Is Stacy There?

Several years ago a series of events occurred that started me thinking about the very human desire we all have to look into our past lives and track down those whose paths we once crossed. This particular incident occurred just before Thanksgiving in 2009. Here’s how it unfolded.

Brrrrinnnngggg.  Brrrrinnnngggg.  black telephoneSlapping furiously at the alarm clock, the noise continues.

Brrrrinnnngggg.  Brrrrinnnngggg.  Is it my cell phone, no it is on silent, in sleep mode, like I should be.

Brrrrinnnngggg.  Brrrrinnnngggg.  OMG, it’s my telephone landline.  What is it doing ringing at 2:00 AM?  Not a daughter, they are both asleep in their beds, like I should be.  I fight my way past my stacks of books on my night table, past the Vick’s Vapor Rub and the Pounce Caribbean Catch Moist Tuna Flavor Cat Treats, and finally find my landline cordless phone.

Brrrrinnnngggg.  Brrrrinnnngggg.

Me:  Hello.

Him:  Stacy?

Me:  You have the wrong number.  Click. I put the phone back.

Brrrrinnnngggg.  Brrrrinnnngggg.  (Come on, this is NOT happening.)

Me:  Hello.

Him:  Mrs. Watkins, is Stacy there?  (Okay, if Stacy is not there at 2:09 AM, where the heck is she?)

Me:  You have the wrong number.  Click.

This time, my husband, who is now awake, says “what is going on?”  Before I can answer …

Brrrrinnnngggg.  Brrrrinnnngggg.

Me:  Hello. (Why am I saying hello each time?)

Him:  Mrs. Watkins, can I please talk to Stacy?

Me:  There is no Stacy here.  You have the wrong number.  Check the number you are dialing and try again.

Him:  What number is this?

Me:  I am not telling you my number.  Click.

A brief pause while I drift back to sleep, my heart returning to its normal rhythm as I had been sure this was going to escalate into dirty language followed by that weird laugh they always use when they are finished with their dirty language.

Brrrrinnnngggg.  Brrrrinnnngggg.  My husband answers this time.  He has picked up on the extension in the kitchen where he has gone for a late night snack.  I can’t hear what he says, but there are no more calls that night.

But the next day, a Wednesday afternoon, amidst the pre-Thanksgiving cook-down …

Brrrrinnnngggg.  Brrrrinnnngggg.

As these things go, we had just recently been discussing the middle of the night calls of someone desperately seeking Stacy.  We both agreed that he did not sound drunk or drugged.  He seemed a bit down, depressed.  My husband grabs the phone.  It is in fact the sad, forlorn Mr. X, still searching for Stacy.  My husband, who by now has had the idea that it might be a serviceman in Iraq or Afghanistan calling his stateside sweetheart and dialing the wrong number on his very limited minutes at the phone, is a bit kinder.  He tells him we have had this number since 2004 and, no, there is no Stacy living with us.  He ends the call with “I hope you find her, man.  Good luck.”

I hope you find her, man.  At first I thought that was a strange thing for my husband to say.  The “man” I hear him say occasionally but he is not a “man” or “dude” kind of guy.  But somehow, adding the “man” to the end of that final discourse with Mr. X made it seem more human, more down to earth, more like he was talking to a serviceman in Iraq or Afghanistan calling his stateside sweetheart.  And, that was the last time we heard from Mr. X.

What makes us go to desperate means to track down someone?  With the advent of the wildly popular Facebook, it seems that no one is too incognito, too incommunicado, anymore.  We are able to track down the girl who sat next to us in sophomore year English, in a high school that no longer exists thanks to Hurricane Katrina, and by the weirdest of coincidences, the teacher of that sophomore year English class too!  We are “friended” by people we don’t really consider “friends” but we click “accept” anyway, because to do otherwise might just seem one notch past rude.  We can co-exist in this world that gets smaller by the year without ever making contact with those long-lost names of our fuzzy past but what’s the harm in accepting them as a friend on Facebook?  Basically, we will have roughly the same degree of non-contact as we had before, other than the occasional posting to our wall, or being tagged in a photo from our high school yearbook, scanned and uploaded for a trip down the virtual memory lane of cyberspace.

