Kids had a great indoor Halloween celebration complete with a treasure hunt and room-to-room trick-or-treating--all within the confines of our yard! Not quite what they had in mind but it worked!!! Thanks for all the candy/cake and goodies!!!
31 October 2009
27 October 2009
But for me it is precisely these kinds of 'imperfections' that give cities their identity, their feel. I want cities to have texture and flavor, and want there to be more to it than what the glossy postcards show at the souvenir stands. It's one of the reason why I prefer Nice to Cannes. Maybe I have these feelings because I hail from Washington, DC -- one's of America's most flawed cities in many ways.
So you might guess that we really like Marseilles, and we did. Sure, the drive into town is pretty dumpy (what big city has beautiful suburbs?), but the old port and village were beautiful. We were only there for 5 or 6 hours and it's hard to really get to know a city in that amount of time, but we liked what we saw. Here are some of those things:
26 October 2009
We timed things pretty well this time. I know that I'd be in line for several hours so I called Kerri when it became clear about how long a wait we would have and she and the kids simply came down and met me. The arrived at about 9:30 and we were out of there by 11:15. Last year we walked out at 4:45pm.
Like I said -- all things considered, that's a pretty successful day.
25 October 2009
Today we did quite well with Ginger and Garlic Chicken Kebabs with Roasted Red Peppers; a tomato-chick pea salad, and a very nice Basmati Rice with Dates and Fresh Mint.
On the whole, very good indeed.
But because we had a nice, hearty lunch we went light for dinner. Really light. We chowed down on Ramen Noodles and Saltine Crackers. Total cost for dinner: just a bit under 3 Euros. For 5 people. Reminds me of my college days.
This afternoon we ate on our small table on the porch. Julia prepared the settings.
For our purposes, I'm basically asking if we have to go to Nice or can we go to the Sous Préfecture in Grasse?
If you know, let us know.
This is 'us' for the next year -- at least in terms of our identification card. Every year we have to go through this. We're preparing for a full day at either the adult prefecture or the kiddie prefecture; haven't decided yet. And the most important thing we will have with us are these sepia-toned photographs (and a stack of paperwork about 2 inches thick!)
23 October 2009
Today is the last day of class before the Toussaints break -- a (nearly) two week break that comes every October. I have 2nde English for one hour today, from 3-4pm. They are not going to be in the mood for much. That's why I'm just going to read them a story today. Just like your parents may have read to you when you were young. I'm going to turn the lights down, invite them to put their heads on their desks if the wish, bring a cup of coffee to class (for me), and just read to them.
And because Halloween is nearly here I'm choosing The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe. I'll read it in English (of course), but the famous opening lines are also quite good in French (sorry, no accent marks today as I'm on my American laptop):
Vrai! -- je suis tres nerveux, epouvantablement nerveux, -- je l'ai toujours ete; mais pourquoi pretendez-vous que je suis fou?It's my favorite Poe short story.
La Tour d'Argent, an establishment that dates back to the mid 1500s, is putting nearly 20,000 bottles of wine and spirits from it's cellar up for auction in an effort to clean out a bit of space and raise about a million euros. La Tour d'Argent has the one of the most extensive wine cellar in Europe, boasting nearly 500,000 bottles -- some that date before the French Revolution (inset photo).
So if you've ever wanted a 1983 Chateau Petrus, a '49 Chateau La Tour, or a 1788 Clos du Griffier cognac (yes, 1788!), this is your chance. Bring your checkbook though -- these vintages will cost you a pretty penny. But the restaurant wants people to know that not all bottles cost a lot of money: thousands of bottles will sell for between 10 and 15 euros.
I will again recommend the book Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure. Among other things, the book talks about how restaurants like La Tour d'Argent hid their most precious wines from the occupying Germans during WWII.
Of course, I'm not in the market -- I just like the idea of a cellar that is big enough to hold nearly 1/2 million bottles of win.
