Friday, April 25, 2008


Another Memory of France.

It was our last day at the Farmhouse.  Over the course of the holiday, I'd mentioned how wonderful France had been, and how I felt like I was leaving a part of me behind, that I would have to return, and revisit at some later date.  Sort of like "I left my heaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrt..... in San Fran.... cisco..."

Skip comes up to me...



...what?  Agh!  Thanks for sharing, son. He'd wrenched out a MOLAR!

So, Skip left his.... TOOTH... in France.  Buried at the foot of a centuries-old rock wall.

I'm sure the wild boars have already dug it up, wondering what it is, and is it tasty.

Monday morning, as Nate is jumping out of Homer to dash (late again) down to his class, he suddenly turns to me with a surprised look in his eyes.

"Mom...?  Where's my tooth?"

And sure enough, while he'd been showing me his wiggly tooth in the rear-view mirror on the drive down to school after dropping off Skip and Kelly, suddenly there was a space where Mr. Wiggly had been just moments before.

"Open your mouth, honey" I said through the driver's window (I'm trying NOT to get out of the car, so he'll be less late, and I'll be less late with my string of things that I have going on for the remainder of the morning).

And he opens his mouth, and there's NO blood, but there, stuck to his bottom lip is the remains of Mr. Wiggly.

Nate, apparently, is of the "Don't pull them out, let them fall out" school of tooth loss.

So I had him spit it out into my  hand, and he ran off to class, all excited to have something to show off.  His second lost tooth of the spring.

The boy, he grows up before my eyes.

Of course, I was much less nostalgic at midnight, when, having fallen into bed exhausted, and JUST gotten comfortable, I realized that Nate's tooth was sitting in a Tooth Box on his bedside table, and the Tooth Fairy better gird her loins and rise to the occasion with a suitable Second Tooth Endowment.

I only stubbed my toe twice on random boxes, and once on a doorway that I took at too acute of an angle in the dark.

Wednesday was Dentist Day for all three kids.

And it looks like this will be our Summer of Wallet Discontent as we make our way to the Orthodontist for not one, but TWO kids worth of teeth-management.

Skip, he's got this thing where his canine teeth are coming in twisted.  If it was me?  I'd say "Hey, that looks like it'll give you character", but I'm a wimpy-pants in front of Authority Figures, so when the dentist says "get him to an Orthodontist, and see what they can do for that, to fix his bite", I just meekly say "Yes, sir", and file it away as "another thing to do when I screw up the nerve to cold-call someone that I don't know"

And Kelly?

She's had this one wiggly tooth SINCE FRANCE!  If she'd been brave, she probably could have pulled that sucker out and left it behind to keep Skip's molar company.

But she is a Fraidy Cat.  Can't touch the tooth.  It hurts!  Or... it *might* hurt, more likely.

So we got to the dentist, and this tooth is hanging on by a thread and a prayer.  SRSLY.  And the beloved dentist says "Kelly, would you like me to extract that for you?  I have numbing jelly, and you wouldn't feel a thing."

Who can say "No" to cherry flavoured numbing jelly?  Not Kelly, that's for sure.

And apparently when you get a tooth take out at our dentist, he gives you this great little treasure chest box to put the tooth in.

Man, I didn't get that when *I* had my wisdom teeth taken out back in '85.  All I got was a phone call a few weeks later telling me that my dentist had just been arrested, and was going to jail for what he'd done to patients while they'd been having oral surgery.


But I'm getting better about my Tooth Fairy duties.  This time, I remembered before midnight.


And this time, it was Ken's turn to leave the duvet-covered, foot-warming sanctuary and find quarters to pile beside the child's bed.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

...a world of hope!


Our last day at Disneyland.

Well, half-day, anyways. And we were heading to California Adventure, which had just been the "east parking lot" back when I'd last been at Disneyland in 1990.

I had my fingers crossed that I'd be able to get to Lost and Found (which was between the parks), and see if there was any chance that they'd found Skip's phone. I'd called it hourly, with no answer, until, around midnight, it had finally started going straight to voice-mail.

