Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Only in France, or in some alternate universe

Those are vampire ninja pumpkins in case you didn't know.
Bonjour mes amis,

So I got to thinking last night after my second dinner (I'll explain), you can't make this stuff up these things that happen here.  The guy walking down the street with a cat on his shoulder, the lady's apartment with a camouflaged door, being verbally assaulted by your 6 year old's teacher.  This is just in ONE DAY.  HOW CAN I NOT TELL THESE STORIES?!  Sure not everyday is filled with danger and intrigue, but when it rains it pours. 

I'm bursting with silliness!
                   Example #1:  Luke was invited to his friend Jean Louis' for a play date.  I have changed his name to protect his identity, pretty easy considering half of all male names begin with Jean:  Jean Baptiste, Jean Pierre, Jean Paul, Jean Christophe, Jean Fill in ze blank.  This was his second time going over there so I felt pretty good about it.  The only catch is that his mom, the very kind and sweet lady she is, doesn't speak a whole lotta French.  I have no clue what she is saying 90% of the time.   I am fond of her because whenever I pass her on the school drop off run, she flashes me her big genuine smile.  This is beaucoup awesome when you are surrounded by a population of non-smilers.  Or in the case of the grocery store cashiers the "I'm about to die" face.  Expat tip, if you want to perfect the opposite of smiling, just go to any Parisien grocery store and study the cashiers' expressions.

More juice!  More sugar!
I get a call from her about 20 minutes before Luke was supposed to come home last night.  All I heard was fatigue, dormir, mon mari, or it's possible I made that up in my head trying to figure out WHAT THE $%#@ she was saying.  Theo and I sprint over to her apartment.  It took me a good 5 minutes to figure out the 4 number door code because of the language barrier.  I'm in slight panic mode hoping Luke didn't have some kind of meltdown.

 We open the door and all is calm, well, calm for two six year olds playing.  The mom is wearing a Hello Kitty shower cap cooking up a delicious storm in the kitchen.  Apparently we arrived very fast, being in panic mode time really escapes me, it could be 5 minutes it could be 20.  It turns out if I understood correctly, that she had called me by accident when she was trying to call her husband.  Thus the mon mari I thought I heard (am I Sherlock Holmes or what!).  The boys had eaten, and she offers me a taste the delicious soup she was making.  I didn't want to be rude and I had almost no clue what she was saying so I said sure.  She fixes me an enormous bowl. Yum.  But I'm totally full from just eating dinner.  Luckily our dinner was soup also, to at least it was kind of healthy.  I'm scarfing this delicous soup thinking, wow, I can't believe I'm eating this HUGE bowl of soup at 8:00pm (late on a weeknight for our crew) when I just ate dinner, weird.

Luke, Jean Louis, and Theo are playing with the toys scattered around the room.  There was much more of a laissez-faire vibe going on compared with our place.  Laissez-faire, calm, happy.  We gather up to leave and she gives me more food, a coconut dessert pancake.  She was making at least 20 of them.  I'm still curious to know why she was making so much food, I asked but, you guessed it, had no clue what she was saying!

We are family!

So I learned some cool things: you can hang out and befriend someone with whom you have a significant language barrier, you can still have calm and happiness in a house that is a bit disorganized, and kids doing whatever they want is NOT the end of the world.

A bientot mes amis!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Trans Atlantic with Kids: 5 Tips For A Smoother Flight

Nice inflight entertainment!  Luke on his first trip to France.
Last week we traveled back to the states for a very special event, my sister's wedding!  It was a fantastic joy filled occasion and so nice to be back home with family.  The trip got me thinking, the plane ride from CDG to JFK was really not that bad, and I was alone with the kids on the return to boot.

Here is what I have come to realize about long plane rides with kids:

First, getting through security.  I have found going through security at CDG much much smoother and more kid friendly.  You don't have to take your shoes off and the staff are much more pleasant.  They treat you like a human being.  TSA leaves A LOT to be desired.  No real advice here, just be organized with your stuff.

