Sunday, December 25, 2011

HOPE


Hope
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
-Emily Dickinson
We returned with our family intact, Caleigh decidedly thinner; and frail, but ok. The whole experience taught us all different lessons, Caleigh knows that she has to maintain basic nourishment for her body to sustain health, Cindy now has been empowered to ensure the little one eats all the food she lovingly prepares, and that the side dishes of vegetables aren’t optional choices but mandatory staples. And I learned that even though I eat everything on my plate, it is my duty to ensure little one follows suit.
It was a humbling experience dashing through the tiny French villages, following the ambulance, numb with fear and painfully being aware how insulated my feelings were. My only thoughts were getting there safely and praying Caleigh was going to be alright. It amazed me how appropriate the words to Emily Dickinson’s “Hope” kept coming into my mind, to be comforted for a couple days, as hope gave me little respites of comfort. Once there, while they were running all these tests, it was frightening to think of what the problem was as they were going from one extreme to the other with their myriad of tests. The imagery of the little match girl kept reappearing in my mind as I thought of Caleigh, all by herself through some of the tests. In retrospect the problem was her body had deleted any available resources in order to continue functioning, the flu, stress from school, her worried state about relationships in her life, and her lack of any appetite combined for the perfect nutritional storm. She will have to have another couple tests to finalize their complete analysis. I do apologize for the alarm that I sent throughout the family and friends by not summarizing in my last posting that Caleigh was alright, I had two days of nonstop fear and was a bit heavy handed. Merry Christmas; Love the ones your with.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tis the season

The fields were layered with a coat of frost, and it struck me how cold the light from the sun was, a bright morning but cold. Cindy and Caleigh were probably just waking up in Marmande at the hospital, Caleigh had fainted a couple times and the first fainting was accompanied beforehand with a short seizure. We had called the local fire department paramedics, and they took all her vital signs and deemed it necessary to take her the 30 kilometers to the local hospital emergency room, so Cindy and I got ready as quickly as possible and followed the speeding paramedics van through the small narrow towns to Marmande. We arrived and Caleigh was transferred from the gurney to one of those hospital kraftmatic rolling beds. We filled out a bunch of paperwork and waited a couple hours for our turn. They were thorough, to the point where the tests they ran were everything from a couple gallons of blood , a cat scan, a full body x-ray, and a spinal tap. After eight hours all tests were negative. Because we mentioned that we thought there was a small seizure episode, they decided to keep her overnight and run some brain activity tests the following day.(today) During some of the battery of tests Caleigh had the presence of mind to take a cell phone picture of herself on the adjustable bed with all the tubes and wires, then proceeded to send it to her friend Theo. With all of the days tests done, we waited another two hours in one of the exam rooms for Caleighs room to be completed, it felt like they were literally constructing it. Cindy drove home and picked up changes of clothes and other vitals, and Caleigh and I were shown to the room. Caleigh ate a little and Cindy returned with the camping supplies, I wearily drove home and took care of the animals and tried to sleep. I will drive back to Marmande this morning, but wanted to post this.
It is the holiday season, so for me this Christmas as you are with your family occasionally steal a glance at all the ones with you, and think how much they enrich your life. You don’t have to say anything but manage a smirk as you look at them all and think how lucky you are, and they are. Remember, perspective is a gift of the present based on the past histories of you and your loved ones.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The fourth choice




“Met in the summer and walked til the fall
And breathless we talked, it was tongues
Despite what they say, wasn’t youth, we hit the truth;

Faces of summer that fell from the wall
But nothing is left where they hung
Sweet and bitter, they’re what we found
So drink them down and,

Walk out to winter swear I’ll be there
Chill will wake you high and dry you’ll wonder why
Walk out to winter swear I’ll be there
Chance is buried just beneath the blinding snow.”
Lyrics by Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera “Walk out to Winter”

Since Cindy and I started dating, to present, her birthday has never been acknowledged in a fitting manner by me, although she would be the last to bring that up. I’ve never really bought in to the “this is your Special day” attitude. I really can’t blame it on my youth, that’s for my other problems. Well this year Cindy hit a milestone, at about 90kilometers an hour, and we discussed various remedies…..special outings, none of which really were approved from Cindy as being IT. It got to the point that on her special day we awoke, and laid about in bed and I said;
“Get dressed, we’re going to Bordeaux, and we’ll stop at Flash (French antique shop, nice furniture used stuff, and crap) to see if they might still have that painting, and then a nice lunch.” And for once she listened to me, this was to be a day that the gods aligned the stars for my girl, and it helped that I made three correct choices.
The Painting; Our friend Mickey, a British ex-pat knows all the ins and out of this region of France, he is like Klinger in M.A.S.H. well, he told us about this store in Bordeaux that was really interesting, tons of interesting things, some good prices and gave us directions. It was in May of this year when Cindy’s mother was visiting (working dawn to dusk in gulag conditions) that we first saw the painting. We had been renovating our farmhouse kitchen, and had pretty much charted all the spaces in the kitchen, except for one wall. We are doing the kitchen in a French country, formal style, and the only thing missing was a large old world style still life for this wall. As we were meandering about the store we made our way into a little back room that had twenty or so nice paintings. We both saw this one still life and knew that it was it. Only problem it was 280 euro’s (350 American dollars) and we didn’t have that budgeted for cushy decorating fluff, we were more concerned with buying building material at that point in time. We would come back for it another time.
Seven months later.
O.K. lets get sleeping Caleigh into the car and drop her off at the school and drive to Bordeaux. So we drive to Bordeaux, about an hour and twenty minutes, all the time wondering if the store Flash was even open, as our track record for this was 50-50. The French have this odd store open policy that I can’t even sum up. Mondays stuff is closed, two hour lunches throughout the country, odd holidays, summer to fall hours switched off days for sales. Ooooof!!!
We fully expected to arrive at Flash and see that it was closed, But I felt that since it is her birthday, we should do something and if need be switch plans with something else on the spot. Idiot!, So you can understand the track record for Cindy’s special day with me at the wheel, trying to put on the blinker as I drive off the cliff.
Well the first choice I made was good, Flash was open. We instantly go to the small painting room, and it’s not there. Fine, let’s find another treasure that will remind you of this day kind of attitude. (I believe the word idiot was just used, but I’ll repeat myself) So we browse the aisles and after an hour of bleak prospects Cindy unearths two small wall lights and a small table lamp, hmmm. Well, maybe we’ll stop at the park along the river there was a rinky dink looking yard sale thingy we drove by on the way here. So we proceed to the cashier and pay for the wall lights and lamp, the man only speaks French, so I ask if he has any other large paintings, he kind of understands me, so I motion for him to follow me to the painting room and point out the small still life that we like but gesture we want a larger one. He shrugs and says, or what I understood, he would go ask someone? So Cindy and I stand looking at each other, and the guy returns holding a large painting back to us, then turns it around for us to see. Kinda like this?
You could have knocked me over with a feather, Cindy’s faced changed instantly from we are kind of wasting our time to sheer happiness. (Nice bargaining position) It was our kitchens holy grail. Cindy couldn’t believe it, I told her I had called and asked them to hold it for us, Cindy honestly believed me, but I confessed that it was pure kismet that it was there. That was my second correct choice, by asking out of the blue if they had any other large still life paintings hanging about. We pay for the painting, and go outside and take a few photographs of Cindy with her loot outside of Flash. The huntress has captured her elusive game. O.K. now for a nice romantic lunch, we agree that there is a fun lunch stop outside of Saint Emillion that we’ve always wanted to stop at. Driving out of Bordeaux we get on a side route, as we (me) mistakenly make a wrong turn, and as we head out in traffic I notice a small plume of smoke arises from the front of the car’s hood. I have more issues than National Geographic; one of them is constant monitoring of any noises from the car while I’m driving, on the way to Bordeaux I spent twenty minutes listening intently to a thumping sound that was located in the back of the car, passenger side. Could it be wheel bearings heating up, loose exhaust pipe, faulty shock absorber, blah, blah, blah. I finally asked Cindy if her sweater belt was stuck in the door, and that was it, after we slowed down at a stop light she opened the door and that sound stopped. So anyway I was preoccupied with this tiny smoke plume so I pulled over to the side of the road at some parking area, open the hood and almost something myself, the oil cap is missing and there is engine oil splashed everywhere. CRAP. I stop at the first convenience store gas station combo and buy a temporary cap and a gallon of turbo diesel motor oil. Fifty euros later we are off to the closest Peugeot dealer. This was the third correct choice of the day, saving the engine from seizing and costing a mint to either rebuild or replacing the engine. Our plans are scrapped as the engine is our only priority, well long story short we stop at the first place and it’s 12:10, everyone is out to lunch for two hours. We are near a small quaint town, so we decide to at least go for lunch during our two hour wait. We drive into this small town and Cindy is instantly drawn to a small restaurant named “Le Gare”, (train station) we park the limping Peugeot and enter.
Le Gare, I instantly make my way to the restrooms to try to wash off all the diesel oil, it actually took me longer to clean the sink after washing my hands than actually to wash my hands, another of my issues. I join Cindy, clean handed and relieved to know that we are near a Peugeot dealer. Relaxed we review the lunch offered on the wall mounted chalk board. Three courses, and a little red wine, not gonna argue with these offerings. I look at Cindy and she’s fine, the engine issue has faded for now, so focus on this. We open ourselves up to this lunch experience, after reviewing the options for each course we order. We start with our first course; Cindy has a salad tartine, and I have potato soup, it was real nice, we get the half carafe of local red wine, the first sip was kind of chalky, but did open up, then Cindy’s Filet de Colin (fish) with pimento-aise sauce and my bavette’ (steak) and frites arrive and we argue for ten minutes over who’s was better. They were both wonderful, for our closer Cindy has a fromage (cheese) plate and I get the apple torte with this wicked sauce. We arm wrestle for the last half glass of wine, I let her win. We relax for a while then pay up and return to the Peugeot saga, well we drive to the dealer and they don’t have the parts, but they tell us the next closest dealer’s location. After a fifteen minute white knuckle drive with one eye on the road, and one on the temperature gauge we arrive. The problem is that the engine cowl (cover) had worked its way loose and knocked off the oil cap. This dealer had the oil cap and the retaining screws. I install the cap and we return home with the masterpiece. Cindy was truly happy with this day, everything worked out like clockwork. I was so happy that I had made three correct choices, as I am so thankful for Cindy’s choice to be with me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

