Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Photos du terrain

Our little village is on a river and surrounded by a beautiful little canal:
It has a small chateau, all the shops you would need and is 2.5km away, so easily accessible by car or by bicycle.
As I mentioned yesterday, the land is bordered on one side by the same river, and we've had a ton of fun canoeing and paddle-boarding up and down it.  You can fish as well, but we haven't had time yet, and also I'm slightly put off by the fact that the annual fishing permit is 85€ for men and 30€ for women.
Somehow, the land also has electrical and water hook-ups, which definitely makes life easier.  And to help out even more, C spent most of this spring building this teeny tiny house.  It is definitely small as it is a terrain non-constructible and thus it had to be under a certain size, but it is big enough for a shower, a fridge (#roséallday) and for C to sleep in during the winter months.  For someone who is not really interested in handy work, I continue to be impressed by his ability to design and build things on his own!  You might notice the tiny house is also up on stilts, so that it won't be damaged if the land floods - which does happen from time to time. 
Since one of his big goals was to have a garden, and we obviously can't be out there every day, C has been working hard to follow permaculture principles, ie to work with nature instead of against it.  This has included using a lot of natural methods to ensure good ground cover, prevent weeds, etc so the soil will stay healthy and humid enough for his plants to grow while we are not there.  

And man, are there a lot of plants!  My dear husband isn't one to do things half-way, so he has been planting literally anything and everything out there. Seriously, any time I cook at home and he sees me removing seeds, he yells out "Don't throw them away!".  Many of our friends are also now saving their seeds for us, and several offices in his building are keeping their coffee grounds for his compost.   Some things he's tried have worked, some didn't (like making seed balls - they were promptly eaten up by the birds), but right now, we currently have the following plants and trees growing (the ones with * were planted this year and haven't yet produced anything): 
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Apples*
  • Pears
  • Mirabelle Plums
  • Cherries*
  • Grapes (Regular and seedless)
  • Black Currant*
  • Kiwis*
  • Kiwais*
  • Mandarins*
  • Bananas* (likely won't fruit now, but might someday in the future with global warming)
  • Peaches*
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes (haven't harvested yet, fingers crossed!)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Avocado*
  • Herb garden
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Sunflowers
  • Lettuce
  • Dates* (This one makes me laugh, because date trees apparently take 60 years to fruit, so we will be dead by the time ours start producing)
What didn't work (all attempted from seeds):
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Corn
  • Mango
  • Bell Peppers
Next year, he's going to try starting a small pepinière to start off his seedlings before planting them in the ground, so he's currently studying how he can do that without daily watering.  And the birds had a heyday with our blueberries and grapes, so we'll definitely need to set up better netting next year.  I know the goal of permaculture is to share with nature, so you grow some for you and some for the animals, but blueberries are something I'm just not willing to partager. ;)

He's also built multiple bee & insect hotels around the land, to encourage pollination and to improve the flora and fauna in general.  This one is over 3 feet tall!
Here's a view of how the main garden looked early June. The little green building below is our toilet, which is a dry toilet that uses sawdust (and then gets composted).  It's not pictured, but about 1/3 of the land is a "forêt comestible", or an edible forest as Chris calls it, where he has planted most of the fruit plants and trees.
I am unbelievable excited for these spaghetti squash to ripen - this plant actually grew out of a random seed that was in our compost and now it has ten squash!
Because I'm not much of a camper, my dear husband has done his best to make it as comfortable for me as possible out there.  We have this funny cabin tent, which I love, and he installed a double camping bed with a mattress pad inside.
And lastly, having spent so many summer nights around the campfire growing up, my absolutely favorite part is the fire pit.  We cook 90% of our meals on it, including C's traditional Sunday morning crepes!
Et voila! I never thought I would be spending most of my summer weekends camping, especially since it's my favorite time of the year in Paris, but the things you do for love, eh?  Plus C is just so happy out there, and I find it really sweet how excited he is to show me everything he's worked on since the last time I was out there, so it's a no-brainer to support a project that's so important to him.


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Land

Long time no see folks!  Hopping on here now because I realized I completely forgot to post about the piece of land C bought.  He's been talking about being his own terrain literally since our first date, and his boredom at work and lack of existing projects brought that idea back to the forefront last spring.  We put together our wish list - including my criteria of around 1H from Paris and on some kind of body of water - and then spent several weekends in March 2018 looking at different properties.  C had a pretty small budget, so we were mainly looking at 'terrains de loisir' or 'terrains de pêche' - basically plots of land that can't be built on and are used mainly for weekend hobbies like hunting or fishing.

We very quickly realized that there wasn't much available within an hour of Paris, as most of the land had been converted into residential property long ago.  We did find one though that I loved - it was on a river and had a view on castle ruins, plus it was exactly an hour's drive from our place. However it was fairly small and covered by the neighbors tall trees nearly all day long, which wouldn't be great for gardening, ie C's main goal.

We also saw one place that was closer to two hours away - it was gigantic and on the Loire river, and had several homes and structures on it already in various states of decay (including a grown-over boules area).  C loved it, but it was on a cliff so it didn't have easy access to the water and there was a public hiking trail that cut through the land, so I was worried about theft and squatters.

