France 2013 (From the Archives)

So as I mentioned in previous posts, toward the end of our sabbatical year, back in the early summer of 2011, Melinda and I began dreaming of the idea of returning to France, and specifically to Nantes, for the better part of a month each summer. We worked out the details at PSCS to make this happen and in 2012 we returned with Chloe and Ella, as summarized in my previous post.

In 2013, Melinda and I returned to Nantes without the girls. At age 20 and 16, they kinda liked the idea of having time by themselves in our Seattle house.

How odd…

While not having the girls with us provided a lot more flexibility, I’d hate to suggest that we didn’t miss them. To be honest, some nine years later, I don’t really remember missing them. I do remember posting on the blog little tests for them, cryptic photos of places in Nantes that I invited them to identify. So clearly, I was thinking about them…

The point that really felt different without the girls is when Melinda and I spent extended time in Paris, just the two of us. That was, indeed, a glorious time.

To gain easy access to all the posts from our 2013 trip, use the France 2013 tag or, even easier, click here.

Return to Nantes 2012 (From the Archives)

In my last post, I talked about how Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I spent 13 months in France beginning in July of 2010. These 13 months got dubbed the “French Sabbatical” as Melinda and I were granted paid time off from our jobs during that time.

From our “bonus” night in Iceland after missing our connecting flight to Paris.
Not surprisingly, while we there we grew quite fond of living in France, especially living in the city of Nantes. I’m not quite sure how to describe this, but living as we did in Nantes, as well as traveling to various destinations in France and once to Italy, felt completely ours. It was different than anything done by other members of our family and carved out a super-special context in our lives that the four of us will forever share.

Melinda and I would go on regular walks while the girls were at school and it was on one of these walks that we talked about taking a month off from work each summer to return to Nantes.

We spent our first week in Pornichet where it was unfortunately quite rainy and cool.
We starting seeing this as a focal point for the next phase in our lives, one that would ultimately settle with us living in Nantes and Seattle for maybe 6 months each year. At first, though, because of work and other responsibilities, this would need to be a single month in the summer when school wasn’t in session.

So in 2012 we put the plan into action. Our good friends in Nantes, the Boudeaus (who were responsible for us choosing Nantes in the first place) and the Bertails (who lived around the corner from us during the sabbatical and had become among our closest friends), were only too pleased to help us. And it was Christine Bertail who found a place for the four of us to live for the month of July, 2012. A colleague of hers and his family would be in Spain that month so it worked out for us to rent his house.

This is more like it. Summer in Nantes!
As I had done during the sabbatical year, I decided I would post to my blog on a daily basis while we were there. Truth be told, I had kept doing this once we had returned to Seattle in August, 2011. All of these posts can be found here by using the “Monthly Archive” pull-down menu below and selecting one of the months. Still, the idea of returning to France in 2012 and not posting daily seemed sacrilegious in some way.

So here was are in 2022, nearly ten years after our “Return to Nantes.” It’s hard to believe that much time has flown by. Because of the pandemic and other reasons, it’s been five years since we’ve been back but we do have plans to go this summer! And, yes, we did return in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. I’ll be focusing on each of those trips in future “From the Archives” posts.

For now, I invite you to explore our trip in 2012 using the “France 2012” tag.

French Sabbatical (From the Archives)

From our first visit to Paris in October, 2010.
One of the highlights of my life, of Melinda’s and my marriage, and in our role as parents of Chloe & Ella was the 13 months we spent in France from July 2010 through July 2011. We were granted a sabbatical from our jobs at Puget Sound Community School (PSCS), both as a tribute to the work we had done to get the school going and keep it running since its humble beginnings in 1994 AND to provide the school community an opportunity to know it could exist without its founders being present (ie: the infamous “Pie Truck Scenario” – perhaps I’ll explain that in a future post).

The concept of the sabbatical being a real thing began while Melinda and I were on spring break in 2008. The concept of living in France with our children began as a pipe dream we’d tell each other before we even had children. That this could become a reality is a tribute to a lot of people, most significantly the PSCS board and staff at the time. I can vividly recall the months leading up to our departure like they were last month, not twelve years ago.

Our first family photo taken on July 6, 2010 in our adopted hometown of Nantes.
Officially, the sabbatical began with the school’s 2010-11 fiscal year, meaning on July 1, 2010. But we didn’t leave for France until July 4th so we had a few days in Seattle on our own. Because we were renting our house (note, this link takes you a site we created in 2012 to promote the idea of swapping houses with someone for a month that summer) to another family for the year and they moved in on July 1, we were staying at a friend’s. The day of the 1st, Chloe was out with some friends on one of her many goodbye tours and Melinda & Ella were doing some last-minute shopping. I was alone in an unfamiliar house with my laptop for company.