The last morning of tour was crazy. I had two of my girls being Early Released into the custody of their parents in the hotel lobby at 8am, and then the remainder of the girls to clear out of the rooms by 8:30. And we'd been late getting home from Disney the night before, and then there'd been All That Drama, so things hadn't settled down until well past midnight, so you can imagine that it was a little more than difficult to get the eight girls going once dawn broke.

There was chaos in the hotel lobby, and I lost track of one of my girls, so I decided to do what a Chaperone of the New Millennium would do, and just call her.

So I pulled out my phone, just as I felt it buzz. "You have One Missed Call"

Uh oh. Was that one of my girls calling me? I'd had HORRIBLE cell reception on the trip. I couldn't hear anything in the lobby, and at Disney I'd have more calls dropped than completed. I was wondering if it was just my cell (also new in the last week), but when I looked at the "Missed Calls" log, it was a call from a (714) area code.

Hmm. 714? Isn't that a Southern California number?
Double uh-oh. Is it the hotel, calling me about an issue with one of my girls? Did something happen in one of the rooms? Is there a body floating in the hotel pool?

(why yes, my mind does go EXACTLY there)

And then my phone buzzed with "New Voice Message: Listen now?"

I gritted my teeth, and prepared for the worst. My phone dialed my voicemail....

And I heard nothing... the lobby was too loud.

So I went outside onto the sidewalk. It was already nearly 90 degrees outside, but I found a cool spot under a palm tree. (Sorry, J-jumping. I couldn't resist rubbing it in JUST a little bit)

And the voice mail?

"Hello. This is Disneyland Resort. Do you have a child who has recently been at one of our parks, because we have recovered a cell phone. To claim the phone, or get more information about this, reference the following case number... bla bla bla..."


So after we made it to California Adventure at 10, when the park opened, I ushered all my girls through the turnstyles, set them loose in the park, and then went right back out through the exit (remembering to get a hand stamp), and headed over to the Lost and Found.

It once was lost, but now is found.

And Skip will be much more careful about where he puts it when he goes on bumpy adventure rides in the future.

Friday, April 11, 2008

...a world of tears...

(written Friday night... almost Saturday morning. Yes, very late. At Disneyland.)

(seriously. I wasn't going to use this as a title, but it's SO appropriate for today)

Nothing major, but just the 'We're too tired, and we were up late, and we didn't eat well, and we don't REALLY get along, but you're putting 4 of us in a room with 2 beds, and so we're a bit edgy and loopy, and where's the extra sodas' sort of tears that are bound to happen towards the end of a band trip.

OK, here are the tears, in no particular order.

Skip's cell phone fell out of his pocket on the Indiana Jones ride. He's pretty devastated. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening making trips back to the ride to see if a phone had been turned in.

One girl got sick while in line for Space Mountain. Because kids can't "fly solo" in the park, she phoned me to come get her. I ran across the park in 95 degree heat to go get her, and we walked back to the chaperone area where she laid down, and perked up after about an hour.

EVERY TIME I went on a "go and get Fast Passes for the kids" errand, I would BREAK the Fast Pass machine. OR the ride that I was getting Fast Passes for would suddenly SHUT DOWN. This happened not once... not twice... not THREE times... but FOUR TIMES!!!!! There is now a note in the Band Trip File that says "Do not EVER let Kemma Parker be in charge of getting Fast Passes. She is a JINX.

(I think that the note should have said "She is a MINX" but I wasn't asked.)

One girl got back spasms while running across the park so she wouldn't be late for her workshop. Another got a migraine. Two kids got minor sunstroke.

About a half hour before one important meet-up, three of the kids who were supposed to be in the workshop got stuck at the very top of the coaster when Space Mountain broke. One of the girls? Afraid of heights. She rides Space Mountain because she can't SEE how high she was. She had a panic attack when they had to WALK DOWN FROM THE TOP with the lights on. They were late to the workshop, but the Disney folks were accomodating while she breathed into a paper bag for a while.

