vendredi 22 juillet 2011

Zucchini Mille-feuille Recipe Challenge

Ok, so our landlady has a surplus of zucchini, and stocked our fridge for us. This much extra squash made me want to get creative, so I decided to make something I would call "zucchini mille-feuille"--inspired by a mille-feuille pastry, because, hey, I love things that resemble pastries, even just in name.

I'm really pleased with this recipe, because I think it has a lot of potential. The zucchini is sliced so thin that it doesn't have to be pre-cooked, saving TON of time. It's possible to make a white sauce with a really small amount of butter once you get good at it, so you can cut some calories in that department. With about 15 mins baking time, and about 15 mins prep time, this is a really easy side dish. AND it eats up the masses of zucchini everyone with a home garden has these days.

BUT...I think the recipe could use some extra magic. So, here's the "challenge"--suggest a change to the recipe that would add no more than 5 minutes prep time and no more than 3 extra ingredients, preferably pantry staples. The goal is to come up with something more closely resembling a mille-feuille. If you can add protein to make this a main dish instead of a side, kudos.

Here's a picture of some leftover mille-feuille, pre microwave...next to a slice of zucchini moussaka, made exactly the same way but with spiced ground beef moussaka filling instead of the white sauce for most of the layers. This recipe can multi-task.

It looks a lot prettier when it's hot, since the layers slide a little and you can see how delicate the zucchini ribbons are.

Here's the recipe (serves 4...you should double or triple this for a full-sized baking dish):

Ingredients:

3-4 smallish zucchini (if you have giant ones, slice them in half before ribboning so they fit through your veggie peeler)

3 Tbsp butter

3 Tbsp flour

1.5 cups milk

1/2 cup grated cheese (I used emmenthal, but mozzarella or comte would also be tasty)

A few Tbsp grated parmesan

salt and pepper to taste


Directions:

(Pre-heat oven if you're into that kind of thing--about 350 should do the trick. Our oven is small enough that we can just flip it on at the end and it's ready to go in about a minute.)

1. With a veggie peeler, slice the zucchini long-ways so you have a giant pile of zucchini ribbons.

2. Make a white sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat. dump in the flour, whisk frantically, pour the milk in little by little, continue to whisk frantically. Let thicken a bit.

3. Mix 1/2 cup grated cheese into sauce, add salt and pepper to taste.

4. In a small casserole dish (mine was 5x8), alternate layers of sauce and zucchini slices. I did a double thickness of zucchini slices for every zucchini layer because they're SO thin.

5. Finish with a layer of sauce and sprinkle on parmesan (grana padano would be good too).

6. Bake at 350 until it's golden brown and bubbly. Let it set for a minute or two and then serve in slices, like a mille-feuille!

vendredi 8 juillet 2011

...And we're back, with another Tour de France installment

So, it's been a reeeeeally long time since I've gotten around to blogging. We've been:

-Taking LOTS of naps (well, just me),

-Finishing up schoolwork (Josh still has a thesis to write; I defended mine a few weeks ago),

-Trying to beat the heat (100+ degree days around here),

-Visiting the lavender fields:

...where Josh saw his middle aged doppelganger:

And trying to get ready for the arrival of Bout'Chouette:
We're re-arranging the apartment to maximize the coolest spaces and make room for the baby's stuff. And boy, for someone so little, she's got a lot of stuff.

We've also re-initiated our culinary Tour de France with a DELICIOUS cheese from Pays Basque, the Basque country in the Western Pyrenees, on the border with Spain.
The French Basque region isn't militantly separatist like the Spanish region, but apparently their food is as good. This cheese, ossau-iraty (from a region with the same name), made us really sad that our sejour in France is coming to an end, so let us know if you've seen it in the states. It's a sheep's milk cheese (one of only two with "AOC" status in France, according to Wikipedia) with a firm and smooth texture and a great salty tang.

