Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa's Coming to the Sud de France

With the Big Kids hitting nine and seven this year I was worried about the belief in the Big Guy.
They hear things. Things they can understand now because they speak French. And they wonder about the logistics, practicalities like a big man fitting through a chimney and whether or not that's a good thing. But mostly, they fight against not believing. Ma Fille wants answers and by this I mean she wants them from Santa himself. Tonight she's written a note to him asking his favorite color, if they can maybe have hot chocolate together before New Year's and again for his signature. The Tooth Fairy went through a similar line of questioning. I think she wants to believe so much that she just does. And this is the magic of Christmas.
I wrote the following post two years ago in Ireland and posted it last year too. And I will keep sharing it as long as the bubble of magic remains intact. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Eve and Morning full of joy and love.
And shiny, bubbly Santa dreams.....

Originally posted December 2009

This year was the biggest year for Santa in our house. It is as if the 7 almost 8 year old believes even more fervently than ever before in order to keep it true. Of course the kids talk in the yard. They ask questions, wondering: how could a bike really fit through the chimney….and how does the alarm not go off when Santa creeps in….and why does my guitar say, 'made in China'?

To all of these questions we answer, it's magic. And Santa has elves in China. I was kicking myself for not taking off that little gold sticker! The magic part is real to me. Only if you believe will Santa come to see you. I even believe in him when I am sneaking upstairs holding my breath, to retrieve the hidden crocodile in my closet. It is Santa's magic that keeps them asleep, keeps them from hearing the Elmo cry out, "Elmo needs a hug!" and muffles the deafening sound of that horrible thick plastic they like to ensconce toys in these days.

So, they believe because we believe and none of us want this beautiful bubble of childhood to burst.

At the park on the Sunday then, you can imagine my horror as a woman we were talking to wielded a sharp bubble bursting pin. She didn't mean to, but her comments made me want to grab Ma Fille by the arm and start running, singing la,la,la,la,laaaaa at the top of my lungs to distract her. Of course that would have been silly so instead I screwed up my eyes at the lady then opened them wide, then gave her a creepy smile and a subtle jerk of the head in my innocent daughter's direction.

The whole thing was simply a misunderstanding. The lady in question is from Slovakia and what I didn't know but found out on Sunday, is that in Slovakia they believe that Jesus himself delivers the toys to children on Christmas Eve. She was telling us this interesting bit of anthropological trivia, never thinking that it could call into question our Santa belief. After my bizarre motioning and grimacing she realized and started backtracking.

"Different places believe different things but Santa still brings our Christmas presents." And that was that--bubble intact, floating along iridescent and pure—for at least another year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Santa's Goose & Other Wild Animals

As you probably know, my mom, the Grand-mère, is here. The other day we took the Littlest to the LeClerc shopping center where they have the most adorable Christmas displays with animated wilderness animals. There's a deer family with a spotted baby deer who lifts his tiny bottom as if attempting his first steps and then lets it fall again, content to stay under the watchful gaze of his mother. There are raccoons sitting on a bench, twisting and turning to some unheard raccoon music and my favorite; the cutest little red fox sniffing the shopping air across from the fancy lingerie boutique.
isn't that so sweet?
The Grand-mère noticed how so many of the small children like our Littlest were accompanied by grandparents; elderly Frenchmen with trimmed moustaches, pressed jeans and loafers, holding the small hands of their petite filles.

bunny family

'Daddy reindeer'
And in the middle of this winter scene sat the tiniest Santa I've ever seen. His stature was much slighter than the American and Irish Santas of Christmases past but then again, isn't Santa an elf? Who fits down a chimney? So maybe his smaller French version makes the most sense.
He was jolly, waving from behind his white picket fencing, his tiny face peeking out from an enormous white curly beard. As we got closer the Littlest pointed out that he had no mouth, it being entirely concealed by the snowy beard. I think this fact made the Littlest even less trusting. 'Where is his mouth, Mommy?' Hmmmmm....

French Santa was kind and patient and knew just what to do to make the Littlest feel at ease. He even spoke a bit of English as he explained what I should do: touch his finger with mine ET style and encourage the Littlest to do the same, sit on the arm of  his Big Chair and hold the Littlest on my lap, gently ease him closer to Santa and carefully leeeeaaaaan out to the side so I couldn't be seen in the photo.
And it worked. We got a few shots of the Littlest looking very skeptical as Santa smiled and waved and chuckled and all you can see of me is my stylish grey fingernails holding tightly and reassuringly to his tummy.

Next came Grand-mère's turn on Santa's Big Chair. She and her best friend have a little Santa photo tradition and so she was obliged to climb on up and wave and smile. The young woman taking the photos laughed and showed us an example photo of a French Grand-mere smiling happily from Santa's tiny lap. Did you see that? It was not a typo. I meant to write 'lap' and not 'Big Chair'.
keep wavin' Santa, let me see those hands
French Santa likes to have the Mamis sit on his lap. He waves and smiles and chuckles. And squeezes.

The look of surprise on my mother's face was priceless. I thought she was just embarrassed by being in the middle of a French shopping center while other Frenchies watched her sitting on tiny Santa's lap and getting her photo taken. Turns out her wide-eyed look was in response to the placement of Santa's white-gloved hands. Up, up and away went the right hand and scoochy, scoochy slide went the left. Oooolala Père Noël! Those rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes belonged to a frisky Papa Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the South of France, where even Santa is plein de verve.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Triple Delight

One of our favorite things happened this morning.
If you live abroad it's probably one of your favorite things too.
We got packages from home! Three packages to be exact. All stuffed full of beautifully wrapped Christmas presents and American junk food direct from the Grandparents in Texas.
My Beau-Parents send each child their very own BIG box.You can imagine how much they love this. They send a pack each of favorite 'sometimes' food that we can't find here in France. But even if we could it wouldn't be the same as coming all the way from Texas in a box marked specially for you.

