Monday, January 21, 2008

A fully functioning kitchen- AT LAST!

What a great day! We finally, after more than a month of building works, once again have the luxury of living in an apartment with a fully functioning kitchen. The plumber came this morning and hooked up the sink. That means no more running to the bathroom every time I need to get Ella a glass of water. No running stuff through the dishwasher three times because there is no place to rinse off food gunk. No more emptying pasta water into a bucket and ending up with half of it on the floor because I am trying to hold the colander in one hand and not scald myself. Oh, and best of all? Maybe my cleaning lady with deign to enter the kitchen once more. Bizarrely, she hasn't touched a thing in the kitchen in the last 4 weeks- not even emptying the dishwasher. I realize that it was, technically, a building site and more or less a lost cause in terms of cleanliness, but still. I was so baffled each time she left the house, only to find that she had left a stack of filthy dishes on the counter and the dishwasher full, that I never managed to quite articulate a request. Hopefully, she won't be too disturbed by the unfinished walls and Wednesday we can get back to normal.

Actually, I'm thinking that I might attack the walls this week anyways; this morning the plasterer came for the last time and since B and I have pretty much decided that the only way to pick out the tile will be by visiting an Ann Sacks showroom, we will probably not have tiles any time soon. I figure I might as well make the walls presentable since I will have to live with it this way for a couple months. Plus, I have my very exciting Tupperware party on Friday morning and so all my mommy friends will be in the kitchen checking it out. I don't want to say I am definitely going to do it, because at this point, I have so much stuff to clean up before we have people over, I might never be ready. On the otherhand, I get slightly lunatic about the house whenever people are coming around and re-painting a room doesn't even scratch the surface of my special kind of crazy.

I am also very anxious to see this picture hung up. I mentioned last fall that we had bought a painting at the vernissage for Charel at the Galerie Felli and this is it. Since it arrived, I've just been shifting it around the house from one corner to the next. I couldn't really figure out where to put. Finally, I think that it will look really great hanging in the kitchen since the lightest color matches the cabinets and stone and there is a greenish tinge in the water (that you can't see very well in this photo) that is picked up by the glass in the upper cabinets. I will still need to get it under glass so that the humidity and grease in the kitchen don't wreck the surface of the painting, which is actually quite fragile, but for now, I just want to see it up. I think that getting up some art will go a long ways towards making me feel like this project is coming together and will be finished one day soon.

Posted by Picasa

Paris addresses for moms

Saturday mornings, there is no laying around the house in our pyjamas. Ella and I are always up bright and early to get her to her dance class. I don't know if I have mentioned here what a great little dance studio I found over in the 5th. Its called the Atoll de Danse (35 rue Galande. for info, call Cleo at 06 26 82 41 45) and its a run by a trio of women. On Saturday morning, they have a class for 2-3 year olds. Calling it "danse class" is probably exaggerating a bit. Its more about movement and music, with a bit of tumbling thrown in. There are only 4 little girls and Ella just adores it; she spends all of Saturday wiggling around the house, repeating the exercises that they did. This week, it was apparently something about "Marchez, marchez, marchcez, saut!" ("Walk walk walk, jump! ad infinitum...) Its a bit expensive but it suits Ella so well, that I don't even worry about the price. If anyone would be looking for a class, I could not recommend this place highly enough.

The only problem with her class is that it lasts one hour and I am always at loose ends, trying to find something to do while I wait for her. Its just far enough from our house that it is silly to come home; all I have time for is a quick coffee and I have to get my coat back on to fetch her. Over in the 5th, there isn't really much to do in the way of shopping, unless I want to buy groceries at the market. I thought I had finally hit on a good plan- I would spend the time getting my nails done! I love having a manicure. When I try to take care of my nails myself, they are always a mess. They are too soft so I can't let them grow long and I can't seem to paint them without smudging atleast three nails in the first ten minutes. I feel a bit embarrassed to have my hands out sometimes when we go somewhere nice, my nails and cuticles are in such bad shape. But its not really enough of a priority that I would go out of my way to schedule a manicure. Thats why this is so perfect.

Except that there are apparently ZERO places in the 5th where you can get your nails done. I spent 45 minutes wandering in circles trying to find a place near to her danse studio where I could get a quick, cheap manicure. I gave up on that idea and would have gone anywhere that even offered the service. Finally, I asked at a pharmacy and they sent me Sephora at 79, Blvd St Germain in the 6th. Its not too expensive at 26 euro and its not too far from the studio, but generally, I prefer to go to small local places than big chains like Sephora. I made an appointment for the next week, since it was nearly time to go pick up Ella, and headed back. Then, when I was about 100 meters from my destination, what do I spy wedged between two giant cafe awnings? Why, a small beauty salon! I had peaked around the corner earlier, but hadn't noticed the window, hidden behind chairs and umbrellas from the cafe on the corner but in fact, it was exactly the type of place I had been looking for. Its called L'institut (88, blvd St Germain) and for 35 euro you can get a thorough manicure with hand treatment. Its a bit more expensive but they were really helpful and said that they were rarely busy that early on a Saturday so I wouldn't even have to make appointments- which, for me, is perfect. Its silly, but I HATE making appointments for things like that. Since I always seem to be running 10 minutes late due to little miss E, I'm already stressed out enough about being late for important appointments. No need to stress out about stupid things like my nails. Now hopefully next week, I'll be reporting on what a wonderful job they did. But then, its kind of hard to file nails badly, right?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Countertops are in!

So the guys just left and our countertops are in! I really think it turned out great- although the color is slightly darker than I thought it would be, not exactly as creamy as expected, but I think that it might just be due to the fact that some of the pieces of stone had less grey in them than the piece that we ended up with. B really likes the color. My fav thing is how thick it is- 7 cm. I also really like the underhung sink, which is enormous. When we went back to the kitchen shop to confirm the plan, we asked for a bigger sink. I don't know why we thought the original one was too small, when I suspect it was the average size. Since we only have one basin, instead of two, like in the old kitchen, its probably for the best. I also have ended up happy with the little trash can thing installed in the countertop. The idea is that you can just brush crumbs, peelings, etc into the bucket instead of trying to carry them to the trash. Ultimately, it probably would have been more useful to have a dishsoap dispenser I suppose. Oh well. B and his gadgets, its impossible to control.

Since the color of the stone is a lot more greige than I expected I am a bit confused now as to what I should do for the tiles/wall color. If the color had been paler, I thought either a really cozy brown color would look good or a very pale cream color. Now, I suspect that either of those choices would make things just too monochromatic and blah. Back to the drawing board, I guess. I've already pulled out my stack of color swatches and its interesting to see that a pinky beige color looks the best with the stone. The next best is definitely a deep, dusty purple color. Of course, neither of these looks phenomonal with the aqua blue glass. Hmmm.

I was just wondering as I looked through the color samples if it wouldn't be a good idea to apply some sort of decal to the front of the glass cabinets. I've seen some really amazing uses of photography printed onto clear sticky paper and applied to plexiglass. If I could do something like that to change the color of the glass, it would be fantastic. I already asked B if we could possible use the plastic tint that you put on windows (to block out light) on the glass and he said he thought it would be a bad idea. I might have to insist on trying it anyways. It would give it the perfect smoky brown color that let the cabinets blend into the background.

Finally, the best way to deal with the monocromatic color scheme might be to add some patterened tiles. I was flipping through the Ann Sacks website and found some glass tile mosaics that might be just the thing for blending the beiges and the aqua blue. What do you think of this or this? I'm starting to realize that there is no way that I will be able to order these tiles over the telephone, however. Clearly, I'm going to have to find a very good reason to fly back to the States for a weekend so I can visit a showroom and make some decisions.

Posted by Picasa

Am I over-reacting?

It makes me absolutely FURIOUS when B goes through my goes through my stuff to see who I've been talking to, writing to, emailing, etc. I got an anonymous call on my mobile the other night and because I was busy getting Ella to bed, I didn't pick up the call, figuring the person would leave a message and I could call them back later. Well, he couldn't stand that. Who was it? Who would be calling from an anonymous number? Why didn't I check the message? Why not right this second? Finally, I called my answering machine and it was a friend in NYC calling from work, since she didn't have my home number with her. End of story, right?

