Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Our little french fry passes the BAC!



July 7, 2015. The results from the grueling BAC (Baccalaureat) were finally available this morning at 10am and Caleigh passed! It's quite an achievement as she took 9 written and oral exams over the course of two weeks; some, such as philosophy lasting 3-4 hours each and requiring 10+ written pages. No mulitple choice questions here. And oh yeah, all in French. What this means for her? It means that she's prepared; that she is now formally accepted to the University of Bordeaux, pursuing a general business degree as she figures out what she would like to do over the course of the next few years.

While all of that is highly commendable, how she got there is even more mind-boggling. Let's go back 6 years ago. She was 12 and Hank and I had set this crazy 'pick up and move to France' idea in motion. Prior to the big move, we enrolled in french courses that she detested. You can then imagine how excited she was when I suggested we just speak french at dinnertime to hone our skills (absolutely not) and she just about lost it when I would play my french CD's on the way to school. This was not a move she had any voice in and she was clearly not very happy about leaving her friends and home in Topanga, CA.

Caleigh 2010

Surprisingly, she didn't complain once after we made the actual move. I know that I would have been guilty of some acting out behavior if I were a 13-year-old (oh, wait I did that!), but Caleigh has always been wiser than the average teenage bear. She was thrown into an all french school not knowing more than a few words of of the language. Most of her teachers were on the jaded side of having to teach yet another kid who didn't speak french, so she received no special treatment and was expected to sink or swim.  There was one exception though and fortunately it was in her most difficult subject - French; so she learned quick and thus, didn't sink. Merci Mme. Dagron. To this day, Caleigh says you were her best, not to mention, kindest teacher of all time.

Before we had even moved, Caleigh had been put in touch with some of the students thanks to another incredible woman and friend, Isabelle, so she was able to connect with kids via Facebook. Because of this, when she first arrived, many kids already knew who she was and she was initially welcomed like a little rock star. She was the new kid from Los Angeles, CA and that was a first at her new school. She had instant friends and was happy and Hank and I heaved a hugh sigh of relief, 'see, this was the best thing for her.'

Unfortuanately, that same popularity she enjoyed for the first few months soon morphed into jealously of the most viscous, teenage girl variety and Caleigh found herself not only on the 'outs' with some of her newfound friends, but the target of unrelenting cyber-bullying that lasted for over a year. Hank and I were at such a loss and felt so bad that we had brought her into such an environment (it made the LA-based movie "Mean Girls" look like a Disney comedy) and just wanted to fix it. But every time we suggested sharing the lovely text 'messages' with the school or even the gendarme to get it to stop (yes, they were that bad),  Caleigh begged us to leave it alone.  In fact, she never retaliated. She never sent one nasty message back to the bullies. She just deleted them from her pages and retreated to her room for a long, long time before she could think of trusting anyone ever again.

To add insult to injury, she also seemed to catch every flu and cold bug on the continent. Caleigh was rarely sick when we lived in California so this came as such a shock that our once uber-healthy, athletic and energetic girl had grown quite sickly those first few years. So bad that during her second year, she had a mini seizure and had to be rushed to the hospital where after every test imaginable was done (MRI, brain scans, spinal tap, blood tests), before they released her the following day.

What had we done? One of the main reasons we moved was for Caleigh. We wanted her to have a more global and realistic view of the world that we found could be difficult to achieve while going to school in Pacific Palisades. Don't get us wrong, we loved LA. Loved Topanga even more. But, we just felt that there was something calling us to a simpler life for both ourselves and our daughter. A life less concerned with materialism and definitely, one less prone to spending over an hour in traffic getting anywhere.

With time, Caleigh started to get better. She began building up a few friendships and had her first little romance. Nice kid that we'll never forget. He ended up not being the greatest petit ami (boyfriend) in the world, but Caleigh did manage to learn french fluently, so not a complete loss, oui? All of a sudden, her confidence increased as she could understand and be understood. In fact, as Hank and I continue to struggle with our language skills, we inevitably call on Caleigh to be our personal 'traductrice' (translator).
Students in front of school waiting for BAC results (I
 am hiding in the bushes!)

