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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

I was in the US recently taking on some new work. Two things really struck me about being back in the US. The first was ERMAHGAWD, WINTER. Apparently I forgot what that felt like. The second thing was how the political atmosphere had changed. Marriage equality, healthcare, guns. It’s all happening. I submit this picture I took while entering the office as evidence.

Dear America, don't bring your guns to work

Dear America, don’t bring your guns to work

So strange to see these signs around, and even stranger that other people didn’t think they were strange. Or maybe 3+ years abroad has made me the strange one. Now there’s a philosophical question for you.

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It’s the monsoon season here, or as some like to call it, “winter.”

Although the temperature hasn’t dropped that much, there is a sense of coolness associated with the monsoon. The sun blazes down on you less frequently and I swear I actually got a chill from under my umbrella the other day.

The rain gets heavy and usually happens in the late afternoons. I’ve been told this will go on through January.

Other than having to run outside to tear down the washing from the line, I think the rain is quite pleasant. Afterall it doesn’t happen all day long. For those that love the sun, there’s always a few hours of it a day to soak up.

Watching the rain from the patio.

Watching the rain from the patio.

The problem that I’m having is mold. With 100% humidity, it seems to creep up everywhere.

The furniture, the Blackberry holder, even the robe hanging in the bathroom! It doesn’t take long and it appears. I spread humidity absorbent containers around and have carefully treated the furniture. It’s just too pervasive. It’s everywhere. I’m scared of where I will find it next, some forgotten container smothered to death by the furry stuff.

The other day I found some on my Vivienne Westwood skyscraper heels. You don’t mess with a girl’s shoes. This is officially war.

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When your living abroad, traveling back to your home country for Christmas can seem like a whole lot of work. It’s not just the trans-Atlantic flight or the juggling of  family and family politics when you get there, it’s also that you are trying to do it at the most hectic time of year when expectations are really high. Sometimes it seems like a better return on your investment (price of tickets, time off work, etc) to see your family when things are less busy and there’s less pressure to squeeze so much in. Although, I’m sure my mother disagrees.

That’s why this year Husband and I opted out. Instead of heading to the States, we headed to Normandy to stay with Suse in her picturesque converted barn in the countryside. Since we were already going through the trouble of crossing the channel to France, I figured we might as well throw in some time in the Champagne region.

Visions of hopping from winery to winery tasting champagne replaced sugarplum fairies in my head. Unfortunately, since it was winter, bicycling the Champagne Route and ending up in Epernay turned out to be a damp, cold and unpleasant option. So instead of hopping on a bicycle, we parked ourselves in Reims to check out a few of the wineries there.

While in Reims, we toured the Taittinger and Pommery caves, two Champagne houses with two completely different approaches to their tours. Both included tastings at the end, but Taittinger took a grown up, classy and clear approach to explaining their process while Pommery made an odd attempt at turning their cellars into an art gallery. The Pommery tour came off a bit Disney-fied and frankly, weird. But there was still Champagne at the end so I can’t say it was bad.

Champagne fermenting in bottles at Taittinger.

I'll take them all, thanks.

I'll take these too, thanks.

The entire experience was very interesting historically. The caves of Reims, many of which have been there since they were carved out of the chalk subsoil by Roman slaves, have housed everything from monks, to refugees of World War II. You can even glimpse ancient carvings that have been made into the walls.

Wall carvings in Taittinger caves.

Wall carvings in Taittinger caves.

The tasting.

Other highlights in Reims include the Brasserie du Boulingrin, a traditional brasserie opened in 1925, and the Cathédrale Notre Dame, a beautiful gothic piece of architecture whose history goes back to either 400 AD or 1211 AD, depending on how you look at it, and includes Joan of Arc and the decapitation of Saint Nicaise. I have no photographic evidence of the hedonism we experienced at the Brasserie du Boulingrin, however, I can tell you that the highlight of the meal was the chocolate souffle dessert paired with a lovely serving of Calvados. Just thinking about it makes me melt into my chair. As far as the Cathedral goes, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Notre-Dame de Reims

Notre-Dame de Reims

Notre-Dame de Reims

Notre-Dame de Reims

Depiction of the decapitation of Saint Nicaise

Rose Window, Notre-Dame de Reims

Rose Window, Notre-Dame de Reims

Post WWII stained glass windows.

