Monday, August 31, 2009

August 31, 2009: It's an A+

Well, we now have the first day of school for 2009 - 2010 behind us. And I am very relieved! I did some stuff today to keep my head occupied, but truly I was just really nervous about how it was all going.

The day started off well enough. We all got up on time, had breakfast together, and none of the girls were bad mouthing school. All five of us left for school on time and though we arrived to mass chaos (lots of crowds of parents and children and the head lady giving directions in a French of course) and had little understanding of where to take our children, we figured eventually figured it all out. We got the girls off to each of their respective class rooms and felt OK - they let us leave with no tears or struggle. So with that, Andrew went to work and I went home where I crossed my fingers all day long that a good first day would be had by all.

Here are some rough quotes and conversations from after school when I asked about their days:

Me: Ella, what was your favorite part about school today?
Ella: Everything! I loved it all!
Me: Well, what did you like the least about school today?
Ella: Nothing! I loved it! I love my teacher. I have a really cool classroom that sits atop a spiral staircase. And I am such a big girl now.

Me: How was your day Grace? Did you have a nice first day of school?
Grace: Yes! It was fun, mommy.
Me: What did you learn about? Can you remember anything?
Grace: Flower petals. I love flowers. And we had pudding for dessert and mashed potatoes and the cafeteria was new and I don't know what happened to the old one.
Me: And how about the bathroom. Did you go potty before and after nap time so you wouldn't have a potty accident?
Grace: Yes. I am big now, mom!
Me: Great job, Grace. I am so proud of you!

Me: And how about you Mia. How was your first day of school?
Mia: It was great.
Me: Did you like your teacher?
Mia: Yes, she was really nice.
Me: Your teacher told me you were really good in class today. But she did mention to me that you sang ALL day long.
Mia: Yes, she told me that I was hurting her ears (giggling).
Me: Yes, so she said you were a very good singer but that she would prefer you save your singing for before and after school. Can you do that for her?
Mia: Yes. And, I learned about butterflies today. And I got to take a nap in the same room as Grace.

Tonight, before bed, Grace cheered when she found out it was another school day tomorrow. She said she wanted to stay really long at school. Ella agreed. After school today I took all the girls to the park nearby where we sat and had the above conversations and they had a snack. After we talked and they ate, they played for a while and do you know what the three of them played? School.

(pictured above: the girls playing school at the park after school)

From where I stand, I don't think today could have gone any better. Now what does that leave us for tomorrow? I hate to ponder that question, but I certainly just hope it's as good as today.

Now, onto fun topics such as fashion. Just look how happy Grace is below - just beaming. Grace was so excited to put on this fabulous new dress for school today. Fresh off the racks from J.C. Penny! What a great age it is when your children are thrilled and unaffected by wearing $25 dresses to school. I remember I used to hide in the aisles when my mom took me to KMart for fear of being spotted at the poor peoples store (that is what I thought people would say!) But that was silly, stupid really, of me. So cheers to you Grace! Soak up that pleasing polyester pretty dress. Strut your stuff!

Ella was also beside herself with a similar J.C. Penny dress and this was also her choice for the first day of school.

Mia, on the other hand, was a little miffed about her dress and was unhappy that is didn't have any sparkles or pizazz like Ella and Grace had. We told her that she had a really pretty bow and they others didn't, but she didn't fall for that explanation. Here is her picture:

Wish us luck for tomorrow!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

August 30, 2009: Riding the Rails

We arrived around 1:30 p.m. and had a picnic so we could store up some energy for our anticipated 2 hour bike ride on the tracks. Around 2:00 p.m. it was time to literally put the pedals to the metal! I believe the cost of this adventure was only around 20 Euros. As you can see above, there are two bikes in the front of each car and then a little couch in the back. Now, if you had calm, reasonable children, they would all sit there nice and quiet while enjoying the lovely scenery. But you know that is not the case for us, so basically the girls were up and down and standing and jumping and you name what else for the whole ride. So thank goodness for the netting in the front of the car.

