Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June 30, 2009: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

(Pictured above: my parents on the train to Caen from Paris)

Well, it has been one of those car -> train -> subway -> subway -> airport shuttle -> airport shuttle -> subway -> subway -> train -> car days. You know what I mean? My sweet parents arrived into Paris today from Hamburg, Germany. For months I had planned to pick them up at the airport using the car. But as the days approached, I felt like our car kept getting bigger and bigger. My determination to drive to Paris was diminishing each and every day. Maneuvering the big old car around Paris just seemed beyond my abilities. So, I opted for the train and from there you know the rest of the story - see first sentence above.

The temperature today was unbelievable. Probably mid-80's and very humid. My parents arrived with lots of baggage. The metro trains in Paris have no air conditioning. Let's just stay I felt absolutely awful dragging my sweet parents around all of the trains today while they sweated their keesters off and dragged lots of baggage up and down broken escalators and stairs.

The good news is that we made it to Caen safe and sound. And the best news is that there is no bad news. Everything worked out just fine, just as it should. It was just a long, sweaty day. So with all that behind us and a fine meal in our bellies I hope tomorrow starts a great adventure for my parents here in France. I can't wait to show my father the D-Day beaches and my mother the lovely villages full of flowers and tasty treats. I can't wait for them to just relax and do nothing, as they wish. I can't wait for them to hang out with the girls and be amazed by how much they have changed. And mostly I can't wait to just be with my family.

Regarding other items, the girls have their last day of school on Thursday! They are very excited. I have discovered a school that is bi-lingual in English and French and they are going there tomorrow (Wednesday) to try it out. If they like it, they will go there a few days a week during the month of July. So far, all three of the girls are very excited about the prospects of this school. I think they heard the words, "English", "garden", "trampoline" and "modern bathrooms" and thought they may have just heard of what seems to be heaven. So we'll see what happens - I hope they like the school. Then I just need to figure out what to do with them on Tuesdays and Thursday!

Everything else is pretty steady around here. The temperature has been quite hot and the air humid. That prompted us to buy 4 fans last night. I think we all slept a little better with the cool gusts of air. Andrew's parents made it home safely from here in Caen. They are now off on a roadtrip to see friends. Andrew remains busy with his job and studying French. He now has a new tutor and just tonight I caught him doing homework and studing.

I know it was quick, but that is it for now. Hopefully in the next few days we will have some trips to report back on. A few days ago Andrew and his dad took the girls to Falaise (William the Conqueror's birth place) and I hope he will blog about that fun trip sometime soon.

Til next time!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

June 27, 2009: Polar Bear Club Anyone?

Ugh. Someone with some awful karaoke skills is torturing my ears right now. There is this bar across the street from our apartment. It is this particular bar and our windows that have made me realize that a highly skilled architect designed our apartment to 1) act as a wind tunnel - a window open on the first floor will cause all other doors and windows on the third floor to shut with a bang and 2) take all sound coming from the street and surrounding areas and amplify it as though it were booming through a load speaker into our bedroom windows. But that isn't really the point of my blog. I just wanted to bring you into the life and times of city livin' in Caen as a blogger blogs.

On to my point (but not any more important, mind you!). There is not much new around here. The other day I noticed that the hot water heater seemed to be acting funny. A red light was on and the water was not heating but nothing was making loud beeps or blinking, so I thought it couldn't be a deadly issue. I made a mental note to ask the apartment manager about it sine day (adding it to my list of 5 other things) and proceeded on with the day. Later in the day I tried to start making dinner and the stove top burners would not light. Click click click click. No fire. So now I have decided to call the water heater dude and ask what might be the problem. Much to Andrew's dads surprise, the water heater dude has agreed to come within the hour. Yes, here in France they actually work later hours and don't charge you extra after 5 pm!

Just before the water heater dude arrived, Andrew got home from work. I explained to Andrew that the water heater would not light and that the stove would not light. Mystery, still, to us all. Finally the water heater dude came. He took a quick look at the water heater. He tried to light the stove. He then proceeded to ask if we had paid our gas bill. To my knowledge, yes, we had paid it. I asked Andrew, and he said yes, all of our bills are on automatic bill pay. Despite this very confident answer, Andrew accompanied the water heater dude down to the gas meter, only to find it newly fitted with what I would describe as something similar to a Chicago Boot for a car, only for a gas meter. Our gas meter got the boot.

Now, I assure you that us Haverkampf's pride ourselves in being prompt bill payers. On time, early, prompt. So you can imagine Andrew's frustration when he realized that he had never set up a gas account for us and had never once paid a gas bill since living in the apartment. You might be wondering how that is possible, to not realize that you haven't paid a gas bill in 4 months and I can't say that I really know the answer other than he really thought it was getting paid each month out of our bank account. And he came to realize quickly that despite his best intentions and planning upon arrival in France many months back, he never set up a gas account. And this is the reason the gas company booted the gas meter and cut off our gas. This happened on Thursday and today is now Saturday. Andrew had made many phone calls and then asked a co-worker to make some phone calls on his behalf and has now been given the possibility of gas this coming Monday. Cross your fingers.

Such are the perils of living in a foreign country where you don't speak the language. Sure, Andrew has made great progress with his French skills in the past few months. But when he first arrived, he was running on Rosetta Stone fumes and a few phrases learned from French audio tapes. So it is no wonder he might have missed one or two important things in the moving in stages.

A few weeks ago I was telling Ella about going to camp and how fun it was as a child. I told her about Camp Lutherhaven in Indiana where I went for many summers. The reason the topic of camp came up was because I was teaching the girls songs I learned at camp and they were asking me how I knew all these songs. And most songs I know are from camp or elementary school. She then asked me what camp was like and about friends I made and activities I did and what it was like to sleep away from home. I told her about going in the out door and out the in door and having to kiss the "moose" when that happened in the cafeteria. I told her about joining the Polar Bear Club, which is basically getting woken up at the crack of dawn with a bunch of other crazy people and jumping in the freezing cold lake each morning. I told her about how it is so important to be one of the first people awake so you can get a nice warm shower - otherwise if you are one the last the water is cold. She liked all of these stories and all of the songs I knew. She can't wait to go to camp!

So, I can't help but draw a parallel to the very cold showers we have been taking here at the house to the Polar Bear Club and the cold showers at camp. We have Suzie and Peter here and it is bad enough that they have to take cold sponge baths or showers. Andrew and I can quickly shiver our way through a cold shower. But the girls are none-to happy about cold showers or baths. To help ease the problem, I bought a portable induction stove top burner. I use it to boil some water to add to a very shallow pool of cold water in the bathtub and also to make grilled cheeses, etc... for meals. The baths are still cool, but they seem to manage through a quick bath. I am hoping that we really get the gas turned back on Monday as told. But in anticipation of one or two more cold baths in the meantime and the need for a little motivation, I plan on making all of us certificates that make us lifetime members of the French Polar Bear Club. Except instead of a cold lake at the crack of dawn, our wet welcome is a chilly yellow bathtub.

On another note, Suzie is still ill. I have never seen Suzie sleep as much, eat as little, drink as little or talk as little as in the past 4 days. She did manage to come out to dinner tonight with us while the babysitter took care of the girls. But I could tell she still wasn't being herself. What a bummer, huh? I bet a nice hot shower would make her feel much better...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 25, 2009: Turning Words and Pictures into Reality

Yesterday was quite fun. Suzie, Peter and I took the girls to Giverny to see Claude Monet's house and gardens. The reason this trip was so great is because of a book that our neighbor gave the girls. The book is called Linnea in Monet's Garden. A few weeks before we moved our neighbors Sherri and Bill Crittendon had the girls over for a few hours. Sherri and Bill were so kind, giving me time to pack for France and get organized. While the girls were at their house, they did all kinds of arts and crafts and read books and played with tons of cool toys. But the most memorable part of that day was this book Sherri and Bill gave the girls about Monet. Ever since that day, the girls paw through the pages, just looking at the paintings, looking at the young girl Linnea, looking at the adventures she went on in France. Andrew and I would tell the girls that they, too, would one day get to visit Monet's house and gardens, just like Linnea.

