Tag Archives: celebration

Holidays in France 2013

I definitely wanted to document our second year of holidays in France. For one, we made an American Thanksgiving for people here who made an impact on us and made us feel very welcome. It was a big meal in a small kitchen, but every person there was a gift we were thankful for!

A lively table of food and conversation.

A lively table of food and conversation.

We weren't just thankful for us old fogeys, either.

We weren’t just thankful for us old fogeys, either.

And I was super especially thankful that my oldest daughter had arrived from the States to join us for more than a month!

And not just thankful for the help washing dishes. Folks were pretty amazed we had no dishwasher here.

And not just thankful for the help washing dishes. Folks were pretty amazed we had no dishwasher here.

My friend Brigitte brought adorable little costume additions that we photographed the group with. I added them to our centerpieces!

A centerpiece with extra oomph!

A centerpiece with extra oomph!

We had a quiet Christmas at home, but left the next day for Paris. I’ll include the Paris photos another time.

 

Joyfully celebrating the Christ-child's birth!

Joyfully celebrating the Christ-child’s birth!

The big reveal. I am sure Theo was grateful his sister came. His dad and I are sort of boring on Christmas morning.

The big reveal. I am sure Theo was grateful his sister came. His dad and I are sort of boring on Christmas morning.

New Year’s was celebrated early, with Italy, and minimally, with a toast of sparkling pear juice. Party on, people!

So that was our Bonne Année, and I think next year we will get to have some of it back in the good ol’ USA.

 

 

 

 

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Birthdays and Bugs

We have been very blessed regarding flexibility to travel this year. Nowhere was this more evident than our trip home to the States. My oldest daughter graduated from Kansas State University mid-May. If Theo had been tied to the French school schedule, we would not have been able to attend. And really, no one should miss a processional led by a kilt-clad bagpiper in the midst of the US plains.

I would never have expected it!

I would never have expected it!

We are very proud of our young graduate!

And visiting the States at this time is high birthday season: my oldest son had just had his, this daughter’s was a few weeks away, and definitely Theo, with a late summer birthday, would prefer to celebrate with US friends. How nice to knock out three with one blow, so to speak.And really, I was so, so grateful to spend time with my kids, including the poor winter birthday child. I took all the summer birthday kids camping. OK, so maybe this was the birthday choice of the nearly 14-year-old boy, but everyone loves camping, right? We fueled up with Krispy Kreme donuts before heading out. On a 2-hour drive to the campsite. That’s right, I’m the smart mom.

None of these in France, believe me!

None of these in France, believe me!

Fishing was almost as popular a past-time as messing with the campfire. Unfortunately, Quinn, my oldest, was the only one who caught anything. At least it was big enough for everyone to get a sample. Good fish, Kansas! Honestly, I couldn’t believe how chilly it was there in JUNE. Theo had asked for Oklahoma, but after the near-daily tornadoes, I was able to talk him into camping a little closer to his sister. The weather has been weird, folks. Still, as Deep-Woods Off as I fogged myself, I still got multiple aggravating mosquito bites and one tick. Uck. Now that leaves a person looking fondly on France…

Tyring for one of the really big ones at the dam  outlet. No luck.

Trying for one of the really big ones at the dam outlet. No luck. 

I really loved being home. It felt so comfortable! And seeing so many people I love was like refreshing water in a desert heat. And the hugs!! American hugs everywhere you turn! All good things end, though…

When we first moved to France, it was mid-July. I wrote about the remarkable weakness of pest invasion in our open home not long after. Having now almost completed a WHOLE YEAR (Happy anniversary to us!) in France, I have decided spring is the more buggy season.

It’s still kind of odd, though. For instance, we had one day that was really the Day of the Mouche. (That’s French for housefly.) We had a plague. The doors and windows were closed, but we killed, by swatter, over a hundred houseflies. What is with that?! Seriously? I couldn’t find where they were originating, and I couldn’t find a, well, organic source for them. The next day we killed only about 40, and the next day, maybe single digits. The funny thing about these flies was their general lethargy. Well, you can probably guess that by our high kill rate. There would be some serious effort to dispatch that many flies back in Kansas. It would probably qualify as some kind of boot-camp workout, but here, not so much.

