~Picking Up ~ Mixed Media

I have been really into feeling empowered lately. Feeling capable is a kind of high I enjoy, particularly because its goodness doesn’t expire like that buzz from the last of that bottle of wine. Confidently taking action feels better than wondering why things don’t just simply change. Mostly because the answer, “They just won’t,” is useless.

The actions I am taking seem small on their own: exercising, finally buying frames for prints to hang on our walls, cutting back on booze, tagging everything in that extra room for a garage sale, letting my husband file down my (new, eek!) bike frame so I can attach the trailer. They’re little tweaks that are shifting me away from the way things have always been.

I’m choosing to fill myself with positive messages and inspiring stories to keep the momentum. So, I present (again): Mixed Media, the formerly semi-regular posting of the media I’m consuming that I really, really like. You know, now that I have time to do stuff like that.

Books

I love reading books. Actual books, with pages in my hands. My bedside pile of books was starting to look a bit tall, so I decided to tackle it. (Never mind that I’ve joined a very fun book club, too.)

Dinner with the Smileys and Wild

“Dinner With the Smileys” by Sara Smiley, a memoir of the author’s experience inviting a guest to have dinner with her and her sons each week of her husband’s one year deployment with the Navy. It’s possible I could be in her shoes one day. I’ll remember this when the time comes. In the mean time, I’m inspired by the idea of hosting dinner guests as a way to teach our sons about belonging to a community. Perhaps I might at last finally consider myself grown-up enough to do this?

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed, another memoir, of Strayed’s experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone after the loss of her mother. It’s beautiful, at once heartbreaking and uplifting, and now my favorite book. I think I’m permanently altered by it.

Hahn-Gilbert

“The Nazi Officer’s Wife” by Edith Hahn, retells the author’s experience of survival as an educated Jewish woman in Vienna during the Holocaust. My words can’t bring it justice; it’s simply a must-read for understanding the preciousness of life and of peace. It makes clear the good fortune we bear in being alive in a time and place without war (on our soil, at least) as well as the desperate misfortune of those who currently live in war zones.

Now “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert is at the top of the stack. I saw the movie with some friends and kind of hated it, but I gained the book at a swap so I’ll give it a second chance. The books are always better anyway.

TV

I don’t really watch TV on a regular basis. I much prefer to binge on entire seasons of shows on Netflix. Thank you, America, for Parks and Recreation! You have to watch this clip. (It IS Amy Poehler’s birthday today, after all. Have you checked out her Smart Girls, too?)

Music

Years ago I discovered that turning off NPR and cranking up pop music from time to time makes me a little bit happy. OK, a lot bit happier than hearing about the Ebola outbreak. These are the songs that make me smile biggest of all right now.

What are you reading, watching or listening to that makes you feel pretty awesome right now?

Throwback

I’m the worst at picking up on memes. By the time I think of participating, it’s because my mom’s friends are doing it, and then I know it’s probably long past its prime.

Anyway. It’s a #tbt kind of day.

Doggies

The ACSC book club kicked off last night. It was hosted by a beautiful woman who lived in a beautiful home, both of which reminded me of our glory days back in Omaha, in Dundee in our 20’s. One of her dogs reminded me of one of our dogs who is now happily homed with family in Minnesota. It was a mini-fling with the life we had before kids. I loved it.

Back Home in Indiana

And then… I met another woman who has actually been to a fourth of July fireworks show in Fowler, Indiana. It’s a town with a population of 2,000, people. This is a big deal. Have you even heard of Fowler, Indiana? Right.

Bahamas

And THEN… one of my best friends had a case of Bounty chocolate bars delivered to my doorstep. She remembered that I fell in love with these long ago, either on a trip to the Bahamas or Guatemala, well, probably the Bahamas, doesn’t matter which because now I’m nostalgic for both.

You guys, life is crazy good. Enjoy.

