Way back in February of 2011, the very same month we moved here, I wrote a post about how we shop and eat in France. That post is still very accurate — especially my list of notes at the end — but I thought it would be fun to give an update now that we’re heading into our last 3 weeks of living here (we move on July 15th). Once again I’ll make a list because lists are my favorite for organizing my thoughts.
- We no longer buy fresh milk from the farmer’s market — because we buy it from our neighbor instead! : ) We leave a traditional milk can at the barn door, and then swing by later to pick it up, all full. This is raw milk, unpasteurized, and really, really creamy. Some of our French friends recommend that you heat it till just before boiling to kill off any germs. Others say it’s fine to drink it raw. We’ve risked it and consumed it without heating with no ill effects, though we’re just as likely to use it for baking, cooking or hot cocoa, which means it’s getting heated anyway.
Earlier this month, I wrote a post called Rent The Life, all about unusual and picturesque places you can lease and live in. And I received a bunch a funny + sweet emails in response telling me they’d rent my life in the French countryside if they could. : )
Well. Someone’s dream may be coming true. Because the fairytale farmhouse that we’ve lived in for the past 2 1/2 years is available!
Yes, we’re moving home in July, but the homeowners of the farmhouse have decided they’re not quite ready to move back in — they’re going to extend their stay in Australia. Which means La Cressonnière is available starting August 1st! We first found this home when we searched on a site called Sabbatical Homes, and the house is listed there again if you’re interested.
Living here has been such a gift. The house really is extraordinary. And not just the house, the whole experience of living here — buying fresh eggs from a neighbor, fresh milk from another. Goodness, Oscar was baptized in the stream just down the road!
We get really emotional thinking about moving away, but we like imagining another family getting to enjoy this remarkable space. What do you think? Did you get butterflies reading this? (Maybe it’s a sign that you should move in!) Are you up for an adventure in the French countryside?
Images and text by Gabrielle (and some images by Ben Blair, too).
We’re in our last 5 weeks of living here, and though we have no big trips on our schedule (until the big trip home), we’ve been considering a couple of Saturday day-trips to local destinations. No matter how much we’ve seen, it seems like there is always another intriguing place to explore! For example, we haven’t been to the white elephant rock of Etratat yet, and we’ve heard Bagnoles de l’Orne is definitely worth a visit.
Anyway, we started talking about our favorite spots that are within a couple of hours of our town, and it reminded me that I never shared our photos from our field trip to Chartres — the world-famous cathedral that’s about an hour away from Paris.
So I thought today would be a perfect day for a little report.
Friends! I have some big news: We bought a house today. A little French cottage! We can hardly believe it!!
It might not feel like big news if you’ve been following along. Because we first saw this house last August (so long ago!), and we’ve been under contract since February. The house has been uninhabited for decades and has mostly been used as a barn, so there were some questions about whether or not the house could be legally inhabited again.
But — hooray! — the questions have been resolved. And we became the official property owners today.
Now the hard work begins. We start with a phone call to the electric company to visit the property and install a meter. And then we go from there! When we hatched this plan, we assumed we could quickly buy a house and spend our last year here renovating. Hah! Reality check: We leave in a month, and if we manage to get electricity installed and roof repaired before we move, we’ll consider that a triumph. : ) We keep thinking we’re crazy to take on a project like this, but we LOVE that it will keep us connected to the area in such a real way.
Today, during the closing, as we signed the official papers, the previous owners gave us the photo at top. It’s our house circa 1900 (compare it to this photo). And it’s actually a postcard, with an address label on the back. When I saw the little family, I started to cry. What a treasure to be able to picture the people who lived in this place oh so long ago. (And the collar and cut on the son’s jacket — it’s so French! It just does me in.)
Tell me: Does this project make you gasp with terror at the amount of work (and frustration) ahead for us? Or gasp with inspiration at what it might become? Maybe some of both? I’d love to hear your renovation stories!
P.S. — I detailed more about what it will take to redo this property here. And you can see more images here, here and here, if you’re curious.
