25 February 2010


I LOVE THE Olympics. All of them. Always.

Like most Americans, I only watch a lot of the Olympic sports once every four years. It doesn't matter how glued to the television I might be during the women's figure skatng long program tonight, I can guarantee that I will not watch one minute of figure skating until 2014. And the same goes for most of the winter sports. (Although I'm starting to get in to women's biathlon -- mainly because I like the idea of good looking Scandinavian women in tight suits skiing around the woods with guns strapped to their backs -- but that's another story.)

But here's the main reason why I love the Olympics. I get to root for the United States.

The American sports culture doesn't allow for this very often. Our major sports teams rarely compete in international competitions like the Champions League, or the European Championships, or the Six Nations, or the Ashes. There is no USA Football team; there is no USA baseball team (come on, I don't count with baseball world cup -- or whatever it is called), and there is no USA basketball team (except during the Olympics, and eve then no one cares). There are relatively few chances to get behind a national team and cheer them to victory.But during the Olympics I can root for the red, white, and blue.

Look, I wouldn't recognize Lindsey Vonn if she walked into the room wearing her ski suit -- but I get to root for her every time she hits the slopes. I couldn't pick out Shani Davis from a line-up of black speed-skaters -- but I can't wait to see him race. And I look forward to US hockey games about as much as I look forward to any sporting event.

I'm not an overtlyRah-Rah-USA-is-Best kind of guy. I don't own shirts with huge American flags on the front; I don't only 'buy American'; heck, I don't even live in the United States, for goodness sake. But when the Olympics come on my patriotism ratchets up a couple of notches and I rooting for ol' US of A.

I suspect this is not a uniquely American phenomenon.

24 February 2010

Yes, We Skied

THE ONLY QUESTION I get when returning from winter break is: as-tu aller faire du ski? And if the answer isn't yes than I get one of those 'huh?' looks. The French take their skiing very seriously, especially during the February school break. On the first day back to class last Monday I asked my class to raise their hand if they skiied during the holiday. All but one raised their hand.

Well, we skied. All of us -- even Kerri and Henry. Here are a few photos to prove it. (Wish we had a better camera -- but you get the idea).

Lunch break.

Hard to see the view in the background: Mont Blanc!
Kerri ordered a 'Grand Coffee'. This is what came out.

Up to Here (hand at neck)

I WON'T SPEND much time talking about it (mainly because nobody cares) but I'm getting ready to finish the first trimester of my graduate program and I am starting to feel the -- shall we say -- heat. 4 major papers are due in about three weeks. I've made progress on all of them and one is basically finished, but I have to admit that sitting down to write a research paper is something I haven't done in about 15 years.

Brief look at topics I'm researching and writing about.

International Law: examining the International Court of Justice case Iran v. United States -- a case that goes back to the Iran-Iraq war and a military conflict between Iran and the US in the Persian Gulf. The main issue has to do with a breach of a previous treaty between the two countries (going back to 1955) and the issue of 'appropriate defensive retaliation.'

Religion and International Relations: writing a paper on the current government in Turkey. As an officially secular country, but currently ruled by a pro-Islamic political party, Turkey has some interesting issues it is facing. My paper is focusing on the impact the current political party will have on Turkey's international relations with the other Middle Eastern countries.

The Rise of China: we have been asked to pick an issue and compare China's policy on that issue with another country of our choice. I've chosen to compare Chinese and American policy toward Iran's nuclear program. Very interesting. Just wish I had more time to really research the topic.

The Challenge of Democracy: back to Turkey. In an effort to sort of 'kill two birds with one stone' I'm going to look at Turkey domestic political situation and ask whether it is fair to refer to Turkey as a 'moderate Islamic democracy.' Can such a thing exist? If so, what impact will/should Turkey have on other Arab/Islamic countries in the region.

Those are my four classes. Those are my four papers. If anyone has written a paper on one of these topics -- SEND IT and if it's good I'll submit it as my own!!


17 February 2010


ON THE DRIVE home from Geneva today we were listening to The All American Rejects on the iPod. When 'Night Drive' came on Henry perked up because he knows and associates the song with the movie 'Cars'. I turned it up and told everyone in the car to play an instrument. Patrick started pretending to rock-out on the guitar, Henry was jamming on the drums, and I was faking the bass real good. Then I look in the rear-view window to see what Julia was pretending to play.

She was pretending to play...the harp.

This is the same girl who asked me to download White Lion onto our iPod. White Lion! I'm finding her a bit difficult to read sometimes.

16 February 2010

France or Switzerland?

I'M SITTING AT a cafe in Divonne-les-Bains, France, about 300 meters from the Swiss border. I mention that only because I can't figure out who is more giddy about their results so far in the Olympics: the French with their 2 Golds and 4 overall medals, or the Swiss with their three Golds. Geez are they excited.

