Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Our bags are packed, we're ready to go!

That's right!  Everything is checked off the lists...the bags are packed (all under 50 lbs)...and we are about to turn in.  We're flying out of LAX (leaving at 8 am), through Houston and then landing in Paris at 8 am on Thursday (which would be 11 pm PST Wed).  So, no more posts from me until late Thursday or maybe even Friday.  The kids are quite excited (as are the adults)! Bonsoir & au revoir for now

Monday, June 28, 2010

More Space Bags


Gotta love space bags!!!
Just like the commercial!
PS, Only 7 more things on the to do list...then it's blast off!

Money, Money, Money

Come on, sing it with me!  Love ABBA!!  Always sunny, in a rich man's world.
Enough silliness this morning.  I wanted to share some really important research results with you.  Given my Type A personality (defect?), I decided it was important to find the best way to exchange money for our trip.  Given that the Euro has been declining for the last few months, I thought I should probably exchange some money before we left...looking to hit the Euro at it's rock bottom.  Which meant that in addition to everything else that I was doing, I started watching exchange rates...on a daily basis (sometimes hourly).  This turned out to be just as bad as when I was trying to time buying our plane tickets. 

I called our American Express office every morning to ask what their rate was...the lady at the office got to know my voice...everyday she would tell me the rate (which was always 8 or 9 cents higher that the exchange rate I was seeing on-line) and ask me if I wanted her to reserve for me.  Everyday, I didn't like her rate and would tell her no.  It took about a week of this before I realized I was never going to get the rate I was seeing on line through our local American Express office, because instead of charging a large fee to exchange money, they just build it into their rate.  (At this point I'm realizing that my sophistication as a currency trader is on par with the caveman from the geico commercials.)

Finally, I found a great post on a Fodor's forum that explained everything I needed to know.  Basically, to get the best exchange rates, just use your ATM card to get money out at a bank in France.  The bank will give you the best rate available, and the transaction fees are relatively small.  Thank goodness...I could go back to my real life and stop pretending I was Ivan Boesky.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cats always know!

Cat 1 - wondering what's up! 

She and her sister are going to our friends who are going to look after them (and our two dogs) while we are gone.  Yep, we've got some great friends who are willing to take all four of our pets for the entire summer.  That's pretty amazing.  But, animal people are like that! 

When Ethan was born (12 short years ago), he was 10 weeks premature (he weighed in at a whopping 2 lbs 9 oz).  He had to stay in NICU for 10 weeks while he grew and added weight.  When he finally got to go home (at an incredible 4 lbs, 2 oz.), I was not thrilled about having our dogs around him yet (we had two wonderful German Sheperds at the time...Fritz & Sis).  With all the breathing issues, dog hair, etc. (plus the fact that he definitely looked like a small chew toy), I thought our dogs should go on a little vacation.  That's where our wonderful friends Barry & Liz came in.  They agreed to take Fritz & Sis for as long as we needed (and it turned out to be a long time before I was able to have them come home).

Of course, when we started planning this trip, I thought of them (lucky them!).  Now, they've not only agreed to take in our two dogs (Sophie & Sierra, our loving labs), but the two cats too (affectionately referred to as Cat 1 and Cat 2 because when they were young I couldn't tell them apart or remember which one was Leia and which was Padme (yep, Ethan named them...as he did the dogs too).

For many home exchanges, your exchanging family will take care of your pets, while you take care of theirs.  While I would have been fine with that for a couple of weeks, I thought two months of taking care of our brood would be a bit much (plus, our French guests are going to do a bit of traveling and I didn't want to have to call upon delightful Susanna to house sit on a moment's notice.)  So, the pets are off to Liz & Barry's today.  We are all a little sad to say goodbye for the summer.  Hopefully they'll still love us when we get back (the pets as well as Liz & Barry)!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Space Bags

I love my space bags!!!

Taking a little break!

Gotta say, I'm exhausted!  I think I'm not sleeping that well.  Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night with the feeling that someone was squeezing my heart (really tightly).  I sat straight up and thought holy crap, we're leaving in 4 days.  I mean, we're really doing this!  I think underneath it all, I might be a little nervous about this adventure.  Not about going to France or exchanging houses but about being away for two months (with my plan of my life here being on automatic pilot).  That makes me just a tad bit nervous.  But, I keep telling myself that if auto pilot doesn't work, I can handle anything I need to from across the pond.  That makes me feel better when I tell myself that...it's that darn control thing rearing it's ugly head.

