Top Ten

Photo of the Eiffel Tower taken from our balcony on the day we moved back to the U.S.

Photo of the Eiffel Tower taken from our balcony on the day we moved back to the U.S.  Even Paris looks a little sad 🙁

Top Ten Things I Will Miss About Paris:

  1. The food (where do I begin? daily fresh baguettes, cheese, wine, escargots, pâtes…)
  2. The slower pace (i.e. long lunches, walking everywhere, no rushing)
  3. The challenge of daily living (true!): learning the language, understanding the culture, and other obstacles were actually invigorating and instrumental in personal growth
  4. The kindness of the French people
  5. The cheap and delicious wine
  6. The easy and accessible public transportation
  7. The international culture/diversity
  8. The expat community
  9. The arts and culture– surrounded by museums and monuments
  10. The beauty around every corner (as evidenced by the architecture)
  11. The light
  12. The Eiffel Tower
  13. My cozy and beautiful (rental) apartment
  14. Oh wait… I said it would be a Top Ten list. I could go on….


Top Ten Things I Am Enjoying About Being Back in the U.S.:

  1. My pets, friends and family!
    The kids are thrilled to reunite with Sophie!

    The kids are thrilled to reunite with Sophie!

    Our cat, Kiki

    Our cat, Kiki

  2. Customer Service.  It’s good to see it still exists. I had forgotten.
  3. Saran Wrap. TOTALLY better in the U.S.
  4. Air Conditioning
  5. Going back to work
    My view from the Edge set on WCCB-TV. Happiness :)

    My view from the Edge set on WCCB-TV. Happiness 🙂

  6. Krispy Kreme (a rare treat. but still)
  7. Wow– everything is easier here! (except doctors’ offices. Seriously, a 20 page form each time you visit?!! ugh)
  8. Barnes and Noble
    One of my happy places :)

    One of my happy places 🙂

  9. Living in a house with children vs. living in an apartment with children
    A backyard! Baseball!

    A backyard! Baseball!

    Fun with cousins

    Fun with cousins


    GO OUTSIDE, KIDS! I haven’t said that in a while!

  10. The movies. Complete with legit popcorn and cup holders. The French don’t eat in theaters (or sporting events). Which is probably why…. fill in the blank… they are skinnier than we are.


Top Ten Reverse-Culture Shock Moments (so far):

  1. The air conditioning. It is freezing me out. The kids and I are always shivering, everywhere we go. Can’t get used to it!
  2. The food is so… UGH. What used to taste great to me now seems bland at best, pollution at its worst.IMG_7234
  3. The noise. My ears are bombarded by television, radio, XM, conversation. And because it’s all in English, I hear everything.
  4. My house. It’s too big. The colors are too bright. And we have too much stuff.
    My makeup drawer. This is all the stuff I did NOT take to Paris. Which means I haven't used it (or missed it) in a year.

    My makeup drawer. This is all the stuff I did NOT take to Paris. Which means I haven’t used it (or missed it) in a year.

  5. Driving everywhere. It sucks. As I loaded school supplies into my SUV, I actually wished I had my little push-caddy and was walking home from the store. My husband says his SUV feels like a tank.
    Kate in Scott's "tank"

    Kate in Scott’s “tank”

    The first time I got behind the wheel in 13 months. I took a photo in case it was our last.

    The first time I got behind the wheel in 13 months. I took a photo in case it was our last.

  6. Television. I have my beloved 500 channels back, and sadly, disappointingly, there’s nothing to watch.  (except WCCB of course 😉
  7. Strangely, I am surprised to see so many people in workout clothes/loungewear. I can’t wait to unpack mine.
  8. Dang, people actually do their hair here. I knew that reprieve wouldn’t last.
  9. In a city with a zillion mega-grocery stores, I’m still looking for good bread…
  10. Everything seems so cheap here (compared to Paris). I went out to eat with my kids and the bill was $16. I called the waitress over and told her she’d made a mistake, and left the kids’ meals off the bill. Nope, all three meals were there. This same meal in Paris would have been easily 50 euros (more than $60).

Paris By the Numbers

Our family has just celebrated one memorable and enlightening year of living in Paris. During the last 365 days, I have traveled some, but have not been back to the United States. As we prepare to spend our last weeks in the City of Light, I thought I’d begin to process this experience by breaking it down statistically.


Scott and I celebrating Bastille Day in Paris: July 14, 2014.

