Peach and Pine Travels: A Moment in Burgundy

A successful trip isn't determined solely by a well-appointed itinerary or significant sights. It is a collection of memorable moments strung together in a story. We take pictures so that we can revisit those memories, but sometimes that isn't enough for me. I need to recount it with words so that I can record what it felt like to be in the moment--in full technicolor with all five senses. Hopefully my recounting will allow me to revisit that memory again and again. 

Because my blog is about 60% helpful information and 40% self-indulgence (or perhaps that should be reversed), I am going to indulge myself for a few paragraphs as I relive a nearly perfect traveling moment in France. As a bonus, I hope that it persuades you that you ought to add traveling to your to-do list if it isn't already there.   (If you need more convincing, try this post, this post, and this post.) 

Café Marlot // Chateau La Rochepot // France

I audibly exhale as I settle into the simple, modern black cafe chair and rest my travel-weary feet. Three O'Clock always feels like the perfect time for an afternoon coffee, so stumbling across a little cafe in an old stable near the entrance of the forest-wrapped Château seems serendipitous (and only when describing European travels do I feel like I can be as pretentious as to use a word like serendipitous...especially in reference to coffee). 

I settle in for a break, and I am surrounded on either side of the round, white lacquer bistro table by my traveling companions -- my sweet younger sister and my handsome husband. We are all slightly delirious with jetlag which seems to heighten our humor. We try not to annoy the composed French people sitting nearby us on the outdoor terrace as we laugh and reminisce about the day's events. 

Situated a few hours southeast of Paris, Burgundy is a quiet and picturesque region known for good food, better wine, and idyllic little villages. We wanted somewhere that wasn't filled with American tourists, and the fact that we have only heard maybe one other native English speaker all day seems to confirm that we made a good choice.

Even though it is only mid-afternoon, we have already had a full day of Burgundian sensory overload. It started with a stroll through the bustling Saturday market in quaint but central Beaune. We sampled regional cheese and charcuterie from boisterous vendors who assumed we could understand their French sales pitches. We tried not to smell the Camembert cheese as we tasted it, but it's difficult to separate the taste from the dirty laundry smell. We carefully counted Euros into the hands of a Boulanger in exchange for a perfectly browned, crusty loaf of French bread.

We selected a small cardboard carton of fresh strawberries and raved to each other about how perfectly juicy, sweet, and red each one was. It feels like it was the best batch of strawberries I've ever eaten, and I'm not sure if it really was exceptional or if the experience of eating a berry underneath the striped awning of a French market simply enhances the taste of anything.

I lingered in the booth lined with woven baskets and ran my fingers along the ribbons tied around their handles as I tried to convince myself I could fit one in my suitcase. I stopped at the flower booth to feel and smell every shape and color. I watched all the elderly patrons walking home with their baskets full of baguettes and thought how quintessentially French everything felt. 

After a full schedule of market shopping, vineyard tours, wine tastings, and a beautiful drive under blue skies on the Route des Grands Crus, a cup of coffee is just the thing. We all hope to order an Americano or a similar beverage, but after staring at the mostly French menu for a few minutes in bewilderment and consulting our handy Rick Steves translation book, we all settle on something labeled "Long Coffee" and hope it will do the trick. We then debate out loud (after the waitress is comfortably out of earshot) what exactly could make a coffee "long." 

Once I have my lengthy coffee and classic white mug in hand, I can focus on the view. The air is warm enough to signal the end of Spring, but it is still crisp, so I keep my cardigan on over my sleeveless, black and white embroidered sundress. The birds are having animated conversation above our heads, and the wind rustles the leaves around on the trees and the forest floor.

Directly in front of our table, there is a gap in the crowd of dense, lush trees that allows us to see a rolling hill a few hundred yards away. Three white cows and a new Spring calf graze leisurely, completely unaware that their primary purpose in life is to be made into the most delicious Beouf Bourginion like the dish that our bed & breakfast host prepared for us last night. 

To our left, the compact but stately Chateau de la Rochepot rises above the trees. The tile roof is patterned with burgundy, green, yellow and brown tones in the style so common in Medieval buildings in this region. Past a line of forest, the entrance to the drawbridge is visible. The castle reminds me of a cardboard pop-up castle that my sister played with as a little girl. The stereotypical moat around the stone wall and the round towers lining the outskirts are reminiscent of the medieval history studies I loved in elementary school. 

As we look out on the 21st Century Burgundian countryside, it isn't hard to imagine what it would have been like to walk up to this fortress on foot centuries prior. I conjure up romantic visions of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, and I keep grabbing my husband's and sister's arms with emphasis and saying, "Just imagine what it would be like to be here in medieval times."  

I take small sips of my coffee to make it last longer so that I can savor this moment. The peacefulness of the scene stands in stark contrast to the hectic life I left back home. I needed this escape. I needed to remember that the world is much bigger than my seemingly endless list of responsibilities in everyday life. I needed to sit in this place and breathe in this air.

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Peach & Pine Travels: 5 Reasons You Should Visit France

We have just returned from a picturesque week in Burgundy and Paris. This week was proof to me that it doesn't take long to fall in love with France. I seriously can't stop daydreaming about the memories we made. In my mind's eye, the moments stretch out extended and leisurely like the meals in Parisian restaurants. I feel like all my memories are glazed with a sparkle; maybe a glisten is the better word. France feels like a dream that I never want to forget. The dream is romantic and historic and idyllic.

So, for the sake of my own memories and in order to convince you to book a flight, I give you my top 5 reasons why you should visit France. 

1. Quiet, Fairytale Villages 

"Little town. It's a quiet village. Every day like the one before. Little town full of little people waking up to say...Bonjour!" 

What girl doesn't want to feel like Belle every once in a while? I was worried that we would have to search long and hard to find the quaint beauty that I wanted to find in French towns, but, in fact, nearly every town we visited in Burgundy felt like something out of a storybook. And while I haven't spent time in many other regions, it's my understanding that this is true across France. 

One of the reasons we chose Burgundy was for its peace and quiet and to have a distinctly different experience from tourist-heavy Paris. And we got just that. There were a few towns we visited where I could count on my two hands the number of other people we saw...and where we were the only Americans in earshot. 

One day, we were walking up a little hill in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain. As we strolled past muted pastel houses covered in flowering vines, I said with a sigh "this is a moment I never want to forget." 

Favorite small towns we visited: 
- Flavigny-sur-Ozerain
- Vezelay
- Semur-En-Auxois
- Beaune (a little bit larger town with every bit of small town charm) 
- Pommard
- La Rochepot

2. Beautiful Food 

Food is an art form in France. It's a beautiful, time-honored, highly regarded art form that you can taste and see. Every boulangerie (bakery), patisserie (pastry shop), cafe, and restaurant seems to take pride in not only the flavor but the presentation of their food. 

We have visited Italy where food is also as much a part of the fabric of society as language, and the food was equally as delicious, but nothing compares to the beauty of French cuisine. I wanted to stop at every patisserie window and take a picture of the eclairs, tartes, and macarons lined up like little ballerinas ready for their debut. 

I can hardly believe I'm saying it, but I wish I had eaten more eclairs. 

French food favorites:
- Eclairs
- Creme Brulee
- Chocolate Croissant
- Macarons

3. Leisurely Dining  

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"Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening." - Art Buchwald

There are many notes I think Americans ought to take from the Europeans, and the art of leisurely dining is one of them. One thing I loved about our France experience is that ordering a preset four-course menu creates a naturally long dining experience all in one price. Also, as is true in most European countries, waiters aren't paid by tips. American waiters have an incentive to make your meal shorter because the more tables they serve, the more tips they receive. It's not a fault but simply a reality. In France, it's considered rude to bring the check until you ask for it. They expect you to spend hours dining. 

We ate several multi-course, 2.5 hour meals while we were in France. As the minutes turned to hours and each course was delivered to the table, I could feel the tension of life being released from my shoulders. There is time to reflect, to talk, to laugh, and to savor. It didn't hurt that we were on vacation and had our cell phone service turned off. We just enjoyed being served and having time together. 

I've often thought that it's a shame in American restaurants that even when spending quite a bit of money on a nice meal, we are in and out in less than an hour and a half. When you visit France (or really any European country), take the time to savor your dining experience. 

Favorite dining experiences on our trip:
- Pierre et Jean // Chagny, Burgundy
- La Place Royale // Le Marais, Paris
- Cafe Constant // Rue Cler, Paris
- Le Cafe de L'Odeon // Latin Quarter, Paris

4. Castles Everywhere 

Chateau de la Rochepot 

Chateau de la Rochepot 

Chateau de Melin 

Chateau de Melin 

The french say "Chateau," but I can't help but say Castle when I see the dozens of elegant mansions that dot French landscapes. We didn't even visit the Loire Valley, which is known for its Chateaux, but we still saw our fair share of stunning "Castles." In fact, we even stayed in a Chateau turned Bed & Breakfast, the Chateau de Melin.

One of our trip highlights was a tour of the Chateau de la Rochepot along the Route des Grands Crus in Burgundy. We were the only tourists in the entire place, and my sister and I flitted around like Disney Princesses and climbed the tower to look out over the vineyard dotted landscape. 

I'm proud to be an American, but it isn't too often that you see a castle on a U.S. roadtrip. Just sayin'...

5. Iconic History at Every Turn 

I am a self-identified history nerd. Almost nothing grabs my attention quite so much as learning about an era of history that interests me. Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by the everyday lives of people in the past. I especially love European history because it has such a direct and integral tie to American history. Being in France (as with so many other places in Europe) makes me feel like I am walking through the pages of a beautiful, 3-D history book. 

One thing I love about Paris specifically is the way that history is so beautifully integrated into modern life. Modern stores are built into historic buildings without losing the character of days gone by. Every flower box, iron balcony, and mansard style roof seems to evoke the past. 

Paris is also the backdrop for so many movies and photos that walking past iconic sights like the Eiffel Tower and Louvre can't help but feel important.

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There are so many more reasons to love France. So, what are you waiting for? Roundtrip tickets to Paris aren't hard to find for a steal. Save your pennies, book a flight, and immerse yourself in the magic of the French culture. 

Refinishing Hardwood Floors - The Project That Almost Did Us In

Disclaimer: this post was written last week before we left on a trip. Now we are back and the floors officially look AMAZING. So read on with confidence that we finally got it right. 

Hi all, Jeremy here…writing to you on a fresh subject from our new place. As I type, Chandler is upstairs putting the second of three coats of sealer on our newly refinished hardwood floors. If all goes according to plan, the final coat will go on tomorrow morning and we’ll leave for vacation to let the floors set in all their newly refinished glory. Obviously from my first few sentences (and if you follow us on Instagram stories) you know that we decided to DIY the hardwood floors.

I’d just like to shoutout to anyone who refinishes hardwoods for a living: YOU GUYS ARE WORTH EVERY PENNY THAT YOU CHARGE! Man, this is not an easy task if you’ve never done it before. We read a lot of blogs that said it was simple, and while the processes are pretty simple, we ran into a lot of roadblocks along the way that threw us for some loops. I’m not going to write a step by step guide here. There are a lot of articles on how to DIY your hardwoods, and I don’t want to add to the confusion.  What I would like to do is to share a couple major mistakes we made, as well as some tips we found really helpful, with a bit of comic relief sprinkled throughout.

I love the show “Parks and Recreation.” I’ve seen every episode multiple times…I often play episodes in the background while I’m working. There are very few shows that make my laugh out loud while watching by myself, and P&R is one of them. In a certain episode, Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) explains that his criteria for dating someone involves a self-created list he called “the oh no nos.” If a woman commits an “oh no no,” that’s pretty much a deal breaker. For instance, rule number 3 on the “oh no no” list is “not loving ‘90s R&B music.” In the show, Ann Perkins commits this “oh no no,” and their relationship crumbles like a poorly baked scone. What I’m about to give you is the “Refinishing Hardwood Floors Oh No Nos.”

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1.     Sanding/Edging. Only reading one or two articles on sanding hardwood floors is a big oh no no. Sanding is a pretty simple concept, but there are techniques that are really important. I’ve included a link to one of the better articles I found (although I found it a little late) here. The part that got us was the edger…it’s not a super easy tool to use, so when you rent make sure you get all the tips you can from your local professional before diving in.

2.     Not doing all the floors at once is a big oh no no. Sparing you all the details, we got it in our minds that finishing half the floors in our first round of renovations was the best course of action. It was not! Wait until you can do them all at once. Just wait. Please. Save yourselves.

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3.     Using consumer polyurethane is an oh no no (in some cases). Minwax Polyurethane that you get from Lowe’s or Home Depot is a general-purpose poly. It’s used for anything and everything from furniture to floors. It is not specifically designed for floors, and because of this it is not as easy to use and may not yield the finish you want.

We had a pretty serious freakout when we finished what we thought was our last coat of poly. After it dried, it was really uneven and parts were INCREDIBLY shiny. Like, it looked as if we were gazing onto a sea of glass (with hardwood underneath of course). What we found was that while we had been using mineral spirits to keep the lamb’s wool applicator fresh, when it mixed with the polyurethane it diluted the sealer. This is actually a good thing! The portions of the floor that were more diluted looked the best, but again it was very uneven. So the caveat here is, if you decide to go with Minwax, dilute it. See below for further details.

