Friday, January 30, 2009

Upcoming adventure

The ruling parties (Mom and Dad) are all still sick here in the house of Dhondt.

This cold/flu or whatever it is sucks. It makes us tired, achey and listless and cranky. I just don't want to do anything. The only bright spot is that the kids seem to be immune to the germ. I am grateful that I don't have to take care of them. Despite a family heavy with nurses on both sides, I am NOT into caring for sick people. I've heard other moms say they actually like it. It makes them feel needed and loved. Great! Well, it makes me feel annoyed. Get up and get your own glass of water, for goodness sake! (Oh yeah, you are a sick child.... must... be... nurturing.....)

Zander sometimes gets nosebleeds in the middle of the night and wakes us up for help. You know he doesn't do it on purpose (I mean, who wants to have a gushing nosebleed at 2 am?) but whenever I have to get up in the middle of the night for one (or a nightmare, or potty emergency or whatever) I feel terribly annoyed. Often André is the one who deals with the nighttime drama, he seems to be more patient and also has the enviable talent of being able to fall back asleep within 2 minutes of his return to our bed. On the other hand, I usually spend the next hour tossing and turning, if I am able to get back to sleep at all. My body seems to think, once we are up, we are up, no matter what the clock reads. Sometimes this will go on until about 6am, when I finally get to sleep - only to be pounced on for 'snuggle time' at 6:30!

One good thing about being sick is that you don't have to feel guilty for not being productive. This has made it so we have finally finished Season 2 of Lost and are starting Season 3. Man, could that show be any more crazy? Anyway, this is obviously going to be one of those rambling posts....

Another thing that happened this week is that the teachers are having a greve (strike). At Callie and Griffin's school, they let us know about a week beforehand that school would be closed on the next Thursday for the strike and also handed out numbers of childcare facilities where you could leave your munchkins if needed (considerate, right?). Why strike? It seems that they have many complaints to be addressed. Inadequate raises, cutting back on teaching assistants and the elimination of educational progams to help students learn to become RASED instructors. RASED is the equivalent of special education here in France. It seems they have been cutting funding for these teachers and basically trying to eliminate them completely from all French schools. I guess they figure if they simply remove it as a major from the universities, the supply of teachers will naturally dry up. Zander is lucky to have a RASED teacher at his school, he goes to see her a few times per week. I'm not quite sure what the reasoning is behind this move - all kids are not the same - and some genuinely have learning problems - what are such kids to do?

So, it is interesting how the strike works. As I said, Callie and Griffin's school was closed - but Zander's wasn't. He still went to school and his teacher was there. So were many of the other teachers at his school. Some, however, did participate in the strike. For example, Claire's teacher was part of the strike and I took care of her on Thursday. It makes me wonder about the way unions work here. Is there more than one teachers union? In the same school? Do some teachers belong and others don't? So many questions, such pathetic language skills....

I have no idea what came out of the strike. Zander was really upset that he didn't get a day off and wanted to stay home today, making for an interesting morning challenge. We overcame all objections, however, and they are all back in school today. Does this mean the teachers got what they wanted? Will they greve again???

Since the advent of Griffin going to school all day (Quick poop update: He is still not potty trained), I have been working very hard on my language skills - spending at least 1/2 hour to 1 hour per day on the Rosetta Stone and also trying to speak to people more - but all I get is blank stares (unless it is Callie I am trying to talk to - she usually helps me out). Some poor kid asked me what time it was the other day while we were waiting for pick up at school - I asked him to repeat the question 3 times since (despite my lessons and supposedly total immersion) I had NO IDEA what he was asking me. Luckily some French person came over and answered him. Kids are doing well though, Callie is half fluent, Griffin seems to understand almost everything and Zander is really starting to learn to read in French. (He doesn't understand what he is reading but he is reading it!) I am wondering when he will start to comprehend more. His teacher and tutor say he is picking it up, but I think he is faking at least some of it. One reason for this is how he never speaks in French when he is around his friends. Another is how he still gets easily frustrated by the language. I no longer have to translate the books we get out of the library into English for Callie and Griffin but I do for Zander. Well, he is older, those neural connections are more hardened, I guess. Goodness knows mine seem to be concrete.

Um.... wasn't the name of this post 'upcoming adventure'?

OK, OK - here it comes. The next petit vacance (2 weeks off for the kids) will be the last week of February, the first week in March. I spent the last 2 or 3 days researching and it looks like the cheapest place to head this time of year is the North Sea. (wonder why...) I basically want to see everything in the world but, I know this won't be possible (or affordable) for only a 2 year sojourn. So, I have a hit list. We've already done Switzerland and Italy (Milan) over Christmas so I am moving on down my list to......... Belgium. (I want to hit all my anscestoral lands and Dhondt is a Belgiumish (Belgish? (Dutch???)) name - one of my great, great grandparents, a former gendarme (that is police officer), immegrated to the U.S. from there. It is about a 6 hour drive from here. We wanted to take a train but it turns out to be much cheaper (like half the price) to rent a car - and gives us more freedom. So, while you deal with school and the end of winter blues, you will find us (in between daytrips) in a seaside apartment in Oostend, Belgium. It is an hour's drive from Rotterdam and from Bruge (the Venice of the North), it's 2 hours from Brussels and 2.5 hours from Amsterdam and Antwerp ..... plus all the local things in Oostend. (Don't know what they might be, but there is sure to be something).

I also spent some time searching around for the NEXT petit vacance - when we will have the pleasure of seeing André's mom and step father. They will arrive in Italy and take their time driving over to see us. Then they will visit here in Besancon for a few days and we will all head to Paris for 4 days at the very end of April. We will FINALLY take the train (I promise kids!) the high speed TGV that goes from Besancon to Paris in about 2 hours. And there is such great public transportation there, a car would be more annoying than helpful. That's right, I know all of you are absolutely green with envy.... it will be the legendary April in Paris....... Of course, I was curious about where this came from -Wikipedia informs me that it is a 1932 song, followed by a 1952 musical film and a 1956 album. Amazing how little things like this float up through the ages - I mean - I was born 20 years after the album came out.... and I have no memory of ever seeing the movie or hearing the song - yet, whenever I think of our upcoming trip, some fragment of it echoes in the back of my mind 'april in parrrrris..... april in paaaaaaaaaris........." OK - now I am really embarrassed - just listened to the most famous (Count Basie) recording of it - and there are no words - just a catchy jazz tune that reminds me of "pop goes the weasel" (another timeless ditty). How does my mind work???

My next job will be to research what to do when on these vacations. I am really interested in EuroDisney with the kids for a day - cheesy but I know they would love it. Hmm... wonder what that would cost?

