Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Better than an Egg McMuffin...

and just as fast!

Here's a quick and easy recipe for Caroline's Egg and Salami Sandwich which I just discovered and finished eating right now:

One egg
2 thin slices of Danish salami (or whatever you have access to)
Cantal cheese, cut into small pieces or slivers (or substitute your favorite cheese)
Two pieces of sliced bread (I used whole wheat)
Oil or butter
No salt or pepper (enough flavor from the salami and cheese)

Fry the egg in a little oil or butter. Set aside.
Use same pan to fry salami briefly. Set aside.
Use same pan (and same grease) as you set down a slice of bread and put some cheese on top. You may need to turn your heat down if you've had it on high as I have. Layer on your salami, then egg. Top off with another slice of bread. Once that bottom piece of bread has been browned, remove it, add a little oil or butter to the pan (because the pan should be dry now), and flip over sandwich to brown other side. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Hanging in there

Last Tuesday Maylin was sick but I caught a flu the following day (fortunately, Maylin was well already!). I can't believe how many days I've been confined to my bed this month. I'm hoping February will be a healthier time. It does seem to be finally warming up after a cold spell within this mildest of mild winters.

I hope to be back with some interesting postings after I'm back to my normal self. Keep warm!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bargain used-clothing shops in Paris

I have not visited all these shops yet, so I can't give you the most complete advice yet. I will update this posting after I've had my fill of bargain hunting in Paris.

My impression is that most people are unaware of the existence of these stores. But I think it's worth a peek. You never know what treasure you may find in all that junk.


Strolling down Avenue de Clichy in the seventeenth arrondissement, armed with some addresses off the internet, I found two or three Guerrisols. They each sell used clothing (beware, some looked very used, well-worn) at 1, 3, 5, 10 euros, and some special items for more. I found a lucky pair of purplish and stylish synthetic snakeskin boots in excellent condition for only 5 euros. Oh yeah. If you want boots, they've got millions of pairs! I don't know where they came from! The store at 19 Avenue de Clichy is large. Clothing didn't look too great to me. There were supposed to be some more Guerrisols at 29 and 31 Avenue de Clichy, but I didn't see them. I kept walking and found the last Guerrisol on the street after the 50's. That one's not really worth going into -- very small and I think has mostly men's clothing, except for the frumpy polyester dresses in the back.

Avenue de Clichy has many inexpensive clothing stores -- one side of the avenue seems reserved for men's clothing mainly. Start walking from the metro stop at Place de Clichy.

After exploring the Pigalle area, I discovered another Guerrisol which I haven't seen anywhere on the internet. It's at Place de Rochechouart, the intersection of Boulevard Rochechouart and Rue de Rochechouart. This is probably the biggest Guerrisol, with a mind-boggling amount of denim (including Levi's) and more boots. They had a scary bin of weary aprons and another with very sad children's wear, but if you're looking for coats, there are plenty upstairs. Same prices as the other stores. Closest metro is Barbes Rochechouart (18th arrondissement).

Supposedly, there's another Guerrisol at 7 rue Marx Dormoy in the 18th arrondissement near metro La Chapelle, next to a pawn shop. Haven't checked it out yet to see if it's still in existence.

I believe the Guerrisols are open Monday to Saturday, 10 to 7.


From what I've read, Guerrida is the trendier, more expensive sister store of Guerrisol. I'll check it out soon.

47 avenue de l'Opéra
Second arrondissement
Métro Opéra
01 44 56 00 73

Used coats in the Marais (4th arrondissement)

I haven't been to this place yet -- don't even know the name or address. Can't find it online. I just know there is a used clothing store that has mostly coats priced at ten euros. The street: Croix de la Bretonnerie. Metro: Hotel de Ville.

Fondation d'Auteuil

This place is supposed to have the good stuff. I haven't been there yet but have heard and read good things. It's in the 16th arrondissement, where many affluent Parisians reside, so you might luck out and get some designer item for three or five euros. They're only open Monday to Friday, 2:30 to 6, and the first Saturday of the month from September to mid-July. Closed in August. Get there before 2:30 to get the best pick. (40 rue La Fontaine, metro Jasmin)

