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We are in France! On Thursday, while Rama set off for a concert in Belgium, Elodie and I embarked on our own adventure to visit some friends in the lovely town of Chantilly. Just a 25-minute train ride from Paris’ Gare du Nord train station, Chantilly is the horse-breeding capital of France and is home to a beautiful chateau. Since all that rococo detailing isn’t very conducive to sticky four-year-old fingers, we didn’t go inside, but instead spent a few glorious hours exploring the vast gardens. First stop: the cafe.

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According to the English language brochure, a series of rustic, English-style cottages were built on the grounds in 1775 for the Prince of Condé. They now house a restaurant, so we headed over to taste the authentic whipped cream. “Chantilly” means “whipped cream” in French, and was actually invented here. Elodie’s chocolate chaud came with a wopping dollop of thick, rich, buttery, cream that tasted more like cream cheese frosting than ready-whip. Decadent indeed!

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After our afternoon treat, which they call “gouter” en francais, we set out to find the children’s play area. Down a grassy path, over a wooden footbridge, and past a wide field, we were met by a flock of carved and painted wooden sheep. So sweet! The enchanting playground also featured a series of tiny wooden houses and grass-covered mounds of earth that formed a swirling pattern that was so fun to run on. An adjacent labyrinth was created for a prince’s birthday party. I read that when the children made it to the center of the maze, they found a table piled high with sweets and treats. We were nervous about getting lost in the labyrinth, so didn’t venture inside, but I once heard that if you run your hand along the right side of labyrinth, you will eventually find your way out.

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Our friends are hoping to move back to the States soon, so who knows if we will ever go back to Chantilly, but we’re so lucky we had the chance to visit. And if we do make it back to that delightful town just north of Paris, we’ll certainly return to the chateau and while away an afternoon like happy French royals.

Travels with infant

Over the past four years, we’ve taken 14 major trips with our child. From an overnight trans-Atlantic flight to Europe, to a day-long journey to Japan, to a quick airplane ride down to Los Angeles, we’ve run the gamut of “traveling with kids” scenarios and survived quite happily despite our girl’s motion sickness.

The key to kid-carting success is to plan as many flights, train trips, bus rides, or car outings around naptime or bedtime. If this isn’t possible, bring an iPad.

Elodie took her first big trip when she was two-months-old. It was her debut. We took her back East to meet our family and get acquainted with the thick air of summer in New England and New York. It was a breeze. Why? Because when babies are this small, they do nothing but eat and sleep. I nursed her and held her the entire flight and she was light as a feather. Sure, she probably wailed her head off every now and then, but what are you gonna do? Some people bring scratch tickets or other little gifts for their seat mates, but I say don’t sweat it. We were all babies once.

Tip #1 for traveling with an infant: bring a pillow to support the baby’s body and your arm while breastfeeding/holding her.

Tip #2 for traveling with an infant: bring one disposable diaper for every hour of your flight, and make the dad do all the diaper changes, since the mom has to do all the feeding. If your child is in cloth diapers (like ours was), do not bring them on your trip. Carrying a garbage bag full of soiled cloth diapers through the airport is not the way you want to travel — even if there is a big beautiful washer/dryer at grandma’s house on the other side.

Airplanes are usually equipped with a handy changing table that you pull down over the toilet, making diaper changes in the air a cinch. It also helps break up the flight a little bit. What’s more exciting than checking out the airplane bathroom?!

Tip #3 for traveling with an infant: bring a couple changes of clothing.

travels with toddler

When Elodie became mobile, flying got a lot trickier. Keeping a one or a two-year-old entertained on a 9-hour flight takes some serious energy. Just after Elodie’s first birthday, we flew to Berlin for the summer. I brought nine small *new* toys, wrapped individually in crepe paper party streamers (one for each hour of the flight), plus a couple old favorites, and a handful of small, light books. This seemed sufficient. She was still napping twice a day, which helped too. Though all this preparation is actually better purposed on the daytime flight back to the States. The flight from New York to Berlin is an overnight one, so we did our best to snuggle up together and sleep. For the most part it went pretty well. We sleep together at home so sleeping together on the airplane felt normal for her. Since we bought a seat for her, we had three seats for the three of us. Elodie and I laid down together on two seats (window & middle), while the dad slept as best he could sitting up in his own chair. Bonus: the dad let me put my feet up on his lap!

