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