Monday, May 22, 2017

hooded and pinned

I have crazy cool siblings. I know I am biased, but I really like my brother and my two sisters, and think they are the best! We have this family whatsap group where we can post interesting (or not) things about our lives, pictures, news, jokes, questions, embarrassing moments, etc. It makes the three continents our family lives on feel like we are actually almost neighbors. Almost. I miss them! And being away for big milestones and celebrations is hard. And recently, BOTH my sisters passed a huge milestone!

 In the last couple of years, my middle sister has read 9300 pages of literature. Books that she sometimes liked and sometimes did not. She worked diligently, put in long hard hours, and all of this, while teaching 4 levels of high school French full time and being involved in numerous other activities! After writing about 409 pages, or approximately, 106,636 words, the day finally came to don her cap, gown, tassel, and hood, and graduate with her Master's in English Literature! I am SO proud of her! I was unexpectedly and generously given a ticket to Kansas to surprise her (along with my littlest sister) and be there to help her celebrate her big day! It was a whirlwind of a trip, but an unforgettable experience!

Erika and I had a great time helping her get ready and her apartment all cute for a little party! Her refreshment choices were a variety of m&ms (she is a huge fan), delicate French pastries made by Mom, Aunt Donna's monster cookies, also made by Mom, and fruit brochettes by our littlest sister!

So proud of you Lindsay!!! OH, and do you see that white colar on her gown? That is her hood. She had the hood in her hand, gave it to the professors on stage, who "hooded" her, and officially made her a Master's Graduate!

So that was a week ago Saturday. This last Sunday, it was Erika's turn to pass a big milestone! She has been working as a nurse (the best one in Kansas, I might add) for the last couple of years, just moved to PA with her husband about 6 months ago, started a second job, and all the while, has been taking classes toward her BSN. And Sunday, she got it! Bachelor of Science in Nursing! What a great accomplishment! Sadly, I couldn't be there for her ceremony, but just look how beautiful she and my Mama looked at her pinning! Oh yes, pinning. She didn't get a hood like Lindsay, but had a traditional "pinning" ceremony, where the emblematic pin of her school was pinned on her shirt. 

A BIG congratulations to my two sisters! Very different fields of study, but so much hard work, perseverance, and studying from them both! 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

impromptu lessons on skipping rocks

Joel's little sister has been staying with us for a few days on her spring break, and we have loved having extra quality time with her.

This afternoon, the three of us decided to explore a new-to-us area, just outside of the city. It was beautiful! We walked for several hours, enjoying the sunshine, the beautifully blue water, and just being together. She sure makes her brother laugh.

We were walking along the river, and at one point, went down to the water's edge. Joel picked up a few rocks and started skipping them. 

Rapha was pretty impressed, and decided to follow suit, only hers didn't so much skip lightly across the water, but landed with a big plop not far from where she threw it. #fail

The teaching moment began. 

We are still in the middle of our transition to a new city, and the days aren't always easy. I am learning so much, and am thankful for our changing circumstances that God uses to teach me important life lessons. Slowing down and cultivating a heart of gratitude, for example. There are so many little moments throughout the day that can seem quite insignificant, and that too often go unnoticed when there is so much busyness all around. I want to learn to cultivate more of a thankful heart. To be looking, actively looking, at the countless blessings that God gives throughout the day, whether they seem small or big. 

Today was a great reminder of that. I was snapping a few pictures of Joel and his little sister, and just loved watching them interact. 

Thankful for his patience as he showed her the skipping rock gesture over and over again. 
Thankful for her giggles, laughs, and humor as she tried her best to follow his instructions. 

Before we left, she managed to skip 1 rock! We were quite proud! I had a great afternoon, and was so thankful for our time all together! 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

a special surprise week-end

Today is Joel's little sister's birthday! Happy Happy Birthday Rapha!

During Christmas break, Anne (his older sister) and I started talking about what we could do to celebrate Rapha's birthday. She lives about an hour and a half from Joel and I, and about three hours from Anne and Pierre. Since it was a bit far for us to go just for the evening, we decided to surprise her with a whole birthday week-end! I mean, a surprise week-end, with her favorite brother, sister and siblings-in-law!? What's not to love?!

