Friday, January 27, 2012

Valsts valoda

For English, please see below

Nesen rakstiju par savu pienākumu kā Latvijas pavalstniece balsot Latvijas vēlēšanās. Secināju, kas ir tie iemesli kamdēļ man, kā latvietei ārzemēs, ir svarīgi balsot. Tos atkal neskaidrošu šodien, vienīgi vēlos izteikties par valodu.

Bez latviešu valodas nebūtu latviešu tauta. Varam cept cik daudz pīrāgus un dzeltenmaizi mēs vēlamies, dejot tautas dejas līdz apreibstam, bet valoda ir iemesls kamdēļ Latvijas valsts šodien pastāv.

Latvijas Saeima 2011.gada 22.decembrī noraidīja likumprojektu „Grozījumi Latvijas Republikas Satversmē”. Šis likumprojekts tika iesniegts ar pieprasīto vienas desmitās daļas vēlētāju parakstiem; viens no katriem desmit balstiesīgiem Latvijas pilsoņiem atbalstija ar parakstu šo grozījumu, ievest krievu valodu kā officiālo valsts valodu (līdz ar latviešu valodu). Ar to, ka Saiema šo noraidija, 18. februārī tiek rīkota tautas nobalsošana.

Jautājums vienkāršs, bet komplicētāka nozīme šai nobalsošanai un tās rezultātiem. Ar to, ka vismaz pusei no visiem balstiesīgiem Latvijas pilsoņiem ir jābalso par šī grozijuma ievešanu lai tas īstenotos, gandrīz ir šaubu, ka tā puse balstiesīgo pilsoņu balsos; noteikti vēl mazāk balsos par šādu grozījumu. Tomēr lielākas raizes ir par to, ka šī balsošana varētu būt munīcija Latvijas valsts ienaidniekiem. Pasaules politikā tas Latviju neatspoguļotu labā gaismā, ja balsošanā puse balsis būtu par šādu maiņu satvērsmei, pat ja tās balsis būtu tikai 2% no pilsoņiem!

Tātad mīļie Latvijas pilsoņi! Lūdzu balsojiet pret šiem grozījumiem Latvijas Republikas Satversmē! Ja esi balstiesīgs pilsonis un nespēsi 18. februārī balsot vēlēšanas iecirknī, piesakies balsot par pastu pirms 2012.gada 4.februārim. Visa informācija par tautas nobalsošanas kārtību, ieskaitot vajadzīgās formas, ir atrodama

Nav aizbildinājuma nebalsot; kaut vēlēšanās jautājums bija grūtāk atbildēt, šoreiz jautājums vienkāršs – par, vai pret.

Not long ago I wrote about my responsibility as a Latvian citizen to vote. I discussed my reasons, and although I will not rehash all that, I have a quick point to make.

Without a Latvian language there would be no Latvia. We can bake as many pīrāgi and kliņģeri as we can stomach, and dance Latvian folk dances until we fall, but the reason Latvia and Latvians exist today is the common language of the country.

On December 22nd of 2011, the Latvian Parliament voted against a proposed amendment to the constitution that would make Russian an official language of Latvia, along with Latvian. This vote was the result of the gathered signatures of 10% of Latvia’s citizens in support of such an amendment. Because the Parliament voted against the amendment, it automatically goes to a public vote which will occur on February 18th.

The results of this vote seem predictable; 50% of Latvian citizens must vote “yes” for the amendment to pass. I have my doubts whether 50% of Latvian citizens will even vote, much less vote to institute this change in the Constitution. But the repercussions of this vote may extend further, even if only 5% of the citizens vote that day, if half of them vote in favor of the bill, it will provide ammunition that can be used against Latvia in the future in campaigns to further fracture the country into ethnic blocks.

There is no excuse for not voting. The questions I had to answer before the Parliamentary elections were harder to answer, but this time it’s easy – yes, or no.

* If you wish to read more about this topic, please visit

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

40 weeks

So, no baby, no refrigerator. At least the refrigerator will supposedly be here tomorrow, the baby has been unavailable for scheduling an appointment.

