Monday, December 27, 2010


It starts with the questions.
Mom, can you buy me some red pants?
Mom, where is my black belt?
I don't know. Check your room.
Mom, can you buy me a santa hat?

This happened last year. For some reason I forgot that Joey likes to dress up as Santa. So the questions caught me off guard.
It is a struggle between him and I until I finally get on board with the whole thing. He is quite a persistent little bugger.
Slowly I come around. Joey is very happy when I finally get on board.
He wants to hand out wrapped presents to his sisters. So he goes around the house and finds toys and wants wrapping paper. Then he needs tape. Then he realizes that you don't rip wrapping paper, you use scissors. It is a long slow process.
Finally, he is ready. Joey, I mean Santa, hands out gifts to his sisters.
Next year he wants a real Santa outfit. I think this whole process will start all over.
Me resisting.
Him persisting.
Welcome to Christmas at my house!

For some things, it doesn't matter what country we are in.

On December 24th we went to the market in the morning. It was very festive, lively and fun. More lines for oysters. I was given a sample for smoked salmon. It was good so I had to buy some.
We spent the afternoon in the kitchen cooking. We played Christmas music all day.
Since we had a lot of cooking to do we let the kids open their Fracassi cousin gifts in the afternoon. The Fracassi cousin draw names each Christmas. There is a slight chance that they opened these gifts because I knew that cousin Sydney had sent Ellie a big box of craft supplies.
Ellie went first with her present. She was so happy to have a present to unwrap. Finally, Christmas was here. She took the wrapping paper off the box and saw a picture of boots. She started crying. She didn't want boots for Christmas.

Here she is several minutes later after we convinced her to open the present.

Around 7pm, before we had dinner, we decided to deliver some gifts to two of our neighbors. Our neighbors usually eat late so we didn't think anyone would be eating at 7pm. They don't usually eat until at least 8pm.

First, we went next door to Zoe's family. (Ellie and Zoe are in the same class at school) The parents were dressed up, a large table was set nicely, and a raw turkey was sitting on the counter in a pan. At 7pm, their guests had not arrived yet and the turkey had not gone in the oven! It was going to be a late night at their house. Zoe's mom, Giselle, looked worried that we expected to be invited in. This poor woman, who is so nice to me and so patient with me when I am speaking French, did not need me barging in on her Christmas Eve. I told her that we were dropping off gifts and we quickly left.

The next house we went to was Zack's family. Joey and Zack play together a lot. They had given us a box of chocolate and we wanted to give them something in return. They answered the door in a much more casual way. Casual clothes, no table set and no food on the table. They looked like they were hanging out. They invited us in for a drink but we had our own dinner to get back to. They were a little surprised that we didn't want to sit and have a drink.

We walked back home and admired the one house in our village that has outdoor Christmas lights.

After dinner we gave the kids a book that Rod's parents had recorded for them. The kids listened to Grandma and Papa Fracassi read them 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

And then, with a blink of an eye, it was Christmas morning.

Santa had found us. There were presents under the tree.
Even boots. Fortunately they were for a child that really wanted boots - Katie.

Rod had brought with him a hockey bag full of presents from grandparents and aunts and uncles. So we spread out the gift opening.
And of course extracting presents from their plastic can take up a good part of the day. Those barbies are not going to move one inch inside their plastic case!

Family that we missed was in our heart and on our minds all day.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

shopping for Christmas dinner

This morning Rod and I went shopping for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner.
Outside of the entrance to the grocery store were stacks and stacks of oysters. People were lined up to buy them.

Rod bought some oysters and they will get eaten tonight. He bought the ingredients to make Oysters Rockefeller.

Another thing we see a lot of at the grocery store is foie gras. Lots and lots of foie gras. There is even more than normal. A new counter was set up to sell it and a woman was standing behind the counter handing out samples.

