Death Beguiles Me: the Catacombs of Paris

By Wednesday we were all begging to spend a day laying around or at least not taking trains. Mimi and I walked two blocks to E. Dehillerin as a pilgrimage to Julia Child's and every other important chef's favorite culinary supply stores.
It was a bit intimidating, but of course Mimi charmed the old guys who run the place and they showed her around and gave her a gigantic spoon to pose with. She purchased some crepe making supplies.
Then we did some girl time shopping nearby our hotel and went home to rest.
By that afternoon we were pretty much tripped out. We didn't have one more museum left in us. We'd had enough crepes. We'd seen the major sites and I'd tricked them into believing that I am too scared of heights to go up in the Eiffel Tower (so we just visited instead). There was a science museum that piqued our interest so we trekked over there, checked it out for an hour and resolved to come back when either we knew more French or had a whole day to explore. There was one more place we wanted to visit and at 5pm on a Wednesday night in the rain we HOPED it wouldn't have the typical three hour line.
We headed for the Catacombs. The French catacombs are one of my very favorite places on God's green earth. I don't know why I'm drawn to morbid environments but something about cemeteries and old churches just captivates me. Two of my other favorite dead people places are Kutna Hora outside of Prague where monks have created an incredible chandelier from human bones and the Chapel of the Chimes mausoleum in Oakland built by the woman who built Hearst Castle.
The greatest part about this trip has been all of the questions that invariably come from exposing children to art and buildings reminiscent of great moments in history. At the wax museum they needed to know how many people died of the plague and where it came from. At the Rijksmuseum they needed to know what made Napoleon so important. At Cleopatra's needle where the guillotine once stood they needed to know all about why they were chopping off people's heads. At Anne Frank's house they wanted to know where she was buried. And at the Louvre they wanted to know how and why all of those mummies came to live at the grand old museum.
When you talk about history you have to talk about death and in Europe that means mass death. We're talking 800 people a day dying from plague rats, 20 people an hour by guillotine for years and years, and 6 million Jews murdered by Hitler. That's a lot of dead bodies to manage. These cities are so old that they have body disposal problems. The cemeteries fill up. The grave diggers would try to bury one body and unearth ten people's bones, some hundreds of years old. And when hundreds of people are dying a day the only way to manage them is to dump them in mass graves.
So around 1772 the stench and pestilence around the cemeteries was souring the milk in the surrounding homes and the attic ossuaries around the cemeteries were so overloaded they began to collapse. At the same time Paris was filled with sinkholes caused by the miles of limestone quarries beneath the city from which all of the gorgeous chapels and buildings were built. They had taken the rock from underground and stacked it above ground and Paris was starting to cave in.
The solution presented itself: the support columns would be built in the quarries and the quarries would be filled with the ancient bones from all of the cemeteries. The cemeteries, thus emptied, would be closed and new ones on the outside of the city would be opened.
And so the sifting began. Imagine the morbid process. Because it was distasteful, the whole enterprise was done in the night. The workers would sift the land in the cemeteries and load the bones onto carts. The carts were then covered in black cloth and ceremoniously dragged to the opening of the quarries. Once there they were dumped and then stacked into patterns out of respect for the dead. Once imbedded into the tunnels a plaque saying which cemetery the bones came from was placed in front of the stacks. They are all anonymous. There are bones from every age in the history of Paris, including the French Revolution which took place in the middle of the cemetery relocation. If a grave of a famous person in French history is unknown, chances are their bones are down there -- equal if not in life then in death.
And the volume, the vastness of the ossuary is astounding. You really have to go there to see the magnitude. There are more people buried under Paris than there are living above.
So yeah, I took my little kids there. They were freaked out. We touched some bones and jumped out to scare people and were rewarded with a security tail.
You can talk to kids about history and you can watch rad YouTube videos to fill in the gaps you don't know. They can read Anne's Diary and they can see pictures. But nothing will leave quite the same impression as (illegally) handing your nine year old a human femur from five hundred years ago. That kid has seen what politics, plagues and history can do. And that, my friends, is why it's important to me to drag my kids halfway around the world.

