Wednesday, November 30, 2011


One hundred posts. Another milestone reached this November, this one will not pass unnoticed, but will pass without the fanfare of my 30th birthday or Lauris’s first haircut. Similar to the one-year anniversary of our arrival in France (November 8th), it serves to remind me of how quickly time flies.

Looking back on the past year I realize how much things have changed: Lauris is not a little baby anymore, but far from making our lives easier this has only made things more challenging. We aren’t the new arrivals in Clermont-Ferrand any longer; we have been in our apartment for over six months now and a handful of families have arrived since. We have become accustomed to life here; we have chosen our favorite flower shop and boulangerie, know the best times to go grocery shopping to avoid the lines, and somewhat understand the daily rhythm of the city. And most importantly Clermont now feels like home, we have formed friendships and established relationships that give our life here excitement and meaning.

A 29 week bump
But as the saying goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same. My French language skills have barely improved beyond what I arrived in France with. We still have only the most basic understanding of how “things work” here, many times struggling under the deluge of paperwork and appointments needed to retain our status as legal residents. And the longing to be near family has not only remained with us, but possibly increased as we miss all the family gatherings and celebrations back in the US.

This next year will bring far greater change as we welcome the new addition to the family and learn to adjust to being a family of four. But it will also bring more opportunity to travel to new places, meet new people and experience new things, and for this I am extremely grateful. Keeping this diary of our adventures here has become so much more than what it started as 100 posts ago; from a method of keeping friends and family updated on our travels, Lauris’s development and life in France, it has expanded into a catharsis that allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. No matter that the laundry basket is full and I have yet to finish the ironing from the last, no matter that the room/table/area I just cleaned is already a mess, no matter that there are days where all I do is prepare food, at the end of the day I have something to show for my efforts because I have this blog, I have my 100 posts, and I have a record that we are learning, living and loving our time here in France.

Rue des Gras on Thanksgiving day

And the post that started it all, Happy New Year!!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Première coupe de cheveux

Another big event this month, Lauris got his first haircut! He really didn’t have much hair as a baby, so I had been reluctant to cut any of his wispy locks. There was a short period of time when his hair seemed to have a reddish tint, and as he looks a whole lot like Roberts I was rooting for a little auburn so that my genes would make an appearance as well. However, the more hair he gets, the more blonde it looks, and the hair on top especially was starting to get very long. He was getting some perma-bed-head from sleeping on his back, and although I was hoping not to have it cut too short, I did wish that we could get rid of some of that fuzz and the strands that were getting in his face.

Finally after yet another skype conversation with his grandfather in Kalamazoo where the topic of haircuts was brought up, I decided it was time (plus it would be a nice surprise for dad when he gets home from his business trip!). We cruised past a barbershop that had been recommended by a friend as being great with children, but they were booked full and the barber seemed a little surprised at how young Lauris was. So we went to the park, and stopped in the local salon on our way home to see if they could cut it. The woman took one look at little angel Lauris and made me promise to come back at 5pm that very day, of course she would give him his first haircut!

We returned as promised, mom with a bagful of books, toys and dread that we would have a disaster in the chair, Lauris with his flyaway hair doing a number from the static of his hat. He watched with interest as she finished up another customer’s hair, and then both women fawned and flirted with him as the bill was settled and au revoirs were said. Then, as I was busy pulling out Lauris’s books and toys, the hairdresser scooped Lauris up, sat him in the chair up on a booster seat, threw a special Mickey sheet over him and buttoned it behind his neck, and Lauris didn’t even bat an eye! It was as if he was a regular and was ready to talk baseball! She snipped away, and I was relieved to see that the distractions weren’t necessary and I was going to have my hands free to snap some photos.

