Triathlons

Before we left for San Diego this summer, I completed my first triathlon. Apparently, that’s what you must do to assimilate in Boulder. Either that or grow dreadlocks and walk around barefoot, maybe topless. I chose triathlon.

Time magazine recently published a “Healthiest Places to Live” issue. Winner of Best Place for Keeping Fit: Boulder, CO. I’ve lived in some athletic cities, but this place tops them all. Seriously: the guy next to me at Starbucks, right now as I work on this post, he’s on some app working on his Activity Log and totalling his Calorie Count. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a cyclist. Trails around town are covered with runners and mountain bikers. Olympic and professional athletes abound.

I’ve always been active, and for a long time toyed with the idea of trying a triathlon. Now that I’m living in triathlon central, I thought: why not? Naive, perhaps, as I gave up running years ago because of back pain, I just bought my first bike that didn’t have a basket or streamers on it, and the only swimming I do tends to be a snorkeling trip every few years. But I’m not one to be deterred by details.

The biggest hurdle for me, as it is for most people, was the swim. I took lessons, got up at 5:00 a.m. twice a week to go to a pool workout, and when the Boulder Aquatic Masters began their open water swim sessions at the Boulder Reservoir, I showed up thinking – I so totally have this.

Then I spent the first few sessions dog paddling around the short course, completely panicked, assuring the lifeguards that no, I don’t need a boat ride back to the shore, I’m perfectly fine, thank you very much (I can be a stubborn beast when I want to be. Sometimes even when I don’t want to be. I just can’t help myself). Eventually, with much help from the talented BAM coaches, I overcame my fear and got to a place where I felt relaxed, confident even, in the swim.

After one of the open water swim sessions, I stood on the shore watching the 150 or so swimmers and feeling like, well, an idiot for signing up for a triathlon and more than mildly embarrassed at how awkward I was in the water. A triathlete friend came over to me and said, “Carol, this is no ordinary open water swim. This is BOULDER. There are pros out there, even Olympians, plus experienced athletes who win their age groups in the big races. Don’t compare yourself to them.” She then asked me, “Do you know who that is? The coach you were talking to?” One of the coaches – Jane – had been giving me great and very calming advice after the swim. “That’s Jane Scott. One of the best swim coaches in the country. Her brother is Dave Scott.”

Dave Scott, of Ironman fame. Recognized as one of the top two triathletes of all time. Lives in, you guessed it, Boulder.

I love living in a place like this, where active, healthy lifestyles are so embraced. Where people think getting up at 5:00 am to get a workout in is a healthy choice, not a sign I should start seeing a psychotherapist. In comparison, it’s one of the aspects of French culture that is difficult for me. Exposed breasts aren’t given a second thought, but wearing running shorts in Paris (for a woman, anyway) is treated as an affront to civilized society. Many French people I know think that exercising more than a couple days a week is tantamount to an obsessive compulsive disorder. Walking here and there is exercise enough. As for French women? They don’t sweat. They don’t do things that might make them sweat. Exercise? Why bother, when you could just avoid eating? My most vivid memory of my super skinny host mom when I stayed in France is of her sitting at the breakfast table stirring, stirring, stirring a coffee mug half filled with Nestle chocolate milk, never eating or drinking, only stirring and always a cigarette clenched between her lips.

Here’s a picture I took in Nice a few years ago of athletes checking in for the next day’s Ironman. Notice anything missing?

Checking in at the Ironman in Nice, France

Checking in at the Ironman in Nice, France

Yep. Women! Females made up less than 10% of that triathlon, which is the typical rate for Ironman events in Europe (in the US it’s 25% for Ironman and 30% for 70.3 events). Most of them were not French. Of course French female athletes do exist. It’s just not the norm, and not something French girls aspire to.

In Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, he talks about his experience trying to find a gym to join in Paris during the mid-1990s. He finds a “New York-style” gym, presented as a gym that would “bring the rigorous, uncompromising spirit of the New York health club to Paris: its discipline, its toughness, its regimental quality.” he describes the sales pitch given by a chic young woman in a red track suit: “They had organized a special ‘high-intensity’ program in which, for the annual sum of about two thousand francs (four hundred dollars), you could make an inexorable New York-style commitment to your physique and visit the gym as often as once a week.” When the author suggests that he might want to come more often and explained that it’s not unknown for New Yorkers to go to the gym almost daily, the chic saleswoman is perplexed and comments that it must be a “wearing regimen.”

