Saturday, February 16, 2013

Just stumbled upon this blog again....

I had sort of forgotten it existed.  Thanks to Facebook, Skype and  Email the people who want to know what we're up to know what we're up to (and if I want to hide, I can hide).

It's funny to read through the posts from 2 years ago--almost to the day--and realize we've come so far...sort of.  No matter how long I live here I know there will always be encounters that throw me.  Those times when I have to stop and think...
"It's 2:00 is the post office open?"
"It's Sunday and I need bread for sandwiches for the kids' lunches tomorrow and the stores are all closed. Darn."
"Is the wine seriously that cheap?"

The encounters also include the amazing people who have come into our life.  Some live here and some have moved on but they have all added to this experience.  I only wish there was more time to email and call them on a more regular basis.  Darn the time zones!

I'm not sure what exactly the point of the entry.  Maybe the next will have a point.  Now, if I can only remember to write again.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I realized I hit 3 milestones this week. You normal people are going to think I've lost my mind to count reading nutrition information, noting the price of items and driving without a navigation system as accomplishments but it's all about of feeling normal.

You know how when you're on vacation you eat almost anything you want because, well, you're on vacation. Only live once. Enjoy the ride...and all the rest. That's all good when you travel for a week or even two. Since it's been 6 months I figured out all my free-wheeling consumption is taking a toll, and not just on my waistline. The nutrition information on packages is different than what I'm used to so like any good consumer I ignore it. However, this week I've really been paying attention to the packaging of the things I've been eating. Yeah, I need to kick this pain au chocolat addiction I adopted. 364 calories in one small pastry! I won't even admit how many I could (note, not "do") eat at one time. Yes, yes, there is the whole French Women Don't Get Fat discussion which I don't care to engage in here. All I'm saying is that I've realized I'm phasing out of the "on vacation" mode and into the "real life" mode. The first thing I'm doing it recognizing what I eat like a normal person. Ok, so I'm not always following what I should eat but a warm baguette is next to, next to...well, you fill in the blank.

In my first few months of grocery shopping (which I seem to always need to do) I was on the mission for familiar things. I wasn't worried about the cost if it meant that item would help this feel more like a home. I know, this is hearsay to shoppers everywhere and makes it seem like money is no problem when that's not the case. With so many things different I felt like I had to have the littlest thing that reminded me of the U.S. Additionally, I was just trying to get through the store with food. Period. Since so much of grocery shopping is buy the same brands, the same size in the same place on the shelf each week...when all is turned upside down you have to start from scratch. This starting over in terms of stocking our pantry as well as learning the products and store, meant I made a lot of stupid purchases. I can't list them all here but highlights (again, this shows you how far I've come...and need to go):
  • Paying 9 euro for a bottle of Hidden Valley Cesar dressing, when we don't even eat Cesar dressing on salad. Yes, it's still in the refrigerator.
  • Buying two ears of corn on the cob for 5 euro and with four kids who love corn on the cob just imagine how many I bought.
  • Buying 3 Lipton Iced Tea bottles at three different times to discover each is peach flavored not lemon (lemon flavored iced tea isn't popular). And the peach never will become a lemon on the front of the label.
  • Trying every type of purple fruit on the front of a jelly/jam jar only to discover grape jelly isn't sold (never realized how close blueberry, black raspberry, and one other undefined fruit all look like grapes). In full disclosure, TC bought the purple jelly collection.
I've noticed now that I am getting familiar with the store and what we like (and don't like) I can get through the shopping faster, I can actually skip an aisle, and I can price compare items. Like a normal person.

Without fanfare, I've "graduated" in my driving since I can go places without having to use the navigation system for every turn. Sure I still use it when I drive into the city but I can get to school, grocery store, mall and friends' houses with out hearing "in 200 meters turn left; turn left." It's comforting to know that streets and landmarks are starting to become recognizable to me. My GPS still gets a good workout when I'm walking around the city and thank goodness for Google Maps. Using Google Maps on my iPhone is just so much easier than pulling out the giant map an trying to figure out which way to go. We stand out enough when we're out and about. I don't need to add "reading large maps" as another indicator that we don't really belong. For my day-to-day errands I don't have to take the time to program in every address and I sort of begin to feel like I'll make it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

School projects...

