Sunday, November 30, 2008

frost heralds the season de Noel

The last few mornings the frost around here has been quite amazing... the mist rolls across the hills and then freezes to everything. I can't capture much of it with my camera, but the trees get this white glow to them, and these spider webs just outside of work were a hundred times thicker than normal:





With the cold, everyone has been sick... I had a touch of another flu, and everyone else has had a cold. So we slept in Saturday morning, then went shopping for coats and gloves for the kids. Here's the coats. Griffin really wanted to have a pink or yellow coat, but after looking 4 places and not finding anything yellow and nothing warm and pink, we made him get this green coat. His consolation prize is that he can have pink gloves and a pink hat. We also found a coat for me, the first winter coat I ever bought (my last one, which had a broken zipper and over 15 years of use, or, um, disuse, since I only used it to go sledding with the kids, was so beaten up I threw it away back in the US). My coat, from the magasin d'occasion (thrift store) was 45 euros. Zander wanted to point out that his jacket says Himalaya on it-he figures this means it will keep him really really warm!



For fun we topped off the day with the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in centre ville:




Today I went on long run with Callie in the stroller. She hasn't been on a run with me for months, and I wanted to go somewhere new, so I headed over the 'mountain' to our south east. We passed lots of sheep, cows, beautiful fields, and ended up in Pirey, a neighboring town, before turning around... total run time around 90 minutes.



We got home to warm pancakes, then we all went on a trip to a local artisan show/sale... we picked up a couple lightweight gifts we'll be mailing out to some of you :)


Then we had another round of naps (well, Callie and Zander watched tv), and headed out to a concert advertised as 'ancient musical instruments'-well, it was an organ, flutes, and a bass... but still nice to hear some live music. Relaxing weekend, overall.

Thanksgiving

Our first French Thanksgiving was fun - though the kids were sad we sacrificed this perfect heart shaped potatoe for the occassion.
We had our friends over and all the food turned out pretty good - stuck to what I know. Zander was a bit dissappointed with the mashed pototoes since I make red skin potatoes with skins still on, mashed lumpy (yum) and he likes "Grandpa's" mashed potatoes - no skins and absolutely NO lumps. He wants Grandpa to make these for him when he goes home for a visit.


Here is the table - special thanks to Grammie for sending the sparkly pumpkin ribbon and turkey craft! Daddy also tried to do a paper mache turkey with them - unfortunately it was a no go...not enough glue and the structure just sort of fell apart when we tried to paint it. Luckily one of the strange pumpkin like things from the fete de citrouille was still around the house as well as orange napkins so we pulled it off.

Our guests enjoyed the food and were espeicially interested in the cranberry sauce - they had never had it before - apparantly there are no cranberries in France. I had shipped a few cans over (and a few cans of pumpkin) on the boat. When I think about it, I realize that there is no cranberry juices here that I have seen but never made the connection. Robin (their baby) loved the pumpkin soup and flourless chocolate cake - well, the baby has good taste!

One interesting thing about French culture (or maybe just Besancon culture) is that when people come to your house, they bring a gift. Often they bring a gift for each child in your family PLUS a gift for the hosts. This even happens when we invite a child over for a playdate. When Lea came over she had a Littlest Pet Shoppe wrapped up for Callie and a bag of Christmas candy for the family. At a playdate.... OK, it's true, when I am invited over for dinner, my reaction is usually to ask, what should I bring? (for the meal, like dessert or something) and if they say 'nothing' I bring flowers or something anyway. Guests usually don't ask this question here (though they sometimes do). Usually they just bring a gift wrapped something - most popularly books for the children. They have very interesting coloring books here for kids - I have never seen anything like them in the USA. As you can see, they are already half colored in - it is like a model to follow - Griffin LOVES them and has a great time coloring it in (although he rarely follows the model).

Well, back to Thanksgiving. Probably the best part of the evening was getting a chance to speak to many relatives in our families that we haven't spoken to since we left home - luckily the kids were in the mood to talk which was great for my family. They miss them a lot but often just don't feel like talking when the phone rings. Since the calls, they are talking more about missing their aunts and uncles, not just Grammie and Grandpa. It was also great fun to hang out after the kids were in bed with Sevrigne and Christoff - they are good company and Robin (their one year old) is adorable. He played with Griffin's animal farm and I sang lots of American songs to him and he loved them. It was very interesting to hear how they pay for a nanny for Robin but the government helps out with some funds as well as tax breaks on the money they do have to spend. Hopefully some day America will start these kinds of programs. They didn't really understand how American parents can afford to pay for childcare if it costs so much and there is no help. I had no answer for that - I know that, for us, I would have to make a lot to pay for the care that would be needed for the kids if I worked, even with 2 at school most of the time.

We didn't have dinner until 7pm (which is actually quite early by French standards). Had dessert around 8:30 (not nearly enough time to digest - but thank goodness we found whipped cream in a can - can't have pumpkin pie without it!) and our guests didn't leave until around 10:30 - this meant we cleaned up the perishables and went to bed. The next morning I cleaned up and washed the mountain of dishes. It made me sad for home where we always washed and dried that mountain together, joking and laughing the whole time. I remember getting out of this by playing board games with my cousins Lauren and PJ when I was a kid and another year when I dropped an entire stack of ceramic plates - smash! But mostly I remember the times in Ringwood when we rotated in and out of the corner where the dish rack was wedged near the oven, wiping and putting away and trying to keep ahead of whoever was the appointed dishwasher. I remember having these thin towels that quickly got soaking wet but I kept using it anyway. I knew where most things went but Mom was the only one who knew where the wierd 'holiday'' dishes went - this is true now in Duckhaven too. Although in Philly I always had an electric dishwasher, I still like handwashing dishes and to this day I am a very fast dishwasher. I remember we used to ask my dad to buy a dishwasher and he would say "but I already have 4 dishwashers" (i.e. us). This same sarcastic logic would apply for requests to purchase a garage door opener or get a snow plow. (Now you know where I get it from) Recently I have started having the kids take turns cleaning up an entire meal with me after it is over (not simply clearing their plates) and Callie and Zander are becoming good dishwashers as well (if Griffin wipes the table and puts away the drinks, I'm happy.

Anyway, hope you all had good Thanksgivings. We are thankful for you!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What are we up to?


