French Souvenirs

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Some of the most memorable experiences of my life have been shopping in Paris.  Perhaps I’ve not seen enough of the world, but winding our way down narrow cobblestone streets into shops like above, the oldest cookware shop in Paris – Dehillerin, is just so ….. charming.  So French!  The aisles of copper and wood and enamel cookware.  The fancy cake molds and glassware.  The dusty smell of the old building.  It’s a ‘must-visit’ on my list of recommended ‘to-dos’ for any foodie or food enthusiast who visits Paris.

Dehillerin
www.e-dehillerin.fr
Rue Coquillère 18-20
Paris (at les Halles)

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Dehillerin aside, my favorite place to look for the real flavor of a city is its grocery store.  :)  In France, a major chain grocery called Monoprix where you can find all kinds of perfect (and inexpensive!) souvenirs to take home.  Like the latte bowl above.  Anthropologie sells bowls like these, but you need to triple the price of what they go for in a French grocery.

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And French sea salt!  This is a nice brand, but you can find others — a huge bag of grey sea salt — for around $2.00.  Did you know that sea salt gets it’s colour and high mineral content from the way the water evaporates and how it is raked in the sea tray.  The good stuff comes from the Normandy and Brittany regions in the north.  It’s delicious.

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School and office supplies:  Maybe it’s just me, but the paper and pen and art supply aisles cause me to linger.  The school kids over here don’t write on the lined notebook paper I am accustomed to, but rather ‘graph’ paper.  Someday if I get the nerve, I’ll take a photo of one of Jillian’s classmates handwriting.  The kids are taught early to using fine graph paper and good pens and the handwriting is beautiful and neat.  The fountain pens found in a basic grocery store are drool-worthy.

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Alright, there are more souvenir suggestions to be had (French wine!  Chocolate!  Berets!  Dijon Mustard!  Hermes scarves!  Ha!), but my cup of tea is almost empty and there are children getting ready for bed.  My last grocery suggestion is to scan the never-ending yogurt and cheese aisle.  After you pick up a good baguette, a bottle of wine, and some fresh Camembert (the unpasteurized kind that is forbidden in the US), the next item ought to be some delicious yogurt.  The brand le Fermiere makes yogurt in a beautiful little terra cotta pot that can be used again and again.  

Chocolate Pot de Creme.  Or use it to store some of those French thumbtacks, a handful of pencils.  Or grey sea salt.  

Italy: Part III

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For an adventure, during the final days of our trip to Italy we made our way to the Lake Como region and stayed at an Agriturismo (Agricultural Tourism).   It was great!  

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According to Rick Steves:  “By renting rooms to travelers, farmers can make ends meet, remain on their land, and continue to produce food. A peaceful home base for exploring the region, these rural Italian B&Bs are ideal for those traveling by car — especially families.”

Except, we didn’t rent a car.  Actually I tried to find a car, but there weren’t any big enough for us all to fit into, so instead the owners of the inn gave us a lift to and from town.

That was its own adventure!

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First we all piled into a late ’80′s Fiat.  Seven people.  This car:

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Then, after a very bumpy (and scary) drive up a steep mountainside, we transferred to the back of an old tractor.

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At a point everyone had to make sure their hands were safely inside the tractor to avoid having them clipped off by the narrow stone walls the tractor passed through.  

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For some perspective on size, this is me with the stroller.  

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But once we were at the inn, we settled into a peaceful day.  The farm produces honey, meats and cheese.  The meals were outrageous and delicious.  The mother and grandmother made cakes for breakfast.  Quinn was in heaven.  :)

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Except for the nail-biting, jaw-clenching trip up and down the mountain, the trip to the Como region was relaxing.  A beautiful way to end the trip to Italy.

 

Italy: Part II

We found a charming old apartment on AirBnB.  The stairs (there was no elevator, of course!) were totally wonky and crooked from hundreds of years of settling soil.  To get inside the flat we climbed four stories of narrow stone stairs, crossed a rickety-feeling terrace/balcony, and then to a massive doorway.

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The apartment was light-filled with massive wooden beams and plaster walls.  And best of all, big enough for the six of us!

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Brera neighborhood:  Great for some authentic Italian shopping.  If I had a dollar for everytime some classic looking Italian woman rode by on a bicycle with charming wicker basket, I’d be…many dollars richer.  However, despite the high heels, they move pretty quickly and I couldn’t get the camera out fast enough to catch one.  :)

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And gelato!

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Be-bop Pizzaria

And, I couldn’t believe it!  A fantastic GLUTEN-FREE pizza place!

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202 The Grill

And, even more beyond belief — the BEST hamburger and french fries.  Ever.  (How is that possible?  In Italy???)

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Fantastic pasta and pizza, gelato, burgers and a random sushi lunch.

Everyone left Milan very happy.

Viva l’Italia!

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We are officially halfway through the summer holiday!  

The weather has been beautiful and (so far) completely cooperative with our plans.  We have been making our acquaintance with the Swiss ‘Bad’ / beach system, swimming in the cool lake water whenever possible.  It is the kind of summer that I remember as a kid — sun-kissed noses and freckles, occasional scabbed knees, lots of ice cream, and drop-dead fatigue at the end of the day!  Perfection.

But first:  The kids finished up school on a Friday, and by Monday morning we were on a train for our first trip to Italy!  Because the little ones can handle travel in smaller doses, we set our sights on Northern Italy.  First Milan for a few days and then onto the Lake Como region.  

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I have to admit, when we first arrived and missed our train stop, found our cell phone service not working, discovered that we would be lugging a double-stroller and bags, up every (insert profanity) step, and found ourselves unable to use the pay phones and over an hour late to meet our AirBnB host…I was ready to throw in the towel and head directly back home.

But, that would have been a huge mistake.  The city is lively and urban, and, be still my heart, there must have been a shoe store in every other storefront!

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So we window-shopped and ate pizza and gelato EVERY.SINGLE.DAY.

I’ll put some more pictures up soon when I’ve had a chance to go through them all.  A city so rich in culture and beautiful things — it was easy to get snap-happy with the camera!

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First Love

Quinn:   “Mama, will you be angry if I tell you something?”

Me:  “Depends on what it is.” 

Quinn:  “I have a girlfriend.”  (he’s 8, okay?)

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Peter:  “What does it mean to you to have a girlfriend?”

Quinn:  “It means that we love each other and want to be together when we are grown up.”

Peter and I exchange a look.  It’s a pretty good response.

Me:  “How old is this girl?”

Quinn:  “I don’t know.”

Me:  Hmm.  Peter and I exchange another look.

Me:  “What’s her name?”

Quinn:  “It’s my friend Réné’s older sister.”

Me:  “Okay, but what is her name?”

Quinn:  (smiling sheepishly) “I don’t know.”

…pause…

Peter:  “You might want to know her name before making any long-term plans.”

 

Book of the Week — Bloomability

Bloomability.  I am in love with this book. 

A few years ago my dear friend Bekah introduced me to a new author.  Technically, Sharon Creech is probably a children’s author, but her books are for everyone, any age.  So when I saw Creech’s name pop up in our e-Book library, we happily reserved ‘Bloomability’.

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Let me just lay it out:  It’s a wonderful story.   The book is about a young girl who is “kidnapped” by her aunt and uncle and taken to Lugano, Switzerland to where they are helping run an international school. 

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A few years ago the Minnesota Orchestra made a stop on their European Tour to Lugano.  We were only there for two days, but I remember it so vividly.  I swear to you, the air actually shimmers gold.  Palm trees, blue water, and snow-capped mountains — it’s magical. 

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We borrowed a small boat for an hour and cruised Lake Lugano with the kids.  The smell of the air, the light, the calm that over all of us.  That hour is imprinted as one of my fondest family memories.

 The story of Domenica Santolina Doone (“Dennie” ) — suddenly uprooted and finding her way surrounded by people from different backgounds, cultures, and beliefs — well, let’s just say that each night as we read another chapter, the book is a time for us to have meaningful conversations about experiences we are sharing.  We, too, are finding our way and realizing all of our own “bloomabilities”.

 P.S.  How much does the UK cover of the book look like Rachel from Glee?  :)

Into The Woods

ImageSorry for disappearing for a while!  Since I last wrote, a few irksome things have happened…several new teeth (no sleep + cranky baby), an ear infection for Quinn, a mild head concussion for Jillian, and touch of post-partum depression for me.  All in all, nothing too serious, but frankly it has felt like we have been treading water for the past few weeks.

There have been some bright spots in all of this, and that has included a wonderful day with new friends and a trip to their Waldschule.  I wrote about our kids’ experiences hiking into the forest for school days, but this is a real Forest School!  The photos ARE the school.  There is no heated lodge and bathroom cropped out of the frame of these pictures.  Rain, sun, snow, thunderstorm — the kids are here.  The old German saying is that “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes”.  

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Here is the music and dance “room”.

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This forest school didn’t exist in the area, so our new friend Johannes decided to start it.  Kids attend the school until they are ready for Kindergarten, which is either age 6 or 7 in Switzerland.  The forest school is made up of mixed ages, but this particular classroom is for 2-6 year olds.  

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 The logistics of all of this is a lot to wrap my brain around:  the place is not fenced, and on cold weather days they build a fire for warmth.  On the other side of this is a steep ravine and a stream.  How do they manage all of this with multiple small children?  But, what a magical way to spend childhood.

 

 

 

 

Farm in the City

ImageThe other day as we walked to the forest for Jillian’s bridge-building celebration, out of nowhere we heard sheep baaa-ing.  We were walking next to a corporate office of some sort, so this took me by surprise.  

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We’ve been here long enough, so I don’t know why I’m still surprised to see farm animals in small patches of grass alongside a busy street.  Or on a corporate lawn. 

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Throughout the city, there are barns and tiny pastures, seemingly, everywhere.  And all that separates them from the busy streets are little strips of electric fencing.  Which has been a fun experience — keeping Ellen’s hands away from the fence.  Quinn, always inquisitive wants to know exactly what it feels like when the fence current comes around.  I admit, after trying to dissuade him from asking for the tenth time, just tell him to go ahead and touch it and get it over with!  So he does.  ‘Oh, so that’s what it feels like!’, he says.  :)

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Forest School :: Waldschule

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Yesterday we got our first glimpse of the Forest Classroom!  Over the past 12 or so weeks that the kids have been in Swiss school, they’ve been taken into the forest for various school projects — to celebrate the start of Spring, for hikes and to roast sausages, and to build bridges.

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Over the course of two days, Jillian’s class studied bridges and experimented with ways to build them.  Starting small, they first used bits of clay or jumbo marshmallows as ‘piers’ and bamboo skewers and sticks to create a model.

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Then, using larger pieces of wood and cable ties, the class was given tools — and minimal instruction — to create a full size version!

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To celebrate the construction, parents and family were invited to bring cake and drinks to share.  I wish that I had taken a photo of the drinks!  We brought some sparkling water and Apfelshorle (carbonated apple juice).  The other parents brought Prosecco and a case of wine!  Good times.

We all got a chance to test the bridges.  A little scary at first.  I admit that baby Frederick wasn’t allowed to cross the bridge….baby in a cold stream seemed like a bad idea.  The bridges were surprisingly strong!

Then the kids (with help from the parents) took their bridges apart, cut off all the cable ties, and made a bonfire.  We ate cake, drank wine, and enjoyed nature.  What a great experience!

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