Friday, December 2, 2011

the Joy of Baking for Baby

A baker I am not. I used to be back in those glorious days when my mother looked after all the other housework, God bless her. Then I had time to bake, but now when its a choice of dinner or cookies, I make dinner (Greg wants to know what is wrong with cookies for dinner?). But the other day actually found me in the kitchen, be-floured and be-aproned! The special occasion? William's first birthday. If anything bring out the Betty Crocker in a Mommy it is that first birthday cake.
The cookie eater wanted to know why we couldn't just buy William a chocolate cake, budabing, budaboom? Funnily enough there are few birthday cakes for sale in Paris. I'm not sure what their birthday tradition is (I should ask) but it ain't cake. Plus William is only 1 and chocolate is still on the no no list according to baby authorities, ditto for all his little friends. So I got inspired and found a recipe for chocolate banana cupcakes....a little something for both my boys.
Not being an accomplished baker I figured I better give these cupcakes a trial run, hence the aforementioned baking day. And it was really fun. While sifting and stirring in my tiny kitchen, my soon to be one year old baby toddling at my feet, I had a moment of pure contentment. These moments are surprise gifts, happening when we're 'busy making other plans'. It had something to do with how yummy those banana cupcakes turned out to be, and showing William how to mix and stir, and peeking into the oven with him to watch them turn golden brown. But it also had something to do with reflecting on the past year with William. How life has changed with him in so many happy ways. Something too, about how he can get me doing things I haven't done in years, like baking, and how these are things that I want to do more of with him because they are good, wholesome, fun things to do.
I hope to do more baking with my boy. I hope one day he will want to do it with me. I hope his birthday cupcakes turn out just as well on the big day and that we laugh, and play and have a wonderful day. I hope he grows up strong, and true, and well. I also hope he doesn't grow up too fast. But no matter how old he gets, I hope he still likes doing things with his Mama, cause his Mama loves doing things with him.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

11 Months Old..oi oi oi!

Every day with William is a revelation. I had no idea that being a Mommy could be so much fun (or so messy!)

The biggest news at 11 months is that William is walking! He has taken up to 5 steps at a time. When Greg and I get all excited, he looks at us as if to say "What? I've been working on this a long time!". He loves the increased independence and novelty of walking so much that rather than crawling down the hall to his bedroom, he inches along the wall, commando style! It's very cute. He has also become very verbal in a babbly, baby talk way, although I have deciphered a few words: 'Mama' and 'Papa', of course but also 'hot' in reference to my coffee mug, 'ghakoo' which I think is thank you, '"nana" for bananas, and 'bye bye'. Decipherable or not, he talks up a bluestreak pointing at things, raising his eyebrows and yelling or shrieking of he gets excited (not so cool, this part. We are learning about appropriate times and places to use his "outside voice"). He adores going to the playground, and holds his own really well with the older kids. He continues to have an amazing appetite, eating almost everything. The only thing he sometimes refuses is his pureed food in favor of more mature fare that he can feed himself. He is getting really good at using his own spoon, and often feeds Mom or Dad while we are feeding him. William loves being read to, his current favorite being a Peter Rabbit finger puppet book or anything by Sandra Boynton. He has 2 bottom teeth, and two more coming in on top. He is into everything and I spend a lot of time tidying up behind him. He is bright as a button, friendly and flirty, and just so yummy I could eat him up! Oh, he has also gotten very into French kissing so watch out if you ask for a kiss!

William and I entertain ourselves at home very well. He loves to 'dance' with Mommy: he goes in his jolly jumper to jump and spin while I boogie beside him. It is a lot of fun and great exercise. We also go to playgroup twice per month where the other babies are finally getting old enough to be interesting (we joined the 2011 group so he would be the oldest, not youngest). We do yoga almost every day and William now does some of the moves himself, particularly pattycake and kissy feet. He is in love with the vacuum cleaner so I can count on him following me around when I vacuum. The dishwasher and pot drawers are endless sources of fascination, as is the clothespeg bucket where he takes all the pegs out....then puts them all back in...then takes them all out again. He adores the swimming pool, splash splashing and chewing on a pool noodle!

On his 11 month birthday we had an interview at the local daycare, called 'garderie' here, where William will be starting 2 times per week in January. My heart clutches at the thought of someone else having the joy and privilege of caring for William, but I also recognize that it is good for him and me. For me, I hope to get some French lessons in and for William a chance to interact with other kids. It will also accustomize him to daycare before we go back to Canada and I head back to work( I hope...lots of cutbacks I hear). Of course, these rationalizations will all be for naught that first day I drop him'll be able to hear the boo hooing everywhere. However, I like the garderie as is very bright and clean, and the staff seem caring. It is just in our building so I have been able to observe them for a year as I walked to and fro, and I get good vibes.

As a family we did a littel travelling this month. William and I accompanied Greg on his biannual business trip to the South. It was fun, but the disruptions to William's sleep when we travel is almost becoming not worth it. However we had a better time on our first ever cruise (see seperate post) where William actually slept through the night....once in a row!

