Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mommy in Training

My little niece just LOVES babies, so she has been in Heaven having the twins to dote on this Christmas vacation. Two years ago, she was the flower girl in my oldest son's wedding; now, she's eight (going on twenty-five), and is having a ball playing with and holding his seven-month-old baby girls.

Here she is snuggling Cutie Pie, my studious little granddaughter.
About seven years ago, this niece, along with her mommy and older brother and sister, lived with us for three months, while her daddy was finishing up working in another state and transitioning to a new job and their new house was being built. She was just a baby of fifteen months when she moved in, and we can all still vividly remember her that way. She was the most adorable baby girl, and my husband, the three sons who were still living at home at the time, and I absolutely loved having a wee one in our house again after so many years. And now, unbelievably, she's holding a baby. (And my son's twin girls are in the 97th+ percentile for height and weight, so the babies are almost as big as she is!)

Here's the little mother carrying Cutie Pie, who has some heft to her, as you can see. I mean, that little chunk-a-lunk is a real armful, even for adults. I don't even know if we should allow our eight-year-old niece to do this; she may end up with hefty chiropractor bills down the road!
KK carrying a hefty Cutie pie, who's half as big as she is!
This precocious niece says she can't wait to have babies of her own. As I said, she's eight going on twenty-five. She was talking to us yesterday about how she had a "rough childhood," due to her many falls and trips to the ER for stitches. Apparently, at the ripe old age of eight, she feels she's left her childhood days behind her. Nowadays, she's a mommy in training. And I tell you what, when that little girl grows up and has little ones of her own, she's going to be the best mother in the world.

(Also: Happy Birthday to my baby sister--the only one out of the five siblings in my family who hasn't hit the big Five-O yet. But she only has a year left now before she gets her first mailing from the AARP!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Special Anniversary

I meant to blog yesterday, because it was a very special and important date: it was the 31st anniversary of the day my husband and I became one in the Sacrament of Matrimony. But I never even plugged in my computer. It was just too busy up here at the Pearl clan's lakeside homestead, where five out of the eight siblings in my husband's family gathered with most of their children to celebrate together. There was too much baby-holding to do, and too much catching up with nieces, nephews, and in-laws--not to mention basking in the joy of having all of our children with us: our five boys, our daughter-in-law, and our twin baby granddaugthers, the real stars of the show this Christmas. (They're the most beautiful babies you've ever seen in your life, as I may have told you; and if you don't believe me, check out the photo below).

My husband and I didn't celebrate our wedding anniversary by going out for a fancy dinner or taking a cruise or showering each other with lavish gifts, but we did something much better: we hung out with all of our most favorite people in the world! (Actually, I was lavished with gifts, although--unfairly--my hubby was not. My husband went overboard on my combination Christmas/anniversary presents; but the iPhone he got me will make it so that I can "face time" with him when he's on trips and with our far-flung kids, and the Nikon camera is for taking even better pictures of the fam. So I shouldn't feel guilty that all he got is a new pair of black low-cut Chuck Taylors, his signature style of shoe--because he'll enjoy the fruits of my new gadgets as much as I will. Sounds fair, doesn't it?)

My best friend, my boyfriend, my favorite person in the world and I have now been married for 31 years, and here is a picture that tells the story of our blessed life. This family we've created is our greatest accomplishment and our greatest joy! I wouldn't trade it for all the riches in the world.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Few New Favorite Things

My sons spoiled me yesterday--spoiled me rotten! These Christmas gifts I received from them now rank right up there among my favorite things ever. Those lads sure know what I like: Nativity sets, piggies, and Michael Buble!! The items themselves are wonderful; but the best part is the thought that went into them. My boys have become the most generous and thoughtful gift-givers.

I love my boys! They are very good to their mommy (and their daddy, too).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joy to the World!

I wanted to share this painting, one I'd never seen before yesterday when I found it in the pages of the most recent copy of Lay Witness magazine. It is by Italian artist Federico Barocci (1535-1612). Barocci was stricken with an incurable illness as a young man and was no longer able to paint. He prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary and though not cured, he recovered enough to resume his painting. In gratitude, he painted one religious masterpiece after another, many depicting Mary as a maiden of incomparable beauty. In 1597 he painted this one called "The Nativity," which hangs in a museum in Madrid.

I love the way Mother and Child are looking into each other's eyes here. Also, note that the stable has no natural source of light--so all the light in this image flows forth from the face of the Christ Child, illuminating his Mother and even the face of the cow. He is indeed the Light of the World! Joseph, the proud father, can be seen in the background, opening the door to let in the shepherds. This is not your typical Nativity scene, with the Holy Family posed in the usual tableau. This portrayal is more realistic, and when you look at it, you can almost imagine what it really must have been like in that stable. I just think this is the most beautiful Nativity scene.

Here's wishing you a blessed and happy Christmas, and may the joy of Christmas be with you not only today, but throughout the coming year, too!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Traditions

Every family has their own special Christmas Eve traditions. Some open all their gifts that night, and some have huge open house parties and invite all the neighbors in for a drink. Many end the night's celebrations by attending Midnight Mass (we have begun to do this in recent years, although we always went in the morning when our boys were little guys).

Our family has a very specific tradition for Christmas Eve dinner. It began by accident many years ago, due for the most part to the fact that we had some picky eaters among our young sons back in the day, but one thing the five of them could all agree on was pizza--especially "ordered out" pizza (a real treat!). So one Christmas Eve my husband and I decided that--to make everyone happy and to give me a break in the kitchen--we would have Pizza Hut pizza delivered to our house for dinner that year. We set the dining room table up with all of our fanciest linens and china, we drank sparkling grape juice in wine glasses, we toasted each other in the candlelight; but the main dish that year was pizza!

That same year, we also put "Christmas crackers"--which are an English Christmas tradition--at everyone's place and opened them up together to hear them pop. Inside each cracker was a paper crown (everyone had to put theirs on), a cheap little toy or trinket (such as a miniature yo-yo that you couldn't get to work properly if your life depended on it), and a little sheet of paper with some jokes and/or trivia questions on it (the corniest jokes ever, but we went one by one around the table and made everyone read their little comic gems out loud). The crackers ended up being as much of a hit as the pizza; and so on that Christmas Eve, a new family tradition was born. Ever since, we have done exactly the same thing, year in and year out (even sending our son who was on deployment in the Army a cracker in the mail, and then Skype-ing with him on Christmas Eve so that we could all open them up together, put on the crowns, and read out our jokes to each other).

