Category Archives: family

Vancouver to Seward Aboard the Celebrity Millennium

I know that the subject of cruises elicits strong opinions. Some love them; some loathe them. There are valid reasons for the polar reactions. I happen to be one who straddles both camps. I really like being able to change vacation spots without having to touch my bags. I love the pace and the placidity I find on cruises. I think they are a wonderful way for multi-generational groups to travel together. On the other hand, I hate their effect on the environment. I also detest disembarking and touring lovely places with thousands of my closest cruiser friends. Really- it’s just the worst way to be a tourist, isn’t it?

One of the best things about the Alaskan cruise was that the excursions were in very small groups and away from the throngs. Also, I think that cruising is a wonderful way to see the Alaskan scenery, and certainly to view the glaciers. I am certain that none of us on this family trip (well, those of us older than eleven, anyway) will ever forget the glaciers or the whales we  watched. The scenery was so breathtakingly different from anything we had ever seen before. I whole-heartedly recommend an Alaskan cruise, my friends, and the smaller the ship the better.

Some pros and cons about the Celebrity Millennium:

The Celebrity Millennium was not small, carrying 2000 passengers. The food was adequate but not great. The buffet restaurant, where we ate breakfast and lunches, needed more variety from day to day. We ate at our own table for ten at night, in a restaurant with nice service but food that was somewhat lackluster. However, one can’t really expect stellar food on a boat preparing as many meals as this one did.

The wi-fi was not included and was pricey (and slow). Surely cruises can join the ranks of hotels and airports that are providing free internet to patrons. At the very least there should be one area of the ship with free wi-fi.

The two people in our group who used the spa reported that it was not very nice, despite its automatic 18% gratuity.

On the positive side, the entire ship was very clean, comfortable, and quiet. The staff was excellent. The gym was nice. The pina coladas were delicious. The cruisers were well-behaved. The naturalist on board provided good information in theater presentations and also broadcasted throughout the ship while we were viewing the Hubbard glacier.

Our boarding process in Vancouver could not have been easier or better organized. We were on the ship with minimal waiting in line.

Sadly, this is the only photo of our ship I took!

Sadly, this is the only photo of our ship I took!

Our stateroom on the eighth deck, which was not the most nor the least expensive, was spacious and comfortable. We made good use of the balcony, as most of the rest of our gang were lined up in rooms with balconies right next to ours.

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My two oldest kids flew into Vancouver on their own, met at the airport, and met us onboard not long after we boarded. Needless to say, I was much relieved to see their smiling faces on that ship!

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We made it, Mom!

Those two kids were in a stateroom on the third deck. Their room was almost as large as ours, but with a picture window in place of a balcony door. Despite the requisite grumblings about being relegated to steerage, they admitted that the room was perfectly comfortable.

Our group of ten split up and re-grouped throughout the days and nights. We each used the gym, pools, casino, bars, and quiet reading areas as we felt moved to do, and then regrouped in the evenings. We also chose excursions according to our own interests. When planning our cruise, the choice of excursions was a bit overwhelming, but ultimately we were pretty satisfied with our selections.

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Our first stop was Ketchikan, where the three men in the group went salmon fishing while we women-folk browsed the little town. The guys shot a cool video of an eagle swooping down to pluck a salmon right out of the river!

At our next stop in the Icy Straits, our large group split up into two small whale watching boats. I hate a certain two-word term that is ubiquitous these days, referring to experiences people hope to have before they die, but I will say that seeing whales was something I have always wanted to do. It was magical.

My brother-in-law got these great photos using his good camera with a lens. The whales were not this close to the boats, though with binoculars we were able to see them pretty well.

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We even saw whales in the sky!

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Something else I did for the first time on this cruise was ride in a helicopter! The four of us and another couple took a chopper to a glacier, where we were able to get out and walk around on the ice. The luminous blue was amazing.

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our “landing pad”

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In Skagway we took a tram ride up to a beautiful viewing spot.

Don't leave without us, please!

Don’t leave without us, please!

At our last stop in Juno we rented a jeep and drove a few hours along a gorgeous road.

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Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake

At the end of the cruise, the ship got very close to Hubbard Glacier, allowing passengers to see it and even to watch and listen to the thunder of the calving.

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After six nights  we woke up in Seward, where the disembarking was as painless as the reverse process was at the beginning of our vacation. The ten of us loaded into a small bus that we chartered to take us to Anchorage, which was about two and a half hours away.

Even if you are “cruise-averse”, I urge you to consider an Alaskan cruise. It may be your best (and only?) shot at seeing the glaciers before they disappear. Seeing the whales, eagles, and bears (if you’re lucky) is thrilling. I would even do another one on a much smaller ship that could maneuver into tighter spots.

