Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sometimes Life is a Musical

Today was one of those days where the sun was shining just for me, there were almost birds on my shoulder singing along to a grand musical number that everyone seemed to know. I felt a little like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Everywhere I went I heard...


Luke and I began our adventure by catching a glimpse of our bus at the stop across the street and about a block away from where we were. I began sprinting... in my jeans, with the stroller and my bag... what a sight it must have been... but we made it! 

There goes Cabrina with her stroller running, I hope she catches this bus... every morning just the same, every morning that she came to this small commuter town"

As we boarded the bus, the driver laughed and made some joke about seeing me run all the way.. but of course it was in French and I didn't quite get every word, but I laughed along with him and imagined him saying 

Good Morning Madam!

Good Morning Monsieur!

Where are you off to?

The Art Museum...
We tried on monday, but it was closed 
I really want to see the...

That's nice.. Come along, Hurry up!

Once I boarded and positioned ourselves for our 15 minute ride I couldn't help but smile. It's quite a feeling of accomplishment running to catch a bus. It feels as though you have altered your fate slightly by saving those 15 minutes it would have taken to sit and wait for the next bus. I was smiling thinking what I could do with those 15 extra minutes. The other passengers kept looking over at me, perhaps trying to figure out why this strange American girl was smiling after sprinting with a stroller. I just imagined...

[Group of Women]
Look there she sits that girls is strange no question. Smiling and distracted, can't you tell?

[Woman #1]
Never part of any crowd.

[Man # 1]
Cuz her head is up in a cloud

[Bus riders]
No denying she's a funny girl that Ms. McNeil

After an uneventful bus then train ride into the city, Luke and I made it to the Art museum to find the hours had changed and we were still 20 minutes early. I had scouted out an interesting church I wanted to explore and was excited for the extra 15 minutes to do it. Luke and I walked a few blocks and entered a stunning church with gold leaf spires. It was a Russian Orthodox Church called “La Cathedral De L’exaltation de la Saint Croix”. When we entered they were in the middle of some sort of ceremony. We opened the door to the rich sounds of an angelic choir and the thick smell of incense. The priests were dressed in beautifully ornamented white robes and the ceremony began to resemble a dance as the movements that they must have been performed many times before became fluid. The music filled every inch of the magnificently adorned house of worship. It is a very different way to worship than I am accustomed to, but I find such beauty in the knitting of hearts to the purpose of worshiping God. It was beautiful. Perhaps the most incredible aspect to the whole experience was my perfect son. He was completely quiet, taking in every movement of the priests, the beautiful artwork and the smells. We stayed for roughly 20 minutes and he surpassed my expectations for any child in such a state. I am such a lucky mother! 

After our experience at the church we walked the few blocks to the Art Museum where I was again pleasantly surprised wit ha perfect son appreciating the art work. We walked through and I'm sure people thought I was crazy giving Luke a lesson on the differences between Early Christian art and the Renaissance. Then we discussed the merits of impressionist work vs modern art.

Oh isn't this amazing? It's my favorite period because you see. Here's where the color emphasizes emotion. But it doesn't distract from the sense of how man must be.

In exploring the museum we found an adorable kids area where they had projects waiting t be created. Luke colored a few pages and then I helped make a paper Knight. He was so excited and carried it with him the rest of the day, letting everyone know he had a "Knight!"

After our fun morning outing we made our way back to the train but first stopped for a buttery croissant. This is one of Luke's favorite treats. He even knows the difference between a roll and a croissant, my cultured little toddler. 

Everything was almost complete with the musical number-esque morning, but it needed a grand finale. That came when we were attempting to leave the bus at our final stop. I was disembarking when I turned my head to thank the driver and say good bye (a common practice to say hello and goodbye to people you interact with here) and I then realized he didn't know I was leaving the bus. He closed the doors on the stroller... the bus was trying to eat my son. Sadly this wasn't the first time this had happened. I yelled "monsieur S'il vous plait!" and he immediately opened the doors" He ardently apologized, but I could still hear the villagers singing in the background...

Look there she goes
that girl is strange but special
A most peculiar mad'moiselle!

It's a pity and a sin

She doesn't quite fit in

'Cause she really is a funny girl
A beauty but a funny girl
She really is a funny girl
That Ms. McNeil

Monday, May 26, 2014

My Day in Pictures

The famous Reformation wall sits at the base of Old Town Geneva

The beautiful Art Museum that happened to be closed
A beautiful church I happened upon... unfortunately it was also closed
A shot of the many levels of this beautiful city
Even the parking garages are interesting
An archeological site that happens to be
in a parking garage
Beauty everywhere I turn

Trying my hand at reading the French newspaper

The English section at the bookstores are equipped with the most important ones...
50 Shades of Grey, Divergent and Twilight... Nice

Part of the vast chocolate isle at the grocery store
And here is the cheese isle... this is only a small part
The local butchery... YUM
"How much for the chocolate
in the window?"

