Good Things

BBW

Remember being a young teenage girl and realizing that you might just maybe, possibly smell bad?  One day you’re spending your babysitting money on Wacky Packs and Hubba Bubba and the next day you’re riding your bike to the drug store to buy some Love’s Baby Soft, because what if you stink? What if that’s the real reason no boys like you???  Those early teenage years are brutal as your mind discovers dozens–nay, hundreds–of bodily flaws it hadn’t known about six months earlier. Body odor, whether real or imagined, is one of the easiest to solve. The shape of your nose, the ability to “pinch an inch” on your stomach, or the ever-growing colony of blackheads on your nose might be tough to get rid of, but smelling good is a no-brainer.

So you shouldn’t be surprised when your thirteen-year-old daughter wants to stop in at Bath and Body Works when you’re at the mall. You haven’t been to that store in probably a decade since you decided once and for all that you do not like to smell like fruit. You don’t really mind the idea of visiting Bath and Body Works until you realize your daughter will be smelling each individual item in the store.  Not just Cashmere Glow lotion, but Cashmere Glow hand sanitizer, Cashmere Glow Shimmer Mist, Cashmere Glow Shower Gel and the Cashmere Glow scented candle.  This will then be repeated with every single scent. At first you are game, washing your hands in the little sink and trying out a matching lotion. But pretty soon everything starts smelling too sweet and too cloying. Being the good mother that you are, you still gamely smell everything that your daughter holds out to you (“ooh, that’s nice!”, said in your most enthusiastic voice possible). But inside you want to run away. Quickly.

But Bath and Body Works has formulated their store to be hypnotic to the female consumer. Once you get over the initial fight or flight response, you begin to be lulled by all the flowery packaging and colorful shelves.  The smart and pragmatic woman inside of you is thinking, Sheer Cotton? What exactly is that supposed to smell like anyway? Your lizard brain, however, is saying Flowers. Cotton. Pretty. Yes.

Before you know it the “buy 2, get 5 free” sign seems like a really superb idea even though you hate shower gel and never use it. Why stop there, though? Who doesn’t want a butterfly-shaped plug-in that makes your house smell like a giant cupcake?  And why not buy the enormous three-wick candle? Because, really, don’t you need more Love & Sunshine in your life? Yes, you think tearily, I do need more Love & Sunshine. I really do. Or maybe you just need an Oahu Coconut Sunset. Even though that name makes zero sense it registers on some primal level. Hawaii, coconuts, beaches, happiness.

Then you spot Country Chic. Oh yes, that’s you all right. You’re humble and approachable in a Country sort of way. But also chic and stylish (wearing three-year-old capris qualifies as chic, right?). So that sounds perfect for you. Even though “country” in reality means Walmart and trailer homes not charming cottages and antique barns.

You’re eyes are darting madly by this point; yes, an Endless Weekend is pretty much your ideal. Wait, that would mean the kids are home every single day. Scratch that; no Endless Weekend.  Paris Amour. Now that sounds more like it. Paris, the City of Lights, the City of Love. That overpriced city where people are rude and the métro stinks of urine and everything costs way too much. And lets face it, you can find cuter things that say “Paris” at Target than in France. No, forget it, you’ll be passing on Paris Amour.

You reach for the next scent, Mad About You. Oh please. You’ve got to be pretty desperate to think that your lotion has feelings for you. Keep going. Amber Blush? Twilight Woods? The English language is starting to take a shape of its own. What do all these words even mean? A haze is washing over your mind as well as your nose. You aim towards the door, temporarily blinded by the shiny silver covers for the hand soaps (“Oooh, I must have those . . . .”).

Fortunately at that moment your daughter has finished her purchase and is jauntily holding her bag full of Velvet Sugar sweet nothings. You grab her arm and steer her out of the store, never so happy to smell the stale, piped-in air of the mall. And then you look down and notice something. A bag in your hand. What? How? You don’t even remember getting out your credit card. And so the endless cycle continues: each birthday and holiday, some woman will receive a gift purchased at Bath and Body Works. I didn’t mean to buy it, your eyes say as you watch your friend open her present, it’s just that Shimmer Mists were on sale, the Midnight Pomegrates were calling and I couldn’t say no.

