Friday, February 27, 2009

Feb 27, 2009: Vous avez chaud alors vous avez froid...

Feb 27, 2009: It felt so good, finally getting out of the apartment to do something cultural today. After Suzie and I dropped the girls off at school, we headed home to meet Peter.  Our first stop was the Caen Town Hall or Caen Hotel de Ville.  Suzie had promised Andrew that she would research how to get garbage cans and garbage pick-up for our apartment and the Office de Tourisme (Office of Tourism) had said Town Hall was the place to go.  Peter and I decided we wanted to take the 45 minute tour of the Caen Hotel de Ville (Town Hall).  With all three of us with the same address on our agenda, we started off on our way.  This magnificent building is something like you have never seen - above and beyond any town hall you may have visited.  The landscaping is beautiful, even in late winter.  The architecture is outstanding - the walls of most rooms we saw were ornately carved out of wood and quite smartly designed.  For instance, a dressing room/bathroom of this once home of William the Conqueror turned town hall, had wooden steps that slide out from underneath the wash basins for the shorter folks but that pushed right back in and blended into the whole wood wall motif.  The murals that were painted were so detailed, large in scale, and scattered through each of the rooms we visited.  Attached to the Hotel de Ville is the abbey church of St. Etienne, which connects a Men's Abbey and a Women's Abbey.  William the Conqueror used to be buried in the Men's Abbey (Abbaye aux hommes) but I have read that only his thigh bone is there or maybe nothing at all - not really sure about all that.  Regardless, St. Etienne was magnificent.  After the tour that was in all French and the self-led tour of St. Etienne, we sure were freezing and starving.  We walked back toward the apartment and stopped for a very tasty lunch along the way.  The actual meat I had for lunch I am unsure of, but the french fries that came with it were the crispiest, hottest and tastiest ones I have had in a long time. Yummy.

After our tasty french fries, Peter and I dropped Suzie off at home and we then went to the Caen Memorial.  It is a vividly described depiction of World War II and the events leading up to and after D-Day in 1944.  Also, this memorial is one of the only places that displays remnants from 9/11 outside of the United States.  Having Peter's perspective was very helpful, as he had read a lot about World War II, had relatives in World War II and cumulatively many different opinions and stories about this war.  I felt, after seeing the memorial, that it was very well done, very comprehensive, and painted a very postive picture of those nations outside of France that were part of the World Ward  II efforts - such as Great Britian, Canada and the United States.  I won't lie to you - I was on the verge of a deep sleep once or twice during a few movies and displays...but not because of the content.  I was just tired in general.  And no one was running me down to give me my afternoon espresso!! 

After the memorial, we started for home.  Tonight, we were celebrating Andrew's 37th birthday and Andrew had been out of town for 2 days.  We had lamb and stewed carrots and potatoes and a dessert supplied by a co-worker/friend/tutor of Andrew's from work.  Ella and Grace and Mia had made really neat cards for Andrew.  We ultimately ended the evening with some heated games of backgammon (the only game I managed to pack) and some Calvados.  

Tomorrow, Peter and Suzie leave for Paris.  We will miss them, as their company and assistance has been SO helpful and appreciated.  Andrew and I do, however, look forward to getting our schedules back on track - less eating out, less hot chocolate, less chocolate croissants, less ice creams treats - the typical stuff that comes with grandparents visiting.  After a certain amount, kids and adults begin to forget how special some events should be when they occur too often - such as ice cream after every dinner and hot chocolate before every meal.  Andrew and I have always treated those types of tasty things as rewards or treats for special occasions and now they are demanding these at every meal!  But, we have learned there is a slight retraining required after grandparent influence for many days at a time - and I bet you all know what I am talking about!

I expect the next few weeks will bring us ups and downs at school for the girls, retraining for us all as we try to eat out less and eat better food, and hopefully bring some further feelings of being "home."  Recently, all five of us were driving in the car and I was singing very silly, as I often do.  Typically, I try to sing obnoxious opera to a modern-day song on the radio.  This particular day, it was Hot and Cold by Katy Perry.  Ella loved this rendition of the song (she is my greatest fan, God love her) and asked that I sing it in French.  So I switched the words the best I could from English to French and I tell you, we were all laughing really heard.  Laughing because the words did and didn't sound as good as English and laughing because I actually knew the words to say (well, most of them).  It felt good to laugh, all of us together, doing something that we always do.  It didn't matter what country we were in or where we were going, it just felt normal, silly and quite necessary.

Pictures above: The card Ella made Andrew for his birthday (I wonder what you will look like now) with steal your face, Andrew and Ella holding hands. Pictures of St. Etienne and Hotel de Ville.  And by the way..The title of today's blog: Vous avez chaud alors vous avez froid" means, "You're hot then your cold" in French : )

Feb 27, 2009: Memoirs of "The Geisha"

Hello out there in space somewhere - it's Andrew adding a bit since I just got back from an adventure in The "Netherlands" (Oooohhh - doesn't that place sound scary....)

Yesterday morning at 4am I got up and left in the Toyota with my trusty GPS for Vught NL. I had a meeting at hotel Vught at 1pm and another one at 4 in Zandaam. It wasn't an issue getting to the first place, and I had a nice meeting with my customer and a collegue from Venray NL. Anyway - after that it was time to follow my "Geisha" to Zandaam....

The drive between Vught and Zandaam is only about 112 Kilometers (oh, an hour or so) - it looked pretty straight forward. All was fine until the "please turn left", "please turn right", and "please turn left then right" directions put me down by the docks North of Amsterdam. The last direction I remember was, "Please board the ferry..." - what else could I do but drive on the little boat stacked with bicycles and tractors? Luckily, it was only 1 Euro point fifty and it only took five minutes (see the attached pictures - and then tell me, have you ever gotten stuck on a ferry on the way to a customer meeting???). Luckily, I arrived on time, even though I had to have my customer guide me the last mile or so while talking on our respective cell phones....

After that meeting I headed to Amsterdam to have some dinner, watch some football (that's soccer to you Anglo Saxons), and let the traffic die down before heading back to France. In that time, my car was broken into (see smashed window pictures), my GPS Geisha was stolen (along with my sunglasses, iPod headphones, and ten dollar Bananna Republic Jacket [touche' Mr Burgler]), and my window was smashed. None of this would have been a problem except: I was six hundred kilometers away from home, I didn't speak/read Dutch, I didn't speak/read French (well, maybe a little....), and I really didn't know how to get around all the rivers in The Netherlands and make it back to Caen. I decided that sleep was a better option than adventures on the road for this night....

The next day, at 4am once again, I was able to get Dutch Mapquest directions from the front desk - these directions would supposidly get me from Amsterdam to the Brussles International Airport (where I could exchange my busted car and get a new GPS [side note: yes, you do want to get the "full insurance" option when offered by a rental car company]). Unfortunately, I still couldn't figure out what the deal was, and I ended up in Germany of all places. I knew this had happened because the city names all started to have those cute little pairs of dots over the Oh's - I was lost without a clue.... About eight hours later - and a new GPS to boot courtasy of a Belgian version of Best Buy - I made it back in time for the last hour of the day at work on Friday.

The best part of the day was getting home and having a birthday dinner with Kate, the Girls, and my Parent's. Dessert was courtesy of my French tutor Pierre from Lake Forest, IL (and yes, his name really is Pierre and he's French) - more pictures of the celebration are attached, too. Ella made a great birthday card that says, "I wonder what you will look like when you're 37" along with a picture of she and I holding hands and a red, white, and blue Steal Your Face - a girl after my own heart.

On the books for tomorrow is the return of the busted rental, the dropping off of my parents at the train, and some kind of adventure for Kate, the Girls, and I - hopefully it will involve something with pints of beer and football (aka soccer) - but for some reason, I doubt it :-)......



Feb 26, 2009: Assimilation in a New Nation

Yesterday's school drop-off of the girls at school was no problem - all were happy to be attending. After that, Suzie and I went to the prefecture to get a misspelling of my name on my Visa fixed.  What could have been a nighmare similar to a trip to your local drivers license bureau during your lunch break actually turned out to be quick and simple. From there, Suzie and I spent the day together, just kicking around and shopping.  Our first priority was breakfast.  We ordered one of the only three options available on this restaurant's menu and you would not believe the amount of food we were served.  Let me just tell you - this is for EACH of us: One glass of orange juice, two coffees, two eggs, a huge piece of ham, a salad, a huge croissant and half of a baguette.  Now that I write that down it doesn't seem like much food, but the spread took up two tables. All other patrons were eating a croissant and  espresso so we looked like hungry freaks and their stares indicated so.  

