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.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Managing My Berkshire Expectations

When my kids were swimming competitively, there was a tshirt that read: "If I have but one day to live, please take me to a swim meet because they last forever."
That has kind of become my motto this summer. If I were facing the end of my life, these days in the Berkshires stretch interminably in front of me.
How many are left?

But who's counting?
What did I think it would be like spending the summer in the Berkshires? Well, I knew it would be cool (as in the weather), and it has been. 
I guess I pictured the Berkshires like the Catskills or the Poconos. The kind of places you see on television from Dirty Dancing or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
A scene from the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in the Catskills
Perhaps there'd be dinners out and boating and games. 
I didn't plan for no cell service and the closest neighbors being not close at all. 
Don't get me wrong. I know some people would adore being isolated in the woods, maybe people with high-stress jobs who just want to get back to nature. 
And it is beautiful here in places, not unlike where my parents grew up in Kentucky.
The tiger lilies bloom later up here 
We have had some ventures into towns. I would say nearby, but truthfully, the closest towns are 45 minutes to an hour drive.
Last week we drove to Northampton, having no preconceived notions about it. Why did we go there? To work in a Starbucks. (I know, Theresa, but we all make compromises sometimes) My writing has stalled and I hoped that by returning to a coffee shop, I might jump start it. 
Instead, a man sat down at the communal table with me and Earl and began telling us his life story. 
Still, Northampton is an interesting town. The most liberal town in Massachusetts, where Smith College is located. 
Luckily, I wore an Indian designed top so felt right at home amidst the tie-dyed shirts and bright colors.
A shop window in Northampton
There were lots of people asking for money on the street and several musicians busking, even on a weekday afternoon.
Best of all, there was a candy shop called Sweeties. I took a picture and sent it to my friend Derrick. Sweeties is what the Brits call candy and I'm trying to make his niece and nephew learn American English so they have to ask me for candy instead of Sweeties. 
Jelly beans, fudge, chocolate, runts...
We also found a book shop, so the trip was definitely worth it.
On Sunday, we traveled two hours to Saratoga Springs, New York. Earl has a friend there that he went to Ohio State with in the journalism department. I had never met Barb and her husband Jim, but now I regret all those years we didn't know each other. We had a delightful time. 
A beautiful copper roof on the new building. The original building was built is 165 years old. 

The horses sweaty after a race. 
We went to the racetrack and spent about $20 betting on horses. Earl won $10 and my horses sometimes were limping so I was very bad at choosing.
Afterward we walked downtown. It's a very civilized town and even had an Aveda shop, which I've been searching for. I bought some new moisturizer and felt like I might be able to survive the remaining days in the Berkshires.
So, it's a lot of driving to get to anywhere, and most days, we don't leave our big, but cluttered house with the old dog and two mischievous cats. I've been walking every morning after I teach. I've managed to run down hill some, but I'm still having pain in my ribs from my fall so can't push it uphill because of that thing.. oh, yeah, breathing. It hurts to breath too deeply. 
We plan to go tubing, maybe Friday or Saturday. Apparently, there's a reservoir that lets water into the river on Wednesday, so the river is not high enough for tubing early in the week. Some things are still a mystery to me here. 
There's also kayaking for another day. And we even spotted a zipline. 
We're spacing out our fun activities so we always have something to look forward to. 

Friday, July 12, 2019

It's Official

Today, after four years of dating, our daughter Grace and her boyfriend Jack made it official. They're engaged.

It's not official til you share it on Facebook.
We're very happy for them. Their love for each other is an inspiration. Neither of them is perfect, but it looks like they found their perfect imperfect partner. And they've weathered some tough times together.
They did a photo shoot with a wolf
They met four years ago in May when they both were in a production of Hamlet. Grace was dating another guy on and off and I was kind of rooting for him. I jokingly called Jack by the wrong name -- Josh -- for awhile, before it became obvious that they were serious.
After a year of dating and some frustration about finding time to see each other, I suggested they just move in together. They are both always involved in acting, usually in different shows, so after work, they'd rehearsal, and they rarely had time to see each other most evenings. At least if you lived together you'd know you would see each other eventually, I said.
After one of Jack's shows
They spent two summers apart while Jack was in a show that required him to live on premises about 90 minutes away from Columbus.

They have traveled together, exploring Scotland, Ireland and England. They visited Jack's family castle in Scotland -- the MacRae Clan and discovered that the castle wall says as long as a MacRae is within, a Fraser will not be without. Our family clan? The Fraser Clan. Perhaps this love story was written in history.
That look.
People always ask if a guy is someone you approve of for your daughter. My standards have always been high. There is one requirement. That he love her with unbounded love. And I think she has found that in Jack.
In fairy tales, a wedding is the end of the story, but we all know that a wedding is really the beginning of a whole new life for the two of them.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

How We Define Ourselves

The Irish blessing begins: "May the road rise up to meet you."
And that's exactly what happened to me yesterday during a run as I tripped and fell, landing on my hands, one knee and then thudding onto my side. I lay on the hard-packed dirt and gravel road for a few minutes assessing the damage.

