Sunday, January 31, 2010

meltdown party of one

January 31, 2010

I have had a complete meltdown over tenants’ issues at house (first the office floor; latest, the septic), finances and “what the hell have we done” or are doing with our nest egg. Things have not worked out the way I had hoped. I am no closer to speaking French than I was when I left 6 weeks ago and that just eats up at me like you wouldn’t believe. We have driven to many places (Bergerac, Bordeaux, Agen, etc.), but not actually seen very much of them and usually miss the markets, days when things are open, etc. mainly due to poor planning. I’m just nasty and negative right now, but trying not to crumble. I cried for about 2 hours last night and was completely inconsolable.

“I want to just go back to what I know. I want to work at the shitty job that I detest because ‘I know’ what is expected and I receive the known paycheck, plus the necessary benefits for my family.”

“I came here hoping that somehow I would have a sign of what I, we, were going to do for the second chapter of our lives and I have no f-ing clue other than we’ll be about $50k in the red; especially if we do not sell our house which is now worth between $150 - $200k less than it was last August.”

“I’m so scared because I do not have an answer to the way I am feeling and I’m guessing that 'this' is why most people don’t chuck their jobs and situations to go live in France even though they say that they would like to while they were on vacation.”

“I feel like I made a huge mistake…”

Hank patiently sat up with me the entire cry-aide which I don’t think I will ever forget. I would have wanted to slap me, but he just listened and tried offering solutions. Crazy, ones mind you (opening a baquette/flower shop or selling our house and buying a fixer upper in Topanga are just two). But at least a calm, patient and loving voice at a time I that I needed it most.

Today, the sun came out and I actually laid in a lounge next to the house with two donkeys mulling nearby and read some of Kevin Zarley’s “Complete Wine Course” this afternoon and felt better. I actually got excited about doing some of his wine tasting suggestions and hope to go shopping soon for some of his recommended vintages . Hank and I went to Bergerac today, but because it was after 12noon and a Sunday, everything was closed….maybe next time. We actually didn’t go to shop or have lunch, so it was not a big deal today and kind of nice to see the beautiful old part of the city that way.

Hank took care of dinner. Caleigh was extremely forthcoming with what is really going on with kids her age (and quite possibly herself, but I don’t think so because she is so open). All and all, I feel a bit better. I went back to taking the whole welbrutin pill as I was trying to ween myself off this anti-depressent and taking only a half of a pill a day all last week. Maybe not such a good idea right now, although I really don’t want to have to take something all the time so when things get better, hopefully I can.

Hank’s mom just offered us a very generous loan and suggested that we not sell our house yet.

Things to ponder.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Getting over my Fears

19 January 2010

Getting Over My Fears (one at a time)

aka: The Doctor's Visit

I never realized how timid and shy I could be in unfamiliar situations until we committed to actually live in a foreign country for an extended period of time. When traveling to France before, as much as I wanted to speak the language and immerse myself in the culture during the 2-3 weeks we visited, I never really did either as successfully as I had imagined in my mind (picture hair and skirt blowing in the breeze and my marche basket bursting with fresh produce and bread, leaning over the cheese case and saying, “Monsieur, peux-je avoir votre meiller comte fromage svp?”). But, it didn’t really matter as I was only a tourist and who was ever going to remember me other than the French couple at dinner discussing the silly Americane who asked for something really embarrassing at the produce stand earlier that day? I certainly wasn’t.

Well, now that we live in a community of under 3000 residents (and that includes the outlying villages), it’s much more difficult to just “blend in” anonymously as we are going to be here for a while and we are the only “new” American’s to reside here in the last 17 years. Eymet is definitely a place where ‘everyone knows your name’ if you get my drift. Hell, the houses have names rather than numbers. At school, Caleigh is known as “the Americane” and the one girl previously known as such had never actually ever lived in the States although she and her parents are American/French citizens. Because of this closeness, at times I feel like anything we do could be scrutinized and possibly talked about. I’m also challenged from just getting used to the every day business of living here - from setting up our local bank account, getting our kid registered in the local schools, purchasing special French scolaire assurance, obtaining a local cell phone (which deserves its very own section), finding the perfect boulangerie (and eventually butcherie, chaucterie & fromagerie once I learn how to order…patience…), learning the preferred supermarches and village marches as well as the days/hours they are open, trying out the local restaurants, bistros and cafes (I know, poor, poor me) and getting to know their proprietors and wait staff. All of this is new and of course, in French, and as you know by now, a tad intimidating for me.

