15 January 2015

Reflections on Charlie Hebdo

I WROTE A small piece for a journal in the United Sattes called  Spectrum Magazine.  Article is on their blog right now if you are interested.  In the article I try to give a little background/perspective on the French ideas of freedom of expression and secularism (laicité) -- and disucss the role these ideas have had in French reaction to the attacks.  Here's the link

Charlie Hebdo Massacre Won't Stop Free Expression

09 December 2014

Still lots of Hockey

OUR YOUNGEST IS still enjoying his time playing for the youth club of Les Aigles de Nice -- the Division 1 pro hockey team.  The club now has an unofficial-official photographer and she captured a lot of great photos of last week's U11 game against Marseille (a 2-1 win for Nice).

Still my favorite hockey photo -- partly because the match was OUTDOORS at the top of Alpe d'huez (hence the eye-black)

01 December 2014

Weather Karma?

ABOUT A MONTH ago I posted a little blurb (a link to it here) which included a photo of our current house and a short explanation about how spectacular the weather was during our October break.  Since that day, the area has received a record amount of rainfall -- over 500 mm for the month; more than 5x the normal amount for one month.

Perhaps the 'our weather is better than your weather' jabs should stop.

19 November 2014

Emile Zola: Hey, they like it!

IF GIVEN THE option, my kids still prefer to read in English.  My daughter in particular is somewhat averse to reading in French -- something about how she hates the passé simple  -- which is strange because she is an avid reader.  It is all she does sometimes.

This week in their French class they finished La Bête Humaine (The Human Beast), a late 19th century novel by Emile Zola.

The early reviews are in:  'It's the best book I've ever had to read in French.'

OK, you might not want to put that on the back dust jacket, but considering the source (my daughter), it is high praise.

The Language Advantage

WHEN IT COMES to education, Europeans just know how to "do" languages.  I know all the reasons why: lots of countries close together, history, the EU, the need to learn other languages if you come from a small country like the Netherlands or Denmark, the need to be able to speak English, etc.  But there is another critical component that often gets overlooked: they simply commit to the idea that it is important to know languages other than your own.

My twins are in 2nde this year -- the equivalent of the sophomore year of high school in the United States.  They attend a French lycée, but it is an international lycée so there are some advantages built in to the curriculum when it comes to learning foreign languages.  For example, every student at their high school (and the junior-high for that matter) are required to be part of an international "section" -- a section where they will spend at least 8 hours per week taking classes in the section's language.  The school currently has 7 sections to choose from: American (English), German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese.  So right off the bat, every kid in the school speaks at least two languages: French and the language of their section.

But starting in 4eme (think 7th grade), the students are required -- yes required -- to take what is called LV2 (Langue Vivante -- 'living language') which means they have to study a third language for at least 5 years.  5 years!  Then, as if that is not enough, students who want to add yet another language are given space in their timetable to do so.  Some students choose an LV3 (a third living language) and some opt for studying a 'dead' language (langue morte) like Latin or Greek.  By the time students finish high school they will achieve a certified language proficiency of B1, B2, or C1 according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (click for details). Think about the advantage this gives students: fluent or basically fluent in three (sometimes more) languages by the age of 18. Certainly can't hurt in the age of globalization.

There are a lot of reasons why the U.S. probably won't go to a language-education system like this in the near future, but I won't go into those reasons now.  Instead, here is a quick look at what my kids study, including the language component:

  • Classes in French (History, French Literature, All sciences, Math, Sport, Social Science and Economics (total of 21 hours per week)
  • Classes in English (section language): History and Literature (7 hours per week)
  • LV2 -- Julia is taking Spanish, Patrick is taking Russian: (4 hours per week)
  • Latin/Greek -- an option they are both taking: (4 hours per week)
That's 15 hours per week where the goal is to speak a language other than French.  Imagine if American students were given even half as many hours per week where the goal was to speak a language other than English.

Meanwhile, I've lived in this country for 7 years and still speak French like a child.

Photos are easier

ONE OF THE best things about having a blog archive is seeing all those photos years later.  With that in mind, it's time to catch up on some photos from the past couple of years.  A few each week -- with or without explanation, we'll see.

Annecy.  Summer 2013

In the main hall at the United  Nations Office in Geneva.  I don't think the two boys trust the delegate in the front.

Stockholm, Sweden.  I don't think Julia is laughing WITH me.  More of an AT me situation.
U9 National Tournament.  Stade Bercy, Paris.

