nimes

The Roamers make a day trip

As we wait for our shipment, begin studying French, and continue exploring our new surroundings, we’ve been amazed and gratified by the kindness shown us by everyone we’ve encountered. One early evening this week, I got a call (in French) from Madam Khalil, our landlord’s wife, asking whether she could stop by for one minute. She brought us a beautiful cake. She also invited me for coffee soon; I’ll have to work hard on my French to make that enjoyable!

Gorgeous cake to welcome us

We’ve been walking four to seven miles a day, but one afternoon I’d not even been outside, so I decided to take a quick walk around the neighborhood (getting lost but thanks to GPS, getting found). I noticed a sign for wine tasting and decided to follow it. I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to ring the bell, but once my language skills are a bit better, we’ll make a visit! 

Wine tasting near our home

We had learned that museum entry is free on Sundays, so we visited the Fabre Museum near the Place de la Comedie. It was amazing, huge, and a bit overwhelming!

Just one room in the Museo Fabre

We also met other expats for coffee one morning, which was great fun. But the most interesting and fun thing in our third week in Montpellier was Friday’s day trip to Nimes. We chose Nimes because it’s only a 30 minute train trip, and because we’d heard about the Roman ruins there. Interesting fact: denim originated in Nimes (“de Nimes”)! We managed to board the correct train and enjoyed the quick trip. Once there, we headed out of the station to the Charles de Gaulle Esplanade, a beautiful plane tree-lined park flanked by cafes. There are not one but two carousels, and the focal point is a gorgeous sculpture and fountain. From there we headed to the cathedral, which had the most beautiful Madonna altar I’ve ever seen outside of Notre Dame.

The top figure represents Nimes, and the other four depict Nimes’ four water sources

 

Isn’t this beautiful?

We then walked over to the Nimes Arena, one of the oldest Roman coliseums in the world, which is still used for music events and (ugh) bullfights.

This arena was constructed around 70 CE!

Many pedestrian areas in France have small round metal posts to prevent cars from entering. I noticed that in Nimes they were decorated on the top.

Interesting decoration

Later in the day we started noticing other similar decorations featuring crocodiles, so I had to investigate. Turns out that the Nimes coat of arms features a crocodile tethered to a palm tree. This denotes the victory in the Egyptian campaign of Augustus.

The crocodile fountain near the market

The market was closed during our visit, but we had fun peeking into the nearby shop windows.

These shoes cracked me up!

We saw many more amazing sights in Nimes, all within an easy walk of the Esplanade. We especially loved the Jardin de la Fontaine, a large park beautiful even in January.

Les Jardins des Fountaines

Temple of Diana, which had nothing to do with the goddess Diana

La Maison Carree (“the square house”) was closed, but it was one of the most beautiful ruins we saw in Nimes.

La Maison Carree

After all that walking we were tired and starving, and we hit the jackpot with our visit to Bistrot le Republique, a tiny and very popular restaurant near the modern art museum. There were no tables, so we sat on stools at the bar and enjoyed the best meal since our arrival in France. My halibut was so delicious that as we were leaving, in my horrible French I complimented the meal and that dish especially. Imagine my delight to have the owner thank me for attempting to speak French, and then explain the secret of how the dish was made!

I promise I only ate one creme brulee!

In case you want to join me in trying to recreate this dish, here’s what she told me (It’s kind of like a sous vide method): Season the fillet with salt and pepper and place it in a heat-safe plastic bag along with a bit of lemon and olive oil. Put the bag into hot water (it will shrink to hug the fish) to cook. Serve with the cooking liquid and sprinkle with tiny bits of fresh tomato and chopped chives. My dish was served with perfectly cooked rice and beautifully sauteed haricots verts and carrots. Divine!

The view from our apartment door

Stuffed and happy, we made our way back to the station. We struggled to figure out which track and train were ours, and we weren’t seated together on our first class return (We’d decided to spring for the extra five euros but learned that it’s not worth it for such short trips), and we got on the wrong tram, but eventually we made it home. Even though we’ve been here only three weeks, we already have that “good to be home” feeling! Today, Sunday, we’ll be having tea with an English couple we met. A bientot!

We also met other expats for coffee on Thursday, which was delightful.

two weeks in, and. . .

We love it here!

It’s hard to believe we’ve already lived in Montpellier for two whole weeks (longer than any vacation I’ve ever taken), and at the same time it feels like we’ve been here longer. Here’s a two-week update on how we’re settling in.

We ate out for lunch the first few days but knew we’d need to stock our kitchen. So we took an Uber to Odysseum, a large outdoor mall next to Ikea. There we discovered Casino–no, not a place to gamble away our retirement funds, but a “Geant” grocery/home goods/general store. Think of a Walmart-type place, but with far better food. Since we had to schlep everything, we bought only what we could carry. Then it was on to Ikea for a few essentials: trash can, a few kitchen things, etc. We took another Uber home to unpack everything. 

Charcuterie aisle at Casino: Cousin Karyl would love this!

We quickly realized that Uber was not an affordable option for everyday errands, and fortunately our lovely friends Gwen and Tom, whom we’d met on our reconnaissance trip in July, came to the rescue with an offer of two 10-trip TAM cards. Tam is Montpellier’s public transportation via trams and buses. Being over 65, we’re eligible for free rides, but after three tries we still haven’t received our passes (Have I mentioned that France is famous for its Byzantine bureaucracy?). Tom met us to guide us to their lovely home on a private street only half a mile away, where we met Bella, their darling dog, and enjoyed a sumptuous coffee spread.

