Thursday, August 25, 2011

London Day 4: WAG, Bike Shop & Lots & Lots of Trains...

Eowyn's become quite used to trains.  I think this is very cool, for an American child.  She now has an experiential grasp of a concept that for many is just a picture with a "whoo-whoo" sound effect.  Not only do we have tracks near our home, but now she's watched them come and go and has ridden in them skads of times. I love it!

This morning was damp and chilly, as well as our last morning with just us two.  I decided we had better do all the errand-y things we mightn't have time to do tomorrow on Daddy's days off.  We headed to the East Croydon rail station for our now-familiar routine of a morning coffee to go and a pass through the barrier to grab an overland train to Victoria, where we'd catch any number of tube trains to anywhere in Greater London.  (Have I mentioned how much my daughter loves coffee?  Doesn't matter if it's black, my usual dark with cream, or a mocha, she begs for a few sips.)  We had a minor setback of Eowyn announcing her need to "potty" a few stops from our destination, meaning we had to jump out and take care of business, then wait for the next train to come by... We passed the time reading her current favorite books The Gingerbread Man (pronounced "Gingababada Man") and The Napping House (said with a Hebraic gutteral 'h').

First stop was quite a hop skip and a jump away, over to the Notting Hill district to the Bicycle Workshop, which I'd emailed about picking up an accessory for our Bobike baby bike seat.  It's difficult enough to buy a Bobike seat in the US, but the accessories are downright impossible to find.  However, they are all over the UK.  We snagged a cool little chest rest/handlebar that fits onto her beloved Bobike mini-- this will give her some support if she every falls asleep, as well as a place to hold on.  The folks at the Workshop were friendly, quite taken with Eowyn, and helpful as could be.  We were glad to see they like Michelin tires, too. :)

Next stop was over to the WAGfree Bakery in Brixton to grab some more meat pies, a Victorian Cream puff and a grilled bacon-greens-and-cheese "toastie" (all gluten-free and so delicious).  Eowyn was a huge fan of the bacon and hasn't stopped asking me for more since.  I learned my lesson and bought a half dozen of the meat pies so we can have easy packable lunches the next 2 days.

After all that running around town, we were both dragging. We ate our toastie while it was still hot (on the train home), and then spent a quiet afternoon napping, reading and playing in our apartment before meeting up with Daddy and his work friends for dinner.  I finally got my pub food at "The George," a popular pub on Croydon's High Street.  It was pretty tasty fare; Eowyn was a big fan of the "mushy peas," and I liked the gluten free berry crumble!  Everyone was riding high on the DrupalCon thrill, full of ideas for new partnerships and developments.  It's always fun to talk to folks from all over the world-- I got to learn all about the Dutch school system from Bojan,  and talk about the amazing cuteness of mixed-ethnicity kids with a guy hailing from Taiwan.  We headed home and put Eowyn to bed, and did some last preparations for our big day out as a family the next day.

One of Ryan's business buddies, Randy, stayed the night in our hotel as our other hotel-mates flew home as soon as the Con was over, and I had the dubious honor of explaining our ghettified means of washing our clothes... our apartment came with a really cool all-in-one washer and dryer, but unfortunately no soap, no owner's manual, and no instructions... did I mention that the only labels on all the dials were letters of the alphabet?  Thankfully, the internet does exist, and I managed to track down an owner's manual pdf, and we came up with an "it-works-just-a-time-or-two" detergent of a squirt of dish soap, shampoo, body soap, and an extra rinse cycle.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

London Day 3: the Science Museum, Westminster Abbey, the London Museum & the London Wall Walk

Today was much more "successful" in terms of things working out the way I'd hoped. :)

Éowyn 'dahing' on our train from East Croydon to Victoria
We took our time with a leisurely breakfast in our apartment, Éowyn having woken us up thoroughly in the night (I think she got too hot), then Ryan walked us to the train station on his way into the conference.  Éowyn loves having her Daddy around for sure! We caught a train to Victoria, changed over to the Tube and soon found ourselves walking down the pedestrian subway to the Science Museum from South Kensington station.  One complaint: entire all-holding-hands families walking at the pace of a baby snail, blocking the tunnel from those of us "on a mission."