Next stop: Anchorage and the crazy amazing kids who got there by bike!

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Filed under family, travel

Attempting Re-entry

Bonjour Friends! We are back home after two weeks in Vancouver, Alaska, and Seattle. The trip was fabulous and, as always, it was fabulous to get back home. Except for the unpacking, laundry, and “where am I?” part, of course. I am powering through the chaos, and for some reason these cookies seemed vitally important to that effort.

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This recipe caught my eye because it calls for milk powder, which I happened to have from that time I made Barefoot Contessa’s Dog Treats. (I know- right? They were super cute and would have received a resounding “thumbs-up” if the lucky recipients had thumbs). Of course, the cookies also needed cream cheese, milk chocolate, and Oreos, which I did not have in my pantry,  but those things are easier to use up than the milk powder is. So that, my friends, is how I ended up making these cookies by the sparkly Joy The Baker when I should have been sleeping or paying bills or doing something useful. Sorry not sorry.

But let’s talk about Vancouver, shall we?

I made the most of my window seat and the clear day on the four-hour flight from Houston. I loved the way the topography changed along the way.

from lush mountains

from lush mountains

to dry swirls

to dry swirls

to fertile valleys

to fertile valleys

to crazy pie charts

to crazy pie charts

and finally some coastline!

and finally some coastline!

This was my first visit to Vancouver and I was totally bowled over by its beauty and how spanking clean it was!

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This tree wore a groovy crocheted accessory, making it almost as groovy as my niece Juju.

IMG_3269We took the water taxi to Granville Island, where we enjoyed perusing the market.

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fruit or

fruit or

fruit flavor

fruit flavor?

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how come my cupcakes never look this good?

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I loved the copper at Liberty Distillery.

I loved the copper at Liberty Distillery.

I would rent an apartment in this building just for this floor at its entrance!

I would rent an apartment in this building just for this floor at its entrance!

One night we were treated to a gorgeous fireworks display, which was much appreciated since we missed both Fourth of July and Bastille Day fireworks this year.

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We had the joy of traveling with my sister’s family and my mom on this trip. They loved smiling for the camera.

Lookin' good, Sistah! You too, Meredith!

Lookin’ good, Sistah! You too, Meredith!

maman et moi

maman et moi

Selfies with Eloise!

Selfies with Eloise!

Oh yeah- we had a couple of dudes with us, too.

Oh yeah- we had a couple of dudes with us, too.

Our next stop was aboard the Celebrity Millennium.

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More about that later! I have still got some unpacking to do.

Enjoy your weekend, homies!

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Filed under cooking, family, food markets, travel

Girl Time In Paris

When I came back to Paris this time I was lucky enough to be joined first by one daughter, and then the other, and THEN three of her friends from Texas. Do I even need to tell you how wonderful it was having 4/5 of my family here? Pret-ty darn fabulous. We missed our son/brother, bien sûr, but sent him pics until he begged us to stop.

My two daughters were here together for a few days. We did some shopping and some dining, and enjoyed Paris at Christmas time.

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Then Martha’s three friends/roommates arrived, and the apartment quickly overflowed with girls and boots and good smells and laughter. I was one very content mama, I can tell you.

The girls made the most of their six-day stay, and were admired by many a man about town. They may not have noticed, but I was behind them, picking up the rear, and I can assure you that they never went unnoticed. But I guess they are used to that. Ah, youth.

Place de la Concorde

Place de la Concorde

I can't remember where this one was taken.

I can’t remember where this one was taken.

on the one sunny day....

on the one sunny day….

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That same sunny day they also had a pricey drink at the top of the Pompidou, followed by gelato at Amorino.

 

Martha and I shared the tour guide umbrella. One day I took them to Saint-Germain because, you know, j’adore.

bus stop beauties

bus stop beauties

We went to Luxembourg Gardens, which was pretty empty on a cold winter’s day.

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We also visited Au Bon Marche, Cire Trudon, Coton Deux (we love their pajamas), Hermes, Rue de Buci, and finished at Cafe de Flore for hot chocolate and wine (for moi).

Another day we went to the fun and feisty Marche d’Aligre, where the girls got A LOT of appreciation from the spirited vendors.

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We had fun looking at all the produce and enjoying many juicy citrus samples. The small flea market just behind the outdoor market revealed treasures to be explored. One friend bargained hard and bought this framed pencil sketch for her mom. I think she ended up getting it for 1/2 of the first price he quoted her. The girl’s got skills.

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From the flea market we entered the old covered market, which was still festive with Christmas decorations and lights.

