Tuesday, January 31, 2017


I've been doing lots of trip planning lately and thinking about trying to make the most of our year in Europe. Here's a little list of the top 10 places around the world I'd like to visit someday.

In no particular order...

1. Greece
Specifically, Athens to see the historical sites and then Santorini and maybe some other islands to relax. We're planning on going there in June! But until there are flights purchased and hotels booked, it will remain on my wish list.

2. Egypt
Cairo and Giza, to be exact. I thought about going while I lived in Israel, but unfortunately the political situation wasn't the best while I was conveniently Egypt's neighbor. I'd like to see the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, cruise down the Nile, and of course see some pyramids in Giza.

3. Morocco
Staying on the North Africa theme... Morocco has intrigued me for a while. It's a pretty common destination for European tourists (and cheap to get to from Europe). One reason I'd like to go is to experience a French-speaking country in Africa. Over the last few years, I've become more and more interested in Middle Eastern culture. Morocco seems like an interesting mix of Middle Eastern/Islamic, African, and French culture. I'd like to do some shopping in the souks of Marrakech, soak up the sun, and see the beautiful and exotic architecture.

4. Southern Spain
I've already ventured to Barcelona and wouldn't mind stopping by Madrid someday. But what I dream about is going down south. I'd like to see the Alcazar of Seville, the Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba, and the Alhambra Palace in Granada. I'm in love with the Moorish architecture. The cross between European and Islamic cultures created some amazing and unique places. Kind of like Morocco- but the added benefit is that I could even drink the water in Spain ;)

5. The Caribbean
This is super unspecific. I'm no expert on the different islands. I just know I want to lay on a beach in the Caribbean someday. This destination is one of the only things on this list that my husband would be equally excited about, if not more. The big family trip (Houdek/Spangler/Rubino) will be in Europe this year, but maybe the next one can be a cruise.

6. China
Speaking of places my husband also wants to go... we're both very interested in China! We'd like to visit Beijing, the Great Wall, Shanghai, and the Terracotta Army, for starters. There's so much to see- it's obviously a huge country. I'm excited to go to China someday because it would be so different from anything I've seen and I love big cities. Neither of us have been to Asia outside of the Middle East.

7. Budapest
It's time to hop back over to Europe. In all of my European travels, Eastern Europe has been pretty neglected. I've never made it further east than Prague. Budapest looks like a beautiful city with lots of history... it's been on my list for a while!

8. Poland
I'd love to see Warsaw and Krakow, and visit a lot of Holocaust-related sites (Auschwitz, the Warsaw ghetto, and Schindler's factory are my top picks). I spent so long studying the Holocaust and it would be surreal to see the actual locations. 

9. Ireland
Green hills, castles, and accents. Nothing more to add.

10. Venice
I've already made it to Rome and Florence (and more)... so Venice seems like the logical next step to take in Italy! Italy is definitely one of my favorite places to travel. I love hearing Italian, seeing the beautiful, colorful cities, the shopping, the history, the cathedrals, and even the high percentage of white fluffy dogs haha. I can't wait to take a cheesy and way too expensive gondola ride ;)

Of course, this isn't a comprehensive list. I've got at least a couple dozen more places I'd like to check off the bucket list at some point. The problem is that traveling a lot usually just makes you want to travel more.

This year we have tentative plans to go to Venice, Greece, and possibly Eastern Europe. Hopefully I can check off at least some of the rest as the years go by. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

So you want to live with your husband...

It's harder than you'd think.

This year we have the joys of both French and American mountains of paperwork. French paperwork for me to live in France this year, and American paperwork for David to live in the U.S. indefinitely. Just as much fun as it sounds!

I'll start with the French side of things. I was allowed to stay in France for 90 days with no visa. After 90 days, I had to come home to apply in person at the French consulate in Chicago for my long-stay visa. I came home on December 30th and have been here for about 2.5 weeks. It will probably be at least another week and a half before I have my visa and can go back to France.

Let me tell you, it doesn't feel that great to be married for 3 months and then have to be apart for that long. It's even harder with the time difference, because David is asleep by around 4p.m. my time, so we can't even text or talk for a good portion of the day.

