Thursday, September 21, 2017


I never thought I'd be sending my kids to a Catholic school! But once we learned that expatriating with Michelin was likely, we heard about Massillon, the private Catholic school in Clermont-Ferrand that most expats attend. It contains EBI, Ecole Bilinguale Internationale, which teaches English separately to native speakers and as a foreign language. The school also offers French as a foreign language for first-year arrivals. Most speak English as a first language, but there are also Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin, and other languages represented. Lots of local kids attend the school for the Catholic education or for the English. And the catechism classes are optional - our kids will take a global religions class instead, once they're a little older.

SO. School starts later here, early September, and the structure is really different. School is in session for six weeks, then out for vacation. A typical week looks like this for the Maternelle (ages 3-5) and Primaire (ages 6-10) students:

Monday and Tuesday: Classes 8:30-11:30, two hours for lunch, classes 1:30-4:30.
Wednesday: ages 3-6 (end of first grade) are off. Ages 7-10 have class 9:00-11:00 a.m. only. Most kids do a sport.
Thursday and Friday: same as Monday and Tuesday.

French kids don't learn reading in school until first grade, age 6-7, called CP here. But Lincoln loves to read and was moving fast in his Montessori school in the U.S., so his reading was way above the first grade level in his English class here. So after two weeks of school, the directors (one French, one English) of the primary school asked us to agree to a trial advancement, placing him in Grade Two for English, and CE1 for French. We're on day 4 of that trial now, and it's going well. In fact, his FLE (French as a foreign language, or Français Langue Étrangère) teacher casually mentioned to me in a meeting this morning that "Of course he can already read in French, so that is helping quite a lot."

He can read in French?! The hell?

But he can, so after putting both kids through moving away from home and friends and grandparents, learning a new language, starting a new school with lots of kids with whom they can't communicate at all, and adapting to a COMPLETELY different educational environment - one in which the teachers are rumored to yell at the kids and call them stupid, although we haven't had any personal experience with that - we've now also asked Lincoln to start that adjustment process all over again with older kids, no Americans in his French class whatsoever, more school on Wednesdays, and being the youngest kid in the class. This was not an easy decision. But he's so big for his age, and much more studious and calm than many of the elementary school children we know, so his age doesn't stand out like it would for a smaller or more energetic six-year-old. And I really think a full year of studying spelling words he already knows and reading books he could read last year would have been devastating to his overall love of school. Still, we have over a week left in the trial/observation period, so we'll see how it goes.

Over to Sylvia! She's in the equivalent of a K4 class, called Moyenne here. It's much gentler for the "maternelle" kids - no FLE class, English only one hour per week, and for the first few months she's only attending school in the mornings. It's exhausting learning a new language under any circumstances, and since she can't read she's learning it all by listening and absorbing. I can say from personal experience that listening and speaking in a language you don't really know yet is incredibly taxing, so I'm glad she has the afternoons off. Except for Thursdays, because she needs to be there for English class. She had a really tough transition the first couple weeks and cried every morning at drop off. But this week she's come into her own, putting her "cartable" (backpack) on the shelf herself, dropping her snack bag and notebook into the right bin, and walking into class without fear. I give it two more weeks before she's speaking French with some regularity, at least to her teacher. Of course by then it'll be vacation time, after which we start all over again. For now it's really sweet hearing her occasionally drop a French word into conversation with her brother or me:

"What does "qu'est-ce que c'est" mean? My teacher says it every day!"

All of which brings me to my schedule. We live in a beautiful apartment that is within walking distance of the center of Clermont, but far enough out that it's quiet and calm, and most of the noise of the city and the university students is too far to bother us at night. The place is gorgeous and roomy and a stone's throw from a quaint and practical little town square with a small supermarket, two bakeries, a butcher, three or four cheese shops,'s perfect. There are two city bus stops within five minutes' walk of home. But unfortunately we're a half hour walk from the school, which is too far for the kids, so we must take the bus. It winds up being about 30 minutes anyway once we've waited for the bus, ridden four stops, and then walked a few more blocks to the school entrance. I love how much we walk here, and I can feel the benefits in my own health. But because the kids aren't ready to eat at the "cantine" at school yet, I spend FOUR HOURS per day commuting. Half an hour each way to and from the school at 8:30, 11:30, 1:30, and 4:30, four days per week. Of course some days I take the kids out to lunch, or spend one of those 'off' periods in between shopping or something near the school, but it's an inordinate amount of time nonetheless.

I'm tired. The plan was for Lincoln to start eating at the cantine one or two day a week starting about now, but he doesn't want to yet and I don't want to pile one more stressor onto him when he's just started CE1. Lunch at school for the older kids means at least an hour of running around wild with all the other primary kids, in a concrete courtyard - that's "recess" here - and then eating whatever's on the menu when your class is called. Brown bag lunches are strictly forbidden, so some days it'll be a burger and green beans and yogurt, and other days it's squid provençal with bleu cheese after! I think Lincoln would actually love the food, but the extra 'recess' time is intimidating for now. Sylvia's not allowed to eat at cantine until she can speak French. So. I'm tired, and of course Josh hasn't been able to do any of the school runs yet because of his leg. Just this morning he was able to bring them for the first time, so there's an end in sight! Oh, and yes - I could drive. But there is no designated parking for the school, the streets are half the width of those in the U.S., and traffic is heavy in the mornings. It wouldn't wind up saving much time in the long run, and the stress of dealing with parking isn't worth it.

There you have it: French school so far! The kids get a little anxious when I drop them off, but in the afternoons and evenings they're always happy to have been at school. I'm sure I've missed lots of the funny differences, so ask away if there's something you've wondered about! I'll answer questions in either language - may be Lincoln can read the French ones to me.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The best worst day

Click to expand my panoramic shot from the top of the climb!
I've decided not to share any pictures of how Josh's leg looked in the days and weeks following his boating accident. But by Thursday, four days after the injury, he was black and blue from heel to above the knee. He'd gotten a small, flexible knee brace from the pharmacy, but it didn't provide much support. And he didn't want to slow down the vacation at all. 

So naturally that Thursday, August 24th, we took a tour that required walking about eight miles and climbing the equivalent of 15 flights of stairs.

 ...starting with carrying two heavy car seats for a few blocks to the place we were to meet our guide, Vincent! Luckily his van was big enough to fit the seats, and no one else had signed up for the Pond du Gard/Châteauneuf-du-Pape tour that day - so we had it all to ourselves.
I miss the days when Lincoln would smile for a picture on command.
 I knew we were in trouble when we arrived and parked, then walked for a good 8-10 minutes before coming into view of the aqueduct. Years ago, the French government severely restricted traffic and building around this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the European idea of "accessibility" means "accessibility for anyone who can walk long distances, climb stairs, and doesn't ever have an urgent need for a toilet," so this wasn't a huge surprise. But I was worried about Josh.
Beautiful scene, happy family!

Each of the kids got to take one picture. This is Sylvia's - "No Mommy! Just the MEN!"
 The skies were grey and cloudy, which is extremely rare for Provence in the summertime, and our guide kept apologizing that the weather was ruining our panoramic photos. But it kept the heat within reasonable levels, and arriving before 9:00 a.m. meant we had the place to ourselves. For once, we'd beaten the crowds - at one of France's most popular tourist destinations. Note for the future: hire a guide.

After stopping to take a few pictures, we began the long, steep climb to the top of the aqueduct, while Vincent explained its history. In the first century C.E., the Romans built a 31 mile aqueduct from a natural freshwater spring to their large city where Nimes is located now. Over those miles, the angle of the aqueduct was so slight and so precise that it only descended 41 feet - so this portion, the pont du gard, is 900 feet across and only descends one inch. No mortar or cement was used. The stone was cut from surrounding mountains, and the entire structure was built within a period of fifteen years. It's hard to even fathom the kinds of engineering that were possible two thousand years ago.
Here's Josh standing under an arch that was fitted without the use of mortar. Incredible.

Our first airborne view - despite the weather, it was breathtaking. Those rocks the kids are standing on are marble, so they're white and beautiful but very slick. It's sheer luck that we didn't wind up with any new injuries after the climb.
 Water flowed along the top, which was completely covered with more stone construction when it was in use, to protect the water from evaporation and contamination. After it fell into disuse, locals probably stole many of those easy-to-remove stones for building their houses and barns.

Unbelievably impressive in person! And it's a good thing too, because by the time we'd climbed this high, Josh's leg was throbbing.
 Next we descended again and walked across the stone road bridge that was built more recently. Closeups of the arch pillars show the deterioration that has had to be repaired with new stones. And the stones that stick out from the wall were positioned so that builders - mostly Roman slaves - could construct scaffolding to reach the upper levels.

Oh, and in order to do that, they also had to, you know, invent scaffolding.

 Josh skipped the walk across the road bridge and sat in the back of the van for the next part of the drive, so that he could elevate and ice his leg. Our next stop was Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a small village surrounded by acres and acres of perfect farmland for growing wine. My favorite wine on Earth, and now a place that is near and dear to our hearts.
Perfect rows of grapevines, working their magic.

The view of the city and the farms, from the Château itself.

Snacky kids blocking the view of Daddy's injury!

Et le Château - or what's left of it.
So let's talk a little bit about the history of the village and the castle, and then about the wine. Remember how the Avignon palaces were built so the Popes could escape Italy during war? Well that was in the 14th Century C.E., during the Hundred Years' War. All of the Popes who resided in Avignon were French (no surprise there!) and one of them, Pope John XXII, decided he needed a summer retreat - although retreating from Avignon to Châteauneuf is kind of like retreating from Dallas to Fort Worth. It's right next door, same climate, same food, same everything - except the wine. More on that in a minute.

According to the intrepid Vincent, who is from Avignon and has been teaching tourists about it for 35 years, Popes Clement V and his successor John XXII were fond of wine, women, and, thanks to their vows of poverty and chastity, privacy. Both spent a great deal of time in the "summer residence" for that reason, removed from the prying eyes of the more metropolitan Avignon. John XXII ordered the castle to be built to house him and subsequent Popes, but its construction ended just a year before his death and no other Popes are believed to have visited.

SO. The wine.

France is, again unsurprisingly, very protective of its cuisine and wine. There are hundreds of distinct regions or "pays" (pay-ee) in the country, each with its own wine, cooking style, meats, cheeses, pates...someone telling you they're from France does not actually give you very much information about them, because their regional background can vary so widely. In the early 20th century, the government formalized the system of Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, or AOC,  by which it controls and labels certain products as having originated in the proper region and met strict quality controls. Châteauneuf-du-Pape was the first wine (of more than 300, now) to have an AOP, and Vincent told us a bit about its regulations.

First, the "rolling stones" of the area allow the soil to absorb up to a full year's supply of water - so no irrigation is permitted for any wine that will be labeled Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Only 13 grapes can be used in the production of the wines, but they can be combined in any way the winemakers decide. Five of those varieties are white and eight are red, but some reds incorporate the white grapes as well.  Grenache is the "king" of the varieties, because it thrives in full sun with little water.

Another rule is that the 300 vineyards in the AOP, only one of which is a corporation (the rest are family farms), must harvest all the grapes by hand. No machine picking means lots of labor is necessary during harvest time, which is a challenge in France. Just like in the U.S.A., much of the poorly-paid physical labor is performed by immigrants, but outside of harvest time there is no work for them in this part of France. And, according to Vincent, young French people "don't want to work hard," so they won't do it either. About 13 million bottles are produced every year, 95% of which is red wine. Whites are readily available in the region but hard to find outside it.

So let's start tasting! We began our adventure in a wine cave (pronounced cahv) that is thousands of years old and dates back to the Roman Empire. Clearly the adults were happier about this portion of the trip than the kids.

 We got to see an ancient pressing room - the grapes would be put into the upper tubs, pressed by foot, and the juice would run into the lower basins to be barreled.

 Look at those beautiful, dusty bottles. The proprietor told us (in English) that he had a couple of bottles in his collection from the 1940s and 1950s. Every 20 years or so he has to change the corks and replace what's evaporated - which means opening at least one bottle in order to top off the others. And, of course, the open one has to be finished off by the lucky man and his friends.
 We enjoyed every sip and bought our first six bottles for our own little cave back in Chamalières. Our new friend, the proprietor, talked to us about aging red wine - there are good years every decade or so, and it's best to buy the wine young. But whites need a year or two to age, no more than five. Reds need at least fifteen years to reach their full potential. So for impatient Americans like us - he said "I go to New York and I cannot find a single bottle that's been aged properly. As though a 2009 will be ready in 2015!" - he advises buying lots of 2015 reds while we're in France, and even younger ones if 2017 and 2018 are good years. Then, when we return to the U.S.A., "You buy a house, you build a wine cave in the basement. You put a padlock on the door. Then ship me the key and I will return it to you in 15 years!" We laughed, shook hands, promised to resist drinking it all right away, and then headed to another tasting!

This one was in a modern (ish) building with a tiny table and tasting glasses that cost more than the wine itself. We tried a red that was made in tribute to the wine makers' great-great-grandfather, and bore his name. It was only made with grapes grown on vines that were at least 85 years old - can you imagine? And it tasted incredible, despite its youth. We tried a white that was so complex and delicious that the tasting expert AND Vincent told us it was their favorite of all the Châteauneuf-du-Pape whites. Ever. By this time we were a little tipsy, and absolutely on cloud nine. I never thought we'd spend that much on wine, but we're beginning to see it as a real collection. I just hope we can get it all home intact.
 After all that, Vincent drove us home and waited with our wine while I carted it down into the parking garage and locked it safely out of sight in the trunk. We got some lunch and headed back to our apartment for "swimming" in what we lovingly referred to as the cold tub on the balcony, and some general foolishness. All the walking and stair-climbing took a toll on Josh's pain level, so Friday we wound up in the Avignon emergency room, where he finally got a prescription for stronger pain meds. It was a frustrating, miserable day marked by wrong turns in the car - including into the ambulance-only entrance to the hospital - and frustration about the language. The next day we managed to make even worse, trying out a bus tour and a supposedly five minute walk that wound up being 20 minutes, to a Chartreuse abbey that was disappointing, to put it mildly. Every time we thought we were doing something easy, it wound up being difficult, embarrassing, or just wrong. We were scheduled to spend three non-refundable days in Lyon to finish out our vacation, but after some tough talk from friends back home (as I was defeatedly describing trying to find dinner before 8:00 p.m. every night, which is near-impossible), we decided to pack it in and drive back to Clermont.

So our best day of vacation came AFTER (and exacerbated) the catastrophic injury which, incidentally, still has Josh laid up and recovering. Wine tasting and education was a great bonding experience for us both, and I fear our standards will have risen beyond what's really polite by the time we get back to the States! Luckily, we should be able to make up for it with cases and cases to share - after fifteen years or so.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Avignon and Cassis - a brand new sea

It has now been almost exactly a month since our vacation, so I'm going to try to cram the last few days into one or two posts so I can start telling you about our daily life in Clermont! On Monday morning, August 21, we were all packed up and ready to head to the second leg of our vacation: Avignon! When planning this trip Josh found Annecy, recommended by several expat friends, and it was great (save for the injury at the end). Avignon, on the other hand, was my idea - just a 3 1/2 hour drive from Annecy (thanks, toll roads!), hot, beautiful, and in Provence. What a difference! 

We arrived, communicated with our VRBO host and parked in the local garage. We had to drive through some construction as the city is adding a tram line. I'm sure it'll be great once it's in, but the traffic disruptions would be a major headache during our stay. Finally we wound our way through the tiny parking garage "Jean Jaures" and walked - well, one of us limped - to our apartment. 

It was in the pedestrian area of Place des Corps Saints, which is beautiful and quiet but very near the main street. Unfortunately, the apartment was advertised as "premiere ètage," or French first floor, which is up one flight of stairs from the ground, but in reality it was on the deuxiéme étage," so every time we left or entered the apartment, Josh had to contend with two flights of stairs. And there was another flight inside the place. 

After a few hours' ice and rest for Monsieur, thanks to the frozen peas I found at Monoprix, we headed out for dinner. Aioli, mussels, fish and escargots with lots of roasted vegetables was a nice change from the heavy cheese-centric meals in the Alps!

 The next day we said goodbye to High Five Baby Jesus, who resides in the entryway of the apartment,
 and set off to explore. We stopped by the Maison de Tourisme first and bought tickets for the tour bus around the city, tourist mini-train, and a van trip to Pond du Gard and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a tiny village and wine AOP where our favorite red wines come from. That'd be Thursday, so Tuesday we stayed around town.
Even statues love Sylvie!
 The churches are, predictably, gorgeous in this former home of the popes. Le Palais des Papes is a huge fixture in the town, but there are dozens of smaller, yet no less ornate Catholic churches throughout.

This was an enormous hanging tapestry - human being on the right for scale. My little fiber-artist heart went pitter-pat!

Pope Francis in photo, and John Paul II in stone. 
 Naturally, I found some Cafe Gourmand at one of our lunch stops. And shared! The kids adored this latest French carousel.
Yummy! Also the food! :) 
On the petite tourist train. We'd paid for Sylvia since she's a big four-year-old now, but the conductor took one look at her and promptly refunded her fare. "Elle est trop petite et mignone." She's too small and cute to pay.
 The train gave us our first gorgeous view of the famous "Pont d'Avignon," on which one is supposed to dance. Regrettably, we didn't make it there on foot, but it was lovely anyhow.

The huge city wall, erected on order of the Popes who lived here during unrest in Italy.
Wednesday we set off on yet another adventure - a day trip to the village of Cassis, and another reminder that any "sleepy village" one finds on Google is not a sleepy village at all, but a bustling tourist destination that will be packed and crowded. Cassis is just southeast of Marseilles, where there'd been a terrorist car attack just days before. So we arrived, sore-kneed and hungry after an hour and a half drive, to discover that all of the downtown parking was cordoned off in Cassis, and the nearest places were packed to the gills. It was a repeat of how not to find a beach! After a number of failed attempts, Josh finally took over driving (against the needs of his knee) and waited in line to park while I walked the kids down into town to find something to eat.

Luckily, lunch did not disappoint. We chose a pricey but gorgeous place along the waterfront, honestly just because it had tables available right then and no line for the restroom. But it was a happy accident - the kids and I ate fish that was absolutely fresh and delicious.
avec des frites pour le garçon... des pâtes pour la fille!

Josh had steak, as usual, but my food was the star. The first course was bouillabaisse - so popular in France, I frequently see it sold in jars at my local supermarkets - with Parmesan cheese, little crunchy pieces of bread, and a sauce I'd never had before: rouille. It's an orange sauce similar to aioli, made with olive oil, egg yolks, and in this case, saffron or paprika and cayenne pepper. It was divine. Following came a gorgeous piece of ocean fish served on top of thin slices of sautéed summer squash and mashed potatoes.

After lunch we headed out on a little boat to tour the famous calanques of Cassis - high stone formations surrounding tiny inlets of the Mediterranean, formed by erosion and water pressure over thousands of years. We must have been out of our minds to get on another boat, but it was a great time.

Maybe my favorite picture of Sylvia, ever. Her hat kept blowing nearly off from the wind!
 By this time we were all in love with the Mediterranean Sea, the first sea I'd ever visited. So we headed to the public beach - which was absolutely full of people, with barely enough room to set down our towels. But we found a tiny patch and went straight to get our toes in the water.
 The waves were fast and powerful, and the water was freezing, so we all stayed near the shoreline. The beach was made up of millions of tiny pebbles, which were so gorgeous that it was tough to tell the rocks from the sea glass. I gathered some to bring home with us, and they sit now on a shelf in my kitchen.
Almost as beautiful now as they were that day.
We rinsed off most of the sand in an outdoor shower, lamented the lack of public toilets, and decided the only sensible way to find a bathroom was to stop at a crowded, touristy ice cream shop. The kids were allowed two small scoops each. Since MY mother wasn't there to limit me, I had something...slightly more indulgent.
Go big or go home, right? The Peach Melba Sundae had vanilla ice cream, canned peaches, raspberry coulis, and the biggest mound of whipped cream I'd ever seen. Once again, I found it in my heart to share with Josh.

The drive home was an adventure in itself - the kids were exhausted, of course, and naturally once we'd been on the road for 15 minutes, Sylvia desperately had to go to the bathroom. So I thought we'd try the tollbooth stop. Getting in the right hand toll lane, which must've been one of 15 lanes, meant double the wait time of any that were further left. But I was vindicated for my slow choice when we found a clean-ish public bathroom just 10 feet beyond it, with safe and designated parking! They both fell asleep on the road and I dragged their car seats from the curb up into our apartment, so they could safely ride along in our van tour the next morning.

Our time in Avignon and Cassis was a blast, but the strain on Josh's injured knee was probably not wise. Of course, he didn't care, as long as we were having a good time. Which led to some questionable choices the following day - and the best day of our time in France so far. Tomorrow: Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sunday, Bruise-y Sunday

Sunday, August 20th started out as a pretty great day. The kids woke us up by protecting the world from evil, thanks to the VRBO host's kids' collection of costumes,
Spider Linc, Spider Linc!
Sylvie Stark

and then we set off downtown to enjoy our last day in Annecy. The view from the little canals along the main park was absolutely gorgeous. I had to force myself to sit by the water and enjoy said view, because the kids were taking a ride on a carousel that was so fast it was making me dizzy from the ground!
Look at all the little boats!

Le French swan has no interest in your pathetic tourist offerings. 
 Apparently Sylvia was a little dizzy too, but her brother helped with that.

 We had a laugh at "Le Bananas" Stand, and I am deeply ashamed to admit that Josh made the Arrested Development joke before I thought of it.

 And then we all enjoyed the enormous, precarious wooden barge-swings near the waterfront. Sylvia even got to do her favorite French activity of all - peeing in the grass when there are no bathrooms available. No picture of that one!

 Then after some time at the small, crowded, Lord of the Flies style playground, we decided to walk to lunch. On the way we found a little piece of home, which was of course closed on a Sunday.
 Then we had a noon reservation for lunch at a place known for its raclette and fondue. One last taste of savoyard cuisine before our planned departure for Avignon the following day!
 Surprisingly, the fondue was pretty terrible. Josh and I shared one, and it was not emulsified at all, rather the pot contained a big hunk of melted cheese, surrounded by watery wine sauce that wouldn't mix together. The first pot even had pieces of red plastic floating in it, so they had to make us a new one.

Luckily, the kids' raclette was good enough to make up for it! Rather than bringing a searing hot raclette machine to the table, at this place they melt the cheese inside the restaurant constantly, bringing you a small plate of the fresh stuff every time you're ready for it. They both had their fill, and then amused themselves trying to keep a fly off of the rest.

 After lunch, Lincoln resumed his self-appointed sister-carrying duties, and we headed back to the apartment to do some more packing and change into our swimsuits.
 We walked back to the waterfront park on our way to rent a motorboat and enjoy some final Alpine views - and the day did not disappoint!
Lincoln is the little green dot; Sylvia is the tinier purple dot to his left.
 This was our view of Sylvia, essentially every single time we went to a big park. The minute her feet hit the grass, she took off running at top speed, relishing the chance to be first and fastest when her brother didn't try to keep up. Trying to embrace the European, devil-may-care attitude of childrearing, we allowed this. Within reason.
 At the waterfront, we gave an ID and waited for a boat to be ready. Well, we thought we'd just wait, except that they ushered us onto a bench next to the dock. The bench is actually ON the dock, above the water, and has a pretty sizable gap between the seat and the back - exactly the size, as it turns out, of Sylvia.

When we sat down on the bench, she scooted her little bottom back while leaning her body forward a bit, and hit juuuuust the right angle and velocity that she rocketed THROUGH the gap in the bench and into the lake below! (Let me pause a moment to tell you that the water in this part of the lake is about eighteen inches deep with a soft, sandy bottom. She was not in serious danger). And somehow, in one of those "adrenaline-fueled mother lifts car off of her child" moments, my instincts took over and I SHOT my arm over and grabbed her by the ankle at the last possible moment, holding her dangling upside down over the water before pulling her back through the ridiculous gap, only her hair and hat having touched the lake! Josh even managed to retrieve the hat.

Sylvia was very upset, of course, from the shock of the fall and the scrape to the back of the leg that resulted from my quick retrieval. A few minutes of hugs - during which I had to struggle not to laugh uproariously at the absurdity of the whole thing - and a few minutes in the cold lake water had her back to normal. The boat rental people must have thought we were a total mess.

At last we received the keys to a small, puttering motorboat that doesn't require an operator's license. And after what I can only describe as a painfully inadequate lesson in boat-driving, we were off!

We had the. best. time. The kids each got to pilot the boat a couple of times, in between Lincoln's pretending to be scared and Sylvia's life jacket-impaired snuggles with me. We did a Facebook Live video for the first time, showing our friends and family the gorgeous views and wishing they could be here with us. And I took a couple quick videos of the kids' captaining skills.


Finally, after it had been about an hour, we decided to head back to the dock and exchange the power boat for a small, safe, cheaper "pedalo," or pedal boat. We'd had one earlier in the week - the adults power it with foot pedals and steer with a rudder while the kids ride. Then it's easy to jump off and swim around in the shallow water, which they'd been asking to do all day. We managed to steer the big power boat back to the dock, pay, and switch into the pedalo without incident.

And that's the last time "without incident" would be said for the day. We pedaled out into the shallows, found a quiet spot, and prepared to swim. Josh stood up first so he could help the kids into the water and, in a freak accident, slipped on a water spot and fell off the boat.

That wouldn't be so bad - I bet we'd still be laughing about it - except that his left foot slid at a horribly unfortunate angle and became trapped underneath the pedals. His body was fully off the boat but his leg was wedged in tightly, leading to a terrible strain on his ankle and knee. The pain was brutal, and it showed. The kids were terrified and it took me...a few seconds? Half a minute?...what felt like an hour to throw myself over the center console, take his hand, and pull him up high enough to free his leg. All of a sudden Josh was in the water, the kids and I were in shock, and our first summer in France had taken a really shitty turn.

The details of what happened next are pretty boring, so I'll be brief - Josh helped the kids swim for a minute or two but Lincoln was crying the whole time, from shock and fear at seeing his dad so badly hurt. So they climbed back up and I pedaled us to the dock. Somewhere in there I wrenched my back, so both of us adults were limping back to the apartment. We bought the kids ice cream we'd promised earlier in the day, but Lincoln was too upset to enjoy it - he didn't stop crying for more than a few minutes from about four or five p.m. when it happened until he fell asleep after 9:00. I scrounged up some dinner for the kids and then called the VRBO host Thierry for help finding an emergency room - which of course Josh had to walk to, uphill - and dropped him off there while I brought the kids back 'home' to bed.

The knee wasn't broken, but the MCL, the ligament that runs along the inside of the knee, is completely severed and may require surgery. It bruised horribly for weeks - purple verging on black in huge patches from heel to mid-thigh. The E.R. at the Clinique Generale d'Annecy was pretty useless, prescribing only a small, soft brace and 500mg Tylenol capsules. It's been almost a month now since this happened, and Josh still isn't cleared to drive, or walk much of a distance, or climb stairs except when strictly necessary. We've gotten a pretty stark view of socialized medicine, the good and the bad, and we're about to see more of it when we learn this week whether he needs surgery.

The best day of our vacation turned into an absolute disaster in an instant. But despite that, the next day we'd drive to Avignon and do our best to have some more fun. As you can imagine, the results were mixed!