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!