She then made her way through the maze of choosing the right Lycee which is not as easy as it is in the States. Here, you are expected to have an idea of what you want to be as an adult when you are 14-years-old and the choices you make now will impact the direction you will be able to take in the future. At this point, Caleigh just wants to pass her classes with a decent 'moyen' (average) as I'm sure it's been quite frustrating coming from being an A-student in the States to an 'average' or slightly above average french student. Once you've been accepted to the school of your choice, you then have to pick the type of BAC you wish to pursue and there are more to choose from other the traditional, science, literature and economics. It was about this time that I realized I was way in over my head and had to rely on Caleigh's ability to maneuver through the system in the best way she possibly could.

Just before Caleigh turned 18, with the adolescent acne gone, along with the braces. Her fashion style evolved into a more classic, french chic rather than the, oh, let's just say, not-so-classy look of a tween. She doesn't do drugs and rarely drinks so she's made her parent's life real easy. She's basically grown up to be that dream kid you just pray you're fortunate enough to have. She's compassionate, empathetic  and still wants to save the world (that is, when she isn't sleeping or texting of course). She's just an incredible young woman; beautiful both inside and out.

So, with no graduation ceremonial fanfare available, here's to our incredible daughter, Caleigh. In under five years, she has managed to learn how to speak another language; then graduate high school and pass her Baccalaureat in that new language, not-to-mention, be accepted to the University of Bordeaux.

She is definitely on her way and we could not be more proud.
In her new studio apartment in Bordeaux






Thursday, February 5, 2015

Channeling Ora Ball Carlyle



Woke up again this morning at 3am and before my brain had time to register that it was time for its merciless nocturnal "I'll never get another job ever again" and/or "how in the hell are we ever going to make it" onslaught, I decide to get up and at least throw in a quick load of laundry and turn the dishwasher on while we were still under nonpeak hours.  This is not the exception mind you. This is what I have been doing about 5 nights out of the week ever since my freelance assignments came to a halt last November and our savings has been slowly, but steadily depleted. As for the other two nights of the week? Let's just say that the Côtes de Duras vintages have been known to be mommy's little helper on occassion when I can be at least assured a full night's sleep. 

So, by 3:10am, I'm feeling a little better that I've at least saved 20€ in electricity charges for the day and I crack open my latest kindle book, "These is my Words" (sic) by Nancy Turner, and enter into my latest escapist world of American pioneers in their wagon trains headed west in the 1880's. The hope here is to stave off our monetary woes until my insomnia passes and I am able to fall back to sleep. Reading this book reminds me of a comment that our friend, June made about four years ago when we first purchased Petit Clos. "You're like real pioneers; only in reverse," she had said about our 6-thousand mile move east back to the Old Country.  It kind of stuck as I've often felt like we were breaking new ground with all of the challenges we faced over the past four years. New ground and new language maybe, but many of the same old challenges we had before and most that we share with our non-going-back-to-the-old-world-friends from back home.

Take stress for example. According to the American Psychological Association's "Stress in America" survey recently, it found that 72 percent of adults report feeling stressed about money at least some of the time. Further, "women shoulder much of the burden. Far more than men say they have lain awake at night in the past month due to stress - 51 percent, compared with 32 percent of men." You don't say? as he sleeps ever so peacefully.

Anyway, so right now in the wee hours of the morning, I'm somewhat jealous and imagining that those original pioneers had it so much easier than we do right now, living a much simpler life with fewer worries and definitely no stress over money matters. Well, that was until I got to the parts in the book about the rapes, Indian villages being burned to the ground and Comanches retaliating by burning the wagon trains and scalping the pioneers. Don't even get me started on the amputations administered without drugs and babies being born on the trail (I have always said that I never would have survived my 48-hr back labor if not for Cedars-Sinai). But, hell, how will I ever to get to sleep now?!

Okay, so deep down, I kind of knew about all of that, but what about the families portrayed in one of my favorite childhood shows, "Little House on the Prairie?" Surely, they had a simpler, easier, no stress life? Well, not so, according to Miss Laura Ingalls Wilder whose more accurate and authentic autobiography came out last year, "Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography."Apparently, her family was practically running from the law over unpaid bills and mortgages so they obviously had some serious stress over money, not to mention disease and basic healthcare that we thankfully have now. In fact, it wasn't until her popular stories were sold that some of those monetary debts could be paid.

