Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 15, 2009: It's Almost Over!


The weather really is crazy here. For the longest time it was rainy here in Caen. Every day in November was rainy and seriously, it was about 3-4 weeks of pure rain. I felt no desire to go out and wander or go do errands. I never gave in to buying an umbrella. It was as though I thought that if I didn't buy an umbrella, the rain would eventually have to stop and the sun would burst through the clouds. But it didn't. It was relentless. So we had to call a draw. The rain fell and I was wet.

And now, with November behind me, December has decided to give me and the rest of us in Caen the cold shoulder. Geez, it is freezing (see frozen windshield to your left). It's like when you are on the ski slopes on an extra cold day and your toes turn painfully cold and frozen after only being on the slopes for 20 minutes. Tonight, Andrew and I were joking about having frost-bite on our arses from sitting on the toilet seat. And now, for the past two days, the snow has been falling off and on. I don't know, maybe it is the damp air that makes it bone-chilling cold - but regardless I now feel prepared to return to the Colorado and Chicago winter weather. Maybe Mother Nature is helping us get in the right mindset?

So, aside from this challenging weather, we have been tending to moving stuff lately. I have been spending the past 10 days packing boxes like crazy. Andrew and I are both surprised about how much stuff we are shipping back to the United States, even after all of the stuff we are giving away and the furniture that we are not bringing. Yesterday, we got about 26 boxes of varying sized boxes shipped off using DHL and we plan to have about 4-5 more boxes shipped tomorrow.
Since we are not taking our furniture with us (due to the house in Illinois being furnished) we have been trying to sell our existing apartment furniture. Our house feels like a thrift store! Andrew and I were starting to worry about how much was left, but my friend Celine really came through for us. She has a friend who does apartment and house staging and she came and bought pretty much everything.


Some other time has been spent having last minute coffees with friends before I leave. That has been sad but I also realize how lucky I am to have met such great friends while living here in Caen. Today, I spent a really fun day with Celine in Deauville and Trouville. We went shopping (I found some FAB boots - my little momento of my time in France), had a really tasty lunch of Moules a la creme with french fries, and then finished with coffee at a chiq hotel on the water. What a great day I had with my great friend. I will miss Celine! She and I have committed to running the New York Marathon in 2011 together along with her mother. So we know at least we'll see each other then! Feel free to jump on board and join us if you are looking to achieve a similar goal!


I have also been able to see my great friends Michelle and Carih - both originally from the United States but now residents of France, married to French men. It was especially fun to hang out with them during my time in France because I could dabble in French if I wanted, but they were more than happy to speak in English and that was a nice relief. I need to thank them immensely for all of the furniture, rugs, plates and dishes and various other items that I have unloaded on them this week. You guys rock! And for all of their help - you should know that I allowed them to see my nasty jacket that I wore to coffee last week. My in-laws have seen it too, via Skype. Are you curious and maybe a little bit jealous?

Ella has had some playdates with her new good friend Guillaume. They've gone ice skating at the holiday ice rink set up for Christmas here in the center of Caen. They've spent hours trading Pokeman cards and Playmobile. Ella is leaving France with having found a really dear friend.

Yesterday, Ella had a dance recital. Now, I didn't actually know there was going to be a recital so thank goodness I was available to stay. It was when I saw all the parents lined up around the studio and not leaving that I figured this all out. But anyway, the recital was very cute. I was surprised by how much Ella had learned (the dance was Jazz) and that she actually remembered choreography. All this time, for the past 3 months, she has never told me about or showed me anything that she has learned in dance class so I was worried about whether or not she was learning anything at all. I took some pictures for your enjoyment below - but I truly apologize for the awful photography. All I had with me was my iPhone and thank goodness I even had that!

Also yesterday, Grace and Mia attended their last day of First
Babys School and it all ended with a Christmas Party. Santa Claus came and handed out little presents which all of the children enjoyed. I got some pictures of Grace and Mia with some of their favorite teachers. Oh, and I finally found a "Christmas Cookie" at this party that I recognized (pictured to the right) - both the taste and the shape. It was yummy and it finally felt like Christmas was near! I don't know why, but without those annual Christmas Cookies you come to know, it just doesn't seem like Christmas!

