We actually had zero – that’s right zero – major adventures this month!!!!! It was just about as normal a month has been since we got here. That being said – of course tons of stuff still happened and we ARE still in France – and we ARE still us – never a dull moment.
Ads in France are different – as are laws. They have a version of the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes here and in other European countries – like Ireland. Usually, they stick with the direct, to the point FUMER TUE (Smoking Kills) here in France, but I loved this one I saw in Ireland. Watch out guys!
Another thing that is different here are the napkins. Yes, you heard me right, I said the napkins. Zander brought these home for me. I know I’ve mentioned before that French children spend over an hour eating, sharing a 4 to 5 course meal together. The noise, according to my children, is so intense the staff, every meal, several times a meal, smash against their plates with their utensils in a vain attempt to gain order. The noise is so terrific Callie complains of headaches. The diners use real plates, forks, knives and spoons, but, apparently, paper napkins. If you can’t read the messages – I will translate. The first, with a kitty, says something like “During mealtime, I make less noise.” and the other one, with an octopus, says “Hey! Did you think to wash your hands? Clean hands don’t have germs.” I wonder if there is another one asking if they brushed their teeth? Yes, french kids also also do this each day, after lunch… There is an entire row of sinks along one hallway provided for this handwashing and toothbrushing activity. BUT, and I just thought of this one, there are no water fountains. If the kids want a drink of water (I’m not making this up) they stick their head into the sink. Yep…..
Then there is the ever-so-elaborate flower arrangement in every small quartier (neighborhood). The one at the corner of Zander and Callie’s school this year is truly magnificent and required hundreds of plants, tons of mulch, concrete bases and at least 5 days of work from a team of gardeners. Pictures just don’t do it justice.
As a whole, our family has been doing a ton of bike riding recently. Callie has recently upgraded from her bike with no gears to a 5 speed bike. After a few days of whining and screaming, she is now managing the gears with alacrity and handily beats me up hills.
The problem is that all our bikes really don’t fit into the back of Mr. Liberty – as you can plainly see, above. We just use our bungee – go slow and hope for the best. So far we’ve been OK but I’ve started to haunt the used stores for a bike rack. You can see us above on a recent ride around a great path near the Doubs. Griffin is a maniac on the bike, pedaling so fast his little legs are merely a blur. Problem is, even at that great rate, he can’t keep up with wheels 2 to 3 times his size so we end up with one parent accompanying Zander and Callie, and the other with Griffin. He is getting better, but the path close to the river made me a bit nervous after he randomly swerved and fell at one point, almost into the water! Another day we took the bikes to Chailluz and rode, all of us, about 5 miles – and that includes Griffin. He had to have some help from Daddie to make it up the hills but it was still very fun.
As long as Griffin is on my mind, I’ll do the update on him. He is enjoying school more and more – and really starting to learn. He is always ‘pretending’ to read things and is particularly interested in his name. He also likes to count and, of course, has not given up on his art! At school, his teacher reported twice that he is hitting other kids, we put this behavior on his point chart and it seems to already be stopping (I hope!). His new thing to annoy Callie and Zander is name calling. I find it funny (but try not to show it) that he uses both French and English to insult. I mean, in High School it was all about learning to swear in Spanish – MERDE! Griffin tends to call people “Poo Poo Head” or “CacaTete” I’m so proud – my baby is bilingual! He LOVES to ride his bike (as mentioned above) and play board games. He is a much better sport than either of my other children (or even me) and doesn’t mind losing. He has recently discovered he can lie – but is not very good at it yet.
Mama: “Griffin, what happened to your doudou? (The foot is ripped off)
Griffin: “Well, it just fell of magically. Huh! Isn’t that strange?”
Mama: “I can see you were pulling on it.”
Griffin: “Well… only very gently! Huh! Isn’t that strange? It must have been my magic!”
We spend lots of fun time together during our lunch breaks and have done a few picnics lately when the weather cooperates. Hope you can see how high he is climbing, look in the middle of the top third of the photo for his blond head, at left! The tie pictures show his idea of being well dressed for the company we had on French Thanksgiving. Well, ties are fancy- so I guess the more ties you have, the fancier you must be!
