Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Chez Nous

Christmas was dreamy! It was so relaxed, so peaceful. There was nowhere we needed to go . . . nobody was coming over, so we didn’t have to cook or clean . . . it was just the 4 of us hanging out. Bizarre!

We started with opening gifts, bien sur.

Looking “oh-so-glamorous” on Christmas morning, although Max takes great pictures!

Then we played with each and every gift.

And tried on each and every gift. Josey received a lot of terrific clothes from Grandma Pat and Sean, Mark, and Susie – very stylish! Susie could be a fashion consultant!

Max got a stylin’ new jacket from Grandma Pat!

And both kids got a lot of ski gear. We can’t wait to ski, with the Pyrenees a mere 2.5 hour drive away.

Josey's Bouzigues Christmas stocking - a hat turned upside down! Mike's a genius.

We took a leisurely walk along the beach of Bouzigues just to get some air.

Then we went home and played some more! Santa brought the kids a Poker set, and the four of us played Poker ‘til it was time to call the US.

After wishing Grandma Pat, Susie, Mark, Sean, Grandma, Dude, Dawnie, Daniel, and Thomas all a very Merry Christmas, we ate a yummy dinner. Dado made me Oven Fried Chicken, which is one of my favorites! Then we were all in bed early.

Like I said before . . . Christmas was dreamy.

I hope you all had a dreamy Christmas, too! It was strange not to see you, but we thought of you!

Love to all!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Eve with the Bruns

This was a truly magical night. As the evening passed, I kept thinking to myself, “I cannot believe that we are actually in France, celebrating Christmas with these wonderful new friends. We are truly fortunate!”

It was almost surreal . . . from the delicious meal Sandra cooked to the piles and piles of spectacular gifts to the classic American Christmas carols playing in the background.

Let me begin at the beginning . . .

Did you know that Pere Noel (Santa Claus) delivers his gifts to the children of France on Christmas Eve? Before it gets dark? It was amazing! While Sandra and I were in the kitchen (Dado, Max, and Josey were still at home, and Jean-Louis, Noah, and Victoria were in Sete wishing on the Christmas star!!), we heard some commotion in the living room. When we looked in to see what the noise was, the room was covered in gifts! There were gifts for everyone! Santa remembered us all – even Max & Josey!

Sandra has had her house decorated for weeks, and the garland, the tree, the lights . . . even the garland around Shadow’s neck (he’s their adorable black lab) was perfect! And I have mentioned before how much Sandra loves the US, right? As you can tell by some of the artwork in the background.

Dado, Max, and Josey arrived first. The kids stared around, wide-eyed with surprise. Suddenly it dawned on them – maybe Santa had already visited our house, too.

When Jean-Louis, Victoria, and Noah arrived a few minutes later, it was delightful! Everyone was so happy and smiley and joyful. Gifts were passed around, and there was a flurry of wrapping paper as little and big hands alike set into those beautiful presents.

Santa brought Josey a baby doll – and Victoria received one, too, because those two love to play baby together. They both also received Hannah Montana barbies.

Santa brought Max a Pirates of the Carribean art set and a set of Pirates of the Carribean Mega-Blocks boats that shoot at each other.

Dado picked out perfect gifts for Sandra, Jean-Louis, Victoria, and Noah. He always has the best ideas. He got a Zippo lighter for Sandra that has the American flag on the front, a box of Nyquill gelcaps, and Pay Day candy bars (her faves, which you cannot buy here). For Jean-Louis, he got the first season of Rescue Me in French and Independence Day in French. For Victoria and Noah, he got remote control helicopters. I picked out the gift for Michelle (Sandra’s mom). She wears scarves, and I picked out a dusty pink scarf for her. Everyone loved their presents!!

Apparently, it is French tradition to eat dinner on Christmas Eve at midnight. Luckily the Bruns took pity on the Americans, and we ate closer to 9:00pm.

Dinner was spectacular. Sandra spoiled us with several traditional French cuisine treats.