After breakfast, our next stop was new outfits for the girls.  We have noticed that Ella, Grace and Mia do not look at all similar to the other children in regards to clothing.  The popular colors for French children from ages 1 - 99 is black, brown and any variation of those colors.  Grace, Mia and Ella have wardrobes that come 80% from Old Navy.  When I see a sale come up on the internet, I usually buy a big box of clothes 2-3 times per year.  The clothes are cute (for North America), inexpensive and when they get ruined there is no reason to stress.  I am sure that many of you are Old Navy shoppers, also, so you know that the clothing is bright and colorful.  When we arrive at school, it is not hard to pick our girls out of the crowd of kids because they wear big, puffy ski coats, hats and gloves that are bright pinks, purples and reds.  So, Suzie and I have decided that over time, we should probably help them blend in.  Andrew would kill me if I tried to buy them all new wardrobes today, so this will have to be a gradual process.  Suzie graciously bought all three girls a new spring coat and outfit.  One small step toward assimilation in French dressing.  We also managed to buy ourselves a few things.

Following our shopping, I had to get home to meet the couch delivery guys.  Andrew and I measured to the centimeter to ensure it would fit up our skinny three flights of stairs.  The delivery guys had to remove the legs to fit the couch up (which we had expected) but it did fit.  Looking at this monster couch, it is really quite unbelievable that it fit.  It is huge. And as ugly as I had remembered. Oh well.  The kids LOVE the couch.  They were in heaven last night watching French cartoons while lounging on this red oasis.  

In the evening, I had my first appointment with an Osteopath.  I had read a bit about the differences with chiropractors but still didn't really understand what I was getting myself into. I also had no idea if this doctor spoke English and thought this might impact my ability to convey the point of my visit.  When I finally found her office, I feel like she finally appeared out of a trick door.  She shook my hand and she smelled of cigarettes.  Like she had just finished a nice, tasty Camel Light before my appointment.  Now, I admit that I didn't know very much about Osteopaths, but I did know that they believed in and focus on the body's natural abilities to heal itself.  This natural approach to well-being didn't jive with cigarette smoking - even if you are French.  I think back to my chiropractor from Illinois and if you walked in with a soda it immediately became an example of "poison" on her wall of shame.  Needless to say, this cigarette habit had me a little hesitant.  Next we attempted a conversation about why I was there but I think I failed so she asked me if I knew what Osteopathy was?  I said not really.  So she asked me to lye down on her table and began her work.  Within 2 minutes and some light palpitations on my skull, she asked if I had braces as a child and I confirmed that I did - for 2 years.  A ha!  She proclaimed that these braces were the sources of all my head, neck, shoulder and back problems.  Now I was even  more skeptical. My past chiropractors had never once adjusted my teeth - obviously we had been going about this all wrong! It had been a harmless appoitment so far, so I decided to stick with the program for now.  For the next five minutes she had me lay on my back with a mouth guard and chomp my jaw up and down while she held my head.  Then I turned over and she moved her fingers around on various places on my spine.  This went on for about 20 minutes, in a completely quiet environment, and we were then finished.  She told me that this was a very simple ailment to fix with just one appointment but that if I still felt "unfixed", that I could come back for one more appointment in 3 weeks.  Now, I am not passing any judgement yet on this Osteopathy approach yet, as I have only met one doctor and had only one appointment.  But at the present moment....a little wary of getting backache relief.

Andrew had woken up around 4am to drive to The Netherlands or some place around there to meet with a new potential client so he was gone for the day and night.  After my appointment, I got back to the apartment and enjoyed dinner with Peter and Suzie after getting the girls to bed.  The next day was Friday. Peter and I had planned to do some sightseeing here in Caen while Suzie prepared for a birthday celebration for Andrew.

Photo's above: Suzie walked Grace and Mia to school and our big, huge couch.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Feb 25, 2009: Wednesday to Play

Feb 25, 2009: At the school that Grace, Mia and Ella attend in France, there is no school on Wednesdays. I had heard that instead of Wednesdays, kids go to school in the morning on Saturdays.  But it seems to vary by where you live and even by what school you choose.  Notre Dame Ecole Maternelle has school on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.  So thank goodness for Peter and Suzie being here on a Wednesday, having a plan to take the girls to the aquarium in Trouville today.  Don't get me wrong. I am not freaked out by the prospect of spending Wednesday's with my girls.  But I do admit that having recently come from full-time Corporate America, I am not necessarily equipped with activities and adventures in my pocket. Add to that this whole new place-to-live thing and voila!  You see a mommy who doesn't know what to do with her three young kids all day every Wednesday. So my new goal each week will be to find something interesting to do all day each Wednesday with the girls.  Spongebob Squarepants, while quite funny and voted as preferred use of time by most 5 year-olds, is not an appropriate use of a school day off.  The exception is if your child is in a cast, vomiting, action-packed pooping or inconsolable. Then Spongebob can be available in whatever capacity you choose.  

While Peter and Suzie took the girls to the aquarium, I met Andrew for a long lunch.  We found a close brasserie and sat to get warm.  I have been impressed lately with Andrew's acquisition of  French skills.  Having NO background in French, he has done well in conversation and day to day issues he encounters.  Today at lunch was not the case.  He ordered one thing, but got another that we are pretty certain was tripe or something worse.  I added a picture above of his reaction to this delicacy for good measure.  You get used to eating odd food here in France. My salad came with smoked duck strips, something I would never order on purpose in the United States, nor would it be a mainstream item on a menu.  Andrew ended up with a medium-rare beef steak and french fries, which would normally be reserved for dinner, not lunch.  But when in Rome....

Andrew left to get back to work and I went to get some more coat and clothing hooks for the apartment.  I had walked into Peter and Suzie's studio apartment that morning to vacuum and take out the garbage and I was embarrassed by the number of clothing and coats and towels laying on the floor.  The bed and side tables and linens I had supplied were insufficient.  So I tended to getting them some places to hang items and some other small pieces of furniture.  After that, I went to the Poissonniere (fish market) to get some fresh St. Jacques scallops for dinner and some breaded fish for the girls that I had planned to disguise as bread sticks.  Next, I went to the Fruiterie (fresh produce) to get some bananas, cucumbers, green beans and grapefruit.  Finally, I stopped at the local market to get some white wine.   After all my stops I had noticed that each store in some way had commented about me being an American, either to my face or to another person.  I can't say I felt offended, they were not being mean.  They were just pointing out in an unsubtle way that I WAS discovered - my American accent was not unnoticed.  My U.S. credit card was not unnoticed.  My formal French vocabulary was not unnoticed. One furniture store, having met me before, promptly pointed out a new item they had received upon seeing me.  It was a huge canvas storage box that had an American Flag painted all over it.  How could I not want to buy this fancy box, I am sure they were thinking.

We fed the girls the green beans (which from their births I have called Bean Fries, as I firmly believe if you call anything a "fry" they will eat it), the fake fish sticks, yummy cherry tomatoes and strawberries. After the girls went to bed, I put Suzie in charge of preparing the scallops.  She is a great cook, fly-from-the-seat-of-your-pants type of cook so this was up her ally.  If I was in charge of some nice juicy scallops with their "feet" still in tact, I would surely overcook and remove all enjoyment from the meal.  Suzie marinated them in lemon rinds, olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper and they were so tasty.  After dinner, we just sat, the four of us, and chatted.  It was nice. 

