He is the Gift

Today is Black Friday!  I have only once ventured out on an early morning Black Friday shopping spree.  It was with my mother-in-law to a tiny smocking/fabric store.  The earlier we got there, the better the percentage off we received.  I came home tired and thinking, “Was it really worth it!”

I woke up this morning with a sweet text from Alexis.  Her and her roommate are going to venture into Honolulu for some Black Friday shopping.  I jokingly said, “Be careful and have fun!”  I then started reflecting upon Christmas and the responsibility parents have in filling stockings and making sure everyone is happy Christmas morning!  I started feeling the anxiety and quickly opened the laptop to search for potential gifts.  Then I was reminded of a short clip the LDS Church was going to be releasing over the holidays and quickly found this clip on youtube.  My anxiety vanished and I remembered, once again, why I even celebrate Christmas.

Please enjoy this sweet reminder of the real Gift of Christmas!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!  I love this time of the year and being in France is no different, except for the obvious non existent holiday.  Our family celebrated yesterday, Wednesday, 26 Novembre.  Our children all get out of school at noon on Wednesdays and Thursday is always very hectic for our family.  I was out of town for four days last week and into the weekend so I had not prepared anything for the big cooking day until Monday.  I was a little nervous making the grocery list.  For example, Aaron is a vegetarian, so things like gravy and stuffing have to have a veggie broth base and I wasn’t sure what I would find at the local french supermarket.  Over the last few weeks I had been keeping my eye out for a turkey and had never seen one, so I wasn’t sure what piece of meat I was going to find to bring home for the meat eaters.

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This is the vegetable and chicken broth.  They are little packs of gel that you add to water. I have never seen these in the States to know if they sell anything like it.  These actually worked great and contained so many herbs and flavoring!

My trip to the Carrefour was very successful, except for one ingredient, well actually two: 1- sweet potatoes and 2- cranberries.  In the States, I can buy sweet potatoes year round and they are a Thanksgiving staple!  I did find two turkey loin roasts and on tuesday, Aaron had to get to Nîmes to find some sweet potatoes, which he found! Yeah!

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I spy pink and white marshmallows!!  Thanks to Haribo, we had marshmallows.  Haribo is a brand of candy that is very popular in Europe and France.  There is a Haribo museum in Uzès that many French know about and like to visit!  Marshmallows are called chamallow in French!  The pink marshmallows must of added something special because everyone said they tasted delicious!

In little French villages there are old fashioned message boards throughout the village to let the villagers know of any notices or information concerning the said village.  The local school where Jack and Sophie attend, also, put up these notices.  A few days ago I was reading one about water, November 26th, Sanilhac Sagries… There were some words I did not understand so I didn’t actually understand the notice.  Well, around 9:30 am, Wednesday morning our water turned off to almost nothing!  I now understood what that notice was!  The water was turned off (thanks goodness not completely, but I could not run the dishwasher, laundry, etc).  Aaron and I got a good laugh out of it.  I had to prepare Thanksgiving dinner with very little water!  HA!  I got along fine and everything worked out. The water turned on around 3pm so I was able to start the dishwasher before our two guests, the American LDS missionaries, came over.  But, I was so THANKFUL for water after 6 hours of preparing and cooking with very little!

Also, our kitchen is not very big and our oven seems to be even smaller.  I was a little worried about logistical timing of all the dishes, but I am happy to report that everything went smoothly and things were on the table, hot and ready to eat!  Maybe because I was so worried about the space and timing, I planned it out even better.

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The stuffing was delicious this year!  I think it was because of the yummy french baguettes I used!  Yum, Yum!

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We were all so happy to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving in France!  I know we all have a better appreciation for our wonderful country of the United States of America.  We are also very grateful that we can be living in France and that America has so many opportunities that has allowed Aaron to provide this opportunity for us!

I am so grateful for family!  I cried at the table as Julia and Alexis are not able to be with us! It has been a sad few days for me as a mother.  It is very hard as a parent to have your children so far away on a beautiful holiday as Thanksgiving!  I sympathized with the parents and loved ones of the missionaries who were sitting at our table!

Our menu consisted of:  turkey, vegetable based gravy, meat based gravy, mashed potatoes, vegetable base stuffing, chicken broth based stuffing, homemade rolls, green beans with bacon, green beans without, sweet potatoes, death by chocolate and an apple crostata.  I could not find pumpkins to make a traditional pumpkin pie.

Below are a few photos we snapped of our Thanksgiving Feast!

