Beer and the Great American Beer Festival

My husband likes to joke that they kicked him out of France because he knows nothing about wine. This is not entirely true – he knows more about wine than the average male, but perhaps not the average French male. He enjoys a glass of wine and can comment intelligently on the parfum and the subtleties of the flavors.

Truthfully, though, he’s a beer guy. He loves beer. Especially IPAs – which makes sense because San Diego, where he developed his taste for beer, has made a name for itself in the world of brew in large part through IPAs. Me – I can’t stand them. Just thinking about hops results in bitter beer face for me. But give me a good Belgian Trippel and I’m in heaven.

My Frenchie hubby loves the freedom that beer is allowed. Wine making in France follows strict rules: for example, fields cannot be irrigated – they must rely on the weather, the wines that have a “good” reputation tend to come from a single grape, and the land the grape comes from is often more important than the grape itself – it’s all about the “terroir.”

But with beer, if someone feels like throwing in banana or coriander, it’s fair game. Beer is a place where creativity is admired, sought after.

We got lucky this year – we got to go to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. For those who don’t know, GABF is an annual, three day event that draws over 50,000 people from around the world to sample the thousands of beers offered. When tickets go on sale online, they are gone in about 30 minutes. It all started with Charlie Papazian, nuclear engineer, teacher, founder of the Brewers’ Association, writer of The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, and overall awesome guy. With an equally awesome family who we’re lucky to be friends with.

Both San Diego and Colorado are meccas for beer, which works out well for us, as beer fans. I tasted the best beer I’ve ever had at GABF, and it was in the amateur section where home brewers pair with a brewery to develop their own home brew. This one was a Trippel, aged in a barrel that had hosted port wine and bourbon. Heaven.

So – here’s a few photos:

The line around the back of the convention center to get in

The line around the back of the convention center to get in

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So psyched to have tickets!

The crush to get in

The crush at the entrance

Going up the stairs ... so exciting...

Going up the stairs … so exciting…

We're in!

We’re in!

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Cheers!

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Random…

Next year we need pretzel necklaces, like this guy!

Next year we need pretzel necklaces, like this guy!

 

Triathlons

Before we left for San Diego this summer, I completed my first triathlon. Apparently, that’s what you must do to assimilate in Boulder. Either that or grow dreadlocks and walk around barefoot, maybe topless. I chose triathlon.

Time magazine recently published a “Healthiest Places to Live” issue. Winner of Best Place for Keeping Fit: Boulder, CO. I’ve lived in some athletic cities, but this place tops them all. Seriously: the guy next to me at Starbucks, right now as I work on this post, he’s on some app working on his Activity Log and totalling his Calorie Count. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a cyclist. Trails around town are covered with runners and mountain bikers. Olympic and professional athletes abound.

I’ve always been active, and for a long time toyed with the idea of trying a triathlon. Now that I’m living in triathlon central, I thought: why not? Naive, perhaps, as I gave up running years ago because of back pain, I just bought my first bike that didn’t have a basket or streamers on it, and the only swimming I do tends to be a snorkeling trip every few years. But I’m not one to be deterred by details.

The biggest hurdle for me, as it is for most people, was the swim. I took lessons, got up at 5:00 a.m. twice a week to go to a pool workout, and when the Boulder Aquatic Masters began their open water swim sessions at the Boulder Reservoir, I showed up thinking – I so totally have this.

Then I spent the first few sessions dog paddling around the short course, completely panicked, assuring the lifeguards that no, I don’t need a boat ride back to the shore, I’m perfectly fine, thank you very much (I can be a stubborn beast when I want to be. Sometimes even when I don’t want to be. I just can’t help myself). Eventually, with much help from the talented BAM coaches, I overcame my fear and got to a place where I felt relaxed, confident even, in the swim.

After one of the open water swim sessions, I stood on the shore watching the 150 or so swimmers and feeling like, well, an idiot for signing up for a triathlon and more than mildly embarrassed at how awkward I was in the water. A triathlete friend came over to me and said, “Carol, this is no ordinary open water swim. This is BOULDER. There are pros out there, even Olympians, plus experienced athletes who win their age groups in the big races. Don’t compare yourself to them.” She then asked me, “Do you know who that is? The coach you were talking to?” One of the coaches – Jane – had been giving me great and very calming advice after the swim. “That’s Jane Scott. One of the best swim coaches in the country. Her brother is Dave Scott.”

Dave Scott, of Ironman fame. Recognized as one of the top two triathletes of all time. Lives in, you guessed it, Boulder.

