My son and I are leaving our small town in southeastern United States to live for a year in a small town in southeastern France. It couldn't possibly be THAT different, right?

Saturday, November 26, 2011


My friend Richard says that every year there is at least one person in his classes who asks him how you say "Thanksgiving" in French.  His response?  "Jeudi."  (That's "Thursday" for you non French speakers.)

Yes, it's true.  Life goes on here without any mention of turkey or football or parades or gratitude.  Unlike that other "American" holiday, Halloween, Thanksgiving in any form has not caught on over here.  I know that Thanksgiving celebrates an event in American history, but gratitude is such a nice idea, and the French love good food so much that I would think that they would adopt it and Frenchify it in some way.  Mais non!

It's up to the ex-pats to carve out (pun intended) some sacred space in the week to celebrate Thanksgiving with any and all willing participants.  Jed and I were fortunate this week to be able to celebrate the holiday two times.

First, we went to our friend, Dominique's, house (like we often do), and she had prepared a big turkey leg and vegetables for our lunch on Wednesday.  I brought roasted root vegetables, and we finished off the meal with chocolate or caramel pudding cups.  Yum!  Dominique is at the top of my list of people to be grateful for this year.  I cannot imagine our lives without her.

On Thursday, I took Grandmom's peanut butter bars to school for my colleagues, left them on the counter and ran away fearing that the French might not like them since peanut butter is considered kind of strange over here.  When I returned after school, there wasn't even a crumb left in the pans.  Unless someone took pity on me and threw them all in the trash, I'd say that they were a hit.

Jed and I did not have a special meal on Thursday, but we talked with family and friends via Skype and felt extremely grateful for this amazing technology that helps keep us connected to the people we love.

On Friday, Jed and I headed to Crest immediately after school.  Carrie had decided to have a traditional feast for her French friends, and she invited us to be a part of it.  She paid a small fortune for two turkeys, and she made stuffing.  My contribution was two sweet potato casseroles, a pan of Grandmom's peanut butter bars, and  bottle of wine.  The other guests brought everything else.  I think that there were 22 of us total, with kids big and small running all over the place.  It was casual and loud and fun.  I am grateful for friends who are fabulous cooks and for generous people who welcome newcomers into their group with open arms.  I'd like for people to be able to say both of these things about me one day.

Happy Thanksgiving y'all!


Monday, November 21, 2011



    Jed and I made the five-hour train trek to Clermont-Ferrand to visit friend and fellow Spartanburg (-ian? -er? -ois? -ite?), Kris McVey who works there for Michelin.  She and her family have been in France for over two years so Jed did not remember them from South Carolina, but it did not take him long to reconnect with Tag, who is seven and loves video games and Pokemon and marbles.  Tag's three-year-old twin sisters, Emmerson and Meade did not know us at all, but it also wasn't long before these cheerful little girls were taking me by the hand and showing me their babies and dress-up clothes.  We had such a nice time with this loving, active family!

The hike begins!

These two climbed on everything and picked up every stick and threw every rock that they saw!

All of the kids loved finding the yellow trail markers called "blazes."

    On Saturday, we hiked five miles around the Put de Come with our four children plus one of Tag's American friends, Catherine.  I could not believe what troopers they all were.  Kris' hiking candy kept them going, I think.  That night I had raclette for the first time.  How have I never discovered this wonderful comfort food before?!  Potatoes, melted cheese, and bread are a few of my favorite things!

I love this photo, for some reason!

Near the end of the hike.

A gorgeous November afternoon!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kora Trio Project

The Kora Trio Project came to our school today to hold workshops with our students in the cinquième classes and to give a concert.  I got to chaperone the percussion workshop, which was a total delight!  I then met cellist, Eric Longsworth, who comes from Oberlin, Ohio and had lunch with him in the cafeteria.  The group takes their name from the West African musical instrument played by Chérif Soumano, the kora. 

Anna at the percussion workshop

Elina and Julie at the cello workshop

Yanis at the percussion workshop

 "C'est à l'occasion de la 5ème édition du Festival ROCHEFORT EN ACCORDS que Chérif Soumano & Eric Longsworth ont croisé leurs univers dans le cadre des rencontres "imprévisibles et inattendues". Dans l'urgence des concerts d'un festival aussi insolite qu'atypique, les deux musiciens ont trouvé des passerelles musicales communes malgré des différences culturelles évidentes : le jeu de Chérif SOUMANO est issu de la tradition malienne (la kora en est un instrument emblématique) et Eric LONGSWORTH (artiste inclassable) joue du violoncelle électrique, très influencé par ses racines américaines jazzy / folk. Le festival terminé, les deux musiciens ont souhaité poursuivre les explorations en associant le percussionniste Marseillais Jean Luc DI FRAYA. Également chanteur, Jean Luc DI FRAYA est doté de possibilités vocales oniriques qui accentuent et développent le coté singulier du duo kora / violoncelle tout en élargissant la "palette sonore"."

