Wednesday, December 24, 2008

the name police

We've all heard rumors about the French language police, I think--where they regulate that radio and TV must have at least x percent of French-language content. I have also heard that the French resist allowing any 'new' words into their lexicon - like 'hamburger'.... I can't confirm these law enforcers exist, in fact, I have evidence to the contrary (I think all the music in the stores is in English and no one has stopped us on the streets yet for our terrible accents)--but I've discovered something even more shocking--outright CENSORSHIP! This realization first came to us last weekend, when Rebecca and the kids were at a play date... did you know that until recently, there was a list of baby names, controlled by the government, from which to choose when naming your child? (We found this out because one of Callie's classmates seems to be named "urine" and Rebecca wanted to know if this was a common French name - the shocked hosts said no way and wondered how he escaped the name police. (conclusion - must be an immigrant)) Further censorship was confirmed by my colleagues at lunch when we were talking about films that had been exported to the US, and they mentioned one that was changed to better suit the American audience--they gave it a happy ending! Hmm, exports are censored? What, the US government won't export computer chips because they could be used as weapons, and the French government won't export movies made on their soil, because they don't want anyone to know they have sad endings???

___________running log_____________

This morning we had no cloud cover, so I got to see the sun coming up behind the hills... the moon is out as well--the photo doesn't do this justice but this is the main reason I like to run in the mornings--to see the sunrise! Not that this means anything to anyone but me, but I think I might start logging my runs here too--today's run was a 35-minute loop through point-du-jour to the hairpin turn and back to the cimitiere, with a few farteleks sprinkled in. Yesterday I skipped since I woke up a bit dizzy... Monday was a ladder on the track of 600m, 900m, 1200m and back down at about a 7:05 pace. Slow! But then again, I've been recovering from a chest cold...

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Today is the winter solstice... the longest night of the year. We celebrated a bit by making some decorations and then decorating our evergreen tree (a symbol from days of old that, by adding candles or lights, it gives us hope that it won't always be dark, cold, and forested with leafless trees--this tree reminds us there's still something green, right?)

It's interesting... we got this tree, normally valued around $50 in the US, for only €5, because we 'waited' until this weekend... apparently all the French buy their trees much earlier than this, and so it was on 50% off sale. We also got another couple decorations for another €7 or so, all for a reasonable setup. The most visible decorations in this picture are the paper snowflakes we added and the green paper-chain that Zander and Callie made over the last few days.

This evening we went to watch the sunset from one of the tallest hills around here, one called Bregille, but there was no sunset since it is so overcast. It was still a beautiful view, which cannot be captured with this photo, but we had a great time thinking about this time of year; talking as a family about solstice; anticipating the snow and sledding; and anticipating the longer days ahead with spring flowers...

Friday, December 19, 2008

French (and americans) start your watching!

Thanks to all who contributed - especially Aunt Melodie, our most prolific contributor and our favorite movie buff! Hope she sees some new names she hasn't seen below!

For the record, André and I haven't even seen half of these movies - guess we are not fully culturally educated Americans!

Note for list: some did list action adventure despite our request so I put it in anyhow! I also left in comments when people had them there. Some even said they'd be willing to tell why they would recommend each movie - so if you are interested, let me know! Stars mean it was recommended by multiple people... They are in no particular order.

