Thursday, December 18, 2008

Back to the blog

Oops! I didn't totally forget to blog. There were some things I wanted to share but I decided that I should wait before the "stories" were complete. Yes, I've been busy. And not just with the kids! I have been very active at Maylin's school. So far, I've taught music, art, and science to her class (depending on what was missing from the curriculum at a given point in time). Now that there is no longer a science teacher at her school for first through third grade, I decided to volunteer to teach. And yes, I have no previous science teaching experience, but with my creative brain and the internet hand in hand, I've put together some fun lessons. Last week, the kids made ooblek, a substance made of corn starch and water which can demonstrate characteristics of both liquids and solids (more on that in a future posting). This week, I taught the kids how to fold paper airplanes, fly them, measure their distances, and plot the distances on a number line (we were trying to figure out if planes with big or small wings would fly farther). I think the kids had a lot of fun with both activities -- a few things I would change in the future (ooblek is really messy, and flying and measuring 2 planes for each of twenty students takes a LONG time). Next science class? Who knows? I'll probably figure it out the day of like I did today. We were going to do a bubble experiment today, but I couldn't find any liquid glycerin. Where oh where has my glycerin gone?

Aside from teaching kids (something I love to do), I have been dabbling in graphic design! I have a small history in t-shirt design from college (did three for my dorm) and jumped at the chance to volunteer myself to design a t-shirt for the dance department at our local YMCA. I am usually not so forward, but when I heard that there was a possibility to do the work, I immediately introduced myself and said I'd be willing to do the job. Two designs and many management miscommunications later I have one of my designs printed! I am happy I got to do it, but really wished that my original design went through instead. More on that later as well, plus photos.

I also designed a logo for an offshoot organization within the PTA at Maylin's school. It's pretty clever, I think. Photo to post later.

I've also been on a crusade to improve Maylin's school. It has not been an easy task, and I probably shouldn't go into too many details so I don't hurt anyone's feelings, but people have been very helpful along the way, and it seems that making my voice heard does actually make a difference! I requested better communication (and more of it) from the principal and she has delivered after each request.

I am still addicted to knitting! In the nearly six weeks of continued knitting by this beginner, I have produced over eight scarves! My first scarves are pretty funny. Each time I made a mistake, I would plow right through and keep knitting. Lots of irregularity there. Now when I make a mistake, I'm actually able to fix them or just take out the whole row withe the mistake and redo it. I still can only do one stitch (the basic knit stitch), but am looking forward to learning how to purl.

On top of all this, I have been able to do quite a bit of reading (while I nurse Stefan on the bed, I pull out a book). Titles have included, "The Homeschooling Handbook," "Homeschooling: The Early Years," "The First Year of Homeschooling," and "Homeschooling: A Family's Journey." You might have an idea of what I'm up to, and I know what you're going to say first to me because many people have said it already and the books have already warned me --"but what about socialization?" If we do end up homeschooling (just an option at this point), Maylin will continue getting plenty of opportunities to socialize. She will probably still take her ballet and Chinese classes, I'll probably sign her up for other activities as well, she will likely be accompanying me to all my activities, and I will continue organizing playdates with all her friends (including her present school-going friends). I don't think there's a danger of my just holing up in the house with the kids for years and years. That's certainly unnatural, and pretty darn boring! There's so much more to talk about regarding homeschooling...I'll have to save it for another time.

Oh, I forgot. Not many people know this, but a week and a half ago, I performed in a concert at a local university (not Cal). I helped out my choral directing friend who needed a soloist for her choir concert. It was fun...I miss singing...

Okay, last thing. Last week, I danced my heart out at my first dance performance in over twenty-six years! I take two hip-hop classes a week at the local YMCA. I started in September, which is about when the teachers started preparing us for the December show. I hardly missed any classes -- I was so dedicated! I even practiced at home a little! Great exercise and so much fun!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New addiction: knitting

A friend kindly introduced me to knitting last week. She forgot to tell me that this activity can be highly addictive! I cannot stop now! She showed me how to do the most basic stitch, and to learn more, I went to YouTube, of course, to watch knitting videos! The ones by cyberseams.com are great. Just go to YouTube.com and search "how to knit." Start with the basic stitch video -- you can do an entire scarf with what you learn from there. I've already finished two scarves and am a quarter of the way through another. I don't have the most beautiful stitch going yet and I get tangled up sometimes, literally, but I keep going -- keep plowing through. So, my scarves don't look perfect, but they're so fun to do and I'm getting better and better as I slowly figure out the nuances of knitting on my own. Maybe I'll get some photos up sometime.

Play school

The weather's been glorious here! This past Sunday, Maylin and I had a "homeschool" morning -- her idea! We had a gardening "class" (planted our avocado trees which we had started from fresh pits in early September), cooking "class" (she helped me make a puffed apple pancake for brunch), she did some phonics and spelling in her BrainQuest workbook, we played a couple impromptu games with some addition flashcards, and then spent hours on the playground across the street (and made a couple new friends!). I can't think of a more fun day with Maylin. She's so enthusiastic about learning! I don't want to miss a minute of it!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A new beginning for America

That was the most exciting election ever! The Armitage family is very happy about the results -- what a turning point for America. I was surprised by how calm and serious Obama was when giving his speech in Chicago. No giddiness, not as many smiles as I would have expected. I guess, in the state our country is in, you can't celebrate for too long. There's so much work to be done, and he must have already felt the weight of all that on his shoulders.

I woke up half expecting the world to look different outside, but no, it looked the same. To me though, something feels different. I feel hopeful that America will get its priorities straight and move forward towards a better future.

P.S. McCain gave a very nice speech in Arizona. He showed excellent sportsmanship -- I actually felt sorry for him. The world would have been a different place if he had won the Republic nomination in 2000.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Egads: the horrors of shopping for a preschool

I don't know if people have this problem outside of Berkeley, but the preschools here are either really expensive, have hardly any structure (not much different from a daycare), or both. And the waitlists for the expensive ones are really long. Some people recommend signing up your child while s/he is in utero. I'm even thinking of starting my own neighborhood pre-school co-op. I can do just about everything the expensive schools offer. Teach music, art, science, letter recognition and writing...but I don't have chickens in the backyard for egg collection (yes, one school has chickens!). But then, maybe I might be willing to pay someone to do what I can do just so I can have some time to myself. Because really, do I want to take care of four or five little children besides my own? Elementary school-age, no problem. But preschool age is a whole different ballgame.

Maylin went to public preschool in France, and boy, was that easy. It was easy because we didn't have a choice. You were assigned a school in your neighborhood, assigned a teacher...the only choice I had to make was whether or not she would get a school lunch. Plus, the quality of preschool education there is excellent. By American standards, it would be considered too structured, but it was just perfect for Maylin who was ready for it. Kids are never too young to learn some discipline and be orderly. Of course, give kids time to play and explore, but let them learn how to sit quietly in a seat and work, if only for a few minutes. They have the capacity to learn! The transition to kindergarten will be so much easier, especially for boys who tend to be the ones who can't sit still.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Downward-facing dog


For those of you who have done yoga, this pose called "downward-facing dog" will be familiar to you. It one of Stefan's favorite poses which he figured out on his own. I wonder if he'll attempt Pilates anytime soon.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Many hats

In my twenties, I was so stressed about finding a career. My problem was finding ONE career. Now that I'm a stay-at-home mom, I find that I can dabble in about anything I'm interested in and not feel pressured in any way (I'm volunteering my services). I probably mentioned this before, but I've been teaching music and art to Maylin's class at school. I've been more interested in the art-teaching...the art projects really empower kids and let them explore their creativity. Creative kids have an outlet, and the kids who have difficulty in traditional subjects of reading, writing, and math, get a chance in building their self-confidence by making something for themselves. I just love seeing that.

I got to do some photography at a fundraiser at Maylin's school. Got many compliments on my work after posting my photos on a bulletin board in the school's main hallway. Everyone was really grateful. I guess this is what my photography skill was meant for -- at least for the moment. And I'm happy to help.

And since we're on the topic of photography, Maylin's school just had "Picture Day" with photos taken by LifeTouch. Now do they have a monopoly on school photography? I am sure they do. However would they be able to charge such high prices for the photos? I forked over $50 last year for a package. No more. Why should I pay too much money for photos that look so contrived when I can do natural-looking photos for free? And why can't we just buy one 8x10? They force you to buy the $50+ package to get it.

Some people from Maylin's school have referred to me as an artist. Made me feel pretty cool. I haven't made anything substantial for a long time, and yet, people still call me an artist after having sold two painting last year for a school fundraiser.

And now, I've been called a "dancer" a couple of times now that I'm taking two hiphop classes weekly at the gym and am in a December performance. I guess once you perform (or are committed to a performance), you become a "dancer"?

I may also get the chance to design t-shirts again (haven't done it since college). I'll keep you posted if anything comes of that. Once again, people love you when you do something for free. And I'll do anything if I love doing it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Self-portrait at 93 weeks?


The last self-portrait I took was when I was 38 weeks pregnant. Heehee -- has it been about 93 weeks since I got pregnant with Stefan? Too bad you can't see my tummy this time, but I'll just proudly say that I weigh less than my pre-pregnancy weight! By the way, I took this photo in the bathroom.

My other cutie pie...




We went to the Spring Hill Farms pumpkin patch in Petaluma last Sunday and had a wonderful time. More photos will be up on my flickr site soon. Maylin had a marvelous time picking her pumpkin (took her only a few seconds), watching her friend milk a cow, enjoying other farm animals, eating organic homemade ice cream, going on a hay ride, and running through a hay maze.

Future Gap model?


Well, after encouragement from friends and relatives, and after deliberating for over a month about whether I should enter Stefan in the online Gap Casting Call for new models, I finally submitted four photos last minute (about 36 hours before the deadline -- phew!), and this cute one was not one of them! Will I regret it? Initial judging is based a third on appearance of the child, a third on personality of child, and a third on quality of photo. This photo is not very sharp, but doesn't Stefan look great? If Stefan becomes a finalist (how likely is that? thousands of submissions? maybe more?), public online voting will start December 8. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Two stars are born! Watch Caroline and Stefan in an Obama ad!



This was totally fun to do. A neighbor asked for our help, and we were quite willing since we're Obama supporters. I quickly whipped up that special onesie that Stefan's wearing with a permanent marker -- Babies for Obama. You may also notice that I am wearing a tunic that has O's (O for Obama) all over it. Just a little subliminal stuff. By the way, I don't know how to text.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mommy full-force

I have fully immersed myself in Maylin’s classroom. The regular teacher has been on maternity leave and will not return until mid-November, so I have been doing the best I can to help the substitute who is very nice and very receptive to all my ideas. I have started a weekly newsletter to keep all the classroom families informed. I have also started teaching art and music once a week, for a half-hour per subject. That totally fulfills my need to teach, work with children, and do something creative! I love planning out my lessons and getting supplies. My first project was mini-books (only folding and cutting, no gluing/taping/stapling), and the second was alphabet books bound with rainbow yarn. This week we tackle bleeding tissue “paintings.” You can’t imagine how hard it’s been to locate this rare bleeding art tissue. Joann’s Superstore in El Cerrito didn’t have it (they didn’t even know it existed), Michael’s in Emeryville neither. Dick Blick’s (a real art store) had two packs left. Phew. I’ve never worked with this stuff before, but it sounds amazing. I’ll do a few tests before presenting it to the class. You tear up the tissue, place it on your paper (I got large, high-quality watercolor paper), and brush it over gently with water, leaving the color to bleed for 10 seconds. Remove the paper to see the watercolor effects underneath, or glue on for a different effect. The really great thing is that you can layer different colors on top of each other. I’m curious to see how they will blend. This should prove to be an extremely creative project. Upcoming projects will include Mexican paper-cutting and papier mache.

I just started teaching music last week, which will be in a similar format as last year’s when I taught Maylin’s kindergarten class. It’s so great to see the kids come alive in both the music and art classes. It seems this is what kids are meant to do – move about and be creative. It’s tough when they’re expected to be in their seats for most of the schoolday.

I asked Maylin which class she preferred, music or art. She chose art, which should be no surprise. She’s always coming up with ideas for her own projects (it’s hard when she HAS to finish a project and it’s bedtime). Some notable projects which I should photograph include a mermaid costume made entirely out of paper, a dog house for her favorite stuffed dog, Coconut (who got married over the summer to a friend’s stuffed panda, Alex), and a 3-D forest scene complete with real wood pasted down to look like a felled log, and standing colored cut-outs of trees, a deer, and a rabbit.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wardrobe makeover

I didn't have anything to wear. You know how women will say sometimes, "I don't have anything to wear!" Well, I truly didn't have anything to wear because my body has changed so much and because I had given away most of my clothes that didn't fit anymore (too small, but also too big). I am also getting tired of my standard solid black or gray color scheme and feel the need to express my artistic self though my clothing because our bodies are like canvases.

I visited Crossroads Trading Company and Buffalo Exchange in Berkeley and came out with some terrific finds! I have only bought second-hand clothing two other times, and this was by far the most fun clothes shopping I've ever had. The condition of the clothing is great, the quality can be quite high (some great names in design), and the prices are perfect. I always get bored with the selection in department stores, but in these two stores, you'll always find interesting stuff. I decided that I was going to wear more stylish things and more whimsical things. Because I want to be stylish and whimsical. I found an incredible Anthropologie ruffly wool cardigan (originally $118) for only $30 at Crossroads Trading. To get finds like this, you basically have to buy them the same day they get put out on the floor in the store. In other words, you kind of have to stop by everyday. At Crossroads, I also found a fun Paul Frank (google it, you'll get the idea) hoodie for $18. I got a cute Elmo t-shirt that says "Wanna play?" from Buffalo Exchange, as well as a Paul Frank long-sleeve tee.

Shopping is finally fun!

Maylin glowing

Maylin started ballet at a new school this year (she was getting bored at the former place) and she enjoys it so much. It's a relatively small class, fewer than 10 girls, but they're all 5-6 year-olds, have their hair up, wear black leotards, and smile and laugh as they move across the floor. Their teacher is very effective in getting them to move beautifully with their arms (the different positions), and Maylin moves her whole body with strength and purpose. Of course, I can't help but think she's the prettiest girl there with her awesomely long legs which I never had as a little girl.
What struck me the most about her was her smile, her radiance. This was childhood joy at its best. An incredible glow and sparkle about her that made me glow inside.

She actually didn't choose to do ballet. She actually wanted to quit completely after last year, but I somehow convinced her (didn't force her) to try it again with a different teacher. Maylin can be very stubborn at times so I was relieved when she consented. Why do I want her to do ballet? I took ballet as a child and I think it's great for posture, teaches you how to move gracefully, is a great foundation for other types of dance and for sports activities in general (whatever she chooses in the future), and gives her that regular physical activity that she might not always be getting in school.

Stefan, my little prince

Time for an update on the little guy. He started walking at the beginning of the week, but only attempts a couple steps at a time. He won't walk straight to Mommy yet. Stefan seems to just walk by chance, or accidentally. He's trying to get somewhere, takes a couple steps, seems to realize that this new method is awkward, and then proceeds on his way on all fours which is a very speedy way for him. He is FAST! And he's really cute crawling. He lifts up his hands really high when he's so excited.

Stefan can be quite a charmer. I thought he had a particular soft spot for the ladies, but he seems to like to be a ham with both sexes. He'll pat people's shoulders when I'm not looking, do "squinty-squinty" with his eyes (I refuse to let John call them "Chinese eyes"), or move his head down to one shoulder in an effort to be extra cute. But his smile makes everyone melt.

I get many compliments on his cuteness in public. Several people have recommended modeling for him. One of my sister-in-laws even forwarded me a link to Gap's casting call for baby/child models. I haven't decided yet, but I have to hurry because the San Francisco casting days are next Friday and Saturday! I'm not looking forward to staying in a large room with hundreds of other uncomfortable children from 10am-4pm.

He is a very curious fellow. Much more curious than Maylin was. Loves exploring EVERYTHING. I'm so glad he hasn't figured out how to open drawers and cabinets yet.

Stefan has moments when he talks a lot. His syllable of choice for the last few months have been "da-da," but when he's tired, he'll sometimes say "ma-ma."

He's beginning to really hug me (precious) and kiss me on the lips with an adorable open mouth (wet but just as precious).

He also understands so much. I tell him to roll the ball, he rolls the ball. He'll get the car if I tell him to. It's all so exciting. By the way, with balls, he's been a true natural. The first time he noticed a ball in June, he knew exactly how to throw it -- a perfect overhand pitch with follow-through. Amazing! First time he saw a car, he pushed it. Is this innate in all boys?

I suspected he was suffering from lactose intolerance after several nights of his crying from gas pains. (It wasn't beans.) I would nurse him back to sleep, but many times he wouldn't go back to sleep, so I'd keep nursing. These breasts have never been used so much! Anyways, I decided to experiment by cutting cheese (no pun intended) out of his diet. Voila! No gas pains! The next day I made the mistake by serving him cheese crackers. That resulted in another bad night.

I was stumped with the lactose intolerance thing. But babies drink milk all the time right? Stefan doesn't like it though -- he drinks only breast milk and water out of a cup (with me holding it). (By the way, he never took to a bottle, never used a sippy cup properly, but drank out of cup with ease so that's how we've done it for a very long time.) One of my friends whom I hadn't seen in about eight or nine years came up with the solution. He said that the bacteria in yogurt helps with the breakdown of lactose. Well, guess what? Stefan was getting tired of eating yogurt all the time (used to be his favorite food), so I began substituting more cheese so he would get enough fat and calcium. And there you have it. A gradual development of lactose intolerance. So I'm getting Stefan back into yogurt and will lay off the cheese for a while longer.

Stefan's favorite things? His sister, dogs, especially ours, Leo, balls (the ones that are small enough to pick up, his toy train that moves and spits out the balls that you insert, and soft, chewable bath toys.

Changing his diaper at this age is next to impossible. When he was younger, I marveled at how still and pleasant he was during each change. Now, I'm near to breaking a sweat trying to hold him down. He's so active! Oh, and try putting pants on a squirmy baby. John helped me put two legs down one pant leg. See what parental teamwork gets you?

Stefan is all sweetness. I love him so much -- sometimes I want him to stay a baby forever. Holding and squeezing and kissing him is such a joyful activity for me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fun weekend

Last weekend, Maylin had a blast. On Saturday, she had her first swim lesson. I was so proud of her as she dipped her head into the water like the other two students. She had been scared of doing that for a long time, but when she saw her cousins doing it while we were at the family pool party in Ohio earlier this month, she did it with them, and did it again at her lesson. She's way ahead of where I was when I was her age. I just about flunked all my swim lessons from age four on.

After the swim lesson we ran into the Berkeley Farmer's Market and the Berkeley Old Time Music Festival with adults and children fiddling, playing on the banjo and guitar, and singing. She was entranced. Right afterward, we went to her school picnic where she played with her friends for hours. Afterward, we got deliciously greasy New York-style pizza at Arinell's. Walked home, but on the way stopped to gnosh on some cannoli (whipped cream-filled pastries).

Sunday was the Solano Stroll, a street fair in our neighboring city, Albany. The kids section was towards Solano Avenue, so we stayed within those three blocks. Maylin got to see a small chamber ensemble of kids performing from the Crowden School, a music school in Berkley, a reggae band made up of fourth grade (?) boys, girls belly-dancing (one girl from her camp this summer), a rather boring magician, and free cartoons at the Albany Twin movie theater. They also had several inflatable kids entertainment -- an obstacle course, a pirate ship, a giant slide, and a basketball hoops game. Maylin was excellent with the obstacle course -- so fast! And the giant slide was really giant. I would have been too scared to do it when I was her age. I took along Stefan and a friend I hadn't seen in five or six years. We bypassed all the BBQs and headed for a sit-down restaurant just around the corner on San Pablo Avenue named Muang Thai (also known as Da Nang). Great, reasonably priced Vietnamese and Thai food. It's a large restaurant but never has many customers. It's definitely due to the location. Most people just drive by that area too quickly. I highly recommend the Pad See Ew (I never know how to spell that) which is pan-fried wide rice noodles with egg, broccoli, and your choice of meat, the Beef Noodle Soup (request the flat rice noodle), and the Egg Noodles with BBQ pork (but you must substitute with the flat rice noodle -- they will gladly do it). Those noodles are the freshest rice noodles I've ever had (except for those super-wide ones they serve at dim sum restaurants). Chinese restaurants rarely have them this fresh (otherwise known as chow fun noodles).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lost luggage

I am not new to the whole lost baggage syndrome at the airport (someday, I'll get around to telling you all my worst experience ever). We flew to Ohio last week to visit family and due to a too hasty connection (due to a delayed first leg), my bag (with my clothes, Stefan's clothes, and Maylin's clothes!) didn't make it onto the second plane. Sleepily, we put in a request to have the bag delivered to our destination later that night (estimated 1 am delivery). (I apologize for all these parentheses, but I'm feeling too tired and too lazy to write properly.)

Anyways, the bag never showed up that night (they were to leave it on the porch). The next day, we checked the "status" of our bag on the internet and by phone (automated service). It said we would receive it within 6 hours after arriving at the airport, but that there may be some delays. Well, the delay got longer and longer. Finally, four days later, we head back to the airport to find out what's up. They tell us that it's already been delivered! To the wrong address, obviously. Turns out we gave them the wrong address -- "East" instead of "West," but the street is a horseshoe with the "East" part of the street turning into the "West" part. The delivery guy should have called us if there was any question, but he didn't. After getting back from the airport, we decided to drive along the street slowly to see if our bag was on any porches there by mistake. And sure enough, there it was at 6669 W. instead of 6667 E. According to the mail carrier, that house had been vacant for 4-5 months. My cell number was on the bag, so that explains no one trying to call us.

I was actually not bummed out too much about missing my bag because all I really needed was contact lens solution, diapers, and a toothbrush for Maylin (John had an extra one for me, fortunately). Access to a washer and dryer was key. It was kind of cool being able to live comfortably without all that STUFF.

By the way, all our belongings were intact in the the suitcase, but a bit on the soggy side. There was a storm the first night.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Perfect pairing for breakfast

Ooh yum. I've been eating nonfat plain yogurt for breakfast for about a couple months now. You may cringe and say, "Ew, isn't that really sour?" Yes, it's pretty tangy, but I had been supplementing it with a tablespoon of Bonne Maman jam. My favorites have been the Wild Blueberry (absolute favorite), along with Fig, Strawberry, and Damsonplum (I sure miss the Mirabelle plum flavor which is not available in the U.S.). After I got tired of jam, I started trying honey. It's nice, but it just doesn't compare to the MAPLE SYRUP! It is SO sweet it creates the perfect counterbalance to the yogurt's sourness. It's also so sweet that you don't need to use a lot of it. Less than a tablespoon to a cup of yogurt. It's quite delightful -- like eating dessert in the morning.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Homemade toy for Maylin


Paper toys for Maylin
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Made the boy and girl paper dolls and their home (modeled after our French apt.) while we were in France, and added Mommy and Daddy and the baby twins in June. Making toys is always fun. Photos of other toys to come!

I just want to eat him up!


Huh?
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
I took this picture of Stefan at the end of June at a friend's house. He is unbelievably pretty! I love, love, LOVE him!

Gym freak again?

I joined the gym finally! The last week and a half I have been religiously walking from our North Berkeley hills home through the Cal campus to Downtown Berkeley with the kids in tow in an effort to get back into shape. Coming back up the hill is good cardio, but I didn't feel like it was enough for me to make a significant improvement in my fitness, so I decided to join a gym. Fortunately, it has great classes (I haven't tried them all, but so far, I prefer my ol' neighborhood gym in France) and I might be able to attend up to five a week if I have enough energy and John's able to watch the kids on the weekends (a little more complicated during the college football season). More realistically, I'll probably be able to take 2-3 classes a week, but that's fine with me. Plus, Maylin can take swim lessons there, and they have baby classes, too!

I tried a hip hop class which I thought was great but may be beyond my skill level (I'm a beginner who accidentally attended more of an intermediate class). It was full of well-seasoned regulars who knew the choreography cold and hardly ever made mistakes. Yikes. I'm going to try the beginning class in a couple of days to see if I can at least start building a repertoire of hip hop moves (and move in a more hip hoppy way, instead of bouncing around like a cheerleader or Richard Simmons).

Maylin starts school tomorrow as a first grader and we're going to walk there (Maylin's choice over the bus)! I'm giving us 40 minutes though I think it would take me 20 minutes. Stefan will ride along in the jogging stroller. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Stefan, wunderkind

Stefan has been a dream baby. Goes to bed easily around 8:30 pm every night, sleeps through the night (although now that he's got an eighth tooth coming in, he'll wake up occasionally starting around 5 am), eats just about anything (and a lot of it, oftentimes, more than Maylin at a meal -- Maylin's more of a grazer), loves books (makes this cute monotone sound as he flips the pages, like singing), loves his sister (still laughs when he sees her in the morning), and is a good athlete (he is a natural when it comes to balls -- a great toss every time).

He's also a musician. Last night, Stefan and I had a monotone singing session together! He has a beautiful voice. He would hold out these long tones, which sounded like an A-440. I echoed him with my face close to his. I thought it was the most beautiful music ever. Like Maylin was, Stefan is a high chair percussionist. Loves banging on that tray with both of his hands. He loves music and being sung to. Maylin didn't really care much for it when she was a baby.

Oops, gotta go. Kids crying.

A summer of living and creating

It definitely wasn't a summer of blogging (sorry, loyal readers), but it was definitely a summer of living and creating. Yes, I had to take care of both of my children the entire summer without much of a break for myself (Maylin only had one week of camp and a few short classes), but I really had a fantastic summer. Fortunately, Maylin and I have similar interests. We drew a lot together, visited the library many times, read a lot (me to her and her to me), had friends over (Maylin's mostly), visited Grandma and Grandpa and swam in their pool (oops, not me this summer), walked to the Cal campus to picnic on the lawn and say hello to the dinosaur bones in the Life Sciences building, made new friends at the park, made new reptile friends at the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley (with the option to touch them, which we didn't -- but we were amazed by the beautiful patterns on the snakes, the variety of lizards [frilled dragons, monitors of all sizes], and the liveliness of some turtles (Stefan liked one particularly active snake and the store owner's dogs the best).

Our house has been home to many different craft projects this summer. Maylin and I are in the process of making a doll out of wooden balls (photos to come!) that we found from the inspiring store, Castle in the Air, on the Fourth Street in Berkeley. Previously, we made plaster farm animals from a kit. The molds are really great -- I'm looking forward to finding more plaster powder to make even more darling animals. Maylin's taken card stock and made toys for herself (beds for dolls, shelving for a doghouse...really cute). She's made at least a half-dozen books, and I made one for a friend complete with drawings, a poem, and favorite dessert recipes. Oh yes -- I've also carved out MANY rubber stamps and, when I have a big chunk of time to myself, will print out some cards to sell on etsy.com for fun. I offered to make a rubber stamp for Maylin, so she drew, of course, a very complicated design which I carved out with such intense concentration I ended up with very tense shoulders and neck, something I haven't experienced since taking finals at Cal way back from before '96.

Besides carving stamps, I've gotten into food in a big way. I read Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Barbara Kingsolver, and am following that up with The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I have been inspired to eat local and organic whenever possible, and I have done so pretty well this summer. I haven't taken a trip to Safeway in months and am quite proud of myself! I head over to Berkeley's Monterey Market once a week where they have a lot of local produce direct from the farmers at great prices. Their dairy section is great, too, though I wish they had more of a cheese selection (I'll have to visit the Cheeseboard soon -- which is actually walking distance from my home!). We don't eat much meat these days, but what we do eat is mostly from Magnani's, near the Monterey Market. They carry free-range chickens and Niman Ranch beef and more. I was most impressed by the Sonoma Farms free-range chicken. Actually, if you want to know the difference among all the chickens that are out there, do a boiling test. Boil your chicken (and eat it, of course), but save the broth and put it in the fridge until the fat coagulates on the surface. I've only boiled a couple chickens lately, but I'll tell you my observations.

Coleman Organic (from Costco) versus Sonoma Farms Free-Range

The Coleman Organic produced a lot of saturated fat, probably comparable to a Foster Farms. The flavor of the chicken wasn't significantly better than your run-of-the-mill chicken, and the size of the breast was quite large. The fat coming out of the Sonoma Farms Free-Range chicken looked totally different! First of all, there wasn't much of it, and second of all, there was very little of your typical saturated chicken fat (you know, that thick, pasty whitish stuff). Instead, the fat was very light in texture and mostly transparent! That's probably as healthy as fat can get (if you intend on eating it). And the flavor? More of it! Very chicken-y, in a good way. The way chicken should be. What a wonderful aroma! And the size of the breast was reminiscent of an A- or B-cup, instead of a D- or E-cup. More realistic. To be sure, I will continue purchasing this beautiful bird, which was only a couple dollars more than the Coleman Organic. Definitely worth the extra bucks.

First-time sushi-making

I made cucumber rolls (kappamaki) for the first time for Maylin's marine biology class party (food from the sea only, and I wasn't about to bring processed stuff from the store that contained agar or carageenan). They were fun and easy to make, beautiful, and the kids loved them! I just looked up a recipe for the rice on the internet, whipped out the rice cooker/steamer and my bamboo mat for rolling, and I was ready to go!

I got the recipe for the sushi rice from about.com (http://japanesefood.about.com/od/sushiforbeginner/r/sushirice.htm) but I didn't follow the directions exactly. I cooked 2 1/2 cups of Japanese rice, instead of 3, and used almost the entire recipe of sushi vinegar (sushi-zu), which is as follows:

* 1/3 cup rice vinegar
* 3 Tbsp sugar
* 1 tsp salt

You combine it in a saucepan and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Gently fold it into cooked rice with paddle. Let the rice cool a little, otherwise you'll have soggy nori (roasted seaweed). Then take a sheet of nori and cut it in half so you'll have maki-sized sushi rolls. Cut and peel a cucumber (I prefer English), de-seed if you prefer, and then cut long strips, about the length of your nori (which you've placed edge to edge on your bamboo mat). With your rice paddle, make a thin layer of rice from one edge of the nori to almost the other end. Place a piece of cucumber down the middle of your blanket of rice and then carefully roll your sushi with the mat, gently squeezing and shaping, rolling several times until the form has set. Then slice your roll with a serrated knife (about 3/4 inch pieces?). Arrange beautifully on a platter.

With my success, I decided to continue my sushi adventure by attempting to make spicy tuna rolls. Most online recipes required raw tuna, which I didn't have on hand that evening. Instead, I used a can of tuna and threw in a little of this and that. "This and that" included rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and some of Trader Joe's jalapeno pepper sauce. Used the same technique as for the cucumber rolls, but substituted a thin layer of tuna down the middle of the rice. I have to say it tasted pretty good, but unfortunately, I can't tell you the exact amounts because I don't remember what I threw in!

Friday, August 15, 2008

New photos!

I put some new photos on flickr a week or so ago. Isn't Maylin a sweetie? There's also Stefan photos and a Jou family photo (unfortunately, John isn't in that one).

Last days of summer

Maylin and I have been having a really good time the last couple weeks, ever since I started her on a more timely bedtime schedule. Going to bed at 11 pm results in temper tantrums the next day. I wonder why???

Yesterday, we walked to the Cal campus for a picnic snack on Memorial Glade, went to see the dinosaur bones (and buy some gummy worms), and then went off to the library for some computer time and to pick up the second installment of Captain Underpants. We had a picnic semi-lunch on a lawn on campus and then busted our butts climbing back up the hill (with Stefan in tow in his jogging stroller).

Maylin finished her marine bio class at the Berkeley Marina last week and made a few friends. Maylin said that this class was the best time she's had all summer -- topping clay class and Fairyland camp. They collected plankton, explored the bay through binoculars (her favorite part), printed t-shirts with REAL fish, and found microscopic creatures in the mud. Oh yes, they also did belly biology on the docks which I hope she'll show me how to do later.

I was going crazy not doing any creative things, but I finally made some rubber stamps after being inspired by some handprinting books at the MOMA bookstore. If I can disciplined (somebody kick my butt!), I'll photograph my work for you.

More later. Can't wait to tell you about Stefan.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Free time nonexistent

Hello, stranger. Sorry I've been out of touch for so long. I have barely enough time to read e-mails, and even less for responding -- so if you're expecting an e-mail back from me, expect a delay time of...oh, say, about a month or more.

Why do I have time to write now? It may not surprise you if you know of my early blogging history...I write in the middle of the night. This is my ONLY chance at peace and quiet, and time for myself. It's quite a glorious feeling, I must say, even though I am utterly exhausted. It's a bummer when I lose an opportunity to catch some zzz's. But, Stefan woke me up around midnight (wow, I actually got to bed before midnight this time -- only because, strangely enough, my head was freezing and I felt a headache coming on...it's cold in here!) and after nursing him back to sleep, I am unable to relax my speeding mind to a state prepped for falling back asleep.

Voila, I am here, and am realizing how I may have lost many readers in the last month and a half. Oh well. What can I do. But if you're reading this now, you must be a diehard fan or a close relative. Thanks for sticking it out.

Anyways, you all are due for an Armitage update. You'll be happy to know that we're all hunky-dory. Healthy, evolving, living life as best as we can.

Maylin has been drawing up a storm. She has pictures Scotch-taped all over her redwood-walled room (side note: did you know that the French call Scotch tape just plain "Scotch"?). Her skills have been improving just beautifully. I have been bad about posting photos of her work...maybe I'll get around to it before she gets to college. :)

Bedtime for her is usually around 9 pm. Last night, I let her work on her book of horses. I had bought her a pack of four plastic horse figures and two plastic people to keep her happy during a recent shopping trip (yes, a bribe). She's been playing with them intensely on her own (I love imaginative play and listening to her act out various scenarios == I really should type out a transcript of it all). Yesterday, it was time to draw a portrait of each of the toys. So by 10 pm last night, she had bound her book with staples and written "the end." I know how good it feels to finish a project at the end of the day. And boy, how I miss it! Don't even ask me how many unfinished projects I have going. Actually, it's more like, how many unfinished projects have I not even started yet? Those projects are pure fantasy at the moment.

Maylin has been an excellent caretaker for her baby brother Stefan. She plays with him when I hit the showers sometimes. She keeps all the dangerous things away from him, or as she prefers, keeps Stefan away from the dangerous things by carrying him from place to place. It's really cute and Stefan really likes being toted around by big sister or "jieh-jieh" (in Mandarin). Maylin just adores Stefan. I love to see the love between them. Stefan still exclaims with delight when Maylin is in sight.

Stefan's personality is really showing through these days. He loves to entertain. You're most likely to see his routine right after a meal in his highchair. He'll do this funny squint (which we call "squinty, squinty") where his lower lids come up, making upside-down letter u's. After we laugh, he then proceeds to drop his head sideways to a shoulder, which looks so cute we have to say "awwwww". This will happen several times a day to all of our delight. I hope I'll have the chance to catch it on my camera.

He's still crawling and cruising (it's amazing how fast he can crawl!). He can stand for a few seconds. He walks with support, either holding our hands or pushing a toy.

Don't worry, I've been taking photos of him, but they just haven't been posted to flickr yet.

Last week, I was at my parents' with the kids, and pigged out big time (ice cream bars, my mom's great cooking), ruining all the progress I had made physically (with virtually no exercise). I had gotten down to a pound below my pre-pregnancy weight (I know, a shocker) and was pleasing myself and John very much with my new svelte self, but now I see a distended belly returning and it's scary! Breastfeeding can only use up so many calories. Time to get back to hardly any white carbs. Plus, I really need to get some exercise into my routine (what routine???). Fantasies of late: joining a gym, taking the kids down to the campus/downtown and then climbing back up the hill in a sweat, taking some evening dance classes...I'm good at fantasizing these days. Fantasize I can do -- it's what I do when I'm nursing Stefan to sleep.

I've taken one cardio hip=hop class that I will tell you about later. It'll shock you. Okay, I've got a little more oomph left. Will try researching a dance class. More soon, I hope!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mommy occupational hazard

Who knew that sweet baby Stefan was a vampire? He starting cutting some teeth on top last week and took a couple bites of Mommy's shoulder that were painful enough to make me yelp. A closer look at the affected area revealed two tiny scabs. It has been confirmed -- babies can cause injury to adults!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

My daughter graduates from kindergarten!

My darling Maylin was handed her certificate today. And tomorrow's her last day of kindergarten. Where did all the time go? The year went by so fast. I am looking forward to spending lots of mother-daughter time this summer. We won't have the Jardin de Luxembourg this time, but I'm sure it'll be a charming summer just the same.

Shrieking Stefan

It's nice to do some short posts. I feel like I'm accomplishing something in hardly any time at all. Kids are in bed, I watched a little TV with John (watching TV is very rare in this cableless-by-choice household), and now a moment of peace. Ahhhh...did I tell you that at the very nice Garibaldi's restaurant last weekend, Stefan decided to shriek for the first time? Our first nice family dinner out since...Paris, I guess. Stefan, the easy, quiet, smiley baby, has found his lungs. He's starting to remind me of how Maylin was. A bit demanding -- loved to screech in high-pitched tones.

Usually, Stefan likes to "speak" or sing using "ada" or "aga." Speaking of singing, Stefan adores music. I tapped out a simple rhythm on an empty aluminum can and he started patting out a steady beat on his lap with both hands. Time seemed to stop for me. We kept our eyes locked on each other as we communed in music. I was totally in the moment, enjoying our musical connection. It was true communication with a 9-month-old baby through music.

Stefan ate his first canteloupe, turkey meatballs, and whole grain toast today! He devoured a meatball and a half! We certainly like meat in this house.

No ambition to sell for the moment

Am I wishy-washy or what? Well, I found I got more satisfaction out of giving my paintings away! "un escargot" has relocated to Minnesota with some friends of ours. I'm still into the painting, but not into the selling. Maybe in the future. Will keep you posted here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

My apologies

Sorry to be so out of it. Stefan has not been sleeping well at all at night -- waking several times. I think it has to do with his teething (his third and fourth teeth on top). The good thing is that he's eating all sorts of foods now. He'll take just about anything I offer him. We had dinner on College Avenue at Garibaldi's and it was excellent! Best dinner out I've had since Paris. Stefan even liked the apricot from John's cheese plate and the green mashed potatoes/peas from my halibut dish.

Stefan is crawling everywhere, so I really have only about 5 minutes a day on average on the internet. He also has a cold now, so he's fussier than usual.

Maylin's been her usual amazingly artistic self -- made beautiful stuff in her clay class and wows me with her drawings and paintings. But she's been especially clingy these days, ever since the kindergarten zoo field trip (I spent the whole day with her and her class). She cries almost every night, begging me to stay with her at school for the entire day. I've tried so hard to get her to explain to me why she's feeling this way. I was worried she was scared of something at school, but instead of her giving me a direct answer, she told me her more general fear: that she and I will get older, our faces will change, and we won't be able to recognize each other. I explained that our faces would change so slowly that we'd always be able to recognize each other, but I was unable to appease her.

More later. Stefan will probably get me up around 5 or 6 am and I will not be able to go back to sleep, therefore -- bedtime for me is now!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rough night

Stefan was fussy for most of last night. This means I was up for most of the night. I nursed him several times, then changed his diaper and saw some irritation so thought this was the cause for his distress. He was still very irritable hours after the fresh diaper and diaper cream, and I finally had the brilliant idea to check his mouth for new teeth. Voila! One top tooth just broken through the gums, and another one on its way. Mommy figured it out!

Monday, May 19, 2008

New paintings


I have not had time recently to paint, but I did do this acrylic painting a few weeks ago, following the sale of two other paintings at Maylin's school silent auction in April. I was thinking of selling this on etsy.com as soon as I get a few more done, but if there are any takers now, let me know. It's done on 12x12 gallery-wrapped canvas (no need to frame). These are great for kids' rooms.

New Stefan photos on flickr!


Smiling for Mommy
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
My baby boy Stefan at eight and a half months! Isn't he a dream? Do you see his two teeth? He's had them for about two months. This guy loves feeding himself Cheerios and took an instant liking to silken tofu, too. Still crawling and cruising. Mommy's happy that he's not falling as much as he used to. Click on photo to go straight to my flickr site for more photos.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sleep, baby, sleep!

Stefan's sleeping patterns have been uncharacteristically inconsistent for the last few days. I have trouble getting him down for naps, and each night is completely different. He might sleep nine hours straight, or wake up three times in the middle of the night. The latter has obvious effects on my mood, especially in the evenings. I typically nurse Stefan to sleep between 7 and 8 pm. I often fall asleep during this process and nine times out of ten get awakened by Maylin, who I made promise never to wake me up unless there's an emergency. In this scenario, I turn into this big and hairy green monster with fangs dripping with saliva. I get pretty nasty -- yelling at Maylin or John for the most trivial things -- resulting in Maylin crying (and my comforting her afterwards and apologizing) or John...hmmm, I don't know what he does. Sometimes he'll say something that will just tick me off further, or he'll just leave me alone which is always the wisest thing to do in these cases. Do other mothers behave this way? I don't remember my mom ever yelling at me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mr. Cruiser

Stefan is cruising already! For those of you who are not familiar with baby development terminology, "cruising" refers to a sort of walking along the furniture movement. Hands walking along the furniture (usually a couch or low table), and feet following at the same time. He also does it along the side of his crib. Stefan's just over 8 months and it looks like he'll be walking soon! It's hard to believe. Maylin was very cautious and didn't start walking until 14 months.

Stefan's increased mobility is a very good excuse for my not keeping up with e-mails and my blog and my photography and all my other projects (I've nearly forgotten my "Little Turnip" art business -- alas, it is on the backburner.) These little guys are so accident prone at this stage that Mommies have to be on constant watch.

Cheerios are still Stefan's favorite solid food. (He started eating them last Friday.) So funny that he's totally bypassed the mushy food stage. I tried mushing up some cooked carrots and he had his gagging reflex again. Can't blame my cooking -- all I did was boil some water.

Mommy distraught yesterday

Maylin and I had an awkward conversation yesterday morning at the bus stop. For some reason, I started talking about how she was more likely to listen to her teacher than to me. She was in silent agreement. And then, stupid me, I asked, "Does this mean you like her more than you like me?" Her reply which messed me up for the next six hours, "I'm not sure." I kept pestering her to make up her mind as I should not have done, but her reply was always the same. She was not in good humor boarding the bus and neglected to wave and smile to me from the window as she normally does. Broke my heart!

I told John about it immediately afterwards and he told me to forget about it, that kids don't know what they're talking about. I strongly disagreed. Especially when it comes to feelings, children can be more sincere than anyone else. Which is why this really bothered me. I did not bring up the subject with Maylin again after school and probably will never do it again. I'm happy that she likes her teacher so much and will just have to regard it as a different kind of love than the one she has for her Mommy.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Shame on me

Sorry to have ignored you all for so long. These days, blogging isn't too much of a priority for me, but now I realize that if I don't do this, Maylin and Stefan won't be able to read about what they were like during this period. Because I will surely forget all the fine details.

- Maylin had her last ballet and tap classes for the school year a couple weeks ago. She was getting bored and I was not terribly impressed with the teacher, though she came highly recommended on the Berkeley Parents Network (online recommendations and advice). Her second session seemed like a repeat of the first session, with no visible progression in the teaching. Maylin seemed to be more coordinated and confident in the second session, but she was doing the same steps, and the teacher was not teaching them the proper terms -- they were a bit dumbed down. Fine for 3 year-olds, but 5-7 year-olds can definitely pick up a few French words (and this was the age group she was teaching to). Anyways, Maylin is really looking forward to starting "more serious" ballet classes in the fall. I even got her to get her hair cut (I've been working on that for months) by saying that if we cut it now, it would be the perfect length for ballet in the fall. She seemed to think that was a very acceptable reason. Phew.
- Stefan had his 8-month doctor's appointment yesterday and he is now 19 pounds (40th percentile) and 29 inches tall (80th percentile). He's been crawling for almost a month, so I found out that he was advanced for his age. He's been pulling himself up and can "walk" with his hands on his toddler piano (on legs) as I drag it forward. He can't help but start walking when I do this. It was so exciting to see his move one foot forward, then the other for the first time. I told the doctor he still wasn't eating solids (makes "yuck" faces and gags when I try to feed him baby food) and she told me to have him try finger foods. I hadn't thought he was ready for it, but lo an behold, that day he fed himself his first Cheerio! He's still not completely gung-ho on solids, but he's getting there. He had a few more Cheerios today, and a few small nibbles of silken tofu. Awesome.
- Maylin's constantly writing and illustrating her own little books. I'm just starting to realize that I was doing the same thing at her age. But she's also painted some beautiful canvases and done some nice clay work. We've got some nice air-hardening clay at home, but she also just started a pottery class last week. She got a lot done -- a cute tile of Stefan (drawing and name) and two pinch pots. I made a little "cookie" of a little girl that the teacher really liked and thought was worth keeping (to turn into a Christmas ornament).
- I saw a funny thing the other morning: a small bird on the curb repeatedly jumping head first into the hubcap of our neighbor's minivan. I only noticed this because I kept hearing this odd pecking sound -- a little beak!
- I really haven't been doing much photography, but made a little painting for my "Little Turnip" shop (which will be up and running on etsy.com once I compile a reasonnable amount of work). It's in the same vein as the two painting that were sold at Maylin's school silent auction last month. 12x12 gallery-wrapped canvas, cute cartoony animal in acrylic, animal name in script and in French on the bottom. Wondering if I should first try to sell them locally to boutiques to save myself the hassle of shipping these things. I will try to post photos this week.
- Stefan has been waking up at around 3 or 4 am, and he usually goes back to sleep quite easily after nursing, but I am not always able to fall back asleep -- major sleep deprivation, my other excuse for not blogging regularly.
- Working hard to get a date arranged with John -- almost happened last week until Maylin invited herself along. I couldn't say "no" when she cried so hard and begged to come with us to the restaurant. She's pretty persuasive.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There it is

Okay, www.littleturnip.com is officially up but I'm not too happy with it. I will soon take my brother's advice and get a web host that you pay for. SynthaSite.com can definitely help you toss together a web page quickly, but if you're very picky with appearances, you will soon discover its limitations.

Onto other things...Maylin's Chinese classes have ended to everyone's dismay, but with Grandma visiting more often and summer vacation just around the corner, she may still be able to learn some Chinese.

We are temporarily taking a break from ballet classes (a more permanent break from tap) and hope to resume in the fall at a "more serious" ballet school. Her teacher was very nice, but I was disappointed by the lack of progression in her classes. One class looked very much like the other. One session resembled the previous session. I can't fully blame her since there are beginners coming in all the time, but those who take two or more sessions in a row should start learning short, simple routines, in my opinion. I've worked a lot with children, have taken dance as a child and as an adult, and I believe we can have higher expectations for our children. They are brighter than we think. Anyways, Maylin is looking forward to going to a new ballet school and leaving tap dance behind (didn't like it much) so I've got a lot of homework (research) to do.

Poor Stefan's crying -- just won't settle down for his nap. Gotta go.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Under construction

Maybe I announced my new website a little too early. Gotta work out a few bugs first. Watch this space for more updates!

Monday, April 21, 2008

My new website! (click here to visit)

I've been secretly meditating for awhile on the thought of starting a little business from selling my handmade stuff. Today, I made the leap and bought a domain name and got free hosting from SynthaSite.com. Maybe I'll sell my photography in the future, but I'd like to tackle this first since it's actually more fun for me to make things with my hands. My next step is to set up shop at etsy.com. Right now, you can visit my new site, which I threw together in a few minutes thanks to SynthaSite. I'll keep working on it, so you can look forward to continuous improvements on its appearance and functionality.

It may take a few days to actually appear. All you get now is an "under construction" page. Please be patient.

I am Little Turnip!
http://www.littleturnip.com

Friday, April 18, 2008

What not to read to your child when she's home with the stomach flu

*Everyone Poops
by Taro Gomi
*There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
by Simms Tabak

When I suggested the second book, Maylin, who had thrown up the night before, said, "That's going to make me sick."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Make, make, make

Inspired by a bookmaking activity on the Cal campus (U.C. Berkeley, my alma mater) on Cal Day, I began making my own books and cards today with heavy card stock, fancy origami paper, scissors, glue, a 1/8th inch hole punch (but I think I need to get the 1/16th), nylon string, and a bone folder (necessary for serious paper folding). Lots of fun, and Maylin took one of the books and began writing and illustrating her own story in it immediately. I love collaborating with her. One of her favorite things to do with me is to draw pictures for each other to color.

On Saturday, inspired by the decorations at the Picante restaurant in Berkeley, I made some tissue paper banners in the style of papel picado, Mexican paper cutting. It's a very simple activity, like cutting out paper snowflakes. I was hoping Maylin wanted to do it with me, but she let me do it on my own and was very excited about hanging them up on a string in her bedroom. It certainly looks festive. I'll try to get some photos up. [I might start a kid crafting blog. I get so much joy out of teaching kids how to make stuff.]

Saturday evening, I baked my first pound cakes. Wow -- they were amazing. I didn't know they could be so moist! I grew up on Sara Lee's which are rather dry, dense, and uninspiring (probably because they've been sitting in the refrigerated/freezer? section of the store for a long time). You have to get the Fanny Farmer Baking Book and try the Buttermilk Lemon Pound Cake recipe. Makes two loaves which will disappear in no time! I substituted fresh lemon juice for the lemon extract since our Meyer lemon trees are producing fruit like crazy. Cake has yummy, light lemony flavor.

After not making stuff for awhile, all this creativity made me feel great!

Firestation field trip



Two and a half weeks ago, Maylin's kindergarten class visited the local firestation. Maylin asked a question: "Why do you have such a big truck?" Wow. When I was her age, I didn't have the guts to ask questions of anyone in authority. So, explain me this. How can she ask a question of a firefighter, in front of her entire class, and still not be able to speak to my parents and my friends? Is she shy or not?

The highlight of the trip was definitely being able to turn on the firehose and shoot it into the street. How fun is that? One of Maylin's classmates decided to do something naughty -- point the hose at her classmates (and me!). I was able to turn away in time to save my camera, but she really soaked a couple of kids (who were actually happy to get wet!).

Beautiful firsts

Stefan, my 7 month + 1 week-old singer, has started crawling! His first three "steps" were on Friday to reach some toys. Yesterday, another three "steps" to reach the Kleenex box and pull out a couple of tissues before Mommy got to him. And this morning, he's going full force to reach toys that Mommy has strewn all over the carpet.

He shocked me in San Francisco two Fridays ago when he clucked his tongue in imitation of me. (He always lit up with smiles whenever I clucked my tongue. He thought it was the coolest thing.) Who knew you could have a baby first in the restroom of a taqueria while changing a diaper?

Yesterday, he started pulling himself up in the crib. Not on his feet, just his knees, thank goodness. My little guy is growing up too fast!

He slept 7-hours straight last night -- unusual these days since he's been waking up around midnight, again around 3:30 am, and again at 6:30 am. Means Mommy's been really tired and unable to blog! And sometimes feels like she's losing her sanity!

[Addendum: today, he pulled himself up on his feet in the crib. Yikes! Looked so cute, but boy, I was a little scared and yelled to John -- "We need to lower the mattress!"]

Sunday, April 06, 2008

My brother's photos




He did a good job with my camera. Here's Stefan with his grandma and grandpa two weeks ago.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Playing tourists in San Francisco's Mission District

We had a great day yesterday. It was beautiful in San Francisco as we strolled along Valencia Street between 17th and 21st. Some great modern furniture stores, like Monument, artsy stores like Little Otsu, and quirky stores like Paxton Gate (my favorite). Paxton Gate had just about everything that is interesting to me. Reproductions of vintage paper theaters for children, insect collections (beautiful butterflies and rare bugs), old wrought-iron nails, beautiful crystals, stuffed mice dressed up in costume, hydroponic plants and succulents...all affordable. Reminded me a lot of Deyrolles in Paris, with all its stuffed animals and fantastic preserved insects for sale. X-21 was pretty cool, too. Authentic and fake Eames chairs, large antique operating room lamps, nautical lamps, a storage cabinet fashioned as a double-bass, a 9-foot tall plaster Superman,...

We all had fun at the thrift stores. Thrift Town on Mission was good, but Community Thrift Store on Valencia was even better. Maylin scored a Barbie car for $1.50, and I found a 250-piece Tinkertoy set (nearly new) for only $2.50 (retail new $50-130).

We had a yummy taco lunch at Los Coyotes, and a pricey Indian dinner at Dosas. Pricey, but excellent. Dosas are crepes which usually come stuffed with pureed potato and spices. John ordered a lamb curry, which had a delightful punch of cardamom. Overall, flavors were very distinctive and refined, and the service was top-notch. Just be sure to use the additional lock at the top of the ladies' restroom door...otherwise, a male employee might walk in on you with your pants down.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sleeping through the night

Sorry to be such an inconsistent writer this month. We've been trying to get Stefan to sleep in his crib and sleep through the night for the last few weeks. He doesn't like sleeping there much, but he's much better than Maylin was, who unfortunately, had a much more difficult time adjusting since we waited until she was a year old to convert her. She could cry and scream much louder and much longer.

I feel we've been somewhat successful. Stefan will sleep for 6-8 hours straight which is excellent, but since he falls asleep at around 8 pm, this means he wakes me up between 2 and 4 a.m. And you know how I already have my sleeping problems (which have existed for two years now?). I cannot fall back asleep very easily which results in a very sleepy Caroline from the mid-afternoon on. The accumulation of these poor sleepy quality nights are exhausting me!

I can't complain too much though. Stefan's still a dream baby who smiles and laughs a lot, and hardly ever cries. He only cries when he's REALLY hungry and tired.

Okay, time to go back to bed. Can you believe it's 2:44 am for me?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Kindergarten love

So far, Maylin has received two love letters from the same cute little boy in her class, but she's in denial. When she got the first one towards the beginning of the school year, she thought nothing of it. She got another one last week, but is convinced it's from a girlfriend, not him. (He didn't hand it to her directly and probably out of shyness, chose a middleman.) He signed it quite clearly, but Maylin says it's from a particular girl because she was told this by the messenger. Definitely some misunderstanding.

Anyway, I was helping out in Maylin's classroom this morning after teaching her classmates music, and as I was walking around, checking how everyone was doing with their writing assignment, I noticed that Maylin's admirer had covered the entire page of his little book with, "I love Maylin." He immediately flung his hand over the words as I came over towards him. Kindergarten love is so cute.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ballerina Maylin


Maylin's already onto her second session of ballet. She's still enjoying it but prefers it to tap dance because even when she's tapping quietly as her teacher asks, her classmates aren't always doing the same -- thus, irritating her sensitive ears.

Psyched about music

I've been teaching music to Maylin's kindergarten class since mid-January. I use the Kodaly method which involves lots of singing and games to help expose children to musical concepts. I bring in puppets, too, for even more fun. The most important thing in music class is to have the children experience the joy of music-making. I only have about fifteen minutes once a week with the kids (they have a pretty packed schedule including art, cooking, gardening, movement, swimming to start soon, and already a weekly Orff music class -- I have no clue what they're learning in there since Maylin seems to always forget what they did), but it's perfect for me since Stefan, who often accompanies me, usually needs to be fed and/or take a nap right afterwards.

So far, the kindergarteners have learned about loud and soft singing, and using high and low voices. Yesterday, I introduced the concept of high and low notes. They've already learned the two note (so-mi) "Bee, Bee" song with me which I used to demonstrate the hi-lo concept. In the past, I've used a chalkboard or a white board helping the kids visualize the notes of the song. But Maylin's classroom doesn't have one. My creative solution (I hope I didn't just borrow this idea from someone and forget that I did) was to use the children's bodies to represent the notes instead. For a twelve-note song, there were twelve children that were called upon to stand up to be a "hi/high" note or to sit down to be a "lo/low" note. They had to decide for themselves and the rest of the class would check their work. I could feel how excited and engaged the children were during this main section of the class. I definitely feed off of this energy.

I opened the class by teaching an upbeat circle game/dance called "All 'Round the Brickyard" and closed with the guessing game, "Who's That Tapping at the Window?" The latter was new to the children, too, but they learned very quickly. The guesser has his/her eyes closed while we all sing, "Who's that tapping at the window? Who's that knocking at the door?" Then a volunteer Mommy sings, "Mommy's tapping at the window," followed by a volunteer Daddy, "Daddy's knocking on the door." I get to listen to solo singers and gauge where they're at musically, the guesser works on his/her listening skills, and we all have a good time.

I felt so great after this especially successful class. I felt I was very effective and I just knew that the kids felt good about what they were learning and were having a lot of fun. Their classroom teacher enjoyed it, too.

It is hard to stay involved in my music with a little baby, but it's possible to do in small doses like this. Maylin's teacher said that Stefan (who was in his stroller near me) was watching me and following my voice the entire time. Maybe Stefan's learning something, too. He's always been a music-lover. Might be innate, might be all the Mozart I was playing on my piano while he was in-utero.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Stefan and his new tooth


At six months, Stefan is pushing up on all fours, ready for crawling, and is giving Mommy agony with the new tooth that's coming in on the bottom. But, Stefan did really well sleeping in his crib last night after being in Mommy and Daddy's bed for many months. He woke up several times as usual, but this time, didn't need Mommy's help getting back to sleep too much. Hooray!

Addendum (3/9):
After I posted this, we discovered yet another tooth! My goodness. Also, the night he slept in his crib, he was able to go without a feeding for eight hours (before, he would be fed after four hours, at the most). Last night, what I thought was a nap for him, turned into a ten-hour sleeping marathon. Unfortunately, it wasn't in his crib (I didn't want to wake him by moving him), and I slept on the floor next to the bed so I could keep an eye on him (I have a fear of him rolling off). But I'm still happy.

My first successful banana bread

Often, my banana bread is mysteriously dry despite following directions in several different recipes. Perhaps my bananas were never ripe enough. Well, this time, I had four small bananas with plenty of brown spots -- ready for baking. I pulled out the Kona Inn Banana Bread recipe from "Fanny Farmer's Baking Book," halved the recipe, substituted butter for the shortening, omitted the walnuts, and came out with a really nice moist and sweet banana bread in a little over an hour. Yum!

Try it here:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8-inch loaf pan.

In one bowl, whisk together:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

In a larger bowl, blend with an electric mixer:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature or slightly softened
1 cup sugar
4 small ripe bananas, mashed
2 slightly beaten eggs

Add dry ingredients to wet and stir just until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 65-70 minutes or until a bamboo skewer or toothpick comes out clean after inserting it into the center of the bread. Turn out onto a cooling rack. Wait a few minutes before digging in.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Stefan models my onesie


I might sell my handprinted onesies on etsy.com at some point or other. If you've never checked out etsy.com, it's really cool. Great place to buy one-of-a-kind handmade gifts by crafters of all levels!

"Costume" changes galore

I was chatting with some other school parents this morning who happened to mention about their preschool girl who would frequently change her clothes in the morning -- often last minute right before going out the door. That definitely rang a bell for me. Maylin's gotten better in the last half year, I'd say. We try whenever we can to ask her to choose her clothes the night before -- this way we often manage to swerve off the path to chaos in the morning.

Maylin's clothing choices are quite limited (so it only takes a couple of minutes to make her selection) because her wardrobe is limited. She has had many opportunities for an expanded collection, but out of Grandma's gifts, unfortunately, only about 1 in 7 is a hit. I'm a little better with 1 in 5. How many times have I had to return clothing? Now it's routine for me. I buy what I think she'd like from the store, keep all the tags on until she's tried the items on, has shown genuine interest in them and has committed to wearing them regularly, and then I return all the clothes she's turned down (no ruffles, no bows, no ribbons, no extraneous pockets...basically, no frivolous decoration -- she's a minimalist like her parents). I hope Stefan will be a little less picky.

I wuv cupcakes


Let's find the ultimate chocolate cupcake recipe. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments section below. I'm looking for something simple, chocolate-y, and moist. That's all I ask!

Jiminy, I mean, Jerusalem Cricket


Look what John found in our yard the other day. He's a very cool-looking fellow. We were quite puzzled as to its identity. John thought potato bug. On Wikipedia, it seems to be considered a Jerusalem cricket. Not a cricket, and doesn't eat potatoes either. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_cricket for more info.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Martha Stewart messed up


I hate to admit it, but Martha Stewart may be the high priestess of domesticity with style. Her website and magazines are often full of very useful information for homebound creative moms like me. Her ideas are always tasteful, elegant, and often very simple, too. And don't we love the gorgeous photography that accompanies them?

I often go to marthastewart.com when I need a recipe fast. Usually, her recipes have been very successful for me. But this last time, when I tried the chocolate-buttermilk cupcakes, I was slightly disappointed. They tasted fine, but they lacked the moistness that I was expecting with the buttermilk. Plus, the recipe suggested the light cream cheese frosting recipe to accompany the little cakes. Blech! Yuck! Gross! Maylin had to go rinse her mouth out with water! Did anyone on the Martha Stewart food staff stop to think about this awful pairing of the cream cheese tanginess and the cocoa bitterness? Sweet and bitter, all right. Sour and bitter, no way.

I hardly ever watch any TV these days, so it was a rare moment when I happened upon the live Martha Stewart show. I commend anyone who is brave enough to take on a live TV show, but please, will you prep a little more beforehand? Ms. Stewart has a collection of kitchen gear for sale at Macy's now and on this show, she was obviously trying to promote them by demo-ing some of her "favorite" kitchen tools. But from what I saw, it looked like it was the first time she had ever held a manual citrus squeezer. I sat dumbfounded as she placed a half of a lemon cutside-down (that's upside-down!) into the squeezer. Just follow the shape of the squeezer! It's supposed to cup the lemon, not be at war with it. Martha puzzled why when she squeezed and squeezed it gave such poor results. Of course, she blamed the lemon itself. Next time, Martha, wear an earpiece (if you don't have one already) so you can hear the producers try to save you from embarrassment by telling you the right way to use those things.

Somehow, I'm still in awe of all the things she's accomplished. There's a little Martha Stewart in all of us.

O sweet revenge

I just got home after fighting in a car horn war. No, it wasn't really a war -- there was just some very impatient black BMW-driving female behind me who honked at me twice! I don't think anyone's ever honked at me before to hurry up. The first instance was when I was politely waiting for the pedestrian to safely cross the street. HONK! Gee whiz. Does she want me to run over this poor Cal student? Next intersection...HONK! Okay, I had started moving (feeling the pressure behind me), but hesitated because really, another car had the right of way. Still, that's no reason to rudely honk. At this point, I did feel like flipping off the driver on my tail. Instead, I just started driving slower and slower when in fact, I wanted to come to a full stop in the middle of the road just to tick her off. She cut around me when we came to a stop at the light, so I ended up following her this time. Oh, I was feeling so vengeful, but in a really playful way. I wasn't angry anymore, but thought with a sneaky smile, this could be fun. I had to accelerate to catch up with her and was hoping for an opportunity to honk at her. Two stop signs and no chance. Finally, at the next light going up the top of the hill, I honked at her the second the light turned green. I got my laugh in, she went her way, I went mine, and I'm happy.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Stefan: a willing model



Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Stefan is nearly 6 months old already! After so many people saying how cute Stefan was, I decided it was time for another photo shoot for him. He is such a great model. Still happy and easy-going. By the way, he is rolling like crazy now! Sits on his own for short periods. I'm holding off on solids because he seems to be spitting up more than usual. We're doing lots of laundry here. Click on the photo for more photos to view at my flickr site.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Marigolds a-growing


Maylin and I planted marigold seeds in these recycled plastic cups on January 28th. They first sprouted on Friday, February 1st. With daily misting and lots of sun (before this rainy week), the plants have been growing happily. This simple activity requires about a quarter cup of potting soil in each plastic cup, three seeds on top, a little extra soil to cover the seeds, and a little compression using your fingers. Water gently with a mister daily. Marigolds are very hardy but do prefer full sun. Watch them grow and watch your kids grow in excitement, too.

Speedy reader

Maylin is learning to read so fast! It's a joy to hear her read to me and to watch her pick up new words so quickly. Just when I think the repetition is going to wear her down (in a book or with flashcards), she keeps plodding along and eventually soaks in a new word. We've been complementing her homework reading books with the Hooked on Phonics system, and I think Maylin is very happy with her success so far.

And with her excitement in reading, she has taken on writing with extra zeal. After school yesterday, we colored four pages in her fairy coloring book together and I suggested that she write a story to go with them. She decided on her wording and figured out her own way to add the text to the pages -- written on strips of white paper and stapled on. I helped her spell only a few words. I'm a proud mommy!

Commando crawler

Stefan crawled once last week! He commando-ed on his belly for about a foot. So exciting! He hasn't been able to replicate it, but he's starting to move onto his knees. The real crawling begins soon!

Disposable contact lens wearers: save mucho dough!

Last night, I was cleaning out a drawer in one of our bathrooms and found my relatively new package of expensive toric lenses for my left eye (only eye with astigmatism). These lenses are supposed to last for three months each. While we were in Paris, I was running low on lenses and was too lazy (and maybe scared?) to go find an optometrist, have an eye exam, and get fitted again (it took a grueling three visits in the States to find the right lenses for me). So I ended up wearing these lenses for a year each and the ones for my right eye, at least three months each (labeled as one-month disposables).

So after we moved back here, I thought it was time to treat my eyes to new contacts. I confessed to the optometrist that I had worn my present lenses way beyond their expiration date and was shocked to hear from him that it was perfectly fine. One year is fine for 3-month lenses, 3 months is fine for 1-month lenses. So the lens manufacturers are lying to us, in a way, so they can make more money. Don't be fooled -- wear your disposables as long as you comfortably can. When they don't feel right anymore and your vision with them deteriorates, toss'em.

Let the good times roll

I am soooo happy this morning! First of all, Stefan is definitely over his cold and his two weeks of fussiness and horrible napping. Mommy feels liberated already! Second, I decided to try on an old skirt that I bought in Paris. Crossing my fingers, I was pleasantly surprised. It fit! As most of us moms know, it's a challenge to get back our original figures, so think how shocked I was when the skirt slipped on so easily and comfortably -- I didn't even have to suck in my belly. You might think, "so I guess all that exercising has been paying off," but actually, I stopped my regime during the holidays and never got back into it. Maybe we can thank Stefan for sucking all those calories out of me the last two weeks.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Me and the kids


Thanks to a friend (and a little cropping on my part), I have a photo of me and the kids. Go out and take a photo of a mommy-friend and her kids. She will be eternally grateful!

Onesie mania


Stefan and I were sick this past week, but we're almost fully recovered now. And I've been dying to do some sort of craft project. I finally finished one! I've printed some onesies using my handmade rubber stamps and special fabric paint.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Paris movie binge

Sorry I've been out of contact for so long. Last week wasn't the best week. Stefan was really out of sorts and has been spitting up a lot more than usual. He's not much better this week. Add to that a sleeping problem revisited (remember when I couldn't go back to sleep for two hours after waking up in the middle of the night?). I was incredibly exhausted last week. My sleeping is much better now, but Stefan is still waking up every three hours (yes, I thought he was going to start sleeping through the night, but that never happened) so I'm not getting a great night's sleep. At least I am sleeping some.

Even though I love Berkeley, there's still a part of me that's back in Paris. An alternate Caroline in a parallel universe -- and she's having a great time in Paris. Here are a few movies I've watched lately (thanks to the Berkeley Public Library and Netflix) that help take me back to that other city I love so much:

Paris, je t'aime/Paris, I love you
Le ballon rouge/The red balloon
Les quatre cents coups/The four hundred blows
Fauteuils d'orchestre/Orchestra seats (American title: Avenue Montaigne)

I highly recommend "Le ballon rouge" -- a whimsical, wordless short film, and Truffaut's masterpiece, "Les quatre cents coups." The other two are good, too, but these oldies are special.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Return of the Underpants

In one of my past lives, I was a retail manager, as some of you know. While I was still in training in one of the stores, I was called to one of the cash desks to resolve a situation. The employee just didn't know what to do with this elderly woman who insisted that we take back her circa-1950 bloomers which were, believe it or not, unused and still with the tags on. As a manager, I had the power to please the customer so we gave her her money back and tossed her undies in the trash.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Maylin sings "Jingle Bells"

This evening was "Culture Night" at Maylin's school. Potluck of international foods, demonstration of Indian dance and African drumming by students, and activities including tortilla and gnocchi making (separate tables, of course), basket weaving (at least that's what it looked like), nail polishing (hmm...how is that cultural?), painting, and origami (I volunteered to teach jumping frogs and balloons). The evening was fun but getting there was quite an ordeal. I made it hard on myself by making a bacon and leek quiche entirely from scratch (including the pastry crust*) so it took a little longer than planned (I had to wrap my hot-out-of-the-oven quiche in a beach towel and throw it in the back of the car with the stroller). And then Stefan was very fussy because he was tired. Fortunately, Maylin was easy to get ready.

Stefan was a very good baby sitting on my lap throughout dinner (can all moms balance a paper plate full of food in one hand and a baby in another?) and in his stroller for most of the activity time. Maylin painted and made tortillas with her friends. I was so happy she came over to my table and learned how to make the frog and balloon.

But she really impressed me on the drive back home. Out of the blue, she said, "Let's sing 'Jingle Bells.'" This may not sound earth-shattering to you, but for me, this was the first time she sang an entire song in front of me. It was just the refrain (about three times), but I had never heard her singing voice before really, and it was so sweet and clear, and surprisingly strong. And although some of the words were approximations, it was the best rendition I had ever heard.

The Sound of Suckling

I have held the post of "resident I.T. guy" in the household even though I'm not a guy…even though I'm not the one working in the tech industry. Solving computer problems drives John crazy – John, the calm, even-keeled one. For some reason, I kind of enjoy this kind of problem-solving.

So disaster struck yesterday in this internet-dependent home. I had no internet connection! I turned on and off my modem and checked all the cables. Should’ve worked, but didn’t. I thought I’d give it twenty-four hours to resolve itself and give myself twenty-four hours to survive without the internet. I was happy to give up e-mailing for a day, but I felt like I had my hands behind my back when I needed to look up where all the parking garages are downtown (met up with Maylin’s classmate and mom for library and ice cream, toting Stefan). Eh, it was all right. The old-fashioned way of just driving around and looking worked just fine.

[By the way, that playdate was so much fun! Maylin got her own library card (she signed it herself! oh my girl!), picked out a book, and played games on the computer. Then we had ice cream at a gelato place on Shattuck Avenue. The guy behind the counter (who was quitting because he lived out of town) was so friendly and generous – let us taste whatever we wanted. I probably tasted at least five flavors, while the girls probably tried almost ten each. (Let’s indulge once in awhile!) I think I had more fun tasting than actually eating my final choice – a medium-size of pink “rose” and purple “violet” was a bit much, but the girls were happy to help me finish. We had the entire cozy, yet modern shop to ourselves! After seeing two people drop off employment applications, I considered applying myself (just kidding). As we left the shop, a man on the street saw our gleeful bunch and commented, “Looks like a lot of fun.” And yes, what could be more fun than taking two cute kindergarten girls out for ice cream – the girls were certainly giddy on the happiness of being together and the sugar.]

Anyways, back to the I.T. story. This morning, it was time to resolve the internet problem. Even though Stefan looked a little sleepy, I thought I’d chance it and make the call to AT&T. But first, where to find the right number? I looked in my files and couldn’t find it on any of my documents. Argh! I need the internet! I remembered that our neighbor was kind enough to let us mooch off of his network, so I did that to find the number on ther internet. It seemed like forever, but I finally found the customer service number – completely buried on the AT&T site. Once I called them, there were the menus to sift through, the automated trouble-shooter, the very nice tech support agent (I was able to do the tests because I had put Stefan down in his crib), and then finally, the maintenance guy who recognized the sound of a baby suckling on his mother’s breast.

How did this happen? Well, since I was being put on hold for the maintenance person, I thought I’d take the opportunity to nurse Stefan – that poor hungry, sleepy boy. In the middle of the feeding, of course, the agent begins talking and asks me to check the lights on the modem while he performs a circuit check. I had to explain that I was unable to do that while nursing my baby. He said he thought he had heard something. Yikes! He recognized the sound! That phone’s a little too good. He began talking about how his wife nursed their three kids and how the babies worked so hard that they had sweat on their brows. I really didn’t expect this much information from an AT&T employee, but I was enjoying it. In the end, he ordered me a new modem after determining that mine was defective. Yay. You know, I don’t think this conversation would have occurred in France, where breastfeeding is not very popular and where telephone customer service is something to be avoided at all costs. (I’ll have to tell you my electricity story, which I think was pre-blog. That was a nightmare. I was saved by a wonderful neighbor.)