31 October 2014

Posts from the Past

IN SEPTEMBER OF 2007, just a few weeks after we arrived in France, I put up a post titled Some Things that will Take Getting Used To and  highlighted the following things:
  • buying milk (lait) by the six-pack
  • paying $5+ for a gallon of gas
  • not ever getting coffee to go (closest Starbucks is about 5 hours away)
  • remember that eating out for dinner will take at least 1 1/2 hours -- minimum
  • eating chevre
  • understanding that motor scooters pay no attention to the rules of the road
  • remembering to bring our own bags to the supermarket
  • everything is closed on Sunday afternoon
  • peanut butter is difficult to find
  • Dr. Pepper is impossible to find
  • trying to learn the passé composé form of verbs
Now that seven years have passed, how are we doing on this front?  Let's run through the list again and give a little progress report..
  • buying milk (lait) by the six-pack -- Got over it pretty quickly, not a problem.
  • paying $5+ for a gallon of gas -- I wish -- it's now about $7 a gallon.
  • not ever getting coffee to go (closest Starbucks is about 5 hours away) -- Good news!  We now have Starbucks -- one at each of the local malls in Nice.  And Subway now serves coffee-to-go.
  • remember that eating out for dinner will take at least 1 1/2 hours, minimum -- Not if you stick to pizza!
  • eating chevre -- I'm trying, I swear.  But not there yet.
  • understanding that motor scooters pay no attention to the rules of the road -- No hope for this one.
  • remembering to bring our own bags to the supermarket -- It's a simple concept, really.  But I can't grasp it for some reason.  We have a stack of dozens of bags at home because every time I go to the supermarket I forget bags and have to buy new ones.
  • everything is closed on Sunday afternoon -- This is beginning to change as France experiments with the idea of entering the modern world.
  • peanut butter is difficult to find -- Best solution: make your own, which we do.  Easy. Cheap. Delicious.
  • Dr. Pepper is impossible to find -- No longer the case.  Not only is it easier to find in stores, but at the cafe at my school they have cold cans for sale!!  Seismic change since 2007.
  • trying to learn the passé composé form of verbs -- Come to find out, passé composé was easy compared to all the other verb forms.  I'm still struggling with the Conditional!!

30 October 2014

Change of Address

FOR THE FIRST time since our move to France, we no longer live in the village of Le Rouret.  Because the owner of the house we have been in for the past two years is using it for himself this year (actually, it is his daughter who will be using it) we had to find a new place to live. Slightly stressful, to be sure, but Kerri and I love change and the idea of trying to find a new place to live is, well, kind of fun.

We landed close-by near a small, medieval village.  Our house isn't directly in the old village, which is too bad in some ways, but we're very close and -- as you can see -- we have reason to be happy with the new place.  Warm, sunny weather in October 30 doesn't hurt.

Halloween decorations, of course.

Coffee with Stephen Roche

THIS MORNING I took our car in for a follow-up 'controle-technique' visit and headed over to the Cafe Du Cycliste here in Chateauneuf-de-Grasse for a cup of coffee while I waited.  Two minutes after I sat down Stephen Roche (yes, that Stephen Roche) and a cycling partner pulled up on their bikes and sat down at the table next to me.  Roche, for those of you who don't know, won the Tour de France in 1987 and his son Nicholas is a top-level pro who just signed-on to ride for Team Sky -- one of the biggest and best cycling teams in the world (I have a soft spot for Nicholas because he used to go to the school where I now teach)  Stephen Roche has had a home here in the South of France since the early 80s when he was a pro and he owns at least one hotel and some other real estate in the area.  It certainly  isn't uncommon to see him riding in the area.

I guess today was one of his riding days.

Of course, I was too embarrassed to ask for a photo, so I don't have one.  But the best part -- he was riding a brand new Carerra bike. Carerra was the team he rode for when he won the Tour in '87, so it appears there are still some ties there.

Seriously, Back at It

TIME TO GET this up and going again, if only to help us chronicle our years in France.  As you can see, "for a while" has turned into a much longer time period than we (or anyone) would have expected.  But that can be explained...and will be at some point.

Now to figure out how and why so many spammers are commenting on this dormant blog.

29 December 2012

Yeah, uh...

OK, so quite a while between posts. 
Quick photo from this afternoon at the Gorges du Verdun.

Gorges du Verdun, December 2012

22 June 2012

Still Going

1991 VW GOLF GTI -- bought it for a couple thousand Euros a few months after we arrived in France.  Still going...

14 June 2012

Dinner for 25 -- in Paris

IT'S BAC GRADING and examination season and that means 6-7 days in Paris (not a terrible thing, for sure).  Each year the coordinating school takes the whole lot of us out to dinner -- usually at very nice place -- and we always enjoy a nice evening together.  The restaurant has been chosen for this year: L'Autobus Imperial.  It's located in the 1st Arron. and has been described to me as THE Art-Nouveau restaurant in Paris (the only one?).  The website looks good -- take a look.

It all starts next week.  Now I just have to mark 35 bac exams -- each consisting of two 7-10 page essays. 