 

 

Englishican

I can’t help but mumble “Sorry” when I’m inconveniencing someone in any way, say, by entering their peripheral view at the grocery store. If you hold the door for me, I’ll probably say “sorry” and “thank you.” It became such a habit, uttering “sorry” upon any human contact, after three years in England. At least the east of England was filled with deferentially polite people who offered up a “sorry” for such offenses as selecting an item from a shelf next to where you are looking to see if the bread expires tomorrow. The nerve.

My Americanized version is said with a smile. It most certainly makes me look like a dope.

“Lovely” is another word I’ve brought home. I reserve it for legit complimentary purposes, i.e. “That sunset is lovely!” (because it IS.) I do not miss it as a stand in for “thank you,” as is the case when you hand a cashier any amount of money to pay. A £20 note for a £2 LEGO figurine? “Lovely.” Exact change? “Lovely.” Always with the same tone, mind you.

My Americanized version is said with an inflection that only us emotionally reckless Yanks can muster.

“Bits.” Walden likes to point out this bit or that. He also doesn’t like for us to get “cross.” His trash goes into a “bin.”

Alas, he does not call me “Mummy.”

From time to time I ask myself if I’m driving on the right side of the road, as in the RIGHT side, which is the correct side here. I always am when I do.

It won’t be long before our time in England becomes simply a place in the photo books that I’m going to make one day. The morning tea habit may stick, but I have a feeling the lingo will be gone in no time. That may just be the result of generally having no idea what they were saying most of the time anyway.

That Time We Visited Versailles

Palace of Versailles

We visited Paris on our honeymoon nine years ago. In our two days there, we explored the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay, ate lobster and creme brulee with champagne at midnight in the rain and watched Tour de France racers ride up and down Champs-Elysees for hours.

I have since wished that we’d had time to visit the luxurious palace of Versailles, in case we never had a chance to return. Our family road trip this spring seemed like a fine time to check that box, especially given that it was on our way out of Paris to Normandy. I pre-booked and printed tickets in England before our trip.

We stayed in a somewhat-finished, budget rental in a southern suburb during our time in Paris (I suppose our fees helped cover refinishing the bare concrete spiral staircase; thanks anyway, AirBnB). We ate our first family meal at a Hippopotamus in a run-down shopping mall food court. Visiting one of the world’s finest palaces seemed like the perfect way to put some sparkle on our otherwise lackluster stay.

Under the Hood

We bounced and bumbled our 1998 4Runner over the cobbled stones of the parking lot. We all exited the vehicle into the mist and… the car horn started blaring. Nonstop. Thankfully my husband had the sense to remove the fuse. Perhaps we should have taken it as a warning?

Waiting in Versailles

The line at the entrance was huge. A kind employee saw us holding our little guy and told us we could skip to the front of the line with a baby. The gate attendant was a bit miffed that our guy was actually a toddler, but they let us in anyway. Thank goodness! We had walked all the way up there and had no interest in retreating to the back of the line.

We knew the audio tour would be pointless with the kids to chase around, so we skipped that line to get to business. Then we kept our tinies from wriggling out of our arms or getting stepped on or screaming too very loudly as we pushed our way through the crowds in bedrooms and halls of the very beautiful palace. Pictures were NOT to be had that day.

Just a note: metal frame carriers and strollers aren’t permitted. It’s just too hot of a spot and there are too many tourists. We tried carrying Bertie in the Beco Gemini, but he was not at all interested. Defiant, I might say. I bought some Ladurée macarons to feel better about it.

Versailles Gardens

We took off to the gardens. Beautiful, lovely, yes, SO big…then Walden had to pee. Then everyone was hungry and we grabbed a baguette with cheese from the snack bar next to the restaurant next to the toilets and then the drizzle came and we decided we’d had enough. It was time to go to Normandy.

In short: Versailles is lovely! I think. Wish I could have seen more.

Up for Air

Gah! Has it really been 2 weeks since my last post?! It seems our new routine doesn’t facilitate blogging. Perhaps we’ll get there? For now, another one of those all-over-the-place-what’s-going-on posts.

