Alexis’s Departure, Again!

Saturday, January 10, 2015 was another sad day because we had to say good-bye to Alexis again for this next semester.  This is so hard as a mother to watch your children get older and spread their wings.  Alexis is so far away… across two oceans!  Again, the train station brought tears!  There is something surreal about going to a train station and sending my child off clear across the world!  I am grateful at the train station we can watch her board and see her off.  It breaks at my heartstrings, but it is also comforting to be with her until the last second!  I can’t wait until all 9 of us are together again! :)

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Alexis is such a sweet daughter and daughter of God!  I thank the Lord everyday for making me the luckiest mother with her presence in my life!  She is so much fun!  While here, she had a “wear your converse shoes day”.  She wanted all of us to feel like we were connected by our shoes!  It is a fun “tie” she has with Jack and Sophie!  We miss little things like this, that Alexis does!

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Jack Turns 6!

Happy Birthday Jack!  We can’t believe Jack is already 6!  Austin was reflecting yesterday, January 28th, upon Jack’s birth and the last 6 years with him as his little brother.  Time does go by so quickly!

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Jack invited 3 of his good friends from school to share in his birthday celebration.  Mattias, Nathan, and Hector came.  I was so excited to have these cute french children in our home and I was more surprised at how well behaved they were.  The children were all very mild tempered, even though they were cracking jokes and being silly little boys!  They all sat politely around the table, ate their food while engaging in conversation.  None of the boys got up from the table until they were told they could.  They politely and excitedly watched as Jack opened his presents.  Their excitement FOR Jack was incredible!  I was very impressed with their manners.  I don’t think I have ever experienced this with children in the States.  Don’t get me wrong, American children are polite, but they can be more hyper and spoiled.  It was a very interesting observation for me.  Aaron and I both noticed it and commented on how pleasant it was to have these 4 boys all playing together.  The French children were so content with swinging on the swing set, playing a few games, etc. They did not need anything over stimulating, which is what a lot of Americans usually plan and feel obligated to do.  It was a very relaxed atmosphere, which was so different from birthday parties in the States.  It might be, too, that I have not thrown a 6 year old party in a long time.  I am used to the older children that require a little more imagination, planning and execution.

Whatever the case is, it was a wonderful relaxing afternoon for Jack’s birthday!  He chose the menu:  ham and butter sandwiches on baguette, carrots, pringles, schwepps, pickles, yogurts and finally “death by chocolate” for his dessert of choice.  Jack really wanted a power ranger theme but Aaron and I could not find anything party related in the stores here.  The closest thing we found was mutant ninja turtles.  Jack was thrilled and thought it was all cool.  We love that boy!!!  He had a smile from ear to ear all day!

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I was in heaven as I eavesdropped on Jack playing and talking with his friends in French.  I was floored because he doesn’t speak very much French at home and we have been worried that he isn’t speak much at school.  BUT, I was shocked listening to him carry on conversations, saying french expressions, just talking like french was his native tongue!  I had a prayer of gratitude in my heart for this amazing opportunity our family is having!  I felt like I needed to pinch myself to see if it was all real.  It was and is exciting for me!

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I am including all the photos we took because I want to remember these moments for a long time!!

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Nathan, Jack, Hector and Mattias

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Happy Birthday Tristan!

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Tristan turned 12 on December 27, 2014.  This was a special birthday for him because he received the Aaronic Priesthood in our Church.  This is a big responsibility for a young man, but I know he will honor this sacred Priesthood and the duties that come with it. Tristan is a very smart, fun and loving 12 year old.  We love him so much and we were so excited to see him pass the sacrament for the first time!  Tristan was so anxious to be able to do this.  The Bishop of our ward was out of town and then Aaron was out of town, so it took a few weeks for Tristan to receive the Priesthood.  It is awesome to have 3 young men who try so hard to be good!

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Since Tristan received roller blades for Christmas, he wanted to go to the skate park for a portion of his birthday.  Tristan requested we go to Subway for his birthday and then to a movie!  The boys had been asking for months to be able to go to Subway, but we have always steered them away from it.  We can get subway any day of the week in the States, so naturally we want to enjoy what is french!  But, since it was Tristan’s birthday request we took him.  He seemed to enjoy it so much, as well as the other children.

