Sunday, May 31, 2009

...not just for the birds!

Built architecture is often very discriminatory both in terms of usage and users. Parks, on the other hand, can be used for just about anything and are open to just about everyone. That said, I think my favorite aspect of public spaces is the chance to simply sit and reflect, to watch and to be watched, and to play a little tune in the heart of an otherwise bustling city.

Friday, May 29, 2009

So Special

Last night Jason and I went on a real date. (Ooohs and aaahs go here.) It was amazing!

My sweet husband met me at the door with a dozen roses and took me out to eat at Les Saisons, having made the reservation weeks ago in honor of our anniversary. Located in a gorgeous chateau on a hill, this restaurant is actually run by students who are studying at the culinary art institute run by Paul Bocuse--one of France's finest chefs. To give you an idea of his prominence, earning a "Bocuse d'Or" award in the realm of fine cooking might be considered the equivalent of being awarded a Golden Globe.

While I confess feeling slightly intimidated at first by the formality of the dining experience (I kept glancing over at the other tables to make sure that my table etiquette was okay), Jason and I were soon wrapped up in the warm feelings created by great food and great conversation. It was so rejuvenating to focus on each other as a couple without once worrying about cutting up the girls' food or cleaning up juice spills.

Our meal began with an "Amuse-bouche" -- roughly translated as a mouth pleaser. For me, the most amusing part of this savory morsel was the teeny tiny fork that it was served with. I was seriously concerned that I might break it on the pastry crust! In hind sight, I should have just used the larger fork that was also at my place setting. I worried a bit needlessly about which piece of silverware to use (work your way in, right?) because they actually cleared all of our silverware and set completely new settings with each course.

The "amuse-bouche" was followed by our appetizer--I had escargots and "sot-l'y-laisse"--apparently, it's the piece of chicken located just above the tail. These were served over a celery puree with a "sphère croustillante"--a crusty little ball filled with something very yummy, even though I have no idea what.

Jason, on the other hand, had tuna that was marinated and partially cooked, served over a bed of avocado and vegetables, along with a grilled sesame roll. He loved the tuna, although he was really surprised because it didn't taste at all fishy.

The next course was served on a silver platter--literally. The presentation of the dishes was choreographed as two servers brought out our dishes simultaneously, lifting off the dome-shaped covers at the exact same instant. My main entree consisted of monkfish tail served in a light curry with granny smith apples and coconut rice--absolutely delicious. Jason, on the other hand, had veal served with new potatoes and peas. He liked it overall, but thought the meat was a little bit fatty.

Next came the cheese tray--a scene straight out of Ratatouille. :) While I can't really tell you what I ate (helpless with the terminology, I resorted to the point-to-what-you-want method), I enjoyed the experience, despite the guilt of sampling some soft cheeses that I probably should not have eaten in my pregnant state.

Okay, time for a little background here. Paul Bocuse is known for his association with "nouvelle" or new cuisine, as opposed to the traditional "haute" cuisine. This new cuisine is much lighter than its rich counterpart, abundant in fresh, quality vegetables. I admit that as they started bringing out the courses, part of me thought: fine cuisine, ha! The more you pay, the less you get. I really thought that Jason and I might have to go and get ice cream when we were done with this lighter fare.

Well, that was before the cheese tray. Light cooking or not, I was stuffed! It's amazing how well your body can register how full it really feels when you stretch a meal out over three hours. (Too bad that kids don't make that possible for most Moms.) At this point in the meal, I helplessly excused myself to the restroom to try and make room for dessert. I seriously regretted that I didn't have a pair of scissors to snip the elastic band of my non-maternity nylons and thus make more room for my ever-expanding belly.

After some impromptu stretching, I bravely returned to face the final dessert course. Uncomfortable as I may have been, it was worth the effort--even if just for the visual effect. After our meal last night, I understand much more why they refer to the "culinary arts"--the dishes were so artistically arranged that it seemed a pity to ingest them. My dessert was beautiful--strawberry sherbet served in a fresh strawberry soup over a crunchy shortcake with this gorgeous ring of delicate carmelized sugar garnishing the top. Jason's dessert took the cake, however. It's the first interactive food experience that I've had--food designed to morph before your eyes instead of merely sitting on your plate. They brought out this perfectly round ball of chocolate nested in a bit of chocolate sauce. Then while you watched, they poured a hot dark-chocolate and lemon sauce over the top, causing the chocolate ball to melt before your eyes and unveiling the rice pudding hidden within. The chocolate pudding was delicious, but the concept was even better.

Alas, all good things must come to an end--they eventually brought the bill... Just kidding, all things considered, it wasn't too bad. The great thing about eating at a culinary arts institute instead of Bocuse's actual restaurant is that you can do so for literally 1/10th of the price. So while it may have been a splurge for us, the cost wasn't enough to spoil the food in our stomachs. We walked out into the clear night air, looked up at a sky full of stars, and felt so happy and grateful for the last six years of marriage.

While I could never be comfortable with such a dining experience on a regular basis (it seems extravagant and wasteful to wash unused silverware), once a decade it seems appropriate to indulge and show that special someone just how special they are. Thanks, honey.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Since coming to Europe, one of our family goals has been to travel to Spain. Last week we made it! It really was amazing--even miraculous--how it all worked out. Over the past few months we had essentially written off the idea of taking another big trip because it seemed financially wiser to conserve our resources. While we weren't searching for accommodations anywhere, I happened to receive a travel brochure when I purchased the third book in the Twilight series.

Flipping through it, I noticed this little bungalow north of Barcelona that accomodated six people for 161 euros a week! Then Jason found out that his work could reimburse him for travel expenses, including our rental car. With that great of a deal, we rekindled our smoldering dreams of Gaudi and gazpacho, inviting my Dad and Lance to join us for the fun.

While I enjoyed every day during our week-long sojourn to Spain, I think our road trip there may have been my personal favorite. We chose the road less traveled, and as you can see, the scenery was incredible.

This picture's for our friend, Bruce, who's earning his PhD in Dairy Science. During our road trip, Jason mentioned that if he were a cow, he'd like to live in France. (Personally, my bovine dream would be to reside with a vegetarian Hindu family in India.)

My Dad brought his GPS unit Serena from the States, along with a European module. While Serena's "shortcuts" weren't always time savers, they were certainly entertaining, particularly when they instructed you to proceed along the unpaved road...

We stopped off at a quaint little town called Le Puy-en-Veley for a picnic lunch and some play time at the park.

Of course, even Grandpas can have fun playing as well.

I got a kick out of this sign that says you may walk on the grass. In general, France is notorious for its "stay off the grass" signs in public green spaces. (Lyon, by the way, is a notable exception, probably because it has so few tourists.) Well, even when the grass is permissible, the sign is apparently still indispensable.

After lunch, it was back in the car--don't forget your seatbelt!

Unfortunately, the girls didn't fare too well with Serena's twisty path. Brooklyn started to complain about how her tummy felt funny while we were navigating this winding road. As Murphy's law would have it, it was actually Talia who lost her chorizo while I was holding up a bucket for Brooklyn.

The side trip was worth it, however, when we finally reached the Millau viaduct, the world's tallest vehicular bridge.

Oh, it feels great to be out of the car!

Even though we drove under it instead of traveling on it (the view is better that way), the viaduct was truly spectacular.

One of the masts is taller than the Eiffel tower and just lower than the Empire State.

Black and white...

...enhanced by Lance.

As we drew close to our destination, I confess that I started to feel pretty nervous about having rented the place sight-unseen, particularly since it was so inexpensive. After all, the place was named "Camping del Mar" and we hadn't brought any tents...

Fortunately, this "camping" bungalow had two bedrooms, a stove, microwave, fridge, and hot shower--hooray! Even better, we were fifty feet from a small playground, fifty yards from the swimming pool, and across the road from the beach. Ah, España!

Monday, May 25, 2009

How to Eat Fried Worms

The highlight of Brooklyn's week is getting to go to the cantine or cafeteria on Thursdays. The first time that we let Brooklyn dine at school, there happened to be a class field trip to the aquarium that afternoon. When she got home, Brooklyn couldn't remember any specifics about the field trip, yet she joyfully provided a detailed description of everything she ate at the cantine, ranging from the carrots to the yogurt.

This evening at the park, Brooklyn and I played cantine. (It's so much fun to play pretend again!) While my plate may have appeared to be full of rocks and pebbles, Brooklyn explained the cuisine in fluid French--salad, pasta, and "vers de terre" (worms). While I think she meant to say "pommes de terre" (potatoes), her linguistic faux pas brought back great memories of a favorite childhood book, Judy Blume's How to Eat Fried Worms.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


So what do you get when you combine a rental car, a GPS unit named Serena, four adults, two kids, and a bungalow on the beach near Barcelona?

