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Perks and Picks

Last day to enter to win Trisha Slay’s debut YA!

Author perks exist. They are a true thing. Most of the time they are just little niceties, such as, you go to a lit conference, and they have a hospitality suite, and it is stocked with FREE FOOD and FREE WINE (free is my favorite vintage) and they often have BROWNIES, sometimes the amazing fudgy two bite ones that you have to eat nine of because they are so good they deserve your undivided attention for a solid eighteen bites.

My fave author perk is that whenever your publishing house flies you somewhere to work, you get to keep the frequent flier miles, and if you save them up, you can fly your whole family to Orlando for THIRTEEN DOLLARS A PERSON. This is a good, good perk. (Scott works in the trade show industry, and so he racks up MAAAAAAD hotel reward points—we stayed free. Lord that was the cheapest trip in the history of vacationing.)

I am not knocking the perks, ya’ll. I am just saying that author perks are not, like, say, politician perks, which often include hookers, blow, and fat cat trips to golf resorts for different hookers and more blow.

But then every now and again, the stars align, and you get some huge unbelievable author perk that feels like a MISTAKE, it is so nice. Like when gods in Alabama came out, and my SUPER COOL PUBLICIST really liked me, so he slipped my name in the hat when New Yorker Magazine was picking a couple of debut authors to send on a transatlantic cruise on the QE2, London to New York.

I dumped Beautiful Maisy Who Was Barely Two and seven year old Sam at my mom and dad’s house, and Scott and I went to London for a few days, then rode home on a boat so nice it had art auctions with real Picasso sketches and AN ACTUAL PLANETARIUM. Staffed by Oxford dons.

That boat was chock full of Belgians with SO MUCH MONEY, smoking Gauloises (which I can’t even PRONOUNCE) and gambling, losing enough chips to pay off my mortgage with TOTAL insouciance. It felt less like a visit to another country as to another PLANET.

It was on that trip that we realized: We do not PICK to take vacations.

Because of our jobs. We both travel SO much. We do not think of travel as a leisure activity.

When we have days off, we think, HEY YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD BE FUN? TO WEAR PAJAMAS AND EAT WAFFLES IN OUR OWN BED WHILE WATCHING AN 80’s SCI FI MOVIE MARATHON!

Our family vacation every year is a week with the grandparents in the beach town where Scott and I grew up, and we once went to Disney World because it was so very very FREE it would have been stupid not to go.

Yikes. I want to see this exhibit. Except without having to travel. So really I want the Texas Prison Museum to bring this exhibit to my hammock.

We have never all piled into a car and traced a route to the Grand Canyon that included a stop off to see the Contraband Exhibit at the Texas Prison Museum. (Even though I would really like to see that. FLIP FLOP SHIV, ya’ll!)

After Scott and I got home from London, I wondered if we weren’t cheating our kids, a little. Cheating them out of some really great memories. And yet my desire to NEVER NEVER rent an RV and sing about how many bottles of beer are currently on some wall for 19 straight hours, all the way to Big Sky country, remained flatline level dead. My idea of the perfect vacay is a hammock, my cat, no shoes, and a fantastic book.

SO we compromised. We decided that instead of the yearly trip, we would save up, and in ten years, when the kid were old enough, we would take them on ONE ten-vacations-worth of trip. A trip they would remember FOREVER.

I cleverly hid money for it. Hid it from MYSELF even, because I REALLY like shoes. Every time a significant amount accrued in my secret pot, I put it into short term revolving CDs, so I couldn’t get at it easily. When THINGS HAPPENED like, oh the roof caved in, the van died, the air conditioning system began bellowing black smoke and making a screaming whine sound like a dying rhino, we pretended that money was already spent.

I remember when one particularly challenging financial thing happened, I caught Scott EYEBALLING the SECRET TRIP money. I was like, NO WAY, BUDDY. GO SELL YOUR PLASMA.

The trip ten years in the making starts a week from today.

We are going to France, ya’ll. To Paris and Provence. I won’t be blogging much for the first half of June, but I will post pics if I can figure out how—- if you follow me on Twitter, I will absolutely be posting all kinds of blurry, crazy cell phone photos of whatever they have in France.

I am not sure, really, what all they have because my LORD, Google translator is an odd duck. Look here – here is a village we are visiting on a day trip because I HAVE TO SEE WHATEVER TERRIFYING THING THIS IS HAPPEN TO THE FRUITS:

Ever been to PROVENCE or PARIS? Tell us the thing to NOT miss. Also, recs for any good CHEAP authentic local places to eat near Avignon or in Paris are deeply appreciated.
If you have not been to Paris, what is your dream trip? (Or what was it, if you already went)

38 comments to Perks and Picks

  • DebR

    That sounds super-fantastically AWESOME!!

