Welcome Woodinville Weekly Readers!

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This week was a very exciting week for me.  I was able to share some tips with my community on traveling with kids in the form of a published article in our local paper!  I just wanted to extend a warm welcome, and thank you to all the Woodinville Weekly readers for visiting and following my blog!  To read the full article just click on Woodinville Weekly’s online page here.  I look forward to providing more helpful tips on travel to everyone!  Stay tuned for some upcoming posts on our summer trip to Japan, surviving Disneyland Paris alone with kids, local trips in the Pacific Northwest with European flare and more!

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Why Art Matters

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When you are traveling with children, the thought of taking them to an art museum can seem really daunting. Unpredictable, energetic, tiny humans with busy hands in a building full of expensive masterpieces, sounds scary. So why risk it? Why expose them to it, especially at a young age? Why does art even matter anyways? One movie really put this in perspective for me, The Monuments Men. The re-account of this true story helped me realize why I do think art is so important for my kids and why I want them to grow up being exposed to it and appreciate it.

The Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. The one in the city of Bruges, Belgium featured in the movie "The Monuments Men."

The Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. The one in the city of Bruges, Belgium featured in the movie “The Monuments Men.”

I first watched this movie on a plane heading back to the United States after a month in Europe. I watched it again last night and was still moved to tears. For those that don’t know the movie, it tells the story of a small unit in the Allied armed forces during WWII made up of art curators and professors whose job it was to try to find and reclaim precious works of art stolen by the Nazi government from private homes and museums across Europe. In the midst of all of the violence of the war and the heartbreaking fact that millions of Jews were being killed, tortured and imprison, it was a difficult task to convince the powers that be that it was important work and worth the resources needed to save art. Why should we care so much about paintings, sculptures or architectural wonders? The movie’s goal was to answer that question. They wanted to save “The greatest historical achievements of man.” ~A quote by George Clooney’s character Frank Stokkes (George Stouts in real life). Many of the classical masterpieces of art are in fact some of man’s greatest achievements, especially when you think of how “advanced” our technological world is today verses the time period in which most of these works were completed.

But if you look at it a level deeper, you get to the root answer. Art matters because it mattered to people. It influenced society. Art has inspired hope, it has taught us about our past and it shows the perseverance of man. When I look at a painting, I imagine how many millions of people have looked at the same painting for centuries. I wonder what they thought of it. If it reminds them of summer time with their grandparents too? Or why women today who are plump and curvy are not immortalized in photographs like the women in paintings from the past several centuries. There is that saying “A picture is worth a thousand words.” You can read about the history of the world, but seeing it, gives you an actual glimpse into the past. Now, of course I have no delusions to the fact that historical art was mostly commissioned to present a specific appearance that wasn’t always a true reflection of the reality of, say, the person who commissioned the portrait. But you still learn something from it, the fact that people have always held the desire to have their image captured, to be remembered, much like we love to have pictures taken of our family today. We as people want to be remembered, that hasn’t changed for thousands of years! Art shows us the connections we have as a human race. Art exists across all cultures. All of the great societies over time cared about, supported, and funded art.

That is why it is important for me to expose my children to art. If humanity is connected by way of us all having a desire to be remembered, what other emotional similarities do we share? It makes us ask what emotions or message was the artist trying to share? When we can connect with something on an emotional level, we all of the sudden have more respect, more value for that society, those peoples, and in turn, the people today. I can look at a painting and imagine what the people in the scene did next. How else did they spend the rest of their day? Their life? I want my kids to be able to look at something and imagine those life stories too. And as they get older, I hope they can look at a sculpture like Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in Bruges and understand how it gave hope to millions of people through suffering and despair. How alter pieces and religious frescos in cathedrals allowed common illiterate people to feel a connection to their God and be reminded of stories that they were in capable to read in a book. I want them to understand the motivation and emotions the artist had behind creating the piece of art and how it affected the audiences that first viewed it.