On top of our bike riding, we are still doing some hiking, on occasion, which is a great relief for me. I freely admit I am not comfortable on a bike. I am trying to get better, but my progress is slow and I’m just not comfortable enough to look around and enjoy myself like I can on a hike. I didn’t learn to ride until I was in 5th grade and never really got into it. I still remember my mother running me up and down Dale Road to try to help me learn. Now, as I am riding, the scenery is not even noticeable. I’m much too focused on protecting little kids I’m responsible for and not crashing myself! Here’s some shots from a Friday hike I recently took with the kids after school…. The sunset was amazing.
We went on another hike just a few days ago to the Source of the Arcier. We didn’t leave until late afternoon. It was chilly and, by the time we got out of the car and started walking, it was raining. We never let little snags like that stop our brave crew, and ended up hiking past beautiful waterfalls and then up a very, very steep hill. It was wet, muddy and covered in a thick layer of leaves. At one point Callie looked at me and said, “Mom? How are we going to get back down this hill?” We were hoping the trail would be a loop but, as it was getting really dark, we eventually turned back and in the increasing downpour, headed down the muddy path. Frankly, I was scared. I really thought we would have, at best, a majorly muddy and slippery time and at worst, a person injured. But, using tried and true hiking techniques we call ‘baby steps’ and ‘mini switch backs’ we made it without even one major fall down! Go us! Check out the house we saw – below – they have their own private waterfall underneath the house….ahhhh….
Last weekend we had a belated Thanksgiving on Saturday. No photos but the whole thing went off rather well. I brined and then rotisseried a turkey. It was a 9 pound turkey and cost me 35 Euros. That would be around 50 US Dollars – or about 9 dollars a pound. To put this into perspective, a whole chicken in France usually runs around 7 Euros and, in general, I do the grocery shopping for our family of 5, for a week, for around 60 to 80 Euros. On a week we eat no meat, and I skip all non-food items (cleansers, napkins etc….) I can do it for 40. So, this was a chunk of change. But it came out awesome. We also had cranberry sauce, Grandpa mashed potatoes, broccoli salad, homemade apple sauce and, for dessert, pumpkin pie and brownies. We had Zander’s teacher from last year, Joelle, and her husband Alexandre, over as well and they loved everything. Zander read a French book out loud to her and she says he has improved immensely since she taught him last year. I am happy she sees progress but I am frustrated that it is so slow and difficult for him.
While I’ve got Zander on the mind, I will give you an update on him. He is pretty much the same as last month, I think! He is doing very well at home, hardly ever being destructive or hurting which is a huge relief. He also seems happy most of the time at home, doing his art projects (loves sculpting), working on his homework, typing on the computer and looking at books. We have recently completed reading Holes to him and are now doing a Roald Dahl that is new to me called Esio Trot. He is going to counseling once a week, after school help twice a week, the autophonist once a week and, of course, theatre. He loves to ride his bike. Since first suspecting dyslexia, I’ve done lots of research and read a couple of books on the topic and am more convinced than ever that this is at least part of his reading difficulty. We have not mentioned any specifics yet to Zander, since we realize we are hardly qualified to make such a judgment. We did tell him that 20% of kids have trouble learning to read, so he is not alone – and we also told him that English is particularly hard to learn since there are 26 letters but 44 sounds. He is trying much harder lately – and keeps making very slow progress at home. I hesitate to compare, but it is true that Callie, 18 months younger, reads fluently and easily at a higher level than Zander in both English and French. When the autophonist tested him she claimed she saw some signs of dyslexia, but said first that he was too young to be tested and secondly that there were too many other issues (emotional and bilingual) getting in the way of a conclusive result. Last week we met with his counselor who is concerned he isn’t aware of his own emotions. (Getting Zander to verbalize his emotions has been challenging from birth for him – so that was no news to our ears. The fact it took her this long to figure it out, herself, is pretty worrisome!). She is also concerned that we might be ‘overparenting’ him – well – that part probably has some merit! We have been trying to get him to name his feelings on a more daily basis but it is very difficult for him. In an attempt to not overparent, I have stop asking him for the past month or so about his social life although it makes me sad that he does not have even one friend to call his own. We also had a meeting with his regular and RASED (special help) teacher last week. They are pleased with his progress in speaking the language but feel his reading is not very good. His