Who’s That With Old St. Nick?

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Krampus in Austria

“Up on the rooftop reindeer pause, out jumps good old Santa Claus”, but who is that crazy character that came with him? In many parts of the world children have a very different vision in their head, when Santa Claus comes to town.

Santa Claus is a tradition celebrated here in the United States, while many other countries observe St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop, whose generosity of giving worked its way into the traditions that are celebrated today.  There has definitely been a blending of Santa Claus and St. Nicholas but they are very different, indeed.  In Western Europe, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th.   Often, St. Nicholas has a counterpart, who is the bad to his good, the yin to his yang.  You better watch out when St. Nick and his associate visit, especially if you were less than nice this year. Many of these traditions date back to the middle ages where there were strong themes of good versus evil.

Krampus
Krampus

These not so friendly acquaintances can be quite creepy. In Austria, for instance, there is a horned, hairy creature called Krampus, who takes the kids on the naughty list to its hellish liar. If you made the good list, which hopefully you did, then St. Nick will leave you fruits, nuts and sweets.

In the Netherlands, there is Sinterklaas (said to be part of where our version of Santa Claus came from) and his counterpart Zwarte Piet (translates into Black Peter, and political correctness is a definite issue with this, although the black is soot from going down chimneys, not the color of his skin) who will drag you off in a bag and teach you to be good, if you didn’t make the nice list.

In parts of France, there is the very scary Père Fouettard, a horrible child killer who is making up for his sins by eternally being St. Nicholas’s helper, not sure he will ever make that up for that though! Those that have been naughty should expect a whipping from this boogieman instead of any treats.

The Czech Republic has a tradition where Saint Nicholas comes with an angel to protect the children from the devil, who also comes, but is chained up; showing once again that good does overcome evil. Here the naughty ones get a lump of coal or a sack of potatoes and the real naughty ones get put into the devils sack and taken to hell, if that doesn’t make you want to be on the nice list, I am not sure what else will.

In parts of Germany, St. Nick travels with Knecht Ruprecht.  There are various traditions throughout Germany but they usually go something like this- Knecht Ruprecht carries a bag of ashes and a basket containing switches (branches used for whipping). He will ask children if they know how to pray, if yes, St. Nicholas gives them treats, often fruit, nuts, chocolates or gingerbread. If not, then Knecht Ruprecht beats the children with his bag of ashes. They are given coal and a switch is left for the parents to discipline them with.

So if you decide to be naughty, take caution, you are dealing with the forces of St. Nicholas, and his acquaintances don’t mess around. My advice, be good and have a wonderful holiday season whatever your beliefs are!

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A School Day in France

french school

As we get into our own back to school routines, I thought it might be interesting to check in and see how school children in France, typically spend their day. Traditionally, the school day runs from 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Schools are closed Wednesday and Sunday, and children often have a half-day of school on Saturday. Would you like your kids to have Wednesdays off but go to school on Saturdays? Many after-school activities take place on Tuesday afternoons since there is no school on Wednesday.  Recently though, France has begun to change to a more universal school schedule, with school days being Monday through Friday. This has been a difficult change for many and is still being worked out in different parts of France. Even though they have a longer school day, the schools have been struggling to keep up with other nations, which is why they are making changes.

The importance of France’s food culture begins early and school children are certainly immersed. A typical school lunch may consist of a lentil salad with tomatoes, roast pork or turkey, with peas and carrots. For dairy there is brie cheese and a kiwi for dessert.  Another school lunch might be a cucumber salad with vinaigrette, salmon lasagna and organic spinach.  Cheese fondue with a baguette to dip and organic fruit for dessert. There is a very interesting blog from author Karen Le Billion.  In her blog she follows a year of school lunches from a school in Paris. She calls it her French Kids School Lunch Project. You can find more information about it here:  http://karenlebillon.com/tag/french-kids-school-lunch-project/

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After school snacks are also a part of this food culture. The after school snack time is called goûter. The french word goûter is defined as either a verb meaning to taste, or a noun meaning a light meal in the afternoon. Goûter is incredibly common in France; it is similar to tea time in Britain.  It begins somewhere around 5pm, for the children when they come home from school. Keep in mind, dinner is not served until 8pm or so. Here is the catch though, it is all sweet treats!

At its simplest, le goûter includes something with bread. There are many variations but it typically includes a baguette spread with butter, sprinkled with sea salt (preferably fleur de sel) and then a sprinkling of grated dark chocolate. The baguette is put under the broiler for a few seconds to melt the chocolate and warm the butter. A pain au chocolate (basically a chocolate croissant) is another very nice option. How does that sound? My kids really would like to adopt this French tradition in our home.

Some other sweet treats that French children enjoy are Grenadine diluted with water. There is also the refreshing, Perrier-Menthe, which is Perrier mixed with a sweet mint syrup. Lastly, there is my personal favorite, Citron Presse, or fresh squeezed lemonade.

citron presse

Must head off to pick up my little ones now. Wish I had a wonderful French bakery close by, for some reason I am craving a croissant…au revoir!

Inside-a-French-Bakery

Princess for a day!

It was suggested that when traveling with kids, a good idea might be to give them full reign for a day (or two or three).  We decided while we were in Paris, this would be a great place to do it.  There is so much to see and why not change up what we normally would have put on the agenda and let the kids be in charge for a change. Good for them to have the responsibility to figure out what interests them about the city, where to find it on a map and to plan out the day.

