Sunday, September 30, 2012

{pretty, happy, funny, real} On Our Visit to the Iron Lady, First Steps, Marking Territory, and the Difficulties of Starting School - September 22, 2012

This entry is from September 22nd.  Last Saturday, we left for our vacation and I didn't manage to get this out before our departure.   For more {pretty, happy, funny, real}, visit Like Mother, Like Daughter.


On Wednesday, Muschi and I packed up the girls and trundled off into the city.  Our first stop was a shopping center in in Montparnass to buy this picnic backpack (we had a gift certificate).  Our second, and primary destination, was the Eiffel tower.  It was high time that we had a picture of the children in front of Paris' s most recognizable landmark!

The Iron Lady-- this filigree giantess does not disappoint!

Maria was charmed to see the tower, which she has seen so often in pictures and books.  (We've visited the tower before, but Maria was asleep in the stroller by the time we got close.)  After a couple moments, the excitement of the monument wore off, and Maria began to look around for more mundane sources of entertainment, like chasing pigeons and exclaiming over Louisa's chubby cheeks.

 Both girls enjoyed the playground on the Champ du Mars. There is something special about these photos of the playground with the tower behind it.  


Houston, we have a biped! 

This picture was taken on Tuesday, after Louisa walked about four steps from where Muschi was seated at the the table over to the bed.  Louisa had just accepted a croissant from Muschi and being much preoccupied with the gift, walked to the bed without holding on to anything.   Presumably, she was going to the bed wipe her crumb-covered, buttery hands on the sheets.

It's remarkable how children arrive at these milestones without even realizing what they've done.   After all that struggling and flopping about, is simply happens one day and is as natural as anything!

The victor enjoys her croissant.


To my delight, Maria is getting the trick of going to the bathroom outdoors. I have no talent for getting my toddler to the bathroom when we are out and about, so this makes me very happy.

I've heard women speaking with pride about all the places they've breastfed their babies.  They keep a running list. 

I have the feeling I'm going to be the same about of Maria's marking the territory.  So far, our list is small--the back yard, the parking lot by playground, the alley by the school.  Now, I get to add the Champ du Mars!

{also funny}

A conversation between man and wife:

Me: (After we'd settled in for the night) Shoot! There's laundry in the dryer.  Donnie, would you be my knight in shining armor and get the laundry.

Donnie: Oh, that means I have to sneak by the dragon (aka: Louisa, who sleeps in foyer, which must be crossed to access the laundry.)  Ughh.  Sure.  I'll be your knight.  But, I have to find my shiny armor.  Would you get it for me?

Me:  Where is it?

Donnie: In the dryer.

End of story, Donnie got the laundry even though he didn't have the armor.


We're still suffering pangs of adjustment from the beginning of school.  Maria's excitement over school lasted only for the first few days, and has transformed into outright resistance.   When it comes time to leave, she pitches a fit, trying every trick in her repertoire to delay departure. First it's the "I'm too tired" phase, then it changes to the "I want Pooh! No, I don't want pooh!" phase.  There have been a number of days when we've carried her, literally kicking and screaming all the way to the maternelle.

Maria's adjustment to the Haltegarderie was no where so difficult.  The Haltegarderie was more like a play date with a lot of really wonderful toys.   At the maternelle, the teacher to student ratio is lower, and the mornings include many structured activities.  The children need to move together as a group.  The Maitresses must be quite strict to get everyone where they need to be.  Lets face it, just getting a group of 15 toddlers onto and off of the potty is a major operation! The teachers aren't able to spend much time comforting upset children. There's at least one crying child whenever we go, and that child is usually left to calm down by him or herself.   The language is an extra burden for Maria, who always seems a bit dazed when we pick her up.

I'm certain that it is a matter of acclimation, and that Maria will soon be rattling off French and have a bunch of little friends whom she looks forward to seeing at school.  But for now, I'm grateful we're only doing mornings four times a week.  It also makes me rather more interested in investigating homeschooling for the future.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

{pretty, happy, funny, real} On School Clothing, Visits, Rocky, and Chopping Rabbits

{pretty, happy, funny, real} - "capturing the context of contentment of everyday life" is hosted over at Like Mother, Like Daughter


Maria started school at the nearby ecole maternelle last Tuesday.  For now, she's there during the mornings---Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 8:30 to 11:30. (In France, Wednesday is not a school day for young children.)