At Orly, not sure if we will make the flight.
1.  Be mentally prepared.  You are about to embark on a looong hands on journey with your kids.  You will not be reclining, reading a magazine, napping at your leisure.  If a moment to kick back and relax presents itself, it is like a petit cadeau.  Keep your expectations really low for personal time on your flight and you may be pleasantly surprised!

2. New toys and games.  This is now a ritual to head to La Grand Recre (think Toys R Us) and pick up a new toy for each of the boys before our day of departure.  Little cars and trucks have been a big hit and keep them occupied for a surprisingly long time.  Travel sized games like Connect 4, cards, battleship are also great.  I keep this stuff separate from other toys so even if it's not new, they haven't seen it in a while.

3. Sandwiches and fruit.  Avoid the airplane meal at all costs!  Sometimes I ask for the tray without the hot dish to have the salad and the crackers.  I specify sandwiches and fruit because this is light, healthy, and my boys will eat this happily.  I usually let them eat it right before they pass out the drinks so their bellies are full, about an hour into the flight.  I make ham and cheese sandwiches with a bit of butter or mustard but anything that is not going to fall out or be messy would work.  I make a fruit salad and pack forks and plastic cups, it just feels more official than a piece of fruit.  Just make sure to secure it so it doesn't leak, I use masking tape for extra protection.  I pick up some pain au lait at the boulangerie for bread when I am in Paris because it is soft and yummy, baguettes can be a little tough for small mouths.  Also, toss in your food bag some disinfectant hand wipes for right before you eat.  You can also use the wipes to wipe down the tray and arm rests.  Don't forget paper towels or napkins!

4. Blankets, travel pillows, and snugglies.  These items are bulky but I am always glad to have them especially on an overnight flight.  It keeps them feeling reassured and helps them fall asleep.  Pulling them out right before "bedtime" lets them know it's time to rest.

How's my flying?  Theo sitting copilot on our last flight back to Paris.
5. Ipad and headphones.  Load this baby up with new shows and games and you will be a happy camper.  Movies have not gone over well so I stick with episodes of Diego or Curious George, whatever they are into at the moment.  I bought kid sized headphones and a splitter so they can both listen.

That's about it.  We prefer flying Air France, most of their planes have individual screens and their in flight staff is always so friendly and professional.  And they serve champagne in coach ;-)  Luke and Theo each have their own backpacks, and Luke is now big enough to carry his own pillow and blanket and some toys.  Theo's backpack is more for show than anything!  When I am feeling super neurotic, I stick an index card with our contact info in their pockets for worst case scenario.  I always feel like a sherpa on these journeys especially when without the hubs.  The destination is always worth it!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tempus fugit

Theo loves skiing, Mom loves that ski outfit.

I really can't believe it has been three months since I've written anything.  After Barcelona things just went into warp speed! It's almost June!  Here is an update in photos including a week of skiing in the
Alps, a week of my parents visiting us in Paris and Bourgogne, Easter, a solo trip to California, and Theo turning 3:

Luke or should I say Luc goofing around apres ski.
And down the hill we go!
Awesome spring skiing weather.

Luke giving a private lesson to his girlfriend Zoe.

R.I.P. Van Gogh brothers, Auvers Sur Oise with my parents.

The Rents at Pere Lachaise Cemetery.  Where is Edith Piaf's grave?
Vaux le Vicomte visit after Bourgogne.

The beautiful vineyards of Sauvigny-Les-Beaune
Theo turns 3, yipee!

Snake man in San Fran.

Chinatown, San Francisco.

Vineyards!  This time in Sonoma!

In France there is an Easter chicken who hides the eggs and treats!

That's T ready to dye Easter eggs with those mugs!

Jardin des Plantes, grumpy Theo.
Outside Elysee Palace, presidential motorcade.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Digging deep

Can we stay!? Can we stay!?  Beautiful day in Barcelona!
What's that I hear?  Nothing!  Silence!  Luke has returned to school and Theo is at Halte Garderie.  Calm and order are back, at least for a few hours.  We had an extra lazy, lounging around, Wii playing, pajama wearing school vacation.  It was a nice break but the unwashed dishes and unvacuumed floors were screaming for some attention too.  The cleaning lady returned and she seems almost relieved and content to be back to the routine.  That lady being moi.

