Thursday, April 30, 2009
But mutant spiders and tap dancing ferrets are definitely on the back burner now.
The insightful blogger Framericain has been posting over the last two days about a tragic tour bus accident in California that occurred Tuesday. Her posts about it are far better and more relevant than anything I could write. So, I'm urging you to click on the link and go read her thoughts on this.
(PS. Although Britain's Got Talent is great, they have no tap dancing ferrets. But wouldn't that be cool?)
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Some folks type something like "how to wrap a pagne" into their search engine and end up, probably reasonably satisfied, on a page showing how to wear a West African style skirt. There's pictures, even!
And I'm pretty sure that whoever typed in "stripping wallpaper fragile plaster" also found plenty of relevant reading on my blog.
However, some of the keywords, are more than a little puzzling. I check them at least once a week, just to marvel and muse.
Here are a few of the more unusual entries on last week's list:
bureaucracy gone mad -I wonder what kind of hell this person was going through that led them to seek fellow sufferers on the web? Maybe he tried to apply for a Famillie Nombreuse card and is now looking for a support group?
i hate working in France - Again, I'm guessing this is someone whose misery would love some company. I wonder where he/she works? Liddl?
jp sunbonnet- Once I got over the mental image of my dignified spouse wearing a sunbonnet, I tried my own search using these keywords. All I got was lots of mentions of a quaint, really annoying quilt block design. The original searcher must have gone through pages and pages to finally stumble upon a link leading him to a post in my blog that mentions both protective headgear and my husband.
Here's my favorite of the week: hotsexgoddess- Not a shoe that fits, but I'll put it in my closet. Thanks!
And my least favorite: LARGEBLONDE. I have to own it, but ouch, dude!
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Everybody loves them some spring flowers, and last time I forgot to post the nice view off our balcony these days. It's always lovely, but it's even better with a few geraniums.
Around here, you HAVE to have window boxes of geraniums on your house. I think it's required by law. If you don't have at least a few planted by May, they send burly agents in black suits to take you away to a gardening-oriented "reeducation" center.
Now, on to another important matter: Severin's LOTR bedroom. It's not quite done, but all the big stuff is finished. JP and CtRH worked the whole time I was gone to Paris. As I swanned around the Louvre and pranced about on top of the Eiffel Tower, they slaved away tearing down the strange wood panel covering the ceiling, insulating the two outer walls and then wallpapering everything, even the ceiling. I do NOT feel guilty, only wickedly gleeful. I usually NEVER get out of work and here I finally managed to weasel out of something. Sweet!
Here's how the mural of the Forest of Mirkwood turned out:
The mural wasn't quite tall enough to cover the wall all the way up. So they painted the empty area white and figured that Severin (with my help) could probably paint on a band of Elven runes to fill in the area.
As you can see, the poor child has no real furniture yet- just a futon on the floor. But we're hoping to get him an actual bed really soon. And JP is re-finishing a great antique desk for him.
The other three walls were done with a metallic silver paper that we hoped would look a bit like granite in a mystical cave...
The guys even took down the radiator and painted it completely silver! Nice detail.
Severin is quite happy with it all, as far as I can tell. 13 year old males often aren't all that demonstrative, you know?
When we finished the twins' room, they were squealing with excitement. Sev, on the other hand, just kind of grunted. But it was a pleased kind of grunt. I think...
Friday, April 24, 2009
As you can see, the lawn is no small affair:
There were also the planter boxes to fill. I have three like the the one below. They weren't weren't much trouble because the pansies were planted in the fall and they suvived all winter long! All I had to do was throw a few marigolds in the middle.
Yesterday I was out in the yard with the twins. I was fussing over the flowers and the girls were hunting around the yard for small dandelions for a salad that night.
Alexa said "You like lavender, lilacs and lilies. You, know, you should have named us after them! Valentine could be Lily, I could be Lilac and Mallory could be Lavender." She thought it sounded like a great idea and that I had really let the side down by not giving my girls a set of matching flower names...
Well, there's an idea.
And I guess I could have called Sev Larkspur? Or if were's going with flowers I love, rather than by matching the first letter, maybe Hyacinth?
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
On the other hand, JP and I will have lots of photos of the four of them to enjoy eventually when we are empty-nesters, pathetically asking each other every fifteen minutes « Why don’t the kids ever call? »
At any rate, you’ve seen all the photographic evidence, so now I can get on with recounting the details.
