Category Archives: Sawyer

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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Saturday. In the park. I think it was the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

London friends wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower on Saturday morning.  We were happy to take them, but opted to hang out on the ground, in the Champ de Mars, while they did the whole waiting in line to go up and then waiting in line to come down thing.  It was a gorgeous morning, and Sawyer was psyched at the opportunity to go to the only “unofficial” dog park we have found in these parts.  Unfortunately, it was a heck of a lot colder than we thought when we left for that little outing, and the four of us pretty much froze our butts off out there.  I was glad that we were on the ground- our friends said the wind was pretty wicked up top.

It’s hard not to love Paris on a day like Saturday.  Even though she is whipping your ass with a cold wind that doesn’t stop, and the public toilet is too awful to even consider using, and you can no longer feel your feet because you stupidly didn’t wear socks.

Despite those minor inconveniences, Paris still rocks on a day like Saturday.

Rock on, friends, and wear socks.

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Filed under Eiffel Tower, Paris outings, Sawyer, Uncategorized

On my walk

Sawyer has returned from his vacation on the farm.  He was so tired he slept all afternoon.  I guess the farm wasn’t all that relaxing.  All that running around, chasing dogs, doing whatever else they do there.  Maybe he even had chores.  Herding sheep?  Yeah, that would last for about 30 seconds.  Goldens are not known for their stamina.

This morning we resumed our early morning walks.  Not really early- 7:30- but the first of the day.  As we followed our normal path down the sidewalk of the Champs, he looked up at me as if to say,”It was much more fun running around in the fields without a leash.”  To which I replied, “Yeah, I kind of liked hanging out in my pajamas with my coffee and my International Herald-Tribune, buddy.”

We always pass Le Notre,  a small building housing a cafe (said to be very good, but as yet untested by moi) and a cooking school.  The cooking school kitchen looks out onto the street, and when all lit up in the early morning shadows, it is beautiful.  This morning I finally stopped and took a picture of it.  It didn’t come out that great (it was with my phone and shot through a window) but you get the idea.  I love the pumpkin-colored wall in back, and all the gleaming stainless.  The chef decided to pop in the shot, just as I was taking it, which made it even better.

Those two large silver doors slide all the way open, giving a better view of the space.  Maybe next time.

Morning walks are much better for me than coffee and the newspaper.

Have you picked out all your favorites from your kids Halloween candy yet?  Save the Mounds for me!

Sometimes you feel like a nut.

Over and Out.

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Filed under cooking, Paris dining, Paris outings, Sawyer

Parigi-Napoli-Parigi with some Amalfi coast and a lot of water thrown in

Bonjour, my friends!  We have returned from the land of pizza, pasta, and gelato a little larger than when we left a week ago, but that’s what vacation is for, yes?  I will be hard-pressed to condense a week’s worth of scenery and feeding frenzies to one post, but I think I will try, so go get yourself a glass of sweet tea and get comfortable- this might be a long one.

This was our first European vacation since we made Paris home, and I have to say it was pretty cool to get on a plane and get off two hours later in Italy, with no jet lag.  Italy greeted us with a day significantly warmer than the one we left behind in Paris, which suited us just fine.  We hopped directly on a bus from the airport to Sorrento, which was a short bus ride that would have been even shorter had it not stopped every 200 yards.

view from our room

Our Sorrento hotel was very nice, with lovely, authentic painted tile floors and an incredible view from our room.

Sorrento

Take THAT, Olive Garden!

One morning we took the hydrofoil to Capri, which took about 30 minutes.  The island was pretty, and the views from the 12 minute chair lift ride were amazing.

famous rocks off Capri

top of the chairlift

That's my girl

totally unnecessary sign on chairlift

yep- we were really up there..

I took Latin for three years in high school and still remember our class trip to the Pompeii exhibit in Dallas.

Pompeii

I have always wanted to see the actual site, and was so happy to get there, even if it was on a train that seemed to stop more than it rolled.

I'm sorry but if I were going to die in molten lava and be on display for millions of people I would definitely choose a more dignified pose.

The weather was not great, but the rain never came down hard, and we had the foresight to bring umbrellas, so it was fine.

Yeah, so the paint is long- lasting, but does it contain lead?

