Tuesday, 31 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - what about the garden

So the inside is shaping up very well, and the decorating was now under way. We decided to leave some of the exposed stone walls, as you can see in the photos, which meant more pointing up, grrrr. The exposed beams were looking good too, they were very old but in really good condition, these together with the stone walls gave a real rustic feel to the place. For the rest of the walls and tiling we opted for soft, neutral colours, then we could mix and match soft furnishings with it more easily. We're quite minimalist and don't like too much clutter.
Meanwhile it was time to think about the gardens to the rear, front and end of the property. We would build a ceramic tiled terrace out the back and plant grass for the lawn beyond, that would turn out to be such a nice spot for having a bbq and relaxing in the sun. We have a very large driveway and planned to have it covered in shingle or gravel whatever you call it, we also planned to do the front of the gite in the same with a rock border and some plant pots. At the end, we decided to keep the original old wood shutters, as you can see in the photo above at the top, for pure decoration, again for the rustic look. That is a picture of that part finished, but as you can see the rest is yet to be tackled and the big mud bath in the last photo was what was to be the terrace and lawn....

Monday, 30 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - bathrooms, kitchens & lights

Things are starting to shape up now. Installing the bathrooms went quite quickly once all the plumbing was sorted, and we managed to get some really smart bathroom equipment. Our aim for the decoration of the gite was to be modern with a rustic feel, so as not to lose the character of the place. We had a steady stream of neighbours eager to get a sneak preview of the progress of the works, and the children constantly brought home friends and proudly showed them around. I guess coming from a small 2 bed apartment, with no garden, to this was a dream for them, so any opportunity they had of showing off they grabbed with eager hands. Not that we were any better off than their friends, it just appeared that way, in reality we were working just as hard as anyone else except that we would have extra benefits after.
The kitchen was looking particularly good and we were pleased with the layout we had chosen. The kitchen /dining room leading off to the lounge, with double glass doors leading to the terrace, or what would soon be the terrace...At that time it was just a tip and mud bath!!
The kids came home from school and announced that there was to be a meal and a knees up at the local village hall at the weekend and could we go? We said that we would and bought tickets for us all, little did we know that this was to be an evening that would stay with us for a long time.......

Friday, 27 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS, up with the walls

Tiling over, knees sore. Time to do a bit of standing work. Next came the walls and as you can see from the pictures, things were beginning to shape up. Rooms were beginning to appear, although it was still pretty difficult to imagine it a proper place yet. This part of the renovation particularly amused the children, a bit like in and out the dusty bluebells, (I think that's what it was called).
We sat down with the kids to try to decide on a name for the gite. We had lots of amusing response like; "Cowshed", "Ye Old Grange", "The Renovation Rooms", but mostly they all wanted it to be called after their own names. We finally decided on the name "Tournesol", French for sunflower, as there was, at the time, a huge field of sunflowers right opposite. This worked very well for the first year after we opened, but sadly the harvester came and chopped them all down and the farmer never replanted sunflowers again! But hey, it's still a nice name.
The kids were becoming more and more French every day, by that I mean little habits and things they do in the same annoying way the French do. Example, total misuse of the English language in amongst their french phrases, this is something the French do frequently, like; "Je vais faire du SHOPPING", and "On y GO", and "Le magasin HARD DISCOUNT". The one that makes me cringe the most is, "Rock 'n' roll", said in a very bad French/US twang and supposedly means, "That's great". Maybe I'm just getting old.......

Thursday, 26 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - the floor covering

Things were beginning to shape up now that it was time to lay the floor tiles. We decided to do this before putting the walls up, as we would use the same tiles throughout to make things more uniform and clean looking. Then came the gruelling task of laying roughly 1200 tiles on the floor, and I can safely say that the men had very sore knees when that was over. It looked very smart after, all new & shiny, and it got more of a gleam later when the kids got home from school, took off their shoes and slid all across them in their socks as if they were ice skating.
From the outside, things were looking better too. Our eldest son had been helping with the pointing of the exterior stone walls, which is a very long and boring job, so I think the men were quite happy he wanted to help. It was a bit strange for me, being away all day I really noticed all the changes when I got home from work, and sometimes didn't really feel a part of it all. But someone had to keep the money coming in, and that someone had to be me...At least, for now..

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - home again and back to work

After we got back from our lovely holiday, the work progressed at a steady pace. We put a wall up around the front end of the property, the only part which wasn't enclosed, and had a new front gate for the driveway. Winter was fast approaching and the days were getting shorter. One of the first important things to do in the gite was to get the windows installed, this was particularly difficult as the walls were 50cm thick. Then we could install the windows. The double doors leading to the garden and the front door were easier as there were already openings. We don't often get snow here, but this year we did and managed to get the doors and window in before it turned too cold.