We had four kids who played in two bands, so they played in one, then waited for the second band to take the stage. While they were waiting, the bus that contained ALL THEIR STUFF (apart from their tuxedo uniforms) drove away to be serviced, so they spent the rest of the day wearing a x-large Disney shirt (provided out of the goodness of the conductor's heart) over their tuxedo so they could be out in the park, as Disney management said that the boys could NOT be seen in the park in tuxedos, because they might be mistaken for park personnel. Oh, and the boys had to wear their oh-so-comfortable (not) black dress-up shoes, too.

One of the male chaperones never showed up for one of the back-stage events, so the trio of boys-who-should-have-been-left-behind were unchaperoned, and ended up mooning people who should not have been mooned. Let's just draw a curtain over the details of THAT mis-event.

Back at the hotel, after two kids got lost, and we ended up late by nearly an hour, I was just settling into the Chaperone Meeting when I got a call. "Um, Mrs. Parker? We're having sleeping arrangement issues up here. Can you come and help?"

Egads. So one of the girls is a bit of a fragile child. All well and good. But you don't play off her frailty, and make her dissolve into a bawling mess. On the flip side, special-needs girl? You need to grow a spine, and stop making everyone else do stuff for you that I'm pretty sure you can do for yourself. But I channeled the wisdom of Solomon, and then used my classic crowd-pleaser "Get along, and don't make me come back up here" line.

THEN! No sooner had I gotten back to the chaperone meeting (where I missed out on the beer/wine/foo-foo-drink ordering, and ended up with water), the phone rang again. This time the other room of girls, "Um, Mrs. Parker? I don't know what happened, but the toilet won't stop running, and it overflowed, and, um... what do we do?"

Excuse me, now, while I go cry myself to sleep.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's a world of laughter...

But not, apparently, a world of food.

At least, according to Skip.

Here we are, with such high hopes.

And, after searching around a bit, and realizing we have 10 minutes to get to the meeting point for the workshop, here's what he ends up with for lunch:

But look at this!!!!

Is that Skip...?????
On a cell phone...?????

I'd love to show you the workshop.  Skip's band got to do some music cues for the soundtracks of some animated movies.... But...

Sorry... read the signs.

We went backstage to "make the magic", and we don't want to spoil it for anyone else.

No photos.


But you know, it's the ...

So after I finish up with today's day of a zillion dreams, I'll show you photos of Skip with the Yellow Knight.


Greetings from the Happiest Place on Earth.

Of course, I had to get there on the Noisiest Bus on Earth.


And we've had great luck in the hotel. One of the rooms that I'm responsible for had a door lock that was broken, so instead of going to the Chaperone Meeting, I was chaperoning the hunky (according to my 14-year-old charges) hotel engineer (who is probably also young enough to be my kid, too. Ouch!) while he replaced the entire door mechanism on their room under the watchful eyes of four highly-interested 14 year old girls.

And I just got a call from the other room that I'm responsible for... while they were getting ready for bed, the faucet in the bathroom broke. Fortunately, they were all listening to me when I said "Under no circumstances apart from a general fire alarm, are you to open your door once I leave your room tonight. I will be taping you in, and there are serious consequences for anyone who has an untaped door in the morning. So they phoned me to come and get them. I was expecting to see Niagara Falls when I went into their bathroom, but it was something that I could jerry-rig, and I'll call maintenance in the morning.

Now I will fall into bed, so I can get up and make sure my girls are up at 6 to start their day tomorrow.

At Disneyland! The happiest place on earth. Chaperoned by the tiredest woman on earth.

Wheee! Never a dull moment.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Off to the beach!

So once we'd walked through the wonderful little streets of Aigues-Mortes, and walked around the entire city on the battlements, it was mid-afternoon, and time for one last thing before heading back to the Chateau for supper.

Fortunately, Fred Junior had done a BUNCH of research before coming to France, and he had an idea about where to go on the way home.

And that's how we found ourselves heading out to la Grande Motte.

One of the ritziest pieces of real estate in the world.

At the end of the ritzy hotel/condo developments, there was this big stretch of unspoiled beach, and because it was so *brisk* outside, it was pretty empty as we all tumbled out onto the sand.