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Sunday with Mommy

Maylin with popsicle
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Maylin and I had a wonderful time this past Sunday. In the morning, we climbed the 50-100 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Nice sunny day! Afterwards, we headed over to Ave. Wagram for a McDonald's Happy Meal. Then we hopped on the metro to the zoo -- the Menagerie at Jardin des Plantes. Maylin was eager to find lions and tigers but, unfortunately, the big cat section was under renovation. We did see a rather sleepy spotted Chinese panther. The other animals were quite lively. We saw two young yaks sparring -- jumping and throwing their horns at each other. Two other goats did the same, but looked more hesitant. One camel tried to lure his partner out of their shelter. One ostrich tried to get away from another's unwanted advances. The animal visit was followed by a romp in the playground just outside the menagerie and a huge gaufre (waffle) covered with confectioner's sugar. Several passersby could not help looking at this little girl delicately gnoshing on her large dessert. More pictures on my flickr site.

Mutant gingerbread man with attitude

This will be the first softie to escape the Armitage household! I will miss him terribly because he was stitched with much love, but he has inspired me to do more handsewing projects. Go to my flickr site to view Wacky Wabbit, another recent addition who was commissioned by Maylin as a gift for some future baby sister (will her wish for a baby sister be granted?).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

In remembrance

Philippe Noiret (1930-2006)

One of my favorite actors, French, who portrayed the memorable characters of Alfredo from "Cinema Paradiso" and Pablo Nerudo from "Il Postino," passed away last November.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (1954-2006)

My all-time favorite mezzo-soprano succumbed to cancer at the age of 52 last July. I was fortunate enough to be in a Berkeley Symphony concert with her in 1995. I said "hello" to her in the restroom where she was warming up. Divine voice, emotionally engaging, consummate artist and musician, superb acting skills -- she had it all. Great bio: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Bio/Hunt-Lorraine.htm

Andrew Martinez (a.k.a. The Naked Guy) (1972-2006)

World-renowned as the U.C. Berkeley student who bared all on campus while I was studying there, he died at the age of 33 last May. He was supposedly a very warm individual, and a math whiz. I saw him on Sproul Plaza near Telegraph one time wearing just sandals and a backpack, with an incredible Greek god-physique. I was too shy to say a word.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Roasted red pepper soup recipe (explicit version)

If you've gone to my older post to try my simple roasted red pepper soup recipe, I hope you've found the recipe super-easy and the soup really out of this world. If not, here's a more explicit version of the recipe so you can't go wrong. But you must follow this as precisely as possible. Some friends who have tasted my soup went to my blog and achieved a less than stellar result when they followed their own roasting process -- sorry, it's not the same any other way than mine. Not sure why. Probably because the flesh of the pepper is in contact with the pan and gets charred, not just the skins. More caramelization is a good thing. Means more flavor intensity.

Roasted red pepper soup (serves only 3 -- multiply recipe as necessary)

4 red bell peppers
4 tablespoons of extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
1.5-1.75 cups of chicken stock (I used Maggi bouillon cubes, this one named "poule au pot")
1-2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground pepper (please don't use pre-ground pepper, I beg you)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Cover a large cookie sheet or roasting pan with aluminum foil. Cut open red peppers and remove rib (white stuff inside) and seeds. Slice into approximately 1/3-inch strips. Throw into a medium-sized bowl, add olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss evenly. Spread pepper slices evenly on sheet or pan (try to have only one layer). Place in oven, middle rack, and leave for about 40 minutes, until completely wilted and some caramelizing, followed by charring, has occurred (the peppers should be slightly blackened on the edges and where they're sticking a little bit to the pan). It is important that the peppers be as limp as wet noodles and about half to three-quarters the size of when they started out. Check for limpness at 30 minutes and shift around. Keep an even layer (If you multiply this recipe, you'll find you'll have to roast in batches -- only about 4 peppers will fit in a small oven like mine without too much overlap in the peppers.)

Heat up stock in small saucepan (you can do this while the peppers are cooking). In about three small batches, remove peppers from pan and puree in a blender. After each batch, pour into soup pot. Whisk in the hot chicken stock, about a half cup at a time. Be conservative. The worst thing is to add too much. Check for desired consistency by letting it fall off a wooden spoon and by tasting. This is NOT a thin, watery soup, but it shouldn't be too thick and paste-y either. If you add too much, like I did one time, you can correct it by bringing it to a boil and evaporating the extra liquid at a simmer.

And actually, if you simmer the soup for half an hour to an hour, the little pieces of skin soften so much they are no longer noticeable. So, simmer if you have the time and want a more evenly textured soup.

