Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Only 12 Days?

Is it possible that we've only been in France for 12 days? We arrived on January 4 and today is the 16th so that  must be true. So much has happened though.
Early this morning I got a call from Grace missing us and in tears. Lots of this is hard.
It probably would be easier if I weren't still sick.
This morning, I thought I felt better. I even considered trying a short run -- remember that I often use runs to ward off illness. I thought it might clear the rest of the cold from my body. But, I reconsidered and instead suggested to Earl that we walk to Cezanne's atelier, his art studio, and then on up the hill for his view of Mont Sainte-Victoire, hopefully in time for the sunrise, which was scheduled for 8:07 according to my weather app.
As we walked, the equivalent of 37 stories up the hill, my body let me know this was a mistake. My energy waned and I really just wanted to go back to bed.
Plus, the sky was overcast and we couldn't see the mountain.

I saw it in May when I went running in Aix. This is the same vantage point as above but with sunshine and clear skies.

 We could wait for the sky to clear, Earl suggested, but the sweat that had built up under my shirt was starting to make my shirt stick to me, and I didn't want to sit still in the 44 degree weather. We started walking down the hill, and the rain began to fall. We stopped under a bus stop and looked at the routes and the cost. We could take a bus most of the way back. The routes suggested that it would be half an hour before a bus showed up, so we started walking again. Of course, the bus passed us a few minutes later. But the walk home was much easier than the 37 floors up.
Still, my energy was sapped probably for the day.
I slipped into a bath, which felt heavenly in the steamy bathroom, but when I stood up to get out, I remembered how draining baths can be. Then I really wanted to go lie down.
I'm sitting on the couch now with the sunshine and blue sky peeking through the garden and a well-behaved cat sleeping next to me.
At least I'm at a place where I can relax. I'm warm enough and there's plenty of sleep time available. I should heal quick enough if I stop overdoing it.

I knew things would look up eventually.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Meeting the Locals -- Brits

I woke up this morning, 4:45 a.m. to the whining of the dog who sleeps in his cage because he chews things when he's bored. I lay there for a minute in the dark and cold listening to his whines and his toenails scraping against the slick bottom of his kennel.
With my eyes open, I felt in the back of my throat a thick congestion. I cleared my throat but it returned immediately. I coughed and again the congestion returned. I closed my eyes. If only I could get up, go somewhere for a cup of hot tea or some decaf coffee, curl up with a book.
My nose picked up the scent from the floor below, wet dog, urine, and cat food. There was no place to go. Tears pricked at my eyes as Earl stirred.
"That's Marty," he said referring to the dog noise that continued.
"We'll take care of whatever mess he makes in the morning," I said, hoping I could go back to sleep.
"I'll check on him," Earl said between coughs.
I should have protested. He has been sick and is still coughing, but I let him shuffle out of bed, pull on shoes and climb down the spiral staircase to the dog kennel.
I heard him calling the dog outside after a bit. "Marty!" And then he whistled the dog whistle and I heard the door close firmly. A few minutes later, he climbed the stairs and climbed back into bed.
"He shit in his cage," Earl said. He had dragged the cushion out and replaced it with a worn dog bed in the living room. "Then he vomited outside."
A few minutes of silence followed.
"I left our breakfast pastries downstairs," he said. He'd placed the bags on a wine box on top of the counter. When we went downstairs, the bags and the pastries were scattered on the floor. There'd be no breakfast for us.
We dozed off and on, and when Marty began whining again at 7, I got up with him. He leaped over the Dutch door to race outside and relieve himself again.
But -- imagine the screeching of a record player needle. I need to stop the focus on the negative and share the positive.
The sun came out yesterday, lighting the sky and the fields.

We did some laundry and then went for a two and a half hour walk with Marty, following a path that wove through fields.
I wondered if we were in Ireland or France since the fields shone bright green in January.

