Sugar Cookies!

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Our family has a tradition of making sugar cookies during the Christmas season.  It is usually the cookie that is made for Santa Clause.  This year I wanted to continue the tradition.  I did not bring my regular sugar cookie recipe with me to France so I began searching online for a good recipe.  I came across thealisonshow!  Anyone know who she is?  Apparently she is a crazy and fun blogger who does motivational/real life videos and instagram feeds.  Check her website out for some over-the-top laughs.  I found her “cookie party” video and was interested in her version of sugar cookies.  I found myself intrigued by her crazy way of doing things and minutes later Tristan, Austin and I were watching her sugar cookie demo.  LOL!

Well, I am happy to report that the $20 I spent for the recipe and information was worth every penny!  The cookies turned out delicious!  Again, I only had to go to a few stores to find the supplies I was looking for, but we were all so grateful we attempted the sugar cookies in France.  It is not hard to make these cookies in France, just not convenient! (For example, the icing recipe calls for light corn syrup.  This does not exist in our grocery stores here in France, so Aaron and I searched a few stores until we came across some pure cane syrup that works pretty good!)  It is hard to explain the inconvenience, but it is real!  In the end, we enjoyed every last bite and crumb and I know Santa did too! :)

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Christmas Decorations

In a previous post, I mentioned I only brought our Christmas advent calendar, our Christmas morning bell and our Christmas Eve “Story of the Birth of Christ” with us to France.  I knew I would have to be creative to have a few things that warmed up our home for the holidays.  First, I wanted a wreath but every time I would look I could only find small, expensive and tacky wreaths.  I was on the look out for one every time I would go out.  I checked the Christmas markets, the large hardware type store, the grocery store, etc. and I could not find anything.  I finally came across a bundle of Christmas tree branches being sold at a Christmas tree location.  BINGO!  It worked perfectly, because I was able to make three swags to decorate our home.  Two for the entrance to our house and one for the kitchen french doors that we use for our “front” door.

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After I found the extra tree branches I proceeded to find ribbon and things to decorate them up.  That was a challenge because I needed craft supplies and the craft store here is a little different.  It caters to artists/painters.  I actually ended up going to three or four different stores to find what would work.  I found a few things at a kitchen and home store, I found the “ribbon” at a party store and I had to find a glue gun, which I found at the hardware type store.  It took me hours to find everything for these cute swags.  I am so glad I searched for everything because it has been wonderful pulling up to our welcoming swags on our gates and front door!

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During my search for a wreath I came upon this beautiful poinsettia!  It only cost a small fortune but I couldn’t resist.  In America I always buy a lot of poinsettia’s to decorate our home and to add to the spirit of Christmas.  I love their beautiful bright colors and this mix of cream and red was breathtaking!

Another item or items we needed were Christmas stockings!  When Aaron and I were in Estonia I saw some hand knitted wool socks that would have been perfect.  At the time, I thought about buying some but decided against it.  After we came home, I regretted not getting 4 pair to hang up for Christmas.  Well, Aaron actually had to take a last minute weekend trip to Estonia the weekend Alexis was coming home.  It worked out perfectly! Aaron was able to find 4 pair of thick wool stockings and he met up with Alexis in Paris and they rode the train home to Nîmes!  The stockings worked great for Christmas!  Santa was able to fill them up and they might even get used as stockings when we venture to Switzerland in February!

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Noël à l’école!

Today Jack and Sophie came home from school with both hands full of gifts.  All the school children were gathered together to watch a movie, “Horton Hears a Who”, play games and receive gifts from the school.  They each received a new book, an eight inch tall hollow chocolate Santa and a clementine.  All the students received these gifts.  I was so touched that the school would give this much to each child!  I really love the small town atmosphere of our little village.  Everyone is very friendly and welcoming to our family. What a wonderful feeling it is this Christmas season!

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Marché de Noël

Europe is known for their Christmas Markets or Marché de Noël!  Aaron and I visited the beautiful one in Tallinn, Estonia and the kids and I went to a little one in Uzès on Saturday evening.  I really wanted to get to Germany for one of their Christmas Markets but the timing was not right!

