24 February 2009

Gone for a Few Days

JUST TRYING TO take advantage of our time off -- not to mention our time in Europe. We're off for a few days, and with a special treat waiting for the kids in Dublin! More on that later.

Return Monday!

23 February 2009

This is Winter Break

SEVERAL OF OUR friends have made similar comments: what are supposed to do during these two week breaks? For those of us who are from the United States, these long breaks in the middle of the year take a little getting used to. Today we started our two week 'winter break' -- which is a break that is staggered throughout France so as not to clog up the ski slopes all at the same time. We didn't do too much today, although I did manage to get my 'emergency temporary passport' -- which required me to wait at the American Consulate for about 2 minutes this morning. (I've written about this before).

We're lucky in many ways that I have the same breaks as the kids (aha, I just found one advantage of teaching!), but I can't help but wonder what families do who have two working parents. What do they do with the kids during the 8 weeks of school vacation that occur during the academic year (that's 2 in October, 2 for Christmas, 2 for winter break, and 2 for spring break in case you're counting)? I know the French -- and most other Europeans -- take more vacation time than the average American, but very often 3 or 4 weeks are used during the summer months of July and August leaving very few available during the year. I spoke to one friend about it the other day and he said, 'Look, we take 2 weeks in the summer, and one during each of the 4 breaks during the year. That's our six weeks!'

OK, didn't know it was that simple.

Bonne vacances!

Late Update: A quick list of where some of my students are currently spending their winter break: Paris, Vienna, Switzerland, New York, Bangkok, Madrid, Tokyo, London, Amsterdam (I have a lot of Dutch students!), Moscow, Los Angeles, and Corsica.

22 February 2009

Funny = Money (part II)

WE CASHED-IN on that joke I told a couple weeks ago and had a very nice lunch today at Le Relais des Coches in beautiful Tourrettes-sur-Loup. The restaurant is probably most know for it's view as it sits just outside of town with clear views of the sea, the mountains, and the 13th century village of Tourrettes. (No photos since we forgot the camera today). Today was a chilly, but sunny day so we sat outside on the patio and enjoyed a 2 1/2 hour lunch -- perhaps a bit of a stretch with a 3 kids -- but it worked.

The kids chose items of the kids menu -- standard stuff, really, but very tasty. Kerri selected a vegetarian menu with a creamy risotto with sweet green peas and mint as the main dish. I went up a couple of notches and had the full Sunday menu: entree, carrot and nutmeg soup; roast lamb with puff pastry and legumes. For dessert we all sort of shared each other's choices -- rice pudding, ice cream, roasted pear with sorbet, and chocolate mousse.

A very nice lunch for everyone and a nice treat for just telling a joke. Our gift voucher was for 150 Euros and we came in under that by a few Euros.

Note: Julia wants me to tell everyone that the best part of the meal was the owner's dog, Punaise. She and the boys spent a good part of the lunch petting and rubbing behind the dog's ears. I think they even shared their lunch with Punaise. (Yes, dogs are very welcome in French restaurants).

21 February 2009


WHAT DO YOU do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Nice in mid-February? Carnival!

We actually didn't see too much today (the kids were more interested in getting ice cream), but the Carnival de Nice is quite spectacular. Besides all the grand stands along the Promenade des Anglais, the extravagant floats, and the thousands of people walking around, there is also loads of ways to waste money on rides and games for kids.

Oh, and enough confetti to keep everyone happy for quite a while. A couple of photos from the website.

20 February 2009

Friday Funny Clip

IT'S PATRICK'S TURN to choose. Not surprisingly, this very short clip involves a monkey and his butt (hey, he's 10 year old -- what did you expect, a Woody Allen bit?).


Word Games

REMEMBER THOSE WORD analogies we had to do in school and for the SAT tests? You know, the ones that go like this: 'foot is to leg, as hand is to _______' with the answer obviously being 'arm'. Well, I've got a french-related one for you to help me solve:

American Consulate is to French Préfecture, as efficiency is to _________?
Here's why this question came to mind, briefly.

