Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year, New Plans

 


I used to love New Year's. Not that much, not like Halloween where you can dress up. But it used to mean a fresh calendar, fresh starts.

In 7 days, it will be the anniversary of my last pregnancy loss. I feel a little funny about the fact that I didn't try to get pregnant again this year. We just didn't have it in us anymore.

In some ways, it'll be nice to get to that milestone and just have a full year of no pregnancies and therefore no losses -- which have plagued us three times in three years.

I'll be glad to just be not looking forward to another round I guess.

Which brings us to "what's next?"

I told my husband the other night I was a bit sad over the New Year holiday because it means another year has passed, and we still don't have a family other than ourselves. No progress for me is not something I take sitting down. "Driven" is often a word I imagine people using to describe me. When I want something, I generally go get it--whether it's through hard work or just plain sheer determination. Which is why this whole nightmare has been so hard on me I guess -- more than my husband. I am a bit spoiled in thinking that I CAN have what I want if I just try hard enough.

But alas, having a biological child probably isn't in the picture for us. So we have to decide what else to do. And we'll get there. Hopefully sometime this next year we'll start taking steps.

I guess in a way, that does make this next calendar a fresh start...in a whole new direction.

Blessings to everyone, may you get what YOU want in the New Year, whether it's peace, quiet, love or at the very least, the absence of hard times. Posted by Picasa

Monday, December 26, 2005

Merry Christmas From The Hopper


Find The Kitty Posted by Picasa

We put up the fake tree this year, mostly because this was our other cat's first Christmas, and all I could visualize is him climbing the tree and knocking it down with all my great-grandmother's ornaments on them.

So, up went the ornaments that either a) rolled but were expendable or b) didn't roll and weren't breakable.

Jack liked to bat down the bulbs and roll them around the living room, mostly when we were asleep or at work. Then we'd come to find an ornament under the desk, behind the entertainment center or just laying around.

I'd put them back on the tree, a little higher this time, and slowly our tree started to look like Brian and I were too lazy to put ornaments on the bottom 2 feet of the tree.

But the Hopper just likes to hang out underneath the tree. He likes to hide where he can watch things and be hidden from view.

He's going to be bummed when the tree comes down.

What Should I Do Today?


The Mess On My Dining Room Table Posted by Picasa

The mess on my dining room table is pretty much representative of how my day went yesterday. Here's a sampling of my mess and why it shows I had a great holiday:

1) Music tapes I brought in from the car -- realizing that never again will I have to play my cassette deck in the Subaru, now that I have an iPod with all the music I own and an iGo adaptor to play it through the radio, Bob Marley, The Cars, and all my favorite compilation tapes are no longer needing to ride shotgun with me.

2) My Address Book -- I found out my iPod synchs with my Outlook address book, so I put all my favorite people's addresses and phone books into Outlook and voila' -- it' in my iPod too. Now I can be at work without this big bulky address book, and if I want to call a friend or send a card to a friend during my lunch break, I can do it easily without waiting til I get home and look up their information.

3) Mostly eaten M&Ms -- DH and I went to see Narnia yesterday -- I love the tradition of getting off the couch, going to the movies on Christmas and eating popcorn and M&Ms. A little known fact is that if you pour the M&Ms directly INTO the popcorn, the salt+sweet treat is exactly that -- a real treat.

4) 2005 and 2006 Calendars -- I pulled out the 2006 Yellowstone calendar I bought last summer while on a long roadtrip, and down came the old 2005 calendar. Thinking that I would start writing down birthdays, anniversaries, and the like, I quickly discovered that I didn't even write my own birthday down on the 2005 calendar last year. Not that I need reminding, but it helps everyone , ahem, in the house recall each other's birthdays precisely. This year I resolve to write down people's birthdays, including my friends who usually don't get a card because I fail to remember their birthdates.

5) Jack In The Box antenna decoration. I don't remember if I have ever seen a Jack In The Box restaurant here in Denver, but they were quite popular in Seattle. I want to put him back on my car, but I'm afraid he'll get stolen. Oh well...at least he won't be rolling around at the bottom of my storage console in my car anymore. That would be bad feng shui.

6) Cookies, more cookies. I feel lucky to have "only" gained a few pounds this past week. Cookies at work, cookies came out of my oven, cookies came in the mail from my sister-in-law.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas. Now I need to go clean my house for the New Year's party we're having.

It's Christmas -- Dogs Are Allowed On The Couch


Lucy & Julie Posted by Picasa

My dog Lucy is very jealous of Jack, our kitten who comes and sleeps with us every night. You can see the look on her face every time one of the cats jumps on our laps.

Last night Lucy came up to me, and I completely surprised her -- I invited her up to lay on the couch with me. She looked surprised, and when Brian came over to pet her, she wasn't sure if she was going to get kicked off the couch or not. But before long, we were both sleeping. I actually heard her snore.

I know she gets on the couch at night when we're asleep. More than once I've heard her get down when I've woken up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. She has that telltale guilty look that she gets, but at least she knows to move.

But yesterday was Christmas. Dogs are allowed on the couch on Christmas, even when I'm looking.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Same video, new way of hearing and seeing it

It's amazing to me...sometimes I think I'm getting old and other times I realize that I'm doing a halfway decent job of keeping up with new technology.

Brian bought me a new iPod for Christmas and I've had so much fun downloading all the music from our library onto it. I decided I didn't need all his freaky World Music stuff -- I kept one album of Turkish phenom Yildez Tilbe, and one of a French musician, but otherwise kept it pretty much "what I like."

I downloaded a video too -- I wanted to see what a TV show would look like on my iPod. I picked out the pilot episode of Desperate Housewives, if for no other reason that to keep from looking like a complete idiot when my friends talk about the show.

Seventeen hours later (yes, 17) after I started downloading the video on my dial-up, it was finally done. It ripped onto my iPod from my computer in about 6 seconds, and before I knew it I was staring at the screen and watching a little teeny TV show on my new toy.

During this long wait, in addition to watching The Denver Broncos beat our nemesis Oakland Raiders yesterday, having dinner and getting 9 full hours of sleep, I also loaded a DVD onto my computer to see if I could get it onto iTunes to show on my iPod (I can't). I watched the first half hour of Lost In Translation on my computer and realized that I was staring at the screen with rapt attention.

Perhaps it was just seeing it on a different screen -- more high definition that my TV -- but it struck me today how some media work well on certain screens, some don't.

One of my pet peeves with new software is that they don't just send you the book anymore -- I had to download it and read it on-screen for my new iPod. Before long, I realized there was no way I would read 69 pages of a manual online, and printed it, three-hole punched it, and put it in a binder.

I guess Old School sometimes still works in certain circumstances.

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 19, 2005

I took the plunge

I did it. I managed to fill out 25 Christmas cards, print an honest-to-God newsletter and some photos, and address them all.

And it's only 11 p.m.

I wasn't going to do this...but somehow I got sucked into the vortex of Christmas once again.

And Charlie Brown said he didn't like the commercialism of Christmas. Meanwhile, for some reason, I feel better knowing I'm getting a big fat present next Sunday.

It's like a race -- not just one where the field is even -- one where I'm happy to get spit out at the end and have survived intact. With the iPod I picked out in November.

Yeah. I probably shouldn't waste bandwidth on this post, but here I am in all my glory.

Merry Christmas everyone.

There are days like these...

When the President of the United States opens his mouth and all I can think in my head is "Oh. There he goes again. I wonder if he says stuff and really believes it, or if he's just trying to talk himself into believing this big lie too."

I wish this war was over. I wish it had never started.

I realize we can't just walk away, or it would be worse than staying.

But I hate the reasons it started.

As I saw on a sign at a protest in New York when I was there last summer...

"George Bush hijacked our grief and flew it into Iraq."

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sometimes The Lights Just Come On...


Let A Candle Light My Way Posted by Picasa

I have a friend IRL who is having some serious financial problems, and I felt so bad for her. She didn't ask for anything, but I knew she was in some serious stuff, and with Christmas coming she didn't have anything to buy gifts and the basics for Christmas. A few of us friends chipped in a few bucks to help ease the load, and it felt good to do.

Just after I got back from that -- I was sitting at my computer when something in the house blew. My computer went black, the TV shut down and most of the lights went out.

Since we had heat, we didn't worry about it too much -- Brian went out to the circuit breaker box and started flipping switches -- but nothing happened. Uh oh.

Then, we were making do with what was left of our power, and I was thinking "Wow, what good timing. The last load in the dryer was done, the dishwasher was just finishing up, and well, at least the refrigerator's still running and the heat's on."

I had even started baking a double batch of chocolate chip cookies and the oven shut down just as a batch was ready to come out of the oven. My husband hustled to plug the fish tank in to one of the remaining outlets, and we thought we were at least just stuck with calling an electrician tomorrow.

But then, something else blew, and we sat in the dark. This was bad. It was 9* outside, and in serious danger of freezing our asses off overnight. I thought of the minimum $500 bill to get a new breaker box outside (we figured that's where the problem was since only half the power was out), and great. Just before Christmas.

We quickly talked over what to do. Brian said I had to prepare myself for a big die-off in the fish tank (I've never been around for one of those), and we decided we'd load the dog and cats and take them over to a friend's house and just stay there overnight if we had to.

