Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Our crazy vacation

Here it is past 1am in France and I am still up - because I am finalizing our itinerary for our next fabulous vacation.... kudos to André who is also up - he is my navigator - and, since Ireland can't be seen by satelite or easily recognized by Google Maps - he really had his work cut out for him this time!

I am putting it the abbreviated version below - so you can imagine the 5 of us traveling across this beautiful globe we live on!

Friday 23
Leave Besancon before lunch
Dinner in Orleans and
Head for the gite in Pommeray
Saturday 24
Mont St Michel first thing
Lunch of agneau pre-sale
Cherbourg for ferry
Sunday 25 IRELAND
Off boat to Courtown and Wicklow B and B - sleep
Mon 26
Walk in forest Glendalough
Dublin for lunch
Pick up camper/drop off Mr Liberty/pick up groceries
Around 6pm head for Cashel find a good place to sleep (kildare?)
Tuesday 27
Attempt to be at Cashel by 9am -opening!
9-11 visit cashel
Drive towards Dingle (3 hours)
2pm - Dingle for the afternoon
sleep in Dingle
Wednesday 28
Spend day in Dingle - Blasket Island?
End in Tralee - pump poop?
Thursday 29
See church and tower in Tralee
Drive through the Burren towards the Cliffs of Mohr
Hike around the cliffs!
Sleep in Galway/Athenry?
Friday 30
Visit Athenry
mines and Galway
End in Mullinger
Saturday (sleep in) 31
Go to NewGrange
Then back to Athboy for Halloween Celebration
Party with bonfires
Sunday (sleep in) 1
Get Mr. Liberty
Return camper bus
Drive to ferry - on ferry by 5pm
Arrive in Cherbourg
Drive to chateau B and B - La Voute
Tues 3
Visit Chateau Chenonceau,
Chateau Guedelon
and Vezeley
Home to Besancon

At 12 days and so many locations, this is our biggest and most complicated adventure yet - the amount of planning absolutely blows my mind - and I'm sure reality will not match our (as usual) overly ambitious goals, but, I'm sure it will all be worth it.

Hope you are looking foward to blogs galore about all this.

May the weather be untypically glorious!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

October life update

My mom asked me to do one each month – so I’ll give it a whirl…

As a whole, the month of October has found us dealing with the grippe (flu), planning our trips and trying to find some sort of normal routine.  The first weekend after our Strasbourg adventure, everyone was sick so we stayed close to home.  The second weekend, André and I had our longest date since we moved to France (6 hours) in belated honor of our 11th anniversary and then, on Sunday, we went swimming.  I’m teaching Zander and Callie how to dive-–which is amazing to watch.

As for our new schedule, I think we have it all worked out now – I will record for posterity and to help me keep it straight… don’t read it unless you are really bored – just skip to the updating part.

am – André work, kids school, Rebecca French ‘goals’ class
lunch – André, Griffin and Rebecca eat together, Z and C at school
early afternoon – André work, kids school, Rebecca grocery shopping and housework
after school – André work, Callie and Griffin home doing homework with Augustin and Rebecca, Zander at soutien (after school extra help)
Dinner together and bed – Rebecca and André do bills
AM – André work, kids school, Rebecca yoga
lunch – André work, Zander and Callie school, Rebecca and Griffin eat lunch together
early afternoon – André work, kids school, Rebecca English conversation class
after school – André work, kids and I homework or play
Dinner together and bed – Rebecca and André discuss the children
AM – André work, Zander counseling, Rebecca and other 2 hanging out at dr’s office.  Then home for American and French homework, aided by Augustin.
Lunch – together
early afternoon – a bit of play and then Zander at theatre followed immediately by Callie at rhythmic gymnastics
Dinner together and bed for kids – André and Rebecca catch up on their reading
AM – André work, kids school and Rebecca blogs
Lunch - André work, Zander and Callie school, Rebecca and Griffin eat lunch together
early afternoon – André work, Zander and Callie at school and Rebecca at French class
after school - Callie and Griffin home doing homework with Augustin and Rebecca, Zander at soutien (after school extra help)
Dinner together and bed for kids – André and Rebecca blog
AM – André work, kids school and Rebecca French class
Lunch - André, Griffin and Rebecca eat together, Z and C at school
early afternoon – André work, Callie and Griffin at school, Rebecca taking Zander to autophonist
after school – hang out a bit together and play
dinner together and bed for kids – André and Rebecca have a date OR do something they missed earlier in the week due to life getting in the way.
Saturday and Sunday
In the mornings we do French and English homework.
Rest of the weekend is flexible – often we go on adventures or to the pool.   André and I try to do special time (one on one time) with each of the kids and also we have a date on Saturday night (if we didn’t do it Friday) and on Sunday we do paper scrapbooking and watch Buffy.  Oh, and every Sunday morning we have pancakes.

