Saturday, January 29, 2011

Back to being a French housewife...delightful!

I am back to house-wifey duties but just had to share a bit from my trip back to England last week, which, as it turns out, was life-altering! Who knew?

On my way back to England last week, I had a four-hour layover in Paris so I decided to do a little sight-seeing. As I said before, I just about missed my train because I decided to take a boat cruise of the Seine. Mostly, I had to do something where I wasn't carrying around my heavy bags and I could get out of the wind! The boat cruise was pretty cool and the girl who worked on the boat spoke FIVE LANGUAGES: French, English, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. It was amazing! Every time she would make an announcement, she would do them in the order I just listed. And, they were announcements explaining the history of the area we were passing on the boat, not just telling people to sit she had really speak them!!

Notre Dame. (Not pronounced like the one in South Bend!)
Think I saw a hunchback hanging out of one of towers, but it could have just been my eyes as I hadn't really been sleeping much in the lead up to the job fair!

Yep. Had to take a self-portrait. I love that the Eiffel Tower was originally considered a giant eyesore but is now the symbol of Paris, if not France in general!

So now I am back in Dol and I am glad to be back. I love the family I am living with! They are so nice and we laugh a lot. My French is improving, I think! And, for the first time this week, I was able to actually appropriately use the past-conditional tense (I would have done...) which is really hard for me because my brain doesn't want to think that hard! I am calling that progress because before, I was saying stuff like "Yesterday, I go to the store." which sounds really dumb but I had forgotten how to conjugate verbs in my 12 years of not studying French.

Last week there was a full moon and I took this picture from my bedroom window of the Dol Cathedral with the moon rising next to it. Super cool!

One of my favorite parts about living here is seeing how much teenagers are the same the world-over (in my vast knowledge of only three Western countries, of course!)! Last week I went clothes shopping with Steff and Steven, who is about to turn 12. We went to a Quiksilver store in Saint Malo and what made me laugh so much is how exactly the same teenagers are between France, England, and the US. Steven only wanted certain hoodies (of course they were the most expensive!) and choosing the exact right pair of skate shoes was really important. He could be transplanted straight into Con Ball and fit in perfectly with the little skater kids there! And, most importantly, he has the Justin Beiber hair swirl! It drives his mom nuts but he refuses to let her cut it. This is the exact same haircut that all of my CBMS kids had (Devin, anyone??) as well as many of my English kids! I just really enjoy that snotty little teenagers are snotty little teenagers wherever I've been and that makes me feel like I will definitely be able to relate to the kids at my international school!

I wasn't really worried about relating to them but it is good to know that they will probably all wear skate shoes, hoodies in crazy colors, and have the Beiber-swirl! Although, they will be crazy rich as it costs about $18,000 per year to attend the school, so that will certainly be a different clientele than what I am used to! But, one of the things that they did say was that there is always a section of the school that is relatively transient due to the nature of the parents' jobs. I have dealt with this before (granted, often on the opposite spectrum of the socio-economic scale) and so I think that new kids will feel like new kids, regardless of how much money they have. It is always scary and unnerving to be at a new school- I did it when I was a kid, and so I can relate to them on that account.

January is a big time for sales in France. In fact, stores are literally only allowed to use the word "sale" (Soldes! in French) at certain times of the year that are approved by the government. They can have price reductions but can't actually use the word "sale." How's that for state control? The Republicans would go ape-shit over that one! :) So, because of all of the sales, Steff has been doing a lot of shopping for clothes for the boys. I tag along and saw the item below. I had to take a picture because they were so hideous!

WHO WANTS SHORTS LIKE THIS? How would one walk?
These are women's shorts...not gangsta thanks!

This week I returned to France and my housewife duties increased! It has been a really fun week of household tasks which are extra fun because I'm in a French Manoir! I really love the family I am living with right now and in fact, will probably leave all of my stuff with them this summer up in the attic which used to be the maid quarters back in the day! It is freezing up there so I can't imagine how much it would have totally sucked for the maids.

I learned to make a soufflé this week which was pretty much like a giant ball of cholesterol and fat! It had 8 eggs in it (which we have from the chickens in the backyard!), and was good but, a lot of work and maybe not worth the work because really, it was like a fluffy omelette.
Eggs from the backyard chickens. They are hilarious and I could easily pass time just watching them run around the backyard because they "crack" me up. (Ba dum bum!)