What sleeping dogs should we leave sleeping, though?  There are few among us who hasn’t Googled the old ex-boyfriend, or worst, the old ex-husband, to see how they are, where they are, who they are now.  After all, we are different now, right?  So surely, they are different now, too?  We are happy, successful, tethered to new people, new jobs, new cities, and perhaps, new families.  So what itches that we just have to scratch?  We don’t want the old ex-boyfriend back; lord knows we don’t want the old ex-husband back.  We don’t even want them to know we Googled them, right?  Even if we are perfectly happy with our life, perfectly content with our spouse or significant other, perfectly satisfied with our status quo, why do we dive into the deep, dark world of internet searching and type their name into the browser?  Is it because deep down inside all of us there lies a bit of Mr. X, desperately seeking Stacy, calling at all hours of the day and night, just hoping to make contact.  Is it because we can?  Is it because we have the technology to track down just about anyone these days, friend or foe, from our distant past or someone we just met last week.  Caller ID put an end to a lot of the prank calls of the past (Mr. X had his own number blocked on my caller ID, somewhat ironic I think), the “call and hang up” method of stalking a scorned lover.  Will Google ID and browser histories put an end to our cyber searching?  When will we learn to leave well enough alone?

Basically, we are never satisfied with the status quo, and perhaps, we want to know that we are happier and more content than our old ex-boyfriends, happier without them than we were with them.  Sometimes we want that knowledge anonymously, sometimes we want to see their expression when we “bump” into each other after many, many years, and the years have been kinder to us than to them.  Sometimes we just want to call out in the middle of the night, to make contact at a safe and undisclosed distance and say “Is Stacy there?”

Advertisements

A Narrow Sliver of Land

Map of Louisiana showing Plaquemines Parish in red

We all have our Proust moments: the singular bite of something that we loved and cherished in our childhood, re-tasted later as an adult, transporting us back in time to a particularly fond memory. Truman Capote, in his semi-autobiographical short story “A Christmas Memory”, describes in great detail the food of his childhood in the Deep South during the Great Depression: fried squirrel, biscuits and ham, flapjacks, Christmas fruitcakes. Capote could not hardly write a paragraph without offering a food memory from his past and neither can I.

Just as with Proust and Capote, my childhood memories are also centered on the foods of my youth, and even today, small tastes of certain foods evoke large memories of my life lived on a narrow sliver of land called Plaquemines Parish. I grew up in the small town of Port Sulphur, located 45 miles southeast of New Orleans, Louisiana. Originally founded as a sulphur mining town, it became the crown jewel of the “fisherman’s paradise” and home to groves of citrus fruit. Unfortunately, Port Sulphur is now known for something else: the exact spot of landfall of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. And, on that fateful day, I lost my hometown.

turkey and sausage gumo

Turkey and Sausage Gumbo

My mother’s parents emigrated from Scotland in the early 1920’s when my grandfather was hired by the Freeport Sulphur Company. Unfortunately they both died before my mother finished high school so I never had the opportunity to experience “boiled mince”, which is the first dish she cooked for my father as a newlywed. It did not go over well. So, she learned her Louisiana-style dishes from my father’s mother, known affectionately by all as “Mama the Cook”.

red beans and rice

Louisiana Red Beans and Smoked Sausage

Great cooks abound in my family.  I grew up on several different variations of gumbo, my mom’s versus my Aunt Helen’s and later, my brother Tommy’s.  My dad’s stewed chicken melts in your mouth and my brother John Roy fries a mean turkey. We each make our own version of the Louisiana staple, red beans and rice with smoked sausage (mine is pretty good). My cousin Kim’s crawfish maque choux won a local cooking competition. And then there’s the best jambalaya in the world, made by my Uncle Guy’s brother, Joe.

Uncle Guy, whose first language was Cajun French, married my dad’s sister and went into the grocery business with my grandmother.  He cooked every day in the back of his grocery store. When shopping in the store with my mom, I made a beeline dash to the back of the store to see Uncle Guy. He was my godfather, and I was his “Michelangelo”, his nickname for me. He always offered me a taste of what he was cooking. I would ask “what is it?” and he would invariably respond “chicken”. I lapped it up, only discovering much, much later in life that I had been eating goat, snapping turtle, wild duck, goose, alligator, and more. These foods all seem exotic and distant now, but were perfectly ordinary and normal at the time.