You should always taste your soup at different stages to see if it's necessary to add more salt or pepper. If I could lend you my tongue, I would (don't take that the wrong way).

If you want to be fancy, after spooning into bowls, add a few drops of olive oil in the center and a bit of very finely chopped chives (the common ones which are fine and tubular -- not garlic chives which are flat and wider).

Hope you find some success with this recipe. Please let me know how it goes for you.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Strange aversion to "les soldes"

Okay, I'm up again in the wee hours. Can't seem to get out of the habit of waking up at 2:30 am to get stuff done. (Got a lot done already.) Is this twisted or what?

The big sales ("les soldes") in Paris have begun! These happen twice a year -- once in the winter, once in the summer. Yesterday, the first day, and probably biggest day, of the sales, I actually happened to be in the Opera area where some of the grands magasins (department stores) can be found. I didn't have the intention to shop (more about that weirdness later) but was just taking Maylin with me (no school Wednesdays) to the bank to pick up my new checkbook. [Note: In French, "sales" means "dirty." Add an accent to the "e" and you've got "salty"!]

We had to wait a very long time at the bank and afterwards, I just knew Maylin would have no inclination to go shopping. She wanted to go straight home -- no need to argue with my little Scorpio, unless I want a temper tantrum on my hands. Maylin was just set on having a croissant. I forgot I could have gotten one at Galleries Lafayette (one huge department store) because they have a gourmet food section. I was just thinking that there couldn't be any neighborhood bakeries around this very commercial area. So we headed home. Though we never stepped inside any of the stores, it was apparent from the street that there were mobs of crazed shoppers everywhere. At 11 am, I thought that SOME of these people must have taken the day off for the sales. A couple of Eastern European expats at the bank took out about 2500 euros (I couldn't help watching the cash being counted), and I knew they were on a shopping spree, and already ran out of cash after one trip to Printemps (another department store) -- I saw their bags.

That was especially frightening to me because for some strange reason, I don't feel like shopping anymore. Oh, that's a good thing for sure, but think about it. I'm a young woman living in Paris. And everything is up to 50% off (later, it'll be 70%)! What's wrong with me? This is the time to step into the stores I would never dream of entering outside of les soldes. A couple of months ago, I was already looking forward to this! I even held back my consumption in anticipation of the sales.

After the Christmas shopping, which was primarily for Maylin (don't tell her -- she thinks Santa brought everything), I did kind of make a deal to myself that I wouldn't spend money on anything that I didn't absolutely need. Which means, no browsing. And actually, I haven't browsed in ages -- I don't feel like I have the time for it. I'll only shop when I know exactly what I'm looking for. I'm consciously taking a step back from our consumptive culture (French and American). I feel happier giving away my old stuff, or lending it.

A good friend and I made a big exchange of stuff the other day and I realized -- wouldn't it be cool if everyone did this? I let you borrow some baby toys and CDs, and you let me borrow your videos and books. If there was some organized exchange like this among a large group of people, there would be little need to buy anything. Why do we need so much stuff anyway?

It used to make me feel good if I bought myself something. I couldn't end a shopping trip empty-handed. I accumulated lots of stuff -- mostly books and CDs. Many books I didn't read, many CDs I ended up giving away.

Now, I only feel good about shopping if I've made an excellent deal or if I found exactly what I needed. Otherwise, I think I do feel a little guilt about spending the money.

John and I have definitely made a conscious effort to streamline our lives. Simplify, as they say. We go through a regular purge of our belongings. There's always something that you don't need anymore. In the States, we'd call Salvation Army once a month to come pick up our donations. Door-to-door pick-up makes it really easy. I haven't found a place to dump stuff, but there are organizations that do drop by the building every three months or so to rescue discarded clothing.

I read in the latest New York Times magazine (I wish I had a subscription) about Freecycle, a Web-based movement that enables people to unload their unwanted items or acquire someone else's. This is perfect. It's just what I've been looking for. But does it exist in Paris? If not, I hope someone will organize a group. I hope I don't have to be that someone.

It's almost 4:30 am, and the birds are just starting their morning singing. It's so beautiful and calming. I might actually be able to fall back asleep now.

*Addendum added 6:55 pm:
Just noticed in our lobby that there is a collection (next Wednesday in our building) of used goods, including clothing, toys, shoes, bags, and linens, by Recyclaid which distributes reusable items and turns items that are too damaged into rags, etc., or donates them to artists use in their projects. More info in English at this link: http://www.recyclaid.org/en/

Monday, January 08, 2007

Photos from holiday trip now online!