I’m sure most people are looking at the title of this post and thinking, “whatever”. But if you are in Texas and looking for fabric, then you need to know. I’m not sure if some of these are the biggest fabric stores in Texas, but they’ve got to be close. For years I’ve been stuck in the fabric desert of Austin. There are a few little quilt shops but if you’re looking for home decor fabric, especially, you’re plumb out of luck. There’s a great store called Cowgirls & Lace out in Dripping Springs where I bought my family room sofa. It’s the couch I knew in the preexistence. The store also sells quite a bit of fabric and accessories and is all-in-all a really awesome place. But it’s a 45 minute drive.

It’s now been over seven years since I bought that sofa. It’s slipcovered and the seat cushions and arms have gotten rather threadbare so I decided when my mom came to visit in December that we would make new slipcovers (and by “we” I mean “she”). I also bought two new chairs from the Pottery Barn outlet that needed matching slipcovers as well. The Carolina armchairs retail for $1000 each but I got two for $625. I am a very gifted shopper. I really love the colors in my family room so I didn’t want to change anything so much as just freshen everything up.

Because there is a dearth of home dec stores, I ended up getting most of my fabric online. That’s a real pain because you’ve got to wait for swatches to be sent, then you’ve got to wait for the fabric you’ve ordered to be sent. It would be a lot easier to just see everything in real life immediately.

If you do want to shop online–if you’ve got toddlers/live in the middle of nowhere/need something ultra specific–I’ve had the best luck with Decorative Fabrics Direct. They’ve got great prices and a gigantic selection. They also ship super fast. They’re in Atlanta but my fabric usually arrives within two or three days.

Here is what I wish I had known: there are a many really huge and amazing fabric stores in Dallas. I’ve heard that it’s a fabric-capital kind of place but that doesn’t really make sense. Nearly all fabric is imported* so if Dallas were a port city like LA or New York I would understand.  Whatever the reasons there are several massive fabric stores to be found. And since Dallas is only three hours away I headed up there yesterday. (You know you live in Texas when a three hour–each way!–drive is no bid deal.)

Most fabric shops are in a really sketchy part of town where Harry Hines Blvd and Perth Street intersect. Nearby are lots of strip clubs and Hispanic wholesale businesses. Charming! In a square block are 6-8 warehouse-type fabric shops. Some of these are Costco-sized.

Fabric WArehouse DAllas

 

Home Dec warehouse Dallas

Dallas Home Fabrics and Best Fabrics are entirely devoted to Home Decor. There is some crossover, though. Dallas Home Fabrics has a gigantic selection of Dupioni silk. You can use that for home dec or making a dress. There’s no real difference except for the width of the rolls. (Are you guys seeing all the rows? They just keep going and going!)

Rolls of silk Dallas

Or how about some pleather? If you need some, you’re all set. This is ALL fake leather. There was another aisle besides this one. I believe this was at Fabric Wherehouse.

Vinyl leather Dallas

My favorite place was a shop called Super Textiles. It’s owned by a guy named Steve who is the only friendly New Yorker in existence. He’ll show you all around and even give you the lowdown on the other fabric shops nearby. When you first walk in there is an anteroom of buttons. While I had heard about this before I went I was expecting a giant room with walls of buttons on little cards like at the fabric store. I seriously love buttons. Seriously. Unfortunately they were all boxed up. Not as exciting but you can find pretty much anything. (Although I didn’t see any super cool artisan buttons.) What they have is all dirt cheap.

Buttons Dallas

Speaking of dirt cheap, everything at Super Textiles is dirt cheap. I found some cute striped cotton for our Easter dresses/ties that I’d seen around town for $12/yard. Steve had it for $4/yd. I also got some really unusual rayon that has the loveliest blue and yellow bird motif for $3/yd. And invisible zippers for $1 each!  They’re $3.75 at JoAnn!   Needless to say I walked out with 15 of them.

Most of these stores are not your typical well-lit, nice fabric stores. You may have to pick thorough bolts and ask for prices because things can be a bit jumbled. But there are some crazy great deals and a lot of fabrics you simply won’t find anywhere else. Also don’t expect any customer service. Aside from Steve, pretty much nobody spoke to me the entire day.

Home Dec Crammed Dallas

Some shops are quite a bit more organized.

