Friday, October 31, 2008

Post #24: Recognizing the Hand of the Lord

If we take the time to stop and reflect upon the daily miracles that fill our lives, it's easy to recognize the hand of the Lord in even the most unlikely of places. This week I am off of school on fall vacation. We'd wanted to rent a car and take a trip up to Frankfurt, Germany to visit a close friend. Unfortunately, we nearly had a heart attack when we started researching the cost of car seats. To rent a car seat is 45 euros per kid, and new seats would cost around 160 euros--each!

And then the miracle happened. While second-hand stuff is less common in Lyon, we amazingly found a store that was selling two used car seats for less money than it would have cost to rent one. For all of the child safety monitors out there, we do recognize that second-hand seats are a bit more risky than new ones. However, we also believe that eating is important. Given our personal situation, we think the benefit outweighs the risk, and we feel so blessed.

Two other stories: I was out shopping with Brooklyn at a big store far from home. It had been a long trip and she was tired. She noticed some kids with cotton candy on the way in and wanted some desperately. She asked about it for the entire time we were in the store, albeit politely. She had been so good that I wanted to reward her for her efforts, but I didn't have any cash on me, and I was sure that the cotton candy vendor wouldn't accept a bank card. Amazingly, as we walked out of the store, they were giving away cotton candy for free to kiddos under the age of 12. Needless to say, Brooklyn was simply delighted.

Then at the bus stop a few minutes later I accidentally dropped my bank card. A man found it on the ground and returned it to the bus driver who gave it to me. Obviously my heart was filled with gratitude for his honesty and for the headache saved. I don't know what was most amazing: the car seats, the credit card, or the cotton candy that appeared like manna from heaven for my little girl.

Post #23: Deceptively Honest

Brooklyn is reaching that age where she is starting to be deceptive. However, it's kind of hard to be angry with her when she is so darn honest about it. Two days ago we had the following conversation.

The background: Brooklyn has just been caught trying to open a single-serving packet of cherry-flavored Children's Benadryl.

Brooklyn: Leave my room, Mom.
Me: Why do you want me to go?
Brooklyn: I want to be alone so that I can get the scissors and open this. Then I'm going to eat it and put the package in the trash can so that you won't even know.

I confess that it was hard for me to keep a straight face and not start laughing right then and there. However, it wasn't until a couple of hours later that I figured out she was speaking from experience. Jason and I got into the freezer to pull out some ice cream sandwiches and discovered that two were missing--both strawberry--Brooklyn's favorite flavor. Sure enough, the packages were in the trash!

Post #22: Burnt Intentions

I´m a lousy housekeeper. It wouldn´t be so embarrassing if I didn´t try so darn hard, but I actually do recognize the importance of cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc., particularly as relates to making a house a home. I already shared a bit of my ineptitude a few posts back when I confessed to the blue laundry. Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there. A couple days later, I tried to make homemade bread. Tragically, I killed the yeast and baked bricks instead. However, I knew I'd reached my all-time low when I overheard Jason having the following conversation with Brooklyn.

Jason: If you'll sit down at the table and eat your lunch, then I'll let you have a cookie that isn't burnt.

Once upon a time I had dreams of my children reminiscing on their childhood and remembering the smell of Mom's delicious homemade cookies when they came home from school. Mine will probably only remember carcinogenic carbon. Until we get back to the States where my oven has a timer and a temperature control, I think I'd best leave the baking to the bakers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Post #21: The Exit

Coming to France has definitely helped me better appreciate the difficulties that my students face as learners of English as a second language. There's nothing like moving to a country where you don't speak the language to make you humble. While we often glorify the enlightening process of learning another language, we forget that this perception of "brilliance" generally comes in retrospect. At the time, learning a second language can be downright humiliating.

And thus, six weeks after the incident, I'm finally summoning the courage to write about my first trip to the Carrefour grocery store.

I survived shopping. I even survived the process of checking out, which as you might guess, involves talking to another human being. And then I went out the door. I understood the writing on the door, "Sortie," which means "Exit." Unfortunately, I didn't understand "de Secours." It wasn't until the security guard came chasing me down, scolding all the while, that I figured out that I had just gone out the "Emergency Exit." I don't blame the guard for scolding. What stung was the fact that the door was so clearly labeled--easy enough for a child to understand. In an unfamiliar language environment, it doesn't matter how educated you are or how many other languages you may speak: if you don't speak the host language, you look downright dumb.

