The Tickle in My Throat

View outside the house that I visited in Kinsale.

View of the cove outside the house that I visited in Kinsale.

I had a tickle in my throat. It woke me from my slumber and was painfully persistent. Exasperated, I opened my eyes and noticed there was hardly any light outside the windows. The quiet was thick and stuffy, interrupted only by the occasional snore from the room next door.

I tried to stifle my coughs and my throat clearings which would not subside. Finally, I sat up and slid out of bed so as not to disturb my friend sleeping next to me. I reached for my water bottle– empty. My throat was parched and crackling. Encouraged by the chill in the damp air, I snuck out of the room as quickly as possible toward the kitchen for some water.

While waiting for the liquid to do its work, I stood in the kitchen and looked out the wide windows into the backyard. All I could see were rolling green hills that sloped off gently to the cove below. The waves steadily moved forward toward shore as the tide came in.

Restless, I  tiptoed to the living room adjacent to the kitchen where the two walls of windows provided a view that was nothing short of breathtaking. The rolling hills were now off to my far left and my vision was filled with the expanse of the cove. A small island directly in front of me had edges like a superb fillet of fish, cut on the diagonal, rocks flaking apart as though a giant fork had just indulged its first bite.

Overhead, the spiders were swiftly swooping and spinning their morning webs in the corner of the windows. The lighthouse off to my right was keeping steady time toward morning with each pulse of light. One small boat made its way out of the cove into the open sea.

Then standing, slightly shivering (from cold or otherwise), I watched as the sky faintly glowed pink, its color in contrast yet harmonious with the vibrant green of the hills. The birds heralded with song that dawn was approaching. My own melody burst from my heart and flooded my mind with athemic music.

As that border line became tinged with tangerine, I realized that the tickle in my throat was quite possibly a tickle from God. It seemed no coincidence to be woken up and driven out bed only to experience the profound glory of a dawning morn. I wrapped myself in a nearby blanket and sat on the floor and just watched, attempting to memorize every single detail through which I’ve normally slept.

I braced myself to see the liquid gold of the sun breach the crest of the hills, but in typical Ireland fashion, the clouds rolled in and the sky returned back to a pre-dawn shade of gray. But it was enough. I silently gave thanks to God for what I had witnessed. The tickle had subsided, and so I crept back to bed, my heart full before the day had even begun.

The Wrong Side

My mom taught me how to cross stitch many moons ago. I remember walking with her into Michael’s for something, and I would come away with one of the sewing kits for kids– you know the large painted-on plastic grid with holes the size of dimes, a plastic “needle”, and fat colorful yarn.

Work in progress. Front of a cross stitch sachet that I purchased in York.

Work in progress. Front of a cross stitch sachet that I purchased in York.

When I visited my friend Stacie in Scotland in 2004, we both picked up small “adult” level cross stitch patterns as souvenirs. They were light, easily packed, a way to keep busy on the train, and excellent mementos of our visits. In fact, Mom received a bookmark of a Celtic cross that I did– I’m sure she was happy to receive a cross stitch from me that was not two feet long and made of plastic and yarn.

On this trip, I am continuing the tradition and recently picked up a lavender sachet in York. Even though I have done several of these before, I never realized how much I enjoy staring at the reverse or “wrong” side of the aida band (the holey canvas or material that you stitch on). The front is neat, all top stitches going the same direction, the design recognizable. The back is pretty much chaos– beautiful, colorful chaos.

Upon a closer look, you can notice a design of its very own that is created as a result of stitching the intended design on the front. In fact, I find this “wrong” side so much more interesting and appealing. I like the long stretches of thread that gently weave back and forth in braid-like intersections. The rhythm varies with each color, side, and direction, but it is all in harmony. The collection of attached, unused threads make it softer to touch.

Reverse side of the cross stitch sachet.

Reverse side of the cross stitch sachet.

It is not the side that one is supposed to prefer or maybe even think of as beautiful, but it reminds me so much of ourselves. We all often like to create our own face that we meticulously maintain and present to the world, yet it is what lies on this “wrong” side that is much more interesting, intricate, and complex. It is the process, the threading, the weaving, the loops, and even the “oops” that needs to be admired and loved as much as (if not even more so) than the “right” side.

