Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Keeping it real update

Ridiculous.  This much time passing and no entry.  Not for lack of thought, believe me.  However just to fill you in on the highlights.  Yes, I am going to make a list.  Lame, I know.

1. Sabine's vocabulary is growing everyday.
French words vs English words

Banane (banana)                 cheese
Pomme (apple)                     some
pain (bread)                         go
d'leau(water)                        shoes
Assis (sit)                            jacket
chat  (cat)                              book
chien (dog)                        munch (lunch)
touch pas (don't touch)      gorilla
dohor (outside)                   moon
la (there)                              cup
lapin (rabbit)                      again
encore (more/again)             jump
yourt (yogurt)                      hello
pousette (stroller)                 car
hibou (owl)                         phone

Sabine and papa
She speaks a lot of French words, even though I speak to her in English all day.  For one thing, Hicham reads to her tons every night before bed.  She also spends 3 hours on Tues and Thursday and all day on Wednesday at her "Stop and Play" place.  I am just so darn happy with this place.  She is also very happy to go there too.  I know she enjoys all the socializing which is what is basically for.  This is not a place intended for full time working parents, it is designed for stay-at-home moms.  France is really big on socializing from a young age.  Kids start school here at age three.  If you want, it is possible to wait until they are 5, but nobody does - except maybe foreigners.  I am also really pleased that they are willing to work around our non-animal eating lifestyle.  She eats lunch there on Wednesdays and even naps there.  It is great.  Which brings me to number 2.

2.  Since Sabine has a place to go, I have resumed French classes.  They too are going well.  There is one woman in the class who is getting on my last nerve.  She constantly barks out the answer, not allowing the others to respond.  She translates loudly nearly everything the teacher says thinking it is making her look smart.  And she speaks incredibly LOUDLY when doing so.  The majority of the class is American and over the age of 40.  Without big mouth (who is about 27) the class would be perfect.  The teacher is wonderful.  I cannot say one bad thing about her.  She is creative, dynamic, spontaneous, flexible and constructive.  All things that French teachers, in my experience, are incapable of.  I just wish she would shut that big mouth up.  Great segway to number 3.
soaking oats/nuts

sprouted quinoa
3.  My big mouth and filling it up with my new obsession.  Soaking beans, grains and flours before utilizing them.  I intend to write a big ass blog entry about it because it has sort-of taken over my life as I learn about it and experiment in the kitchen.  I have been sprouting wild rice, chick peas and soaking oats.  At the moment, there is in the oven baking, some pumpkin muffins which had soaked for 24 hours before cooking.  To sum up WHY, well it seems that much of the nutrients and minerals are unavailable in many foods unless we soak them - and easier to digest.  Obviously, this will be a post for you to look forward to and for me to write - but at present, I am still researching and experimenting before I share all my findings.  So far though, it is fun as hell!

3.5 We have been on the lookout for a new winter jacket for me.  It has been a fool's errand.  Women's cold weather wear in France has one thing in mind: looking good but not feeling good.  They are thin as shit, basically good for a nippy fall day.  In contrast to the heavy duty wonderful selection for the men, waterproof, down, etc.  And, surprise, women's are more expensive too!  I am not sure what I will do - maybe get a guys' jacket.

4. Living room is largely done!  Painted and pictures up.  That too will be an upcoming post.  I am very excited to show you the transformation really.
It is hard to believe she was ever the size of that bear! 

 6.  Sabine is just growing so fast, it blows my mind. In my effort to discover new and interesting things for Sabine and I to do together that are both fun and stimulating, I often read homeschooling blogs - a rich resource of great information.  They make me wonder if I shouldn't homeschool Sabine, but I know that I probably won't - but would rather find her a really cool school to attend.  (Unfortunately private more than likely).  But anyway, when I read these blogs - sometimes I feel like such a loser!

I know it is never good to compare yourself to another (like what is the point, we all are different) BUT, I do read blogs of moms who have large families, garden, bake bread, home school, keep the house clean, sew, can, volunteer, take incredible photos, (often all while pregnant and/or with a young baby) and much much more and still blog like every single day ... I am like, HOW IN THE HECK?  Seriously, how? how? how? 

Big shout out to a blogging mama I am now a fan of, who has not one but TWO amazing and current blogs!  Check them one, this woman is my inspiration! Her family of eight is gorgeous, her breads are perfect and did I mention that she is homesteading?  Get a cup of coffee and a muffin and prepare to get a glimpse into a family who are keeping it real. 