Rolls of home dec dallas

There is a shop called Golden D’Or (which means Golden of Gold. Allrighty then!) around the corner from these that has a lot of everything. Everything. Never have I seen so much spandex (are people making leotards or what?) or my mom’s favorite: cotton knits of every color and pattern. Racks of minky, bridal lace and everything in between. Need to make a prom dress?  Georgette and Organza of every color. There’s another shop on Perth that also sells nothing but special occasion fabrics. If you want to make a bridesmaid or Quinceneara dress, this is your place!

Special Occasion Fabric Dallas

 

Sparkly fabric Dallas

 

Also of note is another home decor store called Childress Fabrics. It’s closer to downtown (2512 Ferris St. Another super sketchy area. There are other locations throughout the Dallas area but this main shop is their biggest). Unlike the warehouse-type stores that I talked about above, this shop has many employees who are super helpful and asked a hundred times if I needed assistance with anything. Childress also has an online store. As a matter of fact I had ordered a pretty floral for my sofa from them. I’m still looking for more fabric to cover the pillows on the back of my sofa so I wanted to be sure to stop by Childress to see some things in real life that I had my eye on. Just look at these poor naked pillows!

Sofa unfinished cushions

Anyway, Childress did not disappoint. It’s also humongous, but arranged according to color. There is a lot of beige these days. Beige is the Lifetime Channel Movie of decorating. It is a meaningless color. But I still have beige carpet in my house. And several beige walls (I didn’t pick them out, obviously! And I’m not made of money so change is slow.) But there is plenty of fun and colorful stuff at Childress too.

There is also trim. Oh my goodness gracious Agnes. There is a whole huge room of fringe and cording and every other thing you could sew onto a piece of furniture. Nothing was exactly right for what I needed, though. I picked colors for my family room that don’t seem to be terribly popular right now. Which is partly frustrating and partly makes me happy that my house doesn’t look like everyone else’s.

Rooms of trim Dallas

 

If you happen to be in Texas and you know how to sew, a trip to Dallas is most certainly worth your time!

 

*Back when I was a little girl there was still a big fabric industry down South. We’d go to visit my grandparents who lived right on the border of North/South Carolina and sometimes I would get toted around to the fabric factory outlets. Those days are looong gone.

You may or may not know about how I’ve been the Relief Society President at church for the last two and a half years. If you’re Mormon no further explanation is needed. If you’re not Mormon, take my word for it when I say that it’s pretty much a part-time job. It means that I’ve been in charge of ministering to all the women (and, hence, their families) in the congregation. I help with their temporal needs if they need extra food or help making ends meet, or if they need meals brought in after surgery or having a baby, or help packing to move–you get the idea. I have to be friendly and welcoming to all (which I can do but as an introvert is extremely draining); I have to be a shoulder to cry on or a giver of advice; and I have to coordinate activities, get-togethers and parties for the women (and the entire ward Christmas Party because we all know that men can not pull off something like that). And then there is coordinating and supervising Visiting Teaching which is a beast unto itself.  All in all being President is a lot of work. It’s very fulfilling and I love the women like crazy, though. It’s been draining but rewarding all at the same time.

But my time has come to step aside. When the bishop told me right before Christmas, I cried. Happy tears as well as sad tears. My replacement is one of my counselors and also one of my best friends. We have had a jillion talks about what she needs to be doing and how and with whom and for whom. Fortunately she’s a ton more organized than I am and she already has lots of experience in Relief Society, so she’ll do a great job. I handed over the keys (literal, not figurative) last week and did a happy dance.

Now I have a lovely large hole in my life. All this free time! OK, so by the time I get the kids out the door and do all the little things around the house that need to be done there isn’t all that much free time. But mentally and emotionally I feel so free. Wheeee! Only my family’s problems to worry about!

In order to celebrate being released as Relief Society President I have spent as much time in bed as possible. I have taken a shower rarely. I have gone to see a couple of movies. But I have not done much else because I have seriously needed time to decompress.

Here’s the most excellent part of it all, though: I can blog again! No more worrying about being a respectable figurehead! I can be just as ridiculous as I please. And I will have time to do it! Yippee!

I have so many great plans for my poor little blog that has languished in forgottenland. Stay tuned!

Christmas morming

You might assume that even though it’s January 9th I haven’t taken down my Christmas decorations. And that assumption would be correct. I did actually undecorate my tree–a real one this year!–because it was garbage day last Tuesday and I didn’t want that fire hazard standing in my living room for one more second. So as I heard the garbage truck making it’s way down the street I ripped all the lights and ornaments off and got that sucker out to the curb in the nick of time. But since then I haven’t quite packed the stuff up. This is what I’ve been staring at every day, wishing that somehow the ornaments and lights would pack themselves and trundle up to the attic without bothering me. Kind of like at the end of The Sorcerers Apprentice when the mean wizard does his magic spell and all the brooms get with the program and clean themselves up. I just need that spell . . .

