Ten Things I Love About France

Because it’s all about lists these days, right? In no particular order:

1. Walking the streets of Paris – the entire city is a work of art. I love to simply stroll along the avenues, people watch, gaze at the architecture, find unique spots in each quartier, inhale the scents, leading to #2…

Latin Quarter

Latin Quarter

2. The smell of a patisserie. I’ll never forget the time I was strolling down a narrow street and was stopped in my tracks by a rich, buttery scent pouring out a patisserie door. I stopped, whispered, “Oh. My. God.” Closed my eyes, and stood there inhaling deeply, unselfconscious until I paused, looked inside, and saw the pastry chef watching me with an amused, and pleased, smile on his face.

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3. Flower boxes on windows.

132 Window in Nice

4. Fields of lavender right next to fields of sunflowers in Provence.

Abbaye de Senaque

Abbaye de Senanque

435 More sunflowers!

5. Provence. For its beauty, its romance, its cuisine, its otherworldness.

6. Riding a bike through Bretagne.

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7. Eating galettes and drinking cool apple cider on a hot day in Bretagne.

IMG_1790 8. The French language. For all the grief it causes me, I love the sing-song beauty of this romantic language.

9. The Impressionists.

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

10. And Paris. I really love Paris. Cliché? Perhaps. Still, to me, she will always be romantic, mysterious, something I will never quite touch nor truly understand, yet a place where I come alive and life beats forward at a quicker, more exciting, more beautiful pace.

I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why, oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

She’s there, she’s everywhere
But she’s really here

         -Cole Porter

011 Same as G Belmon painting

French Lessons for Preschoolers

This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs Blogging Carnival, hosted this month by Isabelle at Multilingual Education Cafe. This month’s topic is The Multilingual Classroom. Be sure to follow the link to Isabelle’s blog to find the other great posts on this topic, starting March 17!

As some of my dear readers may recall, I made a New Year’s resolution to teach French lessons at my daughter’s preschool. I’m following through and now I’m two months in.

Teaching preschoolers is no easy feat, but trying to teach them in a foreign language – wheh! Way harder than I expected. And I never expected a cake walk. I knew I’d be spending a lot of time outside the classroom brainstorming ideas, prepping, finding and making props, and even test driving ideas on my own kids before taking my lessons to the school. Still – it’s even more than I anticipated.

My daughter’s preschool is a mixed-age class of 2 1/2 to 5-year-olds. One large area houses the preschool where there are various “open” and “closed” rooms. A teacher hosts each open area, and activities vary from structured to free play. If a child decides s/he doesn’t want to stay in one of the rooms, they are free to leave and find a different activity to participate in.

So my work is cut out for me. I have to keep things fun, exciting, engaging, or I lose them. Literally. They announce (or not) that they are done and they walk out. So far, my lessons have ranged from being so fun the kids literally dogpile me, or so boring (to some) that once one little girl interrupted me to say (in a voice that sounded more like a 14-year-old than a 4-year-old), “I’m tired of this. When are we going to do something else?”

Ouch.

Luckily I’ve already learned that one must shelve the ego when dealing with preschoolers.

What I didn’t anticipate was how much I’d end up resorting to English. In my mind, the kids  wouldn’t understand everything I said, but they’d pick bits and pieces up from the 30 minutes a week and eventually it would amount to something. I didn’t want to use English, the first and only language for nearly all of them, because, well, total immersion is better, right?

That may be true in situations where you have a captive audience. When a classroom teacher is in the room with me encouraging the kids to participate, things run more smoothly. Outside of preschool, I attend a weekly French lesson with my children for kids aged 0-5, and parent participation there is key: it’s the parents that make sure the kids stay on track. While the lessons are engaging, kids this age still have short attention spans, and certainly aren’t invested in learning a second language just for the sake of bilingualism.

If the kids in my classes don’t understand me – I lose them. The older ones will tell me, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Even explaining to a child this age to watch my gestures, my expressions, what I’m pointing at, doesn’t necessarily make it easier for them.

Here’s what I’ve found that works:

Movement: They need to boogie. So we saute (jump), we nage (swim), we vole (fly), we danse (dance), we fait du ski (ski) etc.

Food: Lessons about food. With props. Making crêpes was a huge hit – nearly all the kids wanted in on that one!