I love living in a place like this, where active, healthy lifestyles are so embraced. Where people think getting up at 5:00 am to get a workout in is a healthy choice, not a sign I should start seeing a psychotherapist. In comparison, it’s one of the aspects of French culture that is difficult for me. Exposed breasts aren’t given a second thought, but wearing running shorts in Paris (for a woman, anyway) is treated as an affront to civilized society. Many French people I know think that exercising more than a couple days a week is tantamount to an obsessive compulsive disorder. Walking here and there is exercise enough. As for French women? They don’t sweat. They don’t do things that might make them sweat. Exercise? Why bother, when you could just avoid eating? My most vivid memory of my super skinny host mom when I stayed in France is of her sitting at the breakfast table stirring, stirring, stirring a coffee mug half filled with Nestle chocolate milk, never eating or drinking, only stirring and always a cigarette clenched between her lips.

Here’s a picture I took in Nice a few years ago of athletes checking in for the next day’s Ironman. Notice anything missing?

Checking in at the Ironman in Nice, France

Checking in at the Ironman in Nice, France

Yep. Women! Females made up less than 10% of that triathlon, which is the typical rate for Ironman events in Europe (in the US it’s 25% for Ironman and 30% for 70.3 events). Most of them were not French. Of course French female athletes do exist. It’s just not the norm, and not something French girls aspire to.

In Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, he talks about his experience trying to find a gym to join in Paris during the mid-1990s. He finds a “New York-style” gym, presented as a gym that would “bring the rigorous, uncompromising spirit of the New York health club to Paris: its discipline, its toughness, its regimental quality.” he describes the sales pitch given by a chic young woman in a red track suit: “They had organized a special ‘high-intensity’ program in which, for the annual sum of about two thousand francs (four hundred dollars), you could make an inexorable New York-style commitment to your physique and visit the gym as often as once a week.” When the author suggests that he might want to come more often and explained that it’s not unknown for New Yorkers to go to the gym almost daily, the chic saleswoman is perplexed and comments that it must be a “wearing regimen.”

I love being active and fit. I love the achy tingle of muscles pushed to their limits. I love that my kids cheered me on during my triathlon, ringing cowbells and shouting, “Go, Mommy!” I love that my daughter, after watching me, said, “Can I do a triathlon with you next time?” One of the big reasons we (and many others) choose to live in Colorado was for the active lifestyle we could have here, and so the norm for our kids, as my husband put it, is, “A girl riding her bike rather than walking around in stillettos.”

My husband didn’t grow up playing sports or participating in athletics. While most US high schools have sports teams of some kind, sports and school are completely dissociated in France. Kids who want to play a sport must join a private team. My husband, for the most part, has embraced the active lifestyle we’ve found first in San Diego, and now here. He doesn’t love getting out of bed early to get his exercise in, but he buys the idea that daily exercise is important to health. He even started riding his bike to work in addition to working out in the gym.

We’re becoming true Boulderites, both of us. All of us, really, with our kids hiking, climbing on rocks, and playing outside whenever they can. It’s a beautiful life, we think.

Me, happily approaching the finish line

Me, happily approaching the finish line

Rock climbing kiddos

Rock climbing kiddos

 

New French Classes in Boulder!

My friend and fellow blogger, Sarah at Bringing up Baby Bilingual, and I will be offering French lessons for the 0-5 age group starting Monday, October 20 at Grandrabbits Play!

So exciting!

Our mutual interest in blogging and raising our children bilingually led me to meet Sarah when I moved to Boulder last year. We’ve been talking for a while about restarting the French story time at the Lafayette library, as well as forming playgroups for French speaking children. In a classic case of right place at the right time, I happened to be at Play! one morning and found out they were hoping to start French classes. Sarah and I put together a proposal and Voila! We’re doing it!

We’re so excited to begin – we have lots of fun activities planned. So for those of you who live around here, Play! is running a promotion this Friday (tomorrow) where if you sign up for our class, you also get a free month of access to their indoor play area. What a great idea as the weather cools and the snow starts to fall!

Hope to see some fellow francophiles there!

Harvest Time!

This post is part of this month’s blogging carnival put on by Multicultural Kids Blogs. This month’s host is Varya at Creative World of Varya. Check out links to the other posts from around the world on her page!

