Spring and Les Villes et Villages Fleuris

Spring is here. When I lived in San Diego, the arrival of spring meant days were now 72 degrees instead of 68; time to put away the scarfs and boots and break out the flip flops. Here in Colorado, spring means green blades of grass breaking through, blossoming trees, tulips, and then this:

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That’s my backyard two days ago. We got 17 inches of snow. We went sledding, built a snowman, had a snowball fight…. Spring along the Front Range means your what-to-wear dilemmas look like this:

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I’m done with the snow. I stored my snowboard mid-March, got a pedicure, and started wearing sandals. Visions of flowers and beaches and hot sun toasting my bare legs are dancing through my head.

Alas. I’ll fill my thoughts, instead, with Les Villes et Villages Fleuris de France.

This was a new discovery for me last summer. As we drove into a village in Bretagne, my husband pointed to a bright yellow sign and exclaimed, “Ah, un village fleuri !” and he went from mildly cranky/exasperated Frenchman-driving-car into happy, relaxed, joie de vivre Frenchman mode.

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The Concours des villes et villages fleuris is an annual contest in France where communes are evaluated for their aesthetic beauty. When the label began in 1959, it focused mainly on the beauty of the green spaces and floral displays, but now communes are judged in three categories: “la qualité de l’accueil” (the quality of the welcome and ambiance to visitors and residents), “le respect de l’environnement” (looking at the respect shown to natural resources and preservation of green spaces, as well as events that celebrate nature), and “la preservation du lien social” (how do the green spaces and gardens promote social interaction and utilization of those spaces within the commune). In all, it is an attempt to look at the overall quality of life impact on those who live in and visit the commune.

No limits exist on the number of communes that can be awarded, so it isn’t a true competition. The label earned can be anywhere from 1 to 4 flowers, or the prestigious gold flower, given annually to 9 communes. According to Wikipedia, as of 2015, approximately 12,000 French cities, towns, and villages have received the award. Four flower status has been awarded to 226 of those.

To learn more, here is the link to the French site.

http://www.villes-et-villages-fleuris.com/accueil_1.html

And here are some of my favorite flower pictures from France:

Paris, je t’aime

Last summer, we bravely traveled with our 4-year-old and 3-year-old to Iceland and then France. Drumroll … it was fantastic. They proved to be amazing little travelers: movies and a steady stream of snacks, toys, and duct tape (okay, kidding on the last one) kept them, and us, happy on the plane, jet lag didn’t last long, and they met different beds, foods, and activities with enthusiasm for the most part!

Hundreds of articles with tips on how to travel with kids exist and are easy to find. We mostly follow the basics and it works great. The nice thing about visiting a place that you’ve visited before, like Paris for us, is that we didn’t have a huge list of things we had to do or see. We hit the streets with no agenda, really, other than to make sure our kids had a positive experience. We cut the list of what we would normally try to see in half, or more, plugged in a fair amount of downtime, and when the kids were interested in something, we stopped and let them check it out without rushing them. Too much.

Yet we still managed to show them many of the major must-see-on-your-first-visit-to-Paris sites.

Here’s one of my favorite pics:

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Captioned: Whoa.

Here’s us at Notre Dame (which is one of those names that I struggle to pronounce in both French and American English… growing up hearing about the Noder Dame – long a – fighting Irish has left a lasting imprint on my brain)

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HERE IS PARIS, BEFORE KIDS:

Us at Chez Lyon; not the Parisian cuisine one salivates for, but a fun tradition we started on our first visit to Paris together (make sure to appreciate my hubby’s sideburns):

600 and of course, moules et frites at Chez Lyon in Paris

PARIS, NOW:

When asked about their favorite parts of Paris, the kids site these posts and the metro:

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What you can’t hear are the whoops of pure joy.

My husband went to high school here. Seriously.

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Rose gardens at the Parc de Bagatelle:

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These two were doing everything they could to attract the attention of the female peacock between the two of them. Like a good French girl, she feigned indifference and sauntered away.

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We only spent a couple days in Paris… as much as I love Paris, with kids it isn’t the easiest place to be. Especially with Colorado kids, accustomed to large open spaces for free-ranging it, and especially for my two kids, who have two volumes: loud and louder. We spent most of our time in our beloved Bretagne …. more photos to come!

Best. Summer. Ever.

It has been a whirlwind summer for us. First a trip to Iceland, then France to visit family and celebrate a milestone birthday, then off to San Diego for a couple weeks of French Immersion camp (for the kids) and soaking up the sun at the beach (for me), then Disneyland, followed by stops through Arizona to visit family in southern Arizona and family on the ranch in eastern Arizona. We just capped it off with a week on Oahu to celebrate the wedding of two dear friends.

Wow, is this really my life?

I’ve seriously neglected my blog and you, my dear readers. Here are a few photos from Iceland, and more to come. Soon. I promise.

Evening in Reykjavik

Evening in Reykjavik

Hmmm. We did not partake, but I'm still curious about how Mexican food and Icelandic food would be combined...

Hmmm. We did not partake, but I’m still curious about how Mexican food and Icelandic food would be combined…

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Strokkur

Gullfoss Falls

Gullfoss Falls

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

We were there for the annual Viking Festival and popped in to check it out. It was actually quite fun, and the kids loved getting to try out a bow and arrow and play some traditional viking games.

We were there for the annual Viking Festival and popped in to check it out. It was actually quite fun, and the kids loved getting to try out a bow and arrow and play some traditional Viking games.

Iceland Air, you are awesome.

Iceland Air, you are awesome.

To Hug or to Kiss?

