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, March 31, 2012


    I always thought that Carnaval was the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, but in France, that's not how they do things.  New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro and the rest of the world already fêted their Carnaval over a month ago, but over here it is more of a celebration of spring than the last hurrah before Lent. Free of religious commitment, the date of Carnaval varies from city to city in France, and today was ours.
    Jed and I walked downtown with Bénédicte, Kylian, and Mattéo where we met lots of costumed men, women, and children in the Quartier Saint Martin.  I thought that we were there to watch a parade, but once again, I missed something in the translation.  We were not watching the parade.  We WERE the parade.  We walked all through centre ville throwing confetti into the crowd and ended up at the park where we ate crêpes and watched as the float carrying Carmantran (carême entrant or the coming of Lent) was pushed out into the pond and set afire. 

Darth and the two "gentlemen"

Our neighbor Sarah and her mom

Dom, Eytan, and Néo bring Jack Skelington and Sally to life.  Dom made the boys' costumes, of course!  She can do anything!

The boys with Benoît, the head "surveillant" at their school

The boys with Nicolas, their coach for the Thursday afternoon sports club




Friday, March 30, 2012

Hair meets the Mistral

Just when I thought that my hair couldn't possibly get any bigger, the Mistral picked up today and almost blew me away.  
Before work...

After work

Jed takes after his mama in the unruly hair department.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

School shootings

For those of you who speak French, I've attached a link to an article about several peaceful marches that have taken place since last week's school shooting in Toulouse.

In case you missed the news, here's what happened.  Terrorist, Mohammed Merah, arrived at a Jewish school in Toulouse on March 19th on a scooter and started shooting.  He killed one of the teachers, (Jonathan Sandler) his two young sons (Aryeh and Gabriel) and the principal's daughter (Miryam Monsonégo) and seriously injured a seventeen-year-old boy.  He apparently had a video camera strapped to his chest the entire time so that he could show the world what he had done, but so far, news stations have refused to put it on the air.

The shooter was killed during a standoff with French police.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Le crosse and le brevet blanc

Jed's school cancelled classes for the afternoon in order for all of the kids to run in a cross country race around the school campus.  They were divided by year of birth and gender, and there were prizes for the top finishers in each category.  Jed's friend, Mattéo, won first place in the 2002 Boys competition, and Jed placed 11th out of 12 in the 2003 group after blazing past his friend, Ange, to avoid being in last place.


I was unable to attend le crosse because of my class schedule, but I heard that parents had to stay locked outside the gates, as usual, so I might not have seen much even if I had been there.

We had a big event at our school today too: le brevet blanc, which is a practice brevet.  What is the brevet, you ask?  It's a comprehensive exam that middle school students take at the end of troisième.  I helped proctor it in the cafeteria during my free period, and I was amazed at how seriously the students took it.    

French pharmacies

Going to a French pharmacy is quite a treat, even if you ARE going because you can no longer breathe through either nostril.
They are usually quite small and personal, and they mainly contain medicine, vitamins, and supplements.  You can also find really good lotions, reading glasses,  and a couple of different brands of make-up that aren't sold in other stores.
What you canNOT find is candy, magazines, lawn furniture, etc.  You have to go to a hypermarché for all of that stuff, where, incidentally, you will not be able to buy a pill of any kind.  The French are big believers in "a place for everything, and everything in its place."
All medicine in a French pharmacy is behind the counter---even pain killers such as Advil.  This means that every trip involves a consultation with one of several pharmacists on duty.  They ask all about your symptoms and other medical conditions and then make recommendations.  These may include traditional medicine or homeopathic treatments.
For my allergies today, I walked away with Zyrtec, a homeopathic pill that I will take eight times a day, saline spray, and a month's worth of probiotics.  The pharmacist had also asked about other family members with allergies and ended up recommending that I take Jed for a consultation at the pediatric asthma center in Dieulefit.
I certainly got my money's worth in this quick trip to the pharmacy near my school, and I met another very nice person.         

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blissful grading

If you absolutely must grade papers all day, be sure to do it in a park in the spring while your child runs and laughs and plays with his best friend.

There will be distractions like requests for drinks and snacks and adorable babies chasing balls and way-too-young-to-be-smoking teenagers using foul language and an older couple sitting crossed-legged and gazing into each other's eyes for an hour ( I don't know how they did that!  I was bored FOR them!), but that's ok.

