Other People

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As you may or may not know I play the harp. Back when I was but a child, I saw somebody playing a harp and I just fell in love. Unfortunately for me my mother had musical fantasies of her own and I got to live those out instead. It didn’t matter that I had less than zero desire to be the church organist, that’s what my mother always wanted to be so my siblings and I were chained to piano lessons starting when we were small. I was never any good–truly–and I hated it with a white-hot burning passion. “Oh, one day you’ll thank me for forcing you to play!” my mother assured me as I sat and cried yet again before another piano lesson.

When I got old enough I started taking organ lessons. Excuse me, organ lesson. Did you know that you play the organ with not just your hands, but also your feet? There is a whole other keyboard in front of the bench on the floor!  I took one lesson and I was like, no way is that ever happening in a million years. I can’t even play a hymn with my hands let alone my feet.

Let’s fast forward to the conclusion of my piano career: I was lucky enough to get in a car crash and break my arm really badly when I was sixteen. No more lessons! I didn’t touch a piano for years after that and still avoid them at all costs. I hated, hated, hated playing and have thankfully forgotten how to do it so I will never have to play again. So, yeah, thanks Mom! I told you when I was ten that I would never play the piano when I grew up but, nooo, you just didn’t believe me.  Moral of the story: Music education is very important. But if your kid wants to play a different instrument, let her! Second moral of the story: Don’t get in a battle of wills with me. You’ll lose.

When I was thirty or so I decided that my time had come. I have always been a collector of hobbies and harp-playing seemed perfect to add to my repertoire of semi-pointless but enjoyable skills. At that time I lived in Utah where there are about a jillion harpists. (I don’t know what it is about Mormons and harps but there is a total love connection.) I found a super awesome teacher and adored it from day one. The best thing about playing the harp is that it sounds really wonderful even when you aren’t very good. It’s quite a bit more complicated than it looks, though. It has a lot more in common with playing the piano than, say, a stringed instrument like a guitar.

Even though I love playing the harp, I just don’t have a musical self. Music does not come naturally to me. I like visual stuff way more. I should be way better at playing the harp than I am, although I totally quit after I had Jasper; harp lessons seemed like a laughable folly when I had six children under age ten and could barely even handle simple tasks like brushing my hair. I can also be a bit of a perfectionist. So playing and making mistake after mistake kind of stresses me out.

Which I am now realizing since I agreed to play the harp at church on the Sunday before Christmas. I haven’t learned a new piece in about a decade. I just keep playing all the ones I’m already good at. That seems incredibly lame now that I write it out. What’s the matter with me? I guess I like coasting along.

I found a piece that is not too challenging (“In the Bleak Midwinter” because I just dig those oddball carols) but–oh my goodness gracious–is it killing me!!! I have been practicing all week and I still haven’t gotten past the second line. I can’t even play the first two lines without making a dozen mistakes! This does not bode well. And because I suck and because I agreed to play in front of the entire universe I have a permanent stress-knot in between my shoulder blades (also my eyelid twitches but that’s not such a big deal). Apparently I won’t be able to relax until after December 21st or unless a true Christmas miracle occurs allowing me to learn the music better.

Bleak midwinter, indeed.

 

By now you know I love walking tours. So that’s the first thing I scheduled for our arrival in Paris. Our tour was through Paris by Martin. The guide we had was Martin’s partner whose name was Pepe. He was delightful. By the way, tons of men in Paris wear scarves. As far as women’s fashions go, I never saw a maxi skirt once. I brought one but the idea of wearing it made me feel so frumpy that I left it in my suitcase the entire time.

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Pepe walked us all over the Marais district, showing us the oldest and most interesting parts of the city (it was the Jewish section and nobody cared to make it all new and fancy in the 1800′s when they did the major overhaul of Paris.) The nice thing about Paris is that there aren’t horrid modern buildings plopped down all over the place.  Most everything is old and picturesque. Or at least old. (Tangent: Unlike our British tour guides, Pepe was like having a private photographer. It was nice to finally get some shots of all four of us!)

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Rumor has it that Johnny Depp just bought an apartment here in the Place Des Vosges.

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The buildings all have these wonderful vaulted arches so I can’t say that I blame him.

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In the Marais is the most superb bakery called L’Eclair de Génie that sells nothing but eclairs. Sometimes there are foods that are really hyped up and when they don’t taste nearly as great as you’d hoped you are just so let down. This was not one of those occasions. These were unearthly good. Unbelievable.