Tomorrow is Thursday. Suzie and I plan to take the girls to school and then spend some quality time shopping.  We like to shop together but up until now have not had the chance.  There are so many clothing shops around here that it is a miracle that I have not purchased one clothing item yet.  Andrew heads to Belgium tomorrow to see a client and won't return until Friday. So tomorrow night Peter and Suzie have decided to take the girls to a nearby restaurant for dinner while I go to my Osteopath appointment and also wait for our new, ugly couch to be delivered (they called and want to bring it early, yay!!!)  A demain!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Feb 24, 2009: Running on Empty

Feb 24, 2009: With day 1 of drop off and pick up completed at school, Andrew had to get back to work today.  So Suzie graciously offered to help me walk the girls to school.  Today when we arrived at school, there was about 15 minutes to spare.  The kids congregate in the schoolyard to play and talk and some kids' parents remain to chat and keep watch.  The minute we arrived at school, Ella found a razor-like scooter from 1895 that she started to ride around.  I wasn't entirely sure that she was supposed to have this out, but I wasn't about to bust my own daughter!  Next thing you know about 7 boys from older classes are circling around Ella.  I see this from a distance because today Mia has decided to be shy, bashful and clingy and not wanting to let me move from my current location.  From a far I watch Ella.  I wonder if the boys are saying mean French things to her that she doesn't understand.  I wonder if they are saying the only English words that they know just to sound smart.  I wonder if she is having fun and smiling or intimidated and scared but still smiling.  This seems like a pretty nice, reserved set of kids, so I give them the benefit of the doubt.  I see Ella fall off her scooter but then see an older girl help her get back on.  Still skeptical of the situation, I watch from a distance while Mia clings to my legs for dear life.  It is one thing to taunt my 5 year old daughter in English, but another thing entirely to taunt my child in a language she or I don't really follow very well. Ella finally gets scolded for having the scooter in the first place and she puts it away. Then the bell rings.  I follow her to her class and she is fine.  Her teacher said she did well the day before and wanted to know if she had an food allergies, as her class was going to make crepes as a project that day.  No, I reported, no allergies.  I knew with crepes as a project, this school day was going to end nicely for Ella.

After Ella was taken care of, Suzie and I dropped Grace and Mia off at their room.  Grace was content today, immediately playing with a puzzles.  Mia, for some reason, was not happy.  She was whining and teary and sad and had no interest in her mother leaving her in this strange room for the rest of the day.  Her teacher told me (I think, it was in French after all) that this is very normal for children in a new class and on her second day that was to be expected.  She didn't seem the least bit concerned so I felt better.  Thinking back to the first days of school for the girls in Colorado, this was really the same reaction.  The teacher and her assistant are very nurturing and loving, so even though Grace and Mia may be having a hard time understanding what they are saying, the hugs and patience they receive probably make up for the difference.  Once I saw that Mia found something to take her attention away from me, I ran for the door.

After the school drop off, Suzie and I grabbed breakfast at a restaurant near the school.  The way Mia was acting, I wouldn't have been surprised if I was called back to come and get her or comfort her.  So we thought it best to stay close to the school for a little bit.  Suzie and I had a nice breakfast and then headed back to the apartment.

Peter and Suzie left shortly after to go do some touring through different villages known for their cheeses.  The day before they had plans to do some sight-seeing and ended up spending the first 2 hours just looking for a gas station.  They were literally driving on fumes for 2 hours and could not find gas.  They have also been lost numerous times, trying to get back to our apartment.  There is a lesson to be learned here so let me share: Next time you are in a foreign country with small roads, a different language and road signs that are not what you are used to seeing - go ahead and invest in a GPS from the rental car company.  This is NOT wasted money.  Your relationship with your spouse, your gas tank and your limited time will thank you very much. Anyway, Peter and Suzie had better luck with driving today. They took our GPS and Peter had studied some maps ahead of time.  And the gas tank was full.

I spent time today first looking for a gym and a chiropractor on the internet.  I had been putting this off because I knew that if I found something, it would ultimately mean I would have to make a phone call for an appointment or information.  And I was not looking forward to having those conversations in French.  It is much easier using hand gestures or pointing to a word in a dictionary in person then trying to communicate over the phone....But, my back is aching and my thighs are expanding so I just had to get over it already.  Regarding the gym, I did find many places on the internet.  But they all seemed gimicky - Power Plates, Ladies Only, Unisex bathrooms.  After reviewing my options, I decided to join the biggest, least expensive and most scenic gym of all.  The Pavement.  I told Andrew this and he was like, "wow, that is the name? 
That's unique.  Never heard of it, where is The Pavement?"  And I told him it was literally the pavement. Outside. Running, jogging, walking on the pavement, the road, the sidewalk.  Ultimately, I love to run and the weather here is pretty agreeable to running most days of the year.  So between the core strength training workouts my great trainer (Tim Skafidis) from Crested Butte sent me and the pavement, I think I am ready to get back on the fitness train.  Regarding the chiropractor, it turns out they are called Osteopaths here in France (thanks Kristin Haverkampf for that info!).  I searched the internet and found about 10 here in Caen and ultimately I picked a female that was in walking distance. Achieving success, I made an appointment over the phone for Thursday.    See, neither chore was as bad as I thought. 

Later that day I decided to try out my new gym.  I dusted off my running shoes, loaded up my iPhone with some cardio tunes, twisted a scarf around my neck and off I went.  I ran along the river and up and down the curvy, hilly streets of Caen.  You would think I had 6 eyes, purple hair and a tail the way people looked at me.  It seems that running is not common, at least here in Caen.  I was the only runner, running in the bike lanes, pressing the light for bikers to cross the street, just scooting along.  But you know what?  I had a great run.  It is amazing what new scenery and 9,000 feet less elevation does to your run.  Makes it very fun!  When I returned home, I worked on assembling some curtains I had bought a few days earlier.  I love this store I found called Madura.  You buy really nice curtains at the store, then use hemming tape and an iron to adjust the length.  They also have blackout curtains that attach to the inside of the curtain, blocking out all light and much of the sound.  You pick out the curtain rings, rods and you are set.  Though it is easy and same-day, it is not without effort.  It took me 2 hours to make 2 curtains.  Andrew and I only hung one of the curtains in the girls' room but it really did the trick. Less noise from the street and less light to keep them perky and awake all night. 

Around 4:15 p.m. I went to pick up the girls from school.  Their teachers reported a good day.  I had already planned to brainwash them, in the event of a bad day, with treats and rides on the close-by carousel.  When I offered a stop for mini-chocolate croissants on the way home to Ella she stated that she was full from making crepes in class.  Grace and Mia liked the treat idea.  They asked to stop and ride on the carousel and having already planned for this I said sure.  We got home and Suzie had dinner prepared.  

Andrew and I didn't eat, as we had been invited out by his co-workers to watch Lyon, France play Barcelona, Spain in some Football championships at a local Irish Pub. We had a fun time watching the game.  I like going out with his co-workers because they speak both French and some English.  I can practice my French with them but fall back on English if I am having trouble.  They are also very nice people!  After a tie game, we came back home.  Today was fun.  The streets of Caen were growing on me as were the people.  Tomorrow was Wednesday - the day off from school.  What adventures would happen tomorrow?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Feb 23, 2009: Brave Comes in All Sizes

Feb 23, 2009: Who knew our kids would be accepted into Notre Dame at the rip young ages of 3, 3 and 5?  We knew they were special, but you have to admit that this is beyond anything ever encountered.  This exceeds Doogie Howser.  OK, not really.  He was just a sitcom character and my girls are just attending a school called Notre Dame - not the real one.  But today seemed to be just as an important of a day as if they had been starting at the real Notre Dame.  Andrew and I were dropping them off at a school where French is spoken, real food is eaten, no snacks are given and where the girls know nobody!  We had been talking about this for months, preparing the girls for the challenges and triumphs they would experience going to school in France.  Up until today, we focused mostly on emphasizing how exciting it would be to learn a new language, to eat chocolate croissants all day long and watch Dora the Explorer and Boots in French.  But today was the real deal. No more sugar coating.

Getting ready for school today was pretty similar to that of getting ready in Colorado. Get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, do hair, brush chompers, get on proper coat attire and off we go.  But today all of us walked to school instead of the typical drive.  It takes about 10 minutes to get there and the whole way Ella was chatty and on cloud 9 - very excited.  Grace and Mia were excited, but they had no chance next to Ella.  She was soooo excited that this day was finally here and nothing was going to stop this train from moving.  That morning we rehearsed a few key phrases that might be important, such as "where is the bathroom", "I am hungry", "I am thirsty", "I don't understand what the hell you are saying" (OK, not the hell part), and "My name is Ella. What is your name?".  And of course "please" and 'thank you".  But in the end, Andrew and I had both told Ella just to use hand motions if she couldn't convey what she needed. Point at your mouth if you are hungry or thirsty, you get the point.....So we felt that she was ready for school - as ready as she could be.  Grace and Mia, though we tried to train them in some phrases, were just going to have to be an experiment.  We had no idea how they would react in a class full of non-english speakers. Grace could pee and poop her pants every other hour if we were unlucky and Mia could push a classmate so hard that the school would kick her out until next decade.  

