Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Lists

Even though I am a total and admitted crank around the holidays (mostly because of all the bad music that is played) I do look forward to Quinn and Logan's christmas lists. In year's past they've asked for wood dowels, duct tape, garden stakes and other obvious kid-friendly items. Even though they are getting older and the lists are less game/toy heavy, there are still some gems. For example, "the Clapper." I kid you not, Quinn has that on his list this year, because how cool would it be to walk into your room, clap loudly and voila -- the lights are on! What will inventors think of next? A way to brown and crisp your bread?! So without further ado, here are the wish-lists for 2011 written exactly as they were submitted to Jim and me.

Logan:
1. Mouse for computer
2. Clothes (socks also)
3. ipod speakers
4. itunes cards
5. shoes ?
6. trip to Mt. Hood Meadows
7. More cargo shorts
8. Paintball Palace trip

Quinn:
Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000203 EndHTML:0000010022 StartFragment:0000002311 EndFragment:0000009986 SourceURL:file:///Users/tamarairminger-underwood/Library/Mail%20Downloads/Christmas%20list-4.doc

http://www.gifts.com/christmas/top-picks/teen/pe6L2URpa

1.Itunes gift cards

2.new slim jeans

3.new plaid shirts

4.xbox 360

5.gift cards to Movie Theater

6.new ski jacket

7.money!!!!!!!

8.ipod speakers!!!!: http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=21360698&cm_mmc=Performics-_-Affiliates-_-Gifts.com%20-%20Affiliate-_-Primary&clickid=0004b4040fb3684c0a4286a3230b4914

9.new wii controller

10.mechanical pencils

11.wii games

12.speakers for computer

13. watch

14.ipod nano watch holders

15. bucky balls ::54X6JXWPLSAWRQ6B27VB_M.jpg

16. 17. new earbuds for ipod (skullcandy)

18.LEGO architect set (space needle)

19.classic arcade machine

20.”oversized beanbag chair”

21.casual watch: http://www.urbanoutfitters.com/urban/catalog/productdetail.jsp?id=24086753&cm_mmc=Performics-_-Affiliates-_-Gifts.com%20-%20Affiliate-_-Primary&clickid=0004b40404c2f79b0a425186124521c2

22.”clapper” for lights


You'll notice that Quinn actually provided links to some of the items on his wish list! Logan asked this morning to see what was on Quinn's list, as he had hand-written his and was pretty sure he was forgetting things. Sure enough, after reading Quinn's he asked if he could modify his already submitted list. Good thing they're leaving us plenty of time...Happy Holidays to everyone, whatever it is you celebrate this time of year!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Snuggie

Today is one of those days that if I owned a Snuggie, I'd be cuddled up in it right now. It is pouring down rain and really all I want to do is sip tea and read. Of course, that isn't on my agenda at all as we are needing to hit the road in less in a few hours to head to my parents for Thanksgiving. Before we leave there is still packing to be done, fish to feed, laundry, and payroll checks to be written. Which is precisely why I am now deciding to write a blog entry after not having done so in months. This folks, is what procrastination looks like. Fortunately I didn't develop such habits until after graduating from university.

Actually, I wish I hadn't procrastinated on keeping this blog-thing going because there is much to write about, but when so much gets back logged, it seeps out in totally convoluted ways and the end result is nothing like I want it to be. What stories could be so interesting you ask? Well, there is the whole identity thing we're witnessing Quinn and Logan go through as twins. Super fascinating. Then there is contemplating a relocation to a different country. Another great story. The new chapter of adolescence that the boys have entered. Wow, is that good material. Will I touch on any of those right now? No. I'll instead fill this page with dribble. Sorry. I promise I will get to the good stuff, and sooner than later. In the meantime, I'll leave you with a teaser.

Identity:
As a non-twin, I can only imagine what it would be like to have an identical twin. Actually, when I was younger my good friend Simone and I would play that we were identical twins. Our play names where Lisa and Lacey (can you tell we were children of the 70s!) We were absolutely fascinated by the idea of going through life with another person who looked just like you! We thought that if we could be such good friends without being related, imagine what being part of an identical pair would be like. Eventually we grew out of those make-believe games, but my fascination with twins didn't wane much, so imagine my surprise when I found out I was pregnant with twins. Actually, I was more stunned than surprised, but that is a whole other story.

The Cliff-notes version of the boys years from birth through pre-adolescence has been one of sameness with moments of trying to be individuals. Now that they've hit full-blown adolescence, where their identities are really taking shape, we're yet again fascinated with how they try to differentiate themselves from one another. For the first time in their young lives they are pursuing different activities. Up until now they've both been involved in either fencing or ballet. In one of the many books we've read on twins, we learned that it isn't unusual for identical twins to pursue similar interests. They are, after all, genetically identical, which is why they often have the same interests, especially when young.

Logan decided at the beginning of this school year to discontinue dance and instead joined the Rowing club. I would like to take a momentary break and give a shout-out to all those families who have kids of different ages involved in different sports. It's a total pain in the ass to need to be in one place for one kid and in another place for the other, usually at the same time, because that is how the universe likes to mess with you, and I admire those families who have figured out how to be in two places at the same time. Okay, back to main story. So Logan is enjoying crew and this autumn the crew teams traveled all around the Pacific Northwest for regattas. On one of our drives home from a regatta we asked Logan what he thought about doing something without Quinn around. He responded that it was okay, but mostly it was weird because people knew him as just Logan, not LoganQuinn. He elaborated that he'll ask his teammates if they know who he is, and after giving him a quizzical look they'll reply, "Yeah, you're Logan, why?" He said that his entire life he's had to explain that he is Logan and NOT Quinn. Or he's constantly having to say which one he is because people ask, "Are you Logan or Quinn?" Logan said it feels a little weird to not have to go into any further detail about who he is, he's just Logan, end of story. The following weekend we traveled to another regatta and this time we made Quinn join us so he could see what his brother was doing and be supportive. Apparently no one on the crew team knew that Logan was a twin because all morning different teammates kept going up to Quinn (thinking he was Logan) and telling him he needed to get in uniform and be down at the boats. Quinn was relaying these funny stories to me and another mom and was in the middle of telling us about one kid who actually started eating food off his plate, at which point the coach came up to him and said, "Logan I need you down at the boat now, you're on the water in 10 minutes!" I think this is when I snorted coffee out my nose from laughing so hard.

So this is what the boys are going through. They are figuring out how to stand on their own without the constant security of the other around. I am happy they are starting to practice this now and not experience separation for the first time when they go away to college (assuming they go to different universities.) Also, you read about those socially awkward adult twins who still live together in their 70s and never married and just have cats and birds. Not that I think Quinn and Logan would ever tolerate living together that long, but hey, if they don't know how to be apart, it could happen. Funny stories aside, I do wonder what it is like to go through some of the most challenging formative years as an identical twin. On the one hand I think it could make it easier, and on the other, even more difficult. The age old question of "Who am I?" becomes even more spotlighted as an identical twin. I will say that even as the mother of identical twins, I am still equally fascinated and mystified by twins and can't believe the good karma points I accrued somewhere to have the privilege of parenting twins. Even though I still call Logan Quinn and Quinn Logan, I know that they each stand on their own but have the comfort of the other, just like a Snuggie.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Missing

I have instances throughout my day where I will think of a moment, or street scene, or smell while we lived in Paris and I am nearly crippled with longing to return. I miss walking on the uneven cobble stone streets to do my daily shopping. I miss walking across the Pont Alexandre III (bridge) and watching the many people lazing in the park or playing petanque. I miss the cheese and wine and bread. I miss the language. I miss our apartment. I miss the convenience of the metro. I guess, it really comes down to I miss Paris and I cannot wait to go back to my heart's home...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cyst

