Sunday, November 18, 2012

Travel Agent

In order to get my Visa to live in France, I had to sign a letter to the French government stating that I promise to not work while living in France. Sounds good to me! But I have found myself actually spending a lot of my time in a sort of working capacity - as a travel agent for the Way/Pitonak family.

One of the benefits we want to make the most of during our time here is the proximity of so many amazing countries and places to visit. So travel is a priority for us. But that requires lots of planning and that planning requires lots of time. I find myself spending hours and hours each day doing research on destinations, hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. I can get lost on TripAdvisor's website for an entire day!

We bought a large laminated map of Europe at a bookstore in Paris, and whenever we travel to a new place, we put a tag on it showing where we've been. We would love to see more & more tags on the map, so we are constantly trying to look ahead and plan our next trip. Here's where we (at least some of us) have been so far during this past year:
Paris France (duh)
Brittany France (the girls)
Savoie France (the girls)
Bondol France (Debbie)
Provence France
Burgundy France (twice)
Anzere Switzerland (the girls)
London England
Brussels Belgium
Bruge Belgium
Eindhoven the Netherlands (Sean of course & Debbie)
Venice Italy
Bari Italy (cruise stop)
Corfu Greece (cruise stop)
Santorini Greece (cruise stop)
Kusadasi (Ephesus) Turkey (cruise stop)
Manhattan Beach California
Cabo San Lucas Mexico
Pasadena California
Hermosa Beach California
Healdsburg California (Deb)
Occidental California (Deb)
Santa Cruz California
Burlingame California

Not bad, for almost 1 year in Europe. Since we never know when this adventure is going to end, we really want to take advantage of the fact that we are close to many countries and don't have to deal with the time change. Traveling all the way from California to Europe is such a loooong haul, that we want to take advantage of the closeness we now enjoy. We have 2 more trips on the books (Morocco over New Year's, and Zermatt Switzerland (skiing the Matterhorn!) during ski week), and are making summer plans. We are hoping to visit home again during Spring Break, and for summer Spain & Portugal are topping our list. Luckily the kids get quite a few vacations, and Sean is lucky enough to get European vacation days in his job, so we have time for the trips. I just need more hours in every day to plan them! Safe travels everyone...and if you need any planning help, just call Travel Agent Debbie.

View from my hotel room in Bandol (South of France)
Sunset over Bay of Bandol
Claire & Rachel in Venice
Grand Canal in Venice
Sean visiting the Trulli houses in Alberobello Italy
 Corfu Greece
 Corfu Greece
My cute girls on formal night on the cruise
Santorini Greece
 Santorini Greece
Santorini Greece
Ephesus Turkey
Brussels Belgium
Brussels Belgium

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What’s In A Name?

I finally figured something out that has been bothering me. It seemed like almost every time a French person would ask me my name, I would receive a very quizzical look when I answered. They would often ask me again, I would answer and then spell it out – “double vé, a, i grec”. Then a look of understanding would pass across their faces and they would say “ah, way.” Geez, isn’t that what I said? I know my French isn’t perfect, but I know how to say my name.

The answer finally dawned on me the other day. It actually wasn’t my horrible French accent. The issue is that the French have different dialects in different areas, and we weren’t hearing the same thing. While we have learned that the correct way to say “yes” in French is “oui”, the pronunciation of that word varies. I was taught that the pronunciation was like “whee”. But in Paris, the South of France, and other areas, they pronounce “oui” like “whey”. Do you see the problem? They ask me my name, I reply “way”, they hear me saying “yes” and they wait for me to say more. Pretty funny. Now that I’ve figured it out, I’m quick to add the spelling immediately after I say my name – saves lots of confusion on all parts!

Will give more info on my great solo vacation away later – here are a couple of parting shots in anticpation…

Eh whey…

Monday, September 3, 2012

La Rentrée!