Everything we did today was FREE!! (well, except for the innumerable trains & metros) I love this setup:  it eliminates any pressure to "get my money's worth" by trying to see the whole thing with a toddler, since I know I can either come back if we feel like it, or just let the babe enjoy as much as she can and call it a day! We spent a few hours in the lowest floor, the 'Garden Room,' which is aimed at little guys and encourages touching, discovering and interacting with lights, sounds, and different textures.

Enjoying the "Garden Room" in the Science Museum
Puppets!  We were lions, elephants, giraffes and more... all her zoo favorites!
I really liked the 'Secrets of the Home' exhibits, which go into the history and mechanics of pretty much any household fixture you can list-- toilets, washing machines, toasters, vacuums, locks/security-- we watched some old commercials and short documentaries on inventors, and tried our hand at sneaking through a "laser" field to a safe.  E loved it when I held her tight and set off the sirens and "Burglar!" signs flashed (I did manage to get through all the way "undetected" when I crawled flat on my belly)-- I had to do it several times and even then she wanted "again!"
Learning how a washing machine agitator works

Definitely trying this our next sailing trip

A positive FOREST of door-stoppers to twang, Mom!!
We headed towards Westminster Abbey in the hopes of catching their last free band concert of the summer.  We got there fine, Éowyn much the pinker and strawberry-smelling.  When we arrived near Parliament we had trouble (as usual) finding the spot where the concert was.  Despite plenty of signs & fliers announcing the concert, we couldn't find the 'Westminster Abbey College Gardens' on any map or plan of the Abbey...and neither could anyone else I asked.  With some help from another searching mom, I did manage to find the gardens and the concert, both of which were splendid.  We picnicked, Éowyn danced and splashed in the fountain, and enjoyed the sunshine & the music.  I loved the 'James Bond' medley and the 'Blue & the Grey' piece, the latter interweaving many familiar American tunes.

We walked through the Abbey courtyards and museum, skipping the sanctuary itself, and spending a good deal of time in the shops. So many fascinating books to choose from! Éowyn selected a Christmas Queen Victoria ornament (my sisters & I have matching ones!) that she is determined is her new 'baby.' She fell asleep and I took advantage of the freedom to browse at my leisure and read a whole book about Henry VIII's six wives. [What a disgusting hypocrite of a man to behead two of them for "adultery" when he himself was never faithful!! Many of his wives were religious and far more righteous than he... a powerful reminder that power corrupts-- who was there who could challenge the king about his own sin, when all he had to do was chop off his head? No Nathan the Prophet for this David. In a way I'm glad God didn't let his house-- the one he was so desperate to establish-- stand, with none of his children having heirs to England's throne, despite his philandering, plotting, scheming and divorcing.  It was a solemn reminder that it was God Who is truly the Sovereign, He Who determines who reigns and who doesn't.]

The weather was lovely and we enjoyed our time walking along what's left of London's ancient wall & moat... Roman & medieval artifacts are my favorites.  My camera died at this point and I have no more pictures. We found the Museum of London with some difficulty (Again, where are the clear signs & instructions in this city!!? That and all the construction made it really tricky, especially pushing a stroller!).  It was a bit over E's head; the young-child exhibits close early, apparently.  We did enjoy their book corner and walking along looking at costumes & vehicles.  (I found their Victorian "Park Gardens" movie exhibit totally weird and inappropriate for children, between a woman dressed in drag and a prostitute hitting on a noblewoman while a married man met with his mistress... yeah.)

