Family

Erasers

Somehow in the raising of children you oftentimes start traditions that you didn’t mean to start. Of course these traditions usually end up being a complete pain but heaven help you if you try to abandon them. Thus we ended up with the Annual Buying of the School Supplies. Think Running of the Bulls in Pamplona but with children, not bovines. And in Target, not Spain.  Back when the kiddles were first starting out they went to a lovely little private school in Salt Lake City called Carden Memorial School. It was so wonderful and I am only now realizing what a blessing it was to attend there. The school was very picky about what products the students used so the cost of the school supplies was bundled into tuition and all we did was show up on the first day with nothing but a backpack. Everything else was provided. The notebooks were lovely little things imported from France and the crayons were some kind I’ve never seen before. It was all so nice.

But then we had too many kids and couldn’t afford tuition so off we went to a Charter School. This meant buying all the supplies ourselves. So off we went with six children under age ten to Target with four separate lists of products to buy. It was mayhem, to say the least. I was probably in tears by the time we left. But the kids had  grand old time. And the next summer it had already been established as a tradition. Kids have this weird way of assuming that any activity they really like is now a tradition even if they’ve only done it once. And we sucker parents, eager to create as many magical traditions and memories as possible, completely give in. Every single time. How else do we explain naughty leprechaun shenanigans on St. Patrick’s Day, $20 tooth fairy gifts or making a fancy birthday poster every single year (am I right, Tiffany)? So now we find ourselves at Target every August, trying to navigate the bins of pencils and post-it notes. I’m so dreadfully jealous of the moms who buy those pre-made kits of all the proper school supplies that are tidily wrapped, waiting on their child’s desk the night of the Open House. I suggested those to my children last year and they were all writhing on the floor by the time I’d finished the question. How dare I suggest they not pick out their very own scissors!

So it looks like tomorrow night will be the magical night we head over to our home away from home Target. I will commence to dig through the jillions of folders to find exactly the right ones (plastic, pockets, brads) in all five colors (“gosh dangit, how are the red ones gone already???”). I will explain to my children the nuances of a Pentel Hi-Polymer eraser vs. Pink Pearl (Pink Pearls are crap. I don’t care what the list from the school says), a pencil box vs. a pencil case. (“no, a box is much better. You can open it and see everything at once. With a soft case you have to constantly dig around inside. I know it doesn’t come in turquoise but you’ll thank me, I swear.”),  and the debate which isn’t even worth debating: Crayola vs. Rose Art (spend the extra 10¢ and get Crayola for Pete’s Sake. Rose Art’s quality is an insult to humanity. I do prefer Prang watercolors to Crayola,though, truth be told.)

As someone who is not a teacher, I am flummoxed by the huge amount of dry-erase markers that are required. Why do they cost so much more than regular markers? It’s a pile of noxious chemicals. Just make more!  And what’s so special about manila paper. Are you telling me that a ream of legal sized printer paper is not quite good enough?

Now that we’ve got older kids we have to do two big shopping trips. The elementary schoolers need everything by late summer or it will all be sold out. The older kids have to go to school before their teachers tell them what is needed. So we’ve got to scrounge around the leftovers during the first week of school hoping to find the elusive five-subject notebook. If you go to the school supply section in late August it looks like the bottled water aisle the day before a hurricane. There’s nothing there but a couple of Monster High folders and a pack of highlighters.  Then we’re left to search for notebooks at places like Walgreen’s. And that just feels all wrong.

So I’m girding my loins and mentally preparing myself to run the gauntlet tomorrow evening. Pray for me.

(First of all “license” is a really tricky word to spell. I know there are c’s and s’s but I can’t ever remember which goes where. Same thing with “excersise”. Or is it “exercize”?  I’m really a good speller, I swear!)

Texas DPS

York, although being 16, was a bit of a dawdler about getting his driver’s permit and license. We signed India up for a driving school and she did all her stuff and got her license and it was not too hard. We decided to do the homeschool option for York because . . . we’re dumb and cheap. The homeschool version costs about $120 less than a driving school. The would-be driver has to do an online course but you do every speck of driving with the would-be driver.

Let me tell you, it’s most definitely worth $120 to make someone else learn to drive with your child. You eventually are the one who has to put in the major hours with them either way, but it’s nice having someone else show them the ropes at the beginning when they are know-nothing idiots. There isn’t anything more frustrating than a teenager who thinks he’s a great driver just because he’s played lots of driving video games. You can explain til you’re blue in the face that the very nature of Forza Motorsport is the complete opposite of driving in the real world (you have to obey speed limits, stay on the road and no running over pedestrians), but he’ll think he’s an expert already. Ah, the hubris of a teenage boy!

York did an online course for Driver’s Ed that was pretty straightforward. The rotten part was actually doing the driving.  Here in Texas you have to do about a million and a half hours of driving before you get your license (a bunch of it has to be done at night, too). This is definitely a great idea but it’s se emotionally taxing that I found myself giving York excuse after excuse about why he couldn’t drive. I had just been through the white knuckles with India, I needed a year or so to recover before I got to this business with York. Not to mention I didn’t want him to drive with his siblings in the car; if he was going to kill us I wanted him to take along as few people as possible. When there are six kids at home it’s quite difficult to find a time when only one person needs to go somewhere.

When you have toddlers and older people laugh and say, “wait until he’s a teenager” you look at them and think, “what’s worse than a meltdown in the middle of Target?”. You imagine a surly teenager and wonder “how hard can that be?”  The idea of not having to hire a babysitter anymore/make food other than chicken nuggets/wipe anyone’s bum makes the teenage years shine from afar with a rosy glow.

It’s things like teaching your kid how to drive that are simply too hideous to explain to a young mother. How do I communicate the frustration and terror of making sure my child understands how to not kill himself and others with this one ton mass of steel and soft Corinthian leather*.

York and I (I am the teacher of children learning to drive. Let’s just say that Mister’s temperament is not quite suited to patience in the driver’s seat. Plus I’m a better driver to begin with) muddled through our many hours of driving together until it was the magical day to get his driver’s license. Instead of getting it at the dumpy little office ten minutes from our house, everyone told us to go to the big fancy office way on the other side of town because it was so much easier to get an appointment. So York made an appointment–only a two-week wait!– to take the driving test way over there. I looked at the DPS† website to make sure we had the proper paperwork, although the website is as vague and unhelpful as possible (“Bring the Driver Safety Form”. Well, which of the eight hundred forms and papers that I’ve been given over the last few months is that? Why can’t they just say, “the form you got from the online driving school saying you finished all the lessons”??? Oh that’s right, this is the government. Why make something easy to understand when you can be cryptic and misleading instead?)