It's strange to be sending Maria to school at the tender age of three; especially when we are leaning towards homeschooling in the future. But we have a unique opportunity for Maria to be exposed to the French language and culture by going to nursery school.  More importantly, this seems the only way to provide Maria with playmates of her own age--they're all at school, so that's where you have to go to find them! 

L'Ecole Alain Fournier is a light-filled building.  Here and there,  rose vines wind up its concrete exterior.  Maria's classroom has wonderfully intriguing nooks--a book corner, a built in play-kitchen, a corner for cars and other wheeled vehicles, a padded enclave for story time.  There's a separate room for art and a restroom with toddler-sized toilets and sink. The smallness of everything is undeniably charming--everything so carefully fashioned to be used by children. Seeing the low-hung coat hook labeled with Maria's name made my heart go pitter-pat.  There was a clear feeling that Maria was entering society.

I expect I'll be writing more about Maria's school experience after a bit of time has passed.  All this was just a preamble to say that one of the nice things about school starting is the school wardrobe!  It has been fun to unearth the beautiful cool-weather garments that have been awaiting their Autumn debut.  Among them, a lovely, plum, patterned retro top from Bruni and the ever-adorable owl backpack.

Gotta love the owl backpack.  It reminds me of those caterpillars that have scary face-like markings on their bottoms to scare off predators.  I feel sure that Maria is safe from raptor attack while she's wearing it.  Hey, it may also keep rodents away, like those owl statues people put in their gardens!

And this wonderful blue dress from Muschi.  The patterning in the flowers reminds me of slavic art.

See also the color block dress in the pictures below!


Maria has yet to talk about any of the other children at school, but her feelings about our little downstairs neighbor, Pauline, are the same.  They are still good friends!

Pauline is going to a different school on a whole day schedule, so the girls will now see eachother mostly on Wednesdays and weekends.

{another happy}
Taken just after Muschi's arrival.  We did not plan the coordinating outfits :)

As I write, Muschi is in the next room, sleeping off jetlag!  She'll be staying with us for ten days before Paschi arrives and then we'll all go for a week in Provence.  I'm excited to have my mum with me and have some extra help juggling munchkins! And then there's seeing Da and Provence--so much to look forward to!

Maria's school schedules requires all of us to wake up earlier. This has its ups and downs.  One of the difficulties has been that Maria's and Louisa's naps are no longer in sync.  That has made some of my afternoons very long indeed.

After one such afternoon, Donnie came home to find me in a less than amiable mood.   After weathering dinner, Donnie, pater familias that he is, devised a way to energize his family though the difficult post-dinner, bed-prep hour.  His method: put on the Rocky soundtrack and perform a sort of dance-boxing training montage.  It was a little Rocky, a lot Napoleon Dynamite.

Now you know why our landlady heard peals of laughter through our window that evening, and why I'm fond of the man I married.


I cooked a rabbit on Tuesday night.  It was skinned and had the feet removed, but the head was still on when I bought it.  My exact thought when I put it in the cart was, "Well, it's about time I confronted something with a head."  After going through check out, I knew that rabbit had to be on the menu for that night because I couldn't live with it hanging around in the refrigerator.  It still had eyes, after all.

The idea of eating a rabbit doesn't upset me--as cute and fluffy as they are, they're pretty far down on the food chain.  Still,  I knew that carving the rabbit would take a good measure of my self control.  I found some Winnie the Pooh on Youtube and set the girls in front of it.  I didn't want Maria wandering in and asking "was dat?" while I was decapitating Coco Lapin. Once the girls were sufficiently engrossed, I prepped carefully, delaying the moment when I would pull the rabbit out of the refrigerator.  

I don't often confront the creature-liness of my food.  As I stripped the plastic off the package and got a full view of the rabbit's bloody form, a wave of squeamishness crashed over me.  It was much harder to look at than a chicken.

Then I discovered that a rabbit is also much harder to cut than a chicken.  "Why didn't we put a cleaver on our wedding registry? They're so practical!" This thought strayed through my mind as I desperately sawed at a leg joint.  I wanted the rabbit to not look like a rabbit as quickly as possible.  I went through my arsenal of knives, and finally made some progress with the kitchen shears.