Cave canum! (told ya I took Latin)

fast food bar- dishes holding hot food were placed in holes in counter

When we got back to Sorrento later that afternoon, the rain began in earnest.  We ducked into a restaurant for lunch, and then traipsed back to our hotel , hitting locals and tourists alike with our umbrellas, which we are not yet adept at using on narrow sidewalks.  After a short nap, we managed to overcome inertia and inclement weather, and got ourselves back on the street and back to the train station, where we jumped on a commuter bus to Positano, a small town just a bit farther along the coast.  As many of you probably know from experience or from other friends who went to the Amalfi coast and then bored you with their stories,  the road that follows the coastline is breathtaking.  Switchback turns and dramatic drop-offs to the ocean are both thrilling and terrifying.  I quickly found myself eyeing the driver to visually assess his health, scoping  his belly fat and wondering  how recently he had his cholesterol and blood pressure checked.  The last time I did that was with the pilot of a 7-passenger plane who flew us a short distance in Costa Rica several years ago. That guy got much lower marks on my assessment and we lived to tell about it , so I stopped examining the bus driver and just looked out the window.  When he answered his cell phone, however, I began to doubt his mental condition, and when he finally ended the call, I was half expecting him to start texting or playing Words With Friends. Despite all my disparaging thoughts about the driver,however,  we did make it to our destination.  Yea.

Positano is literally built right into a cliff overlooking the ocean, and is almost completely on a vertical plane.  The rain was falling lightly as we walked down the many steps and winding streets descending to the beach.  Once there, we installed ourselves at a table for some libation and bar snacks and yes, more gelato.

almost My Last Meal

Yeah, you're smiling now....

When we finally were ready to face the hike back up the main road and our return bus, the rain was coming down in earnest.  Our ascent was very wet, as water was rushing down the streets and the steps with a vengeance.  By the time we reached our bus stop, our shoes and pants legs were soaked.  After a short wait, the Sorrento bus stopped for us, and we happily jumped on, and proceeded to congratulate ourselves on yet another successful adventure on the Amalfi Coast.

If we had died and someone had given my camera to my mom, this would have been the last picture....

We had braved the weather and the public transportation and the millions of steps which became a torrent, and we were heading back to our hotel, where we would put on warm jammies and hope our shoes would dry by morning.  Or so we thought.  Our little self-satisfied celebration was short-lived, as they so often are doomed to be.  Not five minutes after Mark and I boldly moved up to the front seats in order to make the ride even more thrilling, we saw flashing lights on the road.  An Italian policeman had an exchange with our driver, which we couldn’t understand but which obviously caused our driver no small amount of consternation.  He pulled to the shoulder and began trying to make a call, but was unable to get a signal.  Finally he resigned himself to our situation (whatever that was- we were still totally clueless) and began the horrifying  procedure of attempting to turn the bus around on the perilously narrow road.  This maneuver required a 13-point turn, many steps of which saw our bus facing the drop-off to the sea, with our front bumper inches from the short and probably ancient stone wall separating us from the plunge to our deaths, and the driver’s foot on the gas until the wall stopped our forward movement.    I don’t know who was sweating more when he finally got us turned around- the driver or the eight passengers who had not made a peep during the entire ordeal.  SO we eventually figure out that the road is closed due  to a landslide from the mountain that this treacherous road is cut through.  We know that our hotel and belongings were in the opposite direction that we then found ourselves going, and we had no idea whether the driver intended to drop us off in the rain in Positano or drive us all off a cliff.  He drove a bit to a turnaround area and again tried to get through to someone on his cell phone (his boss, we assumed) and finally succeeded.  Within ten minute or so another driver appeared out of the dark rain and they exchanged some lively Italian with each other and on the phone.  The result was that we headed  back in the direction of the road block.  I assumed that someone had succeeded in  getting us permission to pass, but who knew?  If anyone spoke English on that bus, he was keeping it a secret.  Once again we arrived at the road block and the new guy had a spirited exchange with the policeman through the window.  I have no idea what they said, but I heard the word “responsible” and in my mind it was going something like this:

Driver:  Luigi told us we could pass the road block.

Policeman:  No way, dude- you can’t make it!

Driver:  Yes we can.  We will be responsible for what happens–let us pass!

Policeman:  Impossible!  It’s a death trap.  It’s a suicide rap- you better get out while you’re young!

Driver:  Bruce Springsteen isn’t Italian and neither are most of these passengers, so we are willing to risk it.  Let us pass!