Not even ten minutes later my little wild-haired boy had been transformed into a proper toddler, I had an envelope with a few snippets for the memory book in hand, and my camera with première coupe de cheveux pictures was stowed. As I bundled Lauris up and buckled him in I asked how much I owed. “Un cadeau” she replied, a gift, it is his first haircut.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

As a Latvian-American, Thanksgiving has always been a holiday celebrated a little differently from my American friends. As they all headed home for four days of family, food and football, I was usually catching a train/plane/ride to another city for that year’s annual ALJA Kongress. As a member of the American Latvian Youth Association (in the last years a board member), the annual board meeting and elections were very much anticipated, as was the party, the reunions with friends long not seen, and the chance to be a tourist in yet another American city.

At the last Kongress I attended, I was up in front serving as secretary for the meeting of members when the motion was submitted and voted „yes” on to congratulate me on “the bun in the oven.” (Submitted by my wonderful husband, this was also our first big public announcement on the pregnancy!) This also turned out to be my last Kongress; even though one can be a member until the age of 35, I decided to pass on my board position of treasurer to the next capable hands, spent one year serving on the board of advisors and am now content watching my younger siblings enjoy the annual shenanigans.

Hard at work at my last ALJA Kongress
Here in France Thanksgiving has taken on a whole new meaning. Although we were in Clermont for the holiday last year, we hadn’t really met many Americans, and so we celebrated our thanks just the three of us, my husband, Lauris and I. This year, we will be attending the annual Thanksgiving and Harvest Fellowship Thanksgiving celebration hosted by Christ Church Clermont along with well over 100 other English-speaking residents of Clermont-Ferrand and the surrounding area. I have had the traditional turkey with trimmings on Thanksgiving before; living in Georgia I spent one Thanksgiving with the wonderful family that I rented my little house from. However, this will be my first real American Thanksgiving and I find it incredible ironic that it will be in France

I have so much to be thankful for this year, and as my stomach expands and my emotions escalate, I find myself often in tears over all the wonderful family and friends, old and new, that are here with us in France. Whether you are here in person, through skype, with letters, cards and packages, or with us just by reading this blog, I value your friendship, your kind words, your thoughts and your love. Happy holidays.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I’m getting old.

It’s one celebration after another this month, as we observed Lauris’s 18 month birthday and then Latvia’s independence day. I've neglected to mention the first of the bunch, this was my 30th birthday. Sandwiched between our Normandy trip and the Halloween party, I didn’t have the energy (nor the will) to organize anything, and so all the planning was left to Roberts. 

My expectation was flowers and dinner, and Roberts didn’t disappoint. The day before the dreaded 30 I came home to find vases of flowers scattered through the house. And then although the day itself was spent preparing for the Halloween party and cleaning house, in the evening a sitter arrived to take care of Lauris while we went out to dinner.

My quest for the best truffade in Clermont-Ferrand continued with a meal at La Caveau, which has been recommended to me by several friends especially for this Auvergne dish. The atmosphere (which was exactly what the name promised) was excellent, the room we were seated in held only four tables and all the cooking was done right there on the spot. We ordered chicken and beef (served with a blue cheese sauce), and both were equally delicious, but the champion was the truffade, which definitely ranks among my favorites here in Clermont.

Spoiled rotten!

The biggest surprise of my birthday came in the form of various packages that started arriving in the mail even a few days before, and continued turning up for a whole week. I first opened my present from my husband, in fact I should say presents, 30 individually wrapped gifts he and Lauris had been drawing, gathering and wrapping for who knows how long. I thought it was very cute, how he was sticking to the theme of thirty, and should have known it was no coincidence when I opened the present from my godmother, 30 of her favorite poems on colored sheets of paper. Then, the list of 30 things from my aunt and her family, the artwork of thirty leaves from my godson and family (along with a list of 30 breads to make and 30 Latvian centers in North America), another list of 30 from my grandmother along with a selection of 30 tea sachets, and a 30 song CD compilation from my cousin in Montreal. My sister and her husband continued the leaf theme with a 30 page book with pressed leaves they had gathered in Brooklyn (and 30 Reese’s!) The kicker, thirty individually wrapped presents from my parents and siblings in Chicago containing among other things; the traditional Latvian birthday cake (kliņģeris), chocolate, a framed piece of art of 30 leaves personally gathered, scanned and arranged, a few perfectly sized maternity shirts and a ton of other stuff! It was only a week later that I learned my sweet husband had come up with the idea and coordinated these mailings; thanks to him and all the participants for the best birthday, ever.