Paris is all abuzz with la rentrée – the return of everyone from vacation and back to school. We started school a week ahead of the French schools, so that gave us time to adjust. Not looking forward to the return of traffic, but I am looking forward to the return of my favorite local bakeries and restaurants. It’s amazing how Paris empties out in August. We were away for most of it, but could still sense the quieter, calmer scene when we returned.

We had a great time in California this summer. I can’t believe we were there for 1 month. That seemed like such a long time when we first planned our trip, but man did it fly by. Before we left, we had 4 sets of friends visit us here in France - starting in May and ending in July. We had a great time with everyone and hope they had fun also. We headed to the US a couple of days after our last visitors left, going first to visit my family in Pasadena. I miss my family so much while I’m in France, it was just so great to see them. We also lucked out with amazing weather for our whole trip – it was sunny and warm without being too hot.
My dad, Barbara, my oldest friend Mary, me and my sister
Always gotta go to Houston's in Pasadena for the best ribs!
Favorite family pastime: Mexican Train and Bailey's!
After a great time in Pasadena, we went to stay at Hermosa Beach for a week enjoying some SoCal beach time. It was incredibly beautiful. We splurged for a house right on the Strand, and we just loved seeing the ocean through all our windows. Big sandy, empty (!) beaches and the gorgeous Pacific Ocean with plenty of dolphins – I never wanted to leave. I still feel in my heart that I’m meant to live at the beach somewhere. Some day…
Hermosa Beach view out my bedroom window
Wet burrito and Racer 5 = heaven!
Beautiful sunset seen while sitting on our front porch area
Thank goodness the ice cream man came by so I could indulge in my favorite - Sno Cone!
The girls stuck with Bomb Pops - another fave
Can never get too much time playing in the sand

Next on the agenda was to take Rach & Claire to sleep-away camp in Santa Cruz. We spent 1 night in Santa Cruz, dropped them at camp and then Sean & I headed to Burlingame. From there Sean went off to Japan on a business trip, and I stayed with friends. While S was in Japan that week, I took the chance to get up to Sonoma County with friends for some relaxation and tasting of delicious California wines. Yes, I do enjoy French wines, but I also really love my California wines! I wish I could have brought a bunch of bottles back to France with me, but we managed to drink all the ones I bought before we headed back!
None of my shots turned out but it was fun going over the Golden Gate Bridge again
The peaceful beauty of Sonoma

Sean was able to get a little time off work so we spent another week in Burlingame seeing friends, running errands, eating foods we’ve missed and shopping. Getting in the last bits of California before we had to head back to France. It was amazing to us how easy everything is in California – you forget after being here in France for a while. Laundry only takes 1 ½ hours! How is that possible? Stores are open every day, often all night long. Service people are eager to help you. We could get spice in our food! :-)

New haircuts all around

Yes, burgers and sweet potato fries are on our list of things we miss!
It was sad to say goodbye once again to our family and friends, but it was time to head back to our French lives. We came back 1 week before school started to make sure we had time to get over our jet lag and adjust beforehand. The girls were also eager to see their friends, find out their classes – as was I. It was almost like starting over here again – this time being here at the beginning of the school year! I’ve got more volunteer work with the school this year, so will be kept very busy. I’ve already had so much fun with my friends here in France, that I do think this will be a better year. If we had to do it all over again, I don’t think I would have moved mid-year. I think I would have sucked it up & waited until this fall. But c’est la vie – what’s done is done. La rentrée is also like New Year’s Eve – a time to start anew. We are doing our best to embrace our life here as we recognize how fortunate we are to have this opportunity. We will still miss home and all our friends and family, but our lives here can be pretty darn amazing. Time to enjoy la vie à la française!
Back in Paris with friends from school


