Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I now live in Europe – but I used to live in The Americas….

That’s right.  I said the Americas.

I was at the end of year holiday party for my ‘Parle Francais’ classes.  In this venue, they combined all levels of the classes and had a friendly gathering, including treats and a giant board game.  Parts of the game included: guessing the meaning of French idioms, naming various cities, naming fruits or vegetables starting with a certain letter and, by looking at a photo on the board, identifying continents by name.

Looking around the room, I idly wondered if there was a representative from all the continents there.  Well, no Antarctica, right? Also lacking was Australia and South America…. so really we weren’t all that global a crowd.  I was hastily corrected and found, to my amazement, that all 5 continents indeed were represented in the room!

Umm…. 5?  Are you ready for this??

They are:

L’Europe (that’s Europe - same idea as us)

L’Afrique (that’s Africa - same idea as us)

L’Asie (that’s Asia - almost same idea as us)

The Americas (that would include North and South America)

l’Océanie (that would sort of equate to our Australia – but includes other Pacific islands – read more here

I don’t really know why – but this particular shock was, well, extra shocking!  5 continents???? What about Antarctica????  I ended up researching this a bit further and found that there is a lot to learn about continents.  It seems that we first started out with 2 – Europe and Asia back in 400 or 500 BC.  Then by 300BC Africa was in there.  That was pretty much it until 1492 and the discovery of the Americas – so then 4 was the popular number for a few hundred years.  Australia was lumped in with Asia until the early 1700’s.  Then we had 5 – and that persisted for another hundred or so.  In fact, if you were ever wondering why there are 5 Olympic rings, I have your answer.  One for each continent!!  “As can be read in the Olympic Charter, the Olympic symbol represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games. However, no continent is represented by any specific ring.” Later Antarctica was discovered, and people started thinking of separating North and South America – it gets very confusing at this point….

There are also the continents defined by geology – the tectonic plates – and that is a whole ‘nother can of worms.  I don’t want to go into it – except to say – there is also a lot of debate there as well – and I’m glad I never had to learn it.  Some people do, though. In Russia kids learn about continents (geological) and parts of the world (more political/traditional).

In modern times, the number of continents controversy rages on.  In case you started to worry about if we Americans are the only fools that think there are 7 continents these days – take heart.   Antarctica has some big backers – and lots of people are taught it is also a continent these days. This article as well as others I found claims that Europeans are taught 6 continents – but having asked around here in France – not true in this corner of the world. I did find another very interesting discussion group talking about this and an Austrian claimed they learn 6 there.  Wikipedia claims that Americans and Chinese (I knew they were smart) learn 7. They give a nice history of the whole thing, if you are interested.  Some folks separate North and South America but lump together Europe and Asia (since they are one lump of land) – resulting in a continent known as Eureasia.   There are even places that say there are 4 continents – combining Africa, Europe and Asia and resulting in (drumroll please) Afroeureasia.  Hmm…. I wonder how the French feel about them apples?  Lumping them all in with China and Africa? Quel horreur!  I think it might be a bit how I felt when I found out that us North Americans are lumped in with the South Americans. 

I mean, some things just aren’t right.

Maybe we should just go back to Pangea.  Not much to argue about there, right? Any of you Afro-Euro-Asie-Americ-Anartic-Austral-Oceanies up for a salty swim in the Panthalassa? (I’m afraid to ask how many oceans they think there are)

I plan on trying to enjoy life on my continent – just haven’t decided yet what I want to call it.  Maybe Fred.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Zander – SUPERSTAR!!

Well, I went a bit early to pick up Zander at theatre class yesterday and was amazed to see him perform a major role in the little play they put on.  It is a bit long, at 7 minutes, but he is a major player in the first 2, if you don’t have time.  OK, yes, it is all in French, but here he is:

I am so proud!!!!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Packages plus plentiferous plethora

I like alliteration, OK?

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This week I’ve been overly focused on my mission – to possibly send my holiday packages at least 2 weeks before Christmas Day.  I do a version of this every year, since André’s family lives in Utah, but it is much more intense when all your loved ones are overseas.  We are quite lucky, in fact, to often receive packages from Grammie, Grandpa and Grandma and occasionally even get other ones as well.  You can see, right, Callie and Zander enjoying the balsa planes got in the most recent Delaware delivery. 

I was cutting it very, very close this year for 2 reasons.  One, I procrastinate, and two, the ‘tout a 1 euro’  sale was not to be held until December 8th. Since it costs serious cash to ship packages, but I really love to give gifts and Resized_HPIM3925 can’t bear to skip it, my holiday shopping is finished up at that grand event where everything costs just one euro.  For the first time ever, I got there when the doors opened and I got some great toys for my nieces and my childreResized_HPIM3928n as well as some clothes for myself.   There were a ton of people there when the doors opened – but luckily they were going for shoes and handbags and I got the best toys! The kids have been working on little handmade gifts as well so we spent time on Wednesday finishing them up and then making a bunch of awesome jewelry out of objects we have found on our travels.  I was really happy at how they came out.  Then, of course, we (that means almost all me) had the joy of wrapping and making shippable packages out of everything I had just bought (I did the other stuff earlier) – this kept me up past 11 on Wednesday night (OK, that’s not late to you, but to me, very late) and I spent over an hour, and 200 Euros, in the post office TResized_DSC00998hursday morning.  This gives those babies 14 days on the slow boat to reach the USA.  Keep your fingers crossed.Resized_DSC00997

Last weekend, we realized we were out of Comté (horror!) and decided to head out to a fromagerie.  We drove along and ended up stopping at 3 different ones.  André and I had met a woman, months ago, whose job involved inspecting all the fromageries.  She recommended two different places for us to try.  It was really fun, but we ended up spendResized_DSC00992ing 50 Euros on cheese. I hope it will last us a couple of months.  The best part of the morning was, seeing snow.  Sure enough, when we got up into the Jura Mountains, there was already snow on the ground.  It is great to live in a place where snow is only half an hour away.  Even though we won’t be doing any major adventures for Christmas holiday (sad) we hope to be able to do some sledding on day trips.  Since the fromagaries all close at noon, we had to get the cheese first, but then we headed up a mountain and the kids got out to play in the snow.   Here are some photos of their frolicking….

 

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They had a great time and even made a little snow person, called Herbert.  I’m sure you are all wondering why Zander has no hat, coat, or gloves on.  Rest assured, he owns all of these essential winter items, and they were in the car.  But, for whatever reason, Zander has decided he no longer needs to be wearing hats, coats or gloves.   He brings his coat to school, but never wears it outside, though it is getting coDSC00988lder and colder. (I think it may have something to do with the fact that André also resists these types of accessories, but that’s just a theory)  We have to choose our battles, and hey, if he wants to make snowballs with his bare hands, I’m not going to argue, even though I think he’s totally nuts.Resized_DSC00989

On the way up to the mountains, we stopped briefly in Mamirolle, which was selling books at 3 for 1 Euro.  We ended up not getting many books, but we saw a box marked with our last name!  Of course, I had to check out the website: http://www.dhondthobby.com/ and it turns out DSC00990they are based in Belgium and sell all kinds of awesome craft supplies directly to stores.  See, all my craftiness is obviously part of the inherent Dhondt genes!  (And all this time I thought it only came from my mom’s side of the family).  We also  parked next to this awesome fruit tree.  It was empty of leaves, but still hanging with delicious looking pears. I see so many fruit trees in yards around Besancon that never are harvested.  I think we should be allowed, if we want, to go and pick the fruit!  I mean, if they don’t want it, why let it go to rot?

