i love france, 28 june 2008

Today I leave France with Abby and Carter to return to Arizona. Dave has been there for a day already. Our home exchange is over. Like almost all good things in life, it passed by too quickly. We have all been transformed by this experience.

As I was getting ready to go this morning, I ran across this email that Dave wrote to me in March, about the time we started to realize that a year in Mougins just might not be long enough. All blogs must end and I think this one should end here, with this. I hope you enjoyed reading it. I loved living it.

I Love France
I love the language, the food, the culture, and the history. I love the music and the art and the architecture and the whole way of life. But mostly I love the people, because almost nothing is good if there's no one there to appreciate it with you.

I have always loved Paris. The way it shines in the light at night, and all the people that walk the old streets no matter what time it is. I love the medieval stone bridges that separate the Île de la Cité from the Left Bank. I love the way the Gare du Nord is a world underground, teeming with French people going in all directions. I love the tunnels under the Champs Elysees that bring you up to the sunlight, staring straight at the Arc de Triomphe.

I love Christmas in France. The extra white lights in Paris and in every village, waiting for Père Noël. I love the warmth inside the Galleries Lafayette while the cold drizzle falls on the cobblestones outside, just near the Opera House. I love the pride that the people of Provence take in the 13 desserts that represent Jesus and his disciples. I love that Père Noël visits so many French children on Christmas Eve: he can come even when the children are awake. I love that after Père Noël has gone and the presents have been opened, parents stay up late holding each other, sipping champagne in front of the fireplace, talking about their children.

I love Provence. I love the narrowness of the roads, the cypress trees that grow wild around every corner, and the black and red and white road signs that tell me when I leave one town and enter another. I love the way the street lights shine on the wet storefronts when I drive through the village during a rainstorm. I love the parents of my children's friends, the children who teach my children this beautiful language. I love the teachers, who treated my children with respect and care even when they were strangers they couldn't talk to.

I love that so many French people seem to care more about understanding the world than about the size of their houses. I love the way they accept American films as films, not as American films. I love the way they embrace American music and English music and African music. I love when French musicians sing about love and sex and loss and death and longing, because it reassures me that they are just like me.

I love that in France you can say "ça va" for everything. I love how any adverb in English is the same in French, but with a "ment" on the end. I love the way so many French get a little frightened when they get to speak English, but are so excited to have the opportunity. I love the way their faces darken when someone won't even try to speak French in France. I love the way their brows furrow when they talk about the English. I love the pride in my wife's face because she knows it's only a matter of time before she conquers the language. I love the way she sounds when she's speaking to her friends. I love her smile when she's just spent the afternoon with one of her friends. I love the way she rescues me when I can't understand: quickly, quietly, on the side.

I love the way the sea is so blue from Cannes to Nice - more than the ocean - and that the beach is nearly everywhere. I love that I can stare at the snow-capped mountains while laying in the sunshine on the beach. I love the stone houses with the bright blue and yellow shutters, and the flowerboxes on the streets and in the windows. I love the roundabouts with olive trees in the center, the mimosa trees that turn the hills yellow in February, the stone villages perched on the hills, and the tiny streets surrounded by medieval houses.

I love that my daughter's class, all nine-year olds, can go on a trip for two weeks together as a class, to a ski resort. I love that every school has a day care so working parents can pick up their children as late as 6:30 every night. I love that each child has her own cubby outside the classroom, so you can drop off playdate invitations anytime you want. I love that there is no school on Wednesdays. I love that I get to talk with other parents as I drop my children off at school, planning our weekends. I love that I must walk the little ones to their classroom every day, and that their teachers are there to say hello and goodbye.

I love that when my children are sick they can see the doctor immediately, and that the doctor is one of our closest friends. I love that a prescription can be filled immediately and that there is no drive-through at the pharmacy. I love that there is no wait at the Emergency Room and that you don't have to fill out forms before you get treatment. I love that our French friends often call us on the phone at home, just to say hello and to chat. I love that I must sometimes ask my 7-year old daughter what she just said because her French is so much better than mine, and that she replies matter-of-factly, never rolling her eyes. I love that my two-year old son says French words and English words and doesn't realize there is a difference.