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Inspiring Quote from Contact

“You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.” – from Contact

It was cold and rainy this morning in Oxford, which is perfect for a bit of reflective journal writing. Tucked beneath the front cover of my journal are a few cards that friends and family had given me before I left on my trip. I came across one from my good friend Rachael who included a quote from the movie Contact (I have not read the book by Carl Sagan, yet).

As it is one of my favorite quotes, it frequently pops into my thoughts. However, I hadn’t thought about it since before writing my blog post about my last week in Annecy, France. Maybe I was subconsciously referencing it while I wrote, but nonetheless the quote is quite appropriate and always relevant.

My Two Week Memorial Day

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. There are 9,387 soldiers buried on this bluff overlooking the Omaha beach.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. There are 9,387 soldiers buried on this bluff overlooking the Omaha beach.

I can still smell the dew evaporating in the rising sun. It was still and quiet except for the birds and the faint lapping of the ocean waves onto the beach below. It was difficult to comprehend a number like 9,387 until I stood on that peaceful, grassy bluff, looked around and could only see endless rows of marble grave-markers.

Every walking step through the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial fortified the realization that each marker represented someone’s spouse, sibling, friend, parent, child. Faces and stories emerged with each engraved name. Suddenly 9,387 began to look infinite but yet incredibly small when compared to the total cost of lives during this war.

While on my roadtrip through France, which brought me to the beaches of Normandy, I stayed off the highways and mostly took the smaller roads. They always wound through the heart of many small villages. From this vantage point, I noticed that all the villages had some prominent memorial to the soldiers who died in World War I. I think it is difficult for Americans to grasp the utter devastation caused by World War I, but it is clearly immortalized in the center of the French life. But it’s not the only war that’s been fought on French soil.

There are plaques about the liberation of villages from the Germans in World War II. Along the sides of the road or within the villages, there are ruins of churches, forts, chateaux who have met some violent fate as a result of war, revolution, or other conflict.

My two weeks of driving in France reminded me how many battles these stretches of earth had seen. How many people have died for their land or beliefs over hundreds, thousands of years but have no marker, monument or commemoration?

The German Cemetery at LaCambe. Over 21,000 German soldiers are buried here, usually two to a grave.

The German Cemetery at LaCambe. Over 21,000 German soldiers are buried here, usually two to a grave.

So with each ruin, each fort, each marker I passed, I remembered those people who had shed their blood and lost their lives. Even though I never knew them, I remembered them because they, too, were someone’s spouse, sibling, friend, parent, child. I remembered them as human beings. I remembered them as children of God, as we all are.

And then with weighing heart, I took a deep breath and gave thanks.

Celebrating Friendships: Final Days in Annecy

Friends on biketrip

Some of my new friends and me on a bike trip around Lac d’Annecy (40km).

It is difficult to believe that this is my last week in Annecy, France. It would be an understatement to say that these eight weeks have flown by. There are just not enough hours, days, or weeks to visit all the restaurants, patisseries, nearby towns, museums, etc.  In particular, these final couple of weeks have been packed with picnics, dinners, walks, biking tours and hang-outs with my new friends from school. I just cannot spend enough time with them.

On the other hand, it feels like I have been here for many, many months. These friendships developed and deepened so quickly that I forget I have only known them for less than two months. Each week (or just about) I have attended a farewell party for a student leaving IFALPES, and no matter how little I have known the person, it is always a bit sad to see a fellow comrade leave.  When I worked for Global Ministries, I had a similar feeling when I said goodbye to the volunteers and missionaries that I had just trained after only spending a week (or more) with them.

Friends in the Park

Some of my friends picnicking in the park on a Sunday afternoon.

The immediciacy in which humans can bond with each other amazes me. It speaks volumes of the needs of the human condition. Look at how quickly one establishes a rhythm, a pattern of normalcy when entering a new culture or way of life. As students, our shared experiences helped form small communities to which we all cling to as a life-raft at some point.

We all desperately need each other. I have seen this need manifest time and time again across racial, age, linguistic, cultural, and national lines. With that mindset, it’s nice to know that we all have that in common, and at least for me, it makes meeting new people just a bit easier.

