Fontaine à Chambéry

Fontaine à Chambéry

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Wow. It took me a while to get on the bandwagon and check this book out from the library, but I'm so glad I did. It was very suspenseful, dark, and full of twists. It only took me a day to read, and I stayed up way later than I should have doing so. I just had to know what happened though! 

Nick and Amy Dunne have just relocated from New York City to North Carthage, Missouri to take care of Nick's ailing mother. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, the meticulous Amy disappears. Nick is immediately considered a suspect in the small town and is suddenly pitted against the entire population, with the exception of his sister and one very trusting police officer. Fluctuating between Nick's point of view during the investigation and five years of Amy's diary entries, Flynn weaves an elaborate thriller that exposes one seemingly ordinary couple's marital intricacies. I was shocked at the end and wondered "Well now what?" I don't want to give anything away, so I'll stop my little summary there. 

If you've read it, what did you think? 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Product Review: Gopicnic Ready-to-Eat Meals

I saw these at Target yesterday and had to get one to try for lunch. I just got done eating and it was so good! I bought the Hummus & Crackers box, which contained a single-serve package of hummus, crackers, fruit and nut mix, edamame, pepita, and watermelon seed mix, and a small portion of dark chocolate with sea salt. The calorie total for the entire box is only 380, so I also ate an apple, yogurt and carrot sticks.

There were six or seven different varieties of gopicnic boxes and Target had them on sale for $3.50 each. In addition to the good food, there was a sudoku puzzle at the bottom of the box. The package was really small too, which would make these lunches ideal to take on an international plane ride or to pack while traveling and unable to eat at a restaurant.

If you've got a long trip planned or are looking for a way to make lunch exciting, I'd give one of these a try because they're well worth the money.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bilingual Game Plan

Before we even got married we knew we wanted our children to be bilingual. We'd do them a huge disservice by not exposing them to the French language and culture. When I got pregnant our bilingual plans were pushed forward. Yeah we had talked about it, but we hadn't figured out how to go about raising a bilingual kid. I immediately immersed myself in bilingual child-rearing books from the library. Many of them said the same thing: choose a method of language introduction and incorporation and do not deviate from that method. There were several types presented but the method that seemed to work the best with our family is called the "one parent, one language" method. Essentially, I only speak English to Z and Robin only speaks French. That's what we've been doing from the day she was born. Now, there are occasions when I do speak French to her, like when we are singing or reading, but it's pretty rare for her to hear me speak French. We didn't want her to develop a weird American-French accent. The books said as long as the child is exposed to the second language at least 15 percent of the time, he or she would become fluent.

Luckily we've got great resources to utilize when we have questions about bilingual child-rearing. Z's pediatrician (who was mine too, actually) is married to a Frenchman and has three adult children, all of whom are bilingual. I had no idea about the doctor's French background when I was a patient of hers. When she came to the hospital after Z was born, she asked about my new last name, and when I said my husband is French, she started spewing out French sentences. I was shocked! Robin was too, because it's rare to hear someone speak French fluently in the States. We've been able to ask Z's pediatrician about questions as they come up and she's a great resource. Actually, all of Z's checkups are conducted in a mix of French and English. In addition to the pediatrician, our Parents as Teachers woman has also researched bilingualism for us and we talk about the process and how it's going at our monthly meetings.

Z's teachers are really into the idea of having a bilingual kid in their classroom. They always ask Robin about French words and have started to incorporate them into their classroom activities. They've been playing a French music cd Robin took in for Culture Day last week. The new classroom mottos are "Je t'aime" and "Au revoir."

I don't want to wish Z's life away and time is already going way too fast, but I cannot wait to see how Z speaks! I'm so excited to know how her transitions between the two languages will be, and whether she will prefer one over the other. I wonder if she will speak French at school around her friends? Will she keep her bilingualism quiet because it makes her different? How are we going to tackle reading and writing in French? How do you even do that in English? At times it's overwhelming to think about, but I think the end result is going to be pretty amazing.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pasta Primavera Recipe

We haven't eaten well this week so I've had a hankering for veggies. Robin isn't much of a vegetable eater but this recipe was full of them and flavorful, and he (and Z too) loved it!


