Thursday, December 31, 2009

Got your party hat?

Happy New Year!!!

Buche de Noel

Here are pictures I took of the Buche with my camera instead of my iPhone. I made the cake and then we had the kiddos each decorate a meringue cookie. Very festive huh?!?


New Year's Eve Magic

It's nice to have things you can count on. Like New Years Eve. We
always spend it with great friends we only see a few times a year. Our
children love their children and we all have mad fun together. Every
year we manage to get a New Year's Eve snow fall. This year we were so
blessed to have a white Christmas but between rain and warm temps we
lost it all. But like I said, it's nice to have things you can count
on. We awoke to a suprise snowfall instead of the forecasted rain. It
wouldn't be our usual NYE without the snowy magic. Thanks mother

Have a wonderful celebration tonight and I wish you all a wonderful

Monday, November 23, 2009


Just so we're all clear on the facts here. This is a picture of my kids the month we decided to pursue an adoption from China. We were set on having 3 children and it was clear in October 2005 that it was time to add the third.

A year after this photo was taken we were supposed to be holding a little girl from China who was roughly 12 months old. I would have had a 4 year old, almost 3 year old and a 1 year old. Would have been perfect right?

Four years later almost to the day. Do you see a cute third child in this picture?
Look how big they are and a referral is no where in sight.

I think the writing is on the wall.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Slurp with Blurb

I am slurping.
Slurping what?
Slurping my blog.


Blurb is a self publishing website that has slurp technology that sucks your blog entries into a book format. You can then redesign the layout to just how you want it and then order a printed version.

If you are reading this then chances are you're a blogger. Have you slurped your blog yet?

I am just doing the Paris section now but have already slurped other portions of Picklechatter into hardcover heaven.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Effective Immediately!

New rule peeps.

If I step on one of your motherfucking legos while trying to cross my living room with an armful of laundry, the piece is a gonner. This rule goes into effect immediately regardless of the fact that you are at school and can't be here to put said piece where it freaking belongs. Shoulda done that in the first place. Stipulations of new rule do not allow for negotiations, exceptions or grace periods. Even if the piece is a critical part to a Star Wars ship.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where is the joy?

The seemingly inexhaustible four letter word used during last year’s presidential campaign. It is what this nation needed then and it is what this nation is still trying to find now. Our world has never seen a convergence of crises like our current state of affairs and while many people claim we are on the upswing of this recession/housing crisis/financial meltdown, we seem to be in that period of time where things will continue to get worse before they get better. A year ago our nation overwhelmingly chose the one who promised change because frankly, no one was happy. In my part of the world there seems to be a pall cast over the community and at times, business owners in our little hamlet post signs that simply read “smile.” But what is the relationship between hope and happiness? It seems to be a chicken and an egg problem. Is hope born out of a state of happiness or is joy a byproduct of being hopeful?

The October 10th -16th, 2009 issue of the Economist had an interesting article titled “Hating what you do”. It certainly caught my eye, not that I could ever say I hate what I do because, I am, at the moment, going about the business of raising my beautiful children. There is undeniable joy in watching two young people sprout their wings and expand their minds. However, being a stay-at-home mother does not hold the same allure it once did for me. Now that both my children are in school full-time, and the prospect of adopting our third child is turning to dust after 4 years of waiting, I have more time to reflect on my life. What defines my life? Honestly? Laundry. Grocery shopping. Hunting for pants long enough and shoes wide enough for these growing children. I am no longer the mainstay in the budding growth of my babies’ minds or solely responsible for keeping them moving. They have their teachers and PE instructors now leading the charge each day. So where am I? Truthfully, I’m a bit lost.

About a year ago, on a three-day weekend in Vermont over Columbus Day, I realized I was desperate to go back to work. I loved working and left my career as a meeting and event planner because, for as well as I could plan the events of other people’s lives, I could not execute the expansion of my own family. After too much time trying to conceive, I realized that my job, the travel, and the demands of my clients could be possibly contributing to the failure to do the one thing in life I knew I was born to do – become a mother.