We went home by way of St. Paul's Cathedral, where Éowyn was completely fascinated by the bells chiming 6 o'clock!  I've never heard bells like it, all cascading on top of each other, the sound going on and on.  Éowyn was totally mesmerized, asking me where the bells were-- we walked right up to the bell tower and I pointed up. "Want see!" she said.  "We can't-- they're too high, too far away."  "Too high?"  That became her refrain the whole way home.  "Can't touch- too high, Mama!  Too high!"  It was really cool to see her remembering something, trying to bring it up to talk about it with me later on, all on her own.  So cool that I am conversing with a growing little mind!!

She didn't throw any big tantrums today, though I had to stay on her about not putting her hands (and coins, extra yuck!) in her mouth-- she's got one last eye-tooth coming in on the top right, and it wants chewing.  That and not wanting to hold my hand-- "I want walk!!" she'll yell, trying to pull free.  Definitely had a few sessions about not yelling "No!" to Mommy and to obey without fussing.  I'm teaching her to apologize and ask properly and it's really cute to hear her use the phrases at other times, like if she sees me hurt myself or be disappointed, or even randomly.  I'll hear this tiny, sweet voice saying "I fa-ee (sorry), Mama, I fa-ee." :)

Dinner was back at our local Indian restaurant, pubs not welcoming children after 8 o'clock... it was tasty and Éowyn requested "chicken."  The only thing that would have made Éowyn's day perfect would have been seeing Daddy before bed.  She kept asking for him.

As for me, I'm gonna have seriously developed triceps from the "push-chair" hauling. I'm trying to make a point to consciously thank Jesus every time someone offers to help me in the train/tube stations. I almost cried when a young teenaged boy helped me-- he was probably about 14, and I just wanted to hug his neck and tell him what an amazing gentleman he already was, and that he was going to grow up into a man worth honoring and respecting... but thought that would probably creep him out, so instead we both thanked him profusely and I clasped him on the shoulder... seemed so lame. (I did pray for God to bless and claim him for Himself.) These Tube & Railway stations are NOT stroller-friendly!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

London Day 2- Golder's Hill Park (Hampstead Heath)

When I think of England I think less of London and more of the country side or small university towns.  The Inklings are to blame for the last, and as for the other, I think it's due to Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles, or The Secret Garden, or Wuthering Heights, or any of Jane Austen's books; they all make reference to vast country estates set amidst wild lonely moors.  Words like 'heather,' 'heath,' and 'moor' fascinated me as a child, describing something I did not know, most impressionable in George MacDonald's 'The Lost Princess.' Partly out of a desire to see this for myself and perhaps finally understand what those alien terms mean, I hoped to see a bit of it myself.

While googling public transit information last night, I came across a notice of a free children's fair in something called 'Hampstead Heath' or 'Golder's Hill Park.'  Turns out that "Hampstead Heath" is a huge public park that is in large part left as untouched heathland; exactly what will come to mind every time I think about rural England now.  A look on glutenfreefoodie told me that a highly-recommended pub was quite near, and the weather was forecasted to be alternately cloudy & sunny.  It was decided then!

Well, as so often happens, a lot went "wrong."  It rained, for starters.  We kept having trouble finding every spot we'd hoped to visit. The carnival was canceled.  The Butterfly Garden was only open while Éowyn was asleep, and buggies weren't allowed in. Éowyn threw a loud, long tantrum on several underground trains (complete with screeches, hand-flapping and screaming).  We reached the rave-reviewed pub after they stopped serving lunch (and three hours before the kitchen opened for dinner).  We couldn't find Daddy for dinner.  I went to pick E up to stick her in the high chair and found she'd peed all over herself (down to her socks).  Yeah, looking at all could totally get me in a bad mood.

BUT... (but God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us....)

