Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, NomiAnn!

Many happy returns of the day, NomiAnn! Since the girls' birthday card won't make it to you in time via snail mail, hopefully this picture will make you smile.

We sure do love you!

Monday, April 27, 2009


Chị Xuân--literally translated from Vietnamese, "Sister Spring." Back at the turn of the millennium, I adopted this name for eighteen months while serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Needless to say, I love spring. I've mentioned how beautiful the parks are here now that the weather is warmer. Well, here are a few pictures to prove it.

Triplets, anyone?

And best of all, the carousels are running once more. What joy!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Belly Shots

Here's a quick photo of my big tummy at nineteen weeks.

Of course, mine may not be the biggest in the house. :) Belly shots are always better when taken together.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pause...and be Patient

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to accompany Brooklyn on her class field trip to the Parc Tête d’Or. Overall, it was marvelous. Despite the chaos of loading 30 four and five year-olds onto the city bus, the adventure was worth it. With its flower beds in full-bloom, the Parc is absolutely gorgeous at the moment. The weather was perfect, and the kids really enjoyed the exhibition of musical instruments from around the world, especially since many trees had hidden speakers that played ethnic music when you walked past.

Nevertheless, one particular incident from the afternoon has kept me pondering and reflecting ever since. At one point, the teacher (maitresse) sat all of the kids down on the ground and showed them a "spring tree"--pointing out the trunk, branches, leaves, and flowers. Then she passed out little clipboards and pencils so that everyone could draw the tree in front of them. From my perspective, I couldn't see Brooklyn's actual picture, but I could see her excitedly drawing. As the teacher went around from student to student looking at their work, I waited anxiously to see what she would say, almost as if my art were being evaluated.

"No, no, no," I heard her teacher say. "You're supposed to draw the flowers on the tree. I'm not interested in the flowers on the ground." Brooklyn, sitting two feet away from some brilliant yellow dandelions, had been more intrigued by these flowers than the white ones dangling from the branches above.

I was shocked and stunned, almost hurt. Not only had every student been directed to draw the very same tree, but they had to conform and draw it in exactly the same way. Taking in the "whole" picture was unacceptable. I felt sad and slightly angry that my daughter's creativity, originality, and perceptiveness was being stifled.

For the rest of the afternoon, it was difficult to quiet my inner voices that yearned to be harshly judgmental of Brooklyn's teacher and France's educational system. I appeased them by remembering that Brooklyn's teacher is quite a bit older and comes from a different generation, and that I really have so much to be thankful for. Day after day, this teacher welcomes my spirited child with a smile.

It wasn't until this morning that I gained a clearer perspective and realized that I need to remove the beam from my own eye before I start poking at the mote in my neighbor's. After all, how many times have I chided Brooklyn for dawdling to pick dandelions along the side of the road, rushing her along so that we could get to our "real" destination to look at whatever I considered to be more "important." If I am going to create fertile ground where creativity and originality can flourish, I must first learn to pause...and be patient.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Some Blessings Come Late...

Nearly a year ago, when faced with the opportunity of spending the next ten months in France, I turned down a teaching assistantship that would have covered my last year of graduate school in architecture. It was a somewhat nerve-racking decision to make; leaving the known for the unknown, realizing that there would be no guarantee of financial support for the final year of school once we returned from our sojourn abroad. But, things seemed to be generally going in our favor, and France's siren call beckoned.

Earlier this year I applied for a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship and also reapplied for a teaching assistantship in anticipation of our rapidly approaching return to Illinois. The FLAS fellowship seemed to match my career goals as well as our current situation here in France, and both Kara and I were quite hopeful that it would work out. Two of my Illinois professors, as well as a French teacher from my days at BYU, were kind enough to write letters of recommendation, and I even managed to turn in the application several days before the deadline (of course, Kara might suggest that I went wrong there--It seems all of the scholarships and study abroad opportunities she has received have come when she has submitted the applications a month or so after they were supposed to be turned in, including her current position teaching English here in Lyon).

Two weeks ago however, I received an email letting me know that I hadn't been selected for the fellowship. I was certainly disappointed, but tried to remain hopeful that something might still work out with a T.A. position. As one day has slowly run into the next with no news on a teaching assistantship, I must admit to ever-increasing levels of anxiety about how to make ends meet this coming year. Our winter electric bill showed up (you know, the through the roof shocker, I live in an old masonry building with no insulation and really big windows, sort of electric bill...), and things around the house seem to keep breaking or going missing (I know my ultimate Frisbee isn't really all that important in the grand scheme of things, but still...).

Our lack of funding for the coming year has left me questioning the wisdom of our decision to spend this past year abroad. But strangely enough, our situation has also helped me feel a certain amount of solidarity with the many people in the world who are facing much more serious economic trials than my own--like friends who have had to move their young families back in with parents and grandparents after losing jobs or homes. And despite the anxiety, I've still felt a great amount of hope, thanks in large part to the many encouraging messages shared during the recent LDS General Conference. The following remarks by President Henry B. Eyring are just a small sample from those messages that touched me:

"With all the differences in our lives, we have at least one challenge in common. We all must deal with adversity. There may be periods, sometimes long ones, when our lives seem to flow with little difficulty. But it is in the nature of our being human that comfort gives way to distress, periods of good health come to an end, and misfortunes arrive."
"My purpose today is to assure you that our Heavenly Father and the Savior live and that They love all humanity. The very opportunity for us to face adversity and affliction is part of the evidence of Their infinite love. God gave us the gift of living in mortality so that we could be prepared to receive the greatest of all the gifts of God, which is eternal life."

And so we have pressed forward with faith, knowing that if all else fails we have welcome basements both in Omaha and in Hyde Park...

On Wednesday evening I had the distinct feeling I should send an email to the FLAS committee thanking them for the chance to have applied for the fellowship.

On Friday morning I decided I would stop checking my email every few hours to see if news of an assistantship had magically appeared.

On Friday afternoon I mentioned to Kara that it was interesting how at sometimes in our lives everything seems to go our way, and at other times nothing quite seems to work out as planned or hoped. Kara gently reminded me that blessings often come after adversity.

On Friday evening Kara logged into my email account, then very excitedly exclaimed that there was some news. Hoping against hope for an assistantship offer, I was completely surprised by the email I had actually received. The group administering the FLAS Fellowship had been made aware of additional funds and as a result were offering me a fellowship after all.

There is no good way to express the gratitude I feel for having received this fellowship. It represents a huge blessing for me, Kara, and the girls. Kara had been considering accepting a teaching position at the Intensive English Institute again in the fall to help make ends meet, but now she'll be able to take the semester to spend with Brooklyn, Talia, and the new little one. I'll be able to focus on my thesis without having to be working part time out of school. And we won't have to take out any additional student loans to pay for tuition. The fellowship also requires that I take two French classes and two European Union Area Studies seminars over the course of the year--a requirement which will help me improve my French and my ability to interact with the European community in the future.

I am grateful for promptings that come from our Heavenly Father. I truly believe in a God who loves us, watches out for us, and seeks to bless our lives. In the New Testament, Jesus asks, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" And as Jeffery R. Holland so eloquently stated, "Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don't come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come."

The most important gift after all is not financial security, or even financial peace of mind. It is not good health, or fame and recognition. It is quite simply to know God, and to be able to spend eternity with Him and with each other--with our families and friends that make life so rich, no matter what the circumstances may be that surround us.

Friday, April 17, 2009


*Disclaimer: This post raises some fairly charged political issues. Thus, I thought I'd clarify my own stand, which is: I don't know where I stand. My political views tend to be rather vague, not because I don't care, but because I see the advantages and disadvantages of many different systems. I haven't found a single party that espouses all of my core beliefs and values, so I have to pick and choose, carefully weighing the options available at the moment.

While for the most part we feel quite integrated in our life here in France, there are occasionally moments that remind us how we are still outsiders. Lately those reminders have come in the form of bureaucracy.

France is a socialist country. In general, we've noticed some definite advantages to France's socialism; the cost of health care, for example, is dramatically less. (When I sliced my thumb and needed stitches, the entire ER bill when paid out of pocket came to 57 euros.)

On the opposite side, it's amazing how quickly we've come to feel a sense of "entitlement." When we arrived in France, we expected nothing from the government (except perhaps our visas, given the enormous investment of time and money we'd already put into gathering the appropriate paperwork.) After arriving, however, many well-intentioned sources informed us about all of these great social programs that could help us curb our expenses: a Carte Vitale that would reimburse most health care expenses, a monthly stipend for those with kids, housing assistance, 100% maternity coverage--the package deal sounded great! Best of all, they promised that this assistance was available to everyone!