Settling in in Paris

Day I don't even know anymore. We've been here forever. Jan 2 and 3? Yeah, that sounds about right.
We needed a take it easy day. Mimi, Silas and I did laundry in the morning (rejoice!) and then we had a cold date with Notre Dame. Too crowded. Waited in a line for a while, got cold and left for Sainte Chappelle which was just spectacular. The two chapels are right on that same little island in the Seine. I've never seen stained glass windows like there are in Sainte Chappelle and I can't imagine a time when it would have just been some congregation's every day parish. Surely it must always have been a monument, a piece of art. Notre Dame's got nothing on that church (other than a humpback but who wants a humpback hanging around? Not me.)
After we hit the Latin Quarter in search of Boeuf Bourgigion and any other typical French food. It was a shmorgasborg. We did a prix fix for €15 and each of us got different appetizers and main courses so I finally devoured some mussels, Jude gobbled down salmon in bechmal sauce, Mimi got her Bourgionon and Silas his plate o' meat. It was our best meal in Paris, but I must say Mimi's version could compete. They tasted very similar and she was quite pleased.
The following day we were all up and ready to go by 7 am for no reason at all. Jude and I keep waking up at 5 and I was out of benedryl.
So we made a day of it (though it was still dark out) and headed straight to Angelina's fancy tea room for their amazing hot chocolate. After that we waltzed at dawn through that main park between the Louvre and the Champs Elysee to the Musee D'Orsay subway and off to Versailles. Because I am a questionable parent I let Mimi watch that Claire Danes movie Marie Antoinette a few weeks ago to get her interested in all things French.
When we arrived in Versailles there was the most magical mist that prevented seeing even the building from the gates. It was like walking in a cloud. And then it was like waiting in lines in a cloud. Followed by waiting in crowds in gilt rooms. On this visit Versailles charms were rather lost on us being so oppressed by all of the people and the rather boring audiotour. But, being that we ARE the fun, we had a grand time dodging crowds and photobombing other tourists. We made it about an hour and a half and hopped back on the train for home. Versailles done, and it'll be waiting for us should we want to explore it in more depth sometime down the road.
Naps. My magic sleeping trick beyond running these kids into the ground has been to use my meditation app every time I want them to go to sleep. Calm is my favorite app ever. They like the body scan ones to help them settle and moderate their breathing. They only last about ten minutes but they're always out five minutes in.
When we woke we headed over to the Musee D'Orsay and blitzed the line with our Paris pass, but when we got inside it was a complete zoo. My ideal museum experience is like the Getty in LA: few people, some important paintings, not too many rooms. The D'Orsay is such an impressive building the art is almost secondary, or tertiary when you're fighting crowds to even see the paintings. So we dined and played cards in the cafe behind the clock and then wove through some rooms to see the much requested by Silas "paintings that are a mess close up but when you stand back they look like something" Monets. The highlight was the grand ballroom we happened upon where we performed our classy whip-nae nae. We walked 6 miles that day. It was time to retire.


January 1

Sundays are usually down days in big cities. Add that to it being a holiday and we had to be very selective about our activities.
First thing in the morning we tried again to take our clothes to the laundromat. It was lightly snowing. None of these joints have websites so we just tried our luck . . . and failed. It may be time to buy some new clothes!
Silas needed some time to himself so we let him rest in the hotel while Mimi, Jude and I went in search of the Grevin Wax Museum. My phone decided to not work outside of the hotel today so navigation was very difficult. We had paper maps but it was cold and we didn't know which metro exit we'd used so we got turned around. Turns out I'm heavily reliant on my maps app. After much walking we found it, it was basically a hole in the wall, and were ushered in to a completely black room and told to stand still. I thought we were going to be murdered. It was literally terrifying. Suddenly lights flickered here and there around the room and I saw faces staring at me. I couldn't tell if they were real or wax, but they were all around and within arm's reach. Was it a maze? A hall of mirrors? Mimi, Jude and I clung to each other. Then some kind of light show started. We realized we were standing in a ring of about fifty people inside an octagonal room covered in floor to ceiling mirrors. At each corner was a pillar with a display of an elephant or a snake. Laser type lights in rainbow colors flashed and danced and lit up the room. It was like being in the Haunted Mansion's stretching room but all mirrored like the eternity mirrors in the temple but with the tiki room above. The sets kept changing. There were loud jungle noises. It was SO SCARY.
After ten minutes of fearful paralysis the lights went up and we were guided through a back door and into the rest of the scary museum.
I don't like wax figures. They're creepy. But I like seeing how tall famous people are. Most were French celebrities but there were some politicians, historical figures, artists and Hollywood celebrities. You'll be saddened to learn that Angelina and Brad no longer stand next to one another. Downstairs were torture scenes from history including Joan of Arc and the inquisition. Fun.
After the Grevin we found ourselves at an adorable cafe for "the best crepe I've ever eaten" according to Jude. Ham, egg, emmental cheese.
We taxi'd back to our hotel because my stupid phone wouldn't work and then planned our afternoon.
I've been to Paris many times but I'd never made the pilgrimage to Jim Morrison's grave. He was buried in Paris because he'd come here to detox and get away from his drug riddled life so he could focus on writing. And then he overdosed in a bathtub. He's in the 27 club (Hendrix, Joplin, Cobain, Winehouse etc all died at 27).
The kids indulged me and we bundled up, took a subway over there, and trekked through the old graveyard in the dusk. We had to consult two maps to find it but find it we did and it was a cool experience. The rest of the graveyard was like a city of art and mourning. We all liked Pere Lachaise and would recommend.
My kids have been obsessed with large scale death since I've been giving them history lessons that apply to Europe: they know about the Holocaust because Mimi wanted to learn about Anne Frank, I've shown them YouTube videos about the French Revolution so they wanted to know all about the guillotine, they learned about the Black Plague and how 800 people died per day in Paris wiping out 1/3 of the population of Europe. I'm prepping them to visit the Catacombs later this week. It's far and away my favorite thing to do in Paris.

