Friday, May 29, 2015

Life update

While I've given you some sort of update on our little peanut, I realize that there may be a few things in my life or Nick's life that you are unaware of. And since all of my family and many of my friends live 2000+ miles away, I figured I would share it all here. 

-- Earlier this week, I accepted a new job as the kindergarten teacher at a public charter school near Providence. The school system already has 2 elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school. They are launching a third elementary school in August, which is where I will be teaching! There are a few reasons why I am excited about this new opportunity. First, these schools demonstrate impressive diversity that is not often seen. They accept children from 4 different Rhode Island towns, two of which are urban, and two of which are suburban. This creates a demographic diversity that is often uncommon in public schools. Second, I was very impressed with the culture of the school. The teachers work very hard to create warm, caring, and joyful learning environments while maintaining high expectations for the students. The other charter school I had toured at seemed so harsh, even at the kindergarten level. This school was different. Third, I truly believe that a child's early learning experiences shape not only their later education but also their lives in general. Having the opportunity to help create building blocks for the rest of their lives is such an honor, and one I do not take lightly. 

-- Speaking of teaching, I earned my Rhode Island teaching certificate this month as well. I started the process in 2013. I am also halfway to earning my MEd in Early Childhood Education!

-- On to something a little less exciting. After months of allergic reactions with no common cause all over my skin, I discovered that I have chronic hives, an autoimmune condition that is rare, difficult to treat, and has no known trigger. Basically, my body is attacking itself. It's been a very frustrating few months, especially when the hives break out all over my face. My allergist and I are working toward getting approved for allergy shots that have proven to be very affective with this disease. Chronic hives can last 6 months or even 5 years... It's very random. While I'm not happy that I have developed such a strange condition, I am relieved to now understand why I am breaking out in rashes with no obvious explanation. At least now I can say, "Well, I have chronic hives." 

- Nicholas has been at his current job for a year now! Not much is new for him other than he is rocking this fatherhood thing. 7 weeks down and he's a pro. :) 

Our lives have definitely been rocked by becoming foster parents. It's changing our hearts and attitudes in ways I never could have prepared for. We met our little's mom yesterday. It was an emotional experience for both of us. That's another post for another day. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

seven weeks

It's been seven weeks since we officially began our foster parenting adventure.

Our little 13 month old is now 14 months old.

When she was first placed with us, she wouldn't stand on her own, even with us holding her up. She could pull herself up on the furniture, but she couldn't stand on her own. Now, she is standing on her own, and slowwwwwwly deciding to fit some steps in there.

She's seemed to decide she can be more picky with what she eats. For the past few weeks she ate almost every single thing we gave her. The exception was raspberries. However, this weekend, she decided to go on a little food strike. She likes to drop pieces of food over the side of the high chair, or reach out and feed what she can to the dog. They seem to have a mutual understanding of how things should work.

Once completely petrified of water, she now takes baths without any issue, splashing and playing until we pull her out.

When she first came to us, she wouldn't mimic anything we did. She would smile at us, but she wouldn't clap, wouldn't shake her head, wouldn't mimic our sounds. Now she plays peekaboo and gives us high fives and claps and plays her little piano. She's a total ham, flashing cheesy smiles with her eyes squeezed shut during meals, shaking her head when she knows she's doing something she shouldn't, sneaking dog food out of the bowl. She smiles for the camera because she totally knows her picture is being taken.

We just received an update from her caseworker. An update that basically said nothing has changed. Which can be good, it means we get more time with her... An undefined amount of time. But also left me heartbroken for this mom who has no support and few healthy relationships. So many miracles will need to happen for this little girl to be raised in a healthy home. I hope you will join us in praying for those miracles.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

three weeks

Three weeks. It's been a mere three weeks since a sweet little 13 month old was placed in our home. She's had an incredible adjustment so far... Eats everything we offer her, sleeps through the night, takes great naps, and is generally content. We've had a lot of fun so far, and I love the way she lights up and reaches for me when I go to pick her up from school every day.