What’s really nice is that this is right in my living room so it’s the first thing you see when you walk in my house. Shame that this photo doesn’t quite capture the trillions of pine needles scattered about the floor.

Christmas wreckage

 

This year we decided to spend Christmas in Texas. As far as I’m concerned we are never having another holiday on the road. I’m staying at my house and if relatives want to see with us they can fill out an application and wait to be approved come down here.  India came home from college (yay!) and if everything goes according to plans, she and York will both be on missions next year.  So I wanted to be sure we had a festive holiday since it’s our last one together for a while. Which meant I actually decorated my house as much as possible. I’m not one of those people who puts junk on every surface, but I did do Christmas lights outside, which I only get around to every three years or so. You know what the secret is to doing really great Christmas lights? A hot glue gun. It’s completely brilliant at getting lights to stick to your house. I know you’ll completely forget I told you this by next year so I’ll remind you in November.

I actually hung wreaths on the door too. One wreath might be good enough for all you people, but I’m so festive that I need three! Also I really need to stain my front door (thanks to Margaret scratching the crap out of it. Dumb dog!) and three wreaths seemed the perfect way to distract from that. Kind of like wearing a low-cut bathing suit when you need to lose a few pounds–everyone is so busy looking at the cleavage that they don’t look at the hips. Pure genius.

front door three wreaths

Last year after Christmas I was at Hobby Lobby and all of their leftover wreaths were 80% off. Which meant the little window-sized wreaths were less than $3. So I counted up all my windows and bought a wreath for each one. Then, because I occasionally have flashes of brilliance, I bought the most gigantic roll of velvet ribbon too. When Christmas rolled around this year I was all set with a wreath for each window and some ribbon to hang it with.

As with everything I plan in my mind, this was much easier said than done. I wanted the ribbons to hang from the tops of the windows without there being a bow or whatever, as if my windows opened from the top, which they certainly do not. Nor did I want to drill holes into my brick or window casings. I finally figured out how to do this but it took me a lot of tries and several different methods.

window wreaths

Turns out hot glue does not work so well trying to stick things to smooth surfaces. Son of a nutcracker!

window wreath falling

But like I said, I figured it all out eventually. I’ll share my secrets in about eleven months.

You know how in the movie Elf when Buddy decorates the toy department with paper snowflakes and chains and all those sorts of things? I’ve always dreamed of doing something similar to that in my family room because it’s decorated in pastel colors and red and green don’t look very good. And I happen to think that pink Christmas decorations are vomit-y.

I set Arabella to work on the paper chains (it took her, like, a trillion hours. She’s a real slowpoke) and I got to work making snowflakes with my Silhouette Cameo. Remember how I said that sometimes I’m brilliant? I was in charge of the church Christmas party (my third time. Ugh.) and I thought ahead and decided that I’d kill two birds with one stone. I’d make a ton of snowflakes and use them for the Christmas party (theme: Winter Wonderland!) and then save them for my house decorations (in case you’re being nitpicky, I paid for the snowflakes myself). I ended up only using about half of the snowflakes in my house. Mostly because I was putting them up right until the first guests rang the doorbell. That’s always how I know when to stop decorating–when the guests arrive. (It would be really nice to not be a procrastinator.)

I feel like I can leave these decorations up for a few more weeks because they’re winterish, not just for Christmas. I also added a few touches of gold because I like gold. And plain white is just boring. It turned out not quite as festive as Buddy’s decorating job, but I still love it.

White paper Christmas Elf movie

Paper snowflakes are real brats about being photographed. They’re always turning to the side so you can’t see them all at the same time.

The secret to hanging them is fishing line and clear pushpins. Don’t bother with tape. It’s useless on ceilings. Pushpins are my best friends. I’m alarmed at how often they come in handy.

So there you have it; Christmas chez Hildie. We gorged ourselves on schnitzel and spaetzle and had a grand old time.

If someone told me I would start getting zits again as I sauntered into middle age I would have punched them in the face. And then fainted. Because it’s not bad enough that my hair is getting really wimpy and my metabolism has come to a screeching halt. Now I’m getting pimples again like I’m 16 years old. What the heck, body? Why are you doing this to me???

