Our Family’s (2nd) Year in the South of France
Kids and Castles - Our year with kids in the South of France

Category — Sabbatical


One of the things I enjoy about living in another country is meeting other newcomers. They are usually very interesting and open to new friendships. Fellow expats always have at least one thing to talk about: things that are different about your adopted country.

Over dinner last weekend with a group of Canadian, British, and Belgium expats, we of course talked about how France is different. Some things you learn to expect – like seeing baguettes peeking out from any possible place to put one and having a choice of over 50 types of ham. But even though all of us have spent over a year living in France, new things keep popping up. Here’s a few:

Things in France that still surprise us

  • The local banks may refuse to accept cash deposits in the afternoon, or maybe in the morning, depending on when they’ve decided to be open for “non-appointment” interactions.
  • The French government pays for a mother’s tummy tuck after the birth of her third child (you do have to have at least 3 babies to qualify).
  • Even after a year, none of us are totally confident that we’ll know how to use the restroom in a new place, although we’ve all gotten very good at figuring it out.
  • The French love to create and share animated PowerPoint slide shows.
  • When you go to a restaurant there is often no bread plate. Bread is put directly on the tablecloth even at very fancy places.
  • 99% of the t-shirts with writing are in English.
  • There are bare boobs depicted everywhere. I don’t mean just the “real” art. We’ve seen naked female torsos as part of the decoration on merry-go-rounds, the “apple boat” at the apple festival, a statue of the famous mathematician Fermat (Fermat was clothed, but the young lady sitting at his feet was not), and on the label of a cheese we bought recently to name just a few.


Statue of French mathematician, Fermat

November 21, 2013   1 Comment

One Year, 300 Pounds

Packing for a year away is a tricky thing. We rented a vacation home with towels, kitchen stuff and so on, so we just need personal stuff.  Our goal was to travel with one 50-pound bag plus one carry on each – the airline allowance for an international flight. We would have to prioritize.

First we packed the stuff that can’t be easily purchased – medicines, contact lenses, laptops, work stuff, and English workbooks for the girls. Next ,the clothes. We need enough for day-to-day, school, sports, special occasions, and possibly the odd work trip. We need all these types of clothes for all four seasons, plus have to consider that the girls will grow. Rounding out the list of necessities we find toiletries for travel since we are on the road for close to a month before we got to our “permanent” place.

The “needs” took most of our 200 pound allowance of checked luggage, and we hadn’t even considered the “wants” yet. The girls were allowed to fill their carry-on backpacks with anything they wanted. Luckily what they wanted most was light and squishy stuffed animals, so we took the opportunity to shift those to the checked luggage and put heavy stuff in their carry-ons for another few pounds of “free” weight.

JM and I both wanted some guilty-pleasure things. He wants to ski in Europe, so we added coats, ski pants, and toques. I’ve been saving up a few seasons of TV shows I like on DVD. In the end we decided to add a fifth bag to save our marriage from cut throat negotiations on whether his “Strength Band Training” book or my tabbed file folders (the ones in France don’t have tabs) was the more frivolous.

Final tally: five 50 pound bags plus 4 carry ons. About 300 pounds.


300 pounds of luggage

The remaining challenge – how to get all this luggage on and off the train. Fortunately we didn’t have any connections, the girls were helpful, and there were escalators in all but one place.

We are now in the Languedoc with all 300 pounds. But every time we shop we remember that everything needs to weigh about the same when we leave next July.

September 4, 2013   Comments Off on One Year, 300 Pounds

Once in a Lifetime… Twice

In 2010, when we thought about living in France for a year, we had tons of questions:

  • Could we get a visa?
  • How would we find a place to live?
  • Would my book club survive without me?
  • What would happen to our business?
  • What would we do about healthcare? School? Banking? Cars?
  • Would we make friends?
  • What would we do with our house and stuff in California?
  • Would we enjoy the experience – especially the one of us that didn’t speak French?
  • Would the kids’ English suffer?
  • Should we ship stuff or just take plane luggage?
  • ?????????????

But here’s the thing:  Once you do it once, you know that it can be done. So this time, we had only one question:


We couldn’t come up with a reason, so we’re doing it again. Another year in the south of France, this time a farmhouse in the Languedoc. JM will have plenty of castles to explore, including the fantastically amazing Carcassonne.


We’ll arrive early in September. Come visit!



