Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 31, 2009: C'est La Meme Chose



March 31, 2009: Most days (not all, but most) I feel like if you were to put the world on mute, you would think people are all the same.  It seems normal to assume we are not the same. However, without language barriers and the passions that we support via language, we look the same, we have the same gestures, we tell stories with the same facial expressions, we laugh the same.  If you got on the bus here in Caen and had ear plugs in, you might close and open your eyes and think you are riding a CTA bus in Chicago.  If you got on the tube in London and plugged your nose, you might think you were riding the El in Chicago.  If you walked down the city streets here in Caen you would see homeless people asking for money, drivers bumping between two cars as they try to parallel park, and people crowding into McDonalds.  And if you watched TV you would expect to hear English being spoken if you took the TV off mute, as they look like anyone you would see doing a Mr. Clean or Eggo's commerical in the U.S.

Tonight, I had the wonderful experience of seeing the orchestra, compliments of a friend who could not use her ticket. Sitting at the concert I got to thinking about how really, we are all so much alike, as I watched the people pile in with a passion for music, the musicians walk onto stage with an obvious passion for their calling.  I am not going to tell you that I am an avid orchestra, symphony or opera follower which is why I went to this event.  Truthfully, I went to see something new, to get out of the house and to get some time to myself.  And all three I got. What I wasn't expecting to leave with was a new appreciation for music and an urge to continue to attend these musical events here in Caen and elsewhere.  

As a child, I always told myself I would never like classical music or opera or anything that had a violin playing in the song.  Then John Couger and Indigo Girls had to go and add violins to their music, so I broke one of my rules.  Next, I began to listen to Mozart in college to help myself concentrate while studying and to help myself fall asleep - one more personal rule broken.  And now that I am older, I realize that Apple Bottom Jeans and Cyclones are fun to sing about, but I need more from my music.  Watching these musicians tonight, as they sang songs and played ancient instruments from the 12th and 13th centuries, originating here in Normandy, France it sparked my interest yet again.  One guy was playing a harp that looked to be 400 years old.  His age was probably 25?  And he played three other instruments that looked equally as old.  Imagine the passion he has for music, to study instruments that no one within 4 countries probably knows how to play.  The other two musicians were singing these songs that are centuries old and you just imagine them jumping into character and never jumping out because they are so good, so convincing.  Like if the two of them were married, they would speak in tongues from long ago and sing love songs and waltz while making couscous for dinner.  Then, the comfort these musicians look to have while holding their instruments, the fluid and flawless notes that are heard are amazing.   I bet they feel the same way that a tennis player feels when he/she grasps their racket in just the right way or the way a swimmer can feel that their goggles are on perfectly.  It just feels right. And if you removed the language that was sang, it felt like something that I could hear anywhere in the world.

After school today, I took the girls to the park.  I had brought two soccer balls and a jump rope. Not much, I know, but you would be surprised what three children can create with just those three items!  They played for at least an hour and finally we had to go home for dinner.  But the last game they ended with was Red Light, Green Light.  An old favorite of all of us, right?  And again, I just kept thinking how it is all the same. C'est la meme chose.  Caen, France or Valparaiso, Indiana, all kids are playing Red Light, Green Light. 

Guess what tomorrow is?  Wednesday, again!  Ella was home sick today with an ear ache and cough.  I was hoping that tomorrow she would be better, but as I sit her typing I can hear her coughing loudly and getting worse.  If she is up for it, we will visit a local farm. We will be able to walk freely while viewing how they make apple juice and cider and pet some animals. Originally we were going to Juno Beach, but the wind will be in full force tomorrow making it cold and miserable so we will save that for another day.  In the afternoon, Ella has a birthday party to attend. Her first social engagement! Sick kids, birthday parties...c'est la meme chose!

C'est la meme chose is one of Andrew's favorite french phrases to say.  I think he may have made it up, piecing together this and that from his french lessons.  Or maybe it is a legit phrase and it is just the way he says it but I laugh when I hear him say it so it has become a favorite saying of mine.  And meaning to us, it is all the same...

More later....

Pictured above: The orchestra performance from tonight at the Musee de Normandie; the girls playing Red Light, Green Light tonight at the park.



Saturday, March 28, 2009

March 28, 2009: If At First You Don't Succeed, Whine, Whine again






We sure had a marvelous day today.  It started out a little questionable, the rain coming and going and the temperature staying quite chilly.  As we headed out towards Honfleur, just 10 minutes into our trip, it was pouring down rain.  But we saw some cloud openings ahead so were hopeful for a nice welcome at our destination.  Honfleur is only about 55 kilometers from Caen which is one of the reasons I chose this for today's adventure.  Close enough that if we had to come home due to weather, it wouldn't really be a huge deal or investment in time.  

I had read about Honfleur ahead of time, but had failed to map out a plan of attack for when we arrived.  So upon arrival, we just drove through town, looking at the beautiful sail boats, tall and skinny buildings and cobble stone streets, and hoping that something would stand out as worthy of a visit from the Haverkampfs.  It was still raining, so we had to find something to do indoors.  Sure enough, we saw a sign for Naturospace.  We had no idea what that was - but it sounded like it might be sheltered and we saw cars turning into the parking lot, so we gave it a whirl.  What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be!  It was a butterfly...farm?  Zoo?  Basically, a whole building that had a large portion designated to butterflies of all kinds.  Even better - the girls have been reading over and over again a book called "Fancy Nancy, Bonjour Butterfly."  In the book, Nancy gets to visit a similar place, so this was like being a part of Nancy's story!  Upon entry into the building, we got slightly bogged down by the gift shop that is immediately to your left.  The girls headed straight for it and instantly wanted to buy everything.  Once we got our tickets, we got them gathered up and entered the butterfly house.  On the way in, there was a sign asking all people entering to be quiet and calm, so the girls tried their best to be quiet, which was a nice change from our drive of whining and fighting. Butterflies were EVERYWHERE!  All colors, all sizes, fluttering all over the place.  There were beautiful flowers and plants with butterflies perched on each and every one of them.  At first I thought that the girls might be a little freaked out or grossed out by this swarm, but thankfully they were fascinated.  Grace kept standing very still and perching her finger out, hoping a butterfly would take a rest with her for a while.  It never happened, but it sure was cute to watch!  The whole butterfly house walk took less than 30 minutes ( I think the departing trip in the gift shop took longer!) but on the drive home and even before bed tonight, the girls kept saying they missed the butterflies and wanted to go back.  

After butterflies, we went to park in the pretty town center of Honfleur.  Our plan was to walk around aimlessly to find a good, family friendly place for lunch.  We did come upon a place that appeared to contain other children, so we took a chance and entered.  Now, I know I sound as if we had been having a perfect, pleasant time with calm children and smiles abounding. And for the most part that is true. But don't be fooled - there was ample whining about hunger, car sickness, needing new toys.   All the same stuff you encounter.  And the minute we entered this restaurant, the tentacles came out, touching everything, climbing everything.  I have come to realize recently that the hungrier a child gets, the more obnoxious they get and harder to deal with they become.  So Andrew and I decided to cut out of this dining establishment and have a family meeting.  The meeting started with me giving the girls all a sweet bun to hold them over and ended with Andrew telling them about the importance of manners. After a few chews of their sweet buns and some walking we found a really great restaurant that looked to have wonderful food and a whole outside seating area that we could be free to trash.  It was chilly, but Andrew and I thought it best to face the cold on the outside then face embarrassment due to loud and unruly children on the fancy inside.  I ordered the girls some hot milks which warmed their bellies and their hands and Andrew and I had some adult beverages, so we all became quite content.  Again, lots of whining and touching of non-touchable items going on here by the girls, but nothing that a little dose of white wine and Heinekin can't gloss over.  Our meals were fantastic!  The girls all had noodles with a butter and basil sauce. I had a whole sole  that was slightly breaded and sauteed with a butter mixture. Andrew had an omelette. We both had french fries that were out of this world. All in all, besides the wine bottle that Mia broke just as we were leaving the restaurant, it was a wonderful lunch.  It was right where sailboats were docked and had a great view of the surrounding restaurants and shops - in what is called the Vieux Bassin. Also, by the time we left, the sun had been shining off and on for the past 20 minutes.  Lovely, just lovely!

