Saturday, May 30, 2009

Soccer Mementos

Ryan put together the best prize for his soccer girls--instead of a trophy or a medal, he made each of them player trading cards. Half of them had their serious photo and the other half had their action shot photo and he had them each say what they loved most about soccer. On the back he put the team photo... they turned out great!

I think the girls will be so excited to have a professional trading card of themselves that is so personalized.

**Have you ever had a trading card with your own photo on it?
(I didn't think so.)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Chinese Intrigue

At our May Book Club we discussed the wonderful book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. We all loved it. Rather than try to summarize this book myself, I'll quote what is written on the author's website:

A language kept a secret for a thousand years forms the backdrop for an unforgettable novel of two Chinese women whose friendship and love sustains them through their lives.

This absorbing novel – with a storyline unlike anything Lisa See has written before – takes place in 19th century China when girls had their feet bound, then spent the rest of their lives in seclusion with only a single window from which to see. Illiterate and isolated, they were not expected to think, be creative, or have emotions. But in one remote county, women developed their own secret code, nu shu – "women's writing" – the only gender-based written language to have been found in the world. Some girls were paired as "old-sames" in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their windows to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

An old woman tells of her relationship with her "old-same," their arranged marriages, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood—until a terrible misunderstanding written on their secret fan threatens to tear them apart. With the detail and emotional resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha , Snow Flower and the Secret Fan delves into one of the most mysterious and treasured relationships of all time—female friendship.

I highly recommend this book!

We had a great discussion about foot binding (and whether or not the things people do to their bodies in our culture can be compared in any way to that tradition that has thankfully been dying out), education of women, arranged marriages, friendships between women, mother love, and the Chinese animals assigned to each year. The author did an amazing job in her descriptions of different characters and their corresponding animal years, and it was quite humorous in some instances. It made me curious what year I was born in and if the characteristics assigned to that animal held true. This website has a way to calculate which year you were born in and a summary of each animal's traits.

I was born in the year of the TIGER. I am supposedly: Liberal-minded, outrageous, heroic, love limelight, gamble all and risk everything believes life is for living in a big way. Thrives on action and new ideas. Brave, gifted, clever, reckless, fights for what is right but no discipline, vague, quarrelsome.

Not so sure about everything there... I liked another website's description a little better:

Tigers may not be the king of the jungle, but these striped cats are no softies! Magnetic and self-possessed, Tigers are born leaders. They have an air of authority that prompts others to fall in line, which is exactly how they like it. Although they are magnetically charming and fun to be around, Tigers like to go it alone sometimes too. A Tiger's main interest is in following its ambitions -- and maintaining control.

Tigers are courageous beyond compare and generally come out ahead in battle, be it in the boardroom or the bedroom. Seduction is one area where the Tiger is definitely king! Noble and warm-hearted, Tigers have a natural, raw appeal that's extremely attractive to other Signs. They're not just about attraction, though; ever on the side of right, Tigers will fight the good fight to the bitter end if the cause is worthy. Opponents are wise to fear this feline.

A bit of caution is a good thing around Tigers, since they can pounce without warning. They experience mood swings and often feel things more intensely than others, the latter quality being both good and bad. They can react poorly under stress and are prone to emotional outbursts. This Sign's bristling sensitivity can send friend and foe running for cover.

A lesson that Tigers would be well-served to learn is moderation in all things. Once these cats can find their center and direct their considerable energies toward worthwhile endeavors (as opposed to racing through life), they will accomplish much.

I'm not into astrology at all, but it's interesting to see which characteristics I have (or don't).

Both Ryan and Olivia were born in the Year of the SNAKE.

Some of the snake characteristics:
Power seeker, looking for excitement and intrigue, money and fashion conscious, graceful, softly spoken, elegant, well groomed, wise, passionate, cool under pressure, intelligent, thoughtful, attractive, but sometimes conceited, poor loser.

