Our Family’s (2nd) Year in the South of France
Kids and Castles - Our year with kids in the South of France

Category — Kids

Being the Maman Anglais

To my kids’ school friends, I am the Maman Anglais who speaks a very strange and limited version of French.

Starting in Grade 1, French children study English in school, and some of them like to practice with me. It’s usually a pretty basic conversation, but I know how encouraging it is to have a native speaker understand you when you try to speak their language – and how very discouraging it is when they just don’t.

I make an effort to be supportive of any child who wants to take their English words for a spin, so when a boy came up to me the other day at a village party and started off with our usual English exchange, I gave him my full attention.

Boy:  “Allo”
Me:   “Hello.  How are you?”
Boy:  “Good.”
Me:   “I am good too.”
Boy:  “Cheat.”
Me:   (Very confused because usually they say bye and leave at this point. I don’t understand but don’t want to discourage him.) “Pardon.”
Boy:  “Cheat.  ummm…  Sheet.”
Me:   (Still not getting it but wanting to encourage him.)  “Yes. You have a sheet?”

He left before I figured out that he was trying to shock me with his new English swear word. That boy definitely needs to work on his accent to be bilingually obnoxious.

February 22, 2014   1 Comment

Christmas Lunch at School

I love, love, love, LOVE the cantine – the school cafeteria in France.

One of the things I was most excited about when we decided to come back was the break from making school lunches. For just a few euros a day, French children can eat sit down meals with 3 or 4 courses. Talking about the school lunch is a regular topic at dinner, and I’m jealous when I hear about the cordon bleu, interesting salads, and local cheeses. I am terribly proud whenever my daughters tell me about how much they love the spinach dish – even though I had nothing to do with making it.

Today the girls came home with news of the repas de Noel. A special Christmas meal was served at the cantine that included duck gizzard salad, grilled potatoes with Parisian mushrooms, roast turkey, and a special Christmas cake. The presentation of the food is an important part of the eating experience, and each child was greeted with a personal menu to introduce the meal:

Christmas Menu

Christmas Menu at the Cantine

The girls explained that the menus were hand made by “the strict cantine lady” who had also spent hours folding green napkins into a Christmas tree for each child.



December 20, 2013   1 Comment

Surviving Jet Lag Day

We landed in France this morning. Paris is beautiful. the weather is perfect. And the croissants and cheese are exactly right.

The children, however, are HORRIBLE!  Jet lag is not the friend of traveling families.

Fortunately, a good nights sleep will change everything.

August 21, 2013   4 Comments

A Visit from the Tooth Mouse

Our road trip continues. We spent a rainy and cold week in Normandy – which felt appropriate for visiting WW II sites, but annoying all the rest of the time.

Normandy: Mont-St-Michel in the rain

Then it was a week visiting the gorgeous Renaissance castles in the Loire Valley.

Loire Valley: Castle in Azay-Le-Rideau

It was during this part of the trip that Z’s first tooth began to come loose. In France there is no Tooth Fairy. Here the Petite Souris (little mouse) comes to collect teeth and replace them with money. Same basic principle – but a mouse instead of a fairy.

Z really wanted the Euro that she had been told was the standard rate for a lost tooth in France!  The pharmacist in our village had given her the most adorable little container – just the right size to hold a euro coin – so she was ready.

Tooth Box for the Petite Souris

How to Use the Tooth Box

However, Z was worried. She thought that since we were driving around the Petite Souris wouldn’t be able to find us. Or if the tooth fell out after we left France the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t know she was back in California. Our many hours driving in the car offered ample opportunity for our chatty 5-year-old to explain everything that was probably going to go wrong with this important tooth loss experience.

Of course, as luck would have it, things did go wrong. She got hit in the face with a soccer ball and the tooth fell out in a playground full of grass and small pebbles. Even with a playground full of children and parents searching we couldn’t find the tooth. We emailed the Petite Souris to explain, and put a small white pebble into the tooth box as a proxy for the lost tooth.

It worked! In the morning the pebble was gone and the Euro had appeared. Tooth magic works no matter what side of the Atlantic you’re on.


July 31, 2011   4 Comments

Umm…. OK… Sure…

We are spending a few weeks this summer driving around Europe before heading back “across the pond”. We spent a week in Switzerland and now we are in Alsace.

Switzerland: Absolutely beautiful but EXPENSIVE!

Alsace: Charming. Just like a scene from a Grimm fairy tale before the children go into the forest and have terrible things happen to them.

Being on the road as a family is great, but it does have challenges. Work has slowed down, but it hasn’t stopped, and it’s harder to get things done when we’re all jammed into small vacation rentals.