The amount of yogurt consumed in France is amazing!
This is the yogurt for ONE WEEK for my family!
At the grocery store they have a huge wall o' yogurt that has like 50 different brand and flavors.

I am also being the dinner chef for the next week so I planned 7 dinners that the picky picky eaters in this house would eat and shopped for all of the ingredients for a week. We only shop on Thursdays (double points on the card...see...things aren't really that different from place to place!) and so I had to get everything I needed for the week! I like unemployment when it means I can leisurely cook meals that someone else is paying for! :)

Our homemade apple jelly

Steff and I took the apples from the "cave" in the basement that were from the neighbor's farm this fall and made apple jelly. I'd never made jelly before and we had to use this special contraption that extracts the juice and then we mixed with with copious amounts of sugar. It is delish but was a lot of work for not much jelly- we only got 1.5 jars! I am learning lots of cooking related French vocabulary!


Since many of their friends have huge gardens or farms, someone gave my family 5 huge cauliflowers (chou-fleurs). They don't like cauliflower so I'll be eating it for the next week in as many different ways as I can think of. Tonight's option: Curried Cauliflower Soup.

Cider Bottle

Alcoholic apple cider is a specialty of the Bretagne region- they have tons of apples. The region just to the east is known for Calvados, an apple brandy that my dad always adds to stuffing at Thanksgiving. So, my housewife project of yesterday, which took me about 3 hours, was to wash 30 cider bottles inside and out. They were from a flea market and SUPER dirty. Then, we will get them filled for only 1 euro each and have a ton of cider. We were laughing that if this was truly a "manoir" there would be a staff to do this job instead of us!

Every meal's cheese tray!

Since we have cheese at the end of every meal (just a little piece, not like a giant slab although I could probably eat a giant slab if I let myself!), I had to show our cheese tray! Every week, Steff tries to buy different ones so that I can try a giant variety! They are ALL really good but occasionally I get a whiff of cheese that smells like this cheese shop my dad and I went into on our trip to Denmark where I had to wait outside because I just couldn't do it.

I will be here for the whole month of February and a bit of March so I can't wait to find out what other fun domestic skills I can acquire during my stay! I have yet to see a French recipe that didn't include copious amounts of butter and cheese so still unsure of how the French remain thin. I doubt the butter and cheese will cause me to become thin like the French...oh if only! At least they have put an elliptical machine in the cottage for me so I can workout everyday while I'm here. Good thing!!!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Don't Hassel the Hoff...but Düssel the Dorf!

If you’re not interested in reading the whole post: here’s the nutshell version…

I accepted a two-year contract at the International School of Düsseldorf, Germany after attending an international schools job fair this weekend in London. I will start the job in August 2011 and I am REALLY excited because the school just seems absolutely amazing and I get to live in a really cool city and will start learning German right away for my own benefit but English is the language of instruction at the school. Read the post below for the full details….

School website:

Well, for those who I do not speak to regularly, I should probably explain what the heck is going on. This past weekend I attended the Council of International Schools Recruiting Fair in London in order to find a job in an international school. Really, going into it, I was thinking that I would only accept a job in London and this was my only way to get in with a London international school as I think they match me as a teacher a bit more than the British system. Not to diss the British system, but the extreme focus on exams, especially in science, is just not on par with my beliefs.

So, on Thursday, I took the train in from Dol with a four-hour layover in Paris. I decided to take a boat tour of the Seine and almost missed my train. I was sprinting through the Gare du Nord and made my train with only 1 minute to spare. Phew! I’m a moron but the boat tour was cool!

The conference began on Friday with the initial check-in and a panel discussion with three school directors from around the world. The recruiters had already had access to our CVs and other information because we had to apply in advance to get into the fair at all. So, everyone had a mailbox set up for them and apparently, when you checked in, there were supposed to be notes from recruiters saying that they wanted to meet you. I arrived, checked in, and checked my mailbox….nothing. Nada. Zip. I cried. Literally, I cried. I went to a big department store down the street and called home and felt like an idiot being emotional in public because that is SO NOT English-appropriate behavioUr. After a little pump up from my mom and dad, I went back in and left notes in the mailboxes for all of the schools that I wanted to meet.

