IMO

Sunrise jumping

I grew up surrounded by Night Owls. Everyone in my family stayed up late all the time, particularly on weekends. This was mostly due to the fact that my mother has always been a chronic napper. We all knew that every afternoon was quiet time and there was no reason in the world–none–in which you should wake her up. She was also a champion sleeper-inner. Again, there was no reason that she would ever be woken up.  (“You missed the bus? Too bad, so sad, now get walking. So what if you have to cross a ten-lane major thoroughfare on the way to elementary school. You should have thought about that earlier. And it’s snowing? That’s what boots were invented.”)  This set her up for a pattern which continues to this day. She has to stay up late because she took a nap. But she’s so tired since she stayed up late that she has to take a nap. To this day she refuses to believe that this is all a self-perpetuating problem.

Breakfast growing up was mostly made by us. it usually consisted of cereal which would be eaten while sitting on top of the heating vents in our kitchen, with our nightgowns tented over the top to trap all the warm air.  (Michigan was always cold, even inside).  Lunches were packed by us and starred a PB&J sandwich that had been previously made and frozen. These sandwiches were all lined up in a neat row across the door of the freezer. Frozen, they were actually pretty decent with the peanut butter retaining a pleasant hardness that never froze entirely. But once they were defrosted they were a hideous soggy mess that was particularly susceptible to apples. I can’t tell you how many times I would dump out my Charlie’s Angels lunch box only to find a wet apple-sized dent in the middle of the bread.  Even now I have PTSD flashbacks when I see a package of Uncrustables in the grocery store freezer. I can’t imagine paying money for such a thing.

So, yes, mornings were a time of cold, dark unhappiness. Best to avoid them entirely.

College was a revelation. Classes could be scheduled whenever I wanted? Naturally I never chose anything before noon. I couldn’t understood why everyone wasn’t on campus at 9 p.m., after-dinner seeming to be the most civilized time to go to school. So what if walking home down “Rape Hill” was simply terrifying? At least I didn’t have to set an alarm clock ever.

Even when I worked I waited tables (“I’ll take the lunch shifts, please”) or had a retail job that would let me come late and stay later. Only idiots and weirdos would get up early on purpose!

But then I went and had babies. No matter what I tried, they just didn’t like to stay up late. Or rather, they liked to stay up late just fine. But they also like to get up very early.  And the crummy thing about babies is that once they’re up, they’re up. It’s not like a dog where I could just let it out into the backyard then climb back into bed. No. These tiny people wanted to be fed and played with. So inconsiderate.

The oddest thing started happening, though. I found that after a couple of years that I had more energy and vigor (or was it vim) in the morning.  I actually started waking up before the kids to shower and get ready. I seemed to accomplish so much more when I would get up early. It felt like a revelation!

I also started getting very tired at night. I tried to force myself to stay up but the lustre was gone. I didn’t want to see midnight movies anymore. I certainly didn’t want to have a late-night job.

This summer I have realized that the night-owl in me has completely and absolutely died. And I’m quite happy about that. I love to wake up before everyone and read my scriptures and check my email and computer stuff before anyone is awake. I have so much more energy and find that I get a million more things done when I get a big jump on the day. Part of me feels like this is lame. I never in my life thought I would see the sun rise every single day. And that I would be OK with it.

I do wonder, though, what will happen when I don’t have to be up and around for little kids. Will I stay in bed all day again? Or will I keep my early bird ways?

 

York just graduated from High School over the weekend. It was . . . how shall I put this? Less than interesting?  I’m certainly glad he graduated.  I know high school was a big pain and we are very proud of York for making his four years there a success (he was voted Most Talented and Class Clown. Guess which one I’m more proud of?). But there are very few more boring events than graduation. Do we really need several perky girls talking about how fantastic they are and how their futures are going to be so awesome!!!!!!?(And yes, it was all girls in York’s grade. Out of the top ten students, only one was a boy. Naturally.) These are probably the same girls who wouldn’t dream of talking to most of the kids in their grade only a week earlier.

