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La Tour Eiffel

(photo F. Arnaud)

I just finished reading a book by Christian  Signol in which the story takes place in the Dordogne country side during the second world war. It’s about a couple, living in a small house in the country who end up taking in Jewish children, hoping to save them from the Nazis. Reading the book made me think about the choices we have in life today compared to living in different places or at different times. They didn’t even know really how far the Côte d’Azur was from their home and they certainly didn’t wonder about what their life could be if they moved to another country.

I’ve been living in France for nearly 19 years, always in the same department, Pyrénées Orientales. I don’t suffer from homesickness because home became France a long time ago. In the first years I went through a period of missing certain things from Canada, like certain foods, habits, appliances (dryers!!) but by the time my kids were in school, I had adapted well enough to my new life in France and had given up trying to bring Canada in to my life here. I understand newcomers who desperately try to find the equivalent of brown sugar, real baking powder, cream of tarter, horseradish and all those other necessary ingredients to produce authentic North American dishes and desserts. (And I’m now an expert on those things, so go ahead and ask if you want). But I don’t do that anymore. I’m here, probably for good.

But we live in a society where “everything is possible!”. My family and I could pack our bags and go live in Canada or how about Africa where we almost ended up a few years ago. Having these choices pushes me to spend much too much time comparing cultures, ways of living, education, professional possibilities and even food. Since the junior high school in our area isn’t that great, should we move nearer to a city with better school? Are we cheating our children out of a great education? Of course, that comes from my years of private school education and being in contact with highly successful, privately educated people. Will my country bumpkin children find success in their lives???

And what about the social and financial strife we are going through in France?? Would we be better off in a nice, safe, modern country like Canada? My older children are already determined to use their Canadian citizenship and go live their adult lives there. My younger children ask when we will be going back.

Opening a business in France these days is economic suicide, which doesn’t leave much place for professional ambition. Every couple of years I get a strong desire to do something professionally, open a cooking school/store/café, but then I change my mind because I actually do love only working very part time and not having to struggle to be a good mom and a professional at the same time. I don’t want to get in to that situation with young children at home. I’d never be able to find balance. But I can’t help fantasizing about the opportunities we would have if we went to live in Canada.

I sometimes get very frustrated with life in France, especially in such a small town. Coming from a big, modern city and ending up in a small, country town of 450 people is bound to create some havoc in my brain once in a while. But even so, France, and this town, have become my home. I thought I’d take some time and actually list all the things that I really love about this country and my particular area. Maybe one day we will leave (though we can’t imagine selling the house two of our daughters were BORN in) but for the moment we aren’t going anywhere and I think it is about time that I stopped thinking of the other possibilities and just enjoy the luck I have to be here.

We have thought about just taking a year and renting a house somewhere in Canada for the experience. My husband will be able to do his work from anywhere starting next year, though it would mean him being away quite a bit. So maybe we could organize a year away before the little kids are too old to want to go. But in the meantime, this is what I love:

1. I remember arriving in Paris in the fall of 1989. I had flown from Tokyo, to Vancouver, to Paris and hadn’t slept in almost three days. I was MORE than exhausted. But when my friend picked me up from the airport, we hopped on the RER and then emerged into the streets of central Paris, well, my breath was taken away! I wasn’t seeing Paris for the first time, as I had been working their that spring, summer. I was coming BACK and it felt like I was returning the the most extraordinary place on earth. I adore wandering the streets of the city, admiring the architecture, the shops, cafés, parks,  bridges, everything!! I ended up leaving Paris that winter, but it was deep in my heart and when I had an opportunity to go back to France, even though it was to the city the farthest away from Paris in the country, I didn’t hesitate! I just love knowing that at incredible city is our capital and I can go whenever I want to. I have wonderful recent memories of taking the train up to Paris to see my dear friend who lives near the city, visiting a fabulous bakery with her, learning to make the best Parisian baguette of the year, drinking a beer in an Irish pub with my husband who I met up with once while he was working there for a few weeks, carrying Karamelle through the streets of the Marais when she was just a puppy, finally going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and having the fright of my life with my daughter Hélène.

