Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Review

I have always loved those "Top 10 or 100 Whatever of the Year" countdowns that come out after Christmas.  They count down the top songs, commercials, books, celebrity events - you name it!  To me, it's a fun way to remember all the stuff that happened over the past 12 months.  So, I did a little Top Ten of my own for the Blog!  First, I started by checking the stats to find out which ten posts were the "most viewed" during the year.  They are as follows:
  1. I've Created a Monster
  2. Cleaning is Like Eating Oreos
  3. Sausage, Spinach, and White Bean Pasta
  4. Tightrope Walking
  5. Beach Vacation
  6. Five Reasons We Do Not Have An Elf On The Shelf
  7. My parenting Dilemma
  8. A Little Gem
  9. Christmas Toys 2012
  10. Why I Love Online Grocery Shopping
Even though the google stats say these are the top ten, I don't feel this list is truly representative.  For example,  I'm sure the first two were mostly viewed because of the pictures I included in them - and probably #4, too.  I got loads of spam comments on #3 and #5 which, I'm certain, account for a very large percentage of the page views on those two.  So, I decided to come up with my own top ten list - My Top Ten Favorite Posts from 2012.  (Not surprisingly, only one from the above list made my list of favorites!)

  1. Dear CeCe (a good one to re-read today - Happy 17th Birthday Squirt!!!)
  3. The Devil is in the Details
  4. Accomplishments
  5. Tightrope Walking
  6. Encyclopedia Punishment
  7. Seizing the Moments
  8. Walking with Megan
  9. Skunked (because now I can laugh about it!)
  10. Paris: Part 1
The first ten may garner the most views, but these last ten are the ones that really represent my blog.  I had lots of fun going back through the posts to create this list.  I hope you will enjoy reading or re-reading some of them, too!

Happy New Year!!!!!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas 2012

Finally found time to type up the Christmas Post!!!  

As is our tradition, we attended the Family Christmas Eve service at our church.  This year was extra special.  For the "play," the 5th graders always read while the kindergarteners "act out" the parts.  
This year, Emily's name was drawn to play the part of Mary.  This was a dream come true for her - literally!  When we got the letter from the church, I told her about it and asked if she wanted to put her name in the drawing carefully explaining that she might not get the part, but she would still be a beautiful angel.  The next day, she told me she had a dream that she was Mary.  She said that, in her dream, she was "in the front of the church with a blue thing on my head."  Well . . . . 
I know I am a little biased, but isn't she the cutest Mary you have ever seen?!?!?

Since she is in 5th grade, Rachel read scripture and Megan sang with the children's choir.  I was so proud of all of them!!!!  We came home and ate pizza.  Then, as is our tradition, we gathered in front of the Christmas tree and read the Christmas story from the Bible one last time before heading off to bed so Santa could come!

Christmas morning, the kids got up to check out their gifts.

Emily really wanted a violin.  Santa found this toy one and Emily liked it but said she had really wanted a real one.  When I explained that a real one was very difficult to play without lessons, she promptly asked, "Well, when can I get lessons??"

Megan's #1 request was this Baby Butterscotch horse.

Rachel didn't really ask for anything in particular this year.  Santa and I decided that, being a budding scientist, she might enjoy a telescope. We were right!!!
Even Sophie got some treats in her stocking!

Later that day, the Witherspoon family came over for a big Christmas lunch.  The food was scrumptious, and, thanks to my talented sister in law, the tables were beautifully decorated.

The next day, we headed off to celebrate Christmas with the Crisps - my side of the family.  There, we had more food, more gifts, and most importantly, more family time!!

Overall, our Christmas couldn't have been better.  I tried very hard to really soak in the family time - it is so hard to come by these days - and we are so incredibly blessed!  I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday as well!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Paris: Part 2

I haven't done that much traveling and most of what I have done has been with David as my guide.  So, going to Paris was a big deal for me.  I was kind of like a kid in a candy store taking it all in.  I have given you the itinerary rundown, but here are some other things that I learned and/or experienced on our trip.  If you have never been to Paris, this will be kind of like a "Tips for Travel" post.  If you have been before, just bear with me and remember - kid in a candy store! :-)