John in Heidelberg
Originally uploaded by Caroline in Paris.
Check out the photos from our trip to Verdun, Strasbourg, and Heidelberg (Dec. 27-30). I may add some other shots later but I'm not too excited about them -- I left the lens I should have used in the car! Bummer.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

You are what you eat

I don't know why but I've been eating pig like a pig as of late. When we were in a little town just south of Strasbourg before New Year's, we went to a restaurant where I was eager to try the "cochon," not "porc," which was advertised as having been fed on just milk and bread. I know most pigs don't get it that good so this had to have been a happy pig. And happy animals always make better meat, right? When Monsieur Cochon arrived at my table, I was shocked to see that this was the biggest chop I had ever seen! It was nearly the size of a T-bone steak. Really thick, really juicy, and still had its fantastic skin attached (I'm a big fan of skin). I know that grosses some people out, but this is high-quality fat here! I'm not going to let it go to waste!

The chop was expertly grilled. I had to salt it a little, but some chefs in France these days like to leave the salting part to the customer. Okay by me. The flavor of this pork was unlike any other chop I've had. Full, mellow -- the best. It's all in the fat, baby.

The next day, in Strasbourg, we feasted on choucroute by the cathedral. John ordered the "choucroute formidable" and I ordered the slighter smaller version. I had five sorts of hams and sausages along with a huge mound of perfect sauerkraut (slow-cooked in Riesling wine!). John had eight kinds, and I had to have some of his ham hock, which included its fat and skin. Yum.

In Heidelberg, we had more sausages for lunch, and dinner for me was roast pork and dumplings (nothing tops German roast pork). I don't know why I didn't try John's wild boar roast. That's pig, too.

Last night, I had the pork chop at the Japanese place (see previous posting).

So, what's all this leading to? Well, remember all that fat and skin I ingested? It has nicely placed itself around my lovely waist! I would make a nice little chop. It's frightening that I'm looking so pudgy even though I'm still at my goal weight. So...it's off to the gym tomorrow! I'm finally getting back into the routine after being out of it for 3-4 crazy holiday weeks? Eek.

Restaurant review: Kunitoraya

Yeah, it's about 3:40 in the morning and I'm nuts to be on the internet, but I still have this problem of not being able to go back to sleep if I wake up after 2 am. So here I am, eager to tell you about the best Japanese udon place in Paris!

The rez-de-chausee (main floor) seats about 10 people (a little bar along the window, and another little bar along the kitchen -- that's where I'm sitting next time when I go for lunch!) so it doesn't look like much when you go in. What drew me in? Well, I was specifically looking for udon noodle soup for Maylin and was disappointed to find on most posted restaurant menus that the norm was ramen! I saw Kunitoraya with its Japanese clientele slurping up udon and its nice lighting and interior (Higuma on the other side of the street, a little ways down, seems to favor flourescent lighting -- not my preference for any situation).

We were led downstairs and were seated next to a young Japanese family who was starting off with a dish that I had seen two other tables eating, too. I found out later that it was Odenmori, a small plate of fish cake (you wouldn't recognize it unless you've been served a home-cooked Japanese meal before), hard-boiled eggs (cooked in soy sauce, I assume), and some unrecognizable sauteed veggies. Everyone chose this as an appetizer although it wasn't advertised as an appetizer -- just buried in the menu. After, the Japanese customers ordered the udon -- some chose this tender noodle in hot soup, others chose cold.

I ordered the tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet, 8,5 euros) and assumed it came with rice. I was wrong -- I ordered a little bowl (2,5 euros) and ended up eating my dinner before John and Maylin's udon arrived since they served it as an appetizer. Every restaurant has its little quirk and now I've just learned it. By the way, the tonkatsu was delicious.

Maylin couldn't get enough of her udon soup (8,5 euros) -- an incredible flavor! But it was my unfortunate job to pick out all the teeny-tiny pieces of mini-scallion and seaweed (green and black stuff) for my picky four year-old. The noodles were really amazing. I often buy the instant udon which actually isn't bad and I think is usually served in restaurants (especially in the U.S.) -- horrible thought, I realize now. But these udon had the taste and consistency of fresh! Unbelievable!

John had the tempura udon (12 euros) which had the same stock, with one piece of shrimp tempura. Seemed a little skimpy to me, but the taste and quality is well worth the price.

