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Sunday, November 14, 2021

News! Book to be Published Soon

It seems the most precious things are also the most fragile and closest to our hearts, so we protect them and keep them hidden away. What have you not told the world? What do you think you don't know about anyone else that might be absolutely phenomenal? Why are we keeping all of these mysteries and closeted skeletons which are truly harmful to none?
 
Mine is the book. 

I planned to be a writer and a published author from the age of seven, and in some ways, I have been that for years, but not in the way I was thinking. I was thinking of authoring books, books that people would read and enjoy and dwell on for years to come. (Never very ambitious, was I?) I was also going to be a nun, a doctor in a tropical country, mother of anywhere from 6 to 12 children, and an actor. There was some cycling and remixing along the way, as I remind my children, this is normal and you WILL change your mind at some point, so keep your options open.

As to the writing, magazine articles and blog posts did not seem to count, although, over 1000 blog posts in, I can now say this counts for something. There are so many blogs all of you writers write that tilt our perception of the world just a mite or a lot, and I thank you for writing them and acknowledge the beauty and the importance of all we have collectively written since the genre began.

As for the manuscript...I may have mentioned almost being finished with this first book at some point in a blog post, but not with much conviction. Talking about it seemed to be too risky, what if it never gets read, what if I wasted years of my existence on a completely futile, ridiculous endeavor, what if it is...worst of all...boring?! Here is my announcement, world: 

Yesterday, the second editing, post-beta readers, was completed. Wait, that needs a few exclamation points!!!  
It is finished! And it is NOT BORING. 
We begin with an intercontinental trip with seven people gone wrong, and it just keeps getting more exotic from there. It is a memoir, part dream, plans, aspirations, growth and reality.

There will be more improvements, and solicitations have been answered for one more read-through by a second set of readers before I hit "publish" for real, but I am 90% certain that I will self-publish this and let it go out into the world and greet it without the fanfare of finding an agent, hosting a publisher-sponsored launch party and hoping for the New York Times bestseller list within the first month. 

The title is "Surfboards and Soybeans" subtitle suggestions welcome! I have considered, "Raising a Bilingual Family in a Multicultural World," "From Iowa to France and Back Again", "Buckets of Snails and Spinach", and "90 Days and 14 Years in France". The story is that of a trip to France in 2010 where all went wrong when a volcano blew up on the way there, intermingled with our family's story of raising five children in two languages and over two continents in a multitude of cultures. 

I believe I published this blog post two months ago, then chickened out and set it back to "draft". For heaven's sake. I am going to put it back up again. Let me know if you would like to buy a copy. I will let you know where to find it.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Foreign Language


If you grew up with the feeling that you ought to be beguiling princes of foreign lands in their own tongue, climbing mountains while conversing in Tibetan or German, or weaving with the sisters of an island encircled by sky-blue water while speaking fluent Greek, you will connect with this feeling. We make the daunting, vast world smaller and more real by speaking each other's languages. Language is the last frontier we get to conquer. Desire for connection is a basic human value, and even anglophones feel its lack at times. 


 

It is odd, being a native speaker of the one language that can usually get you in and out of most situations across the globe. It is a point I have dwelt on for years, even at the age of seventeen and interested in U.S. foreign policy. I decided to become a "youth ambassador" with the Rotary in France. I also planned on having a ball while doing it, but what teen does not?

If free speech is a right, then it follows that you have the right to express yourself in another language, and perhaps a duty as well. 

Maybe I am guilty of curiosity; I want to know what everyone else is really saying, or it could be that I like to talk too much, and the barrier of a different language just slows me down to a degree of frustration I cannot accept. This explains my choice of professions; when I write, no one is there to stop me, when I interpret, I speak at least twice as much as anyone else in the room; from English to French back to English again.

I find it interesting that to my bilingual husband, the idea of learning another language did not hold the same appeal or thrill of the exotic. After all, he grew up in a scholastic environment that had obligatory foreign language requirements. Everyone took English and Latin, then branched out into Spanish, German and more. His very ability to communicate with his in-laws and the country of adoption depends on the fact that he learned English so well, and yet, there is no magic about it at all. Perhaps if French had been presented in the same way we were taught Algebra, I might feel the same way.

