Archive for April, 2007

monkeying around

Monday, April 30th, 2007

All I can think about today is Kaitlyn. Every few minutes I stop what I’m doing and think “I wonder what she’s doing now.”

                        Today, Kaitlyn is on her first field trip. Her class went to the zoo. I could have gone, but I didn’t. Kaitlyn told me the trip is just for the kids and teachers. I didn’t let the whim of a four year old dictate my decision to check the “non, je ne peux pas aller” box on the form. I hope I didn’t. But I did let her lack of support let me off the hook. As much as I wanted to go, I was just plain afraid that some 4 year old would have something important to communicate and I wouldn’t be able to help because I can’t understand enough French.

                    Still, this morning when the kids were all gathering at the school waiting for the bus to arrive, I kind of regretted my hesitation. They all had their little backpacks filled with snacks and lunches, they had on their hats to keep from getting sunburned, and the threat of rain had jackets stuffed into the sacks.

                    When the bus arrived, the kids walked outside in pairs to get on board. They’ll apparently spend the day in those pairs. Two kids per each adult. Kaitlyn and her buddy sat right up front. But then Kaitlyn was moved, because someone whose Mom fears carsickness (it’s been an issue in the past) got to sit in the prime seat. Kaitlyn didn’t seem bothered. But then I couldn’t see where she was, to wave bye.

                        It’s starting to thunder here. I hope she’s ok. She’s never been afraid of storms. I hope this isn’t the day she lets it get to her. I hope she remembers her jacket is in her backpack.

                        I hope she ate the lunch I packed (a jelly sandwich cut out in the shape of a K, a hard boiled egg – already peeled, carrot slices and red pepper slices. Her snack was strawberries.)

                    I hope she will tell me all about her trip to the zoo.

                    I hope next time there’s a field trip I’m not too chicken to go along.

screen test results are in: so are the wasps

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

            After a few peaceful lovely fresh-air filled bug-free days, I’m going around the house shutting all the windows and shutters again.

                Two wasps have gotten into the house today. One I managed, after quite a while, to get to fly outside. The second is in our bathroom, climbing around the window in the ceiling. I shut the door and hope he stays in there until Bill comes home.

                Suddenly, I miss the United States. Sure, there are wasps there. But they never seemed so determined to get into my house there.

all abuzz in the petite maison!

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

                    While trying to figure out where to move the bbq grill so that the mountain breeze stops blowing through it and blowing out the flame, Bill found where at least some of the oh-too-close-for-comfort wasps have built their home. When he moved Kaitlyn’s playhouse he discovered they’ve set up shop, so to speak, inside it.

His first reaction was to grab the can of wasp killer so he could spray the nest. I told him to wait till night.. when they’re all home. I read that on the internet. I used to think it was so they’d be asleep. Apparently not. He didn’t believe me. I told him to read the can… then realized the can is in French. Still, he figured out enough of it to realized I had a point.

                    Last night after dark, when we were climbing into bed I said “hey, don’t forget to kill the wasps.” I was too tired to see if he went outside in his pajamas to do the job, but he sprayed the nest. This morning the house is still tipped on its side and if I stand just so on my tippy toes and crane my neck at the sliding glass door, I can see the nest in there. But today there’s no buzzing around it.

                    Maybe Bill needs to put screens on the windows of Kaitlyn’s little house!

Screen Test

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

                    When we moved here – make that AFTER we moved here – we found out that houses here don’t have screens. And buying them is nearly impossible. Now there’s a lot of things I didn’t realize until we got here we wouldn’t have. Like a garbage disposal. But given that there isn’t any air conditioning, well, the lack of screens is something it would have been nice to have been warned of.

                    Fortunately, either there are enough ex-pats moving here or the French have finally figured out that screens work better than curtains to keep bugs out. Either way, the result is screens are starting to pop up in hardware stores. Bill found some kits and assembled a few of them this weekend. We now have screens on two windows – the one in the kitchen and the one in the office. He also put together a screen for the French door next to the kitchen. None are perfect. He had to hold them in place with tape. And the one for the door is too small, so the top has a piece of styrofoam filling the gap.

                    Still, they’re screens. And we can have the windows open and let the cool air in and keep the bugs out. That’s all I wanted. Now, maybe we can find a single room air conditioner for our bedroom…

What’s the Buzz?

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

It is going to get very hot in the house this summer.

                        We don’t have air conditioning. That’s pretty much standard here. The electricity is too expensive. Same reason it seems only ex-pats have clothes dryers. (Our house, which was just built, doesn’t even have an outlet for a dryer by the washer… just in case they decide one day that it’s a good idea after all.)

                        You cool your house by not opening the shutters when the sun will beam through the windows. And you cool your house by opening the windows when the shutters are open. Here’s the thing: they don’t use window screens. Open a window and whatever feels like it can just wander (or fly) right into the house. I don’t partake in many outdoor activities because, well, they’re outdoors. Where bugs are.

