Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Master Reset

Man, this has been one hell of a year.

Shortly after I wrote my last post, a lot of things happened at once. Most of them happened inside my head.

I was completely miserable in that job. The one thing that I'd been working towards in the eight years of living in France was, in fact, a huge mistake. One of the reasons I was so unhappy before that job is that I was absolutely the kind of person that defines themselves by what they do for a living. I knew I wasn't a Stay-at-Home-Mom. Therefore, I must be a successful office-type person.

But, no. I found myself at a conference in Paris, surrounded by office-type people talking about banal office-type things, and I thought, "what the hell am I doing with these people? This is not my place." But I'd committed to it. Stéphane's transfer had been granted, and like it or not, we were moving to Reims.

And then, my job exploded. The post ended up being not at all what I'd applied for, but I soldiered on. Instructions changed every few days, work was piled up, and still I soldiered on. Finally, my work started to slip, mistakes were made, instructions continued to change and work continued to pile up. I couldn't sleep anymore, I was constantly sick with stress, Fry cried everyday, and so did I.

I finally cracked.

I quit my job. My doctor put me on medication because I couldn't deal. (There is more to this, but more than I'm willing to say in a public space, to be honest.) I literally stared at walls for hours on end. The only things I could handle were playing FarmVille and sleeping.

Slowly, the fog started to clear. I started to realize that, in my head, landing a full time office position was the equivalent of happiness - the last time things made sense was before I moved here, and I worked full time, and I had friends and activities and a life.

But the truth is, I'm not the same person that I was in 2004. I don't see the world the same, and I don't have the same ambitions. I'm a mother. I've rediscovered my creative side. And, most importantly, I don't have to define myself by the job title on my paycheck.

I picked up an old business idea of turning my original embroidery into kits I could sell online. Since May I've been stitching pretty much non-stop. In the meantime, this past summer, we packed up our things, spent a week in Pas-de-Calais, and then we moved to Reims. Within the first week we knew we'd made the right choice. Everything just makes more sense here, whereas in Tiny Town everything seemed to be a struggle, like we were constantly fighting against the tide. Fry is settling down in his new school and continues to surprise us every single day.

And now I'm relaunching Suis le fil. I've started an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds to do it right, with the correct equipment and design. I'm really proud of it and I've already had some positive feedback. I'm still looking for a part time job to hold me over until I can really get my business up and running. I'd love it if you'd consider checking out that page and maybe share it around a bit.

Thanks, to every single one of you, that have continued to check out this site, that have reached out to me, that support and encourage me. Y'all are the best, ever. xoxo

Friday, March 15, 2013

The light at the end of the tunnel


I haven't been here for a really long time. I'm not even going to look to see how long; there's no point.

The job has been a complete roller coaster. I am exhausted. The job on its own is challenging, frustrating, some days too much than I can take, and then adding in driving an hour each way to work, the effect my being gone so much has effected Fry, my general insecurities, my penchant for caring too much and laying awake in the middle of the night stressing about work... it's been a bad time. Bad enough that we decided that, in the case that Stéphane didn't get his transfer, I would quit, because the stress on our family is just. too. much.

Poor Fry. He's four now, in his second year of pre-school, and acting out all the time. It took us a little while to realize that he was acting out because I was suddenly gone from his life. I was always the one that brought him to school, picked him up for lunch, brought him back, and got him at the end of the day, most of the time. Now I barely see him in the morning (sometimes he's still asleep when I leave!) and we only have a couple of hours together when I get home, including making dinner and getting him to bed.

We knew this was going to be hard, but in my mind it would be a temporary sacrifice for making a better life for our family - moving to a bigger town, both of us making decent salaries so that we can travel, save for future projects, giving Fry bigger and better opportunities for his future as well. But this morning was hard - so hard. I'm home sick, his teacher has been out for two weeks (another stable adult who has been a super calming and focusing influence in his life), and Stéphane had to take him to school kicking and screaming. It completely broke my heart and I'm crying just thinking about it.

We got the good news this week that Stéphane got his transfer. This weekend he'll ask for the schools where he would like to be placed (he'll be targeting the Greater Reims area) and in June we'll know where to hunt down an apartment. In the meantime we need to start figuring out what we're going to do with this apartment and preparing to move. And I need to figure out a way to explain to my darling boy that all this upheaval and change will be good for us, that Mommy being gone all the time is temporary, that soon we'll be the close-knit family we've always been.