The ride to Giverny from Caen took about 2 hours. Ella was quite content with her new DS - I don't think she made a peep the whole ride other than to say maybe 8 times that her DS was the greatest gift she had ever received. Grace and Mia on the other hand were not so content. They were car sick. Fortunately, after many a car trip here in France, I am VERY well prepared before I leave the house. I know exactly what is required for any possible distraction, road block or surprise. So I was well prepared pulling out my goods when Mia needed a barf bag in the car, a towel to wife off her face, a kleenex to blow her nose apres-barf, water to quench her thirst and a slice of bread to sooth a hungry tummy. All while I was driving the CTA bus. Grace went through the same routine. Poor Suzie's back must have been crying out for help, as she dove to the ground to pick up this and that and remaining agile for intercepting a puke. Thanks Suzie!!

When we finally arrived to Giverny around 11:00 a.m. we all sighed with relief. It was a beautiful day, sunny and kind of hot. We had packed a pic-nic and decided to eat it right away. Our parking space was right across from the entrance to the house and gardens so we really lucked out. Just after entry into the visitors center, the adventure began! First off, right inside the door, there was a copy of Claude Monet's painting Water Lily Pond. Ella had come prepared with a sketch book to draw things she saw and the Linnea book. So she took out the book and the very first page which she knew so well was the very painting that was right in front of her. All three of the girls were beside themselves with excitement. To turn this book they had known for months into a real place was a true event for all of us.

Next, we all headed out to see the gardens. They were very pretty, lots of poppies and foxgloves and roses. Cement paths wound through rows of flower beds and around ponds. The girls kept asking Suzie what the names of all the types of flowers were because they just know that "Gaga" knows about flowers and plants! Now, Grace had the Linnea book. She was stopping to look at pictures in the book and see if what she was looking at was something she had seen before. She was very serious about it all! Ella was busy taking pictures with the new camera she got for her birthday from Auntie M. And Mia was just busy taking off.

The ultimate moment came when we finally approached the ponds of water lilies and
the bridges over the pond. People were crowded all around just trying to get a good view of these lilies. I thought the pond was beautiful and I thought the lilies were beautiful but what I really like most is the painting of the pond and water lilies. The vision that Monet put on canvas leaves a lot to the imagination - what is outside the lines of the painting, what is just beyond the pond, are there people in the background, was there a dog sitting next to him as he painted or a glass of lemonade? Here, as I looked at the water lily pond, I was slightly disappointed to see people across from me, tainting my view of the bridge across the pond. This vision didn't match my imagination of this beautifully painted scene. My disappointment didn't last long, as a comment from Grace really made me and many others smile. I was trying to get her to move away from the edge of the bridge (so as not to fall in) and as I called her over to me, she said, "Mommy, I really like these water lilies. But why aren't they all smeary?" I guess she really had studied those paintings in the book...and thought the painting was the reality. Love it!

After the gardens, we left to see Claude Monet's house. Unfortunately, at this point, we lost Suzie. She decided to sit out the house tour and instead opted for a sit on a bench. She was not feeling well. So Peter and I took the girls through this house that was very unique and charming. It was a sizable two story pink house with gorgeous views to the ponds and gardens from almost all windows. The paint colors for the rooms (think yellow walls with blue trim) were bold yet completely fitting for this house. The kitchen was pretty much all blue and white patterned tiles, a big table, just what you need for a family of ten! I decided I could live at this house quite happily.

That concluded the Claude Monet field trip. We picked up Suzie from her bench, where we discovered she was still feeling awful, and headed back to Caen. Peter drove the two hours while Suzie took a nap, Ella played her DS, and I controlled the DVD player for Grace and Mia. Once we got home, Suzie was out for the count! Other than two times today when I saw her retrieve some water and ice, she didn't emerge until about 3:30 p.m. today. I feel badly, like anyone who visits us gets sick in one way or another. Nonsense, right?

So that was our Monet adventure. We all had a great time but the greatest pleasure of all was seeing the girls link a book they knew so well to a real place with a real story.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 23, 2009: All the Little Things Add Up

Lately, I haven't been blogging as much as usual because I thought that not much was going on in our French world. As you might expect, after 4 months of living here things are beginning to feel normal - not quite so abstract. Days and nights pass without anything unique or different than what you might experience during a typical day. As each day passes, little things happen but not enough to blog about. But tonight as I am sitting here thinking about what to blog about I realize that there are TONS of things to tell you. I sit here making a list of things to include in today's blog and all those little things are adding up... to quite a long blog!

The beautiful rose gardens at La Colline

The family at La Colline

Let's start with last Saturday. We all piled into the CTA bus and went to show off one of our favorite parks in Caen - La Colline aux Oiseaux - to Suzie and Peter. I have posted photo's before of this park in previous blogs but none like you will see on this blog. The flowers are just beautiful right now. Particularly the rose gardens. We managed to spend about three hours at La Colline just running around, playing at the play area and looking at all the gardens. After our trip to the park, we all went back to Caen and grabbed some sandwiches for lunch and ate them on the lawn of Chateau Ducal right in the city center. From them, I separated from the group to get some shopping done for Ella's birthday party to take place the next day. The rest went to La Ferme de Billy to see how the apple trees have progressed and to taste and buy some Calvados (they just bottled their 20 year aged Calvados and it is yummy!) and apple juice. Later that night, after the girls were in bed, we played the French version of Yahtzee. I saw it at the store and I couldn't resist buying this game. It is called Yam! in France. It was fun! But why the name "Yahtzee" doesn't work all over the world is beyond me.

Sunday was a busy day. Suzie and Peter got up bright and early and started their three day road trip to the Loire Valley. They planned on visiting wineries and castles until Tuesday. Andrew left shortly after with Grace and Mia. They took the train to Cherbourg to see an aquarium called La Cite de la Mer. Andrew planned this day long trip with the twins so Ella and I could prepare for her birthday party. From what I understand, they had a great train ride and visit to the aquarium. He'll have to blog about it sometime with the details as I don't recall hearing anything out of the ordinary about the trip.

The tiles the girls painted at Ella's birthday party.
The princesses hurling balloons at the parking lot wall.
A decorated cupcake for Ella's birthday.

All the girls coming to throw water balloons.

At 1:30 p.m. Ella's birthday party began. Four girls came to the party out of the five invited. All came dressed in their princess dresses as indicated on the invitation. What a cute bunch of princesses they were! Ella had made three requests for her birthday party: 1. dress like princesses 2. decorate your own cupcakes and 3. throw water balloons at a target. So I blew up about 40 water balloons, I baked cupcakes and bought tons of toppings for them. Other than the cupcakes, I had a goal of absolutely no candy or junk food at the party. I just wanted to see if this was possible to do. Every party Ella goes to ends with tons of candy and ice cream and cakes and it kindof bothers me! So I also prepared a veggie and fruit tray with some cheese cubes and popped some popcorn. I knew one of the ways to keep them frow noticing the lack of tasty treats was to keep them occupied. So I also made them all coloring books with pictures of princesses to color and planned a craft where they all decorated white floor tiles (I just bought loose ones) with paints and stickers and glue and glitter. And guess what! Not one of them asked for or mentioned the candyless party. Ella was pleased with her party. She did just what she wanted and all of the girls got along great. But I bet their favorite part was hurling water balloons at the target in the parking lot. They were so funny to watch. And I did notice that all conversations took place in French. I am so proud of my little Ella.

