Friday, December 9, 2011


An interesting last few months I must say. I turned 50. And, although I was not dreading the milestone, I certainly was not embracing it enthusiastically which is probably why I was in a funk the whole week prior. What I am sure I was feeling was uncertainty. My freelance assignment was ending at the end of the month, we had decided to give our LA tenants notice that we would be selling our house in 2012 rather than renew their lease (giving them the opportunity to move and thus, lose our monthly rent that covered both mortgages) and we still had a good amount of work to finish the main house. Thankfully, we had money for the moment, although we knew it would have to last us through winter, not to mention be there for unplanned emergencies, property taxes, and yes, the holidays were I was worried and feeling a bit out of sorts trying to come to terms with the constant insecurity we had lived in for so long now.  Having paid the price of turning the big 5-0, one would hope that as a consolation price, all of our financial worries would lesson. Ha!

So, with no excess cash in our pockets,  it was only fitting that we found the painting we had been dreaming about for the past 7 months, still tucked away in the back office at our favorite brocante, Flash, in Bordeaux. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the stolen bedroom furniture from Petit Clos  was being stored in a friend's barn less than a mile away. This friend and neighbor who buys and sells all kinds of odds and ends for a living, was approached last year by the owner's children to sell and/or store the contents of Petit Clos. But, after becoming friends with us over the past year and probably because he had heard us tell the story of how the owner's son sold our furniture out from under us ad nauseum, he finally dropped by one afternoon, put his head in his hands and said, "I've got to come clean..."  and he explained how he had been hired to remove and try selling the loot last year. We did not have a problem with him. He did not know us at the time and he was just hired to do this not knowing the story behind the furniture. But, as luck would have it, apparently overly ornate dark wood french furniture (bordering on campy) is not very popular here as everyone found out to their dismay, you literally cannot give it away. Modern is definitely the preferred look, but since I've never been one to follow trends too closely and in this `110-year-old farm house with incredibly high ceilings, the older style suits it perfectly. So, after a few weeks thinking about it whether we actually wanted it back or not - you know bad mojo or whatever - we decided it made just made more sense to bring it back "home" where it always belonged.

We also managed to make the deadline to get into the local tourist brochure for our department - Lot-et-Garonne and have begun researching many of the internet sites for booking reservations and will start actively attacking next year's adverting right after the holidays.

Caleigh turned 15 this week, and she continues to amaze us. We know that we threw her in the deep end last year, hopeful that she would at the very least, tread water. We never expected her to become Mark Spitz and that she'd be fluent in french and develop the admiration from her teachers who say that they are now confident that she will have no problem getting into a lycee generale and achieve her baccalaureate in three year's time. I am definitely oversimplifying here as I'm still learning the ins and outs of the french education system, but basically, at troiseme (9th grade equivalent), students are preparing for a very important test called the brevet which is taken in May. While their grades, or "moyens" (averages) are taken into account; combined, these all have an impact on whether her teachers and school administrators will recommend her to move up to the next academic level. Or instead, they could suggest that she be better suited to go to a trade school or half-and-half academic/professional experience route. Of course, we want her to have choices and not decide her life's fate next year, so continuing academically is our goal and now the headmistress (principal), and each of her teachers that we met with last week say that she is bright, a very hard worker (plus forte) and will have no problem going to the next level. I am so proud. Just wish she would quit correcting me all the time and didn't have such a heavy french accent. I can barely understand her.