1 box whole wheat penne
1 zucchini, peeled and cut into small slices
1 yellow onion, diced
Carrots, sliced (I bought the pre-sliced ones to save myself some time)
1 container of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bag shredded Swiss cheese (I was going to use Parmesan but Robin prefers Swiss)
Olive oil
Provence herb blend (I have a great-tasting blend my in-laws brought me from France, but you can find it in the spice aisle as well)
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice all of your veggies and place everything but the tomatoes on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and mix so the veggies are covered. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and Provence herb blend. Bake in the over for 20 minutes or until the veggies start to brown.

In a stockpot, boil water for the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the packaged directions, or about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Add the veggies, including the tomatoes, and mix everything together well. Serve immediately. Sprinkle cheese on top of each person's portion. Enjoy!

Note: You can also add more veggies including squash or bell peppers. I didn't because Robin won't eat them. I sliced up some avocado because they were really ripe, and surprisingly it paired nicely with the pasta.

Charlie and the Great Pyramid

This story was one of my college roommates’ favorites. It’s better told in person because I can do the voice and accent, but reading will have to suffice for now.

In college I went to Egypt with a small group of fellow Truman students for a two-week study abroad trip. I’ve been Egypt-obsessed since I was four years old and first saw the mummies at the St. Louis Art Museum. After reading the Magic Tree House book where the kids travel back in time to ancient Egypt, I was hooked.

Actually being in Egypt was surreal. Imagine wanting to go somewhere your entire life and then finally doing it—that’s how I felt. Seeing the Giza plateau, Saqqara, the Red Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, Alexandria, the Egyptian Museum, and King Tutankhamun’s mummy was absolutely amazing…ahh. Writing this makes me want to go back right now. I think about my trip to Egypt on a daily basis and truly hope I can go back someday.

We went to the Giza plateau, the site of the pyramids, the morning after we arrived in Egypt. These iconic constructions are a monument to human engineering feats and intelligence. I’m certain everyone has seen images of the pyramids rising out of the desert, but until you’re standing next to them, you have no idea how grand they are. Imagining how they were built leaves you in total awe. The fact that they’ve stood for four millennia blows my mind too. It’s weird to think about how many people throughout history, including some of the most famous historical figures, have stood at the site and marveled upon the pyramids. I’ve stood there too and I did the same thing! Now that is pretty cool.

A select number of tickets are sold daily to go inside the Great Pyramid. They’re sold on a first-come, first-serve basis in the morning, so you’ve got to get there early to beat those tour buses. We got our tickets and had to wait around for a bit before we could go inside. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take anything inside, including cameras, so we left everything with our professor.

The inside of the pyramid smelled like cat litter and was hot. It’s physically challenging to maneuver once inside and there are a lot of times when you’re crawling through narrow passages on your hands and knees. There’s no way to get out because someone is crawling right behind you. If you’re claustrophobic, this venture definitely isn’t for you. There’s just something about crawling through a pyramid that freaks you out: I was certain even though that sucker has been standing for 4,500 years and has endured natural disasters, war and who knows what else, it was going to collapse and entomb me forever.

When you’ve crawled for what seems like an eternity the passageway opens up to the Grand Gallery, where you’re finally able to stand. The Grand Gallery is located in the center of the pyramid, has steeply-slanted walls and a ceiling height of almost 30 feet. The corbelled vaulting bears the weight of the pyramid and helps keep the entire structure secure. Off of the Grand Gallery are two passageways leading to the burial chambers where king Khufu and his queen would have been placed with their grave goods. In order to get to the king’s burial chamber, you have to walk up a long ramp; the chamber is located at the top. The angles of the ramp ceiling create an optical illusion so you feel like you’re climbing a mountain. (Do a Google image search to see photos of the inside of the pyramid. Since we didn't have our cameras, I don't have any photos. The photos will help you get a visual of the inside.)

We went in the burial chamber, which only contains a large stone sarcophagus. It was somewhat crowded in there so we didn’t stay for too long—just enough to look around at the room and try to figure out how they would have carried the deceased king’s body and funerary items inside. We made our way back to the ramp to head outside. Now, the optical illusion was bad going up, but it was nothing compared to going down. I was holding on to the handrails for dear life because I felt like I was going to tumble to my death. Not so, because all that’s there is a low-incline ramp, but the angle of that ceiling really throws you for a loop.

