(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Friday, July 31, 2009

fun week ...

my friend Christie was here several days and it was so fun just hanging out, visiting and knocking around a bit. On Monday morning she helped me price a line of body products in the boutique and that afternoon she rode along with me to Brive for an appointment and it was a good thing, I needed her co-navigator skills to get me there. We met with the representative for a line of goods we will have in our new boutique, and it was fun having her there to try stuff on and give opinions ...

That morning I had put a market rabbit in the big casserole pot along with fresh tomatoes and herbs from my garden. We arrived home to a delicious Provencal stew (oh it had olives and peppers, too) ... we snipped fresh lettuces and nasturtiums in the garden and dined like gourmands!

Tuesday's plan was to head back south and lunch at one of our old favorite restaurants, Bistro d'En Face in Tremolat. After that, we went to Chateau Montdoyen, a winery. I had tasted their delicious cabernet blend, 'Tout Simplement', and thought it would be fun to check it out as I wanted more ... it was a bit hard to find, but we made it in time and ended up buying quite a bit. Also, I scored points with my local wine store ... I'd been trying to get him to carry their wine but he has been too busy with the season opening to make it down their for tasting. I brought him back a sampling box with a bottle of each of their wines. He was quite surprised at my effort.

Wednesday Christie helped me in the store, again! All of the clothing items are now priced and tagged. We also got a bit of shopping that she wanted to do finished. That night we had dinner with a french friend, the 3 of us went to Bourdeilles for their weekly 'saveurs' fete. We picknicked by the river and ate ourselves silly.

Thursday a.m. came too quick and too early. We drove to Limoges for her to catch her train on to Paris and the airport. We allowed 1-1/2 hours to arrive based on advice from locals. We arrived about 5 minutes after the train's departure time ... but by some miracle the train was delayed and she just got on.

As luck would have it, she missed her next connection and had to reroute her trip anyway!! I KNEW she should have stayed the week-end!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

message in a bottle.

i'm going to toss this out on the big blog sea and ... see what comes back to me.

a little confession. as I started getting in to my blog and reading other blogs and seeing other bloggers find ways to get their writing published ... I began to dream a little dream that maybe someone out there might read about my adventure ... someone who knew more about these writerly things than I ... someone that might see a seed of something...I don't know ... adventurous, fun, entertaining ... maybe even a little inspiring. And might know someone who knew someone who worked somewhere and could give me some advice on how one might get their story ... slighty, semi-autobiographical whimsy ... in front of the right person. perhaps ? maybe? parce-que? pourquoi-pas?

I'm in a place right now where I could use a buoy. a marker in that big old sea to swim towards. maybe a lifejacket too, if it is going to be a long haul.

but I'd really like some insight as to how one might go about this rather daunting prospect.

that of being heard ... more widely.

that's it.

I've decided to cease reading email after 6:00 p.m. I find that most emails are either spam, bad news or irritating. With the time difference, they seem to arrive around the time I am winding down from my generally productive day or preparing for bed.

This means my good night's sleep is interrupted or terminated, depending on the level of irritation derived from the email.

At least when receiving such news in the morning, one has the day to process and resolve the impact.

Herewith decided and seconded. fin.

Monday, July 20, 2009

another milestone achieved.

I am no longer classified as a "visiteur" to France via my Carte de Sejour.

I applied for a revised residency card, allowing me to own a business and have an income ... or work independently. In order to receive this, I had to complete paperwork regarding my business plan, projected income, resources to support the business, etc.
I had to provide attestations from my bank and pictures of my inventory. Several trips to the prefecture were required as I either did not understand the requirements fully or additional documentation was requested. In addition, I had two meetings with the Chambre de Metiers to sort things out further.

Le monsieur at the prefecture has been nothing but cordial and helpful. We reached a stumbling block mid-way ... the chambre de metier would not issue my SIRET number without a carte de sejour change to commerçant / professionel and the prefecture would not change my carte de sejour without a SIRET number! After my 3rd trip to the prefecture, he took pity upon me. Excusing himself, he disappeared for about 20 minutes ... he spoke with Madame at the Chambre de Metier and convinced her she could issue the number.

