One Year

Today, I looked at our family photo calendar and realized that next week I need to turn the page.

So I went ahead and peeked at June, and saw this:

IMG_4710

IMG_4832

 

 

A year. Next month, it will be a year since we left on our adventure. At exactly this time last year, I was in full-on Brain Spin mode. Planning, thinking, worrying…and wondering. Wondering if we could pull it off. Wondering what the rest of the year had in store for us. Wondering if we would be the same or different when we returned.

I often get asked what we would do differently if we were to do it again. Or if we have any regrets.

I do have one regret.

I regret that I haven’t taken the time to really reflect on our 4 1/2 months abroad. That I allowed life to pull us back in so quickly that I haven’t stopped to think about all we did, about how we grew as individuals and as a family.

It hits me once in awhile. And, it’s a pretty cool realization when it does.

For some reason, it often hits me when we’re doing something completely ordinary. Like the dishes. I’ll look over at Hubs at the sink (yep…he actually likes doing dishes, but do NOT ask him to fold laundry), and I’ll think, “Wow. We did it. We really did it.”

Sometimes I’ll say exactly that out loud. The first few times it happened, Hubs looked at me completely confused, “We did what?”

“We actually went abroad for 4 1/2 months. We did it.”

“Um…yes…I know that. I was there.”

The conversation usually stopped there, and now, it just goes like this:

“Wow. We did it. We really did it.”

He doesn’t even ask, but just automatically responds, “Yes, we went abroad for 4 1/2 months. I get it.”

But I know he really does get it. That he knows there is so much more emotion behind those words. That sometimes it’s like I step outside of myself and think, “Man, we REALLY did it!”

This past weekend, a dear friend and her daughters came to visit us. She asked questions about our time in Europe, and she asked if  we were ready to come home by the end of the trip.

Hubs who, ironically, was doing the dishes, said, “No. Honestly, I think we could still be there. We did great, and we could have still kept going.”

Which led us into a conversation about how well the trip went, how the kids have changed, how traveling was actually pretty easy overall.

It led us into a conversation of reflection.

Maybe we need to do the dishes more often.

Advertisements

Sweet Brussels

Monday night, Hubs was sitting on the couch and asked me, “Would you go to Brussels again?”

“Well, I had been there before we went, and we all had a great time there, but I’m not sure I would need to go again.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I’m thinking more about the fact that it’s become a hotbed of terrorism. The arrest of the guy connected to Paris a few days ago. So much coming out of Belgium regarding terrorism. If we were planning the trip again, would you go there?”

This was Monday night. Tuesday morning, I woke up to a WhatsApp message from a friend in London – “Bombing in Brussels. Not sure how I feel about going there this weekend.”

My heart broke.

We left Paris exactly two weeks before the terrorist attacks. We didn’t tell the kids about what had happened until a few weeks later when Missa B saw a soccer team on TV wearing “Pray for Paris” shirts. It just seemed too fresh to tell them right away.

Hubs and I have had so many conversations about what would have happened if we had been in Paris two weeks later. Our general consensus is that our reflections on the trip would be completely different. We would have ended on such a different note that it may have tainted the way we saw the trip. Instead of coming home with all of us saying that we were glad to be home, but we could have stayed longer, we probably would have been desperate to get home. And sad. Even sadder than we already are knowing what happened to the city we enjoyed so much, to the people who were so kind to us, and who made us feel at home in Paris.

And now it’s happened again.

I hate the fact that I don’t find time to write until something so horrible, something so soul-shaking happens. Until Hubs and I both grab our phones AGAIN to figure out how close we were to the bombings. Until the kids are asking if we had been to the airport, and we tell them yes — it’s where we picked up our rental car, and they try to remember what it looks like. And we pray that they keep those pictures in their heads, that they aren’t replaced with the ones of blown out windows and floors filled with ceiling tiles that we, as adults, keep seeing all over the media.

We loved Brussels. We loved the fact that every other store was a chocolate store. That the Mannequin Pis was 3 blocks from our apartment.