About 20 minutes later, my husband was on the phone talking to our friend about that, and I was running around finding candles and lighting them. I walked out of the house and "BING!" It's back!

The weird thing is, I didn't panic about it. I thought about my friend who was struggling just to feed herself and her kids, and I thought that my problem was really temporary and minor -- expensive, sure -- but fixable.

Sometimes it takes a big power outage to make you count your blessings and realize that life is pretty good if you have gas and electricity. We are a simple people, really.

I have to go bake the rest of those cookies now.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Jack's Fun Nip


Jack Has Already Opened HIS Present! Posted by Picasa

All my friends are sending and posting pictures of their kids for Christmas.

Cute, cute, cute, all of it.

But I don't have kids, so I tried to get my two cats SOMEWHERE near the Christmas tree. The only thing that worked was to put catnip in a stocking and let them go for it.

This was the picture I took after the party was over.

Now Jack has the munchies and is over eating out of the Hopper's bowl, and the Hopper is too flyin' to care.

American Idiot

There are a few things as I approach middle age that give me some sort of comfort.

One is seeing where I've been, and one is knowing there is still unchartered territory. Tonight I got a chance to see a little bit of both.

I went out with a friend to a martini bar in Denver. The crowd was young, but not tooo young -- a mid-twenties crowd for the most part. The DJ and corresponding music video played a lots of '80s hits -- from Madonna to Van Halen. I had a moment when I enjoyed the fact that I finally had long hair to toss around for the '80s hair bands of my time.

I felt a little old as I watched some of the young girls dancing -- realizing that they were probably hearing Def Leppard as a "classic" and not being cognizant of the band the first time they came out.

But then I got in the car to drive home, and my latest favorite band came on the radio -- Green Day. I didn't feel so old as suddenly I realized that I simply enjoy their music so much and realize why everyone from my 14-year-old niece to me loves them. She has a crush on Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day -- not realizing that he's closer to my age than he is to hers -- with 15 albums under their belt, Green Day's American Idiot album is just one of many that illustrates the depth of a great band that's been around for a long time.

As a result, they have anthems of youth that reach into middle age:

"Wake Me Up When September Ends"

"Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends...

Here comes the pain again
Falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again
Becoming who we are.

As my memory rests
but never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends..."

Thanks Billy Joe.

J

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Calvin & Hobbes Classic


Calvin & Hobs Classic Posted by Picasa

I just loved this series of C&H cartoons. Click on it and see the bigger version...it's hilarious.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Treasure of Mine


Sew Sew Posted by Picasa

I don't own a lot of things that could not be replaced, but my old 1960 Singer is one of those things.

Grandma put me on phone books so I could reach the table -- when I was about 7 years old, at this very machine.

Aside from replacing one belt and some of the small rubber rings that help me load the bobbin, nothing has ever broken on this machine.

I've taken it apart a million times, cleaned it, oiled it, and it just keeps going.

I think about buying a new one, but I wonder -- would I ever really use it?

This machine was given to my mother as a wedding gift when she got married. She gave me a hard time about taking it with me -- but in all reality, she didn't know how to sew much anyway, so I bought her a replacement, and then gave her Grandma's old Singer when Gram died this year. Finally, I don't hear any more grief about taking Mom's machine.

Heck it hasn't been hers for more than 30 years. I stole it. But I use it, and I use it well. It's hard to think of it as anything but irreplaceable. I've even thought if there was a fire, what would I take with me? That machine would probably go out the window with me before much else did.

What a treasure.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I See Old People

Lately I've been doing a fair amount of people watching. The bus ride to work in the morning will do that to a person. But I also get a lunch hour out on on the main street of town, and that's where I see most of what I've been noticing.

With a double tall latte and a view from my perch outside Starbucks, I see old people.

I've always been someone who thinks ahead in age. I don't know why, but when I was 9 I was excited to turn 10 because it was a double-digit number. Of course at 13 we all wanted to be 16, and when we were 19 we could hardly wait to be 21.

Now, I look at old people and think "wow, if I'm lucky I'm going to be that age."

I'm approaching 39, which means 40 ain't far behind...I guess it's just one of those midlife thoughts that go through one's head: "How old will I live to be?"

I wonder if people in their 50s feel the same panic and exhiliration that I do over getting older. If everything goes well, my life is ONLY half over.

I find it interesting to watch the little old ladies and men get on and off the bus. I wonder how they feel -- do they feel as old as they look? Life suddenly has started to appear very short to me. Did they realize their hopes and dreams in their relatively short time on this planet?

I think I'm only comforted by the fact that artists like Georgia O'Keefe didn't start painting until she was in her late 40s. And what a beautiful painter she turned out to be.

Yeah, feeling midlife come on is kind of like another teenager-hood. I realize how life is so short that one wants to make the most of whatever time is available. I wonder sometimes how mine will be used.

Hmmmmm.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Standing in Someone Else's Shoes


Rail Fence Quilt Posted by Picasa

In a million years, I never would have put these fabrics, this rail fence quilt pattern and these colors together.

But I did it anyway.

I took a friend, who's 7 months pregnant, to the fabric store last weekend. I make my closer friends quilts for their babies, and lately there've been a lot.

She had some ideas for the quilt -- that she wanted to do a "jungle theme", and wanted greens, browns, reds and blues in it. When we got to the fabric store, she picked out the fabrics and we headed out to lunch.

I asked her a couple of times if she REALLY wanted this pattern -- it's so simple I put it together in a matter of a few days. She fortunately is one of those people who know so little about quilting that anything looks complicated. :)

So, I went ahead and did it. As I was putting it together, I wasn't thrilled with it, but then it started to come together, and I started to like it.

Now that the top is done, I think it's great.

It always amazes me how my taste in fabric and patterns is so different from others. It always amazes me how if I don't fight someone else's taste and just do what they ask for, how I can see the beauty of their preferences after it's done and I can see the whole picture.

What a metaphor for life, huh?

Too often, I think what I do, and the way I do it is the right way -- or at least the best way. But oftentimes I shortchange myself by thinking so narrowly.

Live and learn, Gram always said.

Amen.

Forget the Catnip, Silly Cat Pictures


Cat In A Box Posted by Picasa

This morning I went into the spare room to find another box. The small Amazon.com box I had wasn't big enough to fit the small quilt I was mailing, so I decided to get another one. As I walked into the bedroom, there was The Kitten Hopper, my 20-lb. bohemoth cat sitting in the tiny box. I had to snap a picture of it, then realized that on this one disk of pictures, I have several of The Hopper in a box. He just loves those confined spaces.

I think he'd take an hour in a box over catnip.

What a freak.

Quote of the Day

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."

- Charles M. Schulz. American cartoonist, 1922-2000

All I can say is "Amen, Brutha."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving


Some of My Favorite People Posted by Picasa

My in-laws recently sent their collection of photos to us from our trip to Paris. This one is the last one they took that night we all went out to dinner together, and it has some of my most favorite people in it -- Mom, Aunt Kathy, my father-in-law Armin (one of the most fabulous people ever) and my husband Brian (also one of the most fabulous people I know).

When I think of all the things I'm thankful for, I find myself thinking of my family first, and the other people in my life.

I don't need "things" much. I drive a 10-year-old Subaru, have an old house in constant need of attention, and do without the usual suspects of technology like DSL and cell phones, in part because I love to have moments like this picture captured -- of trips to Paris and wherever else a plane might take me. If travel is a "thing" then I guess I need that, but otherwise I think my life is pretty simple.

I am so thankful today for my family. I have three brothers and a sister -- no two of us are alike, and yet we love each other to death, are great friends, and are fiercely protective of each other. I have a Mom who I can tell almost anything to -- who still says "I love you Pumpkinhead" when she says good-bye on the phone.

I am so thankful that I am married to the love of my life, Brian. When I think of all we've been through in the past 8 years, it amazes me that we can still be silly together, have fun together, and be each other's best friend.

I have a cat named Jack who comes and sleeps right between us all night -- and other pets in the house who all complete our little household.

I live in a great city, and have a job I like right in the heart of it. I love living in a vital, growing city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

I have a gift or two -- one of being able to be creative and make quilts. I love to give them away.

Yes, I have much to be thankful for, including my freedoms, my faith, and my many friends here and elsewhere.

Despite my previous post of not wanting to celebrate, I couldn't help but shut up, take stock, and realize that despite not getting EVERYTHING I want, I have much to be thankful for. So I went to the grocery store, bought a small turkey, and decided we're having a traditional meal even if it's just the two of us. I can smell the pumpkin pie baking as I type this, and I think Brian is happier knowing he's going to be eating cranberries and turkey today.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Monday, November 21, 2005

One of my favorite cartoons


Dilbert Is A Genius Posted by Picasa

Dilbert is one of my favorite cartoons. Maybe it's because I'm enough of an inner geek at heart that I get the engineering jokes. Maybe it's because like most people, we run into ineffectual middle management suckups in our daily life, and can't help but identify with his plight.

I copied this off of a Dilbert calendar I had one year a long time ago. I laughed so hard then, I put it on my fridge.

I can still laugh at it now.

Over a cup of coffee.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Why I Hate Thanksgiving

It's such a harmless holiday, I mean really -- most days of the week I can easily name 5 things that I'm thankful for without really having to think very hard. I'm blessed with a loving husband, a warm home, a job, fun pets and the ability to bake a mean chocolate chip cookie.

