A First Time for Everything

I'm not a very good mom when it comes to the "firsts."  Poor P-man didn't get a baby book, so I don't really remember what date the first tooth popped out or how old he was when he gave his first belly laugh.  We didn't send out birth announcements or Christmas cards for his first Christmas (horrors!), and if you want any specifics on sitting, eating, or crawling, I will have to refer to the dates on my phone pictures.  No worries though, I've got the birth date pretty well established in my brain. But here's a first for the history books- the first cinnamon roll:

Bless the pudgy little hands, which had previously known not the joys of gooey, cinnamoned breakfast pastries.

I used Dessert for Two's recipe for Quick Small Batch Cinnamon Rolls, and they were perfect for getting breakfast in front of a hungry little one year old.  Things can get pretty desperate in the morning.

But frosting?  Frosting fixes everything.  Which is why we should all occasionally face-plant in it.

{Make It Pretty} Herb Window Planter

  {Hopefully there will be a cabinet update soon, but in the meantime here's a little side project that happened between layers drying on doors}

I always love the flavors that fresh herbs bring to food, but they get so expensive when you buy the little containers from the store, and it's so darned inconvenient.  So even though I have just about the brownest thumb in the world, I've decided to try growing some in my kitchen window.  I figure I can't really neglect something that's sitting right in front of my face, and the plants probably won't have the gall to die while I stare at them.  Or at least that's what I'm hoping.

To begin, here's our very stellar cast of characters: IMG_1437

The plant, of course (I started with basil).

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Square glass containers from Michael's.  I got rid of the lid and the plastic lid gripper thingy (anyone got a technical name on that for me?) and washed it to remove finger prints.

IMG_1439 Jute ribbon. I like the look of it, though probably any ribbon would do the job.

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Chalkboard labels and a white chalk marker.

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And here's the finished product!  I'm hoping to have several soon to fill out the windowsill.

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{Make It Beautiful} The Kitchen Cabinets

As we speak, the cabinets in our kitchen are doorless, finishless, and should be white very, very soon.  We're taking the plunge and painting them in all of the builder grade, tacky oaken glory.  After reading a million different how tos on painting kitchen cabinets, doing a lot of cost/time analysis, and not being sure if the cabinets were actually solid wood or not, we opted to go with Rustoleum's Cabinet Transformations in Pure White. Image result for rustoleum cabinet transformations box

The kit includes the deglosser and scrub pads (which purportedly mean that you don't have to sand, of which I heartily approve), two quarts of the base coat (which can be tinted to just about any color your heart desires), decorative glaze (which is essentially antiquing glaze) and rags, and a clear top coat.  There's also a pamphlet and dvd with detailed instructions, which makes things very understandable and user friendly.

Here's a before of the kitchen:

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And soon there will be afters!  We're also adding crown molding around the tops of the cupboards to add a bit of dimension, as well as some hardware for a finishing touch.  The goal is to have it all done within the next couple of weeks, so hopefully I'll have updated pictures soon, along with opinions on the refinishing kit.  I've sworn to finish this project before moving on to the next, but I'm having a hard time controlling myself when it comes to our bedroom.  But that will be a different post for a different day.

Have a happy day!

Fruit Tarts and Happy Things

Well, what do you know.  This looks like it's becoming a food blog.  Statistic show that three out of the last four posts have been recipes, which means I need to practice my food photography. On the menu today?  a TART!  A fruit tart to be exact.  One of the secret longings of my heart for quite some time has been to own a tart pan.  I just think that they're so happy and pretty (the final product, not the pan), and leave you with a million and one creative options.  So I got me a tart pan from Crate and Barrel, because Crate and Barrel is actually quite the coolest store imaginable when it comes to home goods.  Especially if you have a couple million dollars to furnish your house with.  I'm still waiting on that one.

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Please realize that the random knife handle in the photo is artistic, not messy.  We appreciate you naivety.

But back to the actual tart.  This particular one was coming with me to a social gathering and needed to be dairy free, which can be quite tricky if pastry is anywhere in the discussion.  Oh, and pastry cream.  Equally necessary in this equation.

I would like to say for the record that I love Pinterest.  Pinterest answers my deepest questions in life, like how to make dairy free pastry cream.  I go deep.

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And while stirring it on the stovetop, you might as well take a moment to admire your very blue, very pretty tea kettle, and be grateful that it's a lovely pop of color in your otherwise very-white kitchen.  It's a happy thing.

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And I used this recipe for the crust, substituting a Crisco (gulp) baking stick for the butter.  I also got to use my hand mixer for the very first time...