We're still dealing with our residency or lack thereof other than the "tourist card" we currently hold. We seem to have done all of our paperwork correctly, but it appears that one office (OFII - immigration office) did not speak to the other (Prefecture - government administrative office) and a few well-meaning attempts to assist us by our very own Maire's office only seemed to have confused matters more. Thankfully, we have the services of Yvonne, who has drafted a letter to the Prefect outlining the mistakes that were made and has requested a modification to our carte de sejour. We'll see how this goes, but for now, the result is that I cannot be granted my own auto entrepreneur activity and be assigned the necessary SIRET number (a tax ID) that would allow me to work as a small business. And the result of that is that I cannot work in weekly markets other than a few of the Marches de Noel this month that do not require the professional status. It's really not the end of the world if I cannot work in marches right now. For one thing, we're almost in the dead of winter and two, my products are not exactly flying off the shelves. For example, I spent all of last Sunday in a Marche de Noel at a school in Mousteir and I'll be lucky if I took home 26 euros. But realistically, probably not even that as I paid a 15 euro fee to participate and spent a few euros buying a baby gift and champagne for friend's coming by the following week...But, the good news is that I made more local contacts that offered advice and suggestions as they thought my products were great and had potential, even with my professional limitations (think word-of-mouth, online, etc). So, I really was not terribly discouraged and spend a nice day unwinding (from a 4-month advertising assignment that I had just finished days before).

And lastly, we tied up our new farming "commodat" with our dear friend and neighbor, Dominque this week. In celebration, we invited he and his wife over for dinner. Weeks before when we originally made our plans, Patricia had offered to bring a rich local pumpkin based-soup, so I planned our menu accordingly thinking that I should not try overpowering the soup by making a rich, large main course or one of the hearty delicious veal or lamb stews that Colette has taught me to make over this past month. Knowing that Patricia loved cous-cous, I decided to make this amazing seafood taboule with cous-cous that Colette had also taught me. But when we had to push the date of our dinner back by a week, I incorrectly assumed that Patricia was still bringing her soup and you can imagine my expression when she did not arrive carrying a large terrine. It also did not help that as I was preparing the ingredients for the taboule earlier in the day, I noticed a little note on the recipe saying that this dish was perfect for l'ete (summer), or a day time pik-nik. "Oh geez," I think to myself...not another faux pas please...

I decide to do what any other desperate cook would and begin overfilling their glasses with plenty of the champagne I recently purchased...maybe they won't notice that the meal is sans entre (which was supposed to be the soup course) and just a cold summertime salad I have prepared in early December. But I did of course and apologetically explained that I just didn't cook much and primarily made simple dishes....which in turn brought on the discussion of how much they loved to cook and I just wanted to hide my head under the table because of course anyone who knows me knows that I love to cook too (and had recently made the most incredible new dishes just the week before sans guest of course) and here I was having to pretend that I don't cook much due to my poor offerings this evening. Well,  the evening ended up just fine and we had plenty of cheese and dessert and vin bien sur, and presented Dominique with the Sheriff's badge Teddy had brought over in thanks for his heroics months before when someone was illegally farming some of our land.

On to our first Christmas spent in Petit Clos!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Smothered in Paperwork

While waiting for my first few paychecks to arrive so we can resume the final home renovations before winter (second upstairs bath, downstairs hall and bath; front entry, etc.) Hank continued working outside, quickly transforming into Paul Bunyon, hauling fallen tree trunks from the forest and cutting them into our winter firewood. He finished clearing any remaining debris hanging around the barns and hauled large rocks and stones to make our garden and driveway borders. We had a large pile of gravel dropped off for our driveway that he spread practically by hand although Dominique was kind enough to drop by with his large tractor and finish the task. We also had two wood burning stoves dropped off that he immediately installed and we have been nice and toasty as the weather dipped down in the 30's last week. Needless to say, Hank's looking tanned and buffed; better than he has in years.

Me, on the other hand, have been sitting on my ass, working behind a computer most of my waking hours for the past two months and have of course found that 10 lbs I had miraculously lost over the summer. But I will not complain for one second. I am working with a great group of people from home and will start having paychecks soon. When I'm not working, I continue on with the myriad of french paperwork that seems to be neverending and never easy. Thankfully, we have two right-hand people who have been invaluable in assisting us decipher and translate the administrative challenges that confront us just about every week these days: our financial advisor, Yvonne Droshagen at and our friend and language and administrative consultant, Natalie Goodenough at

Warning: the following is kind of boring, but reflects the reality of being an American living in France their first year (without a French spouse, or employer/state department taking care of all the legalities of residency, nor having a firm grasp of the language; that being my issue and obligation to correct). I'll try breaking it up with pictures...

