Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In the Waiting Room

Are you a dentist looking for some art for your waiting room?  Do you want something memorable--not the visual muzak you see in most medical offices?  You want something challenging and intelligent that that will nonetheless give your patients a feeling a peace--something that prepares them for a positive dental experience.

Today we made our first visit to a dentist since coming to France, and the waiting room decor left such an impression that I thought I'd share---in case you plan to open your own practice (cough--cough--Peter Mc-cough-Pherson-cough).

What was so memorable?  There were framed photographs of dentists at work.  An obvious choice, right?  But if you're thinking of dentists à la Norman Rockwell, think again.  These were dentists in poor countries in Southeast Asisa.  Most of them appeared to be set up on the side of the road--their entire apparatus consisting of a chair, a table, and a drill mechanism built from bicycle parts.  More than one photo showed a dentist hovering over his patient's mouth, his own lips clenching a cigarette with about a quarter inch of ash hanging at its end.   One dentist stood grinning over a table topped with a few bottles (medicine, painkiller?) and a pile of pulled teeth (advertisement)?  Finally, there was a close-up shot of  a camel.  You might think, as I did, "ah, this is just a camel, included here for a bit more exotic color." But then your husband points out that the camel has a tooth that is growing horizontally out of it's mouth and there is a rope tied around the tooth--the photo shows an extraction in progress.

Imagine the effect these photos have on your patients.  The pictures are not intended to disgust--there's no blood or expressions of pain, but they reveal an uncomfortable truth.   For so many people, going to the dentist means that, at best, they walk away minus a troublesome tooth.  At worse...well, we won't go there.

You can imagine the contrast that these pictures create, when the doctor's door opens to reveal a sleek office painted a calming green.  Everything bespeaks cleanliness and hygiene---the doctor's spotless lab shirt, the seamless keyboard he uses to enter your information, the perfectly smooth, molded examination chair, the blinding beam of the LED head lamp.  All the cues that might excite a phobia have  become comforting signals of modernity.  Yes, having your teeth cleaned may make your eyes water, but you are in a nice, clean office and not sitting on the side of the road in Cambodia.  Your dentist is wearing latex gloves and the smell in your nostrils is from antiseptic and peppermint tooth polish and not from a cigarette dangling a foot above your nose.  You are not, like that poor camel, about to have your tooth yanked out with a rope.

Our appointments came to a satisfying conclusion.   Neither Don nor I had any cavities.  The aches we had been feeling in the weeks prior were just sensitivities due to tartar build up--or, was it  perhaps our subconscious goading us to get checked?  Since their cleaning, our teeth have felt much better, and, thanks to those photographs, we have a new appreciation for first world dentistry.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Provence Vacation - Part 5 of 5

Back in September, Muschi and Paschi took us on vacation to the Luberon region of Provence.  Here are some pictures and my notes on our time there.  
We stay close to home.  In the morning, we visit the tasting room of one of the regions's candied fruit, or fruits confits, producers.  We have driven by this store several times, and I've been looking forward to sampling a regional product and buying a few gifts.  We try the different fruit and chocolate dipped confections and watch a video on the candying process.  It a sugary petrification: all the water in the fruit is replaced with a sugar solution, transforming the fruit into something that is relatively imperishable (part of why this fruit is used in fruitcake).   The art in the making candied fruit is in the careful modulation of the sugar concentration and gentle handling the fruit so that it retains something of its fresh appearance. The Apt fruit confits makers seem particularly concerned with presentation--they sells melons and and pineapples candied whole.   Fruits that lose color are dyed to keep them aesthetically appealing.

After trying a few of the samples (and looking at some price tags) the boys announce that they are unimpressed and are about to go into diabetic shock.   At some point, Don says, "you know what tastes like candied fruit, but is better and cheaper? Regular fruit!"

But I'm still under the spell of the fruits confits and would gladly continue tasting till my head floats off my shoulders from the sugar buzz.   The gift baskets with their jewel-like fruits nestled in frilly paper sleeves put me in mind of the winter holidays.  Here are the sugar plums that dance in children's heads!  "It's the history!" I insist. People may sing about having Christmas in July (Auntie Mame reference), but, for hundreds of years, the Provencal confiseurs have been engaged in the more pressing task of bringing July to Christmas! 

