Non, je ne regrette rien

(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

almost did it all my damn self.

 this is a year of living single here in la belle francy pants.  as such, I have been able to occupy myself with various and sundry projects, within my capacity or just outside thereof. thus far, I have ... (although single, still with a little help from my friends)

- put in a garden terasse where for five years there have been various piles of building debris, sand, tall weeds, short weeds, mown weeds, ongoing nettle infestation.  my son was here for a time and managed to clear all the debris and weeds out and bring it back to a pile of sand, with a stone border/short wall.

that there to the left is another little path my son made alongside the little succulent/cacti garden he planted for me...

I continued levelling it and covering it first with layers of recycled cardboard boxes (now who's the packrat?!) ... followed by framing it out with some leftover beams and wood that's been laying about for all the years I've been here. I went down and ordered a square meter of calcaire which is crushed limestone.  It was delivered on the back of a flatbed with a crane to lower the huge square sack on a pallet.

I spent about a week laying out the weed blocking fabric attached to the ground with big staple looking things.  (technical term).  After that, I shoveled a multitude of wheelbarrowfulls (technical term) of crushed limestone from the front of my building, through the boutique and out the back door and up to the terasse space.  I put in a layer about 3 inches or so (technical measurement) thick.  I also did a big space (technical measurement) out the back door of the boutique into the garden and a pathway to my back door from the kitchen.  I proceeded to dampen and tamp, dampen and tamp (technical techniques) and voila! I have a new terasse instead a shitpile that has been discussed ad nauseum as a great place for a terasse.  go me.

- I hand dug through thick sod grass from hell (t.t.) to create a space of about 30' x 20' for a kitchen garden. I did this in winter, doing about a meter or 2 a day. I had to do this twice to get down deep enough and break up the clumps of grass/soil.  Winter never got as cold as it should in order to kill off the grass clods in order to do a 3rd dig/clean but fortunately, Ian and Jean Yves came around and rototilled it in early spring.  They also helped plant (actually mostly planted) all the seeds I had chosen and even brought my requested out-of-the ordinary design to fruition incorporating some old iron bits and bobs and flowers and such.  It has been a joy even though the shit summer cockblocked my yield. yeah. i said it.

- I relocated 3 fruit trees and planted an olive tree (help from son also!)

- I removed all the old putty/glazing from a beautiful paned picture window in my soon to be sitting room that everyone insisted I should just replace as the window is too old, the insulation is bad, etc.  Not wanting a new window, not having the money to have a replica built or to pay someone else to repair the window - I set about carefully removing all of the old putty from the 16 panes. Finally, 6 had to be removed but that left 10 beautiful old hand blown wavy panes for gazing through and dreamily dreaming.  Just about the time to reputty and replace the panes, who shows up but Jean Yves who volunteers to help me.  Being JY, he also didn't mock or argue when I told him I wanted to relocate all the wavy panes to the lower level so I could look out them when I sit by the window.  We spent a day placing the glass just so and then I puttied, he smoothed/finished.  I left that to sit for nearly 2 weeks, to dry out and ready for painting.  I painted the window frame in a pretty soft grey that I blended and was very pleased with the color. But not so pleased because the mastic wasn't dry enought and the linseed oil has spotted through the paint after 2 coats.  I've left it for the moment while I sort out what to do next. In the meantime, I have painted all the window frames of the front windows of the house and repainted the shutters with another coat of white. oh and the front door too.

- we had several big rain/thunder/hailstorms in May which broke through a crappy broken skylight window and created a leak. no money for new roof so climbed up there and crab-crawled on hands and knees on the roman tiles for a few hours removing tiles, positioning a tarp, replacing tiles.  hope it holds up and makes the black and blue knees worth it. no pictures, so I guess that never happened. (i wish.)

so there. a short list of stuff I almost did my damn self so far this year. more to come.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

oh hello little blog.  wonderful space that used to excite and inspire me.  my virtual kitchen table where I could sip on coffee and blather on and to my faithful (but probably somewhat bemused) followers.  Or load you all in the car to go with me on adventures in the french countryside and marvel along with me at the absolute improbability that I was actually HERE.  Doing this!