The first dish was salad . . . mixed greens, tomatoes, and des gesiers de canard confits. That means that the salad was topped with sautéed fig and duck gizzard. You all know I am an absolute food wimp, and Sandra knows it, too. So, she didn’t tell us what we were eating until I told her how delicious it was. I was serious! Even after she told me what it was, I ate every single bite on my plate! The salad was served with foie gras de canard (duck pate), which I also loved.

We were all absolutely stuffed after the salad course, but there was more yumminess to come. Sandra had made a roasted, stuffed turkey, mashed sweet potatoes with cinnamon, sautéed potatoes, and chestnuts. It was all absolutely delicious.

Dessert was another French tradition: la buche. This is a dessert shaped like a log, either made with ice cream or cake. Sandra had two ice cream versions: crème brulee and fruits rouge (strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry). Mmmmmm!!

Our contributions to the meal were strawberry margaritas (this was a special request from Sandra) and homemade shortbread cookies (Mike’s grandmother’s recipe!). The margaritas were a great party starter. Unfortunately, we forgot about the cookies in the excitement of the buches. I hope the Bruns ate the cookies!

The children all played together like a dream. It was really impressive. All those new toys, and Noah and Victoria shared every single thing without a second thought. There were cars and trucks, Bratz and Barbies, My Little Ponies, helicopters, and babies. Everywhere we looked, there were more fun things to play with.

One of the big hits of the evening was the Hannah Montana tattoo parlor. Oh my. Josey may be the next Kat Von D.

Throughout the evening, Sandra was playing her favorite Christmas music. Her favorites include Christmas carols by Frank Sinatra! It was terrific. Several of us were singing along – in English – during this fete de Noel! Sandra and Noah even took a turn on the dance floor.

Merci mille fois, Sandra & Jean-Louis, for the terrific and unforgettable Christmas Eve in France.

Love to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas Card Photo & Bouzigues Sunsets

Some beautiful images for you. My way of sharing the "Christmas Lights" of Bouzigues - compliments of Mother Nature.

Love to all!

Brought to You by Max

This is straight from Max's journal. He asked me to post it for all of you to enjoy.

I love France because it's fun and we always go fossil hunting and we go to caves. I love the caves, and we go to ruins. I love the ruins.

And when I got to France, I had a lot of friends.

The End

Love to all!

Now This Was Funny!

Picture the scene . . .

You are peacefully sleeping, snuggled against the warm back of your husband, when you are awakened at 4:02 AM by a strange cracking sound. This sound is much like the sound in suspense movies - when some dumbass is inevitably walking on thin ice, and the ice starts to crack.

Loud, creaking, cracking sounds that are just WRONG at 4:02 AM.

I groggily asked Mike, "What's wrong?" He answered - quite wide awake, I must say, "I don't know, but I think the bed is breaking."

Next thing we knew - SNAP!

Suddenly, my head was practically on the floor while my feet were almost sticking up in the air. I think there was a little bit of muffled giggling at the absurdity of the situation. There has definitely been a lot of laughing since we woke up!

Here is what the bed frame looked like when we moved the mattress the next morning. That's the corner where my head rests peacefully (most of the time). Ho ho ho!

Love to all!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mold - Ick!

Okay . . . I’ve decided that I cannot only tell you the good stuff on the blog. I can’t let you all believe that living in France is a fairy tale. There are a few things that go wrong here, even if I keep you in the dark.

Alas, I have a perfect example of “It isn’t all a fairy tale” to share. We have been battling a disgusting mold problem for the past 6-7 weeks.

Those of you who detest a moldy mess – you know who you are! – proceed with the utmost caution. In fact, you may want to skip this post altogether.

Okay . . . I warned you!

We had our first major rain storm near the end of October. There was lightning, thunder, wind that pushed you backward (literally!), and a ton of rain. That’s when we discovered that there was some sort of leak in our humble little apartment. We live on the bottom of a 2-unit “condo-like” apartment. We thought that the leak was coming from the upper unit. However, when the upstairs neighbors arrived a few weeks after the storm, they reported no problems.