About halfway down everyone started to go really slow and then pass a group of people. There was a little boy who was probably six years old with his parents and older brother. He was terrified and was in the middle of a major anxiety attack because of the stupid optical illusion. The family was British so everything the boy was saying was in that adorable British accent. Here’s the dialogue, which I recorded in my travel journal later that night:

Mom: “Come on now, Charlie, you can do it. There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re holding up the line. Come on now.”
Charlie: “I just can’t. I’m so scared.”
Dad and Brother: “Come on Charlie! Be brave. You can do it!”
Charlie: “No, I just can’t. I’m so scared!” (At this point his arms and legs were wrapped around the railing. “Just leave me. Go on and leave me. I’ll never make it. You all can have my stuff, just split it. Leave me here and go have fun. I’ll never make it! I’m going to fall to my death. Just go on. I’ll never make it.”
Parents: “Charlie, you’re not going to die. Come on now, you’re holding up the line.”
Brother, who had just run down the rest of the ramp: “Look Charlie, I’m at the bottom! See how easy it was? You can do it!”
Charlie: “Ok, I’ll try, but I may not make it.”

Little-by-little Charlie inched his way down the rest of that ramp until he finally got to the end. Everyone cheered and clapped for him and he was quite visibly relieved to be done with the ordeal. His parents thanked us for being patient and waiting, and we followed the family out of the pyramid. By the time we exited, Charlie was talking about his adventure inside like he had never been scared.

In retrospect I think Charlie was redheaded, which makes me like him even more. I’ve got a thing for gingers. I’ll always associate the Great Pyramid with Charlie, the redheaded British boy. If I ever go to Egypt again (who am I kidding? WHEN I go to Egypt again), I’ll go inside that pyramid, but it just won’t be the same experience without Charlie, who was brave enough to say what all of us were thinking and had a freakout that was minor compared to the one I would have had.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Z is 9 Months Old

How did it happen? It feels like we just brought Z home from the hospital yesterday. She’s growing so fast. Suddenly it’s dawning on me that we almost have a toddler, not a little baby! Z’s at a really fun age because she’s so curious about her surroundings and everything is a learning experience. You can just see the wheels turning as she grasps new ideas about how things work. She can now repeat what we say, and “Uh oh” is her favorite phrase. She can clap, wave, dance, sing, stand on her own, chase the cats, and is on full table food. She has a bunch of really good friends at school. She loves Goodnight Moon, Pat the Bunny, and Madeline. Z has to be the one to turn off a light when we leave a room. She likes playing outside and going for walks. She’s got an amazing personality, is low-maintenance, and is a very adaptable kid.

I’m so excited to see what the future holds for Z. I’m curious to see how well she’ll speak French and English and transition between the two. What will be her first words? What will she be interested in? Will she like sports? Reading? Traveling? What will she do when she grows up?

Parenthood is so exciting, and there’s nothing quite like it in the world. I wish it didn’t go so fast though. We’re so lucky to have our little Zozo!

Coffee Love

I snapped this photo last weekend when I was enjoying my morning coffee. I put the mug down and rushed into the kitchen to do something. When I came back into the living room I noticed all of the steam rushing out of the top of the cup. Between the steam, the sunlight (I LOVE morning sunlight! There's just something about it that makes me happy. I'm not a fan of afternoon sunlight.), and my anticipation for drinking a really good cup of coffee, I got excited. My sleep-deprived and non-caffeinated self was like "Robin! Look at how beautiful this mug of steaming coffee is! Can you believe how gorgeous this looks?" I think he just looked at me and gave a conciliatory "Oh yeah, that's beautiful." 

I love my coffee time. I love collecting coffee mugs from all over the world. I love trying new coffees (primarily dark roasts). I love drinking coffee with good friends and desperately miss doing so with two of them whom I no longer see on a daily basis (I'm talking about you, G and C). I have no problem getting excited about a cup of coffee. 

