31 January 2012

Mapping Skillz

I USE POWERPOINT for almost all of my lessons -- usually to project photos, graphs, charts, cartoons, video clips, etc. onto a big screen in the front of the room.  But last week I had a one hour lesson where I needed to discuss the collapse of the Nazi regime in 1945 and I decided to do an old fashioned chalk-n-talk class.  It was so much fun!  Plus, I got to show off my mad skills on the board.  (I need to learn how to draw the Nazi symbol the correct way, it appears).

Snow Day

WE'VE HAD SNOW here before, but since we moved to France I've never had a snow day...until today.  OK, 1/2 a snow day -- but that's good enough.  Classes were cancelled at 12:00 today and it's a good thing they were, at least judging by the snow at our house (which is, admittedly, quite a bit higher than along the coast -- we're at about 400 meters).  It snow quite heavily all afternoon and left a beautiful, heavy coating of snow all across the region.

Of course, snow means football around here.

27 January 2012

La Semaine des Humanities

I GOT THE chance to do something fun this week at the school where I teach.  Each year the CIV puts on something called the La Semaine des Humanities -- a week long  series of lectures, films, presentations, classes, and exhibits dedicated to a particular theme with the area of the humanities.  This year the theme was Les Lumières -- The Enlightenment.

A colleague and I were asked to do a couple of presentations for the 'fête' and since we both teach in the American section of the school we decided to put together something that focused on an American writer: Thomas Paine. Using his great book Rights of Man as a guide, we tried to illustrate how his ideas about political rights influenced the American and French revolutions.  (For example: showing how his essay 'Common Sense' helped spark a revolution in American and 'Rights of Man' helped defend a revolution in France).  My colleague is the head of the literature department so she focused on how Paine used language and literature to get his message to the common people and my role was to put Paine in historical context -- talk about the environment in which he was writing, both in American and in France and comment on how and why the political environment shaped his views (including his reaction to Edmund Burke's position on the French Revolution).  

But then we went a step further. 

We recently met a student on campus who lives in the dormitories and is in his first year of the prépa program (a highly selective post-high school program in science and mathematics).  His name is Nabil Ben Youseff and he is Tunisian -- he lives in downtown Tunis.  Last January, while many around the world watched Tunisia launch the 'Arab Spring', he was marching in the streets, calling for his president to leave the country.  He was, to put it simply, participating in a revolution.  He is a very smart kid who becomes very animated and excited when he talks about what his country did 12 months ago.  The stories he tells are full of such emotion that you could listen to him all day and not get tired of it.

Well, we brought him in to help us tie together Thomas Paine's ideas from 200 years ago with the feelings of Tunisians in 2011.  Our presentation was called:  'The Lights are Still On:  Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, and Three Revolutions."  We gave the presentation twice during the week and if nothing else, we enjoyed ourselves.  Although my Lit. colleague and I did quite a bit of work putting the presentation together, it was Nabil who was the star of the show.  His stories (and hand-made cell phone videos) and experiences put a "real" face on what can often be a "history-book-only" kind of topic.

Loads of fun.  It is a wonderful week each year and this year I was happy to be a part of it.

20 January 2012

Who is to Blame for WWII?

THAT WAS THE question by 1ere students debated in class today and they did a terrific job.  Each student was given a character/organization to represent and they were asked to prepare a 2-3 minute presentation on the following two questions:  1) what role did your character play in the onset of WWII, and 2) why was the war NOT your character's fault.  After the presentations were completed, the final hour of class was dedicated to a free debate where students were encouraged to argue for who they thought was most responsible for the outbreak of WWII.

Once again, the MUN-style debate (where students represent other people's views, not their own) worked great.  Our characters today included the usual suspects (Hitler, Stalin, Chamberlain, Mussolini, Daladier, FDR) and a few others (Molotov, Ribbentrop, Marx, Churchill, the League of Nations).

Tournament I Champion

THE INAUGURAL FAMILY double-elimination Wii tournament is now in the books and I have to (somewhat reluctantly) announce the Kerri is the champion.  Our first tourney was Wii bowling and Kerri rocked us all, making it through without a loss.  (Damnit!)