a year in review, part three of three


I now hope to finish the review of being in France for a year. With the T.V. crew finished and departed all of us fell into a spell of exhaustion. Gary and Susan had seen me at my worst; I was frazzled beyond belief, we had worked feverishly in order to get the kitchen, living room, and bathroom ready for the “reveal” for the T.V. show and ideally I should have been shipped off to an isolation ward. We now were able to focus on finishing the upstairs so we could entertain the thought of having our business commence. I think I calculated we had six more weeks till the tourist season would be on us. It should be do-able; we purchased more electrical supplies, around fifteen hundred dollars’ worth, and some plumbing supplies that added up to about a thousand and started roughing in the upstairs. Then the well ran dry, not figuratively, literally, the water supply for the house dried up, well the water level dropped about six feet due to the severe drought. Our well now had about a foot of water in it, no way to pump it without blowing out the pump, it would pump the foot in three minutes, then be sucking silt, heating up then frying up its insides. We solved the problem by hooking up a hose from our house to our neighbor’s house and tapping off their city water line until we could connect ourselves. It’s weird, living on fifty acres with only one house within a kilometer of us and they are that close, about a hundred and fifty feet away. That forced us the go through the French offices dealing with arranging for the city to come out, give us a bid, schedule the crew to install the street connection and water meter, then actually get the work done. From start to finish this work took just over two months. As the spring turned into summer, we had completed so much work, yet still had lots to do in order to finish the house. We continued working on the upstairs rooms, and started the second bath. We had a family stay with us, we thought we were ready, but after their visit, we decided that we were not where we wanted to be with the house. The decision was made to postpone business until next year. A week later an Advertising agency contacted Cindy regarding freelance work for their Amsterdam office, we were blessed with this turn of events as it allowed me to continue working on the house. We decided that because the weather was so perfect, that I should get out of the house and enjoy the fresh air. So I started really detailing out the landscaping, cleaned off the tile roofs, actually cleared out a couple pastures, cleaned up the horse corral, installed a stone border up and down the driveway, then got delivered ten cubic meters of crushed stone and spread it up and down the driveway. I will say it was rewarding, I put ten pounds back on and have never been in such great shape, As it is now October I will return back inside and complete the second, second floor bathroom, insulate the attic, remodel the first floor bath, complete the first floor hallway, and hopefully redesign the front entryway as right now it’s not as inviting as we want it to be. We have two cast iron wood stoves being delivered next week so we look forward to this old stone house being warm this winter, as a couple days ago I cut a ton of firewood and split it into wood stove size. They say a man (or woman) who cuts their own fire wood is twice warmed, how quaint, remind me next time not to split wood when it’s ninety fucking degrees out. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and am reassured that it’s not an oncoming train, we have settled into a more normal work mode, persevering and steady not frantically focused on what our perceived priorities are, this house has gotten used to us now, and every so often gives us hints as to what needs to be done next.
Cindy and I are still excited each day we wake up, and at sunset each night while sharing a glass of red wine. Well that’s not entirely true, we don’t share a glass of red wine, we each have our own glass. As a matter of fact we toasted to our sixteenth year of marriage last night. Salute Henri'

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Year in review part two of three


I was waiting for Robert to arrive for our weekly game of cribbage, and then it dawned on me that maybe we agreed on 11:00 not 10:00. Robert is originally from Washington State, he and his wife bought a house in Saint Jean de Duras, and we met at one of the village functions, we were really lucky to meet he and his wife, I’m not sure how lucky they were to meet us. After a few dinners here and there we discovered that we each had played cribbage 30 or so years ago, so it’s now a weekly thing. My point being, while waiting for him to arrive, it allows me to finish the previous entry, “A year in review”.
We were settled into the house, and had semi functioning Kitchen (set up in the un-renovated living room), bathroom, and two bedrooms. We were given the name of a young man who did freelance electrical and plumbing work and who had done work for a friend of ours, so we called him and met with our friend and the young man to discuss the scope of work. At first, I think our project scared the hell out of Mathieu as he was concerned that he would never see his girlfriend again. Then I explained that I would do the grunt work…….The meeting was very productive, and to this day we realize that without him the house could have taken longer and cost a lot more. With our new Electrician / plumber on deck we began with the kitchen. Our plan was for me to do the grunt work, buy the materials, and pay him. He worked during the day for a building company and would spend a few hours a week helping me after hours. The kitchen was a mess, we would have to completely gut the kitchen and install a new mechanical system. (Electrical, plumbing, and heating) The first order of business was to remove the dropped ceiling and the tile covering the walls, medium sized white tiles with a grimy gray grout. With that four day demolition done I had to start laying out all the locations for the electrical plugs and switches, then chip into the stone walls all these one and a half inch deep trenches for the conduits. After a week of the most thankless dusty, dry work, the electrical preparation was done, it allowed me to then mix up plaster and “cement” in the conduits and flush out the walls. The new electrical service was to be in the barn adjacent to the house, it would be later renovated into guest suites, making it more convenient for the new construction. The existing electrical service was in the kitchen, what this all means is the we had to route twenty conduits from the kitchen to the barn, running them from the kitchen cabinet up and in the wall, in between the ceiling beams, down the wall across the entry hall and up into the barn. This work took about three weeks. It was at this point that we started working between six to seven days a week, eight to ten hours a day. It was invigorating, we could see progress on a weekly basis, but it was exhausting and over time I lost twenty pounds and Cindy lost fifteen. This schedule continued for about four months, it was when Cindy’s mother and step father were here for six weeks that we pulled out of that silliness. We were so driven to finish the work in order to have the rooms ready to rent for the tourist season. In three months we were done with the kitchens rough mechanicals and the hand applied tinted plaster walls were done. The plaster walls were backbreaking, after finishing about a third of the walls; the first coat started popping off the wall, while heartbreaking it was better at that point then after the cabinets were in. So the answer was to scrape off all the plaster and then scrape the walls down to the original stone and mortar and re-apply new tinted plaster. We spent another month installing the metal track system that would support the insulation and drywall for the ceiling. At about our fifth month we were ready to install the kitchen cabinets, final paint and clean out the construction debris. During all the physical work we were also scheduling meetings with the local Marie (mayor) for legal documents, and the local Notaire for agreements for the farming contracts, driving an hour and a half away with our new trailer to Brico Depot (their home depot) in order to get better savings from the largest building store in the region, setting up appointments with the various departments for residency, medical and administrative matters. I will say that spending an entire day at a French administrative office is fatiguing beyond belief, sure I lost twenty pounds through hard work, but the mental gymnastics required for non-stop conversations with the various offices in order to straighten out our birth certificates was Olympic gold metal worthy. In Europe the order recognized for writing your birthday is Day-Month-Year, whereas in the U.S. it’s Month-Day-Year, to straighten this out takes time, it was almost as though we were the first people over here that had to deal with delineating this difference.
Susan and Gary’s (Cindy’s mother and Stepfather) arrival was the turning of a few corners for our process. We were hell bent on completing the interior remodel, in order to allow for tourists to stay at our Chambre D’hôtes, (European Bed and Breakfast) and therefore start making income. Well Susan and Gary’s working vacation turned into a gulag vacation, they matched us step for step and turned out some incredible work. Gary and I installed the Kitchen cabinetry. It would have taken me half the time alone, but it would have needed to be reinstalled a month later, luckily Gary steadied me down. As we finished the kitchen, the film crew for the T.V. show arrived for the final three days of filming. I’m trying to summarize but it is turning out lengthier than planned, part two of three, I guess.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Pettersons build their dreamhouse


