Cooking up Conversation

I’m sifting through recipes, some handwritten, some typed, some with my editing marks. There are instructions for Kisir (Turkey), Cod Mousse and Chicken in a Pan and Cantucci (Italy), Chicken Tarragon Cake and Apple Pie (France), Orange Cake (Azerbaijan), Tart of Sintra (Portugal), and Lomo Saltado (Peru). I’m looking at the recipes with a smile, thinking of the women who contributed them…

english conversation

It’s a highlight of my week. I meet women and promote talking–about families, about cooking, about holidays and vacations (which apparently can be the same thing), about books and movies, about personality bonuses and blemishes. Because I can talk at length and listen fairly well,  it’s my privilege to facilitate the English Conversation group along with my British sidekick, Paula, at the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg.

know how hard it is to learn a new language, especially now that I live in a land of trident tongues spewing French and German and Luxembourgish. It’s encouraging to me to see these women screwing their courage to the sticking point as they speak, write and read in a language that’s foreign to them, without familiar vocabulary and grammar, without ordinary spelling and cadence. We’ve read about professions, then discussed our favorite jobs and those we were glad to see end. One woman spoke of a tutoring job she had when we was young, of a student who was “both lazy and stupid, a bad combination!” We’ve read about travel, then cited our best and worst vacations. When one member suggested her most disappointing holiday experience was in Rome, another chimed in (with a bit of an Italian accent)  “that’s not possible!”

And now our project is sharing our favorite recipes in writing for an international cookbook for the American Women’s Club. I’m learning so very much and tasting amazing food. I now know what a knob of butter is, that pearl is a type of sugar, that apple pie is delicious not only with coffee or tea but also with Champagne! I’ve grasped that to the tooth is the translation of al dente and can be used for food other than just pasta. Then there’s the realization that cantucci is not just any biscotti: this delightfully crunchy biscuit with almonds is served at the end of a meal, not with espresso but with vin santo, a dessert wine. How could I not have known about cantucci all my life? I’ve smiled as I remember that unlike French and Italian and Portuguese and many other languages, English grammar doesn’t assign gender to nouns, so  phrases like, “make the chicken into strings not before having hit him with the meat tenderizer,” or “add the sugar to the butter and beat him until he’s fluffy,” make me laugh as I think fondly of these dear women.

Though our course in English conversation may be suspended for a summer break, ideas are simmering for meaty chats in the fall. For now, here’s hoping the promises of tutoring in cantucci and meeting for  chats and coffees is, like all good pasta,  al dente.  Buon appetito!

 

 

 

 

Not just any restaurant review

 

It’s time to come to grips with reality–I’m waaaay past the point of using the excuse “I just moved here” to explain my lack of cooking–or attempting to cook–or even grocery shopping for that matter. The fact is, when I’m murmuring, “oh my gosh, it’s getting late! What will I make for dinner?” I know what I’ll make for dinner…RESERVATIONS. Whether having dinner with Mr. Wonderful or a lingering lunch with a dear friend, our neighborhood pizzeria has become our kitchen away from home, and it’s growing on us…like a truffle.

We first visited Our Restaurant just days after we arrived in Luxembourg. We were sans reservations, and were greeted by a flustered waiter who was a little less than welcoming and not at all charmed by our Tarzan French with a West Virginia accent. Generally, we can elicit smiles from the most distracted serveurs, but not this time. We ordered wine, vin rouge et vin blanc, which we repeated in French as well as English. The waiter brought two glasses of red wine, and was quite perturbed when we corrected him. As we dined, we watched customers come and go, some were greeted with the Luxembourg kiss(es), some with a handshake–we’d been greeted with shifty eyes, a nervous twitch, and a final resignation that they’re-not-leaving-so-they-might-as-well-be-seated attitude.  Being the types who wade in and ignore the more subtle nuances of European etiquette, we smiled and assumed the best, taking a smallish table near the window. The meal was delightful, the experience really was quite enjoyable as the hustle and bustle of locals filled the space.

It was inevitable that we return to Our Restaurant as, the schedule of our French classes, paired with the phrase “fully booked” from other restaurants and the rumble of hunger steered us in that direction. The restaurant is quite conveniently located just a few blocks from our apartment. Of course, it requires a nearly vertical trek home after filling our filling our stomachs, but who’s complaining? (Okay…I do…all the way up the hill…EVERY TIME). Our habit was (French class est fini) to walk from class in the city centre to Our Restaurant, arriving around 8pm, before the dinner rush on Monday and Wednesday evenings. We watch the maître d’ greet the patrons with a flourish, pour the wine with added kisses, and typically bellow at or frantically gesture for Pasquale–the somewhat detached and (maybe) confused waiter from our first visit. We see many of the same satisfied and animated diners, eat our same favorite delicious dinners,  and enjoy the brasserie drama.