I've definitely missed indulging in cheese this year, since unpasteurized cheeses and a lot of goat cheeses aren't considered safe for pregnant women. Also not safe for pregnant women here is any uncooked produce you didn't wash yourself, with vinegar, because of the risk of toxoplasmosis. Oh, and sausages, smoked salmon, paté, terrines....and basically all the best food around. Not to mention all the wine I'm missing out on. Even though this ossau-iraty was a great find, I'm looking forward to popping this baby out and being able to eat fresh goat cheese again.

jeudi 12 mai 2011

Bonheur au jardin


We have bien aimé having a garden this year. Josh's mom planted it with him while she was visiting in March and it's been a joy (and great study break) to watch things bloom--things planted AND things springing up as a surprise!

We have carefully tended the strawberries, lettuce, and mint, and pansies...





And been surprised by wild onions, wild grape hyacinth, and a whole bunch of other plants we haven't identified.



And then our driveway is lined with poppies, irises, and other wildflowers:


Lots of things growing around here this spring!

mardi 19 avril 2011

mercredi 6 avril 2011

Fille ou Garçon?


So, time to come clean. We found out Bout'Chou's gender and we're having a...















Petite Fille!

I made my first purchase for her yesterday: how could I resist a pink and purple bib that says "bout'chou" on it?!? I gave it to Josh when we got in the car afterward and he held it the whole way home--baby girl is going to have daddy wrapped around her pudgy fingers faster than you can say "macaron." The funny thing is, now that we've got the idea of a girl swimmin' around in there, bout'chou seems like too masculine of a name...so she's turned back into "the baby" or "bout de chouette" which means nothing (well, literally translated it means "little piece of owl") but it does sound more girly.

As much as I wanted a girl, I was a little bit in shock after the sonogram. I was so convinced there was a boy in there. The sonographer had to point everything out in very explicit detail before I would believe that the baby wasn't "packing heat." This girlygirl will be the FIRST ONE in FIVE GENERATIONS born into my husband's family. We all thought it was statistically impossible that we could have a child without a y chromosome. In fact, Josh's mom and future sister in law both cried when we told them the news. (For our sister in law, this means there's hope!)

And how did Josh take the news? He had originally decided not to find out...so I was going to keep Bout de Chouette's gender a secret. And I did, for three days. And then, we were heading back to the US for a wedding, and in line at airport security:

Me (muttering to myself): Ow, she just kicked me right in the intestines.
Josh: WHAT did you just say?
Me: Um...the baby just kicked me in the intestines?
Josh: No, WHAT did you just say?
Me: oh, um...did you hear that?
Josh: WE'RE HAVING A GIRL?!?!?!? (tries to pick me up and jump up and down at the same time)
Airport Security Person: NEXT.

He was absolutely ecstatic. (Josh, not the airport security person.) He told the woman sitting next to us on the plane, "We're having a baby girl!" and had a dopey, adorable smile on his face for about five hours. He's going to be one happy daddy.

dimanche 3 avril 2011

Cultural Differences: the good with the bad

So: I think the way your prior education prepares you for various cultural differences makes a BIG difference in where you will place them on the scale from enchanting to these-people-are-crazy. For example, French people smoke a lot. Everyone knows this. You come to France, and someone at the table next to you is puffing gauloises in your direction, and you think, "Oh, the French. How...French." You go to a party and everyone gives you the bises, that two-cheek kiss-kiss, and you feel exotic, sophisticated, and chic, because the bises fit into your pre-conceived notion of what it means to be French.

But sometimes you don't know about a custom until you find out you've transgressed some social rule. I do not like learning this way. I've recently discovered that "excuse me" is not a polite way to start a conversation here unless accompanied with "hello." I found this out after I started to notice I was getting evil looks from people I stopped to ask for help or information. Last week I went into a shop to ask their hours, and the conversation went like this:

Me: Excuse me, what time--
Shop girl: HELLO.
Me (nodding confusedly): Yes, what time--
Shop girl: HELLO.
Me: Yes, what time--
Shop girl: HELLO.
Me: WHAT TIME DO YOU CLOSE TODAY?