On Day Two of our adventure, we woke up early. Our first morning in Paris! Our goal was the Louvre and with the daughter of our hosts added to our little tour group, we ventured out. This time we did NOT take the Metro. I figured I’d try to keep Mallory aboveground for the day. So, we headed over to the bus stop.
Walking down the street, we passed a public pool (very nice and indoors), a little bakery, a news stand…all the great stuff that is so NOT within walking distance of our own little house in the French countryside.
On the other hand, when we take a walk back home, it smells like pine-trees and fresh mountain air. This little street, on the other hand, smelled like vomit. And urine.
But mostly vomit.
I love Paris. I adore Paris. But what’s up with all the vomit?
I imagine it’s either due to : a. a huge number of restaurants serving bad seafood or b. lots of people binge drinking. Sadly, I suppose the latter is more likely.
We navigated around the scary puddles and got on the bus. We were at the Louvre in about 45 minutes. The Louvre, I am happy to report, does NOT smell like vomit. Or urine.
One goes to the Louvre, of course, to see the major art treasures of the Western world. But unless you are a bit tall, what you mostly see is …tourists. The Japanese, in particular are mad for the Louvre and the place overflows with groups of Japanese art-lovers being led through the corridors by diminutive Japanese guides. The guides always carry a thin stick with a silk flower, a big feather or a sparkly pompom attached to the top.
The twins thought this was great, but strange.
« Is that…some kind of Louvre souvenir? » Alexa asked me, looking enviously at a tour guide waving around a particularly large and lovely purple marabou feather on a stick.
The answer is, of course, no. The sticks are devices that allow the short tourists and short guides to keep track of each other in the huge crowds. To gather up her group in a big gallery, the guide waves her blue rose (or whatever) on a stick and all the followers of the blue rose on a stick come running, ready to move on to the next area.
I kind of wanted a fancy « stick of summoning » myself, but figured it would be overkill. I only had five people to keep track of and two of them were much taller than the average tourist.
And being tall was a huge advantage (pun intended, in case you’re wondering). The two older kids and I had no trouble looking right over the heads of most people to have a good look at the paintings. This was especially important while trying to see Da Vinci’s most famous work. There is ALWAYS an enormous crowd around the Mona Lisa. As far as I can tell, anyway. This was my sixth visit to the Louvre and every time I go, it’s always the same: an ocean of tourists surrounding a smallish, shadowy portrait.
The twins and their friend were small and thin enough to easily slip between all the adults, find places at the front of the crowd and have a good look at the thing.
Everyone’s general reaction? « Meh. » sums it up, I think.
I did my best to explain that, while it’s a very fine portrait, it’s mainly famous for…being so famous. And it’s fame is a pretty late phenomenon. It was people in the Symbolist movement of the mid 19th century that sort of "reinvented" the painting as some kind of symbol of « eternal femininity » (See ? I did pay attention to that Art History course back in University). And then, adding to the glamour and mystique of the painting , it was stolen in 1911 and not found for two years. In 1956, the poor thing was doused with acid and then at the end of that same year it was gouged by a rock-tossing Bolivian.
Now it hangs behind a glass barrier and « Madonna Lisa » smiles at about 6 million people a year.
Just across from her is a huge painting by Veronese that the kids enjoyed much more and we spent quite along time looking at it:
This was another one where my scraps of art history training came in handy. For example, I asked the children to figure out what was unusual about all the people in The Wedding at Cana. (Nobody is talking! It was painted for a monastery that had a rule of silence during meals.)
Then I asked why meat was being cut up right over the head of Jesus. (It’s a sacrificial lamb. A bit of a tough question for kids, I‘ll admit. )
Then we checked out at all the different animals in the painting (dogs, a parrot and a monkey). Mallory thought is was a great idea to have animals at a wedding and regretted the complete absence of goats.
We saw many, many more paintings that day. The huge amount of naked flesh featured in many of them did not even phase us. It seemed all quite tame and innocent, compared to yesterday’s x-rated experience in the Buttes Chaumont Park.
What didn’t impress the kids: The Winged Victory of Samothrace. I guess I could see their point. Not head. No arms. She’s even worse off than the Venus de Milo.