At the panel discussion with the school heads, they just said to be open-minded and think beyond what your initial expectations were and so I decided, what the hell? I will.

The next morning, they opened the doors and all the recruiters were sitting at tables alphabetically by country and all of the candidates were supposed to walk around and hand out their resumes. I gave my resume to every school that had a middle school science opening and I ended up scheduling interviews with Düsseldorf, two London schools (who only ended up having tentative openings), Swiss Alps boarding school, Azerbaijan, Beijing, Kuwait, Cairo, Bahamas, and Milan. Most of those were places I’d never really thought about, but I was remaining open-minded and figured that you just never know what can happen so it is important to try everything. Plus, I figured I could use the practice if I had a lot of interviews… after last March where my primitive, lizard brain overtook my frontal lobe and I was unable to formulate a coherent sentence in the middle of an interview. I was so nervous that I went into full fight or flight mode!! (And yes, I do realize the dorkiness of that statement!)

My first interview of the fair was Düsseldorf, and I was his first interviewee as well. We had 15-minute interviews scheduled but we ended up chatting for about 45 minutes. And, the whole time, it didn’t feel like an interview at all, just like a conversation where we talked about what I believed about good teaching and about good schools. I was able to be totally honest with him that at that stage I was just trying to figure out what schools were all about and wasn’t thinking that I wanted to go anywhere specifically. I really liked the sound of the school and he was impressed that I had done a bunch of work showing that I understand what the IB program is all about because I’ve never taught in an IB school. For those who are not in education…IB stands for International Baccalaureate and is the curriculum that is used in all of these international schools. It is also used all over the US too and really fits in with the way I have been trained as a teacher. I think my school in Colorado could have easily had the designation based on the way teaching happens there.

Basically, I got a really good vibe right away about the school, the Deputy Director who was interviewing me, and the whole situation. He told me to come back that evening to their 30-minute general info session on the school and we left it at that.

I spent all day Saturday in interviews and oddly enough, they were FUN! I had a really fun day because all of these people spoke my “teacher language.” After being in a school last semester that was so deflating that I was ready to quit teaching, it was great to meet all of these people (and really, an ENTIRE COMMUNITY of international educators who move around the world) who think like me and were “pickin’ up what I was puttin’ down!” Every interview felt really positive and they were informal where hardly anyone even asked any really “interview-y” kind of questions. It was a chat and a conversation and that was extra great. I was able to maintain full frontal-lobe, higher cognitive function in every interview so I’d call that progress!

At the American School of Kuwait interview, I knew after about the first 5 minutes that they would offer me a job because we really fit philosophically. For any teachers reading this, they were really excited that I was into Understanding by Design and that I love middle schoolers. They offered me a seventh grade life science position on an interdisciplinary team with block scheduling- my exact job at CBMS. They were doing the hard sell on Kuwait. And, I’m not going to lie, it sounded pretty great…EXCEPT…there is NO ALCOHOL there and NO PORK! So, obviously, the Handley side of my family could not exist there because we like bacon and red wine WAY too much! But, hilariously, they make their own alcohol and so end up partying a lot with the giant ex-pat community and their bathtub gin. The benefit of a place like that is that they pay for your housing and all utilities (like air conditioning since it is about 100 degrees there every day of the year!) and so any money you make at all is tax-free and pocketable. Apparently, people teach in the Middle East and save up HUGE amounts of money that would be impossible for a teacher to normally save…like, they said I could save about $50,000 in two years. But, that means I’d have to live in Kuwait as a woman, alone. Just felt uneasy about it, but would have TOTALLY accepted if I hadn’t had another offer because at the same time, it sounded really exciting and who doesn’t like $50,000 in their bank account? As expected, they gave me a contract to sign right then. But, the sell was so hard that it kind of felt like they were creepy Mormons or something trying to convince you that there were tablets buried on a hillside in New Hampshire. J

I went to the information session for Düsseldorf and I was sold. The school is AMAZING. Let me explain a bit more about the school itself:


-1000 students representing 51 nationalities K-12

-28% German, 18% American, 15% Japanese, 10% UK, 7 % Korean, 7% Dutch, and the rest from the rest of the world.

