Year Ahead Blogging Plan

This past few months I’ve struggled to make time to keep up with the blog but that’s not for lack of thinking about it. I am constantly distracted, thinking of things to write about and frustrated that I never find the time. As such I always feel “behind” – even though this is a personal project and I’m not accountable to anyone. I also feel like there’s quite a lot of drift and a lack of focus because I write about anything at any time. With that in mind  I’ve decided that a plan would make it easier for me to stay on top of things and also give the blog some much-needed focus. Given my current mission is to improve my French, I’m going to plan to write one post a month focussed on a specific subject that is useful to me right now, thinking about the main areas that I need to work on. That way the blog becomes a tool that enhances my language learning rather than another thing on my to-do list. So here’s the plan:

JANUARY
Illnesses and body parts. This is so necessary because since early December there have been many bugs going around. I need to be able to confidently talk about and understand any conversations at creche or school that relate to DD or DS’s health. That’s why this is top of my list.

FEBRUARY
This is usually a dark and dreary month, even in France (at least it was last year) so I’ll try to brighten my days by thinking about trips and outings for the rest of the year, so the focus for this month will be making plans.

MARCH
Winter in the mountains. This is my favourite time of year to go snowboarding but this year, if finances permit, I’d like to try a few skiing lessons. We also want to ensure the two littles can make the most of the snow while there’s good access to the mountains as the warming sun means the roads will be clear on sunny days. DD loves sledging and it will be DS’s first year, so there’s lots of fun to be had.

APRIL
I always get an urge to start spring cleaning so I may put some vocab together about that. More likely though I’ll talk about all activity that is taking place in the natural world as the flowers start to grow, the trees come into leaf, and we do some work on our vegetable patch, whether that ends up being on our own land or on a small plot we are think we may ask to rent from a neighbour.

MAY
French holidays and festivals. It’s not just the UK with bumper public holidays in May; France has more than its’ fair share too. This month I’ll take a look at the various public holidays here in France and try to find out more about their origins and any traditions surrounding them.

JUNE
This is the month of the summer solstice, so I’ll take a look at traditional celebrations that take place in France as well as language related to the moon cycles and any pagan influences in the language.

JULY
It’s the holidays! In July the schools finish and the long holiday, les grandes vacances, starts. Time to drift around, swim in the lakes, spend a day or two at the beach or go camping. (That’s is our kind of holiday, anyway.) And there’s the Tour de France, of course.

AUGUST
It’s hot, hot, hot – and likely to be busy. I’m English so naturally I’ll want to talk about the weather.

SEPTEMBER
La rentrée! It’s the end of the holidays and parents across France breathe a sigh of relief as the 8-week summer holiday comes to an end. This month will be all about going back to or starting school in France.

OCTOBER
This is always a bit of non-month for me but this month there’s a big mountain bike event in the nearby town. I’ve wanted to take part for the last two year so hopefully this year I will get my act together. This month will be all about bike chatter.

NOVEMBER
In the UK it’s bonfire night, but that doesn’t happen in France (no Guy Fawkes, no bonfire night!) so instead of writing about James’s favourite time of year I’ll focus on the other big event in my life this month; birthday (DD will be five!)

DECEMBER
It’s Christmas, so of course that has to be the theme this month.

In between times I may also try to write other posts about my experiences navigating the different cultural and administrative landscape – as well as any updates on our land-buying/house-building plans (if the status of any of that changes) – but otherwise the focus will be on these 12 themes and language learning. That’s my number one to-do for 2018.

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Nine months (and a bit) later…

