Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Searching for answers

Everyone warns you about the terrible twos. Your children become monsters and life seems impossible. That's what they say. What those same people forget to tell you though is that three is a whole new ball game. My SAHM status has entered an entirely new level of challenge these past few months, and I'm finding myself extremely lost and searching for answers.

Sometimes having a Type A personality can really frustrate your life. Going with the flow feels difficult because you want to overanalyze everything. At least that's how it seems to always work with me. My sole purpose in life, my one job, is to be a mother and take care of my family. That's my job, and I have felt lately as though I'm failing miserably at this task.

Big R and I noticed that things have felt off-kilter. No one was sleeping well, and you could sense that we were all a tad bit upside down. After some thought, we realized that for about six months straight we traveled somewhere literally every two weeks. Don't get me wrong, the travels have been incredible and we have been able to see so much. But traveling can really wear you down. The routine is in a constant mode of disruption. Sleep cycles are interrupted, eating habits are askew, and expectations that you normally receive from a consistent schedule are nonexistent. No matter who you are, this can create internal unrest. We could feel it in little r for sure, and the more we thought about what was driving our sleep and moods lately, we realized that we were just as effected as our toddler - we just have a different way of expressing our stress (obviously).

Now that we have had some time to rest, we've nestled into our routines, and when that two week window passed, we all started to feel better that our schedule was staying consistent (well, hospital stays aside that is). Despite this establishment of a good routine, I was still feeling huge changes in little r's personality. I've been exhausted. On good days, I'm smiling all day long, but bad days were leaving me drained.

I have to confess that I never saw myself being a SAHM. Never did I judge anyone that chose to stay home, believe me, I know that it is a challenge. It was just something I didn't ever anticipate. As much as I adore children, especially my little r, I seem to be missing that mom-gene that desires constant play. My child is active and naptime is now nonexistent, which means from lunchtime until bedtime it's just me and little r tackling the world. Sometimes these days feel like one constant struggle making me feel as if I'm a drill sergeant constantly screaming orders. Yes, I have been feeling so lost - I hate who I am when I'm like this. No one is happy. But what have I been doing wrong? Why does being a good mother have to be so hard?

One day I decided to step back and watch little r more closely. I've known for awhile that he's a little different than other kids, but not in a medical way necessarily. I just know that his temperament is different. He's hard-headed, incredibly perceptive, super sensitive to things, and his activity level is off the charts and has been since he was an infant. Big R and I envy our friends that can place their babies on a blanket with a few toys and walk away. Even before little r started crawling at six months, we never witnessed him be still for any moment of time. There is too much to see in the world and we were not going to stop him.

After talking casually with a few friends, it dawned on me that little r might be what has been referred to as a "spirited" child. Spirited children have personality traits that make incredible adults, but they can be an exhaustive challenge as a toddler. Accepting this, I started to see things differently. It's as if I just needed an answer so that I could better understand how to be a good mother to little r. I didn't want to be a drill sergeant anymore, and I was done feeling like my life was spiraling out of control.

My friend lent a book to me called "Raising your spirited child" and I ordered a couple other books to read as well. I wanted to better understand how my child's mind works. I needed to be able to perceive his triggers and be more sensitive to how he reacts to the world. In reading about spirited children, I've also learned so many things about myself. I've realized that my temperament and personality traits don't necessarily mesh well with several of his. Not only that, but the spirited child has extreme parts of his personality that I might not understand because I don't feel the same way.

LIttle r is far more perceptive than I am. I wish often that I could see the world the way he does. He notices everything. He's very much like his father in that way. I do have an extreme energy level though. Although my mom tries to convince me I was a dream as a child, I have a feeling I was far more active than others, and I know I was certainly more active than my sister. My ability to sit still to read a book or listen to a long lecture without fidgeting is lacking, and when I do take quiet time for myself, the guilt sets in quickly. I suppose I always feel like I'm missing something or maybe just missing out, either way, I can much better relate to that side of little r's personality.

I'm hoping that educating myself a bit more about how little r's mind works and how he perceives his world will leave us less angry with each other and keep our lives in a more constant calm. I've been surprised to find out that my motherly instinct has not lead me astray in all aspects of working with little r, and I have actually handled my approach to his maniacal temperament in ways authors of these books recommend. But I have also been able to identify where I have gone wrong. It's going to be difficult to tackle these challenges because it'll be fighting my own temperament and personality traits in a way to restore order in my house. Hopefully though, we will be able to find some balance that'll make the challenges a little less exhausting.