Except it irritates me beyond belief. I couldn't help shouting at him to leave it alone. My phone, my friend, my business! Things had sort of been building up to a giant irritation over the past few days. He heard my phone beep in the morning with a texto, so he picked up my phone and went through all the messages, curious who had sent me a message so early and curious about who I had gotten messages from. He doesn't see any problem doing this. Or anything wrong with reading all my emails when he sits down to use the computerl; he says it shouldn't matter since it is just sitting open on the scree. He'll go through the phone bill to see which number I've been calling the most. I can't have a diary, because if he sees it, he'll take it out when I am not home and read it. He'll even go through the history on Internet Explorer to see which websites I've looked at during the day. Yesterday, when I went to peek at one my favorite 'boutiques' on Ebay, he made me click on my account to see if I've been bidding on anything. How insulting- as if I am five years old and need to be monitored.

I don't feel like I should have to lock up my stuff in my own home in order to have a bit of privacy. It doesn't matter if there is any secret to hide or not, its just that I think that he doesn't have any right to go through my things. Its mine. I hate feeling like I have no personal space. Honestly, when I saw him going through my text messages I was ready to pack my bags and walk out of the house, I was so angry.

His excuse is that he is just curious, since he was a little boy he has been a 'Touche-a-tout' (touch everything). He can't make himself stop. I think, growing up in a big family often living in very tight quarters, I am slightly more sensitive than most about my personal space. I would never read someone's private diary, email, mail, look in their telephone, listen in on a conversation- nothing. I think that curiosity killed the cat and no good can come of poking around in other people's business. Am I the only one?

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I have got to dig through the mountain of paperwork, old magazines, coloring books, used airline tickets, etc on my desk and find my agenda because for the second week in a row I managed to schedule three meet-ups on the same day. Today I had coffee at my house in the morning (at the time I had scheduled the plasterer to come in, so making the actual coffee proved to be a bit of a challenge...), I had afternoon coffee scheduled with a girlfriend at a place up in the 9th, and normally I am supposed to go out for drinks with a few girlfriends yet tonight, but I think I will have to cancel that because I just spent a very miserable 40 minutes walking home in a cold misty rain and I would like to avoid catching pneumonia, thank you very much.

Basically, every single one of my social engagements for the week were squeezed into a 8 hour period. I am turning into my mother. "I don't need a calendar, I'll just keep it all straight in my head." Well, clearly I can't manage even my meagre list of social events without help. Right now I have a niggling fear that there is something I am supposed to do tomorrow afternoon but I just checked my calendar and there is nothing written down (big surprise.) Hmmm. This is almost worse than forgetting about a rdv because instead of just feeling bad when the person calls to ask where I am, I get to spend the entire day with the looming dread of getting yelled at, just waiting for my phone to ring so I can know the who, when, and where. Ahh, the slow slide into senility. Who know it would start so soon?

Anyways, before I forget (which is likely to be any second now), I should mention this great cafe that I went to this afternoon. Its called The Poussette Cafe and it was the perfect place to go with Ella and another baby for a relaxing afternoon coffee. I rarely go out to meet girlfriends with Ella because I spend the entire time trying to entertain her and keep from bothering the other customers. This cafe is all set up for kids, so there is stuff to play with, nothing really that kids can't touch, a menu that is actually for children and doesn't cost a fortune plus lots of nice things for adults. They have a shop selling lots of really sweet baby clothes and a great line of wall stickers for decorating children's rooms. I loved the place and will definitely be back. Plus, right across the street is a park with a climbing frame so if your kids get fed up with the cafe, you can pop out for a run in the park. This afternoon, my girlfriend and I had the place to ourselves, which I cannot understand. If I had kids and lived in the neighborhood, I think I would be there just about every single day.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The plague descends on our household once more

Good lord- once again Ella came down with a stomach flu and spent the hours between 10:30 last night and 3 am alternating between a coma like sleep and a surprisingly accurate re-enactment of The Exorcist. Poor B will never learn and for the umpteenth time managed to position himself right in the line of fire. How does the man do it? One of these days he will surely realize that it is far more intelligent to go for the bucket first, baby second. He gets it backwards, every single time, and ends up having to stand in front of her, catching vomit in his bare hands, unable to even move for fear of spreading the mess. Great Dad, just no sense of self-preservation. And not only does he not care about getting covered in puke (or atleast, not enough to avoid it), but he spent the night sleeping on the floor next to her bed so that he could be close to her if she got sick again. I tried to get Ella to come sleep in our room but she didn't want to and B volunteered to just stay with her. How sweet was that?

I was nearly convinced that it was the gastro once again but I was thinking about it and I wonder if she didn't get sick from the green grapes that she ate yesterday at playgroup. Can't you get salmonella or something from unwashed fruit and veg? I suppose it doesn't really matter now since she seems to be on the road to recovery but it does make me wonder a bit.

The most disturbing thing wasn't the amount of vomiting that she did, although it was prodigious. She dirtied nearly every single sheet and blanket that I own, and today was a steady round of washing, drying, ironing, and folding. Always fun, but even more so when you are managing on 5 hours of sleep.

The most disturbing thing was not the way the pasta that she had had for dinner turned to paste and stuck to the fabric of her pyjamas and the sheets, requiring a thorough scrub before it could be thrown in the washing machine and thereby working its way under all my nails so that I couldn't even enjoy a relaxing half hour in front of the tele without gagging from the stench of my own hands.

No, the most disturbing thing was the enormous chunks of food that came up. It was quite clear that her last meal consisted of green grapes and tortellini pasta, washed down with a bit of milk because squished into her sheets and piled up at the bottom of her bucket were halved grapes and slightly gnawed tortellini (and large chunks of curdled milk, ugh). Ella apparently eats like a starved wolfhound. It was quite clear that she had barely chewed any of her food, which I hadn't noticed while I was eating with her. I don't know what is more shocking- that she doesn't chew or that she managed to get those enormous chunks of food back up her esophogus?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Door adjustments

Voila, the work that they did today. I am very very happy to be able to say that those few inches that were added to the doorway make a huge difference. It definitely leaves enough room for traffic so that the counter top can extend a full 20 cm over the edge of the cabinets without making it feel like the counter sticks out into the doorway. B had agreed to do the work but wasn't convinced it was necessary, even still this morning. As soon as the builders moved back to give us a look, then and only then did he realize that it was better. This is so frustrating for me. The man has no imagination. Unless he can see it with his own eyes, he's a sceptic.

Last night B and I spent about 2 hours hanging up plastic to isolate the area from the rest of the house and try and contain the dust. I think that it might have only taken them about 45 minutes to cut out the door frame, knock the door back and put in a new floor tile. Figures. AND there is still dust over 75% of the house. I cannot even begin to imagine what it is going to be like when they do the plastering. Of course, they refused to even try taking the wall up to the level of the kitchen ceiling. At the last minute I tried to push them into just going for it, arguing that it was only a possibility that the ceiling would fall out. The other possibility was that everything would be fine and I was feeling very lucky. No dice. Plus, they didn't even take out the wood framing above the door. I just have to keep telling myself that atleast its better than before.

It is so windy outside right now, all I want to do is cuddle up in bed with a nice book and take a nap. Ella and I have promised to go to a playgroup this afternoon for galette du roi. Wish we could skip it. Or else go in a taxi...
Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 14, 2008

New coffeemaker, new life

Wow- this is the coffeemaker to end all coffeemakers, as I far as I am concerned. Check out that fine piece of stainless steel Swiss engineering. It was actually built in Switzerland, people. Nothing is actually built in Switzerland unless it goes 'cuckoo'. I had been quietly complaining about the price of this appliance that B insisted on having thinking that even a cheap model would have been a silly indulgence. I am now eating my words.