teacher has concerns about his handwriting, spelling, and his painful slowness when he is reading. He is absolutely unable to follow along. I have spoken to him about it and he claims he tries but after about 2 words he can’t keep up. His teacher says he isn’t even trying. He can read many words in isolation, but can’t recognize them when in a sentence. His spelling is a wreck. His small group teacher says he doesn’t follow along in a small group either. Of course, to me, all of this just screams dyslexia, but when I brought it up, they got very frustrated. In France, you are not permitted to know more than any expert about anything. They are frustrated I am learning more about the problem and angry I am doing research. I have had people say to me – you have handed him to the experts, now your job is over. But what am I to do when everything I am reading says that if we don’t intervene, and right now he will never, and I do mean never, be a proficient reader? I am feeling so very helpless about this it makes me physically ill. The books say these kids need a champion who will help them get what they need. But it seems that what he needs just doesn’t exist in this country and there is no chance we can return until next fall at the earliest. So, I am trying to do what I can. This involves, waiting until January, when his teachers, us and the autophonist will all meet. That will be my next chance to try to get him some help at school. At home I am going to order some more easy reader books and focus on fluency, which (according to what I’ve read) requires no special training and is easy to do at home, and, is supposed to help. Also, over Christmas break, we will spend fun times sculpting letters with both him and Callie. This might help him as well and certainly can’t hurt. I am also going to start researching what kinds of support systems they have in place at Jenks and see if we can set up, ahead of time, a good program for him for at least next year. I’m also wondering if there is a summer camp that we might want to send him to. (Although we are supposed to be here so I’m not sure how that will be possible) Obviously he is going to need a great tutor and I’ve also started researching that. My latest idea is to find an awesomely brilliant, recently graduated, or simply adventurous, reading specialist who might be willing to live with us for the summer in exchange for a flight, room and food plus a little cash. Ideally, perhaps someone in the Philly area who could then continue with him once he starts school again. There is a special school for dyslexic kids about half an hour from our home in Philadelphia – but the tuition is upwards of $25,000 a year. To say I am overwhelmed with all this is a major understatement. Help!!!!
In good news, cool playgrounds have recently started popping up all over Besancon. The dome shown above is a short family bike ride away in a group of apartments located just past the local cemetery. Mr. Liberty is still taking us everywhere we need to go in perfect order – his alarm is a bit more sensitive than we would like but it makes life interesting to know that, at any moment, I may need to run out and shut down the screaming noise. I’ve been really happy at how well the kids are playing together this fall. They draw together, they love to do fantasy play and they even sometimes hug and snuggle each other. Since Zander is not hitting (usually) everyone is having more fun. They love to be silly together – as you can see by the two photos!
Callie is doing very well. She loves her rhythmic gymnastics and her school class is going to a real gymnastics place once a week which she loves to death. She really likes to draw, especially together with me and seems to enjoy copying others’ work – like the castle shown at left. She is doing very well in school and can now read simple books in both English and French with no problem. She has lots of friends and especially loves our neighbor Alicia. Alicia can be a bit pushy and often says if Callie won’t cooperate, she won’t be her friend any longer. I am proud to report that, most of the time, Callie follows her own agenda. She even seems to be working on the more difficult aspects of relationship building. The other day they had a fight and Callie reported: “Alicia apologized to me and now we are friends again. That’s what happens with friends, right? Sometimes they fight but that doesn’t mean they don’t love each other!” Well, that’s what we tell them when André and I fight, so I guess it is true for friends as well. She has never gotten her haircut but recently told me she was wondering if Daddie would be willing to give it a try. I was surprised, since she has often said she wants to have hair down to her butt, and asked why. “Well, Mom. I really need a new look.” LOL! We’ll see if that happens any time soon. You can see her old locks at left as she snuggles Simone the cat. She is the most in love with the cat of any of the kids and plays with her every day. She loves to pick her up and carry her. I find it interesting that Simone seems to like this, even purring, but would never tolerate the same kind of carrying from either me or André. It seems she knows Callie is only a girl, and doing the best she can to be gentle.