Oh yeah, it was cold, but hey!  We'd come THIS FAR, we weren't going to let a little thing like hypothermia keep us from dipping our toes in the MEDITERRANEAN!!!

Everyone!  Into the water!!!!

And then let's look to see what's in that beautiful sand.

So many shells!

Oh!  And the sand dunes!

And that beautiful sky!

And the closer to the warm white sand you are, the warmer you can be.

The perfect end to the perfect sight-seeing day.

Oh yeah, and just for the record?  On the way home from the Mediterranean?  THIS is a 2-lane road.  The MAIN DRAG:

If it's Monday, it must be Aigues-Mortes

(Monday, March 24, 2008)
The one problem with being a group of 18 people is that it's nearly impossible to get going in the morning.  One person says "I'm ready to go" and then someone else says "I just need 5 minutes to do this one last thing", and someone else says "Great, I'll just get this little thing out of the way while you're doing that" and then another says "Oh, while if you're not ready, I'm going to take the trash down to the street" and before you know it, two hours have passed, and I'm ready to pull out my hair, having been up since 7am, re-stoked the fire, force-fed one picky nephew his eggs, hand-washed the blood-soaked shirt and sweater of Nate from his nose-bleed flight, and hung the wash out on the line, fed the animals, unpacked the kids' suitcases so they're easily accessible, scavenged firewood and twigs (for fire-starters), and knit five rounds on Ken's next pair of warm wool (but superwash, this time!) socks:

(Photo's out of order - this was taken on the train coming back from Amsterdam Centraal.  Look!   I pick milk that's 0% fat.  I was quite worried that I'd accidentally picked up half-and-half until I took the first swig.)

But FINALLY, we headed away from the Chateau, and off on our 2 hour trek towards the Mediterranean.

First stop?  In the empty parking lot (it's Easter Monday, after all) of a building supply store, so Skip could hurl up his guts.  Yes!  It's the Puking Vacationeers!  (fortunately, after that one incident, Skip was fine for the rest of the trip.  Kelly did spend a good chunk of time, though, with her fingers in her ears, JUST IN CASE Skip started yakking again)

And finally!  After driving along all sorts of narrow roads that the GPS insisted were 'highways', we ended up at Aigues Mortes.

We got there just in time for lunch, so staked out a sheltered corner within the walls (it was sunny, but FREEZING!) and had a picnic of sorts.  Everything around here shuts down for the lunch break (12-2, or 12:30-3) and suddenly, there were NO BATHROOMS available.


Who shuts down the bathrooms for lunch????

I guess it is the French Way.

But we made do, and Dad found a restaurant that was open, and used his best broken German (um, because he didn't want to use English?) and looked like a desperate tourist (which he was), and they let him use the potty for free.

The cool thing about Aigues-Mortes (well, one of the cool things) was that there were these Archery Nooks all along the walls, and you could sit in them, and take shelter from the wind.  And while sitting there, you  can give your children history lessons about Castle warfare.

Why yes, I *am* holding my knitting.

After the city re-opened after the lunch break, we went into the museum, which gave us access to the Rampart Walls.

That's Ken's brother Fred sticking his head out of one of the holes in the wall, above the archery nook that we had been sitting in earlier.

The city is about a mile around, and we walked the whole way on the ramparts.

There's a tower at one corner (not the above tower), and we went up in it.

(tower behind the crowd, there)

Looking up, inside the tower:

The view from the top of the tower.

It was so windy, I was sure it was going to pick Nate up, and just blow him over the edge.  SRSLY.

Oh, and Aigues-Mortes is known for the salt flats around it.  The Camargue (the area around it) is the salt-gathering area for the country, and has been for centuries.  In fact, I've got a cannister of salt on my stove that's FROM Aigues-Mortes, that I bought 4 years ago (for a seriously inflated price, but it was FRENCH, and I thought it was a pretty cannister) and it's from Right. Here.  So of course, I had to buy  MORE SALT to bring home with me.  And I paid 63 Euro Cents (there) instead of 6 American Dollars (back home).

See the Salt Piles?