 

I’m sure I’ve mentioResized_DSC00935ned my covetousness before.  Despite our best efforts to not get stuff while we are Resized_DSC00936here, we find our house to be full of little items we’ve picked up – and of course, lots of toys. But still, we want more!!!  Our tradition, as we travel, is to try to pick up a souvenir we can treasure from our stay in a foreign land.  We had thought, coming here, we needed something bigger than the usual trinket – I mean we actually live here!  Since André loves them, and Besancon is famous for clock making, our initial idea was to try to get a Grandfather clock.  Well, it turns out those cost several thousand euros and are pretty darn heavy to ship so we decided to downsize our dreams a bit and recently purchased (used, of course) a beautifully inlaid small bedside table that we could fit into a suitcase.   It is not either of the oneResized_DSC00981s photographed (André didn’t like those) but similar to the one at left, with the kids in the photo. We also got a landscape of Besancon painted by a local artist, and, for Christmas, plan on getting our own cow-bell. Who knows what the future will bring, and how much we will be able to take back to America?  Having such uncertainty about it is a bit unsettling.  I feel blown about by the winds – and wish I could have afforded to buy this painting, also by a local artist (See? I told you!  It’s always covet, covet, covet!)  Anyway, I will be happy when we know more about the future.

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The circus school has set up a tent near the PSB across from our house recently.  I love the logo they have on their truck and it is neat to sometimes see the kids heading over to the tent for practice.  Circus is very popular here, and lots of kids do it. I wonder, do they heat that tent (pictured left) in the winter?  We are planning on saving some of our Christmas gift money (thanks grandparents!) to get front row tickets at a circus this summer for our whole family.  I can’t wait!!!!Resized_HPIM3930

Resized_DSC01017Here’s a bit of Zander news!  He was happy to see his friend Noemi at her recent birthday party and also visiting his school recently (note, he still has no coat on).  We are hoping she can come play over Noel.  He is still very actively involved in his art and loves to draw.  Last weekend, we spent an hour or so at the village for the rights of children.  There was a list, outside the exhibit area, that showed what the rights of children should be, and inside lots of booths showing how kids around the world don’t have enough food to eat, water to drink etc…. This made a big impression on Zander.  He was especially shocked to learn about places  where children were soldiers and volunteered to make a red hand print to protest this.  On Sunday, the kids each picked an activity and Callie chose hand and foot painting.  Zander got really into it and spent a few hours on Sunday and then later in the week working on the art shown.  It is all his hand and foot prints and each color represents a right that all kids deserve. All kids deserve: Enough water, No war, Enough food, Heat, A family and A home.   So mote it be.Resized_DSC01021

And now, for a bit of cultural stuff.  There is something new everyday!

Christmas in Besancon is beautiful in Centre Ville where the market and lights are, but, in general, people don’t decorate  much around here.  We were lost the other day and drove past a couple of houses that went all out – but, in general there is nothing or just one string of lights. I miss the blocks where all the houses are decorated –and our own amazing Gowen decorating we usually do. 

Resized_DSC01022 We went to the local Quickos (kind of like a French McDonalds) for dinner the other night and two amResized_DSC01023azing things happened.  The first was that all three of my kids, voluntarily, chose to play in the play area rather than finish their ice cream since we had only about 15 more minutes before we had to leave.  See the evidence?  (Of course, Mommie and Daddie finished it off for them – these are the kinds of sacrifices parents have to make)  The second, and perhaps even more bizarre, was the toy they got with their Magic Box (kind of like a French Happy Meal).  It was a solid wooden bar sign.  That’s right.  I guess it is for some French cartoon called Lucky Luke.  But a). French don’t have saloons and b). even if they had them, kids would not go there. and c). who came up with this?????  Griffin hated his but Callie and Zander loved them and they hang up now, proudly in their room.  That’s right – their room now has not one, but two bar signs in it!

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I didn’t get too much in the way of French culture this week since I missed yoga for the sale and since Griffin has been sick home the last two days, making me miss my French class.  But, I still learned a few new things.  Two new idioms. If you want to say “mind your own business/beeswax”  you can say “Occupe toi des tes oingons” (which means: Worry about your own onions) .  I learned that gem from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (midway through Season 3 now, and who says I’m not learning anything, thank you very much..)  The other is for if you are sick and tired of something you can say “ras le bol”.   I asked for some clarification on this one and they said it is like when your coffee cup is overflowing.  Still not clear to me, and man, am I ever ‘ras le bol’ over things not being clear to me!

And then, of course, there was the baguette in the tree. You know you are in France when you see baguettes in trees.  It reminds me of Hop on Pop.  The new version will read “baguette in a tree, how can that be?”   It can be, you can see, if you be, like me,  Besancon blundery.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Things that make you go hmm…

I have been attending classes, had guests for Thanksgiving, experiencing life here and, I have to say my eyes are opening in a way they have never been opened before. When we first were talking about coming here, we decided on a minimum 2 year stay since anything less seemed like just a vacation. I think we have been at least partially right. I am seeing and understanding so much more this year.

Lots of it is just little things I learn in class. For example, in France, a menu is called a carte. On each carte there are usually 3 sections, entrées (appetizers), plats (main courses) and desserts (desserts). Then there is what they call the menu – which is usually a fixed price selection, which varies daily. For example, if you order the menu, you can have salad or soup, with steak or fish and pie or ice cream for 15 Euros. I wonder how we got the idea that entrée is the word for main course? Americans got à la carte right. Hmm….

Another day we learned about clothing styles. They have no word for sweater, for example. They call bowties un noeud papillon and choker style necklaces un collier de chien or dog collars. I admit, the idea of choking isn’t all that attractive either. If something is out of style they say it is demodé and if it is in style it is à la mode. So, why do Americans think à la mode means, with ice cream? Hmm…..

We were talking about tipping, and I told them that “tips” is an an acronym for “to insure prompt service”. Well, they said, if that’s true, then why do you tip at the end of meals? Hmm……

They use the same word, le casque, to mean both headphones (for music) and helmet (for riding bikes or motorcycles). Hmm….

How about our word for cleavage? I have often heard people say "decolletage" for the lovely result of a v-neck top. Well, in French the word is décolleté. In fact, décoller means to take off in a plane! Hmm….

This is a nice one. Sister-in-law is belle soeur (beautiful sister) and brother-in-law is beau frère (handsome brother). We need to adopt this. Beautiful is so much more friendly than our in-laws!

When talking about emotional words we came across gai – which translates to our word gay and means, you’ve guessed it, happy. Well, of course, I had to ask if it also meant homosexual, as it does in the US. I was told the answer was yes – (but they spell it gay in that case). I then discovered that most French don’t refer to gays as ‘gays’ or ‘homosexuals’ but rather as pédé. I immediately thought of pedophilia when I heard that word but it turns out it is the evolution of an an acronym P.D. This stands for pas derriere. Not from behind….. Hmm……..

I’ve started to be exposed to more idioms. Some make sense or are the same as ours such as un grand saut which is a big leap. Another one people told me is that if you work hard you avoir des biscuits or get the cookies. Scruffy beard here is referred to as une barbe de trois jours. People routinely show up at the office with these 3-day beards—and it doesn’t seem to carry any stigma. If they’re wearing the same clothes and not showering, why should they shave? If you’d like to note how small things can make a difference – mention the mustard seed or un grain à moudre. If someone gets mad you can say - Il a pété les plombs. which means ‘he blew a fuse’, or ‘farted lead’, whichever you prefer. How about the translation for “I’m between a rock and a hard place”? Try être entre deux feux (between two fires). And too hoof it (or go on foot) is aller à pinces. Hmm…….

We already blogged about the tooth mouse (Americans have the tooth fairy) but I recently discovered they have no Easter Bunny. Children here are taught that the candy that is left in the garden rains from the sky when a giant bell rings in Rome. And then there is Santa Claus. They had no tradition of Santa in France as early as 30 years ago! They got gifts, but they were from baby Jesus. Good way to keep Christ in Christmas! And what kid wouldn’t worship the dude that brought all those cadeaux? And the French (and Cambodians, Armenians, Germans) all think the idea of Santa originated in the USA. There is absolutely no connection, in their minds, between Saint Nicolas and Santa Claus! I tried to tell them that they were the ones who made up Santa – but they don’t believe me. (Wikipedia backs me up, but, let’s face it, an American probably wrote the article.) Traditionally Germans have a whole different holiday to celebrate Saint Nicolas that is actually occurring this weekend. There are some great legends on him if you want to share them with your kids. I will reprint my favorite below – it is the one most often told by the French.

