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November 27, 2011

Thanks


Thanksgiving in France is an unknown, much like Bastille Day might be in the USA, the French have heard of it, but it’s just another Thursday, kids have school, parents work, stores are open and “black Friday” has no meaning.  American expatriates typically celebrate this rare secular holiday on the following weekend, combining it with the French tradition of a Sunday meal, and we like to invite a few frenchmen just for the comic relief as we watch thier tentative turns at the various unknown dishes.
The French do step up, they embrace what is perhaps, some of the best of what America has to offer.  It’s a holiday about the harvest and about food, two things very close to the average frenchman’s life.  Fresh wine and seasonal vegetables, and a more direct connection to America’s historical roots than most of what we spread around the world.
Thanksgiving is one of our best export items, even if it is based on a myth about pilgrims sharing a table with indians who would have killed us off if they had known what we had in store for them!  But we can revise that history and focus on the shared aspects and the fresh food, and community of the event, it may in fact have been the first thing that was as good as sliced bread!
Thanks New Yorker

It is always a challenge to set the Thanksgiving table,  The turkeys are never bigger than 7 pounds, cranberries are frozen and one is lucky to find even that, pecans don’t exist as a native plant, and they compete with the french national nut, the walnut, so those are tough to source as well, but somehow America does Sweet Potatoes really well!  Here there is only one version and it's closer to white than a good Jewell or Hernandez from America!  Seating plans are more important too, there is never a haphazard "sit anywhere".  In France there are relationships, senority, titles, hair-pulling etiquette, and faux pas , or false steps, that are somehow more important in this oldest of worlds.  The forethought usually pays off, if only in hindsight to us naive Americans, as like minds are often seated together and conversations seeded in clever ways.
But we Americans in France are an adaptable, if stubborn group, especially at Thanksgiving, we decorate with autumn leaves, we share recipes, we wave flags, sing, make toasts and even dance on tables!  

It's reassuring that we can somehow make new traditions in new places that rival, or at least serve to remind us of those we miss “stateside”

October 19, 2011

Time Passages



We said a goodbye to Martel this week. After so many goodbyes there, this one was surprisingly poignant as we handed over keys to that life. Point Finale.
We have left behind many homes, moved onto others, re-scripted our lives down the street or over oceans, but there was a profound difference on this shift. 
We bundled up our stuff, taped a few too many boxes, and said goodbye to pieces of wood and plaster more painful to leave behind than some of the friends.  Certainly it was a culmination, it wasn’t really the stone sink in the powder-room, or the tile frieze in the bathroom, nor the massive beams or the stone niches, it was simply the last straw.  Saying goodbye to this home was saying goodbye to those friends, saying goodbye to that town, the town which raised our only child into adolescence. These were the streets he learned to ride a bike on, here is where he learned to throw a snowball and had his first kiss.  This is the town that taught me how to speak french and to cook a bourginon, and this is the life I joined 8 years ago, this is where I fell in love with a second country. This is where Oscar doubled his age and left many marks on many doorjambs. 
Patricia and I supported each other as we kissed that home over to the next family, and turned our back like we’d just buried a good friend.  This “serial dwelling” has a price, and it just demanded payment.
It would be sad if we weren’t doing this adventure as a team, and if the next spin wasn’t already proving to be such a rich one. Pass go, collect your deposit, splash some water on your face.
I felt the beat of my mind go
Drifting into time passages
A long way down