It's better than being cooped up in a fourth-floor apartment on a gorgeous day. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fencing in Bourg-lès-Valence

    Jed participated in his second fencing tournament today in a little town above Valence about 45 minutes from here.  We zipped up the interstate and followed the viamichelin directions without any problems whatsoever.  We then spent a full day on our feet in a high school gym.
    Jed did not end up placing, but he made a lot of progress this week.  In his first tournament he lost every match.  Today he won two of eleven; ten of which were qualifying rounds.  This means that he got eliminated in his first "real" match, but that's ok.  He had a great time, and so did I.  I watched and photographed from the sidelines while talking to another fencing mom from Montélimar.

Warming up outside

During his last match

Unhooking his body wire

Who is that masked man?

Spring fever at school

This blog is a record of the year, and I write it mainly for me so that I will not forget a moment of this incredible experience.  It includes our favorite moments as well as my struggles at school because I need to remember those as well.

Without going into all of the gory details, I want to report that spring has sprung in southeastern France and that the students are getting restless.  Even with all of the vacations that they have sprinkled throughout the year, they are longing for the freedom of summer.

This restlessness has led to a few more discipline problems than usual in my classroom, and I have had to crack down on the worst offenders.

Here's this week's tally:

Four boys removed from one class all week with extra detentions after school and meetings with their parents.  There is also the possibility that they will lose their school trip at the end of the year.  (Jed says that they are SO going to kill me if that happens!)

One boy written up for hitting another boy and then for using "tu" with me and threatening me.  (If you have studied French, you know that to "tutoyer" a teacher is very disrespectful.)

One boy sent out of class for refusing to change seats when I asked him to because he was talking.

That's it!  Just six boys this week.  It's always the boys.  As we say in the south, bless their hearts!  They just cannot control themselves at this age!     

Thursday, March 22, 2012


    It seems appropriate that I was in the emergency room on my dad's birthday since we spent so much time visiting him in hospitals the last ten years of his life.  His problems were chronic and associated with his love of cigarettes, however, and my trip was due to clumsiness in the kitchen---something that would have never happened to my dad, who was such a good cook.
    Last night while making dinner, I tried to cut off the end of the middle finger on my right hand.  A lemon rolled away from me leaving my hand in its place on the chopping board, and I sliced a big chunk of finger.  It bled profusely while Jed ran around in a panic getting me paper towels and band-aids until he just couldn't help anymore because he thought that he was going to throw up from the sight of the blood.  We got the bleeding under control pretty quickly, but the finger throbbed all night.
    After getting dressed this morning, I noticed that my cut had popped open and was bleeding again.  I called my doctor who said that French doctors do not do sutures and that I would have to go to a clinic.  I dropped Jed off at school, and then Dominique led the way to the emergency room.  We were in and out of there in a little over an hour after one measly little stitch took care of the injury.  Dominique then took me to the pharmacy to get my pain medication and antibiotic ointment.  The total for an uninsured American?  89 euros at the ER and 16 euros at the pharmacy.  Dominique's help and friendship this year?  Priceless.      

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Just a short post to say how much Jed and I love B-I-N-G-O, or as it is known here, Loto.  His school had a big Loto night at the Espace Mistral to raise money for the parents association, and I really think that every family in the school was represented.  There were kids everywhere, all playing their cards and hoping to win the amazing prizes that had been donated.  Jed and I never even came close, but we had a great time.  He would have loved the electric scooter, and I was dreaming of a vacation in Spain, but neither were in the cards for us.  We sat with our friend, Bénédicte,  and her family and contributed to the school's coffers by eating lots of goodies from the concession stand.  Sounds like a good night to me!

Look at that top card!  Bénédicte's dad was one number away from winning the trip to Spain.  

Kylian and Jed in front of the Loto board

Mattéo and a friend from school

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jed's awesome accent

Watch what seven months of language immersion will do for your child!  This is Jed's homework for tomorrow.  He knows the poem by heart but wanted to read it for the camera.  I am jealous of his perfect accent!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Favorite views of the day

Jed and I went to see some of my students perform in Sauzet tonight, and on the way we were stopped in our tracks by the beauty of our surroundings.  OK, actually I was struck first and I exclaimed so much that Jed finally got into the scenery as well.  This is one of those moments when I realize that I really am turning into my mom who often gasps as we are driving somewhere.  I used to think that something bad was about to happen, but after many long drives together I now know that she has just seen a pretty patch of kudzu covering an abandoned trailer or caught a glimpse of an unusual cloud formation.  I hope that I can teach Jed to notice beauty everywhere just like my mom does.

