Monday, August 31, 2009

Two weeks ago, we went here:

Chamonix is a cute little mountain village that has swollen to freakish proportions because it is at the base of Europe's highest peak. In winter, it's unbearable, full of ultra-wealthy ski-tourists jostling each other aside in order to spend more, more and even more money.

In summer, it's a bit more bearable. Lovely, even. From the village, you can take the adorable, tiny Montenvers train and go up to the Mer de Glace glacier- which is what we did.

The glacier is, of course, smaller in summer. Much of the surface is covered with dirt and rocks, as well- but you can still see the ice down the center.

(In the picture are my three girls, plus Z. She was our neighbor back in Ouaga and the twins have been missing her)

From the top train platform, we took a telecabin down to the surface of the glacier. From there, you can take stairs down to the entrance of the ice cave that they carve out every year into the side of the glacier. as it was kind of drippy and dark-ish, I didn't manage to get any good pictures. Sorry. All I have left is a picture of the kids cooling off after a long, hot walk around the town. Everybody looks pretty happy, except for little F. His parents didn't want him to have his own slushy drink and he had definite ideas to the contrary. It's hard to share when you're just two.

We had a picnic, everything went smoothly and it was a beautiful day.
Another BurkinaMom job well done.
I'll probably post again tomorrow. It will be my birthday, so I'll no doubt find something to say, even if it's just "OMG, I'm OLD!"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Each episode of "The Green Hornet" would start with Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee' and an corny voice-over urging me to 'ride with Britt Reid as he races toward another thrilling adventure! ' Then the brave crime-fighter and his loyal valet would go on to break up some evil racket or another.
Good fun and I loved it.
It was the late 1970's and you didn't have to have sat radio or a computer to find cool stuff to listen to. If you stayed up late enough, you could find just about anything. My favorite station, for example, would play a few old serials from the 1930's and then at about midnight the "Dr. Demento Show" came on, which was the best.
But I digress.
The point is that I thought the Green Hornet was very cool.
I liked him.
Actual hornets?
Not so much.
And this is relevant because I have about eleventy-billion of them living in the chimney of my kitchen woodstove. (actual hornets, not fictional masked crime-fighters)

They moved in while we were away on vacation and built themselves a cosy (and huge) nest in record time.
A quick look on the internet informed me that the fire department is to be called in only for"cas d'urgences'. And, sadly, their definition of an "urgence" is not the same as mine. The night I had to kill four hornets in the upstairs hallway so that the kids could go up to bed constituted, for me, an emergency. But the French define an official 'hornet emergency' as a case in which hornets have built their nest in your (or a close family member's) nostrils.
True story. Kind of.

As the nest was in a chimney, we were on our own. One site, though, did advise calling in a professional exterminator. That sounded good.
I looked in the yellow pages and picked one nearby -one I'd heard of . I explained my problems.
Yes, multiple problems.
I haven't mentioned it until now, because I didn't want to sound like a whiner, but not only do we have a huge hornets' nest in the chimney, we also have a massive wasp colony installed in a crack in the front of the house, just above the twins' bedroom window. We haven't been able to open the window for the last two weeks.
As tales of woe go, I felt it was pretty impressive.

The secretary was not all that impressed, though. She told me they were busy, very busy. Lots and lots of waspy/hornety issues this season, apparently.
"I'll manage to squeeze you in somehow, I guess." she sighed "When are you home?"
"We're always home. Us and our many, extremely irritable hornets. All here. At home. Together."
That got a laugh out of her and she told me the guys would come by on...Tuesday.
Tuesday seemed like a long time to wait.
JP thought so, too- which is why he got the idea of smoking them out on our own on Friday.
(People with stinging insect phobias and/or weak hearts can keep reading. Nothing really bad happens to anybody, except for a few bugs. I promise.)

He stood outside, monitoring the situation as I built up a nice, smoky fire in the woodstove. Luckily, our hornets are short-sighted, or just plain dumb, because they didn't hone in on him as the source of their misery. They just streamed out of the nest and buzzed around it, sort of upset, but unfocused.
I added more paper to the fire and went back out. There seemed to be fewer of them.
"Maybe they're going away?" JP said hopefully. "They're off looking for a new home?"
That seemed to good to be true.
What was not good at all was all the smoke backing up into the kitchen. Turns out that building a fire when your chimney is blocked is not all that great an idea, in some ways. JP poured some water on the fire and went back out to watch the nest some more.
Intent on enjoying a few minutes of peace, I went upstairs to write in my blog.
It's three flights of stairs up to my office in the attic and I just had time to walk up, turn on my computer and get my Blogspot page open, when I heard JP shouting "Beth! Come quick! We are being invaded!"
My first thought was "Not those Germans again! That's what we get for not mentioning the war!" (Just the night before we'd all been watching my dvds of 'Fawlty Towers')

I ran down the stairs and found JP in the kitchen battling hornets, rather than boches. They seemed groggy and were pretty easy to smash with a broom, but the sheer numbers were creepy. We couldn't quite figure out at first where they were coming from. But when I examined the hood over the stove (where the chimney passes through) two fell right out of it and practically onto my head. I will freely admit to making undignified, rather loud, distressed shrieks at that point.

