Friday, February 19, 2010

Last day

Last day skiing and the snow is falling down hard. When B and I went up to the peak this morning, visability was probably about 5 meters! It was fun skiing in the fresh snow but because the temperature wasn't too cold, it was still pretty pack-y and so the skiing was tricky. You couldn't see anything hardly and even when you could make out the terrain, it was hard to tell if you were heading towards a bosse or a pile of fluffy snowy. I was doing pretty good and we were going down a beautiful run, lined with pines, when I tried to turned and my ski got 'caught' under a pile of snow. I twisted my knee, slammed my head into the ground, and just to really rub in the humiliation, went sliding upside down for about 10 meters, packing snow into all the cracks. I shook it off and made it down the hill, but I'm feeling it now...
In any case, we had lots of other things to do this afternoon, taking the time to enjoy all the fun that La Clusaz has to offer. We took a ride around the village in a horse-drawn caleche. It was so pretty, going through the hills of the upper village, with great big fat snowflakes falling from the sky. I went and had a hot rock massage this afternoon (well-timed, considering my big tumble). We still have to do some shopping to get a nice present for little Georgie-boo for her birthday tomorrow. And we are all trying to make room for one last fondue before we head out tomorrow.
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Thursday, February 18, 2010


Watching the mardi gras fireworks from the terrasse of the hotel on Tuesday night.
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Skiing La Clusaz

Friday night we made it out of the house at a fairly reasonable hour - 7:30- and spent the night at B's parents' house in the country so that we could drop off Georgia. First thing in the a.m. we jumped in the car and were off for the mountains. It was going so well for the first 5 hours but then it was the typical traffic jam once we got near Geneva and finally after 8 hours in the care (3 more than we had planned) we arrived at our hotel. What a relief to find that it is just gorgeous- a regular Alpine chalet with a really nice restaurant and a great pool/sauna/hottub area. There is even a spa and you can bet that I will try out a good number of their treatments, especially the massages.

I really wasn't sure that I was going to ski this week. I hadn't been skiing in 3 years and I was sort of nervous since I haven't been very sporty lately. And I worry about being cold since I am a walking icecube. But then we got up today and there was the most gorgeous blue sky. You couldn't not want to ski. SO I caved and bought a week long ski pass and after dropping Ella at ski school, B and I jumped on the lift. It is amazing how good it felt to back on skis. We both had a good first run and rushed to get up the hill a few more times before having to pick up Ella at ski school.

Luckily, ski school went well and with the smallish bribe of a pair of waterwings for the pool, Ella has agreed to return tomorrow. It was awful dropping her off because she kept slipping in her skis and there was a little kid next to her screaming bloody murder (to which the monitor replied, 'just let him scream and he will eventually wear himself out. Then he'll participate. ' OMG, I am so glad that I never got sent to ski school as a 3 year old.)

It has ended up being slightly more expensive than we expected as I forgot my ski pants and glasses for Ella and underwear (and of course there are no cheap underwear in the entire village so I ended up spending an absolute fortune on a weeks worth of Simone Perele. Not very sporty but maybe rather appropriate since it is valentines day.)

We had a nice swim when we got back to the hotel and are off for a gourmet dinner. I think after a week of this, I will be more than ready to deal with Georgia again. Must say that the last night before we left, I wondered if I was going to make it through to morning.
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Guess who got their first tooth?

I was saying to one of the other mom's at the party yesterday that Georgia was acting like a real jerk the last few days (and nights). She laughed and asked if the baby had been acting a bit cranky. I told her 'No. She's being a real jerk.' Opened mouthed stares from everyone. Apparently you shouldn't call your baby a jerk?

It continued this morning. Yelling from 4 til 5. Refusing her bottle. Then yelling for her bottle. Pointing to her pacifier. Then throwing the pacifier to the deepest darkest corner of the toybox. Then crying to have it back. Then chucking it in the trashcan. You get the picture. After pissing and moaning all through her lunch, the light bulb finally went off, and I rubbed my finger over her gums. FINALLY it seems like her first two teeth are poking through.

Kind of a bummer though because I was starting to think it would be really funny if she was still toothless on her first birthday. We would talk about it for years. I was going to start calling her My Little Gummy Bear. Oh well.
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5 years old

Yesterday was the big day- Ella turned 5 and we had a Super Party, Super Hero Style to celebrate.

