Friday, January 28, 2011

guest blog post by Mom Huget

Although I've been mentioned on Jen's blog, I must seem like a shadowy figure lurking behind the scenes. So, I'm also doing a guest blog, like Rod wrote, to assure everyone who reads this that, yes, I am very present and I take part in pretty much everything that goes on. And I even have experiences on my own to share. On a day to day basis, Jen's focus is on the children, school things, her school volunteering, etc., that keeps her busy. I have the time to get out more on a social basis and I do that a lot but together we did many day trips around the area in the warmer weather and before the hustle, bustle of holiday preparation. Within an hours driving time we came upon some amazing sights, history, surprising discoveries, etc., that we're eager to share with guests from the States.
The English. We were fortunate to meet early on English neighbors who live at the other end of the main street of our village and who own and run a bed and breakfast, Gillian and Hugh. They've introduced me to an energetic and socially active group of their English friends and every Monday morning I go off to some village nearby for a 'coffee'. They've also loaned us the use of four bicycles they bought for their b and b guests, the use of their french gps for a trip to Bordeaux, and have generously alerted us to events of interest, (a Sunday 10am, big semi-annual wine tasting in an old remote farmhouse - a caravan of 4 cars of English, me and a couple of hundred happy French- what an experience!). I've been invited to holiday parties, brunches, aperitifs, and always with a lot of laughter and the quick British wit. Most of them have renovated old farmhouses, some of which they bought years ago while vacationing here and have decorated with english country charm. I have to work to keep up with them.
AVF (no one knows what the initials stand for). This is a organization dedicated to easing all the English who retire here into french culture. They let me join for 27 euros; I don't understand why but I'm grateful they did. I was told it was not easy to get invited into homes of the French, or even to interact socially very often. By and large that's been true but through AVF, I'm taking a french language class, I play bridge with a group of French people every Tuesday afternoon, and there is available every Wednesday afternoon a 2 1/2 hour walking tour with a guide. A handful of English go on these hikes but mostly its French and when it comes to stamina, these French are hard to keep up with as well. They're up steep hills lickety-split with me trying not to huff and puff as to attract attention. They carry professional looking walking sticks and wear serious hiking boots. There are also monthly parties with some kind of theme and I've only been to one but the French mostly sit together, the English together, etc.; the purpose is to mix but that's easier said than done. The language difficultly.
More of 'The French' We are also fortunate to be living close to Tony and Gisellle and Phillipe and Natalie. They are the parents of children in the neighborhood whom our children play with and who have been more than generous and have invited us into their homes. The fathers both speak english but we try to speak the french we've acquired with them. We do have a good time in spite of the stumbling with the language; they want to improve their english and Phillipe breaks out an english dictionary from time to time.
Bright Spots For me, some of the best experiences have been with friends who have made the effort to come visit - Thanksgiving guests, Jim and Joanne, and Cindy and her daughter, Megan. Because of them it was a memorable Thanksgiving. When Jen and Rod went to Paris for a couple of nights to celebrate New Year's Eve, Brighton friends, Shari, her mother, Bev, sister, Lauri and daughter Emily came to keep me company while they were gone. Emily is teaching english in a french high school in northern France and immediately bonded with our kids. Another memorable holiday I'll never forget.

Future bright spots - both of my other 2 children are coming with their families in the spring! The list of things we want to share with them grows everyday but food, wine, cheese, bread, pate, on and on, tops that list! It gives Jen and I great pleasure to talk about the possibilities of their trips, where we could go, what we could do and have them experience, etc., while they're here. They are all greatly missed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ellie's 6th birthday

Sweet little Ellie turned 6.

At school here they call her Elizabet (no h on the end).

I asked my other kids about birthday snacks. I was told that parents send in a bag of candy and the teacher passes out the candy. How easy is that? The French moms do not make life harder on themselves.
I sent in a bag of candy with Ellie and she was very excited about it.
When I picked her up she was grinning a new grin. She had lost a tooth at nap time. (It doesn't sound like she was napping if she was losing teeth.)

A birthday and a lost tooth! It doesn't get much better. At least to a 6 year old.

Ellie got to pick dinner, so we had hamburgers and french fries. The neighbor boy, Zack, caught wind of the dinner we were having and begged to be invited to eat over.
We had chocolate cake for her birthday cake. We sang happy birthday to Ellie and then we made Zack sing it to her in French. Ellie didn't seem to care what language we were singing. She was in her own happy little birthday world.

I don't know what Ellie's favorite gift was because she was pretty easy to please this year. But my favorite gift was the one Joey made for her.

Below is a picture of Joey and Elle walking home from school on Ellie's birthday. In the background you can see our little village and the church steeple.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

the fireplace that makes a statement

Katie was invited to sleepover at her friend Margeaux's house. Margeaux has a French mother and a Irish father. She goes to a French school but watches TV and reads books in English.

Mom, Ellie and I took Kate over to Margeaux's house. We drove a good 20 minutes away from town out in the country. We went through a couple of little villages before arriving at the big stone house where Margeaux and her family live.