We ended up compromising on a place that was 1.5h from the city, on a river and near a really cute little village.  We officially got the keys last June and C hasn't looked back since!  I swear, he would live out there if he could.  He's already calculating how much time is left on our mortgage and if he can take an early retirement lol.

As for me, the non-fan of camping, I have to laugh though every time I think back to when we visited the first time as owners. We originally saw the place in March, and I hadn't mentally-prepared myself for how much things would have grown by the time June rolled around.  We went there straight from the notaire, and as C excitedly opened up the gate, my initial reaction was "WTF did we just do??".   Three months of lots of rain plus no entretien meant that the land was completely overgrown and I could barely see past my face. There were weeds galore, downed branches, and all kinds of critters who were none too pleased to see their home being disturbed. But C's excitement not diminished in the least, and busted out his knife and swathed his way through as I gingerly followed behind him. 

We finally made our way down to the river, and I looked around and thought "Oh man...I definitely do not see myself coming out here".  Poor C saw my face and to his credit, immediately went out and bought a lawn mower.  And it's true, once the grass was down, it was easier to walk around with him and see the vision he had for the place.

It's actually pretty incredible what he's been able to do with it in the past year; I'll share some pictures in the next post.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 in review

Friends, I have to admit that my 2019 started on the toilet. 🥳

I’m still laughing about it over here. 

You see, we had friends over for dinner, and we were in the middle of a very spirited game of « Cards against Humanity » when I all of the sudden realized it was nearly midnight.  So I popped open a new bottle of champagne, topped up everyone’s glasses and then for some reason, decided I had enough time to go pee before the clock struck midnight.  So that’s where I was when I heard « Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one....Happy New Year! ». And then immediately followed by C « Sam, where are you?? ».  Poor guy got his New Year bisou a minute too late. 

Hopefully this is not a sign of the year to come. ;)

Looking back though, 2018 was a bit of a mixed bag. I wouldn’t say it was a bad year, but the first half was certainly mired with a lot of work-related stress and self-doubt.  But it also included a lot of really cool work trips to Brazil, Egypt, UK, Portugal, US, Egypt again, Monaco, Egypt a third time, Jordan, China, the UK again and the Netherlands. 

And then I started my new job and made several more trips to the UK and Hungary, and 5 more trips to the US. I also squeezed in a quick trip to Japan, which made up for my trip (and my poor first-class ticket!) that I had to cancel in September due to the typhoon in Kyoto. 

I had a big chat with my new boss right before Christmas about my objectives for 2019, and right now, I’m to focus on the US and Japan, and see if I can manage to build any business in France in my ‘free time’.  Which should be exciting, right?  Who wouldn’t want to travel regularly to the US and Japan?  But I can already tell I’m starting to feel a bit itchy about no longer visiting ‘new’ places...and C wants to save all of his vacation for his land (which I still need to write about!), so I haven’t had any luck convincing him to take any personal trips with me. 

I guess that it’s natural that this time of year comes with a lot of reflection as one year closes and another begins, and particularly this year, as I still don’t really know what I want to do with my life - but the only thing I do know is that travel will always be a part of it. 

Friday, December 28, 2018 review

Earlier this summer, I received an offer to try out the premium service of for 30 days, so I decided to take advantage of cheaper prices in the US and try it out.  If you haven’t been inundated with their ads on Google and Facebook, is a shipping service that expats can use to receive goods abroad, and I was initially drawn to it because of the simple set up and (what appeared to be) reasonable shipping prices.

With the premium service, you get 20% off shipping rates and the possibity to store ordered items for free up to 30 days, which is beneficial if you are ordering from several sites and want to group everything into one shipment.  So I was given an address in Florida, and I placed my orders and had several orders shipped there.  Once everything had arrived in my warehouse, I requested it all be shipped, and I was given an estimated charge of $35, which was a lot, but less than if I had shipped from each individual site.  The site also indicated no customs fees would be charged since the total value was under 100 euros. 

My package arrived rather quickly, but I had the unfortunate surprise of discovering that instead of being charged $35 in shipping, I was instead charged $60.44!  Apparently I had ordered two items (my favorite nail polish and a small external battery charger) which were considered hazardous items and thus required special packaging.  I was also charged extra for the « hazardous items » sticker. 🤔 I tried to call the customer service line multiple times, but no one ever picked up, so I ended up emailing and finally got an answer several days later stating that the shipping charges online are only an estimate and « that final charges may be more ».  Okay fine, but nearly double the quoted price?? Seemed fishy to me.  I went back and forth with them several times since I had carefully checked their website before this whole process began, and neither the battery nor the nail polish were listed as requiring special shipping, and after a long delay, they did end up refunding me $18. 

