August 24, 2012

My Fall Favorites

Despite my previous post, I am excited to go back to school. The French call this time of year La Rentrée, the re-entry. Families and employees return from their summer vacations (The French get five weeks of vacation in addition to numerous federal holidays!), kids go back to school, and the regular rhythm of daily life ("métro, boulot, dodo") resumes. For me, back-to-school really is the beginning of the year. It's a fresh start that makes me motivated and optimistic.

Here are the top ten things I'm looking forward to enjoying this fall:
  1. Cooler weather: After a hot, dry summer, I'm eager to don cashmere sweaters and to snuggle under my down comforter. 
  2. Autumn in Wisconsin: The yellow maples and birches, red sumac, and purple ash trees; the frosty lawns and pumpkins; orchards laden with Macintosh, Courtland, and Honey Crisp apples
  3. The iPhone 5: Rumor has it that Apple will announce the next generation iPhone on September 12 and that it will be available on September 19. I'm positively giddy with anticipation! After a modest upgrade to the iPhone 4s, I hope that this newest version will be significant, both inside and out. 
  4. My new role as the Pewaukee High School Tech Coach: Although I will still be teaching six French classes this year, I am very excited to support my colleagues' individual technology goals, to work together to leverage technology as a valuable tool in maximizing student achievement.
  5. Fall fashions: One of the harbingers of autumn is the arrival of the voluminous fall fashion magazines.  I am currently enjoying 2,860 glossy pages filled with outfits, accessories, shoes, and handbags in the colors and fabrics I love the most: Vogue (916), Vanity Fair (358), Marie Claire (382), Harper's Bazaar (552), and InStyle (652)!
  6. Fires in the fireplace: cozy weekend mornings with a steaming cup of café au lait or evenings with a nice glass of red wine
  7. Football: Cheering for the Pewaukee Pirates on Friday nights and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoons
  8. Planning and preparing for another trip to France: Sharing the beauty, history, and culture of Paris, Provence, and La Côte d'Azur with a group of very excited students.
  9. School supplies: As tech-savvy as I am, I still love new notebooks, post-its, pens, and markers.
  10. Hot apple cidar and Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

Il dolce far niente!

Today is the final day of my "summer vacation." Where did the time go? Although it wasn't the best summer, it's still hard to see it end. Now before you start lecturing about how I have no reason to lament, how teachers have a long vacation each summer while the rest of society goes to work, please understand that I absolutely recognized how fortunate I am to have three months "off." Time off is a relative term though, isn't it? Since, June 8th, I have accomplished the following:
  • helped my mom with a variety of tasks as she recovered from a broken ankle and dislocated shoulder 
  • taught three technology classes to my peers
  • provided personalized professional development opportunities
  • presented at a national conference (AATF Chicago)
  • installed 5 tons of stone mulch, 10 yards of bark mulch, 5 techne arbor vitae, 7 white potentillas, six boxwoods, 1 royal star magnolia, 3 wine and roses weigela, and 2 sea foam rose bushes 
  • maintained our gardens despite the record temperatures and draught
  • worked countless hours in my classroom organizing, decorating, updating websites, syllabi, course materials, etc.
OK, enough justification, I  know how hard I work and I am not going to feel guilty for today's plan: Il dolce far niente. For my final day before teacher in-service begins on Monday, I am enjoying the pleasure of doing nothing!  I stayed in my jammies until noon, sipping tea and paging through the fall fashion magazines. I read the New York Times and caught up on my favorite blogs and social media. I participated in the Capture the Color project, reliving my favorite vacation memories. Next week, it's "back to school" for me, and as always, I will work hard to help my students achieve their academic goals. But today, I am enjoying "the sweetness of doing nothing!"

Capture the Color

I was honored when Catherine at La Mémoire Vive nominated me to participate in Travel Supermarket's Capture the Colour Contest. The challenge is to post five photos, each featuring one of the following colors: blue, green, yellow, white, red. Each photo should include a caption featuring links and sensory memories. Here are my choices. With the exception of the last photo, all of these pictures were taken with my iPhone.

