one month of sweetness

It’s been a wild and wonderful month since we welcomed our daughter, who I’ll refer to as J.C. on here, into this world. I was nearly two weeks past my due date, and under the looming threat of being induced, was going for punishing hikes every single day in an effort to get things moving. So many punishing hikes. I had been going swimming once a week, but was trying too hard and tiring myself out to the point of needing a recovery Whopper with Cheese followed by a three hour nap, so we decided the exercise had to be a bit curtailed in my final days. This included biking, which I just couldn’t bring myself to do much of in the final two weeks of my pregnancy. I was uncomfortable I guess, but there was also loads of rainy weather and I just wasn’t feeling into it.

When I did finally go into labor on the evening of 41 weeks and 3 days, I wanted to celebrate with a little bike ride. I thought this would bookend the pregnancy nicely, as baby had already ridden along for 2000 miles in Europe during the first trimester. You know, 2000 miles on one end, six miles on the other? The perfect bookend? We pedaled around the neighborhood and I simultaneously biked with one hand while timing contractions with my phone in the other, hoping that I didn’t need to brake since my bike only had one hooked up and it was underneath the hand using the phone.

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Biking with my sweetie while in early labor

Back at home I let Eli go to sleep for four hours while the true sufferfest commenced around 11pm. Contractions were regularly 4-5 minutes apart and lasting for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, which seemed promising. Things started to unfortunately slow down after four hours, so we headed to the hospital and arrived there around 4am. After being checked I was pleased to have made it past 5cm dilated while at home, and hoped things would keep moving in a good direction. They didn’t. All morning and well into the afternoon, as the pain became well towards unbearable and I continuously puked my guts out, I only dilated a few more centimeters, with progress coming to a halt around hour 20.

So while I had been so worried about being induced at 42 weeks, I ended up with pitocin at 41 weeks and 4 days 20 hours into active labor. I was so exhausted and dealing with the pain quite poorly, even more so each time the nurse told me to “ride the wave” of a contraction and to “stay on top of it,” all the while I felt like I was drowning in the pain, so given the introduction of pitocin I also asked for an epidural. This wasn’t the route I had hoped to take, but I knew that given a likelihood of a long labor there was the potential for an intervention, and I was happy as long as the end result was a healthy baby and a relatively unharmed me.

A relief from the pain allowed a few hours of rest for both myself and Eli, although my nausea and acid reflux became nearly unbearable at this time and I kept bothering the poor nurse for a fix every hour or so. We continued to chill and they kept upping my dosage of pitocin, letting it work its magic until I felt ready to push. When I gave the green light, it was 9:30pm, and it was only 45 short minutes of pushing until sweet sweetie was born – I feel like it could have been much shorter if only the contractions hadn’t been so widely spaced. There was a bit of concern about her for a few minutes, as she was having some trouble breathing and wasn’t letting out a good cry, but she got there eventually.

After her birth, I mowed down a meal immediately. We snuggled with our girl and moved to the postpartum room. We got some sleep, and the next day we hosted my parents and (sound the trumpets!) ate some sushi that Eli fetched for us. I had been waiting a long time for that magical moment of raw fishy goodness. I was so happy to have Eli by my side for nearly every minute that weekend. Whether he was fetching me jello that he knew I would vomit minutes later, or trying to catch a few winks in some uncomfortable chairs, he was there, and he kept me feeling as level as possible through that long and painful and wonderful day.

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It’s been a quick month. I spend almost all of my time staring at my sweet baby in adoration, which has been rewarded with her learning to smile back at us in the past week. She’s pretty easy going, and was treated like a queen last week when Eli’s parents came to visit. She is never far from a loving embrace, and I feel so goddamned lucky to be able to spend my days with her, watching her grow and develop. I haven’t made us dinner once in the past month, I’ve fallen behind on chores, and more importantly on responding to many of the kind people in our lives – I have so many thank you notes to write and it’s stressing me out! – but taking on this blog post is a start. This is only the beginning of a long and wonderful ride… now to just get her back on a bicycle!

We love you so much, sweet sweet baby.

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Eli and his supporting cast

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But mommmmmm

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Baby’s first brewery visit

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francophile-ing away the memories: the massif central and grenoble

When we left Paris, we rented a chic¬†Citro√ęn C4 Picasso minivan, or as they would call it in Europe, a compact multi-purpose vehicle. It was standard transmission and diesel, and Eli enjoyed driving it so much that we were scheming ways to sneak a¬†Citro√ęn back into the US with us when we returned home.

We headed straight south for the Massif Central, as we had only three days before we would be dropping our MPV off in Grenoble. We limited our time in the Massif Central to the Auvergne region, given that it was time that was limiting us. Upon arrival in the mountains, it was rainy and foggy and we couldn’t really see much of anything. We skipped ascending the¬†Puy de D√īme, since there clearly wouldn’t be much gained by doing that. Just south of the town of Le Mont-Dore, we got a bit lost as Google had tried routing us to the top of the Puy de Sancy, but although we tried our best, there was no driving up a ski mountain.

Our next attempt netted us a big-time winner. Our cycling book recommended trying the cheese in the nearby town of Besse. So try the cheese we did. We bought half a wheel of Saint-Nectaire, and ate it in only two sittings, I think. Maybe three. As Wikipedia affirms, “the cheese can go along with any kind of meal.” Truth.

France for me was all about the cheese. I think Eli would agree with me that it was one of the highlights of our trip. With practically every small village having their own specialty or take on the regional cheese, we could easily spend the rest of our lives in pursuit of trying them all. That would be an honorable pursuit.

By the time we found ourselves a stopping place for the night, several kilometers down the road and many calories of cheese down the hatch, the skies had pretty well cleared. This set us up nicely the next day for a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside from the summit of the Puy Mary. While we saw many cyclists suffering their way to the top of the Pas de Peyrol, we took the easy option of the car, before breezing past the hordes of similarly car-bound tourists struggling up the ten minute quick sprint to the top of the Puy Mary.

At the top, we ate our favorite junk food of the trip, Belgix sugar waffles. We had first heard about sugar, or li√®ge,¬†waffles¬†on a Sporkful podcast, and were elated to find them at Lidl stores across Germany and France. As I sit and type about them I’m finding myself craving them more strongly than I was craving mac n cheese on our return to the States. I’ve been lucky to not really have any cravings (other than all the usual ones) during my pregnancy, and this is more of a sign that it’s tea time for me at the moment, but damn, I could really go for a sugar waffle right now — or a whole pack of eight. One day soon I’ll have to make them here at home. Meanwhile, I’ll eat five seven Biscoff cookies.

We took the scenic route on the way over to Grenoble, passing through farm country and lots of sunny small towns, including the fascinating Le Puy-en-Velay, shown above with the perched chapel. We didn’t take the time to stop and sightsee, although I wish we had. At least the internet can teach me that this chapel-on-a-rock is Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe, built on a volcanic plug 280 feet tall way back in 969 AD. Of all the towns we passed through on our trip, Le Puy-en-Velay may have been the most scenic, though this in part may have been due to it being so unexpected a sight. If a town wasn’t listed in our cycling book, chances were we knew absolutely nothing about it. Which made for a lot of wonderful discoveries.

And just like that, our brief time in the MPV was over, we had reached Grenoble, and it was time to split up.

Eli had been planning a solo overnight endeavor into the Alps for some time, using a route from our cycling book that ventured across several of the classic climbs from the Tour de France. He set out without the majority of his gear, so while he must have felt like he was flying, he was still a heavyweight on his steel bike compared to the endless parade of gram-shaving carbon aficionados that he saw on his two-day trek.