                           Since coming home Sunday, there have been 7 stinging insects in the house. Eight if you include the dead one waiting for us in the bathtub that evening. Only two have appeared to be ordinary bees. The others are much, much more menacing. They are the variety that has stripes and flies with their legs hanging down and eew they are so creepy. And they all show up while Bill isn’t here.

                        When I see them, I’m too scared to kill them. What if I miss? Then I have a pissed off stinging insect trapped in the house with me. That’s no good. So I wait until I see them get near a door or window, then I open the portal to the outside and chant words of encouragement. “Go on. Go outside. There it is. So close.” The chanting doesn’t seem to make a difference. Maybe I need to try it in French.

                        Yesterday I got home from taking Kaitlyn to school to face the thing that flew in when she opened the door to the garage to get into the car. (as best I can tell) He went over by the door, I opened it and stepped back and told him to go on. Instead, he flew down into the plastic lid of a Play Doh barrel of fun. And then he apparently couldn’t get out. I stared at him for 30 minutes. You cannot just leave one of these things near the open door. You have to diligently make sure no others come in. And you have to make sure your unwelcome guest leaves, otherwise he could be anywhere. So after 30 minutes of watching him, tossing shoes at the lid to make it move to try to get him to move, and calling him stubborn and stupid (who was really the stubborn and stupid one?) I got up the nerve to grab the lid and toss it out the door. (The lid, by the way, is still just outside the door because it landed on him. Now I’m too afraid to go pick it back up.) Before that, I took a close look at him, so that I could identify him on the internet. Which I did.

                        Our fine friends appear to be the European Paper Wasp. Commonly mistaken for a yellow jacket because of the black and yellow stripes. But it’s the only species with red antennae. This guy definitely had red antennae!

                        I think they’ve set up a home somewhere in the eaves that gives them access to our garage. Because each time I’ve gone through the garage door this week, I’ve found one in the house. And the door is usually open long enough for one to get by undetected. Now Bill has to figure out how to get to them and get rid of them.

                        They’re finding other ways in, though.

                        Two mornings in a row, we’ve awakened to find someone buzzing around the house. We’ve been going to sleep with the upstairs shutters opened just enough for a few cracks to let in fresh, cool night air. The cracks don’t look big enough for anything but a mosquito to fit through. Doesn’t matter. No crack in the shutters tonight. Tonight, we suffer because I need a control night. After I sealed the house today and we simply baked, we were bug free.

                        Still, I constantly think I’m hearing a buzzing sound and am looking around, paranoid. I keep thinking I’m feeling one crawling in my hair, which really REALLY creeps me out. We didn’t leave the house today, because I was so afraid of one coming in when we opened the door. I finally had to go out this evening to take out the trash (can’t let that pile up, then another unwanted pest comes along… the dreaded ant!) and I hope my neighbors didn’t see me. I kept jumping away from nothing and turning my head like a crazy person. Because, apparently, I am.

                        Kaitlyn is handling this in a mixed way. Yesterday she told me to kill the bug. I told her I’m too scared to. So she told me “I have an idea. Open the door and let him out.” Today when one kept buzzing around before he found the window (he seemed to be an especially dumb one), she hid behind me. But when she saw a spider in the house, she grabbed her shoe and went over and pounded the thing into oblivion.

so, so horrible

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

I have spent most of my day watching CNN.. and the coverage of the horriffic shooting at Virginia Tech. (CNN international is mostly showing CNN from the US) It’s awful. Just awful. My heart goes out to everyone with ties to that campus. It feels weird to be so far away watching something so awful.

it’s too much!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

We came home and emptied our suitcases in the laundry room…. looking at them I estimate I’ve got 7 loads to do to get it all done. I miss my huge American washer.

last day in Amsterdam

Saturday, April 14th, 2007

The last two trips we’ve taken, I’ve missed out on going to a museum I wanted to see. I was not going to miss the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.

                        After breakfast, the makeshift team of bikers said our goodbyes and each went off their own way. Bill and Kaitlyn put me in a taxi to drop off our suitcases at our hotel then go to the Van Gogh museum without them. They went to the Nemo. It’s a big hands-on science museum aimed at kids. Perfect for the two of them.

                        I got to my museum 20 minutes before it opened. There was already a line. I thought maybe that was because it is Museum Weekend. We assume that Museum Weekend means free admission to the area museums. Maybe to some of them… but not to the Van Gogh Museum. (And Bill said not to the Nemo, either.) Inside was packed with people. But since I didn’t have to worry about a bored 4 year old or a bored 39 year old, I didn’t let it bother me. I bought the audio guide and took my time. I enjoyed watching the progression of Van Gogh’s paintings as I progressed through the museum. But when I reached the ones from when he was so depressed just before he took his own life… I nearly cried. I was so moved by the darkness on those canvases. When I told Bill that, he thought I was just silly. But it’s true.