The truth, in my book? I never dreamed of meeting someone in any remotely romantic (in any sense of the word) situation and conversing with them in algebraic formulae. I just can't quite fathom that the above theory holds any water, nor could I calculate how many gallons or liters that might be, but I could tell you "excuse me!" for spilling it all over your feet in a seven or eight languages, charmingly.

The heroes in my world are my friends who sing in 52 languages (here again for Esperanto), raise their babies in two languages, or lead international conferences on the topics of peace, the profession and interpreting, judiciary translation and interpreting, or simply give another language a go to get a little closer to their dream of making someone else feel at home in this big, big, small world.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

When Love Meets Art: Lana March Interview on French Please


I just spent the day with an extraordinary human. I feel more likely to be loving, to appreciate beauty, to honor the true in each person in my life, to explore art in new ways, listen to more music and...to work on my French grammar. 

This is a feat, and I want you to have the opportunity to hear her in the interview we just completed as well; Lana March, poet, artist, photographer who has chosen the light in all aspects of her life. The podcast will be out this week. Bring some joy to your day, your life, and listen in. 


 

Lana grew up in Paris, where at the age of six, she heard a voice tell her she was to learn English. She taught herself the language, entirely on her own, until it was finally offered at school in sixth grade. Her teacher was astonished by both her proficiency in a foreign language and the writing talent she possessed in French. She never stopped writing.

Her childhood was a miserable one and she left France as soon as she possibly could, but one day she returned and recreated the City of Light to be the enlightened, beautiful place she knew it could be. She has made her home in California now for many years, but she has traveled far and wide and called Australia home at one point. She agreed to be my guest, my first guest, brave woman, on our podcast, to speak of language, art, music and...love. 

As a final gift, Lana read us one of her poems that navigates gracefully, as she does, between English and French. It was a marvelous conversation. 

You can find it on Wednesday on French Please, the podcast we publish that you can hear wherever you like to listen. Today's episode was an interview with my darling husband on his life and languages.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Connective Tissue Disorder (EDS) and Exercise

Neighborhood kids would call each other over to see me do the splits, all the way, without effort, when I was four years old. 

That ability remained, along with the weird, bend my thumb back around to the other side of my arm thing, ankles that could twist, doubled over and around, over nothing and go right back, but it was not until many years later that I discovered these were the result of a debilitating condition that meant that the springy parts of my youth were now the cranky parts of my body. 





Give up knitting? Not a chance.

 

No one talked about EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) or connective tissue problems when I was a child. I was called "double-jointed" and surgery was mulled over to break and reconnect my legs to my hips properly so my feet would not turn in. Gosh, I am glad that one was vetoed by someone smarter than the doctor. 

I was given boots on a metal bar to wear at night and strengthening exercises with a stretchy band made of 3" wide elastic by my inventive grandfather. I learned to pay attention to how I walked and carried on with life. My husband joked that I should have come with a warranty, parts and repairs included.

Today, I would not dream of trying the splits. I am pretty certain I would not get back up in the same shape as prior to the attempt. All vainglory and ego then pain and remorse. Not to mention the shame as I am helped into an upright position and straight into the ambulance. Nope, not for me.

That does not mean I surrender to immobility. There is a cycle to connective tissue problems. There is healing and beginning again and building up to where you had been. 

It takes patience with your own limitations, and compassion for your situation. This is not to be confused with self-pity, although that is an acceptable sentiment one might indulge in for a half hour or so. 

 

My teensy-tiny weight set

I yielded to that just this morning, as I was obliged to pick up my 1 lb. pink (was it really necessary to make them bright pink?) dumbbells again. This is how I make it through my favorite class, Body Pump, chosen because it requires truly minimum coordination. I wanted to move and to build bone density. This has not prevented me from being hurt. But one injury does not need to spell the end of working out, of walking, of stretching and being active. 

Life is in constant movement and if I am not part of the flow, I am missing something.  

 

Experimentation, Failure and Trying Again

Last week, feeling like a change was due, I tried a shorter weight-lifting set with heavier weights. Experimenting is good. Or not so good. Wrist fine. Feet fine. Shoulder not fine. That is why it was back to the baby weights today, which would have been humiliating at a different time of my life. Now they are a testament to determination in the face of elements beyond my control.