We returned to the farm and I spent a few minutes with the mule.
Filou has been rolling in the mud. 
Then we prepared for dinner at some new friends' house. We met John and Kate (not plus 8) when John came to measure for a new fence at the farm. He is British and so is Kate. Kate married a Frenchman and moved to France. John brought his family to France because the property was so inexpensive. Both of them have since divorced and found each other. They showed up at the farm the other day and we drank an entire bottle of wine together while we talked in the middle of the afternoon.
They invited us to dinner, so we went.
What a relief to walk into their charming apartment with its red tomette tiles and silver chandelier. Kate admitted that they had spent the day cleaning since we were coming over and I protested that they hadn't need to do that, but it was such a relief from the filthy place we were staying. They had cleaned the couch that day and Kate worried that it might still be a bit damp, so we sat around the table, admiring John's sword collection on the wall and the Lord of the Rings figures arranged beneath. He even had a Smaug the Dragon wine aerator that he attached to the red wine, which we finished before moving on to the rose.
Kate had made pork pies for starters. Little pies cut into pieces stuffed with pork. Excellent.
For the main course, she made a pork roast stuffed with cheese in a delicious gravy and roast potatoes.
We promised to bring a dessert but were a bit disappointed in the pear tart we picked up at the patisserie. Next time we'll have to go earlier to find something chocolate.
We talked for a good three hours before we decided to make our way back to the animals. And, well, you know what happened overnight.
We knew some times in France would be difficult. I hope this is the hard part and that soon things are more tolerable.
Still, we're in France. We have all the time in the world to explore old villages
This is the village of Montmorillon -- allegedly the village of writers and bookmakers,
but it had no cafes where we could work and drink coffee. What do writers do in Montmorillon? 
 and sit at cafe tables wishing there was WiFi so we could work there.
Thanks for following along. Soon, I'll be in a place where I can write more and respond to your blogs rather than trying to escape a dirty house.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

France Profonde

So, we are still in the countryside -- for four days so far -only four more nights to go, or as we’ve come to call it, the liberation. We leave for the train station on Sunday morning, and you might get the impression that I'm eager to leave. It's true.
The animals are very sweet, but like animals everywhere, they need a lot of care.

Marty tears apart his bed when we put him in his cage, which we do whenever we leave and overnight. Last night two of the cats were fighting for dominance, and pour Hopi, who was a rescue dog just a few weeks ago, refuses to let anyone walk behind her. She's so nervous it just breaks my heart. She seemed mush more self assured before her owners left her with us. She probably didn't need another change.
The older dog Tinker is sweet and ratty. After we go for a walk, he always has some sort of twigs embedded in the gray hair of his legs and I have to pull it out. Marty is rambunctious. I've run with him some, but at the beginning of our walks, he's jerking my shoulder and pulling the leash out of my hand.
I thought things would improve after the cleaner arrived and spent two hours cleaning the main room -- the kitchen, dining room, living room. 

Now, I'm not sure what would make the room feel clean enough to eat in.
I have made coffee and drank that, but I haven't been able to bring myself to eat anything. So we go out for big lunches and let those tide us over for the entire day. So, yes, we have become typical retirees, eating one meal per day.
But those meals!
Yesterday we drove to Chauvingy, where there are five castles, many of them destroyed. 

They're from medieval times, or as I said to Earl, built by middle aged peoples. It was raining some, but we walked around to look at the ruins.
"I would not want to live down hill from that," Earl said, pointing out the stones that jut toward the sky.
Most places, like the artisans studios, were closed since it was a Tuesday in January. But we managed to find a creperie where we had lunch. We began with drinks (aperitifs). I had a Kir traditional, which is cassis syrup and white wine. Earl has pastis, which is licorice flavored alcohol. It comes out clear, but when you add water it turns a milky color. He's been fighting allergies (wonder why) so the alcohol really cleared him out.
We both ordered crepes.  I had ham, cheese and egg crepe.
We followed that with a green salad with vinaigrette and then a dessert. I got the "cafe gourmand" which is a sampler of desserts along with a cup of espresso. 

