Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009: Did I Just Say That?

(Pictured above: Andrew (at my request) pretending to throw Ella's DS out the window)

I truly believe that (the occasional co-worker, spouse, or family member aside) only your children are capable of frustrating you so much so as to produce the most outlandish things to creep out of your mouth. For example, I just heard Andrew tell Ella that if she didn't go to bed (all three of the girls have been loud and rowdy for 45 minutes since putting them to bed), if one more peep came out of her mouth, that he would throw her D.S. out the window so that it would break into a million pieces. And Andrew is VERY patient so you can imagine the calm tone in which he explained this consequence to Ella. Now, I know he wouldn't follow through with his threat. But I can certainly understand why he said it - how frustration can cause you to dig deep and figure out what in the world will actually get THROUGH to your children? I know I feel like I am constantly threatening to take away this or that in retaliation to repetitive bad behavior. It's actually gotten to the point where Mia will ask me, "Mom, what if I don't stop ? What will happen?" She is 4 years old and literally weighing her options - would it be more fun to continue this bad behavior and accept the punishment or is the punishment bad enough that I should stop? And sometimes I am just thinking to myself, "Did I just say that? Did I really just tell my children that they would get sent to their rooms for the whole night with no dinner? Did I really just tell them that any toys they don't put away in the next 20 minutes will soon find comfy homes in the trash can? It's crazy. And I know that Andrew, me, we are not alone. Surely, many of you feel the same frustration from time to time. And figuring out the solution is a tricky game of trial and error which I have yet to win! Anyhow - just another example of how it doesn't matter where in the world you live. The same parent/child/family dynamics exist! For any of you reading this blog - I would love to hear any examples you might have of outlandish things you may have said to your children and after you were like, "Did I just say that?"

Now, onto other stuff. Life has been pretty... wet lately. I won't spend too much complaining about the winter weather in Caen but indulge me for just one minute. It has been wet and cold and cloudy. Not too different than Chicago in the winter, actually, if you trade the precipitation results. If it got just a tad colder here, the rain would be snow and then there would be greater understanding from my family of midwesterners. We have a history with snow - we know how to shovel it, how to catch it on our tongues when it is light and fluffy, how to play in it to make snowballs, snowmen and snowangels, we know to have snow scrapers in our cars for unexpected snow showers. But we really don't get snow that never turns to snow - snow that comes down as rain. It's wet. It's unrelenting. It's muddy. It makes you cold. It usually is accompanied by clouds. And it's hard to form snowballs or snowmen. Now, don't get me wrong. I know there are many upsides to all this rain. Green grass, pretty flowers, productive farms, replenished water supplies. And my favorite: rainbows (pictured above is a photo I caught one morning of a rainbow over the Abbaye aux Hommes)! Let's just say that San Diego sun can't come fast enough for me. I miss running in temperate weather where my running shoes are not saturated with mud or dripping from puddles.

Forgetting the inclimate weather, day to day life here has been fun for me. I continue to take tennis lessons where I have made some new friends. It's funny, I have learned more taking tennis lessons from an instructor whom I don't understand then those that I did back in the U.S.! I have been invited to coffee a few times with some existing and new friends - all trying to help me and my family adjust to life in France. Isn't it funny how things just start to fall into place and you meet so many great people RIGHT before you are about to leave? I just found a great new babysitter from Michigan - why just now??? On Sunday, I ran a 12km race with my friend Celine and her mother. What an accomplishment! Celine's first race ever and she managed to make it through hills of mud, sliding this way and that. We had a great time. I think we finished around 100 out of 200 women. And I like to think I placed first place for the USA. Nevermind that I was the only runner from the USA ; )

(Pictured above: Ella and her friend, Philomene, during a playdate)

Ella has been doing well. She has been busy with playdates, lately! I think before she had problems making friends but now that her classmates know she is moving, they are ready to get past all the I-like-you-today, I-don't-like-you-today-stuff and just be her friend. Which is great and is sure to leave her with lasting, happy memories of her time here in France.

Grace and Mia have been doing great, too. Every morning they say they don't want to go to school, but every evening when I pick them up they say they had a fun day. Each day I think they make closer bonds with their classmates. Each day they proclaim a new friendship has been made. In about 2 weeks, they will attend their first birthday party since living here in Caen. And they continue to be challenging (as does Ella) but I don't suppose it is the geography that is the culprit.