Thousands of years of history of the human struggle, life, culture, feelings. Who we are, who they were and why we are who we are today can all be told through art. The preservation of this is exceedingly important. This is what I hope to teach my children. Sure it would be nice if they could spout off the elements that separate impressionists from classical master techniques, and perhaps it would be impressive if when they get to high school they can remember in their art history class that they once saw several Picassos in a museum in Malaga, Spain. But most of all, I want them to be inspired by the beauty that humans can create. To appreciate the motivations behind an artist’s work. To think about what feelings the artist must have had and to realize that behind every image they see, from the works in the Louvre to a picture on Facebook, that a real human being with feelings and emotions is standing right behind it.

ART HAS INSPIRED EMOTIONS IN MILLIONS OF PEOPLE, FROM DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS.  ALL PEOPLE HAVE FEELINGS, REGARDLESS OF RACE OR GENDER.  WE ALL POSSESS THE ABILITY TO BE MOVED AND THE DESIRE TO MOVE OTHERS. THE FACT THAT A SINGLE PIECE OF ART CAN AROUSE DIFFERENT EMOTIONS IN THE SAME PEOPLE OR THE SAME EMOTION IN DIFFERENT PEOPLE OVER MULTIPLE GENERATIONS SPEAKS TO ITS IMPORTANCE.

Brussels, Belgium. Home of the Waffle, Fries and One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Town Squares!

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Belgium, that country Americans only associate with waffles and other Europeans, a fountain of a peeing little boy.  Even though Brussels, the country’s capital, is also home to the capital of the European Union, it doesn’t get much play on being a popular tourist town.  I don’t often hear “I’ve dreamed of visiting Brussels my whole life!” But trust me, if you haven’t, you are missing out!

Our first year in Germany we lived 2 hours by car from Brussels.  The city’s beautify and proximity to our new home made it our go to “let’s get out of town” weekend destination, much to the disbelief of our German friends who thought we were crazy to drive some where so far away just for the weekend.  One of the cultural difference between Germans and Americans, our perception of how far is too far to drive and how long even “short” get-a-ways are.  Our first trip to Brussels we did in just one day.  I had moved to Germany 2 weeks prior and I was bursting at the seams to explore and see other countries now that we were there and everything was “so close.” We literally woke up that morning, in the snow, and decided that since it was the weekend and my husband actually had the day off, we needed to go somewhere.

The Cantillon brewery in Brussels, Belgium

The Cantillon brewery in Brussels, Belgium

 

A friend of ours, who had met up with us from her travels in Italy, mentioned a really old Belgium brewery that she wanted to see in Brussels.  It is the oldest continuously family operated brewery in Belgium, over a 100 years.  The name of the brewery is Cantillon.  So, off to Brussels we went.  To be sure we got there before they closed, we went to the brewery first.  At the time, my oldest son was just 22 months old and my other son was just 2 months old!  The brewery was charming, not very big, but just what I had expected in my mind when I imagined a quaint family owned European brewery.  At the end of the tour you got a sample of their beer, which is actually bottled in glass bottles that look more like champagne than beer bottles.  It is also more of a fruity beer too, which was wonderful for a person like myself who isn’t as fond of beer as I am wine.  While all three of us adults were starting to enjoy our free refreshment, my little toddler started reaching up towards our glasses and indicating that he wanted some.  Apparently the server noticed this before I did as by time I figured out what my son wanted and started to tell him “no you can’t ha…..” the server had already poured him a small glass and then held it up to his mouth so he could take a drink! I was shocked.  Not so much in the fact that my toddler just took his first sip of alcohol, but because someone just gave it to him without asking.  It was definitely one of those things that would have never happened in the U.S.  The server just smiled at him then set the glass down on the table as to indicate that we could then do what we wanted with it.  My little guy of course wanted some more of the “juice” as it was rather sweet.  I looked at my husband and we agreed we would let him have one more sip.  I’ve always maintained a bit of the attitude that if you don’t make a big deal out of things you don’t want your kids to have they will be less likely to want them.  So after his second little sip we gave it back to the server, thanked him, and told him we were done with it.  All I could think the rest of the day was “Welcome to Europe Heather. We’re not in Kansas anymore!”