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These are a few photos from the wet skate park.  It decided to rain on Tristan’s birthday! :(

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After a day filled with fun birthday activities, we headed home for some “death by chocolate”!  Tristan’s birthday dessert of choice!  Everyone says it is 100% better here because of the french pot de crêmes, chantilly (whip cream), and fondant du chocolat (similar to brownies).  After singing and dessert, Tristan opened his cool presents!  We are so grateful to have Tristan in our lives.  His smile melts me as a mother!

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We love you Tristan!

Christmas Traditions 2014

My laptop charging cord broke during the holidays and I was not able to blog or record anything for a number of days.  Now that February is upon us I am finally reflecting upon the photos and events that occurred that I have not recorded.

Our family has many traditions during the holidays, specifically Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  We have the children do a Secret Santa gift exchange with one another. At the beginning of December the children draw names and then they have to shop for the chosen name.  Keeping it a secret is part of the fun and the guessing that goes on during the holidays.  Even though Julia was not going to be with us, she still was able to participate.  (Alexis flew thru Salt Lake City on her way to France, so she picked up a suitcase full of gifts, one of those being a secret santa gift!)  When Christmas Eve approaches all the children are filled with anticipation about who got what from who!  It is so fun!

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This is Austin receiving his Secret Santa gift from Julia.  Thank goodness for technology. She could still be with us, just not tangible!

So, on Christmas Eve another tradition we have, that I grew up with, is that the children get to open one gift from under the tree and their Secret Santa gift AFTER they share a talent with everyone.  This talent could be playing the piano, singing, displaying art work, etc.  The kids are encouraged to be creative.  Sometimes it is last minute preparations knowing they can only open a gift IF they share something!  This year the kids kind of cheated and combined forces and sang together!  It was funny for Aaron and I, but we loved it and it is memorable.

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After they shared their talents, they each got to choose a gift from under the tree to open and their Secret Santa gift.  Each child tries to guess who gave them their gift, etc.  It is fun!  I love watching my kids give thanks to one another!  It warms my heart!

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After the gifts are exchanged and opened, we relax, turn off the lights and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  Some of us can stay awake, others are too excited to even think of sleep and some of us want to sleep but know that the night is still too young to sleep! 😉

Christmas morning greets us with bells ringing.  We have a tradition that I have carried on from my younger years, that the first person to wake up gets to ring our Christmas bell to wake everyone up and to ring in the Christmas morning.  It is awesome!  As a 41 year old, I still get excited when I hear that bell.  The children all try to compete with who will get to ring the bell.  Aaron and I always give the children a time when the bell can be rung, nothing earlier!  Usually it is 7 or 7:30am.  Once everyone is up, the kids line up and proceed to see if Santa visited!

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Our family room is upstairs here in France, so the children had to line up and go upstairs instead of their usual going downstairs!  Everyone was so happy with the gifts Santa left for them!  Of course, our most wonderful gift during Christmas is the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ!  How blessed we truly are to have the knowledge of His sacrifice and love for each one of us!

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This year for our traditional Christmas feast we invited a few of the single members from our church congregation to eat with us and spend the evening.  They were without family or a place to go for Christmas.  We did not want them to be alone!  It was wonderful to all be together and share the gift of friendship and love with one another!  Somehow I was able to pull off another successful Christmas, even with Julia thousands of miles away!

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Armenian French Funeral

Last week I attended the funeral services of Ishmael.  He was the father-in-law to a sweet Armenian friend, Anna, from our church congregation.  She has only lived in France since 2012 and is an immigrant here due to political turmoil in Armenia.  She speaks very little french and no english!  HA!  But, somehow we have been able to communicate with her limited french vocabulary.  I have spent some time with Anna and she is a wonderful lady who has one three year old daughter, Maria.  Her husband, Samuel, is trying to get his paperwork finalized so he can work here in France.  Her husband and late father-in-law are not LDS, they are Orthodox Catholics.  (I still need to research this stem of Catholicism because I know nothing about it!)