Today we got through most (but not all) of our Saturday todo list (with several things added that took way too  much time!).  (You can see what got done here.)  Tomorrow's list was short & sweet:
  • Deliver our pets to our friends
  • Relax
So now, I'll just move the things that didn't get done today to tomorrow's list.  Shouldn't be too bad.

I wanted to share a wonderful site that I've been reading to prepare me for all things food related when we're in Paris. Living the Sweet Life in Paris is David Lebovitz's amazing blog about all things delicious and Paris.  This morning I read My Paris about his favorite restaurants and dining tips. I also read 10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn't Miss in Paris.  Between the handmade butter, the duck confit and the salted caramels...I was in a food coma without even tasting a morsel. I told James that I thought it would be fun to plan one day where all we do is see how many of the famous Paris foods we can find and eat. I then said maybe we'll sprinkle some sight seeing in with all that eating, just in case I can't really eat 27 treats in one day. I am so ready for this trip!

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's an illness...help!!!

The list writing has gotten completely out of control.  A few weeks ago, James and I sat down and did a long list of things that we wanted to get done at our house before we left.  These ranged from the mundane (replace burned out light bulbs...we had 9 burned out throughout the house) to the more tricky (fix the jacuzzi air switches, which control the jets and haven't been working properly for awhile).  There were about 47 other things on this list.   I also had quite a list of things to accomplish at the store before I could leave the business in delightful Susanna's capable hands.

In addition to repairing items around the house, we also needed to create space for our guests' things.  Like closet space and dresser space.  Our closets and dressers are pretty packed (as I'm sure most every one's are)...so I thought we'd just have to box up stuff (clothes) and store it in the attic.  Which reminds me of a story about my mom, Christmas stuff, boxes, the attic and St. James...but I'm going to stay on track (since I'm able to laugh at this story after all this time, but St. James still fails to see the humor in it).  Boxing stuff up is kind of a pain.  And, it also has to be left to the last minute (since we're using a lot of the stuff until we leave).  As I'm finding out, many of the 47 things on our list had to be left to the last minute.

Being the Type A that I am (if you don't know that about me, you probably haven't spent any significant time hanging out with me yet), I type up the list, assigned each task to one of the three of us (there were actually 4 tasks assigned to Ethan and the rest were fairly evenly split between James and me.  I also assigned dates by which the tasks should be completed.  About 10 days ago, we started attacking the list in earnest and making pretty good headway.  St. James actually was able to figure out how to fix the jacuzzi air switches without us spending $2k on having to have new ones put in (yeah...means more wine in France!)  For the last 5 days, the list has taken over our lives. 

Each morning, I get up, pull out the list and make a new daily list from the things left to be done.  I am terrified we are going to forget something really important (I don't know, like taking our pets to our friends who are taking them in for the summer)!  Today, the list became five lists...each remaining task assigned to one of the remaining five days we have left before we leave (I handed James his list for the day and told him to return it at the end of the day with everything checked off...I think I might end up going to France alone).  At the end of this day, I redid the lists into 4 lists (Sat, Sun, Mon & Tue).  I was going to keep all these lists for a wacky scrapbook page or something, but am getting an incredible amount of satisfaction from ripping them to shreds after I've transferred the undone items to a new list.  Shall I give you a look at tomorrow's list?  Then I think you'll see the full extent of my illness.

  • Finish bills
  • Unforward email
  • Dogs to groomers (OMG...if we forget this one, our friends will ship these dogs to France)
  • Pack (Steph & James)
    • Clothes - Steph done
    • Electronics
    • Toiletries
  • Finish cleaning out kitchen pantry
  • Finish instruction book on how everything works in the house (yes, we are leaving detailed instructions on how to use each appliance, the bbq and every remote in the joint)
  • Finish cleaning up den (mainly desk area)
  • Clear shelves & rack space in master closet (so our guests don't have to live out of their suitcases)
  • Change light bulbs in master bedroom (we have really high ceilings, so it requires the big ladder, hence it has been delayed until the very end)
  • Things that got added to list
  • Finish cleaning garage
  • Finish fixing pool stuff
  • Fix sprinklers on lower yard and reseed
That's it.  There are many other things for the rest of the days, so let's hope we get these all done tomorrow!
PS...post updated Saturday to show what got done (strike throughs).  Luckily, Sunday's list is much shorter!