I certainly didn’t intend a two month hiatus – thank you all for sticking with me!

I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew in life, and these last few months were no different. I went back to work as a PT on a per diem basis, I continued to teach French to preschoolers, and I took three university level French courses. I look forward to blogging more about that soon…. Oh, yeah, I’m also taking care of two energetic preschoolers and ramping up my workouts for triathlon season. Life is busy. Life is good.

We are prepping for a French-filled summer! We will be traveling to Iceland and France and then spending a few weeks in San Diego where my kids (now ages 3 and 4 1/2) will be doing day camp at the San Diego French American School. I am so excited to see how their French progresses! We’ve fallen off the wagon a bit with teaching (pushing, coercing…) them to speak French, and I’m hoping these activities will get us back on track.

First up, a trip to France! The other night, as I was tucking my daughter into bed, I told her that in France, when we greet friends and family, we give them a kiss on each cheek rather than a hug. I’m a huge hugger – I love nothing more than to give people in my life a big enthusiastic squeeze. My kids, too, give the best hugs – big tight squeezes that I can’t get enough of. I learned the hard way that this does not always go over well with the French. I remember telling my husband once how awkward it felt to me to kiss everyone, pressing my cheek to theirs. His response: More awkward than pressing your whole body up to everyone and squeezing tight? I see his point… The two cheek kiss greeting no longer feels awkward to me, but my daughter was confused.

Among her questions:

“Why don’t we give hugs?”

“Why do we just make a kiss sound and push our cheeks together instead of really kissing them?”

“Why don’t we kiss them on their mouths?”

Excellent questions, all. Then, she melted my heart with this:

“So, when I see Mimi and Papy, I kiss them like this,” here she demonstrated kissing me on each cheek, “And then the kiss goes to their hearts?”

Exactly, my amazing child. Exactly.

Can’t wait to introduce these two to France. It’s fun to visit a place we know so well with very little agenda – we don’t have anything we absolutely must see, so we’re planning a vacation around activities like puppet shows, toy boats at the Luxembourg gardens, and then lots of beach time and crepes in Brittany. My daughter really wants to see the Eiffel Tower, but I have a feeling the most exciting thing we will do will be to ride the metro. At any rate, it will be a different kind of trip than we’ve ever had. Fingers crossed for good weather and good tempers (the latter being more about me than my kids, I’m sure!)

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

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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

 

Summer Vacations and French Summer School

My month (+) long hiatus from blogging was unintended.

I had big ambitions for July of filling up my queue with posts, photos, throw backs to some journal entries of different adventures in France. Of getting some book and CD reviews out. I am now desperately embarrassed that I still haven’t completed those.

Instead, I spent most of July in San Diego. I could blame my lack of blog entries on the fact that I was there, alone for the most part, with my two-year-old boy (who is, as everyone I meet feels compelled to point out to me, “all boy”) and my almost four-year-old daughter. So, yes, that kept me busy. But the truth is: I’ve been lazy. In the best possible way. I’ve been idling away the hours at places like this:

La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA

La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA

Drinking in views like this:

Downtown San Diego from Coronado Island

Downtown San Diego from Coronado Island

Drinking lots of this (minus the ghetto cups; ran out of glasses at this BK – before kids – party):

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Visiting with many dear friends, and eating fantastic food. I didn’t let 48 hours pass without a taco from one of my many favorite haunts.

It’s been a long time since summer actually felt like summer. Like a vacation. It’s one of the horrible truths no one tells us when we’re in school. Once you’re done, kiss summer vacation goodbye. With the U.S. standard of 2 weeks vacation per year, I spent more than a decade in the working world calculating how best to use that 2 weeks to spend holidays with family, take a short trip, and hoping that I didn’t get so sick I had to tap into vacation time. When I first discovered that France and most other developed countries had double or more the vacation time we get, and that it is a right by law (it isn’t in the U.S., each company decides how much vacation to bestow upon their employees) I was shocked and jealous. I still feel so grateful that I was in California when I had both of my kids. California has the most generous maternity and paternity leave policies in the U.S. Still, when compared to some countries, this isn’t saying much. I realize this falls deeply into the much maligned bucket of “First World Problems.” Still, I strongly side with the camp that says adequate down time improves performance, productivity, and creativity, and leads to stronger families which leads to a better future. I don’t define adequate down time as two weeks.

Now that I have kids and have the (very lucky) opportunity to step away from my career and stay home with them, summer feels like summer again. They are out of school (preschool), and we get to travel. This year to the place of summer dreams and our former home: San Diego.

We also used it as a chance to send our daughter to summer camp at her old school: the San Diego French American School. Our rationale: It’s too expensive to fly to France every year, but we really want to immerse our kids in French. So, we packed up the car, headed to San Diego, found an adorable bungalow blocks from where we used to live and right next to the first park we ever took our kids to, and trekked each day through the Southern California traffic (has it always been that brutal? I’ve only been away 10 months but I found it unbearable in a way I never did before) to school.

Results: Everything we’d hoped for. She had a great time, got to see old friends and familiar teachers. I’m told she understands everything and spoke mainly in French, rarely resorting to English. Her resistance to speaking with me in French is gone, for the time being. And with her San Diego “petit ami” – who is French – she spoke in French (unprompted) when playing with him. Success!

Next year, our son will be old enough to attend, too. Which means my kids will get an amazing opportunity to progress in French. And it means I’ll get a real vacation. I can rent a Laser and go sailing. I can go to the mall without herding my kids out of the clothes racks every two minutes. A book at the beach? I don’t remember what that feels like.

Summers are looking pretty fantastic.