Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Announcing this week's class!

Sorry to be so late. But, starting tomorrow, Emma will be posting a class, "Feminity Throughout the Year." She'll be discussing ways to put some beauty into our lives during each season. For a lovely disccuion, visit her blog, http://charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.blogspot.com

Still ahead -- Courtney will teach us about etiquette in today's world.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Finishing School News:

Check back later this afternoon to find the link for where to go next! I hope everyone's enjoyed the school so far. If you've been keeping up with us, you've visited
the following blogs and learned the following things:

Charming the Birds from the Trees -- personal presentation
The Merryrose -- French culture
My Daily Life as a Wife and Mother -- How to make a delectable lemon cake
Like Merchant Ships -- Living Well on a Budget

Before the end of the finishing school, we will gather all of the posts onto one central blog.

There's more to come! So, stay tuned.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

If you've been following along with our Finishing School Series, you know that Julieann posted the steps for making a lovely cake garnished with lemon. See her blog at juliean-mylife.blogspot.com

I had bought the ingredients to make the lemon cake. I had also bought a box of lemon cake mix in case I just wanted to practice with the icing.

Friday night, I found myself in need of throwing a meal together quickly. So, out came the box of yellow cake mix, which I baked in a 9 x 13 inch pan. I asked my father, who is staying with us, to slice some lemons. I whipped up the icing. I let the cake cool as much as I could. Then, I iced it. I spaced out lemon slices in a fashion that the cake could be cut in squares, with a lemon slice garnishing each square. I ran out to the deck and pulled a few sprigs of mint, which I crisscrossed in the center. Voila! I had a lovely cake in a short amount of time.

Now, I do intend to go back and make the cake again from scratch, using round cake pans to make layers, and icing it according to Julieann's directions. But, I'm always fascinated by the way that one recipe idea can be made many different ways to suit different needs. Certainly, the recipe idea that Julieann chose lends itself to some creativity.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tennessee Tidbit for Thursday
Be careful to keep your words sweet; you never know which ones you'll have to eat.

I've written before about President James K. Polk and his remarkable wife, Sarah Childress Polk. Sarah was known throughout her life for her gracious hospitality, her fine education, her charm, her intelligence, and her beauty.

Apparently, Sarah's virtues and those of her bridal party combined were not enough to impress James' cousin, Lucious. In 1824, 22-year old Lucious served as a groomsman at James and Sarah's wedding in middle Tennessee. Later, he wrote to some relatives, "Tennessee girls are not of the first order either in accomplishments or beauty."

This was strange, coming from a boy who was born and bred near Spring Hill, Tennessee. He wasn't the only person in the country, however, to share the opinion that Tennesseans were down right countrified.

After all, at the time of the James and Sarah's wedding, middle Tennessee was only a decade or so past being raw frontier country. By 1824, local residents had established churches, schools, and businesses, as well as fruitful farms and plantations. Still, many people from the east looked upon Tennesseans as being rough and crude.

This prejudice followed Andrew Jackson, the first President to hail from Tennessee, all the way to the White House. Some Washington insiders compared "this coarse westerner" unfavorably to the distinguished men who had come before him.

As it happened, though, Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel, had a great-niece from Tennessee. Her name was Mary Easton. Her great-aunt and great-uncle were extremely fond of her, and she spent a lot of time in Washington with them.

So, who fell head over heels in love with Miss Easton from Tennessee?

Lucious Polk, of course.

The boy who snubbed Tennessee girls was, in the end, smitten by a home-grown belle. Thus, he was forced to eat the snobbish words he had written earlier.

The only problem was that Lt. Bolton Finch of the U.S. navy, a popular young man, proposed to Mary Easton, and she accepted. Finch had previously been engaged a number of times. He seemed to have settled down under Miss Easton's influence, however. The couple had set a date and had already invited many of their guests.

Lucious decided to journey from Tennessee to Washington to make one last appeal to Miss Easton. He arrived in stately fashion, in his coach and four.

White House tradition says that Andrew Jackson advised his great-niece to choose wisely. He warned her of the sadness of a loveless marriage, and he told her of the happiness of a marriage with love. I don't know if he favored one man over the other. Some think that the Presdent's advice turned Miss Easton's heart toward Lucious.

At any rate, Miss Easton broke off her engagement with Bolton Finch and agreed to marry Lucious Polk. The ceremony was held in the White House in 1832.

Lucious's father, William Polk, owned a large plantation in Maury County, Tennessee known as Rattle and Snap. He built a beautiful house for the young couple on part of this land. The house was known as Hamilton Place.

The couple were known for their hospitality, and among the many guests they entertained were President Jackson, President Polk, and a number of generals. The couple had twelve children while living at Hamilton Place, including two sets of twins. Mary died in childbirth in 1847. Then, Lucious married a second time, to a widow -- from Tennessee.

As the old saying goes, "Be careful to keep your words sweet. You never know which ones you'll have to eat."


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Of Elegance and Everyday....

As I've said before on this blog, I started homemaking in the days before the Internet.

As a brand new bride, I moved fourteen hours away from my mother and ten hours away from my mother-in-law. Now, I look back and see that God surrounded me with many women who could have been like a "mother" or "mother-in-law" to me. In fact, I did learn from the older homemakers who attended our church.

At the time, however, I was not aware of how God's plan in Titus 2 works. Thus, I did not learn as much as I might have. I had read the verses about older women teaching the younger. I thought I knew the concept, but my view of it was limited. I suppose I thought of it mostly in terms of attending a Ladie's Bible Class once a week. That is a great venue for such teaching, but there was so much more that I missed. I didn't understand the depth of friendships that God wants us to have in the fellowship, and I had no clue how to go about building those friendships.

Besides, I was too prideful and too embarrassed to admit how much help I needed in learning how to manage my home. I was just discovering that the process of pulling various skills together into the oversight of a home is far more challenging than the world believes.

I am grateful that when we moved another city, we became part of a church where we learned the importance of godly friendships. I saw how important it was to have women in my life whom I knew and who knew me.

Today's homemaker has an added plus: blogs that inspire and teach women how to manage their homes. As a young bride, I would have loved to have access to the information you can now find on the Internet. Even now, I glean a lot from homemaking blogs, and I also read them when I'm flagging a bit in inspiration. Homemaking blogs are a valuable resource, provided that you measure them against the truths of God's word.

Having said that, I still believe that the personal touch is needed if you really want to grow in walking like the Lord, loving your family, developing a godly character, and managing your home. In real friendships, you understand each other's strengths and weaknesses. If you draw close in friendship to an older woman, you know her as a whole person -- not just as an image projected in a blog. Because you know that she is a real woman, with real struggles, you can identify with her and learn from her. And, since she knows you, she can gently help you see yourself, so that you can identify weaknesses to overcome and strengths that God has blessed you with.