Fortunately, the girls have reached the age where they’re pretty good at entertaining themselves for an hour here and there while we grab some email time. This morning they were sitting at the kitchen table being very quiet (always a worrisome sign!) so I asked them what they were doing. The answer:

“We’re drawing weapons.”

Umm… OK… Sure…  And why?

“Because we like them.”

Yes, my lovely little daughters are into weapons and they know all about them.

It’s our fault. While we have been in France, we have visited a wide range of Medieval fortresses, read books on Chevaliers (Knights), and generally learned a lot about that part of history including the fighting and armies and attacks. Prior to coming to France, I disapproved of weapon-style toys. But apparently I’ve changed my opinion because we bought the children quite a few, as I discovered when I started to pack up to go home.

Here is the “toy weapon tour”.

Or in French if you prefer.

July 14, 2011   7 Comments

XVIIth Century Hotel Stay…

Welcome to the Hôtel Doctrinaires, an old college founded by the Pères Doctrinaires of Avignon in 1635, now fully renovated and converted into a nice hotel in Beaucaire.  Surprisingly for a 17th century hotel, it was very comfortable, and our room was large with a jacuzzi bath.

Here are a couple of pictures to give you a sense of our stay…

Hôtel Doctrinaires – Founded 1635

Hôtel Doctrinaires Lobby

It’s interesting that this hotel was almost empty, despite its awesome charm and great comfort, whereas the much more expensive Best Western was fully booked.  Go figure…

Dinner with the girls (Diane taking the picture)

Dinner was revealing, however, when I realized that L had now fully developed her palate for French gastronomical cuisine.  Indeed, when given the choice between the standard “kid fare” of steak haché and frites (hamburger patty with french fries), she instead opted for the adult salmon main course – along with a small provençal quiche, an awesome preparation of mixed vegetables and a little side salad.  And Z who was notorious for eating only plain pasta, rice and bananas before coming to France, had to “copy” her sister and ordered the same dish. They’ve fully embraced the local culture.  Now that’s my girls !  🙂

L cleaning up her salmon dinner plate!!!




May 27, 2011   1 Comment

Culture Shock: Easter Egg Hunt

The village hosted an egg hunt on Easter Sunday morning. Our kids had been to egg hunts in California too (shout-out to our fabulous neighbors!), so we weren’t expecting this to be any kind of new experience. We were wrong.  There were a couple of things that were very different.

  1. The eggs are chocolate. These French mamas are not at all shy about sugaring up their children for birthday parties, school events, or the after school goutez (snack). At Easter the eggs are chocolate and they are LARGE. Among our friends in California it would be quite a faux pas to give kids large amounts of candy, so it’s typical to hunt for plastic eggs filled with stickers or small toys. I mentioned this to one of the parents from the village, and she were concerned about the environmental impact of all the plastic eggs. Her view was that the kids just eat the sugar and then it’s gone, but a plastic egg will live for centuries.
  2. The eggs hide in the rocks. There are no lawns in our village, but there are lots of rock walls with plenty of cracks just perfect to hide an egg in.

    Egg hidden in a rock wall

    Egg hiding in a grape vine

  3. Kids don’t keep their eggs. After the hunt was over the girls proudly showed me their eggs. I was very surprised to see them dump their precious eggs into a big basket, and watched as every village child was given exactly four eggs (one big, three little). The eggs the kids went home with had nothing to do with the eggs that they found on the hunt. I wondered if this was just a village thing, but the girls told me they did the same at school. Everybody shares.

    Sharing the Eggs

    This is different from the US egg hunts we’ve been too. If a kid doesn’t make an effort (or have a parent who will make an effort for them) they leave empty handed. This is a very basic example of the difference in the thinking between the individualistic American society and the community-centric French one. It’s not like either approach is clearly better. It’s nice that everyone got eggs, not just the big kids who are faster. But then that kid who sat and whined instead of trying got the same eggs as the motivated ones.

  4. After hunt glass of wine. Of course, being France there has to be a drink. This time it was juice for the kids, and white wine for the adults – at 10:30 AM!


April 27, 2011   10 Comments

Talking Turkey about Toilets: A Parenting Experience

Our girls were not early potty trainers. They were the children the other parents could look at and feel superior because at least their kid was doing better than that. On the flip side, once they were trained, they did NOT have accidents. Ever. So when L started coming home from school almost every day with wet pants, we were surprised.

Our first thought was that it was a physical problem, but she didn’t have accidents at night or on weekends. We asked the teacher what might be going on and I had a motherly talk with L (girl plumbing is apparently Mommy’s job) about the importance of using the toilet at lunch and recess. That seemed to go reasonably well, but the accidents kept happening.