The Evil Butcher

Three small children were gleaning in the fields. As they worked and played, they wandered off into the town. Walking about and exploring, the children forgot the time.

When it was late and the sun going down, the children were hungry, tired and lost. They came to a lighted butcher's shop, knocked and said, "We are lost and hungry. May we eat and sleep?" "Oh, yes," came the reply, "do come in."

As they enter, the butcher takes a sharp knife, cuts them up, and puts them in a large salting tub. Seven years pass.

A knock comes on the door. Bishop Saint Nicholas appears, saying to the evil butcher, "Open your large salting tub!" The saint puts his hand on the tub and, appealing to God, says, "Rise up, children." The little children awake and stand up. Their families joyfully welcome them home.

Ever since St. Nicholas has been the patron and protector of children.

Gore and redemption – that story has got it all. And no wonder they don’t associate him with our Santa!

André and I had a great discussion, after Thanksgiving dinner, with our guests. Joelle is a teacher and talked to us about the strict rules they have in French schools controlling what they can do in the classroom. They are not permitted, for example, to bring in any outside experts without a lengthy application process and proof of expertise. Her husband, for example, is Italian, and she wanted to bring him in to speak Italian to her class. This is not permitted. In fact, in her old school (stricter than St. Claude) her husband wasn’t even allowed on the school grounds! If he needed to bring her medicine or something – he was met at the gate by the principal, who would bring her what she needed. I came in one time last year to teach “If you are happy and you know it clap your hands!” to the class and she was actually reprimanded afterwards. Teachers, according to her, have a bad reputation in all sorts of venues in France since they tend to be more curious and ask questions. In France, this couple says, you are not to ask questions of anyone – your doctor, your plumber, your boss, etc…. or you are a troublemaker. They are the experts, you have to listen. They simply do not take you seriously – even if what you say has merit. I was saying that I thought there was more than just language barrier holding Zander back on reading – she agrees but claims the teachers hands are completely tied. They are absolutely forbidden to teach in any way that varies from the national standard, even if that means 20% of the children are left behind. How frustrating! But at the same time it felt like an affirmation of some kind – I’m not crazy – they really do think differently here.

One class we talked, all too briefly, about stereotypes. According to the paper handed out by my teacher, Americans think many, many things about the French. They are small, skinny, have black hair and long noses. The men have mustaches and wear berets. They are smart and know lots about good food and wine. They are romantic - their men have lots of affairs and their women are sexy, fashionable and sophisticated. They are arrogant. Yes, this is official curriculum in my class. Hmm….

Well, it is a bit disconcerting, I must say – to represent the US to these guys. They turn to me and say, “So, is this true?” And, of course, I can only speak for myself. Some of it rings true to me – and other things don’t. Then we got onto the topic of what Americans and French think about Asians (because of the two Cambodian women in the class). It was interesting that US and French stereotypes for Asians matched. We thought Asians were: small (as in short) with slanted eyes and dark hair. They are a bit reserved and are very intelligent, valuing education and hard work. Then we talked about what Asians think of Americans – They are rich and fat and they have pointy noses. Actually, the only American stereotype Asians, Armenians, Algerians, French and Germans all could agree on was that we are FAT. And, yes, yes we are. French, Americans and Asians also agree on German stereotypes, tall, blond, strong, a bit reserved….. At one point my Algerian classmate asked me what Americans think about Algeria. I told her the answer was nothing, since, in my opinion, the average American has never spared a thought on Algeria at all and probably could not locate it on a map. I can’t either, so here are some cheat sheets, thanks to wikipedia, but you have to figure out which one is which:

The same indifference applies for Armenia and even Cambodia (although that falls under the generic ‘Asian’ category, I suppose if they knew that much which I doubt many do) I could have gone on talking about this for hours, but class ended and we didn’t go back and discuss it any further (rats!). It is one thing to talk stereotypes in a group that is all one or two nationalities – and another entirely to talk with people from all around the world (at least 4 continents).

I’m feeling the need, here, for a disclaimer of some sort but I don’t know what! I feel like I am passing a lot of judgments, and I hesitate to do that. But at the same time, I have been having so many interesting conversations lately, I just wanted to put some of my thoughts down on paper. I hope you know that what appears below is based on my limited experience, and only that.

I have been talking, on and off, to Augustan, our babysitter. He is black and an immigrant from Haiti. He seems to be very interested in America and asks us, at times, what are the differences between the US and France. We, again, feel a bit uncomfortable being ‘the US’ for people but do our best. I always say that any generalization about the US is false, because it covers such a vast land area and has such a diverse population. We also say that people should never consider André and I as typical Americans, since anyone typical would never, ever, come live abroad for a few years. Augustan is happy to have the opportunity to be in France – but says life is easier for immigrants in the US. He says there are barriers in France that make it hard for blacks, and immigrants to succeed. I find that interesting since my observation of French culture is that, in general, the black population is very integrated. In fact, off the top of my head, I can think of far more parents in our neighborhood where the couples are mixed than where both are black. I also haven’t observed ‘black’ neighborhoods (although there seems to be Muslim ones). This is very different from the US.

Now I’m going to try to codify a bit of what I usually say when asked about the differences. In general, I think that the French take better care of their citizens in terms of things like social programs, unemployment, basic education, health care, etc…. I also think the French have a much smaller gap between rich and poor which puts everyone on a more equal footing. There is a greater balance between work and life and the needs of the family are a priority. They don’t have suburban sprawl. Most people live in small villages that have everything you could need and these are very tight knit and self-sufficient. They take care of each other. They are amazing artisans with food and with crafts and value tradition and history very highly. They like things that are quality – and they keep them safe. They might wear the same outfit three days in a row – but it’s a designer outfit that they will continue to wear until it is truly no longer useable. Things hold value in France. When they go out, they stay up late, eat for hours, and party hard. That being said, I also see problems in France. They are a country undergoing huge demographic changes and are facing a real crisis when it comes to integrating the increasing Muslim and non-white population in their country. They seem to want everyone to become ‘French’. I was surprised to hear that immigrants, in this country, are not only expected to read, write and speak French – but also be able to, off the top of their heads, name 10 popular French actors or athletes. Does this seem a bit much to anyone else? This is no melting pot – and I see prejudice in a lot of places. It’s the norm, for example, to put a color photo on resumes when turning them in for job applications. Also, I have never, as far as I know, seen a same sex couple in Besançon, with or without a child. It is very difficult, if you live here, to change jobs or careers. If you try, people suspect it is because you failed at your other job. People don’t show emotions here – and have no idea how to handle it when other people get emotional (of course, some Americans would see this as a strength). Children here are treated as clones, not individuals and there is no flexibility or richness to school life. Adults don’t really speak to kids. There is also no parent involvement in the schools and no sense of a school community. Questioning authority is heavily frowned upon in some arenas and in others, it exists to little effect. (An example is how teachers here strike, but then go back to work the next day – there are unions, but they appear to be powerless). Sexism is still very strong – especially concerning people’s beliefs on what the youth do. (e.g. boys hit, girls don’t, girls do gymnastics, boys don’t). People are friendly, but not, in general, open. They are slow to embrace change, even good change.