So we did our nomadic thing and rented a truck....I like to think that I remember each move, but never well enough to avoid the next one.  This move to Bordeaux was an interesting one by nature of the altitude; 4th floor without an elevator  We rented a “monte charge”  (lift load) which for a pile of euros, does the heavy lifting. Its really just a large ladder with a mechanized sled that carried all of our Frenchly possessions UP and the accumulated piles of renovation debris DOWN. This took an impossible task and made it simply difficult. It was a solid days work for us with our team of local friends. 3 tons of debris came down and then to the dump. 15 cubic yards!  But now I have a clear project site and I can restart with something of a clean canvas.
The years run too short and the days too fast
Theres the team, plus Patricia with the camera
It is hard to imagine that we are in our ninth year here in France, after tricking ourselves into a 5 year adventure, it just keeps getting better. The years have flown by like the cartoon calendar in the wind. There have been slow and lonely minutes, but the challenges of doing life in a new place has always kept it interesting. When the pictures on our computer start to scroll through its randomized library, it seems like the fast years become a wonderfully pixilated slow motion parade of incredible days with incredible friends, I’m sure those will continue.
Hear the echoes and feel...
The new project is advancing now, there are days where I spin in circles wondering what to do next; wire a few outlets, plaster a wall, repair a window, sweep-up...repeat.  The catharsis of getting rid of the 100 boxes of debris on the wall was great, but now I need to wrap up the small tasks and get back on the critical path.  I will bought some antique doors today and I can soon order the plaster blocks to start building the remaining walls around them. Then the new ceilings can be built and the radiant heat installed, then the Venetian plaster, the stone refinishing, the floors, the bath and kitchen.....  It’s just a puzzle of distraction.
It's just a game that you play

Old Bordelaise doors
I had a great experience today buying those doors above, I stumbled upon this small salvage yard, neat piles of stone and arched windows and spiral iron stairs that would have pleased Gustav himself!  Greeted by Erik, a ferronier (blacksmith), then introduced to the purveyor of the salvage bits, Eric, and his son who I think was Daniel, but they could have been talking about me. They each had their own shipping container in different corners of the yard, each with a different personality. Anyhow, Eric had these doors and they will work splendidly once refinished and reglazed. When I came back later to pick them up and strap them onto the roof of our red Mazda, they were all eating lunch among the trees in the back of the lot and I was given a glass of wine and a piece of pipe to sit on while they wrapped up this daily ritual (cheese, baguette, pouches of tobacco, red wine and coffee), and I was part of it and somehow I felt IN my element. There was also a Natalie there who was someone’s fiancee, but I’m unclear if that person was present. She was a glass cutter/artist who is going to teach me how to cut circles for those windows. We shared our stories, complaints about french politics and support for Occupy Wall Street, which has given the french a shadow of encouragement for there allies across the pond.  It just seemed so random and easy!  All in service to this latest renovation.

It will become a great apartment and I think we will really enjoy living there. We have gotten used to such grandeur in Martel and here in our year of living tangentially (renting), the change will be nice, and I’m building closets everywhere, and trying to think through the details and not miss opportunities for something better.  It takes a conscious effort to step back and rethink an idea, but when I do, or someone else does for me, it invariably gets better.
Well the picture is changing
This is the view of our new neighborhood
Our hope is that this new life in this new town will be an attraction to all, friends and buyers alike.  That if we want to rent, sell or attract visitors, we will find it an easy effort. The real estate in France is as depressed as it is in the US, but there are always exceptions and pockets of outlyers. Bordeaux is one of those, in a moment of huge growth, while most of Europe is digging in.  Its almost time to start looking for the next project
and the music's loud
I wore this vinyl out in 1978
Thanks Al

