Lute Reunion 2014 – Part 2

21 Aug

For the second and final day of our reunion, we kicked off the festivities at one of our favorite Tacoma restaurants, The Rock. They have a huge selection of wood fired pizzas not to mention a great range of drinks on tap. In the olden days, we would host celebrations here, consuming their infamous Bucket drink before heading next door to listen to live music at The Swiss. While a few people in our group indulged in some adult beverages, the majority of our requests centered around glasses of milk, extra ranch dressing, and as many napkins as they could spare. Times, they are a-changing.

After a delicious lunch, several meltdowns (most of them by my little angel), and multiple potty breaks for the kids and pregnant women, it was off to Parkland; the home of meth labs and Pacific Lutheran University. I’m not exaggerating when I say that our school was planted in the middle of America’s armpit. Parkland’s glory days, if it ever had any, have long since passed and what’s left is a sad, dismal, and very run down community. While on campus, also known as the Lute Dome, it’s easy to forget where you are thanks to some beautiful landscaping and architecture. However, as soon as you step foot off school property, the reality of your surroundings hits you like the aroma of Tacoma. I’m fairly confident that our little college rental house was adjacent to one of the more active meth labs in town. The cast of characters that came in and out of that little blue shack was almost unbelievable and their antics entertained us to no end. From knife throwing contests, fights over stolen belongings to a woman jumping on the back of a car then being driven down the street, there was never a dull moment. I even had a chance to chat with one of the residents who informed me his name was Cowboy Wayne just after offering me a box of Lucky Charms produced from the large trash bag he was carrying around. Seriously. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

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As we descended on campus, I couldn’t help but hang back and laugh at the scene in front of me. The stroller mafia had arrived. Tyler, ever the smart aleck, made sure to tell all the students we saw that “life sure comes at you fast.” They seemed unimpressed by his assessment while the rest of us laughed hysterically.

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The Lute Dome had undergone a massive face lift since our heyday and we barely even recognized the updated facilities. Gone was the old cafeteria and in it’s place was a fancy new restaurant. We wondered what excuse the current students would have to explain their freshman 15 weight gain given such fancy meal options. We had always told ourselves they covered the lettuce in calories so the anorexic girls wouldn’t starve to death. And that’s why we’d gained weight despite eating salad with each meal. It obviously wasn’t the half gallon of ranch dressing on top, the cinnamon toast for dessert or the swirl cones we had to have in order to be fueled up for the walk back to our dorm!

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Luckily, not everything had changed and the Chris Knutzen room was still intact. This was the infamous location of the freshman orientation dance where the stars aligned and our friendship was formed. Ashley treated us to her signature dance move in honor of being on such holy ground and then we did a poopy diaper change in the hallway because kids.

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Next it was downstairs to the Scandinavian Cultural Center. I had never planned to attend PLU as it was so close to home and my family had been volunteering there for so many years that I felt I’d already explored all it had to offer. As luck would have it, my first few months at PLU coincided with a cultural center exhibit all about my family. So there were childhood photos of me wearing my Norwegian costume and playing my fiddle plastered all over the bottom floor of the University Commons building. It was great because any new friends I met at college could just go to the Center and see the most embarrassing photos of my childhood. Not wanting to miss a photo opportunity, the stroller mafia insisted I get a picture in front of the Scandinavian flags. We attempted a group shot as well with fairly vocal protests from Lena, Emmett and Eden.

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Carlee and Chenda bonded over their roles as Diversity Center advocates and as Dino likes to remind us, this was also where Carlee tried to convince Chenda he was a bad choice for her. Aside from being one of the only male nursing students, Dino was also infamous for an incident involving a water fountain and some choice body parts. Luckily, Chenda didn’t listen to Carlee’s sage advice as the world would be missing two of the cutest girls you’ve ever seen – Kennedy and Reagan.

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Ashley’s old workplace had long since been remodeled but we did reminisce fondly of her stellar work ethic in the Games Room. I’m not actually sure how she stayed employed as she tried to call in sick with some of the lamest excuses I’ve ever heard. In the absence of the game room, we snapped a photo of The Cave – home to various talent shows and campus parties including our first Halloween where Ashley dressed in hair-print hammer pants and toted around a giant boom box.