We have kept this tradition up religiously, except for one year when we lost track of the time and called for our pizza...and all the pizza places were closed! It was like Ralphie's family having to go out for Chinese food when the Bumpusses' dogs ate their turkey! I think our dinner that Christmas Eve was made up of fancy hors d'oeuvres. But otherwise, we've stuck to this same menu and I tell you, I think of it as a recipe for happiness. Now, I can hardly imagine Christmas Eve without pizza and crackers! And the funny thing is, even though four out of five of our sons are well past the legal age for alcohol consumption, we still have sparkling grape juice at our Christmas Eve dinner!

I have lots to do--presents to wrap (I'm so behind on that this year!) and cookies to bake. But I thought I'd leave you with a sampling of the type of jokes we're going to be telling tonight. Make sure you're not drinking milk or anything when you read them, because they're so hilarious that you might laugh so hard it'll come out of your nose.

Q. Why did the doughnut seller retire? A. He was fed up with the hole business.

Q. What do you get if you eat all the Christmas decorations? A. Tinselitus.

Q. What did the alien say to the garden? A. Take me to your weeder.

Q. What do you call someone who's afraid of Santa? A. A Claustrophobic.

Q. What do you get if you cross a snowman and a vampire? A. Frostbite.

And--drumroll, please--here is the last one (if you can stand any more hilarity): Q. What do you get if you cross a pig and a centipede? A. Bacon and legs.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Sugar Cookies

I'm late getting at my blogging today, because I've been fast asleep in my favorite chair for the past couple of hours. Our #3 and #4 sons arrived home at about 5:00 this morning, after making a twelve-hour car trip from VA--driving straight through the night...with their two doggies in tow! My internal alarm clock woke me up before they got here, and at about 4:30, I went around plugging in the tree lights, the garland lights, the candles in the windows, and my little lighted Christmas village (basically, lighting up everything that needs to be lit) so that it would look like a real Christmas wonderland when my boys walked in the door.

It's so good to have them home--all four of them!

Soon after their dogs settled down and we'd visited for awhile, the weary travelers (and my sensible husband) hit the sack; but I was feeling wide awake and too excited to sleep, so I had my morning coffee and baked a pumpkin pie. It was early yet, so while the pie was cooling, I decided to read for a little bit before I sat down at my computer. I opened my book, read a few pages...and woke up a little while ago to find that in spite of myself, I'd gotten a little cat nap in.

Now that I'm up again, I want to get started on making some sugar cookies shaped like trees and bells and angels, which I plan to have the boys ice and decorate later. I'm also going to make some gingerbread men. (Nobody around here really cares for gingerbread men, so I may be eating most of those myself--which I am willing to do, if necessary.)

Before I go, I thought I'd share a great sugar cookie recipe--one given to me by a fellow Navy wife in the early days of my marriage--that I've been using for many years. My only advice would be to watch the first batch carefully to make sure your cookies don't burn. My oven tends to cook things more quickly than some, so I often have to reduce either the oven temp or the cooking time.

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Home for the Holidays

Before I begin today's post, I just had something I wanted to add to yesterday's topic du jour, "Cwismas Memowies." For many years, the traditional Christmas morning breakfast for my boys was Christmas Crunch--a special version of Cap'n Crunch cereal with red and green crunchberries that only came out during the holiday season. My guys loved that cereal! It just wasn't Christmas without Christmas Crunch. I haven't seen it in a dog's age, but if anyone out there knows where to find it, let me know. We've graduated on to bacon and egg brunches on Christmas morning, but it would be fun to have some Christmas Crunch on hand for old times' sake.

Anyway, today I'm just thinking about what a happy Christmas this is going to be, because it will be the first time since Christmas 2007 that we will have our whole family together to celebrate the birth of Christ. For the past three Christmases, our oldest son hasn't been able to be with us. In 2008, he was on deployment in Iraq, and we could only see him on Christmas via Skype.

In 2009, that same son got married in Wisconsin six days before Christmas; so understandably, he spent that holiday with his new wife and her family out there in the land of the Packers fans, and the newlyweds Skyped with us from our daughter-in-law's parents' home. Then in 2010, our boy was on deployment once again, and he Skyped with us from Afghanistan. The Army is a tough life, and anyone would understand a soldier's need to complain about his plight; but our son's smile lit up that computer screen during those Skype sessions from the war zone. He managed to talk and laugh with us on those Christmas days as though things were absolutely normal. But we feel like our son has more than paid his dues, and now this year, miraculously, we are going to have him with us--and not only him, but his lovely wife and adorable twin baby girls, too. Woo hoo!

So we are feeling particularly blessed right now. And we pray for all the troops who are serving overseas this Christmas and feeling homesick, and for the families that are going to miss them. God bless those brave Americans and keep them safe until they, too, can be home for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cwismas Memowies

For Christmas 1991, my mother-in-law gave me a sweet hardcovered book titled Deck the Hall, a sort of journal for keeping Christmas memories. It has lovely vintage illustrations inside, along with some holiday recipes and places to paste photos. But the most important thing is that it has empty pages to record details from each Christmas under the headings "Our Family and Friends," "Holiday Menus," "Family Milestones and Memories," and "Gifts Given and Received." On the first page of this book, it says: "Here is a Christmas keepsake book in which you may record all the particulars of your own family's Christmas celebrations, year after year for a decade (plus a year to grow on!). You'll have room for records of who came, what was served, gifts given and received, family photographs...and for each year's special moments and memories."

This little memory book is now one of my most precious keepsakes, because I faithfully kept it each and every Christmas for eleven years, until there were no more empty pages to fill. I can tell you every detail of those eleven Christmases--whom we saw, what we ate, and what our favorite presents were; but more importantly, I can tell you those sweet, priceless "particulars" that may have been forgotten if I hadn't jotted them down in my cherished copy of Deck the Hall.