Instead of a bunch of boring speeches, how about an elaborate musical number, complete with a rotating stage and ostrich feathers? Now that would be entertaining!  And instead of just announcing the grads (all seven million of them), how about pre-recording each one introducing themselves with a little personality and verve, like they do at the beginning of the Miss America Pageant?  (“Representing the Lakeline Villas Apartment complex, my name is McKenzie Kay Larson!”)

Nowadays they have the graduates wear medals and tassels of different sorts. I guess it’s so that the kids all feel better about themselves, like it’s the Olympics or something. One of the medals means “I’m graduating!” For real. You get it just for showing up. As if the cap and gown didn’t tip everyone off.  Sadly, nobody knows what all the different accoutrements mean. There’s no explanation in the program. All I can assume when I see a graduate walk by with a bunch of medals and tassels is that she must be a really high-strung, Type-A person.

Naturally York couldn’t find his mortarboard when it was time to leave for the graduation. I asked him if he had it earlier  and he said, “no, my gowns been lying on the floor all week and I haven’t seen it.” Oh, super; wrinkled shiny polyester. But he had a cap by the time he walked across the stage so he must have found it. Or maybe they have extras for just such an occasion.

Because graduation ended at almost 11:00 pm (don’t even get me started!), we were pooped and York was antsy to get on with his Marvelous Future, he agreed to pose for one–and only one–picture with us. Naturally he used his his-ultra fake smile that he reserves for all the most important occasions.

York Graduation

 

Let me include one of his senior portraits where he looks a whole lot better. If you know us in real life, you’ll be getting your announcement soon! I like to wait til after the event (just kidding, I didn’t get them done in time.)

York grad serious-1-2-Edit

 

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 thought by now I’d be tired of Pinterest. But because there are infinity cool/pretty/clever things out there, I still remain powerless once I log on.  I spend a lot of time looking at decorating and house decor. Not everything is groovy, though. There are lots of things that I just hate. Things that are so dumb I don’t know how they remain popular. In no particular order:

White sofas. They are everywhere. Every room in every magazine seems to have at least one white piece of furniture. I understand that there are people out there who have nothing better to trouble their minds about than worrying every 20 seconds that their sofa is getting dirty. I don’t understand these people at all. Not one tiny bit. I can’t imagine the amount of stress that a white couch (or chair) would add to my life. Even if it’s a machine washable slipcover. Haven’t these people ever heard of chocolate milk? Or husbands who like to lie down with their feet up? Or brand new dark jeans? Or pets with dark hair? Or just dust floating through the air?  I have had people with white sofas swear they’re not hard to maintain. I have one word for these people: liars.

Dumb Sayings. It’s really popular to have words incorporated into your decor. I have a few signs and sayings around various rooms in my house. They’re phrases that are really special to me.  But at some point this word trend is just dumb. For instance, this sign that I saw at Michael’s last week:

IMG_1573

Home. Of all the words to pick, that’s the best you can think of? Like you’re not going to know where you are unless you have a sign proclaiming it? Like your friends are going to come over and be like, “oh, I thought we were at the dentist’s office but I can see from your sign that we are in a home.”  Duh.  This is even dumber than “live, laugh, love”, another silly and meaningless phrase (“hey, I forgot to laugh today but that doormat just reminded me. So haw haw haw.”)

Karate-Chopped Pillows. This trend came out of the clear blue sky a few years ago. The first time I saw it I actually said out loud, “what in the world?”  See, we used to have this pug named Anna. Anna’s favorite thing was to sit up on the back of our sofa and lie as close to our heads as possible. If she could have made out with us, she would have. Unfortunately, when Anna would manage to get her lazy butt off of the sofa, all the sofa pillows would have a giant dent in the top of each one. It drove me insane in the membrane. I couldn’t have cared less that there was pug hair everywhere (pugs shed like you would not believe), but those messed up pillows made me lose it. So imagine how perplexed I was to see that there is a style that makes it look like pets have been sleeping on every single cushion. This is now a thing. Why? WHY iS THIS POPULAR? I think it’s ridiculous and I don’t care if Joanna Gaines* shows up at my front door and demands that I karate-chop my pillows; it’s never happening. (Bonus points in the picture below for karate-chopped pillows AND a white sofa! Too bad there’s no chevron as well; then it would have been everything I dislike the most.)