This is a test of our broadcast system (and RSS feeds).  :)

Staying connected...could it be that difficult?

In this day of connectivity, how do you stay connected in a good way, but unconnect from everything that you'd like to be unconnected from?  The first time that James and I went to Europe together, we had just graduated from law school and finished taking the Bar (which was 20 years ago this month).  We didn't have cell phones or laptops.  Nothing to worry about in terms of staying connected.  We just bought some travel guides, hopped on a plane and off we went (oh that it actually was that simple then, but that's how I remember it).  We had an amazing 6 week trip traveling all over Europe, with only a few minor glitches (oh that it actually was that way then, but that's how I choose to remember it!)  Someday when I run out of things to write about on this trip, I'll write a little bit about that trip.  There are so many funny stories.

But, I digress (I think I do that a lot, sorry!).  I'm talking about staying connected, in a good way.  James and I both have iphones and I have to say that we have come to depend upon them for everything, especially when we travel!  I find restaurant reviews (Yelp is a favorite), and we read about things to see and do in new places.  We also get our email, talk to friends and family and read our kindles...all on our iphones.  (I won't even mention the endless Scrabble marathons we have, also.)

When contemplating two months without my iphone, I was fairly sad.  I couldn't imagine walking through the Louvre without my handy, dandy iphone telling me the juicy tidbits of why Mona Lisa was smiling.  I also couldn't imagine just walking into a restaurant in a little village without at least a hint as to someone else's opinion.  (Is that bad?  Should I be more adventuresome and just say...ooh, this looks good, let's try it?  I know that I will be doing just that for many dining adventures this summer, but I like the idea of having the fall back of seeing what Michelin or Bob from SF had to say about a place.)

Why would I not have my iphone you ask?  Ummm, AT&T international plan SUCKS!  There, I said it.  The data cost was going to be outrageous, not to mention just calling on the phone.  Oh, what were we going to do?  In comes St. James...to the rescue!  Since we have V1, V2 and V3 phones (and now the new V4's) (V stands for version...I know each version has a name like G1 or G3 or something, but I don't know what those names are and St. James isn't around to ask), he said that he thought out of the 3 older version phones, we should be able to "unlock" at least one, so we could use the phone in France with a French sim card.  What that meant is that we could use our great phones, but at a local cost, instead of international.  I said, sign me up! 

My phone happened to be the V2 phone and since I never plug it into the computer, my software rarely gets updated.  I guess I was running a software version that was one back from what James had on the V1 & V3 phones.  Lucky for me, because that meant we could unlock (or jailbreak...such a better term) my phone.  Since the other two phones had the most current software, they couldn't be broken out of jail.  Yippee, we were going to have at least one iphone to use.  That was really all we needed, plus one other regular phone in case we decide to separate during the trip (like, Kerry, Katie and me go shopping in Paris while James & Ethan visit some old museum...oh, I didn't say that!).  Anyway, we were just going to buy a cheapo phone when we got to France, so we'd have two.

Then the best thing happened...Apple released a new iphone (V4 to me) and all of a sudden, James was able to jailbreak our other two iphones!  Now we'll have plenty of iphones (running French sim cards, so we'll have French telephone numbers) to enjoy accessing the intricate details about the three of us have all come to love.  (Actually, James has come to love this...Ethan and I just roll our eyes when a question is asked (even a harmless wondering) and James immediately finds some website that gives us an incredibly detailed answer...which he proceeds to read to us...all 7 paragraphs worth.  Ethan has gotten very good about not asking WHY questions anymore!)

I'll write about what plan we actually use after we're in France...we have a couple of options and will decide there.  Also, I just want to say that I could have been a lot more technical in this post and used all the correct lingo and really tried to impress you with my technical savvy...but I know you all would have just laughed...so I didn't even try.  In the end, that's probably good for all of you.

