Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Situation swap

I don't know what to call it exactly. But just last night, Maylin decided to pretend home was school. So, now I'm her teacher, Ms. W. I'm quite excited by it all because this means she will be more willing for me to teach her. She's usually very stubborn and resistant to my teaching her (correcting her), but last night, while she "read" to me, "This is the House that Jack Built," she didn't get upset when I tried to help. Very good-natured about it all. So...last night, I decided I was going to take advantage of this and drew up a daily schedule, hopefully similar to what she has at school. With specified outdoor time (nasty weather today, though), music time, art time, snack time, homework time, meal time, etc. The most important is choice time which I'm going to work on today. Choice time at her real school starts off with a wall-hanging with pockets that can carry cards representing each of her five choices (may vary from day to day, e.g. Playdoh, drawing, toys, etc.) When she selects an activity, she puts her name card in the pocket next to the activity. She can choose 1-5 activities within the hour time-frame.

I really should incorporate a "science time" also -- it doesn't come naturally to me like everything else, but this will be a good stretch for me. Hard to believe I was actually a pre-med in college for a year. But our newly-discovered millipede should be a good source for a lesson. These things are pretty big -- about the thickness of a pencil and over 2 inches long! I found it under a big pile of warm, moist clothes and towels in the laundry room. Must have been pretty cozy under there. The internet is an excellent place to look for educational resources.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Best big sister in the world

Stefan couldn't ask for a better sister. More later. I'm pooped! I've been doing laundry for about three hours straight.

Handsome baby


Handsome baby
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Stefan at 3 months. Still a most wonderful baby. Eats well, sleeps well. The happiest disposition. Wakes up happy. Will even smile and laugh despite hunger and a dirty diaper. Starting to reach for toys -- my hair is his favorite. He likes Maylin's, too, and he can hang on really tight!

My first fruit tart


My first fruit tart
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Maylin helped with the fruit positioning. Thanks, Peggy, for the most delicious recipe!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

French chocolate cake recipe (gateau chocolat) - revised 9.6.11

This is my no-fail chocolate cake that I serve all the time. And it's super-easy! Always gets rave reviews and requests for the recipe. Looks like a flourless chocolate cake. Lots of chocolate flavor, but tastes nice and light. This recipe has been adapted from the back of a Nestle Dessert Chocolat Noir (dark baking chocolate from France) package. (Thank you, Julie P, for introducing me to this marvelous cake.) This cake is still great the next day so if you have a big party to plan, you could make this cake a day in advance and perhaps reheat individual pieces in the microwave for 10-20 seconds before serving with vanilla ice cream.

Ingredients:

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 3/4 sticks of butter cut up into pieces (14 T), plus extra for greasing pan (<1 T)
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup all purpose flour (plus extra for prepping pan)
powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
high quality vanilla ice cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan (I prefer a springform pan). Melt chocolate chips and butter in a saucepan over medium heat, mixing periodically. Immediately take pan off heat when chocolate and butter is melted. Mix gently by hand until no lumps. In a separate larger bowl, with an electric mixer, mix eggs and sugar until homogeneous. Add flour. Mix until homogeneous. Add chocolate mixture. Mix until homogeneous. (Do you hear an echo in here?) Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake on the middle rack for 20-25 minutes or just until the center of the cake no longer wiggles when you jiggle it. Or if you like your cake a little runny in the middle, then take it out when it wiggles just a little below the surface. Let cool in pan. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving if desired. Best to serve warm with a scoop of high quality vanilla ice cream (I prefer softened Haagen-Dazs). Enjoy the luxuriousness of this simple, yet elegant, cake.

[Note: If your oven gets too hot in areas (for example, towards the back), it may result in big bubbles at the surface of the cake. Turning your cake 180 degrees halfway through may alleviate the problem. Or, if your oven is too hot in general, you may want to put your cake in before the oven says it's actually at 350 degrees.]

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More to life than diapers and homework

I try to do at least one thing for myself each day to keep me a happy mommy. Yesterday, it was playing the violin. Today, I hope to do some painting. I think it's good for Maylin to see that I do do non-Mommy activities and that I derive a lot of pleasure out of my hobbies.

[Added at 11:15 am:

I noticed that John had the internet browser open to a New York Times article that articulates exactly my thoughts. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/02/jobs/02career.html]

Happy Stefan

Stefan is three months old today! And we already know his personality, which I think is more like John's than mine. Stefan is happy, happy, happy! Lots of smiles, cooing, joyful screaming (not very loud), and in his sleep, laughing, too. He's very easy-going and can still smile despite sitting in a dirty diaper and starving at the same time. Right now, he's sitting in his stroller and squirming with delight as I look at him. I am drinking in all these wonderful moments -- so precious.

He has begun to hold his hands together, which is so cute, and will occasionally suck on them. He can roll from his back onto his side...when he's trying to work some gas out of his system. Stefan nurses every 3-4 hours generally and is sleeping an average of 4-5 hours straight through the night.

A much easier baby than Maylin was. Maylin was demanding (I had to be with her ALL the time), serious (smiles were hard to come by), difficult to please. Everyone sees me happy and smiling, but I'm just like her -- that serious stuff is just on the inside.

The Case of the Missing Gummi Bear Vitamins

Over a month ago, I discovered a pile of half-eaten gummi bear vitamins on the floor of our bathroom, in a dark corner under a cabinet. Hmmm...how did those get there? I always thought Maylin liked her vitamins, but obviously she doesn't like them anymore. When I asked Maylin about it, she said they had just dropped on the floor. I did not reprimand her -- just pretended that I believed her and had her just promise to always eat her vitamins (she takes one before she brushes her teeth every morning and night -- lately, behind a closed door). Now I realize I can't let her close the door behind her when she goes in to brush. Because yesterday, I looked inside the extra wastebasket that I keep in the cabinet underneath the bathroom sink, and found a new pile of half-eaten gummi bear vitamins. Sad, squishy things.

I think Maylin inherited this "hiding instinct" from me. When I was in third grade, I knew I had to hide my less than perfect homework assignments from my parents who only expected A's from me. But, I was found out after a parent-teacher conference when my mother asked my teacher why I didn't get straight A's in science and social science. She had never seen anything lower than an A on my papers. Ah ha. I had to reveal to my parents my stash of papers lacking the smiley-faces. Inside my desk, the bottom drawer. Oops, a few C's here and there. I remember bawling afterwards -- not from my punishment (which I don't remember but am sure was inflicted), but from the humiliation and the revelation to my parents that I wasn't absolutely brilliant. I was a perfectionist and still am. Maylin is, too, which means I can't be too tough on her because she's already tough on herself.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just wanted to wish everyone a very happy Turkey Day! I hope you'll all be spending it with people who are dear to you.

By the way, I'm thankful for Stefan sleeping through the night last night! He slept from about 9 pm to 4:30 am! I had a feeling it might happen because yesterday evening, he wanted to nurse just about every hour. Nothing like a nice full tummy to get you through the night. Plus, he seems to not have as many wet diapers so he's drier and more comfortable. Hope he can do a repeat at Grandma and Grandpa's tonight.

Love,
Caroline

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maylin can read!!!

Wowsers. Yesterday morning, I went to the Albany Library used book sale and found a complete (and nearly unused) set of Hooked on Phonics. I'll date it to the late 80s or early 90s because it had cassette tapes and a VHS video instead of CDs and DVD. It's an amazing program that gets kids reading right away.

Maylin has known her alphabet for a long time, and has recently learned her letter sounds at school. Perfect timing for this phonics program. From the first page of the level 1 workbook, Maylin started putting together letter sounds to make -at, -an, and -ad. Within 15 minutes, she was reading her first book. Hooked on Phonics includes storybooks for every step of the learning process so the rewards are immediate for both child and parent. The program has five levels, going from kindergarten to second grade. But if Maylin keeps up this frantic pace, she'll be done in maybe a year or less?

Right now it's quite a novelty for her, but she loves books so I don't see her slowing down too much. We worked in the workbook for quite a while and I noticed her fatigue because her concentration was going down. I suggested taking a break but she insisted on going on because she wanted to read the next book and put a sticker on her progress chart. Maylin's motivated!

I was so proud of her when she finished her first book. She just blew me away with how quickly she was able to make words. I'm sure she felt the same way about herself. What a joy to see her excitement in learning. The program requires that the parents guide the lessons and now that she sees me as a teacher, I hope I can carry this on into her violin study which I hope to begin teaching her soon. (No, Maylin doesn't want to learn piano. Just violin right now.)

By the way, I looked online and found that the Hooked on Phonics program is nearly $200. I was lucky enough to find this older version for $30. My lucky day!

Friday, November 16, 2007

New exercise regime

It doesn't take a lot of time and I'm energized afterwards! I walk Maylin and our dog Leo to the bus stop, and after waving goodbye to Maylin, Leo and I take the steep, upward hike home, the long way. And now that Leo is a senior citizen, I used to have to wait for him but I realized I wasn't getting much of a workout that way. So, I keep moving now. When I notice he's not catching up, I just walk back down to him, and then walk back up again, getting more uphill steps in.

Once we're home (in 10-15 minutes), I pop in my New York City Ballet Workout DVD and do four of the floor exercises: stretches, abs, floor barre I (hamstrings and calves), and floor barre II (butt). The ab workout is the best! I'm groaning by the end of it. So that takes about 10-15 minutes. Lastly, I take out my resistance bands (huge rubber bands) and work on my triceps and biceps for about 5-7 minutes.

