Sunday, December 18, 2016

finding the perfect French tree

We have been Mr. and Mrs. for 1 year and 4 months now. It's so much fun! In our 481 days of wedded bliss, we have learned a lot about how our families are similar and different. Christmas time is full of traditions, both in preparing for Christmas and in the actual celebration. Our families have a lot of different traditions...

For example:
- open gifts on the evening of the 24th or the morning of the 25th?
- escargots or chili soup?
- stockings or no stockings?
- white christmas lights or colored lights?
- real tree or beautiful, perfectly symmetric, pull-out-of-the-closet, imitation Christmas tree
- etc.

It's pretty clear, when I see this list, that there are obvious answers to all of these questions. The problem is, Joel agrees, though our answers differ greatly. In our second Christmas as a married couple, we are still figuring out what are the traditions we want to keep from both sides and what new ones we want to create.

One of the questions was about getting a real tree vs. a fake tree. Joel grew up with a real tree, and I grew up in Africa, where we had a lovely fake tree.

I had heard of families going to a Christmas tree farm, walking all around and picking out the perfect tree, and that did sound fun and exciting. When I was 12, my family was living in Kansas for a year, and my parents decided to let us experience the joy of picking and cutting down a real tree. It didn't go super well. Our tree was so prickly, and putting on the lights with my Dad, which was our tradition, was painful and so much less enjoyable than placing the lights on the perfectly spaced out and symmetrical plastic tree branches I was used to. Neither my brother, sisters nor I enjoyed our real tree very much, though the experience of going to pick it out and drinking hot chocolate after, was a lot of fun.

When the time came for Joel and I to decide what we wanted to do for our Christmas tree, we found a good compromise: if we get a real tree, we include the whole experience of picking it out and cutting it down, plus hot chocolate afterwards!

Living in France has made this a bit trickier. Typically, people here buy their (real) Christmas tree from a grocery store, ikea, outdoor market, etc. These places will have an area set up, with a big selection of pre-cut trees that you choose from. According to my French hubby, it's not as common here for people to go directly to the tree farm and pick one out themselves, though he thinks it's happening more and more.

Last year, we found a little farm on the outskirts of Rennes, and though the trees were all pre-cut, they were actually from that farm, and we liked the idea of helping the local farmer, and actually being on his farm.

This year, I did some research online, and found out that there was actually a tree farm a ways outside of our city, where they were inviting people to come and pick and cut down your own tree! I very excitedly told Joel about it, and as soon as he had a day off, we made a date out of it!

In typical awesome French style, the "farm" was a beautiful property with a castle, a long winding road onto the property, and several hills of trees at the back. 

I was so excited! All these trees to choose from! 

Once we had found our perfect tree, one of the workers there cut it down for us, and wrapped it all up nicely for our ride home.

Joel made us some awesome hot cocoa when we got home, and the decorating began. Don't let the expression on his face fool you, he was giddy happy with our tree as well. :)

Our new little ornament this year. A little tradition of our own. 

I'll admit, having a real tree is actually kind of fun, but the memories that we make getting it and our time together is what makes it so special. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

kitchen cabinet makeover

Unlike a lot of apartments we looked at, our current place had a few kitchen cabinets already in it. Often times, places here come with a kitchen completely empty, and it's up to the owner/renter to install cabinets, shelves, and counter tops, and then to take them down when they leave. When I moved into our apartment in Rennes, it had a sink and the two cabinets under the sink, and that was it. It was up to us to add some shelves, and counter tops. We were kind of expecting to do that again, but to our surprise, this kitchen (of our current apartment) had some cabinets already installed. They were just a bit outdated. 

I saw lots of potential! And they don't look so bad, but what you can't see is the grease, dirt and grime caked all over. It also made the whole room look dark. I whispered to Joel that "if we got the place, I would loooooove to repaint the kitchen cabinets!" though I had no idea if we would be allowed to, or if the owner would agree to it. 

