Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nous avons bien arrives!

And I do want to add, "just barely," although the actual travel part of the journey was relatively painless except for the lingering jet lag. The getting to the travel day part was probably the hardest and scariest things I've ever done. For one thing, just a week before Christmas, we had to accept the fact that the loan was just not going to come through and had to decide whether to chuck the whole move, look for new jobs in January and sell Petit Clos, or proceed as scheduled and basically wing it. "Winging it" included borrowing on a 401k, my drumming up freelance work & possibly selling a few of our plots of land not adjacent to our property as well as attempt to get a B&B up and running by summer with little or no budget. I guess you know now what we decided to do. Okay, here we go again. I'm beginning to feel like that damn Energizer bunny who just won't stop (even if it means walking off a cliff).
Our container arrived about a week ago and during the storm that would eventually dump about 9 inches of rain, Hank, my stepfather, younger brother and nephew moved all of our worldly possessions up our steep driveway into a 20-foot container. Thank God my mom came up the night before to help us pack as we hadn't had a lot of spare time to fit that important detail in while still working, going to last doctors visits, canceling utilities, scheduling carpets to be cleaned, having final pet health certificates certified by the USDA (all of which were never looked at by either the French or American authorities at the airports), to name a few of the things we were busy doing during that last week.
A few days later, the container was picked up and now we were left trying to figure out what to do with all the stuff that didn't make the cut that we hadn't sold and either needed to be stored or donated. That was really difficult for me as every item had to be thoughtfully considered and as I became more and more overwhelmed, I just started throwing things away. Thankfully, our dear friends, Dale & Fariba, offered to hold a garage sale for us just before the new tenants move in on the 15th and let the Salvation Army come by and pick up the remainder the day after. I cannot begin to describe how fortunate we are to have such friends. Others kindly made us dinners and offered to help us in any way needed the week before we left. Christmas gifts were generously given and I couldn't help but feel like a Scrooge this year for not being able to reciprocate. I can just hope that we will see everyone in the near future so we can at least give back a little in the form of a French country holiday.
And even though there was no going back since our house was now rented out for a year and all of our things were on a ship hopefully not capsizing on the Atlantic, I struggled daily with the stress of how we would manage. I also came to understand why people are prescribed valium or xanax and asked my doctor for a small prescription just to get me on that plane with 2 dogs and a cat in cargo (and of course my calm husband and mature daughter who did not seemed nearly as nervous as I). It actually did seem to help.
We arrived without a hitch last Monday and made our way back to Lauzanac to stay in the same gite we rented from Isabelle and Thierry last year while we planned to attempt to make freezing, cold Petit Clos somewhat habitable. Fortunately, our neighbors that had been collecting our mail, airing out our house and turning off the water when the temperature was below freezing had also turned the heater on for our arrival so at least the living room and kitchen were nice and cozy. They also left us wine, champagne and chocolates with a sweet note welcoming us to France. Isabelle and Thierry, who have been instrumental in assisting us with obtaining our carte de sejour, introducing us to the local Mairie, possibly finding a local farmer to make hay on our property, AND inviting us to their weekly volleyball games again, also left us wine and chocolates and a "bienvenue en France" when we arrived.
Anyway, we're all good. Caleigh's been reconnecting with all of her friends from school and feeling better about her understanding of French. Hank is in his element, but just trying to figure out where to begin at the house on a severely reduced budget. He began stripping wallpaper in the living room today and we'll hopefully have it primed and ready to paint next week. The dogs absolutely love running in the fields - our Australian Blue is in heaven. All he needs now are some sheep.
We ordered our home phones, internet, tv and mobile phones yesterday which means that we will be better connected soon. In fact, under our plan, all calls to the U.S. are free and Caleigh can text to her hearts desire with both her American and French friends.
All in all, we're settling in even though this doesn't feel quite real yet. I'm sure that the first blast of the next winter storm due next week spent in our 100+ year old stone house with little or no heat other than 4 fireplaces will help convince us of our new reality. Will keep you posted...

Monday, December 13, 2010


After two sleepless nights knowing that the bank had received my "employment verification" but having no idea what it said on the form in the "prospect for continued employment" section, the bank finally confirmed that everything looked fine.

Phew, we had dodged another bullet. Little did we know, there was a sniper still hidden behind the chimney, on the roof.

By Wednesday, we still had not received our "final, final" approval so I followed up with the bank. They still haven't heard they tell me.

"So, should I pay December's mortgage and property taxes due in TWO days (and were supposed to be folded into the loan)?" I ask.

"Well, it's up to you if you want to avoid late penalties.

Seeing that the property tax penalty is over $500 and the mortgage one is least $200, along with a ding on our credit score, why yes, I would like to avoid late penalties.

"Thanks so much for the heads up," I say as I prepare to rush down to the post office.

"Oh, you cannot mail it because it won't be reflected in the system which could delay the process by another 10 days or more. The best thing to do is take it downtown or pay online," they inform me.

"Okay, it's 4pm on Thursday. I live in Topanga so it's pretty much a certainty that I would not make it to the tax office downtown by 5pm. Since paying online could involved a hefty service fees I asked if the bank would cover it. Of course they would not.

"Are you kidding? Were you going to call me about this at any point" I asked flabbergasted, but I immediately got online and found out that if you use a debit card, the fees are low and the payment immediate. I forward the receipt to the bank and that near catastrophe is averted.

So, we should be good to go we think. The fact that this loan is still a possibility is a miracle. That is, until Thursday arrived. That afternoon, we received a call from the bank. "There's something wrong with Henry's W2 that is not matching up." Apparently, although his W2's matched our tax filings for the past two years, nothing was coming up up when they tried verifying this amount with the IRS. Something didn't upload when his employer filed their employee's W-2's for the past year and the bank could not verify that he had made the amount of money reflected on his W2. We had to cancel our visit to Boulder, Colorado and I feel like such a loser to have to cancel on my cousin and his family for the second time.

