T-minus 10

Starting tomorrow, my 10-day weather forecast will start including the U.S. I, quite frankly, don’t like that. I will have to change my “Lives in…” status on Facebook, too. Ugh. BAck to my old life. My wonderful, fulfilling, comfortable life which I love more than anything. But this was becoming wonderful and fulfilling and comfortable, too. As my latest guests can attest to, my emotions are all over the place right now. And I’m not the only one. We are all snippy, cranky, exhausted, and short-tempered. We are in denial about change, about what awaits us upon our return, about saying good-bye. But the days are flying by so we’ll do this countdown and see where we are when we get to zero.

About a month ago, the school field trips, or sorties, stepped it up a notch. The permission slips flew in so quickly I wasn’t sure who was going where and if the permission slips and accompanying money got to where they needed to go. But they are having a great time and enjoying some incredible experiences.

A highlight for Elizabeth and Julian was, of course, their week-long field trip called a classe vert. Vert means green so a classe vert is usually describing a trip outside the city. Depending on the age, students may go to the mountains, the seaside, or even another country. Elizabeth and Julian traveled to Angers, about two hours away, and stayed in an old abbey. It’s a bit like camp in that, once there, the counselors, or serveants, take over. There is an outing each day; usually something they have studied in advance and prepared for. Their week included two chateaux, another abbey, a mill, a zoo and a tapestry. Highlights included wearing only slippers in the abbey, getting to wear pajamas to breakfast AND dinner, listening to quiet music at the end of the day when the serveants would come around and tap you on the head when it was time for bed, having lunch overlooking the giraffes, Elizabeth getting renamed “Babette” by her serveant, Luike, watching them make flour at the mill (Jody, I’m coming home with French flour!), and the boom. Oh, the boom. For weeks in advance we had to prepare for the boom. What to wear to the boom? Should I go to my friend’s house and we can all try on what we are going to wear to the boom? I am, of course, talking about a dance. And I am, of course, talking about Elizabeth, not Julian, at least when it came to preparing what to wear. It, apparently, was a success and I loved Mme Panzani’s philosophy of not taking pictures of the boom to share on the class blog (she posted pictures from the entire week so we could see what they were up to). She felt this was their special time and something they could keep for themselves. Not everything needs to be shared with Mom and Dad. I like that. In any case, they had a wonderful time and came home exhausted on Friday night. But happy.

The middle school Adaptation classes don’t take a classe vert but they are on the go all the time. Sometimes there are two or more field trips in less than a week! Sarah had a sortie to the ile Saint Louis for just a fun day last Friday and then Tuesday spent the day in Giverny and picnicked in Monet’s Poppy Field (Coquelicots), depicted in one of the world’s most famous paintings. How cool is that!?!? Last Monday her class spent the day in the Montmartre, tracing the footsteps of the Paris bohemians and old haunts of artists and writers.

While Sarah was dining in the poppy fields, I spent the day with Elizabeth and Julian’s class, along with four other classes, in Parc de Sceaux, an outing planned by their Sport teacher. We have not seen that many wide open green spaces since last summer! It was a beautiful park and so fun to watch the kids have a chance to just run and play. They spent the morning doing an orienteering game. Elizabeth and two classmates were the winners, medals and all. A bit of girl power which is always great to see. 🙂 It was hot, we were all sweaty and exhausted and I really didn’t do much of anything but make sure everyone made it on and off all the trains. On Friday their class is off to a Dynamo exhibit at the Grand Palais. And the following week they are hitting the streets to check out the amazing street art in the city.

I know their brains are sponges, but I wonder when or if they have hit overload with everything that has been thrown at them this year. They certainly haven’t shown signs of it but you hope they retain just enough to answer some great trivia questions in years to come. 🙂

(Check back for photos…)

Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 4 Comments

Guests

In the early-to-mid 90’s, I was inundated with guests flocking to Florida to visit. I loved traveling to the Orlando airport to greet them, in those days being able to ride the airport monorail and meet them at the gate. There were many friends and many family members and when I heard they were thinking of visiting, I encouraged them on. Of course I also heard from some people I hadn’t heard from in some time. I could tell, even over the phone, that their interest was not so much in visiting me but prompted by the fact that they heard I could get people into the Disney parks for free. Intentions are fairly obvious, people.

So when we knew we would be spending a year in Paris, France, we hoped the visitors would follow us here. And they did. Many offered to stay elsewhere but what is the fun in that? We may be tripping over shoes that have multiplied in our little hallway, or taking shifts in the bathroom built for two but accommodating up to 10 at any one time. Sheets and towels get washed. Coffee and croissants are served in the morning. We’re a regular little bed-and-breakfast and considering that was, at one time, a vocation we both considered, we are happy to do it.

All our guests have wanted to see some of the less touristy secrets we have discovered about Paris. But, in turn, each of them has provided us the opportunity to discover parts of our adopted city as well. Visitors have come well equipped with their research. With a varied selection of guidebooks and maps in hand, we have explored this city together and shared in new experiences. I am quite certain I would not have visited the Pantheon and seen the tombs of Victor Hugo, Braille and the Curies without Julie and her quest to take in many museums; Tom, Jody and I would not have spent several hours one Sunday afternoon tucked in a wine cave she had read about; we may not have bought the all-day, great seats for the French Open if we weren’t sharing the day with Patti and Brian; Tom may not have explored the Musee National du Moyen Age without his brother, Rob; I would not have taken in the antique markets without Jo & Carolynn; Tom & Julian would not have purchased tickets to a football match in the UK without Lee & Nicholas; we would not be able to recommend Marie Antoinette’s village without Mom & Dad; I wouldn’t have found the best smoothie and the worst milkshake without the help of Chris & Natalie. And when you’re entertaining you check out many cafes, bakeries and restaurants you may not have without them.

