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Archive for July, 2007

We had essentially lost a day in Paris due to the blown tire. Brent’s mom and I had purchased Paris Passes for the family and were determined to get our money’s worth out of the pass, despite only having 1 day to really use them. (Paris passes are something you can buy online. They include the museum pass, transit pass, and many coupons for cool things like a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, river boat cruise, etc. You can buy them for 2 days, 4 days or 6 days. They are definitely worth the money.)

We were really pleased with our camper. There was beds enough for 6 people to sleep, a nice kitchen (although it didn’t have any dish soap), clean bathroom and toilet. (Funny anecdote: When we got to our hotel, Trent explored it thoroughly and exclaimed in tragic tones: “There is no pooping place!” He was desperate. Fortunately, we found the “pooping place”. . . er. . . toilet behind another closed door.) The name escapes me at the moment of the camping place. It was by the Seine river and seemed like a perfect place for a one to two week stay in Paris.

We left our hotel in the morning with a plan to go to the perfume museum (I had coupons for a free perfume sample which I was determined to redeem. Yes, I know, I’m too cheap to actually pay for perfume. But I did think it was cool to get some perfume samples.) It was easy to navigate the transit, but a bit confusing to find the perfume museum. We got pretty drenched in the process as we had left our rain gear behind. While walking to the Perfume Museum we walked by the Opera house which was the inspiration for Gaston Leroux’s novel Phantom of the Opera. We didn’t have time to see it, but admired its facade and took pictures. We finally found the perfume museum, practically raced through it. The kids stopped and listened to the tour guide explain the perfume making process. We redeemed our coupons, got our perfume samples, and then headed out the door to the Hop-on, Hop-off bus tours, where we took one of the lines and got caught in the rain again. It was easier to see the sights if you sat on the top level. But the information was interesting. We accidentally took one of the side lines, but still found it interesting.

We saw a bunch of restaurants and realized that we should stop and eat so we hopped off the bus tour and went into a Bistro that was advertising a deal where you could order, eat your meal and get your check in 30 minutes. Since time was of the essence that day, we decided to get that deal. The service was excellent. The staff didn’t even blink when they saw the large party consisting of many children and led us to a nice table in a cozy corner away from other guests. We were happy. Nothing is more annoying than feeling stressed every time your kids talk that they are disturbing the other diners. The seating arrangement was ideal. I ordered the salmon lasagne (tasty, but the pasta was a little overdone), Brent the steak (very delicious) and Cathy the other dish–which we thought might be chicken or turkey but which turned out to be a schnitzel. Anyhow, the kids enjoyed their pasta carbonara and later the yummy, rich, dark chocolate mousse (with enough to share!). The deal did live up to its name and we enjoyed a filling good lunch in good time.

We got back on the tour bus and then went to the Louvre. The Louvre is huge, with miles and miles of art, sculpture, antiquities, etc. With only a limited time, we split up, each taking a child with us. Josef and I went to the medieval section where we saw some really amazing medieval tapestries.  Then we went to the French scuplture section. This section highlighted themes from Greek and Roman mythology. I let Josef take the camera and take pictures. I was extremely amused to see his perspective of the art. He took pictures of legs and from the side. It was obvious that he couldn’t really see the sculpture from a straight perspective because of his height. I’m thinking of doing a scrapbook page from the photos he took called “The Louvre through Josef’s eyes”. To be honest, I was totally overwhelmed at the sheer amount of stuff that was available to see in the Louvre. After Josef’s venture into photography we went into the bookshop where I bought a desk calendar that features a famous piece of artwork from the Louvre per day. It includes a detailed explanation of the artwork. I thought that was perfect!

Brent took Walter and Brooke and they covered quite a lot of ground from the sections we visited to the crown jewels and then to the Mona Lisa. Brent said he liked the crown jewels more than Mona Lisa. Cathy also saw Mona Lisa and commented that it was so small and that it was hard to get a good look at it because of the crowds around it. I know that people will always be fascinated with that painting, but I rather think that Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, has added to the fervor that is attached to the painting.

We all met in front of the glass pyramid and then caught another bus to Notre Dame. We waited in line to go inside but were really disappointed because you couldn’t really see much of anything because of the hordes of tourists. The folks at the information desk were rather rude and other tourists kept jumping ahead of us.

We wanted to climb up to the top to see the gargoyles (which were the drain pipes). There was a large line waiting. We were hungry again so I went across the street and bought crepes for everyone. They were delicious! Yummy! Then I took Walter and Trent to a tourist shop where they were allowed to spend 2 euros apiece. While in the shop, a torrential downpour struck and Brent and his mom tried to keep Brooke and Josef dry. When I came back with the other boys, we all huddled together keeping the littles one dry and warm. We were near the beginning of the line and started the ascent up the winding, fairly narrow staircase. It was a long climb and I was pretty tired at the end of it. The boys were troopers and kept up a steady pace. We finally got to the first balcony and were amazed at the view of Paris. The boys loved the gargoyles and I took some great pictures of them. Then we went up a little further to see one of the enormous bells. Then we went up to the top of the highest tower. It was really, really cool and worth all the steps it took to get up there.