Finally, I settle on buying a small box of candied orange slices for friends and some candied cherries for a Christmas fruitcake.

After the store, we stop in Apt for a little more shopping.  I have my heart set on visiting a toy store that I'd found online.  I want to buy something for Loulou, who has yet to receive a birthday present from her parents, and something for our Godchildren, one of whom had a birthday at the begining of the month.  We find the store, but it has already closed for lunch.

We return to Le Rosier for an eclectic meal of cabbage, ravioli, and beef patties.  Then we have a dip in the pool.   Only Donnie has been brave enough to try the pool so far, as the weather has been brisk.  But now we all try it, with the exception of Louisa, who doesn't have a great track record with pools, especially cold ones.  She cries when she sees me jump in the water, as though she hadn't quite understood that the quivering blue surface was water and was something that her mother could disappear into.

After our quick dip, Muschi, Paschi, and I return to Apt to visit the toy store once again.  I buy two  sets of wooden farm figurines.  I'm happy to have found a simple wooden toy that both the babies and their older sibling might enjoy.  And they were made in France!

We return home, collect Donnie and Loulou, and head  to the Colorado Provencal restaurant, hoping to eat some wood oven pizzas like the ones Donnie and I had seen (and smelled) the evening before.  Naturally, the restaurant is completely booked.  We head home for leftovers.


We slowly, painfully, stuff the car full of our baggage, souvenirs and leftover food.   I have my feet wedged next to a soup tureen from the Rustrel brocante, and our bag of travel food and our breakfast fougasse on my lap.  I'm paying for my acquisitive ways.  I resolve to adopt a monk-like approach to material possessions and never buy anything ever again.

But then we stop at the Apt Market.  The Apt market is famous for its size and lively atmosphere.  Donnie decides to forgo the market and remain in the car with a sleeping Louisa. The market starts in the same parking lot where the producer's market was, but unlike the producers' market, the Saturday market spills into the city's narrow inner streets, taking up blocks and blocks of the old city.  We see perhaps a fourth of the market during our visit.  Mum buys a sweet ceramic bird whistle for Maria and some beautiful olive wood cutting boards.  We pose for pictures with a dried flowered bouquet and are scolded by the vendor for not first asking permission to take the pictures.   I buy a leopard print silk scarf that I think goes with my recently purchased rain mackintosh.

Tapenade and adorable ceramics for sale,

The illicit photo of Mami posing with the dried bouquet.
When we get back to the car, bubbling over our purchases, we learn that Louisa began screaming the moment we left the car, and Donnie tells me that while the scarf may go with my raincoat, it still looks like a dirty rag.  Well, you win some and you lose some--and it is silk.

On our trip home, we skirt around Avignon and stop at impressive Pont du Gard.

We can't stop for long at the aquaduct because it's beginning to rain and the wind is wipping up.  We return to the stuffed car and eat lunch.  The drive home takes us through pelting rain and traffic jams.  We listen to Radiolab and the NASA press conference following the landing of the Mars Rover.  We finally arrive in Orsay around 9 pm.  Before extricating ourselves from the debris in the back seat, Muschi and I put on our most world-weary faces and Donnie takes this picture.  It's supposed to remind us to be minimalists--no more stuff!

Looking at the pictures from the Apt Market, I wonder why I didn't buy any of those cute tapenade bowls--only three euros a piece!  They would have fit!


The day after our return, Paschi heads back to Charles De Gaulle for his trip home.  Muschi follows a few days later.   Donnie, the girls, and I get back into the routine of work and school in our little Paris suburb.

I've been trying to pin down what is my biggest take-away of the trip, and it comes to this:

We are a bunch of semi-itinerant knowledge workers (or dependents of knowledge workers), and as such, it's easy to forget man's connection with the place he lives--how the minerals in the dirt and the shape of the hills can determine history.  The Luberon's ochre cliffs,  castles, vineyards, and olive groves, all speak of this connection.  Man cultivates the land, and in turn his livelihood and culture are specific to where he lives.   The Luberon had the feeling of a land that is loved, and kept beautiful because of this fact.  Every place should be so cherished.  The place we call home is sacred ground.   

This vacation was also a wonderful family experience.  Different scenery, and the act of deliberately setting the time apart helps glue the memories. 