It’s just over nine months since we left our old home and relocated to France so how are we getting on? Since the 6 months review we’ve moved house to a new, long-term rental, making the move official in the sense that we now have a rental contract and have bills to pay. It’s great to be living somewhere without holes in the walls, a good stove, and a safe outside space for the children and cats. Since this move we’ve been feeling much more settled than we were three months ago. We’re still checking the property pages but aren’t feeling the intense pressure of those first months. And we’ve learned a lot; not only about the do’s and don’ts of house/land buying but also about what we do and don’t like and what need as individuals and a family. For example, when we first came we were worried about being too out on a limb, too remote and in the sticks. There’s a lot of remote about here! Coming from Manchester, where we had access to everything, it’s taken a while to wean us off having more immediate access to things we need (or want) and to other people. It’s taken 9 months but I’d say now we’re over it and are slowing down, finally. The first six months were intense, living in a tiny hameau, dominated by a few home schooling families; too much for us. Now we’re in a hameau, yes, but there’s more space simply because the people here also like to have their own space. There’s no “thing” going on, just neighbours living their lives. Our new neighbours definite look out for each other and those relationships are important, yes – we speak to at least one of our neighbours every day – but we’re not in each others pockets or trying to live some sort of shared life, which was how it felt in the last place. We’re happy to be out of there.

So, time for a progress report. The five areas to report on are:

  • House buying
  • Settling into daily life
  • Sorting out the paperwork
  • Learning the French language
  • Earning some money

Here’s the low down.

House Buying Progress = 3/10

I’ve moved this up to a 3/10. No, we don’t have a house and we’ve only looked at a couple since we moved into this new rental place but we have made some progress in the sense that we’re learning all the time what we do and don’t want and what too look for when buying land or property. Of the places we’ve looked at all were overpriced and some were over our budget, so no good. Some we’d be interested in if we had more money, others we wouldn’t pay all the money in the world for. It’s nice to feel like we’re in the driving seat now whereas before, when we were staring down the barrel of homelessness, it all felt a bit desperate. We’ll find something or we won’t. Either way I’m loving life here and without that intense pressure it feels like we can make the right decision and find something that’s right for us. The best bit of advice we received when we came out here was from a fellow Brit who said: “remember what you came for and what it is that you want.” The hunt continues but we’re both convinced we’ll know it when we see it.

Settle Into Daily Life = 8/10

I think we’re all feeling vastly more settled than we were three months ago. DD is still going to the maternelle but is enjoying it so much she asked to go full time so now she does two full days and then the rest half days. That’s great for us as we’re starting to have more time to work, to focus on admin, to getting things done generally, and just to have a bit of a break (one child is definitely less work than two!) DS has started at the creche too. He starts properly next week – just two short afternoons – then we’ll add a few more hours from September. He’s still my baby so I’m not in a rush for him to spend too much time in someone else’s care.

Of course, the school holidays start in just three weeks so the timetable we’re starting to work too will all be thrown in the air for 8 weeks after that, which is why, even though I’m now registered as an auto-entrepreneur (business website and info coming soon), I’m not anticipating getting anything meaningful done until September at the earliest. A few hours a week is the most time I’m likely to have. (James is busy, of course, and his work takes priority right now.) But as this is our first summer in the south of France I don’t intend to feel guilty about taking more time off and enjoying it with the kiddies.

Sort Out the Paperwork = 8/10

Slowly, but I am at last getting there. I have mail redirects in place, my tax return is sorted out, I’m about 90% of the way through my address change list, and – with becoming an auto-entrepreneur – I have a social security number, meaning myself the little ones have health care (within the terms of the French system.) At a later date I’ll probably bother to sort out a French driving license but that’s not necessary at the moment. Just having an hour or so every other day has made an enormous difference – and, of course, fast internet. I never ever want be without fast internet for the rest of my days.

Learn the French Language = 5/10

It’s still early days and I’m by no means fluent so 5/10 may seem overly optimistic but… and it’s a big but… I’m feel like I’m at least capable now of getting by. It really helps that our new neighbours are French and have limited or non-existent English: one of them doesn’t speak English at all but loves to chat, forcing me to dig deep both on the listening and speaking front, and our other neighbour speaks French but, along with his wife, is a keen student of English, so when we often talk about language, comparing differences and similarities, and I learn a lot from those conversations.

In terms of speaking when I’m out and about, just last week I managed to go into the bank and talk with the bank manager, about opening a business account, changing our address, and ordering a cheque book – all in French. Absolutely I could not have done that nine or even three months ago. I’m so happy with myself!!! As someone who didn’t speak a word (beyond ordering a coffee) when we arrived and was nervous about conversing with anyone, that’s real progress.