I related so much to Meredith's comment yesterday on "Like Merchant Ships." She is "teaching" one of our "finishing school classes" this week, and her topic is living elegantly on a budget. I had to laugh when she talked about being a mom who wears stretch pants and a layer of Cheerio dust. She stated that she doesn't think of herself as an elegant woman, but she has learned many ways over the years simple and frugal ways to add beauty to her home life.

Now, I find Meredith's tips to be elegant indeed. Her post about corralling breakfast messes into pretty containers took me back to a time when no one ever set a carton or a cooking pot or a bottle of ketchup on the family table. Instead, people put food, condiments, milk, etc., into attractive serving dishes. I, myself, have gotten quite lazy in that area. Meredith's post inspired me to think that just a little extra effort would add a great deal of pleasure to our family meals.

At the same time, Meredith's comments about the stretch pants and cheerio dust touched on one of my secret fears. The young ladies at church who ask me questions about marriage or their children already know that I am far from perfect. So, they can place my thoughts in the proper context. Yet, I fear that women in the blog-o-sphere might imagine that I write about homemaking while attired in a shirtwaist and pearls and sitting in a perfect house, surrounded by a perfect family.

I have learned many things about homemaking in the past twenty-six years, and I love talking about homemaking and learning more about it. I enjoy loving my family and caring for my home. Yet, I also struggle with my weight and health; my furniture is worn from years of both children and guests sitting on the couches; and, right now, I should stop typing and tidy up my kitchen.

If there's one thing that I hope all of the women take away from the Finishing School project is that none of us has fully arrived. We all have something to teach, and we all have something to learn. That is true on our blogs, and that is true with the friends we see everyday.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Someone mentioned they are having trouble following the link to Like Merchant Ships. The link in this post should work. If it still gives you some trouble, though, try hitting the link with the right button of your mouse. Select the option of opening the link in a new window. You should see Meredith's site pop up.


Or, if that doesn't work, try typing in the address.

If you continue to have problems, let me know. Merediths' already posted such lovely tips, and I'd hate for anyone to miss them.


Here's the link to Like Merchant Ships:



Finishing School -- Lovely Living on a Budget Week

Meredith of Like Merchant Ships has graciously agreed to move her week up so that we can overcome some of our scheduling confusion. I appreciate our teachers and our students bearing with us.

Many of you are already frugal and know how to create lovely homes on a shoestring budget. Others of us either struggle to live within our means, or we have trouble being content within our means.

No matter where each of us is in the pursuit of living well on a tight budget, you'll enjoy reading "Like Merchant Ships."

I love the heading on the blog, which is taken from Proverbs 31, "She brings her food from afar, like merchant ships." Meredith follows this by inviting us to "Join Me as I practice Cheerful Frugality, discovering God's plenty, second-hand."

Isn't that a beautiful way of looking at the stewardship of our households?

I've visited lots of assited living places with my father lately. I've noticed that the elderly ladies all keep apartments as neat as a pin. (I'm sure they have staff help). Also, they surround themselves with some living plants, lovely pictures and photos, and other feminine touches. These women are generally widowed, though a few are there with husbands. They are frail from age. They have moved from their former homes to tiny, rented apartments. I would think it would be easy to give up caring at that point. Yet, somehow, these women still manage to create welcoming spaces.

So, you see: Loveliness is not about the stuff; it's about the heart!


Sunday, July 22, 2007


We have the lovely problem of having many wonderful women who have agreed to teach classes for our Finishing School. But, due to simple miscommunication, summer vacations, illnesses, etc., we've had to shuffle the schedule a bit. I hope we have things sorted out and running smoothly, but we might have some surprises!

Right now, we are all set to learn about "Living Elegantly on a Frugal Budget" from Meredith of "Like Merchant Ships." http://likemerchantships.blogspot.com

Please check my blog early Monday morning to make sure this is our next class.

I'm really looking forward to Meredith's posts, as I know that I have much to learn about creating a lovely home and life on a frugal budget.

Here are two of the subjects we will be covering soon: using flowers in the home and making a couple of deliciously feminine handwork projects.

If you're a teacher on our list, please bear with us if we have somehow skipped your week. Every one of you has a unique skill that we want to pass on to our readers. So, bring this to our attention, and we'll make sure to correct any oversights.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

China --

It's hard to believe this week of the Finishing School has already gone! Didn't Julieann do a lovely job with the cake. If you have photos to post of your cake, please put them on your blog and let us know so that we can link to them!

Tomorrow, I'll announce next week's surprise.

In the meantime, I've been bringing home some items from my father's house -- among them some pieces of very old china which have some cracks in them. I got some advice from Meredith at Like Merchant Ships, and I will share the results in a later post.

In the meantime, I thought you'd enjoy reading this link, which I found helpful. Note, I haven't tried all of these methods, so I can't guarantee them. Test on a little bit first!



Monday, July 16, 2007

Our Finishing School Progress:

The weeks are flying by! If you've been following along with our "Online Finishing School for Ladies", you'll have taken a look a the following "classes".

Week I -- Emma, whose blog is so beautifully named, "Charming the Birds from the Trees," gave us a wonderful start with some tips on improving our personal presentation. She covered a little bit about grooming, posture, the attidude we project, etc.
Week II -- We took a bit of a vactation, as it was Independence Day in the U.S. ( I always want to write that it was the Fourth of July in the U.S., but it was the Fourth of July everywhere!) I did, however, do some posts on this blog about some American ladies who exemplified qualities a woman might learn in Finishing School.
Week III -- We looked at French language, culture, etc. You'll find those posts on this blog, as well.

This week, Julieann is going to take us on a step by step journey to make a decorated lemon cake. We were both excited when we came across this simple recipe for a lovely cake that anyone can ice and decorate. Julieann altered the recipe for us to make it even more simple. You will not need any special equipment to decorate the cake. While you're on Julieann's site, check out one of her past posts for her homemade bagel recipe!

If you decide to make this cake with us and you are able to take a picture and post it on your personal blog, we'd love to see how yours turned out. Julieann is doing the cake for us as it was meant to be done. You can follow her directions exactly. Or, you can add any little touches to your own cake to make yours personal. For example, I think I'm going to see how a few mint leaves look along with the lemon slices.

This week, I hope to get our archive site up and running. We will use that page to store all of our Finishing School posts for quite some time. That way, if you missed a week or two or if you'd like to look back at them for reference, you'll be able to find them all on one easy site.