It was a year ago this week that Cindy and I flew to France, to sign the final papers and take possession of our French farm. We stayed for a week and cleaned up the house as best we could. I remember the aroma was the biggest obstacle; we could deal with bagging all the remnants that had accumulated for the twenty years the elderly lady lived here alone. Although maddening that they had sold all the houses furnishings, (which were agreed to be included in the sale) it was like rubbing salt in an open wound the fact that they hadn’t at least cleaned the house. You could walk into any room and there would be a minimum of six large plastic trash bags worth of junk, mind numbing random things. It is best described as the remains left after a pack rat was evicted and anything of worth was removed. I’m still working through this one issue; it is lessening with time and replaced with a growing pride of what we have accomplished.
So what’s been done in a year? Well technically it’s only been nine months as we returned for good on December 27th of 2010. Our first order of business was to get the bedrooms up and running, the bathroom had been acid dipped to disinfect it as much as possible, and the kitchen had been arranged for basic cooking. Our first week included everything from the process of getting Caleigh into her new school in Duras, shopping for school supplies, buying and arranging for delivery of new mattresses, buying a small refrigerator, getting electrical service, phone service to the house, cell phones. Obviously this was all accomplished in the still daunting language of France. Grocery shopping is always fun, now that we’re seasoned veterans, shopping is second nature, but our first few weeks were bizarre, a simple task like buying half a kilo of apples included weighing them on a computerized scale where you have to identify the fruit or vegetable. There are roughly twelve options for apples, in French, needless to say initially we bought easy to identify fruits and vegetables. Then you print out the price sticker based on the weight and type of fruit, bag it and off you go, we were typically sent back to the scales once a shopping trip for screwing up the process. And of course you need to bring your own grocery bags, or buy new ones each trip, and always have a one euro coin to insert in the grocery cart lock that releases it from the row of carts. It is a pretty good system as it ensures that everyone returns their cart to the cart corral to retrieve their coin.
The car we rented had a diesel engine, so naturally I hunted for diesel; wrong what I should have been looking for is Gazole (gas mixed with oil). Looking back it seems so basic, but at that point I was mortified of filling the tank with the wrong fuel. Each morning I would drive Caleigh to the school bus or to school and then start with the most pressing of priorities. The weather was freezing and we had these cheesy electrical heaters plugged into our few outlets, I could literally see ten euro notes disappear in front of my eyes. We had a month of house cleanup, including weather-stripping doors and windows, painting, waiting for our furniture to arrive in the container. The furniture set up we had was abysmal, a little depressing, I remember just trying to sit comfortably on a wooden side chair. The kitchen set up was laughable, but knowing it was temporary made it less frustrating, there were our small dormitory fridge, our one burner electrical stove, and our 1960’s ceramic sink in a dark kitchen. The only saving grace in the kitchen was the wood burning fireplace.
It was around that time that I noticed a post on one of the English forums, about living in France, regarding any American family’s moving to France and planning to renovate a room or two. So I sent a reply, and after a few exchanges with the production company, Cindy, Caleigh and I made a five minute video as an introduction of us, our situation, and our house. It turns out our timing was impeccable, what they wanted, when they wanted it, and where they wanted it. For us it was an interesting experience, process, and a lot of stress. It was stressful, because the 3-three day groupings of filming required us to erase any work we wanted to get done on any of those time slots and work with the dialog they were envisioning. Sure they were telling our story but through their eyes, it seemed. We met some really nice people during the process and look forward to seeing a DVD of it as we don’t get the HGTV shows over here. When we find out when it is to air I will post that information should any of you desire to see a family out of their element.
Incorporated into this initial timeslot we were also dealing with the farm itself everything from setting up legal farming contracts for the farmer who was leasing the land, to having “inherited” two Belgian draft horses and an ass, plus one of the Belgian’s was with filly. One hears horror stories about people buying a house in France and adjacent farmers having fights to see who gets to take the land away from the new foreign owners. This land stealing is accomplished by working the land then declaring the revenue gained from the farming is now needed to support the farmers family, the land is then able to handed down through generations, while still being “owned” by the person who bought it, but not being able to sell it in the future. Cindy researched the bejesus out of this and the short answer is to set up a “Commodat” (contract or lease) through the Notaire, who ensures that no such behavior is allowed, one learns quickly over here, the last thing you want to do is mess with the Notaire.
At about this time we have been here six weeks, and I had been researching for a good stable daily driver. We choose a 2001 Peugeot 406 sedan, diesel, not anything flashy but really dependable. The process of buying a car is a little different over here, we bought it through a garage, we test drove it and agreed on a price and were told “O.K. see you next week”. In the states you drive in drive out with the new car , here they do all the paper work; put new tires on it, check it all out to ensure that the car is in perfect working order, or near to it, then you get it completely ready to go. We added a tow hitch and electrical requirements for the trailer, a couple hundred euro’s as quoted. We had to extend our car rental a week because of not knowing the car buying process.
We were settled in and were now ready to start the remodeling of the house, starting with the kitchen; the film crew arrived for their first three days of shooting. After they filmed the squalor that was our temporary life, they focused on the kitchen remodel, each detail was scrutinized, whether to tear down the ceiling or not, where to put the new window, buying the new window, was Cindy happy about this or that, Caleigh’s reaction to her new surroundings, how well had I thought things through, was I fucking bonkers moving my sweet family to the frozen southwest of France in the middle of the coldest winter on record, did Cindy have access to a shotgun, did the French health plan supply me with Prozac. Ah! We were living the dream, and the best thing about it was our trials and tribulations were being filmed in glorious High Definition, and it was going to be aired for all to see!!!!!!
My next posting will get into when the hammer hits the nail on the head, and we increase our work output considerably.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Canary in a coal mine gets a vacation

In as much as we considered the house ready for guests, we believe we missed the window of opportunity. We arrived in France December 27th, and started the renovation process thinking we could complete it in six months. Well eight months later, although really proud of what we accomplished, Cindy and I realized that it just isn’t at the level of completion that we require. We were lucky as Cindy picked up some freelance work that will hopefully bide us through the winter, and into the spring. If that holds true, then I have a chance to finish the house during the remainder of this year and next spring. This would allow the house to be completely detailed, winterized, and ready for guests (clients) next season.
In another matter, we are toying with the idea of setting up two safari tents on our east prairie, as it faces the sunsets and has beautiful landscape views. If we do pursue this idea, I would have all winter to fabricate built in kitchen units and bathroom modules. The idea is to set up these really custom interiors but have it wrapped inside a traditional African safari tent exterior. We have seen a few from researching it online, and it is amazing how peaceful they appear. Essentially as you view them from the outside they typically have large spacious deck areas, with defined seating, dining, and common areas. Then inside the huge tents, which have a second fly tent over them for weather proofing, there is a small kitchenette, living area, with a master bedroom and attached bathroom. The secret is that as you walk into the tent for the first time, you are blown away at the level of detail, although it looks like a safari tent on the outside, on the inside it should feel as though you just walked into a designer’s house. Again we are just thinking of the potential it may hold.
This week has been a blast as Cindy’s father and wife are visiting us; they are staying in a cute townhouse in Duras. They have friends visiting for a few days prior to them all going to the La Roque Gageac area, where they have a rented house in the most beautiful village in France. It was that same village we stayed in four years ago with them, and it was the initial image we had of France, a really great first impression. So we could blame them easily for the move here, but I wouldn’t do that? It was prior to their arrival that Cindy and I realized the nonstop work days had to end, I had dropped more weight then I should have, as had Cindy. Thin is nice, but this was dangerously thin. We slowed down the pace and even decided to start working outside, we really needed to have the place look more inviting, and sure it’s a work in progress? But it was like Pisa; nice once you get in but looking like Soweto from the approach. If you are from Soweto, I apologize, not because you are from somewhere that looks like the inside of a pig’s backside, but if I hurt any feelings. They stay here one night then go to Duras another, then when their friends arrive they will stay with us for the remainder of the week before they leave for a week in La Roque Gageac. It has been so fun for us, and especially for Cindy, it gives her a chance to really visit with Wylie and Ginny. Caleigh gets a kick out of Wylie’s humor, inappropriate yes, hysterical definitely. We were given this above ground pool by a friend, he said if it works great if it doesn’t hold water chuck it. Well Cindy and Caleigh spent a day washing it and I rigged up a waterline from the house and we proceeded to fill it, after a few hours it was obvious that it would be fine, once filled it was laughable in appearance, but functioned fine. There have been a few days where the temperature was in the 100’s, and after limbing fallen trees in the prairies and depositing them into the burn pile, I would drive the big diesel tractor back to the house, I would stop by the pool and take off my overalls having the trunks beneath them and jump into the pool. Priceless, we will get a legitimate pool in the future, but for those days when heat exhaustion is staring at you in the face, the prescription is immersion in cool clear water.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Quick update

Hey real quick note, Cindy my I.T. person has enabled the comments ability of the blog. Feel free to comment on any posting, and any requests of observation of living in france. I am literally just heading out the door with Caleigh and her best friend Elsa for a drive to Domme, the prettiest village in Franch, in my opinion, not that I've seen them all. Cheers henri'

