Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Did I Say Spring?

Definitely not spring. I woke up to this Saturday morning.

I hesitated about taking the boys to gymnastics or not, since the snow was coming down pretty heavily and sticking to the roads. It finally slowed down, and we decided to go... only to see that three minutes south of us on the highway, there was no snow at all!

Fortunately, the snow stuck around long enough for the boys to make some mini-snowmen before lunch after we got back.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Apéros Dinatoires

As part of our unofficial Time to Make Local Friends campaign, I invited (or rather, had Frédéric invite) a local family over for "apéros" last Friday night. Apéros, short for "apéritifs" or before dinner drinks, are typically served around 5 or 6 pm, so you can go home and have dinner afterwards. But after issuing the invitation, we remembered that Benjamin had his swimming lessons Friday night, so we wouldn't be home until 7 pm. So I asked them to come for dinner instead, and the wife suggested an "apéro dinatoire."

An "apéro dinatoire" basically means drinks with enough appetizers to count as dinner. It's a less formal gathering than a sit-down dinner, and by cutting out the other multiple courses (main dish, salad, cheese; we did have a mini-dessert and coffee towards the end), it lasts only around 3-4 hours, as opposed to the typical 5-6 hour French dinner.

It also allows the kids (in this case, our two and three out of their six) to pop over to the table for a bite, and then run back off to play, without the pressure of trying to keep them seated and well-behaved at the table for hours.

Things you might serve at this type of dinner - things we did serve, or they brought - include: quiche cut up into bite-size pieces, veggies and dip (ok, that's the American touch), little toasts with cream cheese and salmon, toasts with pepper-cream cheese, toothpick-size skewers of ham or turkey wrapped around bits of garlic cheese, others alternating pieces of ham and swiss cheese (are we sensing a cheese theme here? It is still France, after all), chips, mini-pizzas, and shrimp. For the dessert bit at the end, we had a green tomato cake (American again) and French pastries, accompanied by coffee.

While the appetizers did take some preparation, it felt like a lot less work than an entire dinner. Perhaps I should give up dinners entirely in favor of this format. (I know, I know, those of you who know me are saying that I'm not the one doing the work anyway, but I did participate in the preparation, and post-dinner-party clean-up usually falls to me. This version doesn't even require plates, only glasses and coffee cups later.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Six-Year-Old Fish

Benjamin still adores his swimming lessons. He is halfway through his second round of 15 lessons. At the end of this batch, we'll have to ask whether he's proficient enough to join the swim team in September, or whether he needs to have another round of lessons first.

More and more often now, he gets to swim without any flotation devices. But sometimes they still use flotation belts, noodles, or kickboards. They mainly work on breaststroke and backstroke, and recently worked on freestyle (crawl).

Benjamin really lucked out for swimming lessons. Since his one-room schoolhouse preschool included the first graders, who have swimming for PE, he got to to take swimming lessons for 2 extra years through school, and now gets them again as a first grader (plus his extra lessons). Sadly for Noah, with the new class division, he won't get to go with school until first grade unless the class organization changes again and the first graders stay back wih the preschoolers and kindergartners.

Oh yes, and for the "how French is he" segment of our blog... when we bought him the swimsuit he's wearing in these pictures, a close-fitting, shorts-style swimsuit (loose trunks are not allowed in the pool), he didn't like it. He preferred the classic Speedo/brief-style suit.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Is Spring Coming Early?

No, it isn't, but it has been so unseasonably warm that Frédéric and the boys went out to start preparing the garden. Frédéric is building some raised beds this year, though the jury is still out on what exactly will be planted in them.

His ever-present sidekick made sure everything was level.

While Benjamin watched the fun and played with his new remote control car outside.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nap War

The only thing of any interest going on here lately is the Nap War. This involves my putting Noah in his room in an attempt to get him to rest (dare I say nap), and to have a couple of hours of peace and quiet to get some work done.

Noah does not see this time the same way that I do. He believes it is a time to (1) shove his mattress off of his bed, onto the floor, (2) act out elaborate and high volume dramas with his plethora of stuffed animals, (3) throw all of his blankets and sheets onto the floor, accompanied by a scattering of stuffed animals (those not being used in the performance, I guess), (4) see whether it is possible to jump hard enough on the floor to crash through the floor to my office (as yet unsuccessful, but he does not give up hope).

Naptime is anything but restful these days.

A couple of days ago, I made him a happy face chart with only two "sleep rules" on it. (Benjamin's had five or six; kid doesn't know how good he has it.) 1. Stay in bed. 2. Be quiet. Not so hard, right? Apparently VERY hard if you are 3 and a half. We talk about the chart, we talk about getting happy faces for following the rules, we talk about getting candy rewards for following the rules, we talk about the present he gets when he gets fills up a row of seven happy faces.

