24 July 2010


Clara got an early second birthday gift over the weekend.

She had just woken up from a nap so seemed a bit concerned at first,

and perhaps overwhelmed by the enthusiasm displayed by her siblings, who were very excited about this milestone. She had barely entered the kitchen (where it was sitting to surprise her), when they were full of jumps and "You have a BIKE, Clara!" and pulling the balloons off and demonstrating how it works.

She warmed up when we got outside.

Have you seen these pedal-less bikes for little kids? I hadn't before living here. They seem to help kids get their balance more quickly than those with training wheels do.

And she needs to get her balance quickly so she can start training for the women's tour.

In other sporting news, Lily and Soren just finished two weeks of swimming lessons. Last year, I sat feeding an almost-one-year-old Clara chunks of food in the cafe, watching them through the big windows.

This year, as I packed up our bag for the first day of class, Clara asked, "Me swimmy suit? Me swimmy suit?"

I explained that it was just for Lily and Soren, and she and I sat in the cafe again, watching with the other parents, for a couple days.

But let's have some fun, huh? I dropped the two euros for the required swim cap, and she and I have been swimming during their lesson every day since.

In the mornings she says, cheery and proud, "Me swimmy class!"

23 July 2010

Tour de France 2010: Stage Two

The riders came near our home on Stage Two of the Tour. We saw it on the main road that runs from Brussels into Tervuren (Tervurenlaan).

To get there we parked and biked (kids)/walked and ran (adults)/strolled (Clara) -- 8 km of biking for the kids!

It was a long straight stretch of road, and not crowded, so we could see the cyclists for quite a long way.

Cavendish in the front, Cancellara in yellow

Armstrong second from left

Once the riders passed, the kids rode on the course.

And we cheered even louder.

Then we walked into the town for lunch --

our kids are new to riding through town -- they seemed so old doing it.

The course went right by these cafes in Tervuren.

It's a breakaway!

22 July 2010

Tour de France 2010: Smore of Stage One

As I wrote in the last post, on the Fourth of July we saw the riders in the early afternoon in the Netherlands, played at the beach for a couple hours, drove to Brussels, and still had time before seeing the riders to:

1. stop in at a bar for a refreshment

2. pose uncomfortably three or four times for a drunk man who grabbed Matthew's camera and insisted on taking our photo

2.b. scheme how to block door and tackle the rogue if his intentions were less than honorable (I believe this was only an internal test for Matthew)

3. make our way to the course and forge new friendships with fellow fans

4. get ourselves situated, on a curve, so we see them for a bit longer

4.b. feel slightly tense when people arrive later than us yet cram themselves into space in front of us (maybe just me)

5. solidify new friendships with a side hug

6. listen for the helicopters, our first indication that the riders are near, then see loads of team cars and ambulances.

Once we see them, it's over so fast and is so intense. There's just time to:

suspect that the precise point on the curve where we are is the spot where a rider who loses control will crash;

feel the surge of excitement as the riders come by, not be able to focus on any one rider and just flick one's eyes all over the crowd;

and wonder why we don't own a cow bell so we can more thoroughly express our excitement.

All you need is love, but a cow bell wouldn't hurt.

21 July 2010

Tour de France 2010: Stage One

After we broke camp (that term would seem more appropriate had we been backpacking), we saw the riders one more time in the Netherlands on Stage One as they headed from Rotterdam to Brussels.

Then, while they were using leg power back to Brussels, we used a car! So we had time to play on the beach (a really lovely, not jam-packed, beach), and eat some frites.

19 July 2010

Tour de France 2010: Camping

We stayed at a campground outside Rotterdam after watching the Prologue. As we drove through the campground, we saw lots of mobile home type structures, very close to each other.

Manicured hedges!

We drove past the houses and into the tent area, where there were lots of big tents set up with flat-screen televisions. It seemed like people were here for the summer, in the houses and the tents.

As we passed one, a woman was ironing.

The ocean is a few minutes' drive away so maybe people spend their days at the beach -- ironing and watching TV in a tent seems not so fun.

We were unable to attend this performance, because it was at a later date.

We had smores by the camp stove rather than the campfire. They don't allow campfires here because the sites aren't very big.

[m-w.com tells me that smores still needs an apostrophe. Awww, "s'mores" looks hokey! Like it's trying too hard. I would think that punctuation mark would have been rendered unnecessary by now. We drop hyphens all the time; it's a "pickup," not a "pick-up," truck. (I checked.)

