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 insuring a car, renting an apartment, and equipping said apartment with a stove, fridge, dishwasher, and washing machine–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. While there, I’d yell at my younger self: Write a book! Become a doctor! Watch 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.
I am happy to be in France. And I’m excited to be blogging. 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.
Our time in France 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 neighborhoods, parks, and playgrounds–and we found some fun spots. 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.
That “something else” began to take shape in my mind on a cold, rainy February morning as we drove our rental car toward the French Alps for a day trip. Having grown up in the Northeast, camping and hiking in “gentle” mountains, I could. not. wait. to see the gnarly, snow-covered peaks I knew solely from desktop themes. Also, Ben needed to get into the woods. Stat. At an age when digging and exploring the natural world took priority, his excavating large chunks of earth from Lyon’s mostly manicured confines wasn’t exactly ideal. He needed to be outside outside.
I was thinking about all of this as we as we trudged from Lyon’s center through city outskirts, past 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 way too similar to leaving NYC by car for the weekend–in a word: PAINFUL.
And I realized why I wasn’t falling for Lyon. If we weren’t in NYC, I wasn’t sure why we needed be in a city at all. After a decade-plus in Brooklyn, we had the perfect opportunity to try something new, to live somewhere with easy access to more than city parks and pigeons. I envisioned a place with forests, including skiing to get through what it turns out are perpetually gloomy French winters.
Naturally, having just arrived in Lyon, Shon didn’t love the idea of up and moving. But I wasn’t surprised when he warmed to the idea, either. After all, he’s the one who waxes poetic about raising chickens and bees in a backyard. (His dream. Not mine.)
So began the mission to find a new home, and over the course of a whirlwind few weeks, we explored the northern and southern Alps. We visited quiet hamlets and major, bustling hubs, like Chamonix. We drove through snowstorms and along brutally steep mountain-hugging roads. Tears were shed on some of these occasions, 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 an ounce about them (well, beyond that there’s no apparent connection between the mountains and the chocolate). I knew even less about Alsace, the northeastern department in which the Vosges are partly located. But the more I read about the area–the “half-timbered” houses, the vineyards, the mountains, 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’re surrounded by fields of grapes and tiny merchant towns from the 1500s. There are storks, cobblestone streets, and canals. Lots of pretzels, too, as the German border is 30 minutes away. Pine forests and skiing are just as close. It’s not exactly the great outdoors I envisioned–I’m not throwing open the windows every morning to see the Alps, which have a lockdown on dramatic landscapes–but with two little kids, Alsace feels easy. And right, for now. Also, driving here doesn’t make me cry.
That’s how we arrived in Alsace. We ended up in France because of work. Sort of. We could have stayed in New York, but as Shon’s job requires French and lots of time spent in Africa, and my work requires little more than a computer and internet access, we decided to give a France a go. What better place to learn French, make travel easier for Shon, and get fat on croissants? We picked up and moved.
(And anyone familiar with acquiring a long-term French visa knows that’s a big fat lie. But more on that later.)