Saturday, April 28, 2012

April Snow: Part Two

The nice surprise of going to the mountains the last week the resort is open is that you get discounts on everything. Ski rental was half off, parking was free, saving us about $100, clothing was 50% off in the shops (though it was too expensive for our taste even at those reduced prices), and we not only got discounted tickets to the ice sculpture cave, but the lady also let Benjamin go in free though normally 6-year-olds and up have to pay.

So we took the (eeek, scary!) cable cars up to 2600m to see the ice cave.
In the seven years we've had the condo, this is only the second time I've gone up in the cable cars. I'm so brave.
This year's snow sculpture theme was famous people, real or fictional.
We saw Darth Vader.
Luke and Leia.

Mother Theresa.
And Karl Lagerfeld, among others.
The cave was a little narrow in some spots!

And then we posed for some pictures at the top.

Noah and I took the (eeek, scary!) cable cars back down to return to our afternoon sledding, while Frédéric and Benjamin skied down blue (and red!!) slopes.
He looks all blasé in this picture, but he insisted I hold his hand the whole way down because he was "a little scared."

April Snow: Part One

We hesitated until the very last minute about heading up to the mountains during the boys' spring break. Spring break fell so late this year, we didn't know if there would be any snow. But it ended up snowing the whole week before vacation, so we bit the bullet.
It rained for most of the second half of our drive up:
But turned to snow once we started heading up the mountain:
I decided to be brave and try skiing again for the first time in 14 years. Unfortunately, this attempt was no more successful or pleasant than the last one, so one morning (let's be honest, I wore the ski boots for maybe an hour, total, and came down the very gentle slope two or three times) was plenty for me.
The first day of skiing was full of tumbles and whining (not solely on my part), but the boys stuck it out and got the hang of it again.
Since we didn't stay an entire week, we weren't able to enroll the boys in ski lessons this year. But the second day, Frédéric and Benjamin took the chair lift and spent the afternoon skiing on the "big tall mountain," and Benjamin made a lot of progress. (Too bad we can't say the same for me.)
The resort didn't expect so much snow, and were very French in their reactivity (or lack thereof) to the blizzard. They closed both the rope and the children's ski area after our first day there - the only two slopes that were accessible to Noah (or me, for that matter) at his current level.

So when Noah couldn't ski anymore, he went sledding:
Built snowmen (if you look closely at that little lump, you might be able to make out eyes and a smile):
Threw snowballs (this is the post-throw stance):
And played Little Red Riding Hood:
I got to spackle and repaint a bathroom wall during vacation... that's the downside of having your own condo!
Noah tried his hand at cheating for the first time during our vacation. (Ah, what a wonderful milestone, right?) We bought an Uno game last year at a flea market in order to leave it in the condo for our guests to use while they are here. It's a great game for both boys, as Noah knows his colors and numbers now - and showed an amazing propensity for understanding the draw 2, skip, reverse and draw 4 cards right off the bat.

During one hand, Noah realized he was about to lose, so, oblivious to the rest of us looking on, he carefully stacked two red cards together and slyly tried to put them down on his turn.
No, we didn't let him get away with it. But it was pretty funny and reminiscent of card games friends and I used to play in high school.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Presidential Elections, Round 1

We've been in election mode here for a couple of months... the great thing is that the campaigning doesn't seem to last nearly as long as in the US.

The crazy thing is the number of candidates and the party names that keep changing - these are not even the same parties that I learned about in language school in Marseille in 1996.

We had ten candidates in the first round this year:
Nicolas Sarkozy (Union pour un mouvement populaire): current president, right-wing
François Hollande (Parti Socialiste): socialist candidate
François Bayrou (Mouvement Démocratique): centrist
Jean-Luc Mélanchon (Front de Gauche): extreme left
Marine Le Pen (Front National): extreme right, known for wanting to drop the euro in favor of the franc, and kick out the foreigners. I joke that I should vote for her, so she could deport me.
Nathalie Arthaud (Lutte Ouvrière): extreme left, self-proclaimed communist candidate
Philippe Poutou (Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste): anti-capitalist party. We're not sure what they do stand for, but we know what they don't stand for.
Jacques Cheminade (Solidarité et Progrès): left wing, but with some interesting ideas about technologicial progress
Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Debout la République): extreme right wing, I think
Eva Joly (Europe Écologie Les Verts): ecologist party, left-wing

These ten are the ones who stayed in the race and got 500 mayors to back their candidacy. According to Wikipedia, 18 others either backed out at some point, were beaten out in party primaries, or didn't get the 500 required mayoral signatures.