We dropped them off at 8:30 a.m. promptly.  After connecting with the right teachers, I took Ella to her room and Andrew took Grace and Mia to their room.  Ella had actually beat me to her room, following her new teacher.  When I got up there, she was looking at some books with some kids in class.  My heart just broke!  Not bad breaking - good breaking. Breaking for the bravery that it takes for a 5 year old to just come into a new class with little ability to communicate and hope you can make some friends.  Breaking for the anxiety that comes with hoping kids like you and want to play with you at recess or sit next to you at lunch.  Ella is SO brave.   When I saw that she was OK and her teacher told me everything would be just fine, I decided I should take my exit while things were going well.  I looked over at Ella, she came and gave me a great big hug and I told her to remember that no matter how hard or frustrating or happy today might turn out to be, she should just shrug it off and tell herself that tomorrow might be even better.  She gave me smile that meant she was unsure but ready to see what happened, and off I went. My brave little Ella was growing up.  I left Ella's classroom and went to meet Andrew dropping off Grace and Mia.  When I arrived, they were reading (or looking at pictures, I should say) books in the book area with the other set of identical girl twins in the class.  Coincidence?  Not sure.  But the other set of twins were quiet and timid and the first thing I thought was, "Oh Dear Lord, please protect them from my rambuncious twins. But thank you for helping them find a comforting place to be in the first moments of a new school." After Andrew and I saw all was well, we departed.  We just looked at each other and knew it was either going to go really well or really sour.  The number of times our cell phones rang would tell us which...

Around 4:15 p.m. Andrew got home from work and we walked to pick up the girls from school by 4:30 p.m.  Again, Andrew picked up the twins and I went to get Ella.  She saw me through her classroom door window and she was waving and happy as can be.  Upon the teacher opening the classroom door, she ran right out and told me how she ate her whole lunch (I had told her that she had to try three bites of everything, even if she didn't like it, to be polite) and that they had dessert.  I asked her if she made any friends and she said she hadn't but that a few kids talked to her longer than others so that was nice of them.  Then she said she really had to go potty so I said, you go girl!  We met up with Grace and Mia and Andrew outside and off we walked to get home.  Grace and Mia didn't have much to say about school, but they agreed that they had fun and didn't mention not wanting to go back.  So I think today was a success in every aspect.  All smiles, no tears. What more can you ask for in these circumstances? All we hope for is another great day tomorrow. 

Pictures shown above are Ella getting home from her first day of school, happy as a clam.  The next photo is Grace and Mia riding in the schoolbus of a local carousel.  The last photo is a picture of Andrew standing in front of his office building.

Feb 21 - 22, 2009: Chilly Weather, Bad Leather

Weekend of Feb 21/22: Saturday and Sunday here in Caen were days of productivity.  First, let me start by saying all people under the Hotel de Than (the historic name of our apartment building) are better. Grace is healthy and Peter is fighting a cold, but not longer battling stomach flu. So thanks for all of your well wishes - they worked!

On Saturday, Peter and Suzie took the girls to Deauville, about 1 hour outside of Caen.  Peter and Suzie finally enlisted the help of Leapsters for the ride in the car.  They reported back at the end of the day to say how nice and quiet the car-ride was with the girls so intently playing their games with their headphones.  I think they are now believers!  Many thanks to all of you who donated to our Leapster cartridge collection before we left.  The hits so far are Animal Genius, Pet Pals and Learn to Write and Draw.  They arrived at the piers and looked around at the boats and surroundings. The temperature was very cold and windy, so not a great day for hanging out by the water. But they perservered!

Just a side-bar here.  There is a photo above that looks like a store window with food for display.  But this is actually a self-serve 7-11 type place.  All of the items you see are for sale and once you put your money in the slot, you receive your items through a large hole from a large vending machine.  Isn't that crazy?? I have never seen anything like it.  How great is it that you can go get anything you need at any time of the day from milk to Doritos?  And they don't have to pay people to run the store - the efficiency of it all just floats my boat.  Would someone please bring this to the states?  It is too cool not to spread around.

Andrew and I took the day on Saturday to go to IKEA, finally, after days of talking about the trip.  IKEA is about 1.5  hours from Caen, in Rouen.  So though the drive is easy, it is hard to just get going.... similar to driving to Montrose from Crested Butte for a Target run or driving to Valpo from Chicago for a family visit.  You will probably not be surprised to learn that IKEA looks the same as the one in Chicago, Tempe, or anywhere else.  It was a long few hours of picking out some rugs, kitchen stuff, towels, nothing too interesting.  After IKEA, we went to a fast food restaurant called Quick, which I agree with the name - it was Quick.  But is was PACKED.  It is a very similar restaurant to McDonalds, but this place was so crowded that people (including Andrew and I) had to sit outside in 45 degree weather.  Didn't make sense, this crowding, but in looking around the area there did not appear to be too many other dining options.  That, plus the humongous play area for kids, probably make it a favorite. Anyway, after this gourmet treat, we headed out to look for a couch.  Up until now, we have been sitting on dining room chairs to watch TV or just sit anywhere in general.  We all missed being able to sit and lounge on a couch so this became a priority.  We must have visited 10 stores and for no reason apparent to me, 95% of all couches sold within a 150 mile radius of Caen are upholstered in leather. Or leather and some other odd fabric.  White leather, beige leather, red leather, green leather - you have never seen so much leather - Leather-Mania.  Anything not made of leather was just plain ugly.  This was going to be a difficult search.  Along with criteria such as 1) not leather, 2) not ugly, we also wanted 3) not expensive 4) under 60 cm wide and 5) delivered TODAY.  In the end, we ended up with fulfilling criteria #3 and #4.  We ended up buying a huge (but low profile), ugly, leather couch that was 50% off due to some fabric issues on the cushions and had been rejected by the original customer.  Why did we do this?  Well, because it has good bones, I can repair the cushions myself and the cushions are red, so it might make the girls happy, being similar in color to our couch back in Colorado.  I'll post a picture once the couch gets delivered Saturday.

On Sunday, it was market day.  We all got up and walked the two blocks to the market.  The market is along the river-way and very well attended.  The weather was around 45 and rainy and still the place was packed.  You see tons of fruits and vegetables, meats, rotisserie chickens being roasted and on display by the dozens.  You can see from the pictures that Andrew found the only vendor selling Grateful Dead-like stuff where he bargained for three tapestries and some incense.  Ella picked out some beads to make a necklace.  I bought tons of clementines and bananas, some baguette's and two rotisserie chickens to serve for dinner.  The market is a really neat place and what is even more beautiful is the setting, with the sailboats in the background on the water.  The cold, rainy weather meant we didn't spend too much time shopping, but what the girls have come to realize is that Peter and Suzie buy them hot chocolate when the weather is bad.  Here, that is almost daily.  So cold weather doesn't always mean a bad, boring day - with the grandparents it means tasty hot chocolates!

The next day was the first day of school for the girls. After a long craft project of making  puppets out of paper plates and a short puppet show from the girls, we got them off to bed.  Then the adults rented an over-priced movie from the television, Fool's Gold.  Harmless but in English.  We were then off to bed to start a new adventure they next day - school.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Feb 20, 2009: Discovery Lane/House of Pain

Feb 20, 2009: I had a feeling yesterday when Peter told me he thought he was coming down with something....that he might be coming down with something. And sure enough, per Suzie, he had le stomache flu all night long.  He stayed in bed today until 2:00 p.m. or so.  Who  knows where he picked up this awful bug - it managed to impact his tummy, bottom, throat, nose and head.  A real zinger and very painful.  Peter and Suzie came from Chicago and Grace came from Chicago so I have to assume the enemy here is = Chicago. Or some spoiled pate or foie gras or croissant.  No matter the instigator, the results were none to pretty.  Peter awoke late this afternoon and managed to play and entertain until 8:30 p.m.  Just for the record, Peter managed to take a walk this afternoon, coming back with beer, pate, cassoulet and foie gras and expressed excitement at eating them, so my hunch is that he is going to be OK.....Again, a great example of grandparent super powers.  Peter - many wishes and prayers to you on a quick recovery.   
I took a long walk around the neighborhood and made many great discoveries.  A gym, a sushi restaurant, a fruit and veggie vendor, an Iranian rug vendor, and a few stores that reminded me of Cost Plus.  So some nice discoveries were made and it was a pleasant day for walking.  I also managed to get the tastiest crepe in the world, with butter and sugar.  My dad would be so jealous.  In the meantime, Suzie hung out with the girls, making crafts and art projects.  She also took them to lunch at the brasserie next store where they joyfully consumed hot chocolate, pasta with eighteen cheeses and chocolate ice cream.  I don't recall my grandparents being quite so benevolent with the treats...
Tonight, Andrew and I went to a place called The Caves for a pre-dinner drink.  It was a neat place, with all stone walls, arched windows and intimate.  After, we went to a restaurant that has become a favorite of Andrew's since he has been coming here for the last 4 months.  It was a tasty dinner.  My only regret was the gamba (shrimp) of mine that flew out of my fingers and into my wine glass.  It was embarrassing and a waste of a tasty glass of wine!
Tomorrow's adventures are still up for discussion.  We may all go to Deauville to see the aquarium and the beaches.  But Andrew and I also want to get a trip into IKEA before Peter and Suzie leave. So we shall see what happens.    What I hope does NOT happen is further sickness expansion.  Healthy minds, healthy bodies!  Only tomorrow will tell.  Bonne nuit!