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The Uzès market was unfortunately a disappointment!  The weekly Uzès outdoor market is wonderful so I was expecting that same type of ambiance.  The merchants did not have a good selection of items and nothing was “Christmas-sy”!  The streets of Uzès were pretty with lights and pretty decorated trees along the sidewalks, but the market was thumbs down.

There was one part of town that had a few fair type booths set up.  One was bumper cars for little and big kids!  Jack and Sophie tried the bumper cars and we all loved watching them.  They had a look of panic on their faces at times, but overall it was so funny and they loved that feeling of driving their own car!  LOL!

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Sophie had her face painted from earlier in the day when we went to their school Christmas party.  Also, during the market their were “circus” type performers in the streets. These women were dressed in enchanted forest/animal characters and a few were on stilts and a few were on the ground doing gymnastics, juggling, etc.  It was interesting. The kids that it was cool and different!

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She’s Home!!!

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My prelude to this post is that Julia is, sadly, not able to come home for Christmas!  She is an assistant manager at a new Dunkin Donuts coming to Logan in January and she is in the middle of training.  We all miss her so much and my heart breaks that she is not with us this holiday season!

Thankfully, Alexis is able to be home with us!  And she arrived yesterday afternoon!  It was a joyous reunion with lots of hugs, smiles and laughter!  Julia and Alexis got to see each other over the weekend because Alexis flew into Salt Lake on her way to France.  It makes me happy to know they got to see each other after Alexis’s first semester of college.  I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall with those conversations!!!  I love my girls so much and I am so blessed to have all three of them as daughters!  They are wonderful and I thank God everyday that they are apart of my life!  Poor Alexis is going to be jet lagged for awhile as Hawaii is 12 hours behind France.  But, we are so excited she is home and able to spend a month with us!  She has been spoiled with Hawaii weather as she is freezing here and the temperature is a sunny 59 degrees today!  We are all basking in the sunlight and she is curled up in blankets with jackets and scarves on!

Carrefour

The Carrefour is a French grocery store.  I usually shop at the Carrefour in Uzès because it is close to our village of Sanilhac.  Today I left our house at 10:30 am to go grocery shopping.  Jack and Sophie get out at noon for lunch and I wanted to give myself plenty of time.  Shopping in France is not like in the USA.  It takes FOREVER in the grocery store. Two reasons: 1.  There always seems to be a million people in the stores.  The isles are always crowded and the stinking shopping carts don’t push straight!  (All of you who have experienced this know exactly what I am talking about!)  2. The check out line takes longer than the shopping excursion!  There is no such thing as a fast lane.  They have one but it is not fast.  I have always had to wait in a line at checkout.  You load up your groceries and you bag your own groceries.  Some days I like this because I am very particular about how I want my groceries sorted and stacked.  But, in France nobody goes quickly as they are bagging their groceries.  It drives me CRAZY!!!  Everyone literally takes their time and then some and they are not courteous to the other 5 people with full carts behind them.  In fact, the cashier will stop scanning the groceries to give the person at the end the sufficient time to slowly bag their groceries that are coming down the conveyor (I’m talking, like 5 items!).  I miss the grocery stores in America where you can be in and out in a few minutes.  Even with a full cart of groceries in America it only takes a few minutes. Convenience does not exist in France!  (No exaggeration!)   For example, last week Aaron and I had finished our grocery shopping and as we were getting in the car I remembered I forgot an item.  Aaron “quickly” ran back in and picked up the one item and was back in the car 15 minutes later for ONE item!  No, he did not get lost and he knew right where the item was!

Today after 5 minutes of being in the Carrefour an announcement is made that the cashier systems were all down and they would let us shoppers know when they would be working.  A few seconds later I approached an elderly woman and asked her if that announcement was referring to all forms of payment.  She replied, “Yes, nothing is working!”  Ok, what to do?  I was looking around as all the shoppers were still filling their carts.  I proceeded to fill my cart as well.  I thought for sure within 20 minutes the system would be up and running.  A few minutes pass and I notice everybody still standing around in the checkout lines aimlessly looking for a solution.  Another intercom announcement, letting all shoppers know that the systems are not working and will not be for some time. Again, I approached a woman and we conversed as to what we should do.  She told me they could not accept any form of payment.  I looked around again and this time shoppers were unloading their carts.  They were returning the items to their exact location.  I laughed!  The store was telling everybody to leave because they could not take care of the transactions!!!  They had no back up, nothing!  Ha!  Convenience!  There was not a liaison, of sorts, to help direct people to know what to do.  So, I unpacked my cart, exited the store, and drove home!  The end!