    I’ve never been to Provence or Paris, unless you count Paris, Kentucky, which I’m guessing you do not. My dream trip would be almost anyplace in Europe, but especially Italy or France.

    Does Laume (from the Mavs) read FTK? If not, you should pop over the the Mav page and ask this question because Laume and her DH did the once-in-a-lifetime trip a while back and they went to London and Paris so I’m sure she’d have Good Stuff to share with you. I feel sure Luana has been to Paris too and probably Provence (she seems like she’s been nearly everywhere!) I’m thinking maybe Cherie has been too. So that’s my effort toward a helpful suggestion – people to ask. Heh.

  • Check out the blog You Had Me at Bonjour (Bonjour Quilts) for pages and pages of photos and ideas. It’s written by an Australian ex-pat who lived in France for three years. She, hubby, and 3-4 kids traveled extensively throughout France and neighboring countries, and her photos are incredible. Click the Travel tab to see links to her posts, sorted by country and region.

    Dream trip? New Zealand. Hobbit country and Maori haka in one place.

  • Leslie Noon

    First of all, you said, “TOTAL insouciance” and I don’t think you even waggled your eyebrows. I love you. I want to toss off that phrase somewhere today. I may have to waggle my eyebrows though.

    My dream trip is to take a train through the Canadian Rockies. And I want a sleeper car. And my husband. There will be breathtaking scenery and train you know what. Yikes! Did I say that out loud? I said you know what in case your kids read the comments. Feel free to put in whatever you like there.

    Oh, and I did spend a weekend in Paris when Randy was in the army. I was pregnant and very tired. I’ve got no advice since that was 39 years ago, except that you’d better plan some serious hot yoga for when you get home since the bread and pastries can not be resisted. Oh, and everything is pretty, the museums are as fantastic as you imagine they are and the people who live there speak French. Oh, and David Sedaris lives there, I think! You should try to get in touch with him. Then, if you have lunch with him please have Scott film it so I can hear the two of you talking. This would make me so very, very happy. It would be the cleverest lunch in the history of lunch.

  • Mark Childress

    The one thing you have to do near the Louvre is find Angelina, a chocolatier/pastry shop that has the absolute best hot chocolate in the entire world. Your kids will thank you.

  • rams

    Two words (more will occur, but most important first) — and I’ll write it the way it sounds. STEAK FREET. This will get you an okay little steak and the best french fries you’ve ever eaten. Anywhere. When you’re all tired of experiments in furrin food (or the kids are) steak frites will do the job.

    Watch movies first. The kids can watch The Red Balloon — first time I saw Paris it looked RIGHT (which places you’ve imagined never do) and I realized it was because of The Red Balloon. You watch Amelie after they’re dead asleep, and maybe Midnight in Paris. And we’re thinking of going in a year, so find us a hotel!

  • France, Spain, England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy; I’d love to go there! My husband and I went on a river cruise down the Danube for our 10th anniversary. We started out in Munich, Germany where a bus took us to Passau where we got on a river cruise liner boat thingy. For some reason, we got an incredible deal on an upgrade to a first class cabin. We spent the next 11 days cruising down the Danube and stopping to see towns/cities: Linz, Salzburg, Durnstein, Bratislava, Vienna, Budapest, and we stopped to see things: cathedrals, vineyards, war memorials, monasteries, royal Hapsburg palaces, coffee houses older than the United States. I even got to sing songs from The Sound of Music in the places where the scenes were filmed. I’m sure I made my husband very comfortable. It was a fabulous trip and one I would LOVE to do again.

    My dream trip would be a cross country extravaganza to show my kids this fabulous land we live in and all it’s wonders.

  • me

    I have been to both Paris and Avignon. both are amazing. It’s been a few decades since Avignon, however, and it was only for the night, but it was gorgeous. You must dance on Le Pont D’Avignon (bridge of Avignon)(the dancing is from a French children’s song) and see the papal palace. To eat in Paris, you must find a local outdoor market in a side street of a non-touristy area and eat like a real Parisian. Fruits and cheeses and breads, all fresh and perfect and yes cheap. And find a local bakery with Pain au Chocolat: croissants with chocolate bits. I got an amazing baguette and cheese sandwich from a vendor in front of Notre Dame. mmmmmm Have fun!!

