Everyday Reading

September 19, 2014

Week 4: Amsterdam and Paris

We spent Friday and Saturday in Amsterdam (after finally getting a hotel worked out), but I never pulled out my big camera. Too bad, because Amsterdam is gorgeous.

On Thursday morning, we caught a bus into the city and visited the Rijksmuseum. I'm one of those sad embarrassing people who doesn't really love art museums, but I actually really enjoyed this one. We spent about an hour and a half there, and it was probably the best art museum experience I've ever had. I'd totally go back.

Afterward, we walked down to the water and met Preethi, Dan, and kids for a canal boat tour. The girls were pretty restless (and Ella ended up listening to an audiobook for much of it, so I was glad that they were both free), so it was a little bit of a relief to get off the boat and let them stretch their legs again.

We picked up lunch at Wok to Walk (delish) and then walked over to the Spui where we met up with one of Bart's dad's professor friends who lives in Amsterdam. After an hour or so, we browsed the flower market (we bought a little packet of seeds to plant when we get back to North Carolina), then walked up through Begijnhof and to the Royal Palace square, before heading back for the evening.

We missed our bus by just minutes, so we ended up waiting for about 30 minutes for the next one (as bedtime came and went), and then at one of the stops, a teenager walked in front of the bus and got hit by a car coming around the bus on left side. He wasn't seriously hurt (thank goodness), but we spent quite a while waiting for an ambulance and the police to come, while Ella asked a million questions about what was going on.

The next morning, we caught the same bus in and the bus driver didn't charge us since the day before we'd tried to buy round trip tickets and he hadn't had them, so I was already feeling good about life. And then when we were walking over to Vondelpark and I found a ten euro note on the ground of a deserted street, I felt like things were extra good.

We ended up spending the entire morning at the park, first at the playground and then visiting a cupcake festival going on with a bounce house, face painting, and free cupcakes.

We'd been planning to visit Zaanse Schans with Preethi and Co, but because of our long morning, we didn't have time to make the train (next time! it looks amazing), so we grabbed some lunch and then headed over to the downtown library which was quiet and lovely.

After figuring out the centraal station in preparation for our morning train to Paris the next day, we headed back to our hotel.

In the morning, after our train debacle, we had an uneventful trip down to Paris and successfully got situated in our Paris apartment which was perfect for us (despite being super tiny).

Paris was the point in the trip where Bart and I started saying things to each other like, "What would we do today if we didn't have any kids with us?"

Our girls have been remarkably good on this whole trip, but by the time we got to Paris, they were basically done.

We kept things pretty low-key, stopping at plenty of parks and eating a boatload of pain au chocolat for the next three days.

On Monday morning, we went down to the Louve and wandered around the Tuileries Garden before getting some baguette sandwiches for lunch (followed by one of the best double chocolate cookies any of us had ever had).

We came back from naps and then in the afternoon headed out again, hitting a couple of toy shops down by the Royal Palace.

On our way to the Jewish Quarter, we stopped to let the girls play in a big open area before going to the Jewish Quarter for falafel and then ice cream.

On Tuesday morning, we'd considered going to Versaille (I've never been), but it just seemed too daunting at the moment (can you tell we were getting wimpier every day?) and we ended up picking up some pastries at Le Boulanger des Invalides Jocteur, including a really delicious bichon au citron (like a puff pastry filled with lemon curd and then baked until it's crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside).

We walked over to the park in front of the Eiffel Tower and let the girls play on the playgrounds until they were blue in the face, while we ate our pastries. At one point, Ella knocked my bichon au citron on the ground and I picked it up, dusted off all the sand I could and ate it anyway. I'm not afraid.

We'd planned to go up the Eiffel Tower but the line was so long and Ani was already yawning her face off, so we gave it a pass, picked up a ride on the merry-go-round and called it good (Ani freaked out about the carousel and wouldn't go near it).

Isabel had suggested we visit Deyrolle, which is a store that sells taxidermied animals and you can wander around to your heart's content. Basically a free natural history museum (unless you'd like to purchase a stuffed black bear for 20,000 Euros). Our girls were totally thrilled by it, and so was I, frankly. 

We went to a little Indian restaurant for lunch, then finally made it back for naps. When Ani finally woke up after 5 p.m., we walked down the Champs-Élysées (with a stop in at the Disney Store which was a first for the girls and I think they would have stayed forever), before getting crepes for dinner. We didn't mess around with real crepes - we went straight to the dessert crepes. Mine was pear and salted caramel with vanilla ice cream and it was amazing. 