So, all of Thursday night and about 4 hours on Friday, Hank was on the phone with both the IRS and Social Security offices trying to get this resolved. He spent so much time on the phone on hold that he kept having to switch phones and recharge them while he was holding. At the end of the day, it was resolved between all parties involved that he would have to go to the IRS with his employer on Monday morning and beg for a letter that certified that his W2's did indeed match those of his employer. Oh, and my employer called and said that my resignation letter must be submitted on Monday and that it could potentially send out a red flag. Yippee. We've got a fun weekend of waiting for Monday.

But, somehow we actually did have a nice weekend that helped readjust my growing negative attitude over this whole thing. First of all, when our Colorado plans changed, we were able to attend a dear friend's 50th birthday celebration with the birthday boy and his wife so generously treating 10 of their closest friends to an incredible 8-course tasting menu at Bastide on Melrose Place.

Then, after dropping off Caleigh and her friends down on PCH so they could take the bus to Third Street Promonade on Sunday morning, I was driving back up the canyon and came upon the aftermath of a 2-car collision. I was the first car there so I pulled over and went to see how the two women involved in the accident were. They were badly, badly shaken up, but thankfully for both them and me, no blood, broken bones or worse and I was able to call 911 and report the accident somewhat coherently. As I stayed with them until the police, fire and paramedics arrived I talked with them and they were both so helpful and apologetic to each other, I was amazed. A motorcyclist was slowing down traffic around the blind curve and this kind, tall Israeli guy smartly suggested that we all get away from the smashed cars and off the street. Then the younger woman started to get more and more upset and I kept telling her, "you're gonna be okay. you just need to go to the hospital to make sure there's not anything seriously wrong." And then she burst into tears and said that there was indeed something seriously wrong with her. She had a cancerous brain tumor. Ah geez, no. This beautiful young woman, with big, brown eyes and a long black braid and cute little silver ring pierced on the side of her nose. No....So I stayed with them for as long as I could and when it was time for me to go, I hugged her and told her that she was going to be alright. This complete stranger thanked and hugged me back. I pray she will be.

So, that's my story for the day. I'm stressed out of my mind over this loan and our move to France and yet, no matter what happens, I realize just where I need to put these worries on a scale of importance. And I also understand even more why we have to pursue this dream now.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Long Night Ahead

So, I think most of you know our current crazy plan since our house didn't sell last summer. Re-finance and rent our place until the market improves and we had not one, but three lenders pre-approve us, final approve us and then change their terms or programs midway through which had us going back and forth for a few weeks last October. But, we ultimately settled on one and everything was scheduled to close by the end of November so I finally gave my 6-week notice last month so that my company could hire my replacement (and Caleigh could start school when it resumed on January 3). Week after week, we have been delayed in signing final documents for some reason or another. We also went through this surreal appraisal process with a second appraiser coming in $80k less than an appraisal made just 3 weeks prior from the first lender we were entertaining on using. In retrospect I guess I should have seen the red flag when the bank didn't seriously reconsider how incompetent and unfamiliar their appraiser was. We confirmed that he must have used vs. honestly assessing recent sales and our particular market because his assessment made no logical sense, but it matched perfectly with the day's zillow assessment. Unfortunately, I probably wasted a week trying to convince the bank with detailed spreadsheets of the latest comps, our recent appraisal as well as average cost per square footage in the market in order for us to be able to cash out more money, as well as the principal of the thing. But the bank did not budge and I found that odd because all of the data supported us and a much higher appraisal. But, because we needed to wrap this up quickly, I finally caved in and for the past three weeks, I have been assured that everything was on a super, "expedited rush" and docs were almost ready to be signed. Well, the end of November came and went until last night when I was informed that they were "missing" my verification of employment (something that should have been obtained over 6 weeks ago). Out of the blue, when I have been assured that they had everything they needed weeks ago, they were now saying that they never received this. So, we are potentially kind of screwed. I spoke to my boss and informed her of this latest snag and the only thing we can hope for is that my company's payroll department does not flag my upcoming departure, but we will not be assured of anything until tomorrow. Of course my company cannot be deceptive, so the issue is if payroll has actually received the order of my last day. If they have not, we'll be okay. If they have, we will not get the loan.
Again, if you know me, you can imagine just how well I have taken this. I swear, I'm just not built for this stress and I constantly wonder what the hell have we done and I'm already incredibly embarrassed of the possibility of complete failure. So I cried nonstop for about an hour and than cursed myself because there are so many people much worse off than I. Hank tried to stay strong and not let me lose it, but even he realized the magnitude of this latest turn of events and there wasn't much he could do. Caleigh, who just received over $500 in gifts for her birthday, offered to give us her money in order to help. "How much do you need Mom?" she asked as she gave me a big hug.
So, what to do. We keep having these obstacles thrown at us and up until now, we have continuously come up with new, albeit wacky, creative plans to combat them. My main fear is that I don't think I have anything left up my sleeve, so tomorrow is critically important and will determine if we can do this thing. Like I said earlier, it's going to be a long night and I just hope I will be able to get some sleep so I can temporarily escape from this latest new reality.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

To Do List

To Do List 12/1/10:
List house for lease. Follow up on re-finance loan. Put Mini Cooper up for sale on Craigslist. Oh, first wash and polish Mini, photograph and then post on Craigslist. Fill prescriptions. Order new glasses. Schedule dental cleanings. Make final vet's appointment. Watch elderly cat stop eating for 3 days and throw up whatever he had left. Wonder if he is in pain from starvation. Cry. Pay local vet to put him down for $150. $50 for a required "medical assessmen; $100 for one injection to make him go to sleep. Figure it's better than letting him starve to death or die at the local animal shelter. Cry a little bit more. Bury him next to Lover. Polish and photograph furniture that is not going to France. Email relatives about grandparent's Weber piano to see if anyone can keep it. Deliver rattan furniture to older brother, John. Post other furniture on Craigslist. Pick up Caleigh from school. Make dinner; wash dishes. Schedule home viewings. Call carpet guy to shampoo stinky carpet in "cat" room. Set up P.O. Box. Fill out change of address with post office. Continue packing and sorting through massive amount of junk. Contact cousin for visit to Colorado; make flight reservations. Reserve car for Colorado. Reserve van for France. Email Isabelle regarding renting gite for a week or two. Fix garage door opener. Check sprinklers. Trim trees. Water new ground cover. Order contacts for Caleigh and I. Oh shit, plan Caleigh 14-th Birthday! Order ice cream cake. Plan night out in Hollywood with a few of her friends (with Hank and I hiding in the shadows). Buy gift and card. Purchase home warranty insurance. Update Homeowners insurance for a rental unit. Cancel French lessons because we're just too damn busy. Schedule garage sale. Sneak a lunch out with friends. Cancel utilities. Work my typical 10-hr day. Return calls and emails (only if I can keep myself from passing out from exhaustion).