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Paris at Night

There is something about viewing Paris from a spot on the Seine that is just so magical. We were lucky enough to be invited to a private party that was held on a boat cruising the Seine one June night. Sean & I went out to dinner together first at a café on the Place des Vosges and then walked over to the boat area. What a great night - friends, music, drinks, dancing - the whole experience was magical. The weather cooperated for the cruise, so we were able to spend plenty of time out on the boat deck just soaking in the views of Paris. It was amazing. I highly recommend to anyone coming to visit, that on one of your last nights, you do a cruise on the Seine to see the city all lit up. It's hard during the summer as the sun doesn't fully set & things don't light up until 10:00, but it is so worth staying out late for. On nice nights, people hang out along the banks of the Seine & you can wave back & forth. The famous monuments take your breath away as you see one after another lit up so beautifully. You can really appreciate why Paris is called the City of Lights. Unfortunately my pictures didn't turn out that well - you'll just have to come see it for yourself! Your room is waiting...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Feeling blue...

This is a hard time of year for me in general, and this year it has been especially so. My brother and mother both celebrated birthdays in May so I always think of them and how much I miss them and wonder about all the things we missed out on. My brother would have been 50! He probably would have a wife and kids… So a funk is not unexpected, but still not appreciated. I especially worry about the blues when I think about my mom. I know it’s not possible that I inherited her manic-depression since I was adopted, but I’m always hyper aware of my emotions and worry about them. Growing up around someone experiencing those horrible depressions and crazy manic stages heightens awareness of any mood swings. So even though I know I do not have her disease, I worry. I am generally a happy-go-lucky, easy-going person, so it freaks me out when I get so down and it lasts longer than a day. I know it will pass, I just have to be patient and accepting.

Being alone here in France makes it just that much more difficult. In some ways I think we should have waited until September to move to Paris. That way the girls could have finished out the whole school year, we could have spent more time with family & friends and enjoying our newly-remodeled house. We could have had more time to prepare (as if you can ever fully prepare!), and would have come in at the beginning of the school year with all the other new families. But I tend to forget how rough it was to have Sean living in another country and only able to come home for 1 week each month, and how my social life had already dwindled. When you are on your own, the invitations don’t flow your way as much, and you don’t feel like entertaining at your house on your own. I had a view of what life would be like as a single parent, and it’s not too bright when everyone around you is all coupled up. Note to self – divorce will not be fun! :-)

Moving to Paris in the middle of the school year has proven tougher than I imagined – for me. The girls have had no problem sliding right into life here! I have met so many wonderful and fun people here, but all the groups have already been established since the beginning of school and sometimes it feels like I’m intruding. I know that’s probably just me feeling that way, as everyone has been very welcoming, but there it is. The friends I spent time with at home have been my friends for many years, and I forgot how hard it can be to make new, close ones. And here, we don’t have the luxury of time as people move in and out due to work all the time. My friends at home know me so well, I always feel comfortable being exactly who I am. Here sometimes I feel like I am on a job interview – worrying that I’m on my best behavior, saying the right things, trying to get people to understand who I am, hoping not to feel like the odd woman out. Again, I know it’s just me as everyone here is very nice and wonderful. Most of the time I am fine and having a blast, but sometimes it just feels hard and I feel alone - especially with Sean gone so much.

At home we had plans most weekends with friends. Either going out to dinner, a bar, a movie, over to someone’s house for burritos & dominoes, or having people to our house. Here we are much more insular on the weekends and I miss hanging with friends. Howard House made it so easy to have people over any time we wanted. The nice, open kitchen, large family room, pool in the backyard, separate space for the kids – plenty of room for people to come eat, play and hang out. Chez Way here in France is not as amenable to having people over – the main living space is much smaller, and the kitchen is tiny and removed from the family room. All this makes it harder to hang with and cook for friends. We need to get better about dealing with it and figuring out a way around. Things here are similar to home – not very many people invite others to their houses for dinner (or whatever), and since there are no real “bars” in the ‘burbs, if we want to hang with friends, we will have to invite them over here.

I also miss our parties. Man I used to love throwing parties. Not sure I’ll ever get to that here (due to space and missing ingredients), so just another thing to miss.

