Sunday, August 18, 2019

Summer Drawing to a Close

I was texting with my friend Sheila today and she asked, "How has your summer been?"
"Long and lonely," I responded.
Maybe lonely is an exaggeration since I've gotten to spend it with my charming husband, but it has been an eye opener for me, reminding me that I do need outside stimulation.
Still, there have been some high points.
We reunited with old friends who live in Connecticut, just two hours away.
I had an old phone number for Judi, but I tried it and sure enough! We got together for a short visit when Earl and I ventured to Ikea (my virgin Ikea trip). Then they came for an overnight and we went back there for the day.
Our visit to New Haven included a couple of museums 
We got the old gang back together. A few more gray hairs but still having fun. 
Mirrored art of the queen at the British Museum in New Haven. 

Yale took us right back to Europe. The buildings are impressive

A proper library! They should have filmed Harry Potter here. 
You know they're good friends when you can just pick up where you left off, maybe 15 years ago.
We relived a lot of good times. Their son and one of our sons were best friends. We had camping trips and long days by the pool when the kids were little.
And now we can look forward to their visit to France next year, but we'll keep in better touch. Already, they're consulting on our new house colors.
Enjoying coffee in front of a glass that reflected the town hall
We spent another day in Northampton. For my Quillan friends, I'll say that Northampton is the Esperaza of Massachusetts. It's filled with alternative people, like the guy who carried the sign warning people about the dangers of plastic. I couldn't help but feel he was preaching to the choir in this town of tie dye wearers. The education rate is high since it's a fulcrum of a number of colleges, including Smith College, but it seems to also have a high rate of homelessness and mental illness. Many people talking to themselves wander the streets there.
We found a book store, a Moroccan restaurant for lunch, a haircut for Earl and some coffee before we returned to the hinterlands.
Earl looking spiffy with his new haircut. He hadn't had one since we left France
Friday, we went down the river on our inner tubes again, feeling like professionals by this point as we avoided the dead spots where we've had to struggle to get back into the flow. For two hours we floated and enjoyed the beauty of the countryside, the cool water freshly released from a reservoir in the mountains.
We landed and put the inner tubes in the car, then climbed the stairs to a restaurant that overlooks the river.
This summer has been peaceful. If I lived in a hectic city and wanted to get away, I could not think of a better place to spend it.
Even with all the down time, I haven't gotten as much accomplished as I would like. But I have no excuses, except the lure of the lazy days. (Okay, I usually do teach every day for three or four hours in the morning and maybe an hour or two in the evening, but it still seems kind of lazy.)
Maybe that's the summer I needed.
Less than a month before we return to France and our new house. I'd better enjoy my lazy times while I can.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Getting Our Pet Fix

No matter where we housesit, we inevitably get attached to the pets.
We frequently bring up pets that we have cared for and laugh at the dachshund that wanted to attack swans twice his size

or the one-eyed English dachshund that disappeared into a badger hole, 

or the puppy that grabbed a frozen squirrel and ran away from us. 

It's no different here in the Berkshires where we're caring for a 15-year-old, arthritic yellow lab and two cats.
We were warned before we arrived that the dog, Jenny, is having trouble with incontinence. And that has proved to be true. Most mornings when I come downstairs to teach at 6 a.m., I have to clean up the floor where she has left her pet nuggets overnight. But that's part of pet ownership, isn't it?
The cats are quirky in that they follow us when we walk the dog.

