Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blogs I wanna be like!

When I was a freshman in college I wrote a fan letter to one of the editorial page writers of our school's newspaper.  I even started it with "This is a fan letter."  I enjoyed this girl's elegant yet down-to-earth phrasing and logical arguments.  I also liked her political leanings during the 1992 election that got Clinton elected, to the dismay of some of my more conservative classmates. I later worked for the paper a bit myself.  And my fan letter earned me her acquaintance and an invitation to go with her to meet Tipper Gore in Tennessee during one of the campaigns.

All that to say that I've long been an admirer of other writers.  Would-be writers like myself do have to read good writers to hone their craft.  And as a blogger it's the same.  I often come across other blogs that speak to me and make me say, I wish I'd written that.  Here are a few that inspire me and make me chuckle at the same time.

I've already mentioned this one for its inspirational aspect.   Momastery is funny and tell-it-like-it-is with a good dose of keeping things in perspective.  This lady sounds like somebody I'd want to hang out with.  I also like that she's so brutally honest with us.  She doesn't have it all figured out and isn't afraid to admit it.  This is no holier-than-thou blog about how to make your home perfect.  Perfect isn't her goal, and she makes us feel good about being ourselves.  And she also reminded me in her five-part web interview that it's so important to praise other women (instead of tearing them down).  That's partly what inspired me to do this post!
In a nutshell: read when you need an emotional boost.
About the author: The kind of girlfriend I'd call when I need to vent.

The Ugly Volvo
I just discovered this one thanks to a fellow Facebooker.  Her post on what issues she has with the Goodnight Moon room had me crying and laughing at the same time.  She is whimsical and sarcastic and dry humor all at once.  Heck, even her "about me" page is hilarious.  I love the little drawings she includes in her post.  Like this brilliant one on the evolution of her opinion on nine-year olds.  It's poignant and insightful.  This woman is talented on all levels and once again not afraid to show her imperfections.
In a nutshell: read when you want to laugh so hard you have tears streaming down your face.
About the author:  I'd like to invite her for hot chocolate.

One day as I was looking for my own blog on my tablet (yes, I'm a bit narcissistic), I saw this one listed right below.  And I checked it out.  And I loved it immediately.  Her header says "Ramblings of an Inspired, Lazy Mom."  And I thought, this is how I feel, too.  Lazy, but occasionally inspired.  She's a Pakistani-American with an adorable three-year old daughter.  She likes to observe the ordinary and find the extraordinary in it.  She's a great photographer and talks openly about her faith in a non-judgemental way.  She's also raising a bilingual girl and has some great advice on that.  I'd like to call her my blogging twin, but she's far more sophisticated and glamorous than me...
In a nutshell: visually beautiful and uplifting blog.
About the author: I'd love to do a playdate with her.

So, there, my blog crushes are out of the closet.  Happy reading!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

My house doesn't look like an Ikea catalog...but I wish it did

Some people drink or smoke to unwind and escape the hecticness of the day.  When I want to go to that happy place where I feel safe and everything has its place, I open the Ikea catalog.  Such orderly rooms, cozy and colorful and clean.  Ah, I can feel my blood pressure dropping already.  It's like looking at the colors in rainbow order or arranging books alphabetically.  And I don't think I'm the only one who is charmed by it, judgind by this video

What's nice about the catalog is that they often use natural light and people going about their daily lives in the pictures.  The rooms look lived in but, strangely, not at all like my house.  But this attention to detail- kids' drawings on the walls, pets and the odd towel draping off the tub- is very ingenious as you project yourself into the image.  But you can't fool me.  These people are still super clean.  Super organized.  Probably Swedish.

I have already evoked my love of the Swedish furniture style.  Oh so many times: like here and here.  Since I came to Europe, where there are stores closer to me, I've become a fan.  And a loyal customer.  I honestly should buy some stock in the company.  But no matter how much Ikea furniture or how many storage bins I buy, somehow, my house never quite ends up looking like the pictures in their catalog.  I've got a few theories as to why that is.  But let me show you the proof, first.  I don't think I need to point out which pictures are mine and which are from the catalog (but I will anyway for clarity's sake).

Here is a typically cozy room they have portrayed in the catalog.  I think it is exactly the kind of room I'd like to die in.  And I'm not being morbid when I say that.  It just looks so relaxing and homey and that much closer to heaven.  Look at that mix of light colors with a patchwork of fabrics that have been chosen "just so".  And all those plants and the natural lighting.  They had me at "daybed". 

