Thank you for your patience! I’ve owed you this post for a few weeks. Here’s a long Q&A about our move. Why we chose to move. Why we chose to move to France. And why it might have seemed out of nowhere to you (but not to me).
Q. What prompted such a sudden move?
A. I know it seemed sudden, but we actually started planning the move in earnest during the fall of 2018 — a full year ago.
To be frank, it was mostly a financial decision. As is well known, the Bay Area is incredibly expensive. It’s like any expensive city (though probably a bit worse because there’s such a housing crisis). Big cities are expensive, and they often offer work opportunities that pay well and make the expense worthwhile.
But I’m self-employed and I work at home, and my work and my earnings are the same wherever we live — whether it’s a big city or a small town. So it’s not very smart of us to live in a really expensive place. If we move somewhere more affordable, it feels like getting a raise, you know?
When we first moved to Oakland, part of the thinking was that we would take advantage of work-related Bay Area resources, and we did do that to some extent. But ultimately we still work at home 90% of the time, so it just doesn’t make sense to pay for the privilege of living near so many awesome resources — resources that we aren’t using.
As we looked into the future and thought about having 3 kids in college at the same time, and about retirement savings (remember, we’re self-employed, and there’s no matched 401k for us), we concluded that no matter how much we love living in Oakland (and we love it so much!), we are being really financially unwise if we stay. Because our jobs don’t require us to live in Oakland. Technically, we can live anywhere with a decent internet connection.
Q. So why didn’t you start talking about the move last fall?
A. Well, we felt really private about the whole thing. We didn’t know where we would move and were quite overwhelmed by the whole prospect. I knew if I talked about it publicly, lots of people would chime in with feedback (some welcome, some not so welcome) and it would overwhelm me even more. So until we were 100% officially decided, with a solid plan in place, I simply didn’t want to put it out there in a public way.
I should mention we were also quite conflicted. We knew a move was the wise thing to do financially, but our family is very invested in Oakland and has put down some solid roots. The kids LOVE their schools and their friends and we went back and forth for months on whether or not we should try and stick it out in order to avoid uprooting them.
Q. Were you planning to move to France since last fall?
A. No. Not exactly. Starting last fall, we started planning to move somewhere. But we didn’t know where and we didn’t really know when the move should happen. Because we can live anywhere, we started with a really wide search and then started narrowing it down.
It seems like it would be fun to get to choose exactly where to live, and even pick the date you’ll move. In some ways it is fun, but there’s also something really nice about having a job that tells you where to move and when to be there — and you just have to adjust and get on board and make the best of it. When you’re choosing for yourself, if you choose the “wrong” place, it’s all on your shoulders. If your kids are struggling, you can’t blame the move on a job, it’s all on you. So there’s a lot of pressure to make the “right” decision (and try and predict the future in the process).
But this isn’t the first time we were moving away from a big city, and had to decide for ourselves a new place to live. When we moved from New York it was for the same reasons — we were both working at home and didn’t need to live in proximity to NYC anymore. So we started doing internet searches for “best quality of life” and “lowest cost of living” and at the time, decided to move to Denver.
This time around was similar in some ways to our move from New York — including lots of research on good places to live — but now, we had international experiences under our belt, and we were open to locations all over the world. Internationally, we researched and considered four places:
-The Philippines — groups from the Philippines have shown interest in Ben Blair’s startup university, and we wondered if a move there might offer some advantages for his work.
-India — this was mostly pushed by Olive who has been craving and planning an extended trip to India for years.
-Mexico City — I got really into Abby Clawson Low’s book about Mexico City and Ralph convinced us that learning Spanish would be easy.
-France — when we moved away from France, I assumed we would return to Normandy every year for a couple of months at least. It didn’t happen quite the way I thought it would, but a return to France has consistently been on my mind.
We also looked very seriously at more affordable places in the U.S.:
-North Carolina — gosh it’s easy to love North Carolina and it seems like a really smart real estate bet. It’s growing like crazy! We looked pretty intensely at the Raleigh-Durham area, and can still see ourselves living there at some point. Perhaps after France.
-Upstate New York — when we lived in New York, and we couldn’t afford to buy a house but I still wanted to day dream about real estate, I would look at houses an hour or two north of the city, in places like Poughkeepsie and Saugerties. These areas have surprisingly affordable real estate options — and the city still feels close enough to have NYC adventures.
-Detroit — part of what we love about living in Oakland, is that it is the most diversely integrated city I’ve ever encountered. It’s a beautiful thing. We did lots of research on other cities that might feel similar, but offer more affordability, and Detroit came up over and over again. Real estate in and around Detroit is pretty amazing.
-Northern California — I know the Bay Area is considered to be Northern California, but actually it’s pretty much in the middle, and there’s a whole huge part of the state that’s north of San Francisco. If you’re willing to go far out enough that it’s not commutable (which is fine with us because we work at home), you can still find some really good real estate prices.
We discussed all these options with the kids for months, and we’d tally up the pros and cons of each place. We did a ton of house hunting — both online and in person, and talked to friends and contacts in all of these places as we tried to narrow things down. Oh my goodness there were times I really wanted to talk to you about these places — to get your advice and see if anyone would say something to help us cross one spot or another off our list.
