Our first summer at the chateau has come to an end. The air is already cooler, and the house is quiet. This summer we had nearly thirty guests stay with us, and a whole lot more joined us for dinner parties under the courtyard lights. We experienced a lot of new French customs like the annual village party for July 14th (Bastille Day) and we did our fair share of exposing our neighbors to American customs, too. Our first 4th of July in France was a memory I will always remember. Here are a few of the highlights.
We spent most of the summer renovating or deep cleaning parts of the chateau. Two different groups, and several family members joined us for major projects that included stripping wallpaper, painting, trimming back the overgrown hedges, renovating our kitchen and the butler’s pantry…and a whole lot more. We still made time for fun, and especially loved sharing experiences with our village neighbors. For the fourth of July, we invited some of our French friends over to dinner. We served a traditional southern meal with barbecue beef, baked beans, potato salad, yeast rolls, deviled eggs, and even Coke floats for dessert. It was a lot of fun. They weren’t quite sure what to think of our food, but they were good sports, and tried it all. As the sun set, the twinkle lights we strung across the courtyard lit up the party, and it felt magical. We sang the national anthem, and the mayor even brought fireworks to end our celebration.
A little more than a week later, we were invited to experience the French version of Independence Day, on July 14th. The entire village met together for lunch with grilled meats, cold salads, and plenty of French bread. All the desserts were amazing, handmade treats from the village women, many of them including local fruits that were new to us like the Mirabelle which is a very small plum, and the Griotte, a miniature cherry. We were happy to see that we knew many of the guests, and it made us feel more a part of the village than we ever had before. In the evening, locals performed music, and our daughter was invited to take up the guitar and sing since several knew she was a musician. I felt as though she were a daughter of the village that day, and that is really how they treat one another here. If you are here, you are one of us. I love that more than words (and that’s a lot!)
We were able to see a few incredible places this summer, too. We visited Stanislaus Square in Nancy, explored an ancient Roman settlement and gladiator arena in Grand, and visited the birthplace of Joan of Arc, all within an hours drive of our home. That doesn’t include our family vacation to Scotland which is an entirely different adventure.
When the last guests left, and the house fell quiet, we felt a sense of peace that hadn’t been here before. This place is a lot of work, and that won’t change any time soon, but it is good work. Good, beautiful, hard work that should be done. We are grateful to enjoy both the beauty and the pain of this place, and it is shaping us. I already feel it. We are learning to love our neighbors better, learning to listen longer, and speak less. We are learning to work hard, and rest well. We have learned to sit at the table with one another with no hurry, no distractions, just good people and good food gathered together for a few hours. As a result, I feel like pieces of me that were broken are healing, and I am finding my true best self beneath it all.
This month, the words came back. They were all there waiting for me, and I poured myself into another book project like I hadn’t since last fall before this whole adventure began. But it was different this time. There was more peace, more pleasure in the work. My husband would come in and find me writing at midnight, my face flushed with excitement, and he would just stare. “You are so beautiful! How are you growing more beautiful?” It’s this life. Here, life feels more satisfying, and I can finally live.