In America, we have some real problem areas compared to France. The biggest problem, by far, is the lack of basic care we have for our people. The lack of food, shelter, education, health care, etc…. for the poorest members of our society is a huge problem. Yes, there are poor people in France, but not like we have in our ghettos. Americans are, in my opinion, much more selfish. The gap between rich and poor is huge, and widening more and more. It is getting harder and harder to escape poverty, while in Europe it’s getting easier. We also are, let’s face it, fat and unhealthy! We spend too much on things we don’t need and things we can’t afford, and waste, waste, waste. We don’t have the strong infrastructure maintenance and rail system they enjoy in Europe. We also work far too much – we don’t give enough balance to things like vacation time and even time off for having a baby (In France, you stop working 6 weeks before the baby arrives, and then get 6 months off afterward). But America still is, in large part, a land of opportunity. They have amazing school (for those lucky enough to live in the right areas) with art, music, gym, computers etc…. There are wonderful universities and people can choose from a myriad of different career paths. There are so many choices, in fact, that, for Americans inflexibility is a definite weakness. Americans value parental involvement, and community involvement. In general, people welcome new ideas, new talent and new blood. We accept change, as a nation, pretty rapidly – re-electing Bush and then switching to Obama 4 years later is a prime example. People are more open and emotional in the US – they give more to charity and to each other (of course, this is necessary since the government certainly isn’t going to do it for them!) The US has much more gender equality and religious tolerance. We have an amazing set of national parks and local parks, many of them free and our playgrounds rule. Cars and gas are cheaper in the US – and thrift store shopping is way, way, way better.

Then there are some things I think are the same in French and American societies. The top one is arrogance. Both France and the US have extreme amounts of national pride. They think they are the best and they don’t like their decisions to be questioned. I think this is part of the reason for occasional friction between the nations. They can be stubborn and obstinate. They both have a history of revolution. They both appreciate (and I realize this isn’t as true for the US as France, but it is for my family and associates) good food! They value education and hard work. People from poor nations all over the world want to have the chance to live in both of these nations. They think everyone should be able to speak their language. They are crazy sports fans (even if it is different sports). Their flags are red, white and blue.

All of these are generalizations, and reality is never so simple. Were these fair generalizations? Do you have more to add? What do you guys think???? (I know I’ve got French and American readers – chime in!)

Still, these generalizations come from somewhere—so as I learn more about typical French, it helps me to integrate better and take things less personally. Just as we say we’re not typical Americans, everyone we meet here says they’re not typical French. Hmm….

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Great Health Care Debate

Well, in general, my blog is not very political (at least, I don’t think it is) but I have been very interested in the debate occurring over health care in our nation.  I have watched debates, read articles, trying to figure out how best to care for the health of our nation.  And hey, I am living in a country with health coverage for all, so I’m living it, and it ain’t too shabby.  I am hopeful that something, albeit flawed, will pass.  I know many, many people in our country are dead set against any form of the bill at all and had an intense debate with my brother-in-law on Facebook over this issue.  This took up a lot of my time and energy for about 2 or 3 days – and so I thought it was blog-worthy.

Neither of us are experts, but we are both college educated adults who are not seen (by most) to be insane.  Maybe this is a microcosm of what is going on in the minds of people all over our nation – that aren’t in charge of actually changing anything!  I found our debate to be very interesting, and, with the permission of M,  I have transcribed it below. 

It all started with this status comment:

M: Does the gov have an immunity to overspending? If ya buy something, you have to pay for it or it gets repo'd! Haven't they learned anything?

(Several comments supporting this position followed – I did not get permission from the authors to reprint them word for word, so I won’t.  In general the writers were worried about the hold China has over our nation.  The possibility that China may recall our debt or end in the lending of money to our country.  Also fears were expressed over rampant inflation to come and the need for everyone to invest in more solid assets (i.e. gold/property over stocks) stop being in debt and store up food and ammunition in case of a big mess to come)

M:  We may really be in for a downturn... but most liberals think that won't happen... they think the country is great, amazing, this that and the other, and that because it's so great we couldn't possibly be creating a bad situation with overspending. And I'll be the first to admit Obama didn't begin the problem... but he certainly is looking to have the biggest contribution to our budget issues. He can't seem to get away from idealistic and compassionate(socialist) type governance, and turn to realistic governance, where we live in a world of scarce resources and not unlimited ones.

(This was followed by some cheerleading support for these ideas. Including the idea that this is a sign of the times. This is when I, 8 hours behind, caught up with the conversation and sent 3 notes in rapid succession.)

Rebecca: If helping people have decent health care, feeding the poor and clothing the naked causes my taxes to go up and even the economy to collapse, I don't really mind. I would rather choose compassion and love. What would Jesus do?

Rebecca: And another thing - why aren't you all demanding we cut military spending? Fine to spend unlimited money to bomb, kill and maim thousands of innocent civilians, as well as our own soldiers - but not to help people without health care? check out this pie chart if you really want to know where our money goes: http://www.warresisters.org/pages/piechart.htm

Rebecca: OK - last thing from me - yes the liberal. (I figure you guys don't hear from many of these and stereotypes are never helpful - so here's a real live person!) Do any of you argue that we are already in crisis on health care? The fact is we spend more for far worse health than any developed nation http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/haque/2009/08/how_to_think_constructively_ab.html  This is a problem that is just going to get worse, and add, exponentially, to our current deficit. The plan that has been presented will give people basic care, keeping them healthier and, in the end, save us money. It may fail, but isn't it better to try to fix a problem than to hide in our basements with our ammo and food storage ignoring our brothers and sisters who are out there literally dying? End of rant...for now!

(At this point all of the other voices fell silent and M and I continued on)

M: Am I entitled to good health care? If so, shouldn't I be entitled to good dental care? And running water and toilets and housing and healthy organic foods(which are expensive) and a green friendly car and ...etc etc. Where do you draw the line? There needs to be a line drawn between compassion and realism. And seriously... who really has any issues with healthcare reform? The country needs it desperately. No rational individual, conservative, liberal or whatever, can say that it doesn't need serious reform. It's overpriced and too many are uncovered or undercovered. But for the gov to take it over now? During a recession? No, that's not the answer.
The gov is trying to buy health care for the uninsured when we are in a recession. I'm happy that Obama is concerned for the welfare of the people, but it's only going to make things harder for us at the moment, and harder for us to get out of a recession. If they're going to buy health coverage for people who need it, it needs to be done at the right time. I have mixed feeling about total coverage for the population, but I recognize that is the way things are headed, and we can't stop that. And I'm more in favor of them reforming it, and requiring the private sector costs to go down, the lawsuits to be stopped, and requiring the private sector to cover the uninsured somehow....
If they want to fix health care, they need to seriously reform it, so it decreases costs for everyone. All they are currently doing is wealth redistribution and making it so people who are already in foreclosure because they've lost their jobs, won't be able to get jobs, because employers won't be able to afford more employees because of higher taxes. I can't afford employees because of FICA taxes! They haven't done any real reform yet, even in the proposed almost trillion dollar bill. Reform would seriously decrease costs, not increase them by a trillion dollars!
I want the the option to choose between me having a fatter wallet and better health. I think I should be able to choose to live in a tent if I want, and eat potato chips til I have a heart attack at age 35. And be able to have a job and receive income from it that I am actually free to spend. But if it's all taken away in tax, what's the point in me working? There's no benefit. So what I'm saying is reform is what's needed now... not wealth redistribution through taxes.
And I believe in a balanced budget. Period. We haven't done if for decades! And if we don't fix that sometime... we're gonna have some really angry debtors. And you're right, military expenditures and other expenditures are extremely high at the moment, especially where it's all debt. But you can't pull out of the Mideast without risking way too much war consequence. That's not an option and that's why the UN won't do it. I'm not going to get into that ... because I freely admit I don't have the best understanding of that stuff.
These are tricky issues I think. But come on! People are losing homes, and they are going bankrupt, and can't find a job to buy food, and we're worried about whether they can go to the doctor and get shots, when they can't even buy food to survive? There are tent cities in California, and we're worried about health care? Priorities are mixed up at the moment. Shouldn't we be trying to keep taxes down and fix the economy so when we work we can buy food before we start spending trillions more on health care? Is that not more a priority? I guess I don't know if you really see the effects of the recession there in France, but we certainly do here. Even in Utah, where the economy is better than most places, jobs are really scarce, and foreclosures are everywhere. And I'm scared for the long term future of the country.

