Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

Friendly

The city of Eugene is comprised of many different neighborhoods with specific names. For example, we are currently renting a house in the hilly, forested Churchill neighborhood named after the illustrious Winston Churchill. In a couple of weeks, we are moving to the flatter, open Santa Clara neighborhood — slightly ironic having just moved out of Santa Clara County in California. This is Eugene’s most northerly district lying on the edge of farmland and the city with easy access to the Willamette River bike paths. There are other neighborhoods with historical names such as Cal Young, named after the son of a couple who homesteaded the area in 1851. College Hill retains its name from the days when Columbia University was located there. Whitaker, known as “The Whit”, home to many breweries and other colorful businesses is Eugene’s hip neighborhood. Trainsong as the name suggests is surrounded by the Southern Pacific’s tracks and switching yard. Each neighborhood has its own character, ambience, and topography. My favorite is Goodpasture Island — what? There’s an island in Eugene?! Well, there used to be when the Willamette River would flood its banks each winter before flood control dams were built in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s… a reminder that it is necessary to think about whether or not your house is on the flood plain. We made sure ours was not!

There’s even a neighborhood called Friendly named after one of Eugene’s mayors and reputed to have very friendly residents. However, I would say that moniker could apply to the entire city. We have been welcomed with open arms by everyone IMG_2056since we arrived over a month ago. It feels like traveling in a time machine back to the 60’s. We started off with house-hunting in February and met our realtor, Amy. Who knew we were going to like our real estate agent so much that we would want to adopt her into our family when business is done?! She has been amazing not only doing an outstanding job of finessing our search for and acquisition of the right home, but also checking in with us from time to time just to see how we’re doing or if we need anything. Having been born and raised here, Amy is a fountain of knowledge. She has been able to provide all kinds of references and information that have helped us get settled.

Once we decided that Eugene would definitely be our next hometown, we had to find a place to rent in order to make the transition. We were fortunate to find a furnished house available through Sabbatical Homes. As it turned out, we have a lot in common with the owner, Nancy, such as our love of jazz and travel. She has been nothing but accommodating as our needs have changed extending our rental window as much as possible both at the beginning and end of our agreed contract so we can make a smooth move from her house to our new home. She even reached out to friends when it appeared we were going to need a subsequent rental. Nancy checks in with us to see how things are going and joins in cheering the successes of our pursuit of a new life in Eugene. We have experienced a wonderful sense of support in our new community.

At one point, we thought our new house would not close until two weeks after we had to vacate Nancy’s place. In the process of looking for another rental, we met Richard and Marjorie who were renting out their house for a month while off to visit Marjorie’s family in Marseilles, France. We spent quite a bit of time talking with them. While, in the end, we didn’t need to rent another place, we have kept them in our contacts for the future hoping we will be able have more than just the acquaintance and also gain an opportunity to continue practicing our French. Another AirBNB contact regarding a rental introduced us to Milo and his wife who are retired educators with, as they suggested, “lots of stories to share”. They weren’t sure they could accommodate our timeline but offered the guest bedroom in their house if we needed a couple of days leeway to get into our house. Such a thoughtful gesture from people you have never met.

Shopping and interacting with clerks and other employees has been another simple pleasure we have experienced in Eugene. If you ask where an item is located, usually they will not only know but will take you directly to it. More often than not, they ask you first if there’s something you need. Upon checkout, the clerks always take their time with every customer and engage you in a short but sincere conversation. While Anthony was checking out our groceries at Fred Meyer, we discovered his parents live just around the corner from the house we are buying. It’s refreshing to be greeted every day like this. It makes us feel like we can actually become part of the community rather easily as opposed to what would have been years and years of effort in that endeavor with limited reward had we moved to France.

We were a little leery about revealing the fact that we had moved here from California, but we are not alone. Some of the houses we have watched go on the market and then sell very quickly have ended up with California cars in the driveway. An enthusiastic “Welcome to Eugene” has been the response from everyone whether our dealings have been in person or online. We’ve come to the conclusion that Eugenians are just plain friendly and we’re thrilled!

