Merry Christmas!





December 15, 2004

Merry Christmas everybody!

Well, what has been happening here ... we've been getting our Christmas shopping done and have put up our creche and Department 56 houses. We just put up our tree yesterday. The kids have been begging to put it up for weeks (me too!) but since Jonathan likes a live tree, we can't put it up too soon or it is a dead tree by Christmas. Get this ... there are no tree stands here that hold water! When you buy your tree, you also (if you are smart) buy a "log" cut in half lengthwise and have the tree guy cut the hole in the rounded top and put the tree in it. I like the look of it, all rustic and everything, but trees don't last long without water.


When I was growing up, I couldn't wait to put up the tree and would listen to Christmas music long before the season started. I asked for a Jim Nabors Christmas Album for Christmas one year (dating myself big time and putting my taste in music into question) and started listening to it that day and didn't stop much until the next Christmas (sorry Mother :-) Chalk it up to me loving to hear my Daddy's big bass voice singing a carol or hymn or a silly song. Here's what he recorded on my cheap reel-to-reel tape player when I was a kid:

One door and only one
and yet it's sides are two,
I'm on the inside
on which side are you?

Anyway I remember making my Christmas list in JULY of that year while listening to Jim Nabors. (Do you youngsters remember Jim Nabors? He used to play Gomer Pyle in the old Andy Griffith series... you'd never guess the real BIG voice behind the man who played such a buffoon on TV.)



We had an artificial tree for as long as I can remember and we were allowed to put it up the weekend after Thanksgiving. It wasn't as much fun after it was just me in the house (age 10 onward) but I have some really good memories of helping my sister Vicki put her tree up every year when her older kids were babies and I was about 11 or 12 or so. She would blast Johnny Mathis and Perry Como on the record player and we would decorate away ... including icicles ... those dreaded but lovely icicles! She could make the most perfect Divinity back then, and we always made a gumdrop tree ... a twiggy branch with gumdrops stuck on every end. She always made fudge from scratch too. Good memories.



Okay fast-forward a few years to the present.

The kids never ask for much for Christmas and they didn't again this year. I know, I'm lucky. We are able to get our shopping done pretty quickly because the littles tend to pick one catalog and make their list from there. One-stop shopping. Jason's requests are more expensive (MP3 player and skateboards) but still reasonable and easy to do. They do tend to try and add to their lists as time goes on and up until Christmas itself but I don't feel pressured to honor every request. Joanna and Justin will remember (maybe) the years when they got 3 gifts, just like Jesus. Or maybe they've blocked that out ;-) They were fine with 3 gifts but I think it was me who couldn't stick with it. More gifts don't make the kids happier, it only makes the parents feel (a) stressed to get things they can't afford, then; (b) optimistic that they outdid themselves and everyone else, then; (c) exahusted and broke, but happy with anticipation on Christmas Eve, then ; (d) frustrated on Christmas morning to hear the kids complain about what they DIDN'T get and/or how they don't like what they got, and finally; (e) depressed when it comes time to pay for all the stuff the kids don't play with anyway!!! Haven't we ALL done that?! But I love Christmas with kids. I can't imagine how it will be without them in the house.

We went to a flea market last Saturday and found a few trinkets to take home. One was an old Hotel de France tin sign with one star on it. I figure our guest room will never be more than "one star" <haha> so I'd like to put it in our future guest room. Then we went to the Christmas Market in Avignon where we bought some new Santons for our creche. We also went to the German market set up in Aix for our yearly fix of bratwurts on a baguette and soft pretzels cooked over an open fire. Oh yum. As we were walking through the market, we saw a stand for Rick's Philly Cheesesteaks! Seems Philadelphia is a sister city to Aix and this was the first year they came to the market. We talked to Rick himself for a while, then Jonathan spotted Tastykakes behind the counter. Oh my. For those of you not from Pennsylvania northward, Tastykakes are cream-filled cupcakes with icing. Not unlike Twinkies, but I'm sure those of you reared on Tastykakes would balk at that comparison and probably even take a swing at me. They make a peanut butter-filled one with butterscotch icing. I'm dying. One of the guys told us the technique for opening them without the icing sticking to the cellophane wrapper ... you rub the icing side on your leg until the friction warms it, et voila, peel off the cellophane icing-free. We oooooo-ed and ahhhhhh-ed over our good fortune to learn such a thing and our luck to have found some American comfort food. As we were leaving, Rick gave Jonathan his card and told him to send our email address and he would ship us some Tastykakes. Quelle chance!

