Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 30, 2009: Road Trip

Hello, again!  I was just going to say that today is Friday, but indeed it is NOT!  It is only Thursday.  It feels like Friday because tomorrow is a holiday here in France.  Their version of labor day.  With a long weekend available, we decided to take a long road trip.  We debated between ferries to London, plane rides to Amsterdam and train rides to Lyon.  But in the end we decided to use our CTA bus to further explore Normandy while the crowds are still under control.  This time we will be heading to the Alabaster Coast, Dieppe and the Pays de Bray.   We can't wait to see the infamous cliffs that painters such as Monet have been captivated by for centuries along the Alabaster Coast, visit Dieppe known as being France's first bathing resort, Le Treport for consuming it's well-known seafood delights, and Neufchatel known for - you guessed it - the cheese!  

As far as day to day life around here in Caen, things remain pretty steady and normal.  I attended my pilates class today which was nice.  Yesterday I planned our road trip and worked on hotel reservations, etc...  Also, the girls and I spent most of the day yesterday at la Colline aux Oiseaux, a local but huge and beautiful park here in Caen.  We had a great time, playing on playground equipment, exploring their various gardens and looking for the center inside the very large maze made of boxwoods.

The apartment has been a little odd lately due to a pigeon that is stuck between two walls.  Andrew and I are not sure how it got there, but clearly it is. We hear it flapping it's wings, scratching it's claws on the wall no doubt trying to get out!  Truth be told it sounds to me like someone scratching their fingernails on a chalkboard which so happens to be one of the worst sounds in the world, in my mind.  So today I will be calling our contact to please take care of this situation.  If we don't get it taken care of, the bird will probably die and then rot in the wall and stink really bad, right?  Ah, pigeons.  If they aren't looking in your window trying to snoop then they are trying to sneak into your house and get direct observation.

Now I am off to organize for our trip, finish the laundry and clean up the house before we leave this evening.  We can't wait to share with you the adventures!

Pictured above: Phote's of the girls and scenery from our day at la Colline aux Oiseaux

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April 28, 2009: Work without the Jerk

It has been so nice the past week or so experiencing normal moments.  Moments that feel comfortable. Moments that are not anticipated with anxiety.  Moments that would seem fairly boring to you as a reader.  But to me, these are moments that reflect our family is settling into our new community.  Small things like an invitation to have breakfast with some new friends that has conversation flowing comfortably.  A birthday celebration for Grace and Mia at a local theme park supplemented with all their favorite toys and foods.  A run through our new neighborhood that can now be navigated comfortably without getting lost.  A polite conversation exchanged with a teacher.  I don't want to jinx anything, as I am a bit superstitious, but I knock on wood as I say that Caen is becoming a lovely, lively home.

We had a really nice 4th birthday celebration for Grace and Mia at Festyland in a nearby village.  The park is similar to Great America, but you need to reduce the scale and crowd size by 20 and then picture rides that are great for kids aged 3 to 8.  Grace and Mia ended up going on 90% of the rides and had a total blast.  They are quite the daredevils!  Ella was not as adventurous but she has just as much fun.  They have already declared that Gaga and Bobby and Grandma and Grandpa will be taking them back to Festyland when they visit - so be prepared grandparents!  It's hard to believe that the twins have already turned age 4. It's been a great ride and Andrew and I are looking forward to the next many decades with Ella, Grace and Mia.

One thing that has been coming to the forefront of my mind these days as I go through day to day life in France is how efficient and proud they are of their work.  I have stated this before, but I now have many examples describing this statement.  Let me just share a few:

Here is a very typical scenario that you might encounter in the United States: You go to the bank. There are 7 people in line ahead of you to speak with a representative.  You see 10 other people sitting at desks helping no one/no customers.  Not one of those 10 people get up to help the 7 people waiting in line.  Maybe because they are "beyond" those duties or feel they are only obligated to do the job that has been described as part of their current "desk".  
Now, here is a very typical scenario that you might encounter here in France: You go to the bank. There are 7 people in line ahead of you to speak with a representative. You see 3 other people sitting at desks helping no one and they immediately get up to help all the people in line to help move the line along.  And after all, they were not doing anything anyway!

Typical U.S. scenario while getting your haircut:  You check in with someone who tends the front desk.  They tell you to wait for your hair washer.  After one person washes your hair, they instruct you to wait for a hair cutter.  After you get your hair cut, they instruct you to wait for the hair dyer.  After you get your hair dyed, they instruct you to go back to the front desk and pay for services.  There is no cross-training, no sharing of duties.  

Typical France scenario while getting your haircut: You check in with someone at the front desk. They than take you to personally wash your hair and sit you down.  Your hair cutter comes over to cut your hair and you notice the guy that tended the front desk when you arrived and washed your hair is now styling another ladies hair that has just been cut.  The phone rings and the lady dying someone's hair stops what she is doing and goes to answer the phone and makes an appointment.  The point?  There is no Front Desk Staff.  They all share the duties of running the business. They all wash hair. They all cut hair. They all style hair. They run the establishment and do any and all tasks involved with running that establishment. 

It is typical to go to an establishment, at least here in Caen, and have one person own it, run it, and staff it.  Examples are doctors - no secretary, no nurse, no partner.  The doctor actually answers the phone when you call and schedules your appointment, they open the door for you on arrival, they do the whole appointment, and then schedule your follow-up when you depart.  I got my nails done once and there was one girl. She did my nails and also tended the front desk, buzzed people into the door, and managed to provide very good services at the same time. And no matter where I go whether it is the dry cleaners, the grocery store, they shoe repairman, Pizza Hut or a clothing store, all employees are dressed equally as nice, are equally as polite and all appear to be equally as satisfied with their situation.  Happy with their jobs and happy to help you, no matter the task of that  job.  I feel like in the U.S. there is so much animosity and baggage when you go to a service establishment that you never experience this pride I describe here in France.