So, Ishmael passed away and his services were last Thursday.  I went with another friend, Maria del Carmen, to the services.  We found the church and services were to begin at 2:15pm.  We arrived and not one person was there at the church except for the deceased.  The Church doors were open and the hearse (although it carried the coffin, it looked like a normal van, nothing like the hearses you see in America) was parked right in front of the doors.  Maria and I were the first ones there and then a few people started trickling in.  A couple sweet members of our congregation were there to show support to Anna and her family.

When Samuel finally arrived the services commenced.  But, he did not have Anna with him or his daughter.  We asked where they were and Samuel said she was at home cooking the traditional meal that would be served after the services.  I then looked around at those in attendance of the funeral and noticed they were all men, with no wives or children, and the only women there were from our congregation and Anna’s doctor.  It was so interesting.

Apparently, Ishmael was Orthodox Catholic and there are only two cities in all of France that have a church for that specific stem of the Catholic Church.  This particular priest performing the ceremony was willing to perform the service and have use of their church.

It was a pretty little church, Église Jeanne d’Arc.  Of course, it was all stone and cold, but it was pretty.  I love old churches.  I think they have so much history and beauty, even if I do not agree with their form of worship, I try to appreciate the ambiance and respect their traditions.  When the service began, the robe clad priest came outside accompanied by a street clothed priestess.  He said a few words, turned around and the casket followed him with the funeral party walking behind and then began filling up the few benches.  The service only lasted 20-30 minutes.  It was very foreign to me.  I have only been to a few Catholic services so I was unfamiliar with their traditions.  Thank goodness it was in French.  When we were originally seated, there were copies of scripture printed out in Armenian, so I was curious what language the service would be in.

One thing I found so peaceful about the service was the ringing of the Church bells.  They were rung at different times during the services.  I do not know the meaning behind that, but I loved the sound and the calmness it brought to the service.

After the service was over we went to the cemetery.  This was interesting for me also, because the cemetery was so much different than what I see in America.  It looked similar to this.  Burial plots are bought as a family.  The family members coffins are placed one on top of the other.  In the States, family members are laid to rest next to one another not within the same burial space.  This was different.  Also, the burial sites were heavily decorated.  I asked my friends, the Jerômes, if it was really expensive for the tombs.  They said, yes, very expensive.

Following the cemetery service, we were invited to Samuel’s house.  Maria del Carmen and I thought we could just stop by for a minute and pay our respects and say hello to Anna.  Well, we arrived and their family room was set up for a sit down dinner!  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  We came in and saw Anna, who was clearly exhausted from all the cooking that was lavishly placed on the tables.  Again, we commented that the wives or other family members of the men in attendance were not there.  So, it was just those women that I mentioned earlier, Anna and Anna’s friend, who was the wife of Samuel’s best friend, who was their helping Anna prepare for the meal. There was a huge spread of fish, poultry, salads, sauces and bread that filled the tables along with bottles of vodka, champagne and soda.  Each place sitting had a shot glass with another smaller glass.  Maria del Carmen and I looked at each other and laughed! :) We do not drink alcohol. :)  Well, after everyone arrived and were seated, the toasting began. Armenian culture has a traditional meal after burial services where everyone comes together so the family can thank those in attendance for showing their support and also to honor the deceased.  So, throughout the meal, someone would stand up, give a toast while people would fill their shot glasses with hard liquor (vodka), and everyone would drink.  Maria del Carmen filled our little glasses with orange soda and everyone else kind of smiled.  It was such an interesting and neat experience.  I didn’t understand anything that was said because it was all in Armenian.  After about 20 minutes of toasts, there were already a few men getting loud.  I love learning about different cultures and people!!  I soak it up and internalize it to the best of my ability.

After staying for about 30 or 40 minutes, I had to get home.  I had to be back home to pick up my boys and go back to Nîmes so Austin and AJ could attend seminary.  I am so grateful I had this Armenian French Funeral experience!

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Happy New Year!

I know it is already January 23rd, but I want to record our first New Years Eve in France! Our family has a tradition of having a raclette party New Years Eve.

Raclette is a dish indigenous to parts of Switzerland. The Raclette cheese is heated, either in front of a fire or by a special machine, then scraped onto diners’ plates; the term raclette derives from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape,” a reference to the fact that the melted cheese must be scraped from the unmelted part of the cheese onto the plate.

