Packing (Wine Optional)

I get questions regularly from family and friends on how to pack since I have evolved into a semi-pro.  Since I am packing for a 2.5 week vacation I thought this would be the perfect time to share my process.  This particular trip includes stops in DC, North Carolina, and a tour through California from San Fran to San Diego.  And I managed to pack in carry-on sized suitcase.  Full disclosure: this does not include cycling clothing & gear as that gets packed in the bags with our bikes but it does include my other “stuff” for the 2.5 weeks!

Minimal packing is a skill.  Seriously, I wish I had learned it years ago as I get flashbacks to my first trip to 10-day trip to Europe in which I took two massive suitcases that covered every single possibility that might occur and proceeded to haul them through planes, trains, and automobiles.  Across multiple countries.  And countless walk-up apartments in Europe.  This is the trip where I became intimate with packing regrets.  

In the many years since my packing style has been forced to evolve.  Forced.  

arrowReason 1: Years of being a business traveler made over-packed bags obnoxious. Especially when everyone else I was traveling with had carry-on luggage and had to stand around baggage claim impatiently waiting for my bag to arrive.  And then when I did have a carry-on I had to be sure I could lift it into the overhead compartment without giving an innocent bystander a concussion.  

arrowReason 2: Multi-week cycling trips in Europe in which we literally had to carry all our possessions on bikes from location to location.  The very first time I went on one of these trips and my hubby announced that I could only take 4 outfits for 2 weeks (2 cycling outfits, 2 regular outfits) I almost had a meltdown.  And you can just imagine what he said about my items for my daily beauty routine.  Our relationship almost came to an end over this discussion…but as usual in the end he was right.

And let’s be honest…I usually didn’t even use 50% of what was in my suitcase.

So after coming to grips with my ridiculous packing habits, I began to hone my skills in minimalist packing.  It took some trial and error to get it right…leaving out things I really did need and bringing things that I still didn’t use.  Today I am pretty good at efficient and minimal packing. I spent 3 months living in France in just one regular sized suitcase and a super small carry on (really backpack with wheels for my weekend excursions).  Even I was impressed with myself.  But I used everything I had and because of picking mix and match pieces never felt deprived with my outfit selection (and a few purchases in French boutiques helped :-).

arrowClothing

  1. Pick things that mix and match.  Everything should be able to be part of a least 2 outfits if not more.  So pick your colors and patterns carefully.  For example as my packing came together for this trip I ended up with a navy, off-white, and black theme with a few pops of color added by tank tops, scarves, and accessories.   
  2. Myth: Lose the idea that you can’t wear an outfit more than once during a trip.  Yes you can. Just plan the when carefully.
  3. Myth: You don’t need multiple outfits per day unless there are special events going on.  So pick clothing pieces that are versatile between activities.  
  4. Workout clothes take up a lot of space so be honest with yourself…are you really going to use them on this trip?  If you are definitely pack them, but if it is an overnight work trip jam packed with commitments you could probably save the space that those shoes will take.
  5. For longer trips, if possible choose an AirBnB or hotel that has easy access to a washing machine so that you can easily wash undergarments and work out clothes.  That means that you don’t have to pack multiples.  I generally keep a small packet of laundry detergent in my bag in case I have access to a washing machine (which sometimes turns out to be the bathroom sink in a pinch)
  6. Shoes, shoes, shoes.  Still my biggest challenge.  I just can never have enough shoes but gosh they take up sooo much room.  So keeping it to 2 – 3 pairs can be tough but this is where outfit coordination can also come in handy.   
    1. Formal Shoes: 1 pair of dress/work shoes or 2 if a multi-day trip.   
    2. Comfortable Shoes: Generally flats but something good for lots of walking in airports or events outside of work.     
    3. Flip-flops: Thin and bendable so they don’t take up much space but usually they are needed for hotel rooms.  Some people do pass on these but I have seen too many hotel rooms not to.  Or perhaps in the summer months or warm locations flip-flops and comfortable shoes can do double duty.
    4. Sneakers: If you are going to work out or perhaps these are another option to perform double with your comfortable shoes.  

Tip: To save space, if possible stuff the shoes with things like socks or tights.  Not only does this help keep the shape of the shoes it saves tons of space!

  1. Warm layer: Often it is necessary for a warmer layer in the plane, mornings and evenings.  So try to pick one scarf, jacket or sweater that will look nice with every outfit because like shoes they take up a lot of room.

arrowBeauty Items/Toiletries

I keep a permanent bag of toiletries ready to go so I just have to move it around between suitcases and never spend time putting it together.  This has been one of the practices that really lowered my stress for packing so I highly recommend it!

Tip: Buy a clear TSA compliant bag that you keep everything in so that you can just grab it and throw it in the security bin if carrying on your luggage.

arrowLiquids: Lotion, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, skin care products, toothpaste.

Tip: Regardless of if you are checking luggage or not the 3 oz rule is a good one for liquids to also minimize space.  So invest in lots of bottles and keep them full of your must have liquids.
Tip: Even though hotels usually have items such as body wash and lotion I still always transport with me for simplicity so that my toiletries bag does not have to be changed each trip.  Plus sometimes they just don’t and I am not willing to sacrifice my moisturizing routine.

arrowBeauty Routine: My on-the-road and at-home beauty routines vary.  My on-the-road routine is much simpler with fewer steps to save time and space.  However, If you are like me you are not willing to compromise on things such as skin care so find a good, but simpler set of beauty products for travel.  At home I use Rodan & Fields but when I travel I use the Josie Maran argan oil products.

Tip: Pick multi-functional products as much as possible.  One of the reasons I love the Josie Maran line is because in addition to simplicity they are also multi-functional.  I use the classic Argan oil as moisturizer for my face, hands, and lips but I also replace my Moroccan Oil hair product with the Argan oil and it works fabulously.  

arrowHair Styling Equipment: These take a lot of space so think about if you can substitute yours with the equipment from the hotel.  If you are staying in accommodations that don’t offer these items then pack as few as possible (do you really need a dryer, curling iron, and straightener).  Or if you travel enough I really suggest investing in travel size items.

arrowSuitcase Readiness

There are things that I just keep in my suitcases at all times so I don’t have to worry about forgetting them:

  • Umbrella
  • ID tags
  • Lint Roller
  • Dirty Clothes bag

arrowGeneral Tips

arrowIf you have a trip coming up that is creating packing stress (seriously, it’s a thing!) start pre-packing in advance, especially for big trips.  This way you can add items to the pile and take away as you change your mind.  When I recently took a trip to Iceland and was only taking a small carry-on I began pre-packing 2 weeks in advance as ideas came to mind.  When it was time to pack I just threw it all in the suitcase and zipped it up.  Bonus: No stress at all and I didn’t forget anything critical or pack anything unnecessary!

arrowKeep a master packing list so that you don’t have to recreate a list each time you travel desperately making sure you didn’t leave anything off.  I have multiple master packing lists depending on the types of trip: Business, Vacation, Camping, etc. and I cannot tell you how much easier they make my life when getting ready for a trip.

arrowIf you can’t carry it don’t pack it.  Seriously.  Do a weight test on your luggage before you walk out the door and if you cannot lift it enough to carry up a set of stairs…de-pack something.  Big mistake is to assume that someone will help you with it and then before you know it you in the metro station, after midnight, stuck at the bottom of the stairs because the escalator is broken and you have to figure out how to climb 57 stairs with a suitcase that feels like Shamu is stuffed in it.  Been there done that.  Not fun.   

Honestly packing is no one’s favorite activity and it creates stress, anxiety, bad moods, and excessive wine drinking.  So anything that eliminates stress is awesome because no one needs to start an important work trip or a fun vacation as a stress ball.  Minimal packing provides so many benefits that for me it is a no-brainer.  Easy-peasy to get around with my bags, daily outfit selection much easier each day when you have minimal choices, and you get to be creative and stretch your wardrobe limits!  

If anyone has any tips that make their packing process just a bit easier would love to hear them so I can steal them for my process and add to this suggestion list for others.

P.S. For anyone wondering how I survive 2 week cycling trips with only 4 pieces of clothes…there is a secret.  After my first melt down over the 2 outfits for 2 weeks rule my hubby gave me a compromise.  After the trip was over he would take me boutique shopping to buy new outfits.  DEAL!  Oh and I lose the hair routine…completely lose it…I refer to this time as “hair-cation” where anything can and will happen with my hair style.

bon voyage

 

Eastern Townships (Cantons de l’est), Quebec

Ready for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and a nice chill weekend in the mountains?  If that is a yes, I know your next destination…to come visit me in the Eastern Townships in Quebec!  Seriously, you can feel your stress level dropping by at least 12 notches here.  This collection of adorable villages is situated between Montreal and Quebec City making it a perfect stop in any Quebec adventure.    

So if you have not guessed this is my home base and I am just in love with it (except in late winter when it is time for the snow and cold weather to just go away).  I will confess that despite growing up in a small town, I was not certain how I would re-adapt to small town life after city living and globe trotting.  Well turns out I kind of won in the “best places” to live lottery.  Plus there is so much to do that after 2 years of living here I will have a long “to do” list.

I tried to keep it brief but there is so much to do here, this post ended up being a bit longer than usual but hopefully the links will help you move around easily to the things you are most interested in.

Villages

The good news is that these villages are so close to each other they are drive-able as a day or semi-day trip from wherever you decide to make your home base for this excursion.

  • Sutton – Pick from plenty of outdoor activities such as  hiking, road biking, and skiing.  After you are done with the physical exertion, there are also many great restaurants, coffee shops, and local boutiques to explore.  And as one of the stops along the Quebec Route des Vins you should definitely explore the close-by wineries.  One of my personal favorites on the route is Vignoble Domaine Bresee and if you are going at lunch take a picnic to enjoy with a bottle of their wine!  Sutton also has plenty of unique adventures including Au Diable Vert which also has the Velovolant.
  • Bromont – Only 45 minutes outside of Montreal Bromont is a hotspot for outdoor adventures.  With an excellent mountain biking trail system that is continually expanding for the summer months and Ski Bromont which is one of the largest (possibly the largest) illuminated alpine ski centers in North America.  And no matter which season you are visiting in you can relax those sore muscles at the Balnea Spa followed by a beer at a local microbreweries and then dinner at one of the many local restaurants.  Two of my favorites are Le Macpherson for a unique volcano cooking stone experience or Le David et Goliath for an affordable and delicious table d’hote menu.
  • Orford – My personal favorite of the eastern township villages (my Canadian hometown!) this is one of the smaller villages but with easy access to the outdoor adventures.  Alpine ski at Mont Orford or if you prefer not to plummet downhill at the speed of a human rocket (like me!) you can opt for Mont Orford National Park which is one of the largest XC and CC ski centers in Quebec.  And depending on the season there are plenty of outdoor activities to choose from including camping, snowshoeing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing…well pretty much close to everything you can do outdoors in a park.  Check out the restaurants in the petit village or Magog is a short 5 – 10 minutes drive for an expansive selection of restaurants and shops.  Not to be missed is the Espace 4 Saisons which is a super cool place to stay, but there are also a lot of AirBnB ski chalet’s in this area which is absolutely perfect for a ski resort area!  
  • Magog – Situated on Lake Memphremagog is a bustling little village with so much to do!  In the summer there are plenty of water activities on this gorgeous lake and a perfect little downtown chock-full of adorable restaurants and boutiques.  Dine along the river or have a glass of wine on the lake shore while watching the sunset.  The Orford Express departs from here, choose from an array of lake cruises, or you can relax at the Spa Nordic Station.  And if you look closely you might just get a glimpse of the fabled and absolutely adorable lake monster, Memphre (I am still on the lookout for her).  Also easily accessible from Magog is the St Benoit Abbey du Lac.  Since I live right in this township I do have some restaurant recommendations for you:
    • Fondissimo – fondue restaurant that you can bring your own wine!  While it is casual it is very popular so reservations are definitely recommended (but not required, if they have a table they will give it to you)
    • Microbrasserie La Memphre – Our favorite place for grabbing some yummy Quebec style pub food and their beer is really good too!  I almost always get the flight because I can never pick just one…
    • Les Enfants Terribles – Our favorite thing about this place is the rooftop terrace in the summer with a fabulous view overlooking Lake Memphremagog
  • North Hatley – one of the smaller villages in Eastern Townships this is also one of the prettiest!  This village is on our regular cycling routes as we love to get their just in time for lunch from Saveurs Et Gourmandises Boulangerie and eat in the little park that borders the lake.  This place is absolutely one of the most picturesque and definitely worth at least spending part of a day and having a drink at one of the several restaurants on the river or lake and exploring the local boutiques.

Things You Probably Should Not Miss (#Bucketlist)

  • Forest LuminaParc de la Gorge de Coaticook comes alive at night with a really unique and super cool multimedia light show.  Enter this magical other-world by venturing across the swinging bridge and pulling away the mystical veil for a peek into the magical and supernatural world that runs parallel to our world.  This adventure just might explain a few of those “what was that ?!?!?” experiences you may have had in the woods.  We had so much fun that we went back to see it again! 
  • Route des Vins – So wine is not probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about visiting Quebec.  But definitely give it a second thought!  While Quebec is mostly known for the sweeter dessert types such as Ice Wine, Late Harvest, and Cider (which are a yummy treat) white wines are also quite good and recently I have found some really good red wines!  

Plus just imagine visiting during the fall harvest season, and zipping along the route with windows open or on a bike, leaves turning brilliant fall colors, and having a bottle of wine and a picnic at any of the fantastic outdoor spaces that many of the wineries offer.  Truly a perfect day.  This awesome website will help you plan the perfect trip.   

  • Orford Express (Magog) – A leisurely train ride that takes you through several of the villages traveling along Lake Memphremagog, over several rivers and bridges is the perfect way to spend some time on the weekend.  We opted for the brunch ride and not only was the food amazingly good the atmosphere was topped off with a live jazz singer after brunch was finished.  Sipping bubbly, listening to jazz, and enjoying the gorgeous scenery from a luxury train car is a truly relaxing way to see several spots in eastern Quebec.
  • Nordic Spas – After a day filled with any of the myriad of outdoor adventures you must finish off the day by relaxing tired muscles at one of the Nordic Spas that are sprinkled around.  Not only are they super relaxing with the outdoor ambience of Canada, your tired muscles will feel like they are floating on clouds.  These spas are perfect any time of the year and don’t miss out on the cold bath (even in winter) as part of the routine!  Those of us from warmer temps tend to want to skip it, but truly it’s a must.
  • Sugar Shacks – If you are visiting Quebec in the late winter/early spring it is a must to have an authentic sugar shack on your list.  After a few years of living in Quebec I finally visited an authentic sugar shack with my hubby and sister!  I love maple syrup so a whole meal smothered in freshly made maple syrup is…well…amazing ! Choose your sugar shack carefully because there are lots of options out there that are more commercial in nature, but I prefer a smaller more authentic experience and those are smattered throughout the Eastern Townships.

If you are in the Magog/Orford area I can definitely recommend Erabliere Chic Rustique. This is the only sugar shack that I have visited myself but between a horse-drawn carriage ride to the shack, the small rustic shack, and hike in the woods after to see the trees “at work” I cannot imagine there is a better experience.  Plus it was BYOB so don’t forget to pack your favorite adult beverage that matches well with maple syrup!

  • St Benoit Abbey du Lac – A working monastery the abbey is absolutely breathtaking.  If you love touring the old churches of Europe you will not want to miss this.  Or if you have not had the opportunity to visit European churches yet you should not miss this so you can get a taste of how extraordinary they are!  Attend a gregorian chant service, purchase products made onsite by the monks such as cheeses, apple ciders, and jellies (and I can attest that they are fantastic), take a hike on the grounds, or pick apples in the fall.  
  • Things still on my to-do list
    • Lake Memphremagog Cruises – I really want to check out the scenery from a boat so my next victim (I mean visitor) to come to Quebec will get to be the lucky one to experience this with me!  With plenty of options including pirogue boats, pedal boats (if you have a desire to captain your own boat and stay closer to shore), pontoon boats, brunch cruises, dinner cruises.  Some of them even let you bring your own picnic lunches so you can definitely design your own experience.  And if you are lucky maybe spot Memphre the lake monster!
    • Velovolant (Canopy Cycling) – Bicycling in the treetops from a suspended bike…why, yes I would love to!  This is one of the newest activities in the area and I absolutely cannot wait to try it out!  If you do before me let me know what you think!

Experience Stays

If you are an outdoor or camping enthusiast, the Eastern Townships have several experience stays you really should consider.  We have done all that are recommended here and I can tell you there is no better way to disconnect that going offline for a day or two and picking any of these unique options!

  • Au Diable Vert (Sutton) – Sleeping in a tree house but for adults is such a fun alternative to a typical overnight stay.  We loved it so much we had to go back a second time!  It is a camping experience so you will need to make sure you bring your supplies for sleeping and cooking (unless you opt to go into town for your meals).  We cooked our meals around an open camp fire next to a field full of the cutest cows who are quite friendly.  

Tip: You will need to carry your supplies to your tree house and while wheelbarrows are provided it can be a bit of a hike so make sure you prepared for this and don’t over-pack.

  • Canoe Camping – So forget drive-up camping…how about going up the adventure experience a few notches and try paddle-in camping!  There are many outdoor activities to experience at Parc National de la Mauricie but one of the most unique is their secluded canoe camping.  So test your partner communication skills, wildlife survival skills and paddle your way into an unforgettable experience. During the day you can hike, canoe, and road bike.

Tip: You will be paddling your camping supplies in the canoe with you so don’t pack the house…just what you really need.

Tip: You are in a wildlife area so make sure that you read the advice and instruction they provide at the park station because it is important that you keep yourself and your fellow campers safe.  We have never had an encounter with a wild animal but we do follow the rules very carefully.  

  • Yurt – Another fantastic trip we had was when we rented a yurt for the weekend.  There are plenty to pick from in Quebec and since you are in a national or provincial parc there are likely plenty of day time outdoor activities.  We had a great time mountain biking and canoeing down the river when we stayed at Vallée Bras du Nord.  We had so much fun that it is on our list for a return trip!

So if all that roughing it in the outdoors has you ready for some pampering and luxury you are covered there too!  Or if you want to skip the outdoor experiences and just go straight for luxury (really I don’t blame you) totally go for it!  

  • Hovey Manor – Recently named #27 in the “Top 100 Hotels in the World” by Travel + Leisure Magazine and as one of two luxury hotels in the area Hovey Manor is a perfect splurge.  It is our go-to when we need a close weekend getaway and we have celebrated a few New Year’s Eve’s here and I can tell you that they never fail to disappoint on experience.    
  • Ripple Cove Manor – The second 5-star hotel in the area Ripple Cove is just as enchanting.  While we have not stayed here we did host our wedding reception here and it could not have been any more perfect.

Of course there are plenty of other options in the area as well including unique AirBnB’s and plenty of adorable B&B’s to choose from.

Outdoor Activities

  • Camping – There are a ton of camping experiences for all types of campers from tents to RV’s to Cabins to Yurt’s to Tree Houses (yup..pretty much everything).  Likely if it is a camping accommodation the Eastern Townships has it.  Simply pick your level of “roughing it” and then choose a location to serve as your homebase while you explore the area.
  • Hiking – So we are in the mountains which means there are plenty of trails and experiences to pick from!  This awesome trail finder will match you to your dream hike!  Pick your length, level of difficulty, location, and even some cool things such as pet/stroller/wheelchair friendly.  Think of this like your dating app…it find the perfect trail-mate for you!
  • Road Biking – Eastern Quebec is considered a biking destination for road cyclists.  In fact,  I learned to road bike in Quebec and that is partly because it is so incredibly bike friendly that I rarely feel intimidated by cars.  Most roads have plenty of shoulder space for peaceful co-existence of bikes and cars.  In addition they have a lot of public messaging encouraging a “share-the-road” mentality and in general I find the cars to be very courteous (probably because many people in cars are also cyclists).  Much is built into the tourism infrastructure of Quebec to accommodate cyclists:
    • Bike Taxi’s – To return you to your home base if you have gone just a bit too far
    • Accommodations – An established “Bienvenue Cyclists” designation will identify accommodations that can also safely house your bikes and gear when you are not in the saddle.
    • Cycling Maps/Routes – From the wine route, getting from village to village, multitudes of distance to choose from they have thought of it all!
  • Mountain Biking – So one thing I have learned is that many Quebecois are die-hard mountain bikers so there are several trail systems to keep you on your toes and probably teach you a few new tricks!  As a mountain biker’s destination trip trails and bike parks being built regularly.  And if you didn’t travel with your bike most towns have a local bike shop that can help you out with a rental.  Check out these links for more information on various trail systems:
  • Skiing: Canada + Winter + Mountains = Ski opportunities galore!   Whether it be hurdling down a hill at neck breaking speeds or keeping up with your cardio routine you are covered!  This awesome ski matching-making site will help you choose just the right place!
  • Snowmobiling – For those with a taste for speed and zipping through the woods snowmobiling is a perfect activity.  Quebec has a great snowmobiling trail system and places to rent.  Not really my cup of tea so I don’t know much about it, but lots of people here love it!