It got off to an inauspicious start. The coffeemaker was delivered Saturday morning -at 7:10 am. Have you ever even heard that it was possible for things to be delivered at that hour. Since Ella began sleeping through the night, I had forgotten that 7:10 am even existed. B and I were still sleeping so soundly and were so unprepared for a delivery to arrive early, that we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves. B banged madly at his alarm clock, trying to turn it off,only managing to turn on the clock radio, to blast Celine Dion at top volume (thanks Ella for fiddling with all the buttons) and I tried to scramble into some clothing but hadn't put my glasses on so could not even locate a pair of pants out of the mound of inindentifiable black clothing heaped on the floor. Finally, one of us had the clever idea to just go and answer the door, that someone being B. I gave up the fight and went back to sleep for a few hours, figuring no appliance was worth the effort.

Wrong wrong wrong. B had it all hooked up by the time I woke up. He had been stumped by the German instructions flashing across the command screen, but I sorted it out with some expert googling and we were off. I have been on a caffeine buzz ever since as I try to work my way through all the different functions. You see, this brilliant little coffeemaker can grind the beans as well as brew the coffee. It also steams milk, reheats drinks, provides boiling hot water for tea, and even folds the laundry. Well, ok, not the last one; but it does make all sorts of lovely types of coffee. Look at that coffee- doesn't it look delectable? Luckily, ella talked me into baking yet another batch of cupcakes (this one was chocolate-chocolate from Nigella's cookbook. Not bad. Closest recipe yet to duplicating the fluffiness of box cake, I think) so I have had something to nibble on as I sipped my way through the instruction manual.

I like it so much I am almost ready to tell B that he made a good choice. Almost.

Posted by Picasa

Odds and Ends

Good god, have I had a miserable afternoon. I am trying to transfer all the important documents from my old computer to my new one and it is seriously doing my head in. I FINALLY figured out how to re-install outlook express so that I could get at my old addresses (it was incredibly simple and I am v.v. irritated with myself for not getting to it before Christmas when it would have been more useful.) only to find that there are not so many as I had remembered there being. Hmmm. Either the data was corrupted or I was imagining things. All that work and finally it would have been more useful to simply have noted down on paper all the addresses from the Christmas cards I sent. Now, I practically have to start from zero for next year. Sigh.

I also started taking the photos off of that computer so that I could transfer them to the new one. I have to transfer from mid-2006 because as I mentioned the other day, I haven't printed out photos and organized them into albums since then. Today, I swung by the stationary shop to pick up another album so atleast I can get started on that; I am feeling slightly overwhelmed by the size of the job all of a sudden. I have nearly a year and a half of photos to organize! Luckily, I really cut back on the photo shoots after Ella's first birthday but still- I think I will fill the 88 page photo album twice easily. I'll try to see what I have printed out and send off another batch of photos to be printed yet today. I had a bunch of photos printed off with kodakgallery and they are so crap that I think I might just put them directly in the trash. I used to really like Fnac prints but the photo place on rue St Antoine closed last year and I don't know if their online printing service will be so good. A friend of mine who took a photography class this year told me that the best place to have photos printed is Negatif + in the 10th. I remember it from when we lived over in that neighborhood, although I had never used it. Not only do they do prints of a much higher quality than most places but you can also have things printed onto unusual supports like aluminium, cardboard, and PVC. Ugh- I am not excited about this job at all, although I am less excited about the idea of putting off yet again and having an even bigger project for the fall.

Anyways, there is no point in getting some big project started before the worst of the work on the kitchen is done. B called me to say that the builders will be here tomorrow,
8 a.m. to take out the dining room door. That is going to be such a horrific mess I don't even want to think about it. Then the countertops are supposed to be delivered Wednesday morning and the plasterer should arrive on Thursday for two days of work. This means I better count on doing nothing more than disaster management until next Monday. The nice thing is that me and the cleaning lady are on the same page- we've agreed that until that kitchen project settles down, we are in a holding pattern but the minute it finishes, there will be a blitz of spring cleaning. Everything in this house needs to be washed down- all the walls, all the furniture, every single object. God- even the leaves on the plants are disgusting. It would be super if I could get my hands on the the tiles in the next week so that we could just have everything done but that is wishful thinking. In any case, I need to get on the phone to see if I can't get some tile samples sent to me here in France. The trip to NYC is looking like it might not happen soon since the airline tickets are not budging below 400 euro mark, which I think is too pricey. Besides, B is already having me make plans for a spring holiday (maybe Phoenix and Baja?) and I should maybe conserve my jetlag energy for that.

I don't have my kitchen done yet but that hasn't stopped me from planning parties! Against my better judgement (and slightly against my will) I agreed to host a Tupperware party in two weeks. I am not completely overjoyed about it but I am hoping to just have my playground moms over for a fews hours, with the Tupperware as a bit of a novelty in the background. Of course, per the usual, I have been planning on doing this for about 2 months now and realize that it is just around the corner and I haven't even sent out invites yet. Yikes. Just another thing to add to the to-do list. Then this morning in the bath it dawned on me that Ella's 3rd birthday is coming up in less than a month. Double yikes! Last year we didn't do anything special since we were all deathly ill. I think if I skip her birthday two years in a row, I am setting a dangerous precedent and am veering into Bad Mommy territory. I'm sure that this year, Ella would appreciate A Very Diego Birthday so I better get my order in to my US suppliers (hi mom!) for themed plates, hats, etc. Luckily, this cupcake kick I have been on means that I am on the top of my game as far as birthday cake goes. Now all I need to figure out is how to contain the energy of a room full of preschoolers? Actually. That is a trick question. There is no way to contain it- the best you can hope for is to survive it.

Also on the to-do list: 1.) Send out the REST of the bloody New Years Cards!! I have them sitting on my desk and haven't touched them since we arrived back in France. This is getting silly. The New Year has not started out with a burst of productivity, unfortunately. I am also dragging my feet getting back into my yoga and making appointments for haircuts, etc (although I did manage to get Miss Ella in the other day. After about 2 months of talking about it...)

Thanks to B, I did get to cross one thing off of my list. This morning, I popped over to the Mairie and signed up Ella for school next year. Its a funny feeling to realize how old she is getting. It feels like I am standing at the top of the slide. Next fall, when she starts school, I'll start the ride down and the next thing I know, I'll be at the bottom and Ella will be 18 years-old and moving out of the house, everything having passed in a blur. Not that I am getting overwrought about this or anything...

And dare I say it, but I think potty training is moving along nicely (so its not all bad that she is growing up). Today, she made it through the morning at school without a diaper and we've been 100% princess panties for nearly 4 days now with no major accidents. Of course, Ella has been highly encouraged by the bag of leftover Christmas candy that we bought the other day. If she poops on the potty or goes to the bathroom by herself she gets a 'Tahnta Totlate!!!' She has gone so far as to make a special "bed" for the bag of chocolates under the coffee table so that they are always in sight. She doesn't try and sneak any, which I think is rather amazing. But she does like to lay down next to the bag and pet it gently, while gazingly adoringly at the foil-wrapped goodness.

Friday, January 11, 2008

35 months

In the style of Dooce, lets do a little monthly update, although these have become very sporadic, its good to jot a few notes every now and again.

Lately, we have just been bowled over by how much more Ella is trying to speak. I shouldn't say 'try'- I should say that she is speaking and we are trying to understand what she says. The problem is that right now, she has a pretty even 50/50 split in her conversation between English and French. I never know which language she is speaking, however, until I do a bit of deciphering. Whats worse is that she doesn't necessarily remark on the fact that some people only speak one language and so she just expects the whole world to be bilingual French and English. Atleast I've finally found a way to teach my family more French. Between Ella's stubborn insistence on using certain words in French (like 'vite', or 'gateau' or 'cadeau' or 'lait') and her cute little puss, they can't help but participate in the language lessons. Honestly, if my father keeps it up at this rate, he'll be ordering in restaurants next time they come to visit!

