Laura Tompkins, development and communications director at Joyce Bilingual Preschool, graduated from Carleton College with a degree in French and Francophone Studies, having studied in Paris for a semester and written her senior thesis in French. Her French thesis was on the unique Creole language that developed in Martinique as a result of French colonialism. Laura is fascinated by the ways language evolves and is shaped by the culture around it. In Paris, she insisted on having her host family and French friends explain every colloquial expression. Laura wanted to know where it came from, what people meant when they said it.
Laura is now working on her Spanish as she raises funds for Joyce Bilingual Preschool, a nonprofit preschool program offering instruction in English and Spanish.
She also does freelance work as a writer, editor, and social media consultant. Laura is passionate about helping small businesses and nonprofits tell their stories through the social web, relishing opportunities to take a client’s ideas and put them into written form, or draw compelling content to the forefront. Laura hones her own storytelling through her personal blog, catnamedpig.com, where she documents the humor and chaos of life with young children. Laura Tompkins was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she currently lives with her husband and two children.
AWP: Name the books and movies, works of art and music, fashion or cuisine that have inspired you.
LT: There are so many – I am currently in a stage of life where books by parents really resonate with me. Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, inspired me to think about living abroad with my children, and Anne LaMott’s humor and blunt honesty in Operating Instructions, inspired me to start writing about motherhood after my second child was born.
My children love the Madeline books, especially the vivid illustrations, and we often talk about when we will visit Paris and see the Eiffel Tower and other landmarks. We have not been yet as a family, but I can’t wait to see Paris through their eyes. I look forward to taking Bateaux-Mouches cruises on the Seine and exploring parks with them, riding the Metro, finding a cafe to duck into when it rains.
I had a high school English teacher who helped me fall deeply in love with words and language, while remaining a stickler for perfect grammar. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of something he taught me, whether it’s a line from a poem or the proper placement of a semicolon. I often re-read something I’ve just written, asking myself if it flows or if he would have labeled it “awkward” with his red felt-tip pen.
AWP: Do you have any role models?
LT: My parents have taught me so much about building a life that is enjoyable and rewarding, through meaningful work and being active in the community as well as through travel, art, food, and family time.
AWP: What is the last book you read?
LT: After a particularly busy period at work, I have to confess I have not opened a book in the last month. However, my kids have recently sparked an interest in poetry, so at bedtime I’ve been reading them poems by Mary Oliver, Robert Frost, and a smattering of older classics from my beloved high school English Lit. classes (see above). They are particularly fond of William Blake’s The Tyger.
While there is some fabulous and fun poetry written specifically for children, I also love seeing how they respond to poems written for adults. They may not understand all the vocabulary or symbolism, but they clearly connect on an emotional level with the words and rhythm.
WORDS OF WISDOM:
AWP: What is the best (or worst) advice you’ve ever given or received?
LT: The best piece of advice I’ve received is to invest in experiences rather than “things.” My husband and I don’t exchange gifts on our anniversary, but always take a trip or go out for a memorable meal together.
AWP: What handed-down wisdom did you receive from your mother or father?
LT: Never stop learning. My grandparents all traveled late into their lives, and I have definitely inherited that passion for exploring new cultures and places. My grandfather learned Italian in his seventies, and my mother embarked on a new career ten years ago, becoming an online course developer despite previously limited experience with technology. My father, who never cooked when I was younger, has recently begun baking bread and making elaborate meals from scratch. Inspired by their examples, I look forward to mastering Spanish and learning to play the guitar that sits (currently unused) in a corner of my bedroom.
AWP: In your youth, what did you imagine your adult life would hold? What influenced this vision?
LT: I always pictured myself living in another country; I never imagined that I would settle down in Minnesota where I grew up. Now I feel lucky to live near my family and my husband’s family, but my teenage self would be disappointed.
AWP: Was being stylish important to you growing up in your teens? Is it now?
LT: Being stylish was very important to me growing up. I always had a specific idea of how I wanted to look. Frustrated by trying to shop for me, my parents gave me a clothing allowance and let me buy my own clothes, much to the envy of my friends.
Now I’m in a place in life where I’m trying not to spend much on clothes or stylish items for my house. I’m trying to follow the advice I mentioned earlier about investing in memorable experiences instead. That said, I love shoes. I try to put things I already have together in new ways, with a few great shoe updates each season.
AWP: Tell us about your cooking and eating habits and traditions.