IMG_7635
The kids could not get over how small the Mannequin Pis is!

We loved that we came to Brussels during the month the Palace was open to the public. And for free! We looked at the pictures of the Royal Family and talked about what it would be like to be a child living in the Palace. We marveled over the fact that one of the ceilings is made out of beetles. Doesn’t seem very Royal-like.

IMG_7680

We walked from our apartment to the Grand Place and back so many times that we lost count. We researched the different buildings so we could figure out what we were seeing. We took the Metro out to the Atomium (which we never learned to pronounce), and we spent hours at Mini-Europe delighted to see miniature versions of places we visited and excited to glimpse those we knew we would be seeing in the coming months.

IMG_7670IMG_7742IMG_7757IMG_7700

Our biggest fear as we took the Metro? Figuring out how to get home when the machine refused to take our credit card, the ticket booth was closed, and we didn’t have enough change to get through the gate. And, as usual, the kindness of strangers came through for us as a group pooled together their change to make sure we got home safely. Because safely at that time didn’t include walking down Metro tracks in a tunnel filled with smoke and bodies.

Would we go back to Brussels? Monday night, I pretty much said no. Tuesday morning, I had to say yes. We would go back to support the city, the country, and the people. To not let others rule our travels because they want us to live in fear.

We would go back for chocolate, fries, a peeing statue, and the chance to say, “We won’t let you win.”

IMG_7765

Top 15 Things We Learned in Southern France

Once we had finally arrived safely at our B&B in Antibes and had a good night’s sleep, we were ready to spend the next 10 days exploring southern France. In addition to Antibes, we spent time driving the Moyenne Corniche through Nice, stopping in Eze, and oohing and aahing over Monte Carlo. We then spent time a little further north in Avignon before heading down and over to Montpellier (where I lived over 20 years ago), Carcassone and finally Sarlat.

So, what did we learn during this part of our adventure? Here are 15 of our top findings traveling with kids in southern France:

1. Kids find figuring out SIM cards and cell phone plans boring.

Especially when Mom and Dad drag them to 3 different stores. Which takes an entire day since everything closes for a few hours at lunchtime. Orange, however, became the clear winner as they had the coolest games.                                                                                                                              20150804_154212

2. It is HOT in southern France. Really, really HOT.

IMG_6425
If there was water…
IMG_6430
we stopped for it (even though we had water bottles).

 

IMG_6561
This became a common sight at the end of the long, hot days.

3. If you really want to beat the heat, find a friend with a boat.

Fortunately, our B&B owners had a boat, and they took us out on the water for the day, complete with a picnic on a small island. Definitely a highlight of our trip.

IMG_6551 IMG_6542

IMG_6489
Whether we were on the boat, or swimming in the Mediterranean, we loved it!

4. French highway reststops are fun.

Especially in the summer when there are free “animations.” A man walked up to JJ at the playground and handed him two sunhats, CDs, card games and sunglasses for him and Missa B. Because that’s just what they do there.

IMG_0052

5. Souvenir coins are destined to follow us everywhere we go.

For 2 Euros each, they are actually a great to way to find a small souvenir at every destination. And, they are prolific in France. I am still unpacking them from boxes and pockets 4 months later.

IMG_6583

6. The Pont du Gard is beautiful.

It is as spectacular as I remember it from 20+ years ago. However, it is also now extremely commercialized. Entrance fees, cafés, and souvenir shops were some of the shocking things that greeted my eyes. But we did appreciate the museum which gave us a ton of information on the importance of the aquaduct.

I had never taken advantage of swimming under the Pont du Gard as I didn’t really know about that on past trips. It was an amazing way to beat the 99+ degree heat. Missa B., being the daredevil she has been from the time she was born, took to jumping off the rocks immediately.

IMG_6650
A nice climb led us to this gorgeous viewpoint.
IMG_6609
That woman in the water below Missa B? Yep, that would be Mama Bear.

7. Old friends just get better with time.

Cathy was 16 when I last saw her. She is now a mom of two awesome boys and an English teacher.

