Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween, All Hallow's Eve (All Saints Day), and Reformation Day

Liam is always so observant!
Happy Halloween, All Hallow's Eve, and Reformation Day!! We're still not sure what exactly our family take on this cultural, church & historical holiday will be, but it will be a lot of fun... and will probably be a combo of all three.  Whatever we decide, we want to celebrate the day on purpose-- in a way that is distinctly Christ-honoring and distinctly Szrama! :)  We want to enjoy a fun American tradition as well as use it as a chance to reach out to our neighbors and bless them.  We definitely want to be DIFFERENT than "the world" but that comes out most of all in our attitudes, character, and treatment of others.  "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, that your houses remain dark on Halloween..." oh wait, I mean, "by your love for one another."  Christians definitely have a whole spectrum of takes on this particular holiday, and as long as each practices their conviction in love and not fear, they can do so in a way that honors the Lord.

Some articles I've been reading and thinking through...

-- from the intentional avoidance perspective, by Dr. Albert Mohler (president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
-- from the exuberant celebration of Reformation Day/selective Halloween perspective, by Douglas Wilson (pastor & author, and one of our favorite religious/political/social commentary bloggers)
-- from the redeeming Halloween as a cultural and church holiday, by Jason Gray (Christian singer-songwriter & Rabbit Room member)
-- from the observation of the church holiday All Saints Day (All Hallow's Eve =Halloween) perspective, from the American Vision group

I really appreciate how that last article ties together the three simultaneous events:  Reformation Day, All Saints Day and Halloween in this way:
"Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Switzerland, Day 3: Checking out Schwyz

Today, Ryan & I went our gender-separate ways.  He & our host, Christophe, headed to work and a Drupal meet-up. Christophe owns a business and has been a user of the Drupal software Ryan writes since the beginning.  He thinks he was the FIRST user of Ubercart in Europe, and met Ryan at DrupalCon Barcelona... which we attended as newlyweds 5 years ago.  [I just went back and dredged up blog posts from that trip, for anyone wanting a throwback: "Hola de Catalunya," "Thoughts on Picasso," "Ryan's First European Meal" and "I Got my Paella!"  Fun times!]  ANYWAY... Ryan was gone all day.

Super-old Door in the Bethlehem House
Sabina offered herself as tour guide around, and to take me wherever I wanted to go.  I slept in a bit, tried to get Liam to eat, sent out postcards through this nifty little site, and we had lunch at home before venturing forth into the fog & chill.  The drive to Schwyz (capital of the canton Schwyz) was unwordly and a bit creepy-- the fog went all the way to the ground and was so thick that nothing was visible until BOOM! It was at arm's length.  I've read descriptions of objects "rising from the mist" and that was exactly what it looked like.  Anyway, I enjoyed the old city center, with its cobble stones, street-level shops with family dwellings leaning over the eaves, chapel spires, church bells and clock chimes.  We toured the oldest wooden house in Europe:  the Bethlehem House, built in 1287--it's as old as Notre Dame and predates Switzerland as a nation, as well as the later family mansion known as the Ital Reding House.  Both belonged to the Reding family, whose austere portraits we scrutinized in the 2 floors we could see of the 6.  Sabina is so easy to talk to and very considerate and helpful.  The perfect hostess and a wonderful tour guide!  She explained several aspects of the houses to me, as there were no tour guides-- I couldn't believe it when they unlocked the houses for us and turned us loose!

Oven in typical green tile
I was suddenly famished as only someone eating for 2 (haha or more, in my case) can be, so we walked through the downtown again for my first Swiss supermarket experience.  Don't worry, female friends:  I am bringing you back PLENTY of chocolate.  Also the biggest Toblerone I've ever seen (600 g) and sweet chestnut paste, which is a wonderful crepe topping.  Swiss chocolates are just amazing, and their combinations are superb:  my new favorite is milk chocolate with raisins & almonds (with NO plastins and NO vanillin, take THAT Hershey!!).  Honey is another popular filling.