We were invited in for coffee and ended up chatting for 2 hours. We got to see the inside of their old stone house. They even pulled out the paperwork they got when they bought the house. A timeline of owners back to the 1500's. Old documents from the 1700's. The previous owner left a written record of every renovation he did and how much everything cost.

The heat was broken so we sat by the fireplace. You can't help but to notice that the fireplace is painted black. The black paint is very faded. They told us that during the French Revolution, the people in the Vendee (the region we live in) were very upset after the King and Marie Antoinette were beheaded. To show their support to the Royals and against the new Revolutionary government, the people in the Vendee painted their fireplaces black. A sign of protest.

Here is a picture of the fireplace that is still protesting.

For some reason I think about this fireplace now when I watch the news. I could get all heavy and start talking about revolutions and the protesters in Egypt and Tunisia. But I won't.
I never have known revolutionaries to take to interior decorating. I don't think the protesters on the news today are painting their fireplaces black.

Oh, I can't forget to mention that on the other side of the room, across from the black fireplace is a big screen TV. Black, of course.
But the Wii video game attached to it is white.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Year's Eve in Paris

Our Christmas present to each other? A trip to Paris for New Year's Eve. Two nights with no kids!
Rod and I took the train up to Paris on Dec. 30. Did I already mention that it was just the two of us. Just the two of us!!!

Mom stayed with the kids. Fortunately she also some friends from home visit while we were gone.

I love taking the train. You don't have to weigh your luggage. No one cares about the weight. You don't have to think about what shoes will be easy to take off at security.
The train arrives, you get on, and after a couple of minutes the train leaves the station. No drama. No fuss.

We took an early train and got to Paris by 9am. We checked into our hotel and toured the Paris Opera house before noon. After lunch we started walking back to our hotel. We found ourselves in a Christmas market on the Champs Elysees. Vendor after vendor selling food, trinkets, drinks, crafts. It was crowded and festive. I heard lots of languages being spoken. Lots and lots of tourists. It was a fun afternoon walking around.

That evening Rod and I were deciding what to do about dinner when Rod got an e-mail from a friend who was in Paris. This friend and his family were staying at their family owned apartment in Paris. Oh, did I want to see a real Parisian apartment. So we made our way over to the apartment. It was in a beautiful area of Paris. Let me just say, it lived up to my expectations of what an elegant Parisian apartment would look like. Lovely, lovely, lovely. We had a couple of glasses of champagne with this couple. After a couple of drinks everyone is my best friend. Rod finally dragged me out of there and I left thinking they are just the most fabulous people ever.

The next day, Dec. 31, we took the metro to the end of the line and went to see the Chateau de Vincennes. Then we found a bistro that looked like it had locals in it and had a Frenchy lunch. One of those long 2 hour lunches.
That afternoon we walked around a lot. We got off the metro near Notre Dame. We walked over the bridge onto the small Ile Saint Louis. (This island is right next to the island that has Notre Dame on it) It is a cute little island in the middle of the Seine River with lots of little speciality shops. A cheese shop, a bakery, a chocolate shop. Adorable. I think I want to go back to this little island and spend more time poking around the little shops.
Then we headed over to the St. Germain district and walked around. We found an outdoor cafe to sit and chat.
While walking around during the afternoon we scouted out restaurants for that evening. We made reservations at a restaurant overlooking the Seine River, across from the Louvre.

When we arrived at the restaurant we were told that we could sit inside or outside. We decided to sit outside. They had heatlamps and blankets to keep the cold away. It was cozy. It was New Year's Eve. We were in Paris. Enjoying a French meal. Sitting outside. It was perfect. Just perfect.

When we walked home from the restaurant along the river, we knew the clock struck twelve by all the cars honking and people cheering. The Eiffel Tower lit up with sparkly lights for 5 minutes. It was fun to be in a big city on New Year's Eve and listen to all the cheering and celebrating.

And the next morning the fun ended. I woke up with the stomach flu. Nothing kills a nice trip faster than the stomach flu. I threw up on the train ride back to the house. If I felt better, I would have been really embarrassed. Those are some French people I am glad I will never see again.

All was good back at the house when we arrived. Mom's friends seemed to be having a nice time. I said hello to them and went upstairs to lay down. But then I felt like I was being rude and I went back downstairs to chat with them. I probably should not have done that because I gave at least one of them the stomach flu.

That is really the end of the story here but I don't want to end the blog post talking about the stomach flu. So I will also add that Rod is coming back in March so we can take the kids up to Paris. They are excited to go and we are excited to take them.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Between Christmas and New Year's, Rod and I took the kids to Chenonceau.
It is an impressive chateau built over the river.
Yes, it is big and beautiful and has lots of history.
Blah blah blah. But you want to know what it really interesting to the kids? A wall in the process of falling down.

They also really liked running around in the maze. They chased each other around. They were very loud. Rod and I sat on a bench and let them run around and shriek with laughter. We were hoping that none of the French people who frown on loud American children were nearby. There was another family around the maze, but they were not speaking French. They might have been speaking German. But I am not up on my German so I really couldn't tell you for sure.
Can you see Gabi there in the center of the maze?

