German word of the day: die Not

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While hanging up the laundry today, my son started singing the song “Hänsel und Gretel”.  With the Halloween season upon us, witches have been on his mind and he seems to sing it at least once a day.  Of course, I know the tale and I know the lyrics to the song, but I realized that while I understood the song, I actually didn’t really know the meaning of the word Not.

Hänsel und Gretel verliefen sich im Wald.
Es war so finster und auch so bitterkalt.
Sie kamen an ein Häuschen von Pfefferkuchen fein.
Wer mag der Herr wohl von diesem Häuschen sein?

Hu, hu, da schaut eine alte Hexe raus!
Sie lockt die Kinder ins Pfefferkuchenhaus.
Sie stellte sich gar freundlich, o Hänsel, welche Not!
Ihn wollt sie braten im Ofen braun wie Brot.

Doch als die Hexe zum Ofen schaut hinein,
ward sie gestoßen von unser’m Gretelein.
Die Hexe musste braten, die Kinder geh’n nach Haus,
nun ist das Märchen von Hans und Gretel aus.

As it turns out, die Not is a pretty complicated word!  Dict.cc has the first noun entry as “distress” and so of course several examples abound for any synonym you could think of.  But then there are others delightfully not so obvious.  I like the idioms “ohne Not”, meaning without good cause, or “zu Not” for in a pinch.  From the pleasing “Not-Aus” meaning kill switch to the strangely specific “Not-Aus-Pilzdrucktaster” meaning emergency mushroom-shaped push button to the curious “Tag der Not” meaning rainy day (which Martin has never heard of) or “Retter in der Not” for white knight.  And when you’re desperately chasing after anyone with a heartbeat, your friends might describe you as “notgeil”

I often end up learning a bit of English while looking up German words, and I discovered a gem of an English word this time around.  I learned that “in Not” could be translated into “straitened”, meaning not having enough money.  But I digress.  I decided to put my new-found knowledge to work and concocted this little tale:

Ein Tag der Not
Wir hatten mit Mühe und Not genug Geld, um ein Taxi nach Hause im stürmische Wetter nehmen.  Als wir in den Aufzug stiegen, drückte mein Sohn, ohne Not, den Not-Aus-Pilzdrucktaster.  Wir steckten für einige Zeit fest, bevor unsere Retter in der Not, der Aufzugtechniker, uns rettete.  Er sagte, dass der Tag der Not diese Verzögerung verursacht.  Zum Glück wurden wir nicht für seine Dienste berechnet, sonst wären wir wirklich in Not!

(We just barely had enough cash to take a cab home in the stormy weather.  As we got into the elevator, my son, without cause, pushed the emergency halt button.  We were stuck for sometime before our white knight, the elevator technician, rescued us.  He said that the rainy day caused his delay.  Luckily we were not charged for his services, otherwise we would have really been without money.)

And so let’s return to the song my son was singing.  By now you might see, “Welche Not!” cannot be literally translated into something like “What distress/hardship/emergency/dire strait!”.  I saw somewhere online that someone had translated it into “What trouble!” which sounds clunky in this context where we, the audience, have the feeling we should try to warn Hänsel of danger, rather than merely exclaim to our neighbor about it.

And now, my translation for Hänsel und Gretel:

Hansel and Gretel found themselves lost in the woods.
It was so dark and so bitter cold.
They come upon a little house of gingerbread so fine.
Who could be the owner of such a little house as this?

Oh look, out comes an old witch!
She beckons the children into the gingerbread house.
She seems to be quite friendly, but oh Hansel, watch out!
She would like to bake him in the oven, as brown as bread.

But as the witch looks into the oven,
Our little Gretel pushes her in.
So the witch bakes as the children go back home.
And thus ends the tale of Hansel and Gretel.