Well, the biopsy results are in and all is well. The lump was nothing more than a cyst with absolutely no abnormalities. Phew. In reading up on cysts, I discovered that having a biopsy was probably overkill, as the cyst could have simply been aspirated and that would be that. I understand the prudence of the health-care industry, but I do wonder if the fear of a lawsuit is really what drives the decision-making process. Of course, it is nice to have the assurance of a biopsy, but the trauma to my breast from the whole procedure was not insubstantial. The biopsy itself wasn't painful, but the swelling and bruising and soreness for the three days following the procedure was not at all pleasant. Regardless, the best way to detect any abnormalities in one's breast tissue is to perform regular self breast exams. So please, ladies, cop a feel and get to know your breasts, you're the first line in defense for cancer prevention.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Girls

Over the past year a local health group has participated in an ad campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer and breast cancer detection. While I absolutely support the efforts, I do find their message of referring to women's breasts as "the girls" annoying. It goes right along with not naming other anatomical parts and giving them goofy names. I mean really, what is so scary about the word "vagina?" So these ads imploring women to "take time for the girls" i.e. feel them up and get to know them sort of irritated me. Now I know that it is important to give oneself monthly breast exams and I am about as regular at self-exams as I am taking vitamins, which if you looked in my vitamin cabinet and found my calcium pills having expired back in 2008, you'd be able to easily deduce that A.) I don't take my vitamins, or at least not my calcium, regularly and B.) I am equally haphazard about breast-exams. I've never been concerned about being regular about monthly breast checks because there is no history of breast cancer in either side of my family and I'm not yet 40 and still feel as if I have 100 years of life ahead of me.

Call me stupid.

The other week as I was lying in bed I randomly decided to feel for lumps and bumps, which I will say for small-breasted women can be accomplished in less than 45 seconds. As I was feeling around I came across a very noticeable lump. This was enough of a lump that I asked Jim to feel to see if he thought it was unusual, since he feels my breasts more than anyone else. (Yeah, not only am I not afraid of the word "vagina" I'm now publicly declaring that my husband feels me up!) He too thought it was out of the norm and the next day I phoned my OB/GYN for an appointment. Well, that appointment happened Friday morning and by Friday afternoon my chart read STAT and I had both a mammogram AND a sonogram done. Here is a disclaimer for mammograms: they don't hurt, contrary to what you might hear. I asked Jim to come with me because I knew that if the news was bad I wanted to have him there for both support, but also because Jim is a total ninja in the face of crisis or chaos. I knew he would be able to ask the right questions in case I was reeling. After an agonizing wait of 20 minutes the "patient navigator" asked us into her office. I knew that since I wasn't just being sent home and was asked instead to sit with the navigator, my day wasn't over. The radiologist came in and explained that yes there is a lump, which was no surprise since anyone who goes near my left boob can feel it, and until it is biopsied, we won't know if it's a thumbs up or thumbs down. I do have a few things going for me. One is that while there is no history of breast cancer in my families, I do come from a line of women with "dense breasts." Basically our breast tissue is so protein dense and lumpy that mammograms are somewhat ineffective. With this type of tissue, breast cysts are more "normal" and are often benign. Obviously, I'm hoping for this scenario. On a gut-level I feel this is the case, so I'm not spending too much time worrying or fretting. I go in for a biopsy this Wednesday and by Friday we'll have the results. Why am I going into this detail here on this blog? Because I think many of us think, "not me" and we treat our own health like I've treated mine, a little haphazardly. Also, I'm young, I'm in great shape, I eat well, I'm thin and I guess I just can't even imagine that something like this could happen to me, but here I am crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. So in a way this is my own public service announcement. Make time for your breasts, or girls, or titties, or boobies or whatever you want to call them, because you just never know...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Home

They say that home is where the heart is, but I'm afraid that I left a piece of mine back in Paris. We've been back in the states for three weeks now and I still feel as if I'm on rocky footing. All of my hopes of maintaining some of what we learned and practiced while living in Paris for the most part failed to follow us home. We're back to 12 hour work days, eating on the fly and moving too quickly to savor the sweetness of a slower paced life. It's not that I want slow, but I could do without being pulled in 1,000 different directions at the same time. All is not lost though. I am happy to see our many dear friends and family (some of whom I hope we get to see next month!) and we are able to come back and enjoy the sweetness of summer in the Pacific Northwest. I'm not complaining about being back home as much as I'm noticing that life here involves many more compromises. Our sabbatical in Paris was such an honest way to live and I miss that integrity (and it doesn't have to do with not working while away, nor does it do with drinking wine at lunch, I promise!) Returning home felt like we had stepped through a time portal and within a few days we were right back into our old rhythms, albeit with a new perspective, and for that I'm thankful. I'll post more soon about our last week road-tripping around France, it was another incredible week filled with sun, surf and new friendships, and let's not forget the good eating! Suffice it to say, we'll be back but in the meantime, we're here and life is good--different, but good all the same.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Nous faisons du camping

How to even begin to describe what a three-month sabbatical does for one's soul? I could certainly wax poetic and get sappy on you in trying to sum up three months of life in France, but I wouldn't be able to begin to put into words what living abroad as a family has truly been like. In a way I feel as if we've all been tattooed by France. I know that with time the edges will start to blur and the color will fade, but the overall design and imprint will remain. I've come to realize that travel is a deeply personal experience, even when traveling with others. Jim and I have talked a lot about what this time away has been like and in trying to think about how we'll communicate back to our loved ones what this trip has meant, we can only come up with, "We had a great time and we're forever grateful for this experience." End of story.

So this post won't be long on philosophical details, but will probably read more like, "and then on Friday we turned down road D902 and then stopped at a little boulangerie and ate bread." So bear with me as I try to capture what the last week has been like driving and camping our way around France.

We've seen so much and such variety of landscapes in our week on the road that our time in Paris seems but a distant dream. We are currently camping for a few days in the town of Briancon in the Alpes near the Italian border. The scenery is unparalleled and the weather sublime. But allow me to back up and start at the beginning of our driving/camping adventure, if only to document for our sake so that we don't get hazy on the specifics later.

As with any trip there are plenty of logistics involved. For this segment of our sabbatical, it was trying to rent a large enough vehicle that could fit all of our long legs comfortably, AND fit our luggage and camping gear. No small feat in Europe. While you'll see the occasional larger vehicle, most are small and smaller, which is great if one isn't shlepping all one's luggage, camping gear, food and two teenagers. We ended up with a Ford Focus (how we got an American car brand in Europe still confounds us) and despite its many shortcomings, it is serving its purpose, and for that I'm grateful. Much as we tried, we were unsuccessful in smashing all of our luggage in the small rear compartment and so our first stop was to our friend's apartment to stash some of our luggage. Once we finally got on the road and left the city our first stop was to Belleau Wood where my great-grandmother's brother was killed during WWI. His body was never found, but his name is engraved in the chapel at the American cemetery. It was a very moving afternoon, as the cemetery is located right around the hills where the fiercest battles took place, and to be able to walk around the hillside and see the old trenches still there, and feel its tranquility now, is quite the juxtaposition of emotions. Also, seeing the Irminger name engraved in the wall and knowing how much my great-grandmother loved her youngest brother was quite stirring. As we were leaving the cemetery there was a little airport. By little, I mean one building and maybe three small planes. We needed kerosene for our camping stove and Jim thought that airport fuel would be our best bet, as we weren't finding kerosene in all the other places we had looked. A wonderful cultural exchange transpired and between our limited French and the limited English that a few of the men hanging around spoke we were able to figure out that our fuel could be found at a Bricorama store just down the road. One of the men offered to lead us to the store as he was heading in that direction anyway. Not only did he take us to the store, he went inside with us and and explained to one of the workers what fuel type we were looking for. Unfortunately, they didn't have quite what we wanted and so we ended up purchasing lamp fuel, which has worked only okay for our stove, but it works, so I'm not complaining. As long as we can boil water for coffee, I'm a happy camper. We were back on the road and spent our first night at a municipal campground in a little town called Cezanne. Jim and I enjoyed a hike through the rolling hills and the boys played badminton. After a peaceful night's sleep we then headed toward the Alsace region and stayed a few nights in a little medieval village named, Eguisheim. This was such a fairy-tale book village that it truly seemed unreal! I kept expecting some Disney character to jump out and start singing a cheesy tune. We enjoyed the Alsace wines here and the cheese, oh the cheese!

