Grateful ! – That’s the word that springs to my mind as I look back over the past year; actually beyond the past year because I’m not just looking at the end of another year but the beginning of a new life.
Had things gone according to my original plan I would have had the majority of work completed on my little house and I would have retired and made the move to France sometime around September 2016.
But as we have all experienced things don’t always go as planned.
Dissatisfaction with my job only increased following a family drama and the death of my mother in 2013. Although things had begun to change at work the legacy of a chauvinistic manager still occasionally reared its head.
I weighed my options knowing that an earlier retirement would leave me with a little less in my savings and slightly smaller Social Security payments. I decided that money was a small price to pay for personal peace and well being. So in September 2014 I quit my job and began putting things in order to move to France.
My dream to live in France had evolved over the years beginning with a desire to live in Europe for a couple of years to eventually buying a house for retirement in France. I bought my little house more than ten years earlier and thought I would have it habitable by the time I retired. Sadly the first builders I’d hired didn’t follow my specifications so I was left with a shell of a house and a hole in my retirement plans.
Fortunately I don’t give up easily so I’ve persevered; instead of investing in improvements I socked away money to pay for them once I arrived and could oversee the work.
After retiring I took some time to relax and then started getting things in order for my big move. There was a mountain of paperwork to get together to apply for a long stay visa. I waited to finalize things such as giving notice on my apartment and travel plans until I had my visa in hand. I can tell you it was a tense couple of months waiting because all my future plans were dependent on the visa going through.
When the visa arrived it was time for action! Take care of business, give notice, sell or donate most of my possessions, box up important items, etc. Thanks to family and friends it all happened but it was down to the wire.
My friends at Victoria Springs, the apartment complex where I lived, threw me a wonderful going away party. Then I spent a few weeks with my daughter & grandson before heading out.
June 11, 2015 marked my arrival in France and the final steps toward fulfillment of a long held dream.
It was late evening when I checked in to Hotel Ambroise in Uzerche. The next morning I went to my house and was shocked to find a van parked inside. (The house had not been lived in for many years before I bought it and the ground floor had been occasionally used as a garage.)
Since it wasn’t possible for me to start work inside until I sorted out the problem with the van I headed up the path that lead to the back of my house where my garden is. There I was met with another surprise. The garden had been overrun not just with weeds but with massive brambles.
After a call to the Gendarmes the owner of the van was identified and arrangements made to have it removed. Once the house was cleared I could have a good look around and start getting some estimates for renovation.
I was able to find house to rent. This was crucial on two levels: most importantly I had to have an address with utilities to complete the French portion of my long stay visa, secondly it was cheaper than the hotel and I could prepare my own meals.
The rental was a large fully furnished three bedroom house. Although I didn’t need a huge house for myself it turned out to be a good choice since I had guests come to stay in autumn. It was so much fun traveling in France, sharing experiences and my new town with friends and family.
Summers in Uzerche are filled with things to do. July 14th is the Fête Nationale with fireworks and the following weekend is the annual Auto Retro. It’s fun to see the variety of classic European cars on show. Mardis d’Uzerche offer family entertainment usually in the form of comedy skits. Each Friday in July and August is the Marché des Producteurs de Pays held at the Papeterie. Although the market itself is quite small it’s a fun opportunity to mix with locals who gather for meals that they bring or buy there and to enjoy some live entertainment and often dancing.
Clearing the garden was an ongoing task that took most of my first summer there. I got plenty of exercise; in addition to gardening I walked two to four miles almost every day. Midday was too hot for work in my garden so sometimes I’d make the trek both morning and evening from the rental to my house. Once I arrived at my house I had to walk around three other houses and up a steep path to get to the garden before starting to work.
While working at my house I had a conversation with one of my neighbors who mentioned that the house next door to mine was for sale, he also mentioned the price which was quite low. Frequently as I passed the back door of the house on the way to my garden I thought how convenient it would be to live there. There was no for sale sign on the house but eventually I went to the Mairie, City Hall, to get the name and address of the owners and wrote a letter of inquiry.
Once I saw the interior I knew I wanted the house. My daughter was scheduled to arrive in a few weeks so I decided to do a reality check with her before making a commitment. I did have to consider that it might be a little crazy to buy a second house in France.
My daughter and I looked at the house together and she deemed me no more crazy than I’d ever been. Actually she snapped a picture of me while I was looking at the house and thought I looked very happy so she put her stamp of approval on my idea.
A deal was struck and I began the process of buying the house. Two months later on 18 December 2015 I signed the final papers and the house was mine! The house had not been lived in for several years so there was a lot of serious cleaning to be done before I could move in. The rental contract was up on 31 December so I had to scramble to get everything in order.
New Year’s eve 2016 is the first anniversary of living in my new house. One year of going beyond my dream of a simple little house in France to a wonderful big house in France.
You generally think of “things not going according to plans” as not being good. In this case it meant going beyond my expectations.
It meant going from a shell that would be converted into a small one bedroom house to moving into a large three bedroom house that was immediately habitable. (Although there’s still substantial work required.)
It meant going from an uninhabitable house with no plumbing or electrical to an immediately habitable house with a fully functioning toilet, bathroom and kitchen sink with working lights and a few updated outlets in the kitchen (though the electrical throughout the house would eventually all need updating).
When I first moved into the house I had almost no furniture. A few odds and ends had been left in the house so I had a chair, a small table, and portable heater (a house warming gift). I bought an air mattress, bedding and refrigerator and borrowed a toaster oven and hot plate. So I was able to camp out in a couple of rooms in my house until I could gradually acquire some more furnishings.
I now have a couple of beds and night tables for the guests who have come to visit in 2016.
I also have a dining table, chairs and several medium pieces that I use for storage and small kitchen appliances that I’ve purchased, along with an armoire that I actually got into my bedroom and upright (long story).
Some of the electrical has been updated along with a little plumbing work.
I started renovating the little kitchen on the 1st floor back in September and due to some unexpected and extensive renovation requirements it’s still in progress. – One of the beauties of retirement is few hard deadlines. – My fridge still resides in the nearly demolished kitchen with the hot plates, toaster oven, microwave and sink in the “ancient kitchen” on the 2nd floor. Preparing a meal requires an organized effort and usually several trips up and down stairs. Since I’m not walking as much it’s good exercise.
In addition to my house in the beautiful town of Uzerche I’ve been blessed to make a couple of good friends and meet some other people whom I’m getting to know. I attend church and joined an art class so I’ve begun to integrate in the local community. My French is improving, albeit slowly.
I’ve had some miscellaneous adventures: experiences with bats, the heating system going on the blink last winter, finding fascinating objects in the house, a rescued bird, as well as being interviewed by a local newspaper regarding my views on the US elections.
I love this new chapter of my life and can’t imagine living anywhere else.