Friday, May 29, 2009

My fans have (not) spoken

Well, other than Melinda, no one seems to be interested in Miles & Jen's Fabulous Suburban Life.

Can it be so? Are we all so busy we can't find time to read (or even care) about another mommy blog?

Ah, well. My doctor says I need to reduce the stress in my life, anyway. One less thing on my to-do list. Also, I'm thinking of selling the kids. Anyone need some slave labor? We're having a special; buy one get one free!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Now, what?

OK, folks. Here's my question.

Shall I continue?

There haven't been a lot of comments posted. So I'm not really sure anyone is reading these posts.

If I were to continue, I would be writing about life with the Clark Tribe. Living the Suburban Dream. Talking about my kids, my garden and my house.

What would I even title such a thing?

Please let me know your thoughts.


Home again

We're home.

Miles and I got up at 5am in Stuttgart, left for Frankfurt by 6am. We boarded our first plane at 11:10am; Frankfurt to Philadelphia. An eight hour flight. Then in Philly, we boarded a 3:25pm flight to Phoenix. Once in Phoenix, we hopped a 8pm plane for SLO.

Aside - I lived in Phoenix for 17 years. Sky Harbor is a big airport in a big city. I said to Miles, "I keep thinking that one day, I'm gonna see someone I know in this airport." As we sat at the bar, having a much-needed cocktail, a woman approached us, as if to ask for directions or something. It was Amy, Miles' colleague from the College of Engineering. She was on the same flight home.

The whole family was there to welcome us. The little girls were hopping up and down madly, shrieking, "Mama! Daddy!" I was tackled by Claire as soon as I cleared the entry. Which was great!

We got our bags and went home to my parents-in-law's house. We were much too tired to even think about driving home, so we had some dessert, told a few stories of our adventures, and handed out souvenirs to the gang. Then we all fell into bed.

This morning, we all got up, had waffles and told more stories of our adventures. Everyone asks, "What was your favorite part?" That's a hard question to answer.

I think my favorite parts were some of the quiet times. Wandering in the poteger at Versailles. Sitting in cafes, people watching. Chatting with folks. Watching Anton scoot backwards on the floor.

We didn't see everything we would have liked to, of course. Our explorations of Paris covered only a small slice of what the City of Lights has to offer. But, there will be other trips. Miles promised.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reality vs. Expectations

Ok, so I had all these ideas about our visit to France. But I hadn't given a great deal of thought to what it would be like to visit Germany. I was very much looking forward to seeing Anton (oh, and his parents....), but little in the way of expectations.

It has been wonderful to play with the baby and spend time with Blumi and Fatma. The county is beautiful and the people are warm and gracious. But the thing I did not expect was to be mistaken for a German.

Almost everywhere I went, people started speaking to me in German; shop keepers, waitresses, little girls in the WC, even. As I speak perhaps 10 words in German, and have only the vaguest ability to read the language, I did quite a bit of smiling & nodding. (Greg said he though there were two things going on. First, I look German. Second, not a lot of tourists visit the areas we've been to.)

There was a strange feeling of familiarity in Germany. Folks look very much like Junes and Kurths. Lots of meat and potatoes are consumed. People like to hang out, drink beer and eat.

Just like home.


I apologize to my legion of fans for going dark the last few days. Miles and I have been spending all our time being social and playing with Anton.

We arrived Wednesday evening in Stuttgart, having taken the train from Paris. Blumi & Fatma fed us a wonderful BBQ dinner. Poor Miles had caught a cold in Paris, so he went to bed early.

Thursday, we went walkbout in Stuttgart. We utilized the excellent public transit system to visit various areas; parks, tea houses and beer gardens. The weather was lovely, everyone was very friendly, and the scenery gloriously green.

On Friday, we met up with Greg Larsen and his wife, Marie-Jose. Greg is a friend of Miles' from elementary school. We visited Esslingen, a cute, old village, complete with a castle on the hill. We sat at a cafe and ate cake, weathered a brief, but intense, rain storm, and did a bit of shopping. Then we climbed the hill to the "Fat Tower", which now houses a restaurant. (Oy! What a climb!) After wandering around the top of the hill and admiring the view, we went back down into town. We had a private tour of 15th century wine cellers and a late lunch. Then Fatma, Anton and I went home and the rest of the gang went shopping for dinner supplies. Luckily, we are in Germany during asparagus season. So our dinner was potatoes, and asparagus, napped in the most delicious hollandaise sauce (Thanks, Marie-Jose!) along with three varieties of ham.