From Alsace we then headed to Gex which sits just outside Geneva, Switzerland. This was the science portion of our trip, as CERN (particle physics research and where the Large Hadron Collider is now operational) is located in this area and we were like kids in a candy store spending time at the exhibitions explaining the science and research taking place here. It blows your mind, really! The feat of engineering just to build the LHC is mind-boggling and then you learn about the research being done and it's over the top. What normally takes people two hours to explore, we took seven. I had to read some of the scientific explanations at least three times before I could truly absorb what was being conveyed. Heady and giddy stuff to be sure. We were all a little buzzed after leaving CERN and so we decided to head to Geneva to check out the city. I'll keep it brief: It's not Paris.

From Geneva we then headed into the Alpes and onto Chamonix-Mont Blanc. It was a bit overcast for our drive, and while it was spectacular, we were only seeing the forefront of the Alpes, as most of the peaks were shrouded in clouds. Regardless, the drive was beautiful and our little car chugged up and over the mountain passes like a champ. Jim is having so much fun driving a manual car again and he loves, loves driving tight, windy roads. Good thing, as there are a lot of them through the Alpes. At last we made our descent into Chamonix and set up camp just south of town under a large glacier looming overhead. I will say that Chamonix is everything one would expect and then some. Jim awoke early (as in 5:30 a.m. early!) and saw that the clouds had cleared and the Alpes were looming large overhead and were bathed in the early morning light. He was so darn giddy that he woke me up and then the boys to make sure that we could get the first gondola car up to Aiguille du Midi at 8:10 a.m. While I didn't appreciate the early morning get-up, to see the sun come up behind the Alpes was well worth the extra cup of coffee. We made it to the ticket line and were up and whizzing our way up the mountain at 8:10 sharp. Here is one of those experiences that neither words nor pictures can truly describe. It's a place that one must experience to truly understand. We spent nearly four hours at the top because we didn't want to leave behind the endless views. After our lips were blue and we felt satiated by the beauty we took the gondola down to the mid-point and decided to hike the rest of the way down. I will say that Jim and I didn't make the best parenting decision by insisting that the boys hike down the incredibly steep incline. They both suffer from Osgood-Schlater in their knees and going downhill is especially painful. In our enthusiasm we underestimated the steepness of the descent even though we saw just how steep it was on our gondola ride up. Mostly we didn't want our day to end and we knew that by hiking we would prolong it. Prolong it, it did. Two hours of traversing the steep mountain and we were all sore and a little cranky. Fortunately, it took only a Coke to cheer the boys back up and a bottle of wine for me and Jim. The weather turned rainy again the next day and so we decided to cut our time in Chamonix short and head to the southern Alpes. Before leaving we walked through the town again to buy some postcards and more bread and cheese. Here again was one of those cultural exchanges that makes the trip all the more worthwhile. We ducked into a little shop that sold lovely, old prints and tins of Chamonix-Mont Blanc and we were admiring the art when the proprietress asked if we needed any help. She spoke limited English, and as we are always trying to practice and improve upon our French, we responded to her in French. She either falsely assumed that we were conversant/fluent in French, or she was happy to have a customer who at least made an effort in her native language. Not sure which, but it was if we uncorked a champagne bottle. This woman went OFF! She talked non-stop for at least 25 minutes in French and it did more to improve our comprehension than any other encounter. I felt like one of those Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons where I was hanging onto the edge of a cliff by my fingertips. For the most part I could follow along as to what she was saying and I was able to respond (albeit very clunkily) for the whole one-sided conversation. In a nutshell she was describing how the whole world comes to Chamonix and she is able to interact with people from all over, which also makes her a good study of cultures. Russian parents are very serious while their children are happy-go-lucky; Parisians are stressed out and want everything done quickly; She can't understand Australian accents to save her life; Americans are loud (imagine that!); Germans are okay; She can't stand the Swiss. The conversation finally came to and end when it was time to close her shop up for the afternoon siesta, which most shops do outside of Paris. Side note--don't ever plan on getting anything done between the hours of 1 - 3 p.m. as every shop, except some bakeries, close. A far cry from the 24/7 mentality that is expected in the states.

Our itinerary has been somewhat loose, which our only expectations being time spent in the mountains and along the Mediterranean. We perhaps underestimated the size and extent of the Alpes and when we thought we were headed for the sea, really we just kept driving through more mountains. Not that we're complaining at all, I think mostly it took us by surprise how extensive the Alpes truly are. We prefer the smaller, scenic roads rather than the motor ways and we knew our next stop would be Briancon, which has some of the highest fortresses in the Alpes. Not even knowing what we were doing we decided on the scenic roads which in this case also happened to be the quickest way to arrive to Briancon from Chamonix. This route happens to be the Route des Grand Alpes and what a drive it was! Every switch back we rounded afforded yet another incredible vista. We kept pulling over just so we could stop and marvel. These are the very roads that much of the Tour de France follow and it has given me a whole new appreciation for what these riders accomplish. The grades of the uphills are impressive enough, but I was more impressed by how they must ride down! The skill required not to fling off the side of the mountain (forget guard rails, they don't exist) is significant. It was challenging enough keeping one's vehicle on the road what with the motorcycles and touring cyclists also on the roads. You just never knew what would be around every corner, and that was probably the most stressful part. I know I've said it before, and I'll say it again, but Jim LOVED driving this route even though I was starting to feel a little pukish. I think it is easier to be the driver rather than the passenger on such roads, at least for me.

We are staying three days in Briancon so that Logan can take his last exam and be done with the school year. We are at a lovely little campground that has a community room with tables and chairs, which makes sitting at the computer for a few hours more comfortable. Camping in France is beyond ideal. This country knows how to cater to campers! First off, every little town has at least one campground and they are always well marked so that as soon as you come to the first round-about you'll start seeing signs for camping. We did buy a Michelin campground guide in Paris but we've used it only twice as everything is always well marked. While each campground is a little different--there are municipal campgrounds, family-run campgrounds and "corporate" campgrounds--they are all clean and have nice shower/bathrooms. Some have laundry facilities, most have wi-fi and some have little epiceries (stores selling provisions.) What we still find amazing is that you aren't price-gouged at these places. The little epicerie where we are currently staying sells fresh baguettes, croissants, beer, wine and other necessities and they are priced the same as what you'd find in the local grocery. Not being screwed and price-gouged at every opportunity has made me question our hyper-capitalist culture. It's almost as if it doesn't cross people's minds here, or it's strictly regulated. I'm not sure the reasoning behind the affordable and equal prices no matter where one is, but it is so refreshing not to be gouged and held hostage to those charging six times as much, just because they can. I kid you not, even at the little restaurant at the mid point of the Aiguille du Midi, the prices for coffee, sandwiches, and all the rest were exactly the same prices as you'd find in town! We kept thinking that had we been in the states, you'd be paying at least three times as much just because there was no other place to go, and hah-hah silly customer, you either pay these exorbitant rates, or you go without...sucker!