I've mentioned that we're going to Ireland next Wednesday and I am worried that my new passport (old one expiring) won't reach me in time for our departure. After going back and forth regarding whether or not this was going cause problems, we finally decided to call the American Consulate in Nice and see what our options were. Kerri called them on Tuesday afternoon and talked with a lovely woman about our options. Long story short: the Consulate suggested I get an 'emergency temporary passport'.

Augh! Sounds complicated. How long will that take and where am I going to have to go for that? Marseilles? Paris?

Actually, nowhere. As I write this entry my emergency temporary passport is sitting in Nice ready to be picked up. It took about 36 hours for it to get to Nice. No papers to fill out or sign. No faxes. No extra photos. No spending 7 hours waiting in lines. I'll swing by and pick it up Monday -- in plenty of time for the trip.

So, any thoughts on the answer to my word anaology?

19 February 2009

A Great Goal

HERE'S THE CLIP of the hockey goal I mentioned earlier. What does this have to do with France? Absolutely nothing -- and this is probably interesting to about 3 people, but it's worth a look if you have any sense about hockey. The player who scores the goal is Alex Ovechkin, a Russian who plays for 'my beloved' Washington Capitals. Some are already saying this is one of the two or three best goals ever scored in the NHL. It's not only the goal (which is scored while Ovechkin is on his stomach) but the move to get the puck just before the goal. Wait to see it in slow motion about 20 seconds in.

OK, that's enough. Today has been all about moi and things that are interesting to moi-- that's over now! But just watch the clip. It will make me feel good (and if you want to see what is generally considered the most incredible goal ever scored you can see that here -- oh, and Ovechkin scored that one too).

The End of Twitter Thursday

SO THAT'S IT, my little experiment with a Twitter-style day of posts is over. 18 posts in all.

For what? That's a good question. Here's my initial reason for doing it, but I also just felt like trying something that is 'all the rage' (to quote the NY Times). I know it's not the same trying to accomplish 'twitters' on a blog, but even the general concept seems a bit far-fetched to me. Do people really want to read about my daily ordinary activities? I doubt it. Do I want to hear about other people's daily activities multiple times a day? Definitely not. I don't even care for the twitter-like function on Facebook.

Oh well, it's done with now. Back to silly observations, family anecdotes, posting photos, and taking subtle swipes at the French. That's more fun anyway.

Twitter Thursday

22:21 - Had a quick shower; a quick chocolate pudding; now time for a quick check of the news.

Twitter Thursday

21:52 - It's about time for a new rule -- those kids are getting heavy.

Twitter Thursday

21:48 - Back from basketball to find all three kids asleep in my bed. It's sort of an unwritten rule that if I'm not home, they can sleep in our bed.

Twitter Thursday

19:40 -- Kids are playing 'educational' computer games (is a Flight Simulator game on Google Earth educational?); Kerri's getting ready for some work she's doing; Henry's playing with who knows what. I'm off to play some basketball.

Twitter Thursday

18:38 - In the mood for more of that Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Twitter Thursday

18:03 - I'm home -- and I arrived to find the kids have finished practicing their instruments and have finished their homework. Very odd.

Twitter Thursday

16:08 - 2 coffees and 10 brevet blanc's in one hour. Farily productive.

Twitter Thursday

15:18 - Not if I'm doing this Twitter experiment. I've got to focus on the Brevet Blanc.

(What is Twitter Thursday? Scroll down to 'Twitter Thursday is Here' to find out).

Twitter Thursday

15:12 - One free hour. Do I have time to get a coffee and mark 10-12 Brevet Blanc papers?

Twitter Thursday

13:03 - Two hours of 2nde? Right after lunch? After four hours already this morning? Ouch.

Twitter Thursday

12:15 - Just looked at a clip of Alexander Ovechkin's goalfrom last night. Wow! My brother was at the game (making me quite jealous).

Twitter Thursday

10:05 - I have a break from my 6eme class -- and boy do I need it. They can drive me nuts.