Tip #1 for traveling with a toddler: bring many toys, books, diapers, and be prepared to expend a lot of energy creating finger puppet shows, singing songs, reading stories, etc, etc, in that over-exuberant voice that takes up about three times as much energy as your normal voice.

Tip #2 for traveling with a toddler: buy them their own seat if you have the funds. If they’re two-years-old, you’ll have to do this anyway. We flew from Paris to Bilbao right after Elodie’s second birthday. Getting her in her own seat for takeoff was horrific. We had to hold her down so she couldn’t squirm out of her seatbelt while she screamed her head off. It was one of the most stressful moments of my life. if you ever have to deal with this, simply close your eyes and repeat your own private mantra until the seatbelt sign goes off and you can hold your toddler on your lap again. This behavior will stop eventually (once she gets used to Tip #3). I think it happened twice for us.

Tip #3 for traveling with a preschooler: bring lots of fun snacks and candy. Elodie was used to nursing during take-off and landing since she had been doing it since infancy, but since two-year-olds have to sit in their own seats, she couldn’t nurse anymore. What could be better than breastfeeding? M&Ms. Now Elodie knows that every time we get on an airplane. She gets M&Ms.

Tip #4 for traveling with a toddler: do not bring their car seat. This will drastically decrease the amount of space you have for playing or stretching out.

Tip #5 for traveling with toddler: breastfeed or bottle feed during take-off and landing (if under two. If over two, they need to be in their own seat of course.)

Tip #6 for traveling with a toddler: bring a couple changes of clothing.

TIp #7 for traveling with a toddler: bring many different types of snacks.

TIp #8 for traveling with a toddler: if you’re going to go the Benadryl route (drug them to get them to sleep), test it out at least a couple weeks before your flight. We did not do this, and the Benadryl had the opposite affect on her, making her extra hyper for the 10 hour flight from Paris to Dallas. I will never do this again, and do not recommend using over-the-counter medications to try to get your child to sleep.

Confession: I tend to go overboard with preparation. On every flight I’ve taken with my child, I have always brought too much stuff. Traveling with a lot of stuff can add extra stress to your experience, but if you can pack it all efficiently, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Imagine running out of things to do on the airplane?!

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Last month we went to Japan. The flight from San Francisco to Tokyo is 11.5 hours long. It was the longest flight Elodie or I had ever taken. And it went by without a hitch.

Tip #1 for traveling with a preschooler: make a friend onboard. Better yet, scope out the scene at the gate before boarding and zero in on any kids. Once you’ve spotted one or two that might make a good mate for your little one, sit near them and let the natural kid-socializing stuff ensue. For our 3-year-old, no one is cooler than a 4-year-old, except maybe a 5-year-old. We were lucky to be sharing a flight with one. Not only was this older girl traveling alone with her mom, she had twin baby sisters at home. I think my meaning is clear here. This mom, accustomed to taking care of twin babies plus a 5-year-old, must have felt like she was on vacation on an airplane alone with her older child. She showed incredible generosity by welcoming my 3-year-old into her simplified two-person world at the back of the plane — rows and rows behind us. Suddenly, we were on vacation too.

Tip #2 for traveling with a preschooler: bring a favorite stuffed animal, buy a new toy at the airport, bring a new coloring book and exciting new markers. Use these preoccupations earnestly, BEFORE RESORTING TO THAT MOST WONDROUS TOY/BABYSITTER OF ALL (see Tip #3)

Tip #3 for traveling with a preschooler: bring an iPad. Fill it with your kid’s favorite videos. Maybe add a new app.

Tip #4 for traveling with a preschooler: fly an airline that caters to children. Virgin America offers a child’s boxed lunch for purchase, which Elodie adores! She dreads flying other airlines because she really wants that boxed lunch! (Even though she doesn’t actually eat the food, at least she gets some toys and a box with pictures on it that she can color). Do any other airlines offer kid-friendly meals or activities? Please share in comments if you know of any.

