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
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.

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'...