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rockets Red Glare


Cindy and I took a day off, one that was planned a month ago, to attend a brunch at a local vineyard with a couple who are our neighbors. Brunch de Domaine de Coutancie, now you know the secret place. Our friends only speak French, so it was an opportunity for us to yet again immerse in the language. As it was Bastille Day we had also planned to go to Bergerac that evening, with the kids, to watch the fireworks along the banks of the Dordogne. We met up with our neighbors and followed them, down rural roads dotted with wineries and stupid cute ancient farms, the 20 kilometers to the winery. We arrive and park in the adjacent field and proceed to walk up the approach to the event. The winery looked as though it was designed by some movie set builder, I was trying to place it in my mind, was it in French Kiss, at Kevin Klein’s family get together scene, or from Under the Tuscan sun, the final scene when Dianne Lane has the wedding for her young friends, and she meets the travelling writer. We enter the grounds and check in, Cindy had prepaid by cheque, the main reason we went, so we waited while our friends paid. This was by reservation only, and it turns out our friends had been attending for the past 12 years, we felt as if we were let in on a pretty special secret. We walk around enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, and marvel at the sweeping valley views, the requisite rows upon rows of vines, surreal lighting, and mercifully an unrelenting cool breeze. We seat ourselves at this collection of long tables where most of our party is seated in the shade of a large oak tree. Once seated we acclimate ourselves to our neighbors, enjoyable lot, and it is somehow discovered that we’re not locals? We handle ourselves well, conversing in our basic French the entire brunch. As the whole affair is buffet style the guys amble over to the serving station to pick up the aperitif and it is wet, cold, and a slightly sweet white wine, who’s going to argue with that. I would point out that we have finally found our French gears and we enjoy the glass for 20 minutes or so idly chatting about pleasant things. Knowing limited French we don’t follow the local politics, and vise versa with them and American politics. Up next on the gastronomic tour a plate with foie gras, melon, and thin cuts of magret seche' et coppa maison (thinly sliced dried duck breast by them) with those small delicate pickles which paired well with the richness of the goose liver. We accompanied this course with a cool rose’ that was one of their products. I believe at this point our friends returned with another helping of the goose liver plate. We sort of realized that this was going to be one of those "we'll have to eat our way out of this" kind of affair, and we also acknowledged to each other that this had the possibility of being one of those “pinch me, is this real” moments in life that you enjoy strictly in the moment. Either that or she pinched me because of a Jerry Lewis joke they didn’t seem to get. Then the aroma of bar-be-que hits us and the first wave of hungry guests weave over to the serving station, we are still in bliss with the foie gras and rose so we make it over when the line is at its smallest. We amble past the chef tending the entrecote fillets on the barbeque, I have to admit for a country that doesn’t sell great barbeques, they make up for it in other ways. The coals are from old vines that were yanked for one reason or another, they are cut up into smallish sizes and lit in the traditional manner and built upon with smaller stalks as the coals burn down. This imparts a flavor to the meat as it is cooked, sounds easy right, not so, as Gary and I discovered in the five weeks he and Susan visited ( see: worked gulag style) . Gary and I managed a small success initially and missed a couple times later then got real analytical in our approach and found a few helpful tips about the requirements for vine barbeque-ing. The taste is discernable and mellow in its smokiness, but combined with something else, not a hint of grape, but a subtle sweet tint. We are served frites and a slab of the entrecote, rare-ish. An English definition of Entrecote, from P&F meat market website defines it as. “Entrecote is a French word for the popular ribeye steak. This cut of meat is special because it comes from the middle muscle. It has both attributes, flavor and tenderness….found in a high end steakhouse” Well anyway combine the steak, the grilling methodology, and the red wine (theirs) we were served and it was then that Cindy and I knew this was a cinematic moment that we shared. I will mention that our friends managed to have three servings and I had two, god it was great. That entire course lasted twenty years,,, at least an hour and a half, slowly peacefully relaxed conversation, I rearranged the forty or so French words I know in different order and must have started ten different conversations,….on correct usage of French vocabulary. The steak was followed by the cheese course, fromage it was a delicate goat cheese or Cabecou. "One of the smallest French cheeses. The name 'Cabecou' comes from the language of 'Oc', the ancient language of South West of France and means small goat. This delicious farm cheese gets its flavour from the richness of the milk. The goats graze in pastures full of luxurious vegetation (hawthorn, mulberry-tree, juniper-tree, etc) of the Midi-Pyrenees, a region of France.( thank you Fromages.com) Or as my maternal grandmother would say "it was fukin' great", no she didn't say that, but it was.
The dessert finally made its way over to our table, local strawberries injected with an abundance of strawberry flavor, soft and perfect in color, shape and taste, on a bed of Chantilly with white wine. Should be illegal, well there goes my diet I think as I go over for seconds. As the brunch winded down I realized that it was 5:30, and we arrived at 12:30, yep anything worth doing is worth doing right.
We returned home to pick up the kids, for our trip to Bergerac, a half an hour away, but 800 years in the past, the old part of Bergerac hasn’t been ruined, but protected form modernization. We ( Cindy ) packed a bunch of snacks and picnic stuff for the fireworks show, and loaded up the car and left by 8:30. Cindy and I were still in lounge mode after the food orgy, but for the kids, we rallied to get us all to Bergerac. Our plan was to set up a spot on the banks of the Dordogne that the kids would use as a home base, allowing them the freedom enjoyed by young adults. We parked by the new bridge, a couple kilometers down from the old part of town and the old bridge, less people and better view. We couldn’t have picked a better spot, we set up our blankets and refreshments and waited, and while we waited the young adults roamed old Bergerac. We were blessed to have Elsa here with us for a month, Caleigh’s best friend from the States. So did I mention we waited, and waited the fireworks then started at 10:30 – 11:00 ish. Oooof! It gets dark here so late. The fireworks here are surreal; they started with two French national anthem songs, the one we all know and another French anthem-y sounding song. As we are identifying the music, we’re thinking these guys have nothing on Disney land, they start out very reservedly, and build the magnitude of the fireworks gradually. It starts to dawn on us that they are playing only national anthems, we hear God save the Queen, then Rue Brittiana, and work their way around Europe, then we hear ours, the fireworks change as soon as ours starts, there are white cannonades of light from the bank across the river, as though a shore battery is opening up on the British frigates at Fort Sumner, and when “and the rockets red glare” is sung three giant red flares light up the French country side, and I feel tears at the corner of my face and I’m choked up like you would not believe. I lived in Boston for ten years and my friends and I would join the annual pilgrimage to the Charles River to listen to Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops perform the 1812 overture to the synchronized fireworks, I gotta tell you, this blew them out of the water. The fireworks continued accompanied by the different nations anthems, the Russian anthem I think should always be accompanied by fireworks, imagery and history, and the German national was not familiar to me, better than hearing “Deutschland uber alles” I guess. The finale was spectacular, we now know we will return each year with a larger and larger group of friends. It was an incredible day all told, one Cindy and I will never forget, glad we could share it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mother and Daughter




Cindy’s mother Susan arrived seven weeks ago, it was nice to have family here as we were alone for a few months prior to that. From prepping rooms for painting, sewing beautiful fabrics into amazing gifts, to shopping at brocante’s together, they were inseparable. When Susan arrived with Gary I think it was a few days later that the Belgian draft horse gave birth to a daughter, fittingly enough. With the help of Susan and Gary, we were able to advance our completion of work considerably, even though the upstairs bath was never finished during their visit. They never faltered during the initial hell week that lasted three weeks, and then they were granted leave and escaped to Italy for two weeks before returning to finish off their last two weeks of sentence. Gary and I worked on everything from installing Kitchen cabinetry, and prepping with the ladies for paint, to fine tuning the method of bar-be-queing with the vines that had been pulled from the vineyard. They were also instrumental with the closing scene of the T.V. reality show we were in for restoring the farmhouse, as they were the completion scene at the end when we all looked back at the finished product, ( or not so finished project) We started with hors d'oeuvres in the completed kitchen and ended with the meal out on “Sunset Plaza”. That is the patio 30 meters from the house that overlooks the vines and pastures and the perfect sunsets, and where you have a very good chance of catching me at sunset time, on any given night. It was last night after Susan and Gary had left that I was sitting at the plaza with a glass of red wine and watching the barn swallows flying about that it struck me. The mothers were out with their daughters teaching them the art of flying, swooping and gliding and fine tuning their flight, not so many flaps of the wings, glide here and there, use the air currents, be graceful and above all fly.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

around the clubhouse turn


Monday May 30, 2011;
We have a couple honeymooning in Petit Clos for a couple days; I didn’t get their bath finished due to septic and plumbing issues. They agreed to be test samples, and were really understanding and patient about it. We went to the market at Issigeac with them; it is the most beautiful market town within a 50 kilometer radius. Gary and Susan are on their final week here (Cindy’s mother and Step father) I was so happy they had a chance to go to Italy for a couple weeks as they had been keeping up with Cindy and I on our nonstop seven day work weeks. We had imposed a drop dead date for the second floor bedrooms and one bath room that unfortunately didn’t happen, the rooms were mostly complete, but the bathroom was not functional. Cindy and Susan had been working doing days and days of prep work on the rooms and then finished off the painting, the results are incredible, Gary has been running so many nonstop projects as well. I don’t think there would have been any chance of getting the results we’ve achieved without their eye for perfection. It will need another week and a half to complete it, and then we will finish the upstairs hallway and then start the downstairs hall. That should finish the business aspect of the house, and then we will remodel the first floor bath, and finish with Cindy’s and my room. (Same room)
Yesterday after the market we dropped off Caleigh and Theo at a lake nearby to be with friends, Cindy and I both loved it, so we drove home and picked up our swim costumes and headed back with a pick nick basket. It was the most refreshing afternoon we’ve had in four months, the water was clean and cool, we had rose’ on the beach and relaxed. Everywhere around us families were enjoying their day together, Caleigh and Theo joined us, pretty nice.
When we arrived home at seven Marissa and Eric (the honeymooners) were in the kitchen preparing a meal with fresh ingredients from their day at the market, he is a chef in a really nice restaurant in Napa Valley, and they prepared the most incredible meal. As an example, he prepared a side of mashed potatoes that had celery root, prosciutto, herbs and spices that would have been a main entrée in most places. The goose and chicken were also out of this world. It was cool to have the kitchen really broken in with a legitimate chef, Cindy’s cooking is phenomenal, but it was nice to get feedback from a professional.
The remainder of this week will be completing the rooms and bath, taking loads to the local dump, and finishing up the electrical for the house. So close but yet so far.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