  • Melanie

    I took an almost cross country trip last October that was not my dream vacation. The Kids are grown with only one at home so we went to visit my sister and family in Colorado (for some crazy reason they had moved to Colorado from Naples, Florida). My husband wanted to drive as he has flown from Charleston to LA and back many times and wanted to see the “fly over states.”
    I will only fly to and from Colorado in the future.
    Six days on the road and only five days with my sister and family. Six days of captivity with my husband who talks constantly about everything and nothing. He is lucky to still be married.
    I look forward to my next trip to Colorado, preferably alone, but it is only a five hour flight with good headphones if he tags along.

  • Jill W

    I am DEEPLY jealous of this trip. I am sure you and your family will have a fabulous time. Aren’t you friends with Julianna Baggot? I am guessing she knows a thing or two about Provence. The Provence Cure for th Brokenhearted surely read like it was written by someone who had been there.

  • Brigitte

    Don’t miss that chick who got stuck under the bed – wait, that was YOU.

    The mention of the shiv reminded me of the creepy, bright pink icecream truck I’ve seen lurking around here lately, called “Mama Shank’s” – seriously!?

    Dream trip is basically anywhere where I can read and do absolutely no work, all by myself.

  • Catherine

    My daughter is living in Paris, so I was there in the fall. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get really good food in Paris. Try the street side vendors making crepes. Nothing is as good as a nutella and banana crepe! And its fun to watch these guys make them. There are outdoor cafes all over too. The best pizza I’ve ever eaten was in Paris!

  • JenniferG

    How very exciting!!! My parents are taking my sister and I on a river cruise in Paris and Normandy in the fall (you know that one advertised on Masterpiece Theater? with all the beautiful seniors? That will be us). My sister and I will probably be 20 years younger than our shipmates, but who cares, IT’S FRANCE.

    I went to central France once for a few days for work. It was miserably hot and I got hives, but, hello, FRANCE. The countryside was beautiful. Then I had an unplanned layover in Paris on my way to Frankfort and spent an hour in Notre Dame (wonderful). Lit a few candles and got my hand kissed by a nun so I figured GOOD TRAVEL KARMA for this nice Lutheran girl and, bingo, the rest of the trip was much better. My advice? Make a donation, light a candle, have a good trip!

  • Katherine

    I went to Paris for 3 days, tagging along with DH’s work trip. The work part was actually in Metz, France. My biggest advice is NEVER pass up a free bathroom! It is not fun to have to fumble for money or not have the right change when you need to go! Definitely get some pain au chocolat. I’m not a big coffee fan, but I was delighted to find that hot cocoa was equally available and good! At all thre little cafes. I didn’t worry too much about all the bread because we walked – a lot! So much to see. Do check the weather as it can be much cooler than hotlanta. Maybe it was just when we went, but we spent early to mid June in jeans, long sleeves and a light jacket. You will all have a blast!

  • Holly Gault

    I’ve never been, sigh, but read Eloisa James’s, Paris in Love, her year of sabbatical in Paris.

  • I concur on the free pee opportunities, the street meat and the steak frites.

  • JulieB

    Paris – Notre Dame at night, then walk across the bridge to the Latin Quarter (at night,) and let your kids soak up the cool vibe. We stayed at the Louis XIV, which is just off the Cathedral in the quarter, and I recommend the hotel (they spoke English and were nice about it, which helped because our French was 20 years old rusty), but even more, I recommend the little gift shop next door run by a young Asian man who stayed open extra-late and has every tchotchke you could want and threw in a handful of free key chains (He was very affordable, and we didn’t spend much, but he acted like we’d made his rent for the week). The free key chains were perfect for people we forgot as gifts.

    Also buy a crepe at the stand by the metro station by the Père Lachaise Cemetery for lunch – I recommend the ham and cheese. Of course, you will need to plan to eat more crepes and tarts and croissants. Do plan a day where you can sit outside and have a lemonade (Citron pressé) and take a break and watch people.

    Of course, the Louvre. And WATCH OUT FOR GYPSIES. New trick, they surround your kids to slow the group down. Tell your kids _in_advance_ to keep moving through crowds and listen to you if you say “Don’t Stop.” That and hissing helps. Although, the gypsy story is probably our favorite story from Paris.