14 February 2010

Gone for a Few Days...Sans Internet

THE HOTEL WHERE we are staying is actually a little apartment-style place in Divonne-les-Bains -- just a few hundred meters on the French side of the France-Switzerland border near Geneva. Since we have no internet access, I'm at a local cafe for a couple minutes checking email and finding some good deals on lift tickets for the skiing we are planning Monday and Tuesday. We're going to ski at either Crozet or La Faucille -- both are in the Jura mountains. The only thing I am still negotiating is whether or not Kerri will actually ski with us (it's possible to just ride up the gondola as a passenger). We'll get her going at least one of the days. Although in her defense, once you get to the top there is plenty to do without actually skiing -- particularly if you have a warm coat and a good book.

By the way, a very nice Happy Valentine's day to everyone (that was from Kerri!)

Back to the south of France on Wedneday.

11 February 2010

What's Going On? Freaky Cloud Over Our House

AS IF THE snow we got today wasn't odd enough (keep scrolling down for that story), I thought I'd put up this photo I took a couple evenings ago out our kitchen window. As I was about to start dinner I looked up and saw this bright cloud hovering over the house. What's going on?

What Is Going On? Snow on the French Riviera?

I'VE BEEN PAYING a lot of attention to the 1.3 meters of snow that has fallen in our hometown of Washington, DC -- but now we've got some weird weather news of our own: 6 inches of snow fell in our village today! What is going on? It came out of nowhere: when Kerri and I woke up for our coffee I casually mentioned that it was snowing. The flakes were light and it was not unlike a few periods of snow we have had before. But it didn't stop. And by the time it finished the view from our house looked like this: (photos are various stages of the day)

Some friends who live down the street came over for coffee and hot cocoa in the afternoon and they told us than in the nearly 7 years they have lived here this has never happened. Crazy.

Note: I'll save my 'driving in this' story for another time. I tried to get into the office today to do a bit of work, but didn't come close. And also didn't get the car back to the house -- had to park it at the bottom of the hill and hoof it.

10 February 2010

1 Meter of Snow +

WHY UPDATE WHAT'S going on in our life when I can show photos of the record snowfall in our hometown of Washington, DC? We tried to get a feel for snow by heading up to a local ski station yesterday afternoon for an little skiing, but even on the top of the mountain, I don't think there was as much snow as there is now on the ground in the DC area. After nearly a meter of snow last weekend, they are getting hit again today with possibly another 30-40cm. Crazy. Here are a couple photos: the first is Kerri's parent's house (thanks for sending the photo), and the second is a snowboarder in front of the Lincoln Memorial in downtown DC, and the third is just a beautiful shot of the US Capitol building.

06 February 2010

I'm Very Jealous

MANY OF OUR friends and family members are beginning to dig out of one of the biggest snow storms to ever hit Washington, DC., and we are in Nice where it will be sunny and approaching 60 degrees tomorrow. I wish I was in DC!!

The whole family does. And we're not being sarcastic. Some areas of Washington are getting 30+ inches (80+cm) of snow this weekend -- approaching or setting all kinds of records. We are very jealous that we don't get to be there. Enjoy it for us...and send photos.

Easy Jet Review (Part 1)

LET ME JUST take a moment to complain/not complain about Easy Jet. Many of you know that I travel to Geneva once each week to attend graduate school classes. And many of you know that the mode of transportation I use is: the airplane (so much quicker than anything else). So I fly from Nice to Geneva every week for one day and I almost always use Easy Jet -- the low-cost carrier that is similar to Southwest Airlines in the US. Before I get to the complaints, let me just say -- gratefully -- that on average I am paying about 50-60 Euros for each round-trip ticket: a bargain by any measure. And every flight that I have been on (14 legs so far) has been great. However, that low price tag seems to come with one major string attached: DELAYS. Let me give you an example. Here are the last 6 flights I took from Nice to Geneva -- a flight that is supposed to depart at 9:25 pm.
  • Flight 1: cancelled -- had to leave the next morning (was late for class)
  • Flight 2: cancelled -- had to leave the next morning (was late for class)
  • Flight 3: delayed 1.5 hours (arrived at hotel at 12:20am)
  • Flight 4: delayed 1.75 hours (arrived at hotel at 12:30am)
  • Flight 5: delayed 2 hours (arrived at hotel at 1:15am)
  • Flight 6: delayed 1 hour (arrived at hotel at 11:50pm -- not bad!)
The return leg from Geneva is usually better (except for that one weekend in January) so the average delay is probably somewhere near 1 hour. Again, for 50 Euros I guess I shouldn't complain too much -- but it's already getting old and I've got about 20 more trips. I'm told things will get better when Spring arrives.

I Live in the Wine Belt?

I LOVE MAPS. Maps of all kinds. But I've never seen one like this. The map below shows that Europe is dominated by three 'alcohol' belts: wine in the south; beer in the middle; and distilled spirits in the north. Seems about right.