So, thank you to our guests. We have enjoyed sharing this experience with you.

Darin & Marietta, there are clean sheets and towels awaiting your arrival.

Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 2 Comments

Thursdays

“I have to tell you, these Thursdays get me through the rest of the week. It’s my favorite day.”

When my friend, Bakang, said this to us last Thursday, Demetria, Lydia and I whole-heartedly agreed.

For the last few months, I have spent all day Thursdays with my three friends. Sometimes we have to move the day if someone has guests or another conflict and sometimes someone can’t join for the entire day. But Thursdays have become our day and even the kids know to wait for the four of us after school if we don’t quite get back on time.

It takes so much time to develop these types of relationships, doesn’t it? Throughout our lives we get thrown into situations with people; we naturally cling to others just to survive and make it through our common experiences. Whether it’s preschool friends, college roommates, fellow members of the soprano section, new neighbors or other parents now taking our own children to preschool, logistics force our lives to collide with others. And we hope friendships remain even when the common experience comes to a close.

I have been thinking of Sarah so much lately. She has been a trooper, putting on a good show when we talk of our return to Middleton. But she is so sad to leave these friends. Because sometimes the connection with others just fits. We can try to figure out why but there isn’t always a describable reason. I am thrilled she gets to stay here three additional weeks to put some closure on this experience and have some summer fun with her friends before the next stage of her life begins. I told her that much of her future will be like this: gathering close friends from short periods of time sharing an experience with others and, in the end, hoping you have a friendships from each of those stages. For her, I think it will be best to look at our return as she did our move here; a new start and a new experience rather than a return so something she thinks will be the same. It won’t. High school will be completely different than middle school with new activities and experiences and new people to share those experiences with. But she will need to discover that for herself. If I can see her smile, it makes all the difference to me. I’m missing that right now because I know this is hard for her. I was happy to see her receive the letter from MHS with her house name. She immediately reached out to a few others back home and spent 30 minutes last evening Skyping with a Middleton friend. If only it wouldn’t have been the 30 minutes right before we had to have her ready for a choir dress rehearsal, I might have savored the call even more.

But I have Thursdays and I’m not thinking about the fact that I only have three left. I’m thinking about our upcoming trip to Reims (the Champagne region) next Tuesday and the gathering they are planning for our families on Demetria’s terrace the night before Elizabeth, Julian and I fly home. I’m thinking about all the cafes we have gone to and scrutinized (bad service, great service, bad coffee*, small coffee, expensive coffee, quaint environment, too much like New York, not enough like New York, well designed, great scones, bad pastries, no pastries, good outside seating, good inside seating), a variety of tucked away museums we have sought out (while this was an impetus to the start of our gatherings, that part of the day has wained as we would prefer just enjoying the time together), all the lunch spots (again, heavy analysis with some places getting a vote for a return and others almost immediately being scratched off the list), and, oh, the shopping. What is it about great girlfriends that, when you try something on, they say, “You HAVE to buy it. It’s perfect. It’s so YOU.” I remember getting together with my high school friends about 10 years ago and we went shoe shopping. I found a great pair of shoes but said, “I have nothing to wear with these and no place to wear them.” And my friend, Suzanne, casually answered, “So you buy the shoes and find the place.” This is what girlfriends are for. Not to remind you of your pocketbook or the common-sense decision you should make. But to remind you that you’re important, you work hard, life is short, and (darn it!) you deserve those shoes!

There are many reasons why people have said we need to stay another year. Thursdays are my reason.

*No, I have not become a coffee drinker. Rather than café creme, I am ordering either a chocolate chaud avec chantilly (hot chocolate with whipped cream) or orange press (freshly squeezed orange juice). Love the idea of a cup of coffee and can even handle the smell. But not the taste.

Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 4 Comments

Stuck

Last fall, after the kids started school, I had a period of time where I felt frozen. So overwhelmed by all that I wanted to do and see and no idea where to start.

That feeling is back.

I have five weeks and one day before I close the door of this apartment behind me for the last time. I’m leaving my oldest child and husband here for an additional three weeks. My dog will stay in Iowa for the month of July. I’m sending a bag of things home with my parents in a couple weeks and have already made one large donation to the Goodwill-like place a ways away. I’ve sent in checks and sign-up forms for Middleton summer activities as well as registrations for next fall. I’ve added Les Mis rehearsals to the calendar as well as Gators practice and swim meets. I have the middle school and high school registrations on my calendar. And Tom called me on talking about Paris in the past tense the other day. And I’m trying to do things like refinance from abroad and find a new insurance agent due to the mess our current one has created.

Like all of you with kids in school, our spring is nutso. There are so many field trips I can’t keep up with the forms and the accompanying checks. I am chaperoning one that is all day leading a team of kids orienteering…in French. Elizabeth and Julian have a week-long field trip so that takes extra preparation, including Elizabeth and her four closest pals wanting to go to one another’s homes to help each person pack. There are school Spring Festivals, an invitation for the kids to sing at the Paris Choral Society’s Rodgers and Hammerstein concert, also requiring five extra evenings of rehearsals. Sarah has bake sales and school projects. And there are soccer practices and games, choir practice, tutoring, parent potlucks, knitting, sleepovers.