Certificat d'urbanisme - this is our building permission to convert the barns into habitable space, or gites (holiday homes) in our case. We have always known that we had up to 18 months to submit our stamped plans (Dec 23, 2011), or, we could request an extension 60 days in advance of that expiration that would give us another year in which to submit plans. So, last week I took our extension request in writing to the maire's office and was informed that the extension could not be extended if the existing laws had been modified which of course have been. A simple extension procedure that was described as a slam dunk by this same office less than 6 months ago, was now not an option. Now we are in the process of reapplying for a new certificate d'urbanisme which in my mind has the potential to remove our rights to convert our barns into gites. And because I am no longer a believer in "oh, it's just standard procedure; it will be no problem to obtain," we will also work on submitting our plans before the existing expiration of Dec 23, just to be safe.

Attended the Blonde Aquitance Expo in Bergerac in September with our buddies, Dominique and Patricia...Patricia is on the left and Dom is in the ladies attire in case you were wondering.

yes, that's Hank offering a bottle of Bordeaux to one of the vache...

I kid you not, this American bad boy was on display at the Fete.

Carte de Sejour (Residency Card) Renewal Snafu
Even though I began our renewal paperwork back in August (it was due by Nov 1), and submitted all of the necessary paperwork (including translating our birth certificates because the confusion over how we date documents in the U.S.), we found out 2 weeks ago that the renewal was incorrectly submitted (for the second year in a row) and our residency card reflects us only as visitors and not residents. So, although it's legal for us to stay here, apparently, it's not legal for us to make any income and for me to become my own small business (an auto Entrepreneur), nor obtain the necessary commercant ambulant card necessary for me to participate in weekly markets. That's a bit of a problem as I'm sure you can imagine. Yvonne called on our behalf and was told that we could request a modification as we were still before the deadline. But our Maire's office has said that they never received our renewal card  and when they called the Prefecture, they were told that this modification could not be done until next year unless of course, we wished to drive down to the Prefecture in Agen with our new cards and sort of "beg" for a modification. Oay vay. Surprisingly, I did not completely lose it, although I must admit that my eyes did begin to well up...and I could not contain an involuntary and audible, "humph" while thinking, "this is not happening." Hank gave me a look that said, "pull it together," so I did, just barely. We called Yvonne who was also a bit annoyed and said that she would call on Monday and try to get this sorted out for us, saying it was absolutely ridiculous for them to deny us a normal residency.

Theo & Caleigh

Carte Vitale (Henri et Caleigh)
One little stroke of luck we encountered was obtaining health care for Hank and Caleigh (my coverage was supposed to be tied to my company which I am not allowed to have at the moment so we'll attempt to add me to Hank's in the meantime). After initially following the Anglo Info articles advising us on how to get into the French healthcare system when we first arrived in France and subsequently, receiving an astronomical bill and collection notices that we had to fight for months to get removed (thanks again to Yvonne),  Hank's company was successfully established interestingly enough. I say that because he had the same exact carte de sejour, except for the fact that he's a man, I suppose, as his was not redflagged and denied. Frankly, I'm not going to ponder the potential sexist slant to this and will just shut up and be appreciative that we can at least run our B&B and obtain health care under his business.
 discovered that Elle likes cantelope
...and Skye prefers sleeping in the fireplace

Permis de Conduire
Just a quick update. Still studying for the written test (hey, I passed 10 of the trial examens so far) and found a great new site with advise about the procedures and test itself in English: We were preparing to be scheduled by the Prefecture to take our test any day now (before our 1-year residency expiration date of Nov 1) and when we had not heard anything after sending in all of our required paperwork (demande de permis de conduire, medical exams, translated birth certificates, my great-grandmother's maiden name, Hank's third sister's 1st born middle name, etc.), we called on our friend and professional consultant, Nathalie. She spoke to the person who handled les permis and she was informed that yes, they have our paperwork, but that it takes up to three months to schedule the test, especially one for l'etrangers (us, foreigners) because they will attempt to have a translator for the test which is great news. Only problem is, we will be driving illegally after Nov 1 and were warned to drive very, very carefully and avoid getting pulled over by the gendarmerie.