Each child got the following: a jumbo pack of Fruit Roll-ups, a packet of Goldfish crackers, movie size packs of Reese's Pieces, M&Ms and Milk Duds, Cheetos and a box of Froot Loops, Cap'N Crunch and Lucky Charms to share.

The Littlest kept gasping and saying, 'oh. my. goodness.' and 'this is really my favorite.' When he put his presents under the tree he said, 'this is from Grams & Gramps, this is from Grams &Gramps..' on each trip.
there's a little boy behind those Milk Duds

The Middlest took the opening of his package very seriously. He had to get his gloves out and carefully maul the box with a pair of scissors. This took awhile. And therefore he was the last to finish opening and gasping. Which is his way. He's great on Christmas morning and birthdays because he takes it all very seriously, opening carefully and paying attention to each new item.
note the gloves
Ma Fille was equally thrilled but made quick work of getting into her package with the big red kitchen scissors and then started marking names on everything so no one would confuse any of her loot with theirs. She's a bit bummed that she can't eat the Milk Duds because of her new braces but she's put them into her 'eat in a year' box.
oh. my. goodness.

Plus, I got a little something to spice things up--two Wal-Mart sized chile powders with a red bow.
We're having chili this weekend.
these are mine, all mine
Merci so much. We wish you were here to celebrate but you are always here in spirit.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seasonal Sunday--Egg Nog or Lait de Poule

At the school pick-up the other day a friend of mine asked me to explain something she'd seen while watching soap operas. The soap opera in question was 'Le Feu d'Amour'. Turns out that's French for The Young and the Restless. Sounds sexier in French, non? Most things do.

And then some things don't.
The thing in question is an example of when translations go bad.
There ain't nothing sexy about this.

That day on Le Feu d'Amour the beautifully troubled soap opera people were celebrating the holidays by drinking a special drink. 'What is lait de poule'?, asked my perplexed friend. Chicken milk?!, thought I. What the heck is she talking about? There's no such thing as chicken milk. This quickly became a song that the big kids and I sang all the way home....'there's no such thing as chicken milk, chicken milk, chicken milk'. You get the idea.

But when I got to thinking about it the answer came to me. The only thing it could be is obvious. A drink specific to the holiday season that comes from a chicken can only be one thing.

Egg nog.

And so, my friends. Grab your mixer, a bottle of whiskey, some eggs and cream and get busy. Today's your lucky Chicken Milk day!

The recipe above is my Grandmother's. We made it on Wednesday night while decorating our tree and it was delicious. So that the kids could have some too, we made the recipe minus the whiskey and then divided it into two parts. Then we spiked the grown-up one. Believe me, you need the shot of whiskey to cut the heavy richness. Chicken milk is some rich stuff.

Egg Nog (Lait de Poule)

6 eggs, separated
1 1/2 or 3 oz. whiskey
6 tablespoons sugar
1 pint whipping cream or crème entière if you're here in France
Beat egg yolks and mix with sugar.
Whip cream separately and fold into egg yolks and sugar.
Beat egg whites until stiff and then fold into the above mixture.
Top with nutmeg and blend.
Separate mixture into two parts, one virgin and one to be spiked.
Add in 1 1/2 oz whiskey to the grown up pitcher.

OR if you're making it only for the grownups, add the 3 oz of whiskey to the entire mixture and serve. No need to separate or cut down on the booze.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Ornament Decoupage

Dare I say the word? Tutorial.
There. I did.

I dedicate this crafty post to my lovely friend Kirsty from you had me at bonjour. I have not a single crafty bone in my body so when you see these découpage angels and ornaments you should believe that you could do it too.

The Littlest did it nearly all on his own. And look how pretty they turned out.
my angels; Ma Fille, Littlest & Middlest
I've wanted to try my hand at découpage since seeing all the choices of form and paper at the garden store.

Garden stores in France are like mini-Michael's. They have much, much more than plants and soil. You can find cute home stuff, gift items, animal supplies, birds, fish and fun craft project ideas.

I found these angels in a pack of three; one for each of mine. I bought a selection of red and gold toned papers made specially for decoupaging...this is my way of Englishafying a French word and I do it all the time....and the special découpage glue that goes on white but dries shiny and clear.

Here's to the tutorial piece. Don't freak out, I know it's not like me to get all detailed and organized on you and it's quite beyond my capability to do so so don't expect much.


cardboard or wood form for covering (angels, stars, baubles, reindeer, penguins)

multiple sheets of découpage paper--try to pick some across the color wheel and in different patterns so it's not too matchy

special découpage glue; I used the 'Decopatch' brand seen here:

small and medium sized brushes, one is specifically for découpage and the other is just a watercolor brush

First, you tear your paper into strips and pieces. The size of the pieces depends on what you're covering but as you're probably not doing an end table you can go pretty small. The kids loved this part as much as the gluing.
torn paper, glue and wooden forms
It's simply a matter of gluing the small pieces of paper onto the form with a brush. You can even use your fingers as Mom did when working on the edges.You lay one piece on, glue it down and then add another, layering until you've completely covered the brown paper or wood form. 