Sunday night was...awful. For a lot of people, Sunday night was really great. Apparently every year in France on June 21 there is a city-wide (maybe even country-wide) music festival. There are bands and D.J.'s on every square inch of the streets and sidewalks. So for the thousands who were actually able to attend the festival until the wee hours of the night, I am sure they had great fun. But for those of us who live in the center of the city - not so great. Our windows were shaking from the speakers until 4:00 a.m. and after that the street cleaning cars came promptly out (I know this because I didn't sleep at all that night) to clean up all the spilt beers and trash left on the ground. Earlier in the night, we met up with a friend and her children and walked around a bit. We grabbed some dinner and danced to some reggae - that was all great fun. But from there, it was all down hill. Andrew says he slept fine - go figure!

Yesterday (Monday) I visited the Musee de Beaux-Arts at the Chateau Ducal here in Caen. I went with the wife of one of Andrew's colleagues. Neither one of us had been and with three hours to burn we figured why not see something new? Many of the paintings were from the 16th and 17th centuries. Lots of greek mythology and cherubs and saints. I thought the paintings were just amazing. There was also a whole room dedicated to architectural drawings of historical buildings here in Caen. Our apartment was one of those drawings so that was pretty neat to see.

The tractor/Farmers strike!

Last night we had five of Andrew's work colleagues, who are visiting from the states, over for drinks before they went out to dinner. We started with some tasty champagne, then went to tasty wine and then figured it was a good idea to end with some tasty Calvados. Fortunately, someone came up with a good idea to order some pizza so we also consumed loads of Pizza Hut. Somewhere in the middle of it all we noticed a lot of honking in the streets and witnessed a strike of farmers - driving their tractors down the road and blocking traffic. What started out as just cocktails and light appetizers turned out to be a late night of drinking, dinner and lots of laughs. It was one of those nights where I laughed so hard I cried and you just can't complain about that no matter how late you get to bed!

Tuesday, was a big day. Ella turned 6 years old! The day started with her wearing a new pretty dress to school that I gave her when she woke up. She celebrated with some treats at school. I brought her some fresh cut flowers at the end of school which she totally loved. And for dinner I made all of her favorites - grilled cheese, cheesy and buttery noodles, broccoli, cantaloupe and chicken. And for dessert I took her out for an ice cream cone. We all had a nice birthday dinner with Ella. She also opened her gifts with great enthusiasm. You have never seen a happier person when she opened her first gift. It was a Nintendo DS game that Suzie and Peter and Andrew and I got her. It is all she has talked about for months and to see her face today when she opened up her very own was just priceless. She was also very excited about the digital camera that her Uncle Remy and Auntie M got her. All in all I would say her birthday was a great success!

Suzie and Peter arrived back this evening just in time for Ella's birthday celebration. They came bearing gifts of delicious wines from the Loire Valley and tons of great photo's. I'll have to get one of them to guest blog about their trip so we can get all the details.

Also yesterday, my parents arrived into Paris from Chicago. They arrived around 9:30 a.m. and then had a grueling 6 hour layover before flying to Hamburg and then finally getting to Pinneberg to visit our German relatives. I just spoke with them and they arrived safely. My mom's suitcase didn't make it there - lost - but she is staying positive. An excuse to shop, she says! Next week, they will fly from Hamburg to Paris and they will then stay with us for 3 weeks. I can't wait!!!

Tomorrow, all of us (except Andrew) are going to see Giverny. Giverny is where Claude Monet's home and gardens were located and where he was inspired to paint many of his paintings over a span of more than 40 years. Although I think anyone would want to see this if given the opportunity, this has special significance because of a book that was given to the girls just before we moved to France. Our neighbor Sheri Crittendon, who lives across the street from us in Crested Butte, gave them a great book about a girl who goes to visit Giverny with a family member and the girls have loved the book ever since. For them to see the actual place is amazing.

So, now you can see what I mean. So many little things happening that didn't seem to merit a blog post but now they made up one huge one. I think I had better begin to blog more often

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 19, 2009: And that Concludes the End of our Tour

Sunday was a fun day. The school that the girls attend celebrated it's 100th anniversary. Each of the classes prepared a show for all of the parents and families. There was a picnic and games. The girls got to dress up for the show - they had a blast. The show's theme was about the progression of time so it started with cavemen and cavewomen and ended with flappers. I took a few pictures but they didn't turn out too great. Overall, Andrew and I were impressed with the show. We were also impressed with fact that all three girls seemed to memorize a school song in French, as they sing it all the time now at home. It makes us relieved, as they have to be learning something, right?

Wednesday was my birthday! My first birthday in France! Ella will have her birthday here in France next week. For Ella's birthday on June 23, she decided that she wanted to invite over 5 girls from her class. She want's to have a party where they all dress up like princesses, where they throw water balloons at a target outside and where they all decorate their own cupcakes - but just one cupcake. For me, no problem. I can work easily with these requests. I think I will have Andrew be the target for the water balloon war! Her party will be on Sunday afternoon, June 21. So here is to happy princess- water ballon-cupcake land!

Peter and Suzie, Andrew's parents, arrived earlier this week without any problems. They came with the typical jet lag, but are back to their merry selves. On Wednesday we went to Juno Beach in Courseulles-sur-Mer, and met up with some friends. One is expecting a child ANY day now (hoping you deliver soon, Carih!) and another is moving in a few weeks way far away just outside of Strasbourg (we'll miss you Alice!) so it worked out nice that the weather was perfect for a beach outing. Wednesday night, Peter and Suzie watched the girls while Andrew and I went out for dinner at Le Bouchon du Vaugueux here in Caen. Dinner was yummy. I love when Andrew and I can go out by ourselves because he fills me in on how things are progressing at his office. I am more proud of him and his accomplishments every day - his French is amazing considering he learned his first French word back in November.

On Thursday night, Andrew and I attended our first dinner party here in Caen. The friend of mine whom I go running with invited us over and she also invited 2 other couples. We had a really great time. How thoughtful was my friend to invite couples that speak English well - one an English teacher in Caen and another who works internationally and is fluent in English. Andrew and I tried to speak French most of the night but when we obviously had no clue what the conversation taking place was about, these thoughtful women were very considerate to explain in English. The hosts couldn't have been more generous and the other couples we met were so very nice. We can't wait to attend another French dinner party, again!

Today was pretty low key around here. Suzie and I managed to buy a seriously-anticipated gift for Ella's birthday (it starts with a D and ends with an S with no letters in between). We met up with Andrew for lunch. We visited what is known to be the best Street Market here in Caen. The fruits and vegetables, the meats and cheeses, the fresh fish. It really is the best one I have seen yet. I will definitely be going back to this market on Fridays as often as I can.

Tonight, Andrew has taken a huge undertaking: he took the girls to see the new Hannah Montana movie. You see, the girls have not watched a lick of T.V. in over 3 weeks! Our new punishment for getting out of bed for reasons other than going potty are to take away T.V. This is by far a record for us - we typically let the girls watch T.V. every day, usually at night. But we have held strong with our punishment and so I anticipate that the girls will be beside themselves when they see anything moving on a screen. I hope they have fun! I am sitting here with Suzie and Peter - Andrew's parents. While they watch a rented movie on Apple TV I am catching up on blogging.

Nothing much is new around here in Caen. The past few days of weather have been really great. So great in fact that Suzie had to go out and buy some more short-sleeved shirts and shorts. The last time she and Peter were here it was February and freezing and I really think she and Peter didn't think the weather could ever be comfortable here in Caen. But blue skies and fluffy white clouds have welcomed them every day. That is not to say that tomorrow won't be rainy and cloudy - it very well could be! I have noticed a lot of tourist-type activities starting up. Specifically, pretty much each day when I leave the apartment there is a group of school kids and their teacher in our parking lot. Our apartment is a stop on their historical tour of Caen! There is also a trolley that goes by a few times each day. They, too, are stopping in front of our apartment and pointing and hearing about the apartment's history. And with my luck, these stops usually happen as I am exiting the apartment. And all I can think of is how uneventful is must be to see a modern, typical woman exiting an apartment that dates back to the 15th century. I feel like I should be dressed in historical costumes with corsets, hair clips made of whale bone and tons of lace and taffeta. Surely that would make the tours more interesting! Maybe I could make our apartment the best stop of them all, it would become the grande finale. The tourists see a historical figure descend the stairs of the Hotel de Than (who is actually going to Monoprix for dish soap) and that will conclude the end of the tour. It's a thought...