My new iphone V4...which we won't be using in France cause it's still in jail!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where's the Food?

Notice how I haven't talked about food at all yet?  It's not because I haven't been reading and researching and drooling for the last few months...it's more because I think once I get started...I'll never stop.  That, combined with the fact that right now all I can write about is what we want to eat and drink.  I think what we actually eat and drink will be a lot more interesting.  Suffice it to say, there will not be a cheese unsliced, a bottle unopened, or a safe foie gras in any town that we meander through (not to mention the bread).

Anticipation & Electric Bills

One of the best parts of an adventure is the anticipation.  Thinking about what you're going to do, what you're going to see, what you're going to eat...how you're going to feel.  For me, it's really been the last two weeks that I have allowed myself to savor all the possibilities.  I just got off the phone with our French host.  Can I just say, I love listening to a French man speak.  His accent is so wonderful and his phrasing is delightful.  He just confirmed that he will be picking us up from the airport and taking us to the house, as he and his wife have a show in the South of France before they leave for the US.  So we'll get to meet our hosts, which I'm really looking forward to. 

At this point, he might be a little worried about me...as a bit of my neurosis came through loud and clear on this call.  Everyone keeps asking me if I'm worried about letting complete strangers live in my house.  I have to say, a year ago I never would have considered it.  I love my home, it's a big part of me. While I love to share it with friends by entertaining, I haven't really wanted someone to stay here when I'm not here (except for my delightful Susanna, who has house sat for us for every trip we've taken in the last five years).  Over the past several months, something has switched in me.  I still love my house, but I am not as attached to it as I was before.  I feel very comfortable turning it over to someone else.  I'm a fairly trusting person...I'm convinced nothing bad is going to happen.

Well, except for one thing.  I'm really worried about electricity.  I can't believe I'm sharing this, but what the heck.  When I was little, there was a huge conservation push (you know, during the 70's when we had the energy crisis).  My mom instilled in me that if you leave a room, you turn off the light (even if you're coming right back).  I don't let the water run when I'm brushing my teeth.  I don't let the water run when I'm doing dishes.  I don't leave the refrigerator door open to pour a glass of milk.  I don't turn on the heat in the house until the inside thermometer dips below 60 and I certainly don't turn on the air conditioner until we've reached 90 (inside...not outside).

I've always been this way, ever since I can remember.  Even before I had my own electric & water bills to pay.  I've conserved for other people's benefit, not just mine.  Now, you might think that I'm writing this to show you how noble I am.  How Eco friendly I am.  How dedicated I am to solving global warning and conserving resources.   Yeah, not so much!  I actually don't think my behavior is any of these things.  I think it's neurotic.  (And I'll tell you, my hubby does too!). 

In fact, I didn't actually think I was neurotic until I started living with James (we'll have been married 22 years at the end of July) and we started having discussions over the thermostat...or in the bathroom as he had the water running as he was shaving.  I'd be like, turn off that water while you're shaving...he'd look at me like I was crazy...and he'd say, but I'm using the water to shave.  I'd say...only in between swipes...turn it off while you're swiping (yep, my technical shaving term, but you know what I mean).  This would elicit more crazy looks.  I'd leave the bathroom, strongly of the opinion that I was right and James was wrong.  We'd have very similar discussions at the kitchen sink and definitely have had major discussions about turning on the heat or the air.  If I was alone, I would never turn on either.  James grew up in the mid-West and Oregon and when he was young, water was never an issue.  So he just looks at things differently than I do.  He also likes to be comfortable, so if sweat is dripping off his brow and the thermostat says 98, he's OK with turning on the air. 

Now, some might say this is a control issue for me.  That I want things done the way I want them done and I'm inflexible.  I might say that I just want things done the right way and in this case my way happens to be the right way.  I bet some of you are thinking, boy how has he put up with her for 22 years (24 years if you count the courting and engaged time)?  Well, I'll tell you, I have no idea.  With a bit of age under my belt, at this point in my life, I realize that I am married to St. James.  The fact that he can accept my craziness and generally not give me a hard time about it absolutely amazes me.  But St. James is a topic for another day.  (I'm not sure whether he has started to read the blog yet...I'm not going to mention anything and see if he does.  He may not be happy with me talking about him here, we'll have to see.  If I never mention his name again, you'll know which way that conversation went.)