Feb 19, 2009: Wanted: Perfect Martini

Feb 19, 2009: Lots of adventures yesterday!  First of all, Andrew hit the Chinese Buffet with his co-workers.  He had thought there was going to be some big, juicy meeting with hot topics discussed while enjoying this spread of soy heaven, but there was not.  Alas, his co-workers just wanted Chinese.  They enjoyed themselves so much, in fact, that barely a word was spoken the whole meal.  Bon appetit!
Peter and Suzie took the girls to Rouen, which is the capital of Upper Normandy. They saw the Notre Dame cathedral and various other sights.  They departed in the late morning and didn't return until 5:30 p.m. or so.    Given it is about 120 kilometres to Rouen, they had a long day of walking, learning and driving. 
Grace was doing much better than the day before.  Her only complaint in the morning (aside from waking up with an explosion in her diaper - apparently the enema she received the day prior was was still doing some work) was about her feet.  She said both of her feet hurt.  When walking, she would only walk on her toes.  So now I am thinking she has Rickets, severe gangrene or two club feet all of the sudden - resulting from this mysterious sickness that seeme to be evading the physicians at the hospital.  It actually turns out it was her shoes.  Her new shoes had been irritating her feet but for some reason she neglected to tell us this for many days.  So....all is well with Grace.  Yay!
My adventures started with exchanging our rented monster commuter van for a smaller car.  I think someone had a feeling that I should NOT be driving this weapon around the streets because Andrew got an email the night before saying there was an instant recall on this particular van and needed to be exchanged ASAP.  After spending 15 minutes trying to figure out how to start the new car and then 45 minutes (seriously, it took me 45 minutes) to figure out how to get the car in reverse, I was on my way to Cora.  Cora is a little bit Sam's Club, a little bit Big Lots, a little bit Dominicks and a little bit Wal-Mart.  I had to stock up on kitchen items, cleaning supplies, etc...  My cart was full, so full that the lady checking me out was stunned.  I explained in my best French that we had just moved and had nothing in our new maison.  She may have understood me, who knows!  The Garmin GPS was not helping so even though I got lost many times, I have to say I am getting to be quite the professional Round-abouter.
One of my great purchases at Cora was a cheap little DVD player and Wall-E.  It was the hit of the night. So while Andrew and I went out to dinner, the girls and Suzie and Peter stayed home to watch the movie.  
Andrew and I went out to dinner at a little brasserie that was recommended by a friend of his. We walked there and upon arriving at this tiny little brasserie I think we were both nicely surprised by how cute this little area appeared.  Two or three cobblestone streets connected with bars, brasseries and creperies on both sides.  It was right out of a movie and I loved it! We had a drink at the place that appeared to be "hopping" before having dinner.  It is beyond me why Andrew continues to order martini's here in Caen.  Not one place has ever made one that he liked.  All first sips are accompanied by a look of disgust and almost a gag.  Yet he finishes the drink and then will order one the next time.  He must be subconciously looking for the perfect martini here in France.  Our dinner was very nice.  Le Vendome was the name.  The food was delicious.  Andrew had fish and I had steak frites.  Andrew ordered a martini - go figure. It is a small place, romantically decorated with blacks and whites and gray's. Small tables that are close together. Playing in the background were some recording's of Edith Piaf and what Andrew and I thought must be Karaoke.  A drunk woman whom we could not find anywhere was singing along to Edith using a microphone.  She was not very in tune.  We asked the restaurant owner if he had karaoke this evening and he said, "no! It is our entertainment!"  Just at that moment she had a few really off notes and then he smiled and shrugged as if to say, "she is not always reliable but she has her good days." 
Dinner was nice and it was great to get out with Andrew - just the two of us.  I think we may also be getting another date night tonight. How lucky are we?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Feb 18, 2009: The Mysterious "Energy" of Grandparents

Feb 18, 2009:  I don't know where grandparents get their extra-ordinary energy.  It is like a force takes over and they just go, go, go and even when they can barely keep their eyes open, they go some more.  At least that is how I feel about Suzie and Peter.  They traveled all day yesterday, arrived here around 2:30 p.m., kept awake until a very respectable hour, woke up today around  8:30 a.m. They then took Ella and Mia on a field trip to Bayeux where they convinced these young girls to study and be interested in dozens of stained glass windows and tapestries, eat macaroni and cheese made of your not-so-typical cheeses, and came home with tasty quiches, breads, pates and tortes for us all.  I know how all three of the girls have been lately, so I know they were probably whining ALL day long. But Gaga and Bobby (Suzie and Peter's nicknames) always say they were absolutely perfect children all day long, not one problem encountered.  So I don't know how they do it, where they get their energy to fight jet lag, whining and food comatose all day long.  But they do it and I really admire them for this particular trait.  What is more, the girls really love to be with Gaga and Bobby because they are patient, knowledegable, tolerant, fun and give them tasty treats at any given moment : )
Grace and myself made another trip to the children's hospital today.  She was back to worse today and I was (and still am) worried.  She is zombie-ish, saying random things hurt such as her stomach, back, shoulder, always thirsty, doesn't want to walk (my back is killing me from carrying her) and all day long she says she is tired.  I think if I let her, she would sleep until 2010, only getting up for water because she is so thirsty.  You say one wrong thing, like red instead of blue, she cries. It is odd.  Anyway, we go back to the same hospital and this time, after 3 hours, they say she is fine but may be a little constipated.  Now I don't think this is the REAL problem here, but I know constipation is A problem for Grace. So I didn't argue when they recommended giving her an enema.  Lord knows I have thought about giving her one myself for many months, but just couldn't bring myself to do something to uncomfortable - for Grace and myself.  So they gave her one, she pooped, we left.  But I left feeling like something is still wrong.  I am praying that when she wakes up tomorrow morning, she is her crazy, silly self and not the shell she is right now.  Gracie - come out, come out, wherever you are! Cross your fingers!
Later this evening, I finally got piles and piles of clothes sorted and organized.  I am actually looking forward to sleeping in our room tonight.  Up until now, I had a hard time falling asleep thinking about the mountain-high tower of folding and sorting required.  Now, with that pile all gone, I can rest easy. Instead, I can think about the little boy who is crying his eyes out outside of our apartment right now at 11:45 p.m. at night, and wonder what in the heck his parents were thinking keeping him up and out so late.
Tomorrow should be fun.  Suzie and Peter are planning to take all three girls on another adventure while Andrew goes to work and I shop for some rugs, a couch, some chairs, and other items for the apartment.  Tomorrow night, Andrew is taking me on a romantic date to a local Bistro since Suzie and Peter volunteered to stay home and babysit. Grandparents....where do they get the energy? Bless them all!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Feb 17, 2009: A Step in the Wrong Direction