Sunset from the balcony of our apartment - we see beautiful ones almost every evening lately (I'm sleeping during sunrise but André is often on his run and gets a chance to see them). I love sunrise and sunset. I clearly remember going to school on the bus on stonetown road over the resevoir early on winter mornings. I always loved the sight of the sun rising over the water and sometimes, on the late bus, setting. I would point out the window and say, look everyone, look at the sunrise! They were usually irritated - yeah, yeah, that's the same one we see every other day.... But I always wanted to stop what I was doing and take a look - luckily here I have the time to do so. The kids have inherited my appreciation for this type of thing. We are often walking when one of the children will say - look at this leaf mom, or look at that cloud in the sky. I always thank them for sharing the beauty with me, and we spend a moment or two just soaking it in. I hope they keep this appreciation for the simple beauty of the world as they grow.
Well, we are having a pretty typical week except that it has really gotten cold - I'd say it is even bitterly cold many days in the morning. The pretty much constant rain (at least 1-2 showers each day) has turned to beautiful snow flurries - nothing sticking unfortunately. This weekend we definitely need to head out to find the kids some real winter coats - I am feeling guilty being the only one with a warm coat (I don't have a hat though-so my ears probably feel like their whole bodies do!) They haven't been complaining - Callie actually keeps getting frustrated with me because she no longer thinks she looks good in the hat she loved all last winter - already doesn't want to be seen in last year's style! I also need to get some mittens for Griff - the school has a 'no gloves' rule for the younger set - this would be a good rule for the BBY.... too hard to help 35 kids with gloves...
Zander had his first day of tutoring after school on Monday - he liked it well enough and I think it will be great. His teacher works really well with him and his good friend Noemie is also being tutored at the same time which is nice for him. The only problem is that he still is supposed to do his homework for the next day. I will probably try talking to the teacher about it because he doesn't get home until about 5:45 and by the time we eat dinner it is 6:45 or so - and he is usually in bed by 7:30 asleep by 8pm. That leaves basically no time in which to do the homework and he is also (understandably) a bit sick of schoolwork after 8 hours in school and 1.5 hours being tutored already at that point - not the most cooperative! When the tutor used to come after school she would help him with the homework - and she would also only teach him about 45 minutes - so he still had some time to run around outside, ride his bike, be a kid.
I know that his peers do not go to bed as early as he does - but he is simply exhausted by 8pm and sleeps easily until 6:30am each night (all the kids do). I think they get overstimulated each day and need the rest. Maybe he can do extra homework on Wednesdays when he doesn't have school or something...
We are attempting to have some version of Thanksgiving - we tried to order a turkey from the local butcher but he was unable to get a whole bird for us (sadness!). It is strange - here we have loads of turkey for sale - turkey cutlets, turkey legs, turkey breasts rolled up for rotisserie (which is what I ended up with) but you can't get an entire turkey.... Seems they are not 'ready' until Noel. Well then, where, I wonder, do all these body parts come from? I picture some sort of distorted turkeys stumbling around a farmyard that only have nice legs or a plump chest but the rest of their body is not worthy of consumption......
But we will have turkey roast anyway - with mashed potatoes, homemade apple sauce, cranberry sauce (shipped from home) and a pumpkin pie (pumpkin shipped from home). I wish I could make the sausage stuffing I grew up with... it's the best. We have invited a co-worker of André's and her husband and baby to come as well. Sevrine speaks English pretty well and babies are great because they don't know that I can't understand them yet so it should be fun. Of course, they are not coming until 7pm b/c no one eats as early as we do. It is strange to have a big turkey dinner at 7pm instead of in the middle of the afternoon - guess the kids will be staying up a bit later than usual! No one has off school or work...we are saving vacation days for around Christmas, when André should have 11 days off in a row - hooray!!! There is also a rumor that his brother Mark may come for a visit during some of this time. I hope it works out - it would be great to have a visitor.
Note to all- we know the economy sucks and visiting France is not cheap.... But please know you are welcome to come visit at any time - we have plenty of room and much delicious food. Also, we mostly have things figured out now so you probably won't get lost!
Also to look foward to tomorrow is that there is supposed to be a traveling wolf show coming to Callie and Griffins' school in the morning - sounds too wierd (and dangerous) to be real but the kids are excited anyway. Meanwhile I will be waiting for the gas company to visit - always funny when service people come and they try to talk to me like I'm French - I guess I can pass for French - until I open my mouth...
Sending love and thankfulness into the universe for you all....Rebecca

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

our first snow



On our way to the piscine (pool) Saturday morning, the kids were delighted to stomp around and eat these miniscule amounts of snow:




After the pool, Zander had a birthday party to go to (at his friend Anouc's house) and Callie had a play date here (Lea). It was amazing to hear Callie interact with another child for a long time... she spoke almost exclusively in French, often using simple imperatives like "come" or "there you go" or "take it" but at other times using whole phrases, like "what is this?" and then saying "in american, it's a 'princess'". She has such a great accent and is so confident. Her friend seemed to have a great time. Oh, and by the way, we speak American. English is that language that comes from the British Isles, and they use different words and have a different accent!


Zander's party was not what he had expected... unfortunately there were a lot of really hyped -up kids that were running around playing and he just didn't quite understand, felt excluded, and lost. He came home exhausted and sad... This was the second birthday party he had been to, and the first was better for him because there were more adults that could help translate and assist him. Maybe it would have been better if one of us had accompanied him... I'll have to ask the next time there is a party to confirm whether adults can come along too.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Friday we get a date night!

Since Rebecca hasn't eaten a meal without kids since probably Oct 3 (we went out for our anniversary), and we thought that it would be fun to go out on a date... we scheduled our babysitter, who speaks only French, and we decided to go out to dinner and some window shopping Friday evening (as it's dark and cold outside the other date ideas we had for this evening didn't sound so fun--bike ride, walk through centre ville). To keep things simple we decided to try out a restaurant near us...only about a five-minutes' walk. At around 6pm we headed over to make reservations, and arrived at this door:

Locked and dark... what is this blunder? I thought that restaurants made their livelihoods on Friday nights! Well, the consignment shop was right across the street, and we haven't yet looked at it, so in we went. It looked like it was all women's clothing, and they had some winter coats. We found a nice warm one for Rebecca (since she's been wearing an unlined shell) for only 30 euros. Hooray! We then asked the shop owner when the restaurant across the street was open--she responded, "right now". Huh? Guess it opened while we were shopping!
Across the street we went, and they were indeed open, and available for a 7:15 slot. Oh (besides the accent), they knew we were foreign by that request. The locals don't even think about going to dinner until 9pm!
So we did some more window shopping in the neighborhood and came back for a lovely, delicious, quiet dinner. We had escargot (definitely better here than anywhere else we've had it, though still not a dish that I like) and some other traditional Franche-Comté food.


