Sunday, July 11, 2021

Happy 1st Birthday, Roua!

Last weekend we celebrated our Roua baby’s 1st birthday! It was a beautiful day, joyous and heartwarming. All our friends were content and happy, as were we and Roua seemed to be as well. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, perfect summer weather for a garden sourdough pizza party! 

I ended up making 8 pizzas, just as I had planned! Go Penny! I had fed Penny a few days before, mixed the dough and then just started cranking out pizzas on the morning of Roua’s bday. It worked out really well with the timing, and with a few friends coming later, I was able to take a break and enjoy the party, making the last two pizzas in the evening. 

I had made a few chanterelle pizzas with creme fraiche and chives from the garden. The chanterelles we had harvested a few autumns ago in the mountains across from our house. I had rehydrated them and they were just as delicious. The other pizzas varied, margarita with just tomato sauce and basil from my potted basil, then a veggie pizza with summer veggies of courgette (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant), onions and garlic, always garlic, can’t forget the garlic! They were topped with parmesan cheese and mozzarella and emmentel cheeses. One pizza had just onions and garlic and parmesan,  and it was delicious too. Overall, I received good compliments about the pizzas, mostly at how tasty the dough was. Thank you Penny! Roua thoroughly enjoyed her slices of pizzas too! 

Celebrating Roua brought friends from near and far. Our neighbors down by the bridge who also have a little baby were not able to join since they had another party to attend, but Dorian made an appearance and gifted Roua a drawing he had made of her the other day when she was over playing at their house. It was a beautiful piece of art and on the back, Lolita had written the sweetest messsage for Roua. Jorris' and my heart melted. Dorian stayed for a drink and then had to run, but his presence and their present for Roua was so touching. 

From far our friends from Digne came. Lise, Roua’s American bestie and her mama, Hilary, my American bestie and Papa Franck came. Lise had also just turned 1 two days before Roua! We were in the same birth preparation class with the same midwife. It’s been so wonderful and healing to have an American bestie like Hilary to write to and talk with, sharing in the experiences of Motherhood together. I am so grateful the Universe brought us together. 

After a delicious lunch including various salads from our guests, it was time for cake. I had made strawberry cake with lemon curd and vanilla buttercream frosting. Although we had a good strawberry harvest this year, more on that later, there wasn’t enough for the cake. But I had happened to see Lolita the day before explaining my predicament casually, thinking I would just stick with lemon curd, and she offered her garden strawberries which are an incredibly fragrant and sweet variety, mara de bois, the essence of strawberry-ness. I am so grateful for the community we live in. 

Of course, it was just like me to have never made a layered cake before and just make 2.5 on the first try. I stayed up until 2 am the night before the party and quite frankly was running on adrenaline at some point, but I pulled through and am so proud of my cakes! I really wanted to make Roua her own smash cake for her birthday and that goal just stuck with me, so I had to do it, or at least try. I am so happy with how it turned out and it tasted pretty good too. I did every step from scratch. The only thing I did “ahead of time” and only a day before, was make the buttercream. But now I know that you can make all these little steps a few days, sometimes even weeks before if you freeze them! I will take this into consideration the next birthday! 

We sang happy birthday, both in French and English. During the serenade, Roua had her serious face on, the one with the wrinkle between her eyebrows. She got that from her papa. It was so funny. I had made a candle from our beeswax. The wind blew it out. Philippe had sweetly tucked the wick between the rock and sign down at the bridge for me the day before on his way to work. See? Amazing community we live in, right?

At first, Roua was more interested in eating the candle then the cake and it took her some time to warm up, and help to break into, but eventually, she tasted her cake and I think rather enjoyed it. It was so satisfying for me to witness. What was more satisfying was how our friends enjoyed it too. I managed to save a few pieces for those friends who couldn’t make it. And had a sliver with some coffee for myself the next morning. 

