18 December 2006

It is official!!

I am officially a card carrying member of the French Tennis Federation! To take lessons here or to play on the local tennis courts, you must join. I was completely amazed when I received my official card in the mail. I have been taking lessons every Thursday night at 8:30 pm (20h30) at the courts down the street. Lately it has been just a little frosty cold, but after a good warm up it is barely noticeable...although playing with my gloves on changes my grip just slightly.

This last Thursday we had a mini tournament with all of the night lesson players. Our foursome in lessons had a great time playing each other. I have met some really nice new friends through this endeavor...There is Serge who likes to serve like the ball is on fire, Isabelle who is so petite but hits the ball with finesse and lastly ??? I still have not figured out his name, but he lives just one street over from us and is so sweet. I almost beat ??? and was successful slaying La Petite, and held my own with Serge until I lost all feeling in my fingers due to a mix of his hard shots and the icy cold at 9:30 pm and ended up losing the last two points! Actually I was so grateful to have ended up 1-2 because I then discovered that if we ended on top we had to move to the next level and play against the other group which was entirely made up of 17 to 20 year olds who were scarfing down pizzas and then slamming the ball down their opponents throats at breakneck speed while we over 40 somethings had naively been hammering at seven bottles of the local red colored water hoping to fend off the cold. We losers watched sympathetically as Serge courageously took a whooping during his opponent's pizza break.

I began the lessons to try an old hobby again, but ended up really having a great time. Sebastien, the pro, is such a fabulous and patient guy and loves to learn and practice his tennis English. I even taught him that his dog's name...Swan...is that beautiful, but dangerous bird in the canal. Evidently to the French it is just a name like Mary. We all have become great friends and we now are starting to play each other outside of lessons.

12 December 2006

It's that time of year!

This is Celia's favorite time of year! While listening to all of our favorite Christmas music, we watched her decorate the tree. Obviously we need to finish shopping for new ornaments to fill in! Celia and I are going decoration shopping this weekend. Our collection of ornaments missed the boat from California and must wait until another shipment comes our way.

The villages have all put up there lights and decorations and the Christmas markets have begun. We went into Montpellier last Sunday to take a nice long stroll as is typical of a Sunday here. Montpellier has all of the beautiful lights and decorations up. Each street has a different theme and decoration. The plazas were full of people walking, sipping chocolat chaud, noshing on crepes and peeking into the shop windows. The large Christmas market starts in Montpellier this weekend with artists and regional goodies all on display in cute little chalets lining the Place Comedie. Although we will miss spending Christmas with our families this year, we are looking forward to experiencing a true French Christmas.

Celia and I are beginning the massive cookie baking festival that will start tomorrow and continue through the end of next week. We have many wonderful and thoughtful neighbors to thank this year for their warmth and generosity. Nothing says "thank you" like a Christmas cookie!!

04 December 2006

Happy 13th Birthday Nathan!!






















Nathan celebrated his entry into the teenage years with a sleepover. He had his great friends, Will and Mel sleep over. They played on Sims2, watched budding filmmaker Mel's newest releases and watched Ice Age 2. A great time and a bit of sleep was had by all...including Mom and Dad! Happy Birthday Nathan!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving!



We had a wonderful day sharing our Thanksgiving tradition with our friends here. We were 15 total...4 French, one Scottish, three British, and the rest American...really all Californians! I think our French neighbors were a bit overwhelmed that we eat all of the different foods on one plate...they thought the pumpkin pie very different! It is eaten very regularly here as a vegetable. I suppose it would be as if we had a broccoli cake served to us. They preferred Celia's lovely apple crisp to the pumpkin pie. We are so thankful to have our lives so rich in friends on both sides of the Atlantic. We hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Now on to Christmas!!

02 October 2006

Bagpiper


Nathan has some new buddies at school this year. Mel (on the left) and Will (on the right) are from Berkeley CA and are here for one year. Their parents study insects and spiders...I am so happy to give them any specimens that I come across! As a treat after dinner Sunday night, they played for us. We have not heard what our neighbors think of this impromptu concert, but we loved it. They are actually really good!!

