Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Home for the Holidays!!

We are counting down the days until we leave for Pennsylvania, two more! I am so excited to go home for Christmas, I can't wait to see our family and friends! We are keeping busy here in Paris. I am working on a couple Christmas presents that need to be finished before we leave and trying to get all our stuff organized for the trip. We also have to give lots of extra love to our poor kitties who will spend Christmas alone.

Julien is being a super baby, he is sleeping all night (other than waking to eat) and napping during the day. He is really starting to notice things around him. He can grab his toys and loves looking in the mirror although I am pretty sure he doesn't know what he is seeing. Josh's coworkers bought him a toy that he lays on and things dangle in front of him, he loves it! He is able to hold his pacifier and get it into his mouth which is great for me! He is growing so quickly, he is almost 15 pounds now.

Last night we went to the Champps Elysee to see the lights. They were amazing but it was so cold! Julien was all bundled up so he was warm except his little eyes were exposed. He was so interested in all the lights and everything going on around him. He usually sleeps in his Bjorn but last night he was wide awake and looking everywhere. He kept turning his head from side to side to see everything, it was so cute. Josh took a million pictures of the lights from all different angles. We were going to ride the ferris wheel but it was just too darn cold. It was great to get out of the apartment even for only a few hours. I am really starting to get stir crazy here!

I think we are tentatively planning to go to Brickside (in Exton) on Saturday December 29. Our friend Clay will be playing live. We still have to verify a baby sitter but we should be able to work something out. If anyone wants to come by we will probably head over sometime around 8, I believe Clay goes on at 9 or 10. We probably can't stay much past twelve but it will be great to get out AT NIGHT and see our favorite guitarist in action.

I am not sure how many posts we will get up while we are in the US. Probably not too many since we will be visiting our biggest readers. We might post our Christmas letter in case we missed anyone or had the wrong addresses. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and we can't wait to see you all in a few days!!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quick Update

We finally finished our Christmas letter, now we just need a picture with Julien paying attention. We are going to try tomorrow and if we can't get him looking at the camera we will just go with one we already have. Hopefully we will get them in the mail Monday!

I spent all day yesterday baking Christmas cookies which is rather challenging with a baby. I did manage to bake them while he was napping and/or in his swing. I had visions of him needing my attention and me burning all the cookies. Baking always makes me want to be back home in a real kitchen. I have become quite talented at using the washer as a counter and cooling cookies all over the apartment. I have even mastered turning the cookies to accommodate my oven's "hot spots" but oh how I long for next Christmas, hopefully in a larger kitchen with a calibrated oven!

We are headed home next Friday for 16 days! I am so excited to go back to the Pennsylvania and see our friends and family. We really want to see as many people as possible while we are home so please email me, with your availability if you want to get together. Josh needs to go the office a couple days but besides for that we are free.

We have started the process to move back to the states by getting an estimate on our apartment. It was lower than we hoped but I guess that is the way it goes sometimes. We plan to put our apartment on the market in Janauary, hopefully selling it quickly so we can start looking for a house in Pennsylvania. Our plan is to be back in the US by June of next year. It takes at least three months after the buyer has secured financing to do the transfer of an apartment in France. I can't wait to find the perfect home in the US where Julien can grow up and have wonderful memories.

In other news it is really cold in Paris which makes going outside less than desirable. I bundle up the baby and he is fine but then we get in a shop and it is too warm so he freaks out. I am not really coordinated enough to get off his outer layers while he is strapped on me in the Bjorn. Taking him out of the Bjorn is not a possibility as there is no place to set him down. We had quite a scene in the Monoprix yesterday but luckily it was in the morning when it is mostly other mom's shopping so I didn't get too many evil stares. Speaking of Julien I hear him stirring in his crib, I think we will have a little "tummy time" then lunch (I have learned lunch before "tummy time is not a good idea!).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Trying to Make A Christmas Picture

If you don't think we have your address, send it to us! A Christmas picture is in the works!

Of course, all three of us will be in it! But we have to keep it a surprise!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hotel California

After our "rustic" cabin in Joshua tree our next stop in California was heavenly. We arrived at "Chez Keller" on Tuesday and stayed until Sunday when we returned to Paris. We were greeted at by our host Jennifer and her assistants Will and Holland and of course the grandmother extraordinaire, GG! We quickly got settled into their beautiful home.

