28 October 2009


Lily is playing soccer on Saturday mornings this fall.

She's number twelve.

She has a good attitude,

she's learning how to be on a team,

and she's so sweet in her jersey.

19 October 2009

Tres bien!

That was the other night while I was making dinner. I know this into-everything business is a normal stage kids go through, but it feels more challenging than it did with the older two, somehow. Things I've lately been wishing we didn't have in our home: drawers, cupboards, garbage cans, bookshelves, books.

Do you see that she's staring me down? Soren used to give us this, too -- "stern face," we called it.

Lately I have been disappointed at how little French I have to show (say) for myself after two years here, and feeling frankly embarrassed at the idea of ending our time here having only achieved this level. I started thinking about signing up for a class, wondering how consistent I'd be able to be, given Matthew's work schedule. Then last week we learned that we have twice as many hours of language learning covered in our ex-pat package as we thought we did, which means we can do private lessons. Woohoo! And the best part is, my cherie teacher Pascale, who I loved so much -- really, a great teacher, and so kind -- is available to come to our house to teach us. And now Matthew and I will be taking lessons together. Yippee! But, have you ever played a game with us? Sometimes we're annoyingly competitive with each other. This could be good for my progress, actually. Check back here for exploits in our attempts to be the teacher's pet!

I'm going to be a better student this time, and not just because I want to be the valedictorian. I'm hoping next time the hair stylist tells me my cut is "plus jeune" (younger) I won't hear "plusion" and think she's using some French hairstyle term or discussing a volumizing product ("Plusion, by L'Oreal," maybe?).

Language acquisition is hard, though. My German friend recently told me about a delicious cheese she had tried, that was great to have with other nipples. I was totally going to let it go; I had an attack of maturity and simply nodded and kept a straight face -- I get it, nibbles -- but her husband busted her, so we all had a good laugh. Apparently this had come up before, and she had offered nipples to some guests, much to his surprise.

16 October 2009

Photo essay: Versailles

Versailles was huge -- I had no idea how vast the grounds were. There are many groves with their own fountain and distinct landscape design. We saw the Grande Eaux Musicale -- during the high tourist season, they run the fountains with classical music piped through speakers for an hour in the morning and afternoon. I know that Louis XIV lived there, and Marie Antoinette had a separate estate on the grounds, but I can't tell you anything more about Versailles without reading online about it, so I'll just stop there. Our experience is that sightseeing with children sometimes necessitates simply shuffling along without really listening to one's audio guide or reading the information explaining a painting.

So, if a picture is worth a thousand words, here's a 23,000-word essay on Versailles. [Ed. note: By Matthew! I assume you know that by now. All these photos are by Matthew.]

13 October 2009

Cocoa, art, sunshine

The weekend before last we drove to Paris. I'm late with this but the sheer amount of photos from the weekend stymied me. Matthew went through them last night and selected his favorites so here I go.

When we arrived Saturday afternoon we stopped at a cafe for hot beverages and pastries.

What a fun little hour we spent sitting outside on this golden afternoon, enjoying Clara's delighted squawks at the pigeons, and the way Lily attacked her eclair by starting in the middle, and the kids' treat selection based on color.

Next we went to a museum. Can you spy in this photo the main draw?

It is the Rodin sculpture garden.

Amazing sculpture + the kids running free in an outdoor venue + sweet roses lining the paths + that magical feeling of "Wowowowow, we're in Paris!" -- it was one of my favorite couple hours of sightseeing ever.

We learned that The Thinker was merely a study for one (much smaller) figure in Rodin's The Gates of Hell.

Those calves!

After dinner at a cafe just around the corner from the museum, we went back to the hotel. We had to rest up because the next day we visited a famous Paris-area site none of us had seen before.

To be continued . . .