Tonight, Andrew took the girls to his office Christmas Party while I stayed home and did some more packing. They had fun - I can tell by the pictures...and by the late time they got home.
Tomorrow I will have lunch with all the girls that I take tennis lessons with each Friday. That will be a ton of fun. I know I have said this before, but I have truly learned more from my tennis instructor here in France than I ever have in the U.S. - and I don't even understand 70% of what she says! She was also very nice and a good friend. I will miss my fun class!

Tomorrow is the last day of school for the girls. I have some treats to bring for their classes to help say goodbye - a little party of sorts. We have some flowers to give to their teachers to say thank you for all of the patience and understanding they have provided the girls. Andrew and I hope they have wonderful last days at their French school. Shortly after school gets out, we will start driving to Paris where we will stay the night before leaving to head back to the States on Saturday.

So there you have it! Busy days and busy nights, preparing for our big move back to the United States. It is hard to believe that tonight is our last night here in Caen. It is hard to believe that our apartment looks almost the same way it did when we arrived just 10 months ago. It is hard to believe that we have survived city living. And it's hard to believe that I won't have crepes, galettes, croissants, foie gras, fresh seafood and Bordeaux wine at my disposal any longer. But none of it will be forgotten and now we have other things to look forward to.

I have been thinking lately about what the topic of a new blog could be and I finally have it figured out. So though I will continue to blog about "Life After Caen" here over the next few weeks, be on the lookout for my new blog to begin when we arrive to the Chicago area in January!




Sunday, December 13, 2009

One last visit to Paris

Hi - it's Andrew this time...

So as most of you have read, our time in France is coming to an end. Due to many factors - the majority of which deal with the continuing global economic crisis - our operations in Europe have become much smaller. Part of this transition includes me keeping my current role but re-locating to our office in Lake Forest IL. The boxes are packed, a house is rented, and we'll be in Illinois by the first day of school, Jan 1st.

What a better way to celebrate the end of a stint in France than by spending a day in Paris? Because a lot of walking was planned, along with an expectation of many things to touch/break and big crowds, I decided that Grace and Mia would be better off in Caen. Ella and I wanted to leave Caen on the 7am train, have a big adventure that day, and grab the 7pm train home.

This brings me to the first revelation of life in France: they love to strike! Kate and I have mentioned this before - but it's really worth noting. Yes, there are some strikes in the US. I'm sure you've seen picketing in front of the grocery store, read about auto workers/refs/air traffic controllers, or maybe even thought about striking yourself. The big difference between the US and France is that the strikes in the US rarely have any effect on our daily lives at all. The opposite is true in France. For example, on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, the trains were on strike. Nope, they didn't run - at least not my line. This isn't the end of the world when you can drive a car - but it is when it's two weeks before Christmas and everyone wants to go to Paris, all who will now travel by car. Last week, the Louvre was on strike - nope, it wasn't open. The most famous museum in the world was closed. This past summer, the Eiffel tower was on strike (because the security guards had to wear gray pants and stand a lot on their shifts - I swear, you can google it). I've been in the middle of tram strikes (my friend missed a flight at CDG airport because he was stuck on a striking tram in Caen), farmer strikes, and others all over France in this past year.

So - on to the story - Ella and I decided to drive and we were able to get out of the house around 7am. We parked no too far from the Louvre (our first stop) and I used a great idea Kate thought up for parking in unfamiliar French cities - take a picture of your street corner so you can find your car at the end of the day. A small revelation number two: the street signs in France couldn't me more difficult to see or find. Instead of big green and white street names hanging from the stop lights or light posts in the middle of each intersection, the French decided it would be a good idea to put tiny blue and white signs on random buildings - sometimes set 40' away from the street. Yes, these signs may look nice, but it doesn't help when getting around.