We're doing one tournament per week and this week is golf.  I should be the early favorite, but you never know.

19 January 2012

Winter Wonderland

BOTH KERRI AND I consider ourselves winter-lovers -- and by that I mean that we enjoy cold temperatures and lots of snow.  But I have to say, if I can't have that, I'll take what we've had over the past several weeks.  It has been absolutely stunning almost every day since before Christmas with temperatures in the high teens (Celsius) and clear, blue skies.  The mornings are cold enough to make it feel like (sort of) winter and the afternoon sun makes it possible to open the doors in the house and look out at the sea.

Not exactly a Winter Wonderland in the traditional sense, but a Winter Wonderland nonetheless.
Photo taken from our balcony last week.  Over the past few weeks, most days have looked just like this.

11 January 2012

Call Me By My Wii Name

THIS EVENING WE started the first of a series of Family Wii Tournaments on our new Nintendo game system.  I'm a little bummed because I lost to my 13-year old son in the opening round of Wii Bowling, but I'm happy to report that our tournaments are all double elimination [props to the double elimination printable brackets I found online] so if I can win the loser bracket I'll be right back into the championship match.  In the play-in round (hey, we have to have one -- we have an odd number in the family) Kerri beat Julia and racked up an impressive 194 in the process.

Of course, no Wii tournament can begin until each family member has a Wii-profile -- complete with nickname, and visual likeness.  I now present the family Wii names:

  • Jonathan = J$ (pronounced J-Money)
  • Kerri - KWow (Kuh-wow, not Kay-wow)
  • Patrick - PDogg (yes, the second 'g' is critical)
  • Julia - JuicyQ (the Q is for Queen)
  • Henry - HennerG (as in energy)
From now on we will answer to either our given names or our Wii names.

10 January 2012

Andrew Sullivan's Readers are Awesome, Part II

READ THE NEXT post for the background, but this a video created by the guy who won this week's View From Your Window contest over at Andrew Sullivan's blog.  I'm posting this because the photo in this week's contest is one I took during our little road trip during the Christmas holidays.  (Not the photo in the screen shot below, but at the beginning of the video).

Andrew Sullivan's Readers are Awesome

MY MORNING ROUTINE centers around coffee and the internet.  After pouring a warm cup of coffee I love spending a bit of time catching up on what I missed during the night: checking email, browsing news headlines, looking and sports scores, and hitting a few of my favorite political websites.  I tend to have a certain order in which I complete this Tour de Web (as we all often do) and somewhere near the top of the list is Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, a popular blog that generates millions of hits per month and won the Weblog Award for Best Blog in 2008.

One cool feature on Sullivan's blog is a weekly contest called the The View From Your Window where he posts a reader-submitted photo (always a view from a window and always posted on Saturdays) and invites readers to try to guess the location of the object in the photo.  It has become a very popular posts each week and readers will often spend hours trying to find the exact location of the photo.  Most weeks, it is stunning (dare I say scary) to see how many readers can not only find the location of the photo, but pinpoint exactly where it was taken from.  Results are posted on Tuesday afternoons and the person who's guess is the closest gets a free The View From Your Window book (yes, the contest has not become a beautiful coffee-table book).

Well, last Saturday afternoon I was in Nice and I got an email from Sullivan (or somebody at the Dish) saying they were going to use a photo I had submitted a few days earlier for the contest.  The photo was from...well, I won't tell you where I took it until you have a chance to see it and try to guess for yourself.  The results are now up and can be seen here.  Below is the photo I submitted in case you want to give it a shot before you see what Sullivan's readers guessed.  If you follow this blog at all you'll remember that I posted it during our trip.  I took it down when I was told it was going to be used for the contest, but apparently that didn't matter much because several readers found the location by putting the photo in a google search and this blog came up (even though the photo had been deleted).  You'll see from the results that this week's contest was a pretty easy one -- readers found several clues in the photo and had little trouble finding the location.  But that has to be partly because Daily Dish readers are so unbelievable awesome.

