Random Thoughts

Normandy Home

Photo and text by Gabrielle.

Well, Hello. Welcome to July’s installment of my random thoughts. Feel free to share your own random thoughts in the comments. Note: a lot of my thoughts at the moment happen to be about our time here in France this summer. : )

– We’ve almost reached the halfway point of this trip. Time is flying by. And somehow it’s also the slowest, laziest (in a good way) summer we’ve ever had. We stay up late, we take long walks, we play night games, we watch movies, we go exploring. There is nothing on the schedule — no lessons, no camps. I don’t think we’ve ever had a summer like this in our lives.

I should also note: the time change is a game changer. We are 9 hours ahead of California, 6 hours ahead of New York. So we can fit in lots of work before America is even awake. I had forgotten how much I love that.

– It’s such a treat to be able to jump right back in. To return to someplace familiar. We know what we like at the grocery store. We know our favorite bakeries. We know our favorite picnic spots. We see old friends as we walk down the street. The shopkeepers recognize us. The kids have friends here. We’re invited over for dinner, for dessert, for gouter (afternoon snack). And we can invite people in return.

We have so often set off to a new place that this feels unusual to experience. It’s such a wonderful thing to feel at home here instantly.

– An update on the cottage. We had a really good meeting with the architect just a few days after we arrived here. When we first approached him about the project, we told him we wanted to tackle things piece by piece, section by section — and as I’ve mentioned we started with the roof. But I have discovered that I’m an out-of-sight-out-of-mind sort of person. If you read this blog regularly, you already know this, but I go months without even thinking about the cottage.

So I decided we need to figure out a new plan. Instead of talking with the architect about phase 2, and phase 3, and what happens after that, we talked about the total project. The whole building. I think we need to tackle the whole thing at once, or I’m afraid it’s never going to get done.

Our discussion were great. Lots of brainstorming on how to best use the space — where to add windows, which doors we should keep, which wall should come down. He’s currently drawing up new plans which we can settle on before we leave. He thinks that once we begin, the remodeling and construction will take one full year.

In the mean time, we simply like being there on the property, and we are doing what we can. We are moving stones so the gardener can easily access the grounds for mowing. We are pulling down ivy. Stuff like that. I know it sounds strange, but it feels like such a treat to work on it!

– We’ve been to as many of our favorite spots as possible so far, and a few new-t0-us spots as well. We visited the D-Day beaches, a couple of favorite chateaus, Mont St. Michel, the town of Bayeaux. We’ve shopped in Caen, been to the beach, discovered a new-to-us lake, kayaked through Suisse-Normande, wandered through quaint towns like Bagnole de L’orne, and eaten lots of really good food.

– We tried something new and rented two smaller cars instead of one big van for the summer. This decision has been both good and bad. We like driving the smaller cars through the tiny streets, and parking is a breeze. It’s also nice to be able to take a small car for a quick errand, instead of driving the big van. To stay connected when we’re using both cars and heading out on an adventure, we use walkie-talkies (they’re called talkie-walkies in France). They’re practical and have also turned out to be highly entertaining.

The downside of two cars is that we feel way less spontaneous about longer trips. Caravanning in two cars for 8 or 10 hours, making for 2 exhausted drivers, feels like a bad idea. So next week, we’re renting a big van for our rescheduled trip to the South of France. We’re definitely excited and ready to go explore another region of this beautiful country. We haven’t decided yet, but think we may stick with the van for the rest of the summer, and maybe fit in one other big road trip. We’ll see.

– A mental health update: last week, a dark depression settled in — like my meds are only working halfway or not-at-all, or something. Very discouraging for lots of reasons — what a waste to be dealing with this when I’m in such a beautiful place. I’m fighting through it the best I can. Maybe the hardest part at the moment is the realization that I seem to be stuck with this mental illness forevermore; that even if I try hard to take care of myself, I’ll never be rid of it. I hate it so much.

– In happier news: Ben Blair and the older four kids are doing a pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel this week. They head out on Wednesday. I’m super bummed we couldn’t figure out childcare, because I really wanted to go. (I’ve written about pilgrimages before, and we made a video about it too). But I can’t feel too bad, because there are plenty of other good things to do. I’m thinking it would be fun to take Betty and June to Paris for a few days while our campers our gone.