In 2020, I tried cortisone injections in my foot and wrist, with varying rates of success. The pain relief was fabulous at first. And as long as I chose not to knit or lift any weights, it was total. (Bwahahahaha!)I had one more round in my feet the week before I got the news that I tested positive for osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis is the condition where your doctor gravely tells you "don't fall, you may break a hip, if you break a hip, your chances of dying are 75%" or some stupid statistic, "excess mortality" is the official stance.

This was followed by, "You should probably go on this medication you will need for the rest of your life." When you take a minute to research the medication, it turns out that it has one or two tiny baby little side effects; fracture of the femur from little or no impact and osteonecrosis of the jaw; where the bone is exposed inside the mouth in a gaping hole and does not heal.

One of the major causes of osteoporosis itself? Cortisone and other steroids in any form at all. I had been taking prednisone off and on for inflammation for ten years besides the injections. Since that day, I have not taken any type of anti-inflammatory: oral or injection. (The vaccine for COVID is not that sort of injection, I have had that!) I see a functional medicine doctor who works with me as an individual and not as a set of symptoms to treat.

Gloves, do-hickies and other tools tried. A good friend invited me to try these contraptions: New Grips which were made for weightlifting. I like them for wrist support, they are super-nice, and leave your hands in a breathable state rather than ensconced in a whole glove. They allow for too much thumb mobility for my purposes though, so I have abandoned them for now to focus on only gripping what I can keep firmly hold of so I don't aggravate the thumb joint. I have taped my wrist, put my elbow in a brace, used gloves upon gloves (see posts below). My main support today (besides a sports bra) is a good pair of shoes, changed out regularly when the cushioning begins to fade. Must be cushioned. This year's choice has been the Hoka One One, not the prettiest, but lightweight, wide-toed and super-stable to counteract my rolling ankles. Think a perfect green landscape with lovely hills and apply that to my ankles.

 

When did I first understand there was a name for this set of symptoms? It was late, in fact less than ten years ago. We were trying to understand the pain that plagued our daughter from walking longer than half an hour or so. Her hips hurt, so much so that she was willing to give up seeing parts of Venice on a trip she had dreamed of for years. She and I became expert vaporetti users instead and saw absolutely everything, but when we came back, I started to research what might be going on and took her to physical therapy. The term EDS was bandied about and many mysteries clicked into comprehension. As for treatment, there really is none to be offered for the "benign" problem of hyperextention, hypermobility and being in pain from the smallest outage, so creating more literature, more information and doing my own research on myself has become a way of contributing to the solution.

More from 2018: Hypermobility and Ehlers Danlos and Working Out Anyway

From 2015: Spin on Fitness and Caution for the Hypermobile

I wrote in 2014:  EDS: When it Hurts to Exercise.

 


Friday, August 13, 2021

PODCAST Creation...French Please!

Introducing...French Please, the Podcast

Find my favorite episode here: Lost Found and How do I Say That Again?

Is French in your dream curriculum this year? As homeschoolers? As a couple? We made something for you! How better to share this language I love than through the spoken word? 


French yarn-bombers don't mess around

You know a Children's Program: French with Kids was created, as well as two for couples, Advanced and Beginners, all of them with the intention of starting real conversations, face to face, in French between real human beings, but you may not have heard that there is now a podcast, featuring short, sweet episodes of French language, culture and lessons. 

The first seven episodes are a five-step plan for integrating another language into your home, with a few useful French phrases (request and response) of the day. The next are specific to places and tasks in your home; French exchanges here and there, at this time and that, we start with just outside the bathroom door. When we have toured the home, and covered your daily rhythm, we shall venture out into the great world with travel French: including all you would like to do once you arrive. Thierry and I move next to working French, what you will need in a Parisian, Casablanca or Brussels office. Then we explore French around the world, from the isles of Tahiti to the shores of Quebec.

My dream is to make language learning more engaging than it has ever been, to bring it off the screen, out of the book and into your life.


Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Artwork of Children, Today and Tomorrow

Every parent knows the sweet feeling the comes over you when your child offers you a drawing, from the simplest of purple stick-figures to the most elaborate painting or piece of sculpture made of wire, papier-maché and those funky styrofoam puffy guys. The final result has nothing to do with your feelings of pure love, joy and pride in this kid's creativity. You are part of them, they are part of you, and object in question was produced by them, thus it somehow becomes an extension of this lovely spirit.

There is a new tug to the soul that can come when it is time to sort out, to choose, to not keep every single bit of this flow of creative genius. It can be so hard to say good-bye to anything their little hand holding a green crayon or bit of charcoal put down on paper, simply because they made it, and you want to savor every minute of childhood. Even as you look at yesterday's sketches or scribblings, you know they have grown up just a little since last night or last year. We suppose we can hold onto something as fleeting as time and specifically, the time when this child was young. That entire sketchbook filled with blue circles that eventually turned into sunshines or faces or the later one full of the botanical drawings of an eleven-year-old or the manga craze of a twelve-year-old? Must be kept.

I refuse to qualify artwork as anything other than precious, although in the interest of fashioning a good space in which they can feel free to continue to create, some must be archived, some shared with grandparents, aunts, great-uncles, and some sacrificed. I have kept perhaps excessive amounts of kid art over the years, but the alternative is unthinkable. Would you like to know something, friends who are parents of the very young? In most cases, the art peters out and turns itself into sports, music, friends or other pursuits. I am glad I kept a little more than perhaps I should have. 

Practically speaking, I made an "end of studies" scrapbook for each child as they graduated from high school. At least they have something by which to remember this time and they know that it did not all get recycled! They are dear to me and so are the beautiful works of art they have made, on paper and of their lives.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Nature? Nurture? Both? When the Child Returns to the Great Outdoors

 





 

It has been a consistent joy to see my adult children wander back outside after the need to be indoors has taken over most of their waking time because of school, work or "activities" (I swear that one is going to be considered a 4-letter word by parents across the world very, very soon). 

There comes a point at which a child is no longer interested in a nature hike with the old folks. Sorry, parents of younger children, I did not mean to give you apoplexy by sharing that. In fact, if your sweet kids are under the age of thirteen, please carry on as though that sentence never happened. Ignorance is bliss sometimes. Between small screens and long papers to be written, a mama might wonder if a child will ever again realize there is an entire world under the sky out there. 

Each of the older three have gone back outside on their own, for their own reasons and engaging in their favorite activities. One has become an avid fisherman, constructing and reconstructing a few small boats for that purpose, and spending days and evenings out on the water. The video-game playing came to a halt on its own, giving way to exploring local lakes and spots on the Mississippi. The word "bait" became a household one for the first time ever, and there has been much debate on the pros and cons of inflatable vs. wooden or aluminum construction and, naturally, on where the boat(s) should live in the winter.

Another of our offspring never stopped sailing, pretty incredible considering that four years of it was in Iowa City, necessitating a car ride to a lake 20 minutes away from campus. In Chicago, when she looked out at that beautiful, blue, enormity of Lake Michigan, boatless and stranded on shore, she found a way to meet people who had a boat but not the sailing skills she possessed. She became a skipper for someone with a beautiful little boat and is as happy as can be, sailing twice a week. Her most recent vacation was a hiking one in the Northwest, splendid.

This one? Above with her sandals on the edge of the frog lab? Amazing! She is making the environment part of her life's work. It is her major in college and she has spent the entire hot, muggy summer working outside for Americorps. 

She has become acquainted with each of the turtles, owls, frogs and snakes on a personal level and learned worlds of information by this micro-study. She can weed-wack an entire trail with a scythe and lead a group of homeschooled kids, cub scouts or girl scouts out into a creek exploration in the pouring rain or the blazing heat and not blink an eye. She regularly comes home covered in sweat and mud and she loves what she is doing. She gave us a tour of her nature-center-home for the summer. Her less hardy, less courageous mom waited until the temps were out of the 90's to visit, and loved every minute of it. Merci, ma cherie!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Bright Neon Yellow Shirts: Day 13

This article of clothing is now my favorite sight when I am out. The wearer may look a little bit bedraggled, and the t-shirt will have smudges on it; that is one light color and hard to keep clean, but it is a signal to my mama's heart now. Almost to a one, this will be a working guy or gal, outside in every sort of weather you can imagine. Many are engineers on construction sights or water lines, others are the labor force in those same places. My kid is a combination of the two and I am super proud of him and the work he is doing all across the country these days. 