That was the night... back home in time that the kids were asleep and we could watch another episode of Buffy in french :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Griffin's First Field Trip etc...

So, yesterday I went with Griffin to his first field trip.


I got to the classroom and hung out with the kids while waiting for the buses to arrive. Here is a shot of him gluing a little head (more on this later) with his teacher Marguerite. Griffin was really excited for this day to start and kept announcing to everyone - today is our trip! (Their response, blank stare, as they have no clue what he is saying. I wonder how often he reaches out in school to receive blank stares in response???) there are about 15 kids in his class and there were 3 parents and 2 teachers coming along. Each chaperone parent was handed a huge laminated placard on a string with photos and names of the kids they were responsible for that day (Here is a little aside about strange French customs. In France, they love little photos of the kids' heads for use in the preschool - not only is Griffin's photo posted above his cubby hook (cute and logical) the kids' heads are plastered on art work everywhere in the school - this is a typical example) The kids are made into ghosts in this one - the new one Griffin is working on in the picture is spiders - it is strange to me to keep seeing what I think of as Halloween-themed art going strong in November....


Anyway, the teacher, assistant teacher and one parent got 4 kids each - that left 3 kids for me and the other parent (who just happened to be pregnant), to share. It makes sense really - these kids can't understand me so I need a backup in case. It is just strange - I am used to being the parent who has 22 kids hanging off her sleeve on these trips!



The trip was to visit horses - cool! (I love horses.) It was really fun - amazing even. There was this little spot tucked in a corner of Centre Ville and that has obviously been there forever - the town grew up around it... This kind of thing is all over France - ancient wall next to modern office building etc... I find it beautiful sometimes and a bit jarring at others.


We got to see so much - a real ferrier removing a shoe from a horse, shaving and chopping his hoof down, firing up the furnace to heat up the shoe, putting the glowing red shoe on (notice the billows of smoke - and - not noticeable in photos - an incredibly disgusting smell) and hammering it on - took about 1/2 hour total - very, very, very, very, very, cool.



We also got to ride in an old fashioned horse drawn carriage behind two giant horses and see an amazingly well trained horse run around a ring, going over jumps etc.. without a rider - or even a halter - she was incredible. We also got to visit the equestrian leather workers who hand make and sew all the bridles, halters and saddles for the horses.



There were some signs up around that explained more about what these horses were used for but they were all in French and we didn't get a chance to stop and read them for long enough for me to get the full meaning. From the photos on them it seems that these horses are still used in many places in the countryside to farm and also often used by the logging industry to drag out fallen trees. This solved a mystery for me since when we were in the forest we often saw places where trees had been chopped down that didn't look big enough for any vehicle to come collect them - yet there they were, piled by the side of the road. It just goes to show you how 21st century I have become, using horses didn't even cross my mind as a possibility! Then we got to go into the stables and pat some of the horses - Griffin was too scared to do this, unfortunately, but lots of the other kids did. See photos of French cuties posted here - they were all just absolutely adorable.



We then watched them give one of the larger horses a bath (with a high powered pressurized hose). I guess the traditional tools are just not enough for these gentle giants - notice the Electro-Groom (with booster power!) I would have liked to see that baby in action!




Finally we headed back home on the bus. Griffin helped out with this blog and was very disappointed I didn't have a picture of the bus - he loves riding on buses! Throughout the day Griffin had fun and was glued to my hand - even on the bus ride he wanted me to be next to him and held my hand. He is a very sweet little guy.


Here are some bits and pieces. For the rest of the afternoon I took care of Claire and Griffin - it was a pretty typical afternoon with making art and pillow fights etc... It was nice for me to be responsible for Claire. Kids and I get along. She and I spoke French together a lot whilst walking to the post office. I think I may be making some progress... It is easy to talk to a child because they don't care if you mess up and never judge you - also she was stuck with me for three hours so had no one else to speak to - so we had to muddle through. Most adults I meet say hi and then turn (understandably) to chat with the friend that they can actually have meaningful conversation with.


Zander news: He is still sewing up a storm and has started on a button blanket for his puppy. Also his teacher is going to start keeping him after school 2 days a week with a few of the other children to give them extra help. This means our tutor will only work with him once per week and with Callie and Griffin the other two days. This should help out a lot.

I'll leave you with this photo of Simone on our kitchen table - she just can't resist anything green....






Wednesday, November 19, 2008

TV fame plus etc...

Well, here in Besancon our fame continues to grow... The TV crew only emailed André Tuesday about the show (whilst he was 'training') being on that night so we didn't get to see it live but the link to the show is at:

http://jt.france3.fr/regions/popup.php?id=c25a_1920&video_number=1

It is somewhere in the middle of the show - watch the whole thing to get an idea of how I feel every time I turn on the TV.... or you can just skip to the part where we are featured, from approximately 12 minutes 50 seconds to 15 minutes 35 seconds.... it will only be up for a week so catch it while it's hot!
(we just heard the link isn't enough--to the right of the video, you have to click on Mardi 18 Novembre to see the specific day, then scroll to the right time frame)

Let me digress a bit (you are shocked I am sure) to say something about André's 'training' - you are probably all wondering - why is Rebecca also not being blessed with the opportunity to learn about the origin of the car??? Well, we had thought that, since we are both in the country on a visa, we would both be required to attend the same workshops etc... The first day he had a training we both had check ups beforehand and after that we headed over together to the Center for the Help of Strangers (i.e. foreigners) for the first day of orientation. There we were told that I need not stay, or return ---- ever. The reason for this is simple, I am not a wage earner. Apparantly, France is not very interested in making sure I learn the language (André had to take a language test, if he hadn't passed they would have required him to take 100-300 hours of lessons, free of charge, until he could pass) or learn about their culture etc.... Granted, I don't have any desire to take the classes (especially once I found out it consists of 16 hours of Power Point presentations), and no one to take care of the children if I had been required to take them but still, it's the principle of the thing! I said to André - this should be called the Center to help Strangers who can help our bottom line. Yet another example of how valued those who raise the next generation of our children are....


Anyway - in other news André finally bought some French electric hair clippers and gave himself and the boys a cut. He has been the barber for our family for some years - we are too cheap to pay for retail haircuts - at least André is, I would pay rather than take the chance of accidentally shaving their heads. I only remember my mom ever cutting my bangs as a kid - I don't have the 'cut your own hair' tradition in my family. Of course, it does make it simpler to be a person who has long hair - Callie has never had a haircut at all (except that ponytail Zander chopped off a few years ago) and I haven't been in a salon since before Griffin's birth. The boys can't get away with this kind of tress neglect. On the other hand, André grew up on homemade hairdos - it is obviously a genetic predisposition - one I will let him carry the torch onward with. This way, also, if they look bad, I can just blame him. Anyway, here are the boys with their new shorter locks - I always hate it at first (love longish hair on them) but then it grows on me. Good job Dad!


