Quote of the Week

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree:
the presence of a happy family
all wrapped up in each other.”
~ Burton Hillis ~



Image by: Kai Hendry

Uplifting Moment...

I'm deep into Christmas preparations (like so many of you!) and spending as much time as possible talking with my girl who is home from college, my hubs who is officially on vacation, and my boy--in between his many social engagements. So in light of this, I'm taking a little bloggie break.

But never fear! I'll not abandon my blog completely during this time. To add an uplifting moment to your holiday season, I'm posting a video I posted several years ago. It has since inspired a massive international movement, but I'm going to share the 2006 video that I originally posted. I promise, if you haven't already seen it (and even if you have) it's totally worth the short commercial you must endure to watch it. Enjoy!

Quote of the Week

“Close friends contribute to our personal growth. They also contribute to our personal pleasure, making the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, the laughter ring louder
because they are there.”
~ Judith Viorst ~





Image by: ImNotQuiteJack

Twenty Something

The other day, my son told me a story which he found most amusing. An acquaintance of his turned eighteen. Amidst birthday congrats posted on her Facebook page from various friends, her mother added the comment, “Woo Hoo! I’m free! I’m free!”

I laughed out loud along with him, then I commented, “But you know, we’re never really free. We’ll always be ‘the mom’ (or dad).”

Then I started thinking about how our parenting role keeps changing over time. With the changes getting more dramatic as our kids age. Lately I’ve been freaking out about the fact that very soon I won’t be a “…freelance writing, happily married mom of two teens.” It’s not the “freelance writing, happily married” part, but the changing “mom of two teens” part that’s causing the freak.

I believe I’ve mentioned in the past that my daughter’s birthday is on Christmas Day. My due date back in 1991 was December 16th, and as it got further and further into December without our unborn child even hinting at a debut, I remember I started praying. “Okay God, please make it any day but Christmas. Any day but Christmas. Any day but Christmas…”

Yeah, well.

If anyone out there doesn’t think God has a sense of humor, I can assure you he was most likely laughing uproariously when he had our little package delivered (Sorry honey, couldn’t resist the pun!) at 10:47 a.m. Christmas morning. I’m sure he was like, “Puh-leeeze! Your names are Chris & Holly! What other day would I have your sweet baby girl arrive!”

But I digress; it’s not her birth story that’s causing me to freak either. It’s the year. Our sweet, baby girl is turning TWENTY!

Two decades.
Four quinquennials.
One-fifth of a Century.

How can I be the parent of a twenty-year old!

Part of the problem is that although in “real life” I’m 49 years old, inside the imaginary world in which I dwell, I’m a super-cool twenty something. My body knows it’s 49 as evidenced by my annoying knee twinges, plantar fasciitis, biceps tendonitis, blah, blah, blah. But in my head I only graduated from college a few years ago.

I’m not the only one who thinks like this, am I?

It’s like, all this stuff keeps happening that logically I should know is going to happen, and yet, always seems to catch me by surprise.

Like when our oldest graduated from high school and went off to college. Or when our youngest began learning to drive.

And now this. In ten days I’ll no longer be a mother of teens. My role is changing. Again.

Sigh.

But time waits for no man, or mom. So I must press on. And in so doing, I come to the truly important part of this post. What am I supposed to do with my bio on here? Since I can no longer refer to myself as a “mom of two teens,” what am I? I don’t even know how to explain myself anymore. The mom of a twenty and teen? A mom of kids who are bigger than I am? Help me out here, people. Any suggestions?



Image by: baileyraeweaver

Quote of the Week

"Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."
~ Marcel Proust ~



Image by: Moonlightbulb

Two Funerals and a Girls Night

I just attended my second funeral within two weeks. And while I do not park myself in the “bad things happen in threes” camp, it does feel a bit strange to have them happen so close together like this.

Whenever life-altering events like these happen around the holidays, they seem magnified for some reason. Even without dealing with funerals, it’s easy to let ourselves get dragged down by all the inherent stress that typically accompanies this time of year, to let minor speed bumps become massive potholes.

Like letting myself get seriously annoyed at the company that messed up my carefully crafted Christmas card collage. Or raging at the high-tech printer which took longer to spit out my mailing labels than if I'd hand-addressed them myself. Or to grumble over ruined cookie dough.

To sweat the small stuff.

So I’m flipping the switch. I’ve decided my “third thing” is going to be a GOOD thing. Attending these funerals has reminded me how important it is to focus on every good thing in life. That it’s our relationships which really matter. Spending quality and quantity time with the people we love.

