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.

The Soundtrack of My Life

A few years ago, a buddy of mine named Marc challenged me on Facebook to post ten record albums that I love, a soundtrack of my life, so to speak. I was to post one album a day for ten days. Explanations weren’t necessary, just include a picture of each album cover. Being a storytelling-kind-of-guy, I couldn’t resist giving a little detail about each of my ten choices.

I came across the archive of my choices and thought it would be fun to compile into a blog post. So here you have it with some slight edits. I encourage anyone touched by this project to create their own list and share it with someone they know who would appreciate it. Note, the year in parentheses is the year I first heard the record, not the year the record came out.

#1 — Armed Forces — Elvis Costello & the Attractions (1979)

Okay, Marc, I have to start with Armed Forces since it was the first album I bought with the idea that I would actually own records myself instead of listening to my brother’s records (or the radio). That album led me in many important directions. From a memory and person standpoint, Armed Forces was not only a staple of the poker night soundtrack, I have a distinct recollection of singing along to Oliver’s Army with my girlfriend in the parking lot of the Lake Hills Community Center in Bellevue, Washington. She had the kind generosity to compliment my singing.

#2 — Cloudy, With Occasional Tears — Skeeter Davis (1982)

So, Marc, I’m planning to do this chronologically, if that matters. And today’s album is one I discovered as a 19 year-old deejay in Seward, Alaska in 1982. Every third song we played on the radio was supposed to be a country song and I found myself drawn to the older stuff. This Skeeter Davis album quickly became my favorite, so much so that one night I played it in its entirety while waiting for the monthly meeting of the Seward City Council to start, which we broadcast live. The challenging part was flipping the record over to play Side 2 while talking about it…

#3 — Foreign Affairs — Tom Waits (1984)

So, Marc, I was in Tower Records on University Way in Seattle in 1984 and spotted this album, Foreign Affairs, being sold for what they called a “Nice Price,” something like $3.49 for an LP, practically giving it away. It was winter time and snowing slightly. I had a date, a woman named Paula, coming to my apartment for dinner so I was out shopping for dinner food (you’ll understand why that included a stop at Tower to buy a Tom Waits record). I don’t remember what I made for the main course, but I do know I made a mint chocolate pie with an Oreo cookie crust for dessert, the recipe coming from a box of Jello pudding. So picture this. I’m back at my apartment, the needle on the record, crushing Oreo cookies to make the crust. On comes the Tom Waits — Bette Midler duet, “I Never Talk to Strangers.” It was a perfect moment, honestly. Snowing lightly, a date coming, Oreo cookies, Tom Waits on the hi-fi. Not even the fact that Paula stood me up could ruin the perfection of this record. I think of it every time I play it.

#4 — The Cole Porter Songbook — Ella Fitzgerald (1987)

Well, Marc, here is record #4, Ella Fitzgerald performing the Cole Porter songbook. The album came out in 1956 but I place it in 1987 in my chronology because that’s when I started listening to it. My copy belonged to my mom who bought it new back in the 50’s. Come 1987, she wasn’t listening to vinyl anymore so I took some of her more choice albums down to Olympia, Washington where I was living while attending The Evergreen State College. It’s a double album so it has four sides, lots of great music with Ella’s beautiful singing. I have distinct memories of sitting at my work table doing research about brain injuries and writing reports about cross cultural special education practices while listening to this record. Did you know that there is no word in the Navajo language for disability? I found that very enlightening. Still do, actually. Final note: I eventually passed the record on to my nephew who loves having vinyl. That this copy belonged to his grandmother makes it all the more special.

#5 — Workers Playtime — Billy Bragg (1989)

Marc, I had always appreciated Billy Bragg’s early albums, the really pared down Billy-alone-with-his-electric-guitar-post-punk-protest songs. But there is something about 1988’s “Workers Playtime” that makes it my favorite Billy Bragg album by far. It could be that I played it regularly in 1989 when I moved into the favorite of my many solo residences, a $240/mo attic in downtown Renton, Washington. But I think the bigger reason I’m crazy for this record is for the love songs on it. I had been trying my hand at songwriting (more like lyric writing, to be honest) and found how difficult it is to write a non-sappy love song. Billy seemed to have figured it out, all while respecting women and communicating in simple terms that relationships are complex. An important romantic relationship for me ended during this time and this album is part of that soundtrack, maybe IS that soundtrack. Decades removed from the attic, that relationship, and “Workers Playtime,” I look back on it all with great fondness and appreciation.

