Tuesday, June 29, 2010

For Lovers of Language and Music

Remember our friends from Toulouse, the Esperantists with all of the instruments in their home? Well, I just got the story from JM on the balalaïka; it means "to mock" in Russian, it was, at one time, forbidden, by the tsar, to make musical instruments. By making them in their homes, they were mocking the tsar. That is why they are small, they could be hidden under one's coat, and the triangular form is easy to make.

If you have not checked out his video yet, you really should, it will give you a laugh to start (or end) the day! Just click below and enjoy.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Outpatient Room; for Belongings

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Health Care Like This?

I have waited to post on this, discretion was an issue on which we have finally come to an agreement and then I had the patient to look after as well as the French program to work on. Here it is at last; I spent an entire day at the hospital last week here and I have a lot to say about the experience. I promised the person in question that I would not reveal the silly accident that landed them in the hospital for a day, so you will have the hows, whats, wheres and whens, but not the whos or whys.

First the photos, as you can see, the room is rather austere, unwelcoming but superbly clean, functional and enough. This is the out-patient section, I have not seen the regular hospitalization part, but it is probably much the same, maybe with tv, telephone and an armchair. The rooms are all double in the out-patient section, but it was a slow day, so we had the space to ourselves.

Outpatient Room for Two, France

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Hospital Experience, Part II

As I said, I spent the day at the hospital, accompanying a family member who required minor surgery, minor anesthesia, a long wake up get the picture, it was a long day. Here is how it went:

Check in: efficient, friendly, quick.

The nurses: warm, kind, helpful, simply the best, all of them.

The frills: NONE, but I happened to have my knitting with me, so life was just fine.

The patient: mending well, thanks!

The cost: hold onto your hats, friends, family and readers in the US: 68 Euros for the entire deal. That is around $88.

I have had other hospital experiences in France; I had one appendectomy and two births in hospital here. The former was the most frightening, I was twenty-three and about to have emergency surgery in a foreign country, and we all know what they say about health care anywhere but the US. It might be primitive, unhygienic, with methods that have not been seen in years at home.

Hmph! My doctor, after the results of a day of tests and prods and other fun moments, reached the conclusion that a specialist better take a look at me, now. I was sent to his office, in an elegant, eighteenth-century building in downtown Toulouse, that was also his home. It was 7pm. He examined me and then called in his wife, the anesthesiologist, (who had probably been in the kitchen cooking dinner) to take notes for surgery first thing in the morning. I went home, packed my bags and headed to the private hospital to check in. The operation took place in the morning and I awoke from the anesthesia as if nothing had happened; no nausea, no fog, no pain. I was looked after, fed and watered for five days and then sent home. The room was nice, there was a sweet little courtyard outside my window, and croissants and hot chocolate for breakfast. No bill, our second insurance policy picked up what Social Security (national health care coverage) did not pay for; television, private room, probably about $30 over the basic cost. The births, I must say, were a superior experience. Instead of going home missing a body part, I got to take home a baby each time!

So, back to last week. Was it pretty, did we have a tv, beautiful artwork? Not really, but it was comfortable, the medical team was excellent, and we are not in debt for two years after the experience. I even finished one sock and got a good start on another!

Hospital Waiting Room Knitting

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Aragorn and his Auntie

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Hot Summer Days in France

The hot, really hot sun felt so good on my skin after weeks of cold and rain. The feeling lasted for about 24 hours and that was that. I'm trying, I really am, to love the heat. I love the way it makes things grow and the beautiful sunshine. I could live in Scotland, in the mountains, with little trouble.

So, it is summer, sunny, hot days and outdoor activities. The children are outside all of the time, (so am I), and it is wonderful. They go for hikes with Papy and run all over the yard, playing soccer and flying the airplane. I move as little as possible and drink lots of water. We eat outside, all three meals, we can walk anywhere (but I don't want to anymore) . The market is beautiful again and the town festivals have begun.

This weekend it was the festival of our little village; carnival rides and games and a dance that we were too tired to make it to Saturday night, beginning at 11. We did have a great time at my sister-in-law's house with our little niece and all the kidos. We had the pre-dinner (aperitif) for an hour or so while it stormed something awful, and then headed right back outside, wiped off the tables and ate out of doors like nothing had happened.

DH desperately wants to bike, but we have so many invitations in these last days that we have to borrow the car all of the time, oh well. (Like I am getting on a bicycle in this weather anyway!) Ah, happy days of summer, welcome, here's your hat, what's your hurry?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Erratum to French with Kids

I thought, as the week went on, that I would write a little more about the program and how it works, but I have been prompted to do so sooner by a most pertinent comment and question. ("Do you and your children sit in front of the computer screen to learn?") Here is how we envision the program:

There are daily lessons that fit into a weekly lesson on a theme. The weeks fit into a two-month cycle that begins with the morning and makes its way through a day in the life of a child (at any age); waking up, brushing and scrubbing, going out, for a walk or a drive, meal time, time for play (games or younger play), snack time and a chapter on living together in peace (with good manners tossed in.) The cycle begins again with new vocabulary for the same time of day.