I'm so sorry if I have not been in touch. It's been crazy busy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Moving On

Well, we're on. Precariously still, yes, but we're moving forward and I just pray that I'm not going to write an entry a few weeks from now about how everything fell through. Happy thoughts Cindy... We purchased our tickets for 2 adults, 1 teen, 2 dogs & a cat for December 26th (sorry Nipper, we don't think you would survive the trip. By the way, does anyone want a 19-year old cat that pees in purses and caterwaulers in the middle of the night?). Our Visa de Retour arrived which really made us feel like our luck was turning around because instead of having to reapply for everything again next year, we now just have to pick up our residency cards (carte de sejour) when we return to France. I also had to bite the bullet and commit to quitting my job last week so they could hire the candidate they had in mind to eventually replace me. My last day is December 17th. I have to say that after a few pretty rough years feeling overworked and abused, they have really treated me well throughout this whole ordeal. Last week I began to inventory old files from the past 4 years and I actually started to to get into this mundane task and it reminded me of the Survivor episode when the remaining four contestents reminisce about the fallen players previously voted out. As I typed each of the production titles or talent estimates, it felt good, sort of cleansing to say so long, I survived you (and some of the evil players associated with you) and now I'm letting you go.

We've been packing and trying to determine just what personal items and furniture will make the cut (and have room) in the 20' container we've hired to be dropped off on December 20 and we need to inventory all of that as well. Now, this is an activity that I would have to rate a negative -5 on a scale of 1-10 for fun things to do with your spouse. "Do you really need to keep your 1978 nikon camera, light meter and multiple lenses & colored filters that has been in storage for the past 15 years?" Yes he does. "Do you need to keep your Barbie carrying case with clothes and dolls, including a "Twiggy" doll circa 1966." Of course I do! But, we are getting through it one box at a time without wanting to kill each other yet so that's good.

We put our house up for rent yesterday and have already had quite a few replies including a nice local Topanga family who say they are very interested in a long term lease and took home an application. We can't do anything until our loan goes through which will hopefully happen this week as it is still one of the last wildcards for us. Although we're verbally approved by the bank, until we have that check in our account, we're not going anywhere. And of course, just to throw another possible curveball into our plans, a couple (motivated home buyers) scheduled a showing of our house last week and apparently really liked it, so there's that possibility ready to disrupt all of our current plans hitting just before the holidays.

We are also going to Boulder, Colo. to see my cousin and his family in early December with plans to forfeit our CA id's for Colorado ones as Colorado has a reciporacal agreement with France that will enable us to avoid having to go through a year of French driving school and plaster a large letter "A" on our car for 3 years. We've read and been told by many expats to do whatever is humanly possible to avoid this long, tedious expensive process (all in French!).

So, things are moving along and if all goes to plan, we'll be at Petit Clos a few days after Christmas and celebrate the new year in our new home. But first the holidays to enjoy with family and friends before we go.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Perpetual Waiting Game

Awoke to a frantic email from Isabelle in France who had been helping us, yet again, this time with renewing our residency cards (carte de sejour). She explained that due to the November 1 expiration date of our Visas, we would need to be back in France by the end of the month if we were to extend them for another year. We'd been in wait mode for so long, that although the thought of pulling everything together so quickly seemed daunting, I was ready to go. This long, drawn out and constant uncertainty really needed to end. And not only for our sake, but for all of our supportive friends and family. In fact, I was starting to avoid going out for fear of running into someone who would politely ask the now obligatory question, “so, when are you leaving?” and I still did not have an answer. Plus, our lives had been the focus for way to long and I was afraid that we had probably burnt everyone out over “pursuing our dreams” and I just wanted to put us all out of our misery by actually doing what we had been talking about for so bloody long and go.

Everything in our lives has been on hold for over a year now. Our house had been on the market for what felt like an eternity, our jobs were precariously temporary and Caleigh had no idea where she was going to school the next month and some of the not-so-nice kids wondered aloud if she was making this France thing up for attention.

Ever since our return to the states last April, I hadn’t renewed the newspaper or Netflix and I had grocery shopped as if we were only going to be here for a few short months. I couldn’t fathom buying more than the 25-foot foil container or a large quantity of tall kitchen bags and I cringed when all that was available was the box of 100 coffee filters, because surely, I was only going to need 30 at the most and I hated to waste. I know, that sounds so cheap (and so me) and in retrospect it obviously backfired since I had refused to buy Costco quantities (or renew my $45 Costco membership for that matter) and ended up spending so much more every time I had to replace something (damn!). We didn’t get new cells phones because we didn’t want to sign another contract so I made due with my old LG flip phone (with antennae mind you) that was really beginning to make me self conscious in this city where most people owned the latest and greatest iphone or Droid. Hell, even my mom had a cooler and hipper phone than I did.

All of my winter clothes were back in France and I had put off buying anything new because we kept thinking we would be returning the following month. Now it was November and the weather had cooled and I was wearing the same outfit of jeans, long-sleeved t-shirts & tennies every day and was seriously contemplating asking Vanessa if I might peruse the wardrobe from our latest shoot in NY... That, or go shopping at Topanga’s newest thrift store perhaps?