We didn't read the fine print on the paperwork I had to have prepared, and that dumb mistake cost us a couple of weeks. Although it is a pretty stupid request, so I feel like the French government is at least partially to blame for our mistake.

A few months before we got married, we had to officially register our intention to marry to the French government (even though we got married in the U.S.). After they received that, they sent us some paperwork saying our marriage would be legal in France. Then after our wedding we had to mail in that certificate along with our American marriage license to the French embassy in D.C. 

Are you tired yet? Because I'm just getting started.

About 2 months after our wedding, we received our official French marriage certificate and our Livret de Famille (a booklet that will include all of our family records). Waiting for these items was why I couldn't just pop into the Chicago consulate while I was still in America. I get asked that a lot.

By the time we had all of the necessary paperwork for my visa, it was almost December and we were going to be too busy that month (my mom visiting, London trip, Christmas) for me to go home right away. We decided to wait until just before my 90 day mark was up. I could be home for New Year's and have a belated Christmas with my family.

Cue the stupid mistake. We thought we had everything ready to go, but it turns out that our French marriage certificate had to be LESS THAN 2 MONTHS OLD. Because that is so important, since obviously it has changed since it was issued. By the time I realized that, our certificate was 2 months and 2 days old. And I was flying home the next day.

We'd already run into this problem last summer when we had to submit birth certificates to the French government (for our original paperwork) that were less than 3 months old. I'm sorry to break it to you France, but the details of my birth have not changed at all since 1989. If any French person can explain to me the French fascination with newly issued documents, I would love to understand.

So anyways, we ordered a new copy to be sent to my house. I had to delay my appointment by 10 days and go after I got it in the mail.

The process of actually applying is pretty easy... once you read the requirements correctly and bring what you're supposed to. You just hand them your paperwork over the counter, they check to make sure you have everything, and off you go. No questions asked. (Very unlike the Israel visa experience, or David's American visa experience last year)

I had to bring:
-the brand new French marriage certificate, and a copy
-our Livret de Famille, and a copy
-David's French I.D. card, and a copy
-3 pages of filled-out application forms
-my passport, and a copy
-a pre-paid express mail envelope addressed to myself
-an ugly passport-sized picture where you're not smiling (I don't have one of those faces that doesn't look scary when you're not smiling)

My pile of stuff to bring.
When the visa is done (and approved! pretty please!), they will mail me back my passport with the visa glued inside. It's supposed to take between 1-3 weeks.

When I get back to France, I have to schedule a medical visit and go all the way to Nice. They will do a check-up and make sure I don't have exotic foreign diseases. Scheduling the appointment will probably take 1-2 months. When that is over, I will be allowed to stay in France for 1 year, have health insurance, and be allowed to work. 

If we were going to stay in France for longer, I would need to apply in France for a carte de séjour (residence permit). I've heard that is an extremely painful process, so thankfully we're only planning on staying for another 6-8 months.

Now it's David's turn! We decided to work with an immigration lawyer for him to get his American immigrant visa/green card. That way we're less likely to make a dumb mistake and have the process be delayed. It's also much less stressful, especially since we're not living in the country.

We submitted David's immigrant petition (lots of paperwork and biographical information) in November, along with 400 something dollars, proof of my citizenship, and our marriage certificate (they were okay with it being more than 2 months old, in case you were wondering).

We heard back that the petition was received, and now all we can do is wait. From what we've heard, we're expecting the wait to be between 6-8 months from the time we filed. Could be shorter, could be longer. Who knows.

When the petition is approved, David will need to schedule an interview at the American embassy in Paris. He'll have the interview and a medical visit and turn in more paperwork (of course). Sometime after that... the visa will hopefully be approved.

We were told the entire process will most likely take 10-12 months. Since we started the process in November... we might be moving back to the U.S. in September? October? November? Earlier? Later? We don't really know.

It makes it hard to plan for the future. For example, I don't think I can try to get a teaching job, because it would mean I'd have to move back in August. What if David can't come for 3 months? No thanks.

So I'm not sure how or when it will happen... but hopefully someday we can legally live in the same country with no worries. We're on our way.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Who wins at Christmas?

After my first Christmas abroad, I couldn't resist. Because competition is what Christmas is all about, right??

