Monday, February 28, 2011

Can I believe my eyes? Is that snow I see?


Melting quickly.

#1 when she was 3.

The very mini "iceman" made from hail.
Cold weather that brings snow to the low altitudes of Southern California is very rare and probably always sets some kind of record when it does occur.  A few years ago, when we had less children and they were very small, I remember a winter day when we had quite the hail storm and it covered the street and yard, so much so that Isabella and my hubby went outside and made a tiny snowman (or rather iceman) out of the hail that had fallen.

Now, five years later, we have experienced something even more remarkable for this area in which we live.  We now live at 2,000 ft, not that high but much higher than the almost sea-level elevation of our previous home.  We have had a couple of cold snaps this winter and it does get down to freezing at night at times, but the remarkable event was to have that cold weather occur at the same time as a week of much precipitation.  I doubt we will be seeing snow again in our yard anytime in the near future, but it sure was a fun surprise to wake up on Sunday morning and have our yard covered in white.  The girls were able to experience a very rare, but fun snow day. 

Throwing snow balls at their father.

Taking it all in.

The girls and a snowman in their very own yard.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Pace of our World

Recently, we changed cell phone companies and for the last couple of days I have been on the phone with customer service people to resolve cell phone problems and cancel other phone service that we had.  Of course, hardly anyone can believe that we don't want smart phones and don't text message  . . . ever.  It's not that I'm against technology; in fact, I'm make use of it right now by blogging.  I engage in my share of surfing the Web, e-mailing, talking on the phone, and doing internet transactions and I appreciate the convenience that this affords me from my job of stay-at-home-Mommy.  But, as I was reminded in a discussion at Bible study a couple of weeks ago, there can be a real sense of disconnect for many of us due to the use of technology.  Where we might have stopped by the neighbor's house with a baked good or made a hospital visit in the past, now we wonder if this is still relevant.  It is easy to get caught up in the use of technology and make it a replacement for actual human contact.  It also easy to make excuses and think that everyone will feel inconvenienced by a visit, a phone call (instead of a text), or by the offer of a helping hand . . . and in some cases that may be true.  But, my challenge to myself and to others as well is to take the risk of being old-fashioned.  Try doing something meaningful that may be outside your comfort zone and see what the result is; the worst is that you may have an awkward moment or experience the lack of appreciation, but the opposite may also come true.  Several friends of mine (as well as myself) are taking up the challenge to make handmade gifts this year.  I have been baking and trying to spread the wealth a bit to family and neighbors.  And this week, I am challenging myself to write several handwritten notes and send them in the mail.  In this electronic age, I think it is even more fun to receive a piece of snail-mail because it comes so rarely.  There is just something (at least for me) about seeing a note in someone else's own handwriting and knowing that it took a bit of time and thought to put that specific note in the mail for me.  I will do the best to meet my goal in the next few days and take the risk of being old-fashioned once in a while (or maybe more than once in a while).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Paris on my Mind, Part 3 (and the last, at least for a while . . . )

Well, I couldn't conclude my reminiscing about Paris without sharing some of our better travel decisions that we made which greatly enhanced out time there.

1.  I loved that we rented an apartment for the week and didn't have to bother with hotel issues, maybe getting a cheaper hotel that didn't have a bathroom in our room, or not having a kitchen in which to cook.  We originally were going to rent an apartment in the St.-Germain-des-Pres area of Paris off of VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) which was all good and well until 1 week before our departure, the owner e-mailed, very apologetically I might add, to say that the last guest had broken the toilet and there was flooding and no repair person was available to fix it that quickly.  So, at the last minute, we had to rearrange our plans and find a new apartment, which we did with a vacation rental company in Paris.  The studio was located on Ile St. Louis in an area with a less vibrant nightlife scene than St.-Germain-des-Pres, but definitely not boring by any stretch of the imagination.  We were a 3 block walk from Notre Dame and I couldn't imagine a better location for my hubby and I to have stayed.  It was lovely to be able to walk past the Cathedral on a daily basis, and over the bridges to the lovely little island on which we were staying.  It was also great that we were able to grocery shop and cook many of our meals in our own apartment, thereby staying within budget on our travel plans and not having the pressure of looking for a place to eat out at every moment of the day (especially with a 12-month-old baby in tow).  The studio, like many apartments in Paris, was very small, but sufficient for our needs.  We had a bed, bathroom, kitchen, and dinette set which is all a tourist really needs when spending the majority of the day out and about sightseeing.  I would recommend this idea to anyone and will look for similar accomodations in the future on other vacations. 

Enjoying a morning cup of French press before heading out for the day.
2.  Buying the Paris museum pass (not online before we left which may cost more or be the wrong one, etc.) in the Louvre (and for sale at other sites, as well) was great!  It allowed us entrance into almost all of the major museums, sites, and monuments.  Because we already had it in hand, we were able to bypass some lines because we didn't need to purchase tickets and also revisit favorite locations at our convenience (such as the Louvre, which is too huge to even get a small glimpse of in a day - we went back 3 times).  It was nice that place such as the Arc de Triomphe and Versailles (absolutely worth the trip & worth of many pages of blogging on its own) were included on the pass, too.  Of course, the Eiffel Tower was not included in this because it is such a major tourist money-maker, I'm sure. 
In the gardens of the Rodin museum.

