A Gypsy Daughter Moves to Paris (and leaps out of her comfort zone)

As a young woman, I never imagined I’d move to France. I had no girlhood obsession with Paris, no special feelings for French culture, no Eiffel Tower prints in my college dorm room. I didn’t even like cheese…. CONTINUE READING >> 

(This is a guest post from our daughter, who recently restarted her life on a new continent and launched a website chronicling her experience: Am I French Yet?)

As a young woman, I never imagined I’d move to France. I had no girlhood obsession with Paris, no special feelings for French culture, no Eiffel Tower prints in my college dorm room. I didn’t even like cheese. But I fell in love with a Frenchman, and we all know how love can completely change the course of your life.

Now here I am in my 30s restarting my life in a foreign country and learning my first foreign language in earnest. I am aware that my current situation is a privilege, and a bit of a dream for many Americans. I also know that I have a leg up in many ways: I have a French husband (and his family), I have the means and time to focus on learning a language and to discover my new country daily through its world-renowned food, culture and landscapes.

However, demolishing your former life and restarting in a foreign land is not always a picnic, no matter where you move. Learning a language means embarrassing yourself daily as you pick up words and phrases bit by bit. Navigating the bureaucracy of another country (in a tongue you barely speak no less) to access banking, visas, and education can be demoralizing.

You lose a lot of the autonomy that naturally comes with being in your native country, speaking the language perfectly and never having to question whether you belong. It is an exercise in challenging your self-esteem and determination.

When deciding whether to move to France this spring, I came across a quote that really resonated with me: “There is no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.” (Side note: I searched for the attribution to this quote and found everything from anonymous to a member of Def Leppard, so let’s just say it’s unknown.)

Sitting in my New York City apartment, I thought about how this quote applied to my situation. NYC is not a city known for being particularly warm and snuggly, but I had carved out a relatively comfortable life there after 11 years. I had a decent apartment (no small feat), a job I was proud of and a social circle of people I adored. Was I ready to give that all up? Did I really know what I was in for moving to another country?

I ramped up French study sessions with my husband. I imagined myself without my family and friends close by. I imagined restarting the career I’d built over the past decade. I tried to prepare myself for the difficult aspects as much as I could without actually standing on French soil.

But I also let myself dream. About finally speaking French comfortably with my in-laws. Introducing my future children to my favorite gardens and museums in Paris. About the experiences and lessons that can only come from taking a big leap out of your comfort zone.

So we did it. We moved to Paris. Now three months in, I’m definitely still out of my comfort zone, but I’ve also expanded it greatly. There have been tears and moments (okay, entire days) of frustration and questioning my decision. But there have also been language breakthroughs, a bottle of 50-year-old wine shared with new and old friends, moments of disbelief I get to live in such a gorgeous place, and the gift of being re-introduced to my husband through his own country.

I started my blog, Am I French Yet?, for a few reasons. First, I want to share the many-sided experience of becoming an immigrant with friends, family and anyone else who was interested. Second, I couldn’t find much practical information about navigating the immigration process in France and figured if I was looking for it, many others must be as well. And finally, because I want to remember these early months and how they feel. Hopefully I’ll be able to look back in a year or five and be proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and building a new life, en français.

Charli James is a journalist, writer and GypsyNester daughter currently living in Paris, France.

Padstow Proves to be Practically Perfect

For the first two days of our Cornish explorations we made the charming town of Padstow our homebase. This little fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall was perfect for an introduction to this part of the United Kingdom. The first evening we walked around the harbor… CONTINUE READING >> 

For the first two days of our Cornish explorations we made the charming town of Padstow our homebase. This little fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall was perfect for an introduction to this part of the United Kingdom.

The first evening we walked around the harbor and got a feel for the town, then enjoyed a fabulous meal at restaurateur Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant.

After feasting on fresh scallops and lobster, we didn’t have far to go to settle in at the inn because our accommodations for the night were actually part of the Restaurant.

The next day found us crossing the bay to the town of Rock where we began our walking tour. With that introduction under our belts, we were ready to move on, on foot of course, to St. Ives the following morning.

The route would take us on a tightrope type of walk traversing the edge of the cliffs that jut above the Celtic Sea along Stepper Point. But before we reached the perilous part of our journey we got a little warm up by walking along River Camel leading out to the open water.

As Padstow disappeared behind us, we came to a Celtic Cross overlooking the city. This was erected as a monument to the soldiers lost in The Great War, or what became known later as World War I. The poignant tribute stands in a beautiful setting, and we learned as we traveled across Cornwall that nearly every town has one.

