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.