BLUE: Hydrangeas in Chatham 
Cape Cod, Massachusetts - 2010
  • Sight: Stunning blue hydrangeas bordering weathered cedar shakes
  • Sound: Seagulls screeching and seals barking
  • Smell: Fresh sea air
  • Taste: Friday night lobster boils
  • Touch: Cold, hard sand under my bare feet
GREEN: Vineyards at Hillebrand Winery
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario - 2011
  • Sight: Lovely landmark hotels and horse-drawn carriages 
  • Sound: The deafening roar of the majestic Niagara Falls
  • Smell: Fragrant blossoms in the impeccably manicured gardens
  • Taste: Crisp whites and syrupy Ice Wines
  • Touch: The cool spray of the Falls on your skin
YELLOW: A lock with our initials: M<3E 
on Le Pont des Arts, Paris - 2011
  • Sight: Expressions of love, the spires of Notre Dame, the Ile de la Cité
  • Sound: The clicking of padlocks and camera shutters
  • Smell: The dampness of the Seine 
  • Taste: Fresh baguettes and delectable pastries
  • Touch: Creaking wooden footboards, cold metal keys tossed into the river
WHITE: Sailing off of Newport, Rhode Island 
(taken at the Castle Hill Inn, 2009)
  • Sight: A live postcard of New England 
  • Sound: Wet sails snapping in the wind, "Coming about!"
  • Smell: Freshly mown lawns
  • Taste: Salty spray and tart limes
  • Touch: Hard, slouching Adirondack chairs
RED: Our wedding - Nobel Victory Memorial Chapel 
Delafield, WI - July 22, 2005
  • Sight: Smiles and tears, my husband's handsome face 
  • Sound: Ode to Joy, Canon in D, Ave Maria, The Prayer, "I do!"
  • Smell: White roses and stephanotis
  • Taste: Sweet white icing and bubbly Champagne 
  • Touch: Soft embraces
The Capture the Colour Contest encourages participants to nominate five bloggers to continue the project. These women are wonderfully observant and creative. I hope they will share their lovely, colorful photos! A big merci  to Catherine for nominating me! Visit Catherine's charming blog, La Mémoire Viveto view her beautiful photos.
August 12, 2012

Le Road Trip

For me, Vivian Swift's Le Road Trip was a bit of a bumpy ride. My journey began after the book was featured on Paris Breakfasts. The lovely drawings included in Carol Gillott's post compelled me to purchase this illustrated "Traveler's Journal of Love and France." The first stop on my journey was the iBookstore where I soon discovered that Le Road Trip is not available in an electronic format. Dommage! I love the portability of my own library on iPad and iPhone. On second thought, perhaps this is the type of book that is best experienced with all the senses: admiring the gorgeous watercolors, the sound and feel of turning the thick crisp pages, that new book smell (since I can't actually smell the freshly baked croissants), the taste of...well, ok, almost all of the senses.  Next stop: Voilà! Not only were there new copies available, but they were priced at $15 - 35% off the cover price. Thanks to one-click shopping, I anticipated receiving my book by the end of June.  Unfortunately, a week after placing my order, I received an email that the book was out of stock. OK, most summer road trips involve a few detours. But by July 15, I was back on track, having reordered the book (at full price). The next day, I received notice that the book had shipped with an estimated arrival of July 25-August 1. Two weeks for a book delivery? Oh well! As Vivian Swift states on page 2, "In love and travel getting there is half the fun...Anticipation is a crucial phase of any journey." Although resigned to waiting for Le Road Trip, I did wonder why I hadn't received an itinerary/tracking number. By August 8, when my package had yet to arrive, I filed a claim with Amazon to refund my purchase. At that point, I was ready to pack up and move on. But in a summer deprived of a real getaway, I was craving at least a literary road trip. On Friday, I stopped by my local Barnes and Noble to shop for my nephew's 6th birthday. On a whim, I asked if they could order Le Road Trip for me. "Actually, ma'am [still my least favorite form of politesse], we have a copy in stock."

Late Saturday afternoon, I sat on the deck with a glass of Vouvray and Le Road Trip. Everyone hopes for good weather when on vacation, so I was acutely aware of the blue skies, the warm sun, the gentle breeze. I always make a playlist when I go on vacation, songs that reflect the destination, but today, I didn't need my iPod. The happy chirping of the finches and sparrows at the bird feeder and the rhythmic clicking of the sprinklers provided the soundtrack for this "road trip." Conditions were perfect for my virtual vacation! As I accompanied Swift on Le Road Trip, I experienced each of her eight phases of travel:

Phase 1: Anticipation: "In love and travel, getting there is half the fun." Swift offers some good advice when preparing for a trip. I love the idea of creating a traveler's scrapbook by taping and folding 50 blank index cards like an accordion. As you travel, you add stamps, tickets, flowers, and other souvenirs to your mini scrapbook.  Swift also advises travelers to "pack for the person you are on Saturday morning." That makes sense! What you wear on Saturdays is solely based on your personal style choices, not by what is deemed appropriate for work, meetings, sports, etc. Your Saturday clothes represent "your most authentic self." I like the idea of being true to your own style, rather than anticipating what you "should" wear, especially in Paris. Yet, over the years, I believe that Paris has become part of my personal style, my go-to Saturday outfits: tailored jeans or skirts, black tops, scarves, boots or ballet flats...Maybe travel helps you to define your "authentic self."

Phase 2: Infatuation: "Arrival. It's a lot like love at first sight." When you first arrive at your destination, you can hardly believe you are actually there. You are "giddy, gullible, stupid." You don't necessarily see things as they really are.  Swift uses Paris as the example. It's easy to view Paris as pure beauty, like choosing photos for my We'll Always Have Paris and Paris, je t'aime! Pinterest boards. At this phase, you don't even notice the unpleasant realities of your destination: pollution, traffic, rudeness.... I experienced this infatuation stage with when I first saw Vivian Swift's gorgeous watercolors of Paris, Normandy, Brittany, Bordeaux, the Loire...of pastries, sunsets, cafés, bridges.... I fell in love with Swift's own handwritten font created on Giddy with infatuation, I didn't expect to experience the next few phases of Le Road Trip.