1319 photos!

(Photography breakdown:
Kara: 85
Papa Kay: 98
Uncle Lance: 284
Jason: 852)

Needless to say, there are a few more pictures yet to be posted, but I thought I would begin with this humorous one. Only my erudite law professor father would dress for bed in the following T-shirt...

It was much more appropriately donned by Talia, however. As a novice toilet user, she managed to hold everything in for nearly three days. When success finally arrived in the pot, there was much rejoicing all around!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Knowing it All

After a long and harrowing flight, Papa Kay made it to Lyon today. While we'd hoped that the direct JFK-Lyon connection would make for easy international travel, this leg of the journey ended up in quite the fiasco. About two hours into the journey across the Atlantic, the pilot had to turn around and head back because the computer navigational system failed! I'm just so grateful they managed to find their way back to Manhattan before the plane went glub, glub.

Naturally, the grandkids were delighted to see their grandpa again, especially since he donned an entire suitcase full of goodies like mac and cheese, peanut butter, and Fruit Loops. In turn, Brooklyn was excited to show him the book she checked out during her class field trip to the library. Talia, on the other hand, couldn't wait to unveil her new potty (actually, she did most of the unveiling.)

Brooklyn took Papa Kay on a trip to Marché U, our local supermarket, to pick up a couple of last minute dinner items. It must have been quite entertaining to watch this 4 year-old tell her grandpa who's half a century older exactly what to do and say. She was trying to teach him a complicated phrase in French, but when Papa Kay didn't remember it all, she settled for "merci."

When Brooklyn got home, I asked her what exactly she was trying to teach Papa Kay to say. This was the response I got:

"I was teaching Papa Kay to say: Est-ce que je peux speak-er l'anglais?"

This response totally cracked me up for two reasons: first of all, it's a request for permission to speak English. Not exactly the most common speech act when interacting with the grocery store clerk, but imaginative nonetheless. I'm guessing that Brooklyn learned it at school--now that she's more conversant in French, she probably has to get approval before she resorts to her native tongue. What's even more hilarious is Brooklyn's innovative use of the verb "speak-er" instead of "parler." It was conjugated correctly and spoken with a very French accent, yet the verb stem was completely borrowed from English. It would be like a four year-old francophone saying "May I parle French?" Even more, it took me a while to convince Brooklyn that "speak-er" wasn't actually French and that "parler" would be a more appropriate word choice.

I guess I shouldn't feel too bad that it took me a moment to establish my credibility. Today Brooklyn tried to convince me that her teacher was singing the wrong lyrics to a French song--and then she wanted me to tell the teacher so! Wouldn't it be nice to be four and already know everything...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Close Ups

Jason here, with a few close ups from our travels this year:

Pear, anyone?

Or perhaps you're more in the mood for terra-cotta?

Growing up we had a beautiful iron banister along our staircase at home--It seems iron was quite popular in the late seventies and early eighties. Apparently it was also quite popular in the mid 1800's. You know how those things are; they come and go.

The tenacity of life, through thorns and barbs. But as far as railings go, I think I'll stick with wrought iron.

And here is a close up of my favorite person in the world dutifully performing one of her favorite pastimes...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pregnancy Musings

Even though today was a beautiful day, the girls and I never made it to the park this afternoon. The thought of lugging Talia up the stairs to our third floor apartment afterward was simply more than this tired Mom could manage.


The Top 3 List of Awkward Belly Moments:

3) Every time I spill, it lands on my bulge instead of my lap. I don't even bother with a napkin anymore.
2) My belly gets soaked from leaning over the wet sink every time I do the dishes. This means I'm damp pretty much all day long.
1) I now have an even harder time reaching the top cupboards. Now that the horizontal dimension is increasing, I have to span across the hypotenuse instead of just vertically.


Dinner when Dad's not home:

Me: Girls, it's time to fix dinner.
(Brooklyn and Talia automatically head for the fridge. Brooklyn brings a couple of yogurts to the table. Talia proudly gets out a great big jar of pickles. I, in turn, set out a tupperware full of leftover spinach mostaccioli that I don't even bother trying to heat up.)
Me: Good enough. Who wants to pray?

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I think I've become addicted to blogging. Looking back, I posted 13 times in 2005, 15 in 2006, another 13 in 2007, and 90 times in 2008. This post will already be #40 for 2009, and we're not even halfway through the year yet...