Foster care is such a funny little business. We went into this with the expectation that reunification will always be the goal for every child that comes into our home. Our job is to love her greatly right now. We don't know if she will still be with us in a year... we don't even know if she will be with us next week. It's funny because our loved ones seem more concerned about that fact than we do. "Don't get attached... prepare yourself for when they take her away..." I was attached to this little nugget before they even brought her to our home, so that's not going to work. And we don't have to prepare ourselves for that because it's always been part of the plan. It's not really preparation when every night when you put your kid to bed you think, "This might be the last time we do this." Will it suck? Yes. Will we cry? I've already cried. We won't just cry, we will grieve.  But we signed up for this. This baby deserves a chance to grow up with her mama as long as her mama is willing to care for her. And our job... our ONLY job at this point is to love her like our own right NOW.

Honestly, one of the hardest parts of foster care so far has been looking at this sweet little girl and seeing two potential lives. The life she could have if she grew up with us and the life she could have if she goes back home. Have you ever looked at your child and thought about all the hopes and dreams you have for their future? I do that too. But I won't get to see those dreams come true. She might not even have a chance to live out those dreams because she may not be provided with what she needs to do so. That's really terrifying to me. The idea that Nick and I could give her everything she needs to graduate high school, to be successful with her life after, to explore the world, to have tons of adventures and experiences that shape her... There's a good chance that when she goes back home, she won't have any of that. Graduating high school might be a huge accomplishment for her depending on her situation. Yet, that is the life she was born into. Is it crazy for me to think that if only she stays with us, things could be different for her? Better for her? I seriously feel terrible having those thoughts... I've made the conscious decision NOT to pray that she will stay with us forever, because how could I pray for a family to be ripped apart?  Instead, I pray that we love her with all we have here and now. That's all we can do. Her future is not in my hands. But even if she were staying, it wouldn't be anyway. So I pray every day that she grows up to know how much she is loved by the one who created her and who does hold her future.  That even when it's not me helping her learn and wiping her nose and comforting her when she's afraid, that she will continue to grow in wisdom and stature and favor in the eyes of God and man. Because even if tonight is my last night with her in my home, the story of her life will still be written, and He will still be the one writing it.

For the first week, the anxiety of them taking her away was overbearing. We still know very little about her case, and any guess of a timeline has not been provided. They had originally said they were looking for kin to take care of her. I still don't know if that could happen tomorrow. I don't know if they're still looking. Heck, I haven't talked to her social worker in almost 2 weeks. The unknown is pretty brutal. Honestly, my biggest fear was that our friends and family were going to give her things like clothes, and then they would take her away, and those people would be upset because they wasted their resources on her. It's kind of silly when I think about it. But sometimes, when we would say we didn't know how long we would have her, that it could be a couple weeks, or a couple months, or a year, sometimes, the looks on their faces would seem so concerned, which I would interpret as disappointment that we hadn't landed a kid that we could have forever or at least a year or so. But, as I consciously loved this baby with everything I had knowing that it could be the last night with her, I realized that this journey we are on is not just teaching us to love sacrificially, but teaching our friends and loved ones to love sacrificially as well. Why does it matter if we spend money on clothes and food and diapers if that's what she needs right now? God hasn't asked me to take care of her for the rest of her life. Just right now.

Ugh, sometimes, really selfish thoughts cross my mind when it comes to this. I am pouring all this work into this little human, who, after 3 weeks, has already shown tremendous growth socially, emotionally, and physically. Sometimes I get angry thinking about the fact that if she goes back soon, all that improvement could be lost. Or wasted on a parent who can't continue to provide for those needs. I secretly think, "You don't deserve her." How nasty is that? I'm ashamed to even think it. So I remind myself AGAIN that my job is to love her completely and fully right now. Regardless of the future. Regardless of anything that could happen. She is mine to love right now and right now only.