So in a few days I will share my farewell dinner with two new friends (these lovely ladies on the left, below) who are leaving at the same time as me to go back to their home countries. Even though we will see each other the next day for the last day of class, the farewell dinner will be a sentimental yet fun evening of celebrating and enjoying new friendships- exactly as life intended.

The girls

L-R: Sofie from Belgium, Clara from Sweden, me

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Plus Bleu Que Tes Yeux

One evening not too long ago, I returned home after dinner with some friends. As I stepped through the door, I unwittingly walked into a wall of sound– resonant music which felt familiar yet obviously foreign and uniquely French. It did not take long (or too many of my naive questions) for my host family to learn that my knowledge of French music was severely lacking. So a little over an hour, a couple of post-its, and a stack of CDs later, I acquired quite the list of French musicians with which familiarize myself.

Among the dozens of songs that I sampled that evening, a favorite emerged almost instantaneously: “Plus Bleu Que Tes Yeux” by Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf. You do not need to speak French to appreciate this song. It is difficult to resist the saccharine, dreamy melodic waltz with intricate, nimble harmonies of two incredibly renowned French singers; this song makes me nostalgic for a past era in which I never lived. Je l’adore!

If you’re interested in the full list of recommended “classic French” musicians, check out what my host family wrote down for me (but only their last names as evidently that should suffice): Barbara, Gainsbourg, Piaf, Aznavour, Zazie, Sanson, Bellavoine, Obispo, Golman, Coluche

Who would you add to the list?

The Sunday Market

I found a new religion in France– the Sunday market. I tease, of course, but walking through the market has become a favorite habit of mine. When I lived in New York City, I enjoyed perusing the green market near Columbia University on most Thursdays and the occasional Sunday. It was great to put a face and name to the food that I ate– more than just a brand but a relationship.

Sunday market in centre ville, Annecy

Looking out into the crowd from behind a produce table at the Sunday market in Annecy.

But the Sunday market here in Annecy is a completely different experience. For starters, it is much larger. Dozens upon dozens of vendors snake through the tiny, congested pedestrian-only streets and bridges in centre ville- the oldest part of town.

The melange of colors from the awnings, boxes of bright, fresh produce, bins of glistening, multicolored olives, racks of hanging sausages, vibrant scarves and dresses, and the gentle sway of crowded potential customers stepping on each other’s toes– this is the market that I love.

The merchants yell out their latest bargains or ask you (gently) if you would like to sample a local cheese or sweet nougat. One could eat like that in lieu of a complete meal while strolling among the tables.  And then there are the smells: salty, tangy, briny, caramel-y, fruity, smokey, spicy, buttery, musty, perfume-y.

Each vendor’s table has its own tempting item, but I usually gravitate to the eggwashed, butter-based pastries like a pain au chocolat or a croissant. I have frequented this one table so often, that when the kind merchant man recognized me, he sold me his last two croissants for the price of one! What a gift!

pain au chocolat

Pain au chocolat from the Sunday market in Annecy.

I learned that one of the most popular purchases at the Sunday market is a roasted chicken (with or without potatoes) for lunch. And it’s true! Those tables always have the longest lines by far, but believe me, they are well worth the wait (but a bit of a hassle to get around if you are not in it).

After the market closes at 1pm, the party is not over.  With the recent purchases, I often have had picnics with friends in the nearby park. On the return home, we will walk back through the centre ville for ice cream or coffee, and the streets are still packed– sidewalk tables of the restaurants and cafes are overflowing. People are everywhere, out and about. It appears that the market just kicks off what ends up being a lovely all-day affair in the centre ville.

This Little Light of Mine

I guess one could say I “know” or am familiar with a lot of music.  Growing up, my family attended a United Methodist Church, so it should come as no surprise that at one point I knew all the words and choreographed hand-motions to the children’s song “This Little Light of Mine”. I no longer recall if it was ever a favorite of mine then, but now, this song is more dear to me as a result of my Grandmother’s funeral in 2008. It might seem a little morbid, but hang with me.