I learned about the required color when we went shopping before he took off on his first mission a few months ago. It is an obligatory safety standard now required by OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, so everyone anywhere near a road or any sort of construction project must wear it. It is just one of the "caution colors" but the most widely available one, there is an orange version, a green version and, according to my research, but not my experience in shopping or noticing, a magenta one too. (I'll be on the look-out for that one!)

They are worn because of regulations and as a badge of honor. "Yeah, I am out here making sure that you have clean water, the electricity is running and that this building gets done in time for the winter. I am honoring the contract and the trust placed in me, no matter what the conditions." As I have watched my son take off for a project 12 hours from home on a Sunday, work in rain, cold one month and in 120 degrees under rafters for three weeks straight, I have prayed for his safety, wished him well and developed great admiration for his strength and resilience.

If I am waiting in line with a bright-yellow-shirted individual, I might ask what line of work they're in, or glance out the door to see what kind of truck is parked and waiting for them. I am beginning to know which kind of vehicle might be doing what now. I travel for work as well, so I meet many in shops along the highways. Even if I do not say "hello" from shyness, I am sending really good vibes your way if you are out in your dusty boots, work pants you hope won't rip today, and your fluorescent safety shirt. And I am thinking of my own child, hoping he too is safe and happy.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Day 12: Being Ill and Getting Better

This should not have been a year in which we take our good health for granted, but that is the definition of human nature; eternally optimistic and very forgetful of unpleasantness. There I was, caring for my kiddo who had managed to get what the doctor labeled a "summer flu". What the heck?! Is that even a real thing? He was down for the count; fever, sore throat, aching all over, clogged nose and cough and I was concerned. I did the usual; encouraged fluids, rest, made soup and tea, and he recovered little by little, with no major concerns. This was not, after all, COVID, nor strep or any sort of infection. Just a little virus (ahem).

And then it was me. I got up on Monday morning, not as easily as normal (I am a morning person, so by 10 pm, you can find me in a sleepy heap somewhere, but 5 am is perfectly glorious on most days.) I decided the bathtub looked like a really good place to crash, filled it with warm water and did not get back out. Well, I eventually got back out, shivering and aching and wondering how in the world I was going to do my job today, an hour and a half drive from home. I was not. That has only ever happened once before. I found a sub and went back to bed until noon, or five or six, I do not recall. 

You honestly believe for a day or two that you will never function again the way you did, say, yesterday, for example. But when you are very fortunate and it was simply a bad bug; strength, health and a will to move return, like a miraculous cure from beyond (that's what one child used to call the other world only she could see, where, according to her 2-year-old self, she lived before, when she was a big brother). Yes, just as odd, the return of good health when you felt like the end of the world was very near. I am humbled again and grateful, and I will not take good health and the strength to get up and do what I want to get done today for granted again...or at least not in the very near future. 

If you are suffering, from illness or pain or a condition that leaves you not up to your optimal self, I am sorry to hear it. I know that this is the daily reality for many people, and your fortitude in the face of these obstacles is an inspiration to the rest of the world. This is not to romanticize your stark reality in any way, just to say, I see you, I see you. I see that like the rest of us, you are living the life you have before you today to the fullest, in spite of so much more standing in your way. Those few days of feeling truly atrocious do not mean I completely understand or can even imagine what it is like to live with an illness you have been told is terminal, a chronic condition or the uncertainty of whether or not tomorrow you will be functional, but it does build some empathy...and admiration for the courage you exemplify.

Lift a glass/mug with me and remember to celebrate how you feel today, bad, great or in between. Each day, it is our attitude that can be changed, even if our bodies are not cooperating. May today include optimism, some joie de vivre and a smile for something, someone, some reason, small or grandiose.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Day 11: Adult Children...and Visiting!!!

