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Commitment

I just finished a one minute plank.  Why, oh why, would I choose to do such a thing???  Everybody knows that planks are hard.  And boring.  And sometimes painful.  They are also apparently really good at improving core strength.  Core strength happens to be important if you want a Boston Marathon qualifying time.  And I want a BQ time.  So I’m doing planks.  (This is an oversimplification but it’ll do for now.)

Now, I’ve been here before.  I’ve committed to “doing planks” no less than a hundred times in my running life.  I’ll do them for awhile (3-5 days, max) and then I’ll fall off the wagon.  After three days in a row of once daily planks I pretty much have a six pack and my core feels invincible.  I stop before I get too carried away.  The end result of all of this on again, off again planking is that I never really make any progress with my core strength.  My core looks and behaves the way it did ten years ago.  The other, perhaps more important end result, is that I’ve made 100 promises to myself that I haven’t kept.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  I’m not going to claim that this an original thought.  Certainly others have talked, blogged and written about this difficulty that most of us have with keeping the promises we make to ourselves.  It has recently struck me, however, that these promises we make to ourselves are really, really important.  I make commitments to other people all the time.  I make commitments to my children, my family members, my coworkers, my friends and my patients.  And I keep them!  I don’t want to be the kind of mom, daughter, coworker, friend or doctor who can’t keep promises.  Unfortunately, I don’t give myself the same importance.  Somehow, the commitments I make to myself seem negotiable.  I allow myself to be treated in a way I would never tolerate from a friend or family member.  And I think it’s holding me back.  Because of my inability to keep promises to myself, I set and fail to achieve, the same goals over, and over, and over again.  And this makes me feel ineffectual and impotent.  So I’m trying to change this but I know it’s going to take time and effort and I know it’s not going to be easy.  I’ll have to work really hard to resist the urges to cheat on myself.  So I’m starting small.  Small but measurable and meaningful.  I’m starting with a plank a day, for at least one minute, for the remainder of the month of October.  That’s 28 days for those of you who are counting.  And I’m writing it down both here and in my BuJo to hold myself accountable.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.  Until then, here’s to promises made, and kept!

Crunch Time

I don’t know about the rest of you but this back to school business is brutal!  It’s no small undertaking to transition from the lazy, unscheduled days of summer to the whirlwind of school, band, piano, gymnastics, swimming, packing lunches, and getting to bed on time.  This year we have one child in 4th grade and one in 6th grade (first year in middle school).  This is the first time in four years that the girls have been in different schools.  It is also the first year that both girls have semi-serious athletic pursuits outside of the routine school demands and piano lessons.  The juggling of this barely organized chaos is a full time job.  Oh wait, I already have a more than full time job.  But, no matter.  I have made it my personal mission to master this chaos.

If you want a front row seat, much of this chaos happens on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the hours of 3:30 and 5:30.  It’s what I fondly refer to as “crunch time”.  As in, “All hands on deck, folks!  It’s crunch time!”  On Tuesday swim practice starts at 4:00.  But the lovely folks who run swim practice don’t have kids.  Because if they did, they would realize that when school ends at 3:30, it’s pretty difficult to get to practice at 4:00.  It’s also difficult to get a child to practice at 4:00 when you work until 6:00.  Enter the stay at home dad and the nanny.  So my husband picks the swimmer up at school at 3:30.  She grabs a snack in the car and heads to practice.  My husband then heads home to get dinner ready for our oldest who has practice starting at 6:00.  Our nanny picks up the swimmer at 5:00 and brings her home.  My husband leaves at 5:30 to take the gymnast across town to practice.  (If you are still counting, yes, it takes two people to properly perform “crunch time”.)  My husband and I then meet the swimmer back at home and have dinner.  Then we do homework, reading, reading logs, homework sign off, etc, etc, etc.  At 8:10 I leave the house to pick up my oldest at the end of practice.  Unless we need groceries in which case I leave at 7:40 and play the game called “Let’s see how fast we can conquer Costco!”  Then we bust a move home, grab a snack, brush teeth and fall into bed.  Ahhhh.

Thursdays are slightly better only because it’s early out day.  Which is hell if you’re a working mom but, again, enter the stay at home dad and the nanny.  (The world is not kind to working moms, by the way.  But more on that later).  The girls can ride the bus home, take a break and then reenter the practice shuffle.  One of the trickiest things for me this year is that my oldest starts practice at 6:00 and ends at 8:30.  Which, coincidentally, is her bedtime.  Again, coaches without kids.  There’s probably a hashtag for that.  (Sidenote….my kids have the greatest coaches.  They really do.  It’s just the practicalities that kill me).  So on the nights she has practice she has to eat before I even get home and the rest of us have to eat an hour later.  It would be pretty easy to just have her grab something quick and easy like mac and cheese or some peanut butter.  But, my girls are cursed by a mom who cares passionately about what they eat.  I believe with all my soul that what they eat affects how they feel, how they learn, how they perform as athletes.  So, I set about to find a way to feed her good, nutritious, quality meals before practice.  Some meals, like bison burgers with veggies are pretty easy to pull off in shifts.  I prep her veggies and side dishes the night before and then her dad can grill her a burger a few minutes before she eats.  Other nights are trickier.

Enter the beauty of the pre-made individual meal.  Over the past two Sundays I have set aside a few hours to make meals for my little gymnast that can be frozen and reheated in a short period of time.  I’ve managed to make three helpings of chicken noodle soup, 7 individual chicken pot pies and 9 individual quiche Lorraines.  (That’s 19 meals!!  So exciting!!)  She can reheat them all in about 30 minutes and with the addition of some veggies, have a well rounded meal.

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Start with fresh garden vegetables and herbs.
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Chicken pot pie in cocottes.
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Quiche Lorraine made in mini pie tins.

You see, when the %^&$ hits the fan and life gets crazy and chaotic and jumbled and feels out of control, feeding my family good, healthy food helps me feel a little more in control and a little more connected.  I can’t physically be there to feed my daughter dinner before practice but I’m with her anyway.  I put my heart and soul into making her food and she can feel it and taste it when she eats it.  I can love her ahead of time, putting good food for her in the freezer and depositing good feelings in her emotional bank.  Food is nourishment, and fuel, and love, and caring.  It is a way of connecting us even when we feel scattered.  It’s my way of reigning in the chaos a bit, and it works.

You Got This

There are some things that I swore as a parent I would never do.  If you’ve ever raised anything, you already know that most of the things I swore I would never do are things that I have, by now, actually done.  I was a really superb parent before my children were born.

One of the many promises I made was that we would never, under any circumstances, be part of a traveling sports team.  We were not going to spend our time, our money, our WEEKENDS, traveling around to other towns watching our kids play ball or shoot a puck.  While I understand why some families choose (or are coerced) to do this, I’ve never really understood the appeal.  I’m not a natural athlete and didn’t really grow up playing sports.  Plus, I love my weekends.  A lot.  They are necessary to my ability to unwind and catch up after a long week at work.

But something unexpected happened last spring.  My oldest daughter tried out for the competitive gymnastics team at the local gym.  At that point, she hadn’t really found her niche.  She had things she liked to do, friends she liked to hang with.  But she hadn’t found her thing.  And I really felt that she needed a thing.  Something she could work hard at, fail at, succeed at.  I didn’t really think that gymnastics would be her thing but figured that if she wanted to try out, she might as well.  And as fate would have it, she made the team. Fast forward a few months down the road and now it’s competition season.

Our first meet was a three hour drive and two states away from our home.  We were total meet rookies so I was glad to have our good friends there with us.  They showed us the ropes, talked us through the events and scoring and cheered for and encouraged my daughter.

As is my nature, I was worried about the whole thing.  Would she remember her leotard and warm ups?  How would we do her hair and get it to stay in place?  Where was the gym, how long would it take to get there?  More importantly, how would my daughter respond to the pressure of competition?  Would she get terrified and freeze?  Would she just phone it in and give a mediocre performance?  Would she, could she, rise to the occasion and shine?

I was a nervous wreck.  There is little that is more terrifying for a mom than sitting in the bleachers and watching your child mount a balance beam with the intent of staying on it through cartwheels and dismounts.  I literally held my breath through every event as if by not breathing, she would magically be able to hold on, stay on, carry on.  I didn’t want her to know how nervous I was, though.  Before she marched in for open warm ups, I wanted to pull her aside and give a lifetime’s worth of wisdom.  I wanted to tell her to try her hardest, do her best, hold on tight, focus, focus, focus.  But I knew that would be the wrong move.  I knew it could throw her into a tailspin and, being my daughter, she was already nervous enough.  So I settled on a single phrase.  Just one sentence.  That’s it.  No more, no less.  I met her in the athlete’s room, gave her a hug, choked back my tears of pride and said, “You got this.”

And she did.  She had it all under control.  She stepped out there with confidence in front of a bunch of strangers and she performed her routines.  It wasn’t perfect.  In fact, she was dead last in her group.  But she didn’t care.  She held her head high, conquered her nerves, stayed on the beam, and she did it.  All I had to do was trust her, and hold my breath.

You got this.

Unexpected

By now you probably know that I’m a planner.  I plan everything.  EVERYTHING.  When I travel I know where I’m going, when I’m going, who I’m going with.  I have it all planned down to the smallest details.  This is how I roll.

Sometimes, though, plans just don’t work out.  Sometimes we finds ourselves journeying at unexpected times to places we never thought we would go.  I don’t love these kinds of journeys, I really don’t.  But sometimes I’m forced to go on them.

I took one of these journeys recently with my oldest daughter and our oldest dog.  It was a gut wrenching journey.

Our oldest lab was approaching 13 years old when he began to show signs of slowing down.  Nothing specific really, just a little slower, a little weaker.  But he still seemed game for his daily walks and twice daily meals.  He still loved to be petted and eat ice cubes.  He was still the patriarch of our three dog pack.  This was the dog that had grown up my oldest daughter.  He was only two when she was born.  When I brought her home from the hospital, I told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to protect her, look out for her, and keep her safe.  He took those instructions to heart.  As a toddler, she would take her naps with her head rested on his belly.  Once she was out of the crib, he would sleep in her bed. Every night.  The muddy bedding made me crazy.  But the two of them loved it.  When she went out to play, he went outside, too.  When she went down the hill to her playhouse, he went too, and sat on the porch.  He walked to the bus stop with us every single morning, even on his last day of life.  He went to school with a Santa hat on.  That girl and that dog were best friends.

Over time, though, his weakness increased.  He had to be lifted up off the floor.  He needed help navigating the stairs.  His appetite waned and his muscles atrophied.  He made multiple trips to the vet.  He was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and prescribed a lot of medications.  He took them all but still, he didn’t get better.  He developed large, weeping sores on his torso.  His weakness worsened.  We watched him get worse and worse, spending his days lying on the floor.  I prepared the girls that his time with us was coming to an end.  Either he would die soon or we would have to make the difficult decision to put him down.  They received the message well, took it in quietly.

Another week passed and he worsened still.  My husband and I talked about it and made the incredibly difficult decision that it was time to put him down.  He no longer had anything he loved in life.  I called the vet and we scheduled a time on Thursday to take him in.  Wednesday evening I told my daughters that it was time to put down their beloved pet.  There were tears.  There was sobbing.  There were heads buried under blankets.  I asked them if they wanted to come with me to the vet’s office when he was euthanized.  My youngest said no.  She wanted to stay in school.  She was sad but she and this dog had never been particularly close.  My oldest, though, that was a different story.  She said she wanted to come with me.  I wasn’t sure I could handle that.

She never wavered, though, in her desire to come with me and be with her dog at the end.  So, I picked her up at school at noon on Thursday.  We took the long way to the vet’s office.  She snuggled her dog in the back seat and held his paw.  She helped me get him out of the car and into the vet’s office.  She sat with him while he ate treats and had a sedative injected.  She wrapped her arms around him while the catheter was placed in his left front leg.  She buried her face in his neck while the lethal drug was injected into the catheter.  She held him tight while his heart stopped beating and his soul left this earth.  And she sobbed.  She sobbed, and sobbed and sobbed.

I told her we could stay with him as long as she wanted.  After a while she said, “Mom, I can’t leave him”.  So we stayed longer.  And still, she couldn’t leave him.  So we talked about how sometimes you can’t leave because you just need more time.  And how sometimes you just have to leave because more time isn’t going to make anything any better.  A few minutes later she kissed him one last time, said goodbye, and we walked out the door.

The ensuing days were filled with intermittent bouts of sobbing.  At bedtime when would lay in bed and cry for her dog.  I know with time this will get better.  I know she will move through her grief and come out on the other side.  I know that I’m incredibly proud of her for doing the hard thing and being with her first best friend all the way to the end.  I also know this was a journey I never wanted to take to a place I never wanted to go.  But I’m heartened, at least, that I had the best traveling companion ever.

Paris With Kids, Round 2

In my last post I outlined some of the activities my daughters and I most enjoyed while we were in Paris.  Here I’ll outline for you some of the tips and tricks that will just make traveling life with les enfants much more enjoyable for everyone.  This is a bit of a hodgepodge of collected wisdom but I hope it will suffice none the less.

General:

I really cannot emphasize this enough.  When traveling with kids of any age, planning is key.  And by planning, I don’t mean a loosely assembled idea of what you are going to do. I mean a PLAN.  Thought out, researched, written down, reviewed, and rethought out.  A big time, capital letter PLAN.  For those of you who aren’t planners by nature, this may seem intimidating but trust me, it will be worth it.

For my planning purposes I adopted a modified Bullet Journal (or BuJo for short).  I started with a nice, new Moleskine journal (ahhhhh) and a few colored Sharpies.  For coloring coding, or course.  I’ve included some pictures so you can get a sense of my organizational scheme.

First page…..flight info.  Which changed after I originally wrote down the information so I had to redo it.

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An Index is indispensable…..

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A list of sights we wanted to see.  Blue notes indicate cost, whether or not the sight is covered by the Museum Pass (MP) and any other logistical information.  Orange notes indicate random bits of information for consideration.

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List of shopping stops we wanted to make with references to pages that have more information about that stop.

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Basic itinerary…..

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A more detailed entry about a  specific activity or neighborhood, again with color coded comments.

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Transportation: This probably won’t come as a surprise to you but plan your major transportation needs prior to your arrival in Paris.  Upon arrival at CDG Airport we were tired, hungry and spent.  Our host at the flat we rented recommended using a driver he knew well for our airport to flat transportation.  I have to say, this worked exceedingly well.  When you are the only adult and you are towing children behind you, you do not want transportation hassles.  When traveling alone to Paris I used the Metro to get to the city from the airport.  While it served it’s purpose, it is infinitely more difficult and cumbersome and requires you to pay a fair bit of attention.  Not my strong suit after a transatlantic flight.  Uber is another option and works in Paris much as it does in the rest of the world.  A private driver is your most expensive option, followed by Uber, followed by the Metro.

For day to day travel, we loved using the Metro.  There was a stop within a few blocks of our flat which made hopping on and off seamless.  When looking for a flat to rent, one of my specific requirements was that it be within walking distance of a Metro stop.  And by walking distance, I mean a few blocks.  I’m all about minimizing the whining at the end of the day.  Metro tickets are affordable, the system is easy to navigate and the efficiency is pretty great.  If you don’t believe me, try traveling the same distance above ground.  It makes the Metro seem like a dream.

One of the tasks the girls enjoyed immensely was planning our Metro routes.  Each evening we would lay out the strategy for the next day.  The girls would take turns looking at the Metro map we carried with us and strategizing the route for the next day.  They had fun and better yet, learned a lot about distance, time, strategy, etc.

Food and Drink: This one is easy.  Rent.  A.  Flat.  Get on VRBO or Airbnb or parisperfect.com and get a flat with a kitchen.  You can hit up the local bakery for breakfast and bring it back to your flat where you can enjoy your coffee and eat your pastry and take in the view and plan your day.  The kids can do handstands and pick on each other and no one will be offended.  We were often out for lunch, sometimes ate at restaurants or grabbed a bite in a cafeteria or cafe.  We carried snacks with us everywhere, nuts, trail mix, maybe a piece of fruit.  We bought bottled water at the grocery store and carried a bottle with us each day.

When you have a flat, you have maximum flexibility with your eating choices.  Going to the neighborhood grocery store or the bigger Monoprix was always a grand adventure.  It could take hours if we wanted it to and that was just fine.  We also LOVED the fun of stopping off at the end of the day at the fromagerie, the boulangerie, the charcuterie, the produce store and the wine store and picking up the components for a delicious dinner at home.  An assortment of cheeses, a few meats, a baguette, some tomatoes, olive oil, salt, wine.  Dinner.  And everybody loved it.  Some nights we went out but only when we felt like it and when people were in a good mood.  We either made reservations or arrived at the beginning of the dinner hour.  Some restaurants had lovely menus for children, at other places the girls ordered off the regular menu and discovered new foods that they really liked.

Not uncommonly, we would pop into a cafe for a pre-dinner drink, an afternoon espresso or ice cream or a quick crepe and some people watching.  I always carried in my daybag some postcards, a small sketchbook or a little game so the girls could be entertained while the adults enjoyed their drinks.

Shopping and Souvenirs: The best way to ruin a vacation for me is to have my children nickel and dime me on a routine basis for this or that junky trinket.  I hate it.  So for Paris, my kids had to save their own spending money.  And their own money for activities but we will get to that later.  They had about two years notice that we were taking this trip.  We told them that in order to go, they had to save a specific amount of money.  They both opened bank accounts and saved and saved.  Before embarking on our journey I sat down with them and we created a budget.  We delineated what I would pay for (airline, accommodations, three meals plus one snack a day) and what they would pay for (souvenirs, gifts for friends, extra snacks or drinks, Metro tickets, entrance fees).  They made a list of what they hoped to find or buy while on vacation.  Once we hit the ground, they found lots of things they wanted.  And each time they got to decide whether or not they really wanted to spend their money on it.  If it had been my money we were spending, I would have been broke.  With their money, however, they were conscientious.  They deliberated, they walked away, they went back, they decided to wait.    They didn’t bug me once.  It was amazing.

They found great clothes at Zara and H and M.  I know, I know, we have those stores stateside but they are way cooler in Paris.  And much more affordable than Parisian boutiques.  Art stores and art supplies were a major hit and they stocked up on high quality sketch books, colored pencils and paints.  Museum gift shops were a great spot to find posters of art they loved.  Scarves and bracelets bought at neighborhood street markets were also popular.

This whole approach really made my travel experience about a million times better than usual.

Activities: My previous blog post details the various activities and sights we enjoyed.  There are specifics for each of these that are worth paying attention to.  I urge you to get a good guidebook (Rick Steves’ series are my favorites) and study it religiously.  Find out how to skip the lines (hello, Museum Pass) and when to go to avoid the crowds.  You might be able to suffer through a long line in the heat of the day so you can go stand shoulder to shoulder with a  bunch of other tourists in the Louvre.  Your kids, on the other hand, will have a melt down.  And then you will have a melt down.  And then you will wonder why you ever go on family vacations.  And then you will find a nice café, order a glass of rosé and regroup.  And go back to the Louvre on Wednesday night when it’s open later and the crowds are gone.

Also, one, maybe two activities per day is plenty.  Any more than that and you will have a mutiny on your hands.  So go, do your thing, and then spend a little down time at your flat in the afternoon.  Your sanity will thank you.

We did a lot of “pre-work” before we visited the main attractions.  We would read at night or in the morning before we left and talk about the history of the attraction, what we expected to see, etc.

We made our own Bingo card and scavenger hunt and completed them as we made our way through Paris.  Poodle?  Check!  Dog poop on the sidewalk?  Check!  It gave us something fun to do, made us more observant, and led to quite a few laughs as we pointed things out to each other and compared our Bingo cards at the end of the day.

One more tip……go off the beaten path.  Do something just a little unexpected.  We had the best time spending an afternoon at a cooking class.  We learned a lot about French pastry making, the girls practiced their techniques, we met other travelers, we spent some great time together, had some good laughs and now relive our memories when we make eclairs and macarons at home.  We spent nearly an entire day in Montmartre on an exceptionally fabulous food tour that will be talked about for years to come.  So whatever your passion is, or your interest is, find a way while traveling to explore that.  It will be worth it.  I promise.

Journaling: I brought my own journal for the trip and kept lots of notes about what we did, what worked, what didn’t, etc.  The girls each had their own journal as well.  They really enjoyed using it to write out the plan for the day, write about what we had seen or draw.  They both discovered a new passion for drawing the sights and this filled many quiet hours in the flat or at a café table.

Boredom Busters: You, and your kids will need some downtime.  I know, Paris is vast and amazing and how could you ever get bored or need to take a break?  Trust me, you will need a break.  It’s no small feat navigating a huge, bustling city where you don’t even speak the language.  We brought along a deck of Uno cards, a travel cribbage board (I love this one from Walnut Studio https://walnutstudiolo.com/products/travel-cribbage-board) and one new game, Iota.  We each brought one book to read and others that were on our electronic devices.  As an aside, I really love a real book but when traveling, I really don’t love lugging them around so…..e-books suffice.  I also made a travel pack for each of the girls before we left home.  It was a basic plastic school type folder filled with fun pages.  Crosswords, word searches, sudoku, coloring pages of French sites, maps of the world, USA, Europe, France, Paris, colored dot stickers for marking, a few fun Parisian and travel theme stickers.  These were great on the airplane but also in the flat or at cafés when they needed some down time.  I allowed screen time, too.  I’m not a purist by any means but screen time only goes so far and there were lots of times they wanted something other than a show to watch.

Money: I know, I know.  No one likes to talk about money.  But you can’t travel without talking about money.  So here goes.  As I alluded to above, we had a pretty well organized strategy about saving and clear delineations about who was paying for what.  The girls bought their own Metro tickets, paid for admission to all the sites, paid for all their own shopping.  I did pay for the food tour and cooking class because they were a bit more pricey and because I was the one who really wanted to do those activities.

So, what does it cost to traipse a family around Paris?  Here’s the breakdown….

Day 1:

Fresh fruit at the local street market: €10

Eiffel Tower tickets: €17 each adult, €12.50 each child

Lunch at the Quai Branly Café €40 for three people

Grocery store for water, snacks: €12.71

Dinner at Café Constant: €60 for three people

Total: €164.71

 

Day 2:

Bakery for pain au chocolate: €6.00

Notre Dame: no cost!!!

Lunch at café: €47.50

Saint Chapelle: covered by previously purchased Museum Pass

Assorted dinner supplies (cheese, meat, baguette, wine, nuts, oils, vegetables): €80

Metro carnet: €5

Groceries: €8

Total: €146.50

Day 3:

Bakery: €6

Picnic lunch supplies: €30 for four people

Glass of wine in Luxembourg Gardens: €6

Louvre: covered by Museum Pass

Dinner at Le Nemours: €66.50 for four people

Total: €102.50

 

Just a few examples but, overall, I think they are representative of our spending habits.  Breakfast was usually a small price at the bakery and accompanied by eggs and fruit we had at the flat.  Lunch was at a café or picnic style in a park.  Dinner was at a less expensive restaurant or assorted supplies we picked up and ate at home.  Restaurant costs always included at least one glass of wine and maybe more.  The kids drank water at restaurants but had more fun drinks at the flat that we purchased while at the grocery store.  Our €80 dinner supply expense easily covered 2 or 3 dinners.  Seemed like we spent €25-40 every few days at the grocery store for water, wine and snacks.  Cost for activities varies depending on what you are doing on any given day.  We were thoughtful about our spending but didn’t try to penny pinch.  By the same token, you could easily spend lots, lots more if you wanted.

Au revoir and happy travels!

 

Reading

I love reading.  I love everything about it.  The smell of the book.  The heft of the novel in my hand.  Curling up on the couch all day with my book, magazine, travel guide, novel, whatever has words printed on it.

Oh wait, I never actually get to do that.  Somehow real life conspires to prevent that particular event from happing.  But I’d like to do that.  I’d really like to.

Trip planning, though, does allow me a bit of a (somewhat) valid excuse to sit around and read.  After all, when we are spending a lot of time and money on a trip, we had better be prepared.

When we made the decision to take the girls to France this summer I immediately put together a reading list of books that we would read together prior to our travels.  The list is an eclectic and diverse collection of story books, short chapter books and novels that has helped to paint the picture of both historical and modern day Paris.

I’ll share it below with commentary in the hopes that you might find it helpful, too.

Storybooks:

The Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans is a classic and a must read, even for older children.  We enjoyed the stories and picking out the Paris monuments depicted in the illustrations.

Eloise in Paris by Kay Thompson is an entertaining, laugh out loud journey through Paris with the inimitable Eloise.  A must read!

Anatole by Eve Titus tells the story of an entertaining mouse on the loose in Paris.

Adele and Simon by Barbara McClintock is a lovely simple storybook that takes readers on a child’s eye view tour of the streets of Paris.

Kiki and Coco in Paris  by Nina Gruener tells the story of a girl and her doll in Paris.

Short Chapter Books:

Les Miserables by Hugo and Monica Kulling is a children’s version of the classic story.  It depicts historical Paris and France but some of the topics (death, illness, orphans) were a bit much for my children, aged 8 and 10.

Hunchback of Notre Dame again depicts historical Paris and is an enjoyable read for mid elementary aged children.

Chapter Books:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is set inside the iconic Gare du Nord train station and includes beautiful drawings that are every bit as compelling as the story that is told.

Travel Books:

Paris City Trails from Lonely Plant Kids describes 19 kid friendly trails through Paris with loads of fun facts about sights along the way.  Because this book has fun tips and pictures, my plan is to read this ahead of time with the girls but not bring it on the trip.  We will incorporate most of the sights into our itinerary in one way or another.

Paris With Kids from Fodor’s describes 68 diverse experiences that will appeal to kids of all ages.  I read it from cover to cover, made notes of and researched the activities that looked appealing and then incorporated them into our plans.  Some of the listings I hadn’t seen anywhere else and am excited to try.  What I anticipate will be a very useful part of the book is the little side bar, Eats for Kids, on each page.  This lists a handful of cafes, brasseries, crepe stands, etc. near each attraction that are kid friendly.  Notes of these have gone in my Bullet Journal (more about that later).

Mission Paris: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure by Catherine Aragon is a thin, lightweight book outlining a city wide scavenger hunt.  My children love scavenger hunts and I’m hoping this book will help them stay engaged during what might otherwise be boring museums and gardens.  Because it is so lightweight, I feel like I can bring it along without creating excessive weight in the luggage.

As usual, there are too many books to be read and too little time.  There are a number of books I intended to read before our travels but….we were thwarted by time.  Included in the to be read list:

Mira’s Diary

Paris in the Spring with Picasso

Last Musketeer

The Lacemaker and the Princess

The Little Prince

Onward….to more good books!

Second Chance

Source: Second Chance

Second Chance

Nearly 11 years ago I fell head over heels in love with a beautiful, snuggly, strong willed baby girl.  As my first born, she was the force of nature that turned me instantaneously into a mother.  As first born children will do, she consumed my life in every way.

Nearly two years later I found myself pregnant with my soon to be second daughter.  I felt conflicted in a way I hadn’t expected.  I worried that our new baby would take me away from my first born, would decrease the love and attention I had to give to her.  I worried that this shift of focus, from her as an only child to her AND her sister, would ruin her forever.  I worried that I wouldn’t love this new baby as much as I had the first. This struggle is not unique and neither was the solution.  We figured it out, day by day, minute by minute.  So far, nobody seems too scarred.

Five years ago I fell head over heels in love again.  This time I traveled 4,800 miles to meet my love, anxiously leaving my two small children in the care of my parents.  The object of my affection was again beautiful and strong willed.  (Strong willed and I….it’s a love/hate thing.)  and very, very French.

I wasn’t prepared to like Paris, much less love it. I wasn’t prepared to fall in sync with the rhythms of the city, to be astounded by the architecture and awed by the beauty. In short, it was little like parenting. Before I had children parenting was an abstract concept that seemed pleasant enough. After children, parenting was real and gritty and transformative. Before traveling to Europe, Paris was a pleasant enough idea. After spending ten days there, Paris changed me. And left me wanting more.

So in three days I’ll embark again to the City of Light, this time with my daughters in tow. We will meet my mother there and immerse ourselves in the city. I wonder, though, how has Paris changed? How have I changed since my last journey there? How will my children experience this gorgeous city? Will I love Paris as much the second time as I did the first?

They Think We’re Just Riding

People who passed by us today, if they noticed us at all, perhaps observed that we were just another family out enjoying the sunny, early spring weather.  They would have been correct.  Mostly.

It was a sunny day with glorious clear blue skies and crisp, fresh air.  The kind of day we just haven’t had enough of recently.  And we were enjoying ourselves.

Except when we weren’t.

I had 17 miles worth of training runs to complete this weekend.  One 5 mile tempo run and a 12 mile long run.  My husband was out of town and I felt a bit guilty leaving the girls alone while I ran so I suggested they join me on their bikes for the five miler.  They enthusiastically agreed.  We set off on an out and back course over rolling hills adjacent to the river.  A beautiful run/ride although by the end my youngest had to be cajoled along.  To her credit, her bike seat was much too short as she seems to have gained four inches over the winter.  This caused her legs to work less efficiently than is optimal and she let me know about it when she was tackling those hills.  We all agreed at the end that it had been a success, though, and the girls were eager to ride again.

I felt pretty confident, however, that neither of the girls would want to join me for 12 miles today.  After all, it’s more than double what they rode yesterday and four miles longer than any ride they have completed thus far.  I underestimated their sweet optimism and sense of adventure, though.  When asked if they wanted to stay home and play or come with me and ride 12 miles, they didn’t even hesitate.  So I loaded the bikes, the helmets and assorted paraphenalia.  Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t travel light and that includes trips across town to go for a run.  Since my girls are related to me, we probably looked like we were headed out of town for a long weekend, the truck loaded down with biking gear, running gear, a change of clothes, snacks and six water bottles.  Just in case.

We parked downtown and hit the trail, crossing bridges, cruising over dirt paths and through cool tunnels.  The girls pedaled along, not even looking like they were working hard.  They would speed ahead and I would find them around the corner, lounging on a park bench and waiting for me.  After five miles we stopped for a bathroom break and to refill our water bottles.  We started up again but by eight miles in, it became clear that my youngest wasn’t too happy with the state of affairs.  I had raised her bike seat after the debacle of the previous day but hadn’t raised her handlebars.  That required a tool I couldn’t find.  It all looked okay to me in the driveway but after 8 miles of pedaling her back was aching from bending forward too far in order to reach those handlebars.  So we stopped.  We drank some water.  We readjusted the seat.  She toughed it out for another quarter of a mile before the subject of her sore back came up again.  She complained a bit, maybe even whined.  Asked how much longer we had to go and rolled her eyes and stomped her feet when I told her the answer.  It was beginning to feel like the final four miles might get ugly.  She persevered, though, and by 11 miles we were back to where we had started.  I know, I know.  I planned to go 12.  But I compromised  in the face of my child’s abject misery.

It’s hard to know how to feel about that.  We set out to go 12 miles.  Was anything less a failure?  Was I letting her off the hook by “only” going 11?  Was I pushing too hard at 8 miles in when I made her keep riding even though she didn’t want to?  I wrestled with these thoughts over the last few miles of the run and well into the rest of the day.  Then I started to think about what the purpose of the ride/run was.  Obviously to get outside, enjoy the sun, be active, do something together.  Even more so, though, the purpose was to appreciate the crisp spring air and the long-absent sun warming our skin.  The purpose was to do something difficult, something challenging, something neither of the girls had ever done before.  The purpose was to feel the warm glow of pride after accomplishing something that was really hard to do.  The purpose was to learn how to persevere even when you wanted to quit.  When I frame it that way, I think we struck the perfect balance.

We finished feeling tired yet energetic.  A slow smile spread across my youngest’s face as she realized what she had accomplished.  As we sat at brunch a few minutes later, I realized how grateful I was to be able to share that gorgeous morning with my daughters.  I know they think we were just riding but believe me, we were doing so much more.

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