Tomorrow we head for a campsite on the coast, somewhere between St. Tropez and Marseille. As is our habit, we'll stop when it feels right and stay for a few days soaking up the sun. We plan on all taking a cooking class while down in Provence and doing some more hiking. It's hard to believe that we leave in a week. I'm doing by best to stay in the present and enjoy every moment and trying not to think about the mountain of work that faces us when we return home. My goal is to make changes in our daily life back in the states that somewhat mirrors what our lives have been like here in France. Mostly it is moving more slowly, taking time to enjoy the company of others, speaking more quietly and of course, eating well. We've now lived this type of life long enough while here that I hope we can push back against the culture of stuff and speed and noise when home. I think we've all noticed the improvement in our own lives to be inspired to try to keep it going. If it's just too hard, then we'll just have to return to the center of the universe, for all we know.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Normandie






With less than a week to go in Paris we decided to rent a car and spend three days exploring Normandie (Normandy in English spelling.) We figured it would be good practice with dealing with a rental car, driving in Paris and then on the country roads but mostly we felt we couldn't leave France without honoring the history of this part of the country. I'm so glad we made the effort. One, it was stunning and two to feel and witness the tranquility and peace that has settled over the coast that was awash in blood and violence only 67 years ago is quite moving.

Jim was determined that Quinn and Logan spend time at the D-day museum and at the cemetery because history is bound to repeat itself. Also in this day and age of violent video games and glorified images of violence, it is sobering to weave your way through nearly 10,0000 grave stones--and that's just ONE cemetery. There are also cemeteries and museums honoring the Canadians and British and they are equally powerful. What I most appreciated about visiting this area is it is not built up and doesn't cater to tourists. It hasn't sold it's soul, in other words. I found this to be even more powerful. There were no billboards welcoming tourists to Omaha Beach, there was simply a little sign and we wound our way down a little country lane that ended at a small parking lot at the beach. There is now a little sailing/sand sailing depot and a restaurant with a few hotel rooms, but mostly it is tranquil country side. The meadows were in full bloom, the cows were peacefully chewing their cud, the small village was off in the distance. To see that life continues and moves forward, that the cows still need milking that the gardens still need to be planted, that the hedgerows still need tending, I found this very moving. There was a small little trail that led up to the US cemetery, and on a hillside overlooking the sea were the nearly 10,000 gravestones in perfect rows. One could also reach the cemetery from the "main" road, but I'm glad we traveled up the back way. To walk along the hillside and see the remnants of the German fortifications was a much nicer way to approach the cemetery.

After driving along the coast we headed south toward Mont St. Michel. The weather was nice enough that we ended up camping less than 1.5 kilometers from the island. Over the years I've seen photos of Mont St. Michel and I knew that it was an abbey and medieval town built on a rock "island." Nothing quite prepared me for seeing this in person and up close. I think it was even more impressive for the boys because they didn't know anything about this place and they were napping as we drove near it. When they woke up they thought they were in a Harry Potter dream. They commented a few times that it was "the coolest thing they've EVER seen." I'd have to agree. We spent an entire day exploring the narrow streets, abbey, gardens, and many little niches and passageways that wind their way around this most incredible place.

Coming from a country where a building built 150 years ago is considered "old," it's mind-boggling to walk through a thriving little community that has been active for more than 600 years! Not only that, but to see how well these buildings were constructed and that they've lasted with very little modification really makes one wonder why we can't build to last anymore. We get excited if our roofs last 25 years, when the roofs on some of the buildings around France have been there for hundreds of years!

After a full day of exploring Mont St. Michel we had to head back to Paris. We took a different route home and ended up driving through some very quaint little villages. Every now and then we'd round a corner and there would be a full-blown castle and medieval wall surrounding a city. We are very much looking forward to our two week driving/camping trip that we'll be taking around the country side. It will be nice to have the time to stop and explore when we feel like it, rather than having a deadline. We leave this coming Friday morning and our tentative itinerary is to head east toward Colmer and then down toward Geneva. We're going to visit CERN and then make our way to Mont Blanc/Chamonix. After we'll work our way down through Provence and then head back to Paris. At least this is our plan now. Who knows what we'll end up doing once we're on the road. I think what we realized after our few days driving throughout Normandie is you could eat up an entire week and not travel more than 50 kilometers.

On a completely different note, I'd like to commend the French drivers for being smart and courteous. Here are people who drive in the left lane ONLY TO PASS! Do you hear that Oregon drivers?! I swear, Oregon is one of the worst states to travel on the interstate. People get in the left lane and just stay there. Never mind that they're not moving more quickly than those in the right-hand lanes, and never mind that traffic is stacking up behind them! Anyway, it was a refreshing change! I'd also like to highlight that Jim is a ninja driver in Paris! That man tore up the streets, winding his way in and out like a local! He was having too much fun and enjoyed actually "driving" rather than mindlessly steering a car. Good thing because we have a lot of kilometers to tackle before returning home. Look out France, here we come!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

La Langue Melange

I suppose it's a good sign when my ability to speak gets tossed out the window. If someone asks me a question in French I'm most likely to respond with a FrenchSpanishEnglish answer. Sometimes this works and sometimes it bombs. I knew that I would be focusing a lot of energy in learning French upon coming here, but I wasn't quite expecting my Spanish to improve and my English (particularly spelling) to get worse! Oy vey! (Merde, now I'm throwing in Yiddish!)

I do remember the path that my language skills took when I was living in Costa Rica 21 years ago and improving my four years of high-school Spanish. When I first arrived in Costa Rica I went from barely comprehending what was being said around me to being able to follow along with conversations and speak relatively well in just three short months. I also remember that my spelling in English got worse after becoming more fluent in Spanish. The languages are similar enough and there are many words in English where the consonants are doubled, but not doubled for the similar word in Spanish. This may be fine for most people, but I returned to the states to study JOURNALISM, and maybe you don't know this, but journalists need to know how to spell. Well, at least the journalists who hope to make a living in such a profession. It took years of concentrated effort to make sure I was spelling correctly in English, and up until now everything has been going swimmingly.

Re-lubing those parts of my brain that are involved in learning a new language has basically ruined my ability to spell again. Not to mention, I can barely speak without folding in three languages at once. My biggest obstacle with French are those pesky little Spanish words that are similar between the two languages, but have no similar meaning. Take for instance the English word "and." In Spanish you'd say "y" (pronounced eee) and in French you say "et" (pronounced ay.) Also the masculine/feminine (le/la) pronouns are spelled the same between the two languages but are pronounced very differently. The pronunciation of the alphabet and particular letters (e, j, g and q) are also problematic. Not that this stops me from hacking my way through French. I'm sure native French speakers cringe when they hear their melodic, beautiful language mangled, but I also know that they appreciate the effort and are exceedingly patient and helpful as I s-l-o-w-l-y eek out a sentence or phrase.

Similar to learning Spanish, I can now read and comprehend French much more than I have the ability to speak. This is helpful so long as I can read and then slowly think of my response. This completely breaks down when trying to have a conversation. I feel like my brain is a dusty pin-ball machine in some seedy bar in the Nevada desert. The quarter gets dropped in but the ball takes a very circuitous route before finally making its way down to the levers. Sometimes I can keep that ball pinging around and sometimes it makes a straight shot for the red buzzer and I lose a ball.

I absolutely have to credit the language school in which Jim and I are enrolled. Our teacher, Claudine, is fabulous and the class is very well structured. If I think about the progress we've made in less than three weeks, it is truly something. I think part of our success with comprehending French is its melody. Honestly, I hear the "music" of French in my head. Claudine is particularly good about "singing" to us and it is her voice/song I hear the most. Just because I can hear the music doesn't by any means mean that I can respond with the same lilting quality. Au contraire! I probably sound like I'm holding my nose, but I honestly don't have the brain space at this age to think about my sound, as I'm just trying to make a selection from my limited vocabulary to construct a sentence with more than three words.

While Spanish does trip me up at times, it has also helped me immensely in understanding the structure of the French language. I am certain that I am as far along as I am in large part because of my Spanish, and funny enough working my way through French is improving my Spanish.

