Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Day in Paris with Ivy and Burt

I started this post back in October but Halloween was right around the corner and it seemed a little irrelevant, then eventually I forgot all about it. Since we are currently stuck in yet another episode of sub-zero weather, it seemed like a good time to recall a wonderful day of sightseeing around Paris.

As you can see, Ivy and Burt acquired a couple vices on their trip to the City of Light. Now they begin each day with an expresso and macaroons. It's not like they have to worry about their health. 

I have no sense of direction, so it's a good thing that HM is totally obsessed with knowing exactly where we are ALL of the time. Consequently, I end up doing a lot of standing around while he stares intently at his phone. Usually it drives me crazy but every once in awhile, while I'm trying to be patient, I see something I might otherwise have missed. This time it was the legendary Maxim's restaurant and it was right across the street! I had just taken out my phone to snap a photo when a dune buggy sporting "aloha" on it's bumper whizzed by. Ok, it's not as exciting as seeing some celebrity come stumbling out of the door but still, one of the nearest beaches is Normandy. Wait, was that Burt behind the wheel? Isn't he supposed to be home looking after the kitties?

Then a few blocks away we ran into Ivy! It looks like she was doing some shopping! Earlier I had also stopped by the same Chanel boutique, although I found myself in the rather uncomfortable position of having to explain the Electoral College to my sales associate. He wanted to know how Trump ended up as president when Hilary got almost three million more votes. Due to sheer dumb luck, I had read enough about the creation of the Electoral College so I could explain how we ended up with this national disgrace. He was very nice and we commiserated on the outcome of the election. Throughout our trip, many Europeans I spoke with felt the same way. A lot of them were baffled that we would keep using such an antiquated rule. Most are just as disgusted with Trump as we are. At first I was a little surprised that so many people were concerned about our president but then it dawned on me that there is only one world and we are all in it together.

On a happier note, we eventually tracked down Burt and the four of us set out to visit some favorite spots in the city. Un chat joined us after lunch at le café. Luckily, the kitty didn't care about politics.

What can I say, sometimes it's just fun to take stupid photos. HM wanted to get this one right.

Our next stop, The Pompidou Center, is always a great place to see contemporary art. It's a lot more fun than the Louvre and there's a Dubuffet that's so huge you can walk around inside of it! The lines are shorter, too and you don't need to make an appointment to get in. 

The rooftop restaurant is a terrific place to catch some fantastic views, from the Eiffel Tower . . .

. . . to SacrĂ©-Coeur in Montmartre. 

It's also a wonderful place for people watching but then nearly all of Paris is a great for that! I have to admit to feeling pretty guilty when I saw this book bag. Did Spenser arranged that?
Leaving our kitties always makes me a little sad, even though I know they are being well cared for.

After art and people watching we had to pay a visit to Shakespeare and Company since it's been described as the most famous independent bookstore in the world! It wasn't very crowded that day so we got a chance to leisurely browse around. Burt picked up a mystery for the trip home. If you are curious about it's lengthy history there's an interesting article that was published in Vanity Fair here

The final stop of the day was Sainte-Chapelle, the site of the most extensive collection of 13th-century stained glass in the world. It's the one place we always visit when we are lucky enough to find ourselves in Paris. King Louis IX built it in 1238 to hold what he believed was the actual crown of thorns from the crucifixion. He purchased it from an Emperor from Constantinople, although the money was actually paid to the Venetians to whom the relic had been pawned. Obviously, there was a lot of demand for relics at the time. Louis was eventually elevated to sainthood, so the whole thing apparently paid off. Five hundred years later he even got a city in Missouri named after him. Small world, huh? Whatever brought about it's creation, gazing up at nearly solid walls of beautiful stained glass is an awesome experience that never fails to impress me.

Ivy and Burt have been on hiatus for awhile. As I have mentioned before, they are usually banished during those times of the year when we have a lot of visitors. It's not like they are the only skeletons that hang around in private homes, I know of quite a few actually, but they do tend to upset some individuals. Now that the holidays are over they are free and ready to resume their usual antics.