In reality my living room is like this.

You will notice the Ikea table set with some Ikea chairs. Ikea coffee table and Ikea Pong chair covered by laundry that is drying.  Two Ikea lampshades are in this picture.  I actually like my living room.  Especially the southern exposure.  I'd call it eclectic.  As in, a total mismatch of styles and fabrics that was rather unintentional.  But I know in my heart of hearts it will never be picture perfect clean.  Or organized.  Just get a load of this bookshelf...

I'm almost embarassed to show you this one.  This is the shelf I bought that was supposed to solve all my living room organizational problems about a year ago. It has mostly become a place for all our overflow junk and especially Juliette's mountain of drawings and books and crayons and markers.  And believe me, this does not represent all of her books.  Yes, mom, those are indeed the two license plates I still haven't put in the frame yet.

Meanwhile, in Ikealand, bookshelves look more like this...

Right!  That's what normal folks do with their shelves.  Normal folks being those who have no kids, pets, messy husbands, or jobs, for that matter.  I bet they haven't even read all those books.  (Yes, I know no one actually lives there, but I can imagine.)

Right off my living room there is the kitchen.  It's a galley kitchen that is so tiny that if more than one person is in there, I start to go insane.  Seriously.  If one of us is doing vegetable prep, it's nearly impossible for anyone else to enter and get something from the fridge or a cabinet without endangering the other.  I'm only slightly exaggerating. 

You will notice the Ikea wood cabinets and drawer system.  And the de facto recycling corner on the floor.

But one day, if I get totally rich, this is the kitchen I'd like to have. Minus the brick floor.  That looks like a bugger to clean.  Everything has its place!  I doubt anyone has a near-miss with a knife in this kitchen.  I'd just add a bigger backsplash of tiles behind that stovetop.

While we're in the kitchen, this is what Ikea thinks a fridge should look like. They've recently started selling the glass food storage boxes.  When my friend Jessica asked me the other day if I wanted her to pick some up for me, I was so tempted.  It doesn't take much to tempt me to get something from Ikea, even by proxy.  But my mom and sis helped me get some of my own for Christmas.  Way better for reheating in the microwave.  And stackable.  But my fridge will never look like theirs.

It's frankly a work of art!  Now for my fridge...

In our tiny kitchen, we could only get a half-size fridge anyway.  And it could use a makeover.  Yes, mom, I should have put that ham in a plastic bag. 

Since I've shown you my fridge, I might as well show you my medicine cabinet.

But if I were Swedish, mine would like more like this...

Barely filled but sporting a few animal figurines.  That's where I like to store my toy giraffes.  And a cute dollhouse version of a bathroom on the middle shelf.

Speaking of shelving, the photo layout team at Ikea seems to be a bit spartan.  Check out this unit. Totally underutilized space.  There is one cube that has nothing in it.

Mine, on the other hand, is the natural wood model and very well-filled.

Every nook and cranny, people!  It's great for shoe storage.  Juliette just chooses her shoes and goes in the morning.  Normally her backpack goes on the top left unit but she was at school when I took this.

Juliette has an Ikea armoire in her bedroom that my dad helped put together when she was under one.  Back then it was very sparsely filled.  But, boy, has that changed.  I do need to sort through and give away the small sizes.  

But at Ikea they think a closet could possibly look like this!

Once again underutilized space.  No wonder they need three pieces of furniture in this next picture if they only use half of the storage space each time.

 And since I have too much stuff I haven't sorted through, I definitely need to use the underbed space to the max.  Here's what I have under there...

Loads of unruly sweaters.  Then again, in our part of France, you can practically wear a light sweater at least once every month of the year.  Notice my faded Ikea duvet cover?

But I don't know who designed this absolutely cutesy underbed arrangement. 

That would last one hour in my house.
Ditto for the adorable child's room they have suggested in the catalog. 

I like that "faux" messy look they have with some coloring on the floor.  And all the paints and colors arranged in harmony.

Whereas my child has too many Happy Meal toys trailing around and art from school that I don't know what to do with.

All I can say is, yeeecckkkk.  I should probably just throw some of those cheaper plastic toys out while she's not here.

So now the secret's out.  I'm a bit of a slob.  Or I have too much stuff.  I'm not quite a hoarder but I do find it hard to throw things out.  But the main difference between a catalog and real life, of course, is that my house is lived in.  It's not a showroom.  Showrooms are fun to visit, and as homey as the Ikea folks make them feel and look, it's still not real life. 