I love being active and fit. I love the achy tingle of muscles pushed to their limits. I love that my kids cheered me on during my triathlon, ringing cowbells and shouting, “Go, Mommy!” I love that my daughter, after watching me, said, “Can I do a triathlon with you next time?” One of the big reasons we (and many others) choose to live in Colorado was for the active lifestyle we could have here, and so the norm for our kids, as my husband put it, is, “A girl riding her bike rather than walking around in stillettos.”

My husband didn’t grow up playing sports or participating in athletics. While most US high schools have sports teams of some kind, sports and school are completely dissociated in France. Kids who want to play a sport must join a private team. My husband, for the most part, has embraced the active lifestyle we’ve found first in San Diego, and now here. He doesn’t love getting out of bed early to get his exercise in, but he buys the idea that daily exercise is important to health. He even started riding his bike to work in addition to working out in the gym.

We’re becoming true Boulderites, both of us. All of us, really, with our kids hiking, climbing on rocks, and playing outside whenever they can. It’s a beautiful life, we think.

Me, happily approaching the finish line

Me, happily approaching the finish line

Rock climbing kiddos

Rock climbing kiddos

 

New French Classes in Boulder!

My friend and fellow blogger, Sarah at Bringing up Baby Bilingual, and I will be offering French lessons for the 0-5 age group starting Monday, October 20 at Grandrabbits Play!

So exciting!

Our mutual interest in blogging and raising our children bilingually led me to meet Sarah when I moved to Boulder last year. We’ve been talking for a while about restarting the French story time at the Lafayette library, as well as forming playgroups for French speaking children. In a classic case of right place at the right time, I happened to be at Play! one morning and found out they were hoping to start French classes. Sarah and I put together a proposal and Voila! We’re doing it!

We’re so excited to begin – we have lots of fun activities planned. So for those of you who live around here, Play! is running a promotion this Friday (tomorrow) where if you sign up for our class, you also get a free month of access to their indoor play area. What a great idea as the weather cools and the snow starts to fall!

Hope to see some fellow francophiles there!

Harvest Time!

This post is part of this month’s blogging carnival put on by Multicultural Kids Blogs. This month’s host is Varya at Creative World of Varya. Check out links to the other posts from around the world on her page!

Fall colors outside of Boulder, Colorado

Fall colors outside of Boulder, Colorado

Truth is, I know very little about harvest season. I, like so many in the U.S., am completely removed from any real harvesting. While living in San Diego, large city in the land of one season, it was hard to feel connected to the land or the cycles of life. Now that we’re in Colorado, I feel closer to those cycles. Each season brings a new palate of colors. We drive past fields of cattle, horses, and hay every day. Yet we still find pineapple and mango in the grocery store in December, tomatoes year round, produce from anywhere in the world during any month. I find myself indignant if I can’t fulfill my every desire. “What? No figs? That’s ridiculous. I don’t care if it’s February.” As much as I love the locavore movement and the idea of following the seasons in our food choices, I have an impatient and demanding palate that doesn’t like to be told no.

128 GrapesStill, I’m trying to learn. Fall harvest time for us means visits to local farms to pick apples from trees, searching for pumpkins to turn into jack-o-lanterns and pies, and when we were still in California, BK (before kids), visiting wine country. It’s strange that my children don’t have a real sense of where food comes from. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not much better informed. Produce is in the grocery store, in abundance, in the U.S. I know that’s not the world-wide norm, but my children haven’t learned that. Behind our home there’s a large open space that must have been a fruit tree grove at some point. Our babysitter knows where to find the good pears, apples, and even raspberries and has been introducing our kids to the plants. Me – I don’t trust myself to know what’s edible. I’m that disconnected from recognizing food in the “wild.”

When the apocalpyse hits, my family and I are screwed.

Visiting an apple orchard in Julian, California

Visiting an apple orchard in Julian, California

Seasonal produce at Trader Joe's in Boulder, CO

Seasonal produce at Trader Joe’s in Boulder, CO

This year, we’ll visit the apple orchards and the pumpkin patches. I love it; it’s such fun, and the kids enjoy being outside and seeing those huge, often gnarly and assymetric pumpkins. We’ll drag a brightly painted wagon behind us and collect our goods, then pay for them on our way out. We’ll go to harvest festivals, where there are petting zoos, face painting, live music, and jumping castles. It’s all so disconnected from the backbreaking work going on in farms all over the country. I suggested once that it would be fun to participate in harvest season at a vineyard. My husband looked at me like I was crazy. Turns out he did it once: when he was in the French army, the local vineyards used the recruits to harvest their grapes. I pictured a romantic day under the soft fall sunlight in Provence, selecting the best wine grapes and dreaming of what they would become. I asked him what it was like.

