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!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Making it Happen!!

I had a great meeting with my boss last week. It started off a little awkward, with him asking point blank what I wanted from him and me not knowing at all how to answer him, but we finally eased into the conversation.

The bad news first: I had hoped to get a little bit of financial assistance to take classes from my mentor who lived very close, but that won't be possible, as official funding can only go towards accredited schools. But -

But -

Mr Boss has no objection to my looking into the accredited classes accessible to adults in Paris. (!!!) What would happen is that I would change my current contract (average of 14 hours a week in CDI - permanent contract) to a Contract d'Apprentissage (an apprentice contract, and yes, it's available for adults in certain conditions), in which I would work full time, 35 hours a week, with my classes included in the 35 hours, and I'll be paid a percentage of minimum wage (53% I think?), but will still make more than I'm earning right now. My time at work would be divided up in doing what I do right now with the least amount of shuffling as possible, so as not to mess up the schedules of my colleagues, and the whatever time is left in the bookbinding workshop. Whatever money I make in addition to what I'm making now should cover all the traveling between here and Paris. After I receive my diploma, we would revert back to my present contract and I can continue to work there while I'm building up my bookbinding business.

Clearly, this is much, much better than what I hoped for! I never imagined he'd be up for this, I very nearly floated out of his office! Of course, it's up to me to follow up and get as much info as I can with the goal of presenting a financial breakdown to my boss in the next couple of months so I can start this Fall. I've just now got off the phone with the school in Paris and there will be an Open House at the end of March, which I will certainly be attending!

There we go, I feel like I've gotten through the hardest part, for me, anyway - talking on the freaking phone in French! I've always hated the telephone (except for talking with friends, obviously!) and I really have to force myself, or else I put it off for weeks. I feel like we're making good progress! While I'm waiting for the end of March, I hope to get access to the bookbinding materials at work very soon so I can start working on new projects in the meantime!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


So instead of biting my fingernails down to the bone, I thought I'd keep myself busy by writing about what else we've been up to for the last couple of months. The biggest thing we did is fly back to the States for Thanksgiving.

The last time I celebrated Thanksgiving in the US was in 2003, so this was a super fun excuse to go. Of course, bringing Fry with me meant I could introduce him to a whole side of the family he hadn't met yet. The main reason I decided to go, however, is that my aunt had just learned that she's got cancer. She's responding well to treatment and it looks like she's going to be around for a good long while, but that was what really prompted me to get on a plane.

Fry did pretty good on the 10 hour flight. Our carry on was 90% stuff to keep him entertained and he did actually manage to take a 2 hour nap, which was a nice break. I'm not gonna lie though, the last hour was pretty hard!

We spent the first couple of nights in my old stomping grounds of Greenville, SC. Thanks to a bad bout of jet lag (mostly for Fry) we didn't get to see any many folks as I would have liked, but we had a great visit with some of my college BFFs.

Then we drove down to Tallahassee to spend Thanksgiving at my uncle's home and there we saw tons of family (plus my sister came down to visit!). Fry loved playing with his cousins and it wasn't long before we discovered that he's definitely inherited my family's genes for sports. Not long after picking up one of his older cousin's old t-ball bats, he was hitting wiffle balls across the backyard!

Then it was down to central Florida to see my aunt and uncle. Despite having lost her hair to chemo, she's looking great and is still very active. We had a great visit, even if it was short. We even got to see a missile take off from Kennedy Space Center from their place before we left!

Our last stop was the town where I grew up, Titusville. I hadn't been back we moved up to the Carolinas in 1997 so it was an emotional visit. We stayed with the parents of my BFF from high school (who was also in town with her sweetie!), which was my second home back in the day. They say you can't go home again, but I got pretty close! In the unseasonably warm weather (even for Florida!) we went swimming in the pool and had a great time at the beach. It was wonderful catching up and I wish we could have stayed longer.

Then it was time for the long voyage home. After an obligatory shopping trip at Wally World (the regular sorts of goodies plus I needed another suitcase for all the Christmas presents I'd purchased!), we spent another day in the car and caught our flight home the next day.

It was a wonderful trip, but as I said, far too short. Next time we visit, we will definitely stay at least two weeks. I would really, really like to be able to go again in the Fall of 2013 when Fry is turning five. At that point he'll still be in Maternelle and can miss a few days of school, and I'd really like to take him for Halloween. So mark your calendars, family!!

ho hum, another rocket launch

meeting the locals

Fry becomes a virtuoso overnight

Shuttles just lying around everywhere

Monday, January 09, 2012

Bonne année ! Bonne santé !

Yes, Happy New Year and Good Health to all of you. I'll be uttering this traditional phrase for another couple of weeks, but I can say it to you all in one go! I hope 2012 is treating you well so far.

Once again, life swept me up and drug me away these last few months. So much has happened I hope I can get back through it all. I want to tell you about my & Fry's trip back to the States for Thanksgiving, having my cousin over from Boston for Christmas, and other fun things, but I most importantly want to update on the bookbinding stuff.

So my bookbinding workshop was right at the end of October and I was very anxious to talk to Mr C, the retired bookbinder that volunteers his time on Wednesday mornings to repair books, and then teaches a children's workshop on Wednesday afternoons. The first Wednesday was still a holiday so I knew he wouldn't be there. The second Wednesday, Stéphane had to work so I couldn't get to Troyes. The third Wednesday turned out to be a scheduling snafu and I couldn't get to Troyes that day, but it turned out that Mr C wasn't there that morning anyway. Then Fry and I left for ten days, so that was the rest of November.

When I got back to work at the beginning of December, I was greeted with horrible news: Mr C had passed away while I was gone. Granted, he was 85 and had lived a long and full life doing what he loved, but I was devastated. I didn't even have the chance to show him the books I'd made.

After getting over that shock, I realized I really had to get creative if I was going to make the bookbinding thing happen. I took a huge chance and emailed the woman who lead the workshop in Paris. You may have to jump into the wayback machine for this, but I've mentioned before that even if she has a workshop and does the bulk of her work in Paris, she actually lives about 35 minutes from my house. Since we got along so well and I had such a positive response from her, I decided to email her and let her know that Mr C had died (she knew I'd planned to ask him for help) and to ask her if there was any way she would consider giving me some lessons from time to time at her private workshop. I figured the worst she could say is no.

Well get this: she didn't! She even said that "it would be a pleasure to teach you, after your brilliant debut." Go me! It would be very irregular, weekends only from time to time, but better than nothing, right?

Now I have to figure out a way to pay for these irregular lessons (which will eventually lead to a diploma, by the way!). I floated it with a couple of my colleagues, and they seem to think that my boss would be open to finding some funding to help me with the lessons in exchange for doing some book maintenance at work (which is what Mr C was doing as well). I felt like things were going in a really positive direction and that I would attack all this after the New Year.

So of course the New Year comes and goes and I really need to get myself motivated. By sheer coincidence (or maybe not), Fry happened to knock over my little jewelry box next to my bed a few days ago and I found this, which had been buried deep under a pile of cheap costume jewelry:

I have no idea where I bought this little stone, but I know I've been carrying it around for at least 10 years. I think it's about time I cashed it in.

Yesterday I hammered out a letter to my boss and Stéphane helped me proofread it. By the time you read this, he will have already read it and I'll be waiting for a response, probably on Wednesday when we have our little company New Year's lunch. The worst he can say is no, right?

Make it happen is going to be my mantra for 2012. One way or another, I'm going to make this happen this year!