We don't go on real roads, but we do walk along a dirt road sometimes, and if a car should come along, the cats are smart enough to disappear into the ferns and plants along the road. The problem is, they don't always come back out.
There have been plenty of times that Earl or I have had to go back searching for them, and there they are, hunkered down in the same spot where they jumped off the road, as if they couldn't possible find their way back.
One day last week, the pet's dinner time arrived and the cats were not milling around underfoot. I fed Jenny and asked Earl if he had seen the cats. They're indoor/outdoor cats. We lock them inside at night because there are so many predators that would like a tasty cat morsel.
We both tried to recall when we'd last seen the cats.
That morning, Earl and I had gone for a 5-mile walk, but Jenny hadn't come and the cats usually only followed when the dog was along.
Earl went onto the front porch and started calling for the cats (they do come when they're called sometimes).
Jenny ran to the front door to be let out. I opened the door and she raced past Earl and up a path into the woods, barking crazily. She barked and sniffed and ran a zigzagging path until we couldn't see her anymore but we could still hear her.
After a bit, she came into view still barking and running.
We couldn't believe the way she was moving. This is an arthritic dog that gets medicine every morning and evening. But we had been out of her meds for three days.
"I feel like I'm in an episode of Homeward Bound," I muttered to Earl.
He went in search of the cats, heading toward the grandparents' home down a different trail.
About 10 minutes later, as I stood on the front porch, I saw Kepler, the black cat come bounding down the same path that Jenny had gone up. He stopped and looked behind him in a paranoid sort of way. There came his sister Tanna after him down the hill.
They both came into the kitchen for food as if nothing had been amiss.
I could picture them up in the forest, lost, until they heard Jenny barking and searching for them. She led them home.
So, in a way, it was like the movie Homeward Bound, only the cats were lost because they just don't have a good sense of direction.
Not too long now, we'll be leaving behind these pets that we've grown attached to, but we know there'll be future pets to enjoy.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

A Toast

A toast to us -- two French homeowners. 


The email arrived Wednesday afternoon (so evening for the French) from the notaire congratulating us on the successful purchase of our new home.
I am pleased to inform you that I have now received your bank transfer and that your purchase has been completed and the deed signed this afternoon.
It was not the easiest purchase he has overseen, and in the end, as the closing day came and went on Monday, he had to step in with the banker to get the money sent. The French banker again had no urgency in sending the money.
We had wired the money July 30 from the French bank to the notaire. The banker sent us an email on Thursday, August 1st, saying only "I'm trying to reach you." No phone number, no identification of which bank he was at.
We responded immediately and did not hear from him until Tuesday, five days later.
Our French friend Cedric offered to help, and we forwarded him the email. He recognized the banker's name and knew which bank he was at. I will not share with you the names Cedric called the banker.
The banker finally responded to us with an email on Tuesday that said please sign this form. Neither Earl nor I could open the form. We forwarded it to our real estate agent in France. She couldn't open the form. We asked the banker to send us a form that could be opened but we heard nothing.
We sent a plea to the notaire to help. And he shot off an email to the banker, copying us on it.
The next morning, my only morning off teaching when I could have slept in, I prised my eyes open at 6 a.m. and thought I should check our emails to see if we needed to send anything to the banker. After all, it was already noon in France.
We did have an email. The banker had responded to the notaire. The banker said he needed us to sign something, or he needed the notaire to send a copy of the bill.
The notaire had responded with a copy of the bill -- coincidentally, the exact same amount I had attempted to transfer. It felt kind of like the two men needed to assure each other that I had done the right thing.
Earl and I froze in indecision. Did we need to do anything else?
I pulled up our bank account again and saw a minus sign in front of the amount we needed to pay on the house. The money was being withdrawn from our account. Hooray! It was happening.
That afternoon, finally, came an email from the notaire that he had received the money and the house was officially ours.

Celebratory kiss -- okay it was last year in Marseille
Luckily, we got to celebrate with some old friends who were visiting for the night.
So we're homeowners again.
Except for the past 18 months, and the first 18 months of our marriage, we have always lived in our own home. And it feels good.
But this is the first time that we have owned a home outright with no mortgage.
Now we can't wait to get back to France to get to work on it.
Just a little more than a month before we fly back.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Not French Homeowners Yet


