Best. Summer. Ever.

It has been a whirlwind summer for us. First a trip to Iceland, then France to visit family and celebrate a milestone birthday, then off to San Diego for a couple weeks of French Immersion camp (for the kids) and soaking up the sun at the beach (for me), then Disneyland, followed by stops through Arizona to visit family in southern Arizona and family on the ranch in eastern Arizona. We just capped it off with a week on Oahu to celebrate the wedding of two dear friends.

Wow, is this really my life?

I’ve seriously neglected my blog and you, my dear readers. Here are a few photos from Iceland, and more to come. Soon. I promise.

Evening in Reykjavik

Evening in Reykjavik

Hmmm. We did not partake, but I'm still curious about how Mexican food and Icelandic food would be combined...

Hmmm. We did not partake, but I’m still curious about how Mexican food and Icelandic food would be combined…

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Strokkur

Gullfoss Falls

Gullfoss Falls

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon

We were there for the annual Viking Festival and popped in to check it out. It was actually quite fun, and the kids loved getting to try out a bow and arrow and play some traditional viking games.

We were there for the annual Viking Festival and popped in to check it out. It was actually quite fun, and the kids loved getting to try out a bow and arrow and play some traditional Viking games.

Iceland Air, you are awesome.

Iceland Air, you are awesome.

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!

 

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

Summer Vacations and French Summer School

My month (+) long hiatus from blogging was unintended.

I had big ambitions for July of filling up my queue with posts, photos, throw backs to some journal entries of different adventures in France. Of getting some book and CD reviews out. I am now desperately embarrassed that I still haven’t completed those.

Instead, I spent most of July in San Diego. I could blame my lack of blog entries on the fact that I was there, alone for the most part, with my two-year-old boy (who is, as everyone I meet feels compelled to point out to me, “all boy”) and my almost four-year-old daughter. So, yes, that kept me busy. But the truth is: I’ve been lazy. In the best possible way. I’ve been idling away the hours at places like this:

La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA

La Jolla Shores, San Diego, CA

Drinking in views like this:

Downtown San Diego from Coronado Island

Downtown San Diego from Coronado Island

Drinking lots of this (minus the ghetto cups; ran out of glasses at this BK – before kids – party):

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Visiting with many dear friends, and eating fantastic food. I didn’t let 48 hours pass without a taco from one of my many favorite haunts.

It’s been a long time since summer actually felt like summer. Like a vacation. It’s one of the horrible truths no one tells us when we’re in school. Once you’re done, kiss summer vacation goodbye. With the U.S. standard of 2 weeks vacation per year, I spent more than a decade in the working world calculating how best to use that 2 weeks to spend holidays with family, take a short trip, and hoping that I didn’t get so sick I had to tap into vacation time. When I first discovered that France and most other developed countries had double or more the vacation time we get, and that it is a right by law (it isn’t in the U.S., each company decides how much vacation to bestow upon their employees) I was shocked and jealous. I still feel so grateful that I was in California when I had both of my kids. California has the most generous maternity and paternity leave policies in the U.S. Still, when compared to some countries, this isn’t saying much. I realize this falls deeply into the much maligned bucket of “First World Problems.” Still, I strongly side with the camp that says adequate down time improves performance, productivity, and creativity, and leads to stronger families which leads to a better future. I don’t define adequate down time as two weeks.

Now that I have kids and have the (very lucky) opportunity to step away from my career and stay home with them, summer feels like summer again. They are out of school (preschool), and we get to travel. This year to the place of summer dreams and our former home: San Diego.

We also used it as a chance to send our daughter to summer camp at her old school: the San Diego French American School. Our rationale: It’s too expensive to fly to France every year, but we really want to immerse our kids in French. So, we packed up the car, headed to San Diego, found an adorable bungalow blocks from where we used to live and right next to the first park we ever took our kids to, and trekked each day through the Southern California traffic (has it always been that brutal? I’ve only been away 10 months but I found it unbearable in a way I never did before) to school.

Results: Everything we’d hoped for. She had a great time, got to see old friends and familiar teachers. I’m told she understands everything and spoke mainly in French, rarely resorting to English. Her resistance to speaking with me in French is gone, for the time being. And with her San Diego “petit ami” – who is French – she spoke in French (unprompted) when playing with him. Success!

Next year, our son will be old enough to attend, too. Which means my kids will get an amazing opportunity to progress in French. And it means I’ll get a real vacation. I can rent a Laser and go sailing. I can go to the mall without herding my kids out of the clothes racks every two minutes. A book at the beach? I don’t remember what that feels like.

Summers are looking pretty fantastic.

