October 18, 2008

Alsace, France - Château de Frankenbourg

HikingtofrankenbourgcastleWe crossed over from francophone Switzerland back into German-speaking CH, and then over into northeastern France, to the region of Alsace. A little Bed & Breakfast, that also serves dinner by advance reservation only, stands at the edge of the tiny village of Rathsamhausen le Haut, outside the larger village of Baldenheim, which is near the town of Sélestat, near the bigger town of Colmar, near the city of Mulhouse. The place names don't sound very French in this part of the country - it's passed too many times back and forth between Germany and France.

Having reserved for dinner for the first night, we sat in four of the 13 chairs around one long wooden table (une "table d'hôte," as they call it). The rest were filled with a couple from the south of France (St. Tropez), a couple from northwestern France (Brittany), a Belgian couple, and a family from Germany. I was amazed to realize that not only did our family speak some of both of their languages, but David had also actually lived in all of their home countries. The French and Belgian couples didn't speak any German, and the German family didn't speak any French, so we were able to be a bridge, except that the host placed us at the opposite end of the table from the Germans. So all the conversation that first night was in French, except when the host would translate his culinary explanations into German. One very interesting social experience was when the conversation turned to World War II - with Germans, French, Belgians, and Americans at the table. People were disagreeing about how much bombing had been necessary in various parts of France. We Americans just listened, while the mid-aged French innkeeper and the elderly Belgian man had strong opinions. Since the conversation was all in French, I don't think the Germans understood much.

The next morning, people came down at different times for breakfast, so we got to converse with the friendly Germans, when it also became apparent that they spoke quite good English (except for the 11-yr-old daughter, who had only taken it for two years in school). The Breton couple did not care to try their very rusty and basic English, although they understood a bit, so we spoke in French with them. It was most intriguing experience, and really shouted loudly of the fantastic benefits of learning languages. Communication possibilities! Another funny note - the German family spoke to their dog with a few Spanish words, because, as they explained, she could distinguish them better than if they were shouting the same German words as everyone else at the park...so they were constantly saying, "Aqui!" instead of "Hier!" (Come here)

GodsstainedglassOn our one full day in Alsace, we wandered off into the hills to look for ruined castles (the kids argued there was no reason to pay to see a castle when there are plenty of free ones, never mind the disarray), and found the beautifully situated Château de Frankenbourg. Some historians think that perhaps Clovis, King of the Franks, might have built this castle in the 400s, upon his conquest of Alsace, but there is no official mention of this structure until 1123. There are also traces of the Romans round about.

We walked uphill through a golden forest landscape raining with leaves for 50 minutes to the summit. I had gotten fully into my cold at this point, so I brought my box of tissues, but had enough energy for the excursion. We picnicked inside the castle, under the open sky, and the kids engaged in plenty of swordplay with their newly found French walking staffs.

At another stop, the kids kicked together an Alsatian leaf pile and leaped with delight.

More of my Alsace photos.

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 06, 2008

What I Miss and What I Love Here

(this mentions only a few, in a short and incomplete list, and speaks of things, not people)

What I miss from France (we were only there a year):
- the French language (and understanding everyone)
- the crêperie in Montpellier (non-smoking, no less, even before all restaurants in France became non-smoking)
- the local bakeries

What I miss from England:
- Waitrose grocery store's delicious prepared foods, ready to bake for dinner
- our garbage disposal
- unlimited trash pickup in any kind of bag
- weekly recycling pickup
- mixed paper recycling (pieces of any size)
- the "free" visits to the local doctor's office for any reason
- the easy 100% reimbursements from the health insurance company
- being able to communicate easily with everyone (though I don't miss the English language in general)
- youth group for Jason with other kids his age
- my two daytime ladies' Bible studies, one with locals and one with ex-pats
- non-smoking

What I miss from California:
- the laundry chute (and garbage disposal)
- Jamba Juice
- Tomatina
- Una Más
- Cold Stone Creamery
- Ben & Jerry's that was not $8.79 per pint
- abundant sunshine
- our orthodontist
- our dentist
- solid, in-depth, methodical Bible teaching
- convenient, close stores of every kind
- non-smoking

What I love here in Zurich, Switzerland, so far:
- mountains, with and without snow
- Swiss culture in general
- Swiss flags that make my face brighten (because I love Switzerland)
- raclette, rösti, and spätzli
- hazelnut yogurts and Biberli almond cakes
- fresh, cool air
- heated floors, no hot air flowing around
- no need for air conditioning
- good solid season changes
- peace and quiet
- stores closed on Sundays
- a church that invited my son to play drums Sunday mornings
- such close proximity to so many countries and languages
- a chance for me and my kids to learn another language by using it

October 6, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 28, 2007

Friendly Gestures on the International Roads

In France, there are a lot of motorcycles. When cars pull to the right a bit to let a motorcyclist fit past in the middle of the road, the rider very often lifts one leg away from the bike in a gesture of thanks to the driver after they've passed. We experienced this living there in 2005-6.

