French Wedding Is All About the Food

family with the groom

family with the groom

A French wedding is less about the pomp and ceremony and more about the food, especially in Normandy, the northeastern region of France that offers land and seas finest fare.

A cold, grey weekend in December, we attended my nephew Ben and Lea’s wedding at the mayor’s office in Le Havre, an industrial city dominated by oil refineries and shipping docks. Bombed and destroyed during WWII, it was rebuilt in a Stalinistic style of cement cubes. The civil ceremony held at the Hotel de Ville was a bit carnivalesque especially since a display of Christmas toys and giant ferries wheel added color to the somber architect of town hall. At the imposing entryway, a petite, meticulously coiffed blond woman, mother of the bride, greeted us with air kisses and ushered us up the red carpeted stairs where people waited around like at a bus stop. At precisely 14:25, another wedding party exited one door of a main hall and we entered.

My handsome nephew, Ben, dressed in a tux, stood at the front and guests filled the seating area. Then the wedding march played for 25 seconds, while bride’s stepfather walked her to the altar. Lea wore a white ivory wedding dress with a bodice and long trail. I marveled that the balconette stayed in place throughout the festivity, though obviously she was more well endowed than I.

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newweds with their cake

The mayor’s assistant conducted the ceremony in a friendly, fast food style service. After citing constitutional acts, she announced that Ben and Lea were joining in matrimony for the republic. During the ring exchange, she invited the proud, « paparrazzi » parents behind the pulpit to snap photos. Then she announced that they would repeat their vows on the top of the Ferris wheel, which at first I thought was a joke. The witnesses, a young blonde women in a black dress with an oval opening revealing a tattooed spine and a slender punk haired young man in black suit, stepped forward to sign the official papers. In less than 10 minutes, we were whisked out of the room and the next wedding party wave entered.Read more

Christmas Homecoming

It is rare when we can coordinate the time and distance between a dozen careers, three states and two countries to share a few moments as family. Christmas happens whenever we can get together.

When I first moved to Europe, I missed being home for the holidays and before my baby’s first birthday, I bundled her in my arms and flew back from Paris. That baby, now a doctor in St. Paul, will drive to Chicago with her “little” brother. My folks will pop in from Sterling. The car wheels will crunch on an icy driveway when my brother’s family arrives from Cleveland and my sister’s brood pulls in from Minneapolis. After traveling 4,000 miles we’ll reunite at the midway point, my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Yorkville, for an old fashioned Midwestern Christmas.

The house will be filled with the imperfect details that created the perfect memories of our happy childhood. Tabletops will be buried under a disarray of cards from friends and loved ones. Tupperware will overflow with cut out cookies of reindeer, candles and Santas that are eaten before even frosted. The walls will be covered with handmade gifts of the heart and the tree adorned with a collection of decorations commemorating each new birth in the family.Read more

Save a Child, Give Up a Gun

When I first moved abroad and told Europeans I was from outside of Chicago, the first thing they did was point a finger, pull an imaginary trigger and say, « Bang, bang Al Capone…America so dangerous. »

Thirty years ago the first time my Frenchman and I took a road trip in the USA into the wilderness of Wisconsin, no less, he insisted on carrying a baseball bat in the car. With each new senseless mass murder, our ruthless image as the Wild West grows more prevalent abroad.

I have lived overseas more years than in my homeland, yet remain a proud American. The values we hold so true – freedom, equality, and democracy shaped the person I became. But as tragedy strikes again in the horrific shooting in an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut, and our most innocent victims are massacred, I am filled with questions. As movie goers in an Aurora Colorado theater on opening night of a Batman movie and bystanders in a mall in Oregon are killed by a madman, I question our “liberties”. At what point does the individual right infringe upon the rights of others to live peacefully in society?Read more

Shaker Heights Band Gets Down

Shaker Heights – only place in the USA where as many fans come to see the high school marching band as well as the football team

Football was my first love, but I’ll be the first to admit America can be a bit over the top when it comes to ball games. It’s nice to know there is one place on the planet where the drawing card is not just the football team itself, but the band playing in the halftime performance.

The Shaker Heights school system in the Greater Cleveland area emphasizes the arts and education, and is the rare place where spectators attend the ritual fall weekend game to admire both the band and the ball club.Read more

Written Acts of Kindness

On Thanksgiving Day, I dragged through the work feeling sad, wondering why bother to connect kids and cultures in my job as an international schoolteacher and ex pat blogger. I suffered from writer’s angst about my upcoming memoir publication. I missed my homeland, friends, and family, including both Big Kids now living in the States.  Like the November weather outside my window, a dense fog settled in my soul. Then I received an unexpected gift – the Written Acts of Kindness Award – from a friend I have never met personally.

Kathy and I took Dan Blank’s Build Your Author Platform Course  in 2011. Now we follow each other all over cyberspace! Kathy is a grandma on the go, retired family nurse practitioner, cancer survivor and inspiring writer, whose strong faith and sense of purpose comes through admirably on her blog site, Memoir Writer’s Journey. She is working on a memoir about the power of hope through her faith in God.Read more

The Great Thanksgiving Hunt Abroad

Ever since I moved to Europe thirty years ago, I have been hunting for Thanksgiving a l’américaine. My first year abroad I invited French teammates and they ate the food in courses, one dish at a time. The next year in Germany, the team turnout was so great, there was standing room only; we never sat down to dine. Another year French relatives replaced the turkey with chicken. Tom Turkey seemed gluttonous even for the hearty-eating French.

Thanksgiving in Normandy, 1984

Thanksgiving in Normandy, 1984

When I was living in Dijon, I invited a Franco American family for what turned into another Thanksgiving fiasco starting with the great turkey hunt. Local merchants explained that whole turkeys are obsolete until the official slaughtering date on December 8th. I finally found a black market butcher, who ordered me a clandestine turkey, smuggled from abroad. I was stuffing the bird when the family that I had invited called to cancel as their child had the flu. We postponed Thanksgiving until Tuesday night since French children have no school Wednesdays.Read more