The shop girl and other customers were rolling their eyes and shaking their heads, and a post-game analysis with Josh sorted it out: I was supposed to start with, "Hello excuse me," or "Excuse me hello," but not just, "Excuse me." The thing that stinks is that the better you get in a foreign language, the less people are accepting of this kind of mistake. A researcher gave a presentation on this phenomenon at a conference for language teachers I attended last summer, and it was like bells started ringing in my head and fireworks exploded in my brain when she explained it. Because it is SO TRUE: the better your French (or Spanish, or American) accent, the more you seem like "one of us," and the more surprised (and offended) we are when you don't follow our social rules. But if you have a heinous accent and are fumbling for words like "hello," and "thank you," people generally put aside their ideas of how the conversation should go (did you remember to say please?) and focus on just understanding what on earth you're trying to say.

But back to my point. It can be REALLY FRUSTRATING to have to learn by getting it wrong. Example: yesterday I went, for the first time, to one of Josh's ultimate frisbee tournaments. We pulled up at the crack of dawn to the team's meeting spot here in Aix to pack more people into the car and caravan to Nîmes, where the tournament was going to take place. I was coccooned in my seat with bags of snacks and other gear for the day, and munching happily on my breakfast. So, I stayed put (as did M, another American rider who we'd already picked up), the car was packed with more people, and we left. And as we were pulling out, someone mentioned that it had been rude of us to stay in the car instead of getting out to give everyone their good morning bises.

This rankled us. We're going to spend all weekend with you engaged in (or watching you play) a team sport, which is a significant amount of quality time, and politeness dictates that instead of a smile and a wave, we begin the weekend by extracting ourselves from the car in order to kiss you all? How much of me do you people want?!?!

I think the problem is that most adults have confidence in their abilities to act logically. So when you are faced with a small problem to solve (stay in car vs. get out and kiss people), you do what is logical to you, and you think nothing of it. And then, when you find out that you were expected to act otherwise, since you had determined what to do using your well-functioning logic, it makes the French course of action seem illogical. It leaves you thinking everyone around you is crazy for wanting you to kiss them good morning, file reams of paperwork, or say "hello" before you say "excuse me."

Luckily, Josh's frisbee team thinks of M and I as "the clueless Americans," a notion of which I do not plan to disabuse them. So even though they thought we were being rude (and we thought they were crazy), they also thought it was funny.

M and my annoyance at the French bises was exacerbated when we got to the tournament. The team got into their pre-game huddle, where we knew Josh was going to lay out his plan for beating their first opponents, Discobol. Last year Josh's team, T-R'Aix, beat Discobol by a hair, and this tournament, Discobol was gunning to take them out. So, Josh circled everyone up and began his pre-match pep talk and strategy briefing...and was promptly interrupted by a member of KLB, a "friendly" team, who sauntered onto the field to say hello. They were playing later in the day, so they'd be rooting for T-R'Aix during the first game, and their arrival occasioned the bises. Which means, as Josh tried valiantly to rally his team, first one, and then another of KLB's players walked around his huddle, pulling out each T-R'Aix player in turn to give them two kisses. Their focus was blown. Finally Josh stopped an approaching KLB player in his tracks and told him to stay away until the huddle was over, but the damage was done. T-R'Aix lost the first game in overtime and the defeat weighed down on them for the rest of the day. I'm waiting now to hear from Josh how today's matches went, but T-R'Aix had gotten off on the wrong foot.

As KLB's captain actually walked THROUGH THE HUDDLE to give those $%#& bises, I caught M's eye and mouthed, "I WANT TO GO HOME." Sometimes I just can't take this culture. But the bad comes along with some nice surprises--not least of which is how they treat pregnant women in France. We knew that historically, France has been very pro-reproduction because of a low-population crisis after WWII. We didn't know that we're going to be getting a nice little payment from the government to help buy baby gear. Or that a body pillow for my pregnancy-related backaches will be covered by our insurance. But apparently pregnant women themselves are given really cushy treatment. I had my first experience with this today. The grocery store was packed, and I joined the back of a verrrrrry long line at the "priority" (handicapped or pregnant) register. I wondered why non-priority clients were in the line, but I also didn't expect what happened next: I was ushered all the way up to the front, even past a woman with a baby who was only buying three boxes of granola bars. I tried to make her go before me (I had a giant basket of stuff) and everyone insisted: pregnant girl goes first.