Until next time....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

when mommy and daddy have a cold at the same time

Yesterday my cold was draining my energy more and more, so I slept in 'til 5:45am today, but decided I should go for a run anyway. I only hit the road for 20 minutes, something of a tempo run, and came home exhausted. I called out sick from work and didn't walk the kids in to school. Slept until around 10am, then tried to read my e-mail. Gave up and watched an episode of Lost with Rebecca, then she headed out again to get the kids for lunch. They came home with these great crowns:

Yesterday they made gallettes at school. Today they had a party to eat them. These gallettes are pies baked at this time of year throughout France (I think they're related to advent). Each gallete has a feve hidden inside (ceramic icon from the creche)... and the child who finds the feve at this party got to pick a friend to accompany them in the festivities... so Evan (now King Evan) dubbed Callie Queen! She was so excited and proud that he had picked her over all the other girls in the class. Camille also wanted to pick Callie, but they said a queen can't name another queen. We haven't met any kids with two mommies or two daddies around here, so I guess this is no Mt Airy, Philadelphia!

Now I'm ready for a nap, and so is Rebecca, but we've got one little munchkin who has plenty of energy! So I played cars with him a while, now Rebecca is taking her turn. Nap time!

Monday, January 26, 2009

10 weeks and counting

...until my next race--it's a 10k on the Doubs in Besançon. Since the middle of last week Rebecca's been feeling sick, and especially so yesterday. The kids and I gave her breakfast in bed and let her rest all day. I may take them into school this morning without her as well, to give her a bit more time to recuperate.

Today's workout was 25-min on the road, with 4x10-sec hill repeats near the end. I've got a touch of Rebecca's cold, I think... running clears my congestion a bit.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

bas de Chailleuz

Short run today... left around 3:30pm, and despite the full sun, I hit ice spots along the bas de Chailleuz - Point du Jour loop. Other than that, felt good, apparently no pain from yesterday's long run. 20 minutes on the road, wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and gloves.

Callie's is 6!

As usual Callie's birthday stretched over a space of about 4 days. Wednesday, her birthdate, to Saturday, her party. I don't know why this is, but it seems as if her birthday is always a prolonged celebration!

Wednesday, was the 21st - and the kids had off school. She dictated the menus for the day - Scrambled eggs with ham and cheese for breakfast, egg salad for lunch (good thing I had about 30 eggs) and tacos (a challenge in France) for dinner. We spent a long time doing a scientific experiment together. It consisted of counting how many rocks it would take inside a plastic container to sink it to the bottom of the tub, we then tied a balloon to the box to see if it would help it float again. We got a suprise package for all of us from Miss Tish, Zander's former kindergarten teacher. What a cool suprise! We love getting packages - and the timing was good. It had lots of neat learning stuff inside including a giant science experiment book. We went into action, trying to make plastic using curdled milk and vinegar - but ended up with stinky sludge. We also watched a movie, did a little coloring and opened the birthday package sent from Grammie and Grandpa. Callie loved her heart shaped necklaces of various sparkly colors. She also loved her leopard hat which she wore to school the next day. The most exciting for Zander was the poodle. We were supposed to submerse (in 'french' water only please) for it to grow 600% over a period of 10 days. 600% huh? That would make it the size of an actual dog.... well, this Sunday (4 days in), the dog had probably doubled, or perhaps tripled in size. Well, we still have 6 days to wait, right? Wrong. Daddy got impatient and poured hot water on it (he never saw the 'room temp water only' instructions), resulting in doggie decapitation and a tearful Callesandra. Perhaps the makers know that no small child (or her father) would have the patience to wait 10 days so they can make outrageous 600% size claims with no fear of lawsuits. It was also supposed to shrink right back down to normal size after you were done expanding it. Alas, now we shall never know the truth. Daddy says, sorry!

Thursday I remembered that her other Grandma and her Aunt Jenae had sent her gifts with the Christmas package so I dug them out and we spent some time magically dressing and redressing a felt doll (from Grandma) using the magic wand (from Aunt Jenae) to 'bing' new outfits upon her. We were also excited to get a new purple outfit!

Friday was her party at school. It seems that 6 kids have birthdays in January. 3 had their party last Friday, and 3 (Paul, Evan and Callie) this Friday. That meant 3 birthday cakes (or in Callie's case, chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting (actually it was buttercream but to her, anything white colored is vanilla so I can get away with it). As you may be able to see, I got some creative energy out by making the cupcakes into a picture - green sugar grass, blue sugar sky, sun, trees flowers, rainbows etc.... it was art - and it got chopped up! Why, I made enough for each kid to have one (with extras) Well it turns out they don't even think of giving them a whole cupcake - I guess it makes sense when there are 3 cakes to distribute in one afternoon. I feel the need to do a bit of an aside about French birthday cakes and traditions in schools. First off, the cake is always (and I do mean always) chocolate. Callie, Zander and Griffin all have never had a non-chocolate cake for a birthday in almost 5 months. Second, they don't do frosting or decorating of any sort- the most I've seen is a light misting of sprinkles. Third, they actually allow real live candles to be lit for the birthday song. (Denied to us in philly -fire hazard, dontcha know?) Finally, they make each child in the class do a drawing and the teacher compiles them into a birthday card. Very cute.

Saturday was the actual birthday party. We have a tradition in our family - you can either have a party OR a special day to spend doing your choice of activities accompanied by only one friend and either Mom or Dad. In the past 3 years, Zander had always chosen a party and Callie always a special day. This year, as she has made so many new friends and didn't want to exclude any, she chose a party. There were to be 11 children 7 and younger and we had called our babysitter Natalie in as an extra set of hands. Well, she got sick causing me a minor panic attack! Luckily we were able to get a last minute replacement. The party was supposed to run from 3pm to 5:30pm. I had prepared games, crafts etc... to occupy the time. I wasn't worried. I have run tons of birthday parties and other events in Philly. Granted, all those were outdoor parties - usually run on the circle or in other venues but a party is a party, right? Well, do you know that 'rule' that they have about kids' birthday parties?? The one where you should never invite more kids than your child's age (that would mean no more than 6 right?) Well, there is a reason the wise people out there made that rule.