I would like to wish a Happy Chinese New Year to all. Monday was the first day of the Year of the Dragon, which is considered the luckiest year in the Chinese Zodiac. My father pointed out that it is the Water Dragon year, which if the 12-year cycle of animals is considered together with the Five Elements, only occurs once every sixty years. The significance of this, is that grandfather will share with grandchild not only Year of the Dragon, but Water Dragon Year as the year of birth.

As long as the baby arrives before February 9th of 2013.

The days seem longer, and I’m not referring to the increased daylight. We’ve been out walking quite a bit, the fresh air providing a welcome distraction. I just have to be careful that I don’t look into the windows of too many patisseries and bakeries…

Lauris vēlās novēlēt savam krusttēvam Mārim daudz laimes dzimšanas dienā. Daudz baltu dieniņu!!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kouign Amann

It was a rare occurrence that I was the lone customer in the bakery on Saturday morning. Without the long line of people impatient for their pain I felt more comfortable taking my time making a decision, as well as asking a few questions. There were no almond encrusted pain de chocolats that morning, however on the top shelf was a beautiful looking pastry marked Kouign Amann, spécialité de Bretagne.

Kouign Amann from Le Pistore bakery

Lena explained their Breton baker had decided to bake this regional specialty, that it isn’t for a special holiday but instead is an everyday staple in boulangeries in Brittany. The translation is “butter cake,” and was supposedly invented by accident in 1860. It is made from dough bread covered with a butter-sugar mixture which is then folded like a pastry. While cooking, the sugar-butter permeates the dough and caramelizes, resulting in a crisp, delicious pastry. The cake I brought home (a pregnant woman passing by a “butter cake”? not going to happen…), was round with four individual units, but in my understanding they are baked for up to twelve people, sometimes in rectangular dishes, or just as individual cakes which are called kouignettes. Different from our usual breakfast pastries but delicious nonetheless, maybe next week they will have the beurrée variant, which is topped with crunchy caramel…

We also braved the soldes crowds. As I explained around this time last year, the French government authorizes stores to use the word les soldes only twice a year (January and July), in order to foster economic growth and consumption. This year they kicked off on January 11th and last until mid-February, with escalating markdowns every few weeks. I find it funny that stores are allowed to have discounts, special offers and promotions throughout the rest of the year, but cannot use the descriptor soldes outside of these two time periods.

The irony is that although many clothing and furniture stores have discounted merchandise, appliances seem to be full price year-round, with no end-of-year markdowns on old models or sales to bring in the customers in the New Year. But as our refrigerator has been freezing the eggs and milk recently (and according to Roberts’s research on our fridge this is a problem particular to our model after 2-4 years of use, and expensive to fix) I got to stand in the kitchen section of Darty and choose a refrigerator, one much more beautiful, energy-efficient and with a more convenient layout than the temperature-challenged, funny-noise making thing in our kitchen at the moment.

The delivery date for the new refrigerator is January 25th. Sound familiar? That’s because not only is it my brother’s birthday, but it is also my due date. (Well, my due date was I living in the US, but that is a different story.) Should we be taking bets on what arrives first, the baby or the fridge?*

*The saleswoman did not find this amusing, and instead pointed out the telephone number on our invoice that we call should we need to reschedule.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Parc Montjuzet and 39 weeks

Roberts’s name day comes right on the heels of his birthday, and we celebrated with a trip to Parc Montjuzet, the 65-acre hilltop park visible from our living room windows. Our first visit was in January of last year on his birthday, and so it was only fitting to return this January (although we have been there since). Other than the occasional dog walker and jogger, we had the whole park to ourselves.

LŪK helping his dad blow out the candles on the kliņģeris

On our first visit we had approached on foot (and in stroller) from the south end, not knowing the layout or what we would find. After an exhaustive climb up a narrow passageway of stairs we found ourselves in a very under-developed section of the park with muddy paths and not much else. The view of Clermont was unbeatable however (you might recognize it from the background of the blog!), and we picnicked on the hillside before wandering around a bit more. From what I remember, we did find a section of the Mediterranean garden; although the climate is much different, the south-facing terraced slopes have a riviera feel. And then we headed back, without an inkling of what we had left unseen.