From lunch, we went to check out the tour boats we had seen advertised on the way into town.  They took you out into the Port of Normandy.  We decided to go, but to burn the 30 minutes before the boat left, we went to a park just down the road.  It was an awesome park, where I believe is the Honfleur public gardens.  Beautiful flowers, tons of greens, many scattered play areas.  The girls were in heaven, racing all around from swings to climbing and all the while imagining they were Power Rangers.  Perfect for burning off the 10 tons of pasta they had for lunch!  

After the park, we arrived at the boat trip.  As I said, it takes you out into the Port of Normandy.  The trip itself was OK.  The neat part was seeing the locks open and close but that takes time and the twins were antsy.  The boat ride was about 50 minutes long, but the twins only lasted about 5 minutes before they were causing a raucous.  Waves were splashing and crashing against the windows so that was interesting to them, but in general they were unamused.  Ella had fun but she was also ready for it to be over about half way through.

We went back to the park after the boat ride. Mostly to use the bathrooms, but also to let the girls play a little more, before the car ride home.  We wandered the pretty streets, also.  I stopped in a local store that sold Calvados, Cidre, Apple Juice and other local items.  I ended up buying a bottle of organic cidre, a very old bottle of Calvados and three chocolates for the girls.  I gave the girls the chocolates when I caught up with them on the street and almost instantly they were gagging and spitting out their candies.  What up with that, I wondered?  Then I noticed a steady flow of liquid dumping out of Grace's chocolate and upon tasting it realized it was a potent Calvados.  Man, are we lucky they didn't pass out or vomit!  I kid you not, these candies had NO indication of alcohol on their wrappers.  They said Camembert - which is a cheese!  Anyway, everything was fine, they all had the sense to give the candy back.  I kind of failed there - giving candy and then grossing them out so much they want to give it back!

Upon reaching the car, and after what seemed like only 1-2 hours after lunch, already the whining about being hungry started.  Again, and again, and again.  Ella loves to say she can't wait even just 4 minutes for food. We are like, and then what? After four minutes and no food, what happens? Then Grace and Mia chime in. Kids ; )

Today was a great day. The family had lots of fun together. We all took away fun memories of different parts of the trip.  But I bet if you asked Andrew - just like me - the only thing that really bothers us is the constant whining we hear from the girls.  We do love them SOOO much. But the girls seem to think that if at first you don't succeed with a whine, then you should whine and whine again .  Maybe they think no one heard them the first time?  Their age has everything to do with it and we are willing to ignore or deal with the whining so as not to disrupt the awesome adventures we take.  But Andrew and I certainly hope that one year from now we are blogging about how our children are whine-free and happy as can be.

Pictured above: Mia, concerned by the pirates missing hand; Grace and Mia looking out at the port; Butterflies at Naturospace, Orchids growing in Naturospace, and Grace, mesmerized by the butterflies.

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 27, 2009: Let Er' Rip!


OK.  Truth be told, my running may not be much of a rip these days.  Maybe just a slow tear.  But this morning I had a great run and I am pleased to report that I found other runners!  At least a dozen of them sited, maybe more.  There is a horse racing track in Caen that I decided to visit during my run and it was here that I spotted my fellow pavement members.  Maybe I am not so different!  I have just been running in the wrong place and at the wrong time of day.  I was so excited at the vision of this wide-open track and supporters in my midst, I ripped (or slowly tore) around the track twice before heading back home.  The distance of the track is unknown to me - let's just be technical and call it "big".  The French-American gap of differences are slowly dwindling as I live here longer and figure stuff out.

Our walk to school this morning was quite the vision!  All three of the girls were definitely feeling sassy and cool in their new shoes.  They held hands, walked slowly, turned heads on the way to school because of their impeccable behavior.  In one respect, I was very happy and optimistic about them growing into their environment.  But then my gloomy side pictured something similar to the nice, calm weather encountered just before a tornado hits.  The calm before the storm.   Oh well.  I'll just enjoy these moments at the moment and worry about the rest later!



Pictured above: The well-behaved brood walking to school this morning.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March 26, 2009: Please, ArrĂȘte the Wet!


One might think that since Grace is now coming home for nap time, she would be without potty accidents. After all, she had a potty-accident free week last week at home and she told me that she is happy she gets to come home with me after lunch to take naps and play. But alas!  She had two potty accidents today.  One walking home from school after I picked her up from lunch.  And she wet her bed during nap time - probably because she slept so hard - it was a 3 hour nap.  At times I find it frustrating that she is unable to tell me what is causing the problem.  When I ask her why she doesn't just go to the potty instead of peeing in her pants, she just stares at me or looks away. It's like I am talking to someone who can't hear what I am saying.  I know that her inability to express her feelings about this issue are due to her age and probably a little embarrassment.  But how much easier would it be if she could just give me the low-down?  It could go something like this:

Mom: "Grace, why are you peeing in your pants?"

Grace: "Mom, I am sad and I don't want to be in France. I want to go home to Colorado.   So sometimes, out of frustration, I pee in my pants.  I know it upsets you and daddy and my teachers and maybe if I keep peeing in my pants, you will eventually decide that the only way to stop it is by taking me back to Colorado."

or,
Grace: "Mom, when I pee my pants it is because I am unable to feel the urge to pee.  I think I have a medical problem and would be best served by a doctor's appointment."

or,

Grace: "Mom, I have an aversion to the toilet.  I am scared of it because one time, when I was a baby, I fell in and my bottom got all wet.  Ever since, I don't like to pee. So I hold my pee until the very, very last minute, I avoid the potty as much as possible.  Once I can't hold it any longer, I decide I better go, but then sometimes I can't make it to the bathroom on time."

or,

Grace: "Mom, I am just having such a darn good time with everything, who has time to go to the bathroom every other hour?"

That would be great, wouldn't it?  If you could just ask a toddler a simple question and get back an honest, simple answer?  In the meantime, while the technology world invents a toddler-translate software for my Apple, I will have to continue guessing (or not) about what the problem could be and what to do next.  Take her to the doctor? Let time ride it out?  See if a few weeks at home with boring mommy change her mind and her pee habits? I suppose I'll have to sit on it for a little while.

This morning I met my new friend for a quick coffee.  Today she told me about some great local parks that I can take the girls to and also shared the name of her family's general practitioner. What a help she has been!  Apparently, the season is beginning here in France for garage-type sales.  Large lots are set aside in villages, people sign up in advance to sell, and then they publish a book that people buy to see what sales are going on where from spring to fall.  So she and I may go early on Sunday morning for one that is supposed to be large and junk-resistent. That'll no doubt be a good blog, so stay tuned!  

For Saturday, I think we'll take a short day-trip to Honfleur.  It is about 60 km from Caen.   The port-side village is well known for it's beautiful architecture and has been painted by many artists including Claude Monet.  It also has the largest church in France that is made out of wood. The weather is expected to be chilly and rainy on Saturday, so best to stick close to home but not get stuck inside all day.

This afternoon, I finally caved in and bought the girls some new shoes.  Way over-priced but they are nice quality and more like what the other kids are wearing at school.  It was a shame when Grace peed on hers just moments after buying them : )  I fit in a strength training workout while Grace was napping.  After realizing I had no dumb bells or weights, I decided to use red wine bottles for my weights and Ella's jump rope for some cardio work.  Not ideal, but it worked!

Tomorrow is Friday. Yay!  My plans at the moment are to spend an hour at The Pavement, buy Andrew some new shirts (he has holes in most of his from wearing them for the last 20 years), and who knows what else. 

A demain!

p.s. There has been a very loud, annoying beeping going on across the whole town center of Caen for the last 2 hours. A sound similar to a smoke alarm going off.  I am beginning to hear some irritation in the streets, some screaming, some yelling.  And I am on the verge of going nuts - I can't concentrate on anything!  I fear that a huge public outcry in the streets of Caen my erupt. Check CNN.com for any developments.

Pictured above: This is a picture of a time that Grace was sleeping so hard in her car seat that she had an accident.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March 25, 2009: Perky about Turkey and Soggy Pants in France





March 25, 2009:  On Monday morning, I made a major purchase on behalf of the whole family.  A Club Med Trip to Turkey for Spring Break.  My dreams have been in a beach location with waves, a light wind, toasty sun rays and a glass of chilly Pinot Grigio for many months now.  And to have this vacation now planned is so awesome.  I have never been to a Club Med, but Andrew says they are perfect for families regarding childcare options, entertainment, accommodation and food.  Club Med, here we come!  The girls are very excited.  At first they were confused about why we would go on vacation to a bird. But I explained that Turkey was also the name of a country and did they know that Greece was a country, too, not just french fry lacquer? Completely amazed, they became even more excited about this trip.   Our excitement is uncontrollable.  Yay!

