Monday, November 30, 2009

Paris Fever

It's that time of year again, when everyone is succumbing to various bugs. The one I've come down with seems to have become an annual sickness, Paris Fever. I'm never really cured, but the fever rises around this time of year, probably because this is the time of year that I've begun my travel planning in earnest for my past trips to my favorite city.

And this season it also brings Paris to mind as the plan was to spend next year's holidays in the City of Lights with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Since the daughter-in-law has gone and gotten herself knocked up (of course my son shares some blame for this situation), I suspect that a plane trip halfway around the world with an almost four year old AND a five month old is no longer on the agenda. Too, there will be two new grandbabies celebrating their first Christmas next year and I'm not sure I'm willing to miss out on being a part of that. Hubby and I might still go traveling next winter, but probably not during the holidays. Christmas in Paris will have to wait for another year.

But that doesn't stop me from dreaming of being there. I don't even have tp dream of being there next year, I can dream of being there THIS year. The holiday lights, the window displays, bundling up in a double wrapped scarf and some warm but walkable new boots. Stopping in a salon du thé for a thé au lait or chocolat chaud. Visiting the yet unexplored shopping hot spots or spending a rainy day hiding out in a gallery or museum or maybe holed away in Shakespeare & Co. Even just sitting in my pied-à-terre sipping a cappuccino and looking out over the rooftops or street while I tap away at writing a new novel. (Hey, this is my dream so YES, I'm writing a NEW novel (having already published my OLD novel), and of course I have my own pied-à-terre.)

Since I have yet to visit Paris in December, I don't have any photos of the city in winter. (Just Google or Flickr search for lots of luscious images online of course. Or visit some of the wonderful Paris lover's blogs that exist out there.)

But I do have lots of photos I have yet to share from Paris in April. Let's wander through some random shots, just a few that caught my mood tonight, and pretend we're reflecting back on the day we spent together.

We went out early to grab some fresh bread at our local boulangerie, brought it back home and had toast with confiture de framboise and thé.

We caught up on some email, picked out some good walking shoes, and spent the rest of the morning at the Musee D' Orsay.

We stopped at a cafe for a quick bite and then went off to do some shopping.

Of course that worked up quite a thirst so we stopped by Laduree for a late afternoon tea and conversation.

This is supposed to be a working vacation so, feeling a bit chagrined at how late it was, we scurried back to the studio and grabbed out laptops. We were going to sit in one of the many parks (which all have free WIFI) and write, but it was a bit chilly, so instead we hid out at one of the many Starbucks. Hey, it was close, and quiet, no one else in the upstairs room. We might have wandered away most of the day but we managed several inspired hours of writing and then went off in search of dinner.

We thought maybe something quick in the Latin Quarter but we got sidetracked looking at kitschy stuff in a tourist shop. Then we bumped into some friends (it's a small world indeed) and chatted until dark.

By then the area was getting noisy, and our friends suggested a little bistro away from the crowds.

Saying goodbye to our friends we stood on the sidewalk debating whether or not to go home yet. Knowing we only had a few short weeks here though, neither of us were ready to call it a day. Well, we did call it a day, but the night was young. And well lit of course.

A walk along the Seine seemed like the perfect way to use up a few of the many calories we managed to consume today. You didn't listen to me about wearing your more comfortable shoes so you weren't sure how long you'd last after all the walking we did earlier. We decided we'd go as far as Notre Dame.

Here we are. Isn't it beautiful at night? Of course our accomodations are a bit farther off. Time to head to the nearest metro entrance and shorten the time home. We're both ready to be tucked under the covers in bed.

Sorry, this is my dream. I get the bed. You get the fold out couch. But we'll both have sweet dreams. Of visiting Paris again. Maybe even during the holidays.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

To Spree or Not to Spree - Holiday Shopping

I've spent some goodly time over the last few weeks wandering through shops and stores to try to crank up some holiday spirit. I know a lot of people hate the holiday traffic and crowds, but I have always loved them. The traffic might be crazy but you know (or at least I imagine) all the cars filled with holiday shoppers. The crowds are tight but they are (or at least I imagine) full of people smiling and having fun.

I love the holiday decorations down Main Street, the window displays full of holiday dioramas, the cheesy holiday music flowing out of every speaker, the velvety red garlands above the racks of holiday cheese and crackers at the market, the over the top displays of warm holiday print blankets and blingy holiday party dresses (although I have never gone to a holiday party that would require that sort of apparel) in the department stores.

Which makes it all the more ironic that on a purchasing level, I've become less and less of a participant every year.

I realize that all the glitz and glitter is to draw in the shoppers and make them SPEND MONEY. And yet, although I like to watch the show, I don't have any desire to pull out my wallet and pay my percentage of making it happen. In the past I've enjoyed holiday shopping. Perhaps because, for decades, money was always been tight, so on the occasional year when we could splurge, it made it a special experience.