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To finish up our reunion tour, we posed for photos in front of our old dorms and even attempted to break into Dino’s room. Ashley noticed the screen was loose and within minutes, had it removed despite Carlee’s protests. It was good to see some things hadn’t changed. And yet, things had changed as evidenced by this photo of our former wild child Cali girl breastfeeding her son in front of Foss Hall. I think I speak for the entire group when I say this is a sight none of us ever thought we’d see (love you, Smash!).

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I am so thankful I got to see all these friends again and am still grinning at the thought of how far we’ve all come. Dino and Chenda, thank you so much for opening your home up to all of us. I don’t blame you for making Noah sleep outside in a tent because he is kinda hairy, has a faint scent to him and would probably have scared your children in the middle of the night. Carlee and Ty, I am sincerely hoping Logan grows up to be a modern dance enthusiast just so Tyler is forced to sit through more performances. Ashley, you’ve been blessed with the world’s most laid-back child and are doing an impeccable job at being his mama. It’s so cool to see you in this new grown up role but I’m also glad that old crazy Ash is still in there, too. Noah and Annie, I can’t wait to see what your little bun in the oven will look like. I have no doubts you’ll be great parents despite all our jokes at Noah’s expense. Also, Noah, way to land a hottie who’s also super athletic. I’m kinda impressed. And finally, Dave and Ashley, a big congrats on the birth of Harrison! I’m sure he will be well-loved by his big brother and sister not to mention be a brainiac with both of you as his parents. Love you all; time to start planning the next reunion!

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Lute Reunion 2014 – part 1

20 Aug

Living so far away from family and friends can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, I miss out on pretty big events in my friends’ lives – bachelorette parties, weddings, babies, etc. But on the other hand, I get to have amazing reunions once we do all meet up again. Through some miracle, all my college friends were going to be in Western Washington at the same time so we decided a reunion was in order. We all met within our first few days at Pacific Lutheran University and have been mercilessly mocking each other ever since.

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First up: Ashley and Carlee. I met Ashley in my very first college class which also happened to be September 11, 2001. As if starting college wasn’t emotional enough, we were also processing a major event in our nation’s history. She was this crazy, carefree California girl with gorgeous, long black hair and I immediately knew we’d be friends. She introduced me to her roommate, Carlee, a bubbly, girly, cheerleader from Vancouver, Washington, and the rest is history. We navigated the rather awkward young adult years together and the memories and photos from that time are priceless.

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Being the social butterfly of our little trio, Ashley insisted we attend the freshman orientation dance. There we encountered Dino, Noah, Tyler and Dave. These four had been thrown together in the dorm across from us and were ready to mingle. Tyler had come from a small Mormon town in Utah and what he lacked in his dance abilities (I’m sure he’ll dispute that assessment) he certainly made up for in confidence. Dino hailed from Montana, had a permanent smile on his face and perpetually looked like he was up to no good which was usually true. Noah was along for the ride, showing off his moves and scoping the ladies while Dave somehow seemed to have just gotten roped into a bad situation he could only hope to escape from.

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Over the course of four years, we were together through the good times and the bad. From break ups and make ups, prank wars, international travels and even some scary car accidents, we were all there for each other. Carlee and Tyler ended up getting married; Dino somehow convinced Chenda, one of the smartest girls in school, to marry him, and Dave stuck with his high school sweetheart, Ashley E., through it all. It came as no surprise that Ashley, Noah and myself were the last to get married but we all managed to find great partners and in just a few short months, we’ll all be parents of at least one child.

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The weekend of July 26th, we descended on Dino and Chenda’s house traveling from England, California, Utah and other parts of Washington state. Oddly enough, Dino and Chenda settled in my hometown and found a beautiful home with amazing views of the Puget Sound. There were ten adults – three of us who were pregnant, seven kids and three dogs in total. I can’t possibly count the number of pack and plays and baby monitors in tow not to mention the various bottles, cups and baby food. Needless to say, it was a very different type of celebration than we used to enjoy.