I was still working at the Hotel, and despite asking my boss for less evening work, which was feasible as me and the other guys had worked it out, it became more and more frequent. I hardly saw the children, and when I did I was too tired to do anything with them. The men were very tired too working all hours, but we had a deadline to meet if we wanted to get any summer bookings for the next year, and there was still so much more to do. We had decided that the works needed to be finished for the beginning of June at the very latest so that we could begin advertising as soon as the furniture went in. But that also meant the swimming pool had to be built too, and we were building it ourselves. Once the windows and doors were in and the ceiling insulated and boarded, and the exposed beams pressure washed, it didn't look like a barn any more. Our cowshed was beginning to look like a holiday home....

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - the long awaited holiday

The works were ahead of schedule, and the men beginning to get tired. My job was pretty full on at that time too and I had just 2 hours during my afternoon break to spend with the kids when they got home from school, before leaving again and not returning home until 1am, trying to grab as much sleep as I could before getting up again at 6.30am. So we made the decision to go away for a week during the school holidays. My parents-in-law wanted to stay and have a quiet time and house sit, which was fine, so we set off for Biarritz on the south west coast of France. I have travelled a lot around France, but never been there so we were all looking forward to it. Because we booked last minute we managed to find a really cheap apartment, overlooking the sea, with swimming pool and near the town. Not actually in Biarritz, but not far.
The kids were so excited, we had never had a proper family holiday before, it had always been visiting relatives, which isn't the same, and then when we bought the shop, we didn't close for holidays, so this was a real treat. We took a train round the centre of the town to see all the sights before attempting it on foot, we went to one of those adventure parks where you swing through the trees at dizzy heights. It made my legs wobble watching the kids balancing all that way up, even if they did have safety harnesses on! We ate out every night and lunchtime bar one, when there was a good film on so we got take out pizza and sat cross legged on the bed to watch it.
The funniest part was the carting. None of the kids had ever done this and it was an experience for them and us, as it turned out. The eldest took to it like a duck to water and raced off. Our twins weren't quite so good. Whilst the eldest was whizzing past our daughter was at a snails pace and did 1 lap to every 10 of his. You saw her fist shake in the air every time he whooshed past with a cheeky smile. Her twin brother had the speed too, but unfortunately not the control and spun off the track on every lap. The guy in charge was not most pleased as he had to go and fish him out of some bush or tyre wall every 2 minutes. The final straw came when it was time to come off the track. Our eldest came in without problem, our daughter would take another hour to get back to the beginning, and the next lot of racers were getting impatient waiting for her return. Her twin brother, however, put his foot down, lost complete control, nearly ran over the guy, knocked all the bollards down into the pit lane and then duly crashed into the back of a stationary cart. Needless to say, we were asked, in no uncertain terms, to leave and not to come back. Ahh, a holiday to remember!!

Monday, 23 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - the renovation begins

The pictures show the interior and exterior of our project just as we were about to begin the works. The building, a cowshed, is 120m2 and we had our work cut out. My parents-in-law came back from the UK a couple of months later, ready to start the work. We had received the planning permission just days ago, a lot longer than we had anticipated due to the usual French overload of paperwork and admin disorganisation. I was very fortunate to have my mother-in-law there at the time to help with the kids, as my working hours became more and more difficult.
The men set to gutting the cowshed of all the troughs and old wooden hay baskets which ran the whole length of the barn all the way round. The troughs being the more difficult as the were made of solid concrete. On the floor there was a large kind of canal, if you like, running down the whole centre of the barn which needed to be filled with cement to level the floor. This was obviously to drain away water when they hosed down all the cow poos. The beams were in pretty good condition but needed pressure washing, and the roof tiles appeared to be good too. The weather was still hot, and we waited weeks for the first rains to come so as to test the roof for leaks. When it did finally come...wow, did it come. We had 2 days of almost torrential rain, and if that wasn't test enough for the roof, then nothing was. Phew, no leaks...brilliant! That in itself was a cost and time cutter.
The children helped, or tried to, when they were at home, at least at first. Once the novelty wore off, they contented themselves riding their bikes or playing with their friends. They would be more excited when the works on the swimming pool started, that was the star attraction for them. The eldest was often away for hours riding his bike around from village to village, and , like a Magpie, arrived home every time with something he had found, or something somebody in the village had given him. In consequence, I now have a shed full of broken items such as a broken record player, (remember those??), number plates, trolleys, broken bikes etc. He even came home one day with a Vespa moped, and a very odd looking man!!! The man, a neighbour whom we had not yet met, said he didn't want it and that our son had taken a shine to it. That was broken too and we still have it. The twins were too young to go off on their own, which caused many arguments, but at least they had each other when their friends could not play. Provided they could get on for more than an hour!!!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