I love the way you must pay for plastic bags at the grocery store, because they want to discourage their use. I love that so many cars get good gas mileage and that there is not one Hummer or Excursion in the entire country. I love the way they hate American arrogance and wastefulness but admire everything else. I love the way no one carries guns on the street or shoots up high schools. I love that they don't care if their politicians have an affair. I love that in France you're never more than two months away from a two-week vacation.

There are some things I don't like, but those things are so small that why bother? The beauty of France is so deep that to get to know it could take a lifetime. I love that when you're in France everything outside of it just doesn't seem to matter all that much. I love that so much of what I love has always been here, waiting for me. I'm glad I've found it.


airplanes and drawings

I guess I'm the guest writer for today because Stasha is on an airplane with Abby and Carter, and with Jeremy, the son of our good friends the Hussons (a tiny bit about them here, with pics of Sophie and Mailys, who were inseparable in Mougins). She arrives tonight and I can't wait to walk around our house together.

Sophie spent the night at her friend Piper's house so I haven't seen her since yesterday. She calls her "PEEPair" now, in deference to the fact that all of her American friends must now have a French pronunciation to their name. Yesterday she also received a picture and photo via email from her friend Claire in Mougins. See above. She needs to make a drawing in reply, I think.


A few "Dave thoughts" based on 24 hours back in Arizona:
  • Gas is $10 a gallon in Mougins, but it hurt much more to pay $4.12 per gallon here. How can gas cost $4.12 a gallon?
  • There seem to be more "for sale" signs up than ever before. I haven't seen any buyers.
  • The roads here are really wide. I love them.
  • I saw three Hummers today. I hate you, Hummers.
  • The land on the Northeast corner of 67th Avenue and Happy Valley Road has been transformed since we left. There's a Wal-Mart "Neighborhood Market" there now. What is that?
  • Since I still don't have an ipod, I've spent a lot of time with iTunes, listening to the music I haven't heard in months. Like the Goo Goo Dolls. And Keane. And John Mayer. I still listen to plenty of Blink 182 and Metallica, but it's the gay stuff that I've missed. John Mayer is a genius.
  • We lived in a beautiful house in Mougins. It was a wonderful place to spend a year. But there is nothing like being in your own house. It's just something that feels like home.

a gift

On Monday afternoon Sophie and Sam said goodbye to their teachers, Brigitte and Sylvian, whom we have each grown to love with all our hearts. They took Sophie and Sam when they spoke no French and treated them like everyone else - with love and patience - while they learned. Now, 10 months later, they speak in French always: to each other, to Dave and I, even in their sleep. They have been transformed in a way I can honestly say we never dreamed of.

When it's over, how do you thank the people that made all the difference? Dave and I both cried as we tried to express our gratitude verbally. But in the end we gave them each a letter:

Dear Sylvian/Brigitte:
The greatest gift a parent can receive is for someone to make a difference in the lives of their children. Your love, patience, and kindness this year has changed Samuel/Sophie in ways that may benefit them for a lifetime. We can never repay the gift you have given us. The best we can do is to be grateful, and to never forget you. We can promise that.
With much love,
Dave & Stasha

After we left we heard Sam sobbing in the back of the car.
"qu'est-ce qui a, Buddy?" I asked through my tears.
"Maman," he asked, his voice shaking. "Est-ce qu'on peut venir voir Sylvian le premiere Samedi apres on retourne a Mougins?"

I promised him that we would. We'll probably never do it because Sam will forget, but I can promise you that Dave and I never will. Not ever.

the phone was busy

This is Dave and I'm back in Phoenix. Stop by the house if you want to say hi. I expect no one will but it's too hot to open the door anyway. Phoenix is like a furnace.

