Some would say I'm a "procrastinator".  I call it taking my own sweet time.  After all, la vie est belle, why hurry through it?

Come visit at www.davidandstasha.blogspot.com


Dear Family, Friends, Stranger-Friends and Passer-by's:

Writing my/our experiences in this blog has been really rewarding over the past year. When we left France I tried to post a few things, but it just didn't feel right. "La Vie Echangee" felt complete.

Our family will definitely be starting up some new adventures, but I've decided not to chronicle them on this blog. I will most likely be starting a new blog, as a way to journal the experiences we have together as a family over the next year or so . . . . .but I'm waiting until that moment that the need to write is more powerful than the lack thereof.

I'm guess that won't be until at least September 2, when a new school year starts in France. If you're interested, check back sometime after that!




i love france, 28 june 2008

Today I leave France with Abby and Carter to return to Arizona. Dave has been there for a day already. Our home exchange is over. Like almost all good things in life, it passed by too quickly. We have all been transformed by this experience.

As I was getting ready to go this morning, I ran across this email that Dave wrote to me in March, about the time we started to realize that a year in Mougins just might not be long enough. All blogs must end and I think this one should end here, with this. I hope you enjoyed reading it. I loved living it.

I Love France
I love the language, the food, the culture, and the history. I love the music and the art and the architecture and the whole way of life. But mostly I love the people, because almost nothing is good if there's no one there to appreciate it with you.

I have always loved Paris. The way it shines in the light at night, and all the people that walk the old streets no matter what time it is. I love the medieval stone bridges that separate the Île de la Cité from the Left Bank. I love the way the Gare du Nord is a world underground, teeming with French people going in all directions. I love the tunnels under the Champs Elysees that bring you up to the sunlight, staring straight at the Arc de Triomphe.

I love Christmas in France. The extra white lights in Paris and in every village, waiting for Père Noël. I love the warmth inside the Galleries Lafayette while the cold drizzle falls on the cobblestones outside, just near the Opera House. I love the pride that the people of Provence take in the 13 desserts that represent Jesus and his disciples. I love that Père Noël visits so many French children on Christmas Eve: he can come even when the children are awake. I love that after Père Noël has gone and the presents have been opened, parents stay up late holding each other, sipping champagne in front of the fireplace, talking about their children.

I love Provence. I love the narrowness of the roads, the cypress trees that grow wild around every corner, and the black and red and white road signs that tell me when I leave one town and enter another. I love the way the street lights shine on the wet storefronts when I drive through the village during a rainstorm. I love the parents of my children's friends, the children who teach my children this beautiful language. I love the teachers, who treated my children with respect and care even when they were strangers they couldn't talk to.

I love that so many French people seem to care more about understanding the world than about the size of their houses. I love the way they accept American films as films, not as American films. I love the way they embrace American music and English music and African music. I love when French musicians sing about love and sex and loss and death and longing, because it reassures me that they are just like me.

I love that in France you can say "ça va" for everything. I love how any adverb in English is the same in French, but with a "ment" on the end. I love the way so many French get a little frightened when they get to speak English, but are so excited to have the opportunity. I love the way their faces darken when someone won't even try to speak French in France. I love the way their brows furrow when they talk about the English. I love the pride in my wife's face because she knows it's only a matter of time before she conquers the language. I love the way she sounds when she's speaking to her friends. I love her smile when she's just spent the afternoon with one of her friends. I love the way she rescues me when I can't understand: quickly, quietly, on the side.

I love the way the sea is so blue from Cannes to Nice - more than the ocean - and that the beach is nearly everywhere. I love that I can stare at the snow-capped mountains while laying in the sunshine on the beach. I love the stone houses with the bright blue and yellow shutters, and the flowerboxes on the streets and in the windows. I love the roundabouts with olive trees in the center, the mimosa trees that turn the hills yellow in February, the stone villages perched on the hills, and the tiny streets surrounded by medieval houses.

I love that my daughter's class, all nine-year olds, can go on a trip for two weeks together as a class, to a ski resort. I love that every school has a day care so working parents can pick up their children as late as 6:30 every night. I love that each child has her own cubby outside the classroom, so you can drop off playdate invitations anytime you want. I love that there is no school on Wednesdays. I love that I get to talk with other parents as I drop my children off at school, planning our weekends. I love that I must walk the little ones to their classroom every day, and that their teachers are there to say hello and goodbye.

I love that when my children are sick they can see the doctor immediately, and that the doctor is one of our closest friends. I love that a prescription can be filled immediately and that there is no drive-through at the pharmacy. I love that there is no wait at the Emergency Room and that you don't have to fill out forms before you get treatment. I love that our French friends often call us on the phone at home, just to say hello and to chat. I love that I must sometimes ask my 7-year old daughter what she just said because her French is so much better than mine, and that she replies matter-of-factly, never rolling her eyes. I love that my two-year old son says French words and English words and doesn't realize there is a difference.