At such moments, it's tempting to head for the nearest "Emergency Exit" into a familiar language and cultural context. Fortunately, the thought of repacking all those suitcases is a pretty good deterrent...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Post #20: You can't take it with you

Even though I've shopped and bought and shopped again over the past six weeks, I've recently become surprisingly detached from materialistic things. As a foreigner, I'm keenly aware that everything I purchase is temporary. It's easy to be satisfied with merchandise that is less than perfect because I won't be able to take it with me anyway. Who cares if the couch is a bit stained?--we only need it for a year.

In a way, I hope that I can keep this perspective once I return to the States. After all, we are all sojourners here on earth. Viewed from an eternal perspective, our journey is oh-so-brief. When it comes to "things," no matter what it is, you can't take it with you.

This perspective has helped me keep my cool with my little ones. We've learned that our nice tile floor is both nice and hard, meaning that nearly everything that gets dropped gets shattered. While such moments can be frustrating and disappointing, it helps to remember that ultimately, it's just stuff.

Post #19: Laundry Day

Need I say more? (And still two loads to go...)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Post #18: A Castle on a Hill

Every fairytale is crowned by a castle on a hill.

When I moved to Salzburg, Austria as a senior in high school, I found that fairytale landscape--well, almost. One of the most picturesque cities in the world, Salzburg is framed by its gleaming white fortress on the hill.

I must confess that before moving to Lyon, I was worried that I might feel disappointed by the landscape. After all, Salzburg is pretty hard to live up to in terms of beauty. (Of course, considering the fact that I was moving from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, I probably shouldn't have worried.)

Amazingly, Lyon shares many of the features I loved most about Salzburg:

A "castle" on a hill. This "castle" is actually the "Basilique de Notre-Dame de Fourvière"--a white cathedral that overlooks the city.

A river running through the middle of the city, along with quaint little pedestrian bridges. Lyon actually has two such rivers: the Rhône and the Saône.

Little side streets and alleys in the old-town that transport you to beautiful, hidden courtyards.

And so, while Lyon may not be quite as picturesque as Salzburg (the mountains aren't quite as close), it's still pretty spectacular for an Illinois gal like me.

Here are a couple of pictures taken from the top of the Fourvière. It's easy to spot our neighborhood because we're relatively close to the "crayon" (pencil.)

Finally, here's a picture of our street from above.

Post #17: Growing Up in Illi-lyon

Growing up in Illi-lyon makes for some interesting language development. Talia's started to speak much more and is learning how to count. Yesterday I overheard the following: "one, two, three, quatre..." :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Post #16: Whites?

I'm grateful that Jason is better at cutting hair than I am at doing laundry... Oops!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Post #15: The Haircut

So while this post may only mark the half-way point in the thirty-day blogfest, it happens to be our 100th overall blogpost. Thus, the need for something drastic and remarkable.

Does this count?

I guess Jason has found a new outlet for all of his creative energy.

While Brooklyn has been talking for a while about wanting a haircut, we didn't take her seriously until this morning when her balking and bawling about having her hair washed became unbearable. After wrestling Brooklyn into the tub, Jason came out armed with scissors--he was determined to win the war.

And so, with nothing better to do on a drizzly, overcast morning, we stripped our little Brooklyn of her most identifying characteristic--those gorgeous blond locks.

While at first it was all fun and games, as soon as Jason started to cut, I went into an absolute panic. I was admittedly obnoxious--fussing and fretting like a mother hen, offering banal "suggestions" and "advice" until Jason finally asked me to go into the other room. I went into the other room, puttered around for a moment, and came right back. I simply couldn't endure being separated from my baby during the "operation." I thought I'd experienced scissor shock before, but nothing has ever compared to this. I confess that on several occasions I wished that we'd left such serious business to the professionals.

Fortunately, while he may be an amateur, Jason did a great job. Brooklyn is thrilled with her new look. Now that I've had a little bit of time to adjust, I admit that I love it too. The pictures don't really do the cut justice--you can't capture the "swoosh" when she bounces her head around. :) Even better, it only takes twenty seconds to do hair instead of twenty minutes. I guess I've learned that hiding beneath my baby's golden locks was a charming little girl yearning to be set free from her web of tangles.