IMG_6674
Can you spot the kiddo who didn’t really want to be in the picture?

8. New friends can teach us so much.

Meeting Franck and Isabelle was a delight. And when “grandmère” brought over her homemade soup for us to try and insisted we eat the tomatoes from her garden, we fell in love with her.

The stories we heard of how Isabelle’s parents had to house Nazi soldiers on their property when the troops came into Antibes brought WWII to life for all of us. She thanked us, as Americans, for allowing her family to regain their property.

This was a place we  found hard to leave.

IMG_6564

9. We can do cobblestones!

IMG_6680
Every kid for him(her)self.

10. It’s worth staying up late for views like this.

IMG_6713
Carcassonne, France

11. Clapping on someone’s birthday is universal.

And this girl LOVED having an entire restaurant sing “Joyeux Anniversaire!”

IMG_6810

12. There are substations all over the world.

And Hubs insists on stopping to take pictures of them.

IMG_6818

13. If you can afford the TGV first class, it’s worth it.

IMG_0088

14. Street performers are fun.

Sarlat was full of street performers, and the kids loved going into the pedestrian area at night.

IMG_6876

15. Pillow walls may not be effective.

And Missa B. may not have been exaggerating when she said it was difficult to share a bed with JJ.

IMG_6589

Journey to the French Riviera

IMG_6507

It’s August 3rd, and our plane from Dublin to Nice had a time change. Usually, when that happens, it’s an hour or so, right? Not when you’re flying Ryanair. It is now departing 7 hours later. Meaning we land in Nice at 9:45 pm.

But luck is on our side.

Our car rental is at the airport. So, unlike most of the car rental locations in Europe, it has extended hours and will be open when we arrive. And, our B&B owner lives on site and can accommodate late arrivals. She promptly emails me the code for the gate to the property, tells me she will put the key in the door to our room, and will see us at breakfast on the patio the next morning.

All goes well with the flight…if you ignore the fact that I terrify some poor kid on the tarmac in Dublin.

See, I’m one of those people who observes everyone…all the time. And that includes being curious enough to look at the luggage tags of the people around me. I get it. It’s weird. But sometimes, it pays off.

As we’re walking onto the tarmac, I look at the tag of a girl who is probably about 8 years old, and I am pretty sure I see the word “Deerfield,” but I can’t see the rest of the tag. Deerfield?! I’m FROM Deerfield!

Yes, there is more than one Deerfield in the US. And, I actually don’t even know that this girl is from the United States, but based on the general appearance of her family, I’m going with Americans.

But, I can’t let it go. I have to know if she’s from my hometown. So I oh-so-casually follow her. She speeds up. I speed up. I am leaning down, squinting at her baggage tag. I am ready to pull it off the bag if needed. She heads to the rear door of the plane. I head to the rear door of the plane. My family, who has been trained to follow me, asks me what I am doing considering we are in row 5. I ignore them and basically accost this kid.

“Excuse me.”

She jumps and looks at me.

“Are you from Deerfield?”

I’ve now succeeded in separating her from her parents. “Yes,” she answers timidly.

“Deerfield, ILLINOIS?!” I screech.

“Yes…”

“That is SO cool! So am I!”

She isn’t impressed. I guess when you’re 8, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal to meet some crazy lady on a runway in Dublin, Ireland who claims to be from your hometown.

“I saw your luggage tag, and I couldn’t believe it said ‘Deerfield,’ but then I thought maybe it was a different Deerfield, but I thought it could be the same Deerfield, and that would just be wild, so I wanted to see if it was the same Deerfield, but I couldn’t read the rest of your tag, so I wanted to ask you…”

I am pulled away by JJ who is thoroughly embarrassed, and the poor girl sees her escape and takes it.

I still think it’s cool.

We arrive in Nice, get our bags (because when you fly Ryanair, carry-ons can pretty much be no larger than a pencil), and find the rental car agency. Well, actually after an amazingly long walk which included an entire group of us heading up the wrong ramp to a dead end and having to turn back, we find the rental car agency.