Rebecca: First off I believe we should draw the line where the UN does. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights states: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood"
Secondly, the US has been proposing health care reform since 1912. I'll say it again 1912. That's almost 100 years. We can't keep on waiting around for the right time. There's never gonna be a 'right' time for this. What you are saying to the people who are dying right NOW is... "Oh, I'm sorry. ...We know you need treatment - but this just isn't the right time. Maybe 10 years from now, but of course, you're little boy will already be dead."   Sorry - the fact that you can't hire employees pales in comparison to this daily reality. It's not about flu shots - it's about life versus death - for millions of Americans.
Thirdly - (and this is not really important but I can't help myself) the budget was balanced during the time Clinton was in office (no, our national debt was not erased, but we did have balanced budget - with surplus.)
Lastly - I just want to say that I guess we could debate all this until the cow comes home (and with your cow, that would be a long long time as I have gathered!)  but in the end, for me, this is not a political issue at all
This is a moral issue. This is about doing what is right for all the people of our nation. When Jesus was distributing the loaves and fishes - he didn't question whether it was the right time or run background checks on who deserved the loaf. People were hungry and he fed them.  People are dying, and we can help them - if we choose.
How can we NOT act?
Love!!!
Beckie

M: Clinton's balanced budget is debatable with the bubble of the 90's. Economists will debate that one. That's why I say that. But the point is who is going to pay for all of this, and when the nation goes bankrupt because everyone has health care, and housing, and all that stuff that is mentioned in the UN article, then what? Then nobody gets health care. If the hospitals can't run because they don't have money to pay for stuff, they close. If they are gov run at that point, then we go back to Soviet style care, which didn't work. And we would be better off with what we have now. I think you think I don't care about the well being of people. Which is not the case at all. I care just as much as anyone else, but I'm also being realistic about it. And we don't have enough to pay for wars, food, health care, housing, SSI, Medicare, etc etc. The country is living on borrowed money now. I'm glad you care about people, and I do too, but hey, ya gotta be realistic with what's sustainable long term in the country. We don't have a trillion dollars to spend on it now. It's going to have to be paid for someday. If we spend it now, we won't be able to afford anything in the future.

Rebecca:  First off M, I'm sure you care. I know enough conservatives to know they care deeply. I actually try hard to listen to both sides of the arguments but, in the end, I just come from a totally different planet on this. To me (and frankly, every non-American I've ever spoken to) it's insane we don't already have this as a basic human right. I mean, the declaration of independence states life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - but in actuality, without health care - this is an absolutely false promise. As for your fear that we will go bankrupt if we get this benefit - I don't get that either!
Don't you think it's funny how all the countries of the European Union have all those rights guaranteed for their citizens - as well as many other democratic nations - and they are NOT bankrupt. In fact, many of their economies are stronger than ours - and, if they aren't and things go badly - there is no need for their citizens to worry about losing health care, or living in tent cities - because, as a nation, their people agree that the highest priority is taking care of each other. You say Soviet style care doesn't work -I'm sure you are not blaming the fall of the Soviet Union on the fact they provided health care, right? But forget them anyway - what about French care, Spanish care, Japanese care,Canadian care, Italian care etc... etc...? All these nations have better health care for their citizens, at lower costs - and healthier economies - and most of them involve a mix of private and public care. Germany is in fact all private. I think the difference we are really having is that I truly believe that the health of every individual is inextricably linked to the health of our nation as a whole. I might have a job, and food etc.. but the idea that I don't want to give it to others since I might then lose what I have seems, well, selfish. I've got mine, so too bad for you!  Continuing to ignore these issues or wait until the 'right time' or the perfect solution is what we have been doing for the past 100 years - and it isn't really working for us so far, is it? You said earlier that liberals think 'everything is all great' - actually we don't - we think things need to changed - otherwise why would we bother? Obviously I am enjoying this debate way too much - usually in the US I debate with my conservative friends in real life and I don't get to do that in France! Also I'm feeling helpless, watching from afar the battle I want so badly to succeed and there is no way I can help out.

M:  so you think we should just up and give everyone health care like EU nations? Okay, obviously some of the EU nations have good setups. Good coverage, but not always the best care in situations. The advantage in the states is that we have great cutting edge care. Disadvantage: it's not available to all-not even available to most insurance covered folks. But like I've said over and over, we don't need to just give people health care, unless there is reform. Period. If we give it away without serious reform -which is what is happening currently - listen to what's going into this bill - it is buying temporary care, without major reform. Conservatives, liberals, whoever, I don't care who, I don't profess to fall into either category, but if universal coverage is to take place, don't ya think it would take some major overhauling to make it happen effectively? As is, this bill is a cork being put into the end of a hose that's about to get turned on, and everyone is just hoping that the costs don't get out of hand. This bill is spending a full half of our yearly tax revenue, on 10% of the populations' care? I think most conservatives are fearful that with the "public option" it will in the long run force people when they switch employers to go to the gov plan which has inferior coverage. Dems and GOP folks are hesitant because this bill could cost 10 times the price they are saying of 7 or 800 billion dollars, as people slowly over the years are forced to go from private to public option coverage, (which is not better coverage-it covers less) In that case, it could run a bill of what? 7 or 8 trillion a year? And our current tax revenue is only 1.5 trillion, which I think will be severely impacted in this recession. In no case with the current plan, will it be sustainable. Even if it's for just the 10% population coverage, this would force a 50% tax increase which would be more detrimental to the economy than anyone could imagine. We as a people in the country realize there is a huge gap in population coverage, but if reform is not the primary goal, then why even try? I know Obama's intent is good, and I know you want to save the children and all that, but this plan is totally crazy!!! You yourself said military spending is too high. SSI, Medicare, whatever is being spent is too high. And debt service in 10 years is going to be 500 to 700 billion a year. I think the major difference between the EU nations and the US is that the US has never learned to spend within the budget, which is ultimately going to be our destruction. I don't see any other alternative. It has plagued the country for decades with consumer credit spending, and now it's going to screw over the country. And don't get me wrong. I wouldn't mind seeing universal coverage. I can't afford insurance myself!

Rebecca: I don't agree with your economic assessment - in 2001 half of all bankruptcies in the US are due to medical issues. If you cut out the profit making, it makes sense it will cost less overall. I also disagree with your assessment of the bill. There is lots of reform in the bill - IF we keep the public option PLUS it is going into debate - which means there can be amendments made and additional reform added - I wish the Senate Republicans and ConservoDems would try to fix the bill - instead of just killing it. I think doing the right thing is going to be in the best interests of the American economy. Period. And also in the best interest of morality. I am thankful that I have health care coverage. I'd like to be thankful that all the people of America have it as well.
I am also thankful that you are around! Have a great Turkey day!!!!

M:  And how is it okay to spend half a years worth of taxes that we by the way do not even have...? How is this in the best interest of the economy? It will force companies to go out of business or cheat to stay in business. Companies with payrolls of 250K are extremely small... and if they have almost no profits as is, their owners will have few choices. Either pay premiums or a 7% penalty, either of which will mean they will not have enough money to live on themselves. 2- cheat in their accounting. 3- stop operating and close. This seems to not be in favor of the economy to me. Small businesses make up a huge portion of the economy. Your financial logic seems flawed and makes absolutely no logical sense. I agree that we all need health care, but if it's not financially feasible...

Rebecca: People fought against giving women the right to vote, Social Security, Medicare, the GI bill and even the Civil Rights Act before they were passed as well - saying it would cost too much money, put the US into ruin, jobs would be lost etc... etc... It's the same argument every single time. Now almost no one argues that these programs are an essential part of the American life and many economists argue these measures have made our economy stronger (I think you have only been reading one side of the story - not both!) I see lots of people who agree with your assessment of what will happen - and lots and lots of others that say this will end up saving us money. It is a fact, unargued, that if we do nothing, by 2025 1 in 4 tax dollars will be going into health care anyway - and only predicted to rise. During the bush admin 7 million people had their health cared dropped on them and premiums more than doubled. This can't go on as it is, right? In the end, if the people who pass this bill are wrong (like we admittedly were about Medicare which cost something like 700 times more than it was estimated to cost) it doesn't really matter - we survived that - we'll survive this - and it's the right thing to do. You said earlier you wanted something to pass - than why not try to reform the bill that is proposed? Why not try to do something? Get the reforms in there that make sense - help work it out so we are both saving money and helping people. I know small businesses are the backbone of the country - so why not amend the bill to help small business instead of just trying to kill it? The way the two sides are at each other makes me so frustrated. To you, I know I make no sense - but to me, you don't make any sense either! I guess that's why this issue is so difficult. I was talking to Andre' about all this last night and he said a great one liner that I'll close with. "I'd rather be fiscally bankrupt than morally bankrupt." Me too, but I really don't believe that will happen anyway - we will all do better when we are all healthy!