20 October 2009
[Quick note on the backpack patches. I lived in Cambridge, England for a short time when I was 10 years old and whenever we would travel around the country my parents would buy me the little patches that you can sew onto a backpack or canvas bag. So somewhere in my collection of things I have patches from Bath, Ely, London, York, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Oxford, and St. Ives, etc. I have literally just remembered this as I am writing. I need to find those the next time I visit home.]
Our kids are into this phase now and Patrick has quite a collection of football (American) cards that he arranges constantly. Julia has made herself a collection of potholders that rivals any kitchen's stock. Henry collects snails (a long story for another time). But since we have come to France the kids have also chosen something to 'collect' when we visit cities around Europe. Patrick has chosen key chains; Julia has tea spoons; and Henry...well, he's still deciding.
But what is fun is that our family has a sort of collection that we are working on as well. Each time we visit a (fairly major) city we buy a refrigerator magnet. We tend to choose the three-dimensional ones but we have a wide variety. Many of the magnets now adorn our frigo, and many sit in a small bowl because they're broken. I took a picture of the side of our fridge this evening. Can you identify all the magnets (despite the bad photo)?
Here are some close-ups of a few:
Several are missing and I'm not sure where they are (Bordeaux? Strasbourg? Como? Basel?). We'll have to find them.
Here's the answer key from the first photo (from top-left): Maryland (our home state), Lyon, Carcassonne, Venice, Paris, Colmar, Luxembourg, Baden-Baden, Avignon, Milan, Bologna, Frankfurt, Washington, DC, Amsterdam, Annecy, Andorra, Monaco, Pont du Gare, Torino, Geneva, Chamonix, Barcelona, and Ireland.
What did you used to collect?
18 October 2009
So I got to Paris despite the strike and we actually had a fairly productive day of meetings on Friday. That evening a group of us decided to go for a quick drink at a local cafe near the Sorbonne (our meetings were at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand if you happen to know the area). Most of my colleagues ordered beer or wine, but I opted for a large Pepsi (needed some sugar). A couple friends joked that the Pepsi would be the most expensive thing on the bill. They were almost right. Take a good look at the glass on the right -- you can't see it but there is mark near the top that reads: 50cl. Well, those 50cl's cost me €7.90. The only thing that made me feel better was that the beer my colleagues ordered was a €8.50. Suckers!
Later that evening after a very good meal I checked my email to find that the strike at Orly was still on and that my flight for the next day was canceled as well. So I was stuck catching the train once again. I know that the train is a very civilized way to travel, but I'm the kind of person who only enjoys the train if I'm psychologically prepared for it. If I've planned for a 1 hour flight I'm not going to get excited about a 6 hours train ride. Luckily, I had the following two things in hand to make the trip a little easier.
Now all I have to do is find out how to get my money back from EasyJet.
17 October 2009
15 October 2009
I must also admit that the bread tastes even better with a hot mug of coffee and this view -- the sun rising at about 7:12 in the morning.
On another note: I am off to Paris this afternooon for some meetings and if you ask my kids if they will miss me they will say yes. But if you ask if they are glad I'm going, they will also say yes. You see, our 'policy' is that when daddy is away, everyone gets to sleep with mommy in our bed. They get so excited when it's time for me to be away for a few days.
Aren't kids great.
14 October 2009
13 October 2009
Henry has a habit -- which is quite funny at times -- of using English phrases or idioms but sometimes not quite getting them right. One of the ones he uses frequently is a mixture of 'Let Go' and 'Get Off' which ends up as 'Luck-Off'! As you might expect, this is used whenever someone (OK, usually me) is annoying him or trying to help him when he just doesn't want help. And as you might guess, when he says this phrase with a certain degree of force it sounds like he is throwing around the F-word. Sometimes he just looks at me and says, 'Luck-Off!' Just like Mr. Beeks in Trading Places (come on, you remember the scene!). I find so much joy and humor in the phrase that it's to the point now where I purposely irritate Henry just to hear him tell me to Luck-Off.
I am such a child sometimes, I know.
