Tuesday, August 28, 2012

See you Later France

Normal people would probably just say Au Revoir, Goodbye, Adios to their home country for the past 7 weeks...but I choose to say A bientot, because in fact, I really to hope to see France again.

I've been really lucky to have such an incredible trip, meet genuine and welcoming people, and learn firsthand all about the French food system throughout her different regions.

For the past couple of days, I've been about 45 miles Northwest of Paris in one of the few if not only organic CSA's in Ile de France. The trip to Goussonville is perhaps even more interesting for stories than the actual stay itself. I finally got to meet the man who introduced me to many of the people I stayed with and an incredible person, author, and sustainable developer over lunch in a charming Brittany city called Vannes. On the train ride from Vannes to Paris, there were not enough seats, so I was basically stuck somewhere between all of the vacationers' luggage right near the exit. Which means, every time I was getting comfortable and about to nap, we'd reach a train station and I had to lug everyone's suitcases out of the entrance, including my own and myself. All you can do is laugh in a situation like that.

In Goussonville I was able to tour not only Benjamin's CSA, but also a nearby conventional potato farm. I worked for about an hour in the fields with the potato farm, and in that time we probably processed about 4 tons of potatoes- I am seriously not joking at all!! It was fascinating to compare this experience with my potato-picking experience in Toulouse, and it got my thinking all about efficiencies versus ideals. If I flush out these ideas more and my opinions, I will be sure to share with anyone interested!

I'm safe in my hotel room-somehow- after a nice lunch with a lady I met in Brittany (small world) and jumping on random buses to get to my hotel since the trains I needed were all stopped for an unknown reason. But I made it, I'm all clean, packed, excited to head home- perhaps less excited about waking up at 5am. No worries ladies and gentlemen, you will probably still be up in the East Coast when I wake up.

It has been an incredible journey, but I'm ready to be back in Michigan. I think it will be a good change of pace to be surrounded by friends and native English speakers.

On a more personal note- well I guess this whole blog is personal! I entered this contest about making good food more accessible and submitted an idea about Milk Vending Machines in Ann Arbor.

If I get the most votes, I get a tour of the Food Network, lunch with the associates, and a chance to win $1000 for this project.

PLEASE PLEASE VOTE  :) Tell all of your friends to vote too!


Goodnight as I say Good Morning!


Friday, August 24, 2012

Au Revoir Bretagne, One More Short Stop

 My favorite handstand photo in front of one of the nearby Wind Mills! I'm still about 200-300 ft away from the base, it is just that big!

 I made it back to the Atlantic Ocean one more time!!! Plus, exactly one week from the last time I jumped in, I plan to jump in all of the way on the other side in Good 'Ole New Jersey. Jump in with me? :)

One of my new favorite towns ever: Pont Aven. Full of cute little boutiques and galleries. Apparently either Van Gogh or Gauguin lived here: I heard both names being thrown around.

Thanks to some new friends here in Brittany, I had an amazing trip. I got to the English channel, twice to the Atlantic Ocean, and some local digs. I learned a lot a lot about the local food system and how it works- my time in Brittany ended up being extremely relevant to my research, but also just a great time.

Somehow it only rained today (my last day here) and its cleared up a bit this evening! Considering it rains here about 99% of the time...I'd say I am extremely lucky. I was able to speak a lot of French with some patient people here, learn about pig farming and pig butchering (I'd include stories, but they can be a little gross), and explore the nearby area both by bike and foot. I found some great forts near babbling brooks, abandoned bridges, and secret apple orchards. I'd love to come back here some day and reconnect with all of the people in Guiscriff and continue to explore!

I promise he lived a very very happy life in straw. Later I enjoyed Pate de la Tete. I wish I was kidding. Never had so many pork products in my life!

Tomorrow I have another long travel day to the outskirts of Paris, Wesssttt sidddeeeee. I'll be staying with  a CSA-like farmer who grows vegetables all day Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday I start my long adventure back to the States! Let the last adventure begin and cheers to all of the amazing people I get to see in only a few days! Thanks for reading about my trip!


Monday, August 20, 2012

There and Back Again

I feel super fortunate to be in Brittany here with such welcoming and down-to-earth people surrounded by gorgeous views and country.

My French is definitely improving, mostly by necessity, but almost all days are a new surprise. Yesterday I woke up and Pierre(my host)'s mom stopped by and invited me to go somewhere with her and her husband. Sure, having no other plans, I'll definitely come I said. I thought we were going for a short walk to a summit somewhere you might be able to see the ocean. Instead the most awesome and perfect Sunday took place....