Using the program: the first lesson begins with waking up in the morning. Mom (or dad) takes a look at the expression for the day, listens to the pronunciation, and goes to wake their off-spring with those words. She gives a choice of two expressions with which the young person can respond, or perhaps you have looked a the words the night before and everyone knows their roles already. Action is even preferable to answering, since it also translates understanding of the words just spoken, but a "oui, papa," can certainly accompany action.

Along the way, there will be lessons on the side in culture, fun customs and traditions, a little grammar, and a great lexicon that includes not only the vocabulary in the lessons, but all the little extras you may want to add in; if the lesson includes "put your shoes on," you may want to know how to say "sandals" or "tennies." We will add to this list as your requests come in. We will also take requests for vocabulary in future lessons, but we'll answer your emails right away with any help you may need.

Send your comments and questions, I welcome them and will answer them as they arrive. Ciao for now!

Friday, June 25, 2010

French with Kids

Our sixth child, our language program, the project we've schemed, dreamed and worked on for over a year, is about to see the light of the computer screen and a real audience. Next week, French with Kids will "go live" as my techie husband calls it.

So, why did I need to go invent another language program for children? I did not intend to, really, I am pretty busy and was not searching for a new project. I was writing a review of the top language programs in an article on language acquisition and bilingual children. I realized that I had really better test the ones I had never set eyes on for myself. That is when I discovered that they were really designed with adults in mind. Learning a language as a child is a different matter than learning one as an adult. The vocabulary you relate to and require in everyday life is so far from the world of newspapers, coffee, market values or taking a taxi. "Put your shoes on" is a more likely candidate for an expression you will hear each day.

Even the programs written for children are lacking in good, practical, usable vocabulary. Some are funny, some are sophisticated, some are written with the classroom and international travel in mind. In every high school French book you will learn to say "My name is Gerard. I am Dutch. Let's go to the beach," and then on to "The teacher's desk is next to the chalkboard," all very useful expressions in your home in Florida or Saskatchewan. I felt there was a better way to go about this.

I have been teaching foreign languages for over twenty years. I began teaching English in Spain when I was in college. The thrill of a student who is finally conversing, reading and writing in their new chosen language is wonderful. The excitement of hearing my own children speak first English after moving to America, then French upon returning to France, is even greater. I love learning to communicate with other peoples and other cultures in their own language and I love helping other people do so too.

As a homeschooler, I had something else in mind. Homeschooling or not, involved parents can tell you that whatever it is that a child is learning, the parent learns right along with them. Why not learn together using the words you already use each day together? It is a simple idea; daily exchanges with your child translated into another language. All of the exchanges are requests that will elicit a response; either an action or a dialog. Both are guaranteed to promote memory.

Learning together as a family is more fun than sitting at a computer screen alone, too. The questions and answers of the daily lessons work together, both parent and child make an effort to communicate, Both may be rolling on the floor laughing at the other's attempts, or singing the song of the week together.

Will there be grammar, reading, writing? Yes, but in time. Complex grammatical structures are used every day painlessly and naturally. Learning about them is necessary, but not right away. I see that my own children, who have been encouraged to read every day in French these past three months, are writing with more ease and less mistakes. My dd and I sat down the other day with a Latin teacher for a lesson. I discovered that she understood not only the basics of sentence structure, but also concepts like object complements and predicate adjectives with a minimum of explanations. She could also write the French translations correctly.

So, the first step is to integrate and have fun with the language. Let it become part of your day, part of your family. Go ahead and challenge yourself to learn just one useful expression a day and let your children answer back for once; as long as it is in French!

I will post as soon as things are up and running (I can't wait!) The first week's lesson will be available for free at the web site. A bientot!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Taking Puck's Stroller for a Walk

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A Stop for Mama's Photo-Op

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Untypical French Woods

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First Day of Summer

First day in the sunshine, an errand and I return home to collect my little gang to go out exploring. Four of them don shoes and hats and set out with me in excellent humor, blue skies, warm air and a new place to discover. As I was walking this morning, I crossed over a new bridge and saw, far below me, the muddy river, and steps leading down undiscovered path!

We return and are rewarded with a wide open, solid dirt path next to a swiftly running, narrow brown river, la Midouze. On either side are woods, magnificent trees such as are not often seen in this part of the country; weeping willows, poplar, oak, palm trees, palm trees? Ah, someone has planted an exotic garden in front of and behind the wall to their property, making it appear as if the trees we see along the path include ones with really big leaves and exotic fruit the size of American footballs. The children discover "fairy waterfalls" spilling out from houses and a steep, muddy bank to climb down.