After Pere Lachaise we took the metro to Montmartre. It was getting dark but Sacre Couer was all lit up. We ran for the carousel and caught the last ride and then we raced up the stairs to the church. I thought we'd just tag it and run down again but we went inside and were swept up in the warmth and light and smell of candles. The ceiling was covered in a huge breathtaking mosaic. I've been in a lot of churches but the spirit in that building was so peaceful and exactly the cherry on top I needed to end this most magical of days and start what promises to be a peaceful year. My children (on their own accord) sat for nearly an hour in the pews while a nun and some priest guy sang in French and Latin.
This whole trip is filled with memories, but that time in Sacre Couer is written on my heart.


New Year's Eve in Paris

Paris continued to punk me yesterday, but we rolled with it. We first had to pick up our Paris Passes which prepay for all of the museums, activities, and transit. When I got there of course they had canceled my order for no apparent reason so I had to double pay and wait for a reimbursement. I'm in $1000 to Paris and she better pay me back post haste. I also left my stupid credit card at the out of the way office so we had to back track that afternoon because thankfully someone got in touch with me to tell me it was there. Hassle.
We jumped on the Big Red Bus tour which is a hop on/hop off. On the bus we sat at the top in the front and that was an adventure in and of itself. There was a headphone tour that narrated us through the city. We jumped off at Notre Dame for some food, but mostly we just kicked it on the bus learning about the sites and planning where we'd revisit in the days to come. I always do these bus tours in new cities to help orient everybody.
We eat at least one crepe each day.
After our bus tour we hit the hotel for an early night, after finding a grocery store to stock our hotel room with pastries.

The following morning was Dec 31. We walked 5 minutes straight to the Louvre and sailed by all the lines. I'm learning we are museum people. There's something for everyone at the Louvre and we plan to go back this week. Highlights were the Greek statues and the mummies. There was a lot of naked and it was a fun anatomy lesson. Quote of the day came from Mimi who said, "I've seen enough penises to last me a lifetime."
We ate more crepes and onion soup at a local cafe and then I went for it and ordered the escargot. I lied to get them to try it and I think they were glad that they did. It tastes like chewy garlic bread. I wouldn't eat them on the reg but they're a good cultural experience. We're still looking for reasonably priced beef bourgionon for Mimi.
After that we went back to the hotel to take a pre-NYE nap.
For five hours!

New Year's Eve was spent on the Champs Elysee eating fancy French food then we took a hilariously crowded metro ride to the Eiffel Tower. New Year's in Paris at the Eiffel Tower life goal accomplished!
At the hotel we watched a Bonne Annee 2017 Cabaret show with amazing acts including magicians, painters, dancers, and all kinds of other circus type acts. Featured in the background were, of course, cabaret ladies! Naked from the waist up wearing little other than feathers on their backs. Nobody mentioned them on the show and it took a solid ten minutes of watching for Mimi to realize hey! That's inappropriate! We had a good talk about various cultural sensibilities and continued watching without any more ado.
Except for at the end. Apparently after midnight they bring out the weirdos.
One of the last acts in an otherwise appropriate show was a magician guy dressed as Michael Jackson. He did a whole act and was very clever with his tricks.
And then he stripped.
And he was wearing sparkly pasties.
Which he spun like a goofball while I dove for the remote.
And then he started to take off his pants and I just barely got it off in time.
We died of laughter. Who's ready for a good talk about transgendered people?!

2016 Year in Review

(Photos to be added when I have my computer, but otw just look at my Instagram where I documented all of these happenings -- @nortorious)

People keep saying 2016 was awful. I've been somewhat on that train, but, being New Year's, I thought I might go back and grade the year's performance based on its merits and drawbacks as far as my life is concerned.
I'm going to put this up front: Trump's win was a major downer for me. We operate in two worlds: our personal worlds and the larger community. I have always been very invested and involved in politics, protests, and the plight of the minority (women, children, blacks, gays, impoverished, etc.) I want equality in opportunity and pursuit of happiness. I can only be so happy when other people are scared and oppressed. It affects me deeply. It feels greatly hypocritical to me to just take whatever in stride and be over it, but I'm the type of person who wakes up at night worried about the young girls in India's sex trade and black parents having to explain to their children how to respond to racism. I know, I'm weird. But this is how my mind is occupied and it's what motivates me to do what little I can: to be a voice for equality in my home and in my classrooms, and here on my silly blog. These things matter. We need to be aware and vigilant in overcoming them.
<steps down from soapbox>

