Tuesday, November 30, 2010

France: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Our trip took us all over the country!  This was my kids' longest plane ride, first ever train ride, and (possibly) longest car ride ever.  Here's what we learned...

Airplanes:  For once I gave us plenty of time to get to the airport and the gate.  (The last time DH and I flew we were the last ones on the plane!)  Good move.  I was traveling alone with the kids and it was just good to be leisurely in checking in, getting dinner at the airport, and even being able to move our seat assignments around so we could be together.

All airplanes are not created equal.  Our flight over had individual screens on the back of each seat, so the kids could choose what they wanted to watch.  Coming home, we had only the screens at the front of each section, so they were stuck with what might or might not be a great choice to watch with kids.  I guess I should have known this but I didn't really think about it when we left.  It wasn't a big deal but the kids came home with no charge on their iPods, so it was a loooooong flight!  (Yes, we charged them throughout the week, but we had an unanticipated four-hour layover in Dusseldorf on the way home--there went the charge!)

Charles de Gaulle airport is HUGE when you arrive.  It takes a lot of walking to get through customs and baggage claim.  However, when you depart, it is teensy-tiny.  You can see the gate from the check-in counter outside security!

It also takes a tremendous amount of walking to get to the train station at CdG, too.  Which brings me to...

Trains:  I always loved taking trains in France.  They are easy and on-time.  However, train stations are no place to hang out.  Let me back up just a little:

I think this is pretty new because none of my guidebooks noted this station at CdG.  You no longer have to take a bus or RER (suburban commuter) train to get from CdG to the trains that will take you throughout the country; they have built an awesome train station right at the terminal.  This is great because you can take the TGV (Train a Grande Vitesse, literally "High-Speed Train") in almost any direction from one station.  In the city of Paris, there are about five main train stations, each one departing to a different direction.  So in the city you have to know where you are headed in order to pick the right train station.  Having the SNCF (French train system, Societe Nationale de Chemins de Fer, or "National Iron Horse Society") right at the airport means you can go in a multitude of directions from one spot.  Super convenient--Thanks, France!

So we walked miles (it seems) to get to the train station.  Unlike airports, people arrive at trains about five minutes before the train arrives, the train stops for about three minutes while everyone piles on and off, and then away you go.  Being cautious about our flights, though, we booked a TGV to Lyon that left about three hours after we landed.  When we realized how easy the connection was, I tried to change the reservation to an earlier departure but couldn't do it at the ticket kiosk (a problem I'll talk more about later).  The line at the service counter really long, so I thought it wouldn't be a big deal.  In hindsight, I should have waited in that line!

So we were stuck in the station with all that baggage for almost three hours.  Train stations are just about the outside temperature; in November, that means cold!  And super-boring:  remember, the smart people arrive just before the train arrives, hop on, and away they go.  Anyway, we finally got to ride on this:

This was the kids' first train ride.  I'm afraid that we have now spoiled them.  The TGV is sleek, quiet, and most of all fast.  They loved watching the countryside whisk by as they enjoyed some snacks I had bought in the station.  Chocolate and cookies in the warmth of the train cabin--that was a great way to get to Lyon.

This post is getting long, and so I'll continue with automobiles (and taxis!) in the next post.  A bientot!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Networked Blogs...

I'm stepping out a little, or rather "outing" myself a little, today.  My blog has been around for a while, just my little corner of the interwebs.  But I want to share our awesome vacation, so I'm going to link to my Facebook profile.

So, welcome to my blog.  Feel free to look around.  I'll be posting over the next few days about our vacation and also about whatever crosses my mind, as usual.  You can tell by how frequently I post that not much crosses my mind!

A new view, and back from vacation!

So the gratitude thing petered out because I had to get us ready to go on vacation...We are back and had an amazing time.  I'm going to spend the next few posts sharing some of that.  I learned a lot about my kids, vacation planning, and myself while we were gone, most of it good.  Some of it might help when you are planning a trip, and some of it is just fun to share.  All of the vacation posts will have "France" as a tag, in case you want to find them quickly.

But, I am grateful for:
Safe Travel
The Eiffel Tower
Family and friends who cared for our menagerie while we were away
Friendly waiters
French bread and pastries and the lovely ladies who bake them
Children who learn to say "Bonjour" and "Merci"
Holding hands on foreign streets
A professional photographer to take photos worthy of our memories
Good "luck" that always led us to the right road
Taxi drivers intent on helping us get "there"
A kitchen to cook in on vacation
Hearts willing to take an adventure
A husband with an interest in history and a great flair for sharing it
Traffic round-abouts so you could always go around again
Brightly colored umbrellas

...and so much more.  Please check back as I share some of our adventure!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gratitude No. 8

The cell phone!  The bane of our modern existence, and yet...

