in need of a sabbatical…

I’ve been working too hard for too long – 300 speaking engagements (2/3rd of them on planes) and 4 books in 3 years. Like that. And much as I love the work I get to do, I realized a couple of years ago that I’m burned to a crisp and need to take a break. I kept working and loving it, but I’m getting shrill. Two years ago I didn’t even know what a break might look like. The only thing I had the energy to imagine was kayaking in northern Minnesota, then reading Jane Austen and eating bonbons.

Our Minnesota lake and the nose of my kayak

our Minnesota lake and the tip of my kayak

But after talking with friends and thinking a bit, something of the old me, the high school me, started to wake up. I wanted to do something that wasn’t motivated by Duty.  Something that wouldn’t help anyone in particular.  I bought Rosetta Stone and started to learn my first French. I loved it.  I’m like a parrot. In the last two years I’ve read 30 books in French, done immersion weeks at Concordia Language Villages (a wonderful place), and have listened to at least 10 audio books. Given the fact that I’m old enough and bossy enough to do what I want with my fun, there’s no one in the world who can make me read Camus or Sartre again. So I’ve read Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy Sayers and all the Harry Potter books in French.  I now know the French words for “following the trail of clues,” all the Quiddich vocabulary, “wand” (baguette magic), and “flesh-eating-slug.”   I’m just not sure I’ll be a source of wit and delight to all the French people I meet.

Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve done this French thing hours each day: I don’t seem to be built to relax. But I can change obsessions. So in order to wean myself off of 50-70 hours a week of work (okay, I’ll be public about this. Our website is I shifted the overdrive into French.

Last February my husband broached the idea of walking the Camino of Santiago of Compostela (530 miles across the north of Spain with a backpack, and I’m just not going to go into the bedbug thing). I murmured a gentle “non, merci, my love” to his kind invitation and as we talked, the idea hit. Why not cook in Paris while he’s walking???

So I’m going to. I’ve done applications on a level of complexity akin to Princeton’s. I’ve honed my baguettes & croissants & stuffed, roasted chickens & sauces, and practiced les desserts over the last year. I’m heading off for three months of cooking in France this Friday – three months of cooking with some of the most amazing chefs’ teams in France (L’Institut Paul Bocuse, L’Ecole Alain Ducasse, Le Cordon Bleu, Lyon, Paris, the Loire Valley and in Quimper in Brittany). In French. On January 24th, I used some of my zillion frequent flyer miles to run up to Chicago, clutching 55 pages of “dossier” to my bosom, had my interview in French.  The Consultat de France in Chicago gave me a visa to stay 93 days in France.

Look!  My visitor pass to the French Consul.  I'm official!

Look! My visitor pass to the French Consul. I’m official!

Look! My visitor pass to the French Consul. I’m official!

Look: they punched my ticket.  I now have a big league French visa stapled onto page 8 of my passport.

I filed my last research report on February 7th. This afternoon, I started packing my one carry on bag. I’m trying to save room for 5 pounds of Bob’s Red Mill organic flour to give to the boulanger (baker) in Lyon who showed me how he does the best baguettes I’ve ever tasted.  Also some wild rice.  My friend Judy, who lives in Brittany, assures me that there are stores in France. I got a new credit card that doesn’t hit me up for 3% to buy toothbrushes and scarves in Europe. I’ll take two black outfits, two pairs of shoes, my French makeup, my Kindle, my iPad, my computer and 4 bottles of vitamins. That ought to pretty much cover it.

Even writing this makes if feel as if it’s going to happen. Thank you.  It helps to talk about it.  If you’re interested, stay tuned!

12 thoughts on “in need of a sabbatical…

  1. Karen Hosack

    Your first post is a delightful read. I look forward to following your adventures in French cooking!

  2. Sue Williams

    You have more energy than my children had when they were little, and that’s huge!
    From one thing to the next, you will master this as well!
    Our prayers go with you for a safe journey and sabbatical and bring back a world
    of French knowledge to share with us! Hugs!

  3. Pam Sanders

    I am so excited for you (& jealous)! So, since I will have to live vicariously thru your posts, I will want to hear about EVERYTHING, plus photos, please. This could turn into a book (& then you could write off all expenses). Bon voyage et bisous.

  4. Meg

    Loved reading your first posts. I will look forward to following your adventure! You are going to have such fun. You are truly amazing and such an inspiration to the rest of us! Travel safe. Xx

  5. Patricia Feld

    “…but I can change obsessions.” Priceless!! Enjoy, enjoy, and bring home all the best ideas for us to try.


  6. Rosilyn Polan

    This week I have foaled two mares, taken one to the breeding shed, driven to and watched 4 hours of dance team practice and a basketball game, torn my MCL and got a knee brace, cleared 1 1/2 mi. of snow/ice on the driveway, baked 6 dozen Chocolate chip cookies, cleaned up after a sick dog (not from the cookies)…….. How can I ever leave here? Time to quit whining and figure out how. Reading about your adventure makes me realize how much I need to . I’m very excited for you! love Rosilyn

  7. Vivienne Stretten

    I have enjoyed reading your first post and can’t wait to read more. What a wonderful experience this will be! I hope things are going well.


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