So, as I'm thinking about this all,  I begin to ask myself, what would my Westward-Ho pioneer great-grandma, Ora Ball Carlyle do if she was in my position and awoke at 3 o'clock in the morning worrying? A position that is quite literally uber comfy and warm in my big, beautiful french country house, lying next to my best friend and husband, Hank (who is soundly asleep of course), with our wonderful and thankfully, healthy, college-bound daughter sleeping upstairs, not to mention all the critters cuddling and crowding me out of my side of the bed. Would she let her mind wander and worry about things that were out of her control? I think not. Would she have done the laundry at 3am? Maybe so if she knew how much money she could save. But, I'd like to think that she was the type of woman who would have pulled up her boot straps, probably pulled out her Colt 45 from one of them and then went hunting for some dinner if she couldn't make it to the market. That's it though. She'd then leave her weapon safely at home, out of reach from her children (otherwise, I probably wouldn't be here). Yeah, that's what Ora would do.

So that's what I'm going to do. Hunt for dinner. Just kidding, I'm too city girl for that. But, I'm going to start working on what I do have control over - making sure we have the best Bed & Breakfast ever and that starts with a new and improved bilingual website, making our farm work for us by selling hay and grapes and then start sewing like a maniac making beautiful gifts to sell in the Spring and Summer marches and maybe online as well. And maybe, just maybe, once I stop worrying so much, those freelance gigs will return again. And with them, hopefully sleep. Beautiful, often underrated, REM sleep.







Friday, August 8, 2014

Lazy days of Summer

 

While some of us have the luxury of sleeping our days away at Petit Clos, Hank, Caleigh and I keep pushing along in our respective jobs. Hank, as proprietor of Petit Clos Chambres d'hotes, farmer and vigneron, grounds keeper, fixer of everything that needs fixing, builder and writer, Caleigh as top-notch student who continues to amaze us as she enters her final year of high school in September and I, as business affairs consultant and french administrative paperwork queen.

Because I haven't had much time to write, I thought I'd just share part of this year in pictures. Hope you enjoy!

When the beautiful chestnut tree flowers begin to bloom, we know winter is finally over and can begin looking forward to Spring.


 Hank finished repairing, sanding and painting our shutters on the face of the house. Thank God OSHA was not nearby. Check out Hank's scaffolding setup. Yikes.

Beau as Petit Clos mascot

Early Spring garden. Had a bumper crop of artichokes.


The long awaited hollyhocks bloomed with a vengeance.










Elle continued keeping the home and barns free of mice.

Started new hobby collecting antique french postcards


Hank and Patrick installed new fencing and the Commune repaved our  entrance. Now, if we can just convince the neighbors that they really don't need 9 broken down Twingos parked along the driveway, things should really begin to look nice.

New discovery Hank made in the barn - a box of broken dishes - perfect for making a mosaic table top when mom arrives in October.


October 2014 - Here's what she made! It's a post that will eventually have an iron arbor attached to support our jasmine vine planted this year.

Hank maintaing the vines



Hank maintaining the grounds


We installed travertine stone slabs around the pool


What I've been finding on my morning walks lately. Goes nicely with my yogurt & cereal.


Sometimes we let ourselves leave the farm to go searching for tresures at nearby Vide Greniers (flea markets)
Or enjoy special friends and relax
Happy Summer!


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Green Star


As I gingerly sat down to stretch my legs on the sofa tonight, I noticed that my butt was completely numb and my legs - well, I'd just say that I seriously doubt I'm going to be walking on these ole girls tomorrow. Yep, today I took my first ride on my new horse 2 weeks after she was delivered to Petit Clos. I can thank the delay to the incredibly busy workload I've had recently. All good, but definitely an impediment to having a life over the past month.