Sheep

We live in a small village of 800 residents.  Our village of Sanilhac is surrounded by vineyards and fields of crops.  There are horses and sheep grazing in the fields.  In fact, during a weeks time there were sheep grazing in a vineyard.  The owner set up a 2.5-3 foot chicken wire fence to barricade the sheep from leaving.  Some of the sheep had bells around their necks, so as I ran by this said vineyard, I could hear the herd of sheep even when I couldn’t see them.  The sound of a belled sheep is priceless and music to my ears!  It reminds me of simplicity!  The vineyard owners keep their vineyards meticulous and I think the sheep were helping “mow” the grass in between rows.

A few months ago, Jack, Sophie and I walked out of their school and across the street we noticed sheep grazing in the front yard of someones house!  Ha!  It was great!  All three of us just stood at their fence and watched the sheep as they were quietly “mowing” the lawn!  Well, today when I went to go get Jack and Sophie at lunch, the sheep were in the front yard again and I had to snap some photos.  Are family dreams of having sheep out our window and grazing in a nearby field, yard or pasture!  It reminds us of Anne Shirley and Avonlea!

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Le Sapin de Noël

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This is our cute Christmas tree this year in France!  When we moved in July I did pack a few things from our Christmas collection.  Our advent calendar, our Christmas morning bell and our Christmas Eve “Birth of the Savior” story.  I have picked up a few ornaments from Italy and Estonia that hang so nicely on our little tree.  Also, I found a pretty little star to adorn the top of our tree.  I was shocked at how expensive the strand of lights were, about 12 Euros.

Our Christmas this year has already been so simple!  The children know they only will be getting a couple of presents, due to our lack of space and time here in France.  I am finding it interesting that my children’s Christmas Lists are not full of trendy unnecessary gifts this year.  They have not felt the pressure from their peers or classmates to have the “next best thing” or trendy article of clothing.  In fact, my kids have never been worried about that stuff but I do remember the constant “So-and-so has this or that!” They are happy with what they DO have and they are interested in gifts that will help them develop a talent or their area of interest!  I am a happy Mom!  Plus, it helps we really are limiting what we purchase while we are here in France and I realize how many things we have in the States that we do not need!  I hope I can remember this when we go back to the States!

We have Christmas markets and illumination shows to go see this Christmas!  It is all a new experience for all of us.  We are all missing the comfort of what we have been used to around the holidays in the States.  I am really grateful that no matter where we are, our family can celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.  He is the reason we feel so much joy and love at this time of year.

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Nordic Sauna

The first 24 hours we were in Estonia, Gert kept talking about the Nordic Sauna experience.  He asked us numerous times if we had ever been to a Sauna.  Aaron and I both have done Sauna’s in the States.  For example, most American Spas have a sauna, most Sport and Athletic Clubs have a Sauna, I’ve even heard of private residential properties having saunas.  So, Aaron and I were intrigued by Gert’s constant talk of Sauna’s.  After the prison we found a delicious Vegan Restaurant!  It was called Vegan! Delicious!!  Ha!  Can’t wait to eat there again!

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There always has to be food involved!!!

