Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekend: Bruni and Dieter's Visit

We had a great weekend, though humbling in some respects. On Friday we all went into Paris.  My host parents, Bruni and Dieter Schulz, were visiting and we made arrangements to meet them and my parents at Place de la Concorde.  It was a blustery day with intermittent rain showers.  I had a monstrous time getting the children out of the house, and was almost in tears on the walk to the train station.  We missed our train and arrived late, only to discover it that had begun to rain and we had left our only umbrella on the train.   In a few minutes, we found Mom, Dad, Bruni, and Dieter who were half soaked from the deluge.  It was nonetheless a merry reunion.  We took shelter in a cafe and ordered hot drinks and lunch. 

After eating and getting the girls into new diapers (not a negligible task in a restaurant bathroom with no changing facilities), we went out to stroll the Champs Elysee.  The street was lined with Christmas market vendors.  There were booths selling mulled wine and all kinds of  street food---sausages, crepes, curries, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts.  Then there were booths selling gift items--baby dolls, hats, scarves, wooden puzzles, Russian dolls.  Bruni kept saying "this is not typical French, but it is nice."  Christmas markets are really more of a German tradition, but the French have appropriated it, and the Champs Elysee market was lovely.  There were many things that I wold have loved to buy, and many foods I would have loved to taste.  Perhaps it was for the best that the cold and the need to stay together prevented any serious shopping or eating.  We rounded out our Paris visit by ducking into the Haagen-Dazs cafe so I could nurse Louisa and we could all enjoy another round of warm drinks.  Here we are (minus Donnie, who is taking the photo), before parting for the metro:

On Saturday morning we (that is Donnie and I) tried to take Christmas photos.  You see, my Mum bought the girls matching dresses from Hannah Andersson.  These dresses set off visions dancing in my head--visions of my family cavorting in color-coordinated outfits, bathed in clear winter light, filled with holiday glee.

Well, the baby was fussy and Maria was adamant about bringing a menagerie of stuffed friends to our shoot.  I didn't manage to put on makeup of do anything much to my hair (just the Ponytail of Capitulation).  End result: pictures of Maria looking like a cross between a cat lady and a character from a Rembrandt painting, pictures of Louisa wailing, pictures of me grinning maniacally, trying to look full of holiday cheer.


Donnie looks great.  He's a handsome man.  Actually, I'm rather fond of these pictures.

After pictures, Donnie sent me off into the city with Louisa so that I could go to Confession at Notre Dame.  The trip went far in restoring my lately frazzled spirits.
Louisa during our train ride into the city.

Notre Dame Cathedral

On Sunday, Mom, Dad, Bruni, and Dieter came to spend the afternoon with us in Orsay.  Bruni and Dieter brought such a load of wonderful treats from Germanym it was as though St. Nick himself were visiting our apartment.  There were beautiful books, clothing, and toys for Maria, a mobile and wool socks for Louisa, loads of cookies and chocolates, beer for Donnie, and that's only part of it. 

We ate cold cuts, pickles and bread in the living room.  Bruni perched on the arm of the couch because there weren't enough seats to go around.  We caught up on family news.  I relished the chance to speak German.  Bruni held Louisa.  Dieter looked at an Asterisk and Obelisk book with Maria.  Pretty soon, it was time for us to walk Bruni and Dieter to the train station. 

It was so lovely to see Bruni and Dieter again.  They are two of the most genial and good-humored people I've ever known, and I feel very much that they are family.  It's been ten years since they hosted me, and I'm so very grateful they are still in our lives.

So it was a very good weekend.  I do hope the next time Bruni and Dieter come, I'll be able to do more in the way of hosting. For now, I'm just grateful we got to see them, and humbled to have such good and generous friends.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving: The Girls

[As you will be able to tell, I began this entry on Thanksgiving Day.]

Happy Thanksgiving dear Family and Friends!

We managed to not celebrate Thanksgiving in any formal way this year, despite both sets of grand parents being within an hours travel from us. My parents-in-law are visiting France right now, but took the day to explore Paris as a duo. My own parents opted to stay in Fountainebleu while my Dad recuperates from a collar bone injury. I didn't even have a meal planned for tonight. Here's what we ended up eating:

Noodles fried with egg and onion, with red cabbage (+ bacon!) as a side. We eat noodles fried with eggs at least once a week--I am not up and running with meal plans yet, and noodles with eggs is our standby when there's no meat in the fridge. Speaking of gratitude, I'm awfully grateful for red cabbage. It tastes wonderful cooked with a little vinegar, mustard, and sugar. It's such a mysterious indigo blue when you buy it, and when you slice it, the the cross sections is so complex and yet ordered that it calls to mind medieval ornament. Then the cabbage turns a deep crimson once you add the vinegar. Beautiful at every stage...and it keeps well.

After that rambling, I'll come to the point. We have so much to be grateful for this year, and high on the list are the two small creatures who share our apartment. I find it a little difficult to write about the girls. After all, it's so much easier to concentrate on trifling things like red cabbage, and to write about Maria and Louisa is to acknowledge their fleeting youth.

Maria's personality is coming into to deeper relief as she grows stronger and more independent. She still loves books with a passion. I was going to write that she currently lives and breathes Babar--but recently Babar has a challenger in the form Winne-the-Pooh (thanks to a box set brought by Meme and Grandpa) . Maria talks about her books before she goes to sleep at night, and goes back to them as soon as she has her milk bottle in the morning. She particularly loves drawing associations between books and what she hears talked of around her. If you begin taking about ghosts, she will run and fetch the Babar book that has a ghost in it. If you read her a book about an owl, she will often want to follow it up with a different book about an owl. Her excitement at finding these connections is profound.

She also surprises us with her creative perception. Back in October, she noticed a white spot on the back of her tooth brush and pointed out that it was a ghost. Just today, she noticed a wet mark on my shirt, and pointed out that the mark looked like a "doggie" and that a nearby mark was a "bone."

Her independence is growing. Certain things she must do "by self, by self." For instance, she simply must climb into her booster seat by herself---woe be to the person who has the effrontery to lift her into the seat. She must also put her bib on "by self." While she does need help dressing, undressing is a "by self" activity, as is the donning of certain garments---her hat, scarf, and vest.

A big development in Maria's life is that she's begun going to the "Haltegarderie." The Haltegarderie is a preschool that looks after kids who have a parent at home. It's different from a regular preschool in that you can enroll your child for a maximum of two whole days or four half days. Maria will be going to the Haltegarderie every Tuesday, from 10am-4pm. (Our preference would have been to put her in for two half days, but they didn't have two days available, and given that it's a 25 minute walk in one direction, I'd only get an hour at home before I'd need to start walking to pick her up.) We've been going in for longer and longer stints, working up to a full day. Maria's last day was less than exemplary because she didn't want to take a nap and screamed when they suggested it...sleep is such a complicated matter (sigh). It may be that Maria just doesn't get a nap on Tuesdays.