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Le Louvre

Photo F. Arnaud

2. I love the French language. After working in Paris in 1989, I had picked up a bit of the language and decided that I should major in French at university. After all, Canada was a bilingual country and being bilingual could help me get a job. It was funny because I always had really BAD grades in French. I remember once sitting a French exam and, even though I had studied all the grammar and verb tenses, I couldn’t answer the questions because I couldn’t understand the words other than the verbs! Needless to say, I hated French class and systematically fell asleep during the French documentaries we were shown once in a while. But when I actually went to France, it was a different story!!! Hearing people speak it and seeing the culture that goes with it, made me instantly fall in love with the language. So, I studied it in university and when I participated in a third year abroad program in Perpignan, I realized just how little French I actually knew! I couldn’t understand the Catalan accent which could be compared to someone learning English going to live in South Carolina. I ended up staying in Perpignan for nine years and it took me quite awhile to learn the language.  But I did! And it is funny because when I am in an airport and I hear French people speak, I am still in admiration of the language and their way of being… and then I remember that they are from MY country, too.

3. I love French food and cuisine. France produces the most incredible fruits and vegetables, cheeses, breads, meats. Where I live now is a foodie’s paradise! All of our fruits and vegetables are local and mostly organic, bought at the weekly market. I buy goat, ewe and cow milk cheese at the same market, all local and all very reasonably priced. I buy local pork, beef and lamb and have some game supplied by hunter friends. They also give me mountain river trout in the early spring. When I see videos like this:

I don’t feel like moving to Canada because even though it is possible to buy locally for certain things, the prices are outrageous!! I couldn’t believe the food prices in Vancouver this summer and the small amount of organic food, outside of specialty stores are outrageously expensive. And the taste of our food here is incredible. The organic flour I buy to make my sourdough bread  makes the most incredibly tasting and textured bread. Fruit here is fantastic. Biting in to a summer peach is pure heaven. I buy local clementines and kiwis in the winter and my kids eat them like some kids eat candy. I ordered lamb from a local farm last year and I felt a bit bad ordering the death of a poor, innocent animal, but I have to say, when I grilled that cutlet and took the first bite, I had to accept that lambs were put on earth for those people who are omnivores. It was so good! When we got back home from Canada last summer, all of my children stated that they were thrilled to get back to French food.

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France’s famous Macarons

Photo F. Arnaud

4. I love the landscape, the countryside, the chateaux and farms. When we drive to my parents-in-law’s home outside of Toulouse it is always enjoyable. The view is incredible and we even pass by Carcassonne with it’s walled town and turrets.

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Carcassonne

© Delphine Ménard

Since I didn’t grow up with old structures, castles and wine chateaux, I continue to be amazed by them. The rolling countryside in the South of France is so lovely as well. In summer there are fields of sunflowers blazing, rows and rows of grape vines, peach trees, wheat, fields dotted with old stone buildings and thins roads winding through the undulating landscape. It’s beautiful! Our own house is Catalan architecture and though it is very simple, the outside walls are made of large river stones and red brick. We fell in love with it the first time we saw it. There is a small river that lines our property and since we sleep with the window open all year, we can hear the soft sound of the water rushing by. In the summer we fall asleep to the croaks of frogs and sometimes we hear the yapping of fox or the snuffle of wild boar. Last night we had an owl hotting at our window. And just near our house is this path where we like to take our Sunday walks with the dogs.

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A river in the Gers

DSC_0066  Auch

5. I actually like the French seriousness. When I first arrived in France, I found it a bit difficult to make new friends because people seemed almost cold sometimes, never very excited or enthusiastic. You rarely hear very loud laughter in public places and everyone seems to have a learned, calm politeness about them. I had come from Canada, of course, where in the space of one hour you can meet someone and feel like you’ve been friends forever. North Americans laugh out loud anywhere they are, speak to almost anyone, ask questions about personal things almost right away. But little by little, I adapted to the culture here and now I find it comforting to be around French people. You see, it took me a long time to make friends, but they are really, really good friends and we always know where we stand. There is never any of that intense enthusiasm in the beginning only to realize that the friendship is impossible or empty which happened to me quite often in North America.