-120 teachers representing 25 different nationalities

-average class size in secondary classrooms: 14 (WHAT??????? CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?)

And then, this is what sold me. His exact words were, “We are educating the whole child. We do not educate them for exams, but for life.”

Their core values are: critical thinking, analyzing, teaching kids to be smart information consumers, independent work, group work, using technology as a tool for learning, metacognition, differentiation, authentic assessment, investigation, context driven literacy and numeracy in every class, hands-on learning, safe risk-taking, relevance, and FUN!!!

I am pretty sure that I could not find a school more fitting to my beliefs- other than good ‘ole CBMS. But, not everyone at Con Ball thinks like this and at this school, if you don’t think like this, you don’t get to work there. I love it! Basically, the school is populated with “teacher geek” teachers like a bunch of us were at CBMS and that is just SO exciting to think about!

The one “interview-y” kind of question they asked me (when I went back the next day for the second interview with Director, Deputy Director, and Secondary School Principal) was about how kids have fun in my class. I talked a lot about “sneaky teaching” and about the Tiger team and a lot of the cool things we’ve done over the years! It is nice to have such an amazing team to draw from and the Tigers came up A LOT in my interviews. I sure have been lucky to have such kick-ass colleagues who have pushed me to become a better teacher and who are also hilariously fun to work with every day. I 100% love the Tigers. (And, I promise I won’t do DURGS…as we Tigers like to say!) J

So, to sum up. I’m over the moon excited. Now I just have to start figuring out how to get my shit from England to Germany because it is way too much manage on public transportation! I might have to rent a car, drive to the coast, take a ferry, rent a different car with the steering wheel on the other side, and drive to Germany. Sounds kinda fun.

I am going to start studying German as soon as I am not trying to relearn French because I literally think my brain would leak out my ears! I go back to France tomorrow and will re-commence my “French Housewife” duties. On this week’s agenda….learn to make a soufflé!

Last few things to say about the job fair:

1. I had an interview IN FRENCH for a school in Cairo. It is an IB school but the language of instruction is French. The lady was trying to convince me that my French was good enough to teach science while I was trying to convince her (by speaking English) that it wasn’t! I had nightmares all last week that the interviews were going to have to be in French and this one was…hilarious!

2. Everyone at the conference was incredibly interesting and had lived all over the world. I made a new friend, Jodie, who is Australian but will be living in Munich for two years starting in August. We partied it up in London last night after finding out that we both got jobs. She’s coming to visit me next week in France! I LOVE new friends!

3. I’m really glad I did a bunch of advanced preparation work. It surely came across as somewhat nerdy but I don’t care about that. It set me apart and is a huge reason I got the job I did.

So, start planning your trips to Germany. Oktoberfest anyone???? I’ve got a week off in the fall!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A little French system out...there's some edubabble coming at ya!

I am trying to do other things here in France than be a tourist and a French housewife! This week, I met the principal of the school where Steven goes and when I return from England, I will be spending some time observing some science classes and possibly trying to do a lesson. But, the most interesting thing was that I spent time in what is called the BDI (Bureau d’Information= Information Office) with Steff while she helped students in the school try to figure out their school/career paths. I am trying to understand the French educational system and as a teacher, I am always curious to see how other countries do things.

I’ll be really interested to see what the pedagogy is like in the science classroom. I do know that Steven hates science, which always is sad to hear from a kid who is not even 12 and should still be getting to make cool discoveries and find wonder in the world. So, because, really, I started this blog for my India trip where my main purpose was to learn about the educational system in India, I will again try to get my thoughts clear on a “système scolaire” through blogging- this time for France.

The main levels are divided into primary school which goes until about age 10-11ish, then collège which starts at about age 11 to 15/16ish and then lycée which is is the last 2-3 years of school depending on which route you take. Up until the end of collège, there is a common curriculum. I am not totally clear if it is a full-on national curriculum like in England- or more regional- and Steff didn’t know because Steven’s school is private/Catholic. I will be asking the teachers/principal when I get an opportunity to speak with them about how they go about planning. (Aren’t I so professionally nosy and annoying???)