Thank you, dear Muschi, dear Paschi for this vacation! Thank you, dear Reader, for hanging in there with these posts.  I'd love to hear any travel tips or thoughts you might have.

Friday, November 23, 2012


A family is like a little ark; it's a micro-culture with its own way of doing things.  Like so many of the young families we know, we're working out what will become standard practice aboard our vessel--how to mark the seasons, how to find a rhythm for work and play, how to give reverence where it is due.   One thing our sojourn in France has taught us, is that we haven't quite worked out how to celebrate when we're on our own.  We missed Thanksgiving and Halloween in 2011. The lion costume was memorable, but this year's Halloween was still a little anemic solitary.   Given our track record, it felt like a triumph to sit down to turkey yesterday evening!

Our feast was simple by Thanksgiving standards, but  I'm happy to report that it turned out well--all the more tasty for being produced in a  windowless kitchen, with a toaster oven and a hotplate and less than three square feet of counter space--thank you very much!  It was first Thanksgiving meal that I've cooked, and since putting large cuts of meat into an oven and letting them alone for hours  is not normally how I cook, I was immensely grateful that it came out well.  I followed the basic plan laid out by this recipe.  The meat was succulent and fell right off the bone.  We had just two sides---sauteed zucchini and steamed beets.  I even improvised "cranberry sauce," using a jar of red berries, "airelles," that my mum bought during her time in France and never got around to using. I added sugar and vinegar to the airelles and it made a serviceable substitute.  I baked an apple pie for dessert.  The crust didn't come out quite as I would have liked, but I couldn't be more happy with the filling--the Braeburn apples had that excellent tartness and a firm bite that my mum trained me to appreciate in apple pie.

As a prelude to the dinner, Maria and I did a Thanksgiving craft.  I carved a feather stamp out of a piece of celeriac (a potato does just as well, but the celariac was more handy in the moment).  We stamped tailfeathers onto a piece of paper then added construction bodies and heads.   I think I enjoyed it more than Maria, but she humored me and the activity can go down as her introduction to using a stamp.

I had another Thanksgiving Day treat--a phone conversation with friends whom I haven't spoken to in quite a long time. The conversation gave a warmth to the rest of the day.  It's always so good rekindle a friendship--to find that affection and understanding remain intact  despite time and events.

Around 6:45, Donnie arrived home, bearing bread, wine, and chocolate eclairs.  The table was the laid and the girls installed in their highchairs. We said Grace, followed by listing things we are thankful for this year. 

We are so very blessed.  It is perhaps easiest to feel the truth of this when sitting in front of platters of food, on a table, which, for once, has nary a crumb on it, with a husband who has just brought home chocolate eclairs, and two round-cheeked girls with cleanish faces.  We are thankful for our marriage.  We are thankful for the two little fillies, who delight and challenge us.  We are thankful for our family, far across the ocean (and in Germany too!) and for friends both near and far.  We are thankful for Skype, email, Internet phone service, and digital pictures which help shorten the distance to our loved ones.  We are grateful for this home in France, with its many pleasures, its bright skies and hidden gardens, it's infuriating systems and sympathetic people.  We are thankful too, that we're looking homeward now, that fortune will bring us stateside by the end of the summer.  We are thankful for the Burgundy in our glasses, but also thankful that next year our sauce will be made from berries that grew in a New England bog.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Thank you so much for reading!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

{pretty, happy, funny, real} Tumeric Dyed Lion Costume


Maria's bedroom has a beautiful westward view.  This was the sunset this evening.

These were our dessert on All Saint's Day--tartes de macaron---jam tarts piled with almond macaron cookies and whipped cream.  We picked them up after Mass in Palaiseau.  Maria held the package on her lap during our rainy walk home, hence their battered appearance.  Despite being roughed up, they were still pretty (and yummy) enough to warrant a picture.


We managed Halloween costumes this year!  We missed it last year.

I give you, a civilized lion (she wears clothing) and a tiger cub.

The celebration of Halloween is rather spotty in France.  Our grocery store had one small shelf dedicated to fake cobwebs and costume accessories, but no jack-o-lantern pumpkins or trick-or-treat-friendly candy.  One town in our area that makes a point of having trick-or-treating, but my understanding is that most don't. You have to make an effort to find Halloween events.  If you go trick-or-treating, you have to expect that many people will be astonished by your appearance on their doorstep.