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PS.  To help with the Thanksgiving spirit, my kids all enjoyed watching Charlie Browns Thanksgiving!

Halloween!

I know we are almost a month past Halloween and tomorrow is Thanskgiving in the States, but I wanted to post about our Halloween experience, or lack of it!

Leading up to October 31th, I was noticing a few stores with a very limited supply of costumes.  There were no Halloween decorations covering every store front and display and there were hardly any pumpkins.  I asked a few local french friends and they said Halloween is not really celebrated.  The children had their first 2 week vacation from school during October 31st so we knew there would not be any school Halloween parties. Trick-or-treating is not done in our village of Sanilhac so…HORAAY, I did not have to buy any candy!!!!!!  That part I loved!

The local LDS missionaries in the Nîmes area put together a last minute ward party!  I thought this was a great way for these American young men to pass the time during a holiday that brings many traditions that might have them homesick!  Jack and Sophie dressed up in their costumes:  Sophie had one in her closet that we brought from the States and Jack had a Ninja costume we found last minute. (It was a huge challenge to find something for him.  We ended up with a black Ninja costume that was 2 sizes too big.) The little ones were excited but we weren’t quite sure what to expect!  The missionaries asked me to bring a dessert and BINGO.

We arrived at the church in Nîmes and had a great time.  It was a nice change to be gathering as a group of friends playing games and sharing talents!  The majority of French had never played Bingo or even knew how to play.  It was fun!  Then there was a bake-off. Man the competition was tough!  Some people were sharing delicious french desserts! It was great!  After this, we all enjoyed a talent show.  There was singing, clapping and dancing.  Jack, Sophie, Joseph and Emma Jerôme were the only dressed up children there.  They had fun together!

We have a wonderful African friend, Rene, who is a professional musician.  He brought his guitar and preformed for us and at one time we all were singing together.  I was so grateful we were enjoying something completely different for Halloween.  It made us all appreciate the traditions we have in America and also, grateful for new experiences!

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PS.  Our family didn’t even have one pumpkin this year! :(  It was sad!  I could not find any pumpkins until one day in the Carrefour there was a small box of them.  They were 4.50 Euros each!  I could not bring myself to buy one.  Plus, they weren’t even that big!  Oh well, I bought three chrysanthemums instead!  So, I still had the colors of fall right out our kitchen french doors!

Vianden Castle

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“Vianden Castle was constructed between the 11th and 14th centuries on the foundations of a Roman ‘castellum’ and a Carolingian refuge. It is one of the largest and most beautiful feudal residences of the romanesque and gothic periods in Europe. Until the beginning of the 15th century it was the seat of the influential counts of Vianden who could boast their close connections to the Royal Family of France and the German imperial court. Henry I of Vianden (1220-1250) is known as ‘the Sun Count’ for it is during his tenure that the holdings, lifestyle and influence of the House of Vianden reached its zenith. His ancestors were influential in the Ardennes, Eifel and Luxembourg regions for hundreds of years. 

His wife, Margarete of Courtenay, was of the French Royal Family, daughter of the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, sister-in-law to the King of Hungary and cousin to King Philip-Augustus. Margarete’s ancestors, included the Crusaders from the Houses of Flanders and Hainault, Henry’s and Margarete’s son, Frederic had served in the Fifth Crusade. In 1417, the dominion passed by inheritance to the House of Nassau, which, in 1530 collected the principality of Orange as well. From then on, the castle was no longer the official residence of the counts. People can still see the rich architecture the House of Nassau inherited, as no further modifications were made. 

The main construction parts of the castle which are preserved today, in particular the chapel and the small and large palaces, originate from the end of the 12th and the first half of the 13th century. The ‘Quartier de Juliers’ on the western side of the large palace (no longer existing today), originates from the beginning of the 14th century. The House of Nassau was only constructed at the beginning of the 17th century. 

In 1820, under the reign of King William I of Holland, the castle was sold piece by piece, and as a result, it fell into a state of ruin. It was a pile of rubble until the family of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg transferred it to State ownership in 1977. Since restored to its former glory, the castle now ranks as a monument of not only regional, but European importance.” (This information was taken from one of the brochures that was translated into english.)