Karate Chopped pillows

 

 Open kitchen shelving. Oh how pretty it looks. There is something that makes my heart skip a little beat whenever I see a kitchen with open shelves instead of boring cupboards.  But then I remember that I actually have plastic cups. And bowls. And a bunch of mismatched mugs which I happen to be quite fond of. And several sets of dishes that are packed into the cupboards because that’s how kitchens are: full of stuff.  Maybe if all you have in your kitchen is a charmingly curated collection of vintage milk glass, then this would work for you.

open shelving

 

Or how about this? It looks so wonderful! But it is just a disaster waiting to happen. I can hardly wait until some three-year old tries to get those pretzels down for a snack.  Let’s think about this: who would keep their flour and sugar in a glass jar on a super high shelf? It makes no sense. (Truthfully I have this pinned on my Pinterest Board–me and ten trillion other people–but it’s totally a pipe dream. Like I might as well wish for a dog that scoops his own poop.)

Open pantry

 

 

My final pet peeve is  storage-less side tables. They could be anywhere but I find it particularly vexing in the bedroom. What the heck? Don’t you have any earplugs? Or chapstick? Or a pen? Where do you put these things? In the case of this room below there’s barely enough room on the top of the side table, what with the orchid and picture frame and superfluous alarm clock. There’s not even space for a box of tissues, but maybe I’m the only one who ever has a runny nose.  If a side table doesn’t have drawers it’s dead to me.

dumb side table

 

I know I must sound crotchety and old. Kind of like the decorating version of an old lady who says she only wants sensible shoes. But I’m right! I don’t care that every catalog I get in the mail has open shelving and side tables with no storage whatsoever. They’re wrong, I tell you! Wrong!

 

*Joanna Gaines is the main decorating lady on the HGTV show Fixer Upper. It’s a really good show filmed right up the road in Waco. I have only watched a few episodes thanks to a Fixer Upper marathon that was on TV the last time I stayed at a hotel. Someone really needs to invent a cable system that only has HGTV. I would be a very happy girl. BTW, I went to Joanna’s shop, Magnolia, last week. It was very cute but verrrrrry tiny.

Kimmel Austin

In case you missed this little detail, I live in Austin, Texas. Right now in Austin it’s SXSW. Which, for those who live under a rock or are just over the age of 60, is a super-mega-gigantic movie/music/gaming/computer festival that lasts for a week and a half. It also transforms our rather small downtown into a raging cesspool of traffic, drunks and weirdos.  Everybody calls it “South By” (emphasis on the first syllable). It sounds semi-pretentious but “South by Southwest” is a redundant mouthful.

Mister is into the movie scene and because of his job as a video producer has employed pretty much every actor in the Central Texas area. So it’s always fun to see what the tykes have been up to. Also, it’s pretty fun going to see the movies when the directors and several of the stars are right there in the audience. He always gets a platinum pass which allows him first dibs on every event. And there are about a jillion events going on all over downtown at every hour of the day and night.  He manages to get fed several meals a day for free just by attending the right parties and get-togethers.

I am rather non-impressed with the entertainment industry. I don’t like how important they find themselves. At this point in my life I find it incredibly annoying how hard they try: to look good, to be “unique” and “edgy”, to pretend to be so much more awesome than they really are.  At one point I would have cared a lot too. But now I am old. Make that Old with a capital -O. And I know this because I crave authenticity. I really want people to be themselves and get rid of all the crap and façades. Just be who you really are, man!

Mister occasionally drags me out of the house to a movie he thinks sounds like something I’d be interested in. I have to wait in the pitiful “general admission” line which might as well have a sign that says “losers stand here”. He gets in first and saves me a seat while I wait there knitting and eavesdropping on everyone’s conversations. Yesterday’s foray into SXSW was a taping of the Jimmy Kimmel show. We were required to stand in line in the sun and heat for two hours which made me peevish beyond belief. I was ready to throw in the towel but I held on and it actually ended up being really fun and interesting. (Listen, I may complain about all this stuff but when I go out, I do it with enthusiasm. Because nothing is more annoying than self-conscious people who won’t cut loose.)