I have many fond memories of Friday nights, when we would all meet at my Aunt Helen’s for dinner.  Being Catholic during pre-Vatican II times, we abstained from meat on Fridays all year-long.  Luckily, given the abundance and quality of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, this was not a problem. My Uncle Guy and my dad would go out to the “pit”, a separate building next door to their house that had a great indoor barbeque and a small kitchen, to fry whatever fish he had caught that day at “the cut”, the local fishing hole, usually catfish or redfish, sometimes flounder.  He would also boil shrimp and crabs (as opposed to steaming as is done in the Chesapeake Bay region where I now live), and when the season was right, we had boiled crawfish.  My Aunt Helen had a huge pot of seafood gumbo simmering on the stove in the kitchen, and next to it would be a big pot of white rice.  My mom made potato salad and for my cousin Keith “macaroni salad”, a cold pasta salad of small elbow macaroni, mayonnaise, celery, and pickles, and oddly enough, eaten on saltine crackers.  There would be snacks out, too, normal things like potato chips and French onion dip, but also another Louisiana specialty, shrimp mold, which is a cold shrimp salad made with condensed tomato soup, unflavored gelatin, chopped celery and other seasonings, poured into a ring mold, and then after it has set, eaten as a spread on Ritz crackers.

There were always multiple desserts, the domain of my cousin Penny.  Some of her specialties were red velvet cake, carrot cake, bread pudding with bourbon sauce, and usually some crazy cold concoction like “banana split surprise” or some other instant pudding/whipped topping/multiple layered gooey thing.  We often made ice cream: banana, peach, or strawberry, in an old hand-crank machine filled with crushed ice and rock salt, later upgraded to an electric one. My dad’s younger sister, Hilda (affectionately known as Susie), also a stellar cook, would come in from out-of-town laden with goodies such as her specialty, pecan pie. And, if my Aunt Lillian was there, we would have her famous peanut butter fudge, a recipe we all thought went with her to her grave until I found a handwritten copy in an unmarked box of miscellaneous papers after moving 4,000 miles to Waterloo, Belgium.

There were lots of family members but also present were neighbors and outsiders too, people who had been in my Uncle Guy’s grocery store at closing time, or his fishing buddies like my mother’s cousin Duffy or someone I remember calling Uncle David (pronounced the French way to rhyme with “speed”).  We would all sit around the den and eat in stages, eat whatever was ready next and then move on to the next item, never sitting down to a table set with silverware and such.  The boiled seafood was eaten either in the pit or in the garage, on big tables spread with newspaper.  When the steaming pots were dumped on the tables, out would tumble perfectly cooked shrimp, crabs, or crawfish, seasoned to perfection with Zatarain’s Crab Boil, and the “side dishes”, corn on the cob, whole heads of garlic, and new potatoes, all cooked together, truly a one-pot meal.

Extra fridges in the garage or in the “sewing room” held sodas and beers, and everyone just helped themselves.  Of course, most women did not drink beer then, so my Uncle Guy was called upon to make his famous “Old Fashioned” cocktails for Aunt Helen and any of the other ladies who wanted one.  After dinner, there would be homemade orange wine, made from the citrus grown on Uncle Guy’s land, “Songy’s Evergreen”, and cherry bounce, a deadly potent liqueur made by fermenting fresh cherries with bourbon and sugar for several months, usually served over vanilla ice cream or pound cake. Aunt Helen had a large glass jug that sat in a wooden stand which would be rotated daily during the fermenting process. If the top wasn’t removed periodically to release the pressure created by the fermentation process, you were likely to find the walls covered in sweet, sticky, dripping cherry bits, sort of like stumbling upon a homicide scene right out of CSI New Orleans!

After the men were finished cooking in the pit, they would play “pedro”, a card game distinctive for the manner in which the cards were played, by thumping them down hard on the table. I can almost still hear the sound of Uncle Guy’s knuckles hitting the table when he played his card, a cigarette dangling from his mouth and a beer in a frosted mug at his elbow, complete with his customary pinch of salt added to the foam.  The men didn’t seem to eat much, other than pieces of fried fish as it came out of the cast iron skillet in the pit while it was cooking.

