Life in France


14671095_1244690235582806_5371762751428877999_nDay Five: Introductions

Well, today we get to find out how quickly news travels in a small town. This morning started with an important quest: Meet the mayor of our village. This was extremely intimidating for several reasons. In a French village, the mayor has quite a lot of responsibility and can really make life for its citizens pleasant or difficult. We are told he controls building permits, makes certain that every child is enrolled in school, and is in control of the village’s water system to name a few. So, we’ve been praying about this meeting for months!

A thin veil of fog hung over the village as we ventured out this morning. We were all bundled in our warmest clothes to walk the short distance up the hill to the mayor’s office. We decided to leave the kids behind with my sister and Mandy to keeps things simple. The town is extremely quiet, so our voices seemed loud to us as we practiced our lines in French. We’d even gone so far as to write out most of what we wanted to say in case we panicked and forgot or simply couldn’t communicate. As we climbed the steps to the office, we could hear voices in the office above. My mom turned to look at me with wide-eyes and then, with a deep breath, she opened the door.

“Bonjour!” she cried, and all eyes in the room turned to look at us as we stumbled through the doorway.

I don’t know how, but we stumbled through those first awkward sentences and managed to introduce ourselves to the mayor and his small staff. He seems kind and maybe just a little younger than we are which set me at ease for some reason. Perhaps I was envisioning some grumpy old man who prefers to keep his village just the way it is ‘sans Americains’. But, he seemed like he was probably a nice guy with a few kids at home. The rest of his staff rushed over to greet us. Two women, one older with an administrative position I couldn’t quite understand, and the other my age who is the town secretary. They seemed determined to understand us and eager to be helpful. So much so, that the mayor left us in their capable hands to go run another errand. When we hit a snag with our communication, I pulled out the list of questions we had and handed it to the secretary. She was so clever! She immediately copied it on the machine and handed the list back to me. Then, she went through our list one item at a time and helped us work through all our questions and comments. We wanted to make sure they knew that we intend to be fully a part of the community as much as they will allow, buy local products and services, and participate in community events. This was apparently the best thing we could have said, because they started inviting us to events, even calling friends to let them know that the Americans would be joining the festivities. We are now committed to a big work day tomorrow where a crew of locals will work to clean up the medieval fortress for the winter and begin preparations for the summer festival. Apparently, each summer they gather in period costume and open the fortress to tourists and other visitors. They serve medieval foods and sell other related items to the tourists like a medieval fair. It’s a huge event and the whole town works together each year to make it happen.

So, tomorrow we will go and be brave, trying our best to be helpful and make new friends as we join in the work at the castle. At the very least, it will be a chance to see the castle up close. We’re equal parts excited and nervous, but determined to be brave in these situations, no matter how awkward it is to be the only person who has no idea what is going on.

By the time our meeting was finished, the two women in the mayor’s office seemed like our new best friends. The secretary has a daughter the same age as my oldest daughter and a son just a little younger than our youngest. She talked me through the options for school and promised to help us get them enrolled when we are ready. That tiny conversation took a huge load of worry off my shoulders! I was reminded once again that God is in complete control of all of this and I need to stop worrying so much. The older woman promised to help us find firewood and they even called the trash company for us to help us negotiate a bigger bin for our home than the one already issued. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to not have to handle that myself over the phone. As we said our goodbyes, they insisted we call them if we need anything else at all. Isn’t that amazing? I think I’m in love with small town France.

We went home and said our goodbyes to my parents, sister, and friend. They went off to see Paris, all of them promising to come again soon and insisting that we take some time to rest now that we are settled in. It would have been harder to let them go if I didn’t already know my parents were coming back in three weeks. I went in and set the table for lunch, heating up the leftover soups we’ve had for the last few evenings at dinner. Lunch was a great time to have a little family meeting and check in with how the kids are handling all of this. They were excited to hear there are other kids in the village and even seemed a little excited to hear about the schools they would attend in the fall. When we told them about our plan to join in the work day they were crazy excited to hear about the medieval festival and couldn’t wait for a chance to see the castle up close and personal.

