Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How does my garden grow?

I have not taken you on a garden tour since early June, so let's do that again now. Things have changed quite a bit in just under a month! It is warm out, the plants didn't croak during last week's cold spell (down to 41°F at night), and things have been growing seemingly overnight. I find it pretty amazing that I can live in a house with its own garden. Of course, we all know the green thumb in this family is not mine. I may document the garden, harvest, and freeze its produce, but I'm not allowed to touch the plants for any other reason, lest blight should fall upon them.

In the plot near the patio, we have carrots, snow peas, orange zucchini, and green beans. Lesson learned this year: Snow peas need trellises. We had no idea they grew to be so tall. Oops!

It is also hard to see the peas, so harvesting can be very time-consuming. They are mmmmm good! I see a lot of stir-fry in our future.

Here are the green beans, and at left, the orange zucchini plant that Benjamin transplanted a while back. No produce to be seen yet here.

The carrots are growing, but due to our ignorance about snow peas, they are very overshadowed now, sandwiched between the snow peas and the brick wall. Note to gardener: don't plant carrots behind snow peas next year.

In the plot up on the hill, we have tomatoes (I kind of liked them by the patio - made for easy harvesting just before lunch time), eggplants, zucchini, lettuce, and shallots.

We had our very first garden salad for lunch today with a head of lettuce much like this one. Nary a slug to be found, to my great relief. (And here I must confess that our garden, while home-grown, is not organic. I just can't have a garden without slug pellets.)

We may be overrun with zucchini this year. We JUST finished last year's crop, much of which we had frozen... and all of which came from only ONE zucchini plant. Frédéric planted three or four of these this year. Friends and neighbors, consider that your fair warning!

No eggplants yet, but a flower. And plenty of bees around to help out.

The tomatoes are coming along nicely.

And I have done practically nothing on the retaining wall lately, as you can see. I'm dreaming of days with both boys in school all day, when I just might be able to keep up a little better with work, housework, AND the yard.

What I love most about the garden is that Frédéric does all the hard work - preparing the ground, planting, weeding, watering... and I get to do the fun part: harvesting!

The boys are much less interested in the garden, and much more interested in this. Now that it's finally warm enough again, they dedicate their afternoons to shivering and squealing in the ice-cold well water of the swimming pool.

Monday, June 28, 2010

So, speaking of school

1. It is almost over (hallelujah!!).
Only 3 more days left after today.

2. We had Benjamin's school picnic on Saturday.
Think: root canal, only worse. All the other parents knew each other. We knew no one. We ended up sitting by a bunch of elementary school kids at the table, so when they got up to go play, we were all on our own, miles away from everyone else. After three hours (seriously) Frédéric managed to force other people to talk to him a little bit. Trying to start conversations with all the we-don't-need-you-we-already-know-everyone-else parents was like throwing lead balloons. We might as well start with politics and religion next time, it couldn't be any worse.

3. Benjamin's teacher told us:
that we've taught him a little too well that he is supposed to speak French at school. When the teacher or assistant asks Benjamin "how do you say _____ in English," Benjamin just ignores them. When the teacher told all the kids to say "Cheese!" (in English) for the school picture, Benjamin said, "Fromage!!"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

out of the mouths of babes

Saturday during Noah's nap time, Benjamin got Frédéric to cut out two dinosaurs for him. He showed me, so I oohed and ahhed appropriately, and then asked if it was a daddy dinosaur and a baby dinosaur.

Benjamin replied, "No, it's a daddy dinosaur and a mommy dinosaur."


I thought I would seem bigger than that to my kids a LITTLE longer than that.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

He IS learning something at school!

Despite all his "nothings" to the contrary when we ask him what he did at school any given day, it seems that Benjamin *is* actually learning something! Wednesday before lunch, with absolutely no prodding from me whatsoever, he sat down at the table, and took a piece of paper and a pen. He used an envelope as a straight edge and drew a set of (mostly) parallel lines, and started printing letters between them.

I am not really sure why he starts all his lines of letters with "AMB," but I am totally impressed and pretty happy to find out he hasn't just been sitting in a corner doing nothing all year at school. I guess we will have to let him go back next year.

He has two more weeks of school left this year. He has a field trip to a ropes course on Monday, a field day with other schools on Tuesday, and a school barbecue the following Saturday for the students from both schools (preschool through 5th grade) and their families. Sounds like the end of the year is coming soon!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Some people collect postage stamps.

Us, we collect inexpensive cars.

Our friends called Saturday night to see if we wanted to buy their Renault Mégane Scénic for parts for our Renault Mégane station wagon. They are basically the same car, theirs is the "minivan" - but only 5 seats - version). We were going to say no, because really, why do we need a third car when we only have two drivers (and let's not be nitpicky about the legality of all the licenses)?

But when Frédéric found out how very little they wanted for it... we gave them 400 euros, that is just over half what we paid for my Peugeot!... he couldn't resist. It does need some work, but it runs fine (he drove it home Sunday) and Frédéric thinks he can fix it up, and we'll have a replacement waiting in the wings for when one of our two main cars dies - hopefully saving us from buying another lemon (cough, cough, Neon).

It is much roomier inside than either of the other two, AND has much more trunk space than we imagined this type of car to have, so it would be nice to use when we have an extra person with us, or to let friends/family use when they come to visit and we won't all fit in one car.

It's a Parisian car, so it has suffered, most notably from a parking garage that must have been a couple of inches too narrow - but nothing that can't be fixed or that we can't live with. For 400 euros, who can complain?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The American Show in Fismes

It is hard to believe it is 10 pm when the sky is just now pink from the sunset, but the computer says it is getting to be past my bedtime. Let's see if I can squeeze in a quick post first...

Driving home from visiting my friend in Reims on Saturday, I saw a sign for the "10ème American Show Champenois" (that last word refers to the Champagne region). I would have stopped to check it out on the spot, but both boys were sleeping, and you know what they say about sleeping kids.

So instead, we went there after church on Sunday. To our dismay, it cost Frédéric and me 8 € apiece just to get in, AND they wouldn't let card(passport)-carrying Americans in for free. Hmph. Frédéric did find the director of the event and mentioned that that would have been a nice gesture. Apparently in the 10 years they have been doing this, they have never had another American come, at least that they know of. So next year we'll be calling ahead to get this kink worked out.

One of the main attractions was the American cars and motorcycles show.

Now this is what I call a REAL American car. Hahahahaha. Apparently the requirements to get into the car show are pretty lax.
No, seriously.

Frédéric was wondering if we could have displayed our Chrysler Neon if we still had it. Perhaps that would have gotten us in for free. Our other idea was to set up a photo opportunity -- "Get your picture taken with a REAL AMERICAN!" -- to pay for our tickets, but we weren't sure how to go about setting that up on short notice. Maybe next year.

You could buy all sorts of authentic American wares, like cowboy boots.

Or license plates.

Leather clothes, T-shirts, turquoise jewelry, pocketknives. Look at all those American flags! Who knew the French were so fond of all things American?! The next time you hear someone say that the French hate Americans, you just tell them about the hundreds of French people visiting the American Show in Fismes. Many were even wearing cowboy hats or other American-style clothes.

They had a World War II army camp set up.

And an Indian village.

And they had bands playing country music while we were there; complete with country line dancing.

All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Frédéric's big gripe was that the food stands were selling things like Belgian waffles and French crêpes instead of American food. Not a funnel cake or snowcone to be found, and nary a hint of Dr Pepper... hm, perhaps we should help organize next year. Uncle Curtis, maybe you can come set up a Coke/Dr Pepper concession for us, what do you think?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Of Dinners, Gnomes and Secret Societies

The Longest Dinner.
We had some of Frédéric's cousins and one of his coworkers and their families over for lunch last Saturday. The first guests showed up around 12 pm and the last ones left at 10:30 pm. We stretched lunch into dinner when almost everyone was still there at 8:00. The kids played some in the pool, and the adults played Farkle in between lunch and dinner. We enjoyed the 80° weather, which we have not seen since, to our great dismay but not to our great surprise. The 10 1/2 hour dinner is, if I'm not mistaken, a new record for us. The previous record, attained last summer, was 9 hours.

The Laundry Gnome.
This is for you, Jordan. I have a laundry gnome at my house. He's not the best at folding, but he tries. And he is cute, and I don't even have to say the rhyme to get him to work.

Visiting a Friend.
The boys and I went today to visit a friend of mine who lives near Reims and whom I hadn't seen in over 6 years - not sure how that happened. She had a 5-year-old I had never met before, and she had never met either of our boys. We had a great afternoon catching up, and Benjamin was NOT happy to go home afterwards. Both boys were kind enough to fall asleep in the car on the way home.

The Evening Flea-Market at Longpont.
Most flea markets in France are held on Sundays, which means we never get to go, since we are at church if Frédéric is not working. Longpont has the right idea; they have theirs starting on Saturday evening, so we went to check it out tonight. The Abbey makes quite a backdrop to the flea market.

We saw these interesting characters walking around. Some of them spoke English, but we have no idea where they were from, who they were or what they were doing there. I suppose we could have asked, but we didn't. Frédéric and some other people seemed to think it must be some type of "confrérie" (a sort of club, guild or secret society; a term which Wikipedia says can also be used "in a joking manner by an association with a public-relations, folkloric or humoristic purpose").

And Benjamin did not want to leave the flea market without this. We gave in, since it was at least cuter than the dingy, beat-up, orange recycling truck he wanted at the last flea market we went to (and which we did not get for him).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How to get English out of a French-only DVD

Because we live in France, we have 2 DVD players. One plays zone 2 (Europe) DVDs, since we have some of those, and if we rent any, that is what they would be. But we prefer to buy DVDs in the US since they are so much cheaper, so the second machine plays zone 1 (USA) DVDs.

Yesterday, Benjamin wanted to watch Transformers, a zone 2 DVD that has no language options; it is only in French. He started to put it in the US player. Our conversation went like this:

Me: No, here, it goes in this one.
B: No, I want it in English.
Me: No, Transformers is only in French.
B (thinking): Then I will put it in upside down.

Friday, June 4, 2010

June? Really?

Not sure how that happened. And look at this!
I know, I know, another sky picture from the crazy, sun-deprived, pseudo-French girl. That's what happens when the lack of sunshine and cloudless skies gets to you. When you finally see them, you take pictures to immortalize the moment. I have to add here that I am thrilled we live so far out of Paris, so that blue skies are actually blue and not gray from smog.

For those of you who aren't quite so underprivileged in the blue sky department, let me just continue on here with my excuses of our busy-ness that has prevented me from blogging in the past while. Perhaps the plethora of pictures will make you forget about that time lapse.

.........GARDEN NEWS.........

Our carrots are coming up!

Our lettuce is growing. Two of them have been eaten by worms... we're waiting to see if the rest will survive until we can eat them or not.

It turns out snap peas grow to be really tall. We didn't realize that. So my mother-in-law added some homegrown trellises for them to grow in and around so they don't just fall over.

Frédéric removed three more laurel bushes. (Witness the brown spots where there is no grass.) Only two more to go!

He also cleaned up under the non-carport, which took a lot of doing as it involved first dejunking, and then powerwashing it, so we could once again appreciate the RED bricks (who knew they weren't dirt-colored?).

And some of our calendula in the retaining wall.

.........KID NEWS.........

I'm not really sure if this should go in garden news or kid news, but a couple of weeks ago, I let Benjamin play outside a few minutes longer when Noah and I went inside. He came inside to tell me he had moved a plant. I wasn't sure what he was talking about, so I went outside to look... and found that he had transplanted the orange zucchini plant, roots and all, from one corner of its square to the other. The leaves didn't survive the transplant, but to his credit, the zucchini plant is now doing just fine (on top of the green beans). I guess he has a greener thumb than I do.

He did not get in trouble for that - after all, Frédéric did plant them in the square that had been originally designated the kids' garden - but I did strongly encourage him to ask permission before transplanting anything else!

Benjamin still has a whole month left of preschool. They get more frequent and longer breaks during the year, but only two months for summer.

Noah and Benjamin both like to pick the pretty flowers from the yard for me. I could dream of a beautiful green manicured lawn... but then who would bring me flowers?

It got up to 81°F today (wow! We are melting!) so we did this:

The water in our village comes from a well, which means that it is still positively freezing when it's 81° outside, so they only lasted about 20 or 30 minutes in the water before I made them get out to take a bath to warm up. And when I say them, I really mean Benjamin, because when we tried to put Noah in the water, he'd pull his legs up and not go in. He did go in a time or two but got back out immediately, and preferred to splash around the side.

.........OTHER STUFF.........

This morning, I washed and oiled our patio furniture (lawn furniture in this case) in preparation for our lunch tomorrow with some of Frédéric's cousins and a coworker and his family. It didn't sound like that many people until I started counting, and realized there would be 14 of us.

And this is how I know I live in France: We invite people over for lunch, and one of our guests feels obligated to tell us he and his girlfriend will have to leave by 6:30 pm. Last time we had people over for a real French lunch, everyone left about 9 pm, so this is actually a reasonable thing to let your host know ahead of time.
And of course amid all of this activity, we've also been working as usual.

Whew! An update that long ought to hold you over for at least three weeks now, right?