Anyway, it is a random thought but something I find very intriguing about the French, about France.  I so admire their willingness to perform their job duties without getting into a "class" or "hierarchy" spat or being too good to do certain tasks.  It keep operating costs down, it keeps connections with customer's up and it just makes good sense.  I have definitely learned from this amazing aspect of France and it's workforce.

Tomorrow is Wednesday so we should hopefully have something special and amazing to tell you about after a day off of school.  Best to all of you!

Pictured above: Pictures of our day at Festyland for Grace and Mia's birthday.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My First Open House

Hi - it's Andrew today giving Kate a break from her typing duties...

Today was really fun. It's Saturday and the kids didn't get up until 7.30am! Can you imagine that? It's so great to be able to sleep in on a Saturday morning. Oh, wait a minute, I'm in crazy land! How did I forget about what it was like to sleep until noon (or even later). Speaking of sleep, I never thought I could get used to the 10pm/5am garbage trucks, 5am street sweepers, 3am drunk people yelling and whipping bottles in the street, pigeons warbling outside my window, seagulls cawing in the sky, and all the other nigh-time noises that go on outside our apartment. And you know what? I was right! They still wake me up at all hours.... That all being said, the fact that we live in a nearly 500 year old apartment in the center of a 1000+ year old town in France makes it all worth it. I wonder what the French word for earplugs is anyway.....

But seriously, it was a really fun day. All of us got up and were organized by 9.30am in order to greet our first visitor of the day. Our friend Amelia (age 3) was coming over to play with the girls while her parents had an appointment in town. I really admire her bravery - she literally jumped out of the car and ran up our front steps without really even saying good-by to her parents. Remember, this is a young French girl getting ready to spend the morning with the Green Bay Packers (the 3-3-5 year old girl version) who don't speak French. They all had a bunch of fun running around the apartment and Ella and I were bummed to leave to go to her school's first open house. Kate stayed home with the girls and Amelia until her parents came back while Ella and I went to the school.

The open house was really nice. Ella and I went in to the school and went right upstairs to her classroom. If you look at the pictures at the top, what you'll see is a view from the courtyard inside the school. The building is basically a big square with a courtyard making up the inside of the square and a door that leads out to the street. You can see a catwalk in the pictures and Ella's classroom has its front door off of that catwalk. I had a nice conversation with her teacher (in French no less) and was happy to hear that: Ella is very courageous, she has many friends, she is doing fine in math/cursive/etc, when she can't understand words she's able to understand in hand signals etc. The teacher might have been blowing smoke due to the open house - but I seriously doubt it. One of the clues was the number of kids - younger, older, and equal in age - that said hi to her and tried to give her the traditional French kisses on the cheek while we were there.

Ella and I also visited Mia's classroom (this also used to be Grace's room, but she moved as of Monday [as the regular blog-readers already know]). I spoke to Mia's teacher as well (yes, in French) and was happy to hear that things seem to be going much better now that Grace is in a room across the courtyard. Now, let's all be clear here - there was never a problem in Grace and Mia's mind - they were perfectly happy to be chatting with each other all day, eating all the bread at lunch, etc. etc. The problem was to the other kids and the teachers. Now that the dynamic duo has been reduced from 2 to 1 in each room, there seems to be a light shining on the horizon.

Right before leaving the open house I was able to have a few conversations with some parents in the courtyard. I spoke to the head of the parent's association for about ten minutes (yes, in French) until he revealed that he actually spoke fluent English. Honestly, I love it - I might speak like a 5 year old but people can understand what I'm trying to say. It makes me feel good when people give me the benefit of the doubt and fight on with a conversation in French. This happened a lot on our most recent vacation in Turkey - Kate and I liked the French conversations more than the English ones during random meals with other vacation go-ers. As for the word on the street, as it relates to the girl's school, people definitely know who we are. Maybe it's a bit like looking at a car wreck as you drive down the highway - maybe it's more like smelling the flowers as you walk through a field - regardless, it's nice to be making a tiny imprint on this wonderful town.

After the open house it was time for Ella and I to do some shopping for Grace and Mia's birthday. We decided to take the tram up to the mall by my office to a store called Carrefor - this is basically Target with a little bit of Best Buy sprinkled in. Luckily for the both of us it was lunchtime when we arrived at the mall, so I took Ella to my favorite spot. I had a salad with shaved smoked ham, eggs, capers, cheese, etc and Ella had a tasty grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg dropped on top. The highlight was watching Ella finally learn how to hold her knife and fork like they do here in France and eat like she's never eaten before..... After buying our gifts we had to hurry back to the apartment because Amelia and her parents were returning for drinks and appetisers that evening.

I'll try to summerise the evening in one quick sentence: All the girls ate a combined Pound of Fois Gras, we drank beer brewed in Normandy, 7 dresses were worn and exchanged between the girls, the Amelia Bedelia book was lent to our friend Amelia, Kid's Bop 12 was cranking the whole time, and ultimately fun was had by all. The adults might be a bit harder of hearing after the night but we'll probably survive to hear another day (oh, and yes, it was the volume of the girl's voices that might be making us go deaf).

Tomorrow is Grace and Mia's 4th birthday - we will have a big event at the fair in town. Hopefully the sun will shine (um, actually yes it does - see the picture above), lots of rides will be ridden, and fun will be had by all.

One last note - see the bottom picture above with Ella and a boy in a blue hoodie? Well, this is the boy who Ella kissed for the first time in Turkey last week - a nice Irish boy who we hope we will see again along with is parents in Dublin later this year. It sure makes me think - how would I feel if the internet and camera phones were around when I kissed Mary Chamberland in the Kenilworth train station (my first kiss) twenty six years ago???