So, trying to make an appointment today at the local doctor’s office for Caleigh was a bit of a challenge. She has had a cough and congestion for over a month now and even though she says she feels fine, I am starting to fear getting chewed out by yet another doctor for child neglect (last December I think she actually ended up having an bronchial infection that required antibiotics after over a month of hacking). So, first of all, I consulted Isabelle’s “Everything you need to know about Lauzanac” notebook that she has prepared for guests. I find the number of a medical group in town with directions, so Hank and I decide it would probably be easier to make an appointment in person rather than over the phone.

When we walked into the reception area, everyone was sitting down (and looked at us of course) and there was no receptionist desk in sight. There were three doors though. One was for the toilet, so that was definitely not it. There was also a door with nothing on it, so I definitely wasn’t going to try going through that one. Then, there was the third door with some instructions written on the window that made me wonder, although no one else went through it. In fact, I watched as a few new patients arrived, said, “Bonjour” to everyone before grabbing a magazine and sitting down without checking in with someone. Damn, I really wanted to go through that third door, but I didn’t want to be the pushy American, always having to be first, never wanting to wait…Hank’s the same way, so we sat there with the sick people for about ten minutes until I suggested that we just head home and try calling. “I’m sure someone will speak English,” I said hopefully.

So, we get home and I consult my French-English dictionary and phrase book until I’m completely ready to go. I know how to ask how to make an appointment, “Je voudrais prendre un rendez-vous svp” and that it is for my daughter, “pour ma fille” who has had a cough for a month, “elle a un toux pour un mois.” Unfortunately, I got tripped up on the pronunciation during the spelling of her name, and the poor woman trying to help me make the appointment finally asks to have a person who speaks French call for me. I hang up feeling so inadequate; so frustrated because I actually knew what to say, but could not communicate the most basic – the French alphabet. It didn’t help that we had chosen such a unique name for Caleigh. I should have just said, “like the famous port town up north whose pronunciation her name was taken from when I was 9+ months pregnant and crazy-desperate for the perfect name and saw a tv commercial advertising the Buick “Calais.” But I didn’t tell her that, and instead just hung up feeling dejected.

So, I pulled out the phrase book that has the phonetic alphabet and I really want to call back and prove to the receptionist and mainly myself (and also Hank who had witnessed my ineffectual attempt), but I chicken out and call Isabelle instead who can hopefully call for me. But she does not pick up and I contemplate just letting Caleigh’s cough go another day, week, month, whatever; just so I don’t have to call back again…but of course, that doesn’t feel right. So, as Hank suggests, we go back to the doctor’s office and sit in the reception area and I take out my dictionary and translate what is written on the third door’s window and just as I am almost ready to press the “sonnette” (buzzer) once to make an appointment (as I can now translate that it says to do on the mystery third door), the kind receptionist comes out. I know I’m not leaving here (again) without an appointment, so in front of all of the people in the room, I stand up and blurt out in crystal clear French “Peux je prendre un rendez-vous svp?” She smiles, says, “oui, bien sur” and whisks us behind door #3. A few minutes later we are walking out with a sheet of paper with an appointment time with Dr. Roquebert made for tomorrow afternoon at 4pm.

It is such a small feat I know, but I cannot begin to explain how great I felt right then and how good this “getting over your fears” real-life-French-therapy felt.

One word: Superb!


Oh, and I found out why everyone looks at you when you walk into the doctors office (beside just human curiosity). They are waiting for you to say "bonjour" so they can all in unison say "bonjour" back. Then when you leave, everyone says, "au revoir." It is so incredibly sweet. We also saw a wonderful doctor yesterday who prescribed Caleigh the necessary antibiotics that we picked up at the pharmacy in about 5 minutes. Total cost out of pocket for a non-insured foreigner? $22 euros for the exam & visit; $18 euros for three prescriptions (antibiotic, nasal spray & throat syrup). Makes you wonder about all this "socialized" medicine over here. It seems to work just fine and obviously the patients all seem happy :) -

Oh, and this other cute thing happened in the waiting room. An elderly couple was waiting with us and started speaking french to us and I tried speaking to them, very, very slowly. Well, she may have thought my attempt was cute, or she may have just thought I was extremely simple because she walked right up to me with a huge smile on her face and held my cheeks in her hands and gave me the double kiss! now, that was pretty special.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

French Lessons

French Lessons I

So, we called the number listed on the bulletin board just outside the tourist office in Eymet advertising a woman teaching French conversation. Hank had just purchased another telephone card so we had 1.5 hours of time so I was ready to go. The sweetest sounding woman answered the phone although it took her a while to get up to speed in speaking English as she was a bit rusty she said. I asked her if she thought she might be able to help us and explained that it was primarily for our daughter, although my husband and I would also benefit should it be something we could all do together. It was difficult to understand her, but I did gather that she was immobile so that we would need to come to her. I suggested that Hank and I stop by on Thursday after the Eymet weekly market and discuss what she could offer and she agreed and gave me directions to her place.