Andrew and I powered the pedals - the seats are too high for children probably below the age of 8. There is a real simple break system to use when approaching stop signs (cars and bikes have the right of way when crossing public streets) and also when approaching veloriders coming from the opposite direction. Veloriders go out and come back on the same set of tracks, so when you approach someone coming form the other direction, you basically need to remove one car from the tracks to let the other riders move along.

The whole trip took about 1.5 hours and we probably went about 15 km. We saw a few interesting things along the way but to be perfectly honest, not very much. I think between one whiny child and one sleepy child, which together created crazy children, we also didn't have a very relaxing ride. If we had been with two other adults or even three children that were Ella's age (she was amused and happy the whole time) it might have been better. But for sure we had fun and will most likely try this again in another location. What a great use of defunct railroad tracks!

(pictured above: rusty car, drying laundry along tracks)

(pictured above: billy goat on tracks - he was on a chain, eating grass! Now that is green)

(pictured above: the track)

Later last evening we were lucky to have a babysitter. Who regretfully is moving to New Zealand for a year at the end of September...but I digress. We met a work friend of Andrew's out for drinks and then the three of us had dinner at a place called La Poterne. The restaurant is located in a building from the 17th century and is located on the oldest street in Caen. Great drinks, great atmosphere, great company!

Today was very low key. We had some boxes arrive on Friday that we shipped from Colorado. They had some clothes and books and costumes, just random things really that we wanted with us but couldn't fit in our suitcases. So we spent a lot of the day unpacking and putting away and ended with pizza at our favorite pizza place.

Oh, and school starts tomorrow! At least I hope it does - cause we are showing up! We have most of the school shopping done, the girls have picked out what they want to wear, they are bathed and sleeping and getting rested up for school year #2 here in Caen. So be sure to check back here tomorrow for how school went. All I really want the girls to accomplish tomorrow are the following: 1) Grace does not wet her pants 2) Mia doesn't pick any fights and take all the bread during lunch 3) Ella likes her teacher so she wants to keep going back. I don't think that is too much to ask, right?

Also, I am really excited about my oldest sister Kris coming to visit. I will go into Paris on Tuesday morning to retrieve her from the airport and then she will spend 2 weeks with us here in Caen. Oh, the adventures that we will have together!!

P.S. please ignore the funky formatting that has been happening in the past few blog posts - for instance the underlining of the first paragraph. Sometimes the text underlines, changes font, font size and color on me and I haven't the foggiest idea what is going on. I consider myself to be the resident IT Support Desk around here, but this has really thrown me for a loop.

Friday, August 28, 2009

August 28, 2009: Already Behind and School Hasn't Started

(pictured above: The scariest picture I could find, which isn't even scary)

So last night I had a slumber party with Ella and Grace. I didn't decide to slumber with them until around 1:30 a.m. when Grace got up to tell me it was too bright in her room. I took her back to her room only to find her closet door with the light on wide open. So I said, "Grace, why didn't you just shut the door? Or rather, why did you open it so much?" She told me the door opened by itself. That sounded weird to me and Ella, her bunkmate for the night, was sound asleep. So I couldn't ask her if she had opened the door. But I doubted that she had as she typically likes it dark in the room. So I thought it weird that her door had mysteriously opened by itself. Then I got to thinking about one night when I thought for sure I heard Grace get out of bed and walking around - you can hear when people are walking in the apartment due to the old, creaky wood floors. So I got out of bed to intercept her before she walked into our room about one thing or another and woke up Andrew. Only when I got to her room, she was sound asleep. And so was Mia. But the footsteps I heard were so real and vivid. I let that go. But here I was now with two curious incidents so last night I just decided to try and diagnose the problem myself. I laid out three big sitting cushions on the floor between Grace and Ella's bed, got my pillow and a blanket, I threw a freaky looking doll I spotted into it's identically freaky looking stroller and yep - I was on the lookout for freaky ghosts, goblins and Chuckie dolls.