Monday afternoon, I met a new acquaintance for coffee.  She had been at the English-speaking party we went to on Sunday and nicely called me the next day to meet up for coffee.  She brought a magazine that contains a ton of stuff going on in Normandy that is geared towards children, as she knew I was struggling to find normal, typical things to do with the girls on Wednesdays and weekends.  Trips to Mont-St-Michel and Christian Dior's gardens are nice, but impractical to do at all free moments.  So, how nice of her to supply me with that information? When we parted ways, we made plans for Wednesday to get together with her and her daughter who is nearly 3 for a hike or adventure of some kind.  It was really nice to have plans for Wednesday.

Then along came Tuesday.  Tuesday sure did have some ups and downs!  One of the ups was that our memory foam mattress topper arrived.  It was just in time, too.  Just that morning, Andrew was saying how this morning was the worst of all and how he could barely breathe because his back hurt so bad.  In his mind, this mattress topper is the solution to all back evil. So what a very timely arrival!  One of the downs was that when I arrived to school to pick up the girls, Grace had peed her bed again, during nap time.  Now she is officially kicked out of afternoon school.  Every day until the end of time (or the school year, whichever comes first) I must pick up Grace promptly after lunch to come home for the rest of the day.  I don't know why this miffs me so much.  I am not mad at the school, I get why this doesn't fit with the program.  It's just that I KNOW Grace can do this, she did a whole week at home with no accidents. Maybe I am being selfish about my afternoons and how they are not my own anymore?  Maybe I think Grace is doing this on purpose just to be able to come home in the afternoons and I don't like that manipulation.  Or maybe I think she has a real problem with her bladder and I don't know the first place to start for help!  I can't tell why this bothers me so much, but it honestly does.  After extensive discussion with the teacher and one of the heads of the school, I asked if maybe Mia and Grace could be separated into different classes.  They had told me that Grace and Mia call out to each other during nap time when all the children are sleeping and that they seem to be calmer and more obedient when they are not together.  So I asked that maybe they be separated and see what that does?  At this point, I am willing to try anything!  More to come on that.

Tuesday evening we had a small dinner party here at our home with a co-worker of Andrew's and his girlfriend.  So a fun part of my day was planning and shopping for our very first dinner party.  I ended up serving Froi Gras de Canard that was topped with a fig and vin blanco mixture, a side of butter toasted Pan de Mie toasts and accompanied by a lovely Sauternes.  For dinner I served Saint Jacques Scallops sauteed in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and sea salt along with some penne pasta tossed in a light butter and olive oil mixture with freshly sliced cherry tomatoes and an arugula salad with freshly sliced parmesan and a balsamic vinaigrette.  I paired Chablis with the dinner.  It all actually turned out quite yummy!  I have come to the conclusion in the past few weeks that all you need in your kitchen to prepare food of any kind is a mixture or a portion of lemons, olive oil, sea salt, butter, fresh garlic and maybe some dry white wine and you are good to go!
   
Today being Wednesday, the girls had no school.  We started the day by watching Madeline - Lost in Paris. After that I gave them all baths and then we played beauty parlor.  I blow-dried and curled each of their hairs and then finished up with a tinted chap-stick.  They were all rather pleased with themselves when they looked at the finished product in the mirror!  This is when I realized how much time the three of them would be spending getting ready when they get a little bit older.  Doing each others make up, curling each others hair, taking each other to the hair salon, picking hair styles out of magazines for each other.  Too cute and totally imminent.   After that, we planned to grab some sandwiches from our favorite vendor across the street and then eat at the park.  But when we got outside, the wind was blowing and the air was very chilly, so we quickly ended up back at home to eat.  

A few hours later, we met up with our new friends to go on a hike.  We picked them up and then headed to our hiking destination just down the road.  It was a fabulous hike, just long enough but not too far for a group of children aged 2 - 5.  The hike took us to a very old church from 600 with lots of history, in the village of Thoan.  We looked at old tombstones, the dilapitated stone church and lots of plants.  After a tasty snack, we headed back to the car.  The hike was nice but it did bring back memories of hiking back in Colorado.  Typically, it is just Grace that says she wants to go "home" but today Ella said this, too, during our hike.  Any many times since.  After the hike, we were invited back to our new friend's home.  Grace, Mia and Ella were so excited because they had tons of new toys at their disposal and their new friend was happy to show the toys to them.  My new friend and I got a chance to sit down and chat and I decided she is a very nice person whom I am lucky I had the chance to meet!  

This weekend we have been invited to a few events but I think we will probably go on an adventure Saturday and then attend a birthday party on Sunday.  Tomorrow I will do some research on what antics could be in store.  I can't wait to see!

Pictured above: Arriving at the old church on our hike, crossing  a small stream, Grace standing in front of the old church door, the girls after we did beauty parlor today.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March 23, 2009: Super Trooper




March 23, 2009:  The past few days have been full of great developments.  At least that is how I view it.  Nothing crazy or outlandish has happened.  Creative adventures have not been taken. But, new people of have been met, new goals have been achieved, and bigger smiles have come to the surface.

On Thursday evening, I was provided the name of an American in Caen by the mother of a child in Grace and Mia's class. I had met her during their field trip earlier that week.  She and I, through broken French conversation, were discussing how Andrew and I hadn't really had a chance to meet any friends. Not in a sad way, just in a matter of fact way.  It turned out she had four children that were all around the same ages as my own and I immediately liked this woman. She understood.  The very next day she found me at school and gave me the number of a friend of hers who was friends with an American who I might be able to at least meet and talk with about struggles, needs, and day to day life in a foreign country.  How nice is that?

On Friday, I was once again welcomed by an unexpected field trip at school (don't worry, I am getting used to this).  I arrived to drop off Ella and realized this day was a planned field trip to the library.  Fortunately, I never really have any pressing appointments here in Caen, so sticking around for this adventure was not posing a problem.  However, one other mother who had signed up didn't show.  That basically left the teacher and a person who is essentially handicap - myself. I say handicap because I don't speak French well - and the kids KNOW I am Ella's mother and we are from America - and that gives them license to not understand me, listen to me, or think of me as being very smart.  Do you remember being a kid and meeting someone who didn't speak your language and for a moment you thought that they were not as intelligent as you?  That is seriously what I think these kids think of me.  Paranoid, maybe? Yes...

We seemed to pick up a stray mother along the way (thank goodness) and the three of us, along with 20 other five year olds, were on our way to the library.  I happened to notice that Ella was quickly "claimed" by a boy in her class.  They held hands (like all the other students had to do with a partner) all the way to the library and cement partitions, trees and doorways were not to part them. One second of being apart and they quickly reconnected.  It was heart-wrenchingly cute.  There were two other boys that they "hung" with and I would say that Ella is probably in the rebel-rousing boy crowd.  But I don't blame her.  You take the friends you can get - right?   That evening, after I picked up the girls from school, I noticed her boyfriend walking home from school just ahead of us on the sidewalk.  He was walking with his mother and his two sisters - the other set of identical girl twins in Grace and Mia's class.  It was beginning to make perfect sense - this magical bond.

Friday evening was nice. The girls are always so excited to see Andrew when he gets home (I am, too!) from work.  I was excited to show him the new Apple TV I had purchased that day.  The girls were excited to tell Andrew about the picnic I had packed for them after I picked them up from school and the carousel ride they had taken. And Andrew was excited about telling the girls about his newly named position at Coyote Logistics - President of Europe. Ella asked if Andrew had met Barack Obama, as he was a President, too.  But he nicely explained that this was different...Even still.  How proud am I of Andrew right now?  What a hard worker and dedicated employee and man with a vision he is.  His dedication and excitement about his job make me not working so worth it for the time being.  I live vicariously through him : )

On Saturday I really wanted, needed, to get caught up on laundry.  I had about 2 loads yet to wash and 4 loads yet to fold.  So Andrew nicely took the girls on a tram ride to a park and then got some lunch while I did this fun home work.  During that time, I spoke with the contact that the nice lady from the girl's school had given me and she was really kind.  After a few minutes of conversation, she invited me to a gathering to occur the next day in a nearby village where other English-speaking people were to be found.  After accepting that invitation, we said goodbye.  It felt like I was making friends, slowly but surely.