  • JulieB

    Wow @ JenniferG – I read your comments and thought you wrote that you had an “unplanned Lover” and I was really impressed and a little jealous! Heh! Yes, do go inside in the day too, but it’s so beautiful at night, I think people should not miss it, so if you can, try for day and night. Then, it’s an easy cross to the night life from the bridge. 🙂

  • My best tip is to skip or seriously limit your Louvre time and go to Musee d’Orsay. The art at the Louvre is not really intresting to most Americans (especially American kids) but the Orsay is where they have the Impressionists. Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin and Van Gogh are all at this relatively smallish and totally managable museum. It is the most accessible fine art museum I have ever been to, both in terms of the art and the building itself.
    Have an awesome trip!

  • Tanya

    Bonjour! Practice this word. I have been there 3 times and am French and can tell you, a Bonjour and a smile opens doors.
    Echo Sarah and JulieB’s advice.
    Eiffel – go at night, look at it from the bottom, resist going up, it’s not worth the wait or the price.
    Do the Seine canal cruise at night. Super cheesy tourist activity but super romantic.
    Walk, walk, walk.
    Take the metro when you are tired of walking.
    Sit and watch. Have a carafe of wine. And. Just. Watch.
    Limit the Louvre to 3 hours, go in the early morning, start at Cafe Marly with a cafe au lait and a croissant, the waiters are EYE CANDY, better than what is waiting for you in the Louvre. Use the side entrance to the Louvre, if you are standing facing Cafe Marly with your back to the pyramid thingy, it’s up that side street in front of you on the right. My fave Louvre spots are the hall of statues and the walk to see Mona.
    Buy a museum pass first day.
    Enjoy.

  • Sounds like a fabulous trip. I am with you about traveling, and I don’t even have the excuse of being over it because of my job. I just like my own house and bed. And, you know, not sharing a tiny space with three teenagers.

    I think my dream trip would be to take the whole family to Italy, especially Venice (which I love but the food was not so great) and Rome (where the food was FABULOUS!) and Florence (where the art was amazing!).

    I haven’t been to Paris in about 20 years, but I do remember being under-impressed by the fancy restaurants and completely in love with the little sidewalk cafes and bakeries. My advice would be to save your Euros and skip the snooty places.

    PS Now I also want to visit the Texas Prison Museum. Who knew such a thing existed???

  • I always enjoy your blog as I do your books. Witty, a bit snarky and always worth the time. But today? TODAY you rocked it. A– I’m so proud of your savings for such a cool thing, man that is just fab. B– France? I love Paris although I haven’t been in years. It’s on MY savings plan which is not as good as yours! My only advice is don’t get all kooky on your kids and say “I saved all this money and took you on vacation for this?????” (I totally would).It’ll be great. Can’t wait to hear all about it!

  • Karen in Ohio

    Since you’re taking your children, you should try to get to the Luxembourg Gardens. They have pony rides. The Tuilleries is another lovely place for an afternoon with the family. It’s in between the Louvre and the Champs Elysees, spanning several long blocks.

    If you can, take a dinner cruise on a bateau mouche. We did this with our family and it was so relaxing. Plus you get to see a side of Paris that you cannot see otherwise. And of course: dinner! And wine, natch.

    If you sit inside the restaurant it costs more. No idea why. Walk as much as you can, but the Metro is brilliant, too, and the kids will love it. They can have Nutella for breakfast, but you should have cafe latte and pain au chocolat (croissant filled with dark chocolate, to die). Parisians only have cafe latte in the morning, by the way. The rest of the day’s coffee is espresso, or Cafe Americain, which is not as strong. If you prefer tea, you’re in luck. There are salons de the everywhere. Mariage Freres not only has excellent tea, but they also have exquisite pastries.

    You will love it!

  • ALaw

    I can’t wait to learn what happens to the fruit in France. They say it’s respectful after the excretion. Do they cuddle the fruit, stay overnight and make it breakfast in bed the next morning? Begin your day with a beautiful almond croissant in a Paris cafe and end it with too much house red and frites.of course I think of food.

  • Elizabeth

    We traveled to Paris the Loire and Provence last summer, a last trip before my father in law moved in with us. Love the Loumarin. Everything takes far longer than it takes here. Sometimes in a good way, but just allow time. Provence can be chilly at night. The lavender should be lovely when you arrive! And “mouse lamb slush” actually translates into roasted lamb shank. It was delicious. I strongly dislike the Louvre crowds, but you do have to go. Just prep the kids that it will be crowded. We’ve never had a gypsy problem in all our travels– we don’t flaunt privilege, wear bright colors or talk loudly. Maybe these things are related, perhaps God has just been kind.

  • Lately, I dream of London. A lot.