Monday, November 14, 2011

The world is a playground

block building
Sabine turned 22 months today.  Her room is filled with stimulating toys for the purpose of creating, moving, matching or building.  Along with her books and stuffed animal friends, it would appear she has enough stuff to keep her going and entertained all day, every day. 

threading beads
We do keep ourselves pretty busy - both in the apt and outside/in the world.  But sometimes, ya just want to change it up.

There are, I discovered, some very cool websites (particularly blogs) providing inspiring ideas of new ways to stimulate and play with a toddler  - and many of them are so basic and simple, that you just wouldn't really think of doing them.  It is weird, but I think I can forget that toys (objects of discovery and/or fun) are seriously all around us. 

Another thing is making sure that Sabine gets exposed to activities that I wouldn't necessarily be drawn to because I don't like it.  Math for example.  I am much more open to letters than numbers.  Except for counting to 3 firmly when I am being all serious, I don't usually include numbers in our conversations.

All that said, there are incredible resources: books, magazines and websites overflowing with cool things to do with a young toddler.  I recently got the book "I Can Do It" by Maja Pitamic.  I really recommend this book.  It is perhaps a bit more geared towards somewhat older kids - but not all of the activities.  Also, it is good to get read her ideas and then tailoring them to your own kids' level.  It is a Montessori book.  The cover says it all, "Play and learn activities to help your child discover the world the Montessori way". 

The chapters are: Life skills, developing the senses, language, numeracy and science.  It is a full color book with large font making the reading of it pleasant and quick. 

Recently we did the "pouring"activity as suggested in the book.  Sabine already knows how to pour water from the bath.  But this activity, something that I would likely not have thought of, was absolutely enthralling for her. 

 We used dry black eyed peas first and then incorporated quinoa.  She was all into it, doing her serious face and then looking up and flashing one of her "aren't I cool?" looks.

She also enjoyed (not mentioned in the book, but as I say - you can improvise once you get the basic idea) choosing which measuring spoon to use and which cup.  She basically changed up her tool about every 3 seconds.

A TRAY is highly recommended for this task!  (Hindsight 20/20)

This kept her contentedly busy - and learning stuff too!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How to make change in a foreign country... I don't know!

Grappling with some of the same old same old: dismal repetitive thoughts that dampen my high spirits and leave me feeling disappointed with my own commitment to help make the world a better place.

What in the hell am I talking about?  Many a books, articles and websites are dedicated to helping people adjust to living in a foreign country.  I do find they are generally helpful for the basic stuff.  But when it gets right down to it, there are just some things that cannot be duplicated.

When it comes to having an active political life in a foreign country, there are some special challenges.  Sure, you can obtain a ballot overseas and even vote from afar.  Sure, you can sign petitions to "Save the Whale" online.  Of course, any organization is happy to get money to use towards a cause you believe in.  But in terms of building real activist community, it just isn't as easy when you live abroad.  Especially if you are an American and could be perceived of as an imperialist!  Furthermore, activism and volunteering are inherently American.  Yup, I said it.

Here in France, people seem to march because the union tells them too.   They shut down the city and piss off everyone trying to get to work.  Unions hold a lot (A LOT) of power.  So, to that end, the perceived need for grassroots organizing (people power) is relatively low.  Or even, for some causes, non existent.  There are though some cool non-profits, especially here in Paris.  But they don't seem to utilize volunteers much, at least that is according to a woman who worked for WWF. 

French Persecutive on Feminism
I have referred to this before, but when asking a French woman if she is a feminist, she will generally look highly offended and declare, "NO!  I love men too much".  She also foolishly thinks that the feminist cause isn't needed here in France.  Alas, I wish that were true.  Check out the New York Times article Where having it all doesn't mean having Equality

I am not going to claim to be an expert on anything French - to be sure.  But that is part of the problem of living abroad and being a can't-stop-myself do-gooder.  When I watch the news (Especially Aljazeera), visit Mother Jones website, read current event magazines, etc I just want to jump into action.  I want to DO SOMETHING!  But what?  And anyway, I am a foreigner, what right do I have to tell them how to live?

My own daily choices of not eating meat, recycling, use cloth diapers, buying as much fairtrade/local/bio blah blah blah, taking Sabine into nature, taking public transportation (like I can drive in France anyway - ha ha), not buying plastic water and being informed about what the hell is going on around me doesn't really feel good enough.  I don't feel good enough.