New friends whom we feel we’ve known forever!

My favorite thing to do here so far is simply wander the streets in Ecusson, the oldest part of the city. It’s easy to get lost and then found, and we love discovering beautiful ancient buildings, contemporary street art, and all the sights and sounds that make up this gorgeous place.

Random art? Political statement? What exactly is this?

The architecture of Montpellier is diverse, beautiful, and intriguing. The Montpellier Cathedral is one of my favorite sights; you round a corner and there it is! It has an interesting history you can read about here.

Montpellier Cathedral

Our shipment of things from the U.S. hasn’t yet arrived, so we have very few clothes, no artwork, and aside from the basic equipment in our furnished apartment, not much to make the place feel like home. But we did rearrange the furniture, and we bought a rug, pillows, and a throw to make our living room a bit cosier. 

Early nesting

We’ll wait until our shipment arrives in a few weeks to put anything on the walls, but we’ve bought flowers, a candle, napkins, and placemats to make it feel a bit homier. And we love our apartment! Not many people have a shower with a name, but I named ours Disco Inferno.

Burn, baby, burn!

I love to cook, so of course I’ve been making some classic French fare: blanquette de veau, boef bourginon, croque monsieur, etc. We agreed that we’ll stop our habit of eating meals in front of the tv, and so far we’ve adhered to that plan, enjoying meals “comme les francais, a table.” And most lunches feature a glass of local wine. Wine here is both plentiful and affordable, with many quite good bottles for under $5.

Lunch of croques monsieurs, salade, et vin rose

This city has so much to offer, and we’ve hardly begun to see it. The street art alone is worthy of many blogs!

More street art on a building

Just yesterday we happened upon a small chapel that’s raising renovation funds via an enormous creche that features an entire village, fully automated. 

Just a small part of the amazing village creche!

We also continue to marvel at the elaborate trompe l’oeil artwork on the fronts of otherwise plain buildings.

None of this is real, but it’s real art!

So far we have seen no evidence of the rumor that restaurant portions in France are smaller than those in the U.S. However, we have seen some evidence that women’s body images are not as unrealistic as they are in our native country.

Billboard at bus stops, advertising underwear for real women

 

We have been walking every day, usually at least 10,000 steps. And it’s always a joy to return to our new home. Did I mention that we have to go through three locked gates to get there?

Gate #1 is automated and gives access to our parking area

Gate #2, access to the intermediate courtyard

Gate #3 into our private courtyard

We’ve developed a routine for these gates: I unlock each one, and Phil goes behind me and re-locks each one. Every time we come or go. . .

Door to our apartment

And finally we get to our apartment, which we love more each day. We are so very fortunate to be living this adventure, and to have a lovely place to come home to. We are so happy to be living our dream!

nous sommes arrives

Arriving in Montpellier

We had a wonderful last few days in Texas, selling our car, moving out of our last Airbnb, getting all the final tasks done, and getting our negative Covid tests for travel (yay!). To use up some hotel points we spent our last three nights in three different hotels, allowing us to experience yet more Austin neighborhoods.

We had a special retirement day lunch at one of our favorite Austin restaurants, North. I will definitely copy the beautiful veggie and bean board I enjoyed.

Beautiful and delicious!

You may recall that I’ve had a retirement countdown clock on my phone for almost a year. At last, on Friday afternoon, we counted down the last 20 seconds, just before I joined a Zoom farewell happy hour with my colleagues. I’ve had a wonderful career, and while I’ll miss my amazing work friends, I had no regrets–just a bit of a bittersweet feeling as I said farewell. OK, there may have been a few tears.

Celebrating my retirement with Phil!

And then it was finally time to go! Our flight from Austin to JFK was uneventful, and when we landed with less than an hour before our next flight, we were relieved to find that our connecting gate was very close. We were both excited to experience Delta One, with top-notch service and lie-flat seats in our “suites.” Since this was a one-way trip of a lifetime, I’d splurged with points on first class.

The Roamers in their suites

Although it was quite a treat, we agreed that the experience really isn’t worth the points (it took 120,000 Delta miles EACH for the whole trip!!), and we won’t do it again. 

We arrived at CDG on time and made it through customs without incident. The airport was super crowded, much more so than the US airports we’ve visited since the pandemic began. We boarded our final flight and in about an hour, we were in Montpellier!

Arriving in Montpellier

Our Renestance consultant, Lizzie, had arranged for a taxi to take us to our apartment. The driver was very kind and complimented me on my French! I’m sure he was just being kind; my French is horrible. And then we were home.

Lizzie met us at the gate (you have to go through three locked gates to get to our courtyard; very private!) and welcomed us into our new home. Our landlord, Monsieur Khalil, was also there to greet us and show us how everything works. Lizzie and the Renestance team had prepared a lovely welcome for us, with locally produced olives, tapenades, olive oil, baguette, sausage, herbed salt, nibbles, wine, and coffee.

Beautiful and delicious welcome gift from Renestance

Our first order of business was to secure the passe sanitaire, which verifies that you’ve been vaccinated. The passe is required to enter restaurants, museums, and many other public places. It was Sunday, when many businesses are closed, but Lizzie was able to find an open pharmacy where we could get them. After standing in line 10 minutes to enter the pharmacy, and standing in line 30 minutes to get to the register, we were instructed to stand aside and wait 30 minutes to get the passes. Sure enough, it was 1:30; obviously the person who could give us our passes was at lunch! In France most workers get two hours for lunch. By 2:15 we were able to show our credentials, pay about $80, and get the precious QR code. We immediately walked across the Place de la Comedie to the nearest restaurant to celebrate with a late lunch.