Except not quite. After diligently completing all of our paperwork, running around from office to office, and patiently waiting months for our case to be considered, we finally found out that we don't qualify after all since we haven't resided here long enough. Despite our legal status, we're still outsiders--foreigners--strangers. When I went to the health care office to find out why my maternity lab tests hadn't been fully reimbursed, I found out that I wasn't eligible for maternity coverage, despite having a Carte Vitale (official proof of national health insurance). Until I have lived here a year, my pregnancy is billed as a "maladie" or illness.

"Vous n'avez pas le droit..." These are the words that stung the most when the health care official talked to me about maternity coverage--"You don't have the right." I don't have the right to what--maternity coverage? Okay. I don't expect France to pay for my child. I'm very grateful that France is willing to cover even part of my expenses. What I do find painful, however, is this underlying message that I really don't have the right to have babies. This enforced "waiting period" sets me apart as an outsider and sends an implicit message that I am a potential abuser of the system. My unborn child is also excluded and labeled as a "sickness."

Living in France has helped our family become more sensitive to the challenges faced by those who immigrate. As a family of four living off of my stipend, we certainly aren't wealthy. It's easy to see how in different circumstances we could transition to becoming "needy" in a vicious cycle that affects those who are outsiders, "étrangers"--foreigners. As competent and talented as Jason is, he is unable to work (for pay) because of his visa status, even though he would like to. This makes it harder for us to afford secondary medical insurance, which in turn forces us to rely more heavily upon the French system. Despite our legal status, we pay more as outsiders for this health care and don't receive the additional subsidies most nationals enjoy. Naturally this makes it harder to save up, and the "poverty" cycle continues.

For our family, the challenge is temporary as we are returning soon to the blessings of full citizenship in the States. Despite the feelings of expectancy that we might have developed over the past few months, we aren't (and never were) "entitled" to any of this help. Still, it's helped me to realize how difficult the situation must be for those who don't have a home to return to. If it's challenging for Jason and I as privileged, well-educated adults, it must feel nearly impossible for those who are less-advantaged and face racial discrimination.

I don't pretend to have any easy answers to the difficult issues surrounding immigration. However, in the future I hope to be a little less judgmental and a little more inclusive of those who might otherwise be considered "outsiders."

A Tickle for a Tinkle

When Jason was younger, he and his brothers loved to tickle their sister until she had nearly wet her pants. I've always found these stories both humorous and cruel--little did I know that these tickling skills might some day come in very handy.

You see, our poor Brooklyn has a bladder infection. Before we could start her on a course of antibiotics, she had to provide a urine sample for the lab to analyze. Unfortunately, when you have a urinary tract infection, it really hurts to go. Try as we might, we simply could not convince her to go at the lab. After twenty minutes we gave up, took a cup with us, and went to play at the Parc Tete d'Or. While we were there, she suddenly decided that she needed to go after all (surprise, suprise.) So, brave Jason headed off to the potties with Brooklyn and the cup.

After about twenty minutes, I finally phoned Jason to make sure that everything was okay--after all, they'd been gone a while. With discouragement in his voice, he confessed that he'd dropped the cup. Now you have to understand that the public toilets at the Parc are nothing but an enameled hole in the ground--not even a toilet seat. There was no way we were going fishing for that one.

Fortunately, Brooklyn still hadn't gone, so we all trekked back to the lab and sheepishly asked for another cup. Another fifteen minutes in the bathroom, and still Brooklyn refused to "let it out" because it was going to hurt. (With bladder control and a will like hers, it's no wonder she's got an infection.)

By this time, the lab was closing. The lady at the desk let me know that they have someone there 24/7 to collect samples so we could try again at home. If successful, we could ring the bell and leave a "petit cadeau" for the person who answered.

It was 7:30 pm by the time we finally made it back home, and I hadn't shopped for dinner yet, so I went to grab sandwiches while Jason stayed with the girls. When I got back home, Jason met me at the door with a triumphant, beaming smile: "I got it! I tickled her!" Yes, inspiration hit, and Jason remembered his childhood days of mischief. He managed to tickle Brooklyn until she simply couldn't hold it anymore.

Despite the fact that it was now thundering and lightning and we still had to trek back to the lab, there was still much rejoicing all around. The moral of the story: If you're troubled by a tinkle, try a tickle. :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Forever with Family

This morning I met with my midwife and was shocked to realize that this pregnancy is nearly half over--I'm already 19 1/2 weeks along! Somehow the time has slipped by so quickly.

