31 December 2009

Move Your Money

ONE OF THE most overlooked aspects of politics is the power ordinary people have if they just work together. With that, I give you perhaps the most important video clip of the year. It's geared toward American's, but there is no reason Europeans shouldn't pay attention.

27 December 2009

Christmas Fare

WHAT DO YOU do on a beautiful Christmas day if you are an American living in France?

Well, first you try on your new Washington Redskins uniform (Henry).

Then you put your football men into fun positions and take photos of them. (Patrick)

Then you go out and play a little baseball.

Top that off with a great meal in the evening (with our friend Oliver the German) and you've got yourself a pretty fun Christmas.

But add a great day in Monaco and you've got an A+ Christmas weekend.

Hot Churros at the Port

Casino Monte CarloNot sure what is happening here.

My in-laws are so proud of me.

26 December 2009

Hockey on TV

I DON'T GET many of the sports I really like on TV in France, but each year between Christmas and New Years Eurosport shows a lot of the ice hockey World Junior Championships. It's funny how a bunch of teenagers skating around an ice rink can make me so happy.

I root for the USA (home) and Sweden (heritage). France, of course, is not in the tournament.

25 December 2009

A Very Beautiful Christmas

DO YOURSELF A favor and watch this short video that was filmed and directed by my friend David Miller. Turn the volume up and listen to the beautiful sounds of the Washington National Cathedral's Carols by Candlelight service recorded live on December 23 of this year. And while you listen, watch some gorgeous scenes from National Cathedral in Washington, DC.

O Magnum Mysterium from David J. Miller on Vimeo.

24 December 2009

23 December 2009

No Hallyday for the Holidays

PUT ME DOWN as one who does not understand the phenomenon that is Johnny Hallyday. What? You don't know who Johnny Hallyday is? Then you've never lived in France.

Johnny Hallyday is a French rocker (I'm using the term 'rocker' lightly) who is wildly popular in the French-speaking world and is often called the French Elvis. He became famous in the 1960s when he was one of the first people to sing rock 'n roll in French. He actually became more famous (and some say a better performer) later in life. To give you an idea of his popularity, one of his concerts, 100% Johnny: Live à La Tour Eiffel in 2000, attracted an audience of 500,000 and 9.5 million television viewers (the show was broadcast live on French TV). He isn't well known outside France, but he has sold 100 million albums. 100 million!

Anyway, I bring this up because Hallyday, who is now 66 years old, has recently had to cancel his farewell tour due a near-death experience. Last month he had an operation on his back in Paris and a couple weeks later, while in Los Angeles, he developed some serious 'complications' from the surgery and spent several days in an induced coma. It now seems that he's going to make a full recovery, and that's a good thing.

But I still don't fully understand his popularity. I mean, I've heard him sing and perform on TV and he's fine -- but a superstar? Well, maybe it's a French thing and I just don't understand. Of course, what do I know; I'm a guy who's still trying to figure out what's the big deal about Josh Groban.

21 December 2009

Best Christmas Decorations

ACCORDING TO AN online newspaper I read quite frequently, these Christmas decorations are the best of the year...so far. The second one has actually caused enough problems that police have asked the guy to take it down -- too many people thought it was real. In fact, at least one confirmed car accident has occurred in front of the house because the driver was looking at the house, not at the car in front of her.

I actually like the first one better. There's something about funny and lazy that I can really appreciate (if it's hard to read, the other house just says 'ditto').

19 December 2009

Dec. 19

TODAY IS KERRI'S birthday! We've got a few things on the agenda for today, one being a lunch at an Ethiopian Restaurant. In Washington we used to love to eat at a local place called Langano but we haven't had Ethiopian food since we've been in France so when a friend mentioned a place in Nice we decided we'd try it. (I'm also trying to convince Kerri to go to a hockey game tonight --- you know, to really cap off a perfect Birthday.)

Meanwhile, here's something friends and family might like to see -- a little photo montage of the last couple of years; kind of in chronological order (the first two photos of the kids are the first two we took when we moved to France). The photo quality isn't great because I didn't want to take the time to go through Flikr or another site like that, but you'll get the idea. There is no reason for the music choice other than Kerri really likes the song.

Happy Birthday!

18 December 2009

Oh To Be In DC

DO YOU KNOW when I really miss Washington, DC? When 15 inches (nearly 40cm) of snow is in the forecast -- like for this weekend.

Late Update: Correction -- 20+ inches (50+cm) now predicted.

Why Do Kids Love These Things So Much?

SERIOUSLY, WHY DO they go crazy for these things. I guess it's another excuse to have their picture taken. These photos are from one of the Christmas markets we've been to this year.