I love the way you must pay for plastic bags at the grocery store, because they want to discourage their use. I love that so many cars get good gas mileage and that there is not one Hummer or Excursion in the entire country. I love the way they hate American arrogance and wastefulness but admire everything else. I love the way no one carries guns on the street or shoots up high schools. I love that they don't care if their politicians have an affair. I love that in France you're never more than two months away from a two-week vacation.

There are some things I don't like, but those things are so small that why bother? The beauty of France is so deep that to get to know it could take a lifetime. I love that when you're in France everything outside of it just doesn't seem to matter all that much. I love that so much of what I love has always been here, waiting for me. I'm glad I've found it.


airplanes and drawings

I guess I'm the guest writer for today because Stasha is on an airplane with Abby and Carter, and with Jeremy, the son of our good friends the Hussons (a tiny bit about them here, with pics of Sophie and Mailys, who were inseparable in Mougins). She arrives tonight and I can't wait to walk around our house together.

Sophie spent the night at her friend Piper's house so I haven't seen her since yesterday. She calls her "PEEPair" now, in deference to the fact that all of her American friends must now have a French pronunciation to their name. Yesterday she also received a picture and photo via email from her friend Claire in Mougins. See above. She needs to make a drawing in reply, I think.


A few "Dave thoughts" based on 24 hours back in Arizona:
  • Gas is $10 a gallon in Mougins, but it hurt much more to pay $4.12 per gallon here. How can gas cost $4.12 a gallon?
  • There seem to be more "for sale" signs up than ever before. I haven't seen any buyers.
  • The roads here are really wide. I love them.
  • I saw three Hummers today. I hate you, Hummers.
  • The land on the Northeast corner of 67th Avenue and Happy Valley Road has been transformed since we left. There's a Wal-Mart "Neighborhood Market" there now. What is that?
  • Since I still don't have an ipod, I've spent a lot of time with iTunes, listening to the music I haven't heard in months. Like the Goo Goo Dolls. And Keane. And John Mayer. I still listen to plenty of Blink 182 and Metallica, but it's the gay stuff that I've missed. John Mayer is a genius.
  • We lived in a beautiful house in Mougins. It was a wonderful place to spend a year. But there is nothing like being in your own house. It's just something that feels like home.

a gift

On Monday afternoon Sophie and Sam said goodbye to their teachers, Brigitte and Sylvian, whom we have each grown to love with all our hearts. They took Sophie and Sam when they spoke no French and treated them like everyone else - with love and patience - while they learned. Now, 10 months later, they speak in French always: to each other, to Dave and I, even in their sleep. They have been transformed in a way I can honestly say we never dreamed of.

When it's over, how do you thank the people that made all the difference? Dave and I both cried as we tried to express our gratitude verbally. But in the end we gave them each a letter:

Dear Sylvian/Brigitte:
The greatest gift a parent can receive is for someone to make a difference in the lives of their children. Your love, patience, and kindness this year has changed Samuel/Sophie in ways that may benefit them for a lifetime. We can never repay the gift you have given us. The best we can do is to be grateful, and to never forget you. We can promise that.
With much love,
Dave & Stasha

After we left we heard Sam sobbing in the back of the car.
"qu'est-ce qui a, Buddy?" I asked through my tears.
"Maman," he asked, his voice shaking. "Est-ce qu'on peut venir voir Sylvian le premiere Samedi apres on retourne a Mougins?"

I promised him that we would. We'll probably never do it because Sam will forget, but I can promise you that Dave and I never will. Not ever.

the phone was busy

This is Dave and I'm back in Phoenix. Stop by the house if you want to say hi. I expect no one will but it's too hot to open the door anyway. Phoenix is like a furnace.

When I walked in the house last night we had 34 messages on our answering machine, so I got out a piece of paper to write down them all, just so I could return the calls of all those trying so hard to reach us. Here's the list (RM stands for Recorded Message):
  1. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  2. RM Mortgage. I can lower my interest rate. Final notice.
  3. RM Health Care. I can lower my HC costs to $100 or less per month.
  4. RM Auto Warranty. I can get a great deal.
  5. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  6. RM Credit cards. I can get lower rates and a fabulous new card!
  7. RM Auto Warranty. I can get a great deal.
  8. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  9. RM from Congressman Trent Price. Who is that?
  10. Hang-up
  11. RM Mortgage. I can lower my interest rate. Final notice.
  12. RM Credit cards. This time from Heather, but still a recording.
  13. RM free digital satellite available. Not from dish network.
  14. RM Mortgage. A different company. I've been pre-qualified.
  15. Call for exchange family from a friend in France, in May. Didn't leave a number.
  16. Hang-up
  17. Hang-up
  18. RM Operators are standing by to...Deleted.
  19. Hang-up
  20. Call for exchange family from a friend in France, in May. Didn't leave a number.
  21. Hang-up
  22. RM "My girlfriend and you..."
  23. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  24. RM Operators are standing by to...
  25. RM free digital satellite available. Not from dish network.
  26. RM "All operators are busy".
  27. Hang-up
  28. RM Dish Network. Installing in my area and has a free offer.
  29. Hang-up
  30. RM Mortgage. I can lower my interest rate. Final notice.
  31. Human calling for Stasha. Alma - do we want her to clean our house?
  32. UPS Kevin - delivering a package for Leanette. He had the wrong address.
  33. RM "For Dave Ashton", then it hung up by itself
  34. RM Bill Bennett. For Las Vegas vacations.
The population of the US is nearly 310 million, making it the 3rd largest country in the world. As far as I can tell there is hardly a living person in the whole place. Was it this way a year ago?