And everywhere, there were these narrow stone stairways.

Potty break, anyone?  It's the archer's loo

Skip took a turn being a gargoyle.

It was a great castle.  Probably one of the highlights of the trip.  I've only touched the surface of what was available there.  I scored some excellent souvenirs, and was introduced to the concept of the pay toilet. 

But now it's time to get the kids to school, and put the finishing touches on my email to the parents of the eight girls I will be chaperoning on the Disneyland trip in 6 days.  I missed the Chaperone Meeting because I was in France, and apparently there was a bit of grumbling on some of the parents' parts, because I "couldn't be bothered to show up to this important meeting".  Yeah, right.  I'll just hop on a plane and come back from France for a 1-hour meeting in the middle of the family reunion...

Next stop?  The waters of the Mediterranean beckon!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

First Day in France

Ken's plan had been to be out of the hotel by 8am.  He figured that we wouldn't be able to sleep, and that our bodies wouldn't be adjusted to the time zone yet, so we would probably be up pretty early.

Well, he was right on at least one count.  *I* was up at 7am Marseille time, and ready to go, but Nate and Kelly were still sawing logs.  But that was OK.  I was able to get up and do all the morning washing-up stuff, and lay out the clothes for everyone, and re-pack the suitcases, which was a big thing.  You see, we'd brought about 20-30 pounds of stuff for the Irish Cousins (treats from Trader Joe's and Costco that they couldn't get in Ireland), and I'd also packed an extra suitcase inside my suitcase, so I had time to go through all the kids' suitcases, pulling out the Irish Treats, and get them all amalgamated into the extra suitcase, so we'd not forget anything once we got to the Chateau where we all were staying.

Amazingly enough, we were out at the car and on the road at 8:15.  I was pretty pleased, and I was also VERY pleased that the Europe maps for our Garmin GPS thingy had arrived With Not A Moment To Spare before we left on Friday, because that thing Saved. Our. Lives.  The roads are a maze, and they're narrow and, to my mind, non-intuitive, and with the Garmin, we just  had to watch the little map on the dash board, and listen to the little voice say "prenez le route a droite" (we eventually went with the French voice-over, as the English TTS voice was massacring the French street names).

And it was early on Easter Sunday morning.  So the roads were pretty much empty.  A great way to ease into the whole Driving In France thing.

Within moments, we had our first view of the Mediterranean.

And only a few minutes later, I had my first heart attack... when this came flying past us on the left.

Look!  It's the Customs Officers, and they KNOW I brought turkey jerky into the country!  They're going to Pull Us Over!!!!!

Oh wait.   They're driving on.  They must have bigger fish to fry.

And with that, we went on our way.

The one problem had been this:  We arrived in France with not a speck of food that the kids would eat.  Oh, we'd been given 'breakfast snacks' on the flight into Amsterdam, which consisted of crusty rolls filled with salami and mustard, but the kids wouldn't touch that sort of food.  And they woke up hungry.  And we had no idea where a grocery store might be, or even if it would be open at 9am on Easter Sunday.  The kids were thirsty, too, so I'd had them each drink from the bathroom tap once they brushed their teeth, so at least I knew they weren't dehydrated.  What I didn't count on was that Nate had drunk so much water, it had had an adverse effect on his system, and before long, he was suddenly crying out in the back seat.  "I'm going to THROW UP!"

Screeeeeeeeeech, as we pull over JUST before a big rank of toll booths, and I hop out with Nate so he can hurl his watery stomach contents onto the side of the motorway.  Oh, and nobody mentioned to me the WIND that we'd be encountering on our drive.  Good thing he was facing away from the wind, so the stiff breeze could take his offerings and spatter them across the side of the fence.  Sorry, fellow motorists. 

This was before we'd figured out that "Aire" was the French equivalent of "Rest Area", so we had NO idea where we could pull over for this sort of thing. 

And we were on the main highway, and there was nothing as far as the eye could see that resembled a grocery store, so the kids could eat.  Whoopsie.  I'll know better next time.

