Archive for June, 2007


Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Ok, this is so politically incorrect. But if you’ve ever wondered why French men carry purses, well, I think I’ve found the reason. It’s the things they make them do as children.

We went to the end of the year school celebration today. La Fete de l’Ecole. The school’s portion consisted of a show (it wasn’t really a play or a concert) that acted out the “theme” of what they’ve been studying this year: air, water, land. I think. All I knew is that Kaitlyn’s teacher told me a few days ago that she would be a mermaid and, thankfully, the school had the costume. All we had to do was show up wearing teacher-approved shoes. (to be more mermaid-like I suppose)

The show started with the little kids acting out the sea. Kaitlyn and the three other mermaids were first on stage. They held up a blue net like material and waved it up and down… to make the ocean. Some fish swam around. There were some sunbathers. A kid pretending to be the guy at the beach who sells water (nice to know some things are the same everywhere) and a kid who walked along the beach talking on his cell phone. Obviously, the whole sea theme was the best part.

There were some issues with wardrobe malfunctions.  Kaitlyn’s little top kept falling down around her belly.  Finally, another mermaid got so frustrated by it she tried to help fix it.  Later at home when we saw the pictures, Kaitlyn said “look, you can see my boobies!”
Next came older kids with some sort of song about soup. Six kids were on stage wearing vegetables around their necks and slapping veggie halves together to make music. Some other kids came on stage wearing chef hats and aprons. They put the veggie kids into their soup.

That was followed by an act set to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”… sung in French. The kids (boys and girls) had on rain coats and boots and carried umbrellas. They danced around and ended by squirting the audience with squirt guns. We were so lucky to be in the third row!

The strangest act had to be the next one. There were about a dozen boys and girls on the stage. The costumes were bare feet, jeans, a solid colored t-shirt and a white mask on the back of their heads. They sort of danced around in sub-groups according to the color of their shirts. Honestly, I have no idea what that had to do with air, water or land. I have no idea what that had to do with anything.

The grand finale was the ribbon twirlers. The oldest kids, dressed head to toe in black (good thing it was a relatively cool day… black wool hats and gloves had to be hot) carried ribbons on sticks that they twirled around. Like those lame rhythmic gymnastics. And there were boys in the act, too.

After the show the part of the day organized by the parents started. We joined the other Americans at a table and we all downed nearly three bottles of wine waiting for the food to come out. The salad was shredded carrots and sliced tomatoes. Yuck. The main dish was paella. Complete with seafood. I’d have rather had the one meant for kids – it only had chicken. Dessert was some fruit cakes. No chocolate! It wasn’t exactly worth the 50 Euros we’d paid. (I didn’t tell Bill till we got there how much it cost) But like we all kept saying, it’s a fund raiser.

After eating there were some games set up for the kids. Most were for the older ones. There was one game that Kaitlyn could play… fish for a prize. But Bill got really mad waiting because there was no line or organization to it. The teenage girls running the game kept passing over Bill to give the “fishing pole” to someone else. I finally went over and said something to them… no idea if I said something that even made sense. I don’t know the word for “wait” but a word that seemed right popped into my head so I used it. I can’t even tell you now what the word was. Just to not hear me try to speak anymore French they gave Bill and Kaitlyn the next available fishing pole.

This end of the year party is a big deal for the kids. All the schools have one. It’s a little something to look forward to again next year.

Clown Car Ownership isn’t Funny!

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Ok, so we’re realizing that when my brother and his family comes in two weeks, we are going to have a hard time getting around. His family of three plus our family of three equals 6 people to stuff into our clown cars. Not even possible.

            One must remember that when we bought the cars, we thought they were a bit bigger than they really are. But when we realized just how small our cars are we said “oh, when we have company, we can just rent a car for the week.”

                And even if we’d bought a station wagon like we sometimes think we should have, it wouldn’t fit six people. We have to have something with a third row of seats. That doesn’t even take into account the fact that in French mini vans, the third row of seats takes up the entire luggage compartment… which is a whole ‘nother problem!