Sunday was a lovely day - all five of us headed to the market.  We bought our typical fare of veggies and fruits and unneeded toys.  We dined on fresh pizza's by the riverfront and then home after a chilly, rainy day.  Later, we went to the English-speaking gathering in Saint Contest.  It was easy to find and great company but the weather was brutal due to cold and wind.  We met about 5 couples that were English speakers either by way of a spouse or having been from the United States.  Really nice people.   After some appetizers, letting the kids play in a yard with some toys, and some tasty Calvados Cidre, we headed home.  It was a great day of meeting new people and new friends to be made.

Today, Monday, was Grace's first day back at school all day.  I am happy to report that she made it without once potty accident.  The primary focus was during naptime, so we practiced that all last week.  And today, she did it! No potty problems. Shew!  Cross your fingers for tomorrow!

Tonight, Ella told me about how some older kids at school were telling her she didn't know anything.  I said, "anything, as in you don't know anything in French?" She said, "no, like you don't  know anything about anything."  I said, "did they say that in French or English?"  And she said, "In French.  But I just knew what they were saying."  So I said, "Well, what did you say?" And Ella responded, "I said yes I do!   I know about the dinosaurs and how they lived and died and the names of most dinosaurs!".  And I said, "Well what did the kids say back?" And Ella said, "They said Oh! I guess you do know something." And they left her alone.  Oh boy.  The struggles kids go through growing up - especially the "new kids".  I never was a "new kid", having gone to school the same place my whole life so my words of encouragement and understanding are probably not as helpful as they could be.    And despite all that, Ella sure is a trooper.  No wonder Ella likes that ABBA song Super Trooper so much.  She is just that. Well that, and she knows her mom is a HUGE ABBA fan.

 Pictured above: The girls at the English Speaking Party (pictures 1 and 2), The girls in front of our apartment before the English-Speaking Party.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 22, 2009: Ella's First Blog


This is my first time helping someone down on their luck.  A man had a nice cowboy hat and I said, "De rien," to him in French, which means, "you're welcome" in English.  

School has been very fun.  And I am really liking France a lot.  Well, it has been a long time but it has really been cloudy since we moved here.  But I am really liking the view here.  

I have been having a boyfriend and he is really nice.  The school has nice paintings to it and I like the way it is designed. Sometimes I cannot understand what they are saying because I don't really know what they are saying in French because I don't speak French.   And they are very nice people.  

How is it going on, world?

Your Friend - Ella (told by Ella, written exactly as told by mom)

P.S. Be sure to buy Skype and make sure to tell your parents if you want to Skype someone who has been away.   It doesn't have to be me, it can be your grandparents or your parents.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

You have to try new things....

Yes, it's true, you should always try new things.  For me, this is really easy - except, when it's not.  I have an unusual situation out here in France as it relates to my clothes.  Virtually everything except my 12 favorite shirts, three pairs of pants, and two jackets (now one because the other one was stolen when my car was busted into in The Netherlands) is gone.  Gone in that either I gave it to Goodwill before I left Colorado or gone in that it still remains there.  So - what is a guy to do when he needs a few new shirts???

Today was sort of a free day for the Haverkampfs.  I took the girls on a mini adventure - we rode the town tram (nicknamed by me as the Twisto) from our apartment to Ifs.  Nothing special really about Ifs, except of course that it's the "end of the line" for the tram when you travel South from downtown Caen.  After getting back home, I dropped the kids off (no, not in that way :-), and went out to get a haircut and hopefully a few shirts.

The haircut turned out to be no big deal.  Luckily, my hairstyle is pretty simple.  Luckier still, the guy cutting my hair spoke perfect French, so we were able to communicate with no problems (no, I didn't mean to say English - luckily for a guy with short hair needing a haircut, there isn't much lost in translation).  After a quick cut, wash, blow-dry, and gel I headed out for a few shirts.

Shopping in Caen is just like shopping anywhere else in the globe.  Stores with lots of things - employees hoping you'll buy something.  My trip to H&M was disappointing - but I found some great things at the store next door.  A few shirts - grey, brown, and black - and a jacket (to replace the stolen one) and I was on my way.  Notice the colors - or rather lack of them - in my choices.  No way I was picking out the latest pink, green, and blue - everyone here is all about the funeral colors...

Later in the day, Kate and I were getting ready for our outing to meet some ex-pat families and their kids in the town next door.  Of course, I decided to wear one of my new shirts.  Unlucky for me, I have the terrible habit of not trying on things before I buy...  Turns out, the brown long-sleeved t-shirt with an embroidered collar was way too tight (showing off my ever growing man boobs - a result of too many steaks and fries for lunch) and the slit down the front showed off way too much of my patchy chest hair.  The gray was not much better because the twelve buttons down the front made it look like I was wearing Kate's favorite moc-T.  I was luckier with the new black short sleeve button-down - I hope it goes well with my new black jacket....

So - what in the world am I talking about when I say that you should try new things??  Honestly, I'm not really sure.  Maybe I'm saying to myself, "Andrew, get a couple new shirts and no matter what they look like, wear them outside"; maybe it's, "get a haircut from a guy who doesn't speak your language but has a similar hairstyle"; or maybe it's "take your wife and kids to a pot-luck appetizer party even if you know your kids will attempt to eat all the food" - I really don't know.  What I do know is that meeting German ex-pats living in France and speaking to Chinese citizens who only speak French is easier than wearing tight, new, brown, embroidered t-shirts with long slits down the front - showing off my chest hair for everyone to see.  Cheers - Andrew


Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19, 2009: Always Go For a Good-Bad


March 19, 2009:  Man, did I feel like an idiot this morning. One of those days were you feel like you have failed as a mother.  I had a great morning plan outlined - that right there should tell you disaster is imminent.  I was going to get up, put on my running clothes, walk the girls to school, and then get a workout in at The Pavement (i.e. jogging on the streets of Caen) straight away. Then I was going to get home and start clearing out this extra room that has been full to the ceiling with trash since we arrived.  Trash as in boxes from Ikea and other items purchased and all that plastic wrappy, bubbly/styrofoam stuff.  Obviously, we are having some trash pick-up problems so these big items have been hard to unload.  And I planned to break down all the boxes and put them in our CTA Bus and drive them to the dump myself.  My vision for this room, which is right off to your left when you enter the building, is to be a workout room.  It'll have a machine of some kind eventually, but mostly core training stuff like bands, balls and mats. So that was my plan: School, The Pavement, Extra Room, Dump, Pick up Grace from school.  Well, I did get to school.  But when we were about 1 block from school we noticed kids wearing costumes.  Like it was October 31 or something.  And as we got closer and closer, I knew I messed something up, missed something crucial here.   I knew Carnival (a holiday celebrated around Lent and typically with disguises/costumes) was coming, but this morning at breakfast I had asked Ella when they were celebrating it at school and she said next Tuesday - she was absolutely sure of it. Shew, I thought.  But when we got to school, it was obvious that today was Carnival and this was the day of celebration.  A day of wearing costumes all day, parading around in them, playing in them, dancing in them.  It was like a school Halloween party celebration in the U.S., but from 1983 when you could actually wear your costumes to school and keep them on all day long.  And my girls were not wearing costumes.  They were the Americans not wearing costumes.  I felt like an ass!  Ella was on the verge of tears, feeling left out. Grace and Mia couldn't have cared less, but I felt really bad when their teachers looked at me and (probably) said, "do they have disguises to wear?"  "No", I said.  "Our "deguisements" are in Colorado with 80 other things I wish I had right now." OK, I didn't say all of that.  Grace and Mia's teacher looked around the room trying to conger up some kind of costumes for them -  I wish I would've taken a picture of the final product. It was more of a hodge podge of mismatched clothes than anything else.  Ella gave them a few words of encouragement and then I took her up to her room. She was brave and a real sport about the whole thing.  Now, since I had on my running shoes and my running attire, I promised to run back to the apartment really fast and come back with whatever I could find that resembled a costume.  I mean, there was clearly a costume parade on the horizon, in a matter of minutes, and my children were not going to be left out!  This is the Good-Bad I was talking about.  It is Bad that I was not prepared for this big day - but Good that I had worn my running stuff so that I could zip home quickly and back to school again.  I got back to the apartment and found 3 silly hats and some home-made masks and that was about the extent of the deguisements in our house!  I arrived back to school and I got some approving looks from Grace and Mia's teachers when I presented them with the silly hats and masks.  Ella was relieved when I returned with SOMETHING, ANYTHING and she received some compliments on her silly hat from her classmates.  So then I left the school, when all was finally right with the world.  But I left feeling like an idiot.  Like a mother who was unprepared, who didn't adequately prepare her children for their day at school.  