small assortment of unfinished entries-spring cleaning


A collection of uncompleted posts that I thought I would pass on, but probably should have passed on?
Thursday morning, all the kitchen needs at this point is:
Detail the ceiling with small patches of drywall skim coat to ready for priming, paint ceiling, finish cabinetry installation, install tile backsplash, install bookshelves at desk area, install desk, finish plaster on kitchen wall at dining room wall, clean floor and seal, seal walls, install chandelier, install kitchen faucet and drains, paint trim and doors. Back to work
Saturday p.m.
We have started using the near complete kitchen, after what seems like a month of nonstop work days. There are still a few items that remain, but like the present on Christmas Eve we opened the kitchen early. The only real items remaining are the installation on the exhaust vent above the stove, some touchup plaster, and decorating. Cindy has planned an Easter lunch with Gary and Susan (her mother and step father) and Colette, who is Cindy’s mentor in language and all things French. We had dinner in the kitchen last night with Gary and Susan, who have been here for the last ten days working side by side with Cindy and I. Fell asleep.
Sunday afternoon; taking a break while Cindy has a cooking lesson / Easter dinner prep.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011 sitting down in the kitchen after an exasperating two weeks, I don’t even know where to start. Yesterday we started the day thinking we would concentrate on painting the living / dining room as Cindy’s mother and stepfather had spent a week detailing the preparation of it, but then discovered that we didn’t have any water. After a day of trouble shooting the system we got it running, with the help of our plumber / electrician, and with the help of the man who keeps his two draft horses at our property. (One of them gave birth to an incredible little filly-girl five days ago) The solution was to lower the water pump into the well, as the water table has been lowered lately due to lack of rain.
The kitchen is finished for all intents and purposes; minor details need to be finished. I have placed all my tools in the new atelier (workshop) and need to finish organizing them. The doors that were sticking half way when opened or closed have been dealt with, while I waited for answers yesterday regarding the well. I started the work on the upstairs bathrooms and hope to have one complete in two weeks, we’ll see how that dog hunts. It is difficult to get things done here, as when you start one thing in the morning, another jumps in during the afternoon. There is the never-ending maintenance and upkeep that is required of fifty acres and assorted livestock outbuildings. But luckily Caleigh’s foreign exchange student has arrived for the week, she is this tiny thing from Belgium, they speak Dutch not French it turns out. I was happy that by the time they returned from school the water had been fixed. It’s bad enough that she has to bathe in the dog bath looking shower, but at least there is water? And it’s hot. The things we normally take for granted have been elevated to luxuries when living on a few hundred years old farm. All the mod cons as the British say, Modern Conveniences.
Gary asked if I had and regrets, none really, there are some things that Caleigh went through at her school, but those seem to have passed? And he wisely replied they could have been worse in Los Angeles, for different reasons. One thing that has excited me is the fruit bearing trees on the property, there is one huge cherry tree in our front garden that is ripening this week and I can’t wait, then there are the pear, plum and apple trees as well, but I’ve always wanted a cherry tree.
I have become old, priorities and tolerances are a thing of the past. My daughter has out grown my wisdom, she is wise beyond her years, my wife more tolerant than required, and my dogs more patient than evolutionary possible, the cat however is silent and watching. We have been in southwest France now for over four months, things are progressing more then we scheduled, finances are tight; but manageable. Our family and friends are an ocean away; time zones that would dwarf the Himalayans. We are on a raft, an adventure that H.G.Wells would relish, and one that we approach day by day. The kitchen is for all purposes done, our living room is also done, we are finishing our second floor bedrooms and bathrooms, and we have a couple staying in a room and bath in two weeks, It has been a month since I last posted, there are not enough hours in the day. I am behind on my obligations, calls have not been made to family and friends, facebook is a thing of the past, as I check it on a weekly basis. The T.V. film crew wrapped a couple days ago, the jury is still out on that decision, live and learn. Susan and Gary returned from their two weeks in Italy, they were missed and appreciated, they are so helpful with all our nonstop projects. Caleigh is well, continuing at the French school and excelling with her grades and life. I am non stop actually took a day off last Sunday and slept most of the day, decadent. Well I’m off to finish the tile floor on the upstairs bathroom as now the guests will be here at the end of this week.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

dine and dash


Well right about now it’s 11:30 and I’m getting ready to call it a day, we have electricity and plumbing in the kitchen. Our electrician / plumber left an hour ago after getting our temporary power to the kitchen, he fired it up and everything works flawlessly. The plaster is a backbreaking job, but the most rewarding, I have another two to three days of it left. The ceiling beams were sanded and washed, then after drying were sealed, they look better than planned. The next job is to skim coat the ceiling and primer it, then give it a couple coats of finish paint. I think the cabinets will be installed by the beginning of next week, then appliances. Then all that remains is to button up everything for moving in to a functioning kitchen.
Well alright that was a week ago, we have been going nonstop. The cabinets are in the kitchen, but not completely finished, the plaster is at about 95 percent, the ceiling needs one last touch up prior to painting, and otherwise we are extremely happy with the kitchen. Today we tractored and trailer-ed the brush pile to the far pasture and set off a huge bonfire, that I then watched and tended for about four hours. Invigorating and exhausting, but we gained our sunset plaza back for ourselves, the brush pile was residing there but we evicted it and cleaned it off for dinner. So much has been happening; I awoke about a week ago and had excruciating pain in my mouth, an abscess. After a night of dreadful pain and nightmares about having a tooth yanked in a rural dentist office Cindy made an appointment for the next day. Of course the whole day I was dreading the appointment, and after another night of nightmares morning arrived and at 10:00 a.m. we drove to the dentist office.
I had worked my imagination to the point of expecting to see the equivalent of a scene from Saw for the dentist office. I walk into the modern waiting room and fill out the required paperwork, simple, and then when I’m called I walk into a dentist office nicer than my last dentist in Beverly Hills. I kid you not; it was like walking onto the bridge of the newer starship enterprise from the Star Trek movies. The dentist was the French equivalent of Natalie Portman, and after digitally scanning my mouth, she leans to me and tells me, the tooth is fine here’s how you keep it clean for the next few days so it can heal itself. I almost started crying, then remembered the promises I made about never forgetting to floss again. Or as one of my favorite dentists used to say, just floss the teeth you want to keep. I am going to keep this brief as we have been going nonstop, and I don’t think I can stay awake, but one quick thank you to Teddy, Cindy’s Aunt. “Thank you so much for your package, the cushy athletic socks are unequalled over here in France, and I don’t even know how to thank you for the dozen or so large bags of Frito-lay sunflower seeds. So you know the four packages of the razors were doled out pretty quickly between the gals and I, here they have the slow razors, unless one wants to resemble Van Gogh. Nite all

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hear Ye!, hear ye.


The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones;
We have had quite a farming week, and also a tough personal week and I managed to help a neighbor which was fun and rewarding. Cindy learned how to drive a large farm tractor, as luckily she had a really great teacher.
O.K., so where are we? I’ve been finishing the electrical in the kitchen, throwing plaster on the walls, building the kitchen cabinets, and also keeping up with the grounds keeping. Cindy has as always kept the books, taught us French, refinished furniture and tackled the garden. Caleigh has had the least enviable job of being a fourteen year old girl, not that she has been diabolical, but she is surrounded by girls who are, and what do you have? Cat fights on Crack.
Where to start? The kitchen is schedule wise our priority, Caleigh is our priority in terms of life but we’ll go in ascending order. The kitchen is progressing, we bought our cabinets from this custom fabricator the guys name is IKEA, Swedish dude, high end stuff. I will install all the cabinets and then Cindy and I will apply a glaze or something that will soften the one off nature of the cabinetry. The electrical has had the most difficult prep work finished, our electrician will return this Thursday to start wiring the main panel, and start setting up the circuit breakers in the kitchen. The plaster finish on the walls have been kind of a female dog, there was a coat of oil-lead (hybrid decoration?) paint that would not allow the plaster to adhere, so after popping off the plaster bubbles from a week before I took the time to remove the existing paint off the walls. This then allowed me to reapply my custom tinted colored plaster for the second time, so rewarding. Our second mason crew will arrive tomorrow to install the stone arch carved by the first mason. That will leave me with the task of installing the wooden arched window, and filling the remaining empty space with stone. That would be the space without the glass thingy covering it.
Cindy has been refinishing a piece of furniture that I had been pretty vocal about leaving it in Topanga for the termites. When I saw it a couple days later, I laughed, it looked incredible and I realized that I would be the one rebuilding the furniture, but I wouldn’t be the one refinishing it. She also decided to risk it and try driving the tractor, as I was going to cut down a tree beside the house it would be more prudent to have someone in the tractor supplying some tension to the tree for direction, and when I think of tension I think of….anyway Cindy climbed in and after a three minute tutorial off she went. I had earlier climbed up the tree as far as I could, two feet, then went into the house and got an eight foot step ladder and managed another ten feet from that. With the rope tied around the highest part of the trunk, and around my neck in case I fell, I started back down, you always have to think safety after a six pack of wine. Cindy had the tractor running and I got the chainsaw running, so I started with a V cut on the face of the tree in the direction of the fall, and the chainsaw died….I shit you not, so I’m pulling on the starting rope twenty times really quickly with visions of the tree hitting the aforementioned kitchen a tree branch throw away. Crap it’s out of gas, so I run to the gas can a convenient thirty meters away and fill the two cycle chainsaw with straight gas. (It requires a 3 percent blend of oil) I run back and manage to get it restarted and finish the V cut, now the only thing I need is for Cindy to start inching the tractor forward while I cut the back of the tree to release the stored energy of the V cut in front, which she does flawlessly. The tree falls in the perfect location and this exercise in stupidity comes to a favorable end.
Caleigh has made the teenage mistake of having one of her girlfriends ex boyfriends be hers. I won’t even go into the myriad of events that happened, Caleigh made a couple mistakes, all of which were jumped on like a Salem Witch trial on Meth. I guess the part that depressed me was how a girl that was her friend could jump on the bandwagon and betray her so deeply, tell half lies that would shame Cindy and I just in order for, this kid to escape detection. Caleigh handled it with aplomb, and I think she sees the end result in a constructive manner; she at least has a friend that Cindy and I both like he’s a goofy kind of kid. He taught Caleigh how to ride a quad and a dirt bike, I would have preferred to be the one teaching her, but at least it was by someone that seems to get her and cares for her deeply. (Parental guidance required)
The good deed was this morning, I walked outside and peered around the corner of the barn and spied a van stuck on the rural side road that borders our land and some vines, it was an acquaintance of ours who had purchased 3 acres of vines and was often seen pruning his vines ( stop it!) Cindy and I had met him a few times and so I went into the barn and started up the tractor and drove to where he was mired, after a quick strategy meeting in sign and Braille we decided I reverse the tractor down the road pulling him, a little rope trick and a quick couple knot tricks and away we go. It was fun helping someone we had watched pruning his vine till sundown earlier in the winter. As he was getting ready to drive off he told me an old French saying, “A good deed is how most friendships start” I drove the tractor repeating his saying, it warmed me as I drove through the rain to the barn.
Well sleep time, dawn comes early on this here farm, you all come back now, you hear?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

