It’s Raining!

he don't like the rain

At last, some rain.  Our first year of farming in France has taught us much about drought conditions.  It rained a tiny bit in July, but for the most part we’ve been dry, dry, dry.  The kittens have no memory of July’s rain and are not impressed.  They blame us for this wet stuff dripping out of the sky.

The Salers cows (the red ones) have done a great job with all the heat.  They shed their coat and have been troupers eating the abundance of alfalfa, which is a spectacular drought resistant plant.  The Mirandaise (the white ones) are our sun worshipers.  They LOVE the heat.  Often times we catch them sunbathing on their side for a little afternoon siesta.  With this rain, the tables have turned.  Our glorious white cows are huddle up in the trees trying to work out what the heck is going on while the Salers carry on with their grass munching.  Of course as I write this, the skies are blue and the sun is on, so our Mirandaise sunbathers are back in action.
sun worship mirandaise

(photo by Mr. Curtis)
salers like rain. mirandaise don't.

It’s about time to bring up the Nutella Weather Station.  It’s beginning to get cold here, at last.  The soup is on and the Nutella is showing deviations in spreadability.  Today’s forecast is: spreadable.  No warmth required to smooth the hazelnut goodness on your Sunday morning crêpes.
nutella weather station, conditions spreadable

Tombolala

kids at the disco

Once again Brent and I have been out partied by an uncustomary age bracket.  The first time was at the local fête in our last village.  Live music, plenty of booze, the night was young.  The kids were occupied.  We’re surrounded by the seventy and eighty year old crowd.  All were cutting a rug to the tunes of peppy-french-social-dance music.  Brent and I danced and danced until Brent hit the wall and had to go.  I stayed for a bit after with Lucy.  Then, at one in the morning, I glanced over at my right and told Madame eighty-year-old that I was tuckered out and headed for home.  She gave me a smile, pat me on my shoulder and then popped out to the dance floor for another round of French polka.
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Last Friday, was another one of those moments.  Lucy’s school merged with Otto and Minty’s school to do a dance / sing / raffle event.  In France, it’s called a Tombola.  We arrived at 6:30.  Otto and Minty did their dance outside which ended with the class walking hand and hand into the event hall.  Lucy took the stage with her class and performed (wait for it) a Modern dance!  Modern dance for those “not in the know” is a form of dance about movement and expression escaping the rigorous structure of ballet and the like.  It’s not something you’d expect your eight year old to perform at an end of the year shin dig.  There were no introductions.  There was no speech about all the hard work the staff had put in this past year.  There was no plea for money.  It was all about the kids, their dancing and their singing.  I’m still aghast that my daughter and her class got all modern dancey.  It was wonderful.
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The evening went along and the kids finished their performance.  It was Tombola time followed by an Apero (that’s shorthand French for l’apéritif which means sweet drinks, whisky and little nibbles).  Brent realized too late that the kool-aid substance in the white container was actually a Kir (cassis and white wine).  On and empty stomach and a full day of farming, well, he got a little giddy.  Let me remind you that this is a kid event and it’s now 9pm or so, dinner is still not served.  We at last sit around 10pm for our first course (I really love this place!).  the dinner wasn’t fancy, but it tasted fantastic.  After a few courses the Disco began and the kids danced like nuts.  The adults sipped wine and watched the fun.  We still awaited cheese, dessert and coffee.  It’s not quite midnight, but very close.  Brent didn’t make coffee.  He took Lucy home while I chatted with some parents and waited for Minty and Otto to tell me they’re ready to go … and waited … and waited … okay! Can we go now ?????? Minty, thankfully said that I could go. Whew.  My head hit the pillow at 2pm.  I was out partied by my 4 and 6 year old.  The kids had a total blast.  France really knows how to throw a good family fun evening.

Jean. Please step forward.

(actual photo from an online listing of a house for sale)

I’ve been looking for a house for no more than a year and one day.  I say this as a year in France has come to an end as of yesterday.  It’s been a gradual process.  At first, I saw houses … perhaps it’s time for a quick aside on buying a house in France even though I’ve not purchased one yet.  I say I saw houses and if you’re American, you think of an agent taking you around on weekends looking at all he houses s/he has lined up for you.  She picks you up in a comfy S.U.V. with a smile holding a latte and a perky attitude as though we’re going to knock this out of the park.  Kick some house hunting ass.  But this is not the picture I will paint.  The truth can be painfully realized  (or realised for the British audience ) walking through a typical conversation had in French by my super French speaking husband and an agent that happens to have a house we’re interested in.
—–

Another beautiful Thursday morning in SouthWest France …
Brent: Hey! How are you? Great.  I saw this house that you’re selling.  Love to have a look.
Agent: Hello.
Brent: So … can I view it?  How about this weekend?  We’re flexible.
Agent: I need to call the sellers.  I’ll call you back.
[ after a cheap Rhone, some amazing pork, a little cheese and Valentine yogurt we skip to Friday afternoon.  Brent, understanding that 12-2 is lunchtime, calls the agent after lunch as he has yet to get back to us ]
Brent: Hey Madame! May I speak with Monsieur <insert agent name here>?
Madame: He’s not back from lunch [read as left for the day].
Brent: Oh.  I want to see a house this weekend, can he get back to me?
Madame: He’ll be back in the office on Monday [read as Monday late afternoon]
Brent: uh. Okay.
—–

Et voila.  Rinse and repeat.  It is uncertain as to pin this crazy behavior (behaviour, love ya brits! mean it!) on The French or Southwest France or This Crazy Economy with Mortgages Going Bust and Buyers Few and Far Between, but DUDE, what’s a girl with money to buy a house gotta do around here to buy something!?
That said (hate that expression, promise never to use again), I’m glad it took so long because while I was trying to shove my Seattle living life into a quaint farmhouse in country France but with a better stove, I realized (sigh, realised … okay  done with this cute tactic … bugger that) maybe I want something different.     While waiting patiently for agents with houses to sell to get back to me, I figured out that what I really want is not the farmhouse, but the farm.  And so after much searching, an offer has been made.  A great farm that I want to buy.  Sounds simple.  Great.  Cut to America where you say, “cool.  I’ll take it.”  And Ms. Perky gets all done-deal on you and you find yourself nose high in papers to sign with the whole weekend ahead of you.  Wrong.  There is no Ms. Perky.  There is no done deal.  You’ve entered phase two of buying a house in France, which throws you into the front row, sweating but excited while you await the Randy Jackson and fellow Dawgs of France to see if you’ve made to the next round.  Three to six weeks of waiting while a technical committee decides if you buying that house is good for France.  Wow.  My project is good for France.  Here’s to hoping that I remember all the lyrics and that adding another farmer to France is a good thing.  And by definition, a YOUNG farmer at that!!! So we sit and wait while working on plan B.

(I think a rug will tie this room together)

It’s coming up to a year in France and it wasn’t all Peter Mayle like.

( photo by Brent Curtis )

I’ve never moved out of country before. For some, this is no big deal. For me, it’s a new adventure. The brie is always more ripe on the other side. You have grand ideas and hopes and new plans for your life “over there.” It’ll be different. It’ll be better. It’ll be fun and exciting. Then, when you get there you see what it’s really like. I can’t believe it’s been a year. When we headed out to France we said we’d rent for a year and figure out where to buy a house. So far, we’re still renting and not signed on a house. Though we’re excited about a house that will suit us to a tee. Nothing is set yet, but if it all works out, we can close this move-to-France chapter and begin our life as farmers.

But what the hell did I expect for a year in France and what actually happened? The biggest shortcoming I see is my French. You’d think that living a year in France would improve your French. Well let me say right here and now, if you have a Visa card, you do not need to learn French to live in France. My comprehension is impressive, buy my recall is atrocious. My lack of language is not mirrored my lack of motivation. I want to speak French. I want to speak French well. I hope to woo people with my cute outfits and fancy French so that they will buy my meat and proudly serve it in their restaurant. And so, I’ve taken a more guerilla approach to my studies because whatever it was I was doing before was not working. In the last two weeks, my approach has been working.

What else … I thought a year in France would be a long time. It’s not. I can’t imagine uprooting my family and moving them out here for only a year. If I moved back today, I’d spend most of my time recreating the things I love about France into my everyday life. This poses a huge problem living in America, as Americans are work-aholics. You see this most clearly in their inability to sit the fuck down for a minute and drink a coffee. In Southwest France, there are no to-go cups. No one walks around with a latte in hand on the way to work. They sit at the bar and knock back an espresso if in a hurry; otherwise they sit down at a table and enjoy a coffee. It doesn’t take long. In fact, I know I’ve waited in line in America for my to-go latte longer than it took me to sit down and have an espresso here in France. I do love America, but I wish they would take a minute to have a good lunch or drink a coffee. This spoken as a former latte lugging, commuting yuppie with too much pointless unread email who has decided to step into the 00’s and live life.

The internets reduce isolation. I’m connected to everyone. I’m sure that but a few years ago, I would be writing different words about my experience. The internet has had a HUGE impact on my feeling great about the big move. I talk weekly face to face(ish) with my Mom on Skype. I can read that a cat was stuck up a tree or that a strong wind is headed to Seattle in the morning headlines. Or that Riri wore (or dare I say whore) a crazy outfit to the Grammys. I can watch video of my friend’s dance performance. In some ways, being out here is no different than living in Seattle (except you can buy foie gras). I have a few friends that believe this is all a ruse. I’m still in Seattle, living in my crazy craftsman house pretending that I’ve actually taken the family to France. But I have. I did move. And everyday as I drive the winding road to e.leclerc. I think to myself, “holy shit. I love it here!” No joke. But please read that with “holy shit. I love it here” accompanied by Fun Radio playing Lady Gaga’s latest Poker Face moment. France is okay. I think I’ll stay some more.

Why are you throwing your life away!?