It is such peaceful work. I don't know if I'm going loo-la or what but it makes me feel all zen. 
And it comes out so incredibly pretty and varied. Just like something I'd spend good money on at the home stuff section of the garden store.

We made the angels for our tree and there they proudly hang. 

It turned out so well that I had to do more. 

I thought it would be cute to make ornament invitations for Ma Fille's Fete de Noel so we did that today. We chose balls and stars and this time they were wooden rather than cardboard like the angels. This is probably way too OTT for the French but I couldn't help myself. I want her to have a special party.

Here's us working on the invitation ornaments:


And here they are all ready for the envelopes.

aren't they so pretty?

 As to that end table.....I'm thinking of trying it. We have an old one that's knocking around that would look trés chic covered in cream and turquoise paper and shiny glue.
Cheers Kirsty!

Monday, December 5, 2011


This morning around 11 o'clock we heard drums. It was a beautiful, sunny, fresh morning so we had the terrace doors flung wide to bring it inside. We heard the drums and then the horns, followed closely by singing. Mom said, 'What in the world is that?, surprised by the sudden burst of music from our normally quiet residential street.
What it was was one of the beauties of France. There is a stone pillar in the center of the parking lot across the street. It is etched with just a few words, 'Place des Combattants en Afrique du Nord" and today a small group of well-dressed, patriotic French honored them by gathering to sing La Marseillaise and placing flowers in front of the pillar. If you know of any special meaning behind 5 December and the French in North Africa please let me know. I searched but found nothing specific to that day in history.
I do know that there are stone and marble memorials to fallen soldiers in parking lots just like the one near my house all over France. There is one next door to Les Canadiennes for those who fought and died in Vietnam. I also know that each monument has its day of tribute through song and flowers. It is this that makes them special although they sit,  year-round amid the coming and going of petanque players, market goers and dog walkers.

It is marvelous to sit in your living room on any given day and hear the French national anthem drifting through the windows, knowing they are honoring their fallen soldiers in that moment even if no one really notices besides the handful of scented, coiffed and scarved elderly men and women standing around singing for the dead.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Turkey Trot-toir

This year, thanks to a Texas friend, I decided we should add 'turkey trot' to our list of family Thanksgiving traditions.  

Mon Mari and I already watch our special Thanksgiving movie early in the morning before the kids wake up so why not add a light family jog to the proceedings? And since Sara and G-Ton (my new name for The Husband going forward) were going to be here it could be a bigger, more jovial inaugural trot.
I told Sara to bring jogging clothes and to be ready to hit the street early. She wasn't overly excited but in the spirit of traditions, she indulged me. Thanks Sara.

G-Ton and my two boys all wore their UT sweatshirts in readiness for the big game we'd recorded for later in the morning. Tradition #3, check. And they looked so cute all lined up and matching.  

See? Cute.
Mon Mari was in charge of Clementine.
Ma Fille was the last to emerge, being held up by some fashion concerns. Apparently it is important to look nice when jogging through deserted French streets at 8am.

We set off from the house with a burst. Tres dynamique for so early in the morning.

Mon Mari & Clementine
The Littlest ran the whole thing, chubby arms pumping and cheeks flushed. He kept saying, 'I'm runnin'!, I'm runnin'!' as he went. The Middlest showed off by turning on his 'booster pack' and flying way ahead of us all.  
'I'm runnin'!'
The Middlest, he's so fast he's a blur

G-Ton took photos as Clementine ran alongside Mon Mari and Sara, Ma Fille and I bounced along at a reasonable pace. At one point I was jogging backwards, having a look at the Littlest and cheering him on when I nearly fell over Clementine's lead. G-Ton managed to snap a photo just as I started the arm flailing free-fall from which I thankfully recovered. Thanks to no one.
Do you think he did that on purpose?

We came home and had pigs in a blanket and mimosas before heading back into the kitchen to do the final bits. We had fun explaining why we call them piggies to G-Ton. 'It's a little pork sausage so it's a piggie and see, how it's nestled all cozy in the pastry? That's its blanket. Now eat it.'

The rest of the day was spent cooking and eating. Watching football and Christmas movies, tradition #4. Laughing and talking and enjoying delicious wine. Dare I say it?, Tradition #5.
Thanskgiving Dinner, Tradition #1

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving a la France

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. The clock tells me that ya'll in Texas are sitting at the dinner table right about now and I hope you are going around saying what you're thankful for in turn.

Here in France there is no Thanksgiving. It is a uniquely American holiday, and for that I am proud. I told my young cousin about the no Thanksgiving in France thing the other day via Skype and she said in her adorable East Texas accent, 'Aw, that's sad.'. And it kinda is.

As an American, Thanksgiving abroad can be one of the saddest days of the year. Everyone just goes about their business; work, school, shopping. No one wonders why I'm stockpiling dried cranberries to rehydrate into some semblance of cranberry relish (thanks Mom) or why I've got a crazed  look in my eye as I search the meat counter for a whole turkey. One that hasn't been reduced to far flung parts.

Today I am thankful. And I'll tell you why.

I made pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting to take to the Big Kids' classes. The Middlest's teacher asked me to come prepared to say a few words about our holiday and Ma Fille's teacher asked her to do the same. I was nervous. So what I did was write it out in English and then translate the whole thing in the cheat's way. I also found a cute piece of clip art featuring a big empty turkey ready to filled up with all the things we're thankful for and so I printed that out for each student.
This afternoon after lunch, armed with my cupcakes, translated story of Thanksgiving and cute turkey, I stood before the Middlest's class. I read one sentence in English and he read the corresponding sentence in French. We did  this back and forth with his teacher explaining in detail, using the map and bringing the immigrant thing home by saying how we're like Pilgrims for moving from home to here. She made it come alive and spent an incredible amount of time on our holiday. I couldn't have been more thankful.