Splash Pad

Walden has started Montessori preschool and loves it. I also love it, because it makes him happy and because it’s 3 hours of each day that I have in relative peace. At least, Bertie is pretty content to do whatever at that time of day. He can be a great shopping companion and is capable of entertaining himself for a bit while I accomplish things. Walden is in this brilliant stage where he’s figuring out letters/words/language. He can read a few words. He can write a few words. He loves playing “what starts with the letter…” games. But, FOR THE LOVE, the child cannot go three seconds without some kind of conversation, and usually that conversation starts with, “MOM!”

Mama's Love

Also, Bertie is 18 months old right now. I started a tribute post but couldn’t get photos in order before his nose turned into a snot faucet. He does this super-cute hands-out “ehahEWWW?” (“where are you?”) thing. He still barely eats anything but toast.

My 34th birthday was last week. I was surprised with an amazingly delicious Publix cake with fudge frosting. It was meant to be shared with my husband’s flight, but… we were surprised with the arrival of our household goods well before we expected them: on my birthday! It meant we missed the flight’s icebreaker social, but I’d kinda rather have a proper bed to sleep in and meet them another day.

I got a beauty of a new bike for my birthday, too. I ride it to the pool behind Walden on his big boy bike and my husband, who pulls Bertie in a bike trailer. Riding home with my suit dripping through my clothes makes me feel like a teenager. It’s great.

Morning

About that routine. It’s great to have one. We alternate days for being home with the kids while the other works out. I like morning walks, and I’m still getting a handle on the schedule for showering/dressing/eating/getting out the door. We’re thinking of throwing toddler swim lessons in the mix next month. Maybe a preschool soccer skills camp. I think I’ll find myself feeling jealous of my husband for having legit, mind-bending homework each night. ‘Cuz I’m a nerd like that.

I have a little confession about being a stay-at-home mom. My oldest doesn’t nap, and hasn’t napped in a year. The youngest naps in the afternoon, after lunch, after preschool pick up. That means I spend all day, every day, with one or two awake kids. Sometimes it really feels like I’m playing hooky from life to be with them. They are both at very fun ages. They’re also lucky that they’re cute and mostly sweet at the times when I would say they’re at challenging ages. But the bottom line is this: when I don’t start my day before them, I get no time – NONE – to myself until the chores are all done in the evening. Usually there are three of us within the same two square feet of the house. I get to pee with either one climbing in my lap or the other banging on the door, yelling for me. I share everything I eat. I make animal noises the entire car ride back from school.  I’ve wiped butts for nearly 4 years now. It’s just… a lot of activity for someone who likes to retreat into a bit of quiet and solitude.

I have plans to brush up my resume and get myself back into the workforce (part time, ideally).

Receiving our household goods was such a relief. So much so that I’m not at wit’s end that our car isn’t entirely accounted for. At least, it didn’t arrive this week as expected. (It’s not just us.) The new (to us) Forester feels like an old friend, and I thank her daily for her outstanding safety features as I contend with Alabama drivers.

Sunset

The sunsets over the fishing pond behind our house really are magnificent. The food is good. The A/C works really well. I’ve met some pretty cool people. Really, there’s nothing to complain about (except the missing car, I suppose). Life is good.

5 (minus 1) Things to Do in Paris with Little Kids

The first friend Walden made at his new school was a boy who recently returned from a trip to Paris. Not that they talked about their experiences in Paris while playing pretend blasters, but having been to Paris was cool enough for the teachers to share that tidbit with me.

Five Things to Do in Paris with Little Kids

Visiting Paris with two small children was far from romantic in the traditional sense (as in, there was no eating lobster with champagne and creme brulee at midnight), but it was a great time. Paris is a lovely city, full of remarkable architecture and charm at nearly every turn.

Our time in Paris in May was fairly child-oriented. Having already toured the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay on our honeymoon, we chose to structure our days to make the visit fun for them. We planned walks around areas we wanted to see during times when they needed to rest. It was exhausting but nice.

1. Luxembourg Gardens

Jardin du Luxembourg

This beautiful park is a classic. We didn’t sail boats or inspect all of the statues, but we did very thoroughly explore its magnificent play ground. There is a (small, worthy) fee to enter. Totally worth it.