As we were driving, and getting a bit more at ease with the French highways, I started noticing the scenery.
We crossed the Rhone river, and I became one of *those* tourists.  The kind that takes photos out the side window of  quickly  moving vehicle.

Hey, that looks like a town.  I bet they have a grocery store!

It was Arles.  We took the first exit.

I wish I'd taken a photo, but I was too terrified.  We'd pulled, without knowing, into the ancient heart of one of the most famous cities in the south of France.

And the roads were >THIS< wide.

And we realized that we had NO idea what the signs meant.  And people park on both sides of narrow roads, and they park facing in BOTH directions, so you have NO idea if you're allowed to be driving down the road, and it's about as wide as ONE car, if you don't want to open your doors, and there's NOBODY around, because it's Easter morning, and everyone's at Mass, or something, and your GPS unit is shouting "Recalculee" because you've gone off the route she's told you to take, and there is STILL no grocery store in sight.

And finally, we pull back onto the motorway, with children crying for food in the back seat, but our paint job's intact, and we vow to look for a grocery store in a less ancient part of the countryside.

With about an hour left on the drive (according to the GPS), we came upon a roundabout (those things are EVERYWHERE!), with one exit that pointed us off towards a VERY well populated store that looked, for all the world, like a grocery store.  At the very least, there were people walking out of it carrying baguettes, so that was a huge positive sign.  We pulled in, and hoped for the best.

Nate immediately got out of the car, and hurled. 


That, not surprisingly, sent Kelly off into a fit of crying, because listening to someone puke makes her want to puke (a very common response), so she was standing on the other side of the car, with her fingers in her ears, weeping like she'd just lost a puppy.  And Skip was tired, and hungry (remember, he decided NOT to eat on any of the flights), and he just wanted to stay in the car.

So Ken and I took Kelly and Nate into the store, for our first experience with Super U.  It's like a small Safeway, with a clothing section.  Maybe like a shrunk down SuperTarget with a bigger wine assortment.

The clothing aisle was good, because I'd forgotten to pack socks.  The book aisle was good, because we got Nate a little book in French to take back to his class:  "M. Bruit et le geant"  I'll be translating it before we take it in tomorrow.  The bread aisle was great, because everything was fresh, and smelled wonderful, and the baguettes were 35 Euro-cents each.  The Milk aisle left something to be desired, as there was no fresh milk in the place, and we bought UHT milk, which seems to be the staple in the area, but which our kids turned their noses up at, even with the chocolate powder that we bought to make it more palatable.

Ken even bought a couple of delectable-looking lemon tarts.  I'm sure they would've tasted great, if we hadn't left them on the top of the SUV when we drove off to get back on the road.

The Chateau is in the region of Branoux-les-Taillades, and the directions were a bit sketchy.  Of course, now, having been there, I see that the directions are exactly right, but at the time, being jet-lagged and anxious, we made all the wrong turns, and ended up taking the turn-off to "Branoux", instead of following the route through "Les Taillades".  Fortunately, one of the sisters in law phoned, just as we were pulling into the Mayor's House at Branoux, and was able to talk us back to the main drag, and through the little villages to the chateau.

I was never more grateful to see friendly faces as all the cousins came running down the driveway to meet our car at the gate.

And then Nate threw up one more time in the lavender.

But at least now... now we were "home".

Vous voulez une "upgrade"?

So, after the splendid experiences in Amsterdam, I was ready to get on a plane, and sleep for 2 hours, and then hit the hotel in Marseille.

Get back to the airport.  Check.
Go back through passport control.  Check.
Get to the plane.  Check.
Fly for 2 hours, sleeping much of it.  Check.
Get to Marseille.  Check.

Go through customs.  Not check.

Hmm. Seems that Customs and Immigration dudes in Marseille airport go home at 10.  And we pulled in at 10:30pm.  So when I saw the signs that said (and I loosely translate, because I'm not all that good with le Francais yet) "If you are importing meat products, please go directly to the Customs Officer.", I was at a bit of a loss.  You see, I'd imported about 20 pounds of Trader Joe's goodies for the Ireland family, and much of it was Turkey Jerky.  In my books, that's 'meat products'. but the customs office was shut up tighter than a drum. 