Hello, Friends! How’s it going? Are you ready for the weekend? For us, I think this is the first weekend in months and months with absolutely nothing on the schedule. That feels good every once in awhile! Perhaps we’ll visit the beach tomorrow. Or maybe work in the yard. Or maybe just do nothing at all. How about you? Anything you’re looking forward to?
While I keep grinning at our empty weekend calendar, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:
This post is sponsored by French clothing line, Jacadi. Get up to 50% off in their Big Summer Sale!
Here in France, Jacadi is THE quality brand for children. If you’re trying to get a sense of how a little French boy or little French girl dresses — for school, for the holidays, even for summer vacation — taking a peek at the Jacadi windows will tell you everything you need to know. The style and styling of their clothing is quintessentially French. Very traditional lines with modern touches. Details that make each piece feel special. And so well made that you’ll be handing them down to your future grandchildren.
Happily, Jacadi is sold in the U.S. as well, and even more happily, the Jacadi big summer sale just started today. So we can all get a little piece of French style at a deep discount — up to 50% off!
Tell me, Friends, is Jacadi a brand you’re familiar with? I was introduced to their clothes when I lived in New York, and my friend Kathryn gave me a Jacadi hand-me-down — a sweet little dress. I still have it! Both Betty and June wore it. And maybe their kids will wear it too. : )
Today is one of the first really warm days of the year (really warm in Normandy means low 70s : ) and we’re starting to think about summer. But alas! It’s not time yet. The school year here goes all the way through June!
So I thought it would be fun to share one more update about our educational experience in France, before the school year ends and we move back to the U.S.. And if you’re curious, here’s a link to earlier posts about French school. I’m going to try and cover topics I haven’t mentioned in earlier posts, and this time, most of the updates relate to middle school — because 3 of the kids, Ralph, Maude & Olive, are all in middle school.
- One thing that it took us awhile to realize: at our middle school and high school, called college and lycée, there are no substitute teachers. If the teacher can’t make it that day, they just don’t show up. The students will be in class, and if the teacher hasn’t shown up a few minutes in, the Class Delegate will go to the office to find out what’s up. If the office informs them the teacher is out for the day, the students will go to “perm” which is study time. (Fun fact: Oscar is his class delegate. He had to prepare a speech — in French, of course — on the voting day. So cute!)
This is the 3rd Memorial Day we’ve spent in France. Last year, it aligned with a French holiday, so we had Monday off. But this year, the kids are in school, the stores are open, and it’s business as usual today. How about you, are you enjoying a 3-day weekend? Were you able to do anything meaningful to commemorate the holiday?
I’m reposting this image from last year because it’s one of my favorites. I snapped it during Memorial Day weekend at the American Military Cemetery here in Normandy. For the holiday, the caretakers placed an American and French flag at every single one of the 10,000+ graves.
The cemetery is always a humbling place to visit, but seeing those carefully placed flags waving in the ocean breeze just about did me in.
Happy Memorial Day to you and yours. Wishing you happy gatherings with friends and family! And a perfectly grilled burger. : )
Hello, Friends. How are you? I hope you’ve had a wonderful week! My family was so delighted to be back to a normal schedule. Housework isn’t always on my thumbs up list, but this week I found such contentment doing the everyday normal stuff — getting the laundry and ironing done, making beds, staying on top of the dishes… Sometimes regular old life is my favorite.
We’ll be doing some Olive Us shooting in Paris tomorrow, so I’ve got some prepping to do (I’m sure we’ll be instagram-ing if you’d like a sneak peek). While I get things ready, here are a few things I’ve been wanting to share with you:
- Remember the Strategic Plan poster we all loved? Well, good news, use the coupon code “DOINGTHINGS” for 20% off any prints in Baltimore Print Studio’s online store. The code is good till May 24th at midnight.
I hope you have a terrific weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already!
P.S. — I snapped the photo at top when I was in Paris yesterday. I was there visiting the US Consulate because we had a tax question. Sigh. Not the most fun reason to visit Paris, but the city was lovely all the same!
