Archive for November, 2008

winter wonderland… not so much

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Kaitlyn is home from school today. No, it isn’t Wednesday. No, it isn’t one of the many holidays schools have here. She isn’t sick. The teachers aren’t on strike. They just couldn’t make it to the school this morning. Because it snowed. Two inches. Two inches of snow… in the Alps… brought the region to a stand still.

Bill left this morning just before the sun came up. (a bit after 7am) When I stuck my head out into the garage to say goodbye, I saw it was snowing. I wasn’t happy. Bill reminded me how much he loves snow and what a wonderful thing it was and that it’s just a couple of inches… nothing to worry about. A few minutes later, he called my cell phone to tell me to be sure to leave early and go slowly, it’s slippery. He called me a few minutes after that to tell me to put the chains on my car. Then he turned around and came back home because he couldn’t get out of our little town. (after stopping to put the chains on his car) He said the road down the mountain was littered with cars facing every which way but down. Among those stuck is a friend who lives on a street even steeper than ours… he decided that it wasn’t too much snow and not having snow tires wasn’t enough to stop him from driving to work. The sign he hit and the blown out tire say differently. Last I heard, he was told a tow truck would try to show up this afternoon.

The forecasters have been sounding like chicken little this week. Every day, they’ve predicted snow all the way to Grenoble (which is low-lying… Wickepedia tells me it’s at 214 meters… we’re just below 800 and generally right at or below the snow line) They finally took those snowflakes off the forecast. And, voila! We got it.

Point is, no one seemed to be expecting this. Not the drivers without snow tires or chains. Not the snow plows. Because none were out.
Maybe they were trying, but couldn’t get past the aforementioned cars littering the roads.

When Bill got back home, he found me attempting to put my “easy” chains on my car. They’re big plastic things you stick sorta on the outside and they have plastic claws, if you will, that wrap half-way around your tire. There are metal spikes on the claws… providing traction. In theory. We’ve never actually used them in snow. I’ve only put them on once before and that was last year. Bill bought them when he found out he was spending most of last winter in England because he knew he wouldn’t be able to drive home to put the chains on my car. This week, I’d even been thinking about how I needed to have a refresher course in chain usage. Got one today. After we managed to get the chains on my car, it was time to get Kaitlyn to school. Not that I figured promptness was particularly important today, given Bill’s tale of the messy roads. Bill drove and we got to the school with no problem. (We did see the police turning people around at the round-about by the town’s swimming pool… which meant they were trying to keep people from going down the steep, windy road that gets you off this mountain. Or they were at least trying to re-route people through a different town, making them a different police department’s problem.)

We got to the school and I walked up with Kaitlyn where I found a handful of kids, a couple of parents and the school director (she’s like the principal)… who was the only teacher to make it in. She told us to take the kids home, she’d try to clean up the playground (which normally gets zero shoveling or salt treatments) and the teachers were all trying to make it in by after lunch.

So Bill and I got back in the car and it was my turn to drive. I’d planned on being the one driving home so it would be quiet and I could concentrate. Because, truth be told, even with big spikes on my tires, I am a big chicken about driving in the snow. Which can be a problem when you live in the Alps. But Kaitlyn was with us and she insisted on chattering the whole way home. She not only has no fear, she doesn’t even understand the concept. Bill told me I didn’t have to drive as slow as I was going, but I didn’t speed up much. Still, the spikes did provide some serious traction. When we got to the main road it had been cleared and the police had returned to chatting and seemed to be letting cars go wherever they wanted.

At the bottom of our road, we had to wait for the snow plow driver to finish talking to some people who thought that was a good place to discuss who knows what with him. He finally got back in the cab of his truck and the couple dragged their baby behind them on a sled… nearly sending the kid under the plow’s tires.. then running across the road in front of another truck…. that poor child will be lucky to make it to 5 years old. Anyway, we followed the plow up the steep, narrow beginning of our road and I was nervous as all get out because last time I went up our road in a fresh snow this was the part where I slid around a little bit and worried I’d drive off the road…. and Kaitlyn wouldn’t shut up… and then the snow plow stopped. I started to panic and Bill told me to just stop; I wouldn’t slide backwards. Which I didn’t. But then we saw why the plow stopped. At the top of the initial climb up our road, just where it makes a fairly sharp turn to the right, a car had stopped. And the driver had left it there. Blocking the road. No one was going to get up or down. The plow driver put his big truck in reverse and motioned for me to back up too. Back up. Down a steep, narrow road in the snow. Uh, no way. Bill and I switched places so he could perform the backup maneuver, which involved backing up a dirt driveway. After the plow left, Bill drove up the street to see if maybe we could get by that car. No way. It was planted right in the middle of the road. So Bill backed down the road as far as to the dirt driveway, where he managed to turn the car around where the dirt driveway sort of meets a steep driveway going down the other side of the road. Then he floored it and took off up the steep driveway. Which was mud, grass and some snow. He said we know the people who live at the end of the driveway from hell and that we could just park there and walk home. The only alternative was to park at the town pool and walk from there, which is even farther. I was fairly convinced that we were going to end up stuck in a field, but we didn’t. Then we had to walk up our street. It’s a long walk. It’s a really long walk in the snow. At least I was dressed for it. Bill had on dress shoes he’d put on to to go work this morning. Kaitlyn’s new snow boots passed the test. I really need to get new ones.