At one point, the Middlest switched from reading the French sentences to reading the English ones. His fellow students never hear him speak English, much less read it aloud standing in front of the class. He read aloud, strong and proud, 'Modern day Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November.' My heart swelled. We have been worried about his English reading, afraid it was suffering from the focus at such a tender time on the French, but no. He read difficult sentences with no stalls, stutters or problems. I think the little girl who has been in love with him from the beginning just about fell out of her chair, poor thing. He's a bilingual super boy!

The class worked hard thinking of their reasons to be thankful, most leaning towards extra-curricular activities like playing football and riding horses. One little girl's turkey filled thankful sentence stood out though. She was thankful to live in France and attend French schools and to have new books and supplies. The Middlest was thankful for his family.

I told his teacher that her allowing me to spend the afternoon with them, explaining and sharing the meaning of Thanksgiving had made my day. I told her how thankful I was for her--for the time she'd taken and the gift she'd given my son in highlighting his culture.

So cream cheese frosting is lost on French kids. Who cares?
I am thankful for it all. For this life, my children, the opportunity to live in France and all of our immeasurable blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving. Wherever you are.


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Perfect Result

As a way of helping you to understand where I'm coming from and why the Heineken Cup rugby tournament matters to me in the least I'll lay out a few facts for you.

Fact #1 We lived outside Dublin, Ireland for five years and I got a super crush on Leinster rugby player Brian O'Driscoll. He epitomizes all that is handsome in a pasty-white-legged Irish way.

Fact #2 Rugby is the only sport I can actually bring myself to watch, sauf tennis which isn't really in the same genre. It's that it's so much faster than American football and so much more rugged and manly than football.

Fact #3 Ma Fille's class plays rugby every Thursday as a complement to their regular PE/Sports Day and she loves it.

Fact #4 Montpellier has an American/Fijiian player on their rugby team, he came to visit Ma Fille's class and she got his autograph, they being the only English speakers in the group.

Fact #5 This is the first time Montpellier has been in the Heineken Cup.

All of the above combined to create the perfect rugby storm when Leinster and Montpellier turned out to be in the same grouping for a round of play and were scheduled to play last weekend here in Montpellier.
Of course we had to go. And we took the big kids with us.

Big Kids, Coke & Me (avid fan just behind)
Building up to the big match or as it was marketed here, the 'Tres Gros Match' which of course I choose to think of as the 'Very Fat Match', we were torn....would we cheer for the Irish boys of Leinster, our home for so long, the place that made such a lifelong impression and changed us as a family? Or would we root for the home team?
Both teams wear blue so we couldn't declare any allegiance through fashion choices which only allowed for more indecision.
On the walk up to the stadium we spotted the Irish fans from yards away....blonde, red, sandy brown, fair skin, light eyes and a certain je ne sais quoi that proclaimed their ancestry even before the peal of inflected English could reach out and stir feelings of  longing. I know I often say that I was on the verge of tears about something and you probably think I'm completely starkers. But. I am not ashamed to say that I puffed up a little bit then too. When I saw and heard the familiarity, in this, a place made so different by the huge force of language, it made me wistful. And I wanted to put my arms around every one of those barrel chested Irish and chant, 'Leinnnnn-ster, Leinnnnn-ster!'. My decision had been made for me.

Funny thing was, our seats were smack dab in the middle of a sea of French. Next to me was an avid Montpellier fan, banging and clacking his accordion folded program and joining in the 'Ici, ici, Montpellier!' as loud as his voice would allow. Then there was the balding man with his French scarf tied jauntily who looked back at us with surprise when we cheered for Leinster as they took the field. 'Bonjour!', I said happily and he replied in kind, unable to wipe the look of confusion from his face.

Matters were made more perplexing when Montpellier scored a try right in front of us and we all four jumped up, cheering and clapping for our adopted home's team triumph. Back and forth it went. A good natured afternoon of confusion and excitement. The avid fan to my left asked why we were cheering for both and I explained, 'J'habite ici mais je suis d'Irlande.' A tiny omission of my true Americanness for simpliclity's sake. He laughed and said he understood and continued to shout 'Putain!!' at the top of his lungs to the immeasurable delight of the big kids.

They'd never been to a live sporting event before so were blown away by the experience; the noise, frisson and crackle of tension in the air, the chance to have a Coca-Cola and bag of chips. They smiled all the way through and took it in turns cheering for each team as they spoke a mish mash of English and French. I shouted 'Allez Leinster!' a few times before I realized how weird that really was.

Up Close & Personal
In the end it was a draw: 16-16. Thanks to Johnny Sexton who Mon Mari swears heard him shout 'Atta boy Johnny!!' therefore giving him the courage to kick it through the posts for the tie despite all the noise.
The Very Fat Match was a Very Fat Success.
As we walked back to our car, flushed and full of warmth for our fellow man, Irish and French alike, we held hands and talked it all over, happy that we didn't have to choose. For us it was the perfect result.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Le Cirque du Middlest

School in France is different. And not just in the ways I've mentioned before like the Wednesday thing, the 2-hour lunch break and the fastidious attention paid to handwriting. For the past six weeks the Middlest's class has gone to circus school for six hours a week--every Tuesday and Thursday. They take the village bus back and forth and learn how to tumble, balance and swing on the trapeze.
The circus school thing is very popular here and if you think about it it makes sense. Somersaulting clowns are just a short unicycle ride to the boxed in land of mimes. And let's not forget Cirque du Soleil..that is French you know.