The last few days I feel that I've turned a little corner and I've been able to follow along with conversations and somewhat respond (again, there's a lot of Spanish thrown in, but hey!) It's nice to have the confidence to engage in the dialogues that are formulaic (and, thus, helpful) between myself and a shopkeeper. This is particularly helpful as we will go to no fewer than three different shops for our daily provisions (fromagerie, boulangerie, marche.) Being able to actually participate in these dialogues rather than just say the simple Bonjour/Au revoir is quite enjoyable. Not that I'm ready to discuss politics or anything of the sort, but when I was asked today if I had a smaller denomination of a euro, I knew what the clerk was asking and I was able to reply. Today I really lived on the edge when I made a hair appointment and then communicated how I wanted my hair cut. The woman who washed and cut my hair was lovely and very helpful and patient. To these people I would like to say "merci beaucoup!" I know it is frustrating to listen to someone mutilate their beautiful language and I know that sometimes you just want to smack someone on the back so they can "get it out," but I've yet to encounter an exasperated person, and for that I'm very grateful.

Speaking of learning a language it's now time to resume my studies. It's not all fun and games here in Paris!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Louvre






I thought that I would post more regular blog posts, but I'm finding that somehow the days are slipping by and it is on the weekend that I have the time to sit down with the computer and pound out a blog post. Tonight I don't have any particular topic or subject in mind, but I have enough wine coursing through my system that I feel I can sit here and type out something, which just might prove interesting in the end! Also, I have the urging of my mother to keep posting, as she and my dad were considering coming to visit us and that is now off the table, so it is through my blog that she gets to vicariously experience Paris. It's armchair travel at it's best!

I kept thinking of my mum last night as we finally made it to the Louvre museum and I know she would have wept had she stepped inside this most amazing museum! Let me back up a little and say that we never made it to the Louvre when we were here last year. A local told us that to truly experience the Louvre, one needed multiple days, and since we were here for only a week, he said that we simply didn't have enough time. This was actually great advice as we focused on the many other parts of Paris that are equally enthralling, and we used it as a carrot to bring us back here. We've now been here for more than a month and it was only last night that we finally went to the Louvre. I was absolutely blown away!

First off, the building itself is so beautiful that I found myself admiring the space as much as the art. Secondly, the size and depth of the collections housed in the Louvre is almost beyond description! We've enjoyed many other museums while here and part of me resisted going to the Louvre a bit because that is what most every other visitor to Paris does, and I felt that there were still many other parts of this great city to explore that I hadn't felt compelled to give up a day to spend in the Louvre. Also, I'm a cheap-skate! I know that it is easy to suffer from museum overload in a few hours and I haven't wanted to pony-up the twenty euros for entrance for me and Jim if we could only stay for a few hours before hitting a wall. Last night was "night at the museum" throughout Europe and many museums were open late and had free admission. That was enough to motivate us to finally take our maiden tour. The moment we stepped inside I realized the folly of my cheap-skate thinking and will now say that experiencing the Louvre is worth every euro and more! I still think it best to enjoy its treasures in smaller doses, but we'll be back soon.

We focused only on the Ancient Greek and Roman antiquities and to stand before artifacts that are more than 4,000 years old is humbling, to say the least! Actually, we first made a bee-line for the Mona Lisa, to get that out of the way, so to speak, so we could then focus on the antiquities. As a family we've had the fortune of spending a lot of time at the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC and the Met in New York, and while we enjoyed our visits to these museums and learned a lot, it pales in comparison to the depth of the collections of the Louvre.

Quinn and Logan have read enough Greek mythology and know enough about Roman history that they were totally engaged and were educating us on many historical facts. I actually didn't realize how much Greek and Roman history they knew until last night, which made me feel both ignorant and proud. They were thoroughly engaged for the entire three hours we stayed and said they want to return again. I think we'll try to return sometime this week while we're all feeling inspired.

This last week we also enjoyed visiting the Rodin museum, which is located very near our apartment. Again, the grounds and building were as compelling as the art inside. To see closely the mastery of Rodin's sculptures is beyond words. The subtle details he is able to convey, particularly in his marble sculptures is just mind blowing. I was especially moved by "The Kiss." Like many, I've seen photos of this sculpture but to see it in person and up close was stunning.

We're starting to think about all of the other museums and places we want to visit in Paris prior to our leaving for our driving tour, which is now only three weeks away! I'm trying not to panic and am trying to be very mindful and appreciative about our every day here. I know that it would take years to fully appreciate Paris and so we're staying sane and pacing ourselves. We can't possibly see everything or do everything we'd like, and that's okay. We're living like locals and not like tourists and somethings will just have to remain a mystery. We'll be back, of that I'm sure...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Joyeux anniversaire

P5070024 by Tamara Irminger
P5070024, a photo by Tamara Irminger on Flickr.

Dear Quinn and Logan,
We just celebrated your 14th birthday this last weekend. Let me say that again, YOUR 14TH BIRTHDAY. This seems impossible, as it doesn't feel that 14 years could have possibly passed in between the time of your birth and now. Do you notice the theme in all of your birthday blogs? "Oh there she goes again...she doesn't feel that it's possible to have her children blossom into adolescents because, whoa, where the hell did the time go?" Yeah, yeah, I get it, but I'm going to say it again: where did the time go? Okay, that's out of the way so let me focus for a moment on the wonders of this past year. First off, you became "official" teenagers on your last birthday, although quite honestly given your maturity level and independence, it felt like we've had teenagers in our midst for much longer. This has been an interesting year, and not one that I would have even dreamed of on your last birthday. On your 13th birthday you were begging us to move to Paris, on your 14th birthday, here we are! So happy birthday, but also don't expect this to be the norm. I hope we can always find time to carve out of our normally crazy lives in order to step away and reset, but this time away is special and knowing that you know it is yet another sign of your maturing.

So here we are, living in Paris, celebrating your birthdays. Our time here is more than celebrating your birthdays though, it is honoring your transition to adulthood and hoping that you'll learn many new skills and be exposed to different ways of thinking and living that will serve you throughout your life. Deciding to move to a foreign country wasn't a decision that was made by just me and dad, you were as much a part of making this happen as any. We questioned your motivations and tested your commitment to the lifestyle changes that we'd all have to adapt to in order to step away from our very predictable lives back in the states. You've handled it with such grace and openness that I sometimes have to stop and remind myself of your chronological age. When I was your age my only knowledge of the world beyond my small town came in the occasional afternoons looking through National Geographic magazines at my grandparent's when there was nothing else to do. I wasn't worldly in the least and my concerns at age 14 pretty much centered around what I was going to wear to school. Not so very cultured, I'm the first to admit. Dad on the other hand had a much better sense of the world beyond his doorstep thanks to the international travel that his father did for work. It also helped that his mother was born in another country and that her ethnic roots were still very much planted back in the Ukraine. Fortunately, and for entirely different reasons, dad and I each were fortunate enough to travel the world prior to meeting each other and so traveling was a value that he and I shared when we met. Even prior to you being born we talked about traveling abroad with our eventual children. We never talked specifically about how or where, but I think it was always rooted in the back of our minds that someway, somehow we'd include some time abroad with our kids. Of course, before we went overseas there was (and still is) a lot of traveling to be done domestically, and up until last year that is what we did. You've been to Canada and more states than most adults. You have been good travelers from an early age, taking your first trans-contintal flight at seven months to celebrate a friend's marriage and countless road trips logging thousands of miles. We've never hesitated to travel with you because you've always been so amenable, so I guess making the transition from domestic to foreign travel was a natural step.