If you're interested, there are videos of the group on youtube, of course.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I copied this post from my friend Erin Cleveland's blog because 
I really could not have said it any better.  
Erin is living in Quiberon, France this year with her husband, Dan,
 and she is attempting to teach English in a middle school just like me. 

"Every good little French student has at least one ruler in his/her trousse
The ruler is not just for math.
The ruler is used at any and all times that necessitate a line.  A STRAIGHT line.
 My students spend so much time using their rulers that
I think it is the main reason why we never get through what I had planned for the class.
 I quickly underline a word on the board, they get out their rulers.
I draw a quick box around a word, they draw four perfect lines around it.
Don't even consider having them do a matching or connect-the-dots activity...
yep, rulers required!
At one point, frustrated by the wasting of precious time,
I asked them why they had to use a ruler
and if they could just quickly draw a line (their notebooks ARE lined, after all...)
"Mais Madame, ce n'est pas joli comme ça!"
Yep, from their very first year of school, these kids are instructed to use rulers any time
that they are required to draw a line...
Besides making perfectly straight and joli lines, rulers make excellent swords.
But, of course!  I confiscate at least one ruler per day.
 It's not the embarrassment of having your ruler confiscated that teaches them a lesson,
it's the fact that they will have to spend the rest of the day without a ruler and, gasp!,
they will have lines that are pas joli in their notebooks!!
 Most students do not need to have their ruler confiscated twice!
 Once, after I took a ruler from a student,
he calmly took a new shiny one out of his backpack.
 Whew!  Uneven lines averted!  No, I took that one too :)"

Saturday, November 12th

Morning:  Our first trip to the market in quite a while.  We bought kiwis and pears and had breakfast at a café.
Jed and I love to pass by the spice table, but we've never bought anything because I don't know what half of the spices are.  They sure smell good, though!

                                      Jed with his almond croissant at the café on the square

It was such a beautiful day that we wandered through the streets a bit before coming home.  This nougat mural is on a wall near the post office.
Jed with the lower part of the nougat mural.  It looks like he's really riding this bike, doesn't it?

Afternoon:  Jed went to his friend Nans' birthday party with Néo.  I took advantage of this three hours to go shopping for black boots since Jed HATES to shop.  When Dominique and I went to pick them up, Nans' parents asked us to stay for dinner.  We got home close to 11:00 after a fun evening.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

La main courante

In addition to all of the wonderful things that I'm learning this year, I'm also learning things that I never wanted to learn.  I copied the following definition from because I have to go to the police station tomorrow to file this type of report against the maintenance man of the property where we live.  

Qu'est-ce qu'une main courante  Mis à jour le 08.07.2011 par Direction de l'information légale et administrative (Premier ministre), Ministère en charge de la justice

Faire une déclaration en main courante, c'est faire consigner des faits sans déposer plainte. C'est une simple déclaration.

De quoi s'agit-il ?Le dépôt sur main courante est une simple déclaration d'un particulier.
Le dépôt sur main courante est un moyen pratique pour dater des évènements d'une certaine gravité mais qui ne sont pas à eux seuls caractéristiques de la commission d'une infraction  (exemples : constat du départ du conjoint du domicile, non présentation de l'enfant conformément aux règles fixées dans une décision de justice, bruits de voisinage).
Il est utile de noter le jour et l'heure de la déclaration, ainsi que son numéro d'enregistrement, car cette formalité accomplie pourra constituer un début de preuve dans une procédure ultérieure.

On Wednesday (ironically, the day that we celebrated the International Declaration of the Rights of Children), Jed was playing chase with his friends and ran through one door of the basement and out the other right into the hands of the maintenance man who had told them not to play in that area.  He proceeded to shake Jed, chop the side of his neck, slap his face, and knock pretty hard on the top of his head with his fist in a is-anybody-home gesture.