Transportation: To get around Paris, David and I relied on the Metro (subway system).  We bought tickets for it at the airport and rode it all the way into town.  We used it to get anywhere and everywhere we needed to go.  It is a very convenient and economical way to travel around the city (102 euro for a 5 day pass). There were only a couple minor drawbacks.  For starters, if you have never navigated a metro/subway system before (like me), it can be a little overwhelming to figure out.  I would suggest you get someone experienced (like David) to tutor you a bit beforehand.  Also, before we went, David put a Paris Metro app on his iPhone.  It only cost $.99 and it was VERY helpful.  You did have to know the actual station you wanted to reach, but then, you just punched in the starting station and the ending station.  It told you exactly which trains to take.  Another option would have been taking taxis, but this would have been very expensive and, I'm telling you people, NYC traffic has got nothing on Paris traffic.  There are some crazy drivers!!!  As a tourist, you could also do a Hop On Hop Off bus.  We did do a double decker bus tour, but we only got a one day pass.  You can, however, get a 2 or 3 day pass and they stop at most of the major tourist attractions.  The disadvantage, though, would be that they stop much more infrequently than a metro and a multi-day pass for 2 or more people can be a little pricey.

Money: Of course, they use Euros in France.  We exchanged currency at the airport.  We mostly used credit cards to pay for things, but occasionally cash is necessary.  Everything more expensive in Paris (even when you do the conversion to US dollars).  For example, a Coke at a restaurant will run you about 4,50 euro (= $6.00) and it comes in a 12oz. glass bottle, so no refills.  We did get a plastic bottle of Coke at a crepes stand once for only 2,50 euro which is about $3.30 US dollars.  Hotel rates are higher, restaurant menu prices are higher,  and store price tags are higher.  Two positives, though: 1) We learned that the service fee/tip is already included in the ticket at restaurants in Paris.  You can leave extra for exceptional service if you desire, but usually just 1 or 2 euro and it is not "required" like it is here in the US.  2) In my opinion, the ticket prices for all the tourist-y things were less than it would be here in the US.  For example, it only cost me 9 euro to get into the Orsay (about $11).  The price of adult admission at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is $25.

Food:   I have to say that, for me, the food was the only disappointing part of the trip.  When you think of Paris or France, you think of culinary excellence.  However, a lot of what we saw on the menus was just gross (in my opinion anyway).  For example, on Wednesday while we were there, which was our actual anniversary,  we went to a very tiny, very authentic French restaurant with a couple of David's business associates.  Thank goodness one of them was a Paris native and spoke French as his primary language.  He was able to translate the menu for us and we discovered some of the entrees included:
  • Pig's feet
  • Kidneys
  • Foie gras (duck liver, served like pate)
  • black pudding (made with pig's blood)
At that restaurant, I ended up eating roasted pigeon on a bed of lentils and David ate some pork belly entree that he said was kind of like a giant slab of greasy bacon.  At another business lunch the next day, David ate a risotto with calamari dish complete with suqid ink - he said it was actually purple!  (Fortuantely, I was not with him for that one!)  Another common menu item was beef tartare - basically raw beef.
Needless to say, we were very happy to find a McDonalds and have some good 'ol greasy American food!!  In fact, after that lunch on our anniversary, we had cheeseburgers and Coke  from the McDonald's in the food court at the shopping center under the Louvre for dinner and I couldn't have been happier! :-)  We also made a few too many stops at Starbucks.  And, one good point about the food is that dessert is pretty much part of the meal - it is basically assumed that you will order dessert and we were happy to live into that expectation!

Language: We found that most cashiers/waiters/etc speak enough English for simple exchanges and didn't see too terribly annoyed by our American tongues.  It would be helpful, however, to learn some basic French, especially proper pronunciations.  For example, the restaurant I mentioned above with the super yummy yucky menu was called Le Timbre  - pronounced Le Tom.  Had we not been with a Frenchman, I would have never known it was the restaurant we were looking for when we saw the sign.  The pronunciation thing would also help when asking for directions and listening to metro station announcements.  For example, every time we mentioned we had gone to Invalides we got strange looks.  Obviously, we were butchering the pronunciation.  I don't think our Southern twang ever allowed us to actually pronounce it correctly! :-)