I'm not a religious person, but I do value the Jewish tradition of bar/bat mitzvah and although dad and I talked about doing something significant to recognize your transition from childhood to adulthood, we just never did. Not having a cultural touchstone of our own to recognize this important milestone has forced us to improvise and try to carve deeper meaning about moving abroad. We know that this time away will be the gift that keeps on giving in terms of lessons and different ways of thinking. This is one of the gifts of adulthood, the ability to understand the longer term and not expect immediate gratification. Not that it is always automatic, mind you. In fact we had to remind ourselves of this after getting over here and feeling initially frustrated that we weren't seeing some grandiose changes. I'm not even sure what we were expecting? That you'd suddenly start speaking French? That you'd stop bickering? That you'd see that the toilet needing cleaning and you'd do it? No, I think what you'll take away from this experience is trusting in yourselves to make something happen if you put your mind to it. In a way, you've already accomplished this by continuing to ask us about moving to Paris last year. As a result, you were open to trying a new way of schooling in order to allow you to travel and you gave up a lot of time with friends as a result. I know this hasn't always been easy and that you've felt socially isolated, but I so commend you both for keeping your eyes on the prize, so to speak. I also trust that at some point during your life when if feels like there is no clear-cut answer or direction you'll feel more comfortable with moving ahead and trusting your own judgement. There's nothing quite like travel to teach these lessons. Every day we must go out and interact in a language that is totally unfamiliar and try to adjust to very different social and cultural customs. You've done this so remarkably well already and I hope that you'll be able to recall these skills throughout your life.

Your generosity of spirit continues to amaze me. You recognize when people are less fortunate than you and you show compassion. It's never easy seeing the sadder truths of life, but we cannot hide them from you and knowing that you care for other's well being makes my heart swell. May you always be inspired to lend a helping hand and be gentle with those around you, as we can never know what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes.

I appreciate the fact that as teenagers being around your parents is often not your first choice for companionship, but here you are living 24/7 with your parents and being mostly okay with being out in public with us. I appreciate when you let us know that we are embarrassing you and are able to articulate why. Sometimes our own inner-teenager comes out and we do get some pleasure out of watching you squirm, but hopefully you won't be too scarred.

All this to say, you are incredibly kind, sensitive, caring, motivated, intelligent, curious and wise young men and it is a joy to celebrate your 14th birthdays in Paris. We love you more than feels possible and although you hear us nag way more than we praise, we adore you and are so proud of who you are. Joyeux anniversaire mon amis. Quatorze années incroyables!

--maman

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Making this all happen

I've been asked enough times now how we've been able to take a three-month sabbatical, that I thought it worthy to share it here. Let me first say that this is not a luxury vacation, nor is this something that we can do because we are wealthy. While we are comfortable, we live very prudently and Jim and I both value travel and so we often make financial decisions that allow us to save money specifically for travel. This is much easier than you may think. We drive older cars, we buy many of our clothes from consignment stores or e-bay, we grow a lot of our own food, we don't spend money on the latest technological gadgets, and we resist impulse buys. You'd be amazed at how much you can save by simply asking the question, "Is this a need or a want." If it's a need, then we'll often make the purchase, if it's a want then we give serious thought before deciding whether or not to make the purchase. We also aren't "house poor." We bought a house that we could easily afford so that we had "extra" money to put toward travel. Up until now, our travel has mostly consisted of road trips. We've spent more hours than I even want to think about between Eugene and Sonora, CA; Edmonton, Alberta; and Seattle, WA. We've also spent an ample amount of time on the east coast (Washington DC, New York, Outer Banks) and visiting Jim's family just outside of New Orleans, LA. This domestic travel has been mostly satisfying, but as the boys got older we pined for more. Last year was the first time since we opened our bakeries that we took more than two weeks off in a row. While we always lamented the absurdity of a culture that doesn't value extended time off, there was just no way we could ever break away from our businesses for more than two weeks. Even though we had talked for years about taking a year-off with the boys to travel the world, we couldn't ever figure out how we could possibly make that happen.

What inspired this trip happened during our visit to Paris and London last year. On our first day in Paris, Logan was literally begging to move here. He badgered us all week asking if we could move to Paris. Even though Logan was most vocal about spending an extended period of time here, Quinn was also enthusiastic about the possibility. To see the boys enthusiasm about living abroad certainly re-kindled Jim's and my desire to travel more extensively. Upon returning home from our trip last year we started exploring all the possibilities of living overseas. It soon became apparent that we couldn't pull off a year away--between the hassle of securing an extended stay visa to schooling to trying to manage our businesses, we soon decided that a three-month trip was most realistic. We were familiar with an on-line charter school available to Oregon students and decided to enroll the boys in the school for their 8th grade year. We figured that if we decided not to travel the boys could always go back into their middle school; however, it soon became apparent that they were more academically challenged through the on-line academy and they most likely would have stayed the whole school year, regardless of our travel plans. Once we had their schooling figured out we then had to think about when we'd want to go abroad. Initially we thought we'd be here during the winter, but an unexpected relocation of one of our bakeries quickly changed those plans. For a while we weren't sure if going abroad would even happen given the craziness of building a new bakery and getting it up and running. The managers in our stores helped push us into making a decision as they said they were accustomed to us being unavailable while we were busy building the new store and they were confident in their abilities to handle everything in our absence. I'd have to admit that Skype, on-line banking, etc. has helped make this possible, as I can't imagine being away from our businesses without being able to keep a close eye/contact with our stores. In fact it's the first thing people asked us when they learned of our intent to leave the country, "Aren't you afraid you'll come back and find your stores in shambles?" I think they were always alluding more to their own fears/insecurities, but I can't say the thought didn't cross our minds. I'd just like to give a shout-out to our great managers for doing such a great job in our absence! Thank you Emily, Sahra, Heather & Michaela! With some parameters on when we wanted to travel I then spent a good three or four weeks on-line doing research on apartment rentals. We would select a few apartments but given the 9-hour time difference between the west coast and Paris a whole day would be lost in our communication with the various rental agencies. It was a bit overwhelming trying to select an apartment in an arrondisement that we weren't familiar with. We had confidence in using the metro to get where we needed but we also wanted to be conveniently located and didn't want to be spending too much time traveling to and fro. Part of the beauty of Paris is walking, so being close to those parts of Paris that we knew we'd want to frequent was important. We knew we loved le Marais in the 3rd arrondisement, but ended up in an an apartment in the 7th. My only criteria for an apartment was a decent kitchen and a dining room table, I figured we could make do with anything else. Price was also a consideration, of course, so with these parameters in mind we quickly whittled our search down to about three apartments. We chose our apartment for price, location, size, and amenities. We totally lucked out and I would absolutely recommend this area for anyone looking to rent a short-term place in Paris. In terms of affordability we figured that eating is eating, and we would be buying groceries/food at home, so we didn't count that as part of our overall budget. Our biggest expenses were the apartment rental and the plane tickets. Fortunately, we scored on some decent priced plane tickets and when we rented and paid for our apartment the exchange rates were more favorable. Since being here the exchange rate hasn't been so great, but even so, we've been able to eat MUCH BETTER food more cheaply than we would at home, so we consider that a wash. As far as visiting museums, the boys get in free to most everything since they're under 18. There are certain days a week when the museums are open later at a reduced tariff, so we take advantage of those opportunities.

I am very grateful that we own the type of businesses which allow us this time away. I'm also grateful that we have a strong enough family unit to be able to live abroad without wanting to strangle each other. Not that we haven't had our moments, but having this uninterrupted time together is something I know I'll value for the rest of my life. Jim and I don't want to get to the end of our lives wishing we'd done things differently and sometimes you just have to make a bold move. This sabbatical has been just that, and I know this will be the trip that keeps on giving long after we return home.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Family Portrait

P5010002 by Tamara Irminger
P5010002, a photo by Tamara Irminger on Flickr.

The painting...

Family Portrait




Part of the appeal of extended travel is breaking old patterns and taking notice of people and places with "fresh eyes." When home we are so programmed into our routines that it is difficult to notice what is new or to seize opportunities as they arise. Unless something really smacks us upside the head we tend to trudge along in our daily routines: sleep, eat, work, school, exercise. The days of the week may change, but really our patterns don't fluctuate all that much. Travel is the antidote to wrote lives. And so it was on our very first day coming to Paris that we happened to be on the same bus with a gentleman who noticed the silly amount of luggage we were schlepping (camping gear!) and struck up a conversation with Jim that lasted the whole 45-minute ride into the city. Before being deposited at the steps of the Paris Opera house the gentleman, whose name is Manuel Hughes, gave Jim his business card and told him to give him a call so we could get together for dinner. We took his card and told him we'd give him a call after we settled in. A few days later Jim and I went to the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, located just across the Seine from Notre Dame, and there was a picture of Manuel posted near the cash register. We took that as a sign that it was time to give him a call and see about getting together for dinner. We were unable to locate Manuel's business card but knew his name and knew he is an artist, so we did a Google search and found his contact information. In addition to getting his e-mail address we were able to see lots of images of his art and learn a little more about him. (Thanks Google!) Jim made contact and Manuel and his wife Elizabeth graciously invited us to their home for dinner the following week.