Post #14: The Perfect Fall Day

I'll let these pictures tell their own story about our perfect fall day at the Parc Tete d'Or.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Post #13: Heat Shock...Uh, I mean Culture Shock

In traveling to another country, there are always a few unexpected customs that cause some culture shock. Here are our top three since arriving in Lyon:

1) No matter how warm it is outside, since it is October, everyone insists on wearing coats, scarves, and heavy sweaters. It's crazy! This morning I peeked out the window before getting dressed. After looking at all of the bundled-up people, I put on a turtleneck and coat, only to discover that it was a balmy 75 degrees outside! Talk about heatstroke... Our poor children suffer the most since we generally force them to wear coats as well, just so we won't look like negligent parents.

2) The kind little old lady who gently chides you for not dressing your children more warmly will be the very first to elbow her way in front of you when boarding the bus. Waiting in line appears to be optional once you've passed the golden age of 65.

3) Dog poop. Lots and lots of it. Dogs are beloved here, but unfortunately, there is no societal expectation to clean up after them. Better watch your step!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Post #12: Nutella


What can I say more? :) (And if you ask me if we've already been through two jars, I will deny it, albeit at risk of my eternal salvation.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Post #11: Running into the River

So we’ve been so concentrated on helping Brooklyn learn French, that we’ve kind of forgotten that she still has a little bit left to learn about English. Here’s a funny story from a couple of weeks ago, when we still had our rental car:

So we were out for a drive as a family, looking for a store somewhere north of town near the Saone river. In giving Jason directions, I said something about how if he went left, we would “run into the river.” All of a sudden Brooklyn got totally panicked. Over and over again she insisted that we shouldn’t run into the river because the car was too heavy and wouldn’t float like a boat. We tried to alleviate her fears with moderate success until a few minutes later when I told Jason to turn. He said “I’m afraid I can’t. It’s a one-way street.”

It was hilarious to hear Brooklyn in the back seat break out in wails: “Afraid?! Afraid! Why are you afraid? I knew we were going into the river!”

Post #10: Lovin' Ol' Lyon

While there are many things that we enjoy about Lyon, one of the things that is most fascinating for us is the history. Lyon is old--really old--as in, used-to-be-a-major-capitol-of-the Roman-empire old. Here are some photos of our family visiting the old Roman-Gallic amphitheater:

The story about how we got there was almost as fascinating as the ruins themselves. The background: our first week here, we met a woman and her teenage son at a church function (Karaoke night, to be precise.) They were visiting our congregation for the first time, having been invited by a neighbor. Anyway, at the end of the evening, they offered to take our entire family around Lyon the next afternoon. Even though they'd never met us before, they spent four or five hours the next day showing us some of their favorite sites around the city. I was positively blown away by their hospitality and generosity. While I don't have any sons, if I'm ever blessed with any, I hope they turn out like the young man who showed us around. At thirteen years old, he was so easy to converse with--confident, articulate, and so respectful. Certainly many of his positive traits have come from following the example of his mom.

And so, here are a few more pictures of us with our hosts. As you can see by the last photos, Talia had a great time, but she was pretty tuckered out by the end.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Post #9: Jumping off the Carousel of Life

In coming to Lyon, I must admit that I've been pleasantly surprised to discover that many of the quaint niceties that you read and hear about France actually exist. Our family has loved the outdoor markets, the bakeries on every corner, and of course, the multiplicity of carousels.

Much to our daughters' delight, there's a carousel in the park, a carousel in the old town, even a carousel in the mall. Admittedly, carousels are fun. There's something truly enchanting about the bright colors, the merry music, and of course, the thrill of spinning around and around and around.

Today, however, I've decided that while the trip has been nice, I'm jumping off the carousel of life. For the last several years, our family has been running on high speed. With Jason and I both in school full-time, holding teaching assistantships, and of course, being full-time parents, our schedules have been dizzying. In many ways, we've intentionally "escaped" to Europe in order to slow down.

