My Life is Not ALL Happy Travels

I have been so sick since I came back from France. Besides the broken arm and the post-trip depression, I have three other medical conditions that make me feel like I’m dragging a heavy suitcase through an endless airport. Last week I went to seven different medical appointments. This week only five. I feel really old and discouraged.

At times like this I turn to my faith. (I’m intensely curious how people without faith find comfort in their trials. Is it only by drinking gin at 9am?) Every book in the Bible talks about suffering. God uses it to refine us like gold–but it’s not fun being in that refining fire! It’s hard while you are suffering to rejoice as Christians are commanded to do. (James says “Count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds.” Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.” And he was in prison when he said it.)

I’m really trying to look for the blessings and I have many. Among other caring actions, Jim has made dinner every night. I have a wonderful family including a 15-month-old granddaughter who squeals and points at the screen when we FaceTime. My work partner puts up with my grouchiness, treats me kindly, and really listens to me. I have great friends, and a job that I love going to. Today I was at the beach, and ran into a parent of one of my new students. She told me how much her daughter loved me, and I was deeply encouraged. It’s a difficult time, but I know God is in it, and I have hope.

Another blessing–my beautiful city:



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Day 42: Rouen to Paris

Remember that when last we left our heroine she was on the penultimate leg of her personal Amazing Race. She had a tight five-minute connection in Arras, France or she would not make it to Paris and her flight home.

(No lie–this was the weather: gathering clouds.)


So, that was stressful. On the first train I found a nice conductor who said five minutes was not very much time to catch the next train in that particular train station. Turns out the Arras station is quite large. But he took a personal interest in me and promised to be with me when the train stopped to point me in the right direction. Then, after the stop before mine, in the middle of wheat fields, for no apparent reason the train stopped for three minutes. This reduced my new connection to two minutes. The conductor took out his phone and talked very fast in French. I heard the words “États Unis” and “Charles DeGaulle”, and when he got off the phone he said “Do you have a flight out tonight you are trying to make?”

“No, tomorrow morning.”

“OK, well, you can take the next train to Paris, the metro to the little bus, and the little bus to your airport hotel.”

“I won’t make the TGV?”

“No, I’m sorry. I really tried. They won’t hold the train.”

Great sadness. Three minutes, people. THREE MINUTES.

We pulled into the station three minutes late and the TGV was nowhere in sight. It should have been there for another minute. “Run to platform 8!!” the conductor shouted. “Go down those stairs! FAST!!” (Tense music plays.)

I made it to Platform 8 just as the TGV arrived in the station. Five minutes late. I got on the train and fell apart. SO TIRED OF train station stress!!!

Now I’m in Paris at an airport hotel that is possibly the strangest place I’ve ever stayed. It’s super high tech. For instance, there’s no concierge–I checked in on an iPad in the lobby, and made my own key. Everything in the room is operated by tablet–lights, blinds, TV, temperature. Which is fine until it’s dark, you want to find your phone to check the time and you can’t find your tablet. BECAUSE IT’S DARK! But it has the most expensive sheets, and the thickest towels and the internet is fast. There are, seriously, no exaggeration, eight really nice pillows on the bed. If this is the future, my generation and older are doomed because they just aren’t open to using tech. But for a gique (French for “geek”) like me, it’s fun.


Goodbye French class friends.


Goodbye cool French teacher.


Goodbye Paul’s Bakery. Sniff.


Au revoir, France. (Literally–To the seeing you again, France.)

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Day 41: Rouen

After my crazy day yesterday, it was nice to have a sort of uneventful day today. In French class we watched a bunch of funny videos and evaluated them as we worked toward the grammar goal of commentary and discourse. When I’ve watched this sort of video at home it’s been super frustrating because there are slang phrases and unusual words that are the key to the joke, so I understand 80%, but the 20% I miss makes all the difference. So this was the ideal situation: humorous videos with someone to explain to me all parts I missed. Super!

The Seine River was exceptionally beautiful this morning on my way to school. I will miss walking past this daily:


I had lunch in the beautiful botanic garden. I loved the beautiful setting, and also watching (and hearing) the children play.