But, today was the day. The wife of our French instructor kindly offered to bring her girlfriend and their two horses so we could ride together on a 15km trail road beginning from our farm. That is one of the very cool things that we have here - miles upon miles of trails meandering through vineyards, prairies, forests and lakes all completely open and available to the public.  Unfortunately Caleigh had to babysit and could not join us for this maiden ride, but after all that happened today, that was probably a good thing as I'm sure she would have found herself wanting to act like she had no idea who I was.

It all started with Pepito, the donkey. As I somewhat nervously went to round up Green (that is the given name of my horse. In fact, it's actually Green Star which completely baffles me, but that's another story), Pepito darts out of the electric fence enclosure and starts running toward the 'grass is greener' pasture next door. Then Green gets spooked because I probably screamed out, so I have a jumpy horse in one hand and an electric fence handle in the other and I'm starting to freak. Oh, and there's a few more horses milling around near the opening as well, but I somehow manage to close it behind us without electrocuting us and walk Green up to a post where I make numerous failed attempts at tying a slip knot.  I am fairly certain that my brain lacks the synapse for knot tying and I am even more certain that Green thinks I'm a complete idiot.

With Pepito running free, I yell for Hank who's in the kitchen making Daube (a delicious french beef stew) for dinner later this evening and together we manage to get the donkey corralled in the adjacent field which sets off the other horses whinnying and running back and forth ("Look, the damn donkey's getting all the long tall grass all to himself!), which makes the tacking process of Green a bit more challenging. For one thing, as much as I've loved horses my entire like, I had not actually groomed, saddled and put a bridle on all by myself. Knowing my limitations, I had earlier consulted my faded 1970's edition of "Your first Pony" as well as viewed numerous YouTube videos on haltering, tacking and tying slip knots of course. I actually managed okay and thankfully Isabelle and her friend arrived shortly after and could double check everything I'd done.

So, once groomed and tacked, the next thing you do is mount the horse. Pretty simple concept. I'd done it many times before, but I was much younger or had used a chair or friend's leg up to help hoist me onto the saddle. Not this time though. I put my foot in the stirrup and heaved with all my might but did not get very far. Now that was sort of embarrassing. Let's try again. Foot in stirrup, hand on saddle, super heave-ho, and better than the first time, but gravity brought me back down again. Hmm, Everyone's waiting around and ready to go and Cindy cannot get on her horse. So, one more time I follow the steps and heave until I am literally sprawled on my stomach lying on Green's back. But, I'm up and can somehow manage to bring my right leg around to the other side, sit up adjust my cockeyed helmet and pretend that was exactly how I planned to do it all along.

We begin our trek which I'm guestimating to be in the range of 3 hours and I'm looking forward to practice speaking french with my trail mates for the duration. But, just as we come to the first bend in the road above Petit Clos, Green gets spooked by a bird that darted towards us from a nearby bush and she slightly reared and then got even more agitated when I pulled back hard on her reins. I lost my balance and slipped off the not-broken-in brand new English saddle and land flat on my back. That would be on the ground right next to a vineyard post I just barely missed with my head. Are you kidding me? This cannot be happening. This is my dream to have my very on horse. Hell, I've been asking for one for Christmas since I was 12. Now I have my dream and she is going to kill me!

So I have two choices and I'm sure my riding partners are really starting to wonder what the hell they were thinking when they invited me. I can either quit right there and walk Green back home and frankly, that really sounds pretty wonderful about now. Or I can get back on. That doesn't sound very fun and plus, we've all seen my gracefulness when mounting a horse just moments before. Do I really have to do it again in front of everyone?  And of course I cannot help but remember the "get back in the saddle" mantra or the horse will know your fear. Hell, mine already has a pretty clear idea of how clueless I am, I reason, so what is this 'getting back on the horse' really going to accomplish? But even with my head still ringing from the fall, I opt for living dangerously and miraculously haul my sore body back up on Green.