Coleman was born in the year of the SHEEP.
Some of the sheep characteristics are: Lucky, attract prosperity and comfort, emotional, feminine, compassionate, artistic, graceful, timid, good Samaritan, shoulders to cry upon, kind, perceptive, eccentric, whimsical, indecisive, insecure, pessimistic.

It's interesting that some of the characteristics for each of us hit the nail on the head... others are pretty far from reality... but if anything else, it's entertaining.

**Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?
**What year were you born in?
**Are the characteristics right on or nowhere near the truth?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Spring Soccer 2009

Coleman and Olivia both had a great spring soccer season.

Coleman's team named themselves the "Green Snakes" and even got a visit from the team mascot (one of the coaches has a pet snake).

Coleman's skills noticeably improved this spring... he dribbled better and had much better control of the ball....

...and he scored several times throughout the season. It seemed that the Snakes were either way better than the other team, or they couldn't hold their own. There wasn't a lot of middle ground, so they got a good taste of both winning and losing.

You could often see Coleman in this pose... his coaches told them, "If you are close enough to touch your teammates, you are too close" so he made it a point to do the airplane maneuver to check his distance.

When Coleman was assigned to a team outside of our immediate neighborhood I was a little disappointed, but it turned out to be a great blessing. His coaches were wonderful and he became fast friends with the other players-- and we hope to be on the same team next year. Go Green Snakes!

Olivia's all-girls team named themselves the "Purple People Eaters" (despite brilliant suggestions from Ryan and I to be the "Shrieking Violets" or the "Violet Vixens").

Their picture day got rained out, so Ryan took it upon himself to be the team photographer. He had each of the girls pose for individual photos...

...he set up a team photo (I clicked the button)...

...and he got great action shots of each of the girls.

My photography skills pale in comparison, but that's beside the point. Olivia really improved her playing this season too. She loves soccer and is looking forward to Soccer Fridays this summer and another exciting season in the fall with most of the same teammates and the same coaching staff.

Ryan loves coaching and Olivia loved having him be so much a part of her soccer life. (During games the clipboard was like another appendage.)

To be truthful, I'm mostly relieved that we have our Tuesday nights and Saturdays back, but there is a small part of me that will miss washing uniforms and keeping track of cleats and socks and soccer balls and schlepping around chairs and water bottles and team treats and cheering for the Snakes or the Purple People Eaters.

Luckily it will all start again in a few short months...

Preschool Graduation 2009

Despite feeling that in our society we tend to make a big deal out of normal life changes and events (such as promotions from 6th grade or even junior high--do we really need to set the bar so low?) I am a sucker for a preschool graduation that shows off cute kids, especially when they get to wear a cap and gown. Coleman's preschool graduation didn't disappoint....

Here's Coleman with his teacher, Ms. Sherri, who is wonderful in so many ways.

Here is Coleman with Grandma Stover who came down for the big event.

Coleman had the responsibility of handing out flags to all of his classmates. I fear he will grow up to be the class clown... he was tossing them because it made people laugh. Today I told him he was clever, and he asked what that meant (that's his latest thing... learning new vocabulary words). I explained it and he said, "Oh, I like being clever. I like being funny too." I have a feeling we'll have to keep an eye on that!

When it was time for his part he was confident and delivered it perfectly.

Coleman is such a riot... I videotaped several of the songs they sang, and this one captures his funny personality. (It's short, only 50 seconds.)

Here's a genuine smile from our little graduate. It's hard to believe he will be in kindergarten next year, but he is very ready and I know he'll love it. (Let's hope we can avoid calls from the teacher because he's goofing off too much.)

Opera Star

Olivia has had a great music teacher at school this year. She gave the second grade classes a chance to write and produce their own opera. Liv's class named their opera "Sharing is Caring" and they performed it for us on a Saturday afternoon at the Junior High.

She was a wizard and got to wear a hat that she decorated all by herself with blue sparkly foam stars and a wizard cape that I made all by myself with stamps and glitter paint.

Liv is the fifth from the left, standing with other wizards, next to elves. Not shown are the royalty and the Jedi. With that mix of characters, you can tell that second graders dreamed it up.

