22 July 2015

After France We're Buying This Boat & Sailing to Cyprus

Portofino, Italy
Just kidding!

Do you have any go-to conversation starters? Talking points or tricks to keep things interesting or surprising? Do you ever find yourself like me ... interested in people but when conversation runs slim ... babbling needlessly about nothing ... or worse ... about oneself? Oh boy.

In the States, it seems that after basic introductions, the next question always is: "And what do you do?" It's our go-to conversation starter. Does it really start conversations? Sometimes, I guess. But I think it's mostly a habitual question.

In France, it's considered borderline rude to ask this question. The idea is that this question facilitates an instant "sizing someone up" based on their profession. Within seconds there is an assessing of their level of education, salary, esteem, worth, etc. Très gauche. I'd never really thought about this before, but ... it's rather true. It's not a conscious thing for most of us, but we're zeroing in on just one facet of a person as the basis to understand someone.

Certainly French people find out each other's professions ... but not necessarily the first time you meet someone. In a way, you earn access to the "inner layers" as time and conversation continue. So, with "what do you do" out of the picture, what do you ask??

We all need ice-breaker questions. It's weird when someone starts off asking about your innermost feelings five seconds into the introduction. Talking about the weather is benign and acceptable, but it seems the real key is to ask a question that offers opportunity for follow up conversation threads that you can both participate in. That's the real cache, right there.

I run dry and feel dorky just like the next person. But I've been trying to be more thoughtful about my conversations and it takes practice! Here are some of my favorite conversation starters, both my own and swiped from others:

1. Memory: Tell me about the house you grew-up in or associate with your childhood. Or, Where did you live in 3rd grade? Be specific!
2. Location: Do you live around here can actually open up discussion if you follow it up. Suddenly, there is opportunity to talk about where they grew up, if they like living where they do, if they've ever moved or would like to travel. All sorts of options.
3. Funny Fib: I had fun showing people the above photo I took in Portofino and telling them that after France, we were "considering buying this boat and sailing to Cyprus". Heh, heh. But it did lead to to lots of "would ifs" and "can you imagine" conversations.
4. LastsWhat was your last book read/board game played/movie watched/hike/ice cream cone ... 
5. RandomWhat was your last online purchase? If you wrote a book, what would it be about?
6. Compliment: This is tried and true, but always nice. Who doesn't like to be complimented on their shoes or shade of lipstick or even their cute baby.
7. ObservationYou seem like a (outgoing/introspective/thoughtful/mindful/well-read/humorous ...) kind of person. How would you describe yourself? This is such a better alternative to "Tell me about yourself." You've started with an observation of your own, a compliment (hopefully), and you are then asking them about their own perspective.

So, after initial niceties, what are the fun, juicy, lively questions you like to ask or have been asked? Do any of these ideas above register with you? I'm genuinely curious!

Converse with me!

15 July 2015

A View Through: Le Coq

Don't you just love a little spy-through window? Makes the view awfully exciting.

13 July 2015

Tour de France en Normandie!

The Tour de France was everything we expected and more.

To be honest, we didn't really know much about it prior to this summer other than it was a really big bike race. It is a really BIG bike race! It's an obsessive sport culture and if you are into cycling,  you will be riveted to the event. And France is waaaaaay into cycling.
 What was so incredible was that the race was coming through just down our road! I'm not sure that it has ever taken that route and it hasn't come through the main city in the region for 30 years!
 The racers and their massive entourage were set to come by at about 2:30 pm but we were encouraged by our neighbors to set up a picnic site by 11:00am.

The caravans come through for a couple hours before the racers in very elaborate vehicles tossing candy and trinkets. What was nuts was the speeds at which they were racing through (60-90km/hr!). There is absolutely no shoulder to these country roads and kids were skittering and diving all about for the loot. After about a minute of participation, I told the kids I would just buy them some gummy bears if we could please watch from our chairs and spare our lives. (Apparently, kids get seriously injured every year!?!)