Our last stop was the Swiss Army Knife factory store, where I picked up several Christmas gifts at a great price.  They have knives with EVERYTHING on them-- Sabina and I laughed that you don't even need to open them to use them as a deadly weapon-- just hold them like a rock and bash someone over the head with it!  We actually had a running joke about all the things we could use as weapons, starting with a truly hefty candlestick in the Reding House.  I had an "Aha!" moment which led me to explain the game "Clue," which as you probably knows, lists "candlestick" as a possible murder weapon. Anyway, I also was tickled at the Swiss Army PERFUME lines!  A sniff proved that it was not Eau de Sweaty Boy.  I'm pretty sure no army smells like anything anyone would WANT to exude.

Dinner was me, & Sabina, and the 4 teenaged young men living in her house.  It was great.  Amazing salad, shepherd's pie, songs sung in canons in several languages, and jokes, lots of jokes-- all of the knock-knock, pun, blonde (or Austrian), or "Your Mama" variety.  The Gallis are raising some stellar boys and are a great inspiration to Ryan & I with our little man (hopefully men someday =D).

Enjoy these pics of the Bethlehem House:

Fish Font- obviously these folks weren't strapped for cash

The ceiling was WAY low-- I could stand up straight in the rooms but not through the doors

Original Stone Sink (drains straight to the outside)

Cast-iron Skillets

Can you imagine learning to walk on this floor? 

Cloth bag filled with cherry-pits that were warmed in the tile oven and then taken to warm the beds.  Sabina remembers using some like these as a child!

And these from the Ital Reding House:
The Deluxe Version tile oven, with paintings representing each canton.  This one is for Schwyz.

Dining room with gorgeous paneled ceiling!
Can't believe our time here is almost over!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Exporing Switzerland, Day 2

Just really quick, because I'm dead on my feet, but I do have a few pictures to share!

At the suggestion of our hosts, we boarded a train that took us about 2 hours from Zurich, up to the top of Mt. Rigi, called "The Queen of the Mountains," boasting a key triangulation point at her summit (the "Rigi Kulm").  We rode a public-transit train, then switched in Goldau to a "rack railway," with a cogged wheel to grip the mountainside and ascend despite the steep grade.  We rode that all the way to the Rigi Kulm!  I think it must have been senior-citizen-discount day, because the cars were crammed full of Swedish octogenarians, all of whom gushed over Liam in fluent Swiss German-- I heard the word "hertzig" a lot (meaning "cute")... I just smiled and nodded and thanked them ("danke" is one of the few German words I know).

Our hosts, Christof & Sabina, had told us that we would be above the fog on the mountain top, and that it would be sunny and warm up there, but it was hard to believe them as we climbed through the densest grey fog I've ever experienced and pulled our jackets on.  Then, we could see the mist thinning around us and see blue sky at the top of the pines... and then... wow!  We burst through into a sunny warmth that had me longing to take off my shoes and run barefoot!  The only sounds were happy human voices, the occasional train departure, and the tinkle of goat bells.

We enjoyed a nice heavy Alpine Swiss meal of "Rigivurst" (pork & beef sausage), applesauce, french fries, Swiss cheese (artesanally made on site) and chocolate. Some Swiss genius decided to make a milk chocolate bar with raisins and hazelnuts in it... wow.  I am a believer!  Ryan & I walked to the top of the mountain, climbed the satellite/TV/radio/cell tower, and explored a little.  I sat in the grass with Liam while Ryan played mountain goat and jumped down some pretty steep slopes!  Thank you, Lord for this blessing I never even knew to ask for!

See more pictures here!

That's not a lake behind me:  it's fog!


Standing up in the communications tower

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Last Day in Paris... with BOTH of my Boys!!