And PLEASE let it be said that I know very VERY little about her mother or family. These ideas that she won't get what she needs are just my thoughts, nothing solid, because I only have how she came to us to go off of. I don't want anyone, myself included, to "hate" her mother or judge her or think negatively of her just because she isn't in her care right now. She has her own story and deserves grace just as much as I do. Which makes all these conflicting emotions so hard. The desire for her to succeed because I want EVERY mother to succeed is constantly fighting against the secret quiet thoughts of entitlement and wanting to keep her and to love her forever and always.

I know this post is probably heavier than you may have expected. We have had a lot of fun... We've been to the beach, to the museum, to the park... I feel so blessed to get to be the object of her affections and to watch her gripe at Brickley when she runs past her to quickly, and even to get to suck those sticky little boogers out of her nose. But when people ask me how it's going, they are generally looking for a basic answer... "Oh great, she slept through the night!" "Fun, we went to the park and she loves to swing", or even "I need coffee." Not the messy emotions of a foster mom hoping for more time but also feeling guilty for hoping for it...

So now you know. How I really feel. How within three weeks, foster parenting has already been one of the most joyous and challenging and heartbreaking experiences I have faced in my 26 years of life. And we haven't even dealt with anything yet. All they did was hand us a baby and have us sign a paper.

Friday, November 7, 2014

waiting still.

Last night, I was in a mood. You know, that mood where you just hate everything and everyone and your life seems dismal and dumb. I didn't wake up in that mood. I had a great day at work. We went to the gym afterward, for the first time in what felt like 29 years, and then came home. Brickley had decided to eat 6 or so oatmeal creme pies out of my work bag, so I got to clean that up and then worry about her physical state... Even so, life was good. But after we got home and settled, I started to work on some necessary to do list things... That's when it hit. 

Right now, my life is a whole bunch of waiting. Waiting for test scores. Waiting for certification results. Waiting for background clearances. Waiting for a baby. Last night, I worked on an application for a certification that could significantly alter the course of my career. Unfortunately, everything, at this point, is out of my hands, and all I can do is wait. I've worked toward this for the past year and a half. I've spent a lot of time and money to get to where I am. But it's STILL up in the air. How hopeless does it feel to know that you have done everything you can do and it still might not be good enough? I have been working hard at being content where I am with the hope that soon, things will change. But what if they don't?

So I panicked. I almost decided to give up altogether because it might not be worth it at all. I went to bed angry and frustrated and terrified my dog was going to puke on me in the middle of the night. 

This morning, I read the following:

I am training you to depend on me alone, finding fulfillment in My Presence. This entails being satisfied with much or with little, accepting either as my will for the moment. Instead of grasping and controlling, you are learning to release and receive. Cultivate this receptive stance by trusting Me in every situation. 
((Jesus Calling))

Now, I think this section was ultimately written about worrying about the day to day provisions, finding value in money, etc. Anyone who has heard my story about having a panic attack over buying Chipotle for lunch knows that monetary security is definitely an anxiety trigger for me. 

However, today, I saw it in a different way. While waiting for Him to move, for Him to speak, for answers to come, or life changes to take place, I must seek fulfillment in Him. I have no control. It's been taken from me because I have done everything I can at this point. "Cultivate this receptive stance by trusting Me in every situation." In every season, regardless of whether or not I get what I want, what I've worked toward, my hope should be in God alone. He alone is worthy of it.

In an unrelated study, I went on to read: 

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, My God. 
((Psalm 42:1))

These fears and insecurities and frustrations will melt away if my soul is being quenched by the waters of the Holy Spirit. Lately I've struggled to make time to let my spirit be filled by God and His Word. No wonder this time of waiting has induced panic. Why do I starve myself until I'm so hungry for Him that any little bump in the road sends me into fear that things won't work out exactly as they should?