In four/five more months, we'll get our lives back. Summer can't come fast enough. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekend cramming

The biggest adjustment, I think, to this new working schedule, is that we have to cram everything that needs to get done on a Saturday. Even if Stéphane doesn't work on Wednesdays, I have the car so he can't run errands (but at least he can make phone calls!).

We had a ton of stuff to do yesterday, but even then it was a bit much. Stéphane had a dentist appointment in the morning, then we picked up the new-to-us car (where we had to wait an hour (!!!) because there was a document that went missing, then was found at the garage owner's home, then had to be recuperated.... makes for a cranky Vivi, unfortunately!). After that it was new shoes for Fry, lunch with Mémère, and then Fry was off to his cousin's sixth birthday party. Stéphane and I retreated to his mother's house where I took a much needed nap!

The last leg of this errand crushing day had us going to the other side of town, picking up groceries I'd ordered on the internet (and seriously, thank goodness for this option now), shopping for fruits and veg at the fruit and veg store (because while the internet shopping in itself is awesome, bringing home bruised and unsatisfactory fruit and veg is not), finally picking up Fry from the party and going home.

My life is so, so glamorous.

We are very happy with our new Ford Fusion. It's not got the bells and whistles that our C4 had, but it makes up for it by costing half as much at the gas pump. Vive le gasoil! Seriously, when I'm clocking 1000 km per week, the difference is huuuuuuuuge.

Work is going fine, except for that moment on Friday afternoon where I closed an Excel document that I'd been working on all day without saving it. Such a proud moment. I'm really looking forward to doing that one again tomorrow.

Actually, I should say a word about Fry, because I haven't posted about him lately and he has changed so much. While I've been using this blog mostly for outpouring all of my career drama, Fry has been quietly (or to be honest, quite loudly) growing up. He'll be four in November and he's in his second year of Maternelle, called Moyen Section (middle section). He's been in school for three weeks and still loves school as much as last year, to the point where he's disappointed when school is closed! His language skills have exploded since this summer and now we can finally have a conversation. He gets the concept that Mommy speaks English, though he and Papa speak French, and he understands everything I say in English, even if his default is still to respond in French. He also doesn't get that, even though Mommy understands French and English, the rest of his American family doesn't understand French, so he still chatters away in French on the phone (though I think now he's doing it on purpose!). More and more English vocabulary is coming out now, however, and he often asks me how to say stuff in English, so I feel a bit more confident that we're heading closer to bilingualism.

Oh hey - also Autumn started this weekend, my favorite season! I'm really looking forward to seeing the leaves change on my commute.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

La Rentrée 2012

My last day at my old job was August 25 and I had a week's break before I started my new job in Reims. I mostly spent that week stressed out, second guessing myself, terrified that I'd made a bad choice.

Luckily, from about the middle of my first day, I felt myself relaxing a bit and realizing that everything is going to be ok. I can't say I felt that way from the very beginning, as I jumped right in shadowing a colleague and everything went straight over my head for the first hour or so. Then, I really thought, "What the hell have I gotten myself into??" Lucky for me, my lunch spot looked like this. I munched my tuna avocado sandwich and people watched for forty-five minutes, and I was ready to attack my new life.

It's been two weeks now and I can honestly say that I love, love, love my job. I still have so much to learn - it's in a business I knew nothing about, though my experience in administration certainly applies - but little by little it's starting to sink in and my confidence is growing everyday.

Of course one of the hardest parts is the fact that we don't exactly live next to Reims. Even with the toll roads it's an hour's drive each way. Our lovely Citroën C4 that we bought last year is unfortunately unleaded and the price of gas is killing us right now, never mind the fact that I have to refill the tank every three days. We made the decision this week to find a new car that runs on diesel, and after a quick search online, we found a decent Ford Fusion that will do in a pinch. Saturday we went to look at it and after a quick test drive we decided to take it. It's definitely a step down in terms of comfort, but it's going to make a huge difference in our wallet! We can pick it up this Saturday. Of course, after we move next year, we can always change it again.

And yes, that's the next big step for us. December is when the "Movement" happens within the Education Nationale system. Stéphane will make a request for a town closer to Reims (but not Reims itself - a bit too pricey and crowded for us) and we'll find out in March where he'll be placed. Of course, he can request two or three towns but there are so many conditions - how long you've been in the system, if you have a family and children in school, how many points you have (teachers are inspected every two years and gain points according to their performance; Stéphane is maxed out), and obviously it depends on if a place is available in the school you've requested! We're hoping that the fact that my job is over there will help us, but we've heard so many movement horror stories that we're only cautiously optimistic.

