Friday, June 26, 2009


For my first decent night of sleep in a week, merci!

For Holly and Rich, who moved the Greengoose in to storage, merci!
For Tutu Ruth, who is keeping Betty, Chango and Benji company, merci!
For my mommy, who sent me Mary Jane Crocs in ruby red, merci!

For seeing Geoff and William stairmaster up the Eiffel Tower, merci!

For Alex ordering and trying escargot, merci!

For the scenic ride on the Seine, merci!

For sailing boats with Max and Maria in the Jardin des Tuileries, merci!

For standing slack jawed before the grandeur of the Louvre (without even actually going in,) merci!

For green salad with toasted goat cheese on slices of baguette, merci!

For Les Bouquinistes along the Seine, merci!

For new visitors, for dear visitors... merci!

For light on water and the light in their eyes, merci!

For curiosity, for stamina, for humor and humility, for comfortable shoes and single scoops of Berthillon ice cream and the Marche around the corner... merci! merci! merci! merci! merci! merci!

For the construction crew renovating across the courtyard from our hotel room, for their noise, and for bemusedly watching us eat our baguettes and frambois breakfast, we forgive you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

And Someone's Been Sleeping in My Bed.

After posting from the bathtub, where I was trying to pass my insomnia time without waking the children, I came back out in to the room, hoping to slip in bed for a 6:20 AM nap... no such luck. Max and Maria are stretched out, back to back and crosswise across our double bed. Alex is in a single and Geoff and William are upstairs each enjoying their own beds. I am sitting here with the lap top perched on the mini-fridge... greatly sloped because of the uneven floor.

I do not speak French. Badly... I mean my unFrench ability is really bad. It is humbling. It makes me feel actually stoopid. I think it is extra frustrating because I can manage some Spanish and I always thought in time I could learn Hawaiian, but no matter how I try, French baffles me. Why do they insist on using so many letters they are never going to pronounce?! It seems so wasteful, so frivolous. Such wanton and liberal sprinklings of unspoken consonants.

I try. I read the phrase book. I listen and practice, but when I am face to face with a Frenchman and asking about the one week metro pass, it becomes an out of body experience, and my spirit watches from my own shoulder and says, “You are babbling. Say something. Dear, that was Spanish in a bad French accent... that does not count.” I try again and the man behind the counter winces. Was he sympathetic or have I managed to confirm all of his beliefs about American tourists? I am so confident, in spite of all contrary evidence, that I should be able to communicate in this vaguely familiar Romance language that I blurt another nonsensical inquiry...

S'il vous plait. Parlez-vous anglais? Mooah soy un Amercain ignorante y quiero comer pronto. Merci.” Then I smile. Then I pantomime a family of six buying metro passes, with a discount s'il vous plai, and eating dinner, then I say “Pardon. Tres bon. Mele kalikimaka. Then I grin and try to look confident, yet humble, and smart... in spite of all contrary evidence. We may starve.

Alex in Asia gave us some great tips in her comment, and we went straightaway to practicing the very useful: Sorry. I am an @ss phrase she suggests we employ, but it feels kind of redundant admitting we are sorry and need to be excused for being a bother. It seems so obvious we merit excusing. Now I regret more than ever that we forgot to pack the Obama stickers Phil sent us. Every time I try to communicate and I get the look, I could whip out an Obama sticker and say “I voted for this guy,” as though to say, “Aloha, I am smarter than you think. Please find us food and the stop for the Batobus. Merci.”

Remind me and maybe someday I will tell you about the time in Avignon when I translated French for a Frenchman. It was a whole other level of me being stoopid that cracks me up every time I think of it.

Oh man. They're still hogging my bed.

Coming Soon!

Our first morning in Paris is beginning slowly. I have been awake since 4 AM, and it 8 AM now. Still no stirring from Alex, Max or Maria. Still no peep from the upstairs crew either. It's just me and the construction crew outside the window... I am getting a lot of local color and sensory stimulation jack-hammered in to my morning. Bonjour!