Here is our Christmas Eve dinner;
foie gras
seafood pasta with mussels, shrimp, crab, scallops and clams
bolognese pasta (for the kids)
prefou (a regional speciality - a long flat garlic bread)
chocolate cake with a little Santa on top for dessert

Here is our Christmas Day dinner;
tomatoes and mozzarella
beef bourguignon
another cute little cake with Santa on top

Oops, I think Santa needs a little help getting back up.

It was festive but busy at the grocery store. Even Santa was there handing out candy and walking around.

We purchased most of our ingredients at the grocery store. I would normally purchase more stuff at the market but the market day was moved up a day and some of the vendors won't be there.

Tomorrow at the market we need to buy the fresh veggies for salad and tomatoes for the tomato and mozzarella dish. Rod also wants to buy some more fresh seafood for the seafood pasta. Our area has lots of fresh seafood since we aren't far from the ocean. The French love to buy their seafood at the market. The seafood counters always have a line.

I asked a neighbor what they have on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for meals. He asked if I wanted to know about the traditional meal or what his family was having. He told me that his family was ordering a salmon for Christmas Eve and they were having turkey for Christmas Day. He said turkey on Christmas day is popular. They were not having potatoes with their turkey, but chestnuts. He also mentioned oysters and foie gras.

Having Rod here has added to the festivities. It is more fun to have him here sharing in everything than trying to explain it all to him on skype.
The weather has been rainy the last couple of days so we have stayed in a lot. We are watching movies and playing games. Right now Rod is looking up a youtube video for Joey on how to draw a fighter jet. We have to find something for Joey to do on these rainy days.


Monday, December 20, 2010

guest post by Rod Fracassi

Hello faithful reader's of Jen's blog. I am Jen's husband, the first guest poster to the blog, and the person who never thought that my wife would actually pack up the kids and move to France for a year.
I came to visit my family for the holidays. I have been here about a week, my luggage not quite as long, but we will discuss that later.
Let me first thank my extended family for making packing for my trip such a challenge. The drivers at Con-way have my sympathy for trying to cube out a trailer with unaccommodating freight. I would also like to know Santa's secret for hauling gifts all over the world, but then again Santa doesn't have to go through customs and airport security.
Ok, about the trip over here. A computer glitch, a cargo door that wouldn't close, switching planes, and a frozen conveyor belt caused a five hour delay before leaving Detroit. Not an issue unless you have a connection and you have been waiting 3 months to see your family. Of course I missed my connection in Amsterdam to Bordeaux. I finally got re-routed through a City I never heard of in the South of France. To put it in terms that us Americans can understand, I was trying to get from Detroit to Chicago, and in order to accomplish that they had to first route me through Cincinnati. Doesn't make much sense to me either.
Seven hours behind schedule, I arrived in Bordeaux.
At this point let me ask how many times should you watch the baggage carousal go around before you accept the fact that your luggage is not there? Well, when they turned off the carousal and I was pretty much alone, I realized that my second bag was not going to arrive. I relied on my Italian rather than my French to get someone to assist. And for those of you who know me, I do not speak Italian or French, but apparently I used the right hand gestures and tone to get what I needed.
Fortunately my wife showed up to calm the situation, and soon we were on our way home with the understanding that the bag would be delivered in Charzais the next day, which would have been Wednesday. Despite daily assurances that the bag was in route (and I was told don't leave the house unless you might miss the delivery service - worse than the cable service that promises to be there between 10 - 3) the bag arrived on Saturday afternoon. The bag was fully intact, including all of the gifts entrusted to me from family and friends.
So now that the travel portion of the post is behind me, let me tell everyone what an absolute joy it is for me to see my family and share in some of their experiences.
My first day here, Wednesday, was spent hanging out and enjoying playing with my kids. My wife and I went to the grocery store and took a nice walk around town. On Thursday I helped get the kids to school, then my wife and I did a little Christmas shopping and ran some errands. Funny that 4 months ago, I would have dreaded being hauled from store to store, but on that cold Thursday in December, nothing was more enjoyable than spending the day running errands with my wife.
Friday was an amazing day. After we got the kids to school, Jen and I went to La Rochelle. It was a bright sunny day that made the ocean side resort town just seem to sparkle. We went to a restaurant for lunch and each ordered a pot full of mussels. They were awesome. Then we did some more shopping, yes I think my wife realized how much I have missed her and completely took advantage of me. We ended up at the local market where I bought a dozen oysters practically right off the boat. Next to the oyster guy was a florist with Christmas trees for sale. I would like to say that I negotiated the guy down from from 75 euros, but the reality was it was all in the translation. Their 1's look like 7's and when Jen said he said 15, I thought she said 50. Nonetheless, 10 minutes later when were back in the car with a $15 tree crammed in back and a bag of oysters. A very good afternoon.

