French Impressions

If there is reincarnation, I want to come back French. I love the countryside (no billboards, no Walmarts!); rolling green hills with fluffy sheep, happy cows and puffy chickens; the people–the myth of surly French is not true. Everyone we met went out of their way to be kind and helpful; the food–oh, the baguettes, pastries, cheeses and wines! I loved going into a boulangerie and walking out with a beautiful baguette poking out of my shopping bag. I felt so Parisienne! And I got by with my terrible French. I discovered if you try to speak French, they will switch to English because they don’t like their language spoken badly. If they didn’t speak English, we got by with pointing, hand-signals and writing down numbers. Language, or lack of it, was never a problem

Our trip included a few days in Paris and a Seine cruise. I’m glad to have made it to Paris once in my life, but I’m done with large international cities. As Thomas Friedman says, “hot, flat and crowded.” An hour wait to get into the Musée D’Orsay, on an October weekday! I can’t even imagine it in June!

River cruising is preferred our mode of travel from now on. What a wonderful, relaxing, even luxurious, way to see the world. We were on the AmaLyra, part of the Amawaterways fleet, and I highly recommend their cruises. The service, food, wine, excursions, entertainment–everything was sublime.

The homeschooling granny is still overwhelmed, even more so with family health issues adding to the mix, so I’m just posting some snapshots with very little narrative. Just go to France and see it for yourself!

The incentive for the trip was the Klimt exhibit in Paris. I was not disappointed. In fact I was in tears within minutes, it was so overwhelmingly beautiful–the art, the music, the whole immersive experience. Watch video on YouTube here.

Paris

Notre Dame

Ste. Chapelle’s magnificent stained-glass windows

Chateau Gaillard, ruin of Richard the Lion Heart’s castle overlooking the Seine

Honfleur harbor and its beautiful produce markets

Normandy: Omaha Beach, the U.S. Cemetery, Memorial and Museum

 

Normandy: remains of the artificial harbor built by the Allies, Arromanches-les-Bains (Gold Beach)

German gun (two views)–so much better surrounded by flowers

German bunker

Rouen Cathedral, which Monet painted 28 times, some from a nearby lingerie shop where he put up a screen so the ladies could still try on their dainties.

You can have what Julia Child had–this restaurant was her inspiration to become a French chef

Rouen’s one-handed clock

Peeing (for drainage) statue at a Rouen church

Our captain was kind enough to tow a grounded working boat. We watched the rather delicate operation from the sundeck.

Another view of Richard the Lion Heart’s castle, from the river, on the return trip

Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny

Look closely for the kiwi fruit.

House and interior

Japanese gardens and lily ponds

We also visited L’Orangerie, which Monet designed to show his huge water-lily paintings. We saw it before we visited Giverny. (Giverny was my #1 bucket list item. Seeing Giverny, L’Orangerie and the Klimt exhibit were the highlights of the trip for me.)

Musée D’Orsay: some of my favorite Van Goghs: “The Bedroom at Arles,” “Church at Auvers,” and “Night Stars.” (Sadly, I missed seeing the actual church; it was near the end of the cruise, I was sick and we were both exhausted, so we stayed in the cabin watching “The Longest Day,” instead of taking the shore excursion. After seeing the Normandy beaches, the movie was incredibly powerful.)

Rodin’s Balzac, and the clock in the museum, which was once a railroad station.

Farewell to Paris and the Métro, with which we have a love-hate relationship. It’s the best way to get around because Paris traffic is awful (worse than Austin, Texas, which is saying something). But my husband was injured in a crush onto a train when his leg went into the gap (on our third night!). It put a bit of a crimp on the trip, but he hobbled through and we really enjoyed France, especially on the cruise.

Rue St. Maur station. I love the old Art Nouveau station entrances.

Au revoir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Success

Because of my very complicated family life, I’m prioritizing my obligations and shedding some less-critical activities, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like). I hope to return before very long, but in the meantime, I’ll share what I consider to be the secrets to success.

I recently listened to a TED talk about “grit,” or perseverance, being the best predictor of success in a young person–more than economics, race, or even intelligence. It got me to thinking about what I consider to be the most important factors to success. (I’ve often joked that the reason I’ve never written a book about losing weight and keeping it off is that it would be the shortest book ever–four words: “MOVE MORE. EAT LESS.”)

Since there are also only four words in my success secrets, I guess there’s no book there, either. Here they are:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Imagination
  3. Enthusiasm
  4. Perseverance*

There you have it.

Be good, live well, and put one foot in front of the other as long as you can. I hope to return soon with more stories about radical retirement and homeschooling a sixth-grader.