Star Wars
16 Candles*
Mary Poppins***
Princess Bride**
American Beauty
Bowling for Columbine**
Rocky Horror Picture Show
Shawshank Redemption
Hudsucker Proxy
Indiana Jones
It's a Wonderful Life***
Grapes of Wrath
Citizen Kane
The Great Dictator*
Any Preston Sturges film
To Kill a Mockingbird***
Gold Diggers of 1933
The Best Years of Our Lives
Double Indemnity
The Fog of War
Good Night and Good Luck
The Station Agent
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Schindler's List**
African Queen
Laurence of Arabia
Lion in Winter
Under the Tuscan Sun
Wizard of Oz**
Gone with the Wind
King Kong (the original)
Dances with Wolves*
Jesus The Christ
A Christmas Story***
White Christmas
Singing in the Rain
I think it's called Top Hat with Fred Astaire
Sound of Music**
Lord of the Flies
Welcome to the Dollhouse
Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman did an amazing job)
Frailty (an interesting look at religious belief - not really horror, but some violence)
Airheads (a very funny glimpse of rock culture)
The Breakfast Club** (a classic portrait of American teens in the 80s)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off **(same as above - but funny, too)
Accepted (a more modern, silly, look at American teens)
Ghostbusters **(a blockbuster, but it's older)
Little Miss Sunshine** (barely-functional American family experiences beauty-pageant culture)Elizabeth & Elizabeth: The Golden Age (not about America, but wonderful historical portraits)Erin Brokovich (here's a slice of American culture: lawsuits and boobs)
The Green Mile (a very moving and human story with a supernatural twist)
Martian Child (John Cusack is wonderful & it's a great portrait of alienation)
North Country (guaranteed to make you angry about sex discrimination)
Fargo **(don't you love the Cohen brothers?!)
The Big White (interesting, wacky, the kind of movie that's funny and not funny)
Runaway Jury (I love courtroom drama)
Red Dawn (a very patriotic American story)
Enemy Mine** (a sci-fi take on racism)
Charlotte's Web* (this animated classic features some very human animals)
The Secret of Nimh *(one of my all-time favorite animated films)
The Last Unicorn* (same as above)
Lady in The Water (there are some excellent character portraits in this fantasy)
The Last Mimzy (a very cool story - might be too intense for very young kids)
Meet The Robinsons (this under-recognized Disney movie features very engaging characters)Miracle On 34th Street (what could be more American or Christmasey?)
Dr Seuss' Horton Hears A Who (the new one with Jim Carey - very faithful to Seuss)
Dr. Strangelove (a classic comedic portrait of the international war machine)
She Devil (revenge and feminine empowerment)
The First Wives Club (same as above)
The War Of The Roses (black comedy about divorce and stubborness)
Wigstock The Movie (now THIS is America! LOL)
Tremors (classic horror-comedy)
Galaxy Quest (sci-fi comedy and a portrait of Trekkie nerd culture)
Undercover Blues (this "stupid" comedy just hits the right notes for me)
Blast From The Past* (hilarious!)
9 to 5* (classic comedy with strong women)
Serial Mom (black comedy portrait of tabloid culture)
Raising Arizona (some will love it, others will hate it)
The Dream Team (totally funny! and a good picture of NYC)
The In-Laws (the original with Peter Falk - not the weak re-make with Michael Douglas)
Best In Show ("mock-umentary" comedy)
Spaceballs - the movie
The Incredible True Adventures Of 2 Girls In Love (teen lesbians & first love)
Animal Farm (a classic animated interpretation of Orwell's indictment of Communism)
Bells Of St. Mary's (a classic with Bing Crosby and Isabella Rosselini)
Matilda (a wonderful story about a smart, brave girl with some very cool powers)
Candleshoe (possibly Jodie Fosters first film - classic Disney)
Robin Hood (with Eroll Flynn - not at all about American culture, one of my all-time favorites)
The Music Box (courtroom Drama relating to Nazi war crimes)
Down Periscope (funny, zany, stupid)
Inner Space (same as above, but an older movie)
The Russians Are Coming! (portrait of cold war tensions)
Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar (comedy about Drag Queens - Patrick Swayze is terrific!) Swimming (an independent film - portrait of life on the Boardwalk)
American Psycho (80's yuppie culture - warning: VERY violent)
Taxi Driver (DeNiro's big breakout role - portrait of the seamy side of 70's New York)
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (classic Jimmy Stewart)
The China Syndrome (portrait of nuclear tension)

If anyone wants to add more, feel free to comment here....

Happy viewing!


We have now been here 3 months - that's worth some sort of blogline - right??? As you can see we are very comfortable now! A portrait of lazy French lifestyle??

