The daily rhythms of life in France have forced us to slow down and take in the unmistakable scent of warm baguette. Although it may sound a bit cliché, we have found that with two hour lunch breaks, it’s a bit complicated to get paperwork done, whereas falling in love with the world around us has been made simpler.
Last month, we celebrated one year living on this side of the ocean. Being back in France has been different to what we’d expected. But it has jump-started a few positive changes in the life of our family.
A neighbor just asked if we’d like to picnic together on a mountain 15 minutes away – during the work week. Government offices and pharmacies closed, carpenters and dentists on their lunch break, there was nothing to miss out on. All to be gained in these carefree hours of relational communion.
In January, about eight months after moving our family across the ocean from the US to France, we started to see a real shift within us. We gave up fighting to get things done. Our well organized move-in to do lists were killing us in this part of the world. All of that pushing to get resident documents, driving permits, furniture, repairmen out when they said was exhausting. And, our drivenness defeated the purpose of living in the countryside. We resorted to cutting down the number of things we wanted to achieve in a day, shop less and be okay with a bit more imperfection. It was then that we decided on embracing the natural rhythms of where we live. Also, instead of letting life’s open loops rule us, TM and I chose which mornings we each would get up early and pray and reflect, journal or run. We realized that space for mediation is rarely a question of time, rather it’s a question of priorities. This simple space for self-care has been a game changer for us.
As we have slowed down, I started noticing little details about aggregate, perennial fruits like raspberries. Namely, how spectacular the array of colors raspberries can be depending on the species. Or, how delicate these beaded gems are. Releasing them from their cone-shaped stem a tad too firm, and you’ll damage the drupelets. Hoard them overnight and they risk becoming moldy and mushy. What a reward then, to swirl perfectly firm golds and ruby reds around in your bowl of morning yogurt. This year, they have decidedly become my most favorite fruit.
We understand more about wildlife typical of our mountainous woodlands. Our baptism by fire began on day one when we woke to ravens bashing their beaks against the old farmhouse. We’ve since battled the pine martens (weasels) living in the rafters with government appointed volunteer hunters, until we found out the martens were in fact dormice, a protected species (grrrr!). Most recently, we’ve come to find out first hand how nasty and lethal processionary caterpillars are. Their urticating hair can kill a dog, or weaken a host tree (be it oak or pine), or most noticeably, make your child scream for hours after you pluck hundreds of fine hairs out of their skin. Life in the country it is!
This year, I discovered how much of a breath of fresh air it is to have kids in school. And how them being in local French pubic school is wrought with a host of new ethical dynamics, begging us to stay involved and invested. But mainly, school has proven to be a vibrant epicenter of fantastic new friendships for our whole family. I could never have given them (and me!) all the relational opportunities they have had there. Summer holidays started a fortnight ago, and we’ll be hard pressed for the kids to see all their best friends this summer. Partially, due to the steady influx of wonderful visitors we have at the farm.
This past year, we have been learning how to be better hosts by inviting people into our normal lives rather than killing ourselves to play tour guide. We’re learning to invite people in when our house looks like… three kids have had an awesome day of play. I’ve come to see how valuable it is to write down the meals served so you can recycle some menus and you aren’t scratching your brain wondering if you made this dish before for them. Or, how costly it is to have a constant flow of guests. All of this is teaching us to cook simpler, but still delicious meals.
Mainly, I now know how to be a wonderful guest thanks to some fabulous guests we hosted over the past year. They are the ones that tell you to take your spouse on a date whilst they watch the kids. Or they’ll pick up a grocery bill. Or even better, help mop the floors. Having out of town guests has been really fun.
A delight too, to host regular local visitors. We’ve started to live like we are in our forties rather than our twenties. Our local and expat friends are all about 10-15 years older than we are. That works out, really. We’re a bit weary of the rat race and the social butterflying around anyway. We long for meaningful, lasting relationships and a mindful way of living and cooking. We think about a life well-lived and about death, perhaps in a more healthy way, rather than running from it.
We’re still very much alive and we plan to be present and live in gratitude for each day we have been given here. Sometimes, that means running in the country and taking it in. Other days, it’s finding time to just put the paint on the canvas.
We’ve rediscovered how accessible medical care is in this part of the world and we are so grateful. It’s a great place to find out why you have throbbing pain in your tooth, go to the ER or actually remove a funny growth. As our whole family heads to a Grenoble hospital adventure this week, we’re all still learning. How inexpensive surgery is. How few papers are to be signed. And how little hand holding there is.
In a year, we’ve learned a lot. But most of all, we’ve learned to fall in love with France all over again.