There’s still a long way to go, of course. I know what I know but there’s still plenty I don’t know, like how to say anything about what I did (past tense) or what I’m going to do (future tense) but what I’m doing right now, I’m good with). I’m terrible at asking questions so conversations are not really flowing yet, but I’m learning all the time. Once DS starts at the creche, once DD is back at school, I should have enough hours to not only work but also to study a little. I’m building a foundation for sure but in order to ever reach fluency some effort will be needed. Getting by is good for now but not good enough in the long run. I’m definitely happy with my progress though.

Earn some money = 2/10

I haven’t earned a bean yet, no, but I’ve taken steps towards that so am happy that things are afoot and it won’t be long now. It’s good to be thinking along those lines again. Does that count as progress?

Conclusion

We’re back on our feet and feeling much more balanced and focused. It’s starting to feel like we have a life here. The next few months will most likely be filled with distractions again as it’s the summer holidays. I expect we’ll be socialising more than working in this time but why not enjoy ourselves! We’re getting used to the pace of life (hot and slow – it’s summer!) and settling into our new routines and, who knows, maybe the right piece of land will turn up when we’re not expecting it to? We’re not where we thought we’d be at this point but we’ve dodged many bullets along the way so where we are right now is definitely the right place.

Most days I marvel at the fact that we’re here to live not just for a holiday. Then I hear DD speaking in French with other children and I’m blown away by the whole experience. We might be blowing our savings, living in a rented house with no end to that in sight, but it’s worth it. Our quality of life is fantastic and I’m excited to be learning a new language. It’s a good place and every day I think to myself that I’m so glad we made this move. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live somewhere as beautiful as this!?

Six months later…

It’s 6 months to the day that we left our old home in the North of England for the far sunnier Sud de la France so here’s the progress report on our five main tasks:

  • House buying
  • Settling into daily life
  • Sorting out the paperwork
  • Learning the French language
  • Earning some money

House Buying Progress = 2/10

We were on 1/10 last month and my first inclination was to downgrade us to 1/10 but then I thought, no, none of that time has been wasted and the fact that we don’t yet have a house is less to do with our efforts and more to do with the madness of the housing market around here. We couldn’t have done more. We’ve put in a couple of offers, which have been rejected, and almost bought two parcels of land. One of those turned out to be a narrow escape from financial ruin (it was agricultural land without planning permission – not that the agent was letting on about that) and the other we were all set to go ahead with but, on further investigation, discovered problems with access would push us over our budget. So that was that. Phase 2 will take place from a rental property nearby. The search continues.

Settle Into Daily Life = 4/10

We’ve gone backwards on this front since the last update and that’s down  to the fact that we have really gone for the property/land search since the beginning of the year. It’s taken up an enormous amount of our time and energy and, by nature, it’s chaotic: you have to act when something comes up, which makes timetabling and having a routine difficult. DD has settled in the maternelle, so much of our day revolves around the drop off and pick up for her mornings there, but apart from that we’ve been here there and everywhere looking at houses. Phase 2 will involve moving DD’s school (unfortunate but necessary – otherwise we’ll spend all day in the car) and settling DS into a creche for the first time, which I’m nervous about.

Sort Out the Paperwork = 6/10

I’m not sure I’ve done much of this in the last few months – there are probably a few boring admin things to sort out, so this can stay at 6/10. Our mail redirection runs out today so I hope everything important is now coming to the right place. The big paperwork push will come next as we need to get ourselves registered to as the French equivalent of self-employed so that we can start paying social security, which means access to healthcare. I’m sure there will be a few forms needed for that!

Learn the French Language = 2/10

Okay, I’m still stalled on this one but I’ve upped it to 2/10 because my comprehension is much better than it was and since, in the last week, I’ve started trying to spend a few minutes a day brushing up on vocabulary there is a slight improvement. James is always beating me up about this though, which I think is a bit unfair since I am usually the one wrangling two children meaning I have zero headspace. Going forward, Must Try Harder.