Nathan is really enjoying translating for Will and helping him to make a smooth transition as Ryan did for him last year. The teachers say that they are a great team and both love working together.

Celia's Horseback Riding Lessons




Celia has achieved her girlhood dream of learning to ride. She is learning English style (they don't teach Western style) and made her first jump and galloped this last weekend. She spends more than two hours each weekend at the stables and gets to ride a different horse each time. She has to groom them, saddle them, feed them and clean them at the end. Surprisingly there is only one other girl in her class and the rest are all boys.

28 August 2006

New Rules for French Train Travel

I recently made a reservation for train travel here and was so surprised to see that new rules apply to the French train system. I received the following message from SNCF...the French rail company. I suppose it is in response to recent events in the world today.


Confirmation of your order
Hello madam FAIGLE

You have placed an order on our
voyages-sncf.com site the 28/08/2006 at 09h49 and we thank you. You are reminded of the details below:
We would remind you that your luggage should have labels giving your name, first name and address.

To ensure departures TGV under the best conditions, it from now on is requested from the whole of travellers TGV to reach the train at the latest 2 minutes before the time of departure indicated on their transport document.

22 August 2006

Summer Road Trip 2006 - Italy



Treviso, Venice and Parma...Oh how I love Italy. Even the outrageous summer crowds cannot hide Italy's beautiful spirit. And the crowds were really overwhelming in Venice. What were we thinking going to Venice in mid-August??? In spite of it all, Mike, Nathan and Celia enjoyed a quick glance at one of my favorite cities in Europe. We all swore to return in the Fall when the crowds have left.

Before we stopped for lunch in Venice, we went window shopping through the narrow winding alleys. Celia loved the romantic masks of the Carnival...Nathan was fascinated by the models of the medieval soldiers...Mike and Mary were entranced by the Murano glass and the incredible chandeliers. We had lunch in a quiet and very tasty restaurant on a teeny alley near Piazzo San Marco. After lunch, the previously somewhat quiet side streets were packed to the brim. When we finally made our way to the Piazza, we discovered that at least two-thirds of it was covered in water due to the high tides. All of the masses of people were squeezed into the tiny areas left. The church was closed to tourists due to the almost four inches of water lapping at the stairs. This turned a bearable crowd into complete chaos bordering on hysteria...God forbid they get their feet wet! We quickly agreed to skeedaddle out of there to return in a more calm time period! Even the vapretto ride was markedly more chaotic than the mornings water taxi in. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we hit the autostrada out of there!








Summer Road Trip 2006 - Vienna Continued




















Vienna was definitely a cultural experience. Museums, churches and concerts everywhere. The museum above was the Sissi museum...one wing was completely full of incredible handpainted, gilded, silvered, mirrored pieces of you name it...chamber pots, table decor, serving pieces...such incredible wealth some barely used at all. No wonder the monarchy lost its popularity!

We attended a night concert of Mozart pieces. The musicians were dressed and arranged as they might have been in the 1800s and the pieces were presented in the type and arrangement as was popular then in Vienna. It was very beautiful. You didn't need much imagination to picture Vienna as it was.

Summer Raod Trip 2006 - Vienna




















Vienna was such an approachable city much to my surprise. It really helped to have our friends as our wondeful tour guides. We really enjoyed staying with them in their beautiful home just a short ride outside of the city center by the underground train. It makes it a different stay to not be in a hotel in a city. The pictures are of the Hofburg palace...designed after Versailles...and the Vienna zoo in the beautiful gardens of the palace.

21 August 2006

Summer Road Trip 2006 - Melk Austria


As a side trip on our way from Salzburg to Vienna, we stopped for a visit to the incredible abbey in Melk, Austria and lunch.

Celia and I were amazed by the awesome library...floor to ceiling shelves overflowing with volumes of hand printed books with beautiful illustrations. The book shown here is a book on plants and nature.

