29 July 2009

Italy, part II: Life is a highway, and our kids have to ride it all night long

This post is a children's bodily function hat trick -- herewith, three gross stories. If you don't have children, or you don't like gross things, or you have kids but they're older, or you have kids that are young but you still think it's gross to talk about this stuff, you might want to stop here.

Our trip to Italy began ominously. All three kids were buckled, sitting in the driveway, and Matthew and I were getting last items into the van, when Clara threw up. No. Noooo. Stomach content reviewal had thrown a wrench into two planned date nights in the past month. Would it derail Italy, too?

Oh, phew! She was just choking on a sticker. (Phew?) Clara's in the mouth experiential phase of infancy, a phase I will not be sad to see pass. We went to the park yesterday and I spent the time blocking twigs, leaves, rocks, even a shard of pottery on its way to her lips, while saying in various inflections of dismay, "Clara! Clara. Clara! Clara."

Anyhow, a quick bath and wipedown of the carseat, and we were off. We drove to Italy, through Luxembourg, France, and Switzerland. It was a lot of time in the car so I had packed, a la Mary Poppins (that pretty much sums up my motherhood, if that isn't clear yet: "a la Mary Poppins," I am just that fun and creative, and I teach life lessons via delightful melodies), a carpet bag of fun for the kids. A couple new things, but mostly new-to-us things, marginal toys offloaded on us by other expats whose children have outgrown them. (As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve received a lot of this stuff this way.) Some fun finds, like three little books showing, step by step, how to draw a boat, an airplane, a horse. But then, a Disney Pocahontas musical book whose musical part was (mercifully, actually) broken, and Jetsons: The Movie (the book). A book based on a movie based on a TV show? How charming! There also was a Flintstones storybook -- a Hanna Barbera two-for-one special.

We drove through many tunnels in Switzerland (those Alps!). Just as we entered the longest one we encountered, twelve miles long, one passenger announced, “I have to poop. I HAVE TO POOP." Not an option, Anonymous Family Member was informed. You will have to wait. "I might poop in my pants," Anonymous Family Member announced, adding, confusingly, "That’s not fair!”

For whom?, we wondered, and concluded, Everyone.

As I restrain myself from making intestine/tunnel analogy jokes, something Matthew did not do at the moment, I must add that a Second Anonymous Family Member announced on a later leg of the trip, "My stomach feels hot," a mysterious condition that an increase in air conditioning and sips of water did nothing to soothe. The condition was almost identified in time, as Matthew asked me, "Does [. . .] look pale?" I turned around to confirm notable whiteness but not quite in time to fetch a bag.

A quick stop, a change of clothes, a wipedown of the carseat, and again we were on our way.

It was worth it, though, it really was, and I have the photos to prove it (tomorrow, I hope).

Tuscany was beautiful, but look! Lady Liberty herself! In southern France, overseeing a roundabout.

28 July 2009

LAY TEWER DAY FRANCE!


For this post it's really too bad that Matthew's the photographer, because HE is the big cycling fan, and HIS giddy face should be in all these photos.

On Sunday we drove to Paris to see the end of the Tour de France.

!!

!?!

!!

It was one of those, "Oh good golly we live in EUROPE!!!" days -- that we could go to bed the night before thinking, We'll see how it goes in the morning, and then in the morning, over toast and peaches, decide, yes, indeed, we will drive to Paris today, and witness the finish of one of the world's most famous sporting events.

What?!

We arrived in the city around 12:30, parked on the north side and took the metro to the Place de la Concorde. Soren was thrilled to ride the subway.


And then, Oh look! There's a carnival in the Jardin de Tuileries! WOOHOO!


The peloton wasn't scheduled to arrive until around 4, so we had plenty of time to wander through the garden, enjoy some rides, and eat crepes and cotton candy, or "barbe à papa" -- I love this -- "daddy's beard" (if your daddy is Santa and dyes his facial hair pink).

The kids and I slid,


Matthew and Soren did bumper cars,


and Lily and I did the swings.


Seeing the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower from our little metal chairs was magical. Those five minutes looping above Paris would have made the drive worth it for me.


Lily and Soren rode a eighty-year-old carousel. Each horse had its name painted on it. Lily rode Sabrina,


and Soren rode King's Bed (?).



Hanging out by the fountain in the Tuileries on some very cool green metal chairs stamped with identification numbers -- I love it -- symbols of the mysterious (how does this system work? how are the chairs tracked?) but seemingly orderly (a distinct number and letter combination on each chair) bureaucracy of Europe.


We watched the tour from just west of the Louvre, on the north side of the Tuileries. Here's a map. We were right on the rails -- the kids were standing up on them holding on. When the peloton came by, they were eight feet from us maybe. EEEK!

Once the team vehicles started coming by we were really excited.


Matthew loves Garmin. I find their orange and blue argyle charming.


The kids started to really run out of energy right around the time the cyclists were going to come by. At this point there was nothing we would not have done to get through the next hour. But we've already had cotton candy -- what's next? Deep fried cotton candy? I don't think even the Great Minnesota Get Together serves that (yet) (umm, patent pending).


Matthew selected these photos and is now over my shoulder as I take notes on the photos. I will quote him.

Mark Cavendish (M: "eventual stage winner") and Thor Hushovd (M: "For those who really follow, this photo is significant because of the battle they waged during the tour").

Please note kangaroo in foreground, to be explained shortly.


Below you see Andy, one of the "freres Schleck." I heard that over the loudspeaker and liked it, and I like the Schleck brothers, because I like a good story, and the philadelphia I imagine between cycling brothers does it for me, and also, they're from Luxembourg, HOORAY BENELUX! He's behind George Hincapie (M: "who we saw on the Ronde"). [Ed. Not that you would know about that yet since Matthew hasn't posted about it. It happened in April. Guest bloggers . . . they're worth about what you pay them.]