JADE GOODY DIES, a special thought for her boys

Happy Mother's Day, at least for some. I interrupt my story today to spare a thought for the family, and especially the two young boys, of Jade Goody. Not only tragic that she died so young, but awful for her boys that it is Mother's Day. They can only be thankful that she went in a peaceful, painless and quick way. Be thankful for what you have and enjoy each day to the fullest, keep smiling no matter what life throws at you. Our hearts go out to them and all who are suffering, on this special day.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - new job and first day nerves

My first day at work was a Sunday and I was even more nervous than I had been at the interview. Honestly, I was like a kid in a new town starting their first day at school. I should have been there at 9am, but I was so worried about getting held up behind a tractor or breaking down. Our old car was not reliable to say the least, so much so that we had to drive around with jump leads and a spare battery on the front seat in case it would not start. It was not a battery problem as we had changed it twice thinking that was what it was, no it was something else, but we daren't put it into a garage in case we couldn't afford the bill...I had a sneaky feeling it was something expensive! Anyway, I was worried about being late on my first day, but I left so early that I had to walk around the block several times, and with what I had in store that day it wasn't such a good idea, on the feet front, I mean.
When I got in I was shown around, briefly, and introduced to all the staff. Everyone was in such a hurry and the reason being there were 2 coach loads of customers coming to eat at lunchtime. I was quickly put on table laying duty, and humping chairs in from the store, as there weren't enough. The coach parties were eating in a banquet room out the back, and the 100 cover restaurant was fully booked as well. My new boss took me to one side and told me that she wanted to test my waitressing skills today as it was important for the job. I suspected, however, that there were at least 150 people to serve at lunch and not enough staff. I was later to find out that this was true and it was a more than regular occurrence.
They came in by the dozen and the restaurant and banquet room were soon buzzing. The coach parties had only one hour to eat, so we had to walk very fast, not only to get the food out quickly, but also to keep it warm as the kitchen was a long way from the room. The restaurant soon filled up too but the customers there weren't in such a hurry being Sunday. Good job really. I had never walked so much in a long time and my feet ached terribly, I knew I shouldn't have worn new shoes!! I was supposed to have finished work at 3pm, but by 4.30pm I was still there clearing up the mess out the back, and there were still customers lingering in the restaurant...Did they not have homes to go to?? The boss called me in at about 5pm and said I had done a good job and that I would be in tomorrow at the same time. I was one of the lucky ones, a girl I was working with was still working but had to be back for the evening service at 6.30pm, and she lived 20 minutes away!
When I got home the kids went wild. They had been so used to me being there all the time, they found it strange that I was gone all day, especially on a Sunday. This was something they were going to have to get used to. I took off my shoes and laughed, I had holes all over the feet of my tights. I put my feet up and hubby brought me a glass of wine. Hard work, but somehow I felt all a buzz, probably because I'd proved that I could still hack it after all the years, even if my feet did feel like they were disconnected from the rest of me!!

Friday, 20 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - the job hunting begins

We needed to start having an income and it had already been decided that I find a job to allow hubby to stay at home and renovate. I had worked recently as we had the shop before coming here, but obviously, there I was my own boss. I hadn't been an "employee" for years, I think the last time was when we lived in New Zealand but that's another story, and I can't remember the last time I sat an interview! This was going to be scary, I was shaking even at the thought.
I set to it, scouring all the local papers and Internet sites for jobs. I have mainly worked in the Hotel industry, and mainly in France or on cruise liners, (4 in total), and had experience in almost all aspects from the kitchen, to the rooms, to the restaurant and the front desk...How hard could it be to find a job? I made several applications, and was very surprised by the response. You see, when you get older you tend to forget that your older. You still look the same when you look in the mirror, you still feel the same and you still feel yourself capable of doing all the things you did 20 years ago. Trouble is, employers don't see it that way, when you get past 35 you're over the hill. And that was just the trouble I had. My age was an issue, and some of them remarked on that at interviews, and some of them fogged me off as being over qualified for the job, and some of them plainly stated, "you do not fit the job description."
Then I found out that it is not obligatory to state your age on a CV, so I re-did it and took out my date of birth, I also took out the fact that I'm English as the French, being soooo French, would probably prefer to employ one of their own before a foreigner. BINGO. That worked. And after a long 4 months, I finally landed myself a job as a Hotel Receptionist...I was back in the land of the employed........