The church itself was so beautiful. I long ago stopped keeping track of my favorite churches in Europe as they all astound me with their opulence and beauty. A short mass was taking place at noon as we came into the church. Even though the language was completely foreign, the beautiful sounds of the prayers echoing through the heights of the building and making their way up into the heavens gave me shivers. I am not sure I could ever get tired of looking at the beautiful chapels and paintings and sculptures in the churches in Europe.

19 August 2006

Summer Road Trip 2006 - Salzburg


These are photos from the surprisingly compact city of Salzburg. Petite, yet so complex in its culture and music. It was definitely the year of Mozart! We went to this marionette theatre and saw a performance of Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail or The Abduction from the Seraglio. It was the first time any of us had seen an opera and with the help of the subtitles, it was very interesting. The marionettes were incredible...about 3 feet tall and as impeccably costumed as a real opera might be. We heard a rehearsal of the nightly organ recital in the cathedral and took a tour of the Mozart home.

Summer Road Trip 2006 - Germany Continued





The steel ball in the sculpture piece is my only proof of existence on this trip. Mike claims I wasn't there and I used this photo to prove him wrong!! The tall trees are the same type of redwoods found in California. We felt very connected to our former home while gazing at their splendor.

Mainau Island is home to a beautiful castle as well as incredible gardens. It is in the Bodensee or Lake Constance on the German/Swiss Border near Hedi and Manfred's house. We spent a grey, but mostly dry day wandering through the butterfly house, the park and the formal gardens and having a wonderful lunch on the terrace.

Summer Road Trip 2006 - Germany


We started our summer road trip with three days spent with our favorite German Aunt Hedi! Again we were spoiled with wonderful food and hospitality. We took day trips to Fussen...we failed to join a tour of Mad King Ludwig's castle (Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland is styled after it) due to the HUGE August crowds. What did we expect really?? In spite of this, we really enjoyed this quaint town. Hedi and Manfred said we were typical American tourists with our incessant need to drive long distances.

24 July 2006

Interville

http://programmes.france3.fr/intervilles/22295493-fr.php

This is a link to the funniest game show we have ever seen. It is now Nathan and Celia's all time favorite show. It is on every Monday at 9 to 11 pm...very long game show...NO ADS!! It pits two towns against each other in ridiculous events...some including a very unhappy bull.

This could NEVER be done in the USA! The lawyers and insurance companies would have a field day. It is definitely an example of if you are stupid enough to do something, you can take all the responsibility for it! This is the rule here!

If you click on the "Best of the Gamelles" tab, you can se some videos of the funniest parts of the show. One can vote for the funniest ones and they are ranked each week and shown on the highlights portion of the show.

09 July 2006

Bike Ride Along the Canal du Midi























This week on a sultry summer day, we took a two hour bike ride along the Canal du Midi that originates at the Atlantic and ends in the Mediterranean Sea. We rode from Colombiers north. It was a beautifully shady ride through vineyards and small villages. Vacationers on boats and barges floated by waving...the cicadas serenaded us the whole way. It was just amazing. Under the incredible plane trees...aka sycamores (Mike's editorial)...the temperature was so cool and fresh. A wonderful breeze stayed with us most of the ride. What a wonderful summer diversion!

Never can say goodbye!




Nathan's best buddy at school this year was Ryan. Ryan - who was from NY originally - was in his second year at the Ecole Bilingue de Baillargues. He was a great friend and really helped Nathan through the rough times of a first year. His family has now moved on to another post with a computer firm in Vienna. Nathan is lost without his friend this summer, but we all know that thanks to Ryan, Nathan will be so comfortable next year at his second year in school. We are so excited that it also gives us a reason to travel this summer and a place to stay in Vienna...Mozartland!!!!!!! Mary is in heaven!!

