Experiments In Domesticity

Marriage, Motherhood & Modern Housewifery


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There’s a Place In France … (Part 2)

A friend who’d flown to Australia with her infant sent me off to France with her Flyebaby. Once in the air, I was glad that I had printed the instructions, as the set-up is not intuitive. It was definitely a good option for some hands-and-lap-free time en route. However, its true usefulness was to be discovered when we landed.

4. High Chair is Not Part of French Vocabulary. In the entire month we spent travelling in southern France, Ladybug sat in one high chair. The restaurant offering the chair, I think it was La Marina – though the restaurants along the Hérault in Agde all sort of blur together, advertised its availability by placing a beautifully patinated wooden affair on the quay. The siren, surely designed to beckon weary parents in search of travel respite, combined with the woman who greeted us and announced the special of the day, was all the encouragement we needed. Had I not brought the Flyebaby, I would have spent every other meal for a month with Ladybug on my lap.

Of course, the stroller might work as a meal seat for the child who does not demand to sit at the big kids’ table. Another option to which I have availed myself in a pinch is the ever useful swaddling blanket. I have used one to bind Ladybug to the chair back with great success, by wrapping it over her tummy, around the chair and tying it in back.

5. Travel Insurance is Essential When Bringing Bébé.
Once we had settled into our damp, somewhat smelly, three hundred year old rental accommodation, it became apparent that Ladybug was not only jet-lagged and unsure of her new pied à terre, she was teething and sick. To this point in her short life, she had no teeth and had never had even the slightest sniffle. Trust international travel to bring out the worst all at once!

After a week of sleepless nights and days of fording a relentless snot river, my mother insisted we find a doctor. I returned to the pharmacist who had deftly diagnosed my bad hair and recommended a product cure. He assured me that a doctor was in order, saying he could see Ladybug had an infection by looking at the puffiness under her eyes and encouraging me to at least suction the snot from her salinated nose using a modified straw that he plucked from a shelf in the rhinal section of the shop. After paying for the sucker and engaging in a round of profusely polite parting pleasantries, we were off in search of medical help.

When we arrived at the last address on the list, we were pleased to find a doctor who worked on the weekends in the off-season. We entered the building and were directed by the receptionist to climb to the next floor. No names were exchanged, no questions asked. Upon arriving upstairs, we discovered two waiting rooms for two different doctors. There was no receptionist, just people sitting quietly and patiently. I went back down to speak to the woman at the desk who told me to return upstairs and wait with no further explanation. We picked the room with less people and sat down. A few minutes later a doctor appeared in a white coat and asked for the next patient. A man stood and followed him to his office. There were no arguments or discussions about who was next or whose problem was most acute, everyone waited their turn.

When we were ushered into the doctor’s office, he indicated that we should sit on the other side of an imposing wooden desk from him. He inquired as to our particular complaint, made some notes and invited us over to the examination table. He looked in Ladybug’s ears and throat, and felt her glands, speaking only to direct me to change her positioning. When I asked a question, he held his hand up in the universally accepted “stop” position and asked me to reserve my questions for after he had given his prognosis and prescription. We returned to the desk where he wrote up four prescriptions and asked for 28 euros for his time.

Though your child may be hale and hearty, lack of sleep, change of climate and hours of breathing recirculated, disease-filled airplane air may bring on an illness. Additionally, new countries mean new germs that you and your child may not have the antibodies for. Think ahead, get travel insurance, and bring along some basic first aid supplies such as children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen (pain, fever), and children’s antihistamine (bug bites, allergies).

6. Have Fun!
The reason we travel, for the most part, is to enjoy ourselves and have new experiences. Almost every experience you throw at a small child whilst on the road will be new, try to ensure that the experiences are as enjoyable as possible by planning your activities with your child in mind.

Most toddlers, for example, will not want to spend the day at the Louvre but you may be able to squeeze in an hour or two, with snack breaks, with few protests. Most adults’ idea of personal hell is spending their precious time and hard earned coin at EuroDisney. As I mentioned earlier, there are many wonderful sights, sounds and smells to be had for free or next-to-nothing. Follow the French lead and pack a picnic lunch from the amazing variety of delicious foods available everywhere you turn, eat in a park, at the beach or along a river and take in the natural beauty of one of the world’s favourite travel destinations.

Some of my best memories are of playing in the sand and water at the Mediterranean with Ladybug or feeding the ducks along the Midi Canal our day-old bread. Slow down the pace, stop to smell the flowers and enjoy your time with your little one – having a strict agenda is bound to make for stress-filled and unhappy travel.