After a couple of hours at home, the snow plow drove past our house. Bill figured that meant two things: that car was gone and the roads were clear. So he walked back to my car and left for work. He made it there ok. Said the only place he needed the chains on the tires was our street.

I guess the lesson here is: if it snows and they haven’t plowed yet… stay at home.

helping out at school

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

It wouldn’t be exactly right to say I volunteered to help out at Kaitlyn’s school. It would be exactly right to say that one of the women in my tennis class is in charge of just about everything that the parents do at the school. She must be head of their version of the PTA. So a couple of weeks ago after tennis class she asked if I would be willing to help out with the Christmas market in town. I thought she only asked me because she’d asked the woman I was walking with and she simply didn’t want to be rude. I said “sure, as long as I don’t have to talk to anyone.” Next thing I know, I’m signed up to help kids make crafts to sell at the market.

Today was my day to help. To be fair, the organizer did assign me to work with a British woman who could supply all the needed translating. I showed up at the appointed time, ready to do whatever I was supposed to do.

We were helping the kids make felt Santas (Pere Noel) hanging on ribbons with bells at the bottom. I quickly figured out I did not know the words for: felt, discs, ribbon, beads, glue, bell, tie. This was going to be a problem. I do understand when someone says they need help. And a child holding up a ribbon and a bell or a ribbon and a bead was all I needed to figure out what they needed help doing. As the afternoon progressed, I got more confident in my ability to stumble through explaining how to create the Santas. I tried telling one boy I know to draw the face on and he looked at me and said “I’m English.” Ok, so don’t practice French on the Anglophones, they don’t like that. At least, not my French. By the end of the day my French instructions appeared to completely baffle one little girl who I was beginning to think would never figure out how to assemble her Pere Noel. All she had to do was alternate stringing felt circles with beads on her ribbon. She couldn’t do it. I was certain my attempts at explaining the task was her downfall. Then I watched her with the French speaker and realized this child is simply not going to grow up to spend her afternoons crafting.

I wondered why we spent so much time with the kids having them make crafts to sell at the town’s market… because while their creations are cute, they are really the things only a parent would want. Then I realized that it’s all just a clever marketing ploy. The whole idea is for the kids to drag their parents to the market and try to pick their felt hanging Pere Noel out of the bunch. Looks like I’ll be going to try to identify a Christmas tree made of painted twigs and clay. Super.

the truth comes out…

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Finally… someone has told me what’s really going on with Kaitlyn at school.

This week, Kaitlyn’s been taking part in what’s called a “soutien scolaire.” It’s basically tutoring in a specific topic for children having trouble with it. Before we left on vacation, Kaitlyn’s teacher asked us for permission to enroll her in the soutien for children in her class who are having trouble following directions. I asked her if the real problem is Kaitlyn’s comprehension of French. Oh, no, she assured me that Kaitlyn understands “everything” and is “very smart” but just doesn’t follow the directions. So… we signed her up.

Tonight at the Boujolais Nouveau party, I had a chance to talk to a woman whose daughter is a friend of Kaitlyn’s… and is also a teacher at the school. She hasn’t been Kaitlyn’s teacher… until the soutien. She told me that Kaitlyn really had no business being in the soutien because she could do the work quite easily… the only trouble being that sometimes she doesn’t understand the instructions in French. Kaitlyn has been going to this school for two years now and FINALLY someone tells me that, no, she really doesn’t understand all the French. She said the other problem is that she tends to chatter too much with her little friend, Sophia, and that if their teacher would separate them it would be better for both of them.

Now… to tackle the ordeal of figuring out when to get French lessons for Kaitlyn… since the one private teacher she likes isn’t available the one day a week she doesn’t have school…. But at least I know what I need to do. Finally.

school party

Friday, November 21st, 2008

It’s the ultimate marketing ploy. Make a big deal about the annual release of a new wine and it doesn’t matter that it tastes like crap. People will rush to buy it, have parties and dinners to celebrate it. That’s just how we spent this Friday night. At a school dinner for the Beaujolais nouveau. Yes… in France you can have a school party centered around a wine, with ample amounts of it consumed by anyone older than 16.

Bill had been dreading going to this dinner. Two years ago when I dragged him along we ended up at a table of all French speakers. It didn’t make us terribly fond of the English speakers at the school who clearly abandoned the newbies. It also didn’t make for a night of light and easy conversation. We’re still on friendly “how are you” terms with the couple we were sitting with that night. But Bill was far more anxious to play Wii than to come up with an entire evening of French conversation. (Now that we’ve lived here two years, the expectations would be higher.)