It was nice to get special treatment...but I still thought everyone was crazy. I wonder, when I get back to the US, will I have reverse culture shock and think all the Americans are crazy? Probably, but hopefully I'll be able to take the bad with the good, eat cupcakes, and be happy.




jeudi 3 mars 2011

Eavesdropping on Myself

Ok, so everybody knows this: one of the funny things about being married is realizing how different from you your spouse is. Josh and I were really close friends for...I dunno, maybe six years? before we started dating, and I would have told you we were two peas in a pod. And now, after being married for three years...sometimes I wonder if we're even the same species. Case in point: decision making. When we have a big decision to make, Josh spends a lot of time (like, hours) staring at the floor, occasionally sighing. I assume there's some thinking going on in there. I, on the other hand, never know quite what I think until I happen to overhear myself say it to someone.

Right now, we're in the process of trying to figure out where we belong for the next few years. We're weighing career questions--who will work on which degree, and when?--as well as personal ones, like, can we manage for me to stay home with Bout'Chou for a while, and on which continent should that home be? I've been really glad to have people around that will let me talk things through, so I can listen in and figure out what I want. I overheard a very enlightening conversation with my friends Anita and Neil yesterday: I told them I felt like after three years in France, I needed to go back to the States for a break, and when Neil asked why, I heard myself answer, "to heal."

It was an odd thing to say, but hearing it made me realize that it's true. When we up and moved here, I had been to France only twice, both times as a non-French-speaking tourist; I spoke no French, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I feel like it's been three years of bobbing in waves, trying to keep my head above water. I'd really like to go home and come back with a rowboat. Or at least a life preserver.

I'm not sure what this "life preserver" would look like. I'm kindof hoping that if we spend a few years in the States, I'll get a chance to start desperately missing my life here in Aix. Then I'll spend those years planning and scheming about what it will be like when we come back, and when we DO return to l'Hexagone, I will have years of "the best-laid schemes" preparing me for it. I think this would help.

Regardless, eavesdropping on my subconscious has made it pretty clear that right now, I want to be Stateside. I'm writing this over the remains of my breakfast, a French clafoutis garnished with one of my carefully hoarded Reese's peanut butter cups. I dreamed about peanut butter ice cream last night (no, I am not kidding), and a Reese's was the closest thing I could get.

The dream might have been inspired by Josh's arrival from a week-long trip to the States, and the joy of watching him open his suitcase and pull out jars of Jif, Burt's Bees toothpaste, reasonably priced dental floss, almond extract, and other comforts of home. Without thinking, I spotted the Whole Foods receipt in his bag and stuck it in a frame we have sitting on the green "boot bench" in the kitchen. And then as I realized what I was doing, I started to cry. Seriously? I'm framing a receipt from Whole Foods? What kind of crazy is this? And then I cried even harder as I realized it's the pregnant-and-homesick kind. I think it's time to go home.

vendredi 25 février 2011

So, I don't know if I've ever mentioned that the last tenant of our apartment was an interior decorator. Our landlady has dropped some hints that she'd like us to do a bit more with the place than we have--including selling our washing machine and getting a new one so it fits in the bathroom instead of the kitchen, where it "disrupts the aesthetic." But our landlady is 83, shuffles around the property in slippers, and brought me paper towels once as a gift, so I'm not too worried about her judging my lack of decorating skills.

What I AM worried about is not enjoying our terrace to the absolute maximum potential. The last tenants used it like an outdoor living/dining room:


So, along with a few lawn chairs and a bazillion gorgeous potted plants, we needed a picnic table. I could have gotten a nice teak one like Mr. I-Made-The-Apartment-So-Much-Cooler-Than-You-Do had, and I would have. Well, I would have if I had found one on craigslist (actually the french version, www.leboncoin.fr) for forty bucks. Instead, I found this:

Covered in dirt and rust? No problem! I'll throw a tablecloth over it. It'll just get killed by peacocks anyway, and I couldn't dump disinfectant on wood like I can on plastic. I was super excited when "Sandra" called me back to say I could have the table...not so pumped when she gave me directions to her home...in a campground.

But it's been in the sixties, I want to start eating all meals outside, and I am not paying 200 bucks for a table and chairs at a store when I can get one for 40 from a trailer park. Because I am just that kind of girl.