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A friend here has to learn French for his work, and he’s really struggling. Every word is difficult for him, and he does not like learning the language. I wish he could see how beautiful and fun French is. It’s a cautionary tale for me to keep in mind the next time I really find learning something difficult–could my attitude toward the subject matter be making it even more stressful, and is there a way to look for the beauty that others see?

My host mother here is so sweet. It is such a gift to have her plan for, shop for, cook, and clean up my breakfast and dinner. She’s made wonderful fresh vegetables, quiche, pizza, and tiramisu. She tells us stories about her travels to Mongolia, Antarctica, and Libya (before it fell.) I know I’ll never make it to places like Sudan, so hearing her adventures is super interesting. I’ve never quite met anyone like her. I sort of want to see penguins, but not enough that I want to be that cold. I sort of want to see Bhutan, and Algeria, but not enough that I want to put up with the discomfort of trips like this. She is fearless.

Speaking of fear. I’m afraid of my five-minute connection tomorrow in Arras on the way to Paris. Seriously, five minutes to find my train. My plan is to follow the crowd, hoping that others are taking the same TGV train to CDG airport. If anything goes wrong, there’s no next train until the next day. Must make that train. I am beginning to hate train travel. Not the actual sitting in a seat looking out the window part, but all the rest of it. Sketchy-looking people in a bad part of town, not knowing how to find the right train, the fact that they don’t post the gate until 20 minutes before, and the stress of tight time schedules. If you are reading this Friday morning and are the praying sort, I would appreciate any prayers for this connection. Our Father cares about us and these little details of our lives, but He wants us to ask. (My connection is at 11am California time.)

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Day 40: Rouen

Faithful commenter Kirk asked “Are you a French snob at heart?” NO!!! I don’t like everything Francophone. And here’s something I really don’t like about French life: the strikes and demonstrations. Today the farmers took their tractors and trucks and blocked all the main roads and bridges into town. (And many towns in France, including Mont Saint-Michele.) I took the F5 bus down the hill, and part way down the bus driver just stopped, opened the doors and let everyone off. He couldn’t go any farther because it was blocked. We had about a mile walk to school. (This picture is of a typically very busy intersection.)


In class, the school gave one of my classmates a little birthday party. Sweet!


After school I visited the Musée de Beaux Arts. Rouen has the second largest collection of impressionist paintings in France (the first is the D’Orsay.) It was nice. My favorite was this portrait of a mother, and her little girl (holding a doll.)


I also liked the paintings of Rouen–it’s fun to see what the artists’ impressions of these very familiar locations. The first is by Sisley and the next two are Monet.

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This dog was a small part of a huge painting.  I think she (Louise Breslau, 1885) captured the expression really well.


I’ve seen lots of paintings of Montmartre, but none like this! (Pierre Hodé- 1889-1942)IMG_2052

By the afternoon all the buses in the center of town were running smoothly, so I assumed the problem was over. A woman came up to me as I waited at the bus stop to tell me that the F5 was never going to come because of the blockage. She said she takes the F5 and suggested we go together to the other side of the blockage and catch the bus. On the way, I asked her if she had lived in Rouen all her life, and then what she did there. “You were at my work! You had the salmon pasta!” She had recognized me from the day before sitting at the bus stop and took time to help me. A true angel.  As we passed other F5 stops, we told the people (all women), waiting that we didn’t think the bus was coming and we were walking, and usually they  joined us. It was like the story of the Bremen Town musicians. We passed the blockage and realized that no traffic was coming in our direction. No matter how far we walked, there were no cars or buses. The group asked me where I was going.

“Belbeuf.” And their faces looked horror-stricken.
“Is there anyone you can call?”

Up to that point I thought “Well, I can just walk.” But they all agreed it was impossibly far. I called my host mother. And got her machine, and started to cry. Later in the adventure it was clear that they thought I was living near the CITY of Belbeuf, which is 13 miles, when I meant the bus stop named “Belbeuf”–only five miles. (Still far, but not impossible to walk.)