Later that day we head downtown to the annual Festival of Music. Arthur, Puck and I meet up with the others; Daddy, kids, grandparents. There should be music everywhere, and there are, in fact, a few groups around the two main squares of the town and one lone musician on a corner, singing his heart out in French and English, but I am disappointed by the lack of harmony with my memories of music festivals from years ago. This is a festival I remember from Toulouse, where each street corner had a guitar or a violin and someone singing, and the squares and bars filled with groups playing. It was impossible to walk in the streets, they were full, full, full of people, all dancing, singing and enjoying the night. It is still a lovely way to greet the first day of summer and the solstice as a family. Happy summer!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On Homeschooling: Guest Post

I listened to a podcast the other day, an interview on The Waldorf Connection with homeschool author, Tammy Takahashi. I liked her "zen" approach to learning and embarked upon an enthralling visit to her blog. Here is an article I could relate to, having heard the comments many times from concerned others in my life. I reprint it with permission from the author, thank you, Tammy!

The Weird Homeschool Girl Goes to School

I was reading one of the many online discussions about homeschool socialization, and one of the comments was this:

“It all depends on the parents and how they home school you. I was not home schooled but I have nothing against it. However I have seen a girl that was home schooled go to our high school and I felt bad for the girl she seemed like she came from a different country. Her parents kept her in the dark from a lot of stuff. Including sex ed.”

I tried to make a comment, but it gave me an error. So, I’ll post it here. This is what I was going to respond to her:

“Veronica_J said that there was a homeschool girl who seemed like she was from another country.

First, what’s wrong with being from another country?

Second, if public school kids are so well socialized and so accepting of people who are different than them, then wouldn’t they step up and help her get accustomed to her new environment?

Three, what about kids who move from a different state, or come from private schools, and don’t know their way around our local schools? Should we feel sorry for them too?

Four, what about kids who have been going through the entire school system, and still seem like they are from another country? Who do we blame?

The problem isn’t that homeschool kids are taught different things, don’t know how to socialize, or have trouble integrating. It’s that public school kids are taught that being different is a bad thing, and that to be “weird” will destroy their life.

Which, as adults, we know is totally not true. In fact, being weird is often the thing that keeps us alive and from being swept under the current of modern day life. “

One vote for "weird"!

Links to:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Big Birthday

Aragorn has been waiting to turn 12 for about fifteen years. He was so excited, I was so proud. As my children grow, I see the wonderful people they are becoming and I am happy to know those people, especially Aragorn this week. Happy Birthday, sweet son!

Aragorn is Twelve

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Short Enough, Grampa?

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The Haircut

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A Short-Haired Puck

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Haircut, take II, sorry Jane!

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Fall in France

There is a delicious odor wafting from the bright and cheery kitchen; fresh soup simmering, cookies baking. It is pouring rain outside, and when you step out, you can smell the smoke from the fireplaces. This is my favorite time of year...or at least it looks and smells like it. I first arrived in France in the autumn and the smell of wet pine and hearth fires always brings back happy memories from that time.

Except it is June. Not November. I am writing this in case to whom it may concern may be listening. Hey, we managed to get here during the summer, that means beach weather, camping, eating outdoors every day, sunshine required. It's been years and years since I was here in the summer. I am not complaining, just explaining the agenda.

In the meantime, I love needing a down comforter up to my ears at night, wearing jeans and sweaters and smelling the smoke and pine needles when I step outside.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Toulouse Visit

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Marie and Bella

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J.Marc and the Boys

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A Week for Visitors

This was our second visit with wonderful, good friends that we have known since our days in Toulouse. Marie was actually in my first class at the university; the mish-mash of foreigners all hoping to improve our French for as many reasons as there were students in the class; for love (a popular one), for a better life in France, for fun, from boredom, to keep a student visa, to enter university with the "normal" French students.

So Marie from Poland, very sweet, blond with a cherub's smile that hides a wicked sense of humor, along with Eva, from Denmark, blond, creative and funny, Derya, Turkish, smart, more sophisticated than the rest of us, Omega (I hope she'll pardon me, but that is her real name and it is the funniest one I have ever heard, she was child number eight and her parents named her quite literally), from a French island, determined and possessing already perfect French, were in this class together, for better or worse, through rain, wind, grammar lessons, French lit. and strikes of teachers and students, for one special year. (The wind and rain come in as the campus had been designed for a school in some hot country in Africa. It won second place in the design contest, so they built it in rainy Toulouse instead. We got lots of puddles in classrooms and very cold when walking through the open hallways meant to cool off students in 90 degree weather.)