What I found really interesting is that there are several different types of lycées and this is what Steff was doing in the BDI- helping kids determine which path works best for them. I imagine in American high schools, there is a similar thing going on with course selection but France seems to have many more vocational options that have been phased out of American schools. But, given the pendulum swing of education, they will probably swing right back in…


So, from what I can see and understand, there are three main “college (as in university) prep” tracks. All the tracks (college prep and otherwise) are called a “Baccalaureate” and there are three main types of ‘Bac-General’ for those who are more academically inclined. In fact, the poster for these three explains that these are for students who:

-enjoy abstract theory

-like to reflect, analyze, and synthesize

-like to argue & discuss

-find personal work important

The three tracks of Bac-General are: Bac ES- economics/social; Bac L- Languages & Literature; Bac S- Sciences. Interestingly, all of these tracks usually require students to follow at least two foreign languages as well as their main courses of study. I do think the American system really falls short on foreign language instruction. Some kids don’t even start a foreign language until high school, which, in my opinion, is way too late.

If kids are interested in careers that require a university degree and have the scholastic aptitude to survive in one of the three tracks, they are encouraged to complete this type of Bac. Really, with the Bac-General, they have the most options after they finish and so kids who are really undecided are encouraged to go this way if they are academically inclined at all.


The next type of Bac is called the Bac-Techno (Technical Baccalaureate) and can also be a university track but is more focused on hands-on learning than theory. It is advertised for kids who like:

-applied learning

-observation & experimentation

-group & solo work

-practicals, labs, computer simulations

The more science related choices within this Bac are very focused on the integration of technology into the courses but still require kids to follow at least one foreign language. I was reading about one of the science tracks and they still have to take a lot of theoretical chemistry, biology, and physics, but they also take cool classes like biotechnology and study renewable energy in theory and practice. There are also more vocational options within the Bac-Techno if someone is interested in that too.


The Bac-Pro (Professional Baccalaureate) is a vocational track that is housed in schools called Lycées Professionals and are for those students who are less academically inclined but who are trying to get a qualification and/or learn a specific trade. There is a Lycée Professional right down the street from my house here and the dad of my family knows some people there (because he builds houses and so he knows some of the teachers because he’s worked with them) and I am going to spend a few days observing there too!

But, again, the kids at the vocational school still have to take English, French, and Math with their vocational courses. I know that there used to be more schools like this in the US and also more vocational programs within high schools (I remember the art room in my high school used to be the auto shop) but why have these gone away? Could we retain more students in school if these types of programs were available to them? Just a thought.


This is the final option for kids and honestly, I am unsure of the acronym…I barely have learned the English system acronyms, let alone the ones in a foreign language. But this option is not a Bac and it is a way for kids to enter directly into a job. I would assume that this option would be for the least academically inclined group of kids.

So, I hope I haven’t bored you to death. To me, this stuff is really interesting. I am still unsure of where and when they take big exams but I know they have them. Also, they don’t have school on Wednesdays, and because my French isn’t that great, I am unclear from my discussions with Steff whether this is the whole country, just in Bretagne, or just at their private school. But, they do have longer days- start at 8:30 until about 4:30ish. They have a much longer lunch though than in American schools too because French people do not like to eat quickly. They’d never abide our 30 minute snarf.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

More pictures....

Another week in France. Brain is severely fried at the end of every day because of having to constantly think about what I am going to say. Basically, I talk a lot less than I normally do because sometimes I just don't know the words I want to say, so..I say nothing. I think there are some people in my life would appreciate if I could figure out how to be like this when speaking English too!

This week, I was kind of a French housewife while I helped Steff. And, I made my first French pastry- FROM SCRATCH! And, ironically, it was an apple pie! I used apples stored from the autumn in the cave under the house and taught Steff how to use her new Cuisinart. J'aime bien "the kweez" as we have always called it at my house.

Laurent's niece and nephew (who are in their 20s) are visiting right now so there is lots of activity in the house! Laurent's niece took me to the coast and also to the big hill nearby called Mont Dol. Not so much a mountain as a big rock but it was a cool view nonetheless.

Thursday, I head back to London for 5 days for the international school job fair. Mama needs a job...I really like traveling by train here so I am really excited for the trip again. However, this time, I won't have to have a huge bag so it will be significantly easier!
View of the countryside from Mont Dol. If you notice that the countryside ends, that is because the ocean is right there. I didn't realize until I could actually see it how close I am to the ocean. No wonder that every morning there are super low clouds and it is kind of foggy.

