Sunday, January 27, 2019

FranceBookTours -- Are We French Yet?

Make sure you scroll down to the bottom to enter the giveaway!
You know that I'm going to devour a book that tells the story of two Americans moving to France. It's the same life I've been dreaming about for so long, and now am living myself. I love to see what experiences other expats have, so Keith Van Sickle did not disappoint.

I read this book on the plane as we jetted toward France. I love the adventures, the scrapes, the experiences that Keith and his wife Val shared as they tried to fit into their new life in France.
So much of it was familiar. Life is the same, but so many things are different.
They share their experiences of meeting French people and the overwhelming idea of how to integrate. It reminded me of a story that the blogger Corey Amaro told on Tongue in Cheek where she went to a French party and there were no chairs, so she sat on the floor. I imagine how mortified her French husband must have been. And Keith's stories are similar, showing how wrong assumptions can lead to mortification when in French company.
Trying to learn real French is another chapter that Keith wrote about, and I can relate. I thought I knew French, and then I moved here.
Moving to a new country is always a challenge, and I loved sharing the adventures of Keith Van Sickle and his wife Val. I imagine that every book  he writes, as each year passes, he will feel more and more like a true Frenchman.
Anyone who enjoys indulging in a new life is sure to eat up the adventures of Are We French Yet? by Keith Van Sickle.

= Global giveaway open internationally. 5 participants will each win an ecopy of this book

Friday, January 25, 2019

France 2019 --Year Two of Our Great Adventure

Lucky us! We arrived in Paris on Monday, just after any weekend protests, but before a beautiful snowfall on Tuesday.
Snow in Paris

Snow beside the Metro, Latin Quarter

Snow along the Seine
Since we get to visit more frequently, we don't find ourselves rushing from art exhibit to monument but are much more likely to saunter into a restaurant or cafe and while away the hours. We're sold on the French way of life.
Our plane arrived late on Monday and we didn't reach the hotel until nearly 12. We were supposed to arrive at 6:55 a.m., which is super early. That would have meant we would drop our bags at the hotel and stumble off sleepily into Paris for the day. Earl and I rarely sleep on the plane, so basically we lose a night's sleep.
Because we got here late, our room was ready. We checked in, had a shower and wandered to Rue Mouffetarde for a meal in the middle of the afternoon -- not lunch, not dinner.
Me, looking tired. 
My first meal in France -- canard de confit, bien sur. Duck thigh
There was a time not too long ago when it might have been impossible to find a meal at an odd time like this, but many restaurants and brasseries now offer "service continu," feeding tourists whenever they're hungry. That's one of the benefits of Paris rather than the small town where we live. The restaurant owners would definitely give us a judgmental look if we requested food between meals.
And that was it for us. We did some walking, but after our meal and some wine, we returned to the hotel room and slept for about 12 hours.
Luxembourg Gardens looking brilliant in the cold sunshine
Tuesday morning, we began our Paris day with breakfast at the restaurant next door. The hotel charged 15 euros per person for breakfast. We thought that a bit steep so entered the quaint restaurant next door where continental breakfast is 8,50 euros. Coffee, orange juice, a croissant, toasted baguette and jam. The orange juice is probably the most expensive thing on the breakfast menu, and I could do without it, The croissant was lovely and crunchy on the outside, flaking off into my coffee as I bit it.
Continental breakfast

The bar at the restaurant where we had breakfast. 
Our visit to Paris is also different this time because we have some things to accomplish. We are buying a car, so there is paperwork to complete. We visited the bank both Tuesday and Wednesday morning to get auto insurance. We hadn't settled the paperwork yet, so I went again on Thursday morning before our drive off to the south of France. The bankers are very helpful. There are just differences between the U.S. and France. They want a letter that says we haven't had an accident in the past three years, which we haven't. Our insurance agency wrote a letter saying that, but it didn't have all the information the French wanted. I ended up writing a letter in French and English and waited all day Wednesday on our insurance agency to email it to the bank. The time difference does complicate things.
What difference does the letter make? About $500 over the year. Our auto insurance quote was 38 euros ($43) a month with the letter. Without the letter, it would be 76 euros ($86) a month, or double the price.
After visiting the bank on Tuesday to get an appointment (set for Wednesday at 9 a.m.), we went for a walk in the snow.
Notre Dame is not far away. And then we walked along the Seine, watching the snow fall and feeling the crunch of the snow beneath our feet. I had on a hat and a scarf and they both were soon soaked by the fat flakes as we walked farther into the city.