                So I started doing a little browsing on the internet to track down just how much we’re talking about spending here. First, I have to remember to look at cars that fit more than 5 people. That narrows the list down considerably.

                Then, I have to figure out the logistics of it all. Bill thought he’d just go pick up the van on Sunday afternoon, before I return from Paris with the globetrotters. We can return the van Thursday when we go to the train station to go to Venice. It’s the perfect plan. Except for this: car rental agencies are pretty much closed on Sunday at the train station. CLOSED! Now, I understand that nearly everything except the garden store is closed here on Sunday… but this is getting out of control. That’s like closing a hotel on Sunday! Sorry, you cannot travel on this day because, well, we have to have it off. It’s the law. I’m ok with not being able to buy a car in Indiana on a Sunday… but I honestly think that you should be able to rent a car in France on a Sunday.

                So let’s say that I make Bill go to the car rental place at the airport in Chambery on Sunday… which is open until 2pm…. if we pre-pay online for the discount, we can rent a mini van for four days for a mere 579€! 144€ a day!

            Looks like we’re going to be driving two cars everywhere we go if Bill is with us. And if he’s not … I’m glad I have to drive because the back seat is going to get crowded!

quote this!

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Ah, another fine Wednesday. I hope my whole summer doesn’t go like this. Kaitlyn hasn’t been bad, but we’ve spent this fine day at the house. It didn’t even get warm enough to bother to try the pool. Other people’s naps got in the way of two potential play dates. Gads.

                Besides, we were stuck here in the afternoon because not one but two people were coming to the house.

                One is the water heater guy, for the annual maintenance. (which we only found out about because of the repair job done earlier this month!)

                The other is a gardener who called me yesterday to say that the immoblier (realtor/rental agent) asked him to come give a quote for yard work. Great timing, I mowed the lawn yesterday!

                Amazingly, both were not only on time, but early.

                I was worried that the gardener had been sent not to quote but to actually work. Still, I didn’t bother to look up the word for quote or estimate. I just figured that if I saw him take out a rake, I’d tackle him. French people aren’t big, I could have done it. I think he could see my concern and managed to convey that he wasn’t going to DO anything today (or possibly ever – that’s a problem with the language. I cannot be sure) So I pointed out the ridiculous slope riddled with weeds that we’re supposed to keep clear. Impossible. He pointed out some weeds growing elsewhere. I just sort of shrugged. (That’s French for “yea, whatever) We’ll have to see what kind of crazy quote he comes up with. I wonder if he’ll send it to us or to the immoblier. She’s the one having a cow that the yard isn’t pristine. If she’s so upset by it, she can pay for the gardener!

Summer reading… or summer studying

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Bill called me today from the train station in Paris. He’d found an international bookstore with travel guides. He was checking to make sure what we do and don’t have before choosing three Green Guides to add to our growing travel library: Paris, Cote d’Azur and Chateaux of the Loire Valley.

            When he got home, I tried to play it cool. After all, I really was happier to see him than to see the books.

            First, I flipped through one of the English magazines he’d brought. I very much enjoyed the layout showing how to have country charm in your double-wide. (I swear it)

            Finally, I couldn’t hold back anymore. I grabbed the books, anxious to check out some of the potential vacations. What I found… French. All the books are in French.

            I hesitated to tell Bill, but had to. He was really upset. It’s ok, I said. I can read French ok now… I can try to figure out the books.

            It’s such an easy mistake to make. You get so caught up in the thrill of finding stuff in English… you forget to make sure that’s what you take to the cashier. Oh, well, I guess I have my summer studies cut out for me.

Home vs. Paris… which wins?

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

It’s a Mommy and Kaitlyn weekend, while Bill and Todd are in Paris. I admit, I was worried about the two of us driving each other crazy, but it seems that our weekend is going far better than Bill’s.

                    Except for Thursday night, Kaitlyn and I have made plans and kept busy. Ok, right now she’s watching Buzz Lightyear on the Slingbox, but then we’re going to a picnic and hang out with some friends.

                    I’ve gotten a stream of text messages on my phone from Bill with snippets of his trip. I don’t think it’s what he expected of a few days in Paris without his wife and daughter.