One of the gorgeous buildings on the Place de la Comedie

After lunch we picked up some essentials for the night and took an Uber back home to unpack. We love our apartment! It has everything we need and we’re excited to be in one place for a while. Our landlord and his wife are kind and accommodating (we didn’t have sheets, so they loaned us a set–and Madame Khalil ironed them for us so they’d be fresh!).

We’ve now been in Montpellier for two full days, and both days were packed with errands. We made a rookie mistake by shopping for sheets and towels at Galleries Lafayette, which is super expensive. And as I write this I’m sipping the first cappucino made on our new espresso machine. We have our priorities. and coffee comes first!

One step down from our old Breville, but still wonderful!

Today we will be meeting with our banker to finalize our French bank account. That’s right, in France you have to meet in person before they will approve you! Lizzie will be there to help, as the meeting will be conducted in French. After that, more shopping!

One of many beautiful churches in our neighborhood

We have lots to do–enroll in French language lessons, equip our apartment, learn our neighborhood, and more–but already we feel at home. We are so very grateful to be fulfilling our dream. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Au revoir, austin. au revoir, usa.

The Roamers are ready to fly.

Welp, we have finally arrived at this time: tomorrow is my retirement day, and in two days we are moving to Montpellier, France. Permanently. Here’s how we’re feeling: yikes/omg/can’twait/tummybutterflies/WOW!!! I’ve been counting down the days to retirement for almost a year, and it’s very odd to see “1 jour” on my phone countdown clock (I changed my phone to French to help with language skills).

We’ve really enjoyed our time in Austin. We love this city and have had fun exploring three different neighborhoods in our three Airbnb stays here. Now we’re in a hotel (yes, we’re doing three different hotels for our last three nights) enjoying a coffee before heading out to do last-minute errands. Here are some of the wonderful Austin sights we’ve enjoyed over the last couple of weeks.

Gender diversity inspiration

Unique Austin dog business

Austin cowgirl

Elvis shrine at the original Chuy’s

Our last weekend in Austin was the best! Our dear friends Joni and her new husband Scott came from Dallas for the weekend, staying in the apartment just below our too-small Airbnb. And dear California friends Carmen and Michael made the trip to Austin just to see us again before we leave (they also visited us in Denver when we were there). Joni and Scott arrived Thursday evening just in time for dinner.

Special bottle of wine from friends Paul and Jordan–wonderful!

The next day Joni and I did a little shopping in the SoCo district, and I found something for granddaughter Cora.

 

That evening Carmen and Michael arrived, and we enjoyed a feast on our Airbnb’s balcony. It was warm when we started, but we ended the evening wrapped in blankies!

Our wonderful friends. How did we get so lucky?

Joni and Scott brought their dog Yogi, who was a hit with this crowd. He is, of course, very photogenic.

Yogi being the center of attention 

The next couple of days were spent walking, dining (mostly outdoors because Omicron), and basking in our friendships. Oh, and there may have been some adult beverages involved.

Joni at the sculpture garden

Carmen and Michael smooching at Z’Tejas

We finally had to say “a bientot” to these fabulous people, but they left with plans for their first visit to Montpellier. Our hope is that we have to keep a calendar just to keep track of many visits from friends and family!

And now we have a busy couple of days: final haircut and pedicure for me, a stop at our kids’ house to drop off/pick up things, shipping my company laptop, a couple of final work calls, COVID tests for flying, a final checklist to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything important, and on Friday evening a virtual sendoff from my colleagues. We leave Austin, and the U.S., with gratitude, and we’ll enter France with excitement and a sense of adventure. I will continue with this blog, which has been great fun for me (and I hope for you!) over the past two years. So, until my first post from our new home in France, a bientot!

Gratitude

 

 

 

 

 

holidays

The Roamers have a barrel of fun

Of course we knew we were leaving, but each time we experience a “last”–last Thanksgiving in the US, last Christmas, last NYE, etc.–it gets a little more real. On a final video call with my workplace women’s leadership group, as we shared our gratitude/focus/let go selections, I talked about letting go of my professional identity. I’ve been working full-time for 47 years and the prospect of relenquishing the professional Sandy made me a bit teary. And at Christmas the fact that we’ll be so far away from our granddaughter and her parents suddenly hit me hard.

But of course we’ve been anticipating this for a long time. Our plan is to recognize all the feels, experience and process them, and maintain a joyful attitude through these last days and weeks in Austin.

Something we’ll miss: a roadside flock of Austin flamingoes

December 19 was a special day. We checked out of our Airbnb, dropped our things off at the new place, and grabbed brunch at Bouldin Acres before heading to San Antonio for our long-anticipated Sarah Brightman concert. 

Lunch with pickleball, playgrounds, and pups

We checked in at the Saint Anthony hotel, which I’d booked using points. At this beautiful luxury hotel we were upgraded to a suite that looked out over a park. It was much more than we needed for one night, but we loved it.

The unused dining room in our suite

We headed out along the Riverwalk, stopping for cocktails and dinner before the show. We had bought Sarah Brightman tickets years ago, but I had a business trip and couldn’t go, so this opportunity to see her was irresistible. And she did not disappoint! She is my favorite singer, and I was on the edge of my seat through the entire concert.

The magical Sarah Brightman

We were walking on air after the concert and not ready to go to bed, so we headed to the hotel bar for a nightcap. The cocktails were creative and delicious, the perfect ending to a memorable evening.

My most interesting man in the world, enjoying his cocktail

We had one more special event planned, a fabulous dinner at Emmer & Rye, a renowned Austin restaurant we’d wanted to try for years. Joni had given me a gift certificate so we finally had our opportunity to go. From the moment we walked in, every person on the staff seemed delighted that we were there. We put ourselves in the hands of our waiters, opting for the tasting menu with whatever wines they recommended for each course.

I can’t even remember what this was, but it was delicious!

This was a seven-course tasting menu served via small, shareable plates. We loved every single thing (although Phil wasn’t crazy about the orange wine, so I drank his). And this was the first tasting menu we’ve experienced that didn’t leave us overfull and miserable! This dinner made our top 20 list for sure!

Amid all these special things, of course the best was being with granddaughter Cora on her first Christmas. We feasted, laughed, and took turns holding the baby, knowing our time with her will be limited. She was all smiles most of the day, saving her fussy time for after Honey and Poppy left!

Poppy with his Cora

 

December flowers in Austin

Our new and final Airbnb is cozy and has a great location near Zilker Park. We’ve taken some great walks in our hilly neighborhood. One morning I was walking behind a couple of gentlement who stopped to admire a garden. When I got to the garden I could see why!

Beautiful Austin garden in December

I caught up with them a bit later and we chatted about the garden and the gorgeous greens growing there. After our chat I wished them a good day. One of them replied, “Have a long and happy life.” I said “same to you!” and he replied, “I already have!” How’s that for a great attitude?

We had some cozy, relaxing days after Christmas–eating leftovers, working our puzzle, and checking more items off our “prepare for move to France” list. There is still a lot to do: selling our car, donating things we can’t take to France, getting COVID tests pre-flight, and more.

The Annual Holiday Puzzle

And then the New Year’s Eve holiday was upon us. Our friend Patricia joined us for a last visit before we leave. We like to stay off the roads on NYE, so I’d planned a special dinner, copying my favorite meal from 1993, at a cozyl restaurant near Dijon. The menu was kir royales, pate de campagne, and olives for appetizers, followed by a first course of morilles a la creme. Then came the coq au vin with haricots verts, a salad course, and the cheese course. Patricia had indicated she was bringing dessert, but we didn’t know she was also bringing a beautiful table setting. We were sent to our room while she prepared.

Patricia posing with her gorgeous table

Since we’ve been living in Airbnbs for almost a year and a half, we haven’t been able to set beautiful tables, something I love to do, so the big reveal was truly a treat! 

And now it’s January 2, with the holidays behind us and only 20 days until we make our big move. In our family, we each choose a word to guide us for the new year. Mine is NEW, and Phil’s is ADAPT. For a couple about to retire and move to France, these seem just right. And our New Year’s wish for you is that you live a long and healthy life, and that you savor every moment. 

Happy New Year!

is austin still weird?

The Shroyers investigate.

 

Despite counting the days until we embark on our French adventure, we are enjoying our time in Austin. We’ve always loved the weird, funky Austin vibe and seek it out whenever possible.

The writing on the wall of an outdoor Austin restaurant and bar

Austin has more to offer than even full-time residents have time to explore, but now that we’re in the city we’ve been venturing out to revisit favorites and discover new ones. We had a wonderful Sunday at the Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller. Mueller is a modern, eco-conscious planned community where we considered moving when we relocated to the Austin area in 2016. Still in development, it’s grown into a robust, vibrant area with mixed-use housing, shops, restaurants, and plenty of green space. The vibe at the Farmers’ Market was hip (is that still a thing?), relaxing, and hyper-focused on local, sustainable goods. We ate, shopped, and chatted with farmers and makers on a gorgeous day.

Farmers took great care to beautifully display their produce

We also enjoyed revisiting our former home, Wimberley. Drawing many artists, creators, and fine folk, Wimberley is a tourist destination known for art, monthly Market Days, and Hill Country attractions such as Blue Hole and Jacob’s Well

A little bit of heaven

On our first visit we had cocktails with dear friends Lynn and Danny, and later we were joined serendipitously by Barbara and Chip and their daughter Courtney at El Jardin, a wonderful Mexican restaurant. A few weeks later we returned to visit our favorite bar, the Long Leaf, where Phil and I enjoyed fabulous burgers and my favorite cocktail, strangely named Rosemary’s Baby.

My Rosemary’s Baby (well, one of two, if we’re being honest)

A gin-based craft cocktail involving creme de violette and smoked rosemary, this is no longer on the menu but they’ll make it for you if you ask. While we sipped, we decided to check on another favorite, community theatre group Wimberley Players. Finding the last two seats for their final production of Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol was like getting the golden egg at Easter! We loved being back in that intimate space and seeing one last production, which was just a great as all the others we’d enjoyed.

After lunch we strolled over to Art on 12, the largest gallery in Wimberley and the one where Phil used to sell his paintings. Along with several wonderful new artists, the gallery was featuring its guest show, so we got to vote for the People’s Choice award with stickers. We also enjoyed chatting with several artist friends who were working or just stopping by. It was Old Home Week!

Art on 12

Back in Austin, we braved the mall for some Christmas shopping for granddaughter Cora. Everything for babies is so sophisticated now! And the clothes are just too cute. 

Holiday outfit for Cora

Our focus on Austin did not preclude planning for France. We secured renters’ insurance and watched via video while our new Renestance consultant Lizzie did a walk-through of our apartment. We now officially have the apartment, complete with our name on the mailbox! We had to pay for December and all of January in order to secure the apartment for our January 23 arrival, which was a budget hit but worth it. Imagine our delight when we learned that it comes not only furnished, but rather well equipped!

Kitchen equipment in our Montpellier apartment

We’ve also applied for a bank account (initially approved, but it won’t be finalized until we come in for an interview with our banker). Apparently in France it takes a lot of effort to get a bank account, and once you have it you’ll pay for each and every service–and you’ll have an actual human being as your banker! Should be interesting. . .

We are winding down our time in Austin Home Number Two, moving tomorrow to our last and final Austin Airbnb. We made a trip to check out the neighborhood where we’ll be living for the next month and were delighted to find it’s very near Zilker Park and highly walkable–and funky!

We can walk to this bar from our next Airbnb!

We’re planning to walk a lot more in the new place. I get bored walking in a neighborhood and find urban walks much more fun.

Is the sidewalk talking to me??

And strolling in Austin always yields interesting sights. Some are a bit vulgar, some are decidedly retro, but all are interesting.

Another restaurant in walking distance

So tomorrow we begin the last chapter in our Austin adventure. We are determined to enjoy every minute. And yes, we think Austin still has some weird!

Austin yarn bombing

 

I

Musings

A dream is about to come true.

We are officially halfway through our time in Austin. Which is our last place before moving to France. Which means this is really happening!

We are settled in nicely to our second “home” in Austin, a lovely condo in the West Lake Hills neighborhood. While not very walkable, it’s close to everything–grocery store and liquor store 1/3 mile away, lots of restaurants, and best of all, only a half hour to see our granddaughter! This is our second favorite place we’ve stayed (more on that in a future post), and we love it.

Our lovely second-of-three homes in Austin

For Thanksgiving we hosted our wonderful friend Patricia, who came from Houston to spend five days with us. She came laden with gifts–a gorgeous, HUGE poinsettia plant, more cheese than we could eat in a year, and way too many gifts for granddaughter Cora. We repaid her with way too much food (and more than a few adult beverages). This year I tried Justin Chapple’s chipotle mayonnaise turkey, with great results.

Mayo turkey’s “before” picture

You might think a 13.5 pound turkey would be a bit much for three people, but you’d be wrong. I finally used up the last of the leftover turkey, making soup for my daughter-in-law. I also made a huge turkey tetrazzini and more turkey-and-olive sandwiches than I care to count. That turkey was moist, delicious, and didn’t taste of mayonnaise or chipotle, just pure wonderfulness. She (I always name our turkeys, and this one was Angelique) was so delicious I forgot to take her picture until we’d started eating.

Glamour Turkey Angelique’s belated “after” shot

Aside from our wonderful visit, Patricia and I got to have a nice long lunchtime catch-up with two of our high school Wild Women, Susan and Anabel. Susan lives in Switzerland, so we rarely get to see her. These long-time friends are one of the best things in my life!

Patricia and Susan: two wacky, wonderful Wild Women

I started counting down the days until my retirement in March. Every day I look at the countdown clock on my phone. Today it’s only 49 days until retirement! I’ve begun thinking about “lasts,” as in last Thanksgiving as US residents, last full month at my company, and “only xx more days until seeing Cora and her parents will be a rarity.” Phil and I have discussed the bittersweet aspects of this move–missing family and friends of course topping the list.

The countdown clock on my phone

We’ve also discussed the importance of being present in each moment, instead of merely counting down the days. And we love Austin, so we’re determined to savor the experience, discovering new places and revisiting old favorites. We had a lovely brunch at 1886 Cafe and Bakery in the historic Driskill Hotel. It’s a popular place; we stood in line for a half hour just to order, but it was worth it!

Inside the Driskill’s 1886 Cafe and Bakery

Of course I had the Paris Texas Benedict! And Phil enjoyed the huevos rancheros, while declaring “This is NOT huevos rancheros.”

Phil and his “not huevos”

We’ve also been very busy with preparations for our big move. Our flight is booked, we have our visas, and we’ve signed the lease for our apartment. We secured a one-year contract for a furnished apartment, and we’ll use that home base to explore France and ultimately decide where we want to settle. We chose Montpellier, in the south of France, for many reasons: it’s a small city that reminds us of Paris but enjoys a Mediterranian climate; it’s a university town so should have plenty of cultural activities; it boasts some of the best healthcare in France; and we’ll have easy proximity to the sea (20 minutes), the mountains (one hour), Spain (we could take the train to Barcelona for lunch), and Italy (about a three or four hour drive)–AND we can be in Paris in three hours on the TGV (Tres Grande Vitesse, the high-speed train).

A street in Montpellier

We’ve also secured international health insurance, a visa requirement. After three months in France we can apply for a Carte Vitale, which is our ticket to the French healthcare system. Of course, France is famous for its bureaucracy, so we have no idea how soon we’ll receive that ticket. But when we do, we’ll buy a supplemental plan that will, combined with the Carte Vitale coverage, cover most of our medical expenses. And we’ll keep our Medicare Part A but drop Part B, Part D, and our supplemental plan. I have a health savings account (HSA) that we’ll use to cover any healthcare expenses we might have while visiting the US (Public Service Announcement: If you’re lucky enough to have an HSA and can afford out-of-pocket copays, dont use it to offset copays. Save it for later, when you can use it for extraordinary prescription drug expenses, nursing home care, etc. The HSA is the ONLY triple-tax-advantaged account: no tax on contributions, no tax on earnings when you invest it–and please invest it–and no tax when you use it on qualified health expenses. End of rant.)

Overlooking Montpellier

We’ve also started the process of securing renters’ insurance, which is required in France, and a French bank account. Fun fact: in France, a woman’s maiden name is always used for official business. Since I took Phil’s last name when we married, and I’d previously taken my ex-husband’s name, I’ve had to provide not only our marriage license, but also my first marriage license and divorce decree. Ah, bureaucracy! It’s already teaching us patience. 

Channeling my inner Maggie Smith

Most of all, our excitement grows daily. I’m grateful for this rather long wind-down at work; I’ve worked full-time for 47 years and my work has been part of my identity, so retirement is in itself a big change, even without pulling up roots and moving to a new country. But I look forward to quoting Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey very soon!

 

 

austin, Part 1

The planning begins in earnest.

After that whirlwind of a month in Dallas, we were ready for a little calm. The drive down I-35, while always harrowing, was uneventful, and we were excited to check in to our next home-for-a-month. This Airbnb in north Austin is in a large condo complex, in a nice treed area. The best part is that we can walk to lots of shops, restaurants, and even a movie theater!

Our cozy, aka small, living room

The condo has two bedrooms and provides us both a nice working space. Even better, I can close the door when I’m on calls, so Phil doesn’t have to tiptoe around or worry that he’ll show up on video. But the very best thing about this place is the acorns.

Plenty of acorns for stomping!

Let me explain. Long ago when we took our kids on autumn walks, we discovered the pure joy of stomping on acorns and hearing them crunch. This caught on, and now we are ace acorn stompers. And this condo complex, full of live oak trees, provides a plethora of acorns. I think it’s a bit like people who like to pop bubble wrap. Anyway. . .

We rented a 5′ x 5′ storage unit last year when we began roaming. Now that we’re planning to move to France, it was time to confront the stuff again. After three trips we managed to empty the unit and bring everything to our apartment. Did I mention that it’s quite small? The entire living room and one of the bedrooms was awash in stuff. But we sorted through everything and made hard decisions about what to keep. Donations went to Goodwill, paintings to family and dear friends, and a few precious items will be shipped to our new home in France.

My mother’s china: going to France!

In early November I had a final business trip I was both dreading and looking forward to: a presentation at a leadership retreat hosted by Thunderbird Leadership Consulting. Back in July, dear friends and former colleagues Dorothy and Amy asked me to present a session on the most intimidating topic ever: “transcendent humility.” I was terrified, but realizing it would be an incredible growth opportunity, I accepted. I read, studied, searched online, and eventually came up with a way of understanding what transcendent humility might be and how it could impact not only healthcare, but the world. 

The conference organizers/hosts

The conference, held in Phoenix at the art museum, was exceptional. About 40 healthcare executives participated, and each session was brilliantly presented. We all came away inspired, and it was a joy to reconnect with long-time friends and make fabulous new ones. We had several interactive sessions, including one that required walking through the museum. It was a lovely place for this event!

An Oscar Munoz exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum

Did I mention there was music? Kevin Monaco and Nate Bachofsky provided music for several sessions. Kevin is a composer and pianist, and his pieces provided the perfect background for grounding, mindfulness, and introspection.

The next exciting thing that happened was giving my notice at work. I didn’t intend to announce retirement this early, but my boss shared some plans about expanding my role, so I couldn’t let him plan without knowing I’d be leaving. So—my last day at work is January 21! And the very next day, Phil and I are moving to Montpellier, France.

A few of the Renestance team members

We hired Renestance, which bills itself as the Swiss Army knife for settling into French life, in December 2020 after attending their two-day virtual educational conference. They are helping us with everything–visas, lodging, language lessons, the whole nine yards. Our primary consultant, Ann-Lii, is from Sweden, so she has been through this process. We met her, along with several other Renestance folks, on our July reconaissance trip to Montpellier. Over wine, of course!

The day after I returned from Phoenix we drove to Houston for a special event: a party! High school bestie Patricia hosted a lovely cocktail party honoring her son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons.

Trishee’s boys

We spent a delightful evening watching the boys play, noshing, enjoying adult beverages, and getting to know Patricia’s lovely friends. Then it was off for a quick sleep before our visa appointment! We completed the visa process and headed to House of Pies for lunch with Patricia before heading home.

Once back in Austin, we raced through the week to get to a very special weekend. First up, on Friday we visited the beautiful house-in-progress of dear friends Jayme and Victoria, followed by dinner at El Monumento in Georgetown. We hadn’t seen them since their wedding in October 2019 (aka the before times), so this was a sweet reunion. I really think we could have talked all night! Also, the margaritas were the best of my life.

Victoria and Jayme

The next evening we had cocktails at the home of our closest Wimberley friends, Danny and Lynn, followed by dinner at El Jardin. As we settled at our table, in walked Barbara, Chip, and daughter Courtney! Barb was my pledge sister in college, and we reconnected as we moved to Wimberley in 2017. We pushed tables together and proceeded to have the best evening ever–but we forgot to get a picture!

Honey and Cora (aka the most beautiful baby in the world)

But the best, the VERY best thing about our time in Austin so far is our granddaughter Cora. She is perfect, and holding her is total bliss. We want as much time with her as possible before we leave for France. Oh, and we love seeing her parents, too!

 

 

dallas

Family, friends, memories, and wedding bells.