12 June 2012

We're Moving

WE CANNOT DESCRIBE how lucky we have been to live in this house for the past few years.  We found it on a summer-rental web site and I remember writing to the owner on a whim and asking if he would be interested in renting it during the non-summer months -- September to June -- and he said yes.  The property owner lives in Paris and he and his family have been the most incredible "landlords" we could have imagined.  [Note: it an odd Small-World moment, we soon discovered that his children went to a school in the Paris area that is a sister-school of the lycée where I now teach.  I teach in the American section and his children went through the German section]

But next year this house will not be available and so we are getting ready to spend our last few nights in La Cigaliere -- and we won't soon forget it.  Those of you who have visited know what a little slice of paradise it is.  So that's the bad news.  The good news is that next year we will be living...next door!  More on that later.

The house, with a view of perhaps our favorite part -- the full glass
dining room that gives us incredible views of the Nice, the sea, and the surrounding mountains.
In winter we see the snow-capped mountains and the sea while we eat.
Just one of the many sunrises we enjoy each morning.
This is just one photo -- but Kerri and I often remark on how
no single sunrise is like another.  Each is different, and each is spectacular.

04 June 2012

Another Summer Pack-Up

AS WE GET ready for what is now a routine -- getting ready to get our of our house for the summer -- I decided to upload some photos from previous summer adventures.  It's been a while since I looked at photos from the summer of 2010 and 2011.  Those were great summers for us -- as most of them seem to be.

Each summer we have to leave our house for nearly 3 months and every summer we find a new place to spend a bit of time.  Previous years:

  • Summer 2008 - Puivert, France (Pyrenees)
  • Summer 2009 - Strasbourg, France
  • Summer 2010 - Macchia, Italy 
  • Summer 2011 - Poitou-Charentes, France
Recently updated web albums can be accessed here.

02 June 2012

You Know What's Fun...Family Visits

ONE OF THE highlights of our little French Adventure is the many visits we have had from friends and family.  Just last month our house was full of friends and family from the States.  We never get tired of it.  This time the treat was especially fun for me because for the first time since we moved, my dad, brother, and sister all come to visit at the same time.  As usual, we crammed a lot into a small time period (including a little road trip to Barcelona for my family members) and spend a lot of great time together.  Loved it. 

My dad with Patrick and Julia -- Avignon, France

My precious little sister and my precious little wife. -- Dolceacqua, Italy

My precious little brother trying to get a photo with the kids...and without me -- Ventimiglia, Italy.  (Julia was so happy to find an American Flag scarf at the market).
My dad with his three children.  
Cool Cats.  

30 April 2012

One More Photo

ONE OF THE other parents forwarded this photo which shows both Nice hockey teams playing -- the Under 10 team on the left and Under 8 team on the right. Beautiful setting. Beautiful Day. Beautiful Photo. Thanks Pascal.

29 April 2012

Under-8 Outdoor International Ice Hockey Tournament at 6000 Feet

IT'S PRETTY COOL.  This weekend Henry's hockey team participated in the 6th Annual (yes, they've had that many) 10-and-Under hockey tournament that is held every spring in the French ski resort of Alpe d'Huez.  8 teams competed from France, Switzerland, and Italy and Henry played with the 8-and-under team and had what he called "an awesome" time.  That's a great way to describe it even though his team finished without a win and was outscored by...well, a lot.  But Henry was just happy to be skating around, shooting pucks, and watching other kids his age play.  He got to celebrate a couple of goals of his own so that added to the fun.    

From left to right: Nice 1, Nice 2, Laussane, Alpe d'Huez, Gap, Geneva, Chambéry
Henry and his "line mates" waiting for their shift

Yes, the kids loved the eye-black the coaches gave them.  It really was bright and sunny.

Morning view from hotel/apartment

Don't really need to say much about this one.

One of the 21 switchbacks on the climb up Alpe d'Huez.

The road is much steeper than it looks on T.V. -- if that's possible.  Brutal in places.

Dinner in Alpe d'Huez
Team Nice getting a pre-game pep-talk

09 April 2012

What Brightens Your Day?

DURING OUR LITTLE Cup of Coffee Road Trip last Christmas break we started talking about the kinds of things that happen during the course of a normal day that make us feel good.  I'm not sure who said it, but someone in the family said that it is often little things that make the day a little 'brighter.'  With that idea Kerri suggested we start a little family project:  to actually take notice of the little things that brighten our day -- specifically the little things other people do that make our day a little better.  A couple of days later Brightened My Day was up and running and our project was underway.

Our goal is to write one thing someone did to brighten our day -- and to do it every day for one year.  Today is day 100.

The idea was to get all of us (especially the kids) to recognize little things we can do to make other people feel good and to realize the bickering and fighting is a waste of energy and time.  Some days they seem to understand the concept (as when Julia said, "It brightened my day when a friend told me how much she liked by bag") and some days we're not sure if it's quite sinking in (as when Julia said, "It brightened my day when mom and dad let me have extra TV time").  But hey, we're sticking with it and are hoping to keep it going for another 265 days.

Check in from time to time if you feel like it: Brightened My Day.