She has really started mimicking us, which makes a huge difference in the rate that her language skills are progressing. Yes, we've already had to start rolling out the curses like 'oh, fiddlesticks' after an incident when I stubbed my toe and may or may not have cursed out the which I stumbled over, causing me to shout out a string of about 12 f)àç_', to be shouted back at me by Ella, as in "No maman! No G*ddù*!;: piece of s*$^_ sofa !" This is something I expected her to be doing about a year ago at the same time as all her Anglophone friends. She's definitely not caught up to them in English yet but I have noticed that she is far ahead of most of them in French. It looks like it will all work out in the end- not that we had any doubts about that but I definitely don't think that we would be where we are now if we hadn't gotten her orthophone classes started last spring. It was the little push that got everything rolling.

We've also started playing lots of letter games. Ella wants to go through billboards, pointing out letters for me to say and then asks for a word that starts with that letter. She's really good at remembering the 'good' letters. E for Ella; M for mommy; D for daddy; etc. Sometimes she gives me a letter and I can't think of a really good word off the top of my head, or I think of teh wrong word. We were on the bus the other day and I mistakenly gave her P is for poopoo. Good one, Nicole. You know a really fun game? Ride the entire length of the Blvd St Germain and count the number of 'P's that you see. According to my memory, from that very embarrassing busride, there are something like 4000.

She is slowly making some progress on the potty training front, although I don't want to jinx things by getting into it too much. She adores her blue princess panties and wants to wear them all the time. Unfortunately, she doesn't actually want to the use the potty alot more than previously so there is a bit of a problem there...

She has really impressed us lately by her ability to play by herself, to invent games and not need any sort of help from us or the television to stay entertained. Oh- I don't want to give the impression that suddenly we have turned off the tv and DVD's. She's hardly given up on her favorite game of all. But now she can spend an hour in her room, monkeying around with toys or books and will not even get into any trouble. I've also organized her toys differently since vacation so that we have a stack of drawers next to her table in the office with markers, paints, stamps and inks, playdoh, shaping tools, etc so she maybe has more stuff available to her than before. Maybe these things just let her play independently for longer.

Obviously she is very into the idea of 'Ella do it!' and so in that vain one of her best Christmas presents was the baking kit from Grandma. She loves being in the kitchen and watching things cook. She loves to stir any bowl that she finds unattended (to my great regret...) and is always trying to participate. I try really hard to always says yes. That is, whenever it is safe, I try to say yes and ignore whatever voice is screaming in my head 'but look at the time! It'll never be ready if you let her help!' If you know me, this is HUGE. But it costs me nothing and it puts such a look of sheer joy on her face to be helping make dinner that it is absolutely worth eating at midnight, only one of the many sacrifices I expect that I will make over the next 20 years or so...
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Winter sales report

What a disaster. I headed straight over to Bon Marché and immediately got distracted and veered madly off course. So many people! Normally, its a nice relaxing shop over there even on the worst days but the crowds were a bit crazy. And of course, people were doing that thing that always makes me a bit frantic- you look at an item and have just barely put it back when some crazy woman dashes in from stage left and snatches it up like it is Frodo's ring. You start thinking that maybe you didn't get a good enough look. Maybe, instead of being overpriced tat, its actually EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEED TO COMPLETE YOUR EXISTENCE!! You move slightly to the side and pretend to be absorbed by something else, all the while watching the now desperately coveted item out of the corner of your eye. The minute that pushy woman scuttles off, you dive in to grab the rejected item. You glance over it again and realize how truly fabulous it really is. How could you have been so stupid to set it down and almost lose it?! Sure, its not your size, but thats what a tailor is for. And that makeup stain down the front will be really simple to get out with a bit of stain remover. And yeah, the ruffles all over the front are a bit... ruffly, but its the kind of trendy thing that will totally update the rest of your wardrobe. And 40% off! Which means that it will use up 80% of your shopping budget... But if you don't buy it now, it will be gone forever! If you are lucky, there is a really long queue at the caisse and while you wait, you come to your senses and abandon the item. Lucky for me, there were lines yesterday.
I walked through the purse area on my way to the escalators and very nearly blew my entire wad of cash on a Zac Posen bag. It was a beautiful bag, but would have been the ultimate impulse purchase, so I put it back. Then I noticed an enormous collection of bags at Salvatore Ferragamo (not a brand that normally catches my eye) and found a really lovely black bag. Again, I decided to take note and come back later if I find my wool coat. Up the stairs and into the thick of things, I moved from stand to stand and could not find a thing that I liked. I was starting to get a bit depressed. How grim things must be if I could pass the afternoon at Bon Marché with a wallet full of cash and not spend it. By this time I had reached the shoe section. If there is one thing that I absolutely don't need, its a new pair of shoes, I told myself. Next thing I know, I am walking out of the shoe department with a pair of Tod's flats (for the park! very useful!) that cost nearly half my budget. Sigh.
Then I veered over to the jeans area to use the toilet before heading home and I was drawn back into the feeding frenzy by the tables of 50% designer jeans and the empty changing rooms. 45 minutes later I managed to find the pair of jeans I had been looking for all season- dark blue wide leg for those of you keeping score- for a mere 50 euro, or roughly 70% off. I was skipping out of the store, happy in the knowledge that I had a useful purchase and a good deal in my bag, when I passed through an area that I had missed on my first swing through the women's area. I had the time, so I just thought I would peek around for my coveted black coat and what did I find- the coat to end all coats.

Alexander McQueen. Black wool. A beautiful fabric. A gorgeous cut. A little long, but easily hemmed. And 40% off. The price would have been perfect, if I hadn't already spend half my money. I thought about putting on my card and just dealing with B later, but after going back and forth on it for about 10 minutes, I hung it back up. I thought I might have seen the same coat on Net-a-porter that morning. I would check first before buying.

Well, once home, I saw that it wasn't the coat I liked best but another model (although it was nearly 80 euro cheaper online). I mentioned it to B and if he had had the cash this morning, I could have gone to get it. I also could have returned the stupid shoes, that I didn't particularly need. But B didn't have cash and I didn't really feel like dashing all the way over there to be disappointed. Blah, all that planning and strategizing for nothing. The only real success was that I didn't go down to the children's department. That has been my downfall these last few years. I end up spending a ton on Ella, clothes that she ends up barely wearing since she has so many things. One lesson learned, atleast.

Maybe this afternoon ella and I will do a bit more shopping. I wanted to go over to Maison des vacances to see about picking up some new pillows for the living room. I also wanted to peek at BHV to see if they had put their Kitchenaids on sale, since I finally have counterspace for one. And maybe a flattening iron as well? I think I might have to wait til week 2 or 3 before trying to venture inside BHV. When I passed last night, it was like an ant hill that someone had just stepped on. Little black insects pouring out of the doors, scurrying in all directions with their oversized packages clutched under their arms.

Ah, les soldes. What a nightmare.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Pre-sales planning

Its the eve of the January sales- do you know where your dream handbag is on sale for 60% off? that classic black wool coat that you couldn't afford in a million years? those silly yellow heels that will only get worn a handful of times, therefore never justifying their price? I'm not exactly sure but I think tomorrow I will be heading over to the Bon Marché directly because that is where I always have my best luck. My best sales tip? Go into the designer boutiques around the perimeter of the shop because they everything on sale, often at 50% off, from the first day because they need to clean out all their stock. Great for things like sunglasses that seem to never go on sale in other places.

I would really love a new big black bag but am in serious trouble because I haven't had the energy to do any pre-sale reconnaisance missions. I have been lusting for a bit after the YSL Downtown. My sister-in-law has one and until I saw her with it, I thought I hated it. In photos, I thought it looked really silly. In reality, the leather is so gorgeous and soft that I can't believe her husband bought her story that it was a fake she picked up on the street for 20 euro. The bad thing about having your husband in the clothing business is that he has an eagle eye for thing like that... Of course the positive side is that if I do happen to splurge, he has the good sense to acknowledge that the quality is excellent. But like I said, I don't know where to go looking for one of those on sale, although I assume looking for one would be like looking for leprechans or unicorns. Low probability of success.

