Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mommy and Daddy's Crap Vacation

Not everything was crap. I'll start with all the good stuff. We got to see all of my husband's close friends from when he studied in France, except one. We got some great pictures and they got to meet Love Bug. I also got to really experience Brittany, which is a beautiful part of France, and we spend a day in the beautiful city of Nantes and another day in Guerande. We bought lots of sea salt and sables (butter cookies)... and walked along the beautiful "Cote Savage"- Savage Coast (named because it's rocky) on the Atlantic Ocean. The Sol.des started in France, twice a year huge sales, so we got some great deals on clothes for Love Bug. We also got to eat some amazing meals... and I tried lots of new foods. And finally, my husband humored me and we played Mini Golf, since I love it. We just passed Love Bug back and forth. I beat B by 5 strokes and even got a hole in one. I think my Dad was smiling on me right then (he loved golf).

But, we did not have the best time overall... the temperatures were almost 20 degrees colder than usual... in the 60s, when it should have been in the 80s. No lazy days on the beach for us. We did sit out at the pool for about 20 minutes one day, until we got cold and worried that Love Bug would get too much sun (it was sunny and cold). She had SPF 50 on, but I'm psycho about sunscreen... that's why she's so pale.
We also had the most uncomfortable mattress in the world. Why do the French, and most Europeans, for that matter think that vacations have to be "roughing it" to be enjoyed? We were staying in a residence apartment that cost almost $1,000 for a week. This place was located quite far from the beach, it's off season here (school just got out), and it's hours from Paris, in a small town. So you're probably thinking that for $1,000, it must be really nice, despite the crappy mattress, right? Wrong! The mattress was just the first straw.
Here are my top 10 complaints...
1. We only had a living room/kitchen and a small bedroom with paper thin walls. Even if we put Love Bug to bed in our room, we still had to be quiet in the living room not to wake her. And our annoying noisy neighbors? Forget it... they woke her up all the time, but luckily she went back to sleep with the exception of two late nights.
2. The kitchen only had no microwave, a tiny oven, and the burners weren't labeled, so it was a guessing game on how hot the stove was getting.
3. I rinsed my dishes well before putting them in the dishwasher, but the tiny pieces of (non-sticky) food that were left, were still there after the cycle. And it didn't even feel warm when I opened it... so I felt like I had to rewash all Love Bug's stuff with hot water and soap to really make sure it was safe to eat from again.
4. The TV was tiny and had 6 French channels, 4 GERMAN CHANNELS, and 1 English Channel (CNN). Okay, we're about 600 miles from Germany, but right across the BRITISH CHANNEL from the UK... what the heck?
5. They advertised it as a residence "hotel", so I thought they might provide some of the services that residence "hotels" provide in other countries... like trash collection, changing sheets/towels, or providing a few supplies. No! We had to take out our own trash and recyclables (at least they recycle). But, glass could not be put in the trash or recyclables, so we had to take it to the only glass receptacle on the other end of the complex, about a fourth of a mile away. We also got our sheets and towels provided in bags, so we had to put them on the beds ourselves. And we only got one set of sheets/towels for the whole week. And finally, no supplies, except a kitchen cleaning kit that we had to pay for. No hand soap in the bathroom. We had a half a roll of toilet paper and when my husband asked for more, they said we had to buy our own at the store. None of this was told to us... when we paid a deposit, when we paid the remainder, or at check-in.
6. We had to pay for parking and since the garage was only a few dollars more than just parking out in the open lot, we did the garage. It was worth it to avoid the rain, but people shouldn't have to pay for open parking.
7. The pool was not heated. I was a swimmer in high school and spent many a morning in a freezing pool, but I wouldn't get in that pool for anything. How do they keep it open from April to September, if I couldn't swim there at the end of June? Even pools in more warm climates don't get warm for many weeks without a heater. The temps at night cool everything down. And did they use a pool cover ($100 verses about $2,000 for a heater) to keep in any amount of heat gained on sunny days? No, of course not!
8. We saw a mini golf place on our way into town and wanted to try it if the weather wasn't warm enough to be on the beach. B went down to the desk to ask about hours and they said they had no info on local attractions.
9. They did sell a few tourist items and breakfast each morning, but it was twice as much as any other store or bakery.
10. I decided the floors felt dirty about three days into our trip, so I decided to sweep with the little broom/dustpan they had there. There is no way that all that dirt was from us... it was like the Mt. Everest of dust bunnies. There is little doubt in my mind that they did not clean the floors properly before we came, and they could have just used a hard floor vacuum. I only had hand broom and did a heck of a job. The worst part of the whole story? We actually had to clean the kitchen before we left. I expected that we would have to clean all the dishes, but the entire kitchen? There were at least some supplies to clean in the kitchen in the little kit, that I remind you, WE HAD TO PAY FOR! If the kitchen is left clean, they throw the bags of sheets and towels on the bed, AND THEY DON'T SWEEP, then what exactly is the cleaning staff doing that made so much noise and took so long when other people checked out?