Where to stay:  After doing A LOT of research, we decided to stay at a hotel called Hotel Le Six  and it was wonderful.  I would definitely recommend it to others.  In fact, you can read my review here.  From a Paris local, we were told that you should absolutely never stay at anything with less 3 stars and even some of those can be questionable.  Most of the hotels are called "boutique hotels" meaning they are all individuals and not part of a chain.  There are, however,  some familiar chains including Best Western, Holiday Inn, and Hilton.  If you were planning a trip, I would suggest you do lots of research through sites like Trip Advisor and  Just read the reviews and focus on the things that are important to you.  You should certainly consider transportation and, if you plan to use the metro, make sure the hotel is close to a couple stations.  Of course, you also have to consider your budget.  Just remember that everything is more expensive in Paris, so a decent hotel room will not be inexpensive! (Remember, though, the published and/or negotiated rates already include taxes.)

What to do:  I think this is a very personal decision and depends on your time.  Since it was my first time in Paris, I wanted to see as much as possible, so we did a lot, but nothing in depth.  For example, we went to Notre Dame, but did not do the guided tour up into the tower, etc.  We spent about 2 hours at the Louvre.  If you really love art and/or wanted to do the audio tour, you could spend MUCH longer there.  Also, the Louvre and the Orsay are the only museum we visited because we are just not "museum people."  However, you could spend a week (or more) there doing nothing but visiting museums.  You just have to prioritize the things that are most important to you and budget your time accordingly.

There you go - my Paris travel tips and tidbits!  I am certainly no expert, but I learned a lot about traveling outside the US.  Overall, it was a great experience and I hope to travel to even more places in the future!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Paris: Part 1

Bonjour!! David and I had a wonderful time in Paris!!  Many of you have asked about the trip and I have so much to tell you that I just can't fit it all into one blog post!!  So, here is the first of 2 (or 3).  This is a rundown of what we did.

Day 1:   After a long flight, we landed in Paris at 8:00am Paris time (which is 6 hours ahead of our normal Eastern Standard time).  From the airport, we took the RER train and metro to our hotel (which was quite nice).  Since our room wasn't quite ready, we dropped off our luggage and went to grab some breakfast/brunch.  Once our room was ready, we unpacked and cleaned up a bit after our long travel time.  Then, we decided to head out and do the most quintessential Paris tourist thing to do - go to the Eiffel Tower! 
 After waiting in line for close to an hour - a very chilly hour - we rode the elevator up to the second floor.  It was a rather gray day, but we still got some incredible views! 

 I am not a big fan of heights and I was not super excited about going all the way to the top, but I simply couldn't be that close and not go all the way!  At the top, the views were once again incredible, but also terribly windy and cold, so our tower top visit was very brief!!  We rode back down to ground level and it was nearing 5:00pm.  We decided to head back toward the hotel, get an early dinner, and hit the sack. (We had only had a couple hours of sleep on the plane the night before due to the time change.)
Day 2: On our second day, we began the morning by going to visit Notre Dame.
The cathedral is incredible and steeped in history.  To put it in perspective, when we visited, they were preparing to celebrate the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame.  850 years!  That means the cathedral was built over 300 years before Columbus discovered America and over 600 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed!  Especially with that in mind, the intricate construction is even more amazing.
Intricate carving in and around the doors.
One of many beautiful stained glass windows.
From the rear of the building.
David and I sat briefly in the seats/pews of the magnificent, sacred place and it is as if you can feel the history emanating throughout the building.  It is indescribable really.

We left Notre Dame and went around the corner where we sat down at a little cafe called Le Quasimodo.  We had delicious omelets and shared a chocolate crepe with whipped cream.  The best food we had during our trip!
That afternoon, David had a business meeting outside the city, so after a quick change, we took the train through the countryside to a town called Guyancourt where there was a corporate center in which his meeting was scheduled to take place.  During the ride, it was nice to just sit back and take in the scenery.  We rode past little neighborhoods filled with stereotypical, old homes and cobblestone streets. In contrast, we rode past the palace of Versailles.  Then, as we arrived at our destination, we were surrounded by a very modern complex of office buildings.