Decorations/lights in cities: better in France

I'm so impressed by how ALL OUT cities in France go with the Christmas lights. Of course big cities like Paris look amazing, and Strasbourg, which is famous for Christmas celebrations, is a winter wonderland... but even small towns make an effort. There are pretty lights in big cities in America, but the smaller cities around where I live don't do much of anything.

Lights in David's hometown.

Paris and Strasbourg.

Decorations/lights on houses: better in America
Even though lights in French cities are elaborate, most people don't do much to decorate their own houses. *Insert socialism joke about letting the French government do everything for you here.* If you drive through a residential neighborhood in France during the Christmas season, you're probably not going to see anything special. This is partly because so many people live in apartments. 

Last year for David's first American Christmas, we drove around Candy Cane Lane in Milwaukee; a neighborhood famous for their cute lights.

This was the only light display put up by an individual that I saw in Mandelieu.

My ideal world, of course, would be to combine the French city lights and the American house lights and just go crazy.

Christmas markets: FRANCE
Hands down my favorite thing about the Christmas season in France!!! Even if you just window shop and don't buy anything... it's still so much fun to walk around and soak up the ambience. There's hot chocolate, other tempting treats to indulge in, Christmas music playing, people watching, dogs in sweaters watching, and shopping. Most Christmas markets I've been to are mostly handmade gifts, Christmas decorations and ornaments, and food/drinks.

I hope someday this catches on more in America. I've started to see a few little markets popping up here and there. I don't know if it can ever happen in Wisconsin, though. It's pretty typical to have single digits around Christmastime (and that's in Fahrenheit, people). Not exactly strolling through outdoor markets weather.

Christmas food: America
Well, considering foie gras (goose/duck liver) is a major Christmas specialty in France, America wins this competition by default. I almost gagged just walking by the foie gras display in the grocery store.

Americans (in my experience) usually have ham or turkey for the main course on Christmas, along with at least some of the typical Thanksgiving-ish side dishes. I lucked out this year because David cooked a whole American-style dinner on Christmas day. No foie gras for us :)

Also, we have Christmas cookies. Soft cookies don't exist in France. Only hard, ouch that hurts my teeth cookies. I mean, if it has chocolate I'll probably still eat it, but it's not quite the same.

Christmas chocolate: France
I was in heaven when the holiday chocolate displays went up in our grocery store. There were rows and rows and rows of delicious and pretty chocolate boxes. The fact that I only bought one small one for myself is one of my proudest accomplishments of 2016.

Christmas music: America
At EVERY Christmas market and shopping mall I went to in France during the holiday season, they were playing American Christmas music. I personally think several Christmas songs sound pretty in French (I like Oh Holy Night, originally called Minuit Chrétiens)... but I guess the French themselves prefer American Christmas classics, so I have no choice but to give this prize to my countrymen. This is kind of a rule in general too. I always hear a lot more American music in France than French music. Probably has something to do with the fact that there's just so much more American music out there.

All in all, the holiday season is pretty fun in both places. It's Christmas, what's not to like (besides foie gras, obviously). I still think there's no place like home for the holidays, but I'm sure I'll enjoy spending future Christmases in France with my markets and chocolate.

Still counting my blessings that I didn't end up with in-laws from some boring state instead.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

My First Noel

2016 marked a few firsts for me Christmas-wise. It was my first “married” Christmas, and my first Christmas not celebrated in Wisconsin with my family. If all goes well with immigration, we’ll back living in America by next Christmas... so it made sense to spend this year’s with David’s family.

David had to work on the 23rd, so we loaded up the presents and headed to Gap that Friday night when he got home. On Christmas Eve we had our very own Christmas miracle. We got our car back! Wayyyyyy back in October, we dropped off the car to be fixed. We thought we’d be picking it up one week later... but inexplicably, it wasn’t done for the next TWO AND A HALF MONTHS. They move a little slower in France. Thankfully, they gave us a rental car for that time, but still. We joked that they could have just built us a new car in that period. Or even an airplane.

Christmas Eve afternoon was spent baking. It’s not a normal occurrence for me to say I spent any time baking. Especially right now because we don’t even have a functioning oven at our apartment. But it was worth it, because we were able to bring the spirit of America to French Christmas.