Not only does Chez Keller offer a lovely guest room complete with a baby bed they also have many amenities. There is a fantastic pool with a lovely spa along with a fire pit and beautiful scenery. Inside they offer a flat screen TV (often tuned to football but offering movies and children's shows also), baby swing, and on this occasion cooking lessons. During our stay I learned some fantastic new "Thanksgiving" recipes and Josh learned the fine art of turkey BBQ (at least that was the excuse for hanging out with Matt by the grill).

The Keller's also provided us with a great continental breakfast along with two fully stocked fridges and anything else we could think of to eat or drink. They also arranged excursions for us, from a fantastic wine tasting to a "boys" night out. They were fantastic hosts and we can't wait to return the favor in April when they come to visit us in Paris.

We also spent some time visiting Josh's sister Kristin and her husband Scott as well as their children Chelsea and Eric. Josh's dad Mike came along and we all went to lunch together after spending a few hours at their home.

We also had the chance to visit with Pops and Grandma at their house. We didn't have too much time because we had to catch our plane but the few hours we did spend were quite nice.

When we weren't being entertained by family we were taking advantage of the GG's babysitting services and getting some time to ourselves. We mostly shopped but we did manage to squeeze in haircuts and a few lunches. It was nice to relax a bit without the baby since we don't have that luxury in Paris.

We had a fantastic time in California, it was great to see everyone and to be back in the US. I am already counting the days until Christmas when we will go home to Pennsylvania and see my family as well as Josh's parents and all of our friends. We purchased our tickets and plan to arrive on December 21 and stay until January 6. I hope we can see as many people as possible!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Photos From California

This is the cot Julien got on Air France.
Gena and Juju on the plane.
Waiting in the Air France lounge before the flight. People gave us our space.
Warming up for the flight! Everyone wants a happy baby!

The kids and Jennifer.

Jennifer makes the boy smile! And laugh.
GG and Papa Mike see Julien for the first time in, uh, 3 weeks? :)
Happy times on the bed!
Pam with our baby boy.
GG and baby Julien.
The four bombshells:
Papa Mike and GG.
The Kellers and Julien.
Kristin and the baby. She wouldn't let him go! It's easy when he likes her so much!
Papa Mike and Chelsea
Julien reaching for and playing with the yellow kitty. He missed his kitties at home!
The Thanksgiving dinner!
Potential Jedi's hone their lightsaber skills.
The Force is strong with these young ones.
Pam and the Thankgiving baby.
Are we popping GG?
"Pop it in the oven!" Julien likes to pop things in the oven.
GG, Will, Holland, Julien. Looks like Julien is popping things in the oven!
Holland and Julien
Will and Holland and Julien

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Joshua tree

We spent our first three days in California at Joshua tree National Park. We hadn't really been to the desert before and thought it might be interesting. Josh also was looking for photo opportunities. We rented a cute cabin with a full kitchen and bath along with a bed and a futon for Julien. The Cabin also had a hot tub and grill of which we took full advantage.

We arrived Saturday afternoon, took showers and went to sleep early. We were exhausted after the long flight and car ride, also the nine hour time difference. The next morning we got up around six and went shopping for groceries and also stuff to bring back to Paris. We then headed to the park for the morning. We just drove around and got a feel for the park. We stopped a couple times to check out scenic views and also to eat and feed the baby. We went back to the cabin fairly early because we had BIG steaks and a wonderful bottle of wine waiting.

That night the baby went to sleep early so Josh and I grilled steaks and potatoes and had a great salad, all things we can't do in Paris. We enjoyed a wonderful California Cabernet in the hot tub, it was beautiful under the stars in the desert.

The next day we set off for a nice hike. We hiked for about two hours then decided to have lunch. We quickly realized we forgot our lunch at the cabin so we headed back. There is nowhere to eat in the park. We arrived back and enjoyed our lunch. Josh then took the baby to Walmart and gave me an hour of quiet time. I enjoyed a cold beer in the hot sun with a good book, it was lovely! That night we had the same dinner as the night before, why mess with perfection? We skipped the wine and went to bed early as we were exhausted!

The next day we headed back to Orange County where Josh's family were eagerly awaiting baby Julien. The car ride was shorter than expected and Julien slept the entire time so that was nice!

All in all Joshua tree was nice but really if you aren't rock climbing a day or two is all you need to see everything. It all looks pretty similar but it was nice to be in the heat after the chill of Paris. I was looking forward to the fresh air but it is pretty polluted up there, I guess you can't get away from it in California, just too many people.