Take care all - hope all is well - and good-night (said Miss Clavel).


Thursday, April 23, 2009

April 23, 2009: All is Calm on this Front

Just checking in to say that all is calm here in Caen for the moment.  The past few days have been relatively normal.  Grace has continued to stay dry and welcome at school.  Ella has lost her first pair of glasses - one of many I am sure over the next 2 decades!  Mia has been herself and doing well in her class without Grace.  

Today I took my first pilates class.  Originally, I was just looking to purchase a foam roller for my home workout room, but one thing led to another and then I was signing up for a class that USED foam rollers.  In the end I think it will be a good idea.  A pilates class will add some variety to my workouts, will help me meet people and will also help me brush up on my French vocabulary for body parts!

Andrew and I met for lunch today and had our first sushi meal.  I would say that it fulfilled our craving for sushi, but it was nothing to write home about.

Grace and Mia have their 4th birthday on Sunday which is hard to believe.  There is a carnival in town for the next three weeks so we'll be taking them to the carnival to celebrate.  I probably seem like an awful mother for not planning some big birthday party for the girls but I have two good reasons for not doing so.  First is that Grace and Mia don't know the name of a single person in their class - so how good of friends can they be at this point?  Also, now that they are in two classes of thirty each, I simply can't plan a party for sixty 3 and 4 year olds.  So, I am hoping that the carnival and princess cupcakes will wow them so much that they don't even notice the lack of party.  

Before I sign off for the day I have just one question that I need your help with - a grammar question for which I just don't remember the rules.  Here it is:
When using numbers in writing, when do you write the word of the number out (thirty) and when do you write the actual number (30)?

Thanks and bonsoir!

Monday, April 20, 2009

April 21, 2009: Father of the Bribe

As you may have remembered, after spring break Grace and Mia were going to be split up into separate classes at school.  This was all due to them being disruptive at school and not something that the school had asked us permission to do. Rather, I asked the school if they could be split apart.  Their extra-crazy antics during the school day along with Grace's pant wetting during nap time just got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, twins don't need to be attached at the hip.  I can see how it might appear that way - that twins must operate simultaneously and in sync.  But the truth about Grace and Mia are that they are NOT the same in any way.  Sure, they do look a lot alike.  But it really does stop there.  Most days I feel like I gave birth to two completely different children  but with only 2 minutes apart.  Though they both have different personalities - Grace is calm and touchy-feely and Mia is Dance Party USA - they do have something in common.  They are very independent and not at all co-dependent on each other.  And ultimately, that is why I thought that separating them at school might solve more problems than are even transparent to me.

Case-in-point.  Yesterday Grace started her new class and Mia stayed in her old class.  Andrew and I dropped them off together to encourage both of them to be strong and good and to remind them about their new independence, a class of their own.  We dropped off Mia first and then went to meet Grace's new teacher.  Neither Andrew or I felt comfortable when we left.  The teacher was not at all nurturing nor did she welcome Grace with a smile or even a smirk.  She simply told us that if Grace peed during nap time that she simply could not stay at school.  Which made Andrew and I think that this teacher knew about Grace's history of peeing and she was not very delighted to take this pee-pee person into her class.  Anyway, Grace was very shy and timid after her un-warm welcome but she managed to toddle her way into the room with the other kids and try to play.  "Ugh", Andrew and I said as we left.  The chances of Grace wanting to stay at school were bleak meaning she would definitely pee in her pants during nap time so she could come home.  Andrew and I parted ways, fingers and toes crossed, hoping for the best.

I went home after dropping the girls off at school, as I had about 10 loads of laundry to do after our vacation.  All this laundry gave me ample time to think about the day and how it might end for all of us, for Grace.  I was sick with worry, wondering if Grace would be able to pull an all-dayer with no pee in the pants.  Based on this new teacher's welcome, I knew there were no second chances for Grace. She pees, she is history.  And that means she gets exactly what she wants, which is being home with mommy, and she misses out on the education that all those other dry-panted children will receive.  I had to find a solution, fix this problem. 

Would you like to know what genius plan I came up with during laundry sorting?  It was very simple and it was the only possible solution.  I walked over to the school, just after they finished lunch.  I had in tow Grace's favorite stuffed animal and the biggest bribe you have ever figuratively carried.  That's right.  I shamelessly bribed my 3 year old with the hugest strawberry ice cream cone she had ever seen if she managed to keep dry pants all day long.  And to keep this message at the forefront of all Haverkampf minds - creating a support group so to speak - I then bribed Ella with the hugest vanilla ice cream cone and Mia with the hugest chocolate ice cream cone ever known to man - if they encouraged Grace to stay dry and they themselves stayed dry.  After all - this can't be all about Grace.  Otherwise, Ella and Mia will start figuring out a way to get this added attention and let me tell you - if this turns to a pooping situation I might lose it!

So off I went, having bribed my children with sweets and stuffed animals, still skeptical but hopeful about what might happen.  Proudly, I tell you that Grace delivered - no pee during nap time.  And I could tell the teacher was surprised by this - but I do hope it gave her a new respect for Grace.  On the way home from school, as promised, I bought them all the biggest ice creams ever and they couldn't have been more excited....or messy.  They were turning heads of all passer-byes, both because of their white-blond hair and their faces smudged with ice cream delights.  It was quite the sight!

Last night, the girls all got along well and the mood was much less chaotic.  Andrew and I agreed that it had to do with the fact that Grace and Mia didn't see each other all day and were not sick of each other.  That they hadn't been fooling around and causing problems most of the day.  That Mia hadn't been picking on Grace.  And to me it proved some of what I was thinking earlier.  That Grace and Mia are better off apart at school.  Having them separated means they can have their own identities, have their own friends and portray their own personalities without being monitored or squashed by the other twin.  And I think that is what Grace needed to be able to thrive and learn at school and what Mia needed to help her concentrate and learn.

