Thursday, December 11, 2014

Voices From The Grave

Today Jess and I visited the peaceful country graveyard in Issac which is perched on a gentle slope surveying the countryside just at the edge of the village. It is surrounded by a high gray wall with a wrought iron gate at the entrance.  How fitting that the ones who have gone before are laid to rest in a place of prominence as you head into the village........

Some people might find visiting a cemetery a bit morbid.....not me (or Jess, a mini- me!)  Perhaps it is the Irish is me.... In Ireland, when one dies, it is custom to celebrate their life as it is done with an Irish laugh, to cry, to tell stories, to relive your memories of the deceased.  The graveyard is a glimpse of the story of who lived here and died here, last year, or perhaps last century, what families populated the area, what secrets lay beneath the concrete beds?  To me, walking and stopping at each and every grave in the Issac cemetery brings those souls back to life for a moment just as it says on a plague on one of the graves;


"One is never quite gone as long as there is someone to remember and talk about you from time to time and so bring you to life for a moment."

"Que ton repose soit doux comme ton coeur fut bon"
May thy rest be as sweet as your heart was good

The majority of the graves are cased in concrete, and there is a mix of old and new, of tended and abandoned, of the prosperous and the paupered.  The Angel of Death shows no or poor, young or old.....

I was shocked to find that a lot of the graves only have the family name, no dates or specifics about who is actually buried there.  It was interesting to see that even with the graves spaced generously and the rows having  bigger spaces, the graveyard is half empty.  There are not that many graves altogether, but perhaps it is just how many families that are in the area and each family continues to use the same plot?  The population of Issac has decreased in recent years dropping from 472 people in 1968 to 370 in 2007 and judging from the lack of people around since I have been here, it has decreased again since 2007!!!!

There were loads of fresh chrysanthemums and beautiful potted plants and shrubs on many graves throughout the cemetery so it is obvious that the graveyard is frequented and graves tended by family members.

There are beautiful ceramic flowers on a lot of the graves - a great idea because they seem to be better than real flowers or artificial ones for their lasting power from the elements:

I was excited to see a  "Famille Mazieres" grave.......the name (Domaine de Mazieras) of the estate that my villa is on.....a connection to the family and its place in the locality and a history I intend to investigate further (when my French improves!!!!)

I went through the whole graveyard thinking there would be at least one Irish name in it, but no, they were all French except for a baby who died with the last name Ball which I take to be English, and it was a recent death.  I must also say that the Irish hold the award for the best crosses (especially the celtic ones, of course!!!)

It was interesting to see some trends through the years.  Sometimes pictures of people were put on the gravestones:


Long ago, slate (and concrete) were used to mark graves:

 In the 1900's, ceramic plaques were common:

Sometimes plaques were put on that obviously represented an interest or love or occupation of the deceased such as this wild boar one for a hunter, I presume, or one for a soldier:

I loved seeing really ancient looking cement flower urns.  The moss is definitely an aging touch!!!!!


.......and older above ground cement coffin graves:

The trip to Issac Cemetery was intriguing.  It is my guess that the graveyard only dates back to the 1800's, possibly 1700's and that there must be another earlier graveyard somewhere else near the village.  Even so, Jess and I saw some really interesting stuff and enjoyed our graveyard exploration and we look forward to learning more about the families of the area and their history!!!!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Typical Day

I guess I have been in France long enough to have fallen into a daily routine (having a child at school actually fasttracked this daily routine process!!!) I get up about 7:45am and Blue gets up at the same time.   I make my morning cup of tea and Blue gets herself dressed for school and then watches some cartoons while she is eating her breakfast (cream crackers with butter or cinnamon toast crunch cereal!).  It is my intention every school morning to leave the house at 8:30am but I am always a few minutes later than that by the time we get shoes and jackets on, find keys, etc.  Blue walks down to open the gate of our courtyard while I drive the car through the gate and she closes it and gets in

.                                                          The gate out of our courtyard:

The village of Issac is only down the road (about a mile) but our driveway is very long also and has quite a few pot holes so I have to drive slowly with my little Peugeot!!!!  Blue has to be at school at 8:45am and if I don't get her there at that time, the gate is locked and she has to ring the bell for the teacher to come with keys to open it.....highlighting her tardiness, so I try to be on time!