Some folks I've met say they like to keep their house super clean in case friends drop by.  I say, if my friends are gonna judge me for a bit of dust in the corner or Juliette's books being scattered about, I need new friends. And if I can make just one reader out there feel better about their messy house, then my job is done here!

So, in the end, Ikea has helped me get a little organized and outfit my house with affordable warm wooden furniture.  But I don't only buy things from their store and have my own style as well.

What is your favorite furniture style?  Are you a neatfreak?  What's your secret to home organizing?  Can I hire you to come to my place?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

And the winner is...

Y'all are gonna accuse me of nepotism, but I swear it's true!  I used this randomizer and it picked Jessamyn, who also happens to be my sister.  And who also happens to have a birthday around the corner.  So, congrats!

Many thanks to all who participated.  I loved reading about what you all want on your crêpes and I was getting hungrier by the minute.

It just so happens it's mardi gras today, and in France folks often eat crêpes again on this day.  Maybe I'll go for pancakes (the 'merican kind!) this time. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Musings of a Part-time Housewife

Notice I did not say "desperate".  January, and now February, being rather slow work months, I've found myself with a little more time on my hands than usual.  My job teaching English to adults often leaves me with some holes in my schedule, but since the beginning of the year those holes have been more like craters.  In fact there have been a few days I didn't work at all.

I've essentially always worked since I finished school.  I was lucky enough to find work pretty quickly in France, too.  And I only took a few months off when Juliette was born, though I again had some very light work days when I returned to my job.  But it has taken a bit of adjustment to have this much spare time.  How do I fill that time, you may ask? 

Tea, tea and more tea
Luckily I've got colleagues and girlfriends who are kind of in the same situation lately.  And what do ladies with gaps in their schedule do?  They get together for tea.  And cookies.  And chatting.  This slow period also being in winter, tea or hot chocolate are the things to drink.  So in addition to checking out a salon de thé with one friend, I've had girlfriends over for a quick tea.  And I've been able to go to morning tea with the Anglican group.  That's something I could never do when my schedule was filled.

I'm so lucky to have discovered this group through my other expat friends.  It's quite amusing just to listen and observe. The women who come range in age from 30 to 75.  Some are British with chirpy or crisp sing-songy accents, as compared to my "flat" American one.  There is tea, Marks and Spencers, last time, and conversation.  Last time an older Scottish woman asked in her soft voice if anyone was going to England and could pick up some black currant throat losenges.  When the other ladies said that brand was available in France, she said, but not the black currant ones.  Some French women come to practice their English.  Once a year they do a book sale with mostly English books.  It's a very pleasant way to pass the time.

Time sort of well spent
At first I had high hopes of getting some of those old projects done.  Like finally finishing my photobook creation online or, who knows, actually filling the photo albums from Juliette's toddler years.  So many projects, so little motivation.  Because now that I actually do have some time, I generally prefer to do other things.  Like drink tea.  And get Juliette for lunch or on Wednesday afternoon when she has no school.  I have done a wee bit of organizing.

It's also been an opportunity to get some long-needed doctor visits out of the way.  I've been to the dentist and Juliette, too (her first time, mind you!) and I took her to the dermatologist.  It's just a little easier to arrange these things when my schedule is lighter.

Say "cheese"!

And as you may have noticed I've been a bit better about regular blog posts.  It's a slightly positive note that in no way will counterbalance what will surely be puny pay for January.

I also was able to snap some photos in the snow one morning (since I had the time...)

I wish I could tell you I've cleaned my house from top to bottom and totally solved my organisational issues.  That would be lying. But I have cleaned my living room windows a bit more than usual.  And I must say, of all the methods mentioned to me by overzealous French cleaners, the winner is... good old Windex.  Whenever I try the white vinegar and soap, it still seems to leave streaks that look worse than before.  Even trying to use a squeegee to dry it up leaves streaks (guess I'm not ready for Olympic Squeegee trials).

Let's face it, I'm just not a clean freak.  When I have time to spare, I'd rather be doing more interesting things like baking, writing, playing with Juju...  But not having to rush off to work right away some mornings means my kitchen is generally a little cleaner than when I have to start at 8 o'clock.  I've been able to stay a bit more on top of my recycling bin and trash.  Anyway, when our lives are over, I don't think we'll say, man, I should have scrubbed my house more often.  However, they do say, cleaning can help you "clean out" your mind, too and settle things for you.  Just seeing something that you made cleaner yourself can give a feeling of satisfaction. 