I immediately called and set an appointment. She too was nothing but kind during our meeting, very curious about my new home and activities. Returning to the prefecture, le monsieur decided I had waited long enough. He disappeared again and returned with my temporary Carte de Sejour ... which is typically mailed to the mairie. From that moment, I could conduct business.

But in my mind nothing was official until last Friday ... when my postal carrier delivered my letter from the mairie, summoning me to retrieve my new carte de sejour. Almost as good as my new status is the fact that I have a new, up-to-date photo, minus several chins!!!

I now have my SIRET number, a new Carte de Sejour approved for my second year and commerçant / professionel status.

With this change, it is also possible for me to receive my Carte Vitale, which is the French health care card. My taxes paid will also contribute towards a small retirement fund.

um regarding the carte vitale ... anyone out there have some good tips for applying / receiving? my next residency project awaits!

All in all, telling you I am quite satisfied, trés contente, would be a hell of an understatement!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

merci monsieur cochon!

well, here it is ... the finished product! we spent about an hour getting this ready. well, in actuality, Jean-Yves extracted the head from the pot and removed the meat while I squeamishly alternated between closing my eyes and observing. Let me tell you, seeing the jawbones with teeth intact was a bit much... but I soldiered on and chopped onions and parsley ... wanting to do my part...ahem.

Meanwhile JY chopped all the meat and mixed the paté ... using gros sel, parsley and onion. The head had already been boiled (by me!) for about 4 hours with carrots, fresh thyme, fresh laurel, celery, onions, and peppercorns. It became kind of 'sausage-like' and then was spread on sheets and baked in a hot oven for about 40 minutes, until brown and just beginning to crisp.

Now I will slice it, put it in freezer bags and then the freezer. The small one I've been instructed to retain for immediate consumption!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

je suis heureuse!

aujourd'hui Jean-Yves m'a dit que mon français a été meilleur les derniers jours. il a dit je me rappelle d'employer les petits mots qui sont si importants en français!

il est enseignement dur d'un vieux de nouveaux tours chien et encore plus dur pour acquérir une nouvelle langue après l'enfance… que je pense que j'ai rayonné comme une écolière qui a obtenu A!

j'ai pensé il était nécessaire de vous dire que cette histoire en français, il est plus appropriée!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

my date for Friday ...


When Jean-Yves suggested we make a porc paté de campagne using tête de cochon ... I'm not sure what I imagined.

But ... being me, I retorted "I'm game" and made my way to the boucherie and placed an order for un tête de cochon, entier.

Eyeing me dubiously, they told me it would be a few days ... but dutifully inscribed my name in a journal and told me jeudi matin.

well now. just got back from the boucherie and off the phone from an uproarious Jean-Yves... when I arrived at the butcher and reminded them who I was, le monsieur disappeared with an ever so slight smirk and returned with the fellow above. I guess I was thinking someone would have kindly removed all of the various aspects that certify Yes, this is the head of a pig. But no, Wilbur's cousin was there staring back at me ... and now he's in a box in my fridge.

When I saw the item in question, I had to excuse myself and call JY to confirm that yes indeed, I should be receiving one head, complet! he was in the shower and Etienne could be heard shouting to him through the spray. I went back in the shop and said, yes that's for me. We had a bit of a laugh as I explained that my friend and I would be making a paté, that I was a silly american and had no clue what I was getting into.

When I asked if I would be able to get a bag, a really good laugh was had at my expense. "Mais oui, bien sur Madame. Did you think you'd walk down the street with a pig's head under your arm?" lol.

So, now I have him. After I got home, I took this photo and sent it to JY with a big OMG! seconds later, my phone rang and I believe monsiur laughed till he cried. Given the fact that this has been a hard week for him with Etienne visiting grandma and a bit of the blues ... I was actually happy to be the butt of the joke ... it was very good to hear his laughter.