On the slow boat to China: Our love for the Little Asia of Paris

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At the Chinese New Year parade

We rarely leave the Rive Gauche, being parents of a toddler, but it’s also because we love our quartier. It’s not too touristy, but has lots of flavor and liveliness. And yet at the same time where we live – a quick 30-second walk from Place d’Italie – is quiet.  The arrondissement has so much to offer that we’re discovering new treasures constantly.  For when we do venture into other areas, there’s access to metro lines 5, 6, and 7, complemented by loads of bus lines to connect us to the rest of Paris. But for the most part you’ll find us on any given day of the year somewhere in the 13ème.

 

How did we get here?

DSC02535 On a languid August afternoon in 2013, not 6 weeks after our son was born we moved into our apartment in the 13ème. Before that, we were a two-domicile couple, with me living in Clermont-Ferrand and Martin living in the 5ème. Once we learned we were expecting, and that we would move our domicile permanently to Paris, Martin submitted a request through his institute to Dossier Familial to let us know what might be available. While we waited to hear from them (we were provided with one apartment we ended up not getting), we targeted areas that would be easily accessible for Martin to get to work out in Saclay, searching the 11ème, 12 ème, 13ème, 14ème, and 15ème arrondissements. We did this in January of 2013, and looked at apartments within each of these neighborhoods, each time refining our application packet more and more until our dossier was accepted for our current place in April. So it’s fair to say we didn’t choose the 13ème, it chose us.

A brief geography and history of the 13ème
The 13ème, or quartier asiatique is huge, extending from the Seine to the Périphérique.  It is comprised of smaller neighborhoods, with us living in the one known as Croulebarbe. As a history enthusiast, I’m very proud of the rich history of our particular neighborhood, and while I could share so much about it, I’ll simply say Croulebarbe is taken after the founder of the mill of the same name on the Bièvre (once the second river running through Paris, which has a fascinating and wonderful history all its own, if you’re into such things). So while taking a slow boat into Chinatown would’ve have been impossible on this narrow branch of the Bièvre, the river was definitely a huge figure in the history of the 13ème .

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It’s hard to imagine a windmill once standing tall at the current western entrance of the Square René Le Gall where the above placard is located. It was removed, however as the Bièvre was culverted into an underground channel in 1912.  But that was the past, onto current times and how we enjoy the 13ème…

For the love of Food: where to eat in the 13ème
Eating out here is a wonderful experience, and I’ve found that all the restaurants we’ve been to have been accommodating and friendly whenever we’ve showed up with our little one.

(note: asterisk next to the restaurant name indicate high chairs available)

French food
Our favorite place to go, for coffee or meals is Il état un square*. It’s definitely a place where locals hang out, but you frequently also see out-of-towners enjoying the meals there as well.   It’s right next to Square René Le Gall (see below), so often in the summer we’d go to the park after the crèche, play until someone was exhausted, and then head over for a cool drink, and often dinner. We know the owners, Gérard and Nicolas, one of which has a daughter in Léon’s group at the crèche. They have high chairs for little ones and a piano for customers to play at, which Martin usually takes advantage of.

We also highly recommend L’avant Goût, which we go for lunch as the formule is far more reasonably priced than dinner. The food is excellent and beautifully presented, and we often tell our guest to check it out for a French food experience.

When I’m feeling nostalgic for the Auvergne, I take the family to La Halte des Taxis or La Butte Aveyronnaise

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mmm, Aligot!!!

For a cup of coffee we like Café Noisette, which has decent lunches as well. Another is La Manufacture, the place we also go to for le complet brunch on a Sunday. For tea and to show off to visitors, we like L’OisiveThé*. Fantastic tea collection, a wonderful brunch spread, has knitting meetings, and also a decadent chocolat gourmand. Another favorite is La Butte aux Piafs*,  an excellent place to enjoy a café gourmand and wonderful ambiance for lunch or dinner.

