even daddies have rough days

Today Dave had kind of a rough day. On the way to school this morning, the kids decided to ask him a bunch of questions in French, and when he replied, they roared with laughter and made fun of his accent.

"Le pauvre" as they say in French. (Poor thing!)


the best surprise ever

A few minutes ago, I started doing my blog rounds (i.e. checking all my favorite blogs for the day), and I clicked here.

After you click there, too, you will understand why I have mascara stains on my face and a permanent grin.


13 Years Ago Today . . . .

This is what Dave and I were doing. Happy Anniversary, honey!

Some things that have changed in 13 years:

- Dave is more patient with messes around the house.
- I am better at cleaning up messes around the house.
- Dave has forgotten how to speak Chinese.
- We have both learned to speak French.
- Our thirst to travel is even greater than before.
- Dave's hair isn't as puffy.
- My teeth aren't as crooked.
- We are now both glad that Dave didn't allow me to register for wedding china.

Things that haven't changed in 13 years:

- Our loyalty to Colgate toothpaste.
- Our pots and pans.
- Dave's love of sports.
- My love of shoes.
- My hair is still crazy in the morning.
- Dave plays the music too loud in the car.
- The way Dave gently lays his dirty socks on the edge of a chair rather then putting them in the hamper.
- How every day with Dave feels like Christmas morning--exciting and wonderful!

Alexi Gruss Circus

Yesterday I went with the kids and our friends to Monaco to a "spectacle" (speck-tack) of horses. Besides having to leave the show three times because I was recovering from a little gastro-intestinal as a result of eating too much chocolate cake in one day, we had a great time!

Things started off really well when we found parking right across from the arena. The lot was full for cars, but for trucks and camping cars, there were 7 places left. Because we took the Trafic, we were allowed in! Hooray!The show involved a lot of beautiful horses performing tricks, as well as people jumping around on the backs of horses and other acrobatics. We weren't allowed to take pictures, but I swiped this one from the website of Alexi Gruss (he and his family do the show).
After the show the kids fed the horses and played with this big whip. They even got some cotton candy (what a treat!).


How Celebrities Are Aging

I hope not everything here has to be about France. Anyway, if it does, French people get plastic surgery too.

Go here to read an article that has a fantastic slideshow of various celebrities that have - in some cases - grossly overdone it on plastic surgery. I think it's safe to say that Joan of Arc - I mean Joan VAN Ark - is one of them.



Is this just going to keep happening every year?


Sharks in Solana Beach

This happened this morning about a kilometer from the beach below our condo. You can read the article here or watch the video here.

SOLANA BEACH, Calif. - A shark attacked and killed a swimmer Friday morning who was training in the ocean off San Diego County with a group of local triathletes, authorities said. The shark was believed to be a great white.

A 66-year-old man was swimming with others at Tide Beach around 7 a.m. when he was attacked, according to a statement on the Solana Beach city Web site.

The man, whose identity was not immediately released, was taken to the Fletcher Cove Park lifeguard station north of San Diego for emergency treatment but was pronounced dead at the scene, the statement said.

I didn't even know there were sharks anywhere near San Diego. Turns out it's the first such attack in the immediate area since 1956. This will really help drive up property values.

Sam Was Screaming

We were lucky this year because our exchange family has a huge, beautiful garden (yard), which is uncommon in this part of France. Now that spring is in full swing, the kids are really enjoying spending time outside. It's great.

Earlier this afternoon I heard Sam screaming my name over and over and over. I thought maybe he'd really hurt himself. Instead, I went outside to find that he'd just gotten stuck climbing on top of the swingset in the garden. He was NOT happy. Sadly he got happier by the time I returned with the camera. All's well now. He's "sain et sauve" as they say here: safe and sound.

Get Ready For Halloween

Dave here. Halloween is only six months away, so it's never too early to start planning your costume. In the spirit of Martha Stewart, here's a pretty little idea for you that's all the rage this season.

Cotton candy wig, Target: $15. Fake nose, Target: $6. Clown suit: $20 at Goodwill. Big red thing from some store: $5. Fake blood, Target: $5.


Some Great Photos

A few years ago Dave worked with a guy in Scottsdale who is a great amateur photographer. He sent Dave a few photos once and Dave liked them so much that he still has them on his computer more than three years later.

A lot of his photos are online now. You can view them here. Our favorite is one taken in London, called "Twiggy Meets Ben". But some of the photos he took in France, Paris to be exact, are just as good. Here's an example.

Dave's friend is working to monetize the site so you can actually buy the photos, but for now they're just to be viewed. The guy is very talented. Hope you enjoy them.

Two years ago

Roughly two years ago, this is what I was doing: Feeding my last baby a lemon to see if his face would pucker up in a funny way so that we could take a picture.

