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

Category — Kids

Don’t Panic, It’s Just a “Teachable Moment”

Sometimes the kids do something that really just wouldn’t have happened if we had not come to France.

Last night we made spaghetti for dinner. The girls were helping set the table and stir the sauce (why do kids love pots of boiling hot liquid?) and for a brief moment we were having the kind of positive family time you might see in a pasta commercial. The girls asked for a piece of dry spaghetti to play with, which I gave them since they asked so nicely.

So my guard was down when L turned to Z and said, “Let’s go play smoke break” and they confidently put the sticks in their mouths and inhaled.

I’m not one of those smooth, natural, and unflappable mothers who easily rolls with the unexpected. My first reaction is usually to freak out a little bit and assume I’ve damaged the children yet again. This time was: AARRGGHHH!!!  What is this country doing to my children?!?!?

But I am working on being more relaxed and I’m learning to embrace these times as “teachable moments”.

I am also figuring out how to introduce them to all the medieval stuff. History tends to be pretty violent, and there is a LOT of history here. So the kids end up exposed to the kind of violence that was common in medieval times. The otherwise cool knights and fortresses come with all kinds of nasty ways to kill people. Those medieval lords seemed to get quite a kick out of throwing people over a cliff after they conquered a particularly well defended fortress. (Not that there isn’t violence in American – duh – but it’s different.)

Stocks at Mornas Fortress

I think I did an o.k. job explaining how stocks were used for punishment without causing any nightmares. Although I confess that I arranged to slide them quickly past the gibbet before the questions started since I wasn’t ready to handle that.

I am comforted by the fact that we grew up with Bible stories which are really kind of frightening – baby Moses being put in a river full of crocodiles, lions’ dens, fiery furnaces, crucifixion, stoning, and on and on – and we survived.

The most likely scenario is that the kids will be just fine.

December 14, 2010   3 Comments

Getting Out of the House with Kids

It’s been COLD in France this past week prise viagra. For a few days it was o.k. to hunker down at home, but the kids were starting to drive me crazy.  JM was sick, so I just needed to disappear with the girls for an hour. We were introduced to the perfect place by a neighbour in our village: Esprit Gourmand, a tea shop in St. Paul Trois Chateaux.

(Side Comment:  There is not even one chateaux (castle) in St. Paul Trois Chateaux.)

A tea shop usually wouldn’t strike me as a place for kids, but not all tea shops are run by the amazing Yves and Loupile.  There are a couple of things that make it great:

  • Kid Books: There is a whole shelf of kid books in the back room. L and Z are each allowed to go (one at a time) and get a book to bring to our table. Last time they grabbed a “Where’s Waldo” style Smurf book. Working as a team, we got through the book in about an hour. The perfect break.
  • Big Dominoes: Guests are welcome to use the game of huge wooden dominoes – either to play a game, or to set them up and push them over.
  • The owners: I simply can’t say enough about the wonderful people who own this place. Not only are they completely patient with my bad french and keep telling me I’m doing fine (which is really all it takes to win my heart in this country!), best of all they genuinely love kids. Every time we visit the tea shop they do something a little special – suggest a book, bring a cookie, gently tease the kids about their umbrellas, or give them one of the little sparkly things they used for Christmas decorations.

Playing Big Dominoes with Yves at Esprit Gourmand

Esprit Gourmand also meets my absolutely #1 requirement for a trip alone with the kids in Provence – easy parking close by!

December 6, 2010   3 Comments

Great Kid Trip in Provence: Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is less than an hour from our village and is a perfect day trip.

When we first arrived we were shocked at the price for parking – 15€!!  But it was actually quite a deal since the price covered access to the entire site for the whole family – including an extensive hands-on kids educational exhibit, a museum about the history of the site, plus miles of trail and of course the absolutely amazing pont itself. It was built in the first century by the Romans as part of an aquaduct to move water 50 miles from a spring in Uzes to Nimes. It took about fifteen years to build and used almost no mortar. The result is still stunningly beautiful thousands of years later. Those Romans were really impressive builders!!!

Z at the Pont du Gard

In the summer you can swim in the river right under the pont itself. For only 25€, you can buy an annual pass that includes the day of your visit, so we were upsold the extra 10€ and definitely plan to go back.

And it gets even better. If the sight of such an amazing Roman architectural feat inspires an urgent need for a penguin postcard – you are all set.

Penguin Postcard at the Pont du Gard?!?

November 29, 2010   4 Comments

Slow Down and Carry Snacks: Traveling with Kids

We are looking forward to traveling around Europe during the many (many, many, many) school holidays.  For the fall break, we decided to explore Provence. There are a lot of amazing things to see just a short drive from where we are staying, so we set off to find them.

These day trips were (mostly) great – but it was always enlightening to hear the kid version of what we had just seen. Some days it was like they had been in a totally different places than JM and I had.

We visited Vaison la Romaine, a town with a bridge built two thousand years ago by the Romans (it withstood a recent flood that wiped out all the modern bridges) and a fabulous Roman amphitheater. But for the girls, the best part was the old Roman toilets “all in a row”.