The service is very good with young Japanese girls everywhere to serve you (yes, in this restaurant, every employee is Japanese -- I know because they all tried speaking to me in Japanese and I don't look Japanese!).

The ambience is great -- nice, soft lighting, and feels like a comfy cave (check out the rustic stone walls). It got a little hot with my neighbor who was sweating profusely and wiping his face with napkins which got stuck to his stubble in little bits (our comic relief). It was fine for me though and I was wearing a light sweater.

If you want incredible udon, this is the place. For rice dishes, I might recommend Naniwa-ya, at 11 rue Sainte Anne, a couple of blocks away. They are cheaper -- a popular haunt for budget-conscious students and Japanese clients longing for a good curry over rice.

Kunitoraya happens to have its own website, www.kunitoraya.com (available in Japanese and French), where I learned it has a sister restaurant in Japan. On the site, you can see the entire menu. You read it, I'll eat it!

[Note: No sushi or sashimi here.]

39, rue Saint-Anne
75001 Paris

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Gimme five, John!

As of New Year's Eve, John and I have been married for five years. We didn't give each other presents (as usual) but it's nice that we always have a party to go to! Have to give my brother credit for suggesting December 31 for our wedding date. The intention was to eliminate any possibility that John would forget our anniversary. Not that we do anything really special on our own -- doesn't matter to me. Just happy to be together.

Looking back on our relationship, I realize that it's just gotten better and better for me throughout the years. The growth of our relationship is definitely correlated with my own personal growth. In the beginning, I was a lost soul, not knowing what to do with my life, not knowing what was really important to me, doing what I thought was expected of me, doing what I thought would make other people happy. That was pretty much my twenties. You can imagine I wasn't that happy. I would blame my unhappiness on John and feel resentment towards him because he was always doing what he wanted to do while I had tied my own hands behind my back. And in our relationship, I was not strong because I was not strong for myself. I was very subservient -- did everything I could to please him, sacrificing my own needs. He never asked this of me -- it's just what I thought I was supposed to do in a marriage.

Over time, I found my own voice -- made my needs known to him. They used to come out once-a-month, corresponding with my PMS. I would just blow up and complain about everything that had been bugging me for the last three to four weeks, John would calm me down, we'd try to make a plan, and John would promise to follow it. A couple of times, I resorted to letter-writing because I was actually too embarrassed to make my demands of him. Now, I do it normally. Gentle reminders once in awhile -- such as, "We haven't had our daily fifteen minutes of talking for awhile," or "We really need to do something as a family," or "Why are you still spending hours on the internet reading about the Ohio State Buckeyes? It's not football season!" (that was in the spring and summer).

The last two years I have been so happy inside my own skin. Which is probably why I've also been so happy in my marriage. I speak out (without sounding naggy), never take a back seat when something is important to me, and not feel guilty when I'm doing something for myself that doesn't involve John or Maylin.

I've also given up on having unrealistic expectations of John. I don't get mad at him for not cleaning the toilet or the shower because I know those are clearly unpleasant tasks for him. It's just one of those battles I'm not going to pick. When he cleans the kitchen, I consider it a gift instead of an insult when he doesn't. And I don't expect him to read my mind. When preparing for company coming over during the hour countdown, instead of letting him pick up around the house his way, I spell out my needs. Please vacuum these rooms, please wipe down the tables, etc. I'm fortunate that John is always happy to help. I just have to tell him what to do. Women, don't forget this: men do not read minds, no matter how hard you try to send those telepathic messages. Also, show thanks when he gets things done for you. Don't take anything for granted. He should be doing the same for you.

I appreciate John now more than ever. Before, I was blinded by resentment, but now I can appreciate him for all the wonderful things he is. Super-understanding, sensitive to my moods, always willing to help, calm and calming, rarely angry, and values the balance between work and family. It doesn't end there, but those qualities are the most valuable to me. Happy Anniversary to us!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Shoe cobbler gets defensive

Last month, John asked if I could get the toes of his black sneakers restitched because the threads had broken. A totally cosmetic and easy repair -- two parallel lines of regular white thread. I knew I had walked passed a "cordonnerie," a shoe repair shop, in the neighborhood, but couldn't remember exactly where it was located. Found it in the French Yellow Pages, pagesjaunes.com, and visited it, an old-fashioned place, just a block away. Okay, simple job. Six euros, ready in five days. No problem. I finally had time to pick it up today.