See you soon! Thanks for wandering around a few of our favorite places in Paris with us.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

This year's look at the Paine's Nutcracker Decorations

For over a decade, The Paine, our town's 1920's mock Tudor mansion turned public art center has been transformed into scenes from Nutcracker Ballet at Christmas time. It usually opens about a week before Thanksgiving and fortunately for us, continues through the first week of January. Thanks to a lack of planning and general inability to do things in a timely manner, His Madness and I usually make it there just prior to (if not on) the closing day. 

This year a new tree greeted visitors in the vestibule. Much to our surprise, it sported a rather unique double top, certainly a rarity among artificial trees.  

It's only been within the last three years that photography has been allowed and I've covered some of the highlights here and also here. This time around I've tried to included some areas and rooms that weren't in the previous posts. Above is one of the many life size Nutcrackers that stand guard around the mansion and seem to be tucked into every corner.

Most of the rooms throughout the mansion have been decorated to depict a specific scene from the Nutcracker story. There are scheduled tours, narrated by Herr Drosselmeyer himself with musical and ballet performances. For the self-guided ones, each location has a book open to the story with accompanying illustrations set in the actual room at the Paine. Sugary treats are available, too.  

The story starts off in the Gallery that has been transformed into the Stahlbaum's parlor on the night of Christmas Eve. One really nice feature in the Gallery is the children's play area.


There are costumes and special props available for those who want to indulge in a little dressing-up. 
The sign said, "you can choose to be a ballerina or a knight", so HM picked both.

Luckily, procrastination can have it's benefits and we soon discovered we had the place completely to ourselves, except for a lone docent that we pestered mercilessly with questions. To be honest, the lack of visitors was probably due to the fact that the temperature that day was well below zero and a stiff breeze made it feel even worse. So this is what the main hall looks like without a crowd of people!

Most of the decorations throughout the rooms remain the same from year to year but the treats on the dining room table get a partial make-over each season.  

I love the massive amount of ornaments on this tree and how the top of the it appears to be bent over from the weight of all of them! Wonder how long it takes to attach all those decorations?

The tree-shaped assembly of green macaroons is definitely new this season.

This amazing bronze railing is at the top of the steps that lead down into the conservatory breakfast room. Imagine finishing your cereal and then strolling out onto a terrace surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers. Ok, so right now it's actually covered in snow but still, what a way to live!

At the end of the first act of the ballet, after the defeat of the Mouse King the Nutcracker is transformed back into a Prince. He and Clara travel through a pine forest on the way to his kingdom and snowflakes dance around them in the moonlight. That seems like a good way to travel.

During the guided tours, the ballet numbers are performed in the Great Hall. 
The trees on the left rotate so they look like they're joining in with the dancing. 

These pages in the Great Hall storybook illustrate scenes from the Magic Castle in the Land of Sweets. When Clara and the Prince arrive, the Sugar Plum Fairy decides to honor them for defeating the Rat King. She brings in dancers from around the world to join in a celebration of sweets. 

The actual trees from the illustration above, unfortunately they were too big to join in the dancing.

Back in the main hallway, the staircase leads to more decorated rooms.

Clara's room wouldn't be complete without a Nutcracker.

Her Christmas trees were done up in pink and decorated with ballerina and castle ornaments.

Further down the hall is the dressing room/closet-to-die-for that belongs to Clara's mother. It's currently also the showcase for two bronze sculptures by hometown artist, Helen Farnsworth Mears.

It seems one of the Christmas mice has borrowed the kitty's collar.

Finally, up among the rafters in the Gothic Gallery, there is a magical golden forest.

It's a beautiful end to a fun and interesting journey.

I couldn't find any references to golden forests in the Nutcracker ballet. However, I did learn that librettos are never set in stone so maybe someday someone will add one!