Mostly I stood and watched all the hipsters around us. And I saw them with their silly clothes that are supposed to be ironic but mostly make them look like rejects from 1989. A few years ago I would have felt super self-conscious like I wasn’t cool enough to stand outside and wait in a dumb line with all the stylish people.  This year I came straight from taking York to the oral surgeon to get his wisdom teeth out. I didn’t really care if my shirt was awesome (although it was St. Patrick’s Day so I did make sure it was green), or that I had trendy shoes or edgy accessories.

This year I feel fine with who I am. Am I thin? Heck no! I’m fatter now than when I was pregnant. Am I stylish? Not if you consider the fact that most of my clothes come from Steinmart or Costco. Is my hair awesome? Well, I’m 44 but I don’t have any greys so that fact alone makes me drip with pride. (Take that, all you people who must get your hair colored!) My hair is not super styling but I think it generally looks pretty decent.  I do have nice makeup so I have that going for me. You can wear awesome sunglasses and overall shorts (yes, they’re back) with high-heeled booties, but if you haven’t got on an attractive shade of lipstick, you really aren’t all that.

So I guess I’m really a grown up now. Or maybe I’m an old fogey. I don’t know. But I have to echo the sentiments of Jasper who announced after looking at everyone meandering around downtown Austin, “who are all these awful people?”.

 

I love baby names so much. There are very few topics that give me more pleasure in discussing. So I was super excited when Nameberry asked me to write a couple of blog posts them. My first? The outlandish world of Mormon Baby Names. Mosey over and have a read!

 

essential-oil

Are you on the essential oil bandwagon? Nevermind, don’t answer that. Because if there is anyone more missionary-minded than Mormons, it’s people who are into essential oils. You would think that essential oils are the cure-all to every ailment under the sun, the way do-terra people talk. I do like the idea of essential oils, though, and think there are all sorts of nature-ey substances that can help people get well.  I tend to be a little distrustful of mainstream medicine. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good antibiotic and my kids are vaccinated right on schedule. But on the whole I think doctors are just educated guessers. Sometimes they can hit the nail on the head but a lot of the time they are just way off-base. But they refuse to believe that they are; so instead they throw a bunch of expensive prescription medication at every ailment and think it will all be OK.

A couple of months ago York got a nasty case of Mono. If you’ve ever had Mono you know there is nothing to treat it. Just take some Advil and get a comfy pillow because you’re going to spend the next six weeks sleeping your life away.  That’s it. That’s seriously all the doctors have to say. So I was more than happy to have a friend of mine offer to help out with some essential oils. Essential oils are especially appealing to me when modern medicine has zero to offer.

She came over and gave York some oils to gargle with to help with his killer sore throat and some other oils to make into pills to boost his immune system. Or something.

After three doses York was feeling well enough to drag himself to school. But he called in absolute dismay by the end of the day. He was covered with a red rash and his face and lips were quite swollen. I called my friend who had given me the essential oils;  “A rash is just a symptom of the body adjusting to the powerful essential oils,” she explained. “This is just his body’s way of detoxing.”

I raised my eyebrow. A rash doesn’t seem like a reassuring side effect. What’s next, getting rid of bad humors through blood-letting?

I was assured by my friend that it wasn’t an allergic reaction, and after doing some investigative reporting on the almighty interwebs, I felt assured that York wasn’t having an allergic reaction. (Just to be sure I gave him Benadryl which made zero difference in the rash or swelling.) If essential oils are powerful enough to cause this sort of reaction after just a few doses; there needs to be a lot more education before people start recommending these products, willy-nilly. Obviously essential oils can pack a punch if this is what can happen. Learning how to use these products properly should be a much bigger deal than it seems to be.