What to do, what to do?

Well, I did what any good thief in the night would do.  I gathered up my luggage from the carousel, and raced out to the car rental place, where Ken was being schmoozed by the lovely French lady who was so sorry, but there was no Renault Micro-Wagon for us, so they were so very sorry, but they would have to do the upgrade for us, no charge, of course.

What a shame.  We had to spend the week in an SUV.

I cringe.  It was VERY American Tourist of us.

But it was a blessing, because we got to take 2 extra cousins with us on every excursion, so it was a bit more of a mix-around conversation-wise on all the days that we went places.

And with it approaching midnight, we were very happy to discover that we could actually SEE the hotel from the rental car place.  And while Ken and I loaded up the luggage, Skip went cruising through the mostly-deserted parking lot, scooping up luggage carts, and returning them to the depot, collecting the 1-Euro coins that were disgorged from the cart when they were returned.

We were in for another surprise at the hotel.  Seeing as things had gone so smoothly with the car, I thought things would go equally swimmingly at the hotel.  Ken had researched it online before we'd come over, and while things were a little vague, he figured that an Adult Triple room (with 2 children staying free) was the way to go, so that's what he'd ordered.  The guy at the front desk of the Hotel Etap, though, he laughed at us when Ken tried to check in.  "Oh no, sir.  A triple room only holds three persons.  You need two rooms for 5 people, even if two are enfants."

And so we ended up with two rooms, across the hall from each other.  And when I opened the door of Room Number One, I figured out why.  A triple room?  It was BARELY enough for three people to walk in the door.  We couldn't even keep all the luggage in the room.  The triple?  It was a double bed with a single bed loft above it.  And you walked sideways past the bed to get to the little corner WC.

But it was an experience.   And we did fine.  And the kids crashed into the beds, and had a great night's sleep.

And we were in France!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Skip's gonna hate us

What does he just not want to have?

What do all his friends want?

What is he supposed to have on his person at Disneyland?

He's gonna grow up and write a book about us....

"...and THEN they made me look  cool in front of all the guys by getting me a spiffy ORANGE phone..."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ik vond het levenloze*

(*I thought it was inanimate [a mannequin])

So, here's the beginning of our trip.

I pulled the kids out of school a little early, like JUST before lunch.  They were both wired for sound, and SO ready to leave (I'm sure their teachers were ready for their spinny-buzzy selves to be gone, too).  Ken was working from home, and was putting out a bunch of fires that left him still working at 12:15 when Toni came to take us to the airport.  We ended up leaving a little later, but that was fine, as things in SFO were like clockwork.  I was impressed.  Some guy came up to help us, ran all our passports through a little machine, commented on how LIGHT we were packing (we each had only one suitcase, and the kids' suitcases were all carry-on sized), and then we were let loose in the airport to kill 2 hours.

Kelly had her special traveling hair-do going on.

And the kids had fun going back and forth on the moving walkways.

The plane was pretty fancy.  A TV screen for each seat, and little remote controls that doubled as game controllers for a few rudimentary games, too.  We watched some movies, and had our dinner, and then when things quieted down, I told Kelly to sleep, and she did! I was so sure that she'd be too excited to sleep, but she wasn't.  Ken was in charge of the boys, who were far less malleable than their sister, so they just watched movies, and drank sodas, and you can imagine how well rested they were when we got to Amsterdam, and had to hit the ground running.  About 3 hours before the end of the flight, the dry air got to Nate, and he sprouted the Mother of All Nosebleeds in the plane, and spent the rest of the day with a blood-soaked t-shirt and sweatshirt.

After wandering around in the airport for a bit, looking every bit like the lost tourists that we were, we finally found a locker, dumped the carry-on luggage, and headed out of the airport to see a bit of Amsterdam.  The airport is about 30 minutes from downtown, so we hopped on a train (outside of my comfort zone, but it was the first of many 'adventures' that I'd live through for the sake of the kids) and crossed our fingers that it was taking us into Amsterdam Centraal and not out to Brussels or something.