We were super excited to arrive in Dallas, where we raised our family and developed lifelong friends, After a lovely night at the Adolphus, we headed to our Airbnb home for the next month.

We had secured an entire house for this month, because our European kids were visiting! The home was lovely, in a quiet, well-located neighborhood–but the owners had not quite moved out! We had to move their stuff out of the way to make room for a month’s worth of clothing, food, and toiletries, but once that was done we were quite comfortable.

Our home-for-a-month in Dallas

The next day I had lunch with dear friends Joni (aka the bride) and Cara to work on wedding planning. Cara and I had offered to be Joni’s unofficial wedding consultants, and we were also hosting a lingerie shower, so we had lots of work to do before the October 16 nuptuals! Later that week I made a light dinner for Joni’s friends who were doing the wedding flowers. I hadn’t seen Joni or Cara since the “before times” so it was a sweet reunion.

Wedding flowers: serious work being done here.

We were beyond excited to welcome our daughter and son-in-law, who live in Europe and whom we hadn’t seen in almost two years! His parents joined us at the airport for reunion hugs and a few tears. They thoughtfully planned to go home with their respective parents to have a special family-of-origin night, followed by splitting their time between the two families. 

Nic and Amelia, our beautiful, wonderful, brilliant, exceptional kids

The next day the two families (including Nic’s brother, who flew in for a visit) met up for brunch at Norma’s, a long-time favorite diner-style restaurant. We feasted, we laughed, we caught up on two years’ worth of news. We love Nic’s family and have often wished we lived closer; spending time with them is always a joy. Plus, the food at Norma’s is amazing.

My dish from Norma’s: it ended up being several meals!

That weekend was also Phil’s 70th birthday! The small family celebration was understated and almost exactly what he wanted (the “almost” because our other kids, whose baby was almost due, couldn’t be there). After dinner at Chuy’s with Nic’s family, we all went back to our Airbnb for cake, ice cream, and champagne. And a few days later came the most wonderful gift of all: a granddaughter!

The next fun thing in a month of way too much fun was Joni’s bachelorette party, hosted by her daughters. Our group included family by choice, dear friends, and new friends, and it was a wonderful evening. 

Joni and her squad

The dinner was held at Town Hearth, a hip Dallas restaurant (is “hip” still a word?) where the beautiful people go to see, be seen, and enjoy great food. We may or may not have driven the waiter crazy.

Before dinner, on our best behavior

After that we headed to the Crescent Hotel, where we continued the party in Joni’s suite until we were politely asked to keep it down. We then proceeded to the lobby, where we may or may not have driven others crazy. We finally ended the evening after 2am, which seemed appropriate at the time.

Later in the evening. . .

The next week I had a business trip to St. Louis, and when I returned it was T minus 4 days until the lingerie shower, for which I was doing the food and flowers. Cara hosted at her lovely home, made  killer mai tais, curated the music, and provided the beverages and desserts.

Shower flowers

We had decided on the menu, and I made as much food as possible in advance. Still, it was a mad rush to get everything ready!

Shower food, lots of it!

We managed to finish everything just as the first guests arrived. It had been over 40 years since I’d attended a lingerie shower!

Lingerie!

The shower was great fun, and Joni received some beautiful gifts. It was wonderful to see old friends after so long, and to welcome new ones. Joni has an amazing circle of friends in her neighborhood–so great I was wishing we lived near them!

Can you tell Cara and I coordinated outfits for the shower?

Shower done, it was time to focus on the main event: the wedding was less than two weeks away! Fortunately, a business trip was cancelled, so I had a bit more time. After a quick day trip to meet our granddaughter, and a lovely dinner with our dear friends-who-are-family Carol and Richard, it was all wedding, all the time.

The wedding planners and the bride

The rehearsal had gone well, and the rehearsal dinner at Lava Cantina was perfect.

Joni and Scott at the rehearsal dinner

We packed up everything from Joni’s house and headed to the venue. The wedding was the first held at her neighborhood amenity center. We had to move all the furniture, decor, and Halloween decorations out to turn it into a wedding venue, but fortunately we had several strong guys to help with the heavy lifting. Cara had orchestrated everything to the minute, and for the most part it went accordingly–thanks to great vendors, friends and helpers. Joni’s friends did a spectacular job on the flowers! Once we got all the reception tables set up, we were thrilled with the space.

Reception space, ready to go

Joni was escorted down the aisle by her grandson, Landon, and her bridesmaids were daughters Jamie and Lindsey and granddaughter Ava. 

Joni and Landon

The wedding, held at sunset by the lake under a beautiful pergola, was perfect. 

A beautiful beginning

When my Apple watch died before the wedding it had already recorded 22,000 steps–and that was before Cara and I had orchestrated the wedding and reception! Plus, of course we HAD to join in the dancing. The next morning we could barely walk. So we rested on Sunday, and then celebrated our last evening in Dallas with a reunion dinner. 

“Sweeties” dinner

This was a group of life-long friends who met when we all worked at Sweetwater Health Enterprises, the company founded by dear friends Marsha and Bob. A special treat was having Michael, our IT genius, join from California. These people are precious to Phil and me, and the dinner, held at May Dragon, the favorite restaurant of our wonderful late friend Gwyn Harwell, was a treasure. We caught up on everyone’s lives, toasted our friend Gwyn, and soaked up the joy of special friendships.

Family.

And with that, we bid farewell to a crazy, fun-filled, momentous month in Dallas. Saying goodbye to Amelia and Nic, who spent that last night with us, was less hard than usual because we will see them in France in a few months. And I didn’t even cry!