Glimpsing back through the last months of our calendar reminded me why the time has flown by.

Here's a quick rundown:
December 20--NomiAnn and Papa Kay arrive from Omaha, Nebraska.
December 22-24--We take a trip to Switzerland via Annecy and Chamonix.
December 25--Christmas
January 4--Kay and Cathy fly back to Omaha.
January 5-11--Jason travels to Paris for an intensive week of architectural history studies.
January 27-30--Jason's brother Lance comes to visit from Poitiers, where he's studying international business.
February 12-14--We travel to Bern, Switzerland on a ward temple trip.
February 21-March 1--Uncle Lance comes to visit again.
March 12--Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles arrive from Hyde Park, Utah.
March 13--Aunt Christy arrives from New York.
March 14--Uncle Ben and Uncle Lance arrive.
March 20-22--We take a road trip to Poitiers.
March 23--Christy heads back to New York.
March 24--Charles and Susie fly back to Utah while Lance and Ben fly to Rome.
March 25--Jason's birthday
March 29-April 4--Uncle Adam and Aunt Callie come to visit from Puyallup, Washington
April 5-April 13--Jason's Uncle Merlen comes to visit from Boise, Idaho.
April 14--Our one-bedroom apartment feels strangely lonely and empty with just the four of us.

As you can see, we've been busy. Over the past eighteen weeks, only five of them have been devoid of either family or our own travels. Over the past month, we've only had five days where we were just the four of us.

You'd think that with all of the company, we'd be sick and tired of sharing our place, but in actuality the opposite is true. We feel so fortunate that our families have made such a sacrifice to come and see us: it's been a treat to share Lyon with them. It really does feel kind of strange and empty here without extra folks to share in the laughs, so we're counting down the days until the next person arrives. (Less than a month now, Dad.) :)

P.S. Speaking of fun with family and friends, here are a few favorite pics from our time with Callie, Adam, and Uncle Merlen.

The Boons of a Bloodbath

Despite the incredibly gory title of this blogpost, it's actually quite innocent. You see, ours is a home full of water drinkers. When visitors come for dinner, they are usually offered the choice of water, possibly milk, and if they are extremely fortunate, a bit of juice. Tonight Brooklyn led an intellectual discussion at the dinner table about the virtues of drinking water.

Brooklyn: "When we drink we drink lots of water, it's good for us because it washes our insides. It cleans all of the bad stuff out of our blood too, because sometimes it gets dirty. It's like a bath for our blood..." (Pause for reflection, then a moment of enlightenment. She continues on with great excitement.) "A bloodbath!"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Joyeuses Paques!

Our Easter celebrations in France were wonderful, albeit quite different than in the States. Despite much searching, I never did find any Easter egg dye. Even if I had, I doubt that I could have found any white eggs. (I'm guessing that brown eggs don't show the color very well.) Plastic eggs are also non-existent, but the replacement is much better.

The French fill giant chocolate eggs with delicious smaller chocolates and other goodies. Yum! This picture also shows the traditional Easter bell. In France, it's not the Easter bunny that delivers the goodies, but rather the Easter bell that comes all the way from Rome to drop off tasty treats.

Fortunately for us, the Easter bell found us all the way in Lyon.
Talia, however, must have noticed the vacancy in the Easter bunny position because she shocked us all by coming out dressed in nothing but her bunny ears!

Fortunately, the Easter dresses that NomiAnn sent saved the day (and kept the girls more decent.) They looked and felt like princesses.

We spent most of Easter day with the Conessa family who invited us (and Jason's Uncle Merlen) to eat with them. True to French style, dinner was amazing!

It was also lots of fun because our Brazilian friends, Fabio and Fernanda, joined the festivities. We were lucky to have them there, because they helped carry the load when Talia crashed on our hike around the lake.

All in all, it was a great day to remember!

To Know or Not to Know

So I'm losing my resolve... Up until recently, I was very committed to not finding out the sex of our baby-to-be until the big D-Day. Jason and I were both excited about saving the surprise until that last magical moment when they announce (drumroll please...) "It's a _______! (You fill in the blank.)

