Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving, The Fall and what I am Thankful for

Time to Reflect - 
 I can't believe it's Thanksgiving already!!  This Fall is just zooming by....I guess the more you enjoy life, the faster the time goes!!  My goal this Fall is to try to get a blog post up at least once a week.  Still working on that but knew I needed to update with what has been happening here.

The post is mostly a photo essay to share the beauty of the Fall - but to also reflect on the spirit of the season.  Would love to see comments on how the Fall has been for so many of you and also what your reflections may be this season.
 I have to say - we have had a GORGEOUS Fall!  I know we have only lived here 3 years - but I don't remember the previous seasons to have so much color  - both in the foliage and even with the skies!  Beautiful reds, oranges, yellows and rich deep pinks and purples in the sunset and sunrises!
 This past month has been sprinkled with working in Bordeaux and in the surrounding wine regions.  I really feel spoiled to be able to not just enjoy the beauty here, but to be able to share it with our clients.  This past Sunday, I did some guide training in the Medoc region and not only enjoyed the stunning architecture of these gorgeous chateaux, but I was also mesmerized by the colors!

 Even back in Bordeaux, the blue sky, the beautiful leaves and the warm weather has been wonderful for one's perspective and outlook.  I feel so grateful to live in a place like this - the beauty constantly reveals itself and the balance of the old with the modern makes it a wonderful place to live!

 The girls have also enjoyed the outdoors this Fall - riding bikes to school, hanging out at outdoor cafes and just having fun together!

 So on this Thanksgiving day - I feel so grateful for my girls, my family and my wonderful friends both near and far!!  I also feel so blessed to have gotten to know so many of you in my virtual community (hopefully someday we will meet in person) - and I can honestly say - so many times your insights, messages, posts and kind words enrich my life in ways I can't even imagine!

It's a wonderful day to reflect on all that we have, all the people  in our lives and the beauty that surrounds all of us!!  So even if you don't celebrate Thanksgiving - know that it's one holiday that just lets us pause, reflect and enjoy our lives with friends and family.

We will be celebrating our Thanksgiving meal on Saturday - sharing our table with Americans and French - looking forward to enjoying a special meal together!!


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dune du Pyla - Beach Fun during Toussaint Break

Time Spent at the Beach is Always Rejuvenating!

As Fall is finally settling into the Bordeaux area, it's amazing to think just 2 weeks ago, we were enjoying the beach on the Dune du Pyla.  I'm taking today - Sunday to look back on a favorite moment during our Fall break.

I've written about the Great Dune du Pyla before - HERE.  It's such a beautiful, amazing force of nature and at the same time so peaceful and relaxing to enjoy.  It's only a mere 45 minutes from our home in Bordeaux and it provides endless entertainment and exercise!! This is a post more about a day in the Fall - just enjoying wonderful weather!

Just look at this photo - who wouldn't be in awe when one arrives there!  

Luckily, on this October day, the stairs were still there - they take them down in the winter due to winds and the slow, steady shift of the dune.  However, for some, like my youngest - it's more fun to climb up the back side on the sand (and even on all fours!)

Once we arrived on the top, we all enjoyed the view and a rest after the long haul up!  I love this series of photos of my youngest.  She just loves the sand!!  Siting in it - running her hands through it, touching it and just plain playing!!

 Even standing up - I love the sand that is falling from her hands!!  A true beach child!!
As one stands at the top and looks South - it's an endless dessert of sand - sloping up from the Atlantic Ocean.  The dune is  2500 meters or about 1.4 miles long.  We have yet to walk along the top - the length of it - but there are many who do.  For many people, it's a place for a great walk, a jog or even a hike - all along the top.  At the end of the day, you often see para-sailing.

The preference of my girls is to go up and over and head to the beach on the other side!! They love the view from the dune, the sense of space and feel - it's not just any beach - it's the DUNE!  Trekking up and over is not necessarily my preference - I'm just as happy to go up and enjoy the view - hang out in the sand and breath the ocean air! I could even sit and meditate on the top.  But not my children, the water calls to them.  The ocean waves, and especially here - it's a bit calmer as the largest waves are broken by a sand island out from the dune. The makes is a nice protected place to swim. Of course, it might be mid - October but when it's 80 degrees out - it's swim time!!
So down we went...down to the water...and my girls couldn't wait to get in the water!!
We met friends there and all the kids enjoyed getting wet.  The water was refreshing but still load of fun!
As you can see, we weren't the only ones enjoying the beach during this Fall break.  Often, this is the school break where families choose to stay home.  But I think since the weather was so beautiful and warm, many made last minute plans to be on the beach for a few days or like us make a day trip!
After enjoying a couple of hours playing in the sand and water - we started the journey back up and over the dune from the ocean side. When one goes up and over, the only way back is up and over! I have to tell you - this is a work out!!
Even my youngest decided that she wasn't really interested in climbing back up and convinced my friend's son to carry her a little of the way!!  Kudos to a really nice teenage boy who was a good sport!!

The hike up and back down the other side takes about 45 minutes!!  Now, the older kids were ahead of us and for them - a bit shorter time to climb up and over.  But it's wonderful exercise and a beautiful view!!

This final photo is my favorite!!  This was taken on the way back after she had climbed up and over!  A happy young lady who along with her sisters loved their afternoon on the beach!!