Thursday, 19 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - the birthday, double trouble

Trouble with having twins is that everything comes in two's, it was bad enough when they were babies, 2 lots of nappies, 2 lots of clothes, 2 lots of food, double this, double that...But when they're older it's even worse, the bigger they get the more expensive the things they need are, and they always have a knack of needing the same things at the same time. Birthdays hadn't been too much of a problem when they were smaller, I just used to bake one cake and cut it in two. That's cheating, I know, but they never noticed. So the big day arrived, and we were rudely awoken by two eager little birthday beavers at 6am. I told them to go back to bed for another hour, I wished! They bounced and bounced on the bed until the mattress had indented foot marks all over and we fell out of bed. They then ran to uncles bedroom and did the same thing, which we ignored...if we had to get up early everyone should suffer the same consequences. They ran downstairs hoping to find two bikes waiting for them, instead was a small parcel for each on the table. They looked at each other with that "twin look" as if to say; Too small for bikes! I had wrapped up some fruit for them both for a joke, but it soon turned sour when I saw the disappointment on their faces. Time to get the real presents out, and with that dad was quick to produce 2 shiny new bikes, one red and one blue. They were thrilled, my purse wasn't.
They were having a party that afternoon and I had made 2 cakes, one with pink icing and one with blue icing. But as my twins are boy & girl that also meant there would have to be 2 sets of friends, boys and girls. I had set a limit a few years ago that they each invite one friend for the amount of years their birthday was, ex. 4 years old = 4 friends. BIG MISTAKE!!! I hadn't thought that through properly and was trying to add up on my fingers just how many friends altogether there would be when they reached 18!! We should have had 17 children there that year, 7 friends each, the twins and our eldest son. We ended up with about 25 because the eldest felt left out so invited his own friends, (unbeknownst to us), so and so couldn't come without her sister, other so and so couldn't come without his brother, etc...But then as my daughter put it, rubbing her hands together, "It's OK mum, that means we get more presents!".
I had to lie down for about a week after that party. Apart from the noise of all those kids running riot in our house, it took me about 2 hours, and alot of patience, to teach the French how to play "pass the parcel" and explain what all the party food was about. We have since discovered that at French birthday parties the kids sit quietly and do good old fashioned colouring in, and the only hint of food is a packet of sweeties to share, and don't even mention party bags! I then had to spend another hour trying to get the mud off the new bedroom carpets where nobody had taken their shoes off coming in from the garden. Still, the kids enjoyed it and guess what...I didn't have to cook that night with all that party food left over!!!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - getting there slowly

The picture on the bottom shows what the outside & downstairs looked like prior to moving in, all except the image of the beams,(top right of bottom photo), which is what the whole of the upstairs looked like. The photo on the top is the upstairs getting there!
The house was coming along bit by bit, and looking better every day. The grass in the garden was beginning to get greener, and we had been out and bought swings & things for the children. This was a good idea and it kept them occupied in the garden for hours. We soon began to get a steady stream of French children visiting, curious to see how the English live, not that it's any different to how they live. It was, and still is, lovely to hear the kids interacting with people of another language, how they chop and change from French to English without even thinking about it.
My husbands brother came to visit next. He had been holidaying in Spain and dropped by for a couple of weeks. This was perfectly timed as there was some heavy duty work coming up that needed 2 strong men, and the children hadn't seen him for a while and as the twins birthday was looming, it would be a good opportunity to do something special together.
"If he comes while we're at school, can he come and pick us up?", asked our daughter. He did turn up early, and so duly went to the school with us to get the kids. The school gates opened and the kids burst out like water out of a leaking pipe and literally jumped on pour old uncle, almost smothering him. "This is my uncle, he's been to Spain, he's English too, and he doesn't speak any French, so we're going to teach him, and he's going to stay at our house, and we're going to have fun.....", was all you could hear the kids twittering to their friends, with intermittent giggles. We managed to get home eventually, in one piece, and i cooked a special meal that evening, which, for once, everybody appreciated. "What are you getting for your birthdays?", asked uncle. Bikes. New bikes. Shiny new bikes. Specifically, one red shiny new bike, and one blue shiny new bike. Expensive, I thought. Hang on, he said what are you getting not what do your want!! They would have to wait and see.........

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - home from school

It was strange not having the kids home, but I wasn't complaining. The day whizzed by and we were able to accomplish far more without them here biting at our ankles. The upstairs bedrooms were almost habitable now and just needed some decorating, so we would soon be able to move in. Where we were sleeping downstairs were 2 separate rooms which we intended to knock through and turn into a lounge with log burner. We already had a living/dining room, a kitchen, bathroom and separate loo on the ground floor. We planned to take out the bathroom, take down the wall from dining to kitchen room and incorporate all 3 rooms together into a large kitchen/living area, but that was for later on.
I went up to the school a little early, just in case they came out early. I later found out that they are never early as the teacher/multi-tasker wears hearing aids in both ears and doesn't hear the bell, (good job with my three!!). I managed to introduce myself to several other mothers, who were all very friendly, but also seemed to know me already. That's small villages for you! The children came out looking exhausted, but happy and showing off all their new friends. As we walked home they were all absolutely busting to tell me about their day; the teacher talks very fast, the teacher can't hear anything, they had all made lots of friends, lunch was very good, work was hard, they had lots of homework and they needed to take a toothbrush and goblet tomorrow......."A TOOTHBRUSH & GOBLET???" I queried. A good idea, but I had never heard of it in school before, they had to brush their teeth at each break, after snack, and at lunch time after eating. I would have to go out and buy some more toothbrushes, generally we only have one each.
At home they did their homework with no fuss, that was a first, and sat down to watch TV. I started dinner a while later and something seemed odd.....Apart from the TV I couldn't hear anything, no arguing, no fighting, no shouting, not even any playing. I went in to see what was going on and there they were, all three of them curled up on the sofa fast asleep. It must have been a very big day!!