July 9, 2013   3 Comments

I Didn’t Expect To Be Sad…

This was our final week in Provence.  It has been a week of lasts:

  • The last trip to the market to buy olives, pasta, and cheese and practice my bad French with the very patient people who sell their goods there

    Buying Nyons Olives at the Grignan Market

  • One last picture of the Grignan castle sitting at the top of the incredibly picturesque medieval village where the girls go to school

    Grignan Castle the end of June

  • The last Wednesday pizza from Ivan des Pizzas – a Hawaiian, the American kind with ham and pineapple, not the French version with chicken, green pepper and onion (pineapple optional!)
  • One last pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) from the best bakery of the many, many, many we’ve tried during the year.
  • A last trip to the clothesline… one last walk to the garbage and recycling station… one last mad dash to catch the school bus…
  • And many, many, many last bisous (kisses) with the wonderful people we’ve met during the year

This year has been intense. It’s been incredibly good in so many ways, but it has also been difficult. Everything was strange which meant it was also hard – like the time it took four hours to buy lightbulbs!

I fully expected that right now I’d be feeling glad we came, but ready to get back to “normal” life in California. I didn’t expect that leaving would make me sad.

It was hard to say good-bye to so many people. Claudine, Jacqueline, Augustin, Alain and the other wonderful Chansojeux leaders who immediately embraced our children as part of the village; Emma, Christine, Vanessa, Genevieve and the lovely English-speaking people who let me have a real conversation; Caroline and the other parents who let me practice my French while we waited for the school bus; Genevieve and Jean who introduced us to raclette; Vanessa and Jerome who taught us the traditions of the galette des rois; Julien who gave us homemade pate from his own pig; JP and and his amazing food (takeout fois gras – yum); Gilbert who gave JM tips about growing crops in Provence; the staff at the village cafe who kept us supplied with coffee, bread, pastis, and great conversation; the wonderful teachers at the Grignan school …and…and…and…

We hate to leave. As the girls say, we’d like to stay in California AND stay in Chantemerle.

Au revoir et Merci

Our very warmest and most sincere au revoir and merci to the incredible people who have touched our lives this past year! Vous allez nous manquer!

July 3, 2011   11 Comments

Travel Disaster or Great Memory?

One of the things I love about travel is how easy it is to make friends with other travelers. When my sister told me that her husband’s friend’s wife’s brother and his family were also living in the south of France, it was natural to invite them for a visit. It turned out great.

Our new Canadian friends have a wine cave a few steps away from their house in France, so we went to try it out. The proprietor was away, and had left his son in charge. We told the son we were interested in wine tasting, and he invited us in.

There was some lengthy chitchat, but no wine appeared. We were about to ask again, but another couple came in so we were sent to go check out the cave while he conducted some existing business. We gave ourselves a tour of the big vats of wine and looked at some scary machinery while we waited to be called back in, but apparently we’d been abandoned. We finally went back in and asked again.

This time he pulled out some bottles, but emphasized that most of the wines they offered weren’t very good – we tried one and determined that he was right. There was more lengthy chitchat, and it turned out there was also some rosé, but he only sold it in big jugs so discouraged us from trying it. JM asked to taste the rosé anyway, so we all went back out to the cave where he filled our glasses straight from the big wine vat using the gasoline-nozzle-style attachment!

Tasting rosé straight from the vat

It was not bad, so we asked what it cost. After a long discussion about the many ways that we would NOT be able to buy the rosé, we found out that we could buy a 3-liter plastic keg for 4€.  As we finished our purchase, the world’s worst wine salesman proceeded to explain at some length that this was not an “appellation” wine (one of the quality controls in France), and they sold most of their wine to China since the French only drink better quality wine.

Mini-keg of rose

We experienced the other end of the salesman spectrum when the Canadians came to Provence to return the visit. It was the last week of the famous truffle market in Richerenches. We had heard stories about the side street where truffle farmer’s park their cars and deal the famous mushrooms out of their trunks, so wanted to go see for ourselves.

It turns out that some of the world’s BEST salespeople are at the truffle market. It was the last day of the market for the season, and we arrived one hour before closing with our cameras around our necks and our kids running around yelling in English. The lady selling nougat saw “tourists” coming and immediately started handing out generous tastings of candy to the kids. We said we would take some, since it was very good, but also in part because of guilt over how much the kids had eaten. The woman grabbed her huge knife, cut off a slab, wrapped it up and informed us it cost 32€!!! (About $45!!!) In comparison, the truffles we bought that are known to be incredibly expensive cost only 13€ ($18).

Very good, very expensive nougat

You could call them disasters, but the stories of the world’s worst wine salesman and the world’s most expensive nougat will be revisited with laughter many times by both families.

March 26, 2011   5 Comments