About me (and the blog)
I rang in New Year’s 2018 mid-flight on Air France, and I’ve been in France ever since.
(Also, the lease on our family’s Brooklyn apartment was up at end of December, so we kind of had to move anyway. But that sounds way less dramatic.)
Fun fact: We–me, my husband Shon, and our two boys, Ben (4) and Jake (2), plus our dog–arrived knowing fewer than 50 words of French between us. Of those, the majority were farm animals and colors.
But good thing, since we moved to France to learn French! If we spoke the language, where would the challenge be in wrapping our heads around foreign visas, local school systems, buying and registering a car, renting an apartment, and equipping said apartment with a stove, fridge, and dishwasher–as most French kitchens, it turns out, offer up little more than a working sink, a shrug, and a “why make this easy for you?”
I started blogging a handful of years ago when Shon and I lived in Guatemala and traveled around Central America and Mexico. (My blog’s original name was Not Quite Roughing It.) We had the luxury of time and the power of the dollar, and there wasn’t a car seat, crib, or baby carrier in sight. How I’d love to spend a day in my former life now. I’d yell at my younger self: Write a book! Become a doctor! Watch WAY more of the Bachelor!
In 2014, we returned to Brooklyn and had two kids. I stopped blogging for the most part, which is unfortunate for two reasons. Posting would have motivated me to organize 86 million baby photos. And—despite assuming I’d age out of it eventually—I love New York. It’s stupid expensive and living there is totally impractical, but it’s my true north. Alas.
Of course, France is frigging France, and I’m so happy to be here. I’m happy to be blogging, too. See that whole organizing photos problem. Also, I like to write. It’s my job as a content creator, which you can learn more about here.
We moved to France for work. Sort of. Shon’s job requires French and lots of time spent in Africa. My work requires a computer and internet access. In an effort to learn French, make travel easier for Shon, and get fat on croissants, we decided to give France a go. We didn’t have to leave Brooklyn, but croissants.
Decision made, we picked up and moved. Easy peasy. (And if you’re familiar with acquiring a long-term French visa, you’re laughing long and loud. But more on that never, since visa talk is mind numbing.)
We live in Colmar, France, but our time here actually began in Lyon, a stunning city that could only fail to wow those with blinders on–in my case, blinders branded NYC. Our first few months in France’s second-largest city were spent exploring bakeries, parks, museums, and playgrounds–and we found a couple great neighborhoods that we could have called home. But constant cloudy skies and the nagging feeling that we should be doing something…else (because, obviously, moving to France from New York wasn’t enough), meant I never fell for Lyon. I recognized but felt numb to its greatness.
“Something else” began to turn into “somewhere else” one frigid, wet February morning as we drove a rental car toward the French Alps for a day trip. Having grown up in the U.S. Northeast, camping and hiking in what could only ever be described as “gentle” mountains, I could. not. wait. to see the Alps–those gnarly, snow-covered peaks I knew only from computer desktop themes.
Also, there was the issue of Ben. At three (then), he seemed intent on digging, exploring, and eating as much of the natural world as he could, basically becoming a baby-size Bear Grylls.
Ben: Can we eat flies?
Ben: I’m gonna eat a fly.
Meanwhile, his excavating large chunks of earth from Lyon’s mostly manicured confines in search of worms and treasure wasn’t exactly ideal. We needed to get him outside outside.
Alps-ho, we trudged from Lyon’s center through city outskirts, bland suburbs, and eventually onto a small Alps-bound highway where we ground to a halt, stuck in a line for tolls. All of which felt basically the same as leaving NYC for the weekend by car–in a word: PAINFUL.
And I realized why I wasn’t falling for Lyon. It was a city when I wasn’t sure we needed be in a city. After a decade-plus in Brooklyn, we had the chance to try something new, to live somewhere with easy access to more than city parks and pigeons. I imagined a place with dark skies at night, giant forests, and air that smelled like… I don’t know, fresh stuff. Most importantly, I envisioned skiing, as it turns out French winters are long and gloomy.
Little by little, I introduced the idea of “maybe moving…?” to Shon. Naturally, having just arrived in Lyon, he didn’t love the thought of up and leaving. But I wasn’t surprised when he warmed to the idea, either. He’s the one who waxes poetic about raising chickens and bees in a backyard.
And so began the mission to find a new home. Over the course of a whirlwind few weeks, we explored the northern and southern Alps, basically (in my head, at least) looking for the “Telluride of France,” which as it happens, produces nothing as a Google search term. We took turns (Shon would go on one trip; I’d handle the next) visiting quiet hamlets and major, bustling hubs, like Chamonix. There were snowstorms and brutally steep mountain-hugging roads. One of us (Shon? me? who can recall?) shed tears when death seemed imminent. It was an experience that taught me two things: The Alps are intimidating, overwhelming, and ominous in the most fantastic way. And I have no idea where we’d live.
Meanwhile, I love Vosges chocolate. So, naturally, I felt a connection to France’s Vosges mountains before I knew anything about them. (Well, beyond that there’s no obvious connection between the chocolate and the mountains). I knew even less about Alsace, the northeastern department in which part of the Vosges are located. But the more I read about the area–the “half-timbered” houses, the vineyards, the mountains (and skiing), the proximity to Germany’s Black Forest–the more I thought…maybe? A quick visit on Shon’s part, and here we are, in the town of Colmar. It was as abrupt a decision as it sounds.
We live in the historic district of Colmar, which is surrounded by fields of grapes and tiny merchant towns from the 1500s. There are storks on churches, cobblestone streets, and canals. Pretzels, too, as the German border is just 30 minutes away. It’s not quite the great outdoors I envisioned–there’s no throwing open the window for morning mountain yodeling (ironically, the area is actually perfectly flat, until you get to the Vosges, which, while visible from Colmar, are about 30 minutes away)–but there’s plenty of green space in and around town, and pine forests and skiing just beyond, to make this move feel like progress. It’s certainly NOT the Telluride of France, but with two little kids, Alsace feels easy and right, for now. Also, driving here doesn’t make me cry.