Our next visits revealed the numerous playgrounds, grassy picnic areas, hiking paths and vistas (located closer to the car park!) and in addition to exploring and playing we also did a little geocaching. A beautiful park, once the weather is nicer I hope to spend a lot more time there with the kids.

Otherwise the past weeks have been uneventful (considering how pregnant I am!). This time around is a much different wait from last time; with Lauris I was on high-alert starting with 38 weeks, evaluating every Braxton-Hicks contraction as a possible start to labor and agonizing the next four weeks. With the second I’ve mentally prepared for a 10 month pregnancy, and so having the baby still feels very far off. I’m also glad for the more laid-back approach from the doctor here, it is allowing me to enjoy the last weeks. In Greenville we were pressured to schedule a Cesarean starting with week 36 or 37 (estimates put Lauris’s birth weight at about 11.5 pounds, in reality he was under 9 when born at 42+) and I was visiting the clinic every couple of days for additional monitoring and stress.

Mom getting a break

I probably jinxed myself last week after telling the doctor and friends that this pregnancy has been a piece of cake. And it had been, compared to my first; this time the morning sickness wasn’t to be ignored, but on top of that my last pregnancy brought severe back pain, nausea almost the entire length of the pregnancy and general misery. So I’m not too surprised that some of the more typical symptoms are finally catching up to me, the acid reflux and difficulty sleeping being at the top of the list. But, at this point I’m committed, right?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Creative Blogger Award

Way back in November Barbara at Footprints in the Sand passed on the Kreativ Blogger Award to me. Please don’t let the amount of time that has passed be an indicator of my thanks! I’m honored she thought of Femme au Foyer when passing it on, and as always I’m a little floored by the knowledge that someone other than my mother (and now my grandmother, on her own personal iPad!) is reading this blog.

Barbara also lives in Clermont-Ferrand and gave birth to adorable little Noah in December just before Christmas, so it was informative and reassuring following her blog and her pregnancy as I was embarking on my own last year. Stop by her blog to see some adorable newborn and maternity pictures or just to say “hi”!

For the record, it does bug me a bit that Kreativ is spelled wrong…

Anyway, I'm supposed to share seven random things about me and pass on the award to other lucky bloggers. So here goes!

1. I’m Latvian. As if you haven’t figured this out already from the posts in Latvian. But I think this rates the number 1 slot because I’m actually from Chicago, so credit for being able to speak Latvian fluently and having such an affinity for Latvian traditions and culture goes to my family. My grandparents originally came to the US after WWII, but somehow I’ve managed to end up married to a Latvian with a son whose only words currently are in Latvian, go figure!

At the International Festival in South Carolina in 2010

2. I’m 39 weeks pregnant. Again, not exactly headline news, but definitely tops my list of current events. At this point I do want to add that Lauris was perfectly content to hang out until 42 weeks, so maybe hold off with the “is the baby here yet???” for another month or so.

3. I’m 6 feet 3 inches tall. This is 1.905 meters. Wreaks havoc on my pants-shopping trips.

4. I wear a size 13 shoe. My most recent pair of boots has the European equivalent listed as size 46 ½. Can you blame me for having to buy my shoes in the US?

5. In my former life I was a wildland firefighter. My forestry degree led me to five years with the US Fish & Widlife Service and the Forest Service, conducting prescribed burns and fighting fire in over 10 states. I can run a chainsaw, have flown half-hanging out of a helicopter, know how to drive a type 6 fire engine and have sucked my share of smoke. Now I eat baguettes and cheese, change diapers and hike volcanoes.

Yep, that's me hooking a load up to the Bell Jetranger...

6. I would love to hike the Appalachian Trail. There was a point while living in Georgia that I could have taken the 6 months needed to give it a shot, but life took some unexpected turns and I might have to wait some years until I get my next chance.