There's a whole 'nother side to the story of our day.  First of all, the rain wasn't a drenching deal-breaker, but rather what I consider stereo-typical English cold drizzle.  No problem.  The ticket agent who sold me my unlimited week-long rail pass was kind and helpful.  I got a loyalty stamp card at the train station coffee shop and think I'll earn a free coffee by the time we leave (our apt doesn't have a coffee pot)!  Our detour to Brixton resulted in the yumminess outlined in this post.  We found every place we wanted to find, and talked to many kind helpful souls along the way-- my baby's giant blue eyes ensure warm welcomes with all but the coldest of hearts.  Golder's Hill Park was gorgeous, and Éowyn had a wonderful time touching all the flowers, watching the animals in their zoo, picking up acorns, sticks, tiny leaves and rocks, and "running" by different ponds.  We enjoyed a panna cotta at the pub.  A visit to a tiny used-book shop resulted in a British version of Harry Potter & the Philosopher's Stone (the one souvenir I wanted from London) as well as lovely hardback editions of Winnie- the- Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and The Child's Manuel of Dinghy Sailing for Ryan.  I also grabbed a really cool book called Children's English History in Verse which means we will get to have our children memorize poetry related to every historical period we study (I can hardly wait!!).  On top of all that, the bookseller gave me an additional discount, and gifted Eowyn a small volume she had clasped in her hand.  He wrapped it up in a fun bag and everything.  She was absolutely mesmerized by this.  Over and over on the way home, she'd point to the book and say "Is my peh-sant.  I say tank-oo." She "read" it carefully over and over, meaning our train rides home were much quieter.  I had an extra set of clothes for her, and we were almost home come accident-time anyway.

Marvelling at "two 'ittle leaf!"

Raindrops on Roses

Being goofy- the cutest was her calling the lemurs "come 'ere, ee-mur!"

The deer were completely unafraid
We got to practice all our colors

Cool tree in the deer-field

On our first London bus ride
Note the heron perched on the house
So many little blessings all day long lead me to remember that it was, after all, a good day. :)

Gluten-Free in London

Savory pies... why do we not make these in the States??

Yum!  I could get used to this, Mom!

Bread.  Need I remind you that this is a luxury for me?

My travel buddy

Mom, I just don't know if I can fit all of this into my mouth
So far I've been fortunate in finding authentic English fare that is hearty, tasty, and gluten/soy-free!  We are indulging a bit off the GAPS diet while we're here, enjoying the foods England is best at:  savory pies, crusty bread, treacle tart, cheddar cheese, meats, 'crisps' (chips), and even a creme-filled breakfast pasty.  Oh wow happy day.

It took us a bit of backtracking and asking for help, but we finally found the WAG-free Bakery; a booth in the Brixton Village (very near to both the Brixton Underground & Railway stations if you know where you're going).  It's not a 'proper' cafe, but rather a booth in a covered market place.  Brixton seemed quite the shopper's paradise, with fresh food stalls everywhere alongside every kind of store you would think of.  E & I stopped by for breakfast and to get a bag lunch on our first foray into (across) London town.  What to get??? The possibilities seemed endless!  I wanted some 'typical' fare, tastes I couldnt' get back home. We settled on a loaf of thick crusty bread (the bulk of which will be slathered with rich English butter for breakfast tomorrow), 3 savory pies (I should have bought a half-dozen!), a cream & berry filled pasty and (with Harry P's preference in mind, I admit) a small treacle tart, along with a cappucinno for Mama.  All were delicious.  We saved 2 pies, bread, and the treacle for lunch and enjoyed the rest then. Eowyn really liked the ham & mushroom pie, and ate the cheese & onion and steak pies well too.

Thus far the Gluten Free Foodie blog has been a good resource-- great recommendations (just not much directions...seems like a common theme for me so far in Britain; no street signs, inadequate maps, addresses that don't mean much).  I've tried out 2 of her recommendations so far and have enjoyed them!  We have also had dinner (twice!) at Bella Italia, a local Italian food chain that has a nice gluten free menu.  I've had two of their pizzas and both were tasty (good thin crust!), and their chocolate torte was rich without being too sweet.  Ryan was a HUGE fan. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Looking for the Little Loves

Happy Peek-a-Boos

L'Ile de la Cite viewed from the Pont des Arts

L'Ile de la Cite in the middle of the Seine

Door- one of Paris' thousands (millions?) of extraneous bits of beauty

Underside of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim (pedestrian/metro bridge)
A fountain of clean sparkling water backdropped by perfect blue sky

My biggest blessings about to cross the river
In Paris, there is more beauty the more you look. 