But Thanksgiving just makes me mad. Not cuckoo mad, although maybe that will follow someday.

It is the due date of my first baby -- my first loss, my first promise of parenthood that has just turned into absolutely nothing.

This year, my baby should be turning 3.

So, I've had the blues this week. I decided in advance that Thanksgiving will be spent not trying to do more than cook a non-traditional meal, watch some football, and bake a pumpkin pie for my husband. To do more just seems that I'm forcing myself to celebrate a day that in all reality, I dread.

This whole holiday season feels wrong to me. Last Christmas and New Year's, I was pregnant for the third time, and still, I have no children to celebrate with because I lost that one too.

So pardon the pity party, but I won't be celebrating much this year. I'll try and keep myself busy, I'll even get a Christmas tree, but I'm in no mood to wish happy holidays in heaps on anyone.

It feels better just to have said it here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

We're Supposed to be the GOOD GUYS


World War II relic seen at Paris' Army Museum Posted by Picasa

Warning: Political post, little if anything funny about it.

I saw this picture when we were in Paris. After going to "Les Invalides" - the equivalent (but much nicer) of a Veteran's hospital and church where Napoleon is now buried, we headed on to the War Museum.

As Rick Steves says in a book "Democrats will enjoy about 2 hours there, Republicans 4 hours, Republican Men: All day." I lasted about an hour, so I don't know what that makes me. A little Pinko, perhaps? Nah.

I was an avid history student in college, and had a favorite professor whose Ph.D. was in German Military Warfare, so I took all his courses on World War I and II. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the different relics from the war in Paris and London this time, but this piece of paper struck me. If you click on it, you can read the text of it is a guarantee that any prisoner who surrenders to a U.S. troop member will be humanely treated, and that U.S. personnel is to bring that prisoner to their nearest commissioned officer.

It reminds me of times past when we were the good guys in a just war. Now, it sickens me that we could even be questioned about how we are fighting this war in Iraq, and how we are treating the prisoners -- whether it's within Iraq or not.

Given that GWB's rating is now at an all-time low, I figure I will now only be offending 37% of the population, most of whom I probably don't want to know anyway, and as of yesterday 60% of the people think GWB is doing a bad job. Meanwhile, the White House said "We don't set policy based on polls."

Yeah, we also don't listen to anybody -- no matter how bad the numbers get, or what accusations are thrown at us.

But, I digressed.

There can be no justification for mistreating prisoners. After watching some of a British Broadcasting journlist heading through Iraq early in the war, and seeing how the people are increasingly resentful of our occupation, this whole war just sickens me more each day.

It's just not right. No matter how loud and how often He says it is, I still think of that B.C. comic where the villager says "The King is a Fink."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

We Were ALL This Cute At One Point...


Me at 2 Years Old Posted by Picasa

A really greasy guy got on the bus yesterday. He thankfully sat near the front, reeking of whatever it is the street does to you when live there and don't have a chance to shower.

What was amazing to me is that despite his thoroughly weathered appearance, his spirits were up, and a woman got on the bus and sat next to him, and he began to talk.

The woman knew him -- she looked like she might know him from her volunteer work at a shelter or somewhere else he went, and was happy to chat with him.

It struck me at the moment the man said he was almost 50 (he looked much older) that "Wow, he was somebody's baby at one time."

Then it struck me how little we realize that we were all cute toddlers, precocious pre-schoolers and rambunctious kindergartners at one time. How quickly our lives change into so many different things.

So often when the world doesn't work out to be what we want, it's almost a joke how often people turn to blame their parents for messing them up.

But when do we thank our parents for what they did right?

I think of how my parents were so poor, and yet they loved us dearly, disciplined us, and expected much of us. I realize without that TLC that I could have easily ended up on the street or worse -- dead before my time.

Thanks to my Mom and Dad has been said in person -- but I have to say it here. Their love and example did much for me, even made me sensitive to others and the outside world. And it helped me today in recognizing that even smelly guys on the bus used to be somebody's baby too.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I'm a "pretty girl"

I used to be cute, maybe even considered pretty at some point. Now, I'm not sure what to think.

While I don't think I was ever the type of beauty who would win pageants (not that I'd ever try), I had a certain amount of confidence from college well into my thirties that I was at least not average or below average. Call it pride, call it vanity, we all have a little -- or at least I would hope we do.

Of course the decline first came when the youngest of adult men stopped looking at me with the same interest. There's always that first time in your late 20s when a teenager calls you "Ma'am" and it rips your guts out. But somewhere, sometime, enough crow's feet showed up in my smile that I get a look, but it's almost a telling registration on their face as they see I'm not some 20-something cutie pie, and I am dismissed.

I think up til now I've taken it with a fair amount of grace. I mean, I don't really need anybody chasing after me anyway since I'm happily married and all that. But you know, it's nice to be seen as attractive, especially in having the first right of refusal.

Well, today somebody made my day.

I was waiting for the bus, which came on time, but as I boarded it, the bus drive started a diatribe (and I mean, officially "going off") about how late he was.

Turns out he was the earlier bus, but had a breakdown and had to get a new bus. The lady who normally drives me to work was hot on his heals, and he was in a blind rush to get downtown and to the end of his route. I started to feel lucky that he even stopped for me, after he blew by a couple of people waiting for the bus under the assumption that they would catch the next one that was close behind.

Well, tonight I got on the bus again to go home, and one of the guys who was on the Morning Tirade Bus sat down near me and said he recognized me from this morning's ride. I said "Yeah, that guy was on fire, wasn't he? I felt lucky he stopped for me at all when I saw him blow by those people at Federal (Blvd.)"

The guy said "Well, I felt lucky he stopped for me, since it was pretty obvious he was only stopping for the pretty girls like you."

Awwwwwww. How sweet.

I'm a pretty girl to some stranger, and he doesn't even know he made my day.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

I feel the urge to curtsy: Can I STOP reading Jane Austen now?

I just finished Jane Austen's book, "Pride & Prejudice".

This is my third English Lit book from the early-mid 19th Century, and I have pretty much had it.

I learned a lot about the language and social morays of the time, and for that I am thankful. But Jane Austen is probably the most insipid writer of any real fame that I've ever come across.

Ultimately, all her people find some reason to like each other after hating each other, and of course, the natural thing to do is to marry. No matter how independent of spirit her female characters are, the time dictated that she must fall in love and get married to end the book.

What's funny is that I thought at first that the "happily ever after" ending was one of those Victorian-era things, but then I realized that there isn't a Disney movie (or rarely any movie) that comes out that doesn't result in at least some sort of profession of commitment, if not marriage.

I'm not down on marriage, don't get me wrong. But the Inner Gloria Steinem in me says that it's not the end-all, be-all for many women. I relish the fact that marriage ages are going UP in this country -- particularly for women (men have always married later). It just tells me that they're starting to realize they can do something OTHER than get marriage to have some sense of worth.

In the meantime, the feminist in me just waits for the day equality will really mean something. I'm not talking about being able to bench-press as much as my DH, or expect him to sew as well as me. I mean in terms of basic respect in society, especially in the workplace.

I think that last Austen book obviously struck a nerve. The good news is, unless Jane Austen comes out of her coffin and writes a new book, I'm done. Thanks for the taste, Ms. Austen, but I've taken all the formality, chivalry and innuendo one girl can take from your books.

I'm on to something bright and cheery -- Russian Literature -- "The Brother's Karamozov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky. That oughta brighten up my day!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Happy Day


The Approach to I.M. Pei's Glass Pyramid at The Louvre in Paris Posted by Picasa

I love days like this. I am doing something that feels GOOD.

This morning I woke up in time for church and decided to play hooky and stay home. I hooked up the better printer to my new computer, and started printing pictures of our trip to Paris.

I went a little nuts and printed about 35 pictures for each of my Aunt and Mom who went on the trip with us. Then I went to Target and found a small photo album and put all the pictures in them.

My Aunt K. bought me a Paris frame, and bought an extra one for herself and my Mom while we were at the top of the Eiffel Tower. I printed pictures and put them in the frames too, so we can all have the same picture.

I am just looking forward to getting these in the mail to them. Neither Aunt or Mom are very much into getting disks and dealing in jpegs, so I am happy to put something together for them. I also have an extra chocolate bar from Paris I've been saving, and I'm going to send that to Mom too.

It just feels good to spoil people sometimes...especially when they don't expect it in the least!

Weird Dreams

I dream often, usually vivid weird dreams like my cat talking to me in a human voice, or of flying, or more often -- driving on a road trip through strange lands -- which has to mean something about my need for adventure.

But last night, I must thank my friend Lauren for this...I had a dream that I went back to my house in Seattle that I shared with my ex-husband. He had kept the house (in the dream, not reality), his 3rd wife had left him, and he was looking for another, since despite three failed marriages, apparently hope springs eternal.

Anyway, I went back to my house, and found it decorated and re-decorated in a very Martha Stewartesque fashion. Other people were at the house, some who didn't know him, and kept commenting on what a great decorator he was. Finally I just said out loud..."There is NO WAY he did this on his own."

I asked about the neighbors to find out who lived nearby if they were still around, and I walked about the house, which (for a dream) was remarkably similar to real world save the decorated aspect.