After a long wait, I get to a cool desk where you sit next to the agent, and I start the conversation in French. She responds in French. So far, so good. She can’t find the reservation, and we talk about how the flight changed so maybe it’s showing up as an earlier rental? This is still all in French. She finds it, and we talk about all the possible upgrades, which I politely refuse. 15 minutes into this, it dawns on me that she has not switched to English. It’s been 20 years since I’ve had this extensive of a conversation in French, and it’s working! Even when I can’t come up with a word, I’m explaining it differently in French, and she’s getting it. And NOT SWITCHING to English. This is cool.

The four of us go out to find the car. We’ve been upgraded. It must have been my French.

This is an awesome start to the trip even if it is now 11 pm, and we have no idea how to get to our B&B in Antibes.

As we exit the parking lot, our GPS (from home) isn’t working. No worries — it just needs to find the satellites. We take a turn that, based on a really meager map in the Rick Steves book, appears to take us in the right direction.

We drive. It’s pitch black. We continue driving. The GPS still isn’t working.

We take another turn. Onto a toll road. I am pretty sure we don’t want to be on a toll road.

I tell Hubs to pull off the road so we can get the GPS working. We pull into a dark parking lot and sit there staring at the GPS. We turn it off. We turn it back on. It’s not working. Our phones have Ireland SIM cards and don’t work in France.

No map. No GPS. No phone. We started this journey on Monday. It’s now Tuesday.

The kids, who at this point are beyond exhausted, start to whine. We politely explain that we are lost, and could they please be patient?

Oh, who am I kidding. They whine and fuss, and we yell. It’s not pretty.

And then we start whining and fussing. I feel myself getting a bit frantic. We don’t know where we are, and it’s really dark. 24-hour stores don’t exist in France, so who are we going to ask for directions? We’re going to drive around forever. We’ll sleep in the car. We’ll get mugged. (Don’t ask — that’s the Chicago girl in me rearing her ugly head.)

Hubs suggests that we try the car’s GPS. I tell him, in a voice that is quickly going up an octave, that we didn’t pay for the GPS, so it won’t work; don’t even bother. He looks at me like I am a bit nuts. Actually, come to think of it, he looks at me with the same look I got from the girl on the tarmac. He turns on the GPS. I continue to insist it won’t work.

It works.

We put in the B&B address and start on our way. Just as our own GPS figures out its location. So we have two of them babbling at us — one in French, and one in English. But they both have us headed the same way, so I’m good with that.

At about 12:30 am, we arrive at our B&B. We turn on the AC since it’s still 88 degrees and crawl into bed.

We made it.

Bienvenue en France.

 

 

 

 

#PrayForParis

Since we returned home two weeks ago, I’ve been planning to catch up on blog posts. After Ireland, we went to France, the Netherlands, Belgium, back to France, Switzerland, Italy, and then one last stop in France — Paris. So, my plan was to catch up on everywhere else we went and then finish with Paris.

And now Paris has to come first.

As soon as the news broke yesterday, I received messages and emails stating relief that we were back in the States and asking if I had connected with friends in France.

I wasn’t worried for the physical safety of my friends in France. None live in Paris, and the few who work/live nearby are at an age when they are much more likely to be back home on a Friday night than out in the city.

But I am worried for their mental safety. In some ways, I get it. I remember the shock of 9/11. I lived almost 3,000 miles away, but, like all of us, I couldn’t stay away from the news. I didn’t want to hear or see it, but I felt compelled to understand what was happening. I was in awe of the brilliance it took to coordinate a multi-site simultaneous attack and beyond ticked off to know that if only those behind the attacks had taken their amazing intelligence and put it to good, astounding things could have happened. Exactly the same way I have felt these past two days.

Yesterday and today, I sent messages to friends across France. I have not heard back, but I get it. They are reeling. And even more so because they have experienced this twice in less than a year.