This isn't our house. It's just a scenic picture of Quillan to remind me of the place where we are moving. 
When last I informed you of our home-buying challenges, I told you that our American bank had started an inquiry into our money transfer to France.
Luckily, after I answered the questions about whether the money was going to a business and whether it was connected to Cuba, the bank sent the money on. And that's lucky for us because if our bank had tried to call us, they wouldn't have been able to reach us. We are staying in place without cell service so the bank could not have reached us on our listed phone numbers.
Next, the money landed in our French bank at an exchange rate of about $1.115 per euro, so that wasn't bad.
I figured the French bank would not have a problem with our payment because I had sent a sizable deposit from our French bank to the notaire when we first started the purchase of the house. The notaire was already listed as one of our beneficiaries.
As soon as the money landed, on July 30, I started a "virement" or wire transfer. We received a message right away that the transfer would require an examination that might take up to 4 days.
I still had hope.
Then on Thursday afternoon, Earl found an email from our French bank. It said only, in French, I am trying to reach you, signed with the banker's name. It did not include a phone number.
We don't have a local branch of our bank in our hometown of Quillan, so we had no idea where the man might be writing from.
I immediately responded in French, telling the banker that we are in the States. That means we are not reachable on our French phones, which is the only number the bank has for us. I gave him our US cell numbers and the home number of the place we are staying.
I explained that the money was for the purchase of a house. I gave him the name and phone number of the real estate agent and the notaire.
I offered to call him if he would send us a number.
By the time I sent the email, it was close to 8 p.m. in France.
We still haven't heard from him and the money remains in our bank account, not in the account of the notaire.
That means that the notaire and the sellers will not gather in a room tomorrow to sign papers and hand over the keys to our new house. We wouldn't have been there anyway, but we were excited to have the keys given to our friends who are going to start renovations.
I kind of feel like the examples on sports shows where they say: "You had one job..."
Like this one from Memecenter.com
We had one job, to get the money to the notaire. He was taking care of everything else.
And we failed in that one job.
I couldn't have foreseen that it would take more than 11 days to transfer money when money moves at the speed of light these days, but I still feel a bit guilty.
It's not like anyone is anxious to start working on the house. It is August in France, which means everyone is on vacation.
Still, we're hopeful that Kris, our builder, may get bored not working and decide to go ahead and put a new toilet in the master bathroom and start working on a level floor in the kitchen.
Even as we speak, Earl is in the other room, adding up the cost of each item for our kitchen and making sure that the Ikea in Toulouse carries everything that we want.
The latest iteration of our kitchen on paper

We have not given up. We still plan to be French homeowners.
And I'm glad we don't have to be there to face the French sellers who no doubt have arranged work schedules and maybe even vacation schedules around the signing that was planned for Monday.
So maybe not tomorrow, and maybe not the next day, but someday soon, we will be French homeowners.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Banking Challenges

Anyone who considers moving to France has heard of the challenge getting a French bank account. We felt pretty proud when our friend Delana ushered us into the French banking world, but it hasn't really gotten easier since then.

Last week, I was struggling to figure out how to transfer money from our American account to the notaire in France. The account numbers didn't match. I couldn't get anyone from our bank to help by phone or email.
I needed to transfer money for the purchase of our house, and it has to be there by August 5 when the deal goes through. I wasn't worried, we still had more than a week and everything happens instantly online, right?
(I should point out that many people use a transfer service, like Transferwise, but our bank does not charge a fee and has always given us a good rate so we just use it. If you have fees, you should definitely look into the companies that do it.)

I finally decided to transfer the money to our French bank account. I had transferred money there before in a large-ish amount.
So on Friday I sent the money.
The next day, I got a secure email from our bank with 4 questions that I must answer because they had started an "inquiry" about the money transfer.
I had written the word "maison" in the notes to myself. Maison is the French word for house.
The questions from the bank were

  • What did "maison" refer to and was it a business?
  • Where was this business?
  • What kind of activity took place at this "maison."
  • And finally, was any of it connected to Cuba?