Josh wasn't home, so I emailed him:

hey, just in case i get murdered by crazy people, after class today i'm going to the camping/trailer park "lou soleil" in carry-le-rouet to buy something off le bon coin from someone called "sandra."

Love ya!

His response:

Umm.... What is worth your life to buy in a trailer park?

Now, to do justice to trailer parks, I would have considered the possibility that this was a trap to lure in unsuspecting young women for some kind of depraved butchery no matter where these people lived. And you'd think the fact that Sandra was a female and clearly my age would have reassured me, but no. I was raised to always consider the possibility that I could be brutally murdered, and I do.

Unfortunately, I was not raised to always consider the possibility that my GPS does not actually work, probably because GPS hadn't been invented yet when I was being raised. Halfway to Carry-le-Rouet, or so I thought, I realized that the GPS screen was frozen and I had driven half an hour too far. This would be a good time to mention that we call our GPS Ms. Fairweather because she only works when the going is good and when we don't actually need GPS. We keep a map on hand. I pulled it out, and yay, the best way to get to Carry-le-Rouet was to drive back along the coast.


Now, since I was driving, I didn't take any pictures. These are shots I took of other times we were driving along similar stretches of coastline around here.



Something about driving through little beach towns with a warm sea breeze blowing in the windows just made my heart feel about three pounds lighter. Bout'Chou and I had some bonding time, since this was one of our first outings together, and I decided I needed to stop and get him an ice cream cone and eat it for him on the beach.

But first: the table. Turned out the "trailer park" was a gated community with italianate sculptures and a fountain in the visitors' parking lot. And it overlooked a beach. And had carefully manicured landscaping. The trailers were pretty much just trailers, though--some people were even just living in tents. And Sandra's family was really nice, and since the table was sitting in their yard all ready to be loaded into my car, they had no chance to lock me in the basement. In fact, they might be some of the friendliest people I've met here. I felt like I'd stepped into Wisconsin or Michigan or somewhere where people smile at strangers and load a picnic table into a girl's car for her. As Fabrice (Sandra's boyfriend) let me out of the community's pillared and cupid-sculptured gate, he even said, "See ya later!" instead of "Goodbye."

Since I'd overshot Carry-le-Rouet, I didn't have time to stop and find parking so I could feed Bout'Chou ice cream and walk on the beach. But then, I passed a grocery store...where I ran in and bought a box of ice cream cones (like drumsticks...but they come in about 10 flavors here. I got coffee). So Bout'Chou and I had an ice cream cone as we drove home, past the cute little beach towns and through the hills.


Now I just have to set up the furniture. But first, I think I'm going to call my old doctor in the US and make sure I've had my tetanus booster.



lundi 21 février 2011

Goodbye, Uncle Fan

When we moved into our last apartment, our biggest worry was ventilation (this was before we knew about the termites and cockroaches). There was only one window/door, and it wasn't in the bedroom. We needed a fan to channel fresh air into our underground sleeping quarters so that if we died from carbon monoxide poisoning, no one could tell me, "Well, it was your own fault." Nervous about finding a fan in Aix in February, I bought the first one I came across (cue wavy visual effect and "flashback" harp music).


It was in a discount electronics store, and when I asked if they had any fans, they pulled one out of the back that seriously looked like it had been in use in a back office five minutes before, and someone had just stuck a pricetag on it. I was skeptical enough to make them plug it in to prove it worked, but paranoid enough about our oxygen supply to take it home despite the wobbly base and clearly inferior materials/construction.

A few months later, he had been christened "Uncle Fan" in honor of a great-uncle of Josh's that used to fall down on purpose to try to collect insurance money for his injuries. He really did fall over in the slightest breeze, which is a bad thing for a fan. Every time we turned around and found him lying on the ground, Josh would say, "Uncle FAN!" in the same exasperated tone. His personality was a bit like R2D2 with major learning disabilities. I loved him. He might have been a tripping hazard, but he kept us breathing at night. And he was really cute.

But when we moved to the current chez nous, I couldn't justify keeping a suicidal fan in the corner of our tiny kitchen, so Josh finally won a very long-standing battle and got permission put Uncle Fan out to pasture, along with a board I'd been saving "just in case."