This one had a folded crepe, a scoop of raspberry sorbet then two little cups of hot fudge sauce with whipped cream (chantilly) and another of salted caramel sauce with whipped cream on top.
One of my issues with the dirty house is that I'm not drinking enough water. I don't even want to drink out of the glasses from the cabinet, so this morning, we just walked, showered and headed out of town to find lunch and then a cafe to work on our computers.
When talking to my friend Sheila earlier, I had told her the closest Starbucks was 56 miles away from us. Sheila and I usually walked and stopped at Starbucks.
Earl and I thought we would drive to a Starbucks, but we decided that would be too far, so we headed to Poitiers instead, about 40 kilometers away. The sun has come out for a bit.

Since we hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch, we headed to a restaurant.
Most French restaurants have a "Formule midi" or "Prix fixe" menu. For this one, we paid 13.50 Euros for a starter and a main course.
I had cauliflower soup. Earl had puff pastry with chorizo sausage pieces in the middle.
My main course was a thick piece of ham in a honey sauce along with au gratin potatoes. Earl had steak and fries.

Add to that our aperitifs -- pastis for him and kir traditional for me -- and a small pitcher of wine, plus a tea at the end of the meal and a cafe goumande for me. I feel certain I would have paid $70 or more for a meal like that in the U.S. Our total bill was 43.30 Euros.

Poitiers has a large cathedral, Notre Dame where there's a market. And it has some real history, like a Roman wall next to a Medieval tower.
And this building definitely looks like it was made by middle-aged people (lol).

We met some friends of the owners of our home. They're British too and they came tooling along the long lane as we set out to walk the dogs. They convinced us to return to the house where we shared a bottle of wine and talked about the animals and the living conditions. They've invited us to their house for dinner, so that should be a welcome escape.
At night, it gets dark here sooner than at home. We feel a bit trapped with all the animals, doing the nightly feeding and walks. We've been watching The Crown on Netflix until bedtime. Then we put all the animals to bed and go up the staircase to the cold second floor where we climb into bed. We're sleeping later and later. I hope it's not depression because of the living conditions.
Earl is coughing more and more and I'm not sure if its allergies or will turn into bronchitis as his illnesses frequently do. We better be careful or we’ll be going full La Bohème. 
Only four more days and we're headed to Aix en Provence where we hope to see the sun, I expect to get a manicure that will remove all the farm life from under my fingernails.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Still Dreaming of France -- Housesitting in France

Thank you for joining this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. (That's what I'm doing, although you may not envy me today)

It's here. Our first housesit.
For our trip, we have scheduled three housesits, two in France and one in England.
The first one is only a week long, which seems kind of a  pain, to travel there, schlepping along our numerous suitcases, getting from the train station to the house, getting to know the pets, unpacking... Until we got here, and then I thought, thank goodness that it's only a week.
This was the first housesit we applied for and were picked for. Maybe we should have realized upon reading the sheer number of animals that the condition of the house might be a bit questionable.
First, it's a farm. There's always going to be more dirt and more bugs at a farm.

I feel a bit like Eva Gabor on Green Acres as I watch Earl carry hay for the donkey and the mule, 

and I swat away gnats (fruit flies) that land on my bread. The gnats are here for the overripe bananas. Earl and I feed the bananas to the chickens in hopes the gnats will disappear.
And I'm just as happy that I didn't eat the bread because the only jam is orange marmalade. After Earl puts some on his bread and eats it, he discovers mold in the jar. I'm gagging and that's without even looking at the fly strip that hangs in the middle of the kitchen dotted with hundreds of black fly bodies.
Anyway, with three dogs and five cats, a house is definitely not going to be pristine. 

When we signed up, the house had two dogs and five cats, but they added a rescue dog a few weeks ago after a puppy mill was discovered. Hopi, pronounced Hoppy, had been bred twice a year every year of her life, so she deserves a break .