I'm convinced that life is the same way.  God is good-- lavishly, extravagantly so.  He spills out kindness from His very being; it just overflows everywhere.  Everything He does is poetry, art; nothing is wasted, nothing is random, nothing is left out.  He does everything on purpose-- and He does everything well.  Reading One Thousand Gifts has helped me to remember this and to seek opportunities for thanksgiving in the "mundane." 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sejour en Paris, Sommaire (and Kid Travel Tips!)

Hello faithful blog readers!

Learning to dunk
Now that I'm mostly over jet-lag and we are settled in our week-long home, I hope to keep this blog (i.e. the grandchild-deprived grandparents) updated on our stays in Paris & London.

First, Paris.

With a child, there is a lot less sight-seeing, and a lot more site-being.  I imagine that in some ways, having a child along makes you more like a native.  Playgrounds, parks, coffee shops, grocery stores, and toy shops aren't on most tourist's "hit-lists," but they are essential to making sure that every member of our traveling party (aka family) gets to enjoy the stay.  (I find "stay" to far more accurate than "trip" now if that's any indication.)  I'll try to sprinkle in tips as to what's worked for us, in case any of you are planning trips with little ones.  (Eowyn will be 2 in a month, and she's an active little toddler, just like she should be =D)

Our friends the Chalamets lent us their apartment while they were on vacation, so we got to have our own little home, right in the heart of Paris.  We were a block from a major metro stop, within 10 minutes walking distance of both the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, with great access to a natural food store, a playground, and public transit to Paris City Center.  Since the Chalamets have a little guy a month older than Eowyn and a new baby girl, the house was equipped with plenty of kid gear, and Eowyn had her own room (best for everyone when jet-lag is involved). Eowyn LOVED all the toys.  As soon as she would see their front door, she'd declare "I wanna go pay! (play)"

Tip #1-- establish a "home base" as soon as possible.  It doesn't matter if it's a chair in a corner of a hotel room with a stuffed animal, plastic spoon and cup; just give your child a place they can unwind, play freely, and gain a little security.  And I'm serious about the plasticware being pretty entertaining toys. :)

This visit, we had 2 full days as a family, and decided to go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, to spend a day in Versailles' gardens.  The 2 days it was just E & I (Daddy was pow-wowing in preparation for DrupalCon London), we did some shopping at the Galleries Lafayette, and walked around the Rive Gauche (5eme & 6eme arrondissments).  We also enjoyed getting together with several friends on different ocassions-- dinner out one night with my childhood best friend (I hadn't seen her in almost 14 years!!), getting our personal tour from our resident Parisian guide Sego, and an amazing dinner at the home of Ryan's business partner Fred.  It's such a blessing to have friends in a foreign city!!

Tip # 2--for traveling with kids-- pick one site/day.  Notice I said site, not sight.  If there are several things within walking distance (and I mean one that won't leave your kids writhing in agony in the stroller) they can be viewed in one day... but mostly pick one area!

We had absolutely glorious weather the days we were outside.  The Parisians kept telling us how lucky we were, that it had been "tellement moche" (so very ugly) up 'til now.  We definitely enjoyed the 70-80s; warm enough to be out without pants or sleeves, but not so hot as to make us sweat bullets.