Today (Sunday) was our last day in Paris, and our first real full day together as couples.  Liz & I had decided we'd spend the day down near the true city-center of Paris:  l'Ile de la Cite.  Some of our favorite sights & sites down there:  Notre Dame de Paris, la Conciergerie, Berthillion ice cream, the little park Square René Viviani, the fun little book store "Shakespeare & Company" (where authors can live for free for a year in exchange for helping in the shop and actively writing), and traditional Breton "gallettes de sarrasin"-- crepes made entirely from buckwheat flour. Liz & I both prefer to have at least a checklist, loose schedule-goal, or flexible plan.  However, being too OCD about timetables or to-do lists can be so restrictive and lead you to majorly stress out for no reason, and miss out on all those spontaneous opportunities you can NEVER predict.  Oh yeah, and you might have to stop and change your baby.  So we went with the "loose goals" approach. :)

Josh & Ryan entertained themselves in line
We headed into the city around 11, taking the metro in. We came up on the south side of the Seine right in the heart of the college-y district, and (everyone but me) grabbed a sandwich lunch from a street vendor. Then it was off to Notre Dame, checking out the old-book & poster sellers on the riverbanks on the way.  We decided the day was perfect enough to go up to Notre Dame's "very tippy top" as I put it, which Ryan had done but none of the rest of us.  They only let up a group at a time, and the line was very long, so Liz and I let the boys stand in line while we went off for Berthillon ice cream, which is still, in my opinion, the best in the world.  Sorry, Haagen-Dazs.  You got nothing.  Every year we have come, Ryan & I have tried to find the original Berthillon "salon," where they make the ice cream served all over the city.  Liz had looked it up online and was pretty sure it was on Ile-St-Louis just like the window shop we'd always bought our Berthillon.  This time I was smart and actually ASKED that shop owner, and he told us the address, which is only about 3 blocks down from the window.  On the way, I thought the crepes (sold through another window, through which we could see them being made) smelled amazingly appetizing, and on a whim I asked if these were made with any flour.  The cook, who appeared to be a young foreign student, immediately asked if I was gluten-intolerant, and confirmed that, yes, these were made with 100% buckwheat flour & are gluten-free.  So I enjoyed a piping hot salted butter caramel crepe as we walked.  It's rare that I get to eat so simply, and so commonly (if that makes sense), so I doubly enjoyed my crepe.

Vue of Notre-Dame from Notre Dame
After several false alarms, Liz & I found the REAL Berthillon ice cream salon, complete with the stained wood paneling Liz had read about online.  We decided to bring the boys back later and in the meantime bought a few scoops --mine were bitter chocolate, salted butter caramel & candied chestnut-- to share with our men.  It was fun licking them as we weaved among other shoppers back across the Isle-St-Louis and across the picturesque bridge connecting it to Isle-de-la-Cite.

Notre Dame did NOT disappoint, and the weather was gorgeous!! Warm sunshine, but not too hot.  It's hard to remember that Victor Hugo made Quasimodo up; the story is so ingrained in Notre Dame's history now-- there are even quotes from the book (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) all over the balconies, walkways & towers!  I would love to read a historical fictional account set in Notre Dame's heyday-- perhaps a young monk or acolyte? (if anyone knows of any please pass em on) -- I can imagine so many adventures and holy encounters in that place!  Alternately soaring, menacing, glorious and foreboding... and the bells!  Oh, the bells are so romantic! Heheh... I definitely felt the 400+ steps in my leg muscles!  Ryan & I took turns wearing Liam up, and he was duly admired by visitors from all over the world.  Apparently his charm is international-- like father, like son!

After Notre Dame we rested a bit in the charming little park Square René Viviani, home of Paris' oldest tree. Unfortunately the spot's beauty was partially marred by an inebriated and possibly insane bum singing, dancing and urinating in it... along with the dozen other homeless folks camped out there.  Too bad.  We played around with Josh & Liz's new camera, taking all sorts of crazy-face pictures (that just never gets old!). It's pretty amazing how expressive humans are!  Just mind blowing.  [Mike Mason has a quote on that... I'll dig it up when I get home.]

Taken from Square Rene-Viviani
Shakespeare & Company is a crazy fun little book store that I highly recommend!  I started reading Lois Lowry's new sequel to The Giver, and can't wait to get back to it in the US. We tried to see the monument to the deported Jews of Paris but it was closed... and Liam started screaming bloody hungry murder.  The child refused to nurse and had finished the bottle we'd brought with us.  My only option (besides going back to our apartment) was to get to him to suck a pacifier to sleep and then try to nurse him in his sleep.  Not the easiest thing to do in downtown Paris on a Sunday afternoon.  However, it actually worked!! Thanks to my Ergo and a nursing cover and a lot of walking & patting and trying not to turn beet red as my son screamed loud enough to clear out six blocks, he finally conked out and then ate perfectly in his sleep.  I certainly hope he outgrows this soon.