TIp #5 for traveling with a preschooler: run your kid around the airport before the flight and if luck is on your side, she’ll fall asleep at take-off. Elodie always whimpers and fights a little bit when she has to get in her seat and put her seatbelt on. But once she’s settled she gets her M&Ms and I hold her head against my body, or in my lap, which helps with her motion sickness. The last two times we’ve flown, she fell asleep as we were lifting off. And I was free to actually READ MY OWN BOOK! It was heaven.

Tip #6 for traveling with a preschooler: bring your own portable potty. Ever since she turned three, Elodie has refused to go pee-pee in the “black” toilet seats they have in many airplanes.

Now that my daughter is almost four, I feel like I can board a plane calmly and happily. I know she’ll be able to entertain herself for decent intervals by coloring or playing with her cars, and if all else fails I’ve got my trusty iPad. There’s only one thing that can put a knick in my cool, calm, collected state. Turbulence. Luckily we’ve only experienced bad turbulence once with Elodie. Our flight back from Tokyo was pretty bumpy. Thankfully, since bumpiness can lead to barfing,  she slept through it all.

I’ve got my fingers crossed for smooth sailing next month when we embark on another epic flight (San Francisco to Berlin via Stockholm). We take off in the early evening, so if all goes well, we’ll have dinner onboard, maybe watch a few videos, read some books, brush our teeth, change into pajamas, and sleep.

Tip #7 for traveling with a preschooler: always hope for the best.

 

 

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Last weekend we took a walk around our neighborhood in Berkeley, California and I brought my camera. Flowers are always in bloom around the San Francisco Bay Area, and though we don’t have the seasonal extremes out here like we do in New England, we do at least have a little bit of seasonal variation when it comes to the flora. RIght now it feels like the end of spring to me, though it’s actually still February. Here’s a peek at the blossoms blooming right now in our neighborhood.

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Now I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about all things botanical, but I’m going to generalize with this one and call it a cherry blossom, though it also strikes me as an apple blossom. The petals are an unusually deep shade of magenta. Dazzling!

hydrangea

This sweet little guy was blooming on a hydrangea bush along with a few other globes about three times his size. So dainty.

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This is an example of how exotic the vegetation in the Bay Area can be. I don’t know what these guys are called, but they added a flash of brightness to this bed of succulents growing along the sidewalk.

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A dazzling cherry blossom tree. Such vivid color popping up outside this white/grey house. How cheerful it must be to go to work every morning when you live here.

magnolia

The church across the street has the most stunning magnolia trees blooming in its yard. We have one in our front yard too, but it gets more sun and is already mostly green.

jasmine

Jasmine is bursting from several fences in our neighborhood. They give off the most majestic aroma. I look forward to enjoying these guys through the next month or two.

yellow

And finally, here’s Elodie picking her favorite flowers of the month — some kind of yellow clover blossom. Though the leaves look a lot like clover leaves to me, they’re actually not. A friend once told me what they’re called, but unfortunately I forgot. If you know the names of any of the flowers here that I couldn’t identify, or that I mistakenly identified, please let us know in the comments section.

And if you have some pretty flowers blooming in your garden or around your neighborhood, please send me a photo with a note about your town and the flowers we’re seeing in the picture, and I’ll feature it on Tidepooler! You can email me by clicking here.

Just before I turned 31, I got a sister-in-law. She was about to turn 16 and looked beautiful in her bridesmaid dress. We met six years earlier, when she was just 10. “The thing about my family is that we’re world travelers,” she told me one day during a trip to Paris early on in my relationship with her brother. I was charmed and impressed by this wonderful girl. In time, we traveled the world together, and I can dwell forever on the memories we made. We drifted along the canals of Venice, watched the sky turn pink in Stockholm, and rode a Ferris wheel in Paris. We cracked ourselves up over kidney shaped swimming pools in the Caribbean, were dazzled by directors in Park City, and dove beneath the tropical sea in Mexico.  I watched her blossom, from a graceful dancer with braided hair in the “Nutcracker,” to an energetic young filmmaker pounding the pavement in New York City. In November, I lost my sister-in-law. She passed away in Prague–achingly beautiful, smoldering in history Prague. Of course she died in Prague. Of course the setting for her life’s last chapter was this iconic, legendary city. Sophie is gone from this life. I won’t link her arm in mine again. I won’t hear the sound of her excited, optimistic voice. But she will be with me forever in my heart. Our family believes this to the depths of our souls.