Today Grace also delivered a pee-free day.  I did go to school again and bribe them after lunch, but this time I went sugar-free and promised 2 rides on the carousel for all if each of them managed to keep dry pants.  I think I frightened Andrew today when we met for lunch and I mentioned that Nintendo DS's might be a good next bribe..... 

Pictured above: Mia and Grace

April 20, 2009: Turkish Delight

We are back!  We had a wonderful trip to Turkey for Spring Break.  Perfectly delightful!  Now, I must admit. We could have been anywhere in the world that had a beach and nice weather and I would tell you it was an awesome vacation. That is how badly I needed a break!  But, lots of things can make or break a vacation, regardless of where you decide to take yourselves.  All in all, the planets aligned for the Haverkampfs in Turkey, making it a trip to remember.

Some Trip Highlights:
OK, this isn't a highlight - more of an interesting occurrence.  On the way to Paris to catch our flight to Turkey, I was pulled over by the Gendarmarie (the 5.0 in France).  I knew it was a matter of time before I got pulled over - every day was a gamble on the roadways.  This day was my lucky day!  I had no idea what my offense was, but they had been tailgating me for a few miles and it seemed imminent that I had done something wrong.  They pulled me over into a rest stop and while the girls and Andrew sat quietly in the CTA bus, I was administered a breathalyzer!  It was 11:30 a.m.!  Man, I thought, I must really be a bad driver to get tested for alcohol before the noon bell rings.  Even though I knew I would pass this first time ever breathalyzer test with flying colors, I still had a hard time staying cool and collected.  It made me nervous!  I did pass the test, as expected, but take this as a warning to any of you who may visit France.  Don't drink and drive and don't assume you seem less suspicious because it is day time!  The officer drew me a picture of my offense which was I pulled over to the next lane to pass a truck and in the process I cut off a car that was going a million miles an hour - so fast I didn't even see him in my rearview mirror.  People drive so fast here!  I knew the circumstance which he was describing, I fessed up to my improper driving behavior, and he let me go with a verbal warning.  Needless to say, I was a little shaken up so I had Andrew take the wheel for the rest of the drive to Paris.

Before we left for Turkey, we visited the Eiffel Tower and Luxembourg Gardens.  The Eiffel Tower was amazing, as always.  The lines to go up into the tower were crazy - completely impossible to wait for with three small, antsy children.  That is why we just walked around, rode a few carousels, and admired the pretty views.  The next day, we visited Luxembourg Gardens.  It was a huge, beautiful park that had a monstrous kids park, a huge fountain that you can rent tiny boats and sail, and sculptures and gardens that went on forever.  These were perfect little trips to fit in just before we had to catch our flight to Turkey from CDG Airport in Paris.

I'll skip over the details of traveling to Turkey, as they are boring and just what you might expect. Lots of waiting, car sickness, whining, long bus rides and a late arrival to the resort. We got to Club Med so late that it was pretty much straight to bed when we arrived.  

This Club Med Palmiye in Turkey was just awesome. The kids club was perfect for all three of our children - we felt comfortable leaving them there which allowed Andrew and I to relax. The weather was awesome - sunny pretty much all of the time. The food was actually very good.  The house drinks (wine, beer, etc...) were really good.  The staff was very friendly.  The grounds were always clean.  The landscaping was so pretty.  The guests we met were from all over the world and everyone we met was amiable. The night-time entertainment was actually entertaining and creative.  And it was just a 4 hour flight from Paris.  Our only complaints about our trip were that the nights were chilly and we didn't really have enough proper clothing, the pools were pretty cold (I only went in a pool twice, briefly) so the kids got cold really fast, we really wished we had a sitting room in our bungalow (instead of just bedrooms), and there was a persistent mildewy smell in our bungalow.  But, we made do with our clothes and we spent truly little time in our room except to shower and sleep.  I almost hesitate to go anywhere else for a Club Med vacation as I don't expect it could be any better!

In the middle of our vacation, Ella met a new friend at the pool.  We then met her friend's parents and we ended up making quick friends with with family from Ireland.  They had an almost 3 year old, a 6 year old and an 8 year old.  They kids had a blast together and Andrew and I really enjoyed their parent's company.  We had drink and dinner buddies for many nights after that.  Ella and her new friend (a boy) were practically attached at the hip from the start.  It truly was so cute.  They were dancing, stealing away moments of privacy to talk, looking at Turkish market stands and picking out jewelry for each other and were just plain googly-eyed! One day, I took them to see a show that Grace and Mia's class were putting on inside the hotel.  The lights were down and Ella and her friend sat in the row in front of me.  After watching the show for a few moments, I glanced ahead of me only to see the two of them holding hands.  I than saw Ella and her friend look at each other and awkwardly lean in to give each other a kiss.  I didn't say a word about it to them, but oh how I wished Andrew and my best girl friends were there to see this precious moment.  It made my heart hurt, it was so cute!

Our trip back from Turkey to Paris was much the same as the way there.  We didn't get back into Paris until 3:00 a.m. so we were quite happy with our previous decision to reserve a hotel room at the airport.  We slept until later in the morning and then went to visit The Palace of Versailles.  Again, the weather was cold and rainy and the line to get inside the Palace was impossible to wait in with three small children.  So we walked around the gardens, instead.  Andrew and I both agree that this is one of the most amazing places we have ever seen.  Beautiful green gardens go on forever. Fountains of all shapes and sizes are hidden around every corner.  There are boats you can rent to meander around the big lake which the girls thought were the most fun they have ever had.  Joggers were everywhere - I was jealous of their beautiful surroundings they got to enjoy during their exercise.  Classical music was booming from large speakers throughout the whole grounds.  The sculpted trees and bushes were perfectly maintained and the boxwood smell was everywhere.  Our vacation in Turkey was really great, but this trip to Versailles was one of the highlights of our vacation - and totally unexpected!  The best part is that we can come back as we never even made it inside the actual palace yet.