That evening, we went over to the neighbors for aperitifs, or hors d'oeuvres. The neighbors were very nice. They have 2 kids, a girl in Ellie's class and a younger son. They do not speak English, but the kids played nicely and the adults ate and drank, which I can do in any language. One of the topics of conversation that night was my lost luggage. Jen did a good job describing my ordeal and telling them that we were still awaiting my lost bag.
Saturday morning we woke up to a few inches of snow. The yard really looked beautiful, so Jen went out and took some pictures of the house. It really made it feel like Christmas.
Later in the morning, we went to the market. When I brought my family to France back in September we went to the market, but let me tell you that Jen and her Mom now have the market down to a science. Within 30 minutes we had 4 bags full of meat, cheeese, produce and of course ... wine. However, regardless of how efficient they have become with their market purchases, they are still women, so we were at the market for a couple of more hours. The town was having their Christmas market with several additional vendors there selling their wares. Snow turned to rain, so we got through it relatively quickly. When we got home from the market we started getting lunch ready when someone knocked on the front door. It was my luggage! The funny part about it however was that it was the neighbor Tony holding my bag. Apparently, the delivery service came when we were at the market. They were preparing a note that they were taking the luggage to the post office, where I could have recovered it on Monday. Tony saw them in our driveway and convinced them to leave the luggage with him. I was so excited to get my luggage that I didn't care that the delivery company left it with someone that they had no reason to believe even knew me, or actually lived next door to us. By the way, Tony is my new best friend.

Earlier in the day, I saw a poster for a soccer game in town. It was a quarter finals game of the French Cup. Our local team was playing and hosting the game, so me and Joey went Saturday night. Yes, I don't speak French but took the car to the local stadium, parked and bought tickets without incident. I think any guy would know how to get to a big game regardless of the country. It was pouring rain, and just above freezing. There were still snow piles from when they had scrapped the snow off the field earlier. The game was a blast. Fontenay was playing LeMans. Fontenay was up 1-0 at half, and LeMans was down a guy due to a red card when a LeMans striker took out the Fontenay goalie. I know that my wife wants my kids to learn through immersion, but I hope that Joey didn't understand the things that were said by the crowd when the LeMans player was being escorted off the field. By the tone and hand gestures, I was guessing that the things being said probably would have made the home crowd at a U of M hockey game blush.

Sunday, we decorated the tree. Jen had bought red bulbs, my mom had sent christmas decorations for the kids (which arrived with my luggage on Saturday) and we bought lights at the store on Saturday. The kids had a blast. There was no way that they would be willing to go without a tree. I am glad it all worked out. Ellie especially enjoyed it.

Sunday night we went into town to participate in the christmas market activities. We rode the carousal and went on the horse drawn carriage ride. We were about to try out the ice skating rink when I realized that the rink had no ice. Kids were skating on a piece of fiberglass. I convinced Joey not to try it. I was afraid that he would try to show off, do a hockey stop and go flying.

On Monday, my wife took me for a run. Apparently, you can best see the sights outside of town by running as opposed to driving. My wife's friend Cindy did not bring her running stuff during her visit over Thanksgiving, so Jen was in the mood for a run, and I was the beneficiary. Thanks Cindy! We went on about a 5 mile run. Jen indicated that it didn't seem so long since there were so many interesting things to see along the route. We did see two nice Chateaux and had a conversation with a local farmer, but it still seemed like a 5 mile run to me.