Newness



Bordeaux is no longer NEW, we have been here for one year, but NEWNESS abounds!
Oscar has started his 9th year in what you call the 9th grade (here its troisieme) and here its the last year of middle school and it’s not new.  He is in the senior class of this middle school, 3 classes below him and high school ahead, but its not new.  When we moved to France he was the new kid in kindergarten, three years later he jumped a class and became the new kid in 6th grade, then once more into the fire, we moved him into a new school last year, so he gets this one year away from newness, this one year of familiarity, this one year of belonging. 
A friends wedding in Bordeaux...that's Pat on the left
But intimacy with ones life is not imperative, change is good, and unfamiliarity breeds strength, at least that has been our recipe for these past 9 years, a near decade of change. Perhaps the years of change in Oscar’s life, our lives, is the winter wood and the years of stability, where we find it, is the summer wood. Growing tall through the seasons.
This feels like our year of becoming Bordelais, we have walked most of the streets and can usually find our ways home. We are in transition still, between one Bordeaux home and another, but its all in our own back yard, so it seems like a year of stability.  We are in contract on our last Martel home. Last week we were there moving that life into a box and preparing its transport to this new life, it felt like closure. That home was great, and for the first time in 9 years we felt the sting of closure. 
Its kind of like the transition from that Martel life to this Bordeaux life has taken a year, and its just sinking in, so this newness has been a gradual one, come into focus only here at the end.
Susan and 19 of her loved ones
We changed our franco-american life this year and ventured home for the summer. Bordeaux is an easier city to leave in the summer, as that’s what half of the population seems to do. In Martel, everyone arrived for the summers, and it was a hard season to miss. We spent the month of August travelling, 3 weeks in the Bay Area taking care of our home there, trying to convince the tenants that we care about them. One week in Columbia eating brisket and reconnecting with the close and extensive family there and another week beach hopping in Costa Rica to celebrate my mom’s birthday. 
Oscar wanted ths Miami Beach T-bird for his own....good taste!
Our return has brought us back to the newness of france with new eyes and new perspective. Again like the winter wood, the chance to step away and return brings much of the contrast between our franco-american lives into sharper focus.  The faces are different, the energy is different, but this may have as much to do with the patterns we have and return to in America, where we are sons and daughters and pieces of an entirely different puzzle. We are pieces in a large web, surrounded by friends and family which create an order. While in France, there is an order, perhaps greater of a different shade, but the daily order of our lives is one defined by ourselves, it is more what we make it and less where we fit into a more complicated society??  Our friendships in France are all new and shallow of root, exciting, as new friendships are, but compared to the handfull of friends we have had for 20 or 30 years....

July 12, 2011

#1 Progress?

Whenever we start a project like this...there are the doubters...there are the enthusiasts....and there are the folks who just run and hide.  Depending on the hour, and the prevailing winds I can be any and all of those!

This is the view down the cross street from #1.
The Gros Cloche is just around the bend
 The work at this point is lonely and dirty, mostly removing what we don't want and cleaning the slate for what we will create.  Like most old homes, this one had a warren of small rooms which we will open up and create a more open living space.
This will be the main room. I am standing in the food prep area
on a mocked up counter.
 As we develop the plans for this project we have realized that we are creating a home with a grand kitchen, no living room, no dining room, but rather a grand cuisene that will include a couch and a dining room table. Just semantics? or a profound shift in the way we live?
This is the view from the "prep area". There are two windows on each side of this grand room, and on a hot day there is a nice breeze from East to West.
 The home is on an interesting street, there seems to always be something to watch, and I have already lost hours to sitting in the window watching the theater below.
This is the master bedroom window, and it has the best view, long and down the cross street.
 So far my days have been typically varied, rough electrical, some plumbing, lots of demolition; sometimes clean and sometimes in a cloud of centuries old dust.  The begining of a project like this one often has me sitting on a box of torn out something....overwhelmed, and wondering what to do next.  I often make lists so that as one task wraps up I have something to move onto without losing my hardfought inertia.  Its tough when everything needs to be done, and the scheduling seems to prevent anything from happening.  Soon we will move onto larger tasks as I get some new walls built.
Another coffee break?!
 The building has 7 apartments and we are the top floor for most of ours.  This has opened the possibility to, first climb onto the roof!, and second, to use the as yet unused attic space.  The views from the roof are great, all of the ancient rooftops bouncing along under the church spires.
Bordeaux's main catherdral, Pey Berland, in the distance.
I wondered here if Pat knew what was on the other side of the chimney?

Here is where we cut out the ceiling which will become a mezzanine in Oscar's room, with access to attic storage and perhaps somehow a roof terrace, but that's unlikely.