It only took us from a week before fall break to figure that out.  So, a quick (or not so much, knowing me) update on life

André – has been very very very busy this month.  He finally had his AgileTour conferences at the beginning of the month (one here and one in Philadelphia) and had a good turn out for both – in particular the Philadelphia one had almost 100 people.  That is an amazing turn out, especially for the first time the conference was run and with one of the main organizers across the Atlantic!  The conference went very well, and was offered for free.  This week he is in Ann Arbor for a special meeting with some of his Agile heroes – Ron Jeffries, Chet Hendrickson, Charlie Poole and JB Rainsburger to name just a few (I know, you are all soooooooo impressed).  They are discussing the best way to create some type of standards for Agile programmers.  There were 14 people there, and he was chosen, by day two, to facilitate the meeting. Go André!  He has been sick a few times, seems to be having some bad allergies this season, and also got a touch of the grippe the boys had.  His running has been suffering with all this activity but he is looking forward to another race, on November 8th. 

Zander – is settling into his second year here.  He has really been enjoying his theatre group and his teacher seems to like him.  I am glad he has a place to be dramatic that isn’t my house!  At school, he is still struggling both socially and academically, but doesn’t seem particularly  bothered by it at home, so I try not to worry too much.  He gets extra help two days  a week and also is starting with an autophonist.  We are pretty sure this is French for ‘a hearing and speech therapist – who does reading too” and hope she can help Zander.  I have been working with him in various ways as well and, lately, he has really gotten into phonics and enjoys working with me.  He is even willing to attempt to read some small books that arResized_DSC00896en’t phonics.  Recent hits include Good Night Moon and The Spooky  Old Tree.  These are not where he should be at Resized_DSC00005his age – but I am just happy he is reading at all!  Every time we work together, his reading improves, albeit very, very slowly.  He still does Legos when he gets a chance and his newest toy is a domino rally type thing.  He missed over a week and a half of school and even had a note from the doctor to excuse him.  They are really strict here about attendance.  Even if your kid is home for only one day with an illness you have to call the school and let them know.  Even though he had a doctor note they also had a school doctor take a look at him last week.  I got a note home scolding me for not getting him to the dentist and eye doctor last year.  I amResized_DSC00006 really bad about that kind of thing since I am so uncomfortable speaking French on the phone that making appointments is something I avoid like the plague.  Maybe this will give me the impetus I need to get on the ball!  He is really looking forward to our upcoming Ireland adventure – he loves to see new places.   I had some old photos on my phone, for some reason – so you can also see here a photo of one of the things he misses most of all in the US.  Delaware sea biking on Hearne's Pond.

Callie – is also doing very well.  She is finally getting used to riding a two wheeler.  She has been able to do it for over a year, but has a lot of fear every time she gets on the bike.  We would have to force her onto it and she would cry for about a half an hour every time.  Daddie, however, is determined to go on family bike rides and forced her to ride.  Now she is finally enjoying herself, most of the time.  She does have bad luck, though and has fResized_DSC00875allen a few times – I am thinking of getting her gloves to protect her hands.  It’s funny how some things scare her and others don’t.  She recently scaled an apple tree so high it made me dizzy to pick some of the remaining fruit without a hint of fear.  She is also enjoying her rhythmic gymnastics class.  Last week they were given a piece of a routine to memorize.  She showed the routine to me after class.  It was pretty complicated with twists and turns and balancing with a ball etc…   After that, though I gently reminded her each day, she refused to practice it at all.  I figured, whatever – she will end up embarrassed and know better the next time!  I did, the day right before class, try to talk to her a bit more forcefully about how she might end up embarrassed (she hates that) but she informed me, quite matter of factly, that she had ‘taken a picture of it’ in her brain.   Apparently, once such a photo is taken, it never comes out, and she never has to practice.  OK, I said, that’s great.  (Of course, inside I was snickering, anticipating the great lesson she was going to learn about the importance of practice).  Well, off she went to class yesterday and afterwards, when I questioned her, she told me she remembered it, no problem.  So, is she lying to me so I Resized_DSC00009won’t be right or does she have some sort of photographic physical memory?  Either way, it’s her on the stage at some point later this year so I will get to see for myself.  Recently, I ordered some photos of our summer and made an individual picture frame for each of the kids.  Each of them hung it right next to their head and love looking at it.  They all miss their Grammie!  Here she is, reading to them at the library – she talked so much she lost her voice!

Griffin – is my wonderfully happy little man.  I am absolutely loving his new teacher and it is totally clear that she loves him to pieces.  We had a meeting with the school to discuss (again) his gluten intolerance.  It consisted of: his teacher, his art teacher, the class room aide, the director, a representative from the mayor’s office, a school doctor and (of course) André and I.  The meeting only took about half an hour. I say only, but in reality it should have taken, perhaps, 30 seconds since the end result was as follows.  Gluten makes Griffin sick, don’t give him any.  4 people hours wasted for that?  André thinks it’s good, since it makes sure everyone knows and is on the same page – but the amountResized_DSC00869 of paperwork and bureaucracy seems overwhelming to me.  We finally got him hooked up to a bike with training wheels and he is in seventh heaven, riding all around the place and even accompanying us to the bakery last Sunday morning for a treat.  He is having a bit of trouble, however, playing out on the place with the bike.  If I’m not with him, he gets harassed by some of the older kids on skates.  He loves school and is making lots of new friends.  So far he has been invited to 3  birthday parties and will attend his first (grippe took him out of the others) this Saturday. 