So, since yesterday, nothing about my situation has changed. I'm still waiting for multiple situations to change, and the end is not really near. BUT I find hope in the fact that regardless of the outcome, Jesus is my hope. When I press into Him, He will fill me with His peace. I can wait with confidence, knowing the One who is in charge not only controls the universe, but my little life, as well. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Whole Lot of Waiting

Happy Monday! This week is going to be a fun one. I'm finishing up our Halloween costumes for parties/work and can't wait to debut them! Last year, we were the tooth fairy and a tooth. I wanted to do another couples costume that was cute and clever. It's going to take some construction, but I'm excited about the prospects! 

Last weekend, we spent time in Maine. It really was a relaxing weekend... Just what we needed at the time. 

On Thursday, we had our third home study. This involved individual interviews, lifestyle conversations, and a house safety tour. Now, the worker writing our study will spend the next few weeks writing a document about our lives. We will then meet to sign off on it so it can be sent in for certification. 

In the meantime, we have to do the following things: 
- Set up our landline and buy a telephone. ((Have one you don't use anymore?! We will take it!))
- Babyproof the house: outlets, cabinets, etc. We also have to make sure all meds, cleaning supplies, and alcohol is either locked up or inaccessible. 
- Buy a crib and set up the nursery. 
- Get background clearances from Missouri and Texas. I THINK I know what we need to do for Missouri, but am still a little confused about Texas. If you know or can help, let me know! 

We have been so blessed by some people in our lives who have given us things like bottles, car seats, bibs, baby baths, and high chairs, as well as clothes! 

As we wait, it's easy to be hesitant about this choice we are making. Are we sure we want our freedom and sleep snatched from us? ((Does anyone?)) Do we really want the inconveniences a child... a foster child... brings? During this waiting time, I find myself fighting the selfish desire for things to stay the same. But I can choose to be obedient, or I can choose to be selfish. We know that, for some reason, God has asked us to take care of babies who need a stable, loving home. Now. Not after we have our own kids... Now. And while I can't really give a reason why, He's been pulling on my heart for years now, preparing me and Nick for such a time as this. So, even when the desire to wait or hold off tries to pull me away, I stand confident in our decision to be foster parents now. 

With that said, we are still praying for December! Please join us in praying for everything to get turned in quickly and without any set backs. Pray that the clearances get done soon and come back quickly! Pray that we can find a day care when the time comes! Pray for our hearts as we prepare for this change. And of course, pray for the little one and his/her parents. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Summer Travels: Day 4

Hello again!
I figured I would take a little time to recap part of our trip to France. Here you go!

Every morning in Marseille, our hosts provided us with fresh croissants and pain au chocolat from a boulangerie that they walked to every morning. It was magical! Also, the windows in the houses didn't have screens. They had shutters that they would close while they were gone during the day to keep the sun out. Otherwise, the windows and doors were left open.

The view from the backyard in Marseille
We drove to Cassis on Tuesday morning. What a beautiful place! We took a boat tour and got SOAKED riding over huge waves. The boat went along the cliffs, and we actually saw a rock climber in one spot. Apparently, those cliffs are a famous location for rock climbers.

After the boat tour, we went to the beach. The water was pristine! So clear! Unfortunately, I was on an antibiotic that had made me photosensitive, so I was LITERALLY frying in the sun. It was extremely unpleasant. The water was too cold to swim, but we enjoyed the lovely views.

Then, we had lunch. I ordered a pizza that is apparently the signature pizza of that area. It was my first time eating mussels! Nick was starting to get used to his cafe after every lunch.

After lunch, we drove back home and prepared for a party! The true purpose of the party was lost in translation, but from what I could tell, it was a late birthday party for my Uncle Guy. We hadn't seen him yet, and Nick had never even met him. He was coming over with a couple American friends, as well as a lot of their family. The dinner party didn't start until 9:00 or so. We started by eating appetizers and having drinks. Before Uncle Guy arrived, we were surrounded by people who only spoke French. Unfortunately, knowing how to say, " Can I have two croissants, please?" in French means nothing in a room full of people who would just like to know about you. At first, it was a little awkward, but as the night went on, it got much better.