So, although I always consider a new purse the best way to spend my winter sales budget, I think that priority number one this year is a black wool coat. I have a really basic model that I bought 8 years ago at Cacharel and I think that it is up for retirement. The fabric is gorgeous and doesn't have any sign of wear. BUT I ripped a belt loop off years ago and couldn't figure out an easy way to replace it. This year the second belt loop fell off so luckily I could just wear it with a wide leather belt and not only did I solve the belt loop problem but it looks quite modern. On the other hand, the ripped pocket (from Ella hanging on me one day) just looks trashy. And the shredded lining for the sleeve? It makes it impossible to wear this coat anywhere where it might require removal. So that means, I am only able to throw it on to go to the park or the grocery store. I suppose since those are about the only two reasons I leave the house on the average week day, the coat is still very very useful. I might as well just admit the real reason- I am bored bored bored with my boring old black wool coat. I saw the most beautiful coat from Zac Posen on net-a-porter, the Boulevard, but it looks a bit odd when left open- but since I found it for only 400 euro on ebay, I was very very tempted to buy it anyways. But then I started looking a bit more and, when skimming the sales items, I spied this Vanessa Bruno coat which I think is very cool. B thinks it looks absolutely useless as a winter coat; he's probably right. But, if I figure I might end up wearing the coat for 8 years, I figure I can spend a bit more than I think reasonable, right? In that case, why not this one? Anyways, I will go out looking tomorrow and atleast I have an idea of what I can find for a certain price range. The worst thing is getting caught up in the sales mob mentality and coming home with bags and bags of crap.

A few sale success techniques to remember:

* always shop alone. No time to waste waiting for your girlfriend to make up her mind about the identical pairs of black heels
*wear a skirt and ballet slippers so that you don't waste any more time than necessary in the changing room (and can even to an emergency essayage in the middle of the racks, when required)
*decide what you can spend and withdraw it in cash. That way, you will only spend what you can really afford.
*Go to the department stores first where you see lots of different brands and when you aren't sure about something, buy it. At all the grands magasins, you can return your purchases even when they are on sale, so long as you keep the ticket. Buy from the boutique only if you know won't try to return the item and then ask for an extra 10% off (since you are paying in cash)
*buy classic, quality items that build your wardrobe. Buy trendy things at the beginning of the season (preferably from a cheap brand) so that you get the most wear out of them.

Wish me good hunting.

Monday, January 07, 2008

More kitchen photos

In the last two photos you can see the problem with removing this door frame. If we could take the wall out to the ceiling it would mimic the entrance from the living room/hall, which would look great (especially since we had to leave a jog in the ceiling in between the old kitchen and the old hall.) But from the other side of the door, you can see how the ventilation arrives just where we want to do work. The builder said that the ceiling in this section is already fragile since it used to be held up by the wall which we removed. If we were to take out all the support on the other side, it would very likely crack, especially since we aren't entirely certain how much the ceiling is holding up the vents .

You can also see through the doorway how much the island is sticking out into the flow of traffic. By removing the door frame entirely and adding this 15 cm on the lefthand side (as you look from the dining room into the kitchen) I am hoping that it won't feel so awkward. Its moments like this when you appreciate how much a professional, like an interior architect, can help because they have enough experience to know what it will end up looking like whereas I just have to rely on my imagination. One thing that I am certain of- I want a clean look and this door, with the fussy molding and tricolor paint job, is too messy to stay.

Posted by Picasa

Year in Review (better late than never, right?)

Year in Review

1. What did you do in 2007 that you'd never done before?
I travelled to lots of new places. I did some neat diving stuff that was all new. Um, cooked some weird stuff in the kitchen? I don't think that I was particularly adventurous this year, unfortunately.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't think so. If I remember correctly, I wanted restart Italian lessons; I didn't hardly think about doing that.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My sister, a cousin, a few girlfriends. Thank goodness its not contagious.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thankfully.

5. What countries did you visit?
I traveled to the Maldives, Ireland, Brazil, England, and of course the States. I suppose, considering the amount of time I hung out at the airport, I could legimately add Iceland to the list...

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?
A job (outside the home). Patience (this is sort of an ongoing problem...) Thick hair (a girl can dream, can't she?)

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Nothing in particular. This wasn't a very dramatic year, I guess.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting B to agree to the kitchen renovation that I wanted, I suppose. Also, getting my diving license.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Failure to move forward on the job hunt. There are so many things that I could have done, even after I didn't get accepted to the program that I had applied to. I could have done language lessons. I could have done a different course, even if it was just an online thing and not necessarily towards another degree.
I suppose I should also list our failure to sell our house, even though, in the end, I think it all worked out for the best. We have a great flat in a great area and we have so many friends here. I would have hated to move away to a different neighborhood, even if the new house was everything that we've dreamed of.
I am also incredibly frustrated that I haven't managed to keep up with the photo albums of Ella. I have such good intentions but the big problem is that the albums that I started using for her are soooo expensive that I can't just run out and buy a new one when I fill up the last one. I have to wait until I have some money and then there is always something a bit more urgent or interesting to spend the money on and voila, here I am with about 18 months of photos sitting on my desk, waiting to be pasted into a book. Sigh.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Not really- unless you count the self-inflicted kind brought about by elective surgery. Which I do not regret in the least, by the way. Extremely happy with the decision.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I think it would have to be the bouquets of flowers that I insist of having every week. Technically, I know that it is a waste of money; but it really makes me happy to have fresh flowers around and so, unless there is absolutely zero space in my budget, I will continue to do this.
I am also very very happy that I bought that white leather Vivienne Westwood jacket. It really makes me feel good when I wear it.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Too many people to mention.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I have to say that a good friend of mine who is divorcing his wife has shocked me. I honestly can't believe that someone could behave so appalling to someone that they once loved. I suppose its par for the course in divorces, but thankfully, I haven't had to watch very many of those.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Definitely, we've spent most of our money on vacations this year.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The Harry Potter book. Going to Brazil. The Amy Winehouse CD. My solo vacations in San Fran for a wedding and in NYC with my best girlfriend.

16. What song will always remind you of 2007?
Anything from the Amy Winehouse CD, I listened to that so so much. Oooh- also I think the remake of 'The long way home' sung by Norah Jones. I listened to that song over and over after going to her concert. The funny thing is that it had been on my ipod for months and I hadn't noticed the song particularly when I listened to the whole CD. But hearing it live just marked me, I guess. I really really love that song.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? maybe happier, because last year at this time we had our apartment up for sale and so many things seemed unknown for the year ahead, which was a bit scary. This year, I just feel like I know a bit better where I am headed.
b) thinner or fatter? About the same, I suppose. Probably I'm in better shape (although 6 weeks of vacation has had a slightly detrimental effect...)
c) richer or poorer? Richer, but not exceedingly more so.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Exercising. I love having a regular work-out routine and I just have to be more committed to sorting out my babysitting situation. I also wish I had done so more studying, of any subject.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Less mindless surfing of the internet. I waste hours doing this.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Going to mass with my parents and siblings and then sitting down to a gorgeous meal of Alaskan salmon, lemon risotto, and asparagus washed down with several lovely bottles of wine. Christmas morning was enjoying having all my family around me and watching Ella enjoying her presents so much that she left half the pile unopened so that she could play with the first few toys. Being able to spend time with my grandparents. Watching the snow float down and turn it into a scene from Currier and Ives. Finishing up the night on the sofa with a Tom&Jerry in my hands, watching movies with my brothers and sisters.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007?
I continued to be in love with the same person, although we might be a bit more loved up than last year.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Little Britain was our fav discovery of the year although I also bought The Office (US version) and realized that I really really like that show, as well.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Can't think of anyone in particular. Such a waste of energy hating people, anyways.

