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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Historical City of Perigueux

Yesterday we went to the historical city of Perigueux.  Saturday is market day.......a big day in all French towns (different days in different places).  I was impressed by the beautiful buildings, all so well preserved.  The city was quiet except for the French music drifting through the air from French street accordion players. Here is a slideshow of some of the sights of Perigueux, so typically French!!!!  Click on the link below:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Car registration AND Phone!!!!

I got my carte grise (car registration) yesterday by registered post.  It shows the details of the car and that it is registered in my name.  In France, you must keep your carte grise in your car when you are traveling.  I then had to go to a place to get my new number plates.  They did the plates while I waited (took less than 5 minutes!) and they also put them on the car so I am all set now!!!

My daughter Nikki and her 16 month old baby Dylan came to visit from the UK yesterday and I picked them up at Bordeaux Airport.  I had gone into a phone shop here after I came but decided I would be better have my daughter pick a phone for me so she bought one in Guernsey and brought it with her.  Today we went to the phone shop in Bergerac and got a French sim card (pay as you go) and loaded on credit so I now have a phone......another thing off the list!!!!  I am relieved because Blue is starting school on Monday and I definitely need the reassurance of having a phone just in case the school needs to contact me!!!

Moving to France = 12 Things I Did to Prepare - #3) Research Education and Schools

Here are 12 things I did to prepare for moving to France.....and below is a detailed account of #3 -

(1)   Find the perfect place
(2)   Buy a car and get car insurance
(3)   Research education and schools
(4)   Get Irish passports for the girls
(5)   Update the children’s physicals and vaccinations
  and get up to date on my own medical appointments
(6)    Have dental appointments before leaving
(7)    Flight shop to find the best fares
(8)    Get 6-month prescriptions
(9)    Order euros
(10) Notify schools and get copies of school records
(11) Set up direct debits for bills
(12) Pack

Probably the most important thing about moving to France is my two daughters going to a French school that they are happy and content at.  I read a lot on expat forum about other people's experience with them moving to France and their children going to school here.   The general consensus seemed to be the younger the children, the quicker they settled into school.  A lot of people had stories of their children being miserable and crying every day for months at their school experience, saying stick with it, it will get better.   I can't imagine sending my girls to school and them so traumatized that they would cry all the time -- not an option for my girlies!

I was amazed to learn that there are a lot of international schools in France that cater to english-speaking but the tuition is very high, and none in our area.  Blue is 8 and is starting school on Monday in the local village school in Issac.  There are two classes in the school of 26 students and 23 students.  The teacher she will have speaks some English, is very nice and there is a little girl from England who has been attending the school for two years so Blue will have an English speaking friend.  The teacher says the little English girl has had a difficult time because the parents don't speak any French at all.  We met her and the other students and she seemed quite happy and settled in with her peers.  Blue is excited to start school and not at all nervous.  The school starts at 8:45 am and finishes at 4 pm.  They break for lunch at 11:45 am for an hour and a half and I can take her home for lunch.  On Wednesdays, they have a half day and finish school at 11:45 am.  On Fridays, they finish early at 3 pm.

For Blue, the registration process was simple.  I had to go to the mairie (town hall)  and get a form to fill in with name, address, phone number, Blue's age and date of birth and that was it.

For Jess, things are a little more complicated.  We went to the college in Mussidan, the nearest town 10 minutes away.  Neither the office staff nor the principal spoke a word of English.  At first I was told it was impossible for Jess to go to school there but they have to accomodate her because it is the law that she goes to school and they are her district school.  After calling up the professeur d"anglais (English teacher), it was a lot easier to see what the procedure was going to be with a translator.  Jess is 12 and will have to be assessed by someone who only can do it on Thursdays so they will email me a time (coz I don't have a phone yet!!!).  Then there is a long form to fill in (in French) and that has to be sent to the Department of Education in Perigueux and approved for Jess to be able to start at the college in Mussidan.  In the meantime, I am trying to find other options because I think it will be very hard to be at school from 8 am to 5 pm daily (except for half days on Wednesdays) without anyone who speaks any English.  The English teacher teaches older students so wouldn't have any contact with Jess and Jess, at the moment, has no French, at all!!!!  . I had read that there are a lot of English speaking people in France, but none in Mussidan apparently!!!!

To be we find out more!!!!!! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Moving to France - 12 Things I Did to Prepare - #2) Buy a Car and Get Car Insurance

Here are 12 things I did to prepare for moving to France.....and below is a detailed account of #2 -
buying a car and getting car insurance.