For older children and parents with a less restrictive budget and little planning time, there are many wonderful packaged, family-designed tours out there. For example, the American company Butterfield & Robinson offers some phenomenal, educational biking tours in France.

No matter where you go and what you decide to do, you are bound to have a lovely time in France. There is a reason that North Americans have been spending time there for centuries – go discover why for yourself!

Agde, France

Agde, France


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There’s a Place In France … (Part 1)

A friend of mine is heading to Europe for an extended visit with her twin infants and has asked for ideas of things to do while in France. Much has been written about France, travel and children. What immediately came to mind was Todd Babiak’s 2010 Learning French column from the Edmonton Journal. A serial account of family life in France simply doesn’t get much funnier, truer, and more whimsical. Alas, a quick search on the Journal’s site returns next-to-nothing. My next thought was Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon. This book represents the fruit of Gopnik’s dispatches from France to the New Yorker. Lately, there’s been an awful lot made, perhaps too much?, of Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. A personal favourite, though it has nothing to with children at all, is David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Any of the above will give you an introduction to the French from a North American’s perspective.

I have made many pilgrimages to France over the years, both with and sans baby, and have yet to have had a terrible time. My last visit was in September and October 2012. I travelled solo with Ladybug and made the mistake of using points. My 23 hour journey went like this: Edmonton – Heathrow – Frankfurt – Toulouse. By the time we got to the airport hotel in Toulouse, Ladybug had a meltdown the likes of which I had never seen and hope never to see again. It lasted for 2 hours and I hadn’t slept in two days. You get the picture, I’m sure. Which brings me to my first tip:

1. Know thyself and thy child. If you have never travelled with your child, have never travelled far with your child, have never crossed time zones with your child, or have never been on a plane with your child, make it easy on yourself. Book the flight with the least amount of stops. Bring an adult companion with you. Ask for a seat at the bulkhead or one with an extra seat open next to it. A perfectly rational child may become a snivelling mess when a mile high. You may become a three-headed monster when seriously sleep-deprived. The only way to know how you and your child will travel is to go travelling.

Once we got on the train to Agde the next morning, we were both slightly more composed. The train is an excellent way to travel in France and many parts of Europe. It also eliminates the need to lug around a carseat.

2. Kids are currency with French public services, if you can find the right information. Before we left, I did a fair amount of research on train travel. I purchased something called the Carte Enfant+ for 75 euros. It is available to children under 12 and is valid for one year from the start date of usage. The card entitles the child card-bearer to a free seat on the train when accompanied by an adult. It also entitles up to 4 people to accompany the child and receive a minimum of 25% off their fares and up to 50% off certain journeys. These people do not have to be related to the child and can be of any age. My parents qualified for seniors’ pricing but this card proved more economical than the seniors’ discount. Certain trains even have Espaces Familles which are like your own private room reserved for families. For more information, click here.

Children under 18 are admitted free to most national monuments and museums in France. If you are planning to visit a lot of sites there are multi-day passes available to adults that really cut costs. However, if you are there in the late spring, summer or early fall, there are many lovely outdoor opportunities that won’t cost you a cent. Walk the lavender markets in Provence, stroll along the Seine in Paris … but leave your stroller at home.

3. Be prepared to get some serious exercise. As anyone who has ever been in the metro in Paris or any train station in France will tell you, accessibility is a huge problem. Many stations have stairs, stairs everywhere and not an escalator in sight. I brought an amazing, light umbrella stroller for my mother to use with Ladybug. It was a pain in the airport, on the plane, on the train, on the cobblestones, in pubs … you get the picture. I did see French women blithely pushing their progeny is strollers whilst sucking on cigarettes, in skinny jeans and stilettos, but I found it much easier to navigate with my carrier and sensible shoes. I definitely did not see anyone anywhere with those gigantic “jogging” strollers women here are so fond of.


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Locals Only

The most sobering fact I learned, and the one that stuck with me, from Edmonton-based Jennifer Cockrall-King’s book Food and the City is that grocery stores only hold three days worth of food supply. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, an oil and gas shortage, or a Canadian civil war, we may find ourselves very hungry, very quickly.

I have the great fortune to live in a city that, despite rather major drawbacks such as frigid winter weather, boasts 5 year-round farmer’s markets. That’s right, five! Edmonton has the good luck of being northerly enough that it gets extended sunshine hours in the spring, summer and early fall, and is also the bearer of kick-ass soil (as my laissez-faire garden can attest). In the winter, we have several excellent greenhouse producers who keep us in tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce. For cool, non-GMO food manipulation, check out Doef’s to see how they produce heart-shaped cucumbers.