And we have guests throughout the rest of our stay; people we have been looking forward to seeing and sharing the city with. We are washing lots of sheets with Tom and I having the pleasure of using the Littlest Pet Shop sheets and a strange set of devil/angel cows sheets. Chili is just happy to sit atop the stack of blankets that gets folded and placed in the family room each morning when the couches and beds are put back in order for the day. Almost a little like The Princess and the Pea.

So my body and my mind are clicking through the motions, doing what we need to do to make the transition as smooth as possible.

But I’m feeling stuck. Stuck with my long list of things to still see and do. But mostly stuck between here and there. Listening to friends here make their plans for next year. Feeling left out. Knowing friends at home are attending orientations for new schools while we are still gone. And feeling left out. Wondering how we are all going to move forward as we transition back. Feeling we are different now but knowing everyone is no matter where they have spent the last year. Wondering how the kids’ friends have changed and where they will “fit” when they get back. Life moves on. We have. We can only expect that others have, too. Wanting to walk away from this experience with no regrets. Wanting perfect closure on this experience yet hoping for a last impression.

I spent yesterday with two of my three besties from the year: sitting around a kitchen table chatting about everything including schools and genetic testing, shopping in the Marais and lunch at a new trendy hotspot that was just okay and had terrible service…but provided us with great stories and lots of laughs and eye-rolling. There are more girl dates on the calendar for the next five weeks; they are keeping me in the moment.

So I’m kicking myself out the door today to tackle a few places I haven’t yet been and Tom will join me for lunch but not sure where. Elizabeth and I will knit after school with friends, soccer games tomorrow, taking the girls to the fabric district, guests returning tomorrow night from Normandy, and a Sunday filled with church, lunch in a creperie and more Marais shopping. Life keeps moving on so I need to “unstuck” myself and keep up.

I did catch a glimmer of possible impact of this crazy adventure. Last night at dinner, Julian opened a conversation with, “When I do this with my family, I want to go to Japan.”

Way to carry the torch, Julian.

Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 3 Comments

Bordeaux

(Including today, I have 11 full days without guests between today and flying home.  Only 11.  And now this day is almost over so I guess it’s ten.  My point being that the blog entries could become short-and-sweet or absent all together.  And since I’m preparing for guests to arrive tomorrow morning, today’s blog will be a short-and-sweet version.  You all would rather see pictures than hear from me anyway, right?)

Last Thursday I had the kids out the door by 7:45, on our way to Gare de L’Est to meet up with the rest of the American Cathedral youth for a retreat in Germany.  I’m hoping to get them to write their own blog entry on that experience but I will tell you they had a great time from Thursday through Sunday with their Paris friends and new friends from Germany.  Julian hung out with someone who is living in Berlin but from Green Bay.  Yep…Wisconsin!

This retreat gave Tom and I a few days to play ourselves so after much deliberation we decided to rent a car and head to Bordeaux.  We didn’t leave until early Friday morning so it also gave us the rest of Thursday to enjoy Paris together.  We have a favorite Italian restaurant so on Thursday evening we enjoyed a walk to the Saint Germain des Pres area for dinner and then home again.  We even ordered our own desserts versus sharing (a rare treat!).  It’s so strange how far north we are and how late the light remains.  And we still have five weeks of longer days ahead!

We left very early Friday morning and we wanted to take the time to enjoy the drive through the Loire Valley.  We stopped to see several chateaus and then took pictures of many others as we passed them along the way (as well as the beautiful little villages we meandered through).

We were in Saint Emilion, the heart of the Bordeaux region, buy mid-afternoon, sun high in the sky.  This was to be kind of our home base for the next couple of days.  It’s a village surrounded by, and known for, it’s 850 different vineyards and dates back to the 2nd century.  It’s called Saint Emilion for the monk, Emilion, who came to the area and dug a hermitage in the rock below what is now the village.  We toured the hermitage as well as the chapel he also dug out of the rock and the, yes, full-size church that is completely below ground.  Amazing.  We checked out the key from the Office of Tourism to climb to the top of the church steeple,  we lunched outside, wandered the very steep cobble-stone streets, and our inn hosts scheduled a tour for us at their favorite, family winery where we were invited into their home and then the caves of their wine and personal reserves from generations of wine-growers in their family.

We also spent a quick morning in the city of Bordeaux; not much time for exploring but what we saw gave us a glimpse of a very young and vibrant town.  Young as in university town.

But one of the things we loved the most was our reminder of why we love inns and bed-and-breakfasts: the hosts.  Maureen and Jon were so gracious to us.  It was everything you would hope and expect from the experience.  We dined with them on Friday night as well as a couple from Australia, both school teachers on their 10-week sabbatical (yes, you heard that right!), and two couples from Quebec.  It was a great evening.  We took in a nice walk before dinner and were up the next morning to get in a little run through the vineyards before they served breakfast.  They are English, so we also had tea every afternoon (as well as wine and coffee and biscuits).  On Saturday night, after our trip to Bordeaux and our tours in Saint Emilion, Maureen had made reservations for us at their favorite restaurant.  Tom and I have a list of favorite restaurants from over the years and some of the characteristics they have in common include being located in remote locations (really remote) and typically in repurposed homes.  This restaurant rose to the occasion.  25 minutes in the middle of the countryside where you would never find it.  A small farmhouse tucked away from the road.  And the owner serving every single table herself.  Surprise apertifs you didn’t know you were going to get and a dessert that was so good it had to be eaten even when you thought you were full two courses earlier.  So, so good.  We love a good dining “experience” and that’s exactly what it was.  Yeah, us!