 

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Léon in the restaurant’s Tripp Trapp, inspecting the menu

…and because it’s the quartier asiatique: International fare
For Chinese restaurants, we enjoy Au Pays De Confucius* where the wait staff are so used to Chinese customers that French speakers are often misunderstood, as well as Ba Mien, and La Table du Ramen. If it’s Thai you’re craving we love Thai Papaya and Baan Issan.  Then there’s Comme au Vietnam* which is high on our list, not in the least because they have Tripp Trapp high chairs, but also because they serve a wonderful iced passion fruit tea and the owners are a lovely German and Vietnamese couple.

La Catrina Taqueria has my, being half-Mexican, approval for their tacos (but not their nachos, fake cheese, yuck!) and lovely freshly-pressed hibiscus juice. The fancier El Salvadorian restaurant called Ana M. is great for a lunch date. Café d’Italie* (formally Monte Cassino) rounds out our favorites as our preferred pizza for takeaway as the (mostly Italian) staff always give Léon a little treat as we wait.

Other places include Café Margeride*, Havane Café, and L’Aimant du Sud, solid backups for spontaneous outings, watching football, or for when we have guests visiting and have discovered one of our favorites is closed for an inexplicable reason.

What to do, what to do? I’ll tell you what to do…
When we’re feeling young and hip, we head over to Butte aux Cailles. It has a nice bohemian feel to it, with its many small bars and restaurants. There’s loads of street art along the quaint cobblestoned roads and in fact every year there is the Lesarts de la Bièvre  where over 40 artists around the 13ème open up their homes and/or galleries for the general public to stop in and admire. Sometimes accompanied by music or including a lecture, it’s a great opportunity to support local artists, and in fact one of Léon’s favorite books,”Compter aver un monster” was purchased during one of these “open doors” day. Other than that, Butte aux Cailles also has a piscine and fresh water artesian well where you can see locals filling up their water bottles liters at a time.

There are loads of parks for children, the closest one for us being Square René Le Gall. The biggest park by far, however, which we like to go to when we meet up with a big group, is Parc Kellerman.  Both are wonderfully shady and cool during the hot summer months and have all kinds of events for families to enjoy.  On Sundays, after shopping at Tang Frères for exotique fruit and cheap spices or the farmer’s market on Boulevard Blanqui we head over to the less crowded park (where we’ve been able to do Easter egg hunts without fuss) up the stairs from Corvisart called Jardin Brassaï.  We sometimes wander out to the Quai de la Gare, which has some excellent children’s events (Léon particularly enjoyed himself at a show on the Péniche la Baleine Blanche).

When the weather is cold we go to the Bibliothèque Italie, which has story time for children (0-3 years) eIMG_20160220_172220very 4th Saturday and for the 3+ crowd every 2nd Saturday.  Then there’s the wonderful Ilots des Bébés, an indoor play area for 0-3 or the Ludothèque Denise Garon, an indoor play area/boardgaming place that allows you to check out toys and boardgames as well as play on the spot. Another boardgame café is Oya, which we’ve visited once without Léon and were impressed. Cinemas include Les Fauvettes for classics, La Fondation Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé for silent films accompanied by live music, and for blockbusters UGC Gobelins.

There are so many other things to see and do, and perhaps you’ll be tempted to to check out the neighborhood on our recommendation alone, but mostly the 13ème is lovely because it’s where we’ve begun some of our first journeys as a young family.

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Helping Unaccompanied Minors in France

In the grand tradition (and in memory) of my mother and my Abuelita, who helped anyone, anytime, and anywhere…

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After sending out emails to a few places to see how we could help the refugees here in Paris, I received a message from “Collectif parisien de soutien aux exilé.e.s.” As I had put us down as being interested in temporarily hosting refugees, we opened our home to 4 young men (aged 15 and 16) for 3 nights. It was a wonderful experience, and I encourage you, no matter where you are in the world, to do something to help (see this post for links on what you can do). And if you’re in Paris, even if you’re like us with our tiny apartment and a 2 and a half year old, please think of hosting, especially now that those at La Chapelle, women and babies included, have been expelled,  Check out the closed facebook group “Soutien aux exilés de GdE” (PM Elise or Morgann) or contact Refugees at Home. at hebergement@refugeesathome.me.

