Monday, February 28, 2011

Oeil de boeuf

Last week we had the tv crew out to record some "during" footage of our renovation and one of the days was spent with Isabelle shopping brocantes in search of our "oeil de boeuf," or "bullseye" window. It's typically a small, round window that allows you to see who's coming up your drive or walkway and since Hank drew it in his kitchen plan, we have been determined to find one. Only problem was, it was becoming clear after a half dozen attempts to find it, that they were not so easily to be found.
So, we search another 6-8 places with Isabelle to no avail but ended up having a very nice day together, something that neither of us had previously had the time to do. In fact, it was on this day that Isabelle gave me the go-ahead to address her with the familiar "tu" rather than the more formal and proper, "vous." I'm so excited about this except for the fact that I am not at all used to conjugating this tense so it's sure to slow me down again in my attempts to speak french. But, it's so worth it as I've considered Isabelle very much a "tu" in my life for quite some time.

Even though we did not find the window on this outing, Hank and I did have a backup plan and were able to purchase an arched window the next morning at a used window shop. The film crew scheduled the mason so they could film he and Hank knocking through the stone wall, but what they failed to mention was that he was not available to put the actual window in for two weeks. And as luck would have it, the weather changed for the worse right after they left, and yes, voila, more freezing cold winds blowing through the kitchen just when we had finished the insulation and drywall on the ceiling and thought our conditions were improving.

We also had some more bureaucratic tasks to deal with as well and were fortunately put in contact with a local financial advisor to assist us in getting through it all. First of all, I had had this brilliant idea to "get into the system" right off the bat and think I wrote about going down to CPAM in Marmande about three different times with all of the required paperwork. The goal was to acquire french healthcare, but we incorrectly assumed that we would be charged a reasonable fee as foreigners. A few weeks later, we received the "we are pleased to inform you" letter stating that yes, we had been approved and that it would cost about $7000 euros a year to cover just Hank and I (just under $10k U.S. dollars). Oh, and the letter further stated, Caleigh would not be covered because they discovered that she was not actually in France legally..."What?!" So, we drove down to the main Prefecture (government office) for our department in Agen with all the papers I am assuming will be requested and impossible to believe, but true, we had every single one that they required and did not have to return the next day with something we had forgotten (I think I am actually made for this stuff as much as I detest it). The kind woman who helped us told us to come back in two weeks and we would have what was essentially a document (called a "DCEM") stating that Caleigh was here legally so she wouldn't get detained in let's say Spain or Belgium if on a school field trip.

So, another near catastrophe averted except for the healthcare issue which was quoted nearly as high as COBRA coverage would have been in the U.S. Thus, the financial advisor, who will hopefully make this all go away for us as she obtains private coverage and helps up set up our business and make it into the system as tax paying residents (versus the rich lay-abouts that I think they incorrectly assumed we were).

Hank has almost completed the mechanicals in the kitchen and he and our very nice, young electrician/plumber are soon to get us up to this century's codes. We hope to purchase our lower cabinetry this week and are meticulously trying to utilize every centimeter of space because storage will be challenging.

One of the things we have found to be both challenging and endearing are the many visits we have throughout the week by kind friends and neighbors. It's almost like clockwork when we just get started on a project, some kind, helpful visitor decides to pay us a visit and is usually bearing gifts or loaning us tools. What can you do, other than invite them in for tea, coffee or wine depending on the time of day or afternoon. In fact, I now make sure now that I am always prepared with either biscuits (cookies) or nuts, crackers, etc. for these unplanned visits. But as much work as we always seem to have to do, there really wouldn't be a point for living in France if we did not take the time to enjoy these special moments.

I've continued stripping the wallpaper and am close to being done. Next, I'm onto stripping old paint from doors, windows and built-ins and then hopefully something rewarding, like new paint and hanging curtains. We continue shopping for antique beds, armoires and vanities for the upstairs bedrooms and I plan on painting, glazing, whitewashing, you name it, just to lighten the old pieces up. We have received some great recommendations for some fun (and affordable) shops like Troc d'ile in Bergerac and Flash in downtown Bordeaux.