Another aside- this is a typical sight during a French lunch break.... Open live electrical wiring hovering over a dangerously deep chasm that has been opened up anyone??? I imagine industrious french workers realizing that the clock has struck 12. Hey, we need our break - we'll just leave this here for later... (OK - there is a little box around it but, come on - do you see how fun that looks??? And it is right on the way to school and back. Kids were fascinated.



Today we hung at home, reading books, playing Legos, doing crafts and, of course changing wet pants and doing laundry. An opportunity I have been waiting for did arise. Olivier asked us for help. Turns out Claire's teacher will be out of school doing a training tomorrow so she doesn't have class. Can I watch her for the day so Olivier and Nadine can go to work? Well, of course, I have to say..... NO! Argh! Any other day of the 60 or so school days before this I could have done it - but tomorrow is a field trip for Griffin's class and I am the chaperone. So much for reciprocation! Guess I will watch her in the afternoon - but still...










another day of training

Before I tell you all about another day of fact-filled French training, I have to admit we're still having money problems. Or maybe I should say cash flow problems. I really hate debt, and try to avoid it when possible, but like so many Americans, debt becomes me. I mean, how better than to dig a hole than to decide (15 months ago) that it was worth breaking into our savings to help cover Zander's tutoring/counseling costs... then to tap into savings even more when I worked in New York to help cover the additional living expenses (train, room share, extra baby sitting)... then even more when I quit my job in New York to take time to look for a new position full time... I really, really, hate debt, so much I pretend I don't have it, and, well, that's probably part of the American credit crisis. So I'll be bold and fess up (without full disclosure). I basically owe every penny my house is worth, most of this debt is in my mortgage or home equity loan, and though I do have some money invested for retirement, it's not enough for where I should be by now. It's more complex than that, i.e. I did leverage a fixed-interest loan against an investment a while back (I know, this is a really bad idea--all the investment books say that we should never do this, as it causes financial crises), but after all that New York fun of working with people that couldn't go 2 hours without checking the price of gold or of some major index, I had to try some of this stuff out! I even took all my 401(k) rollover from my 6 years of savings from my Philly job and bought up a lot of low-load index funds when the market crashed in late Sept/early Oct. They say a little knowledge is dangerous... maybe I wasted away my retirement, but I'm still hoping I just got a good deal on something that will eventually come back up.

So, knee-deep in debt, now we're getting letters from collections agencies in our forwarded US mail, aarrgh! We really didn't skip out on any vendors--please don't trash our credit record!!! We closed our accounts over the phone before we left the states, and guess what happened? In literally 6 different companies, they didn't close the account--NetFlix, water, gas, telephone, cell phone, and the library! So we've spent the last couple nights calling back home to try to clean up this mess. And now we'll wait 4 more weeks to find out if they're going to bill us yet again.
When we came to France we found out that it would be very difficult to send money overseas (expensive, anyway) and so I set a goal to make our euros stay here and our dollars stay there. Mostly we've been able to do that, expect for an initial transfer to get us through the first 6 weeks here, and an occasional purchase with an American credit card. One of our current cards is horrible, since they charge us something like $25 for each time they have to change currency, but we closed all our other cards and bank accounts before coming here so don't have an option sometimes. There are lots of places that don't accept American cards (the French use cards with an embedded microchip called a plus), and all automated machines require this plus (train stations, parking garages). So, even though I'm earning money now, it's in euros, so that doesn't help for my dollar-side cash flow. To complicate things even more, as I mentioned, I transferred about 6 weeks worth of living expenses when we first got here, as soon as my French bank account was open. Well, that means I was down to only 1 month of cash left in the US... and I have a mortgage to pay. Well, as soon as the credit crisis hit, my main bank (E*Trade) suddenly changed the rules of the game and decided they wouldn't accept my money orders and starter check deposits, as I blogged about before. We now have our hands on some of that money, but its caught in limbo in a bank-to-bank transfer. Luckily I still have income from my leveraged investment (microlending) so that can be stretched to last until the end of this month. Aargh!

OK, all this is to say that I am just waiting for the day that my American credit card flashes up a payment denied signal... but it sure was a surprise to see that my French bank card has been spontaneously declining charges recently! I know back home I would be mortified to stand at a check-out line and have a payment declined--I would turn beet red, I'm sure. But here, blundering in Besançon, I'm getting used to being utterly incompetent (well, everywhere except at work I hope--there I'm only incompetent maybe half the time, I hope!)

But still, declined payments from the French account??? What's going on? The other day they denied our purchase when we tried to buy used bicycles (but the same card worked fine across the street in the MAC machine), then a few days later it was declined at the grocery store. This time the MAC machine didn't work at all. Oh, and since it was a weekend I couldn't call my banker to ask why! There is money in the account, I checked online! So what gives? Apparently there's this thing called a plafond glissant. That means something like a rolling limit--every 15 days I'm authorized to spend up to 1500 euros, and there's a separate limit for MAC machines--300 euros for non-network banks every 7 days, and 460 euros per day for Banque Populaire machines. Well, as soon as our stuff got here from the states we went on a shopping spree to furnish our apartment with sufficient shelving to hold all our stuff, plus 4 bicycles. Et le-voilà, we spent our limit!


OK, so back to my formation sur la vie en france lesson, which happened yesterday. I found out it was at the same location as last week's training, and instead of taking the 45 minute bus ride I decided to bicycle over there. I rode with Zander to school (he's been begging to bike there for a while) and then I made the 4km trip in less than 20 minutes. This time I took notes, and found out a bit more about the population of immigrants. There were people from the following nationalities (and more, sometimes they didn't say where they were from): Turkey (10 people + translator), Algeria, Senegal, Chechnya (3+translator), Bolivia. Most of these people were unemployed, and had been in the country for typically 9 months. I'm the only American, and have the least tenure (2 months) vs. the next person's 4 months and others up to 2 years. Here are today's little-known facts about life in france:

  • as soon as a person is a legal resident, they are the same before the law (except for voting) as a regular citizen, including the fact that that I don't need to carry my passport with me all the time
  • there are more requests for apartments than there are apartments available (and almost everybody rents here because downpayments on houses are something like 80%), so it can take more than 4 months to find lodging
  • it's forbidden in the preschool and elementary school levels to wear or show any symbols of any religion
  • there are 4 years of preschool (2-5 yrs old), 5 of elementary (6-10 yrs old), 4 of middle school (collège), then if desired, 3 more years of high school (lycee) for a baccaloreate
  • unemployment benefits are quite significant... something like 1 year full salary, and you don't have to take work that is not the right fit for your level of training (unlike in the UK)
  • the social security system pays only a portion of health care costs--everyone that is employed tends to contribute to a health insurance plan, and then out of pocket costs are essentially zero through a reimbursement plan

Even during French training, we get 2 hour lunch breaks. I came home to share in this delicous meal prepared by Rebecca (sliced kiwi, mozarrella+tomatoes, grilled gouda-cheese sandwiches using the day's fresh bread, ham, plus chopped cucumber and peppers). Mmm, la vie en france, c'est bon!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday

My life is frantic. Is every one's life like this? OK, I know it is my fault - I fill my life to the brim!