So certain in my conviction that I would thrive as a stay-at-home mother, I left no inroads, no ties, back to my career as a meeting and event planner. I didn’t burn any bridges but I didn’t keep my toes wet either. Nine years later I find myself with a big bowl of regret each morning after I drop my kids off at school. I have been sending out resumes for 12 months now but jobs in my field are far and few between. When they do pop up, my 9-year employment gap and I can’t compete with the fresh twenty-somethings with current experience. I am not saying I am not fresh. I am. Probably more in the language department but nonetheless, I am smart, creative, and hardworking. But my downfall is that I know more about the shoe selection at Target than what is going on now in hotel contract negotiation. So while I don’t HATE what I do, I connect with this article’s description of how the feeling of stagnation can demoralize people to the point of lower productivity and a higher level of resentment. If you examine the internal state of any company these days I am sure you will find that the level of unhappiness amongst its employees is taking a toll not only on morale, but also the level of productivity and perhaps the quality of work.

Like in any relationship, there has to be a free flowing, two-way street of give and take. We’ve all been in that relationship where one person does all the giving while the other person does all the taking. Those relationships don’t work out very well, do they? The giver finally gives up when the well of generosity runs dry because it isn’t being replenished with gratitude, care, or love from the other half of the relationship. This equation is not just reserved for personal relationships but can be used to describe the worker/employer relationship as well. When you are feeling taken advantage of, used up, or under-valued, the bonds of that relationship are going to weaken and, in many cases, snap. I believe this is what is going on all over the world at work and at home.

People lucky enough to have a job have had enough of feeling used up and under-valued. Bonuses have been cut, salaries lowered, jobs eliminated, promotions delayed, and hiring frozen. Yet the cost of living still continues to rise. How can people not be stressed out when their family’s means for life has at best stayed level and at the worst evaporated, while the cost of food, clothing, and heating your home keeps going up? Add to that, non-profit organizations are still vying for your charitable dollars and volunteer organizations are still hounding you for your time. I think most people feel pecked to death by the end of the day. Where is the joy in that?

At the moment, in my jobless state, I am a co-President of the PTO for my children’s school. We are having an incredibly difficult time trying to engage a stable base of volunteers for our events and programs this year. From what I heard at this week’s district-wide PTO meeting, it is a problem across the entire town. Where are the volunteers? Well according to an article in October 15th’s Boston Globe, “Many parents report volunteer-related angst. Among the worries, taking on too much and doing a lousy job - or taking on too little and becoming the object of gossip.“ I found the article to be a puff piece with little value, because while it acknowledged the economy as a contributing factor to the difficulty in securing volunteers, it focused on social implications as being the main cause. The truth of the matter is that when people can barely do for themselves, they certainly do not have the funds, energy or drive to do for others. It’s that simple.

So where on the merry-go-round of life do we find happiness and hope? Does one come before the other? Or do they co-exist? My guess would be the latter and right now in this country, and in most countries across the globe, we are in a state where without one, we don’t have the other. As the world gets back on track and people feel more safe and secure, I am sure we will see the clouds of despair dissipate.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The plane is hot. it is a 3 and 3 and we are sitting window, middle, aisle, aisle like we normally do on these kinds of planes. Boarding is a rush. Our family, squashed between men in suits making their way from Paris to Frankfurt on this Friday afternoon in October, seems misplaced in the priority boarding line. All four of us carrying more that the maximum weight in carry -on luggage but hoping that our smiling faces and daddy's mega-frequent-flyer status will get us through unnoticed.

The plane leaves on time. Our excessive carry-ons went undetected. We back up from the gate and roll uninterrupted to the runway, make a 90 degree turn and as my children amuse the other passengers with their countdown from 10, the engines go full throttle and we are off. After 14 years, SJ knows to drop his hand from his paper to grab mine as we lift off into the partly cloudy skies above Paris. The children ooohh and aaaahh over the birds-eye view of the city they have come to love. I, and likely SJ, have come to terms with our departure. He quietly releases my hand and goes back to his paper. I fetch my trusty notebook from my backpack and I write him a note. Torn from a spiral binding and folded in half, it reads,

It was more than I ever dreamed it would be.