I can't believe that tiny little dark haired monkey that we brought home has been with us nearly a year. He was such a shock to us when he first arrived, but now we can't imagine life without him. My Mom told us that's how it would be, and of course Moms are always right!

Monday, November 14, 2011


I wrote this some time ago, but hadn't it posted yet. I find it so interesting to read again following the tragic Costa Concordia accident. This accident doesn't change my opinion of our cruise, and I must say all the staff did their utmost to make us feel safe. True, our emergency orientation did not happen until the second day of our cruise, but it is difficult to scedule as people are constantly embarking and disembarking the ship. It still remains a safe and fun vacation, relatively speaking (and probably cheap now too!).
I can't wait to tell you all about our first cruise! We were not sure what to expect -reviews of the ship were mixed- as well as wondering if crusing with a baby would leave us feeling left out. No captain's dinners for us! But it was an absolutely fabulous expereince for all of us!
Our trip began with a fast train ride down to Marseilles which was a fun start as William loves the train. He went up and down the aisles making friends with everyone, and hung out with Papa in the bar cart. Mama got to sit and read a book....what luxury!
We got on the ship, the Costa Serena, in the afternoon and set off immediately to explore. The ship's staff looked after getting our luggage aboard so already we had not a care in the world. Our room was much larger than we expected and there was a comfy cot set up for William. The decor of the ship was opulent, outrageous, and over the top....very Italian! There were many, many amenities and we did our best to use them all. Greg loved the well equipped gym and went every day. I went to a morning stretch class and finally got my hair cut and a pedicure....all things that are difficult to fit into our daily rounds! We took advantage of the 'breakfast in bed' (although we were never in bed with a fella who wakes up around 6 a.m.) and went to the fulsome buffet for lunch. Dinner was in one of the 4 restaraunts. This made us a bit nervous as getting William to sit through a meal is getting tougher and tougher (and would be impossible without Cheerios) but we were sat with another family with a small child (the delightful Flore, who was the picture of Cindy Lou Who) and so they were most tolerant of his moods. Our favorite dinner was Italian Night, where the staff got us all up dancing and they brought in an opera singer to fete us at dessert.

As William was too little for the babysitting, Greg and I took turns doing other things. I got a wonderful tour of Pompeii which was so impressive. It is an entire city replete with evidence of the availability of fast food, brothels and spas; I had to keep reminding myself that all this existed in 79 AD!! Greg really enjoyed his tour to Mount Etna, where he got a fanstastic view of the area. Mount Etna still erupts regularly, but is a slow flowing lava volcano, so it is safe to get right up to the crater. Overall we didn't mind switching off care of William, but this was perhaps our one regret from the trip: no romantic dinner for two! ( Next time.....).

William was the star of the ship. All the staff couldn't resist pinching his cheeks or stroking his hair. Many of them have left their families at home and so are itching to interact with a baby again. William loved all this attention and showed them all his tricks: waving bye bye, clapping his hands and giving them his megawatt smile. He also loved the baby pool -lots of splashing- and all the buttons the elevator.

Our stops included Savona (very quiet as it was Sunday), Napoli (where I went to Pompeii), Catania (in Sicily), Palma de Majorca (where we enjoyed a long walk in the sunshine), and Barcelona (such amazing architecture!). We also spent one day at sea, which we loved as it gave us time to do all the activities we wanted .It's really something to look out and see nothing but makes you feel small and insignificant, but also contained and self reliant in your ship-world.
We loved cruising and hope to do it again soon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

9 months old!

Ok, I'm a little late.....but could not miss the chance to note for me, you and posterity the changes in William at 9 months.

William is just so cute! His hair is getting thicker and blonder and people seem to think he is looking more like his Mum. His eyes are still an indeterminate green-grey-hazel and very beautiful. His smile is heartbreaking and you cannot help but chuckle when he laughs. (If one could bottle the sound of a baby's laugh I think no one would need Prozac ever again). He couch cruises, and has started to stagger behind his walking toy (like a walker but cuter) always looking for applause once he has gone for a stretch. As a result he has gotten quite good at clapping his own hands! He eats incredibly well: he had his first spaghetti sauce the other day and pronounced it "Mmmm!" This has become his all purpose sound now for "I want"! It usually works, but I am trying to encourage "please" and "thank you" as well. Its never too early.....

His current favorite pastime is to watch the washing machine spin, and to play with the settings on the machine (much to Mummy's chagrin!). His favorite toy is an empty water bottle which he chases around the apartment. He is also in love with his reflection, and gives himself affectionate kisses every morning. He has started to climb, using his teddy bear as leverage (what I call teddy bear road kill!) and has even stood alone for a few seconds. This intrepid movement did lead to an accident where my favorite blue ceramic umbrella stand got sure won't be the last accident we have. He has also been quite a little rascal at bath time, pooing in the bath water for 4 consecutive nights.....the tub is now VERY clean!