As if to read my mind, the man from the agency who was showing us the apartment said, "we encouraged the owner to change the kitchen cabinets, as they are old and outdated, but he didn't want to. But if you like to paint and are motivated to do so, he would be willing to let you repaint and to pay for it." I was so excited! Not just at the prospect of having a brighter kitchen and that he would pay for it, but who doesn't love a good diy makeovers! :) 

It was a looooooong process. I of course started out by texting my dear friend Molly, who repainted all of her kitchen cabinets a year (or 2? 3?) ago, just for moral support. She assured me that painting them white was going to make a world of difference, and to keep persevering as I put on coat 4.

We also had a HUGE help from our friends who live in the south of France, and drove 3 hours to come and help us move. They were so wonderful and did so much in 24 hours! 

We started by taking everything off: hinges, handles, doors, etc. and sanded everything really well, and used a degreaser to get the gross stuff off. 

For the painting, we did a coat of primer on both sides, and around the frames of the cabinets, and then 3 coats of paint. That's what took so long -- having to wait in between each coat of one side to dry, and then flipping it over, to do the other side. 

We really liked the white as it was going on, and it brightened up the kitchen so much! 

We spray painted the door handles and hinges and then it was almost time to put everything back together! I couldn't wait!

We are really happy with how it turned out, and it definitely provides a lot more light and an updated look to our little kitchen! 

We also added a counter top and a few drawers on the left side. What do you think? 

Isn't it funny how we have our washing machine right next to our sink? There aren't any other water hookups in the rest of the apartment, so it has to go there. Mom thought I should just try and put dishes in it -- use it as a clothes washer and dish washer. :) We haven't tried that yet. 

We really like the details on the wood, and they seem to be more noticeable in white. 

Do you see that tan, orange and green book by my brown recipe box? It's the Wiebe Family Cookbook, and I'd be happy to tell you more about where you can get your own copy! There is an amazing Broccoli Cheese Soup recipe by my awesome cousin Amy. I made it last night and was hoping for some leftovers today, but... my hubby really liked it and finished it! :) 

Monday, December 12, 2016

discovering our new home

We have been in our new city for a little over a month now, and are starting to feel more and more at home. These pictures were taken when we first arrived, which is why the trees all still have leaves on them! :)

Although we miss Rennes a LOT, we really like our new city! It's beautiful! It's much bigger than Rennes, and definitely has a "big city" feel to it, which takes getting used to, but it's not too big!

We have concluded that apartment hunting is a great way to discover a city, at least it was for us.

We came up in early October for a couple of weeks to find an apartment, and walked, bused, metro-ed, and tram-ed all over!

And can I just say that public transportation is amazing!? Except when there are strikes, and/or delays, cancelled metros, etc.... but overall, it's a really great system. We went from having 1 metro in Rennes to 4, plus trams, plus 2000 + bus stops all over. 

We spent a lot of time online, looking at lots of different websites that were advertising apartments to rent, and then making phone call after phone call, asking if we could visit, or whether the apartment was still available. Often times, if the apartment we were looking at was through an agency, they would have us come to their office, pick up the key to the apartment we wanted to visit, and then let us visit it on our own. They always gave us a time for when we were to come back, and often it meant going from one end of the city to the other -- from the agency to the apartment, and back again, often in a short amount of time! It was a good way to learn our way around a bit more, and figure out the public transportation! 

Coffee (or coke) breaks were a must as we were apartment searching, and just yesterday, we walked by this café -- the first one we stopped at, and realized that it is really close to our new place! We had no idea at the time! This picture makes me so cold now! It is no longer cold coke and short sleeve weather!

Aren't these French pastries just beautiful? Mom, can you spot your favorite?

Something I had never seen before, but it made me so happy and to me, was a clear sign that my Uncle Gordon and Uncle Jerry should come and visit me! Look at the cute little piggie pastries! There is chocolate inside!! What do you think Aunt Terry? Is this enough to convince Uncle Gordon to come and visit if I promise to buy him one upon his arrival? :) 

Apartment hunting wasn't easy, and in fact, usually we'd come home at night, discouraged, frustrated, and tired. But there were always things that encouraged us and made us smile throughout the day -- the little piggies above were one of them, and just being together to look for our new home was so special! 

After two long weeks of searching, we ended up finding a great place, that was ready for us to move into, just before Joel started working, literally 2 days before. We have continued discovering the city, our neighborhood, and are really enjoying it! Wanna come visit? :)