Feb. 17, 2009: Hmmm. Today. Today was OK!  Happy to report that there were no trips to the hospital, no faulty driving stories, no vomiting.  Andrew's parents arrived today from Scottsdale, via Chicago, around 2:30 p.m.   It was so nice to see them, all five of us were happy to see family.  Our apartment is still in shambles (according to me, not Andrew) but I did some power shopping today to get the studio apartment ready for Suzie and Peter's arrival.  Shopping for the essentials: towels, pillows, comforter, a small live flower arrangement to keep it happy.  Patting myself on the back at the moment, because to me it looks quite nice, I think I would like to move down to the studio apartment.  A much better bathroom....
Looking at Suzie's eyes, I knew we might lose her to jet lag if we didn't get some action started.  So while Andrew and Peter went to the local "Home Depot" to rent a ladder (curtain hanging project), Suzie and I took the girls to a local carousel they kept asking about.  Funny thing happened on the way to the carousel.  A woman heard us talking in English and asked if we might be able to help her with a few things.  Having been here only a week, I was doubtful, but happy to be the one in the "know" for the first time in a while!  It turns out she had just moved here with her family of three kids and her husband.  Her name? Kate.  Her husbands name? Andrew.  TOO crazy, I know.  And she was delightful, really nice.  She is from Australia and her husband I believe is from Britain.  She was looking for rentals and had a hard time so I offered to give her the name of our realtor we used here in Caen to find our rental.  Also, she was staying in a hotel right across the street from the Carousel, so she said her kids were probably itching to get out and would meet us there.  It turns out all three of her kids are just as delightful, ages 4, 6 and 8.  My guess is, her husband is pretty nice, also.  So, we decided to keep in touch and get together.  After four rides, it was time to head back to the apartment and stop for some pain au chocolat on the way.  But, wow, how crazy!  We met some possible friends, who speak English.  Pretty cool.
After a very non-traditional French dinner of rotisserie chicken, hot dogs, cantonese rice, potato chips and arugula salad (still getting take-out due to a huge lack of kitchen accessories), we got the girls to bed.  Andrew had to tend to some business matters so Suzie and I caught up, sitting in our only two chairs, using our only two wine glasses, sipping some yummy Bordeaux.  It was nice, comfortable and very much needed!  Just a bit ago, Suzie decided to join Peter, who had gone to bed an hour or so prior.  As I was sitting, enjoying the silence, I heard a huge commotion down the stairs.  And it was Suzie - she had taken a step in the wrong direction off the stairs.  Don't worry, she is fine (so she says)!  But I chuckle, because just about 2 hours ago, Peter had given Suzie stern directions about the intricate nature of these abnormal stairs and if she was not careful, she might take a spill.  Having had a long day and not wanting these special instructions, I think Suzie kind of half-heard his warning.  And what do you know - she biffed in the exact location he had warned her about.  Why am I telling you this?  No real reason, other than the situation and the irony made me chuckle. And it reminded me of a time that I was at a very dark sushi restaurant in Crested Butte, took a wrong turn and fell flat on my face and flew across the DJ's stage in front of many-a-diner that evening.  I acted like nothing happened (clearly, something happened) and got right up and no one said anything to me, bless them all.  And I probably should have done the same for Suzie.  Alas...we all have our Mr. Bungles moments.  And Mr. Bungles moments have always made me chuckle, even my own.
Tomorrow, Suzie and Peter are taking the girls to the town of Camembert (pop. 126) where they make the famous cheese.  More adventures to come!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Feb 16, 2009: Driving Miss Gracie

Just as I suspected, each day really is getting better and better here in Caen.  When I say better, I mean each day I discover something new and exciting that makes me want to see what cool stuff will be encountered the next day.  It could be the opposite where I dread the next day's adventures and just want to go home.  For instance, I had decided that if Grace and/or Mia were not doing any better as of yesterday, than I was going to take them to get medical attention.  Waking up yesterday, Mia appeared almost back to normal.  Grace was still sick.  So I stayed home with Grace while Andrew took Ella and Mia to the local Sunday street market.  I had hoped should would get better, eat and drink some, as the day went on.  But she did not.  When Andrew got back from the market, it was time to take Grace to the hospital (it was Sunday and Urgent Care IS the Hospital here). One of my biggest fears, for no apparent reason, is driving in a foreign country.  I haven't driven once since being here. But it made sense for me to take Grace and let Andrew stay home with Ella and Mia.  So with all my might, I took the car keys from Andrew, got the GPS programmed, and braved the skinny streets of Caen.  Did I mention that the car is a huge van?  Oh, and did I also mention that the huge van is manual?  Here is a math problem for you: skinny streets + big van + manual car and Kate hasn't driven a stick shift for 11 years.  Poor Grace.  The answer to the math problem = jerking, stalling, crying.  I literally was stalling on hills in a big ass van! Miracle of miracles, no accident occurred and Grace didn't puke. Andrew was summoned on the phone once because I needed to go in Reverse to get out of a street that I entered the wrong way.  Surprisingly, he had a quick and easy answer and Grace and I were on our way.  I did miss many turns on those silly round-abouts and stunned a few passer-byes by running over some curbs with my hefty wheels, but we did arrive at the hospital safely - well the second hospital.  The first one we went to was for surgeries, only. The other hospital was for Children - down the road. We arrived and it was pretty empty, silent, not the same as you would encounter in Chicago.  If you are a mother yourself, then you probably understand the feeling that something HUGE is wrong with your child, you are just so sure of it, but really, they just have the flu.  And, once again, this was the case with Grace. I was doubting they understood me since the nurses and doctors spoke almost no English and my French is incomprehensible.  Didn't they see that Grace's eyes looked funny?  Or that she seemed to be a complete zombie? They had no gadgets and no fancy machines in the room so I thought for sure they were incapable.  But guess what?  They were.  If I had been in Wilmette (my old stomping grounds) they would have hooked up an IV, ran tests, kept us waiting for hours (no offense to anyone out there how might be somehow aligned to this circumstance) only to tell me that Grace had Influenza or some long word for dehydrated (deshydrate, so I learned in French).   The doctors basically told me she had a heck of a flu and she was just tired to the bone from recovering.  They did this all via palpitating and simple tools and a little finger prick to test her glucose and acetone levels. Leaving the hospital, I was still slightly concerned that the French didn't know squat about my child's deathly illness that was hiding in the background.  But I am happy to say, she is much better today, eating better and even being a little silly. This experience, though not ideal, did teach me to drive and learn how to get to the hospital, if needed.  So, tomorrow I look forward to driving to IKEA and getting some shopping done.  See? Tomorrow does have new adventures ahead and I bet IKEA is pretty happy to be part of them. 
On another note, Andrew's parents come tomorrow.  I think we are all looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and family.  The whole time Grace has been sick she keeps saying she just wants to go "home".  When I ask where "home" is, she says it has a red couch, a big black TV and lots of toys.  That would be Colorado.  When explaining that Caen is our new home, she says right, but I want to go to the "old" home.  That request won't happen for many months, but Peter and Suzie coming tomorrow will be a big step toward Grace feeling like she is at her "old" home.  And selfishly, Andrew and I can maybe even go on a date!
A demain....(til tomorrow, in french).

Day 5: Saturday....Wait

Day 5: Clear skies and chilly on this Saturday in Caen.  Slowly the kids emerge from sleep, still miserable but without vomiting.  Ella has been a trooper and without sickness (please, knock on wood) but wisely avoiding Grace.  Grace's vomiting scared Mia and Mia's moodiness scared Grace so they all three girls pretty much wanted only DADDY (who was at work) and wanted nothing to do with me or each other.  All that Grace and Mia wanted to do was absolutely nothing - no food, not activity, no playing.  I let them watch Cars and High School Musical on the computer, for which Ella was all to happy to agree.  
After lunch, Andrew and I decided it was time to leave our nest.  Up until now, I felt like all I knew how to do when I left the apartment was walk to Monoprix - the Wal Mart of Caen - to get grocery staples.  The chance to get out and explore was what I had been looking forward to so was all for this nest departure.  Grace and Mia were unagreeable but we forced them to get dressed, etc.. Fresh air is good for anyone, right? All of us walked to the local park, which just happens to be smack dab in the middle of the Chateau de Caen (Caen Castle).  We bundled up and walked (well, we dragged Grace and Mia) to the Chateau.    I can't describe how amazing this Chateau is - the accessibility, the proximity to our apartment, the historical significance, just amazing.  As you approach this castle's monster walls and wind up the walkways and then walk through an ancient archway, you see this kid's park.  And then to your left you see an old church, an abbeye, crumbling walls from 1400.  To your right you see really high wood pillars that have mythological statues that tower above the castle walls.  There is an empty moat surrounding the castel, which has lovely homes perched on the opposite side's bank.  Just amazing!  Ella and I did some discovery, as Andrew had to walk home with Grace and Mia who were miserable, cold and crying basically the whole walk there.  Ella had played on the park equipment while Grace and Mia remained curled up in balls on a bench with Andrew.
After playing at the castle, Ella and I were not eager to go home so we continued to walk the streets of Caen.  Again, I was amazed at what I was discovering.  Like a kid in a candy store, I discovered TONS of awesome shops, both local and chains.  We bought some over-priced pots and pans from a delightful kitchen store, checked out a local Poisonnerie (a store that sells fresh fish), stopped in and got 2 monster croissants and then sat on a bench to enjoy our snack.  This day was turning out to be really nice.  Having been separated from the sickness and the confines of the apartment, I was feeling positive, hopeful of our adventures here in Caen.  Every corner you turn has a new surprise - more cobble-stoned walkways with a great new shop, an awesome butcher with great meats, a man selling crawfish from a big red box, freshly caught that day.  This outing with Ella was just what I needed and I think she enjoyed herself, also. 
Later that evening, after dinner and baths, things felt slightly more normal at the apartment.
Day 5 was a turning point where I went from feeling confined to this new, strange apartment with a smelly bathroom to one that seemed limitless with possibilities. Paint the walls - that'll get rid of the smell!  Buy heavy drapes for the bedroom windows - that'll get rid of the outside noise at night.  And get some fresh air - that can give you a whole new look on things.