Ok, I laughed a bit and answered the questions.
By Monday afternoon, the money had been released and the inquiry closed.
So I turned to my French bank. I had sent money to the notaire from my French bank previously, so it should have been easy. His account was already one of my beneficiaries.
On Tuesday, as soon as I made the "virement" or wire transfer, I received a message from my bank. They were investigating. It might take four days.
I counted the days on my fingers. Four business days? Did they count Saturday since they were technically open then? 
Will the money arrive in time for the closing on Monday, August 5th?
It's all up to the French bank now. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Meanwhile, Back in France...

As we are whiling away our hours in the Berkshires, the wheels of justice are still grinding in France as our house gets closer to becoming our home.
I love our turny staircase
The closing is August 5th. We won't be there. Instead, the notaire will sign for us. We got lucky (or skillfully informed) with our notaire who speaks excellent English and laid out all the paperwork the first day we signed the papers, projecting them up onto the wall. He explained to the French sellers that since we were the ones buying the house, we needed to understand our commitment, so he spent a lot of time speaking in English.
Our only job is to send the rest of the money.
That sounds so simple, but it can be tricky.
Our real estate agent told us we could send the money from our American account. Perfect. We don't have a fee if we send from our bank. We do have a fee if we transfer money to or from our French account.
So, as the time drew near this week, I started the process. First, I would add the notaire as a "recipient."
My first challenge was the security at the bank. They wanted to send me a text as a security measure. I definitely understand the need for security, but unfortunately, I'm in the Berkshires. I don't have cell service so I couldn't get a text.
There was a longer option that required the bank to do some investigation and get back to me. I chose that option.
Once I had moved past that stage, I looked at the paper the  notaire had given me with their numbers, which did not match the numbers our American bank was asking for -- basically the routing number, but it looks totally different.
I tried various numbers on the paper, nervous about getting them wrong and sending a big chunk of cash to the wrong account.
I emailed our real estate agent. She was no help. She just said she could resend the paper if we needed it.
I emailed the assistant to the notaire who has been emailing regularly. She was no help. She, too, sent a copy of the information with the notaire's bank account for deposits. I already knew that! I had it in my hand.
I was starting to get frustrated.
If there was a branch of our bank in Massachusetts, I would have driven there with the paper in hand. It was one of those situations where talking to someone was going to be better than trying to explain it by email or even by phone. I could point to the paper with the numbers: "Voilá!" and they could say, "Oh, obviously, these numbers go here where it says routing number and these numbers go here where it says account number."
Instead, I called our investment guy who works at the bank. I explained the situation and he said I should send a copy of the paper to Bob. Bob is our "private" banker, but he came to our bank after we had left for France. We're not a high-falutin bank customer, so generally don't get a lot of his time.
I emailed the paper from the notaire to Bob.
Bob responded, an hour or so later, with an email that included Chase's routing number in France.
I didn't need that. I needed him to read  and interpret the paper I had sent him. e exchanged a few other emails, but basically he was no help either.
Finally, I decided to send the money to our French bank account. I had already paid the notaire the deposit from our French account and I had already transferred money from the States to our French account. All the scaffolding was in place.
So the money is somewhere in the air between the States and France. Fingers crossed that the strength of the dollar doesn't go down while the money is making its way to France.

But it's not all monetary stress. Since the house will be ours on August 5th, some friends will get the keys, go into the house and pull up the linoleum that covers the tile floor. Then we will know if the tile is in good shape throughout the room.
I hope the tile is in good shape
If it is, what on earth color will we paint it, we wondered.
We seem to be drawn to a pale gray for the main floor. The mauve marble fireplace will look good with gray. The bright red floor will look good with gray.
Fireplace in the living room, or as the Brits call it, lounge. 
We even picked out gray kitchen cabinets to contrast with the white tile floor and the white granite counter top. We've done a mock up of the kitchen, smartly choosing a French Ikea to plan it, since we will need to buy the items in France.
The kitchen has undergone some modification since this picture. No more peninsula with stools