Traditionally the melting happens in front of an open fire with the big piece of cheese facing the heat. One then regularly scrapes off the melting side. It is accompanied by small firm potatoes (Bintje, Charlotte or Raclette varieties), gherkins, pickled onions, and dried meat, such as jambon cru/cuit (dried ham) and viande des Grisons.”  (Thank you Wikipedia for this quick explanation!)

This is our France raclette machine:

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As you can see, the small hot plates are inserted on top of the heating device, in the middle of the whole raclette machine.  The meat then goes on the heated top cooking surface.  You put your slices of raclette cheese onto each small non-stick plate, insert it above the heat, wait a few minutes while your meat and cheese cook/melt and voila, you scrape off the melted cheese on top of meat and all the other fixings!  Everyone loves this! (Except for me!  I am not a lover of cheese, so I forgo the cheese and enjoy all the rest!)

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One of my first home cooked french meals in France was raclette.  It was with our good friends Joseph Professo and family in Saint Etienne!  It was such an interesting and fun experience for me!  And, of course, Aaron had this meal often while serving a LDS mission in France and Switzerland.

Back in Logan, it was sometimes difficult to find raclette cheese.  If I did find raclette, it was usually a small square that cost anywhere between 5 and 10 dollars.  Here in France, I can find raclette cheese at every grocery store.  I noticed during the holidays, the stores had a larger selection of raclette cheese.  They also have different flavored raclette cheese. For example, we tried raclette with pepper, raclette with onion and a “country” raclette. The cheese here is definitely cheaper than in the States.  It was so fun to continue our tradition here in France!  Plus, everyone said the raclette cheese was so much richer and better here in France!

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When I was shopping at the Carrefour one afternoon, close to the holidays, I came across a section of celebratory items for ringing in the new year.  There were HUGE bags of confetti!  I did not see the usual firework display that is so common in Utah stores.  But, I did find these awesome confetti canons!  I bought two of them and they were the coolest thing!  It is a long heavy stick filled with confetti.  You twist one of the bottom ends and “bam” confetti goes shooting accompanying a loud “boom”.  It was awesome!!!!

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Here Sophie is holding one of the canons!  Everyone felt like it was a rainbow of confetti when the “bomb” went off!

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The confetti was so bright and colorful!  The next day our yard was filled with all the colors of the rainbow!  It was a fun and new experience for us!!!

To finish off our night we celebrated with a traditional Italian cake that our friends, the Serrano’s, brought back from Italy.  It is a Pandoro, which is a traditional italian sweet bread.  It is shaped like a pyramid with an eight pointed star section.  It is dusted with powdered sugar to resemble the italian alps.  The cake comes in a beautiful pyramid box. I saw these desserts in the stores here around the holidays, but did not know exactly what they were.  I am so grateful we get to experience these little things that are a part of french life that one hardly ever gets when you are on vacation!

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Pickles

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Pickles!  This is one product in France that is different than the States that I want to record for my memory.  The taste is a little different due to the way they are preserved.  When you buy a jar of pickles in France you are buying a jar full of flavor!  The pickles are packed with spices and onions.  They are dill pickles with a little bit of sweet!  My kids love these pickles!  I have never seen the “gigantic” pickles here like you would find in any grocery store in America.  You do not find ovals, spears, stackers or other types of pickles, just good gourmet pickles in a jar!  They are the size of gherkins in America.

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Another awesome characteristic of these pickles is the packaging!  There is a plastic green ring at the bottom of the jar that the pickles sit in and then there is a little handle attached to it so you just lift the pickles out of the liquid and grab one.  No more spoons or forks trying to “fish” out those pickles swimming around in the juice!  It is genius!

Maison Carrée

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The Maison Carrée is another ancient Roman artifact that we see often when we are in Nîmes!  It was built in 16 BC and is one of the most best preserved Roman temples to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire.  It is beautiful!  There is currently a little theater inside that shows an informative film of the history of Nîmes. We all had a wonderful day exploring this historical site with Alexis!