So, ever since we moved in, the drain in our shower has been kind of slow. We have been complaining about it from the beginning and one time someone came over and messed with it, which fixed it for like, a few days.
We decided to just deal with it (which meant, turn on water to get wet, turn if off to soap up, turn it on to rinse off, hope it would drain by the next morning etc..) until it completely stopped draining about 3 or 4 days ago - making us resort to the tub. We told the gaurdien (French for slum, oh, I mean, landlord) and he told us our lease doesn't cover fixing drains (even though it has never worked since we've been here) and we'd have to call a plumber.
Back track a few years ago to similar plumbing problem at Gowen Circle. We tried some Drano and it basically didn't work and finally we did call a plumber who, when hearing we used Drano, started laughing at us and said something to the effect of "Those things never work, they are just a scam to get your money!" To his credit, he fixed our Gowen Circle slow drain completely, worth every penny (it actually wasn't even that much).
So we decided not to investigate French Drano and just call the plumber. He came pretty early the next morning, took a look at our drain and told us (you've guessed it) "I can't fix this, you have to buy Drano." The irony! Well, I hope French Drano works better than the American version (maybe so, based on the chemicals they used to wash the houses) or I will never get a satisfying shower!
In other news this week, our quest continues for bargains in France. You all know that I am a dedicated flea market and thrift store shopper. This has been my hardest cultural adjustment to deal with. There are no big thrift stores in France and the 2 stores I have found that sell used clothes are small and none too cheap (although I have gotten some good things there, like the kids' winter coats, etc...). We also never saw garage or yard sales in the fall when we first got here, or flea markets - all the street markets seem to have amazing artisan-quality handmade goods - fun to look at but far too rich for my wallet. We did find one large sale advertised in the paper at the end of November, but it was impossible to reach by bus. Well, I found another one, all things to be sold for only 1 euro. Perfect!
Strange thing was that it was running on a Tues, Wed, Thurs, and it was also (of course) unreachable by bus. Well, I was determined to make this one. We decided to borrow Olivier's car mid week and head to the sale on Wednesday evening. All was going according to plan until we got to Olivier's house and the car was dead! With the help of my tough French children, we pushed the car up and down a hill a few times to try to pop start it - to no avail. Olivier was not home to give us a jump start so we gave up for the night. Was it a flea market curse? Well, we did end up making it there last night and the kids got little gifts for each other for the holidays. It is interesting trying to teach them about this aspect of the holiday. You are supposed to not just get, but give. In some ways they get this naturally, in general they are generous kids, sharing candy with their friends, helping me volunteer for charity or bake goodies for their teachers but when we mention giving to their siblings... not so much! Also, different kids had different foibles. Callie kept finding things that she wanted for herself and telling me, "Oh, I think Zander would really like this..." Oh really, that pink princess crown???? Griffin just picked any random trash he saw 'This is for Daddy' - hmm.... a ceramic mug missing the handle??? Zander picked things he really did think they would like, but I knew they wouldn't. "Look mommy, it's a princess, Callie loves princesses!" But Zander, she hates Pocahantas.... I want them to learn to pick things out - but my urge is to just pick things out for them and say - get them this. It ended up some sort of blend of the two - although I don't know how much anyone will like Griffin's choices!
All in all, it worked out well, I even got some clothes for myself and some marroon colored high heeled knee high leather boots, which are tres chic. It took longer than we thought and we ended up having to resort to fast food. Yes, three months in our family finally made it to what everyone in Besancon has been telling us is their best (and only) American restaurant: McDonalds. We try to tell them, McDonalds is NOT American food! It is fast food junk... but then, what is American food anyway???
So we head to the golden arches - the kids are psyched - Zander especially who got to go to a few McD's birthday parties last year in Philly and loves the cheeseburgers... Well, the menu is not the same as in the US for sure, and Andre' reports the Big Mac special sauce is a different recipe. Also, it was just a different feeling. Seemed as if it wasn't a particularly healthy menu - and the French - they are worried about that! The place mats that your food go on have warnings about how it is bad for you to eat such fatty food and also feature a quiz on how many servings of fruits and veggies to eat per day for optimum health. (They also have health warnings running along the bottom of TV screens whenever there is a commercial for chocolate, candy or other unhealthy items - here is a shot of Zander posing next to a giant chocolate santa - gift from tutor Cecile - as you can see, these warnings work well to change eating habits - but maybe it's just because we don't speak the language well enough...) But (as usual), I digress. When we got to the register to order, we asked for no bun for Griffin's burger (gluten allergy). Response? "This is not possible" Obviously it's not "your way, right away" here in France. This 'you can't have special adjustment to your meal' theme is actually true for all French restaurants we have experienced. I once made the mistake of asking them to add some fried onions to a steak meal I wanted and the waiter helpfully tried to explain. Oh, no - it doesn't come with onions, it comes with green beans and potatoes..... Well, yeah, I know, but could I also get onions? Response? ....blank stare. In France, they consider their meals perfect as they are - you may not adjust them for personal, or allergenic, reasons. They sometimes don't even have salt and pepper on the table - our cuisine comes perfectly seasoned from the kitchen, thank you very much...
So, back to McDonalds. We decided to skip the "mcdrive" - i.e. the drive-through! It seems that it is uncommon enough here they can get away with just calling it mcdrive. Inside, they did have nuggets, fries and burgers - and also mcCroque sandwich - sort of a french grilled cheese with ham inside. For dessert??? We'll have chocolate mcmousse of course! They did have a fun play place area that the kids ran around in and the 'happy meal' with a toy. The play area was in a sound insulated glass cube, separated from where the adults were dining - nice! Also, we saw lots of families there obviously hanging out for an entire evening - the little ones were playing in the cube while teenagers set up games - like RISK!!! Fast food, perhaps, but no fast eating!
Well, the week is officially over and the 2 week winter break has begun. Callie and Griffin had a big party at their school complete with cakes and a visit from Pere Noel. Both Callie and Griffin wanted to get dressed up for the occassion - Callie even had a fancy hairdo. When we came in that morning, one of the mothers commented to her son (one of Callie's classmates) on how pretty (jolie) Callie looked this day. His response? "Oui, Callie est toujours jolie" (Yes, she is always pretty!) So cute. One of the interesting things about the schools here is that there seems to be no holiday concerts/celebrations put on for the parents. Callie told me her class sung a song for the other children - but parents weren't invited. How about Zander? His school had nothing. Perhaps this is a function of the fact that there is no separately paid music or art teachers in the schools here who are usually the ones to put these types of things together, but I think it is sad. No sense of the school as a community.
The kids did do some cool art projects - here are some shots of their stuff....
Griffin did the diorama. Zander the ornaments, Callie the big wolf. I hope this is the end of the grand loup (big wolf) unit they have been doing since the beginning of the year and she also decorated a floating candle meant to be lit in the window so Santa can find your house. As you can see, the teachers do a TON of helping out with these projects. Every day, without fail, when I come into the school, there are one or two teachers' aides cutting up paper trees or cutting perfect shapes out of paper - they paint, they glue, they decoupage. (Actually it looks pretty fun to me) The resulting art is pretty impressive for the preschool set. The big drawback, in my opinion, is that the individuality of the art is lost - they all look the same. I mean, when Griff brought this home and Daddy asked him the classic "Wow! Did you make that for us?" His answer was a simple, no. When pressed, he admits he glued on the bon bons (candy). I prefer his art to be more natural for a 3 year old - it still comes out great if you ask me. Take a look at this 'feather' picture - it is of our whole family.