Towards the end of the week, we'll tell you about the next week's surprise class!


Sunday, July 15, 2007


Head over to Julieann's to learn how to bake a feminine, pretty cake with easy icing and decoration. Uses this recipe for a family occasion or for a tea. Knowing how to whip up and ice a pretty treat is one of our Finishing School Skills:

My Daily Life As A Wife and Mother


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sur La Table -- The French Dish

Our taste of France will have to to wait for a few days. I set aside yesterday to cook my recipe, only I forgot to inform my DH that I would need the digital camera. He took it to work, as he usually does. So, I had no way of photographing the steps of the dish. Today, we have been helping my father clean out his house and have an even to go to tonight. So, I offer many apologies for being late with this idea.

However, Julieann is also whipping up a treat for us. It's not particularly French, but it is delightful and feminine and shouldn't be too hard for us all to tackle. It's time for us to move on from French culture to other skills! I'm looking forward to meeting you at her house for class Monday morning. I'll post the link tomorrow evening.

I hope to cook my dish tomorrow or Monday and show the steps on Monday or Tuesday. It could be the main dish that goes with Julie's surprise treat.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lavendar Weaving in France...

Check out the link below. Today's post about the author's aunt-in-law and her skill at weaving strands of lavendar into little objects is too sweet to miss!


Also, see the link that Sherry provided in her comment to this pot. The link leads to Gracious Hospitality, where the author demonstrates weaving lavendar wands using pretty ribbon.

Food...for thought and for table

Today's post will be very short, because I will be in the kitchen burni...I mean cooking...a French recipe for all of us to try.

In the mean time, here's just a little food for thought. If you encounter someone from another culture than yours, it's wise for both of you to give each other the benefit of the doubt when it comes to manners. I am only speaking from an American/French perspective in this post, but it applies to relationships between people from any two countries. Perhaps, some of our readers who live in other countries besides the U.S. or readers who have spent extended time in another culture than their own will care to comment on their experiences.

Today's American is likely to believe the French are rude. Ironically, many French think Americans are rude.

The fact is that there are people with rude hearts and people with kind hearts in every country. Perhaps, you have encountered a French person who was intentionally rude to you. Maybe, that same French person has encountered an American person who was intentionally rude to him. Typically, though, impressions that people from a certain country are rude are formed simply because we do not understand each other's culture.

Here's an example: The church I attend in a Southern state regards the fellowship as a family. People are very warm and welcoming, and you'll even see people greet each other with hugs. Even visitors are welcomed with a handshake.

Now, the French people in general also employ a handshake as a typical greeting. But, another frequent French greeting is to "faire la bise" or "faire le bisou" -- meaning to give each other a peck or two on each cheek.

I didn't think about this at all as DH and I walked from our hotel to attend a sister church in Paris. When I got there and was introduced a woman in the church, I automatically extended my arm to greet her in the fashion of our Southern church. She looked puzzled for a moment. Then, she said, in her best English, "Oh! You don't bisou, do you?" She graciously started to change her manner of greeting to the American style.

I, on the other hand, thought to myself, "Of course! They follow the French custom of giving bisous! That's the way Parisians would make each other feel like family! I should have thought of that!"

It was no big deal. We understood each other's heart -- that we wanted to greet each other as part of extended church family. Love covers a multitude of cultural misunderstandings!

But, if you don't give each other grace, little misunderstandings like these can leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Here are a few cultural differences you might encounter if you ever visit France. Again, this is a comparison of French/American ideas. If you are from neither one of these countries, think how your country's cultural assumptions might be similar to or different from both American and French:

1) The French generally tend to be more reserved than Americans. They are private people, and they take a while to warm up to strangers. Friendship and family are highly regarded in France, and both carry with them certain expectations. These expectations have a lot to do with loyalty and support. Thus, to the French mind, to come on too strong with a stranger -- especially a tourist -- is to presume too much, too quickly of that person.

Only among their loved ones do the French feel truly free to let down their guard and be themselves. The French have a certain set of social customs for family and friends. For those who are not in their inner circle, the French observe a more formal code of politeness.

Americans, who tend to be very casual and instantly friendly, mistake French reserve for coldness and rudeness. It's not. The French do not mean to be unkind; they mean to be polite. It's just the French way of treating strangers with the same respect with which they want to be treated.

The French, on the other hand, mistake our casual approach as being pushy and overbearing. We don't mean to be that way! We just have a different style of relating to people.

However, if you are polite, soft-spoken, smile, and ask politely for directions, you will find that even some French strangers will open up to you -- at least on some level. In this way, you can have interesting discussions and learn a lot more about France than you would from guidebooks.
(Do use good judgement, though. In France, as in every other place, you don't want to put yourself in potentially dangerous situations. I'm not advocating that a lone woman go up and talk to a strange man, for example, or that you strike up a conversation in a dark alley.)

2) The French are still more prone to reserving first names for family and friends, only. Americans used to follow this style of etiquette, but, today, we are much more likely to use our first names with everyone -- even with strangers.

3) Like Americans, the French do not rest elbows on the table when they eat. However, they do keep both hands above the table, rather than resting the hands in their laps. Little things like this are not very critical if you are eating in a French restaurant, especially with people of your own nationality. The French depend on the travel industry for a good part of their economy, and they are quite used to seeing people from all over the world in their public places. They know that not everyone eats according to French style.

I've always eaten American style, even when staying several weeks in a French dormitory. But, then again, I was in situations where I was given a lot of understanding for being a foreigner.

If you are ever invited to dine with a French family in a French home, that's a different matter. Then, it would only be kind to familiarize yourself with French dinner customs before you go. Of course, your hosts will understand that you are used to an American style of eating. But, your hosts will appreciate your effort to meet them half-way.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Put a Little French Style in your Life

When I think of French chic, one image that comes to my mind is of an elderly woman I once saw. Yes, that's right -- an elderly woman.

DH and I were sitting in a creperie in Paris, when I looked out the window and saw an elegant older woman walk slowly past us. Younger people passed her by, but she kept up her slow, steady pace. She had beautiful posture, yet she did not look stiff. Her style was simple and classic. She had very young looking skin for her age, with lovely laugh lines around her eyes. I don't remember if she wore makup or not; if so, it was understated. Her long hair was swept up into a soft, neat hairdo. She was petite, as so many French women of her age are, and her features were dainty. The weather was chilly, with occasional showers, so she wore a neat all weather coat with a pretty scarf tied inside the neckline. And, on her feet were THE PERFECT PAIR OF SHOES. They were of perfectly polished leather. They had a short, stacked heal. They were at that elusive midpoint between shoes you can walk in on the one hand and stylish on the other hand.