Furthermore, I feel alone in my desire to participate in making the world a better place here in France.  I know logically that simply isn't true and that we are all trying to do the best we can.  But the fact is that, all of the wonderful people I know and the friends I have made here are ALL critical of something about this country.  The Frenchies themselves are particularly pissed off.  Other ex-pats and I agree on a lot of the bullshit bureaucracy that we must deal with in living here that would "never happen" in our efficient and courteous countries.  Or on issues of education, environmentalism, human rights, nuclear energy, discrimination etc.  What are we DOING to help make change?  How are we working to make life better for ourselves and others?

My prefecture.  Photo by Jacques Mossot 2009
One little example is the deplorable conditions/treatment of my local prefecture.  This is the place where I had to go twice a year, for the last three years, to renew my Carte de Sejour - something like a green card.   From the beginning to the end, on every level, it is horrible.  They don't take appointments (anymore, cost too much), so you have to wait (sometimes all day).  Often there is only one person working (women only of course) who is very stressed out and bitchy (naturally).  Instead of a proper waiting room, there is a long hallway lined with chairs on the second floor where it gets unnaturally hot and stinky.  Often people come with their babies and toddlers (they start school at age three), so inevitably, there is a lot of crying.  AND then, once it is your turn, you must do your business standing up, talking through a little hole in a window with a crowd around you.  Oh, did I mention that after your initial visit, you get a piece of paper to tell you to come back and pick up your card.  (Oh, but, if you don't get it within a month, come back and tell us they say).  AND then when you go back to get your card, you sign in and then everyone huddles around a window as they call your name.  It is a third world country set-up.  No computers, all is done in paper with tons of copies and copies and forms and copies.  Hilariously, we asked the woman how we could obtain the much desired ten-year card. "Oh, you have to say that you want the 10 year card".  WHAT. THE. HELL? 

If you don't SAY you want the 10 year card, they will assume you want to come back every year for this demoralizing experience. 

Now, I am the first to admit, making this experience more tolerable doesn't exactly change the world.  But, in some ways it does touch human rights.  You see, as you look around at this particular prefecture, you will see that almost everyone is either Arab or African.  On the first floor, where you renew your drivers license, there are chairs, natural light, 5 windows open resulting in a short wait time, an electronic number system and much less people - French citizen people.  oh, and I guess it is a coincidence that all the tellers on the first floor are men.

Now, imagine you are new to France and going to this shit hole is your introduction to becoming a French citizen.  What does it say about your value, if anything?  I am not going to detail Hicham's experience with getting his American green card except to say : efficient (as in 20 minutes) and basically pleasant.

BUT then, the issue really is this: HOW does a person change the status quo in a foreign country?  Who do you talk to?  How do you convince them to care about this?  How do you build consensus?   How does change happen in other places?  Just so many more questions than answers.  I guess these are things I need to learn about.

All that said, when I read about American change agents, dynamic and effective activism, creative and energized non-profits challenging the status quo, community gardens in ghettos, people taking the power back, people volunteering, giving back, being invested in their environment, individuals participating in their neighborhoods.  In looking back at my experience as a political activist and non-profit work, I ask myself, how can I use my passion and skills here in France?  What am I called to do here, beyond raising my cool kid, if anything? 

Then I think, that as an American, I have within me the ability to follow the American dream as defined in 1931 by James Truslow Adams:
Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, 
with opportunity for each according to abiltiy or achievement 
regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

This post has given me a lot to think about.  I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, ideas, etc.  email or comment please :) 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Germany is wonderful. Our inspiring daytrip to Badenweiler Thermal Baths. Also: parking garage secrets, turret porn, fall colors and Sabine!

Outside of a cafe. 
 This weekend was extended due to "All Saint's Day".  This is a day when French people honor dead ancestors.  They put chrysanthemums on graves and light candles to honor their dead relatives.  Of course, this goes way back from before Christianity's takeover  and was called Samhain.  This day marked the start of the dark half of the year and was the time of feasting and drinking.  It was also a good day to communicate with the spirit world.

Some festive chrysanthemums.

As always click on the picture for a better view.