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...and stop to sniff my candle.  Any candle called Springtime in Paris is definitely worth stopping to sniff. It's another happy thing.

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But oh, the final product.  After your crust is cooled, the cream is spread out inside, and a profusion of strawberries and blueberries are arranged on top, then is when you get really happy.

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It definitely calls for great rejoicing.  And lots of eating.

Bon appetit!

Bagels!

For years, bagels have eluded me.  Not in the eating department.  Trust me, I've consumed my fair share.  But in the creating thereof, oh yeah.  Forget it.  They were tough, they were soggy, they were dense, they were in everything a bagel shouldn't be. And then, oh glorious day, I found the recipe.  It came from Peter Reinhart, who's work I generally love.  Anyone who spends a year of their life eating and writing about pizza is worthy of great respect, in my book.   But I digress...

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This is the recipe I used, kind of.  My little kitchen is slowly collecting some of the basics, and I didn't have barley malt syrup (whatever that is) or honey.  So sugar was substituted, and to make up for it a bit of the white flour became whole wheat.  They were fabulous, and I don't say that just because I made them myself.  I say that because Micah ate them, and enjoyed them, and did you read that part about the whole wheat flour?  He doesn't usually go for that sort of thing.  Which leaves me to wonder if my husband is longsuffering, or if I'm really that sneaky.

The process for this is really quite standard, and traditional, but for some reason it just works better than any other recipe I have every tried.  Blessings on Peter Reinhart's head, even if his TED talk is really weird. Then again, which TED talks aren't weird?  But again, I digress.

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Bagels may be a bit of a  lengthy process, but since a lot of it is just rising time, they really aren't too intense.  Fear not, though the directions be as long as Rapunzel's hair, yea wilt thou find it simple if thou wilt persevere.  Just be aware that you do have to let them rise over night after shaping and before boiling, so no deciding to make these for breakfast the morning you need them.  I've never tried skipping that rise, because I always, always follow the rules.

Ha. HA. HAHAHA.

Here's my version of the recipe.  Bon Appetit!

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2 1/2 unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

3 teaspoons salt, divided

3/4 teaspoon instant yeast

1 tablespoon barley malt syrup (or honey)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon baking soda

Toppings as desired

1. In a large bowl mix the flour, 2 teaspoons salt, the yeast, sugar and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water until the ingredients form a stiff, coarse ball of dough. Add more water or flour to reach the correct consistency. Let the dough rest 5 minutes.

2. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough feels stiff yet supple, with a satiny, slightly tacky feel, 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough seems too soft or too tacky, sprinkle over just enough flour as needed.  The window pane test is a good way to know if the dough is correct.  Kneading is also a great way to work out any anger issues you may have and save the loads of money you would pay a therapist.  You're welcome.

3. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to several hours. Keep in mind that the bagels must be shaped before proofing overnight.

4. When ready to shape the bagels, line a baking sheet with lightly greased parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Or well floured waxed paper.  Whatever floats your boat, dunks your oreo, or is in your pantry at the moment.

5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 to 8 equal pieces. Form each piece into a loose, round ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface or between your own two hands.

6. Using your hands and a fair amount of pressure, roll each dough ball into a "rope" 8 to 10 inches long. (Moisten the work surface with a damp paper towel, if necessary, to get the necessary bite or friction). Slightly taper the rope at the ends so that they are thinner than the middle. Place one end of the dough between your thumb and forefinger and wrap it around your hand until the ends overlap in your palm; they should overlap by about 2 inches. Squeeze the overlapping ends together and then press the joined ends into the work surface, rolling them back and forth a few times until they are completely sealed.

7. Remove the dough from your hand and squeeze as necessary to even out the thickness so that there is a 2-inch hole in the center. Place the bagel on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the other pieces. Lightly wipe the bagels with oil, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

8. Fill a large stockpot with 3 quarts of water (be sure the water is at least 4 inches deep), cover with a lid, and slowly bring the water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on.

9. Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven to 500 degrees.  If you bake with a baking stone (I do! I do! I do!), then pop it in at this point to heat it with the oven.

11. Gently lift each bagel and drop it into the simmering water. Add as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. After 30 seconds-1 minute, use a slotted spoon to flip each bagel over. Poach for another 30 seconds. Using the slotted spoon, remove each bagel and return it to the lined baking sheet. Continue until all the bagels have been boiled. If desired, add the toppings at this point, except for cinnamon sugar (see note below).

