The Palace of Versailles Revisited: A Letter to Future Jen

Paris, July 1988

Dear Future Jen,

Thirty years from now, almost to the day, you’ll be here. At the Palace of Versailles. Standing in front of Apollo’s fountain, having your picture taken.

In 1988, you’re fresh off of a month of studying in the South of France, where you not only earned a university credit, but met a boy and fell in love. You’ve been away from him for three days. It feels like longer. You’ll spend three days in Paris. It will feel like fewer. He’ll tell you he’s the one. He’s not.

In 2018, it will be your husband of 21 years taking your picture, while your two children (who are practically-13 and almost-15) look on (which is remarkable because for years you’ll insist you don’t want kids–or a husband for that matter). They’ll be hot and tired and cranky (both hubby and the kids) because France is experiencing record high temperatures, you just spent an hour and a half on the metro, then the train, to the outskirts of Paris, and the line-up to enter the palace proper is so long by the time you get there (snaking up and down and filling the massive Cour d’Honneur) that you’ll decide (yes, at the hottest point of the hottest day) to wander the gardens first and see if maybe the line-up to get in will be shorter later in the day.

It will be.

You always swore you’d go back to France. You didn’t think it would take 30 years though. In fact, the path you’ll take to get here doesn’t even remotely resemble what you thought it would.

  • In 1989, instead of going to university in Belgium (which you’ll figure is close enough to France to count), you’ll stay in London and go to Western instead. (Part of it is the money. Part of it is not being ready to be so far away from home for so long. All of it is the universe looking out for you.)
  • The boy you meet in 1990? You’ll think he’s the one. He’s not.
  • The boy you meet in 1991? You’ll think he’s the one. He’s not.
  • The boy you meet in 1992? You’ll think he’s the one. He’s not.
  • You’ll move to Ottawa in 1993 and meet your best friend there. You won’t realize it the day you meet her, but thank your lucky stars you go for a drink after a particularly taxing translation class one day and bond over Wildberry coolers and stories of asshole boyfriends who weren’t the one. (She’ll have a few too.) 
  • The boy you meet in 1994? The one you meet the same night you announce to your best friend (who you never would have met had you gone to Brussels ) that you don’t care if you never go on another date as long as you live? He’s the one. Be thankful for the assholes of ’90, ’91 and ’92. You won’t recognize him otherwise.
  • In 1994, Mom will be diagnosed with cancer. You’ll think it’s the end of the world. It’s not. She’ll live to see you marry the love of your life in 1996.
  • And then she’ll die. On May 15, 1999. You’ll think it’s the end of the world. It’s not.
  • In 2000, you’ll change your mind about not wanting kids. For all the wrong reasons. Thank the universe that the love of your life knew better and said no.
  • In 2001, you’ll convince yourself you don’t want kids again.
  • In 2002, you’ll change your mind again. For all the right reasons. Thank the love of your life for being there when the universe doesn’t agree and says no. 
  • In 2003 you’ll have the son you never knew you wanted.
  • In 2005 you’ll have the daughter you never knew you needed.
  • From 2006 to 2018 you’ll live through a blur of days that take forever and years that fly by. You’ll work and play and eat and sleep and read and write and drink and shop and laugh and cry. You’ll love your family and build a home and travel to places you always wanted to go.
  • And yes, in 30 years, you’ll make it back to France.

But today you are 18 years old. It’s the summer of 1988. You’re in France. Having your picture taken in front of Apollo’s fountain at the Palace of Versailles by a girl you were sure you’d be friends with forever, who you’ll lose touch with within a year.

Not everything will turn out the way you planned.

And really, it’s not supposed to.

So look at the camera. Tilt your head. Smile.

And trust me. Don’t change a thing.

Check out what Luc has to say about the Palace of Versailles.

 

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Top 5 Things I Need More (and Less) of in My Life

Luc and I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus since May. There’s no one tangible reason we can nail down…just life and other things getting in the way.

But we’ve renewed our commitment to Me Woman You Man/Me Man You Woman and are kick-starting things with two super-easy top fives that may give us a little insight into why we were gone and why we’re back. Enjoy!

Top 5 Things I Need More of in My Life:

  1. Sleep
  2. Silence
  3. Family vacations to plan and look forward to
  4. Writing
  5. Day dreaming

Top 5 Things I Need Less of in My Life:

  1. Health issues, doctor’s appointments and medical tests
  2. Paperwork
  3. Clutter
  4. To-do lists
  5. Worry

Check out what Luc needs more and less of in his life.