(what is Twitter Thursday? Scroll down to 'Twitter Thursday is Here' to find out)

Twitter Thursday

7:25 - out the door for my busiest teaching day of the week. Kerri will be off with the kids in about an hour.

Twitter Thursday

7:07 - Thanks to a Valentine's Day 'care package' Kerri and I are drinking Dunkin Donuts coffee -- a loving it!

Twitter Thursday

7:02 - Breakfast as usual -- while flipping between CNN and 'William' on France 2.

Twitter Thursday

6:18 - Je me reve. And I've just put the coffee on.

Twitter Thursday is Here

TODAY IS GOING to be nothing by 'twitters'. What is a twitter? Many of you will know the website http://www.twitter.com/ which is described as a 'service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of shsort, quick, frequent answers to one simple question: 'What are you doing right now?' The point is to update what you are doing several times a day.

On many levels, this service is annoying, really annoying. I mean, 1) who has time to update what they are doing all the time, and 2) who frickin' cares what I'm doing all the time. But since Twitter is all the rage right now (I know this because I just read two articles in the NY Times and Wall Street Journal that told me so) I thought I'd give this blog a one-day Twitter Makeover, just to see how it goes.

Off we go...


18 February 2009

A Passport Issue

WITHIN THE PAST couple of days we've decided to go to Ireland during our winter break. That's great news for Kerri and the kids, and maybe great news for me. You see, I've got a bit of an issue. Maybe someone out there has experience in this area and can help (I already got some good info from Jennie over at ielanguages.com -- thanks!)

My issue: my US passport expires on March 1, 2009 (we're due to fly back to France on March 2, by the way). I have applied for a new one, but I'm not sure it's going to get to me before we fly to Dublin on February 25. If I don't, how screwed am I? Well, I've been going back and forth on this one. At the American Consulate in Nice they seemed to think I should be fine as long as I have my passport, my French residence card, and a receipt showing I have applied for a new passport. Most people I talk to aren't so sure -- they seem to think I am going to have to have a valid passport. After long internet searches and fruitless phone calls to Ryanair and various Embassies, I finally went to the Cote d'Azur airport and talked directly to the information desk at Ryanair. Here's what they told me -- see if it sounds plausible (keeping in mind that the entire conversation was in French so what I heard and what was said may be very, very different.)

According to the woman at the Ryanair desk, I should have a problem. Since I leave before my passport expires I'll have no trouble getting into Ireland. And since I have a Carte de Sejour I'll have no problem re-entering France on March 2. Her main point is that it's the country you are entering that really cares about your visa/passport status, not so much the country you are leaving. Since I am a legal resident of France with working status I shouldn't have a problem.

Does that make me feel better? A little, but not much. I'm still holding out that my passport will make it to Marseilles by Tuesday and I can go pick it up. I'll feel a lot better with that little blue booklet in my pocket.

By the way, this wouldn't even be and issue if Ireland had agreed to the Schengen Agreement, which basically removed systematic border controls between countries in the EU. Britain and Ireland opted out, making my life a lot more difficult right now.

Anyone have experience with this (or Ryanair, specifically)?

17 February 2009

15 February 2009

Sunday, Brilliant Sunday

THE MOUNTAINS AROUND the France/Italy border have received a huge amount of snow so far this winter. A local ski resort (Isola 2000) has received nearly 8 meters. For those of us who live a bit nearer the sea this has meant a lot of rain this winter...a lot. But we've finally put together a couple of nice days in a row with today being one of the nicest -- brilliant sunshine and a deep, deep blue sea. After a couple of months of what can only be described as damp and cold, the nice days are really nice.

This photo is taken from about the same area as the masthead on this blog -- but you can really see how much snow there is this year. We're getting ready to head up to the snow right now (Henry has had his snow suit on for a good two hours).


13 February 2009

Friday Funny Clip

I'VE DECIDED I'M often too tired to do much on Friday evenings. That's why I'm going to begin just posting funny clips on Fridays. I'm going to let other members of the family pick the clip of the week (hey, if you have some, send them along). The first Friday Funny Clip has been chosen by Julia -- here it is:

Now rate it! On a scale of 1 to 10.

