Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

We had a WONDERFUL Halloween!  It was Will's first year of trick-or-treating, and he picked it up pretty fast!  Soon he was pointing and saying "That house?  That house?"

Even Andrew seemed to really enjoy Halloween, despite those pesky candy wrappers.

Here are some videos from our fun night, and a few photos!

Hope you also had a Happy Halloween!

Will and Andrew as the Tortoise and the Hare for Halloween!

It's Halloween!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rosetta Stone Review (French)

I love Paris.  I love baguettes, croissants, and strong coffee with a touch of steamed whole milk for breakfast.  I love France.  I love the culture.  I love a place where people still go to a different store for their bread, meat, and vegetables, because that's how you get the best of each.  I love a place where it's normal to sit for an hour in the afternoon with a glass of champagne and watch people walking by on the streets.  I love that the people would rather have fewer things and less space and take long lunches, more weeks of vacation, and longer maternity leaves. 

September, 2009.

I love that you can park yourself on the grass in front of the Eiffel tower and split a bottle of champagne and a pizza with your husband and it's legal.  I love that people speak quietly in restaurants and on subway cars, so you can enjoy your meal to the murmer of many voices instead of the obnoxiously loud conversation of someone next to you.  I love that people dress nicely for the theater and for dinners in restaurants, that you're never over-dressed for a date because someone next to you decided to attend in jeans.

I love the cheese.  I love the chocolate.  I love the bread.  I love the language.

When we got on the plane to come home from our trip in September of 2009, I actually cried when the wheels started to move the plane down the runway for takeoff.  I wasn't sure I actually missed my cat enough to come home.

Now, I can't wait to go back.  I want to re-visit Paris, and the Cathedral at Reims.  Explore the French countryside, make it down to the coast.

It might not be soon, but I'm sure we'll get back.  In the meantime, I've been working on my French.  (At the very least, it'll help when we take our next road trip to Canada!)

Greg got me the Rosetta Stone French software for my birthday, and I have to say, I'm impressed!  Research shows that immersion is the best way to learn a new language.  That's why more and more college language classes are being held entirely in the new langauage even at early levels.  Rosetta Stone does this by using images instead of translations, so you're always thinking and learning in the new language instead of thinking in your native langauge and translating - an extra step that gets in the way of learning.

I've taken French classes in high school, college, and at a French cultural center in Boston, and I have to say that I feel like I'm learning just as fast with Rosetta Stone. 

Here's some things I like:

I can do it from home, whenever I want, for as long as I want (essential for a parent of young kids!)
I find it really fun
I already feel as though I've learned a lot, just putting in four or five hours a week
There's a great online feature where I can take classes with other new speakers and a native instructor
There are online games that take less than five minutes to play but are good vocab refreshers
The headset works great, it actually tests your pronunciation

Things I don't like as well:

It's hard to eat and drink when using the headset

It was hard to figure out where to start since I've taken quite a few French courses.  I don't want to miss anything, and yet I'm not a beginner either.

There's a lot of repetition, which is how you learn, but was frustrating until I figured out to do a major lesson one day, then the grammar, listening comprehension, and vocabulary sections another day, since they often contained repeats of the slides from the lesson (this makes sense)

I'm not sure how it will do with advanced grammar.  I think it's an amazing resource for conversational French, but I'm not convinced you can master a language without some direct explanation. 

The software is really expensive, so I never would have bought it for myself.  That being said, there's ALWAYS a sale going on, and it's less expensive than taking the French courses would be, by far.  I also don't have to pay a babysitter, or spend money on gas to get to a French class.  (The reality is that I just wouldn't be learning French.)

Overall, I love it so far, and I am three weeks into learning, four-five hours a week.  I would recommend it to anyone seriously interested in learning a new language.  Not learning more French when I was in school has always been a regret for me, now maybe I can fix that!

Can't wait to get somewhere French speaking and order myself a baguette!

A baguette... or champagne?  Or champagne and a baguette?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Train Cake!

Will loved his birthday cake :)

As part of Will's birthday celebrations, we had a birthday lunch for my side of the family at my parent's house up in Maine.  A little tired out from traveling, I lost some steam (pun intended) when discussing the possibility of making Will a train cake for his birthday.  Turns out, this was a good thing, because when I went upstairs for a nap, my mom and Greg took Will to the grocery store and bought ingredients and decorations for the BEST TRAIN CAKE EVER.

Crafty, baking enthusiast Mimi... engineering Eagle Scout husband who used to win cake competitions in boyscouts... it was pretty spectacular.

Here's what they came up with!

Here's how they did it:

Cake: Mom took four mini loaf pans and baked chocolate cake in them, adjusting the cooking time and using a toothpick to make sure they were done.  Each loaf became a car.  She used leftover batter in mini cupcake tins and a few of those stacked on top of each other became the front of the engine.

For the apple cart and the pumpkin cart, we left the loaves intact rather than leveling them off with a serrated knife, so that they would look like they were abundant with cargo.  For the log car, we leveled it off, keeping scraps to make the grill of the train.

Frosting: Mom made a butter-cream frosting and we used food coloring to get the shades we wanted for a colorful train.

Apple Car: raspberry m&m's come in a beautiful two shades of red and are slightly larger than regular m&m's, giving the cart a real apple look.  White piping around the top of the cart, and oreos divided make up the front and back wheels (we put wheels with stuffing on the backs of the carts, and wheels without stuffing on the front).

Log Car: Pretzel sticks cut down to size with a serrated knife, secured with dabs of white frosting that we used to pipe details onto the rest of the train.

Pumpkin Car: Will's birthday is in September, and the Halloween candies were out!  Hence the adorable little pumpkin candies that made perfect cargo.

Engine: Greg cut a cake loaf in half and then used those scraps and a master hand at frosting to put this train engine together!  He used mini cupcakes to make the front of the engine, securing them with spaghetti (it all has to be edible in Greg's world - a standard leftover from his scouting days) and then using a marshmallow and frosting to make the smoke.  He even cut the grills out of cake and applied them with frosting.

Base: My Dad cut a cardboard box to an appropriate size, taped paint sticks to the back for structural support, and covered it in tinfoil.  Although this was his primary contribution aside from photographing us, it could be argued that my Dad did more than I did in this whole process, since I just messed around with food coloring and frosted some of the train cars.

Verdict: We had a GREAT time making this cake, it was one of the highlights of my weekend!  Will LOVED it.  As soon as he saw it, he started pointing and saying "Train!  Train!  Train!" It was amazing :)  I am so lucky that I was too tired to figure it out... because I couldn't beat Mimi and Greg's train in this lifetime!  They are AWESOME.

Happy Birthday, Will!

"Train?  Train!  Train!"

Greg holds the base that Dad made for the cake, prior to aluminum foil.

The true engineers at work.  I think Dad is getting himself some decorations to eat. That's mostly what Dad and I did. Have you ever had pretzels dipped in frosting?  They're good.

Look!  I helped!

Will engineers his own log car :)  He loved the different decorations on the cake!