The animals are sweet, except for Mango the cat who continues to jump on the table while we are trying to eat. 
This is Mango by the cooktop -- he really spreads out. 
He knocked over Earl's tea this morning and we are trying to convince him to stay off the table, but if we yell at him, the rescue dog cringes in fear.
The owners of the farm came to pick us up at the train station. Barbara is probably in her late 60s or early 70s. She has white hair with streaks of blue and red. She's a pilot and hot air balloon operator too. She and her husband Chris moved from the UK to France in 1991 when he retired. He's 82 and in fragile health. They're both nice people, devoted to their pets.
There's an upstairs section of the house with a door to keep all the pets out. That's where we are sleeping. It's clean, except for some dead flies along the wall, but it's chilly because there is no heat. Of course, that works well for me when I have hot flashes.
Our suitcases are up there too to avoid extra dog and cat hair, along with any urine that might be sprayed that way.
They've had extra rainy weather here, with the temperatures in the 50s and 40s, so we had a muddy walk this morning with all the dogs.
It was still misty when we started our walk, but the sun came out eventually. 
The countryside is beautiful and we plan to visit a nearby village today, perhaps for lunch and definitely to buy some jam, butter and bread.
A cleaning woman is scheduled to come by this afternoon. I imagine she can make a dent in the animal debris, but anyone who agrees to share a house with eight animals should expect a little pet hair.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Ah, Paris

I have to admit to some qualms as we boarded the plane. What if we got to France and didn't love it as much as we remembered?
Well, the ache in my cheeks from too much smiling prove that hasn't happened.
Us riding on the giant ferris wheel, la grande roue.
Have we only been in France for 36 hours, because it seems like we have lived a lifetime since we arrived Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m.
First, can I tell you that we were so lucky to get airline seats in the bulkhead, which have no seats in front of them and gave Earl plenty of space to stretch his legs. I had to put my carryon bag there to rest my feet on since my feet didn't reach the floor. What can I say, I'm short.
We flew United/Lufthansa, and the flight and entertainment were fine, but the food dimmed compared to Air France.
The plane arrived early and as we came off the flight and through passport checks, I handed the customs agent my passport open to the correct page and flipped to the page with the Visa.
"J'ai un visa, aussi," I told him, I have a visa too.
"Ah, oui?" his eyebrows shot up. Apparently most Americans who aren't students don't have visas, but he stamped the page behind opposite my visa and Earl's as well.
Once we'd gathered our bags, seven total bags counting carry ons and personal items, we wheeled them through customs without being stopped and were met by Andre holding a phone with my name printed on it. We apologized for the number of bags and he waved us off. He had a big car, he assured us. And he did -- one of those van/delivery truck vehicles. Within half an hour, he dropped us at our hotel. It was still dark out and the lights lined the wet marble walkway up to the door.

The hotel was happy to store our luggage for us, but we couldn't check in until 2 p.m. Neither of us slept at all on the plane so the day loomed before us until we could take a nap. We spent it at the Louvre. Yes, we've been there before, but there's no way to see everything. Since my next book, Autumn in Aix, is based on the Code of Hammurabi, we searched it out and found some other amazing near Eastern art too.

We were truly flagging around 11 and sat down for a drink, Orangina for me, Nestea for Earl, before we went to see some French paintings. We avoided the Mona Lisa and the crowds, but I thought this painting of twins might have inspired the twins in The Shining.

Around 12:30, we left the Louvre and began our walk back to the hotel, looking for a place to eat lunch. Since our hotel is near Notre Dame and near St. Michel, both very popular tourist places, we looked to avoid touristy restaurants, but wandered into one anyway. Nevertheless, my duck and fries was delicious; Earl was a bit lukewarm on his beef bourguignon, but this goat head on the wall above our heads seemed very festive with its French scarf.

Back to the hotel where we fell into bed for a two-hour nap before we wandered out again, this time to La Grande Roue, Paris' giant ferris wheel.

I got a nice picture of the Eiffel Tower from the ride and it just felt festive, something we'd never done in Paris before. We stopped for a light dinner on the way home and I had foie gras with fig jam. Oh, my. So tasty. Earl had goat cheese salad, which is another of my favorites.