As I'm writing this it's 5:30AM. I've been up for over an hour getting stuff done before work. I'm drinking coffee and listening to the birds chirp with a cat sitting on my lap.  It's the simple things that make life wonderful, right?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Getting Crafty: Terrarium How-To

Last year for Mother's Day I made a terrarium for my mom. She's an avid gardener and really enjoys having plants around the house. During winter she left the terrarium in my parents' gazebo and the plants died, so for her birthday I decided to make her another one. I also have a little terrarium I received as a hey-you-just-gave-birth present last summer. The plants in it have died despite my loving care so I figured I should re-do it. The terrariums turned out so well I decided I'd share photos and write a blog post.

What You Need:

  • Container. (Those inexpensive fish bowls work well and are available at craft stores. If you have pets who will eat the plants, look for a container with a lid, such as the one I used below.)
  • 4-5 small succulents, or more if you have a large container
  • Miracle-Gro Cactus Potting Soil
  • Decorative rocks
  • Trowel
  • Water

Fill the container 1/3 full with the Miracle-Gro. Remove the succulents from their pots and place them inside the bowl. Use the trowel to pat soil around the base of the plants until they are sturdy and won't fall over. After all of the plants are secure, top off the soil and continue to pat down with the trowel. Pour water in until the soil is damp, and then sprinkle decorative rocks around the plants. Water the terrarium whenever the soil is dry to the touch. Keep the terrarium in an area with partial shade. Ours is sitting on our coffee table and gets ample light in the mornings.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review: The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart

I’m a very visual person so when I saw the cover art for this book by Julia Stuart I had to get it from the library. I’m disappointed when a book has good cover art but the story fails to capture my attention; however, this definitely wasn’t the case with Stuart’s novel. I read The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise in two days, which is quite the feat when you’ve got other priorities. It was so enchanting and whimsical and full of little-known (or little-known to me, anyway) facts about the Tower of London.

Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater at the Tower of London and lives there with his wife Hebe and their 120-year-old tortoise Mrs. Cook. The Jones’ son Milo died three years before the story begins, so the couple is still reeling from the shock of losing their only child; they’ve handled their grief differently and have grown apart following Milo’s death. There are a wide array of interesting characters that also live and work at the Tower, and Stuart does a great job of incorporating the Tower’s history into the story. Because of his penchant for animal care, the Queen wants Balthazar to oversee her royal menagerie, which is being transferred to the Tower for a new display. Comprised of numerous animals including escape-artist penguins, giraffes, a Komodo dragon, and an Etruscan shrew that suffers from debilitating shyness and anxiety, Balthazar has his work cut out for him. When Hebe leaves and Mrs. Cook apparently “runs” away, Balthazar is forced to reevaluate his life choices and face his deepest, darkest secret.

I was sad when I finished The Tower,The Zoo, and The Tortoise. Stuart is also the author of two other works, neither of which I’ve enjoyed as much as this one. This book makes me want to go back to London and visit the Tower. I learned more about Tower history from Stuart’s novel than I did when I visited the site a few years ago!If you’re in need of a fast, different read, I’d give this one a try.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mom Fail

Z’s daycare is great about doing sensory activities to develop motor skills for the infants and toddlers. No kid is exempt from these fun classroom activities—even the babies get out there and participate, which I think is great. A couple of weeks ago they finger painted. When I picked Z up from school I heard all about how much fun she had saw the photographic evidence proving she enjoyed painting. Her painting wasn’t too shabby for 8-month-old either. She still had remnants of blue and red paint in her hair and ears, but hey, that’s life. I decided we would recreate this fun activity at home during the weekend. I’m a big art lover and thought “Oh great! This will develop Z’s appreciation for art and we will be able to hang her artwork around the house. Maybe we can even create paintings to give to family members for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day this year.” Hmm, right Natalie.
Our Parents as Teachers (this is such a great program!) lady gave me a homemade recipe for paint using ingredients you already have at your house. The recipe is:

1 cup flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water
Food coloring
Clear plastic squeeze bottles from craft store

Mix everything together in a large bowl and divide the paint into the bottles. Add food coloring drops and shake well until mixed. The paint won’t dry out and you’ll have some for next time.