Friends, I’m kind of freaking out about how wonderfully Episode 23 of Olive Us turned out. (Sorry for the brag!) It’s called Le Petit Chaperon Rouge which is the French way of saying Little Red Riding Hood. This video is stunning. It’s simply magical. Oh. And it’s all in French! Entirely narrated by Betty, who also plays the girl in the red cape.
Now don’t you worry, even if you don’t speak a lick of French, I’m betting you’ll be able to follow along with the very familiar story line. : ) If you’d like a translation, you’re in luck. Ben Blair made a pdf with a side-by-side French and English translation — you can find the pdf link here.
I’m dying to hear what you think! And if your kids watch it, I’d love to hear if they enjoyed it — or if the French threw them off too much. From what we’ve seen so far, for little ones, the language doesn’t seem to matter at all! Consider this a great way to expose your kids to a foreign language in a familiar context.
I also want to say that we didn’t make this alone. Not at all. A huge thanks goes out to Miranda of One Little Minute. who put together the stunning costumes. She started with what we had in our closet, added pieces from thrift stores, then sewed the rest. She re-made the iconic red cape from a women’s red wool coat she found at a second hand shop. It’s thick and cozy and wonderful — and it kept Betty warm on the cold November day when we filmed this.
Another big thanks goes to Merrilee Liddiard of Mer Mag for the title illustration. I love how it turned out! I think it would be cool to have a poster of it made for our wall. Lastly, we are over the moon about Tiger in a Jar’s vision for this episode. We think they captured the story perfectly.
Fun Fact: the forest scenes were filmed around the corner from our house, in the same trees that we filmed Christmas Tree Hunt. For the exteriors of Little Red’s house and Grandma’s house, we actually filmed at the Apple Juice Farm you’ll remember from this video. Fantastic, right? The old half-timber buildings on the property were absolutely perfect for a fairy tale!
If it’s not showing up for you in this post, watch it on vimeo here, and find all the Olive Us videos here.
This post is about Honfleur and Deauville. Two neighboring towns here in Normandy that we never tire of visiting. We’ve been to both many times, but the photos in this post are from a visit last May. Spring in Normandy is very wet, and often cold, so when the sun comes out, you can bet we take advantage of it.
These first images show Honfleur. It’s a small fishing port that is big on charm. And the light here is so remarkable that it won’t surprise you to hear this little town is considered the birthplace of impressionism. In fact, it’s not unusual at all to see painters with easels set up near the water, capturing the boats and flags and sails on their canvases.
We’ve been told there are particular things to do in Honfleur — churches to visit and towers to climb — but we’ve never done any of them. Instead, we like to walk through the narrow side streets, window shopping, and stopping for ice cream. We might ride the port-side carousel or watch the boats come in. And then we’ll eat a late lunch or early dinner at one of the touristy restaurants that line the wharf — there are a dozen to pick from.
The Loire Valley is the region along the Loire River, a little south and west of Paris. It’s famed for its numerous castles that tower above the river. And lucky for us, driving to the region only takes about an hour and a half from our house.
So last year, on the last Sunday of May we hopped in the car after church and made a day trip of it. Our goal was to see two castles and to get a general sense for the region. We knew one day wasn’t really enough time, but figured a day trip would almost be like a scouting mission for a longer trip. The first castle we stopped at was Chateau Chenenceau.
Some castles are more kid-friendly than others, and this one is probably the most family-friendly that we’ve visited — lots of options for roaming and free-ranging, and the weekend we were there, it wasn’t too busy at all.
There are gardens to explore, bridges and moats, a grand checker-board hall with views of the river, and on the way out we explored the garden maze and had a little picnic. Also. We took a TON of photos. So please forgive me if this feels like a photo dump. : ) Hopefully it will be helpful for anyone out there who’s considering a visit to the Loire.