My husband is traveling in Europe this week and sends me regular texts.  What a joy to get a little message every so often:  "I see chateaus!  Old, abandoned, beautiful" or "Waaaay better than China."  I know he's thinking of me, sharing a little of his day even though he's halfway around the world.

Monday, November 15, 2010

...and Gratitude No. 7

We had a bunch of family here yesterday (waiting on a pic so I can post that one!) so we had an early Thanksgiving.  Now we have early Thanksgiving leftovers.  Today, I am grateful for

apple pie for breakfast!

Gratitude No. 6

I am a knitter.  I am grateful for the warm alpaca, soft silk, fuzzy mohair, and all the other wonderful fibers I've been using lately.  This is the reason to knit--the ripe color and the absolute luxury, even if only enjoyed for a few minutes every day.  And the repetitive motion can be very meditative and restful.

In this picture are two projects I'm working on.  The teal blue is alpaca/silk/mohair, destined to be a large shawl just for me.  Unbelievably yummy, and absolutely unlike anything I could buy for myself.  The greens are a pattern I'm creating for some fingerless mitts, handpainted 100% alpaca.  Mitts so you get to touch the fabric all the time.  Chunky and soft soft soft.  Oh, and those black needles are ebony.

My shop is a yarn shop, so it's my business to get other people to "buy in" to this fiber love.  It feels good, though, to know I can still enjoy it so much!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gratitude No. 5

Ugh...I am not good at this daily blogging!  Last week, though, I was thankful for...my patio heater!  This thing rocks.  The weather here has been gorgeous, warm in the afternoon but chilly in the morning.  Thanks to this great invention, I sit outside and enjoy my second cup of coffee in the morning.  Absolutely perfect.

Sadly, it's supposed to rain tomorrow morning so I won't be out there.  But I'll be ready for the next clear morning.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gratitude No. 4

I took a major tumble tonight riding horses with a daughter, so tonight I am grateful for the smart polymer scientists who created the tough foam that my helmet is made of.  Think of how many times we are surrounded with something that some smart person came up with that keeps us safe, like in the car or on an airplane.  I am really pretty much of an anti-nanny when it comes to safety equipment (like I think we wear way too many bike helmets).  But I am smart enough to wear a helmet when I'm jumping with a 1300-pound animal, and I was glad to have it tonight.

Unfortunately my gold heart hoop earrings did not survive.  Wonder if I can talk my sweet husband into something new....

oops, I forgot...Gratitude No. 3

So it takes a few days to develop a habit.  We are in the middle of some glorious crisp fall days here, full of golden morning light.  My mom and I walk about 3 1/2 miles every morning around a lake near my house, and right now it is spectacular.  I'll take the camera today and try to get a picture.  Anyway, I am thankful that I live in a place where we get four real seasons, especially this technicolor one.  And also that my husband and I made a good decision 13 years ago to buy a house in my hometown where I get to see my parents every day and they are a part of our day-to-day life.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gratitude No. 2

I am thankful for my husband, who does a way better job of accepting and loving me as I am than I do!  He is a fun partner, a great father, and an amazing provider.  I am blessed to share my life with him.  Here he is with our Boy Scout a couple of months ago.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Gratitude post No. 1

Because it's November, I think I'll post something I'm thankful for every day that I can.  We might miss during vacation, but I'll be thankful while I'm there, too!

Today, November 7, I am thankful for my new church family.  We have helped to start a Lutheran congregation here in my town.  We don't have a pastor, so we take turns with all the duties, even preaching, and we don't have a building, so we meet in a local hotel.  And God dwells there with us.  I am so grateful for every single person in that room, how they encourage me, my husband and my children.  I love our closeness and the energy.

The Grand Unified Theory of Parenting

This is it.  This is what you've been looking for:  the definitive secret to a happy household full of happy kids.  I am sharing it after we had it confirmed last weekend.  So far, so good.

The theory:  children want to love their mama, and siblings will fight for the pieces of mom-love just as surely as puppies fight over table scraps.  My home is happier if my children see themselves as being on the same team.  For that to happen, they must see me as being on a different team.  (Ouch!  This is painful.)  Therefore, when given the choice to pit the kids against each other or united against me, I choose to unite them.

