Christmas in Nashville

We were in Nashville Dec 22-28 (sorry if we missed you...we actually missed everyone except for Eric's family since the visit was so short).  The kids had lots of quality time with Mimi and Bapa at 3 and 4 in the morning.  Trying to maximize our time with them, you know? :)

Eric's family has lots of special Christmas traditions.  Some we got to experience, and there were some new ones as well.  I have been hearing about McLaughlin Christmases since I met Eric, and yet this was the first time ever that I got to be with his family on Christmas Day (and the first time in 8 yrs for Eric).  The family has grown from 6 to 14 in that time!

On Christmas Eve morning, we opened gifts with Mimi and Bapa.  Ben got some trucks and cars, and Maggie got a magnetic "paper" doll set with Disney princesses.

Then the rest of the family came over and Aunt Mariah had brought along some cute Christmas props for Christmas photo booth photos.

The big surprise of the morning had to do with the cowboy Christmas theme.  Mimi and Bapa got a friend to come over with his HORSE!  We weren't sure how the kids would do but they were all REALLY excited to ride the horse around the yard a few times.

The cousins played together somewhat...not too many arguments over toys!  I think things will continue to get better as they get older, too.

Christmas Eve night we went to a family friendly service and then Mimi revealed the annual grandkid Christmas jammies.  Hooray!

Maggie and Ben also got an "Ipad" (V tech kids' thing) for Christmas.  Hopefully hours of entertainment on the plane ride home. :)

Christmas morning we had a nice brunch and opened stockings.  14 on the banister makes for quite a collection!  We grilled steaks, played poker, and enjoyed each others' company.  Fun new and old traditions with family.


Christmas in France

We actually celebrated Christmas Day in Nashville, but since we didn't want to haul all of our Christmas presents to the US and pack in our 3 allotted bags, we had a little McLaughlin family Christmas in Albertville on Wednesday (the 19th).  It was a sweet, special family time made even more fun by the fact that Maggie was old enough to get really excited.

The night before (our "Christmas Eve") Eric led a time of English Christmas carols for the other families here at the center.  Then we came home and had the "revealing" of Baby Jesus.  Eric and Maggie have been working on a quite elaborate toilet paper roll nativity set.  Baby Jesus was made and set up on a shelf until he could join the rest of the set on Christmas Eve.  A big highlight for Maggie!  I am continually impressed by Eric's artistic abilities...

The next morning, Mags woke up around 6:15 and immediately checked out the fact that our stockings were now full of gifts.  I let her open hers and started making our cinnamon roll breakfast.  Ben didn't wake up until almost 7:30, so I'm pretty sure she couldn't have waited that long.

Ben's highlight of the entire day was this Lightening McQueen car in his stocking!

We spent the morning playing with new toys and delivering gifts to our friends.  Then we opened presents after nap time and had a nice chicken dinner (much more successful than trying to cook a turkey in our oven...).  The kids each got a play food set from Ikea (Ben hasn't yet figured out the concept of "pretend" eating).  Mags also got a Jesus Storybook Bible and Ben got an Ikea circus tent.  All big hits.  My favorite was Maggie's expression opening the Bible (and then asking, "What is it Maggie?"  "I don't know!")

The next day, Santa showed up at her school.  Very cute.  In France he is called Pere Noel, so Maggie likes to tell the story of how she said, "Bonjour, Pere Noel!"
More to come on our second Christmas...a great time in Nashville.


A Weekend in Provence

When we were in Kenya and first decided on the idea of going to France for language study, our teammate Alyssa loaned us a great book called "A Year in Provence," by Peter Mayle.  It is an awesome little book about a Brit's experiences buying and renovating an old French farmhouse in the Provence region.  Each chapter is a different month of the year and talks endearingly of French culture (which basically means French food).  We were pretty excited to go to France after reading this book.  Last weekend, we actually had a chance to visit the region of Provence (pro-vahhnss, accent on 2nd syllable), which is about three hours south of us.  Many thanks to our generous teammates, who watched our kids so we could get away to celebrate our 7th anniversary a few months early.