It has been a while since I have posted.  I wrote a post last week entitled "the day that blew up in my face."  It was a juicy one, and involved a meltdown and poo in unrelated incidents.  I decided to let it be because I don't want this blog to be consumed with negative experiences because Paris is just different than home.  And that makes life harder.

During our first month or so after arriving in October of 2010, it was all new and exciting.  While Alex worked I took the kids to every monument and park I could manage.  Luke's bike has been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe!  Then slowly the creek of magical Paris experiences started to run dry.  The romantic Paris I had envisioned was replaced by the reality of living in a small space staying at home with two young children.  And I feeling very GUILTY for complaining about living in Paris!!
This is why we don't have any family photos.  And I look like a hot mess.

So...although I want to keep it real and talk about living as an American mom in Paris, I have to have a positive outlook.  Life is not what happens to you, it's about what you DO with what happens to you.

I never understood the fried egg gummy.
The hubs is away on business for the week in Milan and Madrid.  I'm happy to say he has fallen head over heals for Italy and their culture.  A trip to Rome is in our near future.  It's hands down my favorite European city.

Can you find the parrot?  Parrots in Barcelona make me happy.  Although they would probably drive me crazy if I lived there.
My favorite part of the Barcelona soccer stadium tour, the tunnel the players take out onto the field.

I'll end on a funny yet disturbing anecdote from last night.  The kids and I are hanging out playing when Theo picks up a marker and very elegantly pretends to smoke it like a cigarette.  He puts the marker to his lips and then pretends to blow smoke out with his tiny pursed lips.  WHAT IS GOING ON HERE!?  File this one under, "you know you live in Paris when..."

A la prochaine!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Holy vacation Batman!

Little slice of heaven, Parc Galliera
Sometimes I think because I know the general gist of things, I don't worry about the actual details.  Case in point, Luke's vacances de Fevrier.  I knew the boy had a vacation but he doesn't go back until MARCH 6th.  That's two full weeks and a Monday.  Now we are sitting here drooling and staring at each other until I let him play the Wii or Words with Friends, his favorite activity.  We talk about words and how to score the most points.  As we are around town he spots signs and we discuss their potential point value.  He plays random opponents some of whom ask why he is playing such small words.  He wrote to a random opponent the other day that he loved them, it was Valentine's Day after all.  We had a chat after that incident.


So now I'm scrambling a bit to find activities to occupy our days.  Hopefully the weather will be nice and we can go to the park.  Parc Galliera right behind the Musee de la Mode is my favorite park in walking distance.  Never crowded, beautiful architecture, flowers, and landscaping, on Wednesdays the Marche is right door.  The aquarium is also close by, we went a few times about a year ago.  There are some really big tanks with sharks and exotic fish, and a touch pool that became the drench pool for Theo.  My only issue is that they want 20 euros for an adult.  Let me hear you say,  Rip Off!

Finding an escargot at Parc Galliera
We leave on Thursday for a long weekend in Barcelona, yipee!  Jordan at who is also an American living in Paris just wrote about planning her trip with kids to Barcelona and I feel like I hit the jackpot with all the great ideas her readers mentioned.  The hubs is most excited about going to visit the soccer stadium.  We have been watching some good BCN matches and I know the boys will love it.  I am excited to see the beautiful architecture, the beach, and the tapas!  Warmer weather here we come!

Monday, February 13, 2012

My two centimes on French parenting

Luke, just a wee baby.
There is a new book that recently came out about French parenting by Pamela Druckerman called Bringing up Bebe.  She is an American mom living in Paris, to the best of my knowledge.  I have only read excerpts of the book in various articles and do not know the author personally.

To claim that French parenting is superior to American parenting is bound to ignite defensive attitudes.   My experience with French moms interacting with their enfants and seeing what goes on in a French household is limited to playgrounds and a few French families we have spent time with.