Me and #4 in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

The Petit Trianon, given to Marie Antoinette by Louis XVI.
3.  It is very tempting while in Paris for a limited amount of time to try and do as much as possible, see as much as possible, etc.  And in some ways, we did do this because we wanted to immerse ourselves in the Paris experience as much as possible.  But, I am glad that we also were able to give ourselves permission to leave Paris for a few and very worthy side-trips.  The first was to Versaille which is absolutely decadent and amazing in its size and furnishings; just being in the building brings images of the time period to life very vividly in my imagination.  This trip can also include seeing the Trianon (a summer house for kings), the Petit Trianon (Marie Antoinette's special house), and all the surrounding gardens and re-created buildings from this time period that are equally as beautiful and breathtaking in their simplicity.  The second day trip we took was out to Chartres to see the spectacular stained-glass windows in the Chartres Cathedral.  It was delightful to ride on the train through the French countryside, visit a smaller French town that is not connected to Paris, and slowly meander our way through the Cathedral and gaze at the intricate windows through which centuries of Christians received instruction of the Biblical narrative. 
Livia watching the world go by on the train to Chartres.
#4 in front of the Trianon.

One of the many beautiful windows in the Chartres Cathedral.

The Chartres Cathedral in the town of Chartres.
4.  And lastly, I was glad that we did not buy an expensive train ticket for the Metro because we ended up doing so much walking anyway that it probalby wouldn't have made much sense for us.  Rather, we just purchased a 10 pack of tickets (twice over) and used them when we wanted, either on the Metro or the bus when we were either tired of walking or wanted to go somewhere that was quite a long ways away (the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, Montparnasse Cemetary).

Being in Paris for a week in 2009 was an incredible gift and as you can see, I am still enjoying my memories of it as we speak.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mary, Martha, or a bit of both?

This past weekend was definitely a Mary weekend for me.  For those of you familiar with the Gospels in the New Testament, I am referring to the sisters Mary and Martha that were friends of Jesus.  In one of the many times, I'm sure, that Jesus was a guest in their home, Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet listening to Him and just soaking up all that was going on around her while her sister Martha was fussing about the details (dinner, Mary not helping out, etc.) of having a guest in her home.  Jesus gently admonishes Martha and tells her that she doesn't need to be worried and upset by so many things, but that really only one thing is necessary - being in relationship to her Lord.  It's not that the things that Martha was doing were bad - in fact, they were good and necessary - but that which Mary was doing was better.  I think that this is so applicable to my everyday life.  There is always a balance that needs to be struck between all the chores and tasks that need to be accomplished and the things that need to be experienced in that given day, opportunities to love others and thus love God in the process.

So, as I first stated, my past weekend struck me as being more Mary than Martha.  My house ended up looking like a complete disaster for a few days and the chores went almost completely neglected, but in exchange we spent a lovely day at the beach marveling at God's creation, the girls were thrilled at their train ride to the beach on public transportation, we had a lovely morning at church on Sunday, lunch out with friends afterward, and several extended Valentine's making sessions at the diningroom table throughout the weekend.  God keeps showing me that I love Him by investing my time and energy into loving those around me and being in relationship with them (not that I always do this well or willingly, but I am learning nonetheless). 

Of course, Monday and Tuesday have been spent in more of a Martha mode in attempts to bring some sanity back to the homestead and make room for the necessities like counterspace for cooking and a clearer diningroom table at which to eat meals.  It is apparent that without some of this daily or near-daily organization and profitable work around the house, most other activities would become nearly impossible to achieve over time.  The day-to-day tasks of our life are good, meaningful, and part of what God has given us to do.  But, when an opportunity arises to pause and be present in a relational moment, it is so important to grasp that and jump in feet first without being distressed and obsessed with "all that still needs to be done".  Some of these moments today for me were stopping to have a cup of coffee and chat with my mother-in-law out in the morning sunshine, helping my 2-year-old and 4-year-old plant their mini pots with strawberry seeds, making the girls a pot of tea in #3's "old-fashioned (porcelain)" tea set, painting a few sets of finger and toenails, and tickling a giggling baby. 

I'm both a Mary and a Martha, as are most of us, some more than the other depending on the day.  But in the end, I think it is so important to remember the Lord's words to Martha on that day (found in the Gospel of Luke).
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Easiest Cookie Recipe Ever! . . . at least I think so.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies - Yum!

I was able to make a batch of these from start to finish in about 20 minutes, that includes baking time.  For a quick after-school treat, this is a real winner.  It is a true 1-bowl recipe that the kids can memorize and make themselves.  I always like to add chocolate chips to it, too!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Paris on my Mind, Part 2

Ah, the taste of a warm baguette just bought from the boulangerie down the street from our rented apartment as we walked back to it from a long day of sight-seeing - a crunch as you bite into it with a soft warm inside that has the ultimate, perfect bread flavor.  And then, proceeding up the stairs, sitting down at the small dinette set with a pat of delicious French butter and a jar of Nutella and eating most of the remaining baguette right then and there. 