Here’s my big beef with essential oils: it’s really hard to find actual, truthful information. Instead people are being “educated” by the companies that sell the oils. That seems all wrong. Everyone knows that corporations exist to make money. They can say that they just want to help people, but if that were true they wouldn’t be charging the prices they do for their oils. They want to make a buck (well, lots of bucks, actually). So of course these companies want to sell all the oil that they can. I get that and I understand that’s what business is about. But I think this causes a conflict of interest. I basically don’t trust what these corporations have to say. It’s like a petroleum manufacturer making cars; wouldn’t a petroleum company make a car that requires you to use even more gas because that’s how they make money? Selling people gas? So why would I trust them to make a car that gets good mileage?  Same idea with essential oil companies.

Trying to find a reputable website or book to educate myself has been almost impossible too. What I’ve had have a hard time finding is a book that is unbiased. Many of the books and websites are affiliated with essential oil producers and affiliates. These books want me to use all sorts of oils every day for every complaint I have–surprise, surprise!  Again it makes me very skeptical of anything E.O. companies have to say. These are huge corporations that have all sorts of catch-phrases and hype that are meant to replace education with enthusiasm. (And lets not forget about the whole MLM aspect which makes me plain old uncomfortable.)

Here’s something I would like every essential oil company to know: the more copywrited terms you use, the more skeptical I become; so save your “certified pure therapeutic grade”, “seed to seal” and “certi-5” testing and just give me the honest truth. I am not interested in your slick marketing and websites featuring beautiful people surrounded by flowers.

What is a smart and savvy girl to do? I stumbled upon a few resources. Here were some incredibly helpful blog posts:

Which Essential Oil Company Should YOU Buy From?

The Great Essential Oils Showdown

These great articles piqued my interest in finding out the truth about Essential Oils. Just this week I took a big jump and registered for a couple of courses from Vintage Remedies. I’ve done a ton of info-gathering on the web and it seems like these classes are just what I’ve been looking for: research-based classes using actual science to educate and teach the way to use essential oils properly. These classes are not cheap but I really feel like I’ll be able to get the truth that I’ve been looking for to help my family find a healthy way to use natural substances to heal and prevent illness.

I’ll let you know how my journey goes!

 

I haven’t talked much about mascara in a while. At the beginning of the summer I had a bout of Pink Eye which required me to throw away all my eye makeup and start from scratch. It takes me a while to get over Pink Eye and I like to wait a few weeks before it’s gone gone before I start wearing eye makeup again to prevent contamination should there still be bacteria in my eyes. So for several weeks everyone I knew gave me a strange look when I’d show up everywhere sans eye makeup. They could tell I looked different and worse; but they couldn’t put their finger on why.

I spent my eye-makeup-free time dreaming of mascara. I got so tired of my beady little eyes.  My old favorite mascara was by Sonia Kashuk. Of course it’s been discontinued, as is the case with all great makeup. I’ve heard rumors that they’re going to bring it back but I haven’t seen it yet.

After doing lots of research, my first mascara purchase was some Japanese stuff called Heroine Make Lash and Curl. This stuff has the greatest reviews and everybody adores it.

IMG_8577

It’s a Japanese cheapo brand so even with shipping (off of ebay) it wasn’t too expensive. My verdict: It was horrible. HORRIBLE!  It was so wet and gooey that my lashes all stuck together in one disgusting clump. And it took forever to dry. Seriously, I put the mascara on, finished my other makeup, put my shoes on and got in my car and the mascara was still goopy. Heaven help you if you sneeze or rub your eyes before it’s dried. I have no idea–none-why people would like this mascara. The positive reviews on Makeup Alley confound me. My lashes certainly didn’t look full or lush. They just looked stubby and gross. I thought maybe some eyelashes had fallen out because of the pink eye, they looked so pitiful.

Next I turned to another positively reviewed mascara, Be Long by Clarins. I saw Clarins makeup all over Europe but it’s not as well-known here in America. I mean, I’ve seen Clarins counters around but it just doesn’t seem to be as popular as Clinique or Lancôme. So I ordered a small tube of Be Long off of ebay because it’s pretty spendy if you buy it retail. (Ebay is such a great resource for trying out makeup without having to pay a fortune.)