Q. And France eventually won out?
A. Yes. For several reasons. One of the biggest reasons being that it was familiar. We know the schools, the neighborhoods, the grocery stores. We know the extra-curricular options. We know the foods we like to eat. We know what we’ll be homesick for.
Anytime I considered an international move to anywhere but France, I would feel exhilarated, but also overwhelmed. I told Ben Blair, “I am up for it. I will move pretty much anywhere. I will be a good sport. I will dive in and embrace wherever it is. But I need someone else to figure out all the logistics.” It’s like my brain would just shut down when I started looking into international visas and local schools and trying to figure out housing.
If we worked for a company who was transferring us to an international location, and was helping us figure out the logistics, that would have been great. But we aren’t. And I just wasn’t up for figuring out another international move to an unfamiliar place.
Other reasons we ended up choosing France:
-We wanted Oscar and Betty to get a chance to regain their French in a more permanent way. Ralph, Maude, and Olive have all moved back to France since we’ve lived in Oakland, and because of that, their French has stuck with them. Also, we knew Flora wanted to learn French — I imagine it feels like all her siblings are part of club that she is excluded from, and she wants in!
-We love the lifestyle and pace of life in Normandy. I can’t stress this enough. I’m going to write a separate post about it.
-We feel a connection to Normandy. We have friends here. We have property here. We truly love it here. This summer, Ralph was visiting Normandy and called us from Argentan to tell us the obvious move was coming back to Normandy because it’s such an amazing place to live, and he reminded us how much our family had thrived when we lived here before.
-As I mentioned above, we always thought we’d be living in France for at least a part of each year, so the thought of moving back seemed natural.
-When we lived in France before, we did a lot of traveling during the school breaks. And the older kids remember all those adventures, but the younger kids don’t remember much of the traveling at all. So we like the idea that we’ll have a chance to show them some of Europe while we live here.
-Financially, it made the most sense. We ran the numbers and our budget stretched the furthest in France — housing, utilities, food, extra-curriculars, transportation — it’s all more affordable here. That was a big help in narrowing down where we should move. Moving to Normandy feels like an adventure, but it’s also familiar which makes it easier for us to settle in, and on top of that it’s affordable!
But to be clear, we didn’t officially decide on France until early August. And we moved on August 27th. So it did end up happening really fast. (Plane tickets! A place to live! Luggage! Packing up the house for shipping! Visas! And a thousand other things.)
Q. How long will you be in France?
A. We’re planning at least a year, but in my head it will be longer. A year is an easy place to start because a long-stay visa only lasts for a year and then you have to reapply. So there’s no guarantee we can stay more than a year anyway.
Initially planning on a year is also easier to wrap our heads around, especially when things are tough, or speaking French has our brains exhausted. But we also know that by the end of one year, there’s a good chance the kids will have deep friendships here, and that their French will have mostly caught up, and that sticking around for another year or two will sound appealing. So, we’ll see how it goes.
Q. Are you going to live in the French Cottage you bought last time you lived there?
A. Actually no. I mentioned this in an older post, but I know it was easy to miss so I’ll sum up: it would be quite expensive to make our little cottage a welcoming homestead. And we’ve discovered it’s more economical right now to buy another house that doesn’t need as much work instead.
But beyond that, our cottage is really out there in the countryside — a good 25-30 minute drive from the kids’ school, from grocery stores, from swim team practice. And when we bought the cottage, we didn’t really picture it as a house we’d live in while the kids had their daily life in France. We thought it would be for vacations and summer trips. The location is amazing for a rural retreat, but not very convenient for daily life where we need access to the town multiple times each day.
Q. What are you doing with the Treehouse in Oakland?
A. [Long sad sigh.] We’ve decided to sell it. We considered renting it out, but we have been long distance landlords before and did not like that experience at all.
The Treehouse, and the mini forest that surrounds it, require quite a bit of upkeep and we’ve decided it’s ultimately better to remove it from our list of things to do. I’ve learned I’m a very out-of-sight-out-of-mind person, and having to think about or manage the Treehouse while living across the ocean would drive me bonkers.
But we are so deeply sad. We love The Treehouse, we’ve remade every inch of it, and our family has grown and thrived there. It’s really hard to say good bye to it. (In fact, if you’ll indulge me, I was thinking maybe I’d do a farewell Treehouse home tour post sometime.)
And it’s not just the Treehouse. Saying goodbye to Oakland is crushing. We didn’t know anything about it before we moved there, but oh my goodness we fell in love with Oakland hard. And getting to go to Oakland public schools is probably one of the very best gifts we’ve given our kids.
Q. What about all your stuff? If you sell the house, what are you going to do with all your furniture and other stuff?
A. Well, as it turns out, our stuff is currently floating somewhere on the ocean in a shipping container. We decided to ship it instead of store it. Storing is quite expensive. and you may remember, dealing with our storage unit in Colorado, after we’d moved to Oakland, triggered a full-on nervous breakdown for me (it wasn’t just the storage unit that caused the breakdown, but I want to avoid a repeat anyway).
We considered an estate sale, but when we looked at what we could earn, we felt better about just shipping our things to France. At the end of the day, we like our stuff. We’ve been married for 24 years and have chosen our belongings quite carefully over the years. So we felt happy about bringing them with us.