Me, practicing the perfect crepe flip so I could look like an expert in class!

Me, practicing the perfect crêpe flip so I could look like an expert in class!

Success!

Success!

Keep it Simple: Duh, says anyone who knows a preschooler. Still, I felt the need initially to  go grand. I’ll put those plans for multiple lessons centered around a story and song theme complete with role-playing and art projects aside for now, perhaps for when the kiddos are older. Now I know: Simple songs, simple stories, lots of props, and lots of repetition. We’ll sing some “Mains en l’air,” dance to music, and point to our pieds and our cheveux.

Doing Stuff: We took an “airplane ride” to Paris where we all sat in our seats, buckled up, flew through the sky, hit a bit of turbulence (they loved that!), then landed. In Paris, we made Eiffel towers out of Legos. What a great opportunity to learn counting and colors! They didn’t even know I snuck that in there.

Songs: We sing all sorts of traditional French songs, plus a couple that I’ve made up in French to familiar tunes (thanks for the tip, Sarah at Baby Bilingual!)

Enthusiasm and Expression: There’s no doubt that I have to be on. There’s no half-ing it in teaching. The second I lose my exuberance, the kids lose interest. If I’m not emphasizing things through expressions, gestures, pointing, etc., they’re lost. And that’s frustrating for them.

Resorting to English for short explanations: I try to avoid translating everything, as the kids simply learn from this to tune out until the English comes. But sometimes, the kids need the “anchor” provided by their mother tongue. I give them this when I see their brows coming together in confusion, or when I anticipate they will need it.

The encouraging thing is that I have a little group of regulars; 7 or 8 kids who get excited when I walk in and ask me what we’re going to do that day. They give me hugs, big grins, and the occasional, “Bonjour !” Some are picking up basics: a few colors, counting, body parts. And this is exactly what I had hoped for. Some interest and enthusiasm. Awareness that other languages exist. Empowerment of knowing they can learn those languages. And the laying of the groundwork for second (third etc) language acquisition that is so essential at this early age.

I’m learning a lot from this, in what I consider the beginning of my journey as a language teacher. So far, I’m going to call it a success.

Mommy, I Don’t Want to Speak French

“Mommy, I don’t want to speak French anymore. I don’t like it.”

This, from my daughter the other day. In response to me asking her what she thought of the idea I had for French class at her preschool that week. (Making a snowman! Com’on!)

“I don’t want you to do a French lesson at school. I just want you to come get me and we can go home.”

My heart, crushed.

Because I desperately want her to speak French. Because I love teaching my weekly lesson at her school, and I think the kids are really getting into it. They say, “Bonjour !” when they see me. They ask questions, they listen, and while they may not understand what I’m saying, they are interested, attentive, and their brains are forming the synapses, the connections that lay the groundwork for second (third etc.) language acquisition.

So I tried to understand. “Why don’t you like French?” I asked in as perky a voice as I could muster.

“I just don’t.”

“You know, Mimi and Papy will be visiting us soon, and they speak French, so we need to speak French with them.”

A glimmer of hope. “Are they flying here on an airplane?”

“Yes, France is far away, so they’ll come on an airplane. And we’ll all speak French. You know who else speaks French? Jean (name changed). Your best friend in San Diego. When we visit him next summer, you’ll have to speak French to him, because he doesn’t speak English.” Okay, not quite the truth, but close enough.

Perhaps I could persuade her with homemade Nutella-Banane crepes?

Perhaps I could persuade her with homemade Nutella-Banane crepes?

Silence, but I could tell she was mulling it over. Then she giggled. “You know who doesn’t speak French? Pops. He speaks silly French!”

Which is true. My dad tries to read her the French books she brings to him, using a bastardized mix of Spanish and Italian pronunciation and lots of hand gestures. He loves to tell, and retell, his “Yo-no-say-pah” joke over and over. It’s endearing, really, makes no sense, and my daughter thinks it’s hilarious.

She’s only three. And the resistance is already beginning. I knew it was coming, yet I’m still not sure how best to deal with it. I’m aware that my method a few weeks ago of chasing her around the house with a square puzzle piece demanding, in French, “one more shape! Tell me what this shape is!” when she was clearly over it was perhaps not my finest moment.