The next morning, technically today unless I don't finish writing this blog post, I slept in until 9:15. That's unheard of. It meant that I didn't get to go for a run, but I still got my 14,500 steps in from walking around Paris.
While I showered, Earl search the Rick Steves' guidebook for something to do in Paris that we hadn't done before. The only new thing he found was the market on Rue Cler. It had a famous tea house there, along with a chocolate shop and some other things that seemed attractive. When we went to the hotel lobby, I asked the front desk clerk how to get there and he wanted to know why we would go to the market there. They sell apples at the market, just like they sell in the U.S., he said kind of sneeringly. I guess it's hard to explain the attraction of walking through a French market even if you aren't buying ingredients for a French dinner.
He was being nice, but trying to steer us to something more interesting. He suggested we visit the market on Rue de Seine. We walked from the hotel along the Seine, turning left at the Academie des Beaux Arts. The street was lined with art galleries, furniture and jewelry shops, which made for excellent window shopping, but the actual market only had a few stalls when we arrived -- maybe too late in the day. We stopped at a bakery for breakfast, a chausson des pommes (apple tart) for me and a pains aux raisins. Then we rebelliously decided to head to the market at Rue Cler anyway.
We took the metro near the Champs du Mars, which leads to the Eiffel Tower and got a few pictures there on our walk.

When we reached the market at Rue Cler, it was mostly finished there too,
This chandelier hung in a chocolate shop on rue Cler. 

but Earl hadn't been satisfied with his tepid cup of tea at the bakery, so we sprang for our a much more expensive tea experience at Mariages Frère.

 I should have taken a picture of the tea menu because it was overwhelming. In tiny script, it listed hundreds of teas to choose from with a 10 Euro price tag, that's about $12. Since I'm not a tea aficionado, I decided to order something different. I got a tea milkshake, and that was the flavor, white tea.

It turns out that the 10 Euro tea, was actually for a pot, so I could have simply shared Earl's tea, but when will I have another chance to drink a tea milkshake?
We took the metro back to the hotel so I could get a little work done before our wine and cheese tasting appointment. The kids bought us an experience in Paris for Earl's birthday. The meeting place was only a nine-minute walk according to our Google maps, but we got turned around and ended up a few minutes late. We weren't the only ones late though.
Luiz is a sommelier, an expert in wine, he gave us a bit of a history tour as we walked through the 5th arrondisement from Saint-Etienne du Mont, a 15th century church in one of the higher spots in Paris and the building behind it, the Pantheon. We walked down to rue Mouffetarde to a wine shop where he explained French wine labels. The best advice, he says, is to tell the people working in the shop how much money you want to spend and they'll help you find the best wine for that price.
We stopped and bought three loaves of bread -- more advice, but the traditionelle loaf, which is better than a baguette. And in Paris, you can call it "tradi" which is short for traditionelle.

Our group was made up of four couples. One couple was from Australia, another from Wichita, and a young couple still in college. We found things to discuss with all of them and Luiz gave us a lot of information about wine and cheese. By the time we sat down and finished tasting and eating, I was definitely tipsy, so that's my advice to anyone preparing for a wine and cheese tasting, make sure you eat more than one chausson aux pommes and a tea milkshake for the day.
When we left the restaurant, night had fallen, and I snapped this picture of the town hall for the 5th arrondisement of Paris.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

No More Dreaming

Today is the day we leave for France.
After years of dreaming about making the move, it's actually happening, which seems surreal. I can still picture my dreamboard dotted with pictures of the French countryside or quaint French houses with shutters in bright colors.
So after years of dreaming, what will our life look like in France?
I don't know. I've only had vacations in France, except for the three month period when I worked as an au pair.
What do I imagine life in France will be like?