Paris is magical. It will suck you in if you let it. Up until now I hadn't let it penetrate my soul like other cities have. But now, after 3 months, I have fallen prey to the charms of the city of lights. The sights and sounds of our city rest comfortably in my heart, I hope forever.

The people at SJ's office asked the whole family to come to the office yesterday for a casual farewell. We toasted with Veuve Cliquot. They gave us gifts. All of us. They gave the kids books in French and more French candy than 3 halloweens put together. And for me? The coveted cookbook from Laduree which is a testament to how well these strangers got to know ME. Me, the spouse. Their kindness and generosity has admittedly overwhelmed me. I thoroughly enjoy each and every one of them and would love the chance to know them better.

SJ has closed his eyes as he does on most flights. For all appearances this could be one of our usual domestic flights in the US. But it is not. It is a flight that is taking us far away from some place we have grown to cherish. A place we feel more at home than we do when we are at home. As sad as I am to leave, I can't help but acknowledge the tremendous feeling of gratitude that rests in my soul.


Finally we succumb to Le Hippopotamus. A restaurant in Paris renowned for being family friendly - complete with balloons. I avoided it like the plague.

But having checked 9 bags all over the weight limit without even a bat of an eye from the Lufthansa check-in guy and in typical SJ fashion he decided to push his luck and ask to check a 10th. Pas de problem says the man and takes SJ's carry-on that he didn't need, slapped a tag on it and tossed it down the conveyor belt. So after all that, we decided to have a sit-down lunch and the only option was Le Hippo. Burgers for everyone except maman who had her last chevre chaud. A green salad with a piece of toast holding warm chevre cheese.

When the boys excused themselves to use the loo before the food and wine arrived, I get a chance to talk to my very quiet daughter. She is drawing on the back of a receipt. I ask her what she is drawing and she replies that it is a picture of people sleeping in China. China for us is a very sad subject and only comes up when someone is feeling volny. What is volny I hear you ask? it is a bridge between the words vulnerable and lonely a few of us made up on a study abroad program in Florence while in college. Anyway, as she sat there concentrating a little too hard on a simple drawing on the back of a receipt I asked her if she knew what melancholy meant. She shook her head. I explained that it was a feeling of sadness that envelops you without making you feel like you need to cry. She looked up at me with bright eyes and said "yes, that's me right now. You are the crying sad." Now if you know me in person you probably are chuckling to yourself as you read this. I am a weeper. Waterworks, I am. Nevertheless, France, Paris, Pezenas, le TGV, le Thalys, London, Monceau, Bastille, Notre Dame, Le Tour Eiffel have all left an indelible mark on my baby girl and her melancholy is my pride. I hope to have set the stage for a wonderful life of exploration for my children and for that I would do anything. Even come home.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Packing mayhem

We arrived with the maximum number of bags each at the maximum weight of 23 kilos. I sent one suitcase home with my mother but purchased lots of school clothes amongst all the other souvenirs we now had to get home. Added to that we were trying to get a few (well maybe more than a few) bottles of wine home and now that you can't carry liquids on board, they must go in the checked baggage. I am sure you can get the drift of where this word problem is headed. If you arrive with 9 bags, send 1 home but buy a ton of stuff - how do you get it all back?

We decided to leave a bunch of things that no longer fit or served a purpose or was really that important. Things that didn't make the cut included 1 glass pie plate, 1 glass loaf pan, 2 five lb weights, a boules set, scrapbooking supplies, books we finished reading, my 501 French Verbs book (which I am pissed I have to leave) a few clothes, and a set of sheets.

Still we were stuck with not enough room for everything and we are leaving tomorrow.

Solution: send SPY down to those cheapie suitcase stores by Chatelet in the 1st to buy the largest bag she can find for as little money as possible.

Problem: She's got to be fast because we are to be meeting SJ's officemates for a goodbye champagne toast in 2 hours.

So I am released from the house with my sprinting shoes on. Run to Parc Monceau and hop on line 2 to Etoile where I change to line 1. Ride to Pont Neuf and zip up the escalator. Now if I remember correctly there is an Etam that seemed to have a good sale on of cute clothes and bags which I haven't been able to get into because I always have the kids with me. However, I am alone now....