Such a joy I have to share today! I am visiting my eldest kiddo in Chicago. This one somehow managed the thing schools tell parents and kids cannot be done without a perfect GPA, the right classes, the right combination of test score and school activities...TOOT, TOOT, TOOT for homeschooling, (just a warning)...that is to say, homeschooling all the way to college, going to college, and on to grad school with brio. I am so glad she has been free to shape her life the way she sees fit and that she is also sailing Lake Michigan in her free time, having a blast. 

And mama gets to hang out for a few days with her...I feel like inserting a little heart emoji, I should have tried writing this with an i-pad so I could draw silly things; I am that happy. 

                                                                     💜💜💜

I found the emojis! Thanks, Blogger!

The entire apartment building seemed to know that I was coming to visit and repeatedly texted Cate yesterday, offering to take care of me while she was at work. Are you kidding? I got an afternoon to my lonesome in which to write, read and gaze out of the window at a city. No care-taking needed! I met them last night, all as fun and welcoming as she had described. 

During the afternoon, I grocery-shopped from an app and had supplies delivered. After she was home and changed, we cooked dinner together; salmon, quinoa with mushrooms and garlic, a little green salad with a vinagrette and a glass of rosé. Cooking for two is so radically different than cooking for five or six, especially with the appetites of the two youngest boys. It was easy and relaxed and fun.  She told me all about her three jobs, we exchanged court stories (she is a third-year law student) and we talked about home and France and family there. It was so good to be able to give undivided attention to one child at a time, the way that only seems to happen at 1:00 in the morning at home, when someone is awake because they can't sleep. That is when the quiet of the house lends to good discussions, it is also, unfortunately, not when I am my best listening self. I try, because these moments are precious to me, when a kid is given to quiet sharing of hopes, dreams and sometimes worries. But here we were, prime time and just the two of us. So very nice. 

Today is my first ever sailing on the lake outing...I can't wait. I'll try to snap a few photos to share while we're out. The weather looks to be perfectly marvelous; a high of 80, some sun, some clouds and probably nice and windy. This lake is always windy. Wishing you all "Bon vent."



Sunday, May 23, 2021

Day Ten: Basements Part II: A (Perfectly not Horrifying) History

My research on today's topic, undertaken because of interest and from a sense that I perhaps maligned our beloved basements just a bit and need to be forgiven, took me across the world and under a million homes, palaces, cathedrals and towns. Grumpiness can lead to rash writing, perhaps I owed Hades, the Styx and the owners of home cinemas another shot.

Basements, root cellars or, as they are known in French, 'underground stories', are most often tied to spooky, haunted, homicidal or creepy themes throughout literature. The story that comes immediately to mind, naturally, is Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, burned forever into my twelve-year-old brain many and many a year ago. I once owned a house that had a lower level below the first lower level that was this place. Neither were technically underground, as the house was built into the ramparts of the ancient village. They were just-lower and the same as Montresor's; vaults, crypts, archway following archway, built of splendidly aligned bricks and entirely free of skeletons, from what we could tell by torchlight, and a great place to keep wine if you enjoyed descending and going back up a ladder into the deepest dark each time you wanted a bottle.

As for North America, the very best information I found to justify basements was that in northern climates, the frost depth is 3 feet. If you want to build a home that is not at risk of its foundations being cracked by water expansion (it expands by approximately 9% underground, according to [1],) the hole needs to be dug to a depth greater than 3 feet. Yes, put that way, it sounds like a bright idea. Adding a greater depth, while you're at it, "does not cost much more," according to sources, but it does permit storage of important northern needs like boilers and furnaces, as well as a spot to store fruits and vegetables, and later to put the washer and dryer.

Roman constructions, even the grandest, were not built upon basements, with a rare exception or rather exactly two: two houses from Pompei were the oddballs, and the ones that probably lead us to think this was a general truth across the empire. On the other hand, the simple Celtic cabin had an underground room, with a proper set of stairs, and not a rope or a ladder in the Gallic style, for storage of food and a place to shelter from the cold. Some cities, famously Paris, had an entire underground hollowed out by mining; limestone mining for that city. And yet, most people would be quick to tell you that houses are not built with a basement in France. If the house happens to have a cellar, it was dug with one purpose only in mind; for a cave à vin, or to store wine at a proper temperature, or maybe for cheese-making if you are Roquefort. No room to roller skate to the Beatles.