Phase 3: The Reality Check: Swift defines this as little bumps in the road: financial panic, loss, jetlag, bad weather, etc. No vacation is immune to some minor disappointments. As I continued to read Le Road Trip, I became disappointed that the beautiful drawings and the text didn't always coincide. What the author chose to write and illustrate didn't always correspond with what this reader wanted to see. But that's the case with any book. The reader risks disappointment when traveling through any book. Despite minor setbacks, we continue on our journey.

Phase 4: The Honeymoon Phase: "Travel at its most romantic." It takes time, a few days, a few miles, a few pages for the real passion, the real adventure to kick in. After a while, you settle into the experience. Swift reminds us that true romance is a journey, not a destination. The honeymoon stage is about enjoying the experience; it's about tuning into the details, about being in the moment. So, I settle into the book, trying to resist the urge to project my own memories and feeling about French people, food, wines, etc. It is hard not to compare my own experiences of Paris (j'adore), Giverny (lovely), Bayeux (boring), Omaha Beach (pride and tears), le Mont-St.-Michel (awe-inspiring), St.-Malo (late-night strolls in search of crêpes), Chartres (inspiration for Marquette's Gesu church), the Loire Valley (fairytales). My opinions and experiences were quite different from those of Vivian Swift and her "new husband" but that is exactly the point: Enjoy your own experience.

Phase 5: The Going Gets Tough: When traveling with others, sooner or later, everyone gets on your nerves. Having taken five trips with various high school students and their parents, I can certainly attest to this! But even when traveling with friends and loved ones, there are times when you are going to disagree and need your own space. At this point in the book, Vivian Swift was starting to get on my nerves with her contradictions ("I lust after liver paté" vs. "I am repulsed by food that looks grey"), her love/hate relationship with the French, and most of all the 17 drawings and countless descriptions of cats!

Phase 6: In The Comfort Zone: "Real love, real travel, ready for the long haul." All road trips have ups and downs. Having survived the challenges, a traveler can feel pride at experiencing the journey and surviving. Traveling becomes easier, even effortless. We become "vagabonds." In this phase, Vivian Swift presents her A-Z of vagabonding, including acquired tastes, beaten tracks (on and off), cruise control, etc. Having survived the bumps in my reading road, I had settled in to enjoying what the rest of the journey would bring. I learned about the wines of Bordeaux, French delicacies, Johnny Hallyday, cathedrals, châteaux, and most of all the "X and Y Co-ordinates of Zen Navigation: X = the limited time you have on the road, in a life; Y = the eternity you have in every hour, every day; Z = Each step you take is a once-in-a-lifetime infinite thing."

Phase 7: The End of the Road: It's the point in a journey when the thrill is gone. You are tired and you start counting down the days or hours until it is time to go home (much like you counted the days and hours until your vacation began). At this point, there are only 28 pages left in the book and the travelers are on their way back to Paris to catch a plane for Long Island. I'm ready to be done too.

Phase 8: Aller et Retour: There and Back. When the final day arrives, just before it's time to go home, you start feeling nostalgic. Swift describes sitting in her favorite café in Paris, realizing that tomorrow her chair will be empty or occupied by someone else. The sun will sparkle on the Seine and set over Paris "without us."  It's the feeling that you are ready to leave, yet you know that you have created lasting memories and gained valuable insights. It is also the knowledge that, despite challenges and frustrations, you are already looking forward to your next trip! Despite my own frustrations with this book, I know I will look back fondly at the experience. I will revisit the beautiful images and some of my favorite pages. Even the act of reviewing the book for my blog has helped to redeem it. And I know that my love of travel literature (especially travel to France) will compel me to embark on many more literary journeys.

I do love Vivian Swift's final travel tip: "Before you leave home, put a bottle of champagne in the fridge. So when you drag yourself back from the glories and adventures of Le Road Trip, you'll have something to make la rentrée and the unpacking seem fun."


Whenever I return home from traveling, I am keenly aware of three things:

1. There's no place like home! As much as I love to travel, no place is more comfortable than my own home, surrounded by the people and things that I love, sleeping on my own pillow... Besides, this Wisconsin girl always craves a big, cold glass of skim milk (nearly impossible to find in France)!

2. The memories become fonder with time and distance. Photos, drawings, and journals are the best souvenirs to take home with you. I'm not a person who likes refrigerator magnets, knick-knacks, or t-shirts. Nothing compares to reliving your experiences through your own eyes (as seen through the lens of your camera or sketched on paper) and your own words (written in your own hand - I want to create my own font!).

3. Travel changes you. As St. Augustine said, "Life is a journey and those who do not travel read only a page." When I look back at the places I've been and the things I've experienced, I know that each adventure has help to shape the person I am and the person I will continue to become. If you need inspiration or justification, check out my Bon Voyage Pinterest Board.