Rebecca:  PS Is it OK with you if I blog about this conversation? It's fascinating, right??

M: Okay, it infuriates me that you don't see what I'm saying. I understand you want the government to take care of everyone, but again... where do you draw the line? If you do everything based on morals as I think you might be saying, so we are all morally non bankrupt or whatever, then lets just go and have a Utopian governance style and become communist in the purist sense. Hey, it's moral, so lets all do it! Let's all make sure we have health care, and sanitary bathrooms, and organic foods, and be equals monetarily, and healthily, and make sure no one hurts anyone and we all hold hands and everyone is happy because we all have to love each other and are all forced to participate in it and no one has any option to choose not to. Sounds absolutely ridiculous right? Morally this is the right thing to do; -but when we talk about morals, we also recognize that people inherently have the right to choose to be moral or non-moral. At the point they can no longer choose, they are no longer allowed to be human. This is entirely inhumane because it means that people are not perfectly equal, but is human in the purest sense. Utopian ideals and Marxist ideals don't work because people are inherently greedy and will cheat the system because of their imperfect human natures. Okay, so you say reform the bill instead of scrap it? Its foundation is written fundamentally against the way I think health care or the government should be run. It fundamentally is coming from a Marxist viewpoint, where the gov should take care of the people and eliminate competition. That is not what this country's ideals are or have been since inception. I think the healthcare system should be set up so that if people want to take care of their neighbor as you say, then they should want to contribute and do so. And if they don't want to have health care they shouldn't have to pay for it if they are in a healthy situation. We already have a plan in place to cover peoples' emergency medical situations. It's called EMTALA. It's not new. Look it up. But hey, what I'm saying is that we need serious reform to decrease costs. If at that point the people in the country want to give a free ride to people that aren't covered, fine. And yes, I'm cruel and horrible now, because I'm saying that we will let the uninsured die, is what you're saying, but, hey, EMTALA is already there. Yep, we have some fundamentally different viewpoints, that will not be changed. I respect yours and appreciate it (even though I think it's nuts and crazy mixed up wrong) because having different view points are what has made the country function as well as it has. Happy Turkey Day!

Rebecca: M. I too am frustrated -  I think you are not listening to what I am saying. I said where I drew the line about 4 notes ago, remember?  UN article 25??? It had nothing to do with mandating being nice or holding hands or any of that Marxist
Utopian (but admittedly morally wonderful) idealism. I'm not sure why you are bringing it up again?
My point is, dozens, perhaps hundreds of nations live under these standards already. Are you implying that the countries of the EU lack free will or competition?  In this country we have lots of laws that limit freedom if it will endanger the freedom of others.
You can't drive a car without insurance, because if you hit me, it's not fair that I have to pay. If you send your kid to school, sick with the flu because you can't go to the doctor, that makes lots of other kids get sick and then lots of parents get sick.... they can't work.... economy suffers.  Does this not make logical sense to you? Why is this illogical??? In fact, the economy loses $1.4
trillion dollars per year due to illness - see http://tinyurl.com/ygo2ug3 As for emergency care, yes, I know there is emergency care for free - but that is a waste of our money.  It is way cheaper to treat an early stage of disease than to wait until you need to enter the ER. And why should I have to pay for your heart attack because you decided you weren't going to need health care? That's what we have now and what seems unfair to me! And most people lose their homes and all their possessions before they qualify for the free stuff - is that good for the economy?  Then there is the competition issue... Are you implying the public option means we won't have private sector insurance? You seem not to answer some of my questions -but I really am curious about this one. Why is the public option not seen by you as competition??? To me,this is where you seem illogical. I mean, isn't the very definition of competition having more options to choose from?   If we have another option, that means more competition, not less. We have private and public schools We have private and public security, we have private and public mail service and we already have private and public healthcare (VA and Medicare/aid) so what's the big deal? You think, if you are healthy you shouldn't have to pay. Well, on that logic you shouldn't have to pay for schools, since you have no children, or police, since you haven't broken any laws, or firefighters, since your house hasn't caught on fire yet etc... etc... I darn well wish I could opt for none of my tax dollars to go toward the wars I've marched and protested against - but that's not the way it is. There are certain things we  decide to pay for, like education, because it is better for everyone to have educated people. This adds vitality and strength to our economy. Health care for all is another issue like that - and the fact is the majority of Americans want health care reform and they want it WITH a public option.  PS. M - this is super fun!!!!

M: The polls show the populous is in favor of a public option, but not of this particular bill. They are frustrated by all of the extras that are in the bill, of the confusion, of multiple hidden agendas (good or bad) in the bill like the hundred million earmarked for Louisiana, like decreases in care for elderly. Fears of mammograms being cut back to start at 50 instead of 40. They are huge fears the people have... they don't want a decrease in coverage. We are coming from 2 fundamentally different points of view, and the issue has divided the whole country. I don't really care to continue arguing this on FB. If you want to do it on the phone, or whatever, fine. If you want to blog about it, that's your agenda. At this point this is just back and forth, and not going anywhere. No longer enjoyable to me, regardless of who has better arguments or who is right. It's just making me mad, and truthfully I detest argument. But it's better to argue important issues in life than to leave them be. I have better things to do at the moment. Have fun! –M

End of debate!  I just have to say I have never debated like that on facebook – or even in writing before.  It was a new experience for me and I found it fun to be able to look up things to support my point of view before writing them down.

I find it amazing to explore the gaping chasm between the two sides.  How is it possible to bridge this gap???

What do others think on this issue?? (M’s crazy and I’m right, right??? – just kidding)

Here’s hoping that, whatever happens, and even if we never agree, or even understand each other, we can at least be civil enough to listen, keep talking and keep on trying….

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

November Life Update

We actually had zero – that’s right zero – major adventures this month!!!!! It was just about as normal a month has been since we got here.  That being said – of course tons of stuff still happened and we ARE still in France – and we ARE still us – never a dull moment.

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Ads in France are different – as are laws.  They have a version of the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes here and in other European countries – like Ireland.  Usually, they stick with the direct, to the point FUMER TUE (Smoking Kills) here in France, but I loved this one I saw in Ireland.  Watch out guys! 

Another thing that is different here are the napkins.  Yes, you heard me right, I said the napkins.  Zander brought these home for me.  I know I’ve mentioned before that French children spenResized_HPIM3880d over an hour eating, sharing a 4 to 5 course meal together.  The noise, accoResized_HPIM3881rding to my children, is so intense the staff, every meal, several times a meal, smash against their plates with their utensils in a vain attempt to gain order.  The noise is so terrific Callie complains of headaches. The diners use real plates, forks, knives and spoons, but, apparently, paper napkins.  If you can’t read the messages – I will translate.  The first, with a kitty, says something like “During mealtime, I make less noise.” and the other one, with an octopus, says “Hey!  Did you think to wash your hands?  Clean hands don’t have germs.”  I wonder if there is another one asking if they brushed their teeth?  Yes, french kids also also do this each day, after lunch…  There is an entire row of sinks along one hallway provided for this handwashing and toothbrushing activity.  BUT, and I just thought of this one, there are no water fountains.  If the kids want a drink of water (I’m not making this up) they stick their head into the sink.  Yep…..

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Then there is the ever-so-elaborate flower arrangement in every small quartier (neighborhood).  The one at the corner of Zander and Callie’s school this year is truly magnificent and required hundreds of plants, tons of mulch, concrete bases and at least 5 days of work from a team of gardeners.  Pictures just don’t do it justice.