Oh boy, it will be an absolute miracle if we find it and even if we do, I am not sure if the reward is worth the challenge of finding her in this maze. But for some reason, I think we should at least try and so we are on for tomorrow. First, she explained, we need to look for Rue de Temple. OK, we have that sort of; it’s near the square. So we look for the magazine store in the square and she is on the same side of the street. Ok, we can do that. Then we pass a mini supermarket called “Spar.” After Spar, there is a dark alley around the corner that we should go down as she is not actually on Rue de Temple, but on a little offshoot of that main street (or something to that effect). Then we will see a painted white shop and she is in the building or room behind that. Her place has light green shutters which are unique as she has them painted based on her preference rather than the blue of the rest of the village. Good, she is an independent minded woman I think to myself... Lastly, if all else fails, she says that the cheese and chaucaterie vendors usually park just under her place on market day. No, there is no house number. Okay, Thursday at 11am I say as I try to get off the phone #1 to save our limited phone time as I have now used up at least 15 precious minutes and #2, I really don’t see us finding her place. So, we say our good-byes and I hang up and have to take off my sweater as I had actually begun sweating after the conversation and look at Hank as if, “What should we do?”

Well I guess we should at least try to find her I think a little later. She sounded incredibly nice and it could possibly be a great experience. Well, we will just have to see. First of all, see if we can even find her in the maze of the village she described, and later decide if it seems that she can actually help us with speaking French.

To be contined.

french lessons II

Today may have been one of the more interesting days of our trip, at least for me. We met with an 81-year old French woman in town who had advertised French classes on a bulletin board in the town square. When I spoke to her on the phone a few days ago, I hung up thinking to myself that this was probably not going to work. First of all, she was quite rusty with her English at first and I was really looking for some young, hip, twenties-something woman that Caleigh could relate to. Also, when Madame gave me directions, I knew it would be a miracle if we found the place as they were kind of tricky; what without an actual street name (she lives off an alleyway) and a number. But lucky for us, it was market day and part of her instructions were to look behind the charcuterie and fromage stand, and after walking in circles in the rain, voila! we found it.

When we walked in, I had my second doubts. It was a tiny little place. Just a bedroom and kitchen and it was packed with stuff, but only one cat, so that was a good sign. It also had a slight odor of I don't know what. No a stinky odor, just a medicine, older-person smell. We knew she was immobile which we found out to be due to rheumatism and arthritis, and we sat down and I seriously wondered how this could possibly work. Luckily, this was just a meeting to talk to her and see if she might be able to help us, so we knew we were not committed to anything.

Anyway, we sat down and she began talking and we found that she was very interesting and well-educated, and had traveled extensively. I could tell that she must have been attractive in her day as her complexion and long silky gray hair were both very beautiful. We talked over an hour and then got down to business and she suggested swapping our French instruction for some help in taking her to the market or cleaning up a bit in her apartment. I had actually mentioned the same exact thing to Hank on our drive over as we knew that we really did not have the money to pay for this so this was actually perfect. We told her that yes, we could try that out and see how it worked for everyone.

So, that's what we are going to do. I really hope it goes well. I am excited to go shopping with a real French woman who can teach me about all of the meats, cheeses, etc. that I seem to get so intimated over when going to those open air marches. I love them, but I truly don't know how to order or what exactly is in some of those saucissons :) I have been reading up on the different cuts of meats and various kinds of cheeses to get over these silly fears, but now I'll have a pro with me so I'm excited.

I've also wanted to do something more rewarding for years in the form of volunteer work and I just haven't had the time. If we can help her and get a little educated in the process, this will hopefully work out for all of us.

So that was today. Tonight is volleyball in the nearby village of La Souvatat du Dropt with our farmer and vintner friends. Tomorrow we look at another cottage for the second part of our stay should we be able to continue here after April. Then it's the weekend and the "soldes" are on for another week, so Caleigh and I just might have to go for a little shopping together. Oh yeah, she is doing great and is happier than I have ever seen her (for a 13-year old).

What have we done?