Later in the day, I received another email from Isabelle. This time there was a problem with the Maire authorizing our paperwork because he had never met us. Was it possible, she asked, if someone of authority could call him and prove that the form he had in front of him contained our true signatures? Bien sur. I went on an all out assault as I really wanted to avoid having to go through the bureaucratic maze of obtaining a visa again. Not to mention, having to re-apply for the carte de sejour again next year; both of which required yet more original documents, appointments and lots of euros. So I madly type an email to the kind Notaire who handled our farm purchase, along with our wonderful British immobilier who has done much, much more than sell us a house. Rosalind almost immediately replies with an enthusiastic, “of course.” Then, our dear friend Arlette gets involved and leaves the Maire a very detailed voicemail of our plight. So, we wait to hear next week.

In the meantime, the re-finance we have been working on has gone back and forth between two lenders due to their promises changing along the way. As of last week, we think we are back on the right track and if all goes to plan, we’ll have our funds by end of November and hopefully be able to depart by mid to late December. But, still we wait to confirm that.

I’m interviewing my replacement tomorrow, so that is a bit scary as I will be cutting the cord of financial stability yet again. And as appreciative as I’ve been to retain my job of sitting in front of a computer and working 10+ hour work days nonstop for months, I am so ready to trade that in for home renovating, farming, and preparing for our first Chambres d’hotes guests as early as next June. I am sure that my new day will likely be a 14+ hour work day, but at least spent doing what I love.

So we wait a little more. Hopefully not too much longer and as soon as this waiting game is finally over and we have the green light for departure, say bye-bye tired old LG flip phone and hello new life.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


"Grovel," according to Merriam-Webster is 1) "to creep with the face to the ground: crawl, 2) to lie or creep with the body prostrate in token of subservience or abasement."
And grovel I did just days after I had given notice at work. I began trying to reach my boss that same week, but as luck would have it, our office was moving to a new building and all forms of communication were cut off from Friday through Monday. You can just imagine what fun I was to be around that weekend.
When I arrived in the new office space on Monday morning, rather than my name being posted on my designated cubicle, it just said, "Petterson Replacement," I knew I had to move fast. I ran into Elizabeth first thing and asked her if she had a moment to talk. She was actually very relieved that they would not need to replace me so quickly and told me that the job was still mine if I intended on staying. She said that they will continue to interview candidates for my position now that she knows our eventual master plan, but she said she was fine in keeping me for the time being which was incredibly kind (and smart as I continue working 10+ hour days, every day which is still nowhere near enough time to finish everything). I also offered to work from France which she did not dismiss entirely and she even asked me pointed questions on how that might work. Other than the time difference, everything else would remain the same since I work from home 95% of the time right now. If I were willing to work some evenings, it might just work.

Phew, catastrophe #1 averted for the time being.

But what still remained was this overwhelming feeling of uncertainty that dominated all of our lives and had for over a year now. Was this plan still viable; even worth the incredible amount of stress it had caused? We all knew how it was beginning to take its toll on me with my emotional outbursts and reliance on more wine consumption than I should. But Caleigh was another matter. She kept her feelings to herself and generally appeared strong. She even acted supportive of the move in order to make us feel better. Unfortunately, bottling up her true feelings had probably made her act out in ways that she said she wasn't so proud of due to the impermanence of her life. Hank was still the solid rock of our family; so much in fact that he would not even entertain the possibility that our dream was not attainable. And although I envied his confidence, I was also frustrated at times because I often felt that I was handling the financial realities on my own while he got to do "all the fun stuff."

So, what to do? For one thing, we had to admit to ourselves that our house was just not going to sell this year even though it was considered "the best value" in Topanga according to local agents. That was difficult to do, but such a relief when we decided to take it off the market. No more spotless house and generic decorating. Bring back the family photos, yay! By taking it down from the MLS listing, we could also go forward with the re-fi that I had begun the week before. This time though, we would pull some more money out of our equity; rent our house in Topanga, possibly have me work remotely and hopefully have enough to make the move to France for a few years and begin renovations. During that time, there was also a chance that our previous home value would return, making this plan sort of an investment in our future. Wishful thinking I know, but the thought of not being at the mercy of low ball offers in the middle of winter was a great relief.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


"On croit que, lorsqu'une chose finit, une autre recommence tout de suite. Non. Entre les deux, c'est la pagaille." - Marguerite Duras

(We think that when one thing ends, another one begins right away. No. In between, it's chaos)

Still reeling from Friday's news that the buyers have pulled out. Zip. Nada. Oh my God, we're screwed. Of course, I handled the news as mature and level headed as usual and cried all morning long. Up and down the hallway, I softly wailed as I imagined our complete financial demise. Did I really just give my notice a few days earlier?! Hadn't they already someone in mind for my position? How would we ever live on one salary with two mortgages and a maxed out Heloc? We'll lose our health insurance, not be able to pay for our cars. I was basically living my worst nightmare with terribly negative thoughts like I must not deserve success. That what I have been dreaming was not meant for me and that I never should have thought that I could change my course. That I should go back and grovel for my job and just be happy with mediocrity and expect nothing more. On and on I beat myself up all day. I did manage to get on the phone to a few lenders to see about a refinance before my paychecks stopped coming and we are approved for one if we choose to take it early this week. Thank God for the thrifty survival instincts of my Scottish roots.

Later in the day, when I had no more tears left, I somehow managed to remind myself that this glitch was not insurmountable. We still had each other; we had our health (well, my mental health might have to be questioned I'm sure). But, some how, some way, we would overcome this latest hurdle. But what really gave me the most strength was my daughter. After hearing our news when I picked her up from school on Friday, she immediately groaned, "oh no...I am so sorry mom." Her empathy was so genuine and deeply felt that I was just floored. She was being so mature and had separated herself from her teenage needs, despite the fact that moving to France is the last thing in the world that she wants to do, to care about mine instead and right then I knew that no matter what happened, I had been a success in raising a compassionate human being (well, Hank helped too obviously!) and that could hardly be considered mediocre.