Sean keeps asking me why I’m so bummed out right now and I don’t have a straight answer. If I did, I could figure out how to deal with it and move on. Part of it is the family situation I mentioned above, but I know that’s not the whole story as I did most of my grieving at the beginning of the month. Part of it is the fact that I’m annoyed with myself for being such a sensitive wuss about making friends here, I’m disappointed in myself that I have not done the language learning I had promised myself I would & my French sucks, and I’m tired of being injured and not being able to figure out a way to workout and not get hurt. The possible future I’m facing is freaking me out as well. R&C have informed me that they do not want to go back to the US for high school. They would like to move to another country after 6th grade (so many of their friends here have lived all over the world), and then maybe come back to ASP for high school. On the one hand I am so happy to hear this. I am so proud of how flexible and quick to adjust they are, and that they can see the benefits of their current life. The school here is great and the opportunities they will have are just amazing. On the other hand I am freaked to think I might not return home to my family, friends & beloved house any time soon. Sean’s work is going well, the kids are happy - I think I’m the only one who misses home so much. I know I can’t think that far into the future as who knows how things will change each year, but it’s wild to think we could be living in Europe for the next 7 years!

Sorry that this post is not full of fun, happy news. We are off to a bbq tonight and going to a private party on a boat on the Seine tomorrow night (I know – what he h*** am I so down about!), so I’m sure I will snap out of my funk, become re-energized and ready to embrace this experience. Allow me this moment of weakness – I’ll write about the wonders of living in France soon enough!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Louvre and BBQ

Last Saturday (May 5th, 2012) we enjoyed a very fun and special day in Paris. My friend L had contacted a woman who arranges scavenger hunts at the Louvre ( and asked if she could do one for a group of families. We all met at the museum, divided into teams of adults and kids (separating some family members to mix things up), were given maps of the museum, rules, and our package of items to find. Each item was worth a certain number of points, information/history about each piece of art was also given to educate, and sometimes teams could get extra points by doing something special (ie getting all 4 corners of a very large painting in the photo). We agreed on a finish time and place, and we were off. This was our first visit to the Louvre since moving to France (though we have been other times we’ve visited), and it was an interesting way to see it. Trying to find where the items were was challenging, as was keeping the kids interested. It was fun, though tiring racing around, looking for items and viewing amazing art on the way. I forgot how hot the Louvre always is! I probably saw different art than I would have on my own as I got to parts of the museum I may have never visited. It was a great experience and a lot of fun.

 Since we were in Paris, why not go to dinner? It was Cinco de Mayo and I had planned on dinner at Fajitas – a good Mexican restaurant in the 6e. But when we checked on adding more people, we soon realized there was not going to be room for all who wanted to join. So we went to a Texas BBQ joint instead where we proceeded to take over the entire restaurant. Luckily we were on the earlier side, so we weren’t inconveniencing any French people (they would arrive for dinner at the normal late hour after we had already left).

We all took the metro together from the museum to the restaurant. On the way we were treated to a metro station performance by an entire orchestra - they music was wonderful and the kids loved it!

 The restaurant is called Blues Bar-B-Q ( and is located in the 11e. We were happily surprised with the taste and quality of the food, and loved that there were pitchers of beer and even margaritas available. We squeezed in around all the tables and managed to squeeze (& I mean squeeze!) most of the adults (13 total) around a bunch of tables that we lined up, and left the kids (21 total) to the booths & other tables. The 5th grade girls quickly decided they were too cool and went to sit outside at the sidewalk tables on their own. 5th grade boys soon followed (separate table of course!). They didn’t seem to mind that it was raining out. The gal running the restaurant wisely brought the kids their food first, though we worried what would happen when they were done & we were still eating!