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Seeing my friends as parents was a bit surreal as this was my first time meeting everyone’s kids. Lena kicked off the weekend with a bang by falling face first down a hill and then cracking Dino’s daughter over the head with a plastic golf club. Within the first hour, I think all the kids cried at least once and someone may have even pooped their pants. It was awesome.

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We spent the day listening to classy tunes by Guster, 50 Cent, and Yellowcard, among others, and reminiscing on how young and dumb we once were. As usual, Noah was teased mercilessly by Tyler and Dino though once Dave arrived, the mockery was a bit more spread out. Dave’s wife, Ashley, was a great sport to come hang out with all of us as she was having contractions by the minute and would end up giving birth just a few short days after our big get together.

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We’re all a bit competitive so when someone suggested a left-handed throwing contest, it was game on. These pictures bring me so much joy. Despite appearances, this is a group of highly educated and successful individuals boasting jobs in healthcare, finance, and education with a few master’s degrees thrown in as well. I love my friends.

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The first day of our Lute reunion was a great success filled with food, laughter, and monitoring baby cams.

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Baby on Board

19 Aug

So, we are having another baby! We waited a while to share the news with everyone and I suppose this is technically our official announcement aside from some gorgeous maternity photos my cousin posted on Facebook (thanks, Laila Eva!). I opted to go through the NHS for this pregnancy which means I’ll get the full British experience. The NHS is the national health system here in England and so far, I have been absolutely blown away by the quality and standard of care. I am incredibly lucky to have easy, low risk pregnancies and aside from fairly constant nausea in the first trimester, things were otherwise the same as always. It took a few weeks to get me registered into the NHS system so my first appointment was at 15 weeks. That appointment consisted of a series of questions to determine what type of pregnancy and birth I was having/wanted. The midwife took my blood pressure and weight and that was the extent of the physical exams. I did ask her to listen for the heartbeat as Jason was convinced we were having twins but luckily, we only found one! After a pretty traumatic initial OB appointment with my first pregnancy, I was so relieved that this time around went so much better.

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They scheduled me for a dating scan at a local hospital a couple weeks later just to make sure we were all correct on my estimated due date. Everything checked out great so sometime around the fourth of December (give or take a few days, of course), we can expect to meet our newest addition! My favorite part of this whole experience has been the amount of literature and resources the NHS have provided us with regards to a healthy pregnancy and available services. The entire experience is in your hands and you are fully supported in whatever decisions you decide to make about your personal health. I am of the mind that less is more when it comes to medical interventions so we will be opting out of many of the tests and procedures that are standard or “mandatory” in the States. My midwives have simply asked what we’d like, checked the box for declining service and we’ve moved on – no lectures or condescending comments. I can’t begin to explain how refreshing and empowering it is!

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Since Jason has been gone since early July, he missed out on the gender scan. I will never forget the look of sheer panic on his face when the ultrasound tech told us Lena was a girl and I just didn’t want to miss that moment again. So we decided to leave the gender of this baby a surprise and that way, we can share the experience together once he/she is born. We both *think* it’s a boy but who knows?!

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Speaking of Jason being gone, we have missed him like crazy and the first week or two were pretty rough without him. He’s been TDY before but this was the longest and the first one where Lena really noticed his absence. Technology has been our best friend and my computer screen is covered with kiss marks from my little monster attacking her daddy during FaceTime sessions. We took these photos on our way home from a 4th of July party and I love how it captured the relationship between these two. The Bacon Bit has her daddy wrapped around her little finger and the worst part is, she knows it. They’re a couple of peas in a pod.

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It’ll be fun to see how she does as a big sister. I’m not sure she fully grasps what my big belly means for her life but she’s been very sweet; giving kisses and asking to rub coconut oil on my tummy each night. We hope these two will grow up to be close companions and there for one another. And as Jason pointed out, at the very least, Lena now has someone to help her pick out a nursing home for us when we’re old and wrinkly!

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Ghent

18 Aug

For our final day in Belgium, we did a quick tour of Ghent. I had made a short list of a few places we really wanted to visit including a mustard factory, an 8-generation candy shop, and a local meatball restaurant called Balls of Glory. Unfortunately, we somehow forgot that most of Europe shuts down on Sundays so all the places we had hoped to see were closed. However, we did happen upon a great little outdoor market with all sorts of random treasures just waiting to be discovered.