Finally, I had my appointment for my carte de sejour (green card) today. I left Griffin for the full morning at school so he wouldn't have to come with me. Of course, he pooped in his pants...oh well. We'll see what happens over the break.
Poor André had to take time off work to come with me to the prefecture since they don't speak any English there. You know you are desparate for a date when you are excited to spend some time with your spouse in a government agency waiting room. Oh, how we miss the babysitting co-op! The appointment went pretty smoothly (thanks to André for all his hard work to get all the papers in order), and I should have my card in 4 weeks or so, but we had to pay a 275 Euro fee for my visa. André's was free, since he is working, but they charge for mine. Just another bill to pay, and another injustice to the stay at home mom!
So, does André have his carte de sejour?? Of course the answer is, no! He was supposed to get it within 2 months of arrival and, after waiting for a month for it to come in the mail, called to see what the hold up was. Turns out it is one of those things that has plagued our interaction with beauracracy our entire married life: that we are Dhondts! That's right, André's card is being held up due to his decision (over 10 years ago now) to take my name when we got married. I had always wanted to keep my name and have my kids have my name since, otherwise, there would be no more Dhondts to carry on the name. When we were dating I mentioned this to André and he thought, why not? No big deal. (one of the many, many reasons I married the guy). Well, this is strange enough in America and always draws comments from people. Apparently it is so unusual and unheard of in France that he needs to get some sort of special permission from the minister of immigration in Paris to get a carte de sejour in the name Dhondt. Who knows when that will happen... and what if the guy says no?
I can just hear it now--"We're sorry--you have to go back to America because you took your wife's name. We don't do that kind of thing here in France." I think we'd have to organize a greve (strike)! That'll show them how french we are!
While we were there we thought it would be good to mention we will be heading to Switzerland and Italy in a few weeks in case they knew of some extra paperwork we might need besides our passports. "Oh", the very nice prefecture employee said, "you can't leave the country." Say WHAT????? Why can't we just use our passports and pretend we are normal american tourists????? Well, the (unnapproved) visa papers are part of our passport - we might be able to get out of the country, but will they let us back in? Curses, Curses, and more curses!!! We have to call the french embassy in Lyon to check on the specific rules for this - but it is highly possible that there will be no border crossing for our family during our vacation - thank goodness the studio we rented is in the French Alps - but I am going to be spitting nails if we can't see Italy! Time for another greve!

We also headed to the social security office to try to work out our papers for the money we are supposed to recieve simply because we have three children and I am not working - this money was an integral part of the budget we created before we got to France and hasn't shown up yet! We fear we won't get it at all since the forms imply your need is based on the income you were getting 2 years ago... with no spaces to put what you are earning now. Since we are making 1/3 of what we made in the States here in Besancon - that is worrisome. I guess we will worry about being rejected when we actually are rejected!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Flotsam and Jetsam...

Have been taking random shots here and there that don't really seem like a blog so I thought I'd just go for something... Maybe this should be 7 short blogs - not one long one???

Ch 1:Griffin and poop.

I know, you have all been just dying for an update on this topic! No he is not potty trained yet. He has his good and bad days. One of his new favorites on the 'bad' days is to place the goodies in dangerous locations (such as at the top of, or on, the stairs) for the delight of the unsuspecting walker. Here he is showing his latest accomplishment (and
holding his nose).... His teachers are pleased with his progress however, and want him to come the entire day starting after the break. I am torn about this development. On the one hand, it would be great to have him at school the whole time with his peers (and it would be great for me to have time enough to perhaps take a yoga or french class or something) On the other, we have been telling him for 6 weeks the reason he can't go all day is because he is not potty trained - how consistent will it be if I just start sending him anyhow? (Not that it was motivating him to be trained to stay home. He seems to like it - even when I don't play with him - just being around me while I fold laundry contents his little soul). I know these lessons are sinking in on some level or another though - since when we play cars the mommy and daddy cars have to take the other cars to schools - one for kids that always pee in their pants, one for kids that never do and a third for kids that sometimes do!

Ch 2: French kids are tough...

OK - you know how it is always raining here? This does not stop French kids in gym class. They run in the rain, they run in the sleet, and, as you can see here, they run in the ice and snow. I'm not sure if this is a function of Besancon (hey, if we waited for good weather, they'd never exercise) or if it is all of France - but it amazes me to see these teenagers slipping around and continuing to do their exercise. When our kids whine that they are tired or something, we will often say, remember - you need to be strong, like French kids. Callie will brag to you about how strong she is from all her exercising - as strong as a real French kid!