BRADLEY WIGGINS! Matthew likes this guy.


M: "The mighty Columbia train in action." (I just realized what is happening here. Matthew is auditioning to be Phil Liggett's replacement when he retires.)


As Matthew talked to our friendly neighbors with the inflatable kangaroo and large Australian flag, another group of Aussies across the road got their attention and started a cheer. "Aussie Aussie OY OY OY OY OY OY OY," and our neighbors replied, and it went back and forth for a while, and, I wish we were Australian, what fun!


What do we have? "YOO ESS AY! YOO ESS AY!" Not as cool.


Oooh, there's a breakaway!


Perhaps you've heard of this man . . . he used to date Sheryl Crow? Ringing a bell?


When you're eight feet away, how can you not be a LANCE ARMSTRONG!!!!! fan. I felt this way about the whole experience. I enjoy watching the Tour on TV with Matthew, but I usually do it halfway, doing a crossword puzzle or something at the same time, looking up when something exciting happens (there are a lot of hours of just plain old cycling, after all).

But standing on the Rue de Rivoli, I became A Huge Cycling Fan. The adrenaline of the moment, the enthusiasm of the fans, the sound of the helicopter, the honking of horns of the vehicles ahead of the peloton, the kangaroo next to us . . . Hand me a costume and some face paint! I am ready to be one of those crazy fans.



Here you can see Lance on the big screen at the awards ceremony. Also, a monument. I like to call this image, "A Salute to Masculinity."

*A small point, but, please see the top photo, and don't you agree? I maintain my position that that "de" has got to move, as it is not "Le de Tour France."

23 July 2009

Stevie Ricks

I'm so pleased -- Rick loves Brussels. (Thanks, Vicki!)

And, oh my, Rick and I share a cultural heritage!

21 July 2009

Italy, part I: Measure your life in luh-OOOOOOOOOVE

Do you know the song from the musical Rent, about how to measure a life? "Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes" (etc.)?

You could measure our vacation to Italy in cups and cones of gelato. We had a wonderful time, all five of us, and I can't wait to tell you all about it and show you photos. Tonight Matthew is anxious to watch the Tour de France together (that was the only deprivation of the week, very little tour coverage), so I'll just tell you about our gelato.

We learned from Rick Steves (oh yes, he came along again) that gelato in metal tubs rather than plastic ones is more likely to be homemade, so we looked for that, and also “artigionale.” The best gelato we had was from Grom in Florence, Momo in Lucca, and K2 in Verazze.

In the course of our ten days in Italy, among the four of us we had these flavors: salted caramel, crème caramel, coffee, milk chocolate, chocolate fondant (semisweet), chocolate extra-noir (dark), strachiatella (vanilla with chocolate swirl or pieces), peach, lemon, mixed berry (“fruit of the forest”), raspberry, yogurt (not to be confused with “frozen yogurt”— it’s amazing, a tangy, under your tongue, clean yogurt flavor), sweet cherry, crema (different from vanilla because they had that too, but I’m not sure how -- egg?), cream and mint, mint chocolate, toasted almond, violet, yogurt with blueberries, and a flavor “typical of Lucca” (anise/cardamom).

That sounds like a lot, but – well, it was, we had it nearly every day, and one day we had it twice. But some of these flavors were in combination with each other in one cone, a marriage, as they say. Matthew may have inadvertently proposed marriage to a beautiful young Italian . . . gelaterina? by greeting her with this term, “Matrimonio?”

Never fear, our marriage is intact, our family is rested, and I am full of wonder and gratitude that we were able to see this gorgeous part of the world.

09 July 2009

Crash! Splash!

The big kids are taking a crash course in swimming every day this week for half an hour. They are loving it and count the time in the morning until we get to go.



Seeing the kids splash around with joy is such a treat. As I would love our kids to enjoying running as Matthew does, I would love if they enjoyed swimming as I do. I would support endeavors into other athletics, too, of course, as long as they don't involve tackling, or anorexia, or pucks, or, really, balls either -- those can hurt too.

Lily has made great leaps in her swimming. She is floating on her back and ducking her head under both backward and forward, new skills since Monday. She's with two other 4 1/2 year old girls. She is super brave.



She's floating on her back with the teacher here.

Soren is having fun too, getting more comfortable and kicking around on floaties and things. He's with one other boy just his size. He announced with delight after his first lesson, "I like my teacher! He's not a rude teacher!"



Soren's to the left of his teacher in this shot, behind an orange floatie.

Swim caps and trunk style suits (no baggy shorts) are required at this pool. I cannot get over these short little shorts and think they are the cutest thing ever. On my son, that is -- on adult men, they sometimes are very very wrong and almost harassing.



This is the best photo documenting his Euro suit, after their lessons. The cause of their pained/concerned/confused looks is unclear, but possibly due to towel deprivation for photo op.

07 July 2009

Game set match

We watched Wimbledon this weekend, and now Soren wants to play tennis a lot in the backyard.




06 July 2009

Letting freedom ring

Free of training wheels (!!)


Free of support


Free of parental pushing


Free of the bike, for a spell -- how can you pass up a tranquil setting like this?


Free of apprehension


Free to explore "the biggest tree, ever"


Free to eat potato chips, why not, she's already had frites


Free of gravity, for a moment



Free to eat, you and me


Our Fourth of July at Chateau de la Hulpe: Free of fireworks, too, which is OK, because I think they would have scared the majority of the crew.