2. Ice Cream Under the Eiffel Tower

Ice cream under Eiffel Tower

Truth be told, we visited Paris mostly to show Walden the Eiffel Tower. He learned of it in a Justin Time episode and thought it would be SO COOL to go there. Then he got a giant chocolate ice cream cone and it really was the best.

3. La Cite des Enfants

Cite des Enfants

It’s a bit of a train ride to the city’s Science & Industry Museum, but if you’re looking for something super-exciting for the kids, it’s worthwhile. Cité des Enfants is a turbo-charged, concentrated children’s museum-style play area inside the Science Museum. Tickets are available for 90-minute time slots. While having a set ending time might be good for some families’ extraction plans, we had to drag (DRAAAAG) a screaming Walden away when the time was up. Water play, role play, construction play; play with gravity and sound and light; there was so much to do and it was all SO FUN.

4. Lock Bridge

Paris Love Locks Pont des Arts Bridge

Talk about good timing (for us, at least). For years lovebirds from around the world have inscribed their names onto padlocks and attached them to the Pont des Arts footbridge before throwing the key into the Seine. Sadly, SO MANY locks have been placed on the bridge that the weight caused the railing to collapse in June. Now the city will remove grills from bridges that are adorned with these “love locks” to prevent a fatal accident from a future collapse (though they aren’t banning the act of placing them there in the first place). It was quite the sight when we had the chance, and Walden enjoyed finding the quirky locks in the collection.

5. Nutella Crepes

Nutella Crepes

I mean come on. You’re in Paris. Why not? We found fast and friendly-enough service at Les Deux Palais, not far from Notre Dame, for our afternoon pick-me-up. What a treat!

Have you been to Paris with small children? What did you love to do?

Sweet Home

We’re in Alabama!

Alabama Collage

Actually, we’ve been here for a week. The kids and I stayed a few extra days in Indiana before my mom drove us down last Monday. My husband had to check in before we’d had our fill of fun on the lake, family and friends, and, well, we still don’t have our household goods. That valiant man braved IKEA – in Atlanta – solo so that we’d have some of the furniture we need. Better yet: he got us set up with Internet access! Gold star husband, right there.

The past week has been hectic. Well, as hectic as running to Target and/or the grocery store every day can be. Don’t get me started on my four-slot toaster quest. Moving into a house with just some big suitcases still manages to require a lot of extra stuff.

Walden and my husband both started school today, so we’re at the brink of a routine, which we all seem to need desperately. The kids will be thrilled that it seems to involve a trip to the neighborhood splash pad every afternoon after Bertie’s nap, because SUNSHINE ALL THE TIME (mostly).

Seriously. The sun SHINES in America, y’all. (It took me two days to dust that one off from my southern collegiate girl archives.) During practical hours, too. We don’t have 4:30 am sunrises or 10:30 pm sunsets over here, though the sun sets beautifully over the pond in our back yard each evening. We do have light golden tans already, and my children are never happier than when they are splashing around in water in the sunshine.

We live in a gated community, which is still surreal. Covenants, HOA’s, the whole shebang. Our house is so nice and clean and matching that I had a mild panic attack when we arrived. There are so many places to put things…and so many surfaces that will need to be cleaned. Everything works and is so functionally normal that I feel a bit off balance. We even have an attached two-car garage. A garbage disposal and a pantry. Closets! And a mailbox, with a red flag and everything! There aren’t any weird doors to nowhere, or missing pieces of trim, or strangely-placed light fixtures to nail us in the head. It’s quite pleasant, really.

Readjusting to driving culture is difficult. I like our new (to us) Forester; I don’t like having to drive it to get everywhere. Our neighborhood is flanked by big churches. A CVS is about a half mile up the road from the entrance, but there isn’t a sidewalk to get there. Just beyond that you’ll find every kind of opportunity to spend your money on anything you could imagine. Food, especially. There are an obscene number of sit-down and quick service restaurants within a five minute drive (including Panera, Five Guys, and Chipotle, as well as local faves Chicken Salad Chick and Zaxby’s). Dunkin’ Donuts is on the way. Target is five minutes away, too. There’s the same outdoor shopping mall that every small American city has. Wal-Mart, Home Depot. Movie theaters. It could be any place (that has a 10% sales tax on everything, including groceries).

