Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas in Las Cruces

We spent our Christmas this year in Las Cruces, NM with Charlie's parents and our sister in law Cassi. It was a fun couple of days and we were glad to be able to go. Charlie took a half day at work on Tuesday and we drove to Scottsdale, then drove the rest of the way on Wednesday.
For Christmas Eve we had posole and tamales for dinner and Charlie set up all the luminarias in the yard. Those are some of the Wood family Christmas traditions that come from living in New Mexico. Isaac opened up his new Christmas pajamas and we read the Christmas story form the Bible and watched a short video of the nativity.

Isaac in his Christmas pajamas with Grandpa Wood

We started out Christmas morning by opening all of our presents. Isaac had fun tearing the paper off of his first gift, but after he saw what was inside (a little train he can ride on) he didn't care about opening anything else! We eventually opened up all of the other toys though and he had fun playing with all of his new stuff. He was very spoiled with gifts from Dad & Mom, Grandpa & Grandma, and Santa. The rest of us got some very nice gifts too.

Isaac and his new train

For breakfast we enjoyed Cassi's homemade cinnamon rolls. They were some of the best we've ever had! And Isaac absolutely loved them too. Karl, Charlie & I all went on a quick 3 mile run. No offense to Isaac, but it was really nice to run without him! It is much easier without having to push a stroller or stop every few minutes to pick up dropped items or hand him sippy cups and Cheerios.

Cassi came over later to open gifts and we all got to talk to Kelly (Charlie's brother & Cassi's husband who is in Afghanastan right now) for a bit. Karl & Charlie put together a puzzle that is a map of Las Cruces. We had an early prime rib dinner, got drinks from Sonic (my favorite place!), and that night Charlie & I went to a movie while Isaac was sleeping. It was SO nice to have grandparents there to baby sit. Thank you again Janelle & Karl! This was the first movie we had seen in probably two years. We saw Marley & Me. It was good, especially since we have become such dog lovers... but the ending was just TOO SAD! I was crying my eyes out.

Carrie, Janelle & Cassi

Janelle serving Christmas dinner

On Friday Janelle & I headed out early to try and catch some after Christmas sales. We picked up a few things, but didn't really find any great bargains. Charlie and I got to go on another date. This time we went to Old Mesilla and had lunch at La Posta. Later on that afternoon Karl took us down to the University to show Isaac all of the farm animals. Isaac loved them! We saw cows, pigs, sheep, horses, and one rooster. One of the horses was very friendly and came right up to us so Isaac could pet him.

Saturday Charlie & I left Isaac yet again and drove out to White Sands. It is a national park that is supposed to be beautiful. This was my fourth trip to Las Cruces and I still hadn't seen it! Unfortunately, once we got there we found out that the road into the park was closed because it was "icy" (it actually seemed to be completely dry). So we didn't get to go very far. We didn't get to the true white sand, and the sand we did see didn't look very white next to the snow. So White Sands is still on my to-do list for next time we visit!

Carrie & Cracker at White Sands

We didn't make it this far in, but this is what we should have been able to see!

We came home and all had Robertos for lunch. Karl, Charlie & I kept working on puzzle #2. Later on we met up with some of Cassi's family and went shooting. I had been once before in college, but that was several years ago. Karl brought his pistol & his rifle and we took turns shooting at targets.

Karl & Cassi

Charlie shooting the pistol

Carrie shooting the rifle

Saturday night Cassi came out shopping with Charlie & I, then we picked up Isaac and went to see Christmas lights and get ice cream. We saw a few houses that were all decked out with lights. This one that does "Christmas in Cruces" was our favorite! They had tons of lights and they flash on and off to music that is broadcast over a radio station. Very cool.

Sunday we drove home. We decided to do the drive all in one day. That was a very long day. Twelve hours in the car and Isaac slept for a total of 25 minutes. Thank goodness for his DVD player though. It actually wasn't that bad, but we were definitely glad to be home.