But I have good company because both my teenage sons are breaking out too. I’ve only got chin zits now and again but they definitely need some help, skin-wise. So I did what I do anytime I think there must be a product to cure my ills: hop over to Amazon! Sho’ nuff, I found something magical.  This stuff:

Gel peel

It’s Perfect Image’s Salicylic Acid Gel Peel. It eats pimples. I’ve had professional chemical peels many a time and I’m a huge fan. This is a similar kind of thing but it doesn’t make my skin peel like the professional ones. It does get rid of zits, though. Totally. I use this once a week and I have not had one single pimple since then. I’m not exaggerating. No zits whatsoever.  Just wipe this on with a cotton ball, let it sit for between 45 seconds to 2 minutes and then rinse it off very thoroughly. Easy peasy.

Just a warning: it burns like a mother. The first time you use this you will barely be able to handle 30 seconds. Each week I upped the time until I got to about two minutes. That’s my limit.

After I use the gel peel my skin is super dry so I slather on some of my extra-luxuriant homemade moisturizer. The chemical peel makes skin more sensitive to the sun, so products with an SPF are a must! The rest of the week I use this Roc Retinol Correxion moisturizer which my dry skin just drinks up.  It’s quite heavy but since I have dry skin, it works for me. Sometimes I get this on Amazon but I can usually find it cheaper at Costco.

Roc moisturizer

(Yes, I use a product that is designed for “deep wrinkles”. Let’s just gloss over that little detail, mm-kay?) This moisturizer has got a big fat SPF 30 and you’d better believe you need that every single day. Especially if you live someplace sunny. If you have greasy skin this isn’t the product for you, but if you’re on the dry side, this Roc moisturizer is great.

Truthfully my sons haven’t had as good of results with the chemical peel as I have. Their zits are of the angry teenage sort and they’re hard to stop. The gel peel has reduced their break-outs by about 50%, I’d say.  I’ve given them a face wash that has also helped. Because Finn has dry skin he uses a moisturizer too.

They’ve had good luck with this cleanser
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And this mositurizer:
Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.05.21 PM

The good news is that we’re a lot less zitty than we used to be a couple of months ago. I think you’ll agree that nothing is as big a drag as having a big fat pimple on your face.

 

P.S. Okay, yes, there are things that are a lot more of a drag than a big zit. No need to give me a laundry list of what a drag it is to be missing an arm or whatever.

P.P.S. I bought all these products with my very own money. Well, my husband’s money if you want to be technical. But I do receive a small pittance if you buy any of these products through my links. Which you should definitely do because I try to do right by you guys. And these products are legit.

 

I haven’t posted for over a month??? Wow. I hadn’t realized. I’ve just lost the mojo or something. I feel really bad because I didn’t even post any of the cool stuff that happened over the summer. Some of it made me sad. Like this:

Somebody flew the coop.

India Trees

 

 

India Jane senior

 

India Bluebonnets

 

Baby India graduated from high school. Mister’s parents came down, despite their health being not so great these days.

India Grands Graduation

I don’t know how that happened. I mean, one minute she was starting kindergarten and all of a sudden she was putting on her cap and gown. You know how old ladies at the store tell you when you’ve got your hands full of squirming kids that time flies and the kids will grow up so quickly? And you’re like, “yeah, right. Starting when?”  Because every day lasts for a hundred years when you’re children are small. You seriously wonder if you will ever not be wiping somebody’s butt and stepping on stray Legos.

It does go fast. Not until they get into school, though. Every year goes by a little quicker and by the time they’re Seniors in high school, the year lasts about seventeen minutes.

And then they’re leaving for school and you wish you could trap every day in a bottle because it’s the end of an era: the era of having your babies in your nest. Now they’re flying away and it’s exciting but it’s also terrifying.  People keep asking me how I’m doing and the answer is, “I’m kind of blue.” Not depressed, but just unmoored. Life is shifting and even though I knew it would happen, it’s unsettling.

I tell people I’m sad that India is gone but not half as sad as I’d be if she were still living in her bedroom with a lame future ahead of her. Because India is awesome she got a full-ride scholarship to college. And she got a couple of other scholarships too that are covering most of her room and board and books. So yay for that!