So I’m a year older, a year wiser. It isn’t as traumatic as I expected it to feel, to know that I’ve lived three decades; this is partly due to the adventure of everyday life here in France, but most of the credit belongs to my loving husband and son, who continue to make each and every day a new adventure.

Monday, November 21, 2011

30. dzimšanas diena

For the English version you’ll have to wait for the next post!

Lauris nav vienīgais kuŗš novembrī svinēja jubilēju; es mēneša sākumā svinēju savu trīsdesmito dzimšanas dienu. Visumā nebiju pārāk sajūsmā par šo dienu, mēs bijām nupat atgriezušies no mūsu Normandijas ceļojuma un bija jāgatavojās uz lielo Halovīna balli mūsu dzīvoklī. Tamdēļ arī neko sevišķi nebiju plānojusi, atstāju visu Roberta rokās domājot, ka būs sarunāta auklīte Laurim un jaukas vakariņas pilsētā.

Lauris palīdz salikt jauno IKEA lādi

Tā arī notika. Dienu ar Lauri pavadiju grebjot ķirbi nogales viesībām, taisot sikspārnu tūtiņas, kur bērniem likt savas konfektes un tīrot māju. Vakarā aukle atnāca un ar Robertu devos uz pilsētu. Neesmu vēl uzdevusi meklēt Clermont-Ferrand labāko truffade, vietējo kartupeļa un siera specialitāti, un vairākas paziņas ir man ieminējušās, ka viņām mīļākā truffade esot La Caveau resturantā. Nolēmām pamēģināt neko citu daudz par šo vietu nezinot. Atradām, un tiešām atradamies tādā „aliņā”, mūsu istabā tikai četri galdiņi un pavārds. Resturanta specialitāte izrādijas: gaļa! Vērša gaļa, jēra gaļa, vistas gaļa, visas ceptas uz uguns un pasniegtas ar zilo sieru vai sēņu mērci, un ar lielu pannu truffade! Roberts pasūtija vērša gaļu, es cāļa, mēs abi apēdām pusi savas maltītes un tad izmainijāmies, lai varētu arī nogaršot ko citu. Gala vērtējums? Varena gaisotne un apkalpošana, garšīgs ēdiens, truffade viena no labākām kuŗu esmu Clermont ēdusi, vienīgi cenas uz augsto pusi (un vīnu var tikai pirkt pa pudeli, ne pa glāzei).

Mājās ieradāmies un atradām Lauri labā omā. Tad arī iznāca attaisīt kādu dāvanu. Man par samērā lielu pārsteigumu bija pienākušas pastā vairākas pakas no ģimenes Amerikā; nesagaidītas, jo attāluma pēc domāju būs kartiņas. Roberts jau iepriekšējā vakarā mani pārsteidza ar puķēm izkaisītām vāzēs pa visu māju, bet galveno dāvanu viņš neatklāja par savējo līdz nākamai nedēļai! Izrādijās, ka netikai viņš ar Lauri man bija sazīmējuši, satinuši un sarakstijuši trīsdesmit dāvaniņas, viņi arī bija mudinājuši maniem radiņiem līdzīgus sūtijumus izveidot. Un tā man nāca pakas, viena pēc otras, ilgāk pa nedēļu! Sākumā brīnijos, ka visi sadomājuši tik varenas ‘30’-tēmatotas dāvanas. Vēlāk sapratu, ka kādam to bija jāorganizē, bet pate neuzminēju atbildīgo; to beidzot tikai uzzināju runājot ar sūtijuma dalībniekiem.