There are many elegant women in Paris. Keep in mind, however, that French women are prey to many stereotypes -- both flattering and unflattering. Some of these stereotypes have become further etched in our minds by books and movies that either romanticize France and Paris or vilify them. Also, some people confuse Paris runways with Paris streets. One common stereotype is that every single French woman is always chic, always looks elegant twenty-four hours a day, and is agelessly alluring.

When it comes to style in fashion, cooking, decorating, and the arts, there's no doubt that France has left its mark on all of our lives. And, many French women do have that certain "je ne sais quoi" that intrigues the rest of the world.

But, remember, French women are flesh and blood, just as we are. They each have their challenges, just as we do. No earthly woman manages to look and be perfectly chic at every moment of every day, though the French do give this a good run! And, no earthly woman manages to elude age forever, either. Some do manage to age more gracefully and with more dignity than others do, and the French do seem to excel at this. However, unless the second coming happens soon, in the end, the frailties of age will catch up with all of us at some point. Also, there are many different kinds of beauty represented in all the countries of the world; French chic is but one very famous style out of many.

Still, it's fun to learn and to talk about French chic. There are many little ways you can add some French spice to your life. Here are a few:

1) Read "The Piano Shop on the Left Bank" by Ted Cuthcart. I picked it up because of my love of Paris, but I kept reading it because it appealed to my love of music!
2) Read "A Well-Kept Home: Secrets of a French Grandmother" by Laura Fonty. I haven't read this one yet, but it's high on my list.
3) Buy enough French farm-style drinking bowls for your family and fill them with steaming hot chocolate on a cold winter morning.
4) Find a bakery that makes the most authentic baguettes in your area. Eat one large slice with a little pat of real butter.
5) Imitate the French in this one area: Cultivate a soft speaking voice at all times, even when making an emphatic point. A gentle tone can soften someone's heart so that they can hear and take in what you have to say. Notice how much more readily people listen to your observations when you speak gently than when you fly at them with a loud and intimidating voice. Save your louder tones for those rare times when they are needed, and you will find they will be more effective. Of course, if you have a great passion for something, be glad. And, if you are from a country where people are generally lively and exuberant, count that as a good thing! But, at the same time, do remember that a gentle tone of voice is an asset to every woman.
6) Though there are notable exceptions, most French women do not wear heavy makeup. What makeup they do wear is generally understated. For a French-inspired look, take some simple steps to maintain your health and the natural radiance of your skin. If you use makeup, apply it in a way that enhances your natural glow.
7) The French are on to something when they claim that beauty comes from being comfortable in one's own skin. The French believe that personality, confidence, personal style, kindness, happiness, love, intelligence, etc., all create a beauty that transcends physical imperfections and that also transcends time. Unfortunately, many French women come at this from a humanistic and worldly point of view. But, if this is true in a worldly sense, how much more true is it in a spiritual one? Those women who truly look to the Lord in France or in any other country will be radiant.
8) Unless you are positive that you can carry off the sporty American gym look, assume the French attitude towards workout gear and athletic shoes: Wear these only inside the gym or for strenuous activity, such as gardening or hiking! Even if your style is casual, make some effort to look pulled together. Even if you're just going to the store, you can still slip on a great pair of Capri pants or a simple skirt, cute shoes, and a pretty top.
9) Find your best neutral and use it as the basis for a great wardrobe. When I was last in Paris, they were having an unusually rainy and cold week for late March. The women wore lots of dark colors -- black or dark navy -- or they wore rich colors -- camels and browns with beautiful sweaters. I did see some light colored trench coats. Dark or rich neutrals suit many French women, for many of them have medium skin, darkish hair and darkish eyes. If dark neutrals overwhelm you or make you look washed out, try a lighter one. A medium gray or a softened navy might be the thing for you.
10) Obviously, France is loaded with museums, beautiful church buildings, lovely gardens, gorgeous bridges, palaces, chateaux, Roman ruins, and all sorts of fascinating and beautiful places. I'm exaggerating only slightly when I say that it's hard to walk a block in the inner city of Paris without passing something of artistic or historic interest. But, what about your area? When was the last time you visited a local museum or paused to look at a local building that has great beauty or history? Have you taken a day trip lately to explore something a couple of hours away? Why not make a plan to visit one new place with your family this week? Or, go back to some place that your family enjoyed, but that you haven't visited in a while. Sometimes, the treasures in our own back yard are the ones we take for granted.
11) Check out books from the library about French decor and French art. Study how French styles vary from province to province and from century to century. Which French styles -- if any -- do you like the best? Women are often very comfortable in French rococo or French provincial surroundings, because we relate to the curvy lines of the furniture and to the feminine colors and symbols. If you do like these styles, add a few elements of traditional French beauty to your home. If your husband or sons aren't a big fan of feminine French style, don't overdo, though. Men are sometimes put off by too much rococo or even too much provincial. (Also, realize that the French are not stuck in time; they do move on to new decorating styles, just as we do. But, in the U.S. at least, some form of decor that is inspired by the classic eras of French decorating is always "in".)
12) Grow a few herbs, either in a garden or in pots. Grow lavender.
13) Explore ways to incorporate fresh produce in your diet. Make the best of what each season in your area has to offer.
14) How are your unmentionables? Your nightwear? Are they worn? Faded? Save your pennies and treat yourself to something that makes you feel fresh and pretty.
15) Re-read Emma's posts on posture!


Monday, July 09, 2007

French Quilts

According to an article by Lady Sarah Davies, the earliest quilted item found in France was a wool funeral pall quilted with Egyptian cotton. It dates back to the 5th century. This item probably was purchased from Middle Eastern traders.

Like other countries in Europe, the French later used the technique of quilting to make warm undergarments for women and warm clothing for men and women. Europeans also quilted clothes to provide some padding for soldiers and knights to wear underneath their armor.

A 12th century French poem mentions a bed covering made of two different kinds of silk quilted in a checkerboard pattern.

Medieval French quilters were influenced by trapunto, or stuffed quilts that originated in Sicily. Women of the French province of Provence took this technique and adapted it to make three distinctive styles of their own. These styles reached their height in the 17th century, when French quilting came into its heyday.

Today, when people refer to French quilts, they usually mean these lovely Provencal quilts. These quilts are whole cloth quilts, rather than block quilts. The true beauty of these quilts lies in the elaborate and fine hand-quilting and in the clever use of added padding to create intricate designs.