As I dug a bit more, I discovered another truth; there were many other uses for these spaces; Paris, again figures in the list of blood-curdling and methodical utilitarian concepts. In the late 1700's, over twelve years, the tunnels were filled with the bones of six to seven million former citizens that had overpopulated the cemeteries of the City of Light. Oui, it was decided, best bury all that, but in a tidy fashion, and then open it up as a tourist attraction. And you wondered where the idea of a haunted house might have begun? 

If you pay an additional entry fee, you can explore the cryptic levels of many a cathedral or basilica in Europe, where relics of saints, including body parts, dead bishops and the occasional thorn from Christ's Crown of Thorns are kept. Not creepy in the least.



1-This Old House: Basements

Paris Catacombs

 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Of the Ordinary: Day 8: Basements

It is one of the great delusions of first-time homeowners all across America: this hole that was dug as a foundation for the house is going to be a fantastic bonus space. Hey; we can have a rec room for the kids (1970's), a home cinema (1980's), a home gym (1990's), a guest bedroom and bathroom (2000's): why not TWO bedrooms???! No, I know, a CRAFT room; the sewing machine can go there and the hundred thousand bins of ribbons and buttons and yarn can go right over there. Now we're talking. 

I have fond memories of our first basement sprucing up project. It was to be the year of the teen space in the basement. We debated over color schemes, where to move toys to make room for an old sofa, how to place the tv that would now live downstairs. There was a lot of excitement, hours of communal painting with music blasting (Les Miserables, bien entendu). Small children were given blocks, older ones paintbrushes. We even bought a large, navy blue rug to complement the champagne-colored walls and orange sorbet swirled trim. 

We had a fine year or two down there. Movie nights, sewing lessons, and cozy tornado warning sheltering; with snacks, and the emergency weather radio station droning in the background while we played cards and bounced toddlers on our laps. We began to buy into the idea that we actually had another real room.

And then comes spring or maybe the moment waits for summer. You walk down one morning to toss a load of laundry into the washing machine; (which is the only thing that actually belongs in a basement), and your fuzzy bunny slipper goes "SPLUTCH" in a puddle...again. Curse words and a long morning (if you're lucky, it is morning and not 9 p.m.) of clean-up usually follow.

Mop, wring, mop some more, pick up all the things that might rot or rust, break out the fans, turn up the dehumidifier, and, if this is your first rodeo, remove the soggy carpet. 

If this is your second or beyond and you are still putting carpeting in your basement; then you were handed a big hint by the universe that you chose to greet with a blind fold over your eyes in a dark closet...and then ignore. Water follows gravity. It will find a way to move to the lowest level. It will seep, leak and gurgle its way in.

All this aside, I completely understand the impulse to make use of a basement and I do love this underground bit of our house. I really appreciate the storage room that is shelved, high-up like, where things can be stored and kept dry, the table for my sewing machine, and the pale orange floor...painted cement and easy-care. Even our rugs have been replaced with a foam gym mat. Yes, the television is still down there too, and there are two (lightweight) sofas but with waterproof feet. We are too are stuck in the fantasy realm of useful basements, but taken with a grain of salt and a shop-vac close at hand.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Day Seven: of Hobbits and Yoda and Second Breakfasts

I find great joy and comfort in the very existence of Hobbits, and in the inversed subject-verb sayings of Yoda. 

Now, let's not get all technical about the notion of reality vs. fictional characters. You know as well as I do that Hobbits and Yoda live in the places that matter: in the minds and hearts of generations of people across the world. Alive, they are.

Without the Hobbits and their traditions, I would have no legitimate excuse to sit down at 9 am with a bowl of yogurt and toasted oats which is not my first breakfast of the day. Second breakfast, merci beaucoup, is a real thing. It is the moment after the rush of the first morning chores, to stop for a nice cuppa...and maybe a snack. 

Hobbits also ground us in their love of home and hearth, in the smallest of small things to appreciate in life, and in the inevitable moment of having to get out and face our fears; bravely, while whimpering and whining, maybe, but fully present nonetheless. 