Gribu dalīties ar dažām no manām dāvanām. No krustmātes atnāca 30 viņas mīļākie dzejoļi, drukāti  uz krāsainiem papīriem (kuŗiem starpā arī bija daži mani mīļākie dzejoļi). No krustdēla un ģimenes bija varena fotogrāfija no 30 rudens lapām ko bija salasijuši un salikuši kolāžā (arī saraksts ar 30 raugumaizītēm un 30 latviešu centriem Ziemeļamerikā). Vecmamma sūtija man 30 tējas maisiņus un sarakstu ar 30 lietām kas viņai nāk prātā domājot par mani. No māsas ar vīru turpinājās rudens lapu tēma, viņi bija salikuši grāmatu ar 30 skaistām Ņujorkas lapām un tad vēl kastē salikuši 30 manas mīļākās šokolādes. Māsica Montreālā atsūtija 30-dziesmu CD. Tante ar ģimeni Čikagā arī bija izdomājuši 30 lietu garu sarakstu. Un mani vecāki, māsa un brālis bija salikuši 30 dāvanas kuŗu starpā bija dzimšanas dienas kliņģeris (!), šokolāde, ierāmēta rudens lapu kolāža kuŗu bija paši veidojuši, un vēl visādas varenas lietiņas. Protams pakām arī bija klāt lietas kuŗas tieši nepiesaistija numuru 30, bet abi divi saraksti bija tik vareni, ka ar tiem dalīšos.

D omātāja
A ktīva blogotāja
U gunskura vadītāja
D arītāja
Z inīga ceļvede

L aura lutinātāja
A vīzītes (Foršās) bijušā redaktrise
I zcila omletes gatavotāja
M īļa māsica
E nerģiska „Scrabble” spēlētāja
S ēņu necienītāja

U teņa apmeklētāja
N ovērtēta sieva

B ibliotēkas baudītāja
U zjautrinoša „Soļānka” dalībniece
Č akla mājas māte
A merikas pilsone
S ieru un saldējuma degustētāja

L iela lasītāja
I nteresanta tūristu gide
E x ugunsdzēsēja
N ometņotāja
E iropas ceļotāja
I ndīgās efejas pazinēja

D abas draudzene
A sprātīga
I Pad lietotāja
G eocaching eksperte
A stoņpadsmitā augustā vārda dienas svinētāja
I iespaidīga jāņsiera raušu cepēja
            (no Ceru ģimenes)

30 Ļoti svarīgas lietas kas man nāk prātā, kad domāju par Lieni Daigu;

1. Viņa ir mana pirmā mazmeita
2. Pieder manas ģimenes ļoti eksklusīvam 31-61-81-91-01 klubam
3. Pirmajā dzīves gadā naktīs nelabprāt gulēja, neļāva gulēt arī savai māmiņai.
4. Kā dzirdu, 28. un 29. dzīves gadā labprā™ gulētu cauras naktis!!... (kādēļ nē?).
5. Dāvāja man pirmo mazmazdēlu.
6. Kā maza guntiņa ievēroja Robertu Kukaini.
7. Sasniedza Dzimtenes Lielgaidas pakāpi.
8. Manā ģimenē, savā paaudzē pirmā latviešu gaidu vadītāja.
9. Dzīvoja veselu nedēļu nometnē ar 3 mēn. Vecu dēliņu! (es to nekad pat neapsvērtu darīt!)
10. Savā mūžā dzīvojusi čētrās ASV pavalstīs.
11. Strādājusi vēl vairāk pavalstīs.
12. Kāpusi augstos kokos pētīt un skaitīt putnu ligzdas un olas.
13. Ugunsdzēsēja.
14. Vienīgā mežkope ģimenē.
15. Saimnieka „puisis” (persona?) Gaŗezerā.
16. Pussmagās automašīnas īpašniece
17. Mīl kaķus.
18. Atveda man Ziemassvētku eglīti no Georgia’s.
19. Sūta man jaukas, gaŗas vēstules un pasta kartītes no visām pasaules malām.
20. Apceļojusi, es nezinu cik, pasaules valstis.
21. Dzīvo Francijā.
22. Viņai garšo: šprotes, Colby Jack, šokolāde.
23. Viņai negaršo: sēnes
24. Regulāri raksta dienas grāmatu – blog.
25. Cep vienreizējas pajas – pekanu un ķiršu.
26. Ir grūtības siet Jāņu sieru.
27. Ģērbjas eleganti!
28. Drošina mani, ka varēšot rīkoties ar I PAD.
29. Ir Laura Ūsiņa mamma.
30. Ir Roberta sieva.
Es tevi ļoti mīlu, V(ecmamma)