First off, these kids were prompt. And by prompt, I mean, early! The first guest arrived at 2:40 and they were all in by about 3:05. Am I even dressed and ready 20 minutes ahead of time? No way! At home, people were always late. The babysitter was actually one of the last arrivals. So, there we were, with 11 kids, trapped in the house and man, were they ready to party! They were bouncing off the walls. I know I have mentioned that French kids play rougher than their American counterparts and several of the kids were literally wrestling, beating and kicking each other. This is all in good fun - but I can't stand it! I live in constant fear of injury. They also don't really listen when adults talk, at least not to me or André; (I don't know how the teachers manage - do they act differently in a classroom environment?) It was a bit of a dissappointment to me, b/c I know all of these kids, like all of them, and have always prided myself over my good way of relating with kids and handling them. My theory is that if you give them fun things to do, they will be fine (worked for the pumpkin party) but these guys wouldn't settle long enough to do the fun stuff. I think much of the problem may have been the language barrier - maybe they didn't understand the games we wanted to play??? We did accomplish a craft, then played animal charades and then toss the smile and keep the balloon up and a balloon relay race but it was literally like 2 minutes of attention and then kids just stopped playing and resumed running around and wrestling. I felt really bad for one little girl, she was just totally overwhelmed and didn't participate in any of the games - the babysitter played with her while the other kids did their thing. The only game that was a total success was one that I remembered playing at parties when I was a kid (thanks mom). You split the kids into 2 teams and then show both teams a tray that contains lots of random items. You let them look at it for 1 minute telling them to remember as many items as they can. Then each team writes down as much as they can remember. Whichever team remembers more, wins. The kids really got into it and I was especially impressed by how much Zander remembered. Then, we gave up with orderliness and herded everyone outside to run around for about 1/2 an hour. (except the one poor little girl, she stayed inside for a break)

Then it was cake and opening presents - At Callie's request I had made vanilla cake with chocolate whipped-cream frosting. Most of the kids didn't eat it (hey, the cake wasn't chocolate and what is this frosting stuff?) but we all did. I never like opening presents at the party but it is definitely part of the culture here so we did it. Callie got some Littlest Pet Shops and their paraphenelia, some play-doh, a few books, a DVD, a castle and a High School Musical 2 doll with microphone. She liked everything and was very polite - kissing each kid on the cheek. Here, they all kiss each other (boys to girls, girls to girls, boys to boys) but no one hugs - they don't even really know how to react to hugs... funny. I think of that classic parental dilemma in the US, going to see a distant relative? To hug or not to hug? You know, when you are taking your kid to see great aunt soandso who they don't know at all. This person is strange, old, smells funny and is going to want to hug and kiss your child. Well your kid, (nobody's fool) will probably not want to get within 10 feet. Well, not wanting to offend great aunt soandso, you try to coach your kid into wanting to hug and kiss this stranger. Lots of arguements are used for persuasion: They are family, they love you, you don't want to hurt their feelings, do you? I'll give you this piece of candy I have in my pocket afterwards... I don't believe there is this dilemma in this culture whatsoever. Here in France, whenever I meet a new child, they kiss me. This is done to all and sundry since birth, I suppose, and Callie is picking it right up. Zander doesn't do it much - and when I encourage him to, he feels a bit strange about it - he usually tries to hug his friends, which they don't get.

Anyway, after present opening some parents started to come and pick up - which they were also prompt at - the first parent arrived at 5:05pm and they were all gone (shoes and coats on and out the door with their bag of candy) by about 5:30pm. For the last half hour I pulled out all the dress up clothes and they had a great time getting all dressed up and running about as ghosts, bunnies, bears, pirates, princesses or whatever - they were very cute. In the end, I think it was a successful party - 10 out of 11 had fun, and no one was injured, right? Callie said she had a great time and she's the birthday girl. Towards the end of the party, one of the little girls asked me when we were going to watch TV. I said 'um, never!' and she asked why??? Well, because you are supposed to play and talk at a party, not watch TV, right? Well, upon further questioning of the babysitter we found out that most people who have parties in their homes just click on the TV for them. I found that very strange but it sure would have been easier!

Several relatives requested that Callie tell what happened at her party - I have tried asking her around 3 times now and she really had a hard time figuring out what to say - but, after a while, I pried the following out of her:

The Callie perspective:

In the morning we decorated with lots of balloons and we had hotdogs for lunch and then the kids came and we made animals on sticks and I made an elephant and then we were playing a cards game and then a game where we taked the animals out of a bag and acted it out - charades - and after that we played keep it up- when you keep a balloon up in the air - and if it falls down you lose - we ate cake but before we ate cake we played a game of le loupe outside and me and Lea stayed in the cabin (house) so we wouldn't get caught. We played dress up and there was a ghost and we were princesses running away from the ghosts. It was a very fun party.

I find it interesting to note she doesn't mention the game I thought went well OR the presents. Just goes to show everyone has a different perspective on this stuff. Well, she is finally 6 - in a few months Griffin will be 4 - they are all growing up so fast.

double hills to Fort de Rosemont

Back in Philly I used to study google maps to find the ideal running route, the perfect distance, for my workouts. Then one day I realized it was taking as long to map out and memorize my routes as it does to run them... and I felt I was getting distracted from my ultimate goal in running--to be healthy. Though having a good route is valuable for tracking progress and making my runs predictable, I have come to believe that my mental health is the more important reason to run. When I run regularly, my day in the office or at home goes more smoothly. I think it's when I get away from left-brain activity (logic, planning, control, predictability) that my runs do what they're supposed to do. So letting go of the maps, turning away from the watch (except as a rough gauge to tell me if it's time to turn around or not), and having a much more flexible running schedule has helped me get in touch with a more feeling side of running. In so doing, I have also begun to appreciate the exhilaration of discovering new routes, the spontaneity and freedom of being able to take a turn just because I see something interesting, and the great views.

The only problem is that at this time of year, it's always dark when I run, and it's hard to enjoy the view. I am forced to run down dimly lit, icy corridors, and I can't see past people's front yards... I can't orient myself using the hills.

Still, I try to focus on perception, feeling, imagination... the sights, the sounds, the cold wind or rain against my skin. Normally this is in the dark, but on the weekends I usually run a bit later and can often enjoy the views. Yesterday I decided take a shot at something that I thought may be a bit out of my range. It's the next big hill around here I haven't conquered, Fort de Rosemont. It may be the tallest one... anyway, I didn't know exactly how to get there ('cause maps ruin the fun) but when we were at le Petit Fort de Chaudanne last weekend I noticed a sign that pointed to this next fort, so I figured that would be a decent way to go... up and down one big hill, then up another! I got to the top of Chaudanne in about 30 minutes. At the bottom I got lost. The sign seemed to indicate I could just go straight on through, but the road forked and I didn't know which way to go. I veered onto the road that seemed to be a switchback, only to find out 10 minutes later that it was a dead end. My current range is 45 minutes (if I run more than 90 minutes I'll get hurt). So I'm on a dead end to the end of my range... but decide to go on anyway since a turn-around would surely use the rest of my range, and maybe this road will bump into a trail. Well, the road turns into a dirt road in between paddocks, and I can't tell if it's private property or not... soon I'm under tree cover and it's a footpath. I'm waiting for a dog to come barking, but so far I see no lights or any sign of inhabitation. So I continue on to finally hit an official trail to the fort. Hooray! I got to the top of the hill before sunrise, and got some amazing views. It's funny, seems like this is a fort built to protect little Chaudanne, to protect big Chaudanne, to protect the citadel... I guess they didn't have a lot of confidence in whether this works or not... um, looks like arms races don't work in any century!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Our 15 minutes of fame continues....