 This home is not nearly as old as Martel was. Bordeaux was a roman city way back when, and the foundations of this building start tospeak to that history, but this building in its current state dates from the 18th century.  Over the centuries, in Martel, there were all sorts of modifications, arches, windows, fireplaces...  Here in #1 there are few items of character like that, so we will try to hilight the ones we have.

This is the old fireplace flue.  I am trying to  devine a manner to reuse it for a kitchen barbecue.

A  pillar in the grand room (kitchen) 
 The Bordeaux Stone is a lovely warm amber colored limestone, very strong in compression, but like butter in its density.  In fact there is an entire new set of tools for finishing the stones, it is a stone you can almost sand smooth and you can drive a nail into it to hang a picture.  Just when I was starting to understand the stones in Martel!
boxes of demolition
So far the biggest obstacle is the removal of material. I have about 8 cubic meters of plaster and brick that I need to get rid of..... I'm still working on a solution that does not include carrying boxes down 63 winding stairs to the street.  And I'm hoping that I can get the new materials delivered through the window on a crane. 
Master bedroom headboard
I can call this image The End.  At the very farthest point in this home is the master bedroom, and the long  trapezoid of a plan ends in this narrow 10 foot windowless stone wall  it will make a splendid headboard and a fitting END.

June 16, 2011

Notes On A Napkin




I feel like the big decisions in our lives are made for us....and its the small stuff we sweat!


We feel that we lucked into our life in Martel, and have again here in Bordeaux. 


Schools, 
Neighborhoods,
Restaurants and Bars.


Private terraces with noisy neighbors,
Cultural mixes,
Safety in numbers.


We keep working the numbers
Notes on a napkin
validating
rationalizing
just excuses,  our game continues!


The big items in our enterprise are the varagies of the currency markets and the pastimes of the politicians, and while these affect our projects bottom lines, they recieve far less attention than the locations of the closets or the finishes on the countertops. The truly important stuff is out of our control, but the fun stuff we still get to do. We made more money on the exchange rate flux than we ever did on the improvements of the first house. We lost more money to the taxes on the third house, than the profits warranted, and the second house was a good idea until the American speculators took down the economy (it will sell eventually!).



Even still... we have entered the shell game of real estate again! Today we closed on an apartment here in Bordeaux, and we are getting excited.
It’s a nice place and a good project and in a few many months it will even be a nice home.  The only regret will be moving from the ease of our apartment and the greatness of this current neighborhood. We have certainly enjoyed this year of tenancy, someone else to fix the roof leaks and someone else to pay the cable bill, but it was temporary, if one year can be called temporary. And honestly we are moving only a 10 minute walk to the other side of the centreville.

This is where we have lived this year
Our new apartment is about 850 square feet and nothing at all square. The place starts out at 25 feet and runs along past the living room/kitchen, two bedrooms and into the bathroom ending up at about ten feet, forming a trapezoid we have named Number One for its address: #1 rue des Boucheries (road of the butchers).
First look at #1
(click on it to see it bigger)

There are five large windows on the East, pulling in the morning sun and two on the West into a courtyard giving us a cross breeze. We need to renovate everything, as is our style: plumbing, electric, heat, and all the finishes. We will insulate, replace windows, expose stone walls, try to uncover some of the 18th century, and hope to have this principally done by November.
The view from #1

The first question we asked was why?  Why this one?  We looked at a hundred, visited perhaps a dozen, and somehow this one, with no sewer connection, rose to the top.  (The sewer has since been installed, if not yet connected).
The Recipe:
Location, price, location, character, location, scope….. which isn’t really fair, because we were only looking in the heart of the center of Bordeaux, so if we remove the constraint of location,…  we are left with price, character and scope.  This project had the criteria of being something we could afford while we wait for our house in Martel to sell, something that had the “Bordelaise character” that we are here for, and something which needed neither too little nor too much work to fit into this one man renovation show we put on every few years. Not to discount the group aspect of our projects. Patricia and Oscar become les vrai ouvriers, strapping on whatever tool belts the job needs. Oscar is starting to see joy in the results and Patricia is always there to take on the few tasks I refuse.