The Farm at Eymet – Arrive Friday, Dec. 31st, 2009

Every day is a challenge and has been kind of stressful. In fact, I have doubts almost every day about what we are doing here. Sometimes I feel so displaced and the simplest thing, (like going grocery shopping) can stress me out. Getting our bank account at Bank Popularie was quite an accomplishment, although the kind woman who helped us did speak English. When we tried to get our phones now that we had the treasured “RIB” so a monthly payment can be deducted from our bank account, we actually delved into our limited French as the sales woman did not speak any English. While waiting in line, I felt like I was going to get sick though. This was just too much for one day. But when it went well and we learned what our next steps were (we have to wait for our bank card to arrive), I felt much better. But, back to the doubts. I have them a lot and I think the fact that I’m having those thoughts is stressing me out. This is everything I wanted, right? I’m not working at DDB in my stressful position as BBD. I’m not commuting in LA, sitting in traffic half of my life. But, those are “my issues” and I understand them and can deal with them. I feel so utterly “foreign” and out of place right now. Even though everyone has been incredibly kind and helpful. Caleigh started school this week and I have been working on filling out her paperwork for the past few days. She is doing great and I just left a message for someone who might be able to tutor in French. Everyone loves her at the school. The boys whistle at her and call her a “sex bomb” and all want to date her. Luckily she has girlfriends instead.

I have also received emails almost every day from our tenants back home and it looks like we will be putting in new hardwood floors in the office since the cats/dogs seemed to have destroyed the carpet. They are not even being pains; it’s our frickin’ animals who went crazy the 2 weeks after we left and our house sitter must not have noticed ). Anyway, dealing with that, Verizon over billing, bills in general, our spending, etc., from afar is completely taking its toll on me.

What I am hoping is that this will be the most difficult part of our adventure and I will look back and read this and laugh and wonder what I was thinking. For now, the reality of moving to france for 3-6 months is not picture perfect. Am I glad we did this? Yes. I’m very proud of that. Will I make it past next week? God I hope so.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Easing into the Routine

Hello everyone,

I cannot believe that it has been a week since we arrived on the farm just outside of Eymet (which is about a half hour south of Bergerac and an hour east of Bordeaux). We arrived on New Year's Eve and made a quick stop at the local Carrefour for provisions before it closed, namely, Bordeaux wine. Oh, and food of course. Hank is like a kid in a candy shop. When we first arrived in France and were still spending euros like drunken sailors on leave, he bought a few Grand Crus for about $20 each (that would retail in the States for over $100+). They were great and all, but when I put him on a stricter shopping budget, he began focusing on the $5 euro local wines which were actually even better tasting most of the time. So, that's where he is now. Driving through snow (yep, snow in the area described as "mild in climate" when I researched it many months ago) and shopping yet again for our "provisions." This time Caleigh and her new best friend, Hannah, are with him as they are all going to pick up another friend, Skye, for a double sleepover tonight. Caleigh is doing great after having survived her first week of all french school. We could not have asked for a better situation. But first I should describe how she began her first day already having local friends. The proprietor of our wonderful house here, Isabelle, not only assisted us in getting her into this wonderful school (by letting us use her parent's address so we were in the right district, including a free ride on the bus every day), but she introduced Caleigh to a local girl named Solene that we would be carpooling with (to drop 4 kids off at the bus stop). By way of facebook and ichat, etc., Caleigh was able to meet numerous kids - French, British & Kiwis, and with the internet translation sites, she has been able to communicate with the French kids for months. Then Isabelle hosted a nice little afternoon fete last Saturday afternoon where we met the other three families that we would be carpooling with. Nicalas' parents, Sophie et Olivier own the local winery (what luck!). They may not have known much English and we certainly cannot speak proper French yet, but we most definitely spoke the same language with regards to vin although I’m pretty sure Hank insulted the winemaker when he asked if his wine was filtered. “Of course, I filter my wine.” To which Hank replied that he kind of enjoyed the less refined wines; wines that still had residue. Then there was Solene's parents, Fabienne and Jean-Mare who farm barley and sweet, shy, Matthieu's parents, Agne's et Jean-pierre who are raise vaches (cows). They were all so pleasant and kind and we have even been invited to join them for Thursday night volleyball games. That's right, volleyball. I cannot wait.

