Friday, May 30, 2008

Leaving for Lyon

Well, the passports have finally arrived, so we figure that it's time to leak the news. (Drum roll, please...)

Shunning simplicity and sanity, our family has decided to tackle the adventure of spending the 2008-2009 school year in Lyon, France. Last night I sent in my acceptance of a post teaching English at ENS-LSH, one of France's Grandes-écoles (comparable to an ivy-league university.) This lectrice position is part of a graduate exchange program with the University of Illinois's French department.

The benefits: the monthly stipend is paid in Euros, a necessity given the dollar’s current exchange rate. Even more importantly, the teaching schedule isn't overly demanding so I should have plenty of time to be with my family. Jason is thrilled to be headed to Europe as he’s found his niche in architectural history. He will spend much of his time doing research for his thesis project there.

Even so, I’m slightly terrified. While taking off to Europe may sound idealistic and romantic, when you actually start to think about the logistics of moving a young family, it’s pretty overwhelming, especially since my French language experience is limited to 101! (Fortunately Jason speaks more, thanks to his time living in BYU’s Foreign Language Student Residence.)

And so, we’re in the market for advice… Any kind of advice. If anybody has suggestions, recommendations, good contact sources, etc., that might help us on our sojourn, we would love to hear them. We’re searching words of wisdom about plane flights, housing, furnishings, visas, preschool programs, travel insurance, immunizations, language learning, language teaching, food, public transportation, economizing—you name it, we’d love to know about it!

Deep inside, I know that next year will be difficult. I know there will be moments that we feel lost, lonely, and homesick. It will be hard leaving a familiar language and familiar culture, but it’s hardest leaving our friends and especially family. Yet from the time we first found out about this program in November, we have felt in our hearts that the Lord has a special purpose for us in Lyon, whatever it may be. To be completely honest, when the acceptance letter arrived, my first reaction was one of slight disappointment—it would be so much easier to stay! The school certainly had plenty of reasons to reject me (beginning with my novice language experience,) yet doors have continually been opened, and our prayers have continued to confirm that we need to go.

And thus, let the countdown begin! Three more months and voilà, la France!

Blooming Spring

Jason here, posting a few pictures from our latest forays into spring. And to Kara, lots and lots of love... putting a few pictures up here is a lot harder than it looks. Thanks for always keeping our families up-to-date with the blog :)

Brooklyn and I check out the "Big Boy", the largest steam engine ever built (as evidenced by the fact that I was only able to fit a few of its rivets in the picture...)

Kay, Cathy, and Kara keep an eye on the two runaway trains.

Brooklyn, Talia, and Rabbit. A great trio. That is until Rabbit tried to eat Talia's blanky.

Once safely away from the Rabbit, Little Miss Talia proudly displays her security blanket.

Kara tries to teach Talia to blow bubbles, as opposed to eating them.

Kay is a little more successful in training Brooklyn in the fine art of bubble blowing.

Kara relives childhood memories of playing in old refrigerator boxes while visiting the "kid-structures" exhibit at Omaha's Botanical Gardens. The exhibit had quite a few different play structures designed and built by local architects and contractors, and most of them were appealing to both kids and adults alike. As might be expected from a bunch of self-aggrandizing architects, the written descriptions on the signs were a wee-bit stuffy.

Upon returning to Illinois, we were pleased to find our own botanical garden doing quite well, despite, or perhaps because of, a week and a half of neglect.

Our Iris plants are doing particularly well, with lots of thanks to Karen Clark from Omaha who gave us the offshoots when we first moved in nearly three years ago. The first two bloomings were no where near as spectacular as this one has been--like all things worth having, beautiful plants take time.

Monday, May 26, 2008

To Camp or Not to Camp

Top Ten Reasons NOT to Go Camping:

10. Ticks, ticks, ticks! Ticks were the featured guest at our Memorial Day campout at Nebraska's Indian Cave State Park. They were everywhere. We were infested. We removed thirteen of them after arriving home, not to mention all of the ones we got rid of while camping. We had ticks on our backs, ticks in our beds, ticks in our hair, ticks in our armpits, even in our ears! Eewww! (Not to mention Lyme disease…)

9. Ants. I noticed Talia picking something off the ground and went over to get a closer look. She was eating the ant hill, critters and all!

8. Wind. Lots of wind. Jason and I spent a terrifying wide-eyed night listening to the wind whip through the trees, trying to fend off imaginations of being lifted off the ground by a tornado. In the morning we discovered that the wind had actually collapsed my parents’ tent! The amazing thing is that the girls (who rarely sleep through the night) snored through the entire affair.

7. Thunder and lightning. Like the wind, they don’t make for peaceful sleeping.

6. Wet shoes. As long as the tent doesn’t leak, I don’t mind the rain when camping—I find the sound very soothing. However, I hate putting on soggy shoes that slosh in the morning.

5. Showers. Unlike some previous camping trips, we opted for the luxury campsite this time with flushing toilets and a couple of showers nearby. While it was nice to clean up a bit before church on Sunday, showering was still less than ideal. The two-inch cockroach that wheedled its way into our towels was bad, but personally I found the giant hairball in the drain to be much worse. The highlight came when buck-naked Brooklyn suddenly decided to streak out of the bathroom complex, leaving my mother and me (also undressed and struggling with a naked-hiney Talia) at a complete loss as to how to chase after her. Grandpa Kay finally intercepted the streaker, but not until after she had entertained the entire campground.