Because Jed was behind the building, I had no idea that any of this was happening until one of Jed's friends yelled my name under the window.  I was in my pajamas so I quickly started getting dressed while yelling Jed's name out of my window.  Another friend came from the direction of the parking garage and told me that Jed was back there with the gardien.  I yelled louder, and Jed came around the corner, obviously upset. 

When Jed came upstairs, he cried and cried.  His two friends followed in about five minutes and told me the same version of events that Jed had reported.

Not long afterwards, the gardien arrived at the door and told me his side of things.  He said that the boys don't listen to adults and that they run wild, and that they damage property.  He said that he was fed up and that he finally got angry with them for the first time.

When I told him that I agreed that they should not do what he said that they had done but that I would not allow him to hit my child, things got a little more heated.  He yelled at me and said some pretty nasty things about Jed.  I remained fairly calm (as if talking to a crazy person) but held my ground.  I could tell that he was scared that he was going to get in trouble, and I think that I smelled alcohol on his breath. 

When he finally left our apartment about 45 minutes later, (I could NOT get rid of the man!) I fell apart.  I was devastated.  I talked to several friends to see what I should do, and they suggested that I file a "main courante," a type of report that does not exist in the US, I don't think.  Essentially, it is a declaration without consequence.  It is on file under this man's name in case it is ever needed at a future date---if he ever does this to another child or to Jed again, for example.  He will never see it if there is not another incident.

This might seem like a wimpy response, but it is one that we can live with.  I do not want to create an enemy and then be scared the rest of our time here.  We are just going to avoid this man and stay out of the basement from now on.  

I should add that Jed is perfectly fine both physically and emotionally.  He thought that today was a good day overall.  We had lunch with our friends Dominique and Néo; he went to fencing practice; he made a paper lantern and launched it after dark; and he had cotton candy for the first time ever.  He also got to talk to Mrs. Payne's second grade class via Skype.  To him, that makes five good things and one bad thing, and that equals a good day!  I like his happiness math.

This is the small cotton candy!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Les droits de l'enfant

 In 1989, the United Nations adopted the International Declaration of the Rights of Children.  Among other things, the 191 signature nations agree to protect children from hunger, sexual exploitation, drugs, and violence and to provide medical care and education for them.  The following address is a link to the simplified text (in French) for children:  The only two nations that have not signed the agreement are Somalia and you guessed it----the United States!  Apparently, we are too attached to the idea of executing minors in certain states to be able to be in compliance with the declaration.  

This afternoon and evening, Jed and I attended a celebration of the rights of children in downtown Montélimar.  The event ended with a launching of paper lanterns that the children had decorated.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Les aventures de Tintin

It has been rainy and cold for days and days so Jed and I decided to see a film just to have a change of scenery.  We cannot find films in English so we chose another action-packed film that Jed could understand without much help from me.  I have never read Tintin so the entire movie was a nice surprise.    

Worried? Who? Me?

Just minutes from where we live in Montélimar, there is a nuclear power plant on the Rhône river.  We pass by it on the way to our friends' house in Crest.  This fresco mural on the side of one of the four cooling towers just takes my breath away.  I find it scary and manipulative.
  The power plant has chosen the image of a child playing with water to make the citizens of the area believe that nuclear power is perfectly safe.  I guess that it is supposed to make us forget that in 2008 this particular plant had serious safety issues with the equipment that transports explosive materials and that it was ordered to address those within three months.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween, French-style

To say that Halloween is not as widely celebrated in France as it is in the U.S. is an understatement.  At home, I spend at least $30.00 on candy for the 80 or 90 little ghosts and goblins who file past our decorated porch and through the tombstones in our front yard.  Here, I hung a skeleton on the glass door to the balcony, and I was the only person in the apartment complex to decorate at all.  I bought one bag of candy and had to go find kids to give it to.  Jed and I went trick-or-treating, but Jed did not want to dress up because he assumed that he would be the only one.  When he saw that his friend, Matthéo had a mask, he smudged some black makeup on his face and put on his skeleton jacket that he wears all the time anyway and called it a costume.  We went to about ten apartments total, and four of them gave us candy or fruit or money.  The others seemed surprised to see us or told us over the intercom that they did not have anything.  We passed by three adorable princesses in our travels, and they must have followed us home because not long after we arrived, they rang our bell.  If I had known then that they would be our only trick-or-treaters, I would have made their whole night.  Instead, I gave each one four pieces so that there would be enough for all of the other kids that I was sure that we would see.  I guess that I'll just have to eat the leftovers.  Hey, maybe Halloween in France is like Halloween in the U.S. after all!