1- Driving for a while and we stop at a quaint little village for crepes, cider and ice cream

2- Continue for a while in the car and we stop at the highest point in Brittany, best panorama of the country (perfect handstand location), and it looked just like Scotland!

3-Continue even more and end up at La Manche (body of water) and a town called Roskoff (silent f) at an onion festival with great music, cool stands, and we drank coca cola together on the water. 
4-Drive ten minutes and end up at the beach, we swim and explore the rocks for the afternoon. Turns out that "La Manche" is The English Channel- SO COOL!!! It was a great day and I still can't believe I ended up swimming in The English Channel :)

5- Enjoyed a very fun dinner and drinks with some of the local farmers in the area, though no food was served until 11:30pm---what??

Today I spent the whole morning and early afternoon working in the barn grinding flour and feed for the pigs. I was also doing a bit of dancing since nobody was around. The lady whose house we had dinner with last night invited me to go to the beach with her today, so I quickly tried to sort out how to make it work...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I made it into my Atlantic Ocean, all the way over here in France!!! I couldn't be happier and WOW, it could not have been any prettier. It had a sort of Maine or Cape Cod feel to it, but just absolutely gorgeous and not too cold. So I'd say my first three days here have been a success...hands down. There is no way the rest of this week is going to top the last three days, but I'm okay with just simply enjoying my time and getting to know the area better.

I'll keep you posted!!!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bienvenue a Bretagne

 This first line is for Bob: boy, do we have a lot to talk about...first working on a vineyard and now working with pigs. You trained me right with the sheep, I fit right in!

Brittany (Bretagne) is really beautiful. After a 14-hour travel day, it didn't really matter what it looked like, but it is absolutely beautiful and GREEN. After leaving a dried up South of France, it is nice to be surrounded by green lawns and beautiful flowers of all types. Plus, lucky for me...it is SUNNY out today, I hear its rare so I'm trying to soak it all up.
 This morning I went to the market, where the people I am staying with sell their pork products. It happened to be in a town called Gourin where they have a small replica of the 'Statue of Liberty'. I still can't completely decipher why, but I think it is symbolic of an amicable relationship between this area and New York. Thousands of people in Bretagne emigrated to New York in the 1950s...you think they would be a tad upset about losing a bunch of people though?

The market was really great and small- maybe about ten vendors. I got the official induction into the vendor world of Brittany when they toasted my visit with some hard cider at the end of the market and shared lots of food for our communal, snack lunch. People here are much more welcoming and interested in my presence than before. Maybe it helps that my French is improving (or so they all say!)
 I had the afternoon off so I rode a bike around the countryside for a couple of hours. It is truly beautiful here and no photo can capture that. There are these wonderful hills with NO cars so you can just zoom down roads on your bike... not so wonderful on the way back though! The countryside is filled with dense forests where the air is cool and "fresh". A lot of English-speaking French people use the word "fresh" to describe that cool, damp, early morning air or under a shady tree air type-of-feel. I'm starting to love the word and I think it describes the feeling and the moment perfectly. 

 This is right near where I am staying. Notice the great blue shutters and hydrangeas- they're pretty much everywhere!!

 On my bike ride I happened upon a bike path- what are the chances?! Really, I just aimlessly rode and decided to turn and BOOM- Bike Path! There was this great tall bridge on the bike path so I hid my bike and ventured down to a small but charming creek. Another "fresh" moment.

On the way back up to my bike, which seemed harder to find than the way down, I encountered this fallen log with moss and three-leaf clovers. Sorry folks, I couldn't find any four-leaf clovers, but it feels a little bit like Ireland here!

To end my evening, I helped out my host's parents with their cow farm and milking (on the same premises). I enjoyed my first glass of fresh milk this entire trip- and when I say fresh, I literally mean it just came out of the cow and was heated up to kill some bacteria. Yum, I miss fresh milk. All French people drink this strange boxed milk that never expires even though they're all surrounded by lots and lots of milk, cows, and cheese- oh the French! To top it off, I helped feed a newborn (born this morning) cow milk out of a bottle. I wish I had a picture of it.

Well, I'm out for now! I'd call it a good day. Look out for more updates!


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Off to the North!

I'm going up north, no no, not the awesome "Up North" in Michigan filled with beautiful lakes and lovely friends. Though, this one probably won't be half bad!