The people have been spectacularly warm and friendly. They are also spectacularly bad drivers.

I finally tried sweet tea. I’m pretty sure a tooth fell out. I’ll be sticking to unsweet.

The temperature reached 95 today. Thank goodness for air conditioning and Dunkin’s 99¢ iced coffees from 3-6 pm. I’m over sleeping on an air mattress, but it sure beats the camping pad and sleeping bag we tried out for a few nights.

Getting settled in will be a relief. Other families in our program have been amazingly supportive and helpful, but we’re still getting used to this new life. I’m looking forward to our short time here, particularly the time after our furniture arrives and we can comfortably welcome people into our home.

In the mean time, I may be caught daydreaming about our time in Europe. More posts are to come from our big road trip (the one from England to Spain, not the one from nearly-Canada to nearly the Gulf of Mexico), once I can sneak in some time to add photos to the drafts. However, it’s time to fold the laundry in my gorgeous, miraculous and wonderful new dryer.

A Weekend in Wales

We snuck in a last minute trip over the Fourth of July to make the most of our last weekend in the UK.

We booked a “secluded log cabin” along Snowdonia National Park and drove the boys to Wales.

Barmouth Beach

We took the kids to the beach at Barmouth in the rain the day we arrived, because, well, we had to do something. They loved it. Unfortunately we parents turned our backs for 20 seconds and found our little guys sitting in a chilly beach puddle, smiling at us with that “heh-heh, I know I’m not supposed to do this” look. Our lovely trip to the seaside was cut a bit short. As we left town we said, “I’m sure it’s lovely in the summer!” then remembered the date.

Driving through Snowdonia

Thankfully the rain cleared over night and our morning mountain view was bathed in sunshine! It set the mood for a great day. We drove through the terrifyingly tight winding roads of the southern portion of the park. It was the stone walls, see, they were built right up to the road. That we didn’t scrape one with our sideview is nothing short of a miracle.

View from Snowdon

We rode a steam train up Snowdon. Woolly sheep mostly ignored us as we chuffed to the highest point in England and Wales. The boys enjoyed waving at the hikers, whose trek to the top *may* have required as much exertion as keeping both of them happy for the two hour round trip.

Barmouth Beach

We went back to the beach and played in the sun and sand. You really can’t beat that.

Johnny Trashed

As we walked across a level crossing in search of dinner, we heard a Johnny Cash song ringing through the streets. Weird enough hearing country music in Britain; weirder still that Wales speaks its own language. Walden danced. Then we found ourselves a delicious dinner (with loads of VEGETABLES, thank goodness) at The Captain’s Table.

We didn’t have internet at the cabin. We did have a 1988 edition of Trivial Pursuit, made in the UK, of course. We didn’t have the stamina to finish it. The first pie piece was won on a question that asked about what the weather in London was like on a day the Queen took the throne or something. (Raining. I mean, honestly.)

Aside from the dead baby rabbit next to our doorstep after missing our turn approximately 14 times, it was a perfect weekend. Make the getaway if you get the chance!

 

And We’re Back

Boys in MN

Helloooooo America!

OK, so we’ve been here nearly a week already. But Hello anyway. The general rule of thumb for overcoming jet lag is that it takes one day per time zone to adjust, so we’re just now coming out of that zombie-like state that comes with transatlantic travel.

Our 18-hour travel day went as well as can be expected. Bertie fell asleep for an hour on takeoff from London. Walden fell asleep for about 30 minutes en route. We crashed the USO at O’Hare and were able to fly standby on an earlier flight to Minneapolis. There weren’t any irrecoverable meltdowns and all of our luggage arrived with us. An overall win in my book, with bonus points for hopefully being our last departure from Heathrow until the boys are big enough to carry their own bags onto the plane.