Roua opened some sweet presents, played in the kiddie pool with the other kiddos and fell asleep wrapped in a towel in Sylvaine’s arms. Party well done. Then, a sprinkle of rain came, so we went inside and friends began to leave. Dan and Sylvaine stayed for tea and coffee and we got to catch up on each other’s lives, how our trip to the US had been in May, my brother’s wedding, their home improvement projects and summer plans. It was nice just to sit with them. After they went home, we had a few hours just to relax and then the last guests showed up, Philippe and Celine. I fired up the oven again and made the last 2 pizzas. We ended up having a candle-it dinner in the garden. Roua was in bed. 

And Philippe, always with thoughtful poetic gifts, gifted Roua a frame of honey from one of his hives from Roua! This is where Roua is named after actually, this natural place in the mountains where the dirt is red and where back in the day when we had first met, Jorris and I were just two wwoofers helping out Philippe with this hives there. Roua tasted her gift the next day and I’d say she appreciated every drop of the golden liquid on her little fingers. 

Reality turned out better than my visions for her birthday. Just seeing and feeling all the love Roua has all around her from all these truly genuine and caring people made me feel so happy, that she is so loved. And, actually, this was her 3rd party! She actually had 2 while we were in CA and also showered with love from all her cousins and Great Aunties and Uncles. I suppose as a parent, knowing your child is cared for and loved by more than just you is an assuring and easeful feeling.  

It was just what we needed as a family and couple. The bee season has been quite intense this year, honey flow is excellent but that means so much work and only us, so balancing family life with work life has been challenging for Jorris. As for me, watching over Roua most of the time has been challenging too. But the good energy we got from the party set us up into a better place, rekindling our spirits, reminding us of why we chose this life to begin with. Seeing friends and getting together to celebrate our daughter was just what we needed to reset perspective on our life here, to step back from the everyday chaos and just admire for a second the beauty of it all. When I take a moment to step back from the chaos of daily life and routine, and look at Roua, it’s such magic that she exists, that she moves with her own life force, that she smiles and talks and laughs and climbs and has even taken her first few steps. In just one year this sweet little baby I birthed is evolving everyday into her own little person, little but with big personality. 

I suppose it’s our own birthdays also, in a way. Roua’s 1st birthday marks my first year as a Mother and Jorris' as a Father. I take a deep breath to reflect briefly after typing that. What a whirlwind of wondrous and wild experiences, what suffering, what beauty, what growth. Thank you Roua for giving us a chance to celebrate you my love and for one year of magic with you. Mama and Papa love you so much! Happy Birthday, honey!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Happy Easter!

While we are usually not big on the Easter celebration, Uncle Kevin gifted Roua a beautiful vintage dress that screamed, “Wear me on Easter!!”…so we were obliged to, and had so much fun. Uncle Kevin had given it to us over Christmas, worried it might not fit Roua when Easter came around, so I hope this post makes him happy because it fit her perfectly! 

Actually, we did this yesterday, before Easter. We had fun, Oma, Roua and I, mostly Oma and I, I think, playing dress up and taking pictures. Only one egg was cracked, but Oma caught it in time and I ate it for lunch. 

This morning I opened my bedroom shutters to a chorus of birds as the garden greeted me with her fresh scent of morning dew. It was surreal, a dreamscape. The bees are busy, the birds are singing, the buds and blooms of the trees all around us are bursting with white and pink flowers brightening the pale winter landscape. It's been warm and beautiful this last week, but we are not totally in the clear yet. Frost is still possible, so we will take care to wrap our flowers when the time comes next week as the forecast predicts. 

The surge of new energy and life all around has me feeling so profoundly grateful. There is new life everywhere we look. Spring is here. Mother Earth awakens from her winter slumber. Within every egg comes the possibility of life, as within every seed. When I look around and see the carpet of the earth in bloom with different types of tiny flowers of all the colors of the rainbow, and in the most intricate shapes and patterns, I can't help but smile at the sheer miracle and beauty of our world. I suppose even though we don't celebrate Easter, I like the idea surrounding it of celebrating spring time and new life. It's hopeful and bright. These days especially, we must cherish each of our hopeful and bright days. May your day be bright and beautiful!