But over the years, as we've had more consistent discretionary income, it's become more of an obligation to spend, spend and spend and I've enjoyed it less, less, and less. Too, although the raven in me still loves shinies and baubles, the crone in me is less enamored each year with THINGS. I still enjoy the experience of shopping, but I don't necessarily want to top it off with bags of things to bring home.

I understand that the way our economy works, spending is a "good" thing. It creates jobs and increases prosperity. That's true, within the construct of of consumer culture. And yet as much as I'm culturally programmed to feel warm and fuzzy by the idea of busy shoppers, there's some part of my brain that finds it discomforting. The idea of buying our way to prosperity forever and ever just feels like a pyramid scheme on a grander scale. The world can't sustain that sort of growth forever. Instead of valuing MORE, I think we have to find our way to valuing ENOUGH.

I didn't really know where to go with this contradiction in my head, when I accidentally stumbled upon a lecture on ...I think it was C-Span.... by Joel Waldfogel, the author of Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn't Buy Presents for the Holidays.

It sounds dreadfully bah humbug but honestly, it wasn't. He didn't advocate NOT giving gifts completely. Instead it was more about the economic quality of gift giving the way it's practiced today. His concern seemed similar to mine - he wasn't opposed to giving gifts, he was opposed to the expectation and practice of obligatory and not well thought out gift giving. I won't go into all that he said, feel free to Google his thoughts online or even buy his book (I might check it out next time I'm in a large bookstore and gift myself with it!) I just wanted to mention it to say that it's nice to know I'm not the only person who is confused by this annual frenzy of going into debt diguised as a holiday tradition.

While I'm still confused by how to balance it all, it's not like we ignore our call to public service. Au contraire! We're excellent consumers during the month of December! We spend money on extra "going out" this and that - an extra Starbuck latte, an extra dinner out after an afternoon at the shops, more batteries for photo snapping, more foods for family snacking. We spend money on travel both to and fro. I certainly justify the purchase of additional craft supplies. We spend more and more in recent years on charity purchases, trading the extra time we used to donate with the extra income it's easier and quicker to donate now. We go out to holiday movies at the theatres. The difference with most of this is that we aren't buying products but experiences.

And that doesn't confuse me at all. Experiences, especially experiences shared with those we love, are better than things. More fun. Less dusting.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Large Groups of Kids

First large group of kid - Noel and the grandkids came for an early Thanksgiving visit. We've been cooking and cuddling all this week.

The one thing I didn't do all week is take photos. Because I always seemed to have my hands full. (Gee, yathink?!) Well, there were other things I didn't do this week too - watch television, hang out online, go to the bathroom without someone talking to me from the other side of the door... just a few things that come immediately to mind.

Noel was the one to finally remember and I tried to get some shots of everyone together. Unfortunately the light was already fading fast, and kids don't pose for more than a nanosecond at a time, and never at the same time, so it wasn't the best of circumstances. With everyone running different directions, success was elusive.

I took dozens of photos and there were one or two where at least no one's eyes were shut or face blurred or bunny ears behind a brother's head. I'm sharing this one instead because it pretty much tells the story of the visit. Everyone was pretty much happy, cooperative, going with the flow, except for one child, who had to do things.... her way. If you told her to do something, she had to refuse. If you told her to stop doing something, she had to do it twice as fast. I told Noel that this particular child (not naming names of course) is her karma child. I assured her that she'd undoubtedly grow out of it. In another sixteen years or so. Of course in this shot, I had just asked her not to stick out her tongue.

The nicest photo of the whole bunch was snapped by Hubby of us three girls.

Second large group of kids - William's football team.

The second play off game was supposed to be this last Friday evening here at home. It started storming by midday and by evening the snow was coming so hard and fast that it's unlikely that the people in the bleachers would have been able to see the players on the field, the players on the field would have had a hard time seeing a passing ball, and the referees would have had an impossible time finding the field much less determining the yardage. All this was a moot point as the plows couldn't keep up with the roads and the other team couldn't get over the mountains. The game was rescheduled for the next afternoon, which fortunately was clear, if frigid.

Great small town story. A few of the football boosters came out early in the morning and tried to deal with the field. There weren't enough people to make a dent, so they made a call to the local radio station who went on the air and asked the community to lend a hand. Over a hundred people showed up with shovels and snow blowers and in three hours they'd completely uncovered the field and bleachers from about a half foot of snow.

And as you can see from the photo above, visibility was much better than the night before. Lassen went on to win 42 - 0. We play the final Northern California district championship game later tonight (Wednesday). Fortunately there's no more snow forecast until possibly Thanksgiving night.