Minnesota summer is unbeatable. The weather has been incredibly mild, which has helped us acclimate gently to summer-like temps. We’ve visited the Minnesota Children’s Museum, mostly to unleash our jet lagged children on the Thomas & Friends’ Explore the Rails exhibit. We visited the Minnesota Zoo. Play grounds, parks, cousins, Legos (SO MANY LEGOS), bike rides, walks along the creek, burgers, bagels, farmer’s markets, Target…and lots of iced coffee.

We’ve set up new phones, we’ve found a car. We’ve made plans for a date night, an REI shopping trip and a Twins game, and I’m excited that one of my sisters-in-law is taking me to a show tonight. Time is flying!

Next week we visit my family in Indiana and hopefully consume our weight in fresh, delicious sweet corn. Then we’re off to Alabama to wait for our stuff to arrive and send the big guys to school. We’re so fortunate that we’re able to load up on most of our family after being overseas for three years.

Also, summer in the Midwest should be on everyone’s bucket list. Have you been?

The Final Countdown

Whelp, our stuff is packed in crates somewhere out there and we’re officially living out of suitcases. I appreciate any and all wishes for our household to arrive in Alabama in fewer than 3 months (unlike last time)!

This post is pretty scatterbrained. We’ve had a very busy few weeks, full of preparation for the move, last minute sight-seeing and keeping the kids happy. I regret that I wasn’t more dedicated to posting when we arrived in England. (Or since. Sigh.) So with that I’m just dumping it all right here before it’s forgotten in the hot, hot glorious sun of American summer. Anyway, I’m sitting in a dark hotel room in London while Albert naps. I’d nap too, except for that lunch time latte. (Sleep hasn’t been abundant these days).

With it being summer in Britain, stuff is actually going on and happening. It all gets concentrated in the June-August timeframe. Then you’re left grumbling about the rain and slugs and cold for the rest of the year.

Sports Day

Walden had his first foot race at his school “sports day.” He said, “Are you going to watch me win, Mom?” I guess he doesn’t count the kid who won as part of the competition?

Boulogne sur Mer

I took a day bus trip to France with a friend. Boulogne-sur-Mer. Heard of it? No? I’ll tell you about it one of these days.

The Berts

Bertie’s front molars are all here!

Country Show Collage

We took the boys to the West Suffolk Game & Country Show. It rained (SURPRISE), but we got to see our first Punch & Judy Puppet Show. It was performed in a classic 1860’s style with wooden puppets made in 1934. Call me a modern woman, but I wasn’t crazy about the domestic violence/child abuse/cop beating perpetrated by Mr. Punch. Just sayin’. HOW is it OK for this show to be performed?

There was a steam traction engine parade. I don’t know what we’re going to do for fun when we live somewhere that doesn’t have loads of steam relics to entertain my husband and preschooler. (Maybe we should buy this place?)

Wales Collage

We went to Wales over the weekend of the 4th. It was fantastic and I’ll tell you all about it, too. One hint: there was a steam train (SURPRISE). Also: 1988 UK-produced Trivial Pursuit.

Goodbye

Walden’s teachers made a good-bye card, with a blue steam locomotive on the front. (See what I mean?) Honestly, receiving that was the most emotional part of this move. At least with my friends from the squadron we really mean it when we say, “See you later.”

Our landlord thanked us for taking such good care of our house. It’s funny, because I’m a horrible house keeper, but I get some satisfaction in knowing that I can fake it well enough.

And finally, temporary lodging is surprisingly more luxurious than when we first arrived three years ago. Don’t get me wrong; nothing has changed. It’s just that… air conditioning! A dryer! A garbage disposal! Never mind that it’s as large as the space we actually used in our house. I no longer have to brave A1101 to get to the commissary.

Tomorrow we fly. I’ve reminded myself of my own advice for making a transatlantic flight with a 17-month-old. We’re lucky that Walden is an A+ traveler/iPad-player and we don’t have to sweat entertaining him on a plane. (The Chuggington game I downloaded yesterday is a sure-fire win. I can only hope he’s always so easy to please.) Best of all, there are grandparents waiting for them at the finish line.