Friday, November 18, 2011

18. novembris

Ninety three years ago on this day was the Proclamation of an independent Latvia. The previous day a People’s Council (Tautas padome) had been established, and elections were held to elect the first Latvian Provisional Government. On November 18th, 1918 the first session of the new government was held in the National Theatre and independence was proclaimed.

Since that day in history, Latvia blossomed as a free country, was overrun by foreign armed forces during World War II, was illegally occupied for almost 50 years by the Soviet Union, declared the restoration of its de facto independence on August 21, 1991, and was admitted to NATO and the EU. I was born in the US during the years of occupation, and it is in my lifetime that Latvia regained its independence. Although my parents were also born in the United States, Latvian was my first language and is the language I speak with my husband and son.

The Freedom monument (Brīvības piemineklis) in Rīga, LV

The 18th has always held significant meaning to me, but more so once I moved away from Chicago and the Latvian society there. When I was a child, the concerts, speeches and memorial services held  were hard to sit through, the solemnity of it all lost on a child. Then shortly before my tenth birthday I was away at camp, and the boy scouts acted out a campfire skit that will forever be etched in my memory; they were soldiers, and they were fighting for Latvia (of course rolling around in the dirt, dying and shooting their guns as loudly as possible, boys being boys). The following day (August 21st, 1991) we received the news from civilization that our Latvija had regained its independence, and over the years it has become harder and harder to remember the days of demonstrating against the illegal occupation, the letter-writing campaigns and all the wishes for a free country. Once I moved to Georgia (where the local group of Latvian Americans met about twice a year), the 18th became one of the only days I could participate in Latvian society, and the significance of this day of remembrance increased greatly. As the 18th remains a solemn day to acknowledge the past, celebrate the present, and express our hope for the future, my internal debates over what it means to be Latvian are silenced for a day, as I honor the nation and culture that has given me so much yet asked for so little in return.

Daudz laimes dzimšanas dienā, Latvija!

Lauris's first time in Latvia in December, 2010

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A portrait of an 18 month old

The verdict? 87 cm, which is 2 ft 10 ¼ inches, and 12.3 kg, or 27.1 lbs. 97th percentile for height, I can’t imagine where he gets that… Lauris’s 18 month check-up went smoothly, this brave little boy didn’t even cry after receiving his shot. Although he was scared to use the step-on scale and ended up being weighed on the baby scale.

LŪK on Veterans Day, 1.5 years and one day old

Our 18 month old is a mini-person now. He adamantly shakes his head yes or no in answer to our questions, and most often mimics our tone when saying the words and . His goodbyes remain an atā in a singsong falsetto, and mamma is probably his most often used word, because he uses it whenever he needs anything, which ranges from food to the toy he yet again has dropped behind the couch. LŪK is really into his cars now, he has on more than one occasion taken his dump truck and helicopter to sleep with him, and one of his favorite things to do is carry them from room to room and line them up on whatever shelf or available surface he can find.

We often stop to watch the construction site near Place de Jaude and the grocery store, he has become more interested in the equipment lately than before, when only the movement of people would hold his interest. Today we were only feet away from the concrete truck that filled a giant bin that the crane then hoisted high over our heads to the middle of the site. The cranes might be his favorite equipment; he spots them even from his car seat, and often times when neither his father nor I have noticed them.