Ella and I arrived to the Louvre around 10am, waited 45 minutes to buy a ticket, and were in front of the Mona Lisa by 11am. This was probably the only painting that she has ever heard of, the only one she could recognize, and because of it's fame I decided it would be a good place to head first. After arriving home that night, Ella commented, "It sure was funny seeing a thousand people crowded around that tiny little painting, and nobody crowding around anything else!". And yes, she's right - the Mona Lisa is a tiny bit over-rated and it's a little pathetic that in such a gigantic museum it's the #1 thing people want to see - but, Ella is only 6 and at least this visit will have a memory that should stick. Boredom set in pretty quickly after seeing the painting so we meandered our way back to have a quick lunch before leaving.





We left the Louvre and headed through the Jardin des Tuileries towards a big Ferris wheel at the base of Ave des Champs-Elysees. The Jardin resembles Grant Park in Chicago - although I think this one came first... Luckily, because of the time of day, there was no line at the wheel and we were able to get right on. It's a nice pleasant ride, great for kids/tourists (us), and gave some good views of the city.



After the ride, we headed to a big Marche' de Noel - basically a bunch of wooden huts built so people can sell Christmas stuff before the holidays. It seems like most towns have them in one way or another and as can be expected the one in Paris was huge. Lots and lots of stuff - none of which we bought because of our upcoming plane trip on Saturday (yes, we have enough "stuff" to carry already). Ella and I were actually both pretty cold even though we had our winter stuff on. So I looked around for something inside that we could do. To our surprise there was a big ice sculpture showroom set up inside this big building - so, I bought two tickets and we headed in. Unfortunately for us, the big building was a blast freezer and it was probably minus twenty inside. Not my most brilliant idea for finding a place to warm up. 20 Euros and 5 minutes later (literally, we were out in 5 min - maybe even 3) I decided to give her my sweatshirt. This bundled up nicely under her jacket, was kept from falling over her hands by her gloves, and hung down to her knees for perfect warmth. I wasn't even that freezing just wearing a t-shirt (oh, and I did have my puffy winter jacket too).

We walked through the Christmas booths, rode a mini roller-coaster, and headed off in the direction of the Arch de Triumph. Walking along the Champs-Elysees is pretty much like walking on Michigan Ave in Chicago, 5th Ave in NY, and other big avenues in big cities - except, it's in Paris. It's pretty cool walking hand in hand with your daughter in Paris a few weeks before Christmas and seeing all that you can see. Remember, we spent the past two years in some pretty remote towns - Crested Butte CO and Caen FR - so it's been a while since we've done the big city sightseeing thing. We stopped in the Disney store to warm up for a while and look around - it's nobody's surprise that they have the same things here as they do on Old Orchard (I'm beginning to figure out the Disney business model). Below is a picture of a new Renault car that I hope they start selling...



The Arch de Triumph is right at the highest point of the Champs-Elysees and it's in the middle of the biggest round-a-bout that you've ever seen. We were not able to go inside and climb to the top because the line to buy tickets was longer than the line to buy tickets for Def Leopard in 1982. My third revelation: Paris needs to find a better way to sell tourists tickets. The lines for the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Arch de Triumph, Metro, RER, and other major attractions are so long you literally can't even believe it. For example, we had to wait 45 minutes to buy tickets at the Louvre - there were two banks of auto ticket machines - each bank only had five machines. Once you get your ticket, you can walk right into the place. Someone really needs to think of a way to add about forty more machines to get the lines moving along. Yes, you can buy online in advance - but they have to mail you the tickets and it takes a week - not exactly conducive to night before purchases. The same is true for the other places - gigantic wait to buy a ticket and then you can walk right in.



The last big stop of the night was a trip along the Seine river that winds through Paris. We opted for the Metro to take us towards the river, as it would have been quite a long walk, and ended up back where we started by the Louvre. There is a Batobus stop right by the museum and we waited for it to come to our stop. The boat makes a round trip run between the Louvre, up towards the Eiffel Tower, all the way back down to Notre Dame, and back again. For some crazy reason I thought the round trip was only 30 minutes - turns out it's more like an hour and 45 min. The warmth, quite humming of the engine, and a seat after so much walking was pushing sleep on me so fast I could barely keep my eyes open. I fought and fought and was able to stay awake, easily allowing Ella to have a snooze. It's probably not cool for a parent to take a nap on their kid's lap - but vice versa is OK.