The view of #1
Our apartment is the 3rd level in this photo
Price, Character, Scope
Number One has the trifecta.  It was kind of a goldilocks moment where the three criteria came together and despite the  63 limestone steps to our front door, we’ve found a winner!

The roof had been redone and the stone fa├žade had been ravaled (renovated) to the tune of 65000 euros, and all someone else’s money (the previous owner and the condo association). There are seven units in the building, and our ownership will be about 11% of the whole.  We will expose some giant beans and some giant stones, we’ll make one room as big as we can and two normal bedrooms and a big Salle de Bain. 

First why Bordeaux:  I am going to skip the booster club explanation of why we moved to Bordeaux, it is a great city!  Here I am going to try to address the bussiness decision to move to Bordeaux, not that it was, but there is a directive we must keep in mind, if we want to keep this three ring cirque in the air, there needs to be a business plan that looses less money than the other options. This bussiness plan is what we call the Notes on a Napkin, usually a cocktail napkin, tinted with red wine, but its where we make are finest fortunate mistakes.  


So why Bordeaux?  While most of Europe seems to be in the grips of the same crisis that has the US by the tail, there are centers of commerce and esprit that are seemingly immune to this. Paris real estate prices flattened out for a year, but are once again inching into the stratosphere, and Bordeaux is just 2.5 hours away from Paris. Bordeaux is almost like a single Parisien arrondisement, beautiful, full of style and it feels contained. Bordeaux is emerging from a long slumber; the city is waking up to realize its own beauty and cultural wealth. As it stretches its arms everyone wants to claim it as home.  Being from here is a badge of honor, those that stood by their city when it was dark and dirty are now standing proud and returning to the centerville in droves. While the city is growing fast, with housing developments in town and blanketing the perimeter, there is definite cache to living in the center, "Bordeaux meme". The center is small, and can’t grow, so there is a supply and demand quotient strongly in favor of an appartment “in town”, making this a good moment to be buying into that market.
The crossroads of our world

Why only the center of Old Bordeaux:
            I have noticed a trend in the real estate offices to accentuate their in town lisitngs. There are several agencies which have taken the names J’abite en ville (I live in town), Maison de ville (Town house), Loft (loft), Urban Immo (real estate)....  There is a real pride to living IN town, and there's no room for creating new units. They are building huge quantities of housing in several directions radiating out from Bordeaux, and the sales pitch is always about how its "only 20 minutes from the centre". Everyone wants to be in the center, there just isn't the stock, so we feel the market here is way more than stable.
            Much of the Centerville is closed to traffic. The Mayor, Alain Juppe, has a vision of a modern substantially car-free city. It is visionary and proving a success. He has made it difficult to own a car in the center of town, expensive to park, and slow to enter and exit. The result is a town that is easy to live in, if you are resigned to a bike or your feet! In addition, Bordeaux was given Unesco protection making changes to the exterior of any building very controlled, and guarantees a protected urban environment into the future.
Map of the center of Bordeaux showing #1
Runner-ups
As we looked at real estate around the center, the appeal of an industrial space was clear. We tried to find a garage to renovate, something large and empty, but these sold in the first wave of speculation and what is on the market now is too far out of town, too expensive, and always a bit scary about what might be left IN the ground by the previous industrial tenant.
Nice space, too far out of the city
Bad space, no light, low ceiling

The appeal of a yard or terrasse. The first question: “is there a garden?  even better a terrasse?" Life in Bordeaux is URBAN, there are wonderful parks, but private outdoor space is a premium and worth alot. We were priced out of this market.

