Make Yourselves a Brew - Lots of Change, But The Show Will Go On!...
A very long awaited HELLO to all my blog readers!!
So sorry it has been so long, I assure you, I have a perfectly reasonable excuse (well, a number of excuses really!), which I will be explaining in a moment. Make sure you have a brew ready and read to the end on this one as lots to reveal and big changes made!!
Firstly, I would like to share with you the most recent development to the barn ("Tiny Tim's") renovations - the wood burner!! And here it is in all its glory!:
So, casting your minds back, you may remember, we had decided that we were going to brave it and spend the colder months in the barn this year so we could have somewhere to stay whilst we let the gite out long term. Although not everyone's cup of tea and not the most desirable of conditions to live in with external doors still needing to be replaced and constantly having to move our furniture and belongings around whilst further renovations were being made, it is not like we haven't done it before and it is no longer something we are phased by, as it is only temporary and it is surprising how quickly things can be turned around. Although it can be hard going and tiring at times, we had all our home comforts really - just in a much larger and slightly harder place to maintain and keep clean! The adventure and excitement is usually enough to keep us going!
To refresh your memories - the plan was to continue with the installation of the barn chimney and wood burners, which we sourced second hand from my faithful source of private second hand French furniture (well, French anything really!), https://www.leboncoin.fr/ Wow! That is a powerful source of information I have just given out! Something I kind of feel quite protective over and had thought I would keep close to my chest, as it has been so useful over the years, but if it helped me, it will help others, which is kind of part of the reason I write this blog, so there you go! As long as you know the French terminology, you can search your local area and hopefully find the goodies you are looking for privately, second hand and at very reasonable prices. Just make sure you stay on your own turf! ;o)
The idea was to be moving in before Christmas, but, as with most things for us time wise lately, the time frame didn't go quite to plan! Unfortunately, other bits and bobs around the place arose which needed attention and delayed the chimney works, as well as private design work which Scott was undertaking for a client. Unfortunately, my chimney building skills aren't quite as up to scratch, so I have had to wait and leave this one for Scott. At the end of the day, private work and earning money will always come first before spending time and money on renovations, as that is how it is all funded!
In the meantime, whilst waiting for the chimney to be completed, I had been focusing on the advertising of long term lets for the gite, which was starting to gain some interest already! Very exciting stuff! However, we had 2 trips booked to the UK over the next 2 months - one in November for 2 weeks, in which time we would get our vehicles MOT'd as not yet French registered and also to celebrate our nephew's 2nd birthday during the school holidays. We alternate our Christmases between France and UK each year and this year, it was England's turn to have us, so we also had two weeks booked for Christmas with the family.
November quickly came round and before we knew it, we were suddenly having to pack and get ready for our imminent trip to the UK. As it had proved difficult sourcing the correct materials for the barn chimney - ensuring that it was carried out to the best fire and safety standards possible and within budget (we ended up sourcing the majority from our very trusted builders merchants, Brico Depot and Leroy Merlin), joined with the horrendous rainy weather we had been experiencing and the entire family being struck down with the dreaded flu, the UK trip came up before the work was finished, meaning that Scott had to temporarily cover up the big hole in the roof, making it waterproof while it waited for us to come back and get it finished after our UK trip.
Our luck was made even better by a huge wide-load lorry taking Scott's wing mirror out on his van (the off-side mirror, which he would desperately need for our 4 hour journey to Caen ferry!) 2 days before we were due to leave and the ring gear on my car going a week previous! Luckily, we knew a very kind gentleman who we had befriended and lived in the local area who was skilled in the vehicle maintenance area and was able to fit the parts for us at an affordable price and just in time (with us receiving the replacement wing mirror the day before departure and him replacing it instantly!!), so we managed to get both vehicles to their MOT appointments in UK! PHEEWWWW!!!!