What Valentine loved: Botticelli’s Venus and the Three Graces » fresco. All color, line and sheer prettiness:
What Mallory loved: Delacroix’s wild-eyed horses. That man could paint a horse, I’m telling you.
What Alexa loved: Being able to show the other kids around. This was her third visit!
What Severin loved: I think Severin loved LEAVING the Louvre and going home to FINALLY get something to eat. He’s a good sport, but not very sensitive to Art.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Luckily, I didn’t end up needing a waffle iron or scuba gear. In fact, I barely had enough clothes. As I packed for the nine day trip, I took the advice everyone gave me very seriously. I mercilessly threw out items until I had only about half of what I thought I needed. Under strict orders, the four kids all did the same. In fact, our hostess in Paris was completely astounded when we showed up at her door with only one tiny backpack each.
« That’s what my kids would pack for a weekend! » she exclaimed.
And it’s a good thing we traveled light. Not that the train trip was an issue. That was easy. In 15 minutes by car we were at the Annemasse train station. There we hopped on to the TGV (‘Really Fast Train‘) and had a soothing five hour ride to the Gare de Lyon.
But once we got to the train station in Paris, we had to get on the Metro. If you’ve ever been on it, you know that there’s often a maze of underground passages and stairways that connect the train lines. And we had to change lines a couple of times. So, it was good not to be too laden-down.
I led the way down into the Metro, briskly trudging along up and down the endless stairs, forgetting that three of the kids had never been on a subway before, ever. Alexa (a metro habituée from her stay there when she was six)) cruised along like a real Parisienne. The older two gawked a bit, but came along gamely.
But Mallory? She stared about with wide eyes at the dingy tunnels, wrinkled her nose at the stale (and sometimes worse) air and startled at the thunderous roar of the trains. The farther we walked, the farther she lagged behind, dragging her feet miserably and generally looking like a dryad torn from her native forest glade and consigned to an eternity in Hades.
I tried to encourage her to keep up, but didn’t have time to coddle.
« Come on! Only one more train to go! Keep up!» I called back to her as I paused to struggle with my map of the Metro and figure out our next move.
She looked at me mutely and sat down right in the middle of the corridor. The Parisian commuters, having seen it all, I suppose, stepped agilely around her.
I rushed back.
« What ARE you doing?! You can’t just SIT there! » I shrieked, my cool long gone. « That floor is filthy!! » And it was. It looked like you could get cholera from just thinking about sitting down on it.
« I can’t go any more » she announced.
« OK! We won’t go on. We’ll LIVE in the Metro tunnels. But we will not SIT in them. PLEASE get UP! »
Good grief. The child survived nine years in one of the poorest countries in all of Africa and in the end she would be done in by typhoid contracted from the floor of the Nation Metro station…
She reluctantly got up and shuffled on to the next and final train.
The house on the left is the home of our good and kind friends who graciously hosted the five of us for nine days. They are a couple that have three children, so when we were all home, we were a crowd of 10. He’s a doctor and works all the time and she’s an anthropologist who’s always behind on her writing deadlines, so it was particularly nice of them to invite us for such a long stay.
When we arrived, the children of our hosts were still all at school, P (the father) was at work and V (the mom) had to get on with her writing. So, I decided to take the kids for a walk in a nearby, very famous park called the Buttes Chaumont. I thought it might cheer up Mallory, who was still looking morose. Even getting out of the Metro hadn’t visibly cheered her. And I guess I could see why- the sidewalks above ground so far had featured a lot of dog crap and a distinct smell of vomit.
But a park would be nice, right? Spring flowers and all that.
Mallory said « What are they….? »
Severin, getting right to the point, announced « Laundry alert! », which is the family code for sexy scenes in movies. When the kids were younger, actors removing their garments for romantic fun purposes would prompt me to say brightly « Guess they’re getting ready to wash their clothes! » and then hit the remote.)
We all laughed (what else can you do?) and positively ran back up the path, right past a man who’d been peacefully taking in the sun just down the hill from the couple, with his back to them. When we'd started giggling, he’d turned around and noticed the free show going on behind him . He sat there staring and the happy couple carried on, completely oblivious to all.
Welcome to Paris.
Somewhat traumatized by our first afternoon in the big city, we headed back to our friends' house.