And more stairs

Oh the stairs

Another beautiful church that was closed

Little man making the climb up the stairs home

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bonne Fete Maman

Today is Mother’s Day in France and I feel so blessed to celebrate this special day twice this month. I feel such gratitude for my own mother. My mother is such a firm example of strength and unconditional love. She has always been the greatest sounding board anytime I am facing a problem. She is funny and able to handle any challenge with humor as the perfect tool. She can diffuse any situation by saying the right thing, or making the right joke. My mom is a peacemaker, but also stands up for herself. I am so blessed to have her as my mother. Many people are concerned with saying or doing things that make them resemble their mothers, but it is my goal to turn out like her. She is my best friend.

I am also blessed with a astonishing Mother-in-law. She has the talent of making everyone feel comfortable and at ease around her. She focuses on the needs of others and does all she can to meet those needs. I remember once on a day trip, we were walking back to the car in the rain and my mother-in-law simply handed her umbrella to a homeless man who was doing his best to stay dry. Her example of charity and selflessness is one in which I will always look up to.  

In the last few years, the term motherhood has become so very multidimensional for me.  As I became a mother 2 short years ago, and as I have seen many of my dear friends make the transition, I am amazed by the unappreciated strength it takes. Those who don’t understand the challenges tend to belittle the overwhelming responsibility and challenges that are placed on our shoulders. I have dear friends that have overcome the loss of a baby and continued on. I have friends who have fought infertility and difficult pregnancies to bring their children into this world. I have friends who do the seemingly impossible by raising twins, or multiple children at a time. I have friends who have been sick, diagnosed with serious diseases or undergone surgeries while still having young children to take care of while they are recovering. I have friends who have difficult children that make even the simplest tasks seem insurmountable.  I have friends who do the child rearing on their own while their husbands are attending school, residency, work, or are not in the picture. Some of my dear friends maintain a job in addition to the full time job of mother. I have dear friends who are not mothers, but lovingly give their time and energy to help raise our children. You women are such firm examples of strength. You remind me that we can do it. We can accomplish anything. We need to stick together and lift each other up.

Uncovering my bravery

This week was especially difficult; I haven’t been feeling well, Mike has been busy, Luke has also been busy and I began to feel homesick. Don’t get me wrong, this is an incredible experience and I am so grateful for the opportunity to see this beautiful part of the world and explore the rich history all around me. Although, taking a toddler down 3 flights of stairs and on a bus any time I want to get out can be a little exhausting… not to mention the constant pressure of attentively listening to a language that doesn’t seem anything like the one I’ve been practicing. It is arduous to say the least.

I had a conversation with Mike this week about the challenges we are facing. I have a hard time balancing the gratitude for this adventure and accepting that it is hard. I feel as though saying, “things are tough” or “I’m having a difficult time” detracts from my gratitude for being here.  He made the comment that “this adventure is difficult and it will take a lot of strength and courage while we are here. There is a difference between being blessed and life being easy. Blessings can be hard, but wonderful, and
we will be provided the strength if we do our part to meet our goals”.

That conversation with Mike and my experiences today really helped me gain perspective and uncover some of my hidden strength. I felt overwhelmed with love and understanding when we were able to attend our little French ward for the 3rd time. Imagining being anywhere in the world, and knowing that you have a family accessible within some sort of close proximity. The comfort in realizing that despite cultural and linguistic barriers, there are people who love you even if they have never met you. If something terrible were to happen, people would come to you with food and serving hands immediately. This is one of the greatest blessings I have found in being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (aka Mormon).  Our church is relatively the same anywhere in the world. I have had the opportunity to attend church in England, France, and India as well as all throughout the United States, and I love seeing that the church is organized the same anywhere you go. There will be three main meetings, the first Sunday will be Fast and Testimony meeting, and there will be an unpaid Bishop and his counselors presiding over the meeting. There will be classes for the children and adults. Roughly the same lessons are taught on the same Sunday anywhere in the world.  The doctrine is the same everywhere. The members may look different and speak differently, but their hearts are the same. They are so filled with love. Feeling this love reminded me that despite being an entire ocean away from my home, I have a family here that is easily accessible.