Notre Dame in the snow
In front of the Tuileries 
That afternoon, we had a Charleston dance lesson, thanks to a gift from our children. The teacher met us at the metro stop and we all walked to the dance studio, which itself was cool. It was a practice space crowded with actors and artists and dancers.
We learned the basics of the Charleston, but don't expect to see up performing it any time soon. We also met a lovely couple who love in Spain. She's Macedonian and he's from the UK, but lived in Germany for 20 years so has a slight German accent to his English. They were as bad at the Charleston as we were, so it was all just a fun experience.
That night, we decided to try the restaurant next door for dinner. I had noticed on their menu that they served aligot, which is a delicious mashed potato-cheese mix that we had when we went hiking last summer in Aveyron.
But the restaurant turned us away because they were full. Luckily, they had an annex down the street that served the same menu ll La Petite Périgordine, which means the little girl from Périgord. From the crowd even at the annex, we knew that we had stumbled upon a good restaurant, and we weren't disappointed. 
We both started with scallops and leeks. They were served in a delightful scallop shell and the seasoning was amazing. The leeks were little slips of bites underneath the scallops. 
Yum, one of the best things we ate, leeks and scallops
I chose quail for my main course, which truthfully tasted like chicken, but in much smaller pieces. The meal also included zucchini. 
Earl got the beef with the aligot, mashed potatoes and cheese. 
I ended the meal with tarte tatin, like an apple pie, that included creme fraiche. 

I wasn't able to run while I was in Paris, which was a huge disappointment. Did I tell you I got hit by a golf ball while running in Florida? Well, it was my fault. The ball was bouncing across the street toward me and I thought I could lift up my foot to stop it with my shoe. Of course, it bounced higher and hit me in the shin. It stung like crazy, but I kept going. I ended up with a big goose egg on my shin. That didn't stop me from running six miles the next day.
The morning we were preparing to leave for France, I noticed that the bruise had dripped down to my ankle and my foot, leaving it an atrocious purple color. I texted a physical therapist relative and he recommended not running until the bruise had dissipated. I listened to him about the running, but I walked plenty of steps, according to my Fitbit.

On Wednesday, we had lunch with our friends Linda and Maurice. Linda blogs at Frenchless in France and they have been so helpful to us. This time, they sold us their car since they are living full-time in Paris. As expected, there was quite a bit of paperwork to take care of. We started it on Wednesday after lunch then finished it on Thursday once I had secured car insurance.
Thursday morning the letter from the insurance company had arrived, and I stood outside the bank branch at 9 a.m. The nice young man sat with me at his desk for two hours, missing an appointment (a rendez-vous) at 10 because my insurance hadn't been completed. We were on the other line with the bank man in charge of insurance, finally we were approved, both me and Earl for 58 euros per month rather than the 38 or 72. A happy medium I guess and we can continue to work on getting the price down.
Next, I walked to the bus stop to cross town to Linda and Maurice's apartment to fetch the car. But a sign on the bus stop said a severe accident delayed the bus for 16 minutes. I looked at the handy app for maps which told me that I could walk to a metro stop and go underground, avoiding the accident.
I love using the maps on my phone for directions. If I push "transit," it tells me which train or bus to take and which direction it should be going. That saves so much figuring out time.
The Apple map gives me the breakdown of how to negotiate the transit system. 
A brisk walk across the Seine, past Notre Dame and the Hotel de Ville (city hall) sent me down the stairs. In a few minutes, I was on the street again and made me way to their apartment. Completing the paperwork let me slide behind the driver's seat of the 2001 Audi that we purchased from them.
I drove across Paris, slowly, calmly, avoiding other cars and drivers in a hurry. I pulled in front of the hotel and Earl loaded up the suitcases.
I continued to drive, following the GPS to exit Paris and follow the highway to the south. 
The road to Quillan heads south! 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The End of the Year in the States -- 2018