For instance, on Christmas day 1991, my eight-year-old firstborn son--who'd gotten the radio-controlled race car he'd wanted so badly--couldn't stop saying, "Santa sure knows what I like!" (Wink wink, nudge nudge. That Santa's something, isn't he?) And that same year, my #4 son, who was three and going on four at the time, was almost beside himself over all of the "Cwismas Pwesents" he'd gotten--but especially an enormous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turle action figure that was almost as big as he was. He followed me around all day long, holding his precious Leonardo by the arm and asking, "Mom, do you wish you were a kid so you could get this turtle?" It didn't matter how many times I said, "I sure do!"--he simply couldn't stop asking that question! (Actually, that's something I would have remembered without this book. It was simply adorable!)

I even jotted down wake-up times in my little copy of Deck the Hall. In 1991, my two oldest sons woke up at 3:30 a.m. In 1992, the two oldest woke up at 1:00 a.m. and son #4 woke up at 3:00. Son #3 was the sleepyhead that year: he slept in until 4:30! (Are you seeing a pattern here?) I have pretty clear memories of extremely early Christmas morning wake-ups without my memory book. But when I was thumbing through it today, I found an interesting little tidbit from Christmas 1994 that I'd forgotten: my husband and I actually woke our kids up at 3:00 a.m. that year so that Daddy could see what Santa had brought before he had to leave for work. We woke our kids up...at 3:00 a.m.!! But when you're an airline pilot and you're not the most senior guy on the list, you often have to work holidays; so we did what we had to do to have a special Christmas all together. Here's what I wrote in my memory book about that incident: "This was the first year no one had woken up on their own by that time!" (Oh, the irony.)

When my kids were little and I was right in the thick of raising them, I didn't think I'd forget all the miniutiae of each wonderful Christmas; but as I've gotten older, the memories have become a bit hazier. It all goes by so fast! Sometimes I wish I could just go back there, even for a day--and Christmas day would be fun, wouldn't it? I would love to see those five darling little boys in their cartoon character jammies (pants optional), with their smooth little rosy faces (pre-facial hair), and their blue eyes shining with delight as they open their "Cwismas Pwesents." In fact, I'd just like to hear the phrase "Cwismas Pwesents" uttered one more time.

And that, my friends, is why God gives old folks like me grandchildren!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Father Christmas

I know I've mentioned this many times (too many times, I'm sure), but I just love anything old-fashioned, antique, vintage, or Victorian. If something looks just plain old, I'm drawn to it. I have a set of five Christmas tree ornaments that are among my very favorites, even though they are just made of cardboard. They are lovely images of Victorian Santas and children, printed front and back with mirror images so that even if they spin around when they're hanging on the tree, they look great from every angle. Here is an example of one:Isn't this sweet? And it looks absolutely wonderful on the tree, proving that an ornament doesn't have to be costly and breakable to be precious.

Technically, I'm not even sure if this is supposed to be Santa Claus as we Americans know him, that rosy-cheeked, cookie eating guy with the belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly whenever he laughs. Actually, this looks more like the tall, thin, long-robed European version of Santa called "Father Christmas." In fact, now that I think of it, he looks very much like the "Pere Noel" my husband and I spied on the streets of Nice in early December. Check him out:
Strolling around the ville one day, we saw some street performers. One of them was a young, skinny Pere Noel (it may have been this same guy) shuffling around lazily, with a hat at his feet for those who wished to express their appreciation for his performance by using that language we all understand, money. My husband and I had to laugh. "He's not even trying!" we said. I mean, this guy was not spinning on his back and flipping and doing crazy hip-hop street dancing moves. He was shuffling. Lazily. It was really kind of funny. That Santa couldn't dance, but we got a kick out of him. And he did have a certain je ne sais quoi--a certain Old World charm, I suppose--thanks to that vintage-style Father Christmas robe.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Kids!

I can't believe I just did a post about Santa earlier this morning, when today is such an important day in the history of our family: two years ago today, our oldest son got married! Two years ago today, we were witnesses to the joining of two wonderful young people in the Sacrament of Matrimony.

It was the most beautiful and holy Catholic wedding Mass imaginable, and it took place at our daughter-in-law's parish church, the same one in which her parents had gotten married years before.

The reception that followed the wedding Mass was one of the most joyful, music- and dance-filled, and at the same time elegant--due to the sumputous surroundings of the historical building near our daughter-in-law's hometown in which it took place--celebrations I have ever had the privilege to be a part of (and I don't just say that because I'm biased! It really was the most magical and fun-filled reception!).

These two kids deserve every bit of happiness, because in the two years that they've been married, they haven't had it easy. Ten months after that fairytale wedding, our son was shipped over to Afghanistan for a year-long deployment in the Army, and shortly after arriving at his post there, he called to tell us that his wife was pregnant...with twins. Our daughter-in-law moved back home with her folks and went through the entire pregnancy and then the delivery of two healthy identical twin girls, all without a husband by her side. Our son was home briefly for two weeks when the twins were a month old, and then had to go back overseas. He finally returned home for good when the babies were four months old. What these two young people have been through already in their young marriage might break individuals made of lesser stuff; but they are strong, they are faith-filled, and they have such a positive outlook.

And God has certainly seen fit to bless them--because their daughters are healthy and thriving, and they're the most beautiful babies you've ever laid eyes on (again, I'm not biased at all).

Happy Anniversay, kids! We love you so much and are so proud of you both.

Ho Ho Ho!

Ho Ho Ho! Less than a week to go, and the big guy in the red suit makes his appearance! Little kids everywhere are waiting anxiously to see if the hoped-for toys they included on their wish lists to Santa will show up under the tree on Christmas day...especially those things that Mom and Dad just can't afford or simply refuse to buy, but good old Santa Claus can easily whip up in his shop. (He's awesome that way.)

That's how our four oldest sons acquired a Nintendo game system on Christmas morning, 1989. Their dad and I weren't going to allow video games in our house (it's cute how idealistic we were), but then our oldest son, who was six at the time, decided it was time to get serious and go over our heads. He and his brothers desperately wanted a Nintendo; that year, it was to them what the Red Ryder B.B. Gun was to Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story. "If you won't get it for us, I know Santa will," he said with a quivering lip. (Knife to the heart!)

I guess Santa thought those boys were very good (they were--for the most part!) and deserved a little Christmas magic. Lucky for him, though, that he didn't have to be around to handle the disciplinary measures that were necessary on account of that dang Nintendo. He never had to pack it up and store it away for months at a time because those maniacally competitive kids were either playing it too much or fighting over it. Santa got the fun part! But that magical Christmas morning when dreams came true, he did strengthen the belief of four little boys who were already dyed-in-the-wool Santa believers.