When I got to the closet, I realized that MY STUFF was in the closet, and he said he had kept it because I had never taken it. Weird. In reality -- I took my clothes, shoes, sewing stuff, and very little else, but even in this dream I don't remember leaving THAT much stuff behind. So the rest of the dream involved me telling him that I was taking that stuff now, thanks, and that no, he wasn't going to make me wife #4. We parted nicely, which was a first, both in reality and in REM sleep, as every goodbye whether it was the big one or the casual run-in in Seattle was always barbed with some nasty parting shot from him.

Yeah, not much of a dream, but as I thought about it -- I realized that I often "work stuff out" in my dreams, and I know I had my ex on my mind yesterday as I was talking to Lauren about her current situation with Mr. Small. It just has a way of bringing that stuff up, and that's ok. I always figure -- better to dream stuff like that than to live it all over again.

Jules

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Happy Halloween!


Jules & Brian Go Punk Posted by Picasa

We went to a Halloween party last night at some friends' house. It was a pretty good costume party...one guy came as a mad scientist, another as a pirate...there were a bunch of fun outfits and ideas out there.

While I enjoyed my punk clothes (namely the comfy Green Day t-shirt, torn jeans and Converse All-Star tennis shoes), my husband looked especially good with his Billy Jo Armstrong makeup, blue hair and The Clash t-shirt. It was all very convincing, that some of our friends kept remarking how "natural" Brian looked. We all think he should dress like this every day and go get a job at Hot Topic.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dad.

Dad,

Today it's been 13 years since you died.

Just know you are still missed, still adored, still thought about.

Still wish you were here to see us all.

I love you.

Your Julie

Damn Republicans and other jokes in life...

I don't often rant about my political leanings...I find as I grow older I am more tolerant of others' opinions (namely that they have a right to have opposing views than me, even if I don't agree), and I also find myself realizing that I LIKE my point of view, but I like talking about politics with EVERYBODY even more.

When I think of my first bent towards political anything, I find myself thinking about my Grandma, who died this February at the age of 94.

She would often hear me talk about something, whether it was political or not, and just shake her head with that "been there, heard that, done that" look that only age and experience can give you.

She had the luck of being born on the exact same day, in the exact same year as Ronald Reagan -- February 6, 1911. While President Reagan was President, apparently through the magic of computers and Social Security numbers, she received a printed White House birthday card, allegedly signed by the President.

I was at her house one year for her birthday when she got one in the mail, and she opened it, read it, rolled her eyes, and tossed it in the trash. I was a teenager at the time and oblivious to politics, so I thought it was quite an honor, even if it was a preprinted one.

"Damn Republicans," she said.

This was a first for me on two fronts -- first, that Gram never swore up til then in my presence, and second, I never knew where she stood politically.

I sure found out quickly that day just what she thought, at least I summed it up later.

I really think Gram, like many of her generation, appreciated the efforts of FDR to end the Depression, and that there were others along the line of her life like John F. Kennedy who must have struck a chord with her in their diligence towards bettering society, from Civil Rights to social programs that would stand up for the weakest among us.

Other than that -- I don't think she spent a lot of time thinking about how she would vote, just that she found Democrats more in line with her values as a poor person trying to get by and working hard through life.

As I have now lived through Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush II, I often wonder why our country leans so far left one moment, and so far right the next. I wonder how it is that so many people can swing an election so far one way one year (like Reagan's landslide victory in 1980) and then create such close calls as we've had in the past two elections.

I feel like I need to go take another Poli Sci class...Not just to learn about our system, which is so tragically polarized these days, but other systems like the Brits, who have the Stark Raving Loony Environmentalist Party, or something like it.

Well, I guess I can look on the brights side...at least Bush's ratings are in the basement. He's earned every bit of it, in my opinion.

No need to comment if you can't handle this post...There's nowhere I can go with this...just something I'm thinking about.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Our Favorite Place to Eat in Paris


Meet Philippe Posted by Picasa

I don't think Rick Steves, travel guru for first-timers to Europe, can be praised enough for his recommendation of Philippe's place in Paris.

In Rick's review, he writes that Philippe owned a catering business in Philadelphia for a few years before returning to Paris and finding his "niche" in his small one-man-show restaurant. It was upon his recommendation of his intimate restaurant that two years ago, my husband and I went to Philippe's. We were staying about 6 blocks away, and found him almost by accident.

We had a quiet dinner there our last night in Paris in 2003, and when Philippe brought us the bill (he waits tables and cooks the meal in a very intimate setting) we erroneously read the bill to be $50 Euro instead of $40, so we left him a handsome tip of more than $20...we realized this as we left the place, when we heard a "thank YOU" come out of the restaurant when we were nearly half way down the block.

Well, fast forward to 2005...we loved our meal there, and with our in-laws in tow, we decided to take them on Tuesday night to Philippe's, where we were welcomed with gusto, but with no hint (and no expectation) that Philippe would possibly remember us.

Well, Philippe was the first to ask my husband Brian if he knew him. "You look familiar," Philippe said with his beautiful French accent. "Do I know you?"

My husband's response was "yes, we were here a couple of years ago." and Philippe said "Oh yes, I overcharged you!" HE REMEMBERED US! We didn't hold it against Philippe -- after all, European 5's and 4's look very different, and that was on us.

Philippe has a very casual style by French standards. He literally brings you the menu, written on a chalk board, and explains each item to you, and takes your order when you've had plenty of time to think about what you'd like. One night I thought we were holding him up from closing, and he said "Oh no no no, take your time madame, you're in Paris."

I loved that.

Philippe is very good with his escargot -- just for starters. He has a house wine and $15 Euro menu items that are just lovely. I had a puff pastry one night, some lamb another night, and a steak another night. We ate there a total of 4 times in 7 days there, in part because the food was great, but mostly the wonderful hospitality.
My Mom and Aunt loved him so much they went back on their own one night.

Did I mention the escargot was wonderful? I was never a snail eater, but boy, you taste them soaking in butter and garlic, and I'm converted.

By the end of the week, we'd met his 9-year-old daughter, and on our last night, Philippe asked us to take a picture of him with Brian and for us to send him a copy. It's on the way, our friend.

The name of the restaurant is La Varangue ("The Veranda" in French) is at 27 rue Augereau in the 7th in Paris.

Go look him up.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Questions Answered

1) My uncle once: took me camping, and when big ants crawled in my sleeping bag, he said "Praise the Lord anyway!" I was 7, and it was the first time I realized I very might well be capable of murder. ;)
2) Never again in my life: Will I take having children for granted
3) When I was five: We moved to the U.S. and I went to two kindergartens. I loved it because I got to celebrate my birthday twice.
4) High School was: better than Middle School, but not by much.
5) I will never forget: the day I watched that second plane slam into the second World Trade Center Tower on 9/11.
6) I once met: President Bill Clinton.
7) There's this girl I know who: stays with her husband even though she'd be better off without him.
8) Once, at a bar: I got to tell a sorority girl to step off. (She started it).
9) By noon I'm usually: ready for breakfast.
10) Last night I: stayed up late trying to get my CD burner to work the way I wanted.
11) If I had only: not eaten that crab soup yesterday, my tummy wouldn’t have hurt today.
12) Next time I go to church: It’ll be a Sunday. Not THIS Sunday, but maybe the next one.
13) What worries me most: Dying without figuring out what I’m really here for.
14) When I turn my head right: I see my calendar
15) When I turn my head left: I see the desk and dining room furniture I got from my grandma.
16) You know I'm lying when: I don’t sound very convincing. This is a rare occasion on both fronts.
17) You know what I miss most about the eighties: Brian's mullet.
18) If I was a character written by Shakespeare, I'd be: The scheming matchmaker in “Much Ado About Nothing”.
19) By this time, next year: I’ll be pushing 40.
20) A better name for me would be: Julie The Vampire Slayer
21) I have a hard time understanding: Why people can be so mean to others.
22) If I ever go back to school I'll: be so rich I have nothing else to do with my time than to further educate myself
23) You know I like you if: I give you a hard time.
24) If I won an award, the first person I'd thank would be: my husband for putting up with his uppity wife.
25) Darwin, Mozart, Slim Pickens & Geraldine Ferarro are: famous people who should have lunch together in heaven. Well, when all of them get there.
26) Take my advice, never: go to a riot. Tear gas sucks.
27) My ideal breakfast is: a breakfast burrito with eggs, hashbrowns, sour cream and hot sauce.
28) A song I love, but do not have is: “Talk to Ya Later” by The Tubes.
29) If you visit my hometown, I suggest: Getting an airplane ticket. Driving to Brazil is one long ass roadtrip.
30) Why won't anyone: Move over to the slow lane on the freeway?
31) If you spend the night at my house, DO: Make yourself at home.
32) I'd stop my wedding for: Jude Law
33) The world could do without: Britney Spears, or any mention of her.
34) I'd rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: run into my ex-husband ever again. Oh wait, that's almost like the same thing!
35) My favorite blonde is: Oh, maybe Christina Aguilera when she is blond.
36) Paperclips are more useful than: staples, at least sometimes.
37) San Diego means: A great place to escape in January.
38) And by the way: I play a mean game of pool.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Want to know what I did for 10 days? Here's my Trip Report

Europe Trip 2005
London, September 16-18, Paris September 18-25.