7. Roberts and I dated for more than 10 years before finally tying the knot. Guess we had to make sure, huh sweetie?

Now for the fun part! I pass this award on to:
For your creative photography, creative blogging and creative approaches to life!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy 2012!!!

2011 didn’t end with a bang, in fact I’m not sure at which point we actually “rang” in the New Year because every cell phone, iPad, clock and wristwatch showed a different time. I’m pretty sure that we might have spent it on Skype with my parents, as there was a short “Happy New Year” conversation just about that time… But I’m skipping ahead.

Photo credit: Andrejs Lazda

After our road trip home from Lyon everyone slept in and a big breakfast of crêpes turned out to be just the way to start the day. It was a lazy day at home, a great way to spend the last of 2011, as well as the last day with our guests, my sister Anna and her husband Andrejs. At some point we all managed to get out to wander through downtown one last time for the year, and two cafés and one Christmas train ride later arrived home to start preparations for the big vecgada vakara dinner.

Latvians have many traditions to ring in the New Year, including all sorts of fortune telling methods to predict what everything in the New Year will be like. Want to know if you will be getting married, or what the harvest will be like, if you might be buying a horse or if there is fortune or travel in the next year? There is something for everyone, and although I never ran out of the house at midnight to grab fence posts or weigh a cat while growing up, we did “pour our luck,” (laimes liešana) pour molten lead into a bucket of cold water and analyze the resulting figure for resemblance to objects that might give some clue as to what we would encounter in the following year. Another popular method is to fill a large bowl with water and then line the edges with predictions. Using a nutshell or other floating object as a small boat, a candle is lit by each person seeking a fortune, then set in the middle of the bowl after the water is swirled. The closest fortune to the first place the boat lands is yours.

Although we didn’t melt lead or float candles, we did manage to stick to one of the most common traditions, the eating of pelēkie zirņi, or grey peas. Our guests from Latvija, Matīss and Indra had brought us a package of this hard-to-find New Year’s food, and after letting them soak for almost the whole day and then boiling them for several hours, Andrejs cooked up bacon and onions to go with them and we enjoyed them as our first snack of the New Year. I believe they are supposed to be the last food eaten in the year, and there is some sort of negative prediction for the new one if the whole pot is not finished, but with the unnoticed change of year we proceeded with what we knew; they were finished cooking and we were hungry!

Lauris trying on a Christmas gift from his krusttēvs Māris

And so we didn't make it to Parc Montjuzet to see the fireworks, and all the official New Year's toasts happened on our living room balcony while listening to the cacophony of cheering and honking of revelers celebrating, but it was the perfect start to a year of adventure. The next morning our guests had an early train to catch in order to make their flight to Dublin, and so the first day of the New Year it was just the three of us again. But, there is big change coming in 2012, and it won’t be three of us for long…

I wish everyone a fantastic New Year; may you achieve your goals, live in health, and enjoy each day to the fullest!
All the best, Femme au Foyer

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lyon after Christmas

After the fiasco that was their arrival in Clermont-Ferrand (standing-room only on a very delayed train), we decided we couldn’t let our guests suffer the train ride back to Lyon (their flight to Latvija was out of LYS), and so early on the morning of the 28th we loaded up a rental minivan with car seat, baggage and all seven of us and headed back to Lyon. With a small detour.

There are few stores that I truly miss here in France (Lowry’s Books in Three Rivers, MI might top the list), and almost none of the big chains are included, but the one place that might be the exception: IKEA. Matīss and Indra had never been to one, and although the closest IKEA to Rīga is in Poland, they were considering making a road trip for a major shopping excursion. So it happened that we stopped for lunch at the St. Etienne IKEA (for research of course!) and ended up spending more than a couple of hours there…

Our hotel in Lyon was just across the street from the Parc de la Tête d’Or (whose name derives from local folklore, which claims that the head of Christ is buried there), although the weather did not allow us to enjoy it. On our next visit I would love to see the Île du Souvenir, a small island rising from the lake in the English-style gardens. Instead, we walked to the closest subway station and made our way to Vieux Lyon, where we had such a wonderful experience on our last visit.