André is doing pretty well. He was injured during his last race and hasn’t been running very much which is very, very frustrating for him. He tries to do alternate workouts like riding the bike, but they don’t give him the same cardiovascular stress that running does. At work, things are hectic since a big deadline is coming up which his team is not ready to meet. There has been lots of stress over this – he calls it ‘storming’ and he is hoping that, after this failure, they will ‘hit bottom’ and be willing to make some changes. He is also spending a ton of time with his online computer community on the Agile Skills Project – which is the brain child of the conference he attended in the US last month. He is lucky to be able to do this often during lunch time or breaks at work so it doesn’t take much time away from our family stuff. We are happy and so very lucky to be able to see him so often. He eats breakfast and dinner with us every day and lunch 5 days a week. We walk to school together every morning. He and I have been going on dates a few times recently and had a great time at a Folk Ball. This is really fun group and couple dancing. We participated in the Farandole and watched lots of other dances that reminded me a bit of Irish jigs. We did another dance or two I don’t know the names of – they involved passing people around and around in circles – it was crazy. I was wishing my parents could be there to watch. There was Mazurka and lots of other types of dancing. This is the link for the particular dance we went to http://www.alambic.info/nuitdufolk and I also found this link http://mtcn.free.fr/mtcn-traditional-music-dance.php which seems to describe some of it but who knows??? I really loved it because the people were very open and friendly and the crowd was huge and mixed. There were little children, teenagers, grown ups and the elderly all having a good time. Also there were obviously many levels of skill from raw beginners to experts. We left around 11pm to get back to the babysitter. Of course, in typical French fashion, it wasn’t to be over until 3 or 4 in the morning. Which means we missed out on the free onion soup for those who stayed…. oh well! We are planning on attending another one in January. Maybe we will save up to stay until the bitter end – but I was pretty exhausted after 2 hours. The photo at right is how the sun looks, rising over our apartment buildings.
Lately, I have been taking random shots of things I see all the time, but don’t want to take for granted. The first is the view from our bakery. You can see the pharmacist, a small boutique and the butcher shop; behind these establishments is the grocery store and post office. Drugs here are way, way, way cheaper than in the US. I recently took Zander and Griffin, who had the flu, into there with no less than six prescriptions. I paid full price for the medicine (since we don’t yet have our health care cards in order) and it came to around 20 Euros. A giant bottle of liquid Children's Advil costs about 3 Euros here – and comes with a dosage measurer. I plan on stocking up before I go back to the states. It is great to have all the things we need within such a short walking distance. At right, we have a French crane. These are all over the country but this one has been in the construction site right next to the community house (Maison Bleu) since we moved in. They are building a large new apartment complex. Recently they have been drilling the garage out and, during yoga, all we can hear is the constant thrumming of jack-hammers. It’s all very meditative, if you let it be.
I do believe I have not yet mentioned the laissez-faire attitude the French have towards car safety. The picture, left – taken by me as I picked up Griffin from school the other day, is a typical example. A man is driving with his wife next to him. She is holding a 2 week old infant in her arms. Then, in the back, flatbed part of the truck, along with a bunch of loose tools, bounce a 2 and 3 year old. This happens every day – and never freaks anyone out but me. IF they happen to have a carseat for their baby – it invariably rides in the passenger seat, right next to them – and is often not even strapped into a safety belt. I remember when they made seatbelt wearing a law in NJ as a kid and my mom was like, a Nazi about it, getting us totally into the habit. There were 4 of us kids. My 3 sisters sat in the back and my dad, mom and I shared the front. Keep in mind my dad weighed about 400 pounds so the room left over for my mother and myself was minimal. I particularly remember the hot days, when I was wedged against his giant sweatiness. AHHHH!!!! But anyway, driving was a bit of a challenge for my dad since, with his belly in the way, his feet could barely reach the pedals and his arms could barely reach the steering wheel – I remember thinking it must hurt the way it cut into his stomach. Despite all this, he was an excellent, cautious driver and I do not remember a single accident he ever got into in my life. But, on occasion, his hand or foot would slip and the car would lurch. SLAM! My mother’s arm would come down across my body. I’m sure, if a real accident had occurred it wouldn’t have done any good – and I’m also sure she did not plan to do it. Nevertheless, it never failed to make me feel loved. I guess that’s what French parents must still do – since most don’t seem to invest in the modern safety trappings. Thanks for trying to save me Mom. I love you!
I do realize that I have left myself, as usual, last and least. I have so much bouncing around in my head that I will have to wait, for another day……. if life doesn’t get in the way.