And now…we are greeted at the door with the Luxembourg salute–three kisses beginning on the left side (unlike the two-kiss Italian welcome beginning on the right cheek–more later about greetings gone awry!), we can coax a smile from grumpy Pasquale, we receive a complimentary lemoncello at the end of the evening. When introducing our friends to Our Restaurant, they are welcomed as generously as we. On such an occasion, I asked the maitre d’ to take a photo of us, so he cheerfully took my phone to snap of this (not so flattering) photo instead of a pic of our group!

We’ve been scolded for using the wrong fork for our sea bass Valentine dinner (here we go with the big fish stories again!), and we’ve taught Pasquale the meaning of the word “fancy” and that we don’t wear it well. He is always happy to help with menu suggestions, to talk us into ordering the delicious and artsy pane cotta for dessert, always pouring the extra glass of wine for my dear friend and me at lunch (we pay for it, of course!). Now we feel a part of the neighborhood, like we’ve found “our place,” like we’ve reconciled our clumsy attempts of integrating with the elegance of Europe. Our neighborhood pizzeria has definitely become Our Restaurant, with the staff our quirky and loveable members of the family. Because, after all…96c19661e11912aac44401e72aaa34b5

 

The Best People

The Crown, S2:E4 “Beryl”

TONY: You’ve probably never been on a bus, have you?

PRINCESS MARGARET: (puffs on her cigarette) No.

TONY: Pity. You really do meet the best people.

I don’t mind riding the bus. When the temperature is crisp and precipitation is less than predictable, it’s worth a good hair day to check the schedule, validate that ticket on my phone, and hop on the number 28 to some of my familiar, if not favorite, places.

I’d had a wonderful morning with some friends and needed to scurry to the grocery store to grab a few (ha!) things for upcoming festivities at our apartment. The bus would be another 5 minutes and since I was most likely the oldest person waiting, I parked my tired boo-hiney (West Virginian for buttocks) on the not-so-clean wooden bench to await my extra long limo. A woman, most likely near my age, joined me on the seat then began speaking to me en francais.

“J’aime tes chaussures.” I smiled, and immediately told her, in French, that I spoke only a little of the language. She was not deterred from pursuing conversation, so I tried in my best bad French to tell her I walk a lot in these shoes, because I couldn’t remember the French word for “comfortable” (which is, of course, confortable— almost the same word with a French accent!!). She spoke a bit of English, I spoke a bit of French, as she told me her sister had a bad foot and footwear like mine would be good for her. (Was that a compliment? I hadn’t thought of my sandals as orthopaedic).

My bus arrived, and it was, of course, her bus, too. I boarded and sat against the window, and as she approached I realized she was going to sit with me, so I patted the seat and smiled at her. She introduced herself: Marianne had lived in Luxembourg for a very long time, though she was originally from Cameroon. Her skin was beautiful brown, as she pointed to her hand and said her children were the same color, though her husband is Luxembourgish. We talked about how Luxembourg is a country of peace and the people are nice. We chatted about window shopping at La Belle Etoile and cooking. She swore the prepared chicken wings at that Cactus were better than any other Cactus store in the country. She told me her husband is a good man, and asked if I had a good man, too. When I answered, she smiled broadly and we both nodded.

As we parted ways, she squeezed my hand, and I told her I hoped to see her again.

It was no random occurrence, the encounter with Marianne, in my heart or in my mind. In this place, so foreign and far from home, I’m finding a human touch, a smile, a word goes a long way in making me feel like I belong or matter or make a difference.

Have you been on a bus in Luxembourg? You really do meet the best people…

Talking Turkey

Lest I beat a dead turkey, I cannot let this Thanksgiving holiday pass without my inventory of gratitude. Because that list would unfurl like a roll of toilet paper, I’ll confine my obligation to five things I’m thankful for in dear little Luxembourg…

The weather 

As I look at the weather app on my phone and see days and days of 6°C, as compared to endless tundra of -9°C in motherland, this mother is grateful it’s cool enough to ward off hot flashes, yet balmy enough to keep those nose hairs from freezing! And how very humorous that a country with a distaste for air-conditioning also has a law against allowing the car to run on cold mornings simply for the purpose of defrosting the windshield!

The views

Maybe I’m just not over Europe, but there’s still a sense of awe when I look out my window. As I look past the dead (nearly) geraniums in the window boxes on my terrace and see the roof-line of the houses below, small billows of white from the chimneys, I fall in love with Luxembourg all over again.  I feel comfortable in the landscape here–the countryside reminds me of my native West Virginia until that moment of “Oh look! a castle!!”