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The architecture and colors of Ghent were truly beautiful and I so wish we had been able to experience it all when everything was open. After two full days of exploring, Lena was done playing tourist and becoming increasingly uncooperative by the minute.

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While she may look jovial in these photos, they were actually snapped mid-whine; don’t let the face fool you. Rather than make all of us miserable, we decided to shorten our tour of the city and do a quick drive by of the major sites before heading back to the car. With a sleeping toddler in the backseat, we took our time driving back to the Chunnel, stopping at a few places for snacks and drinks plus a few potty breaks for the preggo.

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All in all, it was a great extended weekend and we’re already planning our next cross-border trip!

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Brugge

15 Aug

After our day in Brussels, we were off to Brugge. We decided to stay in Ghent as the hotels were a bit cheaper and we had found an amazing deal on a swanky Guest House close to the train station. So we parked the car, crossed our fingers we were reading the parking meter correctly, and navigated the train system into town.

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Brugge was beautiful and much more our pace that Brussels. A bit less touristy with waffle, chocolate and beer shops being few and far between. As usual, Lena had her own agenda on what she wanted to see and how she wanted to get there. Traveling with a toddler isn’t the most relaxing thing ever but luckily she’s just a little thing and can be thrown over Daddy’s shoulder when needed.

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While we enjoy looking at beautiful buildings and exploring the historical significance of new places, our favorite part of traveling is definitely the food. Most of our travel budget goes toward delicious meals so when we happened upon this little gem of a restaurant boasting an organic menu, we were excited. And Reliva did not disappoint! We were seated in a private, enclosed garden at the back of the restaurant with views of the local clock towers barely visible above the vine-covered walls. The waiter was quick to bring pencils and paper to keep the Diva occupied after recommending a delicious local brew for Jason. We both ordered a seafood dish (totally out of character for me) while Lena had some of the most delicious spaghetti we’d ever tasted. It was definitely the highlight of our day though the cuddles from my little barnacle at the end of the meal didn’t hurt either.

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After our delicious lunch, we strolled toward the Church of Our Lady, stopping for the obligatory tourist photos along the way. The interior wasn’t as ornate as some churches we’ve seen but was beautiful in it’s simplicity. We timed our visit just right for capturing the light behind this stained glass window. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing these massive walls of color and story.

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On our way to the Market Square, we were nearly tramped by several horse drawn carriages, much to Lena’s delight. They were traveling faster than the cars and gave far less notice of their presence. We also found an amazing little Christmas shop where we purchased our one and only souvenir from our Belgium trip: Christmas ornaments. After purchasing a pickle (for the baby on the way), a wooden Noah’s ark (Lena’s choice) and a nutcracker for Jason and me, we realized our Belgian trinkets were actually German. So we didn’t quite get an authentic keepsake but the memories will be fun nevertheless.

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Our final stop on our Brugge extravaganza was a visit to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. It was originally built in the 12th century and is home to a relic of the Holy Blood. The interior was incredibly ornate with every surface boasting meticulous detail.

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As a reward for being such a trooper all day, we treated Lena to a horse and buggy ride before heading back to the train. She was giddy with excitement until we got into the actual carriage and then it was all business. Our tour guide gave us a running commentary the duration of the ride but we could neither hear nor understand him so that was a bust. After all the excitement of being pulled around by the horsies, Lena passed out long enough for us to stop in for one last beer at De Haalve Maan Brewery.

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Brussels

21 Jul

For Father’s Day weekend, we packed up the car and drove to Belgium for a quick getaway. Since we were traveling out of England, we had to get an international traveler’s kit which included GB stickers for the car and a breathalyzer, among other things. Lena was pretty excited about it all. We also took the Chunnel for the first time despite having no idea what to expect. I was a bit stressed when I saw everyone driving their vehicles into a giant train like a herd of cattle. Kind of creepy to be traveling under the ocean on a double decker cargo caboose but luckily, the journey only lasted about 30 minutes.