By Thanksgiving proper, as everyone else is gearing up for lots of busy travel and cooking and guest prep, the plan here is to be enjoying the quiet pleasures of being post turkey, post visitors, and post victory dance. I'm think I'm beginning to see there might be advantages of breaking with tradition.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

No, I'm not referencing a Queen song, or what Buffy can do with a good swing of a stake. I'm talking about another month mostly gone (and what's left of it scheduled in good and tight) and nothing to show for it.

I really wanted to do Nanowrimo this month. I didn't, because I had already planned to fill the month with other things I wanted to do and adding one more, particularly one of such grand commitment, would be pure insanity. And yet, I almost did it anyway, with the suspicion that all the things that I planned to get done instead of Nanowrimo, wouldn't get done regardless. And I was, right. If I'd been struggling along with the Nano crowd, ignoring family and projects en masse, at least at the end of the month I'd have had 50,000 words to show for it. As it is, I barely have a few thousand words here on my blog. And my studio is cold and abandoned. None of my holiday gift making is even started. I have paperwork to mail. Receipts to find. Clothes to sort. My house is a mess. The garden hasn't been put away. There's a fresh layer of snow over the unraked leaves in the yard. Surfaces as yet unpainted. And there's still a box of tomatoes left to finish putting up.

It's not like I haven't gotten things done this month. I've done a lot. Some of it important. But none of it was what I set out to do, none of it was on my personal to-do list. It was on the family to-do list, the weather's to-do list, the We're Out of Toilet Paper's to-do list, or Life's Unexpected Events to-do list. But it wasn't on my list.

I feel like my time is constantly being broken up into small unusable pieces. Some days it's like I'm being pecked to death by chickens. Here's what Urban Dictionary has to say about that phrase -

1. like being pecked to death by chickens - a steady stream of small, seemingly inconsequential or minor nuisances, which build up over a prolonged period of time and which, eventually, take their toll and exact a heavy price.

And yet whenever I complain, either to others or just inside my head, I always come back to blaming myself for, depending on the day and my mood -

a) not appreciating the fact that my life is full with pretty wonderful things
b) not being organized enough
c) not being patient enough
d) not being able to say no
e) not really knowing what I want to do

Because surely, if I did know what I wanted to do, wouldn't I be doing it? Or, perhaps, what I want to be doing is what I am doing and not what I say I want to be doing, and so

f) not being honest with myself.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Charlie Weasley

This week we had to say goodbye to a very special cat. I'm not using that term lightly. We have had many cats come into our lives and they are each special in their own way, but some more than others. Charlie Weasley was one of the few cats that everyone loved and he loved everyone - whether you were a human, another cat, or even an annoying chihuahua. We will miss you Charlie.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Senior Night, Seasonal Ponderings

I've been "on the road" again, no big surprise, although it wasn't really a planned trip. It was lovely to see my kids and granddaughter, but it wasn't really a vacation, more of a lot of pleasant hard work. The oddest thing was to go from the autumny chill of northern California mountains to the tanks and flip flops wearing heat of San Diego. I finally adjusted by the time I was leaving. And then spent the days since I've been returned getting back in sync with sweaters and scarves.

I like being spontaneous, but there's always a price to pay, usually having to get back in the groove, up to speed, back on track, rebuild my momentum, yada yada, and so on. Which is why there's been no blogging. I'm having to tackle lots of loose ends and niggling bits that have piled up. Ugh. I hate these sort of tasks, singular projects, a handful of which take up an entire day while not contributing to the accomplishment of the everyday must dos or want to dos.

So - just a quick catch up post.

Two Fridays ago was Senior Night at the football game. This means the Seniors leaving after this season have their parents come down onto the field and acknowledge their help and support. Traditionally the mothers wear the boys' away jerseys. Here I am trying out a football pose. Okay, so it's a goofy pose.

Hubby was standing on the other side of William but broke out to take this photo. The tallest kid on the team of course has the shortest mom.

The moms planned a little surprise for the boys. Before the game the team gets in a block and does this "energy builder" thing where they sway back and forth and do shout outs, then they all jump around and hit chests and other manly things. When the parents were supposed to leave the field, instead the mothers all ran out into the middle of the field and did the same routine. Everyone laughed. Don't we look ferocious!

It's all in fun but poignant nontheless. It's the end of a season for us not only in football but in our family life as this is our last high school season. William plans to go on to play college ball so (knock on wood) we'll have more years of cheering from the bleachers, but we won't be part of the local sports community any longer, after going on two decades of participation.

Speaking of the end of a season, we've had an exceptionally long and brilliant season of autumn color this year as well. I've been enjoying it through it's progression over these last weeks. But last night a rainfall took down most of the leaves in our mature maples, which turned while I was gone. I'm bummed I only got two enjoy a few days of their golden splendor.