This all leads back to why I'm worried about electricity, and why our French host/guest might think I'm a little bit bonkers.  During the summer, our house seems to suck electricity like there's no tomorrow.  The electric bills can be staggering (trust me, I know staggering given that I own a store that has 11 freezers and refrigerators!)  So, to be staggered at home can be quite sad.  And, it's always after the fact.  I always get surprised by these amazing electric bills and water bills and gas bills (because of the pool, in the summer).  We had a water leak that we didn't discover for a long time (two water bills' worth)...don't even get me going on that.  Today in our conversation, I explained most of this to our soon to be guest.  How I'm really only worried about the electric bill and if they could remember to turn the air off when they're leaving, not let it run all night, etc...that would be great.  By the end of the conversation he was saying, we probably won't even run the air...I don't think we'll need it.  I laughed and said when it hits 110 outside, you're probably going to want to turn it on.  He didn't laugh so much at that.  Then I mentioned the pool.  We don't let the heater run all summer, just a few days a week.  I asked if he wasn't going to use the pool for a few days (like when they go to visit the Grand Canyon), could they turn it off.  I think this one put him over the edge a bit.  But I think I redeemed myself and told him someone (delightful Susanna) would be checking on the house when they were gone, so if they forgot something like turning off the stove, she'd catch it.  (OK, I didn't really say the thing about turning off the stove...I'm not that neurotic!)

Now I've bared my innermost secrets about controlling the use of electricity.  After I've written this, I'm starting to think it really is a control issue.  We're all adults, my guests know that they should be judicious in their use of the air conditioning, right?  I probably shouldn't have said anything.  Oh well, I'm leaving them several bottles of wine to welcome them, hopefully that will make up for any damage I've done.

Til next time.  Just be happy I'm not in your home everyday, telling you to turn off the air (except for James, who does have to deal with this everyday...sorry babe.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Planes, trains & automobiles, Part 3 (trains)

This is the last in my three part series on worrying about transportation.  Mainly because I'm completely exhausted reliving all the stress I put myself through trying to make decisions about what plane,what car, what train...OMG...I can really see that I need a bit of a break.  What has always been really easy for me, making decisions, has become such a chore that I don't even want to decide which socks to wear in the morning...or whether I should wear socks or not.  Anyway...

The last decision about transportation that did need to be made before we left the States had to do with trains.  While we do have a car to tour around France in, after a little research, I realized that we did not want to be driving in Paris.  Especially right now, as there appears to be some fairly major road construction going on, making Paris driving even more difficult that normal.  I knew that we would want to take the train into Paris several times over the course of the two months.  I also knew that we might want to take a train or two on some extended trips.  However, I did not know where those trips would be or how many of them there would be.  I refused to sit down and come up with a grand plan.  I was hoping to be more spontaneous while in France.  Wake up in the morning, decide Lyon sounded good, and off we would go.

I did a little digging to find train schedules and costs.  I then looked at train passes.  Gosh, they seemed expensive, and since I had no idea how many days we might actually be traveling by train, I was hard pressed to make a decision.  So, I kept looking at train schedules and I kept looking at train passes.  I swear I spent a week going back and forth on this issue.  Then I did a Bing search:  what's the best train pass?  (I love Bing...I put in all sorts of odd things..and it really gives me the info I need to make a decision...hmmm, just like their commercials say!)  This search led me to a wonderful site (which you probably know all about if you do any traveling, but since I haven't done that much traveling since the advent of the Internet, I didn't even think about this one).  The great site is Fodors. Duh!

But what is truly great about this site is it's forums.  I got so many of my questions answered that I had been struggling with for so long.  Not only about transportation, but about phones and currency exchanges and how to act so the French won't think we're just rude Americans, and so many other things.  Whatever your question, just search the site and someone has first-hand experience on it.  There are also folks who travel extensively and write incredible descriptions of their journeys.  Day by day itineraries, with details of where they stayed, what they saw and what they ate.  After reading some of these, I felt like I'd already been on my trip.  They also were part of my inspiration to keep a more detail accounting of my trip.