                    It’s been rainy. It poured buckets on the Paris Air Show. Todd didn’t have a rain coat. They figured the planes would be grounded for the day. So they left. Then at the train station, they could hear the jets taking off for demonstrations.

                    I couldn’t figure out the message about the Eiffel Tower being closed Thursday night, so they didn’t go. Last night was too cloudy, so they didn’t go. If they don’t go tonight, Todd will have gone to Paris without doing the Eiffel Tower. That would be a pity.

                    Today they are headed to Versailles. They bought their train tickets last night. Or they thought they did. When they got back to the hotel, Bill realized they’d been sold tickets to Fontainebleau. He is not thrilled at how things are going. At least the lady at the front desk of the hotel helped them fix that problem. I’ll have to wait for the update once they get there.

                    I confess… I was a little jealous when Bill and Todd were talking about their trip. It even crossed my mind to try to figure out how to join them. But I didn’t want to butt in on their big “guys” weekend. I guess staying home wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

summer camp

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

So, I’m trying to sign Kaitlyn up for some summer activities. Camp, I suppose. Only without any camping. Or smores.

                    Another mother at the school told me that there’s a horseback riding “camp” for four year olds. Perfect. Horses are frequent travelers on our street, and Kaitlyn is always telling me how she wants to ride. Her only experience so far, other than watching horses, is to go on the pony rides at Griffith Park in LA.

                    Just pick up the forms at the marie (town hall), she said. You don’t even have to speak French – everything you need is out on a shelf. Easy. Maybe. I’ve been to the marie three times now, and I’m still not certain I have the right forms. The booklet of information the woman gave me again today does not include four year olds in the horseback riding course. The xeroxed town calendar does. I thought I was supposed to have an orange or yellow form. All mine are white.

                    I guess I’ll return to trying to muddle through the French and fill out what I do have. The other mom is taking me tomorrow morning to turn everything in. I guess I’ll find out then if I’ve got what it takes.


Thursday, June 21st, 2007

                Today while Kaitlyn and I were eating lunch the doorbell rang… two rapid-fire ding-dongs from an apparently impatient visitor. I just knew it was the poste lady. I dashed to the door and by the time I got it open (couldn’t have been a full minute from the time she rang), she already had the form filled out saying that she’d attempted delivery and I wasn’t home. (I guess the fact that I don’t open the shutters makes it look like I’m not home. No, I’m just hot and trying to keep the sun out. Oh, and scared, and trying to keep the wasps out.)

                I was so happy I was here to get the box. It was two pairs of new white Keds sneakers… replacements for the ones I ruined mowing the lawn! You cannot get Keds here. I had no choice but to have them sent from the U.S. I tried to have Todd bring some in his suitcase, but he couldn’t find any in my size. (Can’t send a man to do a woman’s job!) Yes, I probably spent as much buying and shipping them as I’d have spent just buying nicer shoes here. Maybe next time. For now, I’m happy as a clam in my stark white sneakers.

Adventures in Eating

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

I am so tired… it’s nearly midnight and we’ve just returned from dinner at our favorite “fancy French” restaurant. It’s inside an old castle. It’s five courses. It’s exhausting. And this time we realized, it’s not for my brother. (sorry! We’ll find a more meat-and-potatoes place for you.)

                Tonight, I decided it was time to be a little more adventuresome with my eating. We are in France, after all.

                I stuck to the scallops entree (appetizer), which once again was spectacular.

                For my main dish, I got really brave and asked the waiter a question. I was thinking about a fish dish that includes shrimp, but I’d never heard of the kind of fish before. John Dory. (Looking it up on the internet it sure is an ugly fish.) And I don’t like fishy fish. So, in French, I expressed my concern. Oh, no, try it, he said. It was amazing. It was a huge portion, too. Far more than I could eat. Especially knowing I had two more courses to go!