Here in England, the roads are typically very narrow, fitting only one car going in each direction, with no extra room for parking. Nonetheless, people do consistently park along such roads, on either side, facing any direction (legally), and the moving cars are faced with a gauntlet to run, without hitting any cars coming the opposite direction, though there's only the room left for one car at a time. This results in people "giving way" to each other, and drivers very often then raise a hand from the steering wheel in a friendly gesture to thank the one who gave way and waited for the other to pass, just before disappearing from frontal view and moving off into the side-mirror view.

I don't remember any particular friendly gestures often occurring on the roads in the U.S. I would suppose this is because the roads are so much wider there that no one needs to give way to each other. There is actually room to park AND drive, most of the time. Do you see frequently repeated friendly gestures on the roads where you live?

November 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 04, 2007

Mont St. Michel

I have done some mini blogging in the captions of some of my photos at PicasaWeb, about

- our visit to Mont St. Michel (tidal island monastery which was used as a prison in the French Revolution and after which Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings was modeled),
- Omaha Beach & Museum & Cemtery (where American forces landed on D-Day),
- Bayeux Cathedral (next to where they keep the Bayeux Tapestry, a medieval artwork which is 50 cm tall and 70 m long (20 in by 230 ft), depicting the Norman Conquest of 1066),
- Juno Beach (where Canadian forces landed on D-Day),
- and the autumn leaves in England.

I've been experimenting with exporting photos directly from iPhoto to PicasaWeb. If you are someone I have met face to face and you want to see other photos with the faces of my family in them, let me know by comment or email and I can email you the link to that different album.

In case it's easier, here is the page with links to all my public picasa web albums in one spot.

November 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 01, 2007

French Revolutionary Calendar

TreeplaqueDid you know that as a part of the French Revolution they decided to start a new calendar in 1792? If I ever knew this, I had completely forgotten it. They renamed all the months and started the years at zero again. They came up with very sensible names:

January = Pluviôse (rain)
February = Ventôse (wind)
March = Germinal (seed)
April = Floréal (blossom)
May = Prairial (meadow)
June = Messidor (harvest)
July = Thermidor (heat)
August = Fructidor (fruits)
September = Vendémiaire (vintage)
October = Brumaire (mist)
November = Frimaire (frost)
December = Nivôse (snow)

Thus, as of today, we would now be up to the 1st of Frimaire, Year 215. I guess it didn't stick, though.

Last week we saw a beautifully flourishing tree planted in Bayeux, Normandy, France, which is 210 years old. It was planted on "10 Germinal, An V" or Year 5. That is the 30th of March, 1797. The tree is known as "L'Arbre de la Liberté" (the Tree of Freedom). It is right next to the Bayeux Cathedral (whose striking stained glass will hopefully make it into a subsequent post).

November 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 03, 2007

The Joy of Basil

I had a fabulous lunch today. It's been a frequent favorite of mine these days. Normally I don't spend time making myself something "real" for lunch (I just have leftovers or PB&J or nothing or yogurt/fruit/nuts or ice cream/chocolate if I'm feeling in need of a treat/reward). But lately I sometimes make myself CAPRESE. All for myself. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. So simple, but so colorful and tasty.

Layer on your plate:
- Slices of Organic Vine-Ripened Tomato
- Big, Fat, Vibrant Green Basil Leaves From the Pot on your Kitchen Windowsill (don't have one? Get one! It's awesome to see everyday and smell...)
- Slices of lowfat fresh wet mozzarella
- More fresh basil
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Drizzle of balsamic vinegar

YUM YUM! (colors of the Italian flag, too)

Then in the afternoon I baked Pumpkin Cookies and Pumpkin Pecan Bread. I made both because each one calls for one cup of canned pumpkin, and the cans contain, of course, two cups. I am so happy they have Libby's Canned Pumpkin here in England (didn't exist in France). Well, my pumpkin cookies came out great, but the bread game out all disgustingly gooey in the middle even while the outside didn't want to be cooked any more. Eventually I decided to chop it up into the cooked bits and the non-cooked bits, and throw the gooey bits back into the oven in slices on a baking sheet. So can I call the rebaked bits "Biscotti" since that means Twice Cooked? The family liked both versions, the "unicotti" and the "biscotti."