Around 10:00, we sat down to eat! Plenty of bread, ratatouille, and grilled lamb and veggies was passed around. And of course, wine. The conversations were hilarious, mainly because my uncle's two American friends were hysterical. After dinner, there was the fromage course, and the cafe, and the desserts. Christine taught guests how to roast marshmallows over the grill fire. She told me that she had learned how to during a trip to visit my dad's family and Guy, and they took a camping trip to Colorado. Watching people examine the roasted goodness was pretty amusing. After dessert, more drinks. People started leaving around 3:00. I was trying so hard not to fall asleep at the table. To me, this experience was the most "French" thing we did, and was definitely the most memorable time from our trip. It was amazing to be able to sit in with a family enjoying food and each other... for 5 hours into the night, nonetheless!

The dinner table... "Coka" is always available... as well as vin rouge...

Fromage... Nick's favorite
My dessert: An orange macaron dipped in chocolat
Guy and Christine's mom. I hadn't seen her since I was in elementary school.
 ((This picture was taken at 3:00am))
I wasn't really allowed to help clean up, and honestly, with the language barrier, I wasn't very good at it, but we did what we could and then slept very, very well!

The next day, we were headed to Avignon and Chateau des Baux. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Working Toward Foster Care

  Oh hello! So I know I still need to update 5 days or so on our Europe adventure. Honestly, that feels so long ago at this point. When September came with classes and trainings and tests and random illnesses, I was forced to push fun things like blogging and reading out of the way. Ho Hum. 

I want to start documenting our newest adventure... Foster parenting. Many of you have asked for details and how to help. So, here you go. 

So as most of you know, Nick and I began the journey to be foster parents back in July. Some people, with good intentions, told us we didn't know what we were doing. But even if it looked like it, this was not an abrupt, random decision. I have always known that I would adopt domestically some day. I strongly believe that every Christian has a blatant command from God to care for the orphans and needy. For some, that may mean providing resources or awareness. For me specifically, it means providing a home and a family. Nick and I went into our marriage knowing that we would some day pursue adoption. But Foster care was not on the front of my mind. 

In late college, some people in my life started to foster and share about how it was changing their lives. Over the first couple years of our marriage, other friends and acquaintances began to foster young children. When we moved to Rhode Island, and into a home with multiple bedrooms, I started looking into the state regulations. At the time, though, it was not possible for us to foster, mainly due to the state of the house we were living in at the time. It would not have passed a lead inspection. 

So, after a couple of years, we moved, and I started looking into it again. There was no big reason or change for why I was looking into fostering over adoption or giving birth... It just seemed like a natural thing for us to do. So many people say they could never do it, which is why we wanted to do it. Every time I would talk to Nick about it, he agreed that he was up for it... Some day. 
One summer Sunday morning, I was teaching PreK Sunday school at our church, and a fellow team member started talking about how she was almost certified to be a foster parent. I was so excited to find someone in Rhode Island who was going to be a Foster parent! She told me about the agency she was getting certified through, and so I went home and looked them up. I sent the recruiting lady an email for more information, and told Nick that I thought it was time to at least look seriously at Foster care. We had the space, we had the home, and our schedules were finally somewhat stable. He agreed to at least start researching it. 

So, in July, we met with the recruiter at the agency, filled out an initial application, and got all the information we needed to get started. We made the decision to go forward... Which was crazy at first, since the process would probably take 3-5 months. I started to panic because all the things expecting parents have 8-9 months to plan for, we had 3. 
We filled out all our background checks and got fingerprinted before we left for France. I'm glad we had that 9 day break in the middle, because it slowed me down and kept me from completely losing it. Our training didn't start until September 6, so we had a month to just sort of sit and wait. 

Since then, we've sat through 26 hours of training, two home study visits, a fire inspection, and a lead safe inspection. We've had physicals and TB tests. We've filled out pages and pages and pages of paperwork about our parents, siblings, childhoods, and memories. We've discussed how we were disciplined and how we plan on disciplining and how often we fight and what we fight about. We've contacted at least 10 day cares and toured one. 