The end of the story is that I'm probably going to do this again.  Part way through the cutting, once the head had be removed to the trashcan, my discomfort subsided.  And the stew was tasty.  Using a whole rabbit provides a marvelous variety of flavors and textures, since many of the organs are included.  I'm  excited to try a version with mushrooms.

As for Maria, at dinner that night, she wasn't the least upset that we were digging into Peter Cottontail---a comfortable carnivore, that one!  She grinned at us and asked in her impish way, "who's going to eat the ears?"*

Loulou realizing she got the ears. Actually this is not a picture of Loulou eating rabbit---but it gives you the idea, because the rabbit stew also had spinach in it.

*The ears were not included, by the by."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Heart for C

In the early spring, we pressed primroses that were growing in the garden.  Noe they've dried to delicate shades of indigo and yellow.   Maria glues them down onto a piece of paper.

Meanwhile, Louisa tries to instigate a game of peekaboo.

It works!

The fruit of our labor!  Not sure what it will be, but it's for C!

Donnie's sister Cristin was married last Saturday.  We are so happy for her and her wonderful husband, Steve! 

A numbers of factors converged to prevent us from attending the wedding.  In honor of their nuptials, I wanted to share a memory of one of my first interactions with Cristin. 

It was the summer of 2003.  Donnie and I had not yet begun to date, but were in Connecticut together because I was acting in one of his movies.  Though we were not dating, I had a huge and (in my mind) unrequited crush on him. 

We were at a barbeque, and Cristin and I were standing next to one another at the food table.  Something happened to draw our attention.  Cristin and I both found ourselves looking at Donnie, who was off on the other side of the lawn talking with some other guests.

Without preamble, Cristin said, "I love that boy.  I don't know anyone like him."

Faced with C's unfettered honesty, I responded in kind.  "Me neither."

The moment marked the beginning of a relationship, founded on a shared affection for a certain person, but it also crystallized in my mind what's so special about Cris: her honesty, her loyalty, her forthright, loving heart.  Now that I've come to know her a bit better, I can add her incredible work ethic and tenacity to the list.

Cristin has always made me feel welcome in the family.  As a friend and sister, she has been a great contributor to the happiness of our married life.  Now we wish her every joy and blessing as she commences her own married adventure!

Congratulations to you both!  Love from all of us!
Not a wedding photo, obviously.  We are so excited for those!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wochenende bei Familie Schulz

On the weekend of August 25, we visited my German host family at their home in the Black Forest.  Traveling went smoothly.  Our journey took about six hours door to door, but involved being on five different trains.  We were happy to arrive with all children and bags accounted for and place ourselves into the capable hands of my host parents, Bruni and Dieter, and my host sister, Alina.

It was a great weekend, spending time with the Schulzes, and  Maria and I even got to visit my host grandmother, Oma Christa, at her retirement facility.   The weekend involved lots of reminiscing about my year with the family.   It was a comfort and pleasure to discover that lots of things are the same, even after twelve years of water under the bridge and numerous life-changing events.  The Schulzes are as friendly and fun-loving as they were.  The candy and chocolate are still stashed in the same living room cabinet,  despite being in a different house.  Oma Christa's bright, mirthful eyes.  Of course, some things are different.  I couldn't help but look at Alina with something approaching awe.  She was six when I lived in Germany.  Now she's a lovely, bright, good-humoured young woman of eighteen.  And Fussel, the cat, has been replaced by Denni, the dog---as noble and intelligent a beast as you could wish to meet.

The Schulzes are consummate hosts.  We felt completely taken care of during the stay. We were so well fed that on numerous occasions I had to sit back and laugh out of pure gustatory joy.  

After a meal of pork filet in cream sauce over homemade egg noodles with homegrown carrots and green beans on the side, followed by a beautiful German style cheese cake and lovely mugs of coffee.
Louisa, eating her first German cheesecake.  If she looks distressed, its merely because she has nearly finished her helping.
And they showed us the beautiful town center.
This remarkable fountain explains the history of the town while providing lovely and humorous vignettes from everyday life.  Visible in the picture are a woman watering her window box and someone throwing out the nightsoil.  On the other side, there was a child peeing out of a window, and a woman washing her hair, among other scenes.