Our experience was as followed…

Our brave, young men were from Afghanistan, and had traveled through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Romania, and then somehow made it to France. They have travelled without their families with them, without knowing anyone in their final destination here in France. They are so considered unaccompanied minors. They were polite, respectful, and so kind to Léon. It warmed my heart to see how protective of him they were – for example, whenever we went out, they formed this lovely human wall around Léon and his bike. It was wonderful to have 4 extra pairs of eyes watching him! They all had little brothers and sisters back home, some Léon’s age, some even younger. Beyond that, we didn’t find out too much more about them, as communication was limited. I became interested in trying to learn Dari, but my attempts made the Big Boys (as Léon called them) more confused.  I think they only understood when I said ‘Yek” which is “One” and “Man” which is “Me”. But I couldn’t stop thinking of how their families must feel. I felt very much for their mothers and fathers (those that were still alive) who were so far away, without regular news of their sons.

I very much felt like their temporary mother, and kept asking them to eat, and worried so much every time they had to go out – what if something bad happened? Would we know?  Were they warm enough? Were people being nice to them, or did they experience prejudice everywhere? Whenever I accompanied them, I saw people staring judgemently and wished I could have told them how sweet and brave each of these young men were. I can only imagine what their lives had been like, before they left Afghanistan, while they were traveling, and now that they are here in France.   In this way, I  had a very, very small window into how strong both my grandmothers must have been: my paternal mother with 10 children and my Abuelita who took in I-don’t–know-how-many folks (including my own mother when she was an infant) over the years.

What I learned is, when you have a growing toddler and 4 teenagers in the house, you really must plan your meals and shopping trips!!! I learned this after the first night when I realized I wasn’t satisfied with the amount of food we had. We didn’t have to provide them with anything as they had meal tickets (other wonderful people were taking care of their administrative and various other needs during the day), but we did anyway. We spent our breakfasts and dinners together, and during the day the Big Boys went out and about, meeting with various social services.

It was fun to learn from the guys what a typical Afghan breakfast was (through Léon’s picture dictionary), which was actually similar to our Mexican-American one: eggs scramble with onions, peppers, and tomatoes, served with flatbread. I’ve never had so many tortillas at once in my house, and I was reminded of Abuelita’s bottomless pot of warm tortillas:

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They are gone now, and I don’t know if we’ll find out how they’ll get on. We’re friends with one of them on facebook, so I’ll at least know if he’s ok. Whatever happens, I’m glad we met them.  Léon has just said “Léon suche Big Boys” and it was sad to tell him they won’t be here tonight. But maybe we’ll see them again. We wish them well and good luck for the future.

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The Refugee Crisis

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I just can’t take this feeling of someone out there starving, maybe changing diapers in the freezing cold with a little one. It’s unbelievable how goverments are turning away people.

For awhile I’ve been receiving posts on FB about the refugee crisis from two groups, France & Beyond: Refugee Aid and Entraides Citoyennes (through “Soutien aux exilés de Paris). Not a day goes by that I’m not saddened and left feeling helpless about the overwhelmingly heartbreaking stories of people freezing, children dying or near death, deportations, and detenttions. I finally decided to do something about it and took to the streets to distribute food with Serve the City. There were four of us ladies wandering around Paris on a cold Wednesday morning for over an hour, giving what we could. But I want to do more, and I’m still looking into other things to do.

Here’s a list of charities, if you’d like to help out, whether you live in France or not. I hope you do!