The next morning Maureen and Jon were kind enough to serve our breakfast a bit early as we knew we had a long drive on traffic-filled roads due to everyone returning to Paris from the two-week holiday.  But we made it home in time for Tom to return the rental car and me to get the kids at the train station, all greeting me with Mother’s Day gifts they purchased for me in Germany.  We ended our night in a low key, but perfect, way:  taco salads and the finale of The Amazing Race.  We did comment that it felt like we had been on a little Amazing Race of our own recently:  “2 continents, three countries and who knows how many miles…Engles, you are the winners of the Amazing Race!  Just no million dollars. 🙂

I’ll let the kids blog about their own adventure in Germany.  But we’re back in the swing of things now and ready for our first of many guests to arrive in about 10 hours.  Better get to bed.

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A lot like driving through Iowa…except for the periodic chateau.

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Saint Emilion’s church steeple.

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Saint Emilion.

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Love the buildings coming straight out from the rock.

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Steep and narrow streets.

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Dining al fresco.

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Self-portrait.

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It took us a long time to find the Office de Tourisme.

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Lots of outdoor cafes.

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The wall of an old church.

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Tons and tons of vineyards, just starting to grow.

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We came home with a vine for growing white grapes and one for red grapes, a surprise to no one that knows Tom, I’m sure.

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From the steeple.

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Inside the steeple.

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See? Kind of like Iowa…vines instead of corn.

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Can you see me? I’m very well hidden.

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Our auberge (inn).

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Bordeaux.

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The main square in Bordeaux.

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Bordeaux.

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We saw lots of bikers out.

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More Saint Emilion.

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The underground church is right below here (no photos, though, as it is privately owned so photos were not allowed).

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Dining out.

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Sun. Yeah!

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Our wine guide and owner of the vineyard.

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The church right outside the front garden of our inn.

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The early breakfast spread ready for just us.

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Breakfast table.

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The back patio. We had wine out here (made across the road) on our first afternoon.

Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 3 Comments

Another world.

Once again, I have giant handprints on my back from life shoving me (hard) outside my comfort zone.

We have just returned from a trip to Morocco where I was overcome with joy at the natural beauty of the country and taken aback with the reality of a third-world country.  This will be a very difficult post to write because I just don’t think I will be able to find the words that paint the right picture for you.  The experience was once-in-a-lifetime.  The learning curve was steep.  The adventure was beyond what we had thought it would be.

Here goes.

Our flight was in and out of Marrakech, probably the most well-known of the Moroccan cities besides Casablanca.  So I found a riad (bed-and-breakfast) in the Medina (the old city, walled in from the new city) as our base for the first and last few nights of our trip.  There were hundreds of riads to select from and we found a great one that accommodated us as a family of five very, very well.

Now, I knew the environment around our riad would be different from anything we had ever experienced.  But I also knew that booking a regular hotel room in the new city surrounded by fast-food restaurants and clothing stores wouldn’t offer us anything new.  When our taxi driver entered the city, I really can’t explain  the experience.  For those of you that watch The Amazing Race and see the teams experience a third-world environment for the first time, this was exactly what it felt like.  Tiny dirt roads clogged with people on bicycles that looked taped together, pulling donkeys, riding donkeys, driving very dilapidated cars, thousands of scooters and everyone going in every direction…horns honking, people watching, babies crying, roosters crowing, cats (so, so many cats) edging around the corners.  That was the first two minutes.  We could only drive so far; the rest of our journey was on foot through a maze of alleys.  Everything brown:  brown roads, brown walls, brown taxis and cars, brown dust covering everything.  Was I excited to be there or sad to see the life they lead.

And yet the people all looked…happy.  Not just happy but welcoming, inviting you into their existence.  Unlike Paris, where sometimes you are not even acknowledged on the street, here you are smiled at, spoken to as you walk by, asking if you need help, need directions, need a place to eat.  Granted, these people are all also looking for money so you have to balance their desire to help with the fact that they see you as a means to some income.  But the ladies loved Elizabeth and Sarah’s long ponytails, especially Sarah with her blonde hair.  The men at the restaurants would want to jump out and scare the kids as they walked into the room or tap on their shoulder to make them look.  They would sit down and play cards with them at the edge of the pool or pour them tea in their shops.  They love kids in Morocco!  How welcome we felt everywhere we went versus a nicer restaurant in Europe, or even the States, that rolls their eyes as soon as you walk in with kids and then sticks you in the corner in hopes that you don’t bother anyone.

So I had mixed emotions in this place of extreme poverty but gentle people.  I felt guilty when I would admit to myself that I would have a very hard time living like that.  And then I would see a young woman (my age, because I am still young!) taking a bucket out to wash her little patch of dirt street in front of her door, covered from head to toe in brightly colored turbans and kaftans in 100 degrees and looking as happy as could be.  If Paris has made me feel poor, Morocco makes my life feel extravagant.  And making me a tad bit more grateful.