Every morning, the Blums set out a lovely breakfast for us. We are getting so spoiled; once home, making our own coffee and getting our own meals will seem very hard.....

Monday, May 18, 2009

Things I've learned in Paris

Cobble stones are a bitch to walk on.

The cure for tourist fatigue is a chilled glass of dry rose and a plate of pasta. Works every time!

When in doubt, stop at the cafe for a drink.

Never go anywhere without an umbrella in May. (right after I wrote the preceding sentence, it started raining like mad...)

Friday, May 15, 2009


Friday and Saturday, we did Versailles.

The first day, we took the train out. Not as easy as it should have been. However, we arrived and immediately sought a cup of coffee.

(Aside - the smelliest person, bar NONE, we have encountered in France, was a 30-something dude, wearing a "World of Warcraft" shirt. Boy stank to high heaven, and paid for his coffee with a traveler's check, fer cryin 'out loud!)

Versailles' gardens defy imagination. As you stand on the terrace, looking out toward the Grand Canal, the gardens stretch to the horizon!

While waiting for Miles, I watched a team of gardeners, with a truckload of electric equipment, trimming the hedges. One guy made a pass with the hedge trimmer, a second guy tidied up with hand clippers, and another fella was raking up the clippings. That was just one small section of short hedge in the North Parterre. I can't imagine how they trim the hedges that are 30 feet high. Or the trees, which are even taller and squared off like a hedge.

Next we took the tram out to the Petit Trianon, where the queen could get away when life at the Chateau got to be too much. A cute little shack - with mechanic mirrors that slide up to cover the windows. And a warming room; the kitchen was at le Grand Trianon. Food was brought over and re-warmed before being send to the dining room. At least the house was on a human scale. It was grand, but intimate.

Next up was the Chateau. We saw the State Apartments of the King and Queen. These rooms were meant to impress the viewer with the wealth and might of France. (Good job, Louis!) The Hall of Mirrors was most impressive. Apparently, no one had ever seen anything like this when it was first constructed. Each of the huge mirrors is facing a huge window. And the chandeliers - it seems like a jungle canopy of crystal and light. I tried to imagine I was at a soirée back in the day, complete with wide rustling skirts, a powdered wig and a glass of champagne.

We were tired after all that grandeur, so we hopped the train back to Paris. We went to our cafe, had some wine and cheese, then called it a night.

Saturday, we again went out to Versailles, this time to see Le Potager du Roi - the King's Vegetable Garden. I have read quite a bit about this garden and was very excited to see it. (Does that make me weird? No? Good...) This walled garden encloses 22 acres. Some gardens are sunken to create a warmer micro-climate. The genius behind this marvel of place was Jean-Baptiste La Quintinie. He started out as a lawyer, then got interested in gardening by reading classical Roman horticultural treatises. Next thing you know, Louis XIV appoints him "director of all Royal fruit and vegetable gardens" in 1670.

It took five years (1678 to 1683) for La Quintinie to take a swamp and make it into an immensely productive and innovative potager. The king had a lech for figs; La Quintinie was able to supply Louis XIV with figs six months of the year. His Majesty could have strawberries in January, peas in April, and asparagus starting in December. By all accounts, Louis XIV thought very highly of his gardener, ennobling him in 1687. La Quintinie died in 1688, and the king told his widow they had suffered a loss that could not be repaired.

Just to give you an idea of the size of the place, there are over 5000 fruit trees, mostly apples and pears. Most are espaliered along the walls or on trellises. This garden contains 60 different species of fruit and veggies, with more than 300 varieties of vegetables, fruit, herbs and edible flowers. There are also flowers, for beauty and to keep the pollinators happy; roses, peonies, columbine and iris. Many of these are used as borders. We saw pots hanging from the trellised trees. They seemed to be filled with straw. We asked to lady at the boutique. "They are for the ladybugs. We put eggs in the pots and the bugs, they work for us for free."

It was too early in the season to see the true bounty of the place. It looked about a month behind where we are at home. I'd love to see it in, say, September. But you could see the promise; the fruit trees with loaded with fruit (I wonder if they thin them out?) There is a national school of horticulture attached to the potager. Some of the plots are reserved for the students.

We had a glass of wine in town, then took the train back to Paris. Again, we had dinner at la Comete. The waiter now greets us with smiles and handshakes, gives us French menus, and fusses over us. My wine glass never gets more than half empty before he bustles over to fill it. We even got chocolates as we paid the bill. Miles had the daily special, sausage, with an onion gravy and a potato puree that was off the charts delicious. Man, that stuff was like crack! I dipped my frites in it.