I'll miss the southwest countryside with its sunny days and starry nights. On a clear day you can see the Pyrenees rising out from the south like distant clouds or fog, but with jagged tops and faint ridges. I hear in only two and half hours, I could have been sitting on a restaurant terrace in Spain enjoying some Tapas!

But its my time to head to Brittany for a new adventure, new set of scenery and new people. My time here is up, and all of the dried up sunflowers keep reminding me.

What else I'll miss:
-Learning how to live off the land with food and homemade ointments
-Living with a family
-Teaching the kids how to have some imagination
-Long bike rides with no destination and no bad views

I'm in Brittany for about a week, then I slowly make my way back to Paris with a quick pit-stop on the outskirts of Paris for two days. Then I fly back to the states!!!

Not sure if I'll have internet until the night before I leave, so until we meet again....take care of yourselves :) Thanks for following me on this trip!


You're going to want to zoom in on this face!!!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Name is...whattt???

My name is Lauren, as all or 99.9% of people reading this blog should know. It has the classic flat American sound to it that I love. But, in an attempt to assimilate, or really just make my name easier for Frenchies, I've adopted the French sounding "Lauren", same pronunciation as Ralph Lauren.

What's your name, they ask...
Why Lauren, I sing back, with my best French accent.
(note this entire conversation is in French. DUH!)

That is when I am met with the twisted and confused face, every single time without fail. NO exaggeration. It is like I just said dkhdkrmeq;x, or spoke chinese, but no, all I said was Lauren. It really took me off guard the first time this happened because it is as if they never even tried to understand what I was saying. Maybe we Americans are more used to strange and foreign sounding names, but even a nice smile and nod would have left me happy and fulfilled with my attempts at seeming French.

Instead, I've learned to respond to this mangled, twisted, it looks like I swallowed ten lemons face, with this response...

"Comme la quiche"

Though the Quiche Lorraine is spelled differently, its exactly the pronunciation I'm looking for, and apparently its popular in every French region. They then repeat my name,sounding exactly like I first tried to say, and I roll my eyes at this entire situation. I have now been reduced to the status of the quiche. I think I'll just use my real name next time and see what happens.

What else has been happening in Toulouse you say???
       Well, I woke up yesterday and I could barely move my back, so for the past two days I've been a gimpy 80 year old inside of a 21(that's right) year old body. But, its getting much much better. I adventured off through picturesque French Villes for a few hours on my bike a few days ago and decided that is really the only way to travel. I finished the wall!!! (it might have something to do with the back). I've observed the French in their local swimming pool and well, let us just say that men should put some shorts over the spandex.  I've wandered around a few markets and I plan to wander around a few more.

Also, how could I forget!!! I started a French faction that lovveeesss the Beriont cinnamon Bread. It was nice to have a slice of home here in France.

I'll be here until Friday then I head off to Northwest France, Brittany. I hear its beautiful, but cross your fingers that it doesn't rain and stay 60 degrees the entire time?! I'll be sad to leave my adopted family who speaks perfect English, but I've always wanted to see Brittany. Folks, I will really try my best to get into the Atlantic Ocean too!

Hope all is well wherever you are!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

An American-French Birthday!

Thanks for all of the birthday wishes :)

My adopted family here threw me a very splendid birthday party. We got to barbeque (my favorite summer meal) and had delicious flourless chocolate cake for dessert with a heavy bourbon-flavored whipped cream.

Though we brought in some American style BBQ on a Weber charcoal grill, we munched on rabbits they raised themselves! In fact, the whole meal came from their house and garden, can't get more local and sustainable than that!

So far, I'm enjoying my time here in the Southwest Countryside. I'm trying to adapt to these slow relaxed afternoons, and I am taking in everything about the relationship between the French people and their food.

I've also been learning a lot about wild plants, medicines, and seed-saving. Expect a fun tutorial with all of that information soon.

Out for now :)

Monday, August 6, 2012

My French Bathroom Experience

For the past two weeks, I've been pooping in dry toilets.

What a way to start a post?! Actually, in general I am quite a fan of this more environmentally friendly behavior. I think its beyond ridiculous to flush our precious and limited drinking water down with our waste. That being said, composting toilets take some getting used to. For starters, you have to throw down some sawdust or dirt after every bathroom trip and its quite airy, depending on the style of the bathroom. But, why are we flushing solid waste into dumps in the USA when it should be used to recycle nutrients??!