…And the people that crack us up with their outrageous antics, shocking behavior and hilarious stories.

That’s right. I’m talking about Girls Night!

This Saturday night, I’m hanging with my Babes. They are some of the brightest lights of my life. And I’m talking the funky, iridescent, twinkling, singing (Nora!) kind. My Babes are technically my Bunco Babes. Although, whenever I mention “It’s Bunco night, baby!” to my hubs, he just rolls his eyes. Because we haven’t actually played Bunco in er…well, a few years. But that’s not the point.

I’m sure it’s a proven scientific fact that women have an actual physical need to talk. When these 12+ women and I get together once a month, it’s less about playing Bunco than it is about sharing, venting, bonding, giggling and laughing uproariously. And baby, I can use some belly laughs right about now. Salve to my soul!

So, if you aren’t already, I encourage you to join me in focusing on the good stuff. During this season of rush here, hurry there… just stop. Breathe. Think of everything you have to be grateful for. Write it all down. And if you don’t already have Babes of your own, get some!







Heart Image by: Sarah DuMay

Quote of the Week

"It is difficult to say what is impossible,
for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today
and the reality of tomorrow."
~ Robert H. Goddard ~




Image by: Shamanic Shift

Happy Thanksgiving!

A friend sent this to me a while back and I thought it was adorable. Enjoy!
Happy Thanksgiving!

video



Video Source on Youtube

Quote of the Week

"Sweet is the breath of vernal shower,
The bee’s collected treasures sweet,
Sweet Music’s melting fall but sweeter yet
The still small voice of Gratitude."
~ Thomas Gray ~




Image by: Tejvanphotos





Cooking Burnout

For some odd reason, I’m always drawn to cookbooks and recipe magazines. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a gift shop on vacation, or waiting in line at the grocery store. They pull me in like a kid to a candy counter. And I devour them. Tasting the ingredients on my tongue as I read and dream about those dishes. Hot, fragrant and fresh from the oven.

As long as I’m not the one cooking them, that is.

Does anybody remember Lisa’s “hot cakes” from the old television show, Green Acres? Okay, I’m not that bad, but my culinary skills definitely leave something to be desired. And unfortunately, I don’t have Zsa Zsa Gabor’s “hotness” factor to make up for my lack of technique in the kitchen.

To be honest, I didn’t realize I even had a cooking problem until recently. Maybe because this deficiency hasn’t always been the case. Over the years, my culinary talents have followed a sort of bell-shaped curve.

As a teen, I started out pretty lame. Never did much cooking while living at home with my parents, aside from acting as “sous-chef” on occasion. During my college days I survived on and bologna ‘n cheese sandwiches supplemented by Doritos, M&M’s, (and sneaking tidbits from my roommates’ home-cooked meals when they weren’t looking). And believe it or not, my hubby cooked dinner the first six years we were married!

Then along came our first child. I became a stay-at-home mom and somehow making family meals ended up on my plate. I was cautious. Started out slow, following simple recipes to the letter. Gradually, my skills improved and I could diverge from the written word a bit. I even figured out how to use the Crockpot we’d received as a wedding gift.

But I think my skills must have peaked about the time my youngest was in middle school because I’ve been on a steady downhill progression ever since.

The thing is, I’m not sure why. It’s not that I don’t like cooking. Cooking is creative and I’m a creative person. Maybe the problem is I try to get too creative. Bored with simply following the recipe, I attempt to add my own personal flair…and fail. Epic fail.

I know part of the issue is being born without that female gene that allows women to multitask. Whenever I am cooking, if I attempt even the tiniest conversation, or to answer the phone or— Heaven forbid—sit down at the computer for “just a sec,” well, forget it. Whatever lovely cuisine I had planned is history.

It’s gotten so bad my son actually photographs my failed dinner “experiments” and sends them to his sister at college with notes attached stating: “SHE EXPECTS ME TO EAT THIS!!!” My daughter in turn finds great humor in posting these photographs on the web within her own blog.

Yeah. Real funny.

I struggled with what to do about this issue, even considered pulling a trick I learned from an old college friend who once confessed he “made dinner” for his new girlfriend by ordering delicious Chinese food from a local restaurant, then raced home to dump it all into his own pots and pans before she arrived.

But that could get expensive.

Then I considered taking cooking lessons. But my youngest is now a junior in high school. In two years we’re empty nesters. What do I need great cooking skills for then? I don’t even have to pretend I’m eating my vegetables anymore if I don’t want to.