On the Auction Block,  lacking charm; just like everything else on this street
Nice garden, too expensive
Picking a micro neighborhood. There are sections of Bordeaux that are too pioneer still, better bets for the long term, with higher potential, but when shopping for a home as well as an investment, one must pick a neighborhood that one wants to live in NOW.  We love the area we have been living in, and the next concentric circle is too dense and expensive and then the next is just right, more residential, while still having the balance of restaurants and stores and street life. Our Goldilocks moment.
Fancy, lifeless neighborhood, $$$$

Light and access; everyone wants a view of the river, and windows on two sides, and southern exposure. Most of the terrasses and yards in the center of town have no privacy as all the neighbors share the same access to light.
This one pushed the limits of "fixer upper"

Classic Bordeaux vs urban funkiness, it would be nice to have found a noble second floor appartment, with 16 foot ceilings and deep crown moulding, but those neighborhoods are not so interesting, no street life, too far to shopping and no restaurants outside the window.
One huge space, great windows, but just on one side,  busy street


At #1 we can walk in a few minutes to our favorite farmers market, the antique store section of town, 2 hardware stores, the rivers edge, playgrounds, trams, good schools, great boulangeries, hip bars and wonderful restaurants!  It will be a rewarding next home.....

Oh and theres a guest room with a fireplace!




March 30, 2011

Small things


In-flight back to France
...
11 hours is the transition between my two worlds.
Two cultures that for the most part overlap, complementing each other in us, changing the people we are, making me wonder where it will all end up??

Oscar and I fly between two homes.
...
While in California, Seth and Stephanie had a dinner party, a normal and remarkable collection of friends which made me comfortable with their lives and perhaps a bit uncomfortable with mine, but that's a different story.

The story I want to tell started with this dinner party and an"only in Berkeley" discussion on local eating, just dinner conversation, but well informed: omnivorous dilemmas, and farmers markets. The conversation moved through Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, Michele Obama and Walmart, from  organics and French traditions to eating locally. All of the above was seated at the table, well at least people who could speak to all of the above. There were very few degrees of separation seated here. The table was as culturally diverse as the Moroccan fare Seth had prepared, and the California wines were some of the best I've ever had. It was a window into the lives of others, and I felt a part of the family that I was. It was a wonderful night....

At the end of the meal, the conversation ebbed from the boutique California vineyards into French foie gras. There was as much curiosity as there was controversy over the non-PC creation of the incredible comestible, and I think we misread the crowd. Stephanie quickly opened a jar of foie and toasted the baguette and then, as if a foul smell had entered the room, everyone decided to leave (!?).
This was a moment of foodies colliding with a politically correct California zeitgeist, and a surprising turn of events. It just happened so fast, and we poor conscience-less who remained had to do to ourselves what had been done to the goose...lucky for me we were few because the jar was none too large!
But the point is not the clash, but the sweet spot; the flow of words between minds that don't exactly overlap but that come from a pretty small pond of cultural diversity. I only notice this because it's a rare part of my current life. While I can have conversations in French, and I have tumbled upon likemindedness, it still seems a rare synchronous moment that falls my way. I feel like I miss that and need that and must find that.
...
The Vines of St EmilionThese days of blogging meld together. When I started typing I was on a plane between continents, feeling the time zones flow through me, and the smooth textures of foie gras and thick wines not far from my lips. Now weeks later, I am rolling through the back yards of France between Bordeaux and Martel. I'm on my way back to work for one of the few paying jobs I have, and to polish up the little house to get it ready for the market. The view from here (a train window) has always been one of my favorites. I recall two cross country train trips in the US, one East to West and another North to South, and the unique opportunity to see into peoples lives. The trains tend to pass between two "wrong sides" with the least fortunate homes backing up to the tracks, but as I type I am passing through Bordeaux grape vines just starting to bud out! St. Emilion vines to be precise!! Much more controlled but no less interesting than the kudzu of the South and the Rockies of the West of the United States.   But again to return to the point, rolling along looking into peoples lives I see activity, some neglected, some mere intentions, like a grown over stack of lumber, or a lawn mower lost in tall grass, but activity. I shouldn't complain as I roll towards tasks and lament the family that continues without me for another week in Bordeaux, but I do... complain.  This is all "making hay where the sun shines".
...
 idle tower building in San Francisco
Looking upon other peoples activity and stewing over my own idleness has been interesting. I feel like I am looking into a void which I have not been able to understand until now. I'm not there, but I can see it from here, I think it comes from a lack of activity. I am wired for a high level of greatly insignificant work. I need to be busy making things, not great things, but things that coalesce into great things...melting chocolate, plastering a wall, sanding wood....these are the things I need, and without this there is an empty space. So let's get busy!