6. I appreciate the private, non-judgemental, what I call the “dark side” of French people. Yes, it is really too bad that some people don’t respect the basic rules of society, but at the same time, not having daily pressure to be “perfect” and compliant is actually very soothing. There isn’t the stress of living up to an imagine or what is expected. We don’t have signs saying 500$ fine for littering, no loitering, etc. People don’t talk about how much money they make or other private subjects. Maybe something in between Canada and France would be ideal for me.

7. I much prefer European clothes.  I remember as a teenager looking for certain styles of clothing or colors and never being able to find them and then when I got to France, I wanted to buy everything! Kids’ clothes are way cuter over here.

8. I like having easy access to the rest of Europe. London is a short plane ride away, Spain is 1 hr by car, 3 hrs to Barcelona (very cool city!), Italy about 6 hrs by car. We have a 110 Land Rover Defender and we have plans to visit Europe. We took a trip around Ireland and would really like to go back and we have plans to drive to Scandanavia. Mat and I headed to London to visit our good friends last October. We don’t travel that much but just knowing that we CAN is fantastic!

9. I like living in the country and not having to feel bombarded by shops, advertisements, noise, pollution. I could live in the country in Canada but what is nice about here is that there are pretty towns on all sides of us, just a few km away with their own shops, markets, hot baths, skiing, hiking paths, etc. We are away from the city but near to a lot of exciting things!

10. France has very little genetically modified cultures for the moment and my area has the most organic producers in the country. It’s easy to avoid consuming GMOs, and I am very thankful for that.

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Our vegetable garden

And any country that makes a film like this:

must be a great place to live!

And music like this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

I am and have always been a very messy person. When I see the state of my older son’s bedroom, I feel sorry for him because he has inherited my genes. It is not due to education, because my mother was always a clean person, almost A type when it came to household organisation. She taught us to do many different household chores and I have memories of Saturday afternoon dining room furniture polishing. She would also write out letters addressed to her loving family with either very clearly stated family rules or just written complaints about how we don’t respect those rules and that she is not to be considered our maid. So, I really don’t know where my messiness came from! And since I have done the same for my son, yet he remains just as messy, it must be innate.

As a young adult, living on my own,  I got by all right when I lived with other people. The chores always managed to get done, some by me, many by others. I had a boyfriend at one point, when I was living with two other girls, who could come once a week and clean our bathroom entirely because we just never seemed to be able to do it! I was so thankful for that. We were pretty messy girls and even though I seemed to be able to handle it, I did get extremely disgusted when one day I realized that the awful smell that was developing in the kitchen was because my roomate and her buddies had been drinking beer in the evenings and instead of getting rid of the bottles, were stacking them behind the secret stairwell door (it was an old building with the servants’ stairwell leading to the kitchen). HUNDREDS of bottles with moldy beer that had been sitting there for months. To this day I can still remember the smell. It was one the of the most repulsive smells I have ever encountered. Even I felt like a neat, clean person after that episode.

When I first moved to France, I don’t think I quite adapted to this new life without a dryer, a dishwasher or a roomate. I didn’t even calculate the new responsabilities that were required of me and time passed. I never seemed to be on top of the laundry which piled up, then had to be washed, hung to dry and then ironed. Dishes washed by hand, bathrooms cleaned by me or not at all. Our house was not a disaster zone, but it sure wasn’t beautifully cleaned and organized. And when I had two children, a full time job and a part time job, guess what suffered the most!