My boys are now 28, 26, 25, 23, and 18, and they still believe in Santa. (Me, too!) Above is a picture that son #2 drew when he was about ten. The funny thing is, this drawing is practically a self-portrait, because this is how the artist himself looks these days. He has a moustache and a long, crazy beard. And for Halloween, he dressed up as jolly old Kris Kringle, to the amusement of his friends. I'm hoping that he can put on his Santa suit for my twin six-month-old granddaughters when we get together with them on the 26th...although they may be terrified when they see this big, bearded man and hear his deep, hearty "Ho Ho Ho!" You know, perhaps we'll wait until next year for that, or the year after...I wouldn't want to scar those sweet little girls and ruin for them the magic and joy of Santa Claus--the guy who made their daddy so happy that Christmas long ago.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Only a Week to Go!

It's the fourth Sunday of Advent, and that means Christmas is almost here! I can't believe it's only a week away. Our youngest son is home now, and sons 2, 3, and 4 will be arriving on the 23rd. (We will not see our oldest son, his wife, and our twin granddaughters until we meet up with them at my husband's family home in Upstate NY the day after Christmas.)

My husband spent a whole afternoon a few weeks ago putting Christmas lights up along the roofline of our two-story Colonial. This is not an easy job--and it really shouldn't be a one-man job, either; but it was, since we've lost our work crew and are now empty-nesters. (I tell ya, we really miss those boys!) No sooner were the lights up, when we had an incredibly windy day and they were blown right off the house. "I'm not doing that again," my guy said, and I was actually glad about that. It makes me extremely nervous seeing him up there on that extension ladder. When Clark Griswold has mishaps on a ladder, it's hilarious; but I have no desire to see scenes from "Christmas Vacation" re-enacted in my front yard.

Not long after we lost our lights, we took a drive with our #2 son to check out a house so decked out with lights and decorations that you'd have to see it to believe it (for more on this, see my Dec. 12 post, "Clark W. Griswold, Eat Your Heart Out!"). And after seeing that Christmas wonderland, we said, "Wow. We really have to do something to show our Christmas spirit." So look what we got: For years, my husband and I have wanted to get an oversized outdoor Nativity set like this one, but they are usually prohibitively expensive. Several times, we've tried to pick one up on clearance during the after-Christmas sales, but they're always gone by the time we get there. But in spite of the expense, my husband told me that I could go to our wholesale club and get the Nativity I'd been admiring. He had decided that from now on, that--rather than just lights--should be the focus of our exterior Christmas decor.

Well, it was meant to be, I guess; because when I went the very next day to buy the Nativity, there was only one left and it had been marked down to half price. I was so excited! My husband plans to build a creche for it, eventually, and then we'll have a spotlight shining on it so that it can be easily seen from the street. But I just love this Nativity! And I'm so happy that with only one week to go until Christmas, we have this beautiful reminder of the reason for the season on display in front of our house.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Baby's Back!

My empty nest is empty no longer! My baby, my #5 son who's a college freshman at a Catholic university far, far away, came home for his Christmas break yesterday. It took planes, buses, and automobiles to get him here, but he made it--and it's so good to have him home!

When I went to pick him up at the bus station, I didn't recognize him at first. From a distance, I saw this very tall young man, and I thought it must be him; but this person was wearing a winter jacket I'd never seen before and a gray wool "newsboy" cap--looking very stylish, I must say. And then I realized that this dashing young gentleman from a GQ ad was in fact my boy! It was the spiffy hat that threw me. I guess the hat thing is just in his genes. His father--who is not, and has never been, an actual cowboy--has been sporting a cowboy hat for a long time now, and I have in recent years taken a liking to wearing des chapeaux myself. (Excuse my French. I'm just trying to stay brushed up on it in case I ever make it back to the Cote d'Azur.) So it was fun to see this son--who's never been one to wear even so much as a baseball cap--sporting a style of hat I just love, because it reminds me of both the olden days and the Irish.

It's really good to have this boy of mine back. I mean look at him, standing there in the kitchen with his Happy Meal "Scar" figurine (Lion King, anyone?) in his hand, and his jammie shirt...and no pants.
For some reason, all of my boys had an aversion to pants when they were little. They'd go around like this, even in the wintertime (inside the house only, of course). But look at those chubby little thighs! Isn't he just the cutest? Of course, this picture was taken seventeen years ago when he was just shy of two, and he doesn't look like this anymore. These days, he's a lot taller, his hair's a lot shorter, and he always has pants on. But when I look at him now, all 6 feet 2 inches of him, I still see the ghost of this adorable toddler.

And right now, I'm just so happy--because my baby's back!

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Joy of Sewing

When my oldest son got married two years ago, he not only found the perfect life partner for himself, a young woman who is a wonderful wife (and now a wonderful mother to six-month-old twin baby girls); he also found me a daughter!

I have enjoyed the novelty of having a girl in the family so much, after three decades of being surrounded by men--as much as I adore my husband and my boys. (And little did I know that before long, I would have two more girls as well!). My son's wife and I have had several enjoyable opportunities to "shond" (a term invented by my daughter-in-law and her sister that means to bond while shopping); we've had a pedicure together (my first--what fun!); and we've discovered a shared love for books and yard sale treasures and antique things. And now, we are sharing a love for sewing projects. (Hmmm...I wonder if it would be possible to come up with a term that means to bond while sewing...)

Years ago, I found this sweet vintage illustration in a magazine, and I framed it to hang above my sewing table. It is from a book published in 1913 called The Mary Frances Sewing Book, or Adventures Among the Thimble People. This book is part of a series of how-to books written by Jane Eayre Fryer in the early 1900's, in which the main character learns many skills deemed important for women of that era: sewing, knitting, crocheting, cooking, housekeeping, and first aid. In the sewing book, Mary Frances (a very resourceful young lady) wants to learn how to sew, and the fairy people--along with her grandmother's sewing bird and sewing tools--teach her how. The book gives instructions for making 33 different items to fit 16" dolls, and patterns are included so that young readers can try to replicate them.