*The above quote was completely stolen from its use in the wonderful book about living in Paris that I'm currently reading by Vanina Marsot called, "Foreign Tongue," which I highly recommend :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Key to our Future

It is our last night before we return home and what an amazing 10 days it has been. I have gone back and forth between giddy excitement that this beautiful old maison and piece of french countryside is indeed ours, to absolute terror over the magnitude of this venture. I think I have been too scared to write because my hope and optimism do seem to wane daily. We have also been incredibly busy every single waking hour with the signing of papers for our final deed with the seller in front of the Notaire (note to self…maybe wait until you’re over your jet lag before signing important legal documents in French), aquiring home & farm insurance (ditto), going to residency appointments, shopping at the DIY stores for supplies, and cleaning & working late every night. I even attempted working for DDB last week with only intermittent internet access on top of having contracted the flu on day three until I finally just hit the wall and could barely move.

Oh, and we sold our house in Topanga the day after we signed our deed. Once our counter offer was approved and signed, I gave notice at work because I wanted to give them plenty of notice. With a 30-day escrow with our cash buyers, we were looking at returning in 4 week’s time, on the 20th of October. We had a lot to do in a very short period of time.

The house at Petit Clos was an absolute nightmare when we first opened the door and unfortunately, we did not get the benefit of having our beautiful antique french furniture left there greeting us to soften the blow. M. Coussy’s adult children sold it all out from under him (and us) and because this was part of our original agreement, he had to make good in the form of financial compensation as well as throwing in a Ford 5700 tractor with attachments (Hank’s little baby). Plus, to add insult to injury, they left all of the crap. Gross, disgusting, rat-poop-infested and moldy crap including a broken down naugahyde sleeper sofa, the stained mattress and bed that grandma probably died in, along with her wheel chair and bed pan, and about a quarter inch of 50-year-old grease in the kitchen. There were hundreds of empty wine bottles left in old plastic fertilizer bags and of the three large crates that originally contained just as many nice bottles of Merlot, they were kind enough to leave us an entire crate of vinegar that caused us to curse their inconsideracy on a daily basis. I kept picturing them in my mind saying, "oh, these stupid Americaines won’t know the difference between good wine and vinegar" which pissed me off even more although I had absolutely nothing to base this made-up assumption on. I just didn’t like them.

But then we would have our good days. Like the evening that we walked through our vineyards with a nice glass of Bordeaux and goofy ear-to-ear smiles while we admired the rolling hills and fields during the coucher de soleil (sunset). We discovered the fig tree filled with ripened fruit as well as rows and rows of wild blackberries and chestnuts under a gigantic tree and what looked like blue berries until I tasted one. I spit it out and washed the potential poison from my mouth with my wine as we laughed at what ignorant city folks were truly were and just hoped we didn’t unintentially kill ourselves.

We discovered that our local boulangerie about a kilometre away was run by a friendly baker who specialized in in making pain de campagne loaves cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven. We also got used to the odd hours for shopping again and learned which villages had their marches on the typically dead Sundays and Mondays when most everything else was closed. We were invited for drinks and dessert at Isabelle and Thierry’s who gave us invaluable advise on artisans and stores in the area and we all laughed about Hank and his new tractor and whether or not the owner may have left us a lemon without a good transmission because "why else would he leave it?" according to Thierry. I visited Colette in her new, sunny apartment in La Sauvetat de Dropt and she made me a wonderful lunch of different entres, including homemade dolmas that she had just rolled from the leaves on the grape vines growing on her patio fence, egg salad stuffed tomatoes and a rabbit pate. We caught up for over three hours and she informed me that she has quite a few local French and British women interested in our "cooking club" upon my return. I cannot wait.

We experienced the French bureauracy first hand as we obtained our residency permits after having our required medical exams in Bordeaux. This was not an easy task as it is mainly done through mail correspondence and designated appointments that we had no control over (ie. If we were actually going to be in the country on the dates they had scheduled for us). If not for Isabelle, who persistently called and argued with the secretary at the OFII office in Bordeaux (Office Fran├žais de L’immigration et de L’integraion) on our behalf, I am sure we would not have been successful. We were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of everyone at this government office and Hank of course had all the doctors cracking up in his limited French. After various medical questionaires and exams, and submitting even more copies of our passports and house deed, we were stamped and approved as legal residents of France. Now all that is left for us to do is renew it by November when our original 1-year VISA expires.

I met with the vice principal of Caleigh’s school and scheduled her return in early November when they resume school from the October break and he informed me that she could have free french lessons 3x a week after school. He personally offered to help ALL of us with our French which seemed incredibly kind.

All in all, my French was not as God-awful as I thought it would be. I could actually understand so much more than before, especially in restaurants and stores. My mind seemed to have relaxed a bit and hopefully it will continue so that I can actually utter a coherent sentence someday.

So, we’re back in a month for good. I’m still giddy & terrified depending on the day, but definitely ready for this next chapter to finally begin.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

going for it (again)

After last weekend's dismal open house - I think one person stopped by - and pouring over all of the most recent comps and sales in the area, we came to the conclusion that we had to make a very difficult decision. Either we reduce our sale price lower than we ever imagined and even offer the buyer's agent's an incentive or we take our house off the market and wait it out for three years or so. By pulling out in what I am sure will be seen as one of the worst possible times to sell a house, we would be assured of a substantial and true nest egg in a few years time. By desperately trying this last ditch effort to sell, we risked being able to adequately finance this venture for more than a year or so.

Luckily, the answer came fairly quickly to both of us. I had actually cracked open "The Life Organizer" book that my dear friend Rose had sent me recently. I have never been one to read self-help books and probably would not have opened this one either except that I had a few hours to burn during our open house and figured that by the way I had been feeling lately, it could not possibly hurt. And it actually had some fairly inspirational ideas about taking control of your life and relearning how to prioritize the things that were most important without getting so stressed out all of the time (my perpetual state of being these days). And one particular section really stood out when it asked you to answer the question, "what do you NOT want," as a process of elimination to find what you are truly looking for. When I could easily answer, "I do not want to sit in front of a computer for 10 hours every day and be bombarded with email or IM requests every other second. I do not want to fight the traffic in LA anymore. I do not want our daughter to be continually influenced by LA's often warped sense of values that seemed to revolve around constant indulgence and riches."

