Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Day in the Life

After having worked nonstop, 10hr-plus days, 7 days a week, today was just one of those amazing, kind of "pinch me; is this real?" days. I was sitting in my car waiting for Caleigh's school bus to arrive when I heard a tractor rumbling by only to see it was our friend Dominque who saw me and waved hello. Shortly after, a new acquaintance who runs the local hot air balloon tour company rode by on his bicycle saw me and again, smiled and said bonjour. Minutes later, a parent waiting for their kid pulled up and gave me a big smile. Of course, the late afternoon light made everything even more dreamy, but I couldn't help but feel that I was actually becoming part of this tiny french village.

Earlier in the day, I had picked up my girlfriend and neighbor, Patricia, who had offered to introduce me to the Maire's winery so I could buy a nice bottle of sparkling wine for our newlyweds arriving this coming weekend. Not only did she help me with this, but she also ended up gaving me 5 fresh trout from their lake AND an offer to help register me in an upcoming "vide grenier" (french village flea market) while she has her hair done this Saturday at the local coiffure. It just goes on and on with the kindness of our friends and neighbors and even though we have had some tough weeks with either bad news regarding water, insurance or an astronomical french electric bill, the good we have experienced far outweighs the bad.

Again, with barely a budget, we have been cranking on the house and finished the kitchen, living room, my office, and one of the bedrooms upstairs (did this while mom and Gary were in Italy). In the midst of all this, I've been trying to keep my vegetable garden alive with the help of a cistern that Patrick filled up with the mucky, animal water from another part of our property (unfortunately not potable or able to fill our well). It's great but requires physically filling bucket by bucket and hauling them 50-100 feet to the plants which can be physically exhausting. But, the results have been great, having fresh lettuce, basil, tomatoes, green beans, pommes de terre, etc.

Our latest challenge is the 2nd bedroom and brand new bathroom upstairs that we're trying to get ready for our first guests due to arrive this weekend. Thankfully, they are practically family and understand our work-in-progress setting, but still, I want everything to be as nice as possible. Mom and Gary have been prepping, spackling, grouting and painting, not to mention, mom going crazy over every brocante or vide grenier we hit. She's got a little hole in her pocket devoted to decorating and furnishing some rooms and with her taste and creative flair, who am I to stop her?

The film crew came out for their third and final shoot last week which was terribly draining as we were asked to reverse some of our progress so they could capture the renovation in sequence. Nothing better than recreating something that was finished weeks ago rather than actually try to finish a house that we hope to fill by next month. Luckily the crew were all very professional and kind and we had a great wrap party on the last night that I think we all really needed.

We keep getting asked why and how are we doing this and I can really only answer the why question right now because how we're doing this, I really cannot explain. We're doing this because we wake up every morning with a renewed energy and know that every ounce of effort we put into the renovation will pay more than just the rates we hope to receive when the rooms and gites are available to be rented.

We're doing this because Caleigh is blossoming here. Although it has not been an easy transition, she now has a strong grasp of the language and is making new friends as well as thinking about her future. We also get to look forward to two of her close friends from LA visiting us this summer.

We're doing it because we absolutely love France and the people and lifestyle and want to do our best to share this incredible culture with other Americans (and anyone else of course), as well as eventually offer French travelers a unique vacation spent with an American family in their own backyard (hopefully when we finally grasp their language). Maybe I'll make Connie's incredible homemade salsa and serve tacos for them or have a barbeque and watch a western movie under the stars :)

As we're rounding the corner of finishing Phase I, it finally feels like our initial dream has the potential to turn into a reality.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Well Run Dry

Both literally and figuratively for us last week.
Just a week after the plumbing and electricity were in perfect working order in our brand new kitchen and I had gotten used to not running down the hallway with a bucket of dirty dishes to be washed, I was watering my newly and somewhat pathetic, still more-dirt-than-plant kitchen garden, when l'eau just stopped coming out of the hose. "What the hell?," I pondered. Surely there must be a problem with the hose because as far as I understood it, we had unlimited and free well water (puit l'eau). As it ends up, I was correct about the free part, but having experienced one of the driest Spring on record (and incredibly nice weather), the water table was dangerously low for those of us who wished to take a shower or flush a toilet that day which included my mom and Gary, Caleigh and the sweet exchange student, Tessa, who had just recently arrived from Belgium. Hank and I? Nah, by this time in the project, he and I were used to holding off because really, what was the point when you're just going to get filthy again the next day?
So, we definitely had a petite problem and we proceeded to call and contact everyone we know. We started with our plumber extraordinaire, Mathieu, who came to our house within minutes while on his lunch break to assess the problem. "Not good," he says, but says he will come back after work to see what he can do. We phoned Patrick and I actually left him a message in French which I'm sure was pretty interesting. But he came of course, because he has continued to prove himself invaluable in situations like this. I emailed Isabelle who informed me that we were not the only ones affected because that this had been an unseasonably dry Spring. Of course she offered her assistance in phoning the people at SAUR (the city water people that we had actually been meaning to contact the closer we got to completing the rooms and eventual gites), so she did. Then there was M. Coussy, who responded to my email within the hour offering further suggestions and recommendations and he even went as far as to send a local man over in case we needed a temporary cistern filled with water.
So, other than the not-so-nice woman answering the phone at the SAUR water department, everyone literally stopped what they were doing to help us on Monday. Fortunately, when Mathieu returned that evening after work, he had another brilliant idea and was able to lower our pump in the well so right now, we have water. For how long, who knows. We cannot waste in on things like watering the garden though, so I've resorted to using recycled water from the shower runoff or dishwater just to keep my plants alive. Who would have ever imagined me showering with a bucket or siphoning excess water from my sink? Like the local farmers, I just hope it rains soon.
Figuratively, our non-existant "well" of a budget was also hit very hard this week in the form of our first reading and subsequent electric bill from EDF. Ouch! We knew it wouldn't be pretty with the inefficient heaters cranking in 2-3 rooms all winter long. I also knew that I often cheated by doing laundry during the day AND using our dryer (although, sparingly). $822.50 euros (or $1200 dollars) later, I have learned not to fool around with electricity in France. As I research all of the available plans and figure out which one will be better for us in the long run, I am now washing my clothes and dishes the french way by programming the machines to run in the middle of the night and drying clothes on the line during the day.
Then that pesky "Securite Sociale" health insurance issue came back to bite us in the form of a registered letter informing us that not only are they still demanding $2264 euros for "insuring" us from Jan-March, they now want an additional $122 in late fees. It's kind of strange because when we applied for coverage, we thought that was what we were doing - applying - and should we choose to accept their plan, we would pay the necessary premium. Had we had any idea that we were committing to any amount that they deemed appropriate and that they would charge us for 3 months automatically even though we were not technically covered for 2 of them. Fortunately, we do have an incredible financial advisor who will help us dispute the charges so at the very least, get them reduced.
We ended the week speaking with our financial advisors in LA who have continued offering their support and have invaluable in turning our retirement pittance into, well, a little bit larger pittance. We are making more progress in the house and completed the living room and Hank plans to tackle the upstairs bathrooms next week while I get going on our website and figure out the logistics of selling my mom's beautiful French linens at the local markets until we are up and running as a B&B

Living room

Hank and his cerise tree

Oh, and did I mention that one of Patrick's horses had a filly last week?