Although circuses in general freak me out, I'm not one for excessive contortions or harrowing acts of human strangeness, this is kinda cool. I went with his class last week as a chaperone and was sucked into the circus fun. Not only are they learning gymnastics but they are learning to work in tandem. For example, one of the exercises was to hold hands, pressing foreheads together and then tumble sideways with your partner. This was pretty funny. And harrowing.

sideways tandem rolling
They did a trusting exercise too but this wasn't falling backwards. Instead, they took turns being the carrot and the bunny; the carrot laying straight and still while the bunny hopped crisscross back and forth pretending to nibble. The carrot had to trust that the hopping bunny cleared them and didn't land smack on top of their prostrate carrot bodies. They did a crocodile/elephant thing that was akin to a yoga downward dog with an army trenches crawl underneath...back and forth, back and forth. Some of the teams were a bit physically mismatched which led to more circusy fun. Think more bear/gazelle than crocodile/elephant.

Middlest as le lapin
Turns out my Middlest is quite the circus act. He loves the balancing, rolling and feats of dangerous swinging high up in the air. Great. Surprised?

his favorite part of circus school
I think he'll be sad when it's over and now I'll have to add l'ecole du cirque to my list of Wednesday activities. Maybe there's a bit of American spirit to this French circus school after all.

looks fun,  huh?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stylish Blogger Award Fall Edition

Dear Sara, you stylish girl in your cute brown boy booties, how I love you....

but now I've got to come up with seven of my own stylish ideas for this fall/autumn season. I've been thinking about it a bit but it's kinda hard seeing as we are having Texas fall temperatures and I'm still wearing my sandals and tank tops. But, here it goes...oh, I'm so stylish!

1) I have discovered the wonderfully fun and addictive Pinterest and if you've never checked it out I have to warn you, it can suck you into a time warp, send you into unchartered interweb territory, thrill you with the amount of loveliness out there and make you dream like you're a little girl again. I made the mistake of putting it on my phone and Ipad and now I can get lost anywhere I like; waiting for the school bell to ring, sitting in the doctor's office, on the sofa while tuning out Mon Mari's incessant American football, when I'm supposed to be doing something else more important like cooking dinner.'s right over there. The little red button.

2) It is thanks to Pinterest that I can tell you about this next website that is super fun. It's called Polyvore and what do is create your own 'looks'. Or outfits as I like to call them. You search, click and move the things you like onto a blank page, rearrange, delete; swap a thick belt for a thinner one say, or go for those chandelier earrings you wouldn't normally wear. It's like those wooden and magnetic dress up dolls but virtual and way more cool because you get to play with expensive handbags and shoes.

3) I read an article in Red magazine's October issue singing the happy joys of wearing thick tights. When you live in a cold, damp climate like in the UK and Ireland you are used to wearing thick wooly leg wear. Being from a place where we only get to break out our J Crew rollneck sweaters for one weekend a year and a winter coat can last until the end of time because it rarely sees the light of day, thick tights aren't what I'm used to. When I lived in Ireland I wanted to wear dresses and skirts with tights but I always felt so dressed up. Therefore, an autumn goal is to embrace woolen tights and to wear them like they're just another pair of jeans or leggings, casually and with wild abandon. Check out Red's online site and shop, it really couldn't be more fun.

4) I'm rekindling my Seasonal Sundays, stylishly sharing delicious recipes and photos from my kitchen. And I'll wear tights while I do it.

5) Today at La Poste I ran into Mme. Avion. She's a younger version of the famously stylish and beautiful Inès de la Fressange and so I always look to her for little tips here and there. This morning she told me that she was off to the esthéticienne. Ah, oui? So that's how it works. I asked her where and with a stylish flip of her curly bob she replied, 'Yves Rocher, have you never been?' Another French beauty secret revealed. I am booking my appointment for the Anti-Age facial tout de suite.
and then I will look like this

6) My boys are currently obsessed with collecting sticks and shells and stones. They pick them up and bring them home in grubby hands and little pockets for me to discover all over the house and when I do the laundry. I decided not to fight it and made a small montage of shells and stones on the mantle beside my new orange clock that I bought on the Provence Death March with K. These are the ones that made it....the rest I usually throw out the window.

herbs, shells, stones & clock
7) And finally, here's what I got from Sara for my birthday.

My summer look...

And for autumn...

Now to those of you who I'd like to bestow the Stylish Blogger Award. Please give us seven of your stylish tips for the Fall/Autumn season. Drumroll please.....

Cat at Fil de la Vie
Liene at Femme au Foyer 
Delana at DuJour 
Ashley at Tres Ashley

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mammographie/Mammogram--No Biggie

You know how I told you that I had to have my first mammogram? Well, I did it last week.

But not before I got news from Texas Bestie A that made all my fears and anxieties about having it done seem silly.
I don't think she'll mind if I tell you that she has gotten The Bad Result. She's 41 and very healthy, active and fit. Just like you and me. And now she's tackling the problem with signature nerve, determination and energy. She's read all about it, knows her options and has characteristically analyzed every scenario. She has always belied her tiny frame with the power she holds within it and this is no different.

Without a routine mammogram the spot would not have been found. It isn't visible. It couldn't be felt during a monthly going over in the shower. But thanks to the big plastic boob squisher it's on the outs.
I made jokes about feeling old and the insult of it all but they were just that. I am actually thankful for the preventative medicine and procedures we have available to us now. I'm writing this so you'll take advantage of it, not be afraid, encourage someone you love to get it done.