As a naturalized French citizen, I'm entitled to vote in the elections, so this is my second round of presidential elections since adopting French nationality.

We took the boys with us when we voted this morning. Benjamin wanted to know who we voted for, so we told him - big mistake. He's prancing around saying the name over and over. We told him that who we vote for is a secret, and he doesn't need to tell people. He said, oh-so-reassuringly, "I know what a secret is. I won't even tell it in school!" and then proceeded to continue repeating the name over and over.

To counteract his secret-keeping abilities (or lack thereof), I let him look over the election materials and practice learning all of the candidates' names.

Most of our friends already know who we voted for, so it isn't actually that much of a secret.... but most of our friends also don't share our political views, and we'd rather keep our village as friendly and harmonious as possible!

According to our local newspaper, the results in our village, with 151 voting and 30 abstentions, were as follows:

LE PEN 23,18%
BAYROU 9,27%
JOLY 1,32%

Nationally, they are still giving estimations, but the second round, on May 6th, will be between Sarkozy & Hollande.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Rain in Spa... France stays mainly on the plain

So I told my parents that it was better to come in April than in July or August, because we'd be more likely to have good weather. That weather proceeded to turn me into a liar, gifting us with rain showers and gray skies like we hadn't seen in months, not to mention much colder weather than we expected, and we were out of firewood.

No garden pictures as yet since the cold and rain may force us to re-plant in a few more weeks, but the gray skies do provide us with some pretty views from our windows nonetheless.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Easter Bells are .... leaving eggs?

Easter began when our friend Danielle brought the boys chocolate rabbits when she came by to visit, accompanied by her daughter and granddaughter, the day before Easter. Benjamin didn't want to eat his - he is very into "saving" things for later. I insisted that he eat part of it or I would not be responsible for its fate, so he reluctantly sawed its ears off with a knife.
And then put his head down on the table and pretend-sobbed, "Adieu ! Adieu !" (Do we see an acting career in his future?)

For the first time ever, we let the boys dye Easter eggs. I wasn't sure how well it would work out with brown eggs and Wilton cake frosting dye, but they were happy with the results. Whether that has to do with how well it worked out or how low their expectations were, well... we'll just take it at face value. I let them color on them with white crayons first to make designs.
Once Frédéric woke up (how he managed to nap through the entire egg-dying festivities, I'll never know), the boys went out to hunt the eggs left outside by the Easter Bunny. Not the Easter Bells, this is an American household.

I begged, pleaded and threatened in order to get the parental mythology post-Easter egg hunt photo - and I picked through the results to find the best one to share with you. Failing that, I picked the silliest one instead.
Easter Bells, you ask? Well, according to Wikipedia:
Church bells are silent as a sign of mourning for one or more days before Easter in The Netherlands, Belgium and France. This has led to an Easter tradition that says the bells fly out of their steeples to go to Rome (explaining their silence), and return on Easter morning bringing both colored eggs and hollow chocolate shaped like eggs or rabbits.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

And the Most Picturesque Village prize goes to...

Tuesday afternoon while the boys were in school and Frédéric was at work, I took my parents to visit a few other nearby villages.

We began with a short photo op stop at our "we're almost home!" landmark windmill.

Then went on to Largny-en-Automne:

Continued on to Fleury:

Then Corcy:

And finished up with Dampleux:

But at the end of all that, the verdict was that our village was still the most picturesque around. These others are close seconds, though.

Flea Markets and Castles

My parents arrived on Sunday. To fend off their jet lag, we promptly took them to the flea market in neighboring Montgobert - also a good chance to see the castle grounds. The castle belonged to Napoleon's sister.

We came away with a basket and a couch for the upstairs landing, if Noah is ever big enough for us to put his furniture back in his room without fear for its or his life. Until then, he gets the couch, and has adopted it as his new bed, so I'm not sure we will ever get it back for the landing now...

Oh yes, and thanks to the new couch/bed - we can now sleep 16 people at the house, 12 besides ourselves. So it's time to book those plane tickets!