24. What was the best book you read?
I think my fav was Eat, Love, Pray . It was just the perfect book at the perfect time. But I also really liked the Harry Potter book and it was so nice to finally reach the end of the series; I liked Julie and Julia and it got me on a cooking kick, pushed me to buy the Julia Child cookbook and maybe had a little bit to do with my need to re-do the kitchen so that we could do big dinners with our friends a bit easier. I can't help but felling that I am really missing out a biggie. Can't quite figure out what it might be though.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I suppose Amy Winehouse and Mika.

26. What did you want and get?
I'm spoiled. I feel like I got just about everything that I asked for this year.

27. What did you want and not get?
I didn't get a new apartment this year. That was for the best. I didn't get the place on that program that I applied to.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
I saw a lot of movies really liked this year but nothing really stands out.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 32 and had dinner under the stars, watching the sharks circle around in the water below our table when we were on holiday in the Maldives. It was so perfect that I can't see how I could possibly top that.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Some sort of work. I am not happiest when I have this much free time as I am someone who needs to have a project.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007?
This year has been a lot of jeans and t-shirts due to my current mommy gig. I am hoping that 2008 has a lot more call for the fav items in my closet, specifically my Louboutin heels and my VW jacket.

32. What kept you sane?
Love of husband. Also bikram yoga.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I don't have any particularly celebrity crushes; how boring is that?

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
I am totally apolitical. If there was a political movement against stupid people who disrupt my day, I might be able to work up a bit of steam for that. Otherwise, I can't be bothered.

35. Whom did you miss?
My family. Also, I really miss having my girlfriend Elizabeth in Paris; I have lots of good girlfriends (not in Paris); I have mommy friends; I have friends that are fun to go out with. But I haven't found anyone else who fits into all three categories, like she did.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
My diving instructor. She has given me lots of details to flesh out my fantasy life, wherein I abandon my boring Paris life and run off to a tropical island where I split my time between swimming, tanning, and eating coconuts.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007.
Happiness is not mankinds natural state. You have to work hard for it.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
I haven't any idea.

Kitchen renovation progress to date

Of course, it was all very well to come back to Paris and see my dear husband, but obviously I was far far more anxious to see what had been done to my kitchen. I have to admit that I was a teeny bit disappointed because in my head, I imagined it looking far more finished. When B described it to me over the telephone, it seemed like there had been legions of builders slaving away on 24 hour shifts, going as fast as possible to have it all perfect for my arrival. Granted, the change was pretty dramatic, but it is far from complete. Obviously, we can't have a sink til the countertops are installed (we are having an underhung sink) and the stone cutter just got back from holiday today so I think we have to wait atleast another week for that. These photos were taken a few days after I had arrived, and I had the chance to put some boards on the top of the cabinets so that we could actually have a place to work and set stuff down. B then installed the extraction hood. I also had B put the induction cooker on the temporary countertop (after the photos were taken) because it was getting impossible to think up healthy meals (that Ella would eat) that could be prepared using nothing more than a microwave and the kettle.

Anyways, my verdict? I love the floor tiles, which have a very discreet leather look to them and are the same format as our old tiles, that is to say, large rectangles laid out like brickwork. The finish on the cabinets is very nice and it looks great with the long steel door handles. I definitely wish that we had decided to cap each of the doors top and bottem with the thin metal plates. I thought it might be too much, since the handles make quite a dramatic visual statement but I think it would have given the kitchen a slightly more expensive look and it actually would have been very useful for maintaining the door and easy for cleaning. Oh well. Live and learn. I also am thinking that instead of leaving a spotlight in the corner near the window I'll ask the electrician to set it up so that I can hang a pendant light over the sink. It would be a nice design touch and that spot is a bit useless where it is. In any case, all the ceiling spots will be replaced with positionable inox spots. The only real problem that came up during the renovation had to do with the fact that we didn't have enough electricity coming into the kitchen to support the induction cooktop, the electric oven, plus all the new ceiling lights and plugs. They actually had to add a new switch box to the electric board in order to get up to an acceptable level so some of the fancy lighting things I asked them to do (like separate inside lights on the glass cupboards, a plug inside the niche) had to be nixed for safety reasons.

Now, on to the bad. I also do not like the glass in the upper cabinets. We weren't able to see the actual product before ordering, but in the catalog, they did not look this green. I think it looks like cheap Ikea glass. What the hell is up with that? And since they have frames on the exterior, the glass is glued on, and I can't paint the interiour or replace it with clear glass. Now that I am trying to pick out the backsplash tile, I am really confused about how to deal with this. Its such a huge block of color, I can't just ignore it. I feel like I have to somehow tie it in the rest of the kitchen, but aqua blue is definitely not top of my color preferences. I think that the best solution will be to have a multicolored backsplash using the Ann Sacks Metro tiles (or maybe Metro Crisp?) I'm starting to like the idea of using a mix of whites and creams, maybe even in an etched finish.
We chose all Siemens appliances, mainly because we liked the look but I am overall really disappointed with the stuff. They do look nice but there is no functionality. Compared to the Smeg appliances in our old kitchen, these are terrible. The oven is overcomplicated and I can't cook anything without getting out the instruction manual. The microwave is the same. The dishwasher is practically useless. Even the induction cooktop seems to have more buttons than necessary, all the while being incapable of doing half the jobs I want to do. Would never recommend this brand to anyone else- unless it is someone who doesn't actually use their kitchen.
The other problem that came up, that you can't quite see in these photos is that the island ended up far closer to the doorway between the kitchen and dining room than I had expected. I had asked B to be there when they were installing it to verify the distance and ask them to remove a small element on the adjoining wall if necessary. This would have moved the island 15 cm closer to the window wall and I think it would have worked out perfectly. He wasn't there that day and didn't think it was a problem, but when I pointed out that the counters would extend another 20 cm beyond the edge of the cabinet, he saw what I was worried about. We had the builder come and have decided to take out the entire door frame between the two rooms and knock out the 15 cm of wall on one side. Unfortunately, because the heating vent is just above this door frame, we can't make a clean line with the ceiling (atleast, the builder was pretty doubtful). It would have looked great, and really unified the space if we could have done that, but already taking out the door frame will be an improvement. I had asked for this to be done originally and B made an executive decision to leave the door, to make it easier on the builders. When will he learn that his wife is always right- even if he doesn't know why?

After the door is knocked out, the plasterer will come and finish up the walls. I am already leaning pretty heavily towards a dark brown Farrow and Ball Paint for the two walls around the eating area. I think that it will look really cozy and make a nice contrast with the cabinets and countertops. Of course, its just paint, so why not give it a try, right?

Overall, things are going along very nicely, no bad surprises, just a bit slower than I would have liked.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Chef Ella's first batch of cupcakes

They were a resounding success!

Posted by Picasa

christmas holidays

So, 20 hours after having stepped off my flight from Brazil, I was back at the airport, with a different set of luggage and a child, waving good-bye to B. I was so exhausted that I hadn't had the energy to even glance inside our bags and hadn't the slightest idea what I had brought along with me. Luckily, I had had the foresight to do all my packing before flying off to Brazil. The only thing that I hadn't managed to pack was fois gras, thinking that I could surely buy it in Duty Free before getting on the airplane. Bad luck, they've decided that fois gras is too dangerous to carry-on the plane and so has been outlawed by security. High time, I say. Who knows how many innocent people have been killed while caught in the shrapnel of an exploding passenger unable to contain one more mouthful of pure unadulterated transfat.

Amazingly, Ella and I arrived in the States without having any major blow-outs, emotional or diaper-related. She napped nicely and I got to stretch out and watch the inflight movie, since both our planes were only half full. Little did I know that we were squandering a mountain of good luck and that we would pay for it on our return flight...

For the first time in I can't remember how many years, we arrived to snow; a nice thick, white blanket of snow all over everything. Global warning? Bah humbug! Not in Wisconsin. Its so pretty when it is white and snowy everywhere, the best thing is that it feels like Christmas right away. I went up to spend a few days at my Grandpa's house- which is even deeper in the NorthWoods than my parents house- and I think it was easily ten times more beautiful than the most beautiful beaches we had seen in Brazil. Granted, I am horribly biased, but Hollywood would have had a hard time topping this scene. The pine trees had snow piled thick on the branches; the sky was clear and blue and the sun was so bright on the snow on the ground that it hurt your eyes; the wind picked up just enough to blow a light dusting of snow off the roof and the air sparkled as if someone had emptied a container of silver glitter. And then, just as we all stood at the window marvelling at how pretty it was, a family of deer wandered out of the woods and into the yard. Honestly, Walt Disney couldn't have designed a better picture postcard. I tried taking a photo or two but I erased them because they looked completely blah after having seen how perfect it was in reality.