So on Monday we get up in the dark and take Caleigh the 20km to Duras and are unfortunately quite early so that all of the kids of the school (and I really do mean, ALL) are able to check us out through the fishbowl-like windows for about a half hour before the first bell. Caleigh was mortified, but luckily some of her new friends were there to greet her and give her the double kisses. Soon after, we all met with the principal and vice principal, M. Polegato & M. Bonotto (or Mister "B"). They were incredibly gracious and after reviewing Caleigh's near perfect grades (hey, I'm a proud mom) and she promised not to chew gum in class (that was of the teacher's comments from Paul Revere Middle School), they decided to put her into 4 eme verses the 5 eme which is equivalent of putting her with the older 7th graders/young 8th versus the 6th/7th scenario we were originally planning on. We will see how this all pans out of course as the language will continue to be a barrier. But she is excelling in Maths, Anglais and Sports already (who knew that they would be focusing on gymnastics this term?). Now, French, Spanish, Physics, History and so on might prove to be very challenging, but she's a hard worker so I am confident she will be fine, especially since she does not want to lower her grade. But at least in this school of only 250, there is not as much distinction between the kids' grade level as in the states since they all hang out together and apparently the boys like you no matter what grade you are as Caleigh found out this week with I don't know, about 5 or so boys asking her out in French mind you. Merde!

So, while Caleigh has been at school all week, Hank and I have been trying to figure out how to open a bank account (check. we did it after 3 attempts once we knew the exact paperwork necessary). We also came oh, so close to purchasing our local mobile phones with a basic plan. We even did so in our limited French as the saleswoman did not speak English. I was quite proud of this feat until we realized that we actually had to have our carte bancaire (French bank debit card) which would not actually arrive for another week. So this was about right as everything we have done has taken at least 3-4 attempts and we definitely learned new things every time. In between getting settled and setting things up, I did suffer from a few bouts of anxiety when I finally realized that we were not returning home from "vacation" any time soon (nor could we even if we wanted to as there is a family living in OUR house), that neither one of us had jobs in probably one of the worst economies since the depression, and with all of this togetherness time, I could not help but wonder if we were going to drive each other frickin crazy after a few weeks. Thankfully, that feeling has subsided as I look at my stack of books you all have given us and I actually have time to read; I sign up to take a local french conversation class so I can really get to know our neighbors; and for the first time in my life, I actually have the time to admire the beauty around me. I'm sure it will rear it's ugly head again, but for now, I'm feeling pretty confident and good about this decision. It's just kind of scary at times too.

anyway, I'm going to go sit by the fire with a book and have some pg tips (thank God for the Brits in the area). Take care. Know we love you and miss you and stay in touch. Oh yeah, "magic jack" is indeed magic so please call us every once in a while at 310-XXX-XXXX. just remember that we are 9 hours ahead.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Uh oh. They're already getting on my nerves

Hello darling,

I am finally starting to relax and settle in to this charming farmhouse. if there is any way for you guys to come over? we would absolutely love it. all you need are the tickets to Bordeaux and we would have the time of our lives...i will send pictures in a separate email.

anyway, the first few weeks were pretty hectic and I learned a few lessons (ie. just get to your destination first rather than lug 10+ suitcases through Paris/Orly & Nice airports/Provence, etc.). Paris was beautiful, but a freezing blur as we were still getting over jet lag in snowy conditions. In the picture on facebook of Caleigh and I in front of Notre Damn, we were absolutely FREEZING (and whining!). Provence was better, although we only lasted 2 nights in our first little medieval house. it had "medieval" electricity it turns out, so we struggled to figure out how many lights we could turn on without tripping the fuse, but we were literally freezing by morning two and contacted the owner and were able to be refunded our money and we luckily found a cute little house in Antibes (near Arlette & Andrew). Had a great time there and finally explored Cannes and Nice which we missed entirely on our last visit, and checked out many of the nearby hilltop villages (Gordons, Ste. Paul de Vence). At this point in the trip, we were all still a bit cranky though. Caleigh was missing all of her friends and was sick of all this "family time." we also lost our free internet access and the cafes had limited hours due to the holidays. I was a bit stressed because we seemed to be spending euros like drunken sailors on leave and I couldn't see us being able to stay past February at that rate. Hank was busy "blogging" which was beginning to piss me off as he had the luxury of enjoying everything, while I dealt with bills and Katie (the animals have been a bit of a challenge as you will see below) with very limited internet access. oh, and we were still battling it out with verizon who just cannot seem to put our phone back on. They really make it difficult to reduce your bill when you go out of down it seems. In our case, they just turned it completely off versus put it on vacation mode as we had requested and after hours and hours of international calls with multiple customer representatives, we basically ended up practically begging them to just turn our phone back on with the intention of sorting it out the following week.

I've got to run to pick up Caleigh at the bus stop. Will fill you in more a little later.