Andrew has been doing well. I think he is excited to get back to the US and start digging into work...and the sunny San Diego sand! He is not one for drama and drama he has had for quite a while here in Caen. He took the girls to Paris and Playmobile Land one weekend (pictures below) and they had a great time. Now, the girls will forever be attracted to Playmobile toys. And that is fine. I just wonder if the Playmobile company might be able to make the toys and accessories just a little bit SMALLER (major sarcasm)?

You might be wondering what Thanksgiving was like here in France. If you thought that they don't celebrate Thanksgiving, you would be right. Many French don't even know what the celebration is about - they just know that it exists. So no surprise that I could not find a turkey to make for Thanksgiving. Amazing what one annual holiday can do in the USA. In the USA, turkeys abound. Lots eat them for Thanksgiving. Many continue to eat them for Christmas. Big market. Not one to be found here in Caen. So for Thanksgiving, we had Cuisse de Poulet - chicken thighs. Plus I made stuffing, mashed potatoes, and green beans. We invited a work colleague of Andrew's over - he is from the Chicago area. Poor guy - all three girls have a crush on him!

We also celebrated Thanksgiving, again, on Saturday. We have friends that are American/French that celebrate both countries holidays. Andrew and I hosted and our friends and their families brought yummy stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, apple pie and we feasted on Pintard (which I believe is Guinea Hen) and other typical foods. We had fun and we were thrilled to celebrate with friends.

Around town, the village of Caen has been working hard to get ready for Christmas. For about three weeks, there were non-stop workers setting up Christmas lights, decorations, window displays. And then last week it was day after day of setting up for the Marche de Noel - a Christmas Market that literally starts right in front of our apartment building. After all is said and done, it really is pretty. The girls are ecstatic with the sparkly lights. The market is quite cute. Last night, Ella and I took a stroll through the market. There, Ella enjoyed a nice hot chocolate and I tried, for the first time, a Vin Chaud - hot red wine! And it was yummy!
(Pictured above: Setting up for Christmas around Caen)

(Pictured below: The finished results)

Other than that, things continue to move along. I am looking for a job in San Diego. I spend some time each day locating possible pediatricians, chiropractors, gyms, dentists. All the fun stuff! One of my most exciting discoveries? There is a YMCA in our new neighborhood! I spend most of my childhood learning sports at the YMCA - I can't wait to have our children go there, too!

That's all for now..but quite enough, right?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

November 28, 2009: "Best Evers, Again" - Part III

Now we are getting towards the end of Steff's trip. It is now Monday which leaves just until Wednesday to get some more fun in before she takes a very early train to Paris on Thursday morning to then catch her flight back to Chicago. Monday was slotted for a trip to see Le Mont St-Michel. We got the girls off to school and then left ASAP to get as much time as possible to spend there before we had to back to pick up the girls from school at 4:30.
(Pictured above: Steff and I and the girls, walking to school)

I think we managed to get about 1/3 of the way there when all of the sudden we got stuck in a huge traffic jam due to an accident. We literally sat there for 2 hours. Thank goodness for iPhones - we managed to kill the time by talking and listening to our favorite songs. Unfortunately, after we started moving again, it was already noon and that just wasn't going to give us enough time to get to Le Mont St-Michel and have a proper visit. So we decided to go back to Caen and do something else truly essential for a trip to France - eat Galettes and Crepes. We had to drive through twisty country roads due to the road being closed still from the accident, and though that made our drive back to Caen a little longer, it was really quite pretty. Le Mont St-Michel would have to wait until tomorrow!

Back in Caen, I took Steff to my favorite Crepe restaurant - La Ficelle. She started with a Galette, as did I. As usual, they were VERY yummy! They were filled with something like ham and cheese and an egg - full of YUM! After the Galette, we had dessert Crepes. I got my favorite, which is sugar and butter. But Steff, being a visitor in France, had to get the mother of all Crepes. She said both the Galette and Crepe she has were.....the best ever!
(Pictured above: The Best Ever Crepe)

We were totally stuffed (and yes, I am in the process of trying to work off the 5 extra pounds this trip donated to my physique) after our lunch. We got a few errands done and some walking and then, having JUST remembered a few hours prior that Grace had a doctor's appointment, Steff agreed to go pick up Ella and Mia for me from school. Grace and I returned in time to meet them all at school and I believe we went to the local carousel for a ride or two before returning home for the night.

(Pictured Above: Steff and I in front of Le Mont St-Michel)

Take two Tuesday - yes, we finally managed to make it to Le Mont St-Michel on Tuesday morning. OK - so this was officially my 5th visit to this monument in a span of just 10 months. You'd think I might be over it by now. But honestly, the drive is beautiful, hearing peoples reactions as they approach from as far at 10 miles away is so exciting, and I still manage to find a million new pictures to take each time. Steff found so many things to take pictures of that I had to give her my extra memory card - hers was already full!