David found a website that sells American products in France. We bought some ingredients for pumpkin pie, stuffing, gravy, and muffin mix (all things they don't have in France!). As desserts are my priority, I made the pie, muffins, and also some chocolate chip cookies. 

Before dinner, I went out with David and his mom to see the lights in downtown Gap. We wanted to see the Christmas market too, but it was already closed by the time we got there! I liked the lights though :)

David cooked a delicious dinner because apparently both of us were feeling domestic that day. His  mom set the festive table with lots of candles.

Somehow I convinced the whole family to go to midnight mass with me. I wanted to go since it's something I've never done before, and I remember learning about this tradition in my French classes.

The mass started at 11:30pm. I enjoy all of the pageantry when I hang with the Catholics. I love being in cathedrals, first of all. There was organ music going the whole time, candles, incense, processions, fancy gold pope hats, and plenty of Christmas songs. What’s not to like?

It was fun to hear and get to sing songs I know, since at the previous Catholic masses I’ve been to the songs and melodies were all things I’ve never heard. And sometimes they were in Latin.

We were impressed that the cathedral was full! Usually you don’t come across very many religious people in France, but I guess they’re at least religious on Christmas. It helped put us all in the Christmas mood; I’m glad I got to go! We didn’t get home until 1:30am... so we were all tired enough to not hear Santa sneaking around.

Maybe the Catholics have a good strategy. Make your kids go to church at midnight and then maybe they’ll be tired enough to not wake you up at 5am to open presents.

We went to (our) church on Christmas morning. It was a bit of a difference from the night before since it’s a tiny branch and there were only about 15 people there. David had fun getting to play piano (it’s easy to get roped into helping even as a visitor when there’s only a handful of people there). I have photographic proof from one of the missionaries.

Obviously it was present time after church. David’s mom/Santa spread out some treats among the presents to encourage snacking while opening. #iapprove

My favorite present was the westie calendar David surprised me with. I guess he knows me or something. I'm also excited to kick his butt in my new Paris version of Monopoly.

We had an American Thanksgiving-style Christmas dinner, again cooked by David. 

After dinner I got to video chat with my family and watch Buttercup be really enthused about her presents. I love that dogs act like little kids on Christmas morning.

It was a Joyeux Noël with the Rubinos. Even if I kept forgetting in was Christmas because it was 60 degrees outside.

These are our first 2 little Christmas trees that we had in our apartment. And the pretty nativity that I bought in Strasbourg this year. I'm excited to go a little crazier with the decorations next year, when we're (hopefully!) settled down in America permanently. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016: A Year in Review

I've done this for a few years and it's so fun to look back- 2013, 2014 (love all of my veiled references to David without mentioning his name lol), 2015.

January: I flew back to Israel 2 days after Christmas to finish my last month of classes in Haifa. I tried to do as much sightseeing as I could before I said shalom to one of my favorite countries. I visited the Stella Maris monastery in Haifa, a mosque and the covered markets in Akko, and finally, one of my favorite cities in the world: Jerusalem. It was a memorable trip because for a usually perfect weather year-round kind of country, this day was freezing with pouring rain, flooding, and crazy wind. After finishing up a few papers and exams, I moved home at the end of the month.

February: I started out the month finishing up more papers for school and getting over my jet lag. Me and David got to celebrate our first Valentine's Day together being on the same continent. Just a few weeks after moving home, I got hired for a full-time teaching job. 

March: I started working! It wasn't just full-time, it was ALL of my time. Everything for grad school got put on the back burner. David took off solo on a road trip across America, and I have to say that him being gone for a while got me thinking about things...

St. Patrick's Day in Chicago

April: This month started off pretty memorably. On April 2nd, David popped the question at the capital building in Madison. After a little over 2 years of international dating, we were getting married! It was fun to surprise my parents, break the news to everyone, and start the planning process. The rest of the month was sort of a stressful combination of working and wedding planning.

May: Again, almost every waking moment was spent trying to finish my lesson planning and other teaching responsibilities. With David, we made an effort this month to do some sightseeing around the area before he had to go back to France for the summer- including Port Washington, downtown Milwaukee, and the covered bridge park in Cedarburg. The other big BRIGHT spot of the month was road tripping to southern Missouri to bring home our family's new baby- Buttercup! We also brought home Buttercup's sister to her new family. It was one  of the best moments of my life to have those adorable baby puppies on my lap for that drive. A lot of my time throughout the spring and summer was spent playing with and trying to train little miss Buttercup. 