After the marvelous extravaganza of sparkling light we headed outside to spend some time in the garden before the sun set or we developed hypothermia.  

At the far end of the property is the Conservatory where the Sugar Plum Fairy holds court. It was way too chilly for the fairies to be doling out cupcakes that day so we had to settled for a snoop around their new garden. It was looking so dramatic in the winter twilight, we didn't even miss the treats.

Hope everyone is staying warm, thanks for stopping by! 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Thanks to everyone for following along on our adventures this year.

Here's to a new year filled with love and laughter.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Better-Late-Than-Never Edition of Merry Monday

Happy Holidays!

We have been having such a good time celebrating that time just slipped away.
Then suddenly it was Friday! Then Blogger ate my post and now it's Saturday!
Where did the time go?

Santa was good to all of us, even the one who pooped behind the Christmas tree.
(We had blamed it on Andy's dog, Jeremy but it now appears that Stewart is the real culprit.)

The Christmas cactus even bloomed - at Christmas!
There were just four flowers but that's four more than last year.

We were lucky to have lots of help with the decorating from Spenser.

Then there were the visitors, Burt was happy to see everybody.

This one did a lot of woofing.

He did quiet down eventually, after he got all dressed up. How cruel was that?

There's no celebrating without a lot of eating! Like many families, we have some recipes we always
make at Christmas time. Most of them are cookies and desserts passed down from Norwegian great great grandmothers. There are traditionally supposed to be seven different varieties served at the holidays but I've only managed two. My Mom started making the Polish Tea Cakes after HM and I were married, I guess it was her way of including him in our family. I added the Turtle Brownies because I love chocolate and thought it needed some representation within the basic dessert group.

Then there's the one we make just because we really, really like it.
I guess it's official, cheesecake has been adopted as one of our traditional holiday desserts.

Finally, there is lefse. It's one of those things we make because it's been a staple of Christmas Eve
dinner for as long as I can remember. My grandmothers, aunts and mom would get together and
make boatloads of it in early October. Half of what they made was for a traditional Scandinavian
dinner at our church that raised funds for world relief. The rest we ate! Here's Andy posing with the
lefse he made. I tried to match the photo I took of him in kindergarten wearing his dinosaur costume
and holding a plate of cookies. He's taller now, even though it wasn't that long ago - to me. Ha!

The process begins the night before the baking. Three pounds of potatoes get boiled and then have to be skinned while they're still hot. Ouch! Most of Scandinavian Christmas baking involves burning your fingers. That's my great grandmother's fork on the right, it's missing one of it's three tines but it's perfect for testing the doneness of spuds or poking at veggies when they're cooking.

While they're still hot, the spuds are run through a ricer then mixed with butter, cream and salt.
It's basically mashed potatoes at this point. Then it goes into the fridge overnight.

In the morning flour gets added to the potato mix and it's divided into seven equal portions. There's
that number seven again. Then it's rolled out - with a special rolling pin that's just made for lefse - and baked on a very hot griddle - that's only used for baking lefse! On trains in Norway they sell it individually wrapped, like candy bars. It is tempting to just go out and buy some, it's available at local stores but that wouldn't seem right. Awhile ago I realized that if we were going to keep eating it, I'd have to learn to make it. Luckily, Andy and HM love to cook so between the three of us and some YouTube videos we figured it out. It's really not that hard and it gets a easier every year.

After an exhausting morning it was time for a break so we all headed out to the Bare Bones Brewery (at Burt's suggestion) to sample a couple flights of their beer and recuperate from the holiday baking. Check out the bone shaped flight holders! Andy made a full recovery from his lefse ordeal.

Season's greetings from Burt and Ivy, they will be back soon.

Thanks for stopping by and best wishes to all who are celebrating!

I'm joining Marfi at Incipient Wings for the final Merry Monday and I want to thank her so very much for bringing her own uniqueness and wonderful enthusiasm to the blogging community.
She makes every day a whole lot merrier!