I had recently been reading how a person had documented his life for a full year by posting a daily photograph and some quick comments on a website. The idea appealed to me so that afternoon, alone in the house, I investigated how to do something like it. I knew a tiny bit about WordPress since one of the PSCS teaching staff members had taught the rest of us how to use it to post our class offerings to the students. On a whim, I created a WordPress blog, calling it “frenchsabbatical.”

Outside the Castle of Nantes (Château des ducs de Bretagne)
I had promised myself and told others that I wasn’t going to over-commit myself to projects while on sabbatical. I wanted some practice of living more spontaneously, freed from the daily requirements of being a school director. Indeed, Melinda and I would have parenting obligations but beyond that, I wanted a sense of freedom. That the PSCS board had agreed to supply Melinda and me with a monthly stipend helped tremendously with this.

Little did I know that the whim of starting my “frenchsabbatical” blog would propel not just me but many others on a daily adventure, one I never regretted for a minute. Beginning on the 1st of July from the home of our friends, I posted every day until our return (truth be told, I kept posting every day after that for another year or so, all of which you can find here). Conversations emerged, first just among Melinda, Chloe, Ella & me – “You could put that on the blog.” And, “Don’t you dare write about that.” To, “I get to approve any photos you use of me.”

The blog features a lot of silly posts, like my fascination with the sexiness of French fire hydrants.
As the months went by, our French friends got in the act. My dear friend Laurent made sure I had a way to post when his family took ours to their cabin in the French Alps that didn’t have an Internet connection. I also learned that part of his morning ritual while we were there was to read what I posted the night before.

Around the corner from our house in Nantes we met the Bertail family, people who have become among our closest friends in the world. There are so many stories to tell about them, from Christine, the mom, twice stopping by to introduce herself to us only find Chloe and Ella at home, to how they helped me celebrate my 48th birthday in style.

Then, of course, there were our friends and family members back in Seattle who used the blog to keep in touch with us. As a writer, I often would picture a member of our family as the audience to what I was writing. Michele, my mother-in-law, my brothers, or one of our nieces were common “targets.” Certainly, my mother was always in mind (she’d regularly send me edits – catching my typos with her usual flair).

To this day, I pay WordPress a fee each year to keep ads from the site and to maintain its unique domain name, meaning you can find it in its entirety at https://frenchsabbatical.com. Two years ago as a holiday present, one of the best I’ve ever received, Chloe & Ella had the blog posts made into a two-volume hardback book set that will forever hold a place of prominence in Melinda’s and my home.

I took up running while in France. Here I am crossing the turf track at the Nantes racetrack to get to the inner trotter track where I regularly ran after dropping off Ella at school.
Last week, in order to have all of my personal blog posts in one spot, I copied the content to this site, my ongoing personal blog. So if you’re interested in seeing what we were doing on a given day, you can do so right here. In fact, in the footer you’ll see a pull-down menu on the left for a monthly archive. Choose a month from the sabbatical year, July 2010 – July 2011, and enjoy some reading.

You can also use the “French Sabbatical” tag (you’ll see the posts in reverse order) or simply start with the first post I wrote on July 1, 2010 and go to the next and then the next…

Some nights when I’m feeling especially nostalgic, I’ll pick a month and do some reading, remembering what an amazing year we had.

A ‘Dear John’ Letter to Melinda (not really)

As many of you know, from July 2010 through July 2011, 13 months, Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I lived in France. As the founders of the Puget Sound Community School (PSCS) in 1994, Melinda and I were ready for a little break and the school was ready to spread its wings without the safety net of its founders. Chloe had just graduated from PSCS and Ella was a year removed from starting high school.

In other words, it was the perfect time for us to spend some time together as a family away from the 24–7 demands of the school.

We settled in the city of Nantes where Melinda’s family had some friends. Freed to do something I enjoy doing (write), I decided I would keep a daily blog of our goings-on for our friends and family back in Seattle. Little did I know that the blog would take on a life of its own.

Little did Melinda know that sometimes I would get a bit silly with my daily entries.

For instance, less than two weeks after we arrived in France we had already gotten into the routine of visiting a bakery to pick up fresh pastries for breakfast. One morning I went on my own to the bakery we had begun frequenting and was charmed by the sweetness of the young woman at the counter.

I requested four pain au chocolat, a delicious flaky pastry with pieces of dark chocolate inside, one for each member of the family. As I was paying, the young woman cautioned me to be careful because the pastries had just come out of the oven and were hot. In fact, she said, all in French, the chocolate might burn my mouth if I wasn’t careful.