Here's the video of the opera... it's fairly long (over 8 minutes) so NO obligation whatsoever to watch):

I'm so grateful for good teachers who go out of their way to give our kids good experiences with things like this. I love that she got a taste for creating a whole opera and that she helped with the scenery, costumes, music in addition to performing in it.

The whole musical thing reminded me of a conversation I had with a few of girlfriends during our fun "Mamma Mia" night several months ago--a few of my girlfriends and I decided that life could be so much more fun if we could spontaneously break into song and dance.

**If your life were a musical, which one would it be?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Piano Recital--Spring 2009

Olivia had her spring piano recital last weekend. She worked really hard to memorize her two songs.

I may be biased, but I think she has especially good form.

This is her teacher Cindy with all of her cute students.

My mom came... Liv and Coleman were so excited to see her! We missed our other family members that couldn't' come, but we thought we'd share some quick videos of her songs:

This first one is called Amaryllis...

...and this is Magnificent Sunset.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Remnants of Paris

A week after we got home I got to host book club (for a great book--The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch) and I still had Paris in my heart and taste buds... so I made or bought some yummy foods that reminded me of my trip. You might notice my toile tablecloth (happily purchased at a discount price at JoAnn Fabric) and Eiffel Tower and Fleur de Lis (also purchased here in the States at a discount store). You have to love that I bought my Paris souvenirs in the U.S. and a couple of them were more than likely made in China. Oh well... they still remind me of a fabulous trip and I didn't spend a fortune on them.

I made crepes and served them with Nutella and bananas (or butter and sugar). I made ham and cheese quiche (although I would have purchased the mini-quiches from Costco if they had been in stock). I served cream puffs (thank you Costco) and chocolate-croissants (thanks refrigerated crescent rolls and chocolate chunks). And I pulled out all the stops and served the very baguettes I had stuffed in my luggage (we froze it right when we got home) with Laughing Cow cheese (thanks to Costco again). We even had sherbet (not nearly as tasty as the sherbet from Ile de St. Louis) with ginger ale (my beverage of choice on all flights going anywhere, including Paris). I don't think anyone there was nearly impressed with everything I pulled off for that night as I was with myself... it had been my first full day at my clinic and we had a soccer game for Coleman in between, but somehow the house managed to get clean and the food got made, just in time for my lovely book club friends to come over and enjoy it with me.

The next week I had signed up to decorate a door for our PTA's Teacher Appreciation week... the theme had something to do with our teachers being world-class and so Olivia asked her teacher what her dream vacation was... she was so kind in saying that she was dying to go to Paris (I am sure she had compassion for me and knew that I could easily put something together about Paris). We came up with this rendition of the Eiffel Tower (complete with gem sparkly things for the lights they turn on at night) and put random sayings about Paris and our fabulous and wonderful Mrs. Rhodes who has been a great teacher for Olivia this year.

I think those two projects sufficiently got Paris out of my system... although we are still enjoying a baguette every few days and will likely keep the Laughing Cow cheese and Nutella a staple in our fridge and pantry....

Coming Home

Our journey home from Paris was not nearly as adventurous as my first time around in 2005 (short version of that story: It involved getting on the wrong train, then stopping at the wrong terminal, then riding the shuttle bus around a few times, then waiting at the wrong desk, then thinking for an hour and a half that I'd miss my plane, then very slowly making my way through security, then running to my terminal, then bursting through a door that was "secure" and being reprimanded, then (full of relief) sitting down on the plane and traveling without incident to Heathrow airport in London--which was wonderful and clean and organized--and then again without incident to JFK in New York.... and then the fun really began with a botched attempt to use a buddy pass which ended with me flying to Vegas instead and riding in a car to Utah with two complete strangers who thankfully did me no harm...) but Charles De Gaulle airport still caused some stress as we tried to fly back to the US...