So, as you know, for quite some time now, I especially have been having a kind of head VS heart dilemma going on where family in UK is concerned and heart strings are being pulled. I don't think I would feel so badly if I didn't have such an extraordinarily close family where young children and strong bonds are concerned. There are also many other factors which I have mentioned in previous posts which myself and Scott have talked round and round involving France V England as a place to live and bring up children. It has literally been a year that we have been upping and downing on the subject. Although rural France provides great quality of life, a second language, a different culture, hotter climate, beautiful scenery and masses of space, we have not been sure that it offers quite enough social diversity throughout the year for a young family and feel (for us) that there is more flexibility, diversity and career opportunity in UK.
We also feel that although the French educational system has a fantastic reputation, the teaching methods can be rather regimented. We have been lucky so far with Summer and have been happy with her school, teachers and progress, but know that it will become harder and stricter for her as she moves up to the next year and into the next class where the curriculum, standard and expectations become so much more, and unfortunately, in this school's case, she would be taught by the extremely strict head mistress ("Directrice"), who can often be found in the playground face to face with some poor defenseless cowering child who has not really done a lot wrong, whilst she turns bright red in the face and shouts at the top of her voice! Not really a teaching or discipline method which we feel appropriate or necessary in most cases! Aside from these points, we feel that the school hours (structured to include a 15 minute recreational break both in the morning and afternoon and the all important 1.5 hour lunch break) are too much, especially from secondary age, when they are expected to pretty much work adult office hours, sometimes even more than would be expected within a UK office with 8am - 5pm being quite average (although it is likely you would have the afternoon off on a Wednesday to compensate).
We knew that the November trip to UK would quite possibly firm up a decision in our heads.
Although we find it very hard to fit in seeing all the family in a short space of time (with us having 4 sets of parents and a grandmother between us - great-grandmother to Summer - along with all the extended family that follows), it is always so nice to see them and great for Summer, as she has not been able to spend a great deal of quality time with them, unless they have been able to visit us in France out of the summer period when the gite is not let, as we cannot expect them to stay with us in the barn - not quite for everyone!
It becomes more and more emotional for us each time we have to leave the family after a visit and head back to France. Although it is "only across the pond", it is still a long, overnight journey, which is not cheap and must be organised and booked well in advance, so it is not as easy as just "hopping over the pond". It is also always a mad rush with packing unpacking and settling at every stop, before having to do the same a week or so later in order to come back home.
We adore our home in France, the surroundings, the working lifestyle and the friends we have made. It is our own little sanctuary and a little piece of "us". We have worked so hard as a family and the whole place has really come to life, it is like it lives and breathes now - something very satisfying and which fills us with love and proudness when we look at it. But family is hugely important to us and we feel far outweighs anything else in life. At the end of the day, people are not around forever and the time you get with them is precious, whereas buildings (with regular maintenance upkeep in our case) will be around forever and will wait for you to come back. There are also the other things in UK which we miss and I have mentioned previously. Our last visit confirmed to us that socially, for a young family, England is so much more diverse, with more available at all times throughout the year and not restricted hugely by time limits/set hours, as they can be in rural France. We also feel that if Summer is to stay in France, not only will she be removed from her extended family for the majority of the time, but, in the rural area we are in, educational and career opportunities would be more limited and it is a worry to us that although she would have a great quality of life, with space and freedom, she would be in a bit of a social bubble and would probably get very bored by the time she hits her teens. I myself have a few friends my age who were raised in France and made the decision to move to the UK once they were at university/working age for these same reasons, also with lack of motivation in their French lifestyle being a big contributor to some.
So, the pondering continues... but, for how long do you continue weighing things up and wondering what if??
As mentioned before, we are also wanting to add another addition to the family and have been putting it off whilst the barn renovations are being carried out. But they are not going to be finished for a good few years, no matter what our final decision is, so do we wait until Summer is almost at secondary school before we can be ready?? And that is another thing, Summer is becoming more and more close to her little group of friends at school. If we do decide to turn the tables and spend more time being based in UK, the longer we leave it, the stronger her friendships will become and the harder it will be on her. She is 5 years old now, the age when you start school in UK, so the sooner the better for her if we are going to give her the least disruption in school and social life possible.
Then, our minds are made up. We will go ahead and let nature/time take its cause and see where it takes us. No more putting things off and waiting for "the right time" as we may end up waiting too long.