I have always been drawn to vintage artwork such as this, and I wouldn't mind getting my hands on a copy of this charming old book! This darling picture of Mary Frances working on a dress for her doll makes me think of my daughter-in-law and myself, and the joy we get out of taking flat pieces of cloth and turning them into something altogether new. It's so much fun to have someone to sewnd with...uh...to bewnd with...You know what? I don't think there's any good way to combine the terms bonding and sewing; so let's just say that it's fun to have a sewing buddy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Reason for the Season

I found this charming illustration called "The Reason for the Season" on-line yesterday. At first glance, I thought, "This artist doesn't know the reason at all--he thinks it's all about the presents!" Looking at it quickly, it's not obvious that the intent of this piece is to show that Christmas isn't really about Santa and all the goodies he leaves under the tree. I mean, look at the magical wonderland of toys surrounding those two kids! (I think they might be a tad--perhaps even more than a tad--spoiled!)

But now look more closely.

The little boy and girl are staring intently at a lit-up snow globe with a Nativity inside of it. They are ignoring all the dolls and teddy bears and toys surrounding them, mesmerized by that snow globe. They appear to be aware of, and awed by, the true reason for the Christmas season.

I thought this illustration was so sweet--and with only ten days left until Christmas, I thought I'd post it to share with you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Jumpers for the Twins

Back on November 23, I blogged about finding some wonderful pieces of fabric in my late mother-in-law's attic. Among the many treasures I unearthed, there was some red velveteen that I thought would be perfect for Christmas jumpers for the twins. Yesterday, finally, I got around to making them--just in the nick of time. I plan to get them packed up and shipped off today, and with any luck the girls can wear them to Mass this Sunday. (Note to the babies' mommy and daddy: be on the look-out for a package!)

I've mentioned before that my mother-in-law was quite a gifted seamstress. And I know for a fact that she worked with velveteen many times. The lovely dove gray jacket and full-length skirt that she wore for the winter wedding of her oldest son and me was an outfit she'd stitched up for herself. She also made gorgeous black velveteen dresses for her daughters to wear to college formal dances. Before yesterday, I'd only used this type of fabric once, for an open jacket that had no zippers or buttons. That jacket had been fairly easy to make, though, so I didn't expect to encounter any problems while I worked on the twins' jumpers.

Wrong!

I would have loved to be able to get some advice from my dear mother-in-law while I was working with that rassa-frassin' velveteen yesterday, because it's so thick that it can be a bit of a pain at times. The pattern I was using called for 3/8" buttons, but when I tried to open up the tiny buttonholes that would fit those, I could barely cut through the layers of velveteen and nearly ruined a garment that was otherwise finished. I ended up making some adjustments, which included using 3/4" buttons instead of the smaller ones and lengthening the buttonholes I'd already made.

[By the way, if any of my sons are reading this: were you hoping that today's post was going to be about sewing? Are you riveted to your seats, thinking, "What happened next, Mom? How does the story end?!...And when does it end?"]

Anyhoo, the jumpers ultimately came out okay. I wanted to make some little blouses to go with them out of some Christmas calico fabric (again, a treasure from Mom's attic), but the pattern I was using had the most confusing directions. Sadly, in the battle of wills that ensued between that pattern and me, I was the loser. So I ultimately gave up and bought some white onesies to go underneath the jumpers.

I think my little twin granddaughters are going to look adorable in these matching jumpers, and that makes yesterday's trials all worth it. And once again, I feel that a piece of Mom is being passed on to this new generation--and I imagine her smiling when she sees how pretty her great-granddaughters look on Christmas day, wearing the red velveteen from her attic.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Enough is Never Enough!

Here's my philosophy on Christmas ornaments: enough is never enough! I really like a packed tree, where you can hardly see any green because there's an ornament on every branch.

My mother always had a great Christmas tree when I was growing up, and I could sit on the couch at night, in a darkened living room, and look at that lit-up tree forever. (It was my father's tree, too, of course; but he had nothing to do with it once he'd brought it home and set it up in the tree stand.) Mom had every kind of ornament on there, from simple home-made ones to very valuable and fragile antique blown-glass German ornaments that she'd inherited from her own mother. My mom also had these old garlands made of real silver--which she'd also inherited from my grandmother--that were so different than the modern ones that I often thought looked rather cheesy. As much as I could appreciate the beauty of all kinds of Christmas trees when I was a kid--you know, even "theme" trees, or those decorated all in one color-- I never thought anyone else's tree could stack up to ours.

For many years, my husband and I would take our boys to the tree farm, and we'd choose our tree and cut it down ourselves. Then, about 5 or 6 years ago, we bought a 9-and-1/2-foot artificial tree at an after-Christmas sale, and we've been putting that up ever since. I never thought I'd be okay with a fake tree, but I am. The key to a great Christmas tree isn't so much the tree anyway; it's the ornaments! And I have A LOT of ornaments!

I love to take out the ornament boxes each new Christmas season, because after I wrap them up and put them away, I don't think about them all year. And it's so much fun to pull them out again, one by one, and say, "Oh, I forgot about you! Aren't you cute?!" I feel like a little kid on Christmas morning opening up my presents.

Many of our ornaments are ones we've purchased, but at least as many have been gifts. And I always say, "I don't need any more ornaments--that's it!"...but every year, I make at least one new one. This year, I made an ornament using an adorable photo of my twin granddaughters. I glued it onto a metal juice can lid (for more on this, see my May 7 post, "Trash to Treasure"), added a bell, a bow, and a hanger--and voila! I think it's one of my all-time favorites. With those two cuties on it, though, how could it not be?

We have ornaments made of glass, porcelain, resin, ceramic, cloth, felt, wood, metal, plastic, paper, cardboard, pipe cleaners, clothespins--you name it, I'll put anything and everything up on my tree. Sometimes, when we get those free Christmas cards in the mail from different Catholic charities, the pictures on them are so beautiful that I cut them out and hang them up as ornaments.

The important thing about a Christmas tree is that it should make you and your family happy. And in this family, we believe that when it comes to ornaments, enough is never enough!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Clark W. Griswold, Eat Your Heart Out!

Last night, my husband and I spent the evening with our second oldest son, who has an apartment about an hour south of us. We helped him get his tree up and decorated, and then we had dinner with him.