The color on the walls may be a pale yellow with a backsplash that includes blue so we can feel Provencal.
We haven't chosen a tile for the backsplash, but something like this.
I can't wait until it's done.
What needs to be done before we move in?
The floor in the new kitchen needs to be evened out  and tiled. The water heater and central oil heater need to be removed from the kitchen. A toilet needs to be added to the master bathroom. A new water heater (hopefully an on-demand water heater) needs to be installed.
The rest we can live with as we make it ours, and buy furniture. Snooping in old secondhand shops, going to estate sales and moving sales, visiting again and again the Troc in Carcassonne, the one with the gorgeous tables and dressers. We'll need beds and armoires and a couple of new couches. We'll have to get a wood-burning stove installed in the living room and the cosy room which will hopefully help heat the house, along with the electric heaters.
And that doesn't even include the outside chorses that need to be completed, liking painting the sand-colored walls that have a giraffe pattern, or scraping and repainting the railings on the balcony as they loom over like the prow on a ship.
Our poor house definitely needs some loving. 
But our friend Rod plans to sit up there and watch the world go by, so we better get it fixed up. Plus, we're excited to put some TLC into the house.
If I start thinking about the pile of tasks that lay before us, I might get overwhelmed.
And how soon does it need to get finished?
Well, our youngest son is coming to visit on Oct. 5. So I sure hope it's livable by then.
I'm excited for you to come along on the journey.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Swept Up in the Solitude

Just today, as I lay in an inner tube floating down a river, my eyes drawn toward the sharp blue sky, the mountains and dark green trees surrounding me, I thought, this isn't so bad. Maybe I've found some peace in this solitude that is the Berkshires.
I walked back and snapped a few pictures after the inner tubing experience
This is the second time that we have gone inner tubing. It isn't complicated. It is just like it sounds. We get in an inner tube and relax down the river for an hour or two. If the sun beats down, it doesn't matter because the water splashes up. It's a lot less work than kayaking, and being down in the inner tube makes it seem less dangerous than perching on a raft.
The river is most of the time just a bed of rocks scrubbed smooth by waters. But on four days a week, a reservoir releases water and the river has enough water for kayakers, rafters and inner tubers. It's strange to call and ask when the water will be released and then to time when the river will be passable. But that's life in the Berkshires, apparently.
A lot of the river is smooth, the buoyancy of the inner tube floating along, allowing time for contemplation of my plastic shoes that stick from the end of the tube.
But in places, as the water bounces over those smooth stones, the water becomes frothy and white as the tube is rushed through. You can hear the sound before you see the turbulence. Of course, I'm usually turned around so I have to struggle to right myself before the water sweeps me away. I bark out a laugh as a wave sweeps up wetting my hair. Most of the time, the water isn't that agitated. It kind of feels like being on a log flume, not the big downhill parts though.
I don't take my phone along, so this is another part of the solitude.
Here's a sun-streaked selfie in my #teamlydia t shirt for my nephew's little girl who was in the hospital at the time. 
Last time we did it, Earl and I shared a double tube. We could talk about life when the river didn't need our attention.
Today, we had individual tubes and didn't come within arm's reach of each other most of the two-hour trip. Sometimes he was ahead, sometimes I was ahead. We'd raise a hand hello across the expanse of water.
Once I ran aground on a big rock in the middle of the river. That's gonna leave a bruise. But I pushed myself off with my feet and kept going.
In my head, I still imagined that the trip would be better with a soundtrack -- my soundtrack. And at one point I did wonder if I could read a book the next time I was out there floating, but I decided it was kind of like running, a time when you had to make peace with the stuff running through your head.
Inner tubing makes you feel like you've communed with nature, that you've done something athletic when you really haven't. You've lain in a river for a few hours, occasionally reaching out an arm to paddle.
It's something I like about the Berkshires though, so I'll stick with it.

Summer Drawing to a Close

I was texting with my friend Sheila today and she asked, "How has your summer been?" "Long and lonely," I responded. M...