Since we live in a sort-of-on-vacation-but-still-must-maintain-a-real-life state, we still have the normal part of life that involves school for 3 kids. Anyone with 3 kids in elementary school knows a cornerstone of the curriculum is the school project with a costume thrown in for good measure.

This week my oldest hast to be a bird and a viking, and make a display of viking weapons for good measure. You know, just to keep life interesting.

Without JoAnn's or Michael's I was on the search. And let's all remember I'm not my mother; I'm not crafty. If you take out JoAnn's/Michael's where do you buy supplies? What do I need? How do I do this?

Well, I first took the easy way out. For the love of Google I searched for a viking costume and ordered one from the U.K. I know, I know, a real mom wouldn't pay a ridiculous amount in shipping, but I do. With the other costume to make I knew I'd have 50 euro in fabric let alone the production of actually making real viking clothes. Check that one off the list.

Next, a friend and I decided to go to a fabric store for supplies for the bird costume and her daughter's viking costumes (there were viking ladies, too, you know). Let me back up, there is an actual fabric store district in Paris (it's also where the strippers shop but that story is for another time). However, it's on the opposite side of Paris from where I live and you have to take the train because it's impossible to park. We were making costumes for kids. A decent selection is nice, buildings and buildings of fabric is overkill considering I just wanted felt -- a day trip just seemed so unnecessary.

I should have known.

She found a fabric store relatively close to where we both live and we were on to our adventure. We found the street but after driving around for an hour we still couldn't find the shop (address numbers are rather arbitrary around here). We called another friend who suggested a store in the completely opposite direction, but we didn't care about back tracking if we knew there was an actual shop. We found parking, we found the store. It was an interesting place with everything from clothing to lingerie (after all this is France) to home accessories to fabric, all the way on the top floor.

To get someone to cut the fabric instead of taking the bolt to a cutting table you have to politely wait around hovering to find a salesperson who will acknowledge that you're breathing to walk over to what you want. To get someone to help you is a small miracle of miracles. You tell her how many meters you want and she roughly measures the fabric with a meter stick, makes a small cut and RIPS the cloth in one swift motion. It's pretty amazing how straight of a side you get. You then take everything back downstairs to pay.

Time tally to this 4 hours from when we left my house to buy fabric. Yes, it's getting to the point going into the fabric district would have been just as fast. How long does it take you to run to JoAnn's to get fabric?

A few days later I decided to venture out to get the other supplies to make the viking weapons. I mistakenly leave it to do on the day I have both little boys home with me. We go to the "Macy's meets Home Depot meets Hobby Lobby" store and I have to spend 56 euro on foam board, spray paint, paper and wooden dowel rods. That's like $67! Yes, I bought a few sheets more than I needed (mostly to save another trip when the next school project comes along) but come on...

Oh, and I still can't find any sort of Styrofoam to make the heads of the weapons.

Today my son made his weapons using some of the random craft items I packed while I made the bird costume for him. The weapons are fine but until he gets his grade we'll see if they are what his teacher expected. All that production to get supplies and I ended up taking a triangle of felt, sewing onto a shirt and gluing feathers. All I needed was a small piece of felt and feathers.

Well, at least I have a jump on the next project. Someone had better need to be a bird.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Beginnings

I've been inspired to start my blog...again. We recently celebrated our 6 month anniversary in France (while we were in London) and life is starting to settle down a bit. Well, "settle" is a relative term when you have kids and live in a different county from where you grew up. I've reached the point I can go to the grocery store without 2 days of mental preparations, I can communicate when I've received a wrong item (sort of), and -- the best part -- I have friends to call.

I get a lot of questions about what it's like to live here. Instead of a long diatribe on the similarities or differences between the two countries, I suppose you'll just learn as I learn. I'm not going to bash France or bash the U.S. Honestly, this move has given me perspective that I see positives and negatives to both countries ways to do things. Basically, I don't think the extreme of anything is beneficial.

Overall, this has been a great adventure to date. Sure, it's been punctuated with really discouraging events but isn't most of life? Wait, that sounds really negative. I just mean every ones life -- no matter where you live -- has good moments as well as low points. Guess the key is with most things.

I'm getting way too philosophical.

So, to kick of this re-launch (boy, does that term take me back to my office work days) I'll mention a few things that strike me most...

...morning D.Js are just as annoying here, even when you can't understand what they are saying. is just freakin' amazing. Thanks to Skype, I can still shop with my sister(s). The only real difference is that we're looking at web sites together instead of dragging kids through the store. It's actually easier in some ways. Because really, it's not like we ever had time to leisurely wander around the mall....well, unless we were hiding from our husbands.

...we have it good in the U.S. I can't get over how expensive so many things are here. I am still finding new stores to get things at reasonable prices, but so many kids and home items ('cause that what I tend to need more than things for myself) seem to be so much more expensive. But, I guess that's balanced by things that are less money the wine.

...driving is way overrated. It's so nice to be able to walk to town to buy a fresh baguette for dinner or get the train to go into the city.

...I really do miss mindless entertainment news. I was never one to follow Hollywood exploits but I do sort of miss seeing the Oscar fashions. Does that make me shallow? TV commercials are a good thing. We don't watch much TV because we don't have enough French language skills. Since my kids didn't know the "latest and greatest" they didn't have much to ask for at Christmas. Aaahhhh.... planning takes an unbelievable amount of time, especially when you're traveling with a large family. We don't fit into one hotel room so we can't "wing it" in a new city. Time schedules & locations need to be decided before we go somewhere but balanced with not over scheduling so I spend all my time saying "come on, come on, we're late." I'm still trying to figure out the balance.

...I really can't cook.

I received some advice to keep my blog posts short. I see that strategy as working for me. A large part of the reason I've taken so long to post is because I felt like I had to write long essay with lots of details. By the time I wrap up my evening with kids & cleaning up, the last thing I want to do is write. I want to veg in front of the computer surfing the 'net and enjoying the quiet.

Keep checking back and hold me accountable for updating you.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

We Got The Call

This is another pre-written post that I'm just getting posted. I'm tryin' folks.

We understood that we had to get our residency paperwork in order with the embassy before our things would be cleared through customs. We’ve been waiting patiently to get the call to go to the French Embassy in DC. It never came. Then we learned we had to schedule an appointment online. The first available appointment was a week before school starts.

Let’s put this in perspective….

That means I would have 7 days to leave DC, pack up kids and take them on their second plane flight (it’s an 8 hr flight…chew on that for a while), move everything into the house, unpack and start school. Topped off with the drama that the kids don’t want to move. Yeah, right.

Oh, and did I mention once we leave the embassy we may still have to provide additional paperwork to get the visa’s we need?

But, because I’m adopting a go-with-the-flow attitude that 4 kids force you to adopt or you become a raving lunatic, I figured that I could take on the challenge. Ok, so that’s what I said on the outside. Inside I was a baby blubbering “no, no, no….I don’t wanna do it.”

But, we got the call. Saturday morning we found out our household goods did make it through customs before we go to DC. How? Why? We don’t ask these sorts of questions when the moving gods smile on us. My family and TC’s family are taking on the role of Team Cunningham Kid Care and we jumped on a flight on Monday. I spent the weekend scrambling to get caught up with laundry (still thinking about instituting mandatory “naked days” just so no additional laundry is made as I try to get the clothes washed) and figuring out what to take with TC and me so we would have less to deal with when we travel with the kids. And on top of everything, I forgot to call my magnificent PA neighbor to tell her I wouldn’t be able to attend her baby shower on Sunday. I’m such a heel!

So, I’m on a flight writing this on the way to a house that I saw last November for about 15 minutes (although I loved it in those 15 minutes). Because TC has spent most of the year on an airplane, he is now a Super-Premium-This-Airline-Stock-Is-Up-30-Points-Because-Of-What-I-Pay-For-A-Ticket member we got a coveted exit row, next to the bathroom even. Whoo Hoo!