Pictured above: The market today in Caen; Ella cutting my angel food cake brought from a Northfield, Illinois Dominicks by Suzie and decorated by the girls; Peter and Suzie at Juno Beach; Grace and Mia eating treats at the School Show; Ella eating a cookie at the School Show.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

June 14, 2009: The Scoop

I feel like I haven't really given you the "scoop" lately about what is going on around here for us in Caen.  So as the clock strikes 12:00 a.m. here, allow me the liberty of doing 2 blog posts in 20 minutes!

Things are going pretty steady, pretty normal.  School continues to go well for the girls.  Ella seems to be making some close friends. Her French seems to be progressing very well.  She even corrects me when I speak a word with incorrect annunciation.  The other day I was saying the word "tres" (which means "very") and I was apparently pronouncing the "r" incorrectly.  Not conjuring up enough spit .  Ella moved on to tell me how to say "tres" and we ended up in a laughing fit because I really thought she was going to hocker all over the kitchen table.  When we go out to stores or talk with other French people, they are impressed by her accent and she raises eyebrows.  So she is as smart as we thought and as strong as we thought!  And she is no doubt a testament to how learning a new language at such a young age is very beneficial.  I also know she is understanding things at school because I ask her questions about other students or what happened at school a particular day and she can tell me without hesitancy.  She tells me about all kinds of things that she learns at school and she tells me in English. So something has to be sinking in, right?

Grace continues to sleep through naptime without wetting her pants.  Shew!  At the end of the day, who really knows why, but why question it?  She will slip in some French words here and there, at home. Many times what she says is out of context, but I take it as progress if she speaks any French words without prompting.  Her teachers seem to be warming up to her, but Grace continues to be shy.  In the morning her teacher will come up and give her a hug or ask how she is and she will bury her face into my shirt. But when I leave she gives me two kisses and then is off and happy as a clam.  So though I wish she could be friendlier with her teachers, I can't complain that she is willingly going to school each day and happy at the end of the day when I pick her up.

Mia is a little different.  Whereas I walk Grace to her class in the morning, Mia takes off all by herself and goes straight to her class, hangs up her back-pack and coat and heads directly to the book area.  I know this because after I drop off Grace, I head to Mia's room to make sure everything is OK and I find her sitting contently looking at a book.  At the end of the day, she is usually the one with a cut or scrape on her knee and tons of stains on her shirts.  She really seems to get into it all, no matter what that "all" is.  She has some friends the give her hugs and try to find her first thing in the morning so I think she is OK, also.  As well, her teacher tells me all the time what a great idea it was to split up Grace and Mia into different classes.  So in all, school is going well.

Tomorrow there is a 100 year celebration of the school they attend!  I think it is a combo celebration of year-end and 100 years.  All of the students have been practicing songs and performances.  Mia and Ella must dress up as princesses and Grace must dress up as a messy prehistoric man.  I signed up to make two batches of goodies and Andrew signed up to help take down the seating at the end of the party.  All good stuff - we'll let you know how the party goes.

This past Thursday I took Grace to a doctor.  A homeopath, actually.  She has had a wet cough for more than 2 months so Andrew and I were both getting worried.  Now, I won't bore you with the dreary and typical details of me getting lost and being late, but I will tell you the doctor couldn't have been more nice or patient.  She prescribed Grace some medicine for her running nose and her cough and we are to report back in 10 days if not better.  Andrew told me that Grace coughed up some major gross stuff today, so I have to think the medicine is doing something helpful for her.  I thought it was allergies or asthma based on my childhood ailments but maybe not?

Ella went to a birthday party today for a classmate and had a blast.  Unfortunately, when I picked her up, she was complaining of an earache.  So we'll see what happens with that.  She is looking forward to having a very small birthday party next weekend.  She just wants to have over three girls from class, dress up as princesses where they decorate their own cupcakes and throw water balloons at a target.  Isn't that funny?  I think I can accommodate that.

I have been running on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a mother, now a friend, from the girls' school.  This has been fun for me.  She calls me her "coach" because she is running further and faster than she has in the past.  We also help each other with French and English while we run so that is even better!  Best of all, she has invited Andrew and I over to dinner this coming week for a dinner party. Our first one!  Andrew and I like her and her husband very much so we are looking forward to this.  Peter and Suzie - this will be Thursday night. Can you babysit????

Andrew has been traveling off and on the past few weeks for work.  It seems like he has had some good meetings with existing and potential clients.  More business is good news so we will hope those meetings turn into loads!

Andrew's parents arrive here in Caen on June 16.  We are all thrilled to see family!  They will stay until June 29 and then my parents arrive on June 30 after having spend 1 week in Pinneberg, Germany visiting our relatives.  My parents will stay here in Caen until around July 21.  Count on lots of fun adventures and pictures to be posted on the blog during that time.

In August, we are heading back to Crested Butte for three weeks.  We are all so excited and looking forward to this trip.  My sister an her sons will be visiting us while we are in Crested Butte so that makes it even better!

I am happy to report that after my first horrible batch of apple sauce I have now successfully made apple sauce. I got a quick lesson from the shop that sold me the food mill, I went and bought 20 more apples and I added some strawberries  and apricots and now we are in business.  Much better!

From the "wasteless" front, I have made three homemade solutions for cleaning and air freshening.  So far, so good!

Anyway, that is the summary of what's going on around here at the moment.  We hope all is well with you.  Stay "wasteless" and "happy"!

Pictured above: The cleaning solutions I made; My second shot at making apple sauce, apples stewing on the stove.

June 13, 2009: It's Okay to Stop and Walk

I can remember so vividly the days of cross country and track practice and meets where I wanted so badly to just stop and walk.  Just for a few seconds.  To catch my breath, give my legs a rest, regroup myself, get my pace in order.  I can remember slowing down and watching others pass me by, each person with each step coasting by would take a breath away from me, make me want to stop even more.  But I couldn't.  I couldn't stop and walk. At least I didn't think I could.  What would my coach think if I quit? Gave up? Took a breather and walked a second?  Surely, they would think less of me.  Surely, they would pay less attention to me and spend more time with that person who passed me by and showed more effort, had more stamina.  So I didn't stop to walk.  That pressure was good at the time - whatever drove me to keep running, keep trying was good then.  But is that same pressure good now?

Yesterday I was running on the track and I began to think about those days where stopping to walk was just unacceptable - even if in my own mind.  Although yesterday I was feeling good, keeping a comfortable pace, I did think about stopping to walk.  It happened right after someone passed me on the track.  All of the sudden I felt somewhat defeated and breathless, and I was running in a track meet all over again.  But then I was overcome with great relief.  I was not running in a track meet, in a cross-country meet. There was no coach or teammates or parents watching my performance.  There was no one judging my running that day or comparing me to anyone else.  I COULD stop and walk if I wanted to!  So I did.

So after I decided to stop and walk, I began to think about life.  Surprise, surprise!  I get way to deep when I am running... Anyway, I was thinking about how life gets so busy, so full of errands and appointments and social obligations.  How I used to feel so compelled to be perfect and on time and efficient and how I felt like I hadn't accomplished anything if I hadn't checked off everything on my to-do list that day.  But I realized that the past few months I have slowly moved away from that pressure to keep going and going and going.  Maybe it's because I knew that I might implode if I didn't stop going and going and going.  Maybe it's because once I quit working and I knew what 30 free minutes was like, it gave me the added incentive to relax and figure out how to relax.  I honestly think it's a combination of many things in life.  