Up next, we have a couple more home study visits, and then will need to prepare our home for the baby. This will involve buying a lock box to lock up all medications and moving all cleaners and chemicals out of the bottom cabinets, as well as switching our bedrooms and getting the nursery ready. We have said that we would prefer an infant under the age of 1, but otherwise, we have no idea the age or gender! 

On Monday, we got to have some fun registering in Target. Well, I enjoyed it. :)
We have had so many people ask us what we need, so we figured we would register to help communicate our needs with anyone who wants to help. If you have kids, and see something on the list that you have and don't use anymore, we would be so grateful for any used items. If you don't have kids and just want to know what we need, the list is there for you, too! Since we do not know the specifics on age and gender, some items, like diapers and clothes, have been skipped. We are so grateful for the people who have given us baby girl clothes that their daughter has outgrown. If you or someone you know has baby boy clothes they are no longer using, we might need them!
Search for Haley Purdy or Nick Jensen. 

For some reason, it won't let me change my last name from when we registered for our wedding. 
So, take a look at the list, and if you have something around your house that you don't need anymore, we would love to take it off your hands. Or, if you'd like to help us out by purchasing something on the list, we would, of course, be so grateful for that, too. 
 We are so excited to start building up our collection of baby essentials!! 

There are also a few things you could pray for us: 
- that we find a day care that is safe, nurturing, has room, and takes the tuition from the state. That has definitely been the most frustrating part of this process. 

- that Nick and I grow closer to God and to each other as we prepare to add a munchkin to our family

- For the parents of this future foster baby, and whatever situation they are in. 

- that everything from here on out goes smoothly with the certification process

So that's the latest with the fostering process. We are preparing for December, but realize that we have to be flexible with time. :) 

Be sure to like our facebook page to get updates as things go along! 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Travels: Day 3


On our third day in Europe, we spent time exploring Marseille! The city and coast was so beautiful, living there would be a dream.

I will begin by explaining where we stayed. My dad's family had a foreign exchange student live with them for around a year and a half when he was in high school. We are considered his American family, and I call him my uncle, which confuses plenty of people. :) His family has come and visited us, and many of us have gone to visit them. This was my first time, of course. We stayed outside Marseille with his sister, brother-in-law, and 15 year-old niece. Their older daughter was in India during our trip.

We started out in the "Vieux Port", or the Old Port. The harbor was lovely! There were fish markets along the docks from fishermen who had been out that morning.

Then, we took le petit train de Marseille, literally, the small train of Marseille, to Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica. The chapel was originally built in 1214, then a new chapel was constructed in 1477. The current basilica was built in 1853. The views were absolutely magnificent!

Right along the coast, there were a few small islands. The smallest, Chateau d'If, became a state prison in the 1600s. It's now a national monument, but what made me most excited to see this island was the fact that it was the setting for Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.

After taking a ton of pictures, we walked down the hill to find lunch. I couldn't get over all the shutters. We don't use shutters like they do... There are no screens on the windows, and they close the shutters to help keep their homes cool.

We had our first true French restaurant experience for lunch that day, although I think the food was actually Italian. The menu had entrees in French, with English words underneath as translation. I somehow ended up ordering thin slices of raw beef... It actually tasted pretty good, and I ate most of it. I honestly wasn't sure that it was raw until that night when I looked it up.  I had crepes for dessert, and Alain insisted on ordering the cafe gourmet for Nick. He didn't want it, but he did eat it!

After lunch, we continued to explore Marseille. We walked around the new museum, and took plenty of pictures. We saw The Major Cathedral from afar, and went inside Saint Victor Abbey, built in the 6th century. Christine and Alain were actually married there! It looks like a medieval castle!

 Old Port and Notre Dame de la Garde
The Major Cathedral behind us

Views of the museum and The Major Cathedral

Saint Victor Abbey

We also visited Four des Navettes, the oldest bakery in Marseille, opened in 1781. They sell this special bread/cookie/cake type treat. I honestly don't have an English interpretation for it... but they use orange blossoms in them, and they have such a strong, unique taste, I've never tasted anything like it. You can see pictures on their website.

