Paris and Beyond

Our Personal Tour de France & Other Exciting Adventures!

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!!

The Long and Winding Road

long-roadIt has been a while since I have had the energy, motivation, and time to set foot on this blog. If you have followed along so far, you know that I have been presented with some major medical challenges. Ironically, this made my mission this year almost impossible (see previous post). Trying to teach middle school while battling severe anemia which caused incredible fatigue and shortness of breath was no small feat. I gave it my all and tried to keep up my enthusiasm and standards both for myself and my students. Thanks to my husband who drove me to and from work every day and did everything else for us, I managed to pull it off but not without running into a lot of bumps, potholes, and detours along the way. Eventually, there came a point where I realized that trying to make it all the way to June 2017 which was always the original plan for retirement was just not going to be a reality. So, much to the disappointment of my students, their parents, and myself, I planned to end my mission this month. It has turned out to be the best decision ever.

The road to January and retirement has been long with many twists and turns in the form of test after test and procedure after procedure producing few results and no answers. It has been incredibly frustrating to say the least. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, I ended up in the emergency room due to severe pain in my left side. The doctors checked for all the major traumas and found no indication of any. By this time they had been leaning toward some type of autoimmune disease as the cause of all my ailments as they had (thankfully) ruled out everything else. So, even though they could still not specifically identify the disease, they decided I was sick enough to finally prescribe a steroid (Prednisone) to contradict my symptoms. It worked like magic and overnight I began to regain some of my energy and feel a little more like myself again constantly improving every day.

While in emergency, the doctors noticed some inflammation in my lungs. Time for one more procedure — a bronchoscopy where they use a scope to look into your lungs and take a small biopsy. Finally, they found a clue! There was evidence of previous arterial hemorrhaging. After a careful study of the results and a few more blood tests, we finally received a diagnosis two days before Christmas — a strange but welcome gift. I have Microscopic Polyangiitis, a rare autoimmune disease and form of vasculitis which causes inflammation of the blood vessels. It can affect various organs — in my case, my lungs. It can be fatal if ignored. However, there is a reasonable treatment plan which involves four weeks of lengthy infusions, one per week, of a drug that will zap the heck out of my apparently overactive immune system. Of course, the drug (Rituxan) has numerous side effects though many patients report they experience none and the doctors do their best to mediate the potential for any throughout the process. Fortunately, this drug which has only been available for the past couple of years is much less taxing on your body than the one that has previously been used for so long.

Now I am completely and officially retired. While I was not able to complete my mission in its entirety, I know that this alone will contribute to guiding me on my road to recovery. I am scheduled to begin my treatment next week. Assuming all goes well and I don’t have any adverse reactions, I will continue afterwards by tapering off the Prednisone and moving on with a maintenance medication lasting for quite some time. Lifetime management is part of the big picture with remission as a goal.

This may not be the happiest post (though I am happy to finally have some answers), but I felt I needed to wrap up this chapter before beginning the next — Retirement and Plan B which I will talk about in my following posts — all fun and exciting stuff!!

Thanks to so many of you for your care, concern, and support along this rough road. Time to get on to the next! Let’s get moving…

Back in the Saddle Again

It’s time to get back in the saddle again and return to work. After all I have been through this summer, I’m hoping I’ll be up to it.

Every year the administration chooses a theme. Just before school begins, we receive a cleverly designed invitation, ticket, or other item along with a thematically written letter describing the details of the days to come as we gather together again to prepare for our students. Admittedly, some themes play out better than others. Though this may sound like fun, I’m not necessarily a big fan of this approach. I have often been accused of being too serious so perhaps that’s my problem. It’s really difficult to play along when the theme is one that you’re not very excited about like sports which I don’t follow at all. One more reference to the Golden State Warriors or Stephen Curry and I was about ready to scream last year. My apologies sports fans, but it’s just not me. This year, however, it seems I’m getting my redemption.