Lately, however, I've been feeling rather tugged to schedule an appointment with the ultrasound technician. We were going to save a bit of expense and skip sonogram #2, but lately I'm torn. Here's why:

1) I miss our baby. That may sound silly, but lately I've had a hard time feeling like this pregnancy is "real." I want to see our little one again, hear its heart beat, and oogle over the kicking arms and legs. During the first trimester, the baby made its presence known constantly, thanks to morning sickness. Now that I'm feeling much better, it's easy to completely forget that I'm pregnant at all. I'm still in that awkward borderline stage of "is it fat or is she pregnant?" and I only feel the baby move slightly and very occasionally. Even our girls seem to have forgotten about the new visitor that will invade their home shortly: Brooklyn no longer blesses the "baby in Mommy's belly" at every mealtime prayer.

2) I want to share the ultrasound experience with Jason. Gentleman that he is, he was on childcare duty during sneak peek #1. This baby is just as much his as mine, however. I'd like to give Dad a chance to bond a bit more with this little one before it comes to stay for good.

3) To be completely honest, from the mother's perspective, the most magical words at the moment of birth aren't "it's a boy" or "it's a girl," but simply, "it's out." I'm not sure that I was able to completely appreciate the surprise when Talia came so quickly. My most poignant memory goes something like this: "Wow. That hurt."

4) (And this reason is the most embarrassing...) The baby clothes are so cute! I went to a friend's baby shower last week and positively drooled over all of the teeny tiny onesies and bibs with cute sayings written in French. Despite my tough talk about not needing anything, deep inside, there's a part of me that still wants to go shopping for a few fun things. And, lets face it, green and yellow aren't quite as cute as blue or pink.

And so now, I'm turning the question over to all of you. When it comes to gender, is it better to know or not to know? Click on the poll to the right to let us know your opinion.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Happy Belated Birthday to Papi and Mamie

Brooklyn's looking very distressed... The cause? She's late sending her happiest birthday wishes to her Papi (Grandpa Kay) and Mamie (Grandma Susie.) With many apologies, she'd like to make amends by sending her grandparents what they really want--some cute pics of the grandkids. So many happy returns of the day to the greatest grandparents ever :)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Good Intentions

The last day that the Wheeler family was in Lyon, Jason and I wanted to take them out for a typical French meal as a way of saying thank you for all of the expense and sacrifice in traveling across the Atlantic to see us. Unfortunately, we caught Lyon during those awkward hours between lunch and dinner when most restaurants are closed. I thought I was saved, however, when we found a place with continuous service that had a Lyonnaise ravioli listed as one of their special menu items. Knowing that my brother-in-law Lance loves pasta, I thought this lunch menu would be absolutely perfect. After all, it's not all that often that you find a combination of French-Italian!

Unfortunately, when the ravioli dish came out, it turned out to be a baked ravioli casserole, layered with the Lyonnaise specialty, andouillette. (Not quite sure exactly what andouillette was made of, I just googled up a definition: pig colon sausage.) Even worse, it was served in an extremely pungent mustard sauce that would clean out anyone's sinuses. Not the dream dish for Lance, who doesn't even like horseradish.

Ah well, so much for good intentions.

The Wonderful Wheeler Whirlwind

We have been so blessed this past month to have a literal flood of family come and visit. Apparently all you have to do to spend time with those you love and care about is move someplace as exciting as La France. Here are some of my favorite photos from our time together with Jason’s family.

The fun began when Grandma Susie and Grandpa Charles traveled all the way from Hyde Park, Utah to come see us (especially the grandkids.) Amazingly, they brought beautiful Spring weather with them. The blossoms came out as soon as they arrived, and it didn't rain until they were walking back to the airport bus.

The next day, Aunt Chou arrived the trip from Brooklyn, New York (our BMW is convinced that it's "her" city.)

The fun continued on the day following when Uncle Ben arrived, along with Uncle Lance, who is studying abroad this semester in Poitiers, France.

While it was admittedly a bit crazy trying to squeeze so many people into a one-bedroom apartment, we had a great time exploring Lyon and enjoying one another's company.

There's no better to way to pass the time when waiting for the train than to make one of your own.

Watch out, Papa Charles! It looks like Talia's dripping...

All clean!

One of the highlights was the road trip that we took to explore Lance's home court in Poitiers. What a beautiful little city!

The girls really liked the carousel in the park. As a Mom, however, I was less than thrilled when my daredevil Talia decided that she wanted to ride shotgun and climbed over to the front seat in the middle of the ride!

Of course, the scenery that we saw along the way to Poitiers was as pretty and memorable as the city itself.

Make way, Baby Belly coming through...

All in all, the time passed far too quickly--kind of like a whirlwind that left everyone a bit tuckered out.

But ah, what sweet dreams the memories will bring!