Just wanted you all to know, that President Barack Obama (let me just say that again for the sheer joy of it) PRESIDENT Barack Obama was not the only one getting media attention on Inauguration Day.

OK, it's true, we were only featured again because we are the only Americans around here that they could find willing to be filmed watching the inauguration on TV. We are not sure if they don't know any other Americans or if the others aren't as willing victims.... maybe it is the cuteness of our three little ones?

The first time we were on TV (in France, anyway, see blog from 11/19/08 if interested) we were totally into the idea as it was a story about us (OK, mostly André) and the gist was the burning question in all the minds of all French citizens that I meet "So, why do you Americans want to come here, to Besançon?" This time it was different - it was more like "Hey, everyone is all hyped up over this Obama thing and we want to report on that and so we thought, hey those guys we interviewed before are americans! So can we ask you how you feel about the inauguration, and watch you watch it?" At first, we really debated over whether or not to say yes. I mean, they are going to come watch us watch TV??? (Isn't that a bit odd?) And what if we say the wrong thing - I mean, we are now representing the entire US population to all of Franche Compte! And, um, do they know we don't even watch TV? But, then we thought, who better than us? And also, when else do we get a chance to be on TV? This is obviously our chance for the notorious '15 minutes of fame' - so we'd better make the most of it!

I got very curious about this idea of 15 minutes of fame (a phrase I have heard my entire life and never investigated thus far) and, of course, decided to look it up on wikipedia...

Turns out the saying comes from Andy Warhol (for some reason, I thought it was Woody Allen - same diff, right?). André and I were talking about whether this is true or not though, and, especially with the advent of reality TV it seems like it might be true. But then, we got to thinking some more. I mean, there are like 6.7 billion people on the planet. Even if you take into account all the reality 'stars' and 'person on the street' interviews in the universe, there is no way that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. We are a rarified bunch! This doesn't neccessarily mean we are to be envied, but, that's not the point. The point is, are we common??? I think not.

Anyway, back to the story of our fame.

They called André back a few days before the inauguration and said that, lucky day, they had found another American to come and watch with us. Is that OK? PLUS, they also wanted to interview him and the other American after the inauguration (about 7pm our time) on live TV besides the taped section. So.... you found some other American randomly? (How does all this work?) But, hey, we're game - bring her on over.

The big day arrives. I spend the afternoon cleaning house which included major rearranging of our living room so the TV would be faced by a couch (usually we have it turned around in a deliberate attempt to show our disdain for what my parents always referred to as the 'boob tube' and more recently is hailed as the 'idiot box'). We thought it would be rude (and bizarre for TV viewers) to ask our guest to sit on the floor.

We do not have high speed internet at home, so we decide to watch the videofeed on French TV (yes, they are showing it live on channel 2) and listen to the audio over the internet via NPR. It actually worked out great. I was relieved since I really wanted to listen in English. The other American arrived in good time, her name was Nancy, she has lived in Besancon for many years, spoke French and English perfectly and was very nice. I was suprised at how much I appreciated being able to share the moment with her - I wished there were more Americans about - this was a truly American moment. (As long as we are wishing, it would have been amazing to be home to watch it!) The TV crew asked her a few questions, André a few questions and even posed some to the kids. I was sure Zander would get on TV since they asked him - what is Obama going to do when he is president? and he said "Maybe fix the world." (Let's all hope that's true!) but no TV time for Zander! At least, with this blog, his answer will live on forever.

Hmm.... didn't they ask ME any questions? (I know this one has been burning in your mind). Well, no. I, apparantly, do not qualify for television. First off, I'm not a cute kid, and secondly, I don't speak French well enough to be decipherable. I find it helpful, in these types of situations, to remember what I read in this great book a friend (Caroline!) gave me right before we moved here.. it is called Almost French and the protagonist (an Australian living in France) advised people such as myself to imagine they are a chair whenever in French situations where you don't speak the language. This way, it does not hurt your feelings as much when you are ignored. I have found this advice to be incredibly helpful countless times since my arrival here.

Well, we watched the inauguration (both André and I crying and Zander so excited he was squealing!) and listened to the speech and headed for the kitchen to try to whip up some dinner before live TV time. Well, I didn't mind being a chair, but I had made zucchini cake for these people as well, and none of them (the TV crew was like 5 people) would even try it. Now, that, I think, was just unacceptable! We were then informed that it seemed that they would use Nancy on live TV, not both Nancy and André and would we mind that? Also, can we keep the kids absolutely as silent as possible since they need to use our living room for the interview? Well, OK - but since they had been pretty silent during the entire TV show (Griffin made sticker pictures and necklaces) they were ready for some noise and it was a major challenge. They did admirably though. I got lots of compliments on how good they were. I love it when people tell me my kids are well-behaved - makes me so proud.

Anyway, I think they sensed we were wanting a few more minutes of fame so, after the live portion, they asked to interview André again for a segment the next day. André, my true defender and hero, insisted I be included as well. When he asked "Rebecca, aussi?" they were confused, oh, you want her as well? (like, why? She's a chair!!!) but agreed. So, we both got to be on TV the next day, and they even let me speak a bit in English. I did get some stage fright and didn't really answer the question in a good way, and, of course, most of my answer got cut out, so, I think I will do that here, so my true thoughts can be recorded for posterity. So, he asked me, do you think it is YOUR generation that made this possible? My answer to that would be, both yes and no. My generation, is not an entity unto itself. My generation was ready for this change, ready to elect an African American, ready to believe in this person who said things are not working and we will change it, ready to believe that change was possible and, with their embrace of that possibility, ready to mobilize and work and register countless new voters from every generation to make this dream a reality. They helped us all believe it was possible, and it became real through their vision and energy. But, on the other hand, this belief would never have been held by my generation if we did not stand on the backs of others, of all the generations before us. From the Revolution, to the Civil War to the fight for womens rights and the famous struggles to end segregation and the war in Vietnam our parents and grandparents paved the path that made it so I grew up in a world that was multicultural, politically correct and full of possibility. These older warriors worked to get Obama elected as well - I know many of them, including my own father who has raised us as Democrats and worked on elections my entire life. He didn't believe it would happen. I remember, during the primary, him saying that the US would NEVER elect a black man to president and even up to election day, him fearing that loss was inevitable. Luckily, for all of us, he was wrong (and happily so!) I think, the difference with the younger generation, is that we always believed more than we feared. However, kudos out to the older generations that kept fighting, even after countless losses. I think, that is what President Obama needs us to continue to do as the country moves foward, to continue to feed the idea of hope more than fear - to continue to make the leaps of faith, combined with hard work, that help us to become a better nation, for all citizens.