We have found a new project. We are trying to buy it and if everything comes together as it should, we will own 900sf of a 300 year old stone apartment in the center of Bordeaux by June.
We have been looking for the past six months and then this property caught my eye. We are calling it St. Paul for the neighborhood it's in. It needs a kitchen and a bathroom and entirely new plumbing and electrical, but it's relatively small and having cut our teeth on rougher pastures, this one should fit in nicely. It's on the fourth floor in a fun part of town, more lively than the luxury we have grown used to in our current apartment, but when it's finished it should be great. Small things, great sums. We will make some of the walls natural stone, and the tall ceilings will get radiant heat, we'll fit in a luxury bathroom and a new idea of a kitchen. It will be small by American standards, but ample for the French, and perhaps a cinderella's slipper for us.
We are the 5 windows on the third level, there is one more level at the street with a wedding gown store in it.
...
I'm determined to make this kitchen different, to recognize it's importance in our modern culture and let it drive the design of this refurbished apartment. So far it's just an idea, and certainly we have all lived in our kitchens for years, and opened them into our dining rooms and even our living rooms. In this house  the area shared by the kitchen and the living room and the dining room will be 300sf, so some poetry is going to need to happen.
...
The apartment will be closer to Oscar's school and much closer to the farmers market we like, but understand, Bordeaux is a small city. The walk from our current apartment on one side of the centre ville, to the new one on the other side of the centre ville is only ten minutes! Everything is close. Oscar thinks he is looking forward to the project as much as I am, but the truth is, I NEED this. We tried to make the investment decision on empirical data, but in the end, the largest words on the cocktail napkin looked something like "Dan needs this".
Now as the idea settles in and we start our pattern of getting excited, this all feels wonderfully familiar, the anticipation is like adrenaline for my soul, the kinks in my back working themselves out in preparation for the challenges of fourth floor work. It's my antidote, not inexpensive, but effective and better than the options.
I would include more photos, but when I first showed Patricia the photos, she said "no way", only to fall encouragingly towards the project (our new next home) when she first visited it. So I will share images and stories once I have more favorable views. But the important answer here, is YES, it does have a guest room!
...






The Bordeaux FairAt the Bordeaux fair, they zip your kid into a plastic ball and then he gets hyped running around dry in a small pool! and there is how much oxygen in there?Meanwhile, as that rolling stone sheds it's moss, we are starting to appreciate where we are. Bordeaux is waking up to the spring in the air. Oscar is in spring training with his baseball team, Le Pessac Panthers, the festivals are starting and the weekends are getting busy.  I am waking up.
This is how Bordeaux makes me feel!

February 16, 2011

Great Expectations


Every day starts and ends with expectations, some great, and some small, some met, some postponed, others lost forever, swept under the rug to be vacuumed up another day.

I am in California tending to our house. I start these days with lists, itemizing my hours and achievements before they arrive, quite content to defer them over to the back of the sheet and someones tomorrow. It's encouraging to cross off tasks, feeling usefull and busy, but things change, things "come-up" and expectations change. The lists are half for scheduling purposes and a larger half for remembrance sake, there are so many details to keep track of and I'm firing on only the lesser half of my cylinders (the better half having remained in France).  I have scraps of paper sticking out of every pocket, by the end of the day, what with saved reciepts and pulped memories, I resemble a scarecrow with half a brain.  But there are expectations to fulfill and this show must go on!  My progress has been steady, and the end is in sight, but there remain a few tasks to manage before I can contemplate my return to where my heart is on this Valentines week.