Coming down was harder than going up in the sense that our legs were really starting to hurt. We had seen an interesting church while up at the top so we looked for it on the ground. While looking for this church, we walked through this restaurant area that had rows and rows of restaurants. It was the dinner hour and the menu was displayed in the shop windows and then servers stood outside to encourage people to visit them. I saw some gorgeous looking paella (a delicious Spanish dish with rice, shrimp, chicken, etc.). Brent bought some falafel for his mom to try. Two of the restaurant servers at the Spanish restaurant came out to admire Brooke. It was so funny because they asked me questions in Spanish and I was actually able to reply.  I have no idea how I managed it because I have not taken any Spanish in years. This was rather typical of our experience in Paris. People were so nice to us. They cooed at the baby, talked to us and never complained at our inability to speak French. They were warm and friendly. (Which tells you how long I have lived in Sweden when I feel that the French are warm and friendly!)

After walking through this restaurant quarter, we found the church we wanted to see. We had a better view of it from the top of Notre Dame. We stopped, finished our falafel and then went to catch the metro. We wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and then take a river boat cruise in the evening.

The Eiffel Tower was really spectacular and HUGE. I read that it was designed and built for the World Fair in the early 1900’s. It caused quite a ruckus because it was expensive and crazy to build. The original intent was to tear it down but it was such a success that they kept it. And now it is an essential part of every Paris visit.

Trent was dying to go up to the top but we decided not to because the line was long and the charge obscene (10 euros to go to the top). We took plenty of pictures though.

Then we walked across the street to go on a river cruise. There were tons of people waiting. All of sudden all these police cars came to the dock with sirens blaring. Then we saw people running like mad off the boats. We were totally confused. We asked one of the passengers who ran off the boat. She said that the police came to the boat and told the passengers to get off as quickly as they could. Later we heard that because of all the rain, it had caused some large waves to form on the river, causing possible danger to the boats.

We waited for about a half an hour and then walked over and were able to take the cruise after all! We cruised along the Seine river, listening to the information about the old buildings and to French music. It really was romantic (except for the crazy boys and wiggly girl!).

Just as we got back to the dock, they turned on the lights of the Eiffel tower and then later little sparkling lights that looked like fireworks.

We walked back to the metro, took it to a different stop and then to our bus that took us back to the camp site. We had a big moment of panic when we realized that the bus was far away and that we had to go around the roundabout to get to the bus. We ran with all our might. This was midnight and the kids were exhausted. I had Brooke in the Baby Björn. Josef was asleep in the stroller and Trent and Walter were walking. Brent finally ran ahead and told the bus driver to wait. We were saved. We got home around 1:00 a.m.

It was a marathon day but incredible!

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Tonight I was looking through my photos and started to count all the different countries my family has been to in the past 8 months: 11 countries

U.S., Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, France, England, Israel

Not bad for 8 months and having four kids.

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After our day in Legoland, we went back to our cabin in Kolding and spent the night. Then the next morning we hit the road to travel through Germany with a stop at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp Memorial and then to visit some friends in Wuppertal before heading off to Paris.

I forgot to mention that we drove the Great White Beast (GWB) which was great at holding all our stuff and gave everyone plenty of room to stretch out. It was a great traveling vehicle.

Also, one more thing: if you ever plan to drive in Europe, get a GPS. Seriously. We appreciated our friend who lent us his. It was the best help in getting around. It made a huge difference in finding our way easily and helping us find restaurants and gas stations.

So back to the driving. Brent and his mom wanted to see a concentration camp. After seeing the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I just didn’t think I was up to it. It was depressing enough to see the Secret Annexe where Anne and her family hid for years before they were betrayed. I didn’t think I was up to seeing a concentration camp. So I kept the kids in the GWB while Brent and his Mom went to the memorial.

The Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, incidentally, is the work camp that Anne was sent to. The hygiene conditions were so horrible there that both Anne and her sister contracted typhus and died of it. You can read about typhus here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typhus.  Apparently, when the British liberated the camp, they burned the whole thing to the ground because of its terrible conditions. They built a huge memorial there for the victims. You can read about the camp here: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/BergenBelsen/ConcentrationCamp.html

Brent and his Mom walked around and then returned to the GWB. It was interesting to see the people who came to the memorial, mostly older people. I hope that we and the younger generations do not forget what happened in WWII and what has since happened in other countries with ethnic cleansing. It is a terrible, horrible thing and it seems that we don’t seem to learn our lesson and keep repeating the history we have forgotten.