Also, it doesn't get light here in the morning until about 8:45. I FINALLY figured out why (yes, for a science teacher, I am a total moron). France is one hour later than England but here in Dol, we are practically in England and so it stays dark much later in the morning. It was really weird to open my shutters at 8:30 and it still almost pitch black dark. I thought it was hard to get up early in England...not so much compared to here!

There is a big windmill at the top of Mont Dol. I assume that it likely used to work but don't think it does anymore!

This is Mont St. Michel. It is a castle/abbey/fortified town out in the middle of the water and it is only accessible during low tides. I haven't been yet but you can see it from extremely far away.

Sandy would like to know that I went "birding" with Laurent's niece who has a degree in Environmental Education, like me! We saw only like three birds because they were way too far away where the water was (low tide!). But, we did see one raptor. That was my French word of the day..."rapace." I tried to explain the concept of "Bird Nerd" but it didn't really translate! But, Laurent's niece is also plagued by knowing the Latin names of species, as am I. But, now, being from two different countries, I can see the handiness of a binomial nomenclature! :)
Being a landlubber from Colorado, it sure is fun to be within about 5 minutes of the coast!

Guard dogs at the house on the hill. The house was only accessible by foot and likely only when the tide is out. See picture below.

Not sure I'd want a house that was only accessible when the tide is out. That would be kind of a pain for quick errands....oh that and the fact that you have to climb a huge hill every time to get up to it.

Love the views.

We had total kite failure. So instead, Léo collected about 30 rocks and could barely walk he had so many in his jacket and jeans pockets!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Something actually professionally related...Cool ELL websites

I found the following really cool websites for teaching English/ESL/ELL...thanks to Twitter...which I have begun to use to keep up with the professional world during my massive months of unemployment. Doubt anyone reading this will need these...but just in are a few...

I tried all of these out today by myself and then did the mingoville one with Steven and it was really good for him because there is whole section on colors and clothes which is what he is learning now at school.

There are things as simple as letter recognition, phonemes, sight words, etc. These sites would be great for any beginning reader, not just an ELL. So, I know there are a few SPED or elementary teachers out there reading this...these would be great for your kids (and you probably already know about them!!)!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Getting to be a tourist too!

I wrote more at the end of this entry, but I will just start with some captions. This family is amazingly nice and excited to share their world with me! We will have lots of tourist excursions, I think. We've already have three mini ones and I've only been here for five days! Very different from the people I lived with in Nice when I was 20 (they were 25 and 27 which seemed SO old to me at the time!) who gave me a key and turned me loose.

So, here are some pictures of our mini excursions in the French mini-van!
This is Saint Malo, about 20 kilometers from here. (Yeah, I can't tell you that in miles,'ll have to do the math.) This is a picture looking down the city walls.
Saint Malo is a fortified village next to the sea. This means that the old city has walls built around it- ramparts, I believe they are called.

Outside the city of walls of Saint Malo there is a harbor with all kinds of boats- didn't see any yachts but Saint Malo is a ferry port for ferries arriving from England.

The streets inside the city walls are labyrinthine, you might say. They are also quite narrow and it is not possible to drive on many of them.

This is me with the boys! The tide goes out really really far here and everyone walks on the beach on Sundays if it is nice. Apparently, this is a hot tourist spot in the summer but I guess when you have to wear a hat and gloves on the beach, it tends to keep people away. (Although, I guess people go to the beach all bundled up in Oregon- when I was there we almost blew away on the beach- I believe Katie and Dawn actually became human kites temporarily!)

More views of the beach in Saint Malo.

This is my town, Dol-de-Bretagne. It is pretty darn cute, I must say. In case I go crazy and have to have a People magazine, I found a store that has them. But, who wants a People without a pedicure???

Yesterday, we went to Vitré to see some friends of my French family. It also has a fortified old city with walls build around it. (There was a lot of attacking going on, apparently!) I thought this house TRULY looked like it belongs in Diagon Alley from Harry Potter.