I mixed the paint together and R set up the painting studio in the living room by laying out a big cardboard box and throwing sheets of drawing paper on top. We stripped Z to her diaper and drizzled paint on the paper. She went nuts! It was so fun! Until….she ate some. It was so salty that she started choking and gagging. We gave her a drink of water and she resumed her artistic creativity. Then she ate it again! This time she melted down because she had eaten a large chunk and couldn’t get the salty paint off her tongue. She was inconsolable. It probably didn’t help that she was tired because she hadn’t napped at all and it was hot outside. The salt granules made cleanup hard and Z had to take a bath. She usually loves bath time but was fed up with us at this point so that was pretty tortuous as well. Bottom line: don’t implement activities when your kid/husband/you need a nap, and consider the age-appropriateness of the activity before you start. Those daycare teachers make everything look so easy. I’m constantly amazed at how well they do with eight kids under two years old in their classroom. I know it’s their career but still. I’d need a Starbucks in the parking lot if I were a preschool teacher.

From this little activity we did get five nice paintings that we’re going to do something with eventually. Right now they’re in our closet because the cats were licking them. Two days after the incident I realized Zoe still had salt paint in her left ear. So we need to work on thorough cleaning during bath time too. 


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Product Review: Vaseline Spray & Go Moisturizer

I just bought a bottle of Vaseline’s new Spray & Go Moisturizer. This stuff is amazing! I don’t like the greasiness or sticky residue of regular lotion and I hate how long it takes to soak in. I also have a tendency to buy bottles of lotion, especially if I have a coupon or they’re on sale, and then use half and abandon the bottle. Robin gets annoyed because I put these half-used bottles of lotion under the bathroom sink “just in case we need them.” This new Spray & Go is easy to use, smells great, and is lightweight. You do have to rub it in but it absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re covered in butter. The spray aspect is nice and I think it will be very useful for traveling because I doubt it will leak like traditional lotion bottles. Also, I’ll most likely use an entire bottle and therefore eliminate a new addition to the lotion graveyard under our sink. There are three different scents of Spray & Go Moisturizer and I can’t wait to try the other two (I currently have the Pure Oat Extract kind and it smells really nice. Some days I don't even wear perfume because I forget after I put the lotion on.). Thanks, Vaseline! You’re awesome. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Flashback Friday: Freakout at Pompeii

Every Friday I’m going to write a post about a funny, interesting, or unusual experience I’ve had while traveling. This is a way for me to remember fun trips and the unique times I’ve had on my travels around the world. Today’s flashback comes from 2005 when I was in Europe on a school trip. We were visiting Pompeii in Italy, which is one of my favorite places. The history of the site is incredible. In 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius erupted, blanketing Pompeii and the neighboring city of Herculaneum with volcanic ash and debris, effectively preserving the Roman cities for over 1,500 years. The towns were frozen in time and you can now visit them and get a good sense of the layout of an ancient city in the Roman Empire. Visiting Pompeii is both awe-inspiring and tragic. I think the plaster casts of the citizens of Pompeii, especially their fear and grief-stricken faces, really make the disaster resonate with us today. 

We had to get up very early to take the daytrip from Rome to Pompeii. After an amazing tour, we found a restaurant to eat at which was located right outside of Pompeii’s gates. It was a gorgeous sunny day with no clouds in the sky, so we ate under a tree. Eating pasta, fresh bread, salad, and drinking wine just doesn’t get any better than in Italy, especially when surrounded by gorgeous views in a historically significant location. There was a light breeze that kept us from becoming too hot, but it also kept causing small seeds to fall from the tree we were sitting under. That got a little annoying when we started eating because the seeds were getting in our food. It took a few minutes to realize that the seeds were then walking off our plates. Turned out they weren't seeds at all, but ticks! We freaked out and started running toward the nearest bathroom to check ourselves. My sixteen-year-old self didn't know much about ticks but I knew they were bad and could cause Lyme disease. Now that I think about it, I still don't know anything about ticks, 10 years later. I do know they're bad though. Anyway, one girl, who shall remain nameless, actually took off her shirt and ran to the bathroom screaming in just her bra. The other tourists and proprietors of the restaurant sure got a good show that day, especially because none of them knew what had caused eight American teenage girls to start freaking out at Pompeii. Luckily none of the ticks had started feasting on us so we avoided contracting Lyme disease (maybe?) that day; however, I will always associate Pompeii with ticks. Just a few days ago I warned a colleague who's planning a trip to Pompeii that he better wear a hat, just in case.