I really, really miss living in the States as you probably already figured.  But oh my my my - when Halloween comes around, my pining away becomes really tragic.  But actually, it is after the day, when people post their Halloween pictures on facebook that I really want to get. the. hell. out. of. here.  Not to say that I don't enjoy seeing all the creative costumes my American/Canadian friends make for themselves and their adorable kids, but the idea of packs of kids going from house to house getting mini sugar blessings from the community just makes me flush with happiness.  When Sabine is older, we may just have to fly home just for this holiday.  We can see which city has the best airline deal and just fly there - trick or treat, and then come home!  Well at least this year, I made a new friend who invited us to her Halloween soiree, just in the nick of time.  And it was very fun too:)

           12th century Badenweiler Castle looks over the Spa Gardens containing exotic plants like oleander, hibiscus, magnolias, giant cedars and sequoias, bananas, lemons, palms, eucalyptus, bamboo.
Okay, well ANYWAY.... So, instead of celebrating this wonderful holiday, we went to the inlaws whom live about 20 minutes from the German border for 4 days and one of those days were spent in Badenweiler, Germany.  This quant village is at the foot of the Black Forest.  My previous experience with Germany is limited.   But knowing that some of my ancestors are German, I was even more intrigued with the people's faces and bodies.  So many tall women - at least compared to the itty bitty French ladies.  They had girth and strength and walked around with hiking poles.  Hell yeah! 

Here are some pictures that show incredible diversity of place, particularly when considering they were all taken in about a two block range!!!!!!!  First are the decadent thermal baths, I took all the pictures except the one indicated.  As I was snapping away, I was told that photos were not allowed.  I hate that shit.

A couple weeks ago, a friend and I went to see a clothing exhibit at Marie Antoinette's "little" ch√Ęteau in Versailles.  All around us there were no photography signs and all around us were people talking photos.  Many of these people were rather blatant about it too, wearing their enormous cameras around their necks.  A couple of people working there were working hard sternly telling people to STOP with the picture taking.  Most of the staff couldn't be bothered.  I wanted to take some pictures, but would have been embarrassed to take pictures when it clearly states they are not allowed.

And so what if they did tell you? It is not like an unfortunate experience that occured when FIRST MOVED HERE and were in a huge French grocery store (Carrefour).   I thought it was so cool the employees were wearing rollerskates.  They glided around the store to check prices and clean up spills, I was memorized (I know, doesn't take much).  I took one of their photos (with her permission) - and apparently this was seen somewhere, by some video camera and I was suddenly surrounded by a trove of men making demands and asking questions.  I didn't speak a word of French at the time and played the innocent tourist card, pointing at the rollerskates, looking amused, you know smiling like a dumb American.  They were unnecessarily gruff and hostile, which I would come to learn that was rather typical behavior and must be responded with the same!  They seized my camera and deleted the memory.  Thinking back on it now, I would have reacted a lot differently then now.  Probably better that it didn't happen like that today, I might have gone to jail.  Oooooooh , I hate hate hate power tripping corporations who think they own the whole fucking world.  Okay, rant over - Occupy! Occupy!  Occupy!

ANYWAY.... There were no such signs at the thermal baths and so I figured it was fine.  Given the fact that the website itself says that it won the German Steel Building Prize and is considered by many to be the MOST beautiful domed thermal baths in the entire country - it would seem rather photo worthy, donchathink?

This wonderful place has a lot more going on than what we did, but those required 12 years+.  Soooo, we (Hicham, Hicham's mom, Sabine and I) stuck to the family family THREE different pool thermal bath area. 

We were fortunate to be in the water at the same time that some gorgeous music started playing and an equally stunning woman in her 60's got up and started leading the crowd from the side of the pool in water tai chi.  Hicham's mom really enjoyed taking part in it too.

  Another pool led outside:

I did not take this picture.  It is from www.germany.travel.

The outside view of the domed bath.  Next to the well preserved, glass encased Roman bath ruins museum.

Hot spring baths from 75 AD.

Golden golden golden gold.

What looks like a autumn colored hill park is actually the top of a parking garage.  Look closely at the tri-dome windows seemingly randomly placed.  They actually provide nice natural light underground. 
The parking garage.

Just had to share this architectural eye candy with you!  Look at the green shutters, the divine rounded windows, the most elegant carvings, the stained glass and the stylish turret .  It was built in 1586 and now holds art exhibits. 

For more info about this wonderful village and a cool areal shot visit: http://www.schloesser-magazin.de/en/badenweiler-castle-ruins/Surrounding-Area/380172.html

 What is a post from Transition Kitchen without the kid?  I should mention here that even the German playground teeter totters, did indeed teeter better and certainly tottered with more side to side totter than the French ones which barely move and always seem dirty.  Ah, what a pleasant note to end on!