(I asked him what he thought the present should be. He said, "Pants." I said, "Pants? You want to go to the store and buy new pants?" He replied, "No, not pants from the store, pants from the house, but that are bigger." Um. Alrighty then. Frédéric says this is why he isn't motivated to follow the rules. But he chose his own present!)

All that talking is to no avail, as he remembers the rules for approximately three minutes after he goes to bed.

Today he went through his checklist above. I resorted to removing the stuffed animals from his room so he wouldn't have anyone to talk to. He found a few that I missed and started again. I removed those. He pushed his bed across the room. (Is there a way to attach his bed to the wall? Or his mattress to his bed? Or preferably both?)

The stuffed animals are all banished until he can manage to follow his two naptime rules successfully. Benjamin "helped" by stacking them all in a pile.

On the bright side, when I put him to bed at 6 pm on a non-nap day, he falls asleep about a minute and a half after I close his door, even without his two favorite stuffed animals.

I wouldn't say that makes the nap wars worth it, nor fighting with him all afternoon over his overtired behavior, but at least it brings relief a little bit earlier at the end of the day.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bits and Pieces

Nothing very exciting to report here lately - we need more visitors!

* * * * *

We saw Frédéric's aunt on Saturday, with his cousins. His aunt is visiting from Reunion Island.

* * * * *

Tonight at swimming lessons, Benjamin swam the entire length of the pool without stopping, and with no flotation aids.

* * * * *

And earlier, Frédéric was listening to Benjamin read his homework. He stopped him, and said, "You should put your finger here, underneath instead of above the line. I don't know how you can even read it since you're covering half the word."
Benjamin replied, "No, I'm not."
Frédéric insisted, "Yes, look," and imitated Benjamin's finger-reading style.
Benjamin told him, "You just have big hands."

* * * * *

And tomorrow is Coffee Day - I'm going to visit with one mom tomorrow morning, and another one in the afternoon! Good thing I have flexible working hours, huh?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bonne année !

Happy New Year, kiss kiss, best wishes, and good health to you! That is how we start the new year over here. Kisses all around (those cheek-touching-air-kiss-noises things), and giving everyone your best wishes for the new year. This happens the first time you see someone in the new year, any time until the end of January. (However, you have to keep track of who you have already seen so you don't offend them by wishing them happy new year twice, similar to the affront of saying "bonjour" twice in the same day to the same person.)

We rang in the new year with our friends who were staying with us (minus kids, who all got to go to bed around normal bedtime). We let Frédéric ring in the Polish New Year at 11 pm French time, so he could get to bed. The rest of us stayed up til midnight, wished each other happy new year, and headed off to our beds about six minutes later.

I wouldn't call this a New Year's resolution or anything, but let's just say that the social butterfly that was so latent I didn't even know it was there is finally starting to emerge, thanks mainly to an outgoing neighbor. The mom who stayed for Benjamin's entire birthday party made good on her vague coffee invitation and called to issue a more specific invitation last week... we showed up at 2:30 pm, and didn't leave until 9 pm!

(My excuse for this is as follows: around 5:30 we started making our move to leave; they asked us to stay for dinner. No, no, we said. Well, drinks, they countered. Ok, Frédéric agreed. But then... the husband had to go take care of his mule -- we didn't know what this meant, secret code for something? Is a "mule" some word that is not what it appears to be? -- and didn't come back for almost two hours! (Turns out a mule is just a mule; he had to go muck out the stall.) So we ended up having an "apéro dinatoire" (drinks & snacks in lieu of dinner) when he came back, and that is how coffee lasted until 9 pm... That is my story and I am sticking to it.)

And yet we don't seem to have overstayed our welcome, because she invited herself over to our house for coffee yesterday morning. We moved into "tutoiement" (calling someone the informal you, "tu" instead of the formal you, "vous") the day of the birthday party - major progress as far as being friendly with someone goes.

I took it as an indication that I ought to make more of an effort as well, so I steeled myself to ask another mom over for coffee this weekend with her family. Her daughters are both in Benjamin's class (1st & 2nd grade), and Frédéric and her husband used to be coworkers. We've been running into each other at school drop-off and pick-up for two years now, so it's probably about time we move things along a bit.

The first coffee mom has only lived in our village for a year but already knows significantly more people than we do. Must make life easier if you're outgoing, but at least I'm reaping some of the benefits of her outgoing-ness. Maybe 2012 is the year we'll start to know our neighbors!