As a whole, our family has been doing a ton of bike riding recently. Callie has recently upgraded from her bike with no gears to a 5 speed bike.  After a few days of whining and screaming, she is now managing the gears with alacrity and handily beats me up hills.

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The problem is that all our bikes really don’t fit into the back of Mr. Liberty – as you can plainly see, above.  We just use our bungee – go slow and hope for the best.  So far we’ve been OK but I’ve started to haunt the used stores for a bike rack.  You can see us above on a recent ride around a great path near the Doubs.  Griffin is a maniac on the bike, pedaling so fast his little legs are merely a blur.  Problem is, even at that great rate, he can’t keep up with wheels 2 to 3 times his size so we end up with one parent accompanying Zander and Callie, and the other with Griffin.  He is getting better, but the path close to the river made me a bit nervous after he randomly swerved and fell at one point, almost into the water!  Another day we took the bikes to Chailluz and rode, all of us, about 5 miles – and that includes Griffin.  He had to have some help from Daddie to make it up the hills but it was still very fun.

As longResized_DSC00943 as Griffin is on my mind, I’ll do the update on him.  He is enjoying school more and more – and really starResized_DSC00938ting to learn.  He is always ‘pretending’ to read things and is particularly interested in his name.  He also likes to count and, of course, has not given up on his art!  At school, his teacher reported twice that he is hitting other kids, we put this behavior on his point chart and it seems to already be stopping (I hope!).  His new thing to annoy Callie and Zander is  name calling.  I find it funny (but try not Resized_HPIM3902to show it) that he uses both FrenchResized_HPIM3899 and English to insult.  I mean, in High School it was all about learning to swear in Spanish – MERDE!  Griffin tends to call people “Poo Poo Head” or “CacaTete”   I’m so proud – my baby is bilingual!  He LOVES to ride his bike (as mentioned above) and play board games. He is a much better sport than either of my other children (or even me) and doesn’t mind losing.   He has recently discovered he can lie – but is not very good at it yet.

Mama: “Griffin, what happened to your doudou? (The foot is ripped off)

Griffin: “Well, it just fell of magically.  Huh!  Isn’t that strange?” 

Mama: “I can see you were pulling on it.”

Griffin: “Well… only very gently!  Huh!  Isn’t that strange? It must have been my magic!” 

We spend lots of fun time together during our lunch breaks and have done a few picnics lately when the weather cooperates.  Hope  you can see how high he is climbing, look in the middle of the top third of the photo for his blond head, at left!  The tie pictures show his idea of being well dressed for the company we had on French Thanksgiving.  Well, ties are fancy- so I guess the more ties you have, the fancier you must be!Resized_DSC00964

On top of our bResized_DSC00956ike riding, we are still doing some hiking, on occasion, which is a great relief for me. I freely admit I am not comfortable on a bike.  I am trying to  get better, but my progress is slow and I’m just not comfortable enough to look around and enjoy myself like I can on a hike. I didn’t learn to ride until I was in 5th grade and never really got into it.  I still remember my mother running me up and down Dale Road to try to help me learn.  Now, as I am riding, the scenery is not even noticeable.  I’m much too focused on protecting little kids I’m responsible for and not crashing myself!  Here’s some shots from a Friday hike I recently took with the kids after school….  The sunset was amazing.Resized_HPIM3904

Resized_HPIM3903 We went on another hike just a few days ago to the Source of the Arcier.  We didn’t leave until late afternoon. It was chilly and, by the time we got out of the car and started walking, it was raining.  We never let little snags like that stop our brave crew, and ended up hiking  past beautiful waterfalls and then up a very, very steep hill.  It was wet, muddy and Resized_HPIM3911covered in a thick layer of leaves.  At one point Callie looked at me and said, “Mom?  How are we going to get back down this hill?”  We were hoping the trail would be a loop but, as it was getting really dark, we eventually turned back and in the increasing downpour, headed down the muddy path. Frankly, I was scared.  I really thought we would have, at best, a majorly muddy and slippery time and at worst, a person injured.  But, using tried and true hiking techniques we call ‘baby steps’ and ‘mini switch backs’ we made it without even one major fall down!  Go us!  Check out the house we saw – below – they have their own private waterfall underneath the house….ahhhh….

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Last weekend we had a belated Thanksgiving on Saturday.  No photos but the whole thing went off rather well.  I brined and then rotisseried a turkey.  It was a 9 pound turkey and cost me 35 Euros.  That would be around 50 US Dollars – or about 9 dollars a pound.  To put this into perspective, a whole chicken in France usually runs around 7 Euros and, in general, I do the grocery shopping for our family of 5, for a week, for around 60 to 80 Euros.  On a week we eat no meat, and I skip all non-food items (cleansers, napkins etc….) I can do it for 40.   So, this was a chunk of change.  But it came out awesome.  We also had cranberry sauce, Grandpa mashed potatoes, broccoli salad, homemade apple sauce and, for dessert, pumpkin pie and brownies.  We had Zander’s teacher from last year, Joelle, and her husband Alexandre, over as well and they loved everything.  Zander read a French book out loud to her and she says he has improved immensely since she taught him last year.  I am happy she sees progress but I am frustrated that it is so slow and difficult for him. 

While I’ve got ZandHPIM3897er on the mind, I will give you an update on him.  He is pretty much the same as last month, I think! He is doing very well at home, hardly ever being destructive or hurting which is a huge relief.  He also seems happy most of the time  at home, doing his art projects (loves sculpting), working on his homework, typing on the computer and looking at books.  We have recently completed reading Holes to him and are now doing a Roald Dahl that is new to me called Esio Trot.  He is going to counseling once a week, after school help twice a week, the autophonist once a week and, of course, theatre.  He loves to ride his bike.   Since first suspecting dyslexia, I’ve done lots of research and read a couple of books on the topic and am more convinced than ever that this is at leResized_DSC00948ast part of his reading difficulty.   We have not mentioned  any specifics yet to Zander, since we realize we are hardly qualified to make such a judgment.  We did tell him that 20% of kids have trouble learning to read, so he is not alone – and we also told him that English is particularly hard to learn since there are 26 letters but 44 sounds.  He is trying much harder lately – and keeps making very slow progress at home.  I hesitate to compare, but it is true that Callie, 18 months younger, reads fluently and easily at a higher level than Zander in both English and French.  When the autophonist tested him she claimed she saw some signs of dyslexia, but said first that he was too young to be tested and secondly that there were too many other issues (emotional and bilingual) getting in the way of a conclusive result. Last week we met with his counselor who is concerned he isn’t aware of his own emotions. (Getting Zander to verbalize his emotions has been challenging from birth for him – so that was no news to our ears.  The fact it took her this long to figure it out, herself, is pretty worrisome!).  She is also concerned that we might be ‘overparenting’ him – well – that part probably has some merit!  We have been trying to get him to name his feelings on a more daily basis but it is very difficult for him.   In an attempt to not overparent, I have stop asking him for the past month or so about his social life although it makes me sad that he does not have even one friend to call his own.   We also had a meeting with his regular and RASED (special help) teacher last week.  They are pleased with  his progress in speaking the language but feel his reading is not very good.  His teacher has concerns about his handwriting, spelling, and his painful slowness when he is reading.  He is absolutely unable to follow along.  I have spoken to him about it and he claims he tries but after about 2 words he can’t keep up.  His teacher says he isn’t even trying.  He can read many words in isolation, but can’t recognize them when in a sentence.  His spelling is a wreck. His small group teacher says he doesn’t follow along in a small group either.  Of course, to me, all of this just screams dyslexia, but when I brought it up, they got very frustrated.  In France, you are not permitted to know more than any expert about anything.  They are frustrated I am learning more about the problem and angry I am doing research. I have had people say to me – you have handed him to the experts, now your job is over.  But what am I to do when everything I am reading says that if we don’t intervene, and right now he will never, and I do mean never, be a proficient reader?  I am feeling so very helpless about this it makes me physically ill.  The books say these kids need a champion who will help them get what they need.  But it seems that what he needs just doesn’t exist in this country and there is no chance we can return until next fall at the earliest. So, I am trying to do what I can.  This involves, waiting until January, when his teachers, us and the autophonist will all meet. That will be my next chance to try to get him some help at school.  At home I am going to order some more easy reader books and focus on fluency, which (according to what I’ve read) requires no special training and is easy to do at home, and, is supposed to help.  Also, over Christmas break, we will spend fun times sculpting letters with both him and Callie.  This might help him as well and certainly can’t hurt.  I am also going to start researching what kinds of support systems they have in place at Jenks and see if we can set up, ahead of time, a good program for him for at least next year.  I’m also wondering if there is a summer camp that we might want to send him to. (Although we are supposed to be here so I’m not sure how that will be possible) Obviously he is going to need a great tutor and I’ve also started researching that. My latest idea is to find an awesomely brilliant, recently graduated, or simply adventurous, reading specialist who might be willing to live with us for the summer in exchange for a flight, room and food plus a little cash.  Ideally, perhaps someone in the Philly area who could then continue with him once he starts school again.  There is a special school for dyslexic kids about half an hour from our home in Philadelphia – but the tuition is upwards of $25,000 a year.   To say I am overwhelmed with all this is a major understatement.  Help!!!!

