Monday, January 27, 2014

That one time I studied in Paris

I've been having fun lately revisiting some of my old photos and reminiscing about stories from yesteryear.  

I spent winter semester of 2006 in Paris on a study abroad.  I lived in the 11th on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir with my roommate Brooke (on the left in the first picture) at the home of Madame des Mazery and her balding dog, Igloo.

Igloo was some type of ancient miniature poodle who was losing all his hair.  I still remember learning the word for fur.  When Madame introduced us, she said "Le chien est Igloo.  Il perd ses poils."  And there I had it.  This is Igloo.  He's going bald.  It remains one of my favorite introductions of all time.

Igloo had various coats and sweaters for the damp Paris weather.  He had a Burberry rain coat and a puffy black down vest.  He was very stylish for a pup missing half his fur.

Madame des Mazery's first name was Claude.  I thought I'd misheard her for a few minutes because isn't Claude only a man's name?  Meh. Apparently not.  She was about 5 feet tall and probably 80 pounds, with frizzy hair to match Igloo's.  She cooked dinner for us three days a week, offered us ketchup with absolutely everything, and spoke no English whatsoever (I'm thinking this may just have been a ruse to get us to speak more French...).  

Brooke spoke one semester's worth of French (which is to say, none at all), so dinner conversations wore me out on a regular basis and went something like this: 

"Vous voulez du ketchup?" Would you like some ketchup.

Brooke, looking skeptically down at the salmon we've been served.  "No, merci Madame."

"Et que faisait vous aujourd'hui?"  What did you girls do today?

Me, trying desperately to describe a Ferris wheel without any of the necessary vocabulary, but lots of hand motions and sound effects.  "Uhhhhh, uhhhh,  nous....nous..." and lots of awkward pauses followed by an awkward use of tu/toi in a vous situation and maybe a time or two of calling my dog a bitch instead of a dog.  Perfect dinner table language, of course.  Sigh.  I would pay anything to go back and be a fly on the wall for those dinners.  

At least it forced me into learning how to speak real French.

I also learned a lot about French current events.  Madame spent most of her day watching the news.  She'd sit in front of the TV with her headphones on, glued to the screen for hours at a time.  We were there during some of the car-burning riots and she was riveted to the updates.  One day we came home to eat dinner with her and she could do nothing but sit at the table looking exhausted.  We asked her what was wrong and she explained that she was much too tired to eat because she'd been watching the news all day long without a break. 

Gotcha.  The news can be very tiring.

Anyhow.  Aside from school and awkward dinners with Madame des Mazery, I spent my time gallivanting around the city with my friends.  I spent the majority of my time with a group of five or six other students, and we had what will go down in history as the best semester of all time.  We ate baguettes and chocolate for breakfast, baguettes and cheese for lunch, and crepes for dinner.  We explored the latin quarter, went to underground jazz clubs, sang to Jim Morrison at his grave, got stuck in the metro doors, accidentally went to a topless ballet, made multiple daily trips to the pastry shop, met crazy people on the night trains, and generally kept ourselves quite entertained.  

I'm ready to go back for round two.  Who wants to join me?

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Mr. Bear got neutered last Friday and had to wear the cone of shame for 12 days.  It would have been only 10 days, but when he got his stitches out he was still working on the incision a lot, so the vet recommended an extra couple days in the the flying saucer.

Bear hated that thing.  Come to think of it, we hated that thing too.  He couldn't fit in his crate, so we had to put him in the bathroom whenever we left the house.  He was constantly knocking into things, so I'll need to do a lot of touch-ups around the house.  I'm still finding paint chips along the floorboards and doorjambs.  This is perfect timing because only a few weeks ago I got out my trusty white paint and touched up the whole house.  Uhg.  Now I get to do the whole process again.  Lucky me.

The real reason we ended up taking off the cone on day 12 was because the little tyrant shattered the cone into a bunch of poky pieces.  He was running around and ran straight into a doorjamb.  We heard a splintering sound and watched the cone scatter across the kitchen.  It had already been duck taped several times (see the yellow bits on the cone?), but by the time we finished fixing the last disaster it was more tape than plastic.  We decided it was as good a reason as any to let him be cone less.

When he realized he was free at last, such a look of joy as I have never seen before spread across his fluffy face.  He spent the day bouncing around and itching himself to his heart's content.

Now that he's back to his normal pesky self, we can let him out in the yard alone.  It's perfect timing because the temperature has been sub-zero and there's no way I'd want to spend multiple walks out in that right now.  Bear sure does love it, though.  He'd be outside all day if I let him.

Monday, January 20, 2014

More espace

Blake's been surviving with a tiny night stand for the past several years while we searched for something better.  

On my side of the bed is a small dresser with feminine lines and hardware.  I wanted to find something with straighter, more masculine lines and hardware for Blake's side.  But also something that would coordinate well with the other furniture in the room.  After much deliberation, we both decided that the best option would be a desk so that Blake could have ample storage and a larger tabletop.  