The history

I’m mesmerized by World War II–the facts, the families affected, the fallout. I’m drawn to the resiliency of the people, the resolve to move on, the remembrance to honor. Whether it’s Gëlle Fra –the Golden Lady in Place de la Constitution, or Winston Churchill (in his own Place), or the American Military Cemetery in Hamm, tears of gratitude come for the sacrifices for freedom. And then, just as you’re out for a leisurely stroll, you discover this       marks pic

and the tears come yet again…

The wine

A picture is worth, well, you know!wine

The people

Over the years, we’ve had friends from many places in the world–Italy, Belgium, Argentina, South Africa, Germany–and friends who’ve lived many places in the world, either as missionaries or in private industry. We’ve always enjoyed those friendships, appreciated the differences in culture and traditions. But there’s nothing like now meeting those friends on their soil. The generosity (in word and deed) of my Dutch friends, the laughter and warmth of my Italian friends…the humor and encouragement of my French friends, the energy and sass of my Spanish friends…and the acceptance and love of my Luxembourgish friends, to name a few! I adore my friends from Poland and Ireland, and Romania and Uruguay and Finland and Scotland, and Canada and England and Slovakia and Germany…see what I mean? What a wonderful mix of personality and nationality, and I’m more than grateful this anonymous quote applies so well to my life in Luxembourg ♥ “A friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

 

Physician, heal…

I should’ve listened to my gut when I called to postpone my appointment and no one spoke English. Oh, wait–my gut was the reason for having this procedure, stopping my beloved reflux medicine for two weeks, giving up coffee and wine and anything that tasted good or was called “food.” I should’ve remembered having no paper gown to cover up my broad backside when I went to the gynecologist, no ugly cotton gown with a grandpa’s pajama print to cover me while waiting for my mammogram. That time, all I could muster to keep modesty tears from my eyes was my little sister’s joke: Did you know the bra was invented by a German? He called it the “Schtoppschemfromfloppshen!” (Please forgive me, my dear German friends, but it makes me laugh–every time!).

In the meantime, waiting for November 2, I did my research on WebMD and MayoClinic.com since it was difficult to translate the brochure sent by the Centre Hospitalier. From what I could decipher, sedation would be available for those who were anxious about the procedure. I’d had an endoscopy 30 years ago; I remember little about it, only that I had a bit of a sore throat the next day. When I Googled “what to expect during an endoscopy,” here’s a portion, the portion I clung to, of what I found:

Sedation. For most examinations with an endoscope, a sedative is provided. This increases the comfort of the individual undergoing the examination. The sedative, which is administered via an injection into the vein, produces relaxation and light sleep. There are usually few if any recollections of the procedure. Patients wake up within an hour, but the effects of the medicines are more prolonged, so it is not safe to drive until the next day (WebMD.com).

Oh, yes, I recall the dreamy sleep from sedation (if only I’d had it during my children’s teenage years). I knew then, without a doubt, I would be sure to ask for sedation, maybe even some in a TO-GO bag! There was my homework before the procedure: learning how to ask, in French, for sedation without seeming like a weak American. After all, I’d labored with and delivered four children without even a Tylenol! Surely I’d earned to right to a little calm and “light sleep” while a doctor rammed a hose with a camera down my throat all the way to, well, who-knows-where…

Now, here I am, a few days on the other side of the procedure. I did ask for sedation, but I was more than wide awake and a little anxious during the endoscopy. I don’t believe what they put in my vein would even earn the label “Sedation Light,” but more like “Sedation Zero.” There are definitely lessons for me in this experience:

  1. Don’t always trust that the smile and murmuring in French is understanding.
  2. Be prepared to wait an hour past the appointment time.
  3. Appreciate the smiles and kindness of the medical staff.
  4. Just ask for drugs: I have since remembered French for “I want to go to sleep.”

The truth is that the cultural differences between Luxembourg and the United States were magnified in this experience–the U.S. medical approach values patient comfort for these kind of procedures. The truth is, I was made to feel like a weak person by asking for sedation instead of just putting up with the discomfort for 15 minutes or more. The truth is, I wanted to be a good patient and trusted the medical professionals to take care of me. The truth is, I do feel a bit violated about the whole thing, and hope it never happens this way to anyone else who prefers otherwise. But, the truth is, I’m a pretty tough cookie and I endured a very uncomfortable situation–I’ll live!