From the memorial it was just a short walk to the high point on the edge of the bay formed by the river, where we noticed a lookout post perched above us. As we curiously, and cautiously, worked our way up toward it the two men inside waved for us to come on in.

They were happy to have the company it seemed, but they were also performing a part of their duties as volunteer members of the National Coastwatch Institution. Besides watching for trouble at sea, the patrollers take a description of every hiker that passes by to aid in search and rescue should it become necessary.

The crew of NCI Stepper Point Lookout Station was glad to explain their mission of watching over the entrance to the Camel estuary and the port of Padstow and, perhaps most importantly, keeping an eye on the notorious Doom Bar. This sandbar that blocks the entrance at low tide has caused over six hundred vessels to wreck or run aground so a close watch is of primary importance.

Local legend has it that the Doom Bar was created as the dying curse of the Mermaid of Padstow. Some knucklehead supposedly shot her when she refused to marry him, so she cursed the harbor with a “bar of doom.”

No matter the folklore, navigation has been tricky in these parts for quite a while, as evidenced by the stone tower near the coast guard station. Known simply as the Daymark, this navigation tower was built centuries ago to help guide ships around this treacherous point. It was originally lime-washed white to make it visible out to sea, but most of that has long since faded away.

From the tower we excitedly proceeded along the South West Coast Path, England’s longest and perhaps most scenic long distance trail. Onward to the cliffs!

The shoreline dropped off nearly straight down about one hundred feet, making it a little disturbing to get too close to the edge. However, there were a couple of places where we just couldn’t resist going in for a closer look.

The first of these was Pepper Hole. This collapsed sea cave has become a small arch, but it takes a bit of daring to get a good look at it. Coping a careful squat allowed for a peek at the ocean through the hole.

Ambling along a little farther we exchanged intrigued glances with several sheep and learned to climb over the old stone fences that keep them in.

Most of the time we kept a healthy distance between us and the sheer drop off that ran along the coast, but before long we spotted another formation that had us headed for the edge once again.

The rock pinnacles at Gunver Head insisted on closer inspection, so we inched our way over to the precipice for some cautious consideration of the formation.

These cliffs are made of Devonian slate, a sedimentary rock which is extremely brittle and breaks along its layers leaving large flat surfaces.

This characteristic is why this coastline is so craggy and, in the case at Gunver, the crashing surf has created sharp peaks that stand like sentries along the shore.

While we gawked the wind began to kick up, making our precarious perch feel all the more dicey. Before being blown over, we decided to get moving toward the town of Trevone.

When we reached the seaside village, we were wind-blown and ready to take a little break. Spotting an ad for tea at a tiny beachside café, we knew that the time was right, even if it wasn’t officially teatime.

In Cornwall the classic British afternoon ritual is called cream tea, because clotted cream is a star of the show. This butter-like whipped cream is liberally laid out on scones that are lighter than most, in fact they reminded us of good ole southern biscuits.

It is proper to plop a good dollop of strawberry jam down on top of that delicious combination, then wash the whole thing down with hot tea. While we partook the rain did not materialize, so we headed back out and while we walked along the cliffs relented.

The steep coastline gave way to a sandy beach at Harlyn Bay while the sky once again took on an ominous tone. The threatening skies didn’t discourage the handful of surfers and small crowd of beachcombers though, still we made the call to proceed on to our final destination by bus.

When we jumped off at our stop in Constantine Bay, the sky opened up and chased us inside the Treglos Hotel for our second tea of the afternoon.

We inquired as to the lack of etiquette involved with partaking in a double feature when it comes to taking tea, and were assured that it was allowed as long as one was on holiday.

Still, we were fairly certain that this is not what they mean when they say tea for two.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See more from our Cornwall walking tour here.

How to Help Houston

It is heartbreaking to see the devastation in and around Houston. The recovery from hurricane Harvey will take weeks, if not months, but there are ways to help… CONTINUE READING >> 

It is heartbreaking to see the devastation in Houston and the surrounding area.

Sadly there is more rain to come and the recovery from hurricane Harvey will take weeks, if not months, but there are ways to help.

One on the best agencies for emergency relief in disasters such as this is the American Red Cross.

Here is a special page set up to donate specifically for helping Houston.

or text HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

The Salvation Army has also set up a special page just for hurricane Harvey donations here.

Another worthy organization is Americares, specializing in bringing much needed medical supplies and treatment to the hardest hit areas.

Please feel free to add links to any other relief agencies that are helping people recover from the devastating storm in the comments below so that together we can all send even more than our thoughts and prayers to those suffering in southeast Texas.

