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This new year has started off slowly and carefully, like a false start leading to a more steady pace. In the first week of January, I didn’t feel like doing anything at all and after careful consideration, came to the conclusion that it was just post holiday season fatigue plus deep winter slowness. So, I gave myself some slack and let the week slide by while pondering my options for this new year. I really hope it’ll be better than last year which started with five days in the hospital with pneumonia in February. Loads of vitamins and supplements seem to be staving off even the mildest colds this year. Keeping my fingers crossed!

It’s easy not to fall into a deep winter slump when the sun is shining and dear hubby takes to the outdoors to clean up the yard. The hens followed him around, checking out what yummies they could find in the freshly raked lawn. So, we all decided to follow his lead and enjoy the few days of spring in winter. They are calling for rain during the week.

Cleaning up the yard.

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We finally got rid of the useless apple and plum trees. They will be replaced soon.

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The girls under the olive tree. Lots of goodies to be found!

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The hen that got broody. Hopefully she’ll do it again this spring.

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This hen found a rotting fruit and is really enjoying it.

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Sometimes we lock them up in their run.

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The winter veggie garden with some swiss chard still trying to grow.

It will be much smaller this summer. I’d like to get a couple of ducks.

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Hermann the tortoise is sleeping in his box. I really hope he comes out in the spring.

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Lio built this wall last summer to tame the slope. I planted some Jerusalem artichokes with hopes that they’ll create a nice border next summer.

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Budding Forsythia

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The baby hedge is growing slowly but surely and one day it will block the view behind the house and we’ll be able to use that nice, cool spot in the summer.

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Christmas wreath without it’s decorations. Still pretty.

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Happy New Year to you all!

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.

I have always dreamed of visiting Brittany. I have met many Britons who have been incredibly open, nice and lots of fun. I’m also attracted to the wild, ocean coast with true high and low tides, crabs hidden under beach rocks, clams, oysters and thick, green seaweed. I’ve seen photos of high, jagged cliffs, waves crashing and green fields.

Well, I still haven’t truly been to Brittany but a few weeks ago, I got close ! My husband was invited to the annual gathering of veterans of the 11th shock parachute regiment in La Baule, a town on the Atlantic Coast, about an hour from Nantes. It was the perfect excuse to leave the children at home with their grandmother and have a weekend far away in a place I’d never seen. It took nearly ten hours to get there by car, but I still can’t resist the French country side. Rolling hills, vineyards, castles, walled towns, pastures with cows grazing. If you drive early in the morning, there is often humidity rising from the fields as the sun rises and it is probably one of the most incredible visions I have ever seen. I tried to take a picture from the car but it just didn’t do the view justice.

The hotel we were staying at was in Guérande, a town famous for the salt marshes, producing what I consider to be the best salt in the world. It’s the only salt I buy. It is greyish, humid and the taste is salt perfection. The fleur de sel is whiter and dryer as it is the fine layer of crystals that form on the surface and is at risk of blowing away with the first wind. It is salt gold and only used at the table to finely salt a prepared dish. We were supposed to go on a visit to the marshes but to my great dismay, it was cancelled. Take a look at this and you’ll get the idea !

We did, however, visit the picturesque old town center of Guérande. There was an incredible array of cafés, shops selling rain coats, salt and all things fish. I could have spent a fortune but managed to be reasonable, buying only 5 kg of gros sel (large crystal salt) which I use to make dried duck breast and a small paper bag of fleur de sel aux 5 baies (salt and pepper together, genius). My husband and I ate a wonderful little hole in the wall seafood place called “Au grè des marées” the first evening we were there. He doesn’t really like raw or cold seafood on a platter, but we both enjoyed the meal we had because the seafood was wonderfully fresh and very nicely presented. The restaurant wasn’t chic, the lights were too bright but we had a fantastic time. The welcome was warm, the food incredible and the Pouilly fumé we drank with it added to the pleasure.

The bay of La Baule is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world.

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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