The second finished puzzle

Thank you Karl & Janelle for such a nice Christmas and for watching Isaac for us so much. It was great to see Cassi too. We are looking forward to Janelle & Cassi coming to visit us in just a few weeks. And tomorrow we are headed to Vegas to see Chris & Carly's family for New Years.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Oh Christmas Tree

We put up our Christmas tree, Christmas lights, and other decorations a few weeks ago. It is always so fun to have our home all decked out for Christmas. Isaac loves the tree. He likes me to hold him and show him all of the different ornaments and tell him what they are. We put some of the less breakable things near the bottom of the tree and he thinks it is really fun to pull them all off... and eat them.

Cracker likes the tree too, but for a different reason. It's just so much more convenient than having to go outside to get a drink.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A very long post about Paris

** This post is extremely long. At first I was trying to keep it short but then I just couldn't help writing about everything because we really had such a great time. So this is more like a travel journal for me. You are welcome to read it all, but I wouldn't blame you if you just want to skim through it. **

We had a wonderful trip to Paris. After looking forward to it for so long, I am a little sad that it is all over now. We do have many great memories though and some good pictures too. And since I know everyone has just been waiting on pins and needles to hear about our trip - here we go!
Isaac & Charlie and the Eiffel Tower
We left our house very early on Saturday morning with a long travel day ahead of us. We were kind of nervous about how Isaac would do on the long flights and layovers, but he was perfect! (Although I do have to give myself a little credit for the enormous bag of entertainment that I packed for him.) He did great on the flights though and we were even able to get him to sleep for a few hours.

Charlie & Isaac on the flight to Paris
23 hours after leaving our home in Irvine, we arrived at our hotel in Paris. As we walked up the stairs from our metro stop we were immediately greeted by this amazing view!

We stayed at a Hilton that was literally right next to the Eiffel Tower. We were upgraded to the executive floor and were able to have access to their lounge with free breakfast, plus drinks and snacks all day long. It was very nice to be able to stop in there whenever we wanted. Our room was comfortable and nice, we had a lovely bidet in the bathroom that Isaac just couldn't stay away from (we pray that it was very clean!), and they even provided us with a funny crib for Isaac that we think maybe used to be a rolling laundry basket. The staff was very friendly, everyone spoke English, and we thought the location was perfect.

The view from the lounge

Isaac and his favorite new toy: the bidet

Isaac's laundry basket crib

We found that the French were actually rather friendly. Almost everyone spoke English and it seemed that if we at least tried to speak a little French to them, they were very nice to us. A couple of times we tried asking questions or directions in French and the person would just smile and answer us back in English. I guess maybe our pronounciation wasn't so good. Also, once we started trying to learn new words we realized that we already knew more French than we thought! Bonjour, Excusez-moi, and menu to name a few, and of course my personal favorite: voila!
So after arriving Sunday afternoon we cheated a little on the jet lag rules and we all took a 2 hour nap. Then we got cleaned up and headed out to explore the city! We only made it as far as the Eiffel Tower (right next door) before it started raining. So we turned right around and had a nice quiet evening indoors. We were searching through our guidebooks for things to do on a rainy day, but it was already late in the day, and it was Sunday so most things were closed. We ordered room service (I ordered an omlette, which turned out to be a sandwich, and Charlie had a cheese plate) and went to bed early.
The "omlette" and the cheese plate
Monday morning we were all well rested and ready to try again. It was cold out (in the high 30's and low 40's all week) but clear and we set out on foot to see Paris! We walked along the Seine River, and through the high fashion district, then through a park full of street vendors, and down into the Place de la Concorde and the Tuilerie Gardnes. Next we headed up to an area with all sorts of specialty food shops. We walked through a store called Fauchon that was filled with different gourmet foods and pastries. Everything looked like little works of art. Anyone interested in a foie gras eclair? Isaac was about done with sight seeing at this point, so we stopped to let him play on the steps of the Place de la Madeleine. We headed towards the department stores and Isaac fell asleep in my arms (we were shocked, but this became quite normal during our trip) and slept all through lunch. We ate at a little cafe where I enjoyed my first of many crepes (this one was with Nutella and bananas) and Charlie had a salad with chicken and pineapple. After Isaac woke up we stopped at McDonalds and got him a happy meal to eat while watching the pigeons outside. Next we browsed through the Printemps and the Lafeyette department stores. The Lafayette was beautiful inside with a huge stained glass dome in the middle of the store. It started to rain and we were quite far from our hotel at this point so we decided to take the Metro back.