But really, the people watching and excitement in the air were just fascinating. I could have happily sat there for more than the 4 hours that we did.
 Just before the racers were to arrive, 5 helicopters raced overhead and landed in our neighbor's cow field. Presumably, media helicopters?

My mother was texting me from back in the States and watching the racers live and giving me a play-by-play so we would know when to expect them. We heard a roar from the crowd and suddenly, there they were, whizzing by!
 And in a blink ... they were past! Was it worth all the excitement and anticipation for just the few blurred moments? Oui, oui!

One of the most fun days we've had. 

09 July 2015

Village Preparations: Tour de France

It's Tour de France season here and if you can believe it, the race is coming right by us! Literally a 5 minute walk from our house. C'est incroyable!

The whole village has been bustling with activity to get everything show-ready and the excitement is palpable.
 Everyone is decorating their homes and sweeping the walks.
 The tell-tale neon arrows up to assure the riders ... keep pedaling this way!
And every old bicycle from every old barn has been unearthed and set up for display. It's the 102nd year of Tour de France!
There are RV's already lining the road from Tour de France groupies that apparently follow the race throughout France. I guess they just sleep on the side of the road and are ready for the next day when it comes!
Our road into town will be completely shut down tomorrow, so we made a voyage in today to pick up groceries and such. We have plans for a long road-side picnic tomorrow to join in the festivities. We're told to set up 3 hours early for a good spot and to see the caravans that come through beforehand.

Off to watch some highlights of today's race on the telly ... à bientôt!

07 July 2015

A Beautiful Woman on Market Day

It was market day and this beautiful woman had some shopping to do. And doesn't she look elegant?

In general, I think aging is a more respected process in France. It's a sign of honor to be referred to as "Madame" and when in doubt, always preferred to to the younger address of "Mademoiselle." Mademoiselle is for younger women and girls. As a friend explained, "Why would you want to be referred to as a girl? It's a pleasure being a woman!" Isn't this refreshing?

My husband's smart and gorgeous grandmother, Gigi, once told me she didn't like to be referred to as "cute," even when meant as a compliment. I didn't really understand the comment at the time, but I think I do now. Cute in exchange for beautiful or elegant or attractive has a different ring to it altogether. We don't cease to be women once we've left a certain season of life.

While certainly youth has it's signature beauty and aging has it's trials, no matter the country, I love the respect and appreciation given to women of "advancing stature" ... whether that is at 35 or 85. I love that women can present themselves with confidence and be considered beautiful at all ages.

Isn't this a good mindset to take on and habit to pursue?

05 July 2015

From France, Happy Independence Day!

 We were able to celebrate the 4th of July this year with our dearest friends here in France. The weather was gloriously cooperative and we tried to show them a good time with an over abundance of food and general lounging about. You know, American-style.

Somehow being gone for American holidays, like Thanksgiving, has seemed even harder than mutual holidays, like Christmas. So we made sure to find a way to celebrate the 4th. It's always more fun with friends.

And while we had a hard time finding certain things (hello, corn on the cob!), we did our best to dish up some summer BBQ grub. Our friends had never roasted anything over a fire before and the kids were particularly keen on cooking up their own hotdogs.
 And my beautiful friend dove right into the marshmallow roasting herself, telling me "It's just like the movies!" That made me smile. She's great like that.

Incidentally, marshmallows here are in the candy aisle. They come in packages, are a bit smaller, always seem to be a mix of white and pink, and are a bit more soft. They melt really quickly. Gotta' be on your marshmallow game when it comes to roasting.
While the children played, the menfolk chatted about all measures of things. The Franco-American kinship continuing to flourish ... perhaps because they did help us win our Independence, you may remember! 

 I'm not quite sure how we always seem to find such quality people to be friends with. In spite of our flaws, neediness, and general gooberish-like qualities ... they seem to appear and stick with us.