We left in plenty of time to arrive at the airport two hours before our flight. We made a short stop at a boulangerie to use up our last cash (the worker thought it hilarious that we bought 10 baguettes and asked her to wrap them for travel, then watched as we stuffed them into our suitcases and carry-on bags...) We still had plenty of time and we hopped on the Metro and then got on the right train and got off at the right terminal, but went to the wrong area, which was on the opposite side of the terminal... so we ran (panting) back to the right place and got in line in front of an extremely drunk woman who really wanted to make conversation. There were several workers for our airline, but only four were checking in people for our flight.... the line moved SOOO slowly... and we were finally getting through security and we heard them call over the intercom "Last call for flight...." and we realized it was our flight, so when the security agent told me I had to stop at the next person for a more thorough search (I'm guessing that's what he said, it was in French) I just pretended I didn't understand and grabbed my bags and ran for it. It was all smooth sailing from there (except for the fact that Ryan and I didn't get to sit by each other for the whole 8 hour flight to New York).

We were so excited to see our kids and Ryan's dad picked us up from the airport. The kids had a fabulous time with Bruce and Terri while we were gone, but we were all happy to be back together. Bruce was good enough to drive us around New York City for a bit until we had to get to the other airport... Ryan got dropped off at the New York office (where I spent the night on my way TO Paris in 2005 when I got stranded on the street outside of my brother's apartment... different story for a different day) and the kids and I went to Battery Park so the kids could see the Statue of Liberty. It was pretty foggy but we could faintly see the Statue of Liberty in the background.

You can't even see it in this picture, but it's back there somewhere. Olivia is holding her Flat Stanley (a school project which traveled all over the country--from Utah to Connecticut to Utah to Washington to Utah to San Diego to Connecticut again and even to Paris (by proxy)... big huge thanks to Grandma and Grandpa Harper, Traci and family, Grandpa Cole and Heather for your help with Stanley).

There were several artists in Battery Park offering to draw caricatures for only $5. We resisted in the beginning, but then the kids and I were convinced that we needed to have a drawing of us in New York City to remember our brief time there. We walked toward one of the artists (none of which spoke English very well) and he said, "I draw, $5." I asked if it was all three for $5 and he smiled and nodded. He asked if we just wanted cartoons or if we wanted the sketch... I clearly said, "Just the cartoon, just the $5 picture." We sat on this bench and he began to sketch. For five bucks I expected a quick cartoon-like drawing, but it was taking a really long time... he finally finished Olivia's picture and moved on to mine... then did Coleman... all the while I was thinking what a great deal we were getting and my heart was full of compassion for him. I imagined a wife and children in a cramped apartment and him trying to support his little family with meager earnings of an artist. As he was finishing I pulled out two five-dollar bills, thinking we'd give him a great tip for his time. We walked over to his station and he said, "$20." I told him he had told us only $5 for all three... and he shook his head and acted like I was trying to rip him off. Then he pulled out a cardboard to put it on... he said, "This for only $20 more..." at which point I was furious and fuming. I didn't want to cheat him, so I handed over the $20 and he tried to talk us into the cardboard... he wouldn't even put another paper on top of it to keep it from smudging.... so he rolled it up and taped it together and I gathered what very little pride I had left and walked off with my children now imagining him going home to his wife, laughing, and telling him of the way he had swindled this stupid tourist out of twenty bucks... I should have known better...

When Ryan saw it he laughed and said it doesn't even look like us. You'll notice that it was flattened in my carry on bag, so there are creases in the drawing. A great investment, no?

**Do you get stressed in airports?
**Are you ever swindled out of money?
**So what do you think--does the drawing look like us? Was it worth $20 and my pride?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Paris Jour 6

It was our last full day in Paris... we felt like we had seen most of what we wanted to, so we did a few miscellaneous things...

We returned to Montmartre so I could look in the fabric and linen stores (they were closed on Sunday). I had it in my head that I wanted to take home a tablecloth and dishtowels made of toile fabric. Of course I didn't find any... so then I got the brilliant idea to purchase fabric and make my own... and I loved what what I found in the fabric stores.