In the afternoon, I took the kids to the neighborhood pool. I was able to deal with the admission process with no problem, but could not figure out the lockers. Now before anyone starts thinking about making fun of me, they were not normal lockers. They were cylinders that you filled and then spun closed. Then you had to insert money at a centralized kiosk, insert the locker number and then a 4 digit code. Ok, it doesn't sound that complicated now that I am writing about it, but when you are there and the directions are in French, it is a little overwhelming.

Well, I am not sure when this will be posted, I am sure my wife will edit it a ton, but according to my watch it is 5:00, (technically it says 11:00, but I can do the math) which means that it is time for an aperitif. So I am going to cut some bread, sausage and cheese and pour myself a little scotch and start enjoying my evening.

****Note from Jen: I did not edit or change anything. This is all Rod. But just to be clear, Cindy DID bring her running clothes. We just ran out of time for a long run. I did not make Cindy run while I drove the car behind her! I drove her past the nearby chateaux.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas fairs

There are lots of Christmas fairs here in France and we have gone to several of them. One of my favorites was the one held at the old Maillezais Abbey.
It was called the Foire de Noel de Bethléem.

There was straw on the ground, camels walking around and tents which housed the craft vendors. All this against the backdrop of the abbey. It was beautiful.

The man riding the camel got off and talked about Jesus. Really that is all I know. I missed the rest. When I saw that the kids were mesmerized by the camels I got in a little shopping. I could shop for things like this:

Another camel picture:

We also saw Santa Claus. Little Ellie is my last believer.

With Santa Claus was this guy. White wig, face painted black and black clothes. He was passing out candy for Santa. No idea who he is.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

snow day!

We had a snow day!
After several days of cold weather we woke up one morning to an inch or two of snow. I took Katie to school but there were no buses in the parking lot. I saw several men clearing the sidewalks out front with brooms. That was my first clue that they aren't really used to snow.
The roads were pretty slick so I understood why the buses were not running.
Since Katie didn't have school, I knew that the other kids would not want to go to school. Plus Ellie still had some chicken pox on her face and it didn't hurt Joey to have an extra day of recovery after having the flu.
So we stayed home. We had hot chocolate. The kids played in the snow. For hours. It was a happy snow day.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

visit with Cindy and Megan

The day after Thanksgiving, Cindy, Megan and I visited a nearby abbey. Nieul sur L'Autise.
Yes, it is an old abbey, dating back a thousand years or so, but the interesting thing about this abbey was the way they used technology to help your visit. At the beginning of the tour, before we really saw anything, we could get some history of the area from some touch screen TV's. They had the information in several lanuguages.
Then they had a gallery of old instruments (actually replicas of old instruments) As you approached the instrument, a light sensor turned on a light and the music started playing. It startled us at first but then we found it to be quite nice.
After touring the abbey we were directed to a building next door. Here, you sat in front of a tv screen. You got a virtual tour of the abbey in its original condition. You had a joystick to navigate through the different rooms of the abbey. For instance, in one room you were able to see monks transcribing manuscripts. (Monks is probably not the right word, but you get my point)
After leaving this area we sat and watched a short film on a large screen of a painter going to several of the old abbeys in the Vendee area. It was a good way to view some of the abbeys in our area.
Below is a picture of Cindy and I at the abbey.

Going to an abbey was meaningful to both of us since we really wanted to join the convent when we were in high school. We both gave serious thought to this.
Ok, your laughter is getting to be a bit too loud. Tone it down a bit.

After going to the abbey we dropped Megan off at Katie's school for the afternoon. Katie and a couple of her friends were waiting for Megan at the front door of the school.
Then Cindy, mom and I headed into town, Fontenay le Comte, to have a nice long French lunch. Our only problem? It was ten minutes to 2. Lunch is from 12-2. We tried 2 restaurants and they both told us no, it was too late. Finally, on the third try we got seated at the crepe restaurant. We got our lunch.