Does Maria like the Haltegardeie? Good question. When I bring her in, she runs into the meelee of children and toys without so much as a backwards glance. I take this to be sign that she likes it. ( She also says "yes" when we ask if she likes it, but she says yes to all questions to which she doesn't know the answer.) When I pick her up, she's always a little dazed. Usually, she is so completely absorbed in playing that she doesn't notice me until I get right up next to her. Then she hugs me, and heads straight for the door. I remind her to say "aurevoir" to her little friends and to Ms. Isabelle, the toddler supervisor. She mumbles "aurevoir" while looking about vacantly. It's as though the room with its sturdy German playthings is already fading like a dream and has lost its significance. Mami is here to bring her back to waking life. When we ask what she did during her time at the Haltegarderie, we don't get much of an answer. When we ask yes or no questions, the answer is always "yes." I believe her vagueness is a result of the language difference. She still hasn't reconciled the Francophone world of the Haltegarderie with her Anglophone home. And the noisy abundance of the Haltegarderie, where there are playmats and play food, and most importantly, playmates, is such a different world from life at home with Mami and Baby Lulu.

How about that Baby Lulu? Well she's definitely a baby now, not a newborn. She's able to hold up her head for a while, and is very interactive (no more staring at the top of your head instead of making eye contact.) She's smiley, which is a wonderful thing for a parent-- those lovely, open-mouth grins and gurgley croons more than make up for the loss of sleep (she doesn't have a bedtime, btw.)

Louisa brightens when Maria comes near. Maria, for her part, loves Louisa and will sweetly hold her hand, and tell her to "calm down" when she cries. She will also sometimes "pat pat" Louisa in a way that is none too gentle, and Louisa is usually a very good sport.

Something else that I very much want to remember about this stage is that Louisa likes my singing. This is probably because she heard me singing to Maria while she was still in the womb. In fact, she's especially responsive to the two lullabies that I regularly sang to Maria during pregnancy. This is so different! For Maria, my singing was something of an acquired taste. I remember singing lullabies to her during the early weeks and thinking that lullabies do more to comfort tired mommas than to soothe children.

Now, I must mention sleep--it's always a complicated issue for us. I had hoped that it wouldn't be so complicated with Louisa, but perhaps its just in the genes. Louisa mostly sleeps in bed with us. We are grateful when we can get her to sleep a couple hours in the pack-and-play--our bed is pretty small. Louisa is very good at helicoptering--that is, hovering between sleep and wake, and opening her eyes as soon as she is laid down. She can helicopter for hours and often does, between 8pm and 11:30pm. So, she pretty much goes to bed when we do. When we try to go to bed earlier, she still stays up till 11:30. We're at the stage where the sleep book says "watch for an earlier bedtime to develop." Well, we're watching...

And now to make it stumbling back to the beginning: gratitude. Thank you, Lord, for these little people!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Celebrating the Season of Harvest

It's late October. We've gotten used to adding extra layers when we go outside, and have come to expect frigid temperatures in our apartment at night. We love the golden days that come our way. Autumn has broken in nicely and is comfortable and friendly, like Donnie's sherling slippers.

I didn't feel this way a couple of weeks ago, when, having just emerged from my hospital room, I found that our Indian summer had ended. The gray skies and early sunsets gave me a sense of foreboding that I hadn't felt in years. Hormones surely contributed to my dismay--and the six days spent inside, cut off from the movement of nature. But part of it was cultural. Where were the gourds and cornstalks? Where were the tasteless (and premature) Halloween decorations? The season arrived without the trappings (at least trappings I could recognize), and so I was caught off guard. In the States, we battle the waning of the light with apple picking excursions and pumkin-flavored chai lattes. Without these seasonal rituals, I felt a bit defenseless.

"What do the French do in the Fall?" I asked a British mum at the Anglophone mom's group I attend. "I don't know." she answered, "I'm sure there's something to do with wine."

The funny thing, is that the French are known for being more closely tied to the seasons, at least in terms of cuisine. While the American symbols for the harvest are absent--no jack-o-lanterns, sacrificial turkeys, or gourd-filled cornucopia--the reality of the harvest season is more immediate. Maria and I collected baskets of walnuts and hazelnuts in our backyard. My mother brought us apples from her yard in Barron Marlotte, and last week brought chestnuts as well.

I still hope to join in an autumn ritual with actual Frenchmen. I know that must exist and they must be lovely. It's just one aspect of life in France that we have yet to discover. Meanwhile, I'll show you the nuts we've collected:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Louisa Est Nee!

Looking at my outline for this blog entry, I see there's a risk that this will be a novel-length birth story---not that Louisa's birth was long or complicated ---quite the opposite. I'm not a concise writer, and when it comes to something as important as the birth of a child, every detail seems significant.

Here's the short version, without the gory details.

On Sunday, September 25, I woke to discover that my water had broken. In the afternoon, we walked to the hospital. After about two hours at the hospital, heavy contractions started and Louisa was born about two hours later, at 7:51 PM.

Our hospital stay was prolonged to six days because a blood test indicated that Louisa had a bacterial infection. The pediatrician decided to treat it aggressively with antibiotics administered via IV. We were treated with great care and friendliness by the staff at the Orsay hospital, and though it was difficult to be apart from family, it was nice to have the extra rest and one on one time with Louisa. We came home the following Saturday and have been doing well these past three weeks.

My recommendation is that that those who don't have an interest in the details of the birth stop here. I think it's generally good to share birth stories with with people who are likely to become parents, since it can be helpful to hear about other people's experiences--but understand that they're not everyone's cup of tea.

Here goes:

That Sunday began like so many mornings of late pregnancy. Maria woke at 7:30 and I grumpily pried myself out of bed to warm milk for her bottle. I sat on the couch and stared groggily into space while she frolicked around me. I hadn't slept well--there was the usual three or four trips to the bathroom and the struggle to find a comfortable position. We'd had a lateish night---had gone out for pizza with Mushi and Pashi the night before, and I had a kind of achy feeling that made me regret the hours of walking we'd done at the brocant on the preceding day. I was also nursing a bit of cold.

My mood darkened a shade more when I visited the bathroom and discovered that I needed a change of underpants. I thought this was just a moment of late-pregnancy incontinence--it's not rare in late pregnancy to loose control for a moment, especially when you're coughing or sneezing--there's an awful lot of pressure on the bladder! So, I changed and didn't think much of it. I made some tea and read Maria a few stories.

But soon it was necessary to change again. I still didn't think "this is it." My thoughts were more along the line of "what rotten luck to get a cold at this stage of pregnancy" and "however will I be able to keep up with laundry for the the next two weeks." It wasn't until I needed to change a third time that I began to think that my water had broken.

Now it was after nine and Donnie was up--just as groggy and cranky as I was. We had missed our chance to go to Mass at St. Martin and Lawrence in Orsay, which meant we had to find a Mass at a different Church. (In France, it's typical for there to be only one Sunday Mass, usually at 9:30 or 9:45, allowing time to prepare a Sunday afternoon feast.) We would have to take the train somewhere, and possibly do a long stretch on foot. We were both regretting our morning tardiness.

Donnie was at the computer looking for neighboring parishes when I told him that I suspected my water had broken. He was skeptical, but did google "urine vs. amniotic fluid," and found a bunch of posts on the topic. He asked if the liquid smelled like urine or bleach and I told him I couldn't smell it at all-- my nose was stuffy. I wasn't having contractions, but I did feel like the baby may have dropped down. After another trip to the bathroom and another change of underwear, I was beginning to be convinced that Louisa would be born that day. Donnie, still skeptical, warned that I had to be prepared to remain pregnant for a while longer.

We both feared that if we went to the hospital prematurely, they wouldn't let us leave. A midwife appointment a week and a half before showed that I was already 4.5 cm dilated. Usually, a woman is in active labor by the time she's that far dilated, and some o.b's might want to induce labor at that point. But with Maria, I was 5 cm dilated two weeks before my due date, and still gave birth a full ten days after the due date. I managed to reach 7 cm dilation before experiencing hard contractions. We wanted Louisa to have all the time she needed, and frankly, I wanted the opportunity to dilate as much as possible before going into active labor.

In the midst of this brew of thoughts, the doorbell rang. Who appeared but Muschi! It was providential. "Dad gave me permission to go to the second day of the brocant. I'm only here because I need to use the bathroom." she said as she walked in. I told her my suspicions, all the while thanking God for sending Muschi to us when he did. We wouldn't have to deposit Maria with our neighbors while my mom drove in from Fountainbleau--our babysitter was already on site.

Time passed and it seemed more and more likely that my water had broken. We began gathering things for the hospital. We did our best to remain calm and positive. We had a lunch of bread cheese, and cold cuts with tea. I went to put Maria down for her nap.

It was difficult to leave Maria. I teared up as I sang her usual lullabies and explained that I wouldn't be home that night, and that I'd bring Baby Loulou when I returned. We were on the cusp of a great change, and Maria didn't--really couldn't--know what was about to hit her. I was also a little scared--childbirth is a relatively dangerous thing, and I felt a touch of ancestral fear. Even if everything went perfectly smoothly, it would be the first time that I spent as much as a night away from Maria.

Donnie and I began our walk to the hospital. Here's a picture of me taken before we left:

I still wasn't having contractions and we thought the twenty minute walk might help move things along. Muschi planned to deliver our bags to the hospital after Maria woke up. It was a bright, clear day. As we walked along, Donnie and I talked about how odd it was that we were on our way to have a baby.

Being Sunday, the hospital was virtually deserted. The admission office was closed, and it wasn't until we found the nurse's break room that we saw anyone at all. Donnie explained the situation. The nurses asked how far along we were, and after hearing that we were already at 39 weeks, they smiled, said "good luck," and showed us to the delivery wing.

After a short wait, we were met by Sandrine, the midwife. Sandrine had a calm manner and air of competence that reminded me of the Magee midwives. She was pretty--in her early thirties, with dark hair and light blue eyes. She spoke very good English. The swab test showed that it was indeed amniotic fluid that I'd been leaking all morning. Sandrine also did an internal check--I was at 6 cm. She gave me a hospital gown and indicated the way to the toilette. "You want to go pipi now. After this you must make pipi into a --um," and she mimed a receptacle. At this juncture, my heart began to quail. It's one thing to use a bed pan when you are in pain and unable to move, but to be feeling perfectly fit and be told you won't allowed to walk to a toilette is another.

You see, we hadn't asked the midwives any of the questions you're supposed to ask when you're choosing a hospital. We hadn't asked whether I'd be allowed to move around during labor, or if they had birthing balls, or about the hospital's episiotomy and caesarian rates. Not having a car, we didn't think we'd realistically be able to get to any hospital but Orsay. Beggars can't be choosy--so why ask? Plus, we had plenty to do during our prenatal appointments just getting though the formalities and communicating basic medical information. As I donned the gown and put paper booties over my shoes, I wished that we had gotten around to those questions. "Now, " I though bleakly, "I'm in the jaws of the system!"

I rallied when I saw the delivery room, with its large windows overlooking a wooded hill and a birthing ball sitting in the corner. I got onto the bed and Sandrine and her assistant put the monitors in place and got me hooked up to the iv drip. The monitor showed that I was having regular contractions even though I was only feeling them as vague discomfort. Sandrine told us she had to go deliver a baby and left us to ourselves.

And there we sat. We read on our smart phones. I was getting to the tail end of Ivanhoe. Donnie was plowing through the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Now and then, Donnie looked at the monitor and told me the progress of the contractions. They were getting bigger and were about eight minutes apart. I could discern them now, and was grateful for the progress. It looked like the baby might come in her own time.

There was one funny moment, after about forty five minutes in, when the labor nurse stuck her head in and asked if I was ready to push. We looked up from our reading, surprised she would ask such a question given how very relaxed we both were. I guess they had expected things to go a bit more quickly!

Next door, a baby was being born. We had heard someone--probably Sandrine--shouting "Allez, allez, allez!" ("go, go, go!") coaching the mom through the pushing contractions. Eventually, there was a croaky wail--the baby had arrived! I felt privileged to be eavesdropping on the moment.

Sandrine returned. I'd been on the monitor about an hour and a half. She did an internal check. I was at 7 cm. We asked if I might go to the bathroom. Sandrine aswered in the affirmative, and I went gratefully, pulling my iv bag on a wrack beside me. So much for the jaws of the system! When I returned, I sat and sent a few emails. Sandrine came in and saw me seated and looking rather comfortable. "Maybe you will walk around." She pulled out a birthing ball and sat on it. "You can sit on this--it helps." She demonstrated, bouncing and wiggling her hips.

Clearly, it was time to get serious. I began traipsing around the room, my iv wrack in tow. The contractions were getting stronger, but still weren't oppressive. Donnie began reading "The Man with the Twisted Lip" aloud. Outside, the trees on the hillside blazed gold as evening settled on Orsay.

It was the dancing that got things started in earnest. A few shimmies, a few umis and suddenly the pain was there. Hard contractions--so different from the gentle squeezing of just a few minutes prior. Donnie hadn't seen the change. I was still trying to process it--it seemed too early for the pain to be so fierce. "Donnie, I need you to stop reading!"

And so began the frenzy to do something--anything!--to ease the discomfort of contractions. With each one, I'd try a new position, as though changing position would allow me to dodge the pain. At least it was a distraction. I sat on the birth ball. "Activate your core*," Donnie said. "Now try to get both feet off the ground." "Not funny!" I retorted. After a few contractions, I remembered my own best advice for labor: make noise. I groaned. I sang. I hollered. The nurses heard and returned to the room.

I think natural childbirth is a wonderful thing, and an estimable goal (though it there are certainly all kinds of situations where it is great to have recourse to an epidural). I've found it to be a rather humbling experience. It only takes a few strong contractions to teach me the fragility of my resolve and pain tolerance. With both babies, I remember thinking, "My goodness, I understand why women get the epidural--I will never fault them!" With both births, I had the comfort of knowing my labor would be short, and the encouragement of a wonderful husband and medical staff. I am full of admiration for womankind--since many women go into labor without those comforts!

With both births, I found that the pain of labor came just short of being annihilating. The rests between contractions and the calm, concentrated looks on Donnie's face and the faces of the nurses were just enough to let me know that everything was okay. In the pain of labor, you see the rocky coast--Grace is what keeps you from being dashed to pieces on it!

So it continued for a while. Eventually, in my search for new positions, I decided it was a good idea to get back onto the bed. The nurses decided it was time to reattach the monitors and do another internal check. Meanwhile, one of the nurses offered me an oxygen mask. I accepted, gratefully, and after a few inhalations thought, "Oh, this is why people could get into oxygen bars". It was like getting a breath of air from a cool forest glade---albeit, one the smelled of plastic.

"Okay, you will stay here now," Sandrine announced after the check. "Am I fully dilated? Can I push?". Sandrine answered in the affirmative. Thank Heavens! It was almost over! Sandrine and the nurses began pulling on levers, transforming the bed for the delivery. As they were working, I realized I needed to pee again--this time I had no intention of walking to the toilette. "J'ai envie de faire pipi," I said. "I have the urge to make a pipi"--a phrase taken directly from Maria's French potty book. All that reading aloud had come to some good!

The pushing phase was blessedly short. My Lamaze teacher described the urge to push as irresistible--almost pleasurable--like the urge to sneeze. I have not found it to be so. It's more of a "push now or be in a world of pain" sensation. But the contractions were remarkably productive. After three or four, Louisa's head was visible. After three more, she was born.

It is a wonderful alchemy that turns nine months of waiting into a slimy, wriggling newborn. One moment naturally gives way to the next, but the break between imagining and wondering about your child and suddenly having the child plopped on your chest...well, it's one of life's great reveals.

Louisa was stone gray at birth--but moving and making enough noise to keep us from worrying. Sandrine messaged her and she pinked up, still scoring 10 on her Apgar. She had a round little face, a solemn rose-bud mouth, and heavy lidded, gray eyes--like the eyes of an icon. She was weightier than Maria (by about half a pound), and had that newborn, squeezed look, with bloodshot eyes and a touch of jaundice.

In short, she was the beautiful, funny-looking, mysterious child of our dreams.

"I can't believe you're here," I said. "I can't believe you're here."

* "Activate your core" was a catch phrase from a ball pilates video I once had. For a while, we kept a pilates ball in the living room of our Pittsburgh apartment. People sat on it or used it as an ottoman. It happened more than once that someone attempted to balance on it, with both feet lifted off the ground. In most cases, the person was sent careening across the living room with hilarious effect.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Getting Ready

During the days leading up to Louisa's birth, I had a number of overdue blog entries rattling around in my head. There was one about cheese (perhaps the best culinary aspect of life in France) and one about the brocants (neighborhood yard sales), but heading the list was a post about getting ready for Louisa. I wanted to talk about the incredibly small footed sleepers that my mom and I had collected, about our due date confusions (the French put the due date at 41 weeks while the American due date is at 40 weeks) and the formidable packing list that the hospital gave us (would she really need a wool sweater?). But most of all, I wanted to head off premature excitement by saying that we really weren't expecting Louisa to arrive until well after my American due date of September 28.

What were my reasons for thinking that Louisa would take her time? Well, the most logical of the bunch was that Maria was born ten days after her due date, and she came only after some work on the part of the midwives. Surely, Louisa would be late too. Then there was the fact that I didn't have swollen feet and could still push the stroller up hill to our local grocery store--surely the inertia of late pregnancy was yet to come. But my real reason for thinking that Louisa would be late was denial pure and simple. I just didn't feel ready.

Thank goodness these things have a way of happening in their own time, despite our notions of preparedness! Louisa was born on Sunday, September 25th at 19:51. She weighed 3.52 kg (8 lbs 2 oz) and measured 51 cm (20 in) long. She's a lovely little pip; Our cup of joy runneth over...

I'm going to save Louisa's birth story for my next entry. Right now, I want to share a few pictures from the days leading up to Louisa's arrival.

I began this drawing many weeks back. It's now framed and sitting on a shelf in the nursery. It will probably also be the first drawing in Louisa's baby album. Do you see that it's Maria reading a book to her soon-to-be born baby sister? Maria's favorite toys are listening in. I hope to do a second drawing to pair with this one. Maria has requested that it include a train.

One of the chores of the week before Louisa came was washing all of Maria's 0-3 month clothing, along with all of our new acquisitions for Louisa's layette. In the interest of saving electricity (we don't pay for it, but we don't want to ire our kind landlords), I hung most of it up to dry. Our apartment looked like a gypsy encampment for for a couple of days. There's a special pleasure that comes with hanging such tiny garments, even if it does take up a lot of space.

Vive le brocant!

Our landlord, Roland, (a wonderful character whom I hope to intoduce to you at length) gave us heads up on two brocants happening in our area. Brocants are communal yard sales. They're big events, complete with musical entertainment and fair food. Brocants are especially wonderful because they happen here, in this old country. When people clean out their closets in France, they find the usual modern clutter (novelty mugs and broken toys) but they often also find beautiful, old things: mismatched tea cups, hundred-year old prints, saint medallions left over from a pious aunt. They sell these thing at a brocant table for a couple Euros a piece. After all, space is precious. Turns out that the flea market eclectic look that you find with a hefty price tag at Anthropologie and in the pages of decorating magazines is quite affordable at the brocants.

As are baby clothing. Which is great because we've found that in France, baby clothing is quite expensive. The Carrfour (we think of it as the French Walmart) sells baby sleepers for 10 Euros a piece--pretty hefty when you consider that it will only be worn for a month.

Maria was a summer baby and spent most of her first months in Gerber onesies so we didn't have much in the way of cold-weather clothing for the 0-3M sizes. Furthermore, the hospital gave us a detailed list of what to bring for the baby (it is standard in French hospitals to bring clothing for your baby), and it included 6 sleepers, a wool sweater, a cotton sweater, a hat, bunting, wool socks, and more. The two brocants we visited went a long way in filling the gaps in the hospital list.

But more importantly, the Paliseau brocant, or rather, my intense desire to visit every table at the Paliseau brocant, kept me on my feet for about six hours on Saturday, the 24th. We theorize that it was this unusual exertion that broke my water and brought Louisa into the world the following day.

One last picture:

There are my two loves on the evening before Louisa's birth. Donnie is reading a book on his smart phone---probably the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the same book he would read to me during the early phase of labor. It's wonderful to see how these ordinary moments string together, and bring us to the watershed events of life!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Smile, You're On French TV

We have a friend who has the habit of getting into adventures.  He'll meet someone for the first time at a restaurant and be invited to play with tigers the next weekend.  His stories have plenty of interesting characters, chance-encounters, and pyrotechnics.  We've often mused over how he manages to get involved in so many tell-worthy things.

"Well, part of it is just that he's Brian.  The other part is that when someone comes to him with an idea, he just says 'yes'."

That was Donnie's explanation.  I think this may have been in the back of Donnie's mind when Science Accueil, the organization that helped us find our apartment, called saying that Channel 3 was doing a story on them, and would he be up for an interview?  He just said "yes."  Another story to tell.

So, Donnie's Friday afternoon was spent with three people from French TV.  He answered questions and took part in staged "scientific" discussions with his boss.  I spent the afternoon wondering if a tv crew would really be descending on our tiny apartment.  You see, it turned out to be a slice of life piece, and they wanted to meet Donnie's wife and daughter and see his apartment (the one that Science Accueil found for him).

What do you do to prepare for a tv crew?   Donnie said they'd come between 4 and 6 pm, but that was all I knew. I hid our more unsightly clutter, put out a fresh table cloth, and put on a bit of makeup.  Maria was in her pretty periwinkle dress.  Around 5pm they arrived.  The crew consisted of two friendly Frenchmen, both named Daniele, and a serious-faced woman named Florance who was so slight that she looked like she would break under the weight of her camera.

The first thing they wanted was footage of us walking around town and going shopping.  We took Maria out in the stroller and tried to act naturally as the camera trailed us to our local bakery.   Our neighbors startled at the sight of a film crew, and we actually held up traffic as the camera person rode slowly in a car beside us.  The girl at the bakery seemed tickled to be on TV, but several of the customers saw the camera, turned tail and left.   We felt a little awkward to be keeping our neighbors from their evening bread and were giddy with the attention. After buying two baguettes we returned to the apartment, where we drank water and mopped our brows--the day was unusually warm and humid. They interviewed us about our impressions of France.  We had only positive and rather vague things to say--we've been here over a month, but it doesn't feel that way because no one else was here during the month of August!   They filmed Maria drawing.  They filmed me peeling some apples.  They left.

So that was our little adventure with French TV--not exactly tigers, but a good time nonetheless!  The show is due to air on October 4, 22:40.  We'll try to get it in digital form to share.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lovely and Local

It's a wonderful things to be a tourist and see famous things, but it's usually the places and sights that are part normal life that stay with us and remind us how lucky we are.

Here are are a few pictures taken about town in Orsay.  

The first are from our local church in Orsay Ville, the Church of St. Martin and St. Lawrence.  The Church is a mixture of many different architectural style, but its bones are very old---its construction began in the 1100s. 

We've enjoyed the two services we've attended at the church.  They were very full and had a good number of children in attendance.  I don't even begin to understand the homilies, the priest speaks earnestly and at length.  The cantor has a sweet energy about him and does a lovely job of conducting in solfege so the congregation stays together during the hymns.

I wish I had a better picture of this window!  It shows St. Martha defeating a dragon.  It's a beautiful and strong image, and ought to be on the cover about a book on the role of women in the Church.

Below is a house on our street.  See the espaliered pear trees growing against the wall?  There was an  evening last year when Donnie was telling me that trees could be trained and pruned in this way, so that they have a small footprint and get plenty of sun.  It seemed terribly exotic at the time, and now it's just down the street!
 Here's another lovely, local sight.  Baguettes are the new Cheerios.  Maria asks for bread all the time, and usually follows up the request by asking for butter and jam.  If we stop by a bakery, Maria expects a piece immediately--it's the ticket to a peaceful journey home.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Looking Back

We're now in September, which means that it's been more than a month since Donnie stepped foot on a plane to come to France. How quickly time has flown! Had things gone just a bit differently, we 'd only be arriving in France this week!

I've been meaning to make a timeline of events leading to our departure from Pittsburgh. It was an intense couple of weeks with some dramatic ups and downs, and I want to remember them. Those weeks were lesson in gratitude and perseverance. Each ugly logistical monster was defeated by the helpfulness of friends, family, and strangers. Despite our bumbling, we got here in August---and managed to do so without becoming impoverished, loosing limbs, or succumbing to bitterness!

I give you the story of our departure:

July 6th--A great day! Donnie successfully defends his thesis. Of course, he has been working intensely up to this point, and when Dada puts in extra hours, Mama does the same. We know that the move if before us and have packed a few non-essentials.

July 7th--We learn that INRIA (Donnie's employer in France) has sent us the "Convention D'Accueil" at last! This document is one of the main requirements for our visa applications. It's more than a month overdue and we've canceled two earlier consulate appointments because we didn't have the document in hand. Julia goes to the French Consulate's website and discovers that the next available visa application appointment is on August 1st, the day Donnie was planning to leave the country. Calls to the consulate's mainline go unanswered.

July 8th--Julia reaches someone in the consulate's visa department. The situation is worse than feared. Not only are there no appointments before August 1st, but it will take at least a month to process the paperwork, so no leaving for France until the beginning of September. Hand-wringing ensuse. This could mean no salary, no health coverage, and no apartment for a month on top of ticket change fees and the additional cost of buying new (more expensive) tickets. Plus, the certain discomfort of flying while 37 weeks pregnant and the risk of having a baby over the Atlantic. Donnie emails his advisor, our landlord and INRIA. We learn quickly that Donnie can stay on as a post-doc for the extra month, and our landlord will allow us to stay another month---phew.

July 12th--We hear back from INRIA. They are pulling out the stops, but are not optimistic about Donnie receiving the visa in time for his August 1st flight.

July 13th--INRIA asks Donnie to send scans of our documents to the Science and Technology attache at the French Embassy. Meanwhile, Donnie is working furiously on thesis revisions.

July 14th - Bastille Day. The Consulate is closed and our attache contact takes a long weekend.

July 19th - Still no news from the Embassy. Maria has a mysterious fever with no other symptoms.  We're tired from the suspense and aren't sure whether to pack or dig in for another month.   We have a frank conversation---it seems highly unlikely we'll get to use our tickets.  Best to resign ourselves to leaving in September.   We're still nervous about arriving so soon before the arrival of the baby, but grateful to have one more month with Pittsburgh friends, and to have longer to prepare for the move.

July 21st - At 3:30pm Donnie receives a call from the attache. Can we make an appointment in DC the next morning? Donnie says yes. Julia calls Jennie to see if she will put us up the night---she says yes even though she has an early shift the next morning and will need to stay up to let us in. The Wrights' generously lend us their car and we rush off to DC. We arrive in DC at 1 am and are greeted by Jennie.

July 22nd - We arrive at the Consulate at 7:45 am. The day is astonishingly hot. Our appointment goes well. We bum around the Alexandria Mall waiting for the Consulate to reopen to we can give them a self-addressed express envelope to mail us the visas. We leave DC still not knowing how long it will take to process the documents. During the drive home, we receive a welcome call: we'll have receive the visas by Monday, July 25th.

July 23rd - Julia's 28th birthday is spent at work. Donnie heads to CMU for more thesis revision and Julia packs. The Wrights once again come to the rescue and have us over for a dinner complete with birthday cake!

July 24 - Donnie is still working furiously on thesis revisions and we're still in suspense about when his adviser will sign off on them. (As my Dad says, advisers have a way of getting kooky just before their students leave!) Lynn and Kate come over to pack boxes and move furniture.

July 25 - New crisis! Julia discovers that there are no moving vans to be rented within hundreds of miles, if not in the whole country. Luckily, she finds HELP-U-MOVE. The only drawback of the service is that we need to secure parking for an 28' trailer on our crowded urban street. Oh la, la! Brian brings his work truck and Donnie, Brian and Moirin disassemble our couch (which had be sawn in half to fit into our apartment) and bring it to Moirin's.

July 26  - Donnie's adviser signs off on his thesis--hallelujah! We manage to reserve all the parking spaces on our block--thank you kind Pittsburghers! We have our last Movie Night, sans movie. We serve pizza to our friends then ask them to pack. Luckily, we're too busy to become nostalgic--otherwise there would have been mopping to do!

July 27 - Moving Day. The trailer arrives right on time, shortly followed by Brian, who takes the morning off work to help us. Julia packs while the guys move. A little later, Fr. Mike comes with Br. Paul to do more moving. Donnie goes to CMU to pack up his office and take care of some administrative chores. Donnie returns and Mom and Dad Sheehy arrive. Lunch, then more packing and moving. Around 4:30, we're told by someone at HELP-U-MOVE that the driver is on his way to collect the truck and we need to "button it up." David arrives and we spend a frantic half hour throwing things into the truck before getting another call saying the the driver won't arrive until 8pm. At last we finish. We shower and head over to the Wrights' for a farewell cocktail party. It's a beautiful party and we say goodbye to our wonderful friends.

July 28th - The Wrights come over and we pack everything that won't fit in the car and take it to the post office. At last, the apartment is empty except for a thriving population of dust bunnies and a few bits of furniture that friends will remove after our departure. We say farewell to the Wrights and to our dear city and head East.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who helped us move! These transitional experiences teach a person the quality of her community. There were many times when I needed all my energy to keep myself from panicking and Donnie had his hands full finishing his thesis. Meanwhile our friends and family were packing boxes, carrying furniture and doing what needed to be done to get us on our way! We are in your debt.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Beautiful Market

I'm not very bold, so I didn't take pictures of the beautiful, bright eyed fish or the tiny, plucked partridge bodies at the market this morning. It seemed that I ought to buy something to earn photo privileges--and I'm not up to it yet. So far, I haven't bought anything but fruit and vegetables at the market. I have very little French and wouldn't know how to cook much of what I see at the market. Hopefully time and lesson (in both French and in cooking) will change that,

What I'm really intrigued by are the meat, fish, and cheese stalls. The market we visited this morning in Orsay-Ville (not the neighborhood market we usually visit) had at least three different meat stalls, a stall devoted entirely to poultry, and several for fish. Much of the merchandise was terribly exotic. There were cows tongues, meats mixed with gelatin, mysterious sausages, and what must have been entrails. There were innumerable cheeses with colorful rinds--the only ones I recognized were Camenbert and goat. The poultry counter had tiny game birds that were only partially plucked and looked like they'd provide only two or three tablespoons of meat. The fish counter was a revelation--"so that's what a turbot looks like." It was rather grisly, but also beautiful. We are carnivores after all, and it makes sense that all this artfully arranged carnage should awaken the appetite. I hope that someday soon I'll take home a rabbit or a duck complete with head and feet. I bet it would make a wonderful soup....

Thursday, August 25, 2011

We Want Metric!

Yesterday we had our first appointment at the hospital in Orsay. It all went swimmingly, and reinforced our appreciation for French hospitality!

To give a bit of background: Donnie contacted the hospital more than a week ago to ask what we needed to get started. They said that they would send us a registration package. Well, a week passed and no package arrived. Finally, yesterday morning, Donnie was able to get past the hospital answering system and talk with a person. When this person heard how soon Baby is set to arrive, she cried "Oh la la" and immediately got us an appointment for the afternoon. Donnie heard her laughing as she made the arrangements. We've been terribly nervous about jumping into French healthcare so late in the pregnancy, and it was welcome to hear laughter instead of scolding (or, worse yet, a refusal to take us)!

We arrived at the hospital not sure what would be in store. We knew we had to get registered, which consisted of giving a clerk our contact information and telling her that we're not yet signed up for social security. She didn't make any fuss about this, which was a great relief.

Then it was off to the maternity ward where we met the cheerful secretary who was undoubtedly the one who was laughing while making us our appointment. She was very patient and explained things slowly and threw in a bit of English where she could. She also arranged a Monday appointment to meet an anesthetist (it's standard to meet with an anesthetist whether or not you want a natural birth--they want to make sure they can give you an epidural if they need to). At this point, we began to walk out, thinking we had finished our mission--luckily, the secretary saw us,and asked where we were going. Not only was this a registration appointment, but I'd get to see a doctor as well.

Our doctor was actually an intern and looked about 18 years old to me, but she was perfectly professional, friendly and again, very patient. She had a mobile, expressive face--a kind of face that seems more common in France. We went through the file that Magee had given us and translated the information into our new Orsay file. The doctor understood some English and invited me to speak English to her. She even apologized that her English wasn't better! The process took quite a while--I don't think I've ever had a doctor spend that much time with me! It turned out that the conversion to metric was a bit of a stumbling block. We couldn't remember the conversion of feet to centimeters and were pretty iffy on the pounds to kilogram conversion. Our new smart phones weren't much help because we didn't have reception. Finally, we arrived at some numbers that seemed right and the doctor made arrangements for me to get some blood work done and a third ultrasound to determine the baby's weight and size. Then there was the examination, which we went very smoothly with only a few translation hiccups. The great news is that Louisa is head down and all appears to be well.

After the appointment, giddy with relief, Donnie and I went to the grocery store and bought beer and juice to celebrate.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Last Sunday I finished my first knitting project. It's a collar for Maria to wear in lieu of a scarf. (Those little scarfs do get awfully tight around little necks!) I'm grateful that it turned out to be a wearable garments. There were moments when I thought I probably out to unravel it and start again. When I started, I was in a bit of a frenzy to make something and didn't consult any patterns or instructions. I did most of it in the stockinette stitch, which means that the edges are all bumpy, but I think it ended up working.

There's a little loop of elastic that goes around the button flower and holds it together.

My friend Eva taught me how to cast on, knit, and purl---I'm indebted to her for starting me in what will hopefully become a lifelong hobby. By the way, Eva gave birth to a beautiful baby boy about 12 hours before these pictures were taken. Little Conor is destined for a well-dressed life wearing his mama's beautiful knitting!

Sunday evening, we had Moirin and the Wrights over for dinner. Dinner was grilled flank steak with homemade flatbread with green chutney.

I have little expertise in dealing with large cuts of meat (for budget reasons, we usually stick to chicken thighs and ground beef), but there's a marinade recipe that I'm very fond of. The marinate is a bright green and has a wonderful tangy, herby smell. It makes the preparation almost as pleasurable as the eating!

On Monday, Maria and I joined Lynn and Gracie for some strawberry picking. The strawberries were pretty sparse--we filled about half of the containers we took before the girls needed to stop--but they were oh so sweet and delicately textured. It was hard work, but very satisfying. Berry picking is such a wonderful summer rite! I'm grateful that Lynn asked us along. It was a long trip and we wouldn't have done it on our own.

A little update on Maria. She's been doing a lot of talking. Lately, she has been particularly enthusiastic about the words "button" and "bottle." She's been stringing words together and forming questions "Where da choo choo ball?" (she has a ball with Thomas the Tank Engine on it), and likes pointing out when something is wet ("Mama hand all wet"= Mama's hands are all wet) or finished ("Dada bre all done" = Dad is all done with his food). She's also gotten pretty good at jumping. Now, when she's particularly happy about something, she'll give a little hop to express her pleasure. It's such a joy to see these little developments!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Our Fourth Anniversary

Yesterday was our fourth anniversary. It turned into quite a holiday!

The truth is that Donnie and I find it difficult to plan personal celebrations--especially date-type celebrations. We're much better at the impromptu fete. I used to think this just meant that we were an unfussy, low-maintenance couple. But after a couple of years, I've come to realize that planning for these little milestones--birthdays, anniversaries, even the odd Valentine's day--is important. If you stop paying attention to them, time begins to look like one long undifferentiated stretch--and that feeling can lead people to do all kinds of silly things!

We decided a few weeks back to copy our friends the Waleses and adopt the traditional list of anniversary gifts. The list provides an extra measure of structure and inspiration for those of us who find it difficult to find something new to do every year. The fourth year anniversary gift is fruit or flowers (under the UK list) or silk and fine linen (under the US list). We opted for the fruit or flowers, in part because I didn't think Donnie needed another tie.

Our plan was to go out for breakfast and then meet at the Phipps Botanical Garden in the afternoon for some tea, and a flower viewing stroll. We went for breakfast at the new Pamela's on Murray. The space is beautiful--they're new gallery provided enough people--watching opportunities to keep Maria fully entertained. The food was good too, and came in heaping quantities.

As my gift for Donnie, I spent much of the day making my version of a German fruit-topped cake. (It's a layer of vanilla cake covered with pudding, covered with fruit, covered with gelatin.) My plan was to bring this cake to the Phipps to have with our tea. We'll, I didn't plan sufficiently for cooling time, so 3:30 rolled around and the kitchen was still a mess, and the gelatin on top of the cake no where near solidified. I called Donnie and he suggested that we skip the Phipps and that way he could come home early for the tea, and then he and I would go out in the evening.

The afternoon unfurled quite beautifully.

Donnie's gift to me was a beautiful peridot-colored, linen scarf with flowers on it (notice he managed to include the UK and the US gift in this one present). I've been a bit obsessed with linen since reading Women's Work and discovering it's amazing moisture wicking . It's also so very chic and European to wear a summer scarf!

We put Maria down to sleep and our dear friend Lynn came over to keep watch. Donnie and I headed to the Southside. It was one of those scrumptious summer evenings when the sky reminds you of sherbert. After a delicious dinner at McCormick and Schmidt's (the baby needed a little seafood :), we went to see Midnight in Paris. We both thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and it was certainly exciting to see the city that will be our new home!

It was a decadent, lovely and memorable anniversary!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Good Day

I want to quickly jot down some of the events of the day---because it was a lovely day and I don't want to forget it.

Maria has been particularly lovable lately, and this morning she was particularly good. We got to Mass a little late, but we were able to stand at the back of the chapel (not in the vestibule or lobby), so hearing Mass wasn't a problem. Since I didn't have Donnie with me, I opted not to take the kind offers of seats. Maria is such an avid climber now, that sitting in the pews takes as much energy as standing--she climbs all over the chair and kneeler, and inevitably wanders out into the aisle. (Not that I think any of that is "bad" behavior. I think it best to allow young children plenty of latitude at church, provided it stays fairly safe, quiet, and happy. It's just a little taxing for a single caretaker to be juggling a little climber during Mass).

Maria was very good and amused herself by playing with her shoe (and my shoes) and snack cup, arranging them on the kneeler then returning them to the diaper bag, then putting them back on the kneeler (like a little housewife trying to figure out the proper arrangments of knickknacks on a shelf). She also sang heartily with the hymns and chants. She's been very enthusiastic about saying "hello" and "bye bye" lately, so some of the singing was just "hello, hello, hello"--somehow appropriate on Pentecost. When the organ came in with the exit hymn, Maria knew what was going on, and said "all done." She remained in remarkably good humor during Donuts.

In the afternoon, we video chatted with Donnie. Here's the momentous news (my child being good really isn't momentous news, though it is a great joy). He went to look at apartments, and decided the cheaper one is definitely the better fit. Apparently the pictures the landlady sent don't do it justice--it feels bigger than it looked in the pictures. The apartment was being painted and refurbished when his visited, so the shabby wallpaper will not be there when we arrive. It also turns out that the apartment has a full bathroom and a half-bath--unexpected and certainly nice for having guests. Also, the shared laundry isn't coin or card operated, and it's so close that he says it feels like another part of the apartment. Also, the Orsay apartment in within walking distance of a train station and grocery store. It's also within walking distance of his work!

Best of all, the place is rolling with kids---Donnie's words were "piles of kids." And the backyard is an actual park complete with swing set, sand box, and fruit trees.

Donnie's only major reservation was that the kitchen is very small and doesn't have a real oven (it has a toaster oven) or dishwasher. I'm confident we can manage though--we'll have to adjust the way we eat and use dishes, but that will probably be a good experience for us.

I'm so relieved to know where we're going to live and feel especially blessed at how reasonably priced and kid-friendly it is! I've been worried about money in France, with the higher cost of living, etc, but now it feels much more like things will work out and that we'll be comfortable. In fact, I'm certain Maria will feel it's a big step up being in the same building with so many little people.

After that conversation, we had dinner. Maria ate chicken and ice chips (she pinched her finger during the gchat, so I gave her some ice chips to play with--it's the new cure-all), and related to me the story of her hurt finger and how she now had an "iiiiiiiice bol." She's been practicing talking so much. Much of it is unintelligible, but sometimes I can figure it out, and it's wonderful.

After dinner, my mother-in-law called and we had a great conversation.

Then Maria and I went out. It was a fine evening--very cool with a good wind. The trees and plants are so lush right now, and there are so many beautiful flowers. There must be many talented gardeners in our area. On evenings like this one, I feel like there's no place more beautiful than Squirrel Hill. We went to the Bartlett playground. Sure enough, there were other kids out for pre-bedtime play.

Maria showed off some new skills at the playground. For one, she climbed up the slide. I had to help her a bit, but for the most part, she got up it on her own strength. She also showed me that she could climb some of the ladders. As I said, she's be climbing more, but I hadn't realized just how much stronger and more confident she's become over the last week.

When it was time to go, Maria put up very little fuss and waved "bye bye" to the playground as we strolled away.

Anyway, I've gone on longer than I wanted. Just wanted to say that I've felt incredibly blessed today. My anxiety about the move is turning into excitement, and Maria is at such an eventful age--life is so very sweet!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Mama Daughter Date and Good News on Apartments

Donnie left for a nine day trip to Paris this afternoon. I've been looking forward to this trip as a opportunity to devote my evenings to learning French, but despite my high hopes, I still felt a disoriented and sad after dropping him off. I usually get this feeling when he leaves on a trip, and it usually drives me to watch TV late into the night or take on some half-baked craft project. Anyway, Maria seemed disappointed to be back in the apartment after our hour-long car trip and I didn't want to face leftovers, so we ventured out into our neighborhood to find some dinner.

I'm glad we did. It wasn't until we were seated at Sababa (simple and scrumptuous Israeli food--one of my favorite local places) that I realized I've never gone out for dinner with just Maria before. I think I might need to make a girls night out tradition for whenever Donnie goes on a conference trip. It was a joy to no worry about getting food on the table and to be able to focus on Maria. Maria, for her part, was very well behaved. Yes, she did try to stand up in the high chair--but most of the time, she sat right back down when I asked. I was very proud of how she cleared her plate of rice and lentils (using a grown-up spoon at that) and how she was brave enough to try my stuffed grape leaves. She was very patient, even thought we had to wait pretty long for our food. Sababa has an open kitchen, and she enjoyed watching the kitchen staff at work. The electric knife they use to shave the kabab meat was particularly interesting to her, and she grinned and pointed whenever they used it. The food was delicious and Maria and I even split a piece of apple cake.

I wanted to give little update on Maria's verbal progress. She has begun using a three word phrases like "baby high chair" (pointing out a stack of high chairs in the corner) and "Mama all done" (when I've cleared my plate). There's a conversational aspect to talking with her now, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. You can tell she wants to tell a story about what she's seeing, and sometimes I'm able to piece together what she wants to say. She's always so happy when we figure it out.

So it turned into a lovely evening. I wish I had my camera. One of the nice things about Sababa is that it has a lot of light and a fresh and airy feeling to it. Maria was also freshly bathed and well turned out, so it would have been nice to get a few photos. So it goes. :)

Another wonderful thing that happened today was that we discovered two very good apartment prospects in France. The timing is very fortunate---Donnie may be able to visit them while he's there. Both of the apartments have land lords who speak English and we've requested and received pictures from both of them. Both of the apartments have some wonderful positives and are in our price range.

One of the apartments was previously occupied by an American family. It turns out that the woman kept a great blog detailing their travels and cultural encounters. The landlord sent a link to the blog. After reading a few entries, I feel as though I've learned quite a lot! They seem to be wonderful travelers (and very socially able people), and it's one of those unexpected boons of living in the information age, that we can benefit from their experience.

Well, my time is up and French is calling!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Breaking Up Camp

I packed up our Easter decorations today. It occurred to me that I won't be seeing them again for at least two and a half years. I made those decorations two years ago, and they were part of an attempt to begin a family tradition. These early years of marriage and motherhood have been about establishing a home life and gathering the tools and trimmings that make that life comfortable and distinctive.

The people we know who are married and have children all seem to be in a homesteading pattern. They've bought houses and are in the process of improving them and adding swing sets to the back yard. They're digging in for the long haul.

And we've been watching them with vicarious joy. My fantasies include putting in raised garden beds and choosing wall paint colors. We pour over each month's This Old House with glee, picking out different projects for what we call "Future House."

But homesteading is not our next phase of life, and I need to switch gears. Now is a time for simplifying, for paring down our earthly chattel and preparing for pleasures of a different kind--meeting new people, seeing new things, taking up newer, lighter hobbies (the sewing machine is not going to France.)