As for me, I have lots and lots to report.  First a few incidental photos.  We did these Styrofoam egg people foResized_HPIM2650r one Wednesday art project recently.  Creators of the creatures below are (l to r) Rebecca, Callie, Zander and Griffin.  For those of you who don’t know LYTIAM stands for ‘Love You To Infinity And More’ When I was a kid, I used to say this to my Resized_DSC00007mom every day.  As a matter of fact, I vaguely remember it was a competition and had all sorts of strange rules (Mom, do you remember them?). I think, on a normal day, you could only say “I love you to infinity” and whoever said it first won.  On Sundays, you could add the “and more”. (Why Sunday I wonder?  Maybe we figured that, with the Lord, all things are possible, including something larger than infinity.  Of course, we weren’t particularly religious, so maybe not).  I post this photo of my mom here as well since it was one of the ones I found recently and because I miss her! 

Now for a bit about nature.  This fall has been very different than last fall. Resized_DSC00887 The rain is here, but not constanResized_DSC00873t like last year and the weather has gotten so much colder in the past few days that I had to spend time today digging out the winter jackets.  We are seeing the end of the roses as well as the French mosquitoes buzzing around.  I photographed this mosquito next to my hand so you could see how huge it is.  Luckily, these buggers don’t seem to bite people. I can’t Resized_DSC00884imagine the size of the bump! Zander found a praying mantis the other day – it was the first I’ve seen in France.  Unfortunately, it was dead.  Zander put it in a plastic cResized_DSC00890ontainer to show at school but it started to rot or something and stunk up the class so he had to throw it away.  As all this shifts over, we get crunchy leaves underfoot, changing colors, falling nuts and lots of people doing yard work. The other day I even saw a riding lawn mower – the photo is too far away to see but it was actually a John Deere!  

In other news, I have finally hit my stride with France thrifting as well.  I go to Emmaus regularly to bargain hunt and recently scored a leather jacket and some awesome black leather boots for 5 Euros each.  The place is staffed entirely by volunteers and nothing has price tags.  The volunteers assign prices and you pay whatever they say (no haggling – this is for charity, people)  I found out, last week, that sometimes you can get a great deal if the right person is working.  Usually they charge between 2 and 3 euros per piece of clothing – about 5 for shoes or jackets.  We headed over to get pants and hopefully a new jacket for Callie last Wednesday.  It was a lucky day because we ended up finding about 5 pairs that were her size and a nice lined blue jacket.  Also two pairs of Thinsulate gloves (one brand new) and some other little things.  Normally, I’d expect to pay between 20 and 25 Euros for this haul but the worker threw it all in a pile, without even counting up what was there, and said 11, no, 10 Euros.  You could have knocked me over with a feather.  I need to know – when do you volunteer again?

I had a wonderful time out with André for our anniversary.  We wandered around dowResized_P101009_15.56ntown and I got to go in all those stores I’ve been wanting to go in for the last year.  There is this one kitchen store I have been eying and I loved it!  I finally got a decent peeler, an olive pitter and a honey spoon in this wonderfully French little store.  The woman was amazing – I can’t imagine how she could find anything in the toweringResized_P101009_15.52 mountains of merchandise, but she knew precisely where everything was.  This place had cooking stuff, sewing supplies and a lot of beautiful hanResized_P101009_15.51d embroidered bedspreads and doilies and things. Plus some touristy hand towels and magnets.  She had it all!

We also were looking around for a new engagement ring for me – I love my old one, but it needs to be repaired and André and I were interested in a new setting.   We didn’t find anything we really likResized_P101009_18.05ed but it was fun to look.  I also had a great time going into a new store on Grand Rue. You can taste various olive oils, vinegars, wines and hard liquors.  We came out of there with two types of vinegar – one an 18 month aged basalmic – heavenly!  I also  splurged at Claire’s for some new hair clips since I’m getting bored of always having a braid – unfortunately one of them broke the first time I used it – and it had cost about 5 euros – grr….  We ended up with dinner at a local place that has wonderful fondue for only about 12 Euros a plate.  We have known about it for a long time but kept getting unlucky when we would drive by.  It was either full of people or closed.   This time it was open but the waitress, upon seeing us, told us they were full for the night. 

Resized_P101009_18.22 Time for a little French culture.  Restaurants here never ever open until 7pm, and even at that time, they are empty.  So, André, knowing this, asked if we could get in if we came as soon as they opened.  “Well” she hedged “I do have one table that isn’t reserved until 9:30, but that won’t give you much time to eat your dinner.”     Ummm… on what planet is two and a half hours not enough time to eat a one course meal?  It is truly our planet earth friends – in France.  We told her we would take it and got there right on time.  We ordered a comté mixed with blue fondue and it was amazingly good.  We chatted and laughed and took plentResized_P101009_20.34[01]y of time eating, but we were still done and out the door before 8pm.  We are so very not French!  We ended our date by going to the Sonorama concert.  Something is always happening in Besancon and this weekend they were having experiments with sound and music ending with a concert in the Grand Place.  We went and watched for a few minutes but, other than the truly awesome giant wrecking ball they turned into a disco ball, we were unimpressed.