I typically make myself a to-do list every day.  It's a habit that I cannot break after 10 years of doing this at work.  I also record every appointment or reminder on my iPhone (formerly my Blackberry) as a matter of habit.  But the difference now is that if I don't get all the to-do's marked off, who cares?  There is always tomorrow!   And if I didn't get it done today like I had wanted, maybe it wasn't all that important anyway?  The pressure to get it all done has been somewhat relieved.  And the guilt that used to accompany a missed to-do is pretty much obsolete.  

Now don't get me wrong.  I like to be efficient.  I like looking at a completed to-do list and the sense of accomplishment when it is all crossed off.  But I also don't mind taking a little time for myself now if it's needed and putting something off until tomorrow or the next day.  I can stop and walk if I need to.  If I want to.

We all have different lives, different obligations, different to-do lists.  But I don't think we all stop to consider that despite all these things you really do have permission to stop and walk if you need to.  And I highly encourage you to do it every now and again.  And don't worry. You will still finish the race - who really cares whether first or last. Just finish!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June 9, 2009: You Are The Apple In My Eye

In my previous post, "Natural Selection", I had committed to sharing the progress I make in reducing waste.  You are probably wondering how one might use a whole blog to discuss apples, but here goes...

My children have a renewed interest in apple sauce since living here in France.  The reason?  They make it really fun to eat.  It comes in single serving pouches with straws.  The girls like to inhale the apple sauce very quickly and then keep the pouch and fill it with air or water and use it as a squirt gun.  They also have tons of flavors and the surprise of what one might get is exciting.  So it became obvious to me the other day that I need to start making apple sauce at home for a variety of reasons.  First, to stop producing so much garbage - they each eat at least one of these apple sauce pouches per day. Second, to prevent the apple sauce squirts that appear all over the girls and my walls that occur from post-apple sauce consumption empty pouches.  Third, we live in an area of France that produces TONS of apples and apple season is here so it should be cheap and easy to get access to tasty apples. Fourth, I came across a recipe in my favorite cookbook for apple sauce.  Fifth, no preservatives or additives make this a truly pure and healthy treat. Required?  Apples and water. Easy, right?

Upon a quick review of my cooking pots (sparse), it became clear that I needed a huge stockpot to cook the apples.  My intent was to make a ton and freeze it for easy replenishment.  So I invested in an affordable stock pot (28 Euros).  I then discovered that once I cooked the apples I would need a way to press the apple puree apart from the apples skins and seeds.  Initially I had visions of my mother as a child.  She would cook the apples (or cherries or grapes or tomatoes) and then put them into a huge cone-like funnel with strainer type holes and then press the cooked item through with a pestle.  My version of this was going to be a strainer I already had and a spoon to press the apples through.  But I had second thoughts. The recipe said that if you didn't have a food mill, now was the time to invest if you were serious about making apple sauce.  And I am.  So today I invested in a food mill (45 Euros).

With stock pot and food mill at hand, now all I needed was apples.  So I went down to my favorite fruit and veggie stand and asked for 10 local apples (4 Euros).  Carrying home the apples, I was having some doubts about having enough containers to hold all the piles of tasty apple sauce that my 10 apples would produce.  But I deduced that if I scoured the house and used all available containers I should be fine.

As indicated, I first added the 1/2 inch water to the bottom of the stock pot.  I washed the apples, sliced them into quarters and then added them to the water in the stock pot.  For the next 30 minutes or so I simmered and stirred the apples.  This was quite easy to do while I made dinner.  In fact, I started to question why I hadn't been making apple sauce up until now - what a cinch!  And with my new food mill, pureeing the apples would be so quick.  I was excited to share this apple sauce for dessert after dinner.

The apples were ready for the food mill just as I finished dinner. So I decided to wait until after dinner to speed the apples through for dessert.  When we were all finished eating, I excused my self to go and get dessert. I said it might take me 5 or 6 minutes tops, so to sit tight...

I started to assemble the food mill.  It came with three different strainer sizes.  Once I chose the right size, I merely had to attach the turning mechanism that pushes the apples through the strainer.  Now for some reason, that was not an easy task for me!  I kept looking for instructions in the box but there was nothing.  Eventually, I was able to force the turning mechanism to attach but I noticed it was nearly impossible to actually turn the handle.  Five minutes later I decided that it must turn easier once the apple sauce is added.  Probably lubricates the strainer part and produces apple sauce galore!

I added about 1/3 of the apples from the stock pot and excitedly began to try and turn the handle of the food mill.  Funny, I thought. Still tough to turn.  But I kept going.  And three turns into it disaster struck.  I mean I was literally forcing this handle to turn and all of the sudden the whole food mill just exploded, fell apart.  Apple remnants and juices flew with all the parts of the flying food mill and coated my shirt, shot me in the eye, splattered the walls and the counters.  Un-freaking-believable is all I could think!  This seemingly easy task had turned into a huge mess that momentarily blinded me!  

You can be sure I was not about to try and use that food mill, again, at least not for the night.  Andrew and the girls had no idea what was occurring in the kitchen.  This was a "closed-door-set" fortunately.  But it had been about 15 minutes now and they were all wondering what in the world was the hold up for a bowl of applesauce?  Cussing under my breath (I hope) while sponging up apple in the kitchen, I knew I had to deliver on my promise of apple sauce.  So what did I do?  I ended up putting the apples in a strainer and pressing the apples through with a spoon.  Like I had originally thought of doing.  10 minutes more later,  I finished.  Apple sauce. Voila!

Do you have any idea how much apple sauce is yielded from 10 apples?  Well, remember I was worried about having enough storage containers for all the excess.  And the reality is that we all had one serving each of the apple sauce and I was able to use half of a very small container to hold the leftovers.  Which will be gone by noon tomorrow.  

As you might expect, the appreciation from the girls and Andrew once I finally served this creation was not nearly up to the level that I needed after almost losing my eyesight while trying to provide them with healthy, homemade apple sauce.  But to be fair, they have no idea about the trials and tribulations one can encounter on the journey to a perfect batch of apple sauce.  I also don't serve mine in pouches with straws so automatically my apple sauce is inferior.  Personally, I think it tasted really good.  And it was nice and warm just like my mom's used to be.

Alas, despite a rocky start, I plan to keep making apple sauce.  But next time I won't wear a new shirt.  Also, I will try to find a tutorial on YouTube or something on how to assemble and use a food mill.   No one said the journey to Wasteless Land would be easy or injury-free, right?

P.S.  Above, I was quoting the prices of what it cost me to buy the supplies needed to make homemade apple sauce. The end result was 79 Euros.  I thought it was important to supply this information because one might think that it is cheaper just to buy apple sauce at the store after spending money on supplies.  But I did the math and after buying about 50 pouches of apple sauce - which lasts about 10 days in my house - you have already began saving money on making it yourself.

Pictured above: The fun apple sauce pouch with straw.  Regretfully, I didn't take a picture of my apple sauce explosion!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Game, Set, and Match

Hi all - it's Andrew writing as the sun finally sets (10.25pm) and the last few rain drops fall on Saturday the 6th.

There was a lot of anticipation leading up to the day when President Obama would come to Caen for a visit. A lot of that anticipation fizzled when all reports pointed to the sad realization that there would be no single way a regular person would be able to get even a glimpse of Barack Obama, his car, plane, helicopter, speech, etc. So - what's a guy to do when all he can see of the leader of the free world is his police barricades? What else, other than head to the French Open with one of his daughters - this time it was Ella.