I finally concluded the real problem is: I’m burned out. Heck, after 20 years of cooking for my family, I’m ready to retire. So instead of cooking lessons, I think it’s time to pass the scorch—er, torch. Yessiree, maybe I’ll just kick back and let my beloved children do the cooking. How about that? My son can handle the school year, and my daughter can take care of the summers. Sure, they may not be happy about it at first. But I’m actually helping them develop a necessary life skill. It’s only good parenting, right? And for me, it’s a win-win. Nice dinners on the table every night (at least none worse than I’m serving now), and I don’t have to listen to any more jokes or view any more online pictures of my cooking fiascos.

And just for the record, I am a decent baker. I make great snickerdoodles and a mean batch of M & M/chocolate chip cookies. So I’ll still be able to pull off the successful cookie-baking grandma role someday. But for now…

Seriously. I think it’s a good plan.
It’s got potential.

Quote of the Week

"You've got to get up every morning with determination if you're going to
go to bed with satisfaction."

~ George Lorimer ~


Image by: Coneybeare

How I Spent My Summer: Adventures in Paris - The Final Chapter

It was our last Parisian morning. We checked out of our apartment (sniff, sniff), but since our flight home didn’t leave until later in the afternoon we enjoyed a final stroll through the city streets and along the Champs D’Élysées. Here are some of our more memorable street shots…














The ornate architecture is so inspiring…



Several times we had these “party busses” drive past us!


And check out the way Parisians park!


Whenever somebody wants to leave, they just start whacking against the cars in front and behind until they eventually maneuver their way out of the parking space. I guess that’s what “bumpers” are for, er, oui?

We also took one final sightseeing excursion to the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

As we stood in line to go to the top, I once again took advantage of my captive audience and shared the fact that this 160-foot triumphal arch was planned by Napoleon. He liked to think of himself as an heir to the Roman emperors so he had the arch built to celebrate his military successes. It’s actually inspired by Rome’s Arch of Titus. Check out the similarities…


Arch of Titus

Arc de Triomphe

Also, France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is buried beneath the archway to honor soldiers lost in World War I. The Eternal Flame is rekindled every evening.


Here’s a detail of one side of the arch showing this incredible sculpture by Francois Rude, titled The Departure of the Volunteers, honoring the hallowed figures who fell on the fields of battle. 


Finally, we climbed the nearly 300 steps to the top to see L’Étoile, the “star” effect of the 12 radiating avenues below. 


Here’s the amazing vista down the Champs D’Élysées.


And see that massive hollowed-out square-frame structure in the horizon? That is La Défense, Europe's largest purpose-built business district.


Then…it was time.

Exhausted, we trudged onto the airplane where we discovered my well-travelled hubby had arranged a surprise for us. He’d used his Frequent Flyer Miles to upgrade all of us to Business Class!  It was so awesome!




I realize all of you regular business class travelers won’t be impressed by this, but for the rest of you: Our seats reclined nearly horizontal without impacting the person sitting behind us at all! And the provided blankies were much bigger, warmer and comfier than mere economy class blankies.

Chris, the well-seasoned traveler that he is, immediately set up his bed and went to sleep. I knew I should have done the same thing but I was way too excited to sleep. Who knew when I would get to experience amenities like this again?!  So instead, I enjoyed a marathon “chick flick fest” on my supersize movie screen while sipping champagne and dining on some of the best Parisian cuisine of our trip. I also played with every button, switch and lever available. I couldn’t believe Chris was sleeping through all this great stuff! Oh, to be so cavalier about such luxury! And apparently, he did not appreciate me waking him up to share every new found delight I encountered.

All in all it was an incredible adventure. Au Revoir Paris!  Until next time!

 Image by: ReneS


Epilogue

HOLLY: Oh. My. Gosh!  Chris, hey Chris! This airplane seat has a massager in it!
CHRIS:  Zzzzzzz.
JOSH: Mooooom!  Ashleigh took champagne when the flight attendant was passing them out before the flight!
ASHLEIGH: Cut it out, Josh! I thought it was apple juice!
HOLLY: Never mind. We’re technically still in Paris, so it’s not illegal. Did you guys see that the seats have massagers in them?
CHRIS: Zzzzzzz.

If you’re feeling particularly inspired, click the links below for my previous Parisian posts:
Parts I-II (just skip the Quotes of the Week!)
Parts III – V (ditto note above!)


All photographs © Holly, Chris & Ashleigh Bowne unless otherwise noted.