A grove of peach trees and blue mountains

On the other side of the street is my absolute favorite view on the way to work:  a row of tall, skinny trees in front of a building with a caved-in roof in the middle of peach trees in bloom.  This is heaven!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Les restaurants du coeurés-le-16-mars-sur-tf1-et-rtl

I have been glued to the TV all night watching an all-star tribute to the Restaurants du Coeur, a charitable association created by the comedian, Coluche, in the 1980's to help feed the poor and shelter the homeless.  The singers who contribute to the songs and albums that raise money for the organization call themselves the "enfoirés," a word that has a negative meaning in any other context.  It is a badge of honor in the music world, though. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Parent conference

I just met with the mom of one of the boys involved in the fight that took place in my classroom a few weeks ago.  She was at school to talk with the Spanish teacher about his progress so I asked if I could drop in to see if there had been any lingering hostilities between the two boys.  Her son is new at our school this year and has not been very well accepted so I worry about him.

Imagine my surprise as well as this poor mother's when I told her that her son had been very calm and on task since the incident.  "Incident? What incident?" she replied.  I almost fell over.  Her son was involved in a violent fight that resulted in desks and chairs being thrown and me being punched in the face, and not only were the boys not punished, the school has not even mentioned it to her.

The mom is angry because she wants her son to be punished.  She thinks that he has gotten too aggressive lately and that he risks becoming out of control.  She needs the school to do its part.  She doesn't want them to parent, but when things happen on their turf, she wants them to take action.

Her son brought a knife to school one morning about a month ago and showed it to another student.  The administration did not take the knife and did not tell her until the afternoon that an incident had occurred.  Of course, by then, her son had made the knife disappear.  The mom has no idea where it came from and cannot imagine why he was allowed to keep it all day after an incident report was filed.

I understand how busy the administration at my school is.  It's a big place with kids with some pretty serious problems.  There are some things that you just cannot let slip through the cracks, though.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sheep and goats in downtown Montélimar

The good people of Montélimar have come up with a creative way to fight spring allergies.  They have hired hundreds of sheep and goats to roam the banks of the Roubion River eating ragweed for the next month.
Jed and I stopped by after his fencing practice to check out this free petting zoo.  There were lots of people observing and mingling with the animals. 

The baby goats were the stars of the show.  They ran up and down this wall over and over---at times slipping and sliding into a heap at the bottom.

A working mother!  I can't believe that I got this shot.  She shooed the little ones away pretty quickly.

Another working mom!  At least I get Wednesdays off---unlike my friend above.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The highs and lows of March 5-11

Monday  A really nice man that Amy and I met in the grocery store over the weekend was there again today.  He gave me his e-mail address and wants me and Jed to come have dinner with him and his wife sometime.  He wants to perfect his English by offering a room in his house as an English-speaking B&B, and he'd like for me to help him get the word out.  Sounds interesting.

Wednesday  I bought Jed his fourth pair of tennis shoes since arriving in France this morning.  He's both wearing them out and outgrowing them.   After shopping, he and I  had lunch with Dominique and Néo at their friend Martine's house.  She served salmon ravioli to everyone but Jed who munched on bread and lettuce. 

Thursday  I took Rice Krispie Treats to all 152 of my students plus the "surveillants."  They were a big hit all around.  The kids demanded the recipe and some said that they were going to make them at home that very afternoon.  They were really cute.  Julien, one of the surveillants, stopped by after school to thank me for putting some in their lounge, and he told me that they brought back good memories of his five years in the US.  I can't imagine why he has not told me that until now!  He speaks English fluently and sounds just like an American teenager, and he's been holding out on me.  I'm now trying to think of a way to use him in my classes.  Maybe that's why he never said anything.

Jed had his first handball tournament today.  There were three teams from his school competing against schools from all over Montélimar.  His team won their first three matches but then lost four and did not make the top five teams.  His teammates were really disappointed, but Jed was not at all affected by the losses.  He said, "It's just for fun, right?"
The blue team from Le Bouquet

A cookie break between matches

Friday  A student in my troisième class asked me "what the fuck" I do all day when I said that I did not yet have their averages, which were due by the end of the day. I actually had them but did not plan to give them out.  Anyway, I immediately sent him to the assistant principal to tell her what he had done.  I carried on with class, but I was really shaken by the experience. I will KISS THE GROUND when I return to SDS!  I think I've said that before, right?