Either she’s mad at me now, because I’m ignoring her requests to stop the French, or she’s mad at me later, because I gave up trying to teach her. The catch-22 of bilingual parenting. I know the best approach is to keep at it, and make it fun. Blend the “lessons” seamlessly into our “play.” Yet fear struck my heart when she uttered those words.

“I don’t like French.”

Will I be strong enough to continue, despite her protests? Will I continue to find creative ways to engage my kids in French? Will I do what I fear the most – give up?

Yes, yes, and no. If I’m anything, I’m stubborn, even obstinate. Bullheaded?

I don’t give up easily.

I’ll find a way. Somehow.

Others out there? How do you combat the expressed disinterest of your kids?

Next time we sled, we'll faire de la luge instead.

Next time we sled, we’ll faire de la luge instead.

The Culture of Taste

VegemiteMy first experience with Vegemite was when a friend offered me a spoonful.

“Want to try it?”

“What does it taste like?”

“Kind of chocolaty.” Smirk.

So I took the proffered spoon, chomped down, and promptly gagged, spit, then went on to do my own version of Tom Hank’s scraping off his tongue à la “Big.”

Vegemite does not taste anything like chocolate. Chocolate tastes, well, heavenly, and melts in your mouth, and makes you feel like you are floating on clouds. It elevates your psyche and instills lightness where darkness once existed, benevolence where once there was stress and anxiety. Chocolate could be the answer for world peace.

Vegemite is disgusting, foul, and doesn’t belong on any food shelf anywhere.

Yet the Brits and the Australians think it’s fantastic.

Clearly, there is a cultural component to our tastes in food. I wonder how much is nature vs. nurture. Why do American kids “have” to dip vegetables in ranch dressing (I’m holding out on this one – really hoping my son will eventually eat vegetables rather than scraping his tongue with his hand à la Tom Hanks any time I feed him veggies) yet no other culture seems to have this “need”? Why do we like the things we like?

Americans, in general, adore peanut butter. Yet ask your average French person how they feel about peanut butter and they will make the same face I made when I ingested Vegemite. Root beer – we Americans love a good root beer float, right? Yet the French find it disgusting – most will say it tastes like cough medicine.

On the flip side, anchovies. The vast majority of my American friends make a sour face and stick out their tongue at the mention of anchovies. But my French friends love to put it on pizza and Caesar salads. Anchovies rarely make the ingredient list for most pizza joints in the U.S., and when I tell my French friends that I’m not a fan, I’m greeted with a surprised, “Mais, porquoi pas ?”

Then there’s pastis. A French liquor, popular in the south of France as an aperitif, especially at the end of a hot summer day. It’s flavored with anise and tastes like black licorice to me – another thing many Americans don’t tolerate well. I sat at a restaurant table full of French people one summer evening, riddled with incredulous arguments as to the merits of pastis after I took a sip from my husband’s glass and declared as politely as I could that I’d prefer to order a cool glass of rosé, thank you very much.

That was not my biggest faux pas. We took a sailboat cruise in Greece one year, led by a ½ French, ½ Greek captain. He had an intense gaze, a fiery temper, and a fabulous sense of humor. I took notes on the trip determined to write him into one of my novels as the larger than life character he was. I was both fascinated by him and a little bit scared of him. One night, while we were docked in a charming small Greek coastal village with absolutely no nightlife, he popped open a bottle of Ouzo, Greece’s anise flavored liquor, and offered it to us. Not wanting to offend, I downed my glass full as quickly as possible. He offered another round. I drank. And again. Yet again, seriously straining my constitution. Then, thank God, the bottle was emptied, but wait, no! Let’s open another! There were seven of us on deck that night, I the lone female. My stomach started to get queasy, my head woozy, and I tried to refuse the next round, but my refusal was refused. I looked to my husband for help, but he was in ouzo bliss and reeled in by male bonding.

“Vas-y ! C’est bon !”

Me, with our boat, the Anatolie

Me, with our boat, the Anatolie

All in the name of politesse, I took my glass, closed my eyes, and downed it as quickly as I could, my seventh or eight or fifteenth glass, I’d lost count.

Another round came. I had plans for this one. When everyone tossed theirs back, I tossed mine, too. Right off the boat and into the water.

SPLASH!

“Qu-est que c’est?”