Well, a few years later I married an officer in the army. I don’t think he realized what he was getting in to!!! Though I admit that I like to believe that when two people feel that they have so much in common,  fall in love, discover that they are good together, they often discover how they have certain qualities that are completely opposite. My husband has a rigid, highly organized side to him, while I am very free-spirited and together, we often influence each other. He is a complete neat freak and I am messy, so now after ten years, he has become more relaxed and accepts living in a “family” house (even though he still fantasizes about living in a minimalist, loft apartment – ain’t gonna happen honey) and I have been forced to become a much more organized, clean person. He influenced me quite a bit, mainly because I realized that if I didn’t change, our marriage might not last and also, three more children were added to the equation. Could you even imagine not being organized with five children??? Laundry, toys, school stuff, coats, shoes, EVERYTHING!!!! I once amused myself by counting the number of socks used in a week during winter (not counting when my older children think it’s great to wear TWO pairs of socks!) NINETY-EIGHT!!!! And I STILL don’t have a dryer, so those 98 socks are hand hung. Socks also get lost and so for years I had a box full of poor, single socks that I kept really believing that their partners would show up one day. I finally threw them away a few years ago, but now I have a new box with newer socks. We do have a dishwasher which we actually only got about five years ago.

About three years ago, I hopped on the SIMPLICITY bandwagon because I needed help and guidance. My youngest child was two, almost three years old, so I was no longer in the baby phase. I could finally get rid of all toys in the communal part of the house. I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the stuff that was accumulating in the house. I had kept all of Mathieu and Hélène’s clothes thinking the younger ones would be able to wear them, there were toys everywhere, cupboards were disorganized, books and magazines on every shelf and I just could NOT keep up with the housecleaning.

I followed the advice of a few different books on simplicity but also the wise words that my husband says very often : “L’organisation épargne la sueur” (organisation spares sweat). I figured that a well organized house with fewer things to clean up and better storage would reduce the amount of cleaning that I’d actually need to do! And so we started to get rid of a LOT of stuff in our house. About a half of the toys disappeared which was a relief. The children play outside so much that they aren’t very attached to their toys. We kept ones that are for building, Barbies and clothes, figurines and that is it. I now love walking in to their rooms and seeing an actual room. And it is much easier for them to clean up because they have proper storage spaces.

I also got rid of clothes. I tried everything on and got rid of about a third of my closet. I’m an avid second hand clothes buyer and so having less leaves me room for my small pleasure.

We finally sorted and got rid of most all of the kids’ clothes I was keeping. I just kept in mind as I filled up the boxes of stuff to be sent to our equivalent of the Sally Ann that someone else would make good use of these items instead of them sitting on a shelf! I kept one box of my memory clothes. Those outfits that reminded me of a child when they were younger.

We loaned dozens of our books to our local library that I am in charge of so that they weren’t hoarding our shelves but we would always have access to them.

This has been going on for three years now and every couple of months, we either get rid of something or put something in place to make our lives easier, like these two pieces of furniture that Lio made over the holidays. I have been able to bring up all my nice, simple white dishes and glasswear from the cellier that I previouly had no place to put in the dining room. And we also now have a nice space for the incoming mail, Lio’s computer, our squeezebox, my purse, shoes, etc.

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I have come a LONG way but I cannot boast about having become a really clean, organized person. I still HATE housework and I have to force myself to sweep the floor, do the laundry, clean the bathrooms. I had someone come in and help with the cleaning up until last September but then she no longer had time for me and I decided that I need to learn to do without. I had this idea that since someone came in and did the cleaning once a week for three hours, the house was clean. But really, when I was honest about it, no one, not even superhuman, could possibly make my house perfectly clean in one afternoon! There were things that were not getting done, like getting rid of spiderwebs, cleaning the oven, wiping down cupboards properly, cleaning behind the sofa, etc. So, now I try and do a bit everyday because the idea of having a housecleaning day just depresses me. I have created a playlist on Deezer and crank up the music when I’m alone in order to motivate myself. And on Friday’s I try and make the house extra nice looking because I know how important it is for Lio to start the weekend in a pleasant environment. I like that as well, I admit.