And that was day one of our Paris adventure… much more adventurous than a person wanted, really.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
The packing? Don't get me started on the packing. It's a nightmare. I am the world's worst packer, which is astonishing considering how darn much of it I've had to do in my life. But the problem is that I just HATE needing something and knowing that the thing I so desperately want is just sitting back at home. So, even though it's sunny, I pack rain gear. And what if there's a freak snowstorm? Better pack coats and boots. What if we get hungry for waffles? Better pack the waffle iron. And syrup! Musn't forget syrup...plus scuba gear and and a snakebite kit.
I just want to be prepared, you know?
But, as my kids would say: "That way lies madness, dude." I just have to calm down and take it easy...
But it's so hard to do that, as I'm trying not only to sort and pack, but also get Severin's room ready for the redecorating/renovation about to happen in there. We spent this morning clearing everything out and now we're trying to get all the old wallpaper down!! The twins are helping and Severin is in charge. He's working hard and is very motivated. He has asked for a Lord of the Rings-themed room. (Yes, I will do anything for my kids. Thank you for asking) By some miracle, I found a wallpaper mural of a forest in New Zealand. (Where LOTR was filmed, for those of you who have just arrived here from a distant planet) The other three walls will be done with a wallpaper that looks like metallic silver granite. The effect will be like looking out of a silver cave and out into the mysterious forest of Mirkwood. That's the idea, anyway.
This amazing transformation will be done by Cristian the Romanian Handyman, without my help or even my (rather nice) homecooked meals. JP will have the care and feeding of CtRH, and I feel rather sorry for both of them. When I told Cristian that I wouldn't be around during his stay, he wrote back. "It will be fine. There's still that pizza place in front of your house, right?", which shows that he understands that JP is not the kind of French guy that cooks. Some do, of course. He doesn't. On the other hand, he never watches soccer matches either , so I consider it to be a fair trade.
I plan to blog at least a couple of times from Paris...it sort of depends on how crazy things get. I will definitely take pictures and have lots to share: the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Orsay Museum and even Disneyland. I am SO excited! I've already seen all this stuff, but it will be so great to share it all with my children.
I just hope it doesn't rain and that we don't get hungry for waffles, because I'm NOT bringing rainboots or waffle irons. Really.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
But him? HE was living in Germany, in a place that I can't even pronounce without sounding like I'm trying out for a part in a bad stage production of The Sound of Music.
So, who was lost?
Wasn't me, anyway.
So, the story: There's this guy, living in a town we'll call....Somewhereachtungbaby, Germany. S-town, for short. He's a US citizen, a military officer and a nice guy, from a nice family. His dad back in Idaho calls him up and tells him he ought to get in contact with some woman living in France.
His dad says "No. Really! Listen! This is a REAL relative. Her father is my first cousin."
Then he reassured his son that he'd actually met the woman, as well as her husband and her numerous offspring and they all seemed like normal, people. Nice, maybe even.
So the nice and dutiful son sent an email to the "real" French relative (that would be me).
What happened next?
Well, the nice guy drove all the way over from S-town with his youngest child and came to spend a couple of days in the Haute Savoie with us. It was a short visit, but a good one. His precocious blonde daughter fit right in with our twins and they created a powerful, triplet-like mass. The weekend was theirs, really.
And Mike, the cousin from Germany? He thought my huge stash of New Scientist was cool (rather than sad and boring) and he started reading them asap. In other words: smart and kind of geeky . And I mean that as the highest praise.
It was interesting talking over "old times" with him. We are about the same age and knew many of the same places and people in our childhood, but seldom met. He was raised elsewhere, but like me, spent long summers out in central Nebraska with the family. He'd stay out on The Farm with his grandparents.
Here's his grandfather, who I knew as my "Uncle Bill". He was my paternal grandfather's only sibling:
Here's my grandmother and my grandfather. I don't have a picture of the two brothers together...
Mike said he liked being around my grandpa and loved the endless stories he would tell if you asked him (and even if you didn't.)
And I certainly loved going over to his grandparent's farm for the day. My grandmother and I would work in the garden, then I'd wander off to chase the cats around in the barn. I'd even occasionally get to ride a horse. "My" horse was Sugarfoot.
Mike would drive the tractor, ride Tinkerbell, drink icy water out of the irrigation hoses... all stuff I never did.
Aunt Marie and Uncle Bill would talk about him whenever I visited, but for some reason, he was never there...
All these years later we finally really connected. Same place at the same time. It's pretty funny that we had to go halfway around the world to do it...