Five-Star Cuisine

Everyone has a favorite place for special occasions. For the past 12 years (and long before that whenever we were in town), ours has been Shadowbrook Restaurant in Capitola, Ca. Superior food, superior service, superior and very unique atmosphere — all for amazingly reasonable prices. The fact that they have been in business for the past 70 says it all. We have celebrated dozens of birthdays, anniversaries and other special events at Shadowbrook — most recently my retirement — all of them memorable. It’s also where we have taken out-of-town guests and they never failed to be impressed. Their tag line “There’s no place like Shadowbrook” couldn’t be more accurate. I doubt we will find its match anywhere. Nevertheless, in the spirit of adventure and new experiences, we set out to explore the possibilities in Eugene.

IMG_4553As I understand it, Portland has become quite the foodie mecca in the past few years. Based on our experience so far, I would venture to say that Eugene is not far behind. One of the places we discovered that serves well for those special occasions is Bruno’s Chef’s Kitchen. Run by chef-owner, Tom “Bruno” Bollag, it started out 15 years ago as a healthy fast food drive through and by demand eventually evolved into a full-fledged restaurant. Bruno grew up in Switzerland and his cooking is influenced by his father who was a cook, his Italian mother, and all his travels throughout Europe. His specialty is sauces and because his restaurant is small (about 15 tables), he makes each and every dish individually to order. The menu varies from week to week and he tries never to make the same thing twice. Like so many chefs in this area, he focuses on using local ingredients and developing his menu based on what’s in season which is pretty much how everyone cooks in Europe. One evening on our first trip to Eugene, we lingered over a sumptuous meal of generous proportions at Bruno’s. As a starter we enjoyed steamer clams followed by Scaloppine and Limone (pork tenderloin cutlets with caper lemon butter brown sauce and saffron rice) for Norman and Lamb Curry with Plum Chutney for me. By the end of our meal which concluded with a dessert we could barely manage but couldn’t resist, we knew we had found our special occasion place in Eugene.

 

IMG_4580A truly complete surprise waiting for us in Eugene was a little piece of French heaven in the form of a restaurant called Marché and its adjacent gourmet food market, Provisions. Texas-born founding chef and owner, Stephanie Kimmel, started her culinary career in 1972 and established Marché in 1997. She benefits from much travel throughout her life as well as the study of French culture at the Sorbonne in the creation of her menus and techniques employed in the preparation of dishes using regional and seasonal ingredients. What she and her staff deliver is an outstanding, authentic French dining experience. You can even practice your French while you are there if you are so inclined. Marché offers a variety of ways to enjoy its cuisine from brunch to lunch, dinner, and a bar. To round out your French experience, after your meal you can head over to Provisions where there is a bistro, deli, and a gourmet market where you can find ingredients for those French meals at home. Additionally, Marché hosts a French Regional four-course dinner once a month complete with wine pairing. Once again, this is another special place with remarkably reasonable prices. This week we are joining in for an evening in Paris. Next month, off the the Loire Valley. So, you see, even though we didn’t make it to France for our retirement, we will still be able to partake of its pleasures in some small way here in our new hometown of Eugene.

 

 

Surf & Turf

In keeping with our the desire to continue our ever-evolving culinary endeavors, it was essential to determine what potential resources there might be in Eugene. During my extensive research, I discovered a couple of gems that we tried out on our first trip. Based on many further investigations around the city since we have moved here, I’m pretty convinced these are the “go to” places for all manner of surf and turf. In both cases, you can eat in, take out, or buy fresh to cook at home.

Fisherman’s Market

img_4571We love seafood, but even living near the California coast as we have much of our lives, unless we went right to the dock, most of what we could get was frozen or had been previously frozen. Fisherman’s Market is owned and operated by two Alaskan fisherman, Ryan and Debbie Rogers, which gives the place a certain level of credibility when it comes to fresh fish. Here you can buy live crab as well as fresh salmon, scallops, and whatever else is in season. That’s the key — buying what’s in season. When we first ate here in February, it was crab season. Norman had his first fresh crab ever and it was truly amazing. Since then we have tried other traditional seafood items on the menu such as fish and chips (choices are cod, salmon, mahi mahi, scallop, & shrimp) calamari, crab cakes, drunken clams, and crab cocktail. They make the best clam chowder we have had anywhere. They also serve an array of seafood sandwiches and salads. img_1936-1There are no less than six cocktail sauces from which to choose to garnish your meal, but they’re not really necessary as everything is so delicious on its own — hot, clean, and fresh from the fryer. Best of all, everything is so reasonably priced. To top off that fact, recently we discovered we could order off the “Kids and Seniors” menu. Lunch for two for $7. What a steal! Ah, the benefits of being “older”.

