a weekend in paris

After having just settled down to life in a new country, getting used to a new culture, new food, new customs and a new sort of “language,” what do you do? Travel to a different country, of course.

Dave surprised me with a trip to Paris for our 6th wedding anniversary. How lovely is that? I had never been to Paris. Or London. And the truth is, it wasn’t so much of a surprise as a, “Hey, I have this in the wings. Are you settled enough to take off and leave the kids for a weekend?”

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My answer? Oh hell yes. Because after traveling across the world with 2 small children, switching our body clocks 8 hours ahead, handling the tantrums and the “this [insert British food here] is yucky!” and the endless walking (sometimes carrying), I was ready for a break.

As I mentioned in the last post, our lovely friend and nanny Beki came with us out of sheer luck and happenstance. She moved into our apartment for the weekend and off we went. The girls were fine. Happy, in fact. A whole weekend with Beki? Hooray!

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Notre Dame from across the River Seine

One bag, one tube, one train and we were there. I’m still amazed at how easy travel is in this little (big) place we call Europe.

What did we do in Paris? Tried the local cuisine. Tried the local cuisine again. And again. And again. There is a reason Paris is famous for its food. We had the best meal of our lives (for serious) at a small spot called Rossi & Co. We stumbled upon it on a Saturday night, having no reservation to speak of, and perusing Open Table or whatever the French equivalent is. I have no photos because the whole meal was spent with my eyes shut, savoring each bite, trying to remember it forever.

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I drank coffee. Lots and lots of delicious coffee, because I have yet to find a spot in London that will make me an Americano. They either stare at me blankly or say, “No, but we can make you a latte or an espresso.” Because apparently they don’t have water behind the counter. Sometimes I stare right back at them until they notice what idiots they are, and sometimes I just ask for an iced espresso and then ask for some water to pour into it. Then I ask for a little milk. Then I ask for a little sugar. Then they kick me out of the coffee shop.

I forgot more and more about London coffee shop quarrels with each café a lait in Paris. Because that’s what you drink in Paris. I still dream about it.

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“Lovelocks” bridge which spans the River Seine. No, we didn’t put our own lock on and toss the key in the river. But it was entertaining to watch others!

We crossed the “lovelocks” bridge and wandered around Notre Dame. When it got hot we’d take a break at a cafe or hop back to our apartment for a siesta.

Now I’m just totally culture-crossed. Maybe I need to re-visit Spain to have a nice long siesta.

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Paris is just as beautiful as everyone says. The streets, though dirty, unkempt, and littered with cigarette butts, are lined with the most quaint buildings and lovely shops. The French, we found, are hilarious. They look like they are fighting every time they speak with their hand gestures and rapid river of words gushing out of their mouths. It’s entertainment in itself to watch them and figure out whether they’re talking about the weather or arguing over who gets Grandpa’s estate.

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A fromage vendor at Bastille Market.

We found the beautiful Bastille Market and perused its tents full of cheeses, meats, fruits, fabrics, and everything in between. We sampled the fromage and the melon, laughed at the random vendors selling €1 tube socks, and sat by a fountain to catch any mist that we could. It mixed with the sweat on our faces and we sat there, happy and hot, delighted just to be sitting in a market in the middle of Paris.

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When we had seen all there was to see at the market, we followed a stream of locals, not really knowing where we were going but knowing it was in the general direction of our train. Turns out they were going here: Boulangerie 28. They were coming to pick up baguettes to complete their shopping. We scooped up some sandwiches for the train home (delicious) and an eclair caramel that I will never forget.

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At the base of the Eiffel Tower we asked a stranger to take a photo of us. He got down low to the ground and quickly snapped one shot, indicating to us in his native language (Czech?) that it was good. I doubted him, naturally, since I usually take multiple shots and choose the very best one. But it turns out it was perfect. It’s now my favorite picture of us.

Now we’re back to day-to-day life in London. Entering week three I’m starting to know my way around. The girls know exactly how to “mind the gap,” however large or small it may be. We signed a lease on a house and can move in later on in the month. I’ll share more about London later, but for now, I’ll leave you with thoughts of Paris: the most perfect pain au chocolat, sipping a cafe au lait, and sitting outside a little boulangerie on a hot summer morning.