#6 — Diva — Annie Lennox (1993)

I’m jumping ahead to 1993 now, Marc, the year Chloe, my oldest daughter, was born. Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe that people as youthful looking and vigorous as Melinda and I can have adults for children. Anyway… Melinda went into labor on February 27th and didn’t tell me anything about it until about 7:30pm, at which point, due to a bad cold and the comfort of Hockey Night in Canada on TV, I was dozing on the couch. She said something to the effect of, “When do you think we should start timing these contractions I’ve been having?” Let me just say, that is a question that counteracts the effects of NyQuil, Don Cherry, and comfortable couches. Four hours later we were in the birthing center at Virginia Mason, and less than four hours after that, Chloe was born. I had brought along a couple of CDs to be the first music our baby would hear as a breathing human, kd lang’s “Ingenue” and Annie Lennox’s “Diva.” As I recall, Chloe came into this world to Annie Lennox, hence its presence here.

#7 — Songs From Einstein’s Violin — Frank Tedesso (1998)

Hey Marc — I don’t remember how I found this album although I do know I kind of stumbled upon it. It might have been on CD Baby or some other seller of independent music. What I do know is that the songs on the album have touched me like few others I’ve heard in the last 25 years, which is why I’m including it here. It always makes my top 10 list. I’m placing my awareness of the album as being 1998, the year we moved into our Seattle house, although I know it came out in 1996. I was able to track down the performer, Frank Tedesso, and we even had a short email exchange 20 years or so ago. I bought some of his other songs from him, along with a book of his poetry. It’s all good, but this record, for me, is great. It may be of interest that it was produced by William Ackerman, the founder of Windham Hill Records whose most famous performer is probably the pianist George Winston. Oh, one more thing about this record, Melinda can’t stand Tedesso’s singing voice so when I play it, I have to do so when she’s not around.

#8 — Rabbit Songs — Hem (2005)

So, Marc, back in 2005 or 2006 I made a mixed tape for Melinda (okay, it was a mixed CD but that just doesn’t sound right) called “Songs I Wish I’d Written for Melinda.” To be clear, the idea wasn’t to make a mix for Melinda of songs I wish I’d written, although technically that would have been true. The idea was to make a mix of songs I wish I had the brilliance to have written FOR Melinda. Like with her in mind, you know, and coming from her husband/best friend… On that CD, err mixed tape, I placed a song from this album by Hem, “Stupid Mouth Shut.” The brilliance of the song comes from the singer knowing she should tell her partner that she loves him but when the opportunity comes she just keeps, you know, her stupid mouth shut. Why I wish I had written this song for Melinda is because she thinks I should tell her I love her more often than I do. Go figure. Do note that the album didn’t make this list of 10 because of this song alone, though. It’s packed full of lovely songs, including “Half Acre” which was used in a Liberty Mutual TV commercial.

#9 — The Reluctant Graveyard — Jeremy Messersmith (2012)

Back in 2011 while living in France, Marc, I discovered the music of Jeremy Messersmith via Paste Magazine, to which I had an online subscription. That spring, his album “The Reluctant Graveyard” was played more than any other in my iTunes library, so much so that it still ranks as the most-played album in my listening history as recorded by last.fm, and by quite a bit. We returned to Seattle that summer and in 2012 Jeremy launched what he called his Supper Club Tour. He’d find someone to host a potluck dinner in their home and after eating together with the attendees, he’d play an intimate show. I bought two tickets for his Seattle engagement which took place in a pretty small house in Wallingford, perhaps 25 people packed into the living room. I tried to get Melinda, Chloe, or Ella, my other daughter, to go with me, but they weren’t interested so I went by myself, squandering one ticket. It was so much fun and I had a great time talking to Jeremy about his music. Since then, Ella has become a fan and regrets not going. The lesson here, children? Listen to your parents.

#10 — Tree of Forgiveness — John Prine (2018)

We’ve come to the end of my 10 albums, Marc, and I’m wrapping it up by presenting John Prine’s “Tree of Forgiveness.” In making John Prine my last entry, I’m doing so with a nod to his career which is as impressive as any as far as I’m concerned. I bought my first John Prine record in 1984, even though his first album came out in 1971. I don’t recall really knowing who he was until 1984 and I try not to beat myself up about that. But those 13 years seem kind of wasted and I’ve spent the subsequent 3+ decades trying to make up for it. I’ve followed everything he’s done since then and regularly get in my musical time machine to go back to listen to what I’ve missed. If anyone has ever been able to sum up what it means to be an ordinary human, it’s John Prine. Like everything John Prine does, this record is really good. Some time, Marc, if you want, let’s go out for a beer and I’ll tell you about taking my mom to see John Prine in concert. It may be the best concert experience of my life.