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Our first day was spent in Brussels as it was the furthest destination from the Chunnel. We didn’t have much of a plan for the day so we started out by taking a walk through a nearby park. I’m not sure if we were in a bad part of town but it was pretty run down and the water was more slime than liquid. Even the ducks seemed reluctant to swim in it. Lena didn’t seem to notice, however, and desperately wanted to go in. Gross.

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After a quick breakfast at our hotel, we hopped on the subway towards the town center. I guess we’ve been a bit spoiled living in England and have become accustomed to the high level of cleanliness here. The subway situation was dismal; it was like a really risky game of don’t-die-in-a-mineshaft-and-try-not-to-catch-gangrene. Everything was unfinished, dirty, and seemed to lack organization. Nevertheless, we made it to our destination and were treated to some gorgeous views.

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I knew Brussels was popular for beer, chocolate, and waffles but had no clue there would be so many shops dedicated to those things. There were so many options that it got a bit overwhelming but La Belgique Gourmande lured us in with free samples and then it was all over. We bought some chocolates as well as Belgian noses or “neuzekes” which Jason loved. They’re sort of a jelly candy with a semi-crispy outside and gooey inside. There were tons of flavors to choose from so we grabbed an assortment before heading on to Grand Place.

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The architecture was stunning and I loved the gold accents against the dark stone. The detail on each building was just incredible; it’s hard to imagine the amount of time and effort that went into creating these buildings.

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As we were about to move on, Jason started acting really strange and mentioned to me that there was a large group of tourists staring and pointing at Lena. An older Asian man came over and we finally figured out he wanted a picture with the Bacon Bit. A friend had told me that while living in Japan, the locals would practically mob her anytime she went out in public with her blonde haired, blue-eyed daughter. So when I realized that was the case here, I found it absolutely hysterical and took a picture of Lena and her new buddy. This was probably the highlight of my day as it was so random; Lena was unamused as usual.

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Since we were fairly close, we also decided to go see the infamous Manneken Pis or Peeing Boy (please excuse my pregnant belly). I’m not entirely sure what the allure is, but replicas of this little tinkler are all over the city. Lena was confused about what he was holding in his hand which I found hilarious. And anytime we’d pass another souvenir shop, she had to check out her new little friend in the window. In other words, it took us triple the time of a normal person to get anywhere thanks to our little window shopper.

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After some french fries (another Belgian claim to fame), we started back toward the subway station. But first, Jason treated himself to some Leffe while Lena and I shared a waffle with Nutella and strawberries. We figured after walking all day, we deserved a treat.

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After one quick photo session and a meet and greet with the local pigeons, we called it a day. I’m really glad we visited Brussels as it had some beautiful buildings and delicious treats but one day was plenty for us to explore. It was such a short drive from England as well that it made for a perfect day trip and it’s likely a place we would never have visited otherwise.

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Day trip to Paris

15 Jul

For the four years I lived in Arizona, I spent every work day giggling my buns off with the one and only “Nicole Fierce.” I’m not even sure I can put into words all the ways this chick has enriched my life and just been there for me. In the span of those four years, we supported each other through a couple engagements, messy break ups, near-backyard weddings, divorces, issues with kids, and multiple rounds of lay offs. Nicky stood in as the witness for my wedding to the Sarge and even had the forethought to buy me a bouquet – and as a result, made lilies my favorite flower. She can have me doubled over in laughter, legs desperately crossed in an attempt not to pee myself with just a simple look or grunt. We’re those obnoxious friends with our own language and a trillion inside jokes that are probably not even that funny but we find hysterical.

When she informed me she would be touring Europe with the Daughters of the American Revolution as well as wearing a homemade American flag dress purchased at Cracker Barrel, I knew there was no way I was going to miss out. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness the flag dress’ debut at the D-Day parade in Normandy, but I was able to fly into Paris for a day and play tourist with Nicky and her mom. I took an early morning flight out of Heathrow, landing at Orly airport at 9am. Since I don’t have an international cell phone, I told Nicky I’d just find her hotel and meet her there as soon as I could. So I hopped on a bus, got off somewhere *close* to where I thought her hotel was and started walking. Unfortunately, I got a bit disoriented (read: had no idea where I was) and did a few circles before finding the street I was looking for. Apparently, there was some mix up in my conversion of kilometers to miles and after 45 minutes of walking in 90 degrees plus humidity, I had to tap out and get in a cab. Strike one.