Silly as it sounds, I worry slightly about this addiction. I don't like feeling out of balance, whether it's my uncontrollable attraction to the open bag of chocolate chips or my unconquerable desire to check my e-mail. Recently Jason and I joined the bandwagon of Twilight afficionados and poured through the first three books in less than three weeks, with the last one being in French. I've actually refused to purchase the final book in the series right away because I hated feeling like I simply couldn't put the book down, even if my family needed me. I want to be in control of my life, not Edward, Bella, or Jacob.

While I don't think that blogging is a poor use of my time (after all, I have slightly more natural ability for writing than basketball, for instance), I sometimes worry that it's not the best use of my time either. While blogging has the advantage of doubling as a family record that others can enjoy, I no longer journal the way that I used to. Sometimes I worry that this trade-off is a loss: after all, this blog is much more guarded than my personal journal. Because a blog is so public, I admittedly display only the rosy side of life--never writing anything that I wouldn't want everyone to read or know. But what you read isn't the whole me.

I also sometimes worry about my motivation for blogging: why do I really do it? As fun things in life happen, I find myself thinking, ooooh, that'd make for a good blog post. I wake up in the morning and excitedly check my e-mail to see if anyone's responded, as if the response from my "readership" (all five of you) :) determines whether or not something was interesting or exciting.

So my question is, how do you keep balance with whatever you find addicting--be it blogging, chocolate, reading, or Facebook? What helps you gain enough control to turn off the computer screen when tiny voices behind you say, "Mommy look at this!"? How do you balance the public and private spheres of your life when staying connected with friends and family? In today's connected world, what responsibility do we have to nurture virtual relationships across space and time? How do you manage to keep online friendships alive without neglecting the real relationships right next door?

I have a few ideas for combating my personal addictions. Impossible as it might sound, I'd really like to limit the number of times I check e-mail to once, maybe twice a day. My inbox obsession really is absurd, and I'd like to kick the habit. Has anyone managed to do so? Any suggestions?

I've also started keeping a personal blog that only I can access about "Peaceful Ponderings": it's the place where I write about those things that are too special, spiritual, or even sacred to share with the entire world. In general, I'm really enjoying the perks of a blog lay-out (permanent yet modifiable) without the pressure of anyone else reading.

If anyone else has any suggestions about how they've been able to find balance, I'd really love to hear them. And, if no one responds at all, perhaps that's answer enough that there's really much more to life than a blog.

Six Sweet Years

Yesterday Jason and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary. While in some ways we didn’t spend the day quite as expected (read : no romantic dinner for two), in retrospect I wouldn’t change a moment. Looking back, it was fun to imagine what Jason and I would have thought if we could have seen six of these pictures six years ago. I’m certain that we never would have envisioned ourselves with two little munchkins on the other side of the world!

Walking to the park is oh-so-much-fun when every apartment building is equipped with its own personal slide.

Of course, riding the guardrail is fabulous as well.

Why walk straight when you have a checkerboard to explore?

And, let's not forget the thrill of having your own transportation.

Talia prefers a horse-drawn chariot. Of course, Brooklyn provided the horse-power.

And last but not least, here's the whole clan mesmerized by a Guignol marionette puppet production. As you can tell, the girls were enthralled.

As far as that romantic dinner for two goes, we substituted instead a table for ten. As one of the youth leaders, Jason invited all of the young men and women in our local congregation over for dinner. He taught them how to make chicken enchiladas--a first for everyone--and we all had a great time.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Un Petit Garçon

Well, when the final find-out-the-gender-or-no tally was counted, Jason was severely outvoted (25 to 6, I believe). On Tuesday we had our second ultrasound. Fortunately for Jason, he's about to gain another follower on his side of the ranks: we're having a little boy!

He's super excited, of course--we all are. But at the same time, I confess that I feel a little bit dazed. This boy-thing is completely new territory for me. Having grown up in a home without any brothers, I feel totally unprepared and unknowledgeable about what to do with a son. Life has increased in its complexity: Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, baseball and ballet...we're in for twice the fun.

If my predictions are right, we probably won't have to throw much rugby practice into the picture--our son's got the wrong genetic material. Even at 21 weeks, he's just a little tike. Our sonogram report contained the following summation:
Le poids est estimé à 339 grams ce qui correspond à 20 semaines d’aménorrhée, légèrement inférieur par rapport à la date des dernières règles mais compatible avec le morphotype des parents.