I now have some marching orders to begin boiling the beast. with lots of onion and garlic and parsley and such. I was able to beg off of cutting of parts (ergggh!!) ... hopefully, he will handle all of that tomorrow. I just need to kick off the witch's brew pot! I also found out there is something of a movement around eating the entire beast that is slaughtered for our whims. Read a very entertaining and useful article on cooking a pig's head and why ... Here.

I recently picked up a big pot for canning at a vide-grenier so I'm all set!

double, double ... toil and trouble ... fire burn and cauldron bubble ...

potager ...

well my garden is in full swing...and some bits are going gangbusters! finished first round of green beans, tomatoes (cherry, heirloom, round) ripening on first vines, 2nd vines bearing fruit, 2nd wave of green beans in full bloom (beans on the way) ... up to my ears in mache (lamb's lettuce) and even got a few early onions. Cilantro is now about 10" tall.

Thinning beets and turnips, planted fennel this week and soon will put in chinese cabbage and chicory.

Mesclun and spinach are growing well. hmm, what else? Oh yes...radishes, carrots and zucchini in different stages of growth.

The only thing struggling are the jalapenos. Maybe there just isn't enough heat ...

flowers are blooming, grass is springing up for weekly mowing ...

it brings me joy!

Monday, July 13, 2009

one year ago, today ...

I arrived in France...

Two suitcases, packed to the gills. Two dogs, in kennel crates. One carry-on bag. Two shoulder-fulls of stress, à la U.S. Filled with excitement, fear, trepidation ... and a big dose of 'what's it all about, Alfie' ...

I thought it would be fun and good timing to pause for the cause, and take stock ... where I can find a picture ... I'll let it help tell the story.

First, let's start with me ... my physical transformation ... this one's kind of hard to do in pictures because I've spent many years avoiding them, hating them, destroying them! let's face it ... I wasn't morbidly obese but I was...um, I prefer the french version ... "ronde". I've misplaced about 30 kilos since coming here and that is one lost item I'm not looking to find. ever. but in the spirit of documentation ... here's a couple of before (I had perfected the fine art of posing holding something ... a purse, a coat, my breath ... ha ... or hiding behind someone or something to block much of what was me ...

and after...full body shots are hard because most of my photos are taken by me! you'll just have to make do here (but hell I even found and threw in a 2 second video JY made of me recently ... I'm puttin' it ALL out there, folks!):

Next up, my abode ... the house project ... now on surface, I've only gotten 2 rooms 'done'. My bedroom and my salle à vivre ... but that is deceiving for many reasons. My second bedroom was scrubbed top to bottom and is functional for guests. The escalier is about 1/2 done, awaiting final plastering touches and painting (winter project). The radiators/heat have been repaired and are functioning ... a MAJOR step for the cold winter. I have a new water heater and washing machine installed. Electricity is not awful ... but more awaits. The attic has been cleaned and fully insulated. Jean Yves insisted we attack things in a 'must needs' manner ... being warm for the winter, having the basics (water, heat, safe lighting) in play. as opposed to my decorative views... replacing cracked windows.... I remember having him measure the atelier window panes his first day here and his looking at me skeptically...

anyhoo ... when I first arrived I slept here ... (2nd bedroom) while I awaited delivery of my household goods, which included a bed!

I set up shop in this room because MY bedroom-to-be looked like this:

The wallboard and ceiling were moisture damaged, with mildew and other nastiness permeating. All of that had to be ripped out, replaced or refinished ... Jean-Yves deconstructed, I hauled and sorted the crap and our partnership commenced. At first he was dubious when I stated I wanted to be part of the labor force and the renovation project. But as he observed me willing to tackle each chore, he gradually became more open to teaching me how to do certain things beyond manual labor...especially with our business project (where we strive for as much of a 50/50 distribution of effort as possible)...and the physical labor has aided in my personal transformation. Nothing like manual labor and no kitchen to aid in body changes...

Back to my bedroom. Jean-Yves sandblasted the entire thing, I cleaned-up after. He plastered and painted and created ... check out the fireplace mantel for evidence ... et voila!