When the card game was over, and almost everyone was loosened up from the beers and Old Fashioneds, the coffee table was pushed aside, the lights in the den were dimmed, and records were played on the stereo for the grown ups to dance.  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, all were regulars at the Friday night parties.  While this was going on, my mom would give me the “signal” and I would reluctantly go to the kitchen and put the food away, unloading and loading the dishwasher, washing the huge gumbo pot, wiping down the countertops.

shrimp and crab stew

Shrimp and Crab Stew

Life first separated me from my hometown after college, and then more permanently when I moved to Maryland in 1988 for work and for love. But I returned home once a year, husband and babies in tow, for Christmas or Easter or during the summer, to visit family and get a refill of good food and the slow, laid-back lifestyle found only in Louisiana. During those years I made sure to learn the recipes for dishes that instantly transported me back home: the smell of a roux slowly cooking to the color of a copper penny, the smooth creaminess contrasted against the crunch of the celery in shrimp mold, the sweetness of crabmet juxtaposed against the cayenne pepper in crab stew, the irresistible velvety uniqueness of Aunt Lillian’s peanut butter fudge. Unfortunately, I never mastered Uncle Guy’s Old Fashioneds or Aunt Helen’s Cherry Bounce, but my daughters are both well versed in roux-making and beignet-frying, as well as how to determine if fudge has reached the critical soft-ball stage.

I’ve only returned to my hometown twice since Katrina, once in 2006 to see for myself the massive destruction, and then again, for my Aunt Helen’s funeral in 2012. It’s difficult to go back, and there is no one there to go back to. Except for St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, where I received my sacraments and was married, which miraculously survived Katrina’s violent flooding and high winds, there is no physical sign of my past in Port Sulphur:  my parents’ home, every school I attended, the homes of my childhood friends, my extensive collection of original Barbie dolls and their miniature exotic wardrobes, my yearbooks and mementos from high school, all gone.
As time marches on, and those I love age and leave me, all I have left of my hometown are my cherished Blanchard family recipes and memories like those Friday nights, sweet and poignant now, but taken for granted and viewed as an obligation by a sometimes sullen teenager. Home now means the place where my husband and daughters are . . . but deep down, home will always be that narrow sliver of land sandwiched between the mighty Mississippi and the bayous of southeast Louisiana.

Links to Faith and Family

Every morning, I instinrose gold chain and crossctively reach up to feel for the rose gold chain and cross around my neck. I never take it off. It is more than just a sign of my faith; those gold links are a connection to my mother’s family in Scotland.

In 1997 my mother’s first cousin, Anna Liddell, came from Glasgow, Scotland, for one of her visits. She had been traveling from Scotland to Louisiana periodically since 1993, to visit my mother and help care for her after her many surgeries. This time, however, my parents had flown to Maryland in advance of her arrival and they were all going to stay with me for two weeks.

We had a marvelous time, knitting, cooking, shopping, and sharing family stories. Anna was in her late 60’s but spry and fun, full of mischief and energy. I adored her. She had never married, although she had fallen in love when she was young, but sadly, he was protestant, and her Catholic parents would not accept that. Not a trace of bitterness or regret lingered, however, she had made the decision to turn down his proposal of marriage of her own free will, knowing the differences in faith would come between them and their families. Being the only daughter, she remained at home, caring for her parents until their death. After her mother’s death, and her retirement, she began to travel and enjoy her freedom. She and my mother were very close, and my father was very fond of her as well.

One afternoon in my kitchen, she taught me her family’s simple recipe for scones, a staple of the Scottish afternoon tea tray. She complimented me on having a “light hand” with the dough, not kneading it too much or too roughly which would make the scones tough. While they were baking, she reached up around her neck and took off her chain and put it in my hands. She told me her father had given it to her when she was a little girl and she had been wearing it ever since. She insisted I take it, intent on connecting us to one another, across the miles and across the ocean. I’ve worn it ever since.

In May of 2000, my mother in fairly good health, my parents and I traveled to Scotland to visit her. I had traveled overseas as a high school senior, but this was my parents first time outside of the country. It was, as the famous credit card commercial boasted, “priceless”. Anna drove us around Glasgow, pointing out all of the landmarks and sights, but more importantly, the places where my grandparents grew up. We visited St. Agnes Catholic Church, Lambhill, to see where my grandmother made her First Holy Communion. We saw the house where she grew up and the neighborhood where my grandfather lived before he left for America and his job with Freeport Sulphur Company. It saddened me to think that my grandparents never saw their families again after immigrating to America.

