A lovely little Arc de Triomphe, thoughtfully sent to my by a dear friend in Texas who also loves France!
A lovely little Arc de Triomphe, thoughtfully sent to my by a dear friend in Texas who also loves France!
Now here’s something you probably thought I had forgotten about. Never fear, I’ve been slowly working on it.
This crocheted gingerbread house was one of my many UFOs. Now it’s a mostly-finished object. It still needs additional “candies” on it, but I haven’t made those. Again, Baby Sprinkaan has affected my ability to craft. Track with me: The little house stands about 7.5″ tall, so the candies are quite small. Little items like that are easy to misplace. Baby Sprinkaan is an expert at finding tiny things that the big people have lost. And then he eats them. So the embellishment part of the project is on hold. Maybe I’ll add a few new bits every year?
Baby Sprinkaan is a busy baby. Maybe I’m just old, maybe I just forgot, but he seems busier than any of my other babies. All of them, being born in the fall, were right about the same age at Christmastime and yet, this is the only baby who forced us to cage the tree. Even that is not foolproof because he manages to push the rigged-up baby gates until he can reach ornaments through the bars. Busy, busy baby.
Not one, but the whole shebang!
There are so many ornaments to choose from that, at first, I thought it would be difficult to decide which one to use for today. But once I went out and looked at the tree again, I knew exactly which one to show.
This summer, my grandpa passed away. It was both unexpected and not. His mind and spirit were fully intact, but his physical body took a rapid decline in health, frighteningly so in the last week. Of course, we all know that our time here on earth doesn’t last forever, but it was hard to imagine that someone as strong, stubborn, and ornery as my Gpa could ever succumb. He was a fixture, the patriarch. A man like that doesn’t just… leave. While we know he is with his Savior in heaven, we still feel the hole of his absence here as we continue in life.
Yet, we find ways to remember him.
I am the first grandchild, the firstborn of a firstborn. I had the privilege (unbeknownst to me at the time, of course) of transforming my Gpa and Gma from parents to grandparents. That’s pretty exciting stuff. My Gpa loved to tinker and create and try new things. He cut out this heart-shaped ornament from some kind of plastic resin stuff and etched in my name and birthdate and then made a hook to hang it with twisted wire. I know he made ones for my next two siblings; I’m not sure if he still had the supplies once my cousins began entering the world (anyone?). Hanging this ornament was extra special this year. I’m thankful that he made it for me and thankful that he passed on his love of creating and experimenting to me.
I love you, Gpa!
You can go to a thousand different places online to find out about typical French Christmas traditions. I don’t have much to add in that vein that would be very different. Instead, I’ll point out how we knew it was Christmas in France. You won’t hear much Christmas music around, piped into stores and whatnot. The French don’t have a tradition of popular Christmas music like we Anglo-Saxons do. Occasionally an English Christmas song would slip through, and it was always a surprise. So, we couldn’t rely on music like you can here in the States.
Christmastime in France starts in December, which is refreshing since American society seems ready to rush headlong into it right after Labor Day. Every town has its own decorations strung across the main streets and in the plazas. People don’t tend to put visible decorations on their apartments or houses, so they rely on the municipal decorations for a festive feeling.
The Champs-Elysées gets lit up! It was always worth a trip into the city just to see.
City halls ice over empty places for seasonal ice rinks. This is a photo of the big one in Paris. Rueil also put up a skating rink, but I don’t seem to have a picture of it.
Another thing that we looked forward to were the beautiful displays in the stores of the Lindor special edition Christmas boxes. I wasn’t brave enough back then to take photos in a grocery store, but Lindt has some pictures of their lovely chocolate boxes that I’m going to borrow here. Imagine them in a big, artfully designed display as only the French can do.
Little Christmas tree lots would pop up on wide spots in the sidewalk. Most Americans would be shocked at the trees there. No full, fluffy Douglas firs and nothing taller than 4 ft. They were mostly pines with a cross of wood nailed to the bottom — instant tree stand!
But the thing we loved most about Christmas in France were the markets. Christmas markets sprang up all over and those were so fun to visit. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of those because they always took place at night. Imagine rows of little chalet-shaped booths, filled with wooden toys, puppets, Christmas cookies and sweets, and all kinds of other wonderful gifts to buy. And there was always one booth selling cups of vin chaud — mulled wine — or hot cider. It was all the fun of the regular weekly market with the added spirit of Christmas in the air. It felt good to be part of the community. That’s probably what we miss most of Christmas in France.
Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend celebrating with family and friends!
Are you feeling strapped this Christmas? Want a little Christmas cheer without the cost? I’ve got more ideas for you! (Please excuse the date stamps on some of the photos. Rana got a hold of my camera last night and I didn’t realize she had changed the settings until after I uploaded the photos.)