My first year abroad ended with me in the States.
We flew to Florida on October 30 in time for my dad's surgery. For six months, he had been dealing with a sore on his foot that would not heal and they found infection in the bone. We feared that he might lose his foot. I couldn't imagine how depressed he must be, sitting in the house and going to doctor visits rather than playing golf four times a week. Mom seemed a bit overwhelmed too, giving him IV antibiotic treatments three times a day.
Within 24 hours of arriving home, Mom had instructed me on how to give the antibiotics. That left her schedule a bit more free. Then Dad had surgery to open arteries in his lower leg to help improve the blood flow. We hoped the surgery would lead to the wound healing.
After a week in Florida, we drove up to Ohio to see the kids and some friends.

 We helped Spencer choose a used car to replace the one that was totaled in the accident. With a car, he could get a job with more consistent pay rather than working on lawns with his roommate. After about 10 days of juggling paperwork in Ohio, we returned to Florida.
Returning didn't seem like a big culture shock. It felt like I'd never left, except that my favorite drink at Starbucks was too sweet now.
The kids were thrilled to see us, but they quickly returned to their own lives.
So we came back to Florida to keep Dad company as he continued to heal. We puttered around like real retirees for about a month, getting ready for Christmas, and the week before Christmas, Dad played about 15 holes of golf with Earl. He was nearly healed.
We lucked into a housesit in Columbus from December 20 to January 7, so we had our own place while we visited Columbus. Spencer and Tucker came to spend the night on Christmas Eve, and we gathered for  a New Year's meal and to watch the Ohio State bowl game. I loved being together again.
But I realized that the kids might wish I was there so they could drop by whenever they wanted, but they weren't going to change their lives and their schedules to fit me in. They all had their own interests and busy schedules.
So on January 6, we had a family meal together, celebrating Grace's birthday 3 weeks early, and I kissed them all goodbye.
One family photo

Celebrating Grace's birthday with Tucker, Spencer and her boyfriend Jack. 
Ouch. That hurts every time.
I knew I would see Tucker again because he flew down to Florida for a long weekend with my parents. And he was here on Monday, less than a week ago, when the doctor declared my dad cleared from treatment. His foot was healed.
We toasted with champagne.
And Tucker played two rounds of golf with Dad that weekend.
Dad back on the golf course

Tucker on the golf course
Monday evening, we drove Tucker to the airport. It felt like my entire body was slouching, every organ joining in with a downward motion as I realized that I was leaving my youngest, and all of them, behind again.
I worried that I might have already broken our relationship by selling their childhood home and moving to France.
Our goodbye at the airport was punctuated by kisses and hugs, and one more hug and a last, desperate look into his eyes so that I could convey how much he means, whether I'm there or not, and we drove back to Mom and Dad's as I felt my organs twisted tighter and tighter like a wet towel being rung out.
One last photo before he returned to Ohio. Me, crying on the inside
Being in France, being away, I'm caught up in the adventure of it all. The leaving part though, that's hard -- every time.
And tomorrow, we say goodbye to Mom and Dad as we drive to the Orlando airport to fly to Paris. But we are so happy that we were here, for the longest stay that I've had since I moved away from home after college.
And Dad is well. They are both healthy.
Sure, we'll be far away, but they know that we can get on a plane and be here in just a little over the amount of time it used to take to drive from Ohio to Florida.
And somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I'll shrug off the sadness of leaving people behind and start looking toward the sunrise as we arrive in France.
Tehcnically, a sunset, but you get the idea. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Italy, Ireland and France, Oh My, October 2018

On our last month in France for the year, we packed in quite a bit. We didn't know it was our last month there. We had purchased our tickets to return to the States for December 11th, but my dad had a wound (since April) that wasn't healing and they began talking about what to do if it didn't heal. My mom sounded overwhelmed and we decided to fly home at the end of October to support them.
But October arrived with two trips planned -- a week at Lake Como, Italy, and a long weekend in Ireland with our friends Jules and Jack.
First Lake Como, we'd seen the pictures and knew if was a peaceful lake surrounded my mountains, so we booked five nights there. We drove through the Alps, spending a night in Chambery.
The lake was as beautiful as advertised.
Sunrise as I ran. 

