Thursday, January 29, 2009

This week's "What kind of idiot do you think I am? Oh, that kind" Award has got to go to the folks at a company that makes little transponders that are sewn into ski gear. It's called "Recco Avalanche Rescue System" and it is supposed to allow the rescue team to find you and dig you out more quickly using high tech gear. And I'm sure it works better than just poking around sadly in the snow with a long stick and hoping for the best.

Well, when you buy a ski jacket that contains one of these things, it comes with a big black tag hanging off it that helpfully informs you in no less than SEVEN different languages (including Japanese) that: "The Recco avalanche system does not prevent avalanches".

Doesn't act as a magical charm that prevents avalanches?! An outrage! I should take this fancy coat right back to the store! But then again, Valentine is highly unlikely to be wearing it to do hazardous off-piste skiing in avalanche-prone areas. I'm the first to admit that my kids come from a long line of complete non thrill seekers. My dull ways are well known to the readers of this blog. And JP's idea of daring is brushing his teeth for 2.5 minutes intead of the full three recommended by the American Dental Association.
So, no dangerous skiing for Val.

But it happens that these jackets are really in style among the teenagers here in France and it's the end of the annual January sales. All this in mind, I thought it wouldn't hurt to look around.
And there was a bit of guilt involved as well. I actually bought a lot of my kids' school clothes at the Emmaus thrift shop. But as there's only one in the region, sometimes I do worry that some kid at their school will recognise something that his family gave away. Don't get me wrong- I'm proud to be thrifty and planet-saving, but I know how awfully mean kids can be to each other.

So, I took Valentine on a big shopping expedition yesterday (five different places). Amazingly, we managed to find a gorgeous coat at a huge discount. Which was the only way she was ever going to get one, as these things cost 200 euros and up. Yes, that's euros, folks, not dollars!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thanks so much to everyone for all the emails and comments wishing me a speedy recovery.
I guess all those good vibes are working their magic, as I do seem to be getting better.
Today I managed to clean the house a bit and even did a load of laundry. And at my house, laundry is a real hurdle- believe me. The washer is down in the cellar and the cellar can only be reached by going out of the house, walking around to the front yard and then descending the icy cement steps. As you can imagine, the laundry facilities seem kind of distant and inconvenient when it's snowing and you're loaded down with a big basket of clothes. And if you're sick , the washer may as well be located in central Nepal.

Besides the excitement of clean laundry, there's not too much going on here...
Valentine is studying for her "Brevet Blanc" next week. For those of you who don't know the intricacies of the French educational system, the Brevet is a huge exam that kids take at the end of 9th grade. It is a written exam that tests them on everything they should know to this point in their education. And it's on the basis of this that the kids are mercilessly sorted out: High scorers will go on to "Lycée", where they will study to eventually pass their "Bac" test and then go on to university.
The ones who don't do well on the Brevet will be divided into two groups: Kids that have a history of good grades, but who just didn't do well on the test will REPEAT 9th grdae and try to take the test again next year. The remainder ( kids with poor grades and bad marks on the Brevet) will either quit school, do an apprenticeship or attend some kind of professional school...

And so it is that a French youngster's future gets determined before he or she is even 15 years old. Based on ONE test.
And you thought the SAT/ACTs were scary....

Right now Valentine is reviewing her class notes for an hour every night, preparing for the practise Brevet (Brevet Blanc) that will be given at her school next week. Most of the good private schools offer this option, so that their students will be well-prepared for the real Brevet at the end of the year.

After the Brevet Blanc, it will be vacation time again.
Yes, you read that right. The French schools will be on holiday again already! It's time for the traditional two-week long ski break.
And this year, we're actually going to be skiing! Even me, if I've gotten over this rotten cold/flu...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I am feeling a little better.
Not much, but a bit.

Woe is me...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dreadful hardly covers it. This flu I've had since Sunday feels a lot like malaria (and I know from malaria), but without the "could be fatal" aspect of that disease.

On Sunday, I felt like a zombie.
On Monday I felt like a zombie having a really bad day.
On Tuesday I felt like a zombie that had been dismembered, incinerated and then re-animated by a voodoo practitioner with a particularly sick sense of humour.