This is more important than the color or placement of the fabrics used. That is not to say that some weren't done in lovely colors. Toiles and Indiennes were some of the colorful fabrics used in French quilts.

The first type of Provencal technique to evolve was matelessage, which developed in the city of Marseilles. According to an article at Patches from the Past:

The backing was a very simple, sometimes even coarse fabric stretched on a large wooden frame. The batting in carded cotton or silk was spread out and covered with a fine fabric: a richly decorated indienne (a kind of high-quality printed calico), silk sateen, plain or embroidered linen or cotton cloth. The quilting pattern was drawn on the top fabric, and the three layers were sewn together with a running stitch. The demand for this kind of luxurious, high-quality whole-cloth quilts was so great that they were successfully exported in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and Holland.

Another type of whole quilt, The piqûre de Marseilles, also evolved in the same city. This quilt style had very refined quilting and motifs. Sometimes, it had extra stuffing to make parts of it stand out in relief.

The third type of French quilt, boutis, takes its name from the Provencal word for stuffing or from the wooden tool made to insert cording into a quilt. In boutis, stuffing or cording was inserted between stitched layers. This was often accomplished by separating threads from the fabric backing. After the stuffing or cording was in place, the the threads were pushed back into place. Boutis were usually made so that they are as beautifully quilted from the backing side as from the top side. They were reversible.

Boutis were generally white on white, and I personally think that is a gorgeous look. But some boutis were made of dyed cloth, as well. Indigo was one color that was used.

Boutis had elaborate motifs, which included lots of easily identifiable symbols. Some of the symbols used were religious ones. Others were hearts, flowers, animals, leaves, fruits, baskets, trees, etc. Sometimes, the quilt maker created a symbol that represented an aspect of her own daily life. Visit this link to see a design you might find in a booutis: http://www.boutis-quilt-creation.fr/img/img_boutis/003.jpg
While there, check out the site from the home page http://en.boutis-quilt-creation.fr

Some boutis were made in special workshops. Others were made in the home, and skills were passed down through the generations from mother to daughter and so forth. A traditional use for boutis was as wedding gifts or gifts given at the birth of a baby. Boutis techniques were also used to make baby caps and clothing.

As we mentioned, France is most known for the three styles of Provencal quilts. But, patchwork blocks and piecing played some part in the history of French quilting, as well. There are French quilts that date from the 19th century with grandmother's flower garden blocks. Also, many Amish and Mennonites came either from France or from the French speaking part of Switzerland. Some speculate that they were already creating block quilts that were forerunners to the ones we associate with American Amish settlements today. If so, these early Amish surely left their mark on French quilting.

Prior to the age of industrialization, quilts represented an investment of both time and valuable materials for French households. Thus, they were highly prized.

When industrialization came along, factories started turning out bed coverings in large quantities. These new coverings were inexpensive and plentiful. People who made and sold old-fashioned, hand-quilted Provencal quilts could not compete with factory items. Also, many women could no longer justify spending hours and hours hand-quilting traditional elaborate French motifs for their own households. So, French women had little incentive to keep up their age-old quilting skills. By the turn of the twentieth century, it seemed that traditional French quilting was on its way to being a lost art.

Happily -- just as in America -- France has seen a resurgence of interest in quilting in the past two or three decades. Some French quilters have turned back to the traditions of their past. They are now preserving the skills that almost died out. Visit this link to see a woman of today making a boutis using today's methods: http://www.boutis.oxatis.co. Hit the "stages boutis" button to see the image. If you're interested in trying boutis yourself, look around the site for materials and instructions.

Also, any authentic Provencal quilts from before the turn of the twentieth century are greatly valued by collectors. Similarly, there is a market for reproduction quilts. Admittedly, some French-style reproduction quilts are mass made. These evoke the look of Provencal quilts, but don't feature the intricate hand-stitching that is the true hallmark of a French quilt. In today's economy, though, the mass-made quilts do provide an affordable way for someone to obtain an approximation of the French look.

Today, while some French quilters are trying to preserve their own quilting heritage, there is no doubt that many French quilters have taken to quilting styles, materials, and techniques from the U.S. Regarding today's quilting scene in France, it's hard to separate the American influence from the French heritage. Le Rouvray is a famous quilt shop in Paris that helped popularize American style quilting.

If you would love to view some beautiful quilts, as well as learn more about French quilting, visit the following sites:

http://www.historyofquilts.com/french_quilt_history.html (See photos illustraing each of the three Provencal styles)
http://en.boutis-quilt-creation.fr (This is a beautiful site. Be sure to take a look at her page about boutis, along with illustrations. Click on illustrations to see a larger, more detailed image of a boutis. Also, you might enjoy the page of photos from the area where boutis originated.)
http://www.lerouvray.com (The famous American style quilt shop on the Seine River in Paris.)

Today's assignment -- Visit at least one of the links above. If you enjoy quilting books, find out if your local library has a book about French quilts.


Bon Matin (Good morning)

We started our French week with just a couple of posts about the French language. (Sorry about that long second post. Whew!) Tomorrow, we'll have a short post about those beautiful and famous French quilts. ( I promise -- It will be brief.) And, you won't need to speak a word of French to understand it!

Don't forget, July 14 or 14 juillet is Bastille Day in France. This commemorates the storming of the famous Bastille prison, which ignited the already smouldering French Revolution in 1789. The Revolution lasted for another decade, but the French see this date as being critical to their struggle for freedom.

I had so much fun when I was seventeen and in France when Bastille Day rolled around. We saw fireworks, a parade attended by high French officials and masses of Parisians, street dances, and attended a free performance of the play, Cryano de Bergerac, at the old Opera house. Before the play began, a woman dressed in the colors of the French Flag powerfully sang their national anthem -- La Marseillaise. The audience joined in, many with tears in their eyes.

Perhaps, you'd like to read a little bit about how the French celebrate Bastille Day. You could turn this into a family holiday and learn something about French culture in the meantime. For example, you could serve a Frech meal, and make little French flags out of toothpicks and colored construction paper to decorate the table.

I have loved France and French culture since I started taking French in the ninth grade. I studied French for four years in high school, spent a summer in Paris, and then minored in French and English literature in college. That meant that I took four more years of intensive French courses while in college.