Ted Leung did a cool photo collage of the lunar eclipse from the other day. We missed it.

Advice from a doctor on dressing your daughters via Amanda Witt.

Totally unrelated matter coming up: Guide to Translating School Grades in the UK, USA, and France. I think I have posted this at least partially before, but I want to clarify it to myself again:

USA UK France
Kindergarten Year 1 Maternelle
1st Grade Year 2 CP
2nd Grade Year 3 CE-1
3rd Grade Year 4 CE-2
4th Grade Year 5 CM-1
5th Grade Year 6 CM-2
6th Grade Year 7 6ème
7th Grade Year 8 5ème
8th Grade Year 9 4ème
9th Grade Year 10 3ème
10th Grade Year 11 Seconde
11th Grade Year 12 Première
12th Grade Year 13 Terminale

I haven't quite got it down to automatic yet for the conversion from UK to US and back. I know it's one number away, but sometimes I'm not certain in which direction. Our school uses the American system of grades, so when we are talking to people with kids in the local UK schools, it takes a minute to get ourselves all oriented as to which year our kids are in.

September 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 29, 2006

Sun Sets Over France

Our second to last night living in France, from the upper bedroom of our friends' house:

July 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 25, 2006

A Good Year

For the next ten days here in Southern France, the temperatures day and night here are supposedly not going to stray farther than 19-31 C (66-88 F). We will be spending half that time near Atlanta, Georgia...where the temperatures are pretty much exactly identical. Only probably much more humid, with bigger bugs and more mosquito bites. Oh well, we'll be with lots of cousins, so who cares. Swimming and seeing butterflies in the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center Tropical Conservatory. We have to remember to wear bright red or pink so the butterflies land on us this time. David and Jason did that last time and got lucky, but Emily and I were wearing dark blue, and no butterflies were interested.

You've possibly heard of the Peter Mayle book, A Year in Provence. Well, for us it's been "A Year in Languedoc-Roussillon" (which is the next French region over to the west of Provence). And our theme now would have to be "They... went home, joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the LORD had done..." (to borrow from 1 Kings 8:66). Only "home" is not really anywhere for us, having now lived in six countries and seven U.S. states between us, so "they went home" will mean "they went to a different new home." God willing. We're still waiting on His providence for that.

But we're "joyful and glad in heart" because our kids learned French, we enjoyed the food, the culture, the language, the weather, the terrain, and two more parts of the Body of Christ (a French one and an international one including British, Australian, French, Dutch, German, and Nigerian hearts), and we expanded our view of the world. As Emily said at dinner last night, "I've had a nice time in France, but now I'm ready to move on." She's been reading a cool kids' booklet about England that our moving company sent her. She's excited to visit British castles and Legoland (30 minutes from our proposed new home). I'm looking forward to living in lush and green forested land as opposed to the arid scrub land around here (although the vineyards, orchards, and the Mediterranean have been lovely as well).

You may be wondering why/how I have time to blog when we only have eight more days at home before the moving van arrives to transport our entire household to another new country. I'm wondering that myself. I guess this is the calm before the storm. We're supposed to be gearing up for the move, but these are languid summer days with basking lizards, inching snails, hopping toads & buzzing bees, a light breeze and a sun-drenched pool (the water is up to 80 degrees - 27 C)...and everyone else is gearing down for summer, especially the schools. So it's hard to get up the energy to be frenzied. And we just moved a year ago, so there's not that much stuff to cull. And not having sold the house yet, we're not shutting everything down (like water, electricity, yard care, etc). Anyway, weekends are for resting, right? It's Sunday. I rest my case.

June 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2006

Living Near Jonah

You know what I realized? I just read the Book of Jonah in the Bible - for the first time 20 minutes away from the body of water where the story took place! I am right near the Mediterranean - where the "big fish" contained Jonah for 3 days! I can totally picture it! Cool! I wonder if the whale or whatever it was came in through the Strait of Gibraltar especially for this job...Oh, wait, now I see that whales do just live in the Med:

According to PBS:

While many people are unaware of the presence of whales in the Mediterranean Sea, this region contains no fewer than twenty-one species of cetaceans - at least eight of these can be considered regular inhabitants.

And the Wikipedia says it's most notably sperm whales, which can be 60 feet long! Cool again!

American Cetacean Society says of the sperm whale, "Its main source of food is medium-sized deep water squid, but it also feeds on species of fish, skate, octopus, and smaller squid. A sperm whale consumes about one ton (907 kg) of food each day."