25 juin 2008

10.30 p.m. The bags are packed, the clothes are laid out, and the kids are (kind of) asleep. EasyJet flight to Paris leaves at 6:15 tomorrow morning. 110 degree weather in my near future.


23 juin 2008

I just took Dave to the airport in Nice. He took three huge suitcases, one computer bag*, one tub of Pet Shops, one Thomas the Train suitcase, one Bratz suitcase and two of the cutest, saddest little francophones in the world. more later . . .

*please note he has once again forgotten the cord to his laptop.


Well, summer has officially arrived on the Cote d'Azur . . . and it's really hot! Everyone kept telling me that it would happen "d'un coup" (suddenly), and they were right! Wednesday was the first nice day we've seen in a long time, and we celebrated by going to the beach (Plage du Midi).

But since then, I've had tons of work to do, so now while everyone is at the beach or in the pool, I am busy packing the bags, getting rid of the food, throwing away the broken toys and deciding which school items are worth keeping for souvenirs.

The kids were lucky enough to go swimming today, and I am lucky enough to have half of them sleeping over a friend's house so I can finish organizing the luggage.

Tonight we ate takeout from Al Charq, my favorite food here. If you are ever near Cannes (or Paris), you MUST eat there. Dave goes home on Monday . . . wow. More tomorrow.


The other day I wrote my first French cheque. Seems a little silly to be excited about something so normal, but checks are a little different in every country, so it's funny to be an adult asking for help to fill out a check because you don't know what to do. I remember this same experience in England, asking the gardener how to fill out the check, and she laughed at me.

I also found this interesting because in the US I almost never write checks. I use my debit card, my credit card, the bills are on auto-pay, or I fill out an e-pay online and the bank sends the money to the recipient.

I'll let you know when I use my debit card for the first time. I'm afraid to activate it, because I might be tempted to go shopping!

ready to go

After spending so much money on airline tickets, we decided we could save a little money by having Carter fly cargo. As you can see, he is all ready to go.

*no Carters were harmed for this photo.


Contre IKEA à Mougins

There are many things we love about France, as those who read have come to know. But there are some things about the US that we will probably always prefer. One of those things is shopping. There is no Target or Anthropologie here and the most interesting store in France might be Ikea. The closest one to us is in Toulon, about an hour away by car. But it didn't have to be that way.

Late last year the people and city council voted to reject a request by Ikea to build one of its huge stores right here in Mougins. Their reasoning was that Mougins is a quiet village and we don't need the distractions and traffic from all over the Cote d'Azur that an Ikea would bring. I love Ikea but can't disagree with the sentiment. You can see video of the townspeople's opposition above. And it worked. In the end it's worth the hour drive to not have an Ikea down the street, even if I do feel sad about it sometimes...

notre petit americains

Madame Brigitte with her class at the library, Oct 2007. Sophie is smiling, bottom row far right.

We were finally able to get our plane reservations sorted out. It cost almost $3000 to use our "free" tickets to get to and from Europe, and we have to spend a night in Amsterdam, but we now have seats to go back to Arizona. Oof! as they say here.

This morning Dave spoke to Sophie and Sam's teachers at school, because they must leave school before the end of the year (thanks again to United Airlines). Both their teachers - Brigitte and Sylvian, who we have grown to truly love - were very understanding and said they would plan a little send-off party for Sophie and Sam, their "petit americains".

We feel lucky to have had such good teachers for all of our children this year. They have had an enormous impact on the lives of our children. How do you repay someone for that?

it's a big night

Most of France is at a standstill starting in about an hour. Not because of the strike by the bus drivers in this area (the second one in about a month) but because France plays Italy in the Euro 2008 tournament. The winner of the match moves on to the quarterfinals; the loser is finished.

France and Italy border each other (the border with Italy is about 45 minutes from Mougins) and are generally considered among the three best soccer nations in the world (along with Brazil). And they don't like each other, particularly since two years ago at the World Cup final, which is considered by the French to be a catastrophe (see above and you can read what happened here). I'm not sure I could care less about tonight's match, but Dave will surely be watching. So will everyone else.