Sunday, December 16, 2018

Surviving the First Year in France


I know I said I was back, and then I slipped off back over the horizon and you never heard from me again...or something like that.

In truth, we've been crazy busy. I thought being unemployed in France with a fresh little baby was going to be relaxing. I would just dress my adorable baby in precious outfits and bake perfect tarts and take breathtaking photos and write poignant blogs and probably tap out the Great American Novel in between it all.

Alas, NO. That is merely what happens in the overactive imagination of a pregnant lady juggling far too many Big Life Events (wedding, pregnancy, renovating a property, selling a property) before hastily moving to France completely unprepared for everything that was about to happen.

Having a baby is the best and the worst thing in the world. It's like having a kitten and a puppy (and later a baby goat) rolled into one, except that you also have to breastfeed it constantly and you also can never leave it home alone (I mean you could, but then you will probably go to jail) and it needs strict naptimes and constant diaper changes. And sometimes, in the early days and weeks, it is hard to make it go down for a nap, and so you and your tired, leaking body will waltz your baby around the room endlessly for what feels like hours to soothing music and shhhhhhhhhhhhh in its ear and rock it gently and sing it the same song repeatedly until you are hoarse (I dare you to sing "Rockabye Baby" more than 6 times in a row and NOT contemplate what a truly warped and twisted little ditty it is) in the vain hope that Baby will sleep for a blessed couple of hours.

And when this sweet little nugget of love finally falls asleep...what do you do? Let me tell you: you do all the dishes and sweep the floor and clean all the surfaces, do laundry, do a French lesson or two and if you are very, very lucky maybe you can squeeze in a shower before your precious little one wakes up and suddenly demands your undivided attention once more.

I don't want to sound ungrateful, of course. I just laughed in the beginning at how hard we had to work to get Charlie to sleep so that we housework.

Anyhow, those were the old days. These more recent days our lives have been filled with different busy-ness. We've been traipsing across France searching for a property to buy. Which may actually sound fun and maybe even romantic to you. Let me squash those notions like a bug under my shoe:

Traveling across the country in a tiny car with a dog and a small baby is hard. Missed naps, bad nights of sleep in hotels, missed meals. Pile on top of that the grueling schedule: of meeting agents in different cities and villages (up to 3 in one day), constantly running late, dealing with the bizarreness of French lunchtime scheduling (from 12-2 everything closes except restaurants and if you don't get lunch in that window, forget about it!) and of course not speaking the language fluently.
The one that got away (before we discovered the extremely loud, GIANT military base down the road)- bullet literally dodged

Not to put a shriveled, rotten cherry on top of it all, but allow me to add this detail: the first 3 such outings ended with Chris and I covered in chigger bites from god knows which property (we swore we would never buy that property, whichever one it was), getting outbid on the property of our dreams (and possibly nightmares), and finding out that we didn't qualify for French financing after all.
A shot from the other one that got away. 

Simultaneously, we've been trying to get onto the famously amazing French healthcare system, to no avail, as I continue to struggle with the immigration process. People. I STILL don't have my long-stay visa, which I've been working on for 9 solid months now. At this rate, I will receive it just as it expires! French bureaucracy is second to none.

Again, I'm happy to be here, but there are many days that I wonder if France really wants me.

I suppose this entire entry has merely been a self-indulgent ramble wherein I try to justify what an awful and errant blogger I am. I really should step it up.

However, the biggest and most delightful reason I've not been blogging is that I am actually being PAID to write, and it's very exciting. Soon I will launch a professional website showcasing my services, and also my personal expat website. Things are looking up, y'all! I'm reinventing myself, again. (Please let this be the last time for a while, I can't take much more change.)

And we finally have a house under contract, hallelujah. More on that next time I post.

Because my readership is mostly limited to family, rest assured that I will soon be foisting my gorgeous, farty little baby into your arms and hugging you all nonstop for the holidays. For those of you in Austin, same same. Brace yourselves, there will be hugs and Mexican food and then more Mexican food and hugs.