Whatever they actually said, the policeman won, which meant what?  Exactly- we had to do another 13 point turn, but by now it’s totally dark and totally pouring.  At least this time there were two drivers, and one of them stood outside and yelled directions to the driver as he moved us forward and back, forward and back, into the mountain and then into the abyss of the black sky, where we knew the sea waited below to gobble us up  at any moment.  It was  horrifying.  I was so sure we were going to be one of those awful tourist headlines in newspapers around the world.

Once again we found ourselves headed away from our jammies and our beds and our bottle of local wine , and wondering where we would end up.  Eventually we were told that we would go all the way back to the other side of Positano on the coastal road, and then take a longer way back to Sorrento.  So for several more hours we sat in our wet clothes and shoes and clung to each other, staring out the windshield at the rain, the abyss, the water pouring off the mountain and down the road,  and the stuff that had already fallen off the mountain onto the road.  At one point we saw a boulder in the road that I swear looked exactly like the ones that Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner used to push off cliffs onto each other.  It was enormous.  If it had picked up any forward momentum it would have taken out several houses, I’m sure.  A few times it sounded like we were hydroplaning, and there was definitely enough water on the road to float that bus.  Are you getting the picture of how terrifying this was?   Mark said it reminded him of a ride at Disneyworld, only this ride didn’t end for four miserable hours!

Don't just sit there- go to the bathroom, girl!

Our driver finally dropped us off at our hotel at 11:30 PM.  And one more little sidenote- I hadn’t used the facilities at the restaurant where we drank several (but not nearly enough) drinks before our bus ride to hell, which meant I hadn’t gone since 4:30 or so that afternoon.  Yeah.  Miserable.

Are you still with me, mes amies?  Because as long as this post seems to you, it isn’t nearly as long as that bus ride seemed to me.  So get over it.

The next morning we planned to go to Amalfi, which, coincidentally, is the town on the other side of Positano where our bus had to go in order to get us back to Sorrento.  We wondered whether the road would be re-opened, and our taxi driver assured us it was , as he dropped us at the bus station and drove away, howling with laughter.  I left M and M by the sign for the Amalfi bus and I went up to the station, where I was told that the road was indeed still closed and would be all day, and no there is no train to Amalfi but there is one ferry at 3:00.  SOOOOOO we walk, with our bags, to the 300 vertical steps leading down to the ferry port, where we are told that the ferry to Amalfi doesn’t run in the off-season.  Perfect.  We did manage to get on a bus going back to the station, because there was no way in hell we were going to be able to carry our bags back up all those steps.  At the station we tried to find any other people desperate enough to pay a taxi to Amalfi, so we could share the 120 euro cost, but at last decided to do it on our own, as our room there was already paid for and wasn’t cheap.  The taxi driver actually spoke pretty good English and loved to practice it, and he was a wealth of local information on the drive to Amalfi.  He was able to take the coastal road because it was only closed to buses, not cars, and so we covered the same gorgeous stretch of Amalfi coast we had done several times the day before, but under clear skies and daylight.  By the time we reached our destination, we had seen about enough of that piece of road to last us awhile.

Our reward was one night in the lap of luxury at the Santa Catarina hotel.

maybe I did die and go to heaven.....

I can’t tell you how wonderful it was.  The bed linens alone were awe-inspiring.  We had lunch overlooking the pool/ocean, and imagined how the place must look in the high season, when the deck chairs were in use and the tables were full.

what's that cruise ship doing in my view???

mmmmm- come to mama!

We explored the town of Amalfi a bit before heading back to our decadent hotel, where we enjoyed cocktails and incredible olives in their bar overlooking the water.  It didn’t suck.

Amalfi

So we have reached the end of our Italian holiday.  The next morning we were driven the hour and a half to Naples, where we stood in endless lines to get on and off the plane and then to retrieve our luggage.  Paris waited for us, still beautiful.

Sawyer doesn’t come home from his farm holiday until Wednesday, due to some weird circumstances, but the word is that he is loving it and hasn’t missed us at all.

Sawyer on the farm

Wishing you all a spooky Halloween and a good week.  Don’t ride buses in the rain.

Ciao!

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Filed under Sawyer, travel

Mystery Salon Revealed

I once knew a woman who, after seeing this movie, swore I looked just like Juliette.  Anybody else see it?  Yeah-  don’t worry- I don’t either.  Just thought I’d throw that out there.  Anyway….

I had to delay writing this post because the response to my  challenge  to guess the theme of  my next salon visit was so overwhelming it crashed my server. (Really?  Not one comment ?  What am I paying you people for???)