 

Interview with Patrice LeJeune, Marquetry Artist

Patrice2Patrice LeJeune is a Marquetry Artist working out of Antique Refinishers in San Diego, CA, where they also run the American School of French Marquetry. I’m lucky to be friends with Patrice; aside from being a very talented artist, he’s also easily one of the funniest people I know. With his wicked, dry humor and ability to do voices and impressions, he’s a fantastic guest at any dinner party, a fun partner in Belotte, and a guy you don’t want to mess with in poker.

The term “marquetry” is from middle French, meaning “inlaid work.” It is the art of assembling veneer pieces (usually wood, but sometimes other materials like ivory, pearl, or even metal) together to make a design or picture. The techniques began in 16th century Florence as well as 16th century France. In the mid-seventeen century, French furniture makers began using marquetry techniques to provide the ornate furniture that would decorate Versailles and Louis XIV’s other royal residences.

Patrice notes that he is, “working on developing new techniques that I did not create but for which I am putting different aspects theories in place.” Wikipedia expands on Patrice’s new techniques, you can read about them here.

Circle of Life - Fusion Marquetry

Circle of Life – Fusion Marquetry

Here is my interview with Patrice:

What interested you/attracted you to the field of Marquetry?

My father was a harpsichord maker; I grew up with the smell of wood. I chose to study furniture making in order to work in the family workshop and entered Ecole Boulle in Paris at the age of 15 for a 5 year program. Unconsciously, I am sure choosing this profession at that age was to try to get closer to my father, but soon my thoughts and desires switched from musical instrument making to furniture.

In my 4th year in school we visited and studied for a couple weeks in other workshops. One of those workshops was marquetry. I really fell in love with that art and always wanted to add this skill to my toolbox.

Patrice at work

Patrice at work

What kind of school did you go to and what was your education like?

I did go to Ecole Boulle. It is an Arts and Crafts School focusing on Decorative Arts. It hosted at that time 11 workshops such as cabinet making, upholstery, turning, marquetry etc., all related to the different fields of decorative arts. The 3 first years are dedicated to traditional furniture and how to make them by hand and machine. Then 2 more years to learn how to create furniture, and to produce a master piece on a theme, “artists house,” during the last year. {It was} a piece of furniture which could be included in a house where an artist lived open to the public or a museum. I chose the Horta House in Brussels and realized a piece mixing Art Deco and nouveau.

The program included all the regular classes you have to follow in high school, with a slightly lighter program, French, another language, mathematic, science, etc. Plus an artistic side, drawing, composition, modeling etc. Plus the technical aspects, technology, machine shop, workshop, and for me, cabinet making.

What are your favorite projects to create/work on? Any favorite completed projects?

I like to work on anything that includes marquetry but mainly a job which offers challenge. My favorite project is usually the last one but there is a difference in my heart between what I do for a living, the traditional stuff, and my modern art work. Both of them are very important but I wish I had more time to work on my art.

What is a typical day like on your job?

Morning starts with breakfast in front of the computer, doing emails. Then strong coffee and chasing money. Our main business at which I spend more than half of my time is restoration. I repair and restore furniture, with a specialty on veneer and marquetry restoration, but I am also a French polisher and a gilder. When I am done chasing money, then comes the IT choir: marketing, graphic design, website design, etc. Then if I have time left, I can work on our spec marquetry projects; for now I try to find as much time to work on that.

One of Patrice's projects

One of Patrice’s projects

From this original I redesign a better quality marquetry just using the overall composition as a guide.

If I have time or a deadline or spare energy then I work on my art…

Tell me about the school at your studio.

American School of French Marquetry in San Diego, CA

American School of French Marquetry in San Diego, CA

In our school, the American School of French Marquetry, we teach French style marquetry, which for us is the best and most efficient and with the possibility of a better quality result, methods and techniques.

Our students range from amateur, hobbyist, or curious to serious professional. We have people coming from all over the world (though not Europe), but our main source of students is in the US and Canada.

Our programs are designed by weeks, each week students learn a new technique or refine their techniques. Most of the students take 2 to 3 weeks in one or two trips.

What brought you to San Diego?

Agnes (Patrice’s wife, who just completed her PhD) had a exchange program in Scotland in 2002. We loved living abroad so we looked for a good place to carry on speaking and learning English. Nothing came out of scotland or UK so We turned to the US. I did not choose San Diego, I was looking for a job and contacted Patrick Edwards who had come 4 years in a row for 3 months to my school in Paris to learn marquetry. I asked him if he knew anyone in San Francisco and he offered me a job. Not a bad decision overall.

 

If you are in the San Diego area, be sure to visit Antique Refinishers in their North Park workshop, or sign up to take a class or two at their school and discover your inner artist!