Clearly I wore specs, which is no longer the case as I had laser surgery in March 2007. (Best thing ever!) When I look at pictures of me with glasses on, I just cringe.

My sister thought I had had an eyelift or something because the lady at the salon who waxes my eyebrows went a little crazy and I had a very high arch!

Two years later, that little baby runs around saying things like, "Dave, qu'est-ce que tu fait?" or "Donne-moi!" When he speaks to me in French, or when I speak to him and he understands, I am really, really pleased.

When this picture was taken, I couldn't have imagined I would be where I am now, doing what I am doing. Actually, that's kind of a lie, because we did imagine it, and we worked hard to make it happen. So maybe what I mean is, when this picture was taken, the idea was hidden somewhere inside, but hadn't quite been hatched yet.

So while this post is kind of random, I guess it is to say that life is full of wonderful opportunities and we should grab them any chance we can get. So if you are considering taking a chance by visiting or moving to another country, the sacrifice to make a small or big dream come true is totally worth it.


NOT so Big on the Pig*

On the road from Mougins to Cannes lives this pig. He is big, fat and hairy and has an enormous snout. Every time I see him I have to laugh because he lives on this little strip of land surrounded by totally developed property.

My friend said the village has purchased the land and the Mayor is going to kick out the pig and make a pretty park-like space for everyone to enjoy. Except the pig. He's not invited.

*A few years ago, Dave had the "Piggly Wiggly" grocery store chain as a client for something or other. They gave him a t-shirt...

Once again Blogger is having photo uploading troubles. That's so annoying! So I have a post, but it will have to wait.



So Dave and I were chatting with our friend today and Dave tries to say that something "makes him sick." He used an expression that literally means to feel sick, when our friend pulled out a new verb: gerber.

is slang for vomit. As in barf, puke, upchuck, toss your cookies, yell at your shoes, bow to the porcelain god, etc.

So the question is, did the French invent their verb gerber after they fed the baby food to their children, or was Gerber trying to be funny?


They're not your onions

"Ce n'est pas tes oignons." = Mind Your Own Business! (seriously, that's what it means.)

I love it. I love France. I even love the lady at Auchan who felt the need to scold my son for pouting because I wouldn't buy him some useless thing. I guess she doesn't have any onions of her own.

Learned Something New

Today we went to the bank. After nine months in France, we decided we should probably have a bank account. I think when we went into our closet last night and saw thousands of Euros scattered around on the floor Dave figured we should open an account. This is 2008, afterall. (Abby said she was getting a t-shirt down, and the envelopes full of cash fell.)

We arrived at the bank with a friend who was going to help with the process and waited for our appointment with Sebastian, who was running a wee bit late.

When he arrived, he reached out to shake Dave's hand, and Dave responded, "I'm Dave, nice to meet you" or something like that, in French. When Sebastian shook my hand, I said, "I'm Stasha."

Our friend quickly informed us that we don't introduce ourselves with our first name, but rather as Monsieur or Madame Ashton. This makes sense, of course, and I'm sure we do this at certain occasions in the U.S., but I am hard pressed to think of what occasions those might be.

I almost always introduce myself either as Stasha or Stasha Ashton, but can't think of a circumstance where I have called myself "Mrs. Ashton," except maybe on the phone with a customer service representative and the account is in Dave's name.

Needless to say, I am happy to have learned the correct way to introduce myself to a stranger, and I expect from now on that all of your correspondence to me will be addressed to Madame Ashton. hee hee.


Ducks Prefer the French

Every year since 2004 we've had the same "duck couple" visit our home in Phoenix. They fly in together around mid-March, hang out at the pool for a few days while gorging themselves on bread the children give them, and occasionally (this happened in 2006 and 2007) they'll walk into our house if we leave a bread trail and give them some space. Here's a picture of the kids feeding the ducks in 2006.This year we hoped the ducks would visit our exchange family, because we were sure that if they did they would be well taken care of. And sure enough, in March they showed up right on schedule. Jean Paul sent an email to Dave with pictures:
Then yesterday, another email came from Jean Paul, with pictures. They (the ducks) must have been really well taken care of in March, because they've never come back in April before, and never with NINE BABIES in tow! Looks like our exchange family knows how to take care of the ducks better than we do. To get them to make nine babies is quite an accomplishment! The French can make you fall in love like that, I guess.



View Larger Map

Dear Brad and Angelina,

I just found out where you are going to live in France, and needless to say, I'm not very happy about it. 2 hours and 3 minutes from Mougins?! That's hardly feasible to sustain a best friend relationship. I mean, unless you send the jet to pick up me and the kids for after school playdates.

I was really looking forward to becoming best friends, but you just HAD to find a "small, calm village" far away from the glitz of the French Riviera.

I don't think I have anything else to say to you two. You have wounded me too deeply.