You can see he's once more without his face plate. He always had trouble keeping it on. But I toted it along behind as Josh carried him off into the sunset, and lovingly attached it as he settled himself down in the corner of the dumpster.

Man, I really hate goodbyes.

samedi 19 février 2011

Weekend Redecoration


A few weeks ago, Josh was gone Saturday and Sunday for an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Lyon, about 4 hours away. I was pretty cranky about being left alone and barfy for a weekend, so I decided to give myself a fun project. So, I decided to redecorate the apartment and make a mini video documentary, like my own HGTV show!

About 30 seconds into the first video segment, I was interrupted by peacocks, and then I decided I sounded stupid. So, it went back to being a photo documentary. First project: repaint our hideous green "boot bench," shown above. I got this from the ridiculously overpriced second hand furniture shop downtown a loooong while ago, and had been meaning to repaint it ever since. A "weekend redecoration" was the motivation I needed, and it turned out really well! It was technically too cold to be painting (mid-thirties) so the paint congealed a bit, but that left this awesome striated pattern that looks like wood grain:


I didn't get a "before" shot of the corner of the kitchen where this guy lives, but you can look at the "after" and imagine it's back to that retina-blinding seafoam, no picture hung above it, and covered in clutter.

The clutter is now being kept down to fruit, candles, and bottles of wine.

I decided to give myself a budget that was equivalent to what I thought Josh would spend on a Frisbee tournament--gas, food, entry fees, etc. Luckily I didn't ask him beforehand how much this actually was, because for the Lyon tournament, he spent WAY less than the 50 euros I earmarked for my decorating supplies. Still, I figured 50 euros was a reasonable amount to spend decorating an apartment where we might only live for part of a year.

The other room I attacked was the living room, and all I did there was buy a new trashcan, which isn't worth showing, and put up two paintings. That was the big project of the weekend: doing the paintings! The one over the couch took me most of a day. Here's the before (pretty boring, right?):


And here's the "after":


Josh doesn't like the painting--he thinks it looks unfinished. I keep telling him it's not any worse than bad modern art you can get at Target. That's my decorating standard--it's OK to use/display something I made myself as long as I could buy something worse/tackier/uglier in a store.

Josh did, however, really like the other painting in the room, which I did in about 5 minutes on the back of the sheet of paper that came inside the frame. With a stick. A visiting artist who did a workshop with kids at one of my schools last year taught them to paint with sticks instead of brushes for a cool look, and I like the way it turned out. Again, here's the before:


And here's the after:


I kinda need to reorganize the shelves there, too.

The redecoration fulfilled its purpose of keeping me busy until Josh got home. Unfortunately, it also kept me too busy to do any of the dishes that piled up...I saved them up to do as soon as I finished everything else, but as soon as I hung the last picture, I was attacked by the vomitmonster...and Josh came home to a redecorated but very messy house. Sparking a huge fight (for us. our huge fights are actually really lame... maybe 60% us staring off into space trying to think of what to say, 30% laying out logical arguments the other person can agree with, and only 10% mean and underhanded jabs at the other person's feelings/character/habits. We will never have our own reality TV show.) So, the intended "surprise redecoration" did not get the excited "I can't believe it"s and enthusiasm you see during the "big reveals" at the end of Trading Spaces, but I had fun doing it, and that was really the point.

vendredi 21 janvier 2011

FAQs

Since I am feeling slightly less vomity today, I’m going to try to answer some of the questions we’ve been getting repeatedly. Don’t know how useful this will be, since I can’t tell people, “please refer to my blog” when they ask baby’s gender/due date/immigration status, but it’s a start.

So, here goes:

FAQ #1: Due date

July 25th by American standards; August 1st in France. My doctor doesn’t know why France keeps those buns in the oven for an extra week (she doesn’t know any other countries that do). We’re American at heart, so starting July 25, we will be doing anything we can to convince Bout'chou that he's done baking. Suggestions welcome.

FAQ #2: What (who) is “Bout’chou”?

It’s actually “bout de chou,” French for “little bit of cabbage.” It’s a term of endearment, like “sweetie pie” or “pumpkin,” and appropriate for a baby whose last name does, in fact, mean “cabbage.” Bout’chou is pronounced enough like “boot-shoe” to make my mother VERY confused, at first, about our level of enthusiasm for becoming parents.