After all the ups and thrills and chills, I didn't have the heart to drag you through the bad and sad and dark and scary times.

But I am still here and things are better! and more upbeat ... I am doing new work and lucky to have it.  My boutique is still a part of my life and has evolved and grown. Oh how I love it most days, it is a pretty and colorful and sweet smelling place to pass some hours during the week. My customers have been faithful (like a few of my readers) and what a pleasure to have them enter and tell me how pretty they find it .. or fun .. or unique .. :-)

I have completed a few house projects - mostly documented on Facebook but I think I can and should also share them here.  That was something you all used to love ... I went through a period of being worn down by my worn out house ... but I am back at, doing the best I can with what I have and finding ways to make it more functional and cosier if not new and perfect. My next biggest worry is my roof and all fingers and toes are crossed that soon I will find a way to repair it before it caves in ! I try and focus on what I can do and not what I can't since it is out of my control anyway ...

a lot has happened ... my daughter went and got herself married! my son went and fell in love!

my dear buddy Louis lou lou left me last fall.

so yeah - some blows and some grows.  but all in all, I am still head over heels with France.  and hoping soon to share with you some convincing stories and arguments as to why.

I don't say it often enough little blog, but I do love you and what you gave to me... and readers, I owe you some tall tales so gonna get crackin' xx kimberlee

Monday, August 12, 2013

while you were out

poking around in my blog, trying to get a sense of my level of inspiration ... which is always a petite flame but hard to ignite.  Lo and behold, I have acquired about 15 new followers in my absence! this makes me chuckle ... of course one or 2 appear to be circling vultures waiting to attack the carcass ... but others seem to be legit.

Which leads me to wonder, is the secret to interest not writing at all? or just slagging off for months at a stretch, adding to the mystery of my so-called glamorous life? hmmmm.

it has been and up and down summer.  Cold wet weather was with us clear until June, I even had to ignite the heater in June!  July brought unfathomably hot heat, in the hundreds for days ... canicule (heat wave), which is nearly as devastating for merchants as the cold.

See, tourists skip the region for their summer visit if it is cold.  If it is hot, they may arrive but they can only muster the courage to visit the river, the lake, the beach and in the evening the terasse.  So restaurants might do ok (if they are by water) but the rest of us are in the shit.  Who wants to try on clothes and such when you are sweltering, drenched in sweat?  (of course if you have a/c, you might fare a bit better, but few do).

Pile on the economic woes of the region and the fact that probably 50% of French are not even leaving during their vacations and it makes for a challenging year.

Rumor (somewhat verified) has it that a score of shops and restaurants in Brantôme will close by winter.  I am sure that will be at least half a dozen.  This is sad.  Of course, we are a popular spot so other candidates will emerge in their stead.  I hope that those that quit are those more fly-by-night affairs who flung open their doors with the idea of making it big in a month or 2, and not those merchants who have been soldiering it on for years.

The Bohemians will persist and hope for better in 2014.  Next year is the 400 year birthday of our town's name sake, the author Brantôme (Pierre de Bourdeilles) and it seems there are a number of village festivities planned.  I hope those attract a larger number of visitors....and that our weather is improved and more even-keeled throughout the summer.

It is the year of the mayoral elections (2014) so that too will be interesting to observe and report upon.  I see pros and cons to our little village's administration, which I will share more about in the future.

Signing off for now and thanks to you newfound followers, hope you had fun poking around in the cobwebs.  Only 1 more to reach that nice round 100 mark.... perhaps I should wait a few months more before writing again, just to be sure we make it....

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I wrote earlier about making my own chalkpaint and I also wanted to share what happened with the professional version .... drumroll ... Annie Sloan. I am sharing this from my boutique blog and site
as I have received some interest from both blog audiences.

I am kind of a day late and a dollar short, as the expression goes. Once I randomly started googling about ways to simplify my painting life given my abundance of projects and scarcity of time ... I discovered that my problem (endless preparation time for redoing furniture) had been solved ages ago. le sigh. because of the myriad of plaudits for the Annie Sloan brand, I decided to try it for my professional test. And now I will join the angelic chorus in shouting hallelujahs to painting high heaven, amazing amazing where have you been all my painting life?