  • Bridget

    Love Paris! Recommend looking at David Liebovitz’s blog http://www.davidlebovitz.com/ on the Paris sidebar for tips on French life and good cafes. He’s an ex-California cook who moved to Paris awhile back and who has a wry outlook on life on French life. Have a great time and pack 25pct less than you think you need. You can always buy it there and have a neat remembrance of your time spent abroad.

  • TC

    We’re putting money away in our secret “don’t even think about touching this” places for a trip to England, Scotland, Ireland, and maybe even, if we’re wild and crazy enough, Wales. Next summer. I hope. After that, we’ll lose my oldest to the World of College, and I promised her this trip so so so so many years ago!

  • JulieB

    I’m here to correct my post and add something that will save your LIFE. Correction: The hotel was not Louis XIV, it was Henry IV. I was thinking of too many things at the same time. Anyway, liked the hotel and the location was excellent. Plus, I think their breakfast looked good, but we went out to a cafe.

    Whatever you do if you drive: Avoid the Boulevard Périphérique at rush hour at _all_costs_. It’s a circle of Hell. If Dante had a car, it totally would have been on the list. And, watch out for the motorcycles, which dodge between lanes.

    And, for the Louvre, do check it out and figure out what is a must-see for your families tastes. My son _really_ wanted to see the Mona Lisa. I love the Winged Victory, we all liked the Venus de Milo and the (maybe) crown of Charlemagne, and we saw Canova’s Psyche and Cupid, which was pretty cool because my daughter had to do a report on the Greek Gods at the end of the school year and luckily drew Eros and Psyche and remembered the statue.

  • I used to live in Paris. You’ll have great fun there. Best dumb fun thing to do is to go to the Eiffel Tower in the evening. You’ll want to be there when it gets dark, because every hour on the hour, the already-lit tower sparkles all up and down with beautiful flashing lights for a brilliant few minutes. There is a creperie at the base of the tower where you can get a crepe au chocolat while waiting for the light show. It’s just the best. There’s also an Italian place nearby that serves great pizza. Will try to find the name for you.

  • Melody

    Mango is going to be mad at you 🙂

  • The pizza joint near the Eiffel Tower is called Trattoria Dell’ Angelo, on 6 avenue Rapp, in the 7th arrondissement. I remember the carpaccio being very nice, too.

  • Melanie

    Go to Saint Chappelle. Breathtakingly beautiful! Brave the line, or get there early. Steps from Notre Dame, which is of course steps from Shakespeare and Co!

  • dramamama

    i agree on d’orsay over the louvre, but also try L’Orangerie….it is the Monet museum. room-sized water lilies,….etc. It is my favorite paris museum….oh, and hit the street flea markets on the weekend….

  • Have not been to Paris, but took my daughter to London and Edinburgh last November for her 16th birthday. It was a trip we’d been planning since she was 7. Now looking forward to Italy with my son when he turns 16. I have a few years… but like all things with kids, it will be here sooner than I expect!

  • Kirsten

    I spent a year in Germany, but we were too broke to travel anywhere else, so I have no Paris suggestions. But the ad for the farmer’s market made me laugh so HARD and LOUD, with tears coming out of my eyes in abundance. Please PLEASE go there!

  • Isapie

    We loved Notre Dame, and the Louvre, and Versailles… but an unexpectedly fun spot was the Catacombs. Underground tunnels full of skulls, formed into hearts and dripping audible waters and other fun things I won’t ruin for you. This is of course provided your kids dig Creepy, which I assume they do because I hope they do.

  • Isapie

    ps – misc. tidbits about Paris which would have been helpful to know beforehand – finding a bathroom is VERY. difficult. When one is available, Go, even if you think you don’t have to Go. Trash cans are equally as rare. What is in abundance is surfaces which have been peed on. Pee is everywhere (probably as a direct result of the rarity of bathrooms). There is also occasionally poop, human poop. Right there, in front of you, poop. But the poops are more easily identified and avoided than the pee. WARN YOUR CHILDREN . Tell them to assume that any outside surface has been peed on, because it is a good, safe assumption. All of this sounds like generic Mom advice but it is ALL TRUE. I don’t say these things as kvetching, Paris was amazing, but having this info in advance could help the focus be on the Amazing instead of the pee.

  • Jen

    Catacombs! Truly amazing and really not a thing to miss, pay homage to those who lived during the creation of this great city. And it’s a mildly creepy fun time 😉
    http://www.paris-france.me.uk/catacombs.htm