I told Ella about the trip just before bed time last night - we had to hit the sac early and had to hit the road just after 7am in order to make our train on time. Both of us got up on time and were on our way before Grace and Mia even had a bite of cereal. Backpack in tow, we went out the front gate of the apartment to the Caen tram - called the Twisto - and took a 5 minute ride to the train station. The timing was amazing - we had to wait on the platform for exactly one minute before the Twisto came; at the train station we had just enough time to grab a few croissants, some coffee, a bottle of water, and two train tickets before jumping on the train - which left literally exactly one minute after we hopped on.

The train ride was nice - Ella and I played Tic-Tac-Toe, she colored, I read the NYT on my phone, and we chatted back and forth throughout the two hour trip to Paris St Lazar train station. Arriving just before 10am, we went right down to the underground Metropolitan (Metro) subway station. We found out what stop was near Roland Garros and I read the tiny tourist map to figure out what lines to take. Amazingly enough, we headed in the right direction and found ourselves a quarter of a mile away from the French Open in barely a half an hour.

The rain was really falling when we exited the Metro and went up the stairs to the street. It was also 50 degrees and windy. While most kids may have wanted to pull the plug on the whole day and head to the Eiffel tower (which was our back-up had we not been able to get tickets or the day was cancelled), Ella could only say, "I don't care if it's raining - let's go!". Who was I to argue (obviously because I wanted to go too). It reminded me of the ten hours Ella and I spent at Great America amusement park in pouring rain, wind, and cold - we were both soaked by the end of the day, but had a great time.

On our train ride into Paris, I explained to Ella what ticket scalping was (both from the eyes of the seller and the buyer) and I talked to her about how we would need to go about getting some tickets for the day. Unlike the last time I went to the French Open (exactly 14 years ago) I now speak enough French that I wasn't afraid of getting ripped off (which is exactly what happened 14 years ago). We bypassed the group of scalpers just outside the Metro stop (always do this, no matter the event or city) and headed closer to the main gates. We happened upon a couple of guys who had two seats, and within about two minutes we were on our way inside.

By now, we were both pretty cold and getting wet despite the umbrella and rain coats we had on. Additionally we were hungry - so we headed on a mission for a dry area and some lunch. We were lucky enough to find a seating area next to a coffee stand that had patio furniture and large sun umbrellas - this was perfect for Ella's hotdog-on-baguette and my jambon formage. After finishing a hot chocolate and a double espresso we went to find our seats.

Yes, it's true, at this time we were exactly three hours from the start of the Women's singles final match - that didn't deter Ella who wanted to see the stadium and find our seats. It turned out to be a good decision because we had the perfect vantage point from way up high to see the rain slow to a quiet mist and to watch the grounds crew squeegee off the tarp and put it away for the last time that day. We sat up high, watch the crew, listened to the audio people test out the sound system, watched the video people test out the Jumbo Tron, and were even able to take a gimps of the Eiffel Tower from over the wall behind the uppermost last row of the stadium.

Still having a few hours to kill, we agreed to check out some matches on the outside courts. Most of the matches were finals in boys, girls, singles, doubles, mixed, seniors etc. We ended up at the court that had the girls doubles final - a neon yellow team against a white team (yes, I mean their outfits). Let me put it this way - our seats were so good and the court so small that we were literally on top of the play - Ella was even pegged in the chest with a forehand blast whose return was missed (no, it didn't hurt and she's still laughing about it). I thought I could keep the tennis ball - like at Wrigley Field - but the ball boy came running over and stuck his hand out for the frayed and red clay covered Dunlop.

The girls finished (white team came from behind to win in a third set tie breaker), and Ella and I went to go wander around before heading to our seats for the main event. As we were walking down the main path under the main court, I started hearing somewhat of a hub-bub behind me. I could tell there were security people along with fans taking pictures and yelling things to whomever was being guarded. I could also tell the small mob was getting closer and I tried to get Ella's attention. One thing that Ella and I like to do is to kind of wander aimlessly, and she was doing this perfectly exactly at this moment. The mob kept moving along, the first wave of security pushed me out of the way, and Andre Agassi nearly stepped on Ella's head. You can see his picture above (it's the bald head, sort of partially pictured, left of center in the picture). My favorite part is that Ella was totally obilivious to the whole thing and didn't even know that she was somewhat pushed out of the away by a beefy security guard.

The women's final featured an all Russian field and I'm a tiny bit embarrassed to say that I didn't have a clue who either player was. I found out a bit through the match that one of them was the runner up last year - bummer for her, she was the runner up this year also. Ella really loved being able to cheer and clap after the deadly silent serving and volleys. She was especially thrilled by "The Wave" that started up a few times - I personally love "The Wave" and I'm happy to say that my 5-soon-to-be-6 year old daughter is following in my footsteps. As for "The Mean Old Lady" who was sitting in front of us - do us all a favor, and stay home next year....

After the awards ceremony it was time for the potty, some souvenirs (a basketball sized tennis ball for Ella and a can of 4 balls each for Grace and Mia), and time to head back to the Metro for the journey home. On the way, Ella and I were stopped by an ESPN crew and Ella had a quick interview (they asked about tomorrow's Men's final and Ella predicted that Federer would lose). The picture above is staged - but the interview had just finished taking place.

We made it to St Lazar with no problem and had a surprisingly good quick dinner at "Le Departure Cafe" across the street from the station. Two hours, twenty Tic-Tac-Toe games, fifteen conversations, and a game of "hot potato" later we ended up back in Caen. Obama wasn't there to greet us, but the rain was - not so bad seeing in that we now see the rain as the "welcome home" when we arrive back in town.

Check out www.nytimes.com - there is some brief coverage about Obama and the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion (you'll see he had lunch with the French president in Caen - where we call home today - the lunch was almost next door to The Girl's school). Also - if you can handle three plus hour, black and white, 40 year old movies you should also check out The Longest Day - a good war movie that focuses on D-Day and has a lot of mention of Normandy and Caen.

Take care all!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

June 3, 2009: Natural Selection

Well, Natural Selection could have many meanings.  For me, it has two important meanings.  The first and most important is the band Natural Selection that sings one of the greatest songs in terms of signifying the best of high school times: Do Anything.  Check out this link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLZOyRC5WcI) to a YouTube video and it will come rushing back to you the minute you hear it, assuming you were in high school in the early 90's.  I actually remember my friend Steff and I listening to this song over and over again to see how many times we could hear it without going bonkers. I am actually doing it again, right now. The YouTube video is now on it's fourth play.  This was a common game - similar to the game my girlfriends and I played in the middle of summer when we would roll up all the windows and turn the heat on full force to see how long we could last until someone gave up.  Oh, those silly days....

The second meaning of Natural Selection is literally about making natural selections in daily life.  As the past few months have progressed while living here in France I have really enjoyed only buying what we need (this does not include pointless Costume Rooms and Secret Stash Rooms - those are 100% bribes to keep the girls happy) in terms of kitchen stuff, house furnishings and food.  Not only have I enjoyed this but I feel better about myself and the trash/waste imprint my family and myself are leaving in the world.  Pretty much any time I am thinking about buying something, I first question whether I REALLY need it.  If I really do need it, then I ask myself if there is a better way to go about fulfilling that item that I need.  Here are the basic reason that I feel these questions are important to ask before making a purchase:

1) Most of the time when you buy an item, there is packaging that has to be thrown away.  We often think about whether the product is organic or if there is food coloring or the expiration date or if it has gluten, things like that.  But we don't often consider all the garbage waste that is caused by buying packaged foods - regardless of their health content (which is important!) or the ingredients.

2) Even if you were to buy items that are contained in 100% recyclable packaging or it was made from 100% recycled materials, there are problems with both.  If you buy something that is 100% recyclable, you still have to 1) recycle the materials which people often don't do.  2) Some company has to pick up that recycling in a truck which uses gas, causes pollution, clogs traffic and sometimes runs you off the road.  3) That truck drives the recycling to a plant that may be 10 miles away - but most likely it is 1,000 miles away!  Because that far away plant will pay the company more money per lb for the recycling than the one that is located closest.   And everyone is trying to make a buck.  So now you have recycled to save the world but have caused more problems by causing other environmental issues.  4)  The recycling plant that recycles the products has to RUN.  It takes time, energy, and employees - all which cost money.  If you buy products that are made from 100% recyclable materials you may have noticed that 1) Often, the products you buy that are made from recycled materials, such as clothes, are MORE expensive than those made from non-recycled materials. 