The planning started. Joel changed around his work schedule. Pierre got the sled ready (in case of snow). I made cinnamon rolls and soup. And Anne took up communication with our newly formed allies: Rapha's roommate and close friend that live in her city. Their mission: making sure Rapha's week-end schedule stayed clear, communicating to her the week of that she was leaving on a surprise week-end getaway, and, helping her pack her bag. They went above and beyond. This was the "message in code" that they delivered to her, right on schedule! Sorry about the picture quality. Basically, it says that she is going away on a surprise week-end, and to not be afraid. :)

Anne found an amazing place for us to stay -- a restored barn, hidden up in the mountains in a tiny little village of about 40 people. It was just right for the 5 of us, and the owners were so sweet, even bringing us breakfast both mornings!

So anyway, back to how Rapha actually got to the village! On Friday of our week-end getaway, her roommates gave her a bus ticket, told her to get off at the final destination (which she saw was Lyon) and that someone would be there to take care of her. She had her doubts that it was her sneaky siblings, but wasn't convinced. Our allies had done a very good job of keeping things mysterious. She bravely got on the bus, and started her 1.5 hour trek to us.

Over in Lyon, Anne and I were beside ourselves with excitement about the weekend and meeting Rapha at the bus stop.

Wanting to keep the surprise for Rapha as long as we could, we asked a girl waiting at the bus station if she could help us out. "You see, it's our little sister's birthday, and we are trying to surprise her..." we explained excitedly to the girl. We asked her to simply walk up to Rapha, hand her the sign and leave. She agreed, though was a tad less enthusiastic than we would have liked. But we were not deterred. We started describing Rapha to her, when all of a sudden her bus pulled up. Anne and I dashed behind another bus stop to hide, all the while giggling and going "shhhhhh!" to each other. The poor girl just stood there, holding our sign. "There she is!!!!" we half whispered half screamed, as we saw Rapha get down from the bus. The girl walked up to Rapha, said, "are you Raphaelle?" and with an affirmative nod from Rapha, she was handed the sign, and the girl left. Haha. Anne and I couldn't keep it a surprise any longer and we jumped out yelling "SURPRISE!" It was a great moment.

We left to go pick Joel, who had been saving lives all day, and then started the scary drive up snowy, mountain roads to our place.

We had no idea that it was going to snow while we were there, but we were so thankful for such a beautiful added blessing (and for safety on the roads)!

It was so great to have family time... talking, games, walks, sledding.

And for Joel and Pierre, lots of pushing each other around in the snow. They were covered in snow, freezing cold and wet within minutes of stepping outside.

We found some great hills for sledding. That little spot in the middle is Pierre! The picture doesn't show the slant very well, but trust me when I say it was a great hill! It was a glorious 2-5 seconds down the hill in the sled, but then the trek up, which took a few seconds longer then the trek down, was a little less fun.

Some of us were more confident than others (not me), some screamed the whole way down (me), and most everyone crashed and burned when they got to the bottom.

Or, even before they got to the bottom!

But who doesn't like crashing and burning when you fall into soft snow? It was great. Happy Birthday Rapha!!!

Joel and Pierre tried a few "creative ways" of going down together.... which didn't always work out.

Anne was a much better partner for Pierre. :)

It was such a joy to be away for the week-end, especially with such wonderful people that I am blessed to call family! 

 Rapha, we love you so much and had a great time planning, surprising, and celebrating you!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

finding the perfect French tree

We have been Mr. and Mrs. for 1 year and 4 months now. It's so much fun! In our 481 days of wedded bliss, we have learned a lot about how our families are similar and different. Christmas time is full of traditions, both in preparing for Christmas and in the actual celebration. Our families have a lot of different traditions...

For example:
- open gifts on the evening of the 24th or the morning of the 25th?
- escargots or chili soup?
- stockings or no stockings?
- white christmas lights or colored lights?
- real tree or beautiful, perfectly symmetric, pull-out-of-the-closet, imitation Christmas tree
- etc.

It's pretty clear, when I see this list, that there are obvious answers to all of these questions. The problem is, Joel agrees, though our answers differ greatly. In our second Christmas as a married couple, we are still figuring out what are the traditions we want to keep from both sides and what new ones we want to create.

One of the questions was about getting a real tree vs. a fake tree. Joel grew up with a real tree, and I grew up in Africa, where we had a lovely fake tree.

I had heard of families going to a Christmas tree farm, walking all around and picking out the perfect tree, and that did sound fun and exciting. When I was 12, my family was living in Kansas for a year, and my parents decided to let us experience the joy of picking and cutting down a real tree. It didn't go super well. Our tree was so prickly, and putting on the lights with my Dad, which was our tradition, was painful and so much less enjoyable than placing the lights on the perfectly spaced out and symmetrical plastic tree branches I was used to. Neither my brother, sisters nor I enjoyed our real tree very much, though the experience of going to pick it out and drinking hot chocolate after, was a lot of fun.