Top 5 Places I’d Love to Visit (if money weren’t an issue…)

Luc and the kids and I just got back from our first BIG FAMILY VACATION.

Three guesses where we went.

OK, yes, it was Disney World.

The thing about Disney is that you either love it or hate it. It’s either a magical place you visited as a kid that you enjoyed so much you absolutely have to share this unforgettable experience with your own kids (that would be me) or a scary animatronics freak show where they track your every move with biometrics and practice mind control through piped-in music (that would be Luc). More to come on our Disney vacation in a upcoming post…

Just getting back from vacation has gotten Luc and I thinking about where our next vacation might be. We even pulled out the atlas this morning and started dreaming big.

Jobs, vacation days and costs aside, here are the top 5 places I’d love to visit:

  1. Machu Picchu: I’ve seen a number of documentaries on this 15th-century Inca site in the mountains of Peru, and am fascinated by it. I know its very existence is threatened by the number of tourists who are drawn to it every year and that I’d only be adding to the problem by going on my own pilgrimage there, but there’s just something incredibly magical about it. Not Disney magical. Sacred, overwhelmingly beautiful, find-your-purpose-in-life magical.
  2. Maldives: One day last year, we received a glitzy travel magazine in the newspaper. One of those thick, beautifully bound, glossy promos full of gorgeous photos of places I’ve never heard of. Oh yes, and no prices (if you have to ask, you can’t afford to go). One of the places I was drawn to was the Maldive Islands (based purely on the photos of impossibly white sand beaches, painfully turquoise waters, luxury villas built on stilts and breathtaking coral reefs…and not at all on any knowledge of it as an actual functioning country). I even had to Google it to find out where it was (Indian Ocean, south of Sri Lanka). Then I found this spa in Maldives which clinched the deal. The minute I win the lottery I am SO going THERE.
  3. Greece: If ever I get to Greece, I’ll probably need a month or two to see everything I want to see there. And I’m thinking this would be the perfect opportunity for a luxury cruise too.  I’ve never been on a cruise, but if I were to take one, a meander through the Greek Isles would be my first choice.
  4. Aruba: My family travelled down South several times when I was a kid (Cuba, Dominican Republic, St. Maarten…oh yes, and Disney World when I was 9…that’s what started all of this!). I remember poring over travel brochures and dreaming about the warm weather resorts we would visit during those cold Canadian winters. For whatever reason, Aruba was always my favourite. Maybe because it’s got the most number of sunny days per year of any Caribbean island (I like sun). Maybe because it has some of the top-rated beaches in the world (I like beaches). Maybe because it was always just a little more exotic (and just a little more expensive) than any of the places we ever ended up (I like exotic and expensive). In any case, I still think for a down-south-all-inclusive-kick-back-and-read-a-book-on-the-beach vacation, Aruba would be it for me.
  5. France: This one’s a bit of a cheat, because I’ve already been there. But it’s been a full 25 years since I vowed I’d go back again and it has yet to happen. France felt so much like home to me (more than anywhere I’ve ever visited) that I know I’ll see it again one day.

Part of me believes that there are too many amazing places in the world to visit to waste time going back to the same place again. That’s why we’re telling the kids Disney World was a one-shot deal. Just don’t tell them I’m planning to go back to France. Or that I’ve been to Ireland twice. And Cuba twice. Oh yes, and Mexico four times. Oh never mind!

Check out the top 5 places Luc would like to visit.

Top 5 Cottage Moments, July 2013

I may not be a camper, but I do enjoy going to the cottage.

Every year since I was pregnant with the girl, we have spent the first week of July at Ardagh Cottage Resort. Its location just north of Peterborough is the perfect meeting point for us (coming from Ottawa) and my dad and his wife (coming from London). And with its rustic yet charming atmosphere (and, yes, fully equipped kitchens and bathrooms) it’s also the perfect compromise between portaging into the heart of Algonquin Park and jetting off to a five-star all-inclusive in Playa del Carmen.