Bon weekend, bon soireƩ, bon everything. I send you love and bisous. ~F

Monday, November 5, 2018

Wonders Never Cease

Friends, family, countrymen & women, I hereby announce my return from the black pit of Blog Radio Silence.

Crazy, right? Who knew that I would ever reprise my role of overly-effusive errant blogger overseas? Not I. And yet, I live. 

I never imagined myself living in France. I've never been a Francophile, and to be perfectly honest- I never really liked the French language all that much. I know this puts me in a small minority, and I blame it on a 2-hour-long train journey 20 years ago, seated behind a couple of Parisian girls who never shut up. It soured me on the language. Later, in London and NYC, I would hear the sonorous tones of French spoken by North Africans, and it beguiled me. Now I struggle daily to wrap my head and my mouth around this slippery, archaic language. 

Over the past decade, I've furtively studied French, just a little here and there, just enough to be able to say absolutely useless, irrelevant things such as, "The woman points at something with the finger of her left hand" La femme montre quelque chose avec le doigt sa main gauche (Thanks, Rosetta Stone). My interest in French primarily stemmed from its role in philosophy, art, and literature. Because I'm bourgeois like that. 

And so, here I am an expatriate again, having lived en La France for the past 9 months. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I don't like it... I love it.  I love the language, which comprises something like 60% of the English language! I love French food, which is a little bit like saying, "Antarctica is cold" in its gross obviousness. Anyone who doesn't like French food is either anorexic, vegan (usually the same thing), or is tragically taste-blind. 

I love the wine. I love the natural beauty, which threatens to bowl me over literally every day. But mostly, I love the culture. Here in the south, people are kind and welcoming. And I have a SUPER CUTE BABY, and a sweet old dog- which is basically an invitation for anyone and everyone to come talk to you. 

Anyway, I'm just cutting my teeth here on this old blog, and my new life. 

I'm going to take a little break and just share some pictures of Charlie Luna Singer, our stupidly cute 7 month old (that happened so fast)

. Seriously people, when is Peak Baby??? She is getting cuter by the day, and just when we think we have hit Peak Baby, she gets even cuter. I'm glad we didn't sell her on the black market yet, because she's gaining value daily. 

Just kidding. 

I swear I am trying to upload photos. I'm always on computers or connections that don't seem to like me much. I tried to buy a laptop yesterday to support my suddenly quite busy business of freelance online writing. It was a fiasco of the highest order, but soon. Soon. 

In the meantime, I guess I am directing you, dear friends and family, to come back now, y'hear! I'm back and I have no intention of backing down. I've got a lot to say about everything, and this is just my sign post to let you know that I'm back in town. 

You've been warned. 

Bisous, besos, and all the other multilingual smooches I can offer. 

Vicariously Yours, 


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Farmy of Me

So... here is is, a massive scale update on at least some fronts.

First off, it has been just over a month since my bunionectomy. Ever wonder what a bunion is and how in the heck they get rid of it? Yeah, probably not so much.

This is a simulation of the procedure they performed on me...

How was it? It sucked. Actually, at first it was fine, thanks to the wonders of modern pharmacology. Then the numbness subsided, and it was hell.

Suffice to say I have a new respect for pain, and for painkillers. A month on, I am a few pounds lighter and still a little bit limpy, but I can attest to the straightness of my toe, and the smoothness of my foot. Tragically, my foot is still a disgusting mess- horribly swollen, a bit discolored, and peeling everywhere (I guess this is what happens to surgical sites).

On the bright side, I'm healing much faster than many, and am expected to be back in running condition in 2 more months.

And everything else? Well, there is a lot going on. Michelle and I have toned things down, and are no longer living together. At first, it looked like the end of the relationship, but we have decided to continue, but not live together. We are, for lack of a more robust description, dating.

What that really means is that our time together is quality time, and we are re-asserting our separate lives a bit, and getting along famously.

I'm back to work here, and am out at the "farm" every morning, prepping the site for the electrician so that there can be functional electricity out there.

As the blistering Texas heat encroaches, work has to happen early in the morning, and the prospect of doing construction is daunting.

I am on the "on day at a time" plan right now.

More soon. Just wanted to update y'all. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Growing Power!