At least I didn't land on my nose and break it. I've done that before. 
And it's been 12 years, so maybe I should count my blessings that I had a nearly 7-year streak of not falling.
But the fall injured more than my outside.
I had just determined that I was going to conquer these hills we are living on for 45 more days. 
  I'd been sluggish, walking a lot as I climbed the two miles up, then increasing my speed as I went down.
So yesterday morning, I forced myself to run farther before I stopped. I took a flatish detour past a flock of sheep then headed back toward the uphill. I felt confident, unstoppable even, before a rock jutting out of the road caught the toe of my shoe.
In slow motion, I stumbled, my hands outreached. I could stay upright, I could keep going, but a few steps in I fell.
And it's hard to fail at something you consider yourself good at.
I've been running seriously for about 18 years now.

 I trained for a marathon and tore my ACL. Nevertheless, I trained the following year and actually ran the marathon. I tout the benefits of running and often claim I use it as an antidepressant.
Yet, a submerged rock reached out to tweak me.
In the past, I have bemoaned that my two hobbies -- writing and running are best done first thing in the morning and I couldn't decide which to devote myself to. Now I haven't written seriously for 18 months, since we moved to France, and suddenly my running is off too.
Who am I if I'm not a writer or a runner?
I told my friend Janine that I felt like the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz with the straw being stuffed back into me, trying to restore me to what I was before.
If a runner falls in the woods and no one hears, did she make a sound?
I had the luxury of sitting on the road a few minutes, gravel embedded in my palms and a little blood on my knee, because the road is seldom used. A fall is different when you're middle aged than when you're young.
The distance isn't farther, but the thud feels harder.
And as I stood in the shower later, trying to take in deep breaths but feeling a pain under my ribs, I played with the idea of a collapsed lung or broken ribs. But by this morning, I decided the ribs were just bruised and I would be okay.
I didn't run this morning. Instead, after I taught for four hours, Earl and I went on a hike in a nearby state park. A few times, I placed my hands across my right ribs, feeling for that tender place where I had landed.
Maybe the fear is what makes the fall worse as we age.
But I can't let fear or inertia keep me down.
Tomorrow, I'll be back on those hills, forcing myself to run a little farther before I stop and walk to catch my breath. And maybe I'll even schedule some time to sit in front of my computer to put down words that tell a story, a story about two women on a trail in France.
I'm a runner.
I'm a writer.
So I'll end with another song, this one by Frank Sinatra who sang:
Now nothing's impossible, I've found for when my chin is on the ground,
"I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again."

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

The "Bear" Necessities Require Closing the Door

I blame my husband who just yesterday was lamenting that he never saw any wildlife when he was hiking.
That day as we were walking home from the mailbox at our rural Berkshires (Massachusetts) housesit, we saw a fox in the middle of the road, and he got nervous because the cats were out and about. We had left the back door open during the 20 minute walk so the dog could go out if she needed it. But I shrugged off Earl's worry about the fox. I had seen two foxes the week before on an early morning run in Florida. They were young and they both stopped in the middle of their playful games to stare at the lights on my shoes. 
A fox that stopped to check me out during a predawn run in Florida
So last night, we gathered the animals in around 8 p.m., as we usually do. Jenny the arthritic dog, and the two young cats, Kepler, black, sleek and obviously a hunter, Tanna, a bit chunky mottled color and satisfied to lie around and be petted.
The dog and two cats followed me on an attempted run up the mountain yesterday. 
We closed off the cat door and pushed the back door closed  without latching it. 
The owners had already told us that the dog could push inside the back door since it doesn't close well.
Earl and I were sitting at the kitchen table when I saw a black and brown head appear in the window of the kitchen door.
A bear!
Just checking things out. Not really afraid. 
I jumped up and ran to the door, wondering what I would do if the bear pushed the door open before I got there. Could I get away from it? Why wasn't my husband running to protect us from the bear?
That's when I heard him.
"Wait! You'll scare it! I want to get a picture."
Are you kidding me? I wanted to scare it.
He had hesitated to grab his camera so he could record the event.
He was right that, thankfully, I did scare the bear. It went lumbering across the yard, but not at a fast pace.
And the picture of the bear slowly peeking into the glass of the back door will remain etched in my mind -- like a scene from Goldilocks, but opposite. The bear was just checking to see if we were home.
The backdoor view from the kitchen table. I will forever picture a bear's face in the bottom right. 
When we took over this housesit, the owners told us they left the doors open all the time (not unlocked, but open) and they weren't even sure if there was a key to the house.
That same day, we had driven an hour away to a grocery store and simply left the back door open for the dog to go in and out. I wondered if the bear had been by earlier casing the joint.
So we locked the door last night, the only way to latch the back door.
This morning though, the door is open again to let the fresh 80 degree air in, and the front door is wide open too.
An open door leading to peaceful woods for all mosquitoes and wild animals to enter. 
Hopefully, the bear won't return, but if it does, I'm afraid it might find an open-door policy. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

A June Whirlwind

I can't believe it's July already.
June was a blur of activity.
We hiked in Spain,
Me with Earl and Maurice as we crossed the Pyrenees
 bought a house in France,
It needs a little love, but it has a garden
 said goodbye to all of our friends in France before we left for the summer and spent a night in Paris,
Always love the dramatic sky in Paris
flew home to the States,
Always love spending time with Mom and Dad.
At the Gulf of Mexico with Earl
drove from Florida to Ohio
Dinner with two of our three kids
 then Ohio to Massachusetts.

This is actually a view in Vermont, I think. Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire are all very close together here.
And here we are for most of the summer.
It's rural and I am sure to have lots of time to write, but less to write about.

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...