Foto credit: Andrejs Lazda

Though there was little evidence of the Fête des lumières which had taken place there a month ago, the Christmas atmosphere was lovely, with vin chaud stands, lights and decorations everywhere. We ate dinner at a restaurant we had previously lunched at, Les Ventres Jaunes, and lucked out with a waiter who spoke English; although between the two of us, Roberts and I are able to translate much of the menu when dining out, a knowledgeable native speaker that can make recommendations provides for a whole other experience! The food was delicious, fitting for “the gastronomic capital of France.”

Our sightseeing afterwards took us across the bridge to Presqu’île. We wandered north until we finally found Place de Terreaux with the Bartholdi sculpture that had so impressed me on our first visit. By then two members of our group were getting quite cranky and tired (I’ll give you a hint, one is pregnant and the other under two years old) and so our next destination was a subway for the short ride back to the hotel.

Matīss and Indra had a horribly early flight before dawn, and so the next morning it was only five of us eating breakfast and discussing our sightseeing options for the day. As it was drizzling and we had come prepared with very little rain gear, the verdict was to hop in our rental car and make the drive up Fourvière, Lyon’s “hill of prayer”, topped by a basilica and the Tour Métallique, a giant TV transmitter. On this visit I was really able to enjoy a look around the interior of the Notre Dame de Fourvière even though the rain kept us from lingering at the scenic overlooks. With the odd blend of Byzantine & medieval features and the incredibly ornate interior, the Basilique is worth a visit while in Lyon. Just to the right of the cathedral is the real pilgrimage chapel dating from the 18th century that houses a statue of the Virgin Mary from the 16th century.

While Anna and Andrejs decided to make a mad dash in the rain down the winding stairs and roads that climb the hill, Roberts, Lauris and I drove back down and waited for them at a brasserie on Place St-Jean. Arriving cold but not soaked having seen the sights on the way down, our reunited group enjoyed some hot drinks before heading back out into the drizzle for a last stroll through Old Lyon. We found the perfect place for lunch on Place du Change, a tea room and crêperie that had us stuffed ready for the drive home.

Foto credit: Andrejs Lazda
Here I must add a second store that I really miss in Clermont, especially this time of year, and the closest one to our apartment is in Lyon – Starbucks! Our route back to the highway took us back through Presqu’île, and so the first hour of the trip home I was spoiled with a decaf caramel macchiato… it’s the little things!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Christmas guests

It was the day after Christmas day when more guests arrived. My sister Anna and her husband Andrejs joined us after their whirlwind holiday tour of NYC, Chicago and Eau Clair before their short sightseeing trip to Dublin. Although they had spent a whole day traveling to get here, they were still gung ho to get out and see the city at night. All seven of us took a ride in the Ferris wheel, but it was the fog that made the night memorable.

The fog was so thick we could hardly see the Christmas tree from the top of the wheel, much less the cathedral. Once back on the ground we continued our walk through the near empty streets, all the way to Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption and the Marché de Noël, where only the hot wine and food vendors were still open for the night.

By the next day the fog had lifted, but we spent it doing more of the same; walks through the city with some shopping and cafés thrown in, a visit to the supermarché for Indra and Matīss, naps, presents and relaxing near the Christmas tree and finally, a superb dinner at a local restaurant.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Two Kings

Friday France celebrated Kings Day (Epiphany); the day Catholic tradition states that the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem to honor the Christ Child (the Latvian Zvaigznes diena). Celebrating with a “King Cake” in France is quite common, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. According to Wikipedia, in Provence the King Cake is gâteau des Rois made of brioche and candied fruits and in the northern half of France galette des Rois, a puff pastry with frangipane. Historically there was a bean baked inside, and when eating the cake, the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes “king” for a day. The beans have over time been replaced first by porcelain and now by plastic figurines.