While we were there, we took a drive over to see a house near the school at which our son teaches, a house that everyone down there seems to know about. People come from miles around every Christmas season to check it out. This house is locally famous for the over-the-top light display the family who lives there sets up every year the day after Thanksgiving. Our son tried to describe how amazing it was, but we were still surprised when we pulled up. Not only the large house, but also the extensive property surrounding it, was lit up--I was going to say "like a Christmas tree"...Okay, that fits, yes: like a Christmas tree! It made the Griswold house in the movie "Christmas Vacation" look bush league, I tell you. I don't have the ability to take panoramic shots with my camera, and the picture I'm posting only gives you a small taste of what we saw, but here you go:

There was a sign posted near the house that said, "Please enjoy the lights from the street." So we got out of our car and walked around, oohing and ahhing, and just in the ten minutes or so that we were there, about eight other cars came down the street, obviously for the same purpose. My favorite part of the whole display was this oversized Nativity, protected by a sheet of plexiglass, set up near the end of the driveway:

After seeing this Christmas wonderland, my husband and I sort of had that "Our decorations stink!" feeling. But truly, how could anyone compete with this? Even Clark W. Griswold's efforts don't compare. It must cost a fortune to set up and maintain an exhibit like this, and it must take days to take it all down, organize everything, and pack away those thousands of strands of lights so that they're ready to put up again the next year. That's not an undertaking for the faint of heart. The house right next door made us laugh, because you could tell the owners had decided that if you can't beat 'em, don't even try. They had one Christmas decoration only, standing right in the middle of their front yard: a large, lit-up GRINCH. You gotta love their sense of humor!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's the Mass That Matters

It's the third Sunday of Advent already. I don't know where the time goes, do you? I can't believe it's only two weeks until Christmas.

And I can't believe that only a week ago today, I was attending Mass at a beautiful old church called Notre Dame in the City of Nice, France. Already, it seems as if that trip I took to the Cote d'Azur, accompanying my husband on one of his working trips for his airline, happened about a month ago. It was such an idyllic adventure, such a special time for my husband and me (truly, like something out of a dream), that I feel just a bit sad when I realize that the memories of it, over time, will naturally grow fuzzier. So please excuse me for being a broken record, telling and retelling stories about our time there.

Today, when I get dressed up in my Sunday best for Mass, I won't be able to help thinking of the Mass my husband and I attended (all in French!), on the second Sunday of Advent, at Notre Dame--which you can see here in a photo taken from the balcony of our hotel room last Saturday night:Isn't it beautiful? My husband has often told me that one of the things he loves about flying internationally is that throughout Europe, there are so many amazing Catholic churches to be found. In Rome, he says, there is a church on practically every street corner. At one time, Europe was known as "Christendom" and most of that continent was a stronghold of the Catholic Faith. Evidence of this still exists in all the wonderfully ornate, breathtaking, historical churches, basilicas, and cathedrals still standing over there.

I was touched by the fact that the first thing you see once you emerge from the train station at the picturesque principality of Monaco is a lovely Catholic church:



This one is called the Chapel of St. Devote. It is dedicated to a 17th century martyr who is the patron saint of the family of Monaco's prince. It's small, but very beautiful.


The Mass is the Mass, no matter how plain or ornate the church in which it is held may be. The interior of our local parish church can't really hold a candle--as far as artistic beauty goes--to the interiors of the French churches I saw; but the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the same beautiful and necessary experience in our church each Sunday as it is in every Catholic church throughout the world. And I look forward to attending Mass today, on this third Sunday of Advent, right here in my hometown.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Everyone Loves an Irish Pub

One of the things I found out when I was in France with my husband last week is that no matter where you go in the world, you can probably find an IRISH PUB! We found one on the streets of Nice......and we found one on the streets of Monte Carlo...
..and for some reason, this surprised me--although maybe it shouldn't have. The Irish are a humorous and fun-loving people, and Irish pubs are usually full of song and blarney, laughter and partyin' (partyin'--yeah!), pints of beer and hearty toasts. For example, Finnegan might raise his glass and say to you, "May the good Lord take a liking to you...but not too soon." Who wouldn't want to hang out with an Irish crowd?


And the Irish are not afraid to make jokes at their own expense, either. I think they may be the least sensitive people on the planet. You want to call them a bunch of drunks on the verge of fisticuffs with the other pub patrons? They'll call themselves that, and worse. For instance, here's a typical Irish joke:


SIGN IN AN IRISH PUB: This establishment closes at 11 o'clock sharp. We are open from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m., and if you haven't had enough to drink at that hour the management feels that you haven't really been trying.


And here's another:


O'Connell was staggering home with a bottle of whiskey in his back pocket when he slipped and fell heavily. Struggling to his feet, he felt something wet running down his leg. "Please, God," he implored, "let it be blood."


And one more:


Murphy told Quinn that his wife was driving him to drink. Quinn thinks he's very lucky because his own wife makes him walk.


I married into a family of Irishmen, and I can tell you that they're fun, they're great story-tellers (really full of blarney), they have a great sense of humor, and they do like to raise a glass of beer at parties. When we are all gathered at my husband's childhood home, it's BETTER than being in any Irish pub you could find (even though they seem to be located all over the world). I'm going to leave you now with an Irish toast that fits the season:


May peace and plenty be the first to lift the latch on your door, and happiness be guided to your home by the candle of Christmas. Slainte!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Infant of Prague Statue

Back on November 20, I blogged about a damaged and unwanted Infant of Prague statue that I'd rescued from the back of a church we visited one Sunday in Upstate NY. This statue of the Child Jesus was missing a thumb and a cross, and He needed to be dressed. I fell in love with His sweet painted face (although He had no eyebrows!), and I envisioned how beautiful He could be with a little TLC. Here is the before picture:I soon got to work on my little labor of love. First, I painted on some eyebrows. Next, I fashioned a thumb and a cross out of Sculpey (a modeling clay that can be hardened by baking it in the oven), painted them, and glued them in place. Then I sewed a lace-trimmed red robe, using red velveteen and off-white lace that I'd found in my late mother-in-law's attic during a recent visit to my husband's childhood home. I needed a crown for my statue, but when I found one that would have been perfect in a Catholic goods catalog, the price was between $30 and $40, which I thought was much too steep. So I made a crown out of gold-colored poster board and gold rope trim, both of which I had already, and found some cheap plastic "gems" at Wal-Mart that I glued on to finish it off with a royal touch. I think my Infant of Prague is so lovely now! Here's the after picture:The Infant of Prague can be dressed in different colors that correspond to the different liturgical seasons on the Catholic Church calendar. There are four basic colors that are normally used:

White: festive color of purity and holiness--Easter and Christmas
Red: color of blood and fire, royal color--Holy Week, Pentecost, feasts of the Holy Cross
Violet: solemn color symbolising repentence--Lent and Advent
Green: color of life and hope--ordinary time

And here is a quote I found on a Catholic website that explains the reason for dressing this statue:

"The ancient tradition of dressing the grace-giving statue of the Infant of Prague is intended to bring Jesus closer to the faithful as a real human being. It helps us to experience the closeness of Jesus and to express our love and reverence. It is not a case of idolatry, for the statue is not alive and it serves only as a reminder and a means of enabling a spiritual encounter with the living Christ.