Most of us have kept in touch and Marie and her family have remained special friends. She is Aragorn's godmother and her husband, JM, a musician, is a huge influence in our lives as well. They have one daughter, Bella, and all of them are warm, funny, intelligent and wonderful to be with.

They have been to see us in the US, and last time we went to Toulouse, their house was our first and last stop. Even though Marie went to work each day, we would come home to a meal she had prepared for us before leaving. Bella is fifteen and loves dance and drawing . She would take charge of the kitchen in her mother's absence as though she had been in charge forever. JM was the most hospitable, easy-going, interesting host you could ever meet. Both Marie and JM love languages; they actually met at an Esperanto conference, they both speak and teach this language created to help break down linguistic and other barriers to bring about peace in the world. Marie speaks several languages fluently. JM can find the word for just about anything in either French or Occitan, the first language spoken and written in southern France. The house is full of instruments, almost everything with strings (non-orchestral) that has been invented; guitars galore, balalaikas, mandolins. (I just got the story from JM on the balalaika; it means "to mock" in Russian, it was, at one time, forbidden, by the tsar, to make musical instruments. By making them in their homes, they were mocking the tsar. That is why they are small, they could be hidden under one's coat, and the triangular form is easy to make.) They let the children try all of them, even the electric guitars! and our time was filled with music, Youtube videos J.M. had discovered or filmed and photos of their trip to Scotland last year. Here is one he filmed while we were there: it is titled, "A Retired Punk Rocker" and it is in Occitan, but don't worry, the video is funny enough that you don't need the words!

They came to return the visit this weekend here. It was glorious, so much food and so much fun! Sadly, lots of rain and time indoors as well, but that was all right because the World Cup is going on and you can't tear either guys or children away from the tv during a game. I would have liked to show them the sights of Mont-de-Marsan or hang out at the beach, but one weekend only has so many hours in it. Marie and Bella came to mass with Lily and I on Sunday, it was fun to have company in church. We ended up at Pierre's parents' house for the afternoon, hoping for a little sunshine to enjoy their beautiful, flower-filled yard, but we had tea inside instead. Now we know why the English invented tea.

Thank you, all the friends who have visited and who are yet to come see us, we appreciate you coming to us, as we are without transportation, and you have made this trip everything I had hoped it would be by your presence.

Bus Stop Under Construction + Rain

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The New Gap

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The Tooth Fairy...uh, Mouse Comes

"La Souris" was called upon for the first time last night; and what an occasion! Arthur lost his first tooth! He was so very excited it was sweet to see. The "tooth mouse" as she is called here, left a small pile of Euros in place of the tooth, all shapes and sizes, now he may have one less tooth, but he's rich!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pirate Galley and Mess Hall

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Pirate Pout

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A Rainy Day in France

So what does one do with five children on a rainy day when no one is feeling very well and the weather is not looking like it will ever let up? There is always the normal stuff; draw, read, do puzzles, play Legos, make a zillion and one pom-poms with mama's pom-pom gadget and all of the yarn not attached to two needles. Then daddy gets really desperate for calm and turns on the t.v. (at least it IS in French!) To end the day; play silks to the rescue; play pirates!

Gluten-Free: a True Friend's Gift!

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Lunch for Two: all Duck!

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A Visit!

I will not say "a visit with an old friend" because neither of us are old, but we have been such good friends for over twenty years and we have stayed in touch. We met when we were both students of French at the university in Toulouse. For J. her second language was English, but she is bilingual, so she hung out with the silly Americans because we could communicate. She taught me how to cook, inspired me to take better care of home and husband because she understood it was a privilege to do so, and obligingly had a baby first so that I could test out that theory as well. "Do I want one too?...yes, I do!"

J. took the train from Paris to come see me here, way down south in Mont-de-Marsan. She arrived Tuesday and we walked downtown, exploring the town center and stopping for coffee at my cafe. We had to have a minute alone, because as soon as we arrived home, the children were so happy to have an audience (show-offs) that they chatted the rest of the evening. The next day it rained all morning. We spent the time inside, not even moving from the kitchen in between breakfast and then tea, with the dainty treats J. brought us from "Fauchon" in Paris and enjoying J.'s wonderful photography exhibit online. It started with Lily's flower sketches; J. has an entire collection of flowers. As we looked through different collections, we talked of food. Ah-ha! In her private albums, she keeps a whole stash of food photos. Amazing! She won't do a food blog, because it is "so yesterday," but I think I have convinced her to at least share the photos publicly for us poor sops who have not a clue of what new to cook, especially at the end of a long day with children.

I packed off part of the children to Mamie and Papy's, fed the others and set off downtown with J. in my elegant coach; the city bus. At least it had stopped raining. After a Southwestern lunch of duck; confit for J and magret for me, I saw her back to the train station and walked home in the rain. A lovely visit!

Special Goodies from Paris

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Chocolats de Fauchon

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