Anyway, here's the photo.  [Oh, make sure you watch the video submitted by the guy who eventually won the contest.  It shows how he "found" the location of the picture.   Very cool!']

09 January 2012

The Final Country

FINAL STOP ON our trip from a couple weeks ago:

On the Austria-Slovakia border between Vienna and Bratislava

Ahhh...Starbucks on the Danube.  Only place we found it on the entire trip was Vienna.
Silly faces, I guess.
Arena in Verona, Italy.  Built in AD 30.

03 January 2012

The Biggest Surprise of the Trip

OUR WINTER ROAD trip officially ended at about 6:10pm on the night of January 1, 2012 when we pulled into our driveway at the end of seven days 2954 km of travel.  About one minute later we got a surprise that we certainly were not expecting.

As I went to open our front door, I noticed something that looked like a magazine or a newspaper on our front step.  Because the outdoor lights were not on I couldn't make out exactly what it was, but I suspected it was something that a neighbor had dropped off and didn't think much about it.  Once I opened the front door and turned on the front lights, I reached down to retrieve the item and held it in the light to get a better look.  What I saw actually startled me and I was in a bit of a daze for about 10 seconds.  In my had was a copy of my hometown (and favorite) newspaper, The Washington Post.  That was odd, to be sure, but what threw me for a loop was the date on the top of the front page:  January 1, 2012.

I was standing in a small village in France holding that day's morning paper from Washington, DC.

When Kerri came up our front steps I turned and showed her the paper.  We both then knew what was going on, though we were not sure how it had transpired.  What was clear was that someone had put that paper on our door that day; someone who had been in DC within the last 24 hours.

Yep, Kerri's parents!  They were here.  They had completely surprised us.  They had taken the New Year's Eve flight from DC and arrived in Nice around mid-day on the 1st.  We had no idea they were coming.*  They had finally pulled a fast one on us after years of us pulling fast ones on them (though, admittedly, not nearly a big as this one).  We knew they didn't have a key so we went to the computer and Skyped them.  Sure enough, the background that came up when Kerri's dad answered bore no resemblance to their house and instead looked vaguely like a hotel room.  It didn't take us long to discover that it was the Hotel Campanile in Chateauneuf-de-Grasse -- a mere 4 km from our house.  20 minutes later they pulled up to our house and surprise was complete.

Well done, Poppop and GiGi!!  You got us good.

*Though I should admit the Kerri was a bit suspicious for reasons I won't go in to -- and she kept telling me something was going on.  Now we know what it was.

01 January 2012

Home...But What A Week!

OUR NEW YEAR'S Day lunch was in Verona, Italy.  We were only in the old-town for about 2 hours, but with the sun shining, the market hopping, and our delicious (and cheap) pizza/salad lunch, it was a fun couple hours.

But it's good to be back home.  Patrick and Julia had 'travel books' where they kept information about our trip (km traveled per day, favorite cities, cost of tolls, favorite foods, historical facts, drawings, foreign words learned, etc).  Maybe tomorrow we'll go through the books and add up the total mileage, but for now a map and short summary will be enough:
  • Day 1: Le Rouret - Trieste, Italy
  • Day 2: Trieste - Budapest (stops in Ljublijana and Zagreb)
  • Day 3: Budapest
  • Day 4: Budapest - Bratislava
  • Day 5: Bratislava
  • Day 6: Bratislava - Padova, Italy (stop in Vienna)  
  • Day 7: Padova - Le Rouret (stop in Verona)

What a New Year's Eve!

WE HAD HIGH hopes for New Year's Eve this year.  In the midst of a seven-country little road trip we were excited about how we might spend the final few hours of 2011: Listening to Mozart along the banks of the Danube in Vienna?  Eating fresh pasta in Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet?  Nibbling on panettone in the main square in Venice?  We had lots of options, but finally ended up here:

Get ready...

Take-out Chinese at the Padova, Italy Hotel Campanile.  Ringin' in 2012 with Style!
Photo: December 31, 2011, 11:26 pm.

Cup of Coffee Road Trip, Day 7

TODAY'S PLANNED ROUTE: Verona, Italy - Home.  About 450 km.  Happy New Year!!!