Saturday, April 3, 2021

9 Months In & 9 Months Out


Roua is 9 months old

Easter is tomorrow and yesterday we celebrated Roua's 9 month birthday, neuf moisiversaire we say in French. We took a drive to the city in my little saxo that could and went to a beautiful children's book store, full of gorgeous books and toys. It was very classic and old-worldy, with only the best illustrated books and toys, hand-selected for sure. To me it was like an art museum. Roua enjoyed gazing around at all the pretty colors and pictures as I carried her in the baby carrier. Of course, Oma spoiled Roua and her friends. I think Oma might have had more fun than any of us. It was endearing to see her excitement at all the books and toys. The parking was tough, but we managed to squeeze onto the end of the street just before the crosswalk. It was so worth it. Despite being in yet another covid lockdown here in France, we are managing to find ways to enjoy life, no restaurants but why not bookstores. 

After that it was a stop at Satoriz, our organic local food store, where we loaded up on bulk foods which we had been running low on. It felt good to replenish our food pantry. As head chef of the household, I always feel I can cook at my best with a full pantry. Roua swooned everyone in the store of course, and delighted in playing with the carrot tops protruding out of the basket cart. So many people asked questions about her and everyone who saw her smiled. She beamed back, as usual. And I beamed from a far, as she was with her Oma. I'm really the lucky one here, though. 

June 24th, 2020

April 3rd, 2021

I can hardly believe it's been 9 months since I was pregnant and gave birth to my beautiful baby girl. Looking back on this picture last year which was taken 8 days before Roua was born and the photo we took today, I am filled with sheer awe at the miraculous and magical changes of life force which governs us all. 9 months ago I was reborn as well, into the role of Mother, a role which has been the most enriching and profound gift of my whole life. 

If life is a movie, which in my mind it is, this would be the best role to play of my entire career. What a beautifully, wild adventure it has been to learn how to be a Mother and to learn about my daughter, to watch her change by the day, and for us to learn to be a family. Some days I just want to press the pause button and hold her close, smell her soft semi-curly hair and just watch her sleep, cradled in my arms. Other days, I just want to sleep in myself and she waits patiently in between us, nudging us to wake. 

I am so proud of Roua already: her fierce and determined will-power (diaper changes are always a challenge), how her 4 teeth have popped through and barely any whining, how she is almost walking, not afraid to experiment, and how she crawls so quickly towards me with that sweet smile which melts my heart every morning, how gentle she is to other babies and how she plays with other kids with non-attachment and only her pure presence. I love how she makes raspy, gollum voice sounds, sometimes saying "mum mum" and they way she loves to eat my sourdough bread and just food in general. I love how she has to touch and explore everything, breaking it a part to understand and discover it. Her curiosity and fearlessness for the world empowers me and inspires me everyday. Roua, thank you for choosing me to be your Mama baby, I love to more than I'll ever be able to show you. Happy 9 month Birthday, my love!!

Thursday, April 1, 2021

A Re-Cap

Happy Spring! We've been so busy living life, in our home, out in our garden....keeping up with it all and starting a season anew. Our second beekeeping season of Au Septieme Miel has begun and with that our garden. Oma, Roua's grandma, ma belle-mere (mother-in-law), is here with us from Holland and with her grace and love, I have the privilege of time for myself, shower, slow-drip Vietnamese coffee, yoga and writing this blog. Roua sleeps in her stroller in the garden as Oma works. I hear her singing songs in French to Roua and the clinking of the garden trowel against the rocky soil we have here. It's been on my mind for so long to write here. I miss being here at Garden Gallivanter. Finally, here I am with high spirits. So much has happened, and I've chosen to live mindfully with my fullest presence to my family, which is why I haven't been able to share here as I love to do. Do forgive me for the long absence. We are well and happy. I suppose I should just fill you in quickly, catch you up to speed with what life has been like these last few months, or at least draw a rough picture. While I haven't been writing here at Garden Gallivanter, I always write in my black notebook, so I thought I'd just write some entries here, bullet points really, and elaborate on some which I couldn't finish at that time. So here is a short re-cap:

December 19th, 2020  Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, CA, USA

Made it to Los Angeles! So happy to be home! Embracing my Mom was the best feeling.

December 25th, 2020      Azusa, California, USA 

Today is Roua’s first Christmas! Merry Christmas from Azusa, CA. We are at Nene’s house. The Christmas tree sparkles day and night with greens, reds and blues...Roua loves staring at it. Chill day together. Kevin and Steven are with us and Grandpa Ma from Texas. My heart is so happy! 

December 30th, 2020     Royal Oak, Michigan, USA 

Roua stands up pulling herself up for the first time! She used Uncle Kevin and Steven’s coffee table! Jorris and I caught on camera the 2nd time. It was amazing. She is so strong!!! 

January 4th, 2021 Azusa, California, USA

Roua eats carrot puree for first time! Her first “solid” at Nene’s house! Sweet moment to share this “first” for Roua with my Mom. 

January 10th 2021      Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, California, USA 

It happened in the same place exactly 1 year and 8 months ago where I said goodbye to my parents in a not so nice way, hurried off up the escalator to the zone non-ticketed people couldn’t travel to, not turning back for one last look and wave. Nope, I was too proud, tired, stubborn and stupid. The stress at the ticket counter over heavy bags and shifting weight around, yelling at my parents and the Norwegian Air desk woman, actually, more at my parents than at her which was so unfair....I had gone back to LA for not one but two Grandmothers’ funerals. It was intense. I kept strong for my grandmas, for my family, fighting through jet lag, emotions, etc, the passing of Grandpa Ma just a few months ago in February was still raw and I was still processing that on top of all this, so finally this was the catalyst of my pain and I broke, but wasn’t brave enough to take that pain on my own yet, so had to drag my parents down too when all they had been was loving and welcoming of me. Had I known the future that a pandemic would hit the world and soon our lives as we knew it would change so drastically and that I wouldn’t see them again until a year and a half later, I would have behaved so differently. 

Of course, how can we ever see these things until it’s too late. The biggest lessons in life are sometimes the most painful, often seen only through the lens of hindsight. This trip back home has healed so many wounds. Becoming a mother has made me so much more mature and understanding. I found little ways to make my Mom’s house more cozy and just took action, a rug here, some flowers there. Jorris and I found necessary projects around the house to help her with. We ate exquisite meals together, family-style, tastes of my childhood, each bite nourished my soul and brought me back to life again. My Mom was so sweet and cooked every waking moment and while she was cooking she was thinking of what to cook next! All while carrying Roua in the baby carrier and talking to her in Vietnamese. Oh the joy! This is where I had dreamed of being for so many months! I savour the moment. We squeezed a lot into 3 weeks. Spending time in LA, then flying to se my brother and brother-in-law’s new home in Michigan. It was Jorris’ first time to the mid-west, and of course Roua’s too. Roua was stellar on the plane rides, 6 total!! I was so proud of my girl. We had lots of boobie and she slept and played. Through those 3 weeks she had many firsts: starting purees, crawling, pulling herself up to stand with support of a table, two little bottom teeth popped through. We saw family in small visits to my Mom’s house where we were staying. With each of my aunts', uncles' and cousins' hugs I felt more and more reinvigorated. And introducing them to Roua was so fun and exciting for everyone. Going to book stores was soooo fun!! I got so many books for Roua and I, English books!!! So proud of how we really savoured each moment, Jorris, Roua and Jorris and my Mom’s relationship healed and mine and my parents’ too. 

This time, at the same spot at LAX International Airport, the tears were of joy and gratitude for the beautiful time we got to spend together and all those hoops and barriers traveling during covid were worth it. I allowed myself to hold my Mom close and tight and cried. She cried too. And I felt a heaviness lift from my heart. We got onto the escalator to the zone where non-ticketed people are not allowed and this time Jorris and I and Roua turned to wave one more time at Nene before she walked away. My heart was happy and filled. I was re-energeized to do anything now, most of all, to be the best mom for Roua. At least one of my pains was healed so she wouldn’t have to bear it later. At least those tears I and I alone had shed. My Mom told me a saying in Vietnamese, “ Tears fall downwards”...we pass on our sadness and tramas to our children, this I thought as we sat in our seats on the plane ready for take off, at least Roua would be free of. And I felt proud of myself about it. I maintained my energy well throughout our trip, I felt, keeping things flowing well between everyone and it worked! Our intentions and thoughtfulness matter.

January 22nd/23rd, 2021   Wankdorf, Switzerland

Here for the weekend visiting Ton Ton (Uncle) Valentijn and Zia (Aunt)Benny! What a fun road trip! Roua did amazingly and slept most the drive with pit stops for eating and diaper changes...she had a few driving lessons herself...what gorgeous scenery on our road trip and the alps here are so grand and stunning. Will visit Tata Lisbeth in Alsace this weekend all together for lunch and Anne Sophie will be there! 

February 5th, 2021    St. Leger, France

Yesterday Jorris found our beloved Bodhi dead by the area of the honeyroom entrance. It was tragic. I was with Roua on the sofa when he told me. 

Bodhi looked beautiful and handsome, lying against the pole. He looked as if he were napping. We don't know how we died. He has no visual marks of injury. Perhaps a wild boar attacked him or a car hit him and he suffered from internal injuries? We were in Switzerland and our neighbors were keeping an eye on him. 

I cried. We buried him by the apiary here in St. Leger. Life is so fragile, every changing. Never will Bodhi pop through his cat door while I'm brushing my teeth, or lounge by the woodstove on the sofa curled beside us. 

Bodhi was kind, sweet, loving and brave. He liked Roua and was gentle with her even when she pulled on his fur. He will be missed so deeply. 

That evening, I had an appointment to talk with my best friend back in the states. I was tired from crying, just had dinner and had put Roua to bed, so was a little meh, but still made the effort to be there for the call and learned the wonderful news that she is pregnant! And, I jumped up form my slouching in elation and jubilation! 

Life is beautiful. Nature is balanced. 

March 9th, 2021    St. Leger, France

Roua receives her American passport in the mail after we had applied a few weeks ago at the US Consulate in Marseille! Now she has two passports and is officially a dual-citizen of France and the US. 

On that note...cheers to more adventures to come....

Friday, December 18, 2020

One Hundred Sourdough Breads

Sourdough Penny #100

So proud I've just pulled out of the oven my 100th and 101 sourdough breads! To think that I started back in February, 10 months ago with a handful of youtube videos, curiosity and hopefulness.

Sourdough bread is such a science and yet there lies beneath basic, ancient simplicity. A colony of yeast and bacteria eat up flour, water and salt and their gases causes your bread to rise! And, there is no better taste than that of your own sourdough starter, since it is a signature of your landscape, your home. Back in February, before the lockdown but not because of it, I started my own starter out of necessity and strong desire. We love bread. Jorris in particular loves bread. He even has said before how he loves my sourdough starter Penny, after Roua and I. Actually, once, in the midst of being in Penny heaven (after taking a bite of freshly baked Penny, still warm, with a slather of butter), he said he could propose to her. I furrowed my eyebrows, turning away from my work for a quick, confused glance at him. Should I be worried of my husband's fidelity!? Oh, wait, he's just making a joke about marrying my sourdough starter...but really, all jokes aside, she is 3rd on the list of all our family and friends and other things in life that you could love. Or maybe the order is: Roua, Bees, Penny, Tiffanie....I forget but you get the point. 

Jorris isn't the only one who loves Penny. Many of our friends have commented on how yummy Penny tastes, her soft inside and crusty outside. And she is 100% organic, whole-wheat flour. Our shepherd friend Samuel likes Penny and that was a big compliment for me because this guy really knows his bread and bakes his bread too for his family. He was surprised by how Penny rises so well, even though she's 100% whole-wheat. I suppose whole wheat is heavier than white flour or other flours so typically perhaps trickier to rise? I am lucky enough to use a whole wheat that is fine and high quality. It's also local which is the cherry on top of the sundae. It's one of my greatest joys to give one of my sourdoughs freshly baked to friends. People appreciate it so much, especially here in France where bread is such a fundamental part of our meal. The table is just not complete without a loaf of bread. 

Nice crumb

I say all of this not to brag. I'm just the baker. The magic lies in the power of the culture of bacteria and yeast which I have simply captured with some water in a jar and time. Penny has gotten stronger with each bread. It's amazing to see that sometimes I can go a few weeks without feeding her and when I do, she puffs just like that! After giving birth for example. Penny was the last thing on my mind, so I admittedly neglected her for a few weeks, but when I fed her, POOF! Incredible. 

It takes trust in the bacteria, yeast, time, temperature...the process. I trusted this process so much when I first started and told Jorris I wouldn't stop until I made a bread like I see online. He told me in so many words not to get my hopes up, that those bakers have been at their craft for years...."don't be disappointed"...after my first bread, he was stunned and shared in the joy and excitement with me. In fact, it Jorris who inspired the name Penny...when I was thinking of what to name my sourdough starter, Jorris was outside singing "Penny Lane..." from The Beatles, and bam. I said, there it is. Since then we have used Penny interchangeably, referring to Penny the sourdough starter or Penny the loaf of bread. 

A fed and active Penny. 

Penny puffed and ready for action!

I wrote about sourdough bread and the benefits years ago when I got to tour the sourdough master of this region. He uses the same flour as we do, actually. Never did I imagine then I could bake bread too. In fact, it was not being able to get to the local artisanal store to get his bread that I was determined to make my own. Without my French driving permit and Jorris being so busy in Spring, I could never get down there in time and neither could he, so we didn't have bread. So, necessity drove me most I'd say, to making my own. At least I could try I thought. I stayed up late watching hours of youtube videos, sometimes the same ones over and over. I immersed myself in forums. I loved learning about it all. I started a journal "Penny Vol 1" where I began documenting every single bread I made, the date, the time, the outcome, the questions...from there I learned. This was a tip from my favorite teacher/baker whom I am so thankful I stumbled upon his youtube channel. Bake with Jack is the name of his channel and he is from the UK. 

When I filled up that journal, I started "Penny Vol 2". Less notes in that one, but I counted every bread and dated when I made them. 

Sourdough Penny's 100 and 101

Building my week around baking bread adds some structure in a chaotic, uneasy time. No matter what was going on in the world, I knew I could trust on Penny and myself to make my family a good loaf of bread. And she's opened doors to sourdough: pancakes, cinnamon rolls, X-Mas logs. I also have to thank Lisa from a Farmhouse On Boone for her sourdough recipes and inspiration. 

Cheers to 100 Pennys and many more to come. 

I'm going to give the 100th Penny to our neighbors who will kindly take care of Bodhi, the bees and my houseplants and Winter Garden while we are in LA!!! We fly out tomorrow morning!!!!!

*photos by me

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy 32 & Thanksgiving

Hiking with my baby girl. 

Today is my birthday. I'm 32. It's a special birthday because it also falls on Thanksgiving; and this Thanksgiving I have something extraordinarily wonderful in my life to be thankful for that I never had all the 31 Thanksgivings before today, my daughter, Roua. 

I am writing from bed since Jorris just brought me breakfast in bed. Sweet pears from our neighbor's tree, yogurt, a slice of my sourdough bread with a slather of peanut butter, topped with sliced bananas, and to finish, drizzled with our fall mountain honey and a pinch of black sesame seeds. I sip coffee, real coffee, with a bit of cream. Roua is with Papa and I hear them talking in the living room. My heart smiles. 

My loves.

It's an odd feeling. I have to admit. I don't have that jubilant, Christmas is here feeling in my belly. I don't have the urge to spring out of bed and announce to the world "It's my birthday!". I have so much to be thankful for, grateful for in my life, though I feel a little blue. Perhaps it's because I miss my family back in the states so much and nostalgically think of how we would celebrate today together with turkey and stuffing, pumpkin pie, the works. How I yearn for the mingling of those old big family gatherings I now realize I always took for granted. How I wish for just one of those gatherings. What I would give for a room bustling with laughter and joy, stories told over humble and delicious plates of food, tables and tables spread with carpets of gorgeous food. Of course, we are not alone. The current state of the world stage with the corona virus casts a dark shadow, for everyone, and I send light and love to all those families affected. 