The small taste of fruity Belgium bier the server gave our son to taste.

The small taste of fruity Belgium bier the server gave our son to taste.

After our tour of the brewery we headed into the city center.  Even with the gloomy and snowy January weather with the sun barely cracking threw, I almost lost my breath when we entered the square.  The Grand Place (or Grote-Markt in Dutch) lives up to it’s name.  We were surrounded by tall, detailed buildings, some painted with gold accents, with the clock tower of the Town Hall building reigning supreme over the square.   It was what I imaged the rest of Europe to be like, each street doused with palace like building facades.  However wrong I was about all of Europe looking this way, in Brussels, you can walk through the square and feel like you are royalty and that this is your private court yard and the hustle and bustle around you are simply your courtiers carrying about the business of the land on your behalf.

The Grand-Place (Main Square) in Brussels, Belgium.

The Grand-Place (Main Square) in Brussels, Belgium.

Of course to make the city center even better, as you wander the little alleys that shoot off in all different directions, you encounter tempting chocolate shops and the ever popular waffles!  Restaurants galor also occupy the surrounding streets around the Grand-Place.  Brussels is also famous for mussels and traditional restaurant food is described as “French quality with German portions!”  We came across what looked like a more traditional French restaurant and decided to stop there for lunch.  I was looking forward to trying out my rusty French since my German was non-existent at the time.  Belgium has three official languages: French, Dutch, and German.  Of course many people also speak English.  We had a nice meal in a crammed booth, but were excited to get in given the size of our party (5 is considered large, especially with a stroller to tuck away).  But we managed and my oldest son even got his own dish of “frites.”

Learning to be a sophisticated little boy in a French restaurant in Brussels, Belgium.

Learning to be a sophisticated little boy in a French restaurant in Brussels, Belgium.

We wondered back to the town center for dessert, we HAD to get a waffle!  Somehow you are supposed to eat all the piled high yumminess that is a Belgium waffle with an itsy bitsy tiny fork.  I was willing to try, despite my Celiac and the risk of being sick for the next few days, I took the plunge right into the whip cream and ate the waffle.  I did of course share with my older son.  We lingered about the square as we finished our waffles before breaking out the map and seeing what else was near by.

Beligum waffles, they do actually exist in the real Belgium.  Just don't expect syrup!

Beligum waffles, they do actually exist in the real Belgium. Just don’t expect syrup!

I noticed the royal palace with a park that looked within walking distance so we headed that direction.  The snowy park wasn’t exactly covered enough for a beautiful winter wonderland, but it provided enough sliding fun for my toddler with the palace providing a regal backdrop.  As we were approaching the end of the day, and the temperature was starting to drop, we headed back.  Had we ventured just a little further away from the palace, we would have found a nice playground, which we did visit on our next trip.  We also did not make it over to The Atomium, from 1958 when Brussels hosted the World’s Fair.  Paris got the Eiffel Tower, Seattle got the Space Needle, Brussels got The Atomium.  While it is a tourist draw, we drove by it and sadly it seem like Seattle and Paris got the better deal for long term landmarks.  There is so much more to explore in Brussels than we were able to do in all of our trips.  Mostly because each time we go we get mesmerized by the city center and just want to hang out in the beautiful scenery and chocolate shops.  By far the best times to go is in August when they have the annual Flower Carpet in August, and in December for the Christmas markets.

In the "Parc de Bruxelles", in front of the Palace of Brussels.

In the “Parc de Bruxelles”, in front of the Palace of Brussels.

(This trip was from January 2010)

Making the Most of Your Local Library to Prepare For Travel

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Our countdown to Japan has begun! In, just shy of, two months we will be heading off to the land of the rising sun.  Since this will be our very first trip ever to Asia, I wanted to familiarize our kids with the country, it’s language and some of it’s customs. The hope is that it will help them get more out of our time in Japan and to teach them a little more about Japanese culture.  The first place I turned to was our local library or libraries.

Some treasures we found at the library!

Some treasures we found at the library!