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I loved having these girls in Paris with us. They were perfect guests. They were super enthusiastic about everything, even through jet lag and winter grey. They were all adventurous eaters, which automatically earned my badge of approval. No one needed lots of primping time, so they were able to get out of the apartment early each morning, making their tour guide very happy. They helped in the kitchen and cleaned up after themselves, and they even let Mark and me hang out on the couches with them. And did I mention that they loved to eat??? Gold stars all around!

It sure has been nice living in a city that people want to visit. Mark and I have had such fun entertaining guests during our time here. It’s hard not to have a good time in Paris. We miss our family, and we miss our friends, but sometimes they meet us in Paris, which is always a good idea.

Merci, girls, for making Paris just a little more sparkly for a week.

Now get to work. And Hook ‘Em Horns!

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Filed under Cire Trudon, Eiffel Tower, family, flea market, flowers, food markets, gardens, Luxembourg Gardens, Montmartre, Paris, Paris in winter, Sacre-Coeur, Uncategorized

For All The Things

The Monday after Thanksgiving is always a little sobering. The turkey holiday flew by too fast and involved too much food and drink. Family has dispersed to their respective towns and states. And worst of all, there is no denying that Christmas is making a full-court press. Isn’t it too bad that these two big holidays are bumped up against each other the way they are? A little time and space between them would be so much nicer. When I was in college in Virginia and couldn’t always make it home for Thanksgiving, my family celebrated a few “Thanksgiving in July” feast days. That was a great idea, Mom. I wish we could have made it stick.

Perhaps in a pathetic attempt to avoid focusing on the December calendar, I am still lingering with Thanksgiving today. Give me just a few more hours to savor the memories of a long weekend with family and the beautiful place we gathered, which was San Diego, California. Allow me also to continue nurturing my feelings of gratitude, a practice I need to engage more regularly.

For the beauty of this world.

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For my children, who have survived their mushy-brained adolescence and somehow lived to tell about it (but not too much, please), and who actually like being with each other and with us.

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For my selfless and forgiving husband, who both lifts me up and keeps me grounded.

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For our own parents and siblings, who started us on our journeys with love and images of family that shaped our own.

For old friends who stick with us, even as we stumble and crumble and lose sight of the world’s goodness.

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For literature and poetry possessing the power to tenderize our hearts to each other and to the world around us.

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Thank you for this moment of quiet. Now go forth into the madness that can be December with a grateful heart and the fortitude required to listen to Christmas carols pumped into every building you enter for the next 25 days. Good luck!

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Filed under family, gratitude, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized

November??

Whoa November- what are you doing here so soon? I was just getting comfortable with October and now she’s gone? What the heck? Can’t we all just slow down a little bit? Because the next thing you know it’s going to be time for turkey and cranberries and then the next blink is ornaments and gift wrap and shopping lists and I’m just not ready for all that. Like at all.

I got home from Paris at the beginning of October, and have spent much of that month in the kitchen, reveling in the ease of shopping and cooking in my motherland. I made this gorgeous carrot soup from Orangette (yes I know it’s made with coconut milk and you will just have to trust me here), this hearty dark bread from David Lebovitz (which Wonder Chien stole off the counter, leaving a pile of incriminating sunflower seeds on the floor), this tasty vegetable soup with freekeh (cuz I’m a very freekeh girl…..), and the first five recipes from the “Cookies, Brownies & Bars” chapter of Joy The Baker’s new cookbook, Homemade Decadence (because a girl can’t live on soup and bread alone).

We have hit the road or skies every weekend but one since we got back. Last weekend we flew to St. Louis to see our daughter run her first half-marathon. An added bonus was a taste of fall, which we don’t get here in Texas.

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Washington University in St. Louis is beautiful any time of the year, but particularly during fall.

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The best part of the weekend was the surprise appearances of our other two kids, who flew in from Texas. Our daughter was shocked- in a good way.

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The race wound through Forest Park, a beautiful park just across the street from the school.

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The only thing more difficult than getting us all there for the weekend was getting a decent picture of all of us. Apparently the girl we snagged to snap our photo thought it was important to get the parking stripes in the background.

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I am so loving being home. But don’t worry. I have lots more Paris for you. Tune in again tomorrow!

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Filed under cooking, family, Sawyer, Texas, Uncategorized

Happy Campers

While we were in Paris this last time, Mark had some old family pictures popping up on the computer screen in our kitchen. The screen is as big as a small television and too old to do much more than display our family photographs. As pictures danced across the screen, I was reminded of how frequently we camped when the kids were little. We camped in hot and cold weather. We camped with portacribs and potty chairs. We camped with Dad’s signature breakfast burritos and “sugar-powdered do-nuts”, a special camping treat. So many pictures showed uncombed hair and dirty faces stuffed with molten marshmallows. And those were just Mark and me. Those days seem so recent and yet so long ago.