An example:  The kids are bickering over something, and one comes tattling to me.  BAM!  You all are fighting--everyone is in trouble.  Not spankings, just a "go to your room, no TV tonight" kind of punished. Ideally, sending them to their room sends them to the SAME room.  My boys share a room, and my girls.  More than once I've overheard, "Mom sure is mean." "Yeah.  I can't believe blah blah blah..."  There might be some "Why did you..." but surprisingly little!  They have found common ground, their anger with me.  So now they are on the same side.  And after a little while, they are hanging out, playing, reading, but spending time together.  And after the time away is over, they really aren't even mad at me for long.  Remember, their natural tendency is to love their mama.

This is how we've raised our kids.  I'm not sure when I came up with this, but with four kids under six I had to figure something out pretty quick.  I have to say that we have four of the most fun kids you would ever want to see.  They get along great, which makes everything from dinners out to chores to travel a breeze.  Yes, they fight and argue once in a while, but they also genuinely love each other and are best friends.

This even works to their advantage, more than they know!

Here's what happened last weekend.  DS1 had a bad weekend, losing some things but then also lying about them!  Terrible.  We were disappointed and lowered as many booms as we could grab, including NO TRICK-OR-TREATING.  Wow--he was devastated, but took the punishment without complaint.  A couple of days later we heard crying coming from upstairs.  It wasn't DS1, though; it was his younger brother absolutely distraught that his best bud wouldn't be going out on the biggest night of the year.  The girls were also indignant at us that we would levy such a punishment.  Those three kids surrounded their brother with love and lobbied us HARD on his behalf.  To DS1's great credit, he didn't argue with us, but the other kids sure did!  They even "threatened" to stay home in solidarity with their brother.

Well, we changed our minds.  I was secretly so proud of my sweet kids, sticking together like they did.  His punishment is ongoing, but we relented and he brought home his requisite six pounds of candy.  And I feel just a little vindicated in my approach.  It isn't always fun to be the heavy but it was certainly worth seeing them stick together like that, knowing that they love each other not only in the fun easy times but through trouble, too.  I am really proud of those sweet guys.

Monday, November 1, 2010

This is turning into a recipe blog.

A friend wanted the recipe for the macaroni and cheese my daughter took to school today, so here it is.  Actually, she said,"I must have the recipe!  I almost licked D's container at lunch..."  So, you know who you are and here's the recipe.  It makes a generous 13 x 9 pan.  The original recipe, years ago, was plenty for my family of six, with leftovers for my lunch the next day.  I've increased the recipe a good bit, because now my kids eat a lot more and there weren't any leftovers to fight over!  It's that good...

2 c. small elbow macaroni
2 c. 1/2" cubes sharp cheddar cheese (about 8 oz.)
1/4 c. flour (I use Wondra because it's smoother)
2 t. salt
2 t. dry mustard (or use about 1 T prepared dijon mustard)
1/2 t. pepper
scant 1/4 t. cayenne pepper (or use Tabasco)
scant 1/4 t. nutmeg (really, go light on this, somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 t.)
2 c. half-and-half
2 c. whipping cream (yes there are about a million creamy delicious calories in this!)
1 c. sour cream (light is okay here if you must)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 t. Worcesteshire sauce
2 c. grated cheddar cheese (or whatever you deem appropriate for the topping)

Cook the macaroni according to package directions.  Drain and place in a Pyrex 13 x 9 pan.  Add the cubed cheese and mix.

Mix the dry ingredients.  If you are using prepared mustard and Tabasco wait to add them with the sour cream.  Then whisk in the 1/2-and-1/2, whipping cream, and all the other ingredients down to the Worcesteshire sauce.  Pour over the noodles and cheese.  Top with grated cheddar cheese.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.  Check it during the last five minutes.  You want it to be wobbly in the center when you take it out of the oven.  Let the mac and cheese stand for about ten minutes before digging in.  Enjoy!

Wish I had a picture of the bubbly creamy goodness but I wasn't thinking. This is what I fixed for dinner last night (Halloween).  I had six excited kids at my house who couldn't will the sun to set any faster.  They were impatient but I knew they needed to eat before they headed out.  This was yummy enough to get their attention, and with some baked ham and green beans I felt like they wouldn't be completely sugar-overloaded.

Bon appetit!  Maybe some shop blogging a little later...We had an amazing sale last week.  I learned a lot and it went really well, far beyond my expectations.