Saturday, September 02, 2017

The Extraordinary Garden - Weekend Adventure

In our efforts to expose them to new things, we took the boys to a place recommended by Dan's French teacher.  She said that it is only open for 4 days each year and this weekend was during that time.  It is called, Le Jardin Extraordinaire.  

The objectives of the garden are listed on the left side of the sign.  I think they say:
* Make art accessible to all
* Nature Sensitivity
* Bond with others

So it was kind of like a hippy festival of nature art.  There was also music.  And some artisanal crafts including this 450 euro steampunk badger.

My eye is a watch and my intestines are gears!

Rather than branding this adventure as a hike, we told the kids that it was more like a hunt for koroks.  We pulled out an old camera and told them to take pictures every time they find a place that a korok should be hiding.  While they still complained a bit about the hiking part and the uncomfortable weather, we got these excellent pictures...

Hiding under a bridge

In a Circle of Flowers

Enjoying the Tournesol

Inside the Vine House

Playing on the Bug Decorating the Stream

Nom Nom

We were warned not to tickle the koroks.

Sometimes Koroks Like to be Left Alone

Alex even took some time to pose for pictures.

And take a selfie...

Great Pumpkin Selfie!

It was an extraordinary garden.  If you get the chance to visit, it is open in 2018 the weekend that spans August and September.  Maybe you can find some koroks too!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Planning Summer Days

This Tree was in the Middle of our Walk!

Summer is here!  The kids finally got done with school last Thursday.  We spent Friday playing video games, taking Alex to a party, and going shopping for a new marche pied as we lost ours at the park.  We took the Pamplona trip for the first adventure.  Yesterday we spent the day playing video games, taking Alex to another party, and going shopping for groceries.  

However, I don't want to spend the whole summer playing videogames, taking Alex to parties, and shopping with Will.  So, today, we implemented a new regimen.  

  • Play Video Games
  • Breakfast
  • Exercise
  • Write
  • Lunch
  • Nothing Time
  • Go Outside
  • Chores
  • Summer Goals
  • Dishes - Set Table
  • Dinner
  • Shower
  • Cuddle (Alex insisted it be on the list)
  • Sleep

The video game before breakfast part worked pretty well.  Normally the kids wake up at 6am anyway, so if they have something to do that is quiet and doesn't wake me up at that hour, everyone is happy.  Breakfast makes a good break as they are usually hungry when I wake up anyway.  The kids are used to turning off electronics during school hours, even on weekends.  

For breakfast, we made French Toast (not called that in France, btw).  Typically we buy "pain au lait" for use as hot dog buns.  However, there are different versions of it.  Once, we accidentally bought some that had chocolate in it.  And recently, we bought some that has bits of honey inside it.  It's delicious.  But not really with hot dogs.  Turns out, it makes great French Toast!

Miel = Honey

Deliberate exercise was a newly added thing.  At school they go out and run around, but for us all together, we needed to make a plan.  I started the negotiating high at 5 loops around the park.  The park is 1km around.  They countered with 1 loop.  I said we needed to meet somewhere in the middle.  So I counter-countered with 4 loops.  Will countered again with 2.5, exactly in the middle of zero and 5.  I said that works for me, but then how would we get back home?  So we decided to cut across the middle of the park, then do one loop clockwise, then do one loop counterclockwise, then cut back across to get home.  

I ended up traveling nearly 3 kilometers.  The boys took breaks in a tree and cut some corners, but tried to make up for it by running part of the way and meeting me back on my path.  Fairly successful.  

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The only whiny part was right at the beginning where Alex decided that his knee was super injured for no reason.  Fortunately he sucked it up and got back on track.  I told him that he clearly needs intense training so he can go beyond a 0.1 km walk before whining.  Maybe tomorrow we can do better!

I asked the boys what we should do on our next walk to make it more challenging:

  • Walk further
  • Walk with arm weights
  • Run the same distance
Alex proposed that we add 0.5km each day to the walk.  Will quickly did the math and determined that would get kind of far, pretty quickly.  I suggested that we reset every week to the base 2.5km.  Alex added that we should add 0.5km to the base kilometers every 2 weeks.  Will decided to write a Scratch program that does these calculations for us.  

And now we are writing... 
The boys are composing music while I do the blogging.  
Anyone for Lunch yet?


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cheese Tour while Camping

Cheese is Awesome!

As we buy different cheeses at the grocery store, we notice that the labels tell us where the cheese is from.  Much like champagne from any other region than Champagne is only sparkling wine, a camembert not from the Camembert region is something different.  My favorite cheese is a cantal jeune.  So, when we went camping in the middle of France to escape the heat, it was an awesome bonus that it happened to be in the region known for cantal cheese.  

As we know the kids don't like to do anything, or at least they say this when we ask them what they want to do for the weekend adventure, we knew that whatever we picked would be unacceptable.  So, we told them that we were going to do 3 activities during the weekend (other than hang out at the campground).  These activities were cheese tour, explore a volcano, and go to a volcano amusement park.  They were not interested in any of these, as expected.  Finally we asked them to rank the one that they would dislike the least and they seemed to agree that the volcano amusement park would be that one.  More on that later.  

Saturday morning, after Dan finished his bike ride and we ate lots of pain au chocolat from the local campground store, we headed out to the cantal region.  Fortunately the display case at the camping ground check-in had a bunch of activity brochures, including a map of cheeses.  One of the cheese places was open in the morning.  

After an hour drive, we arrived at the cheese place!  It sort of looked like a factory outlet store for cheese with a fairly empty parking lot.  

Exciting Parking Lot Picture

We walked inside to find a small store with a cheese counter.  The children walked in, and immediately walked out, complaining about the smell.  We tried to convince them to come in and participate in the cheese adventure, but they did not think that was a good idea.  So, we explained, in French, to the confused people at the counter that we were American and the children thought the cheese smelled bad.  Then, we further convinced them that we were American by asking to taste a cheese that I had not seen before.  However, it was not a cheese for tasting or eating, although I was welcome to do so if I insisted.  It was a cheese that was used for cooking.  I guess kind of like a cooking wine.  You don't really taste it, you just cook with it.  So, in line with the strange reaction they had to me asking for a taste, I followed their lead and did not taste it.  

We bought three cheeses, a cantal jeune, a cantal entre-deux (aged longer), and another cheese that Dan picked.  We got about 300 grams of each cheese.  Total price, 10 euro, an amazing deal.  I guess it is cheap to buy cheese direct.  

More Cheese

Next, we followed google maps to the next place of fromage.  Unfortunately, it was the actual factory where the cheese was made, not the place they sold it.  So we continued onward and found another cheese store.  This one also had the little cheese counter with a brief assortment of cheese.  We got a cantal jeune, and a tomme gris.  It cost 3 euro.  Dan tried to pay 13 euro (trois and treize sound similar), and we laughed with the lady about how cheap cheese is here compared to the United States.


The children safely avoided the cheese by sitting by the car, across the parking lot.

Smells like Parking Lot

Next, we continued up the road.  We thought it might be time for a restroom break.  We saw on the map that we were almost to Chanterelle.  As Chateau Chanterelle is a video game level in one of the kids' Kirby Nintendo U games, we stopped.  It was a small, quiet town.  Quite unlike the video game version.  

Chanterelle - No Coins Here

Finally we stopped at a small village a bit more up the road.  There was an event where people were getting together with their classic cars to drive them around in the mountains.  We quickly got some bread and left ahead of the crowd.

As we were in a volcanic region, there were a bunch of lakes around.  We stopped at Lake Pavin.  As Alex had somehow forgotten to put shoes on before he got into the car, Dan ended up porting him around.  I don't understand how he isn't too big for this kind of thing.  But then again, I don't understand how he forgets his shoes either.

Take me to the Lake!

Lake Selfie with Will

An amazing day, with amazing cheese.

Cheese, and Bread, and Jam

And cheeseburgers...

Who put that disgusting ketchup on their perfectly good cheeseburger on baguette?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Glamping - Somewhere in Middle France


Dan says that "glamping" is a real term.  It means glamour camping.  I'm not sure about this.  In any case, it meant that we didn't have to pack our car to the brim with tents, sleeping bags, kids air mattresses, etc.  We simply brought some linens, clothes, and a little food.  We rented a cottage through the British site, instead of the French site, which meant that even though this was an activity we didn't know a lot about, we could learn about it in English and arrive without too many surprises about what we booked versus what we thought we booked.


It has been quite warm in Toulouse for the past couple of weeks.  So, for the weekend getaway, we entertained the idea of going to the beach, but ultimately decided that the beach would be hot and crowded.  Instead, we headed to the mountains.

Bridge on the way to the mountains

We told the kids that it might be a bit like camping in a water park.  Given the pictures on the web site, it seemed like there would be many Will/Alex compatible activities.  On arrival, we found some awesomeness.  

Shallow Wading Pool

Deeper Swimming Pool

The pools were great in that they were quite shaded and even had a cool extendable roof that could close them in when it rains.  The different depths of pool made it easy for the smaller kids to have a place to play and the bigger kids too.  Plus, inside, through the windows/glass that you can see, was an adults only pool, spa, and sauna area.  

There were also water slides.

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Will in the orange shirt

And, just in case the pool and slides weren't enough, there was another "splash pad" play area.

Waiting for the Giant Bucket Dumping

Once the kids got tired of the artificial water activities, they could head over to the beach and build a sand castle.

Now we Build!

There were also playgrounds, boating, a convenience store, and a restaurant.  Dan took the kids paddle-boating.

Alex is king of the paddle!

Will in a boat

So here in France, the food is great.  The convenience store had a bunch of local products such as cheeses, jams, wine, beer and sausage.  It also had the obligatory bakery section so that we could get a baguette or some croissants or pain au chocolat for the morning breakfast time. 

The restaurant had amazing food.  But not only did they have a wide selection of local tasty French dishes, they also had chicken nuggets and fries to pacify the children.  As we were in one of the regions known for cheese, this is my dinner.  I couldn't finish it, it was huge.  

Cheesy Tortellini and Salad

No, I promise we were camping!  Here is a picture of Alex in front of the cottage.  The cottage had two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a deck.  


We even did camping-type activities such as grilling hot dogs and burgers on the bbq and toasting s'mores.  Of course, there are no graham crackers in France, but they do have fancy cookies that already have chocolate attached.  So we went with that.  Will decided that it was necessary to skewer all of the ingredients.  Alex decided that it was important to pretend that he was not enjoying himself.    

Feelings: Wonder and Sadness

Hot Coals Produced!

So when it comes to camping without a lot of planning or packing, this is the way to go.  The kids were completely exhausted at the end of the day.  Also, we successfully escaped the heat of Toulouse for a few days.  Perhaps we shall try it again!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Grumpy in Geneva - An Alex Story on Bridge Day

One of the mysteries of children is why they are so grumpy during vacations.  I believe that this is not unique to our family.  Or at least I sincerely hope that is the case and it's not that our child is broken.  Alex is 9 now, but still can't seem to handle vacationing.

Our setting is the city of Geneva, after we visited CERN, on the Bridge Day that comes between the Ascension Holiday and the weekend. After sternly talking to Alex about his attitude, he tries to pretend that he is actually having an "ok" time. We decided to take a bunch of pictures with one of the bridges in Geneva.

Smile!  It's bridge day!

A bridge!

To further improve Alex's energy level and to mood, we found ice cream.  This appears to have worked as you can tell by Alex's thumbs up.  (But as parents know, it's all an illusion of happiness that passes after the sugar crash.)

Ice Cream Bridge Picture

Will helped us out too to try to improve Alex's mood.  He suggested taking a funny picture of Alex when they saw the giant water spout, Jet D'eau, coming out of the lake.

It's pouring on my head!

We also decided to take a break in the park along the water front.  Cooler and shady, it improved Alex's mood a little.  He became slightly more calme.  As you can tell next to this sculpture of "Alexandre Calame."

Je suis M. Calme

In the end, none of this worked.  We went to dinner at a fondue place where both boys got in on the vacation-stress-causing by complaining about the smell of the cheese.  So we ate and went back to our Air BnB.  

The solution?  We will let you know when we figure out how to have a lovely vacation that everyone can enjoy.  The secret formula may involve scavenger hunts.  Although, since they don't seem to enjoy anything we try to make fun for them, perhaps there is only one option.  We will make them only do what we want.  I'm pretty sure that's what our parents did with us when we were kids.  

The Secret of CERN - How to Get In

The Game of Getting Tickets

In order for an individual to get a ticket to tour CERN, you have to go on their web site at 8:30am and request tickets 15 days prior to when you want to visit.  The tickets get gobbled up quickly.  If you miss this window, they also open tours 3 days prior to each date.  So for the longest time, I was trying to match up when we could travel to Switzerland to when the tickets were available.  I was having trouble with train prices or flight arranging.  Finally we decided to drive and go for the long weekend at the end of May.  But, somewhere in my head, I remembered the 15 days ticket acquisition period as two weeks.  So when I went on their site 14 days prior to Friday, the 26th of May, there were not any tickets left.

Blah!  So we decided to try the 3-days-ahead-of-time option.  As I am always dropping the kids off at school at 8:30, Dan diligently sat down in front of the computer on Tuesday at 8:25 and SUCCESSFULLY booked the tour tickets for Friday.  We quickly booked an available Air BnB.  

Thursday was a bank holiday here and Friday was a bridge day.  But CERN was open for business on the bridge day!

We checked into our Air BnB (in France, about 10 minutes away from the visitor center for CERN), and grabbed lunch before heading to the afternoon tour.  

The tour started by visiting the first accelerator built back in the 50's, The Proton Synchrotron.  The tour was bathed in an eerie blue light.  

Proton Accelerator Selfie

Will's First Photo with Accelerator

The tour had a cool movie that was projected on the different parts of the accelerator, showing which parts were the magnets and how the particles are actually accelerated.  There were also a bunch of physicists' photos on the wall.  Does anyone know which physicist is shown here?

Alex Being Difficult in Front of Physicists' Photos

After the initial introduction to accelerating protons, we headed outside, towards The Large Hadron Collider.  As it is underground, it is not really viewable.  Fortunately, there was a life-sized painting on the building that shows us the scale.  This is of the ATLAS detector, just one of the detectors that does measuring and recording of data around the 27km perimeter of the collider.

Life-Sized Painting of the Detector

Next to the building, we saw tanks that contained the particles... before they get accelerated.  

Argon, Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide

Inside, we got to watch another video about the creation, transportation, and assembly of ATLAS.  Like most of what happens at CERN, it was a joint project between many countries.  Many of the large pieces were manufactured somewhere else and then were transported to their final burial place at CERN.  Of the scientists who work at CERN, there are over 100 nationalities represented.  It's a massive, peaceful collaboration that shows that people can actually work together to discover new things.  

After learning about the accelerator and the detectors, we went upstairs to see the control room of the LHC.  It reminded me of my last job when tours of the facility would come through and we would have to pretend we were doing normal work while being observed.  It was a room of scientists and screens.  

The kids found the interactive exhibit that allowed them to analyze the images of particles and see if they could spot instances of the Higgs boson.  

 After the tour, we went inside the globe building and saw The Universe of Particles Exhibit. It was a movie that happened all around in the domed room about where particles come from.  Alex was completely exhausted by this point, so we decided to depart after taking a pic at the photo opp accelerator tube.  

Alex in Space Invaders Shirt

The Secret of CERN - No Tickets Necessary

So, it turns out that CERN has Permanent Exhibits that you can visit without tickets.  It's only the tour that requires tickets.  The primary exhibit that tells you all about CERN in museum format is called Microcosm.  It has a bunch of exhibits.  They show the path of a particle as it goes through the different stages of acceleration.  They also have a cloud chamber that detects the cosmic rays that are hitting us constantly.   

On Saturday, we went back for a second, ticket-free, day at CERN.  We checked out the museum part as well as the sculpture garden part of their exhibitions. 

Will examined the cloud chamber as it detected cosmic rays.  

Look!  A Muon!

The wire chamber that was used when the weak force particles, W and Z were discovered was on display.

Posing with Equipment Responsible for Nobel Prize 1984

We get to touch scientific equipment!

I pushed a button!

One of the most fascinating things about all of the equipment was that the wires were so organized and pretty.  Even when they were grouped together with zip ties, they were super organized and lovely.

Organized Wires 

The "sculpture garden" is actually a bunch of old equipment that was used between 1964 and 1998, now on display outside.

Bubble Chamber

Scientific Tool or Actual Sculpture?

It Came From... Science!

More Scientific Tools

The boys used this outside time to play king of the scientific rock.  

I am king!
We have both won! 

And before we left the exhibition, we were sure to check to see if any Pokemon were around.  Obviously, we found Pikachu.  

Jump for Accelerated Particles!

On the way out, we stopped at the giant actual sculpture...

...where Will contemplated Life, the Universe, and Everything while surrounded by equations.

 If you are anywhere near Geneva, check out CERN.  They are open Monday-Friday, and Saturday mornings.  It's an easy trip, a short museum visit, and an amazing atmosphere.  The gift store is also pretty awesome.  We picked up some magnets that represent the different sub-atomic particles, a CERN polo, and a comic book about particles.  

If you want to learn more about CERN and the scientists who work there, you could get this book.

Because even if you are a particle physicist, you still need to come back to the real world sometimes and figure out how to use the coffee machine.