Have you ever gone on, or considered going on a pilgrimage? If you could pick, which one would you do?

I think that’s it for now. Please feel free to respond to anything here, or bring up your own topic. I always love hearing what’s on your minds!

P.S. — I post my random thoughts each month. You can find them all here.

51 thoughts on “Random Thoughts”

  1. Chere Gabrielle,
    I just want to send you a virtual hug and tell you that I hope you feel better soon. Paris with your girls sounds like a treat!
    Your writing always light up my day.
    Catherine (a long time reader, French living in London).

  2. Sounds lovely, except for the mental health issues! We deal with that with some of our family members and it’s so hard, because it colors everything and is unpredictable. One idea to pursue (probably when you’re back in the States) is a new test that can analyze your genetics and how they best respond to various medications through a cheek swab test called Gene Sight. I’ve been fascinated to find that my teenager responds differently to various prescriptions due to being heterozygous for a shortened allele–there is a chemical component to this, not just having a bad day that I wish she’d snap out of, and a prescription vitamin called Deplin can help with her folate reception (which is her particular issue according to this test). https://genesight.com/patients/genesight/psychotropic/
    Hope that might be of interest! Hang in there!

  3. I love these Random Thoughts posts. What beautiful memories you’re creating for your family—the work on the cottage, the pilgrimage, the walkie-talkies. Love it! So sorry to hear that you’re struggling at the moment. Your willingness to share your experiences with depression helps so many of us. Means a lot today in particular. Hope you feel better soon. We’re rooting for you.

      1. I’ve got to “third” this! Agree that Josie has the right words and, indeed, we are all rooting for you (and each other).

  4. Love thyself! Your mental state might also be a connection to the deeper sadness that is at large right now. It is an extremely heavy time and we are only human. Coming from someone who suffers from depression, I feel it’s overwhelming force currently as I am left wondering how to mourn for the dying and sit with the violence that continues to kill. I feel helpless and purposeless. Hopeless! But what is really true is there has been a great deal of loss in the world.

  5. Sending you lots of positive thoughts. Thanks for your honesty and I hope you have a wonderful time with your two youngest. Your plans for your cottage sound super exciting too. Are you thinking of returning next summer when it’s hopefully done?

  6. Your thoughts are lovely, your blog has been so helpful for us in beginning our journey here in France. Interesting to hear about the cars– we are trying to figure that out as well — just one car for the time being. It’s nice to hear about being on the other side of everything being new and unfamiliar!! I’m sorry about the depression. A couple of books have helped me deal better with my anxiety and mild depression, I have no idea if they would help you– it may not be the same thing at all. But maybe it would help someone reading the comments– the first one is called Come to Your Senses – https://www.amazon.com/Come-Your-Senses-Demystifying-Connection/dp/1582701261/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468851250&sr=1-1&keywords=come+to+your+senses

    The second one is called Feeling Good https://www.amazon.com/Feeling-Good-New-Mood-Therapy/dp/0380810336/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468851307&sr=1-1&keywords=feeling+good

    I have learned to meditate also, I have an excellent book on that as well — You are the Placebo https://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Placebo-Making-Matter/dp/1401944590/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468851387&sr=1-1&keywords=you+are+the+placebo

    Anyway, I feel like all these books gave me really good tools. I hope you can find something that will help you. Don’t give up!! I’m trying to figure out what to blog about today, maybe my experience with this would be a good topic. I’ll let you know if I do it. Hugs!!

    1. I have to second the suggestion for the book Feeling Good by David Burns. It teaches us how to handle even severe depression and anxiety by identifying the underlying thoughts that are causing them. I used this and his book When Panic Attacks when I had postpartum anxiety after my second child. Even though the cause of the anxiety was physical (crazy hormones!) this book helped me not to get sucked into the vortex of my thoughts.
      I hope it helps someone else out there!

