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.