Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bittersweet

Another year of National Charity League is behind us. NCL is a mother-daughter social service organization that the Three Pinks and I belong to. Here's a picture taken of the four of us  prior to last night's Awards Ceremony.

Eldest Daughter and I were fortunate enough to assist with many causes this year including Special Olympics, Diablo Theater Company and Hospice of the East Bay. I had hoped that she would earn the award for the daughter who logged the most volunteer hours during the year. Although she did a whopping 232 hours of philanthropy in our community, this wasn't enough. I, however, was surprised to earn the award for the mother who spent the most time working with our philanthropies.

This is bittersweet. I wish that she had won instead of me. This is what it means to be a mother. 

My family has a long history in serving our community. I know that they are proud of us.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Walk this way.

One of the things I thought funny about London was the reminders at crosswalks of which way to look before venturing across the intersection. Hayley told me that they are so many visitors to London that this is a necessity. I remembered this when I saw a similar one in Pleasanton on Friday. Are there that many people visiting Pleasanton that drive on the other side of the road that this is a necessity, too? Or is this some kind of joke? For those of you who frequent Pleasanton, it's on Main St. near Towne Center Books.

Filed under the general "we liked it" category in London was the tea. Eldest Daughter and I liked how people enjoy their tea. It's like frozen yogurt in the US -- an afternoon snack. But it's much more civilized and formal than just grabbing a fro yo in a Styrofoam cup.

We had a late lunch at Selfridges (no apostrophe, I looked it up!) and at the table next to us was a father with his tea companion, an adorable 4 or 5 year old daughter in a Liberty of London print dress. They were drinking their tea and eating some sort of sugary treat, just chatting away. It was so sweet that it brought tears to my eyes.

In the Kensington High Street tube station Eldest Daughter and I found a restaurant very similar to Sideboard, which is where I am writing this blog post. We had tea there one afternoon and thought long and hard about buying the cookbook. It also struck me that the owners of Sideboard should publish a cookbook. I've been here an hour this morning and the line still winds out the door. Strangely, I've seen no one I know, which is very rare for living in a small town. The people next to me drove down from Clayton, 30 minutes north. So much for our hidden gem. But good for small business and our local economy!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Breaking up is hard to do.

The youngest Pinks' B'Not Mitzvah is in September. A B'Not Mitzvah is a Bat Mitzvah for two young women.

We've recently parted ways with our temple, the only one Dave and I have ever belonged to together, the only one our children have ever affiliated with. This saddens me but it's like many other breakups where one person changes and it's no longer a fit for the remaining person. In this case, our temple of 12 years got a new rabbi and we dislike his leadership style. It's not a decision we took lightly.

However, this departure provides us with an opportunity to have this B'Not Mitzvah in a highly personal way, one that really suits our family.

We'll do the service in our backyard, looking out to the hills. (Consider the trek across the grass, friends, when you choose your shoes. Save your Prada for the party.) We're really excited and have engaged another rabbi, someone we have known since childhood and just adore, to work with the Pinks and officiate. It will be musical and enable us to celebrate this milestone in a way that is meaningful to us.

It is hugely different planning a multi-day event with six months' notice than it is with two years' notice. Some things are easier. For example, the DJ was a no brainer. Some things are harder. Our first choice caterer and photographer are both committed to weddings that day. Fortunately there are no shortage of opinions in our clan, many based on our experience four years ago with Eldest Daughter. I have engaged the fabulous Jenna, who will help us with all of the bits and pieces and is my reality check and sounding board, especially the day of the service and party. This will free me up to enjoy all of you!

Click here to refresh yourself on Mitzvah FAQ.

The picture above was taken when Thing 1, Thing 2 and I went shopping for dresses to wear during the ceremony. Thing 2 hates shopping and wanted the second dress she tried on, a huge victory in my book!

Stay tuned.




Saturday, May 10, 2014

Stairway to Heaven

What were we thinking?!

At one London tube station the escalators were out of service. Our options were to wait in a long line for the elevator or to take the stairs. The sign noted that there were 192 stairs, or the equivalent to 15  stories, to the exit at street level. One hundred and ninety two stairs doesn't seem like that many when you're young (ish) and in decent shape. Halfway up those stairs it starts seeming like a bad idea. Three-quarters of the way there it is very clear how bad of an idea it is. I was simultaneously laughing and gasping for air. Eldest Daughter was ten steps above me the whole way and kept saying, "You coming, Mom?" The staircase is spiral, without exits, just a continuous curved wall of subway tile.

Every so often we'd see a sign like this. Of course that was all we saw on our way up. No one else was dumb enough to do this.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Versailles

The whole purpose of adding France to our Spring Break itinerary was to see Versailles. Eldest Daughter studied it and the French Revolution in school this year and it was high up on her bucket list.