Another great site that I found was Rick Steves' site which answered all my questions about trains.  So well, in fact, that I ended up buying our Eurail pass through his site.  Yep, that was my final decision.  I bought a 5 person, 3 country, 6 day pass (could over two months) for about $2,000.  That works out to about $66 a day.  If we go into Paris, round trip in one day is about 66 euro, so the pass would be cheaper.  If we travel to say Nice, the round trip cost would be 375 euro (taking 2 days of the pass at $132 is a significant savings).  Ultimately, to give ourselves the greatest flexibility, the Eurail pass seemed to make sense. I went with the three country pass (France, Italy & Germany), which was just a tad more than the one country, so if we decided we needed to jaunt off to Italy or Germany, we could.  (Also, when you buy 2 or more persons together on the same pass, you get a significant savings, so we could afford to buy first class passes...yippee!!!)  I also decided that we could decide what if any passes the three teens joining us in August should buy, after we're in France for a bit.  (Another decision left to a later day...I'm starting to love this!)

Because these posts have been so long and detailed and I have a feeling completely un-entertaining, I thought I'd spice things up with this:

Is that spicy enough for you?

Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Part 2 (Automobiles)

Once the flights were all squared away...I started worrying about getting from the airport to the house.  As part of the exchange, we are using our French counterparts' car and they are using ours.  Very cool and saves on renting a car and trains...or it would if only 3 or 5 of us were going.  The car we're using seats five with not a ton of trunk space.  So, for the first month, it should not be a problem...we can all fit in the car for the excursions we are planning.  But, how were we going to get from the airport to the house...which is 1.5 hrs by train.  Oh, right...by train!  Although after traveling about 15 hours (with the clock saying it's been 24 hours), I got to thinking that we might not be that gung ho to get a train into Paris to catch another train to Auxerre.  So, I started researching shuttle services or some option like that.  Didn't get very far with that.  Seems an hour and a half is considered too far for those types of services (that is unless I wanted to pay $700 - $1,000...then I could pretty much get anyone to take me).  Since I was still looking for economical ways to travel (the train would definitely have been the cheapest option at about 33 euro, one way), I did not jump at the $700 shuttle service.  Rather, I sent an email to our exchange family and asked them their recommendation. 

Low and behold, they graciously volunteered to have someone pick us up.  Gotta say, I jumped at the offer.  My note did include something like...what's the best way to get to your house from the airport...are there any good shuttle services?  Oh, by the way, we'll have someone pick you up when you arrive in Los Angeles.  (Not too subtle hint, I know.)  Then I worried that they might be sending the car that we are going to be using (which seats five and not tons of trunk space), so I had to send another email saying we really didn't want to be a bother, but wanted to let them know there would be five of us with lots of luggage and we'd be happy to take the train so as not to be an imposition.  I received an immediate reply saying they would be bringing two cars to pick us up and to bring as much luggage as we wanted.  Another worry put to bed.

I then took to worrying about what we were going to do when all eight of us were there.  Clearly, we would not all fit in the 5 passenger car (especially with all these teenagers).  I researched renting an 8 passenger van for the month, which was actually quite difficult to find and about 4,500 euro for the month (James noted we could just buy a car for that much money).  Then I considered renting a smaller car, and we'd just take two cars everywhere.  Then I thought, we'd just leave a few folks at the house each time we left (I figured at any given time 2-3 of the teens would be ready for a break from us).  I have finally arrived at a wonderful solution.  I'm going to decide when I'm there.  I'll have a whole month before the rest of our group arrives and I'll have a much better understanding of how close the train station is and whether we want to be driving at all.  (It will also give me a chance to meet some neighbors and maybe someone has a car they want to rent to us for the month at a much better rate.)  So, I've left a detail unfinished before I leave...and it feels pretty darn good!  Kind of like I'm living on the edge.  Are you starting to get the picture that I might be just a tad bit of a control freak???   No, not yet?  Don't worry...you will!

Stay tuned for the final installment on my transportation worries.  Can you imagine what's next?  Have you fallen asleep yet from the tediousness of my mind?  Feel free to share your comments.