But becoming a more organized and clean person has had a secondary effect on me that I couldn’t have imagined before. Every single time I clean something, clear out a cupboard, reorganize a space, downsize an area in our life, get paperwork done or get all the laundry folded and put away, I have this incredible sense of accomplishment or even relief. It brings HAPPINESS. It’s like taking a happiness pill! When Lio finished the cupboard and I could place all my nice dishes inside, knowing that finally this problem was solved, I got a wave of happiness.

This morning I finally attacked my fridge. I hadn’t planned on doing it which is probably a good thing because I would have dreaded doing it and that would have had the opposite effect of happiness! I just looked inside and realized that the bottle shelves needed wiping down. But then you know how it goes, you start by doing something small and then you look to the side and realize that the shelves are a bit sticky, so why not wipe them down, too. I ended up taking my whole fridge apart (which I didn’t even know was possible!) and cleaned out the whole thing. I admit to having found some pretty disgusting things under shelves I didn’t know could be taken out. It took me over two hours to clean!!! That fridge had been nagging me for months because even though I had regularly wiped down the main shelves, I think I knew in the back of my head that those hidden icky spaces were there and needed attention. I listened to my music, joked with Lio about how ickly it was, discovered what my fridge actually contained and when it was finally done and I got to close the door to a perfectly clean, newly hygenic fridge, I felt a wave of that happiness drug!!!

A few days ago, a friend and I were talking about what holidays meant to us. We both agreed that we weren’t in need of a beautiful beach, cocktails and massages. No. Our dream holiday was when were got things done in our home environment, while also having time with our family with no school schedule, time to sleep more, make nice meals and watching movies. We have fun but also finish the day with that happiness drug of having accomplished something to make our lives more confortable or easier. Lio and I plan in advance what we are going to do over the holidays to come. We accept that on weekends during school time, we aren’t going to undertake major tasks because we are a bit worn down by the work week, but holidays are that perfect time to go crazy in the house!

Later on today, we are going to go for a walk in the hills with the dogs. The kids love running around up there pretending to be adventurers. I’ll be feeling very content because my fridge is clean (and Lio washed all the curtains and hung them back up as well as tightening a loose plug that has been irritating me for months) and I feel like a more organized, clean person for it.

 

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If you do something for 21 days, even if you have to force yourself, that thing will develop in to a habit that no longer requires effort. I realized this several years ago when I had a problem with my keys. I was always misplacing them because I didn’t have a set place for them. I stuck them in pockets, on a counter, in my purse. I spent so much time trying to find them and I even lost a whole set. So, when I read about the 21 days rule, I decided I needed to try it for my keys. We have a shelf at the front door with hooks and so I forced, myself to hang them there every single time I walked in the door. It was a REAL effort! With kids and bags and things going on, I really had to concentrate to remember to hang those keys. It took awhile, but not 21 days, for that effort to become just something I did without thinking. When I did put them on a counter, I’d quickly feel a niggling, something is wrong feeling, and realize I hadn’t put them on the hook. Now I never lose my keys and about four times in the last few years I have found me in my coat pocket because I wasn’t the one who had to unlock the door or I had so many things to carry and kids talking to me. But I’ve never put them anywhere else.  Now I use this rule for all sorts of different things!

At the Tuesday morning market, in the town of Prades, you can find something very tasty and quite exotic! A friend of mine, Nadia, prepares these multi-layered Moroccan crepes called m’semen which are served with either sweet or savory fillings. I have to admit, I’ve become a bit addicted to them !

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The dough is prepared using a natural sourdough starter (She told me the original source was from mine). The crêpes are fried and then filled with either cumin eggplant, red peppers, cheese or chèvre and honey. I usually ask for a bit of everything because I just love them all ! The crepes are soft, yet a little crunchy in places. One m’semen make a meal and served with a green salad, it makes a perfect one for me! At 3€50 a crepe why hesitate? I get one every Tuesday.