Here are some examples of things that I have been doing to help reduce the waste produced by our family.  Keep in mind that the goal is to not have to buy items that add to the amount of waste and garbage we produce.  But what you will also find from a food consumption standpoint is that it ends up being healthier, that the chemicals in your home are reduced, and finally that the amount of money you spend is reduced.
> Cloth napkins instead of paper napkins
> Cloth kitchen towels instead of paper towels
> Baking my own bread instead of buying bread
> Using outgrown or stained clothing to make other items such as costumes, belts, purses, rags, crafts - endless uses. 
> Making cleaning products at home instead of buying those icky chemicals at the store. Baking Soda, lemons and vinegar are quite handy in many respects.
> Using rechargeable batteries
> Making homemade popsicles with apple sauces and yogurts - you can buy containers at Target and use them over and over and over again.
> Making homemade yoghurt - takes practice but with the amount I know my family eats, it reduces a lot of packaging if I make it myself.
> Bringing my own reusable bags to the grocery store and only buying as much as I can carry with my own two hands. 
> Only buying what my family will eat for a day or two and avoiding any pre-packaged products that are not cereal, or would be quite messy to buy without a package - rice for instance.
> Avoiding any kind of bulk stores that sell 10,000 pieces of salmon in one package or 700 rolls of toilet paper in a box.
> Using stuff from home (old paper bags that are decorative, for instance) to wrap a present instead of buying wrapping paper.
> Taking public transportation, carpooling or walking instead of driving.
> Keep containers, decorate and reuse them to hold children's and adult craft items such as markers, scissors, beads, rulers, yarn, etc...
> I brew my own coffee instead of purchasing at a coffee shop
> Bringing water from home in a water container instead of buying bottled water
> Packing lunches and snacks in reusable containers instead of plastic bags or brown bags

Over the next few weeks I plan to focus on making more cleaning products and household items such as that and I'll keep you posted if I find anything that is just fabulous.

Now, you are probably cussing me out right now, thinking who in the heck has the time to consider these things?  Who has time to shop at the grocery store every day?  Well, for starters, a woman who is living in France with no job and a few hours each day to herself has the time (me)!  But I understand that often time constraints can get in the way of what we would prefer to do but simply can't.  But maybe you could try a few things?  Andrew and I used to go to Cosco and spend hundred's of dollars and we rationalized our actions by saying we hated going to the store every week for things that we constantly ran out of - so why not buy tons at a time and then only have to buy them every few months?  But then we'd get home and unpack and have stacked high a pile of boxes from all the packaged items that we bought.   And many times we didn't consume the 2nd and 3rd jars of the  1,000 pickles (metaphorically speaking) economy pack because we just got plain sick of pickles so we ended up wasting the food AND the containers.  Or those Pita Chips that we sampled at the store just didn't cut the mustard after eating them for 8 lunches in a row so we would throw away the 3/4 of the bag that was left.  

On a daily basis, we create so much trash and waste.  We buy, buy, buy and get the latest and greatest gadgets even when the older one works just fine (if you have seen The Story of Stuff, this probably sounds familiar).  We buy a shirt at Kohl's for $6 on the sale rack because we think no big deal if we only to wear it once on vacation, it was only $6!  We spend $45 on a car wash that no one will ever know about because your car is dirty 1 mile down the road after you left the car wash.  But the reality is that all of these things cause waste - time waste, garbage waste, money waste.

The number of people in the world is growing. The number of products that companies create and produce to keep us all happy is growing. For instance, why wasn't Clorox Bathroom Cleaner Original Formula enough?  Why did they have to create Clorox Bathroom Cleaner New and Improved with Bleach, too?  They produce both, we try to choose between them but the reality is the original was probably just fine.  The trucks (sorry Andrew, I know we ironically survive because of trucks) needed to get the products to stores is expanding. The packaging of products is expanding - and just consider that packaged products are actually packaged TWICE. They are bulked together to be placed onto a pallet for trucks and wrapped tightly to keep them from falling all over in the truck. And then they are unwrapped and then sold in their own packaging for sale at the store.  And when you go to Cosco or Sam's Club, they are sometimes TRIPLE packaged. Think Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, three boxes stuffed into one big box.

You probably wish you didn't read today's blog!  But I blogged about it because I find it very important and a big part of how I try to live each day.  My children are taught to do the same and they often catch me and question me on my actions.  Two years ago my focus was more around eating healthy, local and natural.  And though I find those food qualities still important, I have expanded what is important to me to include being wasteful and wise.  The first jolt to this awareness was when we were living in Colorado and then the second jolt to continue to keep it up has been living here in France.  Certainly I have more time to consider these things.  But I also know that one day when I go back to work (and I will, I like to work) these practices will be ingrained in our daily lives and won't be hard to continue.

Ahh. I feel better.  Thanks for listening to my rant!  Also, if you have any other ideas on how to avoid causing or creating waste, please share with me and others by commenting on the blog post. 

Pictured above: A shopping bag I made out of old curtains; A purse I made for my mom out of old curtains; Dress-up dresses I made for the girls out of old clothing; bread I made out of flour, water, honey, butter and salt!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

June 2, 2009: After a Rainy May, Il Fait du Soleil!

Today is another beautiful day here in Caen.  My notions of a rainy, dreary town are quickly being disproven by days and days of sunny, happy weather.  In this case, I LOVE to be proven wrong! Blue skies, slight breeze, warmth - all these things prompted all three girls to wear pretty dresses to school today.  They looked pretty darn cute with Gaga-inspired Lilly Pulitzer dresses and selections chosen from a fantastic assortment of bows but for sure their teachers must be wondering what the occasion is?  I told them to tell anyone who asked why they looked so nice today that is was because it is June.  C'est Juin!  Je l'adore!  Who needs an occasion to look fancy, other than it just being June, if it makes you happy?  Why not, right?  I think reading Fancy Nancy books over and over again is rubbing off on all of us.  If you read Andrew's recent post, you would know that he is included as per the colorfully French outfit he wore to a recent wedding.  I had to giggle when I saw it...it just surprised me!  But I was proud of him for stepping outside of his blue shirt and khaki pants mantra.

Last week I took the girls on a few field trips.  I accompanied Mia's class on a trip to a Goat Farm.  Ella's class also went to the Goat Farm, but I felt like Mia would benefit from my presence more than Ella.  The classes all boarded a huge tourist type bus and the chaperones drove separately.  I had volunteered to drive a few other mothers so myself and three French mommies boarded the CTA bus.  I knew having a CTA bus here in France would come in handy! Times like this, being surrounded by only French speakers, are such a gift for me.  I can listen, try to learn and then also try to speak.  I had a great time with these mothers - getting lost 10 times while driving through the grassy fields of Normandy wasn't so bad!  One of the mothers had asked me if I like to do any sports.  The first sport that I listed was running.  Surprisingly, the mother also ran with a few friends at that nearby horse track that I have mentioned before.  She invited me to come with her.  We met up this morning after taking the kids to school and took a few laps around the track.  It was really nice.  Again, 98% of the conversation takes place in French so I feel like I accomplished many things already this morning.  French school and making friends.  We are going to meet up again on Thursday and this time try to push ourselves to do an additional lap.  What fun to have found a running partner!

As far as the girls go, all is well.  Mia has a cough - she always seems to get sick about 1-2 weeks after Ella and Grace.  But she seems fine and slowly recovering.  Ella has made it 3 nights now without wetting her bed so that is quite fabulous.  And also, Grace begged us to let her try sleeping without a diaper and SHE has made it two nights now without wetting the bed.  Isn't that great?  I can't wait to stop buying diapers!