We dropped her off at Brigham Young in August and Mister sobbed the whole way back to the airport.  Real, blubbering loud sobs. I finally had to remind him that India is not dying. She’s just going to college and we’d see her at Thanksgiving. But he’s the softie in the marriage. I’m the mean, heartless one. But still it was sad leaving her there.

I can’t be too sad, though, because is there any time as full of excitement and awesomeness as the first time you leave for college? She’s got a shiny, spectacular future ahead of her and as sad and boo-boo as I feel for me, I feel happiness and excitement for her.

IMG_9989

 

India Jane college

 

Plus it’s not like I don’t still have fifty million kids at home. York is in 12th grade this year so we get to do the whole thing all over again.

Here are some other milestones we had:

My baby, my littlest kiddle, turned eight. Jasper Presents

 

Because we’re Mormon we believe that little children who die go straight to Heaven. Thus we don’t baptize kids until they’re old enough to know right from wrong which is at age eight. So Jasper was baptized. Having your youngest child get baptized in another milestone. It means you’re not a young mother. For so long I’ve always had little kids and that means I’m a young mother. But with my youngest being old enough to get baptized I feel like those days of having little kids is ancient history. Again, more unmooring.

Mormons do baptism the old-fashioned way: immersion just like Jesus did. So the baptisee and the baptizer both dress in white, symbolic of being born again and forgiven of our sins.  Jasper was baptized by Mister and it was a lovely ceremony.

P6213522

We had a bunch of fun Texas Tuesdays which I’ll tell you about later. Right now I’m just trying to keep afloat. Mister has gone back to school to get his Masters degree and I’m still as busy as ever. But I’ll be a little more diligent. I’ve got some cool new tutorials in the works; it’s going to be fun!

 

Tomorrow is Fast Sunday for Mormons. When I say “fast” I don’t mean the opposite of slow; I mean not eating or drinking. This is something that all Mormons around the world do on the first Sunday of every month. We go hungry. And thirsty. On purpose. We then take the money that we would have spent on food and give it to be used by the poor. The church has huge farms around the world where food is raised especially for church members who are in need. They are run by members of the church and staffed by volunteers.

When we lived in Utah Mister and I worked a few times a year helping out at the production facilities. We packaged cheese at the dairy, screwed lids on jars of spaghetti sauce (they were going down a conveyor belt and I felt like we were in the opening sequence of Laverne and Shirley the whole time. But with spaghetti sauce not beer.)  Once my sister and I even worked in the meat-packing plant. We were on the clean-up crew and it’s probably one of the grossest things I’ve ever had to do. We had to wear giant rubber boots to keep from slipping as we hosed the congealed fat off of every single surface. Gah! So nasty! But being a Mormon means working hard to take care of those around us.

Now that I’m the Relief Society President I help the needy families in the congregation figure out what food and toiletries they might need and fill out an order form for them to go pick it up at a special store every two weeks.  It’s like a food pantry but on a much bigger and more organized scale. The members who receive help are expected to help out in other ways where possible. It’s a pretty fantastic system to make sure that everyone is watched over and helped the way the Lord would want.

Here’s a cool video that shows how the system works around the world.

I haven’t done a Makeup Monday in a while. I got pink eye at the beginning of the Summer and I’ve been keeping the makeup minimal to prevent contamination with my germy eyes.  I’ve also gotten pretty sick of doing my nails too. When summer got here I just needed a break from everything!

But now I’m back with a minimalist manicure and a great new product that I’m kind of in love with. (What? This is a minimalist manicure for me!)

green dot manicure

If you do gel nail polish, you know it’s the best to apply. It “dries” super quickly so you can get a great manicure and not worry about smudging anything. But removing gel polish is the worst. Really a complete drag. You can either soak your nails in acetone which is smelly and awful, or try to come up with a system of soaking cotton balls and wrapping your nails with tin foil. That method is drippy and inconvenient and I don’t recommend it.

I stumbled across a new nail polish removal product while I was reading one of my favorite nail blogs. Intrigued by the product, I ordered it for myself. And wow!  It’s fantastic! Totally non-drippy things you stick on the tops of your fingers. They took my polish off in less than ten minutes. No scraping involved either! The polish pretty much just fell off.  They’re called NailMates.

nailmates

They come with thin, little sponges that you dip in acetone polish remover and slide into the pink rubber covers. You wear them on your nails and they work like a charm. You’d think that they would be pretty leaky but they aren’t at all. You can’t exactly type at your computer while you wear them, but it’s way better than being stuck at a table with your hand in a bowl of acetone. And NailMates are reusable. Just rinse out the sponges and that’s it.  I’m just loving these!  They’re $14 for a set (includes shipping) and right now they’re giving an extra set of liner sponges for free. You can get them here.