When we were deciding whether to sell, store, or ship to France, one of the thought exercises I did was ask myself: If there was a job that took us to the East Coast for at least a year but maybe more, and we had to move from California, would we bring all our stuff with us? Yes, we would. So we priced that out, and discovered that shipping our belongings to France on a slow boat was a similar cost to a cross country move. (I’ll do another post about the shipping later. It’s its own adventure.)
Q. How about your car? Your vintage Vespa?
A. You are nailing these questions! There are so many loose ends to tie up before a big move like this. Our van was a lease and the move timing worked well with the lease return, so that was good news. Our Vespa was in need of attention, and we ended up giving it to a local man who could rebuild it and enjoy it.
What to do with the Vespa was definitely some last minute stress — we were heading out in two days and still didn’t know what to do with it. And then our friends, the Suttons, said they’d figure something out and we could drop it off at their house. And within 24-hour hours, they’d found a good home for it. I was (and still am) so grateful!
Q. What about Ralph & Maude? What are they doing? Will they ever come to France?
A. Maude started her third year at Berkeley and is living in an apartment close to campus. She is majoring in English and wants to be a writer. Ralph is finishing his last semester of Community College and plans to apply to Berkeley this November (if accepted, he’ll start there next fall). He wants to study film at Berkeley. Ralph is living with my brother Jared and my sister-in-law Liz (of Say Yes) in Oakland — we left our little electric Fiat with Ralph so he can drive to classes in Berkeley.
For sure we hope they’ll come see us in France! I’m guessing the first opportunity will be the holidays.
(And as you might remember, Olive is spending her senior year in Montpellier, France as an Au Pair. She was already planning this and had it all set up long before we knew we were moving back to France.)
Q. Was your move coordinated with your sister Jordan’s round-the-world trip?
A. Hahaha. I guess it could seem like that. Too funny. It was for sure a separate decision made on a different timeline, but as you can imagine, we’re over the moon that our paths may criss cross a bit while she travels with her family. For instance, we’re headed to England for a wedding this coming weekend and we’ll get to meet up in the English countryside for an afternoon.
Last time we lived in Normandy, Jordan & Paul lived in Paris, and it was such a treat to get to see each other when we went to Paris, or when they were craving some time in the countryside. They’ll be traveling all over the world this year, so it won’t be the same, but I’m sure we’ll still try and coordinate a vacation or two so that we end up at the same place at the same time. Crossing my fingers!
Q. How did you get a long-term visa?
A. Great question. I’ve got a whole other post I’m working on about visas and foreign bank accounts and foreign cell phones and that sort of thing. So stay tuned.
Q. Are the kids in an International School?
A. No, they attend a local French school. It’s the same one they attended when we lived here before. It’s fully in French and it’s tough for them right now. But we’ve done this before and are confident it will be worth it.
Q. Does everyone in the family speak French?
A. Not yet. But we’re working on it. Oscar and Betty were perfectly fluent last time we lived here, but after six years in Oakland, they’ve forgotten a ton. So far, they say they understand about 50% of what’s being said at school. It’s just going to take some time to get back up to speed. And Flora is learning French for the first time.
Ben Blair is awesome at French, though always trying to improve. I am awful at speaking, but understand 75% of what I hear. Ben and I are setting up language exchanges — where you meet with someone local and spend 30 minutes conversing in French and 30 mins conversing in English. Our first one is this week.
UPDATE: Here are a couple more questions I’ve been asked a bunch and forgot to include:
Q. Did you move to France because of the political climate in the U.S.? Or because of the gun violence? Or something like that?
A. I totally get why that thought would come up — and I hear people casually throw that idea around in conversation, like, “if this continues, we’re moving to Canada!” But politics in the U.S. wasn’t actually one of the motivations for our move. We’ve only been here a few weeks, but I still feel just as engaged in what’s happening in the U.S., as I did before we moved — no doubt things like Twitter make that possible.
We care very deeply about the U.S. and have zero interest in abandoning our country. We will continue to support and promote the candidates we think are the best. We will continue to support and promote the causes that we think need attention. We’ll make sure our absentee votes are counted.
Q. Do you still go to church in France?
A. You bet. Mormon Church in France works pretty much the same way it works in the U.S. and across the world (there’s even a universal wifi password for all Mormon chapels everywhere — hah!). The biggest difference is our chapel is about 40 minutes away in the city of Caen. There are definitely less LDS congregations in France than there are in California. But there are probably more than you would guess. There’s a congregation in Montpellier that Olive went to on Sunday, there are congregations in Paris, there are congregations in pretty much every medium to big size city here. Mormons are everywhere.
Another difference is that our congregation here often has English speakers who have just moved in (like us) or who are visiting (England is so close), so they typically offer headphones and a translator during meetings for those you need help with the language. Which is awesome.
I actually talked about our first visit to our French congregation (we call it a ward) on my Instagram stories. You can find it in the French Life highlights.
I think that’s it for now. Hopefully I covered all the questions I’ve been asked so far. But if I missed something, or you have new questions, please feel free to ask me. And thanks again for your patience while I wrote all this down.