Now I'm an Arms Dealer from Eastern Europe

I REPEATED THE lesson I wrote about last week on the values and limitations of sources with another class this week. But this time, since it with a younger group of students, I wanted to focus on the limitations of historical sources. We talked about questions like: can we trust photographs in the age of Photoshop? Can we trust Wikipedia in the age of...well...wikipedia? etc).

To make my point I asked (again) the students to interview me in order to find out information about me. The twist I added this time was that when they asked me their questions I wrote out the question and answer on the board -- except that from time to time I lied about the answer. I just made things up. [Note: do you see where I'm going with the lesson? I know 'the value and limitations of historical sources' doesn't exactly sound interesting, but it such a critical part of the French Bac that we go over it a lot -- and try to make it interesting and relevant. The point is to get students to think critically about where they are getting their information and not to just trust that information is always correct]. Anyway, we were plowing along -- 'where were you born?'; 'how old are you?'; 'are you married'? -- and sometimes I was giving a truthful answer and sometimes I was making it up. Then one young boy asked 'have you ever been in prison?'

Now I know an opportunity when I see one, and this one was staring me right in the face. Time to have a little fun. 'Actually, yes,' I said. 'When I was in my early 20s I was held in a Turkish prison for two months.' The look on the faces of these 13 year-olds was priceless (remember, they don't yet know that I'm making some of the information up). And as if I had planned it, the bell rang at that moment signaling a 5 minute break in the lesson.

It was a lively break as the corridors began to fill with rumors of my time spent in prison. I couldn't hear the details, but the chatter (mostly in French) centered on what I could have possibly done to warrent 2 months in a Turkish prison. When the students returned they had all sorts of theories -- my favorite being that I was an Eastern European arms dealer in the mid-1990s. I have to admit I didn't tell them about my sqeaky-clean police record until the end of the lesson. I kind of enjoyed this Lord of War moment.

I guess, if nothing else, I showed that even a history teacher can be a very unrealiable sources.

11 February 2009

Teaching European History in Europe

JUST A QUICK thought.

I've taught the rise of Hitler many times, but never at a school where so many students have grandparents who were actually part of the Hitler Youth.

I've taught about the Vichy government in France during WWII, but never in a class where some students had relatives who were part of that government.

I've taught about the French-Algerian conflict in the 1960s, but never with the children of Pied Noir sitting right in front of me.

I've taught courses on Russian history dozens of times, but rarely with so many Russian students in the class.

And I've taught about the emergence of the United States and a 'hyper-power', but rarely with so few Americans in the class.

I get some new and interesting perspectives on this side of the Atlantic.

09 February 2009

Happy Birthday Cecile

LAST YEAR ON Cecile's birthday she was visiting us from Paris and we spent the day in Monaco. Today we (especially Patrick, Julia, and Henry) want to say a big Bonne Anniversaire! Come visit us again soon.

If you don't know Cecile or don't know how we got to know her, you can read about it here.

06 February 2009

Funny = Money

THE LOCAL ENGLISH radio station (Riviera Radio) has a contest each week where they ask listeners to call in jokes and the morning hosts pick the one they like best and reward the joke-teller with a prize. For weeks Patrick and Julia have been begging me to call in a joke so this week I decided to give it a shot. Last Sunday evening I left a message on the 'joke line' at Riviera Radio.

Well, I won!

My joke was played on the air this morning as I was taking the kids to school. The fun part of this little story is that the prize this week a pretty good one: a €150 gift certificate to Le Relais des Coches in Tourrettes-sur-Loup -- one of the best known restaurants on the Cote d'Azur. You can click here to take a look at their menu.

Our friend Michel stayed in Tourrettes-sur-Loup when he was here several months ago and bragged about a very good meal he had at one of the restaurants -- I wonder if this was the place?

So sometime in the next couple of weeks we'll enjoy a nice weekend lunch at a nice little retaurant in a nice little village that has a nice little view Nice, Antibes, Cannes and the Mediterranean Sea. All because I told a nice little joke about an Englishman, and Irishman, and a Scott who walk into a bar...