So you can see that our Rentrée has certainly been a full one with plenty of changes! I definitely had the "back to school" vibe going, since I started the day before students went back to class! I hope everyone's rentrée was a smooth one!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Summer Vacation 2012

So much for updating more often. Hmph.

When I last left you, I'd just been hired for my new job and I'd given my notice to my old job. I'm glad to report that my last weeks at my old job were relatively painless (boring!), with the director even offering up a glass or three of champagne on my last day. I brought cupcakes, which according to one of my colleagues that I'm still in touch with, are still being talked about. I'm no foodie, but it's pretty hard to mess up chocolate cupcakes and cream cheese frosting.

I had already scheduled our family vacation before I gave my notice, so we headed off to the Puy de Dôme for the first week of August. For the first time, we invited my goddaughter to join us. M is a year and a half older than Fry and they get on like a house on fire, and it was an interesting experience for us to double our parental responsibilities.

We stayed in a fantastic, completely isolated, rural gîte about a half hour west of Issoire. What it lacked in amenities was more than enough compensated by the space, the garden, and the fact that the kids could make all the noise their little hearts desired.

Home sweet home for one week - our gîte was on the top two floors.
The bad news is that we found ourselves quite far away from most of the area's touristy attractions. The good news is that the roads in this mountainous area are extremely well maintained, which meant that descending our mountain by hairpin roads, crossing the valley, and crossing the next mountain to get where we wanted to go took a while but we never felt like we were going to drive off a cliff.

Some highlights were visiting Volcania (link in French), taking the funicular train up the Puy de Dôme, the highest point in the area, and doing a bit of mountain wandering with the kids around our gîte.

The view from our bedroom
With two preschoolers, we found that our best plan of attack was to get out the door relatively early, so our main activity was before lunch, and either hang out in a park and play after a picnic lunch or head back to the gîte and play in the garden. There was even a makeshift barbecue set up in a corner of the garden, and a nice big table where we were able to eat outside a couple of nights - though as soon as the sun sank below the next mountain, it was quite chilly, despite the fact that it was the first week of August!

Les grottes de Jonas - we climbed all the way to the top inside!
At one random stop looking for bread on the way home, I grabbed a couple of local beers and we enjoyed them so much, I ended up buying enough to have one every night with dinner. We're not big drinkers, but I think we both really enjoyed those beers!

Lac Chambon
 Fry absolutely fell in love with the beach last year, so I really wanted to find some kind of water activity for our vacation. We went to the lac Chambon, which was certainly very pretty,  but a bit too cold to swim in, and of course the pebble "beach" doesn't hold a candle to the fine sandy beaches that we love in the north (or even Cocoa Beach, which we visited last November!). They did, however, have a great big bouncy house and slide and the kids went bonkers on that.
Chateau de Murol. Most of the chateau is restored but I love this view of a  still  ruined corner.
Overall, it was a fantastic week, much more relaxed than our vacation last year (when we stayed in cramped hotel rooms - I wouldn't say we slept in them, ha!! - and had to eat out all the time) and I loved discovering a new corner of France. I can definitely see us returning to the Auvergne in a few years when Fry will be able to do a bit more hiking!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Five months later...

Whoa. That's definitely the longest this poor blog has ever been neglected! I have some really good news, but I think the way I got from there to here is important, so I'm going to try to keep this brief.

When I last left you, I was looking for a way to get into a bookbinding program. I did contact the national bookbinding school, only to find that they are moving to Toulouse, on the other side of France! I continued looking for other schools, only to get negative reactions wherever I went. Most places were happy to teach me, as long as I was learning bookbinding as a hobby. As soon as I mentioned that I wanted to earn a diploma in order to start my own business, I was practically pushed away, as if the idea of a nearly 40 year old woman learning a new trade was next to impossible, never mind the fact that I'd be taking the place of a young student fresh out of high school who, apparently, has more of a right to be there than I do.

It was a bitter blow, and in the end I had to accept that I just had to let this go. I really had to mourn it for a while, a dream unrealized.

The next step we took was working on opening a boutique in Troyes. I took a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, worked on a business plan, started contacting suppliers... and finally realized that we would need to borrow a bit more that what we could comfortably borrow without getting in trouble financially if it didn't work. Cross that one off the list.

Meanwhile, I put as many irons as I could in the fire, planning on striking the one that got hot first. I'd been applying to anything administration related in our département, but after a couple of months of not even getting an interview, I opened it up to all the départements around us, after Stéphane agreed that he was ready to ask for a transfer if I could find something full time.