First up was our youngest daughter and her day went a little like this:

1. Musee Rodin

2. Walk down the Champs Eysees and Avenue Montaigne for some window shopping.  Or as they say in France, “faire du leche-vitrines” which literally translated means window licking, although we only drooled a little…

3. Stopped for a sweet crepe.

4. The Eiffel Tower at dusk!

It was a truly great day!

Next, it was my oldest daughter’s turn to be princess for the day.  She chose another amazing adventure and it went something like this:

1. Jardin du Luxembourg

2. A special French lunch

3. A visit to the English bookstore Shakespeare & Co. (it was just across from Notre Dame so we stopped in there also).

4. The Sorbonne

I cannot wait to see where they pick to go next!

The Joy of Eating in France

Our experience of eating in France has been no less than a delectable celebration of food. Every meal we have had here has been incredible. Food is very regional and being in Normandy, we have certainly enjoyed our fair share of Camembert cheese. One of the most delicious meals we enjoyed was a stew with chicken, potatoes, carrots, broccoli and mushrooms all sitting in melted Camembert cheese. I am afraid to know how many calories.


Baguettes have quickly become part of our daily ritual. We watched families buy 5 or more baguettes in the markets and at first we thought they were crazy, and now we completely understand how you must eat a baguette with pretty much everything. Cheese, of course, but with soups and for sandwiches, also. It is a staple for us now!

We have become friends with the waiter at the local Creperie. Since we are eating with kids, we have to make sure there is something for everyone on the menu, and this place has it all. Galettes are savory crepes and you can have them several ways. Ham and cheese being the most common but the choices go way beyond my French translation. Our girls had the most amazing pizza served on a puff pastry instead of pizza dough, it was out of this world. My husband and I shared a puff pastry filled with goat cheese and tomatoes and I about died, yes from my arteries being clogged and also the euphoric sensation of every bite, it was truly that good!


The fun doesn’t stop there though because for dessert it is time for the sweet crepes, which you can have with a multitude of toppings, plain sugar to caramel to Nutella and bananas. From there you can add ice cream or even have it flambéed, quite lovely indeed.
We have been to several of the weekly farmer’s markets. You can find one any day of the week. Fresh cheeses, dairy, meats, produce, pastries, bread and local ciders are just some of the treats you may come across. It is great to watch the locals collect their delicious ingredients to take home. Many of the vendors have beautiful displays showcasing their goods. It is a busy place with so many interesting things to experience. I am really looking forward to checking in on some of the markets in Paris, when we return to France in November. That should be another unforgettable time. I better get in some exercise before then…

Down on the Bayeux, in Normandy

Okay, maybe not the same bayou but work with me…

Bayeux is a wonderful village in the Normandy region of France.  It is located 7km from the English Channel or La Manche, as the French call it.  Bayeux’s history dates back to the 1st century where is was a Gallo-Roman settlement. The city was largely destroyed during the Viking raids of the 9th century, but was rebuilt again in the 10th century.  Through the next several hundred years the city continued with its destruction and rebuilding as the English and French fought over control of the area.

Bayeux was the first city of the Battle of Normandy, during World War II, to be liberated.  On June 16, 1944,  General Charles de Gualle gave a speech in Bayeux, where he made it clear, that France sided with the allies. The buildings in Bayeux were virtually untouched during the Battle of Normandy, since the German forces were fully involved in defending Caen from the Allies.

Bayeux is popular now as visitors come to see the Bayeux Tapestry (it is actually embroidered cloth) which tells of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror.  It is a site to be seen. The tapestry measures 70m (230ft) long.  You can listen to a recording as you stroll around the tapestry.  They also have recordings specifically for children (and in English).

The cathedral there is also a site to behold and was the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry.  The cathedral is known as the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Bayeux and was consecrated on July 14, 1077.

Bayeux is a must stop on any Normandy visit.

Claude Monet’s House and Garden

Need some inspiration?  When Claude Monet first started painting, his work was not accepted by all.  He used too many colors and did not paint in the realistic fashion of the times.  It wasn’t until later in his career that he earned recognition for being the “father of Impressionistic painting.”

It was fascinating visiting his home and gardens.  Every room in his home is painted a different color and his gardens’ beds are filled with beautiful flowers, divided by either cool colors or warm colors.  The water-lily pond is magical.

Color filled his world and his painting.  To have walked where this amazing man painted and lived with his family, is just incredible and I am so excited that my daughters have had a chance to be inspired by traveling to this enchanting place.

We brought sketchbooks and pencils and studied the landscapes as Mr. Monet may have a hundred years ago.  Closely examining the dahlias, mums, clematis and sunflowers as we strolled.  We read “Linnea in Monet’s Garden” before visiting Giverny, which helped us have a wonderful introduction to Monet’s world.

I am feeling very lucky and this is just the beginning of our trip…

Honfleur, Normandie

Honfleur is not to be missed on a trip through Normandy.  Claude Monet spent a lot of time here painting it’s harbor and streets.  It is easy to see why, Honfleur is breathtaking!  I am so thankful to have visited, especially as we head to Giverny, Monet’s home, tomorrow.  Traveling, ahhhhh!  Good stuff!