Earn some money = 0/10

Nope, we’ve not earned a bean but now we’ve decided to rent this is back to the top of the priority list. And having an income will make any future land purchasing and house building decisions less traumatic. We need to get this sorted because not having an income day makes every purchase seems expensive because it erodes our savings. The rental place has a small courtyard we can grow a few veggies in, which will all help to reduce our costs, and there’s some land very nearby that a neighbour owns that we may be able to setup a more substantial patch on: nothing fancy, just a few rows of beans, tomatoes, etc. Workwise, once we have both littlies settled into creche and maternelle, James and I need to agree a timetable because currently I get no time at all to much other than read and send a few e-mails. That has to change if I’m to stand a chance of earning some money. I can’t be the one doing all the childcare and we also have to stop running around together on errands one of us can do. Time to get organised!!

On the upside, my planning notebook is full of scribbles and I’ve been busy with ideas. I’ve also made some useful contacts over the last six months. And, of course, our new place will have broadband so, given the time, I can catch up on some of the training webinars I’ve been bookmarking because they just haven’t been possible with our limited bandwidth Internet setup.

Conclusion?

The last three months have been tough. We’ve worked our backsides off trying to find a place – a house or some land – to settle down. For one reason or another it’s come to nothing. We’ve almost gone mad from the effort and the apparent futility of it all. But we have learned a heck of a let. It’s been a steep learning curve and now, if we can just relax, we’re in a great position going forward to make sure we get exactly what we’re looking for while also taking some time to try and enjoy our new French life. A move to a new location is just what we need, I think, as it will give us a different perspective and also a bit more room to breathe. I’m excited about the next three months!

Our first three months in France

As of today we’ve been here three whole months. Wow, the time has flown. I was so relieved just to be leaving at last after a really quite difficult three months leading up to the actual move (DS was only two months old when James started cracking the “we need to pack up the house!!!” whip) and was looking forward to a few weeks to chill out and recover, but that didn’t really happen either. I was hoping James would calm down a bit once we actually got here but actually it took him a good while to wind down and adjust to a slower and more functional pace. He’s getting there.

When we set off that day from the UK we had quite a to-do list so what have we been doing in that time? We still have a lot to do and a lot of what we thought we’d accomplish has fallen by the wayside while we try to get settled. Here’s a bit of a progress report on the five main tasks:

  • House buying
  • Settling into daily life
  • Sorting out the paperwork
  • Learning the French language
  • Earning some money

House Buying Progress = 1/10

Hmm, well, this one has morphed into potentially buy land and build and,since we are leaving this place at the end of March, looking for a new place to rent. Not having proper Internet connectivity really put a spanner in the works on this front, plus we were shown some proper s**t holes so our first foray into the world of property purchasing flattened our enthusiasm somewhat. I think we’ve seen about ten houses and about the same number of plots of land. As far as houses go we’ve seen a lot of hairline fractures, bad roofs, asbestos, and damp. Pretty shocking, actually, and all in and around properties that look pretty reasonable in the online pictures. The camera never lies my eye! I feel like we’re getting on top of this now though, with searches set up on the main sites, some good contacts in local estate agents who know what we want, and now we’re putting down some roots we’re more likely to get any hot of the press info from within the community, which is the best way to find anything out round here.

Settle Into Daily Life = 7/10

Okay, this is a biggy and how much we can really do without a permanent home is hard to say, but on many fronts, despite not being anything you could call “settled” we are settling into life around here. So why 6/10?

Well, we have French phone numbers – essential items for keeping in touch with agents and, thanks to free calls back to the UK, essential for keeping in touch with family and friends back on Blighty.

We also have the Internet and while it took the best part of the first three months to get it sorted out, it does still count as an achievement.

On the personal front, DD is now on her fourth week at the maternelle and is settling in nicely. We’ve already made friends and are, if anything, in a bit of a social whirl with lots of activities in our weekly timetable. We’ve discovered a fab place called Ludotheque, which offers play sessions throughout the week but is also a toy library. A toy library! Brilliant. Plus we’ve been to: the regular library; to movie night at a neighbours (where he shows the local kids a class French film, usually animation); to forest school; and to a wedding and a birthday party. When I get more time DD, DS, and I will have play dates coming out of my ears. We’ve also had “curry night”, which we all agree will be a regular features when our friends Matt and An come back in April, and I’ve encouraged Brigitte to start a regular sling meet type event as it was something both she and I wanted to do; she had the contacts and the language skills (being native) and I provided enthusiasm and encouragement that she needed to make it happen, which is great teamwork!