I remember hearing about how dirty Grenoble was when I lived in France in 2007. I think that descriptor is appropriate, as much of the city did seem pretty grimy. But Grenoble is more than that. It was in a really beautiful location, a basin with breathtaking mountainous views in nearly every direction. It takes mere minutes to hike up and out of the busy town on the north side of the Isère River, with continued climbing quickly being rewarded with beautiful views, ramparts, a fort, and caves Рthe Grottes de Mandrin shown below.

Eli wasn’t the only one to go for a solo bike jaunt. I embarked on what I dubbed Baby’s First Bike Ride, because even though it was too soon to confirm my pregnancy, I KNEW. Or at least, I strongly suspected. Or at the very least, I hoped. But I knew.

I headed north from town into the Chartreuse Natural Regional Park, and tried to stick to a grueling (for me) pace as I climbed for what felt like forever to the summit of the Col de Porte, which has also been a featured climbing stage of the Tour de France, and should not be confused with the Col de Port in the Pyrenees (another Tour stage… which we later climbed –¬†stay tuned). It was so freeing to bike without being loaded down with my gear, but after all that saddle time with the extra weight, it was also strange and I felt somewhat wobbly.

Waiting for me at the top of the Col de Porte was a very welcome restaurant, and I fell hard for a big plate of fish and chips, and even harder for the two baskets of bread that I also consumed. Cans of Coca Cola were a frequent splurge for us in the mid-to-late summer stage of our bike tour, and my ability to drink so much of it surprised me given that I had always despised Coke. No longer.

My downhill return to Grenoble was a blast, and I cruised as comfortably fast as I would allow myself. After all, I was cycling for two now, and I had to at least be a little bit thoughtful. No more crashes.

So while I was having fun, Eli was having a blast. While the scenery I was experiencing was really pretty, his was jaw-dropping. Check out a few of the photos from his solo bike:

I did suffer a bit without him, though. I ate cheese with mustard for dinner. Cheese cut into triangles. Fancy!

Once reunited, we left Grenoble headed south and then west towards the lower part of the Massif Central, the C√©vennes. On our way, we saw a gorgeous gorge, and lots and lots of walnuts. Walnuts and walnut oil are a staple crop of the¬†Rh√īne-Alpes region, and I can confirm that they were especially delicious in a walnut tart that we savored along the way. Mmm, Baby’s First Walnut Tart.

francophile-ing away the memories: paris

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We rolled through Paris at the start of last August.¬†Throughout our bike trip, our most consistent navigational struggles (and wasted hours) involved finding our way into city centers from the countryside. There was either not enough signage – common – or too much signage – also common. So when it came to Paris, I wasn’t willing to waste half a day ¬†getting frustrated trying to find our way into town. We took a train from the Champagne-Ardenne city of Reims, a very nice place with loads of delicious affordable champagne that is unusually hard to pronounce if you are a confused American (think Rance… or Reams if you’re British and don’t give a shit about how other cultures pronounce things).

Before Paris, we had finished up a quick jaunt¬†that found¬†us biking¬†from Germany -> Luxembourg -> Belgium -> France in the space of a day or so, much of which was in the pouring rain. We had camped overnight in a weird wet forest in Belgium, after eating dinner in an overly-priced overly-fancy Chinese restaurant in Luxembourg, and failing to find a dry place to spend the night. While in the weird wet forest, our nightly tent entertainment of a Game of Thrones episode was interrupted by some dude walking by on the main road, intermittently yelling loudly. At us? We’ll never know. But it creeped me out.

Once in Paris, our prime objective was to dry out all our wet nasty gear. Luckily our cute little Airbnb, which faced the¬†√Čglise Saint-Sulpice in the 6th Arrondissement, had a washing machine and four functional windows that let us air out our clothes, our tent, our stinky shoes, our sleeping bags, and whatever else I’ve since forgotten about.
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I love Paris. I love the energy, and the Frenchiness, and all the delicious everything, the artwork, the general faded coloring of the buildings, the hordes of tourists who make it impossible to do anything if you show up somewhere after¬†9am. To be fair, we were there in August, busy tourist time. We had chosen to to arrive in France when we did to avoid potential Tour de France traffic, which can be crippling if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. But August is the month of vacations for everyone. While tourists flood into Paris, many Parisians make gallant escapes out of the city for much of the month. This means that of the beaucoup¬†chocolate shops and renowned¬†p√Ętisseries that I hoped to visit, most of the smaller ones were sadly closed.