In Ardeche, it was a very nice new outhouse, with a composting toilet that had a deep deep hole so you didn't even know its composting. Here in Gimont, its just a dry toilet. So you go to the bathroom in a bucket...the smell gets some taking used to! I'm getting used to it, but I think I would prefer more than just a flimsy curtain separating me and the rest of the family.

You must think I'm in some crazy remote, poor, or hippy areas...but really its just quite practical. We're in France, water is not just free and expected, its valued and respected.

My first full day in Gimont (just an hour west of Toulouse) has been beautiful. I fixed up a bike this afternoon and did a quick ride, I cannot wait to tell you what else I discover! I'm staying with a very nice bilingual family with two boys (9 and 13 years old) in an absolutely beautiful fixed up old manor. We're also surrounded by sunflower fields, so my lifelong dream of bike-riding with sunflower fields on either side of me has finally been fulfilled and I plan to do much more of it!

I'm here for two whole weeks, so I can settle before my next long travel day.

Also, I did the McDonald's test on my travel day. Everyone claims that McDonald's in France is better than America and some claim its organic: false and false. Yes, its very aesthetically pleasing, they replaced the color red with green (tricky eh!?), do use a lot of renewable energy, and have free wifi, but its still just Mikky D's. The fries wee subpar, the meat was only slightly more meat-like, and I didn't feel awesome after I ate it. So verdict, fast food ain't all that great, McDonald's is still my enemy.

My new best friend Nicko

Peace out!

Happy Birthday Dad!!!!!

If it is yellow...let it mellow,
If it is brown, flush it down!


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Then Somehow I Ended Up in The Alpes...


Sorry I haven't written in so long! It is a mix of poor internet, a shared computer here, a french keyboard, and no time. Excuse any mistakes, this post took about an hour to write because the French decided to confuse me and move around all of their keyboard letters, I'm onto you french, i'm onto you!

My last day in Beaujolais was great and my hosts sent me off with a bottle of their wine, a watercolor painting they drew of their vines, and some great french advice lost in translation.

After three train rides and a bus ride through moutains, I ended up in the beautiful Ardeche! There will be pictures to come at a later time, do not fret, i took plenty :) It reminds me a bit of Wyoming or Montana here, just raw wilderness with not many people around.

Though I have learned some about beekeeping, I have learned more about eating honey, jumping off cliffs into water, canonying, and navigating the french alpes.

I spent a whole long day with the boys club learning to be a lumberjack at a sustainable forest. Ironically and accidently I wore my <<we speak for the trees>> shirt the entire day...Oops. The old french men and I had a good laugh about that at coffe break (nobody understands why I don't drink coffee!)

I jumped in a beautiful swimming hole this afternoon and got to REALLY experience the culture here by seeing a brother and sister about my parent's age hanging out in the nude. I was all for embracing this lifestyle had the two girls my age not been wearing bathing suits.

Tonight I head to a lunar party, I have no idea what it means except that I baked all yesterday morning, rather measured out ingredients and watched others bake! I think people here think I can't do stuff like that, but o well, I get to enjoy eating all of the delicious creations! I'll tell you all about the party on my next blog, but I encourage EVERYONE to celebrate the full moon with me tonight, regardless of the time difference!

Hope all is well, I will keep you updated with my adventures WITH pictures!


Sunday, July 29, 2012


I thought Bordeaux was beautiful and then out comes Beaujolais! Absolutely breathtaking, maybe the prettiest place I have ever seen in my life.

It has been a great few days with some truly kind and compassionate people, I think of them sort of like an aunt and uncle. Francois is always telling me awesome history facts about the area and Marie-Therese really tries to figure out places to take me for my project (they don't speak ANY English). Though the language barrier has been tough, I've learned a lot and I really love Beaujolais.

It will be sad to leave tomorrow morning but nice to settle in Valence for about a week with someone who wants to practice their English!

I've seen art fairs, food markets, artisan markets, and little festivals. I think I met all of their family members and continued to eat more food than I could ever imagine! Gosh the French eat A LOT for lunch, but barely nothing for breakfast...how strange!
Cute Village Street...No cars=AWESOME

I think I'll have a bread and cheese addiction by the time I leave!
 Lyon from up high
 Lyon from down low

 Seriosuly...Emma and Riley, I've been waiting for you for hours!!!

 Couldn't ask for a better view from my window
 I think I'll start making a blog of just handstands in really scenic places!

Things were getting too normal for me....

Instead of cheers, here we say "Sante"(with an accent) which means "To Your Health"

So for all readers, I toast everyone's good health and Happiness