12. Place the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the heat to 425 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes and then rotate the sheet (if using two sheets, also switch their positions). Check the underside of the bagels. If they are getting too dark, place another sheet under the baking sheet (i.e., double-pan it). Bake until the bagels are golden brown, an additional 8 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer the bagels to a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Note: If using cinnamon sugar (1 part cinnamon to 5 parts granulated sugar), immediately brush the top of each hot bagel with melted butter and then generously sprinkle with the mixture so that it is coated. It will form a nice cinnamon crust as it cools.

 

 

Cheval Fajitas

Cheval. I'm sorry.  It just still feels weird to say it in English, but I'll do it anyway.

Horse Fajitas.

But we did eat it!  And it's actually really quite good, if it's prepared right.  Thankfully I had a bit of direction before starting from a French gentleman who knew what he was talking about.  It's something like beef, but because of it's low fat content, if the outside of your cut isn't sear quickly before the inside cooks slowly, you'll end up with tough, stringy meat.   There are actually lots of health benefits to eating horse meat, not the least of which is overcoming psychological barriers.  You can find a really interesting infographic comparing the health facts of beef and horse here. Here's a hint: Horse wins.

To start, I sliced my cheval (sorry) steaks into strips, and marinated them in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and chili powder. The chili powder was an accomplishment in France, and cumin is unheard of. But it was still quite tasty. IMG_1021

And of course, what are fajitas without lots of beautiful colors from peppers and onions? Incidentally, I love how the inside of stainless steel mixing bowls reflect the colors. It's the little things, right? IMG_1024 IMG_1032

And then, of course you have to take your dinner on a walk and eat in the park. Cheval tastes even better in the evening light, and the best company makes it a sublime dinner. But sorry, I already married the best company. IMG_1048

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Across the Country in Four Days, Part 2

At the close of yesterday's breath-taking drama, I left you with promises of Kansas.  How's that for a let down?  This is how enthusiastic we were about it. Kansas_edit (1 of 3)

I mean, you have to admit that this is pretty exciting stuff...

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But once we got to Missouri, it calmed down a lot. And the pictures got kind of blurry, until the next morning in Kentucky! The good people there specialize in barns. The may be red, they may be run down, they may be quaint, they may be utilitarian. But there surely are many, and not far between.

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After sleeping through Tennessee, we made it to Georgia and began apartment shopping. Found a place the next day, which is SO exciting, since it's our first little home that we'll keep more than a month. We move in next week, and then get to begin the fun of settling in. I'll have to post pictures when it actually looks like a house, no?

Have a lovely, happy day!

Across the Country in Four Days, Part 1

Somehow, that's not quite as epic as Jules Verne's title.  But it felt like a very, very long time to be in the car, even though we took a break to visit Colorado.  Even so, it's kind of a fun accomplishment for this airline brat.  All told we went through California, Nevada, Arizona (for a very few miles), Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia.  That's 11 whole states folks!  I'd been to all but one of them (Nevada) before, but it was such fun to do it with Micah and watch the landscape roll by and change as we went. I tried to take at least one picture of every state we went through, but Illinois and Utah were pitch black, and I slept through pretty much all of Tennessee.  Some of them didn't turn out too well, due to a moving vehicle and all that, but hey, it's the... memory.  That's what counts.  Right?  Yeah.  Definitely worth taking up space on my hard drive for.

But anyway!  This is what Californian desert looks like.  It's long, and well over a hundred degrees.  Items of interest included the Borax mine, lots of Joshua trees, and high gas prices.

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After that came Nevada, and... LAS VEGAS!  We spent a bit of time walking around the Bellagio gardens and shops, and though some of it was quite pretty, it also felt a bit tacky and small scale after Europe.

And now!  Let's have a game of name that movie....

"We stole de Eiffel Tower!

The small one. From Las Vegas."

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After that came Utah! Which was black. And still hot. And we drove until 2:30 in the morning! But that part was fun, because the best conversations always start at about midnight, right? But we hit the road again the next morning and drove through western Colorado.

And got bored. Decapitating gummy bears is a decent pastime though. Colorado_edit (1 of 3)

And our first leg of the trip ended thus in Denver with a week visiting family and friends. I'll put up the Eastern part of the drive tomorrow, with Kansas in all it's glory. And that was my sarcastic voice.

In Which I Make Excuses

Well hi again.  It's been almost a week folks.  A whole long week, and I haven't even stopped by to show you pictures or nuthin'.  Shame, shame. But I have a good reason.  At least I tell myself it is.  Remember that bike, the one that I could anything I wanted with?  Well, I did.  And here's the scorecard to date.

