Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Week in France

 I think I have finally gotten hold of my jet-lag enough to write this post .....

Last week my sister Kim and I traveled to France for a once-in-a-lifetime sister's trip abroad. Our other sister Sarah is stationed in the city of Toulon for 3 years while her husband works with the French Navy in an exchange program. We left our 5 children at home with their Grandparents and Great-Grandparents and boarded the plane footloose and fancy-free. Now an 8 hour plane ride might seem like a drag to most people, but to us, it was a luxurious 8 hours of peace & quiet, snoozing, and getting to eat several delicious palatable in-flight meals without anyone whining or stealing the dessert. They even give you free wine on international flights, which just made me feel extra special.
We spent 5 days touring around the coastal area where Sarah lives and enjoyed the  fabulous markets, the bakeries, and the beautiful Mediterranean sea. We took a challenging bike ride on an island that I will never remember the name of and had a picnic on the beach. I tried as many kinds of pastries as was socially acceptable and we enjoyed a pace of life that was slow and easy.  I loved getting to spend time with my niece and nephew and hear Lily speak in her perfectly fluent French. Did I mention how beautiful it is there? There are breathtaking views of the mountains and an ocean so blue it looks fake. 
For our last 3 days we hopped on a train and headed to Paris which is a 4 hour ride from Toulon. I always pictured Paris being the size of New York City so I was overwhelmed at how enormous the city is. We tried walking it and then decided halfway through day 1 that we'd be a lot smarter by purchasing hop-on hop-off tour bus tickets. It was a good decision. We went all over and saw lots of cool things. My favorites were the Notre Dame, The Eiffel Tower at night, Champs Elysses, and the Louvre (although we didn't actually go inside any of the museums, but it was massive and impressive from the outside). I was shocked by how expensive everything was and had to make multiple trips to the ATM as my money kept running out. I loved eating meals at little sidewalk cafes and people watching all the trendy Parisians who made my regret all of my clothing choices. The architecture is amazing and the old history of the city fascinating, but the best part of Paris was just having uninterrupted quality time with my sisters. We didn't have much of an agenda and we didn't have kids, and we just got to enjoy being together. There were lots of laughs and great memories made and that's what made the trip so fun. You should definitely go to Paris sometime if you get the chance. Its just an 8 hour plane ride away :)
Here are some memories of our time...

Gourmet olives for sale at the local market in Toulon
Dessert? Yes please! A selection of treats from the bakery

Shopping at a market in the cute town of Hyeres

Phil came home! Enjoying some French ice-cream

Look how beautiful this place is? This is that island we biked on

Our picnic on the beach

Getting ready to board the train for Paris

The Notre Dame

This chocolate mouse was the BEST, creamiest most delicious I've ever tasted

Our double-decker tour bus that saved our feet and gave us a great view of the city

The Hotel De Invalides and Napoleons tomb

Delicious dinner at a cafe by the Eiffel Tower

Sunset at the Eiffel tower just before we headed up to the top

The Arc De Triomphe

"The Thinker" statue by artist Rodin

Touring the beautiful gardens at the Rodin Museum

 I loved these adorable flower shops that lined the streets in Paris

Yes, even Starbucks is big in Paris. We were thankful for their kind customer service and lovely bathrooms

The Louvre Museum, its just massive

We searched over an hour for this little Fallafel restaurant that supposedly had the best Fallafels around. It was worth it, they were so yummy.                                            

On our last night we went to the base of the Eiffle tower to get a fresh crepe and  watch the tower "sparkle" with thousands of glittering lights, which it does for the first 5 minutes of every hour.

Mmmm good!

This picture does not even almost capture the sparkling, but its the best I could get.

And a big thank you to my wonderful husband for managing work and the getting the kids where they needed to be every day while I was gone. You are the best! And thanks mom and dad and my sister-in-laws for watching and loving on my babies during the day. I owe you all big time!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Norah!

Today Norah is officially one year old. Can you tell that this child has just a bit of a personality?

