Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome 2010!

Happy New Year!

We hope all of you enjoyed the holidays as much as we have this year, and that the New Year brings you joy, fulfillment, and good health.

Santa apparently received our change of address card, and was able to make it to Paris despite the fact that all our fireplaces are sealed shut. We left a landing zone in front of the window, and he AND the reindeer made it in to enjoy the cookies and veggie treats left for them.

After enjoying the obligatory Christmas treats (donut balls and egg casserole) the family enjoyed the unwrapping, and Mom and Dad were pleased to see among the boys the appearance and growth of that elusive phenomenon - the joy of giving... The day was capped off talking with family, zipping over to the nearby park on scooters to burn some of the excess calories, and watching a dance extravaganza put together by upcoming stars "The Fastest Turtle" (Eli), "Pop Style Penguin" (Lincoln), and MC Graham.

Following a weekend of intensive toy use Kristie (aka Pink Mama due to her new hot pink scooter) departed on her adventure of visiting friends in Cameroon, courageously leaving Dad in charge of three kids and two dogs. Day one was consumed with the creation of a ping-pong table (thank you Connolly family for the inspiration). The visit to the local Home Depot was a stark reminder that we are not in Kansas anymore - nor anywhere near the great U.S. of A. where cars are king and bigger is better. After a lot of asking for help and digging in bins we found two boards that could combine to be almost the right size. Lacking carts, these were large and heavy items were dragged by hand to the checkout, then out of the mall (yes mall), past the food court and down the elevators to the parking garage. Unloading was even more fun, double parking, dispatching children to open and hold the doors, unstrapping the lumber, dashing to the lobby to dump it, parking the car in the garage, recovering the children and lumber in the lobby, and hauling it up four floors (elevator is too small) to the apartment. Nonetheless, no effort would be too great for this project, as ping pong is on par with soccer at the boys school, and they have become very passionate about it.

Day two was consumed with a road trip to the commissary of a U.S. military base in Belgium, where we loaded the car to the gills with macaroni and cheese, pickles, peanut butter, ranch dressing and similar "essential" foodstuffs. Luckily, on day three a family visitor arrived, significantly raising the number of "eyes on target" for my most adventuresome charge (Lincoln), and encouraging the addition of food groups other than Pop Tarts to our diet.

To my own surprise there have not yet been any major mishaps - though I did have a fatherly failure when I tried to claim the identity of Optimus Prime - leader of the Autobots (from the Transformers movie - source of Lincolns favorite characters). We happened to be in the kitchen trying to cook dinner which was becoming harder as the bickering escalated - so I made a crass power grab hoping to get my youngest autobot to stand down a bit. Sadly, my claim was summarily rejected when he immediately shot back back "Dad, you're not Optimus Prime... Optimus Prime doesn't cook!"

In a later effort to convince him that cooking can be cool, we made a family treat formerly known as buckeyes - now rechristened "sugar bombs", probably because they are one part chocolate, one part peanut butter, one part regular butter, and two parts sugar... While the sugar and fat managed to convince him that cooking is a respectable activity Lincoln stopped halfway through, gave me a huge naughty grin and offered up a third name of "chocolate farts".

Despite these strong indications of my tenuous grip on parental authority we decided to enjoy New Years in style out on the town (graciously assisted by our incredibly patient house guests). In honor of its 120th anniversary, the Eiffel Tower has a special set of lights, so we joined a few thousand Parisians in watching a cool light show topped off with some fireworks, and then popping some bottles of bubbly (apple cider and the other kind) to mark the New Year. Other than a VERY crowded metro ride back home, it was a huge success and is making for a very calm and quiet New Years morning...

Again, we hope all of you had as much fun, and that the New Year is a great one for you.

Stay posted for the conclusion to the solo Dad series - because tomorrow I lose my backup, and will pack our (much smaller) car with three boys, two dogs and a sled and take a road trip to the alps in search of snow.

A few memories from the end of 2009

Christmas morning
Mom and Dad enjoying a Holiday dinner out

Brotherly love

Showtime (note the kneepads - and skid marks on the wood floors)

The Fastest Turtle getting down

Game on!

"Massage Train"

Ping Pong buddies

Too Cool for School

Dancing with the Doggies

Happy 2010!

Bottoms Up

Reinforcements Tom and Hilde

Autobots in the kitchen

all the best from the Swaney Boys

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Seasons Greetings

Happy Holidays everyone

We've been trying to make the best of the holiday season - Paris is gorgeous, and we've even had several small snow storms, (see below) - which made the kids and dogs VERY happy.

We have been slowed down a bit by what we think was the swine flu - plus some nasty secondary infections... but we think we are finally on the mend.

Anyhow - we hope all of you are well and wish you a blessed holiday season and wonderful 2010.

We had the luck to celebrate Thanksgiving with Kristie's family - and a trip to EuroDisney

Here are our mad hatters in their teacup

Lincoln riding the Metro with his friend Bud

Scene from a boatride on the Seine

EuroDisney with the Grandparents

We also had the great fortune and opportunity of attending the wedding of brother Dan and wife Viviana in Milan, Italy
Our stomachs are still full!

Bride and Groom

Our very own Eiffel Tower

Christmas Choir

Fun in the snow

First snowman in four years

Graham's birthday party - on the ferris wheel

Party Guests

Happy 11th birthday buddy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New home again

Dear Family and Friends

Hard as it sometimes is to beleive we finally made it to Paris, where we are enjoying a gorgeous fall. The weather has generally been fabulous, uncharacteristically warm and sunny, with enough chill in the air for us to savor the need for clothing that has been in the closet for four years.