(1)   Find the perfect place
(2)   Buy a car and get car insurance
(3)   Research education and schools
(4)   Get Irish passports for the girls
(5)   Update the children’s physicals and vaccinations
  and get up to date on my own medical appointments
(6)    Have dental appointments before leaving
(7)    Flight shop to find the best fares
(8)    Get 6-month prescriptions
(9)    Order euros
(10) Notify schools and get copies of school records
(11) Set up direct debits for bills
(12) Pack 

While surfing the expat forums on the web, I came across people recommending Gary Automobiles for English speaking people moving to France.  Gary is English, married to a French woman, is located in Succieu near Lyon, France, and he has an inventory of vehicles for sale in various price ranges. You pick the car, pay a deposit (which is refundable if you don't like the car or transferable to another vehicle if you decide you like another one better), he stores the vehicle for as long as it takes for you to move to France with no time limitations, he organizes the insurance and car registration, and he picks you up at the airport.  (He is also very patient answering any questions or concerns you have about the car or the whole buying process).  

Here is Gary's website:

I found a 2008 Peugeot 207 SW diesel that I really liked and was well maintained with full service records.  I paid a deposit through Paypal and Gary held the car for me.  We flew into Lyon, spent the night at the excellent NH Airport Hotel which is conveniently located directly across from the terminal I flew into, and Gary picked the girls and I up at 9 o'clock sharp the next morning.  He was very nice and didn't bat an eyelid about our heavy bags!!!!  He stopped at a shop on the way back to his office to help me buy a gps, I signed a few papers, and we were on our way.  He had taken care of the insurance for me.   I had emailed him the information he needed and had wired him the money the week before so it was as easy as that.  I had read that it is very hard to find secondhand cars in France and also that there is a lot of red tape and paperwork involved in buying and registering a car so I am delighted that Gary made the process so easy and I love my nippy economical Peugeot!!!

More on the list of Things I Did to Prepare moving to France on next blog!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Moving to France – 12 Things I Did To Prepare - #1) Find The Perfect Place

Moving to another country is a big step and there are numerous things that need to be done to prepare for the big move.  These are the top 12 things I did to prepare to move from Maryland, USA to Dordogne, France:

(1)   Find the perfect place
(2)   Buy a car and get car insurance
(3)   Research education and schools
(4)   Get Irish passports for the girls
(5)   Update the children’s physicals and vaccinations
  and get up to date on my own medical appointments
(6)    Have dental appointments before leaving
(7)    Flight shop to find the best fares
(8)    Get 6-month prescriptions
(9)    Order euros
(10) Notify schools and get copies of school records
(11) Set up direct debits for bills
(12) Pack 

(1)  Find the perfect place:
My perfect place kinda found me.  I am a great believer in destiny and I can't even remember how I came upon finding the place I am now living in in France!!!!  I have always had an interest in the Dordogne.....why?  I don't really know......perhaps the 1001 chateaux?  perhaps the beautiful countryside?  I don't really know.  I have never been here before.  I was in Paris once for 4 days 17 years ago and that is the only time I was ever in France previously.

Anyway, sometime ago, I bookmarked this place, Domaine de Mazieras, on my computer.  When we had received and accepted a contract on our house in the spring, it got me thinking what do you really want to do?  I had always wanted to go to France so I looked into the place I had saved way back on my computer.  It was in the country, had enough room for family & friends to come visit, had the old house character that I love, and it had a stable & horses. Perfect! Some people were already going to lease it but, as I said, I believe things work out if it is something you were meant to do and the landlords out of the blue agreed to rent it to me instead.  (I am leaving out the part where our house sale fell through and I wasn't able to afford going to France......that will be another entry!!!)

Anyway, I am here now and it is the perfect place:  4-5 bedrooms, office, huge open plan sitting room/dining room/kitchen, 2 bathrooms.....all sitting on 250 acres of beautiful rolling French countryside.  The house is fully furnished, which is very common for Europe, and it has all the appliances, dishes, etc. The landlords live on the premises and want someone who is part of the family which suits me because I find it comforting to have someone there as it is just me and my two youngest daughters, Jess, who is 12, and Blue, who is 8.  I feel secure having someone to run to if I need anything and they are very helpful and a good resource for any information I need as I settle into the French lifestyle!  How lucky I am to have happened on such an awesome place!!!

Next blog, I will continue with the "12 Things I Did To Prepare" list details........stay tuned!!!!!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Issac - Our Village

The area we are in is filled with quaint little French villages on every country road......our nearest is Issac.....two minutes drive over the road.  Issac dates back to the 1300's and it is a very small village, but it does have a post office, an epicerie (small grocery store), a bakery, a butcher, and a cafe/pub.  It has a church which acts as the picturesque centerpiece of the village with the mairie (town hall) next door.  The mairie is an important part of any French village, town or city and it is necessary to go there to register, to find out about schools, and other information and regulations necessary for living in the area.  I actually went there this morning but after summoning the help of a passerby (actually the only person I saw there!), I was informed that the mairie  is not opened on Monday mornings.  Come back in the afternoon.  I went back at 2:30pm and there was someone inside but the door was locked.  After loitering outside the building for a while, a nice man who lives across the road came over.  He spoke only rapid French!  He asked what I needed with the mairie and I managed to explain to him that I wanted to find out about schools and that I had just moved to the area.  He said that I needed to come back tomorrow.  The mairie does not do that on a Monday so I will return again tomorrow and hopefully be successful then!!!!