Hmmm . . . perhaps it was a leak from the roof, through the cinder block walls, straight to our water closet? In France, the toilet is in a separate room called the water closet. This is where we noticed the leak.

Alas, the leak was the first domino in an evil, mold-producing chain!

Being foreigners, we did not know that the cinder block construction forces you to open all of your windows and doors for an hour every single morning. I mean, who would think that was necessary when it’s freezing cold outside? We were not opening our doors to air out the house, so we were exacerbating the problem – resulting in the second domino in the chain.

Next, we started using kerosene heaters (merci beaucoup Sandra & Jean-Louis!!!!). The electric heaters that populate every room in the apartment do not provide heat. Well, okay, if you put your hand directly on the front of the heater, it’s warm. However, that tiny bit of warmth does not radiate into the house – at all! We could see our breath in the house. No joke.

Sandra and Jean-Louis to the rescue! They loaned us two kerosene heaters that are now our sole source of heat. However, they are also domino number 3. Turns out that they produce quite a bit of humidity.

So, we have . . .

  • A leak providing moisture
  • A completely closed-up house without adequate ventilation
  • Wonderful heaters that pump a lot of moisture into the air
  • A ton of mold

The pictures are just a peak. I couldn't bring myself to post the truly awful ones!

Mike had been cleaning with bleach regularly (isn’t he the sweetest husband in the world – to save me from that?!), but it was a hopeless battle.

Our landlord contacted the insurance agent to see about fixing the problem. This is one of those French things that Mike and I really don’t understand. They contacted our renter’s insurance about the leak . . . as if it could be our fault somehow? Obviously, we don’t care, as long as the problem is solved!

After weeks of waiting, the insurance company sent “le expert”! Oh boy! Before that day, I honestly have not met a single “stereotypical” Frenchman – you know the kind you see on TV or read in novels – a French snob. Le expert was that man!

He showed up on a rainy day, so there was a ton of condensation on the windows. He ran his fingers along every window, almost snorting at me in disgust as he flicked the water off of his fingers. I’m seriously not exaggerating. He declared, quite emphatically, that the entire problem was due to the heaters.

Well, buddy, if I could speak French just a little bit better, I could tell you that we’ve only been using the heaters for 3 weeks! The problem has been going on for 6-7 weeks. Thus, it’s not the heaters!

I did try to tell him this, but he promptly chuffed and turned away from me. He actually said, “Les chauffages . . . Ce sont un catastrophe!” That’s French for, “The heaters. They are a catastrophe!”


Now the insurance company is turning down the claim, stating that there isn’t a leak. Le expert is supposed to come back and actually look in the WC this time – to see the walls peeling apart where there is water coming from the cinder blocks. He didn’t spend much time in the WC on his last visit because – well, who would want to hang out there?!

In the meantime, I finally convinced the landlord to send a professional cleaner over! Yesterday, she cleaned most of the mold. What a relief. I can walk around my house with my eyes open again! She will be back today to finish the job.

Wish us luck!

Love to all!

l'Arbre de Noel

This weekend, Bouzigues had the annual l'Arbre de Noel (Christmas Tree) fete. This is an amazing afternoon filled with a play and gifts – a gift for every single child in Bouzigues from 0 to 10 years old.

The first of our 3 hours was spent watching the play “Tralalaie et Tralalouille”. Wow. The play features two characters and a full menagerie of puppets that pop-up behind the actors. Since the entire play was in French (bien sur!), I’m guessing at the meaning of the play. Here goes . . .

A witch was looking for a magic potion to learn to fly. She started by searching for mushrooms for her potion. She searched for the potion in her book of magic spells and poured the potion into a magic machine. The machine produced bubbles! She tried unsuccessfully to fly through the bubbles, landing on the ground – much the to children’s delight!