                                                        The gate to Blue's school yard:

Blue looking tres chic heading to school!!!!

After Blue is dropped off at school and I have another cup of tea at the house, Jess and I go for a walk to explore the extensive estate we are on. (Jess hasn't gotten the go ahead to start school yet)  There is so much to see and so many roads and paths and fields to explore that each outing is an adventure. In the middle of a field away from all the houses and outbuilding, there is a grove of trees and bushes that hides cave-like entrances into five underground chambers that must have been used during war time to hide from the enemy.  I hope I can find out more about the history of the estate and unravel some of the mysteries that surround it!

After our walk, it is time to pick up Blue for lunch at 11:45am.  We bring her back to the house and the girls play outside while I prepare something to eat.  Blue has to be back at school at 1:15pm, except on Wednesdays when she has no school in the afternoon.  Blue could stay at school for lunch but she hasn't asked to, so until she does, I will pick her up and bring her home for a break from hours listening to all french!  On Wednesday afternoons, we usually plan a trip further away to see some cool place that we have read or heard about and want to see.

When I drop Blue back at school, we normally go for a drive to explore the endless country roads and hidden villages.  If I need to, I also run to the Intermarche, the local supermarket chain in either Neuvic or Mussidan to pick up something to cook for dinner.  We are back to pick up Blue at 4pm.  In the evening, I light a nice fire in the wooden stove to make the house toasty and warm.  The girls and I chat while I make dinner and then relax for the rest of the evening.

Pictures from our walk this morning......

Monday, December 8, 2014

Vive La France!!!!

Well, I have been living in France for a few weeks now and I must say the whole French country experience strikes a cord within me.  I love the unspoiled countryside with houses that have been there for centuries and whisper tales of bygone days…..  I love the sleepy little towns that rarely show any signs of life (like ghost towns really).  I love that the French (here at least) have the audacity to just enjoy life.  Imagine!!!!  No one seems to be killing themselves working.  They take their time to greet people properly (the kiss on each cheek as a greeting!!!!), to eat leisurely (at least two hours for lunch), and to enjoy life by putting living life to the fullest and family first instead of working and making money as the number one priority. 

The shops are closed a lot, butchers and bakeries especially only opened early in the day, and most have closed days not only at the weekends, but on Mondays and sometimes Tuesdays too.  Restaurants are the same, opening on what seems to be a whim.  Some people coming to France would find this simply inconvenient and annoying.  Not me, I love the eccentricity and charm of it all!  I love the grandeur and flair that the French put into everything.  I love the way they speak, the smoothness and romance in every rolled syllable.  I love the style and sense of fashion that is put into every outing.

This is a simple country life, a way of life that has spanned generations.  I can breathe in the deep history of every place I go.  Pain and pride intertwined.  The toil that went into each and every stone in every building.  The craftsmanship and life put into each and every thing, not enough to build, everything had to be and is, a work of art and beauty.

The rolling hills and beautiful green fields are reminiscent of my beloved Donegal, rekindling childhood memories of freely roaming the unfenced land, of beautiful summers and days filled with laughter and the smell of fresh hay and turf fires.  Here I find the peace my soul craves.  Here I am finding my long lost self…..I feel like I have come home!!!!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fairytales Always Have Villains!

All fairytales have villains and mine is no exception.  The big villain in my story is CANCER.  I am reluctant to even mention it in this blog because I like to give cancer as little validation as I possibly can in my life.  It exists.  I do what I have to do to fight it but it does not get any more of my time and energy than that.  I do not waste my time worrying about it and I count my blessings that I am still here in this world and that I have gotten to go to France and have this fairytale experience.  In other words, I get up and get on with it!

I have mentioned my cancer in this blog because, on the off chance that someone who thinks their life has ended with their diagnosis reads this blog, perhaps it will give them the courage and the determination to go and do the things they always wanted to do.  No matter what!!!!  Make it happen!!!!

In February 2010, I had a neck ultrasound because I thought I noticed a lump on my neck (I had previously had a thyroidectomy in 1992 after having my second child).  The ultrasound showed that there were three bigger lumps and more than a dozen smaller lumps and a lot of my thyroid had grown back. Amazing what can be growing inside your body that you don't even notice!!!