So, other than getting our farming commodats updated in the near future and putting our 2 extra parcels up for sale (I'm thinking swimming pool next Spring), we're mainly trying to figure out the best way to keep afloat until then. But, you know, it's Sunday and I'm not supposed to think about finances today. So, I'm going to get my butt outside, enjoy the gorgeous Autumn day and rest up for next week's beaucoup challenges.

Throughout all of these obstacles, sometimes it's a wonder Hank and I are still happily married, but thankfully we are. We celebrated our 17th anniversary on October 1!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Change of course

I'm not sure if you could call it a smashing success, but having our first guests a month ago was definitely a very valuable learning experience. Let's just say, I don't think they looked at our website in advance or took us very seriously when we explained that we were still a work-in-progress although we were (and still are) very proud of the beauty and comfort of our restored rooms and as well as the pristine beauty of the farm and our region in general. Yet, it became apparent very soon after their arrival that we were not exactly what they were envisioning as we can hardly be compared to a roadside or airport hotel that they had enjoyed earlier in their travels. But in fairness, we had to learn something from this experience and reluctantly acknowledged that Petit Clos was still rough around the edges (and we were adoring, yet, blind parents) and that perhaps we were not quite ready for guests. We certainly did not want to have disappointed guests so once we got over our initial deflated egos, it was followed up with a sense of relief and a renewed energy to revise our future game plan.

Unfortunately the sticky little detail about making a living without future rentals for the time being continued to gnaw at us, but no sooner had I lost a night or two of sleep over it, I received an email regarding some freelance work and have been hired to work from home for an agency located in Amsterdam. Something that I did not think I wanted to do again was suddenly a ways to a means to stay here and I have easily adapted to the biz again with a passion I probably had not had for many, many years back home.

My father and Ginny came over in the midst of this and we had the best time. They came with packed suitcases carrying our much missed American little treasures like cheetos, tortillas and an assortment of t-shirts & hats to give to our French friends. After the niceties or our reunion and our eager acceptance of all of their generous gifts, we decided it was time to put them right to work. And work they did. Both avid gardeners, they cleared out my weed-infested garden and dad mowed the grounds, giving our entry a semblance of order. Oh, and they arrived during a rare 110 degree heat wave. Luckily, our funky little freebie above-ground pool game in handy at the end of the day.

August was also a month of French Administration and damned if it's not going to put me over the deep end one of these days. Hank sometimes jokes that "Cindy can out-French the French" when it comes to the bureaucracy involved in living here, but I'm not so sure about that right now. We are in the process of renewing our residency, applying for an extension on the building permits on the gites and if I can survive it, apply and take our french driving tests. Yep, we have both been driving for 35 years with no points and receive our good-driver discounts and we are in the process of studying for this insanely difficult test in French that even the French shudder at when recalling how difficult it was for them. Seeing that I missed 30 out of 40 on one of my first trial tests, it is not a good sign, so every day I wake with a little sense of dread and know I should be studying their "Code de la Route" so I can pass the test when our licenses expire on October 31...

We have also been thinking about how we will set up next year's farming contracts and have had plenty of assistance from neighbors interested in our land to the point that a few of them "just happened to be in the area" recently. The first was a neighbor who voiced interest in possibly buying the two non-adjoining parcels up the way (sounded good to us), but then changed his tune ten minutes later and offered to possibly swap some not-so-desireable land (no thank you). We were later told by more than one local that he might not be very stable, so maybe not the best person to have a business transaction with.