The reason I have included this history synopsis is because inside the castle there is a large painted mural with the royal lineage or “family tree”.  It was fascinating to me and I wanted it recorded for my benefit!:)

We loved this castle!  The children were mesmerized by the weapons, armor, pottery, etc that were on display.  There was, also, a kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, grand dining hall, a well, wine cellar, chapel and other miscellaneous rooms and items that were on display from the different time periods.  We were all fascinated and wanted to pretend! We were all using our imaginations as we walked the halls of this beautiful structure!  Jack kept talking about sword fighting and Sophie was enchanted with the “pink” bedchamber. We were the only ones in the castle except for a married couple.  It was awesome and beautiful!

The castle sits up on a hill above the village of Vianden.  The walk to get to the castle was delightful:  cobblestone streets lined with little quaint shops and homes!  Enchanting! Plus, the fog was just perfect the morning we woke up and made the ascent to the castle.  It couldn’t have been more pretty and fitting for our last day of vacation!  Enjoy the photos!

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Vianden, Luxembourg

After we spent an afternoon in Brussels we headed to Luxembourg.  In my research, I found a little village in the north of Luxembourg that housed one on the largest castles west of the Rhine River.  It was about a 4 hour drive from Brussels and we got to see a little of the countryside.  It was very overcast and foggy as we left Brussels, but we could still see far enough to enjoy the changing leaves across the hillsides.

Vianden Village is very small.  It has a few hotels, a hostel and a few bed&breakfast locations, but no campgrounds that were open at that time of year.  So, we “indulged” in a hotel.  I reserved two rooms to accommodate our family.  When we arrived, the rooms were on different floors and it seemed that we could squeeze into one room.  So after some negotiations, Aaron exchanged two rooms for an awesome “apartment” style room. It was so exciting for the children.  It had a spiral staircase going upstairs to a loft that slept two.  It had a kitchen, dining area, TV area, master suite, another bedroom for 2 and a nice bathroom.  We felt really spoiled after our “camping” experiences!

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The best part were the views!  From most of the windows we had a perfect view of the Castle.  It was beautiful!

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TINTIN

The best part about our visit to Brussels was happening upon a Tintin store!!  My boys love Tintin!  This was awesome!  It was not very big, but it was so mesmerizing and exciting for my boys!  There were books in different languages, t-shirts, collectable figurines, playing cards, etc.  It was so hard to decide which books my boys wanted to buy!  They had a good English selection to choose from!  We chose four books and we received a free Tintin bag that I know will be used for wall candy when we return to the States!  Plus, it was great reading for the remainder of our trip!  Bonus!2014-10-25 23.43.18 2014-10-25 23.43.33

I wish I would have picked up a few Christmas gifts while I was there!  Too many eyes on what was in the bag!!!!  This was a highlight of our trip for AJ, Austin and Tristan!

Brussels, Belgium

After we got waffles and fries crossed off our list, we headed to Brussels for chocolate! Brussels is a large city, so getting around was a little confusing, not to mention that my phone GPS was not registering so we went into this large city blind.  But, we lucked out, found parking in the general vicinity of where we wanted to be.  We only had a few hours so we meandered down to the Grand Place.  Below are some random photos of buildings and store fronts that caught our attention.

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The Grand Place or Grote Markt is the city center of Brussels.  It has two large gilded buildings, the Town Hall and the Maison du Roi (I believe it is a museum).  During my research of Brussels I found that one could find hundreds of chocolatier boutiques surrounding the Grand Place.  This was our destination.  We came upon so many specialty chocolate shops, too many to try!  We stopped into a few and indulged in some yummy treats.

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All the sweet shops had one-of-a-kind desserts.  From marzipan to meringue, the size of a soccer ball (I’m not joking)!  It was so interesting and delightful at the same time.  We did a lot of window shopping in Brussels.  Too much to choose from!  The above treat were balls of a marshmallow type center dipped in white chocolate or milk chocolate and then rolled in different “toppings”.  Each ball was a different flavor.  They were different than anything I had ever tasted before.  It was good!  We had a fun short time in Brussels!  When ended our visit with a few waffles, but they were nothing like the delicacies we had in Antwerp!

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To be completely honest, I did not try any chocolate that was “out of this world”!  It was good, but nothing great!  I was a little disappointed about the chocolate.  We probably chose the wrong shops!  Regardless, it was a fun day!

Mushrooms

You know when you watch an animated children’s movie or cartoon, often times there are perfect red mushrooms with white dots on top?  Well, we found this exact mushroom. They really do exist!  Austin discovered some while looking for a football that had gotten overthrown.  We thought these were the coolest things!  It was so different that anything we had seen before!  This was in Belgium!

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Austin discovered another different looking mushroom close by.  We never would have seen these if we had stayed in a hotel!