I pulled York out of school early (Of course driving tests are only given during school hours. Of course!) and toodled over to the DPS (a 35-minute drive and $2 in tolls) and got in line for his appointment. The lady who worked there was sweet but very insistent that we were missing a form. The form that I had left sitting on the table because I didn’t realize it was one we had needed. Naturally. It was too late to go get it and return before the office closed (an hour and ten minute round trip, remember!)   At this point York was about to lose it because he was not about to wait another two weeks for his driving test. The Prom was in two days and he wasn’t crazy about his mother driving him and his date around.

The sweet DPS lady assured us that if we arrived first thing in the morning we would be able to get a walk-in appointment. So we were on the road at 7:00 a.m. the next day to get to the DPS on the other side of town when it opened. We had all the correct paperwork and York and the driving instructor set off.

And they were back sixty seconds later.

Seems our safety sticker had expired a year earlier. In all fairness we were driving India’s car and I had no idea. So we drove around the surrounding area until we found a shop that could do a safety inspection. An hour later we were back at the DPS only to realize it wasn’t the safety sticker that had expired, but the car registration (which is a sticker on the dashboard so it’s very easy to tell when the date passes.)  There is no way we had time to drive over to a completely different government office to get a new registration so we decided to go back home and get my minivan.

Fast forward half an hour; we were about to get in my minivan when I realize that it too has an expired registration (really, people, I can’t be expected to stay abreast of everything). Our only other option was the giant pick-up we owned that mostly just sits in the driveway until Mister decides that he needs to take stuff to Goodwill. Only India had taken it to school that day because we’d been using her car for the driving test.

So we went to the High School and had her run the keys out to us in the parking lot. We swapped cars (registration and safety stickers were up to date!) and drove back to the DPS. York had never driven the truck in his life but that just made it all the more wonderful.

By this point it was noon. We’d originally left for the test at 7 a.m. Yay for missing another day of school!

York took his test and passed (hooray, because I really would have strangled him if we’d gone to all that trouble and he’d flunked), and it was very anti-climactic. We were just happy to be out of there. As we exited we passed a sulky teenage girl who was standing there with her mother while a DPS employee informed them that the license plates on their car were expired and they’d have to come back another day. “But I pulled her out of school for this! Now I’ll have to pull her out again!”, her mother wailed. I hear you, sister. I hear you.

So York got his driver’s license, hopped in the car all by himself and drove back for the last couple of hours of school.

The worst part of all of this is watching your child drive away alone for the very first time. Your heart has just driven off and you are sure this child will certainly die on the road. You spend the rest of the time praying every few minutes that he will be safe and not be killed. Like really, honest-to-God praying. For the first week you will nearly cry with sadness every time your boy wants to drive somewhere, certain are you that you will never see him again.

But then a few days later you find yourself making dinner and realize you forgot to buy an avocado. So you hand your son some money and have him run to the store and it’s like angels started singing and the world is bright and wonderful now that you can make somebody else run your errands.

Just like all the other things that happen when you’re a parent and your child goes through milestones, it is bittersweet. This one is the most bitter and sweet I’ve experienced, though. It’s so great to not have to pick people up from play practice at 10:00 at night. Or drive them across town at 6:30 am for the SAT. Or to have an extra set of wheels when one kid needs to be picked up from a birthday party at the exact moment when another kid needs to be at a soccer game. This is pure bliss. But now my child has the power to inflict death, whether on himself or someone else. I mean, I guess he could have stabbed somebody before but it’s not quite the same thing as a car crash. He also has the power to say he’ll be one place and be someplace else far, far away. That could mean trouble.

This parenting job, though, is all about letting go and hoping it all turns out semi-decently. It’s hard but it’s good.

Of course I’m saying all this now but let’s see how much of a basket-case I am when we take India to college next month.

 

 

 

†Here in Texas we have the Department of Public Safety not the DMV.

*You younger people won’t get this reference. But you should. I totally remember this car commercial starring the ever-suave Ricardo Montalban. Most people remember him saying “rich Corinthian leather”, but that is erroneous. Also erroneous? The leather that Chrysler used came from New Jersey, not Corinth.

I originally wrote this series of blog posts as a “look what we did” sort of thing. But I keep having people ask questions about our trip because they’ll be doing something similar and want some advice. So I’ve decided to make these posts heavy on details. I know most of you won’t care and you’re welcome to skim all the wordiness. But I am a fan of details when I travel so I will give you my opinions and knowledge and you can gloss over what you don’t care about.

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Because India is graduating this year and York is graduating next year, Mister and I decided to do a combined graduation trip and take both of them to London and Paris. Those poor kids have never been anywhere. (Oh wait, they did get that ultra-luxurious road trip around the South in my minivan last summer.) As any parent knows, the end of the school year is a complete joke and nothing happens in High School once all the AP and standardized testing has finished. May is also the perfect month to go to Europe since it’s not horrifically crowded and the weather is generally pleasant. Mister is in grad school and this ended up being the best time for him to take a little break too.

So off we went. Mister used to live in London (both on a church mission and as a student) and it is his favorite city in the whole world. It’s a great place to start a foreign trip because it’s different but not too different. You can get your feet wet with international travel without becoming overwhelmed.

We rented a flat through HomeAway instead of getting a hotel because we like a little breathing room. Also, it gets incredibly expensive to eat out for every meal, so we wanted a kitchen so we could at least make breakfast. And we wanted a washing machine (if you pack light you have to be able to wash clothes!). India and York weren’t about to share a bed so we needed at least three beds (one king-sized because there is a rule when I am asleep that I cannot be touched. I need as much space as possible. You have no idea how hard it is to find a king-sized bed in Europe.) and renting a flat can be cheaper than getting two hotel rooms. We found a great place in Bloomsbury (halfway between the British Museum and Kings Cross station). It was in a less-touristy area that had lots of shopping nearby and a tube stop a couple of blocks away. It looked like an old Victorian hospital. Maybe it used to be; I don’t know.

Bloomsbury flat

Our flight was on British Airways. They have nonstop service from Austin to London so the flight was only about nine hours. It makes such a difference, not having a connection! Because the tickets were el cheapo, we had the teensiest seats on the entire plane. It almost made me weep, walking by those spacious first class chaises longues. But when you consider that I could have bought a decent little car for the same amount of money as four first-class tickets, I wasn’t so sad. I can put up with all sorts of nonsense for nine hours. It was a new plane, which had all the bells and whistles like a USB port at every seat and tons of free movies and TV shows on our own personal little screens. (No wifi, though, which is beyond strange.)  Also the windows didn’t have shades that went up and down. They had dimmers, so the whole window got darker or brighter with the push of a button. It was a nice concept but felt really weird and didn’t work so well.

Anyway, we got to London bedraggled and cross, as is usually the case when you have to sleep sitting up. I tried out a new neck rest thingy called the Sky Siesta and I really liked it. I can’t stand those neck pillows that feel like somebody is choking me, so I tried this one. It worked a million times better than a traditional travel pillow or a wadded up sweater. I brought along ear plugs and fuzzy socks to make it a little better. I only got four hours of sleep but I think that’s about the best I can hope for.

Sky Siesta

We took the tube to our flat (it was on the same Underground line as Heathrow airport so we didn’t have to switch trains or anything. Phew). We bought Oyster cards at Heathrow Airport that were for one week of unlimited travel in zones 1-2 (which is where all the touristy stuff is). We added on one trip into London (about 45 minutes away). If you were flying out of Heathrow, you might need to add on another trip back. We left via the chunnel which is in the middle of London (close enough for us to walk to, actually) so we were set with just our travelcards. There are several electronic ticket kiosks at Heathrow where you can buy Underground tickets; however I didn’t want to buy the wrong thing so I opted to talk to a human at the huge ticket office (we were in Terminal 5. Not sure how it is in other terminals).

I was a little weirded out riding the Tube with my suitcase but tourists are a fact of life in London and people are always coming or going. There’s always somebody with a suitcase riding the tube. Nobody thinks much of it. And carrying a suitcase in the Tube is a good reason to pack light! European subways are not wheel-friendly. Whether you’ve got a suitcase, baby stroller or are in a wheelchair, good luck! The Underground was built over 100 years ago back when they didn’t give a thought about accessibility so lots of stations are completely unequipped for anything requiring wheels. There are stairs and escalators at every stop. Try to get everything in a carry-on. It really is possible!

While we were at Heathrow we got money out of the ATM. We landed with not a smidge of foreign currency on us (some people like a bit of money ahead of time. We figured that we were going to London, not Mars, so we’d get some currency when we arrived. That ended up being fine in London. Notsofine in Paris).  The worst exchange rates are at airports UNLESS you use the ATM (try to use an ATM associated with a bank. Travelex is notorious for having terrible exchange rates at their ATMs even at airports) . You will probably be charged a fee for using the ATM overseas but you’re going to be charged a fee to change your currency too, and the ATM fees are usually more reasonable.  Here is something I’ll explain in more detail in another post, but chances are your American credit card won’t work over there. 90% of the time they only take credit cards with a computer chip in them. Those are really rare in the U.S. (if you have one, you’ll know). However, your regular old American ATM card will work just fine for using at an ATM overseas but NOT for making purchases (and remember to tell your bank that you’ll be traveling overseas so they don’t wig out and suspend your card.)

Once we got settled into our flat we had lunch at a little Farmer’s Market that was going on nearby. I knew we’d be exhausted and figured a tour might keep us occupied and on our best behavior since Mister and I tend to quarrel when we’re dead-dog tired (or most anytime, really). So I arranged a sightseeing tour with London Black Taxi Tours. (Just to clarify, I booked all these tours months ago. The best tours book up fast.  Tripadvisor is really the most fantastic resource on finding things to do and whether they’re worthwhile or not.) Our driver was named Michael Churchill and he drove us around all afternoon in his honest-to-goodness black taxi.

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Mr. Churchill knows everything about everything and we knocked out a bunch of sights in a few hours. It was very interesting and he was a great guide. I particularly wanted to see lots of sights to cross off of our “been there” list that I knew we wouldn’t have time to visit in-depth (like St. Paul’s, Big Ben, Tower of London, etc).

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The weather, as you might have guessed, was rainy, cold and blustery. Spring in England is always anyone’s guess. At the last minute I threw a sweater in my bag as we were packing and I’m glad I did because I wore it–along with my unlined rain coat. Brrr!–for three days straight.

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(I was going to photoshop my face because I look a bit frightful but then I realized that I’d been up for about a million hours and had zero makeup on. So I’m just going to keep it real.)

York was particularly thrilled to count all the Bentleys and Aston-Martins around town. There were dozens! We even saw a couple of Maybachs. I don’t know how all these people have so much money, but they do. I was particularly impressed with the sweet Mercedes minivans they have over there. Why can’t we get those in the U.S.? Then maybe those snooty SUV girls wouldn’t be turning up their noses at us lowly minivan people.

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This here below is Leadenhall Market. It’s one of the earliest covered shopping areas and was where the entrance to Diagon Alley was shot in Harry Potter. We saw lots of Harry Potter sights but as I haven’t seen most of the movies, I really couldn’t appreciate them.

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One thing that makes me truly sad about churches nowadays (especially in America) is that they never have bells. Church bells are one of my favorite sounds ever. I was very thrilled to hear so many church bells in London. This is St. Clement Danes church. I wish there hadn’t been so many green trees; you can barely see the church which was quite lovely.

 

We ended up our evening in Covent Garden which is an interesting but very touristy area. It was freezing and raining and we were starving. We had dinner in a little pub which was OK, but nothing great. We were exhausted enough that we barely cared. The tube station was closed so we caught a taxi back to our flat and fell asleep quite instantly.

Let me take a moment to talk about public transportation. The London Underground (known by Americans as the subway but British people always call it the Tube) is really the best in the world. It’s super easy to navigate and figure out. When we first came to England back in the 90′s we took the Tube exclusively. As a result I really never got my bearings and had no idea where things were in relation to each other. Buses were incredibly confusing and intimidating and Mister could hardly ever get me on one. We ended up lost a lot of the time when we took them so I gave up. Back in the day you had to use this huge confusing map and I just hated it. It’s too bad because buses are usually a lot more convenient than riding on subways. And buses are great for sightseeing and getting a feel for the city you’re in. With the London Travelcard, buses and the Tube are all included in the fee (of course, you have to stay in the zones you agreed to). And once you’ve got a great app on your phone to keep you from getting lost, you’re good to go anywhere in London!

Now we are in the era of the iphone and public transportation has never been easier. There are quite a few apps to help you figure out buses and subways. My favorite, hands down, is Citymapper. It can be used in London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, New York and Washington DC. You download the city you’re in and enter where you’re starting and where you want to end up (you don’t need actual addresses either. You can just put “the British Museum” and Citymapper will figure it out for you). Citymapper tells you exactly how to get there. You can decide whether you want to walk, take a bus, the subway or a taxi and how long (and how expensive) each option will be. It lists when the next bus/train will arrive and which way to walk to get to the stop. It takes all guesswork out of riding public transportation! And the best part is, Citymapper is free!  (You’ll need a data plan for overseas. It ain’t cheap but you absolutely, positively must be able to use your smartphone if for no other reason than to keep from getting lost.)