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In goodResized_DSC00944 news, cool playgrounds have recently started popping up all over Besancon.  The dome shown above is a Resized_DSC00945short family bike ride away in a group of apartments located just past the local cemetery.  Mr. Liberty is still taking us everywhere we need to go in perfect order – his alarm is a bit more sensitive than we would like but it makes life interesting to know that, at any moment, I may need to run out and shut down the screaming noise.  I’ve been really happy at how well the kids are playing together this fall.  They draw together, they love to do fantasy play and they even sometimes hug and snuggle each other.  Since Zander is not hitting (usually) everyone is having more fun.  They love to be silly  together – as you can see by the two photos!

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Callie is doing very well.  She loves her rhythmic gymnastics and her school class is going to a real gymnastics place once a week which she loves to death.  She really likes to draw, especially together with me and seems to enjoy copying others’ work – like the castle shown at left.   She is doing very well in school and can now read simple books in both English and French with no problem.  She has lots of friends and especially loves our neighbor Alicia.  Alicia can be a bit pushy and often says if Callie won’t cooperate, she won’t be her friend any longer.  I am proud to report that, most oResized_HPIM3866f the time, Callie follows her own agenda.  She even seems to be working on the more difficult aspects of relationship building. The other day they had a fight and Callie reported: “Alicia apologized to me and now we are friends again.  That’s what happens with friends, right? Sometimes they fight but that doesn’t mean they don’t love each other!”  Well, that’s what we tell them when André and I fight, so I guess it is true for friends as well.  She has never gotten her haircut but recently told me she was wondering if Daddie would be willing to give it a try.  I was surprised, since she has often said she wants to have hair down  to her butt, and asked why. “Well, Mom.  I really need a new look.”  LOL!  We’ll see if that happens any time soon.  You can see her old locks at left as she snuggles Simone the cat.  She is the most in love with the cat of any of the kids and plays with her every day.  She loves to pick her up and carry her.  I find it interesting that Simone seems to like this, even purring, but would never tolerate the same kind of carrying from either me or André.  It seems she knows Callie is only a girl, and doing the best she can to be gentle.

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André  is doing pretty well.  He was injured during his last race and hasn’t been running very much which is very, very frustrating for him. He tries to do alternate workouts like riding the bike, but they don’t give him the same cardiovascular stress that running does.  At work, things are hectic since a big deadline is coming up which his team is not ready to meet.  There has been lots of stress over this – he calls it ‘storming’ and he is hoping that, after this failure, they will ‘hit bottom’ and be willing to make some changes.  He is also spending a ton of time with his online computer community on the Agile Skills Project – which is the brain child of the conference he attended in the US last month.  He is lucky to be able to do this often during lunch time or breaks at work so it doesn’t take much time away from our family stuff.  We are happy and so very lucky to be able to see him so often.  He eats breakfast and dinner with us every day and lunch 5 days a week.  We walk to school together every morning. He and I have been going on dates a few times recently and had a great time at a Folk Ball.  This is really fun group and couple dancing.  We participated in the Farandole and watched lots of other dances that reminded me a bit of Irish jigs.  We did another dance or two I don’t know the names of – they involved passing people around and around in circles – it was crazy.  I was wishing my parents could be there to watch. There was MazResized_DSC00951urka and lots of other types of dancing.  This is the link for the particular dance we went to http://www.alambic.info/nuitdufolk and I also found this link http://mtcn.free.fr/mtcn-traditional-music-dance.php which seems to describe some of it but who knows???  I really loved it because the people were very open and friendly and the crowd was huge and mixed.  There were little children, teenagers, grown ups and the elderly all having a good time.  Also there were obviously many levels of skill from raw beginners to experts.  We left around 11pm to get back to the babysitter.  Of course, in typical French fashion, it wasn’t to be over until 3 or 4 in the morning.  Which means we missed out on the free onion soup for those who stayed…. oh well!  We are planning on attending another one in January.  Maybe we will save up to stay until the bitter end – but I was pretty exhausted after 2 hours.  The photo at right is how the sun looks, rising over our apartment buildings.

Lately, I have beenResized_DSC00953 taking random shots of things I see all the time, but don’t want to take for granted.  The first is Resized_DSC00972the view from our bakery.  You can see the pharmacist, a small boutique and the butcher shop; behind these establishments is the grocery store and post office.  Drugs here are way, way, way cheaper than in the US.  I recently took Zander and Griffin, who had the flu, into there with no less than six prescriptions.  I paid full price for the medicine (since we don’t yet have our health care cards in order) and it came to around 20 Euros.  A giant bottle of liquid Children's Advil costs about 3 Euros here – and comes with a dosage measurer. I plan on stocking up before I go back to the states. It is great to have all the things we need within such a short walking distance.   At right, we have a French crane.  These are all over the country but this one has been in the construction site right next to the community house (Maison Bleu) since we moved in.  They are building a large new apartment complex.  Recently they have been drilling the garage out and, during yoga, all we can hear is the constant thrumming of jack-hammers.  It’s all very meditative, if you let it be.

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I do believe I have not yet mentioned the laissez-faire attitude the French have towards car safety.  The picture, left – taken by me as I picked up Griffin from school the other day, is a typical example.  A man is driving with his wife next to him.  She is holding a 2 week old infant in her arms.  Then, in the back, flatbed part of the truck, along with a bunch of loose tools, bounce a 2 and 3 year old.  This happens every day – and never freaks anyone out but me. IF they happen to have a carseat for their baby – it invariably rides in the passenger seat, right next to them – and is often not even strapped into a safety belt.  I remember when they made seatbelt wearing a law in NJ as a kid and my mom was like, a Nazi about it, getting us totally into the habit.  There were 4 of us kids.  My 3 sisters sat in the back and my dad, mom and I shared the front.  Keep in mind my dad weighed about 400 pounds so the room left over for my mother and myself was minimal.  I particularly remember the hot days, when I was wedged against his giant sweatiness.  AHHHH!!!!    But anyway, driving was a bit of a challenge for my dad since, with his belly in the way, his feet could barely reach the pedals and his arms could barely reach the steering wheel – I remember thinking it must hurt the way it cut into his stomach.  Despite all this, he was an excellent, cautious driver and I do not remember a single accident he ever got into in my life. But, on occasion, his hand or foot would slip and the car would lurch.  SLAM!  My mother’s arm would come down across my body.  I’m sure, if a real accident had occurred it wouldn’t have done any good – and I’m also sure she did not plan to do it.  Nevertheless, it never failed to make me feel loved.  I guess that’s what French parents must still do – since most don’t seem to invest in the modern safety trappings. Thanks for trying to save me Mom.  I love you!

I do realize that I have left myself, as usual, last and least.  I have so much bouncing around in my head that I will have to wait, for another day……. if life doesn’t get in the way.

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