Are you laughing at me yet? Maybe you think I am just wacko. But let's face it - I live in a 500 year old building - one of the oldest in all of Caen. The history of France and that of Caen is quite the story and the lives of those impacted by those of World War II alone would be enough to keep a few sad (or happy?) souls around some habitats. From the very start, before we moved into this apartment, I was slightly uncomfortable with that notion. But here we are after 6 months of living in this apartment and now I am not bothered - I just want anything that might be around to be more curtious. Like not walking so loud in the middle of the night and not leaving doors with lights on wide open when children are sleeping.

So what happened? Not much. I did hear some very loud and consistent creaking in the middle of the night that wouldn't stop but I soon discovered after some detective work that it was just the wind and the rain beating on the window dormer. Ella was scared of the noise so I just explained what it was and she immediately felt better. Grace slept. The scary doll slept too, all snug in her scary bed. And I actually slept comfortably myself on the floor. But would you like to know the ONLY weird thing that did happen? Mia got up first in the morning and came into Grace and Ella's room to wake them. So after 10 minutes we all rolled out of bed. I turned on some cartoons for the girls and I went to the kitchen to start my pot of coffee. I looked at the clock and it said 9:15 a.m. I pondered how great it was that the girls had managed to sleep in a bit. After I made a cup of coffee I went to check the news on the computer and a bit later I just happened to see the time the computer clock read 1:15 p.m. Which means that all of us slept until past noon. Without interruption. And the clock in the kitchen had a dead battery that had stopped at 9:15 a.m. So that is all definitely weird and I am not saying anything about anything, except that I fulfilled my protective duties that I felt were required at the time. Now, please resist the urge to commit me just yet. Any of you ever felt spooked for one reason or another?

Onto how we spent the rest of the day. Originally, I thought we had all morning and afternoon to plan an all day outing. But when I realized it was 1:15 p.m. and looked around to see all of us lingering happily in our pajamas, I knew I had to change course. So I let them watch more cartoons as I started to organize my calendar for the next few months - I was still so out of sorts that I felt the need to do something productive and grounded.

Amid my calendar organization, I realized that school starts next Thursday for the girls. And then I remembered that I had three packets of information that had been sent from the school over the summer, one for each daughter. These packets being in French, I had put off the reading of them and had instead opted to read my English US Magazine on many an occasion. I had noticed that required school supplies and vacation schedules were in the packets at first glance so with school supply shopping in mind for the weekend - and of course getting the calendar organized - I just dug into the packets with the idea of getting them read and out of the way.

What did I learn from these packets? Truth be told - not much! I didn't understand about 60% of the information. I mean, I did learn one important thing. That school, in fact, starts on MONDAY not on Thursday as I had thought. So at least I will get my girls to school on the right day. How in the world I thought it was Thursday....I have no idea. I was also able to extract the vacation dates for my calendar. And there are A LOT of vacations. Many of you might be excited for tons of vacation - particularly the teachers out there. But for me, I just get anxious about what I will do with the girls for 5 vacations that are 2 weeks in length. And then lots of little short ones.

And then there is the page of school supplies needed. A different list for each daughter coming from their different teachers. Grace's list was fairly simple. I think she needs 300 napkins, a box of kleenex, 2 self-photos, and a blanket and pillow for nap time. Mia's got a little more difficult. You may be wondering what would be so difficult about this? Just get out your dictionary, Kate, and look up the words! Well the problem is that I did do that. But the words individually looked up mean nothing when you put them all together. For instance, an school supply list from Chicago might say: 100 Rubber Bands. A French person would look up the word rubber and then the word band. Try piecing those together to understand what you child is supposed to bring to school! And those are the problems I am having. I translated one line item to say, "1 envelope of 3 rubber bands". I am doubting that is what it really means. But I can guarantee you that when my children show up to school on Monday, they will be laughed at for some random items I thought they needed for class. Hopefully, they will just remark to themselves that the silly American mother doesn't know any better. Just for your own reference, I scanned a copy of the school supply list I was trying to decipher today for Ella and my "homework" about what the line items may mean. And if you know French, feel free to translate the whole list for me so as to protect Ella from humiliation : )