I got off the plane on Monday afternoon and went straight to work. After a super hero cape delivery fraught with complications and triumphs over daunting obstacles*, the party had big things to live up to, so I couldn't half-ass it. In the end, it worked out well that Georgia had a bit of a crisis (to put it mildly) on Monday night between 1 am and 3 am because this corresponded exactly with my jetlag. I got up and made a very thorough To Do list . I even organized the party games so that Tuesday, I was able to power through and get everything done just the way I had hoped. The room looked gorgeous with all the bunting that I had sewed up. There was even mini-bunting around the cake stand, too cute! The photo backdrop was fun and I have loads of great photos of the kids. The project (making 'zigzaguilleurs/ray guns) ended up being a hit, even though I had to practically force the kids to sit down at the table. I did forget to set up the kids music playlist on my ipod, which was a bit of a pain and more tragically, I forgot to chill a bottle of champagne so it was evian and orange juice for the mommies, boo-hoo! Seriously, though, I could have used a drink at about 4 pm... I was completely burned out at the end of the day, but nothing that a few pink cupcakes couldn't cure.

If only I had some time to lay around and bask in the glow of a job well done. No chance. I have to organize the house today for our visitors next week, which means hauling BOXES of shit down to our cave. Honestly, I am embarrassed to see how thoroughly disorganized the house is. B is going into hysterics over it all, which is not helping things. Atleast I have 80% of our ski things organized so that I don't have to worry about packing. B also decided, since we are taking the car to the ski station, that it would be better if we were to leave Friday night rather than Saturday morning, which knocks about 5 hours off my already tight schedule. Maybe if I put on one of the superhero capes, it'll give me the super powers I need to get everything done?

Okay, I can tell that I'm starting to procrastinate here at the computer.

*After 4 emails to confirm that the package of capes that I had ordered for the party would arrive at my mom's house before I had to leave for the airport, I was furious to find out that nothing had been delivered on Friday while I was at the funeral. I waited to see if anything came in the Saturday morning post and then I sent an extremely angry email to the company. A few hours later, I noticed that they had responded. They assured me that the package had been sent, but as no one was home to sign for the package, it was taken back to the post office! Sure enough- the postman had left a note in the post box but no one had checked the mail. I grabbed the notice and ran to the post office in town, even though it was 4 in the afternoon- hours after closing- because my aunt (a former postal worker) told me that there still might be someone there who would be nice and help me. There was. I banged on the back door, poured out my sad story, and the guy found the package and gave it to me!! The capes were great and well worth all the trouble. AND they fit in my suitcase :-), a minor miracle in and of itself. Although it makes me sound like a complete dope, as I drove back to the house with the package on the seat next to me, I had tears in my eyes thinking how incredibly nice it was of that man to help me even though he really didn't have to make the effort. And also thinking, in contrast, how a French postal would likely respond to the same request by calling the cops and having me hauled off.
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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Back home

Its been a really good visit. My bag is already packed and sitting next to the door, but I have a few minutes so I
was going through the photos that my brother had taken this weekend and I found these. I wasn't with him, but he drove through the little town where we grew up and took some photos of our old house. Its so tiny that I can't imagine how my parents managed to fit 5 children in that place- no wonder we were always being forced outside for playtime. I can just see my window on the basement level, its a bit hidden behind the trees (that have been planted since we left). At night, laying in bed, I could hear the white noise of the traffic speeding by on the interstate that passed by our town, on the other side of the golf course. Thats probably the reason why I've always slept so well in cheap motels when we stop while on vacation. That high humming whiz of 18-wheelers flying down the road reminds me of childhood.

He also took a photo of my best friend's house, located just around the block, where I spent a good 25% of my days. My best friend moved away when I was 12 and through the wonder of Facebook, I now am able to see her boys growing up. Her son is only 4 months younger than Ella- the same age difference as me and Amy. Its sad to think that if it wasn't for the terrible habit of modern life to scatter people to the four corners of the globe, our kids might be growing up just around the block from each other and playing spies, while climbing through the bushes.