I had a thyroid completion surgery in June 2010 and was diagnosed with thyroid cancer (papillary carcinoma).  When they did a body scan at that time, they found that the cancer had already spread to my bones (my left sacrum and possibly to my spine where there are undeterminable spots there).  I had radioactive iodine treatment four times and they say that I have maxed out the number I can have. I had more tumors growing in my thyroid and had a neck dissection in June 2012 where 5 of the 8 lumps removed were cancerous.  There are more growing again but I have had three neck surgeries already and each one is more risky with all the scar tissue and the closeness to the carotid artery, windpipe, etc.

The same year that I was diagnosed with the thyroid cancer, they found a lump in my left breast and after I had surgery to have it removed, they determined it was cancerous and I had thirty three breast radiation treatments in 2011.

I had always wanted to come to France to live and experience life here, but getting married in 1988 and raising five children took the priority for many, many years, especially as my children have a broad range in ages (25, 22, 19, 12, 8). I finally decided earlier in the year when we had a sale contract on our house in Maryland, USA, that I would just go to France like I had always dreamed of doing.  The house contract fell through and I was upset at first, but then determined to find a way to make it happen ....and I did!!!!

Before leaving, I tried to get as many of my medical appointments done as possible so I would not have to worry about anything for six months.   One of these appointments was a dermatologist skin check.  I had starting going to a dermatologist twice a year several years ago mainly because my dad died from melanoma in his fifties.  However, when I got diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I had to switch health insurances and my dermatologist didn't take the new insurance.  I was busy getting my treatments, exams, tests, etc. so it ended up being four years since my last appointment (this I now know was too long!). I found new dermatologists before I left the States for France and went to see them on October 31st.  They found a brown suspicious lump on my back and they removed it in the office and sent it to pathology to have it analyzed.  Ten days later, I went to France and the night I arrived at my beautiful French country villa, I opened an email to find the pathology report results:  "malignant melanoma".......the villain in my fairytale was here before I even got a chance to settle in.  Cancer has no conscience.  How dare it intrude upon my French dream, but it has.......but as a mother of five, with the two younger children, my youngest daughters, only 8 years and 12 years old, I am a warrior and I stand proud and fearless in the face of another battle!!!!  (I just wish the timing wasn't quite so bad.....but I guess there isn't a good time to get cancer, is there? ....or more cancer......)

My philosophy for battling cancer (and for life in general!):

BE POSITIVE - I truly believe that keeping a positive attitude slows or stops the growth of cancer.  I don't cry or wallow in self-pity.  Remember no matter how bad you are, there are always people worst off.  To put things in perspective with my cancer, I always am grateful that it is me and not any of my children.  When I go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for my appointments and I see patients wheeling their little babies through all hooked up to tubes and looking very ill, it makes me very humble.

MANAGE YOUR OWN HEALTH - Do your own research, be knowledgeable about your cancer,     and push your doctors for what you think you need.  Fight for yourself, coz no one else will!  Don't ignore checkups and tests that you know you need to have.  Keep up with your medical stuff!

LET GO - There will be people in your life that won't stand by you when you are diagnosed with cancer, give them a chance to adjust but if they don't, just let them go and save yourself some heartache.  You will replace them with people who are loyal and need to be surrounded by positive people, not negative ones bringing you down.
Positive - in, Negative - out

LIVE YOUR LIFE - This is a hard one.  Sometimes cancer makes you put your life on "pause", but you need to find a way to do the things you want to do, to go on living your life and doing things!!!!

LAUGHTER IS THE BEST MEDICINE - Don't underestimate how powerful a sense of humor is, don't forget how to laugh, it is tremendous medicine!!!!

HEALING & PRAYER - I believe religion is a personal thing and I won't elaborate on this one too much, just to say don't underestimate the power of healing and prayer.  I feel that all the prayers and healing that I have received has somehow helped me to still be here........

BE KIND - It doesn't hurt too spread a little kindness in this world.  Kindness seems to be losing momentum somehow.  Be kind and it will make you feel good inside (and that will boost your physical wellbeing tenfold!)

SING, DANCE AND FEEL JOY - I can't sing (in the musical correctness sense of the word) but it doesn't matter to me and it doesn't stop me, I sing, I dance around the house and I feel the joie de vivre (joy of living).  Do things that make you feel happy and joyous.  That is what life is about!