I really feel bad for the French at times like this. They have no idea that they are being ripped off. We have stayed in suburban Washington, DC, in a residence hotel for less money than this place. It had cleaning service everyday, sheets and towels changed when you wanted, free parking, heated pool, 30+ channels (but I admit, no foreign languages), nice, quiet rooms, and we only had to throw used dishes in the dishwasher and turn it on before we left. They provided dishwasher tabs and even provided laundry soap and softener for free if you wanted to use the laundry room, which was also free.

Before we left, I thought we got a great deal. We found apartments to rent in the same town for a few hundred dollars less, but they looked awful in the pictures and you had to provide everything, even sheets, towels, and clean the entire place before you left.

I guess we need to start skipping yearly vacations and just splurge on a really nice place, every other year, if we want to vacation in France!

To read about Love Bug's vacation... see below!

Back From Vacation

Well, we made it home from our first long vacation with Love Bug. Our trip back to the US in April didn't count because my Mom has a nursery already set up for our 6 week stay this fall and B's parents had a travel crib and some toys. It was good overall, except that our upstairs neighbors were extremely loud and so Love Bug woke up in the middle of the night on two different nights. Hard for us, but sometimes I forget that many Moms are still dealing with night waking at 8 months! Our girl is such a good sleeper and we're so blessed.
One thing that isn't going well for Love Bug is teething. She's been drooling, whining a little more at night, and chewing on everything for two months. When are these teeth coming in?
She also has gloriously fast growing nails. They will be more glorious when she's older and can appreciate the long, luxurious quality, but right now, they make me mad. She likes to scratch her ears when she's feeding and if they are too long, she gets little cuts in her ears and they bleed like crazy! What is it about ears that makes them bleed so much?

*NOTE: She does not have an ear infection... I already got that checked. The doctor said that some babies just suck so hard that their ears getting tingly, so they scratch.*

Anyway, other than the two sleepless nights, massive drool and ear blood, vacation was good for Love Bug. Since we were in the country and out of the city (Paris), many people stopped to say how cute she was and she got fawned over all week. They also commented on how much she smiles and I loved my Mom's reaction to that comment... "She's American. We smile." It is true that the French don't smile, even babies, and I find myself scowling a lot in public to avoid looking so foreign. But it's not being mean, rude, or any type of frown... it's just not a smile.

Mommy and Daddy didn't have so much fun... but that will have to wait for my next post!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Only a Mommy will do...

We're on a slippery slope of Love Bug's total obsession with... well, me. I knew by reading development books that this is normal, but I feel so bad for B. He just wants to hold her, cuddle her, and help take care of her. She is fine with him and tolerates other people most of the time. She will even give them smiles and coos during the day, but only if I'm nearby. But if she's tired, forget it! She can't wait to come crawling back to me and the tears stop instantly.
Even so, she is a peach, and if I had to be completely adored by anyone in the world, I am so honored that it's her.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Works-For-Me-Wedneday: Making Your Own Baby Food

Baby food in France is full of junk. Most labels read with scary contents and say things like, "55% Carrots", "78.4% Peaches", or "60% Noodles or Chicken". I've had to start making baby food myself and I've found it really fun! Even in the United States, where the quality of the baby food is better, it can still be a great way to do something nice for your little one. It also saves a lot of money.