Another thing that is happening lately, is that I find myself getting prematurely nostalgic for France.  I was compelled to take these photos while in the market getting some comté the other day…. I know, even now, I will miss this..

Resized_DSC00891Resized_DSC00892 Resized_DSC00893


Another thing I’ve been trying to notice lately are the lesser known sights of Besancon.  Here is a lovely fountain we wandered past and a few shots of our local synagogue – finished in 1871. 




I am hoping we get a better shot of the synagogue before we leave the area since it is actually one of my favorite buildings in Besancon.  It is an official historical monument, and, according to the placard out front, is one of the most representative and original examples of Neo-Moorish architecture in Eastern France.

A thing I won’t miss, however, are French detours or deviation.   Well, who likes detours, you may wonder?  Detours are never fun since they take you out of the quick way and make you go a longer one so you are later than you already were for whatever you were trying to get to.  Oh people, you just don’t know how very lucky you are.  In the US, when there is a detour, you get signs, multiple signs, lovely helpful signs that point you around the obstacle that is blocking off the road so you can continue (albeit late) on your merry way.  In France, this is not the case.  First you get there, try to turn down the road and realize it is closed (rue barree).  Then you turn around and head further down the road until you spot the yellow deviation sign. You turn in the direction it is pointing and then – you are on your own baby. No more instructions, no more signs, no more help – it is up to you to forge the path.  Once again, I am hearing the thoughts percolating in your heads.  So what?  You just go around the block, right?  Oh you foolish, foolish ones – there are no blocks here!  These roads grew up from winding farm paths and spider web their way across the city.  There is no logic, no straightness and no city planners.  I often say I can’t find my way out of a paper bag – and deviations strike terror into my heart.  They have been doing construction around ASEP (where I take my classes) and I have to leave an extra 15 minutes every time I leave the house (usually it would take about 5 to get there).

We are hanging out at home this weekend – with plans to spend time together, catch up on paperwork and begin getting ready for Ireland.  We are leaving right before lunch on Friday.  Hopefully we will be able to blog a bit along the way – but if not, you will hear from me in November…

Until then, may all your roads be free from deviation!

Friday, October 16, 2009

My French Education

So here I am ending week 2 of my intense French education.  I take 3 classes a week at ASEP which is a local community center – it is not the one closest to me – but it offers much much more in the way of adult learning classes and, thanks to Mr. Liberty, I can get there in between 5 and 10 minutes.  I only discovered it due to the fact that it is the same venue where Zander takes theatre. 

A small note about the importance of being on time.  Tardiness is simply not tolerated at these classes, and if, for some reason, you don’t show up you had better damn well let them know ahead of time!  If not, you will get a call.  If you are late, you will get dirty looks. Everyone discusses the person that isn’t there – wondering where they are and stressing, over and over, the importance of coming every week. I mean, we are all adults here right?  It is very amusing to me, perhaps this is the same thing with the birthday parties – everyone comes on time, and leaves on time. 

The first class, Monday mornings, is sort of a goals class.  It is populated by non-French speakers but isn’t really a language class – it’s more of a class to help you reach a goal.  For example, they might help you look for a job, prepare for an interview, re do your resume etc… The government monthly stipend we were promised before we came here is still not happening and, at this point, I despair of ever seeing that money so I  am thinking I might like to get some sort of part time job to help earn the money we need to move home.  Also, I’ve got my heart set on a Greek cruise next summer, and those don’t come cheap!  So I updated my resume (which I hadn’t done for 10 years) and tried to translate it into French.  It was fun to try to show how all my volunteer work really does count for something!  I copy it below – for your reading pleasure:

Objective:       To obtain a part time position teaching English to French speakers.
The Big Backyard Nursery School 2005-2008
     President, 2007-2008 – Responsibilities included management of entire cooperative nursery school including: running board meetings, creating and approving budgets, hiring and firing staff and coordinating and managing a thirty family effort to run a top ranked nursery school.
     Registrar, 2006-2007 – Handled publicity for school, ran open houses, responsible for enrollment of new families in school as well as forecasting enrollment-based budgets. Published annual directory, and initiated new system to maintain registrant data.  Interacted directly with programmer and office staff to design and test system, wrote all instructional literature and trained future registrar on its use.
     Secretary, 2006-2007 - Member of the board, responsible for communication with member families.
JS Jenks Elementary, 2006-2008
     Public Relations Coordinator -Initiated this position within the school. Wrote and edited marketing pieces such as  informational literature, brochures, advertisements, flyers, and direct e-mail. Ran  successful open houses, resulting in more staff involvement and doubling attendance at every event.
Various, 2005-2008
     Literacy Volunteer  Tutored adults and 8-15 year old children to increase reading skills.
     Parent Volunteer   Assisted lead teachers in classroom for children on a regular basis between ages 3 and 9 years. Also coordinated art, cooking and scouting projects with groups of children and assisted in school fund raising and community efforts.
Exhibits Manager and Marketing Coordinator IOP Publishing, 1997 to 2001                     
     Exhibits Manager - Arranged for booth, publications, sales materials, professional meetings, and hotel stays at all the conferences. Created a new system of both pre and post exhibit marketing campaigns, with response rates of up to 20%.  
     Editorial Assistant - Compiled a list of terms for a physics encyclopedia.  Wrote and edited marketing pieces. 
     Database Supervisor- Initiated and commissioned the design of a new sales and marketing management system for remote and local use. 
     Marketing Coordinator-  Served as maternity cover for Journals Marketing Manager.
Continuing education:
     Currently enrolled in French classes three days per week, learning French cooking and studying to be a dyslexia tutor.
     Temple University, College of Arts and Sciences
       English Major with a concentration in Writing
     Graduated Magna cum Laude, and Phi Beta Kappa, May 1998
     Four-year Academic and Athletic full Scholarship
Computer Skills:
       Proficient in Internet research and critical analysis.  Other: Windows 95 to Vista, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Access and Microsoft Excel. Excellent typing skills – on a QWERTY keyboard!
     International Travel
     Homeschooling English literacy to young children
     Available upon request            

This class is pretty strange.  Much of the time seems to be spent on pumping up the self esteem and confidence of all the other students (and me) – telling us things like, it’s hard, but you can do it etc… etc… So, the first week I just talked to them about my goals and listened to a pep talk. The second week, I brought this in, with a rough French translation, and figured they would help me fix it up.  Well, what they did instead was give me (and the other two souls) another half an hour pep talk about how capable I am and I should trust what I can do etc… etc…  Listen, I’m not trying to be obnoxious here, but look at my resume!  I realize I am a capable person, with many useful talents.  Then they told me that 1. I need to get my college transcript or diploma or no one will believe I graduated and 2.  I need to write a document detailing what it is I want to do.  Well, I tried to protest, I explained that above (see objective) – I want to get a job teaching English!  I hope my French will improve, of course, but at the end of the day I am not well versed enough in French language or culture to get a job in PR or marketing – plus I don’t really want to do that anyway.  My gut tells me to just go around to the schools in the area that claim they teach English, and see if they need anyone, but apparently that’s not the way it works in France.   For now I will probably humor them and search on my own simultaneously (after we get back from Ireland) and we will see ‘who is right, and who is dead.’ (Westley from The Princess Bride – best movie of all time).

The other 2 classes at ASEP are held on Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings.  It is the same teacher and the same group both days.  It is an amazingly diverse crew.  We have students from Germany, Armenia, Algeria, Afghanistan, Turkey, West Africa, Morocco, Cambodia and, of course, the USA (that would be me).  It is men and women and covers ages from 30’s to probably 60’s.    It is a wonderfully mixed group and everyone is super friendly.  I am particularly enjoying getting to know one woman, named Lamia, better.  I wonder if it is the classroom environment, or if the culture is different, but the people in class are not afraid to reach out and touch each other – I really like that and have been missing it.   I have even been joking a bit in French – man – that is so cool!  Lamia is always dressed beautifully and coordinates her purse to match her head scarf.  After a few weeks of knowing her, I have to officially re-evaluate my blanket judgement that, since the 80’s are over, colorful eye shadow is always bad.  I think when you are wearing a gauzy blue or green head scarf, green and blue eyeshadow is the perfect accompaniment!  Lamia is an expert seamstress who, unfortunately, specializes in Algerian wedding garments.  This market does not really exist in France and she is struggling to find her new place in this culture.  I feel very lucky that I am not seeking political asylum, like some of the other students, and that I have the resources and education I need to find work.

We have practiced, so far, vocabulary and grammar related to shopping, visiting restaurants and making hotel reservations.  For me, this is all practical and useful, but for many of my classmates, who rarely travel or go out, I’m not so sure!  I do very well with reading and understanding what is written but my grammar stinks and also my conjugation skills.  It is fun to work with others and, although I don’t know if I am retaining anything yet – it can’t hurt to be speaking all French for 6 hours a week!  I think that part of my trouble, is that I don’t like French.  I mean, André waxes on and on about how it is such a beautiful language – so expressive, so wonderful etc…. but I’m just always wishing the Tower of Babel had never fallen and we could all go back to speaking one language (which would be English, of course!)  I mean, today we were working on the computer on getting the adjectives to agree with the nouns.   In French, every noun is either masculine or feminine, and the adjectives have to be as well.  The adjective was new.

In English In French
I have a new car J’ai une nouvelle voiture

I have a new computer

J’ai un nouvel ordinateur
I have 2 new computers J’ai 2 nouvels ordinateurs

I have 23 new pens

J’ai 23 nouvelles stylos
I have 4 new boys in gymnastics J’ai 4 nouveaux garcons dans gymnastiques
I have a new restaurant J’au un neuveau restaurant
Notice how the word “new” never changes in English.