Oh, and if you think this is the first time Henry has thrown-around the F-bomb, you might have forgotten this video from about 18 months ago:
12 October 2009
This year, for the first time, their class has the opportunity to select the délégué de classe which is basically two students who will officially represent their class in various ways: at conseils, at meetings with the administrations, when students have problems, etc. The French take this 'honor' very seriously starting in about 6th grade, so this year is kind of dry-run for the real thing that will take place next year.
So this afternoon each student was asked to write down their ideas for what they would want to focus on as délégué de classe. After each idea was read allowed the class voted to narrow the list down to 4 finalists -- and it was expressly stated that you could, in you wanted, vote for yourself. So Patrick was explaining this to me in the car and Julia was chiming in with the details that he was missing and they were getting quite excited about the whole thing. They explained who got the most votes (Xavier) and what some of the ideas were. Then Patrick revealed to me that he, in the end, decided to vote for himself. 'That's great,' I said. 'If you have the best ideas you should vote for yourself. How many votes did you get?'
'One!', he said, with a small smile on his face.
'What about you, Julia?' I asked.
'I got one vote, too. And I voted for myself!'
What a couple of losers, eh?
But the part that made me the proud father comes next. After detailing their losing bids for this early political honor, they started telling me the ideas of the students who made the finals. One involved more field trips to the pool; another involved having candy available in the rooms at all times. 'They just voted for all the stupid ideas,' Patrick lamented. When I asked what he had suggested he told me his plan was to have monitors assigned to make sure the bathrooms were clean every day because they are a mess (pee on the floor, tissue everywhere, horrible stench).
What a fantastic idea!
Julia's was equally good -- her plan involved having the good academic students tutor the kids who are struggling a couple of days a week.
But alas, when it comes to 10-year olds these kinds of ideas lose-out to '20 more minutes of recess every day.' As we were getting out of the car the kids told me that they thought that some of the students were just giving ideas that they knew people would vote for rather than ideas that would actually help. Most of the ideas, they said, could never really happen.
Is it possible they completely understand the realities of politics already?
08 October 2009
In some ways they haven't changed a bit. In some ways I can barely recognize them.
07 October 2009
That doesn't make any sense to me, but if it helps us qualify for CAF assistance, I won't ask questions.
06 October 2009
04 October 2009
First, we took the kids on a hike/bike ride along a river near our house. There came a point where we could no longer bike down the path because it was too technically difficult -- especially for Henry. So we dismounted and I took the kids about 300 meters upstream then gave them their challenge: cross the river and make it back to the bikes in less than 10 minutes (the reward would be a 'navigation patch'). The task would have been quick simple except crossing the small river/creek was a bit of a challenge. I ran back to Kerri and the bikes and we waited...and waited...and waited. Finally, about 9 1/2 minutes later we saw three kids coming along the river bed -- on the other side. Success.
Then, later in the afternoon, Patrick and Julia earned two more patches. Take a look. Patrick chose a raft-making task where he had to create a raft that will support a toy figure, using only items from our yard. The Swiss Army Knife he bought in Geneva came in real handy. Success!
Julia chose a baking project and she made calzones completely from scratch and completely by herself. I can tell you without a doubt that this was a success. She made four -- filled with tomato sauce and cheese -- and they were gone very quickly.
Next week I'm pushing them to try for a 'laundry', 'ironing', and 'car washing' patch.
Did you pay special attention to the item on the far left! It's shaped like an American football and I'll be drinking it tonight!
03 October 2009
But today I also went to the music section to look at their CD collection. About 10 minutes later I went to the desk with a stack of CD's. My collection today:
- 'Magical Mystery Tour' and 'Past Master's Volume 1'- The Beatles (time to expose the children to the Beatles).
- 'Songs About Jane' - Maroon 5 (Kerri likes them)
- 'Greatest Hits' - Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (a little embarrassed about this one)
- 'The Very Best of the Smiths' - The Smiths (loved them when at university in England)
- 'Appetite for Destruction' - Guns N Roses (come on, it's a great album)
- 'Octavarium' - Dream Theater (they had every Dream Theater album there -- what a great library!!)