François Pralus was wide open, so we visited and left with a Chuao chocolate bar and one of their famous pralulines Рa buttery brioche studded with rose sugar-coated almond and hazelnut pralines. I was over the moon.



We visited the Catacombs of Paris, which I had tried to visit in a past life before iPhones and constant internet, and had shown up on the wrong day when they were closed. After waiting in a miserable line at the Eiffel Tower for 90 minutes without any sign of anyone being admitted (due I think to a suspicious package terror incident the day before), we abandoned ship and made our way to Catacombs, where a 2+ hour admittance line greeted us. I didn’t really mind the wait, I knew it would be worthwhile. Eli grabbed us some sandwiches from a Paul bakery across the street, and we chatted a bit with some friendly British women on holiday from London for the weekend who were next to us in the line.

And sure enough, the Catacombs were spectacular. If endless piles of artfully-placed human remains are your thing, plan a visit of your own. The climate in the tunnels makes for a nice change from a sunny August day, another perk.


Whether eating in or dining out, we ate so very well while in Paris. I couldn’t get enough of the charcuterie and soft cheeses, paired with fresh tomato and cucumber, olives, and quality french butter, and topped off with several bottles of bubbly that we had purchased in Reims, as well as the dregs of a bottle of peach liqueur from the Mosel River area in Germany.

We had our share of mini French coffees, giant salads, more baguettes, and more soft cheeses.

There was a Pierre Hermé shop mere blocks from our Airbnb, and I waited in a lengthy line there before interacting with a charismatic yet condescending employee who was frustrated that I needed two minutes to decide on the eight flavors of overpriced macarons that I wanted to try. Of the Fall-Winter 2016 collection, standouts included the Jasmine Flower & Jasmine Tea, Fresh Mint & Red Berries, Lemon & Flaky Hazelnut Praline, as well as their signature Salted-Butter Caramel. And yes, I kept the flavor card that they gave me with my purchase, so that I could accurately reference these tiny confections over half a year later.





Of all the fine dining, the highlight for me was dinner at Huguette, Bistro de la mer, a seafood restaurant in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, again just blocks from our Airbnb. We split a bottle of crisp white wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, which apparently is now known as Occitanie (since the end of September 2016). We feasted on two varieties of oysters, as well as cockles, clams, and shrimp. It was an incredible, truly memorable meal.

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We did the art thing a bit too. We visited the¬†Mus√©e d’Orsay and the¬†Mus√©e de¬†l’Orangerie, primarily for the Impressionist paintings. It’s insane how cell phones have transformed art galleries. Everywhere we went, people were taking endless photos like the apocalypse was about to arrive, crowding each other and shoving their phones as far forward as they could to capture every masterpiece. I took a few pictures, mostly of the few I unexpectedly¬†loved and the uglier paintings that made me laugh (see top painting, above).

When it was time to depart Paris, we rented a minivan, shoved our bikes and gear into the back, and ventured south towards the mountains, with the first stop being a stroll around the grounds of Fontainebleau. This last picture makes me smile, as I was so slim and fit, and I could still wear those pants, my favorite pair of Silver corduroys that have since bit the dust. We took one final wonderful memory away from Paris, which set the tone for the rest of our trip and largely explains why I fell off the radar and have failed to blog again until now. We conceived a child, a child which has since spent the better part of 2,000 miles riding along with me on a bicycle, has been sick with me on a dozen-plus ferry rides, has made a transatlantic flight back home, and is now seven weeks or so away from sprouting into a unique little lass of her own.

Paris je t’aime.