We were helping Blake's parents clean out one of their storage rooms a few months ago and came across this desk.  They hadn't used it in 15 years and were going to get rid of it, so we took it off their hands.  I really liked the straight lines, the size, the leather top, and the leather and iron hardware.  The only thing I didn't love was the color.  It was that terrible dark, speckled 70's brown.  Yuck.

We brought it home and started sanding it down thinking we'd want the whole thing in a natural wood color.  An hour or so in we decided we'd like it better with the frame painted white and the drawers sanded down to the natural wood.  

I painted (this sucker took five coats.  Ugh!) and Blake sanded.  As he kept sanding we were surprised to see that each of the four drawers was a different color.  I was annoyed at first, but then (due to Blake's recommendation that we arrange them in "ombre" order) ended up liking them the way they are.  Plus, if I get tired of the variation I can always stain them all one color.  

One good thing about the variation is that it actually coordinates quite well with the reclaimed wood stool we found at HomeGoods.  I love happy accidents in home improvement projects.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Grandma names and why I don't write rhymes

Way back in the day in a house that was pink
Lived seven college girls that were just young things

They got into mischief and teased all the boys
And stayed up till all hours having parties - the noise!

All seven were characters, yes, through and through
But they laughed all the time until they turned blue

Oh such shenanigans they pulled and all the crazy first dates
Its a small miracle that each of them survived with good grades

One day all seven of them had their imaginations spark
So they gave each other grandma names on a lark

Ashton was Mildred, we called her Mildred Dahling, my dear
Was it Alpha or Meg who was Gertrude? ... It's unclear

I was Olive - see below on my face
And for Jenny and Erin? My feeble mind is erased!

Sweet Rachel was Mabel as I recall
She now has baby Mabel - don't that beat all?

These grannies in name were young in vigor and mind
They had daily dance parties and never wasted time

It's been seven long years since they last all were together
But all seven can say that life's only gotten better

Thank goodness for email and unlimited minutes
And blogs and instagram, e-games and pinterest

Thank goodness for friends who remain tried and true
Mildred Dahling, a mostest Happy Birthday to you!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

When in doubt, paint it white

I had a ton of great luck over the summer.  I found all sorts of furniture on the side of the road.  Most of it needed some work, but some were really easy updates.  

I found this mid-century-ish side table on the curb.  It looked like the previous owners had started to redo it, but never made it quite there.  Parts were sanded down and they'd added some trim around the top edge.  The wood was also extremely dry and cracked.  

I started out thinking I'd paint the whole thing white just to give it a cleaner look.  But, once I'd painted the drawer front and added the new knobs, I decided I really liked the contrast of the wood and white.  So, I just painted the upper trim white to balance it out, oiled the wood, and left it otherwise untouched.  I think the whole process took about 30 minutes (plus the drying time between coats of paint).  

The knobs on this little guy have quite the story.  I got them from Anthropologie when I was in a middle school and had them on my closet doors in my parents' house all growing up.  They moved with me to DC, where they previously resided on our hall closet.  They're slightly pokey because they're made of bits of sea glass, so they weren't great to have on something we were constantly opening and closing.  I switched them out for some recycled class knobs (which are completely round and easier to grab without stabbing risk) and moved them here where we're less likely to impale ourselves.  [Sometimes beauty really is pain.]

The cast iron fans are also trash rescues.  I think they're architecturally interesting, but the best part is that they still work!  

Now the only thing holding me back is my terrible iPhone photos.  I need to get my act together and actually photograph my projects when I'm finished.  But maybe that's just asking too much of myself...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Long overdue

The sinus fates and the Verizon Internet gods have conspired against me lately, but here I am finally uploading pictures of our Christmas celebration at Blake's parents' house.

They live about 20 minutes from us, but we decided to stay for a few days over at their place.  We packed up the car like Santa's sleigh with gifts, suitcases and an excited Bear (you would have thought we were going away for three weeks...).

Two of Blake's siblings live in the DC area, too, and they each brought their four kids.  Blake's brother and his wife were also here from Amsterdam, so we had the whole gang together.

Marilyn (Blake's mom) does two Christmas trees every year.  A silver-ornamented one in the more formal living room, and a traditional colorful tree in the family room.  Not to mention a million other great decorations around the house.

Bear loved curling up not he tree skirt under the family room tree.  If we couldn't find him anywhere, we knew where to look.

Blake and I brought over our stash of Santa hats and gave one to each of the nieces and nephews.  They all put them on for the annual Christmas performance.  Coco played the cello, Sydney, Morgan and Ella played the piano.  All eight of them sang a bung of Christmas carols.  It's so cute (and they're so cooperative!  My brothers and I never would have stood for something like that...)

After the kids unwrapped their Christmas jammies and the presents from Iya and Papa (Blake's parents), they ran around snagging cookies and treats while barely containing their excitement.  When their enthusiasm rose to a fever pitch, the parents decided it was time to head home (thankfully).

We spent Christmas morning quietly with Blake's parents and his oldest brother and sister-in-law.  You know you're getting old when you don't even start opening gifts until after noon.  But it was perfect, and low-key and restful.  Exactly what we needed.