First thing I noticed when opening the can is the luxurious whipped texture. Now this is a can that was shipped to me from Northern France. so it did not come to me fresh off the paint can shaker thing at the paint store (technical term there) so this texture is obviously inherent to the product. It is smooth like frosting, but a little less thick. I chose the Old White because it is presented as devoid of any color pigments (yellow or pink) and thus a welcoming base to any color.

I used the paint on a client project I had overwintered. A large, 2 piece buffet from the 60/70s, pine, covered in a hideous orangey varnish, so well known on pine of this timeframe. I felt this would make a handsome test for the Annie Sloan chalk paint claims of no sanding, no priming, just paint. Normally this sort of finish would reauire either complete sanding or 1-2 Coats of primer to avoid bleed-through to the new finish. especially a light colored finish.

My client had already chosen a color, somewhere between a seafoam and sage green ... the Annie Sloan duck egg made a close match. So I wanted to test not only the ease of using the product, how it matched up to its claims ... but also the economy of it as I have seen some complaints about pricing. For this project I ordered 1 liter of Old White and 1 test jar (100ml) of the duck egg paints, and one tin of the clear wax. I wanted to lighten up the color to get to my client's desire. I mixed approx. 1/3 of the white liter with 3/4 of the sample pot and several tablespoons of water to create the supply of paint for the exterior of the piece. I anticipated I might need to do 2 coats.

For the interior, I blended about 1/2 cup of the white with a yellow acrylic I already had. Also wanting to see how well the Annie Sloan product could integrate with other brands. I covered the entire buffet with one coat that went on smooth as silk, no streaks. I kept the consistency pretty thick like a pancake batter, not very watered down. I did a second coat solely on the top surface of the buffet as this area would experience the most wear.

I did the interior more as a wash because the old wood / veneer was fragile and slightly warped in places and I did not want to get it too wet. I had already contracted with my client not to do any repairs and I did not want to create any more work for myself! After the paint had dried, I was ready to wax.

With chalk paint, you apply wax vs. a clear topcoat of varnish. This goes against everything I have done for years and was the more awkward step of the new process. The weather was super cold here and the wax was not soft (as when it arrived in my warm kitchen) but really firm and difficult to get on the brush. I warmed it up a bit to room temperature and took another go. This will take some adapting on my part, but I can already see where I can improve my approach ... and a little extra research has given me some good tips. Like heating the wax to form more of a glaze you can lightly brush on and then go back to buff. In warmer weather I can see where this would not be a problem, but in my unheated atéliér in the frezing winter of countryside France it is a different story. You apply wax BEFORE sanding which also goes against all instincts for a clean final finish but trust me it worked! only sand what you want to distress or change the look of, you do not have to sand the whole piece to achieve a clean final finish. once you have done your sanding, you can buff the piece to the desired glow or shine. If it is a little streaky or you want it glossier you can add some wax and polish on. The wax adheres to the paint and through buffing creates a finish that will continue to harden and age to a nice patina.

One thing that kind of stumped me was the interior of cabinetry. I usually paint and topcoat the interiors and drawere for a more finished and clean outcome. I don't think it is feasible to wax and buff the interior of cabinetry. No worries there, you can topcoat chalkpaint as an alternative to wax. Which I did.

I am impressed by the ease of working with this product as well as how easily it adhered to the original finish on the furniture! As far as the cost goes ... here it was 22€ for the liter and 9€ for the sample pot. I estimate I used about 20€ of product on this very large two part piece. I did not sand and I did not pay for primer. I used my existing brushes and tools. At a minimum the expense was about the same. I still have plenty of the white paint and wax to use on another project. Which I already have planned! I also purchased a sample pot of their Antibes Green which I was immediately attracted to. I think I can stretch this for 2 projects I have ... wait and see!

I know there is a plethora of other techniques to discover with this paint such as layering more than one color and revealing with water vs sanding, using the dark wax to achieve an aged patina and some of the other specialized finish products like crackling ... but for now I give an enthusiastic 2 thumbs up!


Saturday, February 16, 2013

merci madame la maire!