As the noise level grew louder in the restaurant (as more beer was consumed by the adults), more & more kids starting heading out to the sidewalk when they were done eating. At this point the rain was coming down harder and all the kids were having a blast playing in it. The adults were having a blast staying warm, drinking beer and enjoying ribs, sausage, brisket, cornbread, Mac & cheese, Texas beans, etc. The food tasted delicious and the company was great. Add in the fact that there were no French people around to be appalled at the way our crazy American children (& dads) were acting, and we were in foreigner heaven…

On our way to catch the metro home, we all had a blast running in the rain, searching for shelter. I have to say that was one of the best times in the rain I’ve had as an adult. It was just so much fun to see everyone laughing & enjoying themselves. A truly successful day/night. Thank you for organizing L!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Trip to Burgundy – Day 2 (Sunday Feb 26, 2012)

Given how quiet Burgundy is at this time of year, we knew that it would be even more so on a Sunday when many things are closed. Therefore we did not have much on our agenda other than visiting the local market in Semur-en-Auxois and having lunch at Restaurant Bernard Loiseau– a restaurant in Saulieu.that has been awarded 3 Michelin stars.

We slept in as long as we wanted, got ready (what a great shower our rental house had!) and headed up into Semur. This time we walked around the bottom of the hill to find the road up to the main village entrance. We kept our eyes open for an open boulangerie as we were pretty hungry, and really, who can resist fresh baked goods for breakfast? We saw one on our way but decided to wait and see what the market in the village center would provide.

 It was a very small market – only about 15 vendors or so. Didn’t take us long to walk through it. Knowing we were going to have quite the lunch and not knowing if anything would be open for dinner, we decided to make it a cheese, salami & bread kind of night. We stopped by the fromagerie truck 1st to pick out some cheese. The cheese man was super friendly and kept giving us tastes of cheeses. We ended up with a yummy Comte that he recommended, Roquefort, Époisse (the local stinky cheese you sometimes can’t travel with), and a Brie. Cheese in hand, we wandered off to find some fresh bread and croissants. We ended up heading back to the bakery we had seen earlier and got 2 loaves of bread and croissants. The dogs were wanting some too.

 After dropping our stuff off at the house, it was time to head to Saulieu where we would be dining at Relais Bernard Loiseau, a Michelin 3 star restaurant. We arrived in town a bit early and wandered around. Another cute French town with fantastic buildings. While walking, we realized a big mistake we had made – we had forgotten to pick up a bottle of wine to go with our bread & cheese dinner. Looking at all the closed stores, we realized that was truly a big mistake to make on a Sunday when most things are closed. Luckily there was a boutique associated with the restaurant that was open, so we were able to pick up a couple of bottles. Whew!

We were very nervous about our meal at Bernard Loiseau as we are not the most adventurous eaters and often, fancy restaurants are full of things we can’t/won’t eat. But we figured we needed to give it a try. The restaurant is located inside a “hotel”, and they seated us at a little table in a lounge area when we arrived. We wondered if it was like waiting in the bar for your table to get ready, but they served us an apertif and some snacks, so I think it was part of the whole process. Indeed they give you the menus while you are in this area, and you place your order there. We sat and enjoyed the apertif and snacks, though neither of us could bring ourselves to try the snail. Noticing we looked a little lost while looking at the menu, a very nice waiter came over to explain things in English for us. As usual, there was a lot of shellfish we couldn’t eat, and other things, but there were quite a few items we could choose from. And for once, I could actually enjoy the tasting menu as it wasn’t full of shellfish or pig parts! Sean ordered a green salad and fish, and I got the tasting menu. We ordered a half bottle of wine (since Sean was driving) to enjoy with our lunch. That is one thing I love about France – so many wonderful options of half-bottles of wine.

They have an apertif in the Burgundy region made with a type of white wine called Aligot and Crème de Cassis liqueur (a regional specialty) – you must try it if you ever see it on the menu. The apertif the restaurant served was similar to this with the addition of some sort of chocolate liqueur, and made with champagne instead of Aligot. It was very tasty though chocolate before my lunch was little too sweet - I would have enjoyed it more without the chocolate. It is similar to a kir royale if you have enjoyed one of those. They served gougéres with it that are another Burgundian specialty – delicious little bready cheese puffs. I have made these for parties before, but these ones were so light and delicious, we could have eaten 100 of them!