I was completely smitten. I asked if I could take her picture for my blog post that day and she complied, although given the quality of my French for all I know I may have asked her what was on TV that night.

I did get this photo and then posted a version of the following on my blog that night. I’m sure Melinda just rolled her eyes.

Dear Melinda,

Yes, it’s true, you and I will always have France. But, you, you have your red wine and your cheeses. Me, I have our baker and her breads.

She tells me to be careful when buying pain au chocolat, that the chocolate is still hot and may burn my tongue. And she tells me this in French. After this morning’s visit, when she let me take her picture, I can hide my feelings no more.

Perhaps it’s rude to announce this like this, but I can’t help myself.

I’m already counting down the hours until tomorrow morning. Will it be a chausson pommes, pain aux raisins, or pain au chocolat?

You will always be my first wife,

— Andy

Making a Stop in Angerville?

Most readers of my blog are aware that Melinda, my wife, and I took our daughters, Chloe & Ella, to live in France for a year back in 2010-11. We had been granted a sabbatical from the school we had founded and used the opportunity to provide our family some wonderful experiences in a different country.

Among the things we got to do was travel. In the spring of 2011, we went to southern France and stayed in the city of Nice. Although it’s pronounced like the English word “niece,” this didn’t stop me from telling my family, and on multiple occasions, how nice I found Nice, purposely mispronouncing the words.

Near the end of our year in France, we traveled to Normandy in northern France at the invitation of the Bertail family, people who lived around the corner from us and had become great friends. Melinda and I rented a car for this trip and for the first time in our lives experienced a vehicle with GPS.

Let me just tell you how infatuated Melinda and I became with this nifty little tool. It’s like driving and playing a video game at the same time, which, incidentally, I’m not advocating anyone do on a literal basis…

So, anyway, there we were, driving in Normandy to our destination and up on the video game, err, GPS screen came the word “Angerville,” which turns out to be a small town in Normandy (click on the photo here to see it better).

Chloe piped up from the backseat, “We spent some time in Nice, why not Angerville?”

Good one, Chloe! A real chip off the old block!

Turns out, though, that it never really worked into our plans to make a stop in Angerville. We were overdue and it was getting dark. Still, I kept picturing the four of us next to a sign of the town name, each of us with an angry scowl on our faces.

So, yeah, it’s probably best we didn’t go to Angerville back then. I mean, we probably go there metaphorically often enough, right? Think about it. Wouldn’t YOU rather go around Angerville than making a stop there?

Program your personal GPS accordingly.

Needless to Say, it was an Ideal Moment

(The original of this post came on September 1, 2010 while Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I were living in Nantes, France. I like this post enough to reproduce it here.)

September 1, 2010

I went on this very long walk by myself this afternoon. I started at home and walked to the big grocery store at the end of our local tram line, stopping along the way to do some reading and thought-gathering. I picked up a few things at the store and then decided to walk back a different route, one I hadn’t tried before.

I got a little bit lost but never to the point of not knowing which direction I needed to go. The walk provided me one of those moments (and a long one at that) about how not having several unfinished projects waiting for me has allowed me to slow down and be mindful.

A good lesson for when I again have several projects needing my attention.

During the walk back, the part when I wasn’t quite sure where I was, I encountered a dirt trail and decided to take it to see where it came out. Along the trail I found an overgrown apple tree with dozens of rotting apples on the ground around it.

Given the number already on the ground, I decided it would be acceptable for me to pluck a couple of ripe apples from the tree. I then continued along the path, now accompanied by the pleasant crunch of biting into a fresh apple.

Needless to say, it was an ideal moment.

While I was out walking, Ella & Melinda had tea with a classmate of Ella’s named Aude and her mother, the two having been invited to their house. This was a great thing because now Ella is familiar with a girl her age in her school. Melinda and Ella reported that Aude and family are extremely nice and that they have even put in a request at school for Aude and Ella to be in the same class.

These simple acts of kindness from people that are complete strangers to us touches me deeply.
Meanwhile, Chloe had her first paid babysitting job and has one lined up with the same girl for each of the next two Wednesdays. And early in the day I had a Skype conversation with a representative from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, the likely result of which will be me doing some partnership work with them.

I also watched the pilot episode of “Get Smart.” Yes, that old American TV spy comedy from the 1960’s.

I can’t quite put in words why watching TV shows from my youth is bringing me such joy, but they are. Perhaps it has to do with reconnecting with a simpler time. The TV shows are just as they were then, untouched and untarnished by time. I think watching them is like having access to a time machine.

The “Get Smart” episode began with Max, the main character, getting a phone call in the middle of a live theatre performance. It made me laugh out loud, given how common it is for people to get personal phone calls in public places these days.