another day


It’s ten past eight, and I’ve just crawled under the covers. Today has been a long one, luckily I start the day off driving Caleigh a couple kilometers to the school bus stop, and it gives me a chance to talk with her while we wait the ten minutes for the bus. She is doing well; she was moved up one level in her French class, which fills me with so much pride. Her school day is long and arduous, it’s a world of non-stop French speaking classes, and even her English class is in French. Then I return home after stopping at the Boulangerie for an “ancienne” style baguette. Today I continued on the kitchen ceiling, installing some more old wood beams perpendicular to the existing structural wood beams, to give it a more rustic appearance. After a few of those I decided to go outside and test out the new Huskavana chainsaw, there are a few unruly trees that need guidance. It is really rewarding, so I decide to attack the front driveway where it is overgrown and the type of task that you put off because of how intimidating it seems. This is the area where all the tractors attachments were parked when we bought the place, of course when we arrived to take possession, all the farming implements were gone. Luckily in their place was a collection…of crap. There were disorganized piles of cinder block, none useful, and a ton of termite infested logs, and rusty wire, etc. After about three hours of sorting and piling like pieces of junk in piles, I was able to start raking all the leaves that the Germans in WW2 had trod upon. It was starting to look pretty promising,…until I looked up, the tree that starts our driveway had some Jurassic aged vines engulfing the trunk, I kid you not. Someone had cut it at the ground level but had neglected to remove it from the tree trunk. So I went to the old outhouse on our front yard that now serves as the garden shed and retrieved our pole handled tree trimmer and returned to the strangled tree. After an hour of prying off the atrophied petrified vine, the tree and I took a break. Cindy had returned a short while earlier from going to pick up Caleigh from her one short day, and it gave me a chance to load up our other recent purchase, a new trailer, we had to buy one of course because all three that we bought with the place were gone, but luckily the crap that had been piled into the trailers when we bought the place was left for us. First I piled all the trimmed tree branches into the trailer and drove it to our back brush pile and deposited into the soon to be torched collection of multi-aged branches that were also left for us scattered about gods fifty acres. Then I returned for the trailer load of salvaged wood that would be suitable to be firewood for us next year and drove them to our wood barn. The last trailer full was of 800 pounds of leaves, topped off with all the cinder block pieces, and my trusty pitch fork. Cindy had been helping gather up logs from and adjacent field, which had housed 8 generations of termites, so that wood went to the brush pile, or the termite Viking funeral mount, whichever you like. Off I go to the dump, about 5 miles away, the trailer being fully loaded down with our collection of Sanford and Sons landscaping decorations made their way to the dump. I arrive and already know the routine and set about disgorging the two separate materials into their appointed containers, I watch as some novice arrives and is given the detailed instructions as to how to use the container setup. I smile the way you do at the wide eyed freshmen on the first day of high school, except I will admit that this rookie at least understood the instructions, the same ones that I faltered with. As I’m getting ready to leave I tell the attendant the name of my town” Saint Jean De Duras”, he nods he remembers me and I smile and hand him the Coke a cola I was going to drink on the way home, “Un Americain Champagne” he laughs as he takes it and say thanks and I make my way home. At my jobsite back in L.A. I used to give the Porta-potty cleaning guy a soda each trip he made, as he was a treated like a social leper, but if you thought about it he was the guy one most wanted to see on a regular basis, and he always had a smile and said thanks. It was a little thing but I was glad I had given it the thought initially, and then kept it up. I got home and raked up the remaining overspill of leaves and tidied up the area, and it looked great. I went inside and got a couple glasses of water and told Cindy to come out and check it out, we walk out there, and I’m not making this up the guy who speaks the oddest dialect of French has parked his car smack in the middle of my newly raked Pebble beach putting green. Luckily he sees me as Cindy disappears back into the cottony warmth of our house, so I head over to talk to him for forty minutes about what I still don’t know, either I’m expecting a litter of kittens, Beelzebub is fronting for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, or he’s offering to mow the grass near the house. I look on bewilderedly as he continues to admit to liking whipped cream of mushroom, Stalin was a misunderstood debutant, albeit a great accordion player, or he has to take his tractor to another pasture. I look at him nod as thought what he’s saying has made my day brighter and nod goodbye. Walking inside Cindy looks at me and my expression explains the pain I cannot describe, I really like the guy, I have French friends that have talked to him and also don’t understand much of what he says, but I really have to repeat that I truly like and most importantly trust this man. Cindy cracks up as I sit down for the first time in what feels like three days, she has prepared the most delicious dinner, and we visit with Caleigh for twenty minutes. It was a hysterical dinner with Caleigh relaying the romantic goings on at her school; mostly the naïve courting mishaps of kids here age. Cindy and I stay at the table in our combo kitchen, dining room, and living room and talk about what’s on tomorrow’s slate. We each have a glass of red wine from Bordeaux, which I love because it comes in a wooden six pack. Then she stays up a few minutes more checking e-mail and I lumber off to bed thinking what respect I have for farmers on all continents, waking at dawn, quitting at dusk, eating and shortly checking up with their families, going to bed to continue the cycle the next day. I can’t wait for my litter of kittens? I will post pictures tomorrow of before and after.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Archie and Fenetre’




Winter seems to be winding its way down. The T.V. film crew left a couple days ago, and we are left to complete the items started when they were here. We have probably five or so weeks till the kitchen is complete. The comfort of not having a working kitchen is wearing thin; we get to prepare and eat our meals in the house, then go outside to the kitchen entry and wash the dishes in the partially renovated kitchen. Good news is that today we are installing a temp kitchen sink in our laundry area. This will allow us to remove the old kitchen sink and cabinet and complete the kitchen demo; we have already installed most of the new electrical wiring, and will finish that today. Tonight our plumber / electrician is coming to help route the plumbing, and cap and remove the existing kitchen plumbing. Even with the insulation and drywall installed the kitchen is freezing as we have a hole in our southern wall, the effects of needing something to film for the crew, however this forced us to complete the masonry aspect of the window installation. The mason brought over five ancient blocks of stone and then preceded to template them to the new kitchen window, then spent a day and a half cutting and chipping the stone. The photos above are of the interior kitchen south wall with the window (Fenetre’) and the hole, the other photo is of the exterior showing the hole and the arched stone surround. (Archie) We have to finish the interior shell of the kitchen, then we will be able to roll on installing the as yet un-purchased base cabinets, and then install the rough top for the counter, and then it gets easier.
We are also dealing with setting up our “Auto entrepreneur” paperwork that allows us to conduct business in France. We need Driving licenses in the near future, and we need to plan the next phase of our remodel in order to have rentable rooms for the summer. That list doesn’t even start to scratch the surface of how busy we have been and will be, so much to do and a limited timetable to get it done in. I hate Darwin; his theory about the survival of the fittest is catching up with me. Who am I fucking kidding; it’s lapped me twice, and is catching up again. The tortise and the Hare; …my ass.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What ever happened to Pat Buttram?