Back there in quieter days, there were expectations in other forms, daily sorts of things which measure a day.... will my back be stiff when  I roll out of bed? will lunch be as good as yesterday? will there be any letters to read in my inbox? will sleep be as sweet as the night before?  Small things which add up to a day, the silver lining of a day, the beat.  Our new life there has brought a new package of challenges and rewards, most of which we are still defining, so its still difficult to even know what our expectations are, only that the city itself has exceeded them, the rest is up to us.

This homecoming to America has been sweet, thousands of miles disappear in an embrace, time zones fall by the way-side and friendships nurtured over decades shine brightly through the fog of distance. Here the expectations run at a cross current, where you expect change, there isn't any, friendships are somehow locked in the moment you put them on the shelf. Distance perhaps makes the heart grow fonder, but it does not really change anything. I feel as the friends I share tonight are simply distilled versions of the friends I shared eight years ago, same, stronger, reinforced perhaps by the extra rings around our middles. Aging is a wonderful thing in this way, we may have had expectations in our youth, but the trajectory was set, and we grow in that direction, better and better, every year.  This has been a silver lining of a surprise; I never expected my friendships to grow in my absence, but like the weeds underfoot, they have exceeded their pots, sought the soil...everything grows!

There are lessons to learn, parenting and partnering, stuff you might find in a book or hear from a friend, but lessons that need to be earned just the same.  

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus and adolescents are from a nearby solar system that worship an entirely different star.  Oscar turned 13 this week, incredible from where I sit, which is too far away this evening, some 9 time zones removed. The expectations of a parent are perhaps the greatest of them all, until it becomes the expectations of a child. You want him to be so much more and then just enough, and then at least, and half the time he exceeds your fears and hopes and shames you with your petty concerns.  We have been trying to understand the French grading system. A scale of 20 and an average of 14 and coefficients of difficulty and no curve!  Oscar has moved into a much more rigorous grade at a much more rigorous school, his grades are challenging him for the first time in is life, as school starts to become more interesting and intellectual. He's reading difficult matter, and writing and needing to analyze; using his brain for more than recording, for synthisizing!  Our american expectations revolve around the letters ABC&D, and while an american average is a C, a french average is a 14... not a 10!?... so we are learning the system, Oscar's learning it the hard way as he gets good grades.  I think his expectations of school changed this year, from something he could do as one part of a multi-task, to something which is multi-tasking all on its own.

Our 8th Christmas re-wrote the recipe. We stayed in Europe this year, missing our annual trip to the US (although I am here/there now).  The expectations that come with such an annualized event are like dye in the blood stream, you really notice the difference from christmas past and it makes you start to think of Christmas future. It makes you reflect in a George Baily sort of way, seeing the value in a moment, and one takes stock in their place in all this. We expect certain things, like carrots for the reindeer and an orange in our stocking, but we need to grow here and there and let the current take us and rewrite parts of the story as we go. In the end we were together as a family and that was enough.

We expect things of each other, the support and the criticism to keep us in the game; expectations that your partner is there to back you up and take over when you have a headache or just don't get it.... expectations that your kid will in fact wander in before dark, or at least call. The trust that you are all moving in the same direction.  But perhaps it's the unexpected gestures that define the limits, or the lack thereof. The impact of the unexpected, a coffee, an assumed responsibility, cleaning the bathroom (how terrible is that?!), a note, an extra smile.

Reading between the lines....I miss my family

We have done these times apart before, they always work out, but they always seem too long.  The wonderful part is the love of friends and family that I slide back into so obviously! Now that the houses are all fixed and the paint all refreshed, I can start thinking about what I'm missing, in all my homes, about what my expectations are how I can so wonderfully exceed them!