Caleigh seems genuinely happy for the first time in months. Her friends, JoJo, the horse and the possibility or a scooter or small motorcycle in her near future seem to have brightened her outlook of living in France. Because many of her new friends are french, her comprehension and conversation have really improved. I'm also hoping to hear back from a tutor who can also help her get up to speed at school even quicker.

The weather has improved (very California-esque) and I've begun planning our kitchen garden. We actually took the morning off today and enjoyed the nearby Sunday market in Issigeac and shared delicious roasted partridge, porc pie (british influence), olives, bread, saucisson and a few local cheeses with fresh bread with a glass of rose with our Scottish friends, Thomas and Audrey. Must say that today felt very "joie to vie-y" and withstanding the financial restraints and the fact that there's still a hole in our kitchen wall, I was terribly thankful for all that we have.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

70 Years to Celebrate

Today is my father’s 70th birthday and and since he is primarily to blame for us moving to France in the first place, I thought it would be only fitting to dedicate this blog to him (not to mention the the fact that I failed to send a gift off in time and he'll be tres disappointed). First of all, my dad has always loved to travel and especially to meet new people and experience other cultures. So much in fact that he actually absorbs their mannerisms and changes his accent according to what language is being spoken. When I joked about Hank’s “Pepe Lapieu” accent in an earlier post, my father’s "talents" with multitple accents put my husband's to shame. And even though very little is usually understood by the kind, foreign victim of my father's attempts, the communication of humor and kindness has always been successfully conveyed.

In 2007, he and his wonderful wife, Ginny invited us to France to share a week with them in La Roque Gageac in the southwestern, Dordogne region of France. Since this was not their first trip to the region, my dad was an amazing tour guide (sorry Ginny, I cannot credit you as you deserve because as anyone who knows my dad can attest, he will expect this entry to be entirely about him) Anyway, they took us to Sarlat, Dome, Beynac Castle. We canoed, visited the caves where prehistoric man once lived and ate fois gras, walnuts (some of us actually went to a walnut museum if you can believe it) & baquettes until we had massive muffin tops.

In fact, we were so inspired by this trip that we began our decent into francophilia over the next few years and when we decided to put our house on the market and move to France two years ago, it was Wylie who said, "That's cool. Go for it!" So I listened to him for once and we did indeed go for it albeit not exactly as planned as anyone who has followed my blog knows.

And purchasing our farm probably would not have happened as smoothly had it not been for my father (and Ginny bien sur!) as I had inadvertently miscalculated dollars vs. euros right before the final transaction. And to think that I was a business manager for 25 wonder that I often felt like it was the wrong calling for me.

Anyway, so, now it's your big day Pops and unfortunately, I am not there to celebrate with you. But, as you can see now, it is actually your own fault if you really think about it. You taught me to venture out and embrace other cultures or I wouldn't be putting myself up to the embarrassing encounters I have with the locals every single day. You were right though. People are just people and as long as you try, they'll usually react kindly and most of the time, will even help you.

So, although I am very sorry that we are not physically there to share in this great (and tres vieux) celebration, we do plan to celebrate your 70th in style, in France, ensemble (together) in the Fall.

A santé Dad!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Busy Week

I have little time to write these days (if you'll notice, Hank's writing has been prolific lately :), but everything has improved since my last entry. First of all, we have hot, clear water that doesn't shake the whole house down when we turn it on. Our container arrived and even though we cannot unpack a whole lot yet, we've made our living areas actually a little homey. The weather has warmed up considerably and flowers are actually starting to bloom.
Began taking down the wallpaper in one of the upstairs rooms
voila! next, plaster and paint, and oh yeah, add some new century electricity
Having lived without a kitchen for almost 2 months now, we finally found my beautiful new cuisiniere
existing kitchen to date
the container arrived and Caleigh finally has her own suite

as do we...
and sort of a living room

All in all, I can't complain.