Villingen's Carnival Character,

Denni, stalking the town pigeons.  His focus was truly impressive.  A scene from the forest primeval.

 But our hosts' forethought and readiness went beyond food and entertainment.  I failed to ask Bruni about sleeping arrangements for the kids, but without my asking, she had borrowed a travel bed for Loulou.  When the weather turned cold and I discovered that I had failed to pack Louisa's sleep sack, Bruni went into her storage room and emerged with the sleep sack that Alina had used as a baby along with a bunch of toys to keep the girls happy. When we ran out of diapers after the shops closed, Alina called a family friend and rode on her bike to pick up more.

As if all this were not enough, on our first evening Bruni and Alina whisked Maria and me off on a shopping trip to round out Maria and Loulou's winter wardrobes.  The Schulzes also gave Maria a bicycle hat to keep her safe while she's using the balance bike they so generously gave her last spring.  Finally, before we set out on the return trip to France, Bruni and Dieter made sure we were stocked with plenty of food for the trip, and plenty of dark rye bread and German chocolate to enjoy once we returned home.

So thank you, Bruni, Dieter and Alina!  I hope someday we can repay your generosity!  If not directly, then in the karmic sense.  Donnie, what do you think about taking on an exchange student?  Maybe he/she could fit in the foyer.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Work of Our Hands: Angels Coloring Book

If you dip into the Catholic Mommy blogosphere, you don't have to read very far before you hear someone mention the problem of toddlers at Mass.  Not that toddlers at Mass is a bad thing--quite the contrary!  But an hour is a long time for a little person to remain quietly perched on a pew. And when a toddler starts to chatter, whine, dance up the aisle, or drop her books in the loudest way possible, an hour becomes quite a long time for her parents too! 

When Maria is in a restless mood, our best recourse is to give her a pen and some paper to scribble on.  During one service last winter, as I watched Maria scrawl away with a ballpoint, marking each page of the notebook I had given her, I began thinking it would be nice to provide a little structure and inspiration for her Mass-time artwork.  Why not find some coloring book pages specifically for Mass time?  It's never too early to start children interacting with beautiful images, correct?

There are some gorgeous coloring books out there, like this Angels Coloring Book in the iconographic style and these nice Dover Stained Glass coloring books.  I hope to pick them up some day--but we're not in an $8 coloring book stage of life.  We don't want to throw "pearls before swine wildly creative, age-appropriately wasteful, potential-artist piglets."  A better solution would be to find a pdf that can be printed and reprinted--on scrap paper if possible.

My search for free coloring book pages on bible or Church themes didn't turn up much.*  After seeing a tutorial on how to turn photographs into coloring book pages using photo editing software, I tried doing to same with photos of religious art.  After a few hours spent cleaning up images in Photoshop with dissappointing results, I decided it would be more rewarding and more personal to make my own drawings.  The result is a little book with five depictions of angels.

I had a lot of fun working on the coloring book.  This was in no small part because, as I was working on it, I was reading G.K Chesterton's A Short History of England.  It's impossible to read Chesterton without some of his enthusiasm for the Middle Ages rubbing off on you.  So I tried to give the angels some of the solemn gaiety of medieval art.  Now, I'm just a house wife with an itch to make things and this coloring book is just a little project---pages for three-year-olds to scribble on--but it's still exhilarating to place it in the sweeping landscape of Art and History, and to think that it was motivated by the same Faith that built cathedrals.

Speaking of Faith, the book is dedicated to Gracie and Sheldon Wright.  These two wonderful munchkins became our godchildren this past weekend.   We feel a profound joy that we're now bound in this way to the remarkable Wrights!  Perhaps these pages will be part of their happy memories of attending Mass during their youth--I sure hope so!

Here, in honor of Gracie's and Sheldon's entry into the Church,  is  My Little Mass Coloring Book: ANGELS.  (Please feel free to print, copy, distribute, etc.)

*It really wasn't much of a search.  I've since found this beautiful coloring book at an Orthodox educational site.  I'm sure there's a lot more great stuff out there!