We drove through the Highlands, looking over the fields of bluebells and heather, the thistle dancing in the spring breeze. One evening we had a lovely dinner on the shores of Loch Lomond, which Anna told us terrified my grandmother as a young girl. Another day we drove to Edinburgh and toured Edinburgh Castle. While in Edinburgh, we also toured the Royal Yacht Britannia, which had been retired from service by the Royal Family. Anna also took me to the Scottish Opera to see Richard Strauss’s Salome, which was fantastic. We squeezed a lot into that week, spending time in the homes of the families of Anna’s brothers. My parents stayed on for an additional week but I had to return home to my husband, two small children, and work. My mother passed away ten years later, and I am so glad she had that trip to be able to visualize where her parents came from and I was so fortunate to share that experience with her. We all felt very lucky to see Scotland for our first time through Anna’s eyes.

Anna’s cross and chain around my neck is much more than jewelry or a symbol of my faith. It is my link to my Scottish heritage. Someday I hope to pass it down to a granddaughter, putting it in her hands and telling her about Anna, sharing with her our Catholic faith and our Scottish heritage.


Anna’s Scones (sweet)

  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 3 tbsp. butter, really cold, cut into small pieces
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ cup raisins or currants
  • ¼ cup milk

 Mix together flour and butter by hand with fork or pastry blender until it resembles a coarse meal. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt, mix well. Add sugar and the raisins or currants. Stir in a little milk at a time until dough forms a ball. Turn dough out onto floured board. Knead lightly about ten times until smooth. Pat or roll out about ½ inch thick. Cut into rounds or triangles and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake immediately at 450 degrees in a pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with butter or clotted cream and jam or preserves. Yield: about 10 scones

To make these into savory scones, leave out the sugar and raisins (or currants) and add instead ¼ tsp dry mustard powder and ¼ cup grated cheddar cheese. These can be split and served with butter and ham for a light lunch.

Living in Belgium: A Few of My Favorite Things

For two glorious years I lived abroad, as a “trailing spouse” expat living in Waterloo, Belgium. Yes, that Waterloo. As in the battlefield, which is the site of the famous 1815 Battle of Waterloo. As in Napoléon, Emperor of France, who met his great defeat at the hands of England’s Duke of Wellington. In July of 2002, to prepare for my husband’s two year assignment at NATO headquarters located in Brussels, I quit my stressful but lucrative position as a real estate paralegal, sold our house, and sorted our belongings into three separate areas: long-term storage, sea shipment, and air shipment. Then, we loaded up our tween-aged daughters, our Persian cat, and four giant suitcases, and jetted off to the heart of Europe for our big adventure.

Maria in The Sound of Music sang about “a few of her favorite things”. I have many favorites from my two years in Belgium, and many of them line up with Maria’s favorites as well.

Raindrops on roses. It rains a lot in Belgium. Before leaving for Belgium, I bought a three-quarter length, lightweight raincoat with a hood at LL Bean. I wore that coat nearly every day the whole time we lived there. Cloudy and overcast most days, the lack of sunlight never really bothered me but I had several expat friends who struggled with the climate, ultimately resulting to their taking melatonin supplements. For me, chilly rainy days were the perfect excuse to snuggle under a blanket on the sofa, reading a good book or knitting a scarf, or busy at work in my warm kitchen, making a pot of soup and a loaf of freshly baked bread.

Whiskers on kittens. Well, that one really needs a slight adjustment: whiskers on puppies. Dogs, everywhere. Small perfectly groomed dogs on leashes are seen everywhere in Belgium, as in France. Outdoor cafes, farmers’ markets, buses, trains, everywhere. It was not out of the ordinary to have a meal in a fine-dining restaurant and see a small dog under a nearby table eating daintily from a dish on the floor. In many cases, these dogs in restaurants were better behaved than most children in American restaurants. Sad, but true. I think I started my transformation into a dog person while living in Belgium, with the full conversion occurring when we welcomed our adored Maltipoo, Puccini, into our lives.

Bright copper kettles. Where to begin on this one? For a self-proclaimed foodie, living in Belgium was a dream made in heaven. Each meal out was an adventure in itself. Take, for example, the inexpensive cafeteria-styled Lunch Garden, where I first had the classic Belgian vegetable side dish, chicons au gratin, Belgian endive sautéed with leeks and bathed in a white cream sauce, dusted with breadcrumbs and then browned to perfection in the broiler. Ordinary beef stew, cooked over low, slow heat with caramelized onions and Belgian beer becomes the extraordinary carbonades flamandes, served with mustard and frites (the thin ultra-crispy French fries.