Noteworthy… Fisherman’s Market was featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives of Guy Fieri fame. Check it out if you are ever in town!

Benedetti’s Meat Market & Deli

img_4518This market is actually located in the neighboring community of Springfield, home of the Simpsons. James Benedetti, originally from Rhode Island, opened his market in 2009 and eventually hired his partner, North Bend Oregonian, Mike Richardson as chef for the restaurant. Though not completely local as they contract with Cedar River Farms in northern California for all of their meat products, they focus on preparing dishes with the highest quality ingredients at moderate prices. While not in the fanciest location (a strip mall), the atmosphere is rustic and inviting and the food is definitely delicious. Upon our arrival in Eugene in February, we enjoyed two super generous and satisfying selections from their every-changing lunch menu. Norman had an Italian Grinder like no other and I had a creative take on the BLT, the Smoked Pork Belly BLTA (A = avocado). Whoa! We couldn’t eat this every day, but was it ever tasty! img_1934-2To compliment your meal, there are local beers on tap, Italian wines, and a full bar. Before we left, we perused their deli which featured absolutely beautiful cuts of all kinds of meat and sausage prepared in house at extremely reasonable prices. Recently, we returned to purchase a rib eye for dinner at home along with a variety of those sausages. All were incredibly tasty and tender. They don’t have a website, but you can follow them on Facebook to stay tuned for their daily specials.

Above all else, what we noticed about both of these places as we have everywhere in Eugene is that everyone is so welcoming and friendly. Coming from the rat race of the Silicon Valley, it’s rather refreshing to say the least and makes us really happy we have chosen this city for our retirement.

Eugene Coffee Bean Scene

One of our favorite things to do is hang out for a couple of hours in the morning at an inviting coffee house while we read, research, catch up on the news, or blog. Every city has the stereotypical places like Starbuck’s or Peet’s which, truthfully, are not very interesting. On our exploratory trip to Eugene, we wanted to check out the local businesses so I did a lot of research in advance and chose a different “coffee stop” for each day. We were surprisingly pleased with what we discovered.

img_4532We started out at Noisette Pastry Kitchen where the owners, Tobi and Michael who boast years of culinary training, say they use traditional methods to create innovative food experiences. With a focus on using local products, they put forth an array of French inspired pastries, birthday and specialty cakes, cookies, and just about any other sweet treat you might imagine all baked in-house. On our visit we could not resist their popular almond-crusted Bostock made with orange blossom water which made it very distinctive. Along with their tasty confections they serve up Equiano Coffee, a locally developed specialty coffee from Eugene that my husband reported was especially smooth — totally to his liking. Their chai latte (always my drink of choice) was quite spicy and not too sweet. It reminded more of the delicious one I make at home with an actual chai teabag rather than a mix from a box — very delicious. In addition, Noisette has recently added to their repertoire by transforming into the “Salt & Sweet Wine Bar” on Friday-Sunday evenings when they offer cold and hot plates, wine, and table service. We liked Noisette so much that we returned and made it our last stop before leaving town.

img_4559Allann Brothers has been roasting specialty coffee since 1972. They have seven locations in Oregon with two in Eugene. We stopped in at their Beanery located in a beautiful old brick building formerly a train station. The selection of pastries here was quite varied also but obviously made elsewhere. We devoured two large apple turnovers that were chock full of apples. Super tasty! Coffee here was smooth as well and the spicy chai was pleasantly sweet and flavorful. The atmosphere was quieter than most coffee houses with no hard surfaces to create loud echoes of voices throughout the space. This worked very well for us since we were meeting with a couple, the son and daughter-in-law of a friend, who had recently moved to Eugene. It was nice to be able to hear each other without the bang and clang of coffee equipment or distraction of other people’s conversations.