Friday, April 03, 2009
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
So begins a post over at the blog called « Her Bad Mother ». It is a very good blog, probably a great one, featuring some masterful writing. It’s funny, honest and powerful. So, it is with amazement that I find myself participating in the « 80 clicks project » as a sort of featured co-blogger.
Here’s a bit more from the original post:
« Here's how it's going to work: this post that you're reading? Is the departure lounge. I'm going to link to a couple of other mom bloggers here in Canada, and to a couple of mom bloggers from other countries around the world, and they'll write their posts, sharing 5 things that they love (or maybe what they don't so much love - this playground doesn't force conformity) about being a mom, and then they'll tag a few more bloggers from their own country and from other countries, and so on. And you're more than welcome to join: just write a post of your own (5 things that you love about being a mom) and find someone to link to and tag - someone from your own country, if you like, but definitely someone from another country (Google is a good resource if you don't know any; google any country name and 'mom' in their blog search function) (be sure to let them know that you've tagged them!) - and link back here and leave a comment and we'll add you to the 'itinerary,' which David will compile and post and update as the tour proceeds. »
So, here I am, one of the lucky « couple of mom bloggers from other countries».
What do I love about being a mom? If someone would have given me this writing assignment 11 years ago, when I had a four year old, a two year old , newborn twins and a husband constantly far from home, working in Africa, I would have had a very different list. I was exhausted, sleep-deprived and mostly isolated from adult company. But I still, somehow, adored being a mom. I thought breastfeeding was fun. I loved bathing the babies and dressing them up in tiny clothes. I loved singing to them, talking to them, playing with them and just sitting around watching them sleep.
I really did love everything about it. I was tired, but euphoric.
The only time I ever came close to an "I can‘t do this" moment was when my husband announced we would all be moving to Burkina Faso. Could I be a mom in one of the poorest countries in the world? Could I keep my children healthy and safe? Was this the right thing to do? These were terrible worries and they made my sense of responsibility four these four small lives seem like a huge burden, possibly beyond my capacity to competently manage.
But, of course, it wasn’t.
We all lived and thrived in Ouagadougou. My little ones grew from babies into children. And I learned that there’s more to love about being a mom than I ever imagined.
I’ve mixed the slightly serious in with the very silly, but there you go. Just because it’s silly doesn’t mean it’s not true…
What I love about being a mom:
5. I love that it comes with a title. Some people get called « Mr. President », some go by « Your Majesty ». Good for them.
But me? I’m « Mom ».
When my four tumble through the door after a long day at school, all yelling for Mom to come down out of her « writing garret » and hear about their adventures, my heart leaps. Really.
It’s a title I wear with pride. And yes, it’s one I share with many, many women all over the globe, but that only makes me love it all the more.
4. It’s the best way to meet people. When I first moved to France, friends warned me that the people in remote French mountain villages were invariably suspicious and unfriendly. Slow to warm up, to put it kindly. But all it took was a couple of walks up and down the lane, pushing my baby daughter in her stroller. Fellow moms came pouring out to arrange play dates. Elderly couples came out to coo, admire and invite us in for tea.
The same thing happened when we moved to Burkina Faso. I had just arrived and wanted to find friends, so I herded my four little ones outside and went for a walk. That was all it took. Within minutes, we had new pals galore.
Being a mom means that I have instant icebreakers at my fingertips.
Yes, children are the key to international friendship and understanding.
But we all knew that already, right?
3. There’s always someone to clean out the litter box. Someone who is not me.
2. I love that I can share everything that I love with my kids. Reading "The Hobbit" and "The BFG" to them, watching all the Star Trek movies with them, camping with them, teaching them to crochet, playing "Risk" with them, singing with them, travelling all over the world with them, cooking with them...the list is nearly endless, but it brings me great joy to say to my children: "Hey! I love this. I bet you will, too!" and then embark on another adventure of learning with them.
1. I love that I get to know and be around the four most amazing people I have ever met. I got to hold them as babies, chase them around as toddlers, and shepherd them through the crazy elementary school years. And now I get to listen to their assorted ideas, problems and clever (mostly) jokes, help them with mind-bending home work and watch them all turn into delightful teenagers. Eventually, with any luck, I’ll see them turn into caring and capable adults. This is, without a doubt, absolutely the best thing I could possibly be doing with my life.