Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Big Belly

My belly's big. Really big. I know because everyone keeps telling me so--strangers and acquaintances alike. Here in France it seems much more acceptable to openly comment on a pregnant lady's protrusion. Several times a day, I hear "Mais, ca pousse!"--Wow, that's really pushing! (As in the outward direction.)

I find it strange how in this part of pregnancy, your enormous stomach kind of ceases to be a part of you and becomes more a very intimate, close companion. In many ways, it doesn't really feel like my body, even though it's always there--acting as an arm rest, catching my spills, blocking the bottom of the page when I read. The fluttery kicks and punches that used to feel like butterflies are now so pronounced that I'm constantly reminded that this little creature inside of me is a completely separate and distinct being. I may be sound asleep, but if you a put a hand on my tummy, you'll likely to discover that he's not.

Certainly the round pregnancy belly has its disadvantages. I feel huge. I really struggle mentally separating "fat" from "pregnant." My clothes don't fit. Recently Brooklyn sighed pityingly and told me that my belly was so big that it was making it hard to be modest (my non-maternity shirts all flip up.) Even so, after spending so much time with this little one, I think that when it's all over and there are no more limbs inside to poke and be poked by, I just might feel a little lonely.

Bridging

Today is my last full day in Lyon, and lucky me, I get to spend it escorting ENS-LSH applicants from one room to the next. It's an intense process--the candidates draw a subject from a box, spend one hour preparing their comments, then present their remarks before a jury for the next half hour. I'm glad that the hardest thing I have to do is hold their cell phones if they need a potty break.

It just so happens that the public transportation went on strike today as well, so I had to bike to work. At first I was pretty grumpy about the extra physical effort, but the ride along the river was so beautiful that I ultimately felt grateful. In a way, it was a nice farewell tribute to the city and its wonderful bridges.

I suppose that we will soon be bridging as well. While the body of water we will cross is a bit bigger than the Rhone, we're still anxious to see what (and who) is on the other side.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Au Revoir

Does anybody else out there hate good-byes? Maybe it's because I moved fairly often as a child that I've developed an aversion to the whole awkward ritual--the half-kept promises of writing, the unfilled invitations to come and visit, the formulaic last phrases. While well-intended, these good-byes are often laced with over-promises that can seem insincere--all of which bothers me because it runs so contrary to how much I truly will miss these people.

As much as I'd like to pretend that we will be back here and see friends and acquaintances again, the truth is that life moves fast and changes constantly. The only thing certain is its unpredictability. Even if we do make it back to Lyon, the lives of those we've come to know and love will have changed. I guess the secret is accepting that this change is okay.

This week has been filled with so many lasts...
the last time hanging up the laundry to dry
the last time firing up the oven with a lighter
the last time playing piano for the Villeurbanne paroisse
the last time watching Brooklyn and her Daddy walk to school together from out my front window

As hard as all of these lasts may be, it helps to remember that they will soon be followed by many firsts.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Keep on the Sunny Side

Well, it's begun--the infamous move. Today a couple friends came and claimed the stove, washing machine, and a couch. Afterward, we moved out our table and chairs, Brooklyn's bed (except the mattress), the kid's table, and lots of boxes full of household items, toys, clothes, etc. I'm worn out from simply gathering and boxing, so I can only imagine how Jason feels after handling the bulk of the heavy lifting!

It was interesting to watch the kids react to the chaotic situation. For a few minutes Brooklyn ran around the apartment saying, "Oh no! Oh no! What are we going to do? Why are they taking all of our stuff?" Then, in a truly Polyanna moment, a huge smile spread across her face and she said, "That's okay. Now we have more room to play house."

May we all learn to keep on the sunny side of life.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Extraordinarily Ordinary

Ever since arriving in Lyon in September, I've wanted to post these pictures of commonplace items that are so standard and ordinary that we take them for granted. It's not until we encounter a culture that interprets them differently that they suddenly become original, fun, and extraordinary.

While our family has been in France long enough that most of the originality has worn off for us, we hope you enjoy the pictures anyway.

Boxes
In France, we discovered that milk comes in boxes. Even the drawing of the cow is square!

As you can see, Brooklyn loves this milk, as do we. Pasteurized at high-temperature yet still tasty, it has a shelf-life of several months and doesn't hog up all the room in the fridge.