Nadia shapes the dough in to individual balls which she then stretches out on a very smooth, flat surface with oiled hands. It is then folded over a few times and fried.

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Unfilled m’semen

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My huge, over-filled m’semen.

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She also prepares these moroccan pastries that remind me of baklava. I can’t remember their name. They are fantastic!

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You can taste the different fillings before choosing. Here is the selection of sweet fillings (caramel, chocolat, sweet chestnut purée)

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These have been a truly wonderful discovery for me and I think it’s wonderful that Nadia has now become a regular part of the Tuesday market. It is fantastically rich in local products  and food and has a great atmosphere. Nadia fits in just perfectly. How lucky we are !

Just so you know, Nadia also does “chef à domicile”. She’ll come and cook her Moroccan specialties for you in your own home (coucous, tajines)! I have already ordered an autumn tajine that was to die for. Pears, figs, dates with lamb. Just writing about it makes me hungry.

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Here is a recipe in French for m’semen!

M’semen de chez Meriem

One of the reasons I love living in France is that I am surrounded by old things, often rich in history, often simply beautiful and always so far from the culture I grew up with. I love wandering the streets of Paris or small country villages and admiring the architecture, the shop fronts with their hanging signs or paintings on the wall above. The idea that gold coins from the Louis IV era are sometimes still dug up in gardens makes me giddy with excitement.
There is a very strong second hand market in France. You can either visit an antique store or stroll through markets that specialize in antique or fairly old furniture and items, such as bed linens, silverware, jewelry, household items, pipes, clothing, books, music. You name it.
But what I really, really love are the second hand shops that may have some antique items, but usually nothing of obvious, great value. That is when the search becomes fun. The prices are ridiculously cheap and the vendors don’t really even know or care what they are selling. There are charity shops and then there are what we call “la frippe” which are market stalls where vendors sell mainly clothes and sometimes house linens, bags or toys.
I buy a lot of my clothes from one particular person because most of what she sells is excellent quality, sometimes brand new with the tags still on. The other day, while I was looking through the piles of shirts, jeans, dresses and coats, I came upon a pile of bags and purses. I don’t usually look because I don’t need a purse. Everything she sells, except coats, cost 2 €. Yes, that’s 2 €. Sometimes I choose items of clothing, not really certain that the style suits me, simply because, well, it only cost 2 €. She even does a sale once a month where everything is 1 €.
So, I rooted through the bags just for fun and I came upon this:

It looks sort of like a granny purse. But the same day, I had come across the cutest, wool straight skirt with a flared bottom and a fitted black cardigan. The purse made the outfit just perfect.
When I got it home, I finally opened it up. The great thing about buying used purses is that there is potentially something left behind in it! Well, there wasn’t 10 000 €, but it wasn’t empty either. Here is what I found. A little purse mirror, a pack of nail files like matches and an empty toothpick paper. I also found the cutout leather piece that states that my 2 € purse was indeed made of genuine leather.

Finding this purse in a pile of other, cheap synthetic ones was like finding a treasure. It gave me far greater satisfaction than buying an expensive leather purse from a shop. And every time I find a great treasure, I wonder why people even bother to buy things new, except socks and underwear. But thankfully they do, because there would be way fewer treasures to find if they were hunting, too!

Have you heard of the “taxe foncière des entreprises”? Well, I just learned about it a few days ago when the envelope arrived from the tax office .

I give cooking classes at our local organic store, do some catering and am starting some cooking classes out of my house. As I am a very honest person, I took advantage of the possibility in France to be an “auto-entrepreneur” which allows a person to offer a service (ie. WORK) and only pay the “charges” (medical, etc) according to how much they make. For instance, if I don’t work for a trimester, I don’t pay anything while if I make 100 €, I pay a certain percentage. Up until now, it has worked for me. I had some trouble with the URSSAF because oops, they forgot to let the social security office know that I am auto-entrepreneur and not micro-entreprise and so I started receiving notices demanding thousands of euros. But that got straightened out.