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The eclairs are not cheap. We each got two–for research, of course. At $8-10 apiece , they had better be fantastic. But look how they have the name of the shop stamped on a little chocolate disc! And the nuts are dusted with gold! There went our dinner budget but it’s Paris! What are you supposed to do? Eat mediocre, cheap food all the time?

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We wanted to save some for later but we had gobbled them up by the time we got to the end of the block.

Fam Eating Eclairs

 

After the Marais we strolled down to the Quartier Latin. So many fabulous things to see. Here’s the oldest restaurant in Paris called La Procope. It opened in 1686 and among it’s clientele are Benjamin Franklin, Robespierre and Voltaire. We didn’t eat there (too many eclairs) but it’s in a charming area.

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There’s also a great fountain in the very touristy area near St. Michel.

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A lot of buildings in Paris have lovely courtyards on the inside. You can rarely see them unless you have a key. Or unless you have Pepe.

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We saw so many gorgeous and amazing places. It was the perfect way to kick off our stay in France.

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.

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

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

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

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

Orsay sign Dar York

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

Orsay hall

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

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

Ballet class degas

 

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

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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?)

 

I have a real love-hate relationship with cleaning ladies. On one hand I love them because who wants to clean their own house? (Hint: not me.)  On the other hand, it’s expensive and what kind of lazy bones can’t clean her own house? What am I so busy doing that I can’t scrub it myself? Or make my minions do it? (Oh yes, I’m being a mom to six kids and a Relief Society President). Sometimes we’re too broke to have a cleaning lady. Sometimes we’re desperate enough to pony up the money. Lately it’s been the latter.  Also, I’m the only person in my neighborhood who cleans her own house. Seriously!  But then I watch Downton Abbey and they don’t even do their own hair, let alone scrub their own toilets. So then I feel totally cool with it.

Mister is not a big fan of my lackadaisical housekeeping skills. I’ll scrub toilets til the cows come home–there is nothing grosser to me than a stinky, dirty toilet. Even if I’m about to throw up I’ll be madly scrubbing the toilet first. But my floor mopping schedule is a little more–how shall I put it–elastic. So Mister finally insisted that I find someone to come in every week or two to do the dirty work.

In the past we’ve always managed to have really sexy cleaning ladies. They always come in sweats, though, not in French Maid outfits. Although one time our Russian maid, Tanya, came dressed in teeny tiny hot pants and high heels. It looked like she was going to go dancing afterwards, but those Russians–they can dress oddly at times.  On that particular day I walked into the bathroom while Tanya was bent over scrubbing the tub and wow! Did I ever get an eyeful.  I can now say with absolute assurity that that woman did not have an ounce of cellulite anywhere. It’s probably a good thing that Mister wasn’t working from home.

We had Flavia after that. She was a Brazilian girl with a rocking bod. She’d wear skin tight cropped tank tops and sweatpants rolled down to just under her pelvic bone. Flavia always wore her thick wavy hair cascading down her golden brown shoulders. It was almost waist-length and she never wore it in a ponytail. I can’t imagine that it was very convenient but it looked really pretty while she was wiping off my appliances.  She was a real butter-face, though. You know, everything is fantastic but her face. She was as sweet as sugar and loved babies which I had about a million of at the time.

This week I finally got around to finding a new cleaning lady. Carmen came highly recommended by one of my friends. And she also sounded pretty cheap. Definitely a bonus. Carmen speaks Spanish and that’s all. She didn’t even know the English word for broom or mop–definitely a handicap in her profession, I would think.

The way our cleaning ladies have always worked is that they charge by the house, not by the hour. So cleaning my house is always X dollars, whether it takes them two hours or five hours. Their first visit always lasts a little bit longer since they have to do everything. They won’t be dusting the blinds and cleaning the baseboards every time, but they start out the first visit by getting everything done.

So Carmen (who is not even slightly sexy) came over on Wednesday morning right after my kids left for school. After pantomiming a list of what supplies she needed I scurried off to fill her order. It took three tries of bringing back the wrong item before I figured out she needed a step ladder.  All those years of French have really come in handy. Not.

I let Carmen get to business while I spent most of the day planning my trip to Europe in a couple of months. Hmmm, I guess I’m more of a spoiled American than I thought.  After three hours Carmen was still in my room. Slightly humiliating, I guess. My room was apparently dirtier than I thought.