So loosely, that is how the day went. The girls said they wanted to stay at home and play. Aside from a few timeouts, it was pretty mellow. Tomorrow we plan to take the girls on an adventure so stay tuned. And tomorrow night Andrew and I are going on date. Yay!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

August 26, 2009: Cheerios Go in the Cheerios Bucket

I wasn't sure how I was going to feel when we arrived back at our apartment in Caen today. The elation and happiness I felt when we arrived in Crested Butte just three weeks back seemed incomparable. But I can tell you that despite some major jet lag and the feeling of needing a 30 minute shower, it actually did feel nice to walk into our apartment. But I didn't feel that happiness until we arrived home - it was lacking all through the drive to get home. Now the difference is that when you arrive into the Gunnison/Crested Butte airport, the airport is small and uncrowded, when you walk out of the airport the first thing you see is blue skies and mountains, and the turbulence you most likely experienced made you euphoric to just be on steady ground. When you arrive into Paris, the airport is hot and crowded and the best view you can expect when you walk out of the airport is a sky (which may be cloudy) and a mountain of buildings. Not exactly the same experience - actually quite opposite. But when we finally arrived back at the apartment, all of us were extremely happy. Even the girls said they were happy to be back in France. They headed straight for the costumes and I headed straight for the shower - which once saddened me but now greets me!
(pictured above: Ella visiting the cockpit on our ORD to CDG flight)

Goodness. I still can't believe we are back in Caen. THANK goodness! In case you are wondering, it is still a LONG ride. But this time was a little easier than the last. Probably because we all knew what to expect and Andrew and I could better prepare the girls for upcoming events.

The only painful thing that really sticks out in my mind from the trip is a major, extra-loud, stressful, ulcer inducing temper tantrum from Mia. On a small shuttle bus at Ohare Airport. Mortified, overwhelmed, helpless, are words that describe me as I held her flailing, screaming body in the shuttle bus seat as we drove from Gate E2 to C18. And I know she was as loud as I remember because Grace actually started crying because Mia was hurting her ears. Oh, and the other passengers on the shuttle bus were not giving me those understanding glances that you hope for - rather they were providing glances of hate and distaste for me who obviously cannot control her own daughter. Ugh, you know? I just sat there, using all my might to get her to stay so she didn't inflict a tornado on the moving bus and it's passengers. What was this all about? Something so small, I don't even remember. Andrew and Ella had the right idea when they decided to walk back to C18 instead of taking the shuttle bus. But they sure missed quite a show...
(pictured above: Mia did eventually pass out - the sweat and red face alone that she produced during her temper tantrum would be enough to knock any kid out)

As you can see from the picture towards the top of the blog, Ella got to visit the cockpit and that was really exciting for her. Also, the girls continue to wow and captivate the flight attendants with their stellar behavior. I guess they don't see the sub-par behavior that Andrew and I notice, but I rather them be talked about as the polite children than the nasty ones.

The rest of our trip in Crested Butte was just awesome. Ella and I had a great mother daughter trip to Montrose, CO. We did our typical school shopping, got our nails done and then went out to dinner. To the left, Ella sports one of her new dresses at our fancy dinner at Camp Robber. Grace and Mia had their vision checked - Grace needs glasses but Mia doesn't. Mia was quite bummed about that! The girls had some play dates with their great friends and Andrew and I got to hang out with our friends, too. Lots of bike riding for Andrew, running for me. Ella had soccer camp for a whole week from 9 - 12 each day. We think she had fun, but most days she didn't want to get up for it and we are not really sure she had any clue as to what she was doing on the field. Regardless, it was a great introduction to soccer.