Of course, I realize that part of the wonderful experience of eating baguette's while in Paris was very much influenced by my surroundings and my overall enjoyment of the place in which I was vacationing.  But, nonetheless, there is a big difference between the taste of a baguette (even farther still the "french bread") that can be bought in the average (and even not-so-average) grocery store here in the U.S. and the product that is so common place in any bakery in France.  Based on this baguette experience and my dissatisfaction with the baguettes to be found here locally, I set out to bake my own with quite a bit of trepidation.  I am happy to report, though, that so far the results have been quite satisfying and not nearly as scary as anticipated. 
Baking in the oven.

I've never really baked a bread that needed an egg wash, or in this case an egg yolk/water wash, but now that I have used it, I understand its purpose.  The egg wash gives the bread that wonderful golden brown color and cruchcy texture on the outside.
The finished product - hot and ready to eat.
I am still honing my baguette baking skills and would like the outside to retain its cruchy-ness for longer, but other than that I think this is a pretty darn good tasting piece of bread and a start of a tasty family tradition.  My daughter Selah (#2) has even declared that Mommy's baguette's are better than the ones bought in the bakery and that is a good enough seal of approval for me.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Paris on my Mind, Part 1

Every once in awhile, I think back to my time in Paris and feel very sentimental about it and think about how I would love to go back . . . someday.  Paris seems to keep popping up on my radar in one way or another.  It might be in a taste of bread and a sip of a cafe au lait, in a passing conversation where something vaguely reminds me of being in France, in something I read (such as the Vogue that I have started to receive from my airline miles which is rife with fashion references to Paris), or most recently in a conversation with someone else that wants to visit Paris.  Recently, I was talking with a friend's husband and he mentioned that she would love to visit Paris this year which got me excited all over again about this oh-so-famous-yet-fabulous destination.

There have been many times when I've read or heard about a destination that is receiving plenty of hype and yet, when I finally go there, I find myself a bit disappointed with the experience.  So, when I thought of going to Paris for the first time, I wondered if this might be the case, but was sincerely hoping it would not be.  I am here to tell you, that although it may be one of the most visited cities in the world and a place about which much has been written, Paris (at least for me) did not disappoint.  It lived up to my expectations and surprised me in the ways in which it also exceeded them.

Hubby in front of Notre Dame.
A year and a half ago, in July of 2009, my hubby, #4 (the baby at the time), and I took a week long trip to Paris.  For as long as I can remember, I've dreamed of traveling to Europe and Paris was the top of my list for choice destinations. This trip all came about with me griping about the hubby going on trips for work, etc., and me staying home with the kids (it sounds silly, I know, given how many blessings I have in my life here in the U.S., but this is the truth nonetheless).  I told him I was ready to go on a trip myself and he asked, "If you could travel anywhere this summer, where would you go?".  To which I responded, "Paris".  That being said, he hopped right on the computer and began searching for flights and continued to do so until an absolutely mind-boggling, cheap fare came up one night and he bought the tickets on the spot (having, thankfully, already alerted his parents to this possibility since we would be leaving 3 kids at home with them).  To make a long story short, we flew to Paris in July on our 8th anniversary; fairly romantic, if I do say so myself, as we arrived in the City of Lights, well-known as a romantic destination.

#4 at the Louvre in front of a Monet.
As I write this, my mind is flooded with so many memories, that I see I will have to write Part 2 as my next post because this topic is so extensive.  During our week in Paris, we walked to exhaustion to see famous churches, graveyards, museums, monuments, and locations, but I think we also struck a good balance of just savoring the place we were in and enjoying the mundane moments as well.  On our last night in Paris, we went to dinner (and walked up the stairs to the Eiffel Tour at 11:00 p.m.) in the St. Germain neighborhood that is hopping at all hours.  As we sat there having dinner, Augustus told me to stop and just remember the moment.  He said that we would obviously be going back to our regular, busy life filled with not-so-leisurely moments, but that we would always be able to stop, hold hands, look at each other, and say, "Remember that night in Paris when we were having dinner . . . ".  And he was right.  Every once in awhile, we'll sit down, have a cup of coffee, and say, "Remember when . . . " and share that memory of togetherness in a different, far-flung destination.

The 3 of us in front of the Sacré-Coeur Basilica
So, when I think of Paris these days, I have two "goals" (if they can be called that) in mind.

1.  Someday, far in the future, I would love to go back to Paris (when my children are grown and not along with me) and not do the touristy things like museums, destinations, and monuments.  Instead, I want to spend a week just strolling, meandering, taking my time, and smelling the roses.  Stopping for a coffee, grabbing a crepe to go, munching on a jambon et fromage paninin in the sun while taking in my surroundings, and doing whatever it is that strikes me on a whim.

2.  I've told the girls that my goal is to take all 5 of them with us on a family Paris trip when #1 is 17 and a senior in high school, and #5 is in 5th grade.  It will give us time to save up for it, the girls will be old enough to appreciate it thoroughly, and all the family members will be mobile and able to take care of themselves (for the most part).  It's a lofty goal, but worthy of making.    J'adore Paris!