Returning to Normandy for a second school year…

September 2018-

It was difficult leaving family, friends our house.  It was chaos because we were getting the house ready to sell this summer, I learned a new skill, painting, and I realized there is a lot more that I can do with confidence and determination.  This was a bitter/sweet chapter in my life but I made Bill promise that we would buy a house on the coast of Maine again, once the kids are in University.  I am writing this so that I have legal proof that this was promised. Yes, this is tongue in cheek.

We packed up and said “au revoir” to Portland, Maine.  We stopped by Bill’s parents, in Maine and my parents home, in New York, for a last “good-bye” before heading to Logan International Airport.  I did shed a few tears saying my last little good byes.

This time, I knew what to expect and the flight seemed a lot less stressful.  I knew the kids and dogs would be fine; the dogs were stowed away safely underneath the seats.  I did try to buy a travel pillow in the airport and note to self, never buy anything in the airport because it is way over priced.  Honestly, my only concern was we were flying out Saturday, September 1 and arriving on Sunday 10:00 am in Paris; we had to pick up a rental car and drive to Percy-en-Normandie and then the kids had to unpack go to bed and return to school in the morning.  This meant that there was no time to recover from jet-lag.

The good news this time is there was no layover so it was a direct flight from Logan to Charles de Gaulle.

Long story short, we ended up arriving in Percy at 7 pm (CET – Central European Time).  We ate dinner and went straight to bed.


In the morning, I was expecting it would be painful to wake up Kale and Madison but it was not.  I have said it before and I will say it again, kids are resilient! Bill made breakfast, eggs and bacon, while I hurried the kids into the shower and put on their new school clothes and their L.L. Bean backpacks . Yes, I am a New Yorker at heart but I feel like my second home is Maine and I love supporting Maine businesses.  Now that I am a transplant “Normandier” (I think I just coined this term) and I like to support local businesses here too, especially the wine producers, especially Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  “oops, did I say that out loud?” Actually, besides its history, Normandy is especially known for its apples.  I am looking forward to attending a “Fete de Pommes” this autumn.

Kale jumped out of the car and in true teen fashion, asked us to leave right away.  He is growing up so fast and wanted to be independent.  kale.jpegKale started 8th grade 4 eme in France.

Madison was excited to find out that she had the same teacher as last year, “Maîtresse” (Teacher), Madame Defoy.  Madison is in 4th grade or CM2. file-15.jpeg

Both kids had an easy transition this time!  I am also taking a course online this go around, so I am hoping my transition will be easier too.

The summer is here …

In case you are wondering where I have been, the family has traveled back to Maine and New York to visit with family this summer and will return for the new school year in September; Kale will start 4eme (8th grade) & Madison will start CM1 (4th grade).

The kids finished school in July and did well. Look at their faces the first day, very nervous and see the change, very happy and confident.

The beginning of their school year

and the end

Have a nice summer and the journey will continue in September…


Photos from the past and VE Day.

A look back at the past…

In the local “Bar du Centre” or the “Tabac” as we like to call it, Pierre, a local retired music teacher befriended us. The local bar is the place where the whole town goes to socialize and you can procure a quick coffee, smoke, gamble or a beer.  Pierre knew that we were American and one day he mentioned, “Disembarkment Day” or “D-Day

(Journee du DD95desimbarkment).  When he was a child, he lived through WWII.  He helped organize, in Percy 1994, a 50th Anniversary reunion of allied forces.  He had photos he wanted to share with us from that reunion.  He asked us to schedule a rendezvous, to meet up again, at the local Tabac and drop off the photos to  us.

Bill was completely thrilled to be able to peruse these photos or little slices of history.  One of the reasons why we have ended up in Europe is due to my husband’s time spent in the United States Army.  He was stationed in Pirmasens,

Germany in 1980. Besides helping him pay for University, this experience gave him a love for travel and also history.  I call Bill a hobby historian.  From my angle, it was great way to expose Kale and Madison to a valuable history lesson.  Also, to see photos, from one of the last Pilgrimages back to Europe for these veterans, many who came from the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and France, was a tremendous gift. When I had worked for the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg, I had helped plan USO-type event for veterans commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, which was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during WWII.  It took place in the Ardennes region eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg and hence at the U.S. Embassy in Luxembourg, we planned an event.  I remember how much it meant to the Veteran’s coming back.  I remember the comradery and strong bond these former soldiers had with each other.  They told the most amazing stories!  Those Veterans/ Soldiers have been called the “Greatest Generation” for their selflessness, bravery and honor shown.

The photos Pierre showed us were touching!  We thanked him for his desire to show us and his friendship.  He told us that the allied forces, especially the Americans, would be forever in his heart and now he was also forever in ours for the kindness shown.


May 8th is called VE Day or Victory Europe Day in France.  It’s a public holiday commemorating 8 May 1945, to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War  II, of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. VE3 Today, we stumbled upon the celebration, mostly because the Ville was completely shut down.  It started at the Mairie (Mayor’s Office) and ended at the Cathedral in Percy.  In the Cathedral, there are photos inside that showed the war damage to the church that happened June/July 1944.   Today we saw the Mayor, who arguably could pass as President Emmanuel Macron’s brother or twin because he looks just like him, and a whole parade of people, including a small delegation of French Veterans (small because a lot of them are no longer alive).  We spoke to one in particular.  VE1He was attending with his daughter and he had a medal on his lapel; he was 90 years of age.  He had recently fallen but he joked with the kids (in French) that he liked to pretend that his canes were his  guns blazing (like those from the war). He had such a quick wit and an infectious smile.  I thought to myself that the key to longevity is a sense of humor and purpose. It truly was my favorite part of today, to have spent a small slice of time with this Veteran, who must have fought so bravely at approximately 16 years of age.  He sang a French song to the children.  He mentioned it was a song he and other soldiers sang to each other while marching.  These are the priceless memories made, in such a region so rich with history. As we walked with the children back home, on “Route de la Voie de la Liberte”, or The Route of the Voice of Liberty, VE9I thought of the meaning of today, for the people of Percy, and the people of France.  A pang of sadness also resonated with me, as I wondered, when these great men are no longer around, will these ceremonies still happen?  Will they be remembered?


WWII History in Avranches


What a beautiful small seaside town!  Avranches is a town of contradictions, old neo-gothic church, built in the 19th Century, and exquisite old architecture, a wealth of history, which has been turbulent at times.  I could not help but to notice that there are a plethora of young people walking about and sitting in cafes.  The town has a young vibe, a young heart and an old soul, about it because of a prominent Lycee (High School) and University and the old buildings.  It has an approximate population size of 8,000 and it is one of Normandy’s oldest towns.  It is a hop, skip and jump from the famous Mont St. Michel Abbey over the bay.

Walking through Avranches, we stumbled upon a Patton Memorial located on Place du General Patton.  It’s in the middle of a roundabout of all places.  We battled traffic to get to the monument with a massive tank with tank tracks, a bronze bust of General George S. Patton and abelisk-type monument and a time capsule.  I could picture in my minds eye, the bombing, the tanks rumbling into Avranche and soldiers marching. As I read the monument with the history the children’s faces lighted up as they listened closely. As I looked at my own children, I thought about the children that lived in that time and how scary it must have been.  I started telling Kale and Madison about the history of the liberation of Avranches during WWII, led by General Patton that began on 31 July 1944.


The text on the obelisk:

DU 31 JULIET AU 16 AOUT 1944


Between July 31st and August 16th, 1944
the glorious American Army of General Patton
passed this crossroad
accomplishing the break-through at Avranches
with the thunder of his armour
on his way to the victory
and liberation of France


What powerful words inscribed on the Monument!

After a reverent pause, the children starting playing around the monuments and I could not help but to think, these are the moments that are teaching moments and you can’t replicate this in a classroom.  The World is our Classroom!

I am looking forward to bringing the children to the D-Day Beaches, Omaha Beach, Normandy Beach, Utah Beach and reading more history.

“Peace and Love”  – “Paix et Amour” 

by: Tara Magaw

Festival du Lait in Percy

Festival du Lait, Percy-en-Normandie:


A pleasant surprise, while walking into our local bank “Credit Agricole“, we had won a free cooking class from the very prominent Chef Helie, of Restaurant de la Gare.  We were very excited and then we though of the most perfect idea! Madison, our 9 year old,  has told us that she would like to go to culinary school in Paris and own a restaurant and a farm, so that she could create delicious food with her fresh produce.  We decided to give Madison the cooking lesson.  It was to be held at the “Festival du Lait” or the “Festival of Milk”. Since Percy is very agricultural, there are so many farms and beautiful fields just ripe for growing, it is a festival that showcases all of the cheeses, milk, yogurt, ice cream, chocolate, wine (its not a milk product but I was pleasantly surprised to see it!), cider (Normandy is known for its cider) and beer carts too.  The producers all considered themselves artisans in their craft and their products truly were unbelievably delicious.  Outside the tents were the biggest tractors and cows, goats, sheep, donkeys and ducks.  I think they took some liberties with the animals, not all were milk producing.


The culinary class took place under a very high tech and large white tent.  It was equipped with a stove, freezer, refrigerator and all the sound and lighting equipment needed.  At first, Madison was a little intimidated, but the kindness of the Chef and his staff soon made her warm up to the idea of working some culinary magic.

They ended up preparing a two-course meal, where the main course was fileted Dover Sole resting a bed of green beans and tomatoes with a buttery sauce infused with citrus flavors.  Dessert consisted of a crème based pudding with local fresh berries and citrus fruit as topping. The Chef’s reward, at the end, was to eat what they created.  Bill, Kale and I snuck into the Chef’s work space to eat some of the delicious food.  It’s only fair, since we sat and watched for three hours.

Bon appetite! 

by- Tara Magaw


Driving to Percy-en-Normandie…

The Drive to Percy-

We drove in on the A84 from Paris excited to see our new home.  Still jet-lagged but full of anticipation, we drove from the “City of Lights” to the quaint country side.  I noticed right away the lovely, lush and green agricultural area.  As I glanced around, I thought that my father would love this because he always wanted a farm and would love this stunning farmland.  As we drove into Percy-en-Normandie, we made our way, with the GPS google maps, to our new home. The meandering road brought us to a lovely stone farmhouse, sectioned in three; each section had it’s own door and character overflowing.  We had arrived! Kale and Madison eagerly jumped out of the SUV and ran down a cobblestone path.  We were greeted by the warm and welcoming Powell Family and Gites owners, Deborah, David, Amelia and Victoria.  They knew we were still jet-lagged, even though it was only a 3-hour drive from Paris, and gave us the keys to our end Gite (guesthouse).  It struck me that even though it was January, there were flower window boxes full of flowers in bloom.  This was so different from the feet of snow we left behind in Maine.  It was much warmer here in Normandy.  We opened the door of the Amelia Gite, named after the Powell’s eldest daughter, to a lovely house with a wood burning stove roaring away in the corner and flickering candles creating a beautiful and comforting ambiance, it was so nice and toasty warm. Our new landlords and friends made us feel very welcome in Percy!


The next day we unpacked. The second half of the day, or the apre-midi, was organized by the Powell’s to help us acclimate to our new surroundings.  In the evening, they brought us to a larger town near Percy, Villedieu, where there was a small movie theater that usually ran movies in French but as luck such have it (and planning by the Powell’s) we watch Paddington Bear in V.O. (voice original).  As we walked out of the theater, with the beautiful architecture as our backdrop, it occurred to me once again (because I had lived in Luxembourg before), that I loved the detail of the buildings in Europe, the stone and brick lit up with lights and the night sky. You can just feel the history in each glance.

The First Day of School in a Foreign Land!

The kids, even though they had been educated in a French School in Maine, were understandably nervous.  The night before, I don’t think they had a wink of sleep and truth be told, I did not sleep very well either.  They woke up early, they had set their cell phone alarm clocks on and clothes aside the night before; they dressed quickly that morning.  We cooked breakfast but I don’t recall them eating very much because of “new school jitters”.  I remember their little faces were somber with no traces of a smiles.  I remember I tried to make them feel upbeat, however I felt a twinge of sadness, when I looked at them and how nervous they were.  “What have we done uprooting these children?”  I tried to remind myself that this would be such a growth period for them and they were gaining a unique experience.

We dropped Kale off first.  We waited in the dark of morning because it was a rainy gloomy day.  We had to meet the Director of the College (College is like our Middle School).  The Director came out and shook our hands, showed us around and spoke only French.  I nodded as he spoke but I only caught half of what he was saying.  The building looked very modern, it had student areas with Fussball tables and speakers to listen to music, lockers (which was new for Kale). It was also new to change classrooms for courses.  We were shown a Technology classroom with lots of computers, a Music Amphitheater, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, French, English, Spanish, German, History classrooms, Gymnasium, a huge outside sports complex and a lunchroom (where the students scanned their fingerprints and the bill would be sent to the parents at the end of the semester. Tres Tres Cool!).  We met the Chef and she told us about the 3 course meals they would be served.  I made the joke that maybe I would stop by for lunch but I don’t think they understood or liked my American humor.  Everyone in school was very hospitable.  We were told that there was a website, with passwords, so that we could email the Director of the school or teachers, we could see what Kale had for homework and what events were going on in the school. Also we were told that parents had to wait outside and could not enter the building, this was new for us.  Essentially, when the doors locked, I got the sense that the students were considered school property and when they left the building, they were again ours.  This school / ship was going to be run tight.  We said “good bye’ or “au revoir” to Kale.

Next was Madison’s drop off.  Madison’s eye were Big and Wide!  I could tell she was nervous.  The Elementary School she would attend was up the street from Kale.  She was greeted by the Director of the school too.  We were lead to her classroom, they collected all paperwork, mentioned that she also would have 3 course meals cooked by a Chef.  Madison would be staying in one room with Madame DeFoy, except when she had Gym, Music (learning the Trumpet) and swimming class and field trips (i.e. Mont Saint-Michel, Caen, Avranches, Saint-Lo trips, museums, horseback riding).  The little girls, in Madison’s class were very warm and welcoming.  To Madison’s bewilderment they gave her two sweet kisses, or “La Bise” or as I call it, “Bisou Bisou” (Kiss Kiss).  At first, this custom made Madison a bit uncomfortable. She would not give the “bisou bisou”.  She said to me, “I am a Maine Girl Mama, we don’t kiss”.  I do think that Madison has realized now its a greeting to friends.  Occasionally, she partakes in this tradition. A bit of advice that Madison has given me about the French culture is — ” You don’t wave hello Mama, you just nod, that’s very French, or say Bonjour Madame, Monsieur, as you walk by quickly.”

…When we picked up Kale and Madison from school, they were both smiling.  What a huge relief!  They had made some new friends and to all children, that’s the most important thing, to feel accepted and apart of the gang!

My new favorite routine, we have started a new tradition after school, where we stop at the local Patisserie, for a delicious treat on the walk home.  It is on that walk that Bill and I can hear about the children’s day.

à bientôt! Until next time! Bisou Bisou!

by: Tara Magaw




Happy New Year and Bonne Année from 35,000 Feet in the Sky!

Blog-3a (1)3,2,1, Happy New Year and Bonne Année the flight attendant cheered over the public address system of our United Airline flight. Just 15 minutes before the announcement, they started passing out the small complimentary champagne plastic cups and the kids toasted with ginger ale. I could not help to think this is “very cool”.  I have never celebrated a New Years count down from 35,000 feet above however I also had the quick thought, “I wonder if First Class travelers have crystal champagne flutes instead of this clear plastic cup and a better producer of champagne like Dom Pérignon”.  The next thought was, “Bill always travels First Class with work but Economy with us.”  Yes, it is different when the company pays but alas, we are about to embark on our grand adventure so I pushed those thoughts aside.  The kids would start school on January 8th, so we wanted to arrive a week before, so that they could overcome their jetlag.  We were jumping ahead  6 hours.  It takes approximately a day, for every hour you jump ahead, to recover!

Before I continue, I have to back up a bit…

To tell you the truth, I was not very excited for the BIG move. I was entering this journey with massive trepidation.  Bill was excited and I knew that this experience would be a “gift” for my children but I was sad to leave the USA.  I had been in the hospital, for a week in September and my Mother and Father had driven from New York to Maine Medical Center, to be with me in the hospital; this way, Bill could stay home with Kale and Madison.  My Father had mentioned something that resonated with me.  Dad said, “What would happen if you or someone in your family became ill abroad?  There is not the safety net of family.” He also said, “What if Mom or I became ill? It would be a hardship for your family to travel back to the States and might take some time to travel home.” I was feeling a tremendous amount of guilt from this conversation because he was right.  When we moved abroad, it would become more complex in some ways. I knew that the medical system was a “good one” but family would not be near. My children were sad to leave their friends behind too.  Also, we have two small Yorkies.  “How on Earth will we get them abroad?”

A month before our departure, we had made the trek from Maine to Boston, to the French Consulate.  We obtained long term stay Visas. This was a hurdle to check off the list. This ensured that we could stay beyond the 90-days allowed in France.  We had to bring our US passports, each person had to have 2 passport-type photos, for the French consulate, so they could place the photo on the French Visa that were inserted into our US Passport.  We also had to go through an interview from the French Government.

Bill undertook the packing up of the Yorkies.  We figured out that we could travel, with the dogs under our seats, on the airplane. Each dog needed a plane ticket, which was a $125 per pet, plus it is important to note that there are other charges.  In total, we spent approximately $500 to travel with the dogs.  Each country has its own set of rules in which you have to comply when traveling with a pet. The USDA rules are rather convoluted. We had to interpret different rules and regulations for the USDA and the EU.  We found a USDA certified Veterinarian in Maine.  We had to ensure that Ozzie and Cinnamon, the Yorkies, were ISO (International Standard Organization) Chipped.  This is a 15-digit microchip, that is the world standard for chipping pets.  If your pet is lost, the micro chip would identify them. After being ISO chipped, the next day the had to go back to the Vet to get all their vaccinations.  10 days before travel, we had to bring the dogs back to a USDA certified Vet again to inspect all EU documentation and certify that the dogs were healthy and that all the vaccinations were complete. We then had to overnight the forms to the Northeast Regional USDA office, which is located in Albany, New York.

The night before was the BIG pack-up!  I did not prepare very well. I figured that I could buy whatever I needed once we arrived. I packed the children much more diligently. In hindsight, I wish I had packed myself a little better. At times, I really wanted some of my products, just to have a little taste of home.  In fairness, there are very comparable and sometimes better products in France however when you are homesick, a little piece of home helps.

So now back to our adventure!  It all commenced on December 31, 2017, at 4 am.  I was thinking, as we groggily awoke in the dark of night and made our way into the car, that I was a little perturbed that Bill booked a flight so early.  We had to leave at 4 am to make our way down to Boston Logan International Airport.  It was too early to grab my last latte from Starbucks on Forest Ave., Portland.  I know that in Paris, there is Starbucks, at Gare du Nord but the lattes are different, not as sweet, which is probably better for your health. We jumped in the rental car (we were leaving our car at home) and drove to Logan for the 8 am flight with a layover at BWI.  I was not anticipating, during our 5-hour layover, that the dogs would be such “divas” and not use the Pet Relief Area. I have to admit, the smell was rather pungent in that room dedicated to dogs.  I almost lost my cookies, a few times, from the odor.  The poor little doggies wet their pet carriers.  We gave them water, during the layover, however we did not feed them until we arrived at Charles de Gaulle (CDG).  I would recommend getting one of those “pee pads”, from a pet supply store, for travels with your dogs.  I was pleasantly surprised that the hum of the plane, kept the dogs quiet the whole 7-hours.  I had packed Benadryl for the dogs, just in case they were barking, but I never needed to use it.  The kids on the other hand, were alive with excitement and did not sleep the whole transatlantic flight.  No, I did not use the Benadryl on kids!

We arrived at CDG International Airport, in Paris, at around 7 am.   We luckily found our bags quickly, realizing it was New Years Day and nothing would be open, hopped in our rental and drove to the Novotel Chateau de Maffliers, which was 10 min. outside of Paris and would accommodate dogs, had lovely trails for running and hiking, horse stables, a pool in the Chateau and restaurant. When we arrived, because it was New Years Day, we were told that our room would not be ready until 2 pm.  Everyone had requested a late check out.  I am speculating however my assumption was the lingering guests had hangovers from New Years Eve festivities!  Ugh…so we found an ESSO Rest Area that was open, where at least we could pick up some baguettes, cheese and some S. Pellegrino.  We were so jet lagged, we all took a nap in the car until we could check in at 2 pm.  When we entered, we took showers and took another little power nap but not a long one or we never would have slept through the night, in our new time zone (CET), which was now 6 hours ahead of the Eastern Standard Time.

To be continued…

By – Tara Magaw

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