Friday, January 30, 2009


Striking and demonstrations are an integral piece of French culture that my American mind will never fully understand. Over the past five months of employment, I've received at least five e-mails from the university administration, asking me to please inform them if I plan on participating in the upcoming strike. "Sure, yeah, why the heck not? Sign me up. I'll take off the next three months please, if you don't mind."

As a salaried employee, my striking would probably be noticeable when my students showed up to an empty classroom. What I'll never get, however, are the scholarship students who go on strike. "As one of the privileged, fortunate elite who managed to get into this school, please stop paying me to receive an outstanding education. I protest!"

Anyway, strikes hit France yesterday on "Black Thursday." Brooklyn's teachers sent home notes a week in advance asking us to please keep our children at home because they would be protesting. The metro line that takes me to work also stopped functioning. (Fortunately, Lyon has a fabulous bike system where you can check out a "Velo V" bike for virtually nothing and return it to any one of the 343 stations around town.)

Apparently, strikes are most common in January and February. No wonder. Don't we all feel like protesting life in the gray of winter? What struck me as even more odd was how life resumed as completely normal today. The teachers were back with a smile, the public transport is up and running as usual, it is as if nothing ever happened.

So my question is, do people truly believe that a one-day strike makes much of a difference, or is it simply a way to vent some frustrations and take a much needed "mental health day." Oh, and by the way, I want to know when all of the Mommys get to go on strike--one day to escape all the responsibilities of dishes and diapers--because you can count me in! :)

When Jason was in Paris a week ago, he got out of a subway station and inadvertently stumbled into the middle of some major protests to the Israeli war. The pictures he took are quite something!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Galette des Rois

Around the beginning of January, our family started noticing all of these "galettes" in the bakery windows around town. I was intrigued by these round, flat cakes made out of pastry, particularly since the galettes were always topped by a crown. When Brooklyn's teacher sent home a note saying that she needed a crown for school, I used it as the perfect excuse to splurge on a galette for our family.

Our first galette was filled with apple, making it very much like an apple pie baked on a cookie sheet instead of in a pie dish. We enjoyed our dessert, and were just about finished with it when I noticed with horror something big and black stuck in the filling of my pastry. Closer examination revealed that it was actually a tiny ceramic figurine (a character from Harry Potter, to be precise.) Obviously there was more to this galette tradition in France than we understood.

Fortunately, one of Brooklyn's classmates invited us over a couple of weeks ago to share a Galette des Rois with their family, and we got to experience the tradition first hand. This galette was homemade and filled with a delicious almond paste (frangipane). It turns out that frangipane filling is much more traditional, but they make apple ones too for those who don't like almonds.

According to custom, while the galette is being cut, the youngest person goes under the table (literally) where he or she can't see and calls out who should be the recipient of each slice. (This prevents any sneak peeking.) The person who gets the figurine is designated the king (roi) or queen and gets to wear the crown. (They also get to select a partner to rule with them.)

Galettes are eaten in celebration of Epiphany (January 6th). Traditionally, different figurines from the nativity were hidden in the filling. During the month of January, it's very common for family and friends to get together and share a Galette des Rois (perhaps best translated as Kings' cake or Twelfth Night Cake).

I thought it was a great tradition and a nice way to continue the Christmas season a bit longer, instead of crashing completely after New Year's. I even dared to make a Galette for our own family. Since I forgot to take a picture, here's one I snagged off the web. (Can't say that mine looked quite as pretty, but with equal parts of butter, sugar, and almond flour, it definitely tasted good!)

Cheers to the royalty inside us all!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Miracle Margarine

It's amazing how much you can learn by examining the keywords that a person googles over the course of a day.

Our recent searches:

- Plane Crash in Hudson (We're finally catching up on current events)
- Latitude of Lyon, France (Always nice to know where you are--45.7 degrees north as opposed to 40.0 in Illinois.)
- Superglue in Child's Mouth

So, the last one probably needs a bit of explaining. I was doing the dishes and Talia was playing about ten feet away from me. All of a sudden I heard her blowing raspberries and saying "yucky," "yucky."

Parenting lesson, number 101. Unless it's mealtime, it's never a good sign when your child starts blowing raspberries and saying "yucky."

I turned around and saw Talia holding an open tube of Superglue. In less than two minutes she had managed to pull a chair up to the counter, climb up on it, empty out a jar of pens and other knickknacks, fish the Superglue out of the very bottom, unscrew it with her teeth, and get Superglue all over her tongue and fingers in the process.

Fighting the urge to panic, I evaluated the situation. Fortunately, despite the crusty Superglue remains on her fingertips and mouth, nothing was fused together. Talia seemed slightly perplexed by the strange taste and odd sensation, but otherwise, she was completely unfazed.

I then summoned my most reliable babysitter, DVD, to keep Talia from causing any new disasters while I got online to figure out what to do. It's amazing how over the course of a decade, the Internet has gone from being an oddity to an indispensable resource, the fathomless fount of solutions to even the oddest predicaments. I still remember the first time I used the Internet back as a sophomore in high school: it took "Gopher" five minutes just to load a chicken soup recipe.

Fortunately, in less than a second, Google gave me what I was looking for--"How to Remove Superglue from the Mouth: Case Report." Apparently some ER doctors at the Bradford Royal Infirmary had the same perplexing question after a two year-old in England likewise bit down on tube of Superglue. They discovered that high molecular-weight oils, such as those found in kerosene, loosen the glue. However, sticking kerosene in a toddler's mouth seemed unwise. Luckily, margarine apparently is also a good source of these heavy oils. And so, I followed the same course of treatment as these wise medical blokes and gave Talia a spoonful of margarine to suck on. Ta Da! The miracle cure.