The rest of the ride actually went without a hitch although I would be lying if I didn't think, "please don't let me die" more than once. I began to breath in and out slowly just to calm my nerves and it seemed to work. Green's great though and I feel like we actually got to know each other over the 6 hour ride together - that would be the primary reason of why I have no feeling in my legs right now. I learned what she does and does not like. She likes my singing yippee kai yay and does not liked to be reined in too tight. She also likes to be first in line….all the time. And I'd like to think that she learned that as incompetent as I might have seemed at times today,  I was not one to give up. In fact, she was stuck with me so we better make the most of it. The one thing I did regret was not practicing much french with the girls during the ride. As I apologetically mentioned to Isabelle on the ride home,"La prochaine fois, je vais essayer de parler plus français. Cette fois, je voulais juste rester en vie" The next time, I will try to speak more french. This time I just had to concentrate on staying alive.

She laughed pretty hard at that and I only hope she didn't also think, "what do you mean, a next time?!"

Ah, to be living the dream.






Sunday, April 14, 2013

Break on through


I don't know what it is about guys, but they can hardly contain their excitement when they're about to break through a 2-foot stone wall. No concerns that they are standing over 20-feet high balancing on rickety scaffolding in the pouring rain each flailing sledge hammers and chisels. All they wanna do is break on through to the other side no matter the danger and I really think this urge is almost primal and gets stronger the older they get. It's like they've had to be responsible adults for 35 years, not able to break things just for the hell of it like like when they were kids, so when an opportunity presents itself later in live it's as if they revert to their 10-year old selves with mischievous grins and all. Oh, well, at least I'm going to hopefully get a new window out of the deal or at the very least, cash in on Hank's insurance policy.

Oh really, how old are you Hank?



After somehow learning to live with all the recent gaps and holes in our walls still needing patching as well as drywall dust from the radiators installation and new bathroom downstairs I thought, "how much worse can it get by putting a huge hole in the north facing wall of our home?" Well, actually it shouldn't be too huge I hope as the window we have is small, but  I can only hope that the entire wall doesn't come  crumbling down while I'm writing this. Fingers crossed. Anyway, I've always dreamt of a window in this room (Chambres des Lavandes) to create a little more light, enhanced view as well as provide a little cross ventilation, but I knew it wasn't yet a priority so when the guys told me they could do it right NOW or never, I signed on for even more dust, rubble and chaos in our already warn torn home and a agreed to a continuing deviation from all the finishing we needed to do in order to be ready for family visiting next month, not to mention opening our doors for summer in June. Yikes, does anyone have an Xanax?

This latest project on the exterior of the house has been sort of surreal and unplanned from the start. Our friend and neighbor Mickey dropped by out of the blue a week ago and said he finally had some time to help us out since he had been given his own set of challenges earlier in the year when his house burned down last December. Anyway, his specialty just happens to to masonry.




"So how about we remove the crepi from the house?" he asked one recent afternoon. For those of you who don't know what crepi is, it's closest equivalent would be a sort of sand-lime-cement based stucco that was used to cover many of the stone houses and buildings after WWII. Only this stuff can age terribly and I felt ours created an Adams Family-esque look to the outside of our house and we had recently had another mason come out to give us an estimate which ended up being so cost-prohibitive that we had to take this project off our to-do list for the time being.

But then Mick shows up with his availability so once again the bathroom, patching, painting, etc. are are back on hold as you have to strike while the iron's hot. Side note: This is extremely difficult for me as I am not only a neat freak, but a list maker on steroids so it goes against everything in me to switch gears until all the other things have been crossed off the list. Throw in the additional unplanned financial implications and I'm pretty mush teetoring on a mental meltdown.






So the boys get going the next day and have been moving at an incredible pace. I do not think I know anyone who works harder than Mickey, with the exception of Hank of course. He just doesn't seem to have a slow speed dialed into his genetics and although it's great for us, I can only hope he does not burn himself out. Maybe it has something to do with his prior life in the British Navy or more likely from all the 'training' he received as Chippendale's dancer back in the day. 