“Don’t worry! We won’t abandon you! We’ll make sure you get home!” The problem was not that it was a long way. The problem was that it was all up a very steep hill. My family lives “en haut”- up high. I kept wondering what if there was a way to solve the problem by throwing money at it, but there wasn’t. Even the taxis can’t get through. After walking about four miles, my host mother had received my teary message, and picked me up. She even drove the other girls home, too. She is so nice.

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Day 39: Rouen

There are lots of things to love about my life in Rouen. Instead of the coffee truck, Paul’s Bakery sets up shop in our school foyer. (Do you see the strawberry tart that I’m obsessed with–third from the left?)


In class we are learning a lot of grammar and vocabulary, but the overarching theme is French humor. France has a culture of dark humor, political and other cartoons, and word play (like the double entendre–a French phrase.) It’s been a lot of fun.

I only have school until 1:00 p.m. all week, so I have plenty of time to explore the pretty town, take detours, and just wander. Today I had planned to visit a museum, but when I arrived it was closed. (The French aren’t great at updating their websites. They joke about how in Germany everything runs on schedule, and is more orderly than in France. The French say about themselves that they have too much bureaucracy and not enough order.) No matter. I saw lots of pretty churches and many cute streets, and even made it to a huge grocery store by my house. Often I’ll run into classmates around town, and that’s fun.

Many people who say they aren’t interested in seeing the cathedrals of Europe have not been in a European cathedral. They are so amazing!!! There is a spirit there that still pervades the space–you can physically feel the strong faith of the people who worked together to build something so beautiful because of their love for Jesus. At least, for me, I can feel something special and holy. God is always reaching out to us, but sometimes we feel His presence more strongly. I feel a community of brothers and sisters who transcend time, and who had a faith and wanted to build a beautiful space to worship the God they adored.

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Some people have asked about my arm/shoulder–thanks for your concern. It is better every day. I notice I can do more things like use two hands to take a picture, or straighten my arm completely, that I couldn’t do a week ago. Also, I’ve learned how to compensate–I can cut food with one hand very well now, and I know how to put on my backpack myself. The hardest part is at night. I can’t get comfortable and it hurts. If I move it wrong, the pain wakes me up. But I’m not worried about it like I was the first week. It was stressful to know if I was making the right decision about surgery. Now I’m really glad I didn’t do it.

A part of French life that I’ve had to work around is that they do not snack. At all. They eat bread or cookies for breakfast (with a big bowl of coffee with milk or other hot drink), then they have lunch at noon, and dinner at eight. I can’t figure out how they can go eight hours without eating. They claim Americans are fat because we snack so much. I watched a woman come out of a grocery store with a baguette in her cart. Her two-year-old REALLY wanted that bread!! The child reached for it and cried. I think an American would have just broken off a piece and given it to her, but not the French mom–she moved the baguette out of reach and ignored the tears.

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Day 38: Rouen, France

Last week I was ready to leave France. This week I’ve fallen in love again. IMG_1860

I adore Rouen. The city is darling. I took a three-hour walking tour today, and although I was tired, it was just SO interesting. There’s the pretty Gros Horloge (Big Clock), and the cathedral that Monet painted in the morning, in the evening, in the afternoon, in the spring, in the summer, in the winter, etc.

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The church that marks the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. (It’s supposed to look like a wave.)


The blending of the old and the new in a creative, authentic (non-touristy) way.IMG_1958 IMG_1964 IMG_1963 IMG_1905

It’s a city that cares about children. The left picture is of a beach (like the one in Paris) that they made for the summer along the river, with lots of fun places to play and hang out for free. The little carousels are all over.

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The school is great. It is like my first school–very warm and welcoming. The whole staff is super kind and helpful. The teachers seem brilliant and caring. One of my teachers is from Madagascar, and I would love to sit down over coffee with her and hear her story. How do you get from Madagascar to living in Rouen, France???? The teacher who led the walking tour grew up in Paris, and spent last year teaching elementary school in Togo. Fascinating. I made friends with a Swiss woman who teaches high school french in Switzerland, and she did the Montpellier program last summer. It was fun to compare notes. We spent the lunch hour together exploring the outstanding botanical garden right next to the school. You can eat lunch in the garden, but only on the benches. It’s forbidden to eat on the grass.