This is us when we arrived-- our first day in Paris July 10, 2013.

This is us when we arrived– our first day in Paris July 10, 2013. Look at us! So skinny and sober. 😉

Paris By the Numbers

In the last year, here are the Number of Times I Have:

  • visited a museum: 78
  • seen someone urinating in public: 14
  • worn workout pants when not exercising: 1
  • exercised on purpose: 6
  • been to the gym: 0
  • driven a car: 0
  • seen drivers stop and nearly fist-fight: 5
  • had to schlep myself, children and groceries a mile or more due to a protest interrupting public transportation: 13
  • had a Coke or other soda: 2
  • eaten fast food: 1
  • been sick: 2.5
  • tried a cigarette: 1
  • wanted to have a cigarette: 25 (sorry, it’s not p.c., but these French women are very chic)
  • been to the top of the Eiffel Tower: 7
  • hosted visitors: 44  (total nights with houseguests: 96!!)
  • swooned over living in Paris: 365
  • watched any Real Housewives episodes: 0  (brain cells regenerated: 6 million)
  • missed air conditioning: 20
  • been laughed at for attempting to speak French: 3
  • drunk wine: 335
  • eaten cheese: 365
  • eaten baguettes: 365
  • felt guilty about eating bread and cheese 0
  • worn Spanx: 3
  • pounds gained: 11
  • regrets: 0

Here are a few more statistics for you, from a good tourist website (with an English option).  In Paris, there are:

No less than: 173 museums, 37 bridges, 31 monuments, 3 opera houses, 171 churches and temples, 208 theatres and cabarets, 20 covered passageways, 84 cinemas, 14 cemeteries, 108 Wallace fountains, 463 parks and gardens.  (from


More posts to come… thanks for reading.  Merci!

Haters Gonna Hate

photoI need to offer you, Facebook family, un grand merci. You have tolerated (and even “liked”) my 8,000 pictures of the Eiffel Tower. You have even sweetly indulged every wheel of Brie, loaf of baguette, and bottle of Bordeaux that has fascinated me since moving to Paris last year (and it’s not over yet!). But most of all, you have not sent me hate-mail for something called “living my life.” I’m writing to you now because there is a matter that has put a bee in my beret. We have a fairly tight little group of ex-pat Americans here in the City of Light. And I’m sad to say that many of them (if not most) have been downright persecuted by family and so-called friends for moving here (and then posting pictures of their lives here). They’ve been called “selfish” and “insensitive” for daring to move where their bosses asked them to. It just happens to be Paris. Would they be called “selfish” and “insensitive” if they were transferred not to Paris, but to Pittsburgh? I think not. Some of the people I know here actually sought a job in Paris (gasp!). Can you imagine?!! They actually said something like, “Ms. Boss Woman, if ever a job opportunity arose in Paris within our company, I would like to be highly considered for it.” And then, shockingly, they got the job they wanted! Quelle horreur!  I am actually shocked– by my own ability to still be shocked by haters. When people who live in Paris post photos of their cute kids on Spring Break, it is the same thing as your cute kids on Spring Break, just on a different continent. It takes us the same amount of time to get to a beach in say, Spain, as it does for you to go to Myrtle Beach. We can be in London in the same amount of time (and for about the same amount of money) as it takes you to drive to Boone. This is the reality of living in Western Europe. Is it fantastic and amazing? Of course it is– that’s why we all want to share it with people we care about. I just don’t understand the people who are threatened by this (not you guys, beautiful readers!). If gorgeous pics of faraway places are too much to take, that’s what the “scroll down” button is for.  I can’t cook… like, at all. So imagine how distraught and threatened I feel each night when I read Facebook and see everything you all are having for dinner. Perhaps I should fire off a “food-shaming memo” along the lines of this: “Dear Friend and Chef, How can you be so insensitive as to post pictures of your meals day after day? You know I can’t cook. You know I’ll never be able to cook. I will probably not even EAT a meal that looks like that, much less ever cook one. Do you ever think about my feelings when you post these pictures? I know this is your passion and what you’re good at, but you posting all these pictures of your meals is offensive and frankly, smacks of bragging. I think you should strongly reconsider your posts, and from this point on, only post non-offensive things, like photos of clouds.”  It’s ridiculous.  Look, we all post edited versions of our own realities on Facebook. But it’s still reality. I’m no different, so let me be totally honest: Never once (despite your voiced-disbeliefs) have I edited or filtered a shot of the Eiffel Tower! It always looks that good! But you can bet every single picture of me has had the Barbara Walters treatment. The more filters, the better!  The point is, real, everyday reality is kinda boring. Unless it’s funny. So, just so you don’t think life in Paris is all champagne and chocolate, here is a snapshot of 30 minutes in our day today:

I'm so happy! Trying out Paris's Velib bike-sharing program.