We woke up confused and jet-lagged on Sunday, meaning to go to church. But the Mormon church that Mister used to go to was a good 45 minutes away and all the Anglican churches have their lovely services beginning at 10:30 or 11. Since we had a walking tour scheduled at 11, that made church impossible. So we took a leisurely time getting to our walking tour which was with Jonnie at Bowl of Chalk Tours. It ended up not being rainy (hooray!) but was frighteningly cold.  Our tour was in East London around Hackney and Islington. This is not a part of London that I’ve ever spent much time in, which is a pity because it’s so fascinating. Jonnie was a fantastic tour guide–funny, knowledgeable and very charming–and I highly recommend one of his walks. They’re also “pay what you like” so anyone can afford them. Heeere’s Jonnie:

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We saw such lovely sights! There are certainly a lot of ugly things in London, it being a city that was heavily bombed and then rebuilt in quite a nasty modern style. But so many quaint and lovely pockets remain.

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Below is Bunhill Fields Cemetery. Daniel DeFoe and William Blake are both buried here (as is John Bunyan. Bonus points if you know what he wrote. Hint: it’s the second most published book after the Bible). One of these tombstones belongs to a certain Jabez Hornblower. Don’t know who he was but that’s the best name ever. (Also, the green! Everything was so green! )

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This statue below is John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. It stands in front of the church he preached at. I assume it’s still a Methodist church. This one’s for you, How family!

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We were fortunate to go on our tour on a Sunday when the Columbia Road Flower Market was happening. This is a long, narrow street of flower sellers that is so crazy crowded. The rest of the week it is a ghost-town. But when the flower market is on, watch out! You can barely get through. There are cut flowers and flowers to be planted; all beautiful. I don’t think any country rivals England for beautiful flowers. Well, maybe France. And Holland.

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The best part of the Columbia Road Market is that the vendors are all hollering about what flowers they have and how much they cost, all in their cute cockney accents. I’m sorry my videos are all so short; I get very flustered and self-conscious when I start filming. Plus I hate videos that go too long; so I err on the other side and make them too short.

Our tour passed by Shoreditch church (officially known as St. Leonard’s) which is mentioned in the video that I’ll put in my Day 3 post tomorrow. It’s also the church featured in the BBC show called Rev, starring one of my favorite actors, Tom Hollander (who you would totally recognize if you saw because he is in every British show made in the last fifteen years). Rev is about an Anglican minister in modern-day London who has a dwindling little congregation. It’s funny in a dry British way and poignant and about someone who is actually religious and normal. There’s swearing in it sometimes, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I think we actually had to pay money to watch it on Amazon Prime but I haven’t liked a show this much in years, so I thought it was worth it. Anyway, we passed by the church where the show is filmed. It really is quite a seedy area but the church is very lovely. Come to think of it, there’s not an ugly church in all of London.

Shreditch church

We stopped by Old Spitalfields Market after we were done with the tour. Spitalfields was probably my favorite place to shop in London. It’s a market that is mostly filled with craft vendors. Not touristy junk or knock-off  Prada bags but pretty things and cool things and unusual things. And there are lots of inexpensive food choices around the outside of the market too. It’s in a covered building (although the sides are open) so you won’t get rained on and the wind is not bad at all if it’s a blustery day like we had.  Each day features something different at Spitalfields, so make sure you check the schedule before you shop. Some days feature a lot of antiques, some are dedicated to fashion, but they’re all great.

Old_Spitalfieelds_Market

We ended up the day at the Tate Britain Museum. When I was an Art History major in college, British art (the Pre-Raphaelites, in particular) were my thing. The Pre-Raphaelites are kind of an underdog in the art world. To us their works seem like rather ordinary Victorian art. But the Pre-Raphaelites were sort of ground-breaking in their time.  I particularly liked this painting of St. Eulalia by J.W. Waterhouse. Cool perspective.

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Ophelia by John Everett Millais (another Pre-Raphaelite) is Mister’s very favorite painting. It’s supposed to be at the Tate Britain but every time we’ve gone there it’s been rotated out of the collection or on loan to another museum. I thought Mister was going to lose it this time when he didn’t get to see it again.

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Now that I’ve gotten older I tend to like quieter paintings. I always hated still lifes because they were so boring, but now I really like them.  I find their calmness refreshing. All that melodramatic Italian art I used to love back in the day makes me roll my eyes. I guess I have enough drama in real life; I don’t want it in the stuff I look at as well. This painting was my favorite in the entire Tate Britain.

Cholmondeley Ladies

It’s called The Cholmondeley Ladies (pronounced “Chumley”, FYI). They were sisters born on the same day, married on the same day who gave birth on the same day. I like this portrait because it’s unusual. How many twins do you see in art? It’s also fancy but plain at the same time. And it has kind of a folksy feel to it. The sister’s faces and hands are simple even though they’ve got lace exploding all over the place.  The setting is austere but my gosh look at the baby clothes. We get it, you’re rich! This is one of those pieces of art where you’re walking through the gallery looking at the paintings thinking, “naked lady, rich nobleman, rich nobleman, naked lady, Baby Jesus” then you suddenly see this painting and stop right in your tracks: “Wow!”  I love when that happens.

We were very sorry to leave the Tate. Mostly because they have free wifi and it’s so nice to have free wifi when every map and bit of information you possess is all in your internet-dependant smartphone.

We had a nice dinner of Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding at some restaurant that I can’t remember the name of. I had treacle pudding for dessert which tasted like a very moist Twinkie, minus the cream filling. British people use the word “pudding” too much. It’s like the “aloha” of the food world over there; it means all sorts of different things. There is Yorkshire Pudding which is similar to a popover and not sweet at all. There is also “pudding” which means dessert in general. For instance you’d say, “who’d like pudding after supper?” which could mean cake or pie or whatever. There is also pudding like the treacle pudding I ate, which is a sponge cake soaked in liquid of some sort. But none of these is actual pudding as we Americans know it.  That is called custard usually. Or maybe mousse. At any rate just be aware that pudding means a lot of things in England, none of which means pudding as I know it.

Another meal-related quibble: I know it makes me seem like a spoiled, bratty American but I really do like to have ice in my drinks and although I put up with lukewarm cans of coke (no refills!) I thought to myself how superior ice is when you drink a pop. But I didn’t complain out loud. I only thought it. Because I am an American but I’m not a tacky American.

After a stop at TKTS to buy theatre tickets first thing in the morning, we headed off to The British Museum. Or as I like to call it, The British Museum of Pillaging and Thievery. Due to the British having the biggest and strongest army/navy for so many centuries, they’ve stolen every antiquity across the Western Hemisphere and put it all in one huge museum. I’m not complaining; The chances of me getting to Thebes or Athens are slim-to-none. I just find it a little appalling that they somehow think that they have the right to keep all the good stuff for themselves.

At any rate there it all is in a big museum. And it’s free. Which is utterly wonderful. There is a big plexiglass case in the entry hall where you can slip some money for a donation. It isn’t necessary and nobody keeps track of the amount you donate. But it’s rather rude to not donate something.