Books retain his attention for longer and longer periods of time, he can “read” by himself for some time now before wanting someone to provide names to the things he points to (although he’s quite adept at pointing them out himself when asked). He’s developed the cutest sounds for some animals, which mostly sound nothing like the animal (imagine an elephant saying “woo”, but this is accompanied by a hand wave as if lifting an imaginary trunk) but have become instantly recognizable to his mother’s ears. His favorite books are the “lift the flap”, peek-a-boo and moving parts variety, but he spends more and more time with his “dictionaries,” books that have pictures of objects/animals grouped into subjects with labels next to them. I’m learning some new vocabulary along with him: did you know a jellyfish is called medūza in Latvian?

Our little vacuum cleaner is not turning out to be a picky eater so far. Sometimes he needs a little encouragement to try something new, but mostly he at least gives a bite before deciding he doesn’t want any. His meals consist of whatever the adults are eating, but similar to many children, anything that comes from his mother’s plate is more desirable than what’s on his.

With his father in Place de Jaude

The sleeping leaves a lot to be desired. As in a lot of sleep.

Lauris has mastered walking, climbing, clapping, pointing, picking up, opening and closing, and is even showing promise in using the potty, and we are currently practicing jumping, throwing and puzzle-putting. Although judging from the speed with which he completes his train puzzle and the plastic toy he beaned me in the head with yesterday, at least two out of three of those are moving along smoothly (and the third is probably more limited by his pregnant mother's ability at this point than Lauris's skills).

We’ve started talking to him a lot more about the soon-arriving baby, and usually have a willing audience since he’s captivated by anything belly-button. When asked where the baby is he’ll point out my belly, but is becoming increasingly frustrated by my disappearing lap. I think our little Ūsiņš will make a wonderful big brother.

Wishing my little monster a happy 1.5 years, and looking forward to the next six months…

Monday, November 14, 2011

Normandy, part trois

From Cherbourg we headed west on Monday morning, to the very northwest corner of the Contentin peninsula and Goury. With its tiny harbor and lighthouse, it painted a very pretty picture, and we spent an hour skipping stones, running back and forth with the waves and photographing the scene.

Just south of Goury is the Baie d’Écalgrain with its rocky beach backed by heathland. We almost didn’t pull into the parking lot, but luckily turned around and came back, and this turned out to be my favorite beach of the trip. A little more sheltered from the wind with far fewer people than the other beaches, we could feel the power behind each wave as it pulled at the rocks when rushing back to the sea.

Another little bit south and we reached Nez de Jobourg, a rocky and barren promontory (currently a bird sanctuary). The beautiful views in all directions also meant we were more exposed to the elements, and so after a short hike and picnic lunch we were back in the car headed south. A short detour to an overlook across Vauville Bay was our final stop before returning to the highway and settling in for a longer drive south.

Mont-St-Michel is many things in one; it is a rocky outcrop, it is an abbey, it is a salty grass marsh, it is a village, it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a pilgrimage destination and it is a very popular tourist spot! We timed our visit to be able to explore the village in daylight, watch the sunset over the bay from the steps of the church, then dine in one of the little restaurants before heading to our hotel in Pontorson (5 km south of Mont-St-Michel). This meant we were arriving as most people were leaving, as the last entry into the abbey is at 5pm this time of year, but we were content to tour the outer defenses, village and ramparts, viewing the abbey from all sides, and it was a relief not to have to battle the tides of people after the solitude we had experienced over the past days.

Tuesday we ate breakfast and then hit the road. The countryside in this area of France was gorgeous, and I finally found the fall color I had been searching for since September! Poplars, maples and sumacs were shedding their red and gold, yet the pastureland was still very green, with the occasional crop of blooming bright yellow rapeseed. Once inland we traded the sunlight for clouds and rain, but the warmth of the sunshine that had accompanied us on our entire journey through Normandy up until this point warmed us on the rest of the trip home.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Normandy, part deux

Our second day in Normandy was devoted to the sites of the American landings on D-Day, and our first stop was the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. The cemetery, in memory of the 1st (5th Corps of the 1st Army) Division, holds 9,387 crosses and Stars of David, perfectly aligned. We first toured the museum, with its poignant yet personalized exhibits, culminating in a reflecting pool meeting the ocean at the horizon. When the Americans landed on that June 6th, they met a well-organized German defense that was aided by a strong coastal current sweeping landing craft off course. I was extremely moved by the exhibits in the museum, and found myself clutching Lauris’s hand that much tighter upon exiting into the cemetery.