We took a stroll down by the Seine after dinner. All the bridges are beautifully lit. Then it was time to take Jen home and put her to bed. I'm getting righteous sleep; on average, 10 to 11 hours a night. Miles, on the other hand, is having troubles with insomnia. I keep finding him on the couch in the middle of the night.

Don't forget that pictures are being posted at!

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Our day can be divided into two parts. First: getting to, and seeing, le Louvre. Next was after the Louvre.

Getting there...

For various reasons, it took Miles and I about 3 hours to get to the museum. We were pooped when we arrived - not a good omen. We refreshed ourselves, then tackled our short agenda; a couple of paintings, a few statues, and object or two d'art. A big thrill for me was a rock crystal vase given by Eleanor of Aquitaine to Louis VII of France as a wedding gift on July 25, 1137.

This is the only artifact associated with Eleanor that is still extant. That's 872 years ago, folks. And the vase was given to Eleanor's grandfather, William the Troubadour, by an Arab ally. The best guess is the vase was made sometime in the 7th century, in Iran.

After over three hours of marveling over a mere fraction of the works at the Louvre, Miles and I were done. Footsore and brain dead, we left the museum, searching for sustenance. We walked a few blocks to a cafe (the ones close to any major attraction are over-priced) and plunked our exhausted selves at a table. A carafe of rose and some comfort food went quite a long way in restoring our spirits.

Refeshed, we took a wandering path back to our apartment. We strolled through les Halles and stopped to check out L'Eglise de St Merry. A beautiful, gothic church, complete with vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses. I've developed the habit of lighting a candle at each church we visit. Seems right, somehow.

We decided to make it an early night.

Tomorrow - Versailles!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Divisions of labor

Miles and I have settled into a routine. After a hard day's wandering about Paris trying to see how many different cafes we can visit, we come back to our apartment. Once there, with a glass of wine in hand, Miles downloads the day's pictures, and I write in my journal and/or post to this blog. As he has the photo angle covered, please visit to see the latest pictures of our Fabulous Parisian Adventure.

Today, we storm the Louvre!
Tuesday's adventure was Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle.

We started with the Tower tour of Notre Dame.

400 steps. No lift.

The view was worth it, though. Miles got some great photos of the chimera (what people think of as "gargoyles") We could see la Tour Eiffel, Montmartre, le Louvre. Kind of cool to walk about the parapets. It amazes me how the stones are worn from over 700 years of tourists....

Next we went in to church. Hordes of people, lots of kids on field trips, toddlers in strollers. It's quite an impressive sight. But I couldn't get a "sacred" feeling.

By the time walked down the stairs, then walked through the church, I had "gone Elvis". My legs were shaking pretty badly, so we stopped for lunch at a creperie. We refreshed ourselves with buckwheat crepes, then grabbed a coffee and headed towards Sainte Chapelle, making a stop at the Jardin du Luxembourg.

The wait to get thru security at Sainte Chapelle was at least a half an hour. The chapel is in the courtyard of the Palace of Justice, which houses the Supreme Court of France and other judicial bodies. After security, we walked right into the lower chapel (complete with gift shop!), then into the "Haute Chapelle". Interestingly, the ceiling of the lower chapel, where the commoners worshipped, was painted blue, with gold fleur-de-lys, the symbol of the king. The ceiling of the upper chapel, where the royals worshipped, was painted blue with gold stars. I guess if one is a commoner, one can only lift your eyes as far as the king. But the king can lift his eyes to heaven...

After this hard day's work, we headed home, stopping at our cafe, le Comite. I think the cafes are my favorite part of Paris so far. You sit, have a glass of wine and watch the people. A wonderful way to relax.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Starting to relax

Today felt weird. I felt thick and fuzzy. Jet lag, no doubt. We managed to get out the door before 4pm. Pretty good considering we slept in 'till 1:30pm.

Our adventure du jour was an historic walk of Rick Steve's. We started at Notre Dame and were immediately panhandled by a purported Bosnian refuge. She was a hard sell, too. Miles handed her a euro to get rid of her.

Next we saw the memorial to French deportees of World War II. Red paint on the cuniform-like writing drove home the fate of most of the deportees.

Next, we wandered about the Left Bank. Most of the booksellers were closed. We stopped for a bite at a cafe. Interestingly, the TV's in this place were playing MTV. I saw videos by Bob Marley, Tori Amos and U2. The French seem obsessed by American music. (Our cabby from the airport was playing Elvis)

We had dinner not far from our apartment. Miles had confit du carnard and I had pasta carbonara. Accoss from us was a table of 3 Americans, one of whom obvious lived in Paris. She had her chocolate lab with her. The poor thing was so tired, it stumbled getting under the table.

That's all I have to report on day 2 of the Trip. Stay tuned; tomorrow, we tour Notre Dame!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

We have arrived!

Miles and I have arrived in the City of Light.

Flights were smooth. No problems with bags or customs.

After a righteous, 3-hours nap, we went walkabout in the City. A few observations, in no particular order:

We are just a few blocks from Notre Dame.

Why are so many preschoolers sucking on binkies?!

Mother Clark was right; a scarf is an essential item. I was a bonehead and forgot the beautiful scarf she gave me, so Miles bought me one as a Mother's Day gift. I don't feel so naked now.

French women are either beautifully turned out, or completely undone. No middle groud.

The people watching in Paris is fabulous!

Despite what many guide books say, the natives are very pleasant. Our waiter joked and smiled.

We had our first cafe and croissant, our first drink in a cafe and our first dinner. French onion soup, grilled lamb and creme brulee for me, salmon salad and pork chop with potato gratin for Miles. Yummy

Now,if you will excuse me, our wine is chilled, and the jet-lag is brutal.

Bon nuit!

Friday, May 8, 2009

We are outta here!

This is it, sports fans! The moment we've all been waiting for....


Miles, the girls and I will spend tonight at Gra-Maw's. Tomorrow, we get up at oh-dark-thirty to start the Trip!

Notes from the road will be posted; stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Starting to pack!

With 5 days until departure, I am beginning the most stressful part of the Trip.


For me, packing for a major trip is almost inevitably fraught with peril and angst. The first consideration: what are my most flattering outfits? Are they suitable for the events and season? ("Ack! I have nothing to wear!") Followed closely by: do the the clothes I want to take still fit/need cleaning/where the heck are they?!? ("I need to lose 20 pounds! Like, yesterday!")

Then comes the shoe dilemma. Which shoes go with which outfit? How many pairs should I take/will fit in my suitcase? And if there are plans for lots of sightseeing, then the shoe problem gets worse. Then you need shoes that not only coordinate with your wardrobe, but you must be able to walk long distances in them. ("Thank goodness for Sketchers, is all I'm saying....")

Then, there is the accessory component. What belts/scarves/jackets do I need to go with what clothes? Will this put me over my weight limit? Next, makeup and styling needs. Should I take my hair dryer, curling iron, straitening iron, ("Good lord, look at my hair!") clothes steamer? What makeup should I take?("Holy Mother of Poodles! I need to be more diligent with the wrinkle cream!" Which pieces of jewelry? Do I take the good stuff? ("What if I get mugged?!?")

Brother. Do I sound neurotic, or what?!

Oy vey, everybody!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Getting down to the wire

One week from today, Miles & I will be on a plane to Paris. (Well, actually..... to Phoenix, then Philadelphia, then Paris. But that's the price you pay for cheap airfare.)

I'm feeling pretty confident that we aren't gonna have any last-minute freak outs over getting out the door. Most of our shopping is done. We both have our "urban assault" shoes. We've upgraded our wardrobes. I've started a list of what I need to pack. Miles worked on a make-shift watering system for our garden today. We figured out we can get our museum pass at the airport. Miles ordered cell phones for us to use in Europe. I know exactly where our passports are. The only problem I foresee is deciding which of our 19 guidebooks on Paris we will take.

One week. Huh. I'm starting to feel the slightest bit of excitement, a little flutter of adrenalin at the thought of actually having my first real vacation in 15 years. I am so very ready; the family chaos is starting to really bug me. For instance, just in the last five hours:

- Three out of four of my kids turned up their noses at my grilled ribeye enchiladas, but an hour later wanted a snack.

- Claire was pouring milk into her hand, then scrubbing it onto her face.

- There are large, green leaves on the stairs.

- The little girls got into Kayla's makeup and smeared concealer and nail polish on her mirror.

- Claire decorated her bed, her pillow, and her father with Disney stickers.

- Aeron started to sob when Claire put away a book. "That's MY JOB!" she wailed, face down in the carpet.

- I found a plastic bag with half-eaten sugar snag peas on the family room floor.

- And the cherry on top? The little girls found a puppy and gleefully trapped it in their playhouse. "Can we keep it?!?"

I remember something Pam Sugerman said the day after her wedding. She and Tom were going somewhere fabulous for their honeymoon, and someone made a comment about all the great sites to be seen there. She remarked, flatly, "The only thing I want to see in the first 24 hours is my pillow."

Yeah. That's about right.