(Pictured above: Steff and I at Lunch at Le Mont St-Michel) (Pictured above: Just a beautiful shot in the gardens)

I actually could see myself seeing this place a 6th time, before we leave to go back to the United States. The whole day while Steff and I were visiting, they were setting up the Christmas lights and decorations. I would love to see this place all decorated at night. It must be beautiful!

Tuesday night, after we got the girls to bed, Andrew let Steff and I go out on the town for dinner. We didn't really know what we were in the mood for so we just walked around, window shopping and trying to work up an appetite and a preference. After a while we stopped for a drink to help fuel our creativity. That worked - we decided on pizza. We went to a place I had intended to try but had never gotten to yet. It was really cute! I ordered what I thought was pizza but it was a calzone - still good though. Steff got a pizza and she thought it was the... best ever!
(Pictured above: Steff and Ella having lunch on Wednesday)

Wednesday is no-school day. So Steff and I couldn't plan anything that wasn't local, very local. I took the twins to First Babys School for the day and then returned home so Steff and I could walk Ella to her first class - drawing. We killed an hour and a half popping into shops and just strolling the streets. After we picked up Ella from her class, we did some more walking and ended up finding a cute street. We went into this one India-inspired shop and ended up trying olives, candies, mushrooms. The man was very nice. I bought a few unexpected things and so did Steff. We then grabbed some sandwiches from a local bread shop and took them to eat on some benches outside of the Abbey for Men at the City Hall (Steff and Ella pictured above).
(Pictured above: Olive mania at the shop we stopped into)

The rest of that afternoon was spent shuttling around Ella to another class, picking up the girls from First Babys School and getting everyone home. Steff went out on her own a bit to pick up some odds and ends she wanted to take back home with her. That night, we got a babysitter and Steff, Andrew and I went out to the Irish Pub to watch France play Ireland in soccer. We had a great time just hanging out. Steff had a new beer that...she decided was the best ever! It was called 1664 Blonde - which I have to say, really was tasty. It might be my new favorite beer, too! I went home early that night to meet the babysitter and Steff and Andrew stayed out for a while at the Pub. I don't blame her, who wants vacation to end?

(Pictured above: Steff and I at the Irish Pub)

Thursday morning, Steff and I got up bright and early and I took her to get the 6am train. It was sad to say goodbye, but we had so much fun and have memories that will last a lifetime! Steff was able to spend some really good time with my family and I - get to know us all together and individually. How often in life do you get a chance to do that with your friends? My children and husband now know Steff as the great person I have told them about for years and she, in return, knows the same about them. What a great visit! Thanks Steff. We miss you already!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November 25, 2009: Weekend in Paris - Part II

OK, so where was I? Oh yes, Paris! So Steff and I were GOING to head to Paris on Friday night. But we realized that by the time we arrived (which would have been 10pm or so) it really wouldn't be worth the cost of the hotel room. So we, decided to change plans and just get up early on Saturday morning.

After Andrew got home from work and we got everyone fed, Steff and I got to go out and walk around and grab some dinner. She wanted to see a few other churches and landmarks so we set out to see what was viewable after dark. The Abbaye aux Dames was closed so instead we walked up the street to see the leaning church. The interior was closed by the time we arrived, but the exterior was still pretty with the night lighting. The "lean" of the church (pictured to the right) is obvious at any time of the day! From there, we began to just walk around and figure out what we were hungry to eat. Ultimately, we decided to eat at a fondue restaurant. Andrew is not a big fan of fondue, so this was great as I probably would have never eaten at this place, Maitre Corbeau. We actually were not all that hungry after eating our huge seafood lunches, but for some reason we seemed to think that thick, rich steaming piles of cheese and bread would be somewhat light....Anyway, dinner was really tasty. But I have to say, very comical. First, the waiter brought us our fondue, which we gladly dove into and enjoyed. However, just 1 minute later another waitress came over to tell us we were consuming the wrong fondue and took it away tout de suite (at once)! Just after she gave the original waiter a look of distaste, he and she appeared right after with our correct fondue. Now, we were still missing a salad but at this point - who cares? The fondue was very tasty. We dipped bread cubes and tomato slices and enjoyed our Kir Royales (Creme de Cassis plus Champagne). Now unfortunately, when our waiter came to deliver my second Kir Royale, he made a second error and spilt the whole thing onto my lap. Now, we had an audience to begin with - first of all because they heard us talking english, but second because they saw our dinner arrive and then get taken away right as we were getting into the swing of dinner and third because the seating is very tight in the restaurant. So when the waiter managed to spill a whole drink all down the front of me and on my pants - our audience grew. Steffany and I were rolling around with laughter because we just couldn't believe this guy's luck. And ours. Tears were spilling down my face from laughing so hard - we could not keep our composure. We eventually managed to finish our dinners and our audience was lost when they were able to get their own food. But that was hilarious. Just the other day I was blogging about wanting to pee my pants from laughter - and I got it!