Wednesday was our last full day in Paris, and we started off with a trip to the Motte-Piquet market which was a bit underwhelming, and then headed to Le Jardin d'Acclimatation, an old-fashioned amusement park on the west side of the city.

The girls were in heaven. 

For Ella, the highlight was a pony ride. We though Ani would want to go too, but she was deathly afraid of the horses and clung to Bart like crazy. 

They both enjoyed a couple of other fair rides (you had to pay individually for each one, so we didn't do many because we are cheapskate parents). 

We grabbed some more baguette sandwiches on our way home (these ones were even better than the ones on Monday - mine was feta, tomato and capers, and I accidentally ate the entire thing in one sitting), then Bart and Ani laid down for naps.

Bart and Ella took a little trip to the park while Ani kept snoozing and I had a quick conference call, then when Ani woke up we finished up our last evening in Paris with a stop at Notre Dame and then our long-awaited cones at Berthillon (yes, before dinner).

We tried to go to dinner at an Italian restaurant that a friend had recommended but it didn't open until 7:30 and the girls were super tired and we ended up just stopping at the grocery store near our apartment and getting a few necessities (juice, chocolate bars, ramen) and eating dinner at home before throwing the girls in bed.

Yesterday morning, we got up early, packed everything up, loaded into a taxi and headed to the station to catch the train to London. I was so eager to get to London and settled in our apartment (I've never looked forward to doing laundry and grocery shopping so much!), but then we got delayed at customs (this was not like catching the train from Amsterdam to Paris where we arrived at the station 11 minutes before departure and had plenty of time to spare), and ended up missing our train.

Happily, they put us on the next one 30 minutes later, so all was not lost.

Two hours later, we pulled into London and I almost cried with relief at being able to read the signs again. I cannot believe how wearing it is to be in a country where you don't know the language.

And then we showed up at the apartment and it actually existed (always a little scary when you've done everything online), and it was even better than we'd hoped. It's big and spacious and has two floors and a rooftop garden.

We unpacked, started the laundry (hellooooooo tiny washing machine that only does half-size loads), and went to the grocery store where my eyes bugged out of my head at how cheap most things were. 27p for a jar of jam? 55p for a bag of dried apricots?

It felt wonderful to load up the fridge and make dinner and then put the girls in bed in a room that isn't ours for the first time in a month.

Oh London, I'm so so happy to be here.

September 18, 2014

10 Books The Whole World Loves But Didn't Do It For Me

You know that thing where you read a book and think "This is garbage" and then go to Goodreads or Amazon to look at other reviews and realize, "Oh, apparently I'm on my own here."

Or the extremely awkward thing where someone recommends a book that is the best book ever and so you read it and you think it is really awful but. . . you have to pretend it was great (or possibly avoid that friend for the rest of your life).

Anyway, here are ten of those books for me, where everyone is constantly recommending them to me and I have to either smile and nod or admit that I couldn't even make it through the whole book.

And they are probably your favorite books in the whole world, so you are welcome to tell me that I am a complete idiot.
  • 50 Shades of Gray. Okay, this one is a joke. I haven't read any of this book (although I laughed my head off at Dave Barry's take on the book - warning that there is some slightly sexual content in his essay, which is to be expected considering the subject matter). I promise the next ten books I've actually read or attempted to read. 
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (the Flavia de Luce series). I know! Everyone loves these books so so much. And I didn't hate it. I just had zero desire to read any after the first one. And it took me about 10 years to get through the first one (in all fairness, I was listening to it, and the problem could have been the narrator). 
  • Out of the Dust. My mom bought this for me right when it won the Newbery and I could barely make it through - the whole thing freaked me out so much. Five years later, someone did a piece from it at a speech and debate tournament, and I almost couldn't even sit through it. It's just too much, too graphic for me. 
  • Jacob Have I Loved. I absolutely love Bridge to Terabithia, so I was super excited about this one. And then it wandered on for ages. I liked the premise, just not the actual book. Too bad. 
  • Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children. I don't even have really bad things to say about this book; I just couldn't get into it and eventually gave it up.  
  • The Night Circus. This book is approximately ten thousand CDs long. Even Jim Dale narrating couldn't save it for me. I got to the end and wasn't entirely sure what had even happened or, frankly, if there had even been a plot. 
  • The Maze Runner. I always hear this one recommended as a great, fun read. But I felt like absolutely nothing happened in the entire book. I don't get the appeal at ALL. 
  • Eat Pray Love. This one is probably in the top spot for bestselling books I could not stand. I wrote more about my distaste for this book here
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I get that it's supposed to be heart-warming and beautiful. But by the end of the book I couldn't stand any of the characters, and I was just relieved it was over. 
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I just went back and re-read the review I wrote of this back in 2009 and it enraged me all over again how STUPID this book is. I don't feel only contempt or apathy toward this book, I feel actual rage over how bad it is. Even after five years. 
  • We Were Liars. I wanted to love this one. I love The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks more than is normal, and I was thrilled to see another book from her, but. . .this was not the book I was hoping for. I never got into it, and it was one step above a slog for me. (By the way, lots of people who didn't like this book disliked it because they guessed the twist. I did not, and I still thought it was lame). 
I also hate Nutella (I know. It's practically a crime, but I try it about once a year to see if I've changed my mind and every time it basically burns my mouth with its chemically taste), so feel free to think I have the worst taste in everything ever. 