Rick Steves has some audio tours of this place that we downloaded ahead of time. We tried to listen to them but he really is insufferable. His dorky sense of humor is not funny at all and we barely learned a thing. So back into the pocket went Rick and we chose to read the very well-marked exhibits instead.

Here’s Cleopatra’s mummy. She was only seventeen when she died and you’d think they could have found a better artist to paint her mummy. She looks like Olive Oyl.

Cleopatras mummy

 

Also on display are the Elgin Marbles. These were taken from the Acropolis in Athens because, hey, why not? And to rub salt on the wound they’re not called the Parthenon Marbles or seomthing that makes sense like that. No, they’re named after Lord Elgin (that’s Elgin with a hard -g. Which is how we pronounce the town in Texas), the guy who took took them back to England.  Supposedly Britain paid for them. But they received permission from some Turkish Sultan so how does any of it make sense?

India Elgin

This section was from the pediment. Even after all this time, that drapery still looks gorgeous.

The British Museum has things from just about everywhere. This is a statue from India called a Garuda. It’s the creature that Lord Vishnu rides around on. Personally, I think it looks like a Pokémon.

Garuda

The British Museum is a place that everyone should visit at least once. There’s quite a lot of remarkable things to see. It also has the best café of any museum I’ve ever been to.  Look at this snack bar!

British Museum Cafe

I really wanted to visit the Geffrye Museum after the British Museum, but I realized that this was our last full day in England and I hadn’t done any bra shopping yet, so this was my last chance. Yes, you read that right. Bra shopping. Ever since my eyes were opened to properly-fitting bras I just can’t bear to buy poorly-fitting American ones. British ones tend to fit me the best. In the U.S. they’re upwards of $65 a piece. So I thought I might stock up while I was in the Motherland. Surprisingly the men of the family were not too interested in this. So off they went to have lunch and ride the London Eye (being terrified of heights I was happy that they could do it without me).

I found some great bras that were much cheaper than in the US but I managed to lose my Oyster card in the process (you get your £5 deposit for the card refunded if you turn it back in when you’re done with it). Since we still had the rest of the day of traveling in London, I went and bought a one-day pass. It was over £8. Moral of the story, Travelcards are a better deal and you should try not to lose yours.

After shopping (I bought several t-shirts for the kids at Next which has lots of affordable clothes for children and adults) we met up with the menfolk at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This Globe isn’t the original. It’s a reproduction based on the few clues about the original Globe Theatre that have been found over the years. It was built using authentic construction methods; the only differences being modern safety features.  After the Great Fire in 1666, thatched roofs were outlawed. The roof at the Globe (it was built in the mid-1990′s) was the first one to be built since then (with lots of sprinklers installed, naturally). The plaster on the walls was traditionally mixed with hair, so the Globe used hair too–goat hair. It’s such a remarkable place. When we were touring it, the crew was breaking down a set from that afternoon’s performance.

Shakespeares globe theater

In addition to the theatre itself there is  an exhibit describing what London was like back then (only technically the Globe wasn’t in London proper), how buildings were built, how costumes were made and cleaned (hint: fermented urine was used), and what musical instruments looked like.  This scene shows a typical costume workshop back in the 1600′s (but cleaner).

Globe costume making

This costume was used for a production several years ago. Talk about a complicated dress! (Make sure you read the explanation that follows.)

Queen Elizabeth costume

QE costume words

All the tour guides at the Globe are actors. As you might be able to tell by our tour guide who could not resist my camera. He was trying to give us a brief synopsis of the opening scene of Hamlet.

Mister just adores Shakespeare so you know we hit the gift shop on the way out.  I wish we could have stayed for a production but they had been sold out for months, even the standing-room-only tickets. We thought about queuing up for returns but since there was a chance we wouldn’t get any, we decided to get tickets to something we would for sure be able to see. Which turned out to be a new production of Jeeves and Wooster, the hapless rich playboy and the butler who gets him out of one jam after another.

Jeeves 2

Did you ever read the Jeeves and Wooster series of books? They were written in the 20′s and 30′s by P.G. Woodhouse. They’re so veddy uppah-clahss British; charming, witty and droll. There was a Jeeves and Wooster TV show in the 90′s starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. This production was nothing like that. I mean, it was. The story is one of P.G. Woodhouse’s but it’s a brilliant new adaptation called Perfect Nonsense.

The cast is only three men who play every single character. They’re fantastic actors who do such a great job. There’s quite a lot of physical comedy and the set is just super. It won an Olivier award (the British equivalent of the Tony’s) for best comedy a few weeks ago and it’s well-deserved. We laughed our heads off; I can’t remember a play that I’ve liked as much as this one. It’s charming, hilarious, and just perfect.

We headed back to our neighborhood just as it was starting to rain AGAIN. We had dessert in a cozy, snug pub then went home to pack for France.

 

 

Eiffel Hildie

I love, love to plan trips and do research and find cool things to do on vacation. I felt like I had found a bunch of really great things to see and do on this trip. So imagine my dismay when we got to Paris and I realized that I had entirely forgotten to include the Eiffel Tower in our plans.  How big of a bonehead am I?  So I shuffled a bunch of stuff around and we decided to make a pilgrimage to that most iconic of landmarks first thing in the morning so we wouldn’t have to spend the entire day in line.

Eiffel three of us

You can get Eiffel Tower tickets online ahead of time. This is what anyone with half a brain does. And then there’s me. Apparently I have less than half a brain. But we only had to wait in line for about half an hour before we were on our way up.  I probably didn’t include the Eiffel Tower subconsciously; I’m super terrified of heights. Elevators especially make me panic. Most of my nightmares feature elevators. Anyway, we went up to the second level and looked around and . . . well, that’s about it.  But everyone else decided to go to the top. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do! But there is a big, fat line to go up to the top, and a big, fat line to get down. And really it’s not all that interesting to go to the top when you can’t really tell what’s what because it’s so tiny.  I waited and waited and waited for the rest of my family to get back down. It took forever and my advice would be to go up to the second floor (which is massively under construction right now) and forget about going to the top.

DAr Hildie eiffel

The weather ended up being gorgeous. A bit chilly in the morning, but wonderful by the afternoon. We decided to stop by the Rue Montorgueil, which I’d heard from lots of people was really cool, but it was sort of lame. Mostly it’s just a bit of market stalls and oddball shops and my family was not in the mood for shopping. We were hungry and nobody could agree on anything to eat. So we caught the bus up to Sacré Coeur instead.  Well, we caught a bus to the vicinity of Sacré Coeur. The bus drops you at the bottom of the hill. Rumor has it that there is a little railway that will take you up to the top (requires one metro ticket) but we couldn’t find it. So we hoofed it up these:

stairs sacre coeur

Plus about a million other stairs. (Actually it wasn’t too bad.) There was hardly anyone walking up this way. Once we got to Sacré Coeur, though, we were in a giant crowd of people.