Cue the Mission: Impossible theme song and picture Peter Graves, Greg Morris, and Martin Landau, or Tom Cruise if you must, getting ready for their next assignment. The inspiration for this year’s theme is our school’s new mission statement*. So we’re all set to launch “Mission: Possible” with a year full of education analogies based on my absolute favorite genre — mystery, espionage, and intrigue. Now THAT’S a theme I can get behind! You know how it starts… “Your mission should you choose to accept it…” But, in our case, it becomes “Your mission… Which we know you’ll choose to accept”. That seems fair since Jim Phelps and his team always accepted their missions and, of course, they always succeeded despite a few challenges along the way — extremely appropriate as teaching goes. It appears that it will definitely be an exciting year.

As I head out tomorrow to meet up with the rest of the agents on my team, I’m looking forward to embarking on my last mission ever. Wish me luck!

*Our Mission: To inspire and empower all students to be curious and resilient problem solvers, compassionate and constructive contributors, and lifelong learners during their individual and collective journey of academic and personal growth.

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Merci Beaucoup!!

BC SailboatMost of my life has been smooth sailing. Except for having to move almost every year all through elementary school and make new friends which was really difficult for an introvert like me, my first 18 years were pretty much bliss. I went to school which I loved, did my homework, got good grades, and my mom did everything else while my dad worked 12-hour days. Yes, I was spoiled. However, my mom passed on some valuable lessons which have served me well. She taught me to be tough, learn to live with difficult situations, and not complain or cry about things. One of her favorite expressions was “This too shall pass”. It drove me crazy when I was young, but I have experienced the truth of it many times as an adult.

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My mom, Laury

There are bound to be some choppy seas in your life. For me they have been things like going back to work after 6 weeks following both of my C-sections, divorce, and two major surgeries to name just a few. Sometimes you encounter gale force winds and even hurricanes. Such was the case at the beginning of this summer. Fortunately by now things have settled into a rather moderate breeze. However, I would never have been able to navigate the rough waters without the help, care, and concern of so many people.

First and foremost is my wonderful husband, Norman. Until just recently, he has had to do absolutely everything for us the entire summer. He has done it all without complaint making me feel comfortable and safe at all times… making sure I got the care I needed. It hasn’t been easy. Over the past 22 years, he has guided me through many storms. He has been the captain of our ship and I have been his first mate. He has always managed to keep our morale up and help me stay in good spirits despite the difficulty or uncertainty of the situation. I never could have survived any of it without him.

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Norman Sailing

Our son, Lorenzo, made his first trip to Europe this summer. The original plan was for him to spend several days with us in France. We were really excited about having the opportunity to share with him the France we love. However, we had to return home before he even arrived. In the end, he probably had more fun without us adding Barcelona to his London and Paris itinerary with the change of plans. Throughout his overly busy Apple work life and his exciting European adventure, he has made a point of checking in with me to see how I’m doing. That has meant the world to me.

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Our son, Lorenzo

We have also been fortunate to have some British friends in France we met while staying in their gîtes on previous trips who helped us chart our course. They offered assistance and advice, checked in with us from time to time, visited, and made us feel a little less lost at sea so far away from home.

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Philippa & Paul

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John & Penny

Then there’s the wonderful Pérez crew — all nine siblings plus their spouses, nieces and nephews — many of whom have sent e-mails and get well cards, telephoned, and just generally stayed in touch the whole time to find out how I’m doing. It has been so uplifting to have that kind of support.

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La Familia Pérez

My side of the family is rather small, but I have had a dedicated crew in them as well. They have made a point of checking in on a regular basis and it has been very much appreciated.

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Cousins, Leslie, Cathy & Robin

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Cousin, Danielle

I am fortunate to count among my friends many very special shipmates who followed my progress, helped me conquer my fears of some of the big waves, and encouraged me to stay onboard.

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Berenice, Surrogate Daughter #1

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Kim, Surrogate Daughter #2

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Susan, Friend & Meditation Mentor

Donna & me

Donna, BFF

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Norma, Long-time Friend from High School

For now, I’m happy to report that we seem to be heading back on course and looking forward to more smooth sailing very soon. I’m hoping to stay on an even keel for this last year teaching. I cannot thank everyone enough for all the little things you have done to make this journey more bearable. You float my boat!

Don’t Call Us…

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My room was peachy!