We arrived home late last night, just in time for a quick bite and bed.  The girls were saying the whole way home that they were excited to get home and this time they were referring to the apartment in Caen instead of Crested Butte.  So, we have made some progress in that they now think of Caen as a home.  

Pictured above: Ella on the trapeze at Club Med; Andrew and the girls looking up at the Eiffel Tower; Poolside at Club Med; Ella and her friend dancing; Andrew and the girls looking at the huge grounds at Versailles.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

April 8, 2009: Mama Said There'd be Days Like This

April 8, 2009:

First of all, I should warn you that this is not an upbeat and uplifting post today.  Let me explain how the day ended, and then we can get to how it started.  It ended with Andrew walking in the door around 6:15 p.m. and me promptly putting on my shoes and coat and heading out the door.  It has been one of those days where you think your kids can't act any more rotten, yet they find ways to do so!

Yes, today is not an "adventure to the high-seas" type day.  Rather, it is a slow sink into the low doldrums of youngster chaos.  We all have those days, where you think it can only get better, the kids can't possibly act any worse. And yet...

Today started with Ella waking up with her cough that she has had the past 2 weeks.  Grace also woke up with the same cough today.  So I thought long and hard about why they seem to wake up with these awful coughing fits and stuffy noses that seem to melt away as the day progresses. I thought about my own self and how I have had a stuffy nose and congestion for about a month which is finally beginning to be a non-issue.  My body is adjusting to this new environment as is theirs.  But as vacation looms just around the corner, it seems wise to try to get the kids healthy.   About a week or two ago I decided that my nose and throat woes were due to allergies.  It has been so long since I have suffered from intense allergies that this realization shocked me.  But it made sense. Tons of cattle, pollution and grasses are in full force in Caen.  Tons of rain falls and that adds to the mix.  So then today, I realized that what is affecting Grace and Ella might very well be allergies. So I began the day by giving them Benedryl to see what affect this medicine had on their runny noses and coughs.

The effect?  Ella was basically comatose and Grace was just herself.  The bottle had said "May Cause Drowsiness" so I thought how wonderful, maybe they will all just chill out for a while and get some rest.  But Ella resisted the nap her body was so strongly requesting and Grace seemed to defy the drowsi-effect.  But, their noses did clear up and their coughs did, too.  I got Ella to take a nap after a long struggle and Grace never seemed to need one.  But after Ella awoke from her nap, collective behavior began to unravel before my very eyes.

I can't explain what I mean exactly, or provide specific examples of this awful behavior.  But I can tell you in general that it entailed doing things over and over again that are "against the rules" such as pushing, pinching, hitting, writing on each other's paper, standing on their dining room chairs, playing with their food, saying "no" directly to your face and not listening to any requests made.  And it was these types of  things over and over again with time-outs and being sent to the rooms scattered throughout the day yet heeded no positive results what-so-ever.

On days like this, I think to myself that I would be so embarrassed to go out in public with my children acting this way.  I also don't want to reward them with a fun outing when their behavior is not worthy.  So no way will I get them together for an outing.  But then I think maybe they need to get out of the house, which is why they are acting like this.  It's a catch-22.  Finally at 2:00 p.m. I couldn't take this anymore so we got ourselves together and my only plan was to go for a walk to a small park down the road.  Anywhere but home and something to get them some fresh air.  Even despite the fact that it was raining and had been raining all day long.  After a long and chaotic walk to the park, the girls finally played there for about an hour. They couldn't have cared less about the rain drops.  They pretended to make a campfire with twigs they found. They made birthday cakes with wet sand.  They slid down the slide that was coated in wet, dirty mud.  And after an hour, I thought I better take them home.  I am sure passer-byes thought I was a bad mom already, letting them play in the rain!

When we got home, they took baths having been coated in sand - all with bad behavior, splashing all over the bathroom, dumping full bottles of shampoo and pulling stuffed animals and clean towels into the tub (in just a matter of seconds, as I went to get some clean clothes!), soaking the shower curtain and it was just general mayhem.  What must you think of me and my parenting skills?  And the social skills of my children?  These are my thoughts as I watch the craziness unfold.  We made it through and managed to get everyone at least half-dressed.

For the next 2 hours I just let them have at it, running and screaming and fighting and pulling on each other.  I was watching remotely, making sure there was no deadly danger, but in general I just wanted them to work out their petty tattles and try to find composure themselves.  I sure wasn't able to get them composed.

So, I had emailed Andrew a bit earlier and told him that he should expect me to leave once he got home from work, as the girls were exceptionally difficult today for me and I needed a break.  I left and did some shopping required for vacation, I exchanged some sweaters for Andrew and then stopped at a wine bar and had a nice glass of Muscadet in the peace and quiet.  The weather had cleared up, the sky was blue and the temperature was mild.  And I was finally enjoying some peace after a very loud day.  It's funny.  I would not have enjoyed this single glass of wine so much had my day not been to rough.  If my day had been typical and ho-hum, this would have been just like any other glass of wine.

As I sat and sipped the wine and stared out the window of the wine bar, I couldn't get the song, "Mama Said There'd be Days Like This," out of my head.  Days like this happen, fortunately not often, but they do happen.  I think the comforting part of it all is knowing that my mom went through this, your mom went through this, all of you with children go through this and even the perfect French families I see walking down the street go through this (just not when I seem to be looking).  So, we shall all just chalk them up to "one of those days" and know that tomorrow can only be better!