After our stop at the Bergen-Belsen memorial, we drove on to Wuppertal to visit friends we made in Sweden. They had moved to Germany the year before. It was such a treat to see them and the kids played together as if only a day or two had gone by since they last saw each other. We appreciated the great dinner and conversation we had with them. But we did have to go and left altogether too quickly. I was sad that we didn’t have more time with them.

But fate was to intervene and give us another chance to see each other soon. It came 35 minutes outside of Wuppertal. On the Autobahn. Going 120 kph (75 mph). In the center lane the tire blew. I was sitting in the back reading when I heard the most awful sound. Some instinct made me stay quiet as I looked up and realized that we had lost a tire and Brent was concentrating with all his might to stay on the road. Then a series of miracles happened. The semi in the right lane saw what had happened to us and allowed Brent to change lanes. Brent never lost control of the car. There was an exit right there and we were able to pull over and change the tire. The tire was completely shredded. We couldn’t go far on the spare but it was late and no tire shops were open.

With nowhere to turn but back to Wuppertal, we headed to our friends’ home. They very graciously welcomed us back, invited us to stay with them for the night, let us borrow their phone while we made phone calls to the insurance company to decide what to do.

The next morning, they helped us find a place to get the tires replaced. The boys were able to play with their friends again. We had lunch and then the car was ready to go.

We left feeling very grateful for such good friends. Then we drove to Paris, where we were stuck in traffic for HOURS. Memo to self: DO NOT under any circumstances EVER drive to Paris again. It was awful. When we finally got into the city, we had to get to the Hard Rock Cafe to pick up our Paris passes that we had purchased over the internet.

We made it to the Hard Rock Cafe in time. People actually tried to help us and let us jump ahead in the line. (It’s just a reference to the die-hard rule in Sweden that you never, ever are allowed to jump ahead in the line, no matter how stupid the line is.)

Then we had to find our hotel–a camp ground by the Seine River where we had booked a trailer.

So, driving in Paris is crazy. And everytime you see the movies you see that driving in Paris is crazy. This is not an exaggeration. You may remember seeing the roundabout of crazy lanes around the Arc D’ Triumph? (I know I have misspelled that. Sorry). Well, it is every bit as insane as the movies have portayed it. There are six lanes in it. And there are 12 major roads leading into and out of the roundabout. I have never seen anything like it. And there are no lines marking clearly the lanes. It is just a battle for your place in the roundabout.

Fortunately we survived the battle and found our hotel. We were worried that we had lost our booking because we had come in a day later than we had scheduled. We had tried to contact the hotel but our phone calls were not answered nor was the email we sent. They had cancelled our booking, but they did have a place available for us and so we did have a place to stay. Whew. And it was off to bed for us at midnight. We were pooped!

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Legoland. Denmark.

After our trip to Legoland last year, the kids have talked non-stop about it.  Our summer just wouldn’t be complete with a trip this year.

After a busy day of packing by Brent and his mom while I took Josef and Trent to the zoo, we managed to leave Sweden around 6 or 7. I was worried about Brooke because she had a fever and it kept coming back after the medicine had worn off. We didn’t take her to the doctor because she didn’t seem to have any other symptoms. I think the heat had kind of gotten to her. And I hate going to the doctor here because of the long wait to even talk to a nurse and then she does everything in her power to convince you not to come. And if you do succeed to get an appointment, then if it turns out to be a virus, they make you feel stupid and that you have wasted their time. Sorry–its a sore subject with me. Back to our travels.

So we drove through Denmark to our cabin in Kolding. We stayed there last year and really enjoyed it. The kids were looking forward to the trampolines and to sleeping in the loft.

 The next morning after a yummy breakfast of pancakes with blueberries, we went to Legoland. The kids were in heaven. I was in heaven. It wasn’t very hot–overcast really and there were few lines. We were able to ride the rides without waiting for a long time. Since we had been there last year, we knew what we wanted to do. AND, since I was pregnant last year, I was able to ride the rides I missed out on last year.

We went on the dragon ride, the viking ride, the Extreme Racers ride (a great rollar-coaster ride), and other rides that even Brooke enjoyed. She was so excited to ride on the train. It was adorable.

I have to say that the best part of the day was going to the Atlantis adventure where we saw a great aquarium that had real sharks, seahorses, etc. After wandering through the aquarium, we were able to touch some sealife–turtles, starfish, crabs, etc. It was very cool!

It was a great day.

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High-Class literature

I blame it on my Grandma. Every week she bought the latest issue of the Enquirer. When I visited her, which was often, I could lose myself in what she called “high-class literature” and read the gossip about the current celebs, cackle cattily at the worst-dressed stars and or learn about the newest diet.