Ross also took a shot of the little Catholic school where we all went for elementary school. When I first started, there were 4 nuns living in the apartment at the end of the building- Sisters Ruth (who scared the living daylights out of me when I tried to give her one of my birthday treats when I turned 6. In all fairness, all she did was ask me how old I was, but it was in front of an entire class of GREAT BIG ENORMOUS 6TH GRADERS!!!) , Methodius (the nice one who made bookmarks from old christmas cards and ran the library), Cornelius (who taught penmenship like an old marine drill sargent , which is the reason why I was able to work as a professional calligrapher for a few years in college) , and Rita (the pretty young one, although I suspect
even she was in her forties, so you can guess how ancient the other 3 were...) I loved that school. There were teeny tiny little classes of about 6 kids and they were all from farm families of about 14, so poor as can be. We didn't have much in the way of material but I can't imagine getting better teaching. We had to go to church nearly every day, which means that ever since then, I've felt fine about skipping Sunday Mass, figuring I banked up enough to last me til retirement. The highlight of the year was when each class got to do cake and cookie sales. Of course, to offset the fact that we would be spending the afternoon gorging on sweets, Eileen the cook, would force us to eat split pea soup for lunch. Her homemade bread and applesauce did nothing to help it go down. And I almost forgot- the 5th and 6th graders took turners cleaning the kitchen after lunch. In the spring when it was nice out, this was sheer torture. But in the winter, when the teachers would push us all outside in the freezing cold just so that they could have 10 minutes of quiet, it was actually a treat. We would sometimes sneak an extra cookie or box of chocolate milk (although god help you if Father Fliss caught you at it) and drag it out as long as possible to avoid having to take recess. Of course, now a days, they would never be allowed to let children near one of those giant dishwashing machines. It was great fun though. Opening up the door and having a big cloud of steam rush up in your face. Standing on the stool and using the giant sprayer to hose off the trays before racking them up. Standing at the counter to collect trays and letting your buddies get away with stuffing their lunch in their empty milk cartons.

The last photo he took was of main street. Its so sad to see it now, with every single building shuttered except for the bar and the post office. When I was little, Ray's 5 and Dime was still open and it was heaven on earth. A real old-fashioned shop, with a soda counter and glass jars of hard candy, big wooden bins full of little plastic toys. Comic books. A little white-haired lady behind the counter, who would ring up your purchases on a old cash register that had the numbers flip up and would ding, when she pulled down the big handle. I loved that place. There was a cinema, where I went with Amy O to see my first movie, Annie. I cried so hard that my mom had to take me out to the lobby so that I could pull myself together. And of course, Jackie's, on the corner where I bought my first underage beer. Ahh, memories.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Quick trip

I am typing this from Wisconsin as I had a sudden change of plans this week- my grandfather, who has been very sick with Parkinson's for a very long time, died on Saturday night. I knew that he wouldn't be alive when we came back to visit for the summer so over our Christmas holidays, I made a special effort to take the girls to see him one morning and sing carols. I took lots of nice pictures of us all together and, I think in a sign that he also knew that it was the last time we would see each other, he seemed to be in great shape. He had gotten to a point where he seemed fairly unresponsive to his visitors, although this may just have been a result of the disease and mentally he was fine- its hard to tell. We didn't exactly chat but he was smiling and hugged the kids. I guess we all said our good-byes, which I am happy about.

For that reason, it wasn't so important to me to be here for the funeral. I said it a million times when he was getting sick, I thought that all his children and grandchildren should visit while he could enjoy their company rather than save up their vacation time to come for the funeral. It didn't work out that way and when they heard he was dead, everyone booked their tickets to come and pay their last respects. I knew that my mom had taken it all very hard, despite the fact that he had gone into hospice care in mid-December and the end was quiet and gentle, really the best any of us could have hoped for him. So I decided that I would try to see if I could figure out a way to fly back.

First thing was the airline ticket. I complain and complain about all the things that AirFrance does to irritate me but I will say it here for all the world to read, their airmiles program is fantastic. I managed to book a flight at the last minute for only 240 euros, the cost of the airport taxes. This is the second time airmiles saved my ass (the first time was when I was in NYC with a girlfriend having a wild weekend of girly fun and missed my flight home. Ooops.). Then B's parents stepped in and came and picked up the girls on Tuesday afternoon to spend the time in the country with them so I didn't have to worry about lining up sitters for the week. Plus, it gave us a night to recover from our sleep deficit. We have had yet a second round of the gastro go through our house and morale was low...

So the trip went well and I made it back to my parent's house two hours earlier than expected which was an added treat. It is really lovely to see all my cousins who live in Vegas who I never see- which is weird because I'm a girl who loves sequins and liquor and loud cheesy music so you would think that I would be out in Vegas all the time. To be honest, last night we had a great time sitting around the kitchen table, drinking wine, laughing, looking at photos, catching up on everyone's news. I'm not sad at all and I'm having a great time, which is a bit awkward because I'm here for a funeral, right?

My mom had asked me if I wanted to do the eulogy and while I said no, I have been spending all my time since then sort of wondering what I would have said in a eulogy. Its such a hard thing, trying to figure out what to say that would sum up someone's life. Or even if it doesn't sum up his life, atleast makes an attempt at some sort of insight into who he was and what it meant to know him. I realized that my grandfather was a bit of a mystery. He was understated to a fault. Very quiet and rarely asking for anything. Its hard to know why he did what he did and neatly explain his life. He had some very big setbacks in his life and I specifically don't want to call them tragedies because I don't think that is a word he would want to be associated with but, time and time again, he would pick himself up, dust himself off, start all over, and just carry on. No shaking his fist at the sky and asking, 'Why, God?' No crumbling into a heap and crying about the unfairness of it all. Just determination to get on with it and I suppose the faith that it would all make sense in the end. So I try not to feel guilty about not crying because I think if there were two things he would approve of it would be taking advantage of this time to just enjoy family, which was important to him, and just quietly carrying on.