Planes, trains & automobiles - Part 1 (Planes)

One of the things that has stressed me a bit as we get ready for our adventure is transportation decisions. First, I should let you know that the participants on our trip are James (my hubby), Ethan (my 12 year old), Kerry (my youngest sister), Katie (her 13 year old, sometimes called little katie), Lukas (Ethan's best friend), Megan (Michelle, my middle sister's 12 year old) and Katey (Michelle's 15 year old, sometimes call big katey). (By the way, my sisters also have sons name Ryan (big ryan and little ryan). Interestingly, Kerry had Ryan and Katie...then Michelle married Rick who had two kids (Ryan & Katey)...at least the girls spell their names different...although I can't tell you home many times I have to stop and remember which spelling is for which girl. Alright, that was a bit of a side-track...but important info for the coming months.

My guys (James & Ethan...that's what I call them), me, Kerry & Katie will be going to France together. The other three will join us for the month of August. So, we'll be five in July, 8 in August. (Tedious details, but after I explain my stress over transport...you'll see why it was important to get this all straight!)

First transportation stressout...FLIGHTS! The reason we can afford to go on this trip is because we don't have to pay for any housing (since we're doing a home exchange). So, theoretically, the trip should just cost us our airfare, food & spending money. In my mind, it should be a cheap trip! To keep it a cheap trip, it was important to get low priced airfare. The hunt for these low prices started in March. I had no idea how many websites are out there that will search all possible airlines for all possible flights. Sometimes, I think there is just too much choice! There were literally hundreds of options. And since I was trying to get the cheapest fare (after all, 8 people traveling to Europe adds up and I wanted to be mindful for every family involved), I started looking at tons of different permutations. One leg on this air line, the next on that. Flying different airlines there and back...good lord...it was starting to take over my life.

Then I started reading about booking strategies...how Tuesday are the best day to book, as fares typically go down on that day. I also struggled with whether we should pay more for the non-stop flight. Finally, I found what I thought was the best available airfare (about $1,300 roundtrip) for a one-stop flight and I booked it for the five of us. I sent the info on to Michelle and Lukas' mom (Liza...who will be flying over with Lukas and the girls in August to spend 10 days in Paris), so they could book their flights and ensure that all the kids were on our return flight. It felt like air traffic controlling to me! Everybody had to book on the same day, so that the return flight didn't fill up. After many hours of hair-pulling, I got the thumbs up from Michelle and Liza. Everyone made it on the same return flight! Yippee. Time to move on to the next transportation issue. Stay tuned.

P.S. one note, after you finally commit to your flights and purchase the tickets...don't ever look at the options again...who wants to know that flights dropped $200 the next week, right???

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An old friend

As I was taking a break from my still incredibly long "things we gotta do before we leave for France" list, I was reading one of my favorite blogs Pioneer Woman and she was writing about some of her favorite bloggers.  I took a peek and got sucked in to another world for awhile (like an hour or two...ok maybe three!)  One that I really loved was Chookooloonks, and after reading her blog I got really inspired and realized I have a purpose for my trip.  (Other than just escaping, which is a perfectly good purpose in itself.)  I'm not going to share my purpose just yet, but I will soon.  However, once I realized I had a purpose, I knew I needed to go find an old friend.  Here he is:

It's my long lost Rebel Canon.  (Well, not really lost...just put up on a shelf for the last 5 years...exactly the amount of time since I opened my store, not a coincidence I think.)  When James and I were deciding what electronic equipment to take to France, I decided I would just take my iphone and Ethan's little point & shoot camera.  I didn't feel like lugging around my "real" camera.  But then I read Chookooloonks' blog, saw her wonderful pictures and realized my Rebel was calling my name.  He has wanderlust too!  So, I found him in the closet, took him out of the case and sighed a huge sigh of satisfaction.  He's so beautiful and he creates such beauty.  Unfortunately, his battery is drained and I can't find the charger anywhere.  So, it's off to Samy's Camera tomorrow to buy a new battery and charger.  Oh the photos that I will be taking.   And you lucky reader will be getting to enjoy them...I'm sure they'll be much better than my iphone photos (an example of which is above...notice the out of focus edges!)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two months, when you're a grown up!