I think this winter is also the end of another season in our lives, or rather, that it's a new stage in our extended family life. One I knew was coming, thought would come years ago actually, but each year the holiday season sort of fell together because the kids tried hard to all make it home for all or part of the holiday dates. Each year was unique, but still held a solid thread of familiarity in the way we've done things in the most recent past.

But this year holds signifigant changes. Instead of hosting the holidays, we will be the traveling ones this year. Instead of decking the house and stocking the refrigerator for waves of arriving family from October through January, we'll be packing the car with gifts and visiting our children and grandchildren. We'll have some visiting family, but I won't be the main director of the "holiday show".

I have mixed feelings about this. I'm a little bit sad, a little bit relieved. It's not like our traditions now have always been "the way we do things". They're only the way we've done things in the recent past. There have been many shifts, waves of
"how the holidays are done". It was different before I had children, when my kids were young, before the divorce, after the divorce, since the kids became teens, when the teens became fledglings, and now as the kids become parents and the centers of their own families. Shifts have come in the past, some gradually, some dramatically and all in one year. I knew this one was coming, it's been shifting for several years, and it's not a bad thing. It's just that I knew that one year, and this feels like that year, it would finally feel like closing the door on the last stage and moving into a new one. It's bittersweet.

Along with the waving goodbye to old routines though is the opportunity to reinvent the holidays. Along with the reflection is excitement about the chance to recreate this time of year. For a long time I've wanted to drop a lot of traditions that I felt I was just going through the motions on because others wished for them to continue. Now is my chance to hone the season down to those elements that bring me most joy, letting go of those that were more obligatory than enriching. The key to getting rid of things, whether it be a box of old clothes or a schedule of old traditions, is that it opens up space for something new in to enter ones life. Who knows what new traditions are waiting in the wings, waiting to be "the way we do things", waiting to fill our family's lives with happy memories.

So - sad, reflective, uncertain, excited, enthusiastic. A cornucopia of holiday emotions. Note, however, that "overwhelmed" isn't in that list. That's a tradition I'd be very happy to make a thing of the past. Knock on wood.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Dia de Los Muertos Celebration

I had hoped to participate in Stephanie of Rodrigvitz Style's Dia de Bloglandia blogging tribute to Dia de Los Muertos again this year but wasn't sure if I'd be home to put up my own ofrenda, much less have time to blog about it. Thanks to an unexpected twist of plans, I didn't put up my own altar, but I did enjoy the afternoon at a live (or would that be dead?) celebration for Dia de Los Muertos in Old Town San Diego. If I can get this blog up, albeit late, I'm hoping I can share some photos of it with the rest of the bloglandia travelers and celebrants today.

Lots of papel picado, paper streamers, everywhere.

In pretty pastels...

...and vibrant brights!

Those blue flags are competing with a brilliant blue sky. It was so weird coming from the cold and autumn colors of Susanville to the heat and brilliant summer sun of San Diego.

There was a lot of dancing. Both onstage...

.... and on the sidelines.

I liked this fountain but I'm not sure how I feel about cats spitting into my water. Hmmm.

There was color everywhere. Particularly inside the many shops. Unfortunately, "little miss impatient grabby fingers" made it easier to view the outdoor decor. Like this pretty grouping of succulents, and flowers both real and paper.

Most of the ofrendas were inside as well, so we didn't get to see a lot of those. These people kindly put this beautiful altar to Kahlo outside for us.

And the restaurant on the plaza where we lunched had set up a lovely display as well with information about the history and aspects of the altar for the many visitors.

We stopped to climb a few trees. Joli explained "I'm a fairy princess but I'm a strong princess so I can climb trees." Then she added "Strong, but also careful."

La Catrina and her gentleman friend (who seems to be trying to sell me a new red dress.)

On the way back to the car I spied this beautiful Virgin de Guadalupe in the courtyard of the Catholic Church. Quite different than the brightly colored ones you usually see. But her blindingly yellow aura more than makes up for all that white!

As soon as the fairy princess falls asleep tonight, I hope to be able to visit some of the Dia de Bloglandia posts to view the lovely personal celebrations all over the globe.

Happy Halloween!

Last minute change of plans, I spent Friday night and most of Saturday driving.

And when I arrived, I had not only changed locations, I'd changed seasons!

From a place of coats and scarves and autumn leaves...

To palm trees and bare foot trick or treating.

I thought I'd end up missing Halloween altogether but I made it just in time to help Joli collect this stash of candy. (which was mostly unwrapped and tossed before the night was through. Apparently the unwrapping of things was the most fun.)

Vampire kitty!

As you all know, vampires and kitties are very high maintenance, between driving and "Come on Grammy, come play in my room!" online time will be limited this week.

I hope you all had a splendidly spooky night!