It all started with a windstorm the week of Thanksgiving. Granota and I were outside the day after and noticed all the branches that had blown down into the yard and my wheels started turning. What makes better Christmas decoration than fresh evergreen boughs? We collected several and laid them up on the porch to dry and give the bugs a chance to escape. Just down the road there was a bush with perfectly round, perfectly white little berries (snowberries, aptly named). We ran and got a bucket and picked several. I thought they might make a pretty garland strung together, especially if we could find some red berries. So we kept on walking to see what else we could find. We did find some red berries, but they seemed too mushy to use for a garland. A little farther on, we crossed a tiny stream and on the other side, we found what appeared to be miniature pine cones littered all over the ground. At first, I couldn’t figure out what tree they had come from, but then I found some cones with a leaf attached. A leaf? Later, when we got home, I did some searching online and found that they are from an Alder tree and are actually called catkins. How cute, huh?
I was still on a quest for red berries for my garland. Anytime we drove anywhere, I was scanning the roadside for red berry bushes and making mental notes of their locations. I knew exactly where to find holly and other red berries in Tacoma, but I just wasn’t having much luck out here. Then, I ran across a Norwegian blog that deflected my mania from red berries to apples. Take a look at what she did. LisemoresHave Don’t worry; I don’t read Norwegian either. Yet.
So you’ve looked at the Norwegian blog now, right? How easy is that?! Apple trees grow wild out here. I’ve been noticing for weeks the many leafless trees still clinging to their apples. Now all I needed was a chance to get out and pick some apples! Problem was, we had just one working car and it’s a stick-shift, which I can’t drive. That meant I had to wait for a time when Mr. Gren could take me out apple-hunting. Finally, that occasion came last Saturday! It’s a good thing, too, because apples were all I could think about for days. The girls had a Christmas VBS to attend, so it was just Mr. Gren and Konik sitting in the car waiting for me. We stopped at a tree close to home and I ran across the highway with my trusty bucket. Little bit of a problem, though: The apples were all too high for me to reach. But, if you know me at all, you know a little thing like that won’t stop me.
First, I attempted to climb the tree, but you know what? Wild apple trees are really gnarly and scraggly. I got caught on branches a few times before I decided to change my course of action. There was a long, straight stick on the ground which ended up serving me quite well in knocking down loads of apples. All the while, there were horses in a pasture across the road who were very interested in all this activity. So I knocked down a few extra apples for them and they were very appreciative. I have new friends!
On Sunday, my quest for red berries was satisfied. On the way to church in Olympia, I saw several holly bushes; I had my bucket but no pruning shears. I might be unorthodox, but I’m not crazy enough to attack a holly bush with my bare hands! However, I did see some other bushes with nice smooth leaves and lots of pretty tiny red-orange berries. As far as I can tell, they’re some kind of hawthorn or firethorn. Once again, I made Mr. Gren pull over and let his nutty wife out with her foraging bucket. In the middle of town.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve been working on my own version of Lisemore’s beautiful decorations. First, I worked on making little apple wreaths. I borrowed a screwdriver from Mr. Gren (I promise I’ll wash it!) to skewer the apples and then strung fishing line through them. Easy!
I don’t have all those pretty galvanized buckets like Lisemore does, so I had to use empty flower pots of varying sizes. This literally put a hole in my plan. If you see in her photos, she filled her buckets with water and let it freeze and then was able to lay the evergreen branches and apples on top of the ice. Obviously, flower pots aren’t going to hold water because they have drainage holes. Ice wasn’t going to be a real practical option, anyways, because it doesn’t stay below freezing here through the winter like it does in Norway. I needed something to build up the level to where the apples and branches would be visible. What else do we have in abundance here? Where there are fir trees, there are fir cones. And lots of them. Once again, the bucket and me. After I had harvested a few pounds worth, my back was killing me so I called it good, even though they didn’t quite fill up each of the pots. I just padded it up with extra evergreen. By this time, though, I had used up all my good big apples in the wreaths and all I had left was a handful of tiny ones. Mr. Gren didn’t seem real keen on taking me out on another apple-picking excursion, so I did what I’m getting good at: Make do with what I have. And what did I have? Little red berries.
You remember that there is still a garland yet to be made. I think I’m going to save that project to do with the girls. The alder cones may appear there since my red berries were called into duty elsewhere. I’ve enjoyed foraging for my Christmas decorations so much that I might try to do this every year, cabin or not. It felt good to make use of natural things and for free! It also made me feel kind of Celtic, gathering alder cones and hawthorn, which are both used in traditional healing and that sort of thing. I really needed some holly and mistletoe to round it out. But hey, Christmas isn’t here yet, and I know I’ll be passing a holly bush at least once before, so there’s still time to get my Druid on. And, with any luck, Mr. Gren won’t have to drive me that time!