Monday, 16 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - a new school, a new term an one lost son

August passed very quickly and it was soon time for the children to start their new school. They were very excited and nervous at the same time, but were pleased that they already had friends they knew in the school. They were up bright & breezy that morning, in fact it was quite a rare thing to see them get up and dressed so easily, it normally takes alot of shaking and bell ringing before they finally fall out of bed 5 minutes before it's time to go. Unless there's a school trip or it's not a school day, or even better they're always up at the crack of dawn on a day when we don't have to get up! They said their goodbyes to nanny & grandad, who were popping back to the UK for a few weeks before the big works started on the gite. The doorbell went and it was a young lad the same age as our eldest who had heard that they were starting school, and wondered if they could come up with him on their bikes. We agreed to let the eldest go as he was almost 11 by then, but not the twins being only nearly 7, and we arranged to meet them up there.

When we got to the school, we were greeted by the head teacher/teacher of 4 classes/secretary/playground monitor, who showed us in. "Where's your eldest son?", he asked. We thought he was already there as he had left before us on his bike, but he was nowhere to be seen. I explained and apologised, said I would be back and ran back down the road to the house to see if he was there. He wasn't. By this time I was frantic like a woman possessed. My husband tried to calm me down, that he would turn up soon and be alright. "But what on earth are they going to think of us, letting our son disappear on his first day at a new school, how embarrassing!!", was all I could think of. I ran back to the school to ask if the teacher knew where this other boy lived, by which time they had turned up. They had apparently decided to take a little ride round the village sightseeing before school. I think I growled at that point, or bore my teeth or something of that nature. I quickly said goodbye to the kids, all 3, and left...red faced! I would deal with him when he got home......

Sunday, 15 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - unpacking, sorting and where to put it all

Another beautiful day, we awoke to the sound of birds singing. Not just one variety but loads, I don't think I've ever heard so many different sorts of birds at one time. Made a change from the south when we had the shop on the main road, used to wake up to the sound of the birds coughing there! It was hot, very hot, so we put on our shorts and attacked the rest of the unpacking. Truth be known, we didn't unpack most of it at first, as we didn't have places to display or store it. We didn't want to buy any extra furniture just yet as we had to build the upstairs, then decorate, and then start the downstairs.But cleaning was a major issue, we had already done the surface cleaning prior to moving in, just to make it habitable, but when you delved in to the nooks and crannies it was a bit scary. I went to the local supermarket and filled my trolley with all sorts of cleaners and antibacterial sprays, sponges and cloths etc. In the mean time the men went to the builders shops and got what they need to start building the bedrooms upstairs. And the children played and played in the garden until they were red in the face.
Later that day the neighbour came round to introduce himself. He was about the same age as us and had 3 kids like us, around about the same age, so we agreed they could come and play in the garden with ours later. Perfect for us! Ready made friends and we'd only been there 1 day! The children all got on well and as luck would have it they went to the same school as ours would be starting in 2 weeks, they were all pretty excited. Later on, the other neighbour an his wife popped in. She was an English teacher and he was the Assistant Mayor of the village...very posh. We hit it off with them straight away, which was handy, and a few days later they invited us all round their house for a barb-b-cue. They also invited the other neighbours with the children so it was a really nice evening getting to know each other. I don't know if you've ever experienced "aperitifs" or "grillades" at a French friend's house, but there is usually more alcohol than food, either that or by the time you get to the food your too far gone to eat it! (I know you don't have to accept it but it would be rude not to!) Anyway, we stumbled home at about 12.30pm, realising once we got to the bottom of the road, that we hadn't put the outside light on. It was pitch black and we couldn't find the front door let alone the lock to put the key in, it would have been bad enough had we not been half seas over!! Fortunately the kids had only been drinking lemonade and were there to open the door, scold us and send us to bed!! Ahh...the french life...but how would we feel the next day??