Except the episode is from 1965 and the call was on his shoe phone…

Chloe’s “Best Birthday Ever”

February 28, 2011 was quite a day, one that ended with this lovely sentiment from Melinda’s and my oldest daughter, Chloe: “I think this was my best birthday ever.”

Wow, that’s really saying something and was a statement that really touched Melinda and me. We wanted this birthday to be very special, especially considering that 18 is the REALLY big birthday in France AND we happened to be living in France then, on sabbatical for a year from the school Melinda and I had founded in 1994.

In France, most new 18-year-olds have big parties thrown for them by their parents, parties that include family and friends. But we really couldn’t provide that for Chloe. So instead, we figured out how to bring the four of us to Paris from Nantes, where we were living, and then throw a day-long family party for her.

The *party* began after Melinda and I completed a 30-minute jog around the Luxembourg Garden, a pretty spectacular way to begin any day, I know. Chloe wanted Mexican food so Melinda found an affordable and quick Mexican restaurant, BocaMexa, (courtesy of David Lebovitz’s blog) for lunch.

Next, Chloe wanted some birthday photos at the Eiffel Tower so we took a bus there, relying on the Rick Steves Paris guidebook to point us to a bus that gave us a bit of a Paris tour. It was cold so riding on a warm bus seeing the Paris streets was nice.

After the Eiffel Tower photoshoot, we went back home to get ready for dinner. It turned out that we had a few extra few minutes so Melinda & I took Chloe out for a legal drink at a nearby bar (the drinking age in France is 18 — she had a Kir Cassis, btw, and has a great story to tell about the bartender giving her a shirt and telling her to ditch her parents on her 18th birthday).

Regarding dinner, earlier in the day Melinda made reservations for us at Chez Janou, a wonderful Parisian restaurant not far from the Bastille. In making the reservation, Melinda commented that it was Chloe’s 18th birthday.

The restaurant staff went all out, including making her a special cake that was delivered with restaurant-wide fanfare and singing, dimmed lights, loud music, and 18 candles. We had a champagne toast and enjoyed the incredible cake, before taking the Métro back to our apartment, located a 5-minute walk from Notre Dame.

Oh, one more thing about that night’s dinner. Just after Chloe blew out her candles, we spotted American actor John C. Reilly sitting about 5 feet away, meaning he helped sing happy birthday to her. Was this her birthday wish?

Really, John C. Reilly, when Johnny Depp lives in France?

Either it’s 1970 or I’m Having a Mid-life Crisis

(From July 2010 through July 2011, Melinda, Chloe, Ella, and I lived in France. I decided I would keep a daily blog of our goings-on for our friends and family. Little did my family know that sometimes I would get a bit silly with my entries. The one copied below is from September 18, 2010. Find the original here.)

Day 80 (18 September 2010) – Saturday Morning, 1970

Shhh… I have to type quietly this morning because everyone else in the house is still sleeping.

I got up early to plug my computer into the TV so I could watch cartoons while eating a bowl of French frosted flakes, or what on the box says, “Glacés au Sucre Corn Flakes” (literally, frozen sugar corn flakes). Either it’s 1970 or I’m having a mid-life crisis.

Regardless, it’s a perfect Saturday morning in September:

  • Clear and crisp outside.
  • Quiet inside.
  • No school.
  • Cartoons.
  • Frosted Flakes.

In today’s episode of “Underdog,” Dr. Simon Bar Sinister, the wickedest man in the world, has invented a device that can suck up the world’s water supply, distorting its molecules so it all fits nicely into a valise. People will have to come to him to get their water!

Will Underdog be able to save the day?

Yesterday, Chloe told me that some of my blog postings seem kind of silly and pointless. I’m not sure, but I think this had something to do with me kissing fire hydrants. In response, and as a nod to Seinfeld, I’ve started referring to pictures and experiences here in France as being “blog-worthy.” As we go about our days, discovering things like a delicious cheeseburger, I’ll say to Melinda, Chloe, and/or Ella, “I think this just might be blog-worthy.”

They seem to think that things like visiting Paris and going to Louvre are blog-worthy. Me, I’m not so sure. Everyone who goes to Paris blogs about that. To me, I think that’s blog-boring.

So, having found Frosted Flakes in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, I knew I had found something worth writing about. I just have to do so while they are all asleep.

Oh, does anyone know how I can get some Brown-Sugar Cinnamon Frosted Pop-Tarts??

Next Saturday is just a week away and I think H.R. Pufnstuf is going to have to save Jimmy and Freddy, the talking flute, from Witchiepoo. I need something full of vitamins and minerals, part of a balanced breakfast, to assist.