I may not understand much of what is being taught, but I can feel it. The members are so friendly, coming over and introducing themselves and others. They ask how they can help us, they make connections, and they invite us to activities. We instantly have a link, a foundation, in this recent adventure.

There were also a few women that commented on how brave I am to be here. I haven’t really thought of it as bravery. I always saw bravery as people standing up for their beliefs despite the consequences, or protecting the weak while an enemy is determined to bring them down. My meager journey can’t count as bravery… can it? Perhaps bravery is standing up when it feels as though everything around you wants to keep you down. That certainly explains how I have been feeling lately. (Obviously no one here is visibly trying to push me down; in fact many strangers have offered to literally lift us up stairs and such.) But being somewhere completely unfamiliar, not feeling 100% and adding the challenge of a toddler is enough to keep anyone down. I have made the effort to get out of the flat, to learn French (even though it is measly), to learn the history of the city and surrounding countries, watch and analyze the culture, and truly live while I am here. I guess that can be considered brave.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Stairs and Strollers Don't Mix

This is a picture of the hill
and stairs that follow, but it
doesn't look as bad as it was
Luke found some cannons to play with
Today was quite an adventure. I have finally mastered the bus system (or at least I am proficient enough to go the right direction 98% of the time). Luke and I got out of the house early, during the tail end of commuter traffic. We jumped on our train, and Luke decided things were going to go according to his plan today. That plan started out with fantastic fit… on a full train! Unfortunately, our stop was about 25 minutes away. Now, no matter who you are, when your kid has a fit in a crowded area, you feel like a complete failure as a parent. Everyone looks at you like “why don’t you just quiet that kid down?” Ya think? Sadly, Luke wouldn’t have any of it. I look around and everyone was looking around for the mom who can’t keep her kid quiet then discussing the failures of American parenting. At least that’s what I’m thinking as they are all speaking in rapid French. Luckily, a nice man standing near us began making faces at Luke and began consoling me in broken English. Then the people sitting in front of us turned around and started talking to Luke too. I love kind people. It makes life just a little more manageable.
We had some time before the church
opened, so Luke enjoyed climbing
Once we escaped the train, Luke was as happy as can be. So was I until we encountered the steps to get to old town. UGG those steps. I thought I had outsmarted the stairs by taking a certain train, but apparently not. Still sweating from the train tantrum, I unloaded Luke, grabbed the diaper bag and folded down the stroller. Luke and I trekked hand in hand to the top of the 40 odd stairs, only to find a huge hill and another 30 stairs at the top. Luckily a nice man offered to carry up the stroller for me up those final steps. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers!
Inside St. Pierre Cathedral 

We proceeded to tour the inside of the beautiful Saint Pierre’s Cathedral, it is best known as the adopted home church of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. We contemplated climbing the tower… but rationalized we already climbed enough stairs to get here and the 5 CHF (Swiss Franks about 1.15 to $1) was too much. That will be an excursion with Daddy.

Luke and I then happened upon the Reformation Museum. I stood looking in for a few seconds weighing the benefits of climbing stairs again and learning the history, when another nice man offered to help me carry up the stroller.  I soon realized he was one of the museum curators and then felt obligated to enter the museum. I obviously didn’t think this one through because 15 minutes and 8 CHF later we were rushing out of the museum. Luke apparently was NOT interested in learning about the reformation and he wanted everyone to know via tantrum # 2 today.

The random book fair entrance we found
We then made our way to the Maison Tavel which was an interesting museum featuring home furnishings from the 1800’s, and the Magellan Map. Luke was pleased with this decision, as there were many stairs for him to climb sans stroller.

Upon escaping old town and the ridiculous stairs, we found a juvenile book fair that is occurring all week. Luke had a lot of fun visiting the different tents and looking through the books.

This doesn't do justice to the many many stairs
we had to climb to get here 
Being the dutiful tourist that I am, I wanted to visit one more site before we set home for an afternoon nap. I followed the map to the location of the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire. Everything was going great until we encountered those blasted stairs AGAIN!!! Once again, I unloaded Luke, picked up the diaper bag, and folded the stroller and made the climb. Luke did pretty well in the museum. We were able to enjoy one entire floor and 2 hallways on an upper floor before he decided he had enough.

What a day… all before 13:00. We are having all sorts of adventures here in Geneva. It's tough and the stairs sure aren't easy, but we are so grateful for the opportunity.

Here are a few other random pictures from recent days.

A outdoor book market where I found
an incredible copy of The Hunchback
Of Notre Dame
Beautiful Lake Geneva

A Botanical Timekeeper
A little island in the lake. So beautiful!
The perfect day