Not an hour later, a truck pulled up at the front gate. It was a young man offering to bring us firewood. He said someone had called from the mayor’s office and he was happy to help us prepare for the winter. We were thrilled! I am so grateful to already have neighbors watching out for us here in our new home. We arranged everything and he’s coming back tomorrow afternoon to deliver the wood.

At this point I have to brag on my husband. He’s so crazy brave, you guys. Seriously, how many men do you know who would move to another country where they don’t speak the language and stand there talking with someone using the few words they know, sure they’re pronouncing it wrong, and not even blush when the other person corrects them. He amazes me with his courage and his determination to soldier on. I’m so grateful to be in this adventure with him by my side.

I heard the church bells ring two o’clock and wanted to cry. I had really been hoping for a nap, but now it was time for my afternoon work in the house. Graham took one look at me and smiled. “You should curl up here on the sofa in front of the fire and sleep. You’ve worked hard enough, why don’t you take the afternoon off and just rest?”

Have I mentioned I love that man?

So, that’s exactly what I did. I curled up in front of a crackling fire and slept…for two hours! It was awesome. I woke feeling like a whole new person. Then, I took the girls to the grocery store and we chose a few items for tomorrow night’s dinner. I tried to decipher the items in the baking aisle, hoping to find the ingredients to bake cookies for our neighbors, but I couldn’t find baking soda or baking powder. In the end, we gave up and decided to bake a batch of my grandmother’s yeast rolls as a gift because I could at least find the yeast. I’ll have to do some research and find out where to buy the spices and baking ingredients I can’t seem to find here.

In the end, I’m calling this day a win. Not only did our visit to the mayor’s office go a hundred times better than I imagined, but we have hope of making friends here, we have firewood on its way, I got a long nap, and the chili I made with half translated ingredients turned out almost chili-like. That’s pretty good for the end of day five of #ChateauLife.


The Countdown

countdown35 days. That’s the tally running in my head. 35 days until we load our family and everything we own onto a plane and move to France.

35 DAYS.

This has been a whirlwind from the start, but now I find myself facing the end of the storm and I’m left a little breathless.

It all started in February. February 8th, to be exact. My mother was driving home from a funeral when she had a vision. A house, a French chateau with 12 bedrooms purchased for less than $200,000 and dedicated as a refuge for missionaries. It was a beautiful idea that left her in tears. She called me that day crying, and the next, and the next. But each day she became more convinced that this was more than just an idea. It was a true vision. It was going to happen.

And it is. It is happening. In 35 days we will fly to France and close on that house. My family will live there as we prepare it for our very first guests. By this time next year, life in France will be falling into the category of “my new normal.” To say I’m excited is an understatement, but I think I’ll be a lot more excited once we get through this next month and arrive in France. Between here and there feels like a minefield of emotions.

As I pull out my planner, I have to face the reality that I only have four weekends left to visit friends and family. A little more than four weeks to pack up the house and sift out what is going with us and what is being left behind. I’m planning quick trips to hug family members we don’t see enough as it is, and knowing some we may not see again for a very long time…or ever. I’m not a complete newb at this. When we moved to Maine from Arkansas, friends joked that we were moving to another country. I remember being annoyed with their teasing, thinking it wasn’t that far, we could visit whenever we wanted. But, in those three and a half years we seldom saw extended family. We missed funerals, weddings, and births in those years away, teaching me a valuable lesson that has me staring at my calendar in tears. What will I miss this time around? What if I can’t get to everyone before we go? Have I already said some of my last goodbyes? Have I loved them all well enough? Have I told them how much I adore them? Did I say it often enough?

Packing lists and the monstrous To Do list I have sketched in the margins of my planner can never compare to the Goodbye List. It’s heartbreaking. But…it’s life. The truth is, we are all saying last goodbyes and we just don’t know it. Whether I live in France, or just down the street, I can’t possibly know when a goodbye is forever or just for now. So, we have to love a little deeper, hold each other a little closer, and say “I love you,” just a little more often. It’s the only way to live without regrets. While I try to fit everyone we love into our countdown, take my advice: Don’t wait to tell the people you love how much they mean to you. You never know when your time is up.

Have you ever had to say goodbye without knowing if it was the last time? How did you handle it? If you’ve got advice, I’m all ears!