Fall colors outside of Boulder, Colorado

Fall colors outside of Boulder, Colorado

Truth is, I know very little about harvest season. I, like so many in the U.S., am completely removed from any real harvesting. While living in San Diego, large city in the land of one season, it was hard to feel connected to the land or the cycles of life. Now that we’re in Colorado, I feel closer to those cycles. Each season brings a new palate of colors. We drive past fields of cattle, horses, and hay every day. Yet we still find pineapple and mango in the grocery store in December, tomatoes year round, produce from anywhere in the world during any month. I find myself indignant if I can’t fulfill my every desire. “What? No figs? That’s ridiculous. I don’t care if it’s February.” As much as I love the locavore movement and the idea of following the seasons in our food choices, I have an impatient and demanding palate that doesn’t like to be told no.

128 GrapesStill, I’m trying to learn. Fall harvest time for us means visits to local farms to pick apples from trees, searching for pumpkins to turn into jack-o-lanterns and pies, and when we were still in California, BK (before kids), visiting wine country. It’s strange that my children don’t have a real sense of where food comes from. If I’m honest with myself, I’m not much better informed. Produce is in the grocery store, in abundance, in the U.S. I know that’s not the world-wide norm, but my children haven’t learned that. Behind our home there’s a large open space that must have been a fruit tree grove at some point. Our babysitter knows where to find the good pears, apples, and even raspberries and has been introducing our kids to the plants. Me – I don’t trust myself to know what’s edible. I’m that disconnected from recognizing food in the “wild.”

When the apocalpyse hits, my family and I are screwed.

Visiting an apple orchard in Julian, California

Visiting an apple orchard in Julian, California

Seasonal produce at Trader Joe's in Boulder, CO

Seasonal produce at Trader Joe’s in Boulder, CO

This year, we’ll visit the apple orchards and the pumpkin patches. I love it; it’s such fun, and the kids enjoy being outside and seeing those huge, often gnarly and assymetric pumpkins. We’ll drag a brightly painted wagon behind us and collect our goods, then pay for them on our way out. We’ll go to harvest festivals, where there are petting zoos, face painting, live music, and jumping castles. It’s all so disconnected from the backbreaking work going on in farms all over the country. I suggested once that it would be fun to participate in harvest season at a vineyard. My husband looked at me like I was crazy. Turns out he did it once: when he was in the French army, the local vineyards used the recruits to harvest their grapes. I pictured a romantic day under the soft fall sunlight in Provence, selecting the best wine grapes and dreaming of what they would become. I asked him what it was like.

“It was backbreaking work! I never want to do it again.” He went on to describe spending hours hunched over vines under a blazing sun, and the monotony of picking grape after grape. He only had to do it for a day, maybe two, but it was enough to appreciate how difficult a job it is.

Next month, November, in the U.S., we have Thanksgiving and the holiday’s traditional symbol: the cornucopia, or “horn of plenty.” The symbol of abundance and nourishment. A good time to remember how good we have it, here. To give thanks for our abundance of food, for a harvest season made into a game for us and our families. For those out there working the harvest – all over the world – keeping our grocery stores stocked and our bellies full. Thank you. Merci.

Pumpkin patch in Longmont, Colorado

Pumpkin patch in Longmont, Colorado

Pumpkin patch in Lafayette, Colorado

Pumpkin patch in Lafayette, Colorado

Boulder, Colorado: Where Caring About Fashion is Unfashionable (and Unfathomable)

Boulder is ruining my Frenchman’s fashion sense.

Boulder is a place where anything goes. Seriously. I saw a 20-something woman walking along a main street downtown wearing nothing from the waist up. Nothing. Boobs, swinging in the wind. Dreadlocks tossed behind shoulders. People go shoeless as a fashion/political statement, not because they can’t afford shoes. Stilettos and Keens sit next to each other in restaurants. Long flowy hippie skirts or biking shorts; yoga pants or business suits or sundresses and Uggs – it’s all fair game.

Now, my husband was never on the cutting edge of fashion, and I’m a physical therapist – not a profession renowned for our fashion sense. But he’s French, so that meant button up shirts, a nice pair of slacks, maybe a polo on a more casual day. I admit there were a few items in his closet that succumbed to “Operation: Lost in the Move.” (Don’t even get me started on the pea soup-colored polo with the denim collar). But I never had to tell him: “Honey, we’re going out to dinner with my parents. Perhaps the Corona tank top isn’t the best choice….”He’s always dressed up for our dates. I’m one of those girls that is crazy about a sharply dressed man. Not too sharp – if he’s more into fashion than me, I grow suspicious. But my husband, like most Frenchmen, had just the right amount of sharpness.

So, the other day, he started out the door for work wearing a beat up pair of cargo shorts, a worn grey workout shirt, white socks (on a Frenchman!) and sneakers. Before I even stopped to think what I would sound like, I blurted, “Are you wearing that to work?”