In front of the Louvre
Wednesday we arrived at 7 am French time after an overnight flight made worse by a overly-cautious flight attendant who wanted us to buckle Eowyn in a seat all night long instead of letting her sleep on the floor (as we have done on every other flight).  She seemed to have no problem with all the adults on the plane sleeping or sitting on the floor, and didn't protest when I lay down with Eowyn... but oh no, she is much safer where she can wake herself up every time she tries to turn over, where she can fall off the seat. Sigh.  Regardless we made it and were determined to spend as much time outside as possible to try and reset our bodies' clocks.  Ryan headed into the office and I loaded up Eowyn for some shopping at the coolest mall in Paris-- les Galeries Lafayette.  Our first mission was to locate and purchase Ellie II (Ellie I's wherabouts being still unknown).  The Corolle dolls have a trademark vanilla scent that I adore; to me it smells like my childhood in France.  (I'm not sure why because I didn't actually own a Corolle doll... I guess most of my friends did, though, and I definitely smelled them plenty in the stores.)  When we walked past the aisles where the "Ellies" were laying, Eowyn's face lit up, and she held out her arms, exclaiming "Ellie!?" as if to say, "how did you get here?"  Needless to say the two have been inseparable since then.  I also found a fun book on Paris for kids and a Petit Bateau birthday dress for her before heading home to nap.  Tip # 3- buy an age-appropriate book on your travel destination when you get there; you can use it to talk about the trip later, and you'll learn all sorts of fascinating details most adult tour guides leave out!  Then we went to our local natural food store to stock up on GF-goodies (like madeleines & nutella-filled crepes), sit on a street cafe and dunk them in our coffee, and play on the playground.  Tip #4- an hour of running around covers a multitude of sins (or hours strapped into something).  Find a playground, an open space, a park, and let that steam RUN OUT!  This= sound sleeping at night, and quicker recovery from jet lag!

The Arc de Triomphe was great.  Amazing view, really amazing view-- just a cool experience overall!  It's expensive (though I could have gotten us in for free if I'd just been a little less honest, as European young adults get in for free, and no one ever asks for ID, hehehe) but worth it at least once!
Splashing in a fountain in the Louvre gardens

No Szrama trip to Paris is complete without Berthillon ice cream, which you can buy in the very heart of the city, right behind to Notre Dame. The flavors are exquisite-- my favorites are salted butter caramel and chocolate whisky (or bitter cocoa, which has perfectly enough sweetness and lovely robust chocolate flavor)-- and we tried several fruit sorbets (grapefruit, coconut, wild peach and pear) that were very refreshing.  Eowyn has taken to ice cream very well, asking for it daily.  The kid's going to have serious sugar withdrawal when we get back to our regularly-scheduled-program, hah.  Actually, one of my favorite things about French cuisine is how low-sugar the desserts are.  They are often sweetened only with fruit; even the ice cream is mostly cream and the sugars present in the flavorings.  Yum. Tip #5- let your kids enjoy the vacation, too.  Let them get some extra dessert, a toy native to that area, or skip some unloved food, all the while maintaining enough routine (and veggies or fruits) that they stay rested and healthy! 

Friday while Ryan slaved away, Eowyn & I went out into the sunshine in the company of our dear Segolene.  She is always so wonderful about taking me to new little corners of Paris.  Paris is so full of beauty; it never ceases to surprise me, and there is always more to see.  Just look up at any given point and you'll see a mosaic in a wall, artful wrought-iron balconies, courtyards bursting with flowers, or an architectural gem.  We laughed about how easy it is to get lost in Paris because you're so tempted to walk about with your neck craned back trying to take it all in!  This time we went around the Sorbonne district to the south of the la Seine. It's the scholarly district, and it felt like such a different city-- quiet, far less cars, almost a village feel. I'm sure come la rentree (school starting back up) students make it quite lively.  I did manage to sell some of my college required French reading...I got only about 50 cents for them, but hey!  I didn't need them taking up room in my house, and now maybe someone will enjoy them.  And I just got a kick out of selling them. =D
Checking out the locks on the "Lover's Bridge"--
supposedly a lock symbolizing your love here "locks" it in!