"Your question is your answer Butterfly."

Hank did not need the self-help book. He just knew the answer instinctively so we called our agent and told her to send us the paperwork. Of course, as soon as we released this energy (I know, I know, I'm getting all in tune with myself all of a sudden), there is a call from our cash couple AND a man who had looked at our house exactly a year ago and could not get it out of his mind.

"Stop the presses Fariba!" And of course she does while we wait for answers from both parties to hopefully make offers so a bidding war can begin. Well okay, just one decent offer and we would be ecstatic (and take it). We are supposed to hear something today, although we are both trying hard not to get our hopes up too high yet. But least we do have a little hope right now which is something we have been lacking for the past few weeks and I am definitely holding on to it.

p.s. it is also interesting to note that we took St. Joe out of our garden last week as we figured that he must have found out that we were not Catholic nuns seeking a new convent and could do nothing to help us.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nous ne sommes pas des poires!

We have had quite an interesting week. It began with an email from the seller's son, Pierre, saying that while his father was away on holiday, he had been given responsibility to sell Petit Clos house furniture and he was writing to ask us if we would like to purchase some of it. "It" being items that had previously been agreed to be included with the sale of the house. We were baffled and wrote to our agent immediately to ask her what this was all about. She in turn emailed Pierre and told him that it was our understanding that these items were to be included with the house to which he responded, that he was "very sorry if there was a misunderstanding on our part, but perhaps the deception could be offset by the fact that he is selling these pieces for well below their market value."

Hmm, we wondered. Could we possibly have misunderstood? Hank and I are are like that. We will doubt ourselves at first before fighting back and yet, this just felt wrong. The seller had said from the beginning that he wished to leave most of the contents of the house as he only planned to keep a few things. We readily agreed as long as it was not his intention to just leave all of the junk. An inventory sheet was generated, checked off and signed just weeks prior. Furthermore, I couldn't help but think of all of the beautiful bedding my mom had just made. Was he now telling me that those duvets were not going to have homes on those gorgeous antique bed sets?

We emailed our friends Andrew and Arlette, wondering what would they do in this situation. Arlette is a little french firecracker and perhaps we could ask her to speak to Pierre on our behalf. She responded right away and told us to hold our ground. After 20 years of living in the U.S., she said that she had forgotten how us "frenchies deal with things." She said that there was a fine line between being nice and understanding and being "une poire" which literally means "a pear" but also meant being weak and therefore open to being taken advantage of. She said that you've got to have balls and that you will be respected more by the French if you do. I didn't need any more encouragment. I wrote back to Rosalind,

"There has been no misunderstanding....." and went on to reference our signed inventory from the seller. Furthermore, I asked, "what was the point of the list then? what were his plans for everything else? was he planning on selling all of the treasures and just leaving us the junk? Also, where was the integrity of the man that we had been assured of in the notaire's office all those months ago?"

We went to bed a bit discouraged but happy that we had not reacted like weak little "pears" (nous ne sommes pas des poires) and woke up to a response from Rosalind that said that she has spoken to the father who said that he had no idea why his son did this and told us to just ignore him. Thank God. I was so happy to confirm that he was indeed a man of his word.

So even though we will not be 100% sure that everything will be left as agreed until we do the walk through with Pops next month, at least the son has kindly given us what he described as an "under market" value of $5000 euros for some of the items that he can reimburse us for should he defy his father and proceed in selling our furniture anyway.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Feeling Needed

As I reluctantly begin to accept how little Caleigh seems to need or want to be with us these days (other than as ATM machines or taxis), the little stabs of pain have been so kindly softened by my mother's re-entry into my life. It's not that she ever left my life. It's just that the stars seem to have aligned in our lives at the moment and she has the time, money and passion to help us decorate our new house and gites. Anyone who knows Susan knows that my mom is an artist and extremely talented in just about everything she does. From successfully designing and manufacturing fine linens for her own company Brown Sugar Designs, to painting gorgeous landscapes, making jewelry, or creating mosaic tables on the side just for fun. And everything she does has always been done with the utmost perfection - very unlike moi who often just feels fortunate to have finished what I start - sometimes at the expense of accepting a few little flaws here and there.

Anyway, my mom is also an avid gamer and embraced Farmville with a vengeance last year. so much in fact that I think she probably set some records in land ownership or animal and barn acquisitions. Our purchase of Petit Clos could not have come at a better time because she has had so much previous "experience." Now, it was time to build and decorate the real thing!

So, a few weeks ago, she calls and wants to see if I can come down to Orange County. She is so excited as she has found some incredible fabrics for only $3 a yard that she thinks will be perfect for our home and gites. Oh, did I mention how much she loves a bargin? Anyway, I drove down on a Sunday morning and we had so much fun finding french country inspired fabrics for our bedding and curtains and in less than just a few weeks time, she has made three gorgeous duvet comforters with accompanying bed skirts, decorative pillows and oh yeah, she also reupholsterd our sofa in between doing all that.

As wonderful as being the recipient of these beautiful, professionally designed bedding has been, the best part has been seeing and talking with my mom on a daily basis and hearing how excited she is every time she finishes another bed set. She told me how she had mentioned what she had been doing to one of her friends recently who replied with a little envy that she wished she could feel as needed from her adult children once in awhile. Wow, I thought, they still want us to need them. And here I've been doing everything to show my parents just how well I can take care of myself without their help all these years. Damn, had I only known, I would have made my needing her a lot more evident years ago. Well, at least I know now.

The funny thing is, when I first told her that we bought the farm in France, I think that she was a little unsure how this would impact our lives and relationship and was a little hesitant in embracing the idea. But, she did so as soon as she realized just how happy this life change had made me. I know there is that tres importante rule out there about loving someone enough to let them go so that they can pursue their own dreams and happiness, but I also know that it is a lot easier said than done in real life. In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult things to do, but something I hope I will also be able to with Caleigh years from now when she tells me that she wants to move a continent away and return to the States.