We entered through the memorial which stands in the central alley, past the Walls of the Missing that list 1,557 names. A passing tour guide was overheard explaining the rosettes appearing next to some names; these were the bodies that were recovered and identified after the memorial was built. We passed through the colonnade into the center, with a large bronze statue, "Spirit of American Youth” looking out over another reflecting pool, the burial area and chapel.

Even Lauris seemed somber as we walked through rows upon rows of the white marble crosses. Being in the midst of such a visual reminder of the casualties and overlooking the dunes the soldiers had to surmount in the face of fire, I wonder how the landing ever succeeded; the bravery of those souls that rallied and took the beach that day had before been a thing of textbooks, but now I have the admiration and awe of this day in history to carry around with me forever.

We then stopped at the Monument du Débarquement farther west along Omaha Beach; it seemed that every five yards was another monument, another commemorative plaque. We found a bench farther along the beach to eat lunch before taking a walk along the beach.

The cliffs mark the end of Omaha Beach

Lauris slept as we continued west, and slept as we toured Pointe du Hoc. Another point heavily defended by the Germans, from this point the entire area of the American invasion would have been visible. On the morning of June 6th, the Texas fired 600 salvoes of 14-inch shells, and then the 2nd Battalion of Rangers scaled the cliffs at dawn, sustaining heavy losses, 60% of their men. However, the capture of this battery saved countless lives of the troops landing on Omaha Beach, who would have been particularly exposed. The enormous craters and battered blockhouses painted a vivid picture of the intensity of the shelling, and created a stark contrast with the rolling dunes and sea.

A former gun emplacement

It was after a stop at Utah Beach that Lauris woke up, and we hurried to finish the remainder of the drive to Cherbourg-Octeville, on the very tip of the Contentin Peninsula. It boasts the largest artificial harbor in the world of a surface area of about 5.8 square miles. The capture of Cherbourg on June 26th and 27th in 1944 marked a decisive point in the Battle of Normandy, allowing for the landing of equipment and supplies on a much larger scale than had been formerly possible. When the American 7th Corps took Cherbourg, they found the harbor heavily mined, so it was only after the Royal Navy frogmen cleared the mines that the harbor could be rebuilt. The undersea pipeline PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) from the Isle of Wight brought gasoline through Cherbourg to the Allies for the war effort starting August 12th, 1944. We arrived a tad too late to tour the Cité de la Mer museum that houses Le Redoutable, the first French nuclear submarine, but enjoyed a stroll around the quay and through downtown before turning in for the night.

Happy Veteran's Day, and God bless all the men and women serving our country!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Normandy, part une

With the four day weekend thanks to All Saints' Day / Toussaint, we packed up and left for Normandy on Friday evening. Knowing how hard (impossible!) it would be to drive the whole seven hours in one stretch, we stayed the first night in a hotel in Le Mans, host to the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race since 1923. Note to self; even when booking hotels last minute and looking for a deal, avoid any hotel under 40 euros/night... The next morning after a quick breakfast we were on our way to Caen. A beautiful city, however our exploring was restricted to the Château due to time constraints. Under sunny skies we picnicked up on the hill in the shade of chestnuts and with a view of the citadel. It was difficult to imagine the city we were viewing as the same that was under siege for two months during WWII. (June 6th, 1944 there was a heavy bombing raid after which fires burned for 11 days. Once the Canadians liberated the town on July 9th, the Germans retreated only to begin shelling the town, which lasted another month.) From our perch up on the hill we had a beautiful view of St. Pierre, and a more distant one of St.-Étienne Church, where during the battle more than 1,500 refugees camped out. We explored the ramparts, soaked in the views, and headed north to Pegasus Bridge.