“What was what?” I tried to play innocent, but I’m a terrible liar. One of the other guys looked from me to my glass and back.

“Did you just dump your ouzo overboard?”

“What? Dump it? I… uh… yeah. I did. Sorry.”

The captain’s eyes flashed. “You dumped my ouzo overboard? My. Ouzo?”

“I’m really sorry. I, just, I couldn’t drink anymore.”

An incredulous reaming, half-serious, half-joking, ensued, and it was determined that I must go on trial. The captain grabbed the broken table leg and it became his gavel, my husband pleaded my case, and I was sentenced to singing. In front of everyone.

So, drunk and determined to give the offended captain a good show, I grabbed the gavel, turned it into my microphone, and gave the most rousing rendition of “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor” that boat had ever been privy to.

I definitely can’t stomach anything with anise now.

What other flavors have you found that are popular in one country but wouldn’t fly at all in your own? I didn’t even touch on “delicacies,” like snails, frog legs, bone marrow in France, guinea pigs in Peru, or No-Idea-What-Part-of-the-Cow that was in China (all of which I’ve eaten). I’d love to hear your stories!

The wonderful crew of the Anatolie

The wonderful crew of the Anatolie

BIENVENUE 2014 ! And Ten French Goals for the New Year.

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I’m so ready for this change. New Year’s Eve, my husband and I enjoyed our yearly tradition of making a meal together, reminiscing the past year, setting goals and making plans for the year to come. I love this tradition of ours: the good food, the good company, and the way I wake up January 1 feeling recharged and ready for the great things we have planned. Often I find myself nostalgic as I watch the clock tick toward midnight on December 31; sometimes even sad to bid adieu to the year that has gone. This year, none of that – 2013 was a mixed bag for me, and I’m happy to move on. New year, fresh start, clean slate… bring it. (Do people still say that?)

Les Moules (Mussels)

Les Moules (Mussels)

Bon Appetit !

Bon Appetit ! Moules-frites: our New Year’s Eve feast.

This year, we set new personal goals and made some travel plans – smaller scale than some years past, but we have some great trips to look forward to.

Here on my blog, I’m posting my language/blogging goals:

1. Volunteer at my daughter’s school by offering a French lesson each week.
I’m scaring myself with this one. Talking in a foreign language to a bunch of 2, 3, and 4 year olds? How will I keep their attention? How do I go about making a lesson that’s captivating to preschoolers, let alone in a language none of them speak (yet)? Still, I have several ideas that I’m excited about and I’m feeling up to the challenge. I’ve discussed it with the head of the preschool, and now I’ve written about it on my blog. So, I’m officially committed. Holy… merde.

2. Read five books in French.
I’ve got a few picked out already. It’s always hard to begin a French book for me – reading is normally such a pleasure, yet reading in French is work. I remind myself that once I get into a book, I forget that I’m reading in French and I start to enjoy it rather than slug through it with my dictionary on constant alert.

3. Look into pursuing a Master’s in French.
University of Colorado at Boulder has a great program, as does Colorado State in nearby Fort Collins. While in San Diego, I took a few upper division French courses at SDSU and had a fabulous time. I’m toying with the idea of pursuing a master’s. Would it be simply fulfilling a personal goal of being completely bilingual, or could this be a career change – I don’t yet know. What I do know is that I love learning French and that improving my French benefits my entire family. I’m not quite ready to return to work full time as my kids are still so small. I have the luxury of choosing to stay home with them, yet I want/need something apart from being a mom. So, why not another degree? I can hear my friends now: Or you could chill out and address your overachiever issues.

4. Blog Entries 1-2X/weekly
Yes, continuing with my blog, posting about raising bilingual kiddos, what it’s like to be a bilingual family, and Franco-American cultural clashes is definitely on my list.

5. Continue my involvement with the multilingual blogging community.
I’ve plugged in to a great group of bloggers, all of whom are raising children in bi- or multicultural/lingual families. Several of their blogs are listed on my sidebar. Whenever I need inspiration, I just visit their blogs or our groups on Facebook.

6. French lessons for my kids twice weekly (at least).
Among the problems that many multilingual families face are: kids becoming passively bilingual – they understand the second language but don’t speak it (this seems to be developing in my home), or they speak it but reading and writing skills go undeveloped. My goal is for my kids to be fluent in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing both English and French. Whether it’s me or I hire a tutor, my kiddos need more exposure to all aspects of the French language.

