Three reasons why I’m grateful this week

Signs of Spring

Every day since we’ve been back, we’ve gone out to look at the butterfly garden. We’ve been checking where we planted daffodils and narcissus, and although there have been green leaves poking up since mid-February, we just saw out first flower the other day. We see signs of other daffodils nearly ready to burst with color and we know that within the month, we’ll start to see some real action in our garden.

Out in our side yards, our almond tree already has gorgeous red buds, and the blueberries and blackberries are showing signs of waking up post winter, too!

Our muscovy ducks are looking for nesting spots, perhaps to surprise us with a clutch of ducklings soon. I snuck up on one the other day, unintentionally, while checking their usual spots for making nests – it was an animated encounter to say the least.

All of these signs, along with hearing the peeper frogs, the trilling of birds, the sun staying out longer, and (mostly) warmer days, make us yearn for spring.

We’ve been tagging pages in our seed catalog, checking when we can realistically start our tomato seeds (now, please?), and calling local fruit tree suppliers for availability of apple, plum, and cherry trees.

These new signs of life give us hope and something to look forward to as a new season begins.

Mon Cœur’s curiosity and imagination

Mon Cœur (MC) is at an age where she is really starting to entertain herself, playing and using her imagination on her own. I catch her every once in a while, and I always have to stop what I’m doing to appreciate this little gem of a gal.

Out in the garden, she has turned her “peek-a-boo” rock into a cash register. She’ll pop behind it and “Give me money.” Then I’ll turn around and buy some flowers or a coffee from her with the money she gives me.

She always runs to her climbing tree a young magnolia with the perfect branch set-up to allow her arms and legs to learn to climb. I used to just place her up in the tree, but now, we talk about where to put her hands, to pull with her arms, and where to place her leg. She’s still a little short to get it all on her own – she’s trying though and it’s so rewarding to see the progress. She’s so curious and independent and I love that about her.

Back inside, I was culling her closet this weekend, removing the clothes that no longer fit her. She came up to me, gave me a kiss and said, “Bye mommy, I’m going to work.” Then she asked, “Can you give me some milk?” So I “opened the fridge” in her closet, pulled out some “milk” and poured it into a “to-go cup.” Before leaving, she drank all her milk, asked for more and also asked for “Pizza for lunch.” So of course, I found some in “the fridge” and wrapped it for her. Once she had her lunch, she proceeded to the hall, where she sat down in her car, said “bye” once more and started scooting away.

This kid! I had to take a moment to just appreciate in the crazy imagination she has. I worry sometimes that I don’t play enough with her – but she’s proven that it doesn’t matter what I fear, for she has great creativity and is plenty vocal.

Our health

Pauvre Chouchou (poor Chouchou) has been down and out, diagnosed with the Type A flu the past couple of days. And while it’s never fun to play nurse, it’s a lot better than being stuck in bed and feeling miserable like he is.

So I am happy to make the soup and tea, do the laundry and keep MC entertained while Chouchou quarantines himself to the bedroom until further notice.

His fever finally broke this morning, thank goodness, so maybe there’s a ray of hope that he will feel better soon. Knock on wood that MC and I haven’t gotten it yet, and I hope that we don’t either.

We were lucky that we took our France trip when we did and got back when we did. We continue to follow the news and hope that despite the worldwide epidemic of Coronavirus, we have remained unaffected.

Throughout all of this, MC is learning a lot about hygiene and hand washing this flu season, and we’ve been Cloroxing surfaces nearly daily!

International Family Travel: Three Lessons Learned

I’ve had the good fortune to travel many times before both solo and with Chouchou. After this trip, I realize how different the dynamics are when you travel as a family, especially when traveling internationally and crossing time zones. Below are three things I learned from this trip.

Pack light.  No, lighter than that.

Our trip lasted 16 days with travel included. As I was preparing suitcases, I packed eight changes of clothes for me and eight for Mon Cœur (MC).  I knew we’d have access to a washer, so I thought we could bring half the clothes we needed.  

In total, we had two large rolly suitcases, a trunki, and a stroller.  MC had a her size book bag that was too heavy for her, and I had my huge pink purse.  This was way too much for us.  

I really believe we could have taken clothes for a third of our stay and made it work with just 4-5 days worth of clothes. Looking back, we should have been able to pack lighter ditch a rolly and the trunki in exchange for a carry-on book bag.  The kid-sized book bag and the trunk were cute in concept, but lacking in practicality.