He once-overed himself and then said, “Um, yeah?” in the form of a question.

“It’s just… really?”

“Carol, you should see what some of the guys wear to the office. This is dressing up.”

There is truth to that. A Google dress code doesn’t exist. Googlers take workplace casual to a level unheard of in most other corporations. Just drive by the office around lunchtime and watch the parade of engineers heading to the cafeteria dressed down – way down – and check out the hats a few of the more brilliant engineers wear. The other day, a guy crossed the street in front of me wearing a tophat made of white fur with a pig sticking out the top.

I get it, kind of. Google is a casual place stocked with geniuses where what’s between their ears matters a whole lot more than what’s on their backs.

But, still. I’ve always loved that even after years in the U.S., my husband’s wardrobe choices remained … French.

So, I said, “But, you’re French. French dudes don’t dress like that.”

He smirked. “French dudes, huh?”

“Yeah. That’s too much dude, not enough French. Seriously. Boulder is getting to you.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

I had to think about that. Truth is, I’m one of those people that believe the impression we make on others matters, and that what we wear has something to do with that. It’s not like I never grocery shop in my workout gear, or that I’m diligently following the latest trends, but I still think… work is a place where impressions matter. Dates with my husband are worth dressing up for. Putting on a dress and heels for a night on the town is fun.

A recent article in our local newspaper labeled Colorado as a state full of fashion offenders, and Boulder as the worst of the lot. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Maybe not.

In the end, he changed his work clothes. No longer verging on slob genius, but instead coiffed genius, he left for work.

And I spent the day asking myself existential questions about the importance, or lack thereof, of fashion and what we wear, whether it should affect how others view us or how we feel about ourselves, are we or are we not expressing ourselves through our choice of clothing, and why can Google geniuses get away with anything.

How very French of me.

Missing San Diego. Missing Opera.

Don’t get me wrong. We moved to a beautiful place. Louisville, CO, and nearby Boulder, are lovely, enchanting. We knew we needed to try something different in this quest to find “home,” because San Diego, while another fabulous place, didn’t feel quite right. We need to see if somewhere else is the “home” we crave. We recognized from the beginning that there was a possibility that we’d leave San Diego and realize – she’s the one for us. Whoops.

Like the song says, “You only know you love her when you let her go.” I knew I was fond of San Diego. We had a history. She’s beautiful, fun, exciting. She has a lot going for her. Now that I’ve moved, I miss the things I knew I would miss, but there are so many things, often little things, that I now realize she had that I just didn’t appreciate.

We’re settled in here in Colorado, and I think it’s hitting all of us that we’re here to stay rather than on an extended vacation. It hit me so hard I’ve cried every day for the last week. Especially when my daughter said this: “Mommy, I want to go back to San Diego. I miss my French school. Can we put it on a really big truck with all my teachers and my friends and move it here?”

A van like this one? The 22 wheeler that brought us here. No, we didn't fill it!

A really big truck like this one? The 22 wheeler that brought us here. No, we didn’t fill it!

If only.

But that’s not the way life works.

An image of a place in San Diego will pop into my mind, sometimes so vivid I almost feel I’m there, and I’ll think to myself, “we should go to Spiro’s Gyros and sit on the patio where we can watch the boats in the bay,” or, “maybe I’ll see so-and-so today when I drop my daughter off at school,” then it will hit me – I’m not in San Diego anymore. A sense of longing and a sense of loss bombards me.

Here’s what I remind myself: We have embarked on a great adventure. We’ll only be better for it. We’ve landed in a beautiful place, we have good friends here, and we need (read, I need) to remain optimistic and positive and give Colorado a true chance.  If I sit here and cry that I’m not in San Diego anymore, I’ll ruin all these gorgeous sunny days where I could be exploring this beautiful, dynamic place I’ve landed in. She’s no slouch, Colorado. There’s a lot to love.

But, still, Opera, I really miss you.

So good I couldn't resist taking a bite before I pulled out my camera

So good I couldn’t resist taking a bite before I pulled out my camera

Truffle Fries. Serious yumminess.

Truffle Fries. Serious yumminess.

It doesn't get more heavenly than this.

It doesn’t get more heavenly than this.

Optimism. The double rainbow we saw out our hotel window the morning we left San Diego:

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Fall Traditions

 

This post is part of the Multicultural Kids Blogging Carnival, hosted this month by Stephanie at InCultureParent.