Happy Sunday to everyone!!  I hope you all are enjoying the day with family or friends and take time to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature that surrounds you!
Ersatz Expat

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Halloween 2014 - A Growing tradition in France

Trick or Treat
Celebrating in France

Last Friday we celebrated Halloween in France.  To be honest, we started our Halloween celebration earlier in the week at a family party hosted my international women's club.  It was a perfect time to start us getting in the mood.

It was a potluck where everyone brought something to share and it was great to see fun- Fall/Halloween themed foods!  So festive!!

Mummy meatball sticks and witches fingers, just to name a few.
 We also carved pumpkins there.  Remember Halloween is not a French holiday.  France considers it an "Anglo-Saxon" holiday but it seems to be slowly catching on here. Having been here for 3 years now, I'm happily surprised that each year, the holiday has seemed to grow.  Traditional pumpkins were easier to find this year.  (Sorry no, pumpkin farms or farm stands in this country).  I saw them in the produce section of a couple of bigger grocery stores.  The traditional ones are called Jack-o-Lanterns, but as you can see from the table, other versions of squash were used too.  
One of the fun parts of this party was to go in costume...I brought along two cats and a zombie cheerleader. The girls had a blast doing their make-up and it was fun to see them excited to dress up!

It was a great turn out and a wonderful afternoon/evening.  Our hosts also provided 3 pinatas for the kids to knock down.  This was great fun for all and we divided the kids by young, middle and older groups.  As darkness fell, groups went trick or treating around the grounds - Several of the adults took jack-o-lanterns to indicate where there would be candy and the kids got to do a small version of trick or treating at the party.  What was also fun about this group, is that it's not just foreigners, there are also French people who have lived in English speaking countries, so enjoy celebrating this Anglo-saxon holiday.

Halloween fell at the end of the two week Fall school break, so it was also nice to enjoy the party earlier in the week and then look forward to trick or treating later on.

By Halloween night, the costumes had changed around a bit - One sugar skull, a cat and a vampire witch!  My oldest went off to a friend's house where a group of her friends got together for the evening  - went trick or treating and then had a sleep over.  Halloween parties are more common here than going "trick or treating".  This year the holiday seemed to catch on more and it was fun to see people (young and old) dressed up getting on the trams and buses - obviously off to a Halloween get together.  

I was also amazed on the 31st, when we stopped by the party store that sold Halloween costumes, it was packed!  We just needed some face make up, but I have never seen that store so full and everyone seemed to be buying costumes!  a definite change from previous years.

I worked earlier that day and was pleasantly surprised to see this "grumpy" pumpkin at the Marche du Capucins. It's very rare to see seasonal decorations for Halloween - so different than it is in the States.  Occasionally, a storefront or inside a store selling candy would have a Halloween display, but it's rare.

So I was happy to take its picture and share it with my instagram and facebook followers,  Halloween is slowly catching on here in Bordeaux!

If you want to see how we celebrated last year - Check out the link HERE
The Grumpy Pumpkin
 I, however, embraced my American heritage and we had our carved pumpkins outside for the week before Halloween and even lit them at night.  (My neighbor - understood and liked my Halloween display!)
Trick or Tricking is a new concept here.  Last year, we teamed up with some French friends who decided that they wanted to try going around our town and stick more with houses that they knew had kids.  This year a bigger group got together and walked around this same neighborhood but this year they rang bells at any houses where the lights were on.  There are pockets of trick or treating going on in Bordeaux.  Certain smaller towns around Bordeaux have embraced the holiday for years and in other areas nothing happens.  Even in the city itself, a bit here and there - but most people really don't know what to do when costumed children ring their bells.  We had some American expat friends of mine join us here in our town, as their children wanted to trick or treat.

When you are a part of a new tradition that is trying to catch on, it means sometimes there is no bounty to be had.  Some people did have candy ready to give out to the witches and goblins who rang their bells.  Other people were caught a bit off guard and scrambled to their cupboards and returned with packages of cookies or a big bag of candy to share. Occasionally, it was only a few packages given to a few kids because that's all they had. Some even offered money for the kids to buy their own candy (we graciously declined these kind offers).  Sometimes, there was just nothing but a person at the door who smiled at the kids costumes and sheepishly apologized for not having anything.  The kids had fun though and for my American children, it was just nice to go out dressed up like they use to do in the States and get some candy.  I think I am happy though, that it's not where near the amount that they would be coming home with in the States.

Since the distribution of candy was uneven or several houses gave large packages of candy to split up - in the end, all candy was pooled together and evenly distributed to all the kids.  Now, if you are American and you are reading probably looks like a very different way to trick or treat, but when you are dealing with a "new" holiday here and also a culture trying to make it work for them - there are bound to be differences.  One thing I can say about the French culture is that they like things to be fair for everyone.  Maybe it's a part of their socialist society, maybe it's just how they think - but it's nice to see them teach the younger generation to think about others.
The candy re-distribution after trick or treating
A fun evening was had by all...
We returned back to the house around 8 pm with friends and we all enjoyed a pizza dinner.  Interestingly enough my doorbell rang about 6 times, each time with masked/costumed trick or treaters.  Most of these goblins were older teenagers - all polite and all very appreciate of the fact that I had packaged candy ready to give out when they said the French version of  Trick or Treat - "Des bonbons ou un Sort".  We were guessing that some of them were texting their friends to let them know which houses were ready!!  I suppose I could have had younger children too, but no one was home earlier to answer the door.  Will be fun to see how much this holiday grows in the coming years.

Hope everyone who celebrated it had a lovely Halloween!!
Now it's back to school for the girls and time to start thinking about our next American holiday - Thanksgiving!!

Lou Messugo

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