99 thoughts on “The Big Move FAQs”
I’m so happy for you! I’ve been following your blog (quietly usually) for ages and remember being a little shocked when you moved back from France. You all seemed so happy there and had made such a special home for yourselves. I hope this move goes as well!
It shocked me too! Hah! It feels good to be back here again.
Yes, thank you for the reminder than sometimes you can really think OUTSIDE of the box! My husband and I often talk about what changes we can make to make our life feel like less of a grind and it’s often small things like changing extra curriculars or trying a new restaurant. But what if we thought REALLY big and changed our jobs and our town and got to choose the details we fill our life with? What if we found jobs we loved, a community we felt attached to and time to spend together as a family? Life can feel so fixed, so thank you for the reminder to be brave and see what else is out there in big ways!
Thank you for this post! So interesting! You and your family are so brave and smart and adventurous! I love it. So happy to follow you. Wishing you all the best!!
Thank you, Lucia! I appreciate the kind words.
Thanks for this long post. It really gave me a clearer view of all that goes into such a big life shift. I can totally relate to the overwhelming work of the logistics! In my experience, it seems like this generally falls to the woman. Though we’ve never moved in our 13 years of marriage, when we travel the logistics always fall to me and since our recent retirement there are lots of trips to be planned. Our next trip, our longest yet at three weeks, involves four countries and his contribution has been watching YouTube videos about various locales. I guess the truth may be that I love the travel more than he does….
I love the idea of a farewell Treehouse tour. It really was a very special house and you put so much of yourself into it.
Four countries in three weeks sounds amazing! I hope it will be a wonderful adventure. And I’ll see what I can do about a Farewell Treehouse Home Tour.
I appreciate this post so much! We have been struggling with a move for literally years now. We can go anywhere, within financial reason, and it makes it so much harder! We live in an inflated mountain town and love aspects of it and it’s certainly ‘home’ for our children, but the lack of diversity and steep price tag make it hard to do long term. Perhaps you have helped me narrow it down….North Carolina and France? I look forward to hearing more!
Isn’t that the strangest thing? Getting to choose where you live is a privilege, but in practice it ends up feeling like a weighty, overwhelming, burden.
I guess that shouldn’t surprise me because even on a smaller scale, I appreciate getting breaks from making decisions — like if a friend makes plans and I just get to show up! I don’t have to decide which day, and what time, and which restaurant, and who’s invited. When your brain is tired, it feels like the ultimate luxury to have some decisions made for you.
Thank you for your graciousness and generosity in answering these questions about your family’s move. It seems almost silly that I feel so emotionally invested in a stranger’s life, but having followed your blog for so long, reading this brings tears to my eyes. I can imagine how gut-wrenching it is to leave Oakland and how overwhelming it is to face all these changes, but I’m also so, so excited for you and your family. You are all so brave and it’s incredibly inspiring. And yes, another vote for a farewell Treehouse tour! What a special home!
So gut-wrenching! Especially for Oscar and Betty and Flora. They were so young when we moved there, that most of their memories are Oakland-based, and it’s hard for them to imagine another place ever feeling like home.
Wow! How honest, direct, and thoughtful. Wishing you all lots of luck in France. You are brave.
Thanks, Jenny. I don’t feel particularly brave, but I feel like my kids are doing something super brave. It is HARD to show up somewhere knowing you can’t properly communicate.
This is so interesting to me. Our youngest just started college and my husband and I have been thinking about spending extended time in Europe.
One thing that stumps us is health insurance. Did you purchase insurance for France, or are you covered under French insurance because of your visa?
Thanks for putting so much thought into these posts.
We purchased health insurance — it’s required to get a visa. (And I’ll talk more about that in another post.) I’ve heard that after you live here five years you can apply for a resident card which allows you to access the health care system, but I don’t know much about that.
I believe you can get public insurance after the first year, if your visa gets renewed (which usually it would, if your income stays the same and you submit the paperwork on time).
that being said, the insurance you can buy is a LOT cheaper and perhaps simpler than public insurance, and French people usually get a “mutuelle” to cover what’s not covered by public insurance, which adds to the costs. healthcare in France is fortunately affordable, though not free.
Thank you for sharing your story behind your move. I agree, that is a generous thing to do. You don’t owe us any explanation! I also appreciate your candor and vulnerability in this big change, and your bravery! That is something we all can relate to and learn from.
Thank you for reading, Barb. And for the kind comment. I appreciate it.
Love hearing about your move to France and everything involved! I’ve been looking forward to this post for a while. Love all your Instagram posts too! After living in the same house for 25 years, I always dream about moving somewhere new but for job purposes, we’re good where we are. (Maybe someday though!) So I love hearing about your adventures.
I hear you. Jobs determine so much about where we can live. Thank you for the kind words!
Bonne Chance! It sounds amazing! We are currently traveling between New Orleans, NYC & Florence for the next year (no kids in school or job requirements) and people seem to have a hard time wrapping their heads around that kind of movement & change. I admire your sense of adventure!
New Orleans, NYC, and Florence? What an awesome combination of cities! I hope you have so a great time.
What a process! I greatly admire the fact that you considered the entire world and narrowed it down to a workable choice for your family. Bravo.
I’m in Raleigh and there’s much to enjoy and appreciate here, but I’m so in favor of giving kids international experiences when possible. The reverberations in their lives will be infinite.