Swept off Our Feet at the Broom Corn Festival

Driving through the middle of America in early autumn meant we were bound to stumble upon some sort of fair or festival.

But we never expected to find one dedicated to something that we had never heard of… CONTINUE READING >> 

With harvest season fast approaching we got to thinking about some of our favorite Fall festivals and this one jumped to mind. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit a few years ago. The 2017 Broom Corn Festival is September 8 – 10. Make plans to attend if you can, and yes, the Lawn Rangers will be there.

Driving through the middle of America in early autumn meant we were bound to stumble upon some sort of fair or festival, but we never expected to find one dedicated to something that we had never heard of… so there was no way we could pass up The Broom Corn Festival in Arcola, Illinois, the self proclaimed “Broom Corn Capital of the World.”

We rolled into town just in time for the opening ceremonies and quickly received an education on all things broom corn. It’s not a kind of corn at all, it’s a type of sorghum that happens to have long, strong, thin seed stalks that are perfect for making the business end of brooms.

The name likely stems from the fact that the full grown plant looks quite like regular old corn.

Click photo to see a corn palace that still exists.

Legend has it that Ben Franklin was responsible for introducing broom corn to North America, and it became popular as a garden plant in the colonies.

Word spread that great brooms could be made from it, so soon farmers began to plant it as a crop.

By the mid 1800s most of it was being grown in East Central Illinois, and naturally a booming broom making industry followed.

Bifocals to broom corn, boy Ben Franklin sure did a lot of stuff.

Nowadays most brooms are made with synthetic strands, so the whole business of broom corn is nearly extinct, but the memory is kept alive with this thriving annual festival.

After the official kick-off we wasted no time getting to one of the main events, The National Broom Sweeping Contest.

We scrambled our way through the crowd to catch a peek of the contestants frantically sweeping broom corn seeds through a maze to a hole at the end.

The sweeper with the most grains in the hole within the one minute time limit is crowned Champion and presented with an authentic commemorative broom corn broom. Don’t be using that to sweep off the back porch!

As the excitement died down we headed over to the demonstration tent where real broom corn brooms were being made. These were no factory fashioned brooms.

Using a machine that tightly binds the strands to a handle, two guys were turning out a new, expertly crafted sweeping device about every ten minutes.

We next ambled through the myriad of food and crafts vendors that had set up shop along Main Street.

The usual gastronomic suspects were all represented, corn dogs, funnel cakes, elephant ears, sausages, fried this and that.

Then we noticed something different.

Bacon Dipped in Chocolate. Sounded pretty strange until we imagined something along the lines of a candy bar with a bacon center, might not be bad at all, so we went for it.

It was not encouraging when we saw the small vat of chocolate syrup right next to the bubbling nacho cheese, and even less so when we watched the girl fish out a few strips of extremely soggy bacon. It had been stewing in its own juices all day.

But we had come this far, so we were bound and determined to eat it. In mere seconds we regretted that determination. Awful, truly awful stuff.

WATCH: Your GypsyNesters are horrified by this version of chocolate covered bacon!

Feeling a little queasy, we decided to call it a day and rest up for the big parade the next afternoon.

We wanted to be at our best for the big performance by Arcola’s own World Famous Lawn Rangers.

In spite of their considerable renown we were unfamiliar with them, only having heard that they were a “precision lawn mower drill team” with the motto: You’re only young once, but you can always be immature. We could hardly wait to see them in action.

In order to get a better idea of what makes the Lawn Rangers tick, we took the opportunity to meet up with them in the staging area before the parade.

Founding member Tim Monahan was happy to give us the lowdown on the mower men. The Rangers haven’t missed a Broom Corn Festival Parade since 1980, that’s when they got their name from grand marshal Clayton Moore, TV’s original Lone Ranger.

Since then they have marched in the Holiday Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, the Indianapolis 500, the NFL Hall of Fame Game, and the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parades, but perhaps the pinnacle of Ranger performances came in the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Parade.

Honorary member Dave Barry may have summed up their performances best when he said, “What we do is push lawn mowers and carry brooms.

At various points along the parade route, we stop and astonish the crowd by performing broom-and-lawn-mower maneuvers with a level of smooth precision that you rarely see outside of train wrecks.”

Well if their performance was a train wreck, the crowd of at least double the 3000 people who live in Arcola, certainly loved the catastrophe.

We did too, making it a clean sweep.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

This Place Rocks

The introductory warmup walk of our Cornwall walking tour was destined to rock. There was just no way around it, because it would begin and end in the town of Rock. In order to accomplish this rockin’ trek, we would need… CONTINUE READING >> 

A big thank you to Country Walkers for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.