And so on Thursday morning we took an early Eurostar train between London and Paris in preparation for having all of Friday to spend at Versailles. We had just part of an afternoon and evening in Paris proper and during that time we checked into our adorable hotel in the Latin Quarter and then walked, shopped and ate our way across the city to the Eiffel Tower for the required Eldest Daughter in Paris photograph. (This is especially sweet if you know her name, which she has asked me not to publish here.) My big find was a dress for the youngest Pinks' B'not Mitzvah party, which is in September. Eldest Daughter scored a Sorbonne sweatshirt. For the record, in contrast to college bookstores in the US, the store where official Sorbonne logo wear was sold was tiny, as in the size of our kitchen.

This is a good time for me to reiterate what many people think about Paris. It's just a special place. There is just something about it. Maybe it's the high ceilings and design in the Gare du Nord that seduces you. Maybe it's the smells. Or the shop windows. Or the well-dressed women. Maybe it's the distinct architecture. Maybe it's the indifference of the Parisians. I never stop being romanced by this city. Even Eldest Daughter commented on its allure.

In an effort to make sure we saw every last room and tree that Eldest Daughter found interesting, I booked a private tour guide through Context Travel. Sandra Lavalle was a perfect match for us. I'd guess she was in her early 30s. She's Canadian by birth and has lived in Seville, Rome and now Paris, where she is completing her PhD at the Sorbonne. We found her approachable and super sweet. Smart but not snooty or aloof. For those of you considering a tour, you can actually rent a golf cart and cover more ground. There are also bicycle tours and those people looked like they were having a blast! On this day, however, it was Eldest Daughter, Sandra and myself on foot.

I got up a few minutes earlier than Eldest Daughter that morning and ran out for some fresh croissants. We then took the metro to the Musee d'Orsay, met Sandra, and hopped the RER to Versailles, about 30 minutes southwest of the city. Until we arrived, I had no idea that Versailles was a city as well as a palace. It's a cute little town, actually. Eldest Daughter and I had a very good late lunch on its main drag. On the train ride Sandra pulled out some books and gave us an overview. I asked a lot of questions.

We took the short walk front the RER station to the palace, where, upon seeing the palace from the outside, Eldest Daughter gasped and then flashed us a million-watt smile. Sandra picked up our reserved tickets, we hopped the line and entered the enormity of the place. By enormity I mean that the palace itself is 721,000 square feet. Sandra told us that at times, up 4,000 people lived at the palace.

Here's a quick history review: The original Versailles was built as a hunting lodge by Louis XIII in 1624. His successor, Louis XIV, expanded it and in 1678, the court gradually began to move there. When the French Revolution began in 1789, the royal family left Versailles and moved to the Tuilleries Palace in Paris. This next part isn't specific to Versailles but I find it fascinating, nonetheless. Fast forward to 1793 when subsequent resident Marie Antoinette was beheaded in Paris at what is known as now as the Place de la Concorde. Her husband, Louis XVI, was subject to the guillotine that year, a much more humane way to die. Our time with Sandra included a refresher on beheading (that's using an ax, often times held by a person with less than desirable aim or strength), death by guillotine and being drawn and quartered.

Sandra told us all about life at Versailles and the way the daily routines for the royal family were on display. We toured the king and queen's bedchambers and the Hall of Mirrors, which was an architectural feat. The French stole the method of creating mirrored glass from the Venetians. In the queen's bedchamber were small doors leading to her children's rooms. We saw the salons where the queen and her chambermaids and ladies in waiting (paid friends) spent their time. We saw the dining rooms and the coronation room and multiple sets of antechambers. Opulent does not even begin to describe the decor.

The grounds and gardens, where we spent even more time than we did in the palace, are vast. East-west and north-south axis dissect them. A Grand Canal took 11 years to build and is where visitors today can rent boats. In its day it had two gondolas and four gondoliers, a gift from the Republic of Venice, who apparently had not yet figured out that France had offed with its mirror-making secrets.

The grounds are made up of a series of smaller gardens and groves. We spent time in the Ballroom Grove, where, starting in the 1680s, musicians played and people danced on a marble island in the middle of a fountain. The spectators would view this from grass-covered terraces in the amphitheater. The king was a big dancer, too, thus his motivation for this grove. Think chamber music. We also saw the King's Garden, the Grove of Domes and the Grove of the Arc de Triumph.

Halfway through our tour we stopped for a bite in the palace restaurant. One of the best things about having your own tour guide is that she knows where all the hidden bathrooms are and the best places to eat!

Today Versailles is a museum and only a few of the furnishings are original. Most of the art is in the Louvre now. Those there are authentic to the period. We were fortunate enough to be there on one of the two days each month that music plays in the gardens and that all of the fountains are on. It's hard not to picture an exquisite garden party or wedding in the yard. Part of the gardens are open to the public without fee. On nice days many people bring picnic lunches there. I'd like to do that someday.

On our way back to the train we wandered around the city of Versailles until we found the tennis courts (which aren't tennis courts in the hit balls back and forth over a net sort of way), which was where the vote to start the French Revolution began.

Eldest Daughter was so happy that we went that she bought a book in the gift shop. They sold Laduree macarons there, too.