Amidst all this we made our way back to the Berthillon salon.  There was quite a line... but I think it was worth the wait!  We didn't let our dessert ruin our dinner, though:  I led us all back to that same little creperie, and we all watched in fascination as our various crepes were made:  Emmental (cheese)-ham-and-sauteed onion for me!  Munching them as we made our way home over the Seine's ancient bridges in the gloaming dusk somehow captured all that Paris is to me.  What a great last day. :)
In front of Paris' oldest tree
Peeping through some ruins in the Square

Goofing off

Family pic in Maison Berthillon's Salon de The-- Ryan & I split a "Coupe Belle-Helene" and yet another salted-butter-carmel scoop. :) 

Just for old time's sake, here are pics from our first taste of Berthillon ice cream, also a shared Coupe Belle-Helene, at the Cafe Panis (just across the Seine from Notre Dame de Paris) in February 2010, accompanied by another bald, blue-eyed teething baby...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Paris with the Conqueror, Day 5

the ubiquitous symbol...
Once again, trying to feed The Small King meant we got out the door around 1 pm.  Oh well.  I felt like a super-cool Parisian resident with my Navigo metro pass; no more fumbling with paper tickets for us!  I just waved my pass over the machine in the "Navigo only" lines, and voila!  I'm on my way.  Hehehe of course I still look like a tourist when I stand slightly furrow-browed trying to figure out which metro lines to get on once I'm past the turnstiles...  I can't ever seem to remember off the top of my head, but instead obsessively check the maps whenever I see them.  I wouldn't make it as a secret agent, nope.

My main goal today was to try some Parisian second-hand stores-- something I've never before tried.  A bit of researching had suggested that Guerrisol would be my best bet, since I wasn't particularly set on any one brand or vintage item, but rather would enjoy looking and seeing what I could find.  On my loose "list" were:  French-made/designed children's clothes (I have a whole host of cousins, nephews, nieces, friends' children and then my own that I can buy for-- so much fun), sweaters for Ryan, and leather boots for me.  I didn't find any boots in my size (40/41 are hard to find in Europe, much less second-hand), but that's ok.  I'll keep looking!  I did grab some adorable kids' clothes, though; I absolutely love French styles for children.  I tend to avoid the American teeny-bopper style that's flashy and sequined and prefer more classic simple childish-looking items.  I also did find several men's sweaters by good French brands for 2 euros a pop!  I guess one fellow shopper could sense the deal-hunter in me because he came over so excited to show me a men's coat selling for 5 euros that he knew retailed for over 500 -- he just had to tell someone!  There was also this really stylishly-dressed older man (maybe 65) who was getting sweaters, and I kind of watched what he went for and copied him, since he managed to pull off quite a good look. :)

Our Small King
After my purchasing, Liam was beginning to get heavy, and I was pretty hot from wearing him and all my cool-weather clothing in that overheated store.  It was starting to rain a bit, and a Starbucks beckoned across the street.  I grabbed a black-and-white mocha, refusing to think about the price, as well as a mug of hot water to heat up a bottle for him.  All the workers seemed to be African/Arabic immigrants and they absolutely swooned over the baby.  I've had about a dozen people come up to me and start telling me just how beautiful he is.  I must say I agree. :)

We people-watched (I tried to identify the languages around me) and enjoyed our respective snacks.  I let Liam lick a bit of my goat-milk-yogurt and he couldn't decide if he loved it or didn't.

Afterwards we hopped back on the metro to the next stop of the Basilisque du Sacre-Coeur (Church of the Sacred Heart) on Montmartre hill.  I always enjoy walking up the cobble-stoned streets to this district, lined as they are with stores hawking every sort of tourist paraphernalia, or fabrics.  This time, since I was pretty encumbered with baby & bags, I took the "funicular" (cable car) up to the top of the Butte.  There were some pretty impressive street performers!  One ripped African climbed a lampost, held a soccer ball between his foot & chin while performing acrobatics... another, fully covered in gold paint, sounded exactly like a bird when he moved.