I found out last night that I am the talk of the village ....

see, after four years of hearing about it, this winter work commenced on the road outside my house. Big improvements are underway; it is all very exciting! The electricity and phone lines have been placed underground.  The street is being redone, it is being made narrower with a reduced speed limit more fitting of a road that passes by commerce and a school.  And best of all, sidewalks are being installed, yay for me and my shop!

yes, the work is a righteous pain in the ass.  I have never seen the level of rework in various stages, but I guess it is necessary because the road is a main artery in and out of the village.  So trenches are dug, work performed below, everything covered up and then a week later a new team arrives and trenches are dug, work performed below, etc. etc.  The street has been torn up since November, to varying degrees.

This is a major investment for the village and it is being accomplished in partnership with the Conseil General for our departement (county).  Just the modernization of the electricity is over 200,000€.  The project is a huge win for us, it improves the look and functionality of the road and ultimately the value of our property.  So, to me, it warrants the inconvenience.

The mayor's office has been quite accommodating. On more than one occasion, when I have had a question, I have been welcomed to the office to discuss or invited to meet with the project architect (a woman I might add!) to address my questions.  I greet the workers with a smile vs. a complaint, they are doing their jobs and in the end, I will benefit!

Many other folks along the road complain. and scowl. and grab the workers or mayor's representatives to provide a piece of their mind or whine about the inconvenience.

So when they arrived in front of my property (kind of in the middle of the entire project) on Valentine's Day to install the first tranche of sidewalks, I smiled.  Already I have heard grumblings because there are no parking spots alloted in front of my house or store.  Now I have a great expanse of beautiful walkways, and they are not just in plain cement but are pebbled which are really attractive.  The sidewalks are two meters wide!  It is like having a terrace in front of the house!  and on either side of me nothing has been installed.  The lead guy for the sidewalks told me 'vous avez la chance' I am lucky, because they are starting with me ... and a wink!

So I had to laugh last night at our soirée des filles (girls night) when one of the the women told me everyone is talking .... Yesterday was market day in the village and many people pass by my property to and fro.  This gal is a real Perigordine, and hears all the talk and chatter.  People are trying to figure out why I am the first to have the work done.  She told me someone said it must be because of my blue eyes ... ?? lol

I told them it is because I am the only one on the road who is not continuously kvetching but I always have 'une banane' (big smile) for everyone and guard my patience.

Probably it is just business as usual and the plan was to start at this point.  But it makes me chuckle to think of me as the center of the buzz!  tant mieux!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

from if only to it's only ...

coming up on five years since I chucked caution to the wind to embark upon my mid-life adventure.

it is interesting to look back and see how it has changed me.

I spent a lot of years in If-Only mode.

If Only I my husband hadn't died.  If Only my mother had watched out for me.  If Only I had more money.  If Only I could meet 'the one'.  If Only I wasn't unwillingly raised in a cult. If Only I could speak French.  If Only I were thinner.  If Only I felt more secure.

I wasted a lot of time reflecting on these If-Onlies and more, and then trying to solve them.  Starts and stops, always starts and stops.  Some of them were solved by putting them in a box, locking up and throwing away the key.  Others were solved by striving for more, working more and yet, really doing nothing.  And still others I would start a plan, do a plan, discard a plan.  And get back to the easiest thing in my life, working.  The main part of my present was that.  The work.  Sure I was pretty good at it.  But it also afforded me a hiding place from which to practice my religion of If-Only.

Somehow, who really knows exactly how ... I started thinking about regrets.  I started thinking about how when my husband was killed and I was just a girl, really, five months pregnant ... I was so angry at the world and told everyone, 'that's it, fuck you ... it is all about me and this baby now.  I have learned a valuable and ugly lesson very early in life.  Lucky me!  It can all end in a blink.  Nothing is promised.  The hell with you all, I don't care what you think.  Going to live my life my way...

And then life began to happen as it can when you just sit in the canoe vs. take hold of the oars.  Life went this way and that ... my goal at first was really just to stay afloat.  don't go under Kim, you've got this baby girl counting on you.  So we floated.  Somehow we didn't sink.  But I didn't chart my course, I let the currents take me... away.