08 October 2009

Inspector Gadget

When tenants move out of their rented homes in Belgium, an inspector is hired to walk through with both parties and assess charges based on the inventory on move-in. We've been told that the inspector gets a percentage (in the teens!) of whatever fees he assesses. I don't know whether that's true, but it certainly comports with these assessments:
  • Not maintaining the dishwasher properly: The water is so hard here that salt must be added. Our friend explained that she did add salt regularly and showed the inspector the salt sitting in the dishwasher at the moment. "You just added that now," he said, and told her he'd fine her for something else if she didn't accept this one.
  • Damaging the hedges: People spend quite a bit of money on cleaners and landscapers before the inspection in the hopes of lessening the assessment. The landscaper our friends hired trimmed the hedges in a squared-off fashion, rather than rounded as the owners preferred.
  • Damaging a trash can: Our friends removed the lid from a small trash can attached to the door of a kitchen cabinet. They kept the lid and the screws, and had them sitting there during the inspection, but because they hadn't reattached them (and didn't have a screwdriver to do it at the moment), they were charged.
I shudder to imagine what all an inspector will find in this home, well-loved by our family. I'm hoping Matthew will attend ours without me, because I fear I'll reprise my role of The Woman Who Cries in Frustration When She Feels Cheated. I've played her opposite Qwest and Verizon, but I haven't brought my one-woman show to Belgium yet.

02 October 2009

Recommended reading

1. Star Tribune has an article about the family in Haiti I wrote about a while back. She's running the Twin Cities Marathon Sunday. Go Tara!

2. I'm always wanting to be better about having focused prayer time, and in the past I've tried to establish sabbath style restfulness for the whole family, but I think Clara's birth disrupted that and, fourteen months later, I find I haven't revisited it yet. I am not the only one who does this resting stuff poorly; there was a very funny piece in the New Yorker this summer about "quiet time."

3. This article is a quite old -- it's a link I've had saved in one of my many draft posts for about two years now -- but here's an interview with the Frenchwoman who wrote a book called No Kid: Forty Reasons for Not Having Children. She believes France, with its 2.1 children per mother rate, has gone a bit baby-crazy, so she has chosen to live in . . . Belgium! It's more comfortable here for people who don't like kids, I guess. (Sigh.)

I see in this article some vulnerability on her part about the disappointments of motherhood, the realization that it's not as easy as one might have hoped, and that it doesn't provide wholeness as women might sometimes believe it does. I appreciate her honesty on those points. But there is so much in this article that makes me angry. First, a new term she's coined:

. . . Ms. Maier has used her little book to place a new word in the French vocabulary, a word that has entered the popular lingo in much the same way that "soccer mom" entered North American English in 1993 - and for the same reason, because it defines a new category of person who is instantly identifiable. [. . . ] The word is merdeuf. French speakers recognize it instantly as a contraction of mère de famille, the traditional phrase for a full-time mother, a housewife, a woman who makes mothering her career. But the contraction turns it into something that sounds like a combination of merde and oeuf, carrying the implication that these patriotic mega- moms are "egg-shitters." [ . . .] She explains: "It means, 'a woman who has children, so she no longer cares about anything else.' "

Well, that would bother me -- I might suggest that "working" is not synonymous with "caring about something other than one's children"; or I might wonder why society should value focused caring for children when the caregiver is employed (as a teacher or nanny or daycare worker of other people's children), but not when the caregiver is unemployed, caring for her own children; or maybe I'd mention the long caring-about-something-else e-mails a friend (and fellow mother) and I have been exchanging about the meaning of baptism and Paul's writings on women in the church; or maybe I'd even get all anarchist and accuse her of being a stooge trying to keep the capitalistic machine in motion by implying that all those who could work, should work -- I would say that, but you know, I am a mère de famille now, so I don't care about anything else enough to do that.

Second (third, fourth, nth!), she wrote this despite having two adolescent children. She's a psychiatrist, though, so I suppose she understands precisely how she's harming their psyches by sharing with the world that she regrets bringing them into it.

Ooh, I'm getting agitated. Let's find something silly.

4. Our friend Chris turned Clara into an angry old lady.