 After we placed our orders, they brought another plate for each of us composed of 3 different items – a crisp with cheese, a smoked salmon and fish egg item, and then the aforementioned snail crusted in something (sorry, can’t remember what). Again, very tasty and so nice to have as a start to our meal. When we were finished with the drinks and snacks, they brought us to our table in the dining room to begin our meal. They offered us bread served with 2 different choices of delicious butter (have I mentioned how yummy the butter in France is?) and salt. Wow – that bread and butter & salt combo was to die for. We had to remind ourselves that we had more food coming, or we would have stuffed ourselves with bread.

To start, Sean had ordered his green salad special as there was no simple entrée (in France entrée = starter/appetizer) that appealed to him. Unfortunately the salad the chef made for him wasn’t very exciting, and was full of the lettuce that we find a little too spindly. It had a very simple oil and vinegar dressing and tasted fine, but definitely not 3-star worthy. My entrée was a mushroom soup with some foie gras and foam - I finally was ready to try some foie gras. Boy was it delicious! It was slightly seared and just so creamy and delicious with every bite of soup. The portions were small versus American sizes, but just right. Left you not too full and still wanting a little bit more. As a watcher of the show “Top Chef” I enjoyed my experience with foam! 

The fish portion of my menu was served next. Sean got to just eat bread and relax while I ate this course. It consisted of 2 different preparations of a white fish. One was simply steamed with a rutabaga reduction sauce. This had a nice soft texture, but the flavoring was very bland. I definitely felt that I had made better fish myself, but I like strong, bold flavors. Steamed fish is also my least favorite preparation method as I prefer grilled or sautéed. The other fish item was absolutely delicious. Another piece of white fish (brandade) coated in a sesame-gnocchi mixture served on a puree that was so flavorful I couldn’t stop eating it once I started.

Next came our main dishes – Sean’s was a delicious Bernard Loiseau classic – sautéed whitefish served on cooked shallots in a red wine sauce. It was very light and yet very flavorful. The fish was cooked perfectly and was a nice size. My next course was a lovely piece of beef (wish I could remember exactly what cut it was) served also in a red wine sauce with cabbage and the always-present piece of lardon/bacon. The meat fell apart it was so tender, and the sauce was rich and yummy. I’m not a huge cabbage fan, but I ate some of the side and it was fine. Still not my favorite vegetable!

Dessert, oh dessert. Gotta love the fancy desserts. We both went chocolate – all the way. Sean’s dessert was an incredible work of art with so many different types and presentations of chocolate that we lost count. It was hard to figure out where to even begin to eat this beauty. But eat it we did. Parts of it we enjoyed more than others, but overall, we loved both our desserts – worth the experience! In addition to our 2 chocolate desserts, they served us each a plate with 3 little chef desserts on them. They also were quite beautiful and more fruit-flavored which was a nice change from all the chocolate. Sean couldn’t even begin to eat his 3, but I felt I owed it to the chef to eat all of mine. J They were lemon, strawberry, and some other fruity deliciousness.

All in all it was a fantastic lunch. Some of the dishes were better than the others, and it is not an inexpensive proposition, but it was well worth it. The entire experience was very delightful – fine French dining in a friendly and inviting atmosphere. Bernard Loiseau’s widow even came to chat with us and say hello. Of course she knows all of our great Bay Area chefs! It’s a sad story about Bernard Loiseau – he committed suicide a few years ago when he heard a false rumor that his restaurant was losing a Michelin star. The new chef manages to put his own imprint on the restaurant while still keeping the influence of the original master chef.

We drove home after our 3-hour lunch happy and full. We were glad that we had planned a mellow evening at home with just our cheese (yum!) and bread and wine. We napped, read, watched tv and just relaxed – true vacation mode.