Wonder of wonders!  We made it into Amsterdam, and tumbled off the train with the rest of the commuters, right around lunch time.  Across the canal from the train station was a very convenient tourist station, which offered Canal Boat cruises.  Hey!  It was out of the rain and cold, and we got to sit down (Skip was already whining about how cold and tired he was - Gee, I wonder why!?)

There was much construction going on.  The train station is behind that billboard, and the Canal Boat is right behind the kids.  We were just waiting in line to get on the boat.  It's about 5C, and threatening rain, at this point.

Ooh, here's a better photo of our Canal Boat.

We piled onto the Canal Boat, and got a table all together.   Skip put his head down nearly immediately, and that's the last we heard from him.  It's a lovely tour, and I highly recommend it.  You get a good look at MUCH of Amsterdam, and you're sheltered.  I would've had some great photos except that the windows were streaked with rain.

The Dutch have it right;  Look at the great museum!

Oh yeah, and there was also this little place called "The Ann Frank House".  But the line-ups were thick and deep, and went around the block.  There was no line-up at the Museum of Bags and Purses.

We even got to see a wedding!

After the boat tour, we still had a few hours to kill, so we walked around in Amsterdam.  Did we have a map?  Of course not!  We'd just wander around, and follow the crowds, and hope we could get back to the train station with a minimum of fuss.

We were crossing the street with a crowd, when I first started smelling something strange.  Yup.  The guy in front of us was smoking a joint as he walked along.  Yup, that's a joint in his right hand.

 And Ken wanted to grab a coffee, but every time I'd find a coffee-shop, it would say "No admittance to anyone under the age of 18", which seemed a little strict just for coffee.  That is, until Ken said "Why do you keep coming here?  A cafe is for coffee.  A 'coffeeshop' is for drugs".  Yeah, you could've told me that a bit earlier, dude.

And that's when it started to hail.  And that's when I noticed the first Police Van.  And then another.  And another.  And then there were 5 police on horseback.  And I'm thinking "What a secure place I am walking around in!"  And then I saw the crowds.  There was some big, ANGRY demonstration happening in the town center, and we were walking straight for it.  Yikes!

I thought maybe I should duck into this place, to avoid the crowds:

But instead, we went a little more low-key.

And so help me, I couldn't resist, but I started reciting the Cheese Emporium sketch from Monty Python.  I blame the sleep-deprivation.

Kelly was freezing, so we sprung for a little flappy-eared knit hat souvenir.  And look at the cute little matching scooter she found!

It was getting colder and wetter, and Skip was whining louder and louder, so I thought "Let's get out of here, ok?" so we decided to head back towards the train station.  We wanted to avoid the big loud demonstration with all the police, so we made this circuitous route that sort of looked like the direction of where we needed to go.  We had just turned a corner by a church (closed), when I realized that ALL the houses had these neon lights over the doors, and over the front windows.  And all the neon was red.


Except that we didn't quite realize what had happened, and we were wandering around (the crowds had thinned out a bit.  That was a plus).  I noticed a shop window up ahead must have been some Dutch version of Victoria's Secret, or something, and I was just thinking how very non-Holllywood the mannequins were.  Why, that mannequin wearing the red thong and black bustier looked almost wrinkled and worn...

And then the mannequin winked at us.  And waggled a pair of handcuffs off her pinky finger.

And the B-movie voice-over in my head shrieked "It's.... ALIVE!!!!!"

And just like that, Ken was commanding "Kids, follow me, we're going to go find the train station" and he took off at a jog down the nearest alley that didn't have any lights over any of the doors, and we came out behind the police station, a few blocks from the train station, feeling really very silly.

And then, when we were back on the main drag, Nate spotted a little duck by the canal, and ran for it, and ended up doing a very spectacular face plant.  Little old ladies were stopping with tissues, because the blood was something else.  It was really just a nose bleed, and a chin scrape, but it sobered him up, and he still had the scabs at the end of the trip...

Eek!  I'm supposed to have gotten him from school 5 minutes ago.  This whole 'getting back into a routine' is going to clobber me.  More entries later.