That is to say, Tuesday was kind of a low point. I'd run out of medications, so there wasn't even an aspirin in the house. And the concept of me making myself a cup of tea seemed about as unlikely and intimidating as me ascending Mt Everest wearing a bikini.
Wasn't gonna happen.

But by some miracle, a friend happened to call up. "Wow! You sound awful! Do you need anything? I'll be passing by this afternoon."
And so it was that I got some meds again, including some crazy powder from England that apparently restores zombies to a more attractively life-like state.
No, it wasn't cocaine. I don't think....
It was called "Lemsip" on the package, anyway.

So, with the help of the magic powder, I was able to venture out of my home yesterday afternoon. Of course, I still had a racking cough, runny nose, hollow eyes and a general appearance and comportment that led perfect strangers to come up to me and ask things like: "Are you all right?" "Do you need help?" "Are you sure it's not TB?" and even ""Ummm...Are you sick?", the latter delivered in an appropriately dryly humorous tone that made me laugh/cough until I turned purple.
But if I had tried to venture out the day before, people probably would have waved torches in my face and shouted "Back, foul undead fiend!", so I counted myself lucky.

Today I slept until nearly noon and anticipate heading straight back to bed as soon as this is posted.

Stay well, my friends.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's official: my blog has gone completely "All Ski, All the Time" this week.

Here's Alexa in front of the café at the bottom of the slopes

Mallory took the chairlift today and went on the blue and red runs!

She was VERY pleased with herself!

I even recorded a short film today, but can't figure out how to post it.
Too tired, I guess. Maybe tomorrow..

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Yet another astoundingly beautiful day in the French Alps!!!
I spent most of out on what I have christened the "Degu Slope". Why should bunnies have all the fun?
This morning Alexa left behind the easy slopes down below and took the chairlift up to the red and blue slopes. She's skiing like a real pro already!
And Mallory has made huge progress as well. As someone with zero "need for speed", she has never been a lover of roller coasters or any other kind of scary experience that other people think of as "fun". And she really didn't see the point of sliding extremely fast down a hill. But she's a good sport and gave it a chance.
Today, she even abandoned the Degu Slope and started taking the platter lift up. She had been very nervous of the lift, but by the end of the day, she was going on it on her own with no problems.
I had to look up the word for this type of ski lift in English. I only knew it by it's French name: "tire-fesses", which translates as (This is true. I swear.) butt-puller.
Here's a very short video filmed up at Les Haberes. It shows kids using the infamous tire-fesses and gives you a look at the place where I'm spending a lot of my time these days.

Monday, January 12, 2009

At their school back in Africa, the main sports activity for the kids was swimming.
But here in the French Alps, they SKI!

So, the twins' class headed off to their first "classe de neige" today. (That's "snow class" in English. So cute!). The teachers and kids will spend every day this week out on the slopes. Luckily, the slopes are very near by. Just a ten minute drive from the school (and our house!) and you are at a nice little ski resort well-suited to all levels.
The twins, of course, were relegated to the lowest level, as they'd never, ever been on the slopes before.

Oh the shame of it.

Through sheer willpower and the force of extreme vexation, Alexa learned to ski well enough in one day to get her into the next level up.

I got to see all this firsthand, as I was (of course) one of the "helper moms".
As I am strictly a cross-country skier, I couldn't help much with the ski lessons. But I went up to help serve lunch and then stayed out on the bunny slope helping the twins' very pregnant teacher manage the beginner's group. The village school board had said they couldn't afford to pay an actual instructor for the smallest group. Good thinking there.
At least it was a GORGEOUS day and we ended up having lots of fun. Except for the poor teacher, who looked absolutely exhausted by the end...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tonight my house is filled to the roofline with junior-high schoolers and I'm being deafened by the incessant giggling, the monkey-like howling, and the constant rustle and crunch of bagfulls of potato-chips being emptied and devoured.

There's only six of them, but it's a hoarde, believe me.

Today is Severin's belated 13th birthday party. He didn't have a celebration in December because all his friends were going away on holiday. So, we put it off until today.