And courtesy of Blue, my 8 year old who finds everything worthy of taking a picture of, here are a few photos of the roads here.  I am so impressed with what excellent condition the French keep their roads.....

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Chateau Number Two

Before leaving the house today, we put into the GPS for the nearest petrol station and it took us to the little town of Neuvic where I filled up my economical little Peugeot with diesel for the first time since coming to the Dordogne.  We decided to follow a sign for Chateau Neuvic and we nearly missed the actual castle because it has a long drive and you can't see the name on the wall.

The Chateau Neuvic resides in grandeur along the banks of the Isle River.  It is an architectural feast with its turrets, stained glass windows, stonework, and different levels.  The Chateau is in beautiful condition and is surrounded by beautiful gardens, pathways and bridges crossing over streams.  In this part of France that I am in, you can easily be taken back in history because so much is the same as it was centuries ago and as you drive along the country roads, you don't see new houses on top of each other, you see large farms with old houses.  The past is present in the Dordogne......

Trying Out My French!

Had my first visit to the post office.  Our local one is only opened mornings so while touring around the network of small country roads sussing out what is in the area, we came across a small village that had a post office and it was opened.  Ran in to buy a few stamps and try out my French!  Jess was very impressed with me so I must have done good!!!! Not one word of English was spoken!  The woman working there was very friendly.  Got a few stamps and a bit of courage for my next conversation en francais!!!!!

I talked to the British woman, Lindsey, who has horses at the stables here and asked her about how she learned to speak French. She talks away in French to a local girl who comes to help out and to ride.   She said that she went to classes for 9 months and is now fluent.  I thought maybe she was talking about evening classes or something but no, she said she went 9am to 4pm two days a week for the nine months.  Learning French is something the government promotes so they actually pay for these classes.  They are free!!!  A Dutch girl who lives nearby said she also took these classes and they were great.  They are held in the area so definitely something I plan to look into.  Everyone here says it is absolutely necessary to learn French to get by.  Even the French people who speak English don't want to (and sometimes pretend they don't), especially if you don't make an effort to respect their country and try to speak some French first.  I'm game!  Heading off to the market in Mussidan, the nearest town, to mingle and try out some more French!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Medieval Bergerac

We had a quick visit to the large town of Bergerac perched along the calm Dordogne River which runs lazily through the area.  We parked by the water and walked along the rough cobblestone streets (should not have worn those black high heels!) to "Old Town" with its amazing medieval buildings, open air cafes and beautiful winding streets going up the hill.  What a quaint place with its flower-filled markets, its river views, and French people strolling with their pocket pooches!  Can't wait to go back and explore at a more leisurely pace another day. Bergerac also has the nearest airport, is 1/2 hour directly south of where we are, and has many flights coming in from different cities throughout Europe.


Schools in France and Learning A Foreign Language

On top of my list when coming to France was doing my best to see that Jess and Blue would not be traumatized by being dropped in at the deepend going to French schools.  I was able to do extensive research on the internet about English speaking children going to schools here (expat forums are an excellent source), before we actually arrived in France.  What I learned was that there are four main options:  International schools that mainly teach through English, Bi-lingual schools that teach some through French and some through English, and then there are private French school and public French schools.  The International schools are very expensive and too far away from where I am living anyway.  There is no bi-lingual school nearby either.  The French private schools only cost a nominal amount and are on par with the public schools, so either is an option.   As this is a rural area, the local schools do not have websites and there are a few in the area so I have to visit them personally and see if I think they will work for the girls.  Our landlords told us that other English-speaking people that they know who came to live here had no problems or complaints about the local schools and the children picked up French very quickly and fit in with the other children.

Our landlords are Dutch and they have Dutch satellite on the television in our house.  There are a lot of American programs on, some of them in English (with the option of Dutch subtitles) and other voiced over and speaking Dutch.  Funnily enough, Blue chooses to watch her American favorites with the cast speaking Dutch and is glued to the screen like she understands every word.....telling me they are speaking Spanish!  With this naturalness and acceptance of foreign language, I think Blue will soak up French like a sponge!!!!!  (And might learn some Dutch too from watching those shows!!!)

Jess is all about the Ipad in preparing to learn French.  She has an app that you can type in English and it will write the French, and also say the French.  Pity it doesn't work without the wifi when we are away from the house!  Would definitely come in handy.  The girls are excited to start school and learn a new language and I think that is half the battle!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Land of a Thousand and One Castles

Today we went to see our first chateau in the Dordogne, a region which is known as the “Land of a Thousand and One Castles”.  It is my goal to try and visit as many chateaux as I can while I am in France.  Hope I can see them all!!!!  Chateau de Bridoire, which dates back to the 15th century, was breathtaking, sitting majestically overlooking a green valley filled with vineyards. A perfect chateau for my first in the 1001!