I should be patient and read the news. But instead, I click on the entertainment section to find about the latest Lindsey Lohan news or whatever starlet seems to be misbehaving. Seriously their names seem to run together these days. All from a high moral position of not doing what they do. . .  My theory is that I’m too tired with the reality of life to get all worked up about the crime that is happening in the world today. The entertainment section is, well, entertaining.

For years, I thought that I was just low-brow in a sea of high-brow friends who would never stoop to reading gossip in magazines until recently. While in Amsterdam with my friend, Laurel, I saw a gossip magazine at our hotel. Normally, I would browse the articles while waiting. I refrained because I didn’t want Laurel to find out. But then I walked downstairs one day to find her reading the same magazine I had been eyeing!  At last, I found I was not alone. This made me feel infinitely better. But then, even better, was when my friend, Julia confessed that she frequently checks the gossip magazine on the internet. And I thought of her always serious-minded! So now that I know I’m not the only one.

I guess moms need a break now and then.

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Random musings

I should totally get on the ball and write about my trip to Amsterdam. However, I’ve been so engaged in my current project: scrapbooking the pictures and momentos from the trip, that I haven’t taken the time to do so. I had such a fun time, but I really do need to get serious about documenting my experiences. I promise I’ll get to it in time–along with our 10 day whirlwind European tour.

 Today, while driving home from our 4th of July picnic with some American friends (which was great! We grilled by a lake that was totally enticing to the boys. Yeah, they were soaked!) I couldn’t help but marvel at how beautiful the southern Swedish countryside is: green everywhere, beautiful rolling hills, fields stuffed with crops growing away, and a gorgeous sky with interesting clouds. I love driving in Sweden. My boys started making up stories about all the cloud shapes they saw. I thought about long summer days lying in the grass looking at the clouds. Summer is so sweet. And I love that I get to enjoy it with the boys.

I’ve been spending a lot of time doing things with my boys. I’ve been working with Walter to develop routines so that he is better able to finish assignments at school. We’ve had a lot of fun with a planner that he writes in everyday. He also reads to me for 15 minutes. The other day he read to his sister, Brooke. Other than lunging at the pictures, she seemed to enjoy the exercise. I’ve been meaning to do some painting with the boys. We checked out a book at the library called “The Crocodiles True colors” which explains in a simple way through a story the purpose of cubism, expressionism, futurism, and dada”. It explains it so clearly that I think we could really have fun trying out the different styles. Walter is also doing some piano review. He is doing really well!

Trent and I have been working on some reading exercises in Teach your child to read in 100 easy lessons. I’ve discovered that you have to be firm with Trent and insist on doing the work. He gets plenty of playtime. But I want him to remember how to sit still and concentrate for short periods of time. We are also working on his oboe. I’m seeing some real progress which makes me so happy considering the last couple of months made me despair of him. 

 I read a Swedish story to Josef and Trent everyday and we talk about the words, story and things. I’m hoping this exercise will be beneficial to their Swedish. And I’ve been playing games with Josef quite a bit. He loves them and it is a fun way to get in some good personal time with him.

 I guess this is really a random entry because I didn’t explain that I borrowed an idea from my friend to work with the kids on activities in the morning. They earn coupons for the tasks they complete. Then they redeem the coupons in the afternoon for fun things like trips to the library, Ikea, beach, computer time, watching a video, baking, etc. We’ve been doing quite a bit of learning. But don’t worry, the kids really do have a lot of playtime.

I probably should include some tidbits about Brooke. She is lean mean crawling machine. And she is now getting into everything. Her favorite is emptying the dish cupboard of the plastic dishes. She has been playing with new sounds and working on some different combinations “la-la-la”. She loves to sing, particularly at church where she really pumps up the volume.

Well, it really is late and I have to get up very early tomorrow morning.

Have a great 4th of July!

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Living abraod for the last five years has been interesting experience. I’ve gained a new appreciation for foreign holidays. Aside from missing family, friends, Wal-mart, cool cars, sunshine, decent baking powder, chocolate chips (who really likes chopping chocolate anyway?), pepperoni and Country music, I really miss celebrating Independence Day in the U.S.

Independence Day is my FAVORITE holiday. I grew up in a town that took the holiday seriously: big parades, rodeos, tons of people in the town, ice cream, snow cones, fireworks, big firework shows, etc. Seriously, it was big. It is still big in my hometown.

I miss singing Patriotic songs, taking my kids to the parade, watching the rodeo, eating hamburgers and hot dogs, root beer floats, etc. I miss the fireworks and the feeling of pride for a country I love.

So tomorrow, I may have to play my country music a little too loud. I may be forced to grill burgers. And I may even dress my kids up in costumes and march them around in the neighborhood throwing candy around. At least its the last time I have to miss it for a while.

Happy 4th of July!

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