He will never know if I just zip in there really fast right?

So at 10 am just as I arrive, Etam opens their doors and I do a mega fast shopping sprint which results in 1 handbag, 2 shirts and a really cute scarf.

Etam bag in hand, I then sprint down a few blocks to the cheapy bag store and purchase a huge but cheap suitcase. Toss the Etam bag in the suitcase and dash back to the metro. I look at my watch and it is now 11:15 and I still have to get home for us to get to SJ's office by Noon. I guess my shopping excursion at Etam was not as mega-fast as I thought. But I think I am okay. I call SJ and fudge things a bit and say that I am about to board line 1 back home but am actually still a few blocks from the metro. A little white lie never hurt anyone and he'd never know. So as I am dashing back to Pont Neuf I decided to take a sidestreet cut-through to save some time when I spot a store called Darty. I chuckle to myself at who would name a store Darty and what could they possibly sell. As I am flying by the windows I look in and see that Darty looks surprisingly like a Best Buy. And as I am thinking that it looks like a Best Buy I realize that at home Best Buy stores sell iTunes gift cards. Remember my little unresolved quest a few weeks ago for that French iTunes card?

My head is now spinning. I don't have time. I don't have time. I found myself saying as I turned around and walked or rather ran into the Darty store.

Luckily I catch a cute guy's eye as I dash into the store and I say "Bonjour Monsieur, vendez vous des cartes cadeaux pour iTunes?" Instead of a blank stare, I got a smile and a "oui, madame jusque la" and he points me in the right direction. I head to the desk and ask a lovely woman for the iTunes card and she asks which amount did I want to buy. In my head right now I am thinking OMG after all this time, at the very last minute, I am finding someone who will sell me this damn thing!!! I explain to her that I had been searching all over Paris for the iTunes card and no one suggested I go to a Darty store. I then explained why I was buying it and I got a french nod of well done, skirting the system!

So, now really behind in time I dart off to the metro and luckily I am blessed with trains arriving just as I walk onto the platform. I get home in 15 minutes just as SJ is hopping in the shower. He looks at me and the suitcase (which is hiding the Etam bag) and I say that I was late because I found a store that sold me an iTunes card!!! He smiled and said "good for you!" and closed the bathroom door. I then quickly removed the Etam bag, tookout all the contents and quickly packed my covert purchase so he'd never know! Before he got out of the shower, all evidence of my Etam diversion was erased including the shopping bag.

We were half an hour late to the office but after a glass of Veuve Cliquot and some munchies nothing mattered.

PS: When we got home, I changed into my sexy SPY trench coat and logged into my computer as Angelique Belgique. Quiet as a church mouse I head over to my iTunes account and enter the code on the iTunes card I bought this morning. Then, in a miracle of all miracles, I bought the music we heard on the 14th of July at the Eiffel Tower concert.

UPDATE: Back in the U.S. when I loggin to the Angelique user on my computer the iTunes account is still linked to SCORE!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A visitor

This last week in Paris has been difficult. I have never been good at goodbyes. Is anyone really? I doubt it. Add to that I am a weepy person who is sentimental about nearly everything. Knowing that this week will eventually end, and I will in fact have to board a flight, which will leap into the air and take me away from here, has made how I look at the city come sharply into focus. At every turn I am struck by her beauty and grace. Even though I have been living on her streets for 12 weeks now, I continue to be enchanted by her sounds and smells. This is a city for those who truly love to live and to some extent, live to love.

My children, who have now grown annoyed with my teary eyes, have started to advise me that, Paris isn't going anywhere and that we can always come back to visit. Well, see, that is the thing. I don't want to come back to visit. I don't want to be a visitor. I like being one of her people. Her residents. A person with a key, and address, a boulangerie she likes and a fromagerie she loves.

At the age of 20 I lived in Florence, Italy for 3 months with an Italian family I came to adore. Franca, my Italian house mother took me in with the kind of Italian fervor you would expect. She wanted to help me understand what it was like to be Italian and worked on my language skills with me, gave me hugs when I needed them, and cooked me food that I will never forget. Everything she does comes from a heart the size of Texas.