Charlie & Isaac crossing the Seine River

Carrie & Isaac in the Tuilerie Gardnes
Isaac & Charlie window shopping

Carrie & Isaac walking the streets of Paris

Isaac playing on the steps of the Place de la Madeleine

Chicken salad & crepes for lunch (and Isaac sleeping through the entire meal)

Isaac enjoying the pigeons and his McDonald's happy meal

We thought we would do more walking (which we did do plenty of) and didn't plan on using the Metro much while we were there, but ended up taking it quite frequently. Isaac loved it and was fascinated by the trains. It was a little tricky with all the stairs and turnstiles, but we quickly learned that it was easiest to just fold up the stroller and carry it and Isaac separately. Charlie was our navigator and we never got lost thanks to him. I am really no good at figuring out those subway systems.

That night we asked our concierge to recommend a nearby restaurant that was casual and child friendly. She sent us around the corner to La Tour. It was a nice family owned place where the husband was the chef and the wife was the hostess/waitress. Though they were very nice to us and Isaac, I wouldn't exactly call this place "child friendly." There were no high chairs so Isaac sat on an upholstered bench with lots of pillows, and he had fun dropping his gold fish crackers into the stemmed wine glasses, wiping food on the white tablecloth, and trying to grab the flame of the candle on our table. The food was excellent though. Charlie had a salad with duck & orange, and as an entree had a braised beef tenderloin with scalloped potatoes. I had a salad with goat cheese & roasted red pepper, and for my entree roasted chicken with a blue cheese sauce and whipped potatoes. Everything was delicious.

Isaac at the "kid friendly" restaurant

Our delicious dinner
Tuesday morning we all woke up at 1:00 am thanks to our little pal Isaac. Looking back I guess I really should have been more understanding about the jet lag thing, but at the time I was really pretty annoyed. We alternated watching sing-a-longs on the portable DVD player and trying and trying to get him back to sleep. At 6:00 am we gave up and decided to shower and get ready for the day. Every morning Charlie & I took turns going to eat breakfast in the lounge while the other stayed back in the room with Isaac and his Cheerios. In the lounge they had tons of different pastries, fruit, meats & cheese, yogurt, cereal, juice, etc. It was a pretty good breakfast and it was nice (for me anyway) to have a few moments to myself to eat and enjoy the great view from the lounge. It was a nice way to start each day.

So Tuesday we set out walking and made our way to the the Invalides. It was a pretty area and Charlie especially liked the shiny gold statues on the bridge nearby. We figure they must be polished regularly because we don't know how else they could stay so shiny. The Invalides hold a bunch of museums and Napolean's tomb I think. We decided to skip going inside. Instead we headed towards the Bon Marche department store. It is a great store with every kind of department you could think of. They had a wonderful section of childrens toys, stuffed animals, and books. It was fun to let Isaac explore and play around a little bit there. Next we hopped on the Metro and headed to the Arc de Triomphe. Isaac fell asleep in my arms (again) so we didn't stay long but we did snap a few pictures and take the tunnel underneath the streets to get to the actual Arc. It is really huge and spectacular up close. I liked seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the eternal flame. I remember they have the same thing in D.C. in the Arlington cemetary. I think it is a very nice commemoration of those who gave their lives for their countries.