 

* I can’t resist the famous quote by Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge” about persistence.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

 

 

Only Five Rules

Being someone who apparently likes a challenge, I’m taking on what may be the biggest one of my life, the second biggest in retirement since the decision to invite my granddaughter to live with us: we are going to homeschool her. Reasons are many but I choose not to share them*, except: whoever thought it was a good idea to merge four elementary school’s worth of sixth graders into one pit of mean, hormonal, bullying 11-13 year-olds?

Friends and family members are saying I’m very brave (or thinking I’m very stupid?), but it seems to me this is what I’m meant to do, my true life’s work. And, in addition to doing what’s right for the child, there are considerable advantages for us as well:

  • Flexible schedule. No morning bustle of breakfast, gathering up backpack and jacket and rushing for the bus. Doctor, orthodontist and dentist appointments don’t have to be after 3:30.
  • Enough sleep for everybody. My favorite retirement perk is getting up when I want to. The dog wakes me when morning light seeps in the windows–now about 7, but that will get later as the year progresses. Within reason, the granddaughter also sleeps when she needs to.
  • We can travel with her, visiting state and national parks, caves, cities with great museums–wherever and whenever we like.

Texas’ requirements for homeschooling are lax, to put it mildly. You basically decide to do it and notify the school. The law requires the following:

  • The instruction must be bona fide (i.e., not a sham).
  • The curriculum must be in visual form (e.g., books, workbooks, video monitor).
  • The curriculum must include the five basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship

Not even science, history, geography, PE, health, or the arts are required!

I have developed a curriculum that includes English (writing, reading, spelling and grammar); math; science; social studies (history, geography and civics); art; and health (PE, hygiene and community service). I hope to add music, possibly film or theater arts, eventually. I also plan to inter-connect subjects–writing will be part of everything, and I might combine art history and world history.

The curriculum is mostly just an outline with goals right now, but…

Resources are abundant, both online and in reality. The public library, the nature center, art centers, the Upper Guadalupe River Authority, the river itself–we live in an area rich in opportunities for learning.

Online resources seem infinite. There are homeschool groups, tips, curriculum resources and on and on. I am confident I can teach pretty much everything except science and math, and we are already set up with the Khan Academy, which is free and even has add-ons for adults to learn along with the kids. There are several homeschool groups in our area, but one is very religious (which won’t work for us), and the other is a sort-of co-op, with parents sharing the teaching. Hey, if I’m going to have a stranger doing the teaching I’d rather have a certified public school teacher, thanks all the same.

The binder with my notes and plans.

 

Helpful resource with lots of ideas for creative teaching and learning.

The door is not slammed on public school; it’s a fallback if it becomes necessary and desirable. There is also an alternative micro-school in the area that I will investigate for next year (it was already filled up when I learned of it this summer).

Just for fun I suggested we have a name for our little school, thinking something like “Granny’s Country Day Academy.” So she decided on “The Krusty Krab.” Now we have to decide if the mascot will be Spongebob, Patrick, Squidward or, my favorite, Gary. When I gave her a math worksheet with a place for her name, she wrote “Sargent [sic] honey mufflebuns.”

the “un-school”

This really might be fun. Yes, I realize there will be days when I will wonder “WHAT WAS I THINKING?”

But there are only five rules:

  1. Sleep (enough, mostly at night)
  2. Eat (sensibly)
  3. Exercise (any at all)
  4. Learn (enthusiastically)
  5. Be grateful and kind (and put your dishes in the dishwasher)

* Family members, caregivers and others who care about her future and well-being are supportive of this choice.

Thank Dog

The best thing about retirement was going to be sleeping as late as I wanted.

Then we got this beautiful furry alarm clock.

Who could resist this face?

Lately he’s been waking me at dawn, which is around 6 a.m. right now. It’s strange because all the bedrooms have room-darkening curtains. It must be an internal body clock that tells him it’s time to get up. He licks my face relentlessly until I finally accept the inevitable and get out of bed and into clothes and shoes.

I’m always grateful. We go into the backyard and Junior grabs a tennis ball while I enjoy the early morning coolness (on days that later reach triple digits F) to do my morning stretches on the patio.

Mars is a brilliant red-orange beacon in the west. The clouds turn pink.

 

I sit on the meditation bench and watch hundreds of bats flit among the trees as they finish their night’s work. Then the first hummingbirds appear at the feeder and it’s time for coffee, morning pages, and a walk with Junior. This morning, in addition to these bright Lantana and feathery grass, I saw a dead rat in the neighborhood, which I chose not to photograph. You’re welcome.

 

Summer Chilling, Part 2

Indulge me.

This morning, after the pool guy left, and while the cleaning lady was here, I had a pedicure.

Sitting there while a sweet young Vietnamese man massaged and groomed my feet while my house was being cleaned by a sweet young Hispanic woman, I got to thinking:

(First, I am so grateful for immigrants, myself included. These gorgeous Vietnamese people who run nail salons and restaurants and raise families here add richness to our culture, as do the Mexican, German, English, Dutch, Syrian, Chinese, Brazilian, African and all the other folks who add to our beautiful melange. May it ever be so.) Anyway.