We have now settled in to the first floor of the farm house, Caleigh has her room, which is for the most part decorated. Cindy and I have the back room on the northern side of the house, and our living room is multitasking as also the dining room and Kitchen. The Kitchen is continuing to be renovated, tomorrow I start grinding one inch deep rows in the wall that will be the route for the electrical wiring. Once the rows in the walls are cleared I will run flexible conduit for the wiring that will control switching and lights. After the conduit is fastened in the small trenches, I will connect either the light switch box, or the plug box, depending on location. What I am essentially doing is roughing in the electrical system, and then pulling in the wiring, after which my Electrician will connect the plugs, switches, and light fixtures. This also allows me to watch and learn then take on more of the mechanical system installation, kinda like give a man a fish and he will be fed for the day, teach a man to fish and he will be fed for life. I also have to complete the Kitchen plans for Tuesday afternoon, for my Electrician to review for pricing.
The kitchen remodel is progressing, and I feel as though I am getting more done on a daily basis. At this point most of the rough electrical is routed into the walls, all that remains is a couple last conduit runs, then I can attach the conduits to the stone troughs and fix them in place with a little plaster of paris. After the electrical is in place the fun stuff starts, I will start removing a portion of the stone wall which will allow me to depress the refrigerator into the wall about half way so it won’t be such an eyesore. We have finally found a window for the kitchen, it is round, not the oval I wanted but what the hell. Most of the ceiling track is in place, after the recessed spot lights have been placed, I can then screw the drywall to the metal tracks. Cindy and I are starting to look for base cabinets and a farmhouse sink, as we are getting to the point where we can start fleshing in the cabinets and wall finish. The small amount of plumbing should be installed this Saturday when our Plumbing / Electrical lead person is available for the day. Cindy spent the last two days stripping wallpaper, and has developed quite a knack for it, she will most likely tackle the remaining bedroom on the second floor, then we can hopefully detail it out, drop in some electrical upgrades, like plugs that work, and switches that will illuminate more than just a bare bulb, picky, picky.
I have made the observation that out nearest neighbor is too similar to Mr. Haney on the old Green Acres T.V. show, always showing up with advice and things or services for sale as he thinks we are deep pocketed Americans. I must admit there are times when I have the same attitude as Oliver Wendell Douglas, of the T.V. show; but do calm down as we are living our dream?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hocus Pocus


Sunrise hits the frost blanketed countryside in france like a double shot of expresso. The mist starts to rise instantly as the jolt of sunshine awakens the dozing colors. I am in awe as I return to the farmhouse, after dropping off Caleigh at her school bus stop. It has been striking me a lot lately, the quick change that the morning sun reeks upon the ancient landscape. It is a change that is almost instantaneous, it’s like East berlin before and after the wall was torn down, once grey and drab, then lit up after the capatalist colours of commercialism have bloomed.
Each day we are prepared for a certain list of tasks, then one thing or another will cause us to change direction, and focus on a new priotity, sure we are getting things done, but not in the logical manner we would have planned. We could start the day out with me planning to make a run to the hardware store that’s a half an hour away. Then as I’m walking to the car, the man that takes care of the property in exchange for his two draft horses staying on our property will arive, and inform me that he is here to remove the hay from one barn to another. So I stay to help out, and then a couple more hours are added on to that task by him helping us introduce our new loaner horse to his two horses. Cindy and I were interested in looking at a stove we saw for sale in the french version of craigslist, for one reason or a thousand, we weren’t able to meet with the seller, finally we made an apointment to drive the hour and a half away. We get there to look at a reasonabally priced stove, which to tell you the truth photographed really well, well we get there and Cindy is not sold completely. The man however has a lower garage full of appliances and there is this beautiful professional grade stove, twice the price. It honestly was not a bait and switch setup, he would go to Paris once a month and buy some nice new appliances at closeout prices and have really competitive priced equipment. Well since we had driven with a borrowed trailer to this mans shop, we bargained with him and were able to purchase the stove of Cindy’s dream. We got it home as the surreal light of dusk was getting ready for its sleep, knowing full well that tomorrow morning it would need all it’s strength to once again amaze a few lucky people with its trick of waking a lumbering ancient landscape in a flash of brilliance.
The photo above is of Caleigh and Jolten-"JoJo"

Monday, February 7, 2011

Status, which I don't personally have, but I'm getting there


Just a quick update, our container, which has all of our comforts of home, crammed into it, is arriving in two days. We will see how the items fared. The kitchen remodel is coming along, I have pulled the wiring for the lights and switches, and will pull the outlets tomorrow. Then I can install the insulation, and put in the recessed lighting units. After that I can pull the T.V. cable and when time allows install the drywall ceiling. Today was me driving to the dump for three trips, it went as well as that chore could go, Cindy went for one trip. Then since we had the use of a borrowed trailer, I loaded it up with twenty bags of empty wine bottles the previous owner thought not to remove himself. I drove to the local recycling bin and deposited individually,617 empty fucking wine bottles, that I didn't even have the privelige of drinking. We are making a small amount of headway in our renovation of an ancient home that has forgotten how to be lived in, the heat takes awhile to warm up a room, the water heater has now started working with us, and the windows have been cleaned, and the view is clearer.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Our first car



We have managed to purchase a car, which in itself was a good accomplishment, however this transaction was done completely in French. I had narrowed down the make and model, so it was a question of finding a nice one at the lowest possible price. After exhaustive research on different British and French review websites, i settled on a 2000 to 2002 Peugeot 406 2.0 liter diesel sedan. My favorite research site over here is called "Leboncoin" it has every thing for sale, and in all price ranges. It is an excellent method of finding the value for anything, kind of like ebay over in the states, or a craigs list with photos, but without perverts. It was on Leboncoin that I found our particular car, from a dealer so it comes with a six month guarantee. So we phoned the garage and set an appointment for just after two, one never makes appointments between 12 and 2 as that is the national lunchtime. Then prior to heading over we mapquested the address and took a couple notes, a couple notes to few to be honest. After an hour and a half to drive a half hour away we arrive at the garage, the car in the add was washed, but not since then. We proceeded into the shop and waited fifteen minutes for someone to help us, and I mentioned that I was interested in looking at the Peugeot voiture pour avandre(car for sale) the nice lady smiled and pointed at the garage next door as we had been waiting in the Control Technique, which is the French vehicle inspection location. we proceed out of the shop and into the adjacent garage and after waiting fifteen minutes a man approaches us and asks what he can do for us. I again ask to look at the car, so he motions that he will be with us shortly. He takes care of a few things and then gathers the car keys and we take a walk out to the future workhorse. It is everything and less one could want for a first car in a foreign country, firstly there are thousands upon thousands of them so you don't stick out in traffic or more importantly in a parking lot. Then there is their bullet proof four cyclinder diesel, the main selling point in my mind, that is their equivilent of the chevy v8. The car does have a nice aesthetic in my eyes, so we took it for a test drive, it was a bit spongey but tight for the couple hundred thousand kilometers it had traveled. So we return the car to the lot and tell him that we are interested, Cindy negeotiates for a lower offer, the reply is that he is barely making any money on it as it is. We accept that and tell him that we would like to buy it. We go into the waiting area and he returns with a stack of papers, through the process of filling out the required papers, showing our year long residency visa, bank account,and a bill from a utility company, we discover that included in the cost he will get the car certified and make any repairs required. He has also told us that we will get four new tires, he will register the car and get new plates for it. If you think that buying a car in a foreign language is dodgy, try imagining going to the local dmv and registering it, hearing that bit of news had Cindy and I close to making out in front of the guy; we were so excited. We had shown up thinking that we would pay for the car and drive off with it, but we realised that we would be lucky to get the car next week. Above this entry the photograph is of a simular car, except that ours is a silver gray. We also asked him since it didn't have a trailer hitch on it would it be possible for him to buy one and install it, his reply was a typical "but that is my job." We paid a down payment and left, realising that we now were a lot more independant and able to get around with out the confines of a rented car, not exactly like a teenager with a first car, but close. Which brings to mind Caleigh asking to borrow the car shortly.

If there are any requests for me to write about something specific, something you might find interesting that I haven't thought of please write it in the comments area, and Yes I will write more about Caleigh as I have been very observant of her harried life lately, but wanting to give her privacy. Even though we have signed her up for appearances on the T.V. show as well as us. Hipocrite?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A day or two in the life.


Wednesday: I am tired; I guess the invigorating aspect hasn’t kicked in yet. I woke up and drove Caleigh to school this morning, returned to meet with an electrical contractor. The walk through went well as I described the rewire that would be required for a house that was last updated a week before Edison put forth his concept of electricity. Each room has one rather shaky looking plug, and all the switches are mounted on the wall with the wiring stapled to the wall. It really makes you think twice before getting up in the middle of the night and running your hand across the wall searching for the switch. I fear one morning Cindy will wake up and find me smoldering doing an altogether too real impersonation of Don King. But the good news is we got our house phone and Wi-Fi last night and both laptops are receiving a signal. Cindy then went to pick up Caleigh from school as Wednesday is half day for the students, she is then driving to Bergerac for an abbreviated shopping spree, bowls, another blanket, kitchen stuff, and I imagine some new clothes for the young one. I stayed around and tore down all the old telephone wiring, as the new service is located in the office, and the remote phones don’t need telephone jacks, or in this case Jacques? Then I tackled and finally finished a huge pile of old vines that were torn out and stacked as firewood. After getting the pile relocated into the nearest barn, I raked the area where the pile was earlier; my hands are starting to get blisters, which will hopefully soon turn to calluses. The work on the Kitchen and bathroom are waiting for another week as we are possibly going to be filmed by one of those renovation T.V. shows. Their interest was piqued when they discovered that there was an American teenage girl in the family. The main problem is that all my tools are floating 30 feet above the water on a freighter somewhere in the Pacific. It will be interesting to see if anything becomes of this, divorce springs to mind, as we have offered a chance to film our kitchen or only bathroom. Realizing of course that those rooms should be done as soon as possible to create a comfortable environment, if Mommy is not comfortable, where does that leave Dad? As I said, invigorating hasn’t kicked in yet.
Thursday: Cindy and I just returned from a day out hunting the health insurance office and required paperwork. We drove to Bergerac and found the correct office, took a number, waited, then met with a really nice woman. Long and short of it, we had most of the necessary stuff; however we were in the wrong county. It would be the equivalent of applying for a sears credit card at J.C.Penney’s. So we drove the 50 kilometers south to Marmande and went to one office, were then directed to another office about a ten minute walk away. Again we took a number and waited, then met with another helpful lady that redirected us back to the first office. Returning to the first office we took another number and finally met with another really helpful lady who gave us the required stack of forms to fill out. All in all it was exhausting, but we felt as though we were narrowing down healthcare. We left Marmande and drove to Caleigh’s school and picked her up and returned to the farmhouse. The annual sales are the next two weeks so we have started our list of priorities, washing machine, sandblasting attachment to the compressor, T.V. and other less glamorous items: socks, kitchen stuff.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