Clarins Be Long

My eyelashes that I thought were short and sparse? Oh my goodness! Never before have they looked so long and gorgeous. My lashes curled beautifully and the mascara didn’t clump at all. All I could do is look in the mirror and say, “Wow!”.  Sadly, Be Long is not waterproof. By the end of the day it had smudged and little tiny flakes were dotting my cheeks.  Going out in the bright sun (which is all the time here in Texas) makes my eyes water and after a while I started to look streaky like Tammy Faye talking about Jim’s infidelity.

I was just so, so, so disappointed. I’ve heard that there are products that you can apply to mascara to make it waterproof. But once you factor in expensive mascara plus an expensive waterproofer, it’s quite a lot of money just for eyelashes. While lots of people think that eyelashes are tremendously important, they’re just a row of hair so really they’re not my number one concern. If I were a blondie with pale lashes I might feel differently.

Next I decided to try Clarins waterproof mascara called Wonder Proof. While it’s very nice and one of my top picks, it’s not as great as Be Long. It’s a little clumpier and my lashes don’t look quite as long. The great thing about this mascara, though, is that is doesn’t budge.  No smudging and smearing at all. I wash my face with oil and I still have to rub hard to get this stuff off at the end of the day.

Wonder perfect

Every day when I reach for my mascara I want to grab Be Long. It just looks so fantastic. But I don’t fancy looking like a raccoon by the end of the day so I pick Wonder Perfect instead. It’s a very good mascara but it’s not my Holy Grail. I’d put it on the same level as my old favorite, Lights Camera Lashes by Tarte (which is not waterproof but a little more smudge resistant than Be Long). I’m still on the look-out. Do you have a waterproof mascara that you’re madly in love with? I might need to try it.

This was probably the lamest day of our trip. It started out well, though. Of course we stopped by the Fête du Pain as we did every morning. We ate all our deliciousness on our way to Sainte-Chapelle, the little jewel-box of a church on the same island as Notre Dame. There was a security line that wound around the sidewalk that we had to wait in to get our bags peered into. Thanks to our Museum Passes, though, we walked right into the church after going through security, bypassing the hundreds of people waiting in line to buy tickets. Chumps!

Sainte Chapelle is an interesting church. It’s quite small and is built on two levels. The bottom level is where you enter. It’s pretty but nothing fancy. That’s where the servants and lesser mortals worshipped. Up a tiny winding staircase you’ll find the upper chapel with its gorgeous riot of stained glass. This, as you might have guessed, is where the Kings of France and the noble classes went to church.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The stained glass windows are in the process of being restored. Some are finished and look bright and beautiful; some have scaffolding and you can’t see much at all and some still have restoration left to go. It’s quite interesting to see the differences.

It’s not a terribly large church, so it doesn’t take much time to visit. But it’s so lovely that it’s certainly worth a trip.

I split up from the rest of the family afterwards for the afternoon. I wanted to do a little shopping for some beauty products at City Pharma (the best and cheapest drugstore in town). French drugstores sell the most wonderful beauty products. None of them are particularly cheap but the quality is superb. Unfortunately a major wrench was thrown into the plans: my period started.  Normally this wouldn’t be worth a mention but it brings up a very important issue. There are no public bathrooms in France. Theoretically there are, but they are so few and far between that I have to believe that French people have bladders the size of watermelons. No store we visited had a public bathroom. Not even Monoprix which is a giant department store. I made sure to ask after I’d spent quite a bit of money there so they wouldn’t think I was just in the store to use the bathroom. Still the clerks claimed there were no toilets. You might, as I do, hate McDonalds. But when you’re in Europe your heart will leap at the idea of a bathroom, a cold drink and free wifi.

Where do people pee in France? It’s a question I still can’t answer. Every museum has a bathroom with lines a mile long. It’s really the only choice for tourists, of which there are a jillion. Occasionally we’d come across one of those automatic public toilets that sits in the middle of the sidewalk. Only once was one of the working; the rest of the time we’d get our hopes up only to waddle away, praying to find another alternative soon.