Amazingly, the carousels hunted us down. Within weeks of arriving here, I was given the opportunity to take on a second job. At first, the opportunity seemed very enticing. The job was part-time and could be arranged my schedule. The company seemed nice, and the work was relevant to my professional development. Perhaps most significantly, it payed really well. Given the current state of our global economy, a little extra family income seemed like a very wise idea.

Logically speaking, it still seems like a good idea.

And yet, I turned the job down. I'm jumping off the carousel of life. Instead of working two jobs today, I spent the afternoon hiking with my family through the foothills. We savored the crisp autumn air, the golden leaves, the crumbling stone walls covered with moss, and most of all, being with each other.

Carousels are fun, but the view is much better when you take the time to stop and stand still.

Post #8: Eh Voila! Notre apartement*

* (Eh Behold! Our Apartment)

So this is how an architecture student wastes his time when he has nothing better to do. (Well, he probably had something better that he should have been doing, but alas...)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Post #7: Turtles, turtles, everywhere

Given the eight hour time difference between France and the Rocky Mountain West, the morning online broadcast of General Conference for the LDS church didn't actually begin until 6:00 this evening. Thus, we had an day free to spend together as a family. (A little side note: Talia thought she could "skype" with the General Conference speakers and kept saying "hello" to President Eyring, hoping that he would talk back to her.)

We spent our afternoon in one of our favorite Lyonnaise haunts, the Parc Tete d'Or. I suppose I shouldn't call it a "haunt" since it's probably the most popular place around. The equivalent of New York's Central Park, the park was positively buzzing with families picnicking, riding bikes, and enjoying the autumn leaves. Brooklyn was slightly chagrined that she couldn't ride the carousel, seeing as to how it was Sunday, but we still had a nice time visiting the giraffes, elephants, crocodiles, and especially the deer that will eat right out of your hand.

Here are a few pictures of Jason with the girls in the park:

And, here are a few shots of my favorite exhibit in the park, which surprisingly enough is... the turtles! They have an amazing number of Florida turtles. Who knew we'd have to cross the Atlantic to learn so much about our own indigenous species.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Post #6: Making a House a Home

In chronicling our adventures of settling into life in Lyon, I thought I'd share a list of the very first things we purchased. For the first few weeks after our arrival, it seemed like all we did was buy things. (Shocking, I know, considering my utter distaste for shopping.) As much as I prefer to stay out of stores, however, there are some essentials that you simply can't do without when setting up house.

1. Paper towels, dish soap, and most importantly, toilet paper! I actually made this first trip to the drug store while Jason was having the final inspection of the apartment. I've learned from tough experience that it's very unpleasant to be in a new home without any TP. As a first-time European resident, Jason is now learning exactly how tough recycled TP can be.

2. Camembert, grapes, yogurt, dried sausage, nutella, jam, and of course, a great big baguette. This European "picnic" fare was our staple for the first week until we got hold of a stove.

3. A washing machine. So, on our way back from the drug store on day one, I found the local laundromat and about had a heart attack when I saw how much it costs to do a load of laundry. Given the fact that our daughters are almost as messy as they are cute, it didn't take long to figure out that we were going to spend a fortune on laundry. Thus, when we found a good deal on a used washing machine at Troc (the equivalent of Goodwill), we splurged. So far it's been fabulous. I love not having to haul the laundry up and down all the stairs, and I can still feel frugal and French as I hang socks up in the bathroom to air dry.

4. Towels, pillows, hangers, pots, pans, and a two-foot high step-stool from IKEA. The step-stool was a definite "must have" for me given all of the extremely high storage space. Even the very bottom of the kitchen cupboards are above eye level!

---Pause here to talk about all of the things that we did not buy, thanks to the generosity of some extremely kind and wonderful people from our local church congregation who have lent us appliances for the year. We are so appreciative to them for lending us a fridge, oven, stove, and crib.

So here's a picture of our fridge before someone took pity on us.

And here's a picture of our new Snoopy fridge. Pretty cool, huh! (No pun intended.)

5. A butane tank. The fabulous stove unit that we were given uses gas, but our apartment only has electric. Fortunately Jason came up with a great method for transporting the butane from the gas station.

6. A toddler bed, couch, and a full-size mattress. These purchases from Troc were highly appreciated and anticipated after a week of sleeping on the floor. Here are a couple photos of the girls asleep on the carpet "bed."