However he acquired his energizer bunny powers, we have been the fortunate recipients of them at the moment and after just over one week, the crepi has been removed from the entire house (well, nearly, because they had to stop to break in the hole in the wall today for the window) and the re pointing begun. All for a fraction of the cost we were originally quoted. Oh, that reminds me. We had that awkward moment when the other mason stopped by the house after the work had begun. I had previously called him to thank him for his estimate but explained that we just could not afford to do it this year (all absolutely true). He then quickly rambled away in French even though our mutual french friends have explained to him many times that he needs to speak very slowly to the Americans in order for them to understand. But the jist of our conversation was leaning toward negotiating his quote and that he said that he would have a bilingual client help out the process. Only thing is, he did not follow through. Mickey showed up the following week with mile-high scaffolding and we went for it. The guy was pleasant enough, but when he stopped by although he could not help himself from being critical of the products we were using so we've struck a small compromise and agreed to take some bags of sand/chaud/cement off his hands at cost which helps us all out.


Then, there's been our pool fiasco. Yep, the one we just had installed last year. The British contractor we hired did a real shoddy job and we've had problems with it since day one. First, we noticed that we were spending an exorbitant amount of time cleaning it. At times I felt like a mad scientist constantly checking the ph, chlorine and salt levels because I just couldn't figure out why it filled up with algae after a just a few days cleaning. Yes, we put in some that anti-algae stuff,  yes we added a little "Plus" here and a little "Minus" there to balance everything out and still, by the end of the week, a nice layer of algae sticking to the sides.

Every time I contacted the contractor to get some advise, he'd respond almost dismissively as if I was making this stuff up. After some persistence (he actually called me a 'bully'), he would finally grumble out a possible solution which we would immediately try only to find that nothing seemed to work so we just constantly cleaned the pool last summer and is why Hank looked so buffed so it wasn't all bad news exactly. 
Anyway, then the tiles around the pool began to crack apart. 
"Oh, it's just settling," our contractor would say. "Probably because there was not enough concrete poured around the pool." 
"But, you recommended that we do it this way and have our grass grow right up to the coping to save costs.You even sent pictures of other beautiful pools like this and said you wished you'd installed your very own pool this way," we replied to which he had never answered.
The same thing happened with the pool alarm he recommended we purchase in lieu of putting a fence around the pool. 
"Great" we thought because we loved the idea of this big expansive views of the beautiful countryside from the pool rather than an enclosure. Except that the slightest breeze set the damn thing off. Hank tried everything and after we found ourselves constantly racing behind the house to turn it off - couldn't even think of leaving the house unattended. So, again, we asked the contractor, "What's up with the alarm?"
To which he replied, "Oh, those things are just pieces of crap." 
"Oh thank you kind sir for selling us on the idea of purchasing an expensive piece of crap," we muttered under our breath.

So, it went like that and I was getting into stress overload as winter was approaching and we could no longer 'maintain' our beast and I was so afraid that this year's investment would be totally ruined by the following Spring. Again, we asked our 'guy' about it - okay now we really do come off as gluttons for punishment I know. He says, "just lower the water level below the skimmers, throw in some winterization chemicals, turn off everything, cover the whole damn lot et, voila! everything will be just fine."

Except of course it was not. When we uncovered the pool last month. Algae and dead stuff all over the place, more coping tiles popped apart, cracked and broken skimmer so we cannot even clean the damn thing. Even the pool itself seemed to have settled as the water levels vary up to 4cm. And although I did send the contractor photographs and detailed descriptions so that he had the opportunity to make everything right  (which he did not of course, although he did kindly offer to replace the 50 euro skimmer), we also contacted a real, legitimate, certified french pool person who has been out a few times to assess the damage and save the day in time for our first visitors. Unfortunately, it won't come cheap, but it will be done correctly and be guaranteed for 10 years. Surprising, but true fact: our pool was installed incorrectly and not exactly to code and our new pool guy has asked if he could use pictures of our less than one-year-old pool to show potential customers the dangers of hiring a less-than-qualified pool person. Our contractor didn't order enough aggregate, so it's hollow under our steps so they could have easily broken. It also may explain why it's 'settling' so bizarrely. Many, many other illegal things done but it remains to be seen whether we go after the guy to recoup some costs. That just sounds so stressful and time consuming and as Hank says, maybe we just cut our loses and move on. We'll see. I'm still kind a pissed.




So, two steps forward, two steps back and hell, the first floor bathroom still isn't finished. Damn, I better get back to work!