In fact, socially I could probably give us a 10/10. James did make a comment the other day (when we were on our way to meet someone I’ve recently befriended) about us not having time to socialise, but much of my time is spent with both littlies while he works on the computer and one thing the last few years have taught me is that life is better for mummies and their babies when they are with other mummies and other babies: it really does take a village and we – the women at least – are not meant to sit at home alone to stew in our own juice. So the socialising won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s all networking, right!?

Sort Out the Paperwork = 6/10

I’ve made some good progress on this front but I’ll admit to being a bit slack at picking up all the odds and ends. After cancelling all the major direct debits associated with our old address, which took the best part of a 8 weeks due to the Internet issues, I’ve not done much else and am relying on Royal Mail’s redirect service to deliver prompts in the mail from companies and accounts that I need to amend. That’s something to refocus on in the next few weeks, although with Christmas coming up it will more likely be a job for 2017.

A major leap on the paperwork front was sorting out the Assurance Scholaire, registering the car to obtain our Certificate d’Immatriculation, and getting the car insured. Oh, and let’s not also forget opening a French bank account. Despite the reputation for bureaucracy here, we found all of those things to be fairly straight forward and not too dissimilar to similar activities in the UK. The trick is to have all the paperwork handy in the first place and have enough French language under your belt to muddle you way through discussions with officials. All credit goes to James on that front. I think we’d have struggled if his French was as bad as mine. I’ll take the credit for gathering all the required documentation because if there’s one thing I’m not troubled by it’s paperwork!

Learn the French Language = 1/10

I feel like this is an epic fail on my part but I’m partly blaming lack of Internet connectivity, as well as DD’s new found inability to go to bed/sleep before 9pm. When we first arrived I did manage to get a few minutes every evening to work on my French, which meant I was learning little by little and had the confidence to try and speak every day. Since I fell out of that routine my brain seems to have dried up and I am finding it impossible to recall almost any French words or phrases in a timely manner, which is just embarrassing. If it weren’t for James we’d be struggling.

Perhaps I’m being hard on myself? When we arrived I had very basic “holiday French”, which just about extended to ordering a cup of coffee then asking for the bill. I know many more nouns than I did before and a good handful of verbs. I can listen to the radio and pick out words, sometimes even understand the adverts, and often help James by listening when he is talking to someone, catching things that he doesn’t, so my understanding of the language has definitely improved. So maybe 2/10. Either way, there’s plenty more to do in this area if I’m ever going to be properly at home here.

Earn some money = 0/10

Hahaha, as if, with everything else that’s going on, I’ve had chance to do anything on this front. But that’s okay because DS is still only 8 months old so technically I’m still on maternity leave (in my head I have 12 months off). Yes, there will come a point where I need to knuckle down and make some money again but I’m giving myself permission to do nothing for another few months at least. Having to make this happen at some point is always in the back of my mind so I am thinking along those lines but I rarely seem to have enough time to join those thoughts together, let alone enough time to put anything into action. That time will come. I suppose I have at least got the web domains ready to get and a blank blog set up on one of them – oh, and I have a special note book for my work-related ideas. Does that count?

Conclusion?

Three months in and I think we’ve done pretty well. We definitely all feel at home here but there is still much to do. Was it worth it? Hell, yes! I still come back to the view that we’re better off burning through our savings here than in the UK. Would I rather be renting somewhere here or there? Let’s just say it was t-shirt weather yesterday – in December! Yes way. We’re staying whether we find somewhere to buy or end up having to rent a place. And besides, this whole trip is educational for us all. DD is already speaking in broken French, the odd word here and there, and can understand much of what is said to her. DS won’t know any different so will probably end up with English as his second language, assuming we stay here into his school years. I know I’ll catch them up eventually because I just can’t stand being unable to have a proper chat with people and am reassured that, as James remarked the other day, that already it doesn’t feel foreign here, you know like when you go on holiday and you don’t understand enough about the place to feel properly at home there, reading billboards and the like? Well, all that is becoming familiar and I like it!