I'll be back in Paris on Monday afternoon and then there will be no question of not just carrying on because life just keeps on barreling forward and I'll have to run to keep. Its nice to have a few days here, with my jetlag waking me up hours before everyone else, so that I can sit and look out at the endless drifts of white snow and the empty tree branches scraping against the pale gray sky. There is something like a zen garden about this kind of scenery. It lets your mind wander places and remember things. It feels good.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Recipe: Veloute de panais, croutons, et lardons

On Saturday, B and I were staying in so I wanted to make us a nice dinner to eat after the kids were in bed but it needed to be something easy as I was EXHAUSTED after entertaining the two cranky/sick monkeys all day long. I decided to try out this recipe that I had spotted in Elle magazine. It was amazingly good. So good, that I am posting here, both to generously share it with all of you but more importantly, to have it noted down in several places so that I never lose the recipe. Of course, it is so easy that I probably could just memorize it, but it is so ridiculously rich that I don't think it would be wise to have it too often. Save it for a special treat- and who thought that could ever be said about parsnip soup?

The link above is to the recipe on the Elle magazine site and is in French so I will do a quick translation below. Enjoy!

Parsnoip Veloute with croutons and bacon

Prep: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
For 4 people

6 parsnips
70 cl creme liquide
50 cl de lait
20 g salted butter

50 g petits lardons/bacon
100 g croutons
50 g fois gras mi-cuit

1. Peel the parsnips, rince them and cut them in big chunks

2. Pour 1 liter of water in a pot with the cream and milk.* Salt lightly and bring to a boil. Add the parsnips and let cook for approximately 30 minutes, or until very tender.

3. Brown the lardons in a dry non-stick pan. Put aside and brown the croutons in the fat left in the pan. Put aside.

4. Cut the fois gras in small cubes

5. Using a hand-mixer, puree the parsnips, adding the butter and seasoning, as needed

6. Divide the garnishes among 4 bowls. Pour the puree over the top, pepper, and serve immediately.

* I mis-read the recipe as ml instead of cl and so after I pureed the mix, I found it too thick. To correct this, I just added water til I liked the consistency. I think that it still tasted fab and was less rich than the original recipe so I think you could probably even eliminate more cream without it affecting the final product.

recipe from Andree Rosier, Meilleur Ouvrier de France 2007 and head chef at Les Rosiers, Biaritz
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Monday, February 01, 2010

Bread making, Take 1

When Ella was home sick last week, she was begging for something fun to do(again...), and after a full day of this, I had run through my usual bag of tricks already. In a moment of weakness I proposed that we make bread. Now, I don't know why I thought that it would be such a great idea. Maybe it was the fact that I've been reading the biography of Julia Child, My Life in France, and I was subconsciously influenced by her feats of daring in the kitchen? Well, something made me ignore the voice of reason telling me to just put in another Disney movie and bread-making it was. I don't think that I have tried to make bread since I lived at home, so a rather long time ago. Clearly, over the years, I had forgotten how much flour-y mess is involved with bread-making.

It wasn't really a disaster, as you can see in the photos. Ella had a ball, especially when it came to punching down the dough. We also ended up with perfectly edible bread; B even went so far as to call it 'Great' bread. I just put this warning out there for any other moms who get ambitious and decide to do this as an activity with the kids-

1. it takes HOURS to go from measuring ingredients to eating actual bread. Not only will a 4 year-old get a bit impatient, but a 34 year-old may also find the time rather long, causing her to ignore the instructions to let the bread rise an hour before putting it in the oven. Moms, trust me, its better to follow the instructions. And,

2. do not clean your floors BEFORE you make the bread. This is not only stupid but may irritate your normally even-tempered cleaner to point that you fear that she may chuck a bottle of Mr Clean at your head when the 2nd round of kneading leaves yet another dusting of flour over everything in the kitchen. oops. And I thought we were being so careful.

I am impressed that it worked so well. Imagine how fabulous it will be the second time when I do everything right (I also used a recipe for pain de mie and ignored the part about adding butter because, frankly, it sounded like a bother.)? Also, I kind of don't see the point of making a loaf of bread at home when I can pay a euro for something lovely and fresh from the boulangerie. If I do the recipe again, I'm thinking of using the dough for cinnamon rolls. Now, that would be something worth taking a bottle of dishsoap to the head.
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