26 June 2006

End of the First Year at School





Celia and Nathan finished their first year with honors at school. I must admit to being filled with such pride and admiration while listening to their teachers complimenting them at the final teacher-parent meeting last week. The French system of grading is quite tough and when comments are given on the grade reports, they are not given lightly. Nathan received Felicitations which is the highest recommendation available and had a grade point average well above the class average. His class is mostly true French students...only three others were English speakers. Celia came in at the top of her class. They took a standardized math test that the whole country takes in elementary school. The test is completely in French with no translation at all. Celia came in second in her class and 24th in this province...like a state...(Herault) and 2,422 in all of France In total 28,764 students in Celia's grade took the test in France. Suffice it to say, we and her teacher were incredulous!!

We would like to offer a standing ovation to both of them for an outstanding year!! BRAVO!!!!!

Celia's Eleventh Birthday


The end of May marked Celia's Eleventh birthday and her first in France. She has been waiting to have a swim party from the day we moved in. She is the ultimate water bug!! The day ended up being beautiful swim weather!! She had her best friends (in France) over for worms and dirt, pigs in a blanket and lots of zany games. One of the funniest was jumping rope while holding a glass filled with water. The one who ends up with the most water left in the glass wins. The techniques were quite inventive. Mike played the good sport when the girls insisted he participate...holding a huge metal bowl of water. He did quite well in spite of their shrieks of laughter.

That night we dined on Celia's favorite meal...bbq ribs! Her friend Alex from Slovakia stayed to get messy with us. Celia swears Alex is a Californian girl with a funny accent!! It was a great day for all. Happy Birthday, Celia!!

End of Soccer Season





















These pictures are from the Sussargues Soccer Tournament down the street from our house. Celia's team took second place after a hard fought final game. Celia received a special award with her friend Camille for being the only two girls in the program. Camille played on the second team and Celia on the premier. They are pictured with the Mayor of Sussargues who was very proud of Celia as a resident of the village and a fine representative. Her coach, Nicole, was such a great person for Celia to play for and really encouraged her this year. Celia has decided to keep playing with the boys and Nicole next year when she moves up to the Benjamin league (ages 11-13). She really enjoyed her teammates and the celebrity of being the only girl and American on the team.

23 June 2006

ONE YEAR!!!!

So it has been a year since we started this adventure! Time really does fly! Looking back through this blog and thinking about where we were a year ago is really mind bending. A thought that occurred to me the other day is how this life here in France is so much more of a conscious choice. We actually continue to choose to live here and search to experience it rather than merely existing in a life that passes us by.

Summer is here and we are talking about what we really are excited to visit and see...not just what camps can I occupy the kids with and how do we stretch it until September. Today we are working at home and then we are going on a drive before we pick up the kids from school. So much is about experiencing...not just floating...although it was so nice yesterday, I must admit to lolling by and in the pool most of the day!

Some of our English speaking friends here are on work contracts that moves them around every two years or so. That forces you to value your time with them and make the most of it. Dinners...overnights with Nathan and Celia's friends...coffee or lunch with friends after dropping the kids at school. In our old existence, we took our friends for granted that we did not have to make an effort because they would always be there...even if it was running into them in Nob Hill or at the soccer field...never consciously, but still a choice of not truly appreciating those that mean the most to us in our lives.

As a family, we talk more and spend more time together. We are not coming home from a long day at the office only to want to escape into ourselves to unwind. We talk and laugh and play in the pool at the end of the day. We have time to be quiet inside ourselves so we are able to actually be with each other. We work on projects together...Nathan with Mike in the garden...Celia or Nathan helping me with the grocery shopping...everyone doing a task to get dinner on the table...doing the Saturday cleaning together...it all builds relationships on top of getting a task done. Previously, I was so drained at the end of the day, I would make dinner in silence while the kids studied in their rooms. We would eat quickly in silence and then collapse in front of the TV until falling into bed.

If we take anything from this adventure we are on, it is to experience life and not to allow it to overtake us and make us into glazed eye zombies too exhausted to exist. To enjoy experiences that build memories and give meaning to our lives! Carpe Diem!!

22 May 2006

Top of Europe!!