They're all nice kids- don't get me wrong. The excitement of the Wii and the sugar from the soft-drinks just has everyone a little over-stimulated. (And yes, the boy to the left of Severin is in his class and is his age. )
As is so often the case, poor JP is missing out on all the fun. I drove him to the airport in Geneva this morning and he's gone off to Burkina.
He won't be back for a month. So, there's no help for me as I try to get dinner for nine on the table tonight.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My family will soon possess the world's only talking Chilean Degu. I'm thinking it will mean big money. Yes, judging from the financial success of other talking rodents (ever hear of Mickey Mouse?) we'll soon be raking in major cash.
Not that Mallory's pet has uttered his first word yet, but that day is not far off if love, attention and hard work can make such a thing happen.
I actually don't think teaching him to talk is her goal, though. She just loves him and wants him to be happy. She does all the things her care manual says she should do for him: dust baths, a varied, sugar-free diet, reguar changes of toys and furnishings in his cage, etc . But besides this, Leon is also treated to other, far more exotic amusements. Mallory puts on shows for his entertainment using her magnet board. Or sometimes finger puppets.
She also reads him stories daily, often holding up the book so he can admire the pictures or maybe even try to read along, if he fancies.
So, between her beloved Leon, her cats and the back to school hassles, Mallory is very busy so far this year, as we all are.

The New Years Eve party turned out to be amazing. Severin spent the first half of the evening sitting silently at the table, looking semi-autistic. But then the music started and he was unstoppable. He put on an unbelievable, crazy, hilarious dancing and lip-synching extravaganza that had everyone in the room laughing. My MIL was astounded. "I didn't know Severin could DO that!" she exclaimed.

The next day, we spent the afternoon at a friend's house and then I had to be back at the hall by 5pm to help clean up. There was so much food left that we heated everything up and had a second meal that night. but we'd packed up the sound system, so Severin didn't get a chance to dance again for us...

Then on Friday morning, my MIL left, headed back up north to her home in the Lorraine region. And I drove the kids into Geneva.
Yes, I ventured into the big city with the car! I'm so proud of me!
Actually, it was very easy. Most people were still away on holiday, so downtown Geneva was practically deserted. I easily found a parking spot and took the kids to a special one-time showing of Twilight in English.
Valentine was VERY keen to go, as were the twins, and I thought it would be a fun final outing to end the holiday. Severin was somewhat less keen, but very motivated by the idea of the promised dinner at McDonalds before the show.
So, we got to Geneva at about 7pm. The show wasn't until 9pm, but as I wasn't sure where the theatre was located, I decided that we'd go find it, double check the showtime and then go eat dinner. And it was incredibly lucky that we did. The electronic board showing the films and numbers of seats still available revealed that there were NINE seats left for Twilight!
I quickly bought five tickets and the board flashed down to zero. We 'd got the LAST tickets! Maybe you anti-Twilighters would say it would have been no loss...but it would have been pretty bad to have the whole goal of our mission snatched out right from beneath our noses. It's the principal of the thing...
Tickets safely tucked away, we ate a quick dinner and were back in line at 8pm, at Valentine's insistance. We were second in line, just behind two teenaged girls. And then then more showed up, and more and still more....By 8:30, the lobby was jammed. It was mostly teen girls on their own, but there were a few parents and even a few grandparents with grandchildren in tow. We were lucky that Valentine had insisted that we be at the front of the line. That meant we managed to get excellent seats. Latecomers ended up sitting on the stairs.

Maybe it wasn't a great film; but it was a great audience to see it with. There was lots of cheering, clapping and respectful silence when appropriate. It really elevates the level of the film when you see it with people that want SO badly to be pleased by it.

I enjoyed it. Really.

What I am NOT liking is the book I am reading right now. Never Let Me Go is supposed to be a remarkable novel by a brilliant writer. And I suppose it is.
It's very restrained and subtle and Remains of the Day-ish. But it also has a really, really horrible twist to it.
In short, I feel like I'm eating a big bowl of oatmeal with shards of glass in it.

I've GOT to find something else to read...