Every meal, regardless of the price point, was served with impeccable style. Table manners and dining etiquette in general are greatly elevated from what we experience in America. The fork and knife you used for your salad or appetizer are whisked away and replaced with fresh silverware for your entrée, which is also removed for your dessert course. It is not hard to get used to that, and then return home bristling at the thought of using the same knife and fork throughout your meal.

Warm woolen mittens. Hats, scarves, and gloves are de rigueur in Europe. Men and women alike accessorize every outfit before going out, even on the simplest of errands. Football jersey and sweats? Uh, no. Baggy sweater and yoga pants? Certainly not. Tailored, well-fitting slacks accompanied by sleek sweater sets are then brought to life by scarves artfully tied, matching hat and glove sets, and raingear. The main reason behind this is that European bedrooms do not typically have built-in closets. “Wardrobes”, portable closets, are purchased for each bedroom. Since storage space is at a minimum, clothing is purchased carefully to mix and match with other pieces. Also, since most Europeans have dishwasher-sized washer/dryer combo machines, not everything is washed each time it is worn. The addition of accessory pieces extends the look and seasonality of a limited wardrobe.

Brown paper packages tied up with strings. I had a plethora of choices for food shopping while living in Belgium. My husband had shopping privileges at the U.S. Military Commissary at Chievres. This was all-American grocery shopping where we could find all of our favorites from home, and shop tax-free to boot! What’s not to like about buying exactly what you ate at home only cheaper? Well, for one thing, why not just stay home? How do you fully experience a foreign culture if you don’t shop and eat as they do?

A few blocks from my rental house on Avenue de Versailles in Waterloo was a Delhaize grocery store. It was similar in size and style as the Safeway grocery store in my current neighborhood here in Maryland. There I shopped as the locals did, seasonally. One day when strolling through the produce aisle, I saw a display of freshly washed but oddly shaped radishes, still glistening with droplets of water, tied in neat bunches with their greens still intact, arranged artistically around platters of what appeared to be softened butter and small dishes of coarse salt. I watched as shoppers stopped at the display, selected a trimmed radish from a silver bowl, dipped it in the soft butter and then into the coarse salt. When in Rome, right? The taste was out of this world. I don’t think I had ever eaten a whole radish before, and certainly not buttered and salted, but it was exquisite. This display was announcing the arrival of the new crop of French Breakfast radishes, a signal that spring was on its way.

While living in Waterloo, I also had access to specialty food shops, many dotted around the circle at the center of town. Every purchase made in these shops, la poissonnerie (fishmonger), the patisserie (pastry shop), or the boulangerie (bakery), all come to you in the same way, presented as if on a silver platter, wrapped in clean brown paper, tied with butcher’s twine. Une baguette? Rolled in the brown paper, with the ends tucked in. Tarte au citron? Laid gently on a lace paper doily and placed in a box which is then wrapped in the twine and tied.

Nowhere else was I happier, however, than in the fromagerie (cheese shop). I’ve been told that there is a different Belgian cheese for every day of the year, and if I could but live a year trying a different cheese each and every day, I would die a very happy girl. I once entered the fromagerie in the center of Waterloo where the shopkeeper asked if she could help me. In my very beginner French, I explained I needed to create a cheese plate. She asked “pourquoi?” You see, the story of why the food is needed and what it is needed for is almost as important as the selection of the food itself. I then explained that it was for a book club meeting. “Ah,” she said, après-dinner?” “Oui,” I replied. She then set about offering me samples of different types of cheese which followed the basic formula for a successful cheese plate: a soft, fresh, ripe cheese such as a Brie; a mature, hard, sharp cheese such as an Emmentaler; and finally, a semi-hard crumbling cheese such as a Bleu. Since then, I’ve also learned that it is nice to combine cheeses made from different milks, such as a goat’s milk cheese or chèvre with a sheep’s milk cheese such as manchego.

After two years of life in Belgium, we packed up our now teenage daughters and our Persian cat, and sorted all of our belongings into their original three areas for transport back to the U.S.  We came back home with better French, hundreds of photos of our European travels, many friends from all over the world, and a true understanding of what it is like to live in a foreign culture. We returned to Maryland with its crazy traffic, four seasons, 24/7 shopping, fast food, workaholic lives, increased competition in school and sports, and all of the friends and family we had left behind. We also came home with a lifetime of good memories of happy times where we all broadened our world view, an experience we still cherish.