Going to California

It seems our son is a natural born traveler. He was a delight on the flight to and from California. The flight there was 11.5 hours with another hour or so on the plane before take off and after landing. He didn't cry once other than we landed.

We flew Air France business class which provided us with a "sky cot" which is a bassinet that attaches to the wall in front of our seats. Julien slept in it for about an two hours on the way to California and then for about five hours on the way back to Paris. When he wasn't asleep he was on our laps laughing and playing or eating.

Once we arrived in California we had to buy a baby seat and then we set off for a four hour drive to Joshua tree. Julien got a little fussy in the car but really after such a successful plane ride we couldn't fault him a little fussiness. He quickly adjusted to the time change by going to sleep around 5 in the afternoon and waking up around 5 in the morning, and of course a few times to eat.

Once we got back to Paris it was a different story. Julien has a bad case of baby jet lag, poor little guy. The first night wasn't too bad but the second night he was up from 11 to 4:30 which is crazy because he is never awake for that long in a row. Last night (the third night) he was up from about 1 to 4 but without too many tears. We hope tonight he goes back to normal which is sleeping from about 8 PM to 9 AM waking to eat every 4 hours. We will see though because he is asleep right now. I did my best to keep him awake but the little guy is sleepy after being up most of the night. I really hope he gets back to normal before we drag him home again in three weeks!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Belgian Quad Battle!

Yesterday we had a successful trip to Belgium to buy beer:

I was looking for the Big Belgian Quads (those cases you can see in the photo) and Gena was looking for some Lambics, which she enjoys (in the middle and zoomed in the other photo)

It became glaringly obvious that after going to the effort (and the Westy really is an effort) of getting these three huge Belgian Quadrupel style beers, they should be pitted against each other in battle! I set about arranging a simultaneous tasting of these three rare, expensive, and oh-so-delicious Belgian ales. Gena also tasted a bit and commented.


Westvleteren 12°, 10.2% ABV, bought at the abbey, brewed 17 October 2007
Rochefort 10°, 11.3% ABV, bought at a beer store, brewed apparently 4 October 2007
St. Bernardus 12°, 10% ABV, bought at a beer store, also a recent batch but date unknown.

As you can see, all of these beers are very recent batches, which doesn't give a good comparison of the beers at their peak - it's said the Westveletern is best after 3 years, for example, although the brewery stamps a "best before" date which is two years after date of brewing. Anyhow, it will be interesting to re-taste this set after a year, or two, or five!

Back to the tasting. Here are the bottles and the caps:

I surprised myself that I actually had all of the glasses for these three. Obviously, I'm a fan! I don't collect glasses or anything, I got two of these for free at different stores.

Visually, you can see the St. Bernardus has the lightest color, Rochefort is much darker, and Westvleteren is almost black. The head also shows some differences. The Westvleteren was poured last, but the head never did go down:

Aromas: At this point I should explain that all three of these beers are really masterpieces in their own right, and comparisons between them are like comparing the height of different telephone poles - one might be shorter, but you can't really tell if you are looking from the ground!
Aromas are fun to go back and forth between the beers, because the beer doesn't go away as you smell, and it's easier to clear your nose of smell than your mouth of flavors. All three have very complex malty aromas, and alcohol. Not a lot of hops aroma. Of the three, the Rochefort smelled the most different, both St. Bernardus and Westvleteren smelled roasted, but the St. Bernardus more sweet and the Westvleteren more burnt. Rochefort didn't put forth a lot of aroma (relatively), it smelled a little like cherries and cleaning product(?). All three were a bit strong in alcohol smell also. They are still young.

Taste: I started with the St. Bernardus. Alcohol is very obvious from the beginning, but after a sip or two it's normalized. It's sweet caramelized malt, well balanced by alcohol and a touch of bittering hops evident. This is a malt profile beer. Mouthfeel is aggressive, sharp. Gena: Even more sour smelling. It's not very good after the Westvleteren. The second sip is much better.

Rochefort doesn't come through nearly as sweet, in fact after the St. Bernardus it's rather bitter. A slight soap taste in fact (yes I wash my glasses well). The mouthfeel was smooth, super small bubbles. Gena: Very Crisp. Tiny tiny bubbles - "it's like it's cleaning out my mouth!"