Links for France-based folks (en français) – Enter your code postal and choose how you want to help, put together by Libération

Entraides Citoyennes (en français) – Paris location: give clothing, money, or your time

Association Terre d’Errance (en français) – Based in Calais: give clothing or money. Also loads of informative links to other helpful websites

Citoyen(ne)s solidaires avec les migrants (en français) – Paris location: give money, or join their facebook page to see what other opportunities are available

Migreurop et Coordination Française pour le Droit d’Asile CFDA (en français) – Educate yourself on the rights of refugees with these websites

Links for English speakers – a nice article by the Independent with loads of suggestions for how to help, separated into 5 categories.

France and Beyond (English) – Based in France. Give clothing, money, or your time

Socks for Refugees (English) – All they do is collect socks. You can even include a message in your donation to give a personal, human touch!

Refugees Welcome (English) – Want to house a refugee? This site might be able to help you out!

I’ll update this post as I can, to keep track of what’s going on as the situation changes from moment to moment. Here’s hoping for some semblance of humanity to appear in our goverments across the globe!

On Breastfeeding: The End of an Era

Since the fall of 2013, our little Léon, or iBun as I still call him in my head, has been able to depend on my body to give him everything he needs. He has had the best protection and nourishment possible, both in and out of the womb. We’ve walked a bit of a bumpy road to get where we are in this New Year, but now the time has come for us to wean away from the breast and over to a mostly formula-based diet.

Breastfeeding has not been easy, but I’m proud to have had my six-month old son on 100% breast milk since the day he was born. We’ve had everything from latching problems to overproduction to an abscess to mammary candida. But always, I powered through, with my array of weapons which included an electric pump, washable and disposable nursing pads, lanolin, cold packs, wandering around the house topless as much as possible and my last resort, always, Doliprane. My hard work has payed off as our little iBun has not been even moderately ill, save a fever he had in reaction to a vaccine, in his 6 months of life.

It took us awhile to find our rhythm, but soon I was feeding iBun in parks, on hikes, on lakes and seashores, in restaurants, cafés, trains, planes, embassies, prefectures, once while walking, once in a cemetery, and one very bad-ass time in a volcano crater in what felt like high-speed winds. We had a sweet freedom to go out when we could, Martin and I, without having to worry about formula or bottle preparation.

I remember as we were preparing him for 2 bottles of breast milk a day that I would provide to the creche, feeling a slight sadness in thinking my son was slowly growing away from depending on me for sustenance. My life became a game of when I could pump milk. But this also gave me a bit more freedom personally as I could now pump milk if I wanted to have a glass of wine at dinner or some such.

Even so, we were paying a price. There were, of course, the aforementioned health problems. Additionally, I still had to wear nursing-compatible attire. I either slept with my nursing bra and pads on, or topless on a towel as I always leaked at night. Sex was no longer about maneuvering around a pregnant belly but worrying if I would squirt or leak breast milk all over Martin at some point. Although I was often uncomfortably full of breast milk I still had this irrational paranoia that if I wasn’t careful I’d run out of milk. So I ate large healthy meals and limited my exercise to walking. Perhaps needless to say, I wasn’t one of those women who lost weight during breastfeeding. Rather, I kept my postnatal weight.

And so, as time went by I knew that I would be weaning little iBun at the six month mark. I longed for aspects of my pre-pregnant self – my usually dependably good state of health, the capability to remember things, the shape of my body and the wardrobe that went with it, the ability to push myself hard whenever I like doing whatever exercise I wanted. Other things, little things.

The time had arrived, little iBun’s six-month anniversary and as we were preparing the first formula bottle I couldn’t help but feel a certain melancholy that my sweet time with my sweet little boy would slowly decrease to a morning and evening feeding. We could no longer depend on my production during the day if we were in a pinch but now had to have a formula bottle always in reserve, just in case.

But, now I have a flexibility I haven’t had in a long time. Martin and I have the ability go on little dates here and there and I don’t have to worry about pumping or feeding beforehand, or calculate how long we can be away. I no longer have to wear clothing that buttons or zips in the front, or that has clever slits on the side. But even more important to me now is the ability to really exercise without worry.