There are also some things I need to do right now. Let her go a little bit more. Be okay with the fact that I am not longer the most important person in her life. Let go of the memory of her running into my arms every time I walked in the door. She is just doing what she is supposed to be doing if she is to become an independent young woman who will eventually be able to move out on her own and take care of herself one day. Of course, right now, she is still only 13 so we obviously have some years to ensure her wellbeing and safety, but I've got to let the other memories fade away right now so that I can begin to let go. They'll be able to return one day when the time is right and you know, if I am successful at this delicate loving and letting go balancing act, I just might be fortunate enough to enjoy the same wonderful relationship with her as I am having with my mom right now.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Acte de Vente

We are approaching the end of our home purchase process and fortunately (or possibly, unfortunately in our case) none of our suspensive clauses (or legal outs) have been met. We obtained the bank loan. In fact, our paperwork from BNP Parribas arrived the week before last and we waited the requisite 11-day period for review before signed and mailing back. July 28th came and went without a local farmer in the area taking our house and land so we are all set there. Then, the approval to convert our agricultural outbuildings into habitable space came as well. We would be ecstatic under other circumstances, but our house still has not sold and after I recalculated the amount that we will owe on the signing date - this time correctly into euros - and I just about died but did NOT go to heaven.
All I can say is, this is going to be tough. Even borrowing every last cent from the remaining home equity, we will be short and I had to hit up my dad to float us the remainder. So, what does one do when faced with losing everything they have resembling a nest egg? Well, purchase two tickets to Bordeaux in September of course so we can sign our Acte de Vente (final deed) and pick up our keys. We were going to book it for all three of us, but school starts here on that date and we have decided to let Caleigh attempt to have a normal life for the time being. This could all change should our house sell this month, but for right now, at this date and time, we can only plan for what is known. And right now what we know is that we are going to be french home and land owners with or without the sale of our house in Topanga.
In an odd way, this realization and subsequent "certainty" must of been kind of relief to my system because my perpetual nervous stomach and head ache have mysteriously disappeared.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

knotty stomach & belly rings

I have had the worst nervous stomach for almost three weeks now and I'm just having to force myself to live with it as a normal state as it doesn't seem to want to go away. The last time I remember feeling like this was in my twenties when I seemed to be heartbroken more often than not having had many relationships and the breakups that ultimately accompanied them. I think that it must have something to do with my mind and body's reaction to the unexpected life change ahead. The good news is, my appetite typically subsides when I have this. So, although I feel like crap most of my waking hours, I'm actually losing weight. Yay! Only problem is, once the problem has finally been resolved though, ie. our house eventually sells or when I finally got over the ex's, and the nervous, knotty feeling disappears, I put back on the weight. At least that's what happened after I finally met my Mr Right.

Anyway, we're moving right along with the purchase of Petit Clos. We received the mortgage paperwork from BNP that we have 10 days to review before signing and returning. I'm thinking it would be a good idea to have it translated even though we know the jist of what it includes: 20 year loan; 7 year variable at 2.9% with a cap of -2/+2 for the remainder of the loan, no prepayment penalties, not life insurance requirements (that other banks required), and a $1500 bank fee.

We've heard back from M. Coussy about the inventory list and although he isn't leaving everything we had hoped for, we are damn lucky he is leaving anything at all I suppose. Hell, 6 armoires, multiple beds, tables & chairs. But, we will also be left with a bunch of junk as well, so we'll be sorting through a lot once we arrive. which brings me to the mystery question of the hour: "When, exactly will we arrive in France?"

Until our house sells, we cannot purchase our tickets, book the container, sell our cars and whatever else is not going, schedule final garage sales, get the pets their needed medical exams (they must be 10 days prior to departure), schedule the artisans (roofing, heating, electrical & plumbing), fly to Denver to obtain Colorado ID's and most, most importantly, confirm that Caleigh will be able to begin the school year in Duras. Don't even get me going about how much I worry about that. Hell, I'm ruining her life as it is; I cannot screw up her education and future can I ?!

Which brings me to our latest bad parenting decision. Much like many divorced or just plain absent parents' guilt-fueled indulgences toward children they barely see, we actually succumbed to one of Caleigh's incessant requests to have a belly piercing most likely due to some of the guilt we feel in ripping her away from her life and friends yet again. It is not the worst looking thing in the world and she knows that she cannot get anything else pierced until she is an adult, but what the hell was I thinking? I actually went with her to the little piercing/tattoo parlor down the street from my office in Venice Beach on a beautiful summer day last week. We borrowed my company's beach cruisers and rode down the boardwalk and went into a place that she had researched on the internet. At first, I decide to videotape the piercing with my old school cell phone, but that did not work so well as my finger was blocking the lens. As I'm doing this, I start to think what a looser parent I am (attempting to) videotape my daughter's belly piercing and am reminded of the movie "13" where the Holly Hunter mom character sadly tries to be cool in her daughter's eyes. Thankfully it's done in less than a minute so we pay up and ride back to my office in silence. Caleigh's was probably due to her imagining just how cool she is going to be with her friends (before she realizes just how painful this is going to be in a few hours and the fact that she is not supposed to swim in a pool or the ocean for over a month and we happen to be smack in the middle of summer) and mine, as I'm wondering just where my parental judgement has gone.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cash Couple

Finally. We found out that a young couple loves our house, can pay in cash, do not care to negotiate and accepts the house as-is and is just working out some final details on their finances before making an offer (that has already been written and is with their agent waiting for their final go-ahead). Well, that news was over a week ago and we're still in the holding pattern, as well as showing our house on a weekly basis. In fact we had a last minute showing scheduled this morning. Our place looked great and we left with the dogs with high hopes. As an hour passed without a call from the agent filling in for Fariba while she is in Iran, our hopes were getting even higher as that meant that they were taking a long time. That, or our substitute agent just forgot to call us while we waited on pins and needles which is exactly what happened. Damn, it is just so frustrating to constantly get our hopes up, only to be let down yet again.