Home Again, Home Again

A week ago, we said our goodbyes, gave lingering hugs, dried teary eyes. It’s a 16 hour trip, door to door. If only there were a gradual transition from one country  continent to another, a way to ease into the cultural differences, the language differences, the housing differences, the people differences, THE STORE HOUR differences…oh wait, there is a transition…the airport. Having just wasted $5.99 seeing 47 Meters Down, a film about stupidity and diving with sharks, I see the similarity between the decompression stops a low-depth diver must use to prevent getting “the bends” to the time in the airport during our long journeys,  allowing us to adjust from one home to another.

The airport is a time warp.  From the moment I present my passport to the not-so-friendly TSA agent until the destination airport is facing my ample backside, time takes on a speed of its own. The date no longer matters, hours seem sooooo much longer than 60 minutes when the layover is expanded. But when those connections are tight, the minutes aren’t long enough, despite shuttles, moving sidewalks, race walking, and/or praying. 

Store hours are deceiving. One of the hard things about returning to Luxembourg is adjusting to the limitation of store hours, grocery and otherwise. In the airport, though stores are open 24/7, none of them near the gates have items anyone begs to purchase. How many neck pillows, magazines, and packages of gum do you need???

Airport people are a culture of their own. This time, we were the ones coughing and sneezing and sniffing (compliments of the grandson and great-nephew we loved on). We saw the rolled eyes, the grimaces, the recoil, but we were too Nyquilled up to care, until Mr. Wonderful broke his tooth on a cough drop… lacking compassion in my cold med stupor, I ignored his soliloquy on the what-if’s and if-only’s and son-of-a-guns, using all my willpower to keep from rolling a stinky young kid with a scroungy backpack off the 4 seats he was occupying so could take a nap. And those fellow travelers who love to talk, to anybody, and for those business people who participate in (loud) conference calls? The congestion in my ears was a gift!

Man-sleeping-in-airport-terminal

Now we’ve said our hellos, settled into schedules, and filled the fridge. I jumped right back on that bus to the grocery store, parallel parked for an appointment, accelerated to 140 km/h (sh!) on the motorway. When we’re here in our cozy apartment, our visits to our other “home” are dreamlike. But no matter where we are, we’re engaged, we’re busy, we’re involved, and we’re exhausted. So here’s the deal, Luxembourg–we’re back, and we’re ALL IN!

 

 

 

 

Six Years Ago Today…

Mr. Wonderful was preparing for his mission trip to South Sudan, working one more day before leaving with our pastor and friend Sam to fly to Africa. They were visiting a school for village children, a school struggling for funding, straining to keep students in the cultural tug of war between education and custom. He was open for his purpose in going, the reason he had this opportunity to form relationships with people across the world who needed, in addition to money and infrastructure and peace, an extra dose of encouragement. I’d helped him make lists: buy a hat to protect his easily sizzling Scotch-Irish skin in the African sun, get immunizations to protect from malaria-spreading mosquitos, pack, pack, and pack for his departure the next day.

In the meantime, I was carrying on with normal–going to work, making my grocery list, having my yearly mammogram. I had a wonderful day at work with my co-workers and quirky high school students. On my grocery list I put the usual eggs and milk, potatoes and chicken, along with a bit of ice cream to celebrate having my breasts in a vice! It’s a good thing I bought the ice cream…

My mammogram wasn’t normal. And though it would be two days before I received the official report, the doctor said from the films, then the ultrasound, then as he performed a biospy that very afternoon…he said he was sure the lump was cancer, and yes, I should tell my husband before he leaves the country.

With a big bandage on my boob and fears picking at my brain, I stopped at (my beloved) Wegmans on the way home–after all, I had a grocery list. The sweet girl at the check out asked the perfunctory, “How are you today?” I started to answer as usual, to say I was fine. Instead, I blurted, “I just found out I have cancer.” The next day at work, when my sweet friend Donna greeted me with her usual “Good morning, Sunshine,” I joked with her, dancing through her computer lab as I spilled my news. I can keep other peoples’ secrets to my death, but not my own.

I couldn’t keep the fact that I had breast cancer a secret. Not only did I have cancer, but it was diagnosed in Breast Cancer Awareness month! I really thought I deserved a special award of some kind…so we cried with our family, made light with our family, I milked it with my children to be funny. Treating this THING as something humorous was the only way I could feel I had power over it. And Mark went to South Sudan–it was a wonderful trip for him, and a wonderful distraction for me to wait for pictures and stories of his encounters and experiences. While he was gone, I was at peace, and I can’t exactly explain that, but it’s true. Maybe it was the loving attention from my friends–the pink boxing gloves, the books, the scarves, the notes and cards and phone calls.