We took a long slow train from a town near Interlaken to the top of the Jungfrau mountain at 11,330 feet at the observation building...2.5 hours up and 2.5 hours down! It is such a huge climb and the train makes cuts and turns all the way. It was an amazing ride through little picturesque villages and numerous ski areas and resorts with waterfalls and bucolic scenery. Everyone who needs to go up must ride the train. The train was built in the early 1900s by an avid climber who had great vision. There is an ice palace that was carved into the glacier in the 1930s and is still there. The floors and walls were solid ice. Jazzy put on a wonderful skating exhibition for all of the tourists there. We were on the longest glacier in the Alps and this was the highest railway station in Europe. Fortunately, the ride and the ice palace were so interesting because we could see nothing at the top due to a complete white out! It was snowing big huge snowflakes. It was fun to play on the deck...Jazzy loved snuffing in the snow! It gave me the heebeegeebee knees when I looked up at the side of the mountains, but it was cool! If it had not been snowing, we could have hiked out to an Auberge 45 minutes across the glacier. Also in good weather, there are sled dogs and skiing. We passed a group of truly the most die-hard skiers going out on the glacier to ski. Phew!

Aside from the interesting side effects on our bodies from being at such unpressurized heights, it was really fascinating. We even got a little science lesson from some tourists sitting next to us at lunch who were from North Carolina (Susie and Aaron...no slam on you guys!) ...did you know that the air pressure is the same inside a building at that height as outside? Amazing scientific facts you can learn from eavesdropping. The gentleman spent much time enlightening his wife regarding her loudly, heavily accented and undocumented beliefs that the air must be pressurized inside so they would all feel better soon if they sat for long enough. Suffice it to say that the two other English speaking families...as with us...spoke very little and very quietly for the remainder of our lunch. It was good for an embarrassed laugh later. The poor lady must have mistaken the cafeteria for a airplane's galley.

Interlaken Switzerland


We left the luxury of being completely spoiled by Hedi...including her doing all of our laundry and hanging it out to dry in her garden while we went sightseeing...to rough it in the land of BIG price tags.

Switzerland is so beautiful and clean. The Alps are incredible how they just push out of the earth and are so jagged. If any of you recall the Eiger Sanction...a movie directed and starring Mayor Clint for all of you Carmel wannabees...was made in this area.

I stayed in Interlaken in college and was disappointed to see that it had been overtaken by tourist buses unloading their huge groups even in off season. In college, it was a haven for broke students staying at the many hostels and serious hikers and climbers. I guess since we are neither at this point, we must have looked as out of place as the tour groups.

We stayed at a nice auberge near the hostel I stayed at in college. We had a great family suite and a friendly host to greet us.

Rheinfalls


This incredible waterfall is on the Swiss side of the border and begins with the Bodensee...Lake Constance...and feeds into the Rhein river. It was an amazing sight up close! In the dry season, you can walk almost halfway out to the middle. There is a sign posted out there to see. It is hard to imagine the falls drying out. This year seemed to be a rainy season and the falls had almost a record level of water.

18 May 2006

Meersburg Castle























We visited the Meersburg Castle with Hedi. (Yes...another extremely hilly hike that Hedi pushed us to make! She is merciless!!) It was a medieval village on the shores of Lake Constance. The armaments in the castle were spectacular even to Mom the Pacifist! There were all shapes and sizes and types of killing implements as well as armor and chain mail that were in incredible shape. All were used by men in this specific castle at some time. It really reinforced what a brutal time the medieval ages were.

To quote from a travel web page:
"Three countries border the shores of Lake Constance (Der Bodensee): Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The town of Meersburg is in Germany on the north shore of the lake, between Friedrichshafen and ├ťberlingen. In the town are two castles, a medieval one, Altes Schloss (Old Castle or Meersburg Castle), and a baroque one, Neues Schloss. Altes Schloss is one of the oldest inhabited castles in Germany.

Meersburg Castle dates back to 628 when Dagobert I, the Frankish king, built a military tower on granite overlooking Lake Constance. Features were added to the castle over the years, including the main tower which dates from 1509.