Provence is an area of France known for vineyards, orchards, and fields of lavender.  It also encompasses the French Rivera/Mediterranean coast (which we did not visit, it being November).  Apparently in the summer this place is nuts, but we were definitely there in the off season.  We went for long stretches of time without seeing anyone at all (which was sort of fun!).

Our first stop was the Senanque Abbey, a still functioning abbey complete with monks. It wasn't currently open to tourists, but we did walk around the grounds and chat for a few moments with a real live monk in habit.  If you've read Stephen Lawhead, you know how exciting this can be. :)
From the abbey, we spent the day driving around an area known as the Luberon, a hilly national park (preserved area) with lots of restored towns, ruined villages, castles, and beautiful views.  Although the abundant orchards and vineyards were obviously not in bloom, it was still beautiful.  We saw the newly restored city of Gordes, pictured below.  A lot of wealthy Parisians have taken to buying up property in what used to be a ghost town and restoring the buildings with its original white stone.  Reminded us of Gondor, minus the towers.

Then it was on to Rousillon, a town that mined (?) ochre from the surrounding hills until WW2.  The entire village is hues of red and orange and brown, much like the US Southwest.  We enjoyed quaint little streets, a picturesque bell tower, and the sense of our own private village.

On our way to lunch, we passed an old Roman bridge.  This things was built literally in the time of Christ, and traffic still used it until 2005.  Wow!  Built to last.  The top has been paved and repaved, but the rest is original stone.

After a delicious and quite filling lunch at a cute French restaurant (we weren't hungry for another 24 hrs or so after goat cheese bread, fish soup, partridge, and Provencal stew) we stopped at the ruins of a castle that used to belong to the Marquis of Sod (sod as in sodomy, not dirt).  A rather creepy history, but apparently the grounds have been bought by Pierre Cardin and are being renovated.  We saw no evidence of people or gates and climbed around for 30 minutes by ourselves.
We visited a few more tiny villages and ruined cities, then headed back to our B&B to relax.  The next day we visited the city of Avignon.  In the Middle Ages, a French pope was "elected" and decided to move the papal seat from the Vatican to Avignon.  Hence, the Palace of the Popes was built.  In the meantime, apparently, the Italian church decided they needed an Italian pope and so for awhile there were 2 popes.  Wonder what Peter would have thought of all this.  But anyway...you can see original city walls below, and the towering structure behind is the Palace.  We didn't go in, but the exterior is impressively mammoth.
From higher up in the city, you can see what remains of another old bridge.  Apparently it used to have 19 arches and span the river from the palace to a tower on the other side.
Finally, to wrap up our trip homeward, we stopped in the city of Orange.  It also has some Roman ruins, most notably a beautifully preserved amphitheater.  That is the original wall below with a statue of Caesar presiding over the festivities.  We read in the guidebook that this is one of the only Roman amphitheaters left in the world with its original acoustic wall remaining.  Wait, I said, we've seen another.  C'est vrai.  Of the three left, one is in Ephesus (Turkey)

Overall, an awesome visit.  We packed a lot in but it was fun and relaxing as well.  Not disappointed after reading Mayle's book (which we recommend).  It would have been fun to see in the summer, too, but it was nice to avoid the crowds!


Simon Comes to Visit

Maggie overall seems to be having a good time in her French class.  Although what she actually does each day is a mystery, she looks happy when I come pick her up.  This mystery is probably a combination of a three year old's memory, the fact that her day is entirely in French, and the one meeting I attended where the teacher explained to all the parents what their kids did every day was approximately 2 days into my language learning and I had NO CLUE what the teacher was talking about.  Probably similar to Maggie. :)  But at least when I ask "what did you do today," she has transitioned from answering "I don't know" to "Je ne sais pas." (the French version)

Well, last week Maggie brought home a new backpack.  We were able to deduce, with a bit of Maggie's help, that she was bringing home the class mascot for a week, a bunny puppet named Simon.  All the kids in the class get to have Simon stay for a visit, and then they help fill out a notebook of pictures and stories from the visit.  Simon arrived with the notebook, some instructions, and a cute little book about Simon the bunny who doesn't want to go to his first day of school.