Now, notice there are 5 different ways new is spelled in French – feminine singular and plural, masculine singular and plural and the crazy masculine singular and plural only to be used when the word new is followed by a noun that starts with a vowel – got it?

OK – like, that is just crazy – I mean, who cares??? It is frustrating though, because if you say nouvelle instead of nouveaux – French people don’t know what you are talking about. And it isn’t just adjectives that have to agree and reflect singular or plural it is also articles and probably lots of other stuff too.  I have tried to memorize some grammar rules, but they seem to fall out of my head.  Maybe it’s because, the whole time, I am feeling annoyed that these rules exist.  Perhaps, as I grow more as a person and embrace my new tongue, this will pass.

And then there are the words that sound the same – like ‘paté’ ‘patte’ and ‘pates’  These all sound very similar but mean liver spread, animal feet and pasta, respectively.  I almost got laughed out of the room when I told people I though it was funny that convertibles here are called decapitable (or beheaded, right? I mean, that is what happens when those things get in accidents, I figured it made sense)  Oh no!  Not decapitable, decapeautable (meaning taking off the cap)….. Hilarity ensues… but really, who can blame me?

Finally there are my two classes at the blue house – my local community center.  Yoga has restarted with the same group as last time and, in there, I mostly just say hello and then listen, trying to understand the instructions of the teacher.  There is a newer man in the class, however, who often gets into arguments with the teacher about the ‘right’ way to do poses etc… this stops the entire class and it is super irritating for me since this is the only time in my week that I totally dedicate to myself and peace.  I want to just say – shut up dude!

Last but not least I am attending a class for French people who want to learn to speak English better.  This is a super fun group of retirees who just come and try to learn.  They speak French more than half the time and spend tons of time translating back and forth.  I’m not sure if that is really good practice since they are there to speak English – but it is great for me since I get to learn lots of new cool things in French.  I also get to share my genuine American wisdom.  They love to hear me talk and read out loud.  It is fun to be in a place where you are not seen as a ‘stupid American’!  They are also practicing how to make hotel reservations etc…  I am glad to help out.

Oh, and today, at the supermarket I was totally excited to see that it is England week which meant they had real cheddar for sale!  I miss cheddar dearly and bought 4 packages.

In all, I am very very busy – but I am very social so all this interaction is good for my soul.

We will see how things go as time goes by.

A bientot….

Baden Baden (and a fairy)

So, I have an old high school friend, Karolina, that might come visit here in January and, when we were chatting on email, she mentioned how she wanted to share Strasbourg and nearby Baden Baden with her beloved.  Well, I had never heard of Baden Baden before then so I decided to research it a bit since we were going to be in the area.  When I first looked, I thought perhaps we should skip it because, more than anything else, Baden Baden (or bathe bathe) is known for (you’ve guessed it, right?) its baths.

It has been known for its baths since the time of the Romans and even now many people come here to go bathe in the mineral waters.  It is fairly inexpensive to partake of this experience, but the fact is, with 3 small children, a spa day is just so not going to happen.  So, I thought maybe I would choose something else to do.  I did some more research, and found a few interesting castles etc… in the Strasbourg area, but just kept coming back to the idea of Baden Baden.  I looked a bit more closely and found there were many, many other things, besides the baths, to make this town worth visiting.  Plus, I really wanted to get into Germany!

So our plan was to leave the gite by around 8 am so we could have some quality time before heading back home.  Unfortunately, Zander got sick in the night.  Luckily, we always bring some ibuprofen with us when we travel, so we were able to get him through the night and the next day of touring – just keep on popping those pills, ok?  However, all the drama made us a bit late and we ended up not reaching Baden Baden until almost 11am.  As usual, there was no drama, or even a welcome sign, when we crossed the border from France to Germany.  We just started noticing the signs were in a different language…

Our first stop, just outside the city, was an information kiosk that gave us a map.  We often stop and get german signthese when touring – to help us find our way around.   Andre used his rusty German to communicate and the helpful worker marked our hit spots on the map.  Armed with this, we headed up a nearby mountain to visit Altes Schloss (Old Castle), also known as Hohenbaden.  This is a giant ruin of a place.  It was built in the 11th century and has been abandoned since the 15th, when the margraves of Baden moved down to the New Castle.  If you are like me, and you have no clue what a margrave is, although you have heard the word before, read onward.  (Thanks, as always goes to  It turns out that a margrave is some sort of nobleman that has military responsibility.  The region of Baden, bordering France, has historically been full of conflict, so I guess the family that lived there had to not only take care of the people of the town but also defend them when enemies arose.  Since the king really wanted his border areas to remain secure, a successful margrave would have greater autonomy and more power than your average count.  Of course, they also had to deal with the whole ‘people are going to try to kill you’ thing.  Many, many enemies did arise against poor Baden – and most of them were French. (Turns out it wasn’t called Baden Baden until 1931 when people kept confusing it with Baden, Switzerland). In fact, among other conflicts, it was pillaged in 1643 and left in ashes in 1689. 