And of course, the beautiful gift my daughter Johnelle gave me ... up there at the top ... my handpainted door symbolizing my new life!

On to the 2nd room ... my 'salle à vivre' ...

When I got here, this is where I cooked, ate and perched ... amidst peeling paint, grunge and dust...and thankful for it, since I didn't have appliances yet. Jean-Yves, friend and 'mec' extraordinaire lent me his camp burner and mattelasse (pictured above in my original sleeping area) ... in order to help me save on exorbitant lodging expense while I had a perfectly good roof and walls to shelter me ...

This was the room I used because it is where the former owners had their kitchen. But it was smaller and darker than I wanted a kitchen to be ... so I decided to relocate it to the other room. Here It is before:


2 months and piles of sand and stone and dust and paint later, here is my salle à vivre, after...

These projects wrapped up in February and we were able to have some respite with a trip to Africa and ensuing adventures(!) that's my view from the back of our motorcycle.....

upon our return, we dug in to our next project ... transforming the ateliér adjacent to my house into a business that will bring in some small income and (we hope) big pleasure as we continue to work together... The transformation of this space has been documented on flickr.com, step-by-step. We've repaired immense windows, sandblasted and remortared stone walls, insulated, installed ceilings and new floor treatments ... and are set to open within the week! Yes, we've had twists and turns (all told here) ... but it is another chapter in my new life here and going forward.

Other details ...I've wended my way through French bureaucracy and have received new residency status as a 'commercant' as opposed to 'visiteur'. This entitles me to operate my own business, pay into the French retirement system and, best of all, qualify for a carte vitale (french health care coverage!!). I've wrestled 2 gardens into some form of recalcitrant submission, and planted a large potager, just beginning to profit from those efforts.

I've probably missed a milestone or 2 here ... in fact, if any of you readers have observations to share...either on my journey or changes you've detected, please share ... I'd love to hear that perspective!

and of course. Mais oui, bien sur. None of it, not a SHRED, would have been the same ... sans mon monsieur. words fail me (can you believe it?)

In the early months, I felt my stress shed along with the pounds. A new me continues to emerge ... not all of my ducks are in a row...but they're definitely paddling around in the pond ... finding their way and maybe even beginning to figure what it IS all about, Alfie ...

For me, it is about treasuring each moment of each day ... surrendering to the bigger IT I am a part of but which I have no control over. Learning to love unconditionally, regardless if it is returned, reciprocated, equal, recognized or otherwise different than what I have to give. Recognizing that each day's small pleasure or hard work is reward enough, in of itself. Knowing that yes indeed, I DO need others and I DO want love - to give and receive. I'm still working on that part of course. France has taught me a lot ... but maybe it isn't really France that's teaching ... maybe it is just me that is listening and learning, for a change.

I probably haven't come far enough ... and I have a long way to go ... but there it is, one year - a new woman in the making ... hopefully hanging on to the bits and pieces that have made me who I am but (little by little) letting go of those that prevent me from being who I want to be ...

thanks to all of you for coming along for the ride. for your words of encouragement when I've been at low points. for your suggestions when I've been fresh out of ideas. for the laughs you given and shared, and for kindly tolerating the rants and tears.

et depuis et alors. Non, je ne regrette rien ...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

saturday shenanigans...

got up early...rode down for a croissant to have with my coffee. Next I put the coat of grey paint on the ateliér floor and looked at my watch ... 9:40!

cleaned up the kitchen, showered and futzed around on the 'puter for a bit. Decided to head into Perigueux...went to the garden shop and picked up some "hormone de bouturage" ... basically it is souped up fertilizer for when you take starters for plants. I'm putting together a little foraging kit for my bike (a small spade, plastic bags, water and maybe the bouturage stuff). It is supposed to ensure your 'slips' will turn into plants. I'm scavenging stuff for my garden on bike rides, cos buying plants is $$ and I'm cheap!

I also got some citronella candles for the garden and seeds for planting. Riana keeps us posted on what's good to plant ... so next I'm going for fennel, chicory, chinese cabbage ... and I bought a packet of flower seeds that butterflies like!

