Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Even though this happened last Thursday (12/17), I thought I would share it as a kind of Christmas gift for my loyal readers, many of whom live in steamier climes.  Thanks for following me this year, friends.  I hope you enjoy these images- the only "white" Christmas most of us will have (especially since it's back in the high 30s here)!











"Christmas--that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance--a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved."
~ Augusta E. Rundell 

I'm holding you in my heart, loved ones.  Merry Christmas.

PS- If you'd like to see all of the snow pictures I took, here's my Picasa album:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas in Paris, Part III

On Sunday, Jon and I headed out in the snow/drizzle mix to visit Bercy Village.  It's way east of us on the other side of the river, but I like going over there for two reasons: 1) It's very American in the way it's set up- shops and restaurants nestled in a cute little villagey atmosphere, and 2) The #14 train to get there is very modern, and it feels like we're on Space Mountain when we ride it- very cool. 

Once there, we split up for a while to do some shopping for each other, meeting at the Frog Pub for a pint.  While there, we heard a commotion out on the sidewalk and learned that it was caused by none other than... Pere Noel!!

Père Noel was not alone, however.  He had a friend with him, Le Méchant Père Fouettard.  "Méchant" means "mean" or "naughty," and Père Fouettard fit the bill exactly as he looked like a deranged, humpbacked pirate.

He was asking the kids if they'd done all their chores, and demanded the 7 times tables from a little 'un.  When the kid couldn't deliver the info, Père Fouettard grabbed him and told him he was going to take him away as an example to the other children.  The kid was terrified.  His father was cracking up.  The French-- what can I say? 

After leaving Bercy Village, we headed west to see the Christmas tree at Notre Dame.  On the way I took some pictures of the Left Bank from the Right.  It was a beautiful evening- clear and cold.


Notre Dame's display did not disappoint.  It was particularly striking because we arrived right at 6 pm-- just when the bells calling the faithful to evening mass began to ring.  Beautiful.


Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away

Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold.

Ding dong ding dong
that is their song
with joyful ring
all caroling.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Someone's Joined the Dirty 30 Club...

... and that someone would be my lovey hubby, Jon!  I was a bit worried that he wouldn't have a very fun birthday because we're far from home/friends/storage for sweet presents.  I mean, I got to spend my 30th on a sailboat in the Caribbean with my best friends--

how could I possibly recreate this feeling for Jonny-boy?  Thankfully, we've made some pretty good friends here who did some unexpected things and then there was The View (and I don't mean the tv show) to finish it all off.  Awesome.

On Jon's actual birthday, we went to Le 24 (you'll hopefully recognize this as our favorite resto in Paris) to celebrate.  When I called to make reservations, I mentioned to Guillaume in passing the reason for our dinner not expecting anything.  When we arrived, Guillaume had champagne waiting for us followed by our favorite bottle of wine, and the sweetest part?  He had gone to a bakery and gotten a cake for Jon!!!!!  Such a surprise and so nice!  And what made the night just perfect was that Olivier joined us, and we hadn't seen him in a long time.  I know that these two guys really made Jon's birthday something special.  So, merci nos amis!  Merci!

Birthday Boy, Guillaume, and Olivier

My contribution to the birthday festivities came four days later with a miraculous reservation at the Jules Verne-- the restaurant on the Eiffel Tower.  I say miraculous because I have no idea how I managed to get the reservation, seeing as how it happened last month and I heard the Maitre D' tell a guy trying to get a table that reservations for Dec are full in March!!!  Don't ask how I did it, but I did and Jon was excited because he was mildly obsessed with the JV for a bit and because eating there would allow us to check another gastronomic experience off our list.

The Jules Verne is on the second level of the Eiffel Tower- 125 m up.  It has its own elevator which was pretty cool in itself.  They even have a little plaque in the lobby that allows you to watch the elevator's progress.

We went Monday night.  Now, we're in the middle of a serious freeze here in Western Europe (wait for the post I do on the SNOW), and it really started to pick up steam (or ice rather) on Monday night.  Standing under the pillars at the Tower was like being in a sub-zero wind-tunnel, so my dreams of getting a shot of the two of us outside the entrance were squelched.  I did get an empty picture, however.  Just imagine Jon and I standing there with our mouths open, dreaming of all the things we would see and taste...

Arriving up at the second level was like entering another world-- the quiet and low lighting were obviously intended to highlight the view outside the wrap-around windows, which was breathtaking.  Really.  I couldn't speak for at least 5 minutes and spent much of the meal staring outside.  So, forgive some of the blurry shots, but I was overcome- and did try my best.  Behold, The View:

Alain Ducasse's menu looked delicious, but was just okay compared to other starred menus I've had.  Really, the highlight of the entire experience was the actual act of sitting with a 180 view of Paris on a beautiful night.  It was remarkable, and will be something I remember forever. 

We walked home afterwards in the clear coldness of a Parisian winter's night.  The tower gave us one last show as a parting gift...

... Aa I hopefully gave Jon a birthday gift he'll remember. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas in Paris, Part II

My apartment's oven deficiency has been greatly lamented this year, I know, and what time of year could this lack be more greatly felt than at Christmas?  No cookies, no pies, no smell of warm baked goods permeating the house??!!!  WHAT?!  Not to mention the absence of sprinkles, and red hots, and silver dragrees on which to test the strength of one's teeth!  It had all the makings of a four-alarm holiday disaster.  Luckily, the ladies of my knitting group came to the rescue and while they couldn't instill my apartment with the smell of baking goodness (I bought a candle for that), they could allow me the opportunity to fill my belly (and Jon's) with all the sugar it could handle.  Behold the Great Cookie Bake-Off 2009...

Monica (in the middle) hosted the baking party-- we cut, decorated, baked, and ate cookies and drank champagne.  And best of all, I came home with a tupperware full of baked treats to carry us through the holiday (well, actually only one week-- they were too good to ration out).

With cookies in the house, it was time to get serious about decorating.  After at first thinking we wouldn't, we had a change of heart and got a Christmas tree.  We didn't have one last year because of the move, and I just couldn't bear the thought of another Christmas (and our first away from home) without a tree, so...  We put on some mulled wine, turned on the Bing Crosby albums, and got to work.  Luckily, we picked up some Christmas decor in Germany, and I found some cheap lights and a bag of ornaments at the junk store downstairs.  All of this provided us with just the perfect amount of holiday cheer in the apartment.

A real Christmas Whirly-Gig (Actually called a Pyramid) from Germany.

Our Smoking Santa 
(He has incense in his belly that smokes out of his mouth.)


Our stockings and the obligatory chocolate Advent calendar.


A Real Tree, complete with yule log holder.

And, of course, no Houston Tree Trimming Party could be complete without a viewing of...

"It Must Be Italian..."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas in... Frankfurt!

Last Saturday night, Jon and I took the high speed German train (much nicer than the TGV-- it has wood-paneling, people.  Wood. Paneling.) to Frankfurt for a quick trip up to see a German Christmas market.  This is something I've been talking about doing for months, but I never pulled the trigger on it.  Thankfully, my hubby did, and boy, am I glad.  It was so much fun!

Sunday morning we got up and took the metro to the main square of Frankfurt.  After a cup of coffee, we proceeded to wander the market.  Wow-- from ornament vendors to pretzel stands, the atmosphere was one of a giant carnival the lively spirit of which wasn't dampened even by the persistent rain and cold.

We spent the day eating sausages, drinking beer and mulled wine (lots and lots of mulled wine) , and enjoying the Christmas spirit we'd been missing in Paris.  Sure, the lights in Paris are great-- but there isn't a whole lot else going on in the streets.  Since we Americans adopted a lot of our holiday traditions from the Germans, Jon and I felt really happy to see so many familiar Christmas sights. 

All we did for two days was wander the market, buying ornaments and trinkets and having a good time.  I'm glad I got to see an authentic Christmas market, and I highly recommend the experience for anyone who has the chance.

Here's the Picasa Album of our trip... fun!

Frankfurt's Christmas Market

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thanksgiving et al.

I can't believe it's been two weeks since Turkey Day-- and what a day we had.  This was our first year away from family for the holiday, but since Jamie and Steve really are family, we felt right at home with them in London.  Jamie, the hostess-with-the-mostest,

spent days getting ready for the big day.  I was actually amazed by her planning skills.  Not only did she manage to get enough dairy products to feed a small army into her European fridge,

she also baked two pies and prepped all the food for a sit-down dinner for TEN, all before the big day!  She was so prepared, in fact, that by the time we arrived on Wednesday night, there was nothing to do, but read the recipes she had taped up all over the kitchen,

and play cards... because there's always time for cards when the Houston-Harmons are involved.

Thanksgiving day saw a frenzy of cooking on the part of Jamie and Jon.  I arranged the cheese tray, made the Sidecars, and contributed these napkin rings/placecards:

Jamie's friend, Alexandria, brought over an organic, fresh turkey.  We named him Alphie.  He was good.

Surprisingly, nothing, I mean nothing, went wrong with the food prep, table prep, guest arrival, nothing!  We all sat around the lovely table (flowers arranged by Jamie, herself),

to a delicious meal and good company. 

I know I felt thankful to be able to spend my holiday with those so very dear to my heart.

The day after Thanksgiving, thank God, had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with shopping.  Instead, we trooped off to some far corner of London to catch a Lily Allen concert!  Steve loves her and I'm quite the fan myself.  We got to the venue early enough to enjoy some space in the pit all together.

But once Lily came out, I had to get out of the crowd and find a cozy nook to stand in.  Fairly easy, and from my vantage point I was able to enjoy the music and the Tartlette's costumes, complete with wig changes and a fantastic rendition of "Womanizer."  If nothing else, that Lily Allen sure can entertain.

On Saturday, we got a Christmas tree.  Jon, Jamie, and I decorated.

  Steve helped, too...

That night, we cozied up to watch the FL / FL State game.  

Although my dear Gators have since killed their undefeated streak, they had a fine showing that evening.  I particularly enjoyed actually getting to see a Gator game, on the t.v., with sound, on a couch, while drinking cheap beer and gazing at a Christmas tree to boot.  It was a good night.

On Sunday, Jamie and Steve went with us to St. Pancras in order to give us a proper send-off.  It was our last time in London for quite some time, of course.  It's funny, but this year has been so much better for having them only a two hour train ride away.  I've spent a lot of time with Jamie and Steve in the past twelve months, and am going to notice the absence.  But, it was good that we all went to the  the station and ended our year together in the way we began it...

with drinks at the champagne bar!  I always love a full circle, you know.  I can't help's the English teacher in me.