Sadly, I had little opportunity to use my French in daily life. I lost a lot of my French language skills. Then, when DH surprised me with an anniversary trip to Paris in 2006, I started brushing up on my French in earnest. I still have a long way to go, but I'm having fun.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Bonjour, Part Two -- A Little Bit about the French Language

Here are a few hints for pronouncing French words:

1) Keep your tone of voice soft and gentle. Be particularly careful about this if you are from the U.S. Even though the French enjoy heated discussions, they do not speak as loudly as Americans do.
2) Pronounce each syllable clearly, with a slight stress on the last syllable. Speak smoothly, but do not slur sounds, as you might in English.
3) A cedilla is a mark that is sometimes placed under the letter c. When you see a cedilla, pronounce the C like "s". In other words, treat the C as a soft C, not a hard C -- like K. For example, in the word
Français (French), the little cedilla under the c tells you that you should pronounce the word Fran-say instead of Fran-kay. You never see a cedilla used when the C is in front of an E or I, because C is always soft, like S, in front of these vowels.
4) There are some accents or marks that are used over French vowels that help with pronunciation. (There are a couple of other accents that serve other purposes, but we won't fool with those).
a) accent aigu -- placed over the letter e. When you see it, pronounce the e like long a in English. An example of this is
Fiancé. Note the angle of this accent.
b) accent grave placed over a, e, u. This only affects pronunciation when it is placed over e, as in the word
chèque. This indicates that the e is pronounced similarly to the e in the English word check or in our word pet. Note that this accent slants the opposite way from the accent aigu.
c) accent
tréma -- two dots that can be over an e, i, or u. You see this when two vowels are next to each other and both are to be be pronounced. An example is the word naïve.
5) French vowels are generally pronounced differently than in English. Actually, English vowels used to be pronounced just like French vowels. No one knows exactly why that got changed around many centuries ago. See this link for a simple explanation of how French vowel sounds work, see http://www.languageguide.org/francais/grammar/pronunciation/index.html In the meantime, one key point is to remember that the French I is pronounced like the English e. For example, when we see Nice, we would rhyme it with ice. But, the French would rhyme it with neice.
6) Final consonants are generally not pronounced, except for c, e, f, and l or when necesssary to make the language flow. For example, the French would not say the letter "t" on the end of the word "moment" (In French, this sounds something like mow-maw. I don't have the correct symbols in my type to reproduce it exactly.)
7) H is not pronounced. For example, in the phrase hors-d'oeuvres, you never say the "h" at the beginning. It's pronounced "or d'erv". Some French words, such as huit (eight), have a slightly aspirated sound, in which a sort of h-like sound is barely whispered. If you are a beginning French student, don't bother with that. Just leave off the H entirely, and everyone will know what you mean. The French also do not have a sound for th. Some of their words begin with th, just as English words do, but the h is never pronounced. Just say the t sound. For example, thé, which means tea, is pronounced tay, as rhymes with say or day.

Of course, in one post, I can't tell all you need to know to pronounce French. But, if you understand at least these seven things, you'll be on your way. :)

Now, on to a few French words that you probably already know:

R.S.V.P. -- This is the abbreviation for the French phrase, "Respondez, s'il vous plait." This means, "Please respond". (Note, don't write "Please R.S.V.P." That's like writing, "please respond please."

billet doux (bee-yay doo) -- literally sweet tickets or notes -- love letters.

haut or haute -- high, as in tall or up high; high as in fine or excellent or great
Terre Haute -- literally high ground or high earth -- a city in Indiana that must be on high ground.
cuisine -- cookery, cooking
haute cuisine -- high cooking style -- food as served in a top restaurant or by a great chef
couture -- dressmaking, sewing, needlework
haute couture -- high fashion, as you would find in designer collections
Prêt a porter (pronounced pret ah portay) -- ready to wear, off the rack -- not clothing from a fashion house or on the runway, but what you would find on the rack in a store.

Belle -- beautiful -- in English, it used to mean a pretty and popular girl
Beau -- handsome -- In English, it used to mean a suitor or boyfriend.
Belle and Beau show up in lots of U.S. and British place names and surnames -- Bellevue and Beaumont, for example.

au jus -- served with a sauce or with the natural juice produced as the meat cooked
au gratin -- topped with bread crumbs and butter or with cheese and baked in the oven (Reader Carien tells us this comes from the type of dish used to bake the crumb topped food.)
au courant -- describes a person who is current, up to date, or a current trend, itself.
a la mode -- literally "in the style" -- 1) in keeping with current style 2) in the style of someone or something else, e.g. "a la mode de Rembrant" means in the style of Rembrant 3) In English, we also use it to say pie " topped with ice cream". This was a new fad at one time. Thus, it was once pie "a la mode", and the name stuck.

cachet -- a distinctive quality

c'est la vie -- That's life! -- That's how it goes; that's just part of life.
c'est la guerre -- That's war! -- This is what happens in war; War is tragic, but what else can you expect it to be?
c'est l'amour -- That's love!

cherchez la femme -- literally "look for the woman" -- used in detective fiction, but in other settings, as well. It means that if a man is acting in a strange or even criminal way, he is likely doing it to please a woman. Find the woman, and you'll find both the man and his motive. Then, you'll be able to solve the mystery. In the U.S., our fictional detectives more often say, "Follow the money trail".

Adieu -- A serious goodbye. Note: This literally means "until God". It indicates that you think there is a good chance that you will not see this person again until you are both standing before God in heaven or until Jesus comes back. Do not use this form of good-bye lightly!
Au revoir --An ordinary, every day good-bye. It conveys the idea, "Until we see each other again". . Feel free to use this good-bye anytime.

du jour -- of the day, as in "soup of the day" or "special of the day" or "catch of the day".

faux -- false or fake
faux pas -- literally a false step. Practically, it means to make a social mistake.

joie de vivre -- the joy of living

sans -- without

Soigné -- well taken care of --- used to describe a woman who is well-groomed and whose outfit is well put together and neat; also describes a woman who is elegant.

savior faire -- literally knowing how to do or to make -- the art of knowing what to do or say in a social situation

noblesse oblige -- literally nobility obliges -- It means that if you have position or wealth or family name, you are obligated to use such blessings for the good of those less fortunate. You are also obligated to a higher standard of conduct because people look to you as an example.

comme ci comme ça -- like this, like that -- practically, it means so-so, ok, fair to middling

en masse -- all together
en bloc -- as a group

ennui -- boredom, particularly a habitual mindset of boredom -- tired and world weary

esprit de corps -- the spirit of the body (body as used in the sense of a group, not in terms of an individual's physical body) -- morale -- group spirit

Here are some words you can probably guess by how similar they are to our English words:

addresse (adress), beouf (beef), banque (bank), curieux (curious), visite (visit), silence (silence),
lettre (letter), restaurant (restaurant), ordinaire (ordinary), nation (nation) l'ordinateur (computer), ligne (line, as on a paper -- not a queue), potentiel (potential), serieux (serious) journal (newspaper), papier (paper -- actual paper, not a newspaper) garage (garage).