(Pictured above: The girls with their buddies Otto and Rocko)
(Pictured above: Ella and her friend Amelia with their soccer coach)

My sister and her two sons Jordan (7) and Cooper (4) arrived during our stay. It was great! We went hiking, the kids played together really well, and my sister and I had a chance to just hang out together. The most exciting part of their visit is that they got a formal offer on their house in Chicago so they officially are moving to the Denver area in one month. This is all due to a great career advancement for her husband Tom. So when we get back to Crested Butte, we will have my sister and her family just hours away - probably in the Highlands Ranch area - and that is awesome!

(pictured below: Ella and Grace with their friends at school in CB)
Ultimately, as I sit here and reflect on our trip, I am convinced it was a good idea to go home for a visit. Sure, there are some downsides to going back to Crested Butte, but isn't that the same for anything in life? Our family has decided to make Crested Butte our life-long home (though I have a nagging feeling that we may encounter some brief interruptions along the road) and to tie the girls to their home-based friends and community is essential. Of course that is true for Andrew and I, also, but the girls come first.

Riding on the airplane from Chicago to Paris I was thinking about what most I was looking forward to when we arrive back in Caen. As I was pondering this question, Grace was sitting next to me eating her breakfast and she said, "Mommy, the Cheerios are going in the Cheerios bucket and the yogurt is going in the yogurt bucket." Lately, this is her funny way of describing where the food goes once it passes through her mouth. And of couse, it goes into special buckets in your tummy! And it was then that I decided it was the food I missed most. I know I am a broken record about this, but I seriously can't tell you enough about how much better the produce is here in France - compared to Crested Butte (aka. CB), anyway. When we were in CB certainly the peaches were in full production and tasty as ever. But all the other produce at the store just looked icky. Also, we ate out a lot at our favorite restaurants and I was happy to not have to cook all that much. Now that we are back in Caen, I am looking forward to buying the produce that is fresh and in season, going to the market and buying whatever looks tastiest, and cooking up those tasty treats for the family. Or to put it in Grace's terms, I look forward to replenishing our tummies with produce into all of the appropriate buckets!

(pictured above: A photo taken during our drive through Blue Mesa Reservoir, just 30 minutes outside of CB)

(pictured above: Andrew helping Mia and Grace skate on the synthetic ice at Mt. CB)

(pictured above: Ella and with her friend Ellie after a successful slumber party - plus the twins)

(pictured above: Ella and I infront of the Black Canyon during our girls trip to Montrose, CO)

(pictured above: My sister Kim and nephews Cooper and Jordan at Rainbow Park in CB)

Friday, August 14, 2009

August 14, 2009: The Good Life in the Slow Lane

Our family vacation (can you call it vacation when you are at your own home?) continues to be great. The girls are having a blast going to Little Red and seeing their old friends. It's a great school year-round, but especially in the summertime. During the summer, they plan outings almost every day to go hiking, swimming, rock climbing, art classes, biology walks, visit farms, etc...So between these outings and just fun old fashioned play time, they couldn't be happier.

Tonight, Ella is having her first ever slumber party with her good friend Ellie. Except for getting called down to Ella's room about 10 minutes ago (after bedtime) when Ellie and Ella announced to me that Ella simply could not leave Colorado, she must stay because it is so pretty here and France is too far away, so far so good! Tomorrow, Ella and I will be driving about an hour to get to Montrose, CO. We did this last year as a mother/daughter trip right before kindergarten began. We went clothes shopping at Target, bought a new backpack, got our nails done, went out to dinner and stayed over in a hotel. We decided to make this a tradition, so tomorrow we will go and do the same. I am looking forward to our little trip!

Earlier this week I took Grace and Mia to get their eyes checked. I know they are young, but I did it for two reasons. First, because Ella got prescribed glasses about 7 months ago and I thought maybe the twins could have a similar issues (lovely genetics...). Second, because the twins were 2 months premature and vision problems are very common with that scenario. I guess there is a third reason, which is that Grace and Mia don't need any more barriers to being successful in an all French school, as they approach a new school year coming up in Caen. It turns out that Grace does actually need glasses - she has the same vision issue as Ella. Mia's vision is fine. Funny, isn't it, how identical twins can be so un-identical? Sometimes I don't see how it is even possible, how different they are.