I also decided that I was ready to reboot my craft business. No need to borrow anything, just invest a bit of savings into some materials and get to work. I started working on some embroidery designs and looking for a used knitting machine.

In May, I finally got a hit for a job close to Paris. I received a message from the Pole Emploi (the unemployment office) to go to an interview with an employer at an unemployment office in the Seine et Marne. When I arrived on the day of the interview, a woman told me that the employer had decided to conduct the interviews by telephone and she didn't understand why I was there, and practically accused me of making all of this up (hey, you're the ones that invited me, lady!). After contacting the employer, she asked me to leave my CV and they would call me at the end of the afternoon. Four hour round trip to drop off a CV. By the time I got home, there was a refusal in my email.

That, my friends, is how I spent my 39th birthday. It was definitely the lowest point in this whole journey.

A couple of weeks ago, I did manage to get my hands on a used knitting machine:
I bought it from a lovely retired lady up in the Ardennes, about an hour and a half north of us. She took amazing care of it, had every single part and instruction book, showed me how it worked, and asked me to keep in touch. There's also a metal stand that it sits on, which needs to be painted. I've just ordered a book from America that explains how to take it apart for a deep cleaning, since it hasn't been used in about 14 years, and then I'll be working on transferring my old medieval bag hand knit patterns to making them on the machine for my craft shop.

 I was ready to make a serious go of the online store, but still applying to any and all interesting job announcements, as you never know, right? Stéphane would have to ask for a transfer in December so I figured we had a few months to keep looking. Last week I answered an announcement in Reims that specified spoken English and administration. As usual I sent off my cover letter and CV not expecting anything, only this time I got an email back in less than an hour!

To make a ridiculously long story a bit shorter, we wrote back and forth and agreed on a meeting this past Monday. I had a good feeling about it the minute I walked in the door, and she kept saying things like "You'll be doing such and such... I mean the person that fills this position!" Heh. At the end, she offered me the job. The price is right, even if I have to commute until next summer, and the job sounds interesting and challenging.

It may not surprise you to learn that my new bosses are not French. :)

My new job starts in September. My manager and boss at my old job are being cranky and rude, which is basically par for the course. It's too bad; I would have been happy to stay there, even if it's minimum wage and crap hours, but the environment is just too hostile, and who wants to work like that? My craft shop will still happen, I can't help myself, I still have to create, and I have plans and ideas and designs that have been living in my head for years, and I just have to get them out and share them. Obviously it's going to take me a bit longer to get that going and it will be on a smaller scale than I imagined, but it will happen. 2012 is all about Making it Happen, after all!

Many thanks to those of you that are still around. I plan on showing up here a bit more often than I have been!

Monday, February 06, 2012

This roller coaster ride ain't over yet

The last couple of weeks have been ridiculously stressful. After the excitement of that meeting with my boss, I was not at all expecting him to call me at home to let me know that he'd had a discussion with the head of HR only to learn that we can't do an apprentice contract. He advised me to sign up with the Pole Emploi, or unemployment office, to see if they have any info about what to do next.

It might sound weird to go to the unemployment office when I'm already employed, but since I only work (very) part time, I am allowed to go sign up to find a complementary job (sadly, a lot of people rely on two jobs or temp jobs here to get from month to month, but I guess that's probably par for the course in a lot of places right now). As soon as I got off the phone with my boss, I called them right away to sign back up and had to wait until today for my first appointment.

The first appointment is largely administrative, in which you have to present loads of ID and attestations of previous jobs (which I forgot, oops) and you lay out what you're looking for or if you have a certain project in mind like I do. Since I have been signed up before (years ago, long before even Fry was around) we swept past the admin stuff really quickly and I was able to clearly and briefly explain that I want to be a bookbinder, which I can do part time with my current job, but I need to learn how to do it first.

She seemed very enthusiastic about my project and some quick computer searching found that I may be able to get my classes funded for the national bookbinding school in Bourgogne (Burgandy, the region just to the south of us)! It's not 100% sure, and nothing from this first appointment is set in stone. I've got to take a couple of papers to another Pole Emploi office at the end of the week and I'm supposed to set a new appointment to talk with a new counselor then. In the meantime, I can call the school to see if they work with the regional government for funding, and if they don't, I may qualify for yet another financial aid program, so things are definitely looking up!

I was so ready for them to say "No, sorry, there's nothing we can do for you" today that I can't quite believe that the ball is still in play! I'm really hoping I can get a new appointment before the end of the month; that would give us a really good excuse to go visit the national bookbinding school during the Winter break!