img_4613Full City Coffee Roasters has two locations in Eugene. We visited the High City Café where we had yet another satisfying coffee and chai experience. The owner has been roasting coffee since the 80’s and beans are roasted on the day they are sold resulting in very fresh coffee. Food items here which include pastries, sandwiches, soups, quiche, and Cornish pies (which I know as pasties) are provided by their local sister company, The Palace Bakery. We sampled a raspberry muffin and an oat & raisin scone — both quite good. The only drawback to this place is that, unlike all the others, they don’t have wifi. So, unless you have a 3G connection (like we do), you’re limited to using  your phone, but perhaps you can appreciate not being surrounded by so much technology. You can relax and have an actual conversation with someone here which is certainly worth considering.

veroVero Espresso House is a quaint coffee hangout located in one of many old homes turned businesses in downtown Eugene. They serve Stumptown Coffee which is a Portland-based company recently purchased by Peet’s. Stumptown is a nickname for Portland from the early days when land was quickly cleared of trees and the stumps were left behind. They also have a selection of pastries as well as breakfast and lunch items prepared by various local businesses. The seating here while very inviting is limited. It’s the kind of place where people settle in and stay for a while especially since it’s near the U of O campus. On the day we chose to visit, it was very crowded so we were forced to make another choice for our breakfast and plan to return another time.

Typically when Norman drinks coffee out in our hometown, he often finds it very harsh and too strong. He always adds a lot of half and half in order to temper the after effect. He usually ends up with heartburn requiring a dose of antacids that I make sure to carry around for him. What was most interesting about all of the coffee Norman drank in Eugene (which included many other places) was that never once did he have this negative experience. We can’t help but wonder if it was the coffee, the water, the state or simply that here in the Silicon Valley people have become accustomed to and demand such a jolt of caffeine to fuel their money-driven, hectic lives. At the very least, the coffee was a great reflection of the more laid back environment we found in Eugene — one we are extremely anxious to enjoy very soon on a regular basis.

 

The Oregon Trail

You may know the Oregon Trail as the historic route from the Missouri River to Oregon’s valleys used in the 1800’s by fur traders and settlers moving west. Or, you may remember playing one of the first educational video games popular in the mid-80’s by the same name. For us, the “Oregon Trail” represents one leg of our 2001 6-week, 6,000-mile Western Tour road trip starting in Grants Pass and the Rogue River, then on to Eugene, and finally traveling west up the coast from Newport to Lincoln City, Tillamook, and Astoria. Looking back, this was certainly our inspiration for moving to Oregon as you can see by these photos…

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Wet, Rainy Day on the Rogue River

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Riding my eBike on the Alton Baker Bike Path in Eugene

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The Beautiful Willamette River

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Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport

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Cheryl & Lorenzo in the Lighthouse Stairwell 

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View of the Columbia River & Astoria Bridge from the Astoria Column

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Proscuitto-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp Dinner on top of Coxcomb Hill in Astoria

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The Oregon Coastline

Now it’s time for us to forge a new Oregon Trail — from San Jose to Eugene and many parts beyond.

Sorting Out Your Life

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Studio Packed!

My husband and I are both very creative in our own individual ways. We have been fortunate to have enough space to each have what we call a studio (a room that would normally serve as a bedroom) dedicated to our creative endeavors. In Norman’s case, this involves art work in a variety of media (watercolor, pastels, sculpture, drawing), photography, music, digital space, and a myriad of other things that pop into his head. He’s pretty amazing that way. My focus is more crafty (not really considered art and I concur so as not to offend the artist) — sewing, jewelry making, knitting, needlepoint, embroidery — that sort of thing. I’m also the resident secretary and bookkeeper so my roll-top desk and its contents are of the utmost importance. They occupy my studio as well. I love my personal space which I know is a luxury, but it has become cram-packed with a lot of stuff over the past 12 years. So, in the process of moving, it’s definitely time to streamline. Sorting and organizing for the next faze of my life is a welcome challenge.

What’s so important about sorting out when you know you will have even more space in your next home? It gives you direction. What do you really want to do with your time now that you are retired and have so many options? If you don’t give this question serious consideration, you will just be inclined to keep everything and then you will flounder.

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Closet Half Packed… Yes, really!