If you have ever been to Florence you know that the city has a beauty that will enchant you. Not just the buildings, but the people, the food, the sounds, sights, and smells everywhere. When I had to leave that December in 1992, I remember crossing town on foot to the Santa Maria Novella train station. I was in love with Florence the way people are in love with each other. But with my full heart and my eyes leaking, I thought to myself, I will always have her. Florence will always be my city. I will bring my husband here. I will bring my children here. When I come back I will feel this again.

In 1999 I brought my husband to Florence on our first vacation as a married couple after our honeymoon. In 2002 I came back with our then 5 month old Sweet Pea. It was never the same. I looked around at the swarms of tourists I used to cut through to get to my classes all those years ago and thought to myself, Oh my God, I am one of them. I am a tourist. I am here visiting, not living.

You see, there is a difference. I am happy to have had the experiences in life to know this, but at the same time, this last week in Paris is a bit scary for me because I know when I come back I will be one of them. A visitor.

On Wednesday day nights we often will head to the Louvre for a Nocturne visit. Their evening hours. The crowds are fewer and the admission charge is lower. On this last Nocturne visit, we came into the courtyard of the Palais Royal from a different direction. We came in the back way and this was our view. It was dusk and the clouds were amazing. I just stood there and let the view seep into my soul. Then I reached for my camera to take these pictures of my family enjoying their beloved Louvre for the last time on this trip.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day at the Museum: Part 34

Le Penseur......

Boom, Boom, Fire Power!

The gardens at the Musee Rodin are beautiful as you can see. They are calm and peaceful with a big wall that surrounds them shutting out the noise and chaos of the city. The only hint of Paris is when you look up and see the rising Eiffel Tower which resides quite nearby.

A special thanks goes out to all Paris museums for helping engage my children with the magnificent treasures this city holds. As you can see below, my kids go to museums and look. They look at the objects and art and think. Here Sweet Pea is listening to the audio guide chapter on Rodin's Gates of Hell bronze doors while Buddy is using the telescope to find the miniature Thinker at the top of the doors.

Oh yeah, and also for letting us ALL in for free this time. Apparently anyone with a child under 7 gets in free to the gardens. The entire group - no matter the size. How cool is that?

Life imitating art...

After we toured the gardens we walked back in the direction of our bus stop and grabbed some dejeuner a emporter (take away) and then did a quick scan to find a parc to eat in. This is what we found. This is the view from my parc bench seat. There is never a shortage of open spaces to sit and relax in Paris.

Then a quick stop at Parc Monceau on the way home so Buddy could climb the tree.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Have you ever noticed that the trees, of the tree lined streets of Paris are Chestnut trees? Come September all those beautiful trees drop their nuts all over the parks and boulevards in this beautiful city. Children and adults alike can't help but reach down and collect these beautiful brown nuggets. Each day we came home with thousands of them and they started to take over the apartment. That was until SJ said these magic words...Hey, do you guys know how to play conkers? The three of us looked blankly back at him and he got the picture that we had never even heard of conkers. After a quick explanation, I was instructed to go secure string and a tool to punch holes in the chestnuts. So one day while out on the town, we stop in at the hardware section of BHV - the everything store in the 1st - one day while SJ is at work. We get our goods and on this Sunday morning, SJ enlightens us on what is apparently a common British pastime. So common that there are hundreds of competitions all over England at this time of year. Some take it so seriously that they feel the need to create new rules to prevent cheating. However, it does seem by a few accounts, that it is a dwindling past time and that the youth of the UK is not as keen on the game as were the generations that came before them. Well, in an effort to buck that trend, SJ has educated at least two little Brits who were born in the US but now residing in Paris.

So, how to play the game? Each choose a conker - a chestnut. And choose wisely. You want a strong one that promises not crack under the pressure of this game. literally.

Use a thin nail to hammer a whole through the nut. Thread a string through the hole and tie a strong knot on the other side large enough to hold the chestnut on the string.