Time for a trip report.

DH and I to went to London for a couple of days before meeting our parents in Paris for a week. In London, we stayed at the Cherry Court Hotel near Victoria Station, a Rick Steves recommendation we used back in 2003, and even though the accommodations are rudimentary (decent, but small) we decided to go back. I was especially sold on going back after the July subway attacks in London, when Mrs. Patel (owner of the Cherry Court) posted a message on the Rick Steves traveler’s helpline board that she would be of assistance to anyone who needed her if they were in London, whether they were a guest or not.

London -- we arrived an hour late on Friday morning, but arrived otherwise intact. The flight to Newark and transfer to Virgin Atlantic was uneventful. I must say that Virgin wasn’t better than BA from our trip a couple of years ago. The food was much worse, the TV/movie selection was slim, but not as bad as Continental coming home.

We arrived in London at Heathrow at 10 a.m., had no trouble getting through Immigration (I love it that they still stamp our passports), and thankfully had the experience to know that we needed to hustle off the plane to get in line to reduce the waiting time. We headed onto the Tube to Victoria Station, and on to our hotel, which this time took no wandering behind the station to find. I had made a lunch date with an online friend at 1 p.m. in Lincolns Inn Fields area of London, so we checked into our room at the Cherry Court hotel by noon and quickly freshened up to go for our lunch appointment.

The fun began when we walked in the door. My friend, who I'd never met in person, told the waitstaff that "a couple of Americans" were coming to meet them for lunch. Of course they saw us in the door, and we barely had to say "We're here to..." and they were motioning us downstairs to meet our friends. We are a dead giveaway, and any mention that DH is Canadian is of no discernable difference.

I didn't know this small fact, but my friend (who I've known through an online group for several years) is a barrister, as is her husband, both Oxford-educated lawyers, who work in the area. She did a walk-about with us, showing us where she worked, then took us on about through the neighborhood. It was fantastic to get to meet a local Londoner who had such great knowledge, and a willingness to show us everything from The Old Curiosity Shop nearby to a personal tour of the National Royal Court building, which looks a lot like a cathedral.

Afterwards, we headed towards Covent Garden Market -- it was much smaller than I imagined, but much nicer. I was picturing an older feel to it, but found neat outdoor market stuff as well as upscale shops, classical music playing, and a lovely cafe downstairs. The street performance was hilarious -- a couple of gay guys (their words), riding unicycles, juggling and other antics using a little girl from the audience who was absolutely thrilled to be part of the show.

On we walked toward Trafalgar Square for my husband's London visit with "his" lions at the foot of Lord Nelson. I love the view from there, as you can see such beautiful London sights from the National Gallery, St. Martins in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, and Big Ben beyond.

We walked down Whitehall this time -- having missed it last time, towards Westminster. It was neat to walk past #10 Downing, and see some of the larger government buildings, even if it was just for the stroll through it. We went to the Eye for our flight -- having been on it a couple of years ago and knowing it was a favorite with my husband, I went ahead a booked reservations again, but I don't think I need to repeat that ride again now that I know the lay of the land. I do enjoy the view of the city though, and as always enjoy the descent as we viewed Big Ben/Parliament. That evening we stopped at a brew pub near our hotel, where we drank a couple of beers, had some sausage & mash, and headed for bed.

The next morning (Saturday, Nov. 17), we arose at a reasonable hour, headed for the Starbucks (sorry, it's my vice in London due to the portability of the coffee, but one that I avoid once I'm in Paris), and walked toward Buck Palace with our lattes in hand. We continued on to the Cabinet War Rooms, arriving just in advance of a tour group. We decided to let them go ahead so we wouldn't have to ride the wave of tourists, and the plot worked. We were virtually alone, and the Cabinet War Rooms were fascinating -- and the audio tour is well worth the 3 BP I think it cost to buy. I'm a big WWII fan/student and thoroughly enjoyed this visit. The new Winston Churchill museum has a stunningly modern photo file with giant touch screens that allow you to follow English history for as long as pictures have been taken.

Afterwards, we headed up to the British Museum, where we saw the Rosetta Stone and a number of other pieces of art. I should say that by then I had bought about 10 postcards, and by the time I'd seen the Rosetta Stone and admired its size (one of those things you thought would be smaller), I sat down to write out some postcards while DH continued to wander the rooms. I like paintings, he likes Old Archeological Stuff, so there are times we part company instead of one of us yawning our way through an exhibit pretending to be interested. After a couple of hours we started walking towards a Tube stop and found a Thai restaurant very near the British Library that had some of the BEST Thai food I've ever eaten. I'm from Seattle and know a few good places to eat there, but this was lovely.

That afternoon we went to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, where we missed the afternoon performance, but the Bank was having a big "Children's Society" walk, so we got caught up in the crowds, ice cream and other delights offered near the Globe. There is something neat about stumbling onto a local fair, exhibit or other freebie that makes one feel like they get to be a local for a short time. We then took the boat ride back to Westminster, headed to the hotel where we got ready to go out for a night on the town -- and off to our date to see the production of Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre.

The Theatre itself was a bit older and smaller than I anticipated, certainly not as posh as even the Paramount in Seattle. But still, a very nice place, and an outstanding show. My husband, a highly discerning and extensively-trained musician, pronounced the show a great piece of music writing and overall production. While I appreciate music enough to know the Britney Spears can't sing and Christina Aguilera has "one hell of a set of pipes", the only persons in the show who really grabbed my attention with their singing ability were the star and his girl from the 'hood who loves him and dies trying to save him. Overall, Les Miserables aren't as MISERABLE as you'd think, everyone doesn't die as I expected, so it wasn't as difficult to see it as I thought it would be.

This time around on our trip, I was surprised that this time we didn’t run into any Brits willing to chat as they did before…perhaps we were just lucky with the pubs we went to before, but I regret that this time we didn‘t run into anybody as chatty as last time. But there wasn’t much time in London this time around, so all too soon, we were headed back to our hotel for the last time, packed our stuff, and the next morning were off to Waterloo station to go to Paris to Meet The Parents.

Unlike last time, when we showed up at the station with 2 hours to departure, only a 10 minute wait to only leave us 1 hour 50 minutes to kill, this time we were wiser and took a cab to Waterloo with only an hour to spare (we always take at least one cab in London just for the experience of riding on the "wrong side" of the road, which for some reason always feels normal once you're in the car). With coffee in hand, we waited a few minutes for the train to board, and were quickly seated in our car. For some reason, they felt bigger and more comfortable. We’d bought our $98 RT tickets way in advance through an agent here in the States, and that actually worked to our advantage, as there was a special line for “paper tickets” that empty while all the electronic ticket-holders waited to check in.

The seats in front of us were taken by a family of three, clearly an American elder father, about 60, his 40-year-old son, and his young son of about 20. The eldest kept commenting about all the foreign things about England, the one that got my attention was "Why is everything here electric, don't they have oil?" I felt the urge to answer the question that pollution is lessened when the trains run on electricity, which I'm sure is a priority in a sprawling city like London, but I held my tongue. The USS Enterprise hat the eldest was wearing told me that his generation just perhaps looked at things differently, and I wasn't going to educate him on the finer points of European approaches to technology and environmentalism in one 2.5 hour train ride.

I bought one of the worst breakfasts since I ate at McDonalds on a road trip in 1998. But I enjoyed the walk to the dining car to get it. There is something inherently romantic about train travel, I guess the fact that I can walk through cars, go to the bathroom, and still be moving 200 miles an hour with the landscape out the window is just plain neat.

Upon arrival in Paris, DH and I split up -- DH to meet his parents at the hotel in the 7th Arrondisement, me to the airport to find my Aunt and Mom, who had just landed at CDG. Despite getting off at the wrong terminal and having to walk underground from 2A to 2B to find them, I was able to find them in the waiting area rather easily, and we grabbed a cab and for $45E, we were quickly within the city. The cab ride took us on the freeways of Paris, we got off near the Arc de Triomphe, and I kept my map with me as I watched the taxi driver make the wrong turn away from Rue Cler, and was able to correct it fairly quickly. By about 2 p.m., our party of 6 was checked into our rooms, and shortly thereafter drinking wine at the Cafe du Marche. The meal was unremarkable, except everyone but me and my father-in-law (henceforth FIL in this post) ordered some meat dish "tartare", which means it was RAW. Directly proportional to how much they ate, they were all sick the next day with a tummy ailment that didn't allow them to go far beyond the bathroom, but within 24 hours all were ok. I can only imagine what kind of shock that was to their systems.

We walked over to the Eiffel Tower, about 10 minutes from our hotel, and I so enjoyed my Aunt and Mom (who've never been to Europe before) see the Tour Eiffel for the first time in person. Pictures snapped, ooh's and ah's, and "I can't believe it's that big" statements later, we walked under the tower and sat in the park to enjoy our first "pinch us we're in Paris" moments. Soon Mom and Aunt Kathy slowed down and wanted to go back to the hotel, so DH and his folks walked to the river for an evening cruise down the Seine, and I walked Mom and Aunt back to the hotel. Later that evening, we joined up for a late dinner, then all went to bed except DH and me, who went to the cafe' around the corner for a late drink and to talk about our adventures so far. This became a regular thing for us, which was great because we'd often separate during the day to go with different people, and it gave us a chance to be together, compare notes, and talk with some of the French people who soon befriended us at the bar.