LOVE - If you are lucky, you have a great love in your life, or have had a great love during your lifetime.  To experience and to have found the love of your life is a special, wondrous thing.  If love has caused you pain, let that go and just hold the love in your heart.  It is powerful medicine and what life and living is all about.......

Don't think that because I am a positive person that my life has been hasn't.....There have been a LOT of bumps along the road of life for me and it has been a hard haul but I think of life as a journey and that our trials make us stronger.....

I do believe in fairytales, in knights in shining armor, in magic......shouldn't everyone???!!!!

I definitely am living in a fairytale setting here at Domaine de Mazieras, Dordogne, beautiful it doesn't seem real!!!!!!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Jess Registers For School

Today Jess had an appointment with the guidance counselor at the college in Mussidan to assess her entry into the school.  She was given four pages of math problems to complete and we were asked about how many years of school she had completed.  She had done two years of preschool and then 6 years of elementary, and had started middle school this year (6th grade).  The French school years in college actually go down so 6th is a lower year than 5th.  They decided to put her in 5th year. There is an English girl already in that grade and coincidentally, it is a girl Jess has already met and made friends with.  She is the daughter of the English horse trainer on the property we are living on.

The forms have to be sent off to the Department of Education in Perigueux for approval before Jess is allowed to start school.  We already waited nearly two weeks for this appointment with the guidance counselor.  The school said it will probably be another week or two before she can start.  Hopefully, in the meantime, we can get her a few French lessons to give her a headstart for school.  The guidance counselor has a little English but not a whole lot.  Jess seems a bit nervous about starting school but tries to hide it.  I hope it all goes well, that she makes a few friends to help her through it all, and that she picks up the French quickly!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blue Starts School!!!!

I am amazed my daughter Blue!  She started school on Monday in the village Issac, just down the road aways.......What a brave little girl, all excited about going to school, not at all nervous......and wanting to go back yesterday and today!!!  Not easy going into a French school with no French and not knowing anyone, but she is doing it all with a smile!  I am so proud of her!!!

The school has two classes......with 50 kids in total (including Blue!).  This is the schedule:
Monday Class:        8:45am - 11:45am   then lunch and class again 1:15pm-4pm
Tuesday Class:        8:45am - 11:45am   then lunch (and 1 hour sports) and class again 2:15pm-4pm
Wednesday Class:   8:45am - 11:45am   1/2 day - go home early
Thursday Class:       8:45am - 11:45am   then lunch and class again 1:15pm-4pm
Friday Class:            8:45am - 11:45am   then lunch and class again 1:15pm-3pm (sports till 4pm)

Lunch break is an hour and a half on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and two and a half hours on Tuesdays.  They only go to school on Wednesday mornings.  The school has a canteen and serves a 4 course lunch every day that costs 2 euro 15 cent.  You also have the option to pick your child up and take them home for lunch, which is what I did with Blue on Monday and Tuesday. The sports on Tuesday and Friday are optional so if she comes home for lunch on Tuesday, she doesn't have to go back till 2:15pm and she can come home at 3pm on a Friday.  She informed me yesterday that she didn't want to be picked up for lunch anymore.  She wants to stay in school with her class and have lunch there so I might let her do that tomorrow.  It will probably be easier for her to make friends if she is there for lunch and recess time, but picking her up for lunch also gives her a break from all French for a while!!!  She already has a friend named Maisy, a little English girl who has been at the school for two years.

The school has before school and after school care.  You can drop your child off at school from 7:30am onwards and it costs 1 euro.  You can leave your child in afterschool care until 6:30pm for 2 euro per day.  Tomorrow my daughter Jess has an assessment at the school she will be attending in the town of Mussidan at 8:30am so I will drop off Blue 1/2 hour early and she will be in her classroom with her teacher who is very kind and speaks a little English.

This is the school calendar for 2014 - 2015
School starts: September 1, 2014
Midterm break:  October 17 to November 3
Christmas break:  December 19 to January 5
Winter break:  February 13 to March 2
Spring break:  April 17 to May 4
School finishes:  July 3, 2015

                                               Blue getting dropped off at school the first day

                                                                       L'ecole d'Issac