Then, my advice would be to encourage your players to take it outside!
Each player takes a turn trying to whack the other player's nut with their nut. So the person being hit holds their string upright and very still. The hitter then takes his best swing with the nut and tries to hit the opponent's nut hard enough to break.

If you are the one holding the string to be hit and you drop your conker, your opponent gets a second try. So hold tight!

Once a nut has been hit, inspections are made to see if it is still intact enough to continue.

The game is played until all but one person's conker has been broken to bits and can no longer remain on its string.

If the winner's conker is still in great shape they will realize this is a strong nut and will keep it for future competitions. As SJ said, some conkers have histories.

In this three-way game, Buddy was the first to be eliminated. Then it seemed that each time SJ thwacked Sweet Pea's conker it was his that cracked, not hers.

So in the end, Sweet Pea was victorious and we have kept her winning conker for future games.

Just when we thought we'd seen it all...

Today marks the beginning of the end. With only 6.5 days left, we know it will be all business from here on out. Souvenirs have to be shopped for, last stops to museums have to be scheduled, and of course, each meal will be a last supper of sorts.

This morning we decided to start with the beautiful market road of Rue Montorgueil near Les Halles. Most of Paris shuts down pretty hard on Sundays. Most retailers, including grocers, are closed on this day of worship except in the very high traffic shopping areas. Rue Montorgueil is one of the few areas in town that is in full swing on Sundays. This particular day at the end of September was beautifully sunny and warm. We came to this area of town because momma needed to do some recon work in regards to what souvenirs she was bringing home. No t-shirts or sweatshirts for me. It was cooking equipment all the way! So I wanted to take a swing by stores like Mora and E. Dehillerin on the off chance they were open today. We took the metro from Malesherbes to Reaumur Sebastopol and then walked through the Les Halles pedestrian district to Rue Montorgeuil where we decided to have lunch at one of its bustling cafes. We found one that suited us because it was not terribly expensive and its outdoor tables were well enough in the shade to allow us to be comfortable. The kids and SJ had a burger while I enjoyed some wine and a small salad. The food was delicious but it was the atmosphere that made the meal. The quiet banter of the French couples around was a sound I was desperately trying to etch into my memory. Most of them were here having a brunch of sorts and there was a mix of couples, guys clearly having been out late last night and women enjoying a birthday celebration. We ate our lunch and lingered over wine while we watched Paris stroll by. There was a man across the street selling saucission sec and fromage while playing a game of chess with anyone who would play. Each time I looked up he seemed lost in concentration on his next move and his opponent was different from the last time I glanced in their direction. It seemed that people would stop to play for a few moves and then move on themselves. It was probably how this gentleman passed his sundays each week and perhaps his opponents were regulars.

This is the sweet cafe where we had lunch. During lunch I asked the waiter where I might find the carafe bottles he used to serve water. He thought for a minute and told me there was a restaurant supply store nearby named Simon and I should try there.

Since the end of the French vacance which lasts from about August 1 - August 31, Paris has seemed to throw out one celebratory event after another. First there were all sorts of things going on to mark La Rentree which technically means the start of school but I like to joke that it really means the reentering of life after a month of vacation. Then we had the weekend of La Patrimoine which was a gold mine for anyone wanting back stage access to all of Paris' landmarks. This weekend is a two-day garden festival where all of the Jardins in Paris are holding events. We decided it would be a good weekend to head to Les Jardins des Plants so we crossed the park that sits between Les Halles and Chatelet to get to the bus stop we needed to head to Les Jardins des Plants. When possible, I like to travel above ground. Half way across the park we noticed a crazy looking section with steep concrete paths, grottos, and wooden bridges. We decided to check it out and it turned out to be a crazy kids maze/playground that was for children 7 and up. It was open just for the Festival des Jardins this weekend. The kids gave us that pleading look of Can I? Can I? So we said have at it and they bolted in yelling follow us! Well easier said then done. I was in high heals trying to negotiate steep, narrow concrete paths and follow the children through open mouths of alligators and into tunnels.

Take a peek at our little mid-afternoon adventure. Looks like fun, doesn't it!?!