Tuesday, February 28, 2006

As Is the Tradition

I know I owe you all some trip anecdotes, etc. but I’m putting that on hold because, well, it’s my birthday!

Nathalie, my French host mom, informs me that this is a grim birthday for someone in my position -- or at least that November 25th will be a day of special humiliation if I’m not rescued from my plight before then. :o) What Nathalie did was acquaint me with St. Catherine’s Day, which I’ve been meaning to look into as I’m a Katherine myself. “What’s the deal with St. Catherine’s Day?”, you ask? Well, Catherine just so happens to be the patron saint of, uh, single gals. And guess when the spinster clock begins a-ticking (according to tradition): good old twenty-five, which is my age as of today! Should I be in France on Nov. 25th this year (doubtful), friends might bombard me with green (for wisdom) or yellow (for faith) outrageous hats for me to don for the day, throughout which I should make my prayers to St. Catherine for, you guessed it, a husband.

Ha! Don’t worry, I know the Sunday School answers regarding singleness and, to my complete astonishment, I generally live them. God has given me a peace in my single state that I imagined at one point to be impossible for someone who wants to marry. It’s truly amazing that I can be content, even having the desire for something else. How does God do that?!

In other birthday news, I got my card from my dad’s folks yesterday. To explain anew, my grandpa makes these birthday cards himself, always with a long salutation denoted only in initials on the front. One is to “break the code” before opening the card up to the answer. This year’s salutation was as follows:
To Our Favorite

I was confident of all but “ATTCT” before I checked inside, but even for that I had divined the two key words. Any guesses before I reveal the real deal?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Off Pleasure-Bent Again

Well, I began my third two-week vacation on Saturday. Due to an unforeseen series of events I find myself in, of all places, Sweden. Never thought I'd go to Sweden, but I am so completely glad to be here.

I'll give details at a later date, but the long and short of it is that Mary Ann and I left Paris on Saturday and flew to Stockholm. We're staying in Tranås (which is south and central) through Sunday, the 19th. It feels like we're visiting friends, which I guess is true, now that we've met them. :o) We're spending all week with the church community affiliated with MTW and they are taking excellent care of us. We have no lack of things to do and are steeped in sweet fellowship.

I'd love to write more now, but let it suffice to say that I'm safe and having a great vacation. I'll try to check back in soon.

God's blessings on you all!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

La neige!

Did I mention that it snowed the other week?? It began snowing early in the morning on Friday, January 27th (which was right in the middle of when I was “playing catch up”, thus me not reporting it then).

As you’ll note below, the early morning snow was fierce with treacherous implications. School was, of course, cancelled. :o)
Early morning snow

This was the beautiful image I got to take in all day. Late in the afternoon I trudged through it (as I love to do!) with Audrey to the nearest everything store. This is probably the wettest snow I've ever experienced. We were dripping when we entered the store and when we arrived back home -- still snow, but practically water.
the back yard

It wasn’t long before that we had stood by this very spot -- without coats -- to have our apéritif (pre-dinner drinks and munchies). Winter here really is a mix of cold and warmish.
snow decorating Provençale life

Alas, it was kind of too warm for snow. The next day it rained and melted it all so that by afternoon things were back to normal. That was probably good, as most folks here are scared to drive on ANY snow, which kind of brings life to a standstill. As for me, well, I was just jazzed to experience snow in Provence!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down…*

There’s nothing that gets you thinking about metaphorically, spiritually falling down like actually, physically falling down.

That’s right: I went ice skating the other night. Let’s just say that I was glad to have friends right behind me when it happened -- both times. :o) As the night progressed and I became a little more stable and independent, we three (Kerstin, Rianne, & I) didn’t necessarily skate together. That was a good thing, but I couldn’t keep myself from wondering just what I’d do if I had another spill, this time without them. Duh, I’d get up, obviously. :o) But I know how I’d feel trying to get up all alone -- and on ice skates, no less! What embarrassment! What helplessness! And to add injury to insult… well, yeah: OW!

I started trying to notice (without looking like it, and without neglecting my own balance issues) the people who fell. I think that every single one had friends or parents at their razor-sharp heels, which made me pray even harder that I wouldn’t fall again -- especially as I’m a foreigner and would probably “give myself away” in a vulnerable moment such as that. And again it came, as some hotshot whizzed right past me: the mental picture of falling without friends near by. Hey, that’s kind of like life! When I fall, I really don’t want to be alone. I’ll need help up. I’ll need help to the nearest bench. I’ll need reassurance that I won’t keep on falling. I’ll need my support network.

I often wonder how people survive without a support network. You feel alone, defenseless, and like an easy target, and guess what: you are! As much as people harp on in loud arrogance about standing on their own two feet, it’s just not practical, nor often very true. When (as is bound to happen) people crumble under a set of personal circumstances, they either seek refuge in relationship or, as a result of pride or true isolation, endure the mental and emotional agony of trying to get through it on their own. No, thank you! I’m weak and apt to lose my balance, and admitting it allows me the joy of inviting others to watch my back, and me theirs.

I could go on, but you get the idea. :o)

*For y e a r s I thought the words to this song were “London Bridg-es falling down.” NOW it makes sense. Or, at least, more sense.