So, back in October, a couple of weeks after Summer's 5th birthday was when I found out things had happened a little quicker than expected and here is what was inside Summer's Christmas card this year!:
And here is me now!!:
30 Weeks 34 Weeks
And we are now back in Hampshire, Ye Ol' Blighty!
Yup! We finally made our minds up! We decided that we wanted a little more variety and closeness to our family, for us, Summer and especially with the next little one on the way!
On stumbling across the perfect little cottage to rent in our ideal village which offers a mix of rural and community life, is near the town where we used to live and more importantly, our friends and family, also offering an amazing primary school for Summer, classed as "Outstanding" on the Ofsted report, we couldn't resist but to take a viewing whilst we were on our Christmas UK visit, and it just felt right.
We are not sure if we could have done it without being able to keep hold of the place in France and let it out long term, ensuring that we could continue making regular visits, continue with the barn progress and stay in touch with our friends there.
Luckily, with a lot of hard work, preparations and emotional stress, we have had the opportunity to do that!
Unfortunately, the move didn't go as smoothly as we had hoped and being the time of year it was and having the sudden heavy downpours, it was discovered that the gite roof needed some work due to some leaks which became apparent and Scott having to turn his attention to that, making sure the place was watertight before we were to leave! (An annual task with most French cottage roofs of this age!).
With the fact that we had a date for our tenants to move in and had had to take the date of 12th February as our UK move date, being that we did not want to loose the cottage and the Landlord had allowed us the most time he could by offering us this date, AND with the fact that this fell nicely into the school half term, giving Summer the opportunity to say "à bientôt" to her school friends and settle into our new home in England before starting her new school there, once again, we were very much against the time and under extreme pressure!
Scott having to deal with the roof and chimney works left me having to basically sort through, organise and pack the entire cottage and barn up with all belongings we were wanting to take to France and deep cleaning the entire gite by myself ready for the new tenants at 22 weeks pregnant! Not the best of times I have to say! But, we did it!
Scott packed his van to the absolute brim, literally rolling up towels by the end of it all and squishing them into available holes to ensure we had utilised the space as effectively as possible! It really was like a game of tetris! If there was a guiness book of records award for the largest amount of things you can fit into a long wheel based high top transit van, we most certainly would have been the record holders!! A few things were able to come with me in my car, but Mojo, our cat, had most of my boot space with his extra large cat cage which means he can travel comfortably and walk around whilst en route!
With so much to organise and a long list of things to be ticked off before we went, in our usual frantic style, we did it, just in the nick of time!
We had so badly wanted to catch up with our friends, Hélène, Xavier and their beautiful boys, Célestin, Leon and Lucien (who for a while had been Summer's little love interest!) before we went and unfortunately had had to cancel an evening with them a couple of days previous as Hélène had not been well. We had told them we planned to stop in and see them en route to the ferry, but to be there in time, we needed to leave at 4pm at the very latest, and it was now 3.45pm! Although it would literally be a flying visit, it was a visit we were not prepared to miss before we left. It would also be the most emotional flying visit I will probably ever have to make with tears and tissues galore! We will of course keep in touch with our friends, but will not be able to see them as regularly as we would want to now and the friendships we had built here were one of a kind - very strong and the type that you only find once in a lifetime. We had been truly touched by their help, genuinity, kindness and support and had shared so many beautiful moments with them, enjoying music, food, wine and laughter! Very special memories. Memories we will not forget and memories we will be making more of when we next see them. Unfortunately, Xavier was not there as he was at work, but this was not "au revoir", just "à bientôt", something which we all agreed was certain, and this makes us feel a lot better, so we are looking forward to seeing them again as soon as we can (hopefully in the summer, but with the baby being due 20th June, we will have to see!).
We have been very fortunate to have been able to keep in contact with all our friends in the area, Summer's school friends also, with her 4 closest friends giving us their contact details. Email and skype are a great thing!