Monday morning, we met in the lobby at 8 a.m., and walked to a favorite cafe' of mine for breakfast. It'd been 2 years since our last visit, and I was pleased that the waitress/owner of the cafe' was still there, and still teasing me about my attempts at French. Some cafe au laits and omelettes later, all six of us were caffeinated and fed enough to venture out. Thanks to the ratp.fr website (thanks, Ira and Rex), I had done some homework on how to get some places on the bus, and we hopped the #69 bus to Pont Neuf, and we headed to our first adventure -- Ile de la Cite'. It was lovely weather that day, and all week for the most part, so we enjoyed our visit to Ste. Chappele first (where we bought a Museum Pass for the whole week), then on to Notre Dame.

After lunch, we then headed to the Deportation Museum -- which was something of a letdown in that I expected a bigger spectacle, but as I realized the limits of space and the full meaning of the exhibit, I was touched by it. Again, as a student of WWII, I found this to be another place where I could take in the full impact of this great war that I had studied for so long in college.

We went on to the Conciergerie, which we hadn't seen before. I've been reading "A Tale of Two Cities" before my trip, and was pleased to visit the site of the Queen's and others' incarceration during the French Revolution and Terror that followed. By the time that was over, my mother-in-law, Mom and Kathy were tired and not feeling particularly well following the “tartare incident” the night before and were done touring, The three hopped in a cab, and DH, father-in-law and I climbed the Notre Dame bell tower (which was closed the last time we were there), and thoroughly enjoyed getting up to the gargoyles, taking pictures and taking in the view. After that, the three of us walked up to the Hotel de Ville, and on to the Pompidou, where we saw some art (I enjoyed the random bell that rang, and the stuff that made me ask "This is ART? I could have made that at home! LOL). Afterwards we walked the backstreets, stopping at shops to buy music, cookies, and whatever else caught us, and finally heading back to the hotel for dinner with the crew. Another late night drink at the cafe' around the corner with DH helped finish off the day, as a couple of French guys befriended us, and we talked about our day.

Tuesday dawned with just a few of us waking to make it to the first trip up the Eiffel Tower. My mom, exhausted from her trip and feeling a bit overwhelmed, slept through the morning. My Aunt and I, DH and FIL (MIL hates heights) all went up the Eiffel Tower in the morning, and later met Mom and MIL for lunch.

It took me forever to remember what the heck I did on Tuesday afternoon -- I finally realized I didn’t have pictures because I did laundry, bought stamps for postcards and got them in the mail at long last. DH took off with his parents to do some museum stuff at the Rodin. Later that evening we were all supposed to meet at the Arc de Triomphe -- DH and his folks split up to go via subway, and Kathy, Mom and I went to catch a cab, but none came. With the use of the handy bus map I picked up in the hotel lobby, I quickly I realized we could catch the 92, which dropped us at the Arc within 10 minutes. (Later, I read Rick Steves comment that the “Paris bus system can be tricky but is worth figuring out” -- AMEN to that!)

There was a band playing (it was about 6:30 p.m.) and a full military honor guard, and found out EVERY DAY they lay a new pile of flowers at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier from WWI under the Arch and play music. Talk about "NEVER FORGET!"

By 7 p.m., DH and his folks hadn't shown up, and I was worried. Turned out they snuck into the Arc with a wave from the very same police who told me I couldn’t proceed, and they climbed it without us. My mom wanted to climb it, but was unsure of taking the steps…she finally resolved to try it, and that's when we found out that the French will offer ANYONE a ride on their "lift" if they have a cane! So we ended up getting an elevator ride up the Arc de Triomphe and Aunt went with us too.

Wednesday we all went to Sacre Coeur Basilica. It's at the highest point in Paris, and was very beautiful in its Byzantine style (even though it's newer than that). DH, FIL and I climbed the dome and got some beautiful views of Paris, despite the haze of the midday sun.
In a rather wierd mix-up, Brian ended up taking off with his parents, and Mom and Kathy and I headed off in some direction towards home, and we missed the area I THOUGHT we were going to be walking through. I asked Brian to meet me at the Orsay at 3 p.m. so we could spend some time together.

After me lunching with Mom & Aunt and dropping them near the hotel, I met DH at the Orsay. We went up to the 5th floor (the stair/elevators in the Orsay are quite confusing) and saw what I really was dying to see -- the Monets, Van Goghs and Cezanne Impressionist paintings.

By 4:30 or 5, I had to go home to change. I went to meet Kate, from the Fodors board. She was real nice, and we met up with Gina and her husband Frank, also from Fodors. Frank was exceptional -- very funny. Gina was hilarious, gave me more than one good laugh. We walked around several restaurants (found the one we were looking for but oddly enough it was closed on a Wednesday, which never happens in Paris). Finally at Chez Rene, just across the river from Ile St. Louis, we settled in for dinner.

It was a decent meal, the service was good, but then I got the chocolate mousse at the end so I‘m easy to please. And hey, by now I've learned to end every meal with "un cafe" (a small shot of espresso) and all is well. We finished with dinner by about 11, and I was in the 6th Arrondisement on Blvd. St. Germain, and I “lived” in the 7th. Not knowing how far it is but having a map and a will to walk, I start walking towards the metro, then follow the metro line all the way back. It took me an hour, but it was delicious to walk through the streets of Paris alone -- without being bothered with any conversation from family or anyone else, and just taking in all that was around me. How lovely that city is after dark -- and to be walking towards the towering Eiffel the whole time -- it was lovely.

Thursday came and Mom, Aunt, DH and I went to Versailles. The train ride out was uneventful, even though Mom hates subways (roughly 1/4 of it is underground, the rest is above), and they obviously enjoyed seeing the palace and the gardens. We arrived right at 9 before the tour groups hit, and it felt like we rode a wave of tour groups that were right behind us. I read the Rick Steves guide to each room, we looked a bit and moved on. It only took about 1.5-2 hours, then we went to the gardens.

The Gardens were awesome -- this time we walked down into them quite a ways, and the weather was so perfect we had a great time. One really nice thing DH did was buying a 6-pack of water bottles every morning after breakfast, so we always had water with us, which was great since my Mom tends to get heat stroke easily, and the temperatures headed towards 80 that day. I still can't believe how Louis XIV built a palace away from his palace on the grounds, built a mini-canal ala' Venice (with gondolas and everything) and the thousands of fountains.

By 1:00 everyone was done, so we headed back to Paris. We got back around 2, had a quick lunch, left Mom and Aunt back at the hotel to rest, and DH and I went off on our own to walk around the Jewish Quarter. We stopped at a Spanish restaurant first to eat, then we went to the Picasso museum, walked around a bit, then headed towards the Hotel de Ville to catch the subway back before dinner.

We ate at Phillippe's "La Varange" for dinner 4 times that week. Phillippe is so fabulous, his escargot is to die for, and we all enjoyed his fabulous hospitality. By the time we left he asked us to take his picture with DH in the kitchen, and asked us to mail him a copy. What a treasure he is. He even remembered us from 2 years earlier when he joked that he “overcharged us” but in reality, we had just mis-read the bill. The “1” in Europe looked like a 5, so we ended up leaving a $20 Euro tip. J

Friday morning was The Louvre -- we all met up and MIL & FIL took off their own way pretty quickly. We found the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo's Dying Slave, just to name a few.

We walked along a bunch, and quickly discovered Aunt and Mom enjoyed more of the sculpture than anything, so we tried to add some of that. Afterwards, we walked up to the Colonade at the Palais Royale, where the Audrey Hepburn movie “Charade” was shot. Charade was an Alfred Hitchcock movie with Walter Mathau and Cary Grant.

We had lunch together, then made our way to the bus to go to Ile St. Louis for Mom and Kath to stop off and do a little shopping. Ile St. Louis is the small island next to Ile de la Cite (where Notre Dame and Ste. Chappelle are), and I found some lovely earrings, a bracelet and a new sweater that I just adore. One of the sales clerks, who sold me my sweater, didn’t speak a lick of English, but was very accommodating. DH had studied in advance to speak French, and was quickly put into use. He said “Merci, Madame” as we left the store, and since I thought her age/marital status was in question -- I said “Merci, Madamoiselle?” And she smiled and said “Oui, madamoisselle” pointing to herself. I tried hard to learn the words of items in the store, and she was so helpful. I just loved that experience and again vowed to learn more French the next time I go.

After leaving Mom & Aunt, DH and I continued on to the Latin Quarter. It's a bit of a sleeper at first. We walked a lot, stopped off at a restaurant, had a couple of drinks while we watched the police block off a street and the TV trucks move in. I had to go to the ladies room and when I came back out I was standing on the street where a police officer approached me in French -- and my response was simply (in French) "I don't understand French, do you speak English?" He said no, but then he said in English that I shouldn't stand there for long. I said I was waiting for my husband, and he said ok. I asked what was going on, and he said the Minister of Defense was visiting "My Boss" he said -- I'm sure a few miles up the food chain. He was very nice and told me to have a nice time in Paris. I said we loved the city, and he smiled. I do love how the French appreciate the fact that we appreciate their beloved city. I’m sure it’s the same everywhere in some respects, but there is something special to French pride I think.