Saturday, 14 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - another big move

This time we didn't have far to move, mum lived just 30 minutes from the village where we bought the house. Fortunately for us, my sister and family had arrived to stay at mums the day before we moved in. Perfect now we had a whole removal team, so everybody pitched in. We travelled in convoy, me with 2 of our kids and a stack load of whatever we could fit in the car, my hubby with the eldest in a large hire van packed to the hilt, and my sister and my mum packed up with whatever they could fit in too. My parents-in-law were already at the house, they had parked up their motor home in the garden where they would stay until there was sufficient comfortable living space for them too. Although my husband did have to make more than 1 trip. We had booked a local farmer, with his tractor, in to cut the grass in the back gardens as it was too long to do even with a drive on mower, and he was their ready and waiting. Before we started the un-loading, we all sat and watched the tractor. Our jaws dropped open when we started seeing, not just a garden, it was more like a football pitch!! We knew it was large as the deeds had the amount of land on them, but when you actually saw it in real life....WOW!! We had a wander round after and discovered plum trees, 3 sorts, fig trees, apple trees, blackberries all sorts, a real jam makers heaven.

The un-loading didn't take that long really, probably quicker than the packing up, and we all worked as a team to get the job done. Even the kids helped, in between running round the huge garden in sheer delight. It was a beautiful day, and when we'd finished we cracked open a bottle of win and some beers and sat outside with a picnic we had prepared. We all had great fun discussing the house and the project, particularly my brother-in-law who is a quantity surveyor.

There were 3 most important things to get set up or unpacked that day; 1. Beds and making them, 2. the hob & oven for dinner and 3. the TV & satellite dish, all of which the men were instructed to do first, if, of course, they wanted their dinner! I remember it was a very simple and quick dinner, we didn't have much food as we couldn't fir it in the car, and of course then came the problem of finding the utensils and Knives & forks in amongst what seemed like a hundred boxes!!

My parents-in-law went to bed early that night, it had been a busy day, so they bid good night and retired to their motor home. We then put the children to bed who were equally as shattered, must have been all that country air. We then lay in bed, contented, listening to owls in the night sky and wondering what the next day would bring.....................

Friday, 13 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - signing the legal contract

The plans were coming on leaps & bounds, and we kept in constant contact with the parents-in-law emailing copies of the intended works. The summer was very hot, so in between time we had to take time out to take the kids out, mainly to the beach, as it was too hot to play in the garden. Mum had a swimming pool, which was nice but the children were too young to be left alone in it. The eldest could swim but was not a particularly strong swimmer, and the twins were just learning, doing very well, but still just learning. I talked to them a lot in French to try to maintain a good standard for them as they hadn't yet started the new school, not long to go now though.
My husbands parents had booked their ferry ready for the signing, just 2 weeks away, so we made out a check list just to be sure that we hadn't overlooked anything. The phone number had been changed and ready to go for D day, and we were meeting the electricity and water board at the house the day before the signing to get everything switched on. There was no mains gas to our house but that didn't matter as the central heating was fuel and/or wood, and for the cooker , we'd use bottled, no odds!
We took the children with us on the day of the signing, as they were curious to see the old owners. I had agreed on the proviso that they were seen and not heard and on their absolute best behaviour. Our notaire came down from the Loire Valley to act on our behalf. My husbands parents didn't speak French, bar a couple of words, (and phrases from Del Boy), so I did most of the translating, although the notaire did speak a little English. Two hours, 20 signatures (each!), and three hot, bored and agitated kids later the deal was sealed. The keys were placed in our hands and we were, all four of us, new home owners with a new project. We went into the centre of town and found a bar in a square, overlooking the beautiful cathedral and treated the kids to an ice cream. As for us, we had a well earned glass of something a little more interesting.............

Thursday, 12 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS, and the planning begins