Monday - wake up, get kids out the door and return home to check the blog to see if anyone commented on last night's entry - I know that people normally don't and it doesn't mean anything, but I always have to check, just in case!

Then take Griffin to school . He is still peeing in his pants everyday and, now 8 weeks into potty training intensively, I am starting to despair. Today's totals: 2 times in the potty, 5 times in the pants (pretty typical). He is used to his new, I start late, routine, but it still embarrasses me every day.... No matter where I go, I just have to be weird.

Well, the new part of the routine today will be my entry into the French classroom. I have been told by many different people that parents are not welcome participants in the education realm in this country but Valerie, Callie's brilliant teacher, has invited me in. (I'm not saying she's brilliant b/c she asked me to come in - although that was a good move - I say it because she is just one of those teachers that lights up the classroom with her energy and ideas). Anyway, as I am used to going in regularly and have been in withdrawal I am excited and looking forward to teaching them one of the great children's songs of our day, taught to me during the Chestnut Hill Library story time, 5 Little Hot dogs. It was the easiest song I could think to teach them - and it turned out great! In fact, it was so popular the teacher has asked me to come back again and teach another song - any ideas for more simple repetitive ones that would still appeal to 5 year olds out there? She also wants to record my voice singing it since she wants them to hear my American accent - hope I can keep in tune.... Also she wants me to come in and maybe cook an American dish with them or play an American game.... (tips also welcome for this - can't do my standard cook-with-class dessert: Irish potatoes b/c there is no cream cheese here!) Do you think she is actually a secret blog reader and senses my need for something to do outside my four walls??? André did mention the blog to the TV crew when they were here the other day and even showed them the URL - I simultaneously fear and pray that it will be broadcast for the Bisontin world to view.... do you think I'll get stoned or spit upon?

By then it is 10am - between 10 and 11:20 I do the following (on foot, and remember, each destination is at least 1km from every other) - go to the post office and get the mail, go to the boulangerie and get the daily bread, go to the grocery store and pick up the weeks' groceries, lug said groceries (and bread, and package) home and unload them all into their proper places, set table and prepare healthy, well balanced lunch for kids and self (hot dog balls, yogurt, applesauce, pears, bread and cheese) and then race to school and pick them up by 11:30am. Yes, folks, that is the content of my typical 'break' for the day - and doing that sans kiddos is so much easier! I really do wonder how people who work full time accomplish all this stuff - do they do it on 2 hour lunch breaks - or - since no one here sleeps as much as we do - after work or on weekends?

Spent the afternoon bonding with Griffin (i.e. go to the park, change wet pants, make some art, change wet pants, do some laundry, change poopy pants, etc...) and then go to get older two munchkins at school.
Well, when I go to get Callie at the end of the day, Valerie has posted pictures of me singing to the kids on the class wall - I wanted to take a picture of this display to show all of you but got worried that the other parents would think it too bizarre... Update on that - I waited until the next day when dropping Griffin off late and no one was around - see the display right - translation is "this morning Callies mom came to our class to teach us an american song - 5 little hot dogs"

When André got home he decided to put up another bike hook while I finished dinner - it is Monday, and after 5pm (well within the formerly defined 'ok to drill' parameters set out by neighbors). Well, they didn't exactly tell him to stop they just brought the little OSB (OverlySensitiveBaby) out to the courtyard to scream where we could hear his misery.... poor little guy... and yes, let's add another black mark on our 'good neighbor' record. Destiny is for a few more of those since we have 2 or 3 more hooks to mount over the next few days...

Lonely in Besancon

Rebecca

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday at home

Today we spent the day with the kids - we wanted to arrange our storage space (yes, we have a little concrete block room) and once we got 5 bikes it became a bit, well, overflowing. Simple, we'll just hammer drill a few holes into that concrete and put some bike hooks into the wall. We waited until 10am to start the drilling (thanks Olivier for the hammer drill and extension cord loan) and 1/2 hour later only 1 hook was up - urgh...


We clean up and spend some time with the kids and Andre' tries again at around 3pm - to be confronted by our upstairs neighbor whose baby is, as usual, sleeping. It has been a source of constant frustration for us to have to be extra quiet all the time. We can't play our music on our speakers etc... without them complaining. They also mentioned we had started drilling too early that morning - but, Andre' said, we waited until 10am! Well, people sleep in on Sunday... and it is really loud! You shouldn't make noise on Sundays.... (Is 10am too early here? Really?) Well, Andre' then protests, I am only home from work on the weekends, when am I supposed to do this??? The, purely unsympathetic, neighbor goes on to claim that the contract we signed said we had to be quiet until after 5 pm every day. (Is this true?) Of course, it will be dark by then - making it difficult to use dangerous power tools with a timer light that only lasts for 3-5 minutes.... This doesn't matter to the neighbor who just wants his kid to be able to sleep! Of course, Andre' acquiesces and stops the work until the evening when he does manage to put in one more hook - maybe we'll finish this project in 3-5 weeks at this rate. (hard to return borrowed items quickly under these circumstances)


It is hard, b/c we don't want to be bad neighbors. As a matter of fact, I have always enjoyed a reputation as a particularly good neighbor - the type you would want to have around and borrow a cup of sugar from. The one, on Gowen Circle, who organized the block parties and put out the Gowen Gazette. At home, I knew people liked me, in fact, may I be so bold to say I even achieved a status I never had in high school - popular??? In France, not so much.... In fact, I'm pretty sure these folks hate our American guts! Sorry neighbors, sorry baby!!! But when is it safe to hammerdrill in France???


