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.)