Here are my Top 5 Cottage Moments from this year’s trip:

  1. Canada Day fireworks. It may not be Canada Day on The Hill, but the volley of fireworks set off by our hosts Tony and Lesley and their neighbour across the lake gets better every year.
  2. Sending a postcard to Grandma. Because of upcoming surgery, this is the first year Grandma hasn’t been able to join us. While Grandpa did bring a bag of her chocolate chip cookies with him (thanks Grandma!), the kids missed her hugs and I missed my euchre partner. On a trip into town the kids bought, wrote, addressed, stamped and mailed her a postcard to let her know she wasn’t forgotten.
  3. Special outings with a friend, my dad and the girl. Every year, my dad’s wife and I do a “girls’ day out” which usually includes a pedicure, lunch and shopping. I was afraid that because Grandma wasn’t there this year I’d miss out on this cottage highlight, but instead I won out three times over! Michelle, a cottage friend, offered to join me for a pedicure and lunch. Dad suggested a trip just him and me to the Kawartha Winery for a few wine tastings (and more than a few purchases) and the girl said she’d love to visit The Gallery on the Lake with me–a cultural outing I never miss.
  4. Wine on the dock. I hate bugs. And when I say I hate bugs, I mean I HATE BUGS! And this year they were particularly bad. However, there was one evening when the kids were off playing with their cottage friends, and dad and Luc were cleaning up the kitchen after dinner (score!), that I decided to brave the mosquitos and deer flies and take my glass of wine out onto the dock for a little me time. For about half an hour, there was a beautiful breeze coming in off the lake and not a bug to be seen. Water, wine, solitude. Ahhh!
  5. The family photo. Every year I have Tony or Lesley take a picture of the family by the lake on the day we leave. I love seeing how we all change from year to year. It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years already. And it’s a tradition I hope will continue for a long time yet.

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Check out Luc’s thoughts on the cottage. And happy cottaging!

Family Guilt Trips

OK, technically our topic this week is “Family Outings” but isn’t “Family Guilt Trips” more accurate?

Join me for our most recent guilt trip (I mean outing) en famille

Point of Departure: I’m a Sucky Parent

This past Sunday at one point mid-morning each one of us was sitting in front of a different screen (the girl in front of the TV watching Bubble Guppies, the boy on his 3DS playing Pokemon something-or-other, Luc on his office computer shooting tanks, and me on the laptop reading blogs).

This is usually where our guilt trips start. I look around, don’t like what I see, decide I’m a sucky parent and insist that we unplug and do something FUN. As a FAMILY. Something that doesn’t involve a SCREEN. (So no, my darlings, we will not be going to the theatre to see The Croods on this beautiful, sunny Sunday. Even if it is as a family. Nice try, though.)

I spend a lot of time in I’m a Sucky Parent. So much so that I’m no longer a tourist there, I’m a permanent resident.

The Itinerary: Get the Hell Out of the House

As mentioned, it’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday. The skies are a stunning shade of blue, there’s not a cloud to be seen and the breeze is brisk. It’s gorgeous out.

Did I mention I don’t like the great outdoors? Nope, not even on a beautiful, sunny, brisk spring Sunday. I have absolutely no inclination to change out of my comfy PJs, put on my sneakers and leave my laptop and my coffee behind to go biking or hiking or whatever it is those non-sucky parents do with their kids. But I feel bad that my children are missing out on family time, that they’re growing up to have no appreciation for nature, and that they’re turning into socially inept techno-dependant couch potatoes with really dry eyes and carpal tunnel syndrome.

These guilt trips have so many layers…kinda like an onion (thank you, Donkey). Kinda stinks like an onion too. So off we go to blow the stink off us.

Destination: Somewhere Remote Enough That It’s Interesting But Close Enough So We Can Be Home in Time for Lunch

We’re lucky…we’re surrounded by nature here in Ottawa. We’ve got rivers, waterfalls, forests, trails, parks and more. But because we’ve wasted most of our morning (GUILT! We should have started out earlier!) we need to pick someplace close by. Luckily Mer Bleue Bog is a short drive away (GUILT! We shouldn’t be taking the car!) And although it would be fun to add a lunch out to our outing, the kids would choose McDonald’s, where they just went with Grand-maman and Grand-papa last week (GUILT!) and I just spent a ridiculous amount of money on groceries (GUILT!) so we can’t very well let all of that good-for-us food go to waste (GUILT! GUILT! GUILT!)

It’s a bumpy take-off. But we make it.

Sightseeing: A Whole Lot of Really Spectacular Nothing

Last week our beautiful city was still covered in snow. Not a lot has happened spring-wise since then. OK, the robins are back, but apparently they’re not hanging out at the bog. Neither are the beavers, deer, foxes, coyotes or raccoons the interpretive panels would have you believe. Not even a frog, a turtle, or a dragon-fly to be seen.

But the kids found it…FASCINATING!

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Look! Over here! There’s still a thin layer of ice on the water!

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Look! Over there! That clump of grass is drifting in the wind!

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Cool! The boardwalk is flooded in that part!

Awesome! Check out the beaver dam!

Awesome! Check out the beaver dam!

Wow! A tree!

Wow! A tree!

The Return Home: Where to Next?

OK, so it was guilt that kicked us in the butt, got us out of the house and had us doing something as a family. No, it didn’t come naturally (so to speak) and it wasn’t anything extraordinary, but it ended up being a great outing. Who knew a 45-minute walk around a bog could be so much fun?

Maybe next Sunday we’ll head out a little earlier and go somewhere a little further away for a little longer. Maybe this will become a habit. Maybe I’ll finally be able to hand in my passport to I’m a Sucky Parent.

Who am I kidding. I’ll always at least retain dual citizenship. If I gave it up, I’d feel guilty.

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Our beautiful, sunny, brisk spring Sunday. Aaah.

Check out Luc’s thoughts on family outings.

Having a great time, wish I were there!

I’ve never been on a business trip. But that’s not to say I don’t have an opinion on them. (There’s a lot of stuff I’ve never seen, done or really know anything about that I still hold a remarkably strong point of view on, especially after a glass or two of wine.)

But I do feel a little more qualified to talk about business trips than, say, who will make it to the Heineken Cup semis or whether scientists should bring the gastric brooding frog back from extinction.

That’s because Luc has been on business trips. Many of them. And when he goes on a business trip it’s a big deal because it’s:

  1. all about me, and
  2. all about me.

The majority of his trips took place when the boy was still a baby. A small baby. A waking up at all hours of the night baby. A crying, demanding, can’t decide whether I prefer the boob or the bottle but what does it matter because I’m just going to spew it all over everything within a 12-foot radius within 47 seconds of gulping it down anyway baby.

You see where this is going.

I was postpartum, unshowered and resentful. All I could picture was Luc in his spotless business casuals, striding through the airport, talking to grown-ups, reading a book or watching a movie uninterrupted on the flight and arriving at his hotel.

Aaaaah! The hotel room! The holy grail of the bitter, left-behind, spit-up-wiping mom. Where the bathroom is always clean and the seat is always down. Where the beds magically make themselves and there are more pillows than heads to lay on them. The fluffy robe. The remote in your hand. Room service just waiting to be summoned. And the silence. The blessed, blessed silence.

Oh yes, and the being alone. No spouse. No children. No need to talk. No need to respond to anything or anyone. Heaven.

(Did it matter that many of his trips were to remote, isolated outposts? With very little to do outside of work hours? Pretty dull when you get right down to it? Nope. Not to me. Totally beside the point.)

There was a period of several years when Luc didn’t have to travel for business. Then, out of the blue last year, he was off to Washington for a week. Thankfully I was way past postpartum. I manage to bathe on a regular basis. And I’m only resentful when it’s well deserved.

I thought I handled Washington pretty well if I do say so myself. Even went along with him staying the extra weekend so he could get in a couple of days of sight-seeing, since this was likely a once-in-a-lifetime trip. But, I’ll admit, simmering in the back of my mind was a little pot of envy. The call of a hotel room and a week to myself.

Luc’s in Chicago right now. Two days of sightseeing, then a five-day conference.

So far, the kids and I have fit in their kung fu and gymnastics lessons. We ordered in pizza and had a movie night. We went shopping for spring clothes and shoes because finally, finally, the snow is starting to melt. We had cookies and a latte at Starbucks. Bought a new video game. Had dinner at the neighbours’. Built a most impressive Lego city across the entire living room floor. Stayed in our PJs until noon. They’ve been fantastic and we’re having a great time just the three of us.

This morning we Skyped with Luc. He turned the laptop around at one point to show us his hotel room. He said he’d rather be home with us.

We’d rather have him home too. But there’s still a tiny part of me that wishes, just once, that I were there.

Here’s what Luc has to say about business trips.