We met Manuel and Elizabeth at their apartment and decided to tour their neighborhood before dinner. They walked us through the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and then over to the St. Denis canal. We never would have discovered this fabulous arrondisement had it not been for Manuel & Elizabeth, in fact we're heading back over there tonight for a picnic and boules game. Prior to sitting down for dinner we admired all of Manuel's paintings that adorned the walls. He gave us some background on his work and was so open and gracious especially answering Quinn and Logan's questions. The last painting he showed us was one that he called his "family portrait." It was similar in style to his others, it was a collection of antique cans and boxes that he ever so subtly added the names of himself, Elizabeth and their daughter Jade-Fleur. It was so beautiful and I told Jim and Manuel that the only family portrait I would ever consider would be one similar to this. No posed photograph, just a collection of cans with our names. Manuel said, "wait here just a moment," and came back with a painting that he put up on a shelf. We were all standing there and then life went into slow-motion. The names Logan, Tamara, Underwood, Jim and Quinn slowly started to register and we all realized that oh my goodness, Manuel painted OUR family portrait! Unbelievable. We all stood there somewhat stunned. Jim exclaimed that it was pure magic and I stood there speechless with goosebumps. It was one of those times that I thought about all the preceding turns and twists one must take to land at a precise moment. There we were standing before a beautiful painting done of our family names, humbled by the generosity of a man whom we hardly knew! We were gifted with new friends and a painting all because we were living our lives off the beaten path.

Needless to say, the dinner was delicious and we ended up staying until midnight. The conversation flowed effortlessly and it truly felt as if we had just added new friends to our circle. Elizabeth invited us to visit her at her office, where Manuel had more of his paintings and they had more of their collections of odds-and-ends that they find at flea markets on display. Unfortunately the boys were sick, but Jim and I met up with Elizabeth and Manuel and ended up spending the day with Manuel at the St. Ouen flea market. Not wanting our time with them to end we invited them over for dinner the following week. That dinner took place a few nights ago and once again, the hours strung out effortlessly.

And so it goes here in Paris. Every day gifts us with new discoveries, new friendships and many opportunities to pause and feel eternally grateful for our blessed lives.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Americans


Americans are LOUD! We can spot our tribe a half block away, mostly because we can hear their booming conversations and watch them dominate half a sidewalk. As I mentioned in earlier posts, Paris is a quiet city. People speak in hushed whispers, cars and motor bikes are muffled, even rototillers are exceptionally quiet. It's the Americans who seem to break the silence. I'm not bagging on these travelers, but it's hard not to notice. I'm the first to raise my hand and admit to my own family's volume. Granted we've become much more muted since living here, but back at home it's as if we speak as though everyone were hard of hearing. We don't really think twice of our volume because there is so much background noise that must be overcome in order to be heard. I kid you not, Jim and I sat in a park which circled a 3-lane round-about and we were able to carry on a very quiet conversation without having to raise our voices in order to be heard! I remember being struck by this on our last visit, and we did prep the boys to practice speaking more quietly before coming here for this trip. They've been remarkably compliant and also notice the loud Americans who dominate the street side and cafes. Not even the Italians are as loud as the Americans are! I don't have a point about all this, but it is noticeable and one of the many little things that jump out as foreigners living abroad.

On another subject entirely, we have hired a French language tutor to teach the boys three days a week beginning next week. The boys are excited about tackling the language and have been trying to "translate" the eight Donald Duck comic books we bought them at the flea market this past weekend. Jim and I start language school in early May. Our schedule is a bit more intense, but we're looking forward to the challenge. Even though we speak English at home we are picking up more and more French daily. We are starting to hear some of the same phrases repeated, we're reading more, and we're trying to speak in sentences that are composed of more than three words. It also helps that we're frequenting the same boulangerie for our baguettes, the same cafe for our afternoon espresso and the same fromagerie for our cheese. We are now recognized and today my pronunciation of oeuf (egg) was corrected by the proprietor. I was pronouncing it as "oefff" and the correct pronunciation is more like "ufff." In order to get the boys out of the apartment and interacting with locals, we have given them a daily lunch allowance so that they have to go to a place of their choosing and get themselves food. They are actually out as I write this, ordering lunch for all of us. They'll most likely come back with a baguette sandwich, as they are incredibly tasty, filling and inexpensive. After lunch they will most likely head to the park to play either bocce (our boules as it is called here in France) or badminton. Jim and I will often run and then meet up with them and play in teams. We will occasionally pinch ourselves when we look up and see le tour Eiffel looming overhead. It's hard to tire of that view!

All and all, we have settled into what feels like a very natural and easy rhythm. Life rolls along offering up little surprises and discoveries daily. I'll post more soon about our evening last night at a French/American couple's home. Absolutely magical is about all I can say right now!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Vacation vs. Sabbatical




We are not on vacation. We are on sabbatical.

Perhaps because we're not academics, people can't grasp the fact that we're taking nearly three months off to live in a foreign country without any agenda. They keep talking about our "vacation." Call me a stickler, but I sort of cringe when I hear vacation, or maybe it's just that my notion of vacation implies escapism. Don't get me wrong, vacations are important and I'll be the first one to go to a warm beach and sit for a week with nothing more than a bikini, tent and good book. But coming to Paris wasn't to vacate. In fact, I think we'll need to take a vacation when we return home from Paris. No, I consider our time in Paris a sabbatical. This is an opportunity to hit the pause and reset buttons and learn new and different ways of living. Some of what we learn we'll hopefully be able to incorporate into our lives back in the states, and others, although appropriate while here in France (the two hour lunch with wine) will most likely, and sadly, be left behind.

While here we are still working, the boys are still in school, and we have to grocery shop and manage the little affairs of life just as we would back home. The beauty and the appeal of travel is that we are doing them differently. Take for instance recycling glass. Wine is consumed in ample amounts here, so you can imagine the amount of glass recycling that occurs. Now, we can hear when the glass recycling truck rumbles down our street, but can I find the glass recycling receptacle for our apartment anywhere? No! We have four co-mingling recycling bins in our courtyard, but no receptacles for trash or glass. I know that people are disposing of these items in our building but I have no idea how or where. At the end of our street is a communal glass recycling bin, but I think those are meant more for the people who just picnicked in the park and knocked back two bottles of wine, not for the inhabitants of the apartments to recycle their daily glass. Same thing with the garbage, where do I put that. Any time I hear what sounds like a large truck on our street I peer out the window to see if it is a garbage truck. I noticed a few people in our building putting their bag of garbage just outside their front door, but I wasn't sure what that really meant. On Monday afternoon when I saw the garbage truck making its way down our street I quickly ran down our five flights of stairs to hand our bag of garbage to the driver. When I got to the entry way of our building there was a man who had a few other bags of garbage and was bringing them to the street. Did he work in the building and plan his day to take away the tenants garbage at a certain day/hour? Unfortunately, with my very limited French I couldn't ask him, so I smiled and he kindly took my garbage bag from me. And so it goes here in Paris. The little things that we so unconsciously do at home consume a lot of our time and attention here. I don't mind, it's just what goes along with living in a foreign country and not speaking its language.