It is so important now that we keep Summer's French language up as much as we can, which is something that is a constant worry to me. It is such an amazing thing for a 5 year old to be able to converse in two languages and although I don't want her to loose it, I know that it will not come as naturally now, given time, and that with her not being immersed in the language on a daily basis, she will not progress further with it as she would have and is bound to forgot a lot of it unless reminded on a daily basis. We are doing our very best to ensure she keeps hold of it as much as she can by reading her French stories every night (as well as English), watching French films together, listening to French music and speaking French together when we can. Skyping our friends in France is invaluable! We are by no means fluent, but have come a long way with it and it is our focus to continue our progression in order to pass it on to Summer and for us all to be able to converse confidently still with our French friends when we are visiting. I am currently looking into options for me to study further in French and it is my ambition to gain a recognised qualification in it, hopefully an A-level.
Another great way of continuing progression with any language that you are learning is www.duolingo.com, which is a language learning website tool that is free to use and was recommended to us by our French teacher in France. Scott is completely addicted to it and it has been beneficial to both of us, but even better now that Summer is showing an interest in it and is able to partake in the lessons. We hope to find a French teacher here for the family, but at the moment, it is not manageable money wise as we have many other focuses.
Unfortunately, Scott had to make the trip back to France again for 16 days after we had moved in order to finish off roof, chimney and garden preparation works, make sure the house was ready and meet the new tenants to check them in with the copious amounts of paperwork which plagued my life and gave me endless late nights - full inventory, check in documents, welcome pack with area information, useful contacts, instruction guides, garden maintenance info - you name it, it was there! (Thank goodness it is at least now done and will just need amending in the future according to each tenant - never again will I have to type all of that!!!).
It has been a very tense time and was very difficult for all of us with Scott having to be away with so long, especially for Summer who had already taken on so much change in such a short space of time and then had to deal with Daddy being away, but we all got through it and it was well worth it to ensure that all was well for our new tenants, for Scott to be able to meet them in person and for all to be handed over smoothly.
Now, almost 3 months on from the move, we are finally beginning to settle and prepare for the new arrival who is expected in just 6 weeks!! Although we still have a base in UK, we have chosen to let that out and rent a slightly larger property offering 3 bedrooms, rather than two as we are a rapidly growing family! The idea is that we continue renting until we outgrow the cottage, which I guess will happen within the next 2 years and should tie in with when we can be ready again financially to be able to hopefully take on a renovation project in UK, working towards the family home that we aspire to have, so watch this space there for 2018!!!
The village we are in has a lovely community vibe with beautiful walks and everything we need on our doorstep. Summer has settled in at her new school brilliantly, making lots of new friends and now being a proper little socialite with us now having to keep up with the amount of birthday party invites she has on a regular basis! It is so lovely that we all get the best of both worlds and can stay in contact with our French friends, knowing that we will visit again soon and see them.
Although we miss beautiful France and everything it entails, it is a treat to look forward to each time we visit and we feel that the choice we have made for ourselves as a family at this stage of our lives has given us a really good balance socially, lifestyle wise and where family is concerned. Probably one of the most difficult decisions we will ever have to make, but it feels right.
We are very excited to be continuing with the barn project on a slower pace when we make our visits and look forward to watching the changes unfold each year, working towards it becoming the beautiful family home and retreat which it will be one day.
With me being a natural worrier and complete control freak and it having been my job to maintain the grounds at the property and with it being our first long term let, it has been difficult to hand over the reins, especially knowing how quickly everything grows over there and how much constant maintenance is required during the spring months, but that is the purpose of the tenancy agreement, inventory, holding deposit and all the rest of the paperwork that goes with a tenancy and covers the ins and outs of pretty much everything!
We obviously do not expect our tenants to be responsible for the upkeep of any area belonging to the barn and are very appreciative that other very good friends of our who live nearby just happen to do garden and pool maintenance for a living, which we have very confidently appointed them to do. We could not have thought of anyone better for the job and know that we are in very safe hands and this is such a major relief to me!
I will be continuing to add to my blog with any relevant updates and as and when progress is made, making sure lots of photos are included!
Please also make sure you stay a regular visitor on our facebook page, where I will be sharing lots of useful, informative and sometimes a little humourous links and other interesting blog pages - covering all aspects relative to expats living / thinking of living / having a holiday home in France!
So, hope you have enjoyed your rather extensive update and that you will continue to follow our story and read the updates.
Until next time my friends!!