As you have probably surmised, it was the celebrated Salon du Chocolat!  I am not really such a huge chocolate fan.  Given the choice, I’ll opt for a fruit cobbler or a cooked pudding over chocolate every time.   But I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed  all the samples handed my way at the salon, and there were a lot of them.  Some of you would have been in chocolate nirvana.

I took sooooo many pictures and had such a hard time trying to pick which ones to share, I am just going to put them in here as a slideshow.  You might not want to watch it if you’re hungry.  Or on a diet.  Or whatever.

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Wasn’t that cool?  I loved the chocolate sculptures.  Only Paris would have chocolate fashion.

I had a hard time choosing what to bring home to Sawyer  Mark and Martha, but settled on an array of flavored chocolate cubes on sticks, to be deposited in cups of steaming milk on cold Paris nights.  Yum.

Sawyer was picked up by his own personal driver this morning to go out to the farm where he will be staying for the next week while we go on vacation to the Amalfi coast.  I know he will be glad to be out of this apartment and out running free.  He is getting a bit fed up with this city living.

These boots were made for walking, dammit, not lying on the floor.

I’m not taking my laptop with me, but I’ll be taking my camera for future posts.

Y’all come back now.

Ya hear?

Oops- can't forget this little lovely!

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Road Trip, Nice Houses, and A Naughty Dog

The first weekend Mom and Dad were here we set out on our very first road trip since moving to Paris.  Destination: the Loire Valley.  With the help of our GPS and a good driver (Mark) we covered some gorgeous ground .

First stop was Chartres, which is only about an hour from Paris and best known for its cathedral,  built (primarily) between 1193 and 1250.  It is so massive I couldn’t get a good photo of it, but here is one small angle on it.

The cathedral is undergoing a massive restoration project,  including cleaning the inside and outside of the building.  The portion of the inside that they have cleaned is dramatically more brilliant than the rest of it.  I hope to go back when they have finished (assuming it will happen within the next four years) so I can see the cathedral in all its glory.

Even the dirty windows were amazing.

The village of Chartres was charming, very hilly with narrow, winding streets.

Next stop was a chateau called Cheverny, which has been in the same family for six generations.  The owner likes to hunt, and the chateau is well-known for its hunting dogs,  kept in a large kennel close to the house.  Apparently they put on  quite a show at feeding time, although we did not get to see it.

Move over, Rover.

We spent the night in Tours, which was a sweet little town with a parking problem.  Our hotel was spotless and new but our rooms faced onto a street lined with bars and restaurants, which were hopping into the wee hours of the night.  Fortunately, we had enjoyed cocktails before dinner and then bounteous wine with dinner, so the conviviality of the street did no more than momentarily rouse me from sleep a few times.

Bar across street from our rooms. I don't think there was one "tranquille homme" there the night we were sleeping!

Sunday morning we drove to one more chateau, a very impressive place called Chenonceau, which is built over the Cher River.  Chenonceau is one of the few chateaux that was built purely for pleasure rather than for any defensive purpose . In 1547 King Henry II gave the chateau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.   She lived there, presumably quite happily, until Henry died.  At that point Henry’s wife, Catherine de Medicis, finally was able to  kick that tramp outta there.  Catherine added the gorgeous three-story gallery on top of the bridge  spanning the river.

I took too many pictures, but will show you the best ones.

The lovely chapel survived the Revolution "looters", who were looking for anything royal or religious to smash, because it was filled with firewood!

A few if the 16th century floor tiles still remain.

200 foot long gallery which spans the river. I loved the slate and limestone floor, which witnessed many grand banquets.

Beautiful little window overlooking the river

The kitchen was amazing.

Now we’re going to play a little game.  Guess which flower arrangement is actually from my apartment and not Chenonceau?

The gardens were abundant and beautiful.  The formal gardens were at the front, and the cutting and vegetable gardens were at the back.  Here are a few (of many) pictures of both.

And here are your happy tour guides, Madame and Monsieur Mai.

This would be the madame

And this her happy husband.

Note- Martha was nominated to stay home and take care of the dog while we enjoyed this little outing.  She was a good sport, even after waking to a note from me that read something like this:

Good morning, Sunshine!  Sawyer just ate the three chocolate Eiffel Towers I had bought for Mom to take back home.  He is locked up in the kitchen.  He will probably have intestinal issues today.  Have a great day!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

The girl is a saint.

The dog is a sinner.

He never exhibited any symptoms of distress, but I’m hoping he suffered in silence.

The End.

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