“It was backbreaking work! I never want to do it again.” He went on to describe spending hours hunched over vines under a blazing sun, and the monotony of picking grape after grape. He only had to do it for a day, maybe two, but it was enough to appreciate how difficult a job it is.

Next month, November, in the U.S., we have Thanksgiving and the holiday’s traditional symbol: the cornucopia, or “horn of plenty.” The symbol of abundance and nourishment. A good time to remember how good we have it, here. To give thanks for our abundance of food, for a harvest season made into a game for us and our families. For those out there working the harvest – all over the world – keeping our grocery stores stocked and our bellies full. Thank you. Merci.

Pumpkin patch in Longmont, Colorado

Pumpkin patch in Longmont, Colorado

Pumpkin patch in Lafayette, Colorado

Pumpkin patch in Lafayette, Colorado

What American Parents Do Well

Is anyone besides me beyond annoyed by the whole “Americans suck as parents” trend? From Pamela Drukerman’s Bringing Up Bébé to Tiger Mom to British nannys reading us the riot act, we seem to have the whole world judging our parenting style as completely ineffective. Worse, we’re labeling ourselves as inept: we’re sure that somehow, some way, everyone else knows something we don’t, whether it be some variation of the “kids/parents these days/in my day” rant (which has gone on for generations) or the “French/Chinese/Tribal Africans/name any country do it so much better” trend.

It’s clear to anyone who actually lives in the U.S. that there is no one-size-fits-all parenting strategy here. Peruse the shelves of books on parenting in any bookstore and it’s apparent that we can’t agree on much of anything when it comes to how to best raise a child in this country. Beginning with how best to bring the child into the world: you’d think the way a child exits the mother’s womb is the single most important aspect of being a parent, the way some people rail on about it. The fact that we even have shelves of books on how to parent speaks volumes for our combined interest, opinions, and insecurities. Still, I think there are some approaches that while not completely universal (is anything?) are still identifiable as “American.”

Here’s where I think Americans are getting it right:

1. We’re affectionate and loving with our kids. We hug our kids, kiss them, rub their backs, let them drape themselves on us. We give them piggy back rides. We tickle them. We let them pretend they are tickling us. We often tell our kids we love them, we compliment them, we encourage them.

2. We pass on optimism, positive outlooks, and a you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to attitude. Americans: we’re a pretty sunny bunch. We smile freely. We’re chatty even if we don’t know you. And we tend to see the world as a place full of wonderful possibilities, especially if you work hard. We pass that attitude on to our kids.

3. We encourage sports and physical activity. We love our sports. We like to watch them, we like to play them, we like to talk about them. And while there’s no denying we have an issue with obesity in this country, we also have millions of citizens who make sports, staying in shape, and playing a part of their daily lives, for all their lives. This starts early: soccer programs for 2-year-olds leads to league sports for elementary aged kids, and sports associated with schools usually starting in junior high. Our kids learn valuable lessons about physical fitness, healthy lifestyles, and teamwork from the start.

4. We know school is important, but that it shouldn’t rule our kids’ every waking moment. We let them experience balance in life by giving them opportunities to pursue other interests: musical, athletic, social; we believe happiness in life comes not only from accomplishing, but also from relationships, balance, and exploration of the world. Still, we get involved in our kid’s education, too. We volunteer in the schools. We keep tabs on school board and curriculum decisions. We have relationships with our children’s teachers. We, like many other cultures, keep close tabs on how our kids are doing in school and what they are up to outside of school. Involvement in extracurriculars is often portrayed as a frantic attempt to make sure our child is good at everything. But for many of us, it’s an attempt to help our child find the things they love to do, and then keep doing them.

5. We get emotional. Our kids see a spectrum of human emotions in us. We don’t tend to hold our kids at arms’ length, or try to be something other than ourselves, our very human selves, around them. We keep it real. Our kids see that we aren’t perfect. Our kids see us say we’re sorry. Yes, we’re still in charge, but we don’t pretend we’re infallible.