Anyway - the end result was we were on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon:

The Tuesday night section can be viewed here -- PLEASE NOTE this link changes every day, so you'll have to find and click the text that says Mardi 20 Janvier:

It is from 13 minutes 31 seconds to 15 minutes 05 seconds and you can watch up to 17 minutes 25 seconds for the live portion with Nancy....

The Wednesday afternoon section is here -- PLEASE NOTE this link changes every day, so you'll have to find and click the text that says Mercredi 21 Janvier :

It is from the very start to 2 minutes 53 seconds

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Proud mama, play, french manners and extreme hiking

First off, I am happy to say I am feeling much better lately. I got a package in the mail from my friend Sarah (thank you!) that was just for me (that's right, nothing for the kids - they were pretty confused by that one!) and contained (among other wonderful things) raspberry milano cookies - I am saving them to eat on my birthday in a few weeks! It really made me feel loved.

Another nice thing is that the weather has warmed up a bit. I love snow, but not cold and I hate walking everywhere all bundled up with the wind freezing my face off. Also, I have to act all like "Hey, this is great - no problem" or my kids will sense my weakness and start whining. Well, it has gotten much warmer and the wind had died down as well.

School wise, the end of the week was great too. I had all three of the kids' teachers and their tutor tell me things that boiled down to - your kids are finally getting it! They don't have to reexplain in English any longer - the kids are understanding all the French and Callie and Griffin are even speaking it as well. Zander is still having the hardest time but he is working very hard and seems happy in school. His teacher told me the best thing about Zander is that he has such a big heart. Everyone else who has done this before us says that it takes 4 to 6 months for the language to kick in - well we are just past 4 months and the good reports are starting up. Proud mama is me!

On Saturday Callie had her 2nd french birthday party - for her friend Paul (pronounced 'pole') at Funky Parc (which is sort of the French version of Chuck E. Cheese). Of course she loved it. While she was having her party, we invited Tebaud (TeeBO) over for a playdate with Zander. They had a wonderful time together playing board games, forts, pirates and making things with modeling clay. He is a great kid - polite and kind - hopefully he will be a good influence on Zander.

We finished out the day by shopping for Callie's party supplies - she will be turning 6 years old this Wednesday and her party will be at our house Saturday. Counting my 3, there will be 12 kids there - so we have hired a babysitter as back up adult hands!

Saturday night I made a lame attempt to help André with some French paperwork - it is very hard for me because I can't understand details of the language or pick out what parts of the cover letter are important. I end up translating the whole thing - taking me an hour - when he could have done the same thing in 5 minutes. Anyway, the point of this story (since all my stories have a point, right?) is that, to the French, politeness and doing things a certain way is very important. This is true in spoken language but most especially in written language. When I used to be in marketing my closer was something like. "If you have any questions or problems, please feel free to contact me at any time" Oh ho, ho, not so simple in french business talk. A great example of this formality is the closing paragraph of this letter that was written to us (it is a cover letter for an application for a grant we might be eligible for). "I remain at your disposal to answer any request for additional information. I wish you good reception and, please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my cordial greetings." Excellency???? I mean, who wouldn't be happy after being referred to as an Excellency? - we do have 11 blog followers but still, I don't think I qualify for a title.....

Sunday we wanted to do something, but what? a swim? (did that Wednesday) a bike ride? (wait, it's cold and rainy) a hike?? (um, didn't we just say it was cold and rainy?)

Well, it's less cold and rainy than it has been. A hike it is then. We dithered back and forth a bit - maybe we should stay home, do some bills, clean etc... but we really wanted to get out of the house - and we won't melt right? André had been wanting us to hike together up to Fort Chaudanne - so we decided to go for it! You know you have been in Europe for awhile when you say to your kids - come on, let's go for a hike to see a castle and their response is "Oh man! Not another castle!" Finally we convinced them by promising trees and forest as well. After a bit of misadventure we all got on the (infrequently running) Sunday bus and headed out to the station near the mountain. It was actually kind of fun to hike up the mountain - but it was also cold, and windy and rainy. When reaching a sign post, we decided to hit Petit Chaudanne (.6 km) instead of Fort Chaudanne (1.8km) that day. We wound our way up the hills, enjoying impressive views of the Doubs and Besancon, and finally made it to.... an abandoned animal pen??? At least, that is what it seemed like. It did have some overgrown fortlike walls and stuff around it. I guess that's what happens after 100 years of neglect. We stopped and had a picnic lunch (with a thermos full of hot cocoa) and Griffin decided it would be great time to pee in his pants. Of course, I had a change of pants with me in the bag, but we still had to change him out in the freezing conditions. (We also had to do this a couple of times in the Alps, in the snow....). He doesn't like it one bit, but the dislike doesn't seem to motivate him not to do it either. Not sure if anything will motivate the stubborn little lunk. Anyway, we headed back down the mountain to wait for the bus. Callie, usually the least sensitive of our trio, was NOT loving this particular adventure, she spent a lot of time whining from picnic point on but we made it to the bus stop in good speed (maybe because it was a 200m drop in elevation at 18 percent grade?) Oh well, those Sunday busses. It was supposed to come in 9 minutes and ended up not showing for almost 1/2 hour - which, when you are standing in an wind tunnel, is a long time. We huddled together most of the time for warmth - kids took turns in the middle of the huddle pretending to be the chocolate in the pain au chocolate..... (see, even our imaginary analogies are becoming french) Hot baths when we got home, of course.

On Sunday we also spent some time cleaning out the kids 'special places'. Since they share a room, they each have a foot locker that they can put things into that no one else is allowed to mess with - this means that any toy not in the special place is fair game for any other kid to play with. Well, of course, everything seems special to them and soon the places are overflowing. I really needed Callie to take care of hers since I know she will get gifts at her party and that means she would want to put them in the box. She did a good job cleaning up and so did her brother later. They spent some time 'trading' some of their special things and she ended up with a large quantity of plastic jewels, some of which became body jewelry as you can see!

