From the category archives:

moving abroad

Seventy Five Percent

August 5, 2013

By Gabrielle.

We are home!

It doesn’t quite feel like home yet, but it’s getting there. And we love this house!

I feel like I’m still recovering from last week. We knew clearing out the storage unit wouldn’t be the most fun thing we’ve ever done, but I didn’t understand exactly how challenging it would be. I think I’m still processing the whole thing.

Would you indulge me if I vent for a bit?

Click here for the whole story.

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By Gabrielle.

This is number 4 out of five posts in this mini-series about our time in France (here are posts one, two and three). It covers the months of August 2012 through January 2013, and includes trips to London, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Paris and Venice.

These months were not so long ago and the memories are still really fresh! It was wonderful to relive our adventures as I wandered through my archives.

I think I’ll get right to it.

Before we were done with jet lag from our month in the U.S., we jumped in the car for a road trip to the London Olympics. An amazing trip!

Shortly after our trip, my Grandma Rudi passed away. : (

We started looking at French cottages. And then we got more serious about the search.

We spent some of our August afternoons at the beach. And we expanded the Design Mom team.

I went to New York for the first Alt Summit NYC. Full report here.

A few hours after I arrived home from New York, we once again jumped in the car for a spontaneous road trip — this time to Switzerland! Mini report here. Full report here (plus 6 tips for last minute road trips). And don’t forget Swiss stacked wood!

Keep reading. More adventures ahead!

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modernkidsblairfamily04

By Gabrielle.

Here is the 3rd report (of five) in my Adventures in France mini-series (here’s number one and two). This covers February through July of 2012. The thing that stands out to me about this report is the Olive Us series. We started that project fairly casually during this time period, and had no idea what a life-changer it would become for us.

I hope you enjoy the report!

We celebrated Chandeleur (the French crepe-eating holiday that was replaced by Groundhog Day in the U.S.). Experienced a rare Normandy snow day. Survived a frozen-pipes-record-breaking-cold-spell.

We talked more about French parenting. We learned about La Petite Souris (a little mouse that comes to French children instead of the toothfairy). And we talked about how French kids eat everything.

I introduced Love the Place You Live and shared images of a chapel turned art space and gathering space.

We visited a lesser known WWII site called Mount Ormel. This is very close to where we lived and was the location of the last battle before the Allies marched down the Champs Élysées, freeing Paris.

More adventures ahead!

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wisteria

Images and text by Gabrielle (except the last one).

Here’s the second post in my mini-series about our adventures in France. (You can find the first one here.) The second half of our first year in France included a lot more local exploration, and visits to Spain, Belgium and Germany as well. I should note, at the time, we thought we would only be spending one year total in France, so there was definitely a now-or-never feeling to our plans. Take a peek:

pointeduhoc01

We visited the Army Ranger WWII Memorial at Pointe du Hoc. It’s the most impactful war site I’ve ever visited.

rocheriverhike15

We adopted French-made espadrilles into our wardrobe. Took a summer hike in the Swiss-Normande region of France. Ooohed and aahed over the fields of sunflowers. And shared our take on topless beaches in France.

(June took her first steps! And I talked about work-life balance.)

lacress_oscarbetty08

We shared Oscar & Betty’s bedroom. And some photos of the gardens at La Cressonnière in summer.

We made more visits to Mont St. Michel — this time we walked around the beaches surrounding the mont.

More adventures ahead!

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Homesick Foods

July 17, 2013

marshmallow oaties

By Gabrielle. Image by Katharina.

Well, hello. Here I am waving to you from Oakland, California!!

We made it. We arrived Monday night. My siblings and nephews (Jordan and Jared and Liz and Sara and Henry and Moses) met us at the airport (SFO) with cheers and a welcome sign. So fun!! My kids could not have been happier.

The Aunts hung out with all the kids (and the luggage + bags — 32 pieces total!), while my brother Jared took me and Ben Blair to rent a van. It’s a huge extended cab van that fits all our luggage. It’s kind of hilarious and awesome at the same time. We have felt like our very own tour group driving it around this week.

We got to the house at about 9:00 PM on Monday night. The sun set as we drove from the airport and we listened to a California mix Ralph had burned to a CD. The lights of the city and the bridges were spectacular. We were feeling a particular mix of satisfaction and expectation, of relief and excitement, and of exhaustion but general awe at this move. Everyone was happy.

The best thing we did to make these first couple of days in California smooth? We hired a wonderful assistant here in Oakland, named Jessica, to prep the house for us. We asked her to set up utilities in our name, and make an internet installation appointment. And we knew we’d be exhausted after our 20 hour traveling day and want to collapse immediately, so we asked Jessica to prep the beds, and fill the fridge with food. (Note: the house is currently furnished, but not with our belongings from Colorado. More on that when I introduce the house in a later post.)

When we arrived, the house was ready and welcoming. We spent some time exploring our new digs, brought in the luggage, oohed and aahed over the contents of the refrigerator, climbed into pjs, and fell asleep within minutes.

Long satisfied sigh.

For the grocery list we sent to Jessica, we asked the kids to name the foods they were craving most from America, and added a few basic staples. Friends, it was mostly junk food! But man oh man it was fun to chow down on so many old familiar favorites when we woke up the next day. Which, by the way, happened at about 3:00 AM California time. (Hah! Hello, Jet lag.)

There’s something so powerful and beautiful about familiar food. It felt like a celebration. Want to see what made the list?

Junk food ahead!

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The First Six Months

July 15, 2013

wisteria

Images and text by Gabrielle.

I know. I know. I need to stop talking about moving. But I can’t help it! It’s taking up every square inch of my brain at the moment. Over the last few weeks, I’ve occasionally felt a pang of regret at some small thing we haven’t done during our time in France. And finally, I had to stop and remind myself that we absolutely jumped in with both feet and have taken advantage of every possible opportunity. No regrets!

I thought it would be fun to write up a mini-series of posts covering some of the adventures we’ve had since we moved here. It’s been a nice round 2 1/2 years, I’m going to break it into 5 posts covering 6 months each. I hope you enjoy the mini-series. And thanks for indulging my trip down memory lane!

la cressonniere hallway

We flew to France on February 1st, 2011. And started to get to know the house, La Cressonnière — we introduced the tree house, we shared the halfbath (I still find it so charming!), we shared Olive’s bedroom, too. But it actually turned out to be Ralph’s room, when he suddenly outgrew the bed in his first room! We talked about the floors, and showed off the gorgeous kitchen. We also learned more about the artists that worked in the studio here at La Cressonnière.

french ceramic yogurt container

We started to explore our community — we learned to shop for food in France, and discovered our first French licorice. We gave our initial French school report, we met our neighbors, and started discovering French clothing stores for kids. Oh. And we discovered the yogurt aisle!

chateau carrouges

We found a castle very near our home. We started exploring brocantes. We were amazed at the countryside covered in wild daffodils.

Winged Victory eiffel tower picnic

And we started exploring further from home as well. We spent our first touristy weekend in Paris as a family — day number one & day number two.

Keep reading for more adventures from our first 6 months in France.

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A Few Things

July 14, 2013

French Grandmother

By Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. I’m typing this on Sunday evening. I intended to publish it on Friday as usual, but the week slipped by so fast! I’m not even sure what to say today. I feel like my mind is in a sort of suspended animation, because I’m not quite ready to process what this move means. What our time in France has been. What our time in Oakland will become. So I’m just concentrating on things like luggage weight restrictions and last loads of laundry instead. Have you ever been in that kind of head space?

While I practice my best mental avoidance techniques, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

Ramadan - When and What to Eat.

Wheatgrass ice cubes for blemishes.

How to Learn to Dance in a Year. So cool!

Turn a summer day into a celebration with homemade popsicles.

Human-powered helicopter.

Three year old photographer. For reals.

bedroom for an 8-year-old with modern touches of yellow.

The perils of giving kids IQ tests.

Readers sent in footage of the quietest spots in NYC.

Great ideas for a camping themed party!

I hope you’ve been having a wonderful weekend. I’ll meet you back here tomorrow (that’s Monday). I miss you already.

kisses,
Gabrielle

P.S. — As soon as I hit publish, we’re off to say goodbye to The Cottage and to take some photos — I still haven’t shared a proper tour yet. So many goodbyes! School friends, favorite views, the treehouse, neighbors, familiar drives, ancient architecture, the cows in field next door… The photo at top pictures Marie. She has been the French language and culture tutor for our kids, and she had us over for cake and a proper goodbye. So sweet I can hardly stand it.