Pictured above: The girls playing at the park in the rain today.

April 6 - 7, 2009: Beach Bums

April 6 - 7, 2009:

On Monday, April 6 the weather was beautiful.  Sunny, mild and blue skies.  The girls and I decided to head to another one of the Normandy beaches while the weather was cooperating.   Juno Beach in Courseulles-sur-mer was liberated by the Canadians just hours after the invasion began early on June 6, 1944, defeating the Germans.  By the evening of June 6, over 21,500 men had landed at Juno Beach!  Juno Beach has quite a memorial built dedicated to the Canadians.  There is a long pathway that has stops with benches and information on the benches and pillars.  An old tank, a huge cross and some remnants of bunkers were some of the highlights that the girls enjoyed. 

We arrived in Courseulles-sur-mer around lunch time, just in time to enjoy our Camembert and butter sandwiches on the beach.  The view was beautiful but the bugs were buggin' so we didn't last long along the water.

After our trip to Courseulles-su-mer, we stopped off at a park and then drove along the coast about 2 miles to Saint-Aubin-sur-mer.  Here, we walked along a pretty boardwalk with lots of rental homes and restaurants - yet to be frequented as the high season has not started.  However, there were quite a few people on the beach, enjoying low tide and sunny skies.  We stopped and looked at another bunker with some kind of artillery in tact and some other dedications to the troops who fought on this Normandy beach on June 6, 1944.  Of course, we also had to stop and get the girls some ice cream for an afternoon treat.  We must've stopped at the nicest restaurant at the end of the boardwalk, because they ended up with huge sundaes and I ended up with a hefty bill!  It doesn't matter - they were relatively well-behaved and thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected treat.

After this sugar-filled snack and the late afternoon time, they were all having trouble keeping up their good behavior.  We headed back home and all three of them fell asleep.  We had a nice day - definitely the prettiest one we have seen since living here in Caen!

On Tuesday, we decided to let the day play out as it wanted.  No formal plans or field trip on the schedule.  The day actually ended up staying indoors at the apartment.  The girls and I created some very bad replica comstumes of Pac Man and his Ghosts.  They must've played this game for hours - is just didn't get old for them!  They also were happy to watch some T.V. and do arts and crafts.  Each time I suggested an outing, they wanted to go and put their Pac Man costumes back on!  So I let them keep at it. Why mess when they are content?  

For dinner, we went to a restaurant I had discovered that looked family friendly.  It was called Oncle Scotts, which seems to be a chain started by and American and a Frenchman.  It had a country motif with country music.  The place was pretty empty and the food was decent so not too bad for wanting to get out of the house for a meal.  We'll probably go back - the girls will definitely want to go back due to the large sack of gummy candies there were handed on their way out the door!

Tomorrow will be Wednesday, just two days before we depart for Paris to begin out adventure to Turkey.  I feel a little unsettled about the chaos Obama is causing in Turkey, just before we arrive there for our family holiday.  It seems odd about his timing and ours.  I just pray the crazies keep themselves in check while we are in their country!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 5, 2009: Metallica and a maze....

Hi everyone, it's Andrew chiming in with a few thoughts from the last few days.

As I'm sure you read in Kate's most recent post, we were all at an apple orchard yesterday. In the middle of our pic-nic, I received some great news. The friend that Kate was with the night before just called and invited me to the Led Zepplin, Metallica, Kiss, and AC/DC concert that night. OK fine, yes, they were all cover bands - but - this was at a 5000+ seat arena and was billed to be a pretty big deal. The friend's neighbor's husband is the bass player in the AC/DC band so a big group was going to head to the show. Most of you know me, some don't, and some think you do - that all being said - let's just say I love a rock show full of moshing, surfing, and head banging. In fact, it's my favorite type of concert second only to the Grateful Dead.

I was picked up a little after eight on Saturday night and drove down to the show with Kate's friend, her husband, and their neighbor. Upon ariving, I was truely amazed to see a near sell-out - literally five thousand people for a night of cover bands. In the US these guys would be lucky to draw five hundred (probably because the real bands still tour - the cover bands have a big draw in Caen because the real guys never come...). The show was GA and had an open floor - after meeting up with some other freinds and having a few beers, we all headed in. We missed the Led Zepplin band and only saw a bit of Metallica. After a short break Kiss came out - pretty show - pretty lame that is - but it was funny to see some clearly 40-50 year old guys in make-up trying to make it happen. Some great pics are above.

The real fun started when AC/DC came out. These guys really rocked and I was so happy when a big mosh pit started up. My favorite thing to do is mosh like crazy and at the same time launch as many people as I can up for crowd surfing. This being France I made sure to give a lot of high-fives and pats on the back while yelling "Regard!!" as I offered my clasped hands for a launch in the air. It worked great - by the time the people I had been launching decided to launch me enough people recognized me so that I didn't get dropped on my head. Definitely a word of advice - make friends with your fellow moshers so you don't get knocked down (too hard) or dropped on your head. By the time the show was over I was soaked in sweat and had blisters on my feet. I met up with the group who immediately asked "were you in the middle of all that??". Not sure if these guys all think I'm crazy or not - don't mind either way... After getting dropped off back at home I realized I was just in time to catch the first of the 2 Final Four NCAA games - good ole ESPN does a live broadcast on the internet for those of us away from network TV. Nice work Michigan State - and no, I'm not watching the final game as it will be starting at 2am or something.

The best thing after a great concert and watching basketball on the internet until 2.30am is getting to sleep in. I made it all the way to 8.30am before the busses, garbage trucks, and screaming kids made their way into my head. What's a guy to do? Load the kids up in the car and go for an adventure. Today is was a trip to this huge park right in town. This thing is probably bigger than the Botanic Garden in Chicago and even has a maze made out of bushes. Since Kate will be alone with the girls all this week I gave her the day off and headed out with the kids. We found the maze after a big walk and had fun going in and out - it really was kind of hard and the kids loved it when they hit a dead-end.