02 October 2009
You might be thinking that Americans are pretty disappointed by today's selection -- but you'd be wrong if you were talking about some of the leading members of the hard-Right. I'm talking about the right-wing Republicans who are already frothing at the mouth because they see Chicago's loss as a huge embarrassment -- even failure -- for Chicago's own Barack Obama. Yes, even something like trying to land the Olympic games has turned into a partisan party for those at the extreme end of the GOP. Don't believe me? Take a look at some of these quotes from some of American's leading Republican voices when they heard the today's news:
- "Hahahahaha," wrote Red State's Erick Erickson. " So much for improving America's standing in the world, Barry O."
- "Please, please let me break this news to you. It's so sweet," said Glenn Beck on his radio show.
- The Drudge Report announced the news like this: "WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND. THE EGO HAS LANDED."
- "The worst day of Obama's presidency, folks," echoed Rush Limbaugh.
- "Chicago and Tokyo eliminated. No Obamalypics," Michelle Malkin tweeted,
- "Cheers erupt at Weekly Standard world headquarters," wrote editor John McCormack in a post titled "Chicago Loses! Chicago Loses!"
- The National Review Online called it an embarrassment for Obama, adding: "If he can't work his personal magic with the Olympians, why does he expect it to work with the Iranians?"
Boy, they're going to become downright giddy if unemployment keeps going up or the economic crisis gets worse. How will they contain themselves?
I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. -- Alexis de Tocqueville.
Good luck Rio!!
Late Update: Here's a link from a political conference for a group called Americans for Prosperity -- a conservative political group . This is their reaction upon hearing that America lost it's bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.
01 October 2009
Writing in the Journal of Wine Economics, retired Cal State Humboldt professor Robert Hodgson said he looked at the results for more than 4,000 wines entered in 13 U.S. competitions in 2003 and found little consistency in what wines won gold medals. The study found that of almost 2,500 wines that were entered in more than three competitions, 47% won a gold medal in at least one contest.
However, of those gold medal winners, 98% were regarded as just above average or below in at least one of the other competitions. Hodgson said that demonstrated how little consistency there was."Of the wines that entered five competitions and got at least one gold, about 75% also received no award in at least one of the remaining competitions," he said.
In recent years, wine tasting has become a surprisingly popular experimental subject. Neuroscientists at Cal-Tech conducted an elaborate taste-test of California Cabernets in a brain scanner - more expensive wines taste better, even when they're actually cheap plonk gussied up with a pretend price tag - while Frederic Brochet, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Bordeaux, explored the sensory frailties of wine "experts".
The Brochet experiment went like this: he invited 54 experienced wine tasters to give their impressions of a red wine and a white wine. Not surprisingly, the experts described the wines with the standard set of adjectives: the red wine was "jammy" and full of "crushed red fruit." The white wine, meanwhile, tasted of lemon, peaches, and honey. The next day, Brochet invited the wine experts back for another tasting. This time, however, he dyed the white wine with red food coloring, so that it looked as if they were tasting two red wines. The trick worked. The experts described the dyed white wine with the language typically used to describe red wines. The peaches and honey tasted like black currants.
According to Brochet, the lesson of his experiment is that our experience is the end result of an elaborate interpretive process, in which the brain parses our sensations based upon our expectations. If we think a wine is red, or that a certain brand is better, then we will interpret our senses to preserve that belief. Such distortions are a fundamental feature of the brain.But the news for wine experts isn't all bad. A large study published last year demonstrated that, although there's a slightly negative correlation between the price of a wine and the pleasure it gives wine amateurs, oenophiles actually derive more pleasure from more expensive wines, even when tasted blind.
In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings, we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less. For individuals with wine training, however, we find indications of a positive relationship between price and enjoyment. Our results indicate that both the prices of wines and wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers.