Monday, September 17, 2012


Spent a week in Paris (second week of September) This is the outline for now (this is really just an outline of sorts, please forgive lack of accents and poor spelling for now). Please note: I have a strong interest in the decorative arts ("stuff"), art, and architecture. Good food is also important but I didn't eat my way through Paris. Museums: GET YOUR MUSEUM PASS (online if you have time, or at FNAC) Check hours carefully. When they say they close at 6, it's really like 5:30. Louvre: closed on Tuesday, open late (9:30) on Wednesday and Friday. - Plot your course of action. Napoleon III's rooms are the most vulgar expression of the high "French Victorian" I've ever seen. It's like High Bordello style. Avoid if your time is short. -Mona Lisa: due to the barriers in place resulting from an attack on her years ago, you can't get any closer than 30ft (I'm guessing, but it's far) from her. There's no chance to see any detail. -The Jewelry is ok, would have preferred to spend more time looking at paintings. -See Winged Victory and Michelangelo's Dying Slave. Worth the hike. -Paintings, paintings, paintings. The special exhibition of Isabey's watercolors is lovely. Musee des Arts Decoratif: Same campus as the Louvre. Avoid the Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs exhibition. But there are a few 19th century dresses on desplay (nothing exceptional) and a little on the history of Vuitton and the travel trunks. HOWEVER... Lots and lots and lots of wonderful European decorative arts through the ages. The jewelry rooms are very dimly lit making it difficult to see. Musee D'Orsay: A must. LUNCH at the D'Orsay. A MUST! The restaurant opens at 11:45. Get in line by 11:35. They don't take reservations. The food is excellent. It's a very special spot, painted ceilings, crystal chandeliers, gilt details on the walls. So elegant (but they used to use white tablecloths but now they use green placemats with I think detracts from the setting just a little bit). Musee Nissim de Camondo: Just go. Get the audio guide (it's complementary). Totally worth the visit. Get your breakfast or lunch and eat in the park around the corner. Musee Cognacq-Jay: (free - or maybe it was free last weekend) Charming small collection of 18th century dec arts and paintings. Some lovely, lovely gems. They didn't have children, so in lieu, there are lots of paintings and small sculptures of children. (It made my mom sad for the Mrs.) NOTE: The collection of 18th century objets de vertu are not on display. Musee Carnavalet: (free- or maybe it was free last weekend) Right near Congacq-Jay. When I went, only the ground floor was open. As rather annoyed. But still worth going. Besides, it's in the Marais. (Did not go to Pompidou Center nor the Orangerie, nor the Grand and Petit Palais. There just wasn't the time.) Garnier Opera House: Fantastic, amazing, I loved it. But it smells like stale pee. Notre Dame Cathedral: Go. The Tower... Long lines, passed it up because my mother likes neither heights nor small spaces. Ste. Chapelle: A stunning Medieval Gem. Awe-inspiring. Versailles: GO GO GO GO GO. If you have time and decent weather. The RER/Metro ride is only like a half hour from Invalides metro on the Rive Gauche. You can buy your ticket at the ticket counter from a real live person. Our person spoke English (far better than my not so good French) and she told us which platform (quai) our train would be on. Our train was a short train so be aware where you're standing waiting for the train. -You need ALL DAY. They shuttle you through from room to room. No wonder there was a revolution. Very crowded and lots of people taking photos which slowed things down. -Make sure you see the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon as well as Marie-Antoinette's little village. The gardens are gorgeous throughout. We ate lunch on the fly at one of the little food huts between the Chateau and the Grand Trianon. The food wasn't good but it kept us from starving. If you have time... in the Town of Versailles, there are lots of places to eat and shop. I needed a gift to bring to a local friend who invited us to her house for dinner. I found a great shop that sells really special condiments, on the Rue de la Paroisse just off of the Rue des Reservoirs (hello Google Maps) The shop lady is lovely (we managed to understand each other between our lack of command of each other's language). I'll get the name of the shop later... by the way, it's in a shop that says "FLORISTE." They're new in the 'hood and haven't changed the signage yet. The Madeleine (the huge neo-classical church). Eh. Better from the outside. The doors are very impressive. FOOD: Check out That said, the one place I actually went to that I got from the site was Fines Gueules (43 rue Croix des Petits Champs). I chose it because you don't necessarily need a reservation. It was good. Would I go again? Probably not unless I was in the neighborhood. On the Rive Gauche, we ate at Creperie Saint Andre des Arts at 56 rue St Andre des Arts. I had onion soup that came with the cheese and crouton on the side. It was delicious. Mom had the Salade Paysanne, with slices of thick baked goat's cheese on French bread toast rounds. So good. Quiet little spot. The girls at the next table had gorgeous crepes and shared a bottle of French cider. We had the BEST cheese from La Ferme St Aubin at 76 rue St Louis en L'Ile (on the Ile St. Louis). We had one each of the little balls of goat's cheese rolled in either black pepper, curry, paprika, ash (plain) or herbs de Provence. We also had the morbier. The young man at the counter also gave us a lovely hunk of brie to try. It was devine and I usually think that brie doesn't have that much flavor. Next door to the cremerie is a bread shop. So good, so fresh. And a market across the street for some fruit and water. We walked in and the strawberries were incredibly fragrant. We don't get that here. We sat on a bench overlooking the Seine. Being Tea Drinkers, we had to have tea (and sweets) at Marriage Frere. They have 3 locations in Paris but we went to the one at 30 rue du Bourg-Tiborg. I bought to bring home the The des Tzars-Russie and The Alexandra David-Neel. Mom bought The Rose D'Himalaya. It's totally overwhelming. And Fabulous. There is a brasserie on a corner across from the Pompidou Center called La Station Rambuteau at the corner of Rue Rambuteau and Rue Beaubourg. They have really good "Crocs." We had the Croc Provencial. The waiter we had was... I don't have time to describe him now but what a winker, a flirter. Then again, a lot of men in Paris flirt, but let me put it this way, if my self esteem ever needed a boost, or if I ever doubt my attractability quotient, I'll just revisit Paris for a little attention. Where was I... Almost done for now... Shopping: Bamyan for Indian scarves, textiles and pashmina. The store owner whose name I did not learn (we just call him Mr. Bamyan), has sparkling eyes and is very charming. I got a beautiful scarf. 51 and 72 rue St Louis en l'Ile (next to the cheese guy!). ARCHE! A few locations, google them. Can't say enough about their shoes, or socks, or stockings... I've been wearing them for 20+ years and their are slightly less money in Paris (socks and stocking MUCH less money). Fashion: The general Parisan look for women: narrow, snug trousers, blazer, scarf, ballerina flats, red lipstick. For men, the same, more or less, without the ballerina flats and lipstick but rather a serious shoe. Sneakers tend to be flat rather than pumped up plastic things American tend to wear. Everyone wears a scarf. Everyone. Missed Galleries Lafayette Haussmann. Go. Serious art nouveau domed glass ceiling. Go. Beautiful buildings. Go. Take care of the Tax (VAT) Return here rather than waste your time in line at the zoo, um, I mean, airport.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cracking Up

"Mom," my 5 year old stopped me. "What are those cracks in your face?" she asked pointing to my forehead. I had to think fast. I don't want to reinforce the notion that only youth is beautiful. I replied "I'm not five." Actually, I'm 42. I've been told I look 32. Then I look at 30-something year olds and it's more than obvious that I don't look early 30. My skin is not firm and resilient they way it used to be. Not long after my daughter enquired about my forehead, my 9 yr old son wanted to know what those "cracks" were on my face, pointing to the nasal-labia folds. Shit, man! What is up with my kids and facial cracks? Cracks??? Brutal language coming from such innocence.

Yes, I'm vain. I do obsess to some degree. I would like to erase the lines but I will not inject. The jowls are ever so slightly starting to droop. I lift the skin from my jaw towards my ears. Ah, much better. I've just noticed my eyelids are starting to sag! Heaven Forbid. Now what will I do? I will not get cut. I will not get cut. I watch the awards shows. Kidman is a wax figure. Mary Tyler Moore is one fabulous woman but she looks wrong, so does Meg Ryan, and Jane Fonda, the list goes on... There's also my aunt (2 facelifts and an eyelift), my friends (inject, inject, inject), and all the women who've died from complications of plastic surgery, all these women who deny the truth. The fountain of youth is a fantasy.

I won't knock all cosmetic surgeries, some are truly life changing. Many years ago, I knew a young man who had nearly no chin. He was hard to look at. His self-esteem was obviously low, he was meek and slouched in his tall, lanky frame. Many months later, I ran into this guy. A new fellow completely, he now had a chin. He was confident, handsome. I really didn't recognize him. The transformation was amazing. But all these big boobs, inflated lips, tummy tucks, where does it end? Uh, hello, Pamela Anderson.

So last week I met another suburban mom with a 5 year old. She's about my age. She uses a filler for her nasal labial-folds. It was amazing. She wasn't puffed, her lines weren't crack-like. I was fascinated. I want. I want. I want. I've read the warnings... nodules, redness, lumps. But she looked good. Not fake at all. This might mean finding the right doctor. But whom? And then I'll have to make the time. Ugh. It's too much of an ordeal. It's bad enough I have to get my roots done. Denying gray hair is far less invasive than altering skin. Hair, as far as I'm concerned, is just an accessory. I sigh.

So I figure that the very least I can do is use a retinol cream. A friend who is a very intelligent doctor found a triple retinol cream on the market. Now I use it. So why not just get a script for Retin-A? For me, one less trip to the doctor. I use my cream diligently. And I hope... because it's not Retin-A. It's been nearly a month. I don't think I see any difference but I've read that it takes a few months to really see any change. Fingers crossed. Hocus Pocus, right?

So rather, I shall be inspired by the smart, funny, creative women who cherish experience over obsessively smooth, "youthful" skin. Beauty and pride, charism and flare come from within and that's the truth. I shall stay true to who I am and honor my face and my body by eating good food, living a fulfilling life, taking pride in my past because it makes me who I am today, and that's not a bad thing.

There, I've said it.

ps. When I complain that I'm looking old, someone out there, please remind me that I wrote this. I expect that in our society this to be a difficult walk to walk.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Wowwing: an informal book review

I've been obsessed with Tony Hsieh's 2010 book Delivering Happiness. I've been telling all my friends about it, even my car dealership service department about it (because they don't deliver happiness). I'd never heard of Tony Hsieh, or his book until 3 weeks ago. It was given to my small-business-owning husband from his business partner so I was sure it was one of those business books that only business people read or at least buy with the intent to read. Anyway, I noticed it was about Zappos. I know Zappos, I like shoes and like free shipping, even better, so I picked it up. But I still had no idea who Tony Hsieh is (he's one of the founders of Zappos).

I found Tony's informal style of writing easy to read and at times humorous. He tells of his childhood, raised by a tiger mom who wanted a doctor not an entrepreneur who was as creative as he was passionate about making money. Actually, I hoped that there was a bit more personal information throughout the book but it's not the point of the book. Even Tony mentions that it's not a biography. (Is he dating Jen??? Curious minds want to know.) So without the gossipy personal info, what drew me into the book? Tony's passion for what he loves to do - make a business successful. He wants to share his mistakes as well as successes with business owners, regardless of the kind of business. As it turned out, Zappos' success came about through, to be brief, two major avenues: 1) amazing customer service and 2) a creative, nurturing company culture. Until reading the book, I had never thought about Company Culture. My limited employment history includes ballet companies and a significant auction house. Neither environment fostered any sense of a positive company culture. Had they, I'm sure I would have been a happier employee.

I now understand why its important for my husband's company to have company retreats where for 4 or 5 days they ski or race go-karts or play team building games between seminars and presentations by guest speakers. Now I want my husband to read this book (just not the part about how business can be like playing poker, a serious hobby of Tony's - poker is just not something I want to encourage).

I can see why Zappos has been listed as one of the best companies to work for. It also makes me want to be a Zappos customer even more (even after the Amazon 'buy-out'). I've begun to compare every other company I encounter to Zappos' standard - to WoW the customer. I want to be wowwed. If Zappos can do that, everyone else can too. (Tieks by Gavrieli certainly achieved that!!! Thank you. Come to think of it, BlueNile did too. Excellent customer service.) And now, if and when I buy online, I will only buy if shipping and returns are free. If Zappos can do it, they can too.

Thank you, Zappos, for setting the bar. You spread happiness, not frustration. I hope more companies follow suit.

There, I've said it.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I live in an affluent suburban community. We chose this area primarily for the exceptional public schools (which means our taxes are ridiculously high) and the town's proximity to the big city. What I didn't realize 10 year ago was that with this combination often comes some seriously overprivileged people. Now while not everyone here is overprivileged, the high rates of consumption are more visible than more conservative spending behaviors. There is a great emphasis on the size of one's house, the brand of one's car, the label on one's jeans, the location of one's vacation. This is high school with grown-ups.

So I live in a more modest home compared to some of my kids' friends which is fine. I don't want to live in a house so large that rooms go unused. It's wasteful. We are comfortable and are fortunate to have what we have. However, my kitchen is small. Functional, but small. It's lovely, we had to gut the 1927 kitchen when we moved in so I got to choose the counters, cabinets and appliances. But like I said, it's small so when I visit friends or even just pick my kids up from playdates, well, I get kitchen envy. Pathetic, I know. I would love to have an eat-in kitchen. And a formal dining room. The house did have a formal dining room but I turned it into a library. That was my choice and it can't really be converted back as we closed up the doorway between the two rooms so that we could have the refrigerator in the kitchen. Oh, so where's the dining table? It's in the family room which acts as a great room. It reminds me of my days of living in a studio apartment in the big city. But yes, I'm fortunate to live in this town, in a charming house, and that my life is without major struggles. (But I'd like a bigger kitchen.)

While in graduate school many years ago, I became very interested in consumerism in the 18th and 19th centuries. I was studying the History of Stuff, and stuff is to be consumed. What was also interesting was learning about who was consuming all this stuff, specifically, furniture, silver, porcelain, fashion... well, it's all fashion really, just in different forms. Then there is the consumption of knock-offs and stuff made in lesser quality materials. Come to think of it, I've always been aware of what other people were consuming. When Calvin Klein and Sasson jeans and Ralph Lauren polo shirts were the rage (back in the very early 80s), my mother refused to buy into the trends. We didn't have the money to be so indulgent but just they same the idea of paying a company to advertise for them was antithetical to my mother's belief system. However, Mom would (and still does) shop at discounted clothing stores like Loehmann's and Syms and gets excited to find the designer labels for much less than retail. Ironically, she has also been acutely aware of labels but she finds ways to buy them without being subjected to extreme prices. It became a game. And so I hear my mother in my head... which isn't a bad thing. I think my question is why do I even care about what other people are consuming, today, in my neighborhood. There is no historical perspective here.

As an historian of stuff, I am drawn to things that are beautiful, or at least interesting - beauty isn't always necessary but quality is. So I find myself checking these local parents out, from head to toe, taking inventory from shoes to earrings. It's not that I want what they have, I really don't. I make an effort to be different enough (many women here have long hair, I cut mine short to be different) but still I find that sometimes I do want to feel like I fit in, in a way. When the Alhambra necklace became popular, I thought it was lovely but then everyone was wearing one. Now it's a trite bauble. I generally love Louis Vuitton bags and luggage (and now their clothing), the history and quality but the ubiquitous LV handbags scream "Look, I spent $1500 (or $2500 or more) for my purse that looks like everyone else's." I felt a Chanel handbag last week, what was it, kid? It felt like butter. Even though I never liked the classic Chanel bags, it felt gorgeous. But again, a ubiquitous status symbol. Diamond stud earrings. Hello, even the drug dealers are wearing them. They are so not special anymore. Personal style is non-existant, creativity, HA! We are sheep. My neighbors are sheep. I think one of the biggest hurdles I have is clumping everyone together. If they are so concerned with consumerism, how can they be interesting, nice, creative people? It can be so easy to pass judgement and I find myself guilty of it. I have a friend who has a passion for shopping. She has a new LV or Prada or Chanel bag each week. Shoes too. And she just got a 4 carat diamond ring (her previous 1 carat was too small). But she's smart, seriously smart, a doctor at the top of her field. She takes ballet and jazz classes too and is an accomplished pianist. Moreover, she is a voracious reader. I have no right to pass judgement, had I with this woman, I'd miss out on a rewarding friendship. Just the same, coming to terms with extreme consumerism is something that I have to work on. I would like high end luxury items, not the obvious ones, you know the explicit labels, but there is plenty of high end luxury out there that is not so obvious. Of course, I need to find it discounted. Again, I keep returning to the question of why I feel this need to consume in this way. Why is this something that even matters? I don't know. There, I've said it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Difference a Day or Three Makes... In my garden, again

I swear that my peonies are opening by the second, from tight little balls to big lush blooms. My irises, the few that are blooming, are doing so instantaneously. Everything is starting to pop. My hostas immediately feel like they have overgrown and are crowding out other gems, I just can't remember what is missing. It's too early for my lilies. Hmmm. I bought a poppy the other day and it's already opening. I hope it will survive its new home - a particularly dry and very sunny spot in my otherwise part sun/part shade garden. Not much has made it from year to year it this dead zone, just some thyme, penstemon (its second year), veronica (just barely), sundrops and some purple thing that blooms in the summer... oh, and of course weeds. So here are more photos, I'm amazed at how quickly everything is growing, maybe it's because I'm now outside after weeks and weeks of hiding from the cold, miserable rain.
Siberian Iris
Siberian Iris, I love them.
Baptesia, allium, rhododendron in the background
Columbine, lambs' ear
Hydrangea, hosta, blue columbine, lady's mantle, fern...
Water droplets on Lady's Mantle
New Poppies!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Little Patch of Green

I moved to the suburbs after living in The City for 12 years. I am an urban girl at heart but we needed the room to raise little people. Besides, my husband wasn't keen on living in The City. Sure, it's a great place to play but he really wanted to live a less frenetic lifestyle... so we moved. When we found our little patch of green with a house set upon it, my mother, an avid gardener, said to me, "oh, you're going to love gardening." "Me?" I seriously doubted her. Me? Are you kidding me? I haven't played in the dirt since I was 6. I had manicured nails. Me garden? No way, no how.

Then She, my mother, found azaleas and rhododendrons on sale for something ridiculous, like $3 a plant. So we bought 12 plants. And planted them ourselves. And that was the beginning. Then Mother started dividing her day lilies and iris and gave them to me. I had to dig in order to plant! And then I got bit by the gardening bug. I loved moving things here or there. It was like painting with plants or redecorating with flowers. I went to the nursery and found what was in bloom. When that became spent, I went back and bought something else that was then blooming. In the end, my garden pretty much has something blooming from the beginning of Spring through to the end of Fall. Here are a few shots of some of my favorites that have been in bloom this week. Enjoy.

Bearded Iris, inherited with the house
Champagne Elegance Iris
The other shot of the inherited iris
So, I'm just getting used to uploading photos and adding text. Here's the Champagne Elegance again
Blue Columbine
One of those $3 rhododendrons
My Japanese Maple - a birthday present from my husband
Lungwort, a gift from a friend. She was thinning out her plants.
A shadier spot, hydrangea, hosta and other stuff
The future... My peony buds!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dr. Rice's Brownies

Back in in 2000, my mother, a personal property liquidator (she runs estate sales and really good house sales) was working for an elderly dentist by the name of Dr. Rice. While taking a break for lunch one day, Dr. Rice offered her some of the brownies he had just made.  Taken by the perfection of these brownies, Mother asked for the recipe. Dr. Rice preached how easy they were to make... and they are.  The key is the microwave, but if you don't have a microwave, just use a double boiler.  Also, there's no need for a mixer, just a fork or spatula.  These brownies are so easy, there is no reason to ever use a mix from a box again.  

3 squares (3 ounces) bitter/unsweetened/baking chocolate 
1 1/2 sticks butter

1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tbs vanilla

3/4 cup flour
1 tbs. cocoa
1/2 tbs. baking powder

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
3/4 cup chocolate chips

How To:
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Microwave chocolate 1 1/2 minutes.  
3. Add butter and heat 30 seconds longer.  Stir until smooth.  
4. Stir in sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Less stirring means more tender brownies.  
5. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder.  Stir.  
6. Add nuts and chips.  
7. Bake in a 9” x 9” greased pan for 25 minutes, but check with with a clean knife or toothpick.