Raleigh is such a dreamy place to live — what an up-and-coming city. And the food! And the kind people!
I’m looking forward to your posts about your move and settling down in France. When you get time (!), please explain how you set up the language exchange.
You bet! It all comes through person-to-person connections. When we first moved to France years ago, our landlord connected us with a Dutch man, who then connected us with a couple from Texas who live here, who then connected us with Caroline, a local French woman who wanted to improve her English. So Caroline and I set up language exchanges. Basically, you meet at each other’s house or a park or wherever and just converse. Pick a topic and do your best. You split the time — half in English, half in French, so that you both get to learn. Caroline ended up becoming my dearest friend here — she still is. And her English is awesome! (I got too lazy in our language exchanges and we would end up speaking English the whole time. Hah!)
Ideally, I like to find someone to do a language exchange with who is just as crummy at English, as I am at French, so we can both improve together.
Thank you so much for sharing this! My husband works in the automotive industry (in metro Detroit – thanks for the kind words about our wonderful city!) so it’s unlikely we’ll ever move as long as he’s working. But we have dreams of retiring in France and your thoughtful, detailed posts make me believe it could become a reality some day!
I swear I am semi-obsessed with the Detroit area. As I researched it, it seemed like a full-on renaissance is happening there. I bet it’s a really exciting time to be based in Detroit.
I need to look up info on Detroit now!
Detroit is a beautiful city, I hope that you will visit it, there is so much to see. Perhaps your semi obsession is in part due to its French heritage ;). My husband also works in the automotive industry in metro Detroit, and we are fortunate to be a quick ride away via the expressway to the city. Congratulations on your move.
Thank you so much for sharing your thought process, and providing such a thoughtful dive into what can be such a scary topic. My husband and I have toyed with moving to another country, but our conversations have always revolved around work and family logistics from OUR perspective. I love the intentional way you’ve incorporated your kids into this process, and it’s great to see how this works out for the whole family.
As you settle into France, I would love to hear more from the family about the experience, and your thoughts on how dynamics change in another country. On the one hand, work and school are pretty big constants (it’s not like you’re traveling around the world :) On the other, going to the market in France, in the hypermarche is certainly a different experience than a trip to Safeway.
Yes! Exactly. Me on my laptop working feels the same, and overall things are the same — we still need to feed our family, and do the laundry, and fill up the car — but all the details of those things are different. I definitely plan to post about those details because I love that stuff!
Oh, yes, I love the details of daily life elsewhere so I’m all in for as many details posts as I you want to write!
I’m so, so impressed by all of this – the Blair family adventurous spirit, how intentionally you approach it, the inclusion of everyone’s thoughts and wishes. It’s amazing. I think it’s such a gift to be able to give your kids the opportunity to really live in another country. My daughter just started college this fall and I’m so hopeful she’ll do a study abroad at some point. I regret not doing that myself.
I started following you just as you were moving to France the first time so it’s like coming full circle in a way. It’s going to be a real treat to tag along on your adventures, and I also love that your posts are up early now for Eastern time zone reading. :)
Best of luck to all the Blairs!
Thanks for your post detailing your decision-making process. I’ve followed your blog since the time when you first moved to France. I’m tickled that you considered moving to Poughkeepsie. I grew up there and still go back to visit family even though I left when I went to college. I’ve also lived in Oakland, so I understand why it was a hard decision to leave. Looking forward to hearing about settling down again in Normandy!
I love the Poughkeepsie area! It’s so charming. And because I grew up in the western desert, New England-y towns always seem so different and exciting to my eyes. And it’s so easy to jump on Metro North and get to the city every once in awhile — for meetings or just for fun. For someone who works at home, I think that area could be ideal.
I agree with the previous commenter who said you don’t owe us an explanation, your choice to share it all is such a gift – THANK YOU! What an inspiration your family is. I know the challenges must be significant but you make it all seem so manageable and like such an adventure. Your attitude is marvelous and I’m sure this move, and even this post, will impact a lot of your readers’ dreams for the future.
That is so kind of you to say, Heather. And if you’re ever wondering whether I’m having a hard time managing something, you’ll know because my blog posts will become few and far between. Hah! In August, I could barely post a thing — I was definitely treading water. I did my best to look ahead a couple of months, and remind myself all the rough stuff would be sorted by then.
I wish you’d come to Raleigh! It’s a great city… growing like crazy with lots of diversity, affordable housing and deer and fox in the back yard.
We took a house hunting trip there in July and (even with the heat!) absolutely loved it. I was especially drawn to Durham, but really loved the whole Research Triangle area. It would not surprise me at all if we ended up in North Carolina after France. And if we do, I’m sure we’ll regret not buying a house there right now, because it seems like North Carolina housing prices are going to go up and up and up over the next few years. It’s a hotspot for sure!
I am wondering what you do for health insurance while living abroad?
Good question. Insurance is required in order to get a Visa — but we approached it differently for this move than we did for our last move to France. I’ll include more about that in the upcoming visa post.
Quelle aventure! My parents moved to Europe after they retired (and the stress gave my mother a zona), but I live a few minutes from my childhood home, next to my husband’s primary school he attended in 1974, and my girls attend the same high school I went to. My employer since 1992 is also closely. I am not moving!