4. Coons. Jason and I were awakened once more at 2:30 am by the sound of raccoons fighting over our food. While we managed to rescue most of our grub to the safety of our mini-van, the hamburger and hotdog buns were coon casualties.

3. Mud. We bravely embarked on what we expected would be a family hike. In all actuality, we ended up slopping our way through a two-mile mudslide. I still can’t figure out how we managed to stay vertical!

2. Tangles. Under the best of conditions, trying to get a brush through Brooklyn’s hair is a serious undertaking, but after a day of camping, it’s downright impossible.

1. Unpacking. As anyone who’s ever camped well-knows, packing is a pain. You’re exhausted before you even get there! But in my opinion, unpacking is even worse. There’s so much dirt and grime that absolutely everything has to be washed and scoured, whether it was used, worn, or not. Even so, the smoke-smell inevitably lingers for days. We just hope the ticks won’t…

Top Ten Reasons You MUST Go Camping:










I know that camping can be unpleasant and inconvenient, even grimy and nasty at times. Yet even with all its flaws, I LOVE camping. Nothing in the world replaces the warmth of sitting around a campfire late at night roasting marshmallows, or the crisp, cool air and smell of dew early in the morning. I’m proud to be part of a dying breed of tenters who eschew the gravel and electric lights of RV camps. No, give me a tarp and a patch of dirt somewhere far away from civilization where no one can complain about my lack of deodorant. Keep your electric stoves—all I want is a match, some kindling, and occasionally half-a-can of lighter fluid. Fine cuisine is great,with all its panache and ganache, but nothing in the world matches a baked apple that’s been roasting in the coals all afternoon. No matter how many reasons there may be to not go camping, you can still count me in.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

So now that I'm finished with school for a bit, I've enjoyed the chance to do a little bit of personal pleasure reading. Unfortunately, my latest read, The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy was somewhat less than pleasurable.

As a bit of background, I actually like Tolstoy. While I haven't tackled Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina is a family favorite, especially for Jason. When we found out that Champaign was participating in a community-wide "Big Read" of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Jason and I were so excited that we checked out two copies from the public library--his and hers. I thought it was the neatest idea that our entire community should unite in reading Tolstoy while a community somewhire in Russia united by reading Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

In theory, I still think it's a good idea, but in practice, I think they should rethink the selection. Seriously, The Death of Ivan Ilyich was one of the most depressing, bleak, and hopeless depictions of mortality that I have ever read. The take-home message is exactly what the billboards around town state--"Ivan Ilyich is dead, but you're not" (Thank Heavens).

On the positive side, Tolstoy's work really does cause you to reflect on whether or not you're truly living the real thing or missing the boat entirely in the meaningless quest for power and prestige. The Death of Ivan Ilyich smacks you in the face with the inevitability of death--long, painful, and lonely as it may be. While I may not agree with his views on the senselessness of death, I concord with Tolstoy's conclusion that since we're all going to die anyway, let's live life now to its fullest.

Dog, You're Driving Me Crazy!

So today at lunch Brooklyn left the table, pulled a chair up to the cupboard, got out a straw, and started to "drink" her tomato soup. Initially, I decided to overlook this creative eating style, since she was at least ingesting her food. That is, until she started to load up her straw with tomato soup and blow it all over the table. After being reprimanded for her less-than-desirable table manners, Brooklyn looked me in the eye and exclaimed, "You're driving me CRAZY!"

My conversations with Talia, on the other hand, are a bit less profound. Lately they consist of her new favorite word--dog. We went to the Columbus Zoo on Friday and saw the squirrel-dogs, the duck-dogs, the monkey-dogs, the elephant-dogs, even the manatee-dogs! Nothing, however, elicits quite the same squeal of delight as the real McCoy. I know because we put Homeward Bound on the DVD player during the long drive home. For two straight hours Talia pointed, shrieked, and shouted "Dog! Dog! Dog!" I guess we know who the future vet in the family will be.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

No, but I have a penguin on my shirt!

Yesterday our entire family took an outing to the post office to get passports for the girls. (Stay tuned for an exciting post in a couple of weeks explaining why these passports were--or were not--needed.) It was definitely an adventure with all of the paperwork, photos, birth certificates, etcetera--not to mention the outrageous fees! The most memorable moment, however, came when the postal worker turned to Brooklyn and asked, "Do you swear, under penalty of perjury, that the information on these forms is truthful and accurate, to the best of your knowledge?"

Without skipping a beat, Brooklyn responded, "No, but I have a penguin on my shirt."

Fortunately, her uncharacteristic reply was good enough to pass muster. So look out world, here we come! :)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Messy Hair!

The past couple of days we've been fortunate enough to have Grandma Susie and Uncle Lance visit us from Utah. This morning, Talia decided to entertain our guests by adorning her hair with breakfast.

Brooklyn, on the other hand, doesn't even have to eat in order to have some seriously wild hair. All she has to do is go down the slide!

Friday, May 02, 2008

All By Myself

Words I'm never excited to hear from my three year-old...

(Exuberantly.) Mom! I just made chocolate milk all by myself!

I'll leave the rest of the messy details up to your imagination--I need to go mop the floor.