Hildie sacre coeur

Sacré Coeur is a big white basilica (a basilica is a really special Catholic church) that is barely over a hundred years old. It’s quite beautiful and very different-looking than most other churches. It’s white for one thing. It’s also on the top of the highest hill in Paris which makes it even more impressive.

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I found it quite interesting that it’s dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, not Mary. Not being Catholic, I’m not really into Mary all that much. I’m sure she was an amazing woman–she was chosen to be Jesus’ mother, after all–but Mormons don’t believe she was perfect nor the result of Immaculate Conception. Going to school at a convent I was really blown away by how much worship was directed towards Mary instead of towards the Savior. And don’t say that’s not true; I’ve heard the rosary more times than I care to, thankyouverymuch. And growing up I saw  statues of Mary in all my neighbor’s front yards, but no Jesus statues anywhere.  OK, sorry, I’m getting a little wound up. Sacré Coeur is actually dedicated to the Lord, a pleasant surprise in a place where churches are dedicated to everyone BUT Jesus. I was also pleased to see that they had a more glorious depiction of Christ than just the bloody and morose Crucifixion.

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Sacré Coeur is tourist trap central. There are people trying to work tourist scams everywhere and tons of shops selling the exact same things. You can sneer or just go along with it and maybe buy a fridge magnet while you’re at it. I find it interesting that you can get cuter Paris-themed stuff outside of Paris. For instance, I bought the most adorable mug that says “Paris” and has a really cute bike with flowers on it. And I purchased it at Target last year. Yes, Target in Austin, Texas.  Things like that make finding genuinely unique Parisian souvenirs almost impossible.  I finally ended up getting French beauty products for my friends back home.

As I’ve said before, sightseeing requires a great amount of strategy. In my planning I checked to see which sights were open late so we could make the most of our time. We saved the Louvre for the day when it stayed open until 9:30 pm. By the time we arrived at 5:00, a lot of the crowds were gone.

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We grouped all our museum-going into just a couple of days so that we could take advantage of the Museum Pass (also known as the Intermusée Pass). Unlike British museums, French museums charge admission and they’re not cheap. The good news is that if you’ll be going to three or more of them, you can buy a pass that allows you free entry into just about every museum in Paris. You also don’t have to wait in ticket lines which can be extremely long.  Since the Louvre was so dead when we arrived, we bought our museum passes there (you can buy them at any of the sights. Just be prepared to wait usually. At the Louvre, you don’t buy them at a regular ticket desk. You have to go to an office way at the back of a hallway past the gift shop).    Kids under 18 don’t need a pass; they’re free at most museums. If they’re like York, who is seventeen but looks like he could be much older, they’ll need to bring ID to prove their age.   (If you do an online search for the Museum Pass, be careful. There are several websites saying they’ll sell you one and have it shipped overseas or to your Paris hotel.  It’s very expensive and unnecessary. It’s not hard at all to buy your pass once you’re in Paris.)

It’s been a long time since I was at the Louvre. It seems like they’ve remodeled it a whole bunch. Originally it served as the Castle where the French Kings lived, so it’s quite fancy. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the ceilings, which are opulent, to say the least.

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Louvre hall

 

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America is a place of plain ceilings, so these really blew me away. I was more impressed with the finish work of the museums than with most of the artwork. Even little hallways have fancy ceilings.

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Of course we saw the Mona Lisa which, in case you hadn’t heard, is small and not that exciting. But it’s famous so like any celebrity there are dozens of people mobbed around it, taking pictures.

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Whoop-dee-do.

I loved these paintings by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. The people are made of plants and fruits and vegetables. Pretty cool.

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I have always liked tiny, little things and the painting that caught my eye the most was this odd one of feet by Ingres. It’s about 8×10, which compared to everything else in the Louvre is positively microscopic.

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India tends to get a bit comatose when she’s hungry and tired. When she’s in that mood there is no artwork that will impress her.

India Louvre

By the end of the day we were wiped out and beyond tired. It was nice to get some ice cream and watch the boats pass by on the Seine. The stairs that you seen on the far right side in the picture below are the ones that were less than a block from our flat. I was positive that I’d completely fall going up or down (they’re steeper than they look) but I never did. Miracle!

boat seine

Because today was Sunday we decided to start off at Nôtre Dame. This place is always mobbed with people (and you know I hate crowds) so we made sure we got up nice and early. Of course the bells were ringing. Was it Quasimodo?

There was a mass being performed in the Cathedral. India and York were quite fascinated since they haven’t ever been to Catholic services before.  We were very quiet as we looked at all the chapels and art around the church.

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There is one pitiful bathroom in the basement at Nôtre Dame. In case you were wondering.

Our next stop was the Musée d’Orsay. Nearly all the art here is from the 19th century.

Orsay sign Dar York

Most people like this art museum the best since it’s more user-friendly, popular art. Here is where you’ll find lots of Monets, Renoirs and Van Goghs. As a matter of fact, there was a Van Gogh exhibit which revolved around his mental illness and suicide. Very interesting take on Van Gogh.

Orsay hall

There was a ton of Van Gogh’s artwork from several different museums. He is York’s favorite painter so I was glad he had the chance to see so much artwork up close. Van Gogh’s work is really best appreciated in person. I think he was one of the first painters to use the paint itself as an element in the artwork, making the pieces tactile and not just about the visual. The thick brushstrokes and heavy textures of paint are quite a departure from the precise use of paint that had always been the norm up until then. It drives me super crazy to look and not be able to touch. It was a real thrill to see paintings up close that we’ve looked at a hundred times in books. Like this one, the Bedroom at Arles, which is in one of the picture books I’ve read to my kids over and over.

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And this one, The Ballet Class by Degas. It was in a little book I read to the children quite often called Can You Spot a Dog? Which is exactly what India said to me when she saw it. Moments like that–where you see a painting in real life that you’ve seen so many times in a book–are exactly why I wanted to take the kids to Europe in the first place.

Ballet class degas

 

After visiting so many museums I tend to get a bit silly. Despite all my Art History courses, sometimes art just seems a little ridiculous. Take, for example, this sculpture. I swear the girl is taking a selfie with her iPhone. No really, what is she supposed to be doing?

Statue Selfie

Or this painting. It was a great big huge thing with lots of stuff happening. The artist seems to be a talented fellow but he’s obviously never held a baby in his life. Perhaps he’s not aware that they’re quite heavy and wiggly. And what, pray tell, is holding up her skirt? Oh, artists! They’re so precious!

Lady holding baby weirdly

This relief was my favorite. I don’t know what it’s proper name is but I like to call it Just Breastfeeding My Twins While My Husband Kills an Alligator. No Big Deal.  I especially like that the lady looks very contemporary (and upset!) I get rather tired of everyone having such classical and perfect faces. It’s so generic.