Last week, I asked Maria what she wanted to be, and she answered that she wanted to be a lion.  I suspected she just said "lion" because she was looking at a picture of a lion at that moment.  To my surprise, she persisted in her choice even after I suggested that she might be a flamingo, fairy, gypsy, princess or Winne the Pooh instead--all costumes that I thought would be easier to manage, given the limited materials we had on hand.

I was going to override her choice, but just before departing on his two week trip to the US, Donnie gave me a mandate: "Make that child a lion costume--spare no expense!"

With no car and no local craft stores, popping out to buy material wasn't an option.  We had some sheets and towels that might be sacrificed, but nothing in tan or yellow.  We didn't even have brown paper bags--one downside of everyone using eco-friendly totes.

But then we had curry for dinner.  Louisa has a habit of worming her left foot up onto her tray (always the left foot), and on this evening, her white sock soaked up some curry.  I rinsed it, but the color remained---Voila!  The perfect shade of tawny gold.

I sacrificed a white towel, and hand sewed a lion hood, tail, and paws.  I dyed them with tumeric.

Here are some great directions for dying cloth with tumeric.  I didn't follow them, because I didn't have enough vinegar on hand, and figured that a one-time-wear Halloween costume wouldn't need to be color fast.  I just simmered the costume in water with about a quarter cup of tumeric powder.

It would have been much better to have planned ahead and bought some vinegar because...


On Halloween morning, the costume was still damp from the dying.   I threw it in the dryer.  Of course, it coated the inside of the dryer with gold pigment.  We share this dryer with our landlord, so I went into panic cleaning mode.  Though the clean up wasn't difficult, we were sufficiently delayed that we didn't make our Halloween meetup

We celebrated Halloween by ourselves, going to the playground in Orsay,  We ate about three quarters of a pound of M&M's during the outing.  A sugar high is one Halloween experience that's easy to export.  The kids wore their costumes today to Skype with Meme and Grandpa.  Maybe we'll pull them out again for Carnival.  Even if though we didn't make the party, I at least got my photos.

round button chicken

Saturday, October 20, 2012

{pretty, happy, funny, real} On Pretty Toddlerdom, Wellie Boots, Jingles, and Bugs

Over here, we have just weathered a week without our beloved pater familias!  Donnie has been away at a workshop in Canada.  I'm very happy to see this week come to a close, as it means he is on his way home.  Here's a {pretty, happy, funny, real}.  For more, check out Rosie's post at Like Mother, Like Daugher. 

Picture: Louisa standing on a table.

Picture: Louisa on table, with Maria looking on, delighted that Louisa is doing something as exciting and rule-breaking as standing on the table.

I'm finding this early walking period to be a particularly attractive phase for Louisa!  There's something about her bear-like figure--the belly leading the way, the straight back and the chunky legs, the ever more confidant steps--there's a felicity to it.   Seeing her toddle down the hallway sets off choirs in my head--it's a pint-sized symphony!  As you see, she's climbing as well as walking.  Of course, the mischief she gets into is not pretty.

Picture: The infamous, but now-appreciated pink wellie boots.  Maria is introducing Loulou to her favorite hobby--rock collecting.

If you had asked me about these pink wellies three weeks ago, I would have told you a cautionary tale about the hazards of buying clothing for your child to grow into.  I bought these boots at a consignment sale when Maria was 18  months old. I thought that she would grow into them in a few months--clearly, wishful thinking was influencing my projections of Maria's foot growth!

Maria was smitten with these boots from the get-go, and tried to wear them despite their being too big.  The big-boots-on-small-child thing is cute in theory, but Maria inevitably put them on the wrong feet, tripped all over the place, hurt herself, and made a terrible fuss when I took them away.   Somehow, every time I went through the closet to bring out a new season of clothing, the pink wellies resurfaced, causing the drama to repeat.

Well, one overseas move and two years later, they finally fit!  It's been a rainy couple of weeks, so they're getting plenty of use.  Seeing Maria walk through puddles and knowing that her leather shoes are safe and dry a shelf in the foyer, makes me happy we held onto them.

Picture: Unrelated picture of Loulou wearing a beret.