Earl went swimming nearly every day despite the chill. 
 The pool and the room both faced the lake. It's so relaxing to hear the water lapping at the shore.
Earl and his longed-for sailboats
We spent some time trying to find sailboats to rent, but the weather and our schedule didn't fit. He ended up renting a speedboat while I taught one afternoon.

We returned to Quillan for a "normal" week before we took off for Dublin.
Here's a picture I took of a post office truck. It's such a French sentiment.
Smile, maybe there's a love letter for you in this truck -- according to my translation. 
Then we flew off to Dublin for a long weekend. None of us had ever been to Ireland, so it was an adventure from the beginning.
We enjoyed some different food, and a lot less wine. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but I had a Guinness when we first arrived.
One day we took the train out to a seaside town. The weather cleared up some after we had seafood in a restaurant/bar along the shore.

One day Jules and I took a bus tour to visit Blarney Castle and Cork. 

Me and Jules at Blarney Castle

Getting down to kiss the Blarney Stone is no easy feat. A number of people looked at the situation and changed their mind. You hold onto those bars and lean over to kiss the stone which is down the wall. It's kind of like a backbend. These guys are there to make sure no one dies.
Kissing the Blarney Stone
Can you believe the sky looked like this in Ireland? We were so lucky
After our weekend in Dublin, we flew back home for a few days before our departure for the States. 
We enjoyed getting together with our friends once more at a restaurant where our French friend Cedric is interning to become a chef.
A semi-gastronomique meal at L'Odalisque in Limoux before our departure. 
Then we sadly said goodbye to our friends and looked forward to a few months filled with family. We drove the car to Paris, returning it to our friends there. 
We spent a few days in Paris before our flight. We always like to stay when departing or arriving. The restaurants along rue Mouffetarde never disappoint. Earl had French onion soup as his starter while I went with a favorite of goat cheese salad.
Goat cheese salad, one of my favorites
I felt surprisingly melancholy about leaving France behind. Would I be back? 
One last run along the Seine
And we flew to Florida on October 30, just one day before Halloween, thrilled to see Mom and Dad and to help, however we could, for Dad to heal.
How is he? Well, I'll sum up November and December tomorrow because in two days, we leave for France again. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Reunited in September and Exploring Spain --2018

In August, Earl flew back to the States to help the kids cut through some red tape. He was returning through Paris, and our friends had agreed to lend us their car for the fall months.  There was a gap of just a few hours between their departure and his arrival, so I went to meet him to bridge the gap.
I had a day to spend in Paris while I waited for Earl to arrive. Not since my days as an au pair (22) had I spent a day alone roaming through the City of Lights. What a luxury!
Luckily, I learned that an art exhibit, similar to the one I loved in Provence, was taking place not too far from where I was staying, so I went.
The exhibit, Les Ateliers des Lumieres in the 11th arrondisement at 38 rue Saint Maur 75 011 Paris,
had gotten a lot of publicity and I'd heard the lines were long, but my timing was superb so I waltzed right in. You can read my post and see more pictures here. It was amazing.
Although Earl could have easily made his way from the airport, I met him there. It was the longest we have ever been apart in our 28 years of marriage.
The next morning, before we drove back to Quillan, we explored the famous cemetery, Cimetière du Père Lachaise. We had a map with famous gravesites and tried to visit many of them.
In all our visits to Paris, we had never been.
The grave of Colette who wrote Gigi. We watched the movie Colette starring Keira Knightley. Colette was something. 

It was a good September morning to wander around the cemetery visiting the graves of Marcel Marceau, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. 
So now we had a car in Quillan after our drive back from Paris. We would no longer be reliant on friends and public transportation.
But my most common form of transportation was still running. I loved this picture of the clouds hanging low over Quillan during a sunrise.

We had a progressive dinner one night, us four American couples in Quillan. Jules (whose idea is was) got sick and couldn't participate. We missed her wit. 
We all put on Rod's hats while we were at his house. Becky is missing from the picture. 
On another day, our British friend Lou convinced Jules and me to go to a silver clay class. 
Yes, Lou is the kind of person who is always fun

Silver clay becomes silver once it is fired, with the clay burning off. I'm not very crafty, but I enjoyed making a little bauble and then giving it to Grace for Christmas. 