Norah's Birth Story

We knew we were having a girl with our second baby. John honored my wish to be surprised the first time around and in return, I agreed to find out the gender for #2. I couldn't wait to wrap my arms around our baby girl. My due date was April 24th and I had a feeling she wouldn't be arriving anytime early so I didn't get my hopes up for an early reprieve from my pregnancy.
Having an unmedicated water birth was a huge goal for me with this delivery. Although I absolutely believe it is healthier for a baby to be born without drugs, I can't honestly say this was the only driving force behind my decision. The truth is, I wanted the challenge; to face the pain of birth and see if I could survive it like the amazon woman I always wish I could be. And as a bonus, not paying an anesthesiologist would save our bank account $2500 as well (a fact that I warned John not to even hint at in the delivery room should I change my mind and beg for that epidural).  John and I briefly talked about doing a home-birth, and then quickly dismissed the idea as a little too frightening for us. We talked about hiring a doula (birthing coach) to come to the house and talk me through the pain, and then quickly dismissed that idea once we learned how much those cost.  In the end, our entire birth plan hinged on the information in a 1984 book I borrowed from the library called Husband Coached Childbirth, written by the famed Dr. Robert Bradley, inventor of the Bradley Method of Birth. I read it like it was the Gospel and John skimmed a few chapters and was satisfied that he got the main idea.  And that's a guy for you.
April 24th came and went as did the 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, and 29th with nothing to report. On Friday the 30th we got up in the morning and went to check out some garage sales in neighboring developments and did lots of walking. I was getting a little desperate and a lot discouraged at this point but nothing cheers me up quite like scoring a sweet toy for a quarter so we pressed on. The day passed and again, nothing. Friday night my sister Rebecca invited me to join her for dinner at Brio's so I could get out of the house for a while. During dinner I started feeling some pretty strong tightening that was painless, but lengthy, and I had to stop and catch my breath a few times. I brushed it off even though it persisted as we walked through the mall and enjoyed some ice cream before we left to go home. I didn't want to get my hopes up yet or say anything to Rebecca about it.
At 10pm I was still feeling funny and I told John I was going to take a little walk around the neighborhood to see if I could figure out what was going on. It was pitch black but Buckeye trotted along faithfully beside me and I  remember that walk being so perfectly peaceful as I prayed and paused for a contraction and then prayed some more. God really spoke courage into my heart during during that 30 minutes that I didn't have before and I knew that I had the strength to do this.
At 11pm I was positive that I was in labor. I told John to crawl in bed and get some rest, thinking it would be a long night, only to yell "how could you be sleeping when I'm dying over here!!" 10 minutes later (sorry babe) when I realized things were getting intense way too quickly and I needed him to start recording the contractions. John got the watch and started writing and timing while I tried unsuccessfully to get comfortable. I went from the birthing ball to the bath to the bed to the bath to the floor to wandering around aimlessly to the bath. We had worship music playing quietly and I kind of kept to myself as I tried to deal with the pain that was overwhelming me. I talked several times on the phone to my midwife who was very reassuring and kept telling me that she didn't think I needed to come in yet, but that I would know when it was time. At 2am, when the contractions were coming every 2-3 minutes I started to panic and we called John's mom and told her it was time to come over and stay with Eli. She arrived in what seemed like a minute and we left for the hospital somewhere around 2:30. The drive to the hospital was crazy hard. I seriously thought I was going to deliver our daughter on Cleveland Ave as we managed to hit every red light.

By the time we got back to triage the nurse checked me and I was 8-9cm. I was quickly rushed into delivery where I promptly began begging to get into the water. There was some mandatory monitoring for 15 minutes which seemed an eternity and then they filled the tub for me. It was an amazing relief, but momentary because I knew I had to start pushing, which is what terrified me the most.
At 3:28am, less than 35 minutes after arriving at the hospital, Norah Dee was born. My midwife, Emily, who  kindly mentioned after-the-fact that this was her first ever water delivery was wonderful, and she laid Norah right on my chest and let me hold her as long as I wanted.  It was incredible and I am so thankful for the whole experience and that John was by my side throughout it.  Although I'm not sure I'm cut out to be an amazon woman because without the help of modern medicine (3 Pitocin injections and finally an IV) I may have hemorrhaged to death following the birth. Thank the Lord we opted out of that home-birth.
  I called my mom at 3:45 and she was there within 20 minutes along with my sister Rebecca who was so sweet to come in the middle of the night to meet miss Norah. And we enjoyed the rest of our hospital stay as if we were on vacation in the Hamptons. 1 baby, around the clock nurses, fresh ice-water delivered with the push of a button,  a remote control bed... these are the things that you cherish with your second delivery.

Dear Norah,

I have always dreamed about having a daughter of my own and I still pinch myself sometimes when I see your sweet face when you wake up in the morning. You are so silly and have such a huge personality at 1 year old. This keeps us laughing and also secretly terrifies us for what is to come as you grow. I love all the funny faces you make to ensure that we're clear on how you feel about certain things and the way that you growl, grunt, and scream to express your opinion. I love how you look up to your brother already, following him around like he is greatest thing in the world. You are a beautiful baby girl and we can't wait to see how you grow and change during this next year. We love you so much!
 Happy 1st birthday,