04 February 2010

My Sunday Schedule

I'M PUTTING THE final touches on my schedule for this coming Sunday. Here's how it looks so far:

7:00am - 8:00am: enjoy several cups of coffee while watching sun rise over Sea
8:00am - 9:00pm: who cares
9:00pm - 12:00am (midnight): watch Capitals v. Penguins hockey game
12:00am: wake Patrick up
12:10am - 4:00am: watch the Super Bowl -- New Orleans Saints v. Indianapolis Colts
4:00am: go to bed
7:00am: do not wake up (since Monday is that start of the Winter Break -- no school for two weeks)!

Tough to make that schedule any better.

03 February 2010

Tea, Figs, and a Little Reading in Class

IN THE ONE literature class that I teach at the CIV we are reading The Bookseller of Kabul, the international bestseller from several years ago written by a Norwegian journalist named Asne Seierstad. If you've read it you'll realize that it makes quite an interesting read for 15-16 year old students. I won't go into the details, but here's a quick summary:
In Afghanistan, just after the fall of the Taliban, a bookseller named Sultan Khan allowed a western journalist to move into his home and experience firsthand his family's life in the newly liberated capital city of Kabul.

From that act of openness emerges this remarkable book, already an international bestseller--the most intimate look yet at ordinary life for those who have weathered Afghanistan's extraordinary upheavals. One husband, two wives, five children, and many other relatives sharing four small rooms opened up their lives, unforgettably.
The students are really into the book and I'm having no difficulty getting them to study it seriously. But I want to add a element of -- shall I say, realism -- to the class so I've got something special planned for Thursday: before the students arrive I'm going to push all the desks to the edges of the room; I'm going to have all the girls wear scarves that cover the heads and faces; I'm going to bring tea, dried figs and apricots, and nuts for us to eat; and from there we are going to sit on the floor, drink tea, munch on dried fruit, and read and discuss part of the book together. There are numerous sections in the book that talk about the import role tea plays in Afghan culture -- not to mention the huge number of hours that are spent simply sitting on the floor discussing politics, family, or just telling stories. That's why we're going to give it a try.

I may even ask one of the girls to go cook me something to eat. You know, just to really get into the spirit of things.

01 February 2010

Happy Birthday Mom

WHEN THE KIDS woke up this morning the first thing the remembered is that it's my mother's birthday today. Happy Birthday from all of us, mom. We sure hope you have/had a great day and we are all very eager to see you again soon.

Mormor (it's Swedish) and Julia

A great meal in Milan with Mormor and Uncle Jeremy.

Say Hello to Our Newest Family Member

HENRY GOT A very special treat for his birthday -- a gift he has to share with his brother and sister. Meet Ovie...

...our new little hamster. It's a special 'kind' that I can't think of so I'll have to ask Kerri and get back to you. He's pretty cute, though, and very, very quick.

And his name is Ovie, after Alex Ovechkin.

Kind of in the Hockey Mood

HERE'S HOW PATHETIC (or, could it be cool?) I am. In order to get back in the spirit of hockey, and because of the upcoming Olympics (which will feature lots of hockey and speed skating), I've begun skating in my garage. Not real skating, of course, but 'exercise' skating. Since it has been far to cold to hit the bike I've been mock skating with weights behind my back in an effort to maintain some amount of physical fitness. I 'skate' for about 5-8 minutes --- at which point the muscles in my thighs feel like they are going to break through my skin. Julia brought the camera down because, and I quote her directly here, 'if I don't take a picture, no one will believe me when I tell them you are doing this.' It occurs to me that she might be right...so here you go:

And I'm wearing the cap because it's freezing in our garage.

Our Little 5 Year Old

FINALLY GETTING AROUND to some pictures from Henry's birthday. He celebrated 5 times: once when Kerri's parents were here (early Jan), once the night before his birthday (since it was Sat night and we often do something special on Sat evenings), once on Sunday (his actual birthday), once on Monday at school (though he didn't care for that), and once the following Wednesday afternoon when we invited some of his friends and their parents over for the afternoon. So I guess we celebrated 5 times because he was turning 5. I'm glad we don't follow this formula on Patrick and Julia.

Kerri made pancakes for the birthday breakfast. Each person got a letter.

No more birthdays until...mine.

Reading Reality Check

MY FRENCH TEACHER has insisted that we begin reading a book in French. We're going quite slow and it is, to be fair, a book aimed at kids, but I'm having fun reading through it and spending some time looking at the 'french' way of writing literature. The other day as I was walking to the bus station I (quite proudly) mentioned to a group of my students that I was finally beginning to read a real book in French. They asked which book it was and I told them: Le Petit Nicholas.

One of the girls said, 'Oh, I love that book. I read it when I was eight.'

Weather.com is Full of Crap

THE NERVE OF some websites! Weather.com is still insisting that the average temperature in Nice during the months of January and February is just under 60 F (15.5 C). I can't begin to describe to you how false that is. It has been cold here for 6 weeks -- crazy cold. It was snowing yesterday in Cannes, for goodness sake. Snowing. In Cannes!

And I can tell you something else, when our friend's pool has a nice layer of ice on the top you can be pretty certain it's not getting anywhere near 60 degrees.

I'm going to write a letter of complaint to weather.com.