Here in France, May 1st is Labor Day, but it also goes by La Fête du Muguet, which means Lily of the Valley Day. It’s a public holiday and the tradition is to give a sprig of Lily of the Valley to loved ones and neighbors. I was reading a bit about this tradition, and apparently it dates to the 1500s when King Charles IX of France was given Lilies of the Valley as a good luck token. 1500s?! I’d say that’s an enduring tradition! If you’re curious, you can read a bit more about the holiday here.
Will you be doing anything to mark the day? Maybe there’s a Maypole festival at your school? Or perhaps, you’ll be making these adorable May Day Baskets for your children to hang on the neighbor’s door.
P.S. — More May holidays! Cinco de Mayo is coming up fast. Here are tons of fun ideas.
This is just a little thing, and maybe it’s not particularly French, but one thing we noticed after living her for about a year, was that our traveling French friends always send us postcards during their trips. It seems to be part of their vacationing habits or traditions. And of course, it’s totally charming!
Postcards from Australia. From England. From Spain. And when I traveled with Caroline to New York, one of the first things she wanted to do was send postcards home to her family and friends back in France. We’ve received more postcards in our time here than we did in our last 15 years in the U.S.
I’m not totally sure why the postcard tradition surprised me. I suppose it’s because I rarely if ever receive postcards from my American friends. When I think of why Americans don’t send postcards very often, I imagine it’s partly because when Americans vacation, they often take short trips — typically less than a week — which isn’t really enough time for a postcard to reach home while you’re away. And I’m sure it also has to do with texting and Facebook and Instagram and all the modern ways we stay in touch — making checking in with postcards less necessary.
But from what I can tell, the French seem to take their vacations really seriously and stay at their destination for a couple of weeks, or even longer if they’ve traveled across the world to reach their destination. So sending a postcard makes perfect sense.
How about you? Have you sent or received a postcard lately? And have you ever taken a long vacation? Or do you squeeze them in over an extended weekend?
P.S. — Even though we don’t send them, it’s not unusual for my family to buy postcards when we’re traveling — especially at art museums. They make great souvenirs and additions to scrapbooks and journals.
A few weeks ago, my friend Kyran asked if I’d write a post about what kind of music the French kids are listening to, and I love that idea! So I asked my two teenagers, Ralph and Maude, for a consultation on the subject. First, they said that mostly, their French friends listen to the same music their American friends listen too. When Adele is popular in America, she’s popular in France too. Phoenix gets lots of play in both places. Dubstep is popular at parties in both places.
That said, they did come up with a bunch of songs that their French friends listen too, but their U.S. friends do not. I had them send me links to 10 of them, so you can get a little glimpse of what might be added to your kids’ playlists if you lived in France. Some are French songs, but many are from other countries.
The links go to videos on Youtube. Be aware, a couple of the videos are sexy — might not be your thing on a random Wednesday. (I did try to create a playlist on Spotify, with just the sound files instead of videos, but I couldn’t find a bunch of the songs. Le sigh.) I hope you enjoy the list. I’m embedding the first video here, because it’s a fun one!
Bonus track! The kids aren’t listening to this one anymore — it was popular a few years ago. But I love it and asked Maude to learn to play it on guitar as my Mother’s Day gift last year. It’s so lovely.
One of the things I wonder about since we moved to France, is what it’s like to grow up mostly listening to songs that aren’t in your language. I hear popular songs, in English, everywhere I go here. At the grocery store and in the shopping districts. The French kids know how to sing along, sort of. But many have no idea what the words are saying.
I suppose American kids will experience more and more of that (Gangnam Style anyone?) as the internet continues to shrink the world.
Did any of you grow up mostly listening to songs that weren’t in your native tongue? Do you have any favorites from the list Ralph and Maude made?
Something interesting about our French school (and from what I understand, all French schools), is that needlework is part of the curriculum.
I realized this during our first year here, when (then 9-year-old) Olive’s school class completed two separate cross-stitch projects — both the boys and the girls. I asked around, and apparently, this wasn’t unusual at all.