St.-Georges chapel, Château

The site of the two bridges captured soon after midnight during the night of June 5th-6th, 1944 by the British 5th Parachute Brigade was one of the first objectives of the Allied Landings in Normandy. Another unassuming little town, steeped in wartime history. We continued north to the ocean and Sword Beach, Juno Beach and Gold Beach, the landing zones of the British and Canadian troops on D-Day. Arromanches-les-Bains is on the west end of these beaches, and in the little port are the remains of the allied artificial “Mulberry” port. On the east end, high above the town on the dunes is a good eagle-eye view of the port, the harbor, the beaches to the east and the cliffs to the west.

Gold Beach and part of the Arromanches Mulberry harbor

Once down by the ocean visitors must wait until low tide, and then it is possible to walk out onto the beach among the remains of this giant floating harbor. The breakwaters (concrete-filled caissons sunk in the seabed) are also visible, farther out into the ocean, and although some of the concrete pillars still remain, the pier-heads and floating piers (made of metal and on floats) are no longer in the water, so a little imagination must be used to imagine how the port must have looked. The harbor was the landing point for the British Mulberry B troops, and after securing the harbor 146 Phoenix caissons were laid (about 500,000 tons of concrete). These, as well as 33 jetties and 10 miles of floating roads (all prepared before the invasion) had been towed across the Channel at about 4 mph, enabling 9,000 tons of material to be landed each day to support the invasion. (Here I will add that the reasoning behind building these ports was that during the initial invasion/fighting, existing ports would be rendered unusable, and beaches would not allow the landing of the tonnages of materials needed to support the troops in the war effort. These harbors were engineering marvels that were instrumental in the success of the Allied effort.) *All figures and facts courtesy of the Michelin Guide and

Low tide in Arromanches harbor, with sections of the breakwaters and some caissons visible

Monday, November 7, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Between the school holiday and the French All Saints' Day / Toussaint, many of our friends were out of town and therefore we decided to wait a week to throw our Halloween bash. This also coincided with Guy Fawkes Night (although fireworks and bonfires were not destined to be a part of our party!). Well worth the wait, we also had extra time to prepare, as come Saturday morning we were expecting over forty people.

Boo! (Sans one princess and King Arthur)

Being an official IWC mom and baby club event, we were able to utilize the IWC Halloween decorations, which also included a few themed games; perfect, because although some of the larger stores in Clermont sell Halloween costumes, the usual Halloween décor was nowhere to be found. Our work was cut out for us thanks to the attendees willing to bring a dish to share, so I just found black and orange plates at the party store, plastic cups and eating utensils, then jumped online to search for some fun ideas. I ended up with a version of Martha Stewart’s goodie bags (brown paper sacs were nowhere to be found so I used mailing envelopes), the “floating hand (of ice)” in the punchbowl, Halloween 2011 picture frames to add to the goodie bags (complete with picture of each child in costume taken at the party and printed out on my mini photo printer) and a pumpkin carved three days into November.

Photo credit (Halloween goodie bags) to

The dishes served were just as diverse as the costumes that came knocking at our door. We had pumpkin soup, pumpkin cakes, coconut cookies, eyeballs in Jell-o, severed fingers, mummy fingers, tangerines, a Polish fall specialty, chocolate cake and more. Everyone was in the spirit with cute, to scary, and everything in between.

My costume: Puy de Dôme. See the resemblance?

Once the party got into full swing the games started; the kids really got into the dancing and “freeze frame” to Monster Mash, “pin-the-tail on the black cat” and face painting. Apple bobbing removed more than one face painting, and “mummy-wrap” were a few among the many games occurring (sometimes simultaneously) throughout the apartment.

Mommies... I mean daddies... I mean mummies!

Although we are experiencing many new holidays here in France, Halloween is one classic American holiday that I’m glad we were able to celebrate with our friends, French, German, American, Polish, Italian or Greek. Although Lauris possibly won’t remember his spiderman costume, it was wonderful to watch all the kids having Halloween fun. Of course I won’t complain about the bagful of candy that I get to help Lauris eat either!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...