Wednesday, August 13, 2014

After-school activities

The kids resume school on Tuesday the 26th of August, which is two weeks from yesterday. Where did the summer go?!

Today Isaac actually took his first baby step toward resuming school: a tutor came to our house to give him his first private lesson in cursive handwriting. Yes, they learn cursive in third grade! His teacher had recommended Isaac get a head start on it, since he has rather serious problems with visual-motor coordination and spatial planning. It's not hand-eye coordination, mind you, but some kind of brain processing glitch which throws off how he interprets visual images. We've been working on strengthening his skills by, believe it or not, playing Battleship (which requires you to read a grid) and drawing 3-D tanks (which requires perspective drawing).

Isaac didn't complain at all: not about having to take a lesson, not about wasting his summer, not about having to learn cursive, not about how difficult it is. He's a good kid.

I am also beginning to think about fall extracurricular activities. It is a big philosophical quandary for me, because I want the kids to have lots of unstructured free time, and then on the other hand I want to provide them with opportunities and enrichment.

As they have for the past two years, I want each kid to do one sport/physical activity, be it team or individual. They don't get much of that at home, so it makes sense to outsource! Laurel wants to continue with gymnastics. I encouraged Isaac to join a kids' track and field club, but he wasn't interested, so he will either resume tennis or take a boys' gymnastics class concurrent with Laurel's.

But going on to add a second activity, Craig and I have decided that we can't put off music lessons for Laurel any longer. She has such an affinity for music, and such a good ear, that it would be a pity to waste it. And music lessons would benefit Isaac as well, although he hasn't shown any strong interest on his own. We will probably enroll them both in Suzuki method piano for the first year, since both kids will benefit initially from the early Suzuki emphasis on training the ear rather than on reading music. Isaac would like to switch to trumpet someday, and Laurel perhaps to voice, but for now having both kids on piano seems simpler. (There's less driving that way, too!)

And what else? For Isaac there's a robotics engineering class that looks good, and a carpentry club, and two of his good friends are in Cub Scouts, and his teacher suggested Odyssey of the Mind...

But I am not sure we have the time, energy, or finances for more than two activities per kid per week.

Family wedding

We didn't go to Michigan just to play at the lake -- we were there to attend the wedding of Craig's brother Wade, and also to enjoy some time with Craig's family.

Most of the family stayed at the bed and breakfast at the wedding site, which was a bird sanctuary belonging to the Michigan Audubon Society. We were there for four nights, and the kids had a great time: being doted on by their grandparents, hanging out with their aunts and uncles, playing with their cousins, doing puzzles in the dining room, and then of course there was the beach.

Three generations at Lake Michigan

The wedding was on a grassy bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, and it was a beautiful setting. Craig as a groomsman wore a white linen suit, I wore a silk dress, and I even tried to dress the kids up somewhat! During the ceremony the kids sat in the front row with me and were very well-behaved. We guests got to participate in a sing-along of "Love Me Tender." And the food was excellent.

As is always the case at weddings, Laurel was bewitched by the bride, and she followed Shelly all around!

- - - - -

As I have remarked before, Laurel loves women in dresses, and especially fancy dresses, so I guess it makes sense that she loves brides. She was fascinated with the brides at the weddings we attended in 2012 and 2013, as you can see from this photo of her dancing rapturously with my cousin Sibyl at her wedding:

May 2013

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Home again

I guess everyone knows we are home again! In fact, today was our third day back. We had a delay-plagued flight home from Michigan on Monday which brought us back to the San Francisco Bay Area a few hours later than expected. We got home around 10:00 p.m., and since then things have been getting back to normal.

We are nearly back to normal sleeping patterns, Craig is back at work, the suitcases are unpacked, the laundry is done, there are groceries in the fridge, we went to the library, we went to Thrift Town, and the kids have each had a playdate with an old friend. Whew! 

Laurel poses with our summer's luggage

Speaking of suitcases, in case you were wondering, here's a photo of five of the luggage items with which we traveled this summer:
  • huge suitcase (red) [checked bag]
  • domestic-size carry-on suitcase (green) [checked bag]
  • international-size carry-on suitcase (brown) [sometimes checked]
  • Isaac's backpack (blue)
  • Laurel's backpack (green)
Not pictured are an additional three items:
  • my purse
  • Craig's briefcase
  • carrier bag for the kids' car booster seats [checked bag]

Does that sound like a lot? But we are packing lighter every year! Here's a photo of the luggage we took to Germany in 2011, which involved 12 or 13 items, although that included a portable crib and a stroller. And this year we left the red suitcase behind and used just the two smaller suitcases when we went on shorter side trips, such as our driving tour of Normandy, the conference in Hungary, and the wedding in Michigan.

I guess eventually our luggage needs will increase again -- when the kids get bigger, and their clothes and shoes get bigger too, they might eventually each want their own carry-on suitcase!

- - - - -

You know, it was a demanding five weeks for packing: we needed fancy clothes for the conference banquet and the wedding, and swimsuits for the lake, and clothes for muggy summer weather, and clothes for chilly summer weather, and of course raincoats!

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Sleep around the world

Greetings from Manistee, Michigan, the lakeside site of Craig's brother's wedding! Today is Saturday, our third day in Michigan, and the day of the wedding itself. We are staying at the B&B where the wedding will be held, and there is much excitement and hubbub, you can imagine.

Actually, at the moment there is zero hubbub, thank goodness. I am still in bed, even though it is 9:30 a.m. (and I have been awake since 7:15). I am afraid that if I get up and dressed, I will wake up the kids, who are sleeping on air mattresses on the floor, and they desperately need their sleep. I mentioned before that in France they had been having trouble falling asleep until terribly late. They were doing okay for the first few weeks, but then in mid-July we stayed up past midnight two nights in a row to watch fireworks, and that threw off their schedules. They became chronically sleep-deprived; in the mornings they couldn't sleep in late enough to make up for the deficit, and in the evenings they couldn't fall asleep any earlier.

Why not? Who knows! Of course we tried putting them to bed earlier, but it never worked. The hot muggy nights in Lille and the mosquito bites from the open windows made falling (and staying) asleep difficult for all of us. We did keep moving from place to place every few weeks, but we were mostly in Lille, so the bedroom should have been familiar. Sharing a room was a distraction they somehow never got used to. It was all bad.

I had hoped we were on the path to correcting this trend -- Wednesday night, after we arrived back from Europe, we stayed at a motel in Grand Rapids and we all fell asleep around 9:00 p.m. -- but the past two nights we have been in Manistee we didn't even make it into bed until 11:00 p.m. due to some logistical issues with the bedrooms. So if my being stuck in bed now means I can buy Laurel a night of 11 uninterrupted hours of sleep, it's totally worth it.

I know some kids find their own circadian rhythm without trouble, and even without a schedule or parental guidance they go to sleep when they're tired and wake up when they're rested. It seems like it would be natural, doesn't it? However, my kids have never done this. Even as toddlers they never once "just fell asleep" on their own on the floor or on the couch. And even now they would rather suffer agonies of exhaustion than put themselves to bed.

Did you mention the possibility of a nap? Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ridiculous. Laurel stopped napping before she was two years old, and now only naps when she is deathly ill.

Actually, Laurel gets so wound up when she's overtired that she can't fall sleep. For instance, she never even dozed off during the flight from Brussels to Washington, D.C., despite having to get up early to catch the plane. She becomes manic, and she literally can't stop talking or running around. She also becomes incorrigibly combative. If she were an adult, they would haul her off to the county jail to sober up.

Luckily we still have a few weeks before school starts to adjust to our own Pacific Time. Right now she is not in a fit state for kindergarten!

Lake Michigan

On the beach yesterday:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Last day

Today is our last full day in France. We leave for the airport tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m., so today is our final day to do everything we haven't yet done -- and to pack, of course.

I haven't blogged as much as I did from England, partly because I didn't take the laptop on our trip to Paris/Hungary, partly because the kids have been going to sleep agonizingly later than 11:00 p.m. every night, and partly because I've been reading a lot!

At the start of this trip I discovered how convenient it is to travel with reading material loaded on the e-book reader app (on three devices: my phone, my old phone which the kids use, and the iPad); in fact we hardly packed any physical books, even for the kids. I started out with two mystery novels for myself just for the plane rides, but in recent weeks I've bought more and more and have hardly been able to stop reading. We've been here for four weeks, and I've read five novels.

So I will have to catch up on my European blogging back in the United States!

In the meantime, when we were in Paris on Saturday, we went to Notre Dame.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Home (sort of) again

We've been to Paris and Hungary and Paris again, and now we're back in Lille! It's Sunday afternoon and we leave the country on Wednesday morning, so I guess we should be out doing some last-minute sightseeing, and yet we haven't gone anywhere today. (Well, Craig and Isaac did go to the bakery and the supermarket.)

After our travels, we needed a break. I unpacked our suitcases and sorted the laundry to wash. The kids have been playing and drawing, and they both had baths. I uploaded my 400 photos, and Isaac wrote a post for his blog. Craig is doing his expense report. It was really muggy, then there was a thunderstorm, and now it seems to be clearing. It might be time for a late-afternoon stroll.

Travel is thrilling, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Guest post by Laurel

We are in Szeged, in the Art Hotel, in Hungary. I'm hungry in Hungary! That was a joke. 

I went to a playground and learned how to swing yesterday!

The first time we went to the playground yesterday, I didn't know how to swing. :( (sad face) Somebody had to push me and it was Mama. I wished she would push me more. I tried to swing on my own but I got sad. :( (sad face)

The next time, I learned how to swing. I was excited! :) (smiley face) My problem had been that I leaned back too much. I fixed it by only leaning back a little. 

I swung for a long time. 

I learned how to skip, too! 

Monday, July 21, 2014


Forget about the Normandy road trip, we are in the middle of our Hungary trip!

Craig has a conference here in Szeged, in the southern part of the country not far from the Serbian border. We arrived in Szeged on Sunday afternoon and will be here until Friday. 

Backing up a bit, we took the train from Lille to Paris, and we spent the afternoon sightseeing. We went to the Luxembourg Gardens and the Egyptian antiquities section of the Louvre. Both were very enjoyable, although between them and the metro, there was a lot of walking, way more than our feet appreciated. We started the day already tired, having gotten up early for the train, and then the weather was really hot and muggy, so the kids weren't full of boundless enthusiasm. Isaac did love sailing toy boats at the park, though!

Sailboats in Paris

We stayed in a Best Western by the airport that night, and flew to Budapest very early on Sunday morning; the conference organizers had arranged for vans to shuttle attendees from Budapest to Szeged, a trip of around three hours. 

We haven't done much here yet. I considered today a success because the kids and I located a playground and a supermarket (and because our lost suitcase arrived so Laurel could change her clothes). We spent a lot of time resting and playing in our spacious air-conditioned penthouse suite, which might be even larger than our apartment back in Lille. The kids needed to recover from two early mornings and two long hot days (and maybe I did too). 

Tomorrow maybe we will do something more adventurous. Although when you're in a country where the language is particularly inaccessible, even the grocery store is an adventure! And Laurel just today learned how to swing by pumping her legs, so the playground was momentous for her. 

Swings in Szeged