How do you like my nutcrackers Robin?

I took Jonathan to the airport at 5am this morning to catch a flight to the States. He has a really small trip to Toronto and somewhere else ... and then comes back this Sunday. Then he will be home until after Christmas this year. Much better than last year when I had to pick him up at the airport at 10:30pm on Christmas Eve! We haven't been to any Christmas parties and I had really planned to have some people over, but where does the time go? We had to turn down an invitation this weekend and I had been looking forward to seeing this house ... um ... Mas. I guess lots of stone, tennis courts, swimming pool and classical statues constitute a Mas. We are invited to our friends' house (American/Canadian) the day after Christmas for coffee and Mindy's grandmother's famous "sticky buns", then Serge and Anna (our french neighbors) have invited us to taste a truffle and egg "coquotte" in January. 'Tis the season for truffles in Provence ... gotta love that!

On to some photos...





After the flea market, Erik really wanted to climb this tree. I thought it was cute that Emily gave him a boost. Little view of the fort in the background.






At the Christmas market in Avignon. Barbe a Papa is ... cotton candy! Translated it's "father's beard".






Avignon still. This a booth full of different kinds of dried sausages ... an acquired taste IMHO. Santa looks like he's in a little bit of trouble there.






The German Market in Aix. See the bratwurst on the grill? See the basket of baguette in the left? See the huge pail of german mustard peeking out in between? Oh-la-la.






Huge, soft pretzels cooked in the oven at the back. The guy in the santa hat was here last year and he works non-stop.They completely sold out before their last day. I didn't get a photo, but to the left is a stand selling fresh-cooked schnitzel (sp?) I also didn't get a photo of the Philly Cheesesteaks ... how could that be? Too busy eating, peut-etre?




The santon market in Aix. There are several booths set up every year and we add to our collection as we can.






Here's the beginning of putting up the tree. Jonathan strung the lights, then after Jason got home and the little ones were done with tutoring, they decorated it. Erik was so helpful ;-)






Jonathan bought all of us an ornament at the Christmas market in Switzerland on his last trip. Here are the kids hanging theirs on the tree.






A work in progress... see the "tree stand"?






Done! A beautiful tree to me ... I love kid-decorated trees!








These are the kids' ornaments ... Emily's is a blown-glass bear (propped up with an orange), Erik's is a wooden, whimsical, hand-carved Santa and Jason's is a more old-fashioned hand-carved Santa.








And I got one too! A heart-shaped, hand-painted one from Russia. On the other side is an angel.
How do you like our Elvis ornament? I bought that in Memphis when I had breakfast with my girlfriend, Marlene!
Look at Jason's ornament on the right! I really miss the kids making ornaments for the tree but they don't do that here.


And it wouldn't be an update without a few miscellaneous...




In keeping with the season ... recognize these folks?!
(It's George, Janet and Olivia)




A nice view of the train station in Aix with the sun peeking out from the clouds. I like old train stations.






Emily loves her hair like this but it is so naturally curly, it takes the stylist 2 hours to cut it and blow it out. Not to mention the 30 euro price! No wonder we don't get it done more often. I'm so hair-challenged, I can't get it to do this no matter how hard I try.





Jonathan wanted me to post these so you will really believe he has a job :-) Oh no, the plane is falling out of the air!







Not really! Smile! He works hard to provide us a really good life.







Joanna found this sign funny when she and Danny went to the mountains for their anniversary ... she always finds good ones!




And I'll leave you with this one... a new take on the traditional, "cutesy cottage" Gingerbread House ... this one is called...


...the Redneck Gingerbread House!
Some people have a good sense of humor!




So, that's about it for now. Merry Christmas everyone and may the new year bring nothing but blessings! Thank you so much for all your emails and the pics you send to us! Love ya!









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