And thank goodness for that!
We do miss home. Even though we are loving our adopted nation, being away from the States has reminded us how much we appreciate about our own imperfect country and the fact that we are truly proud and grateful to be Americans. America has a history of sacrifice and bravery that has won and offered up freedoms and alliances for her citizens. In many, many ways, not unlike France! It's a remarkable thing to unite cultures and countries in peace and friendship.

Whether home or abroad, we have much to be thankful for. Today, in particular, American and French friends, alike.

02 July 2015

Street Art in the Village

I was out and about today at a nearby village dealing with some visa business and found myself loving these temporary art installations. Four-sided, with different art on each side, the structure was hiding what I think was some sort of construction on the interior. Isn't that beautiful and brilliant at the same time?
I was caught in a massive thunder and lightening storm and had to take cover at a covered café to sip some coffee (most pleasant rainstorm ever). Off in the distance you can see another art panel.
And here's one more. I actually really like street art. It can run a fine line with graffiti sometimes, depending on it's location, but how great to give these artists a platform that is constructive rather than destructive. And to turn a construction zone into an art zone!

01 July 2015

Last Day, Tous Les Enfants

Oh my, will you indulge this mama?

Today was the last day of school. I lack adequate words to describe the bravery and dedication these three put forth this year as they dove into French school. New language, new culture, new environment ... these kids have some serious gumption. Not to mention that their teachers all told me of their kindness and hard work in spite of all the inevitable challenges. Goodness, I just want to high-five the world, right now.

I think back to the first day for Jane and the first day for Peter and Lucette and I marvel. I just recently told them how I used to drop them off and then pull over to the side of the road and cry and pray. I was so scared and nervous and worried for them. And yet ... I continued to feel a peace that they were where they should be and He was walking through the day with them. 

Thank you, Jesus. I'm just about bursting with gratitude and pride. 

29 June 2015

Home: As I Come and Go + A Giveaway!

It's fun to go new places, isn't it? I kind of have a thing for it.

But with recent visits from loved ones, our next move just around the bend ... and our return home to the States sometime after that ... well, it has me thinking about home again. 

It's been such a joy having these adventures and fascinating to live in different locations. But it isn't quite the same as having your own curated items and furniture and bath towels all around you. It has it's advantages (fewer things to worry over and take care of!), but sometimes I miss the fussing about that comes in your own space.

So. I've been Pinteresting. Are you into this? I get it if you are not ... but I'm kind of in love with it. Clipping and saving images and ideas ... you essentially create your own virtual space. (Like when we all used to cut out photos out of magazines ... but without any of the scissors, glue-sticks or three-ringbinders, hallelujah). And since when we move back we won't even have a house to move back too ... ideas are what I've got to work with!

And plus. It's led me to re-discover Minted. I already knew they made incredible invitations and announcements. (Minted's wedding options are particularly charming.) But they've gone beyond that and and have created a venue for independent artists and offer art pieces just perfect for the home.
Just look at these! Foil stamped maps! I am enraptured and think they would go perfectly with just about any other home item I have shoved into our Stateside storage unit. I love maps ... they help take you where you want to go. 

This one above shows the streets of Paris. I see where my favorite hotel is and the Jardins de Luxembourg!

And the motherland! Ah, sweet U.S. of A. It took me leaving your shores to realize that I really am a proud American. So much I took for granted or never even knew to appreciate. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps? 
And our adopted country of France. France, you are a crazy, beautiful, beast of a lady, but I love you too.
So, which one would I pick? What represents home to me? Hmmm ... that's up in the air.

Because truly ... no matter where you go, which houses and apartments you visit or live in ... home is where your family tromps about and gives you a smile and a wave. It's the best place to start.

Thanks for letting me share this post I happily partnered in with Minted. And lookie ... a $50 giveaway credit! Leave a nice comment below and a winner will be chosen at random on Thursday, July 2!  CLOSED: Random winner chosen. Comments turned off. Liene, you've got mail!

**Giveaway Includes Free Shipping ... and that means US and international readers!