After the ride we found a small bistro to have some dinner. Amazingly, it was the same place I had coffee and a croissant in September 2008 while visiting here before accepting the job in Caen. I had an amazing roasted chicken and fries - Ella had a huge double hot-dog with baked cheese on top, hot chocolate, and fries. My last revelation: the food really is amazing. Some stuff is healthy, some not so much, but all of it is really great. The French appear to wear this on their sleeves with restaurants, store front sandwich places, stands selling crepes, candy booths etc all over the place in every town. It is impossible to come to France and go hungry. I still remember my first big lunch while here - bread, water, wine, with baked ham, cheese, mushroom, and artichoke plate to start; platter of beef, green beans, fries, salad, and wine in the middle; cafe' gourmond (espresso coffee with three mini desserts [ice cream, creme brulee, macaroon]) for dessert. I really thought people ate like this every day. We've had amazing beef, chicken, fish, pork, pasta, bread, sandwiches - literally all kids of amazing things - and we've eaten it in really nice restaurants, casual standard lunch places, stands, gas stations, fairs - anyplace there are people you can find amazing food.

Time for the trip home - we immediately felt the pain from the holiday weekend combined with the train strike. It took an hour and a half to get from the Louvre to the Arch de Triumph - about 2 KM. I had fun actually driving in the crush of cars and people - the lights were amazing - and Ella enjoyed relaxing and watching TV on my iPhone. We made it home just before 10.30 that night - both of us settling down for a long winter's nap.



This coming week will be spent tying up lose ends (packing, mailing, bills, sales etc). The trip home begins on Friday with a stay at CDG airport with our flight on Saturday. Ella, Grace, and Mia have their last week of school before Christmas break - we'll all be back stateside before we know it.

If you happen to live in Chicago, we'll see you soon; if you live in France, we'll be back before you know it; and if you're in Colorado - see you next week! Take care - Merry Christmas to all.

Andrew

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

December 9, 2009: Expect the Unexpected

OK, so the previous post I asked you to guess the coastline pictured and the reason I was showing you that coastline. And many of you guessed correctly! It is because in a very short amount of time, our new future home changed from San Diego, CA to Chicago, IL. Where to start...what to say?

You must think Andrew and I are so wishy-washy! We just can't seem to settle down anywhere for very long, right? Well, there is a bit of truth to that, or at least there was. Once we arrived in Crested Butte, CO two years ago, we knew we had found "home". The place we wanted to hang our hats, raise our family, grow old. But this opportunity came up for Andrew that just couldn't be passed up so we put our dreamy mountain lives on hold for a bit. So we packed up the family and moved to France. Now, about a year later, the France adventure is coming to an end and will be continuing as an adventure in the United States. Now, where in the United States could have been a variety of places, but the location turned out to be San Diego. So Andrew flew out there, chose a house in a day, came back to France, and we started to prepare for our move next week. And now all the sudden (as of Monday morning to be exact) we are moving to Chicago. And the bottom line is that strategically, for Andrew's job and the company he works for, it made more sense for him to be located in the Chicago area.


When Andrew told me about this development, do you want to know what I did (because it is all about me, right?) I cried. I cried because my head was in a sunny place with palm trees and runs on the beach. I cried because I spent the last 4 weeks talking up the next adventure to the girls, getting them excited, trying to get myself excited. I cried because we were to be moving in 2 weeks and had our plans in place and they were all for almost nothing. I cried because I have been feeling a little overwhelmed. But mostly I cried because at that point, I just wanted to go home - to Crested Butte - and stay for good.

A few days later, with a house found to rent, and some time having passed, I can tell you that I feel much better about it all. I have had the time to think about all the positive aspects of this move. We'll be close to old friends and family. We can take the girls to their old dentist, doctor - basically we can just pick up where we left off 2 years ago. And that certainly makes things a lot easier!

I guess in the end (or how I explain this all to myself) is that Andrew initially committed to staying 2-3 years in France. But circumstances no longer necessitate Andrew to be here on a constant basis. So thinking along the lines of the original 2 -3 year commitment, that is still the case, but the next 1-2 years will be instead in Chicago.