But as I was feeling a little guilty about so much self-indulgence, I realized some things. About half my lifetime ago, roughly my cleaning lady’s current age, we were new in Texas with two pre-teens, whom we had promised horses to sweeten the move. We had some acreage, a paddock and small barn, chickens, a big garden, plenty of lawn to mow, and we put in a pool. I took care of the girls, cooked, shopped, did all the housework and laundry, helped with the horses, the chickens, the garden and the mowing, and did all the pool care–I used to say I spent way more time caring for that pool than I did swimming in it–and I worked part-time at a weekly newspaper. The girls were active in 4-H, an admirable organization, and I taught cooking and sewing and chaperoned trips. Seems like I did the room mother and PTA thing, too, although memories are fading.

Indulge me indeed. We are supporting the local economy–a pool-service company, a young woman’s cleaning business, the yard guy (who comes tomorrow), while I read, take naps, knit, and stitch comfort bears for the refugees. And still do almost all the shopping, cooking, laundry, gardening, and managing another generation pre-teen.

Tonight it’s margaritas by the pool.

Summer Chillin’

July is hot in Texas. Last year at this time, we were still settling in to our new home: unpacking; hanging pictures; assembling everything from furniture to a composter; finding pool care, yard care and cleaning help.

Looking around the back yard, I am so pleased with all we’ve accomplished, and this summer has been mostly relaxing and recharging.

Viewing these photos, I can feel satisfaction in tasks as simple as putting up clotheslines to digging a garden. The meditation garden is a work in progress, but the slope behind the rock wall will eventually be a rock garden. We put badminton, cornhole and darts out for a July 4th backyard party. It rained, but everyone had a good time anyway, and kids got in a good swim before the rain came.

Nobody told the tomatoes and peppers they’re supposed to be done, so I’m still harvesting.

Rock wall and meditation garden, still needing rocks to replace weeds.

Patio view of badminton “court” with Junior and frisbee.

We’ve had a busy year. Granddaughter finished fifth grade, with honors. We’ve found doctors, dentists and other services we need. Husband had back surgery and is playing golf again. I had an injection in my hip to relieve arthritis pain.

We’ve made good friends and have several communities we enjoy being part of. I’m so glad we made this move.

This is how I’m chilling this summer:

Cut my hair; got rid of the hot bob. Shorter than I wanted, so no pic for now. Also thinking about a color change.

Reading: fiction (finished “House of Sand and Fog”), nonfiction (waiting for “Educated” from the library), magazines, daily newspapers (print and online), a habit I needed to get back into.

Knitting: my little Thursday afternoon knitting/crochet group is a pleasant part of my weekly routine, with supportive girl talk and time well spent. Right now I’m cranking out hats for fall backpacks. Also making “comfort bears” for refugee children who come through San Antonio.

Current hat-in-progress.

Flannel bears stuffed and awaiting faces.

Sitting by the pool. Swimming. Reading on the patio. Fixing simple meals.

View from my poolside seat.

My poolside retreat.

We have a couple of weekend trips and family activities later in the summer, a foreign trip this fall, and another possible big lifestyle change, so I’m just going to store up the coolness for now.

Where’s Your Happy Place?

Trying to nap after 24 hours of various stresses–family, finances, technology, interruptions, doggie waking me too early–I tried to think of the most beautiful place I’d ever been. I didn’t go to sleep, but quite a few candidates came to mind. In no particular order:

  • In New Zealand: Devil’s Punchbowl in Arthur’s Pass National Park, Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson Lakes National Park
    • Me on the beach at Abel Tasman National Park, 2009

Devil’s Punchbowl (photo: seesouthisland.com)

  • Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario (photo the canadianencyclopedia.com)

  • The Yorkshire Moors when the heather is blooming

Heather on the moor (photo: Tripadvisor)

  • Inverness, Scotland

Inverness with summer blooms (photo: Reddit)

  • The island of Eleuthera, the Bahamas
  • Butterfly Conservatory, Niagara Falls, Ontario
  • Washington, D.C., in the spring
  • Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, in the fall
  • The Grand Canyon
  • Dahlias blooming in the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and begonias in the Christchurch, New Zealand Botanic Gardens

Golden Gate Park dahlias (photo: Pinterest)

And finally, probably the most beautiful place I have ever been:

  • National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai

Golden shower trees at the National Tropical Botanical Garden (photo: trover.com)

It’s interesting that almost everything involves flowers and/or water.

But no matter where I go, I am very grateful for what I see when I step out my back door:

Happy unicorn float, oleander and hummingbird feeders

 

View of entry to meditation garden from the patio

What are your favorite beauty spots?

 

 

 

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