While milk may be square, cereal doesn't have to be. It had never occurred to me that there was more than one way to close a cereal box!

Textures
Our apartment has quite the unusual assortment of wall textures. We'll call this one "bubbles."

Our remaining walls are actually covered in fabric. While this isn't very typical, it's interesting nonetheless, albeit nearly impossible to clean. A French friend suggested that the fabric's likely covering up something really terrible underneath. :)


Circles
This circular electric outlet produces twice the juice. A recent visitor recently forgot to switch her blow dryer from 110V to 220V--talk about hot air!

Any guesses as to this pretty little circle? It's the toilet flusher! Just remember to pull up instead of push down.

And last but not least, my favorite circle--fromage! This brie makes me chuckle because it's labeled as "petit." Makes you wonder what a big brie would look like...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wow.

Today has been a rough day. Actually, this week has been a rough week. Our double stroller finally gave up the ghost, meaning that I’m often stuck carrying two children, one in my belly and another on my shoulders. Talia’s hit an independent streak that involves un-potty-training herself and an extraordinary number of temper tantrums. The cultural differences that I once found endearing (such as the well-meaning old lady on the bus who insists on telling you all the things you should change in the rearing of your children) have recently become annoying. While I should be cherishing the remaining moments, I’ve instead found myself secretly wishing that I could fast forward time and miraculously be “home” again.

The truth is that most of my worries and fears have been deeply rooted in our move. Just the thought of trying to move ourselves, the kids, eight suitcases, and carry-ons is nearly enough to put me into pre-term labor. Somehow, we have to mobilize ourselves (and our loot) onto the TGV (high-speed train) to Paris, then to a hotel for the night, and finally back to the airport the next morning. While it would have been much more convenient to fly directly out of Lyon, we’re hoping that the $1500 savings is worth the inconvenience.

Naturally, we are leaving most of our belongings behind (no room for the front-loading washer, no matter how much we love it!), but that in and of itself adds to the organizational stress. Every single object that we own requires a decision—do we schlep it all the way back to the States, or arrange for its adoption into a new home? One way or another, our place has to be completely empty by our check-out time next Wednesday at noon, but we don’t have the luxury of throwing it all in a moving van (and I’m morally opposed to sending it all to the landfill instead.)

Fortunaly, this evening I stumbled upon the words that I really needed to hear from while studying Isaiah: "sois tranquille, ne crains rien, et que ton coeur ne s'alarme pas.” Translation into Kara-ese: Calm down, stop worrying, and let your heart be still. One way or another, it’s all going to work out all right.

Already, miracles are happening. Someone from our local congregation is lending us their van so we can move out most of the big stuff on Saturday. A friend is feeding us on Sunday since we will no longer have a stove. On Tuesday evening, other friends have offered to help move out the remaining items. Even more, our bishop (the leader of our local congregation) has offered us a place to stay on Tuesday night so we won’t have to camp out on the hard floor. On Wednesday afternoon, he and his brother have arranged to take us all to the train station and stick around to help load all of the baggage onto the TGV.

Wow.

I am positively overwhelmed by this kindness and support. Somehow our year in France has gone full circle, beginning and ending with enormous acts of generosity that we will never be able to repay.

Ever since we have known each other, Jason has wanted to get a truck, primarily so that he could help other people move. Ever since we have known each other, I have balked at Jason’s dream for exactly the same reason. After all, I want to see my husband on Saturdays! Thanks to this experience, however, I can feel my hard heart softening. Maybe I’ll just have to become the designated driver who sneaks an occasional hubby handhold--stick shift, safety belts, bucket seats, and all.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Since today is Sunday (Happy Father's Day to all the great Dads out there!), I thought I'd share Brooklyn's spiritual insight. Here's a brief excerpt from this week's Family Home Evening lesson.

Jason: How can we get closer to Heavenly Father?
Brooklyn: By dying.

Not quite the answer we expected, but true nonetheless, I suppose. :)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Putting away Perfectionism

Several years ago, a friend of mine recommended that I read a book entitled "Sink Reflections" by a woman who goes by FlyLady. While I haven't successfully adopted all of her suggestions (such as: there are dirty dishes in my sink right now and I'm not wearing shoes), I've still done my best to incorporate some of her basic principles in order to more successfully manage our home.

The FlyLady asserts that the primary factor underying messy and chaotic homes is not laziness, but rather perfectionism. We are so concerned about doing things "right" that it becomes overwhelming and even dehabilitating. Instead of just picking up a broom and getting started, we put off the task because we won't have time to do it all. Over and over, she promises that housework done incorrectly still blesses your family.

In general, I feel like I've been able to overcome my perfectionist "stinkin' thinkin" when it comes to housework. Particularly with little kids, I've learned to loosen my control a little bit. After all, what's the point in getting the window absolutely streak-free when little fingers are just going to smear it shortly anyway? It's far better to just work for ten minutes and do what you can.

Two weeks ago, however, I realized that my perfectionist "stinkin' thinkin'" was rearing its ugly head in other parts of my life. For months (literally), I've been planning to design a chart to help our family more consistently achieve our family goals. Because I wanted the chart to be "perfect," this simple task became overwhelming, and I procrastinated doing it. One afternoon, the absurdity of the situation finally dawned on me. While the girls were working on crafts, I grabbed a piece of paper and just did it. No computer, no clip art, not even a ruler--just some brightly colored markers on a scratch piece of paper. All in all, I think it took about two minutes to do.

Amazingly enough, this simple chart is working great. We've been much more consistent about having Family Home Evening, prayer, song, and scripture study, and the girls love marking in the squares. Because it is so simple, the chart is theirs. I don't care if they scribble all over it since it only took two minutes to make!

And so, if there's something in your life that you've been putting off doing because you might not do it right, release yourself from the burden of perfectionism and just do it!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Reject Swim Trunks

Having spent nearly ten months in France, it's become easy to feel like we really understand the country and how things work. On Saturday, however, we had an experience that reminded us how green we really are. In many ways, this beautiful country is just as enigmatic to us as ever--and probably always will be.

Yesterday the weather was beautiful but hot--a perfect day for swimming. Much to our daughters' delight, we promised them a trip to the pool. I'd done some research and discovered a place that had just opened on the banks of the Rhone, overlooking the city center. A couple bus rides and a metro later, we discovered a gorgeous pool with crystal clear water--but nobody in it. A passerby saw our confused faces, took pity on us, and informed us that the workers were on strike. While I'm not sure what they were striking for, I wish those responsible could have seen the crestfallen faces of my daughters. It was truly heart-wrenching!

Fortunately, in researching the perfect pool, I had learned of another pool quite a distance away. And so, two more metro rides and one bus later, we found ourselves at a fun aquatic center, Aquavert. Congratulating ourselves on our resourcefulness, we led two ecstatic little girls into the changing rooms to get suited up. While things went fairly smoothly for the women, Jason was unfortunately not as lucky. A couple of lifeguards stopped him on his way into the pool area and told him that his bermuda-style swim trunks were not permitted--they claimed it was a matter of hygiene. They positively would not let him in the pool! What was he supposed to do? Go without? Apparently, only skin-tight speedo-style briefs or super-short bikers are permissible. Jason ended up having to purchase a new swimsuit from a vending machine. Luckily, we just happened to have a lot of loose change!

I confess that I was absolutely livid about the whole incident initially. I could have spouted off quite a few choice remarks centering around a bunch of really stupid rules. With a little bit of time, however, we started to relax and enjoy ourselves in the beautiful facility. By the time we left, the reject swim-trunk incident was starting to become rather funny. After all, I never imagined to see Jason dressed as such, and we'll have a nice souvenir to take home!

Surprisingly enough, while the swimming pool entry-protocol was extremely stringent, many other rules seemed surprisingly lax. For example, there were two big water slides without any sort of lifeguard patrolling at the top. They had no problem with Jason going down the slides with both Brooklyn and Talia. While I didn't test my theory, I'm quite sure that they would have let me on as well, pregnant and all--something that would certainly never "slide" in the States.

While I haven't tested my theory, it seems that when it comes to a matter of public health (such as lengthy swim trunks polluting the water...), the French are extremely careful, but if it's a matter of personal safety, the rules are lax. Break your own neck if you must, but don't contaminate the rest of us in the process!

Random Conversational Tidbits

Kara (Upon seeing Brooklyn do the infamous wiggle): Do you need to go potty?
Brooklyn: No, I'm just dancing for joy.

***********************************************

Brooklyn (referring to her food): What's in it?
Jason lists off the ingredients, including flour.
Brooklyn: But I don't like flour!
Jason: Yes, you do.
Brooklyn: No, I don't! The thing that I like that's white is sugar. Sugar is what I like.

************************************************

Kara: If I suck it all in as hard as I can, do I still look pregnant?
Jason: I don't know. Why don't you try?
Kara: I am trying.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

La Tue-Belle-Mère

Yesterday our family took a trip to Lyon’s automobile museum. A very wealthy man by the name of Henri Malartre collected these antique cars, motorcycles, and bikes, dating all the way back to the 1890s. While I'm not quite sure what he really looked like, this sculpture certainly captures his ideal image.

Overall, it was an impressive collection in an equally impressive location—a gorgeous old chateau overlooking the Saône river valley. We had the entire place to ourselves—a luxury since it was rather difficult to keep the girls from fingering these enticing antiques. The cars were so accessibly displayed that it really did make you want to throw on your goggles, crank up the engine, and hop in the old-leather seats for a spin.


I was amazed by the immense creativity in the evolution of cars and bikes over the years. Features that we now automatically take for granted haven’t always been assumed—I saw a snow bike that featured skis instead of wheels, a gigantic tricycle with two wheels in front instead of back, a steam-powered automobile, and an extensive collection of headlamps that were just that—oil-filled lamps stuck on front of the car! My very favorite however, was the vehicle nicknamed “ La Tue-belle-mère” – the mother-in-law-killer, pictured below.

In this car, the driver actually sits behind the passenger. The passenger has a fabulous view from the open seat that is in front and down below, but absolutely no control over the vehicle. Going for a ride would certainly take a huge amount of trust--almost as much trust as piggy-backing a cute two year-old who's pretty much potty-trained, but not quite. :)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Lost

The last few days I've felt a little bit lost here in Lyon. Not physically lost, of course: I dare say that I know the public transportation system better than most locals. Not even linguistically lost--while my French is still very imperfect, I generally have a good idea of what's going on and can communicate what's necessary. Nevertheless, I still feel lost, in the sense of being without purpose.

Nearly a month ago I finished teaching my classes at ENS-LSH. Nevertheless, I remained plenty busy for a time, especially with all of the grading and some extra tutoring. Now that things have quieted down, it seems like I am just waiting...

Waiting for Jason to come home...
Waiting to pick up Brooklyn from school...
Waiting for my work responsibilities to be officially complete (I have to administer some exams at the end of June)...
Waiting to pack...
Waiting to move...
Waiting to get settled in Illinois...
Waiting for the baby to come...

Even though I know that we have very little time left here, I'm having a hard time living in the moment. There's this underlying sense of futility: an unconscious reluctance to enjoy things too much because it will might hurt that much more to say goodbye.

On an even deeper level, I worry about how I am drifting without work or school to hang onto. It's been hard to let go of my official role as teacher, and even harder to realize that I'm no longer technically a student. I think that part of the reason that my pregnancies with Brooklyn and Talia were so easy is because I was so busy and engaged up until the very end. With Brooklyn, I took my last final the day before she was born and started a new semester a month later. With Talia, I taught until she was born, took a day off, enjoyed Thanksgiving break, and came back less than two weeks later. While my combined life as mommy/teacher/student has been admittedly chaotic and hectic at times, I've also felt liberated by filling multiple roles instead of being confined to just one.

While my choice to give up teaching and stay home next year was relatively easy to make, this decision also terrifies me. My family is my top priority and I really want to be there for my kids, especially since they grow up so fast. Yet just like I worry that Brooklyn will be bored to tears without school next year (her class here is much more akin to kindergarten than preschool), I fear that I will miss the intellectual engagement of being a student as well.

While I know that I will never suffer from a lack of things to do as the Mom of three youngsters, I worry about being emotionally filled by all of the tasks that parenting requires. Sometimes it seems like home life never progresses beyond the relentless cycle of dishes, laundry, sweeping, and mopping. While I believe that this collectivity of tasks is valuable and important for creating a home, it's easy to forget when scrubbing a toilet that's just going to get dirty again in five minutes anyway. As exhausting and challenging it is to keep things up right now, I almost start to panic when I consider adding a newborn to the mix. I'm excited for our little boy's arrival, but I sometimes worry about whether or not I will be able to keep a handle on my sanity, especially without an outlet like school or teaching where I am something besides Mommy.

I know that a great number of you who peruse this blog either have been or currently are in a similar situation. What do you do to "find yourself" as a stay-at-home Mom? How do you care for your precious little ones while simultaneously growing and developing as bright, intelligent, talented, and creative women? How do you attribute meaning to the never-ending menial tasks required by parenting? In other words, how can you be both "Mom" and "you?" I'd love to hear your advice.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Is Gaudi too Gaudy?

Two days ago I was sitting on the couch reading when Talia came over, grabbed my finger, and said, "Come on, Mom, come on! Let's go, let's go!"

A bit confused, I asked, "But where do you want to go?"

"Barcelona."

And so, here are a few more pictures of Barcelona itself, taken during our recent Catalonian vacation. To be completely honest, the girls probably enjoyed our days at the beach more than these architectural pilgrimages to discover Gaudi. Apparently Talia loved Barcelona nonetheless, mostly because Papa Kay constantly treated her to tic tacs while she was riding on his shoulders. Even though he has been back in Nebraska for a week, every time the door rings, she hopefully asks: "Papa Kay? Tic tac time!"

***

Day 1: Dancing La Sardana and the Park Güell.

We began our Barcelona adventure with a trip to the main cathedral where the older generation gathers to dance La Sardana, a traditional dance, on Sundays at noon. While I confess being pretty disappointed by the vast number of tourists crowding the spectacle (guess I'm not the only one to browse the guidebooks), I thought that the band was fascinating, especially since it included instruments I'd never seen before.


Afterward we happened upon the Park Güell, designed by Gaudi. I'm not going to write much about Gaudi since I've promised to let Jason have reign over his area of expertise. Still, here are a few photos.





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Day 2: La Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera





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Day 3: And last but not least, the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral, scheduled for completion sometime in the next thirty years.





This last picture shows my Dad looking up at the Sagrada Familia. It's one of my favorites because it so clearly shows how he's not quite sure what to make of Gaudi's architecture... In his mind, good architecture should also serve a concrete purpose. While I generally agree, what I love most about Gaudi is that he was outlandish enough to actually design, create, and build these outlandish structures that you would never expect to find in the real world. Whether you love it our hate it, Gaudi's bound to cause a reaction!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Un, Deux, Trois

Here's another video clip of Brooklyn counting in French versus English. It really cracks me up because Brooklyn was able to count well before we left a year ago. I guess it just goes to show that when it comes to languages, if you don't use it, you lose it!

video

Friends in France

Before leaving France, I thought it would be a good idea to get a little bit of video footage of Brooklyn speaking her new langue. This clip includes some very rough translations that don't really capture her emerging grammar. Still, it gives a general idea about how far she's come in her ability to express herself. Enjoy!

video

Monday, June 01, 2009

Mighty Waters

At this moment, my father (the anonymous) is flying somewhere over the Atlantic as he treks his way to the good ol' USA. Taking him to the airport this morning was a bittersweet experience. While I was glad that we will see each other again soon, I felt kind of sad to realize how quickly we will be leaving Lyon ourselves. It's hard to believe that we have only one month left!

In honor of the mighty waters that my Dad is currently crossing, here are some pictures of us playing in the water during our Barcelona vacation:

Talia and Papa Kay happily make their way to the beach near our Bungalow.

Brrrr!!! The water was freezing! Only Jason was brave enough to dive in the first day.

While it may not have been balmy enough to brave the waves, it was perfect weather for kite flying!

Our little model Talia points to her kite in the sky.

Here's Brooklyn, matching her Barbie kite with her blond hair and purple suit. Personally, I think Barbie would be much cuter with full cheeks and squinting eyes. :)

Talia preferred to hang out with Elmo.

Brooklyn gets an up-close experience with the Mediterranean sand.

Talia Lily decides to join her sister.

Lance and Jason, the excellent excavators, join the girls for a photo op.

Jason protects his daughters from a passing tractor--sure glad they were safe!

Papa Kay joins in the burial fun while Talia trods on top.

The ocean waves take the challenge of skipping rocks to a whole new level.

Meanwhile, Lance enjoys the sunshine.

Even Kara can't wipe the silly grin off her face at the beach.

These are the times to remember!