Friday, April 30, 2010

Twiglets & Ginger Beer

Well, as you may have guessed from by brief hiatus, I am no longer in Paris, but have spent the last week in London, which I love, love, love. It feels like being home since Steve and I lived here about 10 years ago, and I have been sleeping, eating, and enjoying traveling without those pesky 18 college students to worry about (even though I love you guys).

And as I have come back to my hotel every afternoon, thinking I should be writing on the blog but instead mindlessly surfing the Internet, I have been indulging myself in one of my favorite UK snacks, Twiglets & Ginger Beer.

If you're scratching your head, you're not alone. I put "Twiglets & Ginger Beer" on my Facebook status update and have yet to get one comment, so either people are totally stumped, or they think I'm totally lame.

Anyway, first let's start with Twiglets. Really, these things are totally bizarre, and when they were first introduced to me by our friends Tim & Alison I thought they were kidding. They are these whole wheat, pretzely-like snacky food that are coated in the equivalent of Marmite, which is Vegemite, which is that stuff that Men at Work talk about in "A Land Down Under," which is that stuff made of nasty tasting yeast that Aussies, for some reason, think tastes great on just about everything. When I first tried them I was repulsed, and said "Ewwww," but after chewing and swallowing I stopped and said "wait a minute, give me another one of those things...," and thus, an addiction was born.

The Twiglets are totally pungent, so what better to match it with but Old Jamaica Ginger Beer. It's a little like ginger ale, but then again, nothing like ginger ale. It's a soda, but tastes like real ginger instead of the syrupy, nasty flavor in ginger ale. It can be really strong and almost hot tasting, but I find the Old Jamaica is just right. And it comes in diet. Score.

I don't know what it is, but there's something about that nasty yeasty taste and that sharp ginger taste that makes up for all the bland, heavy, French food I've had over the last few months. I know, I know, Marie-Laure, but I just never did completely get it. What can I say? I'm an ugly American.

So, here I am, having my afternoon snack, writing about my afternoon snack. I know, it's a little less ambitious than most of my blog posts of late.

But come on. I'm on a vacation here!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Locks of Love

Well, Icelandic volcano or no, my time in Paris is quickly coming to an end. And our time with the students, although most are still in Paris, has already finished. It really was an amazing experience to get to know them each, and I can truly say that each of them taught me many important things during our time together.

We've been getting together each Monday night for FHE, and we wanted our last meeting to be one to remember. Then I was reading my friend Reba's blog and learned about the tradition that has been going on for years where couples put a lock with their names up on some of the pedestrian bridges across the Seine and then throw the key in the river to symbolize their everlasting love. I wanted to do it for the family, but I thought of the student's time here in Paris, and how I am sure this experience has changed each of them. So, I thought it might be a nice idea for them each to put their own lock on the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar Senghor to symbolize that they are leaving a little part of them in Paris that will be here forever.

I know, I know, it doesn't really follow the rules, but rules were made to be broken, right?

So we all got together and shared what we had each learned personally during our time in Paris, and then put our locks on the bridge. It was a great evening, and truly one of the highlights of our time here for me. Here's some photos.

The students decorating their locks to attach to the bridge.

Then on to dinner.

Steve got the Boeuf Tartare. Why? I have absolutely no idea, although I do know that he often likes to eat food that's based on a dare.

Finding a home for our locks.

I knew we were in trouble the day before we went to the bridge and I told the boys about the tradition and let them decorate and put their name on their own locks. Jack lovingly decorated both the lock and the key, and then cried like he had lost his best friend when we attached it to the bridge and he realized it wasn't coming home with him. Luckily one of the students didn't make it, so he inherited his lock to stop the sobbing. He's already been back to visit his lock once and wants to see it again before we leave Paris on Friday.

Throwing the keys into the Seine.

Lots of locks. The row is some of the students, and ours is the large one in the middle with Max's and Jack's attached.

And, luckily, someone was smart enough to make a key for you to find your lock again when you return. Ours is in section 23A.

I really have loved my time in Paris, and I have to admit that it has thrilled me, humbled me, inspired me, and kicked my butt on more than one occasion.

It truly has been everything at once.

And, as I am spending my last couple of days here, I am starting to realize that leaving that little part of me here in Paris is really going to hurt.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

And Just When I Thought It Was Time To Come Home...