So, your humble scribe and cohorts (my brother Paul, and partner Michelle) returned early this week from a sweet little trip to Milwaukee to visit a glorious place known as Growing Power. This place is incredible, and wonderfully inspiring.
This is me with Will Allen, the founder, and Mark, my friend Suzi's husband who happened to be there all the way from Richmond, Virginia (they are farmers, too!). Will is a giant. A giant with a mission: to change the food system in America, which he believes is broken.

We learned so many things over the weekend: How to build greenhouses (Paul is a whiz), how to beekeep (Michelle can't wait), how to grow culinary mushrooms (this will be one of the first things we do!), how to use PV panels for solar energy, how to build aquaponic systems (where fish poop feeds your plants, all organic plus you get to harvest fresh fish!), and how to grow in a greenhouse year round.

Now, we just need to get on our land and do it.

There is so much to do, so much to learn, and everything costs so much. We've figured out that we must build a fence before we build our yurt home. Then comes all the rest of it. We are very behind our original (completely unrealistic) schedule. But then, that is really no surprise. What we are trying to do is hugely involved and will take a lot of time to mature.

We are up to our ears in work, which is wonderful, and Austin has now received more rain than we got all year in 2011. So, fingers crossed, mouth smiling, we sally forth...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Seasonal Exhaustion/Elation

Dear two remaining readers (who are undoubtedly blood relations), here I am again, putting off design work so that I can type out a cryptic little something or other on the ethers here...

Life has lavished me with all sorts of new and exciting things this year, no small thanks to my incredibly wise, generous family who have filled in the gap where traditional financing failed to meet my needs.

I've thought a lot about this- about the failure of the banking system to accommodate people like myself. People who work hard and eek out a reasonably decent living. After maintaining not one, but TWO corporate jobs for over a year, imagine my shock and disbelief at being denied a loan. A loan for less than my annual income, at that. All because I do not work "full time."

I wonder how many others out there, self-employed people, business owners and the like, who are also unable to receive the boost they would like to encourage the expansion of their businesses. Meanwhile, the government throws billions to alternative energy startups, who richly reward their top brass before declaring bankruptcy. Entire police forces of cities underreport crimes in order to manipulate the stats, so that some Chief can get an award, patted on the back by some mayor, while the victims of crimes suffer.

Our political system, like our banking system, does seem woefully misguided. Our policies make little sense to the working class who are, like it or not-- the backbone of this once-great nation.

I listened to a news report last night talking about the Forbes list of the world's wealthiest. It has grown and changed very little this past year- because the world's economy has been largely stagnant. This begs many questions for me, not the least of which pokes holes in the underlying premise of capitalism- that growth is the end goal, growth at any expense, growth for the sake of growth.

As a keen observer of landscapes, I notice the proliferation of plastic garbage in every corner of the city. The other day outside of town I delighted, from a distance, believing I was witnessing a field full of cowbirds. As I approached, I discovered that it was a verdant field punctuated by white plastic bags hung up on straggling plants. I was instantly saddened.

Why the digression? Because I am looking at a world increasingly clotted with plastic crap. Food coming in more elaborate, disposable containers; toys and tools in complex anti-theft packaging; and the toys and tools themselves- increasingly cheap, swaddled in plastic, plastic-bodied, obsolescent by design.

I think there is a peak to this bell curve of consumption. It cannot go on forever. We are being choked out, like lawns overtaken by weeds- by this cavalcade of "cheap shit." And I believe, against belief, that there is an end in sight.

That is why I am starting a farm. My deepest desire is to do good, to lead a simpler life than the one that has been shoved down our throats by society, and to be productive in a way that is tangible, real, and satisfying. We've been phasing out plastic from our lives, and in the same way I am attempting to phase out some of the superfluous static.

Instead of Facebook in the morning, I am reading a chapter of a book. Instead of watching some mindless entertainment online, I am trying to tend to plants, to educate myself on something, or to work on designs for the farm to come.

It is resulting in an increased mindfulness, a slightly sharpened awareness of my surroundings. A quieter mind that is better able to listen to the keening of my heart, to feel the invisible strings attaching me to my world, to anticipate the needs of others.