Poloplaz

4.     Rolling Sealer. There’s a lot of conflicting information online regarding how to apply sealer to hardwood floors. I am here to clear all that up for you, but there are a few layers so hold on tight.

-       If you are using a consumer polyurethane (Minwax) from Lowe’s or Home Depot, rolling it on is a BIG oh no no. The lady at Lowe’s even said it would be ok, but it was not. After our first coat, we had a ton of air bubbles in our sealer and it royally freaked us out! Luckily these bubbles came out when we screened the floors with the buffer, but the cause of the bubbles was definitely using the roller. We switched to a lamb’s wool applicator for the second coat and it was MUCH better and actually easier as well.

-       If you are using a true flooring sealer/poly (We used Poloplaz brand. We LOVED it), rolling is OK! We used a poly we got from our hardwood supplier for our topcoat and rolling it on worked great! Just make sure you’re using a roller with at least a 3/8th inch nap.

-       Lamb’s wool applicator always works. If you’re worried about rolling, just get a couple of these and you’ll be just fine.

5.     Buffing before the sealer dries is a big oh no no. This one is obvious and shows my general lack of patience during this process. I tried to buff the floors when they were still a little sticky. It completely gunked up my screen and the buffer started sticking and throwing me all over the place. We now have a fresh dent in our wall to show for it. My bad guys…

So if you’re still reading this, wow. I thought once we spilled the beans that we don’t actually know what we are doing that you all would turn your backs on us and leave us to our own demise. Well thanks for sticking with us. Next stop on the blog train, positivity station.

So back to Tom Haverford. While Tom takes his “oh no no” list very seriously, there are qualities in certain women that may cause him to overlook something on this list. He doesn’t have a name for these qualities, but for blogging’s sake let’s call them the “oh yes yes” list. So here is my “oh yes yes” list for refinishing hardwood floors.

1.     You save a lot of money. This is the reason we went with DIY on this project (and also because we didn’t think it would be this difficult), and oh yes yes did it save us some money. I haven’t tallied it all, but off the top of my head I think we must be under $500 total (tool rental, stain, sealer, accessories, etc). This does not include the new hardwoods that we bought, but just the price of refinishing everything. By my estimation, that saved us about $2,500 over hiring a pro. Not bad if you ask me!

2.     Talk to your local flooring professional (not just someone in the paint department at Lowe’s) before beginning this process. Oh yes yes, these guys are super nice and will give you tons of helpful and practical information! Don’t be afraid, they are happy to help. We went to the local hardwood flooring wholesaler, and they gave some helpful tips.

3.     This is a two-part oh yes yes. Should you go with flooring specific sealer/polyurethane? Oh yes yes. It makes a big difference. You can make Minwax work (see next point), but if you want ease and comfort and best finish, get the pro stuff.

4.     If you decide to go with Minwax (which you shouldn’t. Really, just please don’t), dilute it with mineral spirits. Oh yes yes, this can save you a lot of heartache. We did one coat with a 2-1 poly to mineral spirits ratio and one coat of a 3-1 poly to mineral spirit ratio. The 2-1 was a little thin, but 3-1 worked really nicely! We are still going with a true flooring sealer for the topcoat, but the Minwax worked fine for our first couple coats.

5.     Can you lay new hardwoods yourself? Oh yes yes. This was honestly the simplest and most gratifying part of the process for me (even though it’s technically not part of “refinishing” the floors). We had about 350 sqft of hardwoods we needed to lay. While it was physically draining, it was an easy job technically speaking. It definitely helps to have a partner lay out the boards for you as you go!

I have one more important life lesson from Tom Haverford that pertains to refinishing hardwood floors, and that is the concept of “Treat Yo Self.” You need to take breaks and relax. Tonight, Chandler and I went to Burger Shack as a “Treat Yo Self.” We just couldn’t muster the energy to cook, so to clear our minds we went and got the best fast food burgers/fries around. Sometimes you just need French fries covered in cheese, grilled onions, and Thousand Island dressing. So whatever it takes to Treat Yo Self, do it.

So as we leave for vacation, our hardwoods are sitting and sealing. To be honest, this has been the most grueling DIY project we’ve ever taken on. I’m not sure if it’s because there are just a lot of layers to this house renovation and I’m taking out my frustrations on this single project or what, but there has been a lot of anxiety regarding these floors. At the same time there’s a lot of hope that when we return, the floors will be everything we wanted from the beginning. It’s been a long process and a ton of work. There have been tears, blood, sweat, cursing, and praying. But we are headed out, firmly believing that when we return we will have beautifully refinished floors.

Follow-up to come! But for now, au revoir!