Woman vs. MotorcycleRound 1: Motorcycle

Oh, and we spent the entire afternoon of our 4th of July in the E.R., just me, Micah, and Lydia, mine incredibly patient sister-in-law.  The past two statements of information are correlated, as these are now my new best friends:

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The original pictures are kind of gross, so I won't subject you to them. But don't you think I'm majorly redefining cankles here? The lopsided thing is definitely picturesque.  But beyond three broken metatarsals and a bit of road rash, I'm really in excellent condition and so blessed and grateful for that.  No surgery required, and I won't be sporting my very styling medical shoe in a mere few weeks.

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In other news, we're driving across the country, with a break in Denver to visit family. Sadly, we had to forego several stops along the way since hiking the Grand Canyon or the Arches in Utah is rather difficult on crutches. But there has been some beautiful scenery, good conversations, and even a brief stop in Las Vegas.  I'll have to show you some better pictures next time. ;)

Happy 4th of July!

On today's to-do list? IMG_1371

 

Ride this thing.  It's a 1970s Honda dirtbike/motorcycle, and I was told I could do whatever I wanted with it.  Staying alive is on the top of the priority list.

I hope you have a wonderful long weekend!  Ours is going to include fireworks (twice!), old friends, baseball, bike riding, and picnics.  Just about as All-American as you can get.

Happy 4th of July, and in between the grilling and the explosions and the ice cream, take a minute to remember and be grateful for all of the freedoms you enjoy, as well as the brave men over the centuries who have given so much for you to have them.

Genius

See this man?  He's my husband, and he's a genius. IMG_1452

He's really good at fixing problems, and having brilliant ideas.  And he really, really hates inefficiency and wasting time.  So low and behold, he came up with this insanely good idea.  Those trains schedules...

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directions...

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and maps...

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...all of which we were painstakingly writing down, and then searching for in an endless notebook--why not just take pictures of them and save ourselves a lot of time and headache?  And it works like a charm.  Just so you know, the farther away your camera is from the computer screen, the more legible the picture will be.  Zoom is a many splendored thing.

What are some of your genius traveling ideas?

P.S. All pictures used by kind permission of the personages represented therein.  Except the dude with his mouth stuffed full of food.  I didn't ask him.

Happy Summer!

Today is the first day of summer, and I am soooo excited.  While Spring is definitely my favorite season, summer runs a close second with it's long hot days and cool dusky evenings, water fights in the afternoons and ice cream cones.  We're in Georgia still, and it is hawt here.  Very, very hawt, and very, very humid. We're looking for apartments in north Atlanta (not to be confused with north Georgia as we learned) and will be settling here for a little while.  But who knows for how long?  We don't.  I'm actually kind of excited about having my own kitchen again, and recreating some of the amazing food we had abroad while revisiting some of the things we (I) missed most.  Read: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

Oh, and guess what?  We have a car again which means we can cover miles in a matter of seconds, instead of kilometers in matters of minutes by foot.  But you know something?  The walking was pretty wonderful.  It gave us a chance to stop and notice the beautiful little things that you miss as you fly by so quickly and efficiently in your car.

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Kindle Review

I'm about to lose about every bibliophile who ever looked at this website.  Might not betoo many, but they're probably gone because of the confession I'm about to make.

I didn't bring one book with me to Europe.  At least not in the paper and ink variety.

I brought this instead:

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Before we were married, Micah bought one of these Kindle e-readers for himself, and one for me so that we wouldn't have to be lugging books all over the place.  And I am so incredibly glad he did.  The things weigh less than a pound together, including the cases.  Seeing that we've read a total of at least 9 books between the two of us, including two Bibles, two dictionaries, and a Dickens novel.  Which means we've probably saved ourselves at least 15 pounds of weight.

They actually have some very handy features.  You can read the same book on your computer or different Kindle devices, and then sync to your reading location with all of them.  You can make notes or highlight excerpts, and then reference them later.  If you're connected to WiFi, you can even shop on Amazon.  The battery lasts for several weeks, and when you turn it off it shows book adds.  Some of these can be annoying, but it's not been anything offensive.

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Another bonus is the economical factor. Purchasing through Ebay, Micah paid about $50 for each Kindle, and then I paid another $6 for each case which is a grand total of $112. This isn't too impressive on the front end, but considering that Amazon offers many Kindle books for free, and many others are only a dollar or two we've already more than covered the cost of the Kindles.  These are only simple readers because we wanted something reading on plane and train rides, not multi-media devices.