Monday, January 6, 2014

So much itis

A week before Christmas I caught a nasty cold, which turned into a nasty sinus infection, which then infected Blake.

A few days before Christmas we both went to the Urgent Care and were prescribed antibiotics (what a relief!).  We were good to go by Christmas Eve, so we could participate in all of the festivities.

My antibiotics were a 10-day round, but by the end I still wasn't feeling that well.  Then, this past Saturday the sinus infection came back in full force.  Lucky me!

I've been sick as a dog the past few days, but have started yet another round of more intense antibiotics to see if I can clear it up.  Ugh.  It's been a really long three weeks.

You want to see photos of the way my house looks when we've both been sick off-and-on for three weeks?

Too bad.  I'm never posting pictures of that kind of chaos.

How about a picture of our darling Bear instead?  He's figured out how to jump up on the couch and is taking full advantage of my diminished capacity for punishment.  Other than not being able to go on as many walks, I think he's enjoyed my sick time.  It means lots of couch snuggles, less time in the crate, and a seemingly infinite number of tissues to steal and shred.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The best books of 2013

I'm a huge fan of reading (if I were left up to my own devices and had a good book to read or TV to watch, the good book would win out every single time), and thus am a huge fan of Goodreads.

I've reconnected with old friends and made new friends through my reviews and theirs.  I've gotten great recommendations and have been directed to books that I never otherwise would have though to read.  It's a great community.

I also love being able to keep track of and evaluate what I read.  Every year Goodreads has a self-dictated Reading Challenge.  You set a goal at the beginning of the year and then try to read as many books as you've shamed yourself into.

This year my goal was 75 and I barely squeaked by.  There were a few months there where I was way ahead of pace, but then the holidays hit and some mind-numbing medical scares, and I felt way behind.  It took until New Years Eve to finally reach 75 (I was absolutely determined).  Phew.

In 2013 I read 75 books.  That's 25,831 pages and a boatload of commuting time.

I tend to read a lot of YA (especially in the last year or two when I've been dutifully taking notes on what I think works and doesn't work in preparation for attempting to write my own).  That is to say, a lot of these are quick reads and are not to be considered "fine literature" by any means.

So, without further ado, I give you my top ten favorites of 2013 (in no particular order):

1.  The Raven Boys / The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Do you ever read a book that you desperately with you'd been the one to write?  Well, Maggie Stiefvater does that to me every time.  These are so creative and well-plotted that they're impossible to put down.  I adore the characters and live their adventures along with them.  Plus, they're based on Celtic folklore, so they've got a great folksy, slightly magical feeling.

2.  Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
I read this at the absolute perfect time - it made me laugh with every turn of the page.  It was great to get caught up in Mr. Gaffigan's lightheartedness and I appreciated how he refuses to take things seriously.  If you liked Bossypants and/or Is Everyone Hanging Out with Me, I can promise you'd love this.

3.  The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
Oh Shannon Hale, how I love thee.  Her books are a great illustration of why I love YA literature so much.  They deal with heavy issues, but always end up happy.  Good always triumphs over evil.  The girl always gets her prince in the end.  There's just something about the innocence of her stories that captivates me.

4.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio
One of my favorite books I've read in the last few years.  I think this should be required reading for every junior high school student on the planet.  I read this on the plane on the way back from Thanksgiving at my parents' house and cried multiple times.  The woman sitting next to me probably though I was nuts as I kept sniffling and wiping my eyes with one hand while I held my kindle in the other.  It's a great story of love and triumph and compassion.  I dare you not to like it.

5.  The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan
I feel like I had a fairly balanced education when it comes to the Middle East.  Because I studied Arabic in college, I had a lot of Muslim professors on one side of the aisle, while the majority of people at BYU were (and I'm generalizing here, so forgive me) much more pro-Israel.  The Lemon Tree is about an Arab who is exiled from his home in Palestine and the Jew who moves into his childhood home.  It's a fairly balanced look at the Israel/Palestine conflict and it made me ache for both sides.

6. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
If you can stand a few thousand f-bombs and c-words, then I can't recommend this book enough.  All I can say is - holy twist, batman!

7. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
I'm a barefoot running, chia-seed eating convert thanks to you, Mr. McDougall.

8. Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
I cannot get enough of Flavia de Luce and her harebrained adventures.  This is another series where I wish I'd thought to write it myself.  Flavia is one of my favorite characters in all of literature and the writing is impeccable.

9.  Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Again, if you aren't bothered by language, you absolutely have to read this book.  It's one I haven't been able to stop thinking about since I read it several months ago.  In fact, it's been the subject of a blog post all its own.  I think it's one that will stick with me forever.

10.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I don't usually read a ton of science-minded books, but I loved this one.  I found the whole cell and gene research world fascinating and could hardly believe that most modern research has been done from the cells of a single woman.  I loved learning about Henrietta's background and the historical picture it painted. Now that I know about HeLa cells, I'm noticing the term much more in my reading.  Funny how it's everywhere, but I never stopped to wonder what it meant.