The pictures above show the state the house was in on the day we visited, believe me, it looked worse in real life! The one on the right is the main house, and the one at the top shows, (just), in the top left corner the barn to be turned into holiday let.
We went back to the agents office that same evening and drew up the initial contract. We all agreed on a finalisation date, provided this was good for the sellers too, 2 months later. The sellers lived 45 minutes away, and as it turned out we never actually met them until the final signing. The kids were excited, in a strange sort of way. They were going to have a new home with a huge garden in a lovely village, except that they couldn't envisage what it all would look like after renovation, which is normal for kids. We went back to mums simply buzzing!
The next 2 months were very busy. The first thing was to register the children at the village school, we did this as soon as possible. When we got there we were greeted by the head teacher, who was very excited as it was the first time he had had English children at the school, he ushered us into a classroom. We were later to find out that it wasn't A classroom, it was THE classroom. There were 22 pupils at the school, (not including the infants, about half that), and that was the only classroom. In fact, the head teacher was also the teacher for year 1, and the teacher for year 2, and the teacher for year 3, and the teacher for year 4 all in one classroom! It reminded me of that program I used to watch as a kid "Little House On The Prairie", remember that one? He had one square classroom and each year was divided between the four corners, and he would start one corner off on their work, then move on to the next and so on, and so on....He literally spent the whole day going round in circles, but we were later to find out what a good teacher he was.
Next on our agenda was the plans. We had agreed that the gite would be a priority to start to generate an income, so long as our house was habitable it could come second. My husbands parents went back to England for the time being, and my husband set to planning the layout, with my input, of course. It was not an easy job and as you can imagine the plans changed weekly...We had a new idea, or hadn't thought of something, it would be two smaller gites then it would be one big gite. We had to do it all ourselves as we couldn't afford an architect. We spent days surfing the Internet, looking at what sort of other gites were on offer, and how much they let for, looking at furniture and the cost, setting up a budget of how much it was all going to come to. And of course we had to get the planning permission rolling ready for when we signed the contract. You have to be very careful in France that you are very thorough in your research and allow plenty of time for official paperwork, and believe me there's plenty of it, or it could come back and sting you in the tail..............

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS, the village, the school the inside

The picture on the right is the village,and the one on the left is the field opposite the house, sunflowers are not few and far between here.

Whilst the agent went to get the key, we decided to explore the village. There were only 3 houses in our road, but as they also had large gardens the property was not overlooked in any direction. We noticed that the road at the top of ours was called "rue des écoles", (schools road), so we had a wander down that way, hoping it would lead to the local school, and sure enough it did. I guess the name of the road was a bit of a giveaway! This was great, the school at the end of the road how perfect is that.

A bit further up the road was "rue mairie", (Mayors road), and yep, you've guessed it, this was where the Mayors office was. There appeared to be a bit of a theme going on here. We soon found the most important part of the village, the bar which, thankfully, was not in "rue du bar", but in "rue de st etienne" on account of the fact that the road led to a village called st etienne! Alot of thought must have gone into road naming in France! Anyway, we had a quick slurp in good old french fashion, and went back to the house to meet the agent, who was already waiting for us, (we only had one drink, honestly).

The inside was old, old fashioned and dirty. The kids all said "yuk, it's horrible, there's spiders everywhere!", but us grownups knew it was perfect. OK, so it was old fashioned, but it could be up-dated. The downstairs, after a good clean up, was habitable, of a fashion. There was nothing upstairs though, it used to be a hay loft, and there weren't any windows, just holes. But it was large, large enough to put in 4 bedrooms, an office and 2 bathrooms. Yes, we could picture it all........

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS, The house hunting begins

Here we were again. Living at mums again. looking for a home again. Looking for schools again. Although we had a little time for the school thingy because it was coming up for the summer holidays, so the pressure wasn't on.

My husbands parents joined us at my mums in their motor home, and we soon set to looking for that perfect property. We knew what we wanted, it was just a case of finding the right place at the right price. As usual with estate agents, we told them the criteria and they showed us places that didn't meet it at all. We wanted a house big enough, or potentially, for 5 people - us. We want some land, enough for us and holiday home guests. We want out buildings to renovate into holiday lets. And it was to be no more than the specified price. Simple....NOT. One estate agent took us to view 3 properties. The first was what used to be an old bar in the centre of town, with no garden let alone any land, and therefore no out buildings. The second was a little wooden 2 very small bed house, with a nice but small garden, and a shed! The third was a huge house with a very large garden and an out building, but it was just 300, 000 euros over budget! A total waste of time.

I think we must have visited just about every house up for sale in the Vendee, but they were either too small, no scope to improve, no potential, wrong location or too expensive. After 3 weeks we were fed up and wondering whether this was the right area after all, maybe things would be cheaper further north, although the weather wouldn't be so good. Just the my mobile rang. It was an agent with whom we were supposed to be visiting a property in a couple of days. She had just had a cancellation for that same property, and would we like to view it now? Yes please!

As soon as we pulled up to the drive I knew it was the one instantly. The keys were at another office an hour away, and she had already explained that to us, but who needed keys, this was the one. The property was huge, with four very large out buildings perfect for gites, and a main house big enough for us and the kids. It was quite run down and hadn't been lived in for 3 years, but that didn't matter. The garden appeared to be large enough for what we needed, but it was hard to tell as the grass was taller than my kids, in fact we lost them in it one or two times whilst we were there! We were curious to see inside so the agent said she would go get the keys, if we didn't mind waiting for an hour or so. You kidding! It'll give us a chance to explore what looked like a lovely little village. We were all very excited, and all very much in agreement, kids included. If the outside is this good, what will the inside hold?....