We headed to the Pantheon, which was MUCH more impressive than Rick Steves gave credit for. The outside of the building is rather majestic, and the inside is nice too. We walked on to the Luxumbourg Gardens, where we had a lovely gelato, then head on to St. Sulpice, which was less than enamoring. It was covered in scaffolding on the outside, and the inside was dark. I did light a candle there (perhaps in a subliminal acknowledgement of wanting to bring some light to the place), and we found the brass line that goes through the side wings across the nave (a point that the Da Vinci Code book makes to mark a clue in the search for the "Holy Grail's" supposed location). Very soon we were off and trying to decide if we should head back to the hotel.

Here it is Friday and we realized our time was limited for sight seeing, so we better get busy and do some more. So DH and I walked up to the St. Sulpice metro stop and took the subway out to Montparnasse, and paid the $7.50 Euro each to take the elevator ride up to the top floor. At first I was sort of sorry to have spent the money (hazy days tend to do that to me, since I'm always in search of the perfect photo, and mid-day sun does nothing to help my cause).

But the 360* view from the VERY top of Montparnasse, including the Eiffel Tower and all points Paris, was in the end worth it. We could see where we had been that day -- looking at the Seine river, the Louvre, the path to the Pantheon and Luxumbourg Gardens, as well as a very interesting cemetery that I haven't yet looked at on the map.
Exhausted, it was nearing sundown and we took the elevator back down, stopped at the Galeries Lafayette looking for some CDs for Brian, and then on home to dinner with the Gang.

Saturday morning, we got to take care of unfinished business. Mom, who had been too sick Tuesday to go up the Eiffel Tower, was ready to go. This was the first day it was cloudy and a bit rainy, so we opted to only go up to the 2nd level since the top was largely obscured by clouds. We got over there around 9 a.m., and discovered that busload after busload of tourists were coming, and making a rather large crowd of people waiting at two of the 4 feet. Note to Self: Move heaven and earth to avoid the Eiffel Tower elevators on a Saturday.

What's odd about the crowds waiting for the place to open (I thought it opened at 9, but on Saturdays it opens at 9:30), is that they move like schools of fish. At first there was one crowd over on the northwest corner, then they moved almost simultaneously to the 2nd entrance. The signage said the exact same thing, but I couldn't figure out what they were doing. Finally, they moved away, and I directed my Mom and Aunt to get in the line at the Northeast Tower and to hold still. We were 2nd in line in the "non-tour" area, and we beat every one of them onto the elevators. My mom is somewhat claustrophobic, so we were lucky to have only bought the 2nd level. She was able to walk around, see the view, then when she was ready to come down, there was no changing of elevators and getting crammed in twice.

The previous couple of days, we heard news that Hurricane Rita was about to slam into Houston, where we were all supposed to land the next day. Not knowing if we'd be stuck in Houston or rerouted and rescheduled from somewhere else, DH wisely decided to do some laundry and make sure we were safely in possession of clean underwear. This turned out to be a wise decision for reasons other than Hurricane Rita.

Later that afternoon, we all had lunch together and agreed upon a time to meet back at the hotel. Brian and I took off to check on the Hurrican Rita status, try to reach the airline, which said we had to check in the morning since they had closed the airport on Saturday and would be able to tell us if it opened on Sunday or not.

Then, DH and I went off to Napoleon's Tomb at Les Invalides -- it was far more impressive than I expected in terms of all the people buried there, but the tomb itself seemed rather plain, considering the importance of the Little General to French history. I did enjoy the cathedral, and it had a very nice free audio tour.

From there we walked to the War Museum, where we quickly dashed through a few things. I know I could have spent a lot more time there, and we did take a few pictures. I enjoy studying history, and I especially enjoy going to museums specifically about WWI and WWII in Europe because of the different national perspectives on the experiences of the people and how they turn them into the exhibits themselves. In England, there is a very strong sense of unity and NEED for the U.S. to get involved. Because they weren't taken over (but rather brutally bombed) by the Nazis, there isn't the same horror as compared to the French, who endured occupation and deportation of its Jews. The hatred, therefore, of the Nazi occupation and what it did to its French citizens is very clear, and the French also refer to much of the action as being "Allied Action" -- not claiming sole movement, but at the same time not giving the same credit to Britain and the US and other countries. It's a fine point, but one I guess I couldn't really miss.

After that, we agreed to walk to the Grand Palais -- but we headed out the door and it turned out they were having quite a military demonstration. The entire Ministry of Defense from the Army, Navy, Air Force and other special forces were out to show their might, complete with parachuting Army guys, various fighter jets, tanks, and people movers. I got to see the TRAGIC Navy uniforms, and would make my first plea to the French Navy to change those horrific outfits (traditional but FLUFFY Navy Whites with square necklines and blue piping, and the hats are awful, replete with a red pom-pom on the top). I did a lot of people watching here, as it appeared to me to attract a number of different types of folks, from families and others who stumbled on it, to those who had actually meant to attend.

We walked on to the Grand Palais in hopes of getting in, but here it was Saturday afternoon and every French person and their dog found out they were having a special exhibition or something -- and the lines were not just long, they were DISNEY LONG. I honestly have never seen a bigger and well organized line in my life. We decided to bag the 60-minute wait and head for Place de la Concorde.

We walked over there just to get a last view of our favorite spots in Paris. I still like to go there and picture the guillotine taking off the head of Marie Antoinette where the obelisk now stands. Having recently read "A Tale of Two Cities" I was especially attuned to how the streets of Paris must have looked in the day. I still find the cobblestones fascinating when you consider how long they've been there, and the changes the rest of the city has been through as the cobblestones stand their ground.

It was our last evening in Paris. We didn't have reservations, but all 6 of us wanted to eat together at a nice place. I finally figured something out -- it took me the week, but I did it -- that the general cafes and brasseries on the street corners and main streets are generally your eat-and-go kinda places. Not usually full of the best foods, etc. the best little places are tucked into the side streets.

Well, we walked a ways -- maybe 10 minutes, before I found a side street with about 5 restaurants on the street, all very close together. I asked MIL to help me interpret the menus that were posted, and we finally settled on a small restaurant that appeared to have a wonderful menu and ambiance, and the least amount of people inside to offend with our spirited and loud conversation. We aren‘t obnoxious, at least by American standards, and might be considered quiet in New York, but we certainly are lively in a Parisian restaurant, that‘s for sure.

The place we founded ended up being superb. I had a lovely lamb dish with some rice, along with a great dessert (creme broulee) and a Cafe Ledoux. LOVELY.

As we walked home, we took some pictures of the Eiffel Tower, then we dropped the folks at the hotel and DH and I walked over to Champ du Mars park for the last time. We sat in front of the Tower for about 15 minutes before a soaking rain came, which drove us under a tree with some other French kids.

This was a very relaxing vacation -- one that we felt went extremely well, especially considering both my husband and me had our in-laws around all week. Sitting below the Eiffel Tower and walking the streets home, we pronounced the entire trip a success.

The peace of that night was soon to be interrupted by what I now jokingly refer to “The International Incident”.

We called Continental on Sunday morning, and our flight to Houston was set to go. My in-laws left on an earlier American Airlines flight to Dallas, so it was just four of us left, and we were due to fly together to Houston before splitting up to go our individual ways. Houston had been closed the day before because of Hurricane Rita, but we were given the green light that Houston International was open. We cabbed it to the airport -- we lucked out that a station wagon taxi stopped and picked all four of us up, and charged us $45 Euro for a ride from the 7th to CDG.

Upon arrival, a Continental agent was checking passports, and pulled mine, my aunt’s and mom’s (all American), then asked my husband for his. His Canadian passport produced, the woman asked him where he lived, and he said “The U.S.” and she said “so, you have a Green Card?” Why yes, of course he does. “Can I see it?” With a Homer Simpson slap to the forehead, my husband realized he had left his Green Card at home, in his wallet, in DENVER. I reminded him we had a color copy in our documents, so we produced that. There was a moment when another agent interceded and we thought they’d let us go, then they decided no, DH can’t get on the flight.

The immediacy with which she assumed all three of us would just leave my husband behind slapped me in the face…just like that, I had to make a decision to stay with him while we fixed the paperwork on Monday, or just leave him with a “see ya when I see ya“ mentality that I haven‘t treated him with in my lifetime. But, after a few minutes, we realized the expense would be greater if I stayed, our house sitter would be further inconvenienced, and my Mom and Aunt would be flying alone into unknown conditions in Houston, we decided I should go.

Just then there was a security breach, and the entire terminal had to be emptied. Urged on by police armed with machine guns (that is still something I find interesting, since it’s not scary anymore) we scrambled to get our bags, head out of the way, and still collect our thoughts and items. Fortunately we didn’t “co-pack”. My husband had my two bottles of wine I bought, but other than that we didn’t mix our stuff too much.

I had $80 Euro left over in cash, and I handed that over, along with the Rick Steves Paris book, and a few other items. Up til then, our rented Planetfone cell phone had been of no use to us except for a couple of calls for dinner reservations, but it earned its keep for the last couple of days following my departure. I forgot to get the key to the house, but that worked itself out with a $8.99 Airfone call to the house sitter, and another one to Planetfone extended the phone service so DH could use it in Paris.