The highlight of the week was spending the night at Carrie's house in Crest.  Jeanne and Alex were passing through the area on their way to Grenoble to ski so we had a party.  Carrie's friends Fatima, Bruno, Pascale, and Thierry and their children came over, and her husband, Burt, made BBQ chicken and ribs and cole slaw.  He then got out his guitar and his mother's old song book from the 70's, and we sang until 2:00 in the morning.  
Burt and Carrie

Mary entertained us with her violin and country line dancing.

Maybe I'll learn how to edit film soon and trim this up.  I want to make stars out of Carrie and Burt, though, so I'm posting this in all of its roughness.   

Saturday  We had free tickets so Jed and I went to see a basketball game between Montélimar and Tarascon tonight at 8:00.  Our home team won 79 to 65.  There were no Kobes on the court, but it was fun.
The half-time show

Montélimar's team
Number 9 (second from the right) was really good.

Sunday  I wrote comments on reports cards for a few hours this morning and then Jed and I took a stroll downtown.  I didn't expect anything exciting to be happening, but there was a demonstration against nuclear power near the city hall.  We got there too late to see the human chain that stretched from Avignon to Lyon, (la région la plus nucléarisée d'Europe) but we did see lots of young people with dreads, dogs, and guitars chilling at the cafés.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Brotschuls are here!

Entertaining company is so much fun, especially when there are people for both me AND Jed to play with!  We have been looking forward to a visit from Amy, Sev, and Dorian since we first met them in Paris in the fall.  Their winter break arrived at the end of ours, which meant that we could not travel together but that we could finally show them where we live.
They arrived Thursday night, and Dad Brotschul (aka Stephen) was with them.  Our apartment is small, but we can easily make sleeping space for four extras.
Three nights and two days of eating, drinking, and merriment followed.
I had to work for a few hours on Friday so Jed selflessly agreed to stay home from school and show everyone around town.  That night we ate pizza and played spoons and watched movies.
On Saturday, Carrie and Mary came from Crest, and we all walked to the Palais des Bonbons where we completed the high ropes course, called Accro Eiffel, which is located on the steel beams above the candy museum.  We walked across beams and a net bridge and did three zip lines, two short ones over nets and one long, very high one that scared more than a few of us.  The course ended with a straight jump down two stories attached to a cord.  Mine was more a fall than a jump because the instructor pushed me as I contemplated the height.  Thanks, Phillipe!
Saturday night, Burt and Nathan joined us at the apartment for wine, cheese and bread (for the adults) and ravioli and limonade (for the kids).  We had ten people here when we called Sam to sing Happy Birthday to him.  He then helped us sing Happy Birthday to Mary who turns 10 on Monday.  Afterwards, we got the kids all sugared up on Amy's Rice Krispie Treats and sent them to bed.  It was a wonderful day!
All good things must come to an end, though.  Jed and I walked the Brotschuls to the train station around noon today and both sniffed back tears as we walked home alone.
Now we're ready for our next guests!  Any takers?  We're great hosts!


About to do his first zip line!


The last zip line was scary!

The mamas and the daddy did pretty well, but we were hot and tired when we fell to the floor at the end!

Stephen added to our broken glass collection, which is quite large by now.  I couldn't complain, though. He washed dishes non-stop and helped prepare meals and took care of children!

The zip liners plus Nate who had a soccer game that afternoon.

Sev, Jed, and Dorian watch "The Mummy."

Saturday night feast.

Bye, guys!


Friday, March 2, 2012

Another first!

It's hard to believe that in twenty-three years of teaching I have never had a physical fight break out in the classroom, but that's true.  I've heard of a few happening at lunch or in the parking lot, but I've never even seen one from a distance.
Well, I got shaken out of my ivory tower today, for sure.  The shock came out of the blue at the end of my first period class. 
 I was writing the homework assignment on the board, and everyone was really quiet for a change.  A boy called my name and said that another boy had knocked his pencil case on the floor.  I gave them a "you're not second graders" look and returned to writing the assignment.
Before I knew it, the first boy jumped up and started attacking the pencil case defiler.  These are 13 and 14-year-old boys so it was pretty violent.  They threw or knocked three chairs and desks over onto the floor, and they were landing their punches.  
I screamed for someone to go get help since I could not get them to stop by yelling, and I then tried to minimize the damage they were doing to each other's bodies.  I tried several times to grab both of their slugging arms, but they got away so, without thinking, I put myself in between them just in time to get punched in the left cheek. 
Fortunately, the principal arrived at precisely that moment and removed the two boys.  My left cheek is tender to the touch, but I can still smile.