Waiting for the train to Versailles
Versailles was fun.  We were a bit perturbed at how many things seemed arbitrarily closing earlier than stated, or were closed, but we still enjoyed the gardens very much.  This summer they had many of the fountains on accompanied by French baroque music (lots of Jean-Baptiste Lully, Louis XIV's court composer).  Definitely extra-cool.  I just wish they had more green spaces to actually walk or sit on!!  Seriously, what's the point of a green garden if you have to choke on dust the whole time?  We grabbed dinner in a creperie (Ryan's first all-crepe meal!), and then came back for the night show.  The fountains were lit up with lights and set to Baroque music; smoke machines and lasers added effects in certain gardens; lanterns lighted up the paths; and a fireworks/fire/music show capped off the night.  We were very glad to have caught it all!  Next time we go back in cooler weather, we'll try the inside of the castle (it was too crowded to be enjoyable this time around).  Tip-- buy your tickets at the Versailles Tourist Office a block before the castle, avoiding long lines and waits at the actual castle. The only time this might not be advantageous is if you have several students or paying children in your party, because they don't sell reduced-price tickets.  In that case you could save time AND money by buying tickets online.

Square René Viviani, with Notre Dame de Paris behind
Just across the river from Notre Dame is a beautiful little park, the most beautiful I've seen in the city. It's small, but bursting with flowers, quiet and peaceful.  It's home to the oldest tree in the city, too!  Next time you are in Paris, get some Berthillon and a french pastry around 4 (le gouter- snack time; which is non-negotiable in France), amble across the river and sit down in that park and just watch the river and the people go by.  You won't regret it.
In front of Paris' oldest living tree

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fourth Anniversary: the Versailles Gardens

We kind of like to  keep the goofy  anniversary gift traditions-- like first anniversary is the "paper anniversary," etc.  Our 4th anniversary proved a bit more challenging for me than for Ryan, though:  "flowers and fruit."  Riiiight.  'Cause every guy likes fruit and flowers and finds that super romantic, right?  Ryan "bent" the rules for me a bit and bought me an amazing new bike, with a pink FLOWERY bell on it.  Easy for him.  I brainstormed a long time before buying him a French copy of one of his favorite books, St. Exupery's Le Petit Prince, who you might recall tends his rose (a flower, yep) tenderly (I also gave him a book by Orson Scott Card on how to write good fiction, saying that word-craft and story-growing is as involved & slow-yielding as plant-growing... but yes, it's a stretch).

We did decide to totally stay in our theme in how we celebrated together:  a day at Versailles, on their Garden tour.  Wow.  Talk about beautiful flowers in abundance!!  The Summer Garden tour is special in that all the fountains are turned on (not the norm in Versailles these days) and Baroque music is playing all over the park.  Many of the fountains had music and water shows, with the jets alternating quite spectacularly in time to period music.  Very cool.  We had to leave the garden for dinner so they could set up for part 2:  the after-dark light-music-water shows, also including lasers, smoke, lanterns, fire and a finale of fireworks & music.  As we followed our maps around the atmosphere was so jovial that we felt like we were at a party under the Sun King himself, and half-expected to see aperetif trays or champagne stations around every bend.  Eowyn weathered the day like a champ, enjoying the flowers very much and splashing her little feet in the fountains.  She napped while Ryan & I enjoyed an all-crepe dinner (Ryan's first!) and woke up chipper and happy for the finale.  I can't imagine a better way to spend a summer day... except maybe if we could have gotten INTO the pond and enjoyed a swim... Oh to have been a guest at Versailles!

The whale-bone looking thing is a modern statue of some sort... we didn't think it added much to the decor.  Nor did we find it particularly genius-- definitely not worthy of its placement here.

We got lots of colors practice!

I can only imagine what it would have been like to stroll around when this sort of display was the norm!

Funny baby

PS- I don't usually advocate taking your kids with you on an anniversary get-away... kind of defeats half the purpose, in my mind.  But I will make exceptions for Paris. :)  And we did enjoy a get-away earlier in the year to the Weekend to Remember conference so I got my alone-with-hubby time for the year and was quite content.