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Once I got to the hotel, I found out the Daughters (of DAR, if you’re savvy) hadn’t arrived yet so I left a note saying I’d be back around noon and went to grab some lunch. Since it was a Sunday, nothing was really open save a little bagel shop on the corner. I’d hoarded my airplane food because I’m related to my mom and have to eat every hour or I’ll get a hangry low blood sugar attack. So I polished off my goodies and a bagel and decided to tour Jardin du Luxembourg. It was really gorgeous and I found a nice seat in the sunshine while I took a few photos. After a couple returns to the hotel, I finally found Nicky standing outside and we were off.

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Her mom had arranged to meet up with a former coworker, Maia, who actually lived in Paris. So we basically got a private tour of the city from a local which was amazing. During college, I spent a month in Paris studying Art History so I’d already seen the major tourist attractions. This visit was completely different as Maia showed us some of her favorite spots. The Arab World Institute was one of my favorite spots and Maia explained how the windows were made up of camera apertures that adjusted themselves based on the amount of sunlight coming in. The result was this incredible glass wall of texture.

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We trekked on towards Notre Dame and took a few obligatory pictures with gargoyles standing guard in the background. As usual, Nicky was a hot mess and had me dying laughing. We apparently picked a hot spot for photos as we kept ending up with random tourists in our shots so Nicky just went with it.

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I should also mention that Nicky is an avid reader and a particular fan of teen literature. When we met, she was deep into her Harry Potter obsession and then the Twilight books came out. Despite my protests, she forced me to read the entire series as she was incapable of talking about anything else for several months. Luckily, I’m a fast reader, unlike our buddy Fred who she forced to listen to the audiotapes in order to sit with us at lunch. She can be a bit of a bully at times. Anyway, being a literature lover, we stopped in at this awesome little bookstore called Shakespeare and Company that boasts famous visitors including Ernest Hemmingway, among others. The place was packed and I could have spent hours looking at all their books if not for the heat and body odor trapped within the very small space.

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By this time, we were all pretty hungry so Maia took us on a safari to one of her favorite, authentic French restaurants. She patiently translated the entire menu for us, offering up suggestions on what to order for the best experience. While no one ordered any snails or frog lets, Maia did get an appetizer of hard boiled eggs covered in mayonnaise. While this may sound gross, it was actually amazingly delicious. The egg yolks were almost orange (always a good sign) and the mayonnaise was more of a dijon mustard – light yellow in color – with a hint of vinegar. She told us it’s simple to make at home so I may attempt it at some point because it was so good. I ordered beef cheeks which is now my favorite nickname and was also a very tender meat. It came almost like a pot roast with a thick, gravy-like sauce, veggies, and noodles. Tasty.

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We walked off our dinner through the streets of Paris, taking pictures here and there of some of the beautiful buildings as well as Nicky just being herself. After a quick treat of Nutella crepes, we hired a cab to take us back to the hotel. Our cab driver was insane, to put it mildly. He rolled down all the windows and blasted everything from Madonna to the Beach Boys while making a sunglass-wearing teddy bear dance in his lap. Nicky recorded it, as she tends to do, while I laughed hysterically and her mom gripped the front seat for dear life. It was memorable.

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After snuggling like three little piggies in a blanket (me, Nicky and her mom shared a bed), we packed up the next morning and took our time getting to the airport. We had a nice omelette breakfast with fresh squeezed orange juice and then attempted to navigate the metro. We made another pit stop for some French pastries and last minute pictures before catching our flight to London. Nicky and her mom were off to Scotland while it was back to the glamorous mom life for me. Though it was short, it was the perfect trip and I had so much fun just picking up where we left off. Nicky and Bev, thank you so much for letting me in on your great European adventure. Your generosity is unparalleled and there is never a shortage of fun and laughter with you two. We are ready to host you in England once the jet lag has worn off from this last adventure. Love you both dearly!

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