Special Events

There is always something going on somewhere in an Eastern Townships village.  Here are a few that I know of but for the complete listing at the time of your visit check out this event site!

  • Vendanges (Magog) – Eat, drink, and be merry!  If you are around the first 2 weekend of September the place to be is at this festival.  Hosted on the shore of Lake Memphremagog, filled to the brim with local wines, beers, food, artists, gourmet presentations by local chefs, and tasting events this is pretty much the definitely of fun.  
  • TriMemphre Triathlon (Magog) – If you are an endurance athlete this might be worth checking out and putting on your training schedule.  Starting in 1995, there are now over 2,000 athletes that come to participate in the swim, bike, run competition.  It’s a beautiful place for you to put your skills to the test!
  • Magog Marathon – Prefer to keep it simple and to just one sport…cool…then there is the marathon that happens in late October, because why not run 26.2 miles in the gorgeous fall scenery?
  • Grand Coulée Beer Festival (Orford) – Even though it is one of the newer events in the area, this festival is wildly popular.  Why?  Well because of the plethora of local micro breweries, food trucks, live bands, and chairlift rides up the mountain.  Yup…lots of fun!
  • Fall Festivals – You don’t get a more perfect fall than in Quebec.  With crisp, cool mornings and evenings, warm days, and stunning leaves there is nothing more fun than a weekend of fall festivals in Quebec.  Pretty much all the villages host them so make sure to find one (or two) and check it out!

So basically you now have no reason not to come visit the Eastern Townships because there is something for everyone in all seasons.  Plus you can come visit me!

If you have any feedback on any of these suggestions of know of something that I should add to the list share with me!

My Own Fairytale

Today is my favorite anniversary of our history.  Our first date!  Or as my hubby referred to it: “Le début de la plus magnifique histoire d’amour” which translates to “The beginning of the most beautiful love story”.  Seriously no one does the language of love better than the French.

Back Story

I met my hubby 6 months before our first date.  I had just moved from a small town to Atlanta to start a new job for a large international corporation.  On the 3rd day I attended an internal conference with attendees from the business units all over the globe.  I spotted him on the first day during the opening session and he immediately caught my attention.  Definitely not where my focus should have been just starting a new job, but I just couldn’t help it.  Over the course of the next few days I spotted him several times and finally on the final day I gathered my courage and introduced myself to him.  I learned his name was Philippe and he lived in Montreal, Quebec.   I proceeded to chatter away for the next 5 – 10 minutes but with little response from him.  So my deflated ego and I gathered our dignity and walked away.

Six months later there was another conference in Orlando, Florida we were both attending (I know cause I stalked his name on the attendee list).  My heart once again did a big jump and pitter-patter but, remembering the previous lack of interest,  I tried to keep it under control.  Finally, at one of the evening events my colleague and cohort, Shannon, marched me over to him to start a conversation.  To my great surprise not only did he remember me, he seemed excited to see me???  That both gave me a bit of optimism and also baffled me a bit.    

The next evening the festivities went a little late and I spotted him leaving the event.  Fueled by the courage of a few glasses of wine I stopped him so when he walked under the guise of discussing a joint project.  For the next 30 minutes I proceeded to babble away on this topic.  Most of my family and friends will tell you with a few glasses of wine I can do the equivalent of a Shakespearean monologue without taking a breath (but the topic is usually nowhere near as profound).  All I remember after this is him removing my hand from his arm and telling me he really needed to go to bed.

I had an early flight the next morning and when I woke up and ran through the events of the prior evening in my head I inwardly groaned.  Clearly I had overstepped…again.  On the plane I recounted the previous evening to Shannon and even she agreed that was not a very good sign.  Sigh…clearly I am a train wreck when it comes to interacting with this guy.  Back at the office I proceeded to write a very professional note of apology.  There. Done.  Moving on.  Or so I thought.

Within an hour he responded and I had to gather my courage  before I opened the email.  I was practically peeking between my fingers.  I had to re-read the email a few times and then call Shannon over for confirmation.  Summary: He apologized for leaving so abruptly and that it was only because he had a 7 am presentation.  He suggested that next time we have a glass of wine (or two) together.  Wait stop…was he flirting with me???  Was this possible after all my faux paux pas???  A few more exchanges ensued before Philippe suggested a first date, but the question was how since distance was clearly part of the equation.  Turns out that Philippe has a meeting in chicago the following week and he tentatively suggested to me that I meet him there.   Well Chicago is a hop, skip, and a jump from Atlanta.  Chicago, here I come!   

Side note: During our early conversations the mystery of Philippe’s very different reactions to me between our first and second meeting were solved.  Turns out that the combination of my speed of talking, southern accent, and english as his second language he had no clue what I was saying when I introduced myself in Atlanta.  After Atlanta, he had emailed me but mistyped by name so I never received it.  When I didn’t respond he took it as a brush off.  Talk about crossed wires!  To this day Shannon still takes credit for our blissful happiness because she forced me to talk to him the second time.

First Photo Together
Our first photo together came on our second date in Athens, GA which was a month after our first date. And also my first mountain biking experience. in which I biked right off the side of a bridge into a brier patch.

December 7 – Our First Date

We arranged to meet at baggage claim and oh my was I nervous!  How do I greet him? What should I say? Did I pack the right things?  Fortunately with the French greetings are easy!  Cheek kisses (they find our American hugs to be bizarre and too invasive of personal space)!  Fortunately he want in for the cheek kisses before I could stick my hand out to shake his.  Cold and snowy, Chicago gave a perfect romantic backdrop to our adventure!  After checking into the hotel, we walked to a restaurant and he held my hand along the say “ so it wouldn’t get cold”.  We chatted away at the restaurant and all was going well until I got way too animated and knocked the bottle of wine over onto his designer suit. Seriously???  Mortified.  Horrified.  How many things could I possibly do wrong with this guy???    

Apparently he has a high tolerance level or found me amusing because he kept our date for the next night.  As my penance, I took his suit to the cleaner the next day while I adventured around the city and he attended meetings.  After delivering to him his good as new suit, he took me to my first hockey game (Blackhawks vs. Dallas Stars).  And I got the full experience: beer, hot dogs, and a bloody fight right in-front of us with the glass panel falling into our laps.  He explained the details of the game to me but I heard not a word, I was focused on the charming french accent.  

After 2 flawed but perfect evenings together it was time to go back to reality.  At the time we had no clue what would happen next because there some big, immediate obstacles including working for the same company and distance.  But regardless of what did or didn’t happen next, we had that snowy Chicago adventure.     

Spoiler Alert: We had several bumps and challenges to work through along the way but we figured it out and still marvel at how it all worked out when so many circumstances were betting against us!  Kind of makes you believe in fate…   

Second Date
Our third date was in Mont Tremblant, Quebec 4 months after our second date. I had to up my outdoor game with him and now the outdoors are a big part of how we spend out free time.

Flâneuse(verb) (fem): An idler, dawdling observer in a city

So much, is on my mind these days and I spend more time writing in my various notebooks and journals and far less time on electronic devices. I have to admit my handwriting is atrocious. Seriously…I have not done significant handwriting since 1998. I stare at it and think…Is that human communication? But it’s getting better…almost legible to other humans! Don’t worry I am not going to subject you to my pages and pages of thoughts (even if I could read them), but I thought I might start to share some of them that seemed fitting for my adventure! So here goes (sorry it’s a bit long I completely understand if you are moving on at this point).

I didn’t know what flâneuse was until my girlfriend gave me a book titled this as my going away present (along with an incredibly sweet note inscribed inside).

Flâneur: is the quintessentially masculine figure of privilege and leisure who strides the capitals of the world with abandon.

Flâneuse: is the feminine version of this word (for those of us currently learning french  we know this because it ends in “euse”). A determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.

As a general rule, there is not much I do “with abandon”. Who has time to do anything with abandon, observing, and taking it all in? We all should be taking time to do this but rarely does the pace of any of our lives allow this. So this week I took some time and Flâneused (this definitely isn’t the correct conjugation of the verb but I am going to roll with it )

I flâneused in Nice, Toulouse, and Carcassonne. It takes a bit of focus to do this and not be distracted by the hundreds of other things that need to be done. But it is fabulous. To stop and really check out a particularly pretty building, or stop in the church and sit in awe of the beauty, or it sit on a patio in the warm sun with a glass of wine and appreciate (I mean really appreciate) your surroundings is truly a joy when you are not focused on what has to happen next. My hubby is always telling me to live in the moment and stop racing for what is next…I think I am starting to understand a little bit of what he means. I have a long way to go to master this skill…but it’s a start.