Sunday, December 20, 2009

Baby it's Cold Inside

Date: Sunday, December 20, 2009, 11:44 PM

Hi Dad & Ginny,

so sorry it has taken me nearly a week to write. Caleigh and Hank have posted most of our photos (both good and bad) on their facebook sites so I have been lazy in corresponding. But, we are all doing fine and having a wonderful, albeit COLD time in France. Paris was pretty amazing with the snow. we walked around the city that seemed vacant at times, and spent a morning at the Louvre with what seemed to be only a handful of people (got up front and personal with the Mona Lisa & Venus de Milo). We found everyone down below on the metro though as we crammed inside. anyway, on saturday we flew down to nice with 6 huges suitcases, 3 carryons, laptops, purses, etc. and I have learned a very valuable lesson in travel. When traveling with so much crap, just get to your destination rather than stop in Paris in a snow storm and then travel yet again to Nice :)

So, we are now in our "wee" little house in this adorable medieval village called Haut de Cagnes (ho du kay-ney), but having another little adventure and challenge on choosing whether to have heat or light. When the owner mentioned that we might have to reset the breaker once or twice due to the old electricity hookups, we had no idea that he meant that we could not use the space heaters AND the lights at the same time. Nor did he mention that the fireplace was off limits (they are so scared of fire that they do not allow candles which I can now see are a necessity due to the lights always going off!). luckily, as a good girlscout, I packed a few flashlights, including the kind you can wear on your forehead, so you can now picture us in our coats, scarfs, boots and head flashlights creeping around our "cute" little house. will hopefully take some funny pictures of this later.

I have an email in to the owner now saying that we will not be able to stay unless he can remedy the situation. will keep you posted on that.

so today, we see our friends, Andrew & Arlette, who also met us at the airport and had dinner with us on our first night. we are going to Vielle Nice, which we are all looking forward to since we missed Nice entirely the last time we were here. It's also nice to be with a local (Arlette) who is just a hoot to be around (think very gutzy, sometimes pushy, yet always nice and funny). For example, when she needed cigarettes the other night and the tabac was closed, Hank said under his breath, "if it's not open now, it will be soon enough." and sure enough, she walked up to the man standing just outside and moments later, "voila," she had her malboros.

anyway, I had better go for now, but will try to be better at corresponding now that we are not traveling and are over our jetlag.