First, we'll never have to set the alarm again. We'll wake up in the morning when we wake up. I don't see myself lying in bed until 10, but I probably won't pry myself out of bed at 5:30 so I can run before an early class.
There should be a lot less TV. I hope we don't even buy a TV but instead occasionally watch shows on the computer. Since we aren't going out to work then returning home tired, I hope that we don't need to reduce stress in front of the television. Instead, our evenings should be filled with good books, long dinners, laughter with friends.

Hikes and long bike rides at least once a week will help fill up our calendars. I've needed to branch out from running anyway. I'd love to buy a paddleboard and practice that in the Mediterranean.
The market -- remember that the market is one of the things that we've carefully calibrated in our decision about where to move. So two or three days a week, my morning will include a trip to the market where I can buy local fruits and vegetables, cheese, or paella stirred slowly in a giant metal pan or maybe a rotisserie chicken slowly dripping its juice onto the fries below.

History -- yes, our home in Ohio had some historical sights, like the Indian burial ground in the shape of a serpent, or the homes of former presidents, but in France, the historical opportunities trip over themselves like so many lemmings headed toward a cliff. French history, Roman history, Cathar history, Huguenot history. Just standing on stones worn smooth by thousands of footprints can awe me. I look forward to learning more about the history and visiting some place new every week.
Culture -- In France, we're more likely to spring for tickets to listen to a concert in a stone church with candles flickering along the wall. Or maybe we'll go to a play or opera where we aren't quite certain what the words mean. Perhaps, we'll slip into an art gallery and admire the smooth strokes of artists from centuries ago.
Learning French -- I used to be fairly fluent at French when I lived in France for three months. I'm hoping the language will return to me as I'm immersed.
Writing -- I hope to have some increased time for writing. I have one new book finished and another halfway done. I'd like to finish both of those and get them out to the public. And I hope my new life provides more inspiration or those books, allowing me to take readers to places they haven’t been, to mine emotions they might have put away.
And yes, I do plan to have a croissant for breakfast each morning, one that my husband will buy on his daily trip to the boulangerie. After all, he’s retired and needs to learn French somewhere. 
I’m not totally blind to the hardships that are coming our way. Living in a country with a different language is going to be challenging. Tackling bureaucracy, taxes, buying a house all in a different language is daunting. Earl and I may make each other crazy with too much togetherness (that’s when I send him out for another croissant).

Making new friends is hard as adults, too, so that challenge lies ahead. All of the hurdles in front of us should help keep us thinking and acting rather than slowly fading away. 
Guess we’ll know soon whether my fantasy of French life lives up to the reality. 

Guilty Goodbyes

Last night as I sat in the dining room working on my online class, I heard my mother and my sister-in-law whispering in the kitchen, “How are you doing with all of this?” my sister-in-law asked.
“It’s just so hard on all the kids,” I heard my mom’s response as she went on to describe how Grace sobbed on the day she left. 
“Hey, stop talking about me!” I called, but the words had already done their damage. They gnawed inside me like so many worms. 
I’ve known for while that my parents don’t want me to move to France. They make not so subtle comments as they ask questions about what we will do and what the kids will do. My Dad especially says things like, “guess we’ll raise your grandkids for you,” and “how are you going to replace all those things you got rid of when you move back?”
I fume inside. Not just because we don’t have any grandkids yet, but because my parents moved to Florida when Earl and I, with our one baby, moved back to the Midwest. My parents are great with my kids, but they have always lived far away and I have never tried to make them feel guilty about that. When the kids were participating in sports, I really wished my parents were around to cheer them on. They’ve never seen Grace perform in a play. I’m just on a rant now to assuage my own guilt.

I also know that every time we say goodbye to my parents, 81 and 80, they believe it could be the final time. Still, when we lived in Ohio, we were a 16-hour drive away, so saying goodbye is always precarious in Ohio or France. And, having lost a sister at age 18, I’m well aware that anyone could die before i get to see them again. 
Should I put my dream on hold until my parents die? They could live well into their 90s, like my grandmother did, dying at 97. My mother has a sister who is 98! 
Should I put off this second chapter of my life until our children are all married and settled into good jobs, homes with mortgages, and possibly kids of their own? 
Waiting would only lead to more reasons not to go. 
I’ve always been the daughter who went exploring— France at 22, Washington DC at 24, Florida at 25. 
The words of the Moana song echo in my head: “I wish I could be the perfect daughter, but I come back to the water no matter how hard I try. Every turn I take, every trail I track, every path I make, every road leads back to that place I know where I cannot go, where I long to be.”