And then there are the bees. They are obviously quite healthy and numerous here, unlike back home. And I am betting they loved the wet winter and spring, because the outdoors is literally humming with them. I have this hedge that goes around two sides of the house…

See any flowers? Me neither.

See any flowers? Me neither.

It is abuzz. Constantly. I canNOT figure it out, because why? There seems to be nothing a bee could eat there. But there are hundreds just all over this thing. I even had one briefly pause on the back of my hand one day while I was sitting out back chatting with friends. Being allergic to wasps, I prefer to avoid bee encounters. If there was some way to discourage their constant chillin’ in my background, I’d take it. The wildflower field behind the house was recently flattened (not mowed, interestingly), and I am wondering if that might encourage the bees to hang out elsewhere?

But on the up side, the mosquitos are STILL wimpy. We have enjoyed backyards, riverbanks, our own patio right along with the mosquitos. We have been bitten, but I don’t even get welts. They barely itch. Curious, eh? For a place lush with flora, there just isn’t much annoying fauna. I hope this continues! We are back in France for another year and then a bit. Our appointment is set with the prefecture to formalize that at the end of the month. I’ll let y’all know how that goes!

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Easter in France

Our first Easter in France has been interesting. It is noticeably more low-key than in the States, with the exception of the chocolate. The section for Easter chocolate is at least as big as the Christmas chocolate, and definitely more artistic and creative. Sure, there are your bunnies and your eggs; but the chickens and roosters were a little surprising. I love the hens ON eggs! But why all the other farm animals? And why the FISH? I was so mystified, I went looking online for an answer…

I found some here… but also asked my Thursday French teacher, who explained the link to Lent and the fishes. But she also confirmed the strange April Fool’s prank of the paper fish on the back of an adult, with much giggling and calling of “poisson d’avril!”

Theodore’s Easter chocolate:

These are his chocolates from us. Notice the chocolate pig is atop a pile of fish.

These are his chocolates from us. Notice the chocolate pig is atop a pile of fish.

The piggie with his fish collection.

The piggie with his fish collection.

When the neighbors came for dinner, they brought us these bells. (See the website for why bells.)

When the neighbors came for dinner, they brought us these bells. (See the website for why bells.)

Inside Theo's little bell...surprise!

Inside Theo’s little bell…surprise!

Our bell had a surprise, too!

The Lindt bunny is from the grocery, but the bells were from a chocolaterie in our ville.

The Lindt bunny is from the grocery, but the bells were from a chocolaterie in our ville.

I like the quieter Easter. The yards of the homes in our neighborhood ring with the sounds of children playing, as friends and family gather together. I only wish we could marry the simplicity and relationship-orientation of the French observation with the purpose and depth of the true purpose of the holiday I experience at home. In the States, there is a clamor of opposing observances, and even sincere followers can become distracted.

This holiday, this holy day, is a measured walk from death to life, from dark to light, and from hopelessness to hope and joy realized. Our church had set up a stations of prayer for Friday and Saturday, with guided reflections on the hands of Christ. It wsas profound and beautiful. It would be a perfect marriage with our Kansas church’s Good Friday service, worshipping and reflecting through song and Scripture from light to dark. Without the garish circus surrounding this day, I really got to grow in my gratitude. Thank you again, my Jesus, for taking my place.

 

 

 

 

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I intended to post this BEFORE leaving for our family Christmas present: a vacation in Barcelona (of which many photos and postings will follow). Oops. But better late than never?

The reason for the Season...our baby Jesus doesn't appear in the manger until Christmas morning.

The reason for the Season…our baby Jesus doesn’t appear in the manger until Christmas morning.

We enjoyed a merry Christmas with our college-age daughters, who flew in to celebrate their holiday with us. We were so happy to have them all with us for Advent!

Our magi are still traveling to Jesus.

Our magi are still traveling to Jesus.