miss you and love you both,


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Decision

Our house was listed today and the local Topanga agents are scheduled to come over tomorrow morning for their “caravan” in order to see the new listing on the market. There is also an open house scheduled in two weeks. We are really doing this thing I guess. I am feeling kind of nervous sick, but in my heart I feel that this is still the right move for us.
The idea to move to France began last June although it might have subconsciously begun earlier when I renewed Caleigh’s passport three months before its expiration just so it would be valid and ready to go. We had also continued with our Thursday evening conversational French class with Arlette in the canyon even though it was completely out of our budget and we were usually exhausted by the time we made it to her house for class after work. I had continued listening to my French language CD’s during my daily commute to and from my Venice office and poured over my handmade vocabulary flash cards while eating lunch at my desk because I was obsessed; I mean, determined, to nail this language; one of my self-imposed “to do’s” on my list of things I wished to accomplish in my life before I die. Good thing for me that I will probably never master the language as hard as I try, so I plan on living for a long, long time yet.
When our 12-year-old daughter and a few of her fellow Palisade’s chums ended sixth grade with a bang last June (along with Vodka and racy iChat behavior), I was finally convinced that a big move out of LA would definitely be a bonne idée. That, and the fact that my job at the advertising agency I worked at seemed to be close to the end as we had already had two of what would eventually be four waves of layoffs. I figured it was just a matter of time before I received the call from HR and once that happened, I knew I would not pursue another job in advertising as I realized that I had made a very bad career path choice some 25 plus years ago. I just didn’t care about the life and death nature of tv commercial production anymore and I had little or no passion for negotiating with agents and the talent unions or dealing with pushy account types wanted to "fast track" every request, "circle back" when they felt I had not delivered soon enough or "revisit" when they had forgotten what I had told them in the first place. I was so burned out on emergency emails (including bells, exclamation points and red flags) every single minute of the day, IM's when the emails or phone messages had not been answered within 5 minutes. And in reality, there were really not any jobs available even if I had wanted to stay in the business as the country and world were experiencing one of the worst financial crisis in history.
Without my income, we knew it would be really difficult to make ends meet - it was tight as it was - so the idea of selling our house and making a new start somewhere new sounded very appealing. But this was not a new idea. Oregon had long called us, but what could we actually do there? We had long thought about renovating houses with Hank’s great building experience and my strengths in deciphering contracts, but when the real estate market tanked in 2008, it did not seem like the right time to start flipping houses. Hmm, we really needed time to research what the hell to do once we left LA. But, one of the things we did not seem to have was time. Time to research, time to explore, time to read a damn book. What we needed was a break so we could really figure out what was most important to living a more fulfilling life and giving Caleigh the best opportunities we could. My working in nonstop, high-pressure advertising and Hank building homes for the rich and famous for the past 25 years was definitely not conducive to finding the answer. That’s when it was decided that once we sold the house, we would store up our stuff, take the pets and rent a place in France for up to year and hopefully breath some new life into our tired, middle aged lives and ultimately figure out just how we planned to spend chapter 2.
Of course, we had to place priority on Caleigh’s life and the effect of such a move, so we began the research stage. How does one uproot their 13-year old kid from her American public middle school, put her in an all French-speaking “college” and expect to have her 1) enjoy the experience, 2) learn anything when she barely speaks the language, 3) get credit from the french school so she doesn’t get penalized and have to make any classes up when she returns to her stateside school, 4) keep her from hating you and thinking that you have completely ruined her life.
The Plan. Well, the plan was pretty much all over the place. Provence, Aquitaine, Loire valley. I guess you could just say, France was the general plan. We were of course drawn to Provence because of our friends’ Andrew and Arlette’s proximity and the fact that there was an International public school in Sophia Antopolis. The school offered instruction in both English and French and I immediately started contacting them to see if they would accept Caleigh after the winter break. We websearched 100s of places to live near Antibes, Mougins, Sophia Antipolis and what kept coming back were high prices and crowds. I had to wonder why I was all of a sudden considering moving into a small apartment or house that was difficult to park near or drive to with major crowds guaranteed year round. Seeing that we had moved from the big city to Topanga nine years earlier just to get away from the crowds convinced me that as exciting as the cote d’azur can be to visit, this area was just not feeling right for what we needed.
Then there was of course Hank’s trip research that consisted of “websurfing” grand maisons and chateaux – most of which were unaffordable and in obscure parts of the country – as well as expensive and often impractical (yet cute and sporty) cars, trucks and of course, motorcycles. So, there was that dreamer to contend with.
And, there was Caleigh who was a constant emotionally and hormonally charged teen and now just speaking about the move to France made her shudder and she went as far as asking us not to even discuss it in front of her and to definitely not practice speaking French at home or in the car when she was around. I did not push too hard at first, but I knew that she was really going to need to know the language so I started ordering French workbooks and easy French readers on Amazon and typed up commonly used verbs and vocabulary every week hoping that some of it would stick.
Schools. So I began the search for the perfect school for Caleigh outside of Provence. The sky was the limit as I surfed the web and found a few articles of English speaking parents giving their advice and sharing stories of throwing their young children into an all French-speaking public school That sounded kind of scary because Caleigh was at the oldest range of being able to be “thrown in” and actually adjust without wanting to kill her parents. Then we looked at the private international institutions. Yikes, they were cost prohibitive and what’s the point of living in France really. I decided it would be better to spend a premium in language immersion classes for a shorter period of time rather than keep her separated from the culture, community and friends that we hoped to embrace while living there.
Since we planned to stay anywhere from 3 months to a year (depending on whether our house sold), we also started the process to obtain a long term, 1-year Visa through the French consulate in Los Angeles. I think the steps involved are better explained on their website:, but suffice it to say that you must give yourself at least a few months in order to acquire all the the necessary documents and make your appointments, but it is definitely doable.