In general, I think that American and French parents are very similar: we love our children and want the very best for them.  When I do the school run with Luke in the mornings, the other parents are usually calm and chatting pleasantly with their children.  I feel very connected with French parents at these times.  The children are dressed very nicely, no sweat pants or sneakers, hair coiffed.  Also the school has a dress code once they are in 1st grade.  That is just a Paris thing, not a reflection on parenting I guess :-)
First week in Paris!
Most French moms work, this is encouraged and there is a lot of pressure to go back within a few months after baby's arrival.  Judging from the number of nannies at the playground and at school pick up, this is verified!  One time I was standing on a metro platform with Theo in the stroller when some guy said to me, "Babies are great, but women should really go to work."  I was speechless!  And I missed my opportunity for a smart comeback!  Of course, not all moms have a choice of going back to work or staying home and I am not sure how that comes into play here in Paris.  Women are also not encouraged by their doctors (*generalization*) to breastfeed for the recommended first year.  The sooner you can return your body to pre-pregnancy shape for the benefit of you and your, ahem, husband, the better.  Can you imagine your doctor telling you to stop breastfeeding?!

French parents show less public affection to their children.  I am always huggin' and kissin' my boys whenever they'll let me.  I shout out "Love you!" every morning at school drop-off.  This will surely be major embarrassment territory one day so I appreciate every chance I have to do it.  This is just not demonstrated by French parents, this type of affection.  Perhaps they are just more subtle about it.  They speak so softly and quietly in conversation, whereas Americans ARE LOUD!  I'm still a loud American.

Snack time happens one time a day, around 4pm.  This is the one time sugar and candy is flowing like Old Faithful shooting sugar straight out of the frickin' ground.  It is not uncommon to see lollipops, gummies, and whole chocolate bars given as gouter.  I love this part of French culture (not the sugar candy part, the once a day part).  When Luke and Theo start whining about being hungry, they know the routine and understand snacking is not an all day affair.

French children are so polite!  I eat. it. up. whenever a young boy or girl says, "Bonjour madame."  That's all.  And they always say it.  Still working on this with Luke...

Are French children better behaved than American children?  Yes.  Does that mean French parenting is superior to American parenting?  Not necessarily.  We could learn a lot from their parenting style, same as they could learn from us.  Would I love it if Luke and Theo were as well mannered and polite as their French counterparts?  Yes!  But part of me thinks that this wildness they possess is good for their independence and creativity.  I don't want their toys and games taking over our apartment and them running around doing as they please, but I am grateful and proud to make them the focus of my attention, sometimes (NOT all the time) taking precedence over "adult time" and "grown-ups always come first."

Phew, I'll stop now.  Miss Druckerman has taken on a touchy subject, I feel a little nervous posting my opinions on this matter!  I hope I wasn't too harsh on the Frenchies or Americans!  What do I know!

Friday, February 3, 2012

All by myself...

This is not an unusual sight in Paris.
...with Luke and Theo of course!  The hubs is in Canada working for the week and the bags under my eyes are not getting any smaller.  Other than the lack of sleep from Theo getting up every night, the boys have been on their best behavior.   Dinners have been pleasant.  The other night they both finished their plates without having to be reminded and prodded to keep eating.  I thought I was having an out of body experience.  It has been that long since we have had a drama free dinner!

It has been very cold in Paris this week!  I actually like it!  It reminds me of Vermont and I get to break out my extra warm North Face jacket.  A lot of women, especially old ladies, wear fur in the winter.  I saw a lady who looked like she had an actual animal on her head the hat was so huge!  Although I'm not a fur fan, it is the warmest thing out there fur sure, ha ha ha.

The hubs doesn't get back until Tuesday.  He cleverly planned his trip through Superbowl weekend.  I'm a tad jealous that he will be drinking delicious beer and eating yummy wings watching the best sporting event of the year.  As long as he brings back more peanut butter, it's all good!  Now I am going to sleep!