During the service for my Grandmother (Minelle Jordan McGlothlin), my brother Matthew and the presiding pastor Rev. Valarie Englert both used the words “music”, “song”, “light”, and “love” to describe her life. Matthew even read aloud the words to “This Little Light of Mine” and recounted the memories that associated the song with her. It was in that celebration of her life that I found inspiration for my own –yes, in music, of course! Here it was affirmed that life can be and is a song of joy, of light, of love.

It was only natural, then, that my ears and heart were opened when I first heard “This Low” by the Swell Season. In the concluding refrain, I found a sort-of mediation, breath prayer, to remind me how I want my life to be–in the light:

Thread the light, And spread the light
Shine your light, Don’t hide your light
Live the light, And give the light
Seek the light, And speak the light
Crave the light, And brave the light,
Show the light, And know the light
Thread the light, And spread the light
Raise the light, And praise the light.*
“This Low” by The Swell Season (around 3:25)

Each verb is a challenge to stretch myself further and to get “me” and my insecurities out of the way of myself so that what resides at my core can radiate. The words invite me into deeper, humbling and grace-filled relationships with God, with myself, with my family and friends, and hopefully with anyone I meet.

I consider those lyrics as my “This Little Light of Mine”. Both songs remind me that the world needs my individual, unique light just as it needs yours and needs ours together. So, I’m going to let it shine.

*As a side note, the lyrics above come from the live recording of this song. In the studio recording, the last two lines are reversed. I prefer the ending above 🙂

Tartiflette

While attending language courses at IFALPES in Annecy, I live with a French family. Included in my rent is breakfast everyday (not lunch or dinner). However, my first weekend here, they invited me to join them for dinner because Claude, the wife/mother, had made a Tartiflette, which was wonderful of course.

What’s a Tartiflette, you ask? Essentially it’s a hearty dish made of sliced potatoes (you know I like my potatoes!), melted cheese, onions, and lardons (or bacon/pancetta) which is then baked in the oven until golden and piping hot.  From a region steeped in Alpine history, the Haute-Savoie cuisine reflects the centuries-old traditions and culture that formed as a result of living in the French Alps. The Tartiflette is emblematic of the cuisine from this region which relies heavily on potatoes, cheese, pork, and other items that can easily be stored and accessed during the long winter months in the mountains.

Since that family dinner, I have seen Tartiflettes available everywhere including vendors at the outdoor/street markets. I’m sure like any regional cuisine, everyone has a different but “right” way to make it, and my French family has vowed that I will learn how to make theirs before I leave. Here’s a recipe translated into English by me (below) from Marmiton, which I learned from class on Thursday is a great place for French recipes. Bon Apetitit!

Tartiflette

Tartiflette, Image courtesy of BBC Food Recipes, http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/tartiflette_59096

“The True Tartiflette” from Marmiton

Prep Time : 15 minutes
Cook Time : 60 minutes

Ingredients (for 4 peeople) :
– 1 kg (just over 2lbs) of potatoes
– 200g (1/2 lb) of smoked lardons (cubed ham or pancetta works, too)
– 200g (1/2 lb) of onions, chopped
– 1 Reblochon  (type of soft cow’s milk cheese from Haute-Savoie)
– 2 soup spoons of oil
– garlic, salt, pepper to taste
Note: other recipes included creme fraiche while this one did not. It’s up to you whether to add some creme fraiche before the Reblochon; it might help to keep the potatoes from getting too dry.

The Prep :

Peel and cube the potatoes. Rinse well and dry with a clean towel.
Heat the oil in a skillet with the onions until soft; add the potatoes.
Brown the potatoes on all sides; add the lardons and finish cooking.

Meanwhile, scrape the rind off the Reblochon and cut in half (or quarters).
Prepare a baking or casserole dish by rubbing the bottom and sides with garlic.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (about 400°F)
Cover the bottom of the baking dish with a layer of the potato-lardon-onion mixture. Layer half of the Reblochon on top of that followed by the rest of the potatoes.
Season with salt and pepper throughout.
Top it off with the rest of the Reblochon which will become a cheesy crust for the dish

Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is golden and bubbling.

Serve with :

Wine from Savoie: Vin de Savoie Apremont or Vin de Seyssel
Or choose a light, crisp white wine to balance the heaviness of the cheese.

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Matisse Quotation

garden statue“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”
— Henri Matisse