Our riad was a little oasis from all that.  The pictures will tell the story better than I can, but we loved eating on the rooftop or the terrace for dinner and breakfast.  The kids enjoyed the tiny pool and made up routines which, I’m sure, drew comments among the staff.  They provided mint tea at every turn, kept us stocked with water bottles whenever we requested them and even went out and bought fresh bread, cheese and olives just for us (no charge) when we returned home very late one evening from our longest day on the road.  Such hospitality.  It felt nice to have such a lovely place to come back to each day.

I typically enjoy planning the details of our travels versus the use of an organized tour.  But based on recommendations from others that have visited Morocco, I researched and selected a gentleman, Youssef, that spent four days with us, showing us his country outside Marrakech.  It was a great decision as it would not have been possible to get to all the places we got to without him.  It also felt comforting to have someone direct us to local restaurants (rather than something touristy) while balancing the local stuff with the touristy stuff we did want to see, like Aït Ben Haddou.

I would say Youssef was probably under 30 years old.  He was the nicest young man, very quiet, but very proud of his country, his language, his lifestyle.  He has a new baby, just seven weeks old but the baby and mother stay with her mother for the first eight weeks so he only goes for visits.  He says he role as a father will begin at the end of the eight weeks…in just five days now.  It was hard to tell if he was excited or a bit nervous but it was funny to have him stop for diapers on one of our trips as we were heading into his village!  And he showed off the baby pictures, too.

I asked where his wife was from; she was from his village, of course, because his marriage was arranged.  He said he went on a couple dates when he was younger but never really understood the process of dating.  He was very happy with the tradition that he is carrying on.

So, here is Youssef.  A young man with his own business, a new family, driving us all over Morocco which, I must say, is unbelievably beautiful.  And when I asked him what his favorite part of Morocco was, he answered, “My village.  My home.”  Gosh.  Isn’t that how so many of us feel?  We can travel to the most beautiful places in the world or even just to a lovely site in our own city, state or country.  But when it comes down to it, where is our favorite place?  Home.   And you could tell the day we were heading to his village (which is where our Sahara desert/camel excursion began), he just become joyful.  So happy to be there.

In any case, Youssef took us so many places!  Aït Ben Haddou, the fortified city filled with kasbahs where the movies Jesus of Nazareth, The Jewel of the Nile, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Mummy, Gladiator, Prince of Persia and so many others are filmed.  There are still a few families that live there but most now live in a village across the street.  It is a beautiful sight.

We drove through the Atlas Mountains, into two different gorges, stopping to look at the land formations that, at one moment, felt like the Grand Canyon and then a green, tropical valley.  We loved the rocks called Monkey Fingers and they really do look like lots of fat fingers!  The kids were all about the streams at the bottoms of the gorges because risking getting wet when all your other shoes are packed away is something every child should do.

We stayed one night in the mountains in a riad close to nothing else with no other guests and had dinner to ourselves, with Youssef and our lovely hosts, of course.  And great music. 🙂

But the second night was in the Sahara.  I could tell you about laughing while we mounted the dromedaries and the noises they would make as we made our way over the dunes.  I could try to describe for you the light of the sun as it hit the terra-cotta dunes.  I could share that it didn’t even feel hot, although the temperature was probably pushing 100.  I could show you a video of my scaling the largest dune with my heavy breathing giving evidence to how difficult it is to scale sand while it’s sliding back down upon you.  And I could tell you what it felt like to stand on top of that dune while the sun went down in the evening and then back up on the morning.  But I honestly can’t describe any of those things for you.  It was indescribable.  All of it.

We had another one-day adventure with Youssef when he drove us to Essouira, a coastal village, so we could spend the day at the beach.  On the way, we stopped and experienced the goats that live in trees.  Of course my children wanted to adopt the 3-day-old goat.  But they also wanted to adopt all the stray cats and take a camel home.  Those goats were wild just standing there in those trees!

The souks in the Marrakech medina were a maze of craziness.  But the kids have inherited a great sense of direction and led us in and out of that maze every day.  We enjoyed the smells of the spices, the lanterns, the tassles, the silver pots, the leather goods, the scarves, the pottery, the kaftans.  And the souks led us to the square which was filled with snake charmers, men with dancing monkeys, musicians and belly dancers with stands of dried fruit and nuts and freshly squeezed orange juice everywhere (orange trees are so common these are the trees they use to line all the streets).  But the square really lit up at night when all the outdoor cafes came to life under their awnings.

There is almost so much that I could write I’m a bit paralyzed.  I’m sure I will close this blog and think of a hundred other stories I could tell you.  But that is for another time, perhaps when we are face-to-face.  Until then I will tell you I’m glad to have been forced out of my comfort zone.  But I will admit, the comfort of Paris felt very good last night when we arrived home.

P.S.  Just in case you were thinking we are now home relaxing, we had the kids out the door to the train station at 7:45 this morning heading to Germany with the church youth group while we are taking three days to ourselves in Bordeaux.  We’ll be back in time for school and more visitors next week.  Plus a fun boys-only trip…stay tuned!

 

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Something funny as we boarded the plane.

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Madrid has a gorgeous airport…Elizabeth’s favorite, she says.

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Greeted at the riad with tea.

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This became a welcome sight.

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Julian is our tea lover.

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A look down into the courtyard from our walkway.

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Loved the whitewashing and the doorways.