7. Speak in French during two dinners/week with our family.
Currently, when we are all together, my husband speaks French to the kids but English with me. Again, the kids (and I) need more French.

8. Take advantage of the French activities in the area and try to connect with other French speakers.
I’ve found storytimes, playgroups, and group lessons so far. We’re going to participate in as much as we can.

9. French language summer school for the kids.
There are opportunities both here in the Boulder area and in San Diego for French language summer camps. Since we aren’t going to France this year, we can take advantage of local summer camps, as well as combine an extended vacation in our old stomping grounds – San Diego – with summer camps for the kids at the French American School. The beach, good Mexican food, old friends, and French? Yes, please.

10. Eat more crêpes at La Crêperie of Ft. Collins.
Because they really are good enough to merit a New Year’s Resolution.

Bonne Année !

Bonne Année !

Bûche de Noël

We got this beauty at La Crêperie of Fort Collins. Without a doubt, worth the drive from the Boulder area.

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The Bûche de Noël, or Yule Log, is a traditional French Christmas dessert, made of frosted sponge cake that is then rolled up and decorated to look like, well, a log, often complete with a dusting of snow and a few mushrooms or berries. I rather like our panda. The tradition of this celebratory log goes back hundreds of years; its origins are in the celebration of the winter solstice.

For our part, we enjoyed a lunch of authentic, believe-you-are-in-Bretagne galettes and crêpes and Christmas music on the accordion when we picked up the bûche earlier this week.

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Tonight, I offer this as our pièce de résistance. To all my dear readers: happy holidays and bon appétit! May your stomachs be satisfied, your laughter be plentiful, and your joy be heartfelt. Happy Christmas to All!

Missing San Diego. Missing Opera.

Don’t get me wrong. We moved to a beautiful place. Louisville, CO, and nearby Boulder, are lovely, enchanting. We knew we needed to try something different in this quest to find “home,” because San Diego, while another fabulous place, didn’t feel quite right. We need to see if somewhere else is the “home” we crave. We recognized from the beginning that there was a possibility that we’d leave San Diego and realize – she’s the one for us. Whoops.

Like the song says, “You only know you love her when you let her go.” I knew I was fond of San Diego. We had a history. She’s beautiful, fun, exciting. She has a lot going for her. Now that I’ve moved, I miss the things I knew I would miss, but there are so many things, often little things, that I now realize she had that I just didn’t appreciate.

We’re settled in here in Colorado, and I think it’s hitting all of us that we’re here to stay rather than on an extended vacation. It hit me so hard I’ve cried every day for the last week. Especially when my daughter said this: “Mommy, I want to go back to San Diego. I miss my French school. Can we put it on a really big truck with all my teachers and my friends and move it here?”

A van like this one? The 22 wheeler that brought us here. No, we didn't fill it!

A really big truck like this one? The 22 wheeler that brought us here. No, we didn’t fill it!

If only.

But that’s not the way life works.

An image of a place in San Diego will pop into my mind, sometimes so vivid I almost feel I’m there, and I’ll think to myself, “we should go to Spiro’s Gyros and sit on the patio where we can watch the boats in the bay,” or, “maybe I’ll see so-and-so today when I drop my daughter off at school,” then it will hit me – I’m not in San Diego anymore. A sense of longing and a sense of loss bombards me.

Here’s what I remind myself: We have embarked on a great adventure. We’ll only be better for it. We’ve landed in a beautiful place, we have good friends here, and we need (read, I need) to remain optimistic and positive and give Colorado a true chance.  If I sit here and cry that I’m not in San Diego anymore, I’ll ruin all these gorgeous sunny days where I could be exploring this beautiful, dynamic place I’ve landed in. She’s no slouch, Colorado. There’s a lot to love.

But, still, Opera, I really miss you.

So good I couldn't resist taking a bite before I pulled out my camera

So good I couldn’t resist taking a bite before I pulled out my camera

Truffle Fries. Serious yumminess.

Truffle Fries. Serious yumminess.

It doesn't get more heavenly than this.

It doesn’t get more heavenly than this.

Optimism. The double rainbow we saw out our hotel window the morning we left San Diego:

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