I recently read a great post by MommyPants and her point was to tell women that it's not as bad as all that.
Why have we heard so many negatives regarding the mammogram? That it hurts. It really doesn't. That it's humiliating. It really isn't. That it's scary. It's not.

I'll give you a step-by-step run down of what happens.

All it is is this:
1) You go into the clinic or onto the mobile mammogram truck
2) You take off your shirt and bra--you lucky things over in the US of A get a gown to put over yourself unlike here in France where I was left to stand bare-chested from the waist up, belted shorts and sandals on the bottom, imagine! Or don't.

3) The lady takes your breast into her hands and places it onto a large plastic tray

4) You hold three different positions per breast while another plastic plate flattens your business for less than 30 seconds
5) You're done

Seriously, if you've had a baby you've already aced much more than this.

I also had an ultrasound--like when you are pregnant with the cold goo and the little price checker--done to be extra sure things were good. And thankfully, they were.

We take care of everyone else's health. We get our kids' shots, feed them well, force our husbands to get their yearly checkups. And if you're like me your boobs might have even put in their time on the grocery roster. They've earned it. Get out there and get your mammogram, it's not as bad as all that.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gurley, Gurley

resting in the sun
Clementine is growing. We are all entirely smitten and none of us can imagine a time when she wasn't a member of our family. She plays and goes all wild hootenanny with the Middlest, gently holds onto the edge of the Littlest's t-shirt with her teeth as they walk around together like her version of holding hands and runs up and down our street with Ma Fille.

All this dog love will seem funny to some people because I have a reputation for not liking dogs. It's a valid reputation because I used to not. At all. I used to always say, 'I like dogs--just not the licking, jumping and the smell.'
The other day I was petting Clementine and I said to Mon Mari, 'You know, I always thought dogs smelled and licked but Clementine's different.' And he replied, 'She's not different. You just don't notice because you love her.' Aww..and it's true. I do.
This morning when we went for our 'big walk' she rubbed her face in the wild daisies and tall grass lining the path. And she dug in her heels when we got to the wood slatted pedestrian bridge arching over a busy road, all those whizzing cars and trucks scaring her.
The Littlest calls her 'gurley, gurley' and so she is; our sweet Gurley, Gurley.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Spanish Eggs & Irish Lasses

Things have been quite loo-la around here lately. It's just that time of year isn't it? I'll bet things have been loo-la with you too so I won't bore you with excuses. I was away on a girlie trip last weekend and I thought you'd like to hear about that instead.

I went to Barcelona with a gaggle of Irish girlfriends. Well, there were only 11 of them, but that's a whole lotta Irish craic when you've been deprived of the familiar warmth and lilt for too long. (You probably know that we lived in Ireland for five years before moving here and if you don't then that explains my plane load of Irish pals.) Half of us turned 40 this year and two of us live on 'the continent' so we thought it necessary to celebrate by heading to Barcelona.

I got off easy being able to drive myself there, much to the surprise of all the islanders. My inner Texas girl loves a road trip and she was happy to be set free behind the wheel with music blaring just like in the old days of driving the I35 corridor. Three hours is nothing to a Texan. I was raised on the road trip by my Mother and her itchy feet, clicking the headlight dimmer switch in our 1976 golden Ford Thunderbird as my sister and I slept through East Texas towns. So I flew down the A9 between Montpellier and Barcelona, France and Spain, in the same time it would have taken me to get to Dallas; windows down and whining away with Kelly Willis to 'Talk Like That'.
It felt like heaven.

When I arrived I met my fellow continent dweller, she of the fated diesel trip to Switzerland, and we set off to have some tapas. And the perfect amount of pink Spanish wine while we waited for the others. We met them later that night enjoyed the first night away madness by dancing until 4am.
You know how the first night of a vacation feel a bit zippy and throw yourself full force into the delirium of the holiday. The next morning, four hours later, they all got on an air-conditioned bus for a tour of Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. I know it was wonderful and there's nothing like having a private tour of a city and its most spectacular sites but I'd seen them before with Texas Bestie K and felt like I could use the time to do what I do best, relax on the beach. After the dancing I can tell you that I felt I'd won the jackpot with that decision. I headed down to the thick sand and crashing Med, so different from our little portion of the same Sea, and lounged.

what 11 women out to dinner looks like
So far, so perfect. Every night before dinner we met on the roof terrace overlooking the marina and its thrumming carnival style rides. We laughed and joked and caught up on all the things we've missed in each others' lives and the changes in the small town south of Dublin I came to love. Did you know there is a new candy shop on the Main Street? Winston's is closing down for good and our favorite Italian restaurant has moved to a larger location and isn't quite the same.

But there's food. Of course there is. When I get a disappointing meal in a restaurant these days it makes me feel like crying a bit and I wonder, 'was I always like this?' or is it a combination of having three children and not eating out very much and living in France where purchasing, preparing, discussing and eating food are national obsessions. Maybe it's all of the above.
Unfortunately, I had a 'tears in my eyes' lunch while I was there.
But on the flip side I also had an extraordinary tapas experience. And guess what? It had to do with eggs. Again, here's me going on a weekend break and coming back obsessed by a plate of eggs. You remember the 'oeufs en croute', non? If not, you can read about it here.
devoured eggs

Back to now....and these delicious Spanish eggs that I am now beholden to creating. They were at Cerveceria Catalana on Mallorca, just north of the Placa Cataluyna and if you get a chance to go there you should. La Canadienne recommended it to me and now I have to be extra nice and appreciative to her and invite her over when I make the Spanish eggs. I don't mind, she was the one who cheered me on in the kitchen when I made the French eggs.