Your wardrobe requires the same attention. As you get older, you really need to revamp your style every so often — about every five years. The items hanging in your closet might still fit, but are they really you? While you don’t have to start dressing like the proverbial “little old lady” (actually never!), you need to think about the image you project. You certainly don’t want to look ridiculous though you will notice that many older women do. I observe many women my age in one of two categories — frumpy “I don’t care what I look like. I just want to be comfortable” and “no way am I giving up those youthful styles”. Neither one of these approaches works as far as I’m concerned. At this age, it’s time for classic — think Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn. You can still have so much fun with this. Enjoy the place you have earned in this life and the wisdom you have achieved. Flaunt it in fact! You will only get this one chance.

Sorting out your stuff equates to sorting out your life. How cool is that? You get to figure out and plan the next new you. If you’re clever enough, you can even guide your husband in that direction too. Norman has been very cooperative so far. While we are anxious to get this moving show on the road, at the same time we are conscious of the fact that we need to do it right. That means really thinking about what’s making the cut for the moving van. In some cases, we have already purchased new items that we know will serve us better on the other end.

So ask yourself, what do I need to make me tick? Do I really need to hold on to all these old things from the past — knick knacks, family photos, old ideas I never got around to bringing to fruition or is it time to let go? I realize this may be really difficult for some but you would be surprised how liberating it is once you get rolling. It’s really exciting to think about a new future chapter. You can do this even if you aren’t moving anywhere.

In the past, I would have been able to pack up a whole house in a week. In a pinch, I could still do so. But truly, what’s the rush? I can only spend a few hours a day making thoughtful choices about what goes in each box and that’s what I’m doing. The rest of the time, I’m trying to enjoy my new retirement life and get healthy — a “task” which I am pleased to say seems to be progressing really well.

Plan B Explained

img_4286Let it be said that there has always been a “Plan B” — any serious plan for life requires alternatives. It was pretty simple. We were driving along in the car and one of us expressed the thought that moving to France was just not the best idea for us after all. We came to this realization for many reasons not the least of which was managing my serious health issues. While we were confident from our experience this past summer that French healthcare was completely reliable and definitely much more affordable than in the U.S., expressing your needs and getting the required care can be a challenge if you are not entirely fluent. Aside from that, there’s a boatload of paperwork and bureaucracy to wade through before you can participate effortlessly and freely in the system. This would require a considerable amount of time and energy we perhaps might not readily possess.

In addition, many things have changed in the European Union in the past year and a half. If you have been following the news, you know this. With major immigration issues, economic uncertainties, and the rising popularity of right-wing political parties, the easy-going, welcoming, secure atmosphere of the EU is beginning to dissipate. These circumstances affect everyone’s daily life in these countries whether citizen or expat. We viewed it as becoming a challenge we did not particularly want to take on at this point in our lives.

Being immediately agreeable on the pursuit of Plan B, we began to sort out our stateside options which, honestly, took less than five minutes. After a quick mental tour of all 50 states taking into consideration climate, cost of living, and various opportunities, we settled on Oregon —  a state we are both rather familiar with from several living as well as travel experiences. As authentic Californians, we are really westerners at heart which I’m sure also influenced our decision.

img_1747Our chosen destination is Eugene, home of the University of Oregon and the Oregon Ducks. With a population of about 160,000, it is Oregon’s second largest city. At one-sixth the size of our current city, it will provide us with the small town ambience and much slower pace of life we seek. Eugene is situated along the beautiful, meandering Willamette River surrounded by an abundance of parks and bike paths we look forward to enjoying. From our research we know that we will be able to accomplish one of our major goals — buying a turnkey home (an actual house — not a condo or townhouse… ahhh, four private walls) for cash and eliminating our mortgage as well as HOA fees. If we can’t control the cost of healthcare (as we could by going to France), at least we can control the cost of housing which will make a huge difference in our retirement budget giving us the ability to visit France any time we want. Even though Oregon is a small state, there will be plenty of opportunities to explore as Eugene’s central location allows one to travel easily from the mountains to the sea to the desert all at relatively short distances. Granted, it will be wet and cool compared to the Silicon Valley, but such would have been the case in our French location. So we’re slipping on our rain boots, popping open our umbrellas, and setting sail for the Beaver State known for its Douglas Firs, hazelnuts, chanterelle mushrooms, Chinook Salmon, Dungeness Crabs, Pinot Noir wines… and RAIN! At the end of this month, we will make our first exploratory journey to reacquaint ourselves with the area… reporting live on the blog from Eugene, of course!