Anyway, during our late lunch/early dinner Gert suggested we try this new Sauna that was open and it stays open until 10:30/11 pm.  We thought, “What the heck!  We are in Estonia and how different can a Sauna be?!”  Gert made a few phone calls and we were scheduled for a traditional Nordic Sauna at 8pm.  One problem:  I did not have a bathing suit.  Aaron had brought his, but I didn’t think to bring mine.  After all, I knew it was going to be cold and possibly snowing!  So the dilemma was finding myself something to wear to the Sauna.  Gert said we didn’t need towels, robes, etc.  Gert told me it would be so easy to find a woman’s swim suit because sauna was so commonplace that most places sold swim attire year round.  The men dropped me off at a shopping center and away I went, while they were going to get in a little more “whiteboard time”.  I checked almost every store and could not find ANYTHING!  Finally, I walked into a department type store and voila!  There was a tiny rack of about 15 swim suits and all too big.  I looked through all of them and walked away.  Nothing!  As I was walking away I felt sorry for myself!  “I wasn’t going to be able to have the Nordic Sauna experience!:(”  I turned back around and went to look through all 15 or so bathing suits again!  I found one that was one size too big, but it would work.  I had to make it work because I didn’t want to be left at the hotel by myself!  Yeah!!!!  (I think I might always slip in a bathing suit now when I travel.  You never know when you might want it!)

Gert told us the Sauna was an 18+ adult Sauna.  I was a little worried with that little bit of information.  Usually when an age is attached I seem to question the events or happenings.  But, Gert assured us we would love it!  He told us to just bring our suits and we would be good to go!  We walked into a movie theater and paid for our Sauna while others were ordering popcorn and seats for a movie!  LOL!  I’m not joking!  This was a new concept for the Estonians too.  Why not go to a movie and, after, go to the Sauna!?

We went to our separate dressing rooms and then met up in the Sauna facility.  This place was huge!  There were at least 10 different types of Sauna rooms.  There was a large swimming pool with a swim up bar, plus the pool had massage jets for your feet and back on the outskirts of the pool, there were lounge cabanas for people to lay down and relax, there were freezing pools so one can reset their body after being so hot in a Sauna, there was an outdoor freezing pool in between two different Saunas, and there was a pool of fish that one could sit in so the fish would suck off dead skin!  Connected to the 18+ Sauna was a resort and the family Sauna!  Families go to Saunas.  We were able to cross over into the family Sauna because of the pass we had, but the family Sauna passes could not go into 18+.  Nothing unusual was taking place in the 18+ and everyone was so respectful of the experience and relaxation that everyone was enjoying.  Plus, some do not want to go to a Sauna with kids and teenagers running around.  I now understood the 18+ concept.  I will admit it was cute seeing a little 5 year old holding her moms hand, entering a Sauna together.  I kept asking Gert if it was safe, because as an American I would not be allowed to bring my children under the age of 16 into a Sauna.  He didn’t have to answer my question, because clearly it is part of the Nordic way of life and there are very few incidents of tragedy or side effects of a Sauna!

There was one Sauna room that Gert had tried to explain to us previously.  The temperature is really hot and one throws water onto the hot stones to produce steam. Meanwhile there are buckets with bundles of birch tree branches that people slap themselves with to stimulate the skin and body.  When we went into this Sauna, and older man started hitting Aaron with the branches.  I started laughing and then a different younger man started hitting me with the branches.  Everyone was laughing so hard in the Sauna!  Gert said using the birch branches was SO traditional.  I am glad we got to experience something like that!

Aaron was in heaven at the Sauna!  He has always loved that type of thing.  Saunas have always been really hot for me.  I know that sounds funny, but I really had to concentrate on not getting to anxious about the heat.  I couldn’t stay in one room for more than 5 minutes.  Some rooms were more pleasant than others.  By the end of the night, I felt my body had adjusted and it was relaxing!  Also, I wasn’t wanting to jump into the freezing water either!  I only did it twice.  It was so hard for me!  It was shocking!!!!!

I now understand why the Estonians love the Sauna!  It gets so cold up there in their country and the Sauna is the perfect way to embrace the cold.  It is so cultural!  In fact, Gert said a lot of Estonians have Saunas in their homes!  I have read about the health benefits to Saunas and thought it would be cool to have one in a future house.  I think Aaron and I would both benefit from that thought!

The only pictures we have are the ones Gert took when we were in the fish pool!  That was hilarious!  It felt so strange and funny at the same time.  It did not hurt while the fish were sucking the skin off.  Just a different humorous sensation!  It was such a fun night and I am so glad we tried the Nordic Sauna!

Check out this quick clip advertising the family sauna we went to!  Viimsi Spa!

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