Andrew and I have been having fun. He has been enjoying getting out and mountain biking with his friends. I have been mostly working out at the gym and running and hiking. We pretty much decided we should just do as we wish, with or without each other. We gotta get in all of our favorite stuff before it is too late! Andrew has gotten out a few nights to hang out with friends. One night he might have had a little too much fun so the next morning I happily suggested that we should spend about 2 hours in the hot sun playing tennis together. He won one game and I won one game, but even with a nasty hangover I am pretty sure he still let me "win" one. Darn!

On Sunday I have plans to hang out with my good friend Andi. On Monday we have a cookout at some other friends house. On Wednesday my sister and her whole family arrive for a long weekend. So lots of fun stuff coming up.

We have been having fun here in Crested Butte, but it surely has been low key. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

August 9, 2009: Exceeds Expectations

Ahh. Finally. Here in Crested Butte.

It always takes me a few days after a long set of traveling with the family to fully relax and look back and reflect on it all. Back in February, traveling to Caen from Crested Butte was not a day at the park, as you may remember from my first blogs. And I still hold to my theory that there probably is not a more boring topic than hearing about people's travel hems and haws. Therefore, I will just tell you that the trip was long (could we possibly live in two more difficult places to travel between?) but we arrived safely and walked out of the Gunnison/Crested Butte Airport with big smiles on our faces. And we have been smiling ever since.

We have been here in Crested Butte since Wednesday, August 5. Our good friend Kristina picked us up at the airport with our big truck around 1:00 p.m. We got big hugs from a good friend and that was awesome. We then piled into our car and for a moment we all were speechless. If you haven't read about our current car (aka the CTA bus) in Caen, it might be hard for you to imagine why getting into our truck was so heavenly it brought us to have no words. But after 6 months of traveling near and far in our gray beastly van, this Yukon was like getting a massage - for a whole 30 minutes until we got to our house.

The ride to our house was perfect. The sky was as beautiful as ever, the mountains were lush and the fields were greener than I ever remembered seeing them. The XM radio was still working and we all happily listened to our favorite station while guiltily pumping the air conditioning to full blast after a few days of sticky, hot travels. Ella, Grace and Mia sang their favorite French songs to Kristina, trying to wow her with their new melodies.

We arrived home and the girls were screaming with delight. The house looked just as we remembered, but better. The grass was green, the trees looked taller, the wildflowers seemed to have bloomed better this summer. We got into the driveway and the girls immediately ran to get on their bikes in the garage. Andrew unpacked the car and I went into the house to just look around. Everything looked perfect, almost too perfect. I think I forgot just how lucky we are to have this house, to live where we live. After biking for a few minutes, the girls then went downstairs to the playroom and I think played with every single toy and wore every single costume within 30 minutes. They were in heaven! They continued to play for hours. I unpacked a little bit but really I just lounged around and felt very relaxed.

The first few days here were weather wacky. An hour of sun, an hour of rain and that continued for about 2 days. But I don't think any of us cared because the sky was so beautiful, the girls had all of their old toys to play with and we didn't have to do anything anyway!

Sleeping here has been so refreshing. I remember when we first moved here we had trouble sleeping due to the complete and utter quiet at nighttime. But now, as we sleep here during this trip, the quiet no longer keeps us up but begs us to sleep. I can't think of two greater contrasts in bedtime noise than Caen, France and Crested Butte, Colorado.