Twins with alligator

The coolest part of the Musée D’Orsay is this giant clock that looks out over Paris. The museum used to be a train station so there are several large clocks around.

Orsay Clock

One of my favorite things is museum shops. They’re just the best. As I was perusing the postcards at the Musée d’Orsay shop I spied a postcard of super close-up painting of a woman’s cootchie. No clothing or anything, just a full-on crotch shot. It was not particularly attractive or nicely done*; just, you know, a crotch. Staring me right in the face. And my teenage son. So I picked up the postcard and turned it around and set it back on the shelf. No sooner had I walked away than a woman came hurrying over to turn the card back so that we would all be lucky enough to see such a lovely picture. No doubt she was cursing the prudish American. Am I repressed for not wanting someone’s pubes in my face? (Apparently so.)

After our time at the Musée d’Orsay we had some lunch at a mediocre resatuarant. The one we’d been planning to go to was closed because it was Sunday. Every shop and many restaurants are closed on Sundays in France. You might be surprised as I was because French people don’t seem all that religious. Quite the opposite, really. But this has nothing to do with going to church or keeping one of the Ten Commandments. It has to do with relaxation. The French are very fond of taking it easy. They’re not necessarily lazy like many Latin countries. But they do like their time off.  It rather reminds me of myself. I can work hard but I do need to relax on a regular basis. The Puritan work ethic is not particularly vibrant in me. Or in France. The law, as it was explained to me by Pepé, states that every shop must be closed one day per week. If it’s not Sunday than it must be Monday instead. They’d all rather take the weekend off, so everything–and I mean EVERYTHING– is locked up tight. The few shops I found open were ones catering strictly to tourists. I have no idea how they skirt the law, but they do. Moral of the story: save your museums for Sunday. That’s the day when they’ll be open but stores won’t.

We took the bus to a museum called the Musée de Nissim Comondo. It is out in the part of Paris where families actually live; not the suburbs but the more residential area. The museum is a gorgeous townhouse built by a very wealthy man in the 1800′s. He was very fond of 17th century stuff and furnished his house entirely in the most wonderful antiques. It is not huge but is so much nicer than Versailles. He left his house to the French government to be preserved as it was on the day of his death. So all of the original furnishings are just as they were when he died after WWI. The audio tour is quite detailed and fascinating.  The family’s existence was quite tragic and it illustrates the idea perfectly not to spend your time amassing a fortune while you’re alive and moth and rust doth corrupt. Life and possessions are both so fleeting.

This was the kitchen which I found just wonderful.

Nissim Comondo kitchen

The museum was staffed entirely by French Asians. I have no idea why this was but they were rather cross and refused to give us the head sets for the audio tour because we only had an hour left before the museum closed. I explained probably three times that I understood that we had an hour left but we would still like to listen to the audio tour as long as we could. The lady at the counter very begrudgingly handed them over.  While we had to skip over quite a lot of the commentary, we finished in an hour. I would say that if you listen to the whole tour, it would take 2-3 hours to get through the whole thing, even though there are maybe a dozen rooms. As I said, it’s very detailed. If you are a fan of decorative arts and antiques, this would be Heaven for you. Not only is there a tour describing each room, but lots of objects in the room have a separate number on the audio guide so you can hear an explanation of each object as well.

The Nissim Commondo house backs up to a lovely park called the Parc Monceau. Many of the parks in Paris are like the gardens at Versailles: very formal. Lots of trimmed hedges, wide gravel paths and very well kept grass. In several of the parks you aren’t even allowed on the grass, you may only sit on the benches.  Parks are always jammed with people. Of course we were there when the weather was absolute perfection; I imagine there aren’t a lot of people out when there’s icy rain.  But really, the parks are just jammed with people lying around on the grass. This seemed a bit odd to me until I thought about how small people’s apartments are. If you live in a tiny flat and want to get together with a bunch of friends and hang out you have very few options: one is restaurants and one is parks.

The Parc Monceau is the kind of Park that English and American people are familiar with: rolling grassy hills, a playground, a few pretty statues here and there and much less formality. There were mobs of families and young people all over the place. Children were having pony rides, there were a couple of games of frisbee and catch but most everyone was interested in talking and basking in the glorious sun. I had a hard time adjusting to the fact that I could sprawl out without worrying about fire ants (Texas, this is your biggest flaw!)

Parc Monceau

We decided we had better get back on our sightseeing schedule so we hopped on a bus. We rarely took the métro in Paris. It’s just not as convenient as taking a bus. And not nearly as scenic. Unlike the busses in London, you can buy tickets on the bus. Which is good because we ran out of tickets. Bus tickets cost 2€ each and you can’t do transfers in between lines, so that stinks. But it’s still way cheaper than a taxi.

We stopped at the Arc du Triomphe. It’s much bigger than I remember. And it was being restored so the top was covered with scaffolding. Not cool, Paris! When I arrive I expect all monuments to be in tip-top shape.

Hildie arc du triomphe

Of course we had to stroll down the Champs Elysées afterwards. There were lots of tourists everywhere but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as lots of other places we’d been. There are several car dealerships on the Champs Elysées which seems strange to me. Who would buy a car in the middle of Paris? Maybe Saudis or Russians. At any rate, we stopped in the Renault dealership (boring, but I suppose I deserved it after all the museums I dragged everyone to). York was enchanted by the Renault Twizy which is an electric car that is resembles a four-wheeled motorcycle with a roof.

*I’m not going to put a picture of it here, obviously. But if you want to google it, be my guest. It’s called the Origin of the World by Courbet who is a very, very well-respected artist (whether he was a decent person or a misogynistic letch as so many artists tend to be is another question for another day). I think it’s interesting to think about whether this counts as pornographic or not. You can’t go to a museum without seeing a million and a half naked people. Excuse me, nude people. Very rarely are they sexual. But I would have to say that this picture is most definitely sexual. There’s nothing else to it. Really, take my word for it. Nothing else is happening. You can’t even see the woman’s face. Is sexuality automatically pornographic? Is it pornographic even if there is no sexuality? Is nudity a must for pornography?  Kind of a large can of worms but it’s the sort of thing one thinks of in European museums. Especially when one has been raised in a religious culture where even the top two inches of a woman’s arm is seen as sexual (wait, it’s not sexual? Then why is it supposed to be covered up?)

 

The last day of vacation is always so sad. How does time go so fast? How did we leave so many things unseen? There were so many places I wanted to see that we simply couldn’t fit in. That just means we’ll have to come back again. Here are a few last images of Paris (I don’t know how I got so many shots of York since he HATES having his picture taken). Of course we need to commemorate York, sleeping on every bus, train and subway we came across.

York sleeping on bus

 

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lady brige

 

Au Revoir, Paris!