Let it been know that I do NOT make a lot of money. I only work a few hours a month. But since I work for a company, I need to be able to bill them properly, legally. And I admit to being a truly honest person, which I am learning fairly quickly is maybe a stupid thing to be in this country.

So, the other day, I receive a document from the tax offices declaring that for the 804 € that I earned in the year 2011, I now owe 368 € in property taxes ! Because my home address is my business address, they just take that and calculate a base rate with NO concern whatsoever as to what I earned. 46 % of my earning??? Oh well, they say. That’s just how it goes.

I called the tax office, talked to a legal expert, the mayor and spent a great deal of time on web site forums and what I learned was that there is NOTHING I can do about this. I may be able to be exonerated for it in the future, but in order to be exonerated for the year 2013 the local government would have had to vote before the 15 of October 2012… almost a month before this new tax hit everybody. So, basically I am screwed for next year, too. There is no exoneration for us silly people that just want to do a few hours a month but be honest and legal about it.

I have had a major decision to make. Either I give up working because it isn’t feasible, or I figure out a way to make quite a bit more money in order to make that 368 € less of a burden. I’ve decided on the second option. I like working. Well, I love teaching, I love cooking and I love interacting with people. So, I will be developing my business a bit more and hopefully cooking up a storm !!!!!!

UPDATE  14.11.2012 : Looks Like my friend Martine was right.  It seems the governement has just decided to waver this tax this year for auto-entrepreneurs. I get to keep my money ! Yay ! I’m just a bit nervous for the decisions that will be made for next year. They are talking about getting rid of the auto-entrepreneur status which doesn’t help people like me who work just a little but need to be legal about it.

A nice, sunny day today.

This summer our house was hit by lightening and some of our appliances were damaged, one of them being my iMac. I had a backup of photos from 2001 to 2008 but 2009 until 2012 were lost. I did send the computer off to a specialized Apple shop, but they got broken in to and my computer was stolen with about 60 others. How’s that for incredible luck ? No more computer and no chance of ever getting my photos back.

That was a huge wake up call for me and I decided to get my pictures developed. Just like people used to do way back when. Well, actually when my older children were young and now we have the single album problem. Their dad has the albums and both of us are too lazy to scan every single photo out of the three massive albums. So the albums travel back and forth, a few years here, a few years there.

Anyway, I took advantage of some GROUPON offers. If you aren’t subscribed to GROUPON, I do highly recommend it. You just choose your closest city and you get sent all sorts of deals. I don’t use it very much, but I have managed to get some great deals. I bought some offers on photo books which I used to create a book about our holidays and I’m in the middle of doing one with my family photos (my mom and dad young, me and my brother and sister, etc). I also bought an offer for the development of 200 photos. I had to spend about three hours going through all of our photos over a period of about 4 years. The problem with digital photography is that you can just snap, snap, snap away and nothing forces you to have to SORT through the photos. I ended up with over 15000 photos !!!!

But it was fun and I loved seeing the children so young, and they were all so cute as babies. I always forget what they were like and what they looked like. I had a great times sorting through the photos and seeing my babies, reliving moments in their lives.

This one made me laugh and laugh …

After losing my computer and my precious photos, I have an early New Year’s resolution of sorting through all my photos right away, backing up my computer regularly and making albums that people can actually look through because NOONE ever looks at photos on the computer. Nothing beats a cup of tea, a comfy sofa and photo albums.

I also finally invested in a great plug that saves computers from blasts of lightening.

It was sunny today.
When we went to Canada this summer, we stayed with some friends who had a very stylish house, including their plates, cutlery and glasses. My friend, Joanne, served us red wine in stemless glasses which, I admit, shocked me at first. To me, they seemed more like hard liquour glasses than wine glasses. But when I took one in my hand, I immediately understood. It was a luxurious wine glass without the stem. I realized right then and there that the stem was not necessary. The stem meant that the glass was higher and therefore a potential danger, especially in our house. I have quite a collection of oversized wine glasses… for white, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, champagne and little by little it is diminishing. It’s not even the fault of children ! It is our fault because we are rather clumsy  and those oversized, abnormally high glasses tend to fall over frequently, especially near the end of a meal.