6. We put our kids through college. One of my biggest gripes about my country is that higher education is ridiculously expensive, and therefore not accessible for far too many people. Faced with this reality, we try to rent or buy homes in the best school districts to give our kids the best chance at getting a good education and therefore being accepted into universities. Parents who are able start college savings accounts for their children early, sometimes when the kids are still in the womb. I’ve met parents who have extended their working years, took on extra hours or even a weekend job to ensure their kids have a college education. It’s no picnic for the parents in this country, but we want our kids to have a bright future, and we’re willing to sacrifice to make sure they have opportunities that some of us did not.

7. We appreciate our kids as individuals and we support their dreams. We try to get to know our kids and understand them as people, not as beings we can force into a mold of our choosing. We try to respect them as individuals, and we want to help them find the right path in life – the one that is best for them, not for us.

We cheer them on at their swim meets and soccer games. When they tell us they want to be a rock star, we hand them a plastic microphone and let them turn our garage into their studio. Sure, there’s the out-of-control soccer parent here and there whose kid is the most talented player in history and everyone around needs to recognize this as fact, or the cheerleader parent who enthusiastically applauds every scribble on paper and every awkward cartwheel, but these are exceptions rather than rules.

8. We play with our kids. We have a plethora of Mommy and Me Classes. Sometimes this is criticized as one more way we go overboard, but, for many of us, it’s an opportunity to have fun with our kids and to meet other parents. We dance like fools because it makes our little ones giggle. We play with them on the playground because we cherish that time with them. We watch cartoons because it’s fun to see them through our kids’ eyes. We “vroom vroom” toy cars around the room, honk when we pass through tunnels, and play Memory and Candy Land because we want to have fun relationships with our sons and daughters. Sure, there are “helicopter parents” who go overboard, but most of us genuinely enjoy our kids’ company and want to enjoy it while they still think we’re cool enough to hang out with.

9. We volunteer. We encourage empathy and kindness toward others. Growing up, my family and I helped build homes with Habitat for Humanity for people without the means to buy their own home. We made meals for the homeless. We played Santa Claus for low income families with children – gathering, buying, and wrapping gifts, as well as preparing a full Christmas dinner. The tradition of helping others happens in families, through churches, through schools. A local high school football team volunteers in community projects each year, doing things like helping flood victims or working at a local Children’s Home. Through involving our kids in volunteer work, we hope to help our kids learn to be kind to others and to help to make this world a better place.

10. Our kids are participating members of the family. Kids help with household duties and chores. They get to talk, share their ideas, their feelings, express their frustrations. We’re in it together, after all, and kids learn to contribute, to talk, to compromise, to bargain, coerce…. yeah, I’m not saying we’re perfect. But we view our kids as individuals that deserve a level of respect while we still attempt to teach them values, morals, and how to be good people. We take them places with us. Out to eat. On vacations. On adventures around the world. On errands. Camping. It makes it harder on us, sure. But for us, family means we’re a unit that does stuff together.

 

We are all products of our cultures, our socioeconomic circumstances, our own upbringings. Further – what works great in one situation may not be applicable under different circumstances. My own view is surely biased by my own experiences, the people I know, the areas of the country I’ve lived in. If there’s anything close to a universal in parenting, I’d say it’s that the vast majority of parents worldwide love their kids and want what’s best for them. As I said before in my Open Letter To Moms post, we could all take our foot off the judgement pedal and chill out a little, learn from each other, and focus on loving and enjoying this world’s next generation.

Parenting, as a verb, is new to our lexicon. We’re killing ourselves with anguish over it. We’re making it so complicated. Too often we approach it as a problem to be dealt with. Parents in the U.S. are too often stressed and unhappy. Mostly, we’re doing it to ourselves. Let’s stop the “we suck” train. Let’s recognize that while no one has it all figured out, we’re not train wrecks, either. We’re doing a lot of things just fine.

Addendum: This blog post was inspired by a question posed by Olga at European Mama on American parenting. She’s written a great post in support of American parents, and you can find it here.