7. Last but not least, a kitchen table and chairs. In many ways, I think that this kitchen table and chairs are rather symbolic of our journey to France as a young family of four. Trying to get the table and chairs home was absolutely insane, involving a tram, metro, and the purchase of a small hand truck. All the way home we couldn't help but laugh at the sight of ourselves and think "nobody in their right mind would even try this.

Well, when it comes to uprooting an entire family and carting them all to another continent, only the slightly insane would even ponder it. Yet in the end, the result seems worth it. We love our table. Ironically enough, Jason just happened to mention a few minutes ago that he would be all about repurchasing the same IKEA table when we get home. Likewise, I hope that someday when we return back to the States we will be "all about" living abroad again.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Post # 5: Crazy Cars

While many people in the US are just barely leaving work for the weekend, it's already midnight in France, so this post will be short. I thought I'd share a quick picture of our rental car: a blue Peugeot 207. Interestingly enough, you fill this little stick-shift up with diesel. Even though it got great gas mileage, we found driving in France to be quite pricey, particularly after paying all the tolls and parking. It was actually quite nice to give up owning a vehicle completely--no more wrestling the girls into their carseats!

If you must have a car in Lyon, I definitely recommend a Smart Car. It makes "parallel" parking with a stick shift infinitely easier. :)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Post #4: First Days of School

It's been an eventful week for the Wheeler family. Both Brooklyn and I had our first days of school. Monday was my first official day teaching English at the École normale supérieure in Lyon. The students are quite sharp, having passed a very competitive admissions examination, so they definitely keep me on my toes.

So here's a photo of my school:

Even more importantly, here's a photo of Brooklyn's new school:

The school is a public "ecole maternelle," or nursery school. It's located just across the parking lot from our apartment, which is wonderful because it means that Brooklyn can easily lunch with us at home. You see, preschool in France goes from 8:30 all the way until 4:30 with an optional two-hour lunch break from 11:30 to 1:30. Needless to say, we're opting to have our little girl back for those extra hours.

It's hard to describe what it feels like to send my little girl off to school for the very first time. I've had very mixed feelings and emotions about letting her go, especially for so long. In one sense I've been excited and anxious for her to have the chance to meet other kids and make new friends. In many other ways, I've been positively terrified to throw her into such an unfamiliar world without speaking any French at all.

Before coming to France, I knew that it would be difficult for me to learn French. I expected that Jason, despite his much stronger language skills, might struggle a bit too at moments. I was completely unprepared, however, for how difficult it would be for my three year-old to communicate.

Everybody talks about how young children pick up new languages effortlessly, but that's absolutely not true. As a mother, I've fought back tears watching Brooklyn, usually the social butterfly of the playground, play all alone in a corner because nobody understands her. It's broken my heart to watch her come back from Primary discouraged because she doesn't know how to say hello. I've been frustrated with adults who are astonished that she doesn't speak any French, as if she should overnight, simply because she is three.

An extremely verbal child, Brooklyn loves jabbering about the world to anyone who will listen. It's been hard to watch this ability to communicate be taken away from her in France. For a while she still chattered in English to adults and children alike, but after encountering dozens of blank stares, she now prefers to have conversations with her imaginary friends, Miriam and Leah.

And thus, sending Brooklyn off to school this morning, I felt the normal pangs of loss that parents feel when their babies grow up. Yet underlying these sighs of time gone by was a much greater fear that she would be rejected. Language acquisition by immersion may be quite effective, but it's also somewhat cruel to place someone in a position in which they can neither understand nor be understood.

So how did Brooklyn weather her first day of school?

She LOVED it. She chattered the whole way home about the scooters, the stories, the cots, and the kitchen toys. She couldn't wait to go back after lunch, and ran the whole way there. No matter what the language, Brooklyn adores school.

Kids are so courageous. If only we all had the same ability to brush off life's little blows. After school I watched Brooklyn try to engage in play with a couple of little girls. Walking up to the place where they were sitting, she rapped on an imaginary door and said, "Knock knock." The girls just stared strangely, seeing as to how French doors say "Toc toc." Brooklyn waited for a while, then finally came over to me and said with a smile, "They're not home."

Brooklyn, I am so proud of you. Just keep knocking on those doors until they come tumbling open.