Even though my parents may worry or disapprove, I’m stepping toward that next adventure, my load is just a little heavier. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Daughter of My Heart

So on Wednesday, I said goodbye to my stoic sons who loom over me, bending down to hug me, but those of you who have read my blog regularly may have noticed the absence of my daughter, Grace.
She and her boyfriend Jack got to stay a few days longer, so we didn't have to say goodbye until Friday.
This entire process of discarding our belongings and selling the house has been excruciating for Grace, who is sentimental to a fault. She wants to hold onto everything that has ever evoked a memory. For six months now, I have been pulling a band-aid off her soul bit by bit, and the last part of the band-aid was saying goodbye to us.
There had been tears for weeks, so I knew there would be copious tears on the actual day of goodbye. Grace refused to put makeup on, knowing she would only cry it off.
At the same time that she is crushed that we are leaving her, she's also thrilled for us and jealous because she would love to leave everything behind and run away to France -- in fact, she has done that before when she wasn't sure about college.

Leaving Grace behind is difficult because she's my best friend. We love hanging out together, taking walks, talking about problems, solutions and opportunities, or just laughing at silly cat antics. Our relationship isn't perfect. We still get mad at each other, but texting and Skyping can't replace the hours we spend together. 
Grace has some pluses in her life right now. She has an amazing boyfriend who loves her unconditionally, which is hard to find in a 25-year-old. She just got a role she wanted in a local theater company, so rehearsals will eat up her evenings. She has a job with Actor's Theater, which puts on Shakespeare and other classical plays outdoors during the summer. 
But what she doesn't have, currently, is a full-time job since she was laid off this summer. That's a scary place to be looking at bills that have to be paid, like her student loans and car loan. But even with a full-time job, this would be hard. 
We're saying goodbye in Highlands County, Florida, the place we lived when Grace was born. I still remember dressing her in the yellow footie pajamas to come home from the hospital in January, but the weather was sweltering and she was probably too hot. We learned to be parents here with our patient, observant baby girl. 

And now, we had to say goodbye until the summer at least, maybe until August since Grace is applying to grad schools and might come over before school starts. 
Before I had kids, I remembered seeing a mother dragging two small children along by their hands as they both whined and complained. I thought to myself, I hope that isn't my future life. And it wasn't. I dealt with drama, but I didn't have whining. I braved temper tantrums and anxiety, but emotions were always out in the open, never curtained.
After several attempts to get off the couch to leave, interrupted by outbursts of crying, we moved to the front porch for pictures. 
This is not one of the pictures we took in Florida, but it's better than the ones we ended up with. 
My family is awful at goodbyes. As Grace and I embraced and she cried,  my mom began picking up sticks around the yard. They just don't want to deal with it. 

I stood on a step so I could look her straight on, and I grasped her  heart-shaped face with both hands. "You are the daughter I always wanted," I said, and her eyes, already red from crying, overflowed again. "I'll always be with you, no matter what," I promised. And that's true. Grace can hear my voice in her head, she can predict what I would say in almost any situation, and when she can't she can Facetime me or message me or Facebook message me. We won't really be far away in communication, only physically. 
After this six-month goodbye, I hope that Grace can move forward without too much pain. 
I compared it to caring for a loved one who is sick and then they die after a long illness. Of course there is grief and heartache because you'll miss the person, but there's a little bit of relief that the illness is over.
 I think our departure will be the final tug on that band-aid, finally off, the pain can stop and planning for the future can begin. 

Only 12 Days?

Is it possible that we've only been in France for 12 days? We arrived on January 4 and today is the 16th so that  must be true. So much ...