The introductory warm-up walk of our Cornwall walking tour was destined to rock. There was just no way around it, because it would begin and end in the town of Rock.

In order to accomplish this rockin’ trek, we would need to cross the River Camel from our base in Padstow.

No big deal, except for the interesting challenges faced by the ferry in negotiating the enormous tides that occur along this north facing coast on the Celtic Sea.

The variance from low to high tide is often over 20 feet. This leaves many boats in the harbor stranded high and dry at the low point, and requires a temporary disembarking spot for the ferry out on a sandbar far from the usual shore.

Once across the bay, we climbed to the high tide shoreline from our makeshift docking location and proceeded along England’s famous South West Coast Path toward the tiny village of Trebetherick.

This bit of trail would be our first of many walks along the country’s longest marked footpath. We wouldn’t come near covering the over six hundred miles of coastline that it spans along the South West Peninsula, but the sections we saw proved to be as scenic as we could have possibly imagined.

The stretch along the bay ran over and through large sand dunes that have been covered with grassy growth so that the seemingly solid ground beneath our feet was actually continually shifting.

Before long we came to the enduring little Saint Enodoc Church. This stone chapel became known as Sinking Neddy because it looks as though it has sunk into the ground. But looks can be deceiving, actually it has been battling the relentless encroachment of the dunes that have continually conspired to cover it for nearly nine centuries.

Today the grass covered dunes rise almost to the roof line, but it would be completely covered if not for  a big dig back in 1864 that unearthed the building and stabilized the dunes. For three hundred years before that Neddy was nearly invisible and the only way in was to drop in through a hole in the roof.

This peculiar procedure had to be completed at least once a year for the church to remain a valid parish, so priest and parishioners would make an annual climb down a ladder to attend services.

We have always been fascinated with cemeteries, the older the better, and St. Enodoc’s was mesmerizing. Not only for the markers, some of which date back to the sixteen hundreds, but for the scenic placement overlooking the bay.

Another interesting feature of the church, which was new to us but that we would encounter many more times again on this trip, was the lychgate we passed through to enter the yard.

The word lych, meaning corpse, has survived from Old English and stems the Middle Ages when the dead were brought to the lychgate until a funeral service could be performed. The little structure kept the rain off of, and provided seating for folks keeping vigil.

As we moved off into the countryside we encountered a couple of other new gateways that enabled passage between farmer’s fields. These were both designed to permit people, but not livestock, to pass through.

The first, a kissing gate, works by allowing a person to enter inside an enclosure with a gate that can be pushed one way to enter, walked around, then pushed back to permit an exit.

The other, called a stile, is simply a few steps placed so that people but not animals can climb over a fence or wall. We immediately associated the name with the word turnstile, which was correct. The contraption we know from crowd control at stadiums originally was a form of stile used to keep sheep or other livestock penned in.

Following our curiosity down an internet rat hole led us to learn that the first use of a turnstile to control the flow of humans was in a Piggly Wiggly store in Memphis, Tennessee.

Passing along hedgerows, and through the meadows and glades, also offered us the opportunity to discover a flower that we had never seen before, the foxglove. Turns out that these beautiful purple bloom covered plants are the source of a medicine called Digoxin that is used to treat heart conditions.

The plant’s medicinal qualities have been known for centuries, with the first published description dating back to the 1785 book An Account of the Foxglove and some of its Medical Uses with Practical Remarks on Dropsy and Other Diseases by physician William Withering.

Mostly we noticed that bees love them. Guess the little bumblers will never have to worry about an irregular heartbeat.

Leaving the flora and fauna behind we returned to human habitat in the pastoral village of Pityme.  The name is said to come from a tragic tale of loss at sea.

The skipper of a fishing vessel set despite despite threatening weather, resulting in all hands being lost. The grieving women of the town went to the widow of the captain and berated her for her husband’s irresponsibility. However, she was distraught as well and explained: “I have lost my husband too, so you should also pity me.”

Whether the legend contains a grain of truth or not we may never now, but it does make for a good story. Certainly better than the account of how Rock got its name. Some seen hundred years ago it was known as Blaketorre, or Black Tor, meaning black rock, which was eventually shortened to just plain Rock.

Entering the town along the beach we could see some of the namesake stones along the shoreline, even with the tide rising rapidly. Clearly, we didn’t have time to dawdle or we would be the ones asking for pity while we washed away to sea.

So as much as we enjoyed our exploration of the area around Rock, we had to roll if we were going to catch our ferry back across the bay.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See more from our Cornwall walking tour here.