It sounds like you’ve got wonderful deep roots where you live. I can see why you wouldn’t want to move!
I find this all so fascinating and appreciate you sharing! I am curious if you feel safer abroad? If there is a different level of caution we’ve become used to in the US that’s still necessary, or if there is a freedom to let your guard down a bit.
Such a great question, Kate. And it reminded me that I forgot include a question I’ve received a bunch (about whether we moved because of the political climate), so I just added the question and answer at the bottom of the post.
I do think we have our guard down more here in France, but I think it could be related more to the fact that we are in a small town, where life is simpler and lived at a slower pace. That said, it is a wonderful feeling to send my kids to school and not worry they’ll have to do active shooter drills,.
I was waiting for this post! I began following you when you first moved to France and that has inspired me. My husband invested in an Italian restaurant in Bilbao a few years ago and we decided to move to Spain once our oldest girl went off to college. She just started her freshman year at Elon University (coincidently in the triangle research area) and we are wrapping things up to move next Spring with our 4 and 6-year-olds.
We lived in the DC area and cost of living and pace of life are definite drivers for us. You can earn a lot, but it also costs a lot of money to live here and we want to travel and spend more time with our little girls. I am done with the corporate world. I am so impressed that you coordinated a move in just a month. The logistics to make the move, I am finding daunting but excited to be there soon enough.
So excited to continue to read on your adventures abroad. You all look so happy when you are there!
This is amazing!! It will be such an adventure for you all with your younger kids this time around…I was shocked when you mentioned having been in Oakland for 6 years! Phew, that when quick! I ache for you a bit when you talk about selling The Treehouse…such a hard decision, but overall I’m sure it’s the right one. Just think how lucky whoever the next family to own it will be – it would be so much fun if it were a big family like yours, or one that was interested in keeping in touch long term!
Anyway – so very excited to hear about how you all settle back into life in France. Best wishes for an easy transition, and remember to be kind and gentle with yourself if things do start to seem overwhelming!
I feel the same way about the six years. It went so fast! And yes, I really hope this new move to France will be wonderful for the three youngest. This is the first time we’ve ever lived with just the younger three and it’s a whole different dynamic!
Appreciate your honesty about all of this. We too left the East Bay because we just couldn’t justify the cost of living anymore. I lived there for 28 years (and my husband grew up in Marin) so it was incredibly sad and incredibly brave to leave. We also could have landed anywhere given our flexible work and I agree that having unlimited options can be overwhelming. The good news is that financial stability feels so much better than the constant Bay Area money stress. Even though I miss so much about living there, our quality of life is a whole lot better. I wish the same for you!
After 28 years? Oh my. That must have been so hard. And I hear you on the constant money stress of the Bay Area. Thank you for the encouraging words!
I’m also so sad that you will be selling the Treehouse. I learned so much about how to make a house a home through your posts about the Treehouse, from when you adjust expectations of how many bedrooms you wanted in a house to the individual room makeovers. I think I started reading Design Mom when you were in France, so I can see how the move makes sense. Hope this stint goes equally well!
Thank you, Terry. As we’ve been looking at homes here, it’s been interesting to approach decisions with the reality of having three kids at home instead of six. It completely changes our home needs, and it gets me excited to create another space where this new version of our family can continue to thrive.
I was wondering how life as a shrinking family was going for you. People talk about “empty nesters” but I’ve not seen much about the inbetween time, as they leave home one by one and how that changes your family (and even simply the logistics!) I would love to hear you talk about this more!
I love reading all of this! I have always been something of a nomad, so the move seems natural – but I imagine it would be more challenging considering kids/schools and all associated with that. I may be biased, but some of the most interesting people I know have lived all over the world!
Also, I am based in the southern part of the Netherlands, not far from Maastrict. If you ever come this way (or into Belgium) I’d love to meet up! You seem like such a cool family.
Maybe we’ll meetup with you in a park. I think the coolest parks I’ve ever seen were all in The Netherlands. : )
I love Amsterdam so much (and no, I didn’t smoke!), and I would love to go to the Dutch countryside. I actually “know” two other expat bloggers who live in Holland- “DC Rainmaker” and “Stitched in Color”
I hope you and the Blairs can get together!
Thank you for the informative post. I think North Carolina makes perfect sense for a future move! Great views and so affordable!
I’m still curious about how you do church in France, because I don’t know about a lot of LDS churches in the French countryside…
Another great question I’ve been asked a few times and forgot to cover in the post (I’ll answer here and update the blog post too).
Mormon Church in France works pretty much the same way it works in the U.S. and across the world (there’s even a universal wifi password for all Mormon chapels everywhere). The biggest difference is our chapel is about 40 minutes away in the city of Caen. There are definitely less LDS congregations in France than there are in California. But there are probably more than you would guess. There’s a congregation in Montpellier that Olive went to on Sunday, there are congregations in Paris, there are congregations in pretty much every medium to big size city here.
Another difference is that the congregations here often have English speakers who have just moved in (like us) or who are visiting, so they typically offer headphones and a translator during meetings for those you need help with the language.
I actually talked about our first visit to our French congregation (we call it a ward) on my Instagram stories. You can find it in the French Life highlights.