So we'll run this year at a deficit politically, but personally let's see if I'm in the black.
In calendar order:
Bowie died. -5
Philo was born the next day! +50
Name battle, really really bad experience -15
Ended up happy with his first name. +5
Britney Spears' crazy Instagram that brought me great joy. +1
Sooooo much laundry! -10
Kid learned all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody +5
Mark's 40th birthday +5
In costume, Post partum, bad wig. -5
Pam and Jim as Brit and Justin in denim. +10
Philo seriously ill with RSV. -100
My baby nearly died. Seriously. He was on life support -- if the machines didn't help him breathe he would not be alive. -50
My baby lived! +priceless
Lou also in the hospital with RSV -25
Lou separated her elbow while Philo was in the hospital -10
Ski'd with Jim +5
Pumped while skiing, breastmilk spilled all over me. -5
Bernie gained traction! Vive la revolution! +5
Mimi learned to cook +10
Silas wore the wrong shirt for his school performance. -5
Silas wore the wrong shirt for his school performance again.+5
Found a dentist who will give me laughing gas for a cleaning! +5
Root canal. -5
Boys break dance show + 5
Snugly babies, all the time + 20
Anna's famous blog post + 5
Riding roller coasters with Jude +5
Hush moving in and out and huge problems there. Overall an awful relationship 6+months. - 50
Disneyland! + 15
California Adventure is still stupid. -5
Summer camp success! + 15
Giants lost. - 10
Val and Alina baby announcement + 30
Teaching the kids poker + 4
Pokémon go! + 1
Teaching three good classes + 15
Grading 75 papers every few weeks -25
People I know voting for Trump -25
New church that has a great spirit and a nursery + 10
Leonard Cohen dying - 5
Camille's baby Lorenzo + 5
Bronwyn's wedding + 5
Ashland trip + 5
Girl and Boy Scouts -5 for hassle +5 for rewards
Niya's in my life again + 5
So is Bobb + 5
Aubrey's baby Ansel + 5
Five kids on plane + 10
Thanksgiving in Danville + 5
MJS obsessed with dancing in my highest heels + 5
Halloween outfit success! + 10
New friends + 10
Rad not new friends. So many great friends. + 25
Dx supportive + 5
Trip to Europe just me and my big kids + 100
Missing my babies - 15
Gave kids the entire collection of Disney movies on VHS for Christmas +5

Ok, not counting the priceless survival of my newborn baby, I think that adds up to +521 good things to -375 bad things. 375/521 = 72%

I give this year a C-. It's science.

That seems about right. I am so very thankful for all of the joy that outweighed the bad, without which this would have been a very dire year indeed. Not my best year but certainly not my worst (see my whole family's 2011). 2017 is going to get an A.


Travel Day

Day Five was that one where I had to navigate us via train to a tiny house in Paris. As a funny funny joke my phone quit working. As funnier joke, the Paris Metro is one of the most complicated and we were headed for a part of town I'd never seen before. As the funniest joke of all our Airbnb was sketch central and we did not feel safe there.
But everything started out ok. We took the Thalys Ams-Paris (children are like $24. Reason number one million to take your kids to Europe -- cut rate trains, free everything else). It was about 3 hours of snacking and playing games. I'd had enough forethought to screenshot instructions to our destination and info on how to get into the house, but there of course was no direct line from Gare du Nord to Pantin-Aubervilles so that was touch and go. Navigating a new subway always takes a few tries to familiarize the directions, tickets, and level of aggression for getting on crowded trains.
I knew it was a bad sign when the train to our new Airbnb was like 10 stops away.
When we got out of the metro the place was crawling with ne'er-do-wells, all of them men. We hustled sans maps with our fingers crossed down dark alleys passing wrought iron covered windows through a gate and to our shady apartment. It was decent inside but they must have taken very careful photos because the ones on Airbnb looked much friendlier. We stayed a few hours while I used the heaven sent wifi to find us a better place then complain and cancel our week in that scary joint.
Then back through the scary streets, in the dark this time, we hit KFC and took the metro to a happier place. Obviously the kids didn't know Paris looked anything other than that ghetto part of town so when we left the metro and were face to face with the Louvre they were thrilled.
We're sleeping three to a King size bed and one person on a fold away, but by 8pm we're warm, happy, and comfortable in this fancy joint. Success!


Ams Day 3

Apparently we needed sleep. We all woke up at 1 in the afternoon, shocked that we'd slept so much of the day away.
We jumped on the metro and went to rent some bikes at Centraal Station. I think they were like €9/day plus 3€ insurance (yes please, stupid bikes cost €450 to replace).
Amsterdam is the city of bikes and it makes sense. It's all flat (except for over the canals) and the streets are mostly narrow. There are very few cars about but there are silent trams coming at ya and freeway type bike lanes all over.
I have done a lot of brave/perhaps stupid things in my day but I daresay taking my kids on bikes through Amsterdam surprised me by requiring the most courage and vigilance. I was psychotically protective. I'm surprised I didn't bail checking on them every five feet. I needed a rear view mirror.
Having all four of us in single file was the only functional way to go which meant that I had to part the seas and navigate at the front. Mimi mostly took up the rear and that presented problems of its own because she and Silas fight and try to knock each other off their bikes. There was a lot of screaming.
Our first stop was mama protested Ripley's Stupid Believe it or Not. Eye roll by me. But kids were free and it was Mimi's number one thing to do so in we went. To my surprise it was rad! Here's the thing with Ripley's: is anything real there or not? Should I believe this crap or is it all circus sideshow stuff? Museums need to be all factual or all made up, combos just don't work in that capacity or everything becomes suspect.

After Ripley's in Dam Square it was everything we could do to make it to Museumplein (1.8 km, no idea in miles) without being nailed either by trams, cars, motorbikes, regular bikes, pedestrians, or, most likely, by each other. And the sun was setting. We made it down there, locked up our bikes and left them overnight on the curb in the middle of everything. The museum was closing so we planned to come back in the morning, provided we were awake.
We grabbed pasta in Leidseplein then took a tram then a metro to right outside the front door of our hotel. We are public transportation wizards.
Because I am a genius I hired a babysitter from a service in advance for yesterday evening so I could get some child-free time. The sweet sitter was named Noortje and she came right to our hotel and played games with the kids and took them in the hot tubs while I shopped and had dinner. I needed that break.