I wasn’t paid to recommend them and I bought them with my very own money. I just think they’re a great product.

 

We woke up, had breakfast at our flat and hurried out to take a tour of The Changing of the Guard. This is where the guards who are watching Buckingham palace switch places with the new guards. It’s a little ostentatious and a big deal and only happens every few days. And most importantly, it doesn’t happen when it rains–what with those big bearskin hats and smart uniforms the guards wear.

Most people show up at Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard but all of the interesting parts take place away from Buckingham Palace. We signed up for a tour with Matt at Fun London Tours who promised to show us everything from the best points of view. (Have I mentioned how much I love walking tours?)

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The day started out cloudy, as usual, but seemed promising as we headed over to the Royal Mall. Matt showed us a bunch of cool sights on the way there. Here’s a statue of the Queen Mum and her husband Edward VI (the king featured in The King’s Speech, which I made India watch on the flight to London. York refused, little jerk. Ironically, that king was born as the Duke of York.)

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We came across another statue of another Duke of York. This one we made York pose in front of (well, the sign at least. The statue itself is very tall). York was named after York, England (not New York which is what everyone asks him. His name is not New York so I really have no idea why they ask such a dumb question.) With there being so much York-this and York-that, it was only fitting.

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Here is the British Household Cavalry (AKA the Horse Guard). These are Irish Draft horses that have been used for hundreds of years because they look big and imposing.

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The Queen’s Guard leaves from St. James’ Palace which is down the street from Buckingham. Here you can see the cops opening the gates for the guards to exit.

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And that’s when it started to rain. And rain. Deluge is the word that comes to mind. By the end of the tour York’s raincoat was letting water through and all of us had soaking wet pants. Ah, England!

There were still some Royal goings-on, however.  The Queen was in residence and having some sort of meeting with several ambassadors. Instead of the ambassadors just showing up, the queen sends her fancy coach to go get them. Back and forth it went several times.

When the fancy  Changing of the Guard doesn’t happen, there’s just a quick, small changeover. Only a few guards come out–wearing little capes!–and it’s quite dull.

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Matt, our tour guide, took us by Clarence House which is where Prince Charles lives (The Mall–not the shopping kind–is kind of like the Royal strip. It’s all palaces and fancy royal houses everywhere.) The guard out front informed us that Prince Charles was on his way out if we wanted to stick around. Heck yeah!

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That’s his Rolls Royce Limousine. The Range Rover behind is his security. He waved at us stupid tourists as he drove by.  You can’t see him in this photo, although you can see his driver a bit. We were so close!

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Of course we had to stop by and have our picture taken with a Royal guard. What a totally boring job. I wonder how many photo albums around the world this guy is in.

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Below is one of the horse guards who is guarding the royal stables. Or something like that. These guys are actually returned fighters who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now they must wear preposterous costumes and pretend to guard horses (“Stop or I’ll stab you with my ornamental sword!”) Although I do have to say I like that snappy coat immensely.

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They have mounted guards as well. The horses have to get used to tourists. Like India.

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And here is Buckingham Palace in all it’s cloudy, touristy glory:

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Matt was such a wonderful guide. He felt terrible that we got so rained on but he showed us lots of cool parts of London around Buckingham Palace. He’s quite a fountain of knowledge and has a great sense of humor.  I’d highly recommend his tours. We liked him so much that we went out to lunch with him for TexMex food afterwards! (It was kind of like Chipotle which was so good after eating fish & chips for days.)

We had other plans for the afternoon but had to go back to the flat to change our clothes. By the time we were done it was time to hop on the train to Cambridge. (Mister’s company has offices in London and he spent the afternoon meeting with them). The kids and I went to see our old friends, The Staines family. They lived here in Austin for five years but because they’re from England originally, it was only a matter of time until they moved home.

It was so fun to see them again. York and Peter Staines were best friends back when Peter lived here (the pair of them were known simply as “Pork”). York was happy to hang out with Peter while his mom, Becky, and I took our daughters to see the King’s College choir. The architecture of King’s College is a Gothic delight. Towers and turrets and peaked windows galore.