While Jason may prefer butter, I intend to keep at least a little margarine on hand for as long as I have both children and superglue. After all, you never know when it may come in handy!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sleeve Juice

As I picked up Brooklyn from school the other day, I noticed that she was chewing on her shirt sleave. Oh no, I thought. Here it starts. The number of times that my own mother had to tell me to stop chewing on my sleeves surely numbered in the thousands.

I should have known, however, that with Brooklyn, a simple "don't do it" wouldn't suffice. She has an answer to everything.

Me: Brooklyn, please stop chewing on your sleeve.
Brooklyn: But Mom, it's so soggy and yummy and juicy!

What do you with a child who unabashedly loves sleeve juice?

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Breadwinner of our Family!

Good news! Jason had his first day of work in France today. He officially began a "stage" or internship with a local architecture firm working twenty hours a week for the next six months.

We're really excited for Jason, although we're slightly wistful to let go of our relaxed and easy-going schedule. This will be a great opportunity to get some practical experience with a firm, delve into French, and start working on IDP hours. (IDP stands for Internship Development Program--a requirement for architects before becoming licensed.)

Sadly, Jason isn't getting paid much for the experience... It's not customary to pay architecture interns in France, but even if it were, he can't legally work with a visitor's visa. It is legal, however, for the firm to reimburse Jason for his monthly metro pass.

We've done some quick calculations and figured out the following:
20 hours a week times four weeks equals about 80 hours a month. Divide that by 45 euros a month, and Jason's earning slightly more than 50 centimes per hour. Factoring in the current exchange rate, we can round that off to a generous 75 cents. Given the fabulously low price of bread here (it's about the only thing that's cheap), Jason is undoubtedly...THE BREADWINNER OF OUR FAMILY!

Congrats, honey. We love you.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sewn with Love

Everyone who comes into this world leaves behind a unique stamp--the special something that people will remember them by, even after they are gone. For Jason, I imagine this will be his artwork and designs. His mother and sister create remarkable meals. My own sister is creating a legacy of music. My father is known for his quotations and morsels of "Food for Thought." (I, on the other hand, may quite possibly be remembered for the astounding number of pens that I have destroyed by my unfortunate habit of chewing them--Hopefully I will someday write something of value in the process...)

This blogpost, however, is dedicated to my mother's legacy--her incredible sewing. Some of my very earliest memories of my mother are watching her work on a project late at night, the kerosene heater nestled close by. For my Mom, sewing is therapeutic--an act of creation where her close and careful attention to detail has marvelous results. My sister and I often joke about how Mom's sewing is as pretty inside as it is out!

For my Mom, sewing is love put into action. On many occasions, people have wanted to pay my mother to do a project for them. Oftentimes she will agree to do it as a friend, but never for money. It is impossible for those who haven't watched my Mom work to understand the amount of time and detail she puts into each step, making her work essentially priceless. Since she wouldn't feel right charging people as much as her sewing is worth, she sews out of love.

Well, Mom loves us a lot. It's been hard to have her grandbabies all the way across the ocean, so she has channeled this love and energy into sewing instead. I thought I would take a moment to share the bounteous projects that she unveiled this holiday.

Christmas Stockings:

Nativity Costumes:

Baby Doll Clothes (complete with matching booties):

Snuggly blankies to wrap those babies in:

Snuggly hat and gloves:

Matching penguin vests: (I asked Brooklyn to give Talia a hug in the second pic... Careful what you ask for!)

And last but not least, a gorgeous birthday dress with a matching dress for baby:

Regrettably, I never availed myself of the opportunity to learn to sew from the hands of a master. I can hardly hem my own pants (disastrous for someone who fibs about being five feet.) In my defense, I did help iron the butterflies and ribbon on Brooklyn's new Build-a-Bear.

NomiAnn and Brooklyn, however, handled the sewing.

I smile to think that this talent may be carried on after all in the next generation. Thanks, Mom.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Fabulouly Four

So our Christmas card this year adopted the theme of "Where in the World are the Wheelers." Given our recent blogging habits, you might have thought we disappeared to another planet completely. But no, the holidays happened. Between Christmas and birthdays, December is a very busy month for us. Winding back the clock a bit, here's what the Wheeler house looked like on December 16th...

Brooklyn turned a fabulous four! I was dealing with the shock okay until Brooklyn came home from church on Sunday with a French CTR ring (it actually reads CLB). She's not a Sunbeam anymore! It's both hard and wonderful to see our babies grow up.

*In the LDS church, the very youngest Sunday school class (for 3 year olds) is called Sunbeams. After this, kids move up to the CTR class, where CTR stands for choose the right.

Brooklyn came home to a ribbon maze where she had to follow the string from room to room to open her presents. Thanks to Denae for the great idea!

One of her favorite gifts was a box of macaroni and cheese sent by her loving aunts and uncles. Thanks!

Of course, for a little girl in the midst of the "princess" stage, the Beauty and the Beast castle was also a favorite. (Thanks to great friends who pass along great toys...)

Since Brooklyn loves marshmallows, we played a game where you have to eat the licorice rope fastest in order to get to the marshmallow middle.

Talia and Dad had fun playing too--Tally won.

Of course, the best birthday present was having NomiAnn and Papa Kay come to visit a few days later. Brooklyn got to take a bus to the airport to meet them.

Naturally, a few more birthday surprises were found in the suitcases, with a favorite one being Brooklyn's new baby.