I walked home, instead of running, because I also felt like a mother who had to pee but hadn't had a chance to consider that for quite some time.  After I took care of that business, I finally went to The Pavement.  And as usual, it made me feel better, gave me time to reflect and give myself a break for what had happened.  It could have been worse, it could have just been Bad. I could have had absolutely nothing at the apartment to give them for costumes.  I could have been wearing awful shoes that made me have to walk home slowly.  I could have had twins that actually cared about all this, resulting in three girls with tears.   But instead I had running gear, silly clothing and a little bit of time on my side to right the situation.  It was a Good-Bad.  I like Good-Bads a lot more than I like Bad-Bads.

After my run, I had a quick bite for breakfast and heard lots of commotion.  Peeking outside, I saw tons of people, picketing, chanting, blocking traffic. Big strike.  I don't know what the strike was about but I sure am glad I didn't have to drive anywhere today as it would have been fruitless.  No, I spent the rest of my morning breaking down boxes and loading up the CTA bus for a trip to the city dump.  I was quite surprised that I actually ended up finishing. Now the only thing left is a trip to the dump tomorrow.  Home gym, here I come!

Grace had another pee-free day, no wetting the bed during her nap at home.  I informed her that Monday was her big-girl day, the day she would stay at school for naps and would have to pee before and after nap time in the potty but not in her cot.  She said she was ready.  But I have to say, I have liked my one-on-one time with Grace.  She is really silly - sillier than I knew!  It is hard to get dedicated one on one time with three kids so close in age, away from everyone else.  And this issue has afforded me the opportunity to do that - spend special time with Grace that I otherwise wouldn't have had.  So there you go - another Good-Bad!

Grace and I prepared a picnic dinner to have at the park with Ella and Mia after picking them up from school.  When we arrived at school, Ella proclaimed she had a boyfriend and that she made a new girlfriend.  Yay!  Mia had some candy in her hand that she had probably been holding for the past 4 hours, just keeping tabs on it so she could enjoy some later.  I knew this because she had those colored candy dye rings on the palm of her hand, like when you hold M-n-M's for a long period of time.  The picnic really made them happy, it was easy for me to put together with Grace, so the night was a success.

Tomorrow is Friday.  What'll we do this weekend? I should know, but I don't.  Andrew has had a long but fruitful week at work and not much time to spend with the girls.  So whatever I come up with, it'll be something that allows us to be close and connected.

Pictured above: The strike today, from one of our apartment windows.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March 18, 2009: So, Do You REALLY Like it?

March 18, 2009:  It is a fair question.  I have been asked by a few close friends lately, that follow this blog, if I REALLY like it here in France. If the whole family likes it here in France.  It is probably hard to tell by the blog posts if there is a true like or just tolerance of the situation.  Here is the honest answer, my answer anyway: I love it here.  Not a day goes by where I don't appreciate the extreme uniqueness of this point in time.  I walk down the street and see sophisticated and beautiful women that make me want to step it up a bit!  I see calm and collected children holding hands and behaving.  I see a castle from 500 years ago outside my windows and fast food stands selling the freshest breads you could ever imagine.  I have fresh fish and meat just steps away from my apartment and more clothing and home shopping than one could ever want for.  There is a school just steps from home that actually accepted my English-speaking children.  And I have NO job at the moment and all the time in the world to spend with my three wonderful children.  So, not only does it sound awesome, it really is awesome.  My parents and my in-laws can't wait to visit us, we have room for visitors and we have dozens of places to visit, in close proximity to Caen.  So let's be honest - you can't really complain.  I mean you could, I can.  I could (and do) complain about how I don't have any friends here.  About how I am dying for a night out without my kids, without my husband, just a girls night out. About how no one understands my awful French  despite my best efforts. About how the paint is peeling off inch by inch in our bathroom.  About how some kids probably make fun of Ella at school without her knowledge because she doesn't know what they are saying.  About how Andrew works too late and leaves too early.  About how I miss our family and friends.  About how we don't have enough yard space for the girls to play.  About how all three of our girls seem to be gaining bread weight as sure as The Chicken Dance or Hokey-Pokey are played at a wedding.  About how I feel like a chubby mother who just does laundry, dishes and vacuums all day.  But in all reality - don't all of us go through these challenges at some point?  It may be that I am going through, like, all of these in a speedier timeframe.  But regardless of where we live, don't many of us mothers feel this way?  I am just going to call myself out here.  For the first time in my life, I have no cleaning lady, no nanny, no family to assist, no babysitters on hand, no TiVo at a moment's click.  And the result?  I am fine!  We are all fine.  Change doesn't sit well with anyone.  Who wants change when things are perfectly fine the way they are?  I  know Andrew didn't want to mess with the good thing he had going.  The girls were all happy in Crested Butte.  I was happy with my virtual job in a heavenly setting.  Why mess?  You mess (I messed) because you know messing can enhance and enrich your life.  And regarding that, I can say our family is thoroughly enriched and enhanced.  We have also had challenges and unpleasant moments, but not anymore so than you getting a speeding ticket on the way to work or someone cutting in front of you at Starbucks or locking your key in the car.  All can be handled with a little, "at the end of the day, does it really matter?"  So I guess my long answer to the question of , "do you really like it in France?" is, "yes."  I wouldn't trade it for anything. But it doesn't mean I can't find something to complain about : )

Now, let's talk about today. Today wasn't very adventurous.  Originally I had wanted to drive to another beach with the girls (last week was Gold Beach) but Andrew had gotten back into town and needed the car.  So the girls and I were going to stay in the city limits.   These days, with our television options severely limited, we don't watch much TV.  So on Wednesday mornings, I often let the girls watch a DVD movie (gasp!!!) after breakfast.  By the time the movie is over I have been able to clean up breakfast, vacuum, take a shower and get organized for the day's adventure.  Today, after the movie, all the girls wanted to do was play Science Teacher (no idea why...) and practice their cursive writing.  Eventually, I got them out of the house around 2 pm to go for a walk and then play at the castle (our nickname for William the Conqueror's Castle).  Nothing to amazing or exciting happened except for the fact that I have noticed a much calmer and relaxed nature to the girls in public.  Instead of screaming and yelling and fighting the moment we get outside, they fight to hold hands with each other and actually listen to my commands of go on the green man, stop on the red man.  Civility!   The castle lawns were packed today with high school and college students.  The weather was beautiful, probably 65 degrees.  What a sight. Seeing young adults crowding the lawns of a 500 year-old monument at a matter of normalcy, seeing toddlers toddle their way along a wall that was built in 1450.  Just amazing.  Later, we came home and I made french toast on some fresh french bread, which the girls really got a kick out of.  Andrew got home a bit later and it was like the sky was falling they were all so amazed and ecstatic!   

After the girls got to bed, Andrew and I stayed up to talk about work and life and our children.  The basic summary is that all is well, on all points.  And we are ready for tomorrow and whatever it brings (I hope it brings a new computer desk and chair.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 17, 2009: Literally, Freezing Your A** Off


March 17, 2009:  I totally forgot about the field trip I was signed up to escort Grace and Mia's class today. When I arrived to drop the girls off at school and saw a bunch of mom's gathering, I quickly had a clue that something was amiss.  This field trip, like Ella's, was going to William the Conqueror's castle via walking.  Thank goodness I had dressed warmly and worn comfortable shoes!  The only thing that made me think maybe the field trip wasn't today were the high heeled shoes and boots and the no-sock shoe wearers among the mommy group.  But I was wrong.  It was just that they were fashionable women, no matter the task and consequences, and I was a very common-sense dresser from Colorado.

Before leaving for the field trip, all of the children were asked to go to the potty.   And THIS is when I solved a large part of the potty problem that Grace has been having.  I hadn't realized that the only potties available to most of the classes at this school were the five that are outside.  OUTSIDE!  There is a row of toilets, think Joe's on Weed Street in Chicago, but outside.  No heat, tiny potties that must be absolutely excrutiating to sit on in the midst of winter.  I guess I had thought that the classrooms had potties attached to them and the outside toilets were for when the kids were outside for recess.  But not so!  So when I asked Grace and Mia to use the toilet before we left for the field trip, they told me they didn't want to go because they were cold and smelly.  I made them go anyway, but I can imagine that they probably go as little as possible throughout the day to avoid these potties.  The teachers probably don't make sure that each of them go due to so many students in the class.  Therefore, I would bet that Grace is peeing her bed during nap time because she holds it in and then just can't anymore.  She just woke up from her nap here at home and once again, she woke up dry.