Lately, I've found it helpful to do a little internal pr campaign.  It's "internal," as in, "in my head.". It consists of a buzz phrase sung as a kind of jingle.  Here it is:

"Immune-building moment!" 

If I had could put little musical note symbols around it, I would. 

I sing this phrase to myself to gloss over the less than hygienic events that happen in the course of the day.  It's a "document it and call it a feature" sort of thing.

Some sample scenarios:

I'm on the sitting on the floor in front of our changing pad, having just finished changed Loulou out of a  dirty, leaking diaper.   Maria has been looking on from the sidelines. Before I'm able to give the pad a once-over with a wet-wipe (not to mention something with actual disinfecting power) Maria crawls onto to, putting her face where Louisa's bottom was not ten seconds before.

Cue music: "Immune building moment!

Louisa has gotten a hold of the toilet cleaning brush and is covered in toilet water--again!

"Immune building moment!"

What is she chewing?  Oh, it's is a piece of hamburger from a meal we had four days ago.

"Immune building moment!"

You see how it comes in handy!   Now you too can have immune building moments. 

More evidence that Maria is a comfortable carnivore.  The other day, we walked by a house that had chickens pecking about in the yard.  Maria pointed to one of the feathered beauties and exclaimed, "Look!  It's food walking!"

Having Donnie away always feels "real."  It's a long day!

To add to the "reality," we've all been a bit under the weather this week.  Loulou has had a bout of diarrhea that has kept me busy changing her, doing laundry, and singing "immune building moment." Thank goodness, she has been in good spirits.  Thank goodness that we received two musical cards from Nana and Popop last week.  Louisa seldom stays on the mat for the duration of a change--but those two musical cards (one that sings "Lollipop" and the the other that sings "Happy Birthday") have kept her entertained cooperative during changes all week. 

Now, please go over and read Rosie's post, which doesn't mention poop even once!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Provence Vacation - Part 4

Back in September, Muschi and Paschi took us on vacation to the Luberon region of Provence.  Here are some pictures and my notes on our time there.  

We wake after spending large chunks of the night trying to get Loulou to sleep.  Muschi and Paschi have trouble finding bread in the morning--the Rustrel bakery is closed and Muschi and Paschi end up driving all the way to Apt for bread.  We set out a little later than planned for Avignon. The driving is a stressful (isn't it always, when you're trying to find your way in a new city), but we eventually park at the garage near the Palace of the Popes, and begin walking towards Les Halles, Avignon's permanent market.

Avignon has an arty, bohemian feel.  The buildings are all a sun-bleached beige.  Much of the time I have my eyes down, trying to follow the awkwardly chopped map in my kindle version of Rick Steve's Guide to France.  When I do look up, I think, "gosh, it would be lovely to spend a summer here."  It seems like a summer kind of city--meandering cobblestone roads, enticing little shops, multiple pedestrian zones lined with cafes--a lovely place to kick about and people watch. 

Les Halles is a tad disappointing.  There are beautiful stalls, but the building is dark and feels like a basement.   We look for cookies or candied fruits to buy as gifts, but everything is prohibitively expensive.  We leave Les Halles and peruse the outdoor stalls where they sell antiques.  Muschi buys a piece of polished lapis for Maria to add to her rock collection.     

We pick up Rick Steve's tour of the back streets of Avignon and follow it to the Rue de Teintures (Road of the Dyers).  We see the chapel of the Gray Penitents and the old water wheel leftover from when the street was the center of Avignon's textile industry.  It's now lunch time and everyone is getting a little testy.  We sit down at a nearby restaurant and have a very good lunch.   Paschi "wins" with his order of the vegetarian menu featuring a cup of gespatcho, an excellent quiche a la provencal, and a mousse made from squash.   We leave the restaurant in an improved frame of mind and strike out for the tourist information center, where we pick up a better map of the city.

Chapel of the Gray Penitents.  See the two hooded figures above the door frame.  The Penitents covered their faces to keep their good deeds anonymous.

A great bench/car barrier on the Rue de Teintures.

Metal art showing the monstrous Tarrasque being subdued by St. Marthe.

Lots of lovely texture.

After seeing some posters for a drawing exhibit, Donnie makes the executive decision that we'll go to the the Calvet Museum, first stopping by the Natural History Museum, since it's along the way.  The Natural History Museum is small, but has as enticing an array of fossils and stuffed animals as you could wish.   We try as best we can to explain fossils to Maria.  It's the first time she has been to a Natural History Museum since she learned to talk. 