Our traditional Christmas dinner has long been ham, not turkey. In France, not only is it turkey, but you can pretty much only buy turkey in December, short of special ordering. The thing is, French hams don’t look like American hams, for the most part. I cook a Southern brown sugar ham with pineapple, cloves and maraschino cherries, like my good Daddy taught me. We perused the charcuterie counter at the store quite awhile before deciding on the end piece of what I am sure must have been a lunch meat ham. This is a place where you can easily buy a whole pig leg ham, and I have no idea how to ask for just a certain section of it. Still, it worked. Except for the cherries, which I have never seen here, we had a delicious ham for dinner, with potatoes and carrots and salad and sweet potato pie.

Sweet potato pie is easier here, because I don't have  easy access to sweetened condensed milk, which is how I make my pumpkin.

Sweet potato pie is easier here, because I don’t have easy access to sweetened condensed milk, which is how I make my pumpkin.

Christmas does seem a bit foreign and strange here. The lights are all in pink and purple, and they often have a dripping icicle element. Many houses have ninja-skilled Santas climbing the house, instead of arriving on the rooftop via reindeer. We sang carols to the neighbors on our little dead-end street with a few friends from church, and we gave THEM a surreal experience doing so…it is all but unheard of here. Most welcomed our short seranade, though. But the insanely crowded malls were very familiar!

Still, Christmas is Christmas for its spirit, not its red and green, its striped hooked candy canes, its carols blaring from every public speaker for weeks, as the Grinch found (I think I’ll need to see if that’s on Hulu…missed it, too!). Having my daughters with us for Advent, singing together, unstuffing stockings and devouring ham and pie, all made Christmas warm and cozy and comforting.

I’m curious what essentials keep Christmas cozy for you, wherever you go?

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Toulouse Christmas Market Part 2

The Christmas market is sort of like a gi-normous, very festive version of Toulouse’s weekend market. It is also in the Capitole plaza, and is row after row of vendor stall. In this case, though, only a few are for produce, meats and breads. And many of the stalls seem to be for handmade items.

Vendor booths fill the whole Capitole square.

Vendor booths fill the whole Capitole square.

doghat

macarons

These little meringue sandwich cookies are VERY popular here. Some vendors even have savory flavors just for the holidays!

pretzels

spices

Fresh spices to the fore, and fresh tea mixes to the back. My youngest son loves fresh, looseleaf tea mixes!

I wish I had taken some photos of the scarves and wood carvings. Find the rest of the market here

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The Insidious Tide of the Unfamiliar

I love beach life. there was a point at which we lived on the US West Coast. The stretch of beach near our home was a fairly safe place to play. The sand was wide and flat, even at high tide. The drop in the surf at low tide was significant enough, though, that warnings were occasionally posted at the entrance advising of rip tides. This isn’t something you see coming; it sneaks up on you below the surface, gripping you and carrying you off to dangerous depths.

A rising tide can overwhelm you, too, though, if you are on a coastline that isn’t all open. We visited parts of the California coast north on Highway 1 that hosted beautiful tidal pools among rocks, sometimes piled up against low cliffs. If not watchful, you could get so absorbed in the tide pools that you could get trapped by the rising tide.

I share this perspective of the beautiful Pacific coastland because that is what life here in France has put me in mind of. Most of the time this land is beautiful, the people are gracious and welcoming, and exploring is a fun adventure. But occasionally, the tide of unfamiliar things and experiences pile up, like mounting waves, and before I know it, I am knocked off my feet. This morning was the high tide of one that had been building since the day before. It was my son’s actual 13th birthday, and a boxed cake mix nearly did me in.

I know how to do laundry. Washers and dryers are familiar. But here they are different. First of all, they vent out front. That would be *into your house.* I open the back door and window to encourage the heat to leave. Of course, when your third dryer load just won’t come dry, you troubleshoot. Door lint filter clean? Check. Other lint filter clean? Check.  Water condenser thingie empty? What? What water condenser thingie?

Our dryer, with indecipherable French instructions and manual (thankful for translate.google), with the water-thingie extended. You pull this out and dump the water, which I discovered this morning when last night’s clothes still were a tad damp.