These eggs were more homestyle, no fancy boiling, peeling, breading and frying. Just simple fried eggs, sunny side up on a bonfire pile of potato sticks and some garlic mayonnaise. The trickiest part of this dish will be getting the potatoes extra crispy and light. Sure, I can probably find some allumettes in the frozen section of Picard and work from there, but that would be cheating. I have got to find a way to safely use my mandoline and overcome my fear of frying in large quantities of oil.

I will do it though, you know I will. And when I do I will share it with you.

Now that things are back in full swing on the school front, I've had my lovely holiday and doctor, dentist and orthodontist appointments have been met I hope I can come back to writing this blog like I love to do.

I've gotten a Stylish Blogger Award from my beloved Sara in Le Petite Village so I will be busy working on my list of favorite things Fall/Autumn.

Plus, there's more girl talk for those of you who can stomach it. This time it's about boobs. They really do squish them quite flat in between those lucite plates.....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In a Nutshell, French Gyno

This post is about girl parts...kind of. But still, I wanted to tell you right up front so you can turn away now (Arlington) if you don't want to hear about pending reproductive decisions.

All in? Then, let's go...
I went to the gyno today. My first French gyno, it should be noted. She was lovely and perfectly aged falling comfortingly somewhere between 55 and further on. She spoke a bit of English and took the opportunity to learn some trade terms like 'cervix' and 'pap smear'....with a mimed example of spreading jam on bread to really get the smear message across. Turns out the 'pap' part stands for something and the smear is just for grins.

We did some doodling of female parts and managed to come to an understanding. Boobs, ovaries, get the idea.

Doctor's offices in general are very different over here. First of all, there's no big glass window that houses a receptionist and secondly, once inside the examination room there's a desk and a couple of chairs, all office like, in the same room as the examination table that sits off to the side like you're in a groovy space challenged loft--making small spaces work in a comfortable and chic way. This particular doctor works alone; she even does all her own scheduling and filing in her efficiently planned out loft space. A tiny changing room just off the exam space was beautifully tiled and was made cozy with layers of Turkish rugs and flowers. I learned my lesson well from Kirsty and wore a skirt.

After our girl parts language lesson we moved to the topic of prevention. No Frenchie would be surprised to know that French men don't get vasectomies. They just don't. All you have to do is look around at French dogs to know this is true. Balls are tops and are not to be tampered with.

So it was that we began discussing contraception and where the responsibility for it lies.

I feel like this: I've had three children, taken charge of my reproductive health and been the go-to girl in this area for a super long time. And now? I'm done. It's time to hand off the baton, so to speak.

Today when I said as much to my perfectly coiffed French doctor her response, accompanied with shrug was this, 'Well, vous êtes très Américaine." You got that right sister. Balls be damned. My day has come.

And then to the quote of the day, 'One reason you should think about taking the pill is because it gives your ovaries a rest. They work so hard and poof! this little pill tells them, 'you can relax, I'll do the work for you' and ovaries need this.'
Hand on heart. That's what she said.
And I got to thinking about my sad 40 year-old ovaries and how exhausted they must be with all the back and forth exertion of sprouting eggs and hormones. she being paid to say this?

The upshot is's done for the year, I know how to say boobs in French and where to find the cheapest, prettiest Moroccan tile, the insult of 40 means I have to have my first mammogram and I've got to decide what to do...give my forlorn, tired little workhouse ovaries a break or chuck it all and promise something outlandish in exchange for the snip, snip.

What the Cycliste Guerrier  will think of this, I just can't say.

And to your great relief there are no photos accompanying this post.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Central Texas Wildfires

Days of 100+ weather (that's 40+C) and no rain didn't do Texas any favors. The wildfires outside of Austin have left thousands of homes destroyed and sent families fleeing to school gyms for refuge.
Photo credit: Reuters
There are many ways to donate money to the recovery effort and to help out but a group of folks have designed some cool t-shirts that you can buy at where 100% of the proceeds go to those who need the help.
If you'd like to do something but are wondering how, why don't you have a look here.
You can get a groovy t-shirt plus a Texas style good feeling to go with it.
I'll be sporting the red flaming Lone Star all over the South of France. And I've sent in a request for kid sizes 'cause the Littlest just has to have the this one, don't you think?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Making Tex-Mex, Sharing the Love

Tonight I am going to Chez Canadiens to make the mother of all Tex-Mex--cheese enchiladas. The Canadienne's Beau-Pere is here and he wants to learn how to make some ooey-gooey Texas goodness.

We'll have margaritas, guacamole (if the avocados aren't too hard), my fresh perfect salsa, Mexican rice and melted cheese filled, fried corn tortillas baked in homemade Texas red chile sauce.
I have Lisa over at Homesick Texan to thank for the recipe. It's one that never has wooed the Canadians and more than a few Irish.

There's something wonderful about being able to create a loose facsimile of a favorite restaurant dish, especially when you can't just pop out in your SUV to the nearest Tex-Mex joint, eat handfuls of crispy, salty tortilla chips, throw back a salt-rimmed freezing cold margarita and fill your belly full of cheese and chile sauce.

I don't know if I'd ever have learned or bothered to learn how to make this wonderfully decadent dish (or even have thought it was decadent) if I didn't live far from home. I've had to figure out ways to bring flavors from restaurants at home to my French table. I've learned how to make Chinese take-out, Indian and Thai curries, Luby's chicken fried steak and some okay bbq. These  are all skills born out of neccesity. Texans just can't live on crêpes alone.