Charlie & the very shiny gold statues

Isaac at Invalides

Carrie & (sleeping) Isaac at the Arc de Triomphe
We allowed Isaac to take a little nap back at the hotel, but waking him up was a nightmare! After being up all night he wanted nothing more than to sleep. We couldn't let him though or else the whole week would be thrown off. We had a very grumpy kid for a few hours but it paid off in the end and he slept great at night for the rest of the trip. Later that afternoon we headed back to the Eiffel Tower hoping to go up top, but the line was really long so we didn't. Instead we got some crepes and hot chocolate at a stand nearby and then walked over to the Palais de Chaillot which has a great view of the Eiffel Tower. We took the Metro back to the Lafayette department stores so that we could shop in their home store. We have a collection of Le Creuset pots at home on our cookware stand. (Until I married Charlie - the sales manager of a cookware company - I had no idea that cookware could be both functional and decorative!) Anyway we needed a pot to fill a small spot near the top of the stand and they don't sell that size in the U.S. But in France we found the perfect 1 3/4 quart size that we needed! They didn't have it in the yellow we wanted, but we were still happy to get our pot, and at a great price too. We had dinner at a cafe nearby. A grilled ham and cheese sandwich for me (the cheese was on top of the sandwich, the ham was inside) and an omlette for Charlie. This time it really was an omlette, not a sandwich. We took the metro home and called it a night.

The crepe stand near the Eiffel Tower

Isaac & Charlie at the Palais de Chaillot - great view of the Eiffel Tower

Charlie & Isaac at dinner
Wednesday was our big day to see sites. We headed out on the Metro to the Latin Quarter. We walked around and browsed in a few shops and then walked up the hill to the Pantheon. You don't realize how enormous this building is until you stand next to one of the columns. It was an impressive building, in a neat area next to the University. Isaac got to play on the steps with the pigeons again before we headed off to Notre Dame. It is so cool to be in Paris and finally seeing all of these famous sites in person. We went inside for a bit and admired all of the beautiful stained glass. Unfortunately, Isaac could care less about stained glass and prefered to run up and down the aisles screaming. So we left.

The Pantheon

Charlie & Isaac next to the enormous columns at the Pantheon

Isaac at the Pantheon

Family picture on the steps of the Pantheon

Charlie & Isaac at Notre Dame

The beautiful stained glass inside Notre Dame
Charlie & Isaac outside Notre Dame

As we were walking along the river towards the Louvre we saw a ton of street vendors selling all sorts of things. We picked up a cool set of coasters with scenes from Paris painted on them, a fantastic oil painting of the Eiffel Tower (thanks Colleen for the recommendation), and a few other small prints. Then we stopped in a cafe for lunch. Once again, no high chairs (we never did find a high chair in Paris), but Isaac loved crawling around on the booth, playing with silverware and watching the fish in the aquarium. I had a mixte (mixed) baguette with ham, cheese, and salad (lettuce) but it was dry - no condiments. Charlie had spaghetti & green beans and Isaac had french fries. We were in France, we had to have French fries, right?
As we were walking into the Louvre we got conned by some guys from Senegal or the French Congo or something... They were telling us how great America is and how they love Obama and they wanted us to sign some petition. So we signed and the next thing we know they are asking us for money. Of course. I think we maybe gave them 10 euros instead of the 50 they wanted! I doubt this money is going to help anyone in Congo but maybe it will buy those guys a few crepes or something.

As soon as we walked inside the Louvre we were directed past security and over to an elevator. We are guilty of taking Isaac in his stroller on all sorts of escalators and stairs, but these guys would not allow it. So we had to wait for some lady in an open air elevator/lift sort of thing to come get us and take us down. We bought our tickets and were ready to go, but once again we were directed away from the main flow of traffic and over to an elevator. We were having a hard time because nothing was in English and having to search for elevators was throwing us off and getting us lost. So we finally checked the stroller and decided to carry Isaac around instead. That alone cut our visit short, but also because Isaac is not a very quiet kid. We made it to the Mona Lisa, Venus de Millo, and Victorie (Nike) before we had to head out. We were a little disappointed by the Mona Lisa. Sure it was cool to see it "in person," but because it is behind glass, surrounded by a crowd of people, and a rope that keeps you at least 20 feet from the painting, we couldn't really appreciate the real painting anymore than we could seeing it in a book or something. The Venus de Millo was neat to see in person though. Back outside it was time to let Isaac chase pigeons again. There were several Asian tourists who kept taking pictures of him. I'm don't know why. Sure, we think he is adorable but he is our kid. I am guessing it was because of his blonde hair?