As for Yoda, besides the fact that he is short and green and wizened, gets angry more often than one would believe a sage really should: his voice and his speech give solace and excellent counsel. Right now, the one speaking to me is a reminder to slow down, open my eyes and come back to the present. "Always in motion the future is." -Yoda

Monday, March 22, 2021

Day Six of the Ordinary: Where's All the Stink Gone? Post-Covid Positives

I must first make an offering of compassion and recognition for the grief the pandemic has strewn across the globe in its wake, before telling my own tale. I am sorry for your loss, for our common loss.

Our family's burden has been narrowed down to the plight of feet no longer smelling...ripe? Body odor is a thing of the past, bad breath too. But: does anyone really know whether or not the kitchen garbage has begun to rot? 

We do not. Papa Noël (dear Ol' Santa) dropped off the Cornona virus on Christmas Eve. Our symptoms were all a little different, like the way each of us first gets a cold; sniffy nose here, scratchy throat there.  I had bad case of the chills, leaving my teeth chattering and my extra wrap extra tight around as much of me as I could fit in. I really thought nothing of it, as I was in my habitually cold room, and wearing shorts. I ran down to the basement; half an hour on the mini-trampoline would warm me right up. About ten jumps in, I realized I felt something akin to "dreadful". This was not right, what "this" was was unclear, but I did not feel normal. By 4 pm, I was a feverish mess, with an ache on the back of my head, shivering and stupid. That was the end of my Christmas Eve, by then, two others were feeling ill as well. We had dinner, I think. Christmas happened in a blur, but the next day I felt much improved.

On the 26th, my oldest called right after Thierry had dropped her off at her home 3 hours away: her Covid test results had just come through on her phone: positive. I really do not think we would have known otherwise, the only other hint of it was that the world smelled burnt in some odd way, but that was fading after day two or three. My daughter had a test because she always got tested before returning to her home she shares with a roommate, it was a pact they agreed upon. 

When we told the other kids, two of them casually mentioned; "Oh yeah, I haven't been able to taste or smell for a week." It is astounding how many things came to mind at that point, but what one of us said, or maybe both Thierry and I, maybe repeatedly was; "WHEN were you going to tell us? WHERE have you been? Everyone knows lack of smell is a dead giveaway for Covid. Etc." The other six of us were tested on Monday: all positive. It was, I suppose, a mild case, although Thierry came down with the "second wave syndrome", poor guy, a week later. One minute he was fine, the next, he was white as a sheet and scaring the crud out of me. In a few days, he was right as rain again.

And now, three months later, not a one of us can smell like we used to. My youngest and I can taste normally: bliss! But the others have remnants of not being able to taste much of their food, or it tastes different, some say chicken tastes bitter. One kid was left at home to cook rice one night and missed the fact that it was burning until the fire alarm went off, good thing the batteries were fresh. I can smell "something burning", and brewing coffee, my shampoo has a scent to it, but the rest is as though the odors of the world had been smoothed over. And no one, but no one, knows if they need to change their socks. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Day Five: Ocean Swimming

Have you ever swum in the ocean? It is positively primeval. It is the one thing I most look forward to when I am near the beach, and a thing I gave up on for unimportant reasons for a time. I would wet my toes, knees, maybe up to my waist, but really rocking along with the waves as they wash over me, one after another? 

Waiting for the next one, turning my back to it, facing it full on at a jump or diving right under it? Riding a wave back towards the shore? Feeling the salt on my tongue, the sun on my shoulders? It had been years, and I was poorer for having missed it.

There was a group of women in San Sebastian or Donostia, Basque Country, when I lived there, who met each and every morning for their swim out into the bay. My heroes, and wow: what  way to start your day! I wanted to stay there forever and join their club.

I have never experienced the Pacific or another warm ocean. Nope, it has always been the icy Atlantic for me, on both sides of the pond. The exhilaration in the first hit of freezing cold water, first the feet, then the shins, further up with each step and backing away as the wave recedes, then blam! I am hit in the chest by one that is a little higher than the last. Once you're in up to your neck, you are good, aren't you? Not much else to soak, so you may as well stay and swim. And in the swim is the beauty, the power, the washing away of past, present and worry. Immersion, oblivion and total presence in the here and now.