The castle was built for heavy use, and survived many onslaughts. In 1334 when the castle was under siege by Emperor Louis the Bavarian, Bishop Nicholas I of Kenzingen had a secret underground passage dug from the castle to the lake. The 400 miners assigned to the task finished the tunnel in the 14th week of the siege, allowing supplies to be brought in to the castle without Louis’s notice. With the castle able to hold out for such a long time, Louis was finally forced to give up. After time the tunnel entrance was used as a dungeon. Known as the “Hole of Fear,” prisoners were lowered into it and left to starve. "

Suffice it to say, there needed to be a female touch added here or there to soften the militaristic decor.

13 May 2006

Visiting the Faigle Family


We were so completely spoiled by Mike's Aunt Hedi and Uncle Manfred! Hedi cooked wonderful meals that drew cries of delight from Nathan and Celia. All plates were cleaned at every meal leaving us anticipating the next.

Jazzy especially basked in her attention. Hedi fell in love with our dog...he could do no wrong as he patrolled her garden, slept in the sunshine and sat in her lap for a well deserved massage.

While in Singen, Germany, we caught up with Mike's Uncle Walter and Aunt Irma...pictured with Mike in the upper left corner picture. They live in a pretty village not far from where we stayed.

Hohentwiel Castle


This ruin is found in Singen, Germany where Mike's family is from. It is a beautiful area near Lake Constance and the Swiss border. The hike was fully uphill and very steep. All along we glimpsed beautiful vistas of sheep and lush green fields and Lake Constance. We could see shadows of the Swiss Alps off in the distance.

The most amazing thing about the hike was Mike's Aunt Hedi's ability to out hike all four of us. She is at an age that most people would be happy or forced by an unwilling body to spend their days watching the world go by...yet she hiked this huge hill up and down without even appearing winded and had plenty of energy to attack the hike we took the next day. She rides her bike to the bakery and hardly stops to rest as she works through the day cooking and gardening and cleaning. A serious role model for me!!

10 May 2006

Aboard the Elizabeth Again


Our first destination for Spring Break was Tom and Tricia Reay's barge Elizabeth in Roanne in the central West side of France between Dijon and Lyon. She is 22 meters long and quite the looker! We were not able to go out on the canals, but we had a wonderful two night visit with our friends and met a lot of lovely bargers. This trip we were able to keep Jazzy from jumping overboard, although he would have loved to swim after the ducks.

08 May 2006

Road Trip!!


We began our Spring Break trip by driving over the magnificent Millau bridge. We have seen it from below twice and Nathan and Celia have been on a bus trip over it, but Mike and I have never driven it. You cannot see over the sides, but you can see the tiny ant-like village below that reminds you just how high you are. As we made our way north, we passed over and under many unusual bridges...each very different in their design...even an upside down suspension bridge.

We had a picnic at a rest stop on the way by a very neat old village. It is truly a very French thing to do to picnic at the stops. At noon, all of the stops are filled to the gills with families enjoying their lunch.

As you can see, Jazzy is a well-seasoned traveller. His comfy little bed was in the trunk and we kept the ski pass through hole open so he could pop through and see everything.

06 April 2006

Church in Castries France








As I was reminded by Pastor Patti's weekly letter, we are entering Holy Week. I feel so much connection to my faith sitting in the services of this week. This is the Catholic church that I am attending...pretending that it is Episcopal! The prayers and the flow of the service are almost exactly the same.

Pere Yannick is so wonderful. He is definitely a younger (40s to early 50s) and more forward thinking Catholic priest. He speaks French, Spanish and English. He has visited the Carmel mission in California and loves to have us in his congregation. He insists on speaking in English with us after each service even though we would like to stay in French to better blend in.

The voices roll about the church when the choir sings. It just fills you to the brim. It is such an open and light filled place...very unlike most of the older churches here. The original church in Castries was constructed around 1050, collapsed in 1870. This new church was built in 1862...thus the more light and airy architecture.

The congregation is enormous. For a country that has really turned its back on its organized religion, the church is packed completely to standing room only every single Sunday. I am forced to actually be early in order to find a seat...amazing for me don't you agree my COGS family??