I love oversized glasses because it makes sipping wine even more enjoyable. My whole hand is cupped under the rounded base and when I sip, the wide glass opening allows the wine’s aroma to flow out. It is simply one of life’s luxuries.

The other day I was at Gifi, a chain store that sells household products, cheap furniture and gadgets. I get a kick out of roaming the aisles looking for out of the ordinary stuff. I never know what I might find … cupcake liners, silicone spatulas, a turkey baster, cool colored bowls, a very practical turtable spice rack, slate serving plates and these wine glasses !

No, they aren’t crystal and fine. They are fairly heavy and cheap. And they are perfect for everyday wine drinking. Personally, I think they are perfect for nice dinner wine sipping as well. They aren’t fragile, they can go in the dishwasher (my fancy one’s can’t !) and they are a new table fashion statement, at least in my opinion.

If I find some crystal ones, I might have to invest. But in the meantime, this is what wine comes in at our place. And none have yet to be broken !

Another sunny day today.

We had a goal to finish the shelves for the living room, have everything back in place and the house cleaned by this evening. We aren’t even 3/4 of the way there, yet and the main floor of the house is a mess. In center stage is the large new wooden shelving unit, now colored very dark brown, much darker than we would have liked. Pushed to the side is the dining room table with eight chairs scattered around, most of them holding various items of clothing, tools and even some antique doll boxes. The floor is dirty, scattered with some sawdust and kitty litter and we can’t even reach over the table to get to the “buffet vaisselier” to get a plate without climbing on to the table first. This situation is VERY distressing to my poor husband. He had set a time limit for this project and we haven’t managed to stick to it.

But does it really matter? …. in my opinion, no ! The shelves aren’t the “right” color, so we can just adapt to the new color. Who really cares? The kids aren’t around and so noone is really affected by the mess. We know that we will be finished by tomorrow evening, unless some extraordinary event occurs. We have friends coming over for dinner and a few rounds of TOC, a very entertaining board game, tomorrow evening, so that should motivate us to get everything in order as quickly as possible.  And we stopped our work this evening to go have a beer with our neighbors that we haven’t seen in awhile.

It’ll get done and it won’t be perfect. No point in swetting the small stuff.

This said, I’m very impressed with my hubby’s wood working skills.

Today our house is a construction site. The children have been left at their grandparents’ home near Toulouse and hubby and I have a few days with no teenagers and no little ones, leaving us total freedom to get on with some of the projects we have been planning lately. He wanted to make me some kitchen shelves first but I managed to convince him that the living room needed his attention first. We have planned to replace the existing IKEA book shelves with a home made unit that would be perfectly adapted to the space. Our house isn’t huge and we really need to find more storage space. So, no bit of wall can be wasted. Here is what he has managed so far:

While he was building the shelves, I had a construction project of my own … getting this blog up and running ! Hours of work before I could even make my cup of tea and write these few words. I had to make a header, choose the theme, set up all the widgets, make a gravatar, and the list goes on. And when it was all completed (well not really, but at least up and running), I couldn’t just leave it without an article.

Here’s my construction site :

I had my office upstairs in a dark room and never ended up going up to write or work, so I brought it all down in to the living room, near the heart of our home. I have a lot less space and will be bothered by children and TV, but having it in an easily accessible place will motivate me to sit down and get even just a few words down most every day.

It was sunny today.

Jennifer is a Canadian/American, living in the South of France for the last 18 years. Married to a frenchman who's job forces him to spend a lot of his time overseas, she has learned to cope with all those everyday challenges brought about by her sometimes crazy life. Adapting to a new culture, raising children, taking care of animals, growing a vegetable garden, cooking for her family and friends, teaching cooking classes and trying to maintain a fairly organized and inviting home. Here are some of her thoughts about it all.

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