JP had killed most of them already. My mop-up operation killed about half a dozen and I managed to block up the hole.

We thought the worst was over, but then reports started coming in: the kids said the hornets were everywhere...some in Tya's bedroom, in the master bath, in the upstairs hallway. Tya and Sev grabbed brooms and got to work. The twins cowered (which is as it should be), but the older kids cleaned out the rest of the house on their own and then all evening long did "patrols" to "verify security". (I guess our vacation at the military base this summer made an impression on them..)

There were lots of hornets in the house that day...but not hundreds. Where were the rest of them?
Here's a hint: Don't go in my garage, ever.
It seems that there is direct access from the Nest of Horrors right into it. The minute danger threatens, they buzz right on in there and swarm around on the beams. Every once in a while, a few of them fly right into the glass of the bathroom window, checking to see if it has weakened at all since the last time they tried to get in.
Grim, very grim. Like "The Birds", but with hornets.

Today they look relatively calmer and don't seem to be holding a grudge, bless their tiny brains.
They're all back in their nest, so our little experiment was lots of trouble for little real benefit. The only useful thing we learned was that we will be happy to pay a fairly large amount of money for a professional someone to get rid of them for us.

Hornet nest removal is not, in other words, a good family DIY project- which is a good thing to know.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's sadly ironic that a life that a vacation chock-full of fun, outings and general good-times contains SO much material for blogging, but at the same time eats up every moment that could possibly be used to blog about it.
I've missed my blog this last week, but what's a girl to do? After we got back from a great time in Germany, our friends (ex-Ouaga neighbors) T and K arrived from Bamako with their two lovely moppets, Zoe and Francis. They're staying for about a week and we're determined to show them all the nice things there are to see in our part of the French Alps.
And that's a lot of nice things...

Yesterday, we went to Chamonix, took the little train and then the telecabin up Mont Blanc to the Mer de Glace glacier. We went into the ice cave dug into the base of it and it was "cool" in all senses of the word. (I promise some pics asap)

Today, we went to the very beautiful Annecy Lake and spent the day swimming.

I haven't loaded the pictures yet from any of this. All I've got is a few belated photos of our time in Germany. Here, for your viewing pleasure:

My maiden name is Kolb, so I found the "Kolb's Biergarten" extremely entertaining. They make nice schitzel and serve very, very large beers, which is, I guess, par for the course in a German biergarten.
Here's a view of the place.
It was in a town called Worms, which is kind of sad for them.
(Yes, I know you say it "Vorms", but still...)
What really went on in Jurassic Park :
(Apparently, it was WAY more fun than the movie made it look)

And finally, here are the girls and their cousin walking along the Rhine:
That's all I've got today, but I'll try to post again soon...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

As we crossed the border into Germany this morning, I noticed an exit ramp to the right marked 'Ausfahrt'. A little ways further, I noticed another, and then another.

My! What a lot of exits to get to the city of 'Ausfahrt'!
I started to envision a bustling metropolis to rival Paris.

It was, in fact, an embarrassingly long time before I finally figured out my mistake and quietly asked JP : 'Umm...What does 'ausfahrt' mean'?"
By all rights, I should have added in a resigned and chastened voice "It's not a city, is it?', but it was all just too humiliating.

As you, Clever Reader, probably guessed immediately, 'ausfahrt' is a German word that translates as 'drive out'.
In short: exit.

And yes, I am a non German-speaking complete doofus.
Thank you for asking.

Luckily, I have the world's nicest cousins here. Not ony can they get by in German, they live on a huge, mega-cool US military base. No German required!
In fact, we spent today completely immersed in American culture. We had lunch at Taco Bell, which Valentine loved. It's her favorite restaurant, ever. And we had a shopping spree at the BX ,which everyone loved. Think Pop Tarts and Dr.Pepper. I bought WAY too much and have no real clue how I'm going to stuff all the gorceries plus our baggage back into the car for the drive back to France. Maybe if we send the kids home by bus...

The only slight imperfection in an otherwise perfect day was the messed-up, hours long dinner at an on-base, non-Taco Bell restaurant. We waited ages to get a table and when we finally did, our waitress turned out to be a sort of odd, slightly manic young person. She wielded a giant pepper mill and shared her name with us by writing it with no less than three crayons, all across the top of our table. Yet despite her mad pepper grinding skillz and constant, desperately convivial chatter, she couldn't manage to get the order straight or convince the kitchen to give us our tepid food in less than an hour.
It wasn't all the waitresses fault, of course. I suspected strange goings-ons in the kitchen that could probably be remedied by a nice long visit from Gordon Ramsay.

Tomorrow, we venture off -base and search for local color. We couldn't have better or kinder guides. They've already proposed such delights as a visit to a castle and attending a local festival, complete with beer and fireworks. It all sounds great and should be lots of fun.