For us, living in France means living with a general feeling of being foreigners or outsiders. (Not necessarily a bad thing. It is what it is.) When it’s a holiday, that feeling is magnified. I was thinking about that as I wandered through the Easter candy aisle at the grocery store the other day.
Obviously, all the types of treats that spell Easter to me and to my older kids, weren’t anywhere to be seen. No fluorescent Peeps (my favorite!). No jelly beans. No Cadbury mini eggs. No chalky malted eggs that you can use to paint your lips blue. No Reeses peanut butter eggs. And no egg dyeing kits either — dyeing eggs isn’t really a thing here.
That said, there were tons of holiday treat options, and I kept thinking how French adults must walk through these aisles and fondly identify the candies that define their childhood Easters. But I have no idea what they are! I have no idea which chocolate eggs are stereotypical, which ones have been sold for decades, and which ones have just been introduced as a new product.
So I end up choosing treats based solely on looks. I am 100% judging these books by their covers — or these candies by their wrappers. Today, I’m sharing the prettiest treats I’ve found. I thought you might like to get an idea of what a French child would find on Easter morning — a gift from the Church Bells, instead of the Easter Bunny.
We’ve been lucky to have lots of visitors since we moved here — it’s so helpful for keeping homesickness at bay, especially for the kids. One topic that comes up whenever friends and family are in town is souvenirs.
Plane tickets, car rentals, hotels and train passes tend to eat up most of the travel budget, so visitors love ideas for gifts to bring home to friends and family that won’t break the bank. But they want something more unusual than an Eiffel Tower key chain.
So I’ve made notes over the last couple of years, and have figured out a bunch of fabulous souvenirs you can find in any French supermarket. All of them are non-perishable (in case you’re jaunting to London after your trip to France), and every one of them is bargain. Today I’m sharing 5 of my favorites. Maybe they’ll inspire you to book a flight to Paris!
Have you ever had an Easter Egg hunt in an out of the ordinary place? Last year, right before my sister Jordan moved back to San Francisco from Paris, we had an egg hunt at the Eiffel Tower. I shared this instagram at the time (which, by the way, might be my favorite instagram I’ve ever taken), but I haven’t shown you other pictures, so I thought it would be fun to share them today while I’ve got Easter plans on my mind.
To be clear, this wasn’t an official event hosted by the City of Paris. We just found a grassy spot off to the side on the Champs du Mars (the big park next to the Eiffel Tower), scattered the eggs all over the lawn, and let our kids search them out. (If you’re in Paris over Easter with your kids, you could totally do the same thing!) But no matter how simple the activity is, doing it with the Eiffel Tower in the background makes it feel pretty darn spectacular.
I love these Playground Posters from Georges — a French magazine for kids that’s really well designed. (You might remember Georges from this post). Each poster in the series was created by a different artist. The only direction was to work in the same three colors and use the same theme: games. This means that each poster is an actual game or puzzle!
Aren’t they cool? You can see all the designs here. And you can purchase the posters here. I thought your kids would enjoy them — no need to speak French required. : ) Wouldn’t they be fun in a playroom?
P.S. — If you visit France, bringing home a magazine for your kids is a fun souvenir!
My name is Gabrielle Blair. I'm a designer and mother of six. After 2 1/2 years in France, we just bought a home in Oakland, California. We call it The Treehouse. I post on where design and motherhood intersect.
The Design Mom site is an Amazon Affiliate, and a RewardStyle Affiliate. If you see links that include "rstyle" or "amazon", those are affiliate links.
Want to bypass the affiliate links? No problem. Simply type in the main url (like amazon.com or target.com) directly, instead of clicking through from Design Mom.
Would you link to know more about how this site is monetized? You got it. That topic is covered in the FAQs.
The Design Mom Book made the New York Times Bestseller list! The book is filled with tips and strategies for making your home beautiful, comfortable, functional and kid-friendly — a place where both you and your kids will thrive. I hope you're enjoying it. Thank you for the lovely Amazon reviews! I appreciate them so much.