Until next time, please refer to me as: Her Excellency, Rebecca

Saturday, January 17, 2009

a trip to Paris for the Agile Alliance

This week the Agile Alliance had their (annual?) board meeting for the first time outside of North America, and, as a way to reach out to their members they held an evening reception in Paris... I haven't been very involved in the Alliance in the past (I am a member but I've always been more interested in local events, like Agile Philly, the Simple Design and Testing Conference, and XP Day Manhattan). Still this event was too nearby for me to miss the chance to meet board members, and I was also really excited to have an opportunity to speak with other agile practicioners in English! On the other hand, I wasn't really looking forward to breaking the ice with all these new people, nor did I want all the hard work of sitting on a train for 3 hours and practically missing a whole night's sleep (the event was to run from 6:30pm to 2am, then another 3 hours on the train at 6am). Still, I already know two of the ten or so board members there that night, and I knew it would be nice to say hi to them. Also, I would get to meet more "celebrities" from the Agile world, and have a chance to meet some other native-English speaking people that have made a similar journey as mine. We talked about language and cultural barriers, what problems people are facing adopting agile, what issues local organizations are having, and about what we thought the Agile Alliance ought to be working on. I probably got involved in about 6 different conversations (some in French too!), milling about the room, from around 7:30pm to 11pm. Then a bunch of us headed out the door to a restaurant, pictured left, located across the street from the Chateau de Vincennes, right. It turns out it wasn't so hard to break the ice that evening, and I really had fun meeting new people. I also really felt welcome since several people, including Laurent Bossavit and J.B. Rainsberger knew me by name (they're both celebrities in the Agile world). J.B. even exclaimed--what are you doing in France? Little did he know that I'd left Philly... but he's not doing work there any more either. After nine years of trying to become an agilist, I really feel like I've become part of the community.

I got to ride the bullet train back and forth to Paris, using the famous Gare de Lyon. Though I've been through the station a few times, this is the first time I ever walked outside it, pictured left... quite beautiful, even in the dark. It was a valuable trip for me, since I had a chance to visit my company's Paris office and meet with our Director of Operations for an hour or so as well. I met some other agile practicioners from a neighboring region (Rhone-Alps), that may be interested in doing a joint meeting with our local Franche-Comté group some evening. I also got to hear what a few scrum folk were doing at large companies like Orange France and SNCF.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

1000 visits - oh my!

OK - we started tracking how many people visit our site about 2 months ago - and we are now up over 1000 hits. (You can see the counter at the bottom of the blog)

I know, Google probably gets like, one million hits per second or something, and lots of the hits might be bots or mistakes (or me, obsessively checking if anyone left comments) but still - there have been probably at least 500 times that somebody came to see our little blog and that's pretty cool if you ask me. Who knew our lives would be so interesting to people.

We get this analytical report each week about who is reading it, and where they come from. I'm sure you are dying to know as well so the short version is that 10-15 unique users seem to check the blog daily and they come from the US (mostly Philly), France (mostly Besançon, but we have a dedicated- and mysterious- Paris contingent) and from the UK and New Zealand too. How international! They stay an average of 2-4 minutes per visit....

The question it doesn't answer is why? But I guess it is just to keep up with our blundering ways....

Anyway, just wanted to say THANKS - I love that people read this blog. It is comforting for me to know, that, on any given day, somewhere out there, someone (or 10) is reading about us, caring about us, and giving us a bit of their precious, scarce, free time.

Today I think my theme song should be from An American Tail - Somewhere Out There: (original Fievel version only please - that is the plaintive tone we are going for here)
"And even though I know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we might be wishin' on the same bright star, and when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome, lullaby, it helps to think we're sleepin' underneath the same big sky!"

low low low

You know that REM song - "low low low, low low low"? Some lyrics are something like: "is this the part about - low? it seems so shallow....low"?

Maybe that word is supposed to be Love not low.?.. but the last few days "low" has been echoing in my brain.

Here I am - Griffin in school all morning (even though he never once has come home dry yet)- a life of renewed freedom. Last week was playing catch up from vacation but this week, this week will be the start of my new life! This week I will work on French, catch up on my housework, find a yoga class and meet with a new friend. No more excuses for feeling so stuck.

Not so fast sister! Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a trapped in the house week - Claire has been ill and I've been taking care of her for Nadine and Olivier. Since we owe them, like, everything... this is not a big deal (especially since taking care of Claire basically has consisted of putting her in front of the television for about 8 hours per day with occasional medicine, tissues and juice boxes). I would do this for anyone who needs it, really, since I would want someone to do it for me. I guess it is just a bit frustrating since it has meant I am stuck inside all day everyday (except when I go to pick up kids at school for lunch and at the end of the day - yes I leave Claire alone while I do that - which worries me but her parents say it is OK, so whatever).

Why, when one is stuck inside, does one not do all those things one needs to do (like clean the fridge out, scrub the floors, prepare for Callie's birthday party or reorganize the kids clothes etc....)? Well - I did do some of those things on Monday (thank you notes are finally on the way)- but then my energy just ran out.... Why? I don't really know.

I have been playing 'try to meet with the American I met on the street in Besançon' for over one month now. We were supposed to meet up before Christmas and then I had to go to the Prefecture that day - we rescheduled for this week - and now I have Claire. I invited them over to watch the inauguration - but then found out that it is at 5:30pm our time - when most people are at work or just barely home - so they all want to just go home to watch it on TV. Maybe the 31st will work out as the next chance - basketball game followed by dinner out - dinner starting at 10pm - sounds like a late night but for a chance to meet some English speakers I'll prop my eyes open.

Speaking of staying up late, André is going to Paris tonight for a meeting - that should be fun. But he is NOT looking foward to it since it is scheduled not to end until 2am - urgh! Typically French, but way past our regular bedtime. Plus, unlike me, the prospect of networking all night (that is talking a lot to other professionals) is not so appealing. He does it because it is important, but he'd much rather be typing away on some screen. Me, I love networking or any opportunity to chat. This will be the first night we have spent apart since coming here - I think. Hey, can't anyone come on over here and babysit for the night so I can go with him?

Anyway, I miss home, and having friends.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

art class for Zander

Zander has been taking an art class with our friends on Tuesday nights, but since Claire was sick this week I went with him. It was interesting to see him in a fully immersed French environment--in reality, he avoided verbal communication, but when he had to, he did speak English. I don't know if he makes more of an effort at school or not, but at home he definitely is improving with his French. Anyway, I grabbed a few snapshots of some of his recent creations. Notice that when he was making a mask, Zander thought it would be interesting to do a profile view instead of the typical face-view...