Then there was our dear old proprietor who again, "just happened to be driving by" last weekend. Funny thing about that was that I had scheduled a meeting with our Notaire about drawing up new contracts, or commodats as they are called here, with our desire to have another farmer maintain the land in the upcoming year. Because we really want to like this guy (the father of the thieves who stole our furniture), Hank and I kindly invited him in for a drink where he began to give us his sad story about needing to maintain our lands for two more years to avoid having to pay extra fees for having accepted government subsidies years before. Out of compassion, for a moment, I actually entertained the idea until our friend and local farmer neighbor, Dominque, (who also just happened be in the area interestingly enough), burst in and demanded to know why Monsieur had farmers and equipment on our two parcels as we spoke (the ones he has no right to farm and that he knew we hoped to sell). Dominque reminded me of a Gallic John Wayne character, instantly setting the record straight, protecting the poor, naive foreign city folk. He barked at Monsieur, "They are the owners, they are your boss #1 & #2. You have no right to be on their land without their permission." He also demanded to know why Monsieur was using complicated agricultural terms and not speaking to us in English knowing full well that he was fluent. I swear, I just stared at the man in disbelief and thought about that damn line, "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me" and thankfully, it made our decision quite easy. So when that little bit of drama in our cute country kitchen was over, Hank and I bid farewell and thanks to Dominique and gave the Monsieur some of Hank's canned pears, Petit Clos paraphernalia and fresh peaches as a parting gift and said our goodbyes (and good riddance as I kicked him out the door in my mind :). Thanks to Dominque, the farmers that were on our land illegally left soon after.

Caleigh started school this past week and has acclimated well. She is such a trooper. While all of her friends back in the States are starting their freshman year at high school, she is making up a critical year in College (equivalent to the last year in middle school). It doesn't help that she's always been a bit more mature than her age, so to get back in the routine without a complaint, we are very proud of her.

Which brings me to today. I think Hank needed a break from the house for a few weeks when he  got in touch with his feminine side and started canning pears and making peach cobbler from the fruit on our trees two weeks ago.

Then this past week, he went on an all out assault on the scruffy grounds around our outbuildings and fences. I think pictures will tell the story better than I can.

Hank the hunk:



Lastly, as much as we have embraced the people and culture here in France, I cannot help but feel 100% red, white and blue American today of all days while we honor the victims and true heros who died 10 years ago on this day. It is because of the bravery and sacrifices of so many like them throughout our history who have protected our freedom (that goes for both Democrats and Republicans alike by the way), that I have been fortunate enough to be able to change my course and follow my dreams.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Game Day

Well, Hank and I are finally sitting down after a day and a half of preparation for our first guests' arrival which could be at any moment. I guess "a day and a half" is not completely accurate as we've been prepping for over 7months now. But it feels good. We feel good and pretty proud of what we've accomplished almost completely ourselves on a budget that some would spend on their garage remodel. There is still quite a bit more to do and I know that I will always notice the flaws or imperfections of our rustique farmhouse because that's just the way I am, but even I sighed, "hell, I'd love to stay here," when we finished this afternoon.

Two days ago:


After printing out a changeover checklist on excel, Caleigh and I went to town on the rooms as she began her first job as our "changeover" girl. Lucky for her, we are not booked solid - well, okay, today's guests are our only ones booked so far, but now that we have electricity upstairs, we can finally begin our advertising assault at the tourism offices this week and register with some online travel sites and hopefully pick up some last minute travelers through the fall.


I know, I know, the hallway is still pistachio green, but the fact that there are no longer wires hanging from the ceiling or drywall stacked against the wall was a huge improvement. The entry should be finished in the next week or two.

Shared breakfast station.

Didn't have any flowers blooming so Hank suggested fruit and berries which I think I like more.

Uh oh, I think I hear them coming up the drive. Wish us luck!