We tried a checkmark list. We tried a serious talk about the social ramifications of smelling like pee. We tried bribery. We were at our wits end when Z happened to mention that L’s class uses funny toilets at school.

The Dreaded Turkish Toilet

Mystery solved. The little ones have regular toilets with seats, but from Grade 1 on the kids use turkish toilets. For the first few months, L had been sneaking into the little kid area to pee, but she got busted and sent to use the potties in her area. But she didn’t know how to use them, so was just having accidents.

The Dilemma: How do you teach your daughter to use a toilet that you don’t use yourself?

I’ve seen turkish toilets before, but I’ve always managed to avoid them. The first time I saw a turkish toilet, the previous user had been severely “aim-challenged” and the smell combined with the site of yucky brown gunk marred me for life. Fortunately, I discovered that there is almost always a handicap stall with a normal toilet you can use. And if there isn’t – well I’ve never had to go that badly.

But I am a Mom so now I had no choice. I needed to figure this out so I could teach my daughter. I started with the internet and read a number of truly horrific posts on the “eliminatory customs” of various cultures. My key takeaways were:

  • Empty your pockets before squatting
  • Get out quickly after flushing because the spray is unpredictable

I was now able to have a theoretical discussion with L using a variety of visual aids and charades. But we were left with the practical application. How could we find a turkish toilet to practice with? We got lucky on our trip to Italy and stopped at an Aire (truck stop) just outside of Monaco. They had a clean turkish toilet and I was able to demonstrate the finer points of use for my child without sacrificing my shoes.

Problem solved (rap wood).

March 29, 2011   20 Comments

Burning Man: The Village Edition

Carnaval is celebrated many different ways around the world. Our village throws a childrens’ festival based on  Provençal tradition. It was a charming event – with a slightly barbaric twist.

The day started with costumed children “trick-or-treating” around the village asking for the ingredients to make crêpes – eggs, flour, milk, and sugar. Our village was very generous so that was done quickly.

Ready for Carnaval

Next the entire village is invited for a lunch of soupe à la courge (squash soup) and crêpes. We were expecting a simple lunch, but of course it’s France so we had a feast that included sausages, nine different kinds of cheese, bread, three kinds of tartes, wine, homemade liquor made from mountain flowers, and much more.

Making the Carnaval Soup

After lunch, the kids helped to make the carmentran. An old pair of pants and shirt were stuffed with straw, and a head added. The kids painted on a face, and gave him a pair of glasses. He’ was attached to a stick, and straw was piled up underneath him.

Next the kids read the “accusations” where they blame the carmentran for everything bad that has happened to them during the year. This is actually quite funny. Each kid starts with  “J’accuse carmentran…” The carmentran was accused of not buying cereal, breaking bikes, never letting the kids do anything, and many more heinous acts.

Finally, the carmentran was lit on fire, while the children danced around happily chanting “A mort carmentran! A mort carmentran!(Death to the carmentran!).  <- This was the slightly barbaric part I mentioned earlier.

"A mort carmentran!"

To finish up the afternoon, the kids took turns riding on the two donkeys that live in the village.

Donkey rides for all the village children

We enjoyed spending the day hanging out in our village. The people were great, the food was excellent, the kids were amusing, and the donkeys were pedestrian-friendly in all the important ways –  important since I simply cannot get into the habit of constantly scanning the ground looking for poop.

I do want to embrace all aspects of our trip to France and the culture here, but I must confess that I was not completely comfortable watching my kids cheerfully demanding the death of a stuffed pair of pants.

March 16, 2011   5 Comments

Our Visit to the Crocodile Farm

The BIG tourist attraction for kids in our region of Provence is the Ferme Aux Crocodiles (Crocodile Farm). We were told about it before we came, picked up brochures and coupons from every tourist information we visited, and had other families tell us about it. It was very high on our list of things to do.

However, since all the brochures emphasized that it is always open  – even on Christmas Day and bank holidays – and it is mostly inside, we’ve been saving the crocodile farm for a rainy day.

Last week it was raining, so we decided to head out first thing Wednesday morning and spend the full day with the 350 crocodiles plus alligators and turtles and other beasties. We managed to leave the house at a reasonable time and about five “Are-we-there-yet?”s later we arrived to find this:

Annual Closure of the Crocodile Farm

Stuff being closed has become a part of our life here in France, so we’ve learned to roll with it. We still hope to see the crocodile farm one day, but in the meantime we visited the perfume factory next door and watched a machine fill little Eiffel Tower shaped bottles with cheap perfume. We also took the opportunity to visit Pierrelatte for the first time, where we discovered this little gem of a sign:

The evidence on the ground gives no indication that the dogs in Pierrelatte understand this sign.

January 18, 2011   1 Comment