On our walk to the hotel we went passed a marche... a stall market, very traditional, like the kind I know in Mexico. But where? We followed Geoff dragging luggage and we moved at a pretty quick pace, zig-zagging from Rue to Rue. I already checked the map, but it does not show up. I am just thinking of breakfast. I could buy bread and fruit, maybe some formage, more water.

Today we have tickets for the “Hop on-Hop off” boat that serves as a kind of water bus on the Seine. It travels from the Eiffel Tower, around the two Iles, passed the Louvre, and as the name implies, we can get on and off through the whole day. I thought it would be a pretty and fun way to get an overview of the heart of Paris. Looking forward to this. I think we may try the Notre Dame tour today too. Alex and I have been talking about climbing the 387 steps up the north tower for the views of Paris and more gargoyles. I think a tea at Angelina's would make a wonderful break. Tomorrow the Louvre, maybe the Eiffel Tower. Alex wants to go to the Flea Market, Marche aux Puces, on Saturday. Maria wants a single scoop from Maison Berthillon, on the Ile St. Louis. any every day! William's camera needs fresh batteries... he's got the shutterbug, like his mama!

And still ahead, we are going to Brussels, then the Netherlands. I am making the most of the big cities and all the amazing sights and opportunities, but I am really, really looking forward to our mellow little rented cabin in the Holland countryside. We found a very family receptive place, where rented bicycles await us, where there will be swimming and walks in the woods. I imagine we will relax and have time to process all the newness and wonder we have been absorbing. And rest we should, because we have a whirlwind kind of tour of Germany, then Switzerland, and a night in Avignon before we arrive in Barcelona.

Another thing, about Saturday in Paris... we leave that day for our drive to Belgium, and we will just miss Laura Jane... *sad face.* She's traveling from her home in Australia and arrives in Paris the day we leave. It would have been so amazing to meet face to face. We are so close! We'll try to warm the place up for her, so her visit will be extra grand and memorable.

Speaking of missing friends, I think it's Karen's night hosting MNO. Hopefully, I will be asleep when it 6:30 PST, but when it is dinner time here I will raise my glass to toast my dear friends. Anne, you let them know I am thinking of them... tell them we are moving here and starting an urban chicken farm, that we can see the Eiffel Tower from the barn!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

”I Don't Get It. Where Are The Chickens?

Blogging to you live from the bathtub of our two star hotel!
It is I, the Chicken Blog lady. It's 4AM and I am sitting in the tub writing this post, trying to not wake the children. Don't worry, the tub is full of dirty laundry,so it's really comfy. Comfy compared with a double bed shared with a four year old and a 5'5” ten year old boy. Overhead is the still damp laundry I hand-washed and hung, before Alex read the notice on the door... “Mom, it says 'don't wash clothes in the sink,' here on this sign.” Gee, and I suppose they don't want our bloomers hanging from the window either. Sheesh.

Before I regale you with the tale of our first night in Paris, it occurred to me that anyone new, anyone visiting for the first time, might be thinking “Where are the chickens? Who are the chickens? What's a chica?”

Some Answers to”Imagined”Questions

1.The Chicas are the chickens, past and present, that have been our pets since the founding of this blog in 2002.
2.Presently there is only one chica and her name is Lady Elizabeth Orpington or informally, Betty. A.K.A. “Over the Wall Betty,” “Meet the Neighbors Betty” and “Poop-Deck Betty.”
3.The chicken or chica is home at Garage Mahal,our frequently maligned suburban rental palace with genuine faux columns.
4.The Chickens Abroad is us, our family, traveling for the first time together in Europe.
5.I am really hungry.
6.Sorry about that last bit... I got distracted by the howling pit in my stomach. We didn't have dinner.

We safely navigated 4 children and five pieces of luggage through Gare Nord, passed Gare Est, in to our hotel, up the stairs and in to our room, and this was no small feat, so it was awhile before we could muster the strength to seek food. This economical, yet quaint hotel is in a doubtful neighborhood, so after washing aforementioned laundry, and generally settling in, we rallied the children, who incidentally were also doubtful, but not in a 'peep show-leering winos' kind of way... where was I? Yes, we left the hotel in search of dinner. By the time we decided to Metro to the Seine and Louvre, it was 9:30 PM. At night... this is not our usual schedule. Not at all.