I pulled everyone out of beds this morning at the crack of nine. It's Silas' birthday! We metro/trammed back to the Rijksmuseum and strolled through at the kid's pace. Once again I had a million mama feelings watching them soak everything in and be genuinely curious and appreciative of what they were seeing. They may not remember everything they saw (who can?) but they will remember that art is important. I think their perspectives shifted when they looked at the old furniture and tableware as art rather than functional pieces. I wanted to die of joy when they saw that blue and white style of china and knew that they'd seen that style before in Grandma's house and on the lamps next to my bed. They saw the baroque tables with carved legs and wooden inlay and observed that we had something similar in our front room that I'd inherited from Uncle Jay. I hope these experiences will translate into a life of culture appreciation and incorporation into their lives in the future.
The Night Watch was supposed to be the highlight of the Rijks but for us it was definitely the scale model of a warship. Jude and Silas circled that thing five times counting cannons and pointing out cool stuff.
Back on our bikes we did some bike fighting and took slightly less populated streets back to our drop off site. By the time we got there Jude had had it. It was cold and we were hungry and tired so we sought haven at the library.
Silas' number one birthday request was a visit to the Nemo science center. This is one of Amsterdam's main attractions and it is fantastic. Imagine the Exploratorium in SF but new and fancy. And super crowded. I get overstimulated so I'm hiding out while the kids play and learn. All I need is some ear plugs and a giant coke.


Amsterdam Day 1: Wooden Shoes and Modern Hotel

A few weeks ago I sent MY Christmas list to Santa.  I wanted a solution for the holidays (two dad's schedules to contend with) and something I could look forward to.
So Santa brought me my life dream!  He went on whichairlines.com and found us tickets to Europe for $360 RT. He couldn't resist. He knew it'd be just the thing.  So he sent us this letter down the chimney two weeks before Christmas.

We freaked out.  It was happening: my life goal and one of the main reasons I had children was going to materialize. I was taking my kids to Europe to show them the world.
Well, most of them. Mimi is 9, Jude is 8 and Silas is nearly 7 so they are all functioning independent human beings who can mostly be trusted to not run or crawl into a train well.  But I got them tickets as well because I thought I could either get one of the dads to come too OR I'd hire a nanny for when we arrived.  But that plan was vetoed. There are reasons to be sad that they didn't come but there are also reasons to be very grateful they aren't here. Instead Danny took them to exotic eastern Arizona on a 17 hour road trip.  Hard pass on that one.

The planning began.  I managed their passports with the help of the dads.  There was one glitch that ended up in Si's and Jude's being held up until Weds Dec 22.  Close call. 
We hit the library and got some children's books on Amsterdam and Paris.  We went on line and found a killer hotel and a reasonably priced AirBnB in Paris. We found a podcast and learned some French.  Mimi brought home some Anne Frank books. I did little lessons about famous art we would see when we got there.

My friend (and champion) Joanna leant us some backpacks and plenty of pointers. I created a Google doc itinerary with activities and food. We have a plan.

Packing was easy. 6 outfits per person, two pairs of shoes: one for walking, the other for snow walking. Toiletries. Snacks. Two small disposable books each. Walkie talkies. iPads and headphones. Jackets, gloves, hats.  Done.
No diapers! No portable cribs? No bottle supplies? Who's life is this?! Do I even know how to walk without pushing a stroller? Where will I put my drink?
We scheduled Christmas for the night before the babies had to leave/were handed over tearfully. My little family has done our own Christmas at home for a few years. We have specific traditions: Mexican food, Jesus' birthday cake, we act out sing the Twelve Days of Christmas, we do a fairly rambunctious nativity, we get our jammies on and put out cookies, we read 'Twas the Night before Christmas, and we hustle to bed.  This time Santa was not coming and I had bought one sweet present for each kid and they bought a bunch of little things for each other. Grandma and Grandpa also sent some humdinger presents that required me calling in my friends to help put them together. Many thanks Dev and Bobb! 
Christmas done, babies gone, stuff packed, it was time to go. 

My world traveler friend Megan picked us up bright and early and whisked us to the airport on Christmas Eve morning.  No lines, hoped on our flight, checked no bags. Flew to Houston. Waited a bit, climbed onboard an international plane (they're always more legit) and plugged ourselves in for a 9 hour screen binge.  We had a whole row to ourselves with two empty seats that we put to good use.

Landed at Schipol, waltzed through customs lugging our packs, grabbed some train tickets and rode the rails to Amsterdam Centraal. 
We were here.
We took a good look around and then hightailed it to our hotel for food and sleep.
All hail the six hour nap!

When we woke we uber'd to the central part of town, ate crepes for dinner and then joined all of the people strolling around the streets and alley ways in the most beautiful weather. It's about 50 here which is warm enough to be outside comfortably without hats and gloves.