Rain, Rain, Go Away

I can hardly believe that two days ago we were sitting on the beach getting sunburned. Today it is rainy, windy and UGLY. I felt like doing nothing all day long. It is 7:41 p.m. and the only thing I accomplished today is taking a shower. Dave didn't even get THAT far!


Meeting French for Awhile

With French for Awhile

Kids Playing in the Freezing Water

Sophie & Mailys

Yesterday while Dave’s brother Brian and his family drove across the border into Italy, Dave and I went with the kids to visit Pascaline and her kids at La Croissette in Cannes, for an afternoon at the beach.

After we’d been there about 20 minutes she pointed to a family playing about fifty feet away and asked if we thought they were from the US or England. "I think they’re English," she said. But they were tossing around a football so Dave knew right away they were Americans (the subtle things we pick up on). Then, as I looked their way, it suddenly struck me that I’d seen them before – but not in real life. “Hey Dave,” I asked. “Isn’t that French for Awhile?” He looked down the beach and quickly agreed: it was definitely them!

French for Awhile is an American family from Washington D.C. that arrived here about the same time we did, for many of the same reasons. I started following their blog shortly after we arrived: Dave and I both enjoy it. They live in a town called Le Rouret (about 20 minutes from us) and while we were quite familiar with them through Blogland and them with us for the same reason, we’d never directly communicated.

So it was quite a surprise to see them fifty feet away on a stretch of beach that extends for several kilometers in either direction! We walked over and introduced ourselves and talked for a long time standing there on the beach. They’re interesting people with nice children and we were happy to talk with some Americans that share so much of the same experiences we’re having. Pascaline even took a couple of photos for us. You can read their thoughts about meeting us on their blog.

We talked for long enough that last night when we got home Dave realized he’d sustained a bad sunburn on his face. But it was worth it, he said. Thanks to Blogland for the experience and – perhaps – for the sunburn!



Dave and Abby

One of the great benefits of this experience in France is that Dave has been able to spend a lot of time with the kids. He is the one that takes them to school every morning, sets up play dates and encourages interaction with random children at the park.

I have loved watching him care for the kids in a way that wasn't possible before, as he was always busy traveling from Phoenix to California, or making spreadsheets. (That's an inside joke, as when is my husband NOT making a spreadsheet?).

I know that the opportunity of having Dave be around all the time can only last so long, so I am cherishing every minute of it. I hope the kids are, too, because one day life will have to go back to "normal" and Daddy won't be able to pick them up for lunch or drive them to swimming.

So "chapeau" (hats off) to Dave for providing us with this opportunity in another country and for being involved in enjoying every minute of it!

More Cake

This morning we celebrated cousin Ethan's first birthday. And when I say morning, I mean, we were eating cake at 9:30 a.m.!

We tried to make the cake last night, but the baby was so tired and ready for bed, that we couldn't justify frosting and eating the cake without the birthday boy. We told the kids we would do it tomorrow, and they took that promise very seriously.

My sister-in-law brought the cake mix, frosting and sugar decorations from the states, and I had a great time decorating it.

If you are in the PACA region and are looking for ready made cake mixes, try the Galeries Lafayette at CAP 3000 in the food section, or the "English" food section at Champion. My friend Gina bought some frosting at GL, but if you can't find it, you can buy powdered sugar at the grocery store and make it yourself with some butter and milk.

Happy cake making!


We Scattered Like Rabbits

We are enjoying our "Spring Break" taking the kids to some of the sites we have enjoyed on several occasions with our visitors. Today it was sunny, so many other people were out doing the same thing!

While enjoying St. Paul de Vence , the kids decided to climb up onto a wall that was clearly blocked off by a metal gate. Three of our kids and three of the cousins were gleefully running along the wall when a well-meaning French lady let them have it and they all came shuffling back down.

I just stood where I was, which was a bit ahead of the wall, and let Dave say his apologies to the woman (and others who decided to add their two cents) doing the scolding.

It reminded me of the time when I was a kid when my Dad told us to climb over a barrier at the Grand Canyon so he could get a clear picture of us kids without the bars in the way. I distinctly remember a woman shouting at us to get away from the edge and "who's children are these???"

We all scattered like rabbits, as to avoid the scolding. If I remember correctly, my Mom ignored the whole thing because she was mortified, and I'm sure my Dad was probably laughing and kept on taking pictures.


So I haven't made it to any cooking classes at the Moulin de Mougins, but I did learn how to make this yummy Tabouleh, a dish which originates from Lebanon*.

We chopped up a bunch of parsley in really tiny bits, then did the same with tomatoes, mixed it together with semoule (semolina, I think), olive oil, some lemon juice and salt.

You can find a more complicated recipe here, and enjoy it with some hummous and pitas!

*Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years, in a region called "Greater Syria," until 1918 when it became part of the "French Mandate of Syria" following WWI . On September 1, 1920, France formed the State of Greater Lebanon as one of several ethnic enclaves within Syria. Learn more about Lebanon .