There is rain in the forecast, again, and the air is heavy with its anticipation. We are being blessed with an incredible, fertile spring. And I am being blessed with as much work as I can handle. So, over and out. Talk is cheap, it's time to work!

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Year!

The new year crept up on me this time around, somehow more cunning and evasive than usual.

I have my suspicions that this has something to do with getting older, with the general acceleration of time. I expect by the time I am 90 that the world around me will look like a big, muffled blur of activity. It seems silly to expect anything else.

I'm filled with only one major goal for this year: I want to reach the end of it and feel bittersweet about passing the torch to 2013... You see, I am sick and tired of reaching the end of the year and feeling contempt for it. You know, the grandiose vitriol of "Hey 2011, don't let the door hit your ass on the way out!" and what have you.

Instead, I want to feel wistful about the passage of a wonderful year, about having to hand it over in exchange for a fresh, new one.

In fact, maybe it's the sweet afterglow of the holidays (goddamn, I have just about the best family ever!), or perhaps it is the recognition of my wonderful friends (seriously, just about the most wonderful people you could ever hope to know), or it could just be that I am about to purchase a piece of land and attempt to make my dreams come true, but I have been feeling all sappy and grateful about life an awful lot lately.

In fact, despite the fact that we are almost 2 weeks into the New Year, I would like to express my gratitude for the good fortune I have had this past year, and then some:

  • I am grateful for my work. I love doing massage, am constantly learning new techniques and growing more skilled at my trade, and I feel consistently amazed that I can get paid to make people feel wonderful and relieve their pain.
  • I am grateful for my other work- landscape architecture. It is such a joy to be able to transform people's spaces with my ideas and skills. I love coming back season after season and seeing how my designs are evolving, growing, and thriving. Designing with plants means every single work is a work in progress, always- and I am grateful for every last job that comes my way.
  • I am grateful for a life filled with interesting experiences, for the will to take risks, and for the modest returns (and setbacks) these risks yield.
  • More than anything, I am grateful for a life that I genuinely enjoy living and sharing with the people who make it great.
Shockingly- it's taken me almost 2 weeks to complete this, despite the fact that it is no work of art. I promise a more esoteric, thought provoking post in the near future.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Home for the Holidays!

I know, I'm rotten, quite possibly the worst blogger in history. Oh, probably not.

I've just been busy. That sort of busy where you look back on other periods of your life when you thought you were busy and scoff. The stakes are so much higher now. Or at least they seem so.

I'm much more focused these days, despite the intricacies and complications that come with age and increased responsibility. But none of it terrible, nothing untenable.

There is a deep, resounding sense of joy and relief now that I am living in the open about my relationship with Michelle. Having spent a truly enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday with the family, I can only report that my respect and admiration for my grandparents increases annually. I am grateful to be a part of such a loving, supportive family.

Christmas is right around the corner, which I find exhilarating and exhausting all at once.

I have been embroiled in an attempt to buy a piece of land for the past month that has been absolutely frustrating to the extreme. Even my real estate agent said it was unreal. I'm shelving it until the new year, which has brought a great sense of relief.

All these dreams colliding with the hard wall of reality-- rather sobering. Rather typical, if I don't say so myself.

There is a steady stream of rain falling outside, and while I am relieved at this much-needed rain, we are hankering for a shard of sunshine here. Life with a 45 year old motorcycle leaves a bit to be desired in times of inclement weather.

Last night I completed a landscape design project that has taken roughly 5 months of frustration, annoyance, and poor communication to see through. Today, I am taking it easy, cleaning house and listening to cello songs. Contemplating how I cannot take on another project like that again. Not unless they pay me double. Everyone has their price, and I am no different.

Meanwhile, the battle drums are playing, and the season of buying is upon us. This is difficult, as I have been trying to get rid of things for some time. The only things I would like are appended to the fictional farm that I have not secured a purchase on yet. So there. I don't really care about the gifts, I just want to eat, drink, and be merry with people I love.

Come hither, holidays! We can take it.