The streets of Amsterdam leave nothing to the imagination so I was left to explain the cannabis culture and all the sexy stuff in the windows. This is what I told them, "There are two kinds of smoking. One is tobacco and one is marijuana.  People smoke them because it makes them feel good even though it's not healthy.  In Amsterdam marijuana (which is a drug) is legal and people feel generally ok about smoking it or eating it in food. We are taught by our religion not to smoke it and it's especially important not to use it before your brain fully develops at 25, but other people have different ways of living and even if they drink or smoke they are good people just like us."  To which Silas replied, "It smells."

As for all the sexy stuff I explained thusly, "Another thing that is legal in Amsterdam is renting a girlfriend.  You can pay to hang out with ladies in bikinis in little red rooms."  To which Mimi responded, "Oh, so people who can't get a girlfriend do that because they're losers or ugly or something?"  I replied,"Yes. Only losers buy women."

Next stop was a nighttime canal cruise showcasing a special event that's going on here called the Amsterdam Light Festival.  While we were queued up a DJ started a dance party and, as you know, we are joiners.  It was an impromptu party.  Then on the boat (which I can barely talk about because it makes me renauseated) we were packed in and floated around the canals looking at these giant lit up installations.  Unfortunately it was hot and crowded and long and I nearly barfed. At the end we found the outdoor section and could enjoy it a little bit more.

Then home to our cozy cool hotel that you should check out on their website.  I gave them some benedryl so they could try to adjust to the time change and it seems to have worked fine. I'm Celia: dinking around on my phone until everyone wakes up and we can go on some adventures.

Amsterdam Day 2

Today we took a relaxed pace day. Mimi and I went to the grocery store down the street where she experienced the challenge of finding what you want when everything is labeled in Dutch.
Then we took off in an uber for Centraal Station where I picked up my IAmsterdam card. It was $70 for a three day pass for all of the museums and a bunch of other activities, including all transportation. The kids are free almost everywhere so I just bought them each transit passes for $2.50/day. So basically everything is paid for from here on out (except for food).
We hopped on the tram and took a wild ride to the Van Gogh museum. Trams are my favorite way to get around Amsterdam because they're fast, scary, you can see the whole city as you travel, and they go where you need to go.
We jumped the line at the museum and the workers told us about a treasure hunt for kids. We loved it!
The best part of the museum was when a familiar face showed up. Nathan! He had a layover on his way to Pisa where he's establishing an exchange program for the UofU. Nathan and his buddy teamed up with my kids and we did the whole game and saw all of the paintings. I love doing kid activities at museums because they make them come alive.
The IAmsterdam sign was nearby so we hit that and then crossed the street when we saw a diamond center.
Amsterdam is famous for diamond polishing. The smooth Italian guy showed us how they're cut and then tried to sell us some $6000 diamonds. The kids were delighted and said it was their favorite activity so far. I love when fun happens upon me.
Next we had gigantic pancakes at a place Dax and I used to frequent when we visited Amsterdam.
By 5 we were exhausted. We went home to unwind and then played foozeball at the hotel. To finish the day we went in the Japanese hot tubs and sauna on the roof.
These kids are such fun travelers. The world excites them and they love pointing out all the little different things they see. Their favorite observations are the tears of joy on my face when I see them learning to love traveling as much as I do.


Holiday Halloween

Sometimes my ideas are good ideas. Sometimes my people get right on board.  This Halloween was one of those times.
It started with Jude wanting to be Uncle Sam because he saw some guy dressed in red, white and blue on stilts.  Then Silas wanted to be Santa Claus because he thought it would be hilarious. And so we had a theme.
The kid I was most surprised about was Mimi. I thought I'd have to talk her into some kind of beautiful glam Leprechaun or something but nope. She was dead set on being a Thanksgiving Turkey.  When your nine year old silly girl wants to be a turkey you help her make her dreams come true.
I let the costume choose the rest of us.  I found a 6-12 month bunny suit and the Easter Bunny materialized.  I found some green striped tights and hat so a Leprechaun worked for me. Lou will not wear anything on her head and is going through a naked phase so she became Cupid.  I love it when things pan out easily.
I love how committed Jude was to Uncle Sam. The giant hat really sold it. He plans to wear this costume for all pro America holidays for the rest of time.
Six year olds are the perfect audience for Santa Claus.  His class loved it. Silas kept all of the pieces of his costume together and had a great time wishing everybody a Merry Christmas.  
You go with what you have.  There were more pieces to her costume but she kept ripping them off. Thankfully Cupid is naked. And thankfully it was really warm that week.
 Babies are best dressed as animals. Philo's first Halloween costume was a sniffly Easter Bunny. Not a bad way to start out.
Of course I had to teach that day so I offered extra points on a quiz if they showed up in costume. 90% of them did!  I was NOT going to be the only one in head to toe costume.  We had the best time and their costumes were so creative.  This gilly suit was rad. 
Lou was able to trick or treat for the first time this year.  She was on board, 100%. I love that she's in the storage phase wherein everything that belongs to her must be carried everywhere in her little arms. This pic also shows her mastering the "Mine" posture.  
Group costumes have to make sense individually too.  I like costumes that you don't have to explain.  I think we nailed it this year!