We were lucky enough to partake in the celebration twice, the first time with our mom & baby group here in Clermont. Nadine brought a delicious King Cake (a brioche with chocolate) to share with the group, and although we skipped having a child crawl under the table to determine who receives which piece (so that there is no possibility of the chef or cake-cutter rigging the process), there was indeed a little plastic king figurine hidden in the cake. Lauris was the lucky one to discover it, and I was the lucky one to have to explain that the plastic piece is in fact not edible, and not meant to swallow, eat or place in mouth. However he was crowned king for the day and we enjoyed a couple of hours spent catching up with our Clermont friends, sipping coffee and enjoying the King Cake.

I first heard of jubilārs vēlās from my aunt and her family, where on their birthday, the birthday boy/girl is in charge (within reason) and calls the shots. They can request special meals and favors, a sort of king for a day. And so it happens that the other man in my life becomes a king for a day, as Roberts celebrates his birthday today.

Today was also our second celebration of Kings Day. In the morning I ran out to our local bakery with Lauris for a couple of fresh croissants and found a line out the front door and a camera crew filming the action. The shelves were full of galette des Rois, and I couldn't help but change my order to include one of the beautiful looking pastries to eat with our breakfast of fruit salad. It seemed only destiny that Lauris find the second figurine in his mini portion of the pastry: this one an Auvergnate rugby player!

Robert, the coming year will bring another addition to the family as well as many wonderful adventures and challenges, and I just want to remind you that your “queen” will be by your side for all of it! Daudz laimes dzimšanas dienā, mīļais!

My two kings

Friday, January 6, 2012

Super-Lioran and Murat

On their previous visit, we took Matīss and Indra on a whirlwind tour of the Gorges du Tarn, complete with château, boat ride, hike & getting lost, and tons of scenic overlooks and stops for pictures. Let’s just say, being 37 weeks pregnant is not conducive to any of the above. On the day after Christmas we did hop into the car for a much closer destination, Puy Mary. Roberts had been once with a couple of out of town guests, and although I very much wanted to climb to the top from which there supposedly is a superb view of the Auvergne, I was content to let our guests have this experience and sit this one out with a chocolat chaud in the café at the base.

So you know Pas de Peyrol, the highest mountain pass in the Massif Central? In December? Yeah, they have snow. And lots of it. The pass was closed, and so we were rerouted from Puy Mary to Super-Lioran and the cable car that runs up to the top of the highest peak in the Cantal range, Plomb du Cantal. Super-Lioran is a winter sports resort that was jam-packed with skiers, sledders and half the population of the Auvergne decked out in their winter gear. I parked myself in the local brasserie with a pizza and hot chocolate while the rest checked out the scene.

Well, as it turns out the cable car was not running due to high winds, so once again we changed our plans and instead continued down the Cère river valley to the Cascade de la Roucolle and a quick peek at the Château de Pesteils (a beautiful medieval castle overlooking the Cère and Polminhac).

On our trip back we stopped in Murat for a quick dash up Rocher de Bonnevie. The sides of the hill are composed of large basalt columns, and where there used to be a castle before Richelieu ordered it razed, now stands a statue of the Virgin Mary. We enjoyed a fabulous sunset, the view of Murat, the Alagnon valley and the Cantal mountains before the disappearing daylight urged us back down to the car.

The third of the twelve wrought iron crosses leading up to the Virgin Mary statue

We had been hoping to dine in Murat, but once again were foiled by the typical “dinner is only served starting at 8pm” and holiday closures, and so we returned to Clermont-Ferrand for a dinner in one of the restaurants on Place de Jaude.

I'm also proud to announce that I have officially been blogging for one year. I posted Happy New Year!!! exactly one year ago and although it seems like such a short time, when I think of all the places we've visited I'm glad that I've recorded some of it here. Will the next year bring as many adventures, that we have yet to find out, but here is to the new year and another year of blogging.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Le Père Noël

It was with some trepidation that we awaited the arrival of le Père Noël this Christmas. Sara in Le Petit Village was the first to warn me about le Père Fouettard, the evil partner of the French Santa who travels around with him on Christmas eve to hand out coal and whippings to the naughty children... I will not repeat the terrible crimes he stands accused of (you can read about them here) but will admit that the stories scared me into behaving! And so on Christmas eve, when Lauris was finally tucked into bed (and we’ll wait a few years before mentioning Father Christmas’s partner to him) we hoped that in lieu of the good and evil duo we would be paid a visit by Sala vecīts, Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas.