                Then, I went out on a limb I never thought I’d crawl out on. For my cheese course I passed on the fromage blanc. (white cheese. Unlike anything we get in the U.S. Pour sugar on it, and it’s tasty stuff) I went for the assortment of cheeses. When the waiter wheeled the fromage cart over, I told him “j’ai peur de les fromages forts.” (I’m afraid of strong cheese) He picked out six he promised were creamy and mild and put them on my plate, then told me in what order I was to eat them. His selections included goat cheese, which I normally avoid like the plague. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. Especially when eaten with some dried fruit. But when I got to the last one… I nearly stopped. It was a sheep cheese. And, by golly, it was good.

                The worst part of dinner is that my feet didn’t touch the ground because the chair was so high. And they swelled up like melons. I could barely walk out of the place.

Rick Steves’ Job is Secure

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Ok, I am a bad tour guide.

                It is hard to plan a good tour that includes a four year old. But I tried. We should have gone with my plan B: a kids’ marionette show downtown. Instead, we went with plan A.

                Todd and I have been downtown every day this week, but didn’t take the famous “bubbles” (bubble shaped telepherique – cable car – from the base of the hill to the top) because Kaitlyn loves to ride them. So we waited until Wednesday, since there’s no school. As we were walking the few blocks along the river to the bubble entrance, I noticed I didn’t see any bubbles making their way up or down the cables. Not being a fan of those things in the first place, I approached with mixed emotions. Then they appeared, creeping up, up, up the cable. It still didn’t seem right. It wasn’t. The bubbles didn’t make it all the way to the drop off/pick up station before they stopped… hanging there over the rain-swollen river. (No, I would never say the phrase “rain-swollen” but I feel compelled to write it.) At the entrance, several signs were up saying the telepherique was closed. I couldn’t understand every word, but got the words for closed and problem. I couldn’t agree more…. if there’s a problem they should be closed.

                So, no bubbles. No problem. I had another idea.

                We drove up, up, UP the mountain across from the one we live on to go to a fort we’ve been told is well worth the trip. Fort du St. Eynard. It’s only open in the summer. The reason for that became obvious when we turned off the main road to get there. It’s steep, narrow and nothing more than a series of switchback turns. At the top, the big blue iron doors to the fort were closed. And locked. Two little old French ladies who’d also made the trip were determined to get in. They tried the door. They rang the bell. I think one may have considered trying to knock it down with her cane. I got out of the car to read the sign, since Todd didn’t know what it said. In June, it’s only open Thursday through Sunday. Dang it! Oh, well, when you head up a mountain on a whim…

                    Tired of the series of unsuccessful tourist stops, we headed back to Uriage for lunch. Kaitlyn wasn’t in much of a mood to sit and linger at a cafe. Given that it’s the only choice at a cafe, it made lunch rather trying. We were going to eat then hit the little stores to check for souvenirs. But at 2:45, the grown-ups had had enough and gave up on waiting to see when, if ever, the stores would re-open for the afternoon.

                    So we’re at home. Doing laundry and trying not to melt in the horrible heat. It’s a good 5 or 6 degrees cooler here than downtown Grenoble… I guess Bill was right not to even let us look at places there when we were house-hunting. I’m not so sure he was right not to buy a portable air conditioner. We may not make our stint here without making that investment.

Chartreuse.. a mystery

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

                Company has to mean a trip to the monks, their nasty green liquor and their silly 3-D movie. This morning, Todd and I spent the 2 euros and 20 cents in tolls to drive to the distillery tour for Chartreuse.

                Last time I went, I thought the guide spoke English. Maybe she did. This time, the guide didn’t. I did my best to catch phrases and do some quick, poor translating for Todd.

                That was a little disappointing. But the 3-d movie wasn’t. It was as cheesy as I remembered it being.

               For the tasting, Todd tackled a special brew of Chartreuse, made for one of its anniversaries. The guide warned us that it’s strong. The look on Todd’s face when he sipped it confirmed this is strong and, well, nasty stuff.

                    Later in the afternoon, we did a little research on the stuff… since we didn’t understand most of our tour. Learned that it’s mentioned in several songs, but don’t ask me the name of any now. Found out that farmers give it to their horses to relieve gas. I don’t know if that’s really a rousing endorsement. Although I haven’t felt bloated today….