Monday, 9 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS - welcome to the vendee

A good nights sleep was not on the menu, as it turned out. I usually get the pleasure of seeing the kids over excited at Christmas and Birthdays, but this was a night with all 5 of us squashed into a room no bigger than a bathroom. Really, you could do everything without moving from the bed, even take a shower if you tried hard enough! OK, so it was cheap & cheerful, and it was one of those motorway hotels, but I would have called that more like a room for 1 not 5. Whatever, (there's that word again!). The children thought it was a hoot, and giggled all night. They found it especially amusing when we had to climb over one another to get to the loo, so much so that they felt the need to go at least 10 times in 30 minutes. Granted it was hot outside, even at that time of night, but the air conditioning was loud and clonky, and it gave you that funny sort of taste in your mouth. So we turned it right down. Then we still couldn't sleep as it was too hot. "Are we there yet?", didn't sound too bad at that point.
We were up and dressed at the crack of dawn, obviously, and in consequence, had to wait 1/2 an hour for the breakfast buffet to open, (I can't do anything without my daily caffeine intake). By 7.30am we were back on the road again.
Having done the longer part of the journey the day before, we figured we only had a couple of hours left on route, but decided to take it easy to make sure mum would be up and running and ready for us. Fortunately for us the kids slept alot of the way, not all but alot, so there is something to be said for motorway hotels after all! A few toll gates, hours and "are we there yets" later we finally rolled, (literally, we were almost out of petrol), through mums gates. She rushed out to greet us all with hugs. There it was again. That feeling of security. The same one I had when dad had rushed out 5 years previously........

Sunday, 8 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, AND OURS, are we there yet?

Just as we got back on the road our son said, "are we there yet?", we were only 15 minutes out of the village and not even on the motorway! I felt a headache coming on.

It was a long journey and as it was the beginning of the afternoon we decided to stop over night in a hotel, but we wanted to get past the half way mark first. We hoped the removal guys wouldn't get there before us as they would need our help to unload, but doubted they would considering the route they took.

About an hour into the trip we stopped at a service station for a "loo stop", again. "Make sure you all go because we don't want to have to stop again!", I warned them. They all went in but I'm still not sure is they actually did the business. We set off again. "Are we there yet?", our daughter said, "not even a quarter of the way, read a book or something." I said. I had forgotten that we had Elephant the hamster in the car with us, and about a half an hour after that I kept hearing strange noises. "There's something wrong with the car.", I said to my husband in a panic. He agreed he'd heard the same noises, so we pulled over yet again. We left the engine running and checked under the bonnet, under the car, at the front, at the back but could not find anything wrong. It wasn't until we checked inside that we found Elephant doing somersaults off the top of her cage and running round in circles chasing a tail that didn't exist! "Had you asked me I would have told you it was just the hamster!", our eldest said.

Each time we stopped at a toll gate somebody asked, "are we there yet?", and each time I replied the same, "I'll let you know when we're nearly there, now go to sleep or something!", but they kept on asking. What a relief when we finally arrived at the hotel, at about 7pm. All tired with sore bottoms, and hot, it was very hot. We called mum to let her know where we were, and then went to the bar for a well deserved glass of, well, anything alcoholic, really, and then a good meal. I'm sure we'd all feel better after a good nights sleep.....

Saturday, 7 March 2009

OUR KIDS LIFE IN FRANCE, heading north in time for the summer holidays

We were all up very early on the day of the move. The kids were running riot, impatient to get on the road, but we had to wait for the last van to be packed up, which was a nightmare. A friend of ours had offered to drive our stuff to the Vendee in two vans, with his mate, to earn a quick buck. It was far cheaper than a removal company, so we welcomed the offer and agreed on a price, cash. Problem was that on the evening he came to see what we had to move, he arrived late and a little worse for wears. He'd been round a friends for "apéritifs", honestly I had never seen him like that before! Anyway, I guess he kind of underestimated the amount of space it would take, and in consequence we spent 4 hours trying to put it all in like a jigsaw. It went in and then out again I don't know how many times, turning it this way and that in the hope it would all go in. Our friend was a little embarrassed as he was cock sure it would all fit, and now it had to no matter what as we were leaving in a couple of hours.

The vans finally left about an hour before we did, they said they had decided to go straight up mid country, something I advised them not to do not only because it's longer but also it's very mountainous, and the vans were packed to the hilt! But they didn't want the autoroute toll cost, ultimately their decision.

We said our final goodbyes, handed over the keys and we were off once again. The car was very cramped as we had to put things in that didn't fit in the vans, which meant the kids were closer together, which meant the pushing and shoving started before we had even left the village. Bribing them with sweets they were finally settled, until we got about 10 minutes down the road. One needed the loo and another had lost his water bottle lid on the floor under the seat, GRRR! And that was just the beginning of our journey.........