So, it seems doubtful hotels are not too near the good stuff, and our ride was lengthy and the doubtful-hungry-tired children were getting doubtfuller (real word.) We pressed on. We walked from Pont Marie through Ile St. Louis, around Notre Dame, and it was passed Notre Dame when Maria fell asleep on Geoff's shoulder, and it was ten minutes later when Geoff let me carry her. We walked all the way to the Louvre, then I let Geoff have a turn carrying Maria, and then to Pont Nouf Metro and we rode back to the hotel. And by now our doubtful neighborhood hotel was looking like a welcome sanctuary. We consoled doubtful-hungry-weary children and tucking them in at 12:30 AM we promised them a great breakfast.

Isn't this sad? We stood before the great Cathedral, the one begun in 1136 (it's just so darn typical of me to throw around interesting we stood there in awe, absorbing the majesty and wonder of actually being here in front of this icon... and all I can focus on is ”where is my great breakfast?!”

I bought “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” for the boys before our adventure began. I hoped one of them would have time to read it, but they were pretty busy in school, and already absorbed in other books, so I wasn't sure there would be time to get to it. Last night, looking up at gargoyles and the rose window, Alex told me that it all looked familiar, like he knew it. He did read the book. So cool.

I am off. Time to remove the clean, damp clothes from the window, then to sniff out some croissants... bonjour!

Riding Backwards to Paris

As soon as we knew that we were flying to London, we planned to get to Paris by the Chunnel, the train that goes under the English Channel. I spent months imagining what this was going to be like and now we are here, riding the Eurostar and it's a kick. It's fast. I can feel it, the mass and the speed, change in air pressure as we travel through the smaller tunnels on our way to the main event. Our assigned seats are facing London, so we are going backwards in to Paris. All along I imagined that we would basically see English countryside from London to Brighton, or some other coastal town and then woosh in to the tunnel.

Are you laughing? It dawned on me, and get used to this, because these fourth quarter epiphanies are pretty common for me... it dawned on me that there is no way we could slip merrily along, southward, to the English Channel and then just scoot down into the tunnel... under the Channel, way down deep beneath all that water and fish! This is the kind of thing that I find hilarious, when my brain alerts me to certain facts and realities. Talk about an E-ticket! High speed train ride and then a nearly vertical ascent under hundreds, maybe thousands, of feet of water and rock! Yahoooo! I'm no engineer, but it cracks me up that I didn't realize sooner that we probably would enter the tunnel long before the coast, making a gradual, train-safe ascent.

Maria is asleep. Before we boarded the train we spent time at a playground. It's a beautiful day by the way. The sky has been mostly clear, and it is neither hot nor cold. We enjoyed our garden time, but then Maria had a small spill. There was barely any abrasion and certainly no tears, but she kept talking about the fall and telling us that Beanerina Bunny (her best friend softie, a ballerina bunny) was very sad about her fall. Geoff gave her a sympathy shoulder ride to St. Pancras Station and about half way there the tears started coming. In earnest. By the time we got to the station, we were offered first aide and train station kindness. Her knee is swollen, and she won't stand on it. I gave her a petite dose of acetaminophen, and shortly afterwards she fell asleep. A four year old girl that cannot walk in Paris might be problematic. Hopefully tiredness and tenderness are the main factors, other wise things are about to get (more) challenging interesting. How do you say “cheap stroller” in French?

Ah, this may be the one. We've been in this tunnel a long time.

What if in the future the Chunnel is like the aquarium tunnels they have in aquatic parks... people walk through the tunnel and the sharks and yellow fin tuna swim all around them... ? Of course far below the surface they would need to illuminate things for us to see anything. It would be awesome. Seriously. Riding a train, under the ocean and seeing... cod or pike, or whatever swims in the Channel. Seems a little far fetched, but I can think of a lot of things that as a child I never imagined we would have, like DVR and GPS and electric pencil sharpeners... the future is bright. I know it.

