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!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Visit to the Lakes

We just returned from our first "family" vacation. Josh and I have had many, many traveling adventures as a couple and many trips with our parents but this was our first with Julien. It sure was a lot different than traveling without the baby.

We went to the Lake District in the north of England. We planned the trip around a conference where Josh was to give a presentation. We found out Tuesday via an email at 1 PM that the conference was canceled. We decided to go anyway as we already paid for the plane tickets and the hotels.

We left our apartment Tuesday afternoon around 4PM to catch our 7PM plane. We quickly realized traveling with a baby requires much more stuff than when we traveled in the past. We had the stroller, car seat, car seat stand, diaper bag plus our own stuff. We were nervous it wouldn't fit in a Taxi so we took the Metro and RER to the airport. That was an adventure involving a lot of stairs but we did finally make it to the airport with plenty of time.

Julien did great on the plane ride to London and we the car ride to our hotel. Once we got to our hotel he let us know he was hungry! We managed to check in and get to our room with him screaming the entire time. I fed him and he went to sleep which was a huge relief! Room Service for mommy and daddy.. no chance to visit the adorable pub in the hotel.

The next day was set off for our next stop, Stoke-on-Trent. Julien was great as long as I fed him every 3 hours. We spent a lot of time sitting in rest stops while I fed him but it was safe and kept him happy. He was being such a good baby we decided to try going out to dinner, just across the street from the hotel to a "Friday's" type place. We had Julien dressed up as a pirate for Halloween and he was so cute we wanted to show him off a bit. Unfortunately he had a major break down in the restaurant. We took turns eating while one person held him and walked around outside. Finally I went back to the hotel and Josh paid the bill. Once I fed him he was an angel and slept all night.

We finally made it up to the Lakes on Thursday. We stayed in a really cute B&B with only one problem, the water in the shower didn't get hot. It was luke warm at best and there was nowhere for me to wash the baby. We made the best of it and Julien was in heaven not having a bath! The B&B provided a pack-n-play where Julien slept. We spent our days driving around, hiking and shopping. Josh and I switched off wearing Julien in the Bjorn and we had a great time.

We had to stick to eating large lunches in restaurants while Julien slept. We are now terrified to go to dinner after the Holloween incident. We were in bed each night by 9PM after having simple picnics in our room. It was definitely different than our past trips! At least this new way of travel saves us a lot of money and is probably better for our health. I did long to visit some of the adorable restaurants though.

Julien was less than perfect on the flight home. He started screaming in the Air France lounge and continued off and on until take off. He did fall asleep when we got up in the air and slept the rest of the flight and the descent. He only woke up when we got off the plane. He started to cry while we waiting in a huge line for customs so they brought us to the front of the line and we got through quickly. Then we were waiting at the end of a HUGE Taxi line and someone told us to go to the front with the baby. I just walked to the front while holding the baby while dragging his stroller and looking very frazzled. Josh was behind me with all of our luggage looking equally frazzled. They gave us the next Taxi! Sometimes traveling with a baby does come in handy.

All in all we had a great trip. It is more complicated traveling with a little baby but it is definitely not complicated enough to stop our adventures! I am looking forward to visiting California in a couple weeks, 11.5 hours in the plane, that should provide blogs for a month!