Monday, December 17, 2012

Tiny Christmas

I have declared this year to be the year of the "Tiny Christmas". The big box of fa la la la la has not come up from the basement, only one small strand of twinkle lights has festooned the living room window, and we have cut way back on the present madness as well.

As you can see we even have a tiny tree. We are to be spending the holiday with family elsewhere and we are all very excited for that, but 'round here we are having a Tiny Christmas, just to feel a little jolly and bright on these dark, cold and wet days of winter.

Though today is the official day, we had a little early celebration of my birthday this weekend. A small party of just us three. I will tell you right now that The Engineer is one good man! Not only did he cook me a most delicious dinner, the man baked me a cake! A really, really, amazingly fantastic cake!

I am one lucky lady.

This has been a crazy old year, full of highs and lows and all sorts of in between. I am feeling a bit more of the effects of getting older these days. I am enjoying some of those effects more than others I can tell you. As I look back, I feel tremendously blessed and I look forward to a shiny new year and the adventures it holds in store.

Thank you all for joining me here and sharing this last year with me, I am truly grateful.

My wish is for all of us to have a happy, healthy and inspired new year!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sweet Tooth

For a good portion of the month of November I was dreadful sick. Everything went by the wayside and now I don't know if I'll ever catch up, but I'm trying.

I am now aghast that we are already into the meat of December. The weather cold and wet, the skies dark and brooding. Seems like the perfect environment to get a little crafty. Yet, I find myself in a crafty slump. It looks as though I am over compensating for this slump by cooking up a storm and baking treats.

Even my girl and the Engineer are getting in on the action in the kitchen.

Dig her chef's hat!

How about you? Have you crossed everything off of your holiday making list? What do you do in a slump?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Lola Nova Shop Opening!

Hooray Hurrah! After a long hiatus I am so pleased to announce that My Lola Nova Etsy Shop is open!

I have received some fresh copies of my book Simple Sewing with Lola Nova by Alexandra Smith and a limited number of signed copies are now available in my shop.

I'm thinking they would make lovely gifts!

Please stop by the shop, as I will be adding a few other hand crafted items here and there.

Lola Nova = 100% Pure Handmade Goodness!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dear Paris, part 2

24 October 2012 evening

Dear Paris,
I am so sorry we got off on the wrong foot. Thanks to your delicious food and your generous carafe of wine I do believe this actually could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

In Part 1 of my tale of Paris, I left off having finally arrived at my hotel just as evening was coming on...

I scrubbed my face, changed my clothes, sent an email to the Engineer to let him know I had arrived at the hotel, I drew back the curtains and opened my window to look out onto my little street in Paris. It was perfect really and I got a tiny bit dizzy, 'I'm in Paris!' I thought to myself, 'and I'm starving!'

I went down to reception to ask which direction I should walk and off I went out into the streets of Paris as the light faded from the sky.

I simply walked around for a while to get my bearings. Just a block or so from my hotel
(though I had no idea at the time) was the neighborhood of "Amalie" fame, near Montmartre. Cafe after sidewalk cafe, wonderful little shops, fromageries and patisseries and boulangeries oh my! It was heaven.

At last, hungry and weary from the day's adventures, I set my course for dinner. As I strolled past the cafes looking for an empty table - the cafes were at this time full of attractive Parisians eating, drinking, talking and laughing - who should I spy at a table in the corner of a cafe? The Lumberjack!

As I plopped down in the chair, I simply held my hands out in a gesture of questioning surprise. After I ordered my le pichet of Cote du Rhone and a simple supper, The Lumberjack began to unfurl the saga of his mysterious disappearance earlier that day. It involved an old gypsy woman with deft pick-pockety fingers, a labyrinthine tour of a secret Paris underground, fortune telling and a gargantuan pot of borscht. In the end he managed to charm the woman and her kin into letting him go, with the promise that he would send them all the latest "happening" music cds from America. How he found me on the rue des Abbesses, well LJ was strangely evasive about that.