Mark and I have often wondered if we would still enjoy camping now that our kids have left the tent, and last weekend we discovered that the answer is a resounding yes.

Texas has a fabulous collection of state parks, and these have always been our chosen camping venues. Our favorite is Garner State Park, located in the Hill Country of south Texas. The jewel of this park is undoubtedly the glittering Rio Frio, which cuts through stunning limestone cliffs and cools swimmers and “toobers” with its clear, spring-fed waters. The Frio is but one of the victims of the dastardly drought that has plagued our state for much too long, but we found a few places where we could still submerge ourselves in the water we so fondly remembered from the days when it flowed much faster and wider.

Our camping buddies were good friends and their dog, who happens to be the mother of our dog, Sawyer. My friend Martha and I headed out early on Thursday in a Griswald-worthy Suburban, teeming with camping gear, coolers, and two happy golden retrievers. We drove four hours to a tidy little rental cabin located just outside the park, where we spent the night before lining up at Park HQ the next morning.

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The river in front of the cabin was pretty low, but the dogs found enough water to get wet.

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That night we saw shooting stars AND fire flies. As my kids know, that’s all it took to make my weekend a complete success. I could have gone home happy if we had stopped there. But we didn’t.

Friday morning we selected the Best Campsite Ever and then set up the compound before exploring more of the countryside.

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The Frio is lined with enormous old cypress trees. I love them dearly.

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One of the little towns close to the park is called Utopia. We have long laughed at this little sign, proudly announcing the town and admonishing the inhabitants.

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“Welcome to Utopia- A Paradise- Lets Keep It Nice”

Somehow I don’t think the creator of that slogan went on to bigger things. But hey- my words aren’t memorialized on a road sign. Yet.

The men- folk arrived Friday night, happy to find their tents properly staked to the ground and their women and dogs in good spirits. We lay on a blanket and admired the amazing night sky, which was bright with stars and a smear of the Milky Way, something I had not seen in a very long time. The night’s sleep was not that great, however, interrupted by Sawyer throwing up in our tent, a layer of humidity descending on the campsite and turning our sleeping bags into sticky envelopes of steam, and little Molly in the campsite across from us, who decided she was done with camping with Dad and absolutely, not kidding, really needed her mommy. We couldn’t make out what Dad was saying to her, but he didn’t sound very happy, either. He clearly did not know about the magical powers of sugar powdered donuts.

Saturday was a gorgeous day of swimming, picnicking, splashing, napping, and reading cookbooks in our camp chairs. In other words, it was perfect.

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water doesn’t get much nicer than this

Sunday morning, after devouring our breakfast burritos, we decamped and headed to Austin in order to deposit the abundance of camping gear at our lake house. Things looked pretty nice there, too.

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We were totally psyched to find that camping was still fun, even without babies or kids or potty chairs. Of course, there was still some vomit to clean up, so it still had that tinge of familiarity.

this year's Christmas card

this year’s Christmas card

Let’s keep it nice, y’all.

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Filed under Austin, family, Sawyer, Texas, travel

Too Busy To Blog!

The great thing about having family and friends visit is that we are always out seeing and doing and eating and sharing the joy of Paris. The bad thing about having guests is that I don’t have time to spend at the computer, downloading pics and describing our adventures. I had intended to write a post tonight, but it’s now 10:00 and I have packing left to do before our early morning departure for San Sebastian, Spain. I hope to find a few quiet hours while I am away to get caught up, but here are some photos of Paris from the last couple of weeks. It has been very hot, very pleasant, sunny, and rainy, sometimes from one hour to the next. We got our there and sweated with the best of them, although I do confess to drifting off into fantasies of mountains of crushed ice from Sonic. Not much ice and not much air conditioning- the perils of heat waves in Paris. Fortunately, they do not usually last long.

beautiful flowers in the Tuileries

beautiful flowers in the Tuileries

goats grazing in the Tuileries- first time I ever saw that

goats grazing in the Tuileries- first time I ever saw that

Louvre

Louvre

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Versailles

Versailles

boat ride sunset

boat ride sunset

cute girls on the back of the boat

cute girls on the back of the boat

Assemblie Nationale all lit up

Assemblie Nationale all lit up

and of course….

and of course….

I hope to be back on track with regular posts soon.

But for now—vamos a la playa!!!

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Filed under Eiffel Tower, family, flowers, gardens, Grand Palais, Paris, Paris sunsets, Seine, Spain, travel, Tuileries