Here’s a link to Patrice’s blog, and some videos to learn more.

Here are some photos of Patrice’s work:

This one took Best of Show at the Design in Wood Show 2010

This one took Best of Show at the Design in Wood Show 2010

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Replication of a piece

Replication of a piece

The finished piece

The finished piece

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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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Après la déluge, and be careful what you wish for!

DSC01012“And when the skies fill up with clouds, I want something to happen. Thunderstorm, snow…. Anything is better than gray clouds that just sit there, doing nothing but being gray clouds blocking the sun.”

That would be a direct quote from my previous entry.

Yikes.

We arrived in Colorado along with the downpour and worst flooding this area has seen in decades. The storage facility where everything we owned was stored flooded; lucky for us the angels that are our moving company loaded our things into a van and got them out of there before the waters hit the facility. I am forever grateful. Overall, the worst of it for us was that we had packed for hot days filled with hiking the national parks of southern Utah, and instead found ourselves shivering in our car with the heater cranked up. We got lucky, much luckier than many here.

A wet but beautiful Zion

A wet but beautiful Zion

We’ve settled in, are back online, and now trying to reestablish: find preschools, activities, make friends, and for my husband, start work. I discovered this blog a year or two ago, and I’m counting on Bringing Up Baby Bilingual to help us find the French community in Colorado. (Looking forward to meeting you in person, Sarah!)

Did I mention it is ridiculously beautiful here? Stunning. Green, open, the Flatiron Mountain range soaring upward in the west… I feel a peace that I haven’t felt for years. I belong in a place like this.

Doo, doo, doo lookin' out my backdoor!

Doo, doo, doo lookin’ out my backdoor!

People are incredibly friendly and relaxed here. Wow, are-you-for-real friendly. Smiles are genuine and easy, people don’t hesitate to pause for a chat. The neighborhood we landed in has neighbors that actually do stuff, together. Block parties, camping trips, an Oktoberfest this weekend…. They have a Google calendar to plan their events. They banded together to help out flood victims. Many of them have stopped by to welcome us and make sure we got on the mailing list so we’d be included. This is old school Americana and I can’t believe our luck! Plus, Louisville, our new home, has the cutest little downtown with several yummy restaurants we’ve been systematically trying out.

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Café de Paris - a touch of France in Louisville, perhaps?

Café de Paris – a touch of France in Louisville, perhaps?

We made the mandatory visits to Ikea and Bed Bath and Beyond. We cruised down the freeway through the Denver suburbs to Ikea with our jaws dropped. Everyone here drives the speed limit. Not over. Right at it. In San Diego, we push it by a minimum of 15 miles an hour everywhere. We grumbled that people were moving so slow, then had to laugh at ourselves. Isn’t this part of why we came here? To be in less of a hurry? Reduce our pace from frantic to chill? In Target, I wandered through empty aisles where I never once had to maneuver around a traffic jam of carts nor squeeze by two or three people to grab what I needed from a shelf. When I got to the check out line, where I went straight to the conveyer belt and did not have to wait behind a minimum of five people, a party of two got in line behind me and the cashier sighed, “Ohmigod it’s crazy in here today.” I looked around. “Crazy? Really? This is crazy?” She sighed again. “Yes, I think we just don’t have enough cashiers or something.” Same thing at the post office today; I entered and did a happy dance because there were only two people in front of me. They guy behind me said under his breath, “Oh, no, a line.”

We visited our local park where a small group of 8 or 9 year olds were playing, scooters strewn over the patio and no parent in sight. My initial reaction was concern – where are their parents? Who lets their kids go to a park without supervision? What if they get hurt? Kidnapped? I could never…. And disappointment: how will I ever meet other moms if they aren’t taking their kiddos to the park? Then I caught myself and realized: this is how it is supposed to be. This is how my childhood was, the childhood I now idealize. Where I hopped on my bike and cruised the neighborhood, and the rule was I had to be home at dusk, or when my mom called out my name for supper. This is why we wanted to move here.

Where we hung out our last night in San Diego

Where we hung out our last night in San Diego

Transitions are hard. San Diego in our rear view mirror was a strange sensation, though we’ve been mentally preparing for it for almost two years now. It’s finally sinking in; this is our new home, we aren’t going back. I crave El Zarape, I wake up thinking I’ll take the kids to Kate Sessions Park to see our friends, or hike Torrey Pines. I miss my peeps. Yet, here, I’ve reunited with some dear long-term friends, and best of all – I’m back in touch with my soul. The soul that belongs in mountains with a book, a cup of hot cocoa, a fire in the fireplace, and hiking shoes at the ready.

Dare I say, bring on the snow?

Au revoir, Pacific Beach

Au revoir, Pacific Beach