And yes, I have read all those social media posts about not praying for Paris — we need less religion, pray for everyone, Paris is about life…

But I do pray for Paris. For a beautiful city so full of life that we reveled in just over two weeks ago. We all loved Paris, and it was a wonderful way to end our trip.

 IMG_0628

When Missa B asked these police officers if she could take a picture with them, they had no way of knowing how their life would change in two short weeks.

IMG_1063 - Copy

When JJ had Hubs take this picture, he had no idea that if we had been there two short weeks later, he would not have been able to go to the Louvre.

IMG_0808 - Copy

Had I thought about these possibilities when we were in Paris?

Yes, from time to time, I did.

I actually thought about it before we left in June. Known to only a few people at the time, I wrote three letters before we departed. I wrote one to my mom, one to my in-laws, and one to be posted on my Facebook page. I placed them in a safe and gave a close friend instructions on what to do with them should we not return from our trip.

The letters weren’t morbid in any way. I talked about not feeling sorry for us, about how we were getting to do something we dreamed of, and about how even though our kids didn’t get to fulfill their dreams, they got to do things that some people don’t get to do in their lifetimes.

And now I think about how all those people killed in Paris yesterday probably left behind unfulfilled dreams. They went out to enjoy a Friday evening and never got to come back. My heart rips apart thinking about it, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

As a result of the trip, Missa B and JJ have asked that we keep them up to date on world events, especially in places we visited. Hubs wanted to tell them about the massacre yesterday. I didn’t. I don’t think I’m trying to maintain their innocence — they were exposed to so much information about the World Wars and terrorist attacks as we traveled.

I think I’m just trying to protect them from the shock. From playing through the scenes that have been going through my mind…the what ifs. From wanting to do what both Hubs and I did immediately upon hearing about the attacks…going online and mapping the distance of the attack locations to our hotel, to the places we visited, to the bike route we took. From trying to make sense of why people who were doing the same things we did were suddenly taken from this world.

Last night, Missa B, who doesn’t speak French, crawled into bed and said the words she has said almost every night since we visited France:

“Bonne nuit, Mom; je t’aime.”

And, I responded as I have been doing, but with a much heavier heart, “Bonne nuit, ma petite, je t’aime aussi.”

And then I added, “J’aime Paris.”

“Yeah, Mom. Me too. I really love Paris.”

IMG_0783 - Copy

From Trump to North Korea and Everything In Between

In our everyday life, we are a family that dines together the majority of the time. It definitely gets tricky with the kids’ sports schedules, but if we aren’t all sitting down together, it’s sports, not work, that is getting in the way. It’s a priority we have set for our family, and we do our best to make family meals happen.

So I thought we had pretty solid family conversations at the dinner table.

I was wrong.

Let me set the scene. It’s August, and we’re in Bruges, Belgium. It’s been a bit rainy, and we decide to try a fondue restaurant for dinner. Stepping inside, it’s intimate and comfortable. You would almost swear you were in Switzerland except that the fondue comes with all you can eat fries.

Before we order, I say to Hubs, “Did you see the newspaper headline about how Trump is doing?” He replies, and suddenly Missa B jumps in.

“Who is Trump?”
We give a basic explanation.

“Do you like him?”

We respond.

“Why don’t you like him? What does he do that you don’t like?”

So, we go a bit into some of the comments Trump has made (at that point), and who he has offended.

“So who do you like? And why do you like them?”

What started as general questions turned into, I kid you not, a 2-hour conversation about the American political system, the current candidates, previous candidates, what issues divide Americans, and I can’t even remember the rest. It then somehow evolved into an explanation of fascism…and racism…and the political situation in North Korea…and the war in Syria…and refugees….

JJ didn’t say a word for two hours, but it was obvious he was listening, taking it all in, and trying to process. As for Hubs and me, we were pretty much exhausted by the end of the conversation. But, we figured it was a good conversation, so it was worth it.

And then it started up again the next morning.

“So, is it good for the Democrats if Trump does well? Will that help the Democratic Party? How do you think he’ll do?”