A return to the Champagne region is certainly on my list. However, next time there will be sunshine. And bicycles.

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I always thought December was winter. White Christmases, pine trees, cold weather. If I would have thought about it, I might have logically matched up the changing seasons with the appointed dates and realized that winter doesn’t start until late December (December 22nd this year to be exact.) Or maybe I would have noticed the bright colored leaves crunching under my bike wheels and feet and known that it was autumn. In Texas, you can’t expect to align with the rest of the world’s ideas of a proper calendar so you just don’t try.

This is all part of the experience of living my first autumn/winter. It’s cold, y’all. And not in a “Oh I can’t go outside” kind of way. Just in a “It’s annoying to go outside” kind of way. The sun is scheduled to set at 3:50 pm. 3:50 PM! That’s still considered afternoon! Google kindly reminds me that is only 3 hours and 50 minutes from when I’m typing this and that sends a sense of panic up my spine. I can’t function under these ridiculous time constraints.

At work I get confused. I don’t know whether to answer the phone “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” I find myself jumbling them up, saying good evening in the afternoon and good afternoon in the morning. I catch myself midway through the greeting and what comes out sounds more like “good moraghdernoon,” to which the client replies “Uh…. hello?”

Please excuse me while I adjust to the existence of seasons.

We’ve installed special lightbulbs in our house to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder. I hope they start working soon.

The sun doesn’t seem to be travelling through the sky. It’s advising me to do the same, to stay close to home where things are safe. The low light filtered through the orange brown leaves and a foggy urban haze cause the entire cityscape to take on a dusky glow. Beautiful? Yes, but something else I can’t place my finger on too.

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This is the time of the year when the Texas Highway Department forgoes all mowing and the roadsides become covered with fields of bluebonnets. The long car rides between Texas cities don’t seem so dreary anymore. You have more to look forward to than a kolache at the Czech Stop in the small town of West.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons you see cars of couples, families and friends with their children and dogs pull over to the highway shoulder and begin snapping away with their camera. Everyone who grew up in Texas has pictures of themselves in a field of bluebonnets somewhere. If they say they don’t, they are lying. Or maybe an orphan.

I remember the year it rained continuously and the next spring was a shocking blast of early blue blooms. Standing in front of the sea of blue, sunshine warm, weather still cool enough, it’s hard to think of things that could make you happier. Probably because it’s hard to think of anything else at all.

It’s a symbol that the days are fleeting. The short but gruff winter is over and there is a promise of halcyon outdoor days  before the brutal summer turns water side activity into a necessity. Winter and the corresponding Seasonal Affective Disorder is now so far away. All things are right again in Texas.

 

Texas summer survival.

“My fervent hope is that our homes, roadsides, parks – both community and industrial – and public spaces will provide a home for our wildflowers and other native plants where they can provide economic benefits and add to the eye and spirit of their beholders.” – Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson, picture not mine.

That’s former first lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson. She’s a Texas hero of mine. I image if there was an afterlife that her and former Texas governor Ann Richards would be hanging out swapping stories of Texas politics and having a damn good time.

 

The incredible Ann Richards. Picture also not mine.

Lady Bird was responsible for the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. It’s intent was to control outdoor advertising and junk on the side of the road. It was met with a lot of opposition. Today Texas roadsides are obviously a compromise but it is a sight when the bluebonnets come out.

I was bummed when I realized I was going to miss out on the wildflowers this year. This was before I knew about the daffodils. I was walking through Green Park one day and all of a sudden they were there. Little yellow buds telling me  winter was nearly over. Now the daffodils are everywhere. People stop in the park to have their photos taken with their friends, families, children and dogs.

 

Daffodil Portraiture, Exhibit A

Daffodil Portraiture, Exhibit B

It’s even more stunning when nobody warns you that they are coming, they just appear. It’s a symbol that the days are fleeting. The long and gray winter with it’s cabin fever, roast dinners and endless cup of teas is coming to an end. There is a promise of a short but halcyon summer surrounded by a cool fall and spring. All things are right again in London.

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