The other morning on the way in to work everything was covered with a thick layer of frost/dew... it's called la rosée... hard to see in the photo but here it is (the building with the silver egg is my office):

Last but not least... I have to say, I'm still suffering from culture shock here and there. After the winter vacation we wanted to return the car in at least the condition we got it--and with all those miles on wintery roads, the red car was quite salty. I stopped at 4 different gas stations over a couple days (all had signs for car washes), but all of them were closed because of the air temperature... even the indoor wash I found. No one seemed to know where I could get a car wash. I clearly remember with my first car I used to wash it every week or two, all year long... especially in the winter when salt splashed all over it...

Then I found out the other day that a deck of cards here is NOT A,K,Q,J,10 (can't remember exactly what it is, but the K is R instead).

Last cultural tidbit... our kids often sign their letters to family back home with xoxo. But the French have no idea what that means ;)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back to life

Well, school has started again.

Here's a quick update.

Callie - (thank goodness I have one kid like this) is in heaven. She loves school, loves her friends and just had a great time at her first French birthday party. Her language skills are flourishing and she is now starting to help me out - and correct André on his accent!

Griffin - is supposed to go to school all day starting now (why? we're not sure - he's certainly not propre!) Well, Monday he went to school very happily - it really helps that Julia is there - he loves having a good friend and didn't cry at all, in fact, he had to be reminded to kiss me goodbye. Unfortunately, he pooped in his pants and when I picked him up, the only comment the teacher gave me, was "It's horrible, no?" Well, yeah, if you boil my wonderful little boy down to only bodily functions! He was great all during vacation but has been having a hard time since we've been back - he messed his pants about 6 times today - urgh!

Zander - seems to be in, yet another, sticky spot. He absolutely loved vacation and was none too happy to see it come to an end. He was not looking foward to going back to school and seems to be having more social problems. Lately he just avoids playing with anyone at the playground because he has so many problems communicating and relating in a good way. I think he is just avoiding it - but that makes him lonely. It is strange because he seems happy on the way to school, and when I pick him up from school and his teacher says he is doing well but, at home, he is just a mess. He is very cranky and is even just plain mean at times, especially to his siblings. I am worried about him. I think he just needs to learn French - here we are at the magic 4 month point - isn't all this language stuff just going to start pouring out of his mouth any day now?? In the rare moments he is not being punished or is sulking, I've been trying to spend more time with him, play with him and talk to him about what is going on, he is just not interested in anything we used to like to do together (art, sewing, crafts, legos etc....) and gets very easily frustrated. He told me earlier he is just bored. Bored with everything and everyone. He just doesn't want to do anything anymore. Poor guy. On some level I can relate - it is just hard to go on, day after day, and not be fully understood. After a while, you just want to give up....

André - has his work company meeting this week - and is looking foward to his presentation -which is going to include building with legos - painting and whisper down the lane - wish I could be at this conference! He really enjoys his new job, his team and his work. He is pretty integrated now and is starting to introduce and incorporate some of his ideas. He is currently at the company dinner which is being held at the local Casino - will he gamble?

One of the things we all enjoy around here are stories. We go to the biblliobus (sort of like a library book mobile) every week and read in French and English every night. We also love making up our own stories. We had a lovely lunch the other day together - each kid told me an original story and then they illustrated it after lunch before heading back to school - gotta love the 2 hour lunch break - here they are below:

Zander's story....

I imagine that I got MILLIONS and MILLIONS of marbles and I melted them all together to make one giant marble - it is like - as big as our apartment Then I took an axe and cut it and made it into my own house - inside the marble.
Then someone pushed a button and all the doors and windows close and I get a seatbelt on me - and then the marble starts to roll - it rolls faster and faster - faster than we can walk or go on a train - I am going upside down and right side up over and over again. To stop there is an emergency door on the roof and when you jump out of your seatbelt on to the door you can push a button and put out metal posts from the door that will stop it.

He also told another story (not illustrated) It turns out he spends his time alone on the playground making up stories. I remember how, in 6th grade when I was a total social outcast, I used to read books on the playground to make it seem like it didn't bother me that no one wanted to play with me.

Zander's 2nd story....
I am sitting at the playground writing m's (in cursive) over and over again - I make so many I fill up all my paper and so I start writing them in the air - then I realize I can climb up onto them, into the sky. I draw a car made of m's in the sky and get in, then I make lots of little m's very fast and the car starts to drive mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm faster and faster and faster....

Do you notice a theme of lonliness and escape running through his tales???

Next, Callie told her story....

One day, when I was a bit older, like 6 or 7, old enough to go for a walk alone, I went for a walk. After a while I got tired and sat on a bench to read a book.
Suddenly the bench started wiggling and it started to walk! When it got over to the curb, it flew up into the air with the birds. I said, "I'm gonna get out of here!" and jumped off - and it turned out I could FLY! I flew up to CareBear Land - I visited with Rainbow Bear and even made Grumpy Bear a bit happy.

Meanwhile, Mom got worried and she comes looking for me - she ends up resting on the same bench and it flies her up to the sky and we find each other. We take the bench back home and live happily ever after.

And, now, Griffin..... (yes I drew the stick figure of Griffin - but he did the rest of the art)

One day I was walkin'

and I jumped up into the clouds and up there there were flowers. They were green, purple and yellow, and one pink, a new one. There were no mean flowers. It was a raincloud and there was a storm in the rain - there was a person walking and they put their hood up and it was a grown up.

There was a rope I was holding onto and then the cloud cracked in half and I used the rope to fix it up - I picked some flowers and then I jumped down from the clouds.

I gave purple flowers to Mama and I gave green flowers to Callie. It made them happy.

Then the green flowers turned into a rock, and the purple flowers turned into the sky and they were beautiful.

Besancon again

We had been looking foward to showing Mark Besançon - but a week of vacation has worn us all out. We sleep in again- I love this recent development where my kids will sleep until 8am or even 8:30 when they are tired - not get up at 6:30am no matter what! I make some egg in the hole (not french but new to Mark) for brunch and then we take him on the long scenic bus route through Besancon and over to the Citadelle steps. We haven't dared take these up before but it wasn't really that hard - turned out it was only 197 steps (we counted) and there were neat caves all along the route. (for the gaurds to nap in???) We enjoyed the views and the animals. Here is Mark contemplating the hills. We also went inside one of the museums (there are about 10-15 in the Citadelle building) and looked at the special holiday display they had of Christmas toys and traditions - I just had to take a photo of this early 7-up advertisement from 1950 featuring Santa and his reindeer. You probably can't read the text as the picture is terrible. " For Happy Holidays at home! So Good, So Pure, So Wholesome for Everyone! " (then Santa's sled loaded with a giant bottle of 7-up) and, at the bottom "You like it...It likes you" It turns out that Rudolph was only added to Santa's reindeer team in 1939. I also learned about the origins of puzzles - but I can't remember anything except it was really interesting. My mind is like a seive.

