Comfort Me with Bunnies

It’s time to tell you that we are extending our Year of Living Swissly. There are various reasons involved, the primary one being that Zeus, who we fully expected to be milking cows all year to pay the rent, has got a job that is very interesting and resume-worthy and with which he has not yet finished. So we’ve officially decided to stay another year. There are lots of mixed feelings all around and lots of discussions on how to do schooling next year, but the most important thing to consider was this: If we’re gonna stay, it’s high time we got some LIVESTOCK! Because, really, when you are homesick and missing all your friends, nothing says "comfort" quite like a bunny. In fact, I am starting to think that all adolescent girls should routinely be issued one when they turn twelve. image When I called the number in the classified ad to ask about bunnies the lady told me that if my daughter was interested, she had better come along to make sure there was “good bunny vibe” (or something like that) because she had lots of colors and lengths of hair to choose from. There was a sweet gray one in the first hutch she opened and so she found a bucket for Athena to sit on and put the bunny in her lap. Little Gray Bunny sort of stood up and leaned on Athena’s chest and then just gazed at her for, no joke, about 15 minutes. When the farmer lady came back she asked, “Well, have you chosen?” “Um…I think the bunny has chosen us.” Even the farmer lady was amazed! She was very happy that her bunny was going home to live with a girl she adored so much. So that she would not be lonely, we got her sister too, who wears a little black jacket. black bunny Line ‘em up, folks, and give ‘em a bunny! bunnies! Little Bunnies are awaiting names. The kitchen whiteboard is full of ideas ranging from Jane Austen heroines to Darth Fluffy and Master Fuzzy, a la Star Wars. There’s a rumor that we’ve finally reached a settlement with Flopsy and Mopsy.  Meanwhile they’ve settled into their lovely ready-to-go hutch out in the garden shed. It is all set up here beautifully because …{shhh….cover those long bunny ears} around here, rabbits are often raised for their meat. A few people have already asked me if I was raising them for “elevage”? to eat?  “NO! For snuggles!” IMG_1929