Before we knew it, I was off to go through check our bags, get through security and leave my husband behind. I felt instant remorse for leaving him and worried about his getting home, but like he said as we parted, “There are much worse places to be stuck than Paris.”

So off we went. Our flight out of Paris was on time, and our flight into Houston was late, so we were pushing it to make our three connecting flights -- me to Denver, Mom and Aunt to different cities on the West Coast, but we all made it. Half of the flights out of Houston were cancelled that day, so we were grateful to all get out of there on time. Plus, my plane wasn‘t full, and I asked for an aisle seat at the last minute, and ended up with an empty row of seats -- the only one on the plane that I could see. I finally slept for the last 3 hours into Denver, and for about 2 hours that night as I waited up until 12:30 p.m. for my husband to call me and tell me where he was staying, and how he was doing.

As Monday morning came , I knew it was getting to be the afternoon in Paris, so I called my husband on his cell phone and found out he had just left the US Consulate office after a 6-hour ordeal to get traveling papers to leave France and re-enter the US. Fortunately he had the copy of his Green Card with him, so it at least eased the process of them finding him in the system. He sat listening to story after story of people with missing passports who’d left them in purses or in luggage at the hotel and had them stolen. He vowed to use a money belt forever after that.

His flight home from Paris to Houston went ok -- he had to wait until the 1 p.m. flight Tuesday, so he had a little extra time in Paris, met a few extra people, and hunted down Jim Morrison’s grave for me at Pere LaChaise cemetery. Upon arrival in Houston, he was questioned for more than 2 hours by the Department of Homeland Security, charged a $250 fine for leaving the US without his Green Card (in addition to the $165 USD charge at the Consulate office to get his travel documents), and finally allowed in. Since he missed his connecting flight, he had to wait until another one left several hours later, but otherwise made it home intact. Continental was very kind not to charge us anything for all the changed flights.

OK, NOW it’s funny…but it wasn’t funny at the time. I call my husband “Green Card” now and then, but other than that all we know is that he IS going to get his citizenship taken care of before we go again, or he’s at least going to make the heck sure he has his card with him the next time we go…and at this rate, it’s going to be soon.

A few parting thoughts -- We decided that since we only had 10 days, and London was so expensive, we’d spend a couple of days in London again, and go on to Paris for a week. The last time we went in 2003, we went on a death-defying trip of 23 days, including London, Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome, Athens, Izmir and Istanbul, Turkey. We padded the big cities with 4 days for the most part, but really, we moved quite a bit. This time it was so nice to put our suitcases down, unpack, and really spend some time in the city we love so much. We’re of course, trying to decide where to go next, and it’s edging towards Eastern Europe, but we’re not sure…

And finally: On Paris Fashion: It’s fall, so black everywhere is fine. I found that when I wore black from head to toe with a splash of color and put my hair up in a nice, messy way that I was approached in French all the time. So if that’s your goal, that’s the way to do it. Paris is a big city like New York in that fashion does have a few standards (like lots of black and super-pointy shoes) but what people wear individually is ALL over the map. Next time I will still wear lots of black but be much less conscientious about the rest, as that’s apparently what they consider “personal style”. J

Happy Travels

Jules

Did You Know???


The Eiffel Tower at Night Posted by Picasa

I have a cousin who is insisting that my Mom and Aunt join him on a vacation to Maui.

While they're paying for their flight and most of the hotel bill, he is insisting they upgrade their hotel so they stay on the beach.

When my Mom told me how much they were spending to get to Maui and for their hotel, I said "Isn't it amazing? People will spend $2000 per person to go to Hawaii, but they don't realize for the same or even LESS money, they could be in PARIS?"

Mom said "yes, I can't believe it either. We spent less money in Paris than we did in New York, including hotel and food."

The only difference was a few hundred dollars more for the airfare.

Dontcha know? You don't need $5,000 to go to Europe?

Most people don't know. So I'm here to tell ya. ;)

The Arc De Triomphe Stairs


The Stairs Down the Arc De Triomphe Posted by Picasa

All I can say is -- Don't wait til you're too old to climb this one.

Of course, there are 4 legs to the Arc de Triomphe -- built by Napoleon. One of them has a secret lift (elevator) and I only found out about it after my Mom walked up to the stairs with her cane in hand and the French lady admitting us said "Lift?" Heck yes, we'll take the lift.

So, I rode up with my Mom (you can't leave Mom alone in an elevator, she's clastrophobic and needs something to focus on like ME) and then came down these stairs alone while my husband rode down with her.

They're old, but beautiful.

I just liked this picture.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

My Favorite Renaissance Man, Michelangelo


At The Louvre: Michelangelo's "Dying Slave" Posted by Picasa

Michelangelo has quickly become my favorite among the Renaissance artists. Yes, Leonard da Vinci was spectacular, but he was more of an Idea Man who invented a lot of things in addition to his paintings and sculpture, so he wasn't quite the devoted painter and sculptor Michelangelo was.

I don't think it was any cosmic accident that Michelangelo and da Vinci went to the same high school in Florence, Italy, the birthplace of The Renaissance.

For those of you lean on Art History lessons (I never took the class in college and now regret it deeply every time I darken the doorstep of The Louvre or any other art museum), The Renaissance was the rebirth of art and man away from The Church following the Dark Ages, which lasted from when The Roman Empire fell until about 1500, when artists like Michelangelo came to this earth and graced us with their presence.

This picture I took is of Michelangelo's Dying Slave. There's two of them together, the other called The Rebellious Slave, another sculpture of a similar man who is struggling against the bonds that tie him.

I've seen Michelangelo's David in Florence when we were there two years ago. It was my first Michelangelo sculpture, and once I saw David, I realized why Michelangelo was the sculptor of his time, and why everyone clamored to see him make more of his work.

David, like The Dying Slave and other works, are one of those things where you look at it, and it is so perfect, it becomes the standard by which all other sculptors are measured. His attention to anatomy and other details, not just in the medical sense but in the overall appearance of his work, makes his work especially stunning. When you look at David, his hands and feet are oversized, and it's very obvious when you stand in front of him. However, Michelangelo was commissioned to make David under the understanding that David would grace the top of the Duomo, the church at the center of Florence. When the people saw how beautiful David was, no one wanted to put him way up there on the Duomo, they wanted him down where they could admire him. And rightly so.

David, who is the David of "David and Goliath" Biblical fame, holds a slingshot in one hand and cradles rocks in the other, looking over his shoulder almost as he looks towards Goliath with a look that says "Yeah, I can bring him down."

Michelangelo also carved The Pieta (pronounced pee-ay-TAH), the image of Mary holding a dying Jesus which graces St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican. In that sculpture, if you measured Mary, she would actually be 13 feet tall, but when you look at her she doesn't seem out of proportion at all, Michelangelo only made her that big so she could support the Jesus in her arms without appearing overwhelmed.

Coincidentally, The Pieta is the only signed Michelangelo work. The story goes that Michelangelo, who was only 25 when he made The Pieta, overheard two young women of Florence as they admired the work shortly after it was unveiled. One of them said that a rival artist had made it, and Michelangelo, whose ego was bruised, went to the back of it and carved his name into the stone afterwards.

I love little facts like that.

Quote of the Day

"Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared."

- Edward Vernon Rickenbacker. American Pilot, Businessman and Aviator. 1890-1973

Saturday, October 15, 2005

In the Steps of Quasimodo


The Bored Gargoyle on Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral Posted by Picasa

I had the opportunity to climb to the top of Notre Dame Cathedral while I was in Paris a few weeks ago. This picture was taken as we headed towards the final steps of the bell tower, and the view included not only the famous "Bored Gargoyle" shown here, but a sweeping view of Paris.

In the center of Paris, in the church's square, is a small bronze circle noting the center of the city. This Ground Zero in France notes the beginning point from which all distances in the city are measured.

Notre Dame sits on a large island in the middle of the Seine River, called "Ile de la Cite" (Isle of the City), which affords a fantastic view from its belfry. Ile de la Cite also holds Ste. Chappelle, a Gothic cathedral where the entire Bible story is told in stained glass, the Justice Center for the French Police/Courts, and La Conciergerie, the notorious prison where Marie Antoinette spent her final months before being beheaded during The Terror -- the bloodbath that followed the French Revolution.

On the right, you see Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) Cathedral on the city's highest point, and closer to your right you see the Louvre, with the grand Tuileries Gardens giving way to Place de la Concorde (where Marie Antoinette and her husband, along with thousands of other Frenchmen lost their heads to the guillotine during the French Revolution in the late 1780s and '90s). From there, you can see the Champs Elysees, the grand boulevard of ultra-chic shopping and Lance Armstrong's famous 7-time ride to victory in the Tour de France. It ends at the Arc de Triomphe, built by Napoleon and resting place for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where to this day, a nightly military band and Honor Guard play the French National Anthem and lays great floral wreaths to honor the war dead from World War I (The War To End All Wars).

In front of you as you look West from the cathedral is the Eiffel Tower, to the left is Les Invalides (where Louis XIV built a grand military hospital and cathedral for his soldiers to recouperate after fighting his wars, and is still the "Veterans Hospital" to this day, and where Napoleon is buried.

Yes, the view from Notre Dame is spectacular. I hope everyone gets to see it in their lifetime. I'll post more pictures later.

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