Special time is one on one time with the kids - we always want to have this but it rarely happens so we made a schedule and stuck to it this weekend to make sure we would each get a turn with each kid- the rule is that we have to find something to do together that the parent and the kid will both enjoy... Today Griffin painted with Mama and played pirates with Daddy. Callie and I remade our thwarted clay figures and, with Andre,' she practiced riding her bike and took a stroll with him over to the local cemetery. Zander went for a long bike ride with Andre' and read two or three chapters of our latest little house on the prairie book - Farmer Boy, with me. We are now on the 6th book of the 9 book series. He is simply fascinated by the olden days and always asks about them.


We finished off the night watching Buffy - it will probably take our entire 2 years here to watch the series as we are watching each episode first in French and then in English with French subtitles in order to learn and yet not be totally frustrated by our lack of understanding.

a quieter weekend

Saturday we decided we'd stick closer to home... we needed to get some shopping done, and Zander had a birthday party to go to in the afternoon. Have we mentioned how the grand surface grocery stores around here are organized kind of like Wal-Mart (a store we'd be embarrassed to shop in back home, because of our anti-corporate, anti-trade deficit, and pro-union stance)? We also like to avoid the big stores like that here, but there's a practical limit when we don't have a car and we don't know where to buy stuff... we can go to just one place where they sell everything from food to motorcycles! It's interesting to note the emphasis on cheese here--a separate 6-foot section for each kind of cheese:

Oh, and that's not even the high-quality cheese, here it is (well, neither is this if you ask the French--you have to go to a fromagerie):


Fort de Chaudanne
Today while Zander was at the birthday party, we decided that Rebecca would have one-on-one time with Callie while I went for a run with Griffin. Griffin loves to throw rocks in water, so I took him to the Doubs to do just that... but on the way I noticed this great hill I hadn't yet conquered... so after throwing rocks we went to see Fort de Chaudanne. It was probably 200 meters in ascent with lots of switchbacks, so it took me over 45 minutes to ascend. After enjoying this view, I was tired and wanted to take a shortcut back home... straight down steps and more rugged switchbacks. For this part of the journey, Mr G had to walk. Made it home in 3 hours!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

france TV 3 comes to see us

Friday, a TV crew came to film me--they're doing a story on a man from Japan that moved to work here, and me. It should make an interesting story for the local audience... that the town they know and love is something others discover and want to make a part of their lives too...

So, at work I always program with a partner, and when the TV crew arrived my 'pair' announced he didn't want to be on TV! Now what? I asked around and NOBODY else wanted to be on TV either.... but why not? Oh well, I finally got someone to agree (Nicolas) and so we worked for a while. It seemed to me like they got some good clips of us working well as a team because people kept talking to each other to bounce ideas around the room.

At one point they interrupted me to ask: so, what does Besançon have to offer that New York doesn't? My answer: a balance between work life and family life. My career, my work, is very important to me, but that's not enough. I want to know my kids, I want to share life with my partner. New York was completely out of balance... so many people work 80+ hour weeks there, and I just don't want that. Here I can walk to work, have lunch with the kids sometimes, be with the whole family for breakfast and dinner every day, and even drop them off at school each morning. All that, plus an amazing job, a great team, lots to learn and lots to teach, and the opportunity to live in a place that is, in many ways, a grand vacation to see a new part of the world.

After filming at work, the TV crew wanted to see Rebecca and the kids, so we met them at lunch break. Supposedly they'll be editing the clips next week, so stay tuned for show times.

This week

On Monday the kids had school but we still had the car - there would be a 2 hour window when we could go to the thrift store and buy out the store so we would have a place to put our 'new' stuff. (Hmm... when faced with a pile of books and crafts on the ground our resolution to save every penny flies out the window...). Anyway, André takes care of driving Zander to school and I walk Callie over - the plan is to dump her off, take Griffin with us to the local gluten free store (unavailable by bus, unfortunately) dump him at school (remember, he doesn't start at the same time as Callie b/c he is still not 'propre' i.e. potty trained) and then speed to the thrifting extravaganza...

Well, I arrive at school with Callie and I am informed that her teacher is ill - many of the parents greet this news by turning around with their kid and heading for home. Others seem to continue on and leave their kids there. I don't get it - don't they have substitutes in France? Normally this would not be a big deal but as we are planning on folding the back seat of the rental down and loading it up with furniture a small body is definitely not part of the equation for today! I try to figure out what decides whether or not you get to leave your kid anyway and try to question the teaching assistant to no avail - she just keeps telling me the teacher is malade. I understand she is sick - I try saying 'd'accord' (which means OK) and 'j'ai compris' (which means, I get it) but they don't seem to understand why I am not leaving or what I still need to know. Soon I am surrounded by about 10 well meaning french parents repeating 'Elle est malade" (She is sick) over and over - it's kind of like those movies where the person is deaf and they keep saying it in different ways - hmm... maybe louder "ELLE EST MALADE" maybe slower "elle...........est...........malade......." , perhaps if we act it out as charades??? and all whispering to each other, how do you say this in English?? (and also probably 'stupid American') Finally one of them hits on "ill" and they all get excited and start shouting "zee ihs ehll! zee ihs ehll!" They have won the English language lotto! Unfortunately I GET THAT!!!!