  7. It sounds like an idyllic summer for your family! I think the peppiest among us are down so go easy on yourself. It is a difficult and unsettling time in the world and in the USA in particular. I hope you’ll someday share how you discuss this illness with your children. I imagine you are open and honest and accepting of their gifts of hugs and down time. So many children grow up with this dark shadow looming and it’s the NOT TALKING that makes it scary.

  8. Thank you for sharing that sometimes life is “down” (for NO reason). It makes me feel less weird :) I love you for sharing.

  9. You asked about pilgrimages – my #1 Bucket List trip is doing the St. Jacques de Compostelle Pilgrimage from France to Spain. I am so excited about the thought of a spiritual and cultural pilgrimage that has seen centuries of pilgrims pass through on the same quest.

    Interestingly – the St. Jacques de Compostelle Pilgrimage was created when the Crusades made it too dangerous for Christian pilgrims to travel to Jerusalem during the Middle Ages.

    I love hearing about your adventures. I am impressed by the work you are doing and the life you are living as you deal with depression. It is certainly not easy. Bisous!

  10. I love that you so opening share about your mental illness, and hope that things get better soon! The work on the cottage is so exciting! I completely understand feeling excited and happy to be doing work- when it gets you closer to your dream, hard work can be so wonderful!

    On a different note, I’m currently living and working in Moldova, which is in Eastern Europe. Although I have access to internet, I’ve felt particularly cut off from things in the United States. When I hear about various things in the news (which I generally first find out on Facebook, to be honest), it’s so easy to feel so disconnected, and at the same time, I also think it’s harder to deal with while being so far away. How has your being in France affected the way you view/deal with the things that have happened in the US recently? Or maybe it hasn’t?

    1. I read this book several years ago


      I remembered it told of Moldova being the LEAST happy nation. It sounds from what you wrote above that you haven’t always lived there, and I wondered if you feel the general outlook of the folks you encounter is noticeably different? I seem to recall it mentioning the challenge of being aware of the difference in standard of living between Western European countries and Eastern European countries, and upward vs. downward comparisons (something that I struggle with myself though I hate to admit it – I live in a fairly wealthy area and it’s easy to feel less-than.)

  11. Your summer adventure sounds like a blast! I’m sorry your depression had to crop up, and you’re right, it stinks that it’s something that is constantly there and won’t go away. I deal with the same thing, but it’s wonderful that you are aware of it and can practice some self care. Hugs to you!

  12. Just want to say that I’m sorry about your depression! I so appreciate how honest and open you are about yours and am sending good thoughts to you that it will lift soon xoxo

  13. Gabby, sending you lots of love and uplift from the midwest. Fingers and toes crossed that the darkness lifts soon. xoxo

  14. Thank you for being so honest about everything. I love that you look at your depression head-on and are not afraid to admit that you’re struggling with it; know that this is helpful to many people who may be going through the same thing and trying to figure out what to do about it. I also second the thoughts of commenter Julie: “Your mental state might also be a connection to the deeper sadness that is at large right now.” Wishing you all the best!

  15. I agree with the other commenters: thank you for honestly sharing about your depression. I battle an anxiety/panic disorder, and it helps to know you understand how I could be having really good summer in many ways, and also a difficult summer in some ways. It too feels like an ever-present shadow.

    I love hearing about your trip and cottage progress!

  16. Thank you for being so open and honest. When I’m depressed, I try hard to remember it’s not my fault, and it will get better. This too shall pass.

    I love reading about the cottage updates. My boyfriend and I really want to buy a property in France to renovate, it’s a huge goal. Do you think you’d ever do a post breaking down the purchasing and renovating budget?

  17. Enjoy your special time with your two littlest girls! Going to Paris just the 3 of you sounds like a dream; could be such a sweet time. You could do everything at their pace and tastes (parks, boats, bakeries) without having to worry about boring the bigger people.

    I hope you feel better soon. I know the realization that mental health issues don’t full go away can be a bummer. Keep up the good work!

