of the 10 in this picture!

A bit of chaos?  Of course.  But happily, we have had our official first visitors to the flat.  We look forward to more visits in the future; rain, clouds, sunshine or somewhere in between!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Plateau of Gergovie

This warm, sunny morning Lauris and I joined the IWC randonée group in a 9.5 km hike from Romagnat to the Plateau of Gergovie. I have had it on my to do list to hike with the group for a while, but each week as I read the descriptions I always thought to myself “that seems a little far to carry Lauris” or “I don’t want to slow down the rest of the ladies.” But last Thursday at the monthly IWC meeting I spoke to several regulars who assured me that I would never know if I can do it if I don’t try, and a few brave souls even volunteered to carry my now-X-teen kilogram Lauris if I tired! So the die was cast, and with everything pre-packed the night before, including sandwiches, all I had to do this morning was eat breakfast and drive on out to the meeting place in Romagnat.

The gentle ascent to the plateau


The Plateau of Gergovie is thought to have been the location of the Battle of Gergovie between Vercingetorix and Julius Caesar in 52 BC (although this is now in dispute). Along with gorgeous views, at the top there is also a large monument, a museum and a café. The change in elevation from Romagnat to the plateau is about 270 meters, and although the trails are clearly marked, some turns are relatively easy to miss; I suggest a good trail guide or map to take along on the hike.

The monument on the Plateau dedicated to Vercingetorix, by Jean Teillard, 1903
I did manage to carry Laurīts all the way in his backpack carrier with a short break at the top. He was quite content in his carrier, the weather was beautiful and there was plenty for him to look at including cows, horses and chickens. I’ve found that it helps if I keep a steady supply of Cheerios ready, and he even tasted a cherry from one of the trees along the path after mom deemed them ripe and tasty. Thanks to the ladies for offering to take turns carrying him, I may have to take you up on your offer in the future; I believe the two of us will be joining you again in more of the weekly faire de randonées!

The fearless hikers!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fête de la Première des Communions

Today we had the honor of attending Kylian’s communion. Kylian’s family was among the first we met here in Clermont-Ferrand, and I was excited to participate in the service at one of the most beautiful churches in Clermont, the Eglise Saint-Pierre les Minimes, on Place de Jaude.

In 1470, when Saint-François de Paul created a new religious order, he called it "Minimal" because humility would be the first of the virtues. About 200 years later the order of Franciscan monks moved to Clermont and built the chapel, which after various renovations is the church today known as the Eglise Saint-Pierre les Minimes.

The communion class on the steps of the church
The service today was to celebrate the first communion of the children of the Notre-Dame of Clermont parish and the Massillon school. The chants sounded beautiful, sung in French and reverberating throughout the church due to the high vaulted ceilings. Rain was in the forecast, but sunlight illuminated the beautiful stained glass and shone upon the fifty-one students as they emerged on the steps of the church after the ceremony. Even top-flight paparazzi would have been elbowed out of the prime photo angles by the rightfully and proudly shutter-happy parents and relatives!

The crowd of parents-paparazzi waiting for their chance

We had been invited to Marine’s home after the service to celebrate. After an aperatif of finely aged wine with a hint of cognac we enjoyed several entrees, little smoked salmon sandwiches and bacon cheese breads being my favorites. The beautiful weather held for the barbecue in the backyard; kebabs and sausage served with a variety of salads. The food was a hit, guests went back for seconds and even after big plates of food, dessert found eager takers.

The kids were having a ball as well. In and out of the kiddie pool, they roamed the backyard in their swimsuits with the excitement of freedom. With a playhouse, swingset, sandbox and lots of toys – and several handfuls of like-aged playmates - they stayed busy, only surfacing for food. The older kids (as well as some of the dads) played futbol and wii, and the party didn’t break up until evening.

3 amigas, 3 amigos!

Thank you Marine for a wonderful Sunday afternoon, and congratulations to Kylian on his holy communion, a noteworthy step in a young man’s life!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Art in the city

When I lived in Georgia the closest big city was Atlanta. When there, other than sit in traffic and visit R.E.I. and IKEA, I joined friends at some of the ethnic restaurants (these were not present in my neck of the woods; “ethnic” meant extra seasoning on my fried chicken). Once when I had out of town guests I even made it to the Coca-Cola museum. I visited the Georgia Aquarium soon after it opened, strolled through Centennial Park, screamed my head off on a rollercoaster in Six Flags Over Georgia, saw a modern dance number at the Fox Theater, watched a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and brushed up on my history at the Martin Luther King Jr. NHS. But for all of this, I always felt that Atlanta was sort of sterile; it didn’t feel alive. Maybe it was the enormous distances from one place to another, or the urban sprawl that stretched all the way to Macon, but the only time I felt the people of Atlanta animated about something was that time we smoked them out with one of our prescribed burns on the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge.

My initial impression of Clermont-Ferrand was almost the exact opposite, and this feeling has only intensified in our first six months here. Although bordered by dormant volcanoes, CF is anything but dormant. There are constantly festivals; wine, music, theatre, tulip, childrens’, so many that we have not had the chance to enjoy them all. On weekdays as well as weekends the parks and public areas are constantly full of people; families, couples, students, businessmen, bums. In the evenings it seems as though every restaurant has business, and on Fridays and Saturdays reservations are a must. And if you don’t leave the house, things come to you! Like last week when Lauris and I were woken by an hour-long procession of protesters passing our apartment in a long parade (I think they were advocates of social care workers?). Or on Sunday when we took a break from breakfast to watch a sea of pink pass by our windows, a breast cancer awareness race. I was later told by a participant that as many as 6,000 people participated in this 6km run.


The scenery is alive as well. The flower gardens in the Jardin LeCoq are ever changing, on our walk home today we watched dozens of workers busy planting summer annuals in the beds that used to have daffodils, tulips and pansies in them. The streets have taken on a new look as the leaves on all the maples and London planetrees have emerged. And the streets vibrate with life, all the bustle at the cafés and restaurants, and shoppers going about with their purchases adding continuous motion to the city scene.

Another factor that contributes to the vitality of Clermont-Ferrand is the presence of art everywhere. Of course the fountains, sculpture and architecture are impressive. Storefronts are creatively arranged with clothes that seem like works of art, definitely encouraging window shoppers, and a welcome contrast to a more mundane set-up of clothing at malls in the US. The advertisements, too are modern works of art, eye catching as well as eye pleasing. But my favorites are the art works in places you would least expect, for example by the large vacant lot close to our old apartment. I was surprised by this large plot of prime real-estate left to the weeds until the film festival; in one day it was transformed into an exclusive concert venue with large tents, stages and ticket booths. But for a large part of the time it sits empty, and were it not for the beautiful work of art facing the lot, would probably be considered an eyesore. Every time we walked past it took on a new look, the day I snapped this photo Lauris and I came close to being drenched by a sudden downpour.


We live in a beautiful, vibrant city, surrounded by stunning scenery that begs to be explored. Although there is plenty of work left to finish getting settled in the new apartment, I find myself procrastinating with long walks to the park and through downtown. With the sun shining and so much going on, unpacking the last boxes can wait until tomorrow.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

La fête d'anniversaire

Latvian wedding celebrations traditionally last three days; Lauris’s first birthday celebration, five days! All week little presents and cards have been arriving in the post, and we continue to eat kliņğeris. Today was the culmination of the partying with our IWC mom and baby club-organized party. I’ve previously mentioned that one of Lauris’s friends, Stephane, has a birthday only two days before Lauris, but another boy, András, also just had a birthday, turning two. The three mothers decided to celebrate with a small party in lieu of the usual meet at Parenthèse café.

The birthday boys!
Evdoxia was kind enough to host, and the combination of the weather and her ideal yard guaranteed a beautiful setting and wonderful time, for mothers and babies (there were almost 30 of us!). Lunch was an international affair; Viktória’s Hungarian goulash was the starter, and the kids especially were big fans. Then served with a Greek salad were the crêpes, which were lovingly made by Marine over the course of the afternoon. There were loads of possible filling choices; mushroom sauce, ham, cheese, peppers, chicken, and plenty of other combinations I couldn’t get around to try, followed later by the sweet stuff; the Nutella, jams and honey. Once everyone was stuffed, out came the cakes, one for each boy. “Happy birthday” and “Joyeaux anniversaire” were sung and the trio received some help blowing out the candles. I had made another kliņğeris, this time with almonds, to add a little Latvian flair to the celebration. Then presents; Lauris received a wonderful shape-fitting toy from the moms, to my amusement they are in the shape of eggs… œufs blancs at that!

...and there was cake!

All three of the “three amigos” are walking now, and they got in plenty of practice today. They followed one another around, tried out the swings, shared toys and ate plenty of  crêpes and chocolate, and in sum had a wonderful time. Lauris surprisingly even took a short nap, allowing us to stay a bit longer.  This was one of those ideal playdates where a mother does not need eternal vigilance, as it was a pre-tested, very safe environment and there was always another mum willing to ‘watch him for a second.’ Not only did I also get enjoyment from watching Lauris in his excitement, but I also ate some good food, drank a couple of cups of coffee and had grown-up conversations with a great group of ladies (and a few with the one- and two-year-olds!).


Later this evening we went out for dinner, originally thinking of sushi but ending up stopping at a brasserie because they had one table left in their outdoor seating area - and because they had a TV to show the ASM-Biarritz rugby game. Roberts was happy to watch the first half, and Lauris was happy to watch the boisterous crowd in his yellow-and-gold number “1” ASM jersey. My happiness was due to the excellent food, as I am repeatedly surprised because I expect “American bar food,” not the higher-shelf dishes I receive. Now home, Lauris asleep, and resting after the long day, enjoying a few minutes of peace before turning in for the night, we hear much honking, shouting and celebration on the streets. I hope it is due to an ASM victory (or, are there others still celebrating Lauris’s birthday?)!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bon anniversaire!

For English please see below.

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Viens gads! Mūsu mazam Laurītim viens gads! Visi mūs brīdināja, cik ātri tas laiks paskries, bet tomēr nevaru ticēt; vai tiešām šis mazais veselu gadu bijis mūsu dzīvē? Vēl trakāk, tas pusi savu mūžu nodzīvojis Francijā, ciemojies četrās valstīs, dzīvojis trijās mājās un iemācijies staigāt!

Šodien svinēsim visu dienu. Jubilārs vēlējās putru ar bumbieriem brokastīs, tad nodzīvot visu rītu pidžamās!

Pa šo laiku es cepu kliņğeri. Vakar bijām uz lielveikalu sapirkt sastāvdaļas, kuŗu tulkojumus un kvantitātes biju rupīgi izpētijusi iepriekš. Pēdejā mirklī vēl zvanīju manai mammai uzzināt kādu eļļu vislabāk lietot, lai atvietot canola eļļu; izrādās, ka canola eļļa ir ražota no rapeseed stāda un šeit tā saucās par colza eļļu. No franču valodas skolotājas uzzināju kā sauc un kur var dabūt svaigo raugu (no beķerejas pasutīt vai lielveikalā) un biju patīkami pārsteigta to tūlīt atrast veikalā, itseviški jo to tikai reti varēju atrast Dienvidkarolīnā. Raizējos par miltiem, jo laikam ir liela starpība starp parastiem miltiem kuŗus lietojam ASV un šejienes baltiem miltiem. Un ar visu to raizēšanos man pietrūka miltu, un ar jubilāru šorīt skrēju uz veikalu. Tomēr mīkla tika iemīcīta, un pēc ilgas meklēšanas vakar-pirktās mandeles neatradās, un tā kliņğeris nonāca krasnī pliks. Tagad māja burvīgi smaržo, un kaut vēl nezinam kādu starpību garšā tie franču milti piedod, zinam, ka tiem ir noteikt savs devums labai smaržai.
                                                     .


Pēc diendusas jubilārs vēlējās iet uz parku. Viņš jau patiešām skrien, man grūti to netikai nofotogrāfēt bet vispār noķert! Izskrējušies, mēs devamies mājās lai satiktu tēti. Bijām norunājuši doties uz resturantu; mums vēl arvien viss nav atpakots un gribējām svinēt bez raizēm. Visi trīs ēdām burgerus Le Ness pirms devāmies mājās ēst kliņğeri un attaisīt dāvanas.

Mūsu mīļam Laurītim atnāca daudz sveicieni un dāvaniņas, paldies visiem mīļiem cilvēkiem kas tos atsūtija! Grāmatas, mašīnas, pat kliņğeris! Jubilārs pats plēsa papīru, štopēja mutē kliņğeri un jūsmoja par jaunām mantiņām. Un pirms vannas, pasakas un gulēt iešanas tas izmēğināja savu jauno šupuļ-alni.


Šo dzejolīti saņēmām no tantes Annelī, onkuļiem Edgara un Anda:
Laurim šodien liela diena,
Klinģerī deg svece viena.
Nav vairs viņš nemaz tik maziņš
Nu jau nodzīvots ir gadiņš!
Aug un aug kā nezāle
Tik pat garš kā baseball vāle.
Priecīgs, laimīgs, ļoti smaidīgs
Ņiprs, striprs, varonīgs!
Lai aug liels un veselīgs
Un maz bišķiņ palaidnīgs.
Saldējumu uzēdam,
Skaļā balsī uzsaucam:
Visu labu, visu mīļu
Laurim šodien novēlam!

Novēlu manam Ūsiņam daudz baltu dieniņu, un manam Robertam priecīgu mūsu dēla jubilēju.

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One year! My little Laurītis is one year old! Everyone warned us the time would fly by but I still find it hard to believe that the kid running around the house today has been in our lives one whole year. What is even more unbelievable is that he has lived half of his life in France, been to four countries, lived in three houses and somewhere in between went from a tiny little squirming bundle to a walking, jabbering energy bundle.


 Lauris spent the morning playing with his “new” toys (from the shipment) while I baked the traditional Latvian birthday cake. Dzeltenmaize, translated as yellow-bread due to the yellow color from saffron and lemon peel, is also called kliņğeris when formed into a pretzel shape. After the white egg debacle I set out early to identify whether all the needed ingredients are obtainable, where I can purchase them and what quantities I would need. We headed to Auchan Sud for the levure boulangerie (fresh yeast) which I found rather quickly after receiving advice from my French teacher and Marine. A last minute "phone a chef" to my mother confirmed that canola oil is in fact rapeseed oil and a quick dictionary check showed that to be colza huile. That left the flour; all purpose flour in the US is not the same as farine blanc here, and I worried about the implications of this so much that I neglected to notice how much I had left. After I ran out I had to run to the store with a pajama-clad birthday boy, and as it turned out I had forgotten eggs as well (this time the brown ones were just fine)! Upon my return I spent a fruitless half hour searching for the almonds which we had bought the previous day, but despite all of this the kliņğeris was soon baking to a nice golden brown. At this point I knew that even if the flour influences the taste, it doesn't change the wonderful smell!


After a nap, we made a trip to the park. Lauris has really gotten the hang of this walking thing, enough to where it is hard to take a photo or even just catch him! We spent some time in the playground, some time just running around and some quality time inspecting the dirt under the big trees. And then it was time to head home to meet Roberts, and to go celebrate at Le Ness. After delicious burgers and fries we headed home for a desert of kliņğeris and to open presents.

Our son received an adundance of greetings and presents - a sincere thank you to all the senders! The birthday boy kept busy tearing paper, eating kliņğeris and talking on the phone with well-wishers. And the last thing he did before his bath and bedtime story was to try out his new rocking-moose.

Friday, May 6, 2011

L'appartement!

Wonderful things kept happening this past week, great to be on a good luck streak! The new car, the œufs blancs, and now on our stroll through Jardin LeCoq we saved about two dozen tulip bulbs (they were about to be discarded!)! It has been a long time since I last attended Garfield Park Conservatory’s TulipMania, a fabulous way to stock a garden; every year the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District plant thousands of tulips, and once they have finished blooming, the GPC gives them away for free. As of now a date hasn’t been scheduled, but it is usually on a Saturday in May, so check the website for a date and more info.
 
I’ll admit that although the two dozen free bulbs to tuck into pots for our porch next spring is a wonderful thing, this is not the biggest news that has me jumping for joy.

Many have listened and been incredibly sympathetic and helpful concerning our soap opera of finding and waiting out the renovations on our apartment in Clermont-Ferrand. Upon arrival last November, it was a tough time of year to be searching because no one was moving due to the Christmas vacation approaching. We were concentrating in centre ville on apartments with an elevator and just enough space for guests. Right when it seemed we would not find anything before our trip back to the States for Christmas, we found a great apartment; very central, with a grocery store close by, an open living area conducive to playtime, with bedrooms that could accommodate an American king size bed. A great view as well, Puy de Dôme and Place de Jaude were visible from the balcony. There were renovations ongoing to convert it from a travel bureau to a private dwelling, and we were promised a move in date of January 3.


The view west
Well, we returned from the States with bad news; the apartment would not be available until March 15th due to hold-ups with the renovations. We debated whether to wait, and eventually decided that another couple of months would be hard, but the apartment was just so much better than anything else we had looked at. When inquiring about signing a contract we originally had been told by our agent that this is not necessary, but now we pressed the issue again.

At some point in February/March we were told that we would not be able to have the apartment after all, and so we started looking anew. But every apartment we looked at stood in the shadow of the apartment. So when we were told that we could have it after all, but it would be April 15th before we could move in, we reevaluated the situation again. Having waited this long, we felt one more month would be worth it, but we decided to continue our search in the meantime. Then finally came a point when we were able to negotiate a contract signing, but about 15 minutes before the meeting they informed us that the price of the apartment had been increased… At this point the increase was not the problem, it was the principle of the matter; we had waited so long only to have another gauntlet to run! But we judged the additional renovations worth the increase and we signed, and the delivery of our shipment was again rescheduled.

The week before we were supposed to move in we toured the apartment. And I think I cried. The kitchen and bathroom were finished, but where they had done electrical work to remove the fifty electrical outlets for office computers the wallpaper was torn and filthy. The painting wasn’t finished, and in one bedroom a pipe had burst and the carpet was still wet! There was no way we were moving in a few days later… We were promised everything would be ready in one week, but the movers weren’t able to reschedule.  So we settled on the second of May, a Tuesday.

The weeks before the move we closely monitored the situation; we visited the apartment almost every day to watch the progress, with calls to agents to stay on top of things. But yet again we were met with a delay in getting the keys as discussed. This seemed to be the final straw and we scheduled a meeting at the apartment Monday to ascertain the situation. By this time we were starting to feel pressure to move out from our temporary apartment so another expatriated family could move in, after all it had been six months!

The first piece of good news in this whole final push came Monday, when the agent saw the wallpaper was mostly finished and declared that we could move our things in Tuesday after all. First thing in the morning the movers unloaded all of our belongings that we had not seen since October and by we were alone in an apartment overflowing with boxes


The view east

The one bedroom is still not ready; the pipe has been removed but not replaced (we are taking bets on what  will come out of the pipe before they fix it), the carpet is not installed, the wallpaper is not finished, but the rest of the apartment is ours. Yesterday was spent cleaning, we've started the unpacking, and the process continues each day anew. Once again the Latvian proverb labs nāk ar gaidīšanu or “good comes with a wait” proved to be true; despite the slight, lingering odor of paint and the boxes in every corner, we can see how beautiful it is, how comfortable we will be living there and how happy our family will be for the remainder of our time in France.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Œufs blancs

With the new car we took a trip out to one of the mega-supermarkets on the outskirts of town Saturday. The Auchan Aubière Plein Sud was rumored to be even bigger than the store we had been frequenting, Geant. Holy cow, mega-Walmart, you’ve got nothing on Auchan Sud!

Of course the first things we found were….. white eggs! Although Easter has passed, I decided to buy a carton (of 20) and color them the Latvian way, with onion skins. I had a whole bag of skins that had been so lovingly collected for me by the IWC mom & baby club with the hopes of having an egg coloring day. We missed Easter 2011, but now I will be ready for 2012 – start collecting those onion skins again!

Singlehandedly making the quota for the Auchan white-egg sales department
Once you have onion skins, the first step is to collect some leaves, blades of grass and little flowers that will leave designs on the eggs when colored. Ferns, clover and spruce leaves make interesting designs, as well as rice. Dandelion and muguet leaves can leave a yellowish tinge, and some flowers will leave other colors. First, use water to “glue” these things to the egg, then proceed to wrap the egg in onion skins. To complete the wrapping process you need to tie everything up into a little package. Many people use cheesecloth, others use old pantyhose, this year I used one of Roberts’s old(er) dress shirts. You can also use only thread, although it can be hard to hold everything together while tying.


Next, boil a big pot of water with all your remaining onion skins. Once cooled (in order not to crack the eggs!) place all your little packages into the pot, ensuring they are covered with water; you might have to add some water but do not overdo it as the color is darker if there is less water. Some people add a little vinegar to help the eggs absorb the color. Bring to a boil once more, then let sit overnight.

The next part is the most fun, I feel like a kid opening Christmas presents when carefully unwrapping the eggs. I always try to notice what left the most interesting designs, or strange colors, filing away this information for the following year. I wash off any specs of the skins with cold water, but carefully, as even a dishcloth can scratch the beautiful brown color. Finally, you can glaze the eggs with a little butter which makes the brown color deeper and adds some luster.


Our eggs are a little late for the traditional olu sišanās, but we will share them with friends just like we would have on Easter. Priecīgas Lieldienas and may you have a beautiful spring!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

La voiture!

For the first month in France we had a company-provided rental car. The second, we were partly on Christmas vacation, the other part getting settled. But nearly six months in and no car? Looking back, we would have approached it more aggressively!

We live in the city and walk everywhere (supermarket, shopping, work for Roberts) have a convenient tram line, and on weekends enjoy the allure of train travel (Paris, Lyon, Vichy). On other weekends (Chatanet, Allier/Loire valley, Gorges of Tarn), we have rented a car from Europcar. But looking forward, even at the start of our time in France, we knew we would be taking more frequent day trips, weekend trips, and we could not keep relying on the kindness of friends for transport to mom/baby clubs and work functions.

Among the many vehicles we investigated, we found a Ford Mondeo at the local dealer a few months ago. Then the salesman insisted we needed to agree on a price before test-driving the car. Huh?

We also found a Passat that was just about perfect, and even took it for a test drive, but waited one day too long and it was sold. The lesson here is that if you have done your research you have to trust your gut; we missed a fair price on a good vehicle. Next time!

And so, when Roberts found this Mondeo on Tam Tam, the intra-company selling/buying site, he surprised us by acting quickly - and came home with the car the next day.


Happiness, contentedness, the stars aligning – I can explain it in many ways. Henry Ford said about his Model T that you could have any color as long as it was black. We would have settled for any black or any color, but this baltic blue looks perfect, mainly because we finally have a car for our family.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1st

This morning we took a stroll to the marché aux puces, and in addition to half dozen paperback novels (in English!!!) we also brought home a bouquet of lily of the valley. In Latvian they are called maijpulkstenīši (literally May clocks) and in French, muguets, but they are symbols of spring in all three cultures. Usually there are flower vendors selling homegrown flowers at the marché, but the difference today was in the sheer volume of the flowers present. It seemed that every person leaving had a bouquet in hand, and unknowingly we followed the tradition of May 1st by bringing one home ourselves. Their beautiful smell has now filled the room, and it brings back memories of my great-grandfather who once gave me a gift of lily of the valley perfume when I was a little girl.


A very nice description of the muguet tradition can be found here.
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