If all goes as planned, we will be back in our happy mountain home in no time. But, life just doesn't always go as planned - actually, it rarely does. Andrew and I are used to that fact by now - hello - identical twins!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

November 9, 2009: A Really Cool Breeze..but No Palm Trees

Who can guess the name of the above coastline?

And who can guess the REASON I am showing you this coastline?

More to come after the answers are in.....

Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4, 2009: Take a Load Off..And that Ugly Jacket.


WOW, did I wear an ugly outfit to coffee ("cafe" in France) yesterday! I am still wondering what in the world I was thinking. OK, I know the answer - what I was thinking. I was thinking that I should look proper for an afternoon coffee. I was thinking that I haven't really gone shopping for myself in oodles and oodles of months and the best appearance I can pull off on a daily basis is mountain mom or sporty mom. And I was thinking that I was about to meet three women that I had never met before so they wouldn't know whether this awful jacket I was about to wear was my normal style or a surprise appearance. After sorting through my closet, I found an old Ann Taylor business jacket I had brought to France for who knows what reason. I noticed it's fine pleats. It's stylish lines. It's shiny, fancy buttons. It's puffy shoulders. It's awful pattern. And we had a winner. I decided wearing a nicely pressed jacket (albeit quite ugly) would be better than my daily staples normally paired with red Privo shoes (ie. comfortable).


So, I rushed to get dressed. Thankfully I was running late so I had little time to question this decision. I slipped on my jeans - too tight. I prefer to hang dry my jeans - these had slipped into the dryer somehow and now they were painted on and too short. At that point I vowed to never wash these jeans ever again. I don't care how dirty they get, I need them at their best at all times. I paired my jacket with an equally atrocious turtle-neck, a somewhat dated necklace and the finishing touch were my boots that didn't match any of the get-up. But hey - I looked proper - improperly. Et Voila! I was ready for coffee!

I walked to coffee with my raincoat in my hands (it's Normandy people, NEVER leave home without a rain jacket). For one thing it was a little warm with this wolly jacket on but I also was curious to see what passerby's might think of my outfit. Just as I suspected. They thought my jacket was ugly, too. When I arrived at my host's house, she was as polite as could be. But in my defense I really pulled it off well. I acted like this jacket was THE jacket - so why would she question my choice? The reality, though, is that she was just really nice. As were the two other women who came to coffee. So in the end, my ugly jacket persevered. But all through coffee I kept thinking about who I might be able to pawn this ugly mess off to. A true friend wouldn't do that, so I have decided just to donate it - that is even a questionable action...

Now, why in the world am I even telling you about all this ugly jacket stuff? Because it's funny, silly stuff that we all go through each and every day and I thought you might be able to relate. But I am also telling you because there is something here, something very important that French people do often that I think we should adopt ourselves in the United States. What is it? HAVE COFFEE! Not chug-a-coffee or grab-a-coffee-and-go-coffee. I mean sit down and really linger over a cup of coffee or tea with friends, family members or co-workers. Order the coffee and then grab a table at Starbucks. Make the coffee at your house and drink it in that room you only let visitors enter twice a year. And just linger. Chat. And when the coffee cup is empty, refill it if you want. Or don't! But keep chatting. Laughing. Stay a while longer. Why not?

We get so jammed up these days with jobs, kids, soccer, church, appointments, the gym - I am
tired just saying all that! But we rarely make plans to grab a coffee with a friend or sister or even our spouse in the middle of the day - some time to relax and catch up before the next big event.

So, I may be leaving France soon. But I will be taking something with me. NO, it is not the ugly jacket. I will be taking coffee breaks with me. So watch out world! You may be getting an invitation to coffee in the near future. I suggest you accept willingly, without force, and wear the ugliest jacket you can conger up.

Coming up in the next blog? Something that might actually be of value...but no promises.

Have a great day!

P.S. Though I am very tempted, I simply cannot share a picture of this ugly jacket, as I might offend someone, somewhere in this world who is actively sporting this unique jacket as we speak.