Ta for now,

Jenny

five years

I think it’s time I told you the story behind the dedication of my book. If you’ve read it, you’ve seen this, and maybe wondered what it was all about:

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The worm is how we fell in love, or at least how I fell in love with him.

Let’s take a step back. It’s 2007. I’m starting a fresh new chapter in life: the Masters in Teaching program at Seattle University. I make friends. Great friends, and love my new path.

In our cohort there is this guy named Dave whom I can’t quite figure out. He wears old tee shirts and flip-flops all the time; he’s always smiling and talks to everyone with ease. He left a high-paying career in software to become a low-paid math teacher. But there’s some sort of glow around him. Maybe it’s his just his rosy cheeks, I think. But no, it’s more than that—he is the type of person people are drawn to because he is so easy to be around, and that’s his glow.

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One of our assigned observations is at an alternative middle school. Eight of us are sent there, and then divided into partners for observing the classrooms. I’m paired with Dave. At first he makes me feel awkward—he sits too close and his face is inches from mine when he speaks (this, I would later learn, was because he had a huge crush on me right from the start of the program). He asks me personal questions when we’re there to work. But he also makes me a little flustered, in a good way. In the I’m-developing-a-crush-too sort of way.

On the first day when the lunch bell rings, we go to the teacher’s lounge and grab our food. The rest of our cohort sits down to eat, but Dave, being the rebel and social butterfly that I am learning he is, leaves. “I’m going to eat with the kids,” he says, one foot out the door. I follow him without even thinking.

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We make our way to the playground and find a group of seventh-grade girls that offer us spots beneath their shady tree. Dave makes silly conversation that the girls adore, asking them about their favorite colors and movies and bands. “Are you going to be our teacher next year?” they ask. He is going to make a great teacher, I think to myself. And as I sit next to him, I find that my mind is drawn to him. I’m not thinking about the banter of these girls, asking me where I grew up and what kind of music I listen to. I’m spitting out robotic answers, because all I can think about is Dave.

On our last day at the school, we observe a special education classroom where children from all ranges of the Autism spectrum learn together. Their teacher is a gem, and at the end of her lesson declares, “It’s the Jenny and Dave hour! You get to ask them whatever you want.” The kids light up like Christmas lights.

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For the next fifteen minutes we’re peppered with questions from how much money we make to what size shoe we wear to what our favorite foods are. Then one boy stands up. He speaks with his head down, his face flushed, wringing his hands together and rocking from side to side as he speaks. There is an important question in his brain that he needs to ask. He is being extremely brave in this moment.

“If there is a piece of chocolate and it has a worm on top, which one of you would eat the chocolate and which one of you would eat the worm?”

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I look to Dave and Dave looks to me.

“I’ll eat the worm,” he says. “She can have the chocolate.”

From that day forward, we fell for each other. Hard. Knowing that he was the one, and him knowing that I was the one, I made him wait to ask me the question—the question that comes with a ring—for three months. A year before I entered the Masters program I had broken off an engagement that left me wounded. I had to be extremely sure that this was going to last forever; that he was indeed the one, and the only one, forever.

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Three very happy months later, we took a walk to a park near his house. We loved going to parks and sitting on the swings, talking and laughing and doing nothing. It was our thing. As I sat on the swing, thinking about how our three months were up, Dave came around, stood in front of me, and then knelt. I don’t remember the words or how I said yes, but that yes, that agreement between us that we would be partners for the rest of our lives was the best decision I ever made.

Partners. There are no better words for what we are to one another. We tackle this life together, one day at a time, with a strong-willed 2 year-old, a sweet, precocious 4 year-old, one sweet dog, and a nagging broken ear. Somehow we do it all, but there is no way that we could if we didn’t do it together.

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We wrote our own marriage vows, and recited them to one another five years ago this week: August 2nd, 2008. One line of our vows was this: “I promise to support you. I will help you when you need help and try to help even when you don’t ask for it.” Dave has done exactly that and more for me in the past year. My illness has tested our lives, our strength, our sanity. And through it all, Dave has me covered. It’s like he’s superhuman or something—he works all day, then comes home to the two wild things and takes over so I can rest. He “eats the worm” everyday, and I’d be nothing without him.

Plus he keeps me in chocolate, so there’s that.

Xoxo

Jenny