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image03

[ UPDATE: Voting is now closed. ]

By Gabrielle.

On Monday I felt like a basket-case. And that feeling continued off and on all week. One minute I was focused and practical and packing up like a boss. The next minute, neighbors would come to say farewell, or we’d visit our favorite bakery for the last time, and I was weeping elephant tears! It’s been quite a week. But miracle of miracles, we are now packed and ready to go. We finished up last night, and we’ve been able to enjoy the local Bastille Day celebrations (Happy Bastille Day, Everyone!) with only a few small items on our to do list.

To commemorate this epic packing job, how about a little trivia? When we came here, we brought 7 large duffle bags, 7 carryon-size roller bags, 7 backpacks, an iMac in the original box, a trombone in its case, a guitar in its case, a stroller, and a car seat for Baby June (she was 9 months old at the time). That’s a total of 26 pieces.

Anyone want to guess how many pieces we’re bringing back to the U.S.? You can make your best guess above by clicking a check mark.

P.S. — Our flight has strict luggage weight restrictions. 20 kg (44 lbs) for checkons, and 5 kg (11 lbs) for carryons. (Oddly, from what we can tell, personal items like purses and backpacks have no weight restriction.) As you can imagine, we’ve been weighing and double weighing every piece of luggage like mad men! Discovery: Our books simply add too much weight. So we’re shipping a few boxes home. When we moved here, we also shipped a few boxes of books and miscellaneous items, so I figure it’s pretty much a wash.

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apple blossoms at a French farmhouse

Image and text by Gabrielle.

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?

P.S. — Here are all my posts with photos of La Cressonnière — the older ones share room by room photo tours. Or you can browse my Instagram stream. It’s full of photos of this beautiful place!

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Five Affordable Souvenirs to Bring Home from your Trip to France.

Image and text by Gabrielle.

The other day, we were wiring some money from one of our U.S. bank accounts to our French bank (funds for the cottage!), and I realized I’ve learned a few things about how to move money from place to place that might be helpful for anyone embarking on an international adventure. Here are 5 tips I wish I’d known before we moved.

1) XE.com is our favorite for international transfers.
It’s free to sign up. You can add multiple accounts to draw funds from (we have a personal account and a business account), and you can also add multiple accounts to send funds to. We use it to pay rent on La Cressonnière. And since we get paid in dollars, but run errands in euros, we also use it to transfer our monthly budget from our U.S. to our French account. XE seems to offer the best exchange rates we’ve seen and there are no added fees, so the exchange quote you see is what you pay. I love that.

There are two downsides. First, it takes time. The transfers don’t happen overnight. It usually takes about a week for the funds to make it from one account to another. This means you have to work ahead and think ahead. When we don’t think ahead, we end up using our U.S. debit card for groceries or gas, and there are added fees for international purchases. Which is a bummer. Second, the max transfer is $10,000. Normally that’s way more than fine, but when we were buying our car, the max limit didn’t work for us, so we had to figure out a different way to go. 

Keep reading for 4 more practical tips.

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Two Years in France

February 11, 2013

la cressonniere hallway

By Gabrielle.

February 1st marked 2 years that we’ve lived in France. Two years! It’s flown by so incredibly fast. And I feel emotional every time I think about it. We hoped and suspected it would be a happy and growing experience for our family, but it has been so much more positive and life-changing than we could have imagined.

Our plan is to move back to the U.S. in July, after the French schools let out for the summer. Which means we’ve got 6 months left here at La Cressionère. And we want soak up every last minute of it! So don’t be surprised if you see a heavier dose of French-themed posts in the next while.

I want to give you the latest report on our children’s experience in French schools. A language learning update, too. I want to share my favorite inexpensive souvenirs. I want to recap what we’ve done, and the places we’ve visited since we arrived. And generally just reflect on what we’ve learned, and what comes next.

Speaking of what comes next, I’ve mentioned it before, but we are trying really, really hard to buy a rustic cottage here in Normandy before we move. (Rustic = needs much TLC.) Lots of paperwork involved, but if we are able to make it happen, I’ll definitely report. Please wish us luck!

And if there’s anything specific about our experience here in France that you’d like me to write about, let me know in the comments.

P.S. — Man oh man I love this house. The image is the hallway at the top of the stairs.

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Another Year or So

May 1, 2012

Hello, Friends! Remember Plan A? It looked like this:
Move to France for one year. February 1st 2011 to February 1st 2012.

Then, last January I announced an adjusted plan. Let’s call it Plan B:
Stay a few more months — through the end of the school year. February 1st 2011 to July 1st 2012.

And today, here’s another update, another adjustment. Plan C:
Stay another school year. Or 2 1/2 years total! February 1st 2011 to July 1st 2013.

Then we’re really, truly moving back. For reals. How do I know? The lovely family we’re renting La Cressonnière from will be moving back in.

We feel good about Plan C. In fact, we’re super excited to get another year here! It gives our kids a chance to get even more comfortable with French. And gives us more time to find our next home.

The kids are excited too! But it’s been over a year since they’ve been to America and they’re craving a visit with friends and family. So we’re planning a long trip to the U.S. this summer. We’ll be spending the month of July with the Blairs and the Stanleys in Utah and Colorado. Then we’ll come back here for another year.

Tell me: Are you surprised? Or did you suspect an extension all along? : ) Would you stay if you were us?

P.S. — The countryside is covered with yellow fields right now — I snapped the photo above yesterday evening. I was told the plant is moutarde (mustard), but not the sort of mustard we eat. It’s grown for farm animals, and because it improves the soil. So pretty!

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Have I told you our plans? For the last several months, we have been thinking about what’s next for our family. After approximately 1 million discussions, we decided that if possible, we’d really like to extend our time here through the school year. The kids’ French is rapidly improving, and we’d love to give them another 6 months to work on it. Plus, we’re toying with the idea of buying and restoring a tiny cottage here in the countryside. So instead of returning to the U.S. on February 1st, which was our original plan, we’re making plans to return on July 1st.

In fact, this morning, Ben Blair is at the local government office where they handle visas. We currently have visitor visas that allow us to remain in France for 1-year. They expire at the end of this month. So we are in the process of trying to extend them. Extending them basically mean reapplying — a process very similar to the original application, minus the trip to Los Angeles.


We’re really excited about the revised plan. At some point, we realized just how much prep was required to get our stuff into storage, pack our bags, find a place to stay, register the kids for school and move here. I suppose it makes sense to extend our stay, and make the most of all that prep work. I remember many readers guessing we would feel that way — that 1 year wasn’t enough. And they were right! (Design Mom Readers always know best. : )

Wish us luck on the reapplication! I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how it all goes.

P.S. — I’m in love with this adorable new site called Lately Lily. It will make you want to discover new places with your kids!

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So what in the world should you pack if you are moving to another country and what should you leave behind? Great question. And the answer is a vague “it all depends”.

European to USA plug adaptor European to USA plug adaptor European to USA plug adaptor

Are you moving to a furnished apartment? How furnished? Will you need sheets and blankets? Will you be there for four seasons? What is the weather like? How much are shipping costs to your new city? How much baggage is allowed per plane ticket? How many kids do you have? How old are they? Will you be working while you’re there? Do you need work materials? And on and on and on…

Clearly, if you’re contemplating a move abroad, your packing list will be very specifically tailored to your family and situation. In this post, I’ll tell you what we brought.

Click here to find out what we packed for France.

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How We Shop & Eat in France

February 22, 2011

There have been sweet comments and emails asking more about food in France, so we took the camera to the market this morning and snapped some pictures so I could write a proper post.

We love the food here. We’re so lucky to have easy access to fresh, local produce, and we think it’s wonderful that there’s a focus on what’s in season. When you buy something at the market, it will be placed in a little paper bag and the corners will be twisted up like this:

The bag is filled with 4 small avocados because I’ve been craving guacamole. Question: should I feel guilty if I still crave non-French foods from time to time? : )

dried apricots

We also bought some gorgeous dried apricots. They were placed in a little bag too. We only wanted a handful or so, but couldn’t remember how to say quarter kilo, so we asked for a half kilo instead. Hah!