4:45 pm- I’m so happy! Trying out Paris’s Velib bike-sharing program.


5 pm- Rode our bikes to the Champ de Mars to pick up the kids! Two minutes later, a 6 year old criminal-in-training tried to pickpocket Scott. 🙁


5:05 pm- Never mind, it’s ok.. kids got to attend a birthday party by the Eiffel Tower. Cool!


5:15 pm-  A few minutes later, a full-on meltdown, because even though he GOT a dinosaur in his goody bag, it wasn’t the RIGHT dinosaur.

So… it’s the same everywhere. Pretty days happen. Kids go to birthday parties. You ride bikes. Perhaps you don’t get pickpocketed in Charlotte. Kids have meltdowns over plastic dinosaurs. C’est la vie. That’s life– whether you’re in Paris, or Pittsburgh.  #nohaters


One time a few years ago, I was taking a casserole to a friend who had unexpectedly lost her sibling in a tragic and early death. As I drove down her quiet, tree-lined avenue in Charlotte, I noticed on one side of the street a stork yard sign and a pink wreath adorning one house, announcing the happy arrival of little Sophia Jane.  My friend’s house was just opposite, unmarked by the monumental life change that had also occurred behind her front door. In years past, I had always seen those baby wreaths and storks and felt a little jump of excitement for the new parents. I thought “what wonderful news!” and “how exciting” and maybe, sometimes, said a prayer of joy for the family celebrating inside.  This time I thought, how unfair that a family, my friend’s family, had suffered their own earthquake but was suffering in silence, in anonymity. The passers-by on this street had no idea of the agony that was being endured inside that house. No black wreath marked the door, no sign announced the passing of a young life. No one knew to pray as they passed that house of grief.

Tonight I am sleepless with sorrow for my friend Meg McElwain in Charlotte. Many of you know her; others have followed her journey through Facebook or her remarkable guest blog for the Charlotte Observer. Tonight she mourns the death from cancer of her baby son, Mitchell. As I write this, “mourns” seems so impotent. Isn’t there a word more violent that could capture a mother’s anguish in the death of her child? There is no doubt Meg and all who loved little Mitchie have a long and miserable journey ahead of them. If only people who passed their home knew the pain behind their closed curtains. Someone once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Let me also add, even the people you don’t meet are fighting hard battles, tucked inside their homes, closed off from the outside world, hurting and healing. Remember them as you go about your day, even if there is no black wreath on the front door.


You know how doctors say that you should use both sides of your brain to ward off Alzheimer’s and stuff like that? Like, as you age you should learn a new skill like knitting or Sudoku. Well, based on this move to France, I should live to be 100 with every memory intact. My brain is sufficiently stretched. And perhaps even strained. Here are some things I’ve had to make room for in my 40 year-old brain:


A new language (French, of course)

A new money system (the Euro)

Writing out a French check — i.e. deux cent quarante trois euros, vingt centimes

(and also they use commas instead of decimals, and vice-versa. That’s a scary mix-up!)

Converting Celsius to Fahrenheit

The metric system- measuring in meters, etc. (should have paid attention in 3rd grade)

How much I weigh in kilos (I love this one- it makes me feel skinny)

How to work crazy public toilets

Washing clothes, Drying clothes, the oven (all of these have settings that don’t translate to our common settings—they’re all new to me)

IMG_4413 IMG_4414 IMG_4416

Metric measurements for cooking

A huge public transportation system and corresponding maps

Getting cash out of an ATM in French

Using the 24h clock for telling time. All times read like this, for example: School Party: 14h30.  Huh??

ALL NEW codes and numbers! Door codes, gate codes, ATM Pins, cell phone number, home number, Wifi code, favorite TV channels, bus lines, credit card number, my address!


That’s a lot of numbers, people.