There’s a reason we often call those hopes, aspirations, or ambitions we have dreams. Certainly all dreams don’t come true nor were they meant to. Sometimes they’re even more cherished when they remain illusions. And you can always dream new dreams. Growing up moving so much as I’ve mentioned before, my mom taught me that old adage, “Home is where you hang your hat.” I have lived by that my whole life. I’m an expert at making anyplace home instantly even when we are only there for a few days. As long as we are together, I know we can follow our dreams in Eugene and make it our new home.

So, as it turns out, it’s a good thing we named this blog Paris and Beyond since “beyond” can represent anywhere. France will always remain our favorite vacation destination and you never know, maybe someday due to the wisdom of our choices we will truly be able to say, “My other house is in France.” Meanwhile, we are definitely looking forward to new discoveries and adventures on the road to this next stage of our lives just 566 miles away. We will keep you posted with all the details. Please stay tuned!!

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From Plan A to Plan B

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When I went off to college in 1973 to study Spanish and inevitably other languages, it seemed logical that I was destined to travel. I had specific plans to do so but for various, sometimes personally complicated reasons they never worked out. I got as far as Mexico on many occasions, but never beyond that. To say the least, I was disappointed. My aspirations lay much farther afield in Europe — particularly Spain and, as one might assume, many other countries such as Italy and France. However, life intervened and twenty years went by without ever getting to travel off this continent.

Then, in 1994, I completely revamped my life and started fresh. This time I had a partner who not only had traveled much of the world but was willing and anxious to travel more and share it with me. For starters, he promised to take me to Paris in 1999. Considering all the things we had to deal with as we began our new life together, this was an admirable goal. Needless to say, we got a little sidetracked taking care of business so it wasn’t until 2006 when our dream finally took flight. April in Paris… I will never forget standing on the Pont des Arts and looking directly at the Tour Eiffel for the very first time. I was moved to tears — an uncommon reaction for me. I couldn’t believe I was (finally!!) actually there. We spent an amazing ten days touring the city. It was everything I had dreamed of and more.

After this experience, a little seed planted itself in our brains — one that would sprout and grow into the dream of retiring in France. So, in 2012, we decided it was time to get to know France beyond Paris because, as is often said, “Paris is not France and France is not Paris”. We planned a comprehensive 1700-mile, 7-week driving tour of France. At the same time, we started this blog. You can read all about our experiences in the 2012 posts and go to the Tour 2012 page to see all of our destinations. In the process, we came to know so much about the true France that most Americans never learn. Among other things, it possesses incredible diversity, many warm and welcoming people, and it is a veritable culinary heaven in countless ways. We were fascinated with it all but rather exhausted at the end of our long journey and definitely ready to return home — basically coming to the conclusion that retiring in France was not for us.

However, we were far from finished with France. While on our 2012 trip, we discovered southwestern France, specifically the Dordogne region and fell in love with it. In 2015, as our dream to retire in France surprisingly resurfaced, we realized it was time for a second tour focused on this area. Once again, I diligently planned a 600-mile, 8-week trip that would allow us to visit in depth potential retirement locations. We came away from an extremely successful experience with a very clear idea about where we wanted to live and totally ready to launch ourselves in that direction.

For the next year, we dedicated ourselves daily to extensive research about France, what it would take to move there, and an intensive study of the French language in order to prepare for our 2016 trip to our chosen retirement locale just outside of Périgueux about two hours from Bordeaux. As far as we were concerned, we already had one foot on French soil. At that point, just one year away from retirement, we seemed poised to make the leap across the pond. Well, if you have read any of the more recent posts here, you know how this trip turned out… not exactly as planned. Somewhere in all the chaos, between returning unexpectedly from France, seeking medical care, and getting resettled at home, we arrived at “Plan B”. More about that in our next post…

If you are purely a Francophile, you might not be so enthused about continuing to read this blog. But if you are curious about how people deal with major unexpected and sometimes dire circumstances in their lives, stay positive, move on, and still find excitement and adventure, then you might want to follow along. We hope you do. 

