Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Birthday to me

Such as it was. Pretty normal Wednesday around here. But I did get to take a nap (always a red-letter day when that happens) and my favorite baker and his helpers made me a beautiful (and delicious) cake, complete with ghost and cow sprinkles.

And for my "birthday present" (i.e. purchase we were making anyway that happens to fall relatively close to my birthday hence it becomes my "birthday present"), I will soon be the proud owner of a color laser printer and a camera to replace our trusty 7-year-old one that is starting to show its age and just can't focus quick enough to keep up with the kids.

Oh look, here is one of those bakery assistants now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

First Mug Shots

We had to get the boys' ID photos taken last night to go with their sign-up forms for gymnastics. This is pretty standard practice here... and yet, I have no idea now the other parents manage to get decent ID photos of their kids.

The photos are taken in a little photo booth at the store. The stool is adjustable so you are at the right height for the picture, but apparently it is only intended for adults or older children. I started twisting the stool to make it taller for Benjamin, but had to stop when I could tell it was about to fall off. I twisted it back down a bit, and had him kneel on it instead. That was better, but he couldn't manage kneeling without moving up and down, up and down.

Once he was finally more or less situated, the machine runs v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y through its entire spiel of "dos and don'ts" of ID photos, complete with illustrations for each (do line up your eyes on this red dotted line, don't let your hairstyle extend above the photo, do take off your glasses, don't wear a hat, do keep your head inside this red oval, don't smile). Just try and keep a 4 1/2 year old still for all of that.

Finally it allowed us to take the picture, so I closed the curtain, reached in from outside to push the green button, all the while chanting, "Look at the TV, look at the TV." (Obviously that didn't quite work since he is looking down in his picture.)

Then I tried to peek back inside to be sure it was done, and I wouldn't accidentally end up on the photo myself. The machine told us the photo did not meet regulation standards, but we figured that was ok since it was for gymnastics, not their driver's licenses.

Rinse, repeat, with Noah.... this time, Frédéric had the brilliant idea to spin the stool all the way down so Noah could stand up on it instead. (Why didn't he think of that when it was Benjamin's turn?) Noah wasn't too sure about that since the stool was a little wobbly and spinny, but we convinced him that with one hand in Mommy's hand and one in Daddy's hand, he wouldn't fall off.

While trying to get Noah situated, I had to keep telling Benjamin to get OUT of the booth ("But I want to see Noah on the TV!") and we had to sit through the "dos and don'ts" monologue AGAIN, trying to convince Noah not to be scared of falling off the stool, and reminding him to look at the screen.

We were hoping to get Benjamin's passport photos in a US-passport-photo booth in Germany in December. I guess we will be rethinking that plan and going to the photographer near the embassy instead.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Now he's speaking my language

Today while we were having lunch, the oven timer beeped when the bread was done.

Noah said, "What's that?" (in English, looking at me)
"Ask Daddy," I told him.
He turned to Frédéric and said, "C'est quoi ça ?"
Frédéric said, "C'est du pain."
Noah turned back to me, and said, "It's bread."
[Frédéric's aside: "Because Mommy doesn't speak French?"]
"Oh really?" I replied. "Tell Daddy it's bread."
Noah turned back to Frédéric, and said, "C'est du pain !"

It's like a circus act. I think we could take him on the road. Thank goodness we have our own little 2-year-old translator, I don't know how Frédéric and I ever managed without him.

We are trying to get him to speak more English at home, with both of us, since we don't have much in the way of an English-speaking community here, but he insists on speaking French with Frédéric, and often with Benjamin, too.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Noah's middle name

(could have been Trouble, but we didn't realize it before we named him. So it isn't.)

Our conversation used to go like this:

Me: Who are you?
N: Noah!
Me: Noah James.
N: Noah.... [looks down at shirt] no James!

I have no idea why he thought "James" would be on his shirt. But of course it never was, so he was always just Noah.

But he is catching on. Kind of. Today it went like this.

Me: Who are you?
N: Noah James!
Me: And how old are you?
N: Noah James!
Me: No, how OLD are you?
N: I'm Noah!
Me: You're Noah James, and you're two years old.
N: I'm Noah! I'm the boss!

Oh. Well, that explains a lot.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


In a possibly vain attempt to channel some of Noah's energy, we checked out a gymnastics class last week for ages 2 to 4. To our astonishment, once we got there, Noah magically transformed from the wild whirling dervish we know him to be into a calm, mild-mannered Noah who was afraid to go too near the other children or climb on the equipment. He started getting more into it as the class went on.

Benjamin started out not wanting to go at all because I had showed him a video online of the class, and he did not want to "have feet" (bare feet). He also didn't want to wear shorts. We didn't push the issue. Once we got there, the teacher encouraged him to go try it out, but he hung back and told her, "I don't NEED to go play!" So he stayed on the sidelines with Frédéric, sneaking glances at the other kids. Finally he decided he would go try it out, and he hasn't looked back. He still won't agree to shorts, but he agreed to "sports pants" and bare feet. It's progress.

So we went again this week, and today they learned how to do a somersault.

Well... sort of.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

La Rentrée

The French take school very, very seriously, and "la rentrée" means "back to school time" or even "back to work time," for those who take July and/or August vacations. That includes most French people; some companies even still close in July or August.

"La rentrée scolaire", and Benjamin's first day of Kindergarten (called "grande section de maternelle" here, or "grande section" for short) was Thursday. He was so excited to go back to school; he had been asking all summer when school was going to start again. Here he is showing off his slippers before he heads inside.
Ha! See how prepared we were this year? Last year we had no idea they needed slippers for school. This year we let him choose his brand-new Spiderman slippers before school even started!

Of course, Benjamin only went mornings last year, so we didn't realize that now he will need a snack every afternoon, and some kind of bag to keep his slippers and snack in. And then, does he bring that bag home every day? Leave it there and carry his snack in to put it in his bag? When does swimming rotation start? This school thing is fraught with mysteries. The parents' meeting is on Monday evening, but do we dare ask these pressing questions at the parents' meeting, and pass for ignorant first-timers? Perhaps some of the 3-year-olds' parents will ask instead.

And rumor has it the first strike is planned for Tuesday! Ah yes, it wouldn't be school in France without strikes.

This year there are ten or more 3-year-old preschoolers ("petite section") in the school; last year there was only one; and a "typical" class size is 5-6. This has caused all sorts of organizational upheaval for the school; things like enlarging the parking lot (such as it is) and preparing an additional room to be the nap room for the little ones.

Add to that our having told Benjamin he could speak English at school if the teacher asked him... he took a little more license with that authorization than we intended... and the first day he saw the little kids go off for their nap, he had some kind of mini-breakdown, telling his teacher - in English - he didn't want to go to sleep. Well, "sleep" in English sounds like the French word "slip," or "underwear," so the teacher was very confused as to why Benjamin was going on and on about his underwear. They did finally figure it out, but I guess we'll have to go back to the "we speak French at school" rule!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Last Days of Summer

Frédéric's mom came to visit us this week. The boys enjoyed her visit, and especially appreciated the Playmobil vet clinic she brought with her for them.
Noah helped his Grandmère shell beans while I wrestled with a zillion tiny Playmobil pieces.

Benjamin and Noah were both very pleased with the end result. One poor dog broke all four of its legs. Good thing the vet was on duty to bandage them all up.

Frédéric is quite happy with the start of his raspberry harvest this year.

On Wednesday, Frédéric, his mom and the boys went out to visit the castle ruins at Fère en Tardenois.

I relished the time home alone, and filled it with a nap, work, and weeding of the retaining wall (look, Mom, the flowers aren't dead yet!). The snails were doing their best to eat them all, so I cold-heartedly scattered brilliant blue slug pellets far and wide.

After having a "picnic" at the castle, Benjamin begged for a picnic at home, so Frédéric gave the boys their dinner outside on a blanket.

I guess a picnic is not a bad way to end the summer.