It's still "e-mail," though, but I have been ignoring that for years. Now that I think of it, I have been trying to get creative with punctuation since I was a little girl. When I had a word that broke over a line, I would put a hyphen at the end of the first line (as one should), but then also include one at the start of the second line. So, if I were writing about commas and such, I would end one line with "punctu-" and then start the next line, "-ation."

Perhaps I could have drawn a picture? Played some music? No, thank you, I'd like to take my creative juices to the rules of punctuation. Hi-ya!]

Little heart-to-heart with Grambie over a toasted treat.

Somebody loves camping!

This was our first night camping as a family.

The days are really long here in the summer, so our dear third child was awake until nearly midnight.

And up bright and early! Good morning! Happy 4th of July!

14 July 2010

Tour de France 2010: Prologue, Rotterdam

We drove to Rotterdam on Saturday, July 3, to see the Prologue of the Tour. It was a time trial (the cyclists go one by one, a few minutes after each other, rather than in a pack).

First we walked by all the team buses, with riders warming up.

That's Christian VandeVelde on the bike above. A week and a half later some of these images are a bit bittersweet; VandeVelde had a bad crash early on and dropped out.

I'm having an audience assessment problem as I write this. Some of you readers (Hi Neil! Hi Chris and Rebecca! Hi Anne!) love the Tour and so my defining a time trial merits an eye roll. Some of you readers have no interest, so my defining a time trial bores you as well. Yet I cannot stop myself from defining it for what I imagine to be a magical third group of readers, unfamiliar with cycling, yet eager to learn new things. Bless you, group three. I think I miss you most of all.*

We parked ourselves in the prep zone, between the team buses and the starting ramp, so we saw the riders before they went off. I was skeptical of this ("Don't we want to see them actually race?" I thought, but kept to myself), but Matthew had thought it all out. We were able to actually see the riders on this day much better than we could any time later, since they were going slowly as they approached the start. It was so cool!

We saw the team cars getting labeled with the names of the riders they would follow,

and watched the cyclists approach, get signed in, and have their bikes weighed and inspected before they began.

Andy Schleck. GO ANDY!

Thor Hushovd.

Ivan Basso was one of a few cyclists who did several loops in the prep zone, rather than heading straight to the queue.

I saw some autograph signing by the team buses, but the riders were pretty focused in this prep zone and not really looking to the crowd. We were standing next to an Italian who shouted (in Italian) to Basso, though, and thus won actual eye contact.

Fabian Cancellara. Matthew says, "In person you really get a sense of how big he is."

We have an old children's book, Let's Find Out What's Big and Small: A rabbit is big to a mouse, but small to an elephant, etc. Big is a relative term, and none of these men seem truly large to me. But I was surprised by how much difference in body types there was. The Schleck brothers (GO ANDY!) are in the group that makes Cancellara look big.

Clara rode in the backpack carrier, and Lily and Soren sat on one of the barriers to watch the action. Here they also ate their random dinner (we all did) of crackers, beef sticks, cheese dip (Laughing Cow brand in French = "La vache qui rit," which makes me ris, or smile at least), carrot sticks and snow peas, almond cookies, and popcorn, purchased at a grocery store right there once we realized that the last cyclist started way after dinner time for them.

Here is M. Bernard Hinault (bio here), the last French winner of the Tour. Again, our Italian neighbor came through for us and asked him to stand for a photo:

They say French women don't get fat, but French men don't do too shabbily, either. At least, not French athletic champions.

Here's M. Hinault talking with the director of the Tour, Christian Prudhomme.

Lance just rode right up and into the start.

All eyes were on Mr. Armstrong, even among the people working the Tour.

As the winner of the 2009 Tour, Contador was last to do the time trial. As we walked back to the car, he was looping back to the team buses through the neighborhoods, with a random cyclist following him:

Matthew selected the photos for this post, but forgot this one, if you can imagine.

Merci, gendarme!, for protecting us in such sleek policing style.

On the topic of style: Do you know where I can get one of these king of the mountain podium dresses? I'm attending a special wedding this summer.

*Paraphrase of a line of Dorothy's in The Wizard of Oz. The kids and I watched this a couple weeks ago with no visible harm despite my concerns. Full Metal Jacket and lots of Almodóvar soon to follow!