Ch 3: Callie Animal lover

She is loving Simone more these days- she feeds her most days and often pats her - it is very sweet and Simone actually seems to like being held this way. She (as well as Griffin) enjoys pretending she is a kitty or (more popular lately) a baby tiger. She has been playing a lot lately with her friend Lilou - her mom is from Holland (I think that makes her Danish) and speaks perfect English - Lilou speaks Dutch and French and, when Callie doesn't understand her - usually will switch to Dutch! Maybe Callie will end up tri-lingual!

Ch 4: Zander the entrepreneur

When hearing his school was selling calenders to raise money, Zander stayed up late one night organizing some of his lesser used toys into categories to sell. His plan - to sell them to his friends to help raise money for the school. So far he hasn't done it (because of all the bad weather), but the box of priced items is ready to go! He is really starting to blossom as a writer - making price tags, trying to spell words out himself, making signs to warn us of any danger - kep ut - mas (keep out mess) was a sign on his door to warn us in the morning so we wouldn't trip over all this stuff!

Ch 5: Use your hands - but gently!

Here Zander is waiting at a bus stop. Usually we walk home, since we enjoy running with our friends, but one day he got pushed in line and his knee got twisted - no big deal but he wanted the bus home. Currently, this is the biggest challenge for Mr. Z - how to play like the french kids (which includes lots of roughhousing that would be clearly off limits at home) without actually
crossing the line and hurting someone. It's hard for us to help out, since we don't like the pushing etc... at all ourselves and don't know how to teach him what the 'right' way is. The mantra in our house has always been "use your words". I have tried to keep him with his hands to himself because I don't think fighting is a good way to communicate - for kids or adults and I also think when they roughhouse, the kids end up hurt sometimes. I do realize this kind of play is fun and it is clearly part of the culture of the way kids play here - so he needs to learn! Part of the problem is that when Zander says to stop, they usually don't listen to his words and they just keep going (this is true of other kids as well, not just Zander). Then (as we have taught him) he usually tries to tell the teacher but sometimes he can't get away or he's on line so he's not allowed to leave or the teacher doesn't understand him or she ignores him since there is something else going on OR he doesn't know the name of who was bugging him and there are 100 kids on the playground so how is the teacher supposed to know who to talk to or they are probably just tired of Zander complaining over every push - when pushing is completely fine for every other kid in the playground. I know it must be hard for them to help and a difficult situation all around. The most worrisome part of this problem is, if people don't listen when he says stop, especially when it is a recurring incident, Zander can sometimes lose control. He almost really hurt one of his good buds, Anouc, the other day, she was pushing him and he choked her! He was very sad afterwards and they made up but it was scary! Afterward he said something like "I just got so, mad, I kept telling her to stop and she wouldn't. I don't know why I touched her neck. I think it was better in Philadelphia for me." Well, he's here now so hopefully we can help him navigate this social battleground!

Ch 6: French playground safety.

So, why do they always push on the playgrounds? Part of the reason, I believe, is that there is NOTHING (and I do mean nothing) else to do. Callie and Griffin have climbers and playhouses in their yard but, once they hit the big kids school (ages 6-10) they get zippo. Zander has a concrete rectangle with a few trees - that's it. Leaves them with not much to do except run around, push and scream. He really misses the amazing Jenks playground! Even at 'parks' you rarely see older kids playing - just the preschool set mostly. Another curiosity is that we never see swings here - or very rarely. When asking others why, we were told swings are too dangerous. I assumed the danger they were worried about was the kind where kids running in front of the swing get smacked with flying feet. That is, until I spotted this beauty in a nearby yard. Maybe the swings are dangerous due to the use of concrete pads underneath them to prevent wear - instead of that wimpy American wood chips - maybe this is all the start of toughening up those French children.

Ch 7: Fall Cleaning

Speaking of tough - even the houses and trees here need to be tough - recently they came and power washed our buildings - they look great but the chemical and bleach smell was overpowering - it made the kids and I both feel sick and lingered in our apartment for days. It made me wonder about the regulations on chemicals for this type of thing here. As part of the beautification project, they also came and trimmed the trees. It is amazing how harshly they trim trees here - on the sign there is the word toiture which means ? but, when I saw this poor shorn sapling next to the sign I thought it must mean torture! No,this tree will not be chopped down later - we are told it will come back in the spring. I wouldn't believe it, except you see trees all over that are clearly cut back this severely on a fairly regular basis - with scarred strange looks as a result. I'm not sure if this picture can really show you what it is like - sort of lumpy ends of thick branches with dozens of spidery tentacle-like twigs sprouting from them, vying desperately for a chance at life. Sometimes it looks really strange because the whole tree (except for the new desperate twigs) will be covered in moss - making the new comers look even more like an alien invasion. Why they do this I have no idea... avoiding fall raking?

Ch 8: Tis the season

Last week was consumed with the wrapping, assembling and mailing of all holiday packages. Boy, I am so glad that is OVER! I do it every year not only because I love all that far away
family but also for more selfish reasons. I love to get packages- even when they are all just filled with presents for the munchkins. Obviously, I am a dedicated computer person and I love email but there is still something wonderful and magical about getting a real card or (even better) package in the mail. I also do holiday cards each year - I like to touch base with people I don't get a chance to talk to often but I still care about and writing our holiday letter is a chance for me to look over the year and marvel at all that happened. I am still working on them but they are easy to do a few at a time. This week will be holiday baking.... that part is fun (and delicious). We had friends over to help make our annual holiday favorite - winter fun cookies. It was very fun and the cookies turned out almost as good as in the US - it is hard since the butter here is very different! Nadine (Olivier's wife) gave me a tin of french cookies - she is a wonderful cook as well as baker - yum - I am going to try to get the recipes and try some of them out.

The End (for now) Rebecca

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Journey to the center of the earth

OK - it was through a few abandoned train tunnels - but that's still pretty cool!

On one of his recent runs Andre' found some train tracks that have been ripped out near our home and thought it would be fun to follow the tracks for a while. What better way can you think of to spend a Saturday afternoon?

We headed out in full snow gear - I am happy to report the advent of a new milestone - all three kids can put on their own snowpants and boots - and 2 out of 3 can also do gloves - HOORAY! I hate stuffing them all into that stuff. It hasn't been snowing but it has been cold enough for the snow to stay around - we had fun on the way walking, rolling around in the snow and tossing snowballs at each other. Here is a snowy parental quandary - throwing snowballs - fun, yes, but not so fun when you get hit in the face. Well, how about this rule? Only throw at the body. Sounds good but 3, 5, and 7 year-olds don't always have the best aim - and they often dodge right into a snowball instead of avoiding it. So far all snowball fights have ended with at least one kid angry and vengeful - guess learning how to have fun snowball fights is all part of growing up.

We got to the site that formerly had train tracks and started walking - I was worried this would not be allowed but there weren't any fences or any signs barring our way - so we went for it. Luckily, here, we can always play the 'stupid American' card! We found this natural kid sized cave that Callie is perched outside, saw tons of amazing icicles and then entered the tunnel.
Thinking ahead, we brought some flashlights. It was so scary and fun to go through the darkness. They weren't so long that you couldn't see the dot of light at the end - but they were long enough for it to be severely dark inside. I know the picture is dark - but that's the point - the bright dot on the upper left is the light at the end of the tunnel... The kids noticed it was protected in there, and warmer than the outdoors (see this was educational). They were all very brave and wanted to explore every corner of the tunnels (although we did do a lot of hand holding).
We saw some amazing, naturally occurring stalagmites and stalactites and also discovered a scarily musky smelling animal den of some kind.
There were two tunnels - the second one was far longer than the first - it even had a side cave with a ventilation shaft - of course we climbed up into it. The opening at the top was completely covered in vines - made you hope there was a sign around it up there somewhere to protect the unsuspecting hiker! The kids were all just staring and staring up.... It was amazing to see how deep we were under the earth and to imagine all the people who had houses up above who didn't even know we were down below them. We wondered how they built the tunnels and the tracks and if they would ever use them again.

We finally reached the end of the tunnels and saw there were actually 3 tunnels if you counted the last short archway. Of course, by this time we were famished and refreshed ourselves with some delicious icicles. The kids were all fighting over who would get the biggest one - Zander - as you can see by Callie's expression - picked the winner. We had to walked quite a bit more to find a place to climb off the tracks. We then walked on the streets the rest of the way home.
Saw lots of snow and also some blooming plants - I guess some plants got tricked into thinking it was spring during indian summer a few weeks ago - or perhaps this is some exotic, French, winter-blooming flower? It took us about 3 hours and we covered probably 4 miles on foot - and the kids (including Griffin) walked the entire way with the exception of the last perhaps 1/8th mile when both Zander and Griffin got carried a bit.

Finished out the day by watching a movie together as a family - The Goonies - a classic favorite of mine! Kids have spent this morning working on booby traps for our afternoon guests...heh heh.....

Friday, December 12, 2008

must-see movies

The other day someone at work made a reference to a movie and it dawned on me that if I were to watch a good chunk of the must-see French films I'd be better off understanding the culture.... anyway, in exchange for this list my colleagues have asked for a list of American must-see films. Many of the Hollywood box-office hits have already been dubbed and shown here, so they're asking us to avoid the action-adventure genre entirely... I started by asking if they'd seen:

Star Wars
Ghost Busters
Silence of the Lambs

yup, yup, yup, yup. No, Jaws, what's that? Oh, you mean geaawce! Yup, they've seen that one too--just hard to understand my pronunciation, with the American accent and all!

Hmmm. We'll have to dig deeper. What do you think they should watch, to better understand American culture?

The Princess Bride
I love you to death
African Queen
The Shawshank Redemption

(for kids)
The Wizard of Oz
The Goonies

I'll be watching some of these French films:

La grande vadrouille
Les Choristes
Gazon maudit
Les Bronzés font du ski
Les visiteurs
La haine
Le bonheur est dans le pré
Le tontons flingueurs
Le grand blond avec une chaussure noire
Buffet froid
Le père noel est une ordure
Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain
Tatie Daniele
Le salaire de la peur
La cité de la peur
Diner de cons
Astérix et Cléopatre
Les aventures de Rabby Jacob
L'auberge espagnole
La boum
La soupe aux choux
Le grand bleu
Jean de florette
Le roi et l'oiseau
La môme
Jeanne d'arc

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tooth mouse and the first (real) snow

What a great coincidence... the first real snow fell on a Wednesday - when the kids are home from school anyway! Also, it was an exciting day because Callie has lost yet another tooth - she now has lost 6 - and has only grown in 2 replacements so far. This makes it very difficult for her to chew - she has to use the side of her mouth and often we have to cut her food up for her. Crusty French bread is particularly difficult.

In France, they don't have the tooth fairy - they have les petis souris (the little mouse) - same idea - mouse gives you money for teeth (or, we have heard in some families, candy). Whoever she is, she gave Callie 1 euro for the latest loss. Apparently, in Holland there is nothing that happens when you lose a tooth. This made me curious about traditions around the world. Check out this link:
It talks all about tooth traditions - I love the mention that tooth fairies appear in Hellboy 2 - as calcium craving monsters.... cool...

Of course, the kids were all screaming with glee when we saw the snow. They were up, dressed and had eaten breakfast in record time - we were outside playing in full gear by 8am. It was extremely wet, slushy snow. Perfect for packing but very messy. Got an opportunity to test the waterproofness of our gear. The kids' stuff all works perfectly but my snow pants did not keep my legs dry when I was kneeling in slushy puddles - hopefully the Alps snow won't be so wet!!! We spent hours playing, it wasn't too cold, and built a terrific snowperson. It got knocked down soon after we came in. (sad)
We also went over to the park to play and rolled down the steep hill nearby. We don't have any sleds yet - we are hoping Santa will bring a few for Christmas. Here are the snowy munchkins. It was strange to me that we didn't see ANY other children out playing - don't French kids get excited over the first storm? And they aren't at school... hmm.....

Went in and had hot cocoa, brought from America. I haven't found hot chocolate here yet. It seems that they only have the really intense liquid chocolate kinds of hot cocoa (which I love) but my kids prefer crappy, lukewarm Swiss Miss, preferably with mini-marshmallows. Maybe we can pick some up in Switzerland - surely this is where Swiss Miss hails from? We then painted these mini pots - they are destined to be mini candles - all the kids had a great time and worked together. They all really love their arts and crafts. Zander still says he wants to be an artist. He drew an incredibly tiny santa and snowman on his pots.

I think this is a boring post - I guess we need those sometimes... Rebecca

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Secular or not? The (internal) debate rages on....

Update on Noel - I know you have all been curious about this....(or not, if you haven't figured this out yet - I write what's on my mind - which is not neccesssarily what you were wondering about)

First off, went back to the mall the other day and saw that I had missed one of the Santas. (How I don't know since each is about 8 feet tall) and had to include his picure- I dub thee: Straw Santa....
Since some of the people at Andre's work read our blog, he got comments on how Santa/Noel IS secular - it is a tradition that goes back in time, in lots of cultures and has nothing to do with Christ etc... etc.... Wow, is it really true then, that Muslims and Jews celebrate Noel in France? The answer to that one was "I don't really know, actually". Hmm.... does the answer to this question matter? I mean, I see Halloween as secular, although there is no denying it has religious (albeit pagan) roots. I guess it is because, in the US, everyone, celebrates Halloween (ok, I know, not everyone) about Valentines??? Do they even have that here? Or St. Patrick's Day? Man, the christian church has got it's finger everywhere. Well, I am trying to accept that it is secular here - but I am still hoping to someday (maybe when I can actually speak the language a bit better) make a non-Christian friend I can ask about their views on this stuff.

Also, Olivier mentioned that he was very suprised that Christmas wasn't taught in the schools in the US. He didn't even know we HAVE separation of church and state in the US. Don't the presidents put their hands on the Bible when they are inaugurated? Don't you swear on the Bible in court? Doesn't the pledge of allegiance have the word "god" in it? Doesn't every speech I ever hear from an American politician end with "God Bless America"? Um....yeah - but we don't make all kids sing songs about Santa, by golly! Now, that would be crossing the line....
Recently people have been saying "Bon Noel" to me instead of the usual "Au revoir" as a goodbye. I know in Mt. Airy, people are always very careful to say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" this time of year. That is true unless you know what religeon they are - and then you can insert proper holiday greeting.... The political correctness dance - may we all learn the steps for whatever culture we may be in.
All so fascinating isn't it? Rebecca

Les Lumieres de Noel - Montbeliard

OK - so when people around here heard we were new and going to be around for the holidays, they said we needed to go to either Montbeliard or Colmar before Noel.
As we had the car, we decided to hit Montbeliard this Sunday. It was a fun trip - but not what I had expected. (Which is, by now, what you think I would expect)
They bill it as 'the lights of Christmas' and I guess I was expecting something well, American, like those light shows where there are scenes of Christmas made out of lights and trees coated in lights etc... Or those blocks where the neighbors try to outdo themselves with the best holiday displays.