And, over two months later, it hasn’t stopped. Except that we visited the D-Day beaches in between, so now Hitler, more information about fascism, and the Nazi party has been thrown into the mix. Even JJ became fully engaged and starting asking lots of questions as well.

I find that sometimes, I just want to sit down to dinner and talk about the weather. And it does happen once in awhile. But, more often than not, the conversations seems to be about past and current world events. We’ll get a break for about a week or so, and suddenly Missa B will, out of the blue, say something like (and these are her words), “Trump is continuing to gain more and more followers. He must be saying something that people like. What makes people want to support him? What is he saying that people want to hear?”

I look at her and have to remind myself that she just turned 10.

That particular question she posed yesterday about what Trump is saying led to a conversation about how politicians phrase messages in general. Which led to questions about whether politicians lie. Which led to a conversation about whether it is ok to lie to get into office.

JJ (age 7) told us adamantly that it is not ok to lie. “And, if I decide to run for President,” he informed us, “I will not lie. And people will look into my eyes and know I am telling the truth so they will decide to vote for me.”

Missa B waffled a bit. “If everyone is lying, then how can you win if you don’t lie? You might have to lie because everyone else is lying as well.”

Seeing the perfect “over-the-top Mom message” moment, I seized it: “You are going to face times in your life when people want you to do something because everyone else is doing it. That’s when you really listen to your heart.” Somehow I went from there to lecturing talking about getting into a car with someone who had a few drinks and having it be the last day of your life. Yea, I know — I tend to go the dramatic route. Subtlety has never been my speciality.
At which point, Missa B said, “Mom. Your whole point makes no sense. You are talking about kids in high school. They can’t drink because they aren’t 21, remember?!”

Right, she’s only 10. She has no clue what is ahead of her.

Or maybe, based on the past 4 months of conversations, she does.

And maybe I need to brush up on politics and world events so I can keep up with her.

Word of the Day: Wayworn

My friend, Jennifer, gets the “Word of the Day” emailed to her. Yesterday, the word was wayworn, the definition of which is “worn or wearied by travel.” She sent it to me with a note asking, “Is this you?”

It was actually quite good timing. We have really enjoyed our past month here in La-Charité-Sur-Loire. There is something comforting about being able to send the kids out to the local boulangerie and know they’ll come back with the right orders. Or having the owner of the crèmerie next door wave as you go by or usher you in even though he’s closed because he doesn’t want your daughter to not have her favorite cheese for lunch. We know our way around this town, and we’re quite settled here.

How can you not relax in a town like this?
How can you not relax in a town like this?
They are really going to miss their balcony.
The kids’ terrace.
Out our back window....
Out our back window….

And I’ve been thinking about this a lot the past week or so because on Thursday, we head out on the road again. And I think a part of me is dreading it. There have been quite a few times this past week when I’ve wished we were ending the trip here. That we could go from this relaxed pace back into our old routine at home. That we wouldn’t be back to driving across borders, catching trains, and pre-booking museum tickets. That we could simply get on a plane and head back to our old life.

And then I wonder why I feel that way. The pace we were at before was tiring at times, but I never wanted it to stop. I enjoyed all the exciting things we were seeing and doing.

And we have so much to look forward to over the next 4.5 weeks. I get to see another friend whom I haven’t seen in over 20 years, and I can’t wait to see her. We get to go to Italy, where I first took Hubs 4 years ago (almost to the day), and he loved it. I certainly can’t complain about going to Venice, the Tuscany countryside, Florence and Rome. And then we end it all in Paris…with a fun surprise that I’ll share when the time comes but that will be good for all of us. A touch of the familiar in a foreign city.

So I rally. I get ready to pack up those bags again and try not to think about the fact that we’ll be living out of suitcases again for the next month. I prepare to give away the groceries we didn’t use and put out of my mind the fact that we won’t be doing our own cooking for awhile. I spend my last few days conversing in my second language and don’t worry that communication is about to become a lot more challenging.

I remember that we are travelers. And we’re good at it. So off we go again. Wayworn will not be our word of the day. It won’t be our word…period.