Heads up, people: We’re moving to FRANCE

Over the years, when Scott and I talked about living overseas, we did it in the same way you’d talk about one day visiting New Zealand: it was fun to dream about, and may not ever happen.  I never studied abroad as a student; Scott had studied at Oxford in England for a short time. (I kind of thought that didn’t count as far as living abroad goes—I mean they speak the same language!) Traveling was not a foreign concept; many of my summers were spent with my grandparents while my parents traveled abroad, mainly to Europe. And occasionally, I got to go, too. My first trip to Europe was when I was fifteen. I turned 16 in Paris. I never would have dreamed I’d live there one day.


The next time I’d go to Paris I’d be in my 30s, having spent other trips to France visiting the beaches in the south.  Scott and I went over for our tenth wedding anniversary in June of 2011.  We rented an apartment for the week, instead of staying in a hotel. Our apartment was in the 5th arrondissement, the Latin Quarter, just steps away from where Hemingway used to live with Hadley.  We walked everywhere and took the métro to and from dinners out. We ate crêpes on the street and really talked about what it would be like to live in Paris.  And so we decided to make it happen.


Our "We're Moving" card

Our “We’re Moving” card!

First it started with conversations with other Americans who had done it—packed up, moved schools, and shipped their families overseas. Then we talked to Kate’s school in Charlotte about a good timeline. We were thinking maybe 6 or 7 years in the future. They urged us to move up our date, to travel when the kids were in elementary school. And so the planning began.  First, Scott had to figure out a way to work.  Over the next two years, he would help to streamline his company and sell off ancillary projects, thus allowing him the flexibility to work from overseas.  Then, we all signed up for French lessons. As a family, we studied at École du Samedi, a wonderful school in Charlotte offered on Saturday mornings. We met French natives and also Francophiles who gave us lots of advice.  Scott and I also took lessons from Carolina Language Academy under our wonderful teacher, Liz Bertrand.


Then, we applied for visas, a huge undertaking that took months, about 400 pages of documents, and a last minute trip to the consulate’s office in Atlanta.  Finally, the visas were in hand and the plane tickets bought. Then came: How do you pack for a year??



We rented a furnished apartment which included everything from sheets and towels to salt and pepper. So all we really needed to bring were our clothes and some personal items. Surprisingly, packing the kids was easy.  I knew they would outgrow their clothes in a year, so I either packed it or donated it. When we left Charlotte, their closets were empty. As far as toys, they were allowed to bring only what would fit in their roll-on carryon luggage. I couldn’t believe they agreed to this.

Packing myself was harder. I had a great group of friends come over one night. First, we cleaned out my fridge and pantry and they took all my perishables.  Then, we played dress-up in my closet and made all kinds of mix-and-match outfits to take me through a year in Paris—four seasons, and no real closets.

It was challenging to narrow it down, to say the least.  But as we got ready to leave, we each had a carry on suitcase, and we pre-shipped 8 large duffel bags and one box of books.

What we packed for a year in Paris.

What we packed for a year in Paris.


We arrived in Paris and our stuff arrived a few days later.

This might be a post for a different time, but people ask, “Do we miss all our stuff that fills a house back in Charlotte.” Short answer: Nope.  More on that, later.





Enfants Terribles

What do you get when you take two little kids and move them to a foreign country where they know no one, don’t speak the language, and dislike the food?  Enfants terribles.


Les Enfants Terribles

Les Enfants Terribles

Moving to Paris sounds like all wine and roses, but it has not been without challenges; for me, a huge one has been my kids. We knew it would be stressful leaving Charlotte (and most of our stuff) behind. But, you say, kids are resilient! Kids are adventurous! Ha.

Let’s start at the beginning. Our kids’ ages at the time we decided to move (4 and 6 at the time—now they are 6 and 8) worked in our favor. Too young to know they have an opinion. If they do have an opinion (contrary to ours as parents), it’s overruled. That part was simple—there was no backlash on the moving itself. Next, narrow down toys to only what would fit in half of a carry-on—basically about 3 each.  A few tears were shed over that until they realized we would get them a few new things here (like Legos and some French books). New toys always trump old toys. Now, joy of all joys: the overseas, overnight flight.  I dreaded it like… well, like anyone who has to fly overseas with two kids. I had already experienced it once: last year we took the kids to Paris for their first visit. That flight was a NIGHTMARE. And it was a living nightmare because we, and the people all around us, got no sleep. We had explained to the kids ahead of time the OOE (Order of Events). There would be boarding (you MUST buckle your seatbelt), dinner, a little TV time, and then sleep.  Sweet Kate followed all the rules, as firstborns typically do, and promptly settled in for a nap. Then there’s Charlie. Charlie didn’t like his seat. He didn’t want to wear his seatbelt. He didn’t like the food. He wanted the TV ON ON ON. Lots of raised voices (him) and SHUSHING (me). I practically kissed the ground when we landed in Paris.