After lunch we walked around town for a little bit. We went through the gardens behind the mayor's office.
Pretty soon it was time to pick the kids up from school.
Megan had gone to English class with Katie. The teacher asked Megan to stand in front of the room. The French kids had to ask Megan questions in English. The teacher wrote Megan's answers on the board so the kids could study them. I have talked to this teacher before and he likes his students to hear our American accent. Around here, they only hear a British accent.

On Saturday morning I made Cindy run to the nearby chateaux while I drove the car behind her. If she started to slow down, I just honked the horn a little. You can't poke along on a morning run. I had to make sure she kept moving. Maybe she was thinking of joining the convent again. Maybe that is what was slowing her down.

After her run, we went to the market in town. Snails and fish with their eyes looking at you were the highlights.

And then Cindy and Megan were off to Paris.

It was fun to show Cindy and Megan our corner of France, but one of my favorite parts was Friday night when Cindy and I stayed up late chatting.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Just a warning up front - I am going to use lots of adjectives like wonderful and fabulous in this post. So if you are in a crabby mood and don't want to hear it, then this is not the post for you.

Thanksgiving was fabulous. (See what I mean, I have already used that word!) Visits from American friends put us in the Thanksgiving spirit.
It was wonderful to have friends here to help us celebrate such an American holiday.
My friend Cindy and her 13 year old daughter, Megan, arrived the day before Thanksgiving. My mom also had 2 friends visit, Jim and Joanne.
On Thanksgiving the kids went to school - it is a normal day here after all. Mom and I took Cindy and Megan to the grocery store to pick up a few items. Cindy wanted to experience a French grocery store.

Cindy had e-mailed me before she came and asked if she should bring gravy mix and stuffing. I told her that it was her choice. She could bring stuff or we could try to figure it out here. She opted to figure it out here. So at the grocery store she was in charge of finding ingredients to make stuffing and gravy. While she went in search of the unknown, I went and shopped for my regular stuff. yeah, I gave her the harder job.
After the grocery store we met up with Jim and Joanne and took 2 cars over to La Rochelle for lunch. It was fabulous and French. A long lunch with several courses. Lots of laughter.

Jim got a heaping bowl of mussels. He made the mistake of offering to share. They were so good he ended up sharing with the whole table. We all agreed that they were the best mussels any of us had ever had.
After lunch we did a little shopping. La Rochelle has some really cute little shops. We could have spent the rest of the day there. But it was Thanksgiving after all and we still had to go home and make Thanksgiving dinner.
On the way back home home, we stopped at a little winery to pick up wine for dinner. A little wine tasting of course.

Then we had to head home to start cooking Thanksgiving dinner! We had ordered a turkey from the butcher and we were curious about how it turned out. What would we get? Here I go with those adjectives again, I just can't help it - the turkey was fabulous. I don't know if you know this, but the French know how to cook!!
Here is a picture of the turkey. The pans were the butchers, he asked us to return them later. This turkey never would have fit in our little oven!

We only had side dishes to cook. Cindy was in charge of the stuffing and gravy. She made the most wonderful stuffing. She used crusty baguettes, sausage, celery, chicken stock and I don't even know what else. She made a lot of gravy and in true Thanksgiving style we ate a lot of her wonderful gravy. Our mashed potatoes were made with creme fraiche. The kitchen was a flurry of activity. We had enough traditional food to make it feel like a real Thanksgiving dinner.

Here is the kids end of the table.

After dinner the kids watched Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and left the adults to chat.

After such a big lunch we were all a little surprised at how much we ate for dinner! We all stuffed ourselves. True to the holiday!

In between all this activity we got a little bit of skyping in with family - who we dearly miss.
It was a fun Thanksgiving in France, but next year I will be happy to return to the normal Thanksgiving at my mother-in-laws. I can go one year without her Thanksgiving dinner (and pies!) but I don't want to go any longer than that.