Of course I had no tampons or anything with me. So instead of shopping for beauty supplies I spent almost two hours shopping for lady supplies. I visited three pharmacies, all of which had entire aisles devoted to weight loss aids, but no tampons (seriously. No tampons. I walked up and down every aisle.) Finally I struck gold at Monoprix (which is very similar to Target). Because there was no bathroom there, I spent another twenty minutes trying to find a toilet. Any toilet. I didn’t care how smelly or dirty. Eventually I stumbled upon a modern-type shopping mall and was so happy to find a public bathroom that I almost started to cry. Naturally I had to pay 1€ to use it, but at that point I would have paid 10.

In my frantic wanderings I came across this charming beehive built into the corner of a building. You know I have such a fondness for beehives. You didn’t know? Well, how do you think I came up with the name for this blog?

Beehive Paris

I also passed by a realtor with the same name as me! (The spelling is a bit different, alas.)  If I hadn’t been doing the potty dance I might have stopped in to introduce myself.

Hilde Realtor Paris

And look at this jaunty little car! It has silhouettes of all the most famous French sites on it. I wonder if they have one in a minivan version.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While I was have menstrual-related anxiety, Mister took the kids on a ride in a bateau-mouche on the Seine. They had a wonderful time and I am so glad they didn’t have to get dragged on my drug store and toilet wanderings around Paris.

When we finally met up, it was time to go to Versailles. When Mister and I went to Versailles the first time about twenty years ago, we thought it was kind of lame. Don’t get me wrong, Versailles is very grand and impressive and everything you would imagine it to be. But it just really lacked something. A heart, maybe.  It was built to be fancy and ostentatious and that’s pretty much the vibe you get.  But I thought maybe I had the wrong impression when I went last time. Maybe I would like it better since I’m so much older and more mature. And it’s May and wouldn’t the gardens look so mud better now than when we went last time and it was still winter-y and cold?

Here’s what I think about Versailles: it’s good to check off of your bucket list. Is it beautiful? Well, in a very grandiose impersonal way. It’s tremendously big and gaudy. It’s not my style at all. Foreigners, especially all the Chinese we saw there, were absolutely blown away by it. They could not get enough. York was pretty impressed too. It’s cool to see a place like that at least once. I mean, there were up to 10,000 people staying there at the same time. Do you realize how big of a building that is?  And yes, the gardens are amazing. But they’re very formal with miles of hedges and topiaries. It’s not about flowers, it’s about subduing nature. The entire experience of Versailles was built to impress everyone with how the King of France was boss of everything: not just his subjects but nature too.  There aren’t big flowery fields and rolling hills and things that we find so attractive nowadays; Nope, it’s just perfectly manicured trees and bushes that could just as easily be made of plastic and wouldn’t look all that different. Everything is about order and formality. So mostly we went because the kids should see it, but Mister and I swore never to go back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Getting to Versailles requires you to take the RER which is the train out to the suburbs. It requires a different ticket than the métro does. Pretty much every person who goes to Versailles is doing so as a day-trip from Paris. Some are on tour busses but most people will be taking the RER. To save yourself a mountain of time, buy your outgoing and return ticket in Paris. There is the most outrageously long line at the  Versailles train station to buy return tickets back to Paris. Here’s the tricky thing, the ticket machines don’t have a return ticket listed. So you select the “Versailles Rive Gauche” station and then . . . what? There is no Versailles-returning-to-Paris option.  I was completely perplexed, especially after my sister-in-law told me that she hadn’t been able to figure it out either, the last time she was here. So I went straight to the ticket counter and asked for four tickets each way.  And here’s what I got: eight tickets that said “Paris – Versailles Rive Gauche”. And guess what! The same ticket works both ways. So just buy two tickets for Paris to Versailles. One will get you there and one will get you back. I know you’re feeling very skeptical of what I’m saying, but the man at the train station assured me that this is how it works. And it did indeed work on the way back from Versailles.

The French train system is quite fickle. Trains quit right in the middle of the route without previous notice. Make sure you find out if the train you want to take to Versailles is, in fact, going all the way out there.

