Archive for December, 2006


Friday, December 29th, 2006

        We’ve just returned from the top of the mountain where we took in some sun and winter sports, of sorts. While searching for a place to go ice skating in Grenoble (since we didn’t get to go in Colmar) I found that there’s a rink at Chamrousse. (check it out at Getting there wasn’t easy. Nothing ever is. Bill was determined not to be cold at the outdoor rink. He packed his ski pants, hat, gloves, Kaitlyn’s snow suit, hat, gloves, snacks, drinks, camera then told me to get my ski pants. (I don’t really have ski pants. I have an old pair of his that have been deemed mine, mostly, I think, because they are purple. Buying a pair, though, would mean a frustrating trip to Decathalon, so I’m yet to bother.)

        We got to the ice rink with just 20 minutes before closing for lunch. For us, that was perfect. That way we had a reason to force Kaitlyn off the ice before she wore herself out too much. Bill didn’t bother with skates, because you cannot carry a camera on skates. Kaitlyn and I were the ones hitting the ice. First, I had to figure out our shoe sizes for the skate rental. I think I did a pretty good job guessing Kaitlyn’s size. Mine, I looked in my shoes for the EU size. The skates still fit terribly. Rental skates never fit well and these blue plastic beauties were no exception. Note to self: if planning on skating much, buy a pair. I helped Kaitlyn hobble to the rink. Once on the ice I realized she is heavy! She was leaning all her weight against me with her hands so I was doing all the balancing for both of us. I tried skating backwards so I could see her. That didn’t work. I tried skating behind her. That didn’t work very well either. Kaitlyn spent a lot of time on the ice on her rear. Picking her up and getting her standing back on the skates was a serious challenge. I finally gave in and made my way to the wall so she could cling to that. Once the photo shoot was over, Bill walked along the outside of the wall holding one hand, and I skated holding the other. She did pretty well and was actually starting to get the hang of it. I think if we abandon the idea of capturing every moment in pixels, and both get on the ice with her, she’ll figure it out. She agreed to sit out a few minutes and rest her very tired ankles so that Mommy could skate a little bit. I forget how much I like ice skating. It’s like an actual activity I enjoy. I may even drive myself up there during the week and skate just for fun. Imagine that. Once our 20 minutes of thrills and spills it was time to take off those feet-pinching skates and move on.

        From the ice rink you can see one of the chair lifts and people riding up then gliding back down the mountain. Kaitlyn said that was what she wanted to do. No, not today, we have no skies and Mommy left her purple Barney pants on the table at home by mistake. We got in the car and drove to the other section of Chamrousse, the section where Bill had taken Kaitlyn sledding before. We drove by the little kid ski school – another activity Kaitlyn wants to do. I’m happy to have her do it, too. I asked her if she would mind that the lessons will be in French. She said, “non.” Now all I have to do is figure out how to sign her up. And rent her some skis.

        There isn’t much snow on the mountain right now. What is there is fairly icy. It’s cold enough for snow but there hasn’t been any precipitation. Today the car told us it was 5.5 degrees Celsius up there, which is a bit warm for snow. There’s enough for people to ski some of the runs (not all are open); there’s little enough to hike around. I saw an old lady trekking up the hill carrying her purse like Sophia Patrillo.

        There was enough snow to sled, although it’s packed down pretty hard. Since I have a tendency to go flying out of the sled, I prefer new, soft snow. So I let Bill be the sledding companion. The one time I was designated starting gate, I let Kaitlyn go and accidentally sent her right for a ramp that some older sledders had apparently made out of snow so that they could get airborne. Kaitlyn can’t steer and I couldn’t stop her, so she made the jump. It was successful, but that was my last time sending her down the hill.

        I love watching Kaitlyn fly down the hill in her little pink sled. (when she isn’t headed toward a ramp) She squeals with delight the entire way down. As soon as she gets to the bottom she says “Again! Again!” I think Bill had a good time, too.

        There’s a snack bar on the mountain, situated toward the end of a ski run and at the top of where the sledders ride. Kaitlyn wanted to eat there, so we did. It was right in the sun, warm enough to sit outside. We had no idea how or where to order. Finally a waitress came and, I think, asked us if we knew what we wanted. When Bill tried ordering food she told us she just gets drinks, that we needed to go inside. She told us mostly in French, but we figured it out. Not even thinking about what I was doing, I volunteered to be the one to go in. Kaitlyn naturally wanted to go, too. I had no idea I wouldn’t be able to figure it out. But there I was, holding a tray and unable to decipher where one places his order. Finally the people who’d been milling around the cashier left (I didn’t even see that she was the cashier until they walked away). I went to her and told her what I wanted then she walked up to a little window and hollered in the order. I am still not sure if that was the way it was supposed to go, but it worked. Sitting outside had seemed like a good idea at first, but once we had the food the wind kicked up and it got a bit chilly. The fries turned to sticks of ice quickly. I desperately wanted that waitress to come back so I could order a chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) but she didn’t and Kaitlyn finished so there was no more sitting enjoying the beauty of the scenery to be done anyway.

        While we were eating, Bill said we’re not likely to be able to live someplace else with that kind of activity so close to home. Maybe not. But in the last few days I’ve been thinking that wherever you live, there’s a host of activities that you likely never partake of simply because you live there and you’re not a visitor. Maybe we’d all be a little better off if we approached our homes like tourists – find the hikes, the sledding hills, the museums, the artisans, the groups to join. After all, isn’t that what makes wherever you live worth it?

        Kaitlyn made it back down the mountain without getting car sick. This time, Bill took off her ski jacket and her snow suit and her boots and he drove at a reasonable speed down the winding road. We had taken his car, though, because if she had gotten sick she might as well have just added to the stink that already exists. Honestly, riding in his car this week, I haven’t smelled the unmistakable odor of barf. He says it’s finally gone. I still think that car may not be in our driveway in a few months. We’ll see.

        Back at the house, Kaitlyn is napping and Bill is working on the pictures. And he’s probably wondering why there’s a bunch of some little old lady we don’t know carrying her purse up the mountain.

what’s on YOUR plate?

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

Kaitlyn gave her goat yogurt a try today. She did eat a few spoonfuls before declaring she doesn’t like it. I can’t say I blamed her. I took a sniff. No thank you! She abandoned that for some yogurt you can suck out of a pouch. Who says presentation isn’t everything?

        During lunch, I commented to Bill that the orange I was eating was ok, but that I really think that the oranges I bought this week from Spain are just not as good as the oranges I bought that were from Corsica. Then we both realized what I’d just said. It’s amazing, we are sitting here discussing our food from Spain and Corsica. Our butter says it’s made in Normandy. I buy grapes from Italy. I bought some fruit I’d never seen before to try, it’s from Madagascar. (Kaitlyn thinks that sounds good because she likes the movie) Lychee fruit. Ok, I just went and tried one. It’s alright, nothing great. But I figure if Bill can eat a whole plate of fish (see entry from Dec 23) then the least I can do is try some new fruit. I draw the line at the goat yogurt, though!

Next time, I’ll just pick for her…

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

Today at Carrefour, I asked Kaitlyn what kind of yogurt she’d like. You have to understand, the yogurt aisles in Carrefour are second only to the cheese aisles in Carrefour. You walk down a refrigerated aisle and it’s almost all yogurt on both sides, every shelf. There is some dessert mixed in which is how we found the yummy pudding, because I picked it up thinking it was yogurt. (duh)

    Anyway, I gave Kaitlyn the pick of the place. I expected her to look around for the yogurt packaged for kids – it’s bright pink and yellow and the containers are small. There’s also the yogurt that come in pouches you suck the dairy product out of. Not Kaitlyn. Without hesitating she said “I want the one with the goat.” The goat? Yes. Kaitlyn has chosen some goat milk yogurt. She told me it tastes like flowers. How she knows this, I do not know.

    She is yet to try it. I don’t think I’ll be able to. Bill said he’ll try some.

    I’ll stick to my fancy new coffee maker and the tasty cappuccinos I can now make. With cow milk.

zero degrees celcius is cold without heat

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

        We got quite the cold reception upon our return home from our picture-perfect holiday in Colmar.

        At some point between noon Friday and 6pm Tuesday, the power went out in our house. Mind you, not in our neighbors’ houses, just ours. That means we got home to a giant fridge and freezer beeping at us to alert us that they were too warm, which we didn’t really need because an alert nose could detect the rotting food inside. And the house which is normally toasty warm thanks to the heated floors is now freezing cold. Freeeeeee-zing! I am sitting in my winter coat as I type, trying to keep the frost off my nose. (It’s a little like the old days in the newsroom…) Occasionally, you’ll find either Bill or me in the bathroom hugging the heated towel rack. It’s the only warm thing in the house. I tried to make hot tea but the induction cooktop won’t heat when the surface is nearly frozen. Bill gave me a wonderful one-cup-at-a-time coffee/tea maker which would brew tea for us if he’d gotten back to Carrefour to buy the little inserts. Drat that Carrefour!

        We had to toss our frozen pizzas and couldn’t boil water to make noodles – either would have been a fine dinner. We tried calling the pizza truck but when he didn’t answer after about 50 rings I got Bill to concede that he’s closed. At 9:00 I gave up on pretending that the stove would suddenly work or that food would magically appear on our table. We ended up driving to the McDonalds and eating there because at least it was warm. I’d told Kaitlyn that we’d go inside but she couldn’t go on the playland because it was closed at that time of night. Wouldn’t you know, someone was using the thing? Fortunately, she was too tired or still too frozen to put up much of a fight.

        Bill has tried to build a fire in the fireplace. The fire starter sticks burn great. But once those go out, so does the fire. And even when it is burning it isn’t giving off any significant heat. I don’t even think you could roast a marshmallow in there.

        Still, Kaitlyn wouldn’t let a little frost deter her from opening the pile of gifts that Santa had dropped off here for her. One of her favorites is the Play Doh Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop. She gives her customers haircuts, then holds up the little mirror that came with it and says “do you like it?” I’ve also learned that Strawberry Shortcake’s shoes do not fit any better than Barbie’s. And I tried not to act too alarmed when I found Kaitlyn undressing Cinderella’s Prince Charming. I told her it is too cold in the house for him to disrobe.

        Well, I’ll give the cold house credit for one thing. It helped me forget about how Bill was rather, uh, challenged by a toll booth and smacked my left front wheel right into a cement wall. I haven’t even looked at it. He pulled over right away and reports that he did take a “big chunk” out of the new wheel but the new snow tire sustained no damage. Thank goodness for some things.

        Now it’s off to bed. I wonder how many layers I’ll have to wear to get warm then stay warm enough to sleep. Last time I had to sleep in a house with no heat it was after an ice storm in Raleigh left us without power for nearly a week. I was 8 months pregnant then and never really felt too cold. Payback is not pleasant.

Noel means Christmas

Monday, December 25th, 2006

      Even though it was my idea, I thought that spending Christmas in a hotel would be kind of strange. Know what? It really wasn’t. It reminded me that what’s important on Christmas is who you spend it with, not where you spend it.

        I actually had to wake Kaitlyn up and tell her to look and see who’d been there while she slept. She rubbed her eyes and saw the little pile of presents by her bed and jumped up yelling for her Daddy to come see. She carefully opened each one, stopping to play.

        Once the presents were opened, it was down to the restaurant for breakfast. We’d eaten there each day of our trip and this was definitely the most crowded day. I guess a lot of people spend Christmas away from home.

        It’s funny to me that a town that makes a big deal out of being a Christmas destination is pretty much shut down on Christmas. Thanks to Bill’s push for an itinerary, we knew this and had a plan. We drove to Strasbourg.

        The markets were supposed to be open, but the only vendor who got that memo was the guy selling vin chaud (hot wine) to the people leaving Christmas service at the massive cathedral. There were also a couple of souvenir shops cashing in on the holiday crowd and nearly every cafe was serving up food. We headed right for the Ill river, where we took a cruise around the city on a glass topped boat. If nothing else, it was warm. I thought it was interesting, but just a little bit too long for a little kid. 70 minutes. And we had the incredible fortune of sitting in front of a little boy who seemed to be about 2 years old, who spent his ride either pushing on my seat or blowing raspberries at Kaitlyn or standing in his seat. All lovely things.

        Once that ended, Bill had had enough. He was freezing cold. Couldn’t take it anymore. The markets had opened by now, so we cruised there a bit trying to find something that would make a suitable lunch. Kaitlyn appeared to be in no mood to sit still at a cafe. Kaitlyn had a bit of a sandwich. Bill had a pretzel. I had some roasted chestnuts. (actually roasted this time) Steps away from the parking garage and a warm ride back to Colmar, Kaitlyn saw the kiddie ride was open. Three times around, and we forced her to call it quits. Never mind how cold it was. We’d run out of cash and Bill’s stop at the ATM left us with nothing but 50 Euro bills. Bill tried, but the guy running the ride was not going to take that.

        Our Christmas dinner turned out to be at the same restaurant where we’d been eating breakfast all along. We didn’t realize when we made the reservation a couple of weeks ago that would be the case. Kaitlyn was a bit disappointed when we got there and the tv wasn’t on. (They have it turned to cartoons in the morning). It was good. Better than last night. Doesn’t hold a candle to Saturday’s meal.

        After dinner we let Kaitlyn watch a movie in the room. Our only choices were what was on the tv… so we watched “Around the World in 80 Days” with Jackie Chan dubbed into French. Bill and I called our families, once we figured out the phone card we’d gotten earlier.

        This was a perfect Christmas.

Christmas Eve

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

        At Bill’s insistence (and the recommendation of an ISE who travels Europe with 5 children), I carefully planned our trip. I made an itinerary for each day. We didn’t get to all of it. Not even close. We didn’t get to go outdoor ice skating. (too cold) We didn’t get to any caves to go wine tasting. (which means no additions to our little cave at home) We didn’t get to the accordion shop (I wanted to go see what they had.. research for Dad) We didn’t see the kids singing carols while floating on boats on the river. We didn’t take the nightwatchman’s tour. We didn’t get to a Christmas Eve service. We didn’t get to any of the things I had planned for Sunday, all because of the car. Well, see, I had scheduled things assuming that we would be able to fit everything into the car on the way there with room for things purchased on the trip. That didn’t happen. That meant our Tuesday plan couldn’t happen. It was supposed to be a stop at the French Railway Museum about a half hour towards home. But we couldn’t leave our car in the parking lot with luggage and bags visible. So we scratched the Bartholdi museum I wanted to go to in Colmar. Sunday was spent at the railroad museum that Bill wanted to see. I really only went along because there was no way that he could enjoy it even a tiny bit if he had to spend the whole time chasing Kaitlyn around.

        The first part of the museum is dedicated to teaching you all about the fight for the railways during World War Two. Some of the cars have life size dolls in them that have conversations – probably about how important trains are to them. I couldn’t understand. I could have tried to but Kaitlyn was scared and raced through it. She was scared because it was pretty dark in there and in one corner there was an engine on its side and every so often there would be a fake “explosion” and smoke would pour out of it. The next area was not heated and was filled with all sorts of engines and cars. I didn’t see much of it in detail, I chased Kaitlyn around. Since the place was almost empty, I didn’t really care if she hollered or ran, I just sort of monitored to make sure she didn’t get hurt. We ended up eating lunch at the museum’s restaurant which is not your typical museum restaurant. (the only other one I’ve been to that’s equally as nice is at the NC Art Museum in Raleigh)

        Our grand plan was for Kaitlyn to nap on the ride back to Colmar. That worked, she fell asleep trying to read a train book we’d gotten her in the gift shop. We extended her nap by stopping at one of the markets. Bill stayed in the car while she snoozed and I fought the crowds to go back to an artisan we’d seen selling beautiful wood carved lamps and bowls. We got two lamps for our bedroom. Bill thinks they can easily be re-wired when we move back to the United States, which made the decision to buy pretty easy. I spoke a little French, he spoke a little English and we managed the transaction. The artist showed me each lamp and pointed out a spot that’s an imperfection in the wood. I couldn’t think of the word “imperfection” at the time, when he kept asking me “what do you call this in English?” I also managed to find someone selling cookies and picked up an Alsacian gingerbread cookie to leave out for Santa. (He likes gingerbread)

Rather than try to cram in another stop between nap and dinner, we decided to just chill out in the hotel room. We let Kaitlyn watch some French tv. France’s Funniest Home Videos was on. Why is it that people falling down is good for a laugh no matter where you are?

        Bill had made our dinner reservation Friday night when we checked in. The hotel clerk told me that only a few restaurants would be open on Sunday and that they had a list and would help us make reservations. I sent Bill down to the front desk to actually handle the task. He said the list was four restaurants long. Two gastronomic places – both out because they didn’t sound like good places for a three year old. One where the wait staff sings. He crossed that off the list thinking the service would be slower than French slow because they’d want you to enjoy the entertainment. The last one was at another hotel. Sign us up. On the way out, Bill checked with the clerk to make sure he knew where the hotel was. He asked if there’s only one restaurant at the hotel. He should have asked if there were two Ibis Hotels in Colmar. We went to the wrong one. Some guy in the lobby waved his arms and explained how to get to the other one. Even though he gave his directions in English, we had no idea where he was sending us. We managed to find it (good thing for Bonnie after all). It was not what we expected. An Ibis hotel is kind of like a Holiday Inn. Pretty generic. The restaurant there was more like a coffee shop where you’d expect Flo to offer up grits than a French restaurant. Ok. First lesson of France: it’s never what you expected. The food was far better than a greasy spoon. Bill had veal. I had another steak. I asked for it well done, it came out more medium. One of my French teachers said I need to learn how to order my steak “well done, no blood.” Honestly, I prefer not to think about my food’s blood when ordering it. Very not French of me, I know. The woman at the next table chain smoked through her entire meal. I think she puffed on 10 cigarettes while we were sitting there. Sometimes, I actually miss California. Just when she put one out to eat, a most stinky cheese was delivered to the table on the other side. We just couldn’t win.

        After dinner, we went back to the hotel and told Kaitlyn that Santa would come and use his magic to get into our room even though it didn’t have a fireplace. We told her that his magic only works if you are asleep. That little girl fell asleep faster than I’ve ever seen her fall asleep. But she insisted on sleeping in our bed. Mostly on the spot where I should have been sleeping. I must have slept a little bit because Santa did visit….

Perfect vacation day

Saturday, December 23rd, 2006

        As we laid in bed at the end of the very long, very busy, much more enjoyable day in Colmar, I asked Kaitlyn if she had fun. “Yes, Mommy.” Then she surprised me by asking what’s usually my next question. “What was your favorite part?” It was both hard and easy to answer, because we’d done so much. And in sharp contrast to the day before, we had so much fun. I didn’t tell her all that. I just said that my favorite part was riding the horse with her.

        The horse ride was one of the first things we found to do when we headed out and (thanks to daylight and a more careful examination of the little tourist map) found the children’s marche. As soon as Kaitlyn saw the line of life-sized plastic horses awaiting riders, she knew she had to do this. They straddled a track that wound around a little oval dotted with Christmas trees and lights and cut outs of snowmen. Kaitlyn knew immediately she had to ride the black horse. We put her on the saddle and told her to hold on tight. But then we realized there was no strap or buckle of any kind to keep her from falling off. Telling her to hold on tight just didn’t seem like it would be enough. So I climbed on behind her while Bill went to buy a second ticket. Once that ride started I was both glad and sorry I was on it. The horses are equipped with some small hydraulic system that simulates galloping. And on the corners, they tilt inward. Kaitlyn held tight to the reins, leaving me with nothing to hold onto but her. I’m so short my feet didn’t touch the footrest. One time around was pretty fun. The second time was ok, but a little much. The third time around I prayed it would be the last. The ride operator sprayed each rider with some fake snow as a “grand finale.” It was fun, because Kaitlyn loved it.

        After another ride around the track, this time with Bill, we peeled Kaitlyn away from the horses to see what we could find for sale in the booths. I figured the kids market would have kids things to buy. Kaitlyn is a careful shopper. She looks and admires a lot, but isn’t quick to insist on a purchase. At the stuffed animal vendor, she found her must-have item. It’s a stuffed bug. I don’t know if it is a roach or a beetle or what. It’s a six-legged, antennaed bug. She loves it. She cuddles with it and kisses it.

        I found my must-have item at a booth set up with rows of ceramic houses modeled after houses in Colmar – some exact and most simply the “feel.” I’d fallen in love with Colmar the instant I saw it in daylight. The town simply looks like something that Disney would build. The half-timbered houses, the overflowing flower boxes, the roofs with great detail, the house with 100 heads carved into the facade, the house with scenes painted on it, the windows that hang out over the cobblestone walkways. So when I found the ceramic houses, I knew I would bring one home. It wasn’t easy to choose. The vendor showed me how each one was unique, with small but carefully chosen differences in the details. I decided not to get one that’s supposed to be a replica of an existing house. I went with an adorable red one that reminds me of the spirit of the town.

        While I pondered my purchase, Kaitlyn went in circles and loved it. Near the booth of little houses there’s a kiddie ride. It’s a train, sort of. Whatever it is, Kaitlyn climbed in each car and rode around and around. We figured that it was better to fork over the euros for her to laugh and enjoy herself than to buy more toys that wouldn’t fit in the car.

        Fortunately, I’d managed to make dinner reservations before we left home. The Via Michelin guide suggested Aux Trois Poissons for a family friendly place. Multiple reviews raved about the place. I called and made reservations for Saturday night. We let Kaitlyn ride the horses a couple more times around on our way there. But when we walked up to the restaurant, Bill and I had reservations about our reservation. It’s a small restaurant, typical in France. Maybe 10 tables. White tablecloths. The menu posted outside was all fish. I was expecting more of a seafood experience. (scallops, anyone?) While we stood in the cold and debated whether or not to go on in, Kaitlyn started to cry. She thought she wasn’t going to get her fish dinner. She loves fish. So we went in. What the heck. It was suburb. The waiter and waitress paid special attention to Kaitlyn. He made her a paper turkey that flaps its wings. He brought her paper and a Santa pen that lights up when you write with it. She got a special glass with pictures of fruit on it. And her meal… wow. A rectangle shaped plate with noodles, veggies and two kinds of fish in a cream sauce. Incredible. Bill ended up ordering the grown up version of the same thing. Bigger with four or five kinds of fish. He practically licked his plate clean. We found out we like perch. Not something I’d ever order but I tried Kaitlyn’s and it was very good. I ordered steak in a red wine sauce, which was listed as an Alsacian dish. (I think it was a regional wine) That was delicious, too. Kaitlyn’s meal came with ice cream so we all ordered dessert. I skipped the chocolate fondue, because the menu warned it takes extra time. I knew things were going well but that we were starting to play beat the clock with Kaitlyn’s ability to sit there and behave. She managed, though. What a great meal. I’d recommend it to anyone.

        Back at the hotel, I stopped at the bar to get some tea for the room, since we did have to skip the coffee or tea course of our dinner. I thought I’d asked for some tea. The waitress went away for what seemed like a very long time to just get some tea bags, but here everything takes longer than you’d think so I shrugged it off. There were three people sitting in the lounge speaking English. Honestly, it sounded wonderful. While I was waiting, the big guy chomping on a smelly cigar said “bon soir.” He’s from France. The couple he was holding hostage in conversation is from Australia, currently living in Geneva. When they asked where I’m from, I answered a little bit in French, but finally gave up and switched happily to English. They all complimented my French. Before that had a chance to go to my head, the waitress showed up with my “some” tea – two cups of brewed tea on a tray for me to carry to my room. I thought I’d ordered du the. Apparently, I’d ordered deux the. Whatever. When she asked for my room number, I gave it in English because I was annoyed. I cannot believe they’d charge me for two cups of tea that I only had to order because they didn’t restock our supply of tea bags that came with the room that morning. Still… those other people thought I speak French well!

On the road to Colmar… or Wally World.

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

This vacance started out as the trip that seemed determined not to happen.

First, there was the matter of packing the car. A much bigger ordeal than I’d imagined it would be. We couldn’t take the car we’d designated as our “travel car” because it smells. Like throw up. Last Saturday after going sledding, Bill found out the hard way that it doesn’t take a seat in the back of a tour bus going up to Haliakala for Kaitlyn to get carsick. All it takes is a fast ride down the winding road from Chamrousse, in her snowsuit, in the back seat of his car, which has an auto climate system that keeps it a swealtering two degrees shy of hell. Several cleanings and airings-out have not resulted in a fresh smelling car. Bill is actually talking about getting rid of it for another car. (just cause? Or just an excuse?) Luckily, I didn’t buy a Mini Cooper or a Pugeout 207 – clown cars even smaller than the one I got. So we opened the hatch to my car and packed. Or tried. One duffel bag (bought for European road trips), one carry on and two train cases later the “luggage compartment” was so full the door would barely close. When we bought my car and we brought it home, I was so convinced that it is bigger than Bills I made him take out a measuring tape to check. Turns out, our cars are within an inch of being identical. The big difference is that Bill’s rear seat can scoot forward about 4 inches, which just might have made enough room for our luggage to fit more easily. Of course, it would have also put Kaitlyn’s feet in my back for the entire trip. Doesn’t seem to matter now, with the car’s seemingly permanent odor.

         Once we crammed everything into the car (which required taking up the back seat next to Kaitlyn) and set all our presents out under the tree so Kaitlyn will see that Santa came to the house while we’re gone, we rushed to the school to pick her up just before the pick-up “deadline.” We started down the hill off the mountain when I said “our passports!” Back up the mountain we went and as we turned away from the center of town toward our house Kaitlyn said “my doggie!” She had taken a stuffed dog to school and left him behind. So Bill turned the car around again so I could rush to the classroom and fetch the pup. The poor teacher was trying to eat her lunch when I busted in, but mission accomplished. Then it was off to the house for our passports then, finally, we were on our way. Only an hour after the time I thought we’d leave.

        The plan was to stop at a sandwich shop the gps said was “on our route.” Now, when I had checked the drivetime online, it routed us through Switzerland. Bonnie (our gps) took us the other direction. I tried not to be too alarmed. But I nearly broke out in a sweat when I realized she was telling us to get off the interstate at the exit in Lyon where the Ikea is. Not just because I was convinced that Lyon was hundreds of kilometers out of our way. Because we’ve been there. And we knew what we’d find. A McDonalds with a massive playland next door to a Toys R Us. Kaitlyn recognizes both. Immediately, she announced “I want to go to the playground. There’s a McDonalds.” We put our feet down. No playground. We made a deal: french fries and a toy. In the parking lot, Kaitlyn said “hey! Look at the big toy store!” If Lyon was on our way, this stop surely wasn’t. (A later check of the gps confirmed my suspicions somewhat – we were supposed to go toward Lyon but she did take us off route to make that particular stop. Thanks, Bonnie.)

        A Happy Meal, Deluxe Cheese and McChicken later, we were on the road. Not that we’d left the car, we ate in the parking lot. Whatever it takes to get this vacation going! Ok, so we’re driving toward Colmar, it’s 2pm – naptime – so everything should be back on track. No, no! The child who cannot keep her eyes open driving to the Petit Casino 7 minutes away from home was wide awake. And tired enough to not be well behaved. A couple of hours later she decided to just unbuckle herself so she could crawl around on the floor to find a lost mimi. Bill reached around back and swatted her leg, so then we got to ride with her screaming. I wasn’t so sure that screaming was better than squirming, until I learned what the offense was. You don’t get out of your car seat while riding on an autoroute at 130 kilometers an hour. Bill pulled off at the next rest stop, which thankfully are very close together. He got out of the car and walked around to tend to Kaitlyn’s most immediate needs – her mimi, her pants pulled up (she complained they were falling off), a check of her seat belt and an explanation of the rules of the road. Ok, rules of the back seat. When he opened her door, she said “yes, Daddy?” with all the forced innocence with which one greets a state trooper who has just pulled him over for speeding. At least that ordeal finally wore her out enough to give in and nap. I did the same.

        We finally got to Colmar and checked into our hotel, after a small debate over where to park the car. Turns out the hotel’s parking lot is down the street behind some architect’s office. (Apparently, architects ’round the world need extra cash) We put our luggage in our room and headed toward the marches for some much needed Christmas spirit. It was 7:10pm, the markets closed at 8, and we had no idea the scope of the mistake we were making. Not realizing it when booking the hotel weeks ago online, I put us in a place a good 15 minute walk away from the charming part of Colmar and all the Christmas activities we were there for. We were tired. We were cold. We were hungry. And we were just a wee bit lost. Bill prefers to say “turned around.” That’s like refusing to say you have a problem; insisting on calling it an “opportunity.” Rushing past the markets once we found them, yelling at Kaitlyn to stop or not to run into the street that blended perfectly into the sidewalk – it was not the vacation I’d imagined. It was the vacation I’d feared. I made it worse by rejecting Bill’s suggestion of buying sandwiches to take back to the hotel room. I basically insisted we go into a restaurant I was sure I’d read about in my travel book. I’m in the Alsace region, dang it, I’m going to have some Alsacian food. What I was served was a generous helping of nasty looks from the woman at the next (very close) table with a side of threats to drag Kaitlyn out into the cold for time out if she didn’t stop talking too loud, getting up out of her chair, being three years old.

        Mercifully, the all too long day ended after an all too long walk in the cold back to our hotel. Please, let day two be better.

Dear Papa Noel:

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Santa, I know this is a very busy time of year for you , but I hope that it is not too late to make a request. It has been quite a while since I contacted you with a wish list (sorry I did not research prices for you like my brother used to when we were kids).

I desperately need a mixer.

You see, today I made butter cookies for Christmas. I’m sure you remember sampling them at our houses in North Carolina. Bill’s mom used to make them every year and they are his favorite so I try to make them each year for him.

Well, Santa, I don’t know if you bake much. You probably don’t need to. Butter cookies aren’t really too hard to make. I was sure the hardest part would be converting measurements and ingredients from English to French and vise versa. Turns out that was the easy part. What I hadn’t realized would be so close to impossible was creaming the butter and sugar together. See, in the United States, I had a big stand-up mixer. We left it in storage because Bill said the transformer would just burn out the motor on it, and I didn’t want that to happen. I figured I’d just buy a mixer here… but I haven’t gotten around to it yet because I’ve been hesitant to bake. (the conversions, small kitchen, my waistline… plenty of good reasons)

Now I know better. I need a mixer with one of those crazy lookin’ French plugs. Please.

The cookies came out just fine. The actual baking required one last conversion – Fahrenheit to Celsius. Kaitlyn added the red and green sprinkles. The dough was tasty and the finished cookies are yummy, too. I’m afraid this batch is for Bill’s office, though, Santa, and without a mixer I just don’t have the stamina to make more. We’ll buy you a cookie at one of the marches in Colmar where we’ll be for Christmas (you do remember that we’ll be out of town, right? I was sure I filed the appropriate paperwork with the elves to make sure you can find Kaitlyn).

And, Santa, if you can’t find a mixer – I could also use a waffle maker.

Bedtime is WHAT time?

Monday, December 18th, 2006

So what time is a three almost four year old supposed to go to bed?

It is now 11:04pm gmt +1. 23:04 according to the clock on our oven. Maybe most French are just finishing their after dinner-cheese-then-dessert coffee. But it seems a wee bit late for a little girl to be going to sleep for the night. And I can hear ours tweeting away on her mimi, so she isn’t even asleep yet. Tomorrow morning when I wait till the last minute to wake her up for school (8am) she will be tired and grumpy. Ok, more tired and more grumpy than usual.

The last time she made her best effort to pull an all-nighter like this, I did a google search on bedtime. One child-rearing “genius” said if your child is too young to read a clock, just put her to bed at whatever time you want to be bedtime. Oh, yea, right! I don’t think so. Not in a million years.

The evening after Kaitlyn’s way-too-late night, she was so tired that she skipped dinner and actually asked to go to bed at 7. Then she got up at 7:30, 7:45, 8:00, 8:20, 8:30, 8:45, 8:50, 9:00, 9:09 and I think then again at 9:30 before finally dozing off.

A friend offered to watch Kaitlyn one Friday so we could go to a grown-up party. Kaitlyn goes to school with her little boy, they’re pals, it seemed like a good idea. When we dropped her off, you should have seen the look on the babysitter’s face when she found out that an 8pm bedtime is not and never has been a reality at our house. When we got there at 10:30 to pick Kaitlyn up… guess who was awake.

We’ve tried everything.

Bath before bed. Milk. Books. Stories. Soft music. Quiet tv show.. no tv at all. (google search produced mixed results on whether or not that’s a good or bad thing) And there’s no getting out of one of us lying down with her. You could give her a bath at 5pm, a glass of milk, read her a book, tell her a story and lay down with her… and even if she ran a marathon that day she would not fall asleep.

At school, they nap after lunch. 1:30, they’ve gone to the bathroom, taken off their shoes and gotten into bed. She sleeps. The teachers tell me every day how Kaitlyn sleeps “bien” for two hours. After a few weeks of that routine, she even will lie down alone for her nap here with no real problem and doze right off. There’s something she recognizes as different about going to sleep for the whole night…

If you can get her asleep, she’s out all night. Of course, it’s so late that all you can do is crawl from her bed into your own. And, sure, occasionally she’ll get up and cry out or wander into our room. (Usually, it’s the other way around. She wanders in, I hear her standing there and if neither one of us stirs, she goes back to her room and cries so we’ll get up and get her.)

It’s 11:21. It’s finally quiet upstairs. That could mean that everyone else is snoozing away. Or it could mean that Bill fell asleep and Kaitlyn is sitting up in her bed playing with Polly Pocket.