This is a lot of official medical-ese to say, "This kid's a little bit small, but don't worry about it: it's to be expected given the size of his parents." :) Ha ha! Seriously, however--I am having some guilt issues about passing on my short genes to a boy. Let's just hope he takes after his Dad, and if not, he'll be charming anyway!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"Me Potty Toilet"

Two days ago, I had the perfect punch line for this post. It went something like follows:
Landmark day today: Talia used the potty twice, and the second time she even remembered to take off her underwear!

Unfortunately for the blog humor yet fortunately for me, she then proceeded to have about an 85% success rate on her very first day of potty-training, followed by another day of almost-perfection.

What can I say? We're just amazing parents that have this potty-training thing down to a science...


The truth is that I hate potty training! I dread potty training. I will go to great lengths to avoid potty training. The only reason that Talia has even started is because I picked up a potty pot for three euros at a garage sale and Talia kept insisting, "Me potty toilet." (Not to mention the fact that almost all of our floors are tile, making clean-up quite convenient.) And thus, with great reluctance, I pulled off her diaper and gave her a pair of big-girl undies.

Here's the best part of all: I haven't done ANYTHING! Brooklyn has been SO excited to show her sister how it's all done that Jason and I have done nothing but sit back and watch. Amazing! Maybe we should have tried this sooner...

But maybe not. I think that's the take-home message I've learned. With Brooklyn we introduced potty training way too early--when we were ready, instead of when she was. This time around, we've avoided many tears and much frustration by adapting to Talia's schedule. Truth to be told, it's been really nice to be quasi-isolated from other kids her age because I haven't felt the pressure to compare what my kid can (or can't) do compared with all of the other little tikes. I have loved letting her progress at her own pace.

While I know that we're still very far from trained, I just may get a day off of diapers sometime before this next munchkin arrives--something that hasn't happened in 4 1/2 years. Here's hoping!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Emersion through Immersion

So our little Talia may be taking her time talking, but she's certainly an early reader. :)

I'm actually a bit amiss in saying that this cutie-pie doesn't talk much--the truth is that she jabbers non-stop. It simply requires the gift of the interpretation of tongues to figure out what she's saying, particularly since it may be English, French, or a language that's completely her own.

Here are some of her most recent favorite phrases: carry you (unfortunately, that means carry me), regarde (look in French), attend (wait in French), Brookalyn (this 3 syllable pronunciation gets shouted loudly at bedtime when her big sis falls asleep but she still wants to play), I want chocolate (she takes after her mother), I want chocolate more (she has a unique word order), and I want chocolate more, please (yes, she really is that obsessed.) Tally's picked up on the fact that the magic word please goes pretty far and uses it liberally, even in unusual contexts such as "no like it, please."

As far as Brooklyn goes, over the past few weeks she has reclaimed her extroverted personality in French. When we first arrived, she would chatter at all of the strangers on the bus, metro, etc., in English, even though they didn't understand a word she was saying. Then came months of the "silent period" where she stayed quiet in public, immersed in the language but listening, absorbing, and taking it all in. Well, I suppose you could say that she's emerged because she's now regularly striking up conversations with everyone we meet. She usually starts with "Moi, parle français anglais" (literally translated, me speak French English.) Her tarzan-esque conversations leave just about everyone chuckling, and she's pleased as pie to have regained her voice.


With April slipping away into May, I've been reminded of a minor fact that pretty much completely escaped my attention--I graduated!

After two crazy Illinois years of scheduling-swapping, kid-switching chaos, I finally earned my Master's in Teaching English as a Second Language. To tell the truth, the conclusion was pretty anti-climatic. While I finished up my comprehensive exams and major coursework last spring, I still had one piddly online elective course to finish over the summer. Worse yet, this class required that I complete an outside project and reflection project that was due in the fall. Talk about dragging out the end!

All in all, with the stress of preparing for our move to France, my almost-graduation was understandably overlooked last spring. After all, I wasn't really done! But as everyone else gets ready to don their mortarboard hats and gowns this spring, I thought I'd join in the festivities and give myself a good pat on the back.

Here's a photo that Jason took of me about an hour after I mailed off my final paper last September. Oh, it feels so good to be done!

And, a long overdue round of applause for the handsome man whose support made it all possible. Thanks, Peanut Butter.