As it turns out Lauris, our guests Matīss and Indra, Roberts and I must have been extremely good last year! While I started the crêpes in the kitchen Lauris discovered the giant construction crane in the living room (which truthfully was as much of a surprise to mom as it was to son!). We’ve been spending some time watching the construction site next to the Carrefour here in town, and Lauris’s favorite are the giant cranes (although the cement mixers come in a close second). He has become adept at spotting them before I even see them: looming over a building, out the car window and even in the dark! So imagine his joy at having an “AM-ĀH” (in Latvian the word is ceļamkrāns and Lauris has shortened it some) of his own to play with.

Learning to operate the crane with onkulis Matīss

After a late breakfast we opened presents and I was once again absolutely astonished by the lovely gifts and well wishes that appeared under our tree from across the Atlantic and Latvia. Being our first Christmas away from the parents/grandparents it was especially meaningful to me to know that all of our relatives were thinking of us and missing us as much as we them.

The rest of the day was lazily spent between the living room and the dining room, with a short break before dinner to take another walk through town and enjoy the beautiful lights. A beautiful Christmas with some of our favorite people!

The town hall, Place Delille and Place de Jaude

Monday, January 2, 2012

Noël a Clermont

This was the first Christmas I have ever spent away from the Midwest; for the last 29 years I have spent Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house or my husband’s parents house, and Christmas day has mostly been celebrated at my parent’s house. I’m not sure what I expected, but it definitely wasn’t this wave of homesickness (and by that I mean for the familiar, for I consider our apartment here in Clermont-Ferrand home) and increased sense of distance from family and the United States.

Being about a month away from my due date we decided early on that we wouldn’t be traveling, and were blessed with family choosing to come to us instead. Matīss, Roberts’s brother who visited us last Easter, and his girlfriend Indra arrived the evening before Christmas Eve, flying into Lyon and then taking the late train to Clermont. We learned another valuable lesson about travel in France; around the holidays it is better to book first class to guarantee a seat, the four hours spent aboard the train must have been cramped and tiring as Matīss wasn’t even able to get a seat. But our guests made it in good spirits despite an one-hour delay, and shortly after their arrival we were seated around the table digging into some local cheese and charcuterie.

With our guests and the Place de Jaude Christmas tree

Christmas Eve day was much more relaxed than ever before as most of the presents were wrapped and all that remained to be done was one final trip to the store for last-minute supplies. We took our guests for a tour of the Christmas sights in downtown, starting at Place de Jaude with its giant Ferris wheel and Christmas tree (whose lights and top had been repaired since the big wind storm), and on through the old section of town decked out in lights, finally arriving at the Marché de Noël for some roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and fried dough for the pregnant lady. After a ride on the petit train taking us through the rest of town we were home, just in time to grab a bite to eat before a short walk to Eglise Saint-Pierre les Minimes, the nearby church that we had visited for a friend’s son’s first communion.

Our next lesson was soon learned, arriving 15 minutes early was enough to guarantee a seat, but not enough for normal seating; the last remaining spots were all the way in the very front of the church in the corner with no view of the altar, the priest or any of the children participating in the service. Lauris, who had not yet napped, showed great patience for the first hour, making friends with some of the other three foot tall service goers. However, in the end it proved too much and we made our exit during communion. Maybe it was because of how little I was able to participate due to my lack of French, maybe it was because of the enormity of the church interior or maybe it was because of the lack of the familiar (such as the dimming of the lights and lighting of the candles during the singing of Klusā nakts, svētā nakts (Silent Night, Holy Night), but the feeling of inner calm I usually find in church on Christmas eve was missing this year. It was only later, sitting around the table surrounded by my family, with candles and the Christmas tree lighting the room and with a big Christmas dinner on the table that the Christmas spirit returned for me. Roberts led the singing of all the traditional Christmas carols, and it was late before we all retired to await the arrival of le Père Noël.

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