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 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.

Muscle Memory

July 31, 2011

So we’ve been back home for three full days now. I think we’d be an interesting case study for researchers wanting to study human reactions to returning to a very familiar place after many months away. I’ve had a short email exchange with Christine, to whom I put it this way, “It’s very interesting for us to fall so quickly back into the familiar. I find this both settling and unsettling. On one hand, it’s like snuggling with your favorite blanket, one that was put away for some time and now you have back. On the other hand, it makes our year in France feel distant. Standing in the frozen food section of the grocery store (that’s open all day, every day), I didn’t have to try very hard to imagine that France was all a dream or that we hadn’t left yet. It was disconcerting.”

It’s reassuring, too. I mean I know I’m home and I love being home. Everything is so familiar I could walk through the house blindfolded and find my way around. An example of this is in how I walk down the stairs. I always reach for a certain place for support and was surprised, pleasantly, to find myself doing it the first time I came down the stairs. It’s the same for moving about the kitchen, or looking for something in the bathroom. I don’t have to think about it. I just do it.

Switching gears, Melinda and I head in to PSCS tomorrow, the first time there in 13 months. Unto itself that’s an odd feeling. But I have a hunch it won’t take long to kick things into gear. After all, it’s pretty darn familiar.

Oh, today’s picture, a self-portrait, is me in front of our front door. A year ago today, we moved in to our Nantes house and made cheeseburgers for the Boudeaus…
Day 31 (31 July 2010) – Move in Day

The Most Significant Thing We Brought Home

July 30, 2011

Last fall, the Boudeaus, Melinda & I talked about the possibility of Romain coming with us to spend several weeks in Seattle when we returned. Not only would he get to practice his English, we’d see about setting it up so he could see some Seattle area businesses in operation. You see, Romain is studying economics in school. He is at a high level, what is called “Prépa” in France. Hooking him up with people we know who work at Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing would provide him with some incredible learning opportunities. Most significant of these, my brother Scott, a financial advisor/stockbroker of some repute, early on greed to allow Romain to shadow him for several mornings.

As our departure date from France grew nearer, Melinda and I started to realize that having Romain with us would provide our family something that’s a little hard to explain. His presence would literally bring back a human piece of France in our home and keep Melinda, Chloe, Ella & me from mindlessly falling back into our Seattle routines. With him, we’d speak more French, be able to show off our Seattle lives, and otherwise have a Nantes connection. He would be tangible evidence that our year in France was not a dream.

His presence has so far been even more significant that we first imagined.

I’m late posting tonight because we just got back from a late dinner at my brother’s house. That’s Romain with Scott and Sally, Scott’s partner. Also in the picture, two bottles of wine, thank you gifts from the Boudeaus to Scott. Not pictured, Romain’s new Seattle Mariners t-shirt that he picked up at today’s game.

Welcome Home

July 29, 2011

When I was a little kid and my family was on our way home from a vacation, I’d have this crazy image pop into my head. We’d be in the car, having driven for hours, and be nearing the house. I could hardly wait to turn the corner onto our street, sure that the neighbors would have put up signs welcoming us home. They might even be out in their yards, smiling and waving as we drove past.

So imagine my pleasure yesterday when we got home and found this poster up in our Seattle house.

Yes, we are safe and snug back home. Time-wise, from the point leaving the Boudeaus on Thursday morning at 5am (Nantes time) to walking inside our house just before 8pm (Seattle time), we had been traveling for 24 straight hours. With the 9 hour time difference factored in, our Thursday lasted 33 hours.

Graphically, it felt like someone had taken both ends of the day and pulled on them, just like you’d do with some Silly Putty. It got long and thin, and even cracked in a few places. But overall it stayed together.

Note, I am going to continue to post daily here on the blog, sharing about our transition back to Seattle. Look for that to begin tomorrow.

A year ago today we were on the beach at Pornichet…
Day 29 (29 July 2010) – Yes, We Have Children

Oh, by the way, it never happened. None of our neighbors ever put up a sign.

Vote for Your Favorite (Day 365 + 28)

July 28, 2011

ACME Pyramid(Note, I created this post in advance and scheduled it to be delivered at 6pm in Nantes, 9am in Seattle. If we are on schedule, we just landed in Reykjavík and will be taking off for Seattle in an hour, a nearly 8 hour flight still in front of us.)

In honor of our return to Seattle today, I thought I’d try something new. I’ve picked four of my favorite posts over the last year and want to encourage you, my beloved blog readers (I’m not saying which is beloved, the blog or the readers) to vote on YOUR favorite from these four: Day 12, Day 121, Day 192, Day 307 (click on the “day” to see each candidate, but vote on one below).

Great photo here, don’t you think? It caps the trilogy of photos and posts from the last three days intended to salute the French families we feel have become part of ours.

Speaking of favorite blog posts, I just don’t seem to get tired reviewing the one from this day last year (or at least looking at the picture)…
Day 28 (28 July 2010) – Cheese For Dessert

Our French Family Part II (Day 365 + 27)

July 27, 2011

ACME + BoudeauSo yesterday I mentioned the family photo shoot Melinda, Chloe, Ella and I like to do each year. I said we choose the photo we like best and enlarge & frame it, and put it up in our home. We followed the tradition this year in Nantes; in fact, you can see this year’s photo in this post from Day 105, our 100th day in France.