Clever Question

IN MY 2nde history class this afternoon we were in the middle of a discussion about the value and limitations of historical sources when I got an interesting question from one of my students. I had just asked the class to imagine they had an assignment where they were to write a historical profile of me (yes, me!) As an exercise, I asked each student to write 5 questions they would ask me in order to find out relevant information that might help with this kind of assigment. My goal was to help the students understand the importance of not only asking questions when doing research, but asking the right questions. Simple enough.

In general the questions the students asked followed the pattern I expected -- fairly straight forward with the goal of learning basic information about me. I had questions like: where were you born? what is your birthday? are you married? how many children do you have? where did you attend university? All good, foundational kinds of questions. But about 10 questions in I called on a student in the front row and his question was a bit different. His question was:
What are your wife's major shortcommings?
Now that's thinking outside the box. This kid's going to make a good historian!

Answers to above questions, in order: Takoma Park, MD; June 14; yes; 3; Andrews University (B.A.), Johns Hopkins University (M.A.), no chance I'm answering the last one.

04 February 2009

Frontrunner for Quote of the Year

I KNOW IT'S only February, but remember the name Harry Markopolis when you're picking the best quote of 2009. Markopolis is the guy who helped blow the whistle on the
Bernard Madoff financial scandal that has hit most corners of the globe (including some very big French banks). Markopolis testified before the U.S. Congress today and was asked why the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) didn't do more to figure out the Madoff scandal. He answered by saying this about the SEC investigative team (these are the guys who are supposed to make sure financial institutions are legit):

If you flew the entire SEC staff to Boston and sat them in Fenway Park they wouldn't be able to find first base.

It's a very American reference, I know, but I can't help but get a fuzzy feeling anytime baseball and politics mix. What could be better? Fenway Park, for those of you who don't know, is where the Boston Red Sox baseball team plays. First base is, well, first base. I don't know how else to explain that one.

Dead Fish and Phone Booth Fish Tanks

WHAT DO YOU do with thousands of phone booths that now seem archaic? A French artist has an idea: turn them into works of art. For example, this phone booth that has been turned into an aquarium and is currently on display in Paris:

Not a bad idea. What other things could you use old phone booths for?

This photo made Julia sad because her fish (who's name was Pam) died on Monday morning, just over a week after we bought her. I tried to cheer her up the best way I know how -- by making a joke -- and it didn't go over ver well. I told her at least all she murdered was a little fish.

Apparently that wasn't even close to funny.


02 February 2009

Great Sports Day

I DON'T GET many great sports days in France. A great sports day is when there are multiple 'big time' sporting events to watch and each lives up to -- or exceeds -- expectations. Just this weekend I was saying to Kerri that I don't have many opportunities to get excited about watching sports in this country. Not because there aren't great sporting events on television but because...well...actually, yeah, it is because there aren't a lot of great sporting events on television. Oh, there are some -- the Champion's League is fantastic; Six Nations is kind of fun -- but they are few and far between and it is rare that I say to myself, 'I can't wait to see this game.' People who know me know that great sports days are something I miss.

But yesterday we decided to spend the day at home (with a brief detour to an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet for lunch -- yummy!) and that meant that I got to spend some time watching a bit of television. I watched three sporting events and each was great:

  • Australian Open Final: can I just go on the record right now as saying I will never tire of Federer vs. Nadal. Yesterday's final was Wimbledon, but it was great.
  • Handball World Championship Final: don't laugh, but I actually watched a bit of this (only because France was playing) and it was actually a great game and France ended up defeating Croatia to become World Champions.
  • The Super Bowl: I watched the first half at a friends house (thanks, Justus) and the second half from my bed. It was a terrifically entertaining game -- even if the team I was rooting for lost.

It wasn't quite like watching an NFL game in the afternoon and a World Series game at night (we can do that in October) or Opening Day in the afternoon and the NCAA Finals at night (we can do that in April), but yesterday I watched a lot of sports...and it was a lot of fun.