Isaac & Charlie at the Louvre

Isaac & Carrie in front of the Mona Lisa

Charlie & Isaac with Victorie (Nike)

Carrie & Venus de Milo
We went back to the hotel for a little down time and then out again for the evening. The prime pigeon spot in Paris seemed to be right underneath the Eiffel Tower. I am telling you, Isaac absolutely LOVED those birds. Everytime he saw one he would get a huge smile on his face. We dediced to take him to pigeon heaven and set him free. Charlie was helping him feed them graham crackers and Isaac was delighted to have them all come up so close to him. Until one actually landed on him. He didn't like that! Also, he wasn't so sure about sharing his graham crackers. He wanted to eat them himself. It was fun to watch him though. There was also a professional photographer there taking tons of pictures of Isaac. He gave us his card so that we can contact him and he's supposed to send us a few shots. Next, more fun for Isaac. There are a few carousel's around the tower and Isaac really likes the carousel at Disney Land so we knew he'd like a carousel in Paris too.

Charlie & Isaac feeding the pigeons

Isaac & his pigeons
Isaac riding the carousel next to the Eiffel Tower
We took the metro up to Sacre Coeur. It is in kind of a bazaar part of town. There were tons of souvenier shops along the street leading up to the building, and a few thrift stores, and a lot of strange men yelling and chanting things. I didn't like that much at all. The Sacre Coeur was really beautiful all lit up at night. There was a great view of the city too, though it was hard to tell where everything was in the dark. We peeked inside for a minute and heard the nuns singing. The bascillica was built as a memorial for those killed in the Franco Prussian war and the priests there pray 24 hours a day for them. I think that is neat.

The Sacre Coeur at night
Since we were in the general area I thought we should stop by the Moulin Rouge. Bad idea. It is in a HORRIBLE area. The entire street is filled with porn shops, strip clubs, and the like. You wouldn't want to look in any of the windows or you could be greeted by who knows what kind of advertisement. Well we had to keep walking to get to the Metro stop so we caught a quick glance of the Moulin Rouge itself (with a huge line outside), and then hurried down the stairs to catch our train. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a cafe "to-go" window and got a few crepes to take home for dinner. Ham & cheese, and chocolate. YUM. The crepes were maybe my favorite thing about Paris. :)

The Moulin Rouge
Our Thansgiving day consisted of no turkey or stuffing but it was a wonderful day anyway. Our first stop was the Eiffel Tower. This was our last day in Paris and we had to go up! We got in line and luckily the wait was not too bad. I loved being in that glass elevator and going up, up, up. It is cool to be able to see all of that iron framework around you and to see the view of the city as you go higher and higher. We spent some time inside the glass observation deck where Isaac loved standing in the windows and looking out. I wonder if he had any idea how cool of a view he was seeing! The view really was spectacular. I didn't realize that Paris was such a huge city. It was also kind of fun that we went up there after having seeing so much of the city, because then we could point out all of the places that we knew. We walked up the short flight of stairs to the open air observation deck and marveled some more at the incredible view. And then Isaac was grumpy so we headed down. He fell asleep in my arms (again!) and lucky me, I got to carry him all the way to the RER (train) station.

View from the glass elevator going up the Eiffel Tower

Isaac & Carrie inside the observation deck at the top of the tower

A view of the Palais de Chaillot and surronding Paris
Family picture at the top of the Eiffel Tower
Isaac continued to doze as we bought tickets, waited, and boarded a train to Versailles. And he slept half the way there too. It was actually really nice to have him fall asleep like that. Normally at home he would never ever sleep in our arms that way, but in Paris it was nice that he could get his naps in while we were out doing things so that we didn't have to spend a lot of down time back at the hotel.
Versailles was freezing cold! It is more than just a palace, Versailles is actually a nice little town that just happens to be home to a famous palace. So we walked around a little looking for a place to eat lunch but everything was packed. We ended up at McDonalds. Fast & cheap and something Isaac would like. It was a hit. Isaac loved his cheeseburger, french fries, orange juice, and his pink balloon on a stick.

