Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ongoing and Outgoing

I have a few posts stuck in the queue.  Rather than take on some of the more demanding overdue ones, I thought I'd write a bit about what's going on now.

We're counting down days until to our departure to the US on June first.  We'll be spending a month in the States.  Donnie is will be away at conferences for a ten-day chunk in the the middle. The girls and I will stay with my parents for two weeks and then with Meme and Grandpa for another two.  We're looking forward to time with family and friends in our native land.  We're so very excited to introduce Louisa to her great grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  Of course, there are lots of things to do in the next nine days, but at least we now have Loulou's passport in hand. 

One of our recent ongoing projects been potty training Maria.  We didn't embark on this earlier because a.) M didn't seem very interested and b.) I thought it would be good to wait until it was warm.  I imagined things going better with the trainee running around in a near-naked state.  But it has been a cool spring--we're still in long-sleeves over here.

At last, we decided that potty training is probably one of those things for which there's never an ideal time.  With our flight looming, and with the knowledge that an airplane is a bad place to change a dirty diaper (I'm not sure even Louisa will fit on the in-flight changing table), it seemed best to start the process.  On Saturday, I sat Maria down in front of the Elmo potty training Dvd.  Meanwhile Donnie went on a special shopping trip, returning with juice and special pink Disney princess pull-ups.   And so we began.

It has been going well, though I don't foresee doing away with pull-ups for some time.  It isn't very often that Maria tells us she wants to go on the potty, but she is usually okay with trying when we suggest it.  And she successfully completes the business much of the time.  She certainly seems attracted to doing more of the dressing and undressing herself.  Funnily enough, she's completely uninterested in the whole flushing the toilet ritual.  I was under the impression that was a big motivator. Not with Maria.  She's all about the princess pants.

Meanwhile, after weeks of having a baby who could not crawl but could wriggle and roll her way across a room, we have decided to call it.  It's crawling.  It's a belly-on-the-ground slither, flip-over-and-stretch-to-get-the-thing-you-want kind of crawling, but it's crawling, and it's dangerous to our Internet router.  Of course, now I look around the apartment with new eyes, seeing all the things that Loulou will soon be getting into.  It seems like everything is either a.) pointy b.) festooned with wires, or c.) so flimsy that she'll be able to pull it down.  There is baby-proofing and increased vigilance in the forecast.

Lastly, the girls have what is either a mild case of Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease or a serious case of mosquitoes (or other critters?) finding them delicious.  The doctor is unsure.  You'll see that Louisa has some spots on her cheeks in the following picture.   The picture actually looks milder than real life.  Maria has had big bites that she scratched.  They end up looking rather awful and huge on her pale skin.  The thought of little beasties repeatedly feasting on my girls makes me a little crazy.  We've put netting over Loulou's bed, and I've had bug-repelling essential oils wafting through the apartment.  It makes me miss insect screens--just a little.

Now for a dramatically lit picture of Loulou.  Sorry, none of Maria.  She's just that much quicker, and that much more bored with being in front of the camera.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Trip to Brittany and Normandy: First Three Days

At last, here's the write-up of our Easter vacation (April 6-11).  First of two posts.

Last month, we had a wonderful vacation with Meme and Grandpa.  They rented a mini-van and took us to Britttany and Normandy. It was so good to spend time with them and to see a little more of France.

Here's an account of the trip:

Holy Week

Donnie is away Monday through Thursday at a workshop in Cluny. I'm home with the kids. I'm still not used to managing on my own with these two girls! The days are so full. In the evenings, I work on the labels for Bridget's Apothecary.

Good Friday

On Friday morning, we make a family trip to the market to buy supplies for a welcome dinner. Mom and Dad arrive at our house in the late afternoon, after hours of "exploring" the Paris area. (I won't go into gory details, but the short of it is, if you're renting a car in France, don't use Hertz!) We have a dinner of salmon cooked in parchment paper with lentils and rice and cut veggies on the side.

That evening Donnie and I pack. The children seem to sense our excitement, and wake often in the night.