 

on the road again!

Finishing up our pre-retirement Grand Tour

Denver was so great we (sort of) hated to leave, but it was time to continue on our journey. Before we ever even conceived of becoming Roamers, we had discussed doing a “Grand Retirement Tour” when I retired, crisscrossing the US and visiting friends along the way. Recently we realized that we’ve already been doing exactly that! Beginning with an Atlanta dinner with Philip and Erin, on to Raleigh with old friends Lloyd and Janet and favorite colleagues Michael and Sarah and Norm and Marie, continuing through Thanksgiving in Plymouth with our Cummings Clan, on to Phil’s old friend in Savannah, Dorothy and Amy in Santa Fe and Phoenix, cousins Karyl, Matt, and Dafid, as well as dear friends Gracelyn and Ralph and Beth and Wade in California, a visit from high school bestie Patricia in Hawaii, several days in Santa Clara with Karyl and Matt,  randomly running into Phil’s sister Pam and husband Roger on the Oregon coast (!), fun in Portland with nephew Connor and his girlfriend April, as well as high school Wild Woman Tina, and friends Cathy and Pat, then great times in Seattle with Sue and Mitch, as well as Rob and Liz, on to Denver where we had visits from Lynn and Danny and Michael and Carmen, San Diego again with Karyl and Matt, Las Vegas with friends Pilar and Rene–WOW! We are reminded of how rich we are in friends and family.

And it didn’t stop there. In the ten days of travel from Denver to Dallas, we had dinner in Kansas City with dear friends/former colleagues Deb and Mike and his wife Renee. Then we were off to Tulsa for a few days with bestie Beth and her partner Wade, where I got to help Beth’s sister Jenni with a baby shower for Beth’s daughter Sydney. Several of the guests were friends I’d not seen in ages, and it was wonderful to honor Syd, who’s been like a daughter to me since her birth.

Baby shower giggles

It was a brunch shower, and I made individual fritattas and fruit salad, served with croissants I did NOT make. But the star of the show was the gorgeous petits fours that Jenni ordered. Her baker made them to match the napkins!

Jenni’s beautiful petits fours

We loved the time we spent with Beth, Wade, Syd, Sean, and little Cora. Cora is a big fan of nicknames; Wade is Wade-o, Phil is Philio, and I’m “the other one.” She cracked us all up constantly.

Cora’s grilled cheese sandwich tower

We, of course, were very well fed in the days we spent with Beth and Wade. She’s a wonderful baker, and Wade is a great chef. He runs a meat business, Luther Brown Meats, and we were treated to several of his products. We had some memorable meals with this “family by choice.”

One of Wade’s beautifully presented plates

While in Tulsa we also got some quality time with dear friend and Wild Woman Linda. We walked, we chatted, we lunched, and best of all, we visited Tulsa’s Gathering Place, a world class public park offering exploration, beauty, gorgeous architecture, and much more. Our 50th high school reunion, originally planned for 2020, was cancelled again due to COVID, so the opportunity to spend time with my high school friend was truly a gift.

The Gathering Place: a wonderland for kids and adults!

We said goodbye to our Tulsa crew and headed to visit my brother Larry and wife Leanna, taking a slight detour to see Price Tower, the Frank Lloyd Wright skyscraper in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Phil is a huge Wright fan, and it was definitely worth the trip to see it. After a quick lunch, we headed on to Arkansas for our visit with Larry and Lea.

Price Tower lobby

Larry and Lea were in the throes of renovations on their beautiful lakeside home, so we spent most of our time out and about. We only had two days, but we packed a lot of fun into them, exploring new restaurants in the area, catching up on over two years’ worth of chats, and generally enjoying our time together. We made a day trip to Eureka Springs, which Phil and I had never seen. Along the way, we had one of those serendipitous experiences that seem like gifts from the universe, during a visit to Martin Greer’s Candies. Dr. Greer, a retired artist and professor (his father founded the company, and now his son makes the chocolates), came in to welcome us to the shop and we learned about his art career. “Care to see my studio?” he asked. Of course that was an irresistible offer, and we were not disappointed. Cartoons, paintings, animation cels–it was all there. We felt as if we’d snagged a private museum tour! 

We pulled ourselves away and headed to our next stop, Thorncrown Chapel. Hidden in the woods, this beautiful small chapel is a popular wedding site. Well worth a quick visit!

Thorncrown Chapel

From there we headed on to Eureka Springs, a quaint village full of shops and restaurants. We especially enjoyed exploring the Crescent Hotel, a beautifully preserved 1886 hotel and spa.

Lovebirds at the Cresent Hotel

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the Buttered Biscuit, a favorite from a previous trip, before saying goodbye and heading out for Dallas. We were beyond excited for this part of our trip, as our daughter and son-in-law will also be visiting from their home in Sweden. As a treat, we spent our first night (using points!) at the Adolphus. There we made friends with talented bartender Justin Wells, who recommended dinner at Billy Can Can. In fact, since he works there part time, Justin arranged for VIP treatment–reservations at the bar, where we could watch the action! We had a wonderful, top 20 meal there and were treated like royalty.

the bar at Billy Can Can: “Before Death Drink”

We each had an appetizer, main course, and dessert, and everything was exceptional! I enjoyed it so much I forgot to take pictures after the appetizer. 

Appetizer: deviled eggs six ways

Our ten days on the road between Denver and Dallas were indeed memorable. Now we’re happily ensconsed in our Dallas Airbnb, and I can’t wait to share the stories!