The latest favorite activities for the girls around the house are the same.  They love to dress up and sing and dance!  There was one last room in Mia's bedroom that was not being used. It used to be a bathroom many years ago, but today it is just an empty, grey tiled, white walled closet type space.  I decided to decorate it and make a Costume Room where they can hang up there costumes, store jewelry and shoes and scarves, etc..  I added a sitting chair and some decorative mirrors and some sheer curtains decorated with fake flowers and flower petals.  And they love the room.  It's funny to watch their moods.  One day they want to be princesses, they next day they want to be gymnasts and the next ballerina's.  They could go at this for days on end never leaving the apartment.  Fortunately for them, their mother can't stay holed up in the apartment, so she drags them out into the world from time to time.

Around Caen, all the talk is about Obama's upcoming visit.  From what I can gather, some seem to be highly irritated by all the activity.  Others understand just how big of a deal it is to have the president visit and understand all the precautions and preparations taking place.  There are barricades and police cars and temporary fences being placed everywhere.  Hotel rooms are tripled in price.  Weekend travel out or into Caen is probably ill-advised as traffic is expected to come to a halt.  We asked our sommelier at dinner the other night if Obama was planning on coming to eat at the restaurant and he said he couldn't say anything about it. Hmmmm.

Andrew is gone today and tomorrow.  I don't really have any plans other than getting the house clean, doing laundry - all that fun stuff.  See!  An elegant life I live here in France.

My parents 46th wedding anniversary was yesterday.  My mom told me that my dad gave her a dozen red roses.  I thought that was sweet!  Happy Anniversary to you guys and can't wait to see you in July. And Happy Birthday to my brother Kurt today, he turns 36!

Till next time!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Call....

Hi - it's Andrew again, if you can believe it...

Today, I received a call from America - Coyote's CEO nonetheless - asking, "what's going on today in Europe anyway?!?!". What could my response be, other than, "another Bank Holiday, what else?".....

Yes - Today is June 1st and it's a Bank Holiday in most of Europe. Countries that don't celebrate whatever holiday it happens to be today are striking in protest, so they are closed also. Let's put this in perspective: Americans get jobs out of college and are given about two weeks vacation plus Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, 4th of July, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. Sure, there are some other localized ones in there (Casmier Pulaski Day, anyone?), but mostly these are the big ones. In Europe, the same graduate would get five weeks vacation plus sixteen bank holidays - yes, sixteen! Add in things like the optional three years maternity leave, unbreakable work contracts, and a 35 hour work week (for France at least), and you get a pretty different work landscape as you may find in America. Even though I don't really mind hour-and-a-half lunches, I still can't really get used to them.

So, what's a guy to do with a Bank Holiday scheduled an no plans? I say, Road Trip....

Kate and the girls get to go on so many road trips without me (4 day school week, bank holidays, and my work travel make this so), I decided to take Ella, Grace, and Mia on a trip of my own. My first idea was to go outside and walk around town - luckily for all of us, Kate suggested Chateau de Vendeuvre which is just outside of St Pierre sur Dives and only thirty minutes from town.

The girls enjoyed taking the glass recycling to the recycling bin before we left (you can drop the bottles into a deep container and hear the bottles smashing) and they even helped me unlock the gates. Unfortunately after that, all they wanted to talk about was their desire to watch TV, play Leapsters, and eat more breakfast as we drove out into the countryside. In their defense, I did have them up, fed, and dressed with teeth brushed and pee in the toilet by 8.30am, so maybe they felt a bit like they were in a time warp (in my own defense, it was the 3 of them that decided to wake up at 6.30am and talk about the buses driving by outside).

We arrived at the Chateau (basically a big mansion in the middle-of-no-where) about ten minutes before it opened. This gave us enough time to put on a lot of sunscreen, in light of the still hazy sky. Yes, you can get sunburned out here - just check the backs of my legs - they were burned while I was at the beach yesterday wearing shoes, socks, shorts, a T-Shirt, and a sweater (because it was so cold). Fully lathered, we marched into the gates.

The first thing we saw was - of all things - a park! They love parks here and they seem to be everywhere. There were only two implements in this one - a teeter-totter and a swing. To my amazement, both Grace and Mia are now both heavy enough that they can teeter with Ella (as long as she sits forward on her seat and they sit further back on theirs). With the teetering and swinging going on, I went into the office to buy some entry tickets. With kids being free, my six Euros was surely on the plus side of a cost-benefit analysis.

After the mini-park, we proceeded to roam the grounds and check out the gardens. This is kind of like a mini-mini Versailles. Very nice, very green, and tons of water and fountains. Many of them are somehow triggered to go off when people come near. For example: a Gazebo spouts water that seems like rain when you go inside, a bridge has birds that shoot water when you walk over, a turtle spouts water from his mouth when you walk in front, and a naked woman spouts water from her nipple when you look at it! Yes, the last one is completely real and I envy the gall of the designer who built it five hundred years ago....

We experienced some tragedy on our way exiting the park. You see, in light of all the fun, the only thing the girls could remember was the teeter-totter. Problem is, there are three of them and only two will fit. About twenty minutes away, Grace called "I'm the first on the teeter-totter!". Ella was an immediate second, and because of our new weight issues, there was no arguing from me. Mia, being left out, began to get her brain churning as to how she could right the situation. Being at the back of the pack, she started bolting to the park - unfortunately for her (and really, the rest of us) she ignored the change in terrain from grass to gravel and also ignored the difference in consistency. Yes, she bit it, bigtime (see picture above). Sans first aid kid, I had to rely on the community cloth towel in the community boy-and-girl bathroom to wipe her cuts - knee and elbow - which could have been worse. I knew she wasn't to far gone when she began to ask what was for lunch...

I asked the lady selling the admission tickets if she had any band-aids (yes, in French), and she directed me to the nearby town of St Pierre. This place was literally banging for a bank holiday - all shops seemed to be open and there was a big market in the town square. I bought some massive band-aids (which amused everyone and really did the trick for Mia's cuts) and we found a place for lunch. A couple of grilled cheeses later (OK, fine, they were really two croq madame's and two croq monsiure's [grilled cheese with ham, cheese sauce, toasted bread, baked cheese outside and an over-easy egg on top {the other sans egg}]), a few milks, and some french fries and we were good to go. Luckily the town park was nearby so we could lick our lolly pops and play on the spinning-around-thing for the next two hours. All combined with the beautiful weather made this an amazing afternoon.

Our return to Caen was met with the usual procession of bath taking and giving; pajama putting on and helping to put on; dinner eating and food from the floor picking upping; Kids Bop dancing and singing along to; dishwasher unloading and re-loading; and finally not wanting to go to bed along with insisting upon so.

Tomorrow I head to Belgium and The Netherlands after spending my first full day back in the office in almost two weeks (except it's not going to be a full day as I have to drive about six hours before bedtime). My office has some new faces (two joining the team in Caen after their office in London was closed and two interns who are closely becoming full-timers) and it's losing some old faces (some returning to the US, some fired, and some becoming tele-commuters after moving away to new towns). The best news is that we're still in business during these rocky economical times and I look forward to this being the case for the short and long term future.

Kate has officially purchased our tickets back to the Crested Butte for a visit in August - we'll be there for three weeks. Before that trip we have the visits of my parents, followed by her parents, and we might even fit in a trip to Venray NL for the 70th anniversary of the town.

One last thought - check out www.storyofstuff.org and watch the 20 minute video on the website - it's pretty interesting. Also, if you're in a jam and can't find a good book to read, pick up The Omnivore's Dilemma - probably the best book I've ever read. I don't get paid by either the site or the book - but I really like both and think you might like them also.

Take care all!