The good news is now I have time to catch up on the blog.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Today I Felt Like A True Parisian

Was it because I got swept away by the art and architecture? Was it because I had a fantastic French meal? Was it because I spoke perfect French all day?


It was because I yelled at some American tourists who were pushing on the metro.

I think this means it's time to come home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

J'adore: Shopping In Paris

And no, not the kind of shopping you might think, although I have done my fair share of that kind too. No, the shopping I'm taking about it grocery shopping. And to be completely honest, it's been a bit of a love hate relationship. Things don't always taste just right, sometimes I have bought the wrong thing completely (like the day I used the kind of sugar you only use for jam in brownies and they ended up very sour), and, you know, everything on the groceries is written in FRENCH.

The nerve.

But today I did what I am guessing will probably be my last "big" shopping trip, one where I have to take the trolley and get a major work out getting up the stairs because it's close to overflowing. And it made me a bit sad. I do not for one instant miss my car and driving to do my errands, and I have to say that is probably the thing that I will miss most from living here: the self reliance of walking everywhere, or even taking the metro. I do have to admit that I have a really nice grocery store right across the street and another good one around the corner, so there is no slogging the groceries on the metro like I had to do on the tube in London when we lived there. So I am spoiled that way, and it takes a ton less time to walk and do my errands (even when I pick up bread at the bakery and fresh veggies on Rue Cler) than it does when I drive at home. And I will miss Rue Cler; it is beautiful.

But really, I just hate cars. And I am lucky enough to have a good one that's fairly new and in good shape. But I love briskly walking the neighborhood with my ugly, hunter green trolley with electrical tape on the handle, keeping up with all the amazingly beautiful, impeccably dressed French women pulling their (not so shabby) trolleys to do their errands. It makes me feel like one with Paris, and I feel the pulse of the city around me. I feel alive when I run my errands here, and at home it just seems like a blur of turn signals and stop lights and looking forward to getting it over.

I will miss the Carrefour City. And it's theme song that plays as you're shopping "Carrefour, Ci-tay." Although it does come in second to the theme song at the Franprix around the corner "Franprix, votre grocery préfere, Franprix." And I love that the Carrefour is open from 7 AM to 11:45 PM. And on Sundays from 9 AM until whenever they feel like closing (which is probably about 1PM). I'm not kidding. I love and hate that about the French: they are very protective of their downtime.

So it was with a heavy heart today I carried my heavy shopping trolley up the steep, winding staircase to our apartment.

But hey, I'm looking at the bright side. At least I can sing along to my iPod when I run my errands avec car at home. Believe you me, the French would not like it one little bit if I walked down Rue Cler singing Feist at the top of my lungs.

The nerve.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What Do You Make For Easter Dinner In Paris? Mexican, Of Course

Okay, maybe I should clarify by saying "What do you make for Easter dinner in Paris when you are feeding 20 American college students?" When I made some (very bad) Mexican for some of the students one Sunday (we've been having two of them over every week during the program), the word spread like wildfire that I made the BEST MEXICAN FOOD EVER.

Seriously, it kind of sucked.

So, when I decided to have everyone over for Easter dinner, the requests for Mexican were overwhelming, and because I have grown to love the students like my own children, I had to oblige. And let me tell you, making Mexican food in Paris is not an easy feat. First of all, the French don't seem to like anything spicy, and cheddar cheese is almost impossible to find for less than 20 Euros per pound, there's no sour cream, and after searching for months, I only found one supermarche that carried jalepeno peppers. And I never did find pinto beans, but luckily had my sister bring some when she visited in March. So, I pieced together a pretty good semblance of a Mexican meal, and I have to say, in the end, I was quite proud of it, as strange as it was.

Who knew that a big pot of pinto beans could be so exotic?

Me telling everyone to come and get it. Max was wise and ate on the top bunk to avoid the feeding frenzy.

The spread: Homemade guacamole, salsa, refried beans, chicken tacos, with a few little French additions, like creme frâiche instead of sour cream, gouda cheese instead of cheddar, and romaine lettuce instead of iceberg.

Luckily cooking for college students is like shooting fish in a barrel. Especially when they haven't had Mexican in months.