It wasn’t said literally, but that was the facial expression. As I visited friends and family with many questions, the reactions seem to fall in three buckets. Those that are excited, those that believe we’re doomed for failure and those still struggling with the whole farmer thing as we appear to know nothing at all about the subject and they know more. I found myself repeating the phrase, “yes, I know … I know nothing about farming” and “I know, we’re crazy, but …” But really, what does it matter? There were also those who advised me to reread Charlotte’s Web. Now had I said that I’ve landed a job at a high tech company in Toulouse, the pay isn’t great, but the job looks fun. Those faces would have been supportive. Congratulatory. Excited that we landed so well after the big uproot. But then what would’ve been my adventure? A kiss good-bye to the family, an hour commute on the road one-way, meetings, valuable time spent arguing about nothing, moral events. Yes, I’m knocking the rat race. I like living life on the edge. I spent much of my life in the arts and almost equivalent time in high-tech start-ups which both satisfy that risky way of work. Nobody knows us, we are going to conquer the world, we have no money, but we’re going to make it big. What have we got to lose? Nothing if you’re in the arts. Quite a bit if you’re in a high-tech start-up. I see farming as the perfect blend of risky without a huge loss. A girl’s gotta eat don’t she? I need to buy a house. I need to eat. After that, what’s left? Some clothes I suppose. School is free and great. Healthcare is virtually free and great. Now I need to work on being a great (or okay) parent. I need to play with my children. I need to teach them to be considerate of others, to solve problems on their own, to drive themselves to accomplish what they want to be. The great appeal of this venture is that we can work at home with our children. At their age, they will LOVE the responsibility. I have to choose who gets to help with the dishes. The children absolutely thrive on adding value to the family. Sure the cynics will scoff at this as a phase or “wait ‘til they’re ten”  … yadda yadda yadda. For the time being, they will love a role. They will love to own something. The thing that stood out most of all with my visit to my old digs was after the big look and the crazyness of me farming was out in the air and off the table, almost every single person reflected on some farming or farming-like experience they had in their life. It may have been tough or fun or maybe an interesting point in their life, but they shared it with me. I listened excitedly and attentively. How sweet is it that one can look back on their life and fondly reminisce the time they kept chickens? How cute the chickens were, but turned out chickens weren’t for them or more commonly, “what a great time that was.” What are people sharing now? That they watched every episode of Lost and it was great? That they finally got that home movie room completed? What part of the soul does this satisfy? What part of the community did this affect? Most of this type of stuff will be replaced by the newest, greatest home entertainment and hip-cool episode with the new Johnny Depp (he is hot, though!). I suppose what I discovered after leaving the dream was that what I’m intending to do strikes a chord with people. People who’ve never farmed a day in their life vehemently clarifying how absolutely hard this way of life is. You will never, EVER be able to leave! It’s ALL OVER FOR YOU if you choose this way of life. And here I sit, a prisoner in my house as my youngest takes her daily nap, which occurs everyday at the same time each day, everyday. And it’s not so bad. I get time to read. Time to write. Time to clean up and think. Seeing as I’ve never farmed before in my entire life, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll be a prisoner to the animals. Maybe I’ll never get to leave. Somehow, I doubt it or at the very least, I question it. I’ll never know unless I try. Then I too will have my stories that I reflect on fondly as my friend shares with me this crazy idea about quitting it all and starting a small farm. Oh maw gaw, I’ll say, I did that for a spell and it was the best time of my life …

Vous Comprenez?

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There was a point in my life when I was FLUENT in Spanish. More specifically, fluent in Spanish with the buying and selling of expensively priced costume jewelry. Oh how the mehee-canas loved me. Shortly after that, I moved up to the great northwest and lost all but those phrases exclaimed by my favorite mouse and yours, Señor Speedy Gonzales. El Gringo Pussygato, “¡Arriba, arriba, arriba, ándale, ándale, olé, olé, olé, ándale!” But, I was fluent. I used to be. Now, as I learn French the crazy roman idiosyncrasies that English left out as it evolved (linguists can splian I’m sure) comes naturally. Spanish and French structures are not all that different. Pero, Mais, But the verbs are far apart. For the first eight months, I’ve been slack on my French language study. There is too much sun, too many baguettes and too many types of cheese to distract one from learning zee language. But the farm looms. We are to hoping to direct our sales to that of restaurants and niche markets. Which means, I must learn French parfaitement … d’une forme parfaite! And so, I’ve been hardcore French study girl cranked to eleven rated XXX, 24/7 you-buy-it-we-pack-it, word. Which has been quickly improving even in the last five days. I used to be that smiling foreigner smiling in the corner smiling and saying, “it’s good! It’s good!” It’s AAAALLLLL good. When people would ask me if I understood what they were saying (vous comprenez?) I would nod and say, “it’s good.” This is no longer so. I now hear “vous comprenez” with confidence providing a firm retort of “oui!” Yes, I understand!! I do. I can give people things. I can say I’m doing fine. I can buy things. I can go places. She runs fast. They are tired. Really, I could go on and on. Faut que je m’arrête. Okay, so maybe I google translated that one, but I knew “but,” “must,” “stop,” and “I” … just not in that order. There will be a point in my life when I’m all Bjourn Identity, speaking French naturally, rolling off the tongue like bullshit at a status meeting. Today, on disc two of twelve with five or so episodes each I approach with enthusiam because this will grow our business. My superb French will help us kick arse with our superior products. I’m excited and motivated. Fuck yeah! Or whatever the French equivalent is for that…

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