Next, she beat up the bird puppet to get some magic feathers. She tried to fly using the magic feathers, and this attempt resulted in her crashing into the wall. The children were roaring!

Suddenly, a magic cat puppet appeared. He put a spell on her shoes that made her dance. The dance was very entertaining! She finally kicked off her shoes to break the spell.

Lastly, a vendor appeared above her with a magic lamp. She – of course – bought the magic lamp expecting a genie to emerge. No genie – just a spider!

At this point, the second character joined the play. She was a mime of some type, and I couldn’t’ understand much of what she said. Thus, I tuned out. Also, much to my surprise, the adults sitting in the back 3-4 rows were all talking with normal speaking voices throughout the play!! Given my very rudimentary understanding of the French language, I need to have very minimal ambient noise to hear and understand French. With all the chatter going on, I had no hope!!

The play ended with the witch and the other character passing out giant handfuls of confetti and ribbons. The kids ran around throwing confetti and ribbon for 20 minutes with the characters from the play. They were all in little-kid-heaven!

After the play, the town provided clementines, juice and soda, slices of yummy cake, and lots of candy for the kids. It was really cool. And – it was really smart! As you’ll soon see, the kids really needed that fuel to last through the rest of the afternoon.

About 15 minutes after the goodies were served, Pere Noel arrived!! Pere Noel is Santa Claus in French. He was escorted in by the Mayor of Bouzigues. Pere Noel and the Mayor stood on the stage for the next 2 hours distributing gifts to each and every child in Bouzigues – including Max and Josey. They started with the most recently born and worked their way up to the 10-year olds. Each child was called by name and had a chance to pose with Santa for photos. The Mayor carefully asked each parent if she or he was happy with the photo before calling the next child. It was really cool!

The gifts were awesome, too! I was truly amazed at the community spirit to be found in the villages of France. There were 100s of people in the room throughout the afternoon, and everyone was in high spirits – the children especially.

The children of Max’s age (born in 2002) received either a game (boys) similar to Jenga or an ornament painting set (girls). The children of Josey’s age (born in 1999) received either a set to make and decorate a purse and jewelry (girls) or . . . we still haven’t figured out what the boys received.

Thank you, Bouzigues! This was a fun day, and I was grateful to be included!

Love to all!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Les Decorations Cannelle des Noel

Today we had our first fete (party) for the kids. We invited the Brun family and Sabrina and her children - Jordan (10) and Logan (6) - over to make cinnamon Christmas ornaments. Sorry, but I don't know Sabrina's last name.

After the kids ran around playing for an hour or so, we rounded them up at the table. I gave a demonstration in my broken French (Frenglish, actually), and we let the kids loose.

It was terrific! They each made 4-6 ornaments, and they had a great time. Now our house smells deliciously of cinnamon, and we have some great Christmas gifts and ornaments for our own tree.

If you haven't tried this yet with your kids, I highly recommend it!

Cinnamon Ornaments
1 bottle Cinnamon (4.12 ounces)
3/4 cup apple sauce

Mix the ingredients into a thick paste. Roll out to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Use cookie cutters to cut out ornaments. Use a straw or skewer to put a hole in the ornament for hanging. Let the ornaments dry 1-3 days. Place a ribbon through the hole, and voila!

Love to all!

Judo in France

The kids have been taking weekly judo classes in Bouzigues – every Monday evening. They love judo – despite the language barrier.

Last weekend, we had our first judo competition. It was great! It was organized by age, so Max and Josey each competed in different groups (although the take the same class here in the village).

Each age group was split into groups of 8 children. Then, each child participated in 3 matches – each match against a different child in the group.

Guess what?! Josey and Max both won first place in their groups. Woohoo!!

Unfortunately, I forgot the camera for Max’s competitions. Bad Mommy!! However, here are some great action shots from Josey’s warm-up.

And some action shots from Josey's competition matches!

Noah won, too. Felicitations, Noah!

Love to all!