  18. Gabrielle, I’m wondering how much you’ve been avoiding the news. It hits extra hard as a thoughtful, caring person who wants to comfort a hurting world, you know? I have always been very sensitive, and just recently I began a news fast. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t carry the world’s pain. (And from a religious standpoint, I’m. Not. God). If I peer too long into the abyss of a broken, hurting world, it’s only a matter of time before I succumb to depression again. So, while I donate to charities, and try to stay informed enough, I need to be careful with myself. I realize that the tragedy of Nice hangs over France (the whole world mourns with them), but I wonder if a avoiding the news would be helpful for you. Lots of love from MA.

    1. I am with you Meggles! I am a self professed “be in control” type of person and the fact that there is NOTHING I can do to change what I think is our national let alone global challenges compounds how I respond to what is going on.

      When I watch/listen too much it is really easy to feel overwhelmed.

  19. Wonderful Post. I agree with the people who have acknowledged that “a deeper sadness is at large right now.” Why can’t we just get rid of violence!! Is it truly part of who we are? This animal nature of ours is sickening. Of course it would make someone so sweet and genuine as you feeling ill. Breathe deeply; clear your mind.
    Know that you are loved deeply and prayed for.

    We did a partial pilgrimage in Lithuania. Soo fascinating and beautiful. “Indulgences of Mary” as I recall. The Pilgrims hike to 7 holy spots, singing hymns most of the way. I love the idea of Mary’s mother love and her desire to forgive.

    Lots of beautiful things in this old world! Trying to dwell in the goodness.

  20. Paris sounds great!Jardin de luxembourg, jumping around centre pompidou, inhale some surprising art and have a wonderful luxurious gouter at Jean-Paul Hévin, my favourite chocolatier in Paris…even one small hot chocolate or one piece of chocolatecake or even just a praliné is making my heart jump of joy.
    (I would also love the pilgrimage-hike, I get you. )
    … usually I’m scared to get another season of depression, but right now I’m scared of my new job which starts in late october (already!) and I never know how my days will be, as my dad passed away some weeks ago and the sadness comes in so unexpected waves alternating with the reassuring feeling, that all is well. It’s exhausting me.

  21. Always love reading your Random Thoughts, and your relaxing summer in such a beautiful place sounds really wonderful. But tears flowed when I read about your depression. I’m so sorry this is something that you have to deal with…lots of love and hugs and kisses to you and your family, too, Gabby.

  22. Gabrielle,
    Since you are here in France, maybe you should check this book:

    Guérir le stress, l’anxiété, la dépression sans médicaments, ni psychanalyse – de David SERVAN-SCHREIBER .

    Maybe it won’t solve everything, but it gives great clues on how to help us naturally find a solution and cope with it…

    You can find it in almost every book shop and library…

    Feel better soon!

    If you go to Paris with the younger kids, you could check one of these museums for kids, they are great:


    And the Paris jazz festival at Parc Floral, Bois de Vincennes (it’s 6€ for adults and 3€ for kids), the place is gorgeous, you can have a picnic and walk around, see wonderful flowers and just enjoy a good time.


  23. A friend in Iowa

    Praying for you right now. Praying that the changes to a European diet do not disrupt your meds: that your ‘new normal’ for the summer does not disrupt your meds, that you will have time to really rest, and absorb the wonder around you. Praying you have time to take care of you.

  24. Gabrielle, it all sounds like a wonderful, pure adventure. I’m so sorry for the darkness you’re dealing with and wish there was a way to help you and all of us who suffer. You sharing it is indescribably helpful, though.

  25. Your trip is sounding so perfect, in a slow unplanned sort of way. We have 5 children and I also have struggled with taking meds for depression that hit after I had child #3. For me personally, when ever we travel, and especially abroad with jet lag, I find that I need to up my dosages for a little bit, because my adrenaline is up, being in a new environment. Does that make sense? I hope so. And that’s just what helps me. I’ve been on meds for 11 years and have leaned how to do this with my doctor’s advice. I pray you will “find the light” again soon. ❤️

  26. Your mental health update really resonated with me — especially the part about dealing with depression in the middle of an otherwise beautiful place and experience. I understand — and I hate it, too. But I’m with the other commenters in saying “thank you for sharing” and “hang in there!” Your online community is here for you.