Picture the scene.  Hans and Frans, young men, are surveying the wreckage of their town.
Hans:  Hello Frans, I’m glad to see you survived.
Frans: You too my friend, but I’m not looking forward to rebuilding this disaster.
Hans:  I know,we were totally pillaged!
Fast forward 40 years to when they are old men…
Frans: Well Hans, it looks like this is the end of Baden.
Hans:  I know, 1643 was bad, but this time we were left in ashes.
Frans: Oh well, we’ll be dead soon anyway.Resized_P280909_11.49


But, back to Altes Schloss.  We had a great time wandering around in the ruins.  The place was surrounded by forest and hiking trails and we  enjoyed, as usual, just hiking around it. There were lots of lizards skittering about and I managed to get a shot of one.  Also we saw some really interesting mushrooms.  In my French class, last week we were talking about French food and startResized_P280909_11.48[01]ed discussing mushrooms.  Turns out that out of the 6 or so people in class,Resized_P280909_11.53 only the teacher and myself did not regularly go out and gather mushrooms to eat.  The African, Afghani, Cambodian, German and Algerian all expressed surprise we did not make this a regular  habit.  My entire life, I’ve been told to never, ever mess with mushrooms, you need, like, a PhD to even attempt this.  Many mushrooms look similar – and, if you eat the wrong one you can end up dead.  I habitually forbid my nature loving kids to even touch the things, I am so wary.  Who knew this does not hold true in other cultures? Live and learn, I suppose, unless you eat the wrong mushroom, and die.  We got to walk around through Resized_P280909_11.57[01]the castle and wander through where Resized_P280909_11.54the great hall must have been.  Nestled in one of the window niches was the largest wind harp in Europe.  I had read about  the wind harp ahead of time and was disappointed it was not a windy day – no chance to hear the music!  I really appreciated, however, this artist.  He made  something modern and amazing, that fit with the feel of the castle – it seemed like it belonged there, somehow. Most of the time, the modern installations just annoy me!  I was very inspired to see, as we climbed a bit higher, the remains of Resized_P280909_12.06a romantic dinner or breakfast fResized_P280909_12.02or two perched on the edge of a crumbling walkway.  Romance lives on, people!  Soon afterward we watched an employee of some sort come and clear the table.  He simply tossed all the leftover wine and bread etc… over the side of the castle wall.  Hope there were no walkers!  The place was almost empty – although we did see 3 other people who turned out to be on a long vacation from Peru – see, we are not the only adventurers!  We then climbed up to the top of the ramparts to enjoy fantastic views over the Black Forest.  Totally awesome.

         Resized_P280909_11.56      Resized_P280909_12.19[01]        Resized_P280909_12.20 Resized_P280909_14.27[01]

We headed back down the stairs and got in the car, passing by the wonderful lookiResized_P280909_12.28ng cafe that is in one part of the castle they must have restored- perhaps this is more what it looked like? (The wood doors, not the tables and chairs…). Our next stop was to be Trinkehalle – the town’s pump house. Here you can take a taste from the 17,000 year old Friedrichsbad spring.   We got more than a bit lost however, and ended up seeing a sign for Merkur mountain.  Since Resized_P280909_13.10 this was also on our hit list we went for it.  Merkur Mountain (named by the Romans for Mercury, the messenger god with winged feet) at 2200 meters, is the highest peak in the area and has a famous funicular that runs up it.  This was too good of a chance to miss since riding it, especially since, roundtrip cost for our whole family was only about 8 Euros.   Really, the Swiss should take some notes from the Germans on how to make fun things affordable.   The funicular, known as the Merkerburgbahn, heads up the hill every 15 miResized_P280909_13.09nutes or so and has been around for over 100 years.  This makes it one of the oldest funiculars out there, but it seems to be working just great!  It is also the steepest funicular in Germany and has grades up to 54%.  That is very, very, steep – that makes you feel like you are going to topple backwards.  To put this into perspective, trucks have to use low gear when driving on hills that are 5% grade!  Try 10 times that, folks. I discovered, while researching, that the steepest funicular in Europe (located in Gelmerbahn, Switzerland) has up to 110% grade.  Ummm…. I think they are cheating on that number (unless they are actually going backwards).  Obviously this must go on my list of things to see….