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“French” Fries

Our first night in Belgium we wanted to eat some yummy fries!  Aaron had traveled to Ghent, Belgium previously and talked about his fry experience.  He ate in a place that piled anything you could think of on top of a heap of french fries.  So, our mouths were watering for this same type of experience.  Aaron asked a local man and this was how their conversation went:  Aaron, “Do you know of a good place we can get french fries?”

Local man, “No, no, no!  They are not “french” fries!  Fries are from Belgium.  The French stole that because when Americans were in France during WWII they ate fries and took the experience and idea back to the States and they became “french” fries because they ate them while in France.”                                                                                                     Aaron, “Really?  We did not know that!  Is there a place we can get fries?”                           Local man, “Sure.  There are two in our little village.  One is closed tonight, but the other should be open.”                                                                                                               Aaron, “Two?  That is interesting!  What time are they open?” (European food times are always different.  We always have to ask to make sure it is not closed.)                         Local man, “They should be open all night, until 2 or 3.”  (This was a Saturday night.)

The little town we stayed in maybe had 500 people and there were two fry “joints”!  We got the directions and made our way over there when we were ready for some dinner.  We arrived to this little deli, almost, that served fries and a few other things.  So, we had fries for dinner.  But, the heaping of fries was huge!  And there were endless sauces to dip your fries in.  This place was not like the experience Aaron had, that I previously mentioned.  It was strictly fries.  They were so busy and we found out that all the locals only support one restaurant/pub/cafe.  They choose the one they like and they go there for the rest of their time while living in the village.  Aaron and I were amazed at the familiarity the workers had with their customers.  It was great!

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These were small orders of fries!  We tried a bunch of sauces!  I don’t even know what they were called because everything was in Dutch.  One of the workers spoke a little french and english.  It was a fun experience and good!  The fries were really good! Nothing over the top amazing, but good!  The atmosphere and the sauces is what made the experience so good and different!  Fries, sauce and coke is what we had for dinner that night!  Great memories!

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Camping Fort Bedmar

After we experienced the delicious Belgium Waffles in Antwerp, we found our campground for the night.  Camping Fort Bedmar is roughly 20 kilometers outside Antwerp.  We wanted a location close to Antwerp but not too far away from Brussels, which is only 1.5/2 hours from Antwerp.  I knew going into this campground that we would be “roughing” it compared to the last place we stayed in Normandy.  I booked backpacker cabins.2014-10-25 06.22.56 2014-10-25 06.23.15

These cabins were extremely small!  Each one sleeps 4, so we needed two.  Thankfully, they had two cabins right next to each other.  The three older boys in one and Jack, Sophie, Aaron and I in another.  The cabin had a small table, one twin bed with a trundle, one set of bunk beds and a tiny counter space.  No toilet, no sink, no blankets, no linens! In fact, on their website it said one could “rent” linens/ blankets for 7 Euros.  I thought that meant per cabin, but it was per person!  So, I am so glad I already had the linens from the previous campground, but we were short on blankets.  We had to pay an extra 14 Euros to get two blankets!!!  I am glad we did, because it was a little colder in Belgium!  Plus, we were afraid the heater would catch on fire and burn us down within seconds! :)

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When we arrived we quickly found out that we had to pay for all the extras:  hot water, shower, trash, etc.  Within 10 minutes of unloading our stuff, Sophie needed to use the bathroom.  I took her to the public toilets and there was NO toilet paper.  I checked all the stalls and not a single roll of toilet paper!  Haha!  Everyone had to provide their own!  We had to purchase shower tokens.  Each token was one euro and it provided 7 minutes of hot water.  Thank goodness I did not have to wash my hair!  When we were leaving the next morning, Aaron went into the office asking where the trash bins were, and the man told Aaron we would have to purchase the right color bag to be able to throw trash away in their bin.  It was like a small black hefty trash bag.  So funny!  We did not purchase one.

I am grateful my children think almost anything is really cool and fun!  They were so excited to have bunk beds, to be in a cabin, and to just be together!  It was fun!  Jack was thrilled he got to sleep on the top bunk.  The bed had a sturdy metal railing so I felt comfortable letting him sleep up there.  We had brought our own cereal, milk, yogurt, etc. so I just left that on the porch outside in our cooler.  There was no danger of animals coming into the campground.  In fact, the campground was bordering the neighborhood homes of a little village.

This campground had a playground and a large trampoline type thing!  I do not know what they are called in America.  The kids had a fun time jumping on that and playing.  It was a cheap and fun way to spend an evening!

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