And for dessert, the best brownies in the world. I'm not kidding. If you've always been looking for the perfect brownie recipe, look no further because here it is. And those things that look like cyclops eyes are actually chocolate eggs filled with ice cream and caramel to look like whites and yolks (stuck on with Nutella). I had to be a little festive in the middle of the fiesta.

Jack loves the ladies, and the ladies love him right back. I may have something to worry about in a few years...

And Max convinced a few of the students to get into a little Uno smackdown too.

It really was a great Easter. I usually have a big Easter feast with friends and family at our place, but this was just as much fun. I certainly missed my friends and family, but it has been pretty awesome to have a whole new family here in France.

Thanks students, I love you guys!

Kinda Like Your Favorite Rock Star Coming To Spend A Day In Paris With You

We had a fantastic surprise last week. Steve's cousin Jill and her family came to visit us. Jill's husband Dave is a pilot for Delta, so they decided to hop a flight to Paris for spring break and come to see us. Unfortunately we only got to spend one day together, and it was one of those crazy Paris spring days that alternate between sunny and beautiful and freezing and raining every 15 minutes. Jill and Dave's kids Jack and Katie are total rock stars to Max and Jack, so spending a day with them in Paris was just about the end all be all in their book. Here's some photos:

Dave, Jack, Katie, Jill and Max in front of the I Love You wall in Monmartre during one of our fifteen minutes of sunshine. By the time we had stopped at Sacre Coeur for a few minutes, it was pouring.

Riding the metro with Katie during a rainy bit of the day.

And sunshine again at Notre Dame when Dave gave Jack a piggy back ride.

Max, Katie, Jack and I walking along the Seine.

And one of my favorite moments of the day was when Jack asked me if he could take the sleeping mask Jack and Katie had given him from their flight to bed with him. When I went to check on him, I found he had decided to actually put it to good use.
Alas, even this didn't get him to sleep past six.

Jill, Dave, Jack & Katie, thanks so much for coming to visit!
You really made our (rainy) day!

Friday, April 9, 2010

At Le Jardin Du Luxembourg

One of our favorite places in Paris has got to be the Jardin du Luxembourg, one of the big, beautiful city parks. I love it because it's a great walk from our house, and the boys love it because there's so many fun things for kids to do. Unfortunately, the fun things for kids only happen on Wednesday (because French kids don't have school on Wednesday) and the weekends, so we hadn't had a chance to take advantage of them all. But a couple of weeks ago we actually had a nice day on a Wednesday so we decided to go and do all the things we'd been wanting to try.

First was Les Bateaux. I had read about these cool, old school boats that you can rent for the kids to sail on the large fountain in the middle of the park, right by Luxembourg Palace. We had tried on the weekends a couple of times to find them there, but the weather wasn't good enough or the guy that rents them was taking a mental health day, but finally, we found him there. Here's the photos:

The boats are old, wooden hand painted sail boats that the kids push with a long bamboo stick to get them going. Doesn't sound too exciting, but those things really get cruising, especially on a windy day like the day we were there.

Boats afloat.

We had a bunch of boat races between Max and Jack, and this time the boats actually got stuck together, but it was a great photo opportunity. Max's boat was the one with the number 5 and the French flag, Jack's was the one with the pirate skull and crossbones.

These two sailors did a great job on their maiden voyage.

And then it was off to the playground. We've spent a lot of time in this playground mixing it up with the French kids. It's got some great play equipment, including a zip line and tons of fun merry go rounds like this one. The only downside is that I get a little nervous at how fast a group of kids can get this thing going.

New French friends.

Max having fun on the see-saw.

Then it was off to see the Guignol Puppet Show right next to the playground. Again, I have always wanted to do this but we've never been at the park at the right time. Today was our lucky day, there was a production of Pinocchio starting just as we left the playground.

The crowd getting ready. Max and Jack got front row seats (you can see jack up in the front left).

The show was hard to capture in photographs, and although it was all in French, the kids loved it. The French kids called back to the characters and told them what to do and not to do, and there were all kinds of special effects like fog and a explosion of fire when one puppet turned into a bat. Very cool.

And finally, we are seeing some signs of spring in Paris, which are more than welcome. The flowers are out, Steve's allergies are attacking, and there's little bunnies in the furrier's window. Must be spring.