first night


So tonight is to be our first night at the farm, we have been staying at a rental house (gite) for the last two weeks. We have heat at the farmhouse and running water, there is also a kitchen set up, and a fully functioning bathroom, although cold. We are awaiting a couple things prior to my demoing the kitchen and remodeling it completely, same with the bath. So we are in a minor holding pattern, but it has given us the chance to meet with a couple subcontractors, an electrician and a roofing sub. Both these trades will be required before we sink too much work into the place. I figure once the place is watertight and all the holes that need to be made have been made, we can then start in a forward fashion. Reminds me of “Tropic Thunder” where the newscaster is pointing out that they have been filming for two weeks but are now five months behind. Presently I am waiting for three different appointments scheduled for today, the first is the man from Orange, the French telephone Company, and we don’t have an internet signal inside our farmhouse, the second is a delivery from a department store with our mattress, thirdly is the subcontractor for the roof. It is not unlike playing a demented version of mystery date, but in the country French, which as it turns out is not even remotely the French language we’ve been learning. I’m guessing that the one we will see today is the roofing subcontractor, as he doesn’t have any of our money yet. I am starting to feel like Chevy Chase in “Funny farm” as while I’m waiting to start the tranquility is driving me batty, the farm to it’s credit is starting to reveal itself to us as we tidy up and clean the yard. I was trimming a bush around a doorway into one of the barns and decided to open the shutters to the window adjacent to the door, then walked inside this small room and tore down a rotted bedcover from over the window and was delighted to discover with the fading light of the day an incredible view. I got Caleigh to photograph it and we went back to the farmhouse. The photograph at the head of this post is that window. So slowly as the farm starts to accept us and we it, we are discovering that this might not be a bad partnership to either party involved. The window reaffirms that though we are temporarily on the earth we can see the light that was cast on the cornerstone of a window two hundred years ago in the present day.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

jetlag hangover to the rhythm of "love hangover"


With the container packed and picked up we proceed to get the house in order and ready to be vacated. I finish out Monday through Wednesday at work and start finalizing the garage close out. The garage has always been my Achilles tendon, as I do hoard construction materials. On Thursday Cindy and I attack the last of the house clearing, we sort the remaining items into three piles, that which we will keep in the garage until the house sells and we ship it separately, that which will be up for sale in a garage sale then donated if not sold, and that to be thrown out. Throughout the day Thursday we make quite a dent in the house, on Friday we continue finishing the clearing of the house, then we take a quick trip to Orange County to Cindy’s mom’s house to drop off our bed set for her brother to store. We stay the night, and then we return the following day. Cindy and I manage to finish the house clearing and cleaning, lock up the place and bid goodbye to the house that has been our home for the last ten years. We leave Topanga, reflecting on our time there as we wend our way down the canyon to the Pacific and head south to Cindy’s mom’s house. Gary and Susan have a feast awaiting us; fresh Catalina lobster, they were huge and I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one fighting them to get them out of the trap. We then drove to her dad’s home and shared the traditional Christmas eve with his family. The next morning we awoke and greeted Christmas with Susan’s traditional breakfast casserole. I’m not generally a breakfast person, but I always have two rather indulgent servings of this casserole. We share Christmas afternoon with Susan and Gary’s family, and prepare for the followings days flight.
We depart Los Angeles on Dec 26th, the 3:05 afternoon flight to Paris, and we left the two cars with Cindy’s folks. We loaded the three animals into their cages and checked in, then took the animals outside for an hour on the L.A.X. concrete walkway. When it was time for us to get to the gate we walked the dogs to their cages and carried in Ziggy our cat already in his carrier. Caleigh and Cindy both slept thru the flight, I as usual stayed awake to ensure that the plane didn’t fall from the sky.
The flight goes smoothly, if you can refer to a 10 and a half hour flight as smooth. We arrive at Paris CDG and disembark, walk the two miles to our particular luggage turnstile and await our luggage, Cindy notices a sign saying oversized and pick up baggage and meanders over to investigate. When she returns ten minutes later, it is decided that I will await there for our pets. Cindy and Caleigh will gather our luggage and meet me at the pet pick up area. So I wander over to the special unloading space, all the time fearing that our cat will be delivered imploded and frozen due to a faulty pressurization system in their cargo hold. I reach the area and spy one of our carriers. “Fuck” I murmur its Holly’s carrier, just my luck that she would be the only survivor. Holly is my wife’s dog. Both our dogs were abandoned dogs, Skye, Caleigh’s dog; is incredible, Holly not so much. But the sight is funny, here’s Holly in her cage seeing me and dancing in place inside her carrier, her tail wagging faster than a humming birds wing, the fact that the cage is not hovering is incredible. As I get there and pet the little Corgi-wannabe, I see Ziggy’s cage come out of the luggage conveyor, so I pick his cage up gingerly, looking inside I see him hunched in the back of his container, ears flattened back against his head with a glare that was daring me to stick my hand in side and comfort him, knowing full well I would be retracting a shredded hand. Finally Skye’s cage is delivered, Skye’s inside looking as if to say, “Hey that was fun, can I do it again”? I load the three pets on a luggage carrier and we make our way to the Car rental area. After my 20 minutes in line, and while Cindy is walking the circus, I approach the counter. Long story short, they didn’t have our car, so they upgraded us from a goofy Citroen Picasso to a VW Passat wagon. We load up the car with everything except the two dog carriers; there is no way that those were fitting into the car. So I walk them a couple hundred feet over to one of the rental kiosks and offer them to one of the men on duty, he shrugs and nods. Well we get settled in the car and drive off, as we pass the guy with the two dog carriers I notice that three other guys are milling around the soon to be auctioned off gifts.
We make it about five hours south of Paris, with Cindy and I taking turns driving, when thankfully everyone agrees it would be best to pull over and stay at a hotel for the night, and after our second stop we find a place that will accept our animals as guests. After ferrying all creatures great and not so great into our adjoining rooms. Cindy and Caleigh stay in one room, with the dogs, and I stay in the other with the cat, who leaves me within the hour to join the cool room. Some hints are clearer than others.
“Hank, get up…….Hank we gotta go.” It’s my Cindy waking me up from a bizarre nightmare, to continue to the new farm and our new life together. I guess with all the stress we have been putting ourselves through, it manifested itself in a vivid dream that I remembered clearly, ever so clearly. I won’t go into the parts that were really disturbing, like when the doctor wished he had examined me six months age so that he could have told me I only had six months to live. I’ve always thought of my inner psyche as a slightly warped roulette wheel, but realized that it was now complete and that the missing item that had been making it wobble was present. The slight case of OCD, and minor sprinkling of dyslexia, and need for sarcastic input was balanced with the addition of nocturnal hypochondria manifestations. But it was a nice nightmare to awaken from, and so I got up and went to the bathroom and started brushing my teeth. I thought it would be a neat chapter for the blog, and how to structure it.
I finally feel as though I am emerging from the cloudy mists of jet lag, my senses are clearing, my thoughts are more succinct and I am finally seeing light, either that or I’m driving on the wrong side of the road again. It is Thursday, we left last Sunday Los Angeles time, and today we start again on our farmhouse. Cindy and I had flown over for a week last September, and had completed a week of clearing and cleaning once the property was finally ours. I am looking forward to acid washing the remaining 95% of the Kitchen floor, kind of gives me a blank canvas from which to work, well a blank threadbare, rotted framed canvas, but a blank one just the same, but worse.
Yesterday, Cindy and I along with Caleigh and her friend Skye drove the rented VW Passat wagon to Bergerac; you know the city where Cyrano DeBergerac wasn’t really from. We went to the mall, to look at prices of different appliances, and stopped by Orange, one of Frances telecom companies. We were going there to compare prices for plans for Telephone, Internet and T.V. but as we waded into all the information we set up an account, it would have been a nightmare but we had our own 14 year old fluent French speaking friend of Caleigh’s there. I am well aware of child labor laws, but no one was looking and it would have wound up costing 400 euro’s a month for a plan we would have signed up for, we left with a 50 euro a month plan for House phone, 3 cell phones, T.V. and internet / Wi-Fi. (This is pronounced Wee-Fee over here.)