It got worse. I told Carmen only to vacuum the kids’ rooms. Their dressers are piled with all sorts of random kid crap and some of their beds weren’t made. But of course she made everyone’s beds, straightened everything up, dusted and vacuumed. I half expected her to leave their towels folded into origami animals like when you go on a cruise.  The lady didn’t even take a break and was still at it when Mister got home from work.

All in all Carmen was there for eight hours. Eight hours. She did a great job but compared to our regular cleaning lady (me and/or my slovenly children), it didn’t matter much. I’m not that picky. As long as I’m not the one doing the cleaning, I’m happy. I got over my shame of hiring a cleaning lady right quick.  Now I just need to figure out how to say “mildew” in Spanish.

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I’ll be buying this outfit for Carmen, of course.

 

This Halloween, more than all the others, has really driven home the fact that my kids are growing up. On one hand it’s really nice because teenagers are much more fun to talk to than babies. They also clean up the house (theoretically) and do chores.  But most of the time it’s just kind of sad.  We did our usual dinner at Chipotle ($3 per person if you’re in a costume!). We hardly ever eat out as a family because it’s just too expensive so this is a nice treat for us. Plus Chipotle is a nice healthy start to the sugar-fest.

After we were done eating the older four kids scattered to the wind to hang out with friends. I didn’t even make it home with all the kids before they started taking off. Which means that I didn’t get any pictures of the whole family together. Naturally the older kids went trick or treating because FREE CANDY! But they weren’t interested in going with their super lame mom. Even Arabella went with a friend for the first time. She said they just “didn’t click tonight” so it ended up being a little awkward.

Which left me with just the babies. So easy. No need to holler ahead the whole time and tell the older kids to slow down. Once you have six kids, just hanging with two is very odd, though. It seems super lonely and quiet. So we all went over to my friend Anna’s house and sorted our candy with her kids. It was much noisier and I felt a lot more at ease.

The older kids finally showed up around 10. They don’t bother sorting or trading anymore and the whole thing is just sad, sad, sad.

Here are the photos I did get. Arabella wore the same costume as last year because it was really difficult to make and expensive so she’d better get some use out of it. The only difference is that this year Martha Washington/Marie Antoinette has braces. Totally authentic.

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Jasper and Ada were cowboys. Ada has been telling me for months that she wanted to be a cowgirl with red boots. So I had plenty of time to prepare. Jasper was unsure what he wanted to be up until the last minute, when he saw Ada’s costume and decided to get in on the wild west fun. Fortunately I had extra fabric left over and it took literally twenty minutes to make another vest. And Target had cowboy boots on sale so we were all set.

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It was a quiet Halloween and we were a little cold since it was only 70°. That’s practically arctic by Texas standards. But it was much less hectic than usual so I have to give it a thumbs up.

Today is our school’s Homecoming. The football game is this evening and the dance is tomorrow. The game is, obviously, the big deal but there’s another big deal: the Homecoming Mum. That’s mum as in Chrysanthemum, not mum as in mother. It’s basically a Corsage of Insanity. They’re a tradition all over Texas but not anywhere else. And like most Texas traditions they’re completely over the top. Not only is there a giant fake mum, there are ribbons in the school colors, and all sorts of dangly things hanging from the ribbons: little footballs/musical notes/cheerleading things depending on the interests of the person. And of course cowbells. Smallish cowbells are hung from ribbons so it sounds like Santa is coming down the hallway. India says that the teachers get pretty fed up by all the noisy mums but it’s only one day a year. Some of the girls get pretty carried away and will have up to four giant mums all clumped together, resembling a flowery breastplate with feather boas hanging from them to complete the classy look.

Here are India and her boyfriend modelling theirs:
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Oh yeah, the guy wears one too. Only it’s smaller and goes around his arm. It’s called a garter and the girl makes one for her homecoming date/boyfriend and he makes the mum for the girl (or sometimes parents make them for kids or kids make them for themselves. It’s all socially acceptable.)  Only It’s usually the moms that get roped into these things. But Ethan and India decided to do theirs all on their own. So crafty! Even though these are corsages, they aren’t worn to the dance; only to school and to the game.