See Your Memories, Sept 2016

Facebook just sent me one of those "See Your Memories" notifications.  In it was a link to this post: Shine on You Crazy Diamond. Reading through your comments on that post gave me blog guilt.  I'm sorry for my absence! I feel bad that I've written less about my children this past season because I will have less memories to revisit.  Time is steadily slipping away and with it the little things.  I never recorded catching LouLou expertly applying deodorant.  I didn't write about the time I bet against Silas by offering him $5/lap at the fundraiser expecting him to quit after two laps and then he ran 29 laps. I've caught Philo's army crawl on video but don't have a context with the rest of the family.
(Why the George W Bush face?)
Blogs are an inefficient medium.  You have to put more effort in to write, remember, associate, and explain. Instagram is so much easier because it takes two seconds.  Facebook easier still, though status updates have become article sharing opportunities. But Instagram doesn't tell the story and facebook isn't very linear. So I'm going to play a bit of catch up as a gift to my future self.
 Hello, future self!  I'm proud of you. You're keeping everybody alive. You're working three days a week teaching college. Silas can almost read. Philo is a cuddly baby who doesn't push out of your arms. Mimi is your right hand woman and she loves playing American Girl Dolls.  Cubby is in second grade and into Harry Potter.  You are really busy but very fulfilled. You're worried about getting the downstairs remodeled (not happening yet), and Philo eating things off the floor.  You're challenged by keeping the house clean because holy crap 7 people are messy (especially toddlers!) You're working on money management because holy crap 7 people are expensive. You're obsessing over Camille having her first baby.  You've just completed project lose a bunch of weight. You need a new personal goal. 
That is what's up. Here's what it looks like:
Lou is two. She has unicorn shoes and lots of feelings but few words.  She's a late talker. She has great fine and big motor skills. Lou and Philo share bottles and food.  BL could play outside on the trampoline all day long. She's discovered how to open all iPads and phones and find the games. I do not like nor allow this. She loves baby dolls right now and loves to feed and diaper them.
Mimi is getting really tall and she will not let me brush all the way through her hair. She has lots of friends and a few crushes. We love her teacher this year and Mimi is challenged by the amount of homework each night. She just started an Aerial Arts class.  She is still cooking with me all the time and getting really good at it.
Philo, 8 months. Don't you just want to eat him up? I love this age of babies.  He's sleeping pretty well but wakes up at the crack of dawn. Everybody adores him. I think he's about to get his top teethies. Mimi tried to take him to school with her last week and made it down the block. I love when he follows me around the house doing his army crawl. My heart bursts with love every time I see him or just think about him.
Silas likes friends, ice cream, his Ipad, and Philo. In that order. He's doing well reading Dr Suess. I especially like Silas in the morning because he's the first kid up and very cooperative.  Si is going through an easy phase, bless him.

  A week ago Silas offered to be the waiter for my book club. He set the whole table with China and dressed himself in a suit and tie.  He ushered people in and then served them food and drinks.  It was adorable.
Jude, pictured here on his birthday wearing one of my flip flops because he cut his foot, is having the time of his life.  He just started cub scouts with all his best buddies.  He goes to skateboarding class on Saturday. Last week he started his orthodontic treatment and he feels very proud of his appliance.  The ortho said that while he was putting on Cub's expander he was the toughest most stoic kid he's ever worked on.  Jude is going to be baptized in two weeks.
And here's me this week holding baby Lorenzo:
I am continuously trying to get pictures with everybody in them.  I like to see them in reference to one another.


Neighborhood Camps: Our Summer Sandlot

Around April I started to worry about summer.  Three big kids, two babies who aren't very portable and me.  Me facing the music of my parenting choices. 
Summer camps are affordable here FOR ONE KID. But tutition for three would put me in the poor house!  Did I want my three bigs rattling around the house bugging each other and begging me to schedule play dates? When did moms become the captains of kid's social calendars? Go find your own friends, kid. 
I needed a plan. I needed a Sandlot.
Thus Neighborhood Camps were born.
My years of Devil Mountain Summer Camp under the tutelage of Nancy and Colleen gave me all the training I need to organize and entertain big groups of children. Matter of fact, my life more closely resembles DMSC than any college experience.  Life and survival skills currently employed were gleaned from working summer camps and from my other fun job choreographing my mother's plays with Danville Children's Musical Theater.  I'm an expert at playing.
The plan is to have 5 or 6 weeks of organized play for 5-10 year olds during the summer.  Camps are TWTh so that they don't impede weekend travel.  We start at 10am when it's still cool and end at 1. As a mom I do not feel activities for kids are worth it unless I get three hours away from them.  You can actually get stuff done in that amount of time and by stuff I mean a legit nap.  With that schedule and plan I made a Google sign up form and sent it to my friends.
I've hired a nanny to take care of my babies during camps.  She's the adult at home while we are at the school playing.
Our weeks planned are Baseball and Nerf week, Soccer and Bike week, Craft and Lego/Barbie week, Sport Camp with my teacher sister Val whom I'm flying in from LA and street games, and Gymnastic and football week.  Lunch is also included, accomplished co-op style.  I request a $5 per kid per week donation, but I think next year I'm going to structure that by family instead.  Maybe $20 and $5 for each additional kid. That way it's not prohibitive for big families.
I asked local young teens who are good at that sport to come coach and give them the donations to sweeten the deal. 
When the kids get there at 10 they just wander into my back yard. We gather, talk about the rules (don't get hurt, use the downstairs bathroom, let me know where you are) make sure everybody has the gear they need and then head across the street to the school.
At the school the teens lead them in playing the sports.  It's a ton of fun.  It's like the Sandlot. 
At 11:45 I send two kids up to my house and our dear nanny helps them make the lunches with the food that's been provided by the parents in bulk.  Week one was corndog week, this week we're making PB&J with the two big loaves of bread and vats of peanut butter and jelly sent by a parent. Other parents provide fruit and treats.Noon is lunch in my backyard. No plates, no waste. Then we hydrate with water bottles and sprinklers.

