Other People

This year we got our Big Summer Trip out of the way early on. We had a family reunion with most of Mister’s family out in San Diego. Mister’s Mother turned 80 this year and we all got together to celebrate. We rented a bunch of condos right on Mission Beach and had such a lovely time. The weather was in the 70′s the whole time and we hardly knew what to do without sweat running down our backs constantly. The ocean was mighty cold and it took the kids a while to get into the water.

San Diego Hildie (1 of 1)

I have been begging Mister to please let us have a trip to the beach for years but he finds the beach boring and much prefers traveling to cities where there are piles of things to do and see. But how could anyone hate this? Although the mornings in San Diego were a bit chilly, I liked nothing more than to sit on the balcony outside our bedroom and read a good book before everyone else woke up. Mister gave me a Kindle for our anniversary which was on the first day of our trip. I’ve resisted Kindles for many years but as I’ve entirely run out of bookshelf space, I’m having to rethink my view on e-readers.

San Diego Mission Beach Panorama

 

San Diego Bella Ada Beach

 

The place where we stayed was especially nice because it had a large outdoor terrace right on the boardwalk that runs along Mission Beach. The boardwalk was constantly full of people walking, biking, skateboarding and generally being completely fascinating.  We also had a lovely fire pit on the terrace that we sat around every night. It’s so fun to watch the cousins hang out now that they’re all getting older and the age differences don’t matter as much as they did when the kids were young.

San Diego Cousins Fire

Here is perhaps the most magical wonderful thing about this vacation: there were no bugs. None. Zero. I had completely forgotten that it’s possible to actually be outside in the evening without mosquito repellant. I guess it’s the strong winds coming off the ocean or whatever. But I was blessedly itch-free for a whole week.

Naturally we couldn’t go to Southern California and not hit Disneyland. We haven’t been there in forever. And we haven’t ever gone with cousins. We had a few issues with rides being mysteriously “shut down” off and on all day. It turns out Kim and Kanye were there for North’s birthday. And because they are the most special people in the galaxy, they didn’t have to wait like us rabble. No sireee, they got the whole ride shut down so that they and their cheesy entourage could go without waiting.

San Diego Disney Teacup

 

I made T-shirts for some of the younger cousins. They all requested their favorite Disney character. (Stitch? Really?) I’m truly proud that there wasn’t a single Princess.

San Diego Disney Cousins

We had Grandma’s birthday dinner at Ariel’s Grotto one night and were disappointed that they only do characters at breakfast and lunch. If you go for dinner you won’t get to do a conga line with Minnie Mouse and Pluto but you will get tickets for VIP seating at the cool evening show, World of Color. We enjoyed the show immensely (although I think the girls were secretly disappointed not to see Belle). Normally I hate crowds and all that stuff, but if you have a nice spot already it makes everything so much better.

Hanging out with Grandpa is the best of all, though.

San Diego Grandpa

 

 

Because we were in San Diego with so many relatives, we decided it would be nice for India and York to be able to go through the temple for the first time with their grandparents and aunts and uncles.  What a great experience! And that San Diego temple is sure impressive. (But, honestly, our little San Antonio temple is much, much prettier on the inside.)

San Diego Temple Kids

 

San Diego Temple Grandp

 

We had a remarkably great time on our trip. Most of the cousins are teenagers and older and we had all the single people stay in one condo together. It was the best idea we’ve ever had. Not only did the parents like it but so did the kids. Arabella and her cousin Daisy never get tired of having lots of time to hang out. And the trip was blessedly free of drama. When was the last time you could say that about your family reunion?

San Diego Arabella Deisy

Do you want to know the most incredible thing of all? We had all suitcases unpacked within one day of getting home. It’s a miracle!

 

 

 

 

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.

We live in a cul-de-sac which in real-estate terms is the equivalent of living in a wonderful dreamland. I don’t know why. When you live in a cul-de-sac there is never enough parking. We, and our guests, are all left to wonder do I park against the curb like a civilized American is supposed to? Or do I park face-in, like the spokes of a wagon wheel? Usually nobody can decide so if you pull into a cul-de-sac on a busy night, you’ll see cars crammed every which way. Which is frustrating and dumb. Especially for the kids who were told that living in a cul-de-sac would be dreamy because they could play without anyone running over them.  Apart from the thousands of people who took a wrong turn in the neighborhood and need a place to turn around and, hey look, there’s a cul-de-sac!