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween and big boy beds

What have you been up to this weekend? We have enjoyed life at home. I think we are finally recovering from our whirlwind of summer travels and hospital stays. So we decided it was time to throw a Halloween bash at our place. Having friends over for any reason is one if our favorite things to do, and yet we haven't done that much since we've lived here in Germany. We finally have a good solid crew of friends here locally and we were all itching for a reason to get excited about Halloween.

I'm typically not terribly good on the creative front. I like to leave those tasks to the hubby who seems to have been born with a gene I am clearly missing. This time around I wanted to try to be imaginative - do some fun baking and decorations, but not go too overboard. I had so much fun using pinterest for ideas and healthy baking recipes. I spent literally the entire day baking and cooking, and it was great!

Part of our spread...
Including witches fingers...
And deviled eye balls - ha!
With the party on the horizon and the realization that our poor planning meant nothing from the States would be shipped here on time, we found ourselves exploring a local costume and party store. Halloween is not quite a holiday here, but it's catching on. The store didn't exactly have what we were looking for. Good thing I brought my very talented husband along to come up with costume ideas. This is what Big R came up with...

Meet Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI
Hard to take ourselves serious
So, for Halloween we were French royalty and little r was a dragon. A pretty darn cute one but he didn't keep his costume on long enough even for a picture. We'll be trick or treating this week so I'll give it another try. The gathering was pretty chill. Hopefully everyone had as much fun as we did.

Pumpkin carving is always fun with the kiddos
King Louis giving his dragon some assistance with his pumpkin carving
I escaped from my costume and enjoyed time with the ladies

The party was only the first half of our weekend though. While I was having fun in the kitchen, Big R took a trip to Ikea to purchase a big boy bed for little r. A new bed for the little man has been in the works now for quite awhile. The one we had our sights on at a local store here, though, was no longer available, so we had to start over with our ideas. Per usual, Ikea came to the rescue. (I am now convinced that nearly all the furniture in our apartment is from the Swedish mega store, which means we also have a vast collection of Allen wrenches!)

Big R had a successful shopping journey and came home with all sorts of fun for little r. We still have some more things we'd like to do to make his room more grown up - like fun decals for the walls and a new rug - but I'd say we've got a great start!

How much fun is this bed!?
And he has a new storage shelf for his toys - finally everything fits!
Cozy bed full of animals and snugly blankets - I think I might start sleeping here, too!
Big R even created a fun train track under the bed.

Big R couldn't wait to get the bed put together, so that was done yesterday before our friends showed up for the party. The rest of the room was out together before we were even out of our pjs. Leaving the rest of the day to enjoy.

We finally saw some sun after over a week of gloomy weather and it snowed all day the day before, so the air was crisp. After finishing up some other chores, we bundled up for a family walk and then snuggled in our warm home and ate cookies.

Not a bad weekend at all. How was yours?



Thursday, October 25, 2012

We might be adopting a war hero

As my fellow dog-lover friends know all too well, not having a dog in your life can be tough sometimes. You get so accustomed to having that unconditional love and companionship to be a part of your every day lives. It is true that it's a huge responsibility, but once that responsibility becomes part of who you are, there is definitely a void there when it is gone.

All that said, even though we have missed Rani and having a dog like no other, bringing a new dog into our lives now doesn't really make much sense. We travel regularly, for one, and we have many other factors going on in our lives that make bringing a new puppy or a young dog into our lives less than optimal. So, we had decided that we would wait until we move back stateside before looking into adopting our new friend.

That's when a great opportunity presented itself, and Big R and I couldn't turn away. Despite my tiresome mantra of "we can't get a dog right now, we really need to wait" I felt myself dialing a number to inquire about a dog. But this isn't just any dog. The facebook posting said, "do you want to adopt a war hero?" The military has a whole troop of working dogs that assist Soldiers in their duties all over the world. Those dogs work hard, and then they retire and need a loving home to retire to. That's where we step in...