While the similarities between English and French make it easier for an English speaking person to learn French, it also makes for some mix-ups. So, do be careful about words that are used to mean one thing in English and quite another in French.

Some examples:

actuellement -- does not mean actually. It means presently
avertissement -- this does not mean an advertisement. It means a warning.
à -- assister can mean the obvious -- to help. However, it frequently means to attend, as to be present at a meeting. This is particularly true if the assister is followed by à
pays -- does not mean to purchase something or to settle a bill -- it means countries
crier -- does not mean to cry, but to shout
occasion -- can mean occasion, but usually means a bargain or something bought second-hand

French sentence structure is different than in English. I can't go into all of that in one post. But, one thing to remember is that the adjective follows the noun in French. In English, we would say "a red car". The French would say une voiture rouge (a car red).

Also, all nouns in French are either masculine or feminine. This usually has more to do with French grammar than with an obvious connection to gender. With some exceptions, there's no an identifiable reason why one noun is masculine and another is feminine. Don't bother trying to figure it out. Just memorize if the noun is masculine or feminine when you learn it. If you aren't sure, a French dictionary will tell you.

Finally, there are two ways to say "you" in French.

Vous is a formal way to address someone as "you". You would use this form when addressing someone you do not know well, someone who is older than you, someone in a public position, etc.

It is also a way of indicating a plural you. It is the way you would ask two or more people a question. Example: "Philippe et Nicole, avez-vous une voiture rouge? (Philip and Nicole, do y'all have a red car?) (Note: Y'all, you all, and you guys are American slang ways of saying a plural you. These are attempts to make up for the fact that English has no official way of differientiating between you as spoken to one person and you as spoken to a group.)

Tu is the way you say "you" when you are talking to one person whome you know well.

If someone invites you to "tutoyer" them, that is an invitation to use the informal "tu" when speaking to them. This is a happy thing. It means you've just made a new friend. :)

Very young people in France might tutoyer each other upon a first meeting. But, it's not the wisest thing for a foreigner to do in France, even if you are young and speaking with a person of your own age. It's better to err on the side of using vous until invited to do otherwise.

Assignment: Flip through a cookbook, a book about sewing, a book about home decor, or a book about etiquette. See if you can identify five English words that come from French words. If English is not your first language and French isn't your first language either, see if you can find five French words that have become a part of your native language.


PS: I'll post some French resources later on. But, for now, you might want to take a look at Transparent.com. You can sign up for a free word of the day in any of a number of languages, including French. You will receive the word and the word used in a sentence. You can click to hear a native speaker read the word and the sentence. The site does try to sell you materials. I haven't yet bought any. But, I do enjoy the free words of the day.

Also, check out the web site, http://french-word-a-day.typepad.com. This site -- Words in a French Life -- is the blog of Karen Espinassee -- an American woman who is married to a Frenchman. It chronicles stories taken from the daily life of the Espinasses and their two children. Mrs. Espinasse writes the site in English, but she includes in a few French words and phrases pertinent to the story. She provides the definitions for these words, but you can usually pick up what they mean by the context of the post.

Bonjour! Comment ça va?
(Good day or hello. How's it going?)

Aujourd'hui (today), we will begin our look at French language and French culture. Some of you may already be fluent in French and familiar with the country. So, if some of these lessons seem a bit basic to you, please bear with me. I'll do my best to include something for everyone!

Did you know that according to Transparent.com about seventy-five million people speak French as their native language? This does not count the many people around the world who learn French as a second tongue. Because it is so widely spoken and because of its history as the "language of diplomacy", French is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

In addition to France,
Haiti, Luxembourg, and more than fifteen countries in Africa declare French as their national language. French is also one of the official languages in each of the following countries: Canada, Belgium, and Switzerland. There are countries -- such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia -- in which French serves as an unofficial second language. Because the French colonized places like Viet Nam and Cambodia, French shows up in Asia as well.

French also shows up in a number of patois or Creole languages, such as are spoken around the Caribbean, the U.S. state of Louisiana, and other places. These languages are not pure French and their speakers would not be counted among the seventy-five million people who speak French as their first language. However, these are a blend of French and at least one other language, and speakers of patois might understand just enough French to make themselves understood at a very basic level in pure French.

If you speak English, you already know a lot of French words. French has crept into our language through a variety of ways. But, the most famous way is through the French Norman conquest of England in 1066. For 300 years after that, people spoke a blend of English and French known as Anglo-Norman. While this is closer to Old French than to modern French, it did introduce a lot of French words into our language.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Online Finishing School for Ladies: Why Languages and Culture?

I had an inconvenient, but not serious accident with some electric hedge clippers this morning. I'm grateful that I only caught a bit of skin on my thumb. It could have been a lot worse!

DH made a wonderful doctor, I'm happy to report. I'm even happier to report that the injury was not serious enough to require the services of a real M.D. I'm really happy to say that it doesn't hurt much at the moment. But, it is a wake up call for me to be more careful with electric power tools! Anyhow, my left thumb is heavily bandaged as I type, and I'm a little clumsy with the keyboard.

This upcoming week, I'll be posting about France and French culture. Then, the week after that, our dear Julieann is baking up a special treat for us in her kitchen!

Julieann will post the steps for making this delicious treat on her site. Then, when she is finished, we can each follow her instructions in our own kitchens, if we like. (I can't wait to practice, myself!) I'll post the link when she's ready for us to start class at her place!

So, why are we looking at French culture this week? And, why do we have another week or two in our schedule about other cultures, as well?

Well, young ladies of the past who attended finishing schools were sometimes expected to learn about other cultures and languages. For example, a biography of Sarah Childress Polk, wife of President Jame K. Polk reveals that these were among the subjects she studied at finishing school: The unusually strong curriculum included English grammar, Bible study, Greek and Roman literature, geography, music, drawing, and sewing. Most finishing schools taught French, as well.

If you've seen the most recent version of Pride and Prejudice, you'll remember that Miss Collins entices Elizabeth Bennet into a discussion of what makes a woman "accomplished". She suggests that a truly educated woman would know Greek and Latin, as well as a few modern languages.

Of course, Miss Collins, who prides herself on her elegance, is actually showing a lack of good manners. Instead of using her fine education for good, she wields it as a measuring stick to judge other people. She looks down her nose at those who have not had the opportunity to receive the training that her wealth and position in society afforded her. Yet, even though Miss Collin's motive is unkind, it does give us a glimpse of what some families of her day considered to be a necessary education for a young lady.