Mom and Dad arrive at the apartment. We load the car and make it our of the house only an hour and a half behind schedule. There's some crying a Louisa falls asleep for her nap, but the rest of the ride goes well. Mom valiantly rides in the seat furthest to the back---a position that induces immediate car sickness. We have a picnic lunch out of the back of the van in a parking lot--cheese with sliced veggies on baguette. I feel vindicated for having bought an absurd amount of cheese at the market the day before.

We arrive in Dinan. Our hotel (the Rue de Jerzual Best Western) is located on a bank of the river Rance. From outside the hotel, we can see the port of Dinan and the town's dramatic viaduct arching over the river valley. I attempt to get the children to a nap. Loulou dozes while Maria warbles and jumps around in her cot. Donnie, Mom and Dad explore the town and find coffee. They return and we slowly make our way up the medieval thoroughfare, Rue de Jerzual, to beautiful restaurant, Creperie de le Artisan.

The ambiance of the Creperie is nothing short of perfect. The dining room has craggy stone walls and timbered ceilings. There are model frigates hanging from the ceilings, and a merry fire in a blackened hearth. At the head our our table there's an oil painting of a genial Breton grandmother, watching us benevolently from her canvas. We choose our crepes. Brittany is famous for its thin buckweat crepes with simple and utterly delicious fillngs. In an adventurous leap, Dad abandones his resolution to never eat tripe, and orders Andouette avec fromage. (Andouette is a sausage from the from linking of a calf's stomach.) We order the children's menu for Maria. Unfortunately, it includes a tri-color cocktail---sugar and dye with a little water added. Before long, Maria drains the glass and is talking in long, incoherent, sugar-charged spurts. Donnie and I share a caramel crepe for dessert.

When we return to the hotel. Meme and Grandpa watch the kids while Donnie and I try out the hotel hot tub. The massage settings are so forceful and create such a roaring froth, that we end up sputtering to keep the foam out of our eyes and mouths. We can't help but giggle, imagining the view the people manning the security camera are seeing. When another couple arrives at the hottub, we intentionally refrain from warning them, wanting to see their reaction to the maelstrom. All four of us have a hearty laugh.

Perhaps it was the three-dye cocktail, or the German cartoons before bed. That night, Maria sleeps terribly, crying in her sleep.

Easter Sunday

After a terrific breakfast the a the hotel restaurant, we set out for Easter Mass at St. Malo Church in old town Dinan. After giving us directions to the church, the concierge tells Donnie: "I appreciate your dressy-casusal outfit for Easter Sunday." Such a funny compliment.

Maria and Louisa fall into deep sleep early during the Mass. Mom and I remain seated, not wanting to wake them after our difficult night. The church is beautiful. It's gothic with a sparsely decorated interior. There are some gorgeous windows, including some showing the transport of St. Malo's relic's to the church in Dinan, and another incredible window showing Our Lady of the Rosary. There's also an ornately painted organ.

After Mass, we set out into town, and eventually plop ourselves down in a restaurant named something like "Maison Fruit de Mer". I order whelks because I'm sure what they are, and ordering them seems like a good way to find out. Turns out they are a sort of sea-snail-type mollusk and are  delicious dipped in mayonnaise. We have oysters and a number of other treats. The meal drags on because our waiter forgets about us multiple times (it was a very busy restaurant). He gives us a round of chocolate mousse to make up for his negligence. We emerge from the restaurant a good three hours after we entered, stuffed to the gills and very happy. A fitting Easter feast.

We return to the hotel and attempt to get the kids to rest, but it's already after four--no dice. Meanwhile, Meme sets up an Easter egg hunt. The tradition in France is that on Holy Thursday, the church bells fly to Rome and return on Easter Sunday. During their return journey, the bells deposit chocolate eggs, bunnies, and hens in the garden. We love this version of the story since it ties in better with religious tradition than the Easter bunny.

After Meme gives the signal knock on our door, we tell Maria that the Bells have passed by. A trail of plastic eggs leads through Meme and Grandpa's room and into the hotel courtyard to a stash of Easter candy and gifts. There are chocolates, new pajamas, some Easter-themed books, and a new game. Thank you, Meme for bringing all the Easter goodies for the hunt!