Since we are going now to unpack and set up the house (we have 4 days to get everything done) we will still go to DC next week for our papers. Then we’ll be able to take the kids to the house set up and ready to live. I just hope I can find all the backpacks because we’ll probably arrive in France a day or two before school starts. Maybe it will work out that we’ll get there and jump into school so no one has time to whine about moving. There I go again, trying to look on the bright side. Darn me!

And just to keep things interesting, we got a bit of an “Oh, By The Way” comment from our moving company. Remember when I said that we had 5’ to spare on the 40’ container? Well, the moving company casually mentioned that the brace broke that the movers built to hold everything in place so there will be “some damage.” Stay tuned.

Kick-Off….Only 7 Months Late.

I originally wrote this post on Aug 10...yes, it took me this long to get it up on the site.

I’ve been trying to think of a good way to kick off this blog chronicling our move to France. Initially, I imagined a narrative telling the stories – good and bad – of why we decided to take on this adventure, how the move progressed, and where we were living at any given moment.

Then, reality struck…

TC started his job in France in January so I manned the home front and tried to organize us for the move, as well as the normal stuff with 4 kids. Every afternoon I thought, “Tonight, is it. I will write a compelling, funny, touching essay about moving across the world.” Then, the kids got home from school, I took them to (insert activity – gymnastics, swimming, basketball, karate,…), helped with homework, made dinner (OK we went out to eat way too much), picked up toys/clothes/shoes/backpacks, folded laundry, managed baths…you get the idea. By the time evening hit and the youngest in bed, I could hardly take a shower, let alone write a compelling, funny, touching essay. Oh, and did I mention I was also supposed to be learning French, too. Yup, you can guess how that’s going but more on that later.

So to summarize and bring you long-distance friends up to date, TC’s winter and spring consisted of him flying back and forth often being a country for days before getting on another flight, all the while sorting out his new job. While my 2010 to date has involved getting the house in the market, figuring out what to take vs leave, planning multiple birthday parties and a wedding shower (thank goodness my sisters took on most of that event), and of course all the other day-to-day activities and general life.

The week after school let out for summer the movers came. I had everything – down to every last sock and Lego – sorted and ready with the highly sophisticated plan of “that pile to France” and “that other pile to Ohio.”

My wonderful family and neighbors helped out the week prior so we were ready to go…sort of. My fab Mom and bro’s Matt and Dave helped me paint furniture, but it wasn’t quite dry in 4 days when it was loaded into the truck. In my haste to keep up with the laundry I washed all the pillowcases and I don’t think any got on the boat to France (on the flip side, every mattress pad did go to France so I didn’t have any in Ohio). In the way kids will be kids, they wanted to “help” and rearranged all the toys that my spectacular Aunt Mary and cousins Daniel and Alexa separated (“But I want all my toys with me. I don’t want to send any on the boat to France.”).

Alias, the moving company brought the container that actually would go on the boat. All the France piles were boxed, the furniture was disassembled and all loaded with about 5’ of a 40’ container to spare (note this fact, because it will come into play later). Everything left in our house went to Ohio into the condo we are renting. Movers delivered everything to Ohio on a Friday and TC went back to France on Saturday. My fam helped so much set up our temp digs in Ohio. Although, 6 wks later I still have boxes from the office to go through and figure out what paperwork we need in France.

We’ve spent the last month+ hanging out with family, visiting friends in PA, quickly seeing Chicago and catching up. My kids have enjoyed living in Cortland (they think it’s the party capital of the world since we are usually there for an event) and being able to walk to important places like the park, Dairy Queen, their grandparent’s house and their cousins’ house. No offense to anyone, but the DQ seems to be the biggest draw. The biggest challenge has been getting an Internet connection at the condo where we are living and a lack of cell phone coverage. I managed to figure out the Internet connection in time to leave but at least it will be ready when we are back for the holidays.

So, now that you’re all up to speed. I’m on a plane…hint, hint…