Adult Pick: 1st Century Bridge at Vaison la Romain

Kid Pick: Roman Toilets at Vaison la Romaine

We visited a beautiful and historic stone overhang thing (not quite a cave) where a famous author used to write  letters.  That night, the kids couldn’t stop talking about the very HUGE mushroom they saw beside the parking lot.

Kid Pick: Cool Mushroom

We went to the Grotte de la Cocalière, a truly amazing cave with incredible stalactites and stalagmites reflected in perfectly still water. The next day they wrote a letter to their cousin in Oregon and it was all about the little train that took us back to the parking lot at the end of the cave walk.

Adult Pick: Stalactites and Stalagmites

Kid Pick: The train at the end of the cave tour

It is nice that when things don’t go as planned, the kids can find something to else to do very easily. We planned to visit a Troglodyte Village in Bollene. The Routard recommended it for children – and how can you not love cavemen houses? But when we got there we found out that it was temporarily closed for safety reasons.  So we wandered around the medieval part of town and the girls found a pile of leaves to jump in and had a fantastic time. (JM liked the 11th-century church behind the leaf pile.)

Kid Pick: Pile of Leaves. Adult Pick: 11th Century Church in Background

More pictures from our fall day-trips in Provence are posted on the Kids and Castles Facebook page.

November 12, 2010   3 Comments

A Tale of Two Toy Castles

One of the biggest challenges when planning a year-long trip is figuring out what you’re going to bring with you.  We limited ourselves to what we could bring on the plane.  We checked 4 bags that were exactly 50 pounds plus a carry-on each.

One thing that got cut from the list was toys.  The girls each had their kid-sized backpacks and were allowed to fill those with whatever they wanted, but that was it.  All books, art supplies, stuffed animals, magnets, dolls, and other playthings had to fit in that one bag. We hoped this trip would be a good exercise in living with less stuff, and we definitely have less toys.

The children have not suffered.  The house we’re renting came with a stash of toys, and an amazing neighbour from the village lent us a stash of her daughters’ Playmobils one really rainy day.

They’re also being creative.  They learn about living in an earth-friendly way at school, so have decided to “reuse” as much of our garbage as I will let them keep. They have a box full of old bottles, boxes, toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, and more. Yesterday they made this creation:

The Garbage Castle

It’s hard to see in the picture, but their garbage castle has towers, ramparts, a stable for the horses, and even a drawbridge!

I did plan to pick up a few small things for them here, so I’m always on the lookout for small, affordable, interesting and time consuming toys. I found this in the museum gift store at Les Baux-de-Provence that seemed like it would be good.

Paper Castle Kit

It looked like a fun project for the girls to do. In reality it turned into a time-consuming project for ME. There were 93 separate pieces that had to be cut out with scissors, the paper was heavy, the glue didn’t stick, and the tape we had was not good. And it took even longer because of all the “help” the girls gave me.

Paper Castle Finished

But I’m proud of my castle, and I will partager (share) it with the kids now that I’m done.

November 1, 2010   4 Comments

Puppet Violence

We have been introduced to Guignol, a French puppet from the early 1800s. Guignol’s founder was a dentist who made his money by selling pain relievers to people who had their teeth pulled – the teeth pulling itself was free.  Talk about misaligned economic incentives!

A Guignol puppet show was playing in one of the local villages, so we took the girls and went to check it out. It was a traveling show with two people – one puppeteer and one other person who took the tickets and sold stuff at intermission. Apparently they visit more than 50 villages a year to do the show. They set up their tent, put up some posters, and the show was ready.

The kids loved the show.  Most of the humor seemed to come from using words wrong. For example, Guignol the puppet was going to visit Madam Le Barrone, but he said “Let’s go see Madame Champignon” (french for mushroom) and the kids would yell “NON! Madame LE BARRONE!!”  He’d do that over and over and over.  The kids never got tired of the joke.

The Famous Guignol

By the end of the show all the kids were so into it that they’d run up to the stage to point out what direction to look for a missing puppet. It was very loud but pretty fun.  I followed most of the plot, which was very simple.  I even caught one of the jokes when Guignol was leaving: “Au revoir. “A demain.” “A de-pied.” (Good-bye. Until tomorrow – but “main” also means hand. A de-pied is nonsense, but pied means foot.)

It was a charming little play for the most part, but then Guignol, our play’s hero, came out with a HUGE stick and started beating the crap out of the bad guy. The bad puppet spent the rest of the show lying there like he was dead.

Apparently 200-year old french puppets aren’t politically correct about violent behavior.

October 11, 2010   2 Comments

Lunch: Part of the School Curriculum?

Diane mentioned in a previous post that our kids can’t take lunch to school. However, lunch is provided if you pay for it.  Here is last week’s menu at the cantine (pronounced like canteen):

Tuesday: Lentil salad with shallots, veal “‘paupiette”, rice, cheese, seasonal fruits

A few observations:

  1. Every meal is at least a four course meal
  2. There is emphasis on marrying a variety of tastes, and an obvious effort is put into making the meals wholesome, well-balanced and nutritious
  3. The kids love it even though it’s NOT hot dogs or mac and cheese
  4. This costs only 2.20 Euros per meal (about $3)
  5. The school lunch break is  1 ½  hours long

L was telling me about her lunch on Monday, with a huge smile on her face while rubbing her belly:  “C’était vraiment bon et j’en ai demandé trois fois!” (It was really good and so I asked for three servings!).  Need I say more?