That evening, Donnie and I explore a little more of Dinan's medieval quarter. We walk on the ramparts and see the statue of Betrand de Guy. What a lovely thing it is, to walk through an old city at night! There are wonderful smells, and our appetites finally reawaken after our Easter gorging. We stop into a tiny pizza parlor, and in less the ten minutes are walking back down Rue de Jerzual, pie in hand. When we return, the children are still awake. We have a late night pizza and clementine party. Then it's lights out for everybody.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Face It: On Haircut Remorse

A friend once proposed a rival site to Facebook, called Face It.  People would only post when they were having a bad day and wanted commiseration. No vacation photos or cute children's antics allowed.  Face It posts are written in that spirit.  They are "complaining songs" to put it in the parlance of Winnie-the-Pooh.


My Dearest Maria,

Lately, I have been thinking about what our relationship will be like when you are a teenager. I imagine that your feelings about me will be complex. You will think:

She is my mother.  She gave me life...
....but she also gave me that haircut.

There it is, staring at you from the pages of our family album. Memories of (what I hope will be) a mostly golden childhood will flicker and grow wan. How you were ever happy with that on your head?  You will look at me with sad, solemn, brown eyes, and ask "why?"

So here's where I explain myself.

Once upon a time, you had more hair than any of the other babies in your peer group. I tried to corral it with bows and barrettes and tiny rubber bands, but it was too much. It hung in your eyes, stuck to your face, and generally resembled a haystack. One day, I sat you down and chopped it off. "Why didn't I do that months ago?" I asked myself. That day you looked like a toddler version of Jean d'Arc.  The cut was simple and striking.  A few days later, emboldened by my first success, I sat you down again, and did some fine cutting to give you my best version of the Vidal Sassoon stacked bob. The muses of the barber's art were with me that day--it looked well. People complimented you cute, "French" haircut, and asked where we'd had it done. I was pleased.

But from there, the muses left me. I tried to recreate that cut, only to find that my hands didn't know how. After each attempt, I said to myself, "next time, I'll find a professional." But as your hair grew back out, I'd forget my resolution, and remember that first chic cut. And so I'd find myself once again, scissors in hand, with the chant "Save the money!  Cut it yourself!" resounding in my head.

I see you now, thirteen-year-old Maria.  You are glaring at me.  "Mother as tragic artist" does not compute.  A little desperate, I do what no mother should and appeal to your vanity:

Well you know, Dear, any little girl can look cute in pigtails. It takes a really cute little girl to pull off the hairdo of a Norman knight on his way to subjugate the Saxons.

Norman knights on their way to subjugate the Saxons.

You're not appeased. I read accusation in every line of your face. It's too much. I snap.

Fine!  You had running nose that I couldn't keep up with. That hair needed to be gone. It was the boogies--the boogies made me do it!

There, thirteen-year-old daughter, an answer more awkward than any you imagined.  Be at peace.

This post is really an apology to my dearest Mum.  She chose the highly practical bowl-cut for me as a child, and thirteen-year-old Julia (and 27 year old Julia) have been known to gripe about it.  But the days of griping are over.  28 year old Julia understands.  Generational justice has been served.

A Visit from Uncle Chester*

Our good friend Nic visited us two weeks ago (April 19-22). Nic roomed with Don at Princeton, and again during grad school in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for us, Nic's studies took him across the pond to England. This visit was his first time meeting the girls, and the first time we'd seen him in many years.

It was a happy weekend. There really is nothing like sharing a meal (and some fine, summer-appropriate whiskey) with an old friend. Aside from being a long-time comrade, Nic is one of the brainiest and most sociable people we know. He regaled us with stories of about his time in the rarified air of Oxford and Cambridge. He talked math with Donnie.

Nic got a taste of our "vita domestica." He visited the market with us, toted our recycling to the drop point, and listened to us discuss the finer points of sleep-training. To top it off, he got to hold a tooting baby. Now doesn't that make you want to visit!

Just before his departure, we made sure to take these pictures.

Lovely to see you, Nic! We hope it won't be long till our next meeting.

*After a mysterious packaged addressed to "Chester Oxford" was delivered to the boys' apartment, Donnie and I decided that Nic must be using the name as an alias. Since then, we have received a number of communications from Uncle Chester, in the form of postcards, letters, and even a chocolate rabbit. Write on, Uncle Chester.