    Along those lines — should the opportunity arise, I’d love to hear more from you about parenting and mental health. How do you talk to your kids about self care and mental health? How does it impact your parenting? I’m currently childless, but worry about how to support myself AND my kids in this area. You approach this topic so thoughtfully and openly, so would be curious to know if you have experiences or ideas to share.

    Enjoy your trip! You have such a wonderful connection to France and I’m grateful to you for sharing it with us.

  27. Living vicariously through you…wish we could be renovating a cottage in Germany. And a random thought for the mental health problems you are dealing with, you’ve mentioned you have been working out/going to the gym more than you had ever before in your life. I find that when I let that slide, even if I think I’m getting exercise by hiking, working outside or what ever it might be, the depression settles in much more quickly. My body needs that “me” time of not only getting the physical exercise but that mental break as well. Not sure if that is an issue for you or not, but thought I’d pass on my experience. That’s what makes vacations hard for me…I should be enjoying it, but my body just craves the routine of the workout.

    1. Thank you for this comment Sally. I’ve just had the worst pmt depression of my life after almost a month of my whole family being sick with flu and coughs, conjunctivitis etc. I had been exercising regularly before we all got sick, and I think the sudden break from my hill walks as well as the flu and lack of sleep all created a ‘perfect storm’ for me. Not sure if I could have done anything differently, but it does help to know what contributed to my extremely stressed out and overwhelmed state!

  28. I’m so sorry about your depression. I don’t know what that’s like, but I hope you can get some help or push through until you get back to the States.

    On another note, I did the Camino de Santiago (the main route from the France/Spain border in the Pyrenees all the way to Santiago de Compostela). I got a grant to do it while in college. I attempted to do it on bike, which I completely regret now. I wish I had walked it. It’s still on my to-do list. I’d love to go with my kids once they’re older. It’s long….478 miles, but it’s beautiful and I met some of the best people whose language I couldn’t understand, but whose heart shown so brightly it was impossible to miss. A memory just popped in my head of two very old gentlemen helping me change a flat tire on my bicycle. We couldn’t understand each other but they were so kind and gentle and helpful. Good memories. Thank you.

  29. Two thoughts. First, traveling and living abroad takes so much mental energy, even when it’s relaxing and simultaneously energizing to the soul. I am often reminded that good things, too, count as “stress” and as someone who has recovered, at least in the present, from “serious and persistent mental illness,” I know that I can only handle so much stress before it starts to feel like the walls are caving in. Second thought- please do not give up hope for a spontaneous “healing,” for lack of better word. It is telling, I think, that while we understand mental illness is not willful, and certainly there are choices we can make to influence it for better or worse, we are keen to expect that we can control it more than perhaps we can. For all the years I struggled (and that is putting it so mildly) with manic depression, one day it just stopped. I had been working and working and having setbacks (so many setbacks) and at one point I just stopped having setbacks. Eventually, when I got married and wanted to have babies, I weaned off medication. (Currently 41 and pregnant with #3 in five years. Incredibly lucky, I know.) I thought it might be temporary, and it still might be. But for now, I really consider myself on the other side of recovery. For the ten years (plus) of therapy and medication, and co-existing additional mental health problems, one day there was remission. And tha day after that, and the day after that…. For five years and counting. Everyone’s experience is so unique, and I’m so sorry the darkness is creeping in on you right now, but I just wanted you to know that at least sometimes, as it decended on you one day, so might it lift and blow away. And bless you a million times over for talking about it publicly. You do so much to end the stigma that has caused so many people to suffer additional heartbreak. You’re the best of the best. Hugs.

  30. I recently cut down on the blog posts I receive because my inbox got overwhelming. Except for yours. You’re a ray of design shine, family love and interest in the world and I wish you so well. Sterkte as we say in SA. Strength.