Everything was just perfect for Christmas this year. As usual, when we're in the thick of things, it seems horrible and stressful and disorganized, and but it all works out in the end and we have a fantastic time. This year we had a major crisis when we couldn't find the recipe for white fruit cake- toasted white fruit cake for breakfast is a Christmas tradition in our house so there were telephone calls flying about for two days while we scoured old cookbooks, the bottom of cupboards, and finally- in desperation- resorted to Google. Crisis averted. Let's see, what else? Oh, of course there was the missing fois gras. Luckily my brother was sent to Amsterdam for a few weeks for work. I called B and was arranging for an emergency shipment of fois gras to be delivered to the hotel, in order to save our Christmas Eve menu, when my brother decided to make a quick detour to Paris before flying home. Poor B was getting a bit lonely at home in Paris, overseeing the kitchen renovation, so I think he appreciated the company. Besides, the heat had been turned off while the builders were in and our apartment was freezing cold. B and the brother spent a few nights cuddled up in our bed- since every other room in the flat was stacked to the ceiling with kitchen cupboards and appliances and boxes- and there wasn't even a large enough square of free floor space for a boy to stretch out. Luckily, my brother had more reasons than just the fois gras for going to Paris because his bags were lost on his flight home and we had to do without, boo-hoo.

I tried very hard to minimize my stress by doing nearly all my 'Santa' shopping for ella over the internet. As soon as I arrived home, I scoured all the catalogs that my mother had collected for me, I weighed the pros and cons of all the different things (which generally boiled down to whether or not I would be able to get it home in my suitcase and find a place for in her already overflowing toybox) and placed my orders well within the deadlines for delivery. Well, naturally it is never that easy. I very nearly had a nervous breakdown waiting for her things to arrive. Finally, FINALLY, on Christmas Eve morning (slipping in just under the bell) I got the box I had been waiting for. I bought Ella a dollhouse, all the furniture and the little doll family to live there. Of course, I had to go a little bit overboard (it would be totally out of character for me to be reasonable), and I ordered the Christmas decorating set, complete with miniature candy canes, tiny wrapped presents, and a battery-operated lighted Christmas tree. Its entirely possible that I loved it far more than Ella did (or maybe, ever will) but it was definitely worth staying up late, after Ella was in bed, putting it all together. I think this is my first real Christmas as a mommy. We had one last little crisis, when I realized that I couldn't actually put the house together with screws because they were locking screws and I risked not being able to get it apart to fit in my luggage so I made an executive decision to put the house together with clear packing tape. Ok, it wasn't the ideal solution or very pretty, but at 11:30 on Christmas Eve night, I didn't really have the time to think up a better solution.

I got stacks of lovely things under the Christmas tree, obviously I was a very good girl this year. I don't know if I mentioned that B bought me a travel wallet at the Mulberry party that was the most perfect gift, and already is very well broken in. The best surprise gift was a camera tripod that has flexible legs that can be manipulated to make the camera stand (or hang from) any surface. I love it! I had seen it in a magazine weeks ago and the article said that it was only available in Japan so I hadn't even mentioned it to anyone. Ella decorated a picture frame for me, which I adore. She was so proud and excited to give it me, there is no way that I could not love it more than all my other presents put together.

Christmas day a big snow storm moved over, leaving a fresh blanket of fluffy snow over enerything and the next day (or was it the day after? There is an eggnog fog hanging over the post-Christmas days that makes it difficult for me to remember precisely...) I took Ella sledding for the first time. It was so much fun! We found a short little hill just near my mom's house and grabbed my nephew and my sisters and spent about an hour dragging her up and down, while she giggled her head off. Even better, when we went back to the house, my mom had homemade hot chocolate for us and we threw in a few of my homemade peppermint marshmallows. In a fit of Christmas spirit, I had spent an afternoon making these marshmallows about two weeks before and hadn't even tried them yet. How much better could a vacation get? If only we had flown home immediately...

The next day, the plague descended on the house and there was hardly a person left standing. Stomach flu. I'll just leave it there.

So, after recovering enough to pack my bags, I quickly decided that I would simply pay the extra baggage charge rather than repack and repack to squeeze everything into 4 suitcases, and we headed to the airport. It was an ill-fated trip from the get-go. First off, there were no 4-wheel drive vehicles available. My parents driveway could easily be confused with a used car lot and there is a constantly rotating choice of vehicles. My mother was just about hysterical over the idea that we would be forced to drive her precious Mercedes on actual roads, very possibly getting actual mud, which comes from dirt, on her car which may or may not be made of sugar. Personally, I didn't find it such a complete tragedy... Although, I did feel a bit badly when Ella vomitted in the car on the way to the airport. The plane was completely full and I had to put Ella to sleep on the floor. There was a horrific storm over Iceland and after barely making it to the ground, they informed us that we were stuck there until the eye (!) of the storm passed, when they would try to get us all out. 10 hours later, after the passengers of the Paris flight got so irate that they were required to call in the police to calm us down, they managed to find a crew for our plane and we were on our way once again. For the entire 10 hours in the airport, Ella only laid down for 45 minutes, amazingly. She is the best traveller and hardly fussed about anything, preferring instead to run up and down the hallways with the other 50 toddlers also trapped in the airport. I had barely slept on the first flight but apparently 3 hours of sleep was enough to wind her up like a Duracell bunny. By the time we did get back in the air, though, Ella was hysterical with sleep deprivation and hadn't eaten anything in about 50 hours (if you don't count half a box of smarties, which frankly, I don't), was so filthy that I would have been horrified under normal circumstance but I was so tired I was just happy to still be able to walk.

It's no wonder then that I am still totally exhausted. B has started making noises about how a week is surely enough to recover from the jetlag, but honestly, I don't know. The day after we arrived, I had to stay up all day playing with ella. Then that night we had NYE plans so we were out til 3 am. I felt like a bit of a spoilsport not going on to a club after we left our friends, especially since we were paying a fortune for a babysitter, but I was trying to be sage. Sweet Ella let us sleep until 1 pm the next day. Then I got a horrible cold- surprise surprise- so I am slowly snuffling my way back to normal. I've given myself Monday as a deadline. Ella is back to daycare, all her classes start, and it will be time for me to start sorting myself out for 2008. I have big big plans and I can't wait to dig in and get it at it. Only about 6 more New Years cards to get in the mail, and so i think that we can label Holiday Extravaganza 2007 a smashing success.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 03, 2008

But like I said, it wasn't all gloom and doom. Buzios is a gorgeous little fishing village with tons of fabulous shops and restaurants. And after taking a boat tour of the area, we found Tartaruga Beach, which me basically made our QG for the rest of our stay.

The beach was most easy to get to with the water taxis. We would get dropped off at the edge of the water, choose which beach shack looked nicest for the day and install ourselves in a couple of reclining chairs under an umbrella. Then the owner of the shack would come around with fresh cold drinks about every 45 minutes and when lunch rolled around, he would show us what the fishermen had brought in that morning so that we could choose our lunch. One day we were lucky enough to get two lobster, that were grilled for us. Obviously, it cost next to nothing and it was absolute paradise.

I had been told about other beaches that were supposed to be really nice but honestly, I can't think of anything that was missing from this one. The best thing of all was that this beach had the most amazing golden sand. The stone that lined the hills behind us were a dark color with flecks of shiny gold. You can see that the sand on the beach looks quite ordinary, but when you walked in the water and stirred it up, it looked like someone had dumped glitter in the water. I've never seen anything like it. Sadly, we couldn't manage to get a photo of it but it doesn't matter, as I'm unlikely to ever forget how gorgeous that was.

