1. A wonderful week on the west coast of France with Papi Jean Pierre, Mamie Helene, Tante Michele, Papi Emile, Florian, and Aurelie
2. A visit to Poitiers to see our good friends Sylvain, Jessica, and Isabelle who we met when we all lived in Bend. We had a blast and were so happy to see them. They spoiled us big time.
3. Driving east through lots of tiny villages to get to Les Gandy, Alan's family's weekend house in the Chartreuse Mountains, where we spent the majority of our remaining three weeks. Stopped in Chi Che to pick up loaves of Alan's favorite Brioche.
4. Alan and I saw our first movie in a theater since Anatole was born: Looking for Eric from Ken Loach.
5. Enjoyed lots of delightful French meals outside under the trees (photos coming soon).
6. A fantastic time at the Goran Bregovic concert in St. Pierre de Chartreuse. Unforgettable.
7. A visit to the marche in Chambery with my mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Even though it was a cloudy drizzly day, hordes of people turned out to shop at the hundreds of produce, fish, meat, cheese, and bread stalls. Simply amazing.
8. On several different occasions we shared lunch and fun times with various groups of French friends and family as well as many children.
9. Meeting and spending a week with our oh-so-cute nephew, 5-month old Emeric. Alan and I loved holding and cuddling him but his older cousin Anatole wasn't very happy about it.
10. A fun visit with Alan's best friend Harri who hails from Finland and flew to France to see us and do some crazy boy stuff with Alan: a hard-ass hike, riding a gondola up a mountain and then biking down (over and over again), and tree climbing and then careening from tree to tree across wires (clearly I have no clue what the technical name is for this "sport").
11. Seeing the villagers in Les Gandy bake bread in the centuries-old village oven. They were having their summer fete and baking bread and potatoes to go with roasted chicken.
12. Spending a week in Les Gandy with Papi Emile and cousin Florian who, after presenting Anatole with a bright red toy fire truck, was from that point on called "cadeau" by Anatole. Cadeau is French for gift.
13. Speaking English with my mother-in-law and Florian. We had many laughs over things like "my gosh," words that start with H...since French speakers don't pronounce the H in their words, things like Heart or Hair come out like Art and Air. For example, in my last job I worked for an organization called Heart Institute of the Cascades; for months Alan's colleagues thought I worked for an Art Institute. Florian's rendition of his English texts totally cracked me up: "Where is Brian? Brian is in the kitchen." Okay, you had to be there, but just imagine it spoken with a really thick French accent and after a couple glasses of wine. This fall Florian will travel to San Francisco where he will spend six months continuing his studies in computer science and seeing if he can find Brian.
14. Cooking with my mother-in-law and learning some new tips and ideas. She showed me how to make semoule with milk, which is sort of like a lighter version of rice pudding, as well as a simple cucumber salad dressed with a mix of light cream and lemon juice. Wonderful. Merci, Martine.
15. Preparing my own creations for my French family: a lemon loaf cake, mushroom, celery, and Parmesan salad, cucumber mint soup served cold, flourless chocolate brownies, and zucchini bread. I'll have you know that the recipes for the lemon cake and salad came from one of my mother-in-law's French cookbooks. I even used an old scale to measure the ingredients (no measuring cups in the house and anyway they go by metric not U.S. measurements), a scale that my mother-in-law informed me was used to weigh Alan and his older brother Erwan when they were babies. So it's at least 35 years old - and it's the kind where you have to slide the little thingy over to get the weight you want. Unlike today's scales you don't just plop your flour or sugar down and it tells you how much is there. You actually have to make some effort and do some thinking. It was fun.
16. A two-day child-free trip to Italy where we visited the gorgeous city of Aosta, ate pizza, drank red wine, inhaled gelato, visited art galleries, and soaked in the glory of Italian life. We spent the night at a little hotel in the Italian Alps and the next morning hiked 4000 feet to the mountain refuge Nacamuli close to the Swiss border (at approx. 11,000 feet). In fact after we made it to the refuge, we left our stuff and continued hiking to a spot that essentially was the Italian-Swiss Alps border, so we walked into Switzerland to say we were there. The glaciers, wild flowers, falls, streams, and mountain peaks were breathtaking. And the hike totally kicked my butt! Spending the night at a refuge was a first for me and I'll talk about the meals another time. Very different.
17. Visit to the centuries-old Monastery of the Grande Chartreuse where 27 practicing monks reside. Amazing! A stop at the Cirque de Saint Meme, a stunning national park in the Chartreuse Mountains not far from Les Gandy.
18. A two-hour solo shopping trip at Carrefour where I spent a bloody fortune on things we can't get in Denmark (various baking items, ethnic foods, cookies, and different hot and cold cereals). I had such a blast. I also picked up some fun baking tins, cookbooks, and kitchen utensils.
19. This next to the last item while certainly not a highlight is still part of the experience: our car decided to give out the day we were heading back to Denmark. Luckily we were only an hour into the trip and were able to get help from Alan's family - not to mention being able to navigate dealings with the towing company, insurance company, mechanic, and rental car company in Alan's native language. We thanked our lucky stars that we didn't break down in Switzerland or Germany where communication (about car repairs) would have been difficult. We ended up staying an extra five days. It happened on a Saturday and French mechanics don't work on the weekend, plus it's the summer holidays so everything was moving extra slow. By the time we learned the outrageous cost of the repairs as well as the three week time line to fix it, we opted to leave it there and get home via rental car. That was crazy, too, because we had so much crap that we couldn't fit it all in one of the tiny European rental cars, so we had to rent a van! And then, because we couldn't return the van in Denmark, Alan's Dad took a train from Nantes on the west coast to Hannover, Germany, where we picked him up and took him home with us. The pity was that the van had to be returned rapidly so Alan's Dad turned right around the next morning and hit the road back to France. Merci, Jean Pierre.
20. Last but not least, I am proud to say that I survived nearly five weeks of virtually 24 hour-7 time with my husband and child.