The best of both worlds?
In the end I know that I need to work both to keep us afloat financially and for my own mental health.  By saying that I mean absolutely nothing negative for those women who are full-time housewives, be it by choice or because circumstances have put them in that position.  I just see for myself I need activities to get me out of the house (work or otherwise) and the company of colleagues and friends (lucky for me my colleagues are friends, too).  That said, I really enjoy having some flexibility in my schedule and being able to participate in other activities.  Soon my work will increase (I hope!) and these will just be distant musings. I'm glad to have had this time for myself.

Where do you see yourself on this issue?  Can you stay home? Do you want to? What's ideal for you?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Beat the Winter Blues Blog Giveaway

I'm really excited for two reasons today!  Firstly, it's the official day to eat crêpes, la Chandeleur.  Secondly, I'm announcing my first ever blog giveaway.  It's just a little way to give back to the people- specifically, YOU, my loyal readers and those who have recently clicked on to the site.  Just remember to post your comment ON the blog to be officially entered.  The winner will be chosen randomly.  You may need to create a login with Blogger, and for clarity's sake, please create a name so I'll know who's who.  For the record the "anonymous" comment is from my Canadian friend #2 (because Crystal is Canadian friend #1).  Also, don't be alarmed if your comment doesn't appear right away.  It's because I have comment moderation activated.

Now, let's get to the good part!  Here's what you could win, just by commenting on my blog:

Two brightly colored tea towels (the top one with the word "café" and the bottom one with the multicolored stripes), a flower-shaped silicone cake pan and caramel sauce in its convenient squeeze bottle.  Perfect for putting on crêpes.  Enough to brighten a bitterly cold winter day!

And that seems to be what la Chandeleur holiday is about, too.  It appears to have numerous origins and was originally linked to a Roman tradition.  It was eventually Christianized into something about bringing "chandelles" or candles back from a church service.  And somehow crêpes got into the mix.  And seeing the sun on Chandeleur meant we were in for a tough winter (sort of like Groundhog Day which is also today!).  It is in fact brilliantly sunny today so I guess I'll be needing my coat the next six weeks.  You can read all about it here (in French) or here (in English).

But I think if this tradition has persisted it's simply because French people (and American expats living here) just like a chance to eat crêpes.  And they are right!  I love going to the grocery store this time of year to see the displays of ingredients for crêpe making.  Here are some of the things the store is advertising this time of year.  Click on the picture to enlarge.

Along with flour, of course you'll need eggs and milk and melted butter (for the frying pan) for the traditional crêpe recipe.  Some folks might add a bit of vanilla sugar in the recipe or on the crêpe afterwards.  And don't forget to drink cider, mmm, here you can see a raspberry one.  Don't let the kids feel left out, though- they can drink Champomy, sparkling apple juice. 

Once you've cooked your crêpes, making sure to hold a coin in your hand as you flip them (to ensure a prosperous year, of course!), there is the question of toppings.

Of course, there is Nutella.  One time I put too much on Juliette's crêpe and she couldn't finish it.  Put her off Nutella for about a week, too!  By the way, this might just be the perfect guy.

But there is way more than Nutella.  I myself prefer a light sprinkling of brown sugar.  Or maple syrup and bananas.  At the store where I took the picture of Mr. Right, er Nutella, they were making crêpes and giving away samples of banana crêpes.  To die for. 

Here you can see Nutella and an off-brand (Ma pâte à tartiner), plus one made from sort of gingerbread cookie (Speculoos).  Plus honey (miel) and, what, wait a minute... peanut butter? And then there's jam and a chocolate sauce.  Don't forget whipped cream!

But if all this is putting you into a virtual diabetic coma, there are other winter delights.  Cold weather is the perfect season for raclette.  That's a melted cheese that you pour on baked potatoes and serve with sliced meat.  Lots of folks around here have their own raclette machine (pictured top right in the photo) to melt the cheese in individual pans. 

So good but so bad for my cholesterol.  All things said and done, I think crêpes are better for me.  And I have a mega sweet tooth. 

What do you put on your crêpes?  Are you more salty or sweet?  Do you have other winter go-to meals?

Don't forget to comment here on the blog to enter for the giveaway.  The period to enter is two weeks, starting today.  The deadline for entries will be midnight (French time) February 16th, 2015.  Good luck to all!