France, Lifestyle, Restaurants, Sabbatical, Travel

A Birthday for the Books

It feels like forever since I last wrote. Probably because there are so many feelings, thoughts, and experiences that I’ve had since being here. While I want to write about it all right now, it’ll have to wait for another time that I find myself lucky enough to have one child asleep and some free time to spare.

I was not eagerly awaiting my 31st birthday. I was so distracted with the fact that we’re living in another country and I’ve suddenly gone from part-time working to full-time mom, that it wasn’t until Brian reminded me two days prior that I started thinking about my birthday.

The day began with a kiss on my cheek from Juliana around 6am. Brian magically got her to go back to sleep next to me which apparently gave him just enough time to run out next door for a fresh croissant and coffee. He woke me up and softened the blow by quickly revealing these two treats before I could fully open my eyes. It was lovely, and in all honesty, that could’ve been enough to make the day special.

I knew we were going to wine country but that was the extent of it. I also knew that we were staying somewhere for the evening. Since I already laid my clothes out for that morning, I completely missed the dress he bought, hanging on the armoire. I recently saw it hanging in a window and casually mentioned how beautiful it was. I was so touched by his thoughtfulness.

He rented a small hatchback Toyota Corolla and we zipped on our way. There was something charming about being in such a tiny car while winding through French hills toward a winery. I’m sure if you asked someone who owns the car full-time just how charming it is, they’d tell you to take a hike. The drive to the first winery was only 30-minutes. It was a tiny winery. We were in a tour group with a family from L.A. The daughter who was around my age was also named Christina. I connected with her. It was nice being around people from America. It made the world feel a bit smaller. The tour started with a tall house on the premises that had a small dog sitting outside the ledge of the second floor window. No joke, I felt like I had to talk the dog off the ledge. Apparently, the other Christina felt the same way because she quickly exclaimed “your life is worth living!!” I gave a genuine chuckle.

The winery tour was led by a young student named Marina. She took us out into the fields and grape vines and, in all honesty, I have no idea what she said. It wasn’t because I couldn’t understand her–she spoke English–but because both kids required a good amount of attention for the first 45 minutes that we were there. After changing Alexander’s diaper in the middle of a field and having Juliana crouch in the woods for an emergency potty break, I stumbled back to the tour group and gathered that we were at a winery and we were outside. Clearly I learned a lot.

After trying several wines, conversing with the family, and trying to keep our toddlers occupied, we bought a couple bottles of wine, and made our way to lunch in the small town of Montolieu (known as the bookshop town) at the Les Anges au Plafond, where we enjoyed a lovely 3-course meal of quiche and greens, veal casserole with ratatouille and rice, and a lemon mascarpone tart. Alexander must’ve known it was my birthday because his gift to me was sleeping through lunch. We saved some food to feed him once he woke up. He ate every bite.

We ventured out to another winery that owned a few olive groves. As we tasted wine in a natural-lit room, they served our kids water with strawberry syrup and offered colored pencils and paper for Juliana. It was a very simple yet enjoyable experience. Here at Chateaux Canet, we met a couple from Winnipeg celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary. Once again, it was refreshing to be around people with whom we could communicate so easily. After the tour of the winery, we enjoyed laques olives, olive oil, french bread, and tapenades outside. Juliana feasted on the olives and I figured there was no better time for her to learn to eat around the pitts. And just like that, there’s one less thing she needs from me. It’s bittersweet.

Just another fifteen minutes drive landed us at La Belle Minervoise, an idyllic bed and breakfast that also served dinner. They were kind to give us a room that had a small bedroom adjoining for the children. We tested the video baby monitor to make sure it worked on the first floor, and it did! We fed our children shortly after settling into our room. They put together a lovely meal for them to enjoy. Homemade strawberry sorbet for dessert.

The terrace was where we fed the children and after putting them to bed, enjoyed delicious appertifes of raspberry sangria, baked cheese puffs the size of my fist, grape tomatoes, and cashews. Since it was my birthday, I twisted my own arm to eat three cheese puffs. Had you no shame?! you must be thinking. And no, I didn’t. In fact, I had such little shame, that it took every fiber of my being to not indulge in a fourth! We weren’t alone at the B&B. There was a lovely couple in their mid-70’s from Minnesota enjoying five weeks traveling through France. They’re retired and seem to travel quite a bit. It was entertaining to hear about their adventures thus far. We would spend the remainder of the evening conversing, sharing wine, and enjoying delicious food prepared by the pastry chef and co-owner, Jean-Claude. He and his wife, Sophi, own the B&B and did a fantastic job of accommodating while making us feel like family. For dinner, we enjoyed duck (it’s much less gamey in France), along with truffled mashed potatoes. The lights went out and suddenly everyone sang “happy birthday”. Jean-Claude surprised me with a beautiful and delicious chocolate hazelnut tart. It was unexpected, and heart-warming. I looked to Brian with the same look I’ve given him several times that day–the look of sincere appreciation.

The next morning, we enjoyed homemade croissants, baguette, lemon pound cake, and homemade jams. At least half-a-dozen jams, homemade nutella, coffee, orange juice, and butter were spread amongst the long table. There was no shortage of butter in the croissants, yielding them the crunchiest I’ve tasted thus far. The baguette was warm, with a thick crunch on the outside and the lightest fluff on the inside. My favorite breads so far.

We packed up our belongings and I took the kids to the front of the building which was fenced in while Brian asked for recommendations. Perfect! I thought, the kids have a trouble-free zone! Alexander proved me wrong quicker than he could fill his entire mouth with rocks. That was his amusement for the next half hour, and each attempt made me a fun-suck, as I would quickly remove the rocks from his hands and try to distract him with one of the many garden gnomes. Juliana found amusement in counting the gnomes and giving them each names of our family members including all the grandparents.

We took advantage of the fact that our rental wasn’t due back until 5pm by running some errands.

The trip was so wonderful. I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that it was quite an adjustment trying to go through two wineries with two tiny and energetic children. It took a lot of our attention, but they did very well. It made me appreciate their adaptability as well as our willingness to do things that take more effort. What was also great is how accepting everyone was of our children. At times, they even asked to hold Alexander to get their baby fix while we sipped on wine. It was a tremendous realization that although we came here by ourselves, we’re not alone.

3 thoughts on “A Birthday for the Books”

  1. I love reading about your adventure ! You could probably write a book once you’re back in Ohio ! Sounds like a wonderful birthday 🎉🎂🎁with your wonderful family! Love ❤️and hugs, Aunt Jane

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