Thanksgiving isn't celebrated here in France, though I usually make a Thanksgiving dinner with our friends. This year though, I am feeling a bit tired and the thought of hosting just did not feel appealing nor relaxing. I want Roua to experience Thanksgiving, but at the cost of her mama feeling stressed and not fun to be around, I decided to follow my heart and not host a dinner. My friends were more than understanding. This will be the first Thanksgiving in my life without a dinner or traditions, except Jorris sweetly insists on making a pumpkin pie from one of our own garden pumpkins, which he is waiting for me to make with him after I post this! Perhaps, even without all the usual traditional Thanksgiving fixings, this could still be a meaningful one. 

This moment is all I need. 

It's just a different way of celebrating. And different can be just as beautiful, if not more. I intend to spend my day being present with my family and thinking of all the wonderful people in my life and all the life experiences that I am thankful for, knowing that I will get to see my loved ones one day soon enough. I intend on taking the day real slow, going on a hike with my husband and baby girl along the river, discovering somewhere new, maybe have a picnic? The sun is shining outside, what more could I wish for. Shouldn't we be thankful everyday?

Happy Thanksgiving to you wherever you are today and cheers to however you are celebrating this day of thanks. 

*photos by me. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Happy 8th Year Anniversary

It's a chilly Saturday morning here in St. Leger. Roua is nudging me to wake, her little fingers pulling at my hair. I turn towards her, still half asleep. She's been patient and waiting, nuzzled beside me under the down blanket. I peel my still-sleepy eyes open to see her sweet face. "Good Morning baby," I whisper. She smiles big. "Mama is still sleepy," I say, closing my eyes. She graciously gives me another minute before clawing at my face and squirming around in her sleep sac. "EEEEE!" she declares, tensing her body. This translates to: Ok, time to get up Mom! So I spring up like a Dandelion in March. I take a moment to orient myself to a new day, the sun shines brightly through our bedroom window. Roua is excited to get up. I pick her up and we make our way to the living room. 

It's toasty and inviting. Papa has started the wood fire, as he normally does for us. "Bonjour mon amour," I greet Jorris, who's by the fire, with a kiss. I put Roua down to play in her playpen and make my usual chicory with cream. Today is a special day and even through all the busy chaos of life and my mom-brain short-term memory, I remember it's the 8th year anniversary of this blog, my first baby, Garden Gallivanter. In fact, I've been anticipating this day the whole week. What will I write? Will I have a chance to write? I worry for a minute. 

But then, I turn on my computer and out of curiosity look at what I wrote this day last year. Sipping my chicory, I look back on my trip to San Remo, Italy where I took a solo trip to write and rest, last Fall. Roua starts getting fussy, so I carry her and we both read together. The end of that post reads: 

I feel like this new independence, self-knowing, prepares me for something great to come. The relationship we have with ourselves might be the most important before any other relationship in our lives. This year I've learned to nurture and listen to my inner-self, to speak up for my soul.

Little did I know that that great something would be my daughter Roua. One month after that trip, I found out I was pregnant, and so, those two lines appearing on that pregnancy test marked the beginning of my greatest adventure into Motherhood, into Womanhood. 

Roua at 4.5 months old. 

Roua's new trick is the "ugly face".

I smile in excitement, inspired by something I can now write about to commemorate this day. Now, for the photos. I spontaneously look around at what we have that I can use as props and take Roua into the bedroom for her 4-month homemade photoshoot. It's a nice ritual I am enjoying, these monthly photoshoots, a nice little creative challenge. I quickly toss some apples we bought yesterday at the bio store into a hand basket and with Roua in the other arm, we go into the bed room. She seems to enjoy these photoshoots as she is always smiling. I make a number 4 with the apples and have just enough apples that it looks like a decent 4! Yesterday, I had wondered why Jorris bought so many apples, we never eat so many so quickly, and now I know why. 