As Versailles is fantastically crowded at all times, we decided to go at the end of the day when the crowds have died down quite a bit. I studied the Versailles website to make sure our plans would work out. I picked a Saturday because the fountains are turned on on Saturdays during the summer.  The largest fountain–the Apollo fountain–only turns on for a short time. Which we somehow missed. The smaller fountains stay on as long as the château is open. The website doesn’t mention this. It only says that the gardens are open two hours later than the château. The website also doesn’t state that the gardens are a separate cost than the palace. The palace admission is included in the Museum Pass. But the gardens and the Petit Trianon are not. If you wait until after the château is closed then you can get in the gardens for free. When all the fountains are shut off.  It’s all very confusing and ended up making me very angry and frustrated.

The thing at Versailles that we didn’t see last time–and I was dying to see–is the Petit Hameau. It’s the place where Marie Antoinette pretended to be a little country shepherdess. I am so entirely jealous.

069_Versailles_Domaine_du_Petit_Trianon_Le_hameau_de_la_Reine_Marie_Antoinette_Oeuvre_de_l_architecte_Richard_Mique_1783_1787_Le_moulin_La_septi_me_roue

Here is the crazy thing: the Petit Hameau is a 45 minute walk from the château. It takes that long to walk through all the fancy gardens. Goodness gracious!  There are also bikes that you can rent. And golf carts. And there is a little baby “train” that goes back and forth. But to my great dismay the Petit Trianon (of which the Petit Hameau is a part) closed earlier than the chateau. Right about the time that we wanted to get in, of course. No amount of cajoling softened the hearts of the employees. Even asking if I could just stand outside and take pictures. Non madame! Ce n’est pas possible! I found most of the people working at Versailles to be smug, cross and utterly unhelpful.

We had to content ourselves with seeing only the palace itself. Which, as I stated before, was gaudy and overblown with eight hundred types of marble and gilt everything and statues and paintings of gods and goddesses everywhere. (OK, we get it Louis XIV, you’re rich and powerful! Jeez!) Despite the crowds having thinned out remarkably, the place was still packed. We literally had to wait at the door of each room for five minutes while the crowds funneled through into the next room. I was so put out and disgusted that I didn’t take a single picture. Even in the Hall of Mirrors. It happened to be wall-to-wall with Chinese people taking photos anyway. Nothing puts me in a foul mood like a huge crowd.

Around the side of Versailles are the apartments of Louis XV’s three old-maid daughters: Adelaide, Victoire and Sophie. These rooms are intimate and pretty and I liked them so much more. Here is Adelaide’s bedroom. I took a picture of it because I have a daughter named Adelaide and I thought she would find it interesting. Also interesting is the fact the the Royal daughters were called Madame, not Princesse. How strange.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a sitting room. It had these tiny chairs which I found quite interesting. What were they for? Children? Midgets? (Don’t laugh. Louis XIV’s mother was enchanted by dwarves and had a whole coterie of them.) Dogs?  I don’t know. Maybe they were just foot rests.  (I absolutely need this rug for my family room, by the way.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I just loved the walls in one of the rooms. Blue and white is a great love of mine. It’s fresh and timeless.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

We were happy to leave Versailles. We stopped by the Monoprix there to stock up on more French goodies and to buy some baby gifts for my pregnant friends back home (again, no bathroom. Aaaaarrrgh!)

The trains from Versailles pretty much all go to Paris. You just look at the screen above each train platform to figure out which one is leaving next. Some of them just sit there for ages with the doors open for some inexplicable reason. Make sure you’re on a train that actually plans on leaving soon.

If you want to go to Versailles, knock yourself out. But don’t feel the least bit sorry if you omit a trip out there. It’s not a quick jaunt; It’s about an hour each way on the train and a minimum of two hours at the château if it’s empty and you don’t see the gardens or the Petit Trianon. Most people are there for six or eight hours.  I certainly won’t be going out there again, I don’t care how many triangles Rick Steves gives it.

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

van-gogh-2011-room-in-arles-fountain-pen

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?)