The last time I saw her she was no longer a child. She was a beautiful young woman beaming with love, happiness, and enthusiasm. This is what I feel now when I think of her. Whenever I start to feel sad, I just think about how brightly she shone, and I’m filled with her light-hearted grace. I look at the sky, or the treetops, and I smile.

A couple years ago, Sophie starred in a music video, which she also directed with some classmates from NYU Tisch. It was for the song “All Wash Out,” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Last month, the band made her video the official video for the song. (Read MTV’s story) What’s so remarkable about the video is that it gives us a glimpse into her own ideas about life after death. Her film is such a blessing, because we can watch it anytime we want and imagine what she’s doing right now. I know Sophie’s soul is free, and it’s leaping, soaring, dancing, laughing…

Look at the sky, and smile.

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One brisk morning last fall Elodie and I ventured to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery to collect chestnuts. We had noticed the hundreds of chrysanthemum plants for sale at the local funerary businesses in our neighborhood (big bright bursting blossoms set out on the street always made me smile). And that morning, we were surprised to see gardeners planting dozens of them on the cemetery grounds. I later learned that the planting was in preparation for All Saint’s Day, or Toussaint as they call it in French. Celebrated on November 1, the public holiday is reserved for spending time visiting the graves of deceased loved ones. I adore strolling the cobbled paths of that crumbling cemetery any time of year, but the profusion of flowers that covers the newer graves in the first weeks of November make the month a particularly pleasant time to pay your respects to Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and all the other luminaries lucky enough to be buried in one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries. It’s also the time of year when we remember my great-grandmother, who would have turned 101 this year.

Here are a few photos from our walk that that beautiful fall morning in Paris.

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I’ve been missing New York like crazy. So I went ahead and splurged on a little present for myself. I ordered the T-shirt pictured at the top. Now some of my cousins will think I should have gotten the shirt on the bottom, because Rhode Island is after all my home state. Of course Little Rhody, that dear old Ocean State, will always be home, and I get goose bumps just looking at its beautiful shape with all its little bays and inlets. But in my heart of hearts New York is my home. It’s home home, you know what I mean? It’s where I became a person. It’s where I spent my twenties, wistfully following the ghosts of Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan’s 1960s, kicking around Union Square and Washington Square Park like a folk singer or a Factory superstar depending on the day and the current obsession. And when that phase wore off I modeled myself after Bianca Jagger, pining for a Studio 54 of my own while drinking champagne to the beat of the Bee Gees. New York is where I became a career girl, fighting my way off the subway each morning in an A-line skirt and riding the escalator up to my office in Times Square like an East Coast Mary Tyler Moore. It’s where I nurtured my craft, interviewing jazz pianists and saxophonists in teeny apartments, out-of-the-way restaurants, and park benches. It’s where I pliéd and relevéd every Thursday night with an extraordinary group of 25 to 85-year-old women, bolstered by the energy emanating from the grand halls of Lincoln Center down the street. It’s where I spent lunch breaks volunteering at the library at PS3, my little sister’s elementary school. It’s where I walked by Tom Wolfe on an Upper East Side avenue and chatted with Hilary Swank in an elevator, and Monica Lewinsky in a different elevator. It’s where I drank draft beer in a Lower East Side honky tonk bar and danced to country music with the guy who would become my husband. There. So even though I only lived in New York for nine years, plus a couple summers during college, I think I’ve just offered up enough evidence to entitle me to wear the shirt at the top. Now if I can just figure out how to trade in that “California” driver’s license I carry around. Because try as I might, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to call this place home.

If you want a home T-shirt too you can order them here. Don’t feel guilty about dropping the 28 bucks because part of the proceeds go to multiple sclerosis research. Which state will you get?

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