How I Spent My Summer: Adventures in Paris VII

If you’re feeling particularly inspired, click the links below for my previous Parisian posts:

It was our last full day in Paris. So after dining on light, flaky sacristain (LOVE those!!) and other pastries for breakfast…

Image by: Jack06
We travelled to the Palace of Versailles!


The line to get in was over two hours long. (Naturally!)


And I could see Chris already shaking his head, preparing to leave. But I was desperate! Approaching the entrance security guard, I summoned the skills earned from my single year of college French. I indicated the line and said, “Pardon monsieur, mais est-il une autre option?

 “Oui!” he replied. Then in really great English, he explained we could save time by purchasing our tickets from a restaurant directly across the street. Dashing between cars, we bought the tickets, dashed back and made it inside the palace within 45 minutes!


The intriguing story behind this opulent structure is this: In 1661, King Louis XIV’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet invited the king for a weekend of lavish entertainment at his luxurious new château. Twenty-two-year-old Louis felt his authority was being undermined by Fouquet’s show of wealth, so after the festivities, he had Fouquet tossed in prison on trumped-up charges, then hired his talented building team to start work on what later became the Palace of Versailles. Louis wanted his palace to embody the divine majesty and absolute power of the French monarchy; it took 20 years and over 30,000 men to build.


Years later, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’s extravagant taste in decorating—which is apparent throughout this incredible structure—along with Louis’ military campaigns abroad, eventually drained the royal treasury, inspiring revolution and the end of Versailles as the royal seat of power.

Versailles Chapel

Many of the rooms are named after Roman gods and goddesses. Here is a famous Bernini bust of Louis XIV in the Salon de Diane. (Diana Room—Roman goddess of the hunt.)


 The rococo decoration of Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom is sooo over the top!




Since I’d just finished reading Diana Gabaldon’s historical Outlander series, which incorporates this palace into the events of one of the stories, I was thrilled to see the glittering Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) for myself.


It’s renowned as one of the most famous rooms in the world, holding 17 mirror-clad arches—each with 21 mirrors—reflecting the 17 arcaded windows overlooking the amazing Versailles gardens.


I could just envision the room at night, lit by hundreds of candles. Dancers swirling past in beautiful gowns of colorful silk…


It did not disappoint!

“Hey Josh,” I said as I squinted through my camera viewfinder, snapping photo after photo. “Did you know that it was in this very room that Otto Bismarck proclaimed the unified German Empire in 1871?  Then ironically the Treaty of Versailles declaring Germany’s responsibility for World War I was signed here in 1919.”

“That’s interesting, mom.” Josh said. “I’m going to go check out that beautiful garden view from the window.” He was off in a flash. That’s strange. Josh never cares about beautiful garden views at home.


Aside from the Hall of Mirrors, I was most thrilled to tour the amazing gardens of Versailles.  Arguably the most famous gardens in the world…



Designed by Andre Le Nôtre between 1661 and 1700, the lawns are painstakingly manicured featuring parterres of flowers, sculptures and fountains in classic French Baroque style.


 Do you see that mile-long, light-filled rectangle of water behind my boys?


That’s the Grand Canal. It’s an original creation of Le Nôtre, and was the setting for King Louis XIV’s nautical spectacles. In the summer, his fleet of reduced model ships sailed its length.

We found the sculpted shrubbery most inspiring.




Good times, good times.

Arriving back in Paris, we wandered the banks of the Seine, browsing the treasure-filled iconic “green boxes” of the outdoor booksellers, or bouquinistes.


The bouquinistes have been a Parisian tradition since the 16th century, and you can often spot them in famous Paris landscapes, particularly from the Impressionist period.

Pariser Büchermarkt (Bouquinistes)
Creator:Fritz Westendorp (1867 Köln – 1926 Düsseldorf)
Image by: AndreasPraefcke

Deciding the evening was still young, we took a sunset river cruise down the Seine.


With vintage French accordion music as our backdrop, we viewed the famous bridges of Paris.


(Okay, this guy isn’t exactly “vintage” but this is a good sample of the type of music we listened to so you can get the full effect: 







This shot was taken on dry land, but here we have Paris’ controversial “Love Locks.”


Apparently couples inscribe their names on padlocks and attach them to the wire-mesh bridge railings, then toss the key into the Seine below in a poetic declaration of everlasting love. Aaaah, le romance! (Or vandalism, depending on your point of view.)

It was such a beautiful Sunday evening. Parisians relaxed by the riverside waving, playing music and blowing us kisses as we passed…



It was the perfect end to our final night in Paris.


Tune in next week for my final Parisian post!

All photographs © Holly, Chris & Ashleigh Bowne unless otherwise noted.