Our first full day here started with getting our favorite coffee from Camp 4 Coffee. We saw tons of familiar faces that couldn't have been nicer and each and every conversation reminded us of why we live in this small, friendly town in the mountains. We took the girls bike riding and even though Ella got a little over-ambitious and had a wipe out, she still ended up being proud to show off her boo-boos to her friends later. I took a trip to the grocery store in Gunnison and stocked up on groceries and just relished in the ease of reading the labels in English and knowing where to look for a product. Late in the afternoon we received an invitation to stop by the girls' old school (The Little Red Schoolhouse) to say hello. Upon arrival the girls were bursting with excitement and when we walked in the lights that had been out came on and followed with a big "SURPRISE!!!" from all of their old classmates and teachers. The girls were stunned but got over that quickly and immediately began to chum around with their old friends. It was a wonderful welcome home and just what I think the girls needed and wanted. We ended the night at our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Ruben's. The margarita's still rock!

The girls went to Little Red on Friday all day long (they asked for it!) so Andrew and I jumped into our desired activities. He went mountain biking and I went to the gym, to the chirpractor (ahhhh....) and then running. We met up a The Brick Oven for a few beers for lunch and just relaxed in the beautiful weather. Late Friday night our good friends the Galloway's arrived from the Boulder area for a visit with their son William. We also had our friends Brad and Kristina over for drinks to catch up. You can't beat such great company!

Saturday was spent at the park in the morning and we had a picnic there. The afternoon was dedicated to the girlies, as my friends Jen and Kristina and I went bike riding up and down the mountain and ended with a beer at The Brick Oven - where else? That night the guys went fly fishing and reported a great time. Andrew hasn't been fly fishing much so he got some great pointers from his friends Brad and Jeff. I think he might actually want to go more often now that he has learned from the pro's.

Today, The Galloways left for home but only after spending the morning and afternoon with us on the mountain at the new adventure park. It has bungees, synthetic ice skating, and a climbing wall. The Galloways started for home around 2:00 p.m. but we stayed on at the park until around 4:30 p.m. It was a long day but full of fun. What a great surprise and treat to have such a fun, new adventure park available at the base of the mountain! The girls loved it - love it.

I have taken a lot of surveys in my life and written or responded to lots of peer review requests. And maybe I am a tough crowd, but I rarely (if ever) give a rating of Exceeds Expectations. But I can honestly say that so far, this trip home has exceeded my expectations. And here is why. The stark contrast of city living to mountain living, of constant noise to quiet, the ease of having a conversation, being able to quickly reading the directions on a box, flipping through channels on the T.V., seeing familiar faces and friends and eating your favorite foods, waking up and seeing a beautiful scene from the kitchen, being able to call friends and relatives at any time during the day, sleeping in your old comfortable bed and relax on your comfy couch, the nice, soft carpet beneath feet. In summary, it's the beauty of life here and the simplicity that accompanies life when you are in your home country. It's good to be home...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Belgian Beer

Hi all - it's Andrew back from another adventure.

This time it was a trip to Belgium with Grace and Mia. Even though we're leaving for Crested Butte on Monday afternoon, I still felt there was a little time left for a mini-adventure this past weekend.

It all started about eight weeks ago when I was staying in Kortrijk Belgium the night before some client meetings. Just outside my hotel in the city center was a beach volleyball tournament - that night was the first night and it was going to go on through the weekend. To make a long story short, I met the captain of the national team and drank beers with his team-mates. They had plenty of time to drink as they didn't have to play until the weekend matches. Anyway, one of the guys told me about what is quite literally the best beer in the world - one that is subsequently impossible to obtain.

You see, the only place to buy Trappist Westvleteren 12 is from the abbey where it is brewed in Westvleteren Belgium. This beer is not commercially available anywhere in the world and it's only sold by appointment at the abbey. ( About five weeks ago, when I was on my way driving to Clermont-Ferrand France, I had a window to call the abbey and make an appointment. It took me 73 attempts until my call went through - I was able to get an appointment for Sat Aug 1st at 3.45pm. In order to secure the appointment, I had to give my license plate number and cell phone - one case per car per month - and had to agree to never re-sell the beer to another party. Luckily (for me) it's for personal consumption only.