After lunch last week I organized a Nerf gun shooting range from my porch.  Kids volunteered to be turkeys. It was pretty hilarious. We also played capture the flag.  
This week we went to the empty school parking lot on our bikes.  Using sidewalk chalk the kids chose a parking stall and designed their home.  Then they chose another stall and made their business. We had a police station, a bakery, a crystal shop (not crystal meth), a mechanic, fire station, etc.  They drew roads and played to their heart's content.
I planned for 10-15 kids, this week we have about 25. The more the merrier! 
I am so grateful to live in a supportive neighborhood with so many kids and great parents so I can do this with my kids.  I live in fear that somebody will get hurt and I will get sued, but we will solve that problem with waivers pretty soon.  We are having a rad time! 


Mom Brain Chatter

I would like to begin this post by thanking Jesus that I have not had any car accidents or walked into any stationary objects. I definitely should not be operating heavy machinery.  Do not be surprised when you happen upon me staring into space and drooling. 

At any given moment my Mom Brain is overloaded with life chatter.  This is not a to do list nor a complaint list (indeed I am grateful that these are my minutiae rather than show stopping problems), it's just a real time list of the thoughts and worries that go through my head in the last ten minutes, all day every day.
Right now, right this second, these are the thoughts bouncing around.  This is my Mom Brain Chatter.

How much is this car repair going to cost?
When was the baby last fed?
Dude, the gun law issue is out of control.
When was the baby baby last fed?
Has Silas had enough hugs and touch today?
Go pick up the Rx.
Return the library books.
Use the bananas tonight or they'll go bad!
Has Mimi been on Instagram?
How are her allergies?
When did Jude last take a shower?
Don't forget to clip that talon toenail on Silas, even if you have to wrestle him to the ground.
Jude needs a haircut.
Tend to Mimi's cut on her foot. Is the super glue still working?
Are the gates closed? Can LouLou escape?
Has Mimi had enough one on one time?
Where are Lou's pink shoes?
Did I change over the laundry before it goes bad?
The lawn needs watering.
Call the irrigation company.
Kitchen counter is sticky, make time to wipe it off.
Silas' speech. Remember to go over his word pronunciation.
The car needs the speaker fixed.
Have I taught my kids about sex trafficking?
Did Mimi pack socks for her trip to CA?
Is she being hard?
What time should Philo be going down to nap?
Remember to put away his laundry.
Plan D's birthday activity, text all the people.
Did you remember to take out the fruit to avoid fruit flies?
Check the student loan bills.
Has easy kid Jude gotten enough attention?
What's on his mind? How is he coping with this chaos?
Mimi needs new running shoes.
What am I making for dinner?
That Jesse Williams speech was amazing.
Do I still have frozen chicken in the freezer?
Oh my gosh Silas' hair.
Do we have enough bread for sandwiches?
Am I on top of Lou's diaper rash?
I think I owe Amelia money. Pay the sitter.
When did Jude last shower?
Schedule the babysitter.
Cancel the doctor's appointment.
Silas doesn't get enough story time. Work on that.
Actually, all the kids need to read more.
The fourth season of Orange is the new black is pushing it. 
Did they watch too much TV last weekend?
I need to sing to Lou more.
Take time to relax and have fun! 
When does school start again?
Holy crap it's going to be 100 today. Take kids swimming.
Need to teach Si to tie his shoes.
Got to get the laundry into the drawers somehow today.
Clean house for inlaws.
Does Philo have a blessing outfit that fits?
Do I need to organize any of that?
Go through the papers on my desk.
It's almost July. Visting teaching for church needs to be planned and done.
Kids haven't seen Dory yet. Plan for that.
How much are the tickets to baseball game and do I need to buy ahead.
Try to make it through all the food before we leave on Saturday.

Ok, is that everything? 

Strangers frequently say to me, "You have your hands full!" Yes, but you should see my brain.
Full brain, full hands, full heart.

But don't worry, I turn off my exhausted brain for ten minutes every day.  I've recently found and adopted mindfulness meditation in order to force my Mom Brain Chatter off for a few minutes a day. Highly recommend the Calm App.  
Gotta go. Finishing car errand.
(Green are days I've meditated. Very proud of my streak.)