He immediately felt like part of the family
This particular dog was trained for explosives and has been in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Lando has lived in Germany most, if not all, of his life, which is now 11 years. It's true that adopting an 11 year old dog might seem crazy to some people, but to us, we couldn't think of a better way to bring a dog back into our lives. He's healthy, agile, active, and friendly. His favorite thing to do when he's not working is snuggle up on a couch.

Big R learning some commands - Lando is trained better than we are!
We were excited to meet Lando to see if he and the situation was as wonderful as it seemed. And this dog was exactly as we had hoped. He's definitely an old boy, but his friendly and immediately took to little r. He ran the agility training course like it was nothing, and his training is, of course, impeccable. The decision became easy. Big R and I looked at each other and we just knew this was a good fit for our family and for Lando.

little r and Lando were instant pals
Lando running up the tripod stairs with ease
jump the barriers? don't mind if I do!
Because Lando belongs to the government, we have to go through some paperwork and review for approval of the adoption. The MPs had all of the paperwork on their end completed, so we just needed to fill out our requirements and get things handed in so that the review process can begin. The only challenging piece on our end was getting written approval from our landlords. They don't speak a lick of English and my German is torturous at best, so I had a feeling it was going to be interesting. Interesting or not, I ended up with a signed letter in my hand last night - we are on our way!

The review process can take as long as 4 to 6 weeks, but we are hoping it will be much quicker than that this time around. Hopefully just after Thanksgiving we'll have a snuggly new member of the family. We can't wait!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My most challenging week as a mother

I wish I could say this past week was challenging because little r was pushing all my buttons or channeling his inner monster. We do have a rather spirited child, so this would not be out of the realm of possibility. Instead though, this was an especially challenging week for completely unforeseeable reasons.

A couple weeks ago, Big R and I noticed that our crazy little man had a huge bump on the inside of his knee. We wasted no time and got him in to see a pediatrician at the army clinic right away. The pediatrician predicted it was just a cyst, but the radiologist interpreted the X-rays quite differently. We were told he had a tumor - most likely benign - and that he needed to see an ortho specialist and have an MRI as soon as possible.  This started a frenzy of phone calls for appointments and coordination for referrals. We even nearly had to cancel our trip to France, but the MRI couldn't be scheduled for a couple of weeks, so we were assured that going through with our plans would be fine.

The MRI was scheduled for this past week. Because you have to lay very still during the MRI procedure, and because it can be frightening even for adults, they sedate the little ones. The sedation requires fasting and the doctors like to hydrate the kids beforehand with IV, so it required an overnight stay at the Klinikum, or hospital, on Monday night.  That one overnight stay quickly turned into three, but I'm happy to be able to say it could have been much longer and far more serious, so you won't hear me complain.

Big R and I worked hard to remain strong. Too many possibilities were going through our minds. Surgery was seeming inevitable, and the thought was horrible especially considering our athletic little boy was hardly fazed by this large bump on his knee.  After much anticipation, we finally heard from the doctors that it was in fact not a tumor. Thank the Lord! It was instead a cyst that was quite dense making it appear like bone on the X-ray. We were so relieved.

A small, yet noninvasive, procedure was still needed to remove some of the pressure from little r's knee. This required more sedation and at least one, if not two, more nights of observation to be sure there were no complications or infection.

This week was bananas. Remove the stress of the whole ordeal and we are left with some memories that are hard not to laugh at. First of all, my spirited child is an impossible patient. This is never the case when he goes for a check up, and his visit to the dentist was spectacular. But you stick a needle in my kid's arm and show him blood, he's gonna scream. And boy did he ever.

Part of our check in procedures required a blood draw and a placement of an IV. He was so calm at first. It was kind if amazing. Then he was getting apprehensive. They don't use a vacuum tube to draw blood here but instead let the blood drip into the collection tube. This makes a mess when you have a toddler squirming. I think little r was convinced he was dying. Poor little guy started screaming at the top if his lungs. He looked straight into my eyes and said, "I'm done with this game, mommy. All done. This man is holding me, tell him to let go!"  That was rough. But then it was over, and little r and I put it all behind us(I thought).

Our first night in the Klinikum was long. We watched a lot of German cartoons and tried as best we could to sleep. The nurse started little r on IV fluids around 3 a.m. and that's when the sleeping stopped. Can't hardly blame the kid for not understanding what was going on.  He was so tired that sedation was easy as pie in the morning. He barely lasted 30 seconds before he was asleep and snoring. He even slept another 2 hours after his MRI was completed.