                        The three of us met back up for lunch. We went to the Hard Rock Cafe. Not really one of the world’s greatest eateries. But the idea of American food was too alluring. Kaitlyn ordered mac and cheese. We ordered burgers. And nachos for an appetizer. Service stunk. We spent as long there as we’d have spent eating at a restaurant here in France. But we were determined not to let that bother us. We did our best.

                    We finished off our stop in Amsterdam at the Heineken Brewery tour. We’re model parents – red light district and a brewery. We got in with just under an hour to do the tour, which we thought would be plenty. We were actually a little rushed. Mostly because we couldn’t manage to down our three beers each in that time… since you aren’t allowed to carry your beer around with you! The “ride” where you “become” a bottle of Heineken in the brewery was silly.. but not as silly as the 3-d movie at the Chartreusse tour!

                        We were too tired to do much more. We went back to the hotel and watched Flushed Away then the Dutch version of Dancing with the Stars. That was at least entertaining; it was fun to try to guess which was the star and which was the real dancer. For dinner we ordered room service. Kaitlyn thought that was pretty neat – order your food and they bring it right to your room!

                        All in all, this has been a good trip. I’m ready to go home and get some sleep.

what are those ladies doing?

Friday, April 13th, 2007

Rather than just hang out on the boat, we joined a few others for an evening cruise through the canals of Amsterdam. Naturally, getting there meant a long walk. And we barely got there in time, but we made it. The tour wasn’t spectacular. But we did find out that at least one car a week drives off the road and into the canals. (we’d wondered about that when we saw how close to the edge of the road cars park) Kaitlyn put her head down on my lap for part of the ride but when she realized she might doze off, she sat up and managed to stay awake.

                If she’d been asleep, we’d have taken a taxi back to the barge. Since she was awake (and there were no taxis in sight) we figured we’d walk. The guide asked if we’d want to join them on their path… through the red light district. Everyone is dressed. We won’t be going in any place. Kaitlyn won’t realize what’s going on. Bill wanted to see it and felt more comfortable doing so in a group. So we went. Bill carried Kaitlyn on his shoulders and we made our way into the crowd. (duh – red light district on Friday night. Yes, it’s crowded)

                    Kaitlyn may not have understood what she saw but she wanted to know what was going on. After we passed a few windows with barely-dressed women in them shaking their boobies at everyone walking by, Kaitlyn said “Mommy, what are those women doing?” I told her they are trying to get you to spend your money. It’s an accurate answer. She accepted it. Fortunately, our jaunt through the district was short. I saw far more than I wanted to see (offers of “live” shows… products in windows I don’t know what they’re for… and lots of boobies)

                    We should have taken up the offer we’d gotten for some babysitting back on the boat!

End of the Bike Path…

Friday, April 13th, 2007

I am sitting here on the boat after our last day of biking, rather amazed that I actually did it. I have spent the last 6 days sleeping and eating on a 100 year old barge… and biking an average of 35 kilometers each day. (that’s just under 22 miles) Sure, now I can hardly walk. But I did it!

                            Today we finished with a ride from Haarlem to Amsterdam. The guide said it’s about 15 kilometers from city to city. But that’s too short! And not scenic. So we took an alternate… another 35 km route.

                        She showed us the statue of Hans Brinker… the boy who heard the dike leaking in the middle of the night and stuck his finger in to hold back the water. She said it’s a story children in Holland grow up with. And she didn’t know until she became a tour guide that it wasn’t true… it’s just an American story. (ok, she said lie. I’m going with story)

                        She also took us to a little village just outside of Amsterdam where all the buildings are built to look like those from a few hundred years ago. Sort of a Dutch Williamsburg. We saw a demonstration of how wooden shoes are made… complete with the shavings flying all around our unprotected eyes. The explanation for why they wore them seemed a little lacking. They’re strong and waterproof. That much I’d guessed. We watched a cheese making demonstration; that was a bit dull. At least there were no flecks of fromage to dodge. Bill and Kaitlyn went up inside a working windmill where paint pigment is milled. I skipped the scary excuse for a staircase and milled around the gift shop.

                        I was surprised when we reached the boat. It didn’t feel like we’d biked very far… but we were done. But when I got off the bike, it sure felt like we’d gone a long way!

                        I think Kaitlyn won over the hearts of the others on the bike circuit with us. Each time we stopped today, the gentleman from Norway picked big long willow sticks for her… to act as her flag on the back of the bike. (He had to keep picking them because she kept destroying them) She’s also in a lot of pictures others took.

                        Kaitlyn has been a good little passenger. She has been disappointed that she didn’t get to ride her own bike after the first day. But Bill promised her a big-girl bike when we get home. She’s happy with that.