Sacre-Coeur... never gets old!
It was starting to sprinkle as we walked down the hill back into the metro stop.  The metros were P.A.C.K.E.D.  One nice lady was trying to help me --making sure I got a seat, advising me to wait til the next train, etc.  It always does my heart good when a capable young man gives up his seat without being asked, to me as a young mom or to an older man or woman.  Decency in my fellow man is always good to see.  (understatement I know).  Now I'm back in the apartment unwinding and trying to hold off eating until Ryan gets home.  Someone is cooking in one of the other nearby apartments and it's mouth-watering.  French cuisine, you know... Lumiere had it right "the dinners here are never second-best!"

View from Montmartre

Eiffel Tower of Chocolate

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Paris with the Liam, Day 4

It was a cold, rainy afternoon 'round here... of course.  I say of course because it was the day I'd planned to meet a friend across town, so of COURSE it would have to be our coldest day yet.  Liam & I had a late start.  I'd arranged to meet her at 14 hr (2 pm), and when I looked at the clock after finally getting both of us fed, dressed & happy, it was 1:20.  The metro system is amazing, though.  We were across the Seine in the outskirts ("banlieus") of Paris 20 minutes later.  The metro went above-ground as we crossed over the river, granting quite a lovely view of the city before dipping back underground.  We emerged in a part of Paris I'd never explored before:  la Defense, which is their new buisness district.  It was completely unlike the Paris I'm familiar with:  towers and new buildings everywhere, and not a church spire or cobblestone to be seen!  I misunderstood my friend's instructions about which metro stop to get off at, so I ended up walking for quite a while in a downpour.  Liam was snug as a bug in a sling under my rain poncho.  I, however, didn't realize how wet I was until I arrived at my friend's house! Oh well, it was cool to walk through another part of the city.  The little township of "Puteaux" was quite nice-- residential  with schools, grocery stores and shops all stacked neatly like in all french towns.  This one just has the advantage of being a short metro ride or walk over the Seine from Paris.

I'd been looking forward to seeing Cecile probably more than almost anything else this trip.  She took a half-day off from work just to hang out, drink coffee (and munch on Trader Joe chocolate-salt-and sugar-covered almonds.  Addicting another continent, one person at a time, oh yeah!), swap babies and catch up.  Centuries-old buildings are great, but you can't put a price on friendship.  There's something so encouraging about seeing someone once a year or so and picking right back off where you left off-- watching them faithfully serve Christ and continue to grow in godliness.  It's like when you both have the same best friend, you always have lots to talk about.  I was glad to see her and meet her new little girl and see how much her little boy had grown (he's a month older than Eowyn).  We got to go pick them up from school/nursery, shop at their local little store, and "bavarder" (chatter/talk).

Around 7, just as it began to get dark, Liam and I hopped on the metro again and got off one stop later towards town in Neuilly, a rather nice suburb in the northwest of Paris.  As has become our tradition, Ryan's CEO Fred & his wife Claire played their roles as amazing host & hostess & treated us to a lovely French meal.  I FINALLY got to meet their 3 munchkins, who have always been off visiting grandparents when I've visited before.  Sweet kids who absolutely adored Liam.  I thought of our little Eowyn when their 3 year old daughter declared herself her daddy's princess. :)  Little girls and daddies the world over...

Dinner was pumpkin soup to start, then pork filet mignon with honeyed gravy, turnips and dinner wines followed by several types of cheese, figs & grapes.  So good.  Claire always impresses me by how amazing she makes simple food taste with a few well-selected spices, and in typical French fashion, it's all presented beautifully.

Our taxi ride home late gave us a beautiful view of the city at night, passing the Arc de Triomphe and going down the lit Champs-Elysees. Our taxi driver said he's lived here 40 years and that sight never gets old.  Paris is one city it's hard to take for granted!

So blessed to be here,