We arrived and immediately attached ourselves to the group of Anglophones who’d gathered. And wherever they went, we followed.. sure to place our glasses of barely drinkable Beaujolais nouveau by theirs at the table. But here’s the thing I started to realized as I talked to others or, more likely, overheard other conversations. Nearly every one of those French parents can speak at least a little English. At least enough for polite conversation. I felt betrayed. All this time spent struggling to figure out how to say anything beyond hello!

We didn’t get around to eating dinner until about 9:00. (I should have had a bigger snack at home! Good thing Kaitlyn’s snack was a bowl of mac&cheese, tomatoes and a pear.) After eating, there was a silent auction on items donated by different families. The hot items would then go to an open bidding format. We bid on a cheesecake, an Indian meal, two dozen home baked cookies every month for the rest of the school year and a weekend away at some place in the south west of France. Everything we bid on went to the open bidding. Everything we bid on we had the highest bid before the open bidding (except the weekend away). We went home empty handed. Sure, I can make cookies and I could learn to make cheesecake and we can go get Indian takeout anytime. But this was for a good cause…

jet lag won’t leave

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

I don’t think we’re over our jet lag yet. Kaitlyn slept in till 10 yesterday, 10:30 today. She’d have slept later but we finally figured we needed to wake her up.

The weather is dreary: cold and cloudy. The snow at Chamrousse melted yesterday while it was above the clouds, which ruined my plan to go sledding today. Instead, we prepared for what is promising to be a grey and cold winter. Bill put the snow tires on my car. (We finally replaced the one I put a hole in.) I put away the last of the summer clothes and filled my shelves with sweaters.

Our normally toasty house is downright chilly once the sun goes down. But this stupid floor heating is so slow to change temperatures, it isn’t worth even trying to adjust it. We’re simply too warm during the day and too cold at night.

Coming home from home leave (sounds funny) was a little easier this year because we’ve made some real friends to return to. But some of the harsh realities are smacking me hard this year. The weather. The walls of the house painted the same horrid gray that the skies are… providing no relief from the winter blahs. The kitchen too small to do anything in.

Maybe it’s just the jet lag dragging down my mood. It’s hard to be cheery when you can barely stay awake past 5pm. (The fact that it’s dark out by then doesn’t help.)

Home from home

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

We’ve been back home for two full days now, and it’s been with mixed emotions. The thrill of sleeping in your own bed is counteracted by saying “bonjour” on your way out of the pharmacy.

Kaitlyn has really struggled with jet lag. Wednesday night (well, it was really Thursday morning), she was up at 2am declaring she wanted to play. I tried for more than an hour to get her to go back to sleep, and finally gave up and just went back to bed telling her not to get out of hers. So she laid there and yelled for Bill. He went in her room and managed to get her to fall asleep. But when it was time to get up for school Thursday… you’d think she’d only gotten an hour of sleep. She slept on the plane.. in the taxi.. and really a majority of the night. I dragged her up, pulled clothes on her, brushed her teeth, toasted a pop tart and sent her on her way to a full day of school… complete with lunch at canteen. She was in a delightful mood when I picked her up. (Too bad that mood had deteriorated by the time Bill got home.) Last night she got up at 1 to go to the bathroom and again at 4 when she had what she called “the weirdest dream ever.” I don’t know exactly what the dream was about; I couldn’t understand her through her tears but thought asking her to repeat herself wasn’t going to gain me anything. I do know that it started out shopping… and apparently went drastically downhill from there. It took me about an hour to get her back to sleep. This morning was another repeat of yesterday. Except she suddenly did not want to be late (that’s something new) and she hurried. She’s been in a fantastic mood again today after school… coming home to make drawings and show me her school work and talk about her day at least a little bit.

This morning I finally had to admit that the annoying pain and itching in my eye wasn’t just from being sleepy and I went to the doctor. She confirmed I have an infection and gave me a prescription for some eye drops she says are very good. So good that I will be tempted to stop using them after a couple of days. (The fact that they turn your vision yellow temporarily certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with that!) I went to the pharmacy to fill the prescription still stinging from having to pay $103 at home for some ear drops for Kaitlyn. The pharmacist was shocked I don’t have a card that makes all my medical costs free. (The French people all have one.) The grand total for my eye drops: 3 Euros and 15 cents. I’m not even going to bother trying to turn that one in for reimbursement!

Bill is staying up late playing the new games on the Wii. I don’t know how late he’s staying up because I’m sound asleep by the time he comes to bed. I’ve been going to bed right after Kaitlyn, which is a good thing since she keeps waking me up. But so far, I’ve resisted the urge to take a nap. Not easy. The only thing preventing me from stretching out on the couch and snoozing is the fear that I’ll wake up well after the time I have to get Kaitlyn from school. And without the slingbox working to watch tv, I’m sure to just snooze away. Tomorrow is Saturday. I can turn off the alarm and sleep in! And you know I will… always do anyway…