Suite francaise

I'm not sure what I was expecting when my parents recommended the novel (or should I say two novellas) Suite francaise but I was blown away by the author's "fictional" account of the French mass exodus from Paris (and return there) and the subsequent German occupation of France.

I say "fictional" because the author, Irene Nemirovsky, a Ukrainian Jew (whose own anti-Semitic writings and conversion to Catholicism didn't stop the Nazis from gassing her and her husband at Auschwitz in 1942), lived through these events herself. Her older daughter (who was 13 at the time) saved Irene's "journal" and didn't even read it for fifty years after her mother's death. When she discovered what it really was, she had it published right away in France and it became an instant bestseller there and then later around the world.

As the author's Wikipedia page says, "These works are considered remarkable because they were written during the actual period itself, and yet are the product of considered reflection, rather than just a journal of events, as might be expected considering the personal turmoil experienced by the author at the time."

What struck me about the two novellas (she had originally intended to write a total of five) was that it seemed as if the French people themselves were almost more of a threat to each other than their occupiers were to them. Having not grown up in that era or that part of the world, the intensity of the power plays between aristocrats and poorer non-landowners was pretty shocking. As Nemirovsky herself said about these two novellas (in the first appendix), "'More and more, the world is becoming divided into the haves and the have nots. The first don't want to give anything up and the second want to take everything. Who will win out?'"

I'm not casting blame because I've never been in that sort of situation, but she writes about the French people denouncing each other to the Germans. In one of the novellas, a German officer billeted in an upper middle class home tells a woman in the home, "'The very first day we arrived...there was a package of anonymous letters waiting for us at Headquarters. People were accusing one another of spreading English and Gaullist propaganda, of hoarding supplies, of being spies. If we'd taken them all seriously, everyone in the region would be in prison. I had the whole lot thrown on to the fire. People's lives aren't worth much and defeat arouses the worst in men. In Germany it was exactly the same.'"

The major themes I noticed in the novellas? Power, love, envy, patriotism, loneliness, selfishness, self-loathing, impulsiveness, passion, beauty (in life, in love, in self-sacrifice), hoarding, giving. Just as her characters (for the most part) experienced various emotions simultaneously within themselves (i.e. loving and hating their occupiers), so the author does a beautiful job of showing how each theme had a counter one running alongside it. Nobody is perfect--not the aristocratic families with their noses in the air and fear of Communists or the farming families who could theoretically have been portrayed in some sort of pastoral ideal but who had troubles within their own hearts and relationships.

I guess that's what the novellas are saying about reality: Beauty and filth both reside in the human heart and external agents can bring out either one at any moment, but ultimately we do have choices about what kind of people we will be.

From the second appendix, a letter from Michel Epstein (Irene's husband) sent to one of their friends (a full month after she had been gassed but he didn't know): "Could you please find out if it would be possible for me to be exchanged for my wife--I would perhaps be more useful in her place and she would be better off here [with their two daughters]. If this is impossible, maybe I could be taken to her--we would be better off together."

Van Beans

The Artists' Colony Kitchen (or ACK for short)...

Matthew's "Footprints" (including Zax footprints in yellow at the bottom)...

Joel starting off...

Eventually using four paintbrushes at once...

And ending up with his version of (no lie) "Puke"...

Wax Paper Is Compostable

I just thought you would be as happy as I am about that tidbit of info.

You're welcome.

Happy Merry Christmas!

We've had a blessed Christmas Eve with friends at their church and later their home for dinner/celebration.

This morning has been fun with lots of play and merriment and we're looking forward to having another set of friends over this afternoon for an early-ish Christmas dinner with turkey and all the trimmings.

We're going to candle-ize the punkin-choco cheesecake and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus! Four adults, three preschoolers, and a cheesecake.

For a heart-warming Good Samaritan story that will bless your socks off, read this BBC account.

And don't forget to hug someone dear. Love from Seattle!

Japanese Videos To Share

We've been enjoying watching Japanese snow monkeys (they make our beans laugh hysterically!) and "Hayaku", one of the most gorgeous time-lapse films I've ever seen (including some darn great music).