We made it to the top in one piece and ate our picnic lunch at a thoughtfully provided picnic bench near the summit.  The view was awesome, of course, and we could even see the ruins of Resized_P280909_13.50 Altes Schloss, where we had jusResized_P280909_13.58t been, off in the distance.  Walking around a bit more, we  discovered a free water fountain (in german they say ‘trinkewasser’) to fill up our bottles and, happy day, a fun playgroundResized_P280909_13.53, with a particularly good slide. We spent many happy moments playing before climbing to the top of another tower to see an even grander view.  We headed  back down the funicular –  totally seemed like we Resized_P280909_14.40[01]were plunging off the edge of a cliff- and headed back to the car.   Trinkehalle, here we come! Or so we thought.  For those of you who take the traveling plunge, please know these facts about navigating Baden Baden. 1. The map they give out in the tourist help place is wrong 2. The map they give out in the tourist help place is wrong and 3. THE MAP THEY GIVE OUT IN THE TOURIST HELP PLACE IS WRONG!!!!Resized_P280909_15.53[01]  We were going absolutely crazy trying to navigate in this place.  I was driving, so André could direct, and I think I had the most terrifying driving experience of my life when we somehow got trapped in an old quartier where the roads were so narrow I had to inch along to Resized_P280909_15.54 avoid scraping Mr. Liberty (who is not a particularly large vehicle).  The streets were beautiful, but no photos, we were too focused on not dying.  It was so hard!  We would follow a road and get to the intersection, and it would turn, suddenly, into a dead end with a walking path – was this marked on the map?  No.  We would come to another intersection and  none of the roads wResized_P280909_15.58ould match the names written on the map. At another point, we got close and realized only pedestrians were allowed on these roads (also not marked on the map) It would have been funny, if it wasn’t so ridiculously frustrating!  At the end of the day, I’d say the downtown of Baden Baden is meant for walking, not  driving!  We finally got to a park that we thought was near P280909_16.00Trinkehalle and parked the car.  I think it took over an hour to get there!  The park was absolutely beautiful.  We wandered through it passing gigantic cedar trees.  André used the timer to get this shot of us trying to give it a hug.  We often hug special trees we see on our travels and this one was the first that, even with the five of us reaching, we could not span. You can just see Zander’s hand reaching past the trunk – we needed one more body!

Then we made it to Trinkehalle.  It was a beautiful building with 14 frescoes depicting legeResized_HPIM2840nds  about Baden-Baden – but the explanations of the legends were only in German.  I was sad since I wanted to learn a Baden Baden legend. I had trouble finding any eveResized_HPIM2838n online  - though I found this link to Black Forest legends and on a hotel website I found a legend about the founding of the town - “According to legend Baden Baden's beautiful, spacious and liberal townscape came into being thanks to a Resized_HPIM2839mishap of the gods. Long ago, while playing with their `historical building bricks`, the gods seem to have got a bit mixed up with their architectural epochs. At a loss, they then finally each chose their favorite building and put them together on this delightful spot. And that is how BadResized_HPIM2843en-Baden came into being, in the valley of the Oos River, just west of the Black Forest” HPIM2837

We headed inside and, sure enough, there was the fountain of water  streaming down, free  for the taking.  It was fun to fill a water bottle and taste a sip of the same water people have been drinking for healthiness since at least the time of the Romans.  We all tasted it – Zander actually really liked it.  I can’t really describe how it tasted, except by saying it was strange, almost thick tasting.  I kept a small bottle of it to  bring back home.  We headed back through the park to get to Resized_HPIM2842the car, passing some confused crocuses, an amazing waterfall, aResized_HPIM2844nd a fairy.  Yes, people, that’s right, for real live life, a fairy.  We were walking along innocently enough when suddenly Callie started jumping up and down yelling – “Look, a fairy, a fairy! Quick, take a picture Mom!” Always eager to nurture their amazing imagination, (and see fairies) I shot quickly at the spot she was gesturing towards.  But, here’s the amazing part, this is the photo I got….   I will also show all of you an extreme close up on the Resized_HPIM2841white blob…  All I can say is I don’t know what it is, but I do believe there are more things in heaven and earth that can be explained by our feeble brains and also tResized_HPIM2841hat I have 2 long time friends who 100% believe that fairies are real so, I say, why not?  I think it is a fairy – and one of the coolest things we’ve seen on our travels.  It even glows!

We headed back home – way behind schedule of course and got to drive along on the Resized_HPIM2848 Autobahn.  André pushed Mr. Liberty to 100 miles an hour (that would be about 160KM per hour), but it felt crazy and Mr. Liberty started to shake a bit so we slowed back down!  Most of the cars were going between 80 and 120 mph on the highway – some were definitely racing.  It is definitely true that the Germans, as a whole, drive completely differently than the French.  Frankly, I’m glad we are in France.  The Germans drive very, very fast, they are not afraid to cut you off and follow so closely from behind there is no way an accident could be avoided if you stop short.  I have even noticed this to hold true when Germans drive in France.  When I see a German license plate, I get out of their way!  We made it home in one piece, stopping at McDonalds for dinner and fell into our beds. 

Zander ended up sick for the rest of the week with the grippe and Griffin, after puking all over his classroom Tuesday morning, joined him.  After that, Daddie also got sick and Zander actually got sick again for a few days.  I am wondering, since Callie and I have remained unscathed, if this is some sort of testosterone-targeting germ?   This is a main part of the reason I am so behind on blogging (besides planning for Ireland, of course).  But I am determined to catch up before we leave since I anticipate a cornucopia of blogging material starting at the end of next week.


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