Here's what Simon did at our house:

Met all Maggie's animals (and Ben's too, for good measure)

 Checked out Maggie's Christmas stocking, which we had just hung up.  Apparently this is not a French tradition.
 Went to the library with Maggie and read some great French books (Eric takes the kids a few times a month, and we have a library card so we can check out books and bring them home.  Great learning tool for Mom and Dad!)

Met Mimi and Bapa on the computer!

Thanks for the visit, Simon.  Glad to be a part of some French learning.


Adventures in the Kitchen

We have had quite a few culinary adventures and reasons to blog lately, but just finished a week of French exams and so have had little time to post until now.  So I'll smush together a few topics.

Adventure #1: Chocolate Chip Cookies
First of all, when I came back from my brief sojourn to Dallas, I celebrated being done with my oral boards by going to Target (what else, right?).  I had 50 free pounds of luggage to fill, so packed my bag with all sorts of US goodies...peanut butter, chocolate chips, fruit snacks, and a bottle of A&W root beer (among other various stocking stuffers that are hidden away for a few more weeks).  Maggie was especially excited about the chocolate chips, and I promised her that we would make cookies as soon as I found all the proper ingredients.  Along with the chocolate chips, the next most difficult ingredient to find here is, surprisingly, brown sugar.  But lo and behold, I found the appropriate small bag of "specialty sugar" hidden away at a local grocery store.  Commence with the baking.

Mags and I have sort of made cookies together before:

But not really since she was able to actually "help."  So she was REALLY excited to make cookies with me. Along with tasting every single ingredient except the raw egg (including baking soda, flour, and unsalted butter), she did a very good job of helping to measure, stir, and get the dough from the bowl to the cookie sheet (sort of...her one for my other 11, and then she'd stop to lick her fingers).

The cookies were great!  We'll have to pick up some more chocolate chips in the States for more quality mother-daughter bonding.

Adventure #2:  Tartiflette
This story is technically Eric's but since I'm writing, I'll tell it.  We have sort of tried our hand at cooking some French food.  Eric made a killer coq au vin already.  The local region here has a few specialties, once of which is a cheese and potato dish called tartiflette.  There is a cheap canned version of it at our local grocery that tastes like scalloped potatos, not bad.  Well, we got a recipe from some friends and tried our own (better than the canned version).  It includes potatos, white wine, sour cream, lardons (like bacon), and a round chunk of cheese entitled Reblochon.  Actually, our cheese was entitled "fromage pour tartiflette because the Reblochon name is "copyrighted" and our cheese was knock off, but that's a story for another time (French cheeses, that is).  Yummy!  Much better than the canned version.  I vote that Eric cooks more in the future.

Adventure #3:  Thanksgiving Turkey.
We had a nice Thanksgiving here with about 80 other missionary families.  It was potluck style and we all chipped in to buy the turkeys.  But someone had to cook them.  I decided to take the plunge.  Tuesday afternoon, our friend Carlan walked in with our turkey slung over his shoulder.  I had heard 8kg.  Seriously, this thing must have been 20+ pounds.

Problematic when the oven is 1/2 to 2/3 the size of a US version.  I plowed ahead anyway, deciding to remove the legs so the turkey would fit in our oven.  Which it did, sort of.
After 3 hrs in the oven, things seemed to be going well.  The turkey was browning, I was basting, etc.  Then Eric got concerned because although things had always been a little smoky, it was getting a LOT smoky.  We took out the turkey to assess, deciding the smoke was due to grease dripping everywhere.  While we were pondering our next step, the oven caught on fire.  In the end, all was well.  Eric got to try out a fire extinguisher for the first time, we finished cooking the turkey in a neighbor's (larger) oven, and it tasted awesome.  All's well that ends well.