No matter. I had found the Lumberjack, had a fantastic dinner, enjoyed a generous amount of French wine and was gazing out at the Parisian night with a renewed spirit. It is amazing what a bit of delicious food and some wine can do for a person!

Afterwards, I wandered until weariness overcame me and I went back to my room and slept soundly.

The next morning I woke to bluebird skies and a spring in my step. "Good morning Paris!" I sang out my balconied window. Then off for coffee and the perfect croissant, followed by more wandering and a beautifully peaceful exploration of the Cimetiere de Montmartre.

If you are in the area and you have the time, I absolutely recommend spending a little time walking through it. The architecture and statuary are breathtaking, and it provides a respite from the busy doings of more popular Paris sights.
The tour ended at Emile Zola's magnificent tomb; Emile being a personal favorite of the Lumberjack.

It may shock you to hear that I never made it to the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, nor the Louvre; I had this one full day in Paris and there was just so much ground I could cover. I did go to the gorgeous Musee d'Orsay for a bit, something I also recommend if you haven't the time for the Louvre. The art and the building that houses it, is breathtaking.

The day was just too stunning to spend it inside though, so I walked along the Seine in the sunshine.

I wondered about the lives (and the relationship status) of the lovers who had "locked" their love on the bridge. (After locking the love padlock onto the fence, the lovers tossed the keys into the Seine river – a sign of their eternal love)

Then the Lumberjack did a bit of posing with 'the jelly family'.

It was well past lunch at this point, so we headed back to the hotel neighborhood for a baquette and a wedge of cheese, as you do. For me, it was a meal of luxury and splendor for just a few Euros. I could not have felt more spoiled as I sat looking out my hotel room window, chatting with the Lumberjack about our day so far, and reveling in the gorgeous weather.

Along with my lunch, I picked up a treat, something I would never order at home as I have never been fond of them, but something made me do it. It was then that I ate the best chocolate eclair of my entire life. This was pastry madness! This bore no resemblance to overly sweet cardboard confections I had come to know in the states. This eclair changed everything!

25 October 2012

Dear Paris,
This morning with your blue skies, sunshine and wonderful croissant, I started to get a crush on you. This afternoon after the long walk along the Seine, rambling through the Musee d'Orsay, getting lost in Montmartre Cemetery and eating the most perfect chocolate eclair of my entire life, I think I am in love!

Then I strolled the avenues of the 18th Arrondissement, had surprisingly wonderful conversations with shop owners in broken French and English. I found that being able to say "I'm sorry I don't speak much French" in French, opened the way to kindnesses and a willingness to make allowances for this American woman.

When evening rolled around again, the streets came to life, the cafes were bursting with activity and it was time to sit and watch the world go by with my little pitcher of wine.

I ended up sharing a table with a couple and his mother. The man and his mother were from Peru, his wife was Czech and they both lived in Prague. She made a comment about my bag, turns out she makes bags and things like me, turns out her name was Alexandra as well! We ended up having the most wonderful time sharing stories. We wished each other well and they went off into the night.

The lights twinkled on the street, live music seeped out from various cafes and galleries, people walked and smiled as they passed by. There was more than a bit of magic in the air.

I reflected upon the day, thought how lucky I was to be here and how long it took me to get to Paris. I thought about my younger self, how when I was 16 and began reading Miller, Nin, Celine, Genet, Duras, Rimbaud, Baudelaire... how I wanted to be a writer and move to Paris... you know, that dream. And though I felt a bit sad about having never made it to Paris in my youth, it felt amazing to be in Paris now. Perhaps it was the recollection of my starry eyed younger self, or maybe the wine, but I made a solemn vow on the spot to really properly learn French! And then I giggled at myself.

The next morning I would leave Paris, soon I would head home to my sweet family.