As time went on, I hemmed and hawed over weather I should actually keep the appointment or not. You see, Westvletern is about 400KM from Caen and it is in as remote of an area of Belgium as you can find. In fact, look it up on Google Maps - you'll see nothing but farms in all directions. The fact that this is one of seven Trappist monasteries in the world that can brew this type of beer, and the fact that it's the only one of the seven that doesn't sell it to basically anybody, led me to going forward with the road trip.

Originally, I was going to take Ella with me - she's older and is less prone to barfing in the car as are Grace and Mia. When Ella turned down the 800KM round trip drive I offered to Mia - who immediately accepted. Then, Grace heard abut a trip to Belgium and she immediately joined the guest list too. We hit the road at 9am Saturday and crossed our fingers that the GPS could find the town we were looking for.

Luckily, no barfing occurred that day - probably because I only gave them both a couple of crumbs and some water for breakfast and rice cakes for a snack (had Gaga been staying with us they would have eaten a stack of pancakes with artichokes and cherries on top :-).

The last 20 minutes of the drive were on roads so small there was no room for 2 cars - these are literally asphalt paths carved in the middle of corn fields, hops stands, wheat, barley, and all kinds of other agriculture. We arrived at the town and saw 2 signs - one to the beer pick up and one to the gift shop. I chose the former and ended up on a half circle driveway with one other car, a monk, and a half of a pallet of beer. Six minutes later I had my new stash and was able to park to go to the gift shop.

Luckily, the gift shop is really a nice beer garden - inside and outside pic-nic tables for tasting the fare that only a few lucky soles are able to buy in bulk. Grace, Mia, and I went outside and found an open table in the middle of it all. There was a tiny miniature park inside as well - Grace and Mia played a bit while I ordered a beer, some strawberry milks, and a cheese plate.

When G&M saw their first-ever strawberry milks delivered, their eyes popped literally out of their heads. The couldn't believe such a drink existed on this earth. I felt the same way after taking my first sip of Trappist 12 - it's quite literally amazing... After a bit of eating, drinking, and talking one of the guys at the table next to us turned around and said "hello". He was from Michigan and recognized my American accent. To make a long story short - which is hard in Blog land - the guy and I got to talking and he moved over to my table. Turns out, he was on vacation with is wife and 3 kids - the wife and kids happened to be at Euro Disney in Paris. He was in Belgium with the Priest from his church back in Michigan...

Turns out, this priest received a Lilly Grant (yes, Eli Lilly in Indy) - the grant was for him to spend time in Europe re-inventing himself or something. Oh, yes, it also included a provision for him to visit all 7 Trappist monasteries in Belgium (well, one is in Holland, but right on the edge). These two had spend the past two weeks going to each one, meeting people, meeting the monks who brewed the beers, taking notes etc. The priest had a notebook filled with notes about every beer they had sampled, how it tasted, how he felt, and who knows what else. I offered to buy the next round - 3 Trappist 12s and 2 Strawberry milks (at which point G&M's eyeballs popped out once again). Unfortunately for the priest, Grace dumped my entire freshly poured beer on this poor guy's notebook and lap. I mean, imagine this - the guy's entire point of his journey is to go to all these places, drink, eat, talk, take notes, and change his life (or whatever) - and my daughter dumped my beer on all of his notes.... Let's just say that for all of our sakes we're lucky this guy was a priest or we may have not made it out of there in one piece....

Seeing in that Grace had hit her wall after only 2 strawberry milks, I decided we better hit the road to Ieper Belgium. This is a forgettable town about 15 minutes from the abbey which to our great luck happened to have a fair in town that weekend. We checked into the hotel, dropped off our stuff, and headed to the roller coaster and bumper-motorcycles. The night was capped off by a pasta dinner in town and watching some Dutch cartoons on the TV.

The drive home on Sunday was easy because all I kept thinking about was how great that beer was the day-before and how great it will be to try one more with Kate on Sunday night. We all made it home with no problems and - as you can see in the photos - the beer did taste just as good as I remembered.

We'll all be back home in CB on Wednesday - so - for any of you reading this now (if there is anybody :-) we'll see you soon!