Happy holidays!

Our first Montpellier Christmas Season

Because our beloveds keep up with us through this blog, we are not sending out a holiday letter summarizing our year (although we LOVE receiving those from others!), but through this short post we’d like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday. After traveling most of the month of November, Phil and I decided to stay home and enjoy our first Montpellier Christmas (we spent last Christmas in Stockholm with our daughter and son-in-law). 

When we got home, Phil’s first job (after unpacking, of course) was to finish my early Christmas present: a gorgeous acrylic seascape of one of the beaches near Montpellier. I feel joy every time I look at it!

The beautiful Montpellier seascape Phil painted for me!

To get into the holiday spirit, we had a day trip with friends to the holiday market (called l’Hivernales in French) in Aniane, a medieval village less than an hour away. We arrived at the only available parking spot only to find two women standing in it, trying to save it for friends that “might” be coming. Fortunately, we had our friend in the car, and with her expert French and her very French gestures, which matched those of the two women, she succeeded in persuading them to move so we could park. “It’s good to have an Alpha in the car,” commented her husband.

The view from the parking lot in Aniane

The market was wonderful, offering everything from hot wine (vin chaud) to perfume made by a “nose” who lives near the village, to lovely handmade items.


A view of the Aniane market

We did a bit of shopping before it was time to head to Bistro des Terrasses for lunch. We went all out with the three-couse meal (four courses if ;you count the fabulous amuse bouche-)-duck fois gras, various beef, pork, and fish dishes, and delectable desserts–and, of course, plenty of wine.

My dessert: a chocolate-orange mille-feuille

After lunch we walked back to the now-crowded market and strolled around, returning to a few special vendors for goodies. We saw tons of Christmas trees, Santa, and this wonderful book hut.

What’s a holiday market without a hut made of books?!

We finally bade farewell to Aniane, with plans to return when things are back to normal. It’s a gorgeous little village and well worth a trip. Back in Montpellier, one couple hosted us for a delicious meal and a “Love, Actually” viewing to top off the delightful day.

Another lovely Aniane view

Aside from this trip, several fun lunches, French lessons, and errands, our month has been fairly quiet. We’ve enjoyed the festive season in Montpellier and look forward to a quiet Christmas at home with a few close friends. I’ll be making our traditional foods–turkey and dressing, Christmas tree coffee cake, and more–but with a few French twists, including escargots that friends are bringing. And Phil and I will spend some time reflecting on this splendid year, thinking of our dear friends in the U.S. and beyond, and feeling immense gratitude for  our adventurous life.

Roamers in Aniane (photo courtesy of our friend Jana)

The ease of retirement

Learning to enjoy personal freedom is a process.

I came home from our grand November adventure with a lingering cold, which, helped along by our flight home, produced a stopped-up ear (une oreille bouchée, in French). For the first week I only left the apartment for French lessons, and I’m still mostly stayiing home, resting, and taking prescription meds. So I’ve had a lot of time for contemplation.

Having worked full-time for 48 years, traveling weekly, and being “on call” 24/7 (along with raising a family and being a person), I never had a lot of contemplative time, so this is a fairly new experience for me. The sheer luxury of not HAVING to do anything is something I’m still not used to, after almost two years of retirement. And now that the newness of living in France has worn off a bit (although we still occasionally pinch ourselves that this is our life!), I can relax into a slower, more measured pace.

I’m learning, for the first time, to pace myself, to say no occasionally, and to fight my FOMO. I enjoy Thursday coffee with friends, but life goes on if I miss it now and then. Instead of venturing out in the cold with a cold to buy a Christmas tree, I ordered our tree and trimmings online. And you know what? It turned out fine, and it was fun to assemble.

Smallest Christmas tree we’ve ever had, but it’s the right size for our apartment!

We did manage to go out one evening with friends (to see the fabulous Callas Paris 1958 film), where we saw the giant Christmas tree in the Place de la Comedie, but as of December 9 we have not yet ventured out to see the Illuminations or to visit les Hivenales (the outdoor Christmas market). Normally I would have dragged Phil out for both on the first day, but now I realize there will be plenty of time to see everything–and it might be less crowded by the time we go.

Holiday lights on l’Opera de la Comédie

Phil and I enjoy our loose schedule. I usually wake up first, have coffee, and catch up on emails, while he sleeps in. Late mornings are spent in parallel play, me reading or playing on my phone, Phil watching videos and enjoying his coffee and breakfast smoothie. We have French lessons and/or homework most days, and we run errands, do laundry, and chat, before Phil goes to his studio to paint while I read, work on administrative tasks, chat with my daughter, etc. Between 5 and 6 p.m. we reconvene for a cocktail while I make dinner, and we usually watch a movie over dinner. And several times a week we get together with friends.

I’ve recently begun learning to sleep late. For many years my internal alarm has gone off around 6:43 a.m., but since we got home I’ve slept until after 9:00 several times. I do occasionally have sleepless nights (apparently one of the lovely aspects of aging!), but when that happens I can take an afternoon nap!

The view from our apartment this morning, after a night of little sleep. Lovely!

I’m still learning how to do retirement, and figuring out the ideal pace and routine will take time. I will admit to still having occasional work anxiety dreams (workmares, I call them). But the past couple of weeks of quiet have helped me realize how fortunate I am to be in this stage of life, and I plan to take advantage of every sweet moment of freedom!