  31. I just want to say thank you to you, Gabrielle, and to all the other commenters for how supportive and encouraging everyone is about dealing with/living with mental illness. I have struggled my whole life with anxiety/depression and it is such a constant battle. I have a 9-year old daughter and I am interested (as some of the other commenters mentioned, as well) in how you approach this topic with your children. I want to be open and honest, but I don’t want her to be constantly “looking” for the symptoms on herself or worried about making my symptoms worse. And also how you deal with the darker days and the need for self-care with such an active,large family. I struggle and I only have one! Maybe you would consider doing a post on these? I know there are many of us who look to you as an example of someone successfully managing their illness. All the best to you and your family:)

    1. This! Yes! I worry about this exact thing with my children. I would also be interested, Gabrielle, in how Ben helps or supports you during darker times. I feel terrible because I sometimes feel like sharing it with my husband makes him feel responsible for my sadness or worry which is simply not true at all.
      I echo everyone when I add my thanks for sharing publicly about your struggle. You are a blessing to your readers.

  32. Beth Schellhous

    Hi! Just found your blog. We are an American family of five that lives in a western Paris suburb. If you come down our way it would be fun to meet and have goûter at ours or a picnic in the Park. Email me if that suits you. Have a fabulous rest of summer here in France! Hope our paths meet one day. Love, Beth Xx

  33. Love this update on the house and super excited for this new approach in finishing the project. Thanks for sharing it with us. We, too, have done long trips with two cars and also one large van. You hit the nail on the head with the pros/cons! As for the down turn in the meds….so sorry. Praying for you and for wisdom for the doctors. God bless you. You are not alone and it will get better. You and I don’t agree on many of the hot issues today, but bottom line, when another woman is hurting, we all need to help however we can and focus on the commonalities. So helping with prayers and happy thoughts from the Midwest. Peace!

  34. So nice to hear about your ongoing fun travels! It’s so great that your kids will have these wonderful memories of the places you’ve been!
    I’m sorry you’re having such a tough time in the middle of your vacation. I’m wondering if the drastic time change may have done something to jar your equilibrium? I notice when I travel abroad I get a weird feeling of depression when I first get there that then goes away in a few days. Just a thought…

  35. This post and the comments are exceptional. I can’t resist adding my 2 cents.

    I love all the France updates. I can’t wait to hear all about your upcoming trips and especially the cottage (not to mention the project you left back in Oakland!). Thanks for always having a great list of random thoughts. Like so many others here, your comment about your mental health really resonated with me. It is odd for me to think I might be on medication (a very, very tiny amount, but nonetheless) forever, but every time I try to ween off…just NOPE. I do have other ways of dealing with anxiety – exercise in particular really helps, as well as preparing how to handle certain situations – but nothing seems to work as well as the medication. Of course I’d love to be more holistic, but it’s honestly like I feel more like myself on medication than I do without. That’s the only way I can explain it. It is funny though – knowing your in a beautiful place, and I feel like my life is really the best it’s ever been – but not being able to shake off anxiety/depression. Anyway, take care and hope you feel better soon. xx

  36. I’m sure it’s so incredibly hard to be feeling down for no reason in such a beautiful place; but, I am so happy that you get to have a summer like this while you are struggling. What better medicine (other than, you know, actual medicine that’s doing it’s job) than a laid back, not-on-a-schedule, tons-of-family-time summer when you’re having trouble dealing. Do you think it could have anything to do with the major change in schedule (waking/sleeping hours)? Or possibly the thought that you won’t have your family together like this again, agenda-free and able to just be, for a long time? No idea if either of those could be it…sometimes when I’m at a really low point it just helps to try and identify if there’s an underlying issue I’m trying to ignore that’s contributing to the feeling.

  37. Just to say thank you for this post and for all the commentators wise words. I am living in the U.K. Where it appears that the darkness is starting to win over the country and has also brought my depression back with a vengeance. It is taking every ounce of my strength to keep focussed on hope and the simple beautiful things around me. Thank you all for the reminder and knowledge that we are not alone in this .

  38. Just a few corrections, :) : châteaux, also Bayeux and Bagnoles de l’Orne !
    As for your mental health, have you ever looked into Niacin ?
    Enjoy the rest of your trip !!

  39. Hills and valleys….keep on rising…we are all in this together! Much love to you and your beautiful family and thank you for sharing your magic with the rest of us.

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