This time around, I came (better) prepared. In other words, I didn’t care what he did or what he ate as long as he was quiet. So, Charlie ate candy for 9 hours and watched 9 hours of TV. Tom and Jerry over. And over. And over.  (A side note: I think this is where my previously “responsible parenting” style of only allowing tiny amounts of sweets and limited TV backfired. They sat in front of the airplane TV for 9 hours like crack addicts.)  My husband especially enjoyed this flight, because he slept the entire way (did he cheat on me and take an Ambien??) while I made at least 17 trips to the lavatories with varying kids.


At last, Paris. We landed around 7am local time, which is 1am Eastern time. Everyone was exhausted (except Scott). We had to clear customs, get baggage (we shipped most of our luggage separately), install boosters in a cab, and head to our new home. There, we find the “inspection” about to commence (before we can move in). Kids must stay up another 3 hours before being allowed to explore, and then crash in, their new rooms.  Just for reference, it takes kids this age about a week to fully recover from jetlag. Combine that with the fact that the sun was not setting in Paris until nearly 11pm and it was like having a newborn again.

Anyway, once we got settled in our apartment, I naïvely figured it would be smooth sailing for the kids. But both were harboring some pretty intense anxiety about the move. Both were worried about the new school (and for Charlie, this was “big school”—he was starting kindergarten. Transitioning from a school day of 9-12:30 to 8:30-4:30.). There were lots of tears weeks before school even started. In addition, Charlie had persistent anxiety about not being able to speak French. Everywhere we went, he would worriedly ask me, “Will they speak English? What if I can’t understand them? What if I get lost?”  The getting lost thing was something we had talked about. Paris is a city of 2 million people. It is the most visited city in the world. We don’t have a car and take public transportation everywhere (bus and métro). So I didn’t want to scare the kids, but Kate and Charlie needed to understand how important it was to stay with us at all times.

We experienced some pretty big regressive behaviors on all fronts. Kate’s worrying made her introverted and moody. She exhibited some fidgety behaviors. Charlie’s anxiety and fear manifested itself in nearly daily mega-tantrums and meltdowns. Those of you who know him will find that hard to believe about my sweet, laid-back boy. But he tested my patience so much I would have to take a parenting time-out so I wouldn’t toss him into the Seine.

Charlie most frequently acted out on the streets. When something (anything) set him off, he would pull out of my grasp and run away. It became a game to him– but for me it was terrifying, as several times he was swallowed up by crowds of people walking near the Eiffel Tower, or he came perilously close to stepping in front of a city bus. Once I caught him I would hold his arm so tightly I was afraid I’d leave finger marks. I would get looks of pity mixed with disgust from passersby.

Two separate times, when he was only mildly misbehaving, I had people tell me how awful my kids were. Even in French, I understood. Instead of enjoying this beautiful new city, I dreaded going out.

Inside our apartment was no better. My stress was compounded by the fact we are in a large apartment building, surrounded on all by sides by French neighbors who would probably like to see us deported. Even on good days I am asking the kids to lower their voices. It is quite different than being in a single family home, where screaming and stomping I can just ignore if needed.

So, ready for the happy ending yet?!! Things are MUCH better. School, while exhausting for the kids, provides some needed structure—and playmates. Charlie now revels in the multi-culturalness of his school and how many different languages are spoken.  As parents, we are challenged to Keep Calm and Carry On. We adopted some new parenting techniques via Love and Logic. Mainly, picking our battles. Kids won’t eat dinner? OK. Not my problem. They won’t wear their coats? OK. They might get cold!  The kids also get an allowance now and that has (mostly) ended the “gimmes” when we go out. “Of course you should get that doll/Lego/toy/whatever!  How long will it take you to save for it?” And, finally, we slowed our pace and gave them more down-time. I realized I had broken my own sleep-training rules and Charlie was not getting enough rest.

They are also feeling more confident living in this city. They know the names of our bus stop, the codes for our building, and how to find our apartment.  We still have our moments (I broke up a shoving match between them today IN CHURCH) but here’s hoping 2014 will be the year of Enfants Magnifiques.