The stove-top had an English section in the manual. Thankfully! Because it is induction. I had barely even heard of a stovetop that cooks using magnets, and NONE of the pots or pans we brought has the correct metal core to work. We were able to find a converter to place under the pan.

Note the space-age touch controls. At first, I thought they were indicator lights only, and surely the controls themselves were elsewhere.

Well, in the mornings, I need my coffee for clear thinking, so I started up the new Senseo coffee maker. We went with the Senseo led by the coffee aisle at the grocery store. There was a narrow section of just your regular coffee, then there was a wiiiide section filled with a variety of Senseo coffee filter pacs, for not much more. Then there was another even more narrow coffee section with alternative maker cups, like K-cups, which were kind of expensive. Looking that over, I decided to get a Senseo machine.

See any problem with my American-sized coffee mug? Most of the mugs in my beloved collection are two-handed sized. It makes for a psychologically warm hug from your aromatic cup cradled in two hands.

And so, drinking my short cup of coffee, I made a birthday cake for my son. I had given up on the from-scratch American style cake when I couldn’t find, the night before, baking powder. I now know the French name, but threw in the towel last night and grabbed a box cake mix, French style. The side showed the addition of 3 eggs and some milk, and that sounded achievable. I didn’t count on my French oven. It is really complicated. It bakes, broils, convections, and even rotisseries. It probably would have mixed my cake had I known how to ask it. This manual defies translate.google. It makes little sense even translated. I got my cake out of it, though, so I must have done something right.

And lastly, such a tiny thing, but when so many things have piled on to make simple things more difficult, even these little anomalies become exasperating:

No doubt unique in my little apartment, but why can’t I wash my hands with WARM water after using the WC? Is the space two small for two pipes?

Well, there you go…my little rant on a morning that was almost more than I could manage. But then, such wealthy problems I have! What an easy life, when complicated mystery appliances are the troubles that weigh me down. Thank God instead for the amazing church of people to whom we took the little cake I baked, and who all sang happy birthday to my son, devouring his cake. Life is good here in France, after all.

 

 

 

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Happy Birthmonth!

Or three weeks of birth celebration, as Theo would not be in the US for his thirteenth, so we had a party with family and friends early, before we left. We will probably still have some sort of hurrah for him when he truly does become a teenager, so it sort of prolongs the joyous crossover. Ahem. I love thirteen year olds. Honest. Mostly.

Anyway, our party was in Wichita’s Old Town, starting with pizza. What group of boys doesn’t like pizza? We followed it, down the street, with time at City Arts, constructing an arsenal out of wire frames, foil and Crayola Model Magic.

A constructive birthday

en guarde!

Theo’s older brother surprised him by driving up from Texas and appearing in the midst of the creativity. Awesome birthday surprise!!

How does Quinn look with a handlebar?

You’re never too old to make stuff.

more merrymaking HERE

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Scenes from Chicago

I found Chicago to be a city filled with architectural contrasts (and a whole lotta noise.) It was my favorite part of the city after the Art Institute, with the possible exception of Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe.

The beautifully detailed older building with the raised garden, ahead of the black and glass building.

Our hotel described itself as the first colored highrise building in Chicago. It is topped with real gold. That definitely made it easy to find from blocks away!

The view from outside our window. I don’t know how old this water tower is, but it certainly LOOKS old!

More of Chicago here

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My Baby is a Youth

Theo graduated from sixth grade yesterday. He seems so grown up!

From a graduating class of two (in really low lighting), with his teacher. Classes at this school are made of two grades.

His sisters seem kind of proud of him!

It’s a wrap!

Those who know him best, give him books. Note the little slideshow in back showing Theo with his “Littlest Fisher” award from Georgia.

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The Winners’ Circle

Not that all my little artists aren’t winners; they ARE. But here is the full collection of the select few that were submitted to The Gathering of the Talents.

The two ceramic plates aren’t shown here, one of which received an Excellent, and the other a Superior. The seahorses on the right have a purple ribbon, though a blue dot.

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