Homecoming mum green

A lot of people stick little teddy bears in the middle of the mum flower (for real), but my kids aren’t into that sort of cheese so they actually glued plastic animals into the middle after the photos were taken. It turned out pretty funny and different than all the other mums. Seriously, if you want your jaw to drop, just google “Homecoming mums” and take a look at the pictures. Usually it’s the smallest towns that go the most overboard. Some schools have strict rules about mums: one mum per grade (so a freshman would have one flower in her mum but a senior would have four), Juniors wear silver mums and Seniors wear gold. But I guess our school doesn’t have quite that much school spirit. Plus that seems like more of a Dallas-y thing. And you know those Dallas people!

Our exciting news about homecoming is that India was elected a Homecoming Princess. Tonight during halftime at the football game, Mister has to walk her out and present her. And then the Homecoming Queen is announced (she’ll be chosen from among the Princesses). It’s all pretty surreal since India–with her steady uniform of Dr. Who T-shirts and Converse tennies–isn’t really the sort of girl that I imagine as being in the Homecoming Court, but she is pretty cool. Apparently the kids at school recognize awesomeness after all.

The bad news is that orginially I had talked India into skipping the dance. It is such a pain trying to find a modest dress! But now that she’s in the homecoming court she has to go. So we’ve been trying to modest-ize a dress all week and it’s really not turning out how I was hoping. And she has to wear the stupid thing in front of an entire crowd tonight so I’ve got to whip it into shape.

York announced yesterday that he’s going to Homecoming now too. Fortunately he can just wear his black suit. But his date was most emphatic about not wanting a mum, so we’re off the hook. Which is lucky for us because mum supplies go fast. All the craft stores carry mum junk around here.

This subject comes up again and again every time I’m together with a bunch of moms; do you force your child to keep taking piano lessons even when he starts to hate it and complains endlessly?  Most parents were allowed to quit and always bemoan the fact that their parents didn’t make them keep with it. I come from the opposite side: my mother wouldn’t allow me to quit. “You’ll thank me one day!” she loved to say.

I never liked playing the piano. Never. It was not the instrument that spoke to me. I wanted to play the harp. “That’s much too expensive!” my mother informed me on more than one occasion; expensive unlike, say . . . a piano? Because pianos are dirt cheap, don’t you know.  Anyway, playing the piano–and eventually the organ–was my mother’s dream. The woman loves an audience and the thought of playing in front of the church congregation every week was her fondest wish. But she had nine siblings and her mom let her quit when she complained, blahblahblah. We all know where she was coming from. So my mother decided that she would force her children to play the piano until they graduated from high school no matter what. They would praise her name for it one day!

When I started piano lessons at age 8 it wasn’t too bad, but within a year I grew to hate it. I hated the lessons, I hated the piano in general and I especially hated my mother for forcing me to play. By the time I was ten I would get terrible stress headaches every lesson day and I would cry most of the way to my teacher’s house. My mother refused to budge. “Just think how wonderful it will be when you can play the organ in front of everyone,” she would sigh. Not being the kind of person who likes to perform at all, this was the most horrible scenario I could imagine. “You’ll thank me one day,” she would shout from the car as I dragged myself to the piano teacher’s sliding glass door. One day I snapped. I narrowed my eyes and said in a very even, cold tone, “once I turn eighteen I will never touch the piano again.”

I don’t think it ever occurred to my mother that her daughter would be more stubborn than she was. Even after a go at organ lessons, which my mother thought would be “exhilarating” (“wait, now I have to play with not only my hands but my feet too? Forget it!”), I continued to hate all of it.

Fate smiled on me when I was sixteen. I was in a car accident and my arm was badly broken. Not only did I have a cast but because my arm had broken backwards (The bruising was horrifying), the muscles and tendons were a complete mess and I needed physical therapy for months.

I finally got to quit piano lessons.

Once my arm recovered and I probably could have resumed playing, I never did. I was as good as my word; I never played the piano again. And as a side benefit I grew to hate my mother for disregarding my feelings by forcing me to do something I so clearly hated.  Now if I sit down at the piano I can kind of pick out a tune with one hand; I barely remember anything.  Am I sad about this? Not at all. I hated playing the piano. It was my mother’s dream, not mine. There is no regret at all.

So now I have children of my own. And the idea of music lessons eventually came up when they were little. I do believe that learning music is very important; I believe that learning to play an instrument can teach discipline and responsibility. But so can lots of other things. In the Mormon culture especially, learning an instrument is very important. So this is what I have done with my children: they have all had to take music lessons, usually on the piano.  The minimum for lessons is one year; that is non-negotiable. Every human being should learn how to read music; even if it’s just to sing an unfamiliar hymn in church. It’s just a life skill like learning to make your bed.