I started off just by checking out an introductory language DVD that the kids could watch at home, or in the car during our unfortunately high number of hours we have to spend each week driving around between schools, the store and extracurricular activities.  There was only one DVD at our local library, and it was the 2nd volume of a two disc collection.  I wasn’t too concerned that we weren’t starting with volume 1 because the goal was just to expose them to the sounds of the language, to get them used to here something completely different from the English, German and Spanish they already had practice with.  The result…wonderful!!! The very first time I put the disc in the car to drive down to my middle son’s pre-school, I was grinning ear to ear listening to my 5 year old and 2 year old actually repeating the words they heard on the DVD! A few minutes in and a cute song with a familiar melody broke out and my 5 year old was bebopping away to the tune.  It was a hit.  The DVD was called “Japanese for Kids: Learn Japanese, Beginner Level 1. Volume 2”   Volume 1 wasn’t available at our branch so I had place it on hold to be sent over to ours from another branch.

About a week later was my eldest son’s school Spring Break. I had been looking around at story times at the different branches and found that the library in Kirkland, one town over from us, had a Japanese Story Time on Monday mornings at 10:00 a.m. Since we were actually going to be home for this Spring Break, all three of the kids would get a chance to participate.  Story time was right when the library opened so we poured in with the rest of the patrons and followed a couple other Japanese moms with their toddlers into the story room.  As more and more people arrived, we quickly noticed that everyone else there was Japanese, except my son’s friend who joined with her mom and brother and a Swedish grandmother with her 2 year old grandaughter.  There was a big turn out!  My first thought was “how can I get to know these ladies and would it be too weird to try to talk to them later about Japan?” I didn’t know who had been born in the U.S. and was just keeping their culture alive for their kids and who might have actually immigrated from Japan.  The second thought I had was “Wow, we are now in a room full of people and kids and are clearly the minority.  This is exactly how I have been told Japan is going to be for us.  I was glad that my kids were getting to be the minority and still have so much fun doing the same activity..  I want them to grow up feeling comfortable in a variety of situations and to learn that being around people who look differently from you doesn’t have to be bad or scary and is actually just as fun as being with people who look just like you do.

Japanese story time at the library.

Japanese story time at the library.

The story teller was fantastic!  She opened with a simple Japanese song that went around the room asking all the children their names and how old they were that was set to a clapping rhythm.  It took my older ones a while to catch on but when it was their turn she did both English and Japanese and they said what they needed to say with confidence and even repeated the Japanese after the English once she told them what it was.  A highlight was the first story, which was geared at the very young toddlers.  A rather cute book all in Japanese with different fold outs.  All of the different children went running up to get a closer look at to be able to touch the flaps that the storyteller brought to life.  My daughter jumped up after a couple minutes to join in after she realized it was allowed.  It was so cute to see her playing along to the story just like the other little Japanese toddlers.  There were two more books read after that and then a few interactive partner songs.  It was a great morning getting to share this experience with the kids and to see them so comfortable in such an unfamiliar setting!

Trying to sound out a few Japanese phrases.

Trying to sound out a few Japanese phrases.

To cap off the trip to the library, we looked through further options at that branch and we excited to have found a “Little Pim Fun With Languages: Japanese For Kids” DVD and checked that out.  We also got 3 books: “My First Japanese Phrases” by Jill Kalz, “Japanese Nursery Rhymes, Carp Streamers, Falling Rain and other Traditional Favorites” by Danielle Wright that came with the music CD in Japanese and English, and finally “Teach Me More…Japanese: A Musical Journey Through the Year” by Judy Mahoney with accompanying CD, unfortunately it only had one of the 2 booklets (the 2nd one again but not the first!) and the layout was not as learning friendly as the other ones.  The nursery rhymes book with a cd was awesome!  And I really liked the “My First Japanese Phrases” book compared to other my first word type books.

The library proved to be a great way to get your kids interested in another culture and language in the familiarity of their own home and comfortable settings like the children’s section of the library.  Plus it’s a great way to be able to try out different resources before you commit to buying some.  I can’t wait to see how their activities at home will affect our trip in June!