It was all so beautiful... and so expensive...

...and I made the mistake of looking online at a local fabric store (local-close-to-my-house) and found similar fabric for a much cheaper price and I just couldn't justify the extra cost just to say I had bought it in Paris... but I did love looking and feeling all of these gorgeous fabrics. In 2005 my dad and sisters and I found so many neat tapestries, but that store had closed down so I was really glad that I had purchased the ones I did then.

We debated about taking a day trip to see anothe chateau such as Fontainebleu or Chantilly. We decided to stay a little closer to Paris and see Vincennes because they described a mote and dungeon which we thought would be neat (and might buy some sympathy from Coleman who still wished we had gone to the catacombs).

It was very old--maybe built in the 1300s--and really cool. It had been closed for many years for restoration.

I was a little disappointed that the mote didn't have water (or alligators for that matter).

There was a Sainte Chapelle here too, patterned after the Sainte Chapelle near Notre Dame. It was closed for restoration, but I loved the way it looked from the outside.

Don't you think it looks like a real authentic castle? I half-expected to see Rapunzel letting down her hair out of one of the tower windows.

This was by far the most sunny day of our trip. The weather was beautiful!

This view of the mote shows the water line.

I liked this view of the black turret.

There were some really neat doors inside... I loved these.

We took a walk in a hallway that overlooked the mote. We think it's where they'd shoot arrows at enemies trying to break in.

Another view that shows the water line.

After a nice tour of the chateau we went back to Paris and went to Tuileries (where we had been kicked out before closing time on our first day) so we could go to Musee L'Orangerie. I laughed at this sign too... you must NOT walk on the grass.

I loved the outside of the building. Downstairs they have many paintings by Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, and others. I wished (again) that I had taken an art history class so that I could appreciate the art that I saw.

In the upstairs L'Orangerie houses the large water lily series by Monet called Las Nympheas. Before donating them to France, he required that they be displayed in an oval shaped room and this museum was built. I thought they were lovely!

Outside the museum was another of Rodin's "The Kiss" statue. We were going to try to take our own picture kissing in front of "The Kiss" but a nice American couple stopped and offered to take a picture of our cheesiness. Interestingly enough, the same couple was on our flight home. I saw the wife by the bathrooms on the plane and she said, "Hey, weren't you at L'Orangerie yesterday?" Small world!

We walked over to Ile St. Louis and got our last ice cream treat... I had vanilla and raspberry and Ryan had peach, banana, and raspberry. The vanilla seriously had so much real vanilla bean in it that it was light brown. It was amazing!

We walked back through Notre Dame's courtyard and decided to try La Conciergerie one more time. They were open!

This was the women's courtyard area... I imagined Marie Antoinette strolling around during her incarceration, but more than likely she stayed in her special quarters. It wasn't as amazing as some of the other things we saw, but it was interesting (and included in our museum pass :)).

We loved the metro signs that were all over the city.... as a funny side note when I was there with my dad he told us that those metro signs were pretty rare and then we saw them all over the place. Common or not, they were very cool.

We spent some time in the Cite metro station snapping photos. This was by far the best metro station with all of the hanging light fixtures and tiled walls.

We went and saw the Madeleine...

The sign told us we had missed a concert (darn it!) but at least we got there before closing so we could see the inside.

...inside the cathedral there were more mosaics but the lighting wasn't great.

We walked a block over to see the Opera, but we didn't go inside.

On our way back to the hotel we purchased this lovely eclair in Sally's honor--it was her birthday and we had already eaten a baguette in her honor, but we decided she needed an eclair too. It was filled with chocolate cream and was delicious! I was glad Sally had a birthday so we could eat yummy things while we thought of her.

It was a great day to end a fabulous week in an amazing city! We got up early the next morning for our adventure in getting home. I have to say, the Charles de Gaulle airport is my least favorite airport in the world... I'll share the 2005 and 2009 dramas in my next post... another day... I'm sure you can't wait!