After one year we reassess. If the child wants to continue to play the piano, that’s great. If they want to go on to another instrument that’s fine too. Finn went on to play the trumpet, York quit completely (he is just not the kind of person who is drawn to playing an instrument. It is not where his talents lie and even at the age of eight I realized that about him and I was OK with that.) India continued playing the piano for a few years and then we had a couple of years off because we could not find a teacher that she gelled with. She continued to play on her own nearly every day and finally we found her a great piano teacher last year. She’s doing well and still enjoys it.  Arabella has finished her second year of lessons (we got a late start with her), rarely needs to be reminded to practice and has never mentioned quitting. Maybe she’ll stick with the piano, maybe she won’t. She’s shown some interest in the hammered dulcimer than I have sitting around and if she wants to take lesson in that instead I have no problem with that.

My musical story has a happy ending (besides the fact that I don’t hate my mother anymore). When I was about 32 I decided to finally take harp lessons. I had loved the harp all these years and realized that it wasn’t too late to learn something new (why have we decided that childhood is the only time you can learn anything new???). I found a wonderful teacher and rented a harp. Let me tell you something, it is a million times easier to learn an instrument as an adult! All that music theory my piano teachers tried to explain over and over and over? It finally made perfect sense. I loved the harp and was mature enough to practice every day. I progressed a jillion times faster than I had as a child. When we moved to Texas I turned my harp back in and with six kids under age 11, I just didn’t have the time to start it up again down here.

I have missed playing the harp. Mister knows that. So my sweet husband tried to buy me a harp for my birthday. But it’s rather hard buying an instrument when you know nothing about it. So he had to spoil his surprise and tell me his plan. I was more than thrilled to help him find the perfect harp. We picked it up yesterday and I am over the moon.

I am too crazy busy with end-of-school stuff and a huge church party tonight and a Blog Her conference tomorrow and Friday to spend more than a few minutes here and there playing. But come Sunday, I’ll dust off my old harp books and go to town.

To answer my original question: should you make your kids keep taking music lessons when they complain about hating it? Please don’t make a blanket statement, yes or no. Think about your child; think about her personality. Ask if there’s another instrument she would rather play. My cousin really wanted to play the saxophone but her dad said no because saxophones aren’t in an orchestra which means it’s not a “real instrument”. She had to settle for the trumpet which she didn’t like much at all. Would your child be better suited for some other pursuit? York has the brain of an engineer that likes to invent and solve problems; playing music felt very dull and stifling to him. We accepted that facet of his personality and moved on. Not everyone in the world is suited to music.

Also ask yourself why you want your child to play so badly. What does it say about your hopes and desires? If you always dreamed of playing on the stage, don’t try to live out your fantasies through your kids; it’s going to backfire at some point. Why don’t you take lessons? You may be too old to become the next Van Cliburn, but you can still get pretty good and you’ll feel much so much prouder of yourself than you would of your child. It really isn’t too late to start your own musical training!

Believe it or not, your job as a parent isn’t to gild your child with hobbies and talents and trophies. Your job is to help your child find her interests (not to decide what they are for her), learn discipline and love herself. If music is a part of that, great. If not, that’s OK too. Be prepared to let it go. If your child is a prodigy, you’ll know early on. Be sensitive to what your child really needs. Not everyone wants to play in the high school marching band or accompany the church choir. Every child does need to be listened to and validated.

HEB (the best grocery store in Texas, hence the World) sent me some new Primo Picks to try out. Primo Picks are interesting/cool/extra awesome products that they feature at the store. Since I am always game to try new things, I was pretty jazzed.

I waited until the kids got home from school before I tried anything. I wanted to have more than one opinion than just my own. The clear favorites for them were these yummy things:

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The Lacey’s cookies are halfway between candy and a cookie. They’re two of toffee-esque cookies with a slather of dark chocolate in-between. I’ve seen them around before but never tried them. Ohhhh man, I wish I had never tried them. They’re now what I fantasize about when I have my cheat day. Since you can’t really send your kids to school with such sugar bombs (save those for Mommy, please), This Snacklemouth Salty Chocolate Clusters is a little more appropriate for every day. The kids snarfed down this stuff which is kind of like moist, chocolatey granola. It’s gluten-free and not very high in sugar. A perfect addition to the lunch boxes. Or at least it would have been if we hadn’t promptly eaten it all. Plus, don’t you dig the funky box? The guys has chocolate dripping from his mustache and eyeballs! Sweeeet!