The main goal of our trips to France along with all the reading and studying we have been doing is to make sure we are very familiar with life in France and, as much as possible, the French language. The idea is that, if we decide to move there permanently, we will really know what to expect and limit the inevitable culture shock. Through our travels we have been able to explore many facets of daily French life. We have experienced shopping at traditional farmers’ markets, local shops, and big box stores like Auchan. Norman has had a lot of practice driving on all kinds of country roads and city streets and negotiating those incessant roundabouts. Staying in gîtes and vacation homes instead of hotels for extended periods, we have lived more or less like you would if you owned your own home there — cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, etc. But there’s one important thing you can’t intentionally explore and that’s French healthcare. It’s not like you could just show up at a French hospital and ask if you could be admitted for a couple of days so you can check it out. So, if there’s one redeeming quality to our most recent experience, it’s that we got to find out what it’s like to see a doctor and go to a hospital in France. Here’s our very personal take…

It’s much less expensive. Studies show that the average cost of a visit to a primary care doctor in the U.S. is around $160 as opposed to the regulated price of €23 ($25) in France. In California where we live, the average cost of a hospital stay is $2800 a day. While in France, I had two doctor visits, spent five days in the hospital, and had several tests and procedures for a total of $2600. The hospital room itself was just $20 a day. Amazing!

Everyone has insurance. For most of my career, my employer’s insurance has covered my entire family and I have paid little to nothing for healthcare. I have been lucky in that regard because this is not the case for many Americans. My current employer only covers the employee so we have to pay $750 monthly for my husband’s coverage. In France, healthcare is extended to every citizen or resident. It covers about 80% of all costs. You can pay the balance or purchase a very low cost supplemental plan to cover the rest.

The focus is on solutions. One of the things we noticed in France was that the approach to care was very different. The French doctors seemed to be very focused on finding a solution to the problem. It’s possible that being unencumbered by insurance companies and exorbitant costs, they have much more liberty to pursue a solution or perhaps it’s just how they have been trained. American doctors seem more focused on relieving symptoms and you don’t always get answers as to the cause of your problem.

Hospital stays are common. French doctors will admit you to the hospital for very basic procedures that would be done as an outpatient in the U.S. and keep you there as long as necessary even though you might otherwise be healthy and able to take care of yourself. I was actually allowed to go home for a day during one of my stays, but my room was reserved for me and I just walked back in the next day. Had I stayed in France to complete my care, I’m sure I would have been in the hospital much longer. On the contrary, a patient is never admitted to a hospital in the U.S. unless absolutely necessary.

The doctor is the boss. French doctors are totally in charge of every aspect of your care. They make all the decisions without consulting the patient. They are the experts and the patient is expected to follow along with whatever they recommend which they seem to always claim is “easy” no matter the procedure — endoscopy without anesthesia, MRI for the severely claustrophobic, etc. I’ve deemed this the “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” approach. At times, I waited for hours in the hospital without seeing the doctor or knowing what was going to happen next. American doctors work with the patient from the onset. They ask many questions, make recommendations, provide options, and then ask how you want to proceed. By the same token, you can make suggestions and requests. When you have a medical issue, it becomes a mutual effort in finding a cure.

You need to speak French! Many assume that well-trained doctors and other medical professionals would very likely speak English. It’s true that many medical terms are very similar or almost the same in French as they are in English so there is a certain amount of mutual understanding. However, that doesn’t serve to help you express or understand the details of your health issue. When a doctor is asking you specific questions about previous treatment experiences or allergies before he puts you under, you’d better be able to understand and answer correctly. We only encountered one doctor, a young intern in emergency, who spoke fairly fluent English. With everyone else we were at the mercy of our limited skills in French. Throughout the Kaiser medical facilities we use there are signs offering to provide a translator for umpteen different languages if necessary. We saw none of that in France.

Our decision to return home was not out of concern for the cost or quality of my care. It was extremely affordable and the doctors were doing their very best, but things were getting complicated and we had no idea how long it might take to figure it all out. In addition, we felt we needed to be able to communicate more accurately. And, of course, there’s a lot to be said for recuperating in the comfort of familiar surroundings. Nevertheless, now we have a much better understanding of French healthcare and will be more prepared to deal with it if and when there is a next time.

 

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