Waiting for the results felt like an eternity.  This is something I wish for no parent to have to go through, and my heart goes out to those parents that get the unfortunate news of finding out there little ones are sick or require major surgery.  After discussing the results with us, they whisked little r down to another room to do an ultrasound.  He behaved for this part.  Apparently the ultrasound tickled, so it wasn't scary.  Because of how dense and firm the cyst was (it really did feel like bone - it was amazing), the doctor wanted to do a procedure to remove fluid from the cyst.  Doing this both released the pressure from his knee and also gave them the ability to test the fluid for signs of infection or various other concerns.  So, we would be staying in the Klinikum for a couple more nights.

The next day is when the fun really began.  Little did the doctors and nurses know that little r was ready to unleash the furry.  He had had enough, and he was flat out done with being touched.  Unfortunately for him (and for us), he had been far too active and the IV they placed in his arm was no longer good, so they had to remove it and place a new one.  Good gravy.  This was a disaster.  A combination of being overtired and scared to death resulted in four of us holding him down and my child acting as if his life were hanging in the balances.

I had no idea that it was much more difficult to find a strong vein in a child for an IV.  We were lucky with the first one.  The poor doc had a hell of a time trying to get an IV to set, and little r had the doc so worked up his hands were literally shaking.  He had to call on reinforcements, which I'm sure was embarrassing for him.  Not five minutes later, an older gentlemen was knocking on our door and telling us something important in German.  We were clueless, of course.  Then he said in English, "I'm the senior pediatrician.  I
was called because there is trouble and my assistance is needed." Classic.

Here we are, yet again, all four of us holding him down.  The doctor had to place the IV in little r's foot because that was the only place he could hold onto with a strong vein.  I was up by little r's head, and he was holding me so tight I could barely breath and screaming so loud I was temporarily deaf.  Big R had his other leg, which was a challenge in itself.  He claims the doctor was pretty fearless, but little r did not make things easy for him.  After that began little r's stand - no one was touching him for any reason whatsoever, and from that point forward he indeed made it rather difficult for the doctors and nurses to get their job done.  My child is special.  These are skills I have no doubt will make him a strong individual as an adult, but at this juncture, they just help keep my life entertaining.

I had quite honestly felt as though we were deep in an episode of Grey's Anatomy.  There was no way this craziness was really happening, right?  We were in the process of calming little r down and waiting for the doctors to come get him for the procedure when THE BIG GUY came for a visit.  Here in Germany they refer to their head specialist doctors as "professors."  We got a visit from THE ortho professor, and behind him came his entourage of young doctors eager to learn everything from this all-mighty genius.  He did give off an aire of wisdom.  I felt smarter just having him walk into the room.  At this point I was absolutely convinced that we were on an episode of Grey's - there was no doubt.

We got a visit from the Professor because there had been a strong possibility that his specialist ortho skills would be a necessity in the operating room to remove the tumor from little r.  We were all relieved, but I'm sure some of the younger doctors were hoping for a tad more excitement. I was happy  not to give it to them.

The procedure was really quick, and we anticipated a similar recovery that we had witnessed the day before.  So, Big R kissed me good-bye and headed back to the office to get a few things done.  HA!  I have no idea what they gave my child to sedate him that morning, but he came back possessed.  It was insane!  He was sleeping with his eyes open...kind of, talking in his sleep, yelling and thrashing around.  Then he woke up and his eyes were dancing and he was adamant that he was going to get out of that crib. Yes, this kid who could barely sit up was determined he was ready to take on the day.  He tried to stand up and fell over while promptly telling me that all the people in the room were "busy."  It was entertaining right until the moment that he got hostile and I had no other choice but to "lock" him into his crib until he found his sanity.  I felt like I was dealing with a short, very violent drunk man.  Awesome.

I think I held back tears for maybe 10 minutes before I couldn't stand it anymore.  I rescued him from the crib and just held him.  That's what we do as mothers, right?  Our hearts ache when we hear our children cry in fear and pain.  I rocked him for probably an hour, and then my child miraculously found his way back.