Paris Notre Dame Artsy

Back to Austin through Heathrow. So many choices! So many exotic locations!

Departures from Heathrow

And finally back home. This is when you know vacation is really over: when it looks like your suitcase vomited all over your bedroom. Sigh.

After trip chaos

Everyone survived. We had a wonderful time and the next two kids are already asking when we’ll take a trip with them. So glad you could join us on our holiday!

Does any parent ever get used to their child growing up? When I think of this sullen little girl who rarely smiled (but also rarely cried) . . .

Ada Crying

 

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. . . it’s hard for me to imagine that that solemn little baby is now a spunky, laughing, opinionated big girl who is turning nine today.

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Adelaide Amelia Clementine is my one child out of six who got her father’s blue eyes. Only now they’ve changed to a greenish grey. Mister doesn’t have very dominant genes. Except where his chin dimple is concerned. All the kids have a cleft chin. Especially Ada.

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She also has a few freckles around her mouth that make it look like she always has crumbs on her face. It took me months to realize that she does not.

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Because I am totally insane I make every single food that the kids want to eat on their birthdays. This morning I was up long before the sun, making Cinnamon Roll Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze (sugar to the max! So, so fantastic but a lot of work. You can get the recipe here.)

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Ada wants Subway for lunch (ew, but whatever. It’s her birthday. At lease I don’t have to make it.) I will dutifully deliver said sandwich to school and make small-talk with her and her silly friends while they eat. Then I will race home to finish the cake pops I started a little while ago (made of orange cake. She wanted them covered in blue but I talked her into white chocolate instead). Unlike most states, Texas lives recklessly so parents are legally allowed to bake treats for their kids. I know, way to live on the edge! I could talk Ada into donuts probably but then I think of all the chemicals in store-bought food and I just can’t bear the thought of it. So cake pops it is. (Although the white chocolate is hardly chemical-free. Just humor me, OK?) Plus she told all the other kids that she’d be bringing cake pops so lucky me. She’s turned into a little baking snob already and won’t eat a bite of store-bought cake.

Fortunately Ada wants Mexican food for dinner so I will get a blessed rest from the kitchen at dinner-time. But then I’ve got to squeeze in making a red velvet birthday cake at some point too. Only it’s got to be purple velvet. Because why would a 9-year-old pick red when she could pick purple instead? Actually, Ada’s favorite color is red so I have no idea what’s going on. But purple velvet has been requested and that is what I shall make.

At some point I need to run to the store to pick up a few more pairs of jeans shorts. (“Mom, all I like to wear are jeans shorts and crappy t-shirts. I can’t help it.”)  At lease she doesn’t want to wear silky basketball shorts. Tender mercies, folks!

So I shall bid you adieu and get my birthday preparations on. Here’s hoping I survive!

 

PC240599Whew! What a Christmas! It’s taken me a whole week just to recover from our vacation. We went to The Motherland (Utah), where several relatives on both sides met us. We spent the entire time going from family to family with tiny interludes of seeing old friends. Relaxing, it was not. Not even close. But it was still a good vacation because we got to spend so much time with the people we love the most. I always have this crazy notion that vacations are meant for relaxation and if that doesn’t happen then I feel gypped and angry. And of course when I feel angry I like to take it out on Mister and vice versa, so there were a lot of fun moments where we sent daggers from our eyes to each other.

I may or may not have also taken my lack of sleep and stress about the holidays out on my mother-in-law.  We had a little “incident” over a lemon pie (formerly Lemon Truffle Pie but hereafter known as The Pie That Ruined Christmas) that ended with me being unpleasant and my mother-in-law sobbing at the kitchen table. If you want to know how to make my husband madder than he’s ever been, try being mean to his mom. On second thought, don’t.

But, like I said, it was a good trip because we got to spend time with our relatives; all of whom we adore. These are all the cousins who were in Utah from Mister’s side. A whole bunch are missing but hopefully we’ll see them soon.

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The kids also got to go skiing. It was the first time Ada and Jasper had seen snow since they were babies. Nothing beats that Utah snow. I, of course, did not go skiing because I don’t go outside when it’s that cold unless the house is on fire. There’s not enough hot chocolate in the world to make outdoor sports worth it.

On the second day of skiing Arabella and India ended up stranded at the top of a “terrifying ski run” (from the way they made it sound it was a black diamond, but turned out to only be a green. But they’re newbies, OK?). The Ski Patrol tried to lead them down but they preferred to sit at the top of the mountain and cry for over an hour. Finally one of their grown-up cousins tracked them down and coaxed them down the hill, reassuring them the entire time that they weren’t about to die.

Skiing at Park City

We flew to/from Utah on Southwest Airlines. This was necessary because of the two free bags that are allowed for each person. When Christmas presents and winter clothes are involved, you need all the baggage you can get. The trip north was fine (only nine suitcases!) but the trip home was a little iffier. We ended up with two additional suitcases and a box of beautiful wreaths that I bought the day after Christmas (yay for sales! And yay for Tai Pan Trading!).*

We required our own shuttle out to the airport parking lot when we got back to Austin, we had so much stuff and people. Mister had actually come to Utah on a later flight than the rest of us so he brought the near-empty minivan to the airport when he left. He had the brilliant idea to throw the rooftop luggage rack in the car at the last minute since he knew we’d be short on space.

Only it turns out the luggage rack doesn’t fit our car. It was for our old minivan. He swore up and down that we’ve used it on Betsy, my current minivan. But evidence proved otherwise and there we were with not only a million bags but a giant roof rack that didn’t come close to fitting on the top of my car. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and with the help of a luggage strap and some yarn from a knitting project, we strapped that roof rack on the top of my car. It jiggled and rocked precariously the whole way home and I expected it to go flying off onto the car behind us at any moment. But we drove 45 mph on the freeway the whole way home. It took us an extra 15 minutes but nobody behind us was decapitated. Success!

We did manage to get all the bags in the car but everyone had to sit Indian style so we could put bags under the kids’ feet. And then we all had to pile suitcases in our laps.  You should probably know that by this point I was screaming, “shut up!” anytime someone tried to speak. Never has anyone been so glad to pull into their driveway. I made a quick dinner, took a sleeping pill and was in bed with earplugs by 8:30. And I slept until 8:00 the next morning.  The perfect way to end any vacation.

I’m quite sure we won’t be taking our show on the road for Christmas again. Although it was lovely to spend the holidays with our relatives, the stress and trouble are simply too much. Unless our relatives want to spend Christmas in Hawaii. I’m pretty sure we could make that work.

*I’m going to overdo it on decorating next year. I have to make up for this year; Although I decorated my house, I didn’t put up the Christmas tree. We wouldn’t be home for Christmas! Can you blame me?  The sad thing is that I bought a new star and a new tree skirt and didn’t even try them out. I’m so lame sometimes that I shock myself.