That was six years ago. Today, I’m healthy and happy (and I still think I’m funny), and I believe I’ve been equipped to be an encourager to others in the same situation. And now it’s October again–Breast Cancer Awareness Month, pink ribbons everywhere. Every October, I remember…I say “this is MY month, it’s all about me!” While it is important for me to rehearse the faithfulness of God in this chapter in my life, this month isn’t about me; it’s about people everywhere–women and men–and the need for early detection through mammograms. It’s about my very dear grandmother, who died at the age of 86, 16 years after being diagnosed and having a mastectomy. It’s about my very dear mother, who was diagnosed at the age of 70 and won that battle after a lumpectomy and radiation. My dear cousin, Suzanne, was diagnosed in her 40’s struck back with surgery and chemo and is now healthy. So it’s about her, and my friends Vikki and Kerry, who had more surgery and treatment than I.

In Luxembourg this month, the Think Pink Ladies Night is Friday, October 20th (thinkpinklux.com). The American Women’s Club of Luxembourg is having a Think Pink Coffee Morning on Tuesday, October 10. The Think Pink staff will will be sharing information about women’s health and support services in Luxembourg.  I’ll be thinking (in pink) about women who are battling, who are newly diagnosed, who are doing routine checks. And I’ll be praying for them…my bosom buddies…

walking with mama lockhart

 

 

Vienna Waits…

It wasn’t how we’d planned our last day in Vienna.

It had been an amazing week–3 days in Vienna, a train ride for a few fairy tale days in Salzburg, then the train back to Vienna for one last evening before our flight home. We’d seen the Spanish Riding School, Schonbrunn Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Opera House, the Parliament building, the MuseumsQuartier, Stadtpark.  As we learned about Jewish history, and Mozart, and listened to music (Mozart and Strauss, and Verdi, and Beethoven, and more), drank good beer, saw the history of Freud and the opulence of the Hofburgs, we compared the Vienna we grew up in (Vienna, West Virginia) with this “real” Vienna. Sure, our Vienna has a river, too–the Ohio River rather than the Danube. Our Vienna has a boys’ choir, too, thanks to Janet Blessing and the Smoot Boys’ Choir. Our Vienna has woods, but the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains rather than the Alps. In this Vienna, we hopped on and off, Ringstrassed, and wiener-schnitzel-ed more than we dreamed possible.


The last, and critical, item on our list included sampling the very best desserts of Vienna–the decadent sachertorte, a dense chocolate cake including a layer of apricot jam under the dark chocolate frosting, and strudel, the whirlpool of thin buttery pastry with fruit filling. We had chosen the best locations for the sweets, in the best places, to people watch before we left for the bus stop. Then we met Rose.

She was waiting, as were we, for the bus from the airport to the Zentrum.  The pretty, older woman asked us, in German, what time the bus would arrive. With our stumbling and deer-in-the-headlights look, she quickly began to speak English, and we discussed the arrival of the bus, our nationality and hers, and the warm and sunny weather. She relayed that she had accompanied her son to the airport, that he had been in Vienna to comfort her on the 2nd anniversary of her husband’s death (that day), but was headed back to his home in Zurich. Her plan was to enjoy an ice cream treat before she went home alone to her apartment.

We sat with Rose on the bus as she told us about her home in Salzburg. We enjoyed conversations around music and books, loving and missing family. As we three left the bus at the designated spot, Mark and I thanked Rose for the chat and wished her comfort in her grief, telling her we would keep her in our prayers.  She grabbed our hands and asked, “Won’t you please join me for some ice cream?” The answer took not a moment of review on our part, and we followed the woman across the trolley rails and down the block, arriving at Schwedenplatz, commandeering a table for three. She smiled proudly as we ate, and introduced herself as Rose, German by birth, resident of Switzerland for many years before moving to Vienna with her second husband, Leo. She talked about their yearly tradition of attending an opera, but twice having walked out at intermission as it was too progressive. She told us she was born in 1939, that her father died two weeks after he was conscripted to serve in World War II, that her family fled to Switzerland in order to survive. And after we talked and laughed, finished our ice cream and grabbed the bill, Rose bid us farewell in the traditional three-kiss Austrian fashion. This woman, kind and wise and beautiful, grabbed both my hands and looked in my eyes. “Take care to love your husband so well,” she said, then patted Mark once more on the arm and walked away.

We never did taste sachertorte  or Austrian strudel, but we did have the most delightful sampling of human nature! I don’t believe in luck, or karma, or kismet–it’s no accident that we encountered Rose, who delighted and encouraged and taught us. It was on our itinerary–not the one we made–all the time.