Then, we drove back to le maison and had dinner. It was our first time eating ratatouille, and wow, was it good! It was also our first experience with le fromage, or cheese, course, which quickly became Nick's favorite. One thing we noticed was that they eat dinner after 9 there! We ate on their back porch every night with views of the sunset over the mountains. It was so lovely! Then we slept really really well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Summer Travels: Day 2

So, we decided to take a bus instead of the train from London to Paris. The bummer about this was that the bus took 8 hours, while the train takes 3. However, there were a few reasons why we did this:
1. It was astronomically cheaper to take the bus.
2. The times that we could afford to take the train would have had us missing a good chunk of time in Paris.
3. We would have had to pay for a place to stay overnight in London.

So, we departed from London Victoria Coach Station around 10:30pm. If you ever want to do this, I definitely recommend IDBus. It was clean and cheap. We had wifi the whole time, which meant we could use our phones, and it had outlets so we could keep our phones charged! Nick slept most of the time. I've learned he's pretty good at sleeping in weird places. I did not sleep as well. Driving through London in the middle of the night was pretty cool. So strange being on the left side of the street, huh?

Our bus driver was very kind but did not speak English... Which I feel could have been helpful considering he was driving from London... He would say things in the monitor and we would sit there and wait to see what the other people on the bus would do.

I did hear the word "ferry" when he was on the phone, and realized that instead of taking the Chunnel, like I had hoped, we were actually going to be on top of the English Channel on a ferry. Now, again, public modes of transportation, including ferries, make me think I'm going to die. It's not like a panic, just a casual, "Welp, this is it!" kind of feeling. We got to the ferry boarding gate around midnight or so, and the woman there did not speak French, and our driver did not speak English. Apparently he normally just hands her a paper with the passenger list, but this woman wanted "the number of adults and the number of children." I am pretty sure the driver understood what she was asking, because I heard him talking to someone on the phone in French, repeating the phrase in French, but wasn't sure how to give her what she wanted. I'm not sure how it got resolved, but finally, we were allowed past. But then we had to wait THREE hours just to get on the ferry. Who planned this!? At this point, I actually did end up falling asleep for a while. Then, at 3am, we drove onto the most gigantic ferry I have ever seen. I was hoping they would allow us off the bus, I would have probably had a legitimate panic attack if they hadn't. Fortunately, after watching the other passengers who knew what the driver was saying, we realized that we HAD to get off the bus. We made our way up a few levels to the cafe and sat down at a table. Nick slept. I read. There was no way I was falling asleep on a gigantic ferry that was crossing the English Channel for THREE hours in the middle of the pitch black night.

But we made it.

We got back on our bus as the sun was coming up and slept the rest of the way to Paris.

I could not believe we were in Paris. Our first plan of action was to walk to the train station we were leaving from that evening to store our bags. After asking an information booth for a map, we made our way to Gare de Lyon. Train stations are so huge in Europe. I feel like since we don't use them as often in the US, they are not as big. But Gare de Lyon was massive. Three floors. Restaurants and stores. There was the metro station as well as the commuter rail station. We finally found the left baggage area, but could not figure out what we were supposed to do. There were not any helpful signs, so we had to ask the people at the desk if they spoke English (in French). The woman looked as if I had insulted her, but the man was helpful enough. We needed to find an ATM to withdraw some cash before we left our bags. I had looked up BoA's sister banks in both London and Paris, and since they were everywhere, I hadn't written a specific location down. There was a slight feeling of panic when we realized we didn't know where to go, but there happened to be one right across the street from the station. We got our cash, stored our bags, and were free to explore the City of Lights!

But first, a map. The map we were given before was a map of the public transportation, which, although not helpful at the time, ended up being a life saver later in the week. Nick used his limited French to ask for a map... "Bonjour, do you have 'le carte?'" The woman replied with, "A map?" Haha. I think she was amused with his effort.