The packing cubes (Dot & Dot 4-pack large set) (Bagail 6-pack set, 3 different sizes) we bought were extremely helpful, and I’ll use them again in the future.  It helped keep everyone’s clothes organized by outfit and with different cubes for everyone. It was also super helpful for stowing away gifts we had purchased for our friends – when we arrived at each destination, I just grabbed the packing cube, and everything was already there! I loved the Bagail 6-pack set because the medium size was perfect for the trunki suitcase for MC, and since it was awkwardly shaped (like a snow sleigh from Frozen), the cubes helped me pack the maximum amount of clothes in the space. The large suitcases were perfect to stack on top of each other and side-by-side, allowing for four cubes to fit in our large rolly suitcase.

What may be captivating to us may not be to MC and vice versa.

MC really did do amazingly well for all the sightseeing we packed in.  She’s two and a half, and we didn’t expect her to be as captivated by all the places we visited.

When we toured the Paris Catacombs, we were unable to take the stroller, so MC had to walk the whole way. It was a 1.5 km walk (just under 1 mile). She walked almost the whole visit, did not get bored, and wasn’t scared by the macabre.

She waited patiently in the line for the Eiffel Tower, and enjoyed walking around and seeing the city from up high. She spied a soccer game, boats, and the gold roof from the Invalides, a visit from our first day.

In the Palais Garnier, while Chouchou looked around and took pictures amazed by the architecture and elaborate details, while MC rushed down the hallways running and giggling.  

She was totally over sightseeing by the time we got to Sainte Chapelle, of course, the one cathedral that had security guards shushing any loud guests. MC decided it was her playground – she ran around until I caught up with her and went on an “eye spy” hunt around the room. Then she found a young man to play peekaboo with, and all was right in her world for five minutes.

At each place, we found ways to hook her, by tying in to her interests. She’s incredibly observant too, so as long as we got on her level and listened to her, that helped extend our time at a place.  We also let her run her energy out when there was space!

Be flexible and be prepared.

MC and I have a routine at home.  Meals are served at a pretty consistent time each day, she stills takes a nap, and we have snacks and activities that we do throughout the day.  

From the beginning I knew our trip would not allow for this time of schedule, and I was okay with it because – hello, when does your toddler get the chance to travel to France? and – we needed to seize every opportunity to soak in the sights, the food, and the culture.

During our travels, we were running all day in a new town, or staying with another family in their home, so we needed to be flexible.  MC either refused a nap in order to catch all the sights with us or passed out in her stroller, typically as we were arriving back for the evening.  We tried to keep meal times consistent and did so for breakfast and lunch.

Dinner, though is a different story.  At our home, MC eats around 6pm every night and is in bed by 8pm.  The traditional French schedule has a snack (la quatre heure or le goûter) at 4pm and dinner at 8pm.  This may be different with French families of young children, but our hosts (who are lovely, perfect, and amazing!) did not have young children.  So, sometimes, after a day of many sights, overstimulation, and an empty belly and heavy eyelids, MC would MD (meltdown).

We accepted these meltdowns as they came, knowing that we really had put her through a lot changing her schedule, thing her to many places in a day that were not necessarily fun and changing time zones. We also kept in mind that despite the meltdowns, the overall experience our whole family was sharing was absolutely worth it!


I would totally take this trip again with the family – I’d pack lighter and try to better remember a healthy-sized goûter for our pint-sized American.

What are some lessons you’ve learned through traveling with little ones?


This is part of a mini series of stories shared from our recent trip to France. Previous posts include:

Preparing to leave: Tips I found on the internet for traveling with a young family.

Do you have questions about our trip? Please email me or share in the comments section – I would love to answer them!

About un œuf

A mysterious title, and I’ll explain it in just a moment. First, I wanted to answer a question that many, many, many people have asked me since our return:

So, is Mon Cœur (MC) speaking to you in French yet?

-Everybody

No, she is not. Despite having spent two and a half weeks pretty much immersion style in France, Mon Cœur (MC) is not yet speaking to me in French. Neither is Chouchou, who was also on the trip with us. Slight age discrepancy there!

I have been consistent with my language input for MC, and despite her responding to me English only, she understand exactly what I am talking about.

Case in point: When putting MC down for her nap today, I told her in French that I needed to work on my blog in the kitchen (Je dois travailler – je vais écrire un article pour mon blog.) To which she responded, “You have to work?”

I can not remember her saying anything more than bonjour, merci, or au revoir while we were on our trip. But anytime someone asked her to do something, she did it. They may have asked her to come to them, to bring them something or put something away, and she would do it.

Or, they would ask her a question, and she would shake her head yes or no or answer in English. She read along intently when stories were read aloud, watched cartoons in French, and was otherwise surrounded by the language. But she does not speak it yet, and that doesn’t bother me because I can tell that she follows what I am saying.

Okay, back to today’s blog post title – About un œuf (an egg)!

Yesterday I was cleaning out our pantry closet, and in timely fashion, found our plastic Easter eggs, stowed away in a Ball jar. I brought them down and continued to clean, not thinking anything of it.

This morning, MC was playing with the eggs, and one fell on the floor. She said, “Oh my œuf!” I was just a few feet away, organizing some books. I was so amazed and astonished to hear this.

I wasn’t so shocked about the word – she knows an egg is un œuf. We use it frequently when we’re in the kitchen and recently we’ve been reading an interactive book in French where you have to find and count the eggs.

I was simply impressed that without me prompting in French, or us having any conversation before this response, she would think to use the word œuf.

Later this morning, when MC went to the bathroom, she pointed to her book and said, “I’m going!” which although in English, was a direct translation for the French potty training book she was pointing to, J’y vais! that a friend gave her on our recent trip. This book has stayed in her bathroom and she requests a reading (or two!) every time she goes to the bathroom. She occasionally repeats along with me, “J’y vais!” (I’m going [there/ to the bathroom]!

This, I think may be the beginning of her starting to respond, in simple words, in French to me. This is such exciting news! I’m happy with her simply speaking understanding French. This is an added bonus though and I hope this is just the beginning and not some fluke use of language.

If you’re raising bilingually, was there a moment that marked the beginning of your child’s use of the second language?

Book Review: Serious Goose

Another great read Mon Cœur (MC) received for Christmas was Serious Goose by Jimmy Kimmel. Everyone knows what a silly goose is, but what exactly is a serious goose?

Kimmel recognizes the serious side of parenting while letting those of that flock know sometimes you have to loosen up and let your feathers fly. I love how the inside flap reads, for all parents (including me!) who may have flustered wings, and be pressed to get some other project accomplished.

DEAR PARENTS:

THIS BOOK TAKES FIVE MINUTES TO READ SO YOU CAN GET ON WITH YOUR LIVES.

This is a great book to read when you’re in any mood, and especially helpful for me if either I am in a grouchy mood or if MC is being a grump. Below are three reasons MC and I love this book:

It lends to role playing

We make faces to correspond with the goose in the book – we love looking serious and playing with our eyebrows to look mean, mad and angry. I mean serious.

When the goose makes her transformation from serious to silly, we enjoy smiling and giggling with her.

We use our serious voices and our silly voices, use lots of finger pointing to act serious. We also make faces, silly noises, and are goofy to try to make the goose laugh.

It’s so silly and punny

Who would think to dress a goose as a moose or order a pizza with snails? The illustrations, especially the one where the goose finally smiles, make me laugh.

The pizza is “Honk & delicious” The serious goose reads headlines from the paper, “Take a Gander!” He also delights in reading the tome War and Geese. Kimmel adds these small details which delight the adult reader and perhaps, help make him/her less of a serious goose!

It issues a direct challenge

Everyone loves a challenge and there’s page with a mirror where the child is challenged to make faces, sounds, and be a silly goose. But it doesn’t matter, the book says, because the goose will not laugh – she’s a serious goose. We like to spend extra time investing in all sorts of goofy faces to try to make the goose laugh.

It really only does take a few minutes to read, and by the end, if you haven’t cracked a smile at least, you really are one serious goose.

What do you love about Kimmel’s Serious Goose? Do you know of other books that can crack a smile when you’re feeling otherwise irritable?

Five reasons I’m grateful this week

I am most grateful this week to be back stateside with my family, and in good health, after our international trip. This grateful post is fueled by my patched recollections of the past few weeks, as memories were made and time flew by. I am sure that I have forgotten something, and that makes me even more thankful for knowing that we were so blessed during this trip. We had headaches, trials, and times when we were less than best, oh yes, but I prefer to focus on the positives, and there were plenty…

Chouchou

I hadn’t thought of it until we were already in France, but I’m pretty sure Chouchou went along with this whole trip just for me. He doesn’t speak French and was lost in conversations most of the time, but he continued to smile and be the best sport.

There were many cultural differences I had failed to prepare him for – la bise (the kiss) the most surprising for him.

Big oops – after a while, I had forgotten these small cultural variations, and although I should have taken better care to prepare him, Chouchou was very flexible and forgiving.

Despite the language and cultural differences, he adapted quickly and easily, and was patient with me all around. When I was on the verge of tears wondering if the Uber would pick us up at 4:30 am for our flight, he told me, “It will be here.” When we were in the airport waiting to go home and I worried, watching people board, then debark twenty minutes later, he said, “Everything will be okay.” Whenever I started to worry, he was my calming force and reassured me.

The kindness of strangers

We decided, foolishly, to take the metro into Paris, from CDG. Foolishly, because we had in tow: two roller suitcases, a trunki/ride & roll suitcase for Mon Cœur, a stroller, and my purse. Oh, and Mon Cœur (MC), a fiercely independent, headstrong, and curious toddler. Our hands were full. Although we only had one change of lines to make, it still meant multiple trips up and down stairs, through tunnels, and turnstile entrances.

Did I mention…we arrived at about the same time as morning rush hour traffic? For every flight of stairs up or down, there was a wonderful Parisian offering to help carry the luggage or stroller and sometimes multiple strangers helping with both. Even after we dropped off our luggage at our AirBnB, and were just metroing with the stroller, there were always people willing to give up a seat or help with the stroller up and down the stairs.

After the first day of using the metro, we decided we should try to navigate the bus system better – there would be no steps and we’d be able to see more of the city. I am so thankful to a beautiful Parisian woman who was waiting for a bus right outside the Palais Garnier and helped us decide the best route.

This was after running into a team of RATP security men and asking them en français to help confirm if we were going the right way. They told me, “I don’t speak much English.” I had to explain to them, en français again, that I spoke and understood French. This was by and large the exception to the rule for us. Nearly every other français was friendly, charmed by MC, and eager to help us.

Friends and excellent hosts

We went mainly to visit two sets of friends, one near the France/Spain border, in Biarritz, and the other two hours south of Paris, in Bourges. They always have their door open for us.

We are so lucky for the exchanges that spurred these relationships – one just one and a half years through an introduction by a former colleague, and another that began back in 2003 with an exchange through my sister’s high school.

Our hosts introduced us to varied French cuisine, cathedrals, and castles. They went the extra mile to see us off at the train station, and came prepared with un goûter (snack) for the car ride back to their house. They treated us like family, and provided us warm and cozy places to stay. They served us delicious food that stuck to our ribs, and lingered in Chouchou’s memory – my mission this month is to try to reproduce many of the meals we had in the homes of our hosts!

Fair February weather

We encountered almost no rain, the sun shone on us every day we were there. We did get caught in rain and some hail during a walk on the evening before we left – it made for a good adventure though. We were truly lucky for our trip, that the weather was so mild. At a few different points during the trip I felt silly for all of the winter clothing that I had packed.

One day, while we were port side at St. Jean de Luz, it felt like a summer day. We were sitting at a café having lunch, I felt warm rays hitting my back, and I smelled a cigar that reminded me of my Papa. I had an instant memory of his ashtray, a blue-grey circle, with frothy white waves for low walls to contain ashes, and a lighthouse on an edge that completed the nautical effect – essentially a monument to a seafarer that consumed his whole side table.

Technology and Family

I am glad that I had the capability to keep up with friends, family, and readers by posting photos to Instagram. I am grateful for the ability to video chat, as I was able to call my mom a few different times: to let her know we arrived safe, for Dad’s birthday, and right before we left to say “see you soon.”

It’s because of this technology, too, that mom was able to share news with me of my Papa’s passing. When she told me I circled back to the scent of cigars at St. Jean de Luz.

His celebration was yesterday, and the reunion of family reminded me of what a wonderful host and community organizer my Papa was, and that my mother is. I am lucky to have been raised knowing this love and the open door to neighbors- where everyone can come to a house and feel at home whether neighbors, friends, distant relatives, or immediate family.

Can you relate? I’d love to hear in the comments below!