We also have kind of a steep driveway so we decided we out to put a big cement slab in our backyard so the kids could play basketball and ride bikes without being run over by the teenage boy next door who drives 80 mph while checking his text messages.  Our backyard is quite big but very awkwardly-shaped (thank you again, cul de sac!), so pouring a big pile of cement on one side of our house will use up space that has otherwise been reserved for broken gardening equipment, dandelions and misplaced flip-flops.

A neighbor of ours just built a cement pad in his backyard and gave us the name of his cement guy. The cement guy came over and gave us a quote and we thought it sounded ok so we hired him. Within a few days we had a bunch of guys building supports and getting ready to pour our cement. Only we had to fix all the broken sprinklers first. And you know that they were all broken, right? Every single one.  Mister fixed most of them, but I was left doing the last one by myself and let me just tell you, the glue for PVC pipes dries in about a nanosecond. And if you haven’t gotten the pipe pieces just right, you’ll have to cut the whole thing out and try again. And then you might still not get it right. Which means cutting out another larger section of pipe and trying once more. Let’s just say that after a couple of hours I had crossed “sprinkler repair person” off of careers I might pursue once my kids leave home.

The lucky day for the cement pouring finally came. I had expected something like Rolly from Bob the Builder but we had a full-sized cement mixer pull up in front of the house and a bunch of guys showed up, tromping around in big rubber boots. There was a little machine that showed up as well, kind of like a cross between a small dump truck and a zamboni. This little machine was mean to haul the cement from the truck into the backyard. Wheelbarrows are so yesterday, apparently.

The first couple of loads went down OK but then the zamboni dump truck got stuck in the grass on the side of the house. Even though we live in a place that has been having a drought for a few dozen years in a row, the ground on that side of the house stays perpetually damp. And under all that grass was a big sloshy pile of mud. The dump truck zamboni spun its wheels and ripped up a bunch of grass. Then it slid around and knocked down the gate into the backyard.  And then it got stuck. It spun it’s wheels and sprayed mud everywhere and refused to budge. Mister stood on the porch and shouted helpful suggestions to the workers who spoke approximately three words of English.

The cement guys eventually got the zamboni dump truck out of the mud only to have  it smash into the rest of the fence and knock it over. And then it got stuck again. The whole thing looked some sort of fake-hilarious scene from a romantic comedy. Only with a languid guy leaning on a cement truck, yelling in Spanish.

At this point Mister had to take a chill pill (literally) and I started to worry about all the cement. What would they do with it? What would happen if they couldn’t get it into the backyard? We offered wooden boards to help the little zamboni get some traction (helpful for about five seconds and then those too were covered with slippery mud).

Mister finally suggested we throw some kitty litter on the mud to see if that helped. It did! A tiny bit. So I drove wildly to the grocery store to load up all the kitty litter I could find (just the cheap stuff of course. No need for $20 rose-scented products.)  We tossed kitty litter all over the ground and the zamboni dump truck was able finally dump it’s load of cement and retreat, defeated, to the front yard.

By this point my boots were caked with filth and the side of our yard was utterly destroyed. The entire fence was lying on the ground and a big fat sow would have been in heaven at the sight of all that mud.

The man with the cement truck left–to do what with all that cement I can’t even imagine. It’s not like he could just pull up at the corner and offer to pour cement in some stranger’s driveway.

The cement guy apologized profusely and put the fence back together fairly well. The ground dry out some more and he has promised to come back and finish the job. But so far he has remained elusive. We gave him his last payment when the cement truck showed up because that’s usually the straight-forward conclusion of the job.

Now we have a bit of a cement slab and several nagging children who want to play hopscotch in the privacy of their own backyard.  What will happen? Will we get ripped off or will the nice cement guy come back when we’ve had a few more days of hot sunny weather? I will keep you posted. In the mean time I leave you with this picture; I especially like the way the shed looks like it’s about to fall off a little cliff.

Concrete mess

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?”.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas morming

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

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

Christmas wreckage

 

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

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

front door three wreaths

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

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

window wreaths

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

window wreath falling

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

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

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

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

White paper Christmas Elf movie

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

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

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

harp-hands-toned

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!)

FamAlley Paris

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

Fam PlaceVoges

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.

FamLaProcope

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

FamFountain

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?

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?)