August in France

The month of August in France: when the entire country goes on vacation. Shops in Paris close down, the Côte d’Azur fills with tourists. It’s hard not to love a country so intent on enjoying itself. In the U.S., the thought of closing a store or restaurant for a day, let alone a week or a month, merits close consideration of risks, costs, and benefits. Business owners just don’t do it. Yet I’ve seen boulangeries in Paris with handwritten signs in their windows declaring themselves closed, temporarily, with no explanation and often no details on when they plan to reopen. Weeks later, the doors open once more, the scent of fresh pastries drift onto the sidewalk, and the well-rested shop owners smile, nothing amiss. My business owner friends in the U.S. would never close their doors so they could take a vacation. American customers have expectations that our favorite haunts will be there for us, without fail, and if they aren’t, well, forget them. We’ll find somewhere else. And we do. I’ve seen French business owners in the U.S. try to operate their shops à la française… they never last. Often they are perplexed as to why they lost their “loyal” customers. The French in France and their lack of concern for the “consequences” of shutting their doors enjoy a freedom that’s hard to comprehend, yet hard not to admire.

My husband misses summers in France – as a child, August meant days filled with sailing on the Mediterranean, staying up late as the day never seemed to end, and enjoying time with his whole family; they were able to leave their jobs and go on vacation for most of the month.

So, instead, we have: Le Point. A major weekly news magazine in France. DSC02060

Le Point keeps my husband connected to the goings-on in his home country. But in August, the magazine fills up with articles on history and philosophy, many of them probably written long ago and pieced together to make a full magazine. As if even the politically-obsessed French, journalists and readers alike, can’t be bothered with current events and politics while on vacation. Instead, it’s filled with stories, like the issue above, featuring Rome’s fall. Still highly intellectual and analytical, along with a bit of purple prose, it’s a touch of downtime. A beach read, French style.

Soon, Paris streets will once again fill with people dressed in their dark clothes, doing the métro-boulot-dodo. One weekend left – for the French, and for us, here – before school begins. The mornings in Colorado are already crisp, the sun rising later and setting earlier; fall is in the air.

One more weekend to celebrate summer, have a BBQ, and read Le Point.

Enjoy!

Photo Day: Nice is pretty nice (Part II)

Continuing on with my photos from Nice:

Bassin du Commerce

Bassin du Commerce

Reflections of Nice

Reflections of Nice

Nice

Nice from the Colline du Chateau

Rooftops of Old Nice

Rooftops of Old Nice

Accordionist on the Fete de la musique

Accordionist on the Fete de la Musique

Lining up to register for the Ironman. There were no girls! Com'on, France!

Lining up to check in for the Ironman. There were no girls! Com’on, France!

Looking back towards the Colline du Chateau

Looking back towards the Colline du Chateau

129 Nice

Hotel Negresco. Olga the angel lived just up the street from here.

Hotel Negresco

Musée Massena

Musée Massena

More of those lovely windows

More of those lovely windows

 

Photo Day: Nice is pretty nice (Part I)

Flashback Friday! And cheers to warm summer days and nights.

My introduction to France was in Nice, before the internet made research and reservations a breeze and when we still had to change currency and check passports each time we entered a new country. Backpacking through Europe with my cousin, we arrived in Nice by evening train and learned at the information stand that all the youth hostels were full. We couldn’t afford a hotel room, and while we worried that we might have to spend the night on the beach, made even more unappealing by the fact that I had a miserable chest cold, a fellow backpacker pointed out a white-haired woman carrying a red notebook. “She seems really sweet; she has a room to rent.” Thus we met Olga the Angel.

Olga was a spry woman with bright blue eyes and plenty of Je-ne-sais-quoi. Her red notebook was her guestbook, and entry after entry described a fabulous stay in Nice with Olga. She nursed me back to health with whiskey-laced hot chocolate, pointed us to her favorite restaurants and instructed us to say, “C’est bon!” no matter what, and strictly forbid us to take showers lasting longer than 5 minutes. We loved her and ended up staying with her twice as long as we’d originally planned. For me, France and Nice are forever colored by Olga’s bright smile and energy. My pictures from that time aren’t digital, but here are a few photos from a more recent trip to Nice:

Me on Avenue Jean Medicin

Me on Avenue Jean Medicin

Espace Massena

Espace Massena

Marche des fleurs

Marche des fleurs

Farmer's Market

Farmer’s Market

Vieux Nice

Vieux Nice

We were there for the Fete de la Musique, a magical day in June where all the musicians come out on the streets to sing and play. This woman had an incredible voice:

074 Fete de la Musique

I love these Provencal windows

I love these Provencal windows

Old style pharmacy inside the Palais

Old style pharmacy inside the Palais

Old Nice

Old Nice

Place Garibaldi

Place Garibaldi

Old Nice

Old Nice