However two months later, I had a second surprise- a 50 euro bill from customs!  I emailed again multiple times and they could not explain why I had been charged but also refused to refund me for the customs fee.  In the end, I just ended up dropping it because I was starting my new job around that time and my brain space was elsewhere, but I was definitely frustrated to have practically paid more in shipping and customs fees than the items actually cost!  Their site might come in handy if you are trying to send a gift to a relative and you don’t have time to deal with the post office, but other than that, I would not recommend it.  Their slow customer service and lack of transparency when it comes to pricing definitely gets them two thumbs down from me.  I’d be curious to know if anyone else out there has tried them out?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A wrinkle in time

One of the reasons I decided to take the job that was in my current industry was because I was feeling nostalgic about leaving my colleagues and clients.  In the months since, I have been lucky enough to see both regularly at conferences and trade shows, but it hit me the other day that seeing them and hearing how things are going always leaves me feeling like I’ve reopened a wound.

On top of that, I’m disappointed in myself for not realizing until recently that in addition to being my colleagues, they had also become my friends.  I like my current colleagues, but my interaction with them is mainly limited to email.  For as much as I hated all the meetings I had in my former role, I realize now that it was a chance to be able to talk to them on a daily basis and hear more about their lives than what is visible on social media. I miss their opinions and advice.  I miss the fun times we had together.  The only thing I can really liken it to is a break-up, ie when you choose to break up with someone, their friends and family unfortunately also become collateral damage.

I also have to admit I have sort of a morbid curiosity about seeing how life there has moved on without me.  I can’t help myself from asking how things are going with ‘so and so’, and hearing the latest gossip, and taking satisfaction in the fact that others are unhappy with the current structure.  And on one hand, I’m happy my departure has given others to step up and take on some more responsibility, but on the other, it’s perturbing to see my projects continuing on without me.  A former colleague recently posted pictures of his trip to Kenya, which would have been my trip.  Seeing him do all the things I would have been doing was odd.  Sort of like a « Sliding doors » feeling if you will. A view into what could/would have been.

Despite all the mixed feelings, I am glad to be where I am now, and to be able to know what is beyond The Company.  I spent at least a good year feeling frustrated with my job yet scared about taking a leap into another role, so at least I am no longer stuck in the « what if » cycle.  Possibly I would have been best off taking one of the other job offers and making a clean break, but for now, it is what is.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Nam Nam

There have been so many times I have wanted to pop in here over the past few months, but the IT dept of my new company was very specific on only using my laptop for work purposes, so I didn’t dare.  I finally got around to purchasing a new IPad though after months of doing everything on my phone, so that should make it easier.

It has been a crazy few months and time has been flying by. Funnily enough, C now finds himself in the position I was in this summer, ie having to chose between jobs.  He had actually given his notice to his current employer and was supposed to start his new job December 8, but now his employer recently came back and offered him a new role. The first job has a better salary and would be better for his career long term, but the hiring manager seems kind of crazy.  The second offer would be interesting and less stressful, but with less pay (still a bit more than he’s making now though).  So there have been a lot of restless nights for him lately as he goes back and forth between the two.

I have been mostly enjoying my travel to the US, and I swear, I thought my heart was going to burst last week when my 22 month old niece came running up to me, calling « Nam ! ».  (She can’t say her S’s yet). The fact that I have been around enough that my niece and nephew recognize me as more than just a face in the phone has been incredible, and it was one of my driving factors for taking this job.

This last trip was a wild adventure though. I drove 2200 miles all across the US, and seeing so many different parts of the country has really opened my eyes to the divisions we are facing as a nation.  My reality in Minnesota is so different from X’s reality in NYC and Y’s reality in Arkansas. Our shared values used to be what united us in the past, but what happens if/when we no longer have those?  I was glued to the TV the night of the midterm elections, and was disappointed, but not surprised, by the results.  It scares me sometimes how easily we can be manipulated and how so many people just blindly believe what they see/hear on TV or on the internet. I’m downhearted by how unwilling people (on both sides) seem to be to question whether it is the truth or even consider other viewpoints.  Then again, things in France/Europe don’t really seem to be much better... But I keep coming back to "United we stand, Divided we fall".

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Le loto du patrimoine

I had the news on in the background tonight, and heard something about the first « tickets de patrimoine » being sold, and it piqued my curiosity, especially since they were showing a scratch-off in the background.  Apparently there is a new temporary lottery ticket that went on sale starting yesterday, and part of the money earned from it will go to finance the restoration of a select few buildings around France.

12 million scratch-off tickets will be sold, at the rather-shocking price of 15 euros (!) a piece.  There is a one in three chance of winning at least 15 euros, and 1.52 euros from each ticket will be placed in a fund that will finance the repair of 18 chosen sites.

There will also be a special once/year « Mission Patrimoine » super lotto, with a jack pot of 13 million euros.  Each ‘grille’ will cost 3 euros, and the first drawing will be September 14 in honor of ‘les journées du patrimoine’.

The organizers are expecting to collect 15-20 million euros, however some are criticizing the fund as a ‘tax on the poor man’, and questioning why the government can give 450 million euros to renovate the Grand Palais in Paris, but the average man is having to finance the restoration of so many other sites out of their pockets.  There is also some controversy over the sites chosen to receive funding, but others state that this will give the French the feeling that the country’s ‘patrimoine’ belongs to them all...