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


Poisson Avril – Happy April Fools- Happy Easter 2018

Kale ran through the Gite, with a paper fish surreptitiously taped on his back, as Madison giggled under her breath…


The taping of a fish, on a person’s back, is the joke for April 1st in France and it’s a very enjoyable tradition. “Poisson d’Avril” (or April Fish), Madison yelled and Kale realized the joke was on him.  “Happy April Fools Day”. In downtown Percy, there were a plethora of bakeries and chocolatiers that made the most art-like and “delicieux” fish shaped pastries and chocolate.  It was an added bonus to see the Easter chocolates of eggs, bunnies, crosses, that were almost too beautiful to eat!


What was in store for us on Easter Sunday afternoon?  A giant Easter Egg hunt with friends.  The clues were planned and treats were placed by each clue.  I think it was the best East Egg hunt I have ever attended!  There were 6 children, all ranging from 6 to 13 years of age, but they all stayed in a pack, like wolves,  and followed each clue together to their delicious prize. Each clue had 6 sweet treats on them (one for each child) and then on to the next clue.  We had beautiful weather in Normandy on Sunday, which is very lucky, because the weather here can change instantaneously, hence we travel with rain poncho’s everywhere.


Traveling to Paris to meet up with Madison’s Friend Acadia was a welcome trip.  I think there is always one child that might be a little more homesick than the others.  I always thought that Kale would be the one to be most affected but it was my daughter Madison.  One of her best friends from Maine was making the trip to Paris with her mother, Joy, so we decided to make the trek to Paris.  It’s only approximately a 3-hour drive, from Percy-en-Normandie,  so it was no big deal.  It was a quick trip to see a friend from L’Ecole Francaise du Maine and a trip to the Eiffel Tower or “Tour Eiffel” as the French call it.  I have taken the tour before to the top of the Tour.  In our estimation, the best location to take photos near the Eiffel Tower is the Trocadero metro stop.  This time we brought our Yorkies, which slightly cramped our style, because we could not bring them up the Tower.  There was a big sign that showed, “No Dogs Allowed”.  Not to worry, the kids went up the Tower with Joy and Acadia, while Bill and I found a Café right on the Sein River and had a couple glasses of “vin rouge”.  Most restaurants in Paris allow dogs however if you want to do some serious touring like the Musee du Louvre, Sainte-Chapelle de Paris, Cathedrale Notre-Dame, I recommend leaving the pooches at home.

Oh, excellent news!  I found an American Dentist in Paris.  Since I am a  little shy about my French, I am going to give Dr. Jane Matkoski, 12 Rue Saint-Denis Julien, Le Pauvre, 75005 Paris, a call. Fingers crossed.

by: Tara Magaw



Yes, I am a Foreigner in a Foreign Land…


Ouch…I have a terrible toothache!

First off, I hate aging.  I know I need to show my children, through example, how to age gracefully but here is a little secret, I don’t like it one bit!  I didn’t have a cavity until I was 30 years of age and now, here we go again.  I think I have a tooth abscess.  Part of acclimating to your surroundings, is figuring out where do I shop, where do I find basic necessities, and yes, where do I find doctors and dentists?  The people of Percy are very kind.  It’s not like Paris where, just like New York City,  you can find people with attitudes (disclaimer – I am allowed to say this because I am a New Yorker).  I am having a difficult time finding a dentist and it really is upsetting being so far away from home.  In a past life, before kids, I worked in Luxembourg, for the U.S. Embassy, and we were given local doctor’s contact details  that spoke English.  Here, in Percy-en-Normandie, I am completely on my own to figure this out.  I have found a great Dr. here, Docteur Pascal LOREILLE, who is very kind and speaks English really well. I was able to get some antibiotics from Dr. Loreille, to cure the infection, however I still need to find a dentist and possibly an oral surgeon. I found that even though I have private health insurance, a requirement of having a temporary Visa, doctors really don’t know what to do with you unless you have a “carte vitale” . I am told that the French Health Care System is one of Universal Health Care, it is largely financed by the French Government National Health Insurance. I have read that the World Health Organization, has ranked France as one of the BEST health care systems in the World, but, and it’s a BIG BUT, you need to have access to it and you need to be able to communicate.

You will get where I am going with this thought in a second – – I will always have empathy for foreigners or immigrants in the United States, I know that my Government (the U.S. Government) right now, is not pro-foreigner, but the U.S. was a Country founded by Immigrants.  France is very similar to the United States, in that the French People, just like Americans, are very proud of their Country, Culture and Language. I am a foreigner right now in France!  The “French” very much believe that you need to speak their language.  I have tried to call a few dentists to no avail.  I have left numerous messages, all in French but granted very sophomoric French, in what I am sure is a less than perfect accent.

**Je voudrais in rendez-vous pour in abces et une douleur dans ma dent.  C’est URGENT!!!!!

Navigating the whole medical system can seem a little overwhelming!  I am still looking for a dentist.  I might fly back to the States in a few weeks.  I have been told a few times, that “the dentist is not accepting new patients” however there is this nagging feeling, in the corner of my mind, that is saying, the real issue is I am a foreigner or that my French is less than perfect.  I have read, that there is a shortage of dentists in the Normandy region and that the government tried, in 2011, to create incentives for doctors to move to the Normandy region.  Maybe I am wrong and its not personal that I am being rejected. Here is to crossing my fingers that I sort this all out! 

Being abroad, it makes you very conscious, of staying in touch with family and friends.  I have been using “Facebook Messenger”, to keep in touch.  I did gain a local phone number, via the company Orange, but Messenger is free and I can also do video conference calls. My Mom and Dad have helped with my adjustment and sending care packages, my brother Will (in Med School) has been helping me navigate the medical system, my sister’s Ali and Abby, have been great “listening ears” for my occasional depression, and my Sister-in-Law, Debi, has taken care of our house and sending medicine, mail, etc.  Gregory West and Family have taken care of the house too and friends, Joy and Tamara, have sent my kids care packages too! I am truly grateful to them all! MERCI!


At the Gites de Jonquille, it is a magical place.  Deborah Powell absolutely loves animals!  I have told her she should have been a Veterinarian. She has bought ducks and chickens to raise as pets and they are very spoiled.  They are fed “evening tea” (evening supper) and it is warmed up in the oven.  These little chickens and duck can be picked up and pet on their feathers.  I never knew that if you raise them from infants, they loved to be picked up and carried.  They follow Deborah, David, Amelia, Victoria and my children Kale and Madison, all around the yard. It seems apropos, on Easter weekend, to see these little creatures run around the lush garden.  Easter means “Resurrection” or “Rebirth”.  Being here in Normandy, feels a little bit like a rebirth.


For Easter, Bill, Kale, Madison and I will go to the most lovely church in the center Percy called the Eglise Saint Jean-Baptiste.  In Europe, the little “villes” and villages, are often built around these gorgeous churches.  In this particular church, there is incredible stain glass but also this incredible heat lamp chandelier, that emits the most comforting, warm heat during a chilly Spring day.  Even though the church is enormous, it is very cozy inside.  Madison had her first Trumpet concert this week.  The acoustics in the Church were absolutely incredible. After the concert, they served “vin chaud” or hot wine, back at Madison’s school, to keep everyone warm in the night air.  It was an amazing experience!

Happy Easter and Joyeuses Paques!  Next time, I will tell you about “Poisson Avril”.

by: Tara Magaw