The castle in Vitré. Apparently, there was one made of wood but the English burned it down so they had to build another bigger one out of stone! Not to give a history lesson or anything (and I think I learned this in high school) but Bretagne (Brittany) was its own country separate from France. There is even a separate language that is still spoken by some old people and they still have a very strong identity with being Britons. (Kinda like Texas???)

Part of the "new" castle in Vitré.

Inside the city walls in Vitré. It was very charming and the friends of my French family were very knowledgeable about everything and narrated our tour through the town in nice, slow French so I could understand everything!

This was taken out my bedroom window. It is a view of the Dol cathedral. Pretty cool.

This is the cathedral from close up. We didn't go in because it was Sunday and they still have mass there every week. Steven goes to a school directly across the street from the cathedral and gets to look at this out his classroom windows. I'd still rather see mountains, but this would do!

I have gotten to be a tourist this weekend while my brain is still close to exploding from trying to process French all of the time! We went to lunch at some people's house yesterday and trying to follow the conversation at the table was utterly exhausting! I get the general topic but the details escape me completely! But, even after just 5 days, I feel some improvement! That, to me, is a good sign that these few months will make a difference and I will graduate from being a French-speaking chimpanzee to maybe like...a human infant...maybe even a toddler! YAY!

The boys are hilarious and the younger one, Léo, is a full-on ball of energy. As soon as the car door opens, he just jumps out and starts running everywhere in a disjointed zig-zag pattern! He just runs and runs! Today he made a sand ball and carried it around for like 2 hours until it was just a tiny little ball. And, we had some hilarity when he was trying to say "I am asleep" but he was actually saying "I am a sheep!" Oh it is the little things, I tell you!

Steven is learning English at school every day and so I will be helping him with his homework. It is a real test of my French speaking to still be a teacher and not give the answer but give helpful clues and suggestions and try to make him figure out the answers without me. But, not surprisingly, my Mr. Sketch markers have been a huge hit for use on homework! Everyone loves Mr. Sketch markers!

We are trying to use as much English as possible at the dinner table and I made little cards with dining phrases like "Please pass the water." and "Thank you." and "Please put your dishes in the dishwasher before you leave the kitchen." Laurent, the dad, is so busy that it is hard for him to sit down and find the time to have lessons, per se, so we will be using meal times to have extra English lessons. Also, I have to think that they really need to learn British English vocabulary as their bed and breakfast guests are much more likely to be English than American. Good thing I've lived there so that I know trash can = bin and that trousers = pants and pants = underwear and other such translations! I get made fun of constantly in England for my word choices but it is hard to suddenly speak YOUR OWN language with different words, not to mention the spelling. When I was teaching genetics and doing Punnett Squares, the kids would always yell at me because I would write Mom instead of Mum on the side of the square.

The boys really want me to play Wii with them but I have a hard time explaining that I am useless at all video games because I was deprived of them as a child...thanks Mom and Dad....gosh, you made me read, take before school French and piano lessons instead, you horrible parents.

Anyway, I hope everyone has a great week. For those in Colorado, I am jealous of your giant snowfall and I have my fingers crossed for a snow day for you! I will continue to be a French chimp and if anyone knows any good websites with games for really basic English, send them my way. I found a few on scholastic but can always use more as I think these are great and we had "dueling laptops" with English games a few times this weekend.

À la prochaine...

Friday, January 7, 2011

A house as a classroom...

Obviously, I have a bit of free time while the kids are at school...I will be occupying that free time with some more exciting things very soon. But, it is fun that Léo comes home from school in the middle of the day. Today, after a lunch that contained crazily delicious French cheese, Léo trekked me through the mud to meet the donkey next door, Peggy. I like her bangs (that's fringe for any English people reading this!). They are cut around her eyes. She seems a bit lonely (she can probably see the two ponies and feels sad that she is all alone) and makes lots of donkey noises for much of the day.
For anyone who has ever seen my science classroom in Colorado, you know that I have words covering everything by the end of the did/do the rest of Tigers- in fact we got made fun of for it regularly. So, I am slowly turning La Crochardière into a classroom. One of the tricks I learned about teaching a language from a variety of brilliant language teachers, is to label things. We started last night...I modeled one and had the boys do the rest.