At the dairy booth, we bought a nice big wedge of Carrouges cheese. We’ve heard it’s pretty mild and really, really good. I can’t wait to try it.

We also bought a pint of fresh milk at the dairy booth. The milk was in big buckets and it was fun to watch them ladle it into this bottle:

I’ve already had a glass full and it is wonderful.

Click here for more about food and photos from the market.

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School in France

February 16, 2011

Are you curious about how we’re handling school while we’re in France? Today, I thought I’d write up a little report for you all about it. But first, let’s admire these pretty French school notebooks from Laughing Elephant. Aren’t they handsome? I love school supplies at any time of year and from any country. They make me want to write a book report. : )

french school notebook red elephant

Now to business. We have gone back and forth, back and forth on how to handle school for the kids while we’re here. But in the end found it was something that needed to be decided once we were actually here and could check out the schools and see how our kids were adjusting to the move.

Click here to read more about our school decisions.

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Financing a Move Abroad

February 9, 2011

Here’s another practical post. Many readers have written in asking what the real costs of moving abroad are. It’s a great question. So let’s do it. Let’s talk about the nitty gritty of how much money it took the Blairs to move to another country. Spoiler: it wasn’t free, but it likely wasn’t as much as you’d guess.

Also, I’m going to write this using a tone that assumes you’re interested in moving abroad. If you’re not, no stress. Feel free to skip this post.

Our rent for La Cressonnierre is almost exactly the same as the rent we paid on our modest home in Denver (around $1500/mo). It’s actually slightly less or slightly more depending on the Euro exchange rate. If the house was closer to Paris, I’m sure it would be much more expensive, but because it’s almost 2 hours away, the price is very reasonable. After some research, we can see that our daily expenses and utilities in France will be quite similar to what they were in Denver. Which means that really, our monthly family budget won’t change much at all. So the good news is: if you can afford to live wherever you’re living right now, you can probably also afford to live abroad — assuming you’re flexible about location. In fact, if you move to a country with a lower cost of living, your monthly budget costs could even go down.

But, there are real costs leading up to the move.

Click here to see a list of some of the real costs.

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Luggage & Travel Day

February 7, 2011

Another practical post to start off the week. Today, I’ll be sharing the luggage we chose and reporting on our travel day.

blair family at airport

Our luggage search was fairly extensive. First we window-shopped, just to get a sense of what was out there and what might work for our family. We started at TJ Maxx, which is my favorite spot to find great individual pieces at bargain prices. Next, we checked out the Army Navy Surplus store to see their enormous, sturdy duffel bags. I even approached Lands’ End about a possible luggage sponsorship because I love their totes and figured their luggage would be excellent as well — but during discussions, we figured out they didn’t have quite the sizes we needed for this particular voyage. So we kept searching.

suitcases lined up blair family

What I found out in my research: luggage can be really expensive, but there are true bargains to be found. We eventually happened upon the brand fūl (pronounced ‘fuel’) during a Costco trip. It gets great reviews and is very reasonably priced. We ended up buying 7 duffel bags (they were $40 in store), and then bought 7 carryon/backpacks online. That’s 3 pieces for $90. Not bad! Especially considering most of the carryons we looked at were around $200 each.

Click here to read more about our travel day.

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Taking Off

February 1, 2011

Phew, I can hardly believe we made it. Today we’re boarding the plane (all 8 of us!) and embarking on our adventure to France. Send happy thoughts our way for our kids to survive the entire flight. Hopefully the iPad doesn’t get old. : )

The pretty photo is from Cori Kindred, the plane just needs to be directed slightly south.

And don’t worry, I have a lot more great guest posts lined up so there won’t be any radio silence.

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accordion folder open

Here’s another one of those practical posts about France. It’s features the accordion folder above (which has lately become a beloved object of mine) and how we are moving and storing our belongings while out of the country.

file folder sticky notes

But before I tell you about all of that, I must show you these post-it notes I’ve been using with the accordion folder. They’re part of the organization system designed by Peter Walsh. They come with tapered corners(!) and I think they are much prettier than the typical post-it colors.

Click here to read more about my beloved folder.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
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