Got a smile from the same employee to whom I had dropped off the shoes, but didn't get one from who I believe is the owner of the shop. This owner got the shoes out for me and showed me the work, which I thought was TERRIBLE. One shoe was passable, though the thread was too thick, the color was a little off, and several of the stitches were gone over twice, making it look really sloppy. The other shoe was worse. The two little lines that were supposed to run along each other parallel around the toe diverged in a very obvious way. I pointed this out, said my husband probably wouldn't be happy, and the guy got so defensive he actually started raising his voice at me, the customer! I didn't have the right vocabulary to complain properly -- I did my best and did retain my calm voice, but by the end, this cobbler was practically yelling at me. He said that's the best he could do, when obviously he did do better on the other shoe. Normally, I would get hot around the collar, but I stayed cool, paid the measly six euros, and left. Was that a look of sadness from the other employee? He knew I wasn't ever coming back again.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Bestest Mommy

This morning, Maylin said I was the "bestest mommy in the whole world." I didn't even do anything. I had just woken up. In the afternoon, I became a "bad mommy" when I tried to enforce the rule of equal decks before starting a card game (she was dealing). In the evening after playing "pirates" with her, I regained my first title. Ah, I'm glad her day ended on a positive note. But where in the world did she ever learn that phrase? I mean, the more positive one. I asked her and she said she taught it to herself. What a bright girl.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Bonne Annee, Bonne Sante! "Bonne sante," or "good health," unfortunately did not accompany me into the new year. I had a wonderful New Year's Eve at a friend's home -- a delicious dinner of "gigot d'agneau" (leg of lamb) which I'll have to try to cook sometime myself, and great company, but awoke the next morning with not a hangover, but some sort of a flu. Weak, tired, and feverish (though I refused to admit it), I finally crawled out of bed at 5 pm on New Year's Day. Yesterday, a little bit better, today, still tired but definitely more energy, and I imagine tomorrow I should be close to back to normal if I can get a good night's sleep.

Between Christmas and New Year's, we took a quick trip to Strasbourg, a delightful Alsatian town which is famous for its cathedral and Christmas market. It was very cold and Maylin was tired and in a foul mood, so I was only able to see the cathedral and watch its fantastic astronomical clock in action at 12:30 pm (long lines already at 11:45 am, when the ticket booth just opens, but the wait and the one euro per person fee is worth it just to see the robotic rooster flap its wings, tilt its head back, and "cockle-doodle-doo" ("coco-rico" in French) quite realistically three separate times). I kind of tricked Maylin into walking through the Christmas market just outside the cathedral, making her think we were on the way to the car (she wanted to go back to the hotel immediately after lunch). Nice market, but perhaps overrated. I've seen both Christmas markets in Munich and Prague, and really, they're all pretty much the same, in my opinion. If you've never been to one before, go for it. You'll get your fill of cute Christmas ornaments, scented candles, handmade jewelry, inexpensive stuffed animals made in China, cool, animated tin toys, handcarved toys, spiced breads and cookies, etc., etc. But if you've seen one, I believe you've seen them all. Of course, if you can never get enough "gluwein" (hot, spiced wine), maybe you should hang out there for awhile and keep warm.

We went to Heidelberg, Germany, the next day, because Germany in the winter really feels like Christmas to me. I was in Munich during the winter of 2000, and fell in love with the combination of cold, snow, Christmas lights, decorations, hot, crisp, potato pancakes served with applesauce, and the best sausage sandwiches ever (this tasty food available on the street for hardly any money). I was delighted with Heidelberg's amazing castle ruins at the top of the hill and the amazing sights from the castle and from below looking up. But this trip to Germany was surprisingly American to me because once we crossed the border into Germany, we saw a Wal-Mart (first one I've seen in Europe), in Heidelberg, I saw a Woolworth's (I made regular visits to this store with my mom in Minnesota!), and everyone working the ticket booths or in the restaurants was speaking English! Every other tourist at the castle and near the cathedral (adjacent shopping lanes) was American! (Oops, I've exhausted my exclamation point quota already.) I should have felt like I fit in just fine with them, right? Nope, they felt like foreigners to me. Have I been in France too long?

I really should rest since I'm fighting the tail-end of this flu, or whatever it is, so I'll sign off now. But I'm excited to report to you next about Maylin and what she thought of her Christmas presents from Santa!