I’m eager to hear more about the house hunt & a farewell tree house tour sounds lovely. Reading your adventures on the previous move was such a reassurance to me when we debated a move abroad with our six kids – you made it seem possible & worth it, despite the hurdles you leap in the process. As you waited on your visas to arrive a few weeks ago we were also waiting that very same day for our visa renewal to arrive so my husband could fly & it was a chaotic, last minute dash with a motorcycle courier from London – I felt like I could imagine a tiny bit of your stress during that uncertainty!
After 5 years in the UK and depending on your type of visa you can apply for ILR (residency.) I wondered if France had a similar option, that should you choose to remain would that be a long term option? And do you think any of your children would consider university here in Europe or would they all want to return stateside?
We’re in Nottingham so if you’re ever up in the Sherwood Forest area we’re happy to show you the sites!
I’ve heard something similar about France — a resident card after 5 years. But I’ve never looked in to it.
We’re actually going to a wedding in England this weekend (our niece), and will be driving from Portsmouth to Billingham on Friday, so we’ll be going right through Nottingham, but alas, won’t be able to have any hangout time that day. But otherwise I would totally take you up on your kind offer.
You and your family are so inspiring! I love that you are having adventures and taking chances! Cannot wait to follow your journey in France and see all the beautiful things to come while you are living abroad! On a side note, as a 20 year resident of Raleigh, NC – it’s a WONDERFUL place to live! We actually live a little east of RDU in Wilson NC but an easy 35 min drive into the city. Two hours to the beach and three to the mountains! LOVE IT!
Two hours to the beach and three to the mountains is a HUGE selling point.
I had a good friend in college who was from wilson- it’s charming and I imagine so much more affordable than Raleigh!
Will miss running into you and the crew at Lucky’s and elsewhere around town but sounds like you’re already started on some amazing new adventures. Let me know if you ever need any local support for the Bay Area kids- I’m an empty nester in T-3 days so happy to help!
Empty nester! Will it be glorious? I can’t wait to hear.
We just got back from a vacation in France that included the Normandy area. We were surprised by how much we really enjoyed the country, the people, and everything about our trip. Seems like such a great place to live! Can’t wait to go back someday.
It’s so beautiful here! The last few mornings have been foggy and it creates the dreamiest landscapes. I love it.
Hello, I’m french, living in Paris (and my sister is en english teacher in Montpellier) and i love your blog and your insta account.
If you need a guide or a place to crash in Paris, let me know !
Can’t wait to read all about your french adventure, you haven’t talk about “camembert” yet ? :)
Thanks for saying hello! We’ve been eating lots of Camembert (even if we haven’t mentioned it), and hopefully we’ll visit the village of Camembert soon.
Elise, you are so sweet!
What a fun post—so happy for your family. Your honesty and candor have always been so lovely to read through the years.
Our family moved to the triangle area almost two years ago (from Illinois) and quickly felt so happy and at home here. I’m a self-employed graphic designer and recently joined the most lovely co-working space in downtown Raleigh with 50 other women. The owner, Em, is quite an inspiration! I saw on her insta stories just the other day that she has applied for alt summit. What a big, small world! Anyway, just casting one more vote for you to join the fun in Raleigh Durham when you come back to the states!
Enjoy your adventure! Looking forward to watching from afar.
I love that. And totally got that vibe — like it was a place where could feel at home right away. I’ll watch out for Em’s pitch!
Really appreciate this update! I’m curious about your kids’ friendships and other relationships. I know some people who try to time long travels or periods abroad around their kids ages, figuring that it’s harder to break up friendships when kids are in middle or high school. Have you found this to be true? Or is it just irrelevant in the digital/social media age? We would love to move abroad for a period, but my one worry for my kids is about the timing, and about adding an extra challenging experience to an already difficult time socially.
When can I come visit? Is there a charming B&B nearby where I can stay? J’aimerais bien vous visiter!
Gosh, we’ll soon be moving to a larger home only 20 minutes away but so much of this resonates with me. Our now school age children were born in this home and they have thrived in this community. Its feels so hard to leave and yet I don’t know if there is ever a good time and we couldn’t find what we were looking for in the our own town. Sigh. Change is hard.
All this stay, thank your sharing and all the best to you and your family in this next chapter. It sounds like you all had a wonderful experience in Oakland and that is something to be grateful for.
Great post, Gabby. So good to be filled in on some of the stuff I didn’t know💛 love to you all as you get settled💛
I’m so excited about this move and I LOVE hearing about the cultural differences in every tiny detail – don’t stint. But also, I appreciate how exhausting these moves are and want you to protect your mental health and that of all of you in every way you can. Nothing needs to be posted or done that can be put off to tomorrow. Take the time, schedule the time, to sit and do nothing and just process. There is such a pressure to get it all done but the boxes can wait. The list can wait. Everything can wait really.
So excited for you!! I’m looking forward to the next edition of What to Wear to School: Euro edition 2.0 :)
Thank you for sharing all the details. What an exciting adventure!
Thank you for sharing! Sorry for the diatribe, but I am facing a VERY similar decision of whether to move from Berkeley to either south of France or Lausanne, Switzerland. We lived in both places before (8 years total) and have family in France. We have 3 kids – 4,6,9. It is SO hard to decide.