Our Village

Sunday afternoon, and after a good church service this morning, the three big kids are playing Risk around the coffee table in the living room. Hermes is upstairs playing Legos with his Papa. Two chickens and oven fries are all roasting snugly together in my petite oven, and I thought that in between bastes, I would take you on a little tour of our village. *** From the south, (that is, the rest of Switzerland) this is the first thing you see in our village: a ruined tower from the 11th century – the Tour de Milandre. It sits on the hill overlooking the village and was used as a guard tower for some lords living further upstream on the small river – l’Allaine – that runs through the valley. In the 1980s a metal staircase was built inside and one can climb to the top of the tower and survey the lands from a great height. If you have a doggy with small paws that might slip through the metal grating, you should to carry her and hold her up to the windows for a view and fresh breezes. IMG_1568 Then you round the bend and enter the village. IMG_1572 But before you go thinking that it’s all chateaux and history, here is the view as you enter the village from the other direction. IMG_1579 The sign says “British American Tobacco” – as in cigarettes. It’s the cigarette factory that employs about 60% of the town residents. That’s down from what Zeus estimates was 80% when he was growing up. Back then it had a different name: Burrus, after the farmer who several generations ago started growing tobacco in this area. His factory employed Zeus’ father, his grandparents, and probably some great-grandparents as well, not to mention many aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends. It’s a company town, and when I first visited, it was still the Burrus company and Monsieur Burrus lived in a large house at the top of the hill. People would sort of nod deferentially when he drove on by and they would talk about him and his family by their first names: Monsieur Charles and Monsieur Leon. I found it very feudal and rather odd ~ especially in strongly democratic Switzerland.  When she passed away, Zeus’ grandmother still had a handwritten cookbook from a cooking class that Madame Burrus had given for the young wives of the village. Dotted about the town are some of the fancy old homes of members of the family that now serve other purposes; one is a conference center, one is a rest home, and one was donated to be the town hall, or mairie. Here’s a picture of the latter from the summer – they were doing some maintenance work, the blue tarp isn’t usually there.IMG_9593 Back at the end of the village with the ruin, when you round the bend, this is the view into the village on the main highway. When I first came to the visit, lo, twenty years ago, the big rectangle on the left was painted as a huge pack of cigarettes. Charming. IMG_1573 This is the train station. You can see the Tour de Milandre again on the upper right. There is no longer anyone on duty in the station – just an automatic ticket booth. Trains arrive from Porrentruy and points south every hour at :21 past. Then the train continues on to Delle, just across the border into France. After a couple minutes, it comes back, and leaves from this platform heading south at :36. Artemis catches the train here twice a day with the other secondary school kids. IMG_1575 Looking down the tracks the other way. Across the tracks is a big warehouse used to store tobacco. IMG_1576  The Hotel de la Rochette – the one and only hotel in the village. Because of the shape and pitch of the roof, it makes me think of a large pink Darth Vader. A pink Darth Vader certainly takes the scare out of him. IMG_1571    A typical farmhouse and attached barn. Historically, the two shared a roof and a wall. The animals were handy for milking in the winter and helped keep the house warm. There’s a house in the village very near this one that has 1794 carved in the stone over the doorway – the year of construction.  IMG_1583 The commercial center of town. Not a PF Chang’s in sight. Instead there is the post office, the bank, our small grocery store (which despite its small size carries refried beans and taco shells!), and a bakery/cafe with curious opening hours – i.e. sort of when the owner feels like it. Fortunately there is a little more parking across the street. IMG_1582 The one main thing not on this little tour is the church. Maybe for another day? I will take some nice photos of it. It does tower over everything else which is very nice and the church bell tolls the hours which I love. Thanks for coming on the tour! *** Allrighty, now I have to tell you that it’s no longer Sunday afternoon and those chickens have long since been eaten up. But speaking of food, I have been getting adventurous with fermentation these days! After one friend’s recommendation of homemade sauerkraut as a way to keep nasty germies at bay (Gina), and the encouragement of another (Marijo), I asked for the recipe. I subsequently found roughly the same recipe in the cookbook I recently recommended, and soon I had a big jar of it fermenting on the corner of my counter and a skeptical husband keeping his distance. One fermentation inspires another, I suppose, because I soon began toying with the idea of making a sourdough starter. Now Auntie Janet has shared several sourdough starters over the years, all of which ended up coming to an untimely end from neglect. But since we are now eating spelt flour and since it’s been years since I ate sourdough bread, I started to get a hankering and wondered how it would work out with spelt flour. I would give it another go. Only this time, I would start from scratch with no packaged leavening and just pick up the lovely yeasties floating here in the countryside. For good measure, I let my mass of spelt flour and water sit next to my compost bin for a few days. Surely there’s some good fungi and bacteria there, right? Well, it worked – really well!! Apparently we’ve got a good strain here – maybe Boncourt Sourdough will be a new craze. It was for me at any rate. My loaf was soooo good! Hard crusty outside, soft chewy super sour inside. I almost cried, but I was too busy slapping on the butter and salt and chewing. Then I annoyed the rest of the family by telling them over and over again just how good it was and asking them if I had mentioned my sourdough to them yet? But I hadn’t told you yet! And now I have.  Here is the link to a site with instructions on making a starter and here is a picture of my first beautiful loaf. Ah, so crusty! IMG_1650 The sauerkraut came out very tasty as well, and when we had it for lunch one Sunday dinner (the week before the roast chickens), everyone had a small bit to try. I didn’t have high expectations, but 50% of my children liked it! And I did, so that made 50% of the family! Hermes was especially surprised since he had been making faces at it. That is why we have No Thank You helpings. Zeus, despite the fact that he grew up in a seriously heavy sauerkraut region (choucroute) does not care for it (– and never has, so I won’t take it personally), but politely ate his No Thank You helping.  The many pots of things fermenting on the counter had been getting to be a bit much for my dear man. So when it came up in conversation at one point, I pressed him. “So you don’t really like all these pots of fermenting things everywhere, my dear?” “Well, no, not really.” “So you’re not really into fermentation then, honey?” “No, not really.” “So are you ready to give up on all fermented foods then, sweetie?” “Uh…hmmm….I think this is a trap.” Aha! Yes, it was. Wine and cheese are two of my sweetie’s favorite foods – both of which, I think we all know, are fermented! I think that maybe they are just supposed to ferment a little further away from his personal space. Okay, I get that. I will make my next batch of sauerkraut down in the cellar, and my sourdough starter is now living quietly in my little fridge waiting until it’s time for the next tasty loaf.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Here is what we’ve been doing today. Today is the first day of Winter Break and we’ve had a calm and happy day, puttering and drawing and cutting and pasting little messages for each other.  IMG_1602  Every year I wonder why I don’t start making Valentine’s earlier – I find it very therapeutic. This year I drew and painted little pictures. Athena drew some little pictures and glued them in walnut shells. So that’s what I’ve been saving walnut shells for! IMG_1614 IMG_1611 IMG_1608 IMG_1621 For some odd reason, I always like to take a picture of the Valentine making detritus before cleaning it all up. Creative debris. IMG_1620 Tonight we will have a little party – Artemis is making treats. I think they will be heart shaped. Happy Valentine’s Day, Dear Friends!