A Little Helper

I do a lot of ironing here in France, which has taught me a few things. First of all, you can't iron everything. I've never tried to iron anything expensive, like velvet or cashmere, but I have tried to iron some t-shirts from Wal-Mart or Target which have logos on them like "Fruit Loops" and "Pink Floyd."

When you get in the habit of ironing, you just iron everything. Kitchen towels, socks, underwear. Seriously, underwear.

At some point the iron got something sticky on it, and started collecting tiny bits of fabric from certain (above named) t-shirts. Which leads me to something else I have recently learned: Martha Stewart does not know EVERYTHING. Because I did exactly what her website said to remove sticky stuff from irons and it did not work!

Finally after about two months of asking, surfing the web and trying things like rubbing the iron across newspaper, I found this product!
If you live in France, you can find it at Auchan in the appliance section near where they sell the refrigerators, sewing machines, and, well, irons, of course! It was kind of stinky, but worked like a dream! Happy Ironing!


I'm Alive

I know that sometimes when I don't write for a while that my Mom wonders what I am doing and if everything is okay. So here is a photo of me in the bathroom (that Dave snapped while I was getting ready for our date). Hopefully this will show that:

1. I am alive
2. I am healthy
3. I occasionally straighten my curly hair
4. That occasionally I clean.

Oh, you thought that windex was for my hair? Because that is a totally normal place for a bottle of windex to be sitting while you do your hair.

where can i find the ass?

We are having a rainy spell, which makes it hard to take nine kids sight-seeing. So today we went to Biot to see the glass making, and then to Carrefour.

Carrefour was, as usual, total chaos. I wanted to buy a pack of playing cards so we could play "400" tonight. We have been playing cards with French people, so we call the names of the cards by their names in French.

un - dix (1-10)
valet (jack)
dame (queen)
roi (king)
ace (ace)

So I asked an employee (in French) where I could find the "cartes de jeux," and when he hesitated, I elaborated by saying, "les cartes normal, avec the ace, the roi . . "

Although this all happened in French, he started to laugh, because the way you pronounce "Ace" in french is "ass." Clearly he knew I wasn't French, so to hear me say that must have sounded funny to him!

Crepes at Carcassonne

If you ever go to Carcassonne, get a crepe with sugar and chantilly (whipped cream) or with Chocolate/Nutella with Chantilly. They cool off the crepe, and put the chantilly inside. Yum.


Boys vs. Girls

Here is a classic example which displays the different ways boys and girls handle sight-seeing:

Dog Pile

Princesses at Carcassonne
Dave's brother and family came for a visit to France for two weeks during their spring break in Nevada.

From Sunday night until Tuesday night, Dave's brother and his wife went to Switzerland. Four of their five children stayed here with us, three boys and one girl. The night they were to come home, I decided they should all have a bath/shower.

I managed to get Ellie into the bath after some prodding, and when she was finished, I told the boys that they needed to choose a bath or a shower.

Braeden's response was: "I already took a shower for this vacation."

It's hard to argue with that logic.


Thinking Out Loud

On our four hour drive home from Carcasonne last week, my sister-in-law asked me if I could live here forever.

The answer is, I don't know.

I love the excitement and mystery of navigating a new world in a new language. But when the language is conquered (is that possible?), will the lack of mystery take the excitement out of living in France?

I've been reflecting on her question for the last few days, and I've come to this conclusion: I could live just about anywhere and be totally happy as long as I had

1) My family with me
2) The ability to feel in control of my life
3) Friends

One of the best things about this experience in France is the friends we have made here. I'm constantly amazed at the importance of close personal relationships and how one friend can make a world of difference. When it is time to go back to the U.S., it is the people I will miss the most.


Do you like games?

If you like card games, we have recently played these two games with our friends. You can play Mille Bornes with kids as young as five. For tarot, kids need to be around 12 to understand.

Mille Bornes

French Tarot

French Tarot Cards


Spring is springing all over Mougins . . . luckily for us, the garden is filled with beautiful flowering trees and bushes, like this Cherry tree just of the balcony in the backyard.

We have even put away the winter coats and today I wore shoes without socks! Right now it is 8:43 p.m. and the kids are still outside jumping on the trampoline.

We are really, really happy here.
click to enlarge

This truck has been working on a neighbor's house. We giggle every time we see it.

The kids are eating dinner while I enjoy some time on the computer.

Five year old cousin Jake:

"If you don't like tater tots, you're the most stupidest person in the world."


Something crazy is going on with blogger, but here are some pictures at
1. The 2000 year-old Roman amphitheater in Orange
2. The Palais des Papes in Avignon
3. The Pont du Gard, a 2000 year-old aqueduct and bridge, near Nimes

All really great sites!

This is Dave's older brother and his wife. And their five children. We are so excited they are here visting!