The apples are just one event affirming my strong belief that everything happens for a reason. We were meant to get that many apples for the photoshoot today. I was meant to go to Digne for my réeducation du périnée (perineum reeducation) with my sage femme (midwife). And because we have been going to Digne for my bi-weekly appointments, we get to see my friend Hilary who had her baby 3 days before Roua. In fact, we have the same midwife. And because I get to see my friend Hilary and go on our little walks, yesterday with hot chocolate in our hands, and our babes with their papas ahead of us, I feel so re-energized and happy. we started this book club, exchanging books, very casual but so wonderful. Yesterday she wanted to lend me a book which I had thought to lend her! How our minds are on the same wave length. But this is all to say that if it hadn't been for that big boulder to fall during the major storm last month that destroyed part of the road to Nice, I might not have had the opportunity to consider going back to Dinge for my appointments. Since I had given birth in Nice, I was planning to go back to do a postpartum follow-up with my doctor, as instructed, who would prescribe me réeducation du périnée sessions. It would also be convenient to practice driving around Nice (for my French driving license exam), perhaps even making honey deliveries, if needed, but then we changed plans because of the boulder and all for the better (although many thoughts go out to those lives who were lost and affected by the storm negatively).

Blessings in disguises are real. I am so happy to be back with my sage femme Hélène. I am learning so much from her to reeducate my perineum muscles and have been really enjoying discovering those muscles and that part of my body that I never engaged in so mindfully before. With her finger inside me she instructs in French, "now, imagine a lotus flower closing in the evening, imagine that same motion as your vagina and those muscles around it closing in and lifting up a little". I close my eyes, take a deep breath and on my exhale, visualize my lotus flower closing. "That's exactly it! I could feel that suction motion with my finger," Hélène says, exuberated.  She has given me many exercises with metaphors like this one to work with, along with showing me visual illustrations of muscle anatomy. As someone who is fascinated by mind and body connections, I am intrigued to learn more. Her office also has a wonderful ambiance, which Roua seems to enjoy. Jorris kindly accompanies me too. 

My puppy and I in the garden.

Our Winter Window Garden

Roua meets Romaine.

France is an amazing country in so many ways, one of which being its universal healthcare system. One of the pilars of France's political and societal foundation is égalité, equality. France believes that all of her people should have medical care, no matter one's job or social status. Everyone deserves to be well and healthy. It is a human right. So my health insurance pays for these réeducation du périnée sessions with my midwife, which are standard for all women postpartum. We have therapy and training/exercises to strengthen and heal other parts of our body, why not down there? Nothing like this exists back in the States, not at a national standard level, at least not based on my knowledge.  I appreciate this so much because it shows a respect for the health and well-being of the Mother as well (there are many services for babies too which I'll get into in another post). Quality of life. There is such a value here for quality of life.

Roua is remarkably calm at the moment, sitting in my lap as I type. Her temperament is usually calm, but she is being extra calm, très sage, the expression we say for a baby or child behaving well. I put on some music; she likes music. This morning we went out to check on our winter window garden. The Romaine lettuce and kale are growing so beautifully! I let Roua feel the texture of salad and kale. It has been our ritual to check on our winter garden and water when necessary. Jorris turns the manure which we get from the neighbors goats and sheep. He found the window panes from the junk yard and built the garden. We got the idea from our friends Marie et Samuel. They have amazing aromatics growing in their winter window garden. They are shepherds and so put their manure around the window box to keep it warm since the manure is warm. We do the same and it works so well. I love learning from friends willing to teach and share. It's a nice feeling. 

Our Winter Window Garden

Papa turns the compost pile. 

It's been a beautiful Saturday; the sun is shining. Life is good. It's a beautiful day to celebrate another year of blogging. If you had asked me this day last year where I imagined I would be on the same day next year, I would never have imagined this day as it has turned out to be: waking up on a chilly morning to the beautiful face of my daughter, taking photos of her, strolling in our garden with her, her sitting in my lap as I write. My puppy. She's very much like puppy these days, playful, curious, wants to put everything in her mouth. I take her on walks. She has a playpen. She even learned this new trick. She makes an "ugly face" as we translate from Vietnamese. She scrunches up her nose like a bunny, and it's the cutest thing. My Mom tells me I did the same thing! I actually remember this from a home video of me as a baby. We video chat nearly ever day, so my Mom sees Roua make the face and we all have a laugh, including Roua. She even showed her new "trick" to Hélène and Hilary and Franck yesterday. We all had a laugh. I'll end it here for now. Cheers to 8 years and more laughs ahead. And to fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans for the first time today!!! Thank you for being here and sharing in the magic with me. As always, the honor is mine. 

*photos by me.