Christmas in the French Countryside

The last two holidays, I wasn’t able to travel and the two before that we ditched our families for the Bahamas and Hawaii. Fortunately, the family openly accepted us back into the fold and we decided to spend Christmas with Fabien’s family in France.

So, on December 22nd, we packed our bags full of fun, American presents and hopped on a flight for the longest journey ever. Living in a smaller city like Nashville guarantees stopovers when traveling internationally, adding hours to an already long voyage. What is a 7.5 flight from Detroit to Paris, is now a minimum of 10.5 hours since we try to fly through Atlanta in the winter to avoid weather delays. Then, normally it’s 1.5 hours to Fabien’s village of St. Cyr en Val, but this time was 3.5 hours due to epic Parisian holiday traffic. Oh and I only slept one hour and 18 minutes on the plane. And my tv screen and headphones didn’t work. Awesome. File all these complaints under first world problems.

My lack of sleep and chronic jet lag has not been so conducive to the marathon we sprint when vacationing in France. Our days are filled with non-stop visit with friends and family, gluttony and speaking nothing but French, which officially turns my brain to mush after an hour or two.

BUT, this year, I had a saving grace, named Lara. We’ve been friends since she moved across the street from me when we were nine. Our births were only separated by two days. In our roaring twenties, we still liked each other so much that we lived together. Basically, we communicate telepathically after 27 years. AND, she came to St. Cyr en Val from Geneva to spend Christmas with us after her trip to Michigan got canceled. I’m bummed for her because I know she wanted to go home, but selfishly, I’m grateful she was there for me to make eyes at and talk under my breath about the crazy frenchies we’ve come to know and love.

After an additional, insufficient night of sleep, Christmas Eve day, was spent walking around the village, venturing to Orleans Christmas market and visiting the cathedral. It was the first time I’ve been inside after coming to Orleans countless times and living here for six months. Shameful.

Inside the cathedral

For the family’s Christmas Eve festivities, you have two choices to kick off the evening. The first option is to make the grandparents happy by going to mass and the second option is to stay at the house and get drunk with the guiltless majority. Having a bum liver, I chose option one (for the first time ever) and Lara joined by proxy. We only lasted a few minutes because the church was cold and we weren’t able to understand the priest’s accent. So, we snuck out the back after tossung 5€ in the offering basket.

The others, including cousin Julien’s dog, stayed. Yes, you read that correctly, he brought his dog to church. Did I mention “my beautiful family” pretty much runs the town?

Milo’s 1st Christmas Mass

My escape was short lived when Fabien called me 30 minutes later because the priest was asking for me. Thinking I was in trouble for leaving, I returned and was surprised that the priest wanted to tell me that he prays for my health everyday. Then he performed a priestly blessing. I don’t know much about this, but it seemed like a great honor and I was very touched. Between that and completing a pilgrimage in a holy year, I’m hoping God will give me a little break for a while.

We returned to Aunt Vero’s to start dinner which consists of several courses. Oysters, smoked salmon, stuffed chicken, green beans, chestnuts, cheese, dessert and fruit, all washed down with copious amounts of champagne and wine.

The beautiful decorated tables

Near the end of the meal, Uncle Gilles and I came prepared with games and songs which lasted until 3:00. This is six hours past my bedtime, jet lag came in handy.

Lara singing “Silent Night” in German with Papie

But, every positive has a negative. The 10:00 a.m. wake up call came quick. I required intravenous coffee to cope with gift opening, the world’s longest lunch, a walk, followed by more visiting, French speaking and rolling my eyes at Lara.

The next couple days were pretty much repeats of uninterrupted streams of visitors, gluttony and googley eyes at my American compadre.

This came to a halt Wednesday when the “beautiful family” and I road tripped to Amsterdam to enjoy what Amsterdam has to enjoy. #spacecakes

The Bluebird Cafe Reading: The Ordinary World

On Sunday, I read at the legendary Bluebird Cafe as part of a show, My 2nd Act: Survivor Stories from the Stage.

I’ve been somewhat speechless over the day which was full of many overwhelming emotions, so rather than try to describe an indescribable experience, I’ll just share the video of my essay, The Ordinary World.

To follow my upcoming journey on the El Camino de Santiago, sign up on the right for email updates or check back here. I leave tomorrow (eek!) and will be making my way to Spain via France and Switzerland for some much needed fun before I begin the Camino in Leon, Spain on May 18th.

To read about my first experience on the El Camino de Santiago, check out my blogs from 2012:
Why I’m Kicking Italy to the Curb
Ready, Set, Vamos
Day 1 on the Camino
4 Days to Pamplona
Getting into the Camino Groove
Camino Highs and Lows
Coming Full Circle in Burgos

To learn more about the El Camino de Santiago, check out American Pilgrims on the Camino website.

For even more inspiration, check out the nine other women who shared their stories:

Thank you!

My 2nd Act: Bluebird Cafe Performance

I’m excited to share that I’ll be reading a personal essay on April 24th at the Bluebird Cafe as part of a show called, My 2nd Act: Survivor Stories from the Stage.

My 2nd Act: Survivor Stories from the Stage is a professionally produced stage show hosted at theaters around the country.  It’s a celebratory, inspiring and empowering event full of emotions – both for the survivors and non-survivors in the audience.

This week was our first table read and let me just say – OH! EM! GE! These women are on another level. Their stories include overcoming an unimaginable loss, housing the homeless, surviving a terriorist attack and a teenager, who, mark my words, is the next Oprah Winfrey. Oh, and all these ladies survived cancer too.

If you’d like to see the show live, details are below:
Sunday, April 24th at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m
Tickets are $32.49 can be purchased here. Sales benefit the Women’s Survivor Alliance.
The Bluebird Cafe is very intimate (i.e., small) and only 90 seats per show are available. The event will sell out, so if you’re interested, be sure to buy your tickets ASAP.


Performing at the Bluebird Cafe is a huge honor. After the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium, it is the most famous music venue here in Nashville. It’s where country artists test out songs they’ve written and aspiring musicians hope label reps are in the audience, as they often are. Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift were discovered there and anyone who’s anyone in country music has preformed on the stage at one time or another. So, I’m excited for the opportunity to share the stage not only with some unbelievable women survivors, but also some pretty famous footsteps. A complete history of the Bluebird Cafe can be found here.

If you’re not local or can’t make it, the show will be filmed and I’ll share the video as soon as it’s live.