So, the question becomes, how do I tell the teacher that the girls probably are not going to the bathroom because they are freezing cold and smelly?  I don't want to sound offensive.  But I truly think that if they take an extra few minutes to ensure that Grace and Mia sit down and go potty before naps (and hopefully at other times throughout the day) that the potty accidents will stop.  Imagine it being the dead of winter and having to step outside of your house to use an outdoor potty that is attached to your garage, but not enclosed, just with three walls and a door that swings open and shut.  Ugh. I feel badly for Grace and Mia and Ella about this potty situation.  If you are not used to this set-up (which clearly from the looks of the other kids in their classes, they are use to this), it would be hard to do so quickly.  I don't even like our inside potty's in the apartment because I think they are cold!  No wonder the girls have stopped complaining about our bathrooms the past few weeks.

The field trip was...uneventful.  At 9 am, myself and 8 other moms and two teachers escorted a class of 24 students, ages 3 and 4, to the castle, walked around the grounds for about 15 minutes, and then let them play at the park for 1 hour.  No guide, information, presentation.  It was odd. Then around 11 am we walked back to the school.  It is possible that the field trip got derailed for some reason, but since I don't understand a lot of what is said I have no idea.  I did get a chance to chat with a few mom's (in French) and every chance to do that is really nice.

I tried to get a trash can, again, today from the city of Caen.  I keep getting referred to this "free" number no matter what I try to do, and the kind people don't speak english and I can't understand what they are asking me.  We finally got a trash can last week so I thought I made a breakthrough. But the next day, it was gone.  Stolen, taken-back, who knows?  I had a few conversations today with which maybe one of them will end up in us having a trash can soon.  Until then, we continue to secretly throw our trash in the bins next door at the movie theatre.  I got a nasty look from the movie theatre guy this morning as I was about to toss some trash in his bins, so I will have to be even sneakier now!

In a while we'll pick up Ella and Mia from school.  It is a nice day outside so hopefully we'll stop off at the park and run around for a while.  Andrew is still in Krakow, Poland for work and returns tomorrow.  Wednesday is here, again!

Pictured above: Mia and some classmates on their field trip.

Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16, 2009: Ketchup Tiger by his Toes







March 16, 2009:  As many of you Facebookers may know, our family had a great adventurous weekend.  We visited Mont-St-Michel and Granville.  We left after dinner on Friday evening and drove straight to Pontorson, France to our hotel.  Pontorson is only about 5 km from Mont-St-Michel. It is hard to know exactly what is good and what is not while you search at the last minute on the internet for hotel rooms at tourist attractions.  But I can honestly say, we picked a winner of a hotel - the Best Western Hotel Montgomery.  It was an old mansion-turned-hotel that was completely accepting of children and fancy enough that it kicked our children into better-than-expected behavior.  We had two rooms next to each other and that worked out well.  The bedding and furniture was very "authentic" and it intrigued the girls.    After a very nice, quiet night of rest, we all got up and drove to Mont-St-Michel.  It was beautiful.  This won't be surprising to most of you, as many visitors say this is the sight of a lifetime.  When we arrived around 9:30 am, the tide was still high and our shoes got wet from parking just short of the shoreline.  But this didn't deter us and 200 other visitors that had already arrived at this monumental wonder.  From the skinny streets, to the mossy arches, the doorways, the architecture, the views, everything was just wonderful.  All of us were fascinated.  After a few hours of touring museums and climbing stairs, we stopped for some hot chocolates for the girls and some local ciders for Andrew and I.  The weather was just perfect for March, but it was still pretty windy and a bit chilly so we needed to warm up!   After our thaw-out, we got some lunch at a huge but tasty restaurant.  By the end of lunch, the girls were approaching obnoxious so we decided to head home for naps and rest for a little while.

While Andrew, Grace and Mia took naps, Ella and I read up on where to visit the next day and decided it would be Granville.  The primary reasons were the Pointillist paintings at a local museum, the magnificent views, and Christian Dior's house and gardens.  We then went on a very small stroll of the very small town of Pontorson - cute, but small.  Andrew and the twins met up with us after nap time and we all went to Alligator Bay.  We had seen signs on the way to Mont-St-Michel and with time available, we (well, all of us except Ella) were curious to see what this was all about.  In a nut shell, it was about alligators. TONS of alligators.  Piled high, to the sky.  I don't know why!  Why were they here, in a really hot, humid building with fake lakes and a stinky aroma?  It was weird and actually I felt sorry for the gators.  Hopefully, they are happy and content in their "Alligator Bay."  Next we visited the turtles who were numerous in quantity and large in their scale.  Petable creatures it turns out!  Yuck.  Lastly, we visited the lizard and snake house.  Most of it was cool, but the best part were the tunnels and ladders that the girls climbed in and out of for an hour.  At 5pm it was time to feed the snakes and lizards and we saw them throw live mice to some of the caged inhabitants and that made me sad, too.  But I digress....

After departing Alligator Ally, we found some dinner and then headed home to our hotel rooms for some chilling out and sleep.  

Sunday morning we got up and drove about 35 minutes to Granville.  The drive would have been uneventful, except for a 90 year old man that Andrew and I saw fall onto his face on the sidewalk in a very small village and no one else was around.  We promptly pulled over our CTA bus and assisted this frail man.  He was foggy and speaking in French, so Andrew and I knew there was little we could do to help except hold his hands, help him up and comfort him with some really bad French spoken in improper tenses.  We finally decided to hail a car down for assistance and that was the best idea ever.   A really nice guy ended up taking him in his car and (hopefully) taking him to the hospital or his home.  By the time we got back to the car, Grace had peed her pants, soaked her car seat, and was balling her eyes out, so let the adventures begin!  We arrived at the Christian Dior Museum and it was closed but the gardens were open.  They were beautiful and fragrant, both because of the flowers and the podiums set up throughout of each of Christian Dior's signature perfumes.  We departed the museum and found a hiking path around the perimeter of Granville's coast and admired the blue skies, green grasses, the sailboats and the warmth of the sun.  It turned out the Pointillist exhibit didn't open until 2pm, so Ella and I were bummed, but we decided to make this a trip for another time.  A perfect day, for sure.  Lastly, we stopped and ate some ad-hoc picnics on some benches before we started our drive back to Caen.  On the way home, the girls were singing some random songs and it always makes Andrew andi laugh when we hear them sing a song and the lyrics are so wrong - but totally understandable.  For instance, they were singing Eenny, Meeny, Miney Moe..Ketchup Tiger By His Toe.  We tried to correct them, but it was no use.  They love ketchup sooo much...

I can only hope our adventures turn out this well every time.  Sure, we had our spells of whining, crying and misconduct but all in all we had a blast!  Shortly after our return to Caen, Andrew left for Paris via train.  He had an early morning flight to Krakow, Poland for a customer meeting and an office visit.  The girls and I spent the rest of the night relaxing, getting ready for the coming week of school.  I was to pick Grace up from school after lunch the next day due to her wetting her cot twice in a row the week prior.  So this coming week was my week to train Grace on peeing before and after nap time.  I think she will be fine and I wonder if she does some of this stuff on purpose - to be able to spend time at home, with mommy. Probably a little of both.