Day 4: It's Messy

OK, so Day 3 here in Caen had it's ups and down.  I was absolutely sure that the next day was going to be better and the next even better...So I was unprepared for mid-morning when Grace started vomiting.  The night before I was suspicious of sickness.  Mia was still acting really tired and Grace was acting similarly.  We had had another night of rebel-rousing in the streets of Caen which proved an act of will to try and sleep through. Between jet-lag, Caen-street traffic-lag and just new surroundings (which I think Grace and Mia are still deciding if they approve of) and a possible flu bug, it all came together as one big projectile vomit string from Grace. Poor thing had never been so sick.  She had thown up once or twice before and had seen Ella really sick but this was new to her.  All day long she would drink a sip of water and then thown up ten-fold right after. She was so thirsty and she didn't understand that her body was not into anything being consumed.  In total, I went through 8 outfits, 2 sets of sheets, washed 2 IKEA chair covers and cleaned 2 rugs.  Nothing like efficiency - even when vomiting!  I liked my cousin Gretchen's view on the whole deal - Grace was just breaking the apartment in for us.  I am not sure about you, but if I experience something awful in a new place - that new place becomes tainted to me, as if to tell me it is a bad place.  So even after the flu bug and all is gone, I think it will take more time for Grace to like Caen and the new apartment. Mia was also sick but without the vomit.  She would not move.  She was all slumped over in a very uncomfortable chair and stayed there for a long time.  She was so out of it that could could not respond to me (or maybe she could but wouldn't). Needless to say, this day was messy and another unproductive one for myself and the girls.   I think Andrew came home for lunch and got in on the fun for one round of vomit and then he was off to the office, again.
On the positive side, after everyone was in bed I figured out how to get some channels in English.  I watched something that I would have never typically watched had I been in Colorado with my 500 viewing channel buffet.  But, the show (which is escaping me) was comforting - to hear English was familiar.
Another example of complete and utter love of television is Grace, Mia and Ella watching cartoons in French.  They could care less what language the show is in - doesn't bother them one bit.  I wonder why not?
Day 4, though full of action, still didn't provide the adventures I had been looking for.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Day 3: Les Tears and L'Ecole

Day 3: Bright and early, Andrew got up for work. He must've been gone by 8:00 a.m. And I kid you not, the twins slept until just before 10:00 a.m. and Ella slept until 10:30 a.m. I guess we were all still getting over jet lag.  Or could it be the LOUDness, the non-stop action of nights in Caen?  It is hard to pinpoint how I could have gone through life without ever hearing about the crazy nightlife in Caen but apparently this detail got by me.  2am, 3am, 4am, there was screaming, yelling, drunken yodeling, you name it.  And due to the thin nature of our windows, it seemed as though they were doing all of this fun stuff with the aide of microphones.  This was a Wednesday night!  Who knew Wednesday could be so much fun? You and I are missing out, that is for sure.  The consequences of being a lame family trying to sleep is just not much sleep.  None of us slept well.  But, we woke up, had some strong milks and espresso's and were ready to start our new day.
Soon we would be off to that days big adventure: Visiting the school where the girls would attend beginning Feb. 23 after the winter break ended. Andrew came home shortly after 10:30 a.m. to show us how to get to l'ecole (the school). While he brushed three sets of teeth, I allowed myself a quick shower.  Now, if you read Day 1, you know that overall I liked the apartment when I saw it but did not like the kitchen or the bathroom situation.  I won't bore you with the kitchen right now, because I am over that room - movin' on/resolved.  But the pains me. On our main living floor of the apartment there is a room with a toilet. Then there is another room that has a bathtub and a sink.  Despite radiant heat in all of our rooms, it is not so radiant in the S.S. and S. rooms. Cold, bitter cold welcomes your hiney when you sit on the seat or depart the shower.  I used to go to camp as a child and at first I was appalled by the community showers and toilets and the general cleanliness of them. I never really got over the gross feeling, but I learned to deal with it by wearing flip-flops and really fast visits. The shower in this apartment gives me the same gross feeling.  I wish I had flip-flops to wear!  This shower room has a constant smell of mildew, the tiles are crumbling and the ugly yellow of the sink and tub are nauseating.  The rusting mirror (can mirrors rust?) feels slummy and the big tall white walls and ceiling with cracks streaming in every which way is not cozy.  No kidding, I was taking a shower that morning and started sobbing.  All I wanted was a nice comfortable shower to relax and all I saw was rotten filth with a chilly shell.  My hair went unwashed that day - quickest shower EVER. And I was miserable in this new place.  I saw no hope for a quick bathroom renovation and for someone who likes to take 20 minute showers (I now, that is a waste of water) because it is relaxing and toasty and quiet - this seemed sad and lonely. And moldy.  Before we arrived in Caen, Andrew had told me the bathroom could use some work but was totally usable.  He was excited because the water pressure was really good and the water temperature was hot.  Till this day, that is all he sees - he doesn't see grossness, he sees warm, steady water.  I wish I were him!  Even the girls say they love the bathroom - they like the new yellow color of the bathtub.  You must think me a brat to cry about a gross bathroom and I probably am. But the point of me telling you this is that after seeing it through Grace, Mia, Ella and Andrew's eyes, I decided to perk the hell up and get out of my nasty funk.  They were seeing the positive side, I was seeing the negative and that is my bad!  Now my only question is, can you paint tile?
Now, to the school visit.  The Notre Dame school is about 4 blocks from the apartment. All three girls will attend the same school.  When we arrived, we noticed how...vintage the school was.  And after my crying bout at home in the shower, I was a little tainted by old so was slightly concerned. However, after meeting the head of the school, getting a tour of the classrooms and seeing pictures of the students, this was all going to be OK. All three girls were excited to start right away.  Eating lunch takes place about 2 blocks from the school where they all walk to and from with teachers.  From what I gather, they eat real food (not canned Sysco peaches and green beans) like frommages and meats and local fruits and vegetables so I will be excited to see how they eat.  Also, no snacks in the am or pm and that will be an adjustment but overall, this is a great school. We all got home after our school visit and did some more unpacking and organizing - Andrew went back to work.
Mia was still groggy and tired through out this day - napping often and out of the blue. But in genaral, the day ended with the girls going to bed late. Andrew and I dined on bagette, olives, cheeses and smoked salmon and salad and then called it a night.  Day 3 started with a bad shower and pee, but as the day moved along it was a more positive side I could see.