Isaac enjoying his orange juice at McDonald's

Isaac & his balloon on a stick
(despite his solemn expression in the photo, he really did love that balloon)
We walked up to the palace and were a little confused by all of the different entrances and where we were supposed to go. So we headed around back first to look at the grounds. I'm sure that they are absolutely gorgeous in the Spring (I've seen pictures) but in the winter there is not much to see except a few fountains. And pigeons, seagulls, and swans for Isaac. So we finally figured out how to buy tickets and get inside but they made us check the stroller. What?! No strollers allowed inside the palace. Fine. So we carried Mr. Isaac around with us as we toured the King's apartments. We were most impressed by the Hall of Mirrors, and I was also interested to see the Queen's chamber. Apparently the French Queens all had the priveledge of giving birth in front of a public audience inside this room. I am thankful I was not a French Queen. So as we were walking from room to room we suddenly started noticing a lot of bizarre stuff. First it was a huge balloon dog, then an inflatable lobster, and on and on in each room another "work of art." Turns out the Chateau de Versailles is currently hosting an art exhibit of someone by the name of Jeff Koons. Does anyone else find this a little odd? I just don't understand how these bizarre works of modern art really fit into a 16th century French Palace. But that is just me.

Isaac in the Versailles gardens

The balloon dog inside the Versailles palace

The inflatable lobster (I told you this was bizarre!)
Charlie & Isaac in the Hall of Mirrors
The Queen's Chamber

Isaac & Charlie sharing a Crunch bar on the train back to Paris
We took our train back into the city and rested up at the hotel a bit. We enjoyed our last night in Paris by just walking around a bit and taking in the city. We stopped by the Monoprix (a big grocery/department store) and picked up some French mustard, cheese, and Nutella to take home with us. We passed by a bakery and decided to stop in and get an eclair. That is probably one of the best eclairs I have ever eaten! The frosting on top was chocolate, and to our delight, the cream inside was chocolate too. SO good. My mouth is watering just writing about them. So it was dessert before dinner, except then for dinner I ordered another crepe with Nutella and bananas. Because I had to have one more before we left! But hey, we were on vacation so I was allowed to have two desserts and call it dinner, right?

A view of the Eiffel Tower at night (this is right outside our hotel)
Isaac at dinner on our last night in Paris
Friday was a sad day because it was time to pack up and head home. We wanted to take a cab back to the airport, but they would not take Isaac without a car seat. So it was back to the Metro and the trains again. This was a bit tricky with all of the suitcases and the stroller going down all the stairs and through turnstiles and off and on trains again, this time during morning rush hour. Charlie got the tough job of carrying all our bags, and I got Isaac, a diaper bag, and a stroller hanging on my shoulder. We made it. And that was the start of another very long travel day. We were so thankful that Isaac was good on the flight. This time it was 11 hours from Paris to Dallas and thanks to my big bag of tricks, he was entertained and happy the whole time. We survived the layover in Dallas but by this time Isaac was completely exhausted. He had now been up for over 20 hours with only one little nap the whole day. We were holding our breath for the moment when we were allowed to turn on our electronics on the plane. We got Isaac situated with his pacifier and blanket and the sing-a-long DVD and he went to sleep immediately. He slept the whole flight back to Orange County. And then 22 hours after leaving our hotel in Paris, we were finally home!

Family picture in front of the Eiffel Tower

We are happy to be home. We went and picked up Cracker from my parent's house on Saturday. He is glad to be home too, though he was spoiled with tons of turkey and other treats at their house. We are all still recovering a little from the jet lag. Charlie & I have been going to bed early every night and it is a good thing because Isaac has been waking up around 5:00 am every morning! We really had a fantastic trip though. We loved Paris. Some people think we are crazy for bringing Isaac but we were happy to have him with us. It was really nice to have a fun family vacation together and he was very good the whole time. We would do it again in a heart beat.