I went for my first jog in ages, today! And it felt great!

I feel as if I’ve found where my rhythm is going as mother, and now is the time to concentrate on a more healthy balance of my other selves and what I’d like to have for myself, what I’d like to do for myself. And these are just little things, like jogging, like bike dates with Martin. Nothing fancy, just enough to be more than mother. A mother plus. Mama+

Happy New Year, everyone!

On parenthood: breastfeeding

I breastfeed. I am a breastfeeding warrior who’s seen it all – everything, that is, except being shamed into feeding my little one in a filthy public toilet or being asked to leave somewhere for providing the best sustenance in the world for an infant.  If you don’t know about the wonders of breast milk, familiarize yourself here, then watch this poem video and you’ll understand why this woman’s experience is so pointless

I’d write more, but I’m typing with one hand, as usual :-).

The Maternity Ward: Mama’s Perspective

So how to begin? Labor started Saturday around 5pm. We were at Royatonic to try and bring relief to these back pains I was having all day long. Being in the water felt better, but I still wasn’t feeling 100%. We started joking around about water births and wondering if I could get a life-time pass to the spa if I had to deliver there. We decided to leave at 6pm in earnest as I experienced another symptom of pre-labor and I was worried I might have broken my water but didn’t know it because I had been in the pool.

We called our sage-femme, and decided to pack the car just in case I would have to be monitored at the hospital. My water actually broke on the bumpy road to the clinic, which was a bit exciting, to say the least!  We arrived around 8p, where the night sage-femme told us I was one centimeter dilated.  The next 10 hours was me fighting the urge to go for that epidural, and I’m glad France is a country where they won’t even ask you if you want it – if you’ve said you don’t want it you won’t get it unless you specifically ask for it.

I always imagined that when I would get to the delivery stage, I would be on the quiet side as I in general I don’t share with people when I’m in pain and in fact hate sharing I’m in pain. Nope, once I hit 6 centimeters, around 3am, there was no way I was going to be even remotely quiet – savage screaming was more like it! It turns out our little iBun had a bigger head than usual, so it was a bit of a difficult delivery – I really had to fight the urge to push or risk hurting myself delivering that big head of his too quickly.  It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I was so proud of myself for not giving into an epidural.

They put iBun immediately on my chest and asked Martin what we were going to name him. For a long time, well really up until that moment when the sage-femme asked us, we had no idea what iBun’s name would be. The nickname iBun is our play on me having a “bun in the oven” and the fact that between the two of us there are three macs (one of which has since bit the dust) and one iPad.

Martin looked at me and “Léon” just sort of popped out of my mouth. I hadn’t even really seen our little boy at that point –  just felt him as he nursed – so while on this massive love-high my only thought was “Léon”.

In the end, I had exactly the delivery I wanted, with a great team of sage-femmes and best of all, Martin.

Martin was great through it all, and in fact he has been so very humble in his reporting of his role, but I really couldn’t have done it without him. He was exactly what I needed when I needed it, and continues to take very good care of me and little iBun. I often find myself wondering, had our roles been reversed, could I have been as strong as he was to see someone you love be in so much pain and not be able to do anything about it. It touches my heart every time I think about that day and how lucky I am to have such a supportive and strong partner.

We stayed in the maternity ward for 6 nights, and Martin seemed to be a fountain of energy, taking care of bathing and changing the baby, running to admin office or to the grocery store whenever needed, calling midwives and other medical staff when we had a question, and even making time to have little “dates” with me, where we would eat breakfast in my bed together, or go for a walk around the ward while iBun was in the nursery, or one wild time, had coffee in the cafeteria.  Because I had his constant love and support, I was able to concentrate on breastfeeding and healing.  I have no doubt that I am doing so well in terms of recovery because of his tireless energy. It was only four days ago, ten days after me giving birth that he admitted to being exhausted and is taking a nap at my insistence.

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More reporting to follow on our adventures upon returning home!!!