In the British Museum we visited two of the gift shops. I love Museum gift shops. For the most part I take pictures of things I like, buy a few post cards and enjoy looking.

Not the Chunnel tunnel: We just came out of the really long one. Just saying.

I asked the children to choose a favorite postcard. Max chose the famous wave painting by Hokusai. Maria chose a painting of Sandwich Islands birds, and then she picked up a mummy postcard. It showed an open sarcophagus and a linen wrapped mummy.

“That's white chocolate,” she said with certainty.

I like to listen to children and allow them to express their perceptions, explain their views, but I really thought associating a mummy with white chocolate was on the creepy side, so I said, “Maria, that's called a mummy. It's not chocolate.”

“It is white chocolate. Daddy told me.”

Eeww. I thought he was telling her some kind of weird something or other, but then that's not his style, so I asked him what was up with Maria's mummy-white chocolate association? It turns out that the first gift shop sold sarcophagus boxes with white chocolate mummies. Yummy-Mummy anyone?

Guess what... it was the Chunnel Tunnel and now we are in Paris!

I Thought It Was a Goof-up

I am stunned, and I cannot write. I do not know what to write. After blogging for 7 years, I have just today broken a comments record... 30 comments! Thirty comments?! I thought someone was goofing around, or that my server was acting up, but I did not think that Chickenblog had achieved “Blog of Note” status. Maybe you cannot tell by reading this, but I am shaking and sort of babbling and laughing, and I am debating: Should I continue as though nothing has changed? Should I explain that I am easily amused and know that it is St. Pancras, not St. Pancreas? Should I reply to the commenter who thinks I write too much and try to convince him that every thought and word is essential and good, that I am really nice? Lol... Dude, if you think that post was long you should see my chicken posts.

Thank you. And welcome to Chickenblog. We are at the beginning of our family trip to Europe, a trip Geoff and I have anticipated since we were in high school. Now we are here at last, with our four children and about to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary. The thing is, it's tricky blogging from here, because I do not have my usual posting set-up. Regular readers already recognize my methods and musings, but I am feeling caught off guard about greeting new visitors and naturally when someone new is at my door I want to make them comfortable and I want to have everything tidy and inviting... uh-oh, babbling.

We made it to The British Museum. Marvelous. It's like high school, when I enjoyed flipping through the pages of my history book to look for pictures and the more tangible bits of the story. We stood before the Rosetta Stone. Not a replica. Not a grainy textbook image, but the actual tablet fragment that unlocked the mystery of hieroglyphics. The British Museum is free and has been around since 1753... before we were One nation under God... William took pictures. Max enjoyed looking for a treasure to bring home. Alex found a ball... twelve free moving ivory spheres, carved from a single piece... one inside the next and about the size of a tennis ball... we need pictures, I know. Soon.

Next we Tubed to Hyde Park, the lake and playground, the Boathouse. It's so interesting to see unfamiliar trees and new flowers. Big trees. Really big. And beautiful flowers, like foxgloves and different poppies. At the lake were geese and ducks, coots, a great heron. Even the squirrels were charming. We walked quite a bit and then we played with a boomerang and a flying floppy disc. Then I lost my phone. Then I found my phone. Then I vowed to not lose my phone ever, ever again, because that was so not fun. Then we got floored by Harrod's where food and merchandise is displayed in theme park grandeur. Then we tried to keep Geoff awake for the Tube ride back to our hotel.

Back at the hotel Alex asked about the rest of our trip. He wanted a break down on the big city vs. small town ratio. He sides with small towns and countryside. He's not keen on the traffic here, or the rush of people jockeying for real estate on the Tube. Cities. They are frenetic. The energy seems to permeate the air and when inhaled can be a bit of a jolt. I like it in doses, like the times we stay in San Francisco or visit Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, but it's not our usual pace, so I understand Alex's feelings. He thinks it's all bit too much.