Of course we miss the people and places and things we came to love so much in Cameroon, but the school here is fabulous, our apartment is almost as gorgeous as my wife, and the bread and cheese are to die for. We live in a very posh but unpronuncable neighborhood called Neuilly-sur-Seine - and enjoy proximity to a huge park (Bois de Bologne for you francophiles out there), and good (if pricey) shopping. It takes about 1/2 an hour to get to the Embassy, basically going straight up/down the Champs d'Elysses (usually on a metro line).

The boys love their scooters, but are still working on their "street smarts". Predictably, Lincoln has given us the worst scares with traffic due to his total ignorance about life outside a home or school enclosed by walls and filled with people watching out for him. Nonetheless, he is now good friends with the "green man" - and becomes very upset if any family member dares cross the street when his evil twin the "red man" illuminates...

Kristie is doing a great job with the million chores of settling in, from finding a new doctor to finding places to put all our stuff, when the furniture stuff is still weeks away... My work is also going well, though the embassy staff and community is much larger, and much less cohesive.

In short, things are falling into place and we are enjoying our exploration of our new life, while holding onto what we can of the old.

Scooter adventures - looking out on "La Defense"

Crossing the Seine to get to the skate park

Boys in front of their new school - Marymount

School picnic

An afternoon at Luxembourg Gardens
yes the boats and carousel are still there, and we will get the appropriate picture next time

As a reward for reading to the bottom - the final picture of this post commemorates our latest cultural mishap - and by far the most expensive trip to the pool in Swaney history.
Having subjected the boys to not only the monotony of unpacking, but the indignity of substantial new chores (did I mention missing Cameroon...) - we decided to reward them with a trip to the community pool, which they learned about within 48 hours of arrival, and have been asking about ever since.
After the usual delays we rolled out (at least the boys on scooters did) - stopping (wisely) at the ATM. After a short walk we arrived and started trying to puzzle out the system. Meanwhile the boys were attracted to and amused by the vending machines selling googles and swim trunks. Realizing that there would probably be equal parts water and chlorine at an indoor pool in France, we went ahead and made the investment in 3 new pairs of googles. Serendipitously, Lincoln got an orange and black pair, which soon led to a decision that he had "become a fish, I'm Nemo".
We made our way into the dressing room where the boys and I got into our bermuda style swim suits (feeling rather cool I would add) - and then deciphering an automated locker system. All was going well with our adventure until we got to the entrance to the pool itself whereupon a pair of lifeguards barred our way pointing to a sign about "shorts".
It turns out that "shorts" - what you or I would probably call a mans bathing suit - is, to use the words of our hosts "absolutely forbidden" (it sounds even better in french with the attitude). Our feeble plea that these are the only suits we own for three boys who have been waiting for weeks to come to the Speedoville pool was summarily rejected.
Luckily, we knew just where we could find four regulation suits to keep our outing from being a very short one. While they were fairly priced (15-20 USD) - I had to swallow hard before making another sizable contribution to the wise retailer who had cornered the market for uninformed americans with a swimsuit emergency. After a good laugh about the whole thing, Kristie managed to convince some pretty resistant boys that they were lucky they would get to wear a "fast" suit like she does...
As you see, the story has a happy ending, and our three little fish had a great afternoon playing in the nice, but slightly chilly water. For those who are wondering, the answers are:
Yes, I needed a new suit also
No, I went with the marginally less revealing "boxer style" suit
and No - you should not expect any pictures
Hope you are all well and enjoying your own adventures - keep in touch!
The Swaneys

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A La Prochaine

Goodbye Cameroon!!!

It was a busy last few months as the Swaneys 5 wrapped up our tour in Yaounde and said our goodbyes to a place we will carry in our hearts forever.

We can't possibly recount the whirlwind of events and tearful farewell events -nor can we express our gratitude for all of the kindness and friendship shown to us.

To sum it up - while we are excited about the next adventure in Paris we left an extra large peice of our hearts in Cameroon, and are looking forward to our next visit.

Below are a few highlights from the farewells, and our (ongoing) rest and relaxation in the U.S.
For those of you wanting the scoop on Graham and his moment of fame, my father put together a short video of the award ceremony that is available at Unfortunately Secretary Clinton had to cancel, but it was a really nice event and both Graham and Yaounde got a lot of attention and compliments.

One of the many, many farewell dance offs at the pool

Eli and his Posse at his B-day party

Yaounde Cub Scout Pack 1

Kristie and our Hip Hop guru

Highlights from the American School

Visiting in Vermont

July 4th Parade with Cousin Jackson and Family

Lincoln enjoying a spin on the tractor

Boy battle by Lake Champlain

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Kristie - Congrats Graham

Kristie celebrated her 38th by having a few dozen of her favorite pals over to our dance club/patio

The boys ensured that the disco ball and lights were in good working order... and did some hip-hop

The swim season finished up with a great swim meet - and lots of fun - thanks to coach Shirley!

Lincoln enjoyed the school science fair - because his teacher had the good sense to do things that required action

Kristie and her class put on a great show also - with Graham doing a great experiment on electricity.
We don't have a picture - but Graham won a VERY prestigious competition for a video he made about life in Cameroon that will help families coming to Yaounde (or thinking about bidding on a job here) what it's like. His infectious enthusiasm and unique commentary impressed the judges, and he collects the prize money (yes) - in July from a very special MC. (More on that later).

Cameron continues to be an active member of the family - and is shown here picking on her brother "Scout"

Cub scouts is coming to a close after a good year - the boys are shown here at a nearby village where they coordinated a giveaway of clothes and toys for local kids.

The village is no more than 5 miles from us as the crow flies - but is a world apart from our daily reality
Another school activity has been "Heely" class (cross between sneakers and rollerblades) - and the older guys are shown at a presentation they did at the annual school bazaar.