Shopping for food is another activity that we spend a lot of time doing. But so does everyone else. It's a way of life here. You buy what you need for a day, maybe two and you do it regularly. It is a true joy. Perhaps it's the quality of the food, or maybe it's the simple ritual of thinking about what you are about to prepare or eat. All I know is that I look forward to walking down Rue Cler daily to buy our food and bread. I cannot begin to describe the freshness and flavors! Tomatoes taste like tomatoes, the lettuce is so sweet it's as if someone sprinkled sugar on the leaves, and the cheese--oh the cheese! Jim and I laughed when an American woman walked past one of the produce stands and loudly exclaimed, "Those tomatoes look good, but I wonder how they taste." Jim and I could barely contain ourselves. In the states our produce looks decent but is devoid of flavor (excepting what you can buy at farmer's markets, of course.) We are so used to eating flavorless food that is trucked hundreds, if not thousands, of miles that we no longer know what fresh and local looks or tastes like. To make up for this, we then drown our food in salt and other "spices" or dressings. Suffice it to say that a lot of value and consideration is given to where the food is sourced and how it tastes here, and for that I am grateful.

Carbohydrates. We are eating a lot of them. Granted, we eat a lot of carbs at home in the form of bagels, but here we're consuming our carbs in the form of baguettes and other rustic breads. Baguettes are a way of life here and you often see people of all ages and demographics carrying one to two baguettes. They're either poking out of backpacks or are nestled against the body with one's arm. There are no less than five boulangeries near our apartment and they each produce bread that is slightly different in crumb and texture. We haven't settled on a favorite yet, it's sort of hard to, as they are all equally good in their own way. We are scheduled to spend an hour in a bakery next week learning about that particular baker's technique. I cannot wait!

Merde, I hear the glass truck. Time to go and dispose of our empty wine bottles...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Just Being Here





"Just being here." That was Logan's #7 on his reasons why he wanted to come to Paris. Four days into our nearly three month stay, and I totally get this. Just being here is pretty damn great.

It took nearly three days for our bodies to adjust to Paris time, what with the nine hour time difference, but by our third afternoon we were starting to hit our stride. Our first few days have been mostly filled with multiple trips to the corner marche to get our kitchen stocked with such basics as salt and pepper, sugar, spices, etc. All of our other groceries are purchased fresh daily. In a nutshell the food tastes more lively and is certainly more fresh. We've made most of our meals at home but made it to one of the nearby cafes yesterday for lunch. We all ordered food that was familiar, but after Jim spied the French women sitting next to us eating a mound of raw beef served with a raw egg, he is determined to go back and try the dish.

Our apartment is about two blocks away from Champ de Mars and le tour Eiffel and Les Invalides. We are still walking around like stunned foreigners, it is hard to not walk around with mouths agape. One of our goals in coming to Paris was to live like a local and so we've picnicked in the park at twilight and watched the lights turn on le tour Eiffel, we're taking much longer to eat our meals, we're speaking more quietly, and we're slowing down in general. We still have quite a ways to go before we don't mangle the language every time we attempt to speak, but I'm confident that within a month we'll sound a little less like total dorks. Jim and I are both interjecting Spanish into every sentence that we attempt in French, but really most everyone we've "talked" with has been very friendly and accommodating. Quinn and Logan are typical teenagers in the sense that every time we make a language mistake they cringe and walk away as if they don't know us. We've sent them to our neighborhood bakery to purchase our daily baguettes and tomorrow they walk on their own to get our breakfast pastries. They are determined to learn the language, and so we'll start structuring our days to include a daily language lesson.

The wonderful part of travel is noticing the little differences between cultures and customs. Here are some of the little things I noticed today:
  • All public bathroom doors seal off--no cracks allowing others to peek in.
  • Paris is quiet. The cars, the motorbikes, the people...I know this is the city of light, but I think of Paris as the city of hush.
  • People care about how they look. There isn't a fussiness to the style, just an elegance that clearly starts at a very young age. The children are all dressed well, and you can tell that by the time one reaches adulthood they've had years of style practice.
For photos of our first few days click here

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Odd moments of beauty #7 & 8

Spontaneity--staying up until 1:30 a.m. with dear friends and ringing in Jim's birthday. Waking up to the person I love most in the world.

Friday, March 25, 2011

odd moments of beauty #6

Quinn and Logan making molasses cookies on their own AND cleaning up their mess!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

odd moments of beauty #5

A ruby-throat hummingbird drinking nectar from our rosemary blossoms outside our kitchen window.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

odd moment of beauty #4

Taking a post-dinner walk along the river with Jim & boys. Abundant wildlife from ducks to beavers were spotted!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Odd moment(s) of beauty #1

Running on the first day of spring. A trio of daffodils in a field of green. An owl hooting as we ran by.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Always within Never

I am not one for New Year's Resolutions. I don't have a philosophical aversion, it's simply that I try to live my life with integrity so that I don't need to make "major corrections" at the start of each year. That being said, there are still some less than desirable habits that I pick up along the way and an occasional purge is necessary, which leads me to a new challenge I've set for myself.

Being that I tend to over analyze and can get stuck on the myriad possibilities for each decision, I can sometimes become more cynical and skeptic than I know is healthy. I'll sometimes catch myself as I'm barreling down this track, and at times I can switch gears, but there are others where the dark ink of all that is wrong in the world blots out all that is right. Thus my new challenge. I am committed to noticing at least one event/moment/interaction a day that is uplifting and beautiful. Of course, there are many beautiful moments that happen throughout one's day, but it is too easy to overlook them, hence my desire to seek them out and NOTICE. I just finished the book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog -- which I highly recommend -- and in it there was a line that struck me: "Always within Never." It was part of a passage that I should share because it so succinctly sums up my desire to take notice.

....I have finally concluded, maybe that's what life is about: there's a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that's it an always within never....

I'm not going to go through each day assessing and analyzing each event and wonder, "is this the moment I need to notice?" That would completely defeat the purpose. No, I want to this to be organic and natural, I simply want to adjust my thinking and seeing to be able to recognize the odd moments of beauty that grace our lives. I'm going to capture those moments here in this blog so that I make this a habit. The always within never, the odd moments of beauty, the elsewhere, the reason why...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Eye-to-Eye





I knew this day would come eventually, but I can't say I'm prepared. I am now the shortest household member, barring the animals, of course. It is a very odd moment to be looking eye-to-eye with a 13 year old. How did my barely 14" long preemie turn into a strapping 5' 8" teenager!? Wasn't it just yesterday I was suctioning snot out of his nose? The equilibrium is shifting and I find that the parental tether just gets more stretched out with each passing week. Three weeks ago, I was still a 1/4" taller than Logan, today I am more than a 1/4" shorter. How tall will he be next month! I can barely keep up with the outgrown jeans and shoes now, not to mention the quantity of food that gets inhaled every time he passes through the kitchen. Poor guy hobbles like an old man, his joints are so gelatinous from growing so rapidly. For whatever reason, Quinn is on a more moderate growth pace. He's definitely inching up, but he doesn't seem to sprout an inch in a month like Logan. He's the "slow and steady" kind of grower, the kind that creeps up on you, like, "whoa when did you become 5' 7"?" Logan literally walks out in the morning looking taller than he did when he went to bed the night before. While I look up at my children in amazement, I also feel a tinge of sadness. Where has the time gone? The fog of parenting tends to shroud one's vision and when the haze clears I realize the game has changed and the rules shifted. I feel as if I parent in lag-time. My brain hasn't caught up to the fact that what worked a year ago doesn't hold sway today. I need to shake off this cloak of denial and look Quinn and Logan in the eyes (while I still can) and tell them how much I love them and trust them and how proud I am to be their mum. I may be the shortest but my love for them expands daily and I can only marvel at the young men they are becoming. From holding them in my palms after their birth to being out-sized by them only 13 years later, I'm trying to take it all in and adjust to this new reality of physical mass. They're growing up and out, and I'm going to do my best to be here now, just after I go buy some new jeans to fit these ever growing boys...