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I have always loved reading, so while I can't say that my Kindle has replaced a good hardback to hold in my hands I do think it's one of the best purchases we made for traveling.

On How to Fly

I am an airline brat.  Which means that because my dad works for United airlines, free space on available flights were our traveling bread and butter.  Which means that I have spent many hours in airports making flights, not making flights, and taking the most random connections you may have heard of.  Which means that I do not exaggerate when I say that I am something of an authority on flying domestically in the U.S.

However, flying abroad can be a variations on the airport theme.  Yesterday we flew through the Zurich airport to Dublin, and I can honestly say that it is the most confusing, rambling airport I've ever been in.  It is also the most evil airport whose door I have ever darkened, and I do not say this lightly.  The first time we went through it to Vienna they stole my hairspray.  They stole. My. Hairspray.  And it wasn't even that big!  I’m not terribly hard to keep happy, but if you want to stay on my list of People Who Are Not Evil, do not touch the hairspray.  Seriously.

Some of this might be obvious, but Google didn’t really help and you can’t ever be sure.  Some of it I learned the hard way (read: three bad hair days in Vienna), and some of it’s pretty much par for the course no matter where you are.  But here’s at least some of what to expect when you’re flying the friendly skies of Europe.

Airline Logos

  • The liquid limit is 100 milliliters, which is just slightly over the U.S. requirement of 3 oz.

  • For larger international airports, try and figure out where your airline’s check in services are ahead of time.  Some of them babies are big,  and this will help you avoid sprinting between concourses with luggage in tow.  Ahem.

  • Security is very much alike the whole world over, and you should allow for lines at busy hours at both check-in and security.

  • Customs are nothing to be afraid of, at least not in most places.  Usually they look at the picture, look at you, snicker at what havoc has been wreaked on your person by commercial flying and send you through.  But you do want to make sure that the entrance stamp has a legible date, or a cranky (Swiss) customs officer might try to read you the riot act.

  • If you’re going to be flying on a European airline, weigh your luggage before you leave home and calculate according to the kilograms as well as pounds. The U.S. 50 lb. limit comes out to about 22.7 kilos, and many companies limits to 20 kilos.

  • Always have your ticket and passport handy.  This may be helpful for reference to direction and gate numbers when you have eight flights of stairs, no fewer than five people looking at one or the other, and endless halls and trains to get to the destination.  I do not exaggerate or lie when I say I did exactly this yesterday.

  • Discount airlines in particular are far more stringent with baggage restrictions than U.S. airlines.  If your carry-on is over the weight or size limit, you may be fined heavily, and the same is a definite with checked luggage.  Allow for souvenirs if you're the type.

  • On the bright side, some companies may feed you at least a little.  That means when you booked that 7 a.m. flight with Niki, you will get a blueberry muffin as a reward for getting up so early.

  • On the dark side, some of them don’t have cookies.  Some of them won’t even give you a drop of water without money.  Plan accordingly.

  • Many airports offer a left luggage area, which is a great way to lighten your load if it works for your schedule.  For instance, we left most of our luggage in Zurich airport for three days when we went to Vienna, and only carried what we needed in a carry-on.  We paid far less to leave it than we would have to fly it with us, and it saved us the headache of dragging 120 (not joking) pounds of extra stuff with us.

  • Above information is useful for day trips also.

But believe me when I tell you that airplanes all over the world make you look like something that hasn't seen a shower, brush, or mirror for a really long time.

Goodbyes and Hellos

Today we are saying goodbye to France.  We've spent 65 days here, with a grand total of 84 days abroad.  It doesn't sound like much when it's all counted out, but it's been the happiest 84 days imaginable. IMG_0985

 

 

Leaving is a little sad, because I don't know when we'll be able to come back.  We've come to love life here, with it's quietness and excitement all in one.  We'll miss the trip to bakery every day with an occasional pastry thrown in, we'll miss the antiquated buildings that are still so pretty and the profusion of spring flowers that are everywhere you turn.  And we'll miss our new friends with their beautiful songs and kind, generous hearts, and hearing how French sounds like dancing sometimes.

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This nomadic gypsy life is the only one we've known since we were married, and we've been so incredibly happy.  But I'm pretty sure that even once we settle down in a little or big Somewheresville that isn't quite as interesting as a village in France, because we're still going to be together.  And because being adventurers isn't really about where you are, it's about how you think.  It's about knowing that around every corner, every little change that comes, is just another opportunity to find something extraordinary.