The rest of September was full of more runs with sunrises, explosions of colors for sunsets, and dinners with friends. 
Sunrise, I think, over the river Aude

A burst of colors in the sunset

Following Jules and Jack back to their place for some wine and cards. 
In late September, Earl and I made our first foray into Spain. We headed to Sax to housesit for a very independent cat. 
The house and the cat were great. The saltwater pool was even better. I was a bit freaked out by the barbed wire around the top of the fence, but the view was terrific. 
And we also loved the beach on the Mediterranean at Alicante. 

Much of what we saw in Spain was lovely, but I didn't second guess my decision to move to France. For one thing, I had a hard time waiting for dinner at 10. 
But the coffee was delicious, and I loved that cafes served food even when we only ordered a drink. 

The markets were just as charming as in France, but I didn't know the language. 
We returned home from Spain, comfortable switching back to French. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Festivals and Dog Days in August 2018

August in the South of France! It's got to be tourist time, which was fine. Our cafe was more crowded and the lines sometimes stretched out the door at the bakery, but the market was in full swing and the town felt vibrant
I had lots of good runs --early before the heat got too intense.
I love seeing the clouds over the mountains. 

This street redefines the term alley cat. 
 I loved being out on the streets early, seeing the markets set up or people preparing for work. Often I run along the river because it's one of the flattest roads in the village. And sometimes I could persuade my friend Jules to come along.
Do you see the fisherman standing in the river?
 Even though we live in a small village, the bakery is phenomenal. I visit nearly every day.
In addition to pastries and desserts, the bakery sells sandwiches and quiches. 
 But the pace wasn't all lazy days. Mid-August found us in the midst of the village festival. One of the first events was the mayor handing out kerchiefs with the name of our village on them.

You can see that a lot of people crowded into the street in front of the mayor's office waiting for the red kerchiefs. A British friend had his nieces and nephews along and one boy wanted out of the crowd so Earl put him on his shoulders and he snapped this picture for me. 

Here we are with our city scarves with Jules and Jack. 

Here's the town crest on the scarves with the year 2018, as modeled by Earl and me. 
But that was only the beginning of the village festival. One day there was a bike race -- a Criterium that included professional bikers. 

Jack, Earl and I perched on the corner to watch the bike race
 The village was quite packed near the announcer, but the crowds didn't stretch down to this corner by the blue bridge.
Here come the riders

Here's the blue bridge with the riders streaming across. 
 We didn't stay for the entire race since the riders were making a circuit and we weren't invested in the winner. I think we returned to Jack and Jules house for cake and more wine.
Every night of the festival, the village had music. Sometimes a band would play early in the evening, but the real music began at 10 -- after dinner -- and lasted until 2. We ventured down to the square for music a couple of days, but we didn't realize how amazing it was until the final night. Next year, we'll be there dancing each of the five nights of music.
The band the final evening. There were lights and costume changes. 
 And the band took a break for fireworks. We stood in front of the stage, dancing and singing along til well after midnight. We didn't make it til midnight, but next year!
Later in August was another community dinner. We gathered under a tent with friends for aperitifs before we were served moules (mussels) as an entree. The main course was pork jowls, so not my favorite meal, but when the music started, all was forgotten.

Each person received a big bowl of mussels
 When we weren't in the middle of festivals, we often took bike rides, like the one to the festival in Esperaza. That village is famous for its quirky arts and exotic items.
Some dream catchers and carvings

Musicians often play around the festival. These musicians stationed themselves near our regular cafe. 
 Toward the end of the month, Spencer had a car accident, so Earl flew back to the States to help take care of all the paperwork and details that can get tricky to handle when you're a young 20-something.
Here he is with all three of the kids enjoying a meal on a patio.

It was strange to be in France without him. I worked hard at teaching and spent time with friends. 
Often I'd go to the bakery in the morning and buy a pastry for breakfast along with a baguette sandwich that I would cut in half for lunch and dinner. The bakery served all my needs. 
And that is how August ended, with me alone in France. Earl did all the things he had missed in the States, like hug the kids, and I was jealous. 
But I was in France, so everyone else was jealous.


The problem with not blogging for so long, is that there is way too much to blog about so then it's discouraging and I'll never be a...