Day 2: Oh, the Things We "Could" Do

Day 2:  This is kind of a weird day. We got to sleep late, all waking up in new beds and new rooms.  For the most part, I think Andrew and I woke up with memories of living in Bucktown and Lakeview.  Our apartment is dead in the center of Caen. Right next door is a movie theater.  A busy bus stop (the Twisto) is right across the street.  It is a very active scene.  Much more active than the dead silence we have become used to in the mountains of Colorado.  In Colorado, sometimes I cannot sleep  because it is too quiet.  The quiet is loud if that makes any sense.  In Caen, it is really just loud.  The windows are single pane and made of what I feel could be Reynold's Wrap.  This first night wasn't so loud that it concerned me, as Andrew had warned me ahead of time about "city living".  Never the less, none of us fell sound asleep. 
Having slept in, Day 2 started late.  Andrew had to go to work - after all, his job is the reason we came to Caen. So he left around noon and then it was me and the girls to spend the day doing whatever.  I have to admit that I felt a little abandoned.  In this new city with which I had no familiarity, a slight language barrier and three rambunctious children, what was I to do with my three daughters for the rest of the day?
We did have a TV, but Andrew had been unsuccessful at getting it to work. There were some local channels we received so I think the girls watched JAG in french for a while. They played with their Leapsters and other random toys they had packed in their backpacks.  We had (and still only have) two small chairs from IKEA (the couch I ordered didn't fit up the stairs so they had to take it back) so they fought over who got to sit in the chairs.  Some 4 boxes that I had shipped over before we left Crested Butte had arrived earlier that morning. The boxes would not fit up the stairwell so I attempted to unpack some of the boxes and bring small loads up the four flights of stairs.  One bonus of this shipment was our Apple Computer.  I took it out promptly and set it up where the girls then watched movies from iTunes for a few hours - Cars, High School Musical, and listened to some of their favorite music.  Looking back, I think the cost of shipping our Apple was well worth the effort and money.  It has taken us through some needy hours here in Caen.  Not a very adventurous day and not a day that exemplifies exotic living in France, sorry to say!
Andrew arrived home from work around 6:30 p.m.  We had some dinner and the day basically ended by the girls going to sleep and Andrew and I talked about his day at work for quite a while.  Then it was off to sleep - well, kind of.  So, Day 2 was short the action but we all seemed to end in a state of satisfaction.

Day 1: Landing...and Lots of Standing

Day 1: We arrived into Caen around 12:30 p.m.  That three hour delay wasn't really a problem until arrival at the Paris airport.  It seems that once we got off the plane, all H E double toothpicks broke loose.  The kids were cranky - no one wanted to go potty, no one wanted to carry their backpacks or coats, and all of them felt sick.  Now, I am convinced from past experience that the smell of cigarette smoke right when you get off an airplane will make you feel sick and then continue to make you feel sick for the rest of your life.  And that is what you smell when you walk into the airport in Paris and then around the whole airport.  
After changing the girls from their pajamas to clothes,  we ventured over to Passport Control.  This took a LONG time.  It seems that many flights arrive around 12:30 p.m....  Andrew and I were running low on patience and high on irritation so it may have seemed to take longer than it actually took. Anyway, after all the drama it took to get our Visa's for France, the entrance through Passport Control was highly disappointing. I have had  harder times getting into bars with my own I.D.   Next we went to get our bags.  All 6 of them, and quite large in size with a nice amount of weight for each.  We had two carts with bags and proceeded to the parking lot where our pre-arranged rented car was waiting for us.   You take a train to get to the parking lot.  There are posts at the entry to the train that prohibit you from bringing those baggage carts into the train area.   That really bit. After two trips back and forth on the train to take loads to the car, we finally were driving the 2 hour trip to Caen.  Three Happy Meals, Two espresso's and $30 in tolls later, were arrived at our apartment. Ahh...relief.
Until this day, only Andrew had seen the apartment (aside from photo's).  Upon arrival, the building looked really neat.  Gated, old, historic, just neat.  We all walked in and got the tour.  It is hard to explain, but this place used to be a hotel.  Over the years it has evolved into one apartment that takes up the four flights of stairs. When you walk in, there is an office to your right where I believe people checked in for their rooms way back when. This will be a workout room for me one of these days.  If you go straight, there is a train-station like bathroom and showers and a staircase that goes down and ends with a wall.  Quite scary and musty - the whole of this area - so if possible I won't visit this part of the apartment at all costs. The next floor up is where the Studio Apartment is located. Not bad and will be ready for visitors.  The next floor is a toilette and then the next floor is our main living space.  The furniture I had ordered from IKEA France online was all assembled - Andrew did a great job. The appliances he had bought were all installed. There were 6 cups, plates, knives, forks, spoons ready for us.  There was a package of smoked salmon in the fridge (what every new home needs).  When you walk in you  notice that the windows are truly gorgeous, the details of the walls and ceilings are magnificent. However, I was bummed about the kitchen and the bathroom situations.  And the variation of musty smells that came from each room.
Alas, I quickly walked to a nearby store where I bought 5 pillows, 3 blankets, 5 towels and came home and made the beds and we all crashed.  At the end of Day 1, although it didn't seem much fun, we looked forward to Day 2 and the adventures that would ensue.

Day 0 - Blast Off

It has been about five days since our family arrived in Caen.  Before I posted more of our experiences, I wanted to settle in - "marinate" is a perfect description.  And I am glad I did allow myself to "marinate" because my perspectives on our new life have evolved (for the better). Here starts a summary of Days 0 - 5 so you can follow this evolution.

Day 0: Depart for Caen 
Our flight was 3 hours delayed leaving Chicago O'Hare on Monday, Feb 5.  That turned our time to burn at the airport from 3 to 6 hours, as we had already arrived prompty 3 hours early for our original flight.  Although those 6 hours at O'Hare seemed insurmountable with three active children, we did survive.  Three Leapsters, three headsets and a variety of Leapster cartridges did the trick, with a little help from the wide array of snacks at the United Red Carpet Club (which by the way doesn't have red carpet).  It was down to 2 kids to entertain after a while because Mia seemed unable to stay awake. She basically slept for about 1 hour before we left to board the plane. When we boarded the plane the children were extremely excited by their seats and their own dedicated video screens.  We were fortunate enough to be flying business class in a newer plane.  After a long stint at the airport, the aura on the plane was nice.  The flight attendants were nice, Wall-E was flowing from the screens and Andrew and I were enjoying warm nuts and wine.  The girls ate some dinner but really they fell asleep quickly and slept the duration of the flight.  Again, Mia was in what seemed like a coma. Couldn't figure that out, but wasn't going to complain!  In summary Day 0 started shakey with a delay but for the flight I could have nothing better to say!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Trance Before France

Just to set the stage, for about three months, Andrew traveled back and forth from Caen, France to Crested Butte, Colorado.  Now, if you are not familiar with the effort required to get to Crested Butte, CO from a U.S. location, then you probably won't appreciate the effort required to get from Crested Butte to Caen. In summary, it is about 3 airport transfers totaling 12 hours of air-time and about 3 hours of driving at the tail end of flying (hopefully, I can get him to read this blog post so he can add his 2 cents about the whole travel experience.) He would be gone for about 2 weeks, come home for 4-5 days, then leave, again.  For a mother who was used to staying home with her children, this probably would have been a breeze. For me, this was HARD.   I was a full-time working woman.  I was used to days consumed by conference calls, projects, client deliverables.  I was not used to packed days full of French Tutoring, ballet classes (not for me, silly!), laundry, Rosetta Stone, packing/sorting, baths, lunch/snack packing, dinner making, breakfast making, dishwasher load/unload, etc...all on my own. All of these items prior to October were shared between Andrew and I.  Suddenly, this changed to being just me doing all of these things and I was overwhelmed - yet O.K.  Let's just say that I was ready to get a move-on by the time we left on the plane to go to visit family in Illinois and Indiana on Feb. 5, 2009.

How Caen This Be?

The purpose of this blog is to capture the exciting and not so exciting adventures of our family's move from Crested Butte, CO to living in Caen, France.  How did this crazy adventure come to be?  My husband left his job of 6 years to go on his own as a freight broker.  He was doing his own thing for about 2 weeks when suddenly a mentor/past employer from his past contacted him and said, "Andrew, I really want you to join my fairly new company - and by the way, I really want you to move to France to head up our European Operations."  I won't say that this was a simple decision because it was not.  We had moved to Crested Butte just one year earlier to escape the suburbs of Chicago, to enjoy a more active lifestyle, to give our children a life that revolved around nature and recreation that excluded malls and Gymboree.  It was a big move and one that we had not regretted. Picking up and moving, as exotic as France sounds, was not an easy decision. But as you can tell by the title of this blog, we did it. We decided to move to Caen, France.  This blog is here to share with you the events and stories that we encounter on a daily basis, living in a new country with a new language - new everything.