Saturday morning came fast. We caught the 8:10am train to Paris and during the ride we planned out our next two days' adventures. As habit goes - upon arrival we headed straight to Starbucks for our coffee fix. After that we dropped our stuff of at the hotel - The Novotel Tour Eiffel - which was perfectly fine and nicely located just about a 1o minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. Steff and I rifled through our purses and backpacks to get ready for the day and night of walking Paris. I have no idea why, but I recall that Steff managed to find about 4-5 pairs of extra socks in her purse in about 1 minutes time (see photo to your left). I usually have extra kleenex, women's products, coins, maybe even some contacts but not usually socks. Steff - what's up with the socks?

The rest of the day was spent seeing the sights. We first went to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre (to your right) - which just to throw in a weird fact, is the highest point in Paris. We expected to arrive and see a marvelous basilica at the top of a beautiful hill and though that does exist, we had to weave through a lot of other unexpected stuff to get there. We climbed the metro stairs and were greeted by tons and tons of people, hastily sorting through store after store of junk. Featured were 1 Euro and 2 Euro clothing, socks, toiletries, and rolls and rolls of fabric. Granted, I hadn't read tons about Sacre Coeur, but you'd think I would have come across the warning to avoid this lower area and head straight to the top. Consider this YOUR warning - head straight to the basilica, don't stop for food or drink or really anything. AFTER your walk through the basilica, walk around to the back - maybe see the crypt - and keep going back - that is where you will find lovely eats, drinks, boutiques and artsy fartsy stores. And to top it all off, there was a french guy singing solo with his guitar at the foot of the stairs singing, "California Dreamin" that Steff and I thought was quite appropriate given our upcoming move to...California.
(this store took up block and blocks - cheap stuff)

(the beloved Sacre Coeur - quite the site, worth the climb.)

(people crowding into these cheap stores at foot of Sacre Coeur)

(actually, among all the junk there was some beautiful fabric for sale in stores. Above - laces)

Some other beautiful shots from Sacre Coeur:
(beautiful doors)
(art show on the square)

(more beautiful fabric stores)
(loved this picturesque graffiti)

After Sacre Coeur, we went to Notre Dame Cathedral. We had both been here before, but I hadn't gone inside and Steff didn't remember much. We braved the windy, rainy line with a few other people and quickly got inside. What a beautiful place is all I could think. But then I got so sad. To see so many people swarming around, stuffed into this building, taking photo after photo around the perimeter of the sanctuary - and then to see the people in the middle praying and looking for solace, silence and assurance but having hundreds of flashes, and whispers and feet shuffling around them - it seemed wrong. I loved this place - it really was beautiful and peaceful and I wish I could have seen it hundreds of years ago when it probably was without the tourist crowds and only full of the sunlight shining through the stained glass windows.
(the beautiful lit candles in Notre Dame, prayers shining)

After Notre Dame, Steff and I decided to just amble for a while. The great thing about seeing Paris with a girlfriend instead of your husband is that you really can walk aimlessly, without a
plan. With Andrew, he would not have been happy to wander with no plan, pop into shops and just "look" around, or stop for a drink here and there (below) to people watch. But Steff, she and I were on the same page. Follow a loose plan, wander when we felt, just take it all in. And the beauty of that is we discovered so many cute little streets (below) that we would have never seen had we been following a strict plan or decided to finish exploring by a certain time. For instance - we came across the bar - shown to the right. We didn't stop in but with an advertisement like this, how did we resist?