One bit of history that did catch their attention was the girlfriend's garden versus the Queen's garden. King Henri II gave Chenonceau to his girlfriend (or the proper term mistress) Diane de Poitiers. After Henri II died, his widow Catherine de Medici kicked out the girlfriend and moved into Chenonceau. The widow Queen didn't like the garden of the girlfriend so she had her own garden put in. When we were walking around the chateau, the kids would look out the window and ask "Is that the queen's garden or the girlfriend's garden?" Then we had to walk around each garden and decide which one was better.
Here is Ellie in the Queens' garden.

In case you are interested, the falling down wall borders the girlfriend's garden.

The Queen thought the girlfriends garden was too gaudy and over the top. She wanted a more serene and refined garden.

Here is a photo in the girlfriend's garden, which is much bigger than the Queens.

The kitchen in Chenonceau is so interesting to walk through. It is in the basement of the chateau. You can see where they used to haul water up from the river. The kitchen is not one big room but a series of smaller rooms with different functions. A room to butcher and hang meat. A larder room. An area to bake bread. A room for the servants to dine.
I asked a woman who works in the chateau about a certain item in the kitchen. It looked like a coffee press thing to me. She told me is was a press alright. It was a press to squeeze the blood out of rabbit. ok. gulp. A French kitchen is no place for wusses.
Look at these butcher knives. We kept a close eye on Joey here. He had a certain look in his eye - like he wanted to test out those knives. Look on the righthand side of the butchers table, can you see the saw? Not a job for wimps.

I just love these copper pots.

Ellie is checking out the bread oven.

All my kids in a fireplace. That is not a sentence I type very often.

Below is a picture taken in the gallery. The gallery is a long room that extends over the River Cher. During the WWI it was used as a hospital. During WWII, the river was the line of demarcation. So one side of the river (the side with the chateau) was occupied by the Germans. The other side of the river was the free zone. The Resistance was able to use this gallery to smuggle people into the free zone.

Ellie is standing in front of the door to that leads to the other side of the river. It looks short because you can't see the steps leading down.

Last but not least, here is a picture of the side of the chateau getting restoration work. I can't imagine it was easy placing the scaffolding in the river. Then again, I can't imagine it was easy to build a chateau in the river.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

the neighbors take us for a ride

Off to the woods we go.

The day after Christmas we were just hanging around the house. Mom Huget went out for a walk. Joey's friend Zack came over to show us his beyblades that his mom had to order from AMERICA since they couldn't be found in France. Don't know what beyblades are? Some kind of spinning top toy that are popular here right now. They can battle each other. Boys and battles go together.
Joey and Zack are playing nicely until about lunchtime. Zack wants to invite Joey over for lunch and so he brings his dad over to our house to see if Joey can have lunch with their family. Lunch is a pretty big meal. So being invited over for lunch is sort of like being invited for dinner in the states.
We chat with the dad, Philip, and then he invites us to take a walk in the Mervent Forest with his family later in the afternoon.
At 3:00, Philip, his wife Natalie and their daughter Valentine come over. None of the kids want to take a long walk so they decide to stay home. Zack included. Mom Huget had already taken a long walk so she didn't want to go either.
So Rod and I hop in the car with Philip, Natalie and Valentine. We don't really know where we are going. We are just along for the ride.
They drive us by an old chateau nearby that I like to run past. There is only one man who lives there. He is old and descends from nobility. At least that is what Philip tells us.
We drive about 15 or 20 minutes away and park near a river in a wooded area. There is a path along the river. The 5 of us get out and start walking along the river. It is a nice crisp day.
The path follows the river and gets steep and narrow. I am just starting to think that this wouldn't be a good path for my younger kids. I look up and see some bikers coming towards us. When the path is too narrow, they just pick up their bikes and carry them.
Rod chats with Philip, who speaks English. I walk alongside Natalie and Valentine and chat with them. Natalie tells me how much trouble she had getting the beyblades for her son for Christmas. She went online and couldn't find them anywhere in France. Finally, she ordered them from the US.
After our walk, which was probably close to 2 hours, Philip wants to show us more of the forest. We drive around a bit more.
Then we start heading back. On the way home, his wife reminds him that they need to stop for baguettes. I ask Philip where he likes to buy a good baguette. Find out that he is very fussy about his bread. He doesn't like it when the dough is shipped in to the chain stores. He thinks a proper baguette is when the dough is made onsite. Then he drives us past a boulangerie that he likes. It is a tucked out of the way and I might not have ever noticed it.
Then they invited all of us over to their house for dessert.
They drop us off at home and we gather up everyone else. It takes a few minutes. When I say get your shoes and coat on, to a child that means stop and watch a tv show first.
Finally, we walk down to Philip and Natalie's house. They introduce us to the galette de rois (cake of the kings). It is a cake traditionally eaten here in January. Inside each cake is a little hidden figurine. The person who gets the figurine is the king or queen and gets to wear the crown. They had a couple of cakes so we had a couple of kings and queens.

Rod must have enjoyed the walk because the very next day he took Katie and Gabi back there. They loved it. Their favorite part was throwing small stones on patches of ice and hearing this strange echo pinging noise.

I didn't know that a walk in the woods would bring such smiles.