I call André to explain that I need him to come in and help me with this situation - he is still heading over from dropping Zander off (seems having a car doesn't help much when you are only going half a mile and there are 57 other parents doing the same thing). In the end, a frenchman who speaks decent English showed up before André. He turned to me and patiently explained "The teacher is sick" (ARGH!) Yes, but I need to leave her here - is that OK? Oh, yes, you may leave her if you need to - but she will have to be in with the other class until they can find a sub.... OK - great - dump her off and run to the car (darn - already behind schedule).
We go to the Croc Nature and turns out it isn't open until 2:30 on Mondays - so many stores aren't open during normal business hours here! So we decide to do our regular grocery shopping instead - whipping through in 40 minutes and dropping Griffin off. We head out to the thrift store and hit the jackpot - a rare day indeed when you find all of what you are looking for - bookshelf, craft tower, storage shelf, bedside lamp, spice rack, big holder for kitchen utensils, a genuine Salins-Les-Bains vase (we couldn't afford it yesterday, but now--only 8 Euros!), bedside table/jewelry cabinet, toy shelf, a couple christmas gifts, desk organizers and the entire 7 season collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (French and English)... all for the low, low sum of 424 Euros... The woman who works there recognizes us (hm, wonder why?) and gives us discounts on Buffy and other things... We also once again see my favorite piece of French thrift store inventory - see photo (carefully edited to shield viewers under 18 years old). This pretty little garden gnome has been there since the last time I was there with the kids. We were looking for some good French kids' DVDs and Zander shouts out, "Oh look - a naked Santa!" (I thought they had found a porno DVD mixed in with the kids stuff as it was sprinkled quite liberally throughout the shelf). Of course, Callie pipes up, "I want to see the naked Santa!" Well - I couldn't really shield their sensitive eyes from the giant gnome perched on the top of the bookshelves, surveying the little ones below... They decided he must have needed to go pee pee or something. Hey, even Santa's gotta go sometime.....maybe HE can teach Griffin how to go on the potty. (Now you know what wish is on MY Christmas list).
We stuff as much as we can into the compact car and speed back home to pick up the munchkins - in the afternoon we have Griffin with us but we retrieve what we couldn't get the first time and also schlep to a different store and spend lots more money we shouldn't have purchasing bikes for the entire family and a little bike seat for Griffin to ride behind Daddy (good thing we don't usually have a car, makes purchasing far too simple). We picked the kids up from school (only a few minutes late) and took them to the gluten free store - and returned the car 10 minutes before closing. Unfortunately, we entirely forgot about our tutor who showed up at 4pm as usual to find no one at home - sorry Cecile! She has been doing a great job with the kids and has met with Zander's teacher for a plan of action. So far progress is still very slow but we are only 2 months in so I figure I should be more patient (never one of my virtues).
On Tuesday we spend the entire day assembling all our purchases, putting them into their assigned positions and unloading the boxes into them - our house (with the exception of the water bed) is now pretty much assembled - here is a video tour for those of you yearning to place our new environment into context.
What about that waterbed? Well, the electricity is different here - and by different I mean annoying. We knew our waterbed heater wouldn't work in France and figured we would buy a new heater here. HA! First off, there are no waterbed stores in Besancon - secondly the only ones we could find someplace else in France wanted to charge 200 Euros for the heater - without shipping (yeah, right!). We ended up ordering the new heater (plus a new liner and water conditioner) off ebay for only 14o us dollars (and that's with shipping - take notes, all french people who may be reading this and are bargain hunters - with the exchange rate it is more like 100 Euros) but we have to wait until it can arrive - probably not until the end of next week. Another unanticipated snag in our French life of bliss.

In other news here is an update on each of us - here are kids on new bikes!










Griffin is still nowhere near close to being potty trained and I basically think he may end up as the exception to that age old saying "no one goes to college in diapers." Who knows what is going to happen after the next holiday break but we are just taking it one day at a time. He is generally very happy, singing gibberish songs as we walk about town, creating many gorgeous works of art in varied mediums (oil pastel, chalk, watercolors, paint, stickers, glue, glitter etc... etc...) to decorate our home. During our afternoons together we also go to the park and often play at dress up. He really enjoys the plentiferous amounts of candy here in France - he asks for candy after every meal! He also has decided to switch nationalities. Whenever anyone suggest he doesn't know any French word or custom he confidently states 'but, I'm French' He doesn't show off his language skills like the other two try to but I know it is sinking in. When we were in the Malroches the other day, one of the rock formations was named les lapins and after we read the sign aloud he pronounced "Maybe there are bunnies here!" (lapin = bunny) His accent is perfect when he uses it as well.

Callie is doing great- she has learned how to ride a two wheeler in short order. I knew she was ready but she was refusing to try to learn for sometime. Turns out she was embarrassed that some of her friends would find out she can't ride. We found an empty soccer field and, voila, off she went - she still needs some help starting out but is generally doing great. She is also doing well socially, she has had 2 or 3 playdates now with more scheduled to come. She is (her words) 'the best' kid in her class - is learning cursive letters well (they start that really early here) and never makes trouble for the teacher - she brought in Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see? to 'read' to the class the other day. She is also moving foward quickly with the language and is starting to often toss a French word into her sentences here and there - she told me the other day she was worried she would forget English! I am dreading telling her that our carefully crafted Sculpey statues we made got burnt in the oven b/c mommy was busy blogging! (whoops)

Zander is doing great too - he is currently at a birthday party for Juliette and has another one to attend next weekend for best bud Anouc. He is also getting to be better friends with Noemi and Teebo (no clue how to spell that boy's name) who live in the apartment complex right next to ours. For Noemi's birthday he made her a hat with foam letters spelling 'Happy Birthday Queen Noemi' She loved it and wore it the whole day - she says Zander is her amoureuse (boyfriend) - they are very cute together. He is very kind to all the children, which they like and I find French children in general to be less mature than American children at the same age. It seems that many of them are still very happy with goofy roughhousing and imaginary play - which is what Zander has always loved. Here he is walking home with some of them at lunch time - fun for all every day. He told me (with quite a bit of wonder in his voice) "Kids here are like me" I think he must have been feeling like a bit of a freak before! (Hmm.... couldn't have gotten that from us, could he?) He is having a hard time with school but not for lack of enthusiasm or trying hard- I have confidence he will eventually get there. He is also the first of the three to say these words "I am NOT moving back to Philadelphia - not unless all my friends from here move there too!" So, I guess France is really starting to feel like home to him - why does that make me utterly depressed?

André can speak for himself if he wishes but I am very happy with having him around so much - we are spending so much more time together and getting closer all the time - of course, this is mostly because we have no one else to turn to, but, believe it or not, that was part of our plan all along - to learn to be closer to each other.
As for me, I go down and up. I am still very overwhelmed by it all. I am tired of people asking me when I am going to learn French - I am picking up things here and there but, currently, I simply don't have the time without being responsible for the kids to go take a class and frankly (afraid to say this but true) I don't really care all that much! I know it is holding me back socially and in many other ways, but, frankly, I don't know if I will every really learn it that great - and that's not really my highest priority. What is? Well, obviously blogging is high up there.... Really, I am worried about the kids, getting them settled, safe and normal and about making sure we have the things we need. My limited free time is currently filled with grocery shopping, laundry and preparing the next meal. When I do get some time there are things I yearn for much more than I want a french lesson - such as a yoga class that fits my schedule, time to bake, time to read a book, time to catch up on scrapbooking and felting etc... I am happy to have all our stuff here and in 'homes' our house is really coming together and I dread moving out in less than a year (our current apartment is only good for one year). I also baked 2 zucchini cakes the other day, one for Zander's class as his teacher has been asking me to bring in something american, and one for André's work (since I don't want to eat the calories - but we ended up leaving 1/2 of one home b/c André wanted to keep it!) Anyway, that was a huge hit. People loved the cake and wanted the recipe - of course my recipe would do them no good b/c they do everything with a scale... there are no cups or teaspoons or tablespoons here - also no baking powder or ring pans, but is was gratifying anyway. André said that the CEO asked who had made the cake (after only crumbs remained) and when he said Rebecca, the boss replied with a strange french idiom that, roughly translated, was something like it was torn apart by ravenous wolves...er, thanks (I guess).

Socially, things have been stagnant since the pumpkin party. No return invites or longer conversations although we did get invited to the park after school yesterday - perhaps a breakthrough? Also, with the language barrier, it is hard not to get beyond the superficial level with these people. First it's bonjour, then why are you here? and then, (a question that annoys me in the US and France) sooooooo, do you work? Oh, yes, I usually answer - I am working at caring for my three children. (In the US my standard response to this annoying questions was 'I work, I just don't get paid.' but I don't know how to say this in France - and also, my level of sarcasm might not be appreciated by French ears). So my explanation is then followed by the standard response (also US or France), but, I mean, when you were in the US (or before you had kids), did you work? Hmm... I thought France was supposed to be so enlightened and family friendly. Guess my choice of work is not considered 'real work' on this side of the pond either.

It makes me so mad - I know people in France and the US pay people to care for their children, daycare, nannies, preschools, whatever - people don't just do it for free, but when someone chooses to do it, it's no longer work. Why is that?

And I wouldn't want to forget the final member of our family, Simone - she is always begging for food and hasn't tried to escape outside even once!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

a day of training

So today I had a day of state-sponsored training, a full day to get to know France better. They covered French history, geography, the constitution, major laws, national symbols, etc. All this for free, plus the invitation said they'd provide translators and lunch. Well, I was the only native-English speaking person there... and no translator for me. There was a group of Chechnyans, folk from Morocco, and another group with a translator (maybe Polish?). I could follow fairly well since the training included powerpoint slides, and I can understand written French text better than spoken.
I never knew these tidbits:
  • the first car was invented in France (unless you count those windmill-powered things from the 1300s)
  • women didn't get the right to vote until 1942 or so (1918 in the US)
  • French Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and a couple more departments are not sovereign nations--they're more like Hawaii is for the US --fully represented overseas parts of the country. It looks to me like the sun never sets on France, and that's in today's post-imperialist state
  • freedom of speech, press, equality before the law, separation of church and state, all those supposedly American ideals are alive and strong here... sometimes more developed, sometimes less.
  • Jeans really do match everything... my instructor was wearing the button-down white pleated shirt that we'd normally only see in a tuxedo!

I see now that I did learn something, but was it really worth missing a whole day at work? It was mind-numbing! I have one more of these coming up--next Thursday--but if I skip it they won't renew my work visa next year!

le malrochers et les salins des bains



So, now we are at Sunday. Are we tired? No way! (A lie) We have places to see and we have to take advantage of the car!!! This bench recalls the legend of the forest - can I read it? no - perhaps someone else out there?




Today we are headed for the Malroches (bad rocks) and the great Salt Museum of the town of Salins-les-Bains. We bring along some CD's to help the kids not strangle each other in the car. It doesn't really work, since they simply move from fighting over lint to fighting over which CD's are to be played and in what order. Finally we get there - greeted by yet another sign warning of us the danger of imminent death "Warning! Because of unmarked sinkholes -don't leave the trail" (I feel more confident that the sinkholes are smarter than the falling tree branches but still...) We are excited for this trip and have come armed with not only a picnic lunch but flashlights - the guide books warn of the danger and also say the hike will take 1.5 to 2.5 hours (depending on our curiosity) well - we are plenty curious (and slow) so we are thinking it will take 4....

Notice the cute little caveman on the sign. This is a fun thing about French hiking - you follow little signs to find your way - the grand forest from yesterday had little lutins (i.e. trolls) to follow -today it was the cavemen!!! These trails were very rough - but really fascinating - this shot was taken by Zander - we are trying to mirror the bizarre rocks inbetween us. The entire area was covered by a glacier and these amazing rocks and sinkholes and caves were left behind.




But the best part was finding the home of the fairies! Notice the proof in this picture. This structure was a huge inspiration for the kids - we spent at least an hour making the creation below.


It comes complete with windows, roof, mossy front lawn and (made by Daddy) the accompanying dance tower for fairy parties. I'm sure the local fae can hardly wait to come in. We met a great older gentleman who has been working in this forest for the past 40 years - he showed us lots of 'animals' hidden in the rocks and told us how people planted non native trees (firs) and they are taking over and killing some of the native plants - sad. This rock formation is called Romeo and Juliet - it is two spans of rock over a sinkhole - much of the rock formations here are reminiscent of the sandstone arches out west in Utah - but slimy and covered in moss and in France and in a deep wood, and it's cold and... oh, nevermind.






The hikes in this book are rated for kids and parents and grandparents- I guess French hikers are in better shape than those in the US - look left to get an idea of how the trail was for us. Lumpy, bumpy, full of holes and just plain fun - but grandparents - I don't think so! We were really looking forward to the caves and got to see 2 great ones - the


first was really hard to get down into as it was VERY steep and slippery
I don't remember the name but it seems that it has been around since
prehistoric times (hence the caveman insignia, I guess) and used to be
a home for ancients - it wasn't that large but the kids had fun with their
flashlights anyway - here is André at the
bottom of the cave. We walked on to find
another cave - here we are deep within (OK
it was only like 25 feet long) but still fun
The hike was supposed to be a figure 8 - the




second part had more caves and stuff like that - but as we had already hit the 4 hour mark (about halfway through) we decided we'd better head for the next stop in our trip - les Salin-Les-Bains.




We did get to enter the salt mine - it was pretty cool but frustrating b/c there were like 85 (not exaggerating) people on the tour with us and they had run all out of English language guides - also the lion's share of the tour consisted of a question and answer session held entirely in French (how annoying is that?)- the kids were bored out of their minds but behaved admirably as usual. (except for when stuck in the car) They apparantly have subterranean salt water that they pumped up, boiled and then broke up and sold the salt - at one point they needed 6000 horses to haul all the wood they needed to keep the furnaces running. The company only went out of business in the 1960's. We then headed for a store to buy some famous salins-les-bains pottery - it was beautiful but very costly and we didn't find anything we truly loved enough to justify the cost.





Then we headed up the mountain to see Fort St. André. This view is very typical for France - a little city buried in a valley surrounded by green fields - there is André in front of Fort St. André (the kids loved that it had the same name as daddy!)- you can't go in but you can rent the entire thing as your own personal hotel for a week or two if you wish - how cool is that? We headed for home, again having to drive through the trackless dark - but making it back for some leftover pumpkin soup...
Whew! Glad this blog is finally over - I am looking foward to a return to whining about my normal life without a car!

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