Away from my dreams, away from my pre-death self (young careless writer girl), away from my post-death self (young angry fighter girl) and slowly lulled into survivor-self (exhausted and numb working mom womanchild).

Sure, I had some highlights.  Take a look at the two kids that turned into amazing adults in spite of their broken mother with the growing case of If-Onlies.

well.  somehow I allowed, well maybe forced, myself to start to look back at those girls I once was.  and how I had turned into practically everything those girls did not want to become.  I took stock of where I was and how much time I might have left.  The dawning realization that I didn't want the rest to be like what had already transpired.  I had too many regrets and could take no more.  I plotted and planned and really, with a stroke of luck found the courage on that   one particular day to take a step in a different direction.  Through a long imagined and dreamed-after door that I could never find the key for.

Great.  I wish I could say and so she lived happilyeverafter.  Grab your dream and all your remaining life will be cake and ice cream and frosty cocktails and handsome lovers.  unicorns and fairy dust.

The funny thing about life is wherever you go, there you are.  So sure.  I discovered many of my If-Onlies. Read the blog... lol.

I changed.  I changed for the good and, hopefully temporarily, for the worse.  I came here on a high.   high of an amazingly successful career for a nobody like me.  I came here with a portfolio of security achieved through those days and months and years of work.  I came here with an American whirl of high-velocity drive to accomplish .... who knows what.

The ensuing years have chipped away at all that.  I arrived with an identity that no one cared about.  My high-faluting portfolio of security disappeared in the American housing crisis like a sugary fairy cake left in the rain.  My newfound compatriates regarded that high-velocity drive with a well-curated laissez-faire sneer of contempt for the ways of an étranger.

As my idea of what life would be has evolved to what my life is... I have learned to adjust.  Anyone who really knows me know that my sole claim to fame, the quality above all else that has allowed me to survive is .... my adaptability... it is a hallmark of the abused child.  I have earned an advanced degree.

I have been shaken to my core in the past few years.  A couple of those years, I have earned less in the entire year than I did in a month, old life.  I have eaten and choked on more humble pie than I care to admit.  I have had moments of such self-doubt and loathing ...experienced moments of abject futility and failure.  And yet, I am here.  Living my dream.  Fighting to preserve what's left.  Aiming high to rebuild anew.  Drawing inspiration from those I used to inspire.

Life is funny that way.  At one of my lowest moments, I was in the U.S. for a few months, taking any and all work that I could find in order to stay afloat.  Because of the kindness of friends who allowed me to sleep in their spare rooms, drive their extra car, recommend me for an odd job here or a nice project there ... I was able to make it through another winter.

But it was this next little moment that led me to a sunnier spot inside my dark and musty persona.  And it was given to me by someone who I inspired for many years.  I nurtured and fretted over and fought with and tried to give the best example to in spite of my pain.  My beautiful daughter.

In America, I worked in her shop.  Painting furniture.  Something I love and yet even that left me intimidated and doubting ... I had reached a point of feeling so worthless and stupid.  What the hell was I doing? Had I destroyed my life? all those doubting voices that many of us are familiar with were now shouting at a feverish pitch.  I had in mind that everything I had done was just. well. wack. lol.

And so I am painting some piece of furniture.  And I messed it up. And I was so upset about it.  Somehow, all of my fears and insecurities and anger and disappointment were now summed up by this fucking piece of furniture and the shitty mess I made of it.  Johnelle was there, looking at it and looking at me.  I was nearly crying (well, probably crying).  And she looked at me and said, Mom, don't worry about it.  It's only paint. really, who cares? It's only paint.

I don't even know if she realizes what those 3 little words did.  I felt released and reprieved.  It was like...everything else was okay too.  Because It's Only.  It's only things.  It's only money.  It's only stuff.  It's only.

Really guys, It's Only has become my new rule of thumb.  Because life is too goddamn short and complicated and hard.  When something breaks. When something goes wrong. When something falls short, I use the It's Only litmus test.

Like, you probably wouldn't say It's Only Stage4 terminal cancer.  But you would say It's Only a crystal vase (that broke).

You would avoid saying It's Only a dog when your friend's 16 year-old pet/companion got run over. But you would say It's Only a stupid job interview, there will be others.