The chips were also a big hit. As much as I love sweets, I love a nice salty potato chip as well (with a coke, naturally). I like the big crunch of Kettle Chips and these don’t disappoint. They have a really pronounced potato flavor which I appreciate when I eat chips; I don’t want to taste a bunch of chemicals, thankyouverymuch. Plus the bag is cute. I like the fonts. Yes, fonts matter!

I really appreciated the coconut oil and coconut water. Despite appearances to the contrary, I’m actually trying to make healthier choices for my family. Lately when I’ve cooked stuff in the frying pan I’ve been using olive oil. I’ve heard amazing things about coconut oil, so I was very happy to give HEB’s virgin Coconut Oil a try. I cooked up some Basa fish (have you heard of it? It’s some new kind of fish and it’s superyum) in the coconut oil and slathered it with guacamole (you don’t eat guacamole on your fish? What’s the matter with you?) The coconut oil gave it a subtle tropical-ish flavor. I like it. And it’s fantastically healthy (for a fat, I mean. It’s not healthier than a handful of fresh carrots.)

 

My whole family was very excited to try the three flavors of BBQ sauce. Let me give you a little background, though. We used to always buy grocery store BBQ sauce and it’s always tasted fine. That’s because we didn’t live in Texas. Now we live in Texas where BBQ is taken terribly seriously. We usually buy a bottle of sauce at our favorite restaurants (I prefer the sauce at Southside in Elgin, TX and Mister Prefers the sauce at Rudy’s.) One time we ran out of restaurant sauce and I bought the same old BBQ sauce at the store like we used to buy. Only this time it was inedible. It tasted all wrong. It was weirdly sweet and had nasty chemical overtones. (I complain about food tasting like chemicals a lot. That’s because I’m spoiled and like homemade-tasting food. Unless it’s Funyons.) We scraped the sauce off and ate our dry meat without. So I was intrigued by the trio of sauces that HEB provided. If nothing else, it gave us an excuse to buy a heaping lot of brisket. The verdict? All three sauces were mighty good. No chemical flavors whatsoever.  Finn, Arabella and I preferred the Better Than Good Traditional Texas sauce. Mister and India like Mama’s Original sauce the best. York Preferred the Better Than Good Texas Moppin’ Sauce, and Ada doesn’t like meat at all so she just had a salad.  The Texas Moppin’ Sauce has a definite mustard overtone. I think mustard is simply the most disgusting condiment in the world so I didn’t care for it at all.  I was more than happy to find some grocery store sauces that I can be happy about using. Now I don’t have to buy spendy bottles at restaurants any more.

I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the Primo Picks at HEB. Pick up a few next time you’re at HEB. And if you don’t live in Texas, poor you.

 

 

I was compensated by HEB but, trust me, the opinions are all mine. You can’t buy my taste buds.

I started out kind of shy. I always felt incredibly nervous in a situation with people I didn’t know. The thought of introducing myself was enough to make me run away in petrified fright. I am super outgoing once I meet someone but the idea of breaking the ice has always scared me silly.

At some point I realized that this was stupid. I guess I talked to enough people to realize that we all feel intimidated by meeting others for the first time. I also was “the new person” enough times to know that there are very few things as wonderful as being in a new place or sitting by a stranger and having someone reach out a hand of friendship*. At some point I decided I just need to put the scaredness behind me and say hello to strangers.

Everyone feels shy sometimes. Nearly all of us feel slightly bashful about initiating a conversation or meeting somebody new. I was surprised to find out that even my mother–the most outgoing person ever born on Planet Earth–feels shy sometimes.  Here’s what I have to say about shyness: get over it. All shyness will ever do is hold you back in life.

I’m sure some of you will swear that this isn’t the case, but I really feel like being shy is just another facet of being scared. Whether it’s being scared of rejection, or being scared of making a fool of yourself or being scared of simply trying something new, it all boils down to getting over yourself.  You aren’t the prettiest or the funniest or the smartest. So what? You’re still an interesting person and your views on things are just as good as the views as the person sitting next to you. So stop being a quiet little mouse.