What we got was basically an amazingly cool, giant, outdoor mall. The ancient narrow streets of the town did have beautiful lights arching over them and wooden stalls selling everything you can think of lined the streets. Lots of food, wine and handcrafted stuff. We went with Olivier's family which was fun. We fought our way through the crowds to see some of the things for sale. Fun for me to see was the stalls selling canadian stuff - especially genuine pancakes with maple syrup. We still eat these every Sunday morning here in Besancon.... a tradition we have kept from home.

There were lots of interesting sights, including this neat moving electronic display over the stall selling 'tetes' (that is heads) of chocolate. We actually bought some of these chocolate heads when we saw them back in Besancon - Andre' thought they were filled with waffle like cookies coated in chocolate - I thought they were filled with chocolate cream (I mean they say they are chocolate heads) but they are actually just marshmellow cream with a waffle bottom. Yummy but unexpected (no wonder they were so cheap!).

A common sight is of giant cast iron vats of food like the one Callie is posing in front of - it will be filled with a mixture of bacon, peeled potatoe slices and creamy french cheese - to die for. And it is gluten free - a bonus for our family. Poor Griffin is surrounded by bready creations such as crepes, pastries and waffles that he can't consume all the time. It probably helps me spend less on treats for them though.... Of course, we let the kids ride on the carousel they had set up - this car that Griffin is riding in had a NY license plate - and another one's was AZ. America is everywhere - even on French carousels.

Tired of the crowds (and done with our holiday shopping from last week) we decided to leave the beaten path and check out some of the town. We saw Chateau Henrietta, named after the countess that had it built in the 1700's from the outside and then walked over to this Italian made creche. We loved the amazing bonsai like tree next to the creche. We also saw an art exhibit and then went on the age old quest you all know for any family adventure - finding a potty.

We were lucky the potty quest led to the library and in the building there was an amazing world of miniature doll houses that had been made over a period of 10 years by the same artist. They were incredible but the pictures didn't really come out. Also, there was a big steep escalator - that we rode several times - better than a carousel anyday and free (although I think Oliviers family thought this particular activity a little odd). We have always loved escalators - and I always remember loving them as a kid. I particularly recall one time, when I was a teen, racing up the down escalator in a mall against my mother. We were laughing and laughing. I recall she was winning and I pulled her down by her back so I could step over her to secure my victory. She was so mad! When I was little she wouldn't play games with me because I would cheat. Guess I never grew out of that....
Anyhow, the two families split up and we went back to the crowds to wait to see Pere Noel (Santa Claus). It was very different than the US experience. Firstly, it was a typical French line. In the US people wait on line in what I consider a fairly civilized manner. Usually there is a rope guide for longer lines and you basically know who you are behind. Cutting is extremely rare and frowned upon. In France the 'line' for Pere Noel spread out in kind of a triangular mass, people in the back never really move foward as new people come in from the side and just sort of slide in there. You have to assert yourself or you will get nowhere. At first this was disconcerting, but now I am used to it. Besides, there were lots of little kids in this line so people were being gentle. There weren't that many people, so the wait was short and Santa left his American bodygaurds behind. We got to go right up to Santa who was super friendly - the wonderful Santa that has the smile that just makes you and kids feel safe and loved. You could take your own pictures and the whole thing was free. All the kids were scared at first but then they all ended up on his lap. He also gave them chocolate.... yum!
Zander came in while I was blogging this - he wants to say this about the day: There was ponies with little kids on them and there were these big strong horses that were pulling a big wagon for families - 2 euros per person - if our family went it would be 10 euros. We saw Santa, I mean Pere Noel, and he gave us some French chocolate. And there were all these electricity Santas playing a band together in the room with him, but they weren't real. He was scary to me, but then I gave him a hug." He also mentions about life in general: "I like in kindergerten you get to draw in your journal - I miss drawing in my journal. I liked it when it wasn't always raining so much."
Back to me: We saw more booths and an Italian street band. It was cool to hear another language being sung. We told the kids we were going to go to Italy in just a few weeks- just blows your mind doesn't it? Then we wasted about 45 minutes attempting to follow signs for other sights in Montbeliard. We think their 'citadelle' must have been bombed out of existence b/c we followed signs for it and ended up in a residential area. Asked a local where it was and he said - "C'est ice" i.e. it's here.... It is? Where???? We looked it up on wikipedia
Yep - still clueless. Was this ever a fortress? Doesn't look like one to me. Is it possible that citadelle just means the building that is highest around your town - it was on top of the hill.... Why this name? Hmmm.... .
Love to all - Rebecca


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