I swear, anybody can put up a piece of wood with a few decorations and a few holes and kids will flock to it like it's candy. And the parents will be right behind them with their cameras flashing away. Just like me last week.

16 December 2009

Grading Essays

IMAGINE READING THE same 10 pages of a novel 25 times. Then imagine picking a new 10 page section and reading it 25 times. Then imagine that the novel isn't particularly well written.

Welcome to my life.

OK, I'm being a bit unfair with the 'not well written' swipe, but grading essay after essay can be exhausting at times. The topics this week: 1) and analysis of FDR's New Deal, and 2) an analysis of European de-colonization after WWII. If I'm being really fair I should also mention that this set of essays are actually quite good. Well done mes élèves.

But I'm ready for the Christmas break.

15 December 2009


WELL, WE DID it again; we managed to sneak a set of grandparents over to France without our kids knowing, leading to this afternoon's big Surprise.

We've done this before (proof is here, here, and here) but this time might have been the best. When Kerri's parents arrived the twins were still in school so there was time to 'set up.' Since we talk to Kerri's parents quite often on Skype, her dad thought it would be great to set up his laptop in the guest bedroom downstairs and Skype call us when the kids go home from school. It would seem like an ordinary day.

All went well. The Skype call was in session about 1 minute after every got home. But it didn't take long before Patrick and Julia began squinting at the screen trying to figure out where 'Pop Pop' and 'GiGi' were; the background didn't look like their house yet it seemed vaguely familiar. Finally, after a couple of 'where are you' questions, Patrick shreiked, 'Oh my gosh' and ran downstairs -- Julia right on his heels.

We asked what tipped them off and it was a painter/poster that we have haning in the guest room. They finally realized that Pop Pop and GiGi didn't have that poster anywhere in their house -- the only one was in our house. Downstairs.

It's great to be around family at Christmas. Last year we were back in DC with the whole extended family. Two years ago my mom and brother came to share our first Christmas away from 'home.' This year it Kerri's parents who are here and we're looking forward to a great few weeks.

13 December 2009

Now That's How to Sell Cheese

HOPING TO INCREASE sales and 'smash the unflattering stereotype of the frumpy French farm wife,' the Association of Traditional French Cheese Makers (l’Association Fromages de Terroirs) has unveiled the 2010 Fromage Girls pin-up calendar. Local cheese makers support the calendar initiative in part because it brings customers directly to the manufacturers instead of going through a big distributor. More details (and photos, Jim) can be found at the Fromages-de-Terroirs website.

The website advertises the calendar as having '12 jeunes femmes s’amusent du fromage en le mettant des situations inattendues.' Very roughly translated, that means 12 young women play around with cheese in unusual situations. I guess I don't quite understand because I find nothing unusual about the photo on the left. Don't all cheesemakers routinely taste their products while wearing small, white, unbuttoned shirts?

The site also explains that goal of the photographs in the calendar: 'two images are contrasted: that of a sexy and sensual woman and that of cheese.' Let me just repeat that so it sinks in: 'two images are contrasted: that of a sexy and sensual woman and that of cheese.'

Let's see: I see a 'sexy and sensual woman' and I see what is probably a very stinky cheese. Yep, they acheived contrast. Well done. Put me down for two.

11 December 2009

Marché de Noël,

WE HAD A great one in our village last weekend -- bigger than we have ever seen. But Kerri and the kids are really looking forward to the one this weekend at Henry's school. Kerri has been doing quite a bit to help (making toffee, making gifts to sell, organizing craft items), but what we are really excited about is seeing Henry sing at the church with his class. He's only 4 so this will be his first performance.

Of course, by 'sing' I mean stand at the end of the line with his mouth completely closed with a very disinterested look on his face. But he's our little Henry so we're looking forward to it.

Two Weeks Ago...

TWO WEEKS AGO it was great to be Tiger Woods. Today, not so much.

10 December 2009

Is it Just Me?

ONE OF THE 'complaints' we have about this part of France is that so many of the houses are safely tucked away from public view behind gates, shrubs, or even worse -- green plastic sheets hung-up along fences. In addition to making it particularly difficult to meet and chat with neighbors, this craving for privacy also means that very few houses are decorated for Christmas. One of the things we used to love about this time of year back in DC was that we could go for a drive in the evening and just look at all the lights and decorations in our neighborhood. Can't really do that here since most of the time you can't even see the houses from the street.


This year we have noticed something: the local city governments seem to have ramped up their Christmas decorations. The town and villages are full of beautiful (and on occasion not-so-beautiful) lights and decorations. Is this new this year? I know that decorative lights and decorated round-a-bouts have always been a part of the region, it just seems that they are a lot more elaborate this year.