Then, we decided to hang all the prepositions on the fireplace. We are referring to it as "La Cheminée des Prepositions" and we have been practicing them at mealtimes since this fireplace is in the dining room. We are naming the food at the table and learning to say please and thank you in English as well. I feel that after two months, they should have learned some English!

The kids are just so incredibly sweet and excited to have me here and so far it has been really fun. I have full-on black out shutters in my room and am definitely going to have to leave them open as it seems to be the middle of the night when I wake up when in fact, it is morning and it makes me feel like a giant slacker loser.

Tomorrow we will go to a medieval village called Vitré and then Sunday, if it is sunny, the family will take me to Saint Malo, a larger town on the coast. It is also a series of fortified medieval villages. It is totally normal for Europeans to live in such historical places (like when I went to a 900 year old pub for lunch in England!) but for me, it is nuts to think that Dol has been continuously inhabited for a few thousand years, at least. There are pagan monolithic stones that have been uncovered here as well as some Roman ruins and various remnants of several Viking invasions. Really cool. In Fort Collins, I can go to the Avery House, it was built in like 1880. :) Not that I don't LOVE LOVE LOVE Colorado, but old buildings just have a different meaning in Europe. It is difficult to wrap my head around that!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Some pictures while I work on my English lessons for the family...I am making lists of questions and hotel related vocabulary words to practice saying with Steff & Laurent (the parents.) With everyone, we will work on household words and question words first. For myself, I am studying my French verb conjugations as I am a moron and have forgotten most of them except for, as I said before, present or immediate past tense. So, hopefully, I won't sound so dumb. I say stuff like, "Yesterday, I am going to the store." Must fix that. Mrs. Duling, my French teacher for two years in high school, would shudder!

Went to the store with Steff (had to get my diet coke (Coca Light) fix so I didn't die) and just had to show that Justin is popular the world over with kids! Steven, the oldest here, even has the "Beiber Swirl!"

The original front door. I LOVE things with faded paint!

Looking down the driveway toward the main road.

Dol, the town, is walking distance and Steff and I are going to walk there tomorrow so I can learn the way and go into town. There is a huge cathedral which I can see out our back windows. Dol has about 5,000 people and is apparently, the birthplace of the The Stuarts, the people who came to rule Scotland eons ago. It has a long history of Celts, Saxons, Catholics (hence the giant cathedral), etc.

Apache (pronounced Ah-pash in French). He bit Steff's arm this morning and gave her a really good bruise. Little shit. He is only 9 months old.

Apache's mother...Madone....or Madonna as I will be calling her.
She is a bit nicer than Apache.

They are working on getting the house on the historic register. A "gite" is a cottage. I had to look it up. There are streets signs in the town of Dol directing people to La Crochardière so obviously it is a well-known place in the town, at least.

The main house.

There are about 4 houses actually on the property in various states of disrepair. Steff told me that when they bought it last May, the property had been abandoned for at least six years. I'd say they've done some amazing work since then! There is a totally modern kitchen, several bathrooms, and at least 5 modern bedrooms, living room, etc. in the main house. There is still more of it to do, but it is coming along. There is another little house next to it that is almost completely renovated and this will be used for a vacation rental.

Les Poules

Side view of the main house. Under all the stucco, (or whatever that is) there is stone! My window is the top right one, I think. I am in the really old part of the house that has a separate windy wood/stone staircase up to it.

Apache ran over to me, probably to bite me.

All over the property, there are huge granite planters. Can't imagine they are very mobile!

The old fireplace with a new wood burning stove inside of it. Huge granite mantle.

This is another house/barn/building? on the property behind the main house. Obviously, it needs a little work since it has plants growing out of the roof.

Léo with Apache. He loves the ponies! Elementary school kids often come home for lunch. He is a really cute little guy and really hyper!

One of the sweet little kitties. They fight constantly with the dog.

So, today I am just kind of getting my bearings and doing a lot of French studying in between making huge amounts of t-charts with French/English vocabulary to start working on pronunciation and speaking with everyone tomorrow.

Here's what's hard: when I "speak" French with Mike in England, if I don't know a word, I either just say it in English or ask him the word. Doesn't work when you are with people who don't speak English. I've been carrying around a dictionary. French word I learned today: congeler- to freeze.

Will post pictures of the town tomorrow. Oh if it would be sunny! It is even more grey than England so far!