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These pictures are my school’s entryway and exterior.  You can see how students hang out in a welcoming environment. Very different from the stark building with bare classrooms I had before.

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Last night after an amazing dinner (chicken Cordon Bleu, with wonderful vegetables and special ice cream treats), my host mother just sat down at the table and talked to us. She was truly interested in our stories and added her own about seeing orangoutangs in Borneo and about other places she’s travelled. These are precious moments for me. I can’t go everywhere, but hearing the stories is fascinating to me. And I get to do it IN FRENCH!!! The world is an amazing place.

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Day 37: Strasbourg to Rouen

Today I travelled from one side of France to the other. Each time I move I find it more and more stressful to pack up and make the complicated transitions to the new city. Today was especially awful. First, because it was Sunday (fewer trams), Google advised me to take a different tram to the train station. Instead of actually going INTO the station, it was only a five minute walk!! Easy! But the neighborhood by the train station was someplace a woman rolling a suitcase early on a Sunday morning really stood out among the people sleeping on the street. I didn’t exactly feel safe. Then it was the “Where do I go? Where do I stand?” game. And I made it to my first train. While I was on the TGV train (2.5 hours-300 mph!), I could really relax and enjoy it, but as soon as we arrived in Paris I was in the pressure cooker again. I had to walk from one train station (Gare de l’est) to a Metro station (Magenta), and I’m climbing a thousand stairs and getting on multiple escalators with no hands to hold on (because my one good arm is dragging a suitcase.) and walking more than my daily goal on my Fitbit. AGAIN, the area around the train station was not great. I didn’t know where to go. I asked a woman who was dressed nicely, but she didn’t know. (Dressed nicely for a reason, I thought afterwards.) I asked another woman and she pointed to this grungy, little storefront-looking place that did say “Magenta” on it. I never would have found it without asking. Scary. Then I took the metro to Gare de Lazare. Then AGAIN I had to figure out where to go to catch my next train. It just wasn’t clear. The station was big and confusing. There were clear signs to the Metro and the RER (light rail) but not to trains to other cities. And the ticket machines never take my credit card and I don’t have change and they don’t take paper bills. I kept telling myself that I am a bright well-travelled woman and I’ll figure it out, but myself kept replying back like a whiny three-year old that she needed pastries and was sick of traveling and sick of figuring out these train station logic puzzles. I finally found the right train, and as soon as I sat down the train pulled out. Incredibly stressful.

My new host mother met me at the train station with another student (from Xian, China) who was staying with her.  I didn’t realize while I was planning that there would be a huge difference in relationship between the families the SCHOOL picked and the family I picked through AirBnB. This woman, like the first host mother I had, seems to take a personal interest in ME, and even drove me to a vista point for a good view of her city. She comes to the US every year at Thanksgiving to do the Black Friday sales (especially Chico’s.) So funny. So I already feel a connection. At the last place, (a room I found on AirBnB), they were renting a room. Ahead of time they said they looked forward to meeting me and helping me progress in French, but in reality, they were just renting me a room. It makes sense that the school families would be more welcoming, it’s just not something that I knew ahead of time.

The new place is funky…It’s a big old house, that is sort of like an old boarding house. I have my own room, and the bathroom is down the hall. The host mother will make breakfast and dinner for me. (Luxury!) It has a nice garden and it’s in a nice neighborhood. The wifi is not great, so it was frustrating to FaceTime. (And I LIVE for FaceTime. :) There are several students from my school staying here, which is sort of nice because we can help each other figure out how to get to school on the bus…A 15 year-old Turkish boy who competes in Drumline (competitive group drumming), and entertained the rest of us with magic tricks at dinner has won my heart. At first I thought “He’s so young to doing a French program like this”, but then I remembered I was his age when I spent a summer in Guadalajara, Mexico. I admire ANY 15-year-old who wants to learn French enough to give up a summer to immerse himself.

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The first picture is the pretty garden I see when I walk out the door. The second is the view from my bedroom window (faces a different direction and is also very pretty.) IMG_1843 (1)   IMG_1842

This is my wonky bedroom. The bed is comfortable and the room is private, and I’m happy to have my own refrigerator and microwave. And look at that TEA KETTLE! Yeah!


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