FAQ #3 Where will Bout’chou be born?

France. We don’t have health insurance in the U.S., and paying out-of-pocket is not an attractive option. Plus, here a pregnancy is 100% covered (although you pay to use the TV in the hospital room), average healthy-delivery hospital stay is 4-5 days, and apparently hospital food is fairly edible. It was a no-brainer.

FAQ #4 Will Bout’chou be a French citizen?

Probably not. A baby born to foreign parents on French soil can become a citizen between the ages of 13 and 18 if he/she has lived in France for at least five years. Will we log 5 years before Bout’chou turns 18? I don’t know! See FAQ #5.

FAQ #5 Are we staying in France once Bout’chou arrives?

We don’t know! The whole time we’ve been here, Josh has applied for things back in the US, just in case a great opportunity were to open up. This year, he applied for PhD programs (to start Fall 2011), and if he gets a great offer, well…I don’t think we’d turn it down. (That would most likely put us in PA or Maryland.) I think I’m ready to not be an expatriate for a while. But if none of our stateside opportunities look better than keeping our jobs and continuing our studies here, then we’d stick around. And even if we go back to the US, we’d be interested in returning to France some day. Maybe.

FAQ #6 Are we going to find out Bout’chou’s gender?

Yes. I think we'll find out in March, but I don’t have the heart to even HOPE this is a girl, let alone believe an iffy sonogram promising me a petite fille. We already refer to Bout’chou as “him.” I just couldn’t take the disappointment otherwise. Feel free to tell him some day that I wished he was a daughter.

FAQ #7 Have we picked out names?

Yes, multiple times. It seems to go like this: I fall in love with a name that Josh hates. I suggest the name often enough that Josh grows to like it. We agree on the name. We announce to friends and family that this will be baby’s name. I decide I hate it.

This is the standard procedure for boys’ names. We’ve had a girl’s name picked out from day 1, which is further proof that Bout’chou is going to be a boy.

FAQ #8 If God is benevolent, why is there suffering in the world?

OK, so this isn’t one people are asking when they find out we’re having a baby. But it IS a frequently asked question. Strangely enough, even though I’ve had some pretty lousy things happen in my life, it isn’t a question I’ve personally grappled with. Until now. I am NOT COOL with these crazy pregnancy symptoms. Debilitating nausea? Splitting headaches? And in 6 months, I’m going to have to do WHAT?!?!?! This is not reasonable; I’m trying to do something good here, bring a new life into the world, one I’ll care for and teach to be a positively contributing member of society, someone who will give money to charity and help old ladies cross the street. And I get repaid by throwing up every time someone in my presence mentions stir-fry? I don't see the point. Maybe all the other tough situations I’ve been through were a lot tougher than this one, tough enough that I needed to believe that my suffering was for a good reason, and so I managed to find that silver lining. Or maybe I just feel particularly screwed over by the universe on this one. And that whole story about why women suffer pain in childbirth? Do I really believe that? I can’t go more than 15 minutes without a Maalox because of original sin?

I don’t like to blog about “religious” questions because I MUCH prefer that kind of conversation to be a conversation, not a monologue, and it’s hard for a blog to be more than one-sided. I guess I brought it up here because I feel like so much of talking about pregnancy is squealing over cute onesies and not discussing the real hurdles—and triumphs—that life is throwing at us through this new experience. I probably won’t follow up with more theological musings, but I want to be honest with myself (and cyber-world) and say that this is not all hearts and giggles and vomiting. Not that I think asking myself these questions will be bad—it seems to me that questioning your faith is a great way to learn and grow, a way to move from “I believe this because I don’t have a reason not to” to “I believe this because I think it’s true.” In the future, I’ll probably stick to frivolous things in this frivolous (and public) forum. As I announce the “basic info” about my pregnancy, though, it seemed somehow appropriate to also make the announcement that I (and we, as a family) hope to spend these 9 months growing in ways other than my waistline, and hope to grapple with things bigger than dirty diapers. Although I hear those can be pretty scary.