But, we will still have faith in our cash couple. Just do not know exactly when it may happen.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

painting party

I think last week was one of our worst. We decided to paint the outside of our house thinking that that would be the ticket to selling it. Hell, we had already fixed everything that needed fixing, finished the cosmetic improvements that we could afford; with the exception of course for a kitchen remodel as we had spent that budget on last year's french sojourn that got us into all of this trouble in the first place. But, our place looks pretty good. We have an incredible view, the rooms are all freshly painted and we keep the house as close to immaculate as you can and unfortunately, devoid of many of our personal things. Anyway, so Hank finally convinces me that he can crank out this painting job by himself in a weeks time. We call my brother, John to see if he can help and off we go to Home Depot. We have a vague idea of what we want - Hank wants off-white or beige; I want deep, rich browns or greens to blend into our Topanga fauna. Guess who wins? We settle on "Mississippi Mud" which was kind of a brown-muddy-green color which looked fantastic on the color swatch. Since we needed to get this finished before this Sunday's open house, we forego the usually sampling and order a 5-gallon container and painting supplies. The following day, Hank starts painting the side of the garage and we were so happy with our choice, just oohing and awwing away. We like it so much, he continues on and finishes painting our garage door which is on the front of the house. We go to sleep content with the certainty that we have made an excellent choice and this will surely improve our curb appeal. Then we woke up and and the sun was shinning on our beautiful new paint. Only it was no longer so beautiful. It was the color of diarrhea and I was just sick. Hank, on the other hand, thought it was okay and wanted to continue on with the rest of the house. "Oh, no honey," I say. "we're having a hard enough time attracting people to our house."

Just to be sure I do not intentionally increase the tension in our household without good reason, later that morning I asked two friends to come over to see the damage, hoping that they will tell me that I am crazy and that the color is perfect. Unfortunately, neither Fariba or Paulette can and so I spent most of the day arguing with Hank over what to do. We are both so stressed and tired and at our wits end. I, of course can only imagine our complete spiral into financial ruin due to our house not selling and owing lots on a home equity line and now, a brand new french mortgage. Hank just wants to fix the problem so I can stop worrying so much and now the painting idea has not worked the way he had hoped (the quality was superb even if the color was awful though).

In the meantime, our dear friend Fariba suggests that maybe we should get another agent to list our house so it can appear like a new listing as it has now been on the market over 4 months. I ask her if that is what she wants to do; if it is just too depressing or too much work. "No, not at all, my dear," she says. "I only want your house to sell so you can go to France on schedule." So, she would give up her eventual guaranteed commission after all of her hard work just so we could pursue our dream on time. What a wonderful friend and that is why we said no; we will not list with another agent. Then later that same weekend, she even out does this selfless gesture by offering up her husband Dale and daughter, Sanam, to join us on Saturday morning for a "painting party" and we spend the afternoon together getting rid of the nasty color with our original house color and we are back to square one.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Praying for a Miracle

Not the greatest day on record. We have so much uncertainty for this move and as much as I have been trying to go with the flow, today I fell apart a little. I have been dealing with 2 French banks and a French mortgage broker trying to get financing for this venture. I am actually feeling somewhat confident since we both have jobs and our income to debt ratio is well within what the banks require. What is killing us is the complete lack of interest in our Topanga home. I mean, people come to see it and like it alright, but we have not had one serious buyer. We also have to contend with the short sales that just keep getting worse and worse and today when I spoke to our agent, she said that the last two short sales will really hurt our appraisal, and thus, asking price which we recently reduced another $25,000 just a week or so ago. Suffice it to say that we will probably have to go even lower than we ever imagined and that will cut into our renovation budget and our savings and retirement. Scary concept. The euro's devaluation will help us make up some, but we need to lock in this lower rate before it starts to creep up again.

On the goofier side, our St. Joseph statue finally arrived and we buried it in the garden facing east (toward petit clos). we even said the prayer included in the little kit. I'm not quite sure about this superstition working for us as not a half hour after we buried it, we received the call from Fariba with the bad news reality of the Topanga housing market. But, you could also look at it as telling us what we needed to do to sell our house.

On an emotional note, I'm feeling pretty devastated after reading a written conversation between Caleigh and a friend saying how much she "couldn't stand my parents anymore." I really was not being nosey. I began picking up her room while she was at the movies and mall with a friend (mean old mom that I am gave her money and dropped her off earlier) and when I picked up some pieces of paper on the floor, I noticed something written on about taking pills. That obviously piqued my interest, but it ended up only being about her friend being given something for pain after having her braces tightened. I guess I should have put the correspondence away after that, but I couldn't and that's when I found out just how Caleigh feels about us.

What is weird is I ask her on a very regular basis how she is about this whole thing because I know it is not, nor has ever been, easy for her. I've explained countless times that we would be moving no matter what due to the expense of living in LA. At least in France she knows people and I do know that she enjoyed much of her time there. If we moved up to Oregon, for example, she would have to start all over again. Anyway, it is what it is and yes, I know it's typical for a teenage daughter to hate her parents - especially ones that relocate them to France in middle school. But, it breaks my heart just the same. She has no idea now, but I'm doing this for her as much as myself. She will be able to go anywhere and be anything she wants to after this experience. She has always had confidence, but this experience will make her stand out even more. She has always been exceptionally smart, but with another language under her belt, not to mention, knowledge of other cultures, she will be that much more interesting; so worldly. I really think it will open doors for her as well as give her an appreciation of the "rest of the world" that we do not always get living in the U.S. She will also learn that outside of Los Angeles, not everyone drives brand new fancy cars, has the latest and greatest toys due to having unlimited allowances. She'll learn that you don't have to be completely grown up when you are only 13 years old.

Anyway, I realize that it is impossible for her to see that vision now, so I won't push it. I just really don't want her to hate me. Is that totally unrealistic at this age?

Later that day: Caleigh learns that I have discovered this letter and tells me that of course she loves me and was really just being overly dramatic. Thank God.