Ever since I've graduated from college, fall has always made me wistful, and not a little bit nostalgic. Every year when the air starts to cool, my heart aches as I remember those four precious years I got to spend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Specifically, I remember the Septembers and Octobers. I'm typically a "spring" person instead of fall (hence my impending April wedding), but fall is just THE time to be in Chapel Hill. For years and years I missed it, and I still do. But...
There's always a "but," isn't there? Ever since I went to France with B in October two years ago, when the air gets cool I don't think as much of the Quad on a sunny fall day. Instead, I think of, and yearn for, our rainy train ride from Charles de Gaulle to our hotel in Paris. I think of the gorgeous crisp, cool, sunny day I visited the Chateau du Blois and Chateau Amboise. And I desperately, desperately, want to be back there again.
Well, it's hard not to, with views like this:
Or, you know this. Oh, wait. I'm marrying this view. Anyway.
Whether fortunately or unfortunately, my love of France does not extend solely to its aesthetic and architectural properties. It's kind of a good thing, because there's not much I can do about that. I live in South Carolina, and it is what it is. I can drive to Asheville to see an old estate, or I can drive to Charleston to walk around a historical city, but that's about it. I cannot take a 15-minute train ride, hop off the train, cross the tracks, and find myself at a giant castle estate. I just can't.
But like I said, it's not just about the views and the sights, and in this case, it's a good thing. It was more about how I felt there. And yes, I will be perfectly honest - a large part of it had to do with being on vacation and not having to go to work. Unfortunately, much like the lack of chateaux in the southeastern United States, there just isn't a whole lot I can do about that, either.
But there are other, more subtle things to be done to recreate that feeling here at home, without having to purchase airfare. So my goal, or resolution, if you will (because September has always felt more like a new year to me than actual New Year's), is to incorporate some of these things into mine and B's lives. Even if, um, you know, I haven't actually filled him in on this yet. Oops.
Even more than just to remind us of France, it's occurred to me that these could be valuable suggestions for our marriage as well. Right now everything seems all hazy and dreamy and new, but I'm not so naive as to think that won't wear off eventually. Putting good habits in place now seems like a smart start to a marriage, plus a way to have more fun. So here goes.
**And disclaimer (if you haven't figured it out already): this is not a short post. You've been warned.
1. 86 the technology. I think this is the biggest one. In France, we didn't have smartphones. We didn't have television. We had B's laptop but we didn't have internet except our first night, in Paris. I had three books and he had...nothing. So I bought a deck of cards at one of the castles and we played high/low while drinking a bottle of sparkling Vouvray wine (AH-mazing) that we bought for 6 euros. He invented a drinking game while looking at the many pictures I'd taken one day. We talked to each other. A lot. Because what else was there to do?
I'm not one to turn on the TV, but I have been guilty of bringing a book or my phone to the dinner table. There are some days I get home from work and all I want to do is sit by myself in silence and play Candy Crush. But I/we need to limit that. And yes, I see the irony in the fact I'm saying we need to get off the computer as I'm sitting here at a computer typing this to you, but you get the idea. Purposeful blog posts? Good. Mindless web surfing? Bad.
2. Get our butts outside. Especially this time of year. This is a throwback from both France AND Chapel Hill. In both places, I walked everywhere. And aside from the obvious health benefits, it was just nice to be outside. These days I dash from my house to my car, my car to my office, and then I repeat the whole process in reverse after work. Some nights we go on a a longer walk with the dog, but that's about all the fresh air I get. It's a far cry from being outdoors all day, having coffee in outdoor cafes, and taking pictures like this:
And yes, once again, the whole "job" thing gets in the way of being able to be outdoors photographing all day, but I can sit outside at Starbucks and read during my lunch hour. I can sit outside and read on Saturday afternoons. And the dog is pretty much always up for a walk. To recap: move it outside.
3. Stop waiting for "special occasions": As I lay awake unable to fall asleep this week, I started thinking about all the fun things we registered for. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy when I thought about how I could have a dinner party for friends and serve everything up on our fine china. But then I remembered we're going to be living in my tiny townhouse for a few months, and my happy balloon deflated. My thought process went something like this: "There's no room in my house for all B's stuff AND all our new stuff. Besides, I should wait until we get a bigger, nicer house together before I bring out the good stuff and have people over."