I was listening to a radio interview with a dietitian the other day.  The topic was school canteens, and the quality of the food being served there.

The dietitian on the radio had quite a different perspective than I have.  To start, he was concerned that meal quality was going downhill at an alarming rate, and wanted to petition the local government to tighten the quality standards.  But then, he said something that summarizes it all. “Nutritious food choices and good taste are learned at a young age.  It is therefore important for schools to properly develop children’s taste buds by serving consistently high quality and nutritious meals at the canteen.”

Everyone knows that food is a serious matter in France.  We didn’t realize it would be part of the school curriculum though.

Personally, I wish I could eat at the school canteen myself!

October 4, 2010   8 Comments

The Joy of Travelling with Kids

Mostly I think that traveling with the kids is great. They experience the world in a whole different way, which gives a completely different travel experience. On our last visit to a medieval village, JM and I were looking at this interesting church  which was half really old and half super-duper-amazingly-incredibly old. Meanwhile the girls were completely fascinated by the pigeons living in the church steeple. It was fun to watch them watch the pigeons.

Church or pigeons? Depends how old you are.

Then there are those OTHER TIMES.

When we first arrived we rented a car at the Lyon airport that was big enough for all our year-away luggage – and it was expensive. Once we were settled we decided to do a quick trip to return that car to Lyon, then take the train back to Valence where we could rent a smaller, cheaper car until we could buy something. The girls LOVE trains. This would be a fun family outing. We grabbed the girl’s doudous (stuffed animals) and the DSes and headed out.  There was a TGV (French high-speed train) leaving Lyon at 11:30, so we left at 8:30 to give ourselves extra time. Fun day with trains and kids, here we come.

We did hit a bit of traffic on the way to Lyon, so used up the extra time, but were still in good shape.  But then the vomiting began. We immediately formed a new electronics rule – NO DSes IN THE CAR!

Vomiting when you have a barf bag is really no big deal. You fold up the bag, toss it, wash your face (brush if you’re lucky) and almost nobody notices. Vomiting without a barf bag a VERY different matter.  So I always travel with a barf bag.

But not that day.  That day I didn’t have the barf bag. Didn’t have a change of clothes. Didn’t have any rags, paper towels or Kleenex.  Didn’t even have a bottle of water. I just had a pukey child with pukey clothes in a pukey booster seat with a pukey doudou.

We got most of the mess cleaned up – enough to keep going to the airport. I put Z in my sweater which was a sort-of dress for her, put all the vomitty stuff in the backpack, and we made it to the train just in time.

First TGV ride.

JM had arranged to pick up the new rental car at the “Valence TGV station”. We got to Valence and grabbed lunch, then found the Avis counter at the train station to pick up the car.  But apparently the TGV we were on didn’t go to the Valence TGV station, it went to the Valence Ville station. We had to grab another train – leaving in 2 minutes of course, so we had to rush the girls through another train station – to get to where our rental car actually was.

We finally got the new rental car and were less than an hour away from the house. Then we hit THE TRAFFIC JAM.  It took us two hours to travel 10 kms (6 miles)!!!  And remember that new NO DSes IN THE CAR RULE? It didn’t last for more than 3 hours.  The kids needed something to keep them busy while we sat on the road doing absolutely nothing viagra chez pfizer.

Traffic Jam on the A7.

It turned out a paper truck had turned over on the freeway.

Paper that caused the traffic jam – cleaned up by the time we drove by.

We did get home that day – very late, very hungry, and very smelly. We will get better at this. To start, the car now has a stock of barf bags ready to go for next time.

September 21, 2010   2 Comments

The Kids’ Perspective: 3 Days In

Both L and Z really like the money in France.  They think it’s pretty and like all the different colors – just like Junior Monopoly. They asked why American money is all the same.  I don’t know the answer.  Anybody?

They went to the “downtown” of our village with JM to see if the ice cream place was open – of course it was the one day of the week that it’s closed down. But they got to explore some very cool medieval architecture, narrow twisty roads, saw a horse and rider go by, and play on the playground.  What did they like the best?  The Grasshopper!!!

Grasshopper in Provence

They went to a neighboring village and there they saw their first castle of the trip – where they also did find ice cream. That was cool for them, although they got there 20 minutes before it closed so didn’t get to go inside.  But they had their ice cream so they were o.k. with that.

The First Castle of the Trip

My children are impressed with the oddest things.  I will embrace it as “the wonder of a child”.

September 1, 2010   2 Comments

Cool Balloon

Last night we had a combo birthday/farewell party at our place, and the amazing artists from Adventure Balloons were here. They could do anything – motorcycles, giraffes, fish, even a totally cute flower ring.  So JM asked for an Eiffel Tower.

Balloon Eiffel Tower

Balloon Eiffel Tower

August 22, 2010   Comments Off on Cool Balloon