No visit to centre ville would be complete without then heading down the hill to see Cathedral St. Jean and the roman ruins. Then we took a bus to the Musee des Beaux Arts. Zander is fascinated by the mummies in particular. Mark has been unsuccessfully looking for cheap T shirts for souveniers. Not much is cheap around here, especially not clothing!

We had some good Greek for dinner and headed home to watch LOST - Mark is now as addicted as we are and wants to watch it non-stop! So do I, but not as much as I want to sleep!

On Sunday we helped Mark visit a church service. While he was gone, André worked on his presentation for work and I unpacked from the vacation while the kids played. They watched TV in the afternoon while we saw more LOST (which is also what we did in the evening!)

We are all a bit low. Life begins again tomorrow. Kids back at school, André back at work and it is the last night of Mark's stay. Our family is about to shrink from 6 to 5 again. We all had a fun time having him around - the kids especially enjoyed his roughhousing! André drove Mark over to the train station at 4:30am the next morning. We tried to warn him there wouldn't be people there that early, and that his credit card wouldn't work in the machines -but he just can't get used to the inconvenience of the European system. Ce n'est pas grave (as they say in France) We helped out so he could get to Neim as planned. I'll tell ya, Mark has amazing stamina - after a week that was great fun - but also completely exhausting, he is just starting, headed for adventure all over France and Germany, not returning to UT until the 10th - go for it dude!

Me, I'm looking foward to blogging about more normal life for awhile!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Au Revoir Les Contamines - hello Lausanne!

Not much to say about Thursday as it is supposed to be my day of rest - André was in charge of the kiddos. After the new year's party, all were exhausted and it was almost 11am and they still hadn't left the house - frustrant! They ended up going sledding again and working more on the igloo - we ended up having candy by candle light in the igloo that evening - very fun. I spent the limited free time I had simply blogging - journaling my time and adventures here is becoming very important to me. (as you, my loyal readers, must have figured out by now) I don't really know what will happen to this blog in the end - sometimes I fear it is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." But yet, I write on! I have finally caught up, but, since I lost the internet cable, I will not be able to post the blogs with the pictures until this weekend (or later!). Then I took a long shower and ate lunch in peace - I thought I might read a book but ended up packing for our return home. The kids are really sad to leave Les Contamines - Callie says she wants to live here for the next 2 years and Zander says he is NOT leaving. Griffin is happy since we are going to go back to France (he doesn't seem to get that the Alps (at least this part) are IN France).

Now it is early Friday morning, Mark is supposed to take a 6:55 am bus to meet us in Lausanne and doesn't leave the house until 6:53 - well, he misses the bus (or maybe it doesn't come?) and André has to drive him an hour round trip to the train station - making our departure later than anticipated. We make it to Lausanne around noon and meet Mark at the train station - we eat lunch there and then head for the bathroom (which, as is not uncommon around here) you have to PAY to enter. Personally, I just think it's wrong. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness - don't these basic rights include a free place to pee? Lausanne is a nice town - we had ZERO idea of what would be there but just figured there had to be something. Well, we were right. We stopped at the tourist office for a map and then wandered around to see the inevitable cathedrals. I was absolutely in love with the paintings on the ceilings of the first small cathedral we stopped in. It never ceases to amaze me how each place has it's own unique feature that catches at my heart.

We then headed towards the larger Cathedral of Lausanne - there has been some sort of church at this site since 300 AD. Some parts of the old church are under reconstruction ( interesting to see things like brand new flying buttresses - are there special architects in Europe that work on cathedrals?) and other parts are just falling apart. Good thing they have duct tape, as you can see! The kids were especially interested in some of the tombs in this cathedral. There were several tombs featuring the skull and cross bones - that is - pirate signs! Zander decided some bad pirates must have decided they wanted to go to heaven and so left all their treasure to the church so they could be bad but still get buried there and end up in the right place (not too far off what indulgences were, right?) But wait, there was more - this cathedral also had a tomb of a real live princess (or, maybe I should say, a real dead princess). After this visit, Mark remarked that all the cathedrals start to look the same to him - I couldn't disagree more - I love to see the wondrous variety of creations that the people have made over the centuries. Guess that's part of the reason why I like to travel Europe, and why every little town interests me.

We headed up the hill towards a castle, which we couldn't enter. But we saw this really neat public water fountain from 728 AD - as pictured, I guess Mark was thirsty. I also thought the sundial outside the castle was really fun - it only featured the numbers for daytime hours and said (in french) I only work when the sun is shining! (not sure about Lausanne's climate, but if it is anything like Besancon, that isn't all too often!) The quote next to the owner of the castle (an early governor of Lausanne) was interesting too - I will be judged, not by my life, but by what follows from my works while I lived.

We just keep on walking and head down a really amazing ancient street - here is Mark with the cathedral looming over him. We keep heading down and stop at a square dedicated to the memory of the great Joan of Arc. In a bit of happy coincidence, it happens to be 3pm when we arrive and we are treated to a show from a giant coocoo clock that is part of the wall of a shop near the square - there are figures that come out from several different doors and music and voices that play - the kids absolutely love it. We have now finished the tourist office map and decide we are going to walk back toward the train station - I fall in love with the orange building you see pictured below.

Well, here we are in Lausanne with a bit more time to burn - Mark's train doesn't leave until 7pm. We keep seeing Olympic rings everywhere and find out why. Voila! It turns out that Lausanne is home to the IOC and the Olympic Museum - we decide to visit the museum before we go. We walk together down to the train station and discover a giant tree. Our family hugs truly giant trees whenever we find them. We couldn't span this one with the five of us and recruit Mark - who seems to be perplexed by this little idiosyncrasy (Quote: "I don't hug trees") but we rope him in and get to give the tree a brief squeeze. We always thank the trees for giving us shade, and air and for beautifying our world. We make it back to the train station where our car is and decide to split up as the kids are getting tired of walking. Mark is to walk over to the museum whilst we drive.

I misread the map and, of course, we get a little lost (but happily run into the IOC offices and some Roman ruins as well as a pink lit up castle - neat o!)

Eventually, as yet another town grows dark, we make it over to the olympic park and museum. The sculptures were beautiful and this is also the home of the olympic flame - so cool! I kept thinking of my sister Jennie and brother-in-law Jeff, they would have loved it! I wish we could have gotten there sooner to make it worthwhile to visit the museum.

We stop for Chinese for dinner and then home to Besancon.

What an amazing vacation!


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