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Arènes de Nîmes

Nîmes is the largest closest city (20km) to our little village of Sanilhac.  Nîmes has a lot of Roman artifacts and history associated with it.  One of these is Arènes de Nîmes.  The Arènes de Nîmes is a Roman amphitheater dating back to 70 AD.

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It is a magnificent structure that we drive by quite often when we are in Nîmes.  It currently will house bullfights and concerts.  There are Gladiator Games coming up in May that we would like to go see.  I love that France has history dating back to the time of Christ.

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The Arènes is in the old part of the city, which means beautiful architecture and ambiance. The streets surrounding the Arènes are filled with the “French romantic flare”!  I love it! Below are a bunch of photos we took while visiting the Arènes and surrounding streets.

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This massive fountain is found in the Esplanade just next to the Arènes.  It is the Fountain Pradier and it was constructed in 1851 out of white marble.  Aside from the large center statue, it has 4 large personages, 2 men and 2 women representing the 4 major sources of water coming into Nîmes.  It reminds me of the beautiful fountains in Rome, Italy!

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I feel so lucky to be living in this beautiful country and to be sharing these experiences with my awesome husband and children!

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Jack and Sophie were so cute holding the device for the guided tour.  They were actually listening while we were exploring the Arènes!

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This historical site is a death trap waiting to happen.  There were no railings to protect anyone from falling over the ledges or falling down the steep stairs.  We had to watch Jack and Sophie like a hawk!  When we did reach the top of the Arènes, the views were incredible!  I have vertigo so when I got to the top I had to sit down and breath deeply!  I immediately got a pounding headache and felt nausea.  It was difficult but I endured it to say I did it and I even took pictures of my kids at the very top overlooking Nîmes (with no protection from falling)!

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The church in the background of a few of these photos is the Sainte Perpétue Church. Also, Alexis loves rooftops!  Any chance she gets to capture a rooftop, she is a happy girl! I love her innocence!

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We all fell in love with the building in the back ground!  Typical French beauty!  Love, love, love!  Also, you might be wondering why all the children are not here in the photos.  Well, Julia couldn’t make it back to France for the holidays, Tristan was at school because he did not want to get behind in work and AJ was at the skate park with his roller blades!  So, it was Aaron, Alexis, Austin, Jack, Sophie and myself for this lovely afternoon!

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This Matador statue is “the” place where photos are taken.  But, the statue is a little scary if you ask me!  Maybe it is the French way of expressing love?  Or maybe his jock strap came out of position?  Weird!!!!!  LOL!

Simple Treat!

I stumbled upon this the other day in one of the grocery stores:

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It “only” cost 1.50 euros per can, which is $1.77 per can!  (I bought 3 cans for our family to share!)  In the States, we are not a big soda drinking family.  I do not care for it and I try not to get it for my kids.  My Dad used to call it “rot gut”!  I personally agree with him!  I never feel good when I drink soda.  But, when you don’t have access to something it seems like the desire is stronger.  Since being in France, there have been a few times when I have said, “I would sure love a root beer”, even though I don’t drink it often in America.  Funny how things work like that!  The above root beer tasted delicious and who knows when I will stumble upon it again.  (Side note:  the French usually do not like root beer.)

I do see Dr. Pepper in the international section of the grocery stores.  I should note, that each grocery store has a small international section divided into countries.  For example, USA and the English are a combined section, Spain, Oriental, Middle Eastern, sometimes African section, etc.  This is where I am able to find French’s yellow mustard.  The French only have dijon mustard, which I love!  They even have a small section for “mexican” food.  It is a mixture of Old El Paso products that do not taste like the same products in the States, but, hey, when we can’t get any Mexican food within hundreds or thousands of miles, we’ll take anything that slightly resembles spicy flavors.  We like the chili tortilla chips, but the salsa here is way to sweet!  We all miss our homemade garden salsa stored away in our cold storage in Utah! :(  If and when Aaron goes back to the States, he will definitely be loading up on salsa!

As a family we find ourselves talking about the food we miss in America.  But, we are also treasuring the delicious food we are partaking of here in France!  Do you ever associate life with food?  Do you ever plan a vacation based upon food?  Our family does!  Just like our trip to Belgium was influenced by food we wanted to try!  What food/foods would you miss if you didn’t live in America for a year or more?