Jonah could easily have been mistaken for a squid, right, and certainly have fit into the stomach? The only question is how he survived in there for 3 days...but we do know he came out bleached. I guess God preserved a pretty big air pocket in there somehow for him...but what a scary experience. Enough to make him change him mind and go to Nineveh, anyway.

June 22, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 19, 2006

Zip Lines

That's our son, Jason (11), in the orange shirt, and my husband in the white.
JdextremestartJason's P.E. teacher here at the French public middle school is a real blue ribbon. He not only is the driving force behind the 6th grade ski trip every year, and teaches rugby and baseball and badminton and gymnastics and wrestling, but he had school cancelled and took the whole class on a bike ride last week to a high ropes course in the woods half an hour from the school. It was an all-day affair, and Jason came home hot, sticky, sappy, dirty and tired, but with a large sense of accomplishment. And excitement to take his family along for a second try a week later.

So this past Saturday the four of us set off to find the place again, armed with vague directions and our GPS device (the cherished Tom-Tom). After inquiring of an elderly, sun-ripened gentleman leaning out of his window watching traffic (who had never heard of the place), and then a coiffeuse who had to come out of a treatment room where she was no doubt waxing someone's eyebrows, but who nonetheless knew the way, we managed to arrive at the pine grove in the middle of the countryside.

As a family of four, ages 8 through the thirty-somethings, we donned the special harness and gear, and listened to the instructions with rapt attention. One of the things I love about France as compared to the U.S. is that here:
- we are assumed to be responsible people (not dumb, stupid, or clueless)
- whether are are responsible or not is up to us, and we are assumed to be responsible for our own responsibility...are you getting what I'm saying? This leads to the fact that:
- there was not a single piece of paperwork to sign to the effect that we were participating in a dangerous sport, in the course of which we might fall, break bones, or die (all of which was very true), given that we'd be 60 feet in the air without a guide, and
- we didn't have to wear helmets (indeed, there weren't any)

Interesting fact for my close family members: the instructor guide who led us through the initiation lived near Geneva and knew Veyrier and Vandoeuvres! Fun serendipity... (those are two little villages we lived in in the 70's and 80's in Switzerland).

The different ropes course of varying difficulty and height were color-coded. We attacked the blue level, then purple, red and brown. By this time our youngest was tuckered out and that was perfect, since she had reached the highest and hardest she was allowed to do (she was scared but game, and did it all). Then Jason took David onto the "Extreme" level way way up there. He had already done it twice with his PE class (he was the only boy in the class to do it twice, alongside the only girl). I took photos. Then Jason insisted that I do it, too, so he did it again, with me in tow this time. This awesome experience culminated with a zip-line 100 metres long (330 feet) at a height of 17 metres (55 feet) in the air amongst the trees. I was okay as long as I didn't look down. My hands are still burning when I put them under hot water, but they are returning to normal now, 48 hours later...next time I wear bike gloves! It was the extreme level's rope net that I was grabbing so tightly that did it, I think.

Some Handy Vocabulary:

- Accrobranches = French for "high ropes course in the trees" with zip lines and other cool stuff

- Une tyrolienne = a zip line (seems to come from the same root as "tyrolean crossing" - I guess it was something first done in the Tyrol region: Southern Austria or Northern Italy?). Sort of the Space Trolley idea, but on a much cooler, grander scale. By the way, it seems you can buy the Space Trolley registered trademark if you'd like. But it could be a scam, like selling the Brooklyn Bridge, maybe. I don't have time to find out. Investigate. ;-)

Not to be confused with:
- La Tyroliane = the name of the particular high ropes course place we went to, 15 minutes from our house (why, oh why did we have to wait until two weeks before moving to discover it??? It is cool beyond words)

- mousqueton = carabiner (ESSENTIAL safety items, which keep you from falling to your death; you have two, so that you are always attached by at least one, when you are switching locations)

- pulley (pronounced POO-LEE) = removable pulley, which each climber has attached to their own harness for later use on zip lines as they appear along the course

- porte-matériel = "materials holder," a loop on the harness for hanging your pulley on (and the carabiners when not using them because you're on the ground)


I highly recommend this experience to anyone who gets a chance to do it. What a blast. We are tempted to go AGAIN next weekend if we can squeeze it in... D & N, want to join us? ;-) By the way, Paul and Alethia, I believe you gave me the pink NYC shirt I was wearing - remember what it says on the back? "Don't panic!"

June 19, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack