Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Footnote to "The Bite of the Humblebee"

The day before our planned departure was one of the first warm days of the season.  I had the living room windows open.  There are no insect screens in our windows.  That seems to be the European way--perhaps because more of the land in developed and  there are fewer winged critters.

In general, we love this no-insect-screen business. It allows more light into the apartment.  It allows a us to commune with nature by sticking our head out the window.  (This is no small luxury! Many is the morning, that I restrain myself from breaking in "Who will buy this wonderful morning" from Oliver Twist when I stand before one of our open windows).  

But on this day, our having no insect screens, allowed a bumblebee to fly unimpeded into our living room.  I was crossing the room when I felt a sudden burning in my little toe.  I let out a screech and looked down, expecting to see a shard of glass.  I was surprised to see the great wooly insect, looking ruffled and indignant after her run-in with my foot.

Did you know that bumble bees could sting?  I didn't.  I'd always pictured them as the gentle giants of the bee world.  Well they can sting (though they don't do it very often), and unlike honey bees, they aren't harmed by the act of stinging.

I trapped my attacker in a measuring cup.   After running cold water over my little toe, I went back and took a good long look at her. I even took some video.  She seemed none the worse for our encounter, and set about probing the carpet fibers with her proboscis. If my toe hadn't been smarting so much, I probably would have thought her beautiful.

Eventually, I let her go and got on with my packing.

Well, you know the story of the next morning. After our return from the airport, I thought over the events of the preceding days, and mentally knit the the bee sting with our travel misfortune.  As the day went on, my foot began to itch and swell.  By evening, my little toe looked like a cocktail sausage, and I could add "not walking around Rome with swollen foot" to my list of silver linings.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Bite of the Humblebee*

Donnie and I readily admit that we're not skilled travelers. "Hapless" is the word that comes to mind. We tumble out of the house in hurly burly fashion.  We arrive at our destination rumpled and late, having forgotten something semi-crucial, like socks, and having paid way too much for rest-stop grub.  Our sightseeing is aimless, and often gets cut short in favor of taking a nap.  We are fortunate to be in France for two years, as it might take us that long to see what others would see in two weeks.

But in the past, even as I admitted to this weakness, a little voice in the back of my mind would pipe up in protest: "But, at least we do get places!  Look!  We got to [Insert destination most recently visited]!"

Well, last week, we ate such a hearty portion of humble pie, that even my little voice of protest has fallen silent.  We did not get somewhere.  The somewhere we did not get to was Italy--Rome and Assisi to be precise.

Last year, when Donnie heard that the European Workshop in Computation Geometry would be taking place in Assisi this year, he proposed that we tack on a few days and make the trip a vacation.  We'd actually been to Rome and Assisi together on a trip with the Aquinas Institute during our junior year of college.  That trip was significant in the history of our relationship, and we were eager to walk down memory lane and enjoy the beautiful and holy sites of Assisi.

Despite knowing about it far in advance, the trip crept up on us.  On the eve of our departure, while folding clothes, downloading Rick Steves to the Kindle, and trying to figure out a way of attaching a money pouch to the baby carrier,  I bemoaned that once again, we were throwing things together at the last minute.   Still, as we climbed into the taxi at 5:40 am the next morning, I thought victory was at hand.   We just had to get on the plane.

We arrived at the airport and found the Easy Jet check-in.  At last, it was our turn at the counter.  We forked over our identification papers to a young attendant wearing metallic blue eyeshadow.  "You have a passport for the baby?"  And so we discovered our mistake.  Victory was not at hand, in fact, she was out reach.   We had assumed that the only document we would need to take Louisa to Italy was her birth certificate.  How very silly.** 

She of the blue eyelids consulted her colleague, who answered with a definitive "non."  Furrowing her shapely brows, our stewardess turned back to us and said, "maybe you can call your Mairie."  We shuffled away from the counter, thinking that perhaps calling the Mairie (townhall) or the U.S Embassy was a good idea.  In few moments, we realized that it was 6:10 in the morning, and no one would be at work to answer our call, let alone rush us i.d documents in the next fifteen minutes.  The suggestion was just a way of moving us away from the counter and avoiding a pitiful scene.

There wasn't much time to come up with a plan.  Donnie still had the workshop to attend.  There was no sense in his ticket going to waste.  We transferred his clothing from the family suitcase into a carry-on and parted.  He would go to Italy; the girls and I would return home.

I made my way down the terminal with Loulou strapped to my chest, pushing Maria's stroller with one hand and pulling our suitcase with the other.  In my mind's eye, I was a refugee; a hollow-eyed figure of mourning, bereft of husband, and awkwardly outnumbered by her children.  In my defense, I hadn't had much sleep and not much time to process my disappointment.  The prospect of a monotonous and lonely week at home loomed before me, ousting visions of a sun-soaked medieval town and fresh cannoli.  And there was our foolish and expensive mistake to digest.

Regret set in.  After all we went through getting our French visas, and the administrative red tape we've encountered here, you would think we would learn to cover our bases. Alas, no.  We had seen the gates of the Emerald city and even ridden the horse of many colors, yet our collective brain was behaving as though we'd never left Kansas.

Mercifully, finding a cab was easy and I began to rally on the ride home.   On reentering our apartment, Maria realized that our morning adventure had brought us back to where we started. "But I wanted to ride in a airplane," she said.  We both sat down and had a therapeutic cry.  I put the baby to bed, made tea, and attacked a bar of chocolate from our snack bag.  Then I wrote a list:

Silver Linings [of not being in Italy]
*No Camembert in M's bottle (On on ride to the airport, we had realized that we'd left Maria's bottle of milk in the living room.)
*No stink from the diaper we left out (We also realized we'd left a dirty diaper next to the changing pad).
*Get to work on some Projects, like labels for Bridget's Apothecary
*Girls get to sleep in own beds (We'd been nervous about sharing a room with the girls during our trip)
*We won't get turned away from Gate when trying to get to the U.S. because we will figure this stuff out!
*Donnie and I will learn how to better share these responsibilities.

I stopped writing there.  The list seemed rather pathetic.  Even the "we'll learn from this" entries didn't bring much comfort.  The logistics of going and living abroad are twisted and complex.  I didn't really expect this to be our last wrong turn.

And so I sat back and tried to focus on the brightest silver lining of all.  No matter how petty or preventable our discomfort, God can make it good and useful.  How fortunate that this happened during Lent! I was fresh from reading various articles on good Lenten topics like renunciation, mortification, forgiveness, and the like.  Here life had handed me a prime opportunity to apply my reading. 

Donnie is back from his trip now, and I find I'm having to re-offer the experience.  One of the down-sides of missing a vacation is that your husband has to get right back to work once he returns.   Though I have occasional twinges of bitterness, I feel rather peaceful about the affair.  I didn't visit the remains of St. Frances or go to Confession at St. Peters, but perhaps a round trip to the airport can be a sort of pilgrimage--especially if it leaves you just bit more humble.

Stay tuned for Donnie's pictures from Italy!

*There's actually another event behind the title of this post, but since this is already atrociously long, I'll put that in a separate post.

**It turns out that by European law, the birth certificate was sufficient for travel, but the airline, Easy Jet, requires photo i.d. from everyone, including infants.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hurray for Mother Goose

From last Sunday:

Maria: I go get rabbit skin for Elmo.
Leaves and returns with an imaginary rabbit skin.  Wraps skin around the Elmo puppet.
Donnie, as Elmo:  Thank you, Maria!  Did you kill the  rabbit yourself?
Maria: Yes!

We've been reading a lot of Mother Goose lately.  Can you tell?  In case you're a little rusty on your nursery rhymes, here's where the rabbit skin reference comes from:

Bye, bye, Baby Bunting
Daddy's gone a-hunting
For to get a rabbit skin
To put the Baby Bunting in

My mother gave us several beautifully illustrated books of Mother Goose, and we've read from them now and then since Maria was quite small.  This is the one we brought across the pond.

Recently, Maria has begun asking for "Muddah Goose" and we've begun hearing her recite snatches of the rhymes.  Out of the blue, she'll mention "hot cross buns" or tell me she wants to eat porridge (as in peas porridge).  Or I'll be sewing and and she'll point to the needle and and say, "Ol muddah twitchett*"

We especially enjoy when she deviates from the text.

Maria: Ding, dong bell.
Me: What comes next?
Maria, laughing at her joke: Babar's in the well! 
Me: No, no, no! Babar is an elephant and does not fit in the well.

Maria then repeats the rhyme, inserting the name of one of Babar's children.  We loop until the royal elephant family tree has been exhausted.   Oh the hilarity!

Here's another example. I quite enjoy the rhyme "Davy, Davy Dumpling" and often recite it to Loulou, whose delicious chubbiness brings dumplings to mind:

Davy, Davy dumpling
Put him in the pot
Sugar him and butter him
And eat him while he's hot!

Maria, recognizing that her little sister is the dumpling, has come up with her own set of words:

Hey Baby, Hey Baby
Put the baby in the pot!
Sugar the baby
Butter the baby
Eat the baby up!

While we're enjoying Maria's enthusiasm for Mother Goose, we've found that a little background information on the  rhymes has increased our own appreciation for them. For instance, through Internet research, we discovered that "Hey Diddle Diddle" may be a way of describing the constellations at planting time.  The cat is Leo, the fiddle is Lyre, the cow is Taurus, and the moon is the moon.  Doesn't that make the rhyme ten times more interesting?  And "Pop Goes the Weasel" is actually about being poor and needing to pawn one's winter coat.  ("pop" = pawn and "weasel" = coat).  Once we're back in the States, I'd like to add this Annotated Mother Goose to our Library, and I think this book may become my standard baby shower gift.

Now, I'll leave you with a recitation of sort:

Old mother Twitchett had but one eye
And a long tail that she would let fly.
And every time she went through a gap
A piece of her tail she would leave in a trap.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ember Friday

Often our Fridays are quiet, stay-at-home days. Today was no exception.

I spent Louisa's first nap doing a little reordering of Maria's wardrobe. Father Christmas and St. Valentine were very fashion-minded this year (Thank you Muschi and Meme!). A few weeks back, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by all the choices (and piles of laundry) that were resulting from her large wardrobe. I picked out six outfits and boxed up everything else. I also made these little diagrams.

It has proven to be one of my more successful organizing schemes. Maria likes looking at the diagrams and choosing what she'll wear the next day, and it's a relief to not be confronted by overfilled bins of clothing each morning. She's also been looking more coordinated.

My task today was to swap out some wintry outfits for some spring-ish ones. I hope soon to get around to diagramming my own wardrobe and maybe Donnie's as well. Lou-lou's wardrobe will have to wait till she's out of the drool and spit-up stage. For now, we're just try to keep her clothed.

Later, we headed outside to collect cherry blossoms to press. It's exciting to see the garden under the spell of a new season.

Maria wanted to wear the special occasion outfit I swapped into her closet today, because she it makes her look like a "ba-lay daser."

We also kicked a ball around. It's silly, but I still feel happy when Maria gets mud on her clothes. It seems like a sign of a well-spent childhood.

Two pine cones found their way into the flower collection box, and pulverized the cherry blossom and daisies we collected to press. Happily, there will be more to pick in the days ahead.