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!

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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

 

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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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The preparation for our adventure…

Let me start from the beginning…coast-normandie

A year ago, when Bill and I realized that our children’s time at L’Ecole Francaise du Maine (a French Immersion Program), was coming to an end, we knew we had to start planning for next steps.  Our son, Kale, had completed the elementary school program and the cost of local private schools in Maine seemed so cost prohibitive.  Our family started looking for a new option for schooling.  Bill feverishly Googled Catholic private schools and French public schools in France for Kale (age 12) and Madison (age 8).  He stumbled upon a lot of information but was drawn to the region of Normandy.

Normandy has gorgeous beaches and a beautiful coastal region.  We are living in Portland, Maine (a beautiful coastal region in the Northeast USA) and decided that we wanted to be someplace coastal again.  Normandy also has a very fertile agricultural area, with some of the most amazing wines and cheeses (especially Camembert), fresh non-GMO produce, grass feed beef and free range chickens. The idea of having a naturally clean food supply, instead of always shopping at Whole Foods for safer food, appealed to us.  Finally, the history of the region, the D-Day Beaches of Normandy, where during WWII, western allies launched the largest amphibious invasion in history against Germany, seemed like a great way to expose our children to history first hand.

Why France? Why the French education system?  We love the culture!  Also, the French Public School System is renowned for its strong Math and Science programs.  We heard great endorsements of the French Private Catholic School System too (and it’s a fraction of the cost of private schools in the United States).  We found out that Kale, in 7th grade, would be taking Physics, Chemistry, Geometry, Technology, History, French, English and he decided on a 3rd language (German), Gym, Music, Art and homemade lunches (with 3 courses); all very impressive in our estimation.

As luck should have it, we found the Powell Family online.  They had moved from Wales to Percy-en-Normandie.  The Powell’s had started a Gite business and had made the transition the year before.  Their children spoke zero French (ages 5 and 10 when they arrived in Normandy) and now are conversing in French and attending the local school system.  Children are amazing and also resilient! We decided to rent a Gite from them, for a few years, and then look into buying something of our own.  This set-up also gives me, the uncertain one, the ability to “back out”, and say, “let’s move home”. So now we are going to be living in the Amelia Gite at, “The Gites de Jonquille” meaning the Guest Houses of the Daffodils. Percy-en-Normandie, will be our home. Stay tuned…

 

By Tara Magaw

An American Naked In Normandy

Hi, I’m Tara and I am feeling incredibly naked! I am beginning a journey, with my family, that at times makes me feel very vulnerable and naked.  In spite of this, I have a feeling at the end of this journey, we will create memories that will last a lifetime.

My husband Bill and I have decided to move to Normandy, France.  I call this adventure, the BIG purge! We are in search of a simpler life but one full of meaning and purpose. I am not going to lie, a big inspiration for this expedition is to make our children bi-lingual and possibly polyglots. We want our children to avoid being trapped by “false walls” and borders.  My end goal is to make my children citizens of the World!

“Are you afraid”, you might ask.  Yes I am!  To add to all of this, I don’t speak very much French but I am sure I will have to learn fast.

Bill has a wondering soul. I am the one that entered this journey with trepidation. I wanted to stay in beautiful Maine, U.S.A.  Actually, I am a New York Girl and staying on the East Coast appealed to me very much.

If you choose to follow me, I am documenting all of this to show the “good” and “ugly” of moving out of my comfort zone.  So, Cheers to this American being naked in Normandy (or Normandie as the French spell it).

by- Tara Magaw