June: David left towards the beginning of the month, and as expected, it was not fun. The next week, school ended! I officially survived my first real teaching job. I learned a lot and got better at teaching. Jumping in mid-school year to a crazy schedule of teaching 5 classes at 3 different schools was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I had a much more chill summer job that started in June- teaching dance part-time to cute little ballerinas between 3-6 years old (7th summer I've done this job!).

July: The month started out with a family vacation. We flew out to Utah, got to see some of the Bishop family, and then drove north to Idaho for the Houdek reunion. We spent a few days at Yellowstone, which I had not been back to since going as a kid. I spent a few days in Utah afterwards and got to catch up with some great friends. Another happy part of the month was Jenna and Cabren (and their dogs) moving home to Wisconsin. After the trip the wedding planning started to ramp up. I also flew to Tennessee for a quick trip to visit my friend Stephanie, who I hadn't seen for 2 years.

August: Finally! My dance teaching job ended, and I got to go to France to visit David. He was hired for a job on the French Riviera, so that is where I went. I stayed in Cannes, and also got to visit Nice and Ventimiglia, Italy. With David, we spent lots of time swimming in the Mediterranean, and also went on a day trip to Monaco. It was so good to be reunited after feeling a little mopey over the summer. By the time I was flying home, we were in the final countdown until the big day.

September: THE BIG MONTH. Possibly the biggest and most important month of my whole life. Most of my time (and my mom's) this month was spent wedding planning and finalizing details. It is a time-consuming process to plan a wedding. I had a fun Parisian-themed bridal shower. David and his parents (their first time in America!) flew into Chicago on the 24th. The next day, me, my parents, and the Rubinos made the lonnnnng 11 hour drive to upstate New York. Our wedding day was the 28th. We were married in the Palmyra temple, and it was a day filled with peace and contentment. Palmyra is so beautiful. After a lunch with the family and friends who made the long journey to celebrate with us, we spent a night in Niagara Falls before driving back to WI for the reception. The day of our reception, on the 30th, was probably the most fun day I've had in my life. Everything turned our perfectly, and partying with friends and family I love was amazing. 

October: I officially moved to France just 2 days after the reception on October 2nd. Despite what other people had told me, it didn't really feel like a big transition to live together for the first time. Maybe because we waited until we knew each other before we got married (cough unlike some BYU marriages cough). The bigger transition for me was having too much free time. Not only was it the first time in my life that I wasn't working (can't because of visa situation) or in school, but I moved to a small town where I don't know anyone and have no car. I still struggle a lot with boredom and finding things to do- funny because while I was working full-time I would have killed to have the chance to be lazy. Of course, I tried to keep busy with some traveling. In October, I went on walks around town, explored Antibes for the first time, and with David visited both his hometown, and the impressive Palais des Papes in Avignon- which I loved.

November: Similarly to October, sightseeing kept me entertained. With David we made it to Grasse, Aix-en-Provence, and the American military cemetery in Draguignan for Veteran's Day. At the end of the month, I met my mom in Paris!! We also got to go to the Christmas markets of Strasbourg together.

December: This was one of my favorite months of the year. For the first few days, my mom was still here. We toured around the south of France and San Remo, Italy. The next weekend, we went with David's mom to the Lyon Festival of Lights. The third weekend of December was the best of all- we had an incredible time in London together!! Of course, Christmas was the next weekend. We spent it in Gap with David's parents. On the 30th, I flew home in order to get my long stay French visa at the Chicago consulate (and to visit Buttercup/the family).

I guess it's been a pretty memorable year! 

Our main wish for 2017 is for everything to go well with American immigration. We officially applied for David's visa in November. If that's approved, we're supposed to hear back in about 6 months. From there, David will need to interview at the American embassy in Paris and submit more paperwork. We were told when we applied that the whole process should take about a year from the time we submitted the application. That means that we'll move back to the U.S. next fall if everything goes according to plan.

I'm thankful to have the chance to travel in Europe this year, but we're both excited to settle down in Wisconsin when we get the chance.

Happy New Year/Bonne Année to all!