After the maze we went to a rose garden that was the size of a basketball stadium. Being so early in the season there were no roses to see - but there were ducks in the pond and benches to climb on. Our ultimate goal was to end up at the miniature golf area so we headed off in that direction. But wait - what were we to find at the top of the hill??? A huge park of course - a play park this time with jungle gyms and everything. An hour later we were off to the links....

It's pretty hard to answer the question, "what's it like to live in France?". However, I can sum it up by describing the meal we had at the miniature golf area. Imagine every mini-golf place in America and think in your mind what would be available to eat. Hot dogs, chips, corn dogs, popcorn, nacho cheese sauce - you get the idea. For a moment, I really thought in my mind that we were going to have hot dogs for lunch judging from the red umbrellas aroud the tables in front. Boy, was I wrong... You see in France, they serve amazing food no matter where you are. Be it a truck stop, gas station, movie theater, or mini-golf course - the food is great. We had a lovely lunch of Perrier (for Grace), Milk (for Mia), Water (for Ella), beer (for me), creps all around for the girls, a smoked salmon and ham salad for me, all followed by sorbet sticks and ice cream cones. Maybe my writing doesn't do the meal justice - if it doesn't just imagine the waitress as she brought a steaming expresso with a miniature merangue to me for my second dessert. The French it seems, don't like eating anything unless it comes with dessert. Our grand finale was 15 minutes of mini-golf followed by literally an hour and a half of jumping around on one of those big bouncy things that was set up in the middle of it all.

Today was one of the nicest days in all my time in Normandy - sunny, warm, calm - amazing... After getting home from the adventure I went for a run around the horse track in town - everybody was out on bikes, strollers, walking, running, etc. Afterwards I worked with the girls as they tried to play Miss Pac-Man on my phone, as they colored (mostly on paper), and as Ella designed room after room on some room designing web site for kids. She was able to pick out beds, dressers, pillows, accessories, etc - you get the point. She loves this site and can't stop making room after room. One family dinner, one 28 minute temper tantrum (thanks Mia), and one large clean up session preceeded the girls getting put to bed and me beginning to blog.

Tomorrow starts the real countdown - it's spring break and we will only have 4 days left until we leave for Turkey (of all places - I hear it's nice). If Kate and the girls make it through the week we'll end up in Paris on Friday afternoon, see the Eiffel Tower etc, sleep near the airport and fly out next Saturday.

Thanks for reading - the best to you all.....

Saturday, April 4, 2009

April 4, 2009: It's Spring and We Need a Break

April 4, 2009:

It's hard to believe that it is already April.  Yesterday at the end of school marked the beginning of spring break for our school "zone" here in France.  Now begins two weeks (yep, not one but two!) of vacation for the girls.  I welcome this vacation for many reasons.  It marks 2 months of living here in Caen.  Though it has been rough at times and easier than expected at others, the whole experience has been a huge change for all of us - school, work, socially, you know.  I feel like we have passed the "test" for the time being, maybe with a B-.  The whole family is ready to recharge, rethink, reflect and unwind.  Andrew has to work during this next week so the girls and I will be on our own, trying to find new places to visit, new adventures to go on around Normandy.  But the second week the whole family is heading to Antalya, Turkey for a nice and hopefully warm vacation at Club Med.  My body is not ready for a swimsuit, but my brain sure is....

Today we kicked off spring break with a short outing to a local farm.  It is called La Ferme de Billy in Rots, France.  At this farm they grow apples for making apple juice, apple cider (alcohol-containing) and calvados.  They also make apple vinegar and have bees which make honey.   The building where you enter has a porch with many tables and chairs.  We enjoyed a nice picnic there and I could also imagine lovely evenings on this porch, with their heat lamps lit and enjoying local cuisine with crickets chirping in the background.  When you enter the visitor's building, it is very nicely decorated -  modern and warm.  The tasting area was really cute and there was a very long dining table that I imagine seats up to 20 people.  There was also a kitchen off to the right so they probably host some wonderful dinners at this farm.  I'll have to get some info about that...

We were given a map and off we set to see the farm. We were greeted by a friendly donkey and a walking path that took you to the apple orchards.  Along the way we saw flowers sporadically blooming here and there, more donkeys and a very old church that was beautiful, both inside and outside.  When we arrived at the apple orchards, after a 10 minute walk, the girls had a blast running up and down the empty lanes between the rows of trees.  The trees just now have very small buds.  We all decided to come back every few weeks to track the progress of the trees and take pictures of how they change over time.  The best will be when we can actually pick an apple off the ground and eat it!  

One of the farm owners was gracious enough to give us our own tasting session when we arrived back at the main house.  The girls were deciphering between a dark and a light apple juice while Andrew and I debated between the cidre or calvados.  We ended up buying some honey, some calvados and some apple juice and cidre to accompany our picnic on the front porch.

The day was gloomy and drizzly so it was hard to decide what the family should do for their adventure today.  The farm proved to be a great choice.  We have already learned to dress for the weather (overdress, actually) and bring lots of extra clothes so we are always prepared for whatever rain or sun might invade.  The front porch being under a roof was great, as we quickly shifted our picnic from exposure to the rain to being sheltered.  And the man who was helping us during the tasting couldn't have been nicer.  Best of all, we have an outing we can go on every few weeks, that is just 10 minutes from our apartment, so we can track the progress of the apple tree growth.