It's ridiculous how much better the Westvleteren is even in this elite company. It's so smooth, easy, balanced. There are similarities, but while the other two seem unrefined, sharp, and young, the Westvleteren is fine and smooth, and delicious. Complex malt profile, maybe a little roasted malt but probably a rather long boil caramelizes the sugars at bit. The finish is almost a tannic dry. Gena's quote: "Woah! Much more intense flavor, not as scrubby. It feels so good..."

Similes: St. Bernardus was like candy, Rochefort was like a cleaning product, Westvleteren was like tar. Good tar.
I have adored Rochefort in the past and was honestly disappointed this time. To be fair, in the last few sips it seemed to have transformed suddenly, like a Bourgogne opening up in the last glass-full. It leaves a question mark - needs to breathe, maybe. It has the highest ABV also.

This is really just a preview, these beers really are designed to age and the flavors meld together. In a year from now it should be done again, and maybe soon I can taste a "new" Westvleteren 12° and a year-old one, side by side. As things stand, given the metamorphosis of the Rochefort in the final minutes, ratings are:

Westvleteren >> Rochefort > St. Bernardus

If you have these beers, I recommend opening and pouring all three, smelling them all, then drinking half the St. Bernardus, then half the Rochefort, then half the Westvleteren. Go slow. Then you can go back and taste back and forth. This way you can first appreciate each as being fantastic, yet still compare in the end, if you are still sitting upright. They are big beers!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Two month check up

Baby Juju had his second check up last night. He is perfectly healthy and growing exactly as he should. The doctor said he has never seen a baby measure exactly the same (50th percent) for everything (head, height and weight) twice in a row. I don't know if this is a good thing, I guess "average" is better than below and really who wants a big headed baby?

On the way to the doctor I stopped at the pharmacy to pick up the shots needed for the visit. In France you pick up the shots and bring them to the doctor. When I stopped to pick them up the pharmacist held up a package and asked me for one or three months. I told him I didn't know and he looked at my quite funny and laughed, then said "you don't know???" and laughed some more. I just figured he as some crazy pharmacist and paid for one month.

Fast forward to our visit, I am getting Julien undressed and Josh gives the pharmacy bag to the doctor. The doctor quickly gives Josh the something and says "I don't need these". I look around and it is the mystery box. The doctor is also laughing, I ask what they are and he looks at me with surprise. He says "those are birth control". I told him what happened at the pharmacy and he looked again at his prescription. It seems he had written to give Julien his vitamin "daily" and Daily is also the name of a birth control pill in France. So it seems the pharmacist must have thought I was really nuts saying I didn't know how long I would need the pills. Another great example of "lost in translation". I am just glad I didn't try to give them to Julien daily, that would have been horrible! I double checked the prescription for the next visit and it is only for shots, anything else I KNOW I don't need for one or three months. We all had a good laugh especially wondering what the pharmacist must have been thinking!

Besides the prescription debacle the visit went well. Julien wasn't too happy with the shots but he wasn't too upset. He was a little extra fussy last night and today but that is to be expected. I am happy he is healthy and growing normally. I thought he was getting a little chubby but I guess I was wrong. We go back to the doctor after Christmas at which time we will start "sleep training" and possible add some cereal to his diet. I am going to worry about that when the time comes right now I am just enjoying every minute with the little guy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Pictures

This is the artistic pic, taken in our Holiday Inn Express, on the little cot they provided for Julien:

Here is the little family in front of a very nice set of trees.

Daddy making the boy laugh and smile during "tea":

Julien's clashing patterns in the pack and play provided by our B&B in the Lakes District:

Gena along one of our hikes. The color (or should I say colour) of the trees was spectacular. The photographer is carrying the baby this time.

Baby Juju begging for change on a park bench. I hope he'll bring in more money for the family after he can sing and/or play an instrument.

I got to fire off a few quick photos here using the remote before Julien got too fussy. He was a hungry boy!

Gena being goofy as I set up the shot and check exposure.

Asleep on the mommy!

Some play time in the morning, this is our room in the B&B

Sometimes tummy time goes well, but never for very long:

A better look of our room in the B&B. Nice big room, but the shower was really bad.

At a little restaurant in the Lakes District. Great food! (Francine's, in Windermere)

Us on a dock on Lake Windermere. The camera is sitting crooked on a rock, and that's me hitting the remote.

Our little pirate.

Aye, he found him some pirate trrrreasurrrre, aarrr!