When I walked in the house last night we had 34 messages on our answering machine, so I got out a piece of paper to write down them all, just so I could return the calls of all those trying so hard to reach us. Here's the list (RM stands for Recorded Message):
  1. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  2. RM Mortgage. I can lower my interest rate. Final notice.
  3. RM Health Care. I can lower my HC costs to $100 or less per month.
  4. RM Auto Warranty. I can get a great deal.
  5. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  6. RM Credit cards. I can get lower rates and a fabulous new card!
  7. RM Auto Warranty. I can get a great deal.
  8. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  9. RM from Congressman Trent Price. Who is that?
  10. Hang-up
  11. RM Mortgage. I can lower my interest rate. Final notice.
  12. RM Credit cards. This time from Heather, but still a recording.
  13. RM free digital satellite available. Not from dish network.
  14. RM Mortgage. A different company. I've been pre-qualified.
  15. Call for exchange family from a friend in France, in May. Didn't leave a number.
  16. Hang-up
  17. Hang-up
  18. RM Operators are standing by to...Deleted.
  19. Hang-up
  20. Call for exchange family from a friend in France, in May. Didn't leave a number.
  21. Hang-up
  22. RM "My girlfriend and you..."
  23. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  24. RM Operators are standing by to...
  25. RM free digital satellite available. Not from dish network.
  26. RM "All operators are busy".
  27. Hang-up
  28. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  29. Hang-up
  30. RM Mortgage. I can lower my interest rate. Final notice.
  31. Human calling for Stasha. Alma - do we want her to clean our house?
  32. UPS Kevin - delivering a package for Leanette. He had the wrong address.
  33. RM "For Dave Ashton", then it hung up by itself
  34. RM Bill Bennett. For Las Vegas vacations.
The population of the US is nearly 310 million, making it the 3rd largest country in the world. As far as I can tell there is hardly a living person in the whole place. Was it this way a year ago?


25 juin 2008

10.30 p.m. The bags are packed, the clothes are laid out, and the kids are (kind of) asleep. EasyJet flight to Paris leaves at 6:15 tomorrow morning. 110 degree weather in my near future.


23 juin 2008

I just took Dave to the airport in Nice. He took three huge suitcases, one computer bag*, one tub of Pet Shops, one Thomas the Train suitcase, one Bratz suitcase and two of the cutest, saddest little francophones in the world. more later . . .

*please note he has once again forgotten the cord to his laptop.


Well, summer has officially arrived on the Cote d'Azur . . . and it's really hot! Everyone kept telling me that it would happen "d'un coup" (suddenly), and they were right! Wednesday was the first nice day we've seen in a long time, and we celebrated by going to the beach (Plage du Midi).

But since then, I've had tons of work to do, so now while everyone is at the beach or in the pool, I am busy packing the bags, getting rid of the food, throwing away the broken toys and deciding which school items are worth keeping for souvenirs.

The kids were lucky enough to go swimming today, and I am lucky enough to have half of them sleeping over a friend's house so I can finish organizing the luggage.

Tonight we ate takeout from Al Charq, my favorite food here. If you are ever near Cannes (or Paris), you MUST eat there. Dave goes home on Monday . . . wow. More tomorrow.


The other day I wrote my first French cheque. Seems a little silly to be excited about something so normal, but checks are a little different in every country, so it's funny to be an adult asking for help to fill out a check because you don't know what to do. I remember this same experience in England, asking the gardener how to fill out the check, and she laughed at me.

I also found this interesting because in the US I almost never write checks. I use my debit card, my credit card, the bills are on auto-pay, or I fill out an e-pay online and the bank sends the money to the recipient.

I'll let you know when I use my debit card for the first time. I'm afraid to activate it, because I might be tempted to go shopping!

ready to go

After spending so much money on airline tickets, we decided we could save a little money by having Carter fly cargo. As you can see, he is all ready to go.

*no Carters were harmed for this photo.


Contre IKEA à Mougins

There are many things we love about France, as those who read have come to know. But there are some things about the US that we will probably always prefer. One of those things is shopping. There is no Target or Anthropologie here and the most interesting store in France might be Ikea. The closest one to us is in Toulon, about an hour away by car. But it didn't have to be that way.

Late last year the people and city council voted to reject a request by Ikea to build one of its huge stores right here in Mougins. Their reasoning was that Mougins is a quiet village and we don't need the distractions and traffic from all over the Cote d'Azur that an Ikea would bring. I love Ikea but can't disagree with the sentiment. You can see video of the townspeople's opposition above. And it worked. In the end it's worth the hour drive to not have an Ikea down the street, even if I do feel sad about it sometimes...

notre petit americains

Madame Brigitte with her class at the library, Oct 2007. Sophie is smiling, bottom row far right.

We were finally able to get our plane reservations sorted out. It cost almost $3000 to use our "free" tickets to get to and from Europe, and we have to spend a night in Amsterdam, but we now have seats to go back to Arizona. Oof! as they say here.

This morning Dave spoke to Sophie and Sam's teachers at school, because they must leave school before the end of the year (thanks again to United Airlines). Both their teachers - Brigitte and Sylvian, who we have grown to truly love - were very understanding and said they would plan a little send-off party for Sophie and Sam, their "petit americains".

We feel lucky to have had such good teachers for all of our children this year. They have had an enormous impact on the lives of our children. How do you repay someone for that?

it's a big night

Most of France is at a standstill starting in about an hour. Not because of the strike by the bus drivers in this area (the second one in about a month) but because France plays Italy in the Euro 2008 tournament. The winner of the match moves on to the quarterfinals; the loser is finished.

France and Italy border each other (the border with Italy is about 45 minutes from Mougins) and are generally considered among the three best soccer nations in the world (along with Brazil). And they don't like each other, particularly since two years ago at the World Cup final, which is considered by the French to be a catastrophe (see above and you can read what happened here). I'm not sure I could care less about tonight's match, but Dave will surely be watching. So will everyone else.


a challenge. with love, united airlines

Can you make this work?
Your outbound flight was in July 2007 from Phoenix to Paris via Washington Dulles, on United Airlines. You booked seats using "mileage plus miles" (i.e. "free" tickets). Even though the tickets were free you had to pay $700 in "taxes" to book your seats. When you booked United said to book a return in October 2007 (even though you weren't coming back until at least late June 2008) because they couldn't find any award seats on a flight from Paris to the US between June 13th and July 7th, 2008. So you booked to come back in October knowing you would change your return flight later, and you came to France. Because, they said, "more seats will open up." Now it's time to go back.

Your challenge is to now get back to the US using the return segment of your "free" ticket on United Airlines. You want to fly from Nice to Phoenix. The last day of school is July 3rd. Here are the rules you must follow:
  • If you don't fly by July 2nd United Airlines will cancel your tickets. All of them.
  • You can't fly out of Nice, even though it's 20 minutes from your house. You must instead fly out of Paris, which is 600 miles away. Of course United has multiple partners that fly from Nice, but they won't let you take one of their flights.
  • You must fly from Paris to Washington to Phoenix. If you instead fly from Paris to Washington to Chicago to Phoenix, or any other flight combination, you will pay a penalty.
  • There are no award seats available on flights from Paris to Dulles to Phoenix between June 13th and July 6th. Not one.
  • You can fly out of London instead and then go to Washington, but you must take a flight to London the night before, spend the night in a hotel with your children, and then leave early the next morning. The cost to do this is a $100 penalty levied by United Airlines, plus it costs $850 to fly to London from Nice. Per person.
  • You can fly out of Frankfurt to Washington, but you must take a flight to Frankfurt the night before, spend the night in a hotel with your children, and leave early the next morning. The cost to do this is a $100 penalty levied by United Airlines, plus it costs $963 to fly to Frankfurt from Nice. Per person. And the flight, with stops, takes 9 hours.
  • You can fly out of Amsterdam instead and then go to Washington, but you must fly to Amsterdam the night before, spend the night in a hotel with your children, leaving early the next morning. The cost to do this is a $100 penalty levied by United Airlines, plus it costs $184 to fly to Amsterdam from Nice. Per person.
  • The ticket agent then tells you, on June 13th (perhaps the fiftieth time you've called) that there have actually never been any award seats available on flights from Paris to the United States. Never.
Your challenge is to get back to the US using your "free tickets". It's now the middle of June and you still don't have a seat. What would you do? Has anyone else had an equally positive experience with an airline? I could use some help as we try to navigate "the friendly skies".


Dave and I both enjoy movies but never seem to find the time to watch them. I'm sure you know what I mean. By the time the kids are in bed we're often not far behind. In France we haven't seen very many, and never rented a single dvd (which you get from a machine, by the way. There is no such thing as Blockbuster).

When we're back in the US this summer, Dave is determined to catch up on the long list of movies he's been wanting to see (in some cases, for years). Below is from his spreadsheet of "movies to see", F through L:
  • Flags of our Fathers
  • Glory
  • Goodfellas
  • The Hudsucker Proxy
  • In the Name of the Father
  • Juno
  • The Ladykillers
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Life is Beautiful
He has 60 movies on his list. I'll be interested to see how many he actually watches. I'm guessing it will be less than five...



A couple of weeks ago my new friend Carrie, an editor at a great family website, emailed and asked if she could do a feature on our year in France, which you may or may not know is ending in less than two weeks. I was happy to talk with her.

This morning she posted the feature and we think she did a great job! Probably about the same time she posted, she went into labor to have her new baby. If you're there Carrie, we're all rooting for you. Send us photos!

mystery solved?

Remember my ICE problem? Today I got this e-mail:

"D'après le "Daily Express" : " Bien qu'on n'en reconnaisse pas les raisons exactes, on dit que le fait de croquer des glaçons peut être le signe d'anémie par carence en fer"*

une prise de sang?"

Mystery solved?

*According to the Daily Express: "Although we do not recognize the exact reasons, we say that crunching ice may be a sign of anemia with iron deficiency"
a blood test? (that's a suggestion from the author of the email)


busy, busy

To prepare for our trip back to the U.S. in a couple of weeks, I decided to embark on a new project: Stripping the wallpaper from three bedrooms in my friend's house.

I'm happy to do this for a few reasons, the first being that I loooove re-decorating. #2 is that when I'm working on the project, my friend feeds my kids dinner, which I also looooove. #3 would be that it keeps my mind off getting ready to leave for the U.S.

Don't get me wrong, I am excited to see my house, my friends, my family, my Target. But most of the packing up can't be done until the last minute, so to keep my mind off the awaiting suitcases, I am more than happy to do a little re-decorating.

That and the fact that the weather is still not cooperating and there have been no trips to the beach since early May. Oh well, if you can't go to the beach, go to Castorama!


no fear.



The other night we invited the neighbor, Roger, and his wife over for dinner. Dave loves talking to Roger, because he has amazing stories about WWII, and is just overall a great guy.

This time we got to hear about Roger, a ski instructor and woodworker, growing up in the French Pyrenees without electricity or indoor plumbing.

Along with his stories, he also brought a bag of Nefles from his garden and a bottle of Vin de Nefles, (Nefle wine) which his wife made last year. "Best with an ice cube", she explained. I'll keep that in mind!

  1. A deciduous European tree (Mespilus germanica) having white flowers and edible apple-shaped fruit.
  2. The fruit of this plant, eaten fresh or made into preserves.

[Middle English medler, from Old French meslier, medler, from mesle, medle, fruit of the medlar, from Late Latin mespila, from Greek mespilē.]

Tonight we had dinner with two French couples. Lots of political talk went on about who might be the next President of the United States. The general consensus was that Obama would be the right choice (except one dissenter--you know who you are!), but that he couldn't win.

So, who will be Sarkozy's new buddy?

dream bars

My sister posted this recipe on our family website the other day. I would love to make them, and eat them. But I can't find brown sugar in France. If YOU have brown sugar, you should make them and eat them in our honor. Thanks.

Dream Bars

A childhood favorite.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine softened (not melted)

2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coconut

Preheat oven to 350. Combine first three ingredients and press into the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

Beat eggs until light and fluffy. Add brown sugar and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and stir into egg mixture. Stir in coconut. Spread over crust. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. (Poke holes all over the top after it bakes for 10 minutes. This makes the top fall down which makes the cookies chewy. Otherwise they are more cake like and have a different taste. You may want to do this twice during the bake time.) Cut while warm.

Number Of Servings:about 20 squares

Preparation Time:25-30 minutes


Friday, June 6, 2008

Dear Mother Nature,

Are you angry that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt moved to the south of France? If not, can you please explain to me why you are in such a bad mood? I know it's only June 6th, but I would like to go to the beach at least once this month. That's kind of hard to do when it's rainy, cloudy, and like 60 degrees.

By the way, I know you can do better with Spring. I'm being kind when I say you did not put your best foot forward in May.

Kind regards,


my husband the baby

I've never seen Dave cry in pain, and he never cries when he's angry, but sometimes when he's talking about the kids he'll well up, and at least once a month (sometimes a couple of times a week) he starts crying over. . . . . .sports.

It's been that way since we were dating. Yesterday I got an email from one of my college roommates, Tina (who I'm so happy to still be in touch with!):

"I had a total college flashback the other day. I was watching TV and they are starting to run commercials for the summer Olympics.

They had this one that replayed the moment from 1992 when the guy tore his hamstring and his father ran out and helped him across the finish line. Of course, I totally started tearing up again and then remembered the day in college when Dave and I were relating the story to you and we both started crying. That was so funny. We were just relating the story and couldn't not cry."

I showed Dave her email and we both laughed as we remembered that moment very clearly. Dave then went to the other computer to look for the clip on YouTube. Five minutes later I looked over and there he was, 14 years later, crying again.

the world's greatest writer?

Dave here. The blog "stuff white people like" was started about six months ago and has received more than 30 million hits. The author is publishing a book of the same title on July 1st. He lists all of his posts by numbered topic, so you can see all of them quickly and easily. When I read it I laugh until I cry.

Here's some posts - out of his last ten - that might make you sick with laughter:
#100 Bumper Stickers
# 99 Grammar
# 95 Rugby
# 93 Music Piracy
# 91 San Francisco
# 90 Dinner parties

And that's just in the last ten. Every one of his posts are like the above. I also have to mention #84, T-shirts. Unbelievable. Then there is his post about how white people want multi-lingual children, particularly those that speak French. Absolute genius.

Part of the time when I was reading this I was thinking "how can this guy describe me better than I can describe myself?" The other part of the time I was thinking, "Am I really this insufferable, really this white?" The answer, I believe, is yes.

Eye on France

CNN is doing a series called "Eye on France." Watch it and tell me if it's good. Then eat a baguette and some chocolate, because that tastes really good together.


jump right in!

To give you an idea of what it takes to immerse a child in a new language to basically a fluent level in nine months, here is a rundown:

We only have access to French TV. There is no satellite bringing in channels from the U.K.

The kids spend 8 hours a day at school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 6 hours a day on Mondays and Fridays. Carter spends 12 hours a week at the garderie. Only French is spoken.

At least four times a week, we spend time after school with our French friends. On the weekends we spend a minimum of 6 hours together.

At home, we now speak half English and half French. At first this was impossible, because none of us could form a sentence. But now the children speak to us and each other in French most of the time, even if we respond in English.

It is a fascinating experiment of language acquisition that we have been allowed, and I am thrilled with the results! We jumped in, and it worked!


See Uncle Jessie, the Mona Lisa and others at dirtycarart.com.

Last week's weather was nothing short of a horror. Starting on Sunday the sky turned brown and the sun was completely blocked out. On Monday the wind began blowing like a hurricane, and on Tuesday and Wednesday the rain came down in buckets. See previous posts whining about the rain to confirm this.

But this rain was brown and made everything in its path (which was everything) horribly filthy and dirty. I'd never seen rain like it before. Turns out it has a name: Sirocco. About once a year a huge wind blows dust and sand all the way from North Africa into Spain and France. The parents we see at St. Martin school all made it clear that the Sirocco arrives, lasts for a few days and then dies out. Usually it happens in March or April but this year it came much later. Other bloggers that we really enjoy have also complained about this horror. Thank goodness it's gone.

carry your groceries in style

I'm sure the trend of bringing your own bags to the grocery store is ever-growing in the states. The bags in France are starting to get pretty cute, like this one I found at Castorama (like Home Depot).

For .70 euro cents, I snatched up a few of these to take with me back to the States. You never know, one of them might be a gift for you.



A funny thing happens when your brain works hard to think in two languages. Sometimes your english brain and your french brain get mixed up and you say funny things, like this:

Sophie getting ready for bed: "Mom, have you seen my pajamas tinkerbell?"

Abby, as preparing to make some scrambled eggs: "I want to use this pan, because it's minus heavy."