A Salmon Run

Matthew: "Bears eat lots of salmon! I call them 'salmon' and Joel calls them 'fish'."

Christmas Model Train Set at the Seattle Center

The beans loved this Christmas-themed model train set. We were there about one and a half hours. It was not so boring for the adults either as there was so much detail and quite a few interesting scenes in the models - hot air balloon rides, people playing chess, other people ice-skating on a frozen pond. Some kids were waiting in line a long time for a chance to drive the trains, but our guys got a kick out of just watching them.

Cake for Jesus

Matthew and Joel wanted to put candles on their apricot/ginger/cardamom muffins (recipe to come soon on Mamatouille) today and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus, and after we did that, I asked them if they'd like to help me make a cake for Jesus' birthday on Christmas (yes, I know he was probably born in September or something but anyway...).

They said yes and Matthew said he'd like to make a chocolate raisin cake.

Abigail: "Do you think that's Jesus' favorite kind of cake?"

Matthew: "No, it's my favorite kind of cake!"

Digest This

After receiving a bag of books from our lovely librarian neighbor that included The Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body, Matthew loves chatting about the digestive process and all the minute details of it. His anatomical vocabulary has gotten to be pretty amazing and he's also loving watching this video--a camera shows some in-depth detail as it travels down the esophagus and through the stomach, small intestine and then finally the large intestine. (If you tend towards squeamishness you might want to give it a miss.) You can even see the villi, which thrills Matthew to no end.

We heart villi.

You've Got That Holiday Feelin'

Click these images to see a larger version of us at Green Bean Coffeehouse a couple of weeks ago with St. Nick and watch a video we took at Seattle's Candy Cane Lane last night.

Christmas Quotes

Yesterday evening in the car as we drove around the Olympic Manor neighborhood looking at Christmas lights...

Joel, on seeing a lit-up Santa: "I see Santa!!! I love Santa! I love him so, so much!"

And Matthew, after looking up and seeing the moon in the night sky: "I see a crescent moon! I wonder if Baby Jesus is up there in the moon?"

Holiday Haircuts

Winter Place Mats

I'm getting into this place mat thing--remember the fall leaf ones the boys did? Anyway, we're on to winter now and all you need for these cute babies are construction paper, scissors, glue, markers, sparkly stickers, and clear contact paper.

I made one for a friend and the boys could use it as a template...

And away they went...

Zoo Mission: Possible

Even though we have annual passes for the zoo and have been going since May, this morning just happened to be our best visit yet.

Before we go, I always ask the beans what animals they'd like to see but today I took it a step further: I wrote every animal down on a list and told them we'd cross off each one as we got to it.

This worked amazingly well on so many levels:

  • Joel held the list and did the crossing off. He got to practice reading some letters and felt like a big part of the mission.
  • Usually the beans hightail it from exhibit to exhibit but this morning they actually stopped and smelled the roses (?) at each place. They had chosen each animal and Matthew and Joel seemed to appreciate the animules all the more because of that.
  • Matthew has the zoo map in his head (and Woodland Park Zoo's a pretty big place) and so he was our fearless leader, out front with confidence. When he would ask to see something else along the way, I would remind him of our list and said we could add the extras to the list for our next visit. He stayed on track and was fine with focusing on today's list.
  • It definitely helped keep me sane and was a lot of adventurous fun into the bargain. We had a mission to accomplish and we did.
I think both beans enjoyed the structure today rather than the usual headless chicken all-out random running. We'll do this again!

Love the list. Work the list.

British English 101

I think I was destined to be half English: I can say "trousers" and eat mince pies topped with brandy butter with the best of them. Not to mention Christmas pudding, bangers and mash, custard, a full English brekkie, and steak and kidney pie. To drool for.

So when I heard Stephen warning Joel this morning about getting his fingers too close to a closing drawer, what he said didn't really hit me--I'm used to it. But I thought our American readership might appreciate his British-isms--he said, "Mind your pingies!"

I think my pingies need to get themselves away from this netbook and off to our little neighborhood church, so catch ya later, gator!