Good thing we began in London, where at least the language is familiar. I think jet lag and culture shock is a lot to mange and cope with.
And today? Today we ride the train to Paris. Another big city and us without a French Rosetta Stone... oh dear. It's too soon, isn't it? Our London time is brief, and I know we are missing an awful lot, not to mention the rest of the country. Next time I want to go the Lake District, to Scotland, to that area southeast of here featured in Jane Austen's novels... sigh. Next time, right?

Before we are all aboard, we need to wake Max, gather laundry and pack. We are close to the Body Organ St. Pancras Station, which is convenient. Maria calls it the castle and she wants to live there. We are going under the English Channel. Under. Oh man that is so totally weird.

Reading and enjoying all of your comments. Thank you. Geoff promises pictures asap, so stick around.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Top of The Morning

Does anyone actually say "top of the morning" or have I been watching too much Mary Poppins? They do say "Love," like the man that sold me tickets for our ride to King's Cross: "Love, when someone steals that purse of yours they are going to take this credit card and shop." He wanted me to sign the back of my credit card. Back home I leave it unsigned so they ask for ID, but now it says "See ID." At the next station the man selling Tube tickets said, "Love, here are your tickets for tonight and these are for tomorrow," but he did not check for my signature on my card.

"Mind the gap." On the Picadilly line from Heathrow to St. Pancras Station, we heard "Mind the gap" at every stop, and we learned there is a lot to mind when negotiating the busy London streets and metro.

So, we are here and the jet lag is real, which is easier to cope with than the first time I faced the confusion, and disoriented loopiness of flying from So Cal to Europe. It helps a lot to believe that it will pass. I think Geoff is coping best, but he did not get to be at Stonehenge for the Soltice... as much as he wanted to. We'll make it up to him somehow. Max and Alex are asleep... probably they will be bright and perky about the time Geoff and I hit the wall.

Can you guess what we had for dinner? Is it supper or dinner? It was after nine, still light out, slightly chilly and we were upstairs in a quaint and snug corner of the Wellington Pub. Have you guessed? Fish and chips! And mashed peas. The mashed peas fit the classic descriptions I've heard about British food all my life... they were bland. We had a variety of fish, and Geoff had a Guiness (AKA meal in a can.) William and Max only had garlic toast, but William did eat English breakfast, minus meat. Beans for breakfast... I like it. Not accustomed to sweet beans, but they were tasty. And the fish was tasty. Maria is subsisting on grapes and cherries. She tried three different jams on toast and found them each equally unpalatable. But then, she is four, and she is a supertaster. I am sure Max will be quite hungry.

Today we are going to the British Museum. Geoff just came from St. Pancreas Station where he bought our Chunnel tickets. So, Tuesday it's Paris! That means it must be Monday. Monday morning. 9:30. Alex and Max are still sleeping. Geoff and I have been awake since 3:00 AM. Maria just found the breakfast muffin from the flight, so she is eating! Yay.

Do you want to hear about our rooms? Did you ever see "European Vacation," the Griswalds in England? I only saw the movie once, but the hotel scene came right to mind when we walked into the first room... lol. Mind you, I am not complaining. I am only saying that the rooms are remarkably small, which is why we had to take two. Maria and I are upstairs and the men folk are downstairs and only inches from the sidewalk and a stones throw from the train station. I actually confused the bathroom for a closet. It's behind a sliding closet door. I think our RV bathroom is more accommodating. The sink would fit in a cereal bowl, with the cereal. But everyone has a bed and a pillow and last night I did not need much more.

Back to Mary Poppins and Peter Pan... I keep thinking of those movies, especially last night when we walked around this neighborhood and we could see the roof tops of London and I kept expecting to see Bert and Mary pop out of a chimney, or Peter Pan slip into a bedroom window. Even when our flight broke through the clouds we had our first London view, over the Thames and it was postcard like, or like the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland! We could see all the classic images and structures of a city I know only from books and movies, and the song "You can fly, you can fly, you can fly!" played merrily in my head. It was quite magical. It's fortunate that I am here in person. I do not need to go through the rest of my life believing that any time spent in London will produce Peter Pan sightings, but I do continue to wish I might see Elzabeth Bennet or run into Nigella Lawson.