My travels, this whole trip had been truly remarkable. It seemed so strange now that I had never been to Europe before. I thought about the bravado of youth vs. the courage of middle age and I smiled to myself. I could not have chosen a better time in my life to be a woman abroad. I am deeply grateful to have had this opportunity and so thankful to all the people I met along the way who shared with me. What an adventure!

25 October 2012 late night

Dear Paris,
You are crazy. I love you!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dear Paris, part 1

24 October 2012

Dear Paris,
I do believe we are off to a rather bumpy start...

It all started on a train. A very fast train and a last minute decision, as it does. I say last minute, but there was no choice really, to be so close and not go to Paris? That would have been a travesty.

So, I'm on this train excited and exhausted and overwhelmed just a little. I am reading this book I brought, it's a very sad book. As the train speeds through the French countryside the sun streams through the window. I have to put on my sunglasses because of the sun, and also so that the two pompous businessmen sitting across from me wont see me cry. Here I am - a plump, slightly quirky, middle-aged woman on a train crying because it has dawned on me that my much younger self's long time dream of going to Paris is finally coming true.

Now some of you may be saying to yourselves (much as a friend of mine said to me upon hearing my story) "tut tut, oh dear thing crying on a train in front of strangers behind sunglasses, must've been so embarrassing and awful."
Well friends, there is no need for that, yet. I assure you, just as it did in the very sad book I was reading, it got much worse. Unlike the book, we will all laugh about it later.

And just so you don't begin to fret too much, it also got better. Much, much better.

I arrived at the Gare Du Nord station in the afternoon, as I stepped off the train I found myself a little dizzy. I have a plan, vague and dodgy as it may be and I head towards the street. Alright, what I have is not so much a plan, but rather more a rumor of a place to stay. I've been told of an eccentric woman who speaks five languages, tells wild stories and lets rooms in a large old building. I have her name and telephone number written in my notebook. "Just call her when you arrive in Paris, tell her you are the cousin of so-and-so from Kansas, she'll remember. She always has a room, don't worry." What could go wrong?

In front of the station I call the woman. Yes, she remembers and she demands, "When do you want to come?" "Tonight? Oh no, no! I am full completely! I am so sorry."

Alright, Plan B. At least I had the foresight to research a couple of hotels near the station. Out comes the map of Paris, a vain search for street signs and no clue about direction. Suddenly I am not so confident about the few words of French in my repertoire and I find myself practicing them in a whisper to myself. I end up walking back and forth along streets until I spy one of the hotels in my notebook. With a sigh of relief I walk to the reception desk and ask for a room. The clerk shouts "All full!"

On the street again and my bags are getting much too heavy, I catch a glimpse of myself in a window - all wild haired, overburdened, glassy eyed and lost. How many blocks to the next hotel? I begin walking again in what I hope is the right direction, giving myself a wee pep talk, trying to keep my chin up... at this very moment the elastic on my knickers gives one last retiring moan and gives up the ghost entirely. So now I am trudging along the streets of Paris trying to keep my bags from tumbling to the ground whilst also attempting to keep my knickers from sliding down to my ankles and landing me face down on the sidewalk. As I shuffle along in humiliating convolution, I suddenly think of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and laugh. Which actually comes out more like a barking sob. I know that this is all going to be very funny later, but for now...

The second hotel is also full.

It is late afternoon. I sit down at the nearest cafe, having forgotten every word of French I know and simply point to the menu for coffee. It doesn't occur to me that I have eaten nothing all day. My impromptu Plan C is to sit here and watch the world go by until it is late enough for me to call the Engineer back home. I am tired, a bit homesick, I miss my family and my knickers wont stay up for nothin'. Why I did not think to discreetly remove the offending garment and slip them in my purse (it is Paris after all) rather than continue to wrestle with them, I can not tell you.