Four hours in the Jaridin du Luxembourg = One terrific afternoon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

So Many Châteaux, So Little Time

Last weekend we went on our last trip with the students before leaving Paris, and let me tell you, it was a doozy. In a good way. But also in a tiring, standing too much in the rain sensory overload way as well. I think I took something like 680 pictures, so it's taken a few days to sort through them all and give you a sampling of all the Châteaux of the Loire Valley. At least the six we saw. Seriously, there was more than I could count in the area, but I think we got a pretty good overview with the handful we saw. So, here's the (very abbreviated) photos of our whirlwind tour:

Our first stop was Langeais. Driving into the town felt like we were the last people on earth because all the shops were closed for lunch and there was hardly anyone on the street of this super small town. After being in Paris for months, it felt great to have nothing going on. The castle was the real deal, complete with drawbridge.

Max on his way to the château.

One of my favorite photos I took in the Château was of this tiny mirror that made me feel like I was in the famous Jan Van Eyck painting The Arnolfini Wedding. I always loved how the artist did a tiny self portrait of him creating the painting in the mirror, and how I have my own little self portrait of me taking the photo.

The best part of Langeais had to be the park out back. After seeing the château we all played on the playground and in the most amazing tree house any of us had ever seen.

After Langeais, it was a short trip to Azay-le-Rideau, which I have to say, in my opinion, was the most beautiful of the châteaux we saw on the trip. Seriously, the whole time I kept saying "Are you kidding me?" It was that amazing. And it was a beautiful day. Good thing we enjoyed it while we could...

Checking out what a château kitchen looks like.

Beautiful views everywhere.

Seriously, I just couldn't stop taking photos. Here's one with Max and Jack.

Skye, Emily, Rosalie and Brooklyn had time to do some acrobatics while the rest of us enjoyed the sunshine.

And my sweet boys both collected flowers for me. The best part of being a Mom is having cute boys give you flowers every chance they get.

Well, the next morning we found out that the beautiful weather couldn't hold out, so we had to spend our trip to Chenonceau in the rain. But, are you kidding me? A château that goes across a river. So cool. And wet.

The gardens sure looked pretty, but were drenched by the time we wanted to take a stroll around.

But a little rain didn't stop Max when he found a hedge maze to conquer. He made it to the middle first, and out the other side before any of us.

Next we were off to Amboise, and though the weather was still cold and rainy, there was a ton to see there.

I loved getting out of Paris to see what I think of as the real France. Beautiful quaint towns and calm, happy, people without all the big city angst and hostility.

Leonardo Da Vinci is actually buried in Amboise and his remains are in the chapel of the Château. So cool to think of all the influences he had on world culture in his life. I was inspired.

And I love these floors. I took so many photos of cool floors in all the châteaux that I may have to make a separate blog post just to show you. They are so detailed and beautiful, especially the ones like these that show the wear over the years.

And then it was off to Clos Luce, the home of Leonardo Da Vinci in Amboise.

My very favorite part of the trip was walking around the museum in the Château with Max. There were a bunch of replicas of Da Vinci's inventions there and he ran to each one and asked me what they did. He saw the first bike, the first water pumps, paddle boats, and so on. There is also a park that has large scale models of his inventions that we spent a little time in, but since it was pouring (with a little hail) it didn't last long. I didn't even get a photo, that's how wet it was, so I stole this one off the internet.

The next morning we went to Blois, which was beautiful, and cool, but I was on kid duty so I didn't get many pictures, but here's some so you see what I mean. It was a bit scizophrenic in it's architecture; the next three photos are all taken in the same courtyard.

Then it was off to our final stop, Chambord. It was the biggest of the châteaux, which a bit ironic considering it was only used as a hunting lodge. Not too shabby.

I love these amazing spiral staircases that we saw in both Blois and Chambord.
At this point in the trip, Steve and I had to do the "divide & conquer" approach with the boys. You can imagine they were getting a little testy and sick of châteaux by this time. I was the one with the camera, so sorry you won't get any more Max and Steve for the trip.

During the war some of the worlds most priceless art was stored at Chambord, including the Mona Lisa. Jack got to look at a blown up version up close and personal.

And by the end of the trip, we were all feeling a bit like Jack did when we were done at Chambord. It was a lot of fun, but totally exhausting.

Who knew checking out châteaux was such hard work?