Um, why? We might be a little cramped for a couple of months, but why shouldn't we invite friends over for food and fellowship? Yes, space will be limited, but I'm pretty sure we can spare some room for china, and maybe even a serving bowl or two. In France, I had a glass of wine every afternoon while sitting outside and reading Harry Potter, just because I could. It didn't stop me just because it was a Tuesday or it was raining. Any day can be a special occasion. Bust out the china and invite the gang over.
4. Get up and get dressed. This is sort of a subset to #3. Every morning when I'm looking at my closet, I think, "Oh, I don't want to wear that to work, that's too nice. I'll save that for the weekend." And then every weekend, I'll think, "Oh, I don't want to wear that, I might get it dirty and then I can't wear it to work." Instead, I invariably pick the most boring things I own and wear them over and over again. Let's get real: this is the 21st century. I have a washing machine. If, heaven forbid, I spill something on my outfit, I can get the stain out..
But when I'm on vacation, I bring my cutest outfits and wear them. I get up, get dressed (NOT in yoga pants and an old Phi Beta Chi t-shirt), and hit the town. Funny, isn't it, how I automatically feel better when I'm dressed in an outfit I actually like? It's not selfish or vain to want to look nice in an outfit you enjoy if it puts you in a better mood and makes you more optimistic and motivated. Here I am rocking one of my favorite outfits at the Chateau de Chenonceau, the cardigan of which I bought at H&M in Tours:
5. Make "down time" count. I am the queen of fooling around on my phone and finding out that an hour or so has passed and I have done nothing productive. When I'm at work I think longingly of all the things I want to do when I get off, but when I get home I take a few minutes of "down time" that somehow always turns into a big chunk of time gone with nothing to show for it.
In France, I had a ton of time and no phone to waste it with. I walked endlessly around Tours while B worked, taking pictures like it was my job. I wrote in my journal or read while I had delicious cafe au lait every morning and my glass of wine each afternoon. That trip felt so robust, and I think it's because I can tell you pretty much how I spent each day. And yes, a few days included sleeping late or naps (thank you, jet lag), but there wasn't much wasted time. Having a job does constrain my time, but I want to make our free time more meaningful.
6. Embrace spontaneity. B's birthday fell on the Wednesday we were in France. By that point he had been working for three days, while I got to sleep late and have coffee and wine. When he got home from work that day, he took a nap that lasted a couple of hours while I read. When he finally awoke, I was super-excited to take him out to dinner at one of the many resaurants I'd scouted out that day. But he was groggy and exhausted, and just didn't want to go out to eat. We wandered from restaurant to restaurant, looking at menus, him getting more unenthusistic and me getting more exasperated the longer we searched.
Finally, in a fit of frustration, I snapped that I had found a grocery store the day before and would he like to just go get some fruit and bread and cheese? Turns out he would. We loaded up with delicious blue cheese, crusty fresh bread, sliced meat, pre-packaged caprese salad, olives, and I can't even remember what else. We then hit a convenience store for two bottles of wine (one red, one sparkling Vouvray...seriously, that stuff is amazing). And we went back to the hotel, sat on the bed, and had what became the first of our patented meat-and-cheese dinners. Yes, dinner at the fondue restaurant would've been nice (and if we ever go back, B promised me he'd take me there). But we made an indelible memory that night that has led to a unique tradition. If we had gone along with my plan, we would have missed it. B was wise enough to see that, and I'm grateful for it.
7. Eat well, treat well. Let's be real here. I ate enough Nutella crepes, macarons and chocolate croissants in France to put a diabetic in a coma. We also had a ton of decadent, amazing meals. But - the portions were small. And the food was fresh and real. Combine that with all the walking we did, and we didn't feel a bit guilty. This is definitely a trend we need to start/continue here in good ol' SC. Admittedly, this is one of the easier resolutions. I try to cook a variety of healthy foods, but portion control tends to be an issue. So do mindless calories. Quality should always take precedence over quantity when it comes to food, even dessert. It may be more satisfying in the moment to eat a giant bag of M&Ms, but I know I'll be much more satisfied in the long run waiting for a really good dessert, like so:
So that, in a nutshell, is my list of 7 handy steps to try to make myself feel like I'm in France again. I would've made that the title, except, well, it's a little long. Faithful readers, if you have stuck with me until now, I raise a glass to you. Cheers to a fun-filled, fulfilling life!