As I sit, I make the poor decision to continue reading my sad book. I don't think that helped. I reach in my pocket for The Lumberjack to keep me company, but he isn't there. I rifle through my bag, nothing! Oh woe is me, The Lumberjack is missing! This makes me feel quite tragic and even more dejected. I entertain the thought that perhaps he has gone off to Boulevard de Clichy and the Moulin Rouge in search of the thrill of a little can-can. I hope this is the case.

I finally get The Engineer on the phone and blubber my predicament. Bless him, he is on the internet looking for a hotel for me when the line goes dead. My pre-paid phone has just run out of minutes! Mad scramble to find a pay phone that takes credit cards in the noisy train station. Finally, I get details and directions - only just over a kilometer away, I can walk that. Ok, it's all going to be ok.

Armed with my notebook, map and a new determination, I begin the trek to the hotel. As the sky grows dark I am walking and walking for what seems a very long time indeed, getting lost a few times, doubling back on myself, looking again for the elusive street signs, struggling with my bags and those damn slippery knickers! I notice my environs turning a bit iffy and wonder where it is I've ended up. Finally, an hour and a half later I see my hotel, a discreet little building with a sweet red door. I walk in breathless, sweating and utterly exhausted. I sigh deeply with relief that the woman at reception speaks English because my brain can barely form a sentence in my native tongue let alone manage one in French. I am given the key to my room and take the tiny lift to the 3rd floor. I open my door and collapse onto the bed.

24 October 2012

Dear Paris,
You are crazy.

It is at this point that things begin to improve considerably. I promise that Part 2 is all about the love!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Last of London

Oh my oh my, what a strange time we are having! We have just gotten over the sickness and now we are in the throws of preparation for the big family holiday feast!

I am decidedly behind on all bloggy business, but that is life no? First I want to say a big hello and thank you to all the new followers, you are simply lovely.

Next, I will finally finish up with my London photos as these last shots were from one of my favorite outings. Picture heavy and few words to follow.

On Sunday morning before my workshop I went on an adventure with The Lumberjack to Columbia Road Flower Market, and what a wonderful time we had!

The flowers were gorgeous, the hawkers were cheeky, the atmosphere was divine and the air scented with Lilies and roses!

The Lumberjack amongst some knitted bunting of course. The little shops along Columbia Road were somewhat hidden behind the walls of flowers, but once you squeezed yourself inside the treasures were breathtaking. I could have easily spent a fortune on beautiful things and then again on having them shipped home. I limited myself to one teeny tiny keepsake that will always remind me of my time there. I also had the most delicious berry muffin and cup of coffee from a tiny hole in the wall, literally (ok, it was more niche than hole) if you find yourself on Columbia Road on Market day I highly recommend said hole in the wall for breakfast treats.

From Columbia Road we headed off to Brick Lane and perused the street seller's goods. Stopped and had a very nice chat with one of them. The Lumberjack was fiercely negotiating the price of a WWII leather map sack with the gentleman. When they had finally settled on a price the Lumberjack turned to me with his hand out, alas I had spent all my precious monies already which was a shame because it really was a very handsome map sack. The Lumberjack then regaled the seller with stories of his travels and adventures while I reminisced over the old pastille tins just like my grandmother used to have. I can still taste those black current pastilles if I shut my eyes a bit.

Then there was the food. Meringues as big as my head and goodies aplenty.

Then there was this guy! Blaring reggae music and dancing, loved him! I will always think of him as Mr. Spicy!

After that The Lumberjack wanted to hire a bicycle as he was tired of all the walking. What walking I ask you? You have been riding in my pocket the whole time! When he realized his boots couldn't reach the pedals that was the end of it and we hoofed it to Spitalfields Market, where again I could have spent a heap. Still, I did find something nice for my mother.

Oh what a wonderful day! One of my favorites of the trip.

Well that wraps up London for now. Next week the final chapter in my travel saga, Paris! What a wild time that was!

Since the Thanksgiving Holiday is upon us in the States, I wish to say how thankful I am for all of you.

Until next time my friends - be safe, be well.