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!