You probably wouldn't go with It's Only rape.  But It's Only my umpteenth break-up. le sigh. but ... meh not so awful, really.

See what I mean?  There is a much shorter list of things than we think that really matters.  I have gotten caught up and released and recaptured so many times in the tangled net of what other people, societies, media lies have told me that are important.

thank you Johnelle for inspiring me with your beautiful life lesson.  

Now that I realize that pretty much It's Only bullshit, I am finding myself back on track.  Charting a new course that pleases me.  But more than that, thankful that nearly all of my problems and worries are not If Onlies and mostly It's Onlies.

Friday, January 11, 2013

painting, painting

So I have been playing around with paint, investigating options to make it easier, prettier, easier, for myself.

I have been dabbling in painted furniture for about ten years now.  When we first opened Mignonne Decor many years ago, we didn't paint the furniture, we bought it from artisans.  My daughter, the artist, became inspired to try her hand at it, first for the savings .... but finally as her passion.

I had dabbled here and there in various crafty projects for a while, but never seriously until moving to France.  But before that, I started collecting painted furniture for my homes ... never thinking so much about technique but just being drawn to pretty pieces.

There was a little shop on the coast of Oregon, a collective, where I met Darla, someone whose furniture continuously drew me back and sparked a flame in me about the beauty of the old becoming new again.  I blab on about this because she has been on my mind while I conduct my experimentation with chalky type paint and its merits.  See, this little table I am working on is one of the first pieces I bought from Darla.  It was just a plain creamy color.  But so many little details ... the rollers, the lion paw feet, the gateleg, the insert, the carved edging ... she has travelled far with me, this little lady and is in need of a touch-up! I hope to learn something new and do her justice for one of my early inspirers!  Darla, if you are out there ... I think of you often!

So, regarding paint.  I stumbled across some videos demonstrating and debating the virtues of various paints...milk paint, craft paint, chalk paint...various brands like Miss Mustard's Milk Paint, Ce Ce Caldwell's true blue American paint, Annie Sloan's sophisticated English Chalk Paint ... I found homemade recipes for paint that include growt, calcium carbonate, baking soda, plaster of paris ... antiquing treatments with boot polish, walnuts, coffee grounds ... wow!!! talk about Alice's hole of painting wonderland!

I will be honest.  I have too much to do and not enough time to do it.  Last year, my furniture inventory suffered because I was stretched too thin. I love doing my furniture but there were not enough hours in the day or energy to do it all.  And since I have been considering offering some workshops, I want to make it easier for my customers too. So when I started reading about chalk paint eliminating mountains of prep time, I made one of those Scooby Doo snorts and started researching.

Being in one of those too much to do moments presently, I decided to start my experimentation with the homemade version.  I am leaving in a day or two to head to Paris for the Maison et Objet show in Paris. 

I opted to mix up the Plaster of Paris/paint version to create a type of chalk paint.  I am no expert, the little I know is that the chalky substance allows the paint to adhere much more strongly to the surface you apply it to, theoretically allowing you to eliminate the sanding and priming prepwork I so judiciously adhere to with all of my furniture. 

I whipped it up and painted my little table.  It was slightly gritty in bits, even after looking like the pancake batter  texture recommended.  It dried like a matte paint, a bit rougher and brush strokes were evident.  I used two coats on a painted, polycoated surface.  It sands like a dream, becoming smooth.  For the bottom, legs and such, I proceeded zith the recommended wax vs. poly, applied with a brush and then I buffed it.  Nice result.  Since this is a kitchen surface piece, I think I will poly the top.  This format was easy enough to work with but from what I see, would be most useful on distressed furniture vs. modern slick undistressed effect you might use on later dated furniture.

After the conference, I am ordering some Annie Sloan product to test.  I have heard nothing but rave reviews about this paint and I am looking forward to testing it out.  If anyone has thoughts to share, please do? how interested would you be in having this product available in the Dordogne? perhaps with some workshops? have you used it before and what did you think? inquiring minds and all!!!

I am sharing this on both of my blogs ... trying to get the most feedback with reader experiences!

so that is it for now, my slam packed agenda calls!!! more updates soon about the great paint experiment!!