The Calvet Museum is exquisite.

This painting shows Avignon in the distance as it was being built. 

Toppled statue of Athena under a tragic Cassandra.

You have to love a museum with a comfy couch--the perfect place for a nursing break

In the museum courtyard.

We emerge from the museum many hours later and head back towards the Palace of the Popes, stopping to give Maria a ride on the carousel at the Place d'Horloge.  Maria rides the elephant and is in bliss--her usual state when on a carousel.  I'm grateful that she comes off willingly after one ride--that doesn't always happened.  

We take one last detour before returning to the car, stopping by the famous pont d'Avignon, the St. Benezet bridge.  The Avignon Bridge was a hopping spot until it was knocked down by ice flows in the seventeenth century.  There's a famous French nursery song about dancing on the bridge. The song has an infectious tune, and has been been playing in our heads in the days leading up to our Avignon trip.  It's great to see the bridge in real life!

Just across from the bridge.

In front of the St. Benezet bridge.

The Palace of the Popes

The Cathedral.  The golden statue of Mary was added in 1854, when Church established the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

At last we get in the car and set out for La Grande Bastide.  On the way, we wolf down a supper of hard boiled eggs, bread, and caneles.  Meanwhile, Donnie puts on Mozar tand the sun sets purple and orange behind us. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Provence Vacation - Part 3

Back in September, Muschi and Paschi took us on vacation to the Luberon region of Provence.  Here are some pictures and my notes on our time there. 


Donnie and Paschi fetch bread from the neighboring village of St. Saturnine.  Rain threatens.   We while away the morning at Le Rosier while Louisa takes her morning nap. Finally,we emerge from the house and drive to the nearby Colorado Provencal, a nature park with hiking trails that take you by the famous ochre cliffs. After feeling rain drops, we decide to abandon the Colorado and find an indoor activity.  Soon, we're driving though a downpour--nature confirming our judgement.  We head towards Gordes, in the hope of visiting an olive press museum we'd passed on an earlier day.


We eat a picnic lunch at a scenic overlook below Gordes, and after meandering through several tiny villages, we find the museum.

The olive press museum, Le Moulin des Bouillons, was created after Frederique Duran, a glass artist, purchased an old farm building and found the remains of a Gallo-Roman olive press in the basement.  She turned the farm into a museum complex, with the olive press museum on one side and a glass museum on the other.  Surrounding the glass museum is a garden featuring the artist's own glass and metal sculptures.

The mill, where the olives are ground before pressing.  Behind, a window by Frederique Duran.

In the sculpture garden.

Though Frederique Duran's chunky, geometric style is not to my taste, the vision and reverence of the place impress me.  It's obviously the work of many years and its creation fueled by lofty idealism.  The two small museums are meticulously designed to tell a story about man's quest to master his environment.  There's a mystic lilt to the information leaflet they give us at the glass museum.  Its description of the evolution of glass making is full of exuberant declarations like "man learns to shape clay.  He has made something out of Earth and has become like a god!"

We have an excellent guide at the olive press museum and she provides my favorite factoid of the trip:

*Roman amphora used to contain oil and wine, are pointed on the bottoms, because the ships the used to transport them used sand as balaste.  The pointed vessels could be driven straight into the sand, creating a more stable arrangement than if the vessels were flat-bottomed like ours. 

Two take-aways from the glass museum:

*The advancement of technology sometime happens through serendipity.  They theorize that glass blowing was discovered when one of the workers who was blowing through a reed to get the melting fire hot dropped one end of his reed into the molten glass.  He tried blowing on the reed to clear out the glass glass blowing was born.

*How necessary glass technology was to the advent of modern science.  It's easy to take beakers, flasks, and test tubes, for granted.  Many Enlightenment scientists had to become glassblowers to come by needed equipment.

That evening, Donnie and I go out for dinner leaving Muschi and Paschi to babysit.  We eat at a nearby restaurant, The Colorado  The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.  The smell and heat from the wood pizza oven make the damp night cozy.  We both order the the menu fixe and drink a bottle of rose.  It's a lovely dinner.  We talk about education, which seems to be our favorite dinner topic these days.