The statue itself represents Jesus as a very small child, wearing a simple gown. This statue, sublime in its simplicity, is dressed in a white alb and royal robes to express the thought that is common to all Christians, that this child is a king of the house of David, and, what is more, that Jesus is Son of God and God himself, King of Kings and Lord of Lords."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation for Catholics worldwide. It is a day that we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who--when She appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858--actually called Herself this, saying to the little peasant girl, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

Many people mistake this term, thinking it refers to the fact that Mary, despite being a virgin, conceived and gave birth to the Baby Jesus. The term actually speaks to the fact that Mary, the Mother of the Savior of the human race, was born without original sin through a singular privilege granted by God. This title reminds us that She, and She alone, is the one human being who was born sinless and possessed grace from the beginning.

I am planning to attend a morning Mass at my local church. It's a nice enough church, but rather plain and unadorned inside. I keep thinking of the glorious Catholic churches I was lucky enough to see when I was in Nice with my husband just a few days ago. (The interior of one is pictured below, but the photo really doesn't do it justice). As I already mentioned, I was reduced to tears the first time we walked inside one of these exquisite French churches. I wouldn't mind being able to attend all Sunday Masses and holy days of obligation in such heavenly surroundings!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What's Wrong with This Picture?

Today is the anniversary of the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, when we remember and pray for all of the souls who lost their lives that fateful day while serving this great country of ours. Normally I would do a post dedictated entirely to that event, and perhaps I should.

I can't seem to stop talking about my trip, though. Did you know I just came back from a trip to Nice? Have I told you that yet? Well, I did! And it was the most amazing experience! Before this trip, the only places I'd ever been outside the borders of the U.S. were Cancun (where we went for our honeymoon in the summer of 1982, about a year and a half after we got married), Bermuda (which we visited in 1991 with our four oldest boys, when my husband's brother and his family were stationed there at the Naval base), and Canada (which is so close to where I grew up that it never really seemed like a foreign country). Even though my husband's job has been taking him to cities all over Europe for the past fifteen years, I had never been across the Atlantic Ocean before I accompanied him on this awesome four-day trip to the Cote d'Azur. I can't stop thinking about all of the beautiful scenery I saw and how different things are over there than they are here.

Although, there was one hauntingly familiar, uber-American (and completely incongruous!) thing that kept popping up during my European holiday. Look closely, and see if you can find what's wrong with this picture taken on the streets of Nice:Now see if you can find it here, in Monaco--that idyllic little thoroughly European principality:

Remember that song on "Sesame Street," the one that went something like "one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong"? Can you see something in these pictures that doesn't belong?

What is the deal with the golden arches popping up all over southern France?!

Okay, now I better come clean: I did order a coffee at a McDonald's in Nice on Sunday morning. I doubt Grace Kelly ever did that. But before you judge me, let me explain that it was a cafe au lait and tasted nothing like any coffee you would get in a Mickey D's over here. And I promise you, after that one slip I immersed myself in local culture and got my caffeine fixes strictly from little French establishments.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More on Our Trip

I'm still on a high this morning after my first trip to Europe with my husband. On the way back home, when we were on the JFK-to-Boston shuttle, my husband ran into another pilot he knows; and when this guy found out I'd gone to Nice, he said he thought that was the nicest of all their airline's European destinations. I've never been anywhere else, so I have nothing with which to compare it; but I do know that I loved Nice SO much. And I can attest to the fact that the area in which it is located--on the coast of southern France, right by the sea--is just indescribably beautiful. I am a huge fan of the Cote d'Azur, let me tell you. I would go there again (and I might, if the opportunity ever arises).


And if we ever get back to Monaco, my husband and I decided we might look into buying this sweet yacht called "Little Fish." It's bigger than our house. It's pretty nice, n'est pas? Maybe we'll buy two of them.


My flight home was just as fantastic as my flight over. Again, I was up in business class, getting the royal treatment the whole way. (It seems like maybe the flight attendants give special attention to the captain's wife when she's on board--and were they ever nice to me!) This time, when they offered all of us lucky folks up front a flute of champagne while we were still on the ground, I said, "Sure, why not?!" As I sipped my champagne, I gazed out the window at the amazing scenery--which was spectacular even when viewed from the runway at the airport--and was overcome with a feeling of sadness that our little mini-second honeymoon in Nice was coming to an end. But soon after take-off, fortunately, I was able to forget my tristesse and drown my sorrows in business class cuisine! For starters, the appetizer was a salmon and asparagus creation, and that was followed by a green salad. For my main course, I chose chicken with baked pumpkin (that was something new for me, and it was scrumptious). To top it all off, I had a chocolate tart, and when the flight attendant asked if I'd like to add some whipped cream and chocolate sauce to a dessert that was probably already about 600 calories, I again said, "Sure, why not?!"


After dinner, I reclined my seat and snuggled in for the duration, with two pillows this time (the seat beside me was empty, so I nabbed an extra one), and turned on my little T.V. to watch a lightweight romantic comedy called Monte Carlo. The main reason I wanted to watch it, of course, was because it was shot on location, and I wanted to be able to see things I've seen now with my own eyes and say "I've been there!" I can't tell you how many times my husband has said those words when we've watched films set in Europe! I dozed through most of this movie on the first run-through. But after about two hours of sleeping off and on, I was up for the rest of the flight, and watched not only Monte Carlo, but also Mr. Popper's Penguins (a Jim Carrey movie that won't win any Academy Awards, but was cute and amusing). In Monte Carlo, the three main characters stay at the Hotel de Paris, pictured here. And I saw this!