Friday, March 13, 2009

March 13, 2009: The Secrets of Potty Training


March 13, 2009:  Wow.  When it hits you, it hits you.  You know what I am talking about... a GREAT idea just comes to mind when you are on the El, driving in traffic, getting your hair done, buying mulch, skiing down the slopes or even while waiting for the doctor to come into the room. An epiphany!  Well I had such a moment this morning.  My special moment occurred while I was dropping the twins off in their classroom and their teacher handed me a 5 pound bag of soiled bed linens and clothing.  It just goes to show you that epiphany's have no rules, they can happen anywhere!  So about this bag of clothes - Grace had wet her cot/bed during nap time yesterday.  They had forgotten to send them home last evening so I was to take them home and wash them and bring them back in time for today's nap time.  Just to set the tone - there was no animosity here - the teacher was sincerely just asking me to wash them because they don't have washing facilities at the school.  And I get that so no problem.  But you can imagine my excitement at the little solution I had waiting to tell the teacher about in Grace's backpack.  Not sure how to say it in French, I pulled out a Pull-Up and said with a big smile, "Voila!  A Pull-Up!  Elle dort avec une Pull-Up! Donc, elle ne fait pipi dans sa lit!"  Translated, it means, "Here, a Pull-Up!  She sleeps with a Pull-Up and then she will not go potty in her bed!"  To my astonishment, I got a very bad reaction to this novel idea.  A frown and a quick finger tisk-tisk.  I picked up from what she said that the kids at this school do not wear diapers.  Ever.  There are too many children to tend to diapers and diapers will not be condoned or used.  I didn't need translation, I understood what she was saying.  But she told another mother who spoke English and asked her to explain to me the problem.  Surely, when I tell the teacher that all three of my daughters pee the bed often when they sleeping because they are such sound sleepers, she will nod her head and feel my pain with me, work with me.  But, no, not so much.  It's a school rule. No diapers.  So I told her I understand and that Grace has many changes of clothes in her backpack if she happens to have another accident today (which is about 95% sure to happen).  The English-speaking mother and the Teacher said this was the best solution - just to always have extra changes of clothes.  So I left it at that but in my mind, which tends to be a machine of efficiency-seeking opportunities, I did the following cost/benefit analysis (obviously, you can take the girl out of Hewitt but you can't take Hewitt out of the girl...):

A) Time taken to put on pull-up before nap + time taken to take off pull-up after nap =  1 minute and a pat on the back.

B) Time taken to change bedding, take off wet clothes, put on dry clothes, clean up soiled student and console the ashamed student who had peed her bed in front of all the other kids = 10 minutes and 75 hugs.

I wasn't a math major, but I am no dummy.  Choice A seems logical. So why isn't Choice A the Choice for the Teacher?  The answer is because it is a school rule and I am pretty sure I would have to buy the school to get this century year old rule changed.  The next question for me is how did this ever become a school rule?  Surely, not all 3 and 4 year olds are potty trained in France...right?  Surely, other children are wetting their beds occasionally in Grace and Mia's classroom...right?  Well, I have been doing some research this morning, just to see if my perceptions of this French potty-free world can be supported with data.  It has been surprisingly difficult to find any info about this in English.  But I did manage to find a reference on www.jetsetbaby.com that talks about how a well-Known French Pediatrician from the 70's started a movement where children are potty trained from the age of 4 months in France. Babies and toddlers also carry around their own little potty's as young children to help them.  

So...where does this all take me?  It takes me to this: If there is a school rule that no diapers are allowed and that all children must be potty trained, and children from 3 years old must attend school, but Grace needs a diaper for sleeping and she is 4 years old, the only solution for the school is to kick her out of school.  I can't imagine they are going to keep cleaning her up each day after nap time.  The whole walk home, I tried to think of what I could do to help Grace not pee in her sleep since that seems to be the only solution for me to keep her in school.  If Grace doesn't magically cease the pees in the next week or so, I will have to either find a school that allows peeing or home school her myself.  Neither option sounds good.  So I am at a loss for now.  Ella is almost 6 years old and she still pees while she is sleeping.  If I can't conquer this with a 6 year old,  I am not sure a 3 year old will be any easier.

BUT....this leads me to the epiphany I had today: The Secrets to Potty Training.  After three children, tons of pull-ups and lots of dirty bed linens, I have the secrets.  Now I never said these were insightful, inexpensive and easy so don't expect any of those.  No, these secrets are more like, given the fact that potty training is absolutely required and will never be a skipped step in raising a child, these are the ways to cushion the financial blow and possibly expedite the potty training process.

Here are the Secrets and they are in sequential order:

1.  Move to France.  This is a crucial step.  If you want to skip most of potty training and diapers, you absolutely need to pack up the family and/or give birth to your children in France and do as the French do-do (he he).

2. Buy stock in Pampers and Huggies.  If you can't get yourselves to France, which probably applies to 99.99% of my blog readers, then you must buy stock in diapers. Let's think about this.  Even if you use cloth diapers most of your babies life (and kudos if you do, what a great way to help the environment), there will always be a segment of time where Pull-Ups have to be purchased and worn.  I mean, please show me a picture of a 3 year old changing their own cloth diaper, safety pins and all.  With all the babies born each and every day and the amount of diapers we must use, this seems like a reliable way to make some money on the stock market and soften the blow to your wallet. OK, so maybe you can't just invest in "diapers" since big corporations make more than just diapers. But if diapers were listed as a US Commodity like Corn and Soybeans, maybe have their own Diapers Index this would be a great way to invest your money.  You could buy short and sell long or whatever the heck it is people do and hedge it against the number of babies turning 2 that day : ) 

3. Subscribe to Amazon.com Prime and order in bulk.  And this is a serious secret, no sarcasm here.  After three children simultaneously wearing diapers, I can honestly say one of the best decisions I ever made was paying the $60 annual fee and getting two day shipping from Amazon.com.  I would be two days away from running out of diapers and would log onto Amazon to order and they would arrive the next day.  Three huge boxes that I didn't have to lug home from the store and in quantities that allowed me not to even have to think about buying diapers again until the next month or so.   And at the same time I would order my laundry detergent, baby formula and tons of other heavy, bulky stuff that I hated lugging home from the store.  $60 well spent in my book.

OK, so I may have oversold my Secrets to Potty Training.  But like I said, I never promised they would be cheap, easy or insightful.  But in all seriousness, I do envy the French.  Potty training children at such a young age and achieving success is so awesome - and the money saved on Pull-Ups is probably the way they can afford to dress their children so fashionably!  Not know the language is difficult, but workable.  Eating new foods is difficult, but workable.  Not looking the same as all the other kids is difficult but workable.  But not being potty trained in a potty trained society, well that is just plain difficult.  I'll keep you all posted on how this plays out. 

Tonight the family is heading to Mont-St-Michel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Saint_Michel) after Andrew leaves work and we are staying until Sunday.  So the next post will likely be Sunday evening.  Can't wait to tell you all about our adventures!

Pictured above:  A picture I truly never thought would have any place in our world or on our computer; a big pile of diapers that Andrew found just lying on the sidewalk in Caen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

March 11, 2009: Good as Gold







March 11, 2009:  Wednesday.  Such a weird day for me!    Honestly, Wednesday's are one of the oddest things to get used to here in France.  Why? Well, as you may know, most children have the day off from school on Wednesdays.  Now, I am sure this is because of some very important sports or hobbies that the kids have so they needed a dedicated day off from school.  However, our newness here in Caen has left us without sport or hobby and without the ability to have a free-flowing conversation with other parents about what their kids do on Wednesdays.  At first the girls were sick so no creative outing required then.  Then the kids were outright obnoxious so no way I was taking them out then. Then the grandparents were in town and they took them on a trip.  But today, today I had to deliver!  Something creative, cultural and close. 

Well, yesterday morning, Andrew picked up our "permanent" car in Paris.  We had been renting a car until our new car was ready.  When he arrived home I thought maybe the car hadn't been ready when he arrived so he had to get a ride home from an airport shuttle.  But it turns out, our new car IS an airport shuttle.  OK, it is true that Andrew and I thought it would be best to have lots of room. We wanted to take roadtrips across Europe and be able to pick up guests from the airport and go en masse to different destinations.  But honestly, the pictures of the car we ordered on the internet did not even come close to the monstrosity that arrived at our house.    We pictured more of a conversation van and this was more of a let's pile in and head to Student Council Camp in the High School Van van.  MAJOR stuff.  And stick shift...again.  Anyway, the point is that we have tons of room for our family, your family and your family's family.  And then still more room for Paris Hilton's luggage.  And this car was what we were taking on our adventure today. So the trip had to be relatively close to ensure we were not stranded in the event of bad stick shift driving, stalling or wreckage.