L’il Update

Here is a sign that we see at the entrance to a French village on the way to church. It says, Be careful of Children with Really Bad Hair. IMG_1553 Happy February to you! I am not quite sure how we ended up here, but I have a hunch several of us may have been sick in bed when it happened. This year has been an exceptionally hard one for us, healthwise. I think it’s a combination of the new Continental germs and the fact that with the kids in school this year, they have to go collect new germs every day and bring them home. Better general health was one side benefit of homeschooling that I surely do miss. This week we are capping off three weeks of intense flu with a dose of croup for Hermes and a new cold virus for him and for me as well. We wash hands, we wash pillowcases, we drink tea and Airborne and we still get sick. Sometimes it is nice to be forced to stay home and watch movies, but it does make it hard to grocery shop (especially when the stores close at 6:30.) Ah, well. We have done a couple other things. One is to start making bread using spelt flour, or epeautre as it is called in French, or even better, Dinkel, as it is called in German. If you get whole wheat spelt it is called Dunkel Dinkel which is very fun to say. If you get the light kind of spelt flour, the German words are Dinkel Hell. Yikes!  Ah, fun with words. Now that the 3 olders are learning some German along with their French, they get to laugh at the same funny little things that I’ve snickered at for years, and there are moments when that makes all the fuss of this year worth it – just to say “Dinkel hell! Dinkel hell!” So we made a tresse out of Dinkel hell. Tresse is a light fluffy braided egg braid – Challah, that is very typically eaten here on the weekend. It has been a long time since I’ve eaten any, and was it ever a treat to make and eat one now. Spelt does contain some gluten and I was worried that Athena and I might suffer some ill effects, although we’d been dabbling in spelt for a few weeks. But honestly, when I first bit into that bread, I didn’t even care. Thankfully – no ill effects at all! Just sadness that the bread went so quickly. Hermes was enraptured with the bread process and he and Athena pinched off some dough and fashioned a turtle with cloves for eyes. IMG_1545 Here is Athena, thinking she is in a happy bread dream. IMG_1549 In school the kids all seem to have passed some sort of invisible road block. Even if they won’t admit it, something is clicking for all of them. I hear French coming out of their mouths, talking with their grandparents, with neighbor kids, on the telephone. They don’t seem quite as emotionally exhausted at the end of the day, and there is a little bit of energy left to think about other things. There are still tears and frustration about the logistics of the thing, but it is easier to sort out now which is due to the language and which to the aggravation of school in general. They finished the first semester a couple weeks ago. We have continually told them that this year is NOT about getting good grades. Nevertheless, it is been gratifying to each of them that he or she has had some good tests and has proof for the teacher and the rest of the class that they are not genuine nincompoops (just posing for a little while). Zeus’ job goes well, and he returned at the end of last week from a trip to the Boston. This turned out to be very timely as he was able to escape the General Sickness and has so far alone escaped unscathed (despite my flu shot – hmmm…)  He packed an extra duffle bag in his suitcase and made a purposeful visit to Costco. He called me from there to ask about something on my list, and he had a dreamy sound in his voice, said he was just slowly walking up and down every aisle. The difference in the price of two bottles of contact solution he bought me there ($16) and two pack here ($65) more than covered the price of the taxi cab to get there. We have settled on a church – the Action Biblique de Montbeliard — about a fifteen minutes away in France. It’s a very vibrant, crowded, sound, loving, praying body of evangelical believers. In short – everything that we have always heard doesn’t exist in France! Ha! God is up to Things. Aslan is on the move. I love that the music is great, that the preaching is excellent and edifying and that the worshippers come in all colors and all ages. We’ve also attended a home group – a cellule – on Thursday evenings in one of the nearby villages. We just have to watch out for the Kids with Really Bad Hair.

Christmas Day ~ in pictures

IMG_1256 IMG_1232 The moment we’ve been waiting for. IMG_1235   Tracking Santa’s progress on the Norad Santa tracker. IMG_1282 It snowed all day – one of the few times we can see Bella clearly. IMG_1248 Not long into unwrapping, we had nearly buried our Playmobil Nativity. I worried that this was symbolic. The kids groaned, “Oh, Mom!” IMG_1252   Herme’s was sporting one of the finest rooster tails that I have seen in a long time. Worthy of Christmas Day! IMG_1261 Uncle Chip and Aunty Janet sent us a fun package containing among other things the original BBC/A&E Jane Austen’s five hour long Pride and Prejudice !!This was the girls’ reaction. IMG_1260 And this was the boys’. IMG_1269 Bella liked her new collar and fluffy bed. IMG_1271 The detritus after the storm.  IMG_1274 A little while later in the boys’ room. IMG_1276 And in the girls’. IMG_1278 ‘What I did on my vacation.’ IMG_1277  Field of Mushrooms IMG_1285  Our Spelt Gingerbread House! Artemis used her Swiss geometry skills to design a house pattern, and we all had fun on decorating it on Christmas Eve. Notice the Christmas tree, snowman, goldfish pond and mushroom patch. IMG_1288 The Marzipan Lady of the House – made by Artemis IMG_1289 The backyard. There is a marzipan baby sleeping in a cradle on the toffee bench. No munching until after Christmas dinner! IMG_1295 In the afternoon Tata and Popop joined us for a festive Christmas dinner of Chinese fondue. IMG_1305  And then it was open season on the house. IMG_1308 Later that evening, we had a Skype visit with our cousins IMG_1313 and with Uncle Chip and Aunty Janet who put on a Christmas puppet show. IMG_1314 …and we responded in kind. IMG_1272 It was a lovely day. Merry Christmas 2010!