We are enjoying our first real fall in a long time. In San Diego, the seasonal shifts were so subtle I hardly noticed them. This year, I greet fall in Colorado with wide, appreciative eyes. I love the changes, the reminder that time is passing, that seasons are changing; I feel it in my core, the physical linking of nature with the rhythm of our lives.

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Autumn brings a season full of uniquely American traditions; fun times filled with celebration, friends, and family. Back to school time comes with the smell of fresh cut grass on the football fields and Friday night games. I don’t watch much football anymore, but I love the idea of it. I love the energy around the games, the tradition, the cheering crowds. Seeing stadium lights, even from a distance, sends a tingle of excitement up my spine, just as it did when I was a teenager going to my high school games. I romanticize it all; the injuries are much less glamorous… I’ve seen too many of those in my days working the sidelines and helping out at Saturday morning injury clinics. I plan to do everything I can to make sure football remains a spectator sport only for us all, but I digress.

In October, we hit the pumpkin patches to find the perfect future Jack-o-Lantern, along with gourds for our mantel. We run through hay bale mazes with the kids, pretending to get lost so they can show us the way out. We go apple picking, and then I try out all sorts of new recipes trying to make sure the bags full of apples we found don’t go to waste. We have friends over for pumpkin carving parties where the kids, because they are young, grow quickly bored, and we adults carve self-proclaimed masterpieces over pizza and beer.

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032 our jack o lantern

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Trick or Treating – my kids are finally old enough for this! My daughter practiced for days before Halloween – knocking on all the doors in the house, calling out “Trick or Treat!” Then the day finally came, and we took them around our block, proud parents of our adorable costumed cherubs. We ended up with way too much candy for such little ones – a 3-year-old and 18-month-old; or at least this is how I justify raiding their bags and gorging on chocolate during their naps. I love Halloween.

Final touches on our Thing 1 and Thing 2 costumes from last year

Final touches on our Thing 1 and Thing 2 costumes from last year

New tradition this year: raking up the leaves and jumping in them. I have never, in (indistinct mumble) years, had the opportunity to do this. So when my husband finished raking all the stray leaves into a tidy pile, I had to exercise some serious restraint to let my kids dive in first, before me. We jumped, rolled, buried ourselves, and tossed those leaves around, cracking each other up.

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DSC01262Turns out you still have to clean them up after all that fun. Not cool. Sometimes being the grown up isn’t all I thought it would be.

In San Diego, I would still be wearing tank tops and flip-flops. Here, though, I’ve put those away. I’ve never lived in a place where people actually pack clothes away for an entire season. Colorado weather is wonky enough that a flip flop worthy day is still possible. But I have enjoyed actually needing my scarves and sweaters, rather than wearing them just because “ ‘tis the season” as I did in San Diego.

Next up – Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. I love the relaxed nature of the day; any day centered on food is a good day, as far as I’m concerned. We travel to Arizona each year to spend this holiday with my large extended family – it’s often the only day all year that we see many of them, as we live far enough apart that get togethers are few. When I was growing up, we’d all meet at Grandma and Grandpa’s house – over the river and through the woods. Later my aunt took over hostess duties, but the last couple years, we’ve had it at my mom and dad’s place. My husband and I try to take the kids out in the morning for a hike or walk where we point out the unique beauty of the Arizona desert and try to get enough exercise to justify the ridiculous amount of food we will most definitely be eating.

I’ve explained to my kids that the weather is growing colder, the days are getting shorter, and the leaves are changing colors and falling from the trees because it’s fall. My daughter is fascinated by all of this – she never saw any of this in California, so she loves to point out the leaves blowing around the neighborhood and tell me it’s fall. As with so much of parenting, her awareness, the way she completely inhabits a moment with her whole being, helps me to slow down and enjoy it all, too. And as the kids get older, each fall tradition becomes more meaningful. Going back to school isn’t just a date in the calendar, it’s an event my kids take part in. On Halloween, we’re now part of the crew of neighborhood kids. Thanksgiving, I do my best to convince them that stuffing is the absolute best part of the meal, and that piling as much whip cream on a slice of pumpkin pie as possible makes for a perfect dessert.

I love fall. Even better now that I have kids to experience it with. For them – it’s all new and exciting. For me, it’s exciting all over again, as I see it through their innocent and alert eyes that don’t miss anything. They aren’t worrying about bills or getting home in time to cook dinner, they’re picking up a fallen leaf and examining every vein and edge, then showing it to me with delighted grins. The delight is infectious, and a reminder, along with the season itself, to slow down and enjoy it all.