After the meeting, we got on the train and headed back to Paris.  Even thought it was dark, we decided to visit the Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc, of course, is located in the center of a large roundabout intersection.  To get to it, you have to walk down steps that take you under the street and out at the bottom of the Arc.  (We were there at rush hour and David and I were both fascinated by the traffic.  Paris traffic rules and drivers are just crazy!!  Watching the many, many vehicles swarm around the intersections was very entertaining - especially from atop the Arc!)
Directly under the Arc, looking up.

The eternal flame that burns over the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
After taking in the sites around the bottom of the Arc, we climbed the 285 spiral stairs - no elevator - to the top.  The views were fantastic!
Looking down the Champs Elysees from atop the Arc de Triomphe.
The Eiffel Tower.
A cold and wind-blown me at the top of the Arc with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
After descending the 285 steps of the spiral staircase back down from the top, we walked up the Champs Elysees, exploring some of the shops.  We stopped in a little restaurant to eat supper.  At the restaurant, the appetizer du jour was escargot (snails)!  Although we were not brave enough to try it, we saw the waiters dishing it up for many other diners!

Day 3: On Tuesday, our third day, we had most of the day open to do what we wanted.  We started by going to Invalides.

Ceiling inside the dome
 Invalides was built in the 1670's as a hospital and home for "unwell soldiers."  It also houses a military museum.  Here, again, the history is incredible.  We walked through the museum part of the complex and saw suits of armor dating back to the 1300's!  In 1840, Invalides also became the final resting place for Napoleon.  The part of the building that features a great, elaborate dome houses his massive tomb.
Napoleon's tomb - note its size compared to David and the people behind and above

From above the tomb - the people on the far side are looking down into the area surrounding the actual tomb

Buildings at Invalides from an interior courtyard

Exterior entrance from the opposite side of the complex from the dome
 Tuesday was a beautiful, sunny day, so after visiting Invalides, we just walked around some.  We saw the Grand Palais and watched as police stopped traffic around another crazy, busy intersection to make way for a motorcade that we think carried some Brazilian dignitary.   Then, we decided to hop on a double decker bus tour.  It was certainly brisk up there, but we got to see (and see again) some of the major Paris attractions from a very different vantage point.
The Arc de Triomphe - in the daylight

McDonald's on Champs Elysees

Some of the Christmas decorations - Snow Village

Eiffel Tower


Notre Dame

Not a good picture, but that's the Louvre


Typical busy Paris city street with people coming up out of the metro
After exploring a few stores around the Opera (which is a busy shopping district), we headed back to the hotel to get ready for a business dinner.

Day 4: - On Wednesday, David had a business meeting during the morning at the hotel.  I sat in and pretended to be knowledgeable and useful.  Then, I tagged along for lunch at a very authentic French restaurant.  For now, all I have to say about that is I am really, really glad we had someone with us who was from Paris and spoke French so he was able to translate the menu!!!

That afternoon, we headed off to the Louvre.  The museum is massive!  Once again, I found the history overwhelming as we viewed paintings and sculptures that are much older than the United States, many of them older even than Christ.  Construction of the buildings themselves began in 1200.
Nike of Samothrace - 190 B.C.

Mona Lisa - (1503-1505) - I couldn't believe we were allowed to take pictures!

Venus di Milo - 2nd century B.C.

The Pyramid

Under the Louvre - a downward pyramid and shopping center

Day 5: Thursday, our last day in Paris, David was in a meeting the first half of the day.  I actually ventured out on my own which was a big deal for me, being someone who has not traveled or navigated foreign cities much.  I hopped on the Metro and headed to the Orsay museum.  Signs everywhere told me that pictures were not allowed, so I don't have any to show for my visit.  However, I saw paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, and many others.

Afterwards, I headed across the river and through the Jardin des Tuileries as I made my way back over to the Louvre and the shops underneath.

David met me there and we did a little shopping for the girls.  Then, we spent a couple hours just walking around the city some more before grabbing dinner and heading back to the hotel.

There you have it - our itinerary in review!  There were only two things on my list that we did not get to do - take a river cruise and go to the Sacre Coeur.  The weather was cold everyday with high temps in the upper 30's.  A couple days were also damp and drizzly, so the river cruise just didn't seem like a good idea.  We just ran out of time to go to the Sacre Coeur.  However, I sincerely hope we will go back sometime - maybe in warmer weather -  do the things we missed and discover even more wonderful places! 
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