Have some follow up Qs –
1 – Do you have guilt about being itinerant with your children? I have massive guilt about this. I regret not having a big house in a rural area with large bedrooms and lots of stuff, where we live for years. Instead we have had small houses and lots of amazing vacations.
2 – We moved from Switzerland to Berkeley when my oldest was 7 and it took her 2 years to catch up to her grade level in reading. I feel like it’s hard enough to keep kids excelling academically when we are just doing the normal grind. Won’t moving just set them back even more?
3 – Regarding banking. LE SIGH. When we moved from Switzerland to Berkeley we learned about the 2014 foreign bank account laws and had to pay a financial advisor $$$ to completely re-organize things. So looking forward to any thoughts you have on that regarding a US->France move. Also – do you know what is required to rent a house in France, bank account and income-wise? Do you have to show French income to get a lease?
4 – Got any advice for involving little kids in the decision to move? The only thing mine seem to care about is getting better school lunches in Switzerland.
It will be so interesting to see where each of your kids ends up living. Like, will the two eldest finish school and launch their careers in California, while whichever middle kids come of age in France will remain there, and the youngest will go with you wherever you go next? Or will several gravitate back to the Bay Area since they’ve had formative years there and other family is there?
I did a high school year abroad in France, and by the end of it I really felt like I could stay there forever, but for the finances and logistics and already being enrolled at a U.S. university. At age 18, a year feels like a HUGE amount of time.
What does it feel like to live so far from your young adult kids, and how does it compare to having your son on a mission with his communication severely restricted? I guess it’s a common experience to have a kid move far away for college, but much more rare to have kids in college locally, then the parents move away. Did you keep CA residency to keep in-state tuition?
Thanks for sharing this journey! You make it feel so accessible, while also being realistic about how complex it is. You also make me think ahead to the next 10-15 years when my kids will launch. It feels like a lifetime away, but I know it isn’t!
I can so relate to choosing to move and yet having a heart wrenching time leaving a place I love and continuing to miss it and yet love the new place. I personally don’t know many other people who have felt this and I so appreciate your candor in expressing this paradox. It is so human. Complex. It seems as though besides finances you make these hard decisions and go through this hard process to help develop your children into the kind of people you want the world to have. They are lucky.
Would love to see you do a post about how to decide where to raise kids + moving them as many others have commented. I don’t have children yet but hated when my parents moved us when I was 13, and never made real friends in the new city. I still consider my childhood friends from my first home as my true friends, just missed out on 8 years with them.
How did you decide on this? Or is it something you’re letting evolve with each move?
thank you so much for this post! like many have mentioned before you don’t owe us an explanation, but you do and it’s so inspiring!! we used to live in the bay area and dying to go back, but also left for the similar reasons you had. i am curious what areas you loved in northern california? i absolutely love for example, medocito area, and wanted to know if you knew of areas with the similar vibe even more north, since it still seemed pricey in that area.
Thank you for always making the time to give your readers very thorough posts. As a writing teacher, I am so impressed by the amount of detail you pack in that is perfectly readable—not an easy task.
If I wrote this post it would have taken me days.
I really appreciate hearing about your move logistics and thought processes. We have a kindergartner and 2 year old and recently moved from Seattle to Hartford, CT for many of the same reasons. Even good moves are stressful, but we are loving Hartford. Super racially diverse, affordable nice housing (bought our first house for $325,000 that would have been $2 million in Seattle), 2 – 2 1/2 hours from Boston and NYC, tons of fun activities in the area and friendly people. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a new city :)
Oh and also free universal Pre-K beginning at 3 was a huge motivator for us. Daycare is so expensive.
This all sounds so dreamy and having the imagination and being the idealistic dreamer that I am, I can look at all of this without seeing or imagining the stressors that come with an international move. So I’m just going to live vicariously through your most charming experiences in Normandy. Maybe when you have time, you could visit this California transplant at Rabbit Hill in Normandy – https://rabbithilllifestyle.com/. They seem as if they have created a beautiful life. Looking forward to the post ; )
I’m so happy for you. You and your family’s adventurous and positive spirit has been so inspiring for our family. You mentioned that you love Oakland public school. Would love to hear more details about why you and your kids love it. We’re considering a move to Oakland/Berkeley.
Thanks so much!
Oh boy, I’ve been so excited for this post! Thank you so much for sharing! As the baby of my family, I remember feeling bad for Flora June the last time you lived there, so I’m so happy you’re giving the younger kids this experience!
I’m sad for you about the Treehouse. Please do the video tour – we weren’t ready to part with it either :P! So excited to follow you along and see where you live next though.
Finally, I need this on a shirt/phone case/keychain/my business card: “I need someone else to figure out all the logistics.”
I am so excited you posted this! My husband and I dream of taking our little family abroad for a year or two. While I can mostly work from anywhere, he’d have a harder time, so any and all information is useful while we dream and plan.
Detroit is a beautiful city, I hope that you will visit it, there is so much to see. Perhaps your semi obsession is in part due to its French heritage ;). My husband also works in the automotive industry in metro Detroit, and we are fortunate to be a quick ride away via the expressway to the city. Congratulations on your move.