My workout is about 30-40 minutes and I feel great! Yesterday, I did my workout and felt energized (and crazy enough) to weed my neighbor's yard for a couple hours right after. Yes, I volunteered because I find it fun to clean up other people's homes and yards -- as long as I know I'm going to be making an obvious, huge visual impact after my work is done. So, if you or someone you know has LOTS of weeding to do or LOTS of organizing to do in the home, contact me! Hey, I'm sure I burned a lot of calories weeding, too.

Oops...weight-loss at stand-still

Well, so what happened? Remember I baked that chocolate cake and apple pie? Remember that Halloween candy? I also didn't tell you that I unconsciously switched from brown rice and whole grain pasta to white rice and regular pasta. So, time to switch back to healthier days when I was on my gestational diabetes, low-glycemic meal plan. Brown rice actually tastes pretty good (lots of flavor), but there's something so special about white sushi rice. The texture is so beautiful and the taste is sweet. Maybe we can have white rice once a week.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A little homesick for Paris

I got out of bed a few minutes ago (before 4 am) because I can't go back to sleep even though I'm really tired. Decided to do e-mail and started sifting through the inner recesses of my inbox and found some nice holiday e-mails from last year. Memories of fun times with friends started flooding back. I felt like saying, "I wanna go home," but silly me, I AM home. I just wish I could've brought my dear Paris friends back with me. THEN life would be complete.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Maylin's mad at me



Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
All I did was ask her to move her hair away from her face. Actually, I asked several times and she refused to listen. That's when she pulled this face. Stefan is oblivious. By the way, there are more Stefan photos online now.

Butterfly cards


Butterfly linocut
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
It was so easy to make those bee cards that I decided last night to do butterfly cards which I finished this morning (once again, carved a stamp and hand-printed them). I also baked two chocolate cakes this morning. My morning productivity is amazing. But by 5 pm, my tank is empty.

Bee cards


Bumblebee linocut
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Maylin had asked me to make "bee cards," similar to the ones she gets at school for good behavior. I drew my version of a bee, carved it into a stamp, and printed several cards. What a fun day it was yesterday. I made apple pie the same day. Really good day.

Healthy eating

I can't really give breastfeeding all the credit for the weight loss because I have definitely been eating a lot healthier than when Maylin was a newborn. I can thank the people at the John Muir Diabetes Center in Concord for educating me, and I can thank my body for getting gestational diabetes during the end of my pregnancy with Stefan because otherwise, I wouldn't have found myself at that center.

When I had gestational diabetes, I was able to control my blood sugar through my diet. Low carbs, lots of veggies/fiber, some protein. There was a very strict meal plan and I stuck to it. It was tough, and though I don't keep exactly the same regime, I have incorporated the healthier foods into my daily life.

My breakfast hasn't changed too much. Instead of two, I have three slices of yummy Alvarado Street Bakery Essential Flaxseed Bread which has only 6 net carbs per slice (http://www.alvaradostreetbakery.com/) with about 2-3 tablespoons of natural peanut butter (only ingredients: peanuts and salt). I also either have a small banana or fat free yogurt with blueberries and honey. A glass of flash-pasteurized orange juice (Tropicana tastes the best) is my special treat which was entirely off-limits before.

Lunch is oftentimes a two-egg omelette with cheese and veggies, with more veggies or some fruit on the side.

Dinner is some meat (pork chops, roast beef, grilled chicken breast) and veggies (steamed or stir-fried) with brown rice, usually.

Snacks are usually fruit or low-fat string cheese, with an occasional piece of Halloween candy (thanks, Mom).

And as a mommy with little time to cook (plus, I'm exhausted by 5 pm), I find it absolutely necessary to start prepping for dinner IN THE MORNING! Otherwise, you can say "goodbye" to healthy dinners. After I drop off Maylin at the bus stop, I start cleaning and chopping veggies, and marinating meat for a stir-fry or browning meat for the slow-cooker (a.k.a. crockpot). When I realized all my Chinese vegetables (green, leafy type) were slowly rotting in the fridge (no time to rinse those things three times to get all the dirt off), I opted to only buy what I call "easy veggies." These fresh vegetables are perfect for moms who want the lowest prep time possible (quick rinse, quick chop). Here's my shortlist:

(when in season)
- corn on the cob
- asparagus (I can't buy it anymore because Stefan gets horrible gas after I eat it)
- broccoli (Maylin eats this!)
- carrots (Maylin eats this raw with hummus)
- cauliflower (Maylin will eat one piece with coaxing)
- bell peppers (the red ones are delicious raw by themselves or with hummus)
- squash (so many varieties in the winter!)
- tomatoes

(for flavoring, have fresh on hand)
- green onions (scallions)
- cilantro
- onions (yellow and red)
- shallots
- garlic
- ginger

I buy frozen imported French green beans from Trader Joe's because they're cheaper, faster to cook (no cleaning, trimming), delicious, and will be eaten by Maylin (as long as I don't cook them with onion). Frozen peas are good, too.

I don't buy potatoes anymore because they're so starchy (not great for diabetics).

I plan on incorporating some fresh seafood into our diet soon.

I don't have time to plan meals based on recipes, so I've been improvising mostly. It's the most fun to cook creatively anyways.

Maylin and I did have some time yesterday (Stefan was really good) to bake her requested apple pie. I think it was my first crust from scratch and it was easy (1.5 cups flour, .5 cup butter, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons cold water). Maylin did most of the work, too. How fun for a kid to have permission to get really dirty. She combined the flour/salt and the butter with her fingers until it looked like corn meal. How fun to have permission to get dirty. The filling was very easy, too. Thinly-sliced Granny Smith apples (3 peeled and cored) with fresh lemon juice and sugar. It was a very simple pie, but it was also simply delicious!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Weight loss

I had been steadily losing about half a pound a week, normal for breastfeeding moms, but on Monday, I weighed myself, and discovered I had lost five pounds in less than a week! A little bit scary that it's been so fast, but Stefan has been eating a lot more, so maybe I'm in the negative calories by the end of the day. This may change since Grandma brought up a Costco bag of 150 pieces of chocolate Halloween candy...stay tuned.

Little man

My Stefan is getting so big! He came into this world at 7 lbs. 8 oz, and seven weeks later, he's thirteen pounds! He also grew four inches! 90th percentile for height and 80th percentile for weight. He's got all those beautiful, chubby baby folds to prove it.

At seven weeks, he just started to smile, and now at over eight weeks, he's smiling a lot. And with early training, he's sticking his tongue out at us as some form of communication. I love how he coos. He is actually talking -- "ah goo," but usually does it with his lips together. Funny guy.

He's got these fun moments, but when he's gassy, no one's happy. Two things relieve him -- Mylicon drops (I hate using medication, but it does sometimes work) and butt-bouncing, which is a technique I developed myself. I lay him on his back, put my hands under is butt, and bounce his bottom upward and toward his chest simultaneously, over and over again. Definitely gets results.

Stefan has the same cheeks (I'm not talking about his bottom anymore) that Maylin had when she was a baby. Huge...humongous! I had mugs made with Maylin's huge cheeks on them for family Christmas presents when Maylin was about two months. I bet when she gets to be a teenager, she'll find them and toss the things out.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Halloween at school


Maylin and friends
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Unfortunately, Maylin slept through Halloween (I just couldn't wake her up!), but she wasn't too upset since they did celebrate at school with a costume parade and a little party. Few more photos on my flickr site.

Happy Birthday, Maylin!


Happy Birthday, Maylin!
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
She's five already! Last Saturday was Maylin's birthday. We had a party at home with a few of her friends which I had started planning for a week in advance. It wasn't a fancy party, but I just wanted to make sure we had everything covered. Maylin greeted her guests with foam princess tiaras and star wands which served as party favors also. Her friends decorated those with stickers and then proceeded to her room to just be silly for a little bit. I then offered to do some face painting which was a big hit. Princesses, fairies, and a parrot. They played again (Barbies!) and then I invited them to make some pictures with felt shapes I had cut out by hand(!) to glue onto their felt flags/wall hangings (wooden dowels make the difference). Then it was cake time. I made my gateau chocolat (minus the almond powder in case of nut allergies) and served healthy snacks alongside -- strawberries, melon, and baby bananas. They didn't seem to miss the sweets. Afterwards, the kids went wild, jumping on the beds and hiding in the shower. Maylin was very, very happy and everyone was very good-natured. No tears at the party at all! Maylin opened presents after everyone left -- I thought it would prevent any awkwardness or jealousy. I found that great idea online.

We were supposed to have an origami jumping frog game, but I ran out of time. Next party.

I was exhausted for the next couple of days, recuperating from the party, where there wasn't much of a moment to relax for me. But all that work was worth it, as I'm sure most moms would agree.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Maylin's homework addiction

She just can't get enough of homework! They've had manuscript homework every day except on Fridays, so by Maylin's request, I have to draw up some homework sheets for her. Identical to previous assignments. I'm really good now at drawing long straight lines and hand signs for letters of the alphabet. Sometimes I have to do this on the weekends, too. Oh yeah -- she also asked me to make her a homework folder, same as her school one, but red. I didn't have any folders on hand, but I did have some old hanging file folders that I cut up and glued together. (Hmm...cutting and pasting is fun!)

Maylin takes her homework so seriously. She and John were on their way out the door yesterday morning when she remembered she hadn't spelled out the word "monkey" on her homework. She started crying! It was a near catastrophe with John rushing her out the door and closing it behind them, Maylin bawling, and my running after them with a pen so that she could finish her work at the bus stop. And wouldn't you know, she actually had time to do it!

I went to a second-hand store last week and found an old elementary school desk -- a blast from my past! It had the scratched-up, wooden hinged lid, and metal base with chair attached at a 'T'. I had always wanted one of these! And what a deal! Only $25! Maylin doesn't use one of these desks at school, but now she can use one at home when she's doing her non-requisite "homework."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Random smattering of uploaded photos

Some new photos of mine on flickr! Stefan and friends, still lifes, and my t-shirt, I mean, onesie design that I loved but that disappeared in the wash.

Real *new mommy* fashions

1. Wear your pants inside out unknowingly
(This really happened to me, and no one told me! I didn't realize until I got back home after an entire day of running errands. This is what results from too little sleep!)
2. Spit-up shoulder accessory
(Nothing like some digested milk -- in curd form -- to draw attention to your attractive shoulder.)
3. "Is that poop?" sweater
(I did in fact go out into the world wearing poop on the front of my sweater. While doing a diaper change, I had dodged a projectile poop. Thought I was successful, but apparently was not when I saw something that was either peanut butter, mustard, or baby poop on my brand-new sweater.)
4. Burp cloth shoulder accessory
(Did I forget to take that thing off?)
5. Wear your pajamas all day
(Your pajamas need to look like regular clothes. Or you can do what I do -- turn your regular clothes into your sleeping clothes.)
6. Wear your maternity clothes
(Because you don't fit into your old clothes. Chest too big, belly too big, etc.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Violin and ballet in Maylin's future

Cool! It seems I didn't have to worry about Maylin not taking an interest in the activities I suggested to her before. She has volunteered to study violin (with me) and ballet (at a dance school with a few classmates, if they'll agree to go along with it). I'm so excited! I'm taking Maylin to a local luthier tomorrow to check out her workshop (perhaps get some demos of the different instruments) and to get Maylin's bow (for a 1/8-size violin) rehaired. Maybe she could sell me a bow, too. I lost mine (long story -- tell you later). I might ask about cellos, too, since I've been thinking of learning for the last year.

Stefan's doing great. Much easier baby than Maylin was, or is it just that I'm more experienced now? He still nurses every two to three hours (sometimes more often) and is now big enough to ride in the baby carrier, the Baby Bjorn, which I rarely used with Maylin. I carried Maylin in a baby sling. The Baby Bjorn is great -- I can do chores around the house with Stefan attached to my torso and don't have to worry about him because he just goes to sleep most of the time. Also, now that it's been raining, I can pick up Maylin at the bus stop without having to worry about holding an umbrella and pushing a stroller at the same time (a nearly impossible feat -- and definitely uncomfortable).

On Friday, Stefan interacted with me! First of all, he looked me directly in the eyes -- whereas before, he would always look past me. This is a big deal. I sang to him and he smiled. I stuck out my tongue and he copied me! Today I talked to him and he cooed back! He is so much fun!

He seems to like my singing more than Maylin did when she was a baby. She never reacted to my music, but Stefan finds it soothing and pleasurable. It stops his crying sometimes and he listens intently. He likes Bach on the piano. I need to try some Mozart, which I played daily during the last weeks of the pregnancy. I remember him liking it in the womb -- at least I thought when he kicked while I practiced it meant he enjoyed it.

I used the words "my kids" for the first time last night on the phone and it felt foreign, but good. Yes, I'm a mother of two now! So hard to believe!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In my mind at 3:46 am

Ah, I'm back to my usual ramblings in the wee hours of the morning. I should be totally exhausted and konked out in bed since I'm a mommy to a 5 week-old, but for some reason, my brain is awake and kicking. So it's time to just let it all out so hopefully I can get to bed again (and perhaps you can be entertained in the meanwhile).

Okay, this is bizarre, but I'm actually enjoying doing housework now (only for the moment). It's the only "project" which I can accomplish to a reasonable degree and is a diversion from baby care. I've always confessed to being the worst housekeeper, but I think I have the cleanest kitchen I've ever had. And ladies, don't you hate it when your man cleans out his coffee maker and leaves coffee grounds in your freshly bleached sink and all over your pristine counters? I used to get mad and complain, but now, I just bite my tongue and rinse the little guys away before they stain. It only takes a few seconds to remove the misery.

I don't really want to spend my free time cleaning. What I fantasize about doing is:
- learn to play the cello (or at least try it out for a month)
- learn to silkscreen t-shirts, baby onesies, and greeting cards
- compose some music (voice and piano)
- sing in a musical
- make a quilt
- sew a plushie/softie (view examples on my flickr page under Caroline's Creations)
- clean out all my junk in the back room
- go to the gym and take classes again
- shop at H&M again
- lose some weight (whoah, nineteen pounds to go -- let's see how long that takes)

Since I'm nursing, I can't try too hard to lose weight. I'm supposed to increase my caloric intake a little and haven't gotten the okay from my doctor to exercise seriously (sit-ups are out of the question for the moment). I think I haven't lost anything for the last two weeks, but at least I'm down twenty-two pounds from just before Stefan's delivery. (Yes, I gained forty-one pounds during this pregnancy, but this is nothing compared to the whopping fifty-five pounds I added on when I was pregnant with Maylin. I was HUGE!)

I've adjusted back quite easily to American living -- it's ever so convenient! -- but I do miss the charms of Paris. Being able to walk everywhere with ease! When we moved back to Berkeley after staying with my parents in the Central Valley this summer, I got back into the routine of getting groceries and running other errands. Maylin would often come along and expressed her distaste for taking the car. She preferred to walk. So did I. We both missed walking down the block to get groceries, or walking to the metro to take the train to another delightful part of the city. But something changed with Maylin on Saturday. I took Maylin to my friend's birthday party which was about a two-minute drive up steep and windy roads through the Berkeley hills. She was disappointed that the ride was so short!

Maylin's still loving school and says she prefers school to being at home. What a change from last year! On weekday mornings, she would wake up and be really upset (sometimes cry) after I told her she had to get ready for school. These days, she wakes up asking, "Do I have school now?" and gets happy and excited. She's out of bed in no time and gets dressed and brushes her teeth with no resistance whatsoever. Mornings are a breeze! Who would have thought?

I feel a little tinge of jealousy when she says she likes school better than being home with Mommy, but I'm also proud that she's growing up and becoming so independent. I have to say home with Mommy isn't terribly exciting when Mommy is so busy taking care of Stefan all the time. Fortunately, I still get to help her with her homework (yes, homework in kindergarten!) and some days get to read to her after school (outside of bedtime reading).

Maylin is a wonderful big sister. She's not just loving towards Stefan (loves to hold him, touch his head, and just look at his face), but has an instinctive ability to soothe him (rocks him in his bouncy seat, or moves his stroller back and forth when he's in it inside the house, or just talks to him when he's in his crib -- assuring him that Mommy is coming soon). Quite the mother hen.

Okay, I should try to get some sleep otherwise I'll be a mess during the day. Have a great day, everyone!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Cousin relationships deciphered

I don't think I know anyone who's been able to explain to me what makes a second cousin or a first cousin twice-removed. And since I've been wondering how to refer to my cousin who does not share the same grandparents, I found a great site that offers a simple explanation. Go to this link and scroll to the bottom of the page (the grid is superfluous and looks intimidating):

http://www.tarver-genealogy.net/aids/cousins.html

Thursday, October 04, 2007

More Stefan photos online



Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Stefan at 24 days, plus some bonus photos (one with Daddy and a special shot of just Leo, styled by Maylin.)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Quickie update

In my exhaustion, I will attempt to do a blog posting now. I had a lot of energy today surprisingly. I swept up the cobwebs in the carport, cleaned the kitchen, did a gazillion loads of laundry...quite amazing considering all the round-the-clock feedings. Stefan needs to eat every 1.5-3 hours. Actually, I do know why I had a burst of energy. John was away for nearly a week for work and I was just barely surviving. He got back home late last night, and I expressed my need to get out of the house without Stefan ASAP! So this morning, Maylin and I had a little shopping trip for an hour and a half at Bay Street (an outdoor mall in Emeryville). I would've gone alone except that Maylin was set on getting some nail polish like her friend's at school. I know, I know -- she's not even five yet...why give in to her? Well, I don't see any harm in it as long as it isn't dark-colored and is in the spirit of little girlhood. That is, only a pearly light pink that looks really natural would get by me. We found the perfect shade at Sephora -- we were all really pleased...even Grandma and Grandpa who came to visit us later today liked it.

I gave myself a little shopping spree since all I can wear now is my maternity clothes. It'll be awhile until I can fit into my regular wardrobe. I'm still looking like I'm 3-4 months pregnant. So, two empire-waisted sweater vests from Old Navy and one long, empired-waisted sweater/jacket from H&M (ah, a little bit of Paris is here now -- we had many H&M stores in the City of Light!) were my two happy additions to my bare closet. Fitted on top and loose around the middle is perfect for my body's present condition.

I felt a little guilty after coming home because John had suffered for the entire time we were gone. I had nursed Stefan right before leaving, but for some reason, he didn't sleep right afterwards like he usually does and fussed quite a bit. I got over the guilt pretty quickly though. After all, I have to care for Stefan 95.9% of the time. John just got a little taste of what my life is like on a daily basis.

I'm starting to have a routine now, so I'm going to start opening the home to visitors (I've only had a couple so far because Stefan and I had some breastfeeding difficulties that are finally getting resolved.) And I'm going to start answering e-mails, too! If you don't hear from me, drop me a note again, okay?

Maylin's been having a wonderful time in kindergarten. She says the kids in her class look up to her. They try to emulate her. I guess it's because she really knows what she's doing (two years of French preschool will do it -- eight hours a day, four days a week, of structure, discipline, and deskwork). Maylin also said that she's the tallest in her class. So the kids are literally looking up to her, too.

She takes the bus to school and she's loving it. She feels like a big girl, and it gives me one less thing to worry about. I love how we wave to each other and blow each other a kiss as the the bus pulls away from the curb.

And Maylin is very loving and helpful with regards to her baby brother. She never says "no" when I ask for a diaper or a nursing pillow. She loves looking at his face and is often disappointed if he's facing the wrong direction. She also loves holding him in her lap. I don't think she's experiencing much jealousy or sibling rivalry, but yesterday she did seem to be more cuddly than usual -- reaching out for more hugs. I can understand. Stefan and I are glued to each other much of the time. I'm glad, too, when I get a chance to cuddle with my big kindergartener.

You know, this may sound ridiculous, but I had never thought that after the birth of Stefan, that I would be a "mother of two." Somehow, in my head, I saw myself as simply Maylin's mother, plus baby. It didn't really hit me what a big change this was until I saw Maylin and Stefan sleeping next to each other so comfortably, so peacefully, on Maylin's full-size bed. It's not Maylin and baby. It's my daughter Maylin and my son Stefan. I felt very joyful and content after this simple, yet mind-blowing realization.

Goodness, I've stayed up way too long. I just know my shower tomorrow isn't going to happen until after lunch now. Okay, signing off. Much love to everyone!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More photos of angel-face


Dozing angel
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
I've posted a few new pics of Stefan at 10 days old on flickr. Just click on the photo to be sent to the site.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Announcing the arrival of Stefan Jou Armitage!

Maylin's little brother, Stefan, was born September 4, 2007, 8:59 a.m., in Berkeley, California, weighing in at 7 pounds, 8 ounces, and 20 inches long. The repeat caesarian section went very smoothly and I am recovering much more quickly than I did the first time around with Maylin. We are all at home now, with Stefan being an incredibly cute, incredibly good baby, and Maylin being a very excited big sister -- so eager to help whenever possible. She does have a tendency to run away when I announce the changing of a dirty diaper. I am totally exhausted from the round-the-clock nursings, but oh so happy. And it's so nice to see how John is so loving and tender with Stefan. We're all in love with the little guy. More photos to come!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Self-portrait at 38 weeks


38 weeks
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
I am just a few days away from my c-section! My sister-in-law Maria requested that I post a photo of my bump, so here it is, before it's gone!

First day of kindergarten

On Wednesday, August 29, 2007, 7:40 am, I took this picture of my big kindergartener before heading off to the bus stop with her 0.2 miles away. She was so very eager to start school, make new friends, meet her new teachers, and bring her first lunchbox along. And you won't believe this, but she reported to me after school that day that she spoke to the adults there. Unheard of! She barely spoke a word to her teachers in France -- is it just that she's more comfortable with her mother tongue, English?

Maylin also carefully chose her outfit. All pink.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Back in Berkeley, baby on the way

Our little Armitage family had been camping out in our Berkeley home for a couple weeks, awaiting the arrival of our...furniture! We finally got it last week, so we've been scrambling to get things in order to prepare for the arrival of our baby!

Baby boy Armitage will be coming into the world after 8 am, on Sept. 4, the day AFTER Labor Day by c-section, which means: no labor after Labor Day!

I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes a few weeks ago and have been on a strict meal plan, and I was so good -- eating my limit of carbs every 2-3 hours and keeping my blood sugar levels under control. Today, after my last visit with the diabetes specialists, I've permitted myself to indulge a little with a few cookies. Oh ho ho, so good.

Maylin's so excited to be a big sister and can't wait to hold her baby brother, give him a bath, etc. She also can't wait to start kindergarten next week. She's been so good this summer, and has totally blossomed since coming up to Berkeley. I don't know when I've seen her so happy! Completely blissful! She enjoys our walks and picnics together, playing with Leo, reading books, drawing and painting (she's made a gallery of her work in the house -- come by for a visit!)...and even likes accompanying me on my many doctor's visits.

Maybe you'll hear from me more regularly on my blog since we've got the internet working now and our computer hooked up. Though it can seem disabling to not have regular internet access, it has been quite nice living media-free -- no TV, no DVD player, little computer (John's laptop late at night)...actually, the quality of life has been quite good. Maylin and I have even started a nice, little garden in the front courtyard.

Will try to post a photo of my big belly soon on flickr. Hope you're all doing well!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Back in the land of cars and convenience

Hello, hello. Just a quick note to say that we're back in the U.S. We've been busy taking care of the California end of the move -- new telephone service, new electricity and water accounts, signing up Maylin for kindergarten, etc. Plus, I've had doctor's appointments, a lab test, and an ultrasound. Keeping Maylin occupied in the very hot Central Valley has been challenging. Fortunately, we've got my parents' pool, a nearby library, and a new set of wheels to make some quick getaways.

I promise I will get to all your e-mails this week and start making social visits as soon as we get back up to the Bay Area permanently. Our furniture and other belongings dock at the end of the month -- I just hope the customs inspection doesn't take forever.

And, of course, later I will recount our final moving adventure and reveal my impressions of the American way of life after living in Paris for over three years.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Farewell, Paris!

Our goldfish Nemo has been adopted by some good friends, our dog Leo has just left this morning (5:15 am) in a Jaguar to go to the airport (a Jaguar because the dog-chauffeuring service, Taxi-Dog, had all of its other vehicles in use for other dog transfers), and our movers finally arrived yesterday after a two-day delay due to a nearly catastrophic miscommunication problem. We were able to spend the night in our own beds even though nearly everything else has been packed up in cardboard boxes. John and I had a picnic lunch of Subway sandwiches (there's a new Subway at Porte de Champerret!) on our bed yesterday, but we took Maylin out for a nice dinner in a nice Provencal restaurant at Porte Maillot called Le Sud. We hadn't eaten there in almost three years (the length of our residence in France) and our pricey bill reminded us why. The food was pretty good though. They are known for their boulliabaise (fish soup) which, if ordered as an entree, comes with homemade croutons, grated cheese, and spicy aioli (garlic mayo) to mix in. Pay about 15 euros more and get it as a main course (under a different name) with bite-size bits of seafood tossed in.

The whole moving process didn't get stressful for me until a week ago when we got the moving quote which shocked and enraged us. I immediately started shopping online for other estimates and found the average to be half-price! Unfortunately or fortunately, we had to go with the original moving company and after a re-quote which seemed to never have been confirmed, we found ourselves stranded on the day of our move. Fortunately, everything got resolved in the end which just resulted in a two-day delay, causing a domino effect of changes that needed to be made by me. Our flight and car reservation had to be rebooked, hotels had to be cancelled or rescheduled, buyers of our kitchen appliances had to be notified of the date change for pick-up (our refrigerator, dishwasher, washer/dryer, and stove/oven have to be removed through the kitchen window down to the courtyard by our movers with an electric outdoor elevator), our phone service had to be extended, the check-out inspection with the guardien had to be rescheduled, etc., etc.

Moving out of Paris is a complicated process. If I get the chance, I will post a to-do list for those of you who are or will be going through the same thing.

Okay, I'm going to have some breakfast and do some last-minute packing. I didn't pack away (or hide) enough stuff yesterday because the movers ended up packing our cleaning supplies which the cleaners will need tonight (supplies recovered -- they didn't see my Post-It) and after they left yesterday, I realized they had also packed Leo's required papers for travel (I think I was not clear enough with them)! That was scary. Fortunately, they labeled the boxes precisely and we were able to narrow down our choices to two boxes and found success with box number one. What a great relief!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Me? A model?

Today, on the street, I was approached by a man who, after verifying that I was pregnant (duh! my belly's a basketball!), asked if I had some time to do some modeling. Who knows if he was another scam artist, but I told him I was busy getting ready to moves to the States. I felt flattered just the same.

Speaking of scams, remember when I got tricked into giving money to a man in exchange for some jackets? Was that September or October? Anyways, around Christmas time, there was a clothing drive and I decided it was a good opportunity to donate the fake leather and the fake suede jackets. So, I put them downstairs along with some other unwanted clothes according to the instructions on the flyer in the foyer. I assumed they were picked up and donated to charity. But guess what? I looked out my kitchen window into the courtyard the other day and voila! I saw those same jackets being hung from the window railing of one of my second floor neighbors. For a moment I considered them thieves and thought I would go up and question them into embarrassment. But nah, not worth the hassle. I was already amused that they wanted to take those stinky things. And they really were stinky -- which was why they had to be hung outside to air out. Some nice, smelly synthetic material. One man's junk is another man's...junk.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My daughter's too computer-savvy

Maylin is very adept at using the mouse at the computer. She can play her educational games, navigate through Smurf cartoons on youtube.com, and just recently, can get two clicks away from ordering Disney DVDs from amazon.com. Yikes! I was taking an afternoon nap on a very hot day recently and had told Maylin to not bother me before setting my head down on the pillow. She was very obedient. I left her at the computer to look at a slideshow of our Berlin Zoo photos in iphoto. When I woke up, she was in her room coloring quietly (I was actually scared for a moment because I couldn't find her anywhere in the apartment and didn't hear a peep, but there she was, hidden behind a whole bunch of toys, sitting on the ground, coloring in her Manga coloring book). I peeked in on her but left her alone because she was concentrating very hard on her work. Then, I went to the computer to check e-mail. I was shocked to see the amazon.com website page open to someone's list of Disney DVDs. Wow! How did a four and a half year-old girl figure that out? I didn't have the amazon.com site open at all. And now she was literally two clicks away from ordering a DVD. I need to disable that 1-click purchasing function now!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sweet spot

Maylin started out perfectly healthy last Wednesday morning, but by afternoon, she had a fever, no appetite, and vomiting. The poor thing. She slept a lot. When she woke up and got sick, I would help her get cleaned up, and cool off her feverishly hot body with a cool, wet towel (she refuses medication). We went through this a few times. After the last time, she felt much better and immediately gave me a kiss and hug. She said, "Thank you for making me feel better, Mommy." She hit my sweet spot then. I was so touched, but I was also so amazed that a four year-old girl could already feel such appreciation for what I did for her. I told her how happy I was to take care of her and to be able to stay at home to do it. Because not all mommies get to do that. Then I made her some egg drop soup, of which she ate many bowls. I fed her every bite and loved every minute of it.

This reminds me of one time recently when we were both at home. I got up too early and had to go back to bed after giving Maylin her breakfast. She let me sleep as long as I liked. At 10:30 am, I woke up, and we did lots of activities together. Then I went into her room and noticed she had spilled a puddle of liquid yogurt on the floor. I asked her why she didn't call me when it happened, and she explained that she didn't want to wake me up. Once again I was touched that she would be so considerate. She also proudly told me that she did pick up the yogurt bottle off the floor (to prevent the entire bottle from emptying). And that is a big improvement from our previous spills, where the liquid would flow and flow without any action on her part. She's a big girl now.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The yummiest falafel in Paris

I found it, I found it, I founnnnd it! After my less than inspiring lunch at L'As du Falafel, the most famous falafel restaurant in Paris, awhile ago, I vowed to seek out the best falafel in Paris. And guess what? It's just right across the street from L'As du Falafel. It's a relatively new place called Mi-Va-Mi, on the corner of rue des Rosiers and rue des Ecouffes in the Marais (4th arrondissement). I was planning on checking it out anyways because I saw a long line of high schoolers there last time and had a hunch that the local teens would know what's happening in the world of cheap eats. For only 4 euros, you can get a falafel sandwich, which is composed of the actual falafel balls (made of ground chickpeas and herbs) -- crispy on the outside, moist and full-flavored on the inside, roasted eggplant, and various pickled cabbages tucked inside the softest, freshest pita ever, drizzled with a hummus dressing. While you're waiting in line and paying in advance to the slightly pushy salesman, he and his colleagues will serve you fresh-out-of-the-fryer, crispy hummus and little cups of cool lemonade! What a deal! And you also get to watch the competition across the street do exactly the same thing for their clients. I don't have much time left in the City of Light, but I want to go back and get a falafel sandwich AND try their brochette sandwich (should be like lamb kebab) for a couple euros more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What I'll miss about Paris #14

In the neighborhood, there's a little white furry terrier/poodle mix who literally skips with his hind legs! How cute is that? I saw him for the second time ever, and boy, he really makes me smile. I can't stop smiling and I want to follow behind him as long as possible so I can enjoy the show. It's funny -- this little guy can't help skipping, even when his owner wants him to go faster. I wasn't impressed by his owner who tried to drag him away while he was doing a doodle -- and, of course, she didn't pick it up! It's in the middle of the sidewalk, lady! Have some courtesy! I won't be missing her.

New photos to view, finally!


Things are looking up
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Ooh, what a cute girl! Hey, everyone, I've finally got SOME new photos on my flickr site. They're from Bonifacio and Corte, Corsica, when we were there in late April. More photos from Corsica to come, as well as Berlin photos (May), and those from Mont St. Michel and St. Malo (February). Click on a link (or the photo) on this posting to go directly to the site, or click on "my photos" under "links" in the sidebar of my blog. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back from Berlin!

Sorry I've been out of touch again but we just spent 10 days in Berlin! Had a fun and crazy time -- a very different trip from Corsica, that's for sure. Yep, I've got photos from all of our travels. I think I'll just have to post them without doing much editing. The editing process is just overwhelming when you've got to look at a thousand photos!

Our baby boy Armitage is doing great -- loves to kick when I'm eating. We have a 3-D ultrasound today...can't wait!

Getting ready for our move is like having a part-time job. Selling appliances, cancelling this and that. We're flying June 22 (Leo as well, but on a different airline). We'll probably have to camp out in Los Banos until our furniture arrives. Hoping to deliver the baby in Berkeley and have Maylin start kindergarten there on the first day of the school year.

More later!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Natural runner

More on Maylin. She was racing with her closest friends after school in the park the other day and it was such a beautiful thing to see. I've seen her run before and I always marvel at her grace and speed. Not a wasted movement. Everything purposeful, efficient. Her face is relaxed but intent. If she wins, she's proud. If she loses, she's fine with it (phew!).

I see her in myself. I had a passion for running, but around age ten, I developed asthma. I should've started using an inhaler regularly when exerting myself so I could participate in sports but I didn't. I was a great sprinter and was even asked to be on the track team in my second high school, but I obediently listened to my parents and focused on my studying and music instead. I don't regret my decision, but I think I did miss out on a lot of fun and I would have learned how to deal with competition better -- something I've long feared. If Maylin ever says she wants to run competitively, I'll support her.

She's declared her career

John has occasionally asked Maylin some difficult questions. Well, I always think they're too difficult for preschoolers to answer because they usually require a lot of thought. During the long car ride to Nice to take the ferry to Corsica he asked her, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" When Maylin didn't know what to do with that question, I helped a little by giving some examples. When she heard me mention "artist" and what they do, she jumped at it. She said she wanted to be an artist because painting is her most favorite thing to do. Immediately, I felt pride and envy. The pride is understandable. The envy stems from the worry that had plagued me for the last ten years or so. What do I want to do with my life? And here's a four-and-a-half year-old kid who's got it all worked out.

I had never put down "full-time mother" on my list of careers, but if you look at my skills, interests, and passions, motherhood certainly fits the bill. If I do pursue other things down the line, both professional and non-professional, that will just be icing on the cake.

"I want to put my sandals on for pretty"

Lately, Maylin's been into looking "pretty." She'll change into a dress and wear barrettes and ponytail on weekends and when she gets home from school, but she'll never do it for school. I don't really understand it. Maybe she doesn't want to draw attention from her schoolmates, even though most of the girls there wear skirts and dresses themselves. I think it was about six months ago when I was trying to get her to wear something really nice to school. She started crying because the item was "too pretty." I don't know where she gets this from. I rarely use the word "pretty" but it seems the concept has made a very strong impression on her.

The last two weeks have been nice and warm in Paris so I've allowed Maylin to wear shorts and a t-shirt to school. In the evenings, she's excited about picking out her outfit, and in the morning, she wakes up happy and energetic. I attribute her fervor to the clothes because she'll put them on herself (something she's never done entirely by herself) and come into our bedroom before it's even time for me to get her out of bed.

Sandal shopping was required when Maylin only wanted to wear her strawberry rainboots (even on hot, sunny days) or her classic, black leather Mary Jane's, which were getting rather tight. I let her pick them out -- she made a very tasteful choice and even helped me shop for my own pair. She usually makes a very nice shopping companion.

She's been proudly wearing her sandals for the last couple days (even to school) and wanted them back on yesterday evening, prompting her to say, "I want to put my sandals on for pretty." She seems to make the same grammar mistakes over and over again, but I don't ever tell her she's making a mistake and overtly correct her. I just gently repeat what she's trying to say in the the right format. So I said, "You want to put on your sandals to be pretty?" For most of my life, I didn't take criticism and corrections well, and I think Maylin may be the same way. So to preserve her self-esteem, I teach in this indirect manner and have told John to do the same. Okay, at some point, she's going to have to get used to people being direct with her, but I think this method works well for now.

The mysterious disapppearance of Mr. Black and Mr. Black

On the mantle, alongside our goldfish Nemo, there once lived our black beetles Mr. Black and Mr. Black. During our two-week Corsica trip, they subsided on the remains of a head of romaine lettuce. They survived the vacation, no problem, and Nemo (aka Princess) as well on his special, slow-dissolving, igloo-resembling holiday food. Couple days after our return home, our two tiniest pets disappeared. I remember seeing their last incarnation of a house (an open, clear plastic box) sitting in the kitchen, with the wilted lettuce. The kitchen was on odd place for their home to be, and I assumed John had returned them to their usual home, a whisky glass, because I didn't see the little guys in the box. I emptied the contents of the box into the trash and put the box in the dishwasher.

I forgot to ask John about the whereabouts of Mr. Black and Mr. Black because, days later, they still weren't in the usual mantle location. We finally had some quiet time on the couch together one evening and I was relaxed enough to bring it up -- mind you, this was at least a full week after Corsica. He told me he had no idea, he had never moved them into the kitchen, and he had not put them back into a whisky glass. So we don't know why the box was ever in the kitchen, perhaps I unconsciously moved it there...perhaps I was readying them for their house transfer. Whichever the case, they are gone now and were most likely tossed out with that lettuce, clinging onto the bottom where I couldn't see them. Or, maybe they got out and are wandering the apartment as I write this blog posting.

Fortunately, Maylin hasn't been affected by their loss. I think she even talked about them once as if we still had them. Aw, the poor kid's in the denial.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Food obsession has calmed down

Gosh, remember all those food-related blog postings from January through March? Now you can blame them on the pregnancy. Pigging out on pork in Strasbourg? My body was crying out for protein, and lots of it. Salami-egg sandwiches I made myself every morning for a period? Another call for protein. All those udon restaurant reviews? A first-trimester craving. My falafel project that lost steam? Another craving. And finally, in Corsica, I went on a deep-fried calamari binge.

I actually enjoyed all those cravings -- kept things interesting. Now it's really tough. I go to the store and I don't know what to buy. I never know what I want to eat. Meat's not very high on my list anymore. Greasy stuff? Not tempting anymore. I'm only sure about fruit, which I kept in stock in our hotel room and car during the Corsica trip. And a small bowl of granola and milk tastes pretty good in the morning.

Also, now that my belly is nearly hitting my record-sized boobs, I don't have much room in my stomach for stuffing myself like the good ol' days. Small, frequent meals/snacks throughout the day. It's a little disorienting when I go to a restaurant and I'm actually having trouble finishing my dish.

WIth some effort, I did clear my plate during my first meal (and hopefully, not last) at Zen Zoo, rumored to be the only Taiwanese restaurant in all of Paris. Went with two Taiwanese friends, of course, and we were all very impressed. Ooh, I'll stop there since this calls for a restaurant review.

Back to reading after a long dry-spell

I have been reading about three to four books per month quite steadily since September. But sometime in March, I completely lost interest in reading. Very strange -- like someone pulling out the plug. In early April, one of my friends offered to lend me several books but I had to turn her down with slight embarrassment. So it seems I just had too much on my mind. My brain was completely full and I wasn't ready to write another file onto it. It was like I had too many storylines going on in my head to handle anymore. I had the moving storyline, the pregnancy storyline, the Corsica trip planning storyline, and the Berlin trip planning storyline. I could handle minimal time investment reading, like magazines, guidebooks, and the internet.

My cloud finally lifted on Saturday, when I was in sort of a safety zone -- the final day of real physical activity limitation after my amniocentesis (which went MUCH better than last year's because it felt pretty much like a blood test instead of having my belly popped like a balloon). Since then, I've finished The Kite Runner (amazing story -- I highly recommend it to everyone) and Girl with a Pearl Earring (I got addicted and finished it in a few hours late at night). I'm working on a less-impressive Le Divorce right now. Not very inspiring reading although it's about some American expats in Paris. The author lives part-time in Paris so I thought all her facts about living here would be right, but I did notice one little error. The narrator's niece Gennie really ought to be in "ecole maternelle," or preschool, instead of going to a "creche," which, in most cases, is government-subsidized baby daycare for working moms. The daughter is three years-old, too old for a "creche" or an "halte garderie" (toddler daycare), and the mom is a poet, not really holding the typically required 9-5 job.

My nit-pickiness, I guess, can be rather annoying to people, but I think I'm a natural editor of sorts. I had the best time reading over a friend's early draft of a feature film script. Just loved giving my input, as long as the victim can handle everything I'm going to dish out. I'm very nice about it though, starting with the positive stuff first. Learned that bit in piano teaching. Actually, I probably learned that in childhood -- didn't get lots of positive strokes, just lots of criticism which got me down and compromised my self-esteem.

But that's another story.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's a boy!

John and I found out on Thursday. When the doctor told us the news, John let out a very excited gasp. I tried to hold back happy tears.

Maylin was so excited when I told her after school that day. She gave me a big smile and hug. She is so looking forward to helping out. Really wants to hold the baby and even feed him. She made it clear she wouldn't be changing any diapers, though.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Almost five months!

Okay, many of you guessed correctly already -- we're pregnant! My belly is already looking huge at nearly five months. I've been feeling the baby move for the last three weeks and it's wonderful! My next ultrasound in a few weeks will be in awesome 3-D! We will find out the sex of the baby then.

Pregnancy's been going great, but my Paris springtime allergies have not been so wonderful. Having trouble sleeping these days because of coughing fits and an incessant runny nose. It's the worst at night. In the daytime, I'm actually all right.

More on the pregnancy later. Just wanted to let you know that I've been offline for awhile because we went to the beautiful island of Corsica for two weeks. It was our best vacation ever -- relaxing, amazing scenery, fun-filled beach days for Maylin, interesting food, friendly people and animals...photos soon, I hope. I'm kind of dreading going over seven hundred photos -- the deleting and editing could take a lifetime.

Maylin was a wonderful traveler and is really blossoming into a big girl. She is so caring, so considerate. As an example, after a late dinner in Corsica, we all walked back to the hotel. As we crossed the street to the sidewalk, I stumbled on the curb, totally lost my balance, and landed on all fours pretty hard. After John had picked me up and I had dusted myself off and saw to my minor wounds, Maylin asked the question that summed up what we were all thinking: "Is the baby okay?" I reassured her that it was probably fine since I didn't land on my belly, but she did take extra precaution by holding my hand and making me walk on the inside of the sidewalk, away from the curb. Was this really a four year-old having the thoughtfulness and consideration of someone much older? She impresses me more and more each day.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Some big news

If you don't know already, we're moving back to the States! Back to Berkeley to be precise. Looks like it will happen towards the end of June. So, it'll be sad to say farewell to all the great friends we've made here in Paris, but it'll be nice to be reunited with wonderful family and friends in the Bay Area.

I will continue my blog, despite the move, since it really is more about me than me in Paris, in particular. So the URL will stay the same (don't delete your bookmarks!), but I'll have to change "Caroline in Paris" to "Caroline in Berkeley" or something else. Any ideas?

We'll do our best to keep up our French -- need to meet some Bay Area francophones. Keeping up Maylin's will be a challenge, but my French is still way ahead of hers so maybe if she and I set aside regular time to converse in French, we might be okay. Yesterday, while we were playing together, she took the initiative to speak in French to me. She's got a very cute accent, has completely mastered the back-in-the-throat "r," and just needs to work on vocabulary, verb conjugations, and genders of nouns (!).

We've got some other big news to share, but maybe I'll keep you in suspense for a little while if you don't know already...

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ginger-soy salad dressing

It's almost ridiculous how food-obsessed my blog has become these days. But anyways, I am sharing with you a great dressing that I have borrowed from the printed exterior of my friend's salad dressing bottle. It had the measurements for about six dressings! I need one of those. I can't remember what the dressing was called, but my name sums it up.

Ginger-soy salad dressing

2 tablespoons (T) soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar (seasoned might be better)
2 T honey
1/2 - 1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoon crushed fresh ginger (zester does the job great)
4 T canola oil

Shake it up and pour it over some tender baby greens -- mixed greens or just spinach is good.

Monday, March 26, 2007

In search of the best falafel

So many websites have listed L'As du Falafel on rue des Rosiers (4th arrondissement) as the best place for falafel. Even the New York Times had their article saying it was the best in Paris. Of course, I had to check it out myself. So today I arrived a little after noon. I normally would take the sandwich to go, but I took a seat with my friend inside. The service was quick, but I think, confused. We each got the falafel special sandwich (with eggplant), but for some reason, our sandwiches had very different ingredients, and mine was missing my eggplant which I had to holler for. She had tomatoes, cucumber, and eggplant, and mine had some different cabbage slaws. The falafel itself was fine, but nothing special compared the other falafel in the area. The slaws were lacking in flavor and the eggplant skins were quite bitter compared to other restaurants'.

My expectations were maybe too high, but the falafel at L'As du Falafel is nothing exceptional. Hannah's is quite good, and one of my favorites is from Chez Marianne. My best may have been from a Lebanese restaurant on rue Montorgueil (I can't remember the name -- I was there over a year ago). I'll look for it again.

There's a new falafel place almost right across from L'As du Falafel. It had a very odd, Japanese-sounding name. There was a fifteen-foot line of patient high-schoolers waiting alongside the restaurant. Maybe that's where we should all be eating. The sandwiches from all these places are about the same price (to go), 4-4,50 euros, so they're not there because it's cheaper or anything. It's likely these kids have tried all the falafel in the Marais and had decided that this one is the best.

I'll get back to you after I do some more research.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Caroline's spinach and mushroom lasagne recipe

My experimental lasagne turned out to be a success, according to my happy, friendly guinea pigs! Here's the recipe, to the best of my recollection:

Ingredients:

about 1 pound of frozen spinach (if possible, the whole leaf-kind, not chopped up)
2 cups of cottage cheese (I found it at the Champion supermarket on rue Pierre Demours -- I have not seen it anywhere else in Paris)
almost 1 pound of grated mozarella
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
at least six cups of my mushroom tomato sauce (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Thaw frozen spinach and squeeze out excess liquid. In a bowl, mix spinach with cottage cheese. In a 9x13 baking dish, pour a little bit of sauce evenly on the bottom. Mentally divide sauce into thirds, as well as the spinach-cottage cheese mixture, because this is a three-layer lasagne. For the mozarella, you should probably be a little more conservative on the inner layers, saving maybe about half of it for the top.

Okay -- ready to stack? Lay down four lasagne noodles on the bottom of the pan. Top with a third of the spinach-cottage cheese mixture (even out as much as you can), add a third of the tomato sauce, and then add a quarter of the mozarella. Then, lay down another four lasagne noodles. Add a third of the spinach-cottage cheese mix, add a third of the tomato sauce, and then add a quarter of the mozarella. Blahblahblah, etc., etc. You should finish with a nice thick layer of mozarella. Mmmm.

Place on the middle rack in the oven. Cover with foil if it gets too brown, or start with the foil and remove for the last 15 minutes or so. Bake for about 40-45 minutes? I have no idea, because this is what I actually did:

I baked it for 30 minutes, spooned off the extra liquid that had collected on the edges (I can tell you how to prevent that later in my mushroom tomato sauce recipe), let it cool a bit, then shoved it in the fridge because I was going to serve it the next day. I kept it lightly covered with the foil. Next day: preheated oven to 400 degrees and put lasagne in for about 30-45 minutes until the cheese was beautifully browned and the inside was nice and bubbly. Making your lasagne ahead of time means you get to take a relaxed pace the day of your entertaining.

Mushroom tomato sauce recipe

Ingredients:
Two 28-oz. cans of tomatoes (I happened to use whole, peeled tomatoes which I later pureed in a blender)
One pound of fresh white mushrooms, carefully cleaned and thinly sliced
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 cup of red wine
About 1/3-1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Salt (I used "fleur du sel")
Freshly ground pepper

In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil, medium-medium high heat. Add onion and garlic. Stir occasionally. Try not to let it brown -- just get it nice and soft. Then add your mushrooms. Turn up your heat to high. The water in the mushrooms will come out. If you can be more patient than me, let as much of the water come out as possible and let it evaporate! Then your lasagne won't come out so wet like mine did. Add the wine (cheap wine works fine, even according to the NY Times!) and cook that down until it has completely evaporated (some flavor still stays in the mushrooms and onions). Now add your tomatoes and bring to a boil. Bring heat down to medium-low to simmer. I cannot say how long to simmer since I was very impatient, the time being about 10:30 pm -- it might have been about twenty minutes, but I would recommend a longer time. In the last five minutes, add your basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. And do taste your sauce to make sure it's salty enough. Without enough salt, you will only taste tomato. With the salt, somehow, the other flavors come through.

Mmm...writing about lasagna makes me want some. Thank goodness I have leftovers. I'm outta here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Shall I torture the neighbors?

I've been slowly getting back into my operatic singing which can get a little loud and probably a little annoying if you don't appreciate opera. But today, I thought I'd pull out the old fiddle which has been accumulating dust for a year or so. And it has only been coming out about once a year since moving here. I really expected my playing to sound like someone skinning a cat, but it wasn't half bad, to my surprise. I was playing pretty well in tune, had forced myself to relax my hands and arms (tension has always been my big problem), and had a pretty good time playing old pieces -- some diehard favorites, and some that always intimidated me.

I have to say I'm proud of myself -- that I've retained still quite a bit of my skill. I will not be attempting any Bach partitas anytime soon though, nor will I be auditioning for any orchestras.

And Maylin even seemed a little bit interested. She didn't tell me to stop -- even came around to see how the mechanics worked. I knew music would eventually interest her. I'm not going to push her -- just try to pique her curiosity once in awhile and observe her interest level. Music lessons, eventually, I hope?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Jam party, not party jam

Our little family was doing some sightseeing and gallery-hopping in Montmartre yesterday when we discovered a very bizarre phenomenon in one of the galleries on the popular rue Lepic. Bonne Maman, the well-known French manufacturer of jams and cookies, was hosting an event there. At first, I thought it was a private party, but after I greeted the man who I thought was the bouncer, he didn't hold us back. We entered and found a tasting party for adults and children alike. I have to say I've never seen happier French people (except maybe after winning a big soccer game). Free food and drink! There were delicious fresh fruit juices, plain yogurt to top with different jams (equivalent to fruit-on-the-bottom but this time it's on top), packaged cookies and cakes, and tiny jam jars filled with not jam, but bizarre, maybe overly creative concoctions -- one being a mixture of foie gras and fig. And since the venue was a real gallery, the main hall was decorated with artsy, Bonne Maman-inspired pieces: photos of jam jars, collages of jar labels, jars transformed into flower vases...

After a little online research this morning, I found that Bonne Maman had rented out most of the gallery space to hold tastings and other culinary events in the span of five weeks. Yesterday's party was especially children-friendly with a large, low table and chairs equipped with paper, markers, and scissors. For some reason, there was also a parakeet in a wooden cage to which Maylin was especially drawn. Maylin was convinced that this was a "kids' party." It sure felt like it to me, too, although the adults did outnumber the children about five to one.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Days of being locked in the bathroom are over

Poor Maylin. While some of her American school buddies were away on vacation, Maylin started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Or actually, it was just the wrong girl. I'll call her Penelope.

Penelope is in another class, but encounters on the playground during recess are inevitable. Penelope approached Maylin everyday and told her she couldn't play with anyone else. Why are kids so possessive of Maylin? This has happened many times before with other friends. Instead of treating Maylin like a nice friend, she treated her like a victim by hitting her (not too hard, I'm sure, since there were no injuries and I've seen several, always harmless, preschool swats), and by locking her in the bathroom. I don't think you can lock the bathroom from the outside, but let's just say Maylin had a hard time getting out. She would pound on the bathroom window, yelling for help -- sometimes not being discovered until it was time to line up to go back inside to class. Recently, she was rescued by a relatively new friend.

This all sounds pretty horrible, but when Maylin recounts her experiences, she's very calm and not at all traumatized. She tells her story as if it's just a normal part of play. There was a week when she didn't want to go to school, probably because of Penelope, but I think she learned to deal with it this week, or hopefully, learned to stand up for herself as I told her she should do, since she woke up easily every morning and got ready for school quite contentedly.

Yesterday, I mentioned to Maylin's teacher that there may be a problem with Penelope -- she wasn't aware of it (so, she's not watching my kid on the playground, eh?). She promised she'd keep an eye out, but today, Maylin had her bodyguards back (returned from vacation) so Penelope left her alone. But her "bodyguards" can be tough, too, since they themselves have discouraged her from playing with others. And Maylin listens to them. She listens to everyone, except Mommy sometimes. Maylin is a willing follower. Doesn't seem to mind the demands of her peers. I figure if it doesn't bother her, it doesn't bother me. She's a lot like me. We bounce back from adversity rather quickly. Handy survival skill.

Taiwanese pearl milk tea in Paris!

Yes, yes! It's here! You've had it in Taiwan, Vancouver, and in the San Francisco Bay Area (and probably other places, too). That cool, refreshing sweet tea drink with milk and chewy black tapioca pearls. At Zen Zoo (13, rue Chabanais, 2nd arrondissement), you can enjoy this Taiwanese creation in their tiny tea room/restaurant or buy it to go (4,50 euros for a "petit"). If you want the traditional version, you'll have to ask for “thé au lait,” “froid” (cold), and “maccha” flavored. If you order it to go, it comes as you remember it – in a clear, plastic cup with a specially-sealed plastic cover that you puncture with your extra-wide straw’s pointy end. And it tastes as you remember it, too. It was the perfect drink/dessert after my very salty meal at Higuma (see my restaurant review). And just a few steps away.

http://www.zen-zoo.com
(available in English, too)

Sorry, haven't tried the food yet, but they have a very limited menu which was discouraging (see menu on website). I may go on a Saturday which is the only day they serve the Taiwanese favorite, beef noodle soup (usually nice and spicy!).

Restaurant review 2: Kunitoraya

This is, by far, my favorite Japanese restaurant in Paris. Sorry, this is a noodle and rice house -- no sushi or sashimi. But if you love tempura udon like I do, you must come here. I reviewed this restaurant after my first visit (search for it in the bar above), but I've gone back four times since then. It takes three times to learn how to order it the way I like it. First mistake: ordering the "tenpura-udon" seems pretty straightforward, but we got only one fried prawn and no veggies. Second mistake: ordering the "kamaten-udon" which is described as udon in hot soup with fried prawns and veggies, but getting udon in hot water. Yes, water -- not soup. I don't understand this and never will. Your lovely fresh udon are incredibly bland. Yes, you can dip it in your tenpura sauce, but then it's a little too salty. Third mistake: ordering the "tenpura-moriowase" (plate of fried shrimp and veggies) and the "kake-udon" (udon in delicious broth) without specifying that you want them at the same time because they think you're very French and want to consider your tenpura an appetizer instead of part of your main course. How to do it my preferred way: order the "tenpura-moriawase" and "kake-udon" and specify "aux meme temps" (at the same time). Your crispy critters stay crispy on their plate, dipped in the amazing tenpura sauce (you dump in their little condiments of sesame seeds, fresh ginger puree, minced green onions and mix it around), and you can enjoy your perfectly seasoned broth and amazing udon at the same time. A little pricey, but well worth it.

Tenpura-moriawase: 10 euros
Kake-udon: 8,50 euros

39, rue Saint Anne
open everyday 11:30 am -10 pm
(try to get there on the early side of the lunch hour otherwise you may have to wait)

website in French and Japanese: http://www.kunitoraya.com

Restaurant review: Higuma

Found at 32 rue St. Anne in the first arrondissement in Paris, Higuma is a favorite Japanese noodle house of several of my friends and is raved about on the internet by many. There's often a line out the door during the lunch hour, too. So I thought I'd take a noodle-loving friend along to check it out.

I hate flourescent light, and unfortunately, that's what greeted us. The bad lighting and unenchanting decor was made up for by the open kitchen where, if you're able to sit at the counter, you can experience the energy of four Asian cooks (sorry, few of them looked Japanese), mountains of steam, and sometimes, if you're unlucky, clouds of smoke.

Once you get past the first room, the two back rooms make you feel like you're in a Chinese restaurant -- I think it's the Chinese restaurant furniture. Anyway, the menu includes noodle soups (three different broths: salt-flavored (?), soy sauce, and miso) which all have pretty much the same ingredients -- a few thin slices of tasty roasted pork, a sprinkling of chopped bean sprouts, and four sad-looking pieces of bamboo from the can. Also on the menu are gyoza (aka pot stickers), fried rice, and chow mein.

The food, which came really fast, is actually very basic. Nothing really refined about it. The gyoza were good and the lamen noodles were fresh, but the soups were very salty and didn't look too pretty (I thought Japanese were into aesthetically pleasing presentation?). We also looked over at a woman's chow mein, which was a scary shade of dark brown, signifying an overdose of soy sauce.

Good place for an inexpensive meal, I guess. A noodle soup is about 8,50 euros, and if you want to add 7 gyoza, it's only two euros more.

As for clientele, it's what you'd expect. There were no Japanese in sight. American tourists, French students, and French businessmen made up the majority.

So sorry, everybody. In my opinion, Higuma is way overrated. Let the tourists go there. Why don't you check out Hokkaido (14, Rue Chabanais) with me, which is only a block or two away, where all the Japanese go for their lamen noodle soup? The prices are roughly the same and I think the cooks work in front of you also. And there's no line out the door.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Invasion of the men in skirts

For some reason, a small troup of middle-aged, beer-bellied, kilt-wearing Scotsmen visited the neighborhood yesterday in jolly spirits -- dancing, singing, and playing the bagpipes (one bagpipe, thank goodness, is plenty). They must have been friends with the cafe-restaurant owners right below us because the entered the building and began playing some songs for them. One of them was a bagpipe standard (I have no idea of the title), but the other was that oh-familiar tune that we all know so well as another bagpipe favorite, "Jingle Bells"! My friends and I all got a good laugh. I was also amused, the music nerd that I am, when I heard the player modulate up a whole step to the next key for the verse and come back down to the original key for the refrain again. Must have been too hard to do both in the same key, but I'm not positive since I'm rather ignorant regarding bagpipe mechanics.

As they left they restaurant, they continued their jolly music-making and I witnessed one Scotsman grab a French nanny to dance with her in the street, blocking some oncoming traffic. Ah, this is something you don't see everyday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Asian-style salad dressing

I've tried to recreate the dressing that you'll find atop the little salads at some Japanese restaurants. A little sweet, a little tangy, and full of sesame flavor.

Makes 1 cup of salad dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons), or you may try rice vinegar though I like the freshness of the lemons
3 1/2 tsp sesame oil
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 T minced shallots (or red onions)

Place in bowl and whisk together. Keep chilled in the refrigerator. Flavors meld together after sitting in the fridge for 1-3 hours. If you can keep it overnight, it tastes even better the next day and thickens (starts out rather watery) to just the right consistency. Mix again before serving.

I think it best to keep the salad very simple. Just iceberg lettuce and grated carrot is good. The carrot soaks up the dressing well -- Maylin loved the carrot-only version. I think kids like it because it's sweet.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Great online Chinese dictionary

While we were cuddling in bed this morning before school, Maylin specifically requested that I teach her more Chinese! She asked me what "shirt" was in Chinese, and to my disappointment, I realized that I didn't know. I couldn't remember "pants" either. So after dropping off Maylin at school, I looked up online Chinese dictionaries to help me out. I quickly found a great one (a minute ago) at http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php

Enter an English word, and you'll get a chart of various translations, including the Chinese characters (choose traditional or simplified) and the Mandarin pinyin. You can even click on the pinyin to get audio playback. VERY helpful when you can't remember which tone to use. I think I might make some flashcards or find some online. This is such a great resource!

I was so happy when Maylin continued her enthusiasm for learning on the way to school as she asked me for more translations! This is a great one. She said, "What is 'cacahouete' in Chinese?" Usually she asks me to translate an English word, but this time, she wanted me to translate the French word for peanut!

Yummy, sticky chicken wings

It came out once just perfectly for me. These are only estimations for the amounts -- will perfect later.

For about two pounds of chicken wings (segments separated, tips removed), make this marinade:

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp garlic powder

Preheat oven to 225 degrees Celsius (about 437 degrees F). Pour marinade in large Ziploc bag. Add wings and seal bag. Gently move around wings through the bag so that every piece is evenly coated. You can cook wings immediately, or let them remain in the marinade in the fridge for as long as you like.

Place wings evenly on an aluminum foil-covered roasting pan. Bake for 15 minutes, baste with remaining marinade, then bake for another 10-15 minutes. You don't have to bother flipping them.

Enjoy!

Attempts to teach Maylin some Chinese

My Chinese is very poor, I know, but I try my best. The last couple of nights, after I've read to Maylin her chosen book (usually in English, but I'm trying to switch into French without her noticing -- she notices immediately in the beginning and protests, but later she seems to give in), and I've turned off the lights and we're cuddling together in her big double bed, I toss out some Chinese words for her to repeat. We're starting off with body parts (and body functions that are hilarious to preschoolers). She does a pretty good job imitating my sounds, not perfectly, but I'm not going to push her to perfection yet. The last thing I want her to do is develop a resistance to learning Chinese. We're just having fun at this point.

One of my friends gave me a Chinese language acquisition DVD for kids which we'll take a look at pretty soon. I also have tons of Chinese folk song and story CDs that I have to dust off, too, from our last trip to Taiwan.

When we move back to Berkeley, California, I was planning on enrolling her in Saturday Chinese school. And hopefully, I can convince my parents to speak to Maylin mainly in Mandarin.

There's a French-American school in Berkeley, but before we moved to Paris in 2004, I had heard some disappointing reviews. Maybe things have changed over there, but I don't know. The other option is to seek out French speakers through local organizations and hope to find a little French buddy for Maylin to play with regularly, or even better, a French-speaking play group (I wish).

Would it be language overkill if I tried enrolling her in a Spanish immersion primary school for her weekday educational experience? Probably not. One of our neighbors speaks about seven or eight different languages --fluently! I think just getting the sounds in a child's ear at an early age is critical.

One of my regular readers, Sarah, has taken an interest in Maylin's language acquisition since last year. She is teaching her one year-old nephew French (you can never start too early) and keeps a blog on bilingualism and children. You can check out what she wrote about Maylin here: http://babybilingual.blogspot.com/2006/09/profile-maylin-learning-english-french.html

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Stuck on writing

Remember, I was inspired by Sue Monk Kidd's novel, The Secret Life of Bees, to start creative writing again? Well, I re-read her first chapter, which was originally an award-winning short story, to find out exactly why it was so great. So with a studious eye, I studied. Kidd is an expert at showing, not telling. You learn about the persons and places through action, not overt description. I got a bit downhearted because I realized how much more difficult it is this way. And then I thought, Is this the way I write anyway? Should I try to write like someone else? Should I study more about this first? Or should I just stick with my ignorance and see where it takes me?

I don't feel I can focus on writing now anyways. I want to sew a little plushie (stuffed toy), pick up the violin again, and maybe resume my voice lessons (let's see if my teacher will take me back after a year). Much of my internet time is spent googling Bay Area opera singers. Am I still dreaming about becoming an opera singer? Or am I happy to live vicariously through their resumes?

Okay, I spoil her once in awhile

On Sunday, Maylin and I went to the Jardins du Luxembourg for a fun afternoon. We left the apartment around 12:30, caught the 82 bus at Porte Maillot, and had a nice, scenic ride through unfamiliar neighborhoods and past the Eiffel Tower. Once we got to Luxembourg, I convinced Maylin to first make a stop at the snack bar so I could fill my empty belly. I got her a salami sandwich (3,70 euros) and a hot dog with cheese for me (5,50 euros!).

Maylin really wanted to go on the swings, so we went. You have to pay for these (1,40 euros) but they were all full and there was a small line. We waited five minutes, and Maylin got on. She was scared and timid in the beginning but loosened up a little. She didn't loosen up as much as everyone else who got pushed by their parents so hard that the swings looked more like a crazy carnival ride.

When our time was up, we heard a bell ringing at the little puppet theater. Yay! Just in time to get good seats for the puppet show (4,40 euros per ticket). This time, Guignol told the story of Pinocchio -- complete with an intermission and snacks for sale (fortunately, Maylin remembered she had a sandwich to work on), a big set change, and a wide range of characters (squirrel, rabbits, lion, witch, fairy, and dancing mushrooms -- my favorite). Pinocchio's puppet self allowed him to raise his head on a stick of a neck and wiggle his hot dog-like nose.

Afterwards, Maylin had one ride (1,60 euros) on the famous carousel on one of the inside horses, to avoid needing to work at getting rings onto a stick, which many of the older kids really enjoy.

It was about 4:20 already. Maylin could choose between the playground (again, pay to get in), or rent a sailboat. Sailboats, it was. We had to wait about five minutes in line, but Maylin didn't mind. And two euros for half an hour was worth it to me. We had a lot of fun chasing our boat around the pond, watching it get stuck with other boats, watching it stop moving when the wind died down, and pushing it off again with the long bamboo stick once it reached the pond's edge.

5 o'clock. We sat down on a couple of the many chairs available to visitors, and Maylin continued working on her sandwich (it was the length of about half a baguette). I enjoyed the mild weather, beautiful garden (still beautiful even though much of it was bare -- in transition), and people-watching. Then, Maylin's choice: playground or rented DVD (4 euros), Nanny McPhee? Movie!

We took the 82 bus again, and finally got home at 6 pm! Including bus fare, Maylin entertainment costs came to a total of about thirty euros. But what is the cost of a classic Parisian experience for a most precious daughter? Priceless.