When the time came for Joel and I to decide what we wanted to do for our Christmas tree, we found a good compromise: if we get a real tree, we include the whole experience of picking it out and cutting it down, plus hot chocolate afterwards!

Living in France has made this a bit trickier. Typically, people here buy their (real) Christmas tree from a grocery store, ikea, outdoor market, etc. These places will have an area set up, with a big selection of pre-cut trees that you choose from. According to my French hubby, it's not as common here for people to go directly to the tree farm and pick one out themselves, though he thinks it's happening more and more.

Last year, we found a little farm on the outskirts of Rennes, and though the trees were all pre-cut, they were actually from that farm, and we liked the idea of helping the local farmer, and actually being on his farm.

This year, I did some research online, and found out that there was actually a tree farm a ways outside of our city, where they were inviting people to come and pick and cut down your own tree! I very excitedly told Joel about it, and as soon as he had a day off, we made a date out of it!

In typical awesome French style, the "farm" was a beautiful property with a castle, a long winding road onto the property, and several hills of trees at the back. 

I was so excited! All these trees to choose from! 

Once we had found our perfect tree, one of the workers there cut it down for us, and wrapped it all up nicely for our ride home.

Joel made us some awesome hot cocoa when we got home, and the decorating began. Don't let the expression on his face fool you, he was giddy happy with our tree as well. :)

Our new little ornament this year. A little tradition of our own. 

I'll admit, having a real tree is actually kind of fun, but the memories that we make getting it and our time together is what makes it so special. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

kitchen cabinet makeover

Unlike a lot of apartments we looked at, our current place had a few kitchen cabinets already in it. Often times, places here come with a kitchen completely empty, and it's up to the owner/renter to install cabinets, shelves, and counter tops, and then to take them down when they leave. When I moved into our apartment in Rennes, it had a sink and the two cabinets under the sink, and that was it. It was up to us to add some shelves, and counter tops. We were kind of expecting to do that again, but to our surprise, this kitchen (of our current apartment) had some cabinets already installed. They were just a bit outdated. 

I saw lots of potential! And they don't look so bad, but what you can't see is the grease, dirt and grime caked all over. It also made the whole room look dark. I whispered to Joel that "if we got the place, I would loooooove to repaint the kitchen cabinets!" though I had no idea if we would be allowed to, or if the owner would agree to it. 

As if to read my mind, the man from the agency who was showing us the apartment said, "we encouraged the owner to change the kitchen cabinets, as they are old and outdated, but he didn't want to. But if you like to paint and are motivated to do so, he would be willing to let you repaint and to pay for it." I was so excited! Not just at the prospect of having a brighter kitchen and that he would pay for it, but who doesn't love a good diy makeovers! :) 

It was a looooooong process. I of course started out by texting my dear friend Molly, who repainted all of her kitchen cabinets a year (or 2? 3?) ago, just for moral support. She assured me that painting them white was going to make a world of difference, and to keep persevering as I put on coat 4.

We also had a HUGE help from our friends who live in the south of France, and drove 3 hours to come and help us move. They were so wonderful and did so much in 24 hours! 

We started by taking everything off: hinges, handles, doors, etc. and sanded everything really well, and used a degreaser to get the gross stuff off. 

For the painting, we did a coat of primer on both sides, and around the frames of the cabinets, and then 3 coats of paint. That's what took so long -- having to wait in between each coat of one side to dry, and then flipping it over, to do the other side. 

We really liked the white as it was going on, and it brightened up the kitchen so much! 

We spray painted the door handles and hinges and then it was almost time to put everything back together! I couldn't wait!

We are really happy with how it turned out, and it definitely provides a lot more light and an updated look to our little kitchen! 

We also added a counter top and a few drawers on the left side. What do you think? 

Isn't it funny how we have our washing machine right next to our sink? There aren't any other water hookups in the rest of the apartment, so it has to go there. Mom thought I should just try and put dishes in it -- use it as a clothes washer and dish washer. :) We haven't tried that yet. 

We really like the details on the wood, and they seem to be more noticeable in white. 

Do you see that tan, orange and green book by my brown recipe box? It's the Wiebe Family Cookbook, and I'd be happy to tell you more about where you can get your own copy! There is an amazing Broccoli Cheese Soup recipe by my awesome cousin Amy. I made it last night and was hoping for some leftovers today, but... my hubby really liked it and finished it! :)