Last week, I went to hear Raj Patel speak on Food Cultures for Sustainability. Patel is an engaging and passionate speaker. Between wrestling with Ladybug and spilling coffee all over myself, I was able to enjoy his entertaining anecdotes which drove home important points about the modern agricultural-industrial complex. I was also proud to be an Edmontonian when Patel complimented us on “fresh”, our urban food strategy, and joked that we were the only city in the world where you could purchase frozen vegetables at the farmer’s market.

As we settle into February and seed catalogues begin to appear in my mailbox, I find myself dreaming about the upcoming gardening season and all that it promises. Thoughts such as these, combined with my weekly trip to City Market, give me much to look forward to.

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Pancakes Are Ready!

Last night, Ladybug and I went snowshoeing in the river valley, visited the old fur trading post, and sipped warm cider while we were regaled with tales from Edmonton’s frontier days. We had a wonderful time. Ladybug, who would normally be in bed by 7:30 PM, exclaimed repeatedly about the night sky. We were returned to our car in a wagon pulled by two enormous Clydesdales. Ladybug was fascinated by the horses and even patted one, named Jeb, on his velvety nose. It reminded me that, though we read her many animal stories, our city slicking kid has not seen any live animals save dogs and cats.

We slept in today, and I wanted to make something quick and delicious before we headed out to the farmer’s market. One of our favourite breakfasts is pancakes with real maple syrup. I have modified a recipe from my well-worn How It All Vegan, by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer, to suit our family.

Snowy Saturday Pancakes

1 banana
1 cup whole grain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh
coconut oil
fruit for garnish (I use strawberries)
maple syrup

1. Heat cast iron skillet, griddle, or other heavy pan over medium low heat.
2. Mix flour, baking powder,cinnamon, and sugar (if using), in a large bowl.
3. Mash banana with a fork in a smaller bowl. Mix in the almond milk and vanilla.
4. Dump the wet ingredients in with the dry and mix until everything is moist. Add blueberries.
5. Test your skillet by dropping a bit of water in. If it sizzles, you are ready.
6. Put enough coconut oil in to cover the bottom of the pan (1/2 tsp), and distribute it evenly.
7. Using 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of batter, pour pancakes into pan.
8. When the edges of the pancake look cooked and the centre has bubbles, flip the cakes over. Fry for another 2 minutes or until browned.
9. Repeat steps 6 to 8 until all the batter is gone.
10. Serve with sliced strawberries, more blueberries, or whatever floats your boat. Don’t forget the maple syrup!

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Miss You

I decided to categorize my posts the other day and realized that, although I proclaim it as part of my personal equation, I have no posts under the Marriage category. As Valentine’s Day, that once yearly celebration of love, affection, and glorious chocolate eating approaches, I felt it apropos to write an inaugural piece for the Marriage component.

Musicman left for a month-long tour of the United States on Tuesday. A month is a long time to be away from your family but he has done much longer tours and has gone much further afield. Before Ladybug was born and our lives were forever changed, I used to fly in to see Musicman for a few days when he was gone four weeks or more. We would rent a car, check into a hotel, and explore the area. How else would I know about the moonlit delights of Fishtown, Philadelphia or where not to stay in Brighton, UK? It’s a little more complicated to do with Ladybug in tow and, with me not working outside the home, a little harder on the family budget. So, most of the time, I just miss him and he misses me.

Road dogging it is not nearly as glamorous as it might sound or as fun as you might expect. For a vulgar-funny perspective on the life of a musician on the road, check out Kelly Hogan’s article here. I grow tired of hearing from people about how much fun or how exciting it must be for my husband to travel around the world with a group of men he has known for 15 years. It’s not. It’s mind-numbing, sleep-and-sanitation-deprived work that ends in 90 minutes or so of glory every night. It’s that 90 minutes of doing what he loves that keeps Musicman going. That, and the fact that he has to keep his girls in lentils and parkas.

Being on the road is also extremely lonely in many ways. Musicman has to leave his toddling daughter and loving wife for the comfort of … earnest music-loving people he doesn’t know and will never see again, or the flat screen TV in the hotel room, or the clerk at the all-night truck stop selling microwaveable burritos and caffeine pills. Lonely though never really alone. I think Sofia Coppola captures this bizarre ethos so beautifully in her films Lost In Translation (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters), and Somewhere (Stephen Dorff’s character).

Though I often feel sorry for myself, and now for Ladybug, when Musicman is away, I feel sorry for him too. It’s the glue that binds us together across the miles, through spotty cellular reception and dwindling phone card minutes. According to a recent study from Harvard University, empathic couples are happy couples.

So, I miss him and he misses me, but it works for us, and we are happy.

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