The flight home was about nine hours long--two hours longer than the flight over, because we were flying into a headwind--and after watching the two movies, I spent the rest of the time mostly reading. At one point, a flight attendant came around offering warmed chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, and I said, "I don't mind if I do!" About an hour and a half before landing, another light meal was served. This time, I had a cold Salade Nicoise, which was composed of shrimp, a hardboiled egg, thinly sliced potatoes, green beans, olives, and tomatoes, with a chocolate truffle candy for dessert...and then, as if the piece of candy wasn't enough, I accepted the offer of another warmed chocolate-chocolate chip cookie. I could really get used to eating like this! But now I have to go on a diet.


Anyway, I don't mean to go on and on, but this trip was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. My joie de vivre is through the roof! I'm not finished talking about it yet...by the end of the week, I may have you all bored to tears. But before I lose you, take a look at these pictures from our Sunday in Monaco.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dimanche en Monaco

Yesterday, after going to 9:00 a.m. Mass at a church called Notre Dame (which is within spitting distance of our hotel in Nice), I had some cafe au lait and my husband had some chocolat chaud--and I must admit, sheepishly, that we got these at a nearby McDonald's--and then went back to our room and finished the half of a baguette that was left over from our little late night snack on the balcony last night. Afterwards, we walked over to the train station and took a 25-minute ride, along the magnificent Cote d'Azur...to MONACO! My husband has been an airline pilot for almost 24 years and has been flying internationally for 15; he has been to many European cities, and has probably been to Nice already about a dozen times. But when he was there the other times, he never went to Monaco. So even though my guy is a longtime world traveler and this is my first trip overseas, this is one place that we got to experience together for the very first time. When we strolled around Monte Carlo, it was as new and awe-inspiring to him as it was to me. I have always been fascinated by Grace Kelly/Princess Grace and have read a lot about her, so I was thrilled to be able to visit the little principality that she called home. And it was like something out of a storybook--too beautiful to be real--so it didn't disappoint. It was a very special day.
I can't possibly do our day in Monaco (and then last night in Nice, when we sat down by the beach--on the French Riviera!--sipping cold cans of Heineken and talking) justice in the time I have this morning. We need to get down to the lobby in a bit and meet up with the rest of my husband's crew. But when I get back home and have more time, I'll do another post or two about the trip and show you lots of pictures. Let me just say this, though: Monte Carlo is the most beautiful and exotic city. It's like something out of a dream, this beautiful city built up high on hills overlooking the Mediterranen. It's an awesome place to visit, but I think you have to be incredibly rich to live there. My husband and I saw yachts parked in the marina that were so enormous, they looked like they needed their own zip codes. We had drinks in a cafe in the square by the Monte Carlo Casino and the Hotel de Paris (two of the most ornate and incredible buildings I've ever seen!), and for one beer and one cafe au lait, we had to pay 19e before the tip. That made the prices we were paying for things in Nice seem like nothing! But I'm sure most of the beautiful people who typically frequent that cafe can afford it. I saw more women wearing furs in that square than I've ever seen in one place in my life.

Everything about yesterday--and the day before, too--has been idyllic. This trip came up all of a sudden, when another pilot wanted to swap trips with my husband. We didn't even have a chance to make any plans ahead of time, and yet we did so much and everything has been so wonderful. Even the weather has been amazing. It's December, and Nice and Monte Carlo have their Christmas markets all set up; but the sun has been shining and it's been warm enough over here to go about in a sweater or light coat (and my husband even spent part of the day yesterday in short sleeves, without any jacket at all). I could go on and on...and on. Let me just wrap this up by saying that this has been the most fantastic trip, and our dimanche en Monaco was a Sunday I'll never forget.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Les Touristes

Les touristes aiment marcher. Ils admirent tout ce qu'ils voient. Ils prennet beaucoup de photographies.

Okay, I was just showing off there, acting like I'm Miss Fluent and walking around Nice throwing out French words left and right. Just the opposite is true. I've been so shy about using even the simplest French mots that when someone says bonjour to me, I come back with a lame American "hi." I've been saying "thank you" when I want to say merci. My plan was to have all this fun trying to parle francaise--at the very least to use some basic French phrases--and I keep totally losing my nerve. My husband has been Monsieur francaise compared to me. So when we touristes go out and about again today, I'm determined to get over my shyness.

While I haven't been speaking the language, those French sentences above are true, at least when it comes to my husband and me: tourists like to walk; they admire all that they see; and they take many pictures. We spent about six hours walking all around Nice yesterday, and it was magnifique! We went all over the city and saw so many amazing things: beautiful churches, "old town," hundreds of quaint shops and restaurants (where people were sitting outside at little tables, dining al fresco in the unseasonably warm December temperatures), brasseries, boulangeries, boucheries (bistros, bakeries, butcher shops), cafes. We even saw an Irish pub, if you can believe it. Not to mention Subway and McDonald's. Don't worry, though; we did not get Big Macs for lunch. We stopped at a cafe and had drinks (cafe au lait for me, une biere for him). We shopped for beautiful scented soaps from Provence. We went over to the boardwalk by the Riviera. After hours of sightseeing, we had a nice dinner, sort of al fresco (tables were set up outside the restaurant, but there was a plastic enclosure around them to keep out the nighttime cold); we both enjoyed our poulet et frites (chicken and French fries), and then we headed back to our hotel with a bag of goodies we'd bought at a Monoprix grocery store. We sat out on our balcony, with Nice lit up all around us, and shared a bottle of wine, a baguette of French bread, and some fromage, jambon, and chocolats (cheese, ham, and I don't think I need to translate that last one, which is, of course, one of the most essential food items on earth). It was an absolutely perfect day.

Here are some pictures from Day One in Nice. Note that at the boucheries here, the bacon they sell doesn't look anything like the kind we see in our American grocery stores. (Yikes!) Also, I was amused by the lady hanging her wet clothes out to dry, with people walking along the narrow cobblestone street right underneath her window! And the interior of the Catholic church we visited yesterday was so beautiful, it actually made me cry. It was dusky when I took the pictures of the Cote d'Azur, but hopefully I'll be able to get better ones today...in Monaco!