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Even though Becky doesn’t live too far from Cambridge and her husband works in town, she’d never been to see the choir which is one of the best in the world. For shame! If you’re planning to go to Evensong you need to line up outside King’s College gate at least an hour early. Becky drove us there but she says that the college is quite far from the train station so you’ll need to take a taxi if you’re planning to arrive on the train.

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India is a big old choir nerd which is why we took this detour in the first place. She was just in heaven being there. The choir–which is made up of men and boys–was even more fantastic in person. I have a ton of their albums, but it’s so unbelievably beautiful being there live. Of course they were total stinkers and wouldn’t let us record anything or even take pictures. I was so tempted but I didn’t want to get tossed out.

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This is somebody else’s picture of the church. It’s quite a bit darker than this in real life. Absolutely magnificent. Gorgeous windows everywhere and the most stunning woodwork. We got to sit right up in the alter section in the fancy wooden seats next to the choir. This was one of the highlights of my entire trip.

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

Cambridge, the town itself, was lovely and charming too.

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This scene below made me laugh because the sign reads, “Please do not lean cycles against this wall”.

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Once the concert was done (although it wasn’t really a concert. It was an actual church service) we had a nice dinner and took the train back to London. We met Mister back at our flat. After his meetings he’d gone to see the musical Once and absolutely raved about it. He’s a fan of the movie already but he said the play was even better. So put that on your lists of things to see when you’re in London if you’re fond of musicals.

Probably my best and favorite thing that happened during our time in Paris was the Fête du Pain (The Festival of Bread. Can you imagine anything more delightful?) It’s an annual event held in front of Nôtre Dame in a gigantic tent that is turned into a bakery. The idea is to draw people into the career of becoming a baker (Okay I’ll do it!).  Bakers from all over France come dressed in bright orange polo shirts (not really what I picture un boulanger traditionnel wearing, but oh well) and bake in front of people. Lots of local kids come and watch and see what it’s really like to be a boulanger. There are no separate kitchens or back rooms, everything happens out in the open.

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But the absolute most wonderful thing about the Fête du Pain is that everything is sold on the spot. Food is baked all day long so anytime you walk by, there are fresh baked goods being taken out of the oven. You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to get a fresh baguette. It’s heaven. Heaven!

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The Fête du Pain was in between our apartment and our métro stop so naturally we found ourselves there quite often. Let me just tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a pain au chocolat that’s still warm from the oven with the chocolate still soft and squishy. Speaking of pain au chocolate . . .

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First you place the little bars of chocolate in the dough, then you roll it and cut it. Then you wait for your adoring public to gobble it up, closing their eyes and moaning with each bite.

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I could have watched these guys bake all day.  Here are the baguette bakers. Instead of baking the bread on a tray or in a pan, each loaf is placed in a big piece of fabric called a couche, row by row, scrunching the fabric between each one.

The croissants were the most interesting to watch. And most delicious. Theoretically there is a point at which you get full of croissants and you don’t want to eat any more. I have never reached that point, which is a bit distressing. Fortunately I enjoyed all the rich, fatty food in Paris without a second though because I walked such an insane amount.

Each batch of croissant dough is rolled into a square. Then a giant slab of butter is placed inside each one. The dough is folded over the edges of the butter like a tasty envelope. It’s then chilled, rolled and folded again. And again. That’s what makes all the delightful layers of a croissant.

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I don’t think this photo catches the massive amount of butter used in a croissant. If you want to know why they taste so good, watch this little video. That thing he folds in half and pounds out at the beginning? That’s butter not dough. Try not to faint.

There were some other tasty things being made. No idea what these could be. Any guesses?

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The charming man in the video below was making an apple tart. You can actually hear me speaking pitiful French in the video. The lovely baker was asking me where I was from, and when I told him Texas he informed me that he’d been to Florida. Which is actually right across the gulf so I give him points for that. Usually when you tell people abroad that you’re from America they’ll inform you that they were in New York/California/Seattle last year. In other words, a thousand or two miles away. It’s like telling someone from Denmark that you’ve visited Czechoslovakia.

 

At the end of the Fête du Pain there was a contest amongst all the bakers. What amazing bread from all the different parts of France.

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I would seriously come back to France again during May to visit the Fête du Pain again. That’s how grand it was. Bread is my one true love.