We must have walked for miles, rode the Metro for miles and all through the rain, wind, sun and dark. So we were bound to get hungry. I had found the name of a few restaurants to try, but we discovered that one was WAY to fancy for the likes of us after walking around for hours and the other, when we arrived wouldn't take us! Our hotel concierge had called and they said to arrive between 7 - 8pm to ensure getting a table - which we did. And after what seemed like hours of trying to find
this place by foot, we got there only to be told we would not get a table. So, if you plan to try and eat at Cafe Constant in Paris - you should either be really cool and irresistible to turn away, or get yourself a reservation - even though they don't take them. Or hope that guy that welcome us so rudely that evening is not working. OK - grudge gone. Now, we stopped for a glass of wine to get our heads together on where we would try to eat next. I found something on my handy dandy iPhone and decided a taxi was the way to go at this point. We arrived at a restaurant called Market, which was delightful! We chose it because it had a connection with Vong's Tai Kitchen in Chicago (formerly Vong, I believe) which we recalled being tasty. Our waiter was polite, the meal was delicious, the drinks were yummy and the ambiance was relaxing. So
here was a good/bad situation. After dinner, we walked and walked trying to find a taxi. We followed the commotion, where we ended up on the Champs Elysee and saw the biggest traffic jam ever. Horns beeping, cars stopped, ruckus on the sidewalks - all because of a soccer game win. Egypt (w) vs. Algeria (l), I think? We stopped and tried to get the scoop (Steff pictured to the right), then walked for a really long time trying to find a taxi. We made it back to the hotel where we completely passed out from exhaustion, around 12:30am.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that Steff and I slept in until 11:30am the next day. Again, something that Andrew would have never allowed so that was quite a treat. But still, I should have been up and out exploring Paris and instead I slept (blissfully). So, I got over that quickly, so did Steff. We got ready pretty fast, checked out of the hotel, left our bags with the concierge and then started to walk toward the Jardin des Tuileries. We chose this Jardin knowing we would see lots of cool stuff along the way - so sights abounding. We walked along the river most of the way until we saw a coffee/pastry stand just below the Eiffel Tower. There we enjoyed some cafes and pastries and I, with quite some finesse, managed to knock over almost my entire cafe au lait, resulting in a nice, even splatter all over the suitcases of some young newlyweds and their clothes. We figured that was enough of that, so we climbed the stairs to get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower before we covered the rest of the way to the Jardin.

(the token Eiffel Tower picture - it really was pretty to see in the fall)

Now, you are not going to believe this, but it is true. As Steff and I got to the top of the stairs by the Eiffel Tower, we literally saw Andrew, Grace, Mia and Ella sitting there on a bench! Now, I
knew they were going to go on an adventure that weekend while Steff and I went on our own, but what are the chances of running into them in Paris? So bizarre...Andrew was consoling a very upset Ella because apparently a pigeon had stolen a crepe or something right out of Mia's hands and then basically attacked Ella for hers - with about 50 of it's friends. She was freaked out by this bird attack and has been trying to stomp on any pigeon that comes near her ever since. She won't be forgiving the pigeons for quite a while. So Steff and I gave her big hugs and talked for a while but then Ella proclaimed it was time to go home - she had had enough of Paris. So they left to go to their car and Steff and I kept walking.

Along the way to the Jardin des Tuileries we stopped to take tons of pictures of this and that (shown below). The first one below is one of my favorites. All I wanted to do was take a picture of this statue but I quickly noticed right behind it a couple in beautiful, traditional dress taking pictures for their wedding. I didn't want to be intrusive so didn't attempt to get any more pictures - but they were just beautiful!

(a pretty church in the distance)

(a fountain by the the Concorde Monument)

We finally arrived at the Jardin around 12:45pm with just enough time to grab lunch before we had to get back to the hotel, grab our bags and then hurry to the train station for our 4:10pm train back to Caen. Oh, and by the way, Steff had the "best ever" quiche lorraine at lunch that day! Actually, I think I did, too!

(empty chairs in the Jardin des Tuileries in November)

It was close, but we made it to the train station on time. The only huge bummer was that we were so late getting on the train that we literally could not find seats! We stood between cars for quite some time but I then remembered that this was a non-stop train to Caen. If we didn't find seats, we would be standing for 2 hours. It was complete chaos walking through the aisles, as many others were in the same boat as Steff and I. About 20 minutes into the trip, I could see that Steff was getting some motion sickness. That was when I said we should just go sit in first class (we had bought second class tickets - never again!) and when the ticket-takers came along just try to pay for the difference. We did it and it all worked out. We got comfy seats, took naps, paid for our upgrades, all was well.

(Steff and I at the Eiffel Tower - Light Show Magic!!)

Steff and I had a great weekend in Paris! So much fun. So, now we had Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday left before she had to take an early train back to Paris on Thursday for her flight back to Chicago. My next blog will be about those last few days of her visit.