LT: I loved how my French family would linger over meals; a typical weeknight dinner lasted about two hours. Some of the details I thought of as being typically French: wine was always paired with the food, there was always a fresh baguette, and each meal ended with a selection of cheeses. At first, I was surprised that they rarely ate sweet desserts (when there are so many delicious French desserts!) but rather had fresh fruit, yogurt, or cheese. I loved the way meals were not rushed in the slightest. The table always looked beautiful, with candles and often fresh flowers, and the focus was always on conversation and enjoying the experience. I sensed that the whole family looked forward to dinner as a time to truly step away from work or school stress and just enjoy the food and the time together. As my children get older and are better able to participate in dinnertime conversations, our meals have become more relaxed and are beginning to feel more “French” to me.
Having lived and traveled in France and Italy, my husband and I are definitely influenced by European eating habits. As a parent working full-time and freelancing on the side, I take plenty of shortcuts (at least one family dinner each week is catered by Trader Joe’s freezer section) but on the weekends, I love to slow down and enjoy the process. I like to shop for the ingredients for that night’s meal, and I love standing at the stove with a glass of wine, stirring a risotto or a sauce.
We also try to have relaxed family dinners where food and conversation are the focus. While this is something my mother always prioritized, I also learned from my French host family the importance of making each meal a beautiful experience. We turn off phones and set the table with cloth napkins and dishes that look nice, we light candles, and we talk about our days while we eat.
AWP: What was your most memorable meal to date?
LT: Bellagio, Italy, at the Hotel du Lac. I was in college; my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) had just graduated. My grandfather recommended the hotel and, knowing it was out of our budget, gave me a check to cover the splurge. We ate dinner on the balcony, looking out over Lake Como.
AWP: What is in your refrigerator right now?
LT: A mix of basic staples (eggs, milk, giant bags of carrots and tubs of hummus, without which my children would surely starve) and special treats, mostly from the cheese counter. My favorite thing is a Spanish pear paste (like a really thick pear jam) that is delicious with Manchego. We have a smoky chipotle cheddar that makes excellent quesadillas, along with three other types of cheddar to indulge my children’s budding cheese-snobbery. We also have a lot of spinach and other salad greens, tomatoes and lemons, for making light salads to accompany all the cheese.
ART OF LIVING:
AWP: What do you live for? What do you love above all?
LT: Above all, I live for my family; their well-being is at the root of every decision I make. Seeing the incredible impact of good teachers and education in my children’s lives has inspired me to pursue work that brings educational opportunity to other children. Seeing my kids navigate a diverse community and form friendships across cultural backgrounds has reinforced my own love of cultural immersion and travel.
AWP: What natural gift would you most like to possess? What talent are you most thankful for?
LT: I would love to be able to sing – I can’t carry a tune, but envy those who can just sing out when they have a song in their head. I am thankful for the ability to write, which has brought many interesting connections and opportunities into my life.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, The Child Madeline, by writer and educator Natalie Ehalt who shares her love of Madeline, who brings a deserved respect for girls and children worldwide. Excerpts from Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales, by Ludwig Bemelmans.
Franglais: Modern French-English words, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who writes that many French speakers are appalled by franglais, but there are those, like us, who find it fascinating. Included is a useful vocabulary of French to English translations for franglais, where you’ll find words like, “les baskets: sneakers or trainers – literally, the shoes worn to play basket ball,” which is one of our favourites.
I dream of Paris. Writer and educator Natalie Ehalt shares the quote from Napoléon, who wrote in 1795, “A woman, in order to know what is due her and what her power is, must live in Paris for six months.” To Natalie, Paris is the ultimate in elegance and style. It is old-fashioned, it is cobblestone, it is aprons, it is a chauffeur helping you step off the curb…
Colette: Gigi meets Anne of Green Gables, by Canadian writer Philippa Campsie who contemplates French novels and their heroines, and wonders if French fiction may well be the important key to the mystery of what makes Frenchwomen the way they are. Including a recommendation of books by Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, and Colette.
A Woman’s Paris — Elegance, Culture and Joie de Vivre
We are captivated by women and men, like you, who use their discipline, wit and resourcefulness to make their own way and who excel at what the French call joie de vivre or “the art of living.” We stand in awe of what you fill into your lives. Free spirits who inspire both admiration and confidence.
Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. — Coco Chanel (1883 – 1971)
Text copyright ©2012 Laura Tompkins. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.