There were a number of reasons why young ladies -- and even more so, young men -- were expected to speak at least one second language tolerably well. There were reasons, also, for young people to have some knowledge of other cultures and their customs:

1) The people who established western educational methods were influenced by Greek and Latin classics. Therefore, educators generally believed that a knowledge of ancient Greek and Latin was essential to a young man's education. In some cases, people did not see a need for women to learn the classics or the tongues in which they were written. But, some women did receive such training, just as men did.
2) Ancient Greek (as opposed to modern Greek) and Latin were both once languages that were spoken by most of the western world. (See the note about lingua franca below.) Therefore, traces of Greek and Latin ideas and languages remain in western culture. A knowledge of these languages helps western people to understand where these influences came from and how they still affect our modern way of thinking.
3) Some students studied Greek and Latin in order to be able to read the original manuscripts of the Bible. It goes without saying that this was valuable in many ways. Today, this is a main reason why people still study these languages.
4) Latin, as we know, contributed to the lingos of law, medicine, and science. Therefore, a knowledge of these was thought to be a good starting point for a career or hobby in these fields. (In the 18th and 19th centuries, some men and women made a lifelong hobby of a particular science, such as botany. Some amateurs even contributed new discoveries to the scientific world.)
5) Many English words and words in the Romance language have Latin origins. Learning Latin was considered to be a great basis for improving your English vocabulary, as well as for learning the Romance languages.
6) It was considered beneficial for young men and young women to know modern languages, as well. French was usually the language of choice, but many studied German or Italian, as well. Those who were interested in being missionaries studied whatever language was spoken in the country where they would work.
7) If a young lady learned both ancient and modern languages in finishing school, she would then be prepared to be a governess, teacher, missionary, or to take her place in some other field.
8) If a young lady learned modern languages, she would be prepared to marry a man whose career involved either foreign travel or entertaining foreign dignitaries. For example, Mrs. Polk used her fine education to assist her husband in his duties as President. Similarly, the wife of a foreign missionary fared well if she understood the language of the country in which she and her husband might work.
9) If a family could afford to send a daughter to one of the top finishing schools, they were also likely to have the means to travel abroad. Many young ladies in Europe spent time in countries other than the land of their birth. For example, some young ladies from colder climates wintered in Italy. Also, it was customary for American young people to take a "Grand Tour" of Europe upon accomplishing whatever education they received. Remember that Aunt March had promised to take Jo on such a trip to Europe, but took Amy instead.
10) Many of the finest finishing schools were located in countries such as Switzerland, France, and Germany. People from all around the world sent their daughters to these countries to finish their education. Naturally, it was helpful if a young lady spoke the language of the country in which she studied. Princess Di went to a boarding school in the French part of Switzerland.
11) English literature contains many foreign phrases, particularly French. A knowledge of these phrases helps a student understand what the author means. For example, Jane Austin used some French in her work. Even that famous writer of British mystery cozies -- Agatha Christie -- laced her novels with French phrases.

Why did so many finishing schools emphasize learning French, in particular? They did so because French is a "lingua franca", and it was even more so in prior centuries.

A lingua franca is a language that many people from many different countries learn so that they can communicate with each other. It was first applied to a medieval pigeon language that was used in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. This tongue, which was still spoken as late as the 19th century, contained words from Italian, French, Persian, Greek, and other languages.

Later on, the term lingua franca came to mean any language that was broadly spoken beyond the lands of its native speakers. For example, we look back and say that Latin was once a lingua franca.

Linguas franca develop because explorers, colonizing rulers, diplomats, merchants, teachers of various religions, etc., move about the world and take a native language with them as they go. Eventually, if a particular language catches on, it becomes a standard way of communicating. Usually, this is because commerce is conducted in this language, but the particular lingua franca can arose from another field, as well.

French was a lingua franca that became known as the language of diplomacy.
At one time, relations between countries were often conducted in French. Certainly, diplomats and rulers in many capitals learned to converse fluently in French. This spread out to businessmen and to other people, as well. Thus, there were people in almost every civilized country who could speak French. In time, French left its mark on political thought, decorating, cooking, fashion, business, manners, the arts, literature, philosophy, etc. You can see why it was considered such an asset to know this language.

In prior days, (and to some extent now) a knowledge of French was common across Europe, in the Middle East, in large regions of Africa, in Russia, in the Caribbean, in certain parts of Canada and in certain parts of the U.S.

A nineteenth century British traveler might not have been able to speak to a citizen of Morocco in his original tongue and vice versa. If both spoke at least some French, they could understand each other tolerably well.

Nowadays, French is still widely spoken. A knowledge of it can serve you well. However, English, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, and are star linguas franca of our day. Hindustani or Hindu-Urdu might be considered to be a lingua franca, as well.

As some of our readers from around the world can attest, people in other countries are often puzzled by the typical American citizen's lack of fluency in a second language. I remember that when I was seventeen and staying in Paris for the summer, we took a weekend trip to Geneva. There, an elderly gentleman befriended our little group when he overheard us speaking French -- though I'm sure that to his ears we must have butchered the language horribly! He, himself, had grown up learning how to speak several languages. Being able to talk and think in several tongues was as natural to him as it was for me to know that 2 plus 2 = 4.

The man was thankful that we were making an attempt to speak French. It countered his general impression that Americans are rude and self-centered because we made so little effort to learn other languages than our own.

What the old man did not understand is that back then, Americans could travel two or three thousand miles within our own country and not hear one word of another language. Even if you did know another language, chances are you wouldn't have many chances to use it.

Yet, in the man's own tiny native Switzerland, there are three official languages: Italian, German, and French. In Europe, if you travel the equivalent distance of three American states, you will cross the borders of three or more countries, each with its own language. So, you see, in other places, people are more used to hearing and even speaking a number of dialects and languages.

The Swiss gentleman had a point. Sometimes, we Americans do come across as being either naive or arrogant in this respect. Often, people from other countries assume that our average citizen has little understanding of what is happening outside of our own borders. Rightly or wrongly, other countries perceive that we make so little effort to learn about the way other cultures operate simply because we just don't care.

Of course, though there may be a grain of truth in this, it is largely a misperception. If you are a busy American wife and mother, you have little time left over for learning another language. And, you may have no time to delve the intricacies of another culture, either. This may be a low priority on your list, because you don't really need to know another language in order to go about your daily life. That's OK. There's no need to feel guilty about that!

However, even just a little knowledge of another country and its language can enrich your life. It can also help you relate to neighbors or relatives who have moved to your area from another land.

No matter from what country we each hail from, it might do us all some good to acquaint ourselves with at least one other culture -- if for no other reason than to pray for that country.