The rest of the hospital stay was less eventful.  We were exceedingly thankful for our release.  Four nearly full days in the hospital felt like an eternity (although we know it wasn't and things could have been infinitely worse).  Little r's knee is nicely bandaged, but he feels no pain or discomfort.  In fact, I'm not sure he has any idea what we were doing there.  He thought the doctors were helping his bug bites go away.  The bandage gets changed by the Army doctor tomorrow.  I asked the scheduler to note on the appointment that she would be needing some assistance.  She thought I was joking.

We just need to keep his knee bandaged for another week, and then we can go back to things as normal.  He visits with the doctors at the Klinikum again in about a month just as a follow-up.  We aren't expecting any issues or concerns.

Someone was definitely looking out for our family this week.  As a mother, I'm not sure if there has been a more challenging time for me.  The emotions, exhaustion, anxiety... It's horrible to see your little one go through so much.  I pray that none of my friends ever need to go through anything serious with their children, and I pray even harder for those mothers that do.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Provence & Cote d'Azur: Part III

We woke up on our third day in France on the coast of Cagnes sur Mer to a lovely breakfast served on the beautiful terrace by our hostess, Daniela.

Breakfast was simple, but delicious, and we really could not have a better view
Our customary early wake-up call from little r introduced us to a plethora of bizarre French cartoons.  By the time we sat down to eat breakfast, our wild child was raring to go. So, we ate quickly, and Big R took the little man to the boat docks so he could watch the fisherman bringing in their catch for the day and throw rocks into the ocean (little r's new favorite pastime).

little r watching the fisherman unload their morning catch
beach time with Daddy
the little man no doubt contemplating the meaning of life
he became a pro at throwing rocks into the sea
and dancing among the waves
even the dogs got up early for fishing
My favorite part about the rocky beaches in Cagnes sur Mer was listening to the rocks sing as the waves came up to shore and pulled back out to sea.  I could have sat there all day meditating to the sound.  But alas, we had much bigger adventures in mind, and it was yet another beautiful day in Cote d'Azur.  So, we climbed back into the car and took the short coastal drive to Antibes.

As I mentioned before, every town we visited was different than the last.  Some places we were not terribly excited about, but others we were very fond of. Antibes was one of the latter.  What a beautiful little Provencal town.  It had all the character one would expect to see in this region, and it did not disappoint.  We got lucky with a parking space again, and we were quickly on our feet exploring this cute little gem.

small square in Antibes
street view in Antibes
Antibes' public beach
Easily, our favorite experience in Antibes was going to the Provencal market.  What a sight!  All of the fresh produce, spices, olives, and anything else that comes to mind when you think "French" you could find in this incredible market.

Overhead view of the Provencal market in Antibes
there were cheeses
colorful spices to allure the senses
olives of every variety
and of course, wonderful wine and meats
artful depictions of the Provencal market
there were so many options, how do you chose?
We made the mistake of leaving Antibes in search of the sandy beaches promised in our guide book between there and Juan les Pins, just a short drive away.  I have to make this one sidenote about guide books for this region, they are lousy.  It's almost as if the area is too grand for a proper description, so they skim the region with a little talk here and there about what you should see.  We found often that the recommendations were lacking.  This was especially true when it came to beaches in Cote d'Azur.  I have to say, when we booked this trip, we didn't intend for it to be a beach vacation, so that wasn't even our focus.  And I'm glad we chose to keep our eye on other things.  The couple hours we did spend searching for a nice public beach to play in the sand was a complete waste of time.  Juan les Pins was overly commercialized, and there was private beach after private beach.  We were told there were public beaches in the area, but we had no luck finding one.  The guide books said there was 18 kilometers of sandy beautiful beaches between Antibes and Juan les Pins.  Funny how they forgot to mention that the hotels owned them all.  So, if you do decide to spend a beach vacation in Cote d'Azur, either stay in a hotel with beach access, or enjoy the many rocky beaches in towns like Cagnes sur Mer instead. You'll be much happier.