Tonight, Andrew is out on the town.  He is at a tribute concert for AC/DC, Kiss and Led Zepplin with a friend and her husband.  I hope they are having a blast.  If you know Andrew very well, you know that one thing in life that makes him ecstatic is a concert - of almost any kind. Now, the Neil Diamond concert I dragged him to a few years back, not so ecstatic..but I digress.  I can't wait to hear from him how the music sounded and if the Grateful Dead t-shirt he wore fit in with the crowd's attire.

Not sure what we will do tomorrow.  The weather is going to be much of the same - cloudy, rainy and chilly.  I have had many requests for crepes for breakfast, so I guess we will start there!  

April 1-3, 2009: And Behind Door #2...

April 1-3, 2009:

This week has been rather low-key, hence my lack of blogs the past few days.  Ella was home sick on Tuesday and Thursday with an earache and a mighty cough which meant little by way of uncommon or crazy adventures.  She still has an awful cough, but I think it sounds worse than she feels.  Grace and Mia are doing well, no ills to speak of at this time.

Ella attended her first birthday party for a classmate on Wednesday afternoon.  Not sure if I should have let her go since she was sick, but I felt awful telling her she couldn't go to her first big party in France.  She begged, so I said OK.  When I dropped her off at the party, many of her classmates came over and gave her a hug and immediately started pulling her into games, so that was very relieving to see that friendships are being built.  When I picked her up from the party, she said she had a great time.  She was extremely excited about the magic her classmate's father had done.  The next few days at home entailed asking if Andrew and I knew any magic tricks.  Andrew and I were pulling anything we could think of from the back of our brains to "wow" Ella, Grace and Mia.  We came up with a few, and we cut the mustard for these youngsters, but you would not have been impressed!

On Friday morning Andrew and I had appointments for physicals which are a mandatory step before you can receive your French Visa.  Our appointments were in Caen and began at 8:30 a.m.  I had to walk the girls to school so I told Andrew to go ahead and be on time and I would be there shortly after.  It was my brisk walk to the medical facility from the school that proved to me that I finally am learning my way around Caen.  My past experiences would indicate getting lost many times and heavy frustration.  But I actually arrived within 10 minutes of leaving the school, cutting through allies and using William the Conqueror's castle as my landmark, just like I used to use Lake Michigan in Chicago for my compass.  

Upon arrival, I wasn't sure what to expect or if I would see Andrew.  I was directed to a waiting room. Within 5 minutes a man asked me to follow him and then instructed me to enter a very small room. This teeny-tiny room with a coat hook and a mirror had two doors.  I knew where I came from but did not know where the other door led.  So when I heard him ask me in French to take off my coat and then many other words I didn't understand, I wasn't sure what to do. Did he ask me to take off my coat...and my scarf?  Did he ask me to take off my coat... and my scarf and my shirt? Did he ask me to take of my coat...and everything else I had on - get naked? I had no idea!  What was on the other side of door #2?  1 doctor?  2 nurses?  80 people in a waiting room?  The hospital cafeteria?  This was a risky situation that could cause me to die of complete embarrassment.  I decided to take off my coat and scarf and hang up my purse but I was not doing anything else until I knew what was the dealio.  

Finally the door opened and a female nurse was there, staring at me and clearly annoyed at my clothed body.  Still, I didn't understand what exactly was being asked of me, but I knew it had to do with disrobing.  So I took one piece of clothing off at a time and then looked to see if she nodded or halted me on my progress when I would grab for the next layer.  I felt like I was playing strip poker or something with a stranger  - except this was not fun in any way.  The end result was a naked top-half.  And only a female nurse in the room.  It was a huge room with a monster x-ray machine.  She asked me to stand with my chest against a huge wall and arms spread out, I took a big breath, the x-ray was taken, and then it was all over.  This had been a very awkward situation.  I couldn't figure out for the life of me what they had just been x-raying.  Was I going to leave this physical with them declaring that I had cancer or heart disease?  It turns out, after speaking with a friend who has had this same physical, that they were screening for tuberculosis.  I still don't get it....Anyway, from there I was taken to another waiting room along with 6 other people.

Moments after the second waiting room, I saw Andrew come out of a door, shaking a doctor's hand. Good sign.  He must be done and stamped with approval.  And he can give me the scoop on my next event.  He tells me that next is a physical where I get fully unclothed (ugh!) and the doctor does some very simple tests like blood pressure, height, weight and medical history questions.  When it was my turn to go in, Andrew gratefully volunteered to come in with me.  It didn't end up being all that bad.  I showed the doctor (who spoke English, by the way!) my vaccination documentation, told him my medical info and then he did a very basic physical.  Shortly after that, we were shaking the doctor's hand and leaving with my stamp of medical approval - and an x-ray of my chest.  

From the physical, we quickly went to the Prefecture - the office the handles the paperwork and processing for our Visa - and gave him our stamps of approval.  He then asked us if we had the 600 Euros needed to finalize our Visa processing.  We did not.  I won't bore you with the details, but in the end we ended up withdrawing 600 Euros from the bank machine, going to another building, buying STAMPS from a man in denominations of 15 Euro and 55 Euro, bringing them back to the Prefecture, where they then licked the stamps and placed them in our Visa file.  We are hopeful this has concluded our Visa obstacle course and that they will be ready to pick up in a few weeks. Cross your fingers...

Friday night, I was invited to a new friends house for dinner with a few other women.  She lives in a lovely village called Thaon, just 15 minutes from our apartment. The three other women have lived in the Caen area for many years, so they are old friends with lots of information.  I was happy to leave with some potential babysitter information, some pediatrician and generalist doctor information, and hints on other places to go with the kids for outings.  It was a really fun night.  I am extremely lucky to have met these nice people.  I also left with an invitation to go see a concert the following night that was going to have tribute bands for Kiss, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and someone else. I gladly deferred this to Andrew, right up his alley....

Pictured above: Ella - she doesn't look too sick, right?; Just for fun, my tuberculosis-free chest x-ray.