I always loved Tex-Mex on a Friday night. I hope Msr Canadien likes it too.
Santé, ya'll!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Day of School or La Rentrée

Yesterday was the first day of school...for all three kids, Littlest included.
all fresh and new
It's not compulsory but most French kids (babies) go to school at three years old. It's called the Maternelle and it's kind of a glorified day least for this first year.
As you may remember, the Littlest went to French créche last year and before settling into the calm, quiet French stylee ways he was quite a spectacle. He got used to it though and we were both happy with his three hours/three afternoons a week.
Real school is just four days a week here and he doesn't have to go the entire day, plus with the two hour lunch break....well it'll end up being just about the same thing. The good thing is that his new school is on the same grounds as the Big Kids' so I feel happy knowing they're together.

Back to yesterday.

We woke up early, all very excited and shared a breakfast of Daddy-made waffles and Mommy-made smoothies. Everyone looked fresh and nice by the time we were out the door--new school supplies, backpacks and shoes.

And somewhere along the way, it hit me. My oldest child is in the 4th grade. And this, more than anything else, made me want to cry. I think we've never really considered how time is passing schoolwise because over here, and in Ireland too, the class years are called different things. Ma Fille is officially in what the French call, 'CM1' so sure, no problem, CM1. That's manageable.
But 4th grade? I started getting boobies in 4th grade! I had my first crush in 4th grade! And I'd already made my first real best friend by then too...the friend who I spent every weekend and rode around in the neighborhood on a golf cart with.

And then I got to thinking. And looking. And realizing that it's true.

She walked in all self-assured, greeted her new teacher and kissed us goodbye. Stunning.

And then there's the Middlest. I think I am safe in officially declaring this (drumroll please): The Year of the Middlest.
sparkling & self-assured

He has always been, in the way of middle children, kind of middley; a bit unsure, a bit sensitive, maybe a touch hesitant. But yesterday and today he was sparkling with confidence. I think it helps that he's already done the French school thing for one year. I think too that he's finding his footing through simple maturity and a bit of distance from his omnipresent Big Sister.

But there's a wheelbarrow full of credit that should go to the teachers. His teacher last year was fantastic. And this year he has Ma Fille's teacher from last year and she's beyond lovely. I don't know if you remember but she's the one who wrote and directed last year's Big Spectacle. And she's thought my Middlest was the cat's pjs ever since he convincing and hilariously enacted 'terrified' during practice.
Yesterday when I said hello to her and told  her how glad I was that he's in her class she said something like this, 'It was my wish'. He was beaming with that same sparkle when we picked him up after school and this morning he combed his hair, 'for Madame Greenhouse'. (we think it's fun to call our teachers by their translated names) Brava Mrs Greenhouse!

But. The Littlest. Mon Mari and I walked away with him crying; fat, little baby hands covering his eyes while his teacher hugged him. On with the sunglasses to hide my own tears.
look out people!
He was fine when I picked him up three hours later and treated him to a bike ride down the big hill.

Ten years of parenting, five years of school and two and half languages. (Irish included) I am proud of my resilient babies and all they've accomplished.
Now to the question of boobies and crushes for which I am decidedly unprepared.

I hope you have all had a happy and successful rentrée.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

She's a Celebrity--With a Secret

I've never had a dog. Much less an attractive attention getting golden beauty, so I wasn't prepared for how the spotlight shines when we take her places. It makes me feel kinda sorry for Brad & Angelina.
her closeup
We've met and exchanged phone numbers with three different families on beach outings because of her. Neighbors who haven't spoken a word to us in the past year and a few months have suddenly decided to strike up a conversation when we're out walking her. And yesterday when we took a last adventure of the summer hurrah trip to Aigue-Mortes people kept stopping us to pet her, giving those 'oh, how adorable' sidelong glances and some actually took photos.

they are all kinda cute

She has her own paparazzi in the form of a very tall Dutch tourist who kindly asked permission to snap a pic of her golden goodness and then the French dad on holiday who framed his family photo just so in order to include our girl in the forefront. Weird. The kids were impressed by all this attention and have declared that Clementine is indeed a celebrity.
And because all celebrities have secrets; some deep and dark and others more along the lines of 'they're just like us' snacking on apple chips while doing the grocery shopping, I'll go ahead and beat the gossip columns to it and out Clementine's deepest shame.
Are you ready? Alert the press and the tall Dutch man and especially the French lady who made a beeline to her in order to have her lick all over her very tan face and then said, 'Merci!' to us like we'd given her a special gift.
before she rolled around in the water
Not even 24 hours before the lovely and talented Clementine ate a baby bird. Alive. Well, it was at first anyway. She heard it chirping from under the fig tree where it must have tumbled from its safe, twiggy nest. It was calling out for help which came in the form of what I hope was sudden death by doggie chomping. Celebrity doggie chomping, but death nonetheless. She knew she had found a treasure because of my reaction--curled up toes, shrieks of 'DROP IT!' and the chase that ensued.

She wasn't going to drop it for anything. And as she ran away, bouncing on the pads of her big feet, I swear she was smiling....spindly bird legs and the white tip of a wing poking from her lopsided grin.

When I asked K, the Bestie, why she didn't warn me of this dog predilection to eat living creatures whole she texted back that it was better than eating panties. Which I thought was more gross than I wanted to consider.
Baby birds it is.

Celebrities. There's no accounting for taste.