As a family we travelled to Portugal to see our dear former neighbors, the Almeida's. They welcomed us and daughter Eva with a huge family party, at least 100 people (and I thought the Moore shindigs were big!) It was great fun, but William found the exuberant pass-the-baby a little much, so we had quiet playtime inside, away from the throng. I hope he copes better by Xmastime, at our own family do.

While in Portugal it was warm enough to spend a day at the beach. Daddy eagerly took his boy down to the water to play, but William was having none of it. I guess the waves were a little large and loud for him. Anyway, I set him down standing by me, holding my hand, thinking he would enjoy the sand. No way! He was turned around headed away from the water as fast as his fat little legs could carry him. It was very cute.

All of us, including William, did love all the fruit in Baltazar's property, and Maria's delicious Portugese cooking....good food and lots of it! It made us miss our old neighborhood and neighbors. Who knows, maybe we'll move back?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Eight Months Old and Everything Else

Hello again! It's time, already, for another update on our lives with Little Man. I still tell people that William is 6 months old, and have to jog my own memory. Will this happen when he is 18 too? Probably.......

William is just so cute these days. He crawls around the apartment in a very stately, lord of the manner style, surveying his domain. And lets face it, he is lord of the manor! He has quite methodically explored every room, bookcase, and closet in the house. He's not destructive at all (yet) but really curious. My approach has been to permit him to check things out under my supervision in the hopes that he will lose interest after having a good look. I'll let you know if it works! He also pulls himself to standing quite confidently now, and is starting to move between pieces of furniture...not quite 'cruising' yet, but getting there. He can carefully lower himself from standing to pick something up, then stand again. He has started to let go of what he is holding with one hand (while holding tight with the other) and raises his arm in a circus performance style 'ta-da'! So of course we oblige him with big ta-das and a round of applause. No wonder he has also learned to clap his hands! However in learning all these things he has taken many tumbles, and has the bruises to prove it. When he falls, or is tired, or bored, he calls out for "Mamamamaaaa!". My doctor asked me if my heart melted hearing this and I said no 'cause he is usually screaming his head off :) But yes, I love it that his first word was for me!

Our normally healthy boy has had a few health issues this month. We have been noticing that his right eye is a bit lazy, so we took him to an opthamologist. She thinks it is nothing serious, but has given us some eye exercises to do with him and will have us follow up with her colleague to check for an astigmatism. We notice that a lot of little French kids have Harry Potter style glasses on (so cute) and she told me that the French are very proactive with eye care in youth, so fewer people need glasses later. If William does need glasses it seems we are in experienced hands.

The other incident happened at Ikea where I was using the baby change room to change his diaper. The sink was conveniently located right beside the change table, so William of course stuck his hands into the sink area (we call him the tuna cause he is like a beached fish when you are changing his diaper, flip flip flip!). All of a sudden he screamed and I pulled him away. Thinking he was scared, I showed him how Mommy washes her hands only to realize that the water was scalding hot! I whipped William up to the cafeteria to put ice on his little red hands and fumingly told the friend we were with that I would ask Greg to call after work to give the store heck in French. Then I thought, no darn it, I'm here and I'm ticked, so off I went and did it myself! All in French, ha ha! They said they would fix it right away so we will see.......

And finally William had his first illness: roseola infantum. Apparently it is a very common mild version of the measles. As it started simply with a mild fever I thought he was teething, and as a result didn't panic. Then the rash came out! Thankfully a friend had told me about it as it did look pretty scary! William is back to his old self now. First illness: another milestone passed for Mommy and baby.

On a happier note we took a nice family vacation to Aubeterre sur Dronne, located in the south of France, in late July. Sadly the weather was really dreary for the first bit, but this time we were in a little village so there were things to do. We watched movies, shopped for pottery, and drove to nearby Brantome for lunch. When the weather improved, we swam in the river and Greg got to do some fishing.....but no catching! Overall it was a nice trip. Our accomadations were great and the local people extremely friendly. But I think one of my favorite parts was having a dryer again! We went home with every stitch we'd brought fluffed and folded! Ah, soft towels again.....

We are enjoying Paris quiet and peaceful with everyone gone en vacances......I don't understand why Parisians all go on holiday at the same time and to the same place, but I am grateful for the respite from the hurly burly! But they will be back, and so will I with further updates on our intrepid adventures!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Paris

Sometime last year, a savvy-travellin' friend of mine who was visiting said she wanted to visit 'my Paris', meaning the little out of the way places that only an insider would know about, or those just special to me. I had to tell her "I don't have a Paris.....yet!". A year later I realize that I do have my Paris, and here it is:

First time visitors are funny: they all have a list as long as your arm of the places they want to see, usually involving all of Paris and half of the countryside "if there is time". Every single one of them plans to hit the ground running and every single one of them underestimates the jet lag. So my first suggestion is this: sleep. When you wake up take a shower and then we'll have a stroll down to the local boulangerie. It is so fun for me to watch people in a boulangerie for the first time, trying to decide which delectable treat to have and trying out their rusty French. We'll then take a gentle walk around the local park (which boasts a vineyard and apiary and really is very interesting). Then we'll go to the grocery store and pick out some yummy food for the next week or two and you can compare notes to grocery stores at home (pretty much the same but with better cheeses and the odd whole duck). We'll then go back to the boulangerie for round 2 (ding ding!) and to pick up something for dessert. Then home, dinner, wine and more sleep.

The rest of the visit is up to you but here is what I suggest: the 'big' monuments are all worth a look, but for the creative (or cheap) there are options! Rather than go up the Eiffel Tower (which is truly astounding and I never get tired of looking at it) go up Tour Montparnasse. It is one of the only ugly buildings in Paris, but is very high so if you take the elevator up it then you have a fantastic view that includes theEeiffel Tower! Since it is off the tourist track there is hardly ever a lineup and there is a descent cafe for a cuppa while you're uppa.

My favorite Monument Day starts in the Latin Quarter where we wander the antique alleys searching for a crepe, followed by a browse in the uncomparable Shakespeare and Company, a must for bibliophiles. Across the street from this is Notre Dame. To me the prettiest part of the church is its setting so a walk around it is nice and great for photo ops. Behind Notre Dame is the little known but haunting Jewish Holocaust Memorial. It is free and far more spiritually sobering than the oversubscribed church next door. If you have frisky feet, we can walk rue de Rivoli (great shops) for a look at the Louvre and its pyramid, then stop for lunch in the Tuileries Garden (Marie Antoinette's last home was once here). From here we can walk up the Champs Elysees (which is a dirty, noisy, strip mall in my opinion) to the Arc de Triomphe which is well worth climbing up to witness the crazy traffic rond point below.

Paris is, of course, an art lovers dream. The Louvre tops most people's list but I must fess up and tell you that I have only been once...its just too daunting! The Mona Lisa is completely over-rated: she is just a tiny, weird looking lady hanging on a big wall with way too many tourists around her. Winged Victory is pretty. But consider instead a visit to the Petit Palais, a gorgeous jewel box of a museum only a few blocks further down the Seine and free! It holds, as Rick Steeves sneers, the 'second rate art' but they are all the same big names as in the Louvre. It features a lovely painted ceiling, pretty garden, clean bathroom (good luck finding that in the Louvre) and a nice cafe: thumbs up in my book! Similar good value can be hd for modern art lovers at the Musee d'art Moderne, which turned me into a modern art appreciator, something that the Pompidou cannot claim.

The Orsay is a different story. It is an accesible collection in an architecturally interesting setting. You can see most of it without killing yourself, then have a great lunch in the swanky restaraunt.....or push it and go across the Seine to see Monet's enormous waterlily canvasses at the Orangerie: totally worth it if you are a fan. One day soon I want to go see Renoir's ubiquitous painting le Moulin de la Gallette and then go to the Moulin de la Gallette restaraunt in still exists!

Speaking of Montmartre I really love it there. It has retained some of its bohemian spirit despite the throngs of tourists. Sacre Coeur is worth a look but mostly its just fun to wander. Have your portrait done by a starving artist, check out Picasso's former atelier and witness the last windmills that speak of a bygone era. One of my favorite things to see in Montmartre is its heard me! French graveyards are so interesting, like little villages of monuments. You can celebrity hunt for famous dead people (Monpartre graveyard holds Degas, Nijinsky and Dumas for starters) or just enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. I think it would be a great place for a picnic!

If you still have time, and energy, getting out of Paris is a refreshing change of pace. The French countryside is truly beautiful. Giverny is popular, but really pretty. I went on a bike tour there, a very fun way to see the area. Auvers sur Oise, resting place of of van Gogh is worth a visit as is Senlis, former seat of the King of France. Versailles palace is really over the top, but the gardens are free and very pretty. We once spent a pleasant afternoon wandering painter Gustave Caillebotte's former estate, where you can rent canoes and fish. Chantilly and Provins are still on my list....I'll let you know what they are like!

An offbeat thing to see is Basilica St. Denis, burial place of kings. Marie Antoinette and Louis 16th were eventually buried there, amongst their peers in the peerage. It is up in the North end of Paris, which is like visiting a different city in itself: we got there on market day and it felt as if we'd gotten off the Metro in Marrakech! The sarcophagies in the Basilica are really interesting, and there is a great audioguide to explain what you see. We rounded out the day with lunch at the Roi de Coucous, where the owner told us he would be buried in the Basilica one day too!

So far, that's my Paris, at least from a touring perspective. One of the nicest things about this city is just sitting back in one of the many cafes and people watching, or wandering the quiet back streets in search of hidden neighborhoods. Who knows, you may just find your Paris while you are here!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Seven Months and other Stuff

Hello! Am I here again already? Wasn't it just last week that I wrote about William at 6 months? We must be having fun 'cause time is sure flying!

I just re-read the 6 month update, and am awed anew at how much further William has progressed since then, a mere few weeks ago. I wrote that he was very nearly crawling and now he is, finally figuring out how to move forward! He isn't too quick yet, thank God. We can still keep up with him....barely. However I suspect he won't be crawling long as he is already pulling himself up and standing unassisted (but attended). His dad walked at 9 months apparently, and William seems bent on following in his footsteps, quite literally! We have had to lower his crib and figured out how to still use our beautiful handmade bumper set which was only a few weeks old (and still necessary for all the crashing and bashing that goes with learning to walk).

As a family we enjoyed a relaxing vacation in Tuscany. We rented a villa in the hills about a half hour from Florence so it was quiet and bucolic. The weather was great, so we introduced William to the swimming pool which he loved. He was a little warier of the ocean....those waves made a big scary noise! But he did dip his toes in: his first ocean swim.

We also enjoyed spending time in Paris with friends big and small. We took a picnic with William's girlfriend Samira and her Mum and Dad and the babies were so cute together. Both are at an age where they are more socially aware, and seemed pleased to see there are other small peoploe in the world! Later, the three of us took a historical walk 'in the footsteps of Hemingway'. Touristy, but cool as we are fans of his work.

We hosted a Bastille Day party on July 14th as we have a wonderful view of the fireworks from out balconey. It went a lot like Canada Day: cook burgers, hang out with friends, watch fireworks....the major difference is we watched fireworks whilst drinking champagne! That is a tradition I think we should import back home!

Greg was particulary happy to attend an international track meet here in Paris. We had booked the tickets when William was about 2 months old and slept nearly anywhere. Silly new parents didn't realize that by 7 months he needs and wants an early bedtime in his bed. However, William managed well taking a dodo in his carrier at the track meet and sleeping very well the next day to make up for it. We did get to watch Ussain Bolt run as well as hosts of other excellent atheletes. It was a real thrill.

Speaking of sleep, the sleep training has paid off and William now goes down at night with hardly a peep. He is still waking at night, but usually only once. This has given Greg and I more time at night, and a less fragmented sleep. Progress indeed!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Six Months Ain't for Sissies Either

Oh boy. Here I am again. About to go on a rant about my wee Willy at 6 months.

Last time I ranted he was 6 weeks, and a whole lot has changed since then. He's way cuter for starters, and more fun. I'm not so wet behind the ears, and know him a whole lot better. And months 3, 4 and 5 were awesome (I have a posting about this too, honest....the rants are just easier to write:)

But oh my God 6 months is a challenge!

Start with the food thing: 6 months is the big debut of solids which is so fun and so messy! I was seduced by the retro make your own baby food thing which I still think is a good idea when he is eating more or less what we eat. But at this try everything 3 times and watch for allergies not to mention likes and dislikes stage, making your own food is a huge pain in the ass. Especially when little plastic bits of the blender break off to blend irrevocably with your freshly steamed veggies...or when you get distracted and burn the peas.....twice.....Also on the solids front I am having to do laundry like crazy, and watch what comes out the back end which is so much more, well, pooeyer than it was before. Oh ya and be sure to increase iron intake and pair it with a Vitamin C food etc. etc...I know more about nutrition now than I ever had to before!

And then, my little champ is so very nearly crawling. Boy does that change your day. No longer can you plunk him on playmat A and expect him to stay there. He's on to place B, C, D and the liquor cabinet before you can burn the peas. Babyproofing is my new interior designed 'look'!!

And the wanting to crawl so bad makes him super frustrated so he is always whining to Mummy. My sweet tempered little boy has become a bit of a grouch! Oh, and he falls over a lot so playtime is much more hands time for housework or emails. So this is why you haven't heard from me.

And then there's the expectations, my own and others. As in really? He's still not sleeping through the night? No! He's a hungry boy! Or just really likes my company! But 6 months of sleep deprivation are starting to take their toll and I actually feel tireder now than I did when he was a newborn. So, we're doing some 'sleep training' (I love that term) which I think actually yeilds less sleep in the short term. I hope we get more in the long term. I'd let you know but I won't have time to email you!

Clearly 6 months is a big transition time, probably for both of us. It feels like William is leaving his tiny babyhood behind. I am so proud to see him growing and developing and having the curiosity and confidence to explore his world, but I know those snuggly, bitsy baby days are gone forever. It's bittersweet. For me, I feel like the miky fog of early motherhood has lifted a bit, and I am ready to rejoin the world. I'm really glad I don't have to go back to work yet, but an outing once a month, maybe even dinner, that would be nice. I've managed to raise William so far without too many issues, and he's a lovely baby. It gives me some confidence that I can continue to do so, and even start to meet a few of my own needs at the same time. We're slowly gettin' our groove back.

So here's the big difference between the 6 weeks and 6 months rant: I know it doesn't last forever. The good bits pass, but so do the not so good. The colic and clusterfeeds are a thing of the past, so too will be the cranky, crawling baby. One day he will sleep through the night. One day he will eat peas without spitting them out. One day he'll want the car so he can go eat peas with someone else. So, this is my time. My boy needs me to hug him when he bonks his head, support him as he tried to stand, feed him his mushed up homemade baby pap and change his smelly diapers. But he won't need me forever. With this in mind I temper my frustrations with affection; I have tolerance, both for my son as he grows and for myself as a Mummy. This too shall pass. This too shall pass.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Time out in Tuscany

We have just returned from what was probably our best vacation. Ever. Now with all the travelling we do that is quite a statement, but I'm sticking by it, and will tell you why.

I've wanted to go to Italy ever since I had a crush on an Italian guy in highschool (nice brown eyes....sigh!). While not the most compelling reason to see a country, I'm glad it got us there. La dolce vita is alive and well, and captivated us!

When travelling is practically our job, sometimes you just need a break. We knew we didn't want to see a city (we live in a city). We had no interest in culture (ditto). We were looking for R and R, downtime, and some country clean air. And luckily we found them all. Sometimes, getting your 'best vacation ever' is just knowing what you want your vacation to be.

Now getting there was not so great. We planned the flight time around William's scedule, hoping he would nurse and nap. And he did. But the plane didn't. Go anywhere that is. We sat on the tarmac for and hour and a half as the Florence airport was closed. Why? "We don't know" was the reply. Was this French or Italian bungling at its best? Probably both and not an auspicious start to the trip. And then when we did finally arrive, we waited in line in the hot hot sun for an HOUR for our rental car. And THEN we missed our rendevous to the villa and waited another hour....William coped really well, but Greg and I were about to lose it.

No matter, we were finally collected and installed in the 'Nonno' room and it was a balm to our travel weary souls. Set in the hills about half hour from Florence the eleven room villa was charm itself: beamed ceilings, copper fixtures, stone walls and everything beautifully maintained. The air was cooler in the hills, and the pool was cool and inviting. The manager had put up a shower curtain for us (who knows why there wasn't one before) and bought a baby bath for William. We had our own kitchen so we had a fun shopping expedition to the local grocery store, and ate nothing but pasta and pizza the entire week (when in Rome!).

Every morning the church bells from a nearby village would toll out; the sun quickly burned off the morning mist so we enjoyed swims before anyone else got to the pool. We watched swallows scoop sips of water from the pool in the mornings, and lightening bugs make love in the evening. We saw stars for the first time in a year. On the twisty mountain roads it is necessary to toot your car horn before turning a corner; the result was a charming cacaphony like so many Canada geese honking in the hills. The weather was mostly beautiful, but on the few rainy days we all curled up in the bed for a nap and listened to the rain on the tin roof. Our neighbors were mostly Germans, who were happy to chat or leave you alone as you pleased (or as their English ran out:)

We did do a few things. We visited the incredibly beautiful fishing village of Manarola, on the Mediterranean. We drove through hills terrraced with vineyards to find this colorful village perched on the cliffs above the sea. Greg and I swam, and Willsy dipped his toes in (he was a little afraid of the waves). It was an amazing day. We also went for lunch in the lovely walled city of Lucca. We enjoyed it very much but my shopping was frustrated by the siesta! Finally, the owners of the villa put on a pizza dinner for us one evening; we watched Mama make the dough and Papa whip the pizzas in and out of the brick oven like hotcakes. With what I imagine is an authentic smokey flavor, they were delicious!

All too soon it was time to go home to Paris....back to the city, to culture, to light pollution....but its not so bad. 'Cause we're planning another vacation!!!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Half Birthdays and other Happenings

My big little one is playing at my feet, and I am marvelling at his feats, and just how big he seems now. This reminds me that time is passing, and I haven't gotten this month's post out yet....I guess we've too busy loving life to write it all down. But William's meteoric growth and change reminds me too to take the time to capture the details, for remembering, and treasuring are also important.....look at how fast he has changed already.

So our little man turned 6 months this June. This seems to be a significant date both for him and me. For William I suppose it means he has passed from his tiny babyhood into being a bigger baby; for me, I am no longer the new, freaked out Mommy (Ok I still am sometimes). I've gotten used to, and even relish, my new role as 'Mum'. But the 6 month mark has also been a moment to evaluate how our 'new' family is functioning, and to bring some balance back for the grownups. William is the joy of our lives, but there are other good things about life, that I am ready to have again. Like time for Mommy, and pursuits that have nothing to do with the baby. I'm thinking up ways to get back to routine French lessons, do some regular creative writing, maybe get back to running....I'm not sure how this new routine will look yet, or how it will all work out, but the change is coming.....

Anyways, back to Will: his growth and change has been nothing short of incredible this month! He is very close to crawling, and has done many interesting moves in pursuit of learning this. First came 'super baby' where he would balance on his tummy and 'fly' with his arms and legs; then he figured out how to push his arms up and do a sort of inch worm manouever with his bum.....which got him moving backwards much to his frustration! Next he tried out the plank move from yoga, balancing on his hands and tippy toes with his body elevated in the air; and now he has figured out how to walk his legs forward, ending up in a downward dog position! Of course Downward Dog frequently falls over so William also has some new bruises to show off....he compares war wounds with the other babies at playgroup:)

He is also fascinated with his environment: nothing seems to small for his scrutiny. The cap off his diaper cream, a spoon, shoes and Daddy's hand are all worth a good look and likely a chew (no teeth yet, but he is sure drooly!). He also loves to scratch with his nails to explore the texture of things....which doesn't feel so good on our faces! William's fascination with the little things reminds me now interesting life really is.

The other big news: William started solids! And LOVES it! He leans foreward in anticipation of each bite looking exactly like a hungry baby bird. So far we've tried rice cereal, sweet potatoe, avacadoe and pears, and have had only 1 day where he rejected anything. He is also very interested in watching us eat, and wants to taste everything we have. He's a real Lamarre, loving his chow down!!

We're also working on getting a little more sleep. Now that William has begun solids, he 'should' have enough in his little tummy to get him through the night. But he is also accustomed to Mummy's company at night so has needed some convincing. We are letting him cry it out a bit at bedtime and at night, which I think is harder on Mum than babe. However, we have gotten a night or two where he sleeps most of the night, so progress is being made....

This has been a lot of change for Willsy, and at times he gets pretty frustrated. Normally he is an easy going, sweet tempered baby, but lately he has been a little fussier. Playtime also requires more parental intervention, due to the wobbliness. And so, the routine changes again.....with less time to attend to chores and housework, I have hired some help on a weekly basis. Leah is a friend's daughter, home from University for the summer. She and William have a mutual love affair, and I get a clean house and some time to myself. Its been good.

William also got to meet his Pops and Lola this month when they travelled from Victoria B.C. to meet him. After such a long trip, we were dismayed the William seemed frightened of Pop's moutache, but he quickly got over it. Together we travelled to Normandy to see Juno Beach and Mont St. Michel, and Will travelled with his customary cool. We all enjoyed the beautiful countryside, and got nice weather for walking Juno Beach. However, it was absolutely pouring when we got to Mont St. Michel, but on the upside this meant less crowds. We spent the night there (an intimate and romantic experience) and toured the Abbey before heading home. We also toured around Paris, but I think Pops and Lola were most impressed with the big grocery store!!

And finally William helped Daddy celebrate his first Father's Day with prezzies and pancakes in the mornging, and a wander in the nieghborhood in the afternoon. We stumbled onto our quartier's version of the Great Glebe Garage sale, called 'Vide Grenier' (empty attic). We passed up the baby food steamer for 35 euros (you kidding lady?? Its a garage sale!!) but did buy some cute overalls for Will for 1 euro! Now that's a bargain!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May at my House

Another month has flown past, full of blessings, chief among them the joy of watching our little one grow.

5 months seems to be a huge milestone developmentally as William adds to his repertoire of abilities almost daily! Some of his achievements are practical, such as the ability to use a 'pincer grasp'; others are just plain fun such as blowing raspberries! William is also able to roll over on his tummy from either direction (no more leaving him on the bed!!) and sometimes from his tummy back onto his back. He can nearly sit on his own, and stands with us holding him just by one hand. He smiles giggles and interacts well, and entertains us with an increasing repertoire of babbling which I call 'vocal stylings by DouDou'.

A highlight this month was William's first flight! Greg took me to Prague for a long weekend as an anniversary present, and of course our cutie pie tagged along. This trip also necessitated getting a Canadian passport for William, which was a nightmare.....4 trips to the Embassy and we still only have a temporary one......but I digress. The flight was sceduled for 7:30, and this being William's bedtime I thought it would be a disaster. But he surprised me (and probably always will) by settling down to nurse and nap like a seasoned flyer (not that most flyers nurse but you know what I mean!). He was equally unruffled on the return flight. This bodes well for future travel!

Another high was a visit from our good friends Angela and Derek (Angela and I work together at VAC, and we all lived in the same neighborhood) and their son Elliott. It was great to do a 'kid visit' as we got to see parks, zoos and almost every carousel in the city! William loved having a big kid around and laughed out loud when Elliott hopped on one foot. Angela and Derek kindly took William for us for a few hours so Greg and I could have a date on our wedding anniversary (#12). We chose to go see a movie together and it was nice to snuggle and eat popcorn from the same bag without being rushed.

We've done some enjoyable things around Paris too. Greg was thrilled when Team Canada played an exhibition hockey game against Team France in late April. The game was actually pretty good, with Canada only winning by one point, and the French went all out to make the team welcome. We all brought hockey jerseys, but it was too hot in the stadium to wear them for long; in fact the ice on the rink was melting! There was also a real rock concert atmosphere with racous tunes, fireworks and hordes of hollering fans.....all a bit to much for William. He enjoyed it more when I took him on a historical walking tour of the interesting and beautiful Promenade de Plantee (although apparently the Parisians hate this name as plantee means stuck in French, as in 'my computer is stuck'...). He also liked watching the Royal Wedding but not as much as Mummy did! Mummy also loved her visit to the hammam, a Turkish style spa. The experience would not be for everyone, but I loved stripping down and steaming away the stress, then getting the best massage of my life. Afterwards my friends and I lolled about on the haram style cushions and drank rosewater tea. Pretty hedonistic!

A final highlight was the reunion of our parenting class. What a thrill to see all the mummies looking slim with babies in arms, as well as their beaming dads. William, of course, was the cutest baby there and as the 'old man' of the group was much admired for his developmental prowess. His favorite part was playing with his girlfriend Samira, a pretty Irish lassie only a few weeks younger than himself. A future match, perhaps??

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pivos in Prague

Ok, enough about the baby already! Lets talk about travellin'!

We have just returned from a delightful long weekend in Prague. This was an exciting trip for us for several reasons. First, it has been high on our Bucket list of destinations since forever; second we were lucky to travel with our good friends the Jacksons; and finally the trip was William's first ever flight! And things went exceptionally well on all counts.

We set out late Friday afternoon, which meant we would be travelling right at William's bedtime. so I was trepidatious about his behaviour. But he was a gem. Both to and from, he settled happily down to napping and nursing, and no-one heard a peep from him (You could see the look of horror on our fellow travellers faces.....oh no they've got a BABY!!!! But he was awesome).

We were extremely impressed with our accomodations at Hotel Christie right from the start. Greg ordered a car for the 6 of us to get into town, with baby seat. Car was waiting for us when we arrived, seat properly installed, and we were efficiently whisked into town: 1 point for the hotel!

Then our room....did they think we were the high rollers, we wondered? We were installed in the top floor suite with King sized bed, gleaming bathroom and charming aerie that looked out over the spires of Prague. When they were unable to provide us with a baby cot for the first night (not a problem as the bed was enormous) the hotel sent us a gorgeous fruit tray as an apology. Breakfast each morning was 'full on' as Greg would say, which we happily partook of before setting our for fast paced days.

Since William has arrived, our ability and interest in researching our destinations has plumetted; lately we show up, look around, and wish we knew what we were looking at. So this trip we were doubly glad to travel with friends, and we rode their researching tailfeathers the whole way! This was only problematic when we took the tram seperately as Greg and I got completely lost, ended up in the suburbs of town. Kindly locals soon set us straight in a language soup of Czech, English and French.

We started with the top priority site as far as the lads were concerned: brew pubs! Our first stop was at a Medieval monastary that has been making beer or pivos, since the dawn of time....and time to perfect the recipe they obviously had, for it was delicious. It took several pints to wash down our heavy, satisfying potatoe pancakes, sausages and dumplings before -finally- doing some siteseeing.

We went to Prague castle, which was the usual hodge podge of buildings from different eras, and toured St Vitus cathedral, looking in admiration at Mucha's stained glass window. As interesting as the sites were, the view was the best part of this day, which gave us an appreciation for the charm and beauty of the city spread below our feet. We meandered back downhill, stopping to eat icecreams, shop for garnets, get 'walking beers' and goggle at the amazing architecture. On our way home we crossed the touristy but charming St. Charles Bridge which was alive with artisans and buskers. We returned to our aerie (Subway in hand...we don't get to eat dinner out these days) in time to watch the sun set over the city. That night we hosted drinks for the Jacksons and other friends we found out were in town, and we all enjoyed the nightly fireworks display over Prague Castle.

The next day our friends had to head home, so we (happy that we had another full day) set out on our own to explore Old Town and the Jewish Quarter. We watched the ancient Astrogical Clock spin and whir at the hour and waved to the trumpter posted on the turret. The cool interior of St Nicolas Church soothed both our sore feet and souls before heading to the Jewish Quarter.

Jews have had a strong presence in Prague since the Dark Ages and much of their history as a people -pogroms, religious persecution and the Holocaust- were played out here. One synagogue is a memorial to all those killed during WWII, with names and dates being hand painted on the walls during the 50's. During the Communist regime, these names were painted over and had to be re-written again in the early 90's. What tenacity.

The Old Jewish Cemetary was fascinating! According to Jewish custom, burial is the only option after death, and it is forbidden to disturb a grave once it has been established. And so, over centuries of life in the ghetto, people have been buried on TOP of one another, yeilding a strange, Tim Burton like garden of crooked headstones and meandering paths. Apparently the cemetary is 10 bodies deep and is one of the largest and oldest in Europe.

On the final morning I was very keen to see the Mucha Museum as Alphons Mucha is one of my favorite artists; he is an especially interesting artist as he also has a strong association with Paris during the fin de siecle period. Greg took DouDou for a long walk to allow me to enjoy the gallery undisturbed. Among the posters that made Mucha famous were also some exceptional paintings, including an especially moving one called 'Star'. I love how I go to a museum to see a certain painting or painter, then in turn get excited about something new from my visit. I walked away wanting to know more about French actress Sarah Bernhardt (who had a 6 year contract with Mucha to do her publicity posters) as well as Mucha's lesser known painting career.

After a final look at the Municipal Hall (designed by an amalgam of Czech artists) and to munch on a 'big weiner' we headed home, happy to have experienced this warm and lovely city.