Ultimately, I decided to take the girls to Gold Beach.  Not only because it is only about 30 minutes drive from our apartment, but because I saw pictures on the internet and I was in awe instantly.  Gold Beach is one of five beaches in Normandy used during the D-Day landings in June of 1944. The Gold Beach landings proved to be a great success.  For the Haverkampf clan, it also proved to be a great success.  We had a picnic on a big stone where I told them about World War II and the significance of this beach.  Ella knew some already and Grace and Mia just wanted more bread.  Then we hunted for and gathered seashells and beach glass for hours.  In the distance you could see remnants of the temporary docks that had been built many years ago to prepare for D-Day.  A man drove up and put his big fishing boat into the water with a tractor.  Other random people drove up here and there.  But really, we had the whole beach to ourselves.  And lucky us, the weather was mild and slightly sunny today - just perfect.  After a while, we left to head home and then saw a nice park on the way home.  I stopped and let them play spaceship for a while which really made them so happy.  Then we headed home in our little school bus where all three of the girls passed out immediately upon the trips start.

Today has taught me that little more than sand, a few shovels, some shells, decent weather and of course lollipops, are needed to keep the girls happy.  All this time I have been stressing about what to do with them - swimming lessons? a sport? a park like Great America? A Zoo?  And all they really need and want is a beach and some sand to dig.  From now on, I will plan a trip each Wednesday to somewhere new, a new beach from D-Day probably for the next few weeks.  And I will save the Calvados and Cheese tours for when my friends and family come - I hate to get the girls drunk at such an early our of the day ; )

Pictured above: The park and Gold Beach

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March 8 -10, 2009: Madeline is Just a Book




March 8-10, 2009:  Day to day life - living and breathing here in France.  That is how you learn to speak more French.  It is unbelievable, thinking back to learning French in high school and college, and never once having any immersion.  I now know that no amount of tutoring, tests, class time or recorded tapes can teach you what immersion in the native country can do.  Each time I buy a croissant or baguette from the bread guy across the street or pick up my girls from school, I have another conversation that teaches me something.  And it teaches me those things that schooling does not - proper intonation, pronunciation, and the actual REAL way that French people talk on a daily basis.  When I say real, I mean the informal banter that no one ever taught me in school.  At present, I seriously speak the French I was taught by teachers to people around here and they look at me like I am talking Swahili.  Often times, I hurry home and type what I just said to someone into Freetranslation.com to check and see if what I said was correct and it really was correct.  But it was probably stated so formally and with such utterly bad pronunciation that they didn't understand a word I said.  In the few short weeks that our family has lived here, I have already noticed that I comprehend more of what people are saying.  Initially, I couldn't pick up on anything.  Now I feel like I hear more, understand more.  So in an effort to further my hands on learning of the French language, I have decided two things:  
1.  I will never start a conversation with a French person by asking if they speak English.  I will always attempt French first and keep going until they cut me off.
2.  I will try to seek situations that trigger more conversations in French (wink wink - think manicures).  I think I have done a pretty good job of that the past few days, as you will see from my examples below.

On Saturday, we all went to a zoo.  It was really neat and very odd.  It was neat because of the set-up of the zoo.  It felt like we were on a safari in the middle of wide open fields full of exotic animals.  Andrew and I were laughing about the comparision of Lincoln Park Zoo to this French Zoo.  In Lincoln Park, there would be a cement wall of 12 feet, a barbed wire fence of 15 feet and then a plastic guard rail that separates you from the animals by about 5 feet.  And then 3 signs warning you about the dangers of the animal.  At this French zoo, and I am not kidding, there was a barbed wire fence that one might use for fending off rabbits and deer from their carrot garden that was 5 feet tall.  And this was for the most vicious animals such as brown bears, funky monkeys, and leopards.  At first we were all a little frightened, but we figured heck, this zoo is still around and lots of people are here so it must be OK.  Then I began to think, maybe in the US we are a little too paranoid and overprotective?  Maybe we are all afraid of lawsuits due to dumb asses that decide it is a good idea to jump a fence and pet a cute little tiger?  It didn't take long for us to decide to progress. We had a really fun time, despite the cold and rainy weather.  We saw lots of unique animals and were amazed we got to go into a kangaroo population that was completely open without fencing or wires and saw a cute little baby in a mommy's pouch.  Only one hour away and having great scenery to view along the drive - we will be coming back to visit this zoo often when the weather warms up.

On Sunday, it was market day.  All of us were sick with colds except Andrew and Ella.  That meant a pretty inactive day of in-house play.  I went to the market and picked up some fruits and veggies, eggs, butter and bread.  Later, Andrew got out for a walk, roaming randomly around the city.  The girls have not been on their best behavior lately, so I think between my cold and that, Andrew and I were basically just allowing each other to take breaks from the chaos.

On Monday, it was finally back to school for all of the girls.  Grace and Mia were feeling much better.  Hoping for another successful day at school, I dropped them off and left to seek out my own personal adventure.  My initial plan was to head straight home and take a nap.  I hadn't slept well the night before and I felt just awful.  But then I kicked my own butt and decided to start walking and I did that for about 2 hours.  I discovered a community swimming center, a huge running track, and noticed that most stores are closed on Mondays.  On my way back home, after thinking about this non-stop after a view of my reflection into a store window, it became my goal to find a place to make an appointment for a haircut and color.  Having felt like my wardrobe and footware were not up to snuff and my hair "style" growing out, I have been feeling a little ragged and gross.  It turns out I couldn't find an open hair salon, so instead I went to get a manicure and pedicure.  There is a place across the street from my apartment that I have seen before so I went there and just my luck - she could fit me in maintenant (right now)!  This was not a typical manicure and pedicure - atypical in the sense that I was lying down on a massage table the whole time and there was not water immersion for foot soakage - but it actually was totally fine!  It was here that I decided I should pamper myself more and my excuse was that it helps me have French small talk and learn to speak better French. Good plan, right?

When I got to school that night, I had the misfortune of the head of the school telling me that Grace and Mia were not acting well.  Specifically, they were not putting toys away, had very poor manners at the lunch table and were loud and whiny.  I have devoted a whole blog post to this, as it really caused me distress and embarrassment!  Let's just say that Monday night, we practiced our manners at the dinner table and we practiced cleaning up.  And Ella practiced telling Grace and Mia just what they needed to do to be perfect just like her ; )  She loved it.

Today, Tuesday, I had made an appointment with the plumber to come over.  Our water heater had been dripping.  The plumber visit was pretty uneventful but as I stated above, it proved to be very good practice for my French. He spoke little English.  I now know 100% more words about bathrooms, water heaters and thermostats then I did yesterday!  

After the plumber left, I had a big chore ahead of me.  The past 4 nights putting the girls to bed have been painful.  I am sure they are extra painful because most of our lives, Andrew and I have considered ourselves masters of the bedtime ceremony. No dilly dally, no getting out of bed, no crying.  But lately in Caen, we put them to bed at 8 pm and they are still up joking and laughing like they are at the Comedy Club until 10 pm!  And this includes 8 visits from us with scolding, punishments (no TV for a week) and threats (if I have to come in here one more time, I will separate your bedrooms tomorrow and there will be no more sleeping together. No more Madeline.) .  None of it worked.  So today I moved around the rooms while the girls were at school.  I mean, if you say you are going to do something, you HAVE to do it! So I spent a large part of the day taking apart beds and moving mattresses and rugs and dismantling our little world of Madeline.  The end result was fine.  Ella loved her new digs and tons of space and the twins did, too.    Let's face it.  Madeline is just a character in a book.  She sleeps and eats and walks in straight lines with girls that have probably been sent off to private school - which you probably have to be at least 8 years old for?  So to expect 3 and 5 year olds to stick with the program is just plain over optimistic and slightly crazy.    So in the end maybe I had to adjust my thinking, our children's thinking, and our furniture.  But I can tell already that they know why it had to happen and not much resistance was received tonight at bedtime.  Ella did say she didn't want to sleep alone as I was leaving her room for the night.  However, I reminded her as to why it had become necessary.  I have also started to play Pachelbel's Canon at bedtime to help lull the girls to bed and they have enjoyed this very much.  

All in all, I think it's best to stay flexible.  Visions of perfection and happiness that you had three days ago can change so quickly.  If you remain incapable of constantly reevaluating situations, then you set yourself up to fail.  Andrew and I could continue to let the girls all sleep together in the same room and yell at them 10 times each night to go to bed, just to preserve our dreams about a Kids Stash, a perfect playroom and living a scene out of a Madeline book.  But realistically, they need the sleep and will forget in one day about the changes that have taken place.

Tomorrow brings Wednesday.  The day of leisure for the girls and myself.  A day of adventure and exploration of this new country where we reside.  What will happen? Where will we go?  Only tomorrow and Google maps will know...

Pictured above: Kangaroo with baby in pouch, the girls at the zoo on a statue, Mia looking at the bear.