We walked to Notre Dame first. It was packed. We were approached by a young scammer wanting us to sign her petition for the deaf children of Paris, but she left us alone when we said no.  We took some pictures and then walked through the Louvre. Again, packed, and again, more scammers. We ended up taking naps in the gardens outside the museum. We were both so tired, we slept on and off for an hour and a half.

After napping, we made our way toward the Tour route to find a place to watch. We were a little confused because there were already people everywhere and the street was blocked off. There was an announcer yelling over speakers, in French, and as soon as we got near the street, cyclists zoomed by and the crowd screamed. But they weren't supposed to get into the city for four more hours! 

We watched them come by another time, and then the crowds started to disperse. Police were yelling orders in French, it was a little overwhelming not knowing what was going on. After looking at some pictures we got, we realized that we had actually just seen the women's race. Later, we found out that we had seen La Course, the first women's race in the Tour since the 1980s! 

We found a clear spot along the barriers on Rue Rivoli to wait for the men. We still had 3 or so hours, and it was hot in the sun! I was actually on an antibiotic that had made my skin photosensitive, and the sun was absolutely excruciating, so I found a spot against a building in the shad and read on my kindle while Nick held his spot along the street. Meanwhile, huge trucks and vans pulled up on the race route and companies started handing out free gear like tshirts and hats... The silliest hats I have ever seen, by the way.

After a couple of hours, the trucks moved on, honking their horns to the screaming crowds. Then, like a parade, cars, bikes, and floats came through, all making tons of noise, pumping up the crowd. At this point, it was very crowded. The anticipation was crazy. The announcers may have been saying how close they were, but since we couldn't understand them, we had no idea. Finally, police on motorcycles came by, and then cars with bikes on top, and then finally, the cyclists! The crowd was screaming and pushing in, and they went by so fast. It really was pretty amazing to experience. We were in an area where they go around multiple times, so we waited for them to come by once more, then made our way to the metro.

On the way to the metro, Nick talked a man into selling him an "official" Tour mug for 5 euro less than marked. He was pleased. 

We caught the metro and took it to Gare de Lyon, picked up our bags from the lockers, and ate croissants while we waited for our train. We also paid 60 cents each to use the bathroom. 

Our train to Marseille was really nice. We slept and read off and on for the three hour ride. We had taken the blankets that were in our plane seats with us... I'm not really sure if that was allowed or not, no one told us otherwise... but it was probably one of the best decisions we made all trip. Those blankets kept us warm on one bus, 2 trains, and 2 planes for the rest of the week! There was a little boy around 3 in front of us, and we played peekaboo for a half of an hour or so. I love that even though we didn't speak the same language, we were able to make each other laugh.

The announcer only spoke in French, and we were so afraid we were going to get off in the wrong city. It ended up being the last stop. 

I was also nervous about finding Christine and Alain, our hosts, at the station in Marseille, since I hadn't seen them since I was around 10. I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have been able to pick them out of a crowd. And there was definitely a crowd. Fortunately, they brought their youngest daughter with them. I had never actually met her, but we are friends on Facebook, so I knew what she looked like! 

We greeted each other and they taught us how to do the 2 kiss greeting, which we were both pretty awkward at, let's be honest. They drove us around Marseille to see the city at night, and then to their home outside the city. They do not speak much English, and we spoke very little French, so conversations were short.  They fed us this delicious sweet bread with "coca" back at their house, even though it was midnight and we were barely awake. Celine, their older daughter, who had spent time in Texas with my family, came home and asked us some questions about how we wanted to spend the next few days. We didn't care, just wanted to see and do anything they thought was worth seeing and doing! 

Then, we went to bed, and slept so so so wonderfully. 

I must admit, my first impression of Paris was not a good one. It was hot, I was exhausted to the point of tears, and it really didn't smell that great. Cat pee. Or something.  Luckily, we returned after 5 days of sleeping on real beds, and my opinion improved. But more on that later. 

Next up, exploring Marseille!