After a day at the beach, our taxi would come back to pick us up and we would wander back to our hotel for a nice sieste before getting ready for a night out. Buzios had far too many nice restaurants and bars for us to have worked our way through them all but we didn't find a single place that we didn't like. Of course, the downside was that the prices were practically the same as in Paris, but you can't have everything, I guess.

The best night out, we were invited by a friend to go to the main disco in the town. While we met lots of foreigners at our hotel and in restaurants and bars, this place seemed to be 100% Brazilian. The music was local pop music which was funny to listen and the drinks were beyond potent- which was unnecessary considering how cheap they were. The highlight of the evening was when a samba band started its show. It was so much fun! Everyone was dancing up a storm and the atmosphere was phenomenal, with the drums and the feathered dancing girls and the open air nightclub. I think my head would probably explode from excitement if I was actually in Brazil for carnival. It was better than I had ever expected it to be. Mostly, if its just B and I at a club, I think its really boring but I think we just got so swept up in things that I felt like I was there with 200 of my closest Brazilian friends rather than just being a tourist, hanging out on the sidelines with my hubby.

That night was also memorable (and I'm just using that as a figure of speech) because it is the most drunk that I have been in years. By the time we left I had drunk a grand total of 2 margaritas over the course of the entire night. I hadn't been drinking because I didn't want to poop out early and then these two drinks were so potent that I was drunk as a skunk by the time B dragged me out the front door. I think that either tequila is more potent in the southern hemisphere or margarita is just a loose translation and really I was drinking something more like lime juice mixed with rocket fuel. I may never know, but rest assured, I had enough of a hangover to convince me to never do that again. Also, B's unmerciless teasing is too too much for a girl to have to live with, when all she wants to do is be left totally unaware of her mistakes. Granted, I went home with the right person, which is very good. I didn't vomit at all over the club or the htoel or any unsuspecting spectators, which is very very good. But I must confess to a hopeless case of the giggles and general drunken shenanigans. First, I started undressing in front of the security camera to get into the hotel. I have no idea why, perhaps a clumsy seduction technique? Then once I giggled my way up all the stairs to the pool area, surely waking up every roomful of people we passed, I decided that it would be fun to get my feet wet. Bruno immediately ordered me to get out of the pool before I got my clothes wet, which inspired me to dunk myself all the way under water, in order to get all my clothes wet. Finally he persuaded me to get out of the pool and dragged me to the door of our room, where he shouted at me for being all wet, because now there would be water all over the place. Which convinced me that he was totally right, I definitely did not want the rooom all wet. So while he struggled with the lock, I undid the straps on my dress and left it in a puddle outside the room. B turned around to find me standing there as naked as the day I was born, although I think he was rather resigned to his role as useless babysitter at this point and could only shake his head in disbelief at how ridiculously drunk and stupid I was that night.

Oh Buzios, will you and I ever share drunken shenanigans again? I still have that 5 year Brazilian visa so once my liver recovers, there is no reason why not.

Posted by Picasa

After all the adventures in the jungle, we were quite happy that we had planned on spending the next seven days at the beach just chilling out (our first morning, after looking out at the beach, B cancelled our flights to Iguazu Falls and extended our stay at the hotel). I had a reserved a really nice room at a hotel that had been recommended to me at a beach town a few hours up the coast from Rio, Buzios. Buzios is fantastic! Beautiful and chic and relaxed and very Brazilian. I loved it. Our hotel, Casas Brancas, was less of a delight.

Don't get me wrong- we didn't suffer through our entire stay. The hotel is beautiful, the music and atmosphere is the height of cool, and the food and drinks were great. Our room was less awesome but maybe other people would have found it perfectly adequate. Let me explain.

When we finally arrived at the hotel, it was nearly midnight and we had more or less been travelling since 8 am. We were thoroughly exhausted. The clerk showed us to our room and as we walked through the hotel we were so impressed by how gorgeous it was that I think our mouths were hanging open. Our room was enormous and very beautiful so we thanked him and quickly went about unpacking our suitcases. You see, because it had rained to hard the last night, everything in our bags felt a bit damp and after a day sitting in a closed suitcase, I was a bit worried about things smelling funny and getting wrinkled beyond repair. Once we were done we collapsed into bed.

Only to be woken bright and early by the sun shining in the room through the two windows that didn't have curtains! This didn't really matter so much though, as breakfast had started- in the room located directly above our beds and we could hear people chatting away. It sounded like our window was wide open; it wasn't just open, it was broken and couldn't be closed. We wrestled with it for about 10 minutes before giving up and climbing out of bed. I had a better look around the room and realized that we didn't have a balcony although I thought that I had reserved a deluxe room in order to have one. I figured that I must have changed my mind at the last minute. After stuffing our selves at the breakfast buffet (which was really fantastic, by the way) we flopped down on the deck chairs around the pool and talked about which of us should go and ask for a new room. By the time B finally went to talk to them, they said that there were no rooms free until Sunday night (we were Friday) so they couldn't switch us. I was feeling too lazy to actually want to repack all my things and it did look like all the ocean view rooms were quite close to the restaurant and therefore probably equally noisy, so we let it go. We had eyemasks and earplugs from the airplane, that would probably be enough to help us through the worst of it.

The hotel also has a spa and guests are treated to a 15 minute welcome massage (although I wasn't told this at the desk, it was only after a mix-up at the spa reception that I learned about this...) so the first afternoon, I went down and booked treatments for B and I. I managed to get in a facial straight away. The staff are lovely, and the decor is as lovely as the rooms but once in my treatment room, I realised that the equipment was all broken. After my facial, they asked me if I wanted to use the jacuzzi and gave me a gorgeous black bikini to wear (I wish I kept it, it was more flattering than any of them that I tried on when shopping!). I went to the room where they had a tray of drinks out for me, and... the jacuzzi wouldn't work.

It was the beginning of a long list of broken equipment at the hotel. The shower next to the pool was out of order; the pool filter was blocked, which you could see by the layer of grease and leaves floating on top of the water (and of course, as we were staying in a room just next to the pool, we were privy to the early morning meetings of the repairmen around the pool); the security gate to the beach didn't open so guests had to pull a fence aside and climb over the potted plants. It was all a bit disappointing for what was supposed to be the best hotel in Buzios.

The real disappointment though, was yet to come. We had decided that we couldn't be bothered to move rooms because it would be so much work to pack up all our things but one day, I happened across our reservation papers and lo and behold- I had reserved a deluxe room. I asked B what we had paid for the room and he said he wasn't sure because the rates were quoted in dollars but he had to pay in reales. We did the figures and sure enough, we had paid the deluxe room rate. I went to the front desk to sort things out directly and was assured by the deskclerk that my room, room 11, was definitely a deluxe room. I pointed out that there was no balcony as stated in my reservation. He admitted that there wasn't one, but that it was bigger room than the other deluxe. I insisted it couldn't be a deluxe room because it said on their own internet site (now corrected, atleast) that all the deluxe rooms had balconies. He said that they had finished up some renovation work and the website must not have been changed. I pointed out that it didn't matter to me what the excuse might be, I refused to pay the price for a room I didn't get. He couldn't do anything about it, I had to come back the next day. The next day, it was the same thing. Come back later to talk to the manager. The manager said the same thing, it was a mistake on the web, blah blah blah.

The biggest problem was then that our vacation was being ruined by having to go and argue about this everyday and then ruminate on the argument all day long. Obviously, they had our money and were convinced that it wasn't cheating to give us a room that didn't correspond to what we had paid for, so they weren't giving any of it back. We were having a lovely holiday in the sun even if we were in a (relatively) lousy room and were too lazy to move our mountain of clothes and luggage and souvenirs and books and sunscreen and... so we let it go. I think that there is a point when you have to ask yourself if the fight is worth it and in this case it definitely was not. On the other hand, how shitty. And quite frankly, what a scam. It still pisses me off.

Posted by Picasa