Today’s blog picture comes from our recent photo shoot with the Boudeau family. If you’ve followed the blog for any length of time, you know it was the Boudeaus whose presence in Nantes inspired us to move here. It was the Boudeaus who found our house for us, negotiated with our landlord, found Ella’s school, helped us with our French bank account, etc, etc. Today Frédérique helped us again with our French bank and helped get us checked out of our house. In short, I can’t imagine what our sabbatical would have been like without them.

On our last full day in Nantes, the day we move out of our house (we’re spending the night at the Boudeau’s house tonight and then being taken by them to the train station at 5am tomorrow), I salute the Boudeaus, now permanently part of OUR family.

And speaking of the Boudeaus, on this day last year I wrote about the sexiness of French fire hydrants, an observation of mine that Laurent frequently references…
Day 27 (27 July 2010) – Ma Chérie, Bouche d’incendie

Our French Family Part I (Day 365 + 26)

July 26, 2011

ACME + BertailLast August, soon after we moved in to our Nantes house, we staged a “photo shoot” for the four of us on the back patio and got this picture. This is something we like to do a few times each year, hoping to capture what we call our “album cover” portrait. Each year we choose our favorite of these pictures, have it blown up big, frame it, and put it up in our house. I referenced this once in a post on the Kind Living blog.

This month, before leaving, we wanted to replicate that August photo shoot but this time include the members of our “French family,” getting photos that include us with the Bertails and others that include us with the Boudeaus. I’ve chosen to feature pictures from those “shoots” today and tomorrow, our last two full days in France, to honor and express our appreciation for these families.

Today’s photo features the Bertails. Meeting them has been one of those experiences that demonstrate one is on the right path. The kindness of their entire family, from Bernard’s stately presence to Claire’s bubbly smile, has been a gift to us of enormous proportions. We are proud to count the Bertails as part of OUR family.

On subject of families, a year ago today I wrote about how Melinda and I were neglecting our children. Hmmm…
Day 26 (26 July 2010) – Oysters at the Pornichet Market

Weighing In (Day 365 + 25)

July 25, 2011

Weighing InWe leave in less than 3 days, meaning we have very little time left to get ready. A big part of this is getting our suitcases packed, and a big challenge to this is keeping them under the 50 lb weight limit. We are each allowed 2 large suitcases to check, plus a small carry-on bag and then a purse or laptop bag (I haven’t yet decided whether to call mine a purse or a laptop bag).

I brought the bathroom scale downstairs in order to place it on a large flat surface for uniforming weighing. I told Chloe that I thought we should try multiple ways/weighs. She didn’t laugh at all; in fact, I think she rolled her eyes. If not that, she just looked aweigh.


The most consistent style of weighing was setting each bag on the scale by itself, as opposed to me holding them as illustrated in today’s picture. It’s kind of funny how we fine-tune each bag, moving an item from one into another in order to best make use of our weight allowance. One advantage we have this time around as compared to our trip to France is Romain is coming with us. He has the same baggage allowance but doesn’t have so many things since he is just staying in the US for a month. We’ll be using his second bag.

Speaking of Romain, a year ago today I wrote about him playing with his sister in a swimming pool…
Day 25 (25 July 2010) – Siblings in the Pool

The Beach (Day 365 + 24)

July 24, 2011

The Beach at PornichetOkay, here is one of those pictures I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the one in which I so rudely ignored all the great photos and story possibilities in favor of posting a picture of me at a racetrack. You just have to understand that I have my priorities.

So, yes, yesterday we spent a couple of hours at the newly remodeled racetrack in Pornichet, having had a wonderful lunch at Luc’s & Isabelle’s house. Then after the races, we drove into town, parked, and went for a long walk along the beach. We stopped at a strategic point for this photo, taken by Luc’s sister who was with us (L-R: Luc, Isabelle, Laurent, Melinda, Frédérique, Andy).

Back at home in Nantes today we are cleaning and packing, readying ourselves for our move back to Seattle. It’s all feeling a bit surreal. I was cleaning the shower and reminiscing on the day last year when the owners of our home were first showing us around the house. Was that really a year ago?

Speaking of a year ago, as I mentioned yesterday, on this day last year I imagined what the Pornichet racetrack would look like in 2011…
Day 24 (24 July 2010) – The New Racetrack

The New Racetrack (Day 365 + 23)

July 23, 2011

The New RacetrackPerhaps it’s a little bit selfish of me to choose this photo today, especially when I have several others from our day trip to Pornichet and the city’s new racetrack. I mean I have a nice shot of Laurent and his friend (and our day’s host) Luc cheering on their selections in an early race. And I have a lovely picture of Luc and Isabelle, his wife, just outside their house. Then there is a group shot of Frédérique, Laurent, Luc, Isabelle, Melinda and me during our late afternoon walk along the beach with the Atlantic Ocean behind us. But I choose this one of me with racehorses. Yup. Selfish.

On July 24 last year, a year ago tomorrow, when we were staying in Pornichet, I wrote about the construction of the racetrack. I lamented that we had arrived in Pornichet a year early. Then the opportunity came for us to go today, thus closing this tiny gap in my France experience. Laurent & Frédérique set it up and agreed to drive. Luc & Isabelle provided an incredible lunch. And they live so close to the racetrack that we could easily walk. Turns out it was a special day at the track, too. Free admission, pony rides for kids and more. Laurent was the big winner, clearing 60 centimes on his betting.

A year ago today I introduced you to the library at Pornichet…
Day 23 (23 July 2010) – Pornichet Library