Since Love Bug is only 7 months old, we're just doing fruits and vegetables. I boil things until they are soft, but not so long that they lose all nutrients. The skins just come off of most fruits or I peel the veggies and then put them in a little food processor or use a hand blender. After getting them into a mushy consistency, I put them in old baby food jars (get some from friends or from the few healthy foods out there) and store them in the fridge.

To save time, I do multiple quantities of one fruit and one vegetable and load in jars for three days worth. And it's a good way to discover any allergies, because many babies won't react to one helping of something, but will after 2 or 3 days. Don't do more than 3 days at a time without professional canning equipment., or it can go bad, even in the fridge.

The other real bonus is that you can gradual blend the food less and less as your child gets teeth and can handle more "solid" foods. It can be a shock and a choking hazard to quickly switch from mushy baby food to the more solid toddler foods.

Once Love Bug is 8 months or so, we'll start blending whole grain pasta and sauce, and different lean meats. In fact, at that point, we plan to start blending up whatever we eat that night for her dinner too. Just make sure you add spices or salt/pepper after you take a portion out for your baby!

Want some REALLY great ideas? Visit the host of Works-For-Me-Wednesdays at Rocks In My Dryer.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Another Incredible Dad

Seeing my husband as a father has made me happier than anything else in my life. He is so good at it and does things in such a different, but great, way. He puts outfits together that I never would've thought of, but she always looks so cute. He uses toys to play the strangest games with her, but then she laughs so much! And he is truly what got me through those sleepless nights in the beginning.

B, I couldn't have done it without you.

An Incredible Dad

My Dad really was incredible... and I had no idea that he was for a long time. I think when you are little, you see your friends' Dads and really don't think anything of it. You may compare jobs or how strong they are, but I don't think you understand just how great they are until you grow up and see them from an adult view. And not only was my Dad really great at being a Dad, but he was an amazing, accomplished person. I've seen people use their 100th post to list 100 things about themselves (which I will probably do, if I can think of 100 things), but today, I'm going to use my 58th post to list 58 incredible things about my Dad.

1. He loved that convertible (seen in picture above).
2. He always joked that he was going to pick up chicks in that car.
3. We all knew he was joking because of the way he looked at my Mom- you could just see how much he loved her.
4. It was his first impractical car.
5. He used to carpool to work because we only had one car when I was little.
6. He worked on weekends and holidays, but really loved his job.
7. He never brought his work home and could always just enjoy being with our family.
8. He worked in the same profession (coaching football) his whole life.
9. He was drafted to the Cincinnati Bengals.
10. He loved basketball and baseball too.
11. He sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at a few major league baseball games.
12. He had a beautiful singing voice.
13. He was Tevye (the lead) in "Fiddler On the Roof" in high school.
14. He was student conductor of his high school choir.
15. He played the violin too.
16. He could still play a few songs until the end of his life.
17. He wrote poetry and a poem he wrote in high school was on the back of the program at his Memorial Service.
18. He was artistic and loved to draw.
19. I asked him once to draw a picture of me with my dog, and got so mad because he drew a picture of her biting me.
20. He loved to tease.
21. If he teased you, he really liked you.
22. He teased my Mom, brother and I all the time.
23. He loved to laugh and told great stories about his life and job.
24. He used to make up funny stories or scary stories for us at bedtime.
25. He rarely read to us because we liked his stories better.
26. He also gave us baths and let us splash, as long as we "didn't tell Mom".
27. We had Family Game Night and he didn't usually let us win.
28. I think that was good.
29. He taught us a lot about life and that it can be really good or really difficult.
30. He made sure that he and my Mom were there to catch us when the life lesson was difficult.
31. He was never afraid to correct us and discipline us.
32. That was okay because he was never afraid to love us either.
33. Every time my Mom, brother, or I hung up the phone with him, we always said "I Love You" and gave each other a "kiss" on the phone.
34. My Mom and I now keep that tradition on the phone.
35. My parents' 31st anniversary was the day before he died.
36. They met in high school on student council.
37. Their first date was a hockey game.
38. They weren't big hockey fans, but they loved to play golf together.
39. They were members of golf clubs at home and in Florida, where they had a condo.
40. My Dad always wanted to go to their condo.
41. My Mom loved Florida, but also wanted to vacation other places once in a while.
42. In Florida, my Dad loved to go watch sunsets.
43. He also loved lighthouses and took pictures of the ones he visited.
44. He bought those miniature lighthouse models of his favorites.
45. We tried to visit a lighthouse in France on one of their visits.
46. It was ugly, but the pictures of the clam fishing were neat.
47. We went to Normandy on that same trip and he loved it.
48. He loved historical sights and reading biographies.
49. He was a history major in college.
50. He had such respect for veterans and honored those that died in war.
51. He looked up those cliffs at Omaha Beach and said it was awesome.
52. He loved the word "awesome" and used it to describe anything amazing or incredible.
53. He also said he was "doing great!" anytime you asked him.
54. He was always very positive.
55. He was a huge personality and filled any room with energy.
56. That's why he's so missed now.
57. He would be proud that I've been positive though everything and can honestly say "I'm going great".
58. I hope I can pass this ability to be positive on to Love Bug.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Works-For-Me-Wednesday: Storing Extra Buttons

So many things I buy come with extra buttons, but they always seemed to end up all over the house in random locations: nightstand drawer, sewing kit, or the junk drawer. I finally got tired of finding them all over the house (and knew I'd never find the one I needed that way), so I collected them all and gathered them in one place. Next, I took them each out of their little baggies or envelopes and put them in color families, which in our house is black/gray, brown, white, and colors. I found the bigger, more sturdy baggies and put each group in the bag and tossed them in my sewing kit. Now when I get a new shirt or pair of pants and find an extra button, I put it on top of my jewelry box and when I have a second, I throw them in their little baggies in my sewing kit.
The nice bonus is that you can always find a few for a shirt or skirt you gave away and they are really cute to use in scrapbooks or for kids crafts!
The other bonus is that those extra little baggies can come in handy for storing all types of things. We host a lot of parties and have a lot of wine glass markers (those little charms on round clasps, to go around the stem of the wine glass). So I put the different sets in each little baggy, rather than keeping them all in those bulky boxes.
Want some REALLY great ideas? Visit the host of Works-For-Me-Wednesdays at Rocks In My Dryer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Daddy has a cold...

...and sadly, is the only one that can take medicine. (Love Bug is too little and I'm still breastfeeding.)

Does anyone else find it ironic that he just realized, now that he's also sick, how miserable his girls must be, since we can't take anything? Maybe my grumpiness these last few days isn't such a mystery to him after all...

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Love Bug has a cold...

In my last seven months as Mommy, I have had many colds and even a stomach flu (or two)! But so far, I have managed to keep the antibodies in my breast milk high, and my contact with Love Bug clean, so she wouldn't get sick.
The day has finally come. She has been coughing and sneezing for a few days. Today her nose started to run. It was actually kinda funny, seeing her rub her face as if to say, "Mommy, what the heck is going on with my nose?" Despite how funny it looks, I feel so bad for her!
I was sure I could take it and not be worried, especially since she's bigger and healthy. And it's just a cold. But no... Mommy is a wimp and officially hates when her baby is sick. Does this ever get easier? When they're 11? On their 43rd cold?
I have a pregnant friend who worries all the time, and just like they say about tears, I tell her to save her worries for later... she'll need them as a Mom. Even a silly cold has me concerned!

Friday, June 8, 2007

The View from Here...

Some mood music to get you started...

This past Wednesday, I was driving down the Champs-Elyseés and, as usual, stuck in traffic. Instead of being irritated, I'm trying this new thing and really trying to appreciate my life here. It sounds easy, right? I live in Paris... what isn't worthy of appreciation?

In an attempt to not be too negative, I'll just tell you that living here does get frustrating at times. The traffic, smog, high cost, fast-paced, and loud lifestyle can get overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that I'm 3,000 + miles away from my family, friends, and my familiar surroundings.

Since we only have a few months left here before we move to Italy, I am trying to enjoy it and really be happy here... and it all started, like I said, on the Champs-Elyseés. I looked at all the amazing stores... Gucci, Tiffany, and Louis Vitton. I was trying to picture it 50 years ago... women with hat boxes stacked, and mounds of dress bags in their arms... famous movie stars sitting with a drink at a café... and thinking of all the times that I, in the last 4 years, have walked down that street and stopped in those shops myself. They call it the most beautiful avenue in the world and it's true... just look at the picture above. You can see some buildings in the background, behind me and my friend, A. They are gorgeous! I love sitting outside, eating dinner, and drinking a "kir vin blanc". I love shopping in the stores. And I especially loved last summer, when a shop on that avenue saved my poor legs and feet, when they got so swollen with the pregnancy. I was told to stop doing so much and to get this special cream at the Yves Rocher store. Slowing down didn't do much to help the swelling and I'm not the type to slow down much anyway, so I probably didn't really do as I was told. But then I tracked down the store, bought the cream and... heaven... and my legs and feet thanked me.

Then Thursday, I was riding the metro, line 6, from the Etoile, which is known for it's beautiful views (for those of you who know my lovely city, most metro "views" are of an underground tunnel). As you cross the Seine River, the metro comes above ground and you actually go past the Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower). I looked at it in amazement and tried to think about the first time I saw it close up. I can't remember, but I think I am more and more amazed by it every time I see it. And at night when it sparkles for ten minutes each hour- there is nothing more beautiful.
And to think, the Parisians hated the Eiffel Tower after it was built and wanted to tear it down after the World's Fair in 1889. Hitler even ordered it to be destroyed (along with many other beautiful Paris monuments) when Germany surrendered to the Allies. Luckily, for all of us, the German Officer stationed in Paris had fallen in love with this beautiful city and wouldn't let his soldiers blow it to bits. There is actually a small memorial to him somewhere, which is odd, considering he was a Nazi. But I guess if you know the French and their love of French culture, language, and their lovely capital city, it might not be so odd. He did save the city they love, and we all love, from complete destruction.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Works-For-Me-Wednesday: Variations on Hide and Seek

Even though my daughter is still just a baby, these variations on "Hide and Seek" have been favorites with my former students, nieces/nephews, and other various kids that needed something to do.
Variation 1: Kid Collecting Hide and Seek- Two kids act as the seekers and everyone else hides. The person who finds the most kids wins that round. Rotate two new "seekers" in for each game and have a "Seek-Off" for the winners of the rounds.
Variation 2: Object Hide and Seek- This is similar to a treasure hunt, but so much easier to do... Just find a bunch of objects, 2 or 3 for preschoolers, 5 objects for five and six year-olds, and 10 objects for anyone older. Either use separate items for each kid, or use different rooms for each child so no one has their stuff "found" by someone else. They hide their eyes, while you hide the objects. They can even hide them for each other and then you can stay out of it! (Or let them hide things for you, if you want to get more involved!) Start hiding things in easy places and then make it more difficult as they learn your tricks and you can see how well they do at finding things. If they are struggling, just use the "hot-cold" game to help them get closer. Some favorite objects to hide? Try matchbox cars, "Litt.le Peo.ple", crayons, hair bows, leg.os... just don't hide anything that you don't want to lose for awhile!
Variation 3: "I Can't Share" Hide and Seek- If kids are having trouble sharing a toy, find a few other toys that also cause sharing difficulties (which shouldn't be too hard) and hide one for each kid. Put them all in one room so you can monitor. Once they find one, they sit down with it and that's what they get to play with for 5 or 10 minutes, then switch. Often they forget all about fighting over the toy, but would rather play variation 2... see above.
Variation 4: "On Our Way Out the Door" Hide and Seek- This is great if a friend is supposed to pick you up at 10 am to go to the zoo and they call to say they are 10 minutes late. Rather than letting the kids get involved in something that they don't want to finish (or might be hard to clean up), hide things that you planned to take with you in your front room (so you can watch for your ride), like sunscreen, juice boxes, snacks, shoes (if they are slip-ons), etc. The kids can find them a few times while you wait. Just count the objects carefully so you don't leave home without anything!
Variation 5: Circuit Hide and Seek- Write activities on different pieces of paper and kids have to run around in a circuit and find the items and perform the tasks. They can be physical tasks, like "do 10 jumping jacks", "spin 5 times", "do 15 sit-ups" these can be a great way to burn off extra energy. Or you can use mental feats, like "say the alphabet backwards out loud", "sing any song you know that has the word 'dog' in it", "solve these math problems aloud- 10 divided by 2 is... 6 times 3 is..." Each child can run around alone, or in a group if younger children, who can't read yet, are involved. Make sure they know how many "tasks" are in the circuit so they complete them all, and then you can hide them in different locations. Kids actually like doing jumping jacks more than once, if it's in a different place!
Variation 6: Team Hide and Seek- Have kids get into two equal teams (rotate kids as "timer" if there is an uneven number) and try to make the teams as fair by ages, skill level, etc as possible. If there are less than 10 kids per team, 1 is the seeker, the rest hide; for 10 to 20 per team, 3 kids are the seekers, the rest hide. The challenge is to find and bring back everyone from the other team first. You can play it multiple times for best out of 3, or best out of 5, or best out of 51! If you want a longer game, the "found" kids must go to a central meeting point immediately and have kids call out "we found Sally" to make sure they come straight back. For a shorter and very crazy game, the "found" kids can join the seekers! You can also use more time by having them pick team names and cheers, etc. This also gives them a chance to really spend a few minutes with the kids on their team, so they make sure they remember who they are supposed to find. The hardest part... being quiet and letting your own team members go back into hiding if you accidentally find them. It's fun to watch them discover that they can "send spies" to watch the other team and see if they find their own team members that they can then seek. You can discourage this by sending each team to hide in only one section of the house or hard and the other team to another section, with no crossing over. If they can't remember who is on their team and each team isn't hiding in separate rooms, you can use two different colored stickers or arm bands to make sure they know who to find.
And of course, don't forget regular Hide and Seek and "Ghosts In the Graveyard", which is Hide and Seek in the dark. We used to play this at night outside when I was a kid, but these days who knows if that's safe anymore, so play inside with the lights mostly off, (have night-lights, etc. for safety and lights on in stairwells). Enjoy!
Want some REALLY great ideas? Visit the host of Works-For-Me-Wednesdays at Rocks In My Dryer.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Caution: Low Tolerance Ahead

We had my husband's work friends over last night and had a great time. At a end of the evening, I was looking for a little something to drink. The Love Bug seemed to be down for the evening, so no concern over alcohol in my breast milk, and hey... it's the weekend. So, as I was about to pour myself a small glass of wine, I noticed a little left in the bottle that we used for the kids, so I poured it into a large glass and added just the teeniest bit (maybe a half of a shot) of rum. I used to love those kind of drinks in college and it's only been a few years... right?

Well, a few years (especially after having a baby) is a long time. Within minutes I felt tingly, and immediately poured the rest down the sink and got a big glass of water. B (the hubby) thought this was really funny and just laughed at how concerned I was over feeling a little tipsy. But he was right... within a few minutes I was fine. I guess nine months of not drinking during pregnancy, and another 7 months of almost nothing since she's been born, mean that I'll have to stick to only the weekend glass of wine from now on!