More of Me Likey

  • Bean quotes (of course!) - Joel tonight in the car: "I want to drive! I want to drive on the sidewalk!" And Matthew, pointing to his own teeth: "I'm becoming a daddy. I will get bigger and my baby teeth will fall out and I will get new big teeth from you and Daddy."
  • A French flick we rented recently called "Summer Hours" - a beautiful slice of life
  • Lots of fun "playdates" with friends we had this past week (I still can't get used to that word for some reason!)
  • A 1997 Japanese dorama (drama) we are watching called "Love Generation"
  • Dianasaur's insanely amazing gingerbread creations
  • Knit Together: Discover God's Pattern for Your Life, written by a Washingtonian named Debbie Macomber - a great book for helping you define goals, organize, and be encouraged
  • Driving around looking at the lovely Christmas lights at night
  • The beans' new hair cuts - pics to come later...

M-Bean Quotes

All from today...

  • "I see some bird poo on the street. Birds eat lots of food so they can get energy and plop poo out."
  • On the way to a friend's house: "I love this nice journey. I love this nice, special journey."
  • Also on the drive: "Some of the streets are not very happy." When I asked him why, he said, "Because they are full of potholes and they hurt the tires."
  • This evening, out of the blue: "I have some paperwork to do."
  • About the dead-bug-filled light cover on the ceiling: "The bugs go up there to get warm."

Life Ed

I sometimes think I'm not enough of a kyouiku mama (education mama) but when I think back through what we do on a daily basis, I guess I am!

Here's today:

  • reading 2 Magic School Bus books (inside the human body and on the ocean floor)
  • reading various other books
  • M reading a new word for the first time - "home"
  • J discussing sounds at the beginning of words
  • studying bacon grease pre-refrigeration - Joel said he thought tomorrow it would look like "chocolate milk"
  • measuring, mixing, rolling, cutting, baking, decorating, eating gingerbread cookies (also driving cookie-cutter "snow plows" through the flour on the table)
  • both boys discovering they love molasses, straight up
  • J deciding he loves roasted carrots dipped in hummus
  • making and taking dinner to some stressed-out friends
  • train driving and interpersonal skills (i.e. sharing the track)
  • learning patience while I had to make some phone calls
  • cleaning up
  • writing in our calendars - each boy has his own (free) Hallmark planner I got them at a drugstore - we have started glancing through them together every day and writing down a few words on each day for what we've done that day - also discussing days of the week, months, dates, and years
  • talking about past, present, and future
  • discussing dreams
  • exercising choice - each bean got to pick out a new pair of sheets for his bed (Cars and Thomas were the winners)
  • talking about Christmas
  • singing and rhyming
  • videos we are liking: time-lapse Aurora Borealis (with stunning soundtrack, too), original antique steam shovel doing its thing, Mike Mulligan book as interpreted by a very clever boy, crazy-wonderful Christmas lights set to Amazing Grace

Waiting for Throat Drops

Joel, after finding a throat drop in my bedroom and being told he has to wait till he's older before he can have those: "I'll just hold it while I get bigger."

Coffee Talk

Matthew, watching me brew a pot of java this afternoon: "Mom, can I have some caffeine?"

The Doody Brothers

This morning at breakfast...

Joel, while pointing to each day of the week on the wall calendar: "Doody, doody, doody, doody, doody!" [Meaning Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday...]

Stephen: "I guess you're Joel Doody, then."

Joel, still pointing at the calendar: "Spells Doody!"

Matthew: "We're the Doody Guys!"

Boy Talk

Matthew, excitedly, while driving his Hot Wheels car over his knee: "Mom, look! There's a scratch on my knee [from falling on the sidewalk the other day] and I can scratch it even more with my car!"

Cultured Kid

Matthew, at breakfast this morning: "Mom, are you English, British, or Japanese?"

Abigail: "I'm American."

Matthew: "Do you speak British and Japanese, too?"

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes?

Matthew, when the humidifier was on in their room: "Steam gets in my head!"

Drinking and Driving

Joel: "Waaaaah! Matthew closed my cup!" [Matthew had closed the lid on Joel's sippy cup.]

Matthew: "He's drinking and driving the train at the same time. It doesn't work!"


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