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Tom snoozing on our terrace.

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The front room of our “villa”.

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Passing a goat in our neighborhood.

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The kids were just getting out of school when we arrived.

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Waiting with their carts.

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Wood carving with his feet!

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Our terrace.

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We enjoyed lots of card games during the trip.

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Dinner on the rooftop.

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Always looked and smelled so good.

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A view from our dinner table to the other side of the rooftop. Tom and I came up here to lounge and watch the stars come out.

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It’s been a long time since we’ve eaten out!

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More tea…

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So many great patterns from the lanterns.

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The pool.

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Our terrace in the background.

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Our terrace.

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Our front room.

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Kids on the terrace before a card game and bed.

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Breakfast!

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Kids going to school.

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The street shops were still closed when we left on our mountain/desert journey.

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A mosque in the mountains.

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Funny to see all the satellite dishes.

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Typical mountainside villages.

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Aït Ben Haddou.

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Enjoying the heat!

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Testing the spices.

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Lots of bread on this trip.

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More freshly squeezed juice.

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Fresh fruit was dessert at almost every meal.

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Youssef leading the way.

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At the top of Aït Ben Haddou.

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Winding through the gorges.

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Scaling anything worth scaling.

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Fun with Youssef at our mountain riad before dinner.

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He was quite the percussionist.

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The entrance.

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Breakfast!

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My Moroccan pancake with orange marmalade.

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My view (you can see the Monkey Fingers in the background).

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See the stork on top of the mosque?

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People just walking…

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and waiting…

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Washing clothes in the stream.

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Harvesting alfalfa.

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While he was still dry.

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Watching the goats play in the stream, too.

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Lots of Schwepps and Fanta.

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Individual tangines…yum.

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Dust devils all over the desert.

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These are wells. There are rows and rows of them all connected.

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See the Starship Enterprise in the clouds?

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Once we reached Youssef’s village, he took us to the little shop where we could buy our turbans.

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Youssef helping Sarah with hers.

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We had time to relax at the pool before we needed to be on our camels at 5:30pm.

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Here we go…

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Dinner in the tent that night.

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Turbans are good for so many things…including becoming a Desert Superhero!

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Tenting in the Sahara!!!!

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Sunrise.

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Do you see Julian’s message?

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That’s my shadow.

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No mortgages so you only work as far as you can with the money you have…leaving lots of unfinished homes.

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Learning a new card game when we bought our Moroccan cards.

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At one of the Palace’s in Marrakech.

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Tom and his spice friend.

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He made us tea.

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Part of the pool routine one evening.

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This was my idea. And it was so good!

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The center mosque at twilight.

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Can I take this one home?

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Goats in trees?? Crazy.

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The thrill of the ocean!

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Belly-bumping the waves.

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Castles, castles and more castles.

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Enjoying the evening sun.

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Our last evening out.

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The French countryside.

Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 6 Comments

Happy May Day!

Consider this the virtual May Day basket from the markets and gardens of Paris.  (oh, and “White Rabbit”, too!)

 

Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 6 Comments

Just nice

When we walking home from the Paris Marathon 20 days ago, we found a wallet in the street right around the corner from our house. We picked it up and took it home. Upon opening it, we discovered its owner (Horst) was German. It had a few IDs, credit cards, and 50 euros hidden in a pocket. I had his name, but an address wasn’t jumping out at me. What to do? Naturally, search for Horst on the internet.

I found him (or at least who I thought he was), his address, and his phone number. Called him twice. No answer. When I was searching for him,  google also returned a lot of marathon results. Could he have run the marathon as well? Yes – he finished 35 minutes after me (he is 20 years my senior). Ok, what to do…

A day or two later I told a German colleague about it – he pointed out that the address was on the back of the ID card. Duh. Sent a letter to the address (in German and English) – “I found something of yours in Paris, call or email to retrieve it”.  A few days later, I got an email:

Hallo Tom, Herzlichen Dank für den Fund meiner Geldbörse und Ihre Info dazu. Ich habe die Geldbörse am Sonnabend ca. 16.30 zwischen der Metrostation Bir Hakim und den Bois de Boulogne, Nähe Porte de Dauphine verloren. Oder sie wurde in der Metro gestohlen ? Inhalt: Personalausweis, Führerschein, EC-Card Commerzbank, EC-Card Sparkasse, Mastercard, div Kundenkarten, ca 100-150 € plus 50,00 €. im Nebenfach Bitte senden Sie mir alles zu und behalten Sie bitte 50,00 € für Ihre Bemühungen. Sollte das Geld fehlen, bitte nennen Sie mir Ihre Bankverbindung. Ich überweise Ihnen den Betrag. Ich  war mit meiner Frau zum Paris-Marathon in der Stadt. Es war sehr schön und das Wetter günstig. Vielen herzlichen Dank und freundliche Grüße

As you can see (translate it yourself here) he lost his wallet at the Metro station near La Tour Eiffel or on “our” bridge, the Pont de Bir Hakeim. Everything was there except the €100-150. I suspect he had his pocket picked and the culprit threw it under a car near our house. The next day the car moved and voila! we found it.

I had responded to his email: Horst, Ich bin froh, zu empfangen Ihre E-Mail haben! Ich fand Ihren Geldbeutel der Nähe meiner Heimat, als ich nach Hause ging aus dem Marathon (meine Frau und ich lief es auch) – ca. 15h Sonntag. Wir sind direkt an der Pont de Bir Hakeim auf dem Weg nach Bois Bologne. Es war in der Straße: Ich glaube, jemand hatte sie gestohlen und warf ihn unter einem Auto. Wenn das Auto bewegt, konnte ich sehen, Ihren Geldbeutel. Es leider keine $ 150 Euro, sondern 50 $ und Veränderung. Alle IDs und Karten zu sein scheinen intakt. Anyway, we went to La Poste and mailed it to him the next day.

Sure enough, we received a package from Horst and Birgit today — a nice note, picture, chocolates and a handmade Waldenburger Topferei plate made in the Alsenburger region. Why am I sharing this? It’s nice! I feel like we have a new friend in Germany. Thought I’d share.

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Categories: Tom's Travels | 2 Comments

They’re crazy. But so are we.

We have enjoyed a year of discovering life in France, the good, the bad and the ugly, which there hasn’t been much of.  But we have so many funny conversations about some of the things they do here that are just crazy.  So we, prompted by a similar list put together by a friend-of-a-friend in Southern France, decided to write down all the things we think the French do well and all the things they don’t “get”.  And, to be fair, we decided to do the same for the United States.  It’s all in good fun so, Americans, don’t be offended by any of our opinions.  Some goes for any of you Francophones.

Here goes.

Things the French get:

The cafe scene, a long lunch and dinner around a table.  Food is the connector here and you are expected to take the time to enjoy it.

Shopping almost daily.  Fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh cheese…every meal.  And the year-round markets in every neighborhood.  I love walking home with fresh veggies almost every day when we walk home from school.  And Julian is going to have a long walk next year when he heads out to get a fresh baguette right before dinner is set on the table.

The ability to be honest and disagree in a conversation without any offense taken.  Americans are way too passive-aggressive.

Some simple formalities:  cursive writing, proper greetings when you see a friend or go to their home (yes, kisses) including kids individually kissing each person in the room they enter, fountain pens, respect for elders.

Measurements.  Enough with the cups and spoons.  Get a scale and get on with it!  Seriously, baking is so much more simple over here.  And the dish washing?  Considerably minimized.  If only I had known all this, first hand, when I had that darn Williams-Sonoma discount.  I could always go back…

Dressing up, even to school.  You rarely see a t-shirt, even on kids.  And unless you are running, you aren’t wearing running shoes.  Better get yourself some ballet flats or cute boots before you visit.  Boys?  Get colored converse or dress shoes.

Vacations/Holidays.  Whether it’s a part of your benefits package or the way the school year is structured, there is value placed on time off.  And the school holidays are dictated by the country so all schools in particular areas of the country have the same holidays.  Makes sense and sure gives families time together.

Things the French don’t get:

Bearing to the right.  Seriously, the French take over the sidewalks and it wouldn’t matter if you were on crutches.  They aren’t moving.  In fact, they saunter and weave.  At this point, we all just roll our eyes and then jet past them because, well, if I’m being honest, we are the fastest walking family ever.  And proud of it.  These kids can move!  But that’s a story for another time.

A travel mug.  The French would never consider walking around with a drink on their way from one place to another.  If you need a cup of coffee (or anything else, for that matter), you go in, order it, and sit for a spell to enjoy it.  Usually in the company of others.

Cleaning up after their dogs.  Do I need to explain this?

Things Americans get:

Greeting others, whether they know them or not.  I can’t go for a walk or run anywhere in the States without saying ‘hi’ to almost everyone I pass.  In fact, if you don’t get even a smile or a nod, it’s a big deal.  No one really even looks at you here.

Teaching our kids to be kind.  There is a lot of bullying here and not a lot of support in the schools for it to stop.  In America sometimes we go to the extreme of coddling our kids (Everyone gets a trophy!  We’re all winners!), but we do teach them the importance of caring.

Community.  In America people belong to communities.  We are Packer fans, Cardinals fan, part of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District, we live in Middleton Hills, you serve on a board, we go to St. Bernard’s church, I’m in a Bunco group, others are on soccer teams, I’m in a book club, we run with Fleet Feet, we act with Verona Area Community Theatre.  It all makes you feel a part of something and that is important.  I mentioned t-shirts before and I do like that people here aren’t running around in sweats and casual dress hasn’t become a chance to be as sloppy as possible, especially in a work place.  But the funny thing about t-shirts?  They can be community builders.  And even in our travels here, if we see someone in a logo we are familiar with, like the young man in Barcelona wearing the Iowa Hawkeye shirt, we’re going to reach out and have an automatic connection.

Larger convenience stores.  Yes, the specialty stores here are nice and quaint.  But sometimes you just really want the convenience of Target.  Or Costco.

Girls can play sports, too.

Things Americans don’t get:

The importance of learning a foreign language.  By 6th grade in almost every other country in the world, most kids can speak two languages, if not more.  At most US schools, you don’t even begin thinking about a foreign language until 6th grade.  Take it from someone that is struggling, at age 45, to learn new tricks: we need to start earlier.  And watching “Dora the Explorer” is not enough.

The idea that bigger isn’t necessarily better.  Bigger house.  Bigger car.  Bigger yard.  More, more, more.

Public transportation.  I don’t want to start a debate here but even in smaller cities, like Madison, it’s hard for people to even embrace taking the bus.  Even the public bikes are used year-round and by just about everyone.  Cars are one of the last options considered here.