From there I hit the trocante (thrift store) but nothing good and it had a funky odor today, so I beat feet quick.

Then I visited a new grocer that my friend Ruth told me about, it is called le Grand Frais. I was impressed by the freshness, quality, and price !!! they seem to specialize in produce and fresh meats, not a lot of canned stuff. They also had a fairly good international section so I got some stuff. But one thing I was really happy about, they had potted herbs, big ones ... 2 for 3 euros ... so I picked up thyme, rosemary, sage and basil. The only herb I've gotten to grow from seed is coriander (cilantro). So I'm going to give these a go.

Also stocked up on dried beans, some herbs and spices.

Then I bought a dozen jelly jars and some paraffin. My neighbor brought me a big bowl of plums, their plum tree fell over and they couldn't eat all of the fruit. So I'm going to make some preserves.

It was a fairly warm day today and I've discovered there is music at one of the brasseries in town tonight. I may mosey down in a bit for a glass of wine...

Or I may just mosey out to my own garden...kind of lazy after the heat and all that running around.

Friday, July 10, 2009

this close!

Well I think we are moving in to our final week before opening! This week the floors were (nearly) finished. All installation is complete, today the sealant was applied to the cement floor and the wood floor received its first coat of paint. Tomorrow I will apply the other colors ... Next week will be devoted to finishing touches and arranging our items for sale. We would be delighted if we opened on Friday.

What a transformation has occurred in four months with just the two of us as workers. Sandblasted walls, repaired windows, new floors, new electricity, new plumbing, insulation, new ceiling, paint, artwork, custom artisanal touches abound ... the property has provided us with countless materials we have salvaged, repurposed and reused.

If the boutique is fun and successful, we will just move it to the stone garage and move forward with the café as well. Two businesses!

I'm very proud of us, our strong partnership ... our great complicity ... how sympatico we are.

Oh, yeah ... these are our signs thus far. My fantastic cousin Nate provided the artwork and I translated it into a handpainted sign ... whatcha think?

(check out the flickr link for more photos of the transformed ateliér) ...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

it's been a good few days ...

the weather has been absolutely sizzling ... and there have been daily water fights to prove it! lol. but we've still managed progress, at least in the mornings ... nearing lunch we're huffing and puffing 'il fait chaud!' 'erhhh...j'ai chaud' as we work at half speed.

we caved the other day, we had to drive off to a town where JY has some of his gear stored at a friend's house. one hour each way. by the time we arrived the morning cool had dissipated and the sun was blazing. we loaded huge timbers on top of the truck, and a load of goodies inside (cool old iron stove/heater for the atelier, to name one). then we drove the hour back to Brantôme and unloaded. by this time we were glistening. We decided to rendez-vous at a nearby swimming hole (he rounded up his son) and we played hooky for the afternoon. It was too sweltering to consider anything else.

In spite of the heat, we've managed to get close to done. There's the wood floor to install in the entry area, final electricity and lighting touches ... and arranging of the wares. But we think maybe the end of the week? we'll still have lots of details to get in place (signs, etc.) but ... Wow! we've come a long way baby.

Today we may work in the afternoon and then I'm thinking of going to a night market in Nontron with an African theme. It is the 10th year ... and it sounds like it will be cool. Night markets are like day markets only darker ... HA, well also more elaborate because there is music and sometimes a theme! but also food and stuff to buy.

Tomorrow probably vide-grenier hunting. Last Sunday I went to a great one in Perigueux and found some cool stuff for displaying product in the shop. Two old suitcases ... well one is more like a trunk with wooden hangers, etc. and an old iron hanging scale. and loads more. so who knows what tomorrow will hold!

the garden is leaps and bounds, tomatoes are this close to begin ripening and first wave of radishes and green beans have passed. Now I've sown more radishes, plus spinach and mesclun and turnips. And flowers are doing better too! Especially now that I've eliminated the rash of pokeweed that had invaded my entire bedding areas! sinister, that!

life's generally not so bad. pas mal!