When I decided that I wanted a two month "escape," I'm not sure I really considered what that meant in terms of the things that needed to be handled while I was gone.  After all, I'm a grown up and have lots of responsibilities (too many, sometimes).  I could certainly head off to France, stay connected through the internet and participate in my regular life just as if I were at home.  However, I had something a little different in mind.  Escape to me meant not checking my email, not checking my bank accounts, not paying bills, not being involved in the day-to-day ops of my business.  I wanted to go and pretend to be someone else.  I didn't really care who that someone was, I just knew I didn't want it to be me...with all the stresses, all the pressures, all the damned decisions!

I started making lists....lots and lots of long lists.  To ensure that everything at home ran as best it could, without my attention or interference or thought!  For home, that meant handling all the bills (which while I did pay them on-line, I'd never set up ebills...so silly now that I realize how easy it is to do so), making sure the house was looked after to ensure that our French guests were taken care of, and finding a temporary home for our two cats and two dogs (since I did think it was a little too much to expect our French visitors to take care of all these animals!)  The pets were actually the easiest to arrange, since we have some terrific friends who were willing (even happy???) to take all four of them.  We'll see how they feel about that decision at the end of the summer.

One down side of this adventure is the fact that I chose not to plant a garden this year, since we would be gone for the prime production months for our tomatoes.  (In the past, I've had up to 16 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes.  We are definitely missing my tomatoes already!)  I'm probably going to plant fall tomatoes when we get home (which I've had good success with in the past).

For the business...there's just one word...Susanna!  When my mom was dying, I was basically out of commission for a month and my wonderful Susanna handled everything at the store.  She is one of the reasons that I realized that I actually could leave my US life for a couple of months.  She willingly stepped up and said she was ready for the challenge to handle everything on her own.  I'm blessed to have her in my life!  We've spent the last three months training on all the things that she wasn't trained on yet and she is now ready to handle all aspects of the business.  We've laughed that when I come home (if I come home), I'll have to start another business...this one won't need me anymore.  (And I am really happy about that prospect!)

Our Burgundy Farm House

To see more details on the house where we are staying click here.

9 days and counting

In just 9 days, our adventure begins.  Although, in actuality, this adventure began in February, when I decided I needed a break from my life.  My mom died in February, after a long illness.  I'm the oldest and much of the responsibility fell to me (although all my siblings were great and did their fair share...the burden of making the decisions was on my shoulders).  In my mom's final days, the stress of what we were all going through became unbearable.  I just wanted to escape...to run away...to stop having to make decisions.  Being the type A personality that I am, I couldn't really do that.  At least not then.  However, I started to think about how I could take a break from it all...with a little planning, so I didn't completely derail my life.

I really wanted to escape, and kept thinking about spending time in France or Italy.  In the countryside, with a slower pace of life...away from email and cell phones and my business.  And I was thinking about 2 or 3 months...a true break!  But, how could we afford such a luxury?  The housing alone would be thousands of dollars.  And then it came to me, why not a home exchange.  I could use our most valuable asset (which would be empty while we were gone) and not have to pay for a home somewhere else.  I did what every connected person now does and hopped on Bing and put in Home Exchange.  Low and behold, Home Exchange popped up. 

I started looking at the amazing homes that are posted there and I started dreaming.  It would certainly be easy to find someone who wanted to exchange for two or three weeks (it seemed like everyone in Europe wanted to come to the US to visit).  But, how easy was it going to be to find someone for 2 months?

I posted our house on the website and sent out several inquiries to homes that looked appealing.  I quickly got many inquiries from all over Europe.  However, no one wanted to exchange for 2 months.  Several suggested that I do a couple of exchanges of a few weeks each.  While I considered this and certainly would have done it if I couldn't find a two month exchange, my preference was to settle in to one place that we could call home for two months.  Get to know the neighbors, the neighborhood and have time to just relax and hang out.

Just a few days after my posting, I received an inquiry from a french photographer who was interested in a 2 month exchange.  After looking at the pictures of his home, I knew we were a perfect match.  He had a 19th century farm house, in the country about an hour and a half outside of Paris.  Very remote, with no neighbors nearby, but close to a small village and 15 minutes from Auxerre.  After a flurry of emails, the arrangements were set!  In my next post, I'll talk about some of the "arrangements" that need to be made to leave your home and business for two months!