And we think that's a good thing.

Yes, I know. The photo is from Avignon -- about 2 hours away. It's the only one I could find really quickly. But it's the same sort of thing around these parts.

06 December 2009

Thesis Topic

I'M BACK FROM from Geneva but I don't want to talk about my first day of classes, I want to talk about computer keyboards. I went into an internet cafe to check emails and send a note back to Kerri -- standard stuff really. But when I began typing my email I realized that the keyboard was not what I was used to: it wasn't an American keyboard; it wasn't a French keyboard; it wasn't a British keyboard; it was -- apparently -- a Swiss keyboard!!

What the heck! I could barely type on the damn thing. Is it so hard to coordinate computer keyboards in the Western world? I understand that the Russians and Chinese may need different keyboards, but is it really that hard for countries with Latin or Germanic-based languages to just call a meeting and sort this out. Maybe we just need a whole new row for characters like è, ä, ñ, å, and č.

On the bright side, I now have an idea from my thesis: An Analysis of How Inadvertent Typos Due to Different Keyboards Have Affected International Relations Since 1985.

04 December 2009

Out All Week

PATRICK AND JULIA missed the whole week of school due to illness. The problem is, I think they loved it!

03 December 2009

Back to School

GREAT RODNEY DANGERFIELD film, but that's not what I'm referring to. This weekend I will embark on a new, shall we say, adventure. Since I'm sure I'll make reference to it from time to time I figure I should mention it here if for no other reason than to give context for future posts. I'm headed back to school. Beginning this weekend I'll start working toward a doctorate degree in international relations. and here's the really odd part: I'm doing it in Geneva. Not moving to Geneva, just going to school there.

I'll be studying at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations and this will require quite a few trips to Geneva between now and next year. The program basically requires two trimesters of coursework on location and the rest, including the thesis, is done through one-on-one interaction with an advisor -- but can be done via email and the internet.

As Kerri always says, this is as good a time as any to do this. A few other factors also play a role: 1) it's exactly the subject I've always wanted to do (well, besides Baseball History), 2) there is a combination of 'great program' and 'reasonable (relatively) cost' that I wouldn't be able to find in the US (the fact that the school is literally down the street from the UN and other international organizations -- not to mention affiliated with some of these organizations -- is key). 3) I can do this while keeping my day job -- which I have to do for obvious reasons. It also really helps to have an incredible supportive family.

The next several months will create some logistical nightmares, but in the end it will create opportunities that may not otherwise exist -- for both Kerri and me. At least that's our hope.

First semester classes (just for fun): International Law; The Democratic Challenge; The Rise of China; Religion and International Relations.

Fun Times.

02 December 2009

Sapin de Noël

APPARENTLY, THAT'S HOW you say Christmas Tree in French. Well, we got ours this evening and it's up and ready to go thanks to the decorating skills of Kerri and the kids (two of whom are still sporting a slight fever). After a quick trip to the only dollar store (OK, Euro Store) we know of in the area for some decorations, we managed to pick out a tree at a local garden shop in Opio. Not quite the selection we have in the States, but not bad. We got it home by strapping it to the roof with some bungee cords. The evolution went something like this:

Getting some help carrying the tree in from the car.

Tree in one hand; decorations in the other.

Ah geez, I knocked Henry over as we came through the door.

Adding some decorations to the tree.


Almost done for tonight. Time to turn off the lights and admire.

Bringing home the tree. It really is one of the very good days of the year.

Letters of Recommendation

DID SOMETHING YESTERDAY that's I've never done before in all my years as a teacher. Wrote letters of recommendation for a student for Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. It's the first time I've sent a recommendation and thought 'Gee, I hope I didn't just screw up this kids chances of getting in.'

Obama and Af-Pak

THIS MORNING I caught up on Obama's speech outlining his plans for Afghanistan/Pakistan. Liberals are howling disapproval and the right-wing is trashing his tone and 'lack of commitment' (shocker!). Basically it looks like he's pissed-off everyone with this speech. When you factor in the huge mess he was handed by the last Administration, it sounds to me that he hit a home run.

Afghanistan is not Iraq and it would do everyone some good to remember that. Iraq was a war manufactured by the Bush Administration and the focus on that war for the past 5 years has come at the expense of efforts in Afghanistan. The new -- dare I say it -- surge is not what Obama wanted to do, but it's what he things must be done.

What I now want to see is how the left and right respond to his decision. The right-wingers used to love to chastize the left for criticizing Bush during a time a war (they even called it Un-American). Let's see if they can resist ripping Obama at every turn during this new phase of the conflict. I wouldn't bet on it!