“That” Teacher

Or… The Path to My 40-Year Career in Education

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Mrs. Gillespie & Me – 1967

In the thank you speech I gave at my retirement party, I made reference to my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Gillespie. Hopefully, you had one teacher who didn’t just teach you something but made a real difference in your life. Mrs. Gillespie was that teacher for me.

In my case, 6th grade was the last year of elementary school. Mrs. Gillespie was the ideal warm, caring teacher who set high standards for her students and I looked forward to going to school every day to meet the challenge.

For English, we used a very thick literature anthology. This is where I first remember reading Poe’s “Raven”, Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” among other classics. For some reason, I wanted to have a copy of that book at home. Somehow Mrs. Gillespie arranged for me to purchase one because back then, no parent could just order a school textbook. I remember the day it arrived in the mail and how much I cherished having that book which, I think, may have even been a teacher’s edition.

Mrs. Gillespie might have been one of the original project-based teachers without ever knowing it. She was very innovative with her assignments which not only benefited her students but herself as well. At the beginning of the year, she announced that we would all be writing a major research paper called a “specialty”. We could choose any topic, but it should be one that we were especially interested in as we would be doing extensive research about it. I don’t know how I came up with this topic, but I remember it didn’t take me too long to decide on “The Beginning and Development of Writing”. What?! Are you kidding… this is the stuff of Ph.D. dissertations. But did Mrs. Gillespie stop me? Not for a second! She knew how to let me be the studious school girl I loved to be and tackle the whole darn thing. When she offered up dates for our presentations to the class, I picked January because, of course, that would allow me all of Christmas break to finish working on it. Needless to say, I never made that strategical mistake again. I spent just about every day during vacation that year in the local library.

Aside from writing the paper, there were several other tasks involved. There was a long counter at the back of the room — the kind with a sink in it and a bulletin board above it that we are all familiar with. After all, schools haven’t changed that much in the last 50 years. You were responsible for setting up a complete display on the counter and decorating the bulletin board to enhance your project. My bulletin board had examples of cuneiform, hieroglyphics, and many other symbols and types of writing and communication. My display included dioramas of cavemen. This was the era of those cute little troll dolls with all that long hair and I owned several. I grew up watching the Flintstones so I had endless inspiration for their costumes. This is actually where my sewing skills began. My trolls had fabulous felt wardrobes replete with hats and other accessories. It was a pretty impressive display though not historically accurate as the cavemen were surrounded by clay dinosaurs I created — a detail I don’t believe was ever addressed. Probably a savvy move on Mrs. Gillespie’s part.

Every Friday afternoon, it was one student’s turn to give his/her presentation. The desks were pushed aside and the chairs were lined up in rows to form an audience in front of the back counter. The principal showed up every week to listen to the entire presentation as did a photographer from the local newspaper. You read your paper which was expected to be fairly well memorized and used chart paper to explain various aspects of your report. In addition, you had to create a test for the class which you passed out and collected at the end. Then, of course, you had to grade it. This was truly the first lesson I ever taught. As you can see, Mrs. Gillespie had her Friday’s nailed. Smart woman!

I never considered becoming a teacher until I was 16 and planning for college, but I think the seed was certainly planted with this experience. The fact that I can so clearly remember it 50 years later speaks volumes about the value of the project and the teacher who assigned it.

Toward the end of our 6th grade year, we visited the junior high for orientation. Upon returning, we had to choose an elective for 7th grade. I had only two options — Home Ec or Spanish. I asked Mrs. Gillespie about this and she said, “You can learn that Home Ec stuff later on your own. You should take Spanish.” So I did and eventually discovered my passion for languages. Little did she know that she set the course of my life with that small but sage piece of advice.

Mrs. Gillespie also helped me write a graduation speech that year. It was called, “Spring is a New Beginning” inspired by a small book of the same title written and illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund that was very popular at the time. Being the shy introvert that I was, I didn’t really want to give this speech in front of a whole auditorium of parents and relatives, but she insisted I was the one for the job. She had me practice my speech (which I still have on a set of index cards) over and over with her and gave me the confidence and courage to get through it. Once I get past my medical treatments and on a path to stabilizing my health, spring will definitely be a new beginning for me this year and I will probably be thinking about Mrs. Gillespie and that little inspirational book.

Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to see Mrs. Gillespie again and tell her how much she had contributed to my outcome or to thank her for being “that” teacher who made all the difference. Though I did find a thank you card she wrote to me for a gift (silver sugar tongs… must have been a thing then) my mom and I gave her at the end of the school year so obviously we made an effort to express our appreciation for all her work at that time. She wrote some very kind words about me that still touch me all these years later. It reminds me that someone important thought I was special even at the age of 11.

I had the privilege of having a few students who came back to visit throughout the years and tell me that I made a significant difference in their lives in some way. It was usually not the student I would have expected nor for the reason I would have imagined. As a teacher, unbeknownst to you, you may say or do the smallest thing that could inspire the path of a student’s entire life. That’s really powerful. It’s not so much about the subject you teach or even how you teach it, but the person you see, accept, and help grow. So when your technology doesn’t work or you just can’t get on the bandwagon of the latest, greatest educational trend, that’s not really important — how you interact with your students is what counts. You never know where it may lead them. Look where it led me!

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Retirement Day!

I have actually thought about this day many times during my career. When I first started teaching outside of Seattle at the age of 21, there was an older teacher at my school who obviously had been teaching for a long time. Katherine Kreft taught 4th grade. She was stern but loving and always seemed to me like someone’s grandma in the classroom. It’s funny because I’m probably close to the age she was then, but I don’t feel that old at all! Reality check!! Anyway, a couple of years later she retired. At her retirement party, someone mentioned in a tribute to her that she had been teaching for 40 years. I remember thinking… 40 years! How could someone ever do that?! Well… here I am — 40 years later. I did that! It’s kind of amazing.

And now it’s over and it’s time to move on. I am SO ready. I enjoyed every last day with my students, but I will not miss all the bureaucracy and politics that now accompany teaching. It was such a fun job when I first began and continued that way for many years but not any more. I doubt very much it will be possible for many of the younger teaching crowd to stick with it for decades like I did. It wears you down, tires you out, and generally sucks all the life out of you. The personal rewards of working with students, teaching children, and nurturing a love for learning are great, but the expectations put upon the teacher are ridiculous. In addition, the financial rewards and benefits are shrinking and no one can survive that too long this day in age. Thankfully, I feel like I lived and worked the best of this career.

I experienced a wonderful send-off that started with students and parents and ended with friends, family, and colleagues punctuated by thank you notes, incredibly generous gifts, a bevy of ongoing toasts, and a Mexican fiesta complete with Mariachi Trio. My husband produced a fabulous video of my life that I will cherish forever. We had drinks with our son at the Top of the Mark located on the 19th floor of the historic Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco and enjoyed a room with a view for the weekend in the City. It seemed the celebration lasted for weeks. After so many years, one day was just not enough time to acknowledge the end of an era.

Some people are worried about what they will do with all their time when they retire. I have never had that concern. At a young age, my mom made sure I developed many interests and hobbies. Needless to say, with a busy life of raising children and teaching full-time non-stop, I haven’t had much time to pursue them seriously as an adult. So, it’s back to all the things I love — reading, sewing, crafting, knitting, needlepoint, embroidery, and, best of all, photography with my husband, my teacher and mentor. I will be busy! When I need a break from the hobbies, I will just organize something — there’s always something that needs organizing and I guess, for me, that’s a bit of a hobby too. I do love to organize!!

But first… speaking of organizing, it’s time to get organized for the next big move. Time to make lists, plan, sort, and pack. Not to worry. As a “construction brat”, I have had a ton of moving experience. If I counted correctly, I have moved at least 19 times throughout California and 7 other states*. Believe me, I know how to pack a box. Better get started!

*Moves in chronological order beginning with the place I was born — the first 13 before I went off to college… Oroville, CA – Murray, UT – Salina, KS – Fredericktown, MO – Madras, OR – Pollock Pines, CA – Grass Valley, CA – Livermore, CA – Albany, OR – Page, AZ – Newhall, CA – La Habra, CA – Annandale, VA – Riverside, CA – Seattle, WA – Kirkland, WA – Palm Desert, CA – Cathedral City, CA – San Jose, CA

P.S. As of today, I have been officially retired for two weeks. Life is good!!

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