I know, I know. It’s easier to just tell yourself that people won’t like you or you don’t know what to say. Here’s the secret: people don’t really rememeber what you say, especially if you’re in a crowd or busy place. Think about the last time you met someone. Do you remember the exact conversation you had with them? No? I can’t remember either. I pretty much just remember that the last person I met was interesting to talk to and that she had just moved here from out of state. That’s it. So don’t overanalyze what you say when you meet someone, just say something. Don’t try to hard to be funny or interesting. Trying too hard is a recipe for disaster. Being a good listener is the ticket.

So what do you say? How do you start? It’s just like jumping into a swimming pool. It’s best just to do it; the more you think about it, the more freaked out you’ll get.  Here’s a scenario that works pretty much anywhere that you might be sitting next to a stranger. This could be at a concert, at church, at a meeting, at a college lecture. This is what you do: turn to the person and say, “Hi, I’m [insert your name]”  Hold your hand out to shake if it’s appropriate (not so much in High School English). Then pay them a compliment of some sort (this is for women, I don’t know that this works the same way for men. Probably men might be a little weirded out if you tell them they have nice hair). Here are some examples:

I love your sweater.

That purse is so adorable.

Your eyes are the prettiest shade of gold.

That necklace is really cool.

Don’t go overboard and don’t start talking about yourself and how you hate your purse but your sister bought it for you so you have to use it anyway. Or how you have blue eyes just like your grandmother. It’s our natural nervous reaction to talk about ourselves. Fight it. Please, please fight it.

Next, ask them something about themselves and how it relates to the place where you are.

Have you been to a concert here before?

How do you think this class is going so far?

Do you come to blog conferences a lot?

WARNING: if you are meeting someone new at a place you’ve been going to forever, it can be a little tricky asking them if they’re new. It can seem really terrible if they’ve been going to the same church/yoga class/book club for three months and you just barely noticed them . It can really sting when someone asks you if you’re new and you aren’t. So try not to ask, “are you new here?” They may be, but if they aren’t it’s going to seem really awkward. If you honestly haven’t noticed, try a phrase like, “I don’t think we’ve officially met” This is especially good when you’ve seen the person around but you’ve both been too shy to make introductions.

After the person has answered this question, I find that admitting how nervous you were about the situation creates instant camaraderie and let’s them know that you are honest and they can relax around you. When people feel like they can be themselves around you then you will both feel a lot less shy.

“I was so nervous walking in here. Everyone seems like they know what they’re doing”

“I’ve never been to this club and I was so nervous about where to park”

“I always feel so awkward sitting next to a total stranger”

“I was so nervous that I might not be smart enough to come to this book club.”

The awesome thing is that when you admit something that you were nervous or scared about, the other person will agree or show some sort of empathy. Always. This is just the American way to communicate. If you don’t live in America, you can try this but I have no idea if it works. If you are shy in the U.S., though, give this a try. Admitting you were scared is a fantastic ice-breaker.

After this you should be able to come up with some things to say. Remember, though, to ask questions of the other person. Don’t just talk about yourself. It’s tacky and boring to the other person. If you suddenly find a lull in conversation, ask them about themselves: where they grew up, if they have kids/siblings, what they studied in college. I’m sure you can come up with something.

I still get butterflies when I have to introduce myself to a complete stranger. Due to my job at church, though, I pretty much have to. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a funk or if they don’t look like someone who might not be my type. I’ve come to realize that we all want to feel like we belong. It’s your job as a decent human to put that shyness away and try to be friendly. Seriously, being shy is lame. I’m speaking as a sometimes-shy person. Really, the title of this post shouldn’t be “how to not feel shy”. Because I don’t really know how to to just not feel shy. I still feel shy all the time. Really I want you to learn how to get over it and be friendly even when it’s scary and you’re not in the mood. So what if you don’t want to? You’re a grown-up, do it anyway!

If it helps you can repeat this saying that I made up for my chronically bashful children:

Be the first one to say “hi”,

Even if you’re feeling shy.

 

*To this day I will always remember and be grateful to Suzie Cavolloro who stood next to me in the lunch line at my new school in 11th grade. She introduced herself, asked if I wanted to sit next to her in the lunchroom (YES!!! There is no event as horribly intimidating as the first time you walk into the lunchroom at a new school), and even invited me to a party she was planning that weekend. Your kindness has stayed with me all these years, Suzie!