We turned again to our guide book for the top ten beaches in the area.  At the top of the list was Point de Antibes.  Yes, it was beautiful, and the diving must be immaculate, but we were really confused how this landed at the top of a list of best beaches in what is often known as a summer paradise.  We stopped and went for a dip...well, the boys did.  The water was freezing, so I enjoyed the drier views and stayed warm.

small cove near Point de Antibes where the boys went swimming

We worked our way back to Cagnes sur Mer to do a little exploring at our home base.  We thought we might try renting bikes and taking a trip to Nice, but it was getting a bit late in the day, so we wouldn't be able to do much of any exploring once we got there.  Instead, we road a touristy double bike, and fought with our wild man the entire ride.  This was not one of his brighter moments.  We thought a few times that we might be able to hand him off to a gypsy, but despite his whining, he was a little too cute to give away.

little r insisted on driving, which made pedaling the crazy bike quite a challenge
We found ourselves instead driving toward Villfranche sur Mer for dinner.  It sits just to the east of Nice, and it came highly recommended.  I was really looking forward to seeing this fishing village.  Driving to Villfranche was an adventure itself.  The route winds through Nice as you climb and descend narrow roadways carefully navigating around parked cars.  Our GPS was our best friend on this part of our adventure.

Villfranche sur Mer is just as beautiful as promised.  The fishing village climbs the steep cliffs that ascend off of the coastline, and the hillsides and coastlines are spotted with pastel buildings with character from a much earlier time.  We literally fell in love with this place.  It was a quiet Sunday night in town, so parking was easy, and picking a perfect dinner location was effortless.  The servers at our restaurant were having fun practicing their English with us as Big R continued to practice his french. It was probably the only meal we had the entire trip that little r ate happily and seemed to really enjoy himself.

Villfranche sur Mer

harbor at Villfranche sur Mer

After dinner we strolled around town and took in the sights by nightlight.  We tested our GPS on several occasions to get back to Cagnes sur Mer.  Little r quickly fell asleep once we got to the car, so the choice to crawl into bed was an easy one when we got back to our B&B.

The next morning we enjoyed our breakfast on the terrace and took into some more of the beautiful coastline in Cagnes sur Mer before heading back toward Marseilles for our flight home.  We took a detour to visit a quaint hillside town called, Gourdon.  This was a gem buried deep in our guidebook.  The town is quite literally built into the mountain.  As we worked our way up to the town, we were impressed by the strength of the road bikers making their way up.

A view of Gourdon on the scenic drive to the town
we marveled at the athletes
Another beautiful photo of Gourdon
Once we reached Gourdon, we were pleasantly surprised by its quaint charm and it's quiet nature.  Although there were tourists, this was clearly off-the-beaten-path, and we were lucky to have found it.  It made for a perfect detour and last visit of Provence before heading home.

the main street in Gourdon

After a quick, but tasty lunch in Gourdon, it was time to head west toward Marseilles   We were in that awkward timeframe where we didn't really have enough time for another coastal or hillside adventure in Provence, but without an additional stop, we'd be stuck at the airport frightfully early.  So, we thought we'd try to squeeze in a quick visit to Aix-en-Provence, which sits just 20 minutes to the north of the airport.  We probably should have just opted to be early.  Our trip to Aix was unimpressionable and rushed.  In all fairness to Aix, this chic city should not be viewed in a mere 30 minutes.  I hope to give it a true visit some day, but I suppose there are other places in Provence I'd rather spend my time.  By all means though, please don't take our experience as a reason not to visit.  I've read and heard amazing things about Aix-en-Provence, and if you have had a visit there and want to share your stories with us, please do!

The trip back to the airport was uneventful except for a little struggle trying to figure out how exactly to get our rental car back. Apparently driving the wrong way on a one-way road is allowed if you play stupid.  HA!  The flight was delayed and the folks at the Marseilles airport were just a tad bit less friendly than our German counterparts in Munich.  They gave us grief about the carseat and glared at the size of our carry-on. Both of these were a non-issue getting to France.  None of this would have mattered one bit except that they nearly lost the carseat (that easily would have fit on the plane, by the way), so we had about 45 minutes of sheer panic.  Until that time I never gave it a moment of thought about what we would do if we got to our home airport and couldn't actually drive home because we were missing the most important element of our journey (maybe next to the car keys themselves?).  Luckily we didn't have to give that thought any additional time, and we did eventually get the carseat back (which is considered oversized luggage, by the way, for any of our friends that might be caught in a similar situation).

We made it home before midnight (barely), and enjoyed a good night's rest in our own beds dreaming about our wonderful time in France.