(Feel free to tell me about the popular or beloved books you couldn't handle - we can all enjoy our bad taste in books together). 

September 17, 2014

5 Maternity Wardrobe Staples

Hauling our stuff all over Europe for a month before settling in London meant packing as lightly as possible, which meant I couldn't really afford to bring things I was going to grow out of in a flash (when we got to Paris, we just took a taxi to our apartment, because the idea of hauling all of our stuff through the metro was just so far from feasible).

So obviously, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what maternity clothing I wanted to pack that would last me from about 15 weeks to 32 weeks. I teamed up with Old Navy (my go-to location for maternity clothing) to share some of my favorite items to get you through pregnancy. 

Here are the five things I can't live without (even when I'm not living out of a suitcase). Expect to see lots of them over the next few months, both here and on Instagram.

1. Maternity Jeans.

I feel like I'm always hearing people say "oh, I just do that rubber band trick for most of my pregnancy." Just buy the maternity pants. I promise, your life will be better. I'm the world's biggest believer in maternity pants - it's way more comfortable and flattering to wear pants made to accommodate a baby belly than pretending you're still the same size you were when you weren't growing a human.

I bought a pair from Old Navy when I was pregnant with Ani and wore them about three times a week for about four months. Worth every penny (which, wasn't much, because they cost about $15).

I can't lie - one of the things I'm most excited about when I get back to North Carolina is getting out those jeans. I debated packing them, but since I wasn't pregnant yet when we left the East Coast, I was worried I'd end up hauling them all over the world for eight months and come home all of six weeks pregnant. I'm only regretting this on a daily basis. My most worn pants right now are the black Rockstar maternity jeggings.

2. Black Shirt
I love a black shirt all the time, but I especially love them when I'm pregnant. I bought a couple from Shade last time around, but they've gone out of business (RIP!). This one is super similar - I love the elbow-length sleeves and the scoop neck. It looks great with a skirt or jeans or pajama pants (and let's be honest - I wear it the most with my pajamas because I get in my pajamas at approximately 7:05 p.m. every night).

3. Pencil Skirt

I packed no shorts for Europe (partially because I didn't think I'd need them and partially because I didn't have any pregnancy shorts), which means that when it's hot, which it's been in Paris, I'm all about the stretchy pencil skirt. I have a non-maternity one in a size up and a maternity one (both of them are striped because I basically like what I like).

Last pregnancy, I loved the a-line skirt (and I have one of those packed in my suitcase this time too), but this time I've really embraced the clean lines of the pencil skirt. Nice to have something skinny when your waist isn't that something. Plus, it's so easy to dress up with heels and some jewelry or down with a tee and sneakers.

4. Dress
Once I have my babies and start nursing, the dress thing is basically out the window for me, so I am a dress-wearing fiend when I'm pregnant. This one is killing it for me this time. I've worn it to church and for other dressy things, but I wore it this week with my converse sneakers and denim jacket while we were walking around Paris.

5. Lounge Pants
Last time around, I remember my pajamas pants getting more and more uncomfortable (eventually I couldn't even get them over my hips), and I made do with a pair of two-sizes too-big hand-me-downs that were so unbelievably unflattering. This time, I immediately ordered a pair of maternity lounge pants so I wouldn't spend half of my life feeling completely frumpy. 

I LOVE these pants. They are the perfect weight (on the thinner side, which is perfect because I'm always warm when I'm pregnant and I'm a SUPER hot sleeper), the right mix of structured and lounge-y, and black. Yes, you may have noticed that I love the color black all the time, and then times 10000 when I'm pregnant.

And also, how lucky am I that when I'm 34 weeks pregnant, I'll get to basically get a whole new maternity wardrobe (aka, all the things sitting in my garage from my past two pregnancies)? It's going to be like a second Christmas. And if I've eaten too many pastries and none of it fits me, there will be lots of tears. 


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