Things we all have in common:

People are proud of where they are from and most have good humor when it comes to poking fun of themselves and their homeland.

Politics and religion divide people everywhere.

For the most part, we are all just trying to be the best parents, spouses, kids and friends we can be.  Life is hard and we need each other.  Friends and family are more important than anything else.

Well?  Anything we missed?  Let us know what you think and if you have something to add…

Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 4 Comments

A weekend in the country

In almost every place you can live, there are places you go to escape for the weekends and holidays.  In Iowa, lots of people would go boating, heading to the lake areas are far south as the Ozarks.  In Florida, you might have a place on the beach.  In Minnesota and Wisconsin, people have lake homes or cabins in the north.  And in Paris, people go to the country.

We were lucky enough to enjoy this past weekend in the country home of our friends, Philippe and Stefan.  Their “regular” home is in Versailles, not too far from us.  But their country home is in Burgundy, about two hours southeast of the city.

We were up early Saturday morning, purchasing bread from the bakery and walking Chili, before they picked us up to be on our way.  Now, I would have been content to just sit in front of the huge fireplace all day long munching on cheese and bread with my book.  But we filled the weekend with other activities, too, that made the time even more enjoyable.

Their home is everything you would want from a country farmhouse: exposed beams, stone walls, a large fireplace in the kitchen where everyone gathered, all sorts of bedrooms with brightly colored, mismatched quilts, candles everywhere and jazz music playing in he background all weekend.  Yes, they know how to make you comfortable!  The kids pulled out puzzles which Sarah tackled in front of the fire and Julian set up a large train set in the loft.  There were old tree stumps just perfect for playing “King of the Mountain” (I have a charlie-horse bruise courtesy of Tom to prove my demise), lots of wildflowers for Elizabeth to pick and old bicycles which made us yearn for our bikes at home and the space to ride them.

Back inside, activity centered in the kitchen.  Soon after arriving Saturday morning, we went into the closest village and market to get lots of vegetables, fresh bread, a roast for Sunday dinner, chicken from the chicken man, amazing cheese, some fruit, and croissants for the breakfast the next morning.  I’m not sure how to best articulate the meals:  Simple, yet elegant?  Provencal, yet sophisticated?  I guess the recipes would suggest simplicity.  Yet, when pulled together you had three-course meals beautifully prepared and so greedily eaten.  How can you go wrong with fresh vegetable soup, zucchini gratin, cheese platters, fresh salads, baked pears, roasts, all accompanied by baskets of bread and wine, champagne, and juices.  Lovely.  Truly lovely.  If I was smart, I would turn them into Better Homes & Gardens or Country Living for a featured piece.  I took lots of mental notes on simple things to improve my hosting once I return home.  I have a long way to go, I think.

In between cooking and eating, we enjoyed Burgundy.  On Saturday, we had our morning at the Toucy markets and, after lunch, drove into Chablis for a wine-tasting in a wine cave with a private owner as a walk around the village of Chablis.  Such a small area that produces such a large amount of wine!  Philippe stumbled upon side-by-side merchants specializing in andouillette, a course sausage made with pork (or veal) intestines.  It is one of his favorites.  Everyone (except Stefan and me) tried some at lunch on Sunday.  The surprise fan?  Sarah!  Philippe told her she is truly French.

On Sunday, after a French breakfast of croissants, pain au chocolats, yogurts, juices, tea, coffee, and toast with homemade jams (and the girls’ introduction to milk jam), we were off to Guedelon: a castle in the making.  Since 1997, they have been building a castle from scratch, using the methods of the Middle Ages.  When it is completed in 2025, it was be an authentic recreation of a 13th century medieval castle.  In the Midwest, we how to work at a farm from the turn-of-the-(last) century.  In France, learn how to build a castle!  It was a great visit and a chance to the kids to enjoy more “space”.  Us, too, I guess.  Being in the city all the time can make you a little antsy for the great outdoors, without even knowing it.

We returned to the smells of a another meal on the table and had enough time for some bike riding before we needed to head back to Paris.  And, just like home, we were caught in the traffic of all the others that were returning on an early Sunday evening, but rested and ready for another week of our Parisian life.

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Up early waiting for our ride to the country.

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Tom’s favorite spot in the kitchen.

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Building a train in the loft.

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The Dye Hut at the castle.

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Our gracious hosts at their front door.

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The dinner bell.

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The backyard.

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Preparing another meal (do we only eat?!?!).

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Preparing to be a mason.

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Elizabeth having a giggle once she discovers where the “waste” goes in the latrine (answer: out the window and down the side of the castle)

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In the castle…this is where they would sit to sew and read…natural light.

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Backing in a horse.

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The painted dining room.

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Maybe one or two days old.

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Basket weaving

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Preparing clay for the tiles..floor and roof.

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An intelligent conversation, I’m sure.

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Making a rope.

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Our aperitif…champagne, Champoney (for the kids), macarons and a breaded cheese.

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Baked apples ready to go in.

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Sarah was in charge of all the candles in the house.

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Cleaning vegetables by the fire.

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Lots and lots of wine caves in Chablis.

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Exploring Chablis.

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Cats everywhere in the country.

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Being squished by the narrow passageways.

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This bread was amazing!

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Sarah and Elizabeth working on the puzzle.

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The village of Toucy.

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Assessing the vegetables.

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Categories: Kelley's Kilometers | 3 Comments

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