Friday, February 03, 2006

My Lovable, Loving, Beloved Mother

I'm openly stealing the following from my father's blog yesterday. (Thanks, Daddy!)

February 2nd is my Mom's birthday, you see. And because I love the woman so much, I wanted to toot her horn on my blog as well. The following puzzle-card -- made, as usual, by my grandpa -- expresses the sentiment as well as anything could:


I only got as far as "And Only Daughter-In-Law Who... ...World... ...What A Gal!" before I was stumped. I'll put a little more effort than that into my own, of course. :o) The salutation in full is as follows: And Only Daughter In Law Who Has Children Scattered All Over The World, Holds Down A Job, Teaches Piano, And Keeps Order In The Home - What A Gal!

Hear, hear. I love my Mom.

Also in honor of my mother, I'd like to share my favorite entry on Dad's blog since I left (link and scroll down). I love it because, though I am in fact on the other side of the globe, I get a window in on the action at home. Boy, do I miss it (well, them).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Playing Catch Up, Part 4 of 4

Day 9: Sun. Oct. 30th -- ROUEN, CAEN

This day was kind of a bust. The plan was to go to Rouen’s Notre Dame Cathedral (the subject of a series for which Monet did almost 30 paintings) for mass and then catch our train to Caen, where we’d make our way to the Côte de Nacre/Omaha Beach site and anything else that interested us. We went to the cathedral for the 8:30 service, tried to go in, but the man at the door wouldn’t let us, saying something like that it didn’t open until 8:00. Huh? But it’s 8:20! Whatever. So we walked to the nearest church (closed for renovations) and the next nearest (no service times listed and closed-looking). Plan B: breakfast. While on the way we saw a huge clock that was just hitting 8:00. What?? We stopped, discussed, and finally pulled out my calendar to find that Daylight Savings Time had indeed started, and that yes, apparently they do that in France, too. Sooo not on my radar! We had breakfast, attended mass, and took the train to Caen. The Office de Tourisme was closed, so we were on our own. Some free advice from me to you: if you want to see Omaha Beach, go during tourist season or rent a car. Public transportation completely failed us and it was too far out of town to walk. Daa-aaang. We hurriedly saw the Château Ducale, the Musée de Normandie (can you say free bathroom?), and the Abbaye-aux-Dames, but since we (ahem) liked Rouen better, we took the early train back. We went to a showing of Corpse Bride in honor of “Halloween Eve”.

Caen view

see my “Caen, Normandy” photo set

Day 10: Mon. Oct. 31st -- ROUEN, PARIS, BREST

I liked Rouen, too. It was bigger but not big, and most importantly manageable in size. It had character, history, and a river to boot. Anyway. Mary Ann and I had decided to go to Bretagne because it seemed a shame to be so close and not go. Plus, we wanted to glimpse the Atlantic coastline that was supposed to be breathtaking. To get there, we had to backtrack through Paris once again! Brest was a very different kind of town as it has a port, a naval base, a château, and is fairly modern due to its being subject to bombings back in WWII. We went to the Tour de Tanguy, which is now a museum documenting the development of Brest over the centuries: fascinating. We took a walk with a good view of the Château de Brest, naval port, etc. which was nice. We walked and shopped. We dined at Le St. Ex Restaurant. I ate a good, full meal and ventured a calvados at the end (a regional digestive). Stuh-rong! Definitely the strongest alcoholic drink I’ve ever tried -- but boy, did it do wonders for helping me digest all the food I’d just eaten! We had to walk all the way back to our budget hotel (post-buses, you know) which was fine, save that it was Halloween and things were minorly strange. But it really wasn’t bad because Halloween isn’t very big over here yet, so only pockets of people were “celebrating”. It’s on the rise, though. :o)


see my “Brest, Bretagne” photo set


This was a big travel day. We got up early so that we could have a leisurely breakfast for once before boarding the train. Ha! No such luck. This was a French holiday, so there were no buses and we had to walk all the way to the station. We, once again, had a rushed breakfast before scrambling on the train. :o) We had to hurry again in Paris because my train to Avignon left from another station with not much time in between. Mary Ann was kind enough to see me safely to my train, and then we parted ways. She was a great traveling companion (and will be again very soon, it seems!). More rushing in Avignon because, once again, I left from a different station than the one I arrived in. Blaaah! I actually took the bus from Avignon back to Cavaillon. Eva (German) and Helen (English) were kind enough to take me in that night, as my French family didn’t get back until the following day. I got to meet their landlords and Eva’s family that evening, which was fun even though I was road-weary. I didn’t think about it at the time, but Eva and her